NASCAR has reinstated practice and qualifying sessions for all three major divisions this season. While practice sessions are shorter than in the past, drivers and teams have an opportunity to adjust their cars ahead of the races.
At Las Vegas Motor Speedway though, Jesse Iwuji garnered attention for his inability to keep his No. 34 Chevrolet straight throughout the NASCAR Xfinity Series race weekend.
During his qualifying attempt, Iwuji saved his No. 34 from wrecking, but it wasn’t the lone instance of Iwuji being the center of attention for something other than having a fast car.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 5, 2022
Iwuji has only one lead lap finish in his brief Xfinity tenure. With that and several other questionable moves, the question then is: Should NASCAR reexamine its license policy? Mark Kristl and Alex Gintz debate that question in this week’s 2-Headed Monster.
Iwuji and Co. Must Figure it Out
NASCAR is the only sport where one’s talent does not equal the caliber of a ride. Iwuji formed his own team this year, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports. The No. 34 team certainly is not the caliber of JR Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, and other powerhouse Xfinity teams. It’s is a brand-new team.
Yes, NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith is a partner in this team. But it still is a first-year team. Kaulig did not win its first Xfinity race until its fourth season. JR Motorsports won its first race in its third season of existence and it had the most popular driver in the sport as owner.
“The team is going to go in the right direction,” Iwuji told NBC Sports. “I’m excited about it. There definitely are a lot of risks being taken, but I like it. You can’t grow unless you stretch.”
Three races have been completed thus far this season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. There will continue to be growing pains for this team. Iwuji will not be a contender anytime soon. Instead, his team will continue to adjust his No. 34 so he can better his on-track performance.
While Iwuji’s wreck at Las Vegas certainly garnered the attention of this 2-Headed Monster column, he is not prone to wrecking cars. In fact, in his 23 combined starts in NASCAR’s premier divisions, he was running at the finish 20 times with only three DNFs.
In last week’s race, Iwuji completed 156 of the 200 laps. Therefore, his wreck does not reflect he met minimum speed, avoided trouble, and bested fellow series regulars Matt Mills, Ryan Sieg, and Joe Graf Jr. for most the race.
There is also more reason to hope that Iwuji will continue to improve as a driver. He has just eight Xfinity starts. He has not competed in that series twice at one racetrack. As Iwuji learns these tracks, he will become more confident driving his No. 34.
As an owner, Iwuji certainly does not want to wreck. That means more work by his team when they preferably would be continually building him faster race cars. It is also an added financial cost. Each wreck means the team must fix those cars. That spent money reduces the funding the team would otherwise use to upgrade its equipment.
What happens then if Iwuji continues to struggle on track? It will police itself.
If Iwuji’s driving mirrors a moving chicane, his competitors will want to pass him more quickly. Either those drivers will make a much cleaner pass, or they will aggressively move Iwuji to get by him.
Of all the drivers who have contested all three Xfinity races, Iwuji is the lowest in the points. That negative mark can immediately affect Iwuji and his team.
For the first three Xfinity races, the provisional starting spots were based on last year’s owners’ points. Iwuji’s team bought the No. 6 owners’ points from last year. Those points placed the No. 34 team 24th on the provisional rankings entering Las Vegas. In a nutshell, the team was safe from failing to qualify for the race.
Now, the provisional starting spots are determined by the current year’s owners’ points. The No. 34 team has dropped to 37th in the owners’ points. For this upcoming race at Phoenix Raceway, it is the sixth lowest. It is no longer a safe wager that Iwuji will successfully qualify for the race.
Even if Iwuji successfully qualifies for this race, he must earn more points. Continuing to finish 30th or lower will at some point result in a DNQ for Iwuji.
No, NASCAR does not need to reexamine its license policy, especially concerning Iwuji. Iwuji and his team have two options: either significantly improve or suffer the consequence of possibly failing to qualify for a race. – Mark Kristl.
Safety Should Be NASCAR’s No. 1 Priority
What happened with Jesse Iwuji on Saturday in the NASCAR Xfinity race was incredible.
Iwuji was way off the pace and multiple laps down and took out two contending teams in an accident that he caused. This wasn’t a driver pushing too hard and to find the limit. No, this was a driver severely off the pace who caused a major accident because he couldn’t keep the car straight. This is big-time stock car racing and it’s time NASCAR acts like that. The accident raised eyebrows for everyone who saw it and there’s a reason that wreck has set this topic into motion.
If it was just Saturday with Iwuji, I’d have a little more sympathy for him. However, if you watched him perform in his previous endeavors it is remarkable he was approved to run full-time in the Xfinity Series. Anyone with eyes and even a little bit of racing knowledge could see that he needed a lot more seasoning before moving up to the faster and heavier cars of the Xfinity Series.
It is absolutely time for NASCAR to look at their approval process, and while Iwuji is the target this week, he isn’t alone. Over the last few seasons NASCAR has gotten a lot laxer with their approval process and by luck, nothing has happened. We need to keep in mind that while NASCAR has come a long way in the terms of safety, this is still a dangerous sport, and we should never take that for granted.
For example, last season Bill Lester was approved to race in the Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Keep in mind that Lester hadn’t run in a NASCAR race in almost 14 years, and he was approved, at the age of 60, to run in a truck race without any practice. The trucks race 175 mph down the straightaway at Atlanta. How is that safe? If that doesn’t scream an issue I don’t know what does. It’s absolutely stunning that Lester was approved.
How about Derrike Cope? Cope hadn’t raced in three years before he raced in the Daytona 500 in 2021. He hadn’t run at Daytona International Speedway in the Cup Series in over a decade. Remember his performance in Duel 150s last year? Cope nearly took out half the field by not getting low enough on the track when he had an issue. His total lack of awareness was alarming. Another driver whose approval I immediately questioned when it occurred and another case where NASCAR got extremely lucky nothing major happened. By the way, he crashed in lap three of the Daytona 500. Go figure.
And I don’t want to hear that nothing major has happened yet, and that I am overreacting. I’d rather be proactive than reactive. NASCAR should know the consequences of being reactive with safety. The effects of that are still felt in this sport today. There needs to be standards and those standards need to be enforced consistently. That’s the biggest problem, it’s the consistency.
Take a look at the latest team announcement for the NASCAR Cup Series. Tarso Marques is entering the NASCAR Cup Series with Team Stange Racing. Marques intends to race in eight races in 2022, including the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. Think back to a year or so ago when NASCAR denied Truck Series regular Jennifer Jo Cobb a chance to race in a Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. No reason was really given at to why NASCAR did not approve Cobb, but she had over 200 starts in the Truck Series and NASCAR felt that she wasn’t qualified to run in the Cup Series.
Yet, Marques, who last ran CART in 2005 and Formula 1 in 2001 looks to be approved for the event. How does that make any sense at all? While there’s still a few months until he runs Daytona and opportunities for him to get experience, its mind boggling the difference in experience between Marques and Cobb. Yet Cobb was denied an entry and Marques is okay. It’s been over 15 years since Marques has run at the speeds he will experience in the Cup Series at Daytona in August. He has never drafted in a big pack in his life. Yet he’s approved? Something is seriously broken.
Iwuji is just the latest example of NASCAR’s policy coming into question. What should be the standard for being approved to race? That’s another fair question. However, I say that the eye test is still something that would work just fine.
I remember hearing a story about A.J. Foyt having to run a test to race at Darlington Raceway in 1985. Foyt was 50 years old and a legend in the motorsports. Yet, he hadn’t run a race at the legendary facility and had to undergo a test where veteran drivers like Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough watched him run a few laps and had to decide if he was capable. Of course, Foyt passed and was allowed to run in the 1985 Southern 500. While it was ridiculous for Foyt with all he accomplished to run that test, I’d much rather be too cautious than too lenient on things like that, just on the side of safety.
Safety. That’s what I started this piece with and that’s what I am going to end it with. If someone appears to be a constant danger on the track, then NASCAR needs to think long and hard about whether or not they should be approved to race. Iwuji’s previous performances were rough enough to set off alarm bells, yet NASCAR approved him to run full-time in the Xfinity Series. He is just the latest example of a broken system and one that needs to be corrected. – Clayton Caldwell
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