NASCAR mailbag: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. become a Cup Series team owner? – SB Nation

Each week SB Nation’s NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question email jordanmbianchi@gmail.com.

If everything is equal isn’t Kyle Larson the obvious choice to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports?

Andy

When you take into account Larson’s immense talent (he’s leading the Cup Series standings) and age (24), he certainly represents an ideal long-term replacement to fill the seat currently occupied by NASCAR’s most popular driver. And if all things were really equal, then Hendrick wouldn’t hesitate to bring Larson into the fold.

All things aren’t equal, however. Larson is under contract to Chip Ganassi Racing through at least 2018 — perhaps longer as both driver and team won’t discuss their deal publicly — and Larson is incredibly loyal to the only team that offered him his first NASCAR opportunity without having to bring sponsorship himself.

That’s not to say Hendrick couldn’t or won’t attempt to woo Larson and negotiate some kind of buyout with Ganassi, but it does complicate matters. And when you consider Hendrick has two viable in-house candidates, Alex Bowman and William Byron, the odds favor the organization going this route rather than pursing Larson, even if he’d represent a home run hire.

Do you think Dale Jr. will ever make JR Motorsports a full-time Cup team?

John

Earnhardt was asked about this possibility during last week’s retirement press conference and he said it wasn’t something he was considering. His preference is to keep JRM as an Xfinity Series team exclusively and serve as a conduit where it can develop drivers, crew chiefs, and other personnel for eventual careers at the Cup level with HMS.

Perhaps one day Earnhardt changes his mind, but if he does decide to elevate JRM to the Cup two sizable hurdles need to be cleared. First, Hendrick would need to either downsize HMS or divest his ownership stake in JRM, lest he exceed the NASCAR rule prohibiting someone from fielding more than four Cup teams.

Then there is the sponsorship/funding part of the equation. Operating a team is a far more expensive proposition in Cup compared to Xfinity, and would necessitate multiple companies willing to cut a big check. Now, Earnhardt’s popularity is such he may be able to draw up the appropriate funding, much like how Tony Stewart attracted a portfolio of high-dollar sponsorships when he moved from Joe Gibbs Racing to start Stewart-Haas Racing with Gene Haas.

I get why NASCAR has a commitment line to get onto pit road, but it seemed NASCAR was a little overeager to penalize drivers on Sunday. In Kyle Busch’s case, I understand why he was mad. Without the penalty he could’ve won, and in that instance why couldn’t NASCAR just warn him instead of sending him to the back?

Mark

What you’re suggesting is for NASCAR to essentially swallow the whistle in key moments, much like referees are accused of doing at the end of games in stick-and-ball sports. But the goal of officiating across all sports is to strive for consistency, and when a penalty does occur it is called regardless of how much time is left or how few laps remain.

Incorporating a sliding scale would not only be confusing, but add another section to NASCAR’s already-too-thick rulebook. It’s okay to keep things simplified, especially related to a rather straightforward rule and one stressed in the pre-race driver meetings.

Although Busch contends otherwise, his infraction wasn’t a “balls and strikes” call on Sunday. The video clearly shows that by committing to pit late, he made contact with the orange marker. If only every penalty were as black-and-white there would be significantly less consternation when they’re handed out.

Of the six drivers — Busch, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Danica Patrick, Reed Sorenson, and Martin Truex Jr. — who were penalized for violating the commitment line rule at Richmond, only Truex has a case that NASCAR should’ve exercised some leniency. He had to contend with a safety truck that was curiously stationed between Turns 3 and 4, causing drivers to scramble around and still try to make it to pit road.

Why NASCAR opened the pits under these conditions is worth questioning, as it was an unnecessary impediment. Still, Truex was the only driver who went above the truck and wasn’t able to get onto pit road correctly. If you watch the video, he went even higher than necessary.

Again, though, a penalty is a penalty and NASCAR followed the letter of its law. Exactly how it should work each and every time.

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