Happy Tuesday, Peeps! I just got back from Phoenix last night and now it’s time to dig into the mailbag as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Western Swing gets ready to wrap up with Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (FOX, 3 p.m. et).
So let’s get right to it.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
Why the (restrictor) plates at Indy? What was so wrong with the roof blade and wicker bill they used a long time ago? — Josh
NASCAR confirmed to me that they are looking at the possible use of restrictor plates at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I contacted NASCAR and they said nothing has been finalized yet, although multiple media reports suggest that they could be used in the XFINITY race this season and, if successful, in the 2018 Brickyard 400.
The bottom line here is that the racing at Indy in recent years has been pretty dreadful. Last year, Kyle Busch led 149 of 170 laps at the Brickyard and won by more than 2 seconds. And fans have complained loudly about the quality of racing, which I guarantee you NASCAR has heard.
The lack of great racing is a big reason attendance has fallen off so radically at Indy. NASCAR wants to make the racing better, and I applaud them for that, but until we know what changes will be made, it’s hard to comment on specifics.
And you can’t just bolt on old aero pieces from years ago. The cars have changed radically since then — new bodies, new aero platforms, different spoilers sizes, no minimum ride heights and on and on.
Do you think the restrictor-plate thing is gonna really be implemented in Cup? What are the higher ups thinking? Didn't they forget New Hampshire in 2000? — Leslie
You are comparing apples to frog legs, Leslie. New Hampshire was a unique situation that I hope is never repeated. Two drivers died there in 2000, so NASCAR knew they had to do something immediately and they did. Nobody liked the solution but it got them through the race with no one else being harmed.
Right now, we don’t know whether restrictor plates will be used at the Cup level and if they are, it would likely only be at Indianapolis, where the racing desperately needs to improve.
What are the higher ups thinking? I’ll tell you exactly what they’re thinking: How do we make the racing better?
Unfortunately, too many fans jump to conclusions without knowing any of the details first. Like I said in the prior note, until we know exactly what the package is, I can’t intelligently comment on how it may or may not work.
But I can say this with no hesitation: The package being used there doesn’t provide the quality of racing that puts butts in the seats. It just doesn’t. Something needs to change.
RacingOneISC Archives via Getty Images
With the way that Ryan Newman won can he go back-to-back this weekend at Auto Club Speedway? — Michael
I don’t expect him to, but I didn’t expect him to win at Phoenix, either. In 22 starts at Auto Club Speedway, Newman has never finished better than third. He has five top fives and nine top 10s there and has led only 22 laps. I would be surprised if he goes back-to-back, but never say never. Sometimes when you win once, it starts a hot streak.
Do you think Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can win a race this year ? —Scott
Absolutely. Stenhouse is coming off a fourth-place finish at Phoenix and Bayne is 12th in points. To win they need some combination of just a little more speed and the kind of racing luck Ryan Newman had in Phoenix.
That said “can they?” and “will they?” are two very different questions. But for sure they’re a lot closer to winning than they have been in the last few years. Keep an eye on Stenhouse at Bristol and Bayne at the plate tracks.
Does the new point/stage system achieve a different end by the time we get to third-round playoff? — Kevin
Kevin – I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this question, but yes, I think NASCAR’s playoffs will change dramatically this year. The ability to carry points from round to round will be huge. Huge. And the regular-season champion will get a big boost in the points.
The net effect of these things are that I think the playoffs might be a little less random, and that a driver with a lot of bonus points will be less likely to be knocked out of the playoff by one bad race than in the prior three seasons.
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With Ryan Newman's unexpected win, this will obviously add a new driver to the playoffs this season that wasn't in it last year. Do you think we will see any other "surprise" winners this season? — Chris
Sure, I think there’s a strong probability we’ll have at least one more surprise winner. Look at surprise winners from years past: Chris Buescher last year, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola in 2014, Brian Vickers and David Ragan in 2013. The list goes on and on.
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Will we still be racing at Indy after the current agreement is over? Should we? — Scott
Yes and yes. But we need better racing first.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
With as many second-place finishes as Kyle Larson has this season, how long do you think it will be until he gets frustrated and moves someone for a win? — Chuck
Friday at Phoenix, I actually asked Larson if he was frustrated about not winning. This is what he told me: “No, I’m not frustrated at all. I would love to run second every single week. That would mean we have a great shot at winning the championship. No, I mean obviously, it would be nice to get a win and we have challenged now for most of the last probably five races. So, yeah, it’s really cool to run up front, but at the same time it’s not frustrating because it’s good. I’ve never had this speed this early in the year. I’m soaking it all in and enjoying it.”
And it sounded genuine. I don’t see him moving anybody for a win soon.
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How do the guys in the TV Booth talk to the drivers during the race? Do they have a special radio set up for just that driver or can they just punch in a different channel for a different driver? — Ken
Just radio to radio, the same as a crew chief or a spotter talking to a driver. I’ve never heard of anyone hacking in on a call. But there was that one time at Talladega when someone stole the pace car.
Brian GomsakBrian Gomsak
Why won’t Jeff Gluck sell hats? — Jory
That’s something you’ll have to ask him. Several of us tried to talk him into it last weekend at Phoenix with no luck.