Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Smaller Fields for NASCAR? No Problem.

The number of entries for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ races is decreasing.

After lowering the maximum cars to compete in a race from 43 to 40 in 2016, with the inception of the charter system, there have been several events over the past two seasons that haven’t even met the limit. It seems an entirely drastic change from the days of having enough cars to where some were forced go home after qualifying, like years past.

While the numbers and lack thereof has been a discussion since the changes two years ago, the topic has become a popular one among fans early in the 2018 season. The Daytona 500 only had 40 cars show up to the track, meaning for the first time in years, no one went home after the Can-Am Duels, with complaints saying that it took away much of the drama from the annual Thursday night races.

Then, the initial entry list for this weekend’s event at Atlanta dropped, revealing only 36 cars entered for the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500, which again sparked a lot of outrage among fans.

An outrage that featured many calling for the end of the charter system, and some going as far to say this is the beginning of the end for NASCAR.

So, that raises the question, are the doubters, right? Does NASCAR need to reevaluate the charter system? Are we witnessing the end of NASCAR before our very eyes? Is it time to start the doomsday countdown?

No.

In fact, it should be argued that this may be a step in the right direction for the sport in looking at the names on at the entry list for this weekend’s race.

15 of the drivers entered this weekend have won within the last year, with nine of the remaining 21 competitors that haven’t seen victory lane in that time driving for organizations that have. Meaning, that over half of the field realistically has a fair shot of leaving Georgia this weekend with a trophy.

With all these drivers having a decent shot, it could be argued that the competition level is at a height not seen with a 40+ in the race. An entry list filled that likely was full of lower funded teams that, likely wouldn’t win unless if at a plate track, which Atlanta is not.

So, if the competition isn’t worse with fewer cars, what are other concerns that come along with smaller fields? Are fewer drivers getting opportunities?

Fair enough, while lower funded teams may not have a significant shot at success, there are numerous examples of veteran drivers getting their first Cup start with a lesser group, or a fan favorite, who may not have a full-time ride, seeing the chance to compete. Again, this isn’t a problem, as teams like Rick Ware Racing are giving drivers like Cole Custer and Harrison Rhodes their first rides in NASCAR’s top series. Meanwhile, a veteran of the sport, Brendan Gaughan, is still competing part-time with Beard Motorsports. Not to mention, none of them will have to start and park, as the act of doing so has died off with the charter system.

So, if the competition is in good shape and drivers are still getting opportunities, what exactly is NASCAR losing with a smaller field around the size of 36 cars? It’s simple – around four cars. That’s it, and it doesn’t have a huge overall effect on the action. It’s not killing the sport; it’s not even a significant number of cars missing. Yes, it is a change from what we are used to with NASCAR, but that doesn’t mean it will ruin the sport.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman Confident Heading Into 2018

On Tuesday, fans got their first glance at Hendrick Motorsports’ new look as they addressed the press for the first time in 2018 as part of NASCAR’s annual media tour. A significant portion of the changes is Alex Bowman, who becomes the full-time driver of the No. 88, replacing the now retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The story of Bowman is an interesting one. Unlike most young drivers in the sport, who have entered the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with a team they’ve worked with for several years prior, the 24-year-old spent time with less funded organizations. He drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, before getting a part-time opportunity with JR Motorsports which ultimately opened the door with Hendrick.

To perfectly illustrate the wild ride that is Bowman’s time in Cup, in two years, he will go from learning about losing his ride on Twitter, to competing for a championship organization.

“I’m glad that it all worked out this way,” Bowman said. “I could have easily gone a different direction.  Very thankful for how things have gone.”

While he may have only run one race in Cup last year (The Clash in February), the expectations are still high for himself heading into the new season.

“Well, they hired me to go win races and contend for championships and that is what I plan on doing,” Bowman said.

Now, some may see this statement as a reach for a driver who’s been away from competition at NASCAR’s highest level for an extended period, but it isn’t.

After all, this isn’t a new situation for Bowman. In 2016, he faced a familiar circumstance when he was called upon to replace Earnhardt. At the time, he hadn’t been in Cup since 2015 and had zero time in equipment anywhere near as good as Hendrick’s.

For those that don’t remember, the Arizona-native took full advantage of the opportunity at hand. He regularly ran well, scored three top-10’s, led 199 laps after winning the pole at Phoenix, and showed improvement throughout his tenure with the team.

Bowman’s track record shows him being out of a car does not affect him if he returns to a quality ride, and this isn’t just proven with his substitution efforts. Last year, after being out of competition for seven months, he returned to NASCAR in the XFINITY Series with Chip Ganassi Racing at Charlotte and won. Now, XFINITY isn’t Cup but still, an impressive show of his skill nonetheless.

“I have a pretty strong desire to go win races and I’m really hungry for wins.  I think that really matters more to me than any pressure anybody is going to put on me,” Bowman said.

The confidence and determination are there. Bowman has proven himself to be capable. The question is, will he be able to live up to the goals and expectations he has set for himself?

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski Looking To Overcome Past Results

The playoff format has not been kind to Brad Keselowski in the past.

Whether it’s been engine failures or being in accidents, something has always got in the way of him make the championship round every year since its inception. It seemed as if once he and the No. 2 team ran into trouble during the playoffs, they’d have issues finding any solutions for their problems.

That has not been the case this year.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the team has finally found the answer to this obstacle, which isn’t good news for those still racing for a chance to run for the title next weekend at Homestead.

Just look at the last two weeks.

At Martinsville, after a dominant day, Keselowski looked to be in trouble following contact with Chase Elliott that sent him from the lead to an unfavorable position with just a handful of laps remaining. He still managed to come out of the race with a fourth-place finish and a big points day.

Last weekend, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion worked his way back after a flat tire and nearly going two laps down early, to end the day with a fifth-place finish.

Two significant obstacles that may have defeated them in past have not stopped this team from finding success this year.

There has been a lot of talk about who will join Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr after Phoenix and the favorite should be Keselowski, with the Round Of 8 serving as evidence to back up that claim.

Out of the remaining five drivers in the playoffs, there isn’t one competitor that has done more in their attempt to make the final four than the Michigan-native.

Jimmie Johnson has continued to struggle, failing to finish in the top-25 at Texas, a track he has dominated in the past. Chase Elliott finds himself in a hole after a late-race spin at Martinsville, with a ninth-place finish last weekend that didn’t do anything to help his cause. Despite being consistent, Ryan Blaney has been outperformed by his former boss and future teammate. Lastly, Denny Hamlin, like Elliott failed to capitalize in Martinsville and has since left him in a hole that he is still recovering from.

Simply put, Keselowski is the driver with the momentum.

Virtually all that needs to happen Sunday for him to secure a spot is two things:

His fellow four competitors cannot win Sunday, which is far from a guarantee as Elliott did lead laps at Phoenix in the spring; however, the last time one of the four won at Phoenix was Hamlin in 2012.

And, he needs to continue to run up front, which is realistic for him has only finished outside the top-10 three times at the track since 2012.

This weekend is a defining race for Keselowski. With momentum on his side can he overcame his struggles of the past, or will he fall victim yet again?

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Trucks

Austin Cindric Deserving of a Second Glance

Since his controversial win at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, there has been a negative light surrounding NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Austin Cindric.

Many disagreed with the move to take out Kaz Grala to go to victory lane and frankly that’s understandable.Aggressive driving and intentionally wrecking somebody is going to result in a reaction, even if it’s for a playoff spot and a first career win. However, because of this negative response, the 19-year-old is now overlooked regarding the championship.

A common misconception since his win is that he can’t drive, which is false. While he has had good quality rides in part due to his last name (father Tim is the President of Team Penske), Cindric has made the most of his opportunities, capturing wins in the ARCA and K&N East Series. He also ran well in his XFINITY Series debut earlier this year. Not to forget he was contention for vvictories before CTMP, most notably Michigan where he led 24 laps and battled with eventual race-winner, Darrell Wallace Jr late in the race.

There should be no doubting what he can do with Brad Keselowski Racing, which includes being a possible championship contender.

Although Cindric currently sits sixth in the standings only eight points ahead of the cutoff heading into the first elimination race at Talladega, his consistency throughout the year shouldn’t be ignored. In the last ten races, he has scored a top-10 nine times, eight of which came on tracks he had never been to in the truck series.

Cindric also showed that he could handle tense times during the playoffs, as at New Hampshire he managed to finish eighth even after a run-in with Grala that sent him spinning during the race. When you can hang with the series’ best in unfamiliar situations, that usually leads to positive results. Especially in a points format, that in the past has rewarded drivers who can finish near the front on a weekly basis.

Obviously, there is still room for improvement for the young driver, most notably he and his team needs to find a way to lead more laps and will likely need to win again to solidify themselves to have a shot come Homestead. However, this is not a team to sleep on. Cindric is a driver who is more than capable surrounded by a solid crew at BKR, that will do whatever it takes to succeed.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
XFINITY

Tifft Poised For Late Season Rebound

For Matt Tifft, 2017 hasn’t gone the way he had hoped.

Replacing the reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series Champion, Daniel Suarez, expectations were high for Tifft.Combined with five top-10’s during a partial schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016, considering him a championship contender wouldn’t have been out of the question.

However, Tifft has failed to meet the high bar set for him. Throughout the season, the 21-year-old has become an afterthought at JGR, especially with drivers like Kyle Benjamin and Ryan Preece battling nearing the front and winning races in limited opportunities with the team. While Tifft did contend for a victory at Road America and successfully made the playoffs, he just hasn’t competed at the same level as his teammates.

During phases like the one Virginia-native has gone through, it’s not uncommon for drivers to struggle to re-establish their footing. To Tifft’s credit, that’s not the case. He has shown signs of improvement as of late putting together three straight top-10’s, something the team hasn’t been able to do all season.

The most impressive of which came this past weekend at Dover, where after starting in the back and suffering damage early, he bounced back to scored stage points and finished sixth. Performances like these are what Tifft needs to be doing if he wants to remain in title contention. Now entering the first elimination race at Charlotte, he has a 12-point advantage over the cutoff.

Currently, Tifft’s plans for the 2018 season are unknown. He hasn’t resigned with JGR or agreed to a new deal with a different team. The final five races of the year are all that is set in stone. With multiple drivers that could take over his place, he needs to do whatever it takes to stay in a positive light and performances like Dover will contribute a lot to that cause.

There isn’t a lot of great openings in NASCAR, especially for a young driver like Tifft. The ride he has right now is the best shot that he may ever get and he must make the most of the opportunity in the remaining races.  A solid playoff push end to the year could be enough to erase an otherwise forgetful year and keep in a competitive ride moving forward.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
XFINITY

Road America Shakes-Up Playoff Picture

Heading into Sunday’s Johnsonville 180, the XFINITY Series playoff field looked set heading into the final four races of the regular season.

Ross Chastain, who was 13th, sat 43 points outside the cutoff, meaning it would probably take a win for him or anybody behind him in the standings to break in. With the big name teams that contend for wins on a weekly basis were either already in the top-12 or not eligible, it seemed doubtful.

However, after a wild race in Wisconsin, Jeremy Clements shocked the racing world, coming home with the upset win and shaking up the playoff grid.

While Clements’ win isn’t what Dakoda Armstrong and Brendan Gaughan wanted to see, it’s what this series needed. Let’s face it, who cared about the bottom half of the playoff picture before Road America? With a close point battle in the Camping World Truck Series and plenty of drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that can still win and get in, there was not a lot of reason to pay attention to the cutoff in XFINITY before. That is no longer the case.

Now looking at the grid, the 10th seed sits only 26 points ahead of 13th, meaning one mistake could be all it takes to go from a chance at a championship, to no opportunity at all, which is why this format exists. None of this where the field is set weeks before the cutoff. But instead, close battles in the standings that leave us wondering who’s in and out all the way till the checkered flag at Chicagoland, which generates buzz and intrigue heading into the next three races.

Not to mention the stories to watch for with the drivers on the bubble with Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing looking to better their impressive playoff run from last year, Michael Annett trying to make the most of an opportunity with JR Motorsports, and the veteran Gaughan who wants to prove he’s still got it. There’s also Armstrong attempting to make a statement with the underdog team of JGL Racing, who has gone under the radar despite being in the playoff picture.

This series is all about advertising how “names are made here,” which is what this new shakeup captures perfectly. Four drivers that will have to put together three perfect races to prove that they belong, and that’s if another unexpected winner doesn’t come along to mix it up again.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

Keselowski’s Mid-Season Resurgence Going Unnoticed

This season has been an odd year for Brad Keselowski.

In the first six races, he captured two wins and five top-five’s and seemed poised to be a serious championship contender. However, after being involved in two early accidents at Charlotte and Dover, his Team Penske No. 2 team appeared to fall off the map, only finishing in the top-five twice in the following six events.

Now, fast forward to present time where he seems to be getting back on track.

After their mid-season struggle, it appeared Keselowski was on the verge of a huge breakthrough in the form of a Brickyard 400 win. Unfortunately for him, that wouldn’t be the case as he’d finish second.

Two weeks later at Watkins Glen, after running top-five all day, he looked to be in great shape leading late. Again, things did not go his way, and he ran out of gas, got penalized on pit road, and had to settle for 15th.

Most refer to this as just another bump in the road in a rough season for the Michigan-native, which is an entirely understandable thing to think. But, that may not be the case; in fact, these runs may be this team needs going forward.

Having wins slip through your fingers can be frustrating. Though after the weeks Keselowski had, being in contention for a victory is an accomplishment within itself as it brings momentum back to the team.

For example at Indy, the No. 2 wasn’t of a factor early on. However, with all the craziness going on in the Brickyard 400, the 2012 Champion was able to use his skill and not only just survive, but strive and become a threat to win. The result of that one race? Suddenly, he’s back and running towards the front at Pocono and Watkins Glen.

If Keselowski can continue to build off this, it could not only massively turn around his season, but also possibly put him in place to battle for the championship at Homestead. As much as wins are emphasized, points still matter and which he has a lot of virtue of playoff points. Running top-five on a consistent basis still has value as somebody will make the Championship 4 by points, regardless. Not to mention being able to avoid trouble as he did in Indy, would help given his struggles in the post-season previously when incidents cost him big.

So, while the focus remains on the dominance of the Toyotas and how in Keselowski’s words the Penske cars “need a lot of speed to keep up” with them, he may not want to sell himself short, as many have as this is not a driver to sleep on.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Trucks

Pocono Shakes Up Trucks Playoff Picture

After an exciting Overton’s 150 at Pocono Raceway, only four races remain till the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, and it’s anybody’s guess who will make the field. While there may be some uncertainty, it’s clear after Saturday’s 60-lap event that some are in better shape than others.

With five different winners and an 88-point cushion for Chase Briscoe, the battle to keep an eye on revolves around the seventh and eighth seed, currently held by Ben Rhodes and Ryan Truex. Although they may be in preferred position now, entering the weekend, it was a different story, with both failing to place in the top-20 in their previous three starts.

That wouldn’t be the case Saturday, as the pair collected points in both Stages, and finished second and third, respectively. The runner-up allows Rhodes to improve to five points over ninth, and brings Truex into the playoff field, after being outside entering the day.

With Truex moving in, who falls to ninth? Grant Enfinger, who now sits four points out after finishing 13th. While he seemingly had a top-10 truck, the driver of the No. 98 only collected one point during the first two stages and was plagued with mechanical issues in the race’s final stretch. When the Camping World Truck Series heads to Michigan International Speedway in two weeks, he will likely need to improve upon his eighth-place finish from his only previous start at the 2-mile oval if he wants to make up for lost ground.

Enfinger didn’t have the worst day as far playoff contenders go. That distinction would go to Noah Gragson, who finished 24th after being involved in an accident with Kaz Grala. The 19-year-old who was riding the momentum of seven straight top-10 finishes and entered Pocono only eight points outside the bubble, now sits 41 behind. The DNF essentially puts him in a must-win situation, which is a tall order for a rookie who hasn’t run a truck at any of the remaining four tracks.

Now, nothing is secure, and anything can happen. However, the question should be asked. How will this race overall impact the playoffs? Will the positive performance of Rhodes and Truex provide a bit of insurance in points? Will the points Enfinger loss not finishing top-10 end up costing him big?  Only time will tell.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Chase Elliott Emerging as Title Contender

We have reached the halfway point in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and already a few drivers have proved to be possible serious contenders for the championship come November. While the likes of Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr remain the center of attention, there is one competitor that may not be getting talked about enough  Chase Elliott.

Yes, it may be strange to consider the 21-year-old undervalued given the hype surrounding him. However, the consideration given to him may be directed the wrong ways. When it comes to Elliott, the main talking point usually revolves around the fact he replaced Jeff Gordon and how he still remains winless. Instead, it should be focused on his impressive stat sheet this season, especially in recent weeks.

As we’ve seen in the past, being consistent can play a significant role in winning a championship, and that is what Elliott has been. In the last six races, he has tallied five top-10’s (most of any drivers), three top five’s (tied for most with Larson and Truex), and has only finished outside the top-eight once. The numbers become more impressive considering the wide variety of tracks covered in that span.

It may only be his second season at NASCAR’s highest level, but he’s already shown significant signs of improvement. At seven out of the 17 tracks visited so far this season, Elliott has outdone his previous best finishes and is on track to surpass all of his stats from his rookie season. It is common as drivers tend to get better with experience; however, this is a competitor that made it to the Round of 12 in last year’s playoffs. If he continues to keep getting better at the rate that he has all season, the sky is the limit for this team.

Now the big thing many harp on is how Elliott still hasn’t captured his first win, which is a fair argument considering how NASCAR’s playoffs system rewards winning more than anything else. However, with the team performing this way, it’s only a matter of time before they bring the No. 24 back to victory lane. In addition to that, look at what he has done without winning a race. He currently is seated fifth in points and sits in front of several of the biggest names in the sport. One could even make the argument that Elliott has been Hendrick Motorsports’ top driver so far, out-front of teammate and seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, who with three wins still sits a ninth in points, 41 points behind him.

Regardless, it’s time to stop talking about who he replaced, and rather discuss the fact that in less than two years, he and his team have established that they can get the job done. Elliott is performing like a driver that can win the championship, and should be treated as so.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
XFINITY

Armstrong Ties Career-Best In Iowa

It was a night of unexpected results this past Saturday at Iowa, with the entire top-five all earning their best career finish. One of those was JGL Racing’s Dakoda Armstrong, whose fifth-place performance may prove to be more than just a good night when looking at the big picture.

The 250-lap race turned out to be an up and down night for the 25-year-old, which included starting from the rear after a season-high qualifying effort.

“We actually had a really fast Winfield United Toyota all night; we qualified seventh. We had flat left rear going into the race and had to start at the rear,” Armstrong said post-race. “So, we were playing the strategy game right from the beginning.”

Well, the decision to stay out did manage to earn him a point in Stage 2, the team struggled to get back to the front. However, when a late caution allowed Armstrong to finally the track position late, he took full advantage.

“The car I thought was actually a top-10 car all night; we just couldn’t get the track position,” Armstrong said. “We got it there at the end but, we actually didn’t have new tires, we had 20 lap scuffs. If we would’ve had new tires, I thought we had a good enough car to finish second but still a great job by the guys to recover from all that and get a good top-five. Good points day for us.”

The points gained may be an understatement for the Indiana-native, who now sits 11th in the standings. His first top-five of 2017 allowed him to increase his gap over Brendan Gaughan, who sits 14th, to 27 points. With Darrell Wallace Jr no longer competing full-time in the XFINITY Series, Gaughan will eventually become one of the drivers Armstrong has to worry about if he wants to make the playoffs.

While the playoffs are off into the future, this race may prove huge to him. With how consistent this team has been (only finishing outside the top-20 twice this season), this top-five may prove the difference maker that allows Armstrong and JGL Racing a chance to compete for their first title come September.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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.