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Four Burning Questions: 2015 Easter Off-Week Edition

Four Burning Questions: 2015 Easter Off-Week Edition

We’ve reached the first off-week of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and oh, what a season it’s been thus far. Injuries, sub drivers, close finishes, surprises- we’ve seen a little bit of everything here in 2015. Six races into the season, we now have a good idea of who has speed, who’s off the pace and what we should expect racing-wise the rest of the season.

So now, we reflect on the past six races, and look forward to next 30 races with a clear picture of what to expect for the rest of the 2015 season.

1. Can Kevin Harvick maintain his form?

The biggest story of the 2015 season thus far has been the historic perfornance of the Sprint Cup Series defending champion, Kevin Harvick. Ever since midway through last year’s Chase, Harvick has simply whipped the competition. He carried his No. 4 team on an incredible and historic run of eight straight top-2 finishes stretching from late 2014 to the Fontana race two weeks ago. It was a simply incredible run, something not seen since the days of Richard Petty’s unmatched dominance of the sport in the 1970s.

The question that needs to be asked with regard to the rest of this season: can Harvick maintain this level of raw performance? Historically speaking, he probably won’t be able to. Not since Jeff Gordon in 1998 have we seen a driver perform like Harvick has thus far over the course of one season. A few have come close, but with the parity inherent in today’s NASCAR, it is only natural that someone or (a few drivers) will catch up to the No. 4 team.

2015 Martinsville I CUP Kevin Harvick racing credit Amy Henderson

Can Kevin Harvick keep up the pace or will a driver like Martin Truex, Jr. catch up? (Photo: Amy Henderson)


And frankly, it may already be happening. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch all seem to be right on the verge of breakouts. My guess is that one or many of those teams will match the No. 4 team in terms of performance over the next few weeks, effectively curbing the dominance of Harvick and Co. for the time being.

2. Will NASCAR’s 2016 rules package being implemented in 2016?

One of the hot rumors that conspicuously has been absent from the mainstream NASCAR news cycle has been that of the 2016 rules package potential implementation this season. Right now, NASCAR’s current plan is to test the 2016 rules package, which features a massive downforce reduction, in this year’s All-Star Race. But some of Frontstretch’s insider sources have repeatedly suggested that NASCAR could have further plans for the 2016 package this year beyond the All-Star Race.

So far, the 2015 package has been decent. It was not a package designed to drastically change the on-track product; rather, it was designed to either maintain the status quo and/or slightly improve the on-track entertainment before bigger changes are implemented in 2015. But as we all know, NASCAR fans tend to be instant gratification junkies, and since the 2015 package hasn’t been a drastic improvement over 2014 (which was a decent package in its own right?), there is rumors that NASCAR will actually implement the 2016 rules starting with this year’s Coca-Cola 600 if the All-Star Race test goes well.

The teams want the 2016 package, the drivers love it, and the fans want to see what the hype is all about. If I know anything about NASCAR, that probably means the package will in fact be implemented earlier than previously thought, testing be damned. Is it the right decision to do that? I’m not sure, given all of NASCAR’s rhetoric about implementing changes slowly, but if it works, they’ll look like geniuses.

3. When will Kyle Busch be back, and how will that affect David Ragan?

The Kyle Busch saga has been another unusual story that has led the headlines in 2015. Kyle Busch’s leg injuries at sustained at Daytona have more or less killed any chance he had at making the Chase this season given how many races he’s missed thus far. Insiders claim he is healing quickly, but given the nature of his injury, it seems difficult to believe he could be back at full strength any earlier than August. And to be honest, even that seems optimistic.

Meanwhile, his substitute, David Ragan, is coming into his own in his role as the driver of the No. 18 machine vacated by Busch. Ragan drove to an impressive fifth-place finish last week in Martinsville and showed many flashes of brilliance in the weeks leading up to that race. Ragan now sits 12th in driver points and has carried the No. 18 car to 13th in the owner standings.

With Busch unlikely to return soon, what would happen if Ragan were to win a race? Given his performance, it is entirely possible, and would hugely shake up the Chase picture if it were to happen. Would JGR stick with Ragan and defer Busch to a 2016 return? Would Ragan really return to Front Row Motorsports if he’s running well? These are questions that will have to be answered soon, because JGR could have some unusual dilemmas on their hands if Ragan has a ticket to the Chase and ends up leaving the team with it.

4. Will Roush Fenway Racing turn things around?

It is no secret at this point that Roush Fenway Racing is in crisis mode. The team has not been competitive on a week to week basis (at least to the standard it is used to) since the 2012 Sprint Cup season. Thus far in 2015, that has not changed, as not a single RFR driver is in the top 20 in points. That has never happened this deep into a season for Roush’s team since its inception.

Clearly, the problems of Roush Fenway Racing are deep, complicated and lack concrete answers. One thing is certain, however: if RFR can’t right the ship by the end of this season, it could be in a dire situation sponsorship-wise in the coming years. The team has already lost a multitude of sponsors due to financial disagreements and lack of performance in recent years, and could lose the precious few it has left if things don’t change soon. Fastenal, Ortho and AdvoCare do not have especially long-term agreements with RFR, and another year of poor performance could very well be the straw that breaks RFR’s back financially.

No one want to see RFR become the next Yates Racing, but if something doesn’t change soon, that’s likely what will happen. The rest of this season will be crucial to RFR’s future.

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  1. burning question for ya: Will GoDaddy be back as a full time sponsor next year in Cup ? They just went public with their stock on Wednesday and their IPO made money for the companies founder who sold out to hedge funds, and for the money men in the funds, but did little to help the company stop the money burning. GoDaddy has “never” made a dime of profit in the 9 years it’s been in business. 2013 the company reported losing $200 million dollars, 2014 it reported losses of $ 143 Million and the 2014 year in report to the SEC it reported it was $ 1 BILLION in debt. At one time godaddy was the only company doing what they do and they still didn’t make money when they were in competition with anyone. Now they have two or more companies that are serious competitors to godaddy’s business. New board and new CEO will determine if they want to spend the $20 million they have been spending on their cup car, considering the results they are getting. Seems Danica too is worried as after her good finish this past weekend, Fox didn’t bothering her she ran, yes ran, to the media center to force someone from fox to interview her. She has even stepped up her promotions for godaddy, doing her best to keep her sponsor on the table for next year. But despite the good IPO had, the company is heading downhill and will continue to do so because now the real money people got all their money back through the IPO and they won’t be spending money like Parson’s did when he owned the company.

    • Yes indeed she ran to the media center…Look at me, interview me!!! I laughed thinking she was knocking little kids and old ladies over to get there. Shocked to see her there, usually it is P1 and crew chief, owner.. P2, P3. That was a sickening display if there ever was one, hopefully not to be repeated. Will next weeks P7 get a post race media center interview? I am sure we can dig up some obscure “record” they broke somewhere along the way to justify it!

    • Now that its a publicly traded company there surely will be changes. Not overnight , but changes nevertheless. But the question is will they follow the pattern set by Sprint, or GM? Sprint as you know was acquired by another company and will after a “decent interval” exit Nascar. GM on the other hand went bankrupt, yet continues to pour hundreds of millions into the business of Nascar.
      My guess it will be more like Sprint but it will take a couple of years. And frankly Patrick will have nothing to do with it.

  2. Can Truex continue getting top tens now that tires are being looked at closely ! The alliance with RCR has paid off well for Truex, who only has TWO cup wins in his entire career, but are tires helping so far this year. No way Newman, a graduated engineer and a long time cup driver, not realize that his car handling was not going away like it has on long runs every other race in his long career. Driver’s “feel” their cars and know exactly what is going on with them so to pretend ignorance would be a lie on Newmans part. I say top tens stop coming to Truex one we get to Texas because the cat is out of the bag about tires.
    How long will the sponsors for Stenhouse stick with him, not far beyond this season i would reckon. He seems content to ride around in 27th position alongside Danica for the past two years, his name and car only get shown when he spins himself out, so why in the world would a sponsor want to spend the amount of money required to sponsor a cup car want Ricky as their driver ! 3 years of doing nothing to show he can be a challenger in cup should be enough for one driver i would think. And Ricky and his main sponsor are in a contract year, but the writing is on the wall for him. Roush showed how desperate he was when he signed 46 year old Biffle to a 3 year contract expansion. de Biff is done as a contending driver, toss in the problems at Roush and i bet Jack regrets that decision.

    • Yes…Boyfriend and Girlfriend logically should be put out to pasture. They are not cutting it in the top series.

  3. Unfortunately, with this crapshoot of a Championship that NASCAR has Harvick’s current performance might not mean another championship at the end. We could easily see someone who has won one race win the championship over Harvick, who is having a great performance so far this year.

    • Well that is basically what happened last year to a few guys. Jeff Gordon..classic points leader, Joey Logano..old Chase points leader, Brad Keselowski most wins.

  4. Serious question? Does it really matter if Harvick performs well from here on out? He could win every race leading up to the season finale, lead every lap in that race, get a flat tire in turn four and finish second. Oops no championship! As long as the contrived Chase format stays in place actual performance is largely irrelevant. Another serious question. As long as Nascar constantly tinkers with the rules to keep the “show” interesting what difference does it make what rules package becomes effective when? The rules will change again before the ink drys.

    • Absolutely right on, John Q. Performance, other than getting a win to get into the chase, is irrelevant to being the champion and with the one race championship in place, it really is a matter of who gets lucky.

    • ..or his crew has a jack malfunction with a very long pit stop towards the end of the race. Nope, you can have the best season out of anybody, and it doesn’t mean anything. Hard to get excited when the driver you like is winning or doing doesn’t matter other than Homestead. Knew that was going to happen last year with that format, and it happened.

      • Agree and when the only “game 7” moment that counts is in one race, I’m not sure why NASCAR thinks fans have any reason to pay attention to anything until the racing gets there.

        IMO NASCAR was a lot more fun when each race was important. Yes I realize there were runaway points races over a full season, but for me that mattered less than seeing a lot of drivers and teams hard work go for nothing.

  5. Serious question. Does it really matter if Harvick performs well from here on out? He could win every race leading up to the season finale, lead every lap in that race get a flat tire in turn four and finish second. Oops, no Championship! As long as the contrived Chase format stays in place actual performance is largely irrelevant. Another serious question. As long as Nascar constantly tinkers with the rules to keep the “show” interesting what difference does it make what rules package becomes effective when? The rules will change again before the ink is dry.