Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Good Races or Good Finishes?

After Martin Truex, Jr. said that his team would communicate with suspended crew chief Cole Pearn via FaceTime at Phoenix International Raceway, NASCAR announced it’s looking for way to limit communication with suspended crew members.  Is this something that needs to be done, or is remote communication enough of a hindrance on its own?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: The idea of suspension in NASCAR is like the idea of communism:  it looks good on paper, but is totally unrealistic when put into practice. Having suspended crew chiefs manage their teams by cellphone and television from the living room sofa is par for the course, and working through FaceTime is just more of the same. Distance crew-chiefing is going to be nearly impossible for NASCAR to govern, so why break with tradition and try to do so now? I don’t see how the sanctioning body can police what team members do with their personal communications.

Sean Fesko, Staff Writer: What NASCAR currently does is certainly a suspension but doesn’t serve the purpose of the penalty. If NASCAR truly wants to send a message, it needs to limit communication as well. With computers, telephones, video chat, etc., it’s easy to troubleshoot with an essential crew member like Martin Truex, Jr.’s crew chief Cole Pearn. Limiting contact truly punishes the team for an infraction.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: The problem with suspension is that technology has caught up to it and it’s no longer anywhere near the punishment for a team that it was.  NASCAR can’t keep crew members away from race shops, but they do need to find a way to better address communication at the track.  Perhaps a suspension for the entire team (and no Chase waiver if it happens) if they are caught communicating in any way with a suspended crew member would send a strong enough message.  Hard to enforce?  Yes, but doable.  Another possible option: anyone with a credential from a suspended team could be required to leave cell phones at the NASCAR hauler while the garage is open, and come down hard if anyone is caught with one. They’d still have team computers, but it would make things considerably harder.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: The bigger question that needs to be addressed is, who is the one responsible for issuing directives to the media and to NASCAR at Furniture Row Racing? First there was the boneheaded justification that manipulating a roof flap shouldn’t warrant a suspension because it is a safety item, now arrogantly announcing to the media that you’re going to work around NASCAR’s suspension, and by what means. Remember what Jimmy Conway told a young Henry Hill in Goodfellas after getting popped selling stolen cigarettes? “Never rat on your friends, and ALWAYS KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.” At least Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had the good sense to wait nine years before showing the picture of Tony Eury, Jr. perched atop a motorhome over looking the track when he was serving his suspension in 2007.

Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: In a perfect world, keeping a crew member away from the track would actually suffice as a suspension, but communication has changed too much.  If it’s as easy as using FaceTime to get the suspended party’s input, then the team really isn’t being punished.  But short of kidnapping the crew member, how is NASCAR supposed to monitor or stop that level of correspondence?

Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: A suspension for the week should mean absolutely no communication. However, I realize that’s borderline impossible in the modern day. I’ll think NASCAR should invite the suspended member to spend the weekend in NASCAR’s box with no electronic devices. It may sound weird, but at least then they can be monitored.

Phoenix produced the second photo finish of the season, but did it produce the best race of the year overall, and is there a difference between a great finish and a great race?

Henderson: Phoenix ranks third on my list for this year so far, and there is absolutely a difference between a good finish and a good race. Just look at the Daytona 500—lousy race with a great finish.  Atlanta and Las Vegas were better as a whole than Phoenix or Daytona, with Atlanta being the gold standard so far.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Sunday’s race in Phoenix provided an incredible finish. But was the racing good? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Pugliese: The Daytona 500 was the better race, and the finish at Phoenix was simply the result of a green-white-checkered with one car on 50-laps-newer tires. The closing laps were fine, but to equate it to the finish at Daytona is a bit unwarranted. The racing wasn’t bad; it was a good race, but the let’s not overlook why the finish really happened. Not to be a buzzkill, but it’s finishes like these is what taints races like we were watching before the final lap shootout was forced by the final caution. Everyone expects these types of finishes to be routine, but they typically only happen outside of plate races when there is a green-white-checkered re-rack, with everyone driving like a maniac for two laps.

Jason Schultz, Contributor: The two photo finishes in the first four races of the 2016 season have been epic. The exhilaration they produce at the conclusion of the race can often overshadow what happened throughout the event. While the Phoenix race wasn’t very exciting, the finish made up for the lack of thrills. Looking back, many will remember the race in a positive light because of the finish.

Dustin Albino, Contributor: It was not the best race of the season and there is a difference in a great race and a great finish. Atlanta has been the best race to date in 2016 with the slipping and sliding, tire wear, typical Atlanta. Fans will always remember the photo finishes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good race. Phoenix wasn’t a bad race; in fact, I think it was one of the best races we’ve seen at the desert in quite some time. There was a ton of passing.

Fesko: There is a difference between a great finish and a great race, and Phoenix is a textbook example. There was little action shown on the television screen (but was there action anyway? We’ll likely never know) and only a handful of leaders – which could be okay if they were going back and forth all race. But they didn’t. And we wouldn’t have had the finish if Kasey Kahne hadn’t blown his tire. A good race is one that includes passing, mechanical failure and good pit strategy. Phoenix had one of three.

With the success of the low-downforce package so far in 2016, there has been talk of taking away even more downforce as teams find ways to add it back.  Is this a move NASCAR should make?

Gable: Absolutely!  Do everything possible to put the driving in the drivers’ hands.  They seem to love the new aero package, and it’s a better show for the fans if the drivers are working hard to hang on to their cars.

Bearden: It’s not just a move they should make, it’s one they have to make. Teams are going to find ways to get the lost downforce back. If NASCAR doesn’t make efforts to take more downforce away, the top Cup teams will catch up and the racing could even revert to old form. NASCAR needs to stay one step ahead of those million-dollar engineers in the garage. Good luck, guys.

Howell: Absolutely. I’ve heard that the cars could lose maybe another 400 pounds and still stick at most tracks. I like Carl Edwards‘ suggestion at Phoenix that NASCAR remove the rear spoiler/blade completely. Most of the sliding thus far has come from tire wear. It seems like the cars could stand to lose more grip and make driving talent and chassis setup even greater assets.

Henderson: Yes!  But there is a fine line, and I don’t think wholesale, overnight changes are beneficial to everyone. Not every team has the latest and greatest in shaker rigs, etc., and unlimited wind tunnel time, and NASCAR needs to balance the smaller teams keeping up with the rules with the big ones getting ahead of them.

(Photo: Matthew T Thacker NKP)
The new rules package has proven to be an equalizer to start 2016, allowing for winners from each manufacturer and surprising runs like a 20th-place finish for Matt DiBenedetto at Phoenix. (Photo: Matthew T Thacker NKP)

Schultz: NASCAR should absolutely take away more downforce. The 2016 rules package was the first step in the right direction for improving the on-track product. Removing downforce is the way to go, and the sport now needs to take a majority of it away because teams will continue adding it back. The races using the package so far have all been praised by drivers and fans, especially the initial events when the teams didn’t have a chance to add the downforce back. Taking more away can only lead to a further improved product.

This week, NASCAR heads to Fontana with both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY series.  What can fans expect from each of theses races on Auto Club Speedway’s worn surface?

Albino: Auto Club is one of my favorite races to watch each year. There will be passing, racing from the top of the track all the way down to the bottom, tire wear. I expect Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing to be the class of the field in the Cup race and for Kyle Busch to dominate the XFINITY race. It is one of his best tracks in both series. Technically, he hasn’t lost a Cup race there since 2012 since he wasn’t able to compete last year.

Howell: My guess is that the Cup race at Fontana will be Atlanta 2.0 — a fast track with a worn-out surface and lots of potential for long green flag runs. If you’re car isn’t right, you’ll have few chances to make it so. As for the XFINITY event on Saturday, expect chapter four of the Kyle Busch story. It’s going to be his race to lose.

Fesko: In the XFINITY Series, the big storyline is if Kyle Busch can go four-for-four in NXS starts in 2016 and extend his series-leading win total to 80. A boring race most likely in terms of the winner, but expect some good racing deeper. On the Cup side, fans should expect another great race with the low-downforce package and another great finish to add to ACS’ recent history of fantastic endings.

Gable: There will be a lot of slipping and sliding in both races, and tires will be a big deal.  Auto Club will be a good test for the new aero package in Sprint Cup, much like Atlanta.  As for XFINITY, it’s all about Kyle Busch and a potential fourth win in a row.

Bearden: Fontana’s been one of the five best races on the schedule every year since the Gen-6 came around in 2013. Fans can expect high speeds, plenty of passing and probably a few wrecks to go with them. Oh yeah, and I think Kyle Busch is running the XFINITY Series race again, so… yeah. That.

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How about the suspended crew chief sits in the booth next to Mike Helton throughout the race? Wouldn’t that put a damper on any communication with the team? Just askin.

Tim S.

Put him in the Hollywood Hotel with the Waltrips. One race and he’ll never cheat again.

Bill B

Hey they have a penalty box in hockey, why not NASCAR?
Granted, it could be a trailer or room instead of a “box”, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to have suspended team members that are at the management level have to physically serve the penalty. If that’s the only way you can keep them from circumventing the rules then so be it. And if they don’t like it, well, that’s why it’s called a penalty. You’re not supposed to like it.


Current form of suspension not working? No sweat. Require a person to attend the entire weekend, 1 as a fan, 2 with a minder, 3 with no electronic communication during the entire weekend activities. Well, maybe the minder can hold the suspended person’s phone. Fans are restricted from specific areas so with a minder that pretty well prevents forbidden contact.

Spence S.

I think now that the low downforce package works, Jimmie Johnson wants to try the no-steering-wheels-allowed-in-qualifying setup :)


So Jimmie Johnson drove her down pit road and did a pre-qualifying lap and pulled the steering off the shaft going into the turn. Yeah, right. I saw sparks out the left rear of the car as it headed for the wall. I think one of Chad’s pre-chase experimental parts failed. I’m sure he’d admit to that.

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