Each week the Motor Racing Digest team tackles the tough questions facing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. This week our experts debate the hot topics as NASCAR starts the 2017 season.
Question 1: What did you make of Carl Edwards’ sudden announcement that he was leaving NASCAR?
Matt Lovisa: I was shocked just like everyone else, as I don’t think a lot of people saw it coming. Edwards had to make a very personal decision in a very public setting, to an audience that isn’t used to a situation like this. That’s tough. What has been even tougher has been the confusion of why Edwards isn’t racing in the 2017 season. With a Team Penske in 2018 rumor squashed and a running for public office in 2018 also denied, the questions will probably stick around for much of the 2017 season.
Steven Taranto: I had heard rumblings in the weeks prior to his announcement that a driver was tired of the grind and going to retire suddenly, but I dismissed it as bogus until I heard. I think you may start to see more retirements around Edwards’ age, albeit not as suddenly as he did. Drivers are entering the sport now at a much younger age than they used to and the demands of a driver are far greater than they were even ten years ago. I think the average career of a highly successful driver will continue to be around 15-20 years, but I don’t think you’ll see a lot of guys like Harry Gant and Mark Martin who stuck around into their 50s anymore.
Question 2: What do you like about the new NASCAR point structure?
Matt Lovisa: I like that there is a reward for the regular season champion and that bonus points carry over into the playoffs. It shows that NASCAR is trying to reward both winning and consistency. It’s just not determined yet if that type of system will work.
Steven Taranto: I like that they’re rewarding consistency throughout the season again. I think William Byron’s engine failure at Phoenix last year exposed the playoffs for over-punishing championship-caliber drivers for one bad finish, so it’s good to know that situations like that will be preventable in the future. The other thing I like is that there’s lots of opportunities to earn points. It somewhat solves the problem that came about when the 40-to-1 structure was introduced in 2011 where it was hard to make up for lost points.
Question 3: What do you not like about the new NASCAR point structure?
Matt Lovisa: I don’t like the races being broken up into three segments and bonus points awarded to the top ten and winner after the first two segments. It seems convoluted and more work for all types of fans to understand while they watch.
Steven Taranto: I know that natural breaks in competition make the racing more television-friendly and help with the at-track experience, but I can’t quite warm up to there being a break in 400-500 mile races. To be honest, I thought that Stages would work more like checkpoints in a game like Daytona USA as opposed to an outright intermission. We’ll see if it has the intended effect of making people more interested in watching a race from start-to-finish.
Question 4: Do you think Stewart-Haas Racing should be worried about their current sponsorship woes?
Matt Lovisa: For the 2017 season, yes. For the 2018 season, no. In the short-term, the start of the season will prove difficult with a move to a new manufacturer and worrying about selling sponsorship for a large chunk of the season while in the middle of racing. For 2018, SHR can evaluate Patrick’s performance and determine whether or not it is worth having a fourth car in 2018.
Steven Taranto: No. Gene Haas is loaded and Danica Patrick just got more sponsorship help. There is nothing for this team to fear.