Thomas Latzkowski

Thomas Latzkowski

Originally from central New York, I was first introduced to NASCAR through my uncle. I quickly developed an interest in the sport that has only grown over the last 20 years. I have a bachelors degree in agriculture business from SUNY Cobleskill, and currently manage the marketing efforts for a produce importer. In 2017 I thru-hiked the Appalachian trail, and since have been focused on pursuing my passions in life such as motorsports.

 

The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race of 2019 was a strange affair for an unofficial start to the season. Paul Menard led over 50 laps of a race that ended 20 laps short of the scheduled 75. There were multiple rain delays, and a lot of single file cars. Even when it seemed as though this would be the cleanest clash in histroy almost every car ended up wrecked.

Menard Started on the pole, thanks to his crew chief drawing the number one spot the night before. While he wouldn't maintain the lead on lap one, courtesy of Kyle Busch, Menard would find himself back into the lead where he would remain for the vast majority of the race.

Within a few laps the cars were already single file as drivers were not eager to challenge one another. It also appeared difficult for drivers to make moves without side drafting or taking advantage of the air passing over the cars. With everyone lined up on the outside it was not advantageous for anyone to be moivng in and out of line.

The first caution flag flew on lap eight when a light rain began to fall. After a short red flag the cars were back on track. As with the first start of the day the cars quickly assembled into a single file line and ran accordingly around the outside of the track. This continued until lap 25 when all but a few cars darted to pit road before a scheduled competition caution.

Following the competition caution the drivers again filed into line on the outside with Menard out front as the Ford drivers proceeded to dominate the day of damp and less than exciting competition for another dozen laps before rain began to fall again.

NASCAR was successful in their attempt to dry the track for racing as the rain subsided once more. The cars returned to the track runing another dozen laps before rain again threatened the racing action. With 20 laps to go Jimmie Johnson made a move to the inside of Menard on the back stretch. As he narrowly side drafted Menard the two collided sending Menard sliding sideways in front of the entire field.

Only three drivers made it thourhg unscaved as the caution car brought only six running cars around the track and back down pit road as the rain came back harder than before.This would be it for the event as the track would be lost to the downpour. A controversial finish that would be debated for several reasons as some would contest that Johnson's number 48 Chevrolet went below the yellow line to complete the pass for the lead.

NASCAR would declare Johnson the winnner as the track was lost. They would also go on to state that Johnson's pass was legal because he was forced below the yellow line by the out of control Wood Brothers Ford. While not the start ot the season most people wanted it seemed most dissapointing for Menard. Kurt Busch would finish second with Logano third, Blaney fourth, and Bowman fifth.

 

The cars will return to the track to compete this Thursday, February 14th, in the Can-Am duels at 7 and 9PM ET to set the full line-up for the Daytona 500.

Homestead Miami has played host to the NASCAR season finale for sixteen years now, and the high speed drama has not slowed. The four championship contenders found themselves putting on a show for the entire 400 miles of the race as they would all race in the top five throughout the  night.

Denny Hamlin qualified on the pole leading the first forty laps of the race trying to defend his annual winning streak before being passed by Kevin Harvick who would go on to win stage one. Although stage points did not count towards the championship tonight, it was truly winner takes all. Harvick’s fellow contenders would also finish stage one in the top five.

Early in the second stage Joey Logano, who had the best short run speed all night, would surge to the lead before Kyle Larson passed him with what was easily the most dominating car not racing for the championship. Harvick would find himself back to the lead for the final lap of stage two, but Larson wasn’t done as he passed Harvick for the stage two victory coming off of turn four. Again the four championship contenders would finish in the top five.

The contenders would continue to trade positions early in the third stage as all night we would continue to be delighted with the close competition between these high caliber teams.

When the lights went down the race heated up. With 75 laps to go Larson got into the wall after characteristically running the high line this evening. Now with the caution resetting the race and a race winning threat out a championship showdown was brewing.

The championship contenders would find themselves in the top four positions again after kyle Busch had to battle back from a poor pit stop, although an underperforming car would cause the team to continue to struggle.

With fifty laps to go Martin Truex Jr. would take the lead before a Havick pit stop would bring him and Logano in for their final green flag stops a lap later. Logano would beat Truex off of pit road, but Harvick would cycle past them. Steve Addington, crew chief for the 18, threw a hail mary leaving Kyle Busch out on track to gain position in the event of a caution. Matt kenseth and Jimmie Johnson would also stay out to catch a caution.

    Fortunately for the top three drivers Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez would get together to bring out a final caution with 20 laps remaining. After one last round of pit stops the final showdown would be set with the final four up front; Busch, Truex, Logano, Harvick in that order.

    Busch was unable to hold the lead as Truex Jr. charged to the front. Again it would be Logano shining on the short run as he powered pass Truex Jr. for final lead change of the night giving him his first MENCS championship.

    In a year dominated by the “big 3” it was a fourth driver stepping up to claim the ultimate prize for 2018. An accomplishment that could be surprising if you note that the other drivers were better, and consistently dominated the season especially on 1.5 mile tracks. However fans that have followed NASCAR throughout the season know that Joey Logano is more than a deserving champion who has been a top driver all year.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series found themselves in the heart of Texas for their second race in the round of 6. Johnny Sauter secured his spot in the championship race with a win last week leaving three spots between seven drivers. With the pressure on, drivers pushed their trucks to the limits. We saw record speeds as Sauter set a new track record qualifying on the pole for the 221 mile race. Playoff contender Noah Gragson found the tracks limitations when he made significant contact with the wall during his qualifying run.

The race saw frequent cautions as tires and handling plagued competitors in the early runs of the race. Restarts were dicey with drivers vying for every spot, including the lead. The end of the first stage was coming to a close with Sheldon Creed, this years ARCA champion, leading. Knowing every point counts Justin Haley made the pass for the lead before the stage ending caution would fly just laps short of the scheduled 35 laps.

The second stage opened with a wild restart that would result in the biggest wreck of the night. Gragson and Sauter would find themselves involved, but only with minimal damage.

Inexperience at this fast track proved difficult for some but not all as we saw young drivers contending for the lead. Harrison Burton, making his first 1.5 mile truck start, found himself up to second. This next wave of great drivers was on display with the likes of Todd Gilliland and Austin Hill getting involved. Stage two would also end with a caution and it would be Myatt Snider taking the green and white checkered flag.

The final stage was more racing and less wrecking as drivers were able to put together their first long runs of the night. Todd Gilliland and Stewart Friesen found themselves to be the class of the field as they both had a few seconds over third place. It would be Friesen taking the lead before green flag stops began to cycle. Unfortunately for Friesen he was too fast on pit entry, leaving Gilliland in sole possession of a four second lead.

Surprisingly the race would continue green and while Haley found himself closing in it was too little too late as Gilliland put together clean lap after lap to try and secure his first career NCWTS victory. The gap between trucks shrunk, and it was getting closer, but nothing seemed wrong. Then it was obvious coming off of turn two, Gilliland was off pace and out of fuel.

In a serious case of Deja Vu it would be Justin Haley coming through for the victory to punch his ticket to the championship race. This was the same scene we saw play out at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in August.

The disappointment at CTMP was real, but the look in Gilliland’s eyes on Friday night was heartbreaking. It’s not easy having you first victory taken away twice.

               Have you ever gone back and watched an old NASCAR race, maybe because it’s one of your favorites, or you long for the history of our sport. I sometimes find myself searching on YouTube for a good short track shoot out from the 90’s to pass the time. Often I don’t recall who won, or where anyone finished, and even though it’s not live I still find it exciting. Nothing says nostalgia like the names and cars of old putting it all on the line for a win.

                What draws me to a previous era are the names, Labonte, Gordon, Wallace, and Rudd all with their recognizable sponsors and classic paint schemes. It’s great that fans can look so fondly at the past, but this personification of the “good old days” may contribute to the sports struggle today. I know NASCAR needs to look to the future, but how has the sport not expanded its connection of past and present further than the annual throwback weekend.

                I am proposing the NASCAR Hall of Fame race, an annual exhibition race held to showcase the legends of the sport. It seems obvious that this would be a mass success, and while not imperative to the future, it has to be worth it. If the time and money spent on other exhibition races is deemed practical than this seems more than reasonable. I would venture forth to bet that the HOF race would be one of the highest rated events of the season, and will leave everyone saying “Why did we not do this before?”

An annual invite should be sent to all members of the Hall of Fame. Currently there are only 7 HOF drivers under the age of 70, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarret, Bill Elliot, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Ron Hornaday Jr., and Jeff Gordon. However there is no maximum age for NASCAR competition, as we saw Hershel McGriff race in a K&N Pro race earlier this year at the age of 90. Obviously it would be awesome to see Richard petty and Darrel Waltrip compete I don’t think anyone would fault them for not strapping into a car.

                This leaves us with a possible lack of participation, but even in the next couple of years we should expect to see the induction of at least a half dozen drivers that can still get it done including Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Gregg Biffle, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Still with such a small pool of drivers to choose from we could expand the starting grid further by allowing participants or invitees to include another retired driver of their choice. Drivers such as Sterling Marlin, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton, Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, and Kyle Petty come to mind. Regardless of how it’s done, NASCAR has a deep pool of retired talent that would be willing to race again.

                Owner participation, along with sponsor and manufacturer involvement would be the key to success, but why would they not want to participate. The major cup teams could easily field at least 20 cars, especially for a previous employee or current owner. While putting a car on track for one race isn’t cheap it may be the affordable sponsorship deal some companies want to take advantage of. The right conversations could lead to the return of sponsors like Kelloggs, or Coors while those already participating in the sport may want to rekindle old connections. It could be very possible to see current sponsors like Caterpillar, Arris, Axalta, and Nationwide participating with the obvious driver/ team combinations.

               Selecting the car may be a more difficult task, but nowhere near impossible. Even if they just went out and used the same cars as cup or Xfinity the race would be worth it. Maybe it could give insight to how much fans actually care about the cars effect on racing as compared to the nostalgia of old school NASCAR. It would be intriguing to see them run a generation 3 or 4 car, someone has to have some of the 2014 K&N cars still sitting around. Regardless of the car we want parity for an equal playing field so the greatest drivers in history can show off their talents; laying it all on the line for victory and glory. Although isn’t that what we want now?

                The race would best be run on a short track, I’m not sure anyone could convince me otherwise. Almost all of the driver’s backgrounds are from short tracks, and the larger the track the less participation you may be likely to get. I could see NASCAR running the race at Charlotte, because of the Hall of Fame and it’s the sports “home track”, but please spare us the pain. My first nomination is Richmond Raceway, but I understand that Bristol and Martinsville should be in the conversations, and let us not forget that Rockingham may be prepared to host a race in a couple of years.

                For the sake of the fans I think we need to get as much action out of the week or weekend as possible. While I would like to see the race run the week before Darlington, I understand that those within the sport have lives. It would pair well with the throwback weekend, but NASCAR would have to decide if it were better with a current race, or as a standalone event. Maybe it can get a spot during one of the Xfinity series off weeks.

                There are numerous options for the format which we could spend eternity discussing, but all that matters is we have an exciting event to determine a winner. Sticking with the idea of an action packed weekend, it would make sense to me to have a day of practice, and qualifying (Thursday). Current NASCAR rules for the race would make the most sense, let’s see what these old guys can do on a double file restart or green white checkered. I would propose two qualifying/ heat races with half the field the day before the race (Friday) anywhere from 25 to 50 laps. Then the big event, 200 - 300 laps with stages anywhere between 50-100 laps. Not too many gimmicks, just a great race or races.

                Seriously the details don’t matter, we just want to see the legends of NASCAR on track!

The NASCAR Camping World Truck series Fr8Auctions 250 at Talladega was exciting throughout with aggressive driving from the drop of the green flag. The first two stages were 20 laps each making the race urgent for playoff drivers in need of stage points. The first two stages managed to go without caution as drivers wrestled their way through the pack.

A close one occurred near the end of stage two as playoff contender Brett Moffitt took serious damage with another truck getting turned sideways into his right front fender.

The race grew more intense into the third stage causing “the big one” after Chris Fontaine got turned in front of the field in an attempt to block a run on the outside. Several playoff contenders were involved including Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, and Johnny Sauter.

After the red flag Rhodes, although one lap down, was able to continue his attempt to advance into the next round.

Crafton unfortunately had to watch as his playoff hopes in the hands of fellow competitors. Sauter, who was already locked into the round of 6, managed to complete about a dozen more circuits before retiring from the race.

A final restart was set with less than ten to go when Todd Gilliland took a hard hit to the inside wall after contact with Grant Enfinger for the lead. Enfinger would find himself spinning off the front bumper of David Gilliland down the back stretch as the race stayed green.

Coming to the end it was Noah Gregson, and Justin Haley battling for the lead with a pack of hungry drivers behind them. The race was inevitably decided with a caution on the final lap.

After the smoke cleared it was Timothy Peters coming through for his third NCWTS win at Talladega. The series veteran who has been driving a limited schedule this season, was emotional in celebration after his 11th and possibly final career win. Peters made the winning move with a shot to the middle as Noah Gregson wrecked in an attempt to block down the back stretch.

Myatt Snider who was one of the most aggressive drivers throughout came home second with David Gilliland third, Haley fourth, and Wendell Chavous fifth. Earlier in the week Chavous announced it would be the last of his career.

Unfortunately it was Ben Rhodes and Stewart Friesen eliminated from the playoffs at the end of the race. Rhodes couldn’t find his way back to the lead lap, and Friesen struggled with engine problems throughout the race.

The next NASCAR Camping World Truck series race and first of the round of 6 will be the Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville, on October 27th. Live coverage of the race will be on Fox and MRN at 1:00 p.m. ET.

On Tuesday NASCAR reviled their rules package for the upcoming season with a variety of changes that has everyone speculating. We can continue to debate the cost-benefit of these alterations, but regardless of anyone’s opinion it’s happening. It can be frustrating to see the majority focused on the specific details that are better left to the engineers.

As Steve O'Donnell has stated “We have the greatest engineers in all of sports”, I’m not sure how you measure that, but I’ll believe it.

If the product provided on track is better does it matter that we’ve changed the tapered spacer, spoiler, and front end aero?

Improving the actual racing on track is a priority, but there is a lot more to this new package than just the 2019 season. NASCAR must continue to make decisions for the long term health of the sport. There are some ear raising statements that NASCAR has made in recent weeks that have not gotten the attention they ought to.

“The most collaborative effort we’ve had across all the industry stakeholders” – Executive VP and Chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell. This should make everyone optimistic that it won’t be the COT debacle all over again, which NASCAR admitted failed in part due to a lack of inclusion throughout the industry.

A big part of these new conversations included old and possibly new manufactures.

“We have been in talks with other manufacturers.” “We’re not looking for a manufacture to come in for 2-3 years as a marketing program… We’re courting them for a long-term” – Former NASCAR president Brent Dewar.

This is a huge aspect to the car design that is not simply about the 2019 season, this is about heading in a direction that NASCAR sees itself in the future. Look at the success teams can have when new manufacturers bring money into the sport, Evernham and Dodge, or Waltrip and Toyota all saw strides towards success before their own demise not of the manufacturers doing.

More recently we can look at the success of Joe Gibbs and the depth of Toyotas involvement with their TRD program that may be the model of OEM’s moving forward.

“So a lot of thought went into this that this isn’t just a 2019 rules package, it’s something that we believe really sets us up for the future — not only for our current partners, but growing the sport, which hopefully leads to more healthy ownership as well where we can bring some new OEMs in.” – Odonnell again explains that the current changes, and those for a Gen. 7 car, could allow for healthier ownership.

A process that will take a lot more discussion in regards to the financial structure of the sport, but this is a step in that direction.

Currently the top two teams from each manufacturer make up the best 18 cars on track almost every week. These are the only drivers that have a reasonable chance to compete for a win. Imagine if the cost of entry was lower, and Dodge or Nissan felt it was worth the investment to enter the sport.

Within a decade they could find success such as Toyota has, and field another six cars each. That’s at least 30 competitive cars.

If Childress or JTG improved their programs, and Toyota expands to a second manufacturer team we could see almost an entire field of 40 cars with a chance to win.

These rules are not a silver bullet, but they are a step in the right direction to solve the big “NASCAR problem”. Currently the jury seems to be out on what we will see next season, but it deserves a fair trial.

I would predict some improvement in the racing, but not significantly with the exception of newly repaved tracks such as Kentucky which should be a lot better. I wouldn’t expect to see “pack” racing at any 1.5 mile tracks, possibly a more “pack” style at California and Michigan, but still nothing like the superspeedways which I would predict will all return to restrictor plates for 2020.

I also think you will see the same overall outcome of the season with only a few first time or unexpected winners and the big money teams still dominating the sport.

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