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 heads to Richmond Raceway.
Posted by: Matt Lovisa, follow @mattlovisa
Question 1: Was Austin Cindric’s spin of Kaz Grala for the win at Mosport in the Truck Series a dirty move?
Matt Lovisa: It was a necessary move for Cindric, who needed to secure his spot in the Truck Series playoffs. Grala was already locked in with his win from the season opening race at Daytona. That doesn’t justify the move by Cindric, but it sheds some light as to why the bump-and-run was executed. Now, Cindric could have moved Grala out of the way without spinning him and costing him to lose a position on the track. Then again, I’m sure that position on the track doesn’t mean anything to Grala now.
The situation was a complete reversal from a year ago when John Hunter Nemechek, who already had a spot in the playoffs secure, booted race leader Cole Custer out of the way. Custer didn’t have a spot secured in the playoffs and was displeased with Nemechek’s move, tackling him on the front straightaway after the race. Kudos to Grala for his actions after the race.
Steven Taranto: Well, let’s see: He had more than one opportunity remaining to make a clean pass for the win, didn’t bother to slow down for the corner, and didn’t express any remorse for having made the move he did. You tell me if that’s racing or if that’s dumping a guy to win.
Question 2: Martin Truex Jr. clinched the regular season point championship one week earlier and in the process, earned himself 15 extra bonus points. How realistic is it that Truex makes it to Homestead on playoff points alone?
Matt Lovisa: I think it is very realistic that he will make it to Homestead with or without the points. Truex proved last year that he can in the playoffs but his bad luck crept up at the worst time and eliminated him from title contention. This year, it’s still very likely that Truex will win in the playoffs and still very likely he could face a run of bad luck. Those playoff points will come in handy if he runs into trouble during the second or third round of the playoffs. They won’t be enough to help him advance if he has three bad races in a round, but it will help with one.
Steven Taranto: I’ve already had him penciled in for Homestead for awhile now. Truex has put on such a clinic with accumulating playoff points throughout the year that it’s hard to envision a scenario where he suddenly stops in the playoffs.
Question 3: Hendrick Motorsports has combined for just five top-10s since the start of July. How concerned should this team be as the playoffs are about to start for two, possibly three, of their teams?
Matt Lovisa: Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team shouldn’t be worried until the second or third race in the first round and they find themselves sitting well behind. Even then, we’ve seen how the 48 car can win in the blink of an eye.
The same sentiments can be echoed for Elliott, who still needs to race his way in to the playoffs on points, but has been a little bit stronger than his teammate Kasey Kahne who’s locked in. As a whole, Kahne and the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates haven’t shown much speed this summer and haven’t been running up front enough to contend for race wins. The playoffs will require consistent top-ten finishes to advance, something HMS has done little of this summer.
Steven Taranto: I don’t think it’s so much of a Hendrick problem as it is a general malaise among the Chevrolet teams. I don’t think the manufacturer support is there with the Chevy teams the way it is with the Toyota teams or even the Ford teams. I still think Johnson and at least Elliott will be fine – But they likely won’t be out there dominating races outright.
Question 4: Who are the final three drivers to make the playoffs?
Matt Lovisa: I think the final three stay the same, which would be Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray. I don’t see Joey Logano or Clint Bowyer winning at Richmond and making the playoffs. The only driver I could see stealing a win at Richmond would be Erik Jones. If he did, that would be a good story for NASCAR to have back-to-back rookies in the playoffs.
Steven Taranto: Kenseth, Elliott, and McMurray. I don’t anticipate a major upset at Richmond. Right now, I think that Bowyer or Jones are the only drivers on the outside who have a real shot at making the playoffs.