This is the first edition of our NASCAR Mailbag. I was able to reach out and ask fellow NASCAR friends and fans for their questions, observations and comments on anything stock car related. I chose five of those submissions and included them in this column, along with either my answer or observations. It is a great way for us to get to know each other and to start a lively and healthy ‘chat’ about NASCAR. The goal is to make this a weekly feature, so please keep sending in your questions/comments. You can reach us on Twitter at @SCSBlog or @LeviWHeller, Facebook (Stock Car Spin or Levi Heller) and on the Fancred app. Now, without any more housekeeping items, let’s get to the questions.
Jimmie (Johnson) already has three wins, but who else would be your most impressive driver so far this year? —Emily Ann, via Twitter
A great question, because there have actually been a lot of deserving drivers this year. To be honest, I wouldn’t have even chosen Johnson as the best driver so far. Outside of the last month and a half, the #48 team was downright average. At this point in the Sprint Cup season, give me Kevin Harvick.
Harvick and the #4 team unload fast EVERY week. Without some bad luck and shoddy pit work we could be talking about ‘Happy’ having five or six wins. Harvick’s season looks even more impressive when you look at the struggles his teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing are having (outside of Kurt Busch’s win at Martinsville). Let us also not forget this is a brand new race team, making it even more impressive to see what they have already accomplished. Having said that…it is still early in the season. We will see if the #4 team can round in to true championship form.
Only one thing matters among ALL fans: Who’s your driver?!? —Harris David, via Facebook
Oh boy, the question that can snare friends and also make enemies. Let’s do it!
My dad loves cars, specifically muscle cars. So my love for speed and racing goes way back. His favorite cars came from the Chevrolet stable. Camaros, Chevelles, Novas and Monte Carlos all stoked his fire and passion for cars. Needless to say, the auto parts stores we went to dealt strictly in Chevy parts. Through these visits, I began acquiring souvenirs and collectibles from the GM Goodwrenches and NAPAs of the world. In the 90s, that meant Dale Sr. gear. It was when I watched a race on TV and followed the black #3 around the track that I was hooked. He was aggressive, brash, felt like one of us and drove a Chevy. I had found my driver, Dale Earnhardt.
As I became more and more enamored with the sport, I realized I needed to pick a younger driver to follow as well. I had never watched much of the then Busch Series but decided to tune in on a Saturday in April of 1998. I told myself that my ‘new’ driver would be the one that won the race at Texas Motor Speedway. The driver that won that day: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Go ahead, let out the groans or cheers, but it is a natural progression, right? Despite anyone’s feelings towards Junior, I have been a loyal fan since watching him battle Matt Kenseth for two Busch Series titles in 1998 and 1999. Hey, it’s a mailbag; send in what you think. I can handle it (I hope).
Which NASCAR driver currently running has switched race teams the most? —Claire Monacelli, via Fancred
Either this is a trivia question or a trick question. Love it. Usually, this would seem like a cut and dry research answer but I’m gonna take it one step further. This question is actually a great indication of where ‘modern’ NASCAR is headed. Drivers and sponsors seem to be switching teams more than at any time in NASCAR history. The days of Jeff Gordon’s Dupont #24 and Dale Sr.’s black #3 being seen every week at the track are gone. Teams have between three and five primary sponsors and swap drivers and car numbers almost yearly. Makes it hard on those fans that tattoo their favorite drivers on their bodies (sorry Harvick and Kenseth fans…you couldn’t just add an eight like some).
Okay, back to the central question. I am going to pick Kasey Kahne as the driver that bounces around the most. Kahne began his career in the Busch series driving for Robert Yates Racing. He then got his big break by replacing Bill Elliott in the #9 for Evernham Motorsports. After a couple successful years, Kahne then joined Richard Petty Motorsports, which was the result of a team merger. A short time later, Kahne was released from his contract and it was announced he would race for Red Bull Racing. He would only spend one year with Red Bull before he joined Hendrick Motorsports (where he still resides). By my count that is five different race teams. My instincts tell me he may be on the move again but more to come on that…
When does Chase Elliott move up and where does he go? —Seth W., via Twitter
Outside of Kyle Larson, Chase is by far the most likely ‘next superstar’ in NASCAR. Anyone who watched him tackle Road America this last weekend saw that he is passionate and extremely talented.
Dale Jr. (his current owner) has stated he does not want to rush Chase’s move to Cup. “We have a two-year plan, I suppose, that he runs in the Nationwide Series, and I think you just stick with the plan regardless of the success he is having,” Junior said.
My bet is Chase stays with Hendrick. ‘Papa’ Rick Hendrick knows how talented and ‘profitable’ Elliott can be and has had him marked as his next driver for a while. Luckily, or perhaps strategically, Hendrick has a seat opening up at the end of 2015 (Kahne’s contract is up). I am calling it now…Chase Elliott takes over the #5 car and brings NAPA back to Cup with him.
Do you feel this is Dale Jr.’s best year for a shot at the championship? —Chris Collums, via Fancred
The only other year that makes sense would have been 2004 when Junior had six wins and came one late season Atlanta wreck away from hoisting the Cup. Though Junior may not get to six wins in 2014, this season absolutely is his best chance, Chris.
Dale Jr. has two major advantages over his 2004 campaign. First, he is in far superior equipment. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI) essentially was doomed the moment Dale Sr. passed. Hendrick produces the best of the best whether it be chassis or engine. Second, Dale is quick everywhere the series goes this year. This was never more evident than last weekend at Sonoma when Junior was able to record a third place finish at a place he had never even finished in the top ten before.
Many claim the new Chase format will benefit a driver like Dale Jr. but I disagree. Drivers who can win a race one every four chances (Johnson, Harvick, Ky. Busch) could easily dominate the chase and advance. Junior has shown he can win but like everything else…we must wait and see.