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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

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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

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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

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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

Edwards Ends Up on Losing End Once Again

Carl Edwards knows this feeling all too well.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver seemed like the favorite to win the championship and the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with his No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry leading laps and fending off opponents. Most importantly, he kept his three title rivals in his rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, that is what erased his chance at winning it all.

Edwards restarted second with 10 laps remaining in the Ford EcoBoost 400, with championship hopeful Joey Logano lined up behind him. The No. 22 Team Penske Ford dove to the apron and attempted to make it three wide going into turn one. Edwards went to block and went across Logano’s nose – and in an instant, his shot at redemption vanished.

“[Logano] was so good in the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought everything was going to work out and Jason [Hedlesky, Edwards’ spotter] told me basically he was there. I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there,” Edwards said after being cleared from the infield car center. “[Logano] just timed it perfectly; he moved down, and I thought I could feel him a little. I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift. He drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended.”

Because of the damage to his racecar, he could not head back out on the track and finished 34th. The result relegated him to fourth in the point standings. Edwards came close to the championship before; in 2008 and 2011, he claimed the runner-up position in the Chase.

The JGR driver believed the blame was shared and didn’t want any negativity between the teams. Edwards walked to the No. 22 pit box after the incident to express his thoughts to crew chief Todd Gordon. His sportsmanship didn’t go unnoticed by others within the NASCAR community.

Edwards said, “I just wanted to say, ‘Hey, that’s just racing and good luck to you guys.’ There’s so much on the line. I don’t want to be anything extra to mess with Joey. He’s done a good job, and they deserve to go have a good, fair race.”

Despite the circumstances and déjà vu, he didn’t leave Homestead empty-handed; the driver enjoyed the racing up until the end.

“That was just a fun race. I wish it didn’t end like that,” he said. “My guys deserve better than that. Hindsight obviously it would’ve been better to be a little less aggressive and maybe race him but man I thought if he got in front of me it’s over.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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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

Reddick Not Returning to BKR in 2017

On Wednesday, Tyler Reddick announced he would leave Brad Keselowski Racing at the end of 2016. The current Camping World Truck Series driver revealed the news on SiriusXM NASCAR radio. No details of his 2017 plans were announced.

Reddick joined Keselowski’s team nearly three years ago, making 16 starts during the 2014 season. He accumulated three top fives and nine top 10s, securing a full-time spot for the following year.

Starting the season off with a bang, Reddick won the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. A victory at Dover International Speedway solidified his status as a championship contender. He gathered 14 top fives and 19 top 10s yet finished second in the point standings behind Matt Crafton.

Despite his past success, the driver of the No. 29 has struggled throughout 2016. A lack of consistency led to multiple finishes outside the top 20. The lows were offset by the highs, which currently includes a victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, seven top fives, and 11 top 10s. Reddick battled against this year’s competitive field yet failed to make the inaugural CWTS Chase Grid.

Silly season is now in full swing, with many driver announcements coming within the past two months. BKR teammate Daniel Hemric signed with Richard Childress Racing and will move to the XFINITY Series in 2017. Other Truck drivers, such as William Byron, are also going to the next level. There is also a shift from NXS to Sprint Cup Series, started by Erik Jones. There are seats available with various teams, so options are open for the young driver. Currently, one of the biggest rumors has Reddick joining Team Penske, piloting the team’s second XFINITY Series entry.

Although his future is somewhat up in the air, Reddick is optimistic he and the No. 29 team can finish the year on a high note.

“It’s going to be a shame I’m not going to be there next year, but I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent there,” he said, adding, “Hopefully, I can repay them with two more wins to add to the list.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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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

Allgaier, Koch in Precarious Position after Texas

Justin Allgaier and Blake Koch collected solid finishes at Texas Motor Speedway – finishing 10th and 14th, respectively – but their Chase situations are anything but stable.

Koch’s weekend got off to a rocky start when he wrecked during practice, but his backup car didn’t disappoint in qualifying. The Kaulig Racing Chevrolet started 12th Saturday afternoon and hung around the top 15 until he feared tire issues. After pitting for a fresh set and going a lap down, Koch worked his way back up into the top 20 before a speeding penalty halted his progress. He used the last 50 laps to climb through the field and bring the No. 11 home in 14th.

Koch praised his team for overcoming the rough start to the weekend, saying, “I’m so proud of my team for rebounding off of that and getting out the backup car. They had it out before I even got my car back into the garage.”

The Texas result places him fourth on the Chase Grid, one point above the cut line. Koch knows his championship position isn’t ideal, yet he is grateful for the finish and some momentum for next week’s cutoff race at Phoenix International Raceway

“To come out of here with a top 15 and still in the Chase, I couldn’t be any more pumped and proud. We have a great Phoenix car, and we have a great Phoenix backup,” he said. “We’re ready, and it’s one of my best racetracks … I feel like I’ve gotten so much better as a driver. We’ve gotten so much better as a team at that point. I can’t wait to see what we look like at Phoenix.”

Allgaier’s day went a lot smoother than Koch’s; the JR Motorsports Chevrolet started sixth and stayed in the top 10 throughout the afternoon. The No. 7 team executed consistent stops and avoided trouble, finishing 10th.  Although he gave a stout performance, Allgaier sits one point below the cutoff line – meaning he and Koch will go against each other next weekend.

The JRM driver is confident in his team after this weekend and hopes to leave Phoenix with a trophy.

“We executed and came away with a top 10 finish. I’m very proud to drive this car,” he said, adding,” Phoenix was one of the tracks that I had circled in the Chase as I’ve always done well there.”

There is a lot of positivity surrounding their respective situations, and both feel their teams are prepared for whatever comes their way. Winning would be the best Chase scenario for Allgaier and Koch.

However, the JRM driver is hoping for another outcome – one that would benefit both him and Koch.

“I get to race my buddy Blake Koch for the final spot. I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “Hopefully, something happens, and we both get in.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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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

Bowman, Others Pay Price of Current Youth Movement

The sport’s current youth movement is history unfolding before our eyes – but not without repercussions for others.

Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are the most notable names in this group; both are in contention for the 2016 XFINITY Series championship as Jones prepares to move into the Sprint Cup Series next season. These Joe Gibbs Racing drivers exemplify what every young gun wants to become – competitive and desired.

Other drivers are hot commodities as well; William Byron, Cole Custer, and Daniel Hemric will leave the Camping World Truck Series for XFINITY rides in 2017. On the Sprint Cup side, Chase Elliott is competing for a championship in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. His first victory is most likely right around the corner as well, signifying the younger crowd is thriving in these sought-after seats.

The tide has certainly changed over the past five years, with fresh perspective now trumping accrued experience. This monumental shift is having ripple effects within organizations in all three series.

But what happens if you missed the boat?

Since the summer race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Alex Bowman has dazzled as a fill-in for a sidelined Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He wheeled the No. 88 to a seventh-place finish – his career best – while battling the stomach flu. Just a few years ago, Bowman moved up to Sprint Cup too fast and struggled with an underfunded team. He had no ride for 2016 until Earnhardt offered him a part-time gig in the No. 88 JR Motorsports machine. Despite his impressive runs, he currently has nowhere to go in 2017 – even though, at 25-years-old, his future seems pretty bright regarding ability. Youth became a bigger focus right after Bowman broke into the sport, putting him at a disadvantage. His age is also a bit high when compared to the Custers and Byrons in the sport.

You could say the same for two other talented drivers – Jordan Anderson and Ryan Truex.

Anderson began racing at a young age but took a different route into NASCAR; he went to college and earned a degree in Motorsports Marketing, gathering knowledge that would help him attract sponsors and move up in the sport. Unfortunately, this makes him older than the target age. At 25, he is struggling to run a complete schedule despite accumulating four top 15s and a solid fan base. His future rests on dollar signs, which is an uneasy place to be in this sport.

Truex has solid stats in CWTS while racing a partial schedule for Hattori Racing Enterprises; his 11 starts brought a top five and a top 10. He hasn’t found a stable place to call home since his back-to-back K&N Pro Series East championships in 2009 and 2010. He has been on a grind to compete full-time, fueled by his older brother’s success and tenacity. Martin Truex, Jr. just hit his high point, meaning the younger Truex has lots of motivation and hope.

Optimism can only get you so far. That’s when the money comes in.

Not being part of the youth movement puts Bowman, Anderson, and Truex at a huge disadvantage in regards to sponsorship; with Kyle Busch as their guide, Jones, Suarez, and Byron have had more exposure to companies and already have relationships with corporations. That makes the pool of potential investors quite small. Also, teams weren’t observing young talent when Bowman and Co. rose through the ranks. In Jones’s case, his affiliation with JGR made it a lot easier to move up to his 2017 Cup Series ride.

The youth movement does a lot of good things that should not be ignored. However, there are repercussions for drivers who barely missed the cut-off age. That – along with financial struggles – makes it difficult for Bowman, Anderson, and Truex to compete full-time. Although driving the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports is a sweet gig and provides a lot of exposure, Bowman still has that uncertainty hanging over his head. At the same time, Anderson and Truex worry about making the events. And there are dozens of talented drivers having the same dilemma at the grassroots level. As organizations strive to lower their lineup’s average age, a domino effect is taking place. When one young gun signs a developmental deal, that’s the seat a more seasoned driver envisioned in their dreams.

The young talent deserves to be noticed – but it has caused issues for those who were simply born earlier.

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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 NASCAR Cup Series

RAPID REACTION: Daytime Drama

CONCORD, N.C. – The Chase’s lone night race turned into a midday melee at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Questionable weather conditions force the sanctioning body to move the Sprint Cup Series event to Sunday afternoon for the second year in a row. This decision threw teams for a loop and led to plot twists no one expected.

As Jimmie Johnson outran Matt Kenseth for the coveted Chase-securing victory, others didn’t fare as well. For many, the first race of round two raised more questions than it answered. That makes the next two weeks kind of interesting.

Here are some rapid reactions from Charlotte’s Chase race.

Pencil in some cautions?

Moving the race to the daytime was a decision NASCAR had to make to keep fans safe. Good karma repaid them with a chaotic event, which had a total of eight cautions. The move to Sunday afternoon made every team’s setup useless, and it was all about who could adapt the best.

The current aero package doesn’t favor night races, and Sunday proved that. Afternoon heat caused a lot of side-by-side racing, yet some weren’t impressed with the action.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said, “I thought it was going to be a lot better, but it wasn’t actually much fun. It was single-file, much like a night race here.”

Nevertheless, it was an entertaining afternoon, to say the least.

Rough start to Round of Twelve

No Chase driver was safe from Charlotte’s wrath; five championship-eligible racers suffered issues, ranging from accidents to blown engines.

Kevin Harvick locked himself into round three with his New Hampshire victory, and good thing, too. The No. 4 team’s day started off strong but came to a screeching halt when problems with the electronic control unit arose. The finished relegated the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion to a 38th-place finish.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver fell off the pace on lap 155, but Joey Logano hit the wall as the caution flew. It was the second time the No. 22 got in the wall – but the Team Penske car could not fix the damage. Logano finished 36th.

Two other drivers – Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon – ended up in the garage as well; Martin Truex, Jr. hit Dillon’s bumper on a late restart and caused an accident that involved 12 cars. The No. 3 collected others, including the No. 24. Elliott and Dillon’s days were decent in their respective ways, yet their Chase hopes are now hanging by a thread.

Denny Hamlin is no stranger to playoff season issues, and he joined other Chasers in battling harsh circumstances; while running second with less than 50 to go, his engine failed. It was a shocking development, given Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance throughout the season. The 2016 Daytona 500 champion and four fellow competitors find themselves in compromising positions just one race into the second round.

Chasers who?

With various championship contenders struggling, the door opened for under-the-radar drivers to pull off strong days.

Kasey Kahne, who’s found consistency as of late, credited crew chief Keith Rodden with his third-place finish, saying, “We were bouncing a bit, so we struggled with that. Keith made the right adjustments to get me off my right front, and that helped a lot during the last three or four runs of the race.”

Larson is still fighting for wins despite his elimination from the Chase field. His attributes the No. 42 team’s speed for the top five effort.

“We’ve had fifth to 10th place speed the last couple of months, but we haven’t had the luck to go with it,” he said, adding, “Today was good; we got some bad luck in the beginning of the race when our tire came apart, but we fought back to the lead lap and got a top five. I’m good with that.”

Ryan Newman failed to make the Chase Grid but keeps pulling off impressive finishes; he brought the No. 31 home fourth. Other non-Chasers who filled out the top 10 include Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray.

Hendrick power shines again

If anyone doubted Johnson would be a major player for the 2016 championship, he proved them wrong on Sunday He took Hendrick Motorsports to victory lane after leading 155 laps throughout the afternoon. The Chevrolet organization is flexing its muscle at the right time, with its other three cars also recent contenders. Elliott led 103 laps before the wreck, Kahne finished strong, and Alex Bowman was in the top 10 when his accident took place.

You can say HMS was sandbagging throughout the entire regular season. You might be right – but they call it “strategy,” and it’s a strategy they do very, very well. All four cars have the ability to win in the next six races, and that should scare the other 36 cars on the track.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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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

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.

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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

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

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