Inside lane: Analyzing the news spreading through the garage
Heading into Sunday's race at New Hampshire, an anonymous NASCAR driver shares his thoughts about the latest happenings in the circuit.
"New Hampshire is a tough track. It seems a little bit wide open getting into the corner, but right at the center it really tightens up, so you really got to have the car to where you really have it cutting good throughout the second half of the turn. Especially with the [Car of Tomorrow] -- because usually with these things, what happens is when you get down in the corner it gets tight; but then, the throttle gets you loose when you come off the corner. But because New Hampshire is so tight in the center and it's narrower through the rest of the corner, you get tight and you just keep getting tight. But it's a fine line in terms of a setup, because if you make it too loose, on a qualifying lap it'll really just step out from under you. So you just gotta have it kind of neutral getting into the corner and then have it cutting from the center off.
"New Hampshire isn't as boring as people think. Especially when you're in the middle of the track, it's tighter racing because different guys -- the track doesn't lend itself for three-wide racing. It lends itself to different lines, and you got guys who'll kind of get in the corner and they'll diamond the corner off versus guys who are just bottom-feeders who can just keep running the bottom. So, it's really one of those things that you don't come off the corner usually side-by-side, which I think fans usually think is boring ... but for us, it's a cool track. I know there's probably not as much side-by-side racing as back in the past with the old cars. But in certain ways, it's racing. There's going to be races where there's a car better than everybody else, and he's going to drive away. But it's a fun place to go to. And I like the fact that it's always packed there."
"There are a couple of reasons why the road course ringers didn't do well at Sonoma. It's not like it used to be; all of them are good. Take somebody like Dale Jr., for example. When he first moved into Cup, he was terrible on a road course. He looked like he couldn't get out of his own way. The regular Cup guys used to struggle, and it seemed that just by coming in and being a guy that knew how to get around a road course, you could finish Top 15, no problem.
"But it's not like that anymore. All of us know how to drive, and the best drivers are in good equipment -- and these cars are hard to drive on a road course as it is. So, you can't come over right away just 'cause you're a road course guy and go, 'OK, I'm better than everybody else.' People forget, with all these road course ringers that come in every year, none of them have ever won a Cup race. Boris Said came close, and Ron Fellows, but that's about it. It's an easy fact: you need a good car, and you're racing against guys that know how to do this now. There are very few guys that struggle on a road course like they used to."
"Track position is key in the series nowadays; and especially last week, you were struggling to find that. I think because everybody's a lot closer now on speed, it's a lot harder to pass. And Sonoma's hard to pass in general. If you can get out of the way from other cars and just run your own laps, you'll have what you need to pull away from the pack. But when you've got a pack of cars stacking up in front of you -- when you start braking and you're behind somebody, you gotta brake sooner than they do most of the time, otherwise you run into them. It's just an accordion effect: So once those three cars out front don't have that accordion effect, they can get going. And remember, those cars are also up front for a reason: They're better than everybody else."
"It's tough for Kyle Busch to do what he did, trying to go for all three championships [Busch abandoned plans to go after the Nationwide and Truck Series titles prior to Sonoma]. Even the guys that go for the Nationwide and the Cup, I respect what they have to do because it's a lot harder nowadays -- these cars aren't similar anymore. I mean, you used to jump from a Nationwide car to a Cup car and besides a little horsepower, never really feel the change. Now it's a lot tougher.
"And I think the schedule wore on Kyle, and it showed. When he did three races in a weekend, you could see him fall apart. Friday, he looked good in the Truck race, Saturday you could see him struggling in the Nationwide race before he had a problem, and Sunday, he just looked wore out. It's tough. You just gotta judge off your own body. If you can handle it, great, but you're going to look really stupid not winning any of the titles rather than shutting down and just trying to win the Cup title, which he's got a great chance to do."
"I don't blame Tony Stewart for not calling out Kevin Harvick after the race at Sonoma [Harvick wrecked Stewart with a few laps to go]. I think there's definitely a line that we draw; we all do it with friends versus guys that you just don't care about. There might be some guys that can put it all away -- they don't have anybody out there they like -- but for the rest of us, that's not so easy. You're paid to go out there to win, but you still have friends that you come off the race track and you feel better racing with, or that you feel bad if something happens to them.
"I also think reporters are always trying to get something juicy out of Stewart, because most of the time they know that he's going to say something. But he was fairly reluctant to want to say anything about Kevin. You got every right to not want to talk to a reporter, in my opinion.
"Man, the way Mark Martin runs, he could run until he's 90 in my book. That guy is amazing. To me, age doesn't matter. If you can do the job, you should keep doing it if you feel the passion and want to go do it. And I read people who go, 'Oh, Mark needs to get out of the sport for the younger guys.' Why? He's better than most of the younger guys. And this is nothing against Almirola, but Mark gets in that car and makes the thing look like basically a Gibbs or Hendrick car. And he kicks Truex's ass, and Regan Smith, and Paul Menard -- he makes that 8 car look like it's a Gibbs or a Hendrick car. So the way I look at it, hell, I'd put Mark in a car for sure.
"There isn't any pressure for him, either. What does he have left to prove? Yeah, he hasn't won a title, but if he doesn't win it, he's got nothing to prove still. And if he comes back and runs full-time, it's not like he's been retired for two years and he's got this legacy of being a great driver and he might come back and suck. Hell, he runs up front in 26 of the 36 races right now, so I have no problem with Mark coming back. He's not stealing the seat from anybody that deserves it. He's the one that deserves it because he's the one running up front.
"If your name is in the rumor mill for Silly Season, it might affect you or it might not -- there's two different ways of looking at it. If you're somebody like Stewart that could be running his own team or buying a team -- something that he's going to actually make plans and go do -- then, yes, that could take your mind away from it. For Tony, that's something you're focusing on because you're trying to figure out where you're going -- and basically, it's his call. But if you're a guy that's got your name on the block, and you want to go out there and get your best offer, your name in the rumor mill doesn't take away anything. Because the whole point is to go out and run the hell out of it and run your best, because all that's going to do is boost your stock up. So, it's two different scenarios..."
"I'm going to go with Denny Hamlin to win New Hampshire. He had Richmond covered, which Richmond's not a lot like Loudon ... but he won this race last year. So, I'm going to say Hamlin."