MRD Head-to-Head: Martinsville Speedway

Question 1: After five races, four of them on non-restrictor plate tracks, have you seen a difference in racing with lower downforce package?

Matt Lovisa: The passing in the races so far have been down which means the perception is the lower downforce package hasn’t worked and I think that’s correct. The consensus this week has been that to eliminate the lack of passing is to make the races shorter so the action is throughout the entire race. I thought that’s what the stages were supposed to do and I think they are. But at the same time, the passing is down and I think the lower downforce package is a disappointment so far.

Steven Taranto: Not in particular. I’ve felt that each race has been good, but overall the leading car in any given situation has an advantage over the trailing car. I’m half-curious to see whether or not the aero ducts experiment they’re trying with the XFINITY cars at Indianapolis could help with this.

Kyle Larson celebrates his win in Victory Lane
World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP

Question 2: Is Kyle Larson a legitimate contender for the championship?

Matt Lovisa: Everyone thought if Larson got to Homestead last year, he would be a threat to win the championship. After watching how he dominated that race, there is no doubt in my mind he is a threat to win there. Getting there is a different story though. If has a bad stretch in the nine races before that, he won’t have a chance to prove he is championship worthy.

Steven Taranto: Certainly. And if he gets to the championship round, watch out. There’s been no better driver at Homestead than he’s been the past couple of years.

Austin Dillon during the DC Solar 200
World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade/NKP

Question 3: NASCAR decided to not penalize Austin Dillon for his on track retaliation during the Xfinity race at Phoenix. Was this the right decision by NASCAR?

Matt Lovisa: I think he should have been penalized a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, this is nowhere near the Ron Hornaday/Kyle Busch incident from Texas in the Truck Series. That had championship implications. But, who’s to say that this won’t for Custer at the end of this season? Dillon should no better and the fact that he doesn’t shows to the rest of the Cup guys how he expects others to race him.

Steven Taranto: It wasn’t the most egregious form of retaliation ever, but there should have been at least a fine. Cup drivers racing in the XFINITY and Truck Series need to be held to a higher standard since they’re expected to maintain a “veteran” presence, and Dillon’s behavior – Reacting to something someone else did before he even had a chance to see what happened – was bush league. Here’s a thought: If a driver is involved in a fracas like that with a driver in a lower series, make them start at the rear of the field for the Cup race on Sunday. That’d be a start.

Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin battle at Martinsville last fall
©2016, Matthew T. Thacker, NKP

Question 4: Five races into this season and just two of the drivers who won multiple races in 2016, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., have won in 2017. Which driver will be the next to do so?

Matt Lovisa: Jimmie Johnson has to get out of this slump soon, right? Joey Logano has been really good at Martinsville as of lately. Both of them have good chances to break through for a victory.

Steven Taranto: Martinsville and Denny Hamlin both agree with one another and I don’t think you can keep the Gibbs team down for long. I’d watch for him.