With Kyle Larson locked into the Championship 4, should the No. 5 car help to get teammate and defending champion Chase Elliott in?
Stephen Stumpf: Absolutely not. The two may be teammates, but Kyle Larson is having one of the most dominant seasons in the 21st century and should have his eyes focused on his first championship. Given his results at Phoenix Raceway, Chase Elliott represents one of the biggest threats to Larson’s championship hopes should he also make it to the finale. Of course, Larson will have to — and should — race him with respect as a teammate and competitor for the next two weeks. But if it’s a battle between Larson and Elliott for the win at Kansas Speedway, the last thing Larson should do is pull over and allow Elliott to win.
Josh Roller: I’m not sure what all Larson and the No. 5 team can do to help Elliott get into the Championship 4 other than be a blocker between him and Kevin Harvick or helping Chase get his lap back via cutting him a break if needed. Should Larson help Elliott? I don’t see why not within the scope of the NASCAR rulebook and the 100% rule. Because there is so little a teammate can do to help another teammate in NASCAR, I don’t have a problem when it does occur, short of outright intentionally wrecking the competition for a teammate.
Frank Velat: There are plenty of subtle things that the No. 5 team could do to enhance the chances of Elliott advancing. Most are spontaneous and very situational. For example, if a car that Elliott needs to beat is breathing down Larson’s neck, expect him to put up some heavy resistance. I don’t think Larson will go into either of the next two races looking to hinder Elliott’s competition but if the opportunity should arise, why wouldn’t he take it?
Adam Cheek: It feels like a no-win situation for Larson, or at least some sort of racing-teammate purgatory. He needs to consider who won at Phoenix last year – Elliott, obviously – and the fact that the No. 9 is still in title defense mode, all of which factor into presenting the No. 5 with a bigger challenge should he help his teammate get to the championship round and Elliott perform well in the desert. On the other hand, if he doesn’t help his stablemate, that’s not going to sit perfectly with the team. So Larson should probably weigh his options and help when he can, but I doubt he’ll go out of his way to bring feast or famine to Elliott’s chances. He’ll be like Rob Lowe wearing that NFL logo hat. No sides chosen! Whatever happens, happens.
The No. 51 team could have its charter repossessed by NASCAR if it finishes in the bottom three among charter teams this season. Should an underperforming team lose their charter?
Roller: This is a slippery slope NASCAR will have to tread this offseason. If they repossess Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 charter, the precedent is set to repossess charters in the future. I believe they should repossess and turn around and sell it to a team, which is looking for a charter, and there are a few potential buyers. GMS Racing and 23XI Racing are two teams that need a charter and will be more competitive than a third RWR car in 2022. The teams with charters should be the most competitive teams on the grid, and sometimes that hasn’t been the case. Suppose interest in the NASCAR Cup Series continues to rebuild with more potential new owners or current teams expanding. In that case, I hope NASCAR would consider expanding the field back to 43 cars and maybe adding two charters to the field when the next broadcast contract comes up.
Velat: NASCAR has said it will take away charters and it better follows through with it or any future threats will be all bark and no bite. Not to mention, Rick Ware Racing is fortunate to have any charters. When teams first start participating in Cup, a struggle is almost expected. But RWR is closing in on 500 starts at the Cup level and has exactly zero top 10 finishes outside of Daytona and Talladega. They’re no closer to being competitive now than they were five years ago and there could be more new teams waiting in the wings to break into NASCAR. I have nothing against field fillers because almost every driver or owner has been one at some point. But a car guaranteed to finish multiple laps down shouldn’t be guaranteed a starting spot.
Stumpf: Yes, there are other open teams that should get a chance at obtaining a charter if a team that has one is underperforming. And given how teams like Rick Ware Racing have engaged in a game of hot potato of buying and selling charters in order to not lose them, it shows that the system as it currently stands is broken. If NASCAR had a system where every team was forever locked into their charters, it would give little incentive for smaller teams to focus on improving their performance when they are already far behind the powerhouse teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. Revoking charters from underperforming teams also makes it easier for brand-new or expanding teams to make a splash in the sport, and higher car counts is something that the Cup Series desperately needs.
Cheek: At some point, there’s a line that needs to be drawn. The aforementioned stats above kind of say it all, and let’s look at the last “normal” race: ignoring the chaos of Texas, the Charlotte ROVAL and Talladega, Las Vegas Motor Speedway featured RWR cars finishing 31st and 35th-37th in a 38-car field. This is a constant with the team, with just one top 10 in the last four years of competition among too many drivers to count. It’s especially unfortunate given the 2022 situation, primarily 23XI Racing, where a team already competitive this year (and with a win courtesy of Bubba Wallace) had a deal with Front Row Motorsports fall through and currently doesn’t have a charter for next year – for a second car with veteran Kurt Busch at the wheel, mind you.
Danica Patrick will be part of the television coverage for this weekend’s Formula 1 race. Would you buy or sell Danica as a TV commentator?
Velat: I’m buying but does that matter? The important thing is what do the diehard F1 fans think of her chiming in? Nearly every racing series on TV is presented by either former participants in that series or classically trained journalists. Patrick is neither. That’s not to say she doesn’t know anything about F1. Her racing experience is indeed varied but never included the world’s most popular motorsport. That said, a couple well presented outings on her part and perhaps she could win over the skeptics.
Stumpf: I would need to see more of her in a commentating role, but I thought she did a solid job covering the Camping World SRX Series in the summer. She would need more experience and practice, but I certainly think that she has what it takes to be good at broadcasting in the future.
Roller: I’ve always enjoyed her commentary in the NTT IndyCar Series, and during SRX this summer, Danica did a fine job there, too. I buy her more as an open-wheel commentator and wish it was her alongside Townsend Bell and Leigh Diffey in the IndyCar booth, but I believe that is wishful thinking. I only sell if she is a NASCAR commentator. Other than that, I’m buying every race.
Cheek: Buying. Patrick did a great job during the Superstar Racing Experience events over the summer months and has been a great presence on NBC’s coverage of IndyCar, especially as an analyst for the Indianapolis 500. On some level, it feels like a wait-and-see scenario given that she’s never been directly involved with F1, but SRX presented a similar situation and she was a solid presence in the booth alongside Allen Bestwick. Patrick also popped up on ESPN’s College Gameday a few weeks back and was good on there, as well. I wouldn’t mind having her on some NASCAR broadcasts, either.
Kansas is the last intermediate race for this current chassis/car combination. What’s your favorite 1.5-mile race from this generation of car?
Stumpf: That’s a tough question because there have been so many races at the 1.5 mile tracks since 2013. It may be recency bias, but I thoroughly enjoyed the May 2019 Kansas race. The race had an exciting duel between Alex Bowman and Brad Keselowski for the win, and the entire race featured comers and goers at the front and numerous lead changes. In addition, the race featured surprise faces at the point, as Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were challenging for the lead and had some of the best races of their careers. The 550 horsepower package didn’t come without controversy and there were several clunker races with it, but this was of the times where I thought it was a home run and produced a fantastic race.
Roller: That is a question with a complicated answer. Too many packages have been run with the Gen 6 Cup Series car that it’s impossible to pick. If only one or two packages had been run since 2013, the answer would be more clear. The 2014 season was the best season of the Gen 6 era, and all the races were good ones that year. But with this current package, typically, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway put on the best shows from a D-shaped oval perspective. But hands down, Homestead-Miami Speedway was the best since 2019. The Gen 6 car had too much experimentation, and I wish the teams and NASCAR could agree with one another to run a set of regulations for two or three years unless something drastic had to be changed. Too much change meant the Gen 6 never had a chance to succeed, and outside of 2014 and short tracks, road courses, and 1-mile ovals in 2020 and 2021, the current car was forgettable.
Velat: The 2014 season finale at Homestead was an intriguing show as Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin regularly swapped the lead. But just because a race didn’t have 40-plus lead changes doesn’t make it a bad race. Racing is meant to be an exhibition of speed and skill. If cars have to run side by side for 500 miles to make fans happy, they might be parade fans rather than racing fans.
Cheek: For what it’s worth, I combed through a lot of the races at mile-and-a-half venues for the past era and really didn’t find many that stuck out. As such, I’ll allow recency bias to factor in here and pick the 2021 spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, which might’ve been the best show we’ve seen on 1.5-mile layouts all season … or at least in the past couple. Admittedly, Atlanta’s put on some forgettable shows – Harvick dominated a snoozefest last year that took me a few minutes to remember – but the spring race was wildly exciting. Yes, Larson led 269 of the 325 laps, but the waning circuits featured Ryan Blaney‘s No. 12 zooming closer and closer to the No. 5’s bumper. Blaney caught Larson, battled him and then passed him with a little help from Logano, but the entire chase-down sequence and subsequent fight for the lead was a lot of fun to watch and downright entertaining. That’s one that’s hard to forget.
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