Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Will a Mid-Season Crew Chief Change Help Austin Dillon?

The latest NASCAR Hall of Fame Class was announced Wednesday (May 24) and includes Red Byron, Robert Yates, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr.  Opinions?

Michael Massie: All five legends — and all of the nominees — deserve to be in the HoF. Byron and Squier should have already been in. I know that Hornaday and Alan Kulwicki tied for the final spot, which made me glad that I am not on the panel, as that would have been an extremely difficult decision to make. Without a doubt, Kulwicki will get in next year. It might have been a few more years before Yates was inducted had he not been going through an intense battle with cancer. The voters rallied behind him, which is awesome because hopefully it will give him the morale boost to defeat cancer. He would have been in eventually anyways, so you might as well put him in when it can make a difference in his life. One guy that would have gotten my vote is the recently deceased Sam Ard. He was the first repeat champion in the XFINITY Series and might have won more had an injury not ended his career during his second championship-winning season.

Vito Pugliese: I think they nailed it with the exception of perhaps Hornaday. Not knocking or minimizing his accomplishments, but it would have been nice to see Yates and Davey Allison both go in together. The issue is the small class size. There’s now only 40 people inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for a sport that has been around for going on 70 years. Hornaday is notable, however, as he is the first driver to really represent the Truck Series, and I can understand why that is important for both the Hall and the promotion of that series. His success in that series was during a time when it was supposed to be a proving ground for new talent, but was also sort of a seniors’ tour for former Cup drivers that had moved on or moved out from their top tier rides.

John Haverlin: Yates, Evernham, Squier and Hornaday are all worthy of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Byron? Eh, I’m not sure he fits. All five inductees were pioneers to NASCAR in their own way, but Byron’s impact on NASCAR doesn’t seem as great as the other four. I understand he was the first champion, but he didn’t have a long, illustrious career as a racecar driver. I would have rather seen Roger Penske or Joe Gibbs get the nod.

Bryan Gable: My five picks were Byron, Evernham, Kulwicki, Ray Fox and Mike Stefanik.  The panel made a few different selections, and I am a little surprised that Hornaday got the nod this year, but overall I like this class.  I really, really hope that Kulwicki gets in next time around, and I understand that it was close between him and Hornaday for the last spot.  Kulwicki may not have put up staggering numbers during his NASCAR career, but his championship run was such a monumental achievement that he needs to go into the Hall sooner rather than later.  As a final note, I continue to await Smokey Yunick’s addition to the list of 20 nominees.

The 2018 schedules were released this week for NASCAR’s national series. Were the changes made enough?

Haverlin: So far, there have been mixed reviews about the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval, but I love it. I can’t wait to see a race on it. It will create a lot of interesting strategies for drivers and teams. Will the cars’ setups resemble that of a road course, an oval, or a little of both? Either way, more road courses, please! As for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I’m not sure how I feel about it being the last race of the regular season mainly because it is a week after the Southern 500. Having crown jewel races on consecutive weekends isn’t a good idea. I like to see these events a few weeks apart so that there can be a buildup of excitement. If they’re seven days apart, it would create a little too much hype and feel a little gimmicky, especially with the playoffs right around the corner.

Gable: I am on board with most of the schedule changes.  My favorite move is adding Richmond International Raceway, another short track, to the postseason.  It is important that the playoffs represent a variety of the tracks on which NASCAR races.  Using the road course layout at Charlotte will provide an interesting challenge, but I’d like to see NASCAR add a Cup race at a different road course in the future, particularly Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course or Road America.  Additional races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway are a change for the worse, as is moving the Brickyard 400 to the last race of the regular season.  It will not be so hot in Indianapolis in September, but a date change will not make stock car racing at the Brickyard any more entertaining.

Massie:  The only good change was putting Richmond in the playoffs and booting Chicagoland Speedway. I admire the decision to try the Charlotte roval, but not in the playoffs. It should be tested first with the XFINITY Series or as a midsummer Cup race. It could be good, but it could also wind up being a complete disaster right in the middle of the playoffs. Putting Indianapolis as the cutoff race is the surest way to ruin any buzz going on as MENCS enters the playoffs. The comas induced from watching the Snoozeyard 400 will ensure that no one sees the final 10 races. The better short-term solution to get more fans in the seats would have been to split up the West Coast Swing and the Short Track Swing. Day racing was not the reason that this past Richmond race had a small crowd, but having Bristol Motor Speedway the week beforehand was a factor. Many fans in Virginia could attend both races, but it is nearly impossible to do so in consecutive weeks.

Matteo Marcheschi: The move to road courses in all three series’ playoffs is huge. However, there should be focus on purpose-built road courses rather than rovals. However, contracts with the various tracks prevent new venues, so NASCAR and its fans will have to make do for now. Even so, this is a step in the right direction and one that NASCAR desperately needed to make.

Richard Childress Racing announced a crew chief change for Austin Dillon this week. Is a change at the top mid-season a good move for any team, not just Dillon’s?

Gable:  It all depends on what circumstances the team is facing.  The No. 3 appears to have taken a step back this year, so it is not like Richard Childress had a lot to lose in making the switch.  However, the problems with this team probably run deeper than the crew chief. Austin Dillon might get the best results if he was reunited with Danny Stockman Jr., but that would hardly be fair to Daniel Hemric.  Childress and Dillon can certainly hope for the best, but usually mid-season crew chief changes take time to produce results, if they ever come at all.

Massie: Swapping the crew chief at this point in the season is a desperation move. As things stand, Dillon will not make the playoffs. I doubt is has anything to do with the crew chief, as the No. 3 team just made the playoffs last season. Despite Ryan Newman‘s win, RCR seems to have taken a step back this season, and Slugger Labbe is the scapegoat. It likely has more to do with the fact that RCR is pouring way more resources into Germain Racing’s No. 13 for Ty Dillon. I don’t look for this to be a quick-fix solution.

Marcheschi: Dillon needs a serious boost. Things can’t get much worse for the RCR driver, who has only one top 5 finish, a fifth place at Martinsville Speedway, in 2017. That is also his only top-10 finish. Dillon has an average finish of just worse than 20th and sits 22nd in points. He and his team should be pursuing all options to improve their performance.

Pugliese: They weren’t doing anything remarkable as it was, so I don’t see how it would get any worse. There are a lot of eyes on the No. 3 car, and it simply hasn’t been living up to expectations following some of the momentum they had built upon last season.

Charlotte added resin to the track’s upper groove this week in an attempt to make it easier for drivers to use the top of the track to pass during this weekend’s races.  It worked at Bristol, but what can we expect at the 1.5-mile tracks?

Massie: At Bristol, the resin seemed to work well during the early portions of the race, but it wore off near the end. The racing was a lot less exciting as it wore off, but the beginning stages were awesome. Unless NASCAR has found a way for the resin to last longer, then I think that will happen again. On top of that, the All-Star Open proved that daytime racing at Charlotte is immensely better than the nighttime conditions. Since the 600 starts in the daytime and ends at night, we will see the racing get progressively worse. Add in what I mentioned about the resin and that makes for an exhilarating first half of the race and a forgettable second half.

Marcheschi: It will certainly be an interesting experiment. While success is far from guaranteed, the All-Star Race showed us that, if nothing were done, the 600 would be a four-plus-hour-long snoozefest, so anything that NASCAR and the track can do will be an improvement on this past weekend’s racing.

Pugliese: Charlotte’s issues date back to 2005 when it was ruined with the repave and then the levigation stunt. The big issue was there was a bump in Turn 4. You know, something that made it unique and drivers had to deal with. It will make the higher groove come in earlier, but being a night race, grip isn’t usually a problem once the sun goes down and the temperatures stabilize. It’s worth trying, I suppose; no use having all of that racetrack if you’re only going to use 10 feet of it.

Haverlin: Adding resin to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s top groove should help with passing early in the race, but as the track cools off and the Coca-Cola 600 progresses into the night, it’s not going to be as effective. It feels like every year the race starts off exciting, and then the cars start to get comfortable in one groove and it becomes harder to pass. Maybe the resin will negate that sort of thing from happening?

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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At some point the Hall of Fame needs to move away from five individuals being admitted each year and establish a percentage threshold. I could see it in the early years but now less than a decade in and people are getting voted in with 38% of the vote.
I refuse to look at the schedule within the context of the playoffs, as it implies acceptance of them.

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