Crew Chatter: Chicagoland
Fire up the scanner, it is time for Crew Chatter with Speedway Digest writers. This week we tackle Chicagoland with the question, “The Chase for the Sprint Cup has had its defining moments over the past two years, what are your expectations for the 2016 chase?”
My expectations going into the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup is that it will be one of the best we have ever seen. With the exception of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, there isn't really one particular driver that stands out, which will make this Chase very exciting to follow all throughout these last 10 races. I expect it to be a very tight battle to the end.
One of the things I've learned following this sport for the past five years is that you can't really expect anything to happen because anything can and will happen. There are some drivers in the lineup that won at the tracks with more than one race on the schedule, like Dover, Charlotte and Kansas, just to name a few. That doesn't mean they will repeat but they sure could. Sometimes, things are a little different in the fall than they are in the spring so I think you really can't bank on repeat winners in the same year.
I'm really not expecting anyone to dominate. I think we'll know after Chicago where these drivers stand for the remaining nine weeks, which will just fly by.
Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson are waking up after winning the last few races of the season. I think they'll continue to run well but I'm not expecting them to dominate.
Joey Logano swept the Round of 12 (Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega) a year ago. He's been a little quiet this season with only one win in June at Michigan, but he could possibly show up and do it again.
Chris Buescher made it in with a little luck on his side at the August Pocono race. I don't think he'll make it to the championship four, but I sure think he'll make it past the round of 16.
Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray have not yet won this season but they are in on points. I really don't know what will happen with them. I think they can pull off top fives and top 10's but I just don't see them going far. Of course, they could be the ones to shake things up.
One other thing to remember is that there are 24 other drivers looking to crash the Chase party. Just because they are not in championship contention doesn't mean they can't pull off a win or a top finish.
This Chase is so unpredictable and it'll be interesting to see where things stand after round one. Right now, I really have no idea what's going to happen.
My expectations for the 2016 Chase are to see more of what we already have this season, as well as the past couple seasons. Toyota dominance and the championship coming down to the final lap. Just like always, right?
As the Chase kicks off in Chicago this weekend, the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are the odds on favorites. Add Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr., who is basically a JGR teammate, and you have five of the 16 drivers that make up the Chase field.
Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson will also be tough to beat. Harvick and Keselowski have showed dominance throughout the season, whereas Larson has come on as of late after his win at Michigan.
In 2014, Harvick won the Ford EcoBoost 400 and his first championship by one point and one position over Ryan Newman. In 2015, Kyle Busch won the Ford EcoBoost 400 and his first championship by one point and one position over Ryan Newman. Sense a theme?
So that means that *insert first time champion here* will win the race and the championship by one point and one position over Kyle Busch, right?
I'm not sure, and I don't think anyone is. But one thing is for certain: The Chase is on.
The Chase is on! I have learned one thing participating in this sport since birth is that you have to expect the unexpected. This sport is probably one of the most unpredictable sports to predict because it is a sport of man and machine.
The past two years of this current format have produced defining “quintessential” moments for the sport. In 2014, you had Keselowski against Kenseth and Gordon at Charlotte and Texas. In 2015, you had Logano dominating the Round of Eight, but getting punted at Martinsville by Kenseth, who ended up with a two race suspension from NASCAR.
This year I expect it to be one of the best Chase for the Sprint Cup we have seen. Why? You have so many storylines from Chris Buescher to Tony Stewart to the dominance from Toyota. We will see someone move on into the Championship Four based on consistency. These last ten races will have a defining moment, but I will expect the unexpected for the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup
Crew Chatter: Richmond
Fire up the scanner, it is time for Crew Chatter with Speedway Digest writers. This week we tackle Richmond with the question, “With the Chase Grid being set up this weekend at Richmond, who has the stamina and potential to fill the remaining three spots?"
Brett Winningham: The remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup spots will be interesting to follow all evening long in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.You have the young guns of Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott and the series veteran Jamie McMurray in the Chase via points going into the cutoff. Will this stand? I think so. Especially since Ryan Newman was hit with a points penalty after failing post-race inspection on Saturday at Darlington. The only way I see Newman or anyone else getting into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs is if they leave Richmond victorious or one of the three drivers in via points find themselves having a rough night.Another thing to consider is the situation ongoing with Chris Buescher. Buescher, who won the rain shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway, sits 30th in points by only 11 points ahead of David Ragan. A fourth spot to get into the Chase via points could open up if Buescher finds himself into trouble. The Texas native must finish inside the top 30 in points in order to lock himself into the Chase. Though I think Buescher will leave Richmond with a good enough finish to finish the regular season inside the top 30.
Katie Williams: It is really too close to call. I believe performance on pit road will be one if not the biggest keys. Worst-case scenario is that Chris Buescher has a problem and falls out of the top 30 in points, but I don't see that happening. Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon are still after their first win of the whole season so it will be interesting to see whether they go on offense to stay in the top 16 or defense trying to get that first trip to Victory Lane. I think both of them have the stamina to get the job done in either fashion. Jamie McMurray is on the chopping block so he needs to not falter and Ryan Newman is in danger of a penalty and a points deduction after failing post-race laser inspection at Darlington. I try not to go off what drivers did in the previous race at a particular track but Kasey Kahne placed fifth in the spring race at Richmond so he may have a shot to pull off an upset. I feel like Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger have to pull off a win to make it in. I think I'll be watching the NBC ticker more than the actual race.
Davey Segal: Out of the drivers who haven't officially clinched a playoff spot, I think three young guns are capable of doing the most damage. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney. Let's take a glance at all of them heading into Richmond. Elliott: the No. 24 car, and team, have been the most consistent team at Hendrick Motorsports in 2016. If you thought that would be the case before Daytona, I applaud you. I, for one, had Blaney winning the ROY. However, Elliott has dazzled in his first full-time season in Cup. A couple second-place finishes and a handful of top five runs will put him in victory lane sooner rather than later. Perhaps even into the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dillon: the No. 3 car for Richard Childress Racing has also been the most consistent car at RCR this season. Early on, he was knocking on the door for a win. But since then, he has faded back into the mid-teens week after week. With that being said, Slugger Labbe is the right man to lead that team. And with Dillon winning some races in the Xfinity series and now being an engaged man, I think he could be one of the surprises in this season's Chase for the Sprint Cup. Blaney: the No. 21 is basically a Team Penske car, and Blaney has performed like it in 2016. Coming off his career-best fourth-place finish at Michigan, he followed it up with a solid top-20 run at the track Too Tough to Tame. All it takes is one win for a driver and team to get hot. And Ryan Blaney can do just that.
Caleb Whisler: This is the time of the year where mistakes and penalties become costly. We are just one race away from setting probably one of the craziest chases we have seen. We have three distinct storylines coming in: those who are in, those who are on the bubble, and the race to stay within the top-30. I believe that the chase grid we see now in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is set with Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, and Jamie McMurray filling out the remaining three positions on the grid. Ryan Newman had a chance but the only way he can get in now is through a win because of his points penalty following Darlington for failing post-race laser inspection. I was a little hesitant about Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports, but because of more funding from Ford Performance. Barring someone has a major struggle this weekend at Richmond, we are set for a fun and exciting Chase for the Sprint Cup. Consistency will continue to be the major key throughout the next ten weeks. The Chase is on!
Crew Chatter: Darlington
Fire up the radio, it is time for Crew Chatter with Speedway Digest writers. This week we tackle Darlington with the question, “With NASCAR embracing throwback weekend at Darlington, what are your thoughts on Darlington or favorite throwback theme?"
Brett Winningham: NASCAR throwback weekend is one of the most looked forward things in all of NASCAR. It allows drivers an opportunity to run their favorite paint schemes as their favorite racers ran back in the day. It also allows fans to get a sneak peek of what those paint schemes looked like going around the track. It would be really cool if throwback weekend could be further expanded in the XFINITY Series and adopted by the Camping World Truck Series.
Davey Segal: I absolutely hate this question, because there are SO many great, meaningful and beautiful looking throwbacks this weekend. But if I had to pick just one, I would have to go with the No. 14 car of Tony Stewart, honoring Hall of Famer Bobby Allison with sponsorship from Coca-Cola. Being Smoke's farewell season, and Darlington being one of the tracks he has never found victory lane at, putting Allison;s old paint scheme into the winner's circle would be one of the biggest wins of Stewart's career. It's being rumored that Coca-Cola will become the new sponsor of the Cup Series, but I love seeing their brand on a legendary driver's race car once again. The mix of the colors, old school number, history tied throughout the car and circumstances surrounding the driver of the No. 14, I am absolutely in love with this throwback paint scheme, and can't wait to see it on track at The Lady in Black.
Caleb Whisler: I absolutely love the continuation of the throwback weekend at Darlington since it was around before the finished construction of Daytona International Speedway. I am huge proponent in embracing the history of NASCAR. I also love the fact that everyone within the NASCAR community wants to participate. I cannot wait to the surprises that Kerry Tharp and his team have come up with for the fans. There are so many paint schemes that are my favorite from Greg Biffle’s Hooters car to Tony Stewart’s Coca-Cola car to Landon Cassill’s scheme honoring JD McDuffie. In order to pick a favorite, you would have to ask me after the first practice session on Friday. The paint schemes all look great in pictures, but seeing them through the TV screen on the track will help solidify that decision. My hope is that “throwback weekends” will be specialized for the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck series to allow for their own “brand identity”.
"Kids Drive NASCAR" Initiative Review
In just the last week, NASCAR has launched “Kids Drive NASCAR”, an initiative to bring in the younger race fan. NASCAR, in collaboration with its speedways, have announced several programs to help families come to the racetrack.
The first announcement was made at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with the first ever all-kids press conference. Before attending to the media, the announcement that kids aged 12 and under starting in 2017 will have the opportunity to attend NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races for free was made via Facebook Live.
"There really is no other experience like attending a NASCAR race in person, and that’s especially true for kids," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "So many children have become lifelong NASCAR fans because their parents brought them to their first race, and this new ticket offering makes it even more affordable for families to create memories that will last a lifetime."
This program unifies all NASCAR sanctioned tracks in their efforts to reach a younger audience.
The second announcement in “Kids Drive NASCAR” week was the launch of an app called “Acceleration Nation”. Acceleration Nation will provide learning materials for use in schools across the country with lessons focusing on aerodynamics and energy. NASCAR partnered with Scholastics to develop the first motorsports based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education program. The app will provide a digital experience featuring racing-related games, activities, and interactive ways to learn about NASCAR. The app is available in the App Store and Google Play.
NASCAR also announced that the chase races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway will be featured on Snapchat’s Live Story. Fans will be able to use Snapchat to show the world their NASCAR raceday experience through video and photos. The Live Story has been featured in 2016 for the Daytona 500 and the May race at Talladega Superspeedway, which set records for social media engagement for NASCAR.
"There’s no experience in sports quite like attending a NASCAR race, especially during the Chase,” said Gregory "Snapchat’s Live Story coverage provides young audiences with a unique, behind-the-scenes look at the real Chase race experience, through the lens of our fans and drivers."
NASCAR announced a continuing partnership with Nickelodeon with the return of “NASCAR Hammer Down” hosted by Karysn and Kennedy Elledge, granddaughters of Dale Earnhardt Sr. There will be eight, 15-minute episodes ranging from driver interviews, goofy antics among drivers, and behind the scenes insight into the technology used in NASCAR. The show will air regularly on Fridays at 9:30pm (ET/PT) during Nicktoons’ NickSports TV block. NASCAR Productions produces the show.
"Kids are a huge part of our sport, and we are excited to deliver a program like NASCAR Hammer Down to a very important audience for NASCAR," said Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development. "The personalities of Karsyn, Kennedy and our drivers combined with the NickSportsaudience, creates the perfect avenue for us to connect with a new generation of potential NASCAR fans.
Going off of NASCAR, Speedway Motorsports Inc. continues their efforts in working for the fans by providing select children’s tickets to be priced at $10 each to Cup Series events at its speedways beginning in 2017, with the purchase of an adult ticket.
“Coming to the races should be about fun, not finances,” said Speedway Motorsports’ president and CEO Marcus Smith. “Now, a parent can get his or her child through the gates for an entire weekend of NASCAR events – including qualifying night, a Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series race and a Cup Series race – for just $10. This is one of the best, if not THE best, family values in all professional sports.NASCAR fans have passed down their passion for motorsports from generation to generation for decades, and through this new Fans First initiative, we’ll continue that legacy by introducing young fans to the sport and engaging them for years to come.”
International Speedway Corporation will continue to allow the individual tracks to make their own decision on youth ticket prices at Cup events.
The “Kids Drive NASCAR” initiative is just the start of the efforts by NASCAR and its tracks to attract the younger fan.
Give Me Five: Michigan and Road America Edition
The NASCAR Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck, and Xfinity series have wrapped up their respective events at Michigan International Speedway and Road America for the Pure Michigan 400, Road America 180, and the Careers for Veterans 200. Here are five takeaways from this weekend’s events:
- Schedule: On Saturday, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was delayed by rain, and was ran during the Xfinity Series event at Road America. This was a nightmare for fans who wanted to watch both events. Motor Racing Network broadcasted the race from Road America, and will replay the Truck race sometime this week. Even if the events were ran at their respective times, there was a small window for fans to switch to events barring the first one get placed under a red flag. I understand that the events were held in two completely different venues, but it was a logistical nightmare for fans. TV probably played a role in the start time of the events, but hopefully it will be looked at scheduling wise to allow fans the chance to watch both races.
- First Time Winners: This weekend was a first in NASCAR history. All top-three national series experienced first time winners. Brett Moffitt in the Trucks, Michael McDowell in the Xfinity Series, and Kyle Larson in the Cup series. It is pretty cool, in my opinion, to be witnessing so much history happening in 2016. This makes me excited for the future of this sport, the sport I love and grew up on.
- 2017 Aero Package: The aero package that is expected to be used in 2017 needs some work. Kentucky and Michigan 2 provided lackluster racing, which resulted in a snoozefest, in my opinion. I wish this test was going to be used at track like Darlington because it has an abrasive surface, unlike Michigan and Kentucky. The first Michigan race where this package was used provided some fantastic racing, but it failed to produce in the next two events it was used in. I applaud the sanctioning body for trying to make the racing great again, but there needs to be some look on this package tested out.
- Road Course Racing: I absolutely love road course racing. Although the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series is finished with road course racing, fans get to see the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Mosport in Canada next weekend. Road course racing is some of the best of the season. Names in the Xfinity Series were certainly made over the past month with the three road course races and short tracks. Hopefully, we will continue to see the resurgence of road course racing. Every road course provides its own challenges, which is something that some ovals need!
- Youth Movement: The future of NASCAR is bright. Three of the top-five finishers in the Pure Michigan 400 are and were rookies within the past three years. We are beginning to see the changing of the guard to a new youth movement. “Kids Drive NASCAR” is a huge youth initiative started by NASCAR to attract the younger fans to the sport that many of us grew up on. I applaud NASCAR for their continued efforts in trying to reach a younger demographic. Much to the demise of the “older” NASCAR fans, you have to embrace change in order to keep the sport relevant. I applaud the efforts by the sanctioning body in trying to keep NASCAR relevant.
What are your five takeaways from the events at Michigan and Road America?