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Opinion: Spring Cleaning

The Easter weekend break provides a good opportunity to clean out the NASCAR notebook and look back at some of the early season developments.

    • Nine races are in the books and only drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have won. If you’re keeping score at home it’s five for JGR – Kyle Busch (3), Denny Hamlin (2), Martin Truex Jr. (1) – and three for Penske – Brad Keselowski (2) and Joey Logano (1). The next “best” team is Stewart-Haas Racing bit after that there’s a pretty significant drop to the other organizations still winless.

 

    • The line of demarcation from the combined Toyota and Ford camps running well to basically the entire Chevrolet stable is pretty staggering. Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott are the only two Chevy drivers in the top ten of the point standings. The duo has combined to lead just 146 laps. Brad Keselowski alone has a series-best 609 laps led. The reasons for Chevrolet’s sluggish start are complex but unlike last season when the move from the SS body style to the Camaro seemed to be the culprit for the lack of sustained performance, this year there is no such justification.

 

    • Perhaps the common thread in both stories is the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rules package. The dramatic change in horsepower reduction and aerodynamic components has thrown teams one of the biggest curveballs in years or maybe decades. There was a school of thought before the season started some teams would figure things out fast while others did not. It more than appears JGR and Penske are on the figuring it out side of the pendulum while others including most all of the Chevrolet line-up have not yet anyway.

 

    • There is no reason to believe NASCAR will make any changes or modifications to the rules as the season rolls on. “I continue to say and believe that directionally this is the right call,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” I’d say that we’ve moved on to this is the 2019 rules package and we’re happy with it. We continue to learn, obviously, each track we go to. Each track presents a different challenge.” The combination of statistics and optics has provided very mixed results of the rules’ impact. Keeping cars closer together on track was a goal and that’s happened to a degree. But passing has been a difficult proposition in many cases including last week at Richmond causing many drivers to voice frustration.

 

    • One of the best things about this season has been the eradication of mid-week penalty talk that dominated too much of last year. NASCAR’s new policy of finishing all official post inspection immediately after the race and not back at the R&D Center two or three days later has been successful in containing everything to the race weekend. The threat of having a win taken away also has, at least for now, seemingly been an added component in the absence of any penalties to date. Now if something can be done about so many teams flunking pre-race inspection and being sent to the rear of the field like last week in Richmond that’d be even better.

 

    • Then there’s qualifying, another by product of the new rules. The importance of drafting during group qualifying saw teams wait until the last possible seconds to go on track with sometimes, as was the case at Auto Club Speedway, nobody putting up an official time. A similar embarrassing situation of sitting and waiting happened at Texas and the sanctioning body has promised a reaction by the time the next 1.5-mile track pops up on the schedule at Kansas on Mother’s Day weekend. While it’s admirable NASCAR had hoped to infuse some excitement and entertainment into qualifying, too much time and energy has been spent on something that in the overall scheme of things isn’t quite as important as it once was.

    The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.