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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Short Tracks Are Small In Number But Large In Appeal

Fans who appreciate Martinsville Speedway also greatly appreciate short-track racing. They will tell you it is the best NASCAR has to offer.

And they will also likely say NASCAR desperately needs more short tracks. I’ll be honest. If the sanctioning body did have more events on half-milers, I don’t think it would suffer at all.

That, however, is highly unlikely to happen.

There was a time when short tracks, either asphalt or dirt, were the staple of NASCAR. That’s because they were built to entertain the locals and, as such, they were there for the sanctioning body’s picking.

In the pioneer days a NASCAR schedule could consist of a many as 52 races, conducted anywhere from a Wednesday through a Sunday.

So it wasn’t strange to see a 100-lap “quickie” race run at Macon, Ga., Columbia, S.C, Greenville, S.C., Hampton, Va., or even Ona, WVa., of all places.

That began to slowly change after the 1959 construction of Daytona International Speedway. The 2.5-mile monster provided the fastest stock car races ever seen. Heads were turned and minds were changed.

Afterward began a deluge of new “superspeedway” construction in larger venues, including Charlotte, Atlanta, Rockingham, N.C., Brooklyn, Mich. Pocono, Pa., College Station, Tex., Ontario, Calif., Dover, Del., and at the end of the 1960s, Talladega, Ala.

All of this dramatically changed the perception of NASCAR’s environment. The prevalent thinking was it belonged on big high-speed tracks – not on half-milers in podunk towns.

NASCAR was somewhat hesitant to make changes. It wanted to keep what it had because it didn’t have the resources to make drastic changes – or that the least it didn’t have the nerve to do so.

It was done for it. In 1972, R.J. Reynolds was in its first full year as the sponsor of what became the Winston Cup Series. It put up $100,000 in points money.

That hefty boost to NASCAR meant Reynolds could dictate policy. And it did so. It wanted the schedule to be streamlined, costs reduced and races held in places that offered the best exposure for its product.

So in 1972 the era of as many as 52 races per season was gone; cut to 31.

And short tracks virtually disappeared. Only five remained in 1972 – Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Nashville and North Wilkesboro.

Races at the half-milers were hugely popular. Sellouts at Martinsville – and at the high-banked Bristol track – were not unusual.

But, in time, the short tracks dwindled. Nashville was the first to go. North Wilkesboro hung on until 1995 and when it disappeared many bemoaned the fact NASCAR had lost the speedway that best linked it to it past and tradition.

But North Wilkesboro simply could not keep up with the NASCAR popularity boom that was the ‘90s.

Tracks were adding seats to accommodate increasing attendance. More amenities were added. Speedways spent a lot of money expanding with the thought that doing so was the only way they would remain part of NASCAR.

Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond kept up. Martinsville added seats and VIP lounges. Bristol increased its seating to mammoth proportions and converted itself into a stock car racing coliseum.

Richmond changed dramatically. It went from a half-mile speedway to one three-quarters of a mile in length, complete with many more seats. It remains the only track of its size in NASCAR.

Over the years NASCAR expansion has indeed absorbed larger markets – but not a single short track. Most of them are 1.5 miles in length and are known, derisively, as “cookie cutter tracks.”

Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond are dealing with the problems that face all of NASCAR today, such as dwindling attendance, falling television ratings and the ongoing struggle to acquire needed sponsorship.

But for those who like the type of racing the short tracks provide – slam-bang, push-and-shove, root out the other guy – there’s no better time of any season as when their events roll around.

And they will let you know it.

I am convinced Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond will remain on the NASCAR schedule. My opinion is the sanctioning body cannot afford to lose them.

Fact is, I agree with those who say it could use a few more like them.

Again, unfortunately, that is not likely to happen.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: New Winners And Champs? No Worries, They Are Already Here

Have you noticed Kyle Larson lately? If you haven’t, you are in the minority.

To use a cliché, Larson has been on a hot streak. He has finished second in three consecutive races – Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. His only finish outside the top five has been a 12th at Daytona.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (I’m getting somewhat used to this) points leader. He has yet to win a race this season and doesn’t have a stage victory.

Yet he is proving what has always been true in NASCAR, no matter what point system it uses. Namely, consistency provides rewards.

The 25-year old Larson is just one of a handful of NASCAR “young guns” who have either displayed excellent competitiveness or exceptional potential.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, although winless, has displayed considerable skills – so often that observers say it is merely a matter of time before he wins, and likely more than once. He’s presently third in points.

Ryan Blaney has been part of a Wood Brothers resurgence for two years now. The team’s technical association with Penske Racing is paying off.

Daniel Suarez, a rookie, has a lot to learn. But it has become very evident he is absorbing his lessons well. He hails from Mexico and could be the shining beacon in NASCAR’s diversity program.

Erik Jones’ career is just starting with Furniture Row Racing and he’s already attracted attention.

It bears noting that Larson, Suarez and Jones finished among the top eight at Phoenix. Blaney might have joined them had his Ford not developed problems and he had not sped on pit road.

Elliott finished outside the top 10 due to a poor restart at the finish.

All of these guys are well under 30 years old. And they have company in the form of, among others, Austin and Ty Dillon and Joey Logano – who has long enjoyed the competitive status the others seek.

Larson won his first career race at Michigan in the summer of 2016. Evidence tells us his second appears imminent.

How imminent remains to be seen. I recall that in 1981 Harry Gant, who joined the newly formed Hall Needham team (which came complete with veteran crew chief Travis Carter and a major sponsor in U.S. Tobacco Co.), was touted as a sure winner.

Gant came close. He finished a runnerup six times in ’81, including twice in a row.

Wrote one wag: Harry Gant went to a one-seat barbershop. No other customer was there. The barber looked at Gant and said: “You’re second.”

Gant did win, of course, at Martinsville in early 1982. He was 40 years old at the time. He went on to establish himself as a star.

Today we have a group of drivers nowhere near Gant’s age. They are likely to accomplish many things in a very short time.

The point of all this is that while we do express concerns about NASCAR’s future – race attendance, TV ratings, competitive improvement and the like – we don’t need to do so over its potential new winners and champions.

Fact is they are already here.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from St. Petersburg 2017

The Big Picture:  The excitement which greeted the 2017 season debut for the Verizon IndyCar Series bodes well for this year as well as the future of the sport. We noticed larger crowds, even on Practice and Qualifying days.

Event: The 1.8 mile St. Petersburg circuit is a unique one in auto racing. It’s one part Cleveland Airport which made for the widest turns in racing and one part street circuit, mimicking traditional courses such as Long Beach. It’s neatly packaged in a festival style which provides something for just about everyone.

Qualifying: Will Power took the pole again. He’s earned the pole in seven out of the last eight races at St. Petersburg, and the 45th IndyCar pole of his career. All of which seems incredible routine unless we recall how utterly dominating Honda was during qualifying.

Race:  A classic strategy race began with a tussle between former teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud after the field shook itself off after the start. Sebastien Bourdais took over the lead on Lap 37, and from then on, it was his race to win or to lose. The mastery Seb showed earlier in his career is back, and it’s a well-deserved win for Honda.

Biggest Surprise: There were two big ones, each significant. Surprise number one is kind of obvious now. It’s the resurgence of Honda, who has gone from an also-ran to a front-runner in a matter of months. It’s simply amazing. Surprise two was the resurgence of Dale Coyne Racing, who now employs engineering heavyweights such as Michael Cannon and Craig Hampson as well as members of Bourdais’ old Newman-Haas crew.

Biggest Disappointment:  Will Power dropping out after 99 laps with unspecified engine troubles. No matter what he does, Willie P just plain has bad luck here once qualifying is over.

Hinchcliffe:  Hinch lead most of the first stint, and we were surprised he didn’t finish better (he finished 9th), but that’s the way it is at the track sometimes.

Pagenaud: He finished second as he did in 2016, but did not qualify in the Fast 6, which was no doubt disappointing to the reigning series champion. He nonetheless persevered and continued his attack to make it to the front of the pack, but in the end, had nothing for Bourdais.

Sponsor of the Weekend: Engine manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet and tire maker Firestone have extended their contracts with IndyCar to bring added stability to the series. That’s sponsorship to the third power.

 Quote of the Weekend:  “A lot of things come back. I caught myself thinking about 2003, when obviously we started the opposite. We dominated the weekend, were on pole, cleared the field, then all hell broke loose. I found myself tapping the wall in Turn 8, threw it away. It was kind of redemption day here. To come out on top with obviously a lot of friends and family on-site, the whole community supporting the effort, it was just a great feeling. I couldn’t really be any happier for Honda and Dale for giving me the opportunity to put the band back together and make it happen. Everybody works really, really hard. We’re a small group. There is nobody at the shop that doesn’t travel. But it works. It’s a great little group. We’re sure not going to stop there. We’re just going to keep on trying.” Sebastien Bourdais, passing the legendary Bobby Unser in all time wins.

 Runner-Up Quote of the Week: “It started off a little bit rough. We lost a spot at the start and then there was the mysterious caution. It was a bit strange – I don’t know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn’t even on the racing line. That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there. We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.” Scott Dixon, who finished third.

What We Learned:  Despite the tremendous talent and funding that goes with a bigger team, such as Penske, or Andretti, a smaller team such as Dale Coyne Racing is still very capable of winning races. That is the major takeaway. Smaller teams never win in Formula One and rarely do in NASCAR.  Add to that the entire paddock likes and admires Coyne, so when he wins, everyone’s happy. Sebastien Bourdais’ talent burns as strongly as ever, and when he’s on, he is virtually unbeatable. Many who currently follow the series do not realize how brilliant he can still be, but perhaps this year they will.

Schedule:  We have a month until the next race in Long Beach, on April 9th, with testing in between.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Racing Against Time, Can Danica Patrick Win in NASCAR?

Victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is one of the most hallowed grounds in all of sports.

Only 186 men have tasted the sweetness of victory in NASCAR’s top series, but in the 68-year history of NASCAR, no woman has ever taken a trip to victory lane in a Cup Series race.

Danica Patrick is looking to rewrite history entering her fifth full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. While she has achieved new heights for females in NASCAR, many fans wonder when she will put it all together and get that long-awaited first career win.

Patrick, who is one of NASCAR’s most polarizing and popular drivers, has faced criticism from many fans, who feel that she has underachieved during her time in the Cup Series. While the finishes haven’t been as consistently good as they could be, it’s not necessarily all her fault.

Before making the jump to the Cup Series in 2013, she competed in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2012 for JR Motorsports and finished 10th in points backed by four top-10 finishes that year. While 10th in points is a respectable finish in any of NASCAR’s top series, there were questions if she was ready for the best NASCAR had to offer.

Patrick’s rookie campaign in 2013 started off with a bang as she captured the pole for the Daytona 500. She continued to thrill the fans all during speedweeks becoming the first woman ever to lead the Daytona 500 while scoring an eighth place finish. Daytona proved to be the only top-10 finish for Patrick during a tough rookie season that saw her finish 27th in points.

2014 turned out to be Patrick’s strongest season statistically in the Cup Series with three top-10 finishes, highlighted by a seventh-place finish at Kansas and a sixth-place finish at Atlanta. However, bad luck and inconsistent finishes led to a 28th place points finish at season’s end.

The last two seasons Patrick has recorded her best career points finish of 24th but only has two top-10 finishes during that stretch both coming in 2015.

Many wonder what is holding Patrick back from joining her Stewart-Haas Racing teammates at the front every weekend.

Is it talent? No, you will never convince me of that. Many of her fellow competitors have stated how talented she is.

Could it be her size? There are times I wonder if the strain of a 500-mile race takes it toll on her more because she isn’t as big as her fellow competitors.

How about her crew chief? This will be her second season with Billy Scott on the pit box, so SHR has to feel good about that combination going forward not to make another change and make her start over with a new crew chief.

Could it be equipment? While SHR has proven to have strong cars, it has been shown in the past with multi-car teams where they will have two or three cars run well, as the third or fourth struggle; this is better known as the lame duck scenario. It’s worth noting many times last year Patrick wasn’t the only SHR driver struggling with poor finishes plaguing both Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart at times. However, they made it less noticeable by both scoring a victory to join Kevin Harvick in the Chase.

The biggest question surrounding Patrick and her ability to win is father time. Patrick is signed on through the 2018 season, and there has been zero indication that SHR is looking to replace her anytime soon. Patrick does have other interest outside of racing – the first being she is a fitness nut. You can see many pictures on Patrick’s Instagram account of her doing Yoga, CrossFit, or lifting weights. Second, she is an excellent cook as she posts many of her meal creations on her Twitter account. Most recently, Patrick launched her own clothing line Warrior, an athletic leisure collection for women.

“I’m definitely not on the front side of my career,” Patrick told NBC Sports. “It’s important to use the platform I have as a transition and a launching pad, really. I don’t know when that transition is going to happen.”

The last question that needs to be answered is can she win? I have always said she is capable of winning in the Cup Series but where is her best opportunity to do so? If it’s going to happen, it could be at either Daytona or Talladega, where she has shown she can get to the front and stay there. Maybe Atlanta, which is statically her best 1.5-mile track or possibly Watkins Glen, where she led 11 laps this past season.

Can she? Yes, but will she? That remains to be seen. We don’t have to wait very long to start getting answers. Daytona will be here before you know it.

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Changing of the Guard In Line with New Era

Change is difficult, but it’s not so bad when there are greater things ahead.

When Carl Edwards dropped a bombshell on the NASCAR industry this week, it surprised everyone. One of the sport’s most likable and talented drivers is stepping away from racing after finishing runner-up in the championship standings twice. It was a tough pill to swallow, especially since Edwards is only 37-years-old.

Many drew comparisons to similar announcements by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon “retired” in 2015 yet made starts in the No. 88 last season to help out Hendrick Motorsports, while Stewart hung up his helmet this past November. Both made the announcements before the season began, giving fans a farewell tour of sorts. For Edwards, he acted on his personal decision immediately, something his gut told him to do.

When three well-known drivers leave within two seasons, it seems like the sport is falling apart – except it’s not. It’s simply ushering in a new era.

A lot of change has been announced since the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition to Smoke and Edwards leaving, the series is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The evolution isn’t stopping there, either; NASCAR has hinted at more adjustments coming in the next week or so. This new sponsorship deal caused a domino effect, allowing the sanctioning body to work on their brand and image. This was expected, yet it is still a shock.

Despite Monster’s entrance setting up change, this was brewing under the surface for a while. The youth movement emerged years ago and is still going strong, with NASCAR XFINITY Series champ Daniel Suarez taking over Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing ride. Although an unintended byproduct of this announcement, Suarez’s promotion proves times are changing. The dynamic between veteran drivers and youngsters has undergone a drastic remodel. Rookies are now legitimate threats, with sharp skills and quality equipment. Suarez moving up to the No. 19 is a testament to young guns throughout the entire sport.

With younger drivers and an energy drink sponsor, the fan base should become saturated with younger people. That’s the goal here; NASCAR has turned over many stones since its inception, but it failed to capture the interest of young adults. There is so much potential for growth at the moment – and that should excite people, even if their favorite driver steps away.

Although various sports go through a ‘changing of the guard,’ NASCAR’s current transition is both jarring and complex. Three of the sport’s most recognizable names walking away emphasizes that. They’re leaving a large hole, a gaping unknown that is meant to be filled with Cup Series improvements and young talent.

It’s a crazy way to ring in a new era – but there is so much in store. Let’s embrace it.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

Three Resolutions for the 2017 NASCAR Season

The New Year is approaching, and people tend to set goals for the upcoming 365 days. Resolutions involving cutting carbs and frivolous spending top everyone’s lists, and they swear this time is different, that they will see these objectives through. Even if they break those resolutions, they had the right idea.

Maybe NASCAR should give it a go. To ring in 2017 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, here are three goals the sport should work toward over the next 12 months.

Strike a Balance

As the era of Monster Energy begins, the sport will scramble to harness the buzz surrounding the entitlement change. They will also narrow in on the younger crowd; that’s a large part of why they wanted an energy drink sponsor, of course. All of this is expected. However, NASCAR cannot abandon the mainstays who have staked out Sunday couch space for over 25 years. The new demographic is alluring, and it should be NASCAR’s focus. That does not devalue those who keep coming back year after year, change after change.

This big swing could impact the older fans and how much money they contribute. NASCAR will need that money since the Monster deal is a fraction of what Sprint paid. The lifelong fans should give the sport some leeway as they construct their new identity – but NASCAR should not take advantage of that graciousness. The sooner they discover a way to please much of each demographic, the better.

Find Consistency

It is hard to maintain strict rules in sport; it’s a constantly moving target, and new situations arise occasionally. This does not excuse glaring inconsistencies in officiating and penalizing drivers. From 29-lap cautions to unjustified yellows, it was a year of questionable calls. Mistakes were so abundant that two of the sport’s most neutral drivers – Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson – questioned its legitimacy. Ouch.

The sport cannot afford to lose the support of fans and media, so they must prioritize consistency. What constitutes a caution with 290 laps to go should also bring out a caution with six laps remaining – and vice versa. If ‘pulling up to pit’ is an issue, clear it up in the drivers’ meeting, so they aren’t surprised when a penalty is handed down. Setting precedence early in the season should cut down on controversy later on. If the sport makes an active effort to right the wrongs made in 2016, it’s an improvement.

Be Proactive – not Reactive

Out of these three resolutions, this one has the largest implications on the future. Dealing with fan relations and perfecting punishment is necessary, yes – but all of that could have been prevented with more initiative. There are bound to be rough patches during Monster’s inaugural season, and NASCAR can prepare for those obstacles right now.

While doing that, thought can be put into others issues. Other pressing matters include teams loaning charters (and cutting down the field size), the general dislike for splitters, and tweaking 2018 Chase details for the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. There are a lot of things that will need attention in the not-so-distant future, so NASCAR should get ahead. A lot of good can come out of trying to build this sport up. There is potential under the surface; it’s just whether they get to it in time.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Sponsorship Search Hindered by Series Mistakes

The sun set on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the service provider ending the partnership after 13 years. Their relationship brought copious amounts of success on and off the track; in addition to the on-track product evolving over the years, Sprint differentiated itself as a sponsor by implementing unique programs like Miss Sprint Cup.

When Sprint announced their 2016 departure at the end of the 2014 season, NASCAR knew finding a company to fill their shoes would be difficult. However, they most likely didn’t expect to struggle this much; the season ended over a week ago, and there was nothing confirmed for 2017 – till now.  It was announced on December 1st in Las Vegas that Monster Energy will take over Sprint’s role. No length or cost of the deal was mentioned.

It is no surprise this reveal is coming late in the year, but the sanctioning body was flustered negotiations took longer than expected. That has been their state of mind the entire season – confused.

In the final few months of the 2016 season, NASCAR made a series of mistakes that left a bad taste in the fans’ and drivers’ mouths. From inconsistencies with officiating to simply boneheaded decisions, the sport lost the benefit of the doubt many gave them for years.

The October race at Martinsville Speedway – a Chase event the entire sport circles on their calendars – fell flat when a caution flew in the middle of green flag pit stops. The result was a 29-lap caution period to figure out the running order. A red flag would have halted the racecars and made it easier to decipher who ended up where versus where they were supposed to be. Instead, NASCAR killed an entire afternoon’s worth of momentum in a split second.

NASCAR also can’t ignore their other mistakes, such as inconsistency in penalties. Out of the blue, they started calling drivers out for “pulling up to pit,” which is where the drivers pull ahead of the pace car while on pit road. Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson received that penalty at Phoenix International Raceway, causing both drivers to question the rule’s validity.

That mindset extended into Championship Weekend when a controversial caution flag flew late in the race. The field lined up with 10 laps remaining, creating tension and aggression that cost Carl Edwards another shot at the title. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver – who is usually neutral on various issues in the sport – called out the sanctioning body after his wreck, questioning if the caution needed to come out for Dylan Lupton’s mechanical issues.

These instances happened during the final two months of competition – when the finalists for the sponsorship were chosen. Drivers denouncing the sport and its officiating isn’t conducive in closing deals and most likely impacted negotiations. NASCAR will address the difficulty of finding a company to represent the premier series – but they fail to acknowledge their actions’ effect on that process.

Although the sport made strides while with Sprint, there have been some flops as well. This new entitlement deal is a chance to reframe the series and rebuild their credibility. To do this, though, they have to admit they lost their credibility in the first place.

By the time the sun rises at Daytona International Speedway, they might have it figured out.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Drivers, Championship Format Increase XFINITY Competiton

The NASCAR XFINITY Series is finally living up to its slogan, “Names are made here.”

Amid the hectic atmosphere surrounding the inaugural Chase field, four series regulars have won in the past five races. Daniel Suarez extended the streak during the impromptu doubleheader at Dover International Speedway. Last season, series regulars took home five trophies throughout the whole season. This competitive season could eclipse that statistic.

Although many variables are surrounding the XFINITY Series, two stand out when asking what changed between 2015 and now, the drivers and the championship format. Significant alterations to these factors have jacked up the competition level and are pushing the entire series in a whole new – and needed – direction.

Silly season was extra chaotic for a few drivers in the Chase field, and two of them didn’t have a ride until JR Motorsports solidified their 2016 lineup. After a disheartening Sprint Cup Series stint with HScott Motorsports, Justin Allgaier, and JRM team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. struck a deal for Allgaier’s XFINITY return. The No. 7 team has benefited from his talents, with 12 top fives and 23 top 10s in 28 races. The same can be said about Elliott Sadler; his contract with Roush Fenway Racing left him without a XFINITY seat until Earnhardt called. The partnership has led to three victories, as well as 11 top fives and 25 top 10s.

Allgaier and Sadler’s move isn’t the only change that has increased someone’s title chances. After a successful rookie season, Daniel Suarez refuses to fall victim to the “sophomore slump.” The Joe Gibbs Racing driver claimed his first XFINITY win at Michigan International Speedway and backed it up with the Dover trophy. The equipment at JGR has significantly improved, but so has Suarez’s abilities. His aggressive style takes center stage when the No. 19 is fighting for positions.

These are more changes on the driver spectrum, such as Brennan Poole’s full-time status with Chip Ganassi Racing and Kaulig Racing aligning with Richard Childress Racing to give Blake Koch stronger equipment. However, the three drivers mentioned earlier are currently making headlines under the Chase format, which has led to some improvements of its own.

When NASCAR first announced the Chase format for XFINITY, the initial reaction was negative; the low competition level in the series prompted many to assume top dog Erik Jones would run away with the championship. That is currently not the case whatsoever, with Jones struggling to piece together an entire race. The other 11 drivers’ execution emphasizes the No. 18 team’s missteps and increases everyone else’s chances at the title; when there is blood in the water, the sharks start swarming. This title hunt is fierce, and various drivers are experiencing the championship battle for the first time. That leads to aggression and desire, forgotten elements that are now making a resurgence.

For the first time in ages, the race for the XFINITY Series championship is unpredictable. The new Chase format clicks with new driver relationships and mentalities, creating one of the most competitive seasons in series history. This trend of series regulars finding winning races is good for XFINITY, which has struggled to find a unique identity over the past few years. Despite initial reactions, the championship system is working very well – and making the most of what XFINITY has to offer.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

Poole Set to Thrive in XFINITY Chase

Brennan Poole made an impression during the regular season, one powerful enough to earn a spot on the XFINITY Series Chase Grid. The driver of the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet started his title run with a notable 10th-place finish at Kentucky Speedway. It was a strong showing for the series rookie, akin to his previous finishes throughout the season. He has flexed his muscle all year long, and many are taking notice as the Chase gets underway.

With his consistency at the upcoming tracks and aggressive driving style, Poole is slated to thrive in the inaugural XFINITY Chase.

Strength is a vital trait this season, and the Chase emphasizes it; Joe Gibbs Racing and JR Motorsports have been the teams to beat, and Elliott Sadler’s victory at Kentucky solidifies that point. However, the CGR shop has been close behind. Flourishing at Chase tracks earlier this year give Poole a key advantage. Out of the seven Chase venues, he collected top 10s at four of them earlier in the season. The outliers are Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway. He finished 19th at Texas back in April, while the series hasn’t visited Kansas and Homestead yet this season. Poole collected a 13th-place finish at Kansas during his partial schedule in 2015, which he and his team could easily turn into a top 10 run. These tracks play into the No. 48 team’s strengths, their speed and their notebook. If they keep up with their current strategy, fighting for the championship in Miami won’t seem like such a lofty goal.

Although the Chase field consists of 12 drivers, there are still 27 others Poole needs to worry about on-track. His driving style – tough yet calculated – can aid him when others get in the way. The team’s qualifying efforts are not easy to predict; he can start fifth one week yet end up 17th the follow week. That hasn’t stopped him this season, and his charge at Iowa Speedway is a key example. After beginning the race from the 25th position, he worked his way through the field and managed the short track chaos to bring his Chevrolet home in fourth-place. He pulled off a similar performance at Richmond International Raceway, where he started 31st yet finished 10th.

Even when his qualifying efforts mar him in the back, Poole maneuvers his way through the field with unwavering tenacity. It will be a rewarding quality during the seven-race playoff, where everyone is running on desire and adrenaline. The stakes are higher, thus pushing the bar higher. Other Chase contenders are known for their bold approaches, like Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. Poole gives these two a run for their money. With the experience of working up through the field, he will make those JGR drivers sweat when he appears in their rear view mirrors. Tracks like Dover International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway will prove it.

Poole may be a rookie, but he established himself as a powerful one early on in the season. Now, he is in the Chase – and can fight for the XFINITY Series title. CGR’s equipment helped Poole achieve his many top 10s, even when stuck with a bad qualifying slot. The tracks coming up bode well for the No. 48 team. Combine that with their driver’s determined spirit, and you have someone ready to capitalize on the Chase format.

While everyone focuses on Jones, Suarez, and Sadler, Poole is preparing to impress – just as he has all year long.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Motorsports Journalism In a Bold New Era But Is It Better?

I am sure that most of you who plow through cyberspace for all the NASCAR news you can digest know Dennis Michelsen.

Among other things he’s the host of several shows and is the co-owner of “Race Talk Radio” with Lori Munro and Mike Harper. He’s also a blogger.

Michelsen has been around a long time. He’s seen the many changes in motorsports journalism. And he doesn’t like what he sees.

He wrote a very insightful, provocative piece about the slow death true motorsports journalism is experiencing. His feeling is today’s media members don’t have the camaraderie of their predecessors nor do they take the time to craft memorable articles.

That, of course, is an issue for debate. But I believe what Michelsen is saying is that today’s motorsports journalism is part of a different era, one that does not meet the requirements of the past.

I can speak about that, because I was there.

There was a time when the entire corps of NASCAR journalists consisted of 12 writers who worked for newspapers from Richmond to Daytona Beach.

These guys covered the majority of the races. During their time there were no cell phones, no computers – “technology” consisted of a typewriter and a device called a “telecopier,” which took four minutes to transmit a single page of copy.

Most tracks didn’t have a media center. And other than a major announcement here and there, the only press conferences were for the pole and race winners.

As such, the regimen for the writers was to get to the track, hunt down the news of the day, go find the drivers, crew chiefs and owners who were part of, or could comment on, that news. NASCAR wasn’t going to bring them to you.

Then it was off to the press box to transcribe notes – there were no digital recorders – and write the stories.

The writers had no problem communicating with the competitors and in many cases established lifelong friendships.

The reason was simple – the writers were the only conduits to the public. There was very little radio and no television. Cooperating with the media made a lot of sense.

For a driver to invite a writer into the hauler for a sandwich was routine.

Let’s move ahead several years. The reason motorsports journalism moved into a new, more streamlined and far less fraternal era can be summed up in one word: technology.

National television came on board. There were cell phones and computers that made typewriters and “telecopiers” obsolete and could send stories, and photos, to their destinations in seconds.

Speedways converted media centers into the epicenter of information complete with banks of televisions that, among other things, displayed current data for all to see.

NASCAR, too, entered a different era. Yes, it changed its competitive rules – too often, some say – but the same time it made the media’s job easier.

Scheduled press conferences for as many as 12 drivers, sometimes more, became routine in the media center. A writer didn’t have to look for anyone if he or she chose not to. The person would be brought to them.

But undoubtedly the biggest technological innovation to come to motorsports journalism, if not the world, was the Internet.

Let’s state the obvious: The Internet has changed everything. It is a constant part of our lives. We can get our information, entertainment and social discourse in seconds – and we can get it from many, many sources.

You know this. You know this as a NASCAR fan. There is so much stock car news and entertainment available and all you have to do to get it is peck at your keyboard or turn up your speakers.

And, while we’re at it, television is rampant with NASCAR broadcasts and regular shows.

This is all good – make that very good.

But there is a dark side to the Internet. You can’t always trust what you read or see. Be careful.

There’s another dark side. In this country, the Internet has virtually killed newspapers, which cannot match its rapidity and scope. As such they have lost major amounts of advertising income.

Newspapers that have not died have shrunk dramatically in size and personnel. They do not have the funds needed. Not one of the 12 “originals” would have a job today – their papers could not pay their salaries, expenses or benefits.

Alas, when it comes to motorsports, it’s not very high on most – not all – newspapers’ coverage lists.

And so it is that most of today’s motorsports journalists are part of this new technological era that channels through cyberspace.

It’s just the way it is. I am convinced that by no means is it a bad thing. We have almost instant information and endless choices. Most motorsports sites are accurate, competent and entertaining. I freely admit that Popularspeed.com is one of them.

It’s Michelsen’s opinion that motorsports journalism as he knew it is fading because of what it has become today. He thought the earlier era had journalists who were more skilled at actual reporting and writing.

He makes good points and I won’t debate him. I’ll add that he is correct when he says there was more camaraderie.

And those motorsports journalists who honed their skills in newspapers? Believe me, you can find many of us, if you wish. You can still read what we produce.

We’re on the Internet.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.