Since Matt Kenseth made his announcement last week at Kentucky Speedway, speculation has started of who will drive the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing next year.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets ready to visit New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first time this season and also for the first event since SMI announced they were moving one of the races held there to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next year. What are your thoughts on the decision to move a race to LVMS?
Jim: Unfortunately, the reality for track owners is like everything else in business – you go where the money goes. Attendance had dropped off quite a bit at New Hampshire and the city of Las Vegas was willing to fork over millions to help promote its Cup races. From a track perspective, I don’t like adding a 1.5-mile track race while losing a race on a 1-mile oval. But right now, that’s the nature of the beast.
Lee: Given the number of race fans at NHMS serves in the Northeast — as well as Canada — I would have elected to keep two races at the Magic Mile. However, without sponsors for the race and the support Las Vegas will throw behind the event, it’s hard not to see how the economics make sense. Still, I believe there are too many intermediate tracks on the schedule. I don’t think it helps to add one more.
Nick: There are several race tracks that could do without two dates, but I feel New Hampshire Motor Speedway is not one of them. From a business perspective, I completely understand why Las Vegas is taking its place, but in the end, its just one less unique circuit on the schedule and one more 1.5 miler.
Tim: Money always talks and Las Vegas just made too good an offer for Marcus Smith and SMI to overlook. I agree with Lee that there are a lot of dedicated NASCAR fans in New England and Canada, but with attendance falling off recently in New Hampshire, the change was just good business for SMI.
Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have proven to be the two drivers to beat this season. Let’s assume they’ll both be in the final four at Homestead Miami Speedway, who would you pick as the other two finalists at this point of the season?
Jim: I would have to go with Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Both drivers are capable of winning – they have already demonstrated that this season – and the tracks in the playoffs play to their respective strengths. I have a feeling, however, there would be a “surprise” driver in the Final 4. My surprise pick now would be Ryan Blaney.
Lee: That’s a tough question because so much can happen between the third and final round. As much as I’d like to put Kyle Busch in the mix, the way the teams are running lately and with his history in the final 10 races, I’m not sold on the No. 18. My safe bet would be Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, two veterans and champions that have both won under this format.
Nick: Although I’m tempted to go the same route as Lee and Jim, I don’t want this to get repetitive. So although I’d still keep Jimmie Johnson as one pick, I’m going with Kyle Busch as the other. Yes, he has (shockingly) yet to win a race this season, but he has still scored more points than any other driver in the field, sans Larson and Truex. And his 858 laps led is only surpassed the No. 78’s 1,115.
Tim: I would go with Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. Something tells me the Fords will be tough in the playoffs and both of these drivers have won championships and can get it done.
It’s been reported NASCAR has started taking hard cards from crew members for rule violations as they ramp up the penalties. Do you think this is severe enough punishment or in your mind, is there anything NASCAR can do to make the penalties severe enough to curb what’s going in the garage?
Jim: The most severe penalty – preventing a team from competing in a race – cannot be utilized by NASCAR because of the creation of the charter agreements, which guarantee holders participation in Cup races so long as they pass inspection. If NASCAR said today that on the third inspection failure, you lose your right to compete, inspection issues would disappear virtually overnight. Since it cannot do that, NASCAR is turning now to making the cost of rules violations so inconvenient that teams will not want to continue down that path. We’ll see if it has any effect.
Lee: NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller says hard cards could just be the beginning. Parking passes and sets of tires could follow. At Kentucky, some offenders also lost practice time during Happy Hour — in which their drivers had to sit out in the sun on pit road in time out until they were released. After a long discussion with JGR’s Jimmy Makar and Kyle Larson’s crew chief Chad Johnston, I think the teams are ready to sit down with the sanctioning body and hash out a better solution for everyone. While it’s an inconvenience for crew chiefs, car chiefs and engineers to have to stop at the NASCAR trailer for paper credentials or park outside of the track, Miller told me the sanctions could eventually escalate to points and fines.
Nick: It’s all about getting their attention. Taking hard cards is an aggravation tactic while the loss of practice time and possibly the loss of a set of tires could seriously affect your race weekend. And with all the inspection issues in 2017, I don’t really blame them for upping the ante.
Tim: Obviously, NASCAR feels they need to increase the penalties and while they can’t disqualify a charter team from competing, they are getting creative. I still think if a car is in violation, they should be DQed in the final results but that will never happen. I feel if you made it where you could send a team home or make it appear as if they never raced in an event through loss of points, then this would go away.