By Jared Turner
Job Security Is A Precious Commodity
When Michael Waltrip Racing announced in August that it would suspend operations of its Sprint Cup Series teams at the end of the season, the decision meant more than 200 employees would be out of jobs and forced to find work for 2016. It also meant that MWR’s two drivers – Clint Bowyer and David Ragan – would have to move on. While Bowyer has landed with HScott Motorsports for 2016 and will replace Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017, Ragan’s plans had yet to be announced as of press time. Others forced to look elsewhere for next year include, most notably, three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr..
Chris Buescher Is A Worthy Champ Despite Flying Under Radar
One of the most unheralded champions in NASCAR history is 2015 XFINITY Series champion Chris Buescher, of Roush Fenway Racing. Despite winning two races and leading the standings almost the entire year, the 23-year-old native of Prosper, Texas flew largely under the radar as Sprint Cup Series regulars dominated the series in familiar fashion. Buescher deserves major credit, however, for winning the title in relatively comfortable fashion over 2014 XFINITY Series champion and Jeff Gordon successor Chase Elliott, along with former Sprint Cup Series drivers Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler, among others. Illuminating Buescher’s 2015 success all the more were RFR’s struggles in Sprint Cup.
NASCAR Is Listening To Drivers
Thanks in part to the formation of a first-year drivers council that meets with NASCAR executives several times annually, NASCAR is doing a better job of listening to the competitors. When drivers complained about the dangers of multiple attempts at a green-white-checkered finish at restrictor-plate tracks in the wake of Austin Dillon’s vicious crash at Daytona in July, NASCAR ruled that no more than one attempt at a green-white-checkered will be allowed at restrictor-plate tracks. When drivers complained about ambiguities surrounding the so-called “restart zone” at tracks, NASCAR forced tracks to more clearly identify the exact area of its restart zone.
The Low-Downforce Package Rocks
After successful cameo outings at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway with a new, low-downforce aerodynamic package much different than the regular 2015 aero package, NASCAR decided to make the low-downforce package its baseline package for all non-restrictor-plate tracks in 2016. The change has been widely lauded by drivers and crew chiefs as a move in the right direction that will create more passing opportunities by lessening the impact of the dreaded “aero push” that made the racing throughout much of 2015 less than optimal. Said driver Aric Almirola. “It’s going to be more exciting for us, the fans and the sport overall.”
Erik Jones Has A Bright Future
Called on to sub for Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway in April, Kyle Busch at Kansas Speedway in May and Matt Kenseth at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway in November, Erik Jones obviously has a bright future at Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones, a JGR development driver, won the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title with Kyle Busch Motorsports in his first full truck season, and is headed for a full-time XFNITY Series ride with JGR in 2016. Although JGR currently has no room for Jones in its four-car Sprint Cup Series stable, all signs point to it being just a matter of time before the 19-year-old assumes a Cup ride.
RCR Is Missing A Step
With a winless 2015 season, Richard Childress Racing has now gone more than two years without sending one of its Sprint Cup Series drivers to Victory Lane. The lone bright spot from the past two seasons, of course, has been 2014 RCR newcomer Ryan Newman, who finished second to Kevin Harvick in last year’s standings despite no wins, and made this year’s Chase before falling out in the first round. Be it due to a lack of talent in its current driver lineup, or due to the company simply not building cars that are fast enough to win, RCR is clearly still not what it used to be.