Heading into the Don’t-They-Make-Those-Backward-Trike-Motorcycles Twin 125s.. or are they Duels now? Heading into the Gaterade Twin 125s, ‘cause I’m old school like that, the biggest news of the week is PR gold for NASCAR.
Chase Elliot, the rookie, the young guy stepping into the #24, the heir to Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, scored the pole position for the Daytona 500. He was one of only two cars to top 195mph and will share the front row for the race (and number one starting spots in the Duels).
NASCAR has had a pretty solid string of PR wins with the Daytona pole. Chase this year. Last year Jeff Gordon scored it with his final 500. Austin Dillon scored the pole as a rookie in 2014 and the return of the #3 to NASCAR. Danica won the pole the year prior.
Of course, Dillon and Patrick haven’t won a race yet. Guys like Gilliland and Jeff Green and Mike Skinner and Loy Allen Jr have won the pole at Daytona and never won races so it’s not always an indicator of success. Chase Elliot himself said [quote from Elliot gets the pole article] “Nothing special I did to earn it. It’s about those guys, the kind of car they brought to the race track. That’s the biggest thing I look at.”
Plate track qualifying is all about putting the hammer down and seeing how much your crew put into your machine so it’s nice to see a young guy like Elliot have a very mature perspective about it.
It’s still an accomplishment that should be celebrated because despite what outsiders say about our sport, NASCAR is a team sport.
Hamlin wins the Unlimited
I still want to call it the Clash, but whatev,#11 Hamlin won the exhibition race last Saturday followed by #22 Logano, #27 Paul “There was a smile under that beard all along” Menard, #42 Larson and #13 Mears.
The race got messy, as plate races are wont to do, so out of the 25 cars, only 15 were rolling at the finish and not all of them on the lead lap. It isn’t a points race and what since plate races are such a gamble anyways, everyone wants to win (or they wouldn’t be race car drivers) but it does get treated as an extended practice. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really have any long winded thoughts about the Unlimited. It’s fun to finally get to watch NASCAR again after the off season. They let in a lot of cars to guarantee the 25 people, which… eh… When the sport first did that a lot of the cynics, myself included, called it the Danica Rule, but whatever. The head honchos want 25 cars, it’s not like we’re gonna skip watching because there are more cars than there used to be.
Stewart’s Fill In
Brian Vickers got tapped to run the 500 for Tony Stewart in the 14 and subsequently had a rough go of it at the Unlimited, wrecking out and finishing 24th of 25. I’m glad the guy can get a shot at running some more races. He’s had some bad luck with his medical problems coming and going. Vickers has the chops, he’s won a few races, including New Hampshire in 2014 on a part time schedule, but with such an unreliable availability, no one can take a chance on a full season with him. So yay Vickers on getting some more seat time.
Word on the street though is Ty Dillon is going to land at least a few of the open #14 races. Bass Pro Sports, which still has some sponsorship with Stewart’s team, has also been a long time sponsor of both Dillons through the years they came up the ranks. Ty Dillon is running the 500 in the Circle Sport – Levine chartered #95 (regular CSLFR driver McDowell is running a second, charterless entry), and was scheduled for a few races with them through the year. Basically he’s pulling a Blaney and getting as much seat time as NASCAR will let him but still qualify him as a rookie when he does go full time. RCR had deals with Circle Sport like that for a long time. Brian Scott and Austin Dillon did exactly that.
Getting long winded on this, but Ty wasn’t scheduled to run the #95 for the next handful of races, and Bass Pro Shop is signed on to sponsor the #14, so Ty is in. Brandan Gaughn has experience in Cup and has been tossed around as another seat filler for the #14.
Bass Pro Shops sponsorship rotating among Stewart, Truex, Vickers, and Ty Dillon might get confusing. And doesn’t Austin Dillon run a couple Cup races with them too?
Truex’s #78 gets impounded, Harvick and Vickers penalized
In “This might be big news,” the #78 car of Truex got impounded before being allowed to make a qualifying time over the weekend. It failed inspection and the specific penalty is a “roof flap violation.” So with no qual time, Truex has to start at the back of his Duel. It’s a plate track so ok, sucks, but not the end of the world. It’s not like he has to start at the back of the pack at Bristol. With the new charter system, it’s not like Truex even has to race his way into the 500 anyways. The car has a guaranteed spot.
The potential catastrophe for the #78 team comes from the roof flap penalty itself. It can be as high as a P5 penalty and NASCAR has said that context matters when they bring down the hammer. An aero issue is going to be taken a lot more seriously at Daytona than it will at Watkins Glen. P5’s carry a minimum 50-point penalty, a minimum $75,000 fine and a minimum six-race suspension to the crew chief. All kinds of bad news and having the crew chief on the bench is serious, but more so for a team starting with a new manufacturer this year.
The #4 of Harvick and the #14 of Vickers had their times disallowed because of bad track bars. Again, these are chartered cars and we’re on a plate track so not the end of the world for either driver. It’s the other penalties that could hurt, but no one is talking as high as P5 for either of them.
This is something I am going to follow week in and week out, because in the last few years I think the health of the minnow teams can be a better indicator of the health of NASCAR than just the top tier teams.
Qualifying being such a unique procedure for the Daytona 500, it’s not just the fastest four Charterless teams get in the show. For the 500, the fastest two on time trial day are in and the top finisher in each Dual is in. If the top Charterless finisher in a Dual is also the fastest on speed, then it goes to the next finisher.
#21 Blaney and #93 DiBenedetto were the fastest Charterless cars. Blaney, in a car everyone expects to be very competitive this year, had the 7th fastest time and DiBenedetto pulled off the 24th fastest time. Normally, DiBenedetto will be in a chartered car, the #83, but Waltrip is running with that number/charter for the couple races that he pulls this year. So those two guys are in. Who’s left to race their way into the 500?
- #59 McDowell – 25th fastest – extra ride for Circle Sport Levine
- #26 Richardson Jr – 36th fastest – extra ride for BK Racing
- #98 Whitt – 37th fastest – Premium leased their charter for the season to HScott’s #46
- #25 Gilliland – 38th fastest – extra ride for Front Row
- #30 Wise – 40th fastest – TMG did not qualify for a charter, longtime Xfinity team, part time Cup since 2015
- #40 Sorenson – 41st fastest – Hillman Racing did not qualify for a charter, Part time Cup, slowest car that had an allowed time
Three of the teams that have to race in for spots, plus DiBenedetto’s #93, are not planned to be full time competitors this season. So having such a crowd for the Charterless seems like it will be unique to the plate races. On a normal week it seems like it’s going to be Blaney, Whitt, and whoever rotates into the TMG and Hillman cars. On the weeks Ty Dillon runs the #95, CSLFR may run the #59. I haven’t seen any news on how often they plan on rolling in with two cars as opposed to just one.
We may be at peak drama for the Charterless right now, but it will be something that I follow throughout the year.
Wood Brothers leave RTA
In related news of the Charterless, and also a duh moment, the Wood Brothers announced they are leaving the Race Team Alliance. I don’t blame them. I’m not the only one thinking that they got left out to dry by the new charter system. I saw a note in an ESPN article about driver contracts and driver pay that mentioned the performance clause for a team losing a charter is not what I hoped it would be. A team has to be in the bottom three points standings of chartered teams for three years straight. That’s a long time. A long long time. I’m going to crunch some numbers later, but I am not sure if that’s a practical number to ever let another team in by performance. I think that’s not cool at all.
I don’t blame the Wood Brothers for telling the RTA to screw.
Jeb Burton Lands a Ride
There’s some happy news for up and coming driver Jeb Burton. The son of Ward and nephew of Jeff, he was showing some solid results in the Truck series in 2014 and even scored a win, but his teams funding fell out from under him right before the start of last year. He scored a ride with BK Racking but DNQ’d for a few races and BK went with David Ragan and DiBenedetto for the two chartered cars. Burton announced that he landed a full time ride in the Xfinity with Richard Petty Motorsports.
High five for this. I like when drivers are allowed to climb the ranks of the sport without being rushed. Yes, guys are doing it at a much younger age than they used to, Elliot is 20 but he’s got some seasons under him already. I remember all the careers that flamed out in the rush to find the next Jeff Gordon in the late 90s and early 00s. So watching guys like Chase Elliot, the Dillons, Eric Jones, Rico Abreu, and Bubba Wallace actually get a chance to work their way up the ladder gives me a good feeling for the health of the sport once all the current stars pull a Jeff Gordon and retire to the broadcast booth.