Daniel Suarez’s Future

The name Daniel Alejandro Suarez Garza is not one you’d associate with NASCAR. The 24-year old racer hails from Mexico and has been quickly moving up through NASCAR’s ranks. Suarez had a bit of a slow start to his career-he didn’t start racing until he was 10. After tearing it up in the NASCAR Mexico series, Suarez moved over to the American K&N Pro East Series, NASCAR’s entry level short track series. When Suarez continued his success there, he was named to the Drive for Diversity Program and got a ride driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY series.

Suarez’s first year in the XFINITY series was promising, if slightly underwhelming. He placed 5th overall in the standings, but showed a lot of potential in the 2nd half of the season. His second year so far has been fantastic. He’s posted 1 win, 6 top 5’s, and 12 top 10’s en route to his 1st place spot in the standings. Suarez has been tearing it up on track, earning respect from competitors such as Kyle Busch because of his methodical and efficient driving style.

But when will Suarez have his chance at the Sprint Cup Series? Joe Gibbs Racing currently has a full stable of drivers. However, Gibbs driver Matt Kenseth, at 44 years old, is the 3rd oldest driver in the series and is only signed through 2017. We could see Suarez spend one or two more years in the XFINITY series until Kenseth retires, opening up a quality Sprint Cup Series ride for the young driver.

Advertisements

Nascar 2015: What Worked and What Didn’t

Nascar’s 2015 season definitely had some ups and downs. From Jeff Gordon’s retirement to the disastrous introduction of the high-downforce rules package, it was a wild year for Nascar. Let’s take a look back at some of the things that worked and didn’t work in 2015.

The medical waiver: Worked

There was a lot of controversy after Kyle Busch took home the championship at Homestead. Although Busch missed 11 races after breaking his leg in Daytona, he was able to race his way into the Chase by winning 4 races and finishing in the top 30 in points, after securing a medical waiver from Nascar which guaranteed his Chase eligibility. Kyle’s victory may have annoyed a lot of old-school fans, but there’s no question that Busch was one of the best drivers on track in the 25 races he competed in. Busch’s injury, after all, wasn’t his fault–Nascar could have prevented it by installing SAFER barriers on Daytona’s inner walls. Busch’s comeback was a great story for Nascar.

 

NBC: Worked

2015 also marked Nascar’s first year of its television contract with NBC. NBC, in a welcome change, signed on to replace TNT and ESPN/ABC. I’ve already written about TNT’s atrocious coverage, but ABC often did just as poor of a job, rolling out boring broadcasts often relegated to ESPN. NBC, on the other hand, was very good. They introduced new graphics and camera angles, and had solid amounts of Nascar coverage on their sports network, NBCSN. They assembled a strong first-year broadcasting team, bringing in former Hendrick crew chief Steve Letarte and retired racer Jeff Burton. There were some hiccups, but overall NBC did an excellent job, and looks to be a strong partner with Nascar in the future.

Rules package: Didn’t work

Nascar’s Generation 6 cars and its new rules package produced some of the best racing in years in 2014. So naturally, Nascar drastically altered the package in 2015, reducing the horsepower limit with a tapered spacer and increasing the downforce on the cars. The quality of racing dipped noticeably this year–passing was harder and the leader was able to easily pull away from the pack. Nascar’s disastrous experiment with a high-drag package at Indianapolis and Michigan demonstrated the problems inherent to the new setups–most drivers complained that passing was virtually impossible due to the aerodynamics. A low-downforce package, making the cars less stable and more maneuverable, was rolled out at Darlington. Drivers and fans alike enjoyed this setup the most, and Nascar will look to implement it in 2016.

The Kenseth suspension: Didn’t Work

After Matt Kenseth rammed Logano at Martinsville, knocking him out of the lead and the race, many Nascar fans approved. After all, Kenseth was just returning the favor–Logano had popped him two weeks earlier while he led in Kansas. Most fans expected just a fine for Kenseth, or maybe a 25-point penalty. Instead, the Joe Gibbs driver got socked with a 2 race suspension for taking out a Chase contender. The move enraged Nascar fans, many of whom love seeing good old beating and banging on short tracks. It also flew in the face of the precedent Nascar set after previous incidents–when Jeff Gordon took out Clint Bowyer in 2013 at Phoenix, ending Clint’s championship hopes, Gordon only got probation and a points penalty. Nascar’s sanctions against Kenseth were confusing and hasty overreactions. Fans love a villain, and they love seeing drivers settle disputes on the track. Nascar’s ratings could use more of that, not squeaky clean racing. The decision was bad for the Kenseth, bad for the sport, and demonstrated the need for consistent guidelines from the sanctioning body.

 

Jeff Gordon Retired: Who’s Next?

With Jeff Gordon making his final start yesterday, Nascar closed the books on an era. Gordon was Nascar’s first superstar–he helped the sport grow from a regional event to a household name. Gordon is the last driver from the early 1990’s who competed full time, and with his retirement, others may start to follow suit. Tony Stewart, who began racing in 1999. Stewart will follow Gordon out of the sport after the 2016 season. Here’s some drivers who could be headed with them in the next few years.

Greg Biffle

The oldest driver in the Nascar garage isn’t Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart–it’s Greg Biffle, who clocks in at 45 years old. Most people would expect Biffle to be much younger, but that’s because he only started racing in the Sprint Cup Series in 2002. Biffle’s late start and his historically good Roush cars have masked the fact that he’s getting up there in age. With Roush-Fenway Racing on the decline and a lack of new rides opening up in the Sprint Cup,  don’t be surprised to see Biffle be the next driver to make an exit after Stewart.

Matt Kenseth

Kenseth, the 2003 champion and Biffle’s former teammate at Roush, is also getting up there in age. He’s 43 years old and has been racing in the Sprint Cup for 15 years, and is only signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through the end of 2016. Although Kenseth continues to run strong, a two race suspension for taking out Joey Logano dropped him to 15th in the points standings this year. With developmental drivers Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones waiting in the wings, don’t be surprised to see Kenseth bow out in the near future.

Brian Vickers

At first glance, Brian Vickers doesn’t look like a racer ready to hang up his helmet. He’s just 32 years old and recently signed a multi-year contract with Michael Waltrip Racing. However, as MWR closes its doors in the offseason, Vickers will be left without a ride, and more importantly, may be unable to get back on the track. Vickers has battled blood clots since 2010, when clots in his lungs forced him out of the driver’s seat at Red Bull Racing. He battled his medical issues for a long time, and only recently secured a full-time ride with now defunct MWR. However, before the 2015 season began, Vickers announced that he would miss time due to issues fixing a hole in his heart. He ended up driving just 2 races; instead, he spent time working as an analyst for NBC while he recovered. With no ride lined up and no timetable to return to the track, we might have already seen Brian Vickers’ last race.