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Melillo’s Mind – “Big 3” topics leaving Sonoma

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2019 in Sonoma, California. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After a hot weekend in Sonoma Valley, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is officially in the Summer swing of the schedule.

Hot temperatures, hot tempers, and hot rods galore, there is only 10 races left in the 2019 regular season.

In case I haven’t promoted it enough, about two months ago, Kevin McAdams and I began our own podcast, the For The Fans Podcast, where we talk about a lot of the hot button topics throughout our program.

This week, I’ve got a “Big 3” topic list that takes from our last two episodes of the podcast. To me, these are three things that, if they aren’t getting coverage, should be on everyone’s minds as we head into Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.

BIG TOPIC #1: FUTURE CUP SCHEDULE IDEAS

In the past two weekends, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series have visited two tracks that are not currently on the MENCS schedule.

Iowa Speedway and WorldWide Technology Raceway at Gateway have been staples of the lower series schedules for the past handful of seasons.

Due to the contract that NASCAR has with the current tracks that runs through the 2020 season, Iowa and Gateway haven’t been considered for a spot on the schedule, and it really is a shame.

Iowa Speedway catered a Truck / Xfinity double header last weekend, and this past Saturday night, the Trucks were at the facility formerly known as Gateway Motorsports Park.

The racing product that fans got was some of the best on the 2019 NASCAR season, in my opinion, at both Iowa and Gateway.

After creating my fantasy schedule last week, I had mistakenly forgotten about Gateway, and if I were to edit my schedule, I would definitely add it. Thankfully, my co-host had it on his schedule, so it was not lost in the discussion.

In Iowa’s case, it’s another short track (yes, a track less than a mile in length should always be classified as a short track) and it only a few tweaks away from being able to have the capacity for a Cup date. Think of it like Richmond, but racier.

For Gateway, they already host the IndyCar series, which is the top open-wheel motorsport in The United States, so they already have the capability to host a top-tier motorsports event.

With the traction compound at their disposal, Gateway could provide some of the best racing on the Cup Series circuit, as could Iowa.

Besides those two tracks, other ideas we floated were Nashville Fairgrounds (the most talked about option in the past few months), Rockingham Speedway (recently sold and slated for renovations), Road America (IndyCar just raced there over the weekend, and Xfinity comes here later in the year) and MoSport (a Truck Series spectacular every season, it seems).
BIG TOPIC #2: OFFICIATING GONE WRONG

Simply put, we need less gray areas when it comes to officiating these races, as well as more consistency.

Flashback to three race weekends ago: Joey Logano takes the final restart about as good as anyone could and goes on to win at Michigan. After the race, and after comments from the competition, it appears that Logano restarted before the restart zone, and therefore should have been black flagged for jumping the start.

This weekend, in the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma (where I do understand that there are different rules and officials), Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year contenders Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric took the field to the green for the final time.

Preece was the control car, and appeared to restart legally. However, as they crossed the finish line, Preece was shown the black flag for jumping the restart, and Noah Gragson was declared the winner. In the days following the race, even Hemric thought that there was nothing wrong with the way Preece restarted.

For what it’s worth, Gragson was also penalized earlier in the race for jumping the start, but I think that falls into the same category as Preece’s jump, where the penalty was a byproduct of being on top of the restart.

It doesn’t matter who, what, or where, or any of that, just because a Cup or Xfinity level driver was in the field, it doesn’t mean they should get any more scrutiny than the rest of the field, and it just feels like the penalties were levied because the drivers were too good at it, which is really disappointing.

We have the technology to make it less of a judgement call and more of a black and white call. Replays, throttle input, in-car communications, and more can piece the truth together in a timely fashion.

Even though I disagree with the call from a few weeks ago where Sebastian Vettel was penalized five seconds and lost the race, at least the FIA provided evidence to support their call. It was still a judgement call at the end of the day, but at least it was a more informed decision, albeit the wrong one in my eyes.

I know I would rather talk about the on track product than the calls from the umpire. It should be considered, honestly, as soon as possible.
BIG TOPIC #3: STAGE RACING NEEDS IMPROVEMENT AT LONGER TRACKS

I’m not a fan of having to sacrifice any type of points to have a shot at making it to victory lane. That’s what it’s become at some of these tracks, like Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Pocono, and Indianapolis.

I’ve seen some praise for Chad Knaus’s call to leave William Byron on track and collect 18 stage points in the two stages, including a playoff point earned from the Stage 1 victory.

I disagree with the call because Byron had race-winning speed as shown by his 10-second lead in the first 20 laps. A win is never guaranteed, and the points sure make his eventual 19th place finish less painful, but in that moment where Byron stayed out, essentially the No. 24 team was throwing in the towel at any possibly victory.

362487.JPG
William Byron, driver of the #24 Hertz Chevrolet, races during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2019 in Sonoma, California. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

It wasn’t the first time this season where this has happened. Earlier this month, Kyle Larson swept the stages at Pocono and gained an extra 20 bonus points. Larson wound up wrecking on the final stint and ended up finishing in the mid-20s, but realistically, he never had a shot a victory when it was decided to stay out.

Meanwhile, Kyle Busch didn’t earn a single stage point at Pocono, and was the most dominant car. Busch walked out of the Pocono Mountains with the victory, but not the most points, which is crazy to think about.

Stages are meant to reward drivers who are competitive in the first half of the race, and ramp up the intensity at certain points, and I’m not knocking that part of the stage mindset at all.

Instead, at these longer tracks where giving up the points by pitting early is the race-winning move, drivers who may not have truly earned those points by their competitiveness at the beginning of the race walk away with a few extra points, knowing fully well they won’t be competing for the victory that day.

Sure, it’s a great strategy, and a warm moment for some teams who may not always be in the front, but it’s not the true narrative of that point of the race. Byron DID earn that stage on Sunday, but at the price of possible victory. To me, that’s needs to be adjusted.

Race control could opt to keep the field green through the end of the stage, awarding the points as they cross the line, but not interrupting the flow of the race. It’s just an idea, since it’s worked well on the Sim Racing side of the world in my own racing league.

Understandably, it might not be feasible or practical on the real track, but I think that the current format diminishes the overall product.

The For The Fans Podcast is a weekly NASCAR-themed show hosted by Kevin McAdams and Justin Melillo. The Podcast is available on YouTube, Apple, Google, and Spotify.
Opinions expressed on the For The Fans Podcast do not reflect The Racing Experts.

SOURCES
racing-reference.info
FTFRacing.net

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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