Debate: NASCAR's burning questions
Our panel of experts weighs in on four of the biggest questions in racing this week.
Turn 1: Jimmie Johnson dominated at Dover in June. He's won four times there in the past seven races. Should Jimmie pull a Denny Hamlin and predict a victory this weekend?
Terry Blount, ESPN.com: Not his style, but it's a justifiable idea considering how good the Monster Mile has been for JJ in the Chase. Hamlin made his bold tweet to help fire up his team and give his guys confidence after a mistake in Chicagoland caused him to run out of fuel on the last lap. Johnson's crew doesn't need any extra motivation, or pressure, going to Dover. The 48 Chevy team knows it can win there, and Johnson enters the race on top of the standings. Leave well enough alone and don't give the other Chasers any extra motivation to beat you.
Ed Hinton, ESPN.com: Better idea: How 'bout Chad Knaus calling the shot? Talk about really rousing NASCAR Nation into an uproar. Better yet, let Knaus tweet that he has a new tech gimmick for Dover and that NASCAR can't (a) catch him with it or (b) penalize him if they catch him, because it's barely legal. But as for JJ, it would be out of character for him to call a shot. Actually, it would be out of character for Knaus too, but NOT out of his image among detractors.
Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine: Yes, but instead of mimicking Babe Ruth's swing during the postrace celebration, he should come climbing out of the car wearing a Joe Namath jersey. And then the next guy who calls his shot can wear a Nostradamus beard.
David Newton, ESPN.com: No way, no how. Johnson lets performance do his talking He doesn't need to boast or brag, just like Emmitt Smith didn't have to spike the football to let everyone know he scored a touchdown. Act like you've been there, and you don't have to blow your own horn. Five titles says all that needs to be said about Johnson's abilities. If other drivers feel they need to pull a Babe Ruth to intimidate the No. 48 team and pump up their teams, then Johnson already has won. By the way, Johnson will win this weekend at Dover.
Turn 2: Jeff Gordon finished third Sunday at New Hampshire, but he gained only two points in the standings (47 behind leader Johnson to 45 behind) and stayed in last place in the Chase. Should NASCAR alter the points next season so a driver isn't penalized so severely for one bad finish as Gordon was at Chicagoland?
Blount: Absolutely. This system is better than the old one overall, but one bad finish in the Chase is a disaster in this format. Gordon had a strong effort Sunday (finishing ahead of nine other Chasers) but essentially gained nothing. The answer is to stop awarding points for a finish worse than 20th. Instead of losing a maximum of 47 points in one race, a driver would lose a maximum of only 24 points. Base it on the same system of one point per position. The winner gets 20 points, plus three more for the victory, one for a lap led, and one more if he led the most laps for a maximum of 25. Finishing 20th is one point and anything worse is zero. This also would end the ridiculous situation of dilapidated cars returning to the race after an accident and limping around the track to earn one or two more points.
Hinton: Let's make the mulligan official rather than just mythical. I think if you allowed every Chase driver to throw out the finish of his choice, you'd actually come up with a more accurate read on who performed best. I have long missed the old Formula One system where they used to let drivers throw out one or more bad finishes for a season. An official mulligan would go a long way toward making up for the worst part of auto racing competition -- the over-effects of bad luck here and there.
McGee: No, that would be like rigging the NFL playoffs so that if a team has a horrible first quarter of the first game they get to be back in it. However, I have always been a proponent of giving the race winners more points, like 10 more than they get now. So imagine, if Gordon were to hit a Tony Stewart-like run and win five races, then -- as he would deserve -- he'd be back in it. But outside of that, I like the current structure just fine. Everyone has at least one bad race out of the 10. But if a guy can get through the Chase without a massive failure, then he deserves to be ahead of all the guys who didn't.
Newton: I said this when they introduced the new points system and I'll say it again: While the system is simpler, it penalizes a poor finish more than ever and rewards consistency over wins more than ever. Stop giving any points to drivers who finish 32nd or worse and reward the race winner with more points. It'll keep drivers from returning to the track with wrecked cars, discourage start-and-parkers, and reward drivers who win as they should be rewarded.
Turn 3: Elliott Sadler regained the points lead in the Nationwide Series, four points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And rookie Austin Dillon is only 19 points back after winning at Kentucky. Who's your pick to win the title?
Blount: I'm going with Stenhouse. By the way, speaking of the problem of too much of a penalty for bad finishes, check out the Nationwide standings. Stenhouse has one more victory, four more top-5s and the same number of top-10s as Sadler. But Stenhouse is behind because of three finishes worse than 24th. That's wrong. The man with more finishes up front should be ahead. The system needs to reward success more than punishing failure.
Hinton: Gotta go with Stenhouse but not with total confidence. He'd have blown them away again at Kentucky last week but for a pit mishap and then driving a damaged car over its limits. The same element that makes him the favorite, his over-the-edge style, also makes him iffy for the title. If he falters, Sadler will be there, and then maybe we could put more of that lame-duck nonsense to rest.
McGee: I have been a Sadler guy all year, but they can't keep up the current pace of Silly Season drama and have it not become a distraction. Turn the volume down on all that, and he's still the favorite. Don't, and cool-headed Stenhouse will slip right by.
Newton: I'll go with Sadler. He's been the most consistent all season and led the points more than any other driver. Now that team owner Richard Childress has said he will play no favorites in terms of who gets the best cars the rest of the way, his talent will prevail. Not to mention Sadler is pretty good at most of the remaining tracks and has something to prove before he likely moves on to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.
Turn 4: And while we're at it, the Camping World Truck Series has a heck of a title chase (no pun intended) as well. Rookie Ty Dillon has a four-point lead over James Buescher. Timothy Peters is 26 back and Parker Kligerman is 30 back. Who's your pick to win the Truck title?
Blount: It would be fun to see Dillon do it, giving the brothers back-to-back titles in the No. 3 Chevy truck. Brothers winning consecutive titles never has happened in any of NASCAR top three series. And no rookie has won a Truck series championship. However, I'm picking Buescher, the young Texan who I consider the most underrated young driver in the sport.
Hinton: Ty Dillon, part on talent, part on Pop Pop's equipment -- grandfather Richard Childress' Chevy trucks. It's clear that a lot of resources and focus at RCR are going into the Dillon boys, Austin in Nationwide and Ty in Trucks. Makes more sense than may meet the eye, because the brothers are also the Cup future of RCR. They're the real deal, and Ty just might emerge as a little better than Austin. That's not to say Buescher won't make it close in Trucks, but the sheer wherewithal of RCR will prevail.
McGee: Buescher. Dillon has been driving out of his 10-gallon mind for the past month, but all four of Buescher's wins have come on the 1.5-mile "cookie cutter" tracks, and those make up half the remaining races and two of the final three. It might come down to which one of these guys finishes highest at the Martinsville race in October, which always feels like the Sprint Cup invitational.
Newton: Buescher. He's erased almost all of a 40-point deficit over the past two months and has momentum on his side. Dillon may get slightly better equipment from his grandpa, but Buescher has more experience on his side. It will be close, though. This one could go down to the final lap of the final race.
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