Welcome back to the latest edition of the NASCAR Roundtable where our team previews the All-Star Race, makes some early-season playoff predictions and discusses the ongoing battle between the sport's veterans and young guns.
The annual All-Star race is coming up Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Who do you think is the favorite?
JIm: It's hard to argue against Kevin Harvick, although the new aerodynamic rules that will be in place could really shuffle the deck. Unfortunately, no one will get any on-track action with the rules in place until Friday so it's very hard to predict who could benefit from their use and who may suffer. Still, I think considering his success on intermediate tracks, Harvick is a safe bet. My dark horse would be Ryan Blaney.
Nick: Clearly Kevin Harvick based on the rest of the 2018 season, but this is a different kind of race. Instead, I'd put my money on Brad Keselowski. He's finished second there three times in the past and it's the sort of race that suits his driving style. And like Harvick, he's got Roush-Yates power under the hood.
Tim: I would say the clear favorite would have to be Kevin Harvick but with the new rules being implemented, who knows? With the new rules not being forced until practice later this week no one really knows what to expect. Based on their performance this year on track, you could be safe going with any Stewart-Haas Racing driver as well and be safe.
Tom: The All-Star Race is a total randomiser and I'm looking forward to seeing the aero package trialled here, I think the nature of the racing suits the likes of Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch, and they're the two I would tip for it.
As the series heads into the summer months, who do you feel still has a chance to make the playoffs that no one is really talking about now?
Jim: I think it's still very possible that one or more Hendrick Motorsports drivers could still advance to the playoffs. The good thing is it only takes one win - by any way you can get it - to qualify for the playoffs. And even though no one is setting the world on fire at HMS right now, I see many possibilities in the coming months for one or more of the team's drivers to make it to Victory Lane. At this point, I still feel Chase Elliott may be the first to reach Victory Lane from the HMS group this year.
Nick: William Byron and Daniel Suarez. Both have shown steady improvement throughout the year and even without a win, they remain within striking distance of 16th-place in the standings. Aric Almirola is another driver that needs mentioning. That No. 10 is a different team this year with Almirola behind the wheel and he is currently in a very solid position to make the playoffs.
Tim: I would say at least two drivers from Hendrick Motorsports will make the playoffs despite their struggles overall this season so far. It would be hard to imagine the playoffs without Jimmie Johnson in them and I still feel Chase Elliott will break through at some point this season.
Tom: Alex Bowman has been overshadowed by the profile of Chase Elliott and the track record of Jimmie Johnson. Throw in Hendrick Motorsports underperforming and it's not an easy environment to stand out in. But Bowman's looked solid and I'd fancy him to make the most out of Hendrick, who surely must improve before the playoffs and give its driver's race-winning machinery.
Do you feel all the buzz about the young talent has motivated the veterans this season to push harder and do you think we'll see an influx of young winners in the next couple of months?
Jim: There are way too many factors to consider it simply an young vs. old issue. For instance, many of the series' younger drivers are in Chevrolets, which in general have had a difficult time getting adjusted with their new model Camaros this season. In general, however, I have always believed experience plays a large role in this sport - experience of the driver, the crew chief and the team. Right now, Stewart-Haas Racing is filled with all three and that's why you see their drivers leading the way right now.
Nick: No, the veterans aren't pushing any harder than they already were, in my opinion. And even though we've seen a lot of young drivers show up, perhaps they are getting pushed into Cup a bit too soon and are suffering the same way Logano did when he first appeared on the scene. There's no questioning their talent, but there are very few wins between the lot. If any of them are going to win in the coming months though, I'd say Chase Elliott is the obvious choice. You can only finish second so many times before luck finally ends up on your side.
Tim: I think this sport, like life many times, goes in cycles. I feel the young drivers in the sport will have their ‘time’ in the sport, but I think veterans like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are not ready to give up just yet and are showing everyone that they are not ready to just step aside and give the reins to the young drivers just yet. While I feel drivers like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and others are the future of the sport, the veterans I feel will show the way this year in the playoffs.
Tom: I think the tone was set right from the off, with Kyle Busch criticising what he perceived as NASCAR putting its young talent on a pedestal. I think Busch got that totally wrong, but there's a reason the average age in NASCAR is so much higher than series around the world: Experience is vital. The likes of Blaney, Elliott and the midtable team drivers such as Bubba Wallace have all shown glimpses of ability, but the drivers leading the series right now show it's about putting it together across every session of a weekend and into the next race. That's where the young talent currently has some work to do.
Kyle Larson showed how strong his Chevrolet was coming through the field and leading the most laps at Kansas. Is his performance enough to give Chevrolet hope there's still time to turn things around?
Jim: If I were the other Chevrolet teams, I would be trying to convince Chip Ganassi to share some of its secrets before they all get left too far behind. Larson's performance at Kansas was the most dominating by a Chevrolet so far this season and you have to believe that the folks at Ganassi have worked very hard to narrow the gap between themselves and the Fords. So far, their group is the only one that has come close.
Nick: While most of the Chevrolet camp struggles, Larson and company continue to show pace similar to what they had last year. They aren't at Ford's level, but they are far closer than most other teams. As for turning things around, they will eventually. All motorsports are like this -- one organization gets ahead and the others slowing reel them back in until another emerges as the one to beat.
Tim: I feel Kyle Larson is the only driver, for whatever reason, that has figured things out with the Camaro as he’s the fastest Chevrolet by far this season on a consistent basis. I know Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and that is not to be taken lightly, but Larson is the only driver to show consistent speed on a weekly basis since Daytona.
Tom: Larson deserves huge credit for extracting so much out of a tricky Camaro, but we've seen the likes of Elliott and Austin Dillon back at Daytona show signs of a competent car. At some point that needs to be proven. The fact it took until Charlotte last year for Toyota to really take over last year should be a form of inspiration.