NASCAR Senior VP of Competition Elton Sawyer said all drivers will receive “stern communication” this week about cleaning up restarts. Should NASCAR make a change surrounding its restart procedures?
Mark Kristl: NASCAR uses the green, yellow, green and checkered, white and checkered flags during a race, but it rarely uses the black flag. It is high time series officials use it. If the leader is not properly accelerating through the restart zone, black flag them. If the other front row driver beats the leader through the restart zone, black flag them. If drivers do not stay inside their restart lanes until they cross the start/finish line, black flag them. Especially at Pocono Raceway, where the racetrack is wide, and if NASCAR wants to be tougher, it should be more liberal with black flag usage. Watch how quickly the drivers clean up their acts with the threat of a pass-through penalty looming over them.
Joy Tomlinson: NASCAR already tried something for the NASCAR Cup Series earlier this year and then went back to the former procedures after a few weeks. Last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the issue looked to be mostly with NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers instead of the Cup drivers. Drivers know the restart rules and the consequences for not adhering to them. NASCAR shouldn’t make a change this late in the season, except maybe at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course where the first turn comes right after the line.
Luken Glover: Meddling in another part of the competition would only frustrate people even more. Given that, no major changes need to be made to how restarts are conducted. It probably will do some good to rein the drivers back in, as New Hampshire saw some gimmicks on the restarts. At the same time, drivers are trying to find any advantage they can, and if it is not egregious, let them at it.
Mike Neff: This just in, drivers play games on restarts. You can try everything you want to clean them up but, unless you do single file for all restarts, there will always be shenanigans. Drivers have been doing races for their whole careers, you won’t just clean them up overnight.
Stewart-Haas Racing has just one of its four drivers above the playoff cut line as of now. What can the team do to turn around its performance?
Neff: Teams go through cycles. It wasn’t long ago that Tony Gibson assumed the role of supervising all car construction for SHR and it was dominating. This new car has thrown some teams for a loop while others have succeeded with it. SHR will figure it out and will be back in the championship hunt with multiple drivers.
Kristl: Winning theoretically would solve the problem as if any of the other three SHR drivers win, they’re in the playoffs. But that’d only be a band-aid to the problem. The team hired Ryan Preece to drive the No. 41, but it is debatable whether he is a long-term fixture with the team. His seat absolutely should be hot. Chase Briscoe is undoubtedly talented so he’s safe. Aric Almirola was originally supposed to retire after last year, and he has been abysmal this season with only one top 10 in 20 races. Smithfield’s backing of the No. 10 will keep him in the ride as long as he wants, but that’s a disservice to SHR. However, other than Zane Smith, no other Ford prospect jumps off the page in terms of a worthy promotion. Hopefully Josh Berry can bring a voice with fresh innovative ideas into the shop, because there is not an easy answer to SHR’s struggles.
Glover: SHR is simply in a slump right now. Plus, it is going through the transition of Kevin Harvick retiring at the season’s end. It definitely needs to be exploring possibilities on getting back on track, but Ford as a whole has been off as well. The biggest concern I have with SHR is investment from an ownership standpoint. Tony Stewart has a lot on his plate, and we know he wants to win, but he has multiple disciplines on which to focus. That’s not to question Stewart’s passion, but you have to wonder how much of a factor that plays.
Tomlinson: At this point, I’m not sure. Last weekend Almirola looked to be in contention a bit until the lug nut came off shortly after the restart. Briscoe also ran up in the top 10 in the latter half. But on the longer courses, the team seems to lack speed. Maybe SHR should look at what Team Penske is doing on 1.5-mile ovals so it can find more pace to keep up with Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
Will running double duty at Pocono benefit Chase Elliott in the Cup race?
Tomlinson: Maybe. I mean, Chase Elliott won the race last year and Hendrick has had some strong cars there last few years, so it might. It’s just a matter of if any of it can translate to the Next Gen car. It could also give Elliott extra confidence if he ends up winning or leading several laps.
Kristl: Because the Next Gen and the Xfinity racecar differ so much, Elliott won’t learn any new technical information from Pocono. The Xfinity race can help him in one often undervalued category: confidence. Elliott is accustomed to success; his resume speaks for itself. When was the last time he was succeeding on track, though? It’s been a while. If Elliott runs well in the Xfinity race, his boosted confidence might help him loosen up, wash away any doubts and give him a positive attitude to have an improved outlook for the Cup race.
Neff: Seat time always helps. Elliott is still looking a bit off since his leg issue. The more time he can get behind the wheel right now, the better for him to get into the playoffs and make a run.
Glover: I have always thought that running the Xfinity race helps Cup drivers’ preparation and notebook for the Cup race. There is obviously a difference between the two cars, and some races don’t produce much of an advantage, but it is valuable track time. If nothing else, drivers who pull double duty get extra laps under their belts. Elliott is the defending winner at Pocono, though that was because of the disqualifications of both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, so this should help serve him well in a crucial spot.
The first Camping World SRX Series event on ESPN drew 395,000 viewers. Is that concerning?
Glover: There definitely has to be a concern. It was the smallest audience in the series’ history, the demo was down and this all happened on ESPN. At the same time, ESPN has seen some decline in viewership over the past few years, though that shouldn’t be the reason why the SRX ratings weren’t great. ESPN is cable compared to the broadcasts of CBS, but overall, it wasn’t a great first week television-wise for the series.
Tomlinson: A little, but we need to remember that the series is on a different night and channel than it was the first two years. Doesn’t exactly help that the channel is on cable; it was on CBS before. Maybe ESPN should look into cross-promoting the series on ABC (if it hasn’t already) to draw more eyes to it. Give it a few more weeks to see if the numbers grow or not.
Neff: SRX is a great opportunity for fans to see a mix of old and new drivers from different disciplines. It is still in its infancy and is building a fan base. The racetracks on the schedule will also bring fans. It will get there, just be patient.
Kristl: Yes, the TV channels have changed, but the fan base should be established. So if the series is losing viewers, that’s troublesome when the grandstands are full.
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