Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Crew Chief Checkup, 600 Miles & Boys Have at It?

NASCAR’s Hall of Fame Class of 2016 was announced Wednesday night. Did they get it right? If not, who would you take out and replace them with?

Tom Bowles, Editor-in-Chief: I always find this question hard because of the way this Hall of Fame has been initially set up. Each of the 20 nominees deserves to get in, since there was no large “initial class” so it’s a matter of when, not if for anyone on that list. There’s no way Red Byron and Raymond Parks, for example don’t end up in the Hall of Fame as the first champion driver and car owner, respectively. That said, I have a bit of a problem electing people like Terry Labonte when we still have old-timers like that outstanding. Labonte, Hendrick, and other modern-day record-setters will get their turn and their time in the Hall. Let’s put Parks, Byron and some of the others in first; even Benny Parsons would be a better choice. Leaving some of these old, old legends twisting in the wind after year five is getting kind of silly.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Manager: The whole “five dudes each year” rule is a little tough. The only year in which we’ve had locks for induction was the first year. I could rattle off the first four inductees that year without even thinking. Only the fifth slot turned into a wild card. Now, everyone’s a Wild Card. The voting method effectively pits the voters against each other and brings in stuff that should not help anyone get elected to any sports Hall of Fame (Ex: Military Service. As far as I’m concerned, your war record, no matter how great it is, should not have bearing on whether you’re elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Having said that, if you do something ridiculous outside of racing during your career in the sport, that should hurt your candidacy). Since there’s probably 50-60 different people right now that are good enough to get into the Hall, I’m fine with all of them because you’re good enough these days if you’re even nominated.

Mike Neff, Short Track Manager: The only change I see is that Parks should be in the Hall of Fame. Were it not for Parks pouring his own funds into the sport in its formative years, the sport never survives. When you look at the list of inductees I think you could take any of them off and put Parks on. If I had to pick one it would be Jerry Cook. Cook is very deserving and absolutely deserves to be in the Hall, but there is already a modified driver in the building. I personally think Larry Phillips should be in before Cook. I also can’t fathom how Smokey Yunick isn’t even on the ballot.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I’ll admit that I was taken aback by 1) the acceptance of Bruton Smith and 2) the exclusion of both Parsons and Buddy Baker from this year’s class. If Bill France Jr. was Superman, then Bruton Smith was Lex Luthor. An odd selection, to me. Benny Parsons was not only a Grand National champion and Daytona 500 winner, but he was a fan favorite during his days as an ESPN commentator. For many, BP was mainstream America’s direct connection to NASCAR via TV. Buddy Baker was one of the first to break the 200-mph barrier and won the 1980 Daytona 500 – an event that, for many years, was the fastest 500-mile race ever run. There’s always next year, I guess….

Clayton Caldwell, Contributor: I still can’t fathom how Robert Yates isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet. Yates’s impact in the garage area is still felt today. His engines won races in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, and his son has taken all the knowledge that Robert provided him with and has used them to build engines even today. For years the top engines in the garage were ones built by Robert Yates. He was/is a genius and IMO is the greatest engine builder of all time. What other person that was voted in on Wednesday can say they’ve made an impact over five decades? None, and I didn’t even mention his accomplishments as a car owner.

Typically, Coca-Cola 600 week is when we see a flurry of crew chief changes as teams have two weeks at home to absorb the adjustment. That didn’t happen this year; was that a mistake? If so, which team should have made a move?

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Roush is notorious for shaking things up within his teams when things aren’t going well and “not going well” is a bit kind to describe the once proud organization’s results lately. Carl Edwards is blessed that Tony Stewart is running so poorly or the “underacheiver” spotlight would be on him. Despite winning Martinsville and that All-Star Non-Race last weekend, Denny Hamlin is having a lackluster season as well. Maybe it’s time to send Darian Grubb back to the No. 11 team and see how Dave Rogers does with Edwards?

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Probably because it’s not going to show up here given the state of the competition at 1.5-mile tracks. If there was one team that could make a change it’d be Stewart and Danica Patrick. Tony’s troubles go far beyond anything Chad Johnston is doing or not doing, so I understand inaction there. Crew chief swaps always look like a knee-jerk reaction to me, trying to band-aid a larger problem within a team or organization, or with the driver themselves.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I’m not surprised we didn’t see a lot of changes; many teams made changes late last year or in the offseason and those haven’t had time to fully evaluate, let alone make more changes; teams that didn’t need changes then don’t necessarily need them now, either. Who could use some fresh blood on the box? Germain Racing comes to mind; they haven’t performed quite to the level they’re capable of this year. They have cars equal to those of the No. 78 team and a capable driver, but something’s missing.

Caldwell: There are a couple of teams that you have to wonder about. I am still surprised Chad Johnston has stayed with No. 14 as long as he has, and given how tough this season has been for that team, I thought for sure we’d see a change before long. Also, I think the world of Gil Martin and his intelligence as a crew chief, but Austin Dillon has been a disappointment this year. When you consider how well the Nos. 78, 31 and 27 have been running, it makes you scratch your head as to what is wrong with that No. 3 car. It could be that Dillon is still learning the ropes in Cup, but if things stay like this I wouldn’t be shocked to see a change there.

Bowles: I’m shocked at this point Stewart hasn’t come out and canned Chad Johnston. Am I the only one who sees the chemistry between these two clearly isn’t there? As the owner of his team, Stewart himself should fully understand the consequences of being so far removed from Chase contention. How long will sponsors, as loyal as they are, go before thinking Smoke just doesn’t have it in him anymore (for whatever reason)? A crew chief change is a great way to show backers you’re at least trying something different. You can’t say the problems are equipment and information based when teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick are running circles around just about everyone else in the field.

Honorable mention goes to Roush Fenway Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. There just hasn’t been substantial improvement and the clock may be ticking in general on Stenhouse’s Cup career. Richard Petty Motorsports, undergoing similar struggles, at least made a move to try and improve the situation with Sam Hornish Jr.‘s No. 9 car (Drew Blickensderfer out, Kevin “Bono” Manion in). RFR needed to do the same.

Kyle Busch survived his first race back without much of a problem. Are you convinced he’s back to 100% or will 600 miles Sunday be asking too much?

Howell: As someone who’s spent parts of the past decade in physical therapy following a racing-related injury (albeit relatively minor, but I’m currently on my third-straight month of PT in this most recent go-round), I can attest to the marvels of modern curative techniques. But, as my own experience has taught me, the corrective process is slow and delicate. Busch was an athlete before his wreck at Daytona, so his recovery has been rightfully quick, but whether or not it’s complete is another matter. The 600 most likely won’t be an issue, but there’s always a chance that what’s been fixed could go the other way slightly. That means at any track, in any race. For his sake, I hope not.

Henderson: I don’t think we’ll know if Busch is ready to run 600 miles until he actually runs it. I don’t think even Busch knows for sure. He’ll have Erik Jones on standby, and he’ll have to see how he feels deep into the race. The All-Star Race was a good place for him to start, but this week will be the real test. Hopefully he’ll get out if he needs to; staying in when he’s really not capable is dangerous to him and to others, but there’s not real reason to think he won’t, or that he’s not up for the challenge. He’s young and fairly fit, so it’s not crazy to think he can go the distance.

Joseph Wolkin, Senior Writer: Kyle Busch is probably 85%, but he is a fighter. 600 miles is going to be a true test this weekend. If anything, Dover will be more of a test since it is such a physical race track. He’s gained a bit of weight over the year, but racing with two injured legs is going to be very difficult. The All-Star Race showed that he can handle a decent distance, yet this weekend will be the biggest challenge of his career.

Pugliese: There’s no way he’s back to 100%, nor will he be. The All-Star Race was a good test for him as it is broken up into segments, but 600 miles is another story. Plus, let’s be honest, Kyle wasn’t exactly in the best shape physically before the accident. That firesuit has grown a couple of sizes over the years and Saturday night it looked a bit snug. Tib/Fib fractures take a while to fully heal; look at Stewart, it took him over a year to recover from his, though Busch is a bit younger than Stewart and in better shape. He also didn’t need multiple surgeries to remove infection either.

Brennan Poole and JJ Yeley had issues at Iowa, to put it mildly, with a series of incidents resulting in the rookie Poole being parked. Was it all “just racing” or did one (or both) drivers cross the line?

Bowles: The last few years, NASCAR has craved rivalries. Any type of emotion other than “nonchalant” would be welcomed to a fanbase tapping out based on boredom. So why do we choose to get involved in these incidents, bad blood boiling so quickly after they begin? Clearly, it was an “eye for an eye” and perhaps Poole went a bit too far. But isn’t that for drivers to decide – not the officials? At least, that’s how it was handled in the old days. NASCAR can’t have its cake and eat it too. If it’s “Boys, have at it” well on a short track it’s “Boys, have at it.”

Neff: I thought it was handled perfectly. Yeley wrecked Poole and the rookie returned the favor. Whether Yeley wants to admit it or not, that absolutely could have been avoided. Fortunately they took care of it on race day. They have since talked and worked it all out. There shouldn’t be any problems going forward, although it is safe to say that they probably won’t cut each other much slack. As for the handling of it, retaliating during the event when you were harmed is the best way to go. It would be great to see that happen more often.

Wolkin: Yeley crossed the line by hitting a rookie 10 laps into the race. The whole deal escalated right there when it didn’t need to. Retaliation is not like Poole. After speaking with him at least a dozen times over the past two years, I can tell you that is not like him at all. However, when high stakes are on the line, can you blame him? NASCAR was right to park him, but Yeley should have at least been penalized a lap early in the race for what he did.

Pugliese: Yeley should be parked, fined, and suspended for what he did. He hooked a guy head-on into the wall in the middle of traffic really for no reason. Poole didn’t do himself any favors by coming out over 100 laps down and doing the same thing – but I understand.

McLaughlin: Hey, that’s short-track racing. We need more of this sort of stuff not less. As I see it, if the race is under the green flag (no wrecking people under caution) and the incident doesn’t take place on pit road, let ’em have at it. NASCAR fined Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison for their infamous fight after the 1979 Daytona 500. If Yarborough and Allison got residual checks each time that footage is used to promote NASCAR racing, one of them would likely have hired Rick Hendrick as a butler by now.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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When he wasn’t out stealing lunch money in the second tier series in 2014 Kyle won what, one race. It could be argued that win in the last lap was a byproduct of the whole GWC, double file restart, entertainment caution that mars modern NASCAR. So the question is, what would be considered back to form? Maybe ride around awhile, have a hissy and bounce off the wall or another competitor. My only question about Kyle is when will his startling lack of maturity fully overshadow his talent?


The “boys have at it” is a double edged sword. While wrecking and retaliation is what a certain segment of the audience wants, I don’t think you can grow the sport with it.
But who am I to say.

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