The Motorsport.com NASCAR team tackle this week's hot topics following the third race of the 2018 season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR team at Motorsport.com would like to welcome Autosport writer Tom Errington as a new participant of our weekly NASCAR Roundtable. come to us from London, England where he works with Autosport Magazine and serves as a contributor for the Motorsport Network.
There were more issues with air guns this weekend in the Cup race. Do you think teams have reason for concern or is it just a coincidence that several of the 'bigger' outfits seem to have trouble during the races?
Jim Utter: I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the same teams who were spending lots of money on their air guns are having issues with the new equipment. The misconception is that there were never air gun issues before. They were many - they were never publicized much by teams because it was their own equipment was at fault. Now that that equipment is provided by NASCAR, the sanctioning body becomes an all-too-easy target to on which to vent their frustrations.
Nick DeGroot: There are certainly issues with the Paoli pit guns, but nothing that can't be fixed. I think allowing the teams to use their own sockets is a step in the right direction. Previously, teams would dump a lot of time and money into their specialized pit guns. They did this not just for speed and efficiency, but for reliability. These new guns are slower and although issues are nothing new with pit guns, the problems seem more prevalent now. And it's happening more with the big teams because they are the ones pushing the hardest and taking these guns to their absolute limits to squeeze out every tenth of a second.
Tim Southers: This is something that according to published reports, several of the RTA members went to NASCAR to request this in order to save money. I agree that there were issues before this season, but now that NASCAR controls the guns, they become an easy target for frustrated teams.
Tom Errington: Whenever a series decides to take control of all aspects of a procedure, questions will be asked if there are any failures. It's been correctly highlighted that the turnaround between NASCAR mandating the air guns and using them for the first time has been short. Still, NASCAR has confirmed to Motorsport.com/Autosport that it is investigating the problems. Now it has to prove its taking action to prevent repeat problems. The overall theme of lowering costs is definitely the right direction for NASCAR.
It appears Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers are clicking on all cylinders with two wins already this season. Do you think we could see Harvick have a "Martin Truex Jr.' type run this season on intermediate tracks on the way to his second championship?
Jim: Kevin Harvick's 2014 season sort of set the standard for what Truex and his team accomplished last year. As Harvick pointed out after Sunday's race, he believes this is already shaping up to be like 2014 again, but now it's a team that has five years of experience. If the No. 4 is on its way to that type of season again, the competition better get ready - it's going to be a long season for them. As Truex showed last year, dominance on intermediate tracks can pretty much carry you all the way to Homestead.
Nick: It sure looks that way so far. However, I caution against putting all your money on the No. 4 right now. The season is still young and there's a long way to go before Playoff time. The pendulum could very well swing away from them between now and September as other teams work to bridge the gap.
Tim: There’s no reason to think Harvick will cool off anytime soon. Harvick and Childers are heading to Phoenix where Harvick has won six of the past 12 Cup races, including a stretch of four straight wins. Harvick has also only finished outside the top six one during that stretch of races. And if he can continue this performance on 1.5-mile tracks, there’s no reason to doubt he can’t equal Truex from last year or Harvick’s 2014 success.
Tom: Will anyone challenge Toyota and Martin Truex Jr, in particular, was one of the biggest themes of the off-season. Considering Ford now has the oldest car on the grid, its form has been surprising. A lot of that is down to Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers perfectly executing races, and that needs to continue if they want to repeat 2014's success. But remember that Toyota and Truex were slow starters in 2017. As Kyle Busch says, there's a long way to go yet.
Ryan Newman picked up the win at Phoenix last year and that punched his ticket to the Playoffs. Although Kevin Harvick looks unbeatable right now, is there a driver you feel could take him on this weekend and secure their place in the post-season?
Jim: Given his performance at Phoenix last fall and that he's pretty much the most consistent performer at Hendrick Motorsports right now, I could see Chase Elliott picking up his first Cup series victory this weekend, which would carry him right into the 2018 playoffs. An early-season win would give his No. 9 HMS team an excellent chance to improve on their playoffs performance of a year ago.
Nick: As the others have said, keep an eye on Chase Elliott, but if anyone beats Harvick and locks up their first win of the season, I'm going with Martin Truex Jr. He hasn't lit the world on fire this season, but he's quietly collected back-to-back top fives as we head to Phoenix.
Tim: I picked him to do well at Daytona and it didn’t work out as he was involved in an accident, but I still feel Chase Elliott is ready to get his first win and it could come this weekend at Phoenix. Although his teammates have struggled over the past two races and Jimmie Johnson has yet to get into a rhythm this season, Elliott has had the strongest car at HMS and I think that will continue this weekend.
Tom: Securing a playoff berth early is a huge weight off the shoulders for drivers who know they won't compete at the front week in, week out. Austin Dillon is now free to learn and experiment on the playoff tracks knowing he's locked in for the next round. Picking a contender to "do a Newman" is a tough call, but Paul Menard has been very competitive for Wood Brothers so far. Erik Jones is improving and has form at Phoenix, while Alex Bowman took pole and ran in the lead for large portions of the 2016 race.
Justin Allgaier and William Byron both won the NASCAR Xfinity Series races at ISM Raceway as Xfinity Series regulars. Do you think we could see an Xfinity Series regular keep this streak alive and win this Saturday?
Jim: I definitely think an Xfinity Series regular could win this weekend and I'm going to go with Elliott Sadler, who currently leads the series standings. Sadler is the only driver to have top-five finishes in the season's first three races. Although his Phoenix track record isn't stellar, I believe his JR Motorsports team is more than ready to return to Victory Lane. But I do believe his toughest competition will come from his teammates Tyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier.
Nick: With Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in the field, I'm doubtful. But if one were to break through, I think it could be Justin Allgaier again.
Tim: I think an Xfinity Series regular could win this weekend and I think it will come from one of the JR Motorsports drivers. Justin Allgaier won this race last season and he’s been strong so far this season. Elliott Sadler is always good at Phoenix and Tyler Reddick has already scored a win this season at Daytona.