NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway without Dale Jr. Will people still watch?
On Tuesday, Dale Jr was still suffering headaches, so he and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, approached the team doctor who arranged for him to meet Dr. Petty, NASCAR's favorite neurosurgeon. All tests conducted were clear, yet Dale still had headaches. Dr. Petty had already made his decision not to clear Dale to race, but the announcement came Wednesday morning. Dale will rest and try to recuperate for two weeks, working with Dr. Petty to ensure he has a full recovery.
Dale Jr isn't the only driver in the race, but he certainly is one of the most popular. For him to be out of the car is huge. Even though the injury itself is seen as relatively minor, at this point, it could be so much more serious, and it is smart for Dale to sit out. Will the ratings suffer?
Regan Smith has been tapped to take over driving duties in the 88 for the next two weeks and will no doubt do a great job. Will he be up front? It is entirely possible. Furniture Row Racing has an affiliation with Richard Childress Racing, so Regan has had decent equipment this year, and sits 23rd in points. However, an affiliate isn't the same as being in primo equipment, and Regan has an opportunity to show Rick Hendrick just what he can do. Great performances in the 88 could put Regan in a seat for next year, in a Nationwide car running for a Championship.
Regan was supposed to take over the 51 for Phoenix Racing this weekend, given that Furniture Row Racing has decided to take on the whiniest driver in the Sprint Cup Seires, Kurt Busch. James Finch, team owner of Phoenix Racing, as agreed to release Regan from that commitment, and will put AJ Allmendinger in the ride instead. Regan is closer in size to Dale Jr., making the transition physically easier.
Both AJ and Regan need to step up to the plate these next two weekends and prove they deserve to be here.
Greg Biffle is on the pole for tomorrow night's race, and he honestly needs a finish in first, not just a start in first. From leading the points all season, Greg has struggled in the Chase, currently sitting in 9th. He won't finish any worse than 11th, given that Jr won't be counting points for the next two weeks, but is that where he wants to be come Homestead? I don't think so.
Practice is underway now, but I am unable to watch it. Sometimes I hate being in Canada. Greg Biffle leads practice so far, with Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin rounding out the top 5. Regan is currently running in 8th, just behind Brad Keselowski. Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger are 21st and 22nd fastest. Looks like HMS made the right choice.
Head to the next page for some of my takes on the Nationwide Series....
Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Austin Dillon are the clear front runners in the Nationwide Series, which has five races left in the season. Ricky won the Championship last year, with Elliott finishing second, and this year it looks to be another close finish. Ricky is currently only 9 points back of Elliott, with Austin Dillon 25 out of the lead. It has been an incredible season for Austin, making the move from the Truck Series last year after winning the Championship there. His younger brother, Ty Austin, is taking over where Austin left off in the Truck Series, and it is clear that grandpa, Richard Childress, has big plans for his young grandsons. Elliott Sadler has said he is pretty certain he will not be in his RCR ride next year, but just who will be has not yet been announced.
In the meantime, Elliott is doing all he can to give RCR that Nationwide Championship. He does not want to hand it over to either Ricky or Austin, or to anyone else for that matter. Sam Hornish Jr is doing a respectable job, sitting in 4th, but at 60 points out of the lead, it seems unlikely he can make a serious run for the championship.
JR Motorsports has made all kinds of changes in recent weeks, first releasing Tony Eury Sr., then Tony Jr. Cole Whitt is sitting 7th in points, with Danica Patrick in 11th. Neither of those two drivers is living up to the expectations at JRM, and it seems the next move will be a driver. Danica is moving up to Sprint Cup (not even close to ready for that move, in my opinion) for Stewart-Haas Racing. I hope JRM is able to find a quality driver, because all the crew changes in the world won't give a driver more talent.
The Nationwide race runs in just a few short hours. Qualifying will run just prior to the race, and my gut feeling is that the top three in points will be the cars to beat.
So there you have it, an extended version of NASCAR This Week, given how close we are to the end. We won't have a live thread tonight, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts and picks if you are watching (like me).