Our NASCAR team takes on some of the most pressing questions in NASCAR this week in the NASCAR Roundtable.
As the Cup Series heads to Bristol this week, several drivers are still searching for a win to lock themselves into the playoffs. Who do you predict will have the best chance to win there?
Jim: The short tracks and road courses are sort of "speed neutralizers" which is why I think Joey Logano could still make his way into the playoffs with a victory. Looking at the remaining tracks until Chicagoland, I still think it's possible Team Penske ends up with both drivers competing for the championship.
Lee: Of the drivers needing a win to get in, the battle comes down to Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano. Both have multiple wins at Thunder Valley — and solid teams behind them. While Kenseth would earn the final transfer spot based on points as of now, Logano needs a Hail Mary to qualify for the playoffs. Considering he’s won two of the last three night races at Bristol, Logano has to be considered the favorite. He has an average finish of fifth in his last five starts at BMS in August.
Nick: Matt Kenseth comes to mind. He's a four-time winner at BMS and scored a top five in the first race earlier this year. But even without a win, Kenseth may be safe. On the other side of the fence is Joey Logano, who is in a must-win situation coming to a track where he has proven he can win at.
Tim: I think Joey Logano will get the win this weekend and qualify for the playoffs. Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer are two more drivers needing a win and if it’s not Logano out of this group, I like Kenseth’s chances to score his first win of the season.
Darrell Wallace Jr.'s win at Michigan has to be the feel-good story of last weekend. His crew chief was Shane Huffman, a former driver. While engineers play a vital role on today's NASCAR teams, how important and helpful is it to have a former driver as a crew chief?
Jim: It's no secret some of the best driver-crew combinations in NASCAR right now involve crew chiefs who used to be drivers themselves. On the Cup side, you have the combinations of Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick, Matt McCall and Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe. In previous stories on the subject, each of the drivers said they found they were able to relate to their respective crew chiefs because they knew what drivers were looking for since they had been drivers themselves. At some point, I believe there will be just as many of those type of crew chiefs as there are former engineers.
Lee: Extremely helpful. Crew chiefs and spotters that have raced have a better understanding of the driver’s desires. The ability to create effective solutions for a driver’s wants and needs improve his or her comfort level behind the wheel and ultimately the results.
Nick: The biggest advantage of having a former driver as a crew chief is a natural understanding of what you're man behind the wheel is dealing with and what they need.
Tim: Call me old school, but I feel like we’ll see this trend more moving forward than using engineers. A former driver can help the driver they’re working with more because they can relate to what the driver is telling them about the track and the car as they might have been in that same situation before. Also, with the success of Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick, I think more owners will be apt to giving a former driver a shot.
Kasey Kahne has said repeatedly he plans on being in the Cup Series next year, but as of today, Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch do not have rides for 2018. Of those three, who do you think will be on the outside looking in next season?
Jim: My guess is Matt Kenseth, although it's possible all three could end up with something. Kenseth is on the tail end of his career, and even though he is just as competitive as ever, it's very hard to build a future with a team with a driver you know is not going to be around for long.
Lee: None. The current rumor mill has Kahne driving for Richard Childress Racing or GMS. RCR could be a viable solution if Kahne brings money to the table. Gene Haas told me on Sunday he’s 99.9-percent sure Busch will return to the No. 41 Ford in 2018. If that is indeed the case, then why was Haas spotted entering Kenseth’s motor coach at Michigan on Sunday? To borrow a cup of sugar? Perhaps, Kenseth is the backup plan for the No. 10 ride if sponsorship cannot be secured for Danica Patrick.
Nick: I'd be very surprised if any of these three are not racing next season, but if I had to choose one, it would be Matt Kenseth. He is the oldest of the trio and although still very capable behind the wheel, the sport is moving towards younger and younger talent.
Tim: I personally think all three will land rides for next year, but if I have to choose one, I think it will be Matt Kenseth.
NASCAR is moving towards spec engines in the Truck series and using composite bodies in the Xfinity Series. Should we expect more announcements like this moving forward in regards to Cup?
Jim: I personally don't see how spec engines and composite bodies would work in the Cup series and the current manufacturers keep their current level of financial involvement. I'm not a big fan of either idea but I can see their financial benefits in the lower series. Even with that, if you are Toyota, do you continue to invest in the Truck series if you no longer have the benefit of building your own engines? We should be finding ways to increase manufacturer involvement, not drive them away.
Lee: Baby steps. NASCAR tests innovations in the lower series before incorporating changes at the Cup level. Both initiatives are seen as cost saving measures for the Xfinity and truck tours. But how would either change effective the top stock car series. Certainly, with the current collaboration between team owners, drivers and the sanctioning body all will have input on best practices for Cup before either addition would be made. If I could change anything in the Cup series, I would follow Chevy’s lead and find sexier cars models for the Fords and Toyotas.
Nick: Spec engines and composite bodies are a good idea for the lower divisions as they look for ways to cut costs and make things more affordable for the teams. But I doubt you'll ever see spec engines in Cup. As Jim said, what manufactuerer is going to be on board with that?
Tim: I understand why these things are being tried at the lower levels of NASCAR, but I agree with Jim in that I don’t see how manufacturers at the Cup level would be really excited about spec motors, etc. Although I feel something has to be done to rein in costs in series like the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series before more teams are lost.