Some teams took issue with NASCAR suddenly reducing the NASCAR Cup Series race by 25 laps. How should the darkness issue be handled in the future?
Steve Leffew: I’ll take the devil’s advocate role here. NASCAR should do nothing different than what it did at the Chicago street course. These teams are full of intelligent engineers and crew chiefs. They knew the darkness would come. But without a defined deadline, they were left to guess. The result was a field shakeup that led to one of the greatest final runs to the finish in recent memory. Teams will learn and should not be caught off guard again, should something similar happen in the near future. These teams spend millions of dollars on simulations and try to be prepared for everything that will happen. Throwing them a curve once in a great while makes for great entertainment.
Vito Pugliese: This isn’t the first time this has happened. NASCAR did it during several races with rain delays, particularly before there were lights. While it stays light in the Midwest until 9 p.m. in the summer, the racetrack gets a lot darker if the sun is blocked by the grandstands. As much as NASCAR had to endure between the weather and the city making decisions for them last weekend, there’s no issue to be had. Granted, there are street lights there, but you also have a major metropolitan area that needs to get their lives back in order and get people out of there safely.
Mark Kristl: Several racetracks host races that could run into darkness if Mother Nature interferes, so a universal policy ought to be enacted. While each situation varies depending on when the race starts, the number of cautions, etc., I suggest making the darkness policy half of the final stage. For example, at Chicago, it would’ve been lap 73.
Zach Gillispie: Hey, Bob, are there lights at Chicago?
What can NASCAR do to build upon its tremendous ratings from Chicago?
Gillispie: Yep, I’m a dummy. For those astute readers out there, you may remember a long, long time ago that a writer from Frontstretch viciously blasted the street course idea like a good ol’ fire and brimstone preacher. It would never work, he said. Stock cars don’t belong on a street course, the ogre exclaimed. But boy, let me be the first to tell you, I was wrong. Because hot damn, that was something. A roaring crowd. Action-packed racing. A heroic underdog victory. Great ratings. Somehow, NASCAR finally did something great for once. OK, boys and girls, I think we got a few more street courses to build.
Leffew: Continue to keep the schedule fresh. Do not go overboard with street courses, but keep them on the schedule once or twice a year so they remain a special event. Give Justin Marks a huge pat on the back for bringing in Shane van Gisbergen. Continue to do things like Garage 56 that cross over into other motorsports audiences. Court international drivers. A huge part of the NBA’s success has been the viewership that comes from outside the United States. The television production quality in Chicago was the best I’ve seen in years for NASCAR. That alone will provide a bump in subsequent weeks, and if it can stay at a high caliber, we will see those new fans stick around. Lastly, have great racing. Van Gisbergen rose from eighth to the lead over the last 15 laps. It’s absolutely captivating to see a driver come through the field like that. We need more of that, however possible. I’d like to see NASCAR develop a special tire that provides extra grip of which each team only gets one set.
Kristl: Promotion, promotion, promotion. A few years ago, there was a surprisingly low amount of promotion for Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s NASCAR weekend in that area both via TV commercials and radio ads. If the locals don’t all universally know about the race, they cannot spread the word to others. Moreover, have concerts or standup comedy sessions. Old Dominion played for the crowd after the inaugural Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. The NTT IndyCar Series does a phenomenal job of adding promotion and other activities to its race weekend at Iowa Speedway. NASCAR ought to continue to follow suit.
Pugliese: I’ll tell you what it shouldn’t do: try to exploit something that worked well once and make it 20% of the schedule. We’ve seen this with dirt racing and intermediate tracks in the 1990s and road courses today. Let’s try a crawl/walk/run approach with some of these things. Keep it special by not oversaturating it and forcing people to watch it against their will. Sincerely, a 36-week schedule.
What do you expect from Greg Van Alst in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway?
Kristl: Alpha Prime Racing’s No. 44 entry is 36th in the owner’s point standings, so Greg Van Alst first must successfully qualify for the race. Provided he makes the starting lineup, Van Alst should aim for a top-20 finish. In this race last year, his now-teammate Jeffrey Earnhardt finished 19th, so a top 20 would certainly be attainable.
Pugliese: With all due respect to Van Alst, hope he simply stays out of trouble and keep the car intact for the event. The ARCA Menards Series isn’t Xfinity; things are going to happen about 10 times faster by drivers who are familiar with each other and the cars they’re in at a track that has somehow become a 3/4-scale Talladega Superspeedway.
Gillispie: Thankfully, Jesse Love, Connor Mosack and Scott Melton are not in the field this weekend, so Van Alst will likely avoid being used as someone else’s crash dummy. A quiet day in the 20s is what we should expect.
Leffew: Van Alst is a good driver, but he is driving for an APR team that is struggling mightily. It’s shown top-20 speed at times, but it’s had a car fail to qualify for each of the last two events. Atlanta does provide somewhat of an equalizer for this caliber of team, though. If Van Alst can make it into the show, avoid the wrecks and finish top 20, that will be a great weekend for him.
Who has the most to gain from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standalone race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course?
Pugliese: She’s gotten a lot of flack lately, some of it justified by wrecking on lap 5, but Hailie Deegan. She runs road courses very well, had a strong run going at Circuit of the Americas earlier this year, and with Ohio being home to ThorSport Racing, it would be a well-received performance if she can keep it on track and get a top-10 finish in the single digits. She’s capable of it. She just needs to not get caught up in the typical Truck demolition derby on restarts.
Leffew: Matt DiBenedetto. He has done a nice job elevating Rackley WAR this season and finds himself in a dogfight for the final playoff positions with just three races until the playoffs begin. He is currently above the cutline by just 14 points. Looking at the other contenders for those final playoff spots, he is a better road racer than Stewart Friesen and he is much more experienced than Nick Sanchez or Tanner Gray. DiBenedetto is getting hot at the right time, with four consecutive top 10s coming into Mid-Ohio. He has a chance to either lock himself in with a win or get some breathing room with another strong performance.
Gillispie: Marco Andretti. He’s never run a Truck race before.
Kristl: Deegan. She finished 10th in this race last year after qualifying 28th in wet, tough racetrack conditions. Driving in top-tier equipment this season, she has one top 10 this season and sits 18th in points. If she does not run well Saturday, the word bust comes to mind to describe her season as well as her Truck career.
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