NASCAR Roundtable: Was successful 500 a sign of things to come?
On this week's edition of the NASCAR Roundtable, our team tackles the wild season-opener that was the 61st running of the Daytona 500 and looks ahead to a lot of unknowns at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Each week, Motorsport.com's Jim Utter, Nick DeGroot and Tim Southers take on the hot topics in the NASCAR world. And we encourage you the fans to become part of the conversation on social media
Do you think the buzz, crowd size, enthusiasm and higher ratings for the Daytona 500 was specific to the race or a sign of things to come this season?
Jim: While the Daytona 500 has been a sellout the past few seasons, there certainly was more buzz around the race weekend this year and particularly a lot people in the infield. All three of the NASCAR series openers had good crowds. The most remarkable thing about the 500 to me was the fact that hardly any fans had left during the course of the race. At all sporting events these days, it's rare to see most of the crowd stick around to the very end. I'm not sure what's in store this season, but I certainly think NASCAR may have turned the corner in fan attention.
Nick: Leading up to the race, there was a lot of concern regarding the potential for a single-file snoozer. I honestly think some tuned in just to see if it turned out to be the 'disaster' so many were predicting it to be. Instead, they were met with some enthralling action from start to finish with never a dull moment. Additionally, NASCAR did not have the Winter Olympics to deal with. Beyond that, I think people are are beginning to move beyond the retirements of huge names like Earnhardt/Gordon/Stewart and really rallying behind the new names in the sport as they carve out their place at the Cup level.
Tim: I thought the first 190 laps of the race was some of the best we’ve seen in a Daytona 500 recently. Great storylines and new names on the leaderboard I felt captivated the audience and created a solid buzz. The last 10 laps were action-packed and I agree with Jim I surprised to see on TV and hear from various media outlets how the fans remained solidly engaged throughout the event. While Sunday was a sell out in the grandstands, I thought Saturday’s crowd for the Xfinity race was very good as well.
How surprised were you that Michael McDowell didn't help Joey Logano in the closing laps of the Daytona 500?
Jim: I was somewhat surprised only because of how big an effort Ford teams have made in recent superspeedway races to work together for a common goal. The bottom line is no Ford was going to win the 500 unless they worked together. McDowell's decision - while lauded by those who champion him looking out for his own interests - still ensured a Toyota would win the race. And if even you believe he should have only had his own interests at heart, his comments about Ford after the race are not going to help his or his team's cause down the road.
Nick: Considering how Ford tried to choreograph things the best they could, I was genuinely surprised but I also don't condemn him for it. He did what he thought was the best move to gain himself more positions and can't be faulted for that. In hindsight and partnerships aside, I think Joey was right in saying he mave the wrong move. If he went with the No 22., Logano could have been second with a shot at the win and McDowell (who finished fifth) would have been third or fourth most likely.
Tim: While I understand the desire of a driver to want to do his best first and worry about everyone else later, I must admit I was a little surprised how things played out. This is especially true after seeing how Kyle Busch worked with Denny Hamlin to help him win the race. While I know as we heard comments from Joey’s scanner of how unhappy he was, at the end of the day the big question is how upset was Ford? They help both Team Penske and I’m sure help Front Row as well.
What kind of race do you expect to see in Atlanta this weekend with the new rules package for the Cup Series?
Jim: With Atlanta's worn track surface, I generally look for an entertaining race regardless, but I think we will see more cars in the mix for the win than ever before. While Cup cars are not using the entire rules package at Atlanta (they will at Las Vegas), it should still give us a general idea what lies ahead on intermediate tracks this year.
Nick: Now, Las Vegas will be true test for the new package. Atlanta is a very different kind of 1.5 mile track and of course, the full-blown package will not be utilized as Jim said. I expect a closer race akin to what we were used to here in the early to mid-2000s and for Joe Gibbs Racing to carry their Daytona momentum into this weekend.
Tim: Atlanta has a tradition of providing some entertaining races and very often an exciting finish between a couple of competitors. While this weekend is a big of a crapshoot with the new rules, I think (hope) we see a bunch of cars mixing it up for leads and ultimately - the win. They’re not using all of the new rules, but with some of the changes we could see a unique event this weekend.
There were very few rule violations at Daytona and no disqualifications. Do you still think a team will try to test NASCAR's new DQ policy?
Jim: I really don't. NASCAR finally removed all the incentive for cheating - which was keeping a victory and the trophy. It's hard for me to fathom a team testing NASCAR's policy. The risk now far outweighs the reward and what organization really wants the dubious honor of becoming the first disqualified team?
Nick: I am going to go the other way and say yes, it will happen. Not this weekend or next weekend, but they are always pushing the envelope trying to gain that extra edge. That's not going to suddenly change. One day, someone is going to inadvertently cross that line and get bit. With how close things will now be with this new aero package, every little advantage is amplified and I guarantee you they are looking at it from every angle to find that aforementioned edge.
Tim: I agree with Jim on this one. There is just too much to lose now with the new punishments that will be handed down. Do I think NASCAR will penalize someone this year? Yes. But I think it will be a very rare occurrence, especially in Cup. Since the beginning of the sport people come along who feel they’re smarter than everyone and I could see this happening again. Highly unlikely with the new rules, but I’ve been around this sport long enough now to never say ‘never’.
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