Head-to-Head: Bristol Motor Speedway

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 Bristol Motor Speedway.

Question 1: Was it foolish to question the competitiveness of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus so early in the season?

Steven Taranto: This sort of thing has happened several times in the past, and each time Johnson and Knaus made everyone pressing the panic button look silly. You’d think that they’d have learned by now not to make a big stink about whether or not the No. 48 is at the front – He’ll find his way there eventually.

Dave Thompson: Nothing new on this front. Anytime the No. 48 team has a winless drought or struggles a bit folks start questioning whether this is the end of the dynasty. Johnson and Knaus have been through enough over the years…and seven championship to know they are never out of the hunt.

Joey Logano takes the checkered flag and the win
© 2016, Nigel Kinrade, NKP

Question 2: What do you think of the “big change” to the All-Star Race?

Steven Taranto: The variable tire option is a good idea, but I LOVE the fact that only 10 cars will start the final segment. Eliminations provide a sense of urgency to the All-Star Race that was sorely lacking and I’m glad that they’re back in earnest.

Dave Thompson: I think a change was needed and hopefully this will bring a little more excitement for the race fans watching at the track and at home. I am a fan of the elimination and having just 10 cars battle for the prize.

Ryan Blaney leading the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
World Copyright: John K Harrelson/NKP

Question 3: Ryan Blaney led a race high 148 laps before he decided to stay out during a caution and go for the Stage 2 victory. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson did the same and finished 1-2 while Blaney finished 12th. After seeing the end result for Blaney, will we see more decisions made like that?

Steven Taranto: I don’t know if you can chalk up Blaney going for a stage win as to why he wasn’t around at the end. I think what hurt him worse was circumstances after the restart and the fact that the race settled into a very long run (Plus the fact that passing was more difficult due to the lack of a second or third groove). I think we’ll see teams try to employ a similar strategy again. Blaney got a playoff point for his troubles so it’s not like he came away completely empty handed.

Dave Thompson: Doubtful. The pit stop under caution on Lap 300 was more likely the culprit. The fact that he slid through his pit box and a broken air gun during the same stop placed him 15th on the restart and he wasn’t able to recover.

Daniel Suarez and Denny Hamlin battling during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
World Copyright: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

Question 4: What is wrong with Joe Gibbs Racing?

Steven Taranto: The competition caught up with TRD. Gibbs aren’t slouches now by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. I also think that having Suarez now as opposed to Carl Edwards has hampered the exchange of information – At least for right now while Suarez is adjusting to Cup cars.

Dave Thompson: I believe the other teams (SHR, Penske and Hendrick) have just closed the gap between themselves and JGR. The teams at JGR and talented and as Steven mentioned, may be missing a little something with departure of Carl Edwards, but they will rebound. I would not be surprised if they didn’t turn things around this weekend and the No. 18 wins at Bristol.