Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes a week off:
Turn 1: Ryan Blaney led the most laps Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the most laps a Wood Brothers Racing entry has led in one Cup race since 1981. Where were you and what were you doing in April 1981?
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: Newburgh, Maine. Most of my time was spent working to transform the 1970 Chevelle into a race car. It’s a purchase I convinced my Dad to make and it cost us $150 (which was a lot for a farmer). It had no engine or transmission, but it had a roll cage — just nothing else. The deal from my Dad was that if I could turn this into a race car, he would convince my Mom to allow me to drive it. He didn’t believe it was possible. I was 13. Two years and one month later, I won the second race I entered!
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com:: This very week in April 1981, my 10-year-old self was at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, dying eggs to look like race cars and worrying that the Easter Bunny wouldn’t realize we were at the beach and he’d deliver my basket to an empty house. That was also the time in my life when I rooted as hard as I possibly could against the Wood Brothers because I was a Richard Petty fan. I hated the Wood Brothers. Now, as an adult who has worked in the NASCAR garage for a couple of decades, I’m horribly embarrassed by that hatred because Glen and Leonard Wood are quite literally two of the nicest people I have ever met.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: I was in the sixth grade in Indianapolis. I was probably still struggling on the basketball court as a kid from New Jersey, and still trying to understand why “ball” didn’t mean baseball or stickball but instead basketball.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Info: Ah, trick question. I wasn’t born until July 1983.
Turn 2: Jimmie Johnson has won a race for a 16th consecutive season, and with 81 wins he is two shy of Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time (and three shy of Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth). Where do you see Jimmie’s end-of-career numbers shaking out?
Craven: Johnson will end his career with 90-something wins. I’m not convinced he can catch Jeff Gordon, and neither is Jimmie because he told me that last year. He also told me 100 wins is next to impossible. Winning an eighth title is going to be a tough task for Johnson, not because he isn’t capable but because there is always a driver who emerges as the next great wheel man, and then it becomes his time — just as it was for Jimmie and Jeff and Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt.
McGee: I remember when we all assumed Gordon was going to win seven Cup titles and end up as the third driver to hit 100 wins, following in behind The King and David Pearson (speaking of Petty and the Wood Brothers). Now Jimmie is that guy, so I’m hesitant to say he’ll hit the century mark. To me, the only factor that would keep him from doing it is retirement. I do think he’s likely closer to hanging it up then most people would guess. But I also think if he and Chad Knaus really believe they have a chance to do it, they are conscious enough of the numbers that they’d be willing to keep it going and make a run at it all. Passing Pearson at 105 might be asking too much, but hitting 100 feels doable. Worst-case scenario is he hits 90 and is third all-time. So, not bad, right?
Pockrass: I see Johnson racing until 2019 or 2020, and he’ll have 95 wins, two ahead of Jeff Gordon and third on the all-time list.
Willis: It begs the question of how long Johnson will be driving in the Cup series. For each of the past five years, Johnson has won 4-6 races, which is about where his pace this year (one win in seven races) puts him. At 41, let’s say Johnson has about five full seasons left in him. Taking into account a little drop-off with age, I say he wins 100 races, putting him third all-time, between David Pearson and Jeff Gordon.
Turn 3: With nine drivers missing qualifying at Texas because their cars didn’t get through technical inspection, does NASCAR need to make any changes to procedures?
Craven: I was very, very disappointed for the fans because they were the losers in the equation. People pay (or take time) to watch qualifying on Friday because they have fan equity in their favorite drivers and teams. Many were deprived of that because the inspection system is letting them down. All drivers should attempt qualifying — and if they fail post-qualifying (which I believe needs to be reincorporated) then they go to the rear, lose pit selection, perhaps lose 30 minutes of next week’s practice or even points. We need to put an end to this — get all 40 cars on the track every Friday and give people what they paid for.
McGee: Every team has time to go through inspection the first go-round, fix whatever and get out there in time for qualifying. At this point, if teams are still pushing stuff and running out of time, it’s on them. But it’s way too early. We’re only a couple of months into these new procedures. If this is still a mess in June, then look at it.
Pockrass: No. As long as the platforms are consistent, they will be OK. Teams will adjust to the stricter methods, but NASCAR can’t be part of the problem by reporting different inspection readings when teams haven’t changed parts of the car.
Willis: Having top drivers start near the back of the field makes for an interesting storyline. But for people who pay to see qualifying, having nearly a quarter of the field not make a qualifying run doesn’t seem fan-friendly. That being said, it’s mostly on the teams to prepare cars that can pass inspection in time, but it wouldn’t hurt NASCAR to extend the time for inspection. It seems that almost every week, somebody is flirting with not getting to qualifying on time.
Turn 4: Sunday is Easter — what’s your favorite candy to find in your basket, and what can the Easter Bunny just keep to himself?
Craven: I no longer eat sugar, so if the happy rabbit would leave a little cash instead, I won’t tell anyone.
McGee: Egg-shaped Snickers and Starburst jelly beans were game-changers when they showed up. But I’m still a sucker for anything marshmallow dipped in chocolate, be it a flat bunny or even the eggs that used to come in the old school egg crate holder thingy. As for what to leave out, I would just assume you give me Charlie Brown’s Halloween sack full of rocks than a handful of Whopper Robin Egg malted milk balls, because they taste exactly the same.
Pockrass: Anything like a Kit Kat, I will devour quickly. If the Easter Bunny is in a Halloween mood and has candy corn, the bunny can keep it.
Willis: The day after Easter (aka Easter Candy Mark-Down Sale Day) should be a recognized holiday. While I love any sort of gummy candy, give me a dark-chocolate peanut butter egg, if I have to pick just one. And those black jelly beans? You can keep those. I generally don’t like to eat leather. And they can make it difficult to eat purple jelly beans when the lighting’s not great.