Roundtable: Final thoughts from Vegas and looking ahead to PIR

Reviewing the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and topics prior to the first visit to Phoenix International Raceway are covered this week.

1. The obvious question of the week is this; what do you think NASCAR should do after the pit road incident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano?

Jim Utter: While wonderful for attention, you can’t have drivers going up to each other at any time and throwing hay-makers without repercussions. A significant fine is appropriate for Kyle, who began the off-track incident. Now, if it can be determined that others (crew members, etc) took shots in the melee, I would see a far more significant penalty for them, Not sure the video in this case in clear enough. Likely, it will be a wash for the most part.

Lee Spencer: Nothing. Boys will be boys and if NASCAR interferes there will be less drama in the future. If this sport ever needed more drama, the time is now.

Nick DeGroot: Exactly what they did do — nothing. Let the drivers settle it amongst themselves. I didn’t see any lines crossed between either of those two drivers. Fighting is an expression of passion and has been a part of NASCAR since the very start.

Tim Southers: I think nothing which is what NASCAR ultimately did. The last thing NASCAR needed to do was put an end to something the fans want to see from drivers – more emotion. Unfortunately, the sponsors have more say in this area than NASCAR will moving forward.

2. What are your thoughts on the new rules package for the Cup cars after two races on 1.5-mile tracks?

Jim: It’s time for drastic change with the aero packages. These yearly updates to the rules are simply not cutting it. The rules are announced ahead of time to the teams and all it does is give them plenty of time to find ways to circumvent the effects from the rules. NASCAR needs to take a big swing and fundamentally alter the aerodynamics of the Cup series cars. At this point, I think announcing the aero rules on a track-by-track basis would really mix things up.

Lee: Unfortunately, NASCAR didn’t go far enough when taking downforce from these cars. Clearly, the last two races have shown that the driver in clean air has the advantage. The only opportunity to pass is still on pit road. Let’s go back to the drawing board.

Nick: I think it’s still too early to tell, but I was happy with the racing we at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Atlanta was a disappointment and although I’m sure there is more they could do, I think the only way to truly improve the product is to change the venues. 1.5 milers can only be so exciting … road courses and short tracks on the other hand guarantee constant action.

Tim: I’m already worried about races at 1.5-mile tracks this season. I know you can’t get rid of engineers, but they are too good in this area of finding downforce, etc. If NASCAR can’t get a grip on this soon, I think there will be even more fan dissatisfaction this season in the races. Maybe it’s time to turn the car back to the old ‘tanks’ of the late 70’s and early 80’s.

3. How big a win was Sunday’s come back for Martin Truex Jr. as far as momentum for the rest of the season. 

Jim: It was big in the sense that Truex and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team have far-too-often been on the opposite of that scenario, where they have a dominant car all day, something strange happens, and they lose out on the victory. When you start adding the unexpected victories in the win column, generally you’re headed for a good season.

Lee: Truex has never won this early in the season during his 12-year Monster Energy Cup career. No doubt this will give the team a bump moving forward. The driver of the No.78 Toyota has enjoyed a resurgence since moving to Furniture Row Racing in 2014. In the last three seasons, Truex, 36, earned six of his eight Cup wins and qualified for the Playoffs.

Nick: Very big. If you look, four of the last five Cup champions won in the first five races of the race (with Kyle Busch being the only exception, having been sidelined for the first third of the season). This allows the #78 team to relax and simply focus on making that team even stronger.

Tim: First time Martin Truex Jr. has won this early in the Cup series in his career. Also showing a way to come back and win after it appeared he lost it might be the confidence booster he and his team needs to chase the title in 2017.

4. Heading to Phoenix this weekend, Kevin Harvick has owned that track recently, however he didn’t win there last fall, do you think he could rebound and get a win this weekend?

Jim: Absolutely. That team is bad, bad fast already this season and if there is one place where that can translate into a victory for him, it’s Phoenix.

Lee: With eight Cup wins at Phoenix, Harvick will be a favorite there until he retires. He’s led 1,484 of the 8,715 laps raced at PIR and enjoys an average finish of 10th. Harvick participated in the NASCAR organizational test at the one-mile track, which provides him with even more ammunition heading into this weekend. Although tire trouble derailed Harvick’s charge to the front last weekend at Las Vegas, Stewart-Haas Racing has acclimated quickly to the manufacturer change to Ford.

Nick: Absolutely. Harvick needs Phoenix right now after a wreck at Daytona, a bitter loss at Atlanta and an early exit at Vegas. He can win there and if I was betting, I’d put my money on the No. 4.

Tim: Unless he has another tire or mechanical issue, I’ll be shocked if Harvick is not in the mix for the win with 10 laps to go on Sunday in Phoenix.

5. Has there been a driver that has surprised you in a good or bad way over the first three races of the season?

Jim: Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers have come out of the box with consistent speed and already look like they could contend for a win. At the same time, I think this could be a breakout year for Kyle Larson, who also seems to be running the most consistent and up front so far in his Cup career.

Lee: Although it took Kyle Larson a while to get out of the gate, this might finally be the year we see his true potential. Larson has shown moments of brilliance but the Ganassi Racing equipment has held him back to some degree. After a year of working with crew chief Chad Johnston, the pair really seems to be jelling well. Larson is one of just two drivers — the other being Brad Keselowski — that has made the most of collecting points in NASCAR’s new stage format by finishing in the top 10 in eight of nine segments.

Nick: Kyle Larson. He’s second in points and has two second-place finishes in the first three races. Beyond that, he was leading on the final lap of the Daytona 500 when he ran out of fuel. He has been within arm’s reach of potentially winning each of the first three races of the season, which is really impressive.

Tim: I think we’ll see three young guns win a lot this year and that is Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. Larson has always had the talent and it appears he’s using what he’s learned the past couple of years to good use. He’s been very consistent while Elliott and Blaney have been fast too. But to pick one, Blaney’s consistent speed has surprised me a little, but then again, I didn’t expect the Ford’s to be as fast as they’ve been this year.