Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Was Martinsville Ryan Preece’s Next-To-Last Playoff Shot?

1. Should Ryan Preece be in Hail Mary mode?

For a time on Sunday (Apr. 16), Ryan Preece appeared to be playing his cards right. After winning the pole at Martinsville Speedway, he was doing all that anyone could do in a race where it was absurdly hard to pass – win the battle of track position. He did that and more, leading every lap of the first stage, getting the first stage win of his career.

That plan, however, unraveled thanks to a speeding penalty, and Preece showed that if it’s a short track, he is someone to contend with. That’s why the smart call for Stewart Haas Racing should be to put all its eggs in the basket of New Hampshire Motor Speedway this summer. That’s because New Hampshire is a short track in theory and is also very flat, fitting firmly into Preece’s strengths.

You don’t want to focus too much of a season on one track, but unless SHR can find an edge on intermediate tracks, New Hampshire may be going for broke territory for Preece.

See also
Stat Sheet: Stewart-Haas Just Had its Best Performance in Almost 3 Years

2. Is Chase Elliott’s recovery ahead of schedule?

In his first race back from injury on Sunday, Chase Elliott fought his way to a top-10 finish, hardly an easy task on a physical track like Martinsville where passing was tough. When a driver is out for multiple weeks, rust can be expected, especially for 400 laps of beating and banging. You did not see that with Elliott, who minus being worn down after the race by heat along with a few others, persevering for a strong return.

Elliott would have been excused to run 20th or so in just logging laps and getting a rhythm back, but he did more than that. And with two tracks coming up, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway, where he recently won, that could be bad news for the rest of the field.

3. Is there such a thing as Elliott overload?

NASCAR is hardly short on star power, and the sport uses drivers that attract interest, either by their performance, personality, or other factors, to help market the sport.

But is the promotion of the sport too star-heavy?

For the second race in a row, we have seen advertising reminding all of the interest that Elliott returns to Talladega this weekend. This is not too different from last week’s “Chase Elliott Returns” messaging for Martinsville, but there is a big difference between someone coming back one week and trying to emphasize the same info a week later.

Chase returns to Dover! Chase at Kansas Speedway! Chase returns at Darlington Raceway….

If you follow NASCAR to a degree, you know Elliott is back behind the wheel and his legions of fans cheer him on. You don’t need to be beaten over the head with it. NASCAR goes to one of the sport’s most unpredictable races this weekend at Talladega, and that alone should be enough to draw interest, not rehashing the same talking point as a week ago.

4. Could two Front Row Motorsports cars be playoff bound?

At 24th in the points standings entering Talladega, Todd Gilliland sits six spots below fellow Front Row Motorsports teammate Michael McDowell.

But can both find their way into NASCAR playoffs? The stats say possibly so. Consider that Gilliland has one more top 10 [two] than McDowell. Also factor in that Gilliland’s average finish of 20th is within three of McDowell’s 17.0, and Front Row is hardly a team that is one race team or else.

Gilliland certainly showed what he could do at Martinsville, using pit strategy to get near the front and pick up stage points before being down a cylinder foiled those chances.

Add that to the fact that Front Row has proven ability at pack racing tracks, and FRM is a team that could be finding a jolt to the postseason at an opportune time.

See also
Parity Among Front Runners Defines Start of 2023 ARCA Season

5. Do We Need More ARCA/NASCAR Weekends?

This weekend at Talladega marks one of ten venues that the ARCA Menards Series will race at that also hosts the NASCAR Cup Series. That said, the NASCAR schedule is also filled with tracks that formerly hosted ARCA – Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway, for example.

Like the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR needs to have a plan for its lower series to be sustainable going forward. What better way to give these series more exposure than larger tracks? Yes, it adds more to a weekend of on-track activity, but if you want to offer fans a full weekend, I am pretty sure few would complain about more racing. Remember, Speedway Motorsports tracks also find ways to squeeze in US Legends Cars events, and odds are more fans would rumble in to see an ARCA event than Legends and Bandolero racecars.

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Kurt Smith

It’s time NASCAR put an end to this speeding penalty BS drama. They can put a speedometer in the car that lets a driver know exactly how fast they’re going and sends the notice to Mission Control immediately if they go over the pit road speed. If the harshness of pit road penalties is designed to make pit road safe (and not to “manufacture drama”), there are ways to do that without taking drivers with great cars out of winning contention for going 2 MPH too fast.

I’m not a fan of Preece but he had the best car Sunday, and there was no way anyone was going to get hurt by his taking off from the first pit stall like that. I’m convinced the pit road penalties are there to change the complexion of races, because God forbid the casual fan NASCAR is endlessly courting be bored for more than a half a nanosecond.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kurt Smith
Kevin in SoCal

They’re already speeding though. NASCAR sets the pit road speed AND gives the drivers a 5 MPH cushion, remember? Drivers are pushing that 5 MPH wiggle room, and getting busted for it.

Bill B

I am not convinced that Preece had the best car on Sunday. I am not sure who did. I am not sure anyone did. Seemed like whoever got out front was the best car.

Kurt Smith

You might be right about that, but I did notice that Preece was able to make some passes, unlike most cars in the field.

JW Farmer

“Also factor in that Gilliland’s average finish of 20th is within three of McDowell’s 17.0, and Front Row is hardly a team that is one race team or else.”

Something is a bit off with this sentence; possibly absent a word. Otherwise, interesting article. I agree with “star heavy” NASCAR promotion, however, these are the days where you can’t hardly find NASCAR diecasts in stores and children aren’t playing with toys anyway, they are getting addicted to cellphones. With the lack of individual merchandising haulers at race weekends, fans are simply left with what NASCAR wants them to see and hear. I miss full-field run downs. Thankfully, there are still individual sports sites like these that cover the little dogs. Also…down with the charter system!! Maybe we’d have 43 cars again.

Kurt Smith

TNT would do a “through the field” feature where they would talk about what was going on with every driver in the top ten or maybe more, I don’t remember, but it was a great feature.

I live in South Jersey, in Riverside there’s an awesome store for collectibles, unbelievable selection of diecasts of every size. It’s called Jack’s, maybe you can order stuff from him online if South Jersey is too far.

I haven’t been to a race in a long, long time, but one of my favorite things about the atmosphere on race day was the merchandise haulers. Another “I can’t believe what has happened to this sport” moment when I read your comment.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kurt Smith
Bill B

If you are going to find merchandise you are probably going to find it online. I would assume that each team has a website where they sell merch. I agree, not the same thrill as the haulers lined up on race day and buying at the track. On the plus side, you don’t have to carry it around or walk back the car to stash it before going into the race.

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