Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Chase Elliott Playing with House Money

1. Does Losing the Pressure to Win Make the No. 9 More Dangerous?

Hang around any coach for a good while, and they will tell you something to the effect of how winning solves all problems. Or as one said to me many years ago: “Losing doesn’t build character. Winning builds character.”

Need another example? Just check in this week with Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team. Many people, including this column at times, mused if this team had what it took to match the level of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron. And to be fair, Larson had the car to beat early prior to wheel problems at Texas Motor Speedway.

I mean, if the No. 9 team had a mascot, there may have been calls to replace it if Elliott languished much longer without a win.

All of that is over with now. The pressure to win? That’s over and done. When you win early on at a track where it’s not a drafting track or a road course, it’s what I’d call proof of concept. It backs up that whatever adjustments you made in the off-season are now working.

Elliott has that. And now, with a win in his pocket, Elliott is playing with house money. The pressure to get to the playoffs? It’s not even May and that task is taken care of.

With tracks coming up soon that Elliott has been good at, such as Talladega Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway, it would be a shock for Texas to be the Georgia driver’s only win of the spring.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Loose Tires Take Out Contenders at Texas

2. Texas’ Future Can’t be Dictated by Emotion

I have no crystal ball, so I have no idea if the 2025 NASCAR schedule will have Texas Motor Speedway on it, but my wager would be that it would be a yes.

The key, however, is to not let rushes of emotion rule the day.

Bubba Wallace, perhaps in jest, noted that the track that was once the shiny and sparkling jewel of the Speedway Motorsports empire is safe for a long time given that the sport’s most popular driver won there.

Saturday’s (April 13) NASCAR Xfinity Series finish between Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg was one that will talked about for a long time.

None of that, though, changes the fact that the track is at a crossroads. Could a repave improve racing? Does Speedway Motorsports take the easy way out and just configure it similarly to Atlanta Motor Speedway?

Regardless, TMS and its leaders have a tough decision to make. Look, this weekend’s finishes were great. But remember — Kentucky Speedway and Rockingham Speedway had some thrilling finishes near the end of their tenures, but that didn’t help the case for either to have a future on the schedule.

The issue remains that the critical next step for Texas Motor Speedway is needed, and this past weekend cannot and should not result in a can of decision being kicked down the road.

3. How Much Does Running a Full Race Help Johnson?

It’s obvious what the goal is for Jimmie Johnson with Legacy Motor Club. He has already proven himself as one of the greatest of all time in NASCAR. But in the gap of difference between his cars and those of Hendrick and the fact that you cannot just climb in a new car and expect to win from day one, Johnson is the illustration of the fact that you can’t make chicken salad without the chicken (insert your own off-color version here, if you wish).

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Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Hits Rock Bottom with Ignored Fire, Clint Bowyer's Silence

Johnson is a championship driver in a car that is not on that level.

The good news is what happened Sunday: Johnson ran every lap, even if he did have an early spin. It’s of note that it came at Texas, a track with its layout that is showing signs of a rough surface similar to what made Atlanta so much of a challenge to the driver before its reprofiling.

Sunday was not easy, and the info gained from a full race at Texas will do nothing but help Johnson as he gets used to driving a different car, especially with limited practice sessions. And the better things go for Johnson, the more information can be passed on to Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.

Johnson being in the car is part of growing Legacy as a whole, and running a full race is critical toward that.

4. Did Sunday Cure RCR’s Ills?

You don’t want to assume one race is a sign that all is suddenly well, but this past week may have been just what the doctor ordered for Richard Childress Racing.

Earlier this month, RCR moved Justin Alexander back atop the pit box for Austin Dillon. So what happened this past Sunday, you ask? For the first time in 2024, both of the full-time RCR entries, Dillon and Kyle Busch placed in the top 10.

There’s surely a degree of comfort with Dillon and Alexander, and if things are getting smoothed out on the No. 3, that can be nothing but good on the other side of the shop on the No. 8 car as well.

No, Sunday did not solve all the world’s problems in Welcome, N.C., but it’s a move toward the right destination.

5. Should Wheel Issues Be the Norm?

In today’s NASCAR, there are three certainties. Death, taxes and drivers seeing their day upended by wheel problems.

If Darrell Waltrip was still in the NASCAR on FOX booth, he’d have laryngitis from singing, “You picked a fine time to leave me … loose wheel!”

At this point, it should be the norm.

Here’s why.

Remember the good old days of 16-second pit stops? Now, four-tire changes within 10 seconds are becoming the standard.

That builds pressure, and the more you push that envelope, the more frantic things will be in those even smaller windows of time.

With so little margin for error, mistakes will be magnified. Wheels coming off at inopportune moments, at least for now, will likely be part of what’s expected. And as long as NASCAR’s penalty for that is two-race suspensions, the best race teams will be the ones with the most depth.

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