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Five Questions about NASCAR

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Apr 26, 2018 at 8:47 PM

There are five burning questions about the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series we will attempt to answer heading into the Talladega race weekend.

It has already been a big news week with Kyle Busch winning his third straight race last Saturday night at Richmond. Furthermore, it was his 46th career win, tying him with Buck Baker for 15th on the Cup Series all-time win list.

He now has 187 wins across NASCAR’s three national series, second to only Richard Petty, whose 200 wins all came in the Cup Series.

Chase Elliott finished second at Richmond, tying a record set by his father Bill for most runner-up finishes before a first win — provided Elliott does win a race at some point.

The other big news was the return of former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth to Roush Fenway Racing, taking over for Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 Ford in selected races.

There is the storyline of NASCAR’s continued struggles, with neither the television ratings or live audience close to what it was a decade ago. We will now answer some of the frequently asked questions?

1. IS KYLE BUSCH THE BEST DRIVER IN THE SPORT?

Yes. At this moment in time, I would definitely put Busch at the top of the list. Over the course of his career, you still have to go with Jimmie Johnson. And this is interesting because I often make the argument to friends that Tom Brady is still a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers.

The difference here is Johnson hasn’t been performing at the level of Busch for the past year. If you go by NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson’s assessment that a driver hits his prime between the ages of 32-39, then Busch, 32, has just entered that zone.

Even last season when Martin Truex Jr. clearly had the dominant car in the series, Busch nearly won the championship at Homestead. This season, I look for him to win his second title.

2. WILL KYLE BUSCH MAKE IT FOUR IN A ROW AT TALLADEGA?

Probably not. It’s possible, but Busch’s record at Talladega is just one win in 25 starts. This is the ultimate wild-card race track in NASCAR, producing previous winners like David Ragan, Jimmy Spencer, Phil Parsons, Bobby Hillin Jr. and Ron Bouchard alongside the sport’s greats.

Based on recent performance, it looks to favor the Fords, which have won the last five races at the Alabama track. Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have won four of the last five at the 2.66-mile super speedway, and five of the last seven Talladega races.

3. WAS BRINGING MATT KENSETH BACK THE RIGHT MOVE?

Absolutely. Roush Fenway Racing held a press conference Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to announce former driver Matt Kenseth would be rejoining the organization and splitting the No. 6 ride with Knoxville native Trevor Bayne.

Conspicuous in his absence was Bayne, who isn’t happy with the new arrangement. However, the team is justified in the move as it is a performance business and Bayne doesn’t have a single top-10 finish in the first nine races.

Kenseth, 46, was performing at a high level before being forced out at Joe Gibbs Racing for the younger Erik Jones. With this move, it will answer a lot of questions if the struggles are more team or driver.

4. WILL CHASE ELLIOTT WIN SOON?

I would lean toward yes. Elliott scored his eighth career runner-up finish at Richmond. Still, he doesn’t feel the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team is where it needs to be right now and the finish was more a result of strategy than performance.

He has consistently had fast cars at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, but hasn’t posted the results to back it up. He is a threat to win Sunday, and looking ahead he has some of his better tracks like Dover, Charlotte and Michigan coming up over the next few weeks.

While the Chevys still aren’t showing the overall speed of the Fords or Toyotas, they do seem to be gaining ground.

5. IS NASCAR A DYING SPORT?

No. That has to be the silliest term which people who aren’t fans of the sport use for its imminent demise. Is the sport in a major downswing? Yes. Are there major problems which still need to be figured out? Yes.

While it may take another generation for NASCAR to reach the level it once was, I don’t see the sport dying unless one of the following two happens: 1. The United States gets taken over by another country or 2. The end of time comes. Otherwise, my bet is there will be racing at Bristol Motor Speedway and other major NASCAR tracks 20 years from now.

If there is a good weather forecast in August, I believe the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race will draw the largest crowd of any NASCAR race this year. The track staff seems to have figured out exactly how to apply the PJ1 track bite to produce great racing. Combine the great atmosphere of a late summer night under the lights and the paint-swapping, fender-rubbing action which Bristol is known for and it’s a recipe for success. 

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