Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR this week:
Turn 1: We never see a car impact the pit wall like Kasey Kahne’s did on Sunday, yet we just saw it twice in one weekend. Should — or is — there anything that can be done to prevent that in the future?
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: It can be corrected by narrowing pit road and reducing the distance between the wall on pit road and the wall separating pit road from the track. Then eliminate the first five pit stalls and add them back on the Turn 1 end of pit road. Indy is the same size track as Pocono (2.5 miles) with a much narrower pit road, which helps prevent cars spinning on entry and sliding a great distance before slowing.
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: I had coffee with Bob Pockrass on Tuesday, and we talked about this for a good bit of it. (Yeah, that’s right. We get together from time to time to talk about racing and work.) I agree with NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell, who said Monday that it’s not as easy as extending the pit wall or sliding pit road forward. But that would be a great start. In the meantime, there needs to be some discussion about if, how and why the new aero package and higher corner speeds play into cars spinning at that spot. I have a hard time recalling that ever happening before, and it happened multiple times in one weekend.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: In the 1970s, Formula 1 drivers, including Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda, were instrumental in bringing safety-related changes to natural terrain road courses. Oval tracks have kind of slid by in that regard, especially since the invention of the SAFER Barrier. There’s a prevailing attitude that all ovals are basically the same and they are as safe as they can be. But fluke accidents at ovals still happen far too often — like the pit lane crashes at Pocono, or Kyle Busch striking an unprotected inside wall at Daytona earlier this year. NASCAR would be wise to commission an independent study of all its oval venues to determine what measures could be taken to improve safety for drivers, crews and spectators.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: A few things could be done. Pocono could extend the wall separating the racing surface and pit road. Or it can be extended the number of stalls going toward Turn 1 — although that could mean the wall separating the racing surface and pit road toward Turn 1 would need to be extended. The other thing that needs to be analyzed is the impact of the current aero package, its role in cars snapping loose at that specific point and the inability of the drivers to regain control. Do higher corner speeds and more time on a throttle help create this situation or make it more likely than in the past? Some would say that’s possible. Others say this was just a coincidence. It at least needs to be considered.
Marty Smith, ESPN Insider:
Turn 2: Did Kyle Busch take too much of a chance gambling on fuel at Pocono?
Craven: No, I absolutely agree with how they went about their business. Kyle Busch was a half gallon of fuel from his fourth consecutive win. While he and his team must accept the consequences of failing while trying, they would have punished themselves even more for pitting and surrendering any chance at making history. As I said a few weeks ago, laying it on the line is a critical component of Kyle’s driving personality, and it’s an invaluable asset most of the time. The attitude and effort Kyle and his team have displayed the past six weeks prove that the 30-year-old now has the best opportunity of his career to win a Sprint Cup title.
McGee: Yes. I’ve been a ripped a bit for dropping Kyle so much in the Power Rankings, but he’s walking on a much thinner sheet of ice than anyone else. I get going for history and four wins in a row and bonus points in the Chase. But as much as no one wants to hear about points racing right now, for a guy whose first priority right now needs to be getting inside the top 30 in points, points racing is what he needed to do on Sunday. I get that he’s super close and that it doesn’t seem to be too tough of a task. But his fall record is what it is. And Watkins Glen and Bristol — two tracks where the odds of something happening that is out of your control are pretty dang high — are up next.
Oreovicz: No. Fuel mileage is less of an exact science in NASCAR than in most other forms of motorsport, and I think it was a reasonable risk. Even after running out of fuel and dropping to 21st place, Busch still finished ahead of and gained points on David Gilliland, Cole Whitt and Justin Allgaier — the drivers with whom he is competing for the all-important 30th position in the standings.
Pockrass: Not. At. All. Busch still improved on his deficit behind 30th, and the only way he won’t make the Chase is if he somehow wrecks or has mechanical failures in three of the next five races. Yeah, that could happen. But that’s like saying he shouldn’t even try to pass another car to avoid the danger of wrecking. He was close enough in points that this was a good, calculated gamble. Another three points in the first round — the bonus for a regular-season win — is never a bad thing.
Turn 3: If Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman’s deal with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is a sign of more consolidation, is that something fans should be worried about or is that just the natural course of business?
Craven: A greater concern should be the potential of all 43 teams being controlled by 11 entities as a result of consolidation over the next half-dozen years. If that happens, the owners as a united group will become much more powerful. I believe NASCAR the sport and NASCAR the business need be viewed separately, and paying customers concern themselves very little with what they are purchasing other than what it costs and what they receive for it. If they are entertained and like the value, they will come back. What’s ironic is that the owners are asking those same two questions. The answers might lead to continued consolidation.
McGee: Both. Fans should be worried because it’s the natural course of business. If part of the domino effect of all this is that Ganassi goes to four cars and Furniture Row adds a second car, then it’s all good when it comes to car counts. But the bigger concern is that yet another new, outside investor has come into the sport and is now scrambling. The ownership titans of the sport are not getting any younger, and the current system makes it mighty difficult to see how new teams or team owners can break into the sport going forward.
Oreovicz: It’s the natural course of business, and nothing that fans should really worry about unless their loyalty is to a specific team owner. NASCAR is still going to assemble 43-car fields for the foreseeable future, but those fields are likely to be made up of a smaller total number of teams as time passes. Consolidation of teams has already taken place in F1 and IndyCar (the merger of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing into CFH Racing being the most recent example) and we are likely to see more of it in NASCAR.
Pockrass: I admit I’m a worrier. I wouldn’t call myself a glass-half-empty guy, but I wonder why the glass is half empty in order to try to get it to full. Where will all the future owners come from as the average age of owners seems to get older and older? Who would want to start a race team with the daunting task of probably needing three cars, a talented staff and shop — not to mention an engine package — and great drivers to be just even somewhat competitive in the first five years? NASCAR must find ways to make it economical for a sponsor and owner to come into the sport and at least feel like they can compete for a Chase berth sooner rather than later.
Turn 4: Speaking of MWR, it sounds like Clint Bowyer has a ride next year no matter what happens. What are the prospects for David Ragan?
Craven: David Ragan’s stock has risen this year. He has at least proved very valuable to teams in need of an efficient, reliable driver. He has stepped into a couple of uncomfortable circumstances, and in both cases, the car owners and team members have sung his praises. I think David would be most valuable to a middle-tier team — he brings experience, knowledge and dependability. But the reality is this: Can he bring sponsorship? It’s a miserable circumstance, and his single greatest hurdle.
McGee: Not super great. But they weren’t super great before all of this. He’s a liked guy. He’s done an admirable job this year, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t rooting for him. But when the music stops, there will be only so many good, full-time chairs. And maybe fewer in 2016 than we thought.
Oreovicz: Probably not that great unless he manages to align himself with a sponsor. Depending on how the MWR/Ganassi consolidation shakes out, his best chance in the Cup Series might be returning to Front Row Motorsports, but he also might be forced to try to stabilize his career by stepping back to the Xfinity Series until another Cup opportunity comes up.
Pockrass: The prospects for David Ragan are the same as they were two weeks ago: He has neither a ride nor a sponsor for 2016. He has qualified well, but he needs better race results. Ragan is a guy everyone wants to see do well, but he needs some solid top-10s or could find himself without a full-time ride in 2016.