Can a softer tire save the Next Gen at shorter racetracks?
Luken Glover: It will certainly help move it in the right direction, but it won’t solve all of the problems. The tires that have created the most entertaining racing thus far have actually been the rain tires. A softer tire can help create falloff that makes driving even more difficult, forces a driver to explore different grooves, and creates that sliding action that we saw in the All-Star Open.
But beyond that, horsepower and shifting have to be addressed too. The days of low horsepower that were supposed to cut costs and slightly raise the horsepower on certain track types have been worn out. In order to increase horsepower, NASCAR must look at options now. Additionally, drop gear ratios need to be explored as well — having to constantly shift on short tracks does affect the racing.
Joy Tomlinson: If the softer tire runs similar to how the rain tires performed, there may be hope. Both Cup and NASCAR Craftsman Truck series drivers have said they liked how the tires were, and you could see a difference between heats one and two this past weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Only time will tell, but it’s great that Goodyear is trying something different.
Mark Kristl: It can’t hurt. The Next Gen car hasn’t produced great racing at the shorter racetracks, so if drivers support a softer tire, I’m all for it. If the softer tire makes the on-track product better, though, then my concern is that NASCAR might not try to improve the racing; instead, it might settle with it as good enough.
It has been 17 years since a Cup Series driver won back-to-back races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Is this stat merely a coincidence or is there another reason drivers haven’t repeated at Charlotte?
Steve Leffew: This is a surprising statistic. I would’ve expected Jimmie Johnson to have won back-to-back races more recently. Come to find out the most recent back-to-back winner was actually Kasey Kahne all the way back in 2006.
We’ve reached this point partially due to luck. Kyle Larson won at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2021 and was on his way to winning last year when calamity broke out with two laps to go, courtesy of Ross Chastain and Austin Dillon taking Larson and Denny Hamlin four-wide. Hamlin emerged unscathed and won the race. Prior to the restart that led to the four-wide fiasco, Larson had held off Chase Briscoe for dozens of laps until eventually Briscoe spun out while attempting to pass Larson, bringing out the caution. Martin Truex Jr. got very close to ending the streak, winning fall 2017 and spring 2019, with a second-place finish in between.
As competitive as this package has been on the intermediates, there are going to be very close finishes and likely some green-white-checkered finishes. With that, the only thing predictable is unpredictability. Hamlin will have a decent chance to repeat his somewhat lucky win from last season, but I expect the streak to continue.
Tomlinson: Well, since 2018 there’s only been one oval race there a year (except for 2020, when NASCAR ran it twice in one week). That makes it even harder, because the Coca-Cola 600 is such a long and difficult race to win. Fuel strategy is usually in play, and sometimes things happen that change the course of the race. Before 2018, the weather was likely much different between races one and two each year. The second race was much shorter than the May event, which changed the strategy a bit. It’s just a combination of things.
Kristl: Six hundred miles is a lot of racing. The racetrack changes throughout the night, and likewise the handling of the racecars. Also, Charlotte no longer hosts two races on its oval, so repeating is even tougher. Add in the newness of the Next Gen car last year and Charlotte became an even more daunting racetrack to win at, much less repeat at.
Glover: It is merely a coincidence. Charlotte has been a tough track in its history, but we have also seen drivers who were able to figure it out. Johnson should have won back-to-back races there several times since the streak started. Kahne was one spot away from sweeping in 2008 and, had things fallen his way, swept in 2013. It is just a matter of how the cautions fall, which hurt Larson a year ago.
Daniel Suárez called NASCAR racing in Canada or Mexico a “no-brainer.” Should NASCAR race internationally?
Kristl: Now that COVID-19 travel restrictions have been lifted, absolutely! Bring the Cup and Truck fields up to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Take the Sonoma Raceway race weekend and move it to the West Coast swing to replace the Auto Club Speedway race weekend, then drop Mosport into the current Sonoma race weekend.
Glover: Right now, it should not race internationally. The costs and pains associated with trying to travel internationally would create a headache, and trying to send at least 36 teams and drivers would contribute to that. In the future, it should explore doing one every other year and potentially getting to the point of an annual event. While Formula 1 is popular worldwide, NASCAR has its roots and love in North America. However, to gain new eyeballs, I would like to see it eventually do an exhibition in Japan like it used to.
Tomlinson: Absolutely. It would be nice if it went to Mosport in the summer. I would run it instead of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and bring back the Brickyard. There are NASCAR fans from all over the world, so the series could go anywhere, but for now I’d look at Canada and/or Mexico as options.
Ten races into her ThorSport Racing tenure, how do you judge Hailie Deegan’s Truck Series season?
Tomlinson: It’s not great, but it’s definitely better than it had been. However, I thought Deegan would be a bit better than averaging around 18th or 19th in finishes. She can learn so much from her full-time teammates Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes and Matt Crafton, who sit second, fourth and seventh in points, respectively. While she did earn a top 10 at Texas Motor Speedway, she’ll need to do much more than that if she wants to even come close to making the playoffs.
Glover: Deegan has improved from last year’s performance, with misfortune robbing her of multiple top 10s. However, it has not been a vast improvement. Deegan has talent, and her lone start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series start a year ago gave optimism. Maybe she would display her skills in that series at a higher level. But here’s the thing: at some point, results and performance have to overlook how much popularity a driver brings or how they are promoted.
And with that in mind, Deegan has improved, but she is still underperforming. She is driving for a team with four titles, including one in 2021. ThorSport also had two drivers in the Championship 4 a year ago. All three of her teammates are inside the top seven in points. Deegan has been robbed of top 10s this year, but some of that was by her own mistakes. Don’t write her off yet, but eventually, vast improvement needs to come.
Kristl: Look, ThorSport has undoubtedly not been its best self, but if the playoffs started today, three of the four entries would be in the playoffs. The lone outlier? Deegan. Understandably she’s had to adjust to a new team, new crew chief, etc., but ThorSport is a top-notch organization. She is already 54 points below the playoff cut line, essentially a full race worth of points. While it’d be great for the sport if Deegan succeeds, her inability to thrive with this team definitely brings the word bust to mind in terms of her NASCAR career.
Leffew: Deegan sits 16th in the points after finishing 21st last season. That is pretty indicative of how this season has compared to last. She has shown better speed most weeks this season, but had her typical bad luck and a few unforced errors. She has finished on the lead lap in eight of 10 races so far this season, compared to just 11 of 23 last season. The progress is there, even if it’s not as profound or rapid as most of her critics would like to see.
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