NASCAR Burning Questions

Kyle Busch has started 2016 where he left off in 2015
Kyle Busch has started 2016 where he left off in 2015

This weekend's AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway will be the 12th of 36 races in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. To breakdown all the happenings of the season thus far, AR1 NASCAR Correspondent Pete McCole and Senior Columnist Brian Carroccio square off in the latest installment of AR1 Burning Questions.

Enjoy.

Question Pete McCole Brian Carroccio
Best race Richmond. That race had it all, some good hard racing, lots of passing, a last-lap bump-and-run pass for the lead. The last few races at Richmond have gotten better and better Richmond was good, but to be different I’ll say Atlanta. That race had a furious pace which we haven’t seen in recent years.
Best Team Joe Gibbs Racing. They’ve consistently fielded the best cars – it’s too bad Hamlin and Kenseth haven’t been able to get out of a slump, they’ve certainly had the tools to do it, just mainly bad luck. Nothing to add: JGR.
Best driver Kyle Busch. Nothing gets Busch going like a good challenge. Broken leg? No problem. Come back from that and win your first title? Done. Win at a track you’ve never won at before? Check! You know where ELSE he’s never won at before? Charlotte. I agree, Kyle Busch. It seems as though that championship last season has lifted a huge weight off Busch, and he is driving very relaxed and confident.
Most pleasantly surprising driver Chase Elliott. He started off on a sour note with a wreck at Daytona but has really stepped it up over the last five races and is knocking on the door for his first win. Austin Dillon. Between his qualifying and ability to run in the top 10-15, Dillon has taken a huge step forward in 2016.
Best driver from a small team (Truex doesn’t count with those Gibbs engines Ryan Blaney. No Charter? No big deal. Has had some disappointing finishes but some of those can be chocked up to bad luck, like his DNF in California. This team is basically running Penske cars so there’s no reason they can’t be in contention every week. Blaney is a good call, but I’m going with JTG Daugherty Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger. ‘Dinger had an outstanding drive to second at Martinsville, and very quietly finished an impressive 8th after starting 30th last week at Kansas.
Most disappointing driver Matt Kenseth. If there’s a team in free-fall, it’s this one. His fourth-place showing at Kansas was a nice boost, but up to that point Kenseth’s season has been lackluster at best: just two top 10 finishes and two DNF’s. He’s dropped back as far as 22nd in points but has fought his way back to 14th thanks to his finish at Kansas. I got a bit of surprise here: Denny Hamlin. After winning Daytona, Hamlin has seemingly been on cruise control, posting a mere 3 top-10 finishes. Week-to-week when I think about who the contenders might be, Denny’s name doesn’t come to mind.
Grade the new aero package B+ so far. Still haven’t seen all the passing they promised us. A-. I agree it hasn’t necessarily made for breathtaking racing, although the racing has been better. But ultimately the big thing to me is, conceptually this is the right step for NASCAR. Now if they add horsepower…
A driver you expect to come on in the next few weeks Kurt Busch. Perhaps overshadowed by his younger brother, Kurt has been flying under the radar a bit but has racked up some nice finishes – six top 10’s including a third-place finish last weekend at Kansas. This team is poised for its first win and it could come soon. I do like that Busch call, but I’m going with Kenseth. With the speed of those JGR Toyotas and the form the 17 has shown, his luck has to change soon.
Edwards’ move on Busch at Richmond: Fair or foul? Good hard racing, in my opinion. If Busch was good enough to win, he shouldn’t have been in that position. You know Busch would have done the same if the situation were reversed. Fair. According to ‘the code’ in NASCAR, yes it’s fair, and I don’t blame Edwards. But I do think it’s a cheap way to win, and I wish NASCAR would penalize such actions. Foul.
Between Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, which driver is most likely to find victory lane first? Chase Elliott. He’s shown remarkable improvement over the last five races, especially at the short tracks, where he excelled in at the local tracks. “Plate" tracks haven’t been to kind to him, but Dover could be a good place for him to break through. Elliott has been stupendous, but the answer here is Kyle Larson. Of the drivers mentioned, Larson is the most likely to drive his way to the front, and we’re visiting some Larson-friendly tracks in the coming weeks. I think that first win is coming – SOON!
Your pick to win the championship Tough call – the Chase the last few years have really put a wrinkle in things (Take a bow, Brian France!). If it was a straight-out run to the title I’d say it was between Kyle Busch and Harvick. The Chase makes it anyone’s game. You’re right, this is big-time guesswork. But what the heck: Joey Logano. Although he’s been a little under the radar this year, Sliced Bread has been strong in The Chase each of the past two years. Plus, you have to keep in mind, how upset your boy Brian France was about Kenseth detonating Logano’s Chase chances at Martinsville last year.

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