Should NASCAR make any rule changes for when the leader is involved in a caution on the last lap?
Luken Glover: No. As unnecessary and dirty of a move that Ty Gibbs made on Brandon Jones at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last weekend, that is more on what Gibbs did rather than Jones. I am not a fan of constantly adding more penalties, and NASCAR needs to be genuine, but I would not mind a time penalty similar to that of Formula 1 for absolutely unnecessary moves. That said, this is stock-car racing. Gibbs deserves all of the criticism he is receiving for the move, but he is not the first to do it, nor will he be the last. It is an exciting yet sometimes unfortunate part of racing that separates the sport from others.
Joy Tomlinson: It depends on the situation. It should have done something with Gibbs last week — either penalize him right away by sending him back to second or penalize him later in the week. Then again, that would lead to a slippery slope and inconsistent rulings; as if NASCAR doesn’t do that already. No rule changes for now, unless something happens that results in the driver getting hurt. After all, there are sometimes crashes on the last lap at superspeedways, and the only rule that’s there in the NASCAR Cup Series is no going below the yellow line to pass and no forcing others below the yellow line. Just leave things the way they are for now.
Mark Kristl: NASCAR could implement a version of a tap-out rule where the drivers involved in any last-lap incidents are scored at the tail end of the field. As a result, Gibbs would have finished as the last driver on the lead lap (24th), handing the win to Sheldon Creed. But that can bring criticism to scoring decisions as to who was involved in an incident. Ultimately, NASCAR would be best served to continue to allow the drivers to police themselves.
Mike Neff: Like what? If the leader is involved in the caution but is ahead when the flag flies, they should still win. Not sure why there would be different handling for the leader vs. any other competitor.
Andrew Stoddard: Leave it be. Many NASCAR fans have a hard enough time keeping track of all the rules and rules changes from year to year as it is. Also, it is difficult to legislate the emotions of a driver on the last lap fighting for the win.
Do you expect any retaliation toward Gibbs in the Xfinity finale?
Stoddard: Since the playoff format started in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2014 and in the Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Trucks series in 2016, the championship races have been mostly clean without any attempts at retaliation against a championship driver. That said, the level of vitriol from other Xfinity drivers toward Gibbs after that move at Martinsville was very high. Ultimately, cooler heads will prevail at Phoenix Raceway so that the Championship 4 can settle the Xfinity title fair and square. 2023, on the other hand, could be a long rookie Cup season for Gibbs, with a healthy dose of payback in store in both next year.
Neff: Gibbs isn’t winning the title. Way too many chips stacked against him for that to happen. True justice would be Jones dumping him and taking the title away from him.
Glover: Would it surprise me? Definitely not. Will it happen? Most likely no. Jones has the best reason to pull the stunt, but he races with respect and class. Other than him, the only non-title contenders could be Sam Mayer or Ryan Sieg, but they have likely moved on from their past incidents. The biggest threat? Noah Gragson. It is no secret that Gragson and Gibbs have some beef. If Gragson is behind or alongside Gibbs in the end for the title, Gibbs is in trouble.
Kristl: Whether Gibbs should receive any payback vs. whether he will receive any are two different questions. Gibbs should receive payback, but because of the stakes, his race team, etc., I highly doubt he will receive any payback. Because of his driving style, though, Gibbs will likely be raced harder by his Championship 4 rivals.
Tomlinson: Maybe. Jones doesn’t seem to want to do anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gragson raced Gibbs hard throughout the race. If Gragson’s smart, though, he’ll think more about keeping his car free from damage, at least until the end of the race. If it came down to him and Gibbs for the race win at the end, he’ll probably want to bump Gibbs out of the way.
Given his crazy last-lap maneuver at Martinsville Speedway became No. 1 on SportsCenter‘s top 10 plays, is Ross Chastain the favorite to win the Most Popular Driver award? If not him, then who?
Kristl: Although the Most Popular Driver award significance has faded, Ross Chastain absolutely should be a strong favorite. He has delighted fans with his smashing watermelon victory celebration. He has become a top-performing driver, which benefits his cause. For the cherry on top, Chastain’s move caught the attention of the general public, something reigning MPD Chase Elliott cannot say about any of his achievements.
Glover: Picking the favorite for MPD is more predictable than Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow. Elliott still is the favorite, and it will take a lot to dethrone him. Kyle Larson appeared to be a serious threat to Elliott’s streak last year, yet Elliott won again. It doesn’t look likely that will change. That said, Chastain is someone the sport needs and can help the sport get back to the mainstream eye. I have said for years NASCAR needs another Dale Earnhardt vs. Jeff Gordon or someone who separates themselves from the field. Larson is someone who can do that, but Chastain’s background, personality, Trackhouse Racing Team and driving style above all make him the potential face of NASCAR that will get them back in the mainstream eye weekly.
Stoddard: Elliott is the most popular driver in the Cup Series, bar none. His family background, his consistent winning and the crowd’s reaction whenever he wins speak to that. However, considering the reaction at Martinsville, Chastain does have a reasonable shot at second in the voting, with Larson likely his closest competition for the runner-up spot.
Tomlinson: As popular as that move was, he’s not the favorite for the most popular driver. That’s Elliott, whether he wins the championship or not. He’s just one of those drivers who is well-liked by many. I think some fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon wanted someone to like, and Elliott helped to fill that void.
Neff: Not sure if you realize this, but Elliott still drives in the Cup Series. Chastain got a positive surge for sure, but the award still belongs to the Elliott family representative.
Who will win the Truck championship?
Neff: The last name will be Smith, just a matter of whether it is Chandler Smith or Zane Smith. Chandler Smith and his team have been workhorses all year long, overcoming many obstacles. This is probably going to be the reward for that perseverance.
Tomlinson: Chandler Smith. He won at Phoenix earlier this year after leading 39 laps. He also finished third there in the last two years. And recently, he won Richmond Raceway in September and led 89 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway before coming home ninth. He should shine under the lights and leave Kyle Busch Motorsports on a high note, earning the team’s third Truck championship.
Stoddard: Let’s eliminate Ty Majeski right out of the gate. This has been a breakthrough season for him with two trips to victory lane, but it is also his first full-time Truck season, and the limited experience will come back to haunt him at Phoenix. While Chandler Smith has a playoff win at Richmond, he has also finished outside the top 10 twice in the six playoff races. Between that, the upheaval at KBM and his impending departure for Kaulig Racing in 2023, Smith will not have enough going for him to get the job done. Zane Smith roared out of the gates with three wins in the first eight races. Smith has not won since, but he does have five top 10s in six playoff races, the most consistent of the playoff drivers. Then there is defending champion Ben Rhodes, who has had an up-and-down playoffs performance with two runner-up finishes but also three finishes outside the top 10. With the Truck title on the line, expect Rhodes to fall back on his experience from a year ago and successfully defend his championship.
Glover: The Truck champion is the hardest to pick because of one driver getting hot at the right moment (ex: Matt Crafton in 2019). That isn’t the overwhelming case this year, but it will still be a slugfest. We have the regular-season champion in Zane Smith, who is also tied with fellow contender Chandler Smith for the most wins in 2022, the best playoff driver in Majeski and the defending champion, Rhodes. When the dust settles, I am going with Zane Smith. He is in the best position he’s had in his career, plus he has the motivation of back-to-back runner-up points finishes.
Kristl: Chandler Smith won the last Truck race at Phoenix and also has a pair of third-place finishes there. Additionally, he won the 2020 ARCA Menards Series race there. With the winner-take-all format, the key is to run up front. Smith has improved on his starting position at Phoenix in every Truck race (he won after starting first in 2021), so he’ll finish his KBM career with the Truck title.
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