Track Smack: Was NASCAR's call at Daytona too soon?
July 10, 2014, Kenny Bruce, David Caraviello and Alan Cavanna, NASCAR.com
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Editor's Note: Track Smack is a weekly feature that will showcase a panel of NASCAR.com experts providing their analysis from the previous week, while also looking ahead.
1. Although the No. 43 car was a popular winner Sunday, did NASCAR act prematurely in ending this past weekend's event at Daytona International Speedway due to rain?
David Caraviello: As someone who was in the garage when the monsoon hit, and even with an umbrella got pretty much soaked from the waist down, I really don't think there was any other choice. When it came down, it came down in torrents. It was still raining when I left the media center at around 8 that evening. I know drivers want to compete, and those in the running wanted to keep going, but really the call was an obvious one.
Alan Cavanna: I think the right call was made. NASCAR made many efforts to get the race in. They waited as long as possible Saturday, and fought the rain multiple times on Sunday.
Kenny Bruce: Easy to say they made the right call when the rain continued for most of the remainder of the day. How many times have we seen them call a race, only to leave later with the track dry and no rain in the area? It's hit or miss. But Alan's right, given that the race was already being run a day later than scheduled, just getting it in at all on Sunday was a bonus.
Cavanna: I feel for Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers. There's no convincing them the right call was made. But there was no window that was solid enough to say "we'll have no rain." After already delaying a day, there was no need to keep on going.
Caraviello: So, where were you guys when the rain hit? Oh, wait .... But Kenny is right, we've seen instances when they've called it, and the rain has stopped a few hours later. This was not one of those times. It was a really arduous weekend from a weather perspective -- I've never seen it raining on one part of the track, and not another, as many times as it did this past week. NASCAR worked around the weather the best they could all day. Sunday afternoon, Mother Nature made the call for them.
Cavanna: Good call, Kenny. The rain was so odd last weekend that it seemed like pop-up monsoons. The last thing NASCAR needed was that happening again in the Cup race.
Caraviello: That Nationwide qualifying deal was downright bizarre. I was in the Cup garage when it happened, and the place was bone dry. Same thing in the run-up to Sunday's call -- pouring on the backstretch, while only a light drizzle on pit road. Made things very tough to judge, until the animals started showing up two by two.
Bruce: Winners are always going to say the right call was made; everyone else will think otherwise. The biggest consideration seems to be toward how extending a delay will impact fans on site. And in this case, I think NASCAR didn't have much of a choice. Keep 'em late on Saturday? Possibly. Sunday? Not likely.
Caraviello: I understand that some drivers (Vickers particularly) had rather strong feelings about the race being stopped when it was. But these guys get to take a private aircraft home. Had they waited until the rain stopped at around 9 or 10 that night, then dried the track, then went back at it -- that's a slog, man. And suddenly you're asking fans to drive home overnight. Lot of things to consider here.
Cavanna: I think what really puts NASCAR in a bind is, what if this scenario happens in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup? Do they wait longer?
Caraviello: I think each week is different. You judge everything on the situation presented to you. That, or start work on the Ark of Tomorrow.
Bruce: Did that come to rest on Mount Daytona, DC?
Caraviello: Atop the Tropical Seas hotel, actually.
Bruce: Wow. From a 2.5-mile track where guys are going 200 mph to a flat 1-miler that tests your temper.
Cavanna: The one reason I'll say yes is because one of those drivers is not Jeff Gordon. And Gordon is great at that track.
Caraviello: OK, this thing has to end eventually, right? Amazing that it's kept going for this long -- although it's a testament to a New Hampshire track that might be one of the tougher ones on the circuit from a setup perspective. That said, plenty of A-list guys still out there who haven't won recently on the Magic Mile.
Cavanna: That said, I picked Kurt Busch on the NASCAR.com Preview Show. So officially, I think the streak does not continue.
Caraviello: Not so fast, Mr. Cavanna! One of those not included in this recent flurry of New Hampshire winners is Kevin Harvick, whose team has been perhaps the best off the truck every weekend. And in Loudon, you've got to hit the setup. For whatever reason, it seems a tough place to adjust on the fly, and those who start out strong there usually finish strong there. The No. 4 car starts out strong everywhere.
Bruce: I think one of those teams with at least one win in the bank, or more, will wind up in the winner's circle. Not really a lot of opportunity to gamble here. Short race, tough to pass.
Caraviello: A lot is made of all the recent winners in New Hampshire. But who hasn't won during this 12-race streak? Gordon and Harvick, as we mentioned. And Dale Earnhardt Jr., who's having a great year. And Brad Keselowski, who's completely capable on this kind of layout. And Carl Edwards, who might be helped by a race that often comes down to strategy and fuel mileage.
Cavanna: We saw a surprise winner last year with Vickers, and then something of a surprise when Kenseth grabbed the checkered flag in the Chase race. I like your list of names, David.
Bruce: Didn't the Hendrick teams test there earlier this year? Along with the Ganassi folks? Seems like they're putting a lot of stock into this stop. And with the track hosting a Chase race later this year, it makes sense.
Caraviello: Dale Jr.'s average finish at Loudon isn't great -- 15.7, to be exact -- but it is a track where fuel mileage so often comes into play, and crew chief Steve Letarte is a master strategist. Junior broke through at Pocono earlier in the year, had a career-best run at Sonoma -- could New Hampshire be next? And hey, four-time Loudon winner Jeff Burton is in this race for a Michael Waltrip Racing team that won there last year. Easy fantasy dark horse pick if there ever was one.
Cavanna: Let's not get crazy. Too much Sam Adams with your lobster on that pick, David.
Bruce: I thought he was going to mention Morgan Shepherd.
Caraviello: Hey, if this streak of different winners at New Hampshire keeps on going, never know who you'll be left with.
Bruce: Just remembered. New Hampshire winner's circle -- where they trot out the world's largest lobster for a photo op.
Caraviello: And the world's largest pot of boiling water is just out of sight of the cameras! Necessities at Loudon: Fuel strategy, tire management, and plenty of drawn butter.
Cavanna: Everyone wins in Loudon. Except the lobster.
3. Another likely Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth was claimed last weekend with Aric Almirola's victory. With just five spots left and eight weeks left in the regular season, which big names are most vulnerable to being left out?
Caraviello: The interesting thing about this streak of different New Hampshire winners is, it's full of guys who really could use a victory -- Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer. So if there is going to be a repeat winner at Loudon for the first time in seven years, it could very well come at the perfect time for somebody.
Cavanna: If I'm a driver without a win, I'm terrified until the checkered flag falls in Richmond. Everyone figured on maybe a plate-track surprise, and we could easily get another in Watkins Glen. A first-time winner in New Hampshire would make me even more nervous.
Caraviello: Yeah, but Alan, the next three tracks on the schedule -- Loudon, Indy and Pocono -- aren't really prone to producing upset winners, barring a fuel-mileage scenario. They all require the kind of well-rounded arsenal that the power teams traditionally do best.
Bruce: Where to start? With Greg Biffle, who's on the fence with zero wins and is 15th in points? Tony Stewart, sitting 20th? Kasey Kahne (18th)? They're slipping into that "must win" category, simply because of their points, or lack of. But with those non-winners a bit further up the standings, a win by either, or someone like Almirola at Daytona, and suddenly the ground is a bit less stable for guys like Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer.
Caraviello: I keep coming back to Stewart. Daytona in July is where he is often at his best, and he never really had the opportunity to show that in last week's wreck-fest. He's finished in the single digits just once since Darlington, back in April. We're just not seeing that kind of warm-weather uptick from Smoke that we're accustomed to, at least not to this point. He's in it, but he's not really able to build any positive momentum. And at this point in the season, it's not really realistic to expect a team to flip the switch. Even when it concerns a guy who did just that in the 2011 Chase en route to his third championship.
Cavanna: If it comes down to consistency, the drivers outside the Chase right now should be the most worried. At some point you'd have to think Kahne and Stewart would get every Hendrick resource imaginable. That leaves me really thinking about Biffle. No wins and a lack on consistency won't get you in the Chase
Bruce: Resources are what you make of them. "This is what we run" doesn't often apply across the board. Sometimes, perhaps, but not often enough to put a guy that's been "off" in the winner's circle.
Cavanna: How about we give a shout-out to RCR, which currently has all three cars in Chase position. Can they stay there? Who knows. Some wins would help.
Caraviello: Even if a team throws every resource they have at a team that's struggling to get into this thing, can we really expect a miracle turnaround at this point? Seems the best some of these guys can hope for is to limp in on points, assuming we don't get five winners in the next eight weeks. Which I so hope happens, because that would be so much fun to watch.
Bruce: If we get five more winners, all bets are off, DC. But you're right as far as a quick turnaround for a team that's not contending on a regular basis. Unlikely, but not impossible. Which probably makes someone like Matt Kenseth more of a threat than a Biffle or a Kyle Larson, Stewart or Kahne.
Caraviello: I'm trying to envision the scenario: Kenseth ends the streak at New Hampshire, Smoke returns to form at Indy, Bowyer wins on fuel mileage at Pocono, Marcos Ambrose does his thing at Watkins Glen, Kahne wins at Michigan or Bristol -- and we're there! Sixteen winners! The impossible becomes reality! So close you can taste it!
Cavanna: The winning lobster also come with a potential Chase bid. I can taste the excitement from here.
Caraviello: If we get to 16 winners, the drinks at the Tropical Seas are on me!
Bruce: I'm starting to worry about you fellas.