Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR after the annual media tour:
Turn 1: Should Danica Patrick be worried about her career if the Nature’s Bakery sponsorship falls through?
K. Lee Davis, ESPN.com motorsports editor: Absolutely. Patrick isn’t a bad racer, she just hasn’t shown the kind of improvement she needs to on a power team such as Stewart-Haas Racing. As long as she brings in money — and she always has — she has a ride. The day she no longer can, that seat will go to a driver who can bring in money, or one with a bigger upside who could eventually bring in money. That’s how racing has always worked.
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com writer: Yes. Her on-track performance probably isn’t enough to keep running without backing. And I worry that said lack of performance has eroded the crossover appeal that has made her so attractive to sponsors. It really is an interesting time right now with drivers and sponsors and discussion/negotiation when it comes to expectations within those contracts such as appearances, social-media usage, etc. You add the glut of young talent coming up the ladder and it puts all of the above on a very accelerated pace. I think Danica’s case will be interesting to watch because of all of the above.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com writer: In the short term, no, because she has a contract. But she has good reason to worry beyond that. Her star value as a marketer has faded, and the only way she will remain relevant as a racing driver is by dramatically improving her performance on the track. This is the closest thing to a make-or-break year in Danica’s career.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com writer: She should be worried about her career because of her results on the track. She has finished 24th in the standings the last two years and didn’t finish in the top 10 in any race in 2016. She needs to be top-20 in the standings and earn top-10s at least occasionally. That would at least give a sponsor hope of a win and making the playoffs, which means sponsorship is more likely.
Turn 2: What is the best part of the new NASCAR points system?
Davis: It seems that everyone in the NASCAR industry backs the change.
McGee: Carrying bonus points into the postseason feels right, but only to a point, pun totally intended. I am all about earning an advantage via a great regular season that helps at the start of the playoffs. That’s how it works in every other sport with homefield advantage, first round bye, No. 1 seed vs. 16 seed, etc. But I also don’t want it to be so big that there isn’t some equalization. This is a pro postseason. It’s supposed to be hard.
Oreovicz: Kids have a real-world application for practicing their math skills.
Pockrass: The biggest improvement is the fact playoff points earned throughout the season (one point for a segment win, five points for a race win and points if in the top-10 of the final regular-season standings) are added to a driver’s reset points in each round of the playoffs. NASCAR needed the regular-season to mean more, and even drivers who win in the playoffs have incentive to win again.
Turn 3: Does any part of the new NASCAR points system worry you?
Davis: It seems that everyone in the NASCAR industry backs the change. Honestly, it makes my head hurt. And it makes my heart hurt. I don’t think this will move the minds of long-term fans one inch in the direction of acceptance after years of tinkering with the system. I don’t think this will do anything to draw in new fans. Only the racing can do that, so that makes the new aero package much more important. I think NASCAR had one chance to get the idea of playoffs right, maybe two chances. That time has passed.
McGee: The math might be really hard to track. In 2011, when NASCAR threw out the old Bob Latford points system for the 40-to-1 scale, it was trumpeted as a move that was made to make the math simpler for fans. A spot on the racetrack was worth a point and the bonus exceptions were basic and few. This new scale makes it much harder to track. And the first time a second-place guy gets more points than the guy who wins the race because he won the first two segments, that’s gonna cause some hollering.
Oreovicz: Just about all of it. It’s complicated, convoluted and confusing. Regular-season points, playoff points, points paid in the middle of races… it’s all too much. The biggest worry is that it will take least a year or two before we know whether this new system is successful. It’s a big gamble, and if it doesn’t work out the way they want it to, NASCAR is going to be in a world of hurt.
Pockrass: It may sound confusing more than it actually is, but until NASCAR fans see it in action, it tends to make the head spin and create angst when trying to decipher it all. Still not the biggest fan of four drivers even at Homestead regardless of what they’ve done during the season, but I’m gradually getting more used to (resigned?) to it.
Turn 4: Should Charlotte Motor Speedway have a Cup race on its road course?
Davis: Yes, with a caveat. If it’s a parade where it’s impossible to pass — and that’s not unlikely with wide heavy stock cars on a narrow road course — then it will be a novelty and little more. But it’s worth trying as much as a new points system is.
Oreovicz: Yes. Running the fall race on the road course would insert an interesting wild card into the Chase. It would help gauge the overall interest level in terms of adding more road racing into NASCAR. And it’s a much smaller risk than the remodeled point system.
Pockrass: While some would say desperate times require desperate measures, I am not sure this is the answer, especially at a time when NASCAR has worked so hard to reduce downforce in the cars for racing at tracks such as Charlotte.. The number of passing zones in “rovals” (part road courses, part ovals) tend to be limited and fans in Turn 4 would have a hard time seeing the action at CMS. That being said, I wasn’t a fan of the truck race at Eldora Speedway when it was first announced, and it has certainly exceeded my expectations.