ThatsRacin

NASCAR’s 2015 season so far: A mixed bag through 6 races

Cars crowd pit road at the start of qualifying for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15 in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR adopted group qualifying for the superspeedway race for the first time, and the results were, at best, mixed.
Cars crowd pit road at the start of qualifying for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15 in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR adopted group qualifying for the superspeedway race for the first time, and the results were, at best, mixed. Getty Images

Six race weekends into the 2015 NASCAR season and there are already storylines galore.

We’ve seen a driver suspended and reinstated, a record-setting penalty and three drivers – so far – have missed Sprint Cup Series races because of injury or illness.

Here are the top six stories from the first six weeks of the season:

6. New rules, same speed: One of the hot topics coming into the season was the debut of another new aerodynamic rules package for the Cup series, which included a reduction in horsepower and lower downforce. So far, the results are mixed.

Qualifying speeds actually increased at Atlanta and Las Vegas – in part because drivers were able to stay on the throttle, which increased corner speeds. Perhaps the biggest impact was noticed at Martinsville (Va.), where new tires became a luxury. Consider the issue a work in progress.

5. Qualifying roulette: Group qualifying was applauded by fans in 2014, so NASCAR decided to adopt it for the Daytona 500 for the first time. That didn’t go over so well. Some teams, attempting to game the system, failed to post a speed or wrecked while attempting to draft.

Teams also did not adjust well to NASCAR’s new inspection procedures and for several races, many teams struggled to pass inspection before qualifying began. So far NASCAR has implemented several schedule changes to help the inspection flow and will try a new qualifying format at superspeedways beginning next month at Talladega, Ala.

4. Vickers sidelined again: For Brian Vickers, this storyline is becoming too familiar. Two races after returning from a second open-heart surgery, Vickers has been sidelined again with blood clots – an issue that has plagued him since 2010.

Brett Moffitt has replaced Vickers in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. For how long is anyone’s guess – even Vickers admitted his racing career could well be over.

3. Kyle Busch’s season sidelined before it starts: Kyle Busch never even got the chance to start the 2015 Cup season. He was injured in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona and has missed the first six races of the season with a fractured right leg and fractured left foot.

Aside from Joe Gibbs Racing having to find a fill-in for Busch – David Ragan is driving the No. 18 Toyota – Busch’s injuries reignited a safety debate in NASCAR. The accident happened at a part of the Daytona track not covered by energy-absorbing SAFER barriers.

Since the accident, a number of tracks have added or plan to add additional SAFER walls, and some have put up temporary tire barriers in the meantime. The time frame for Busch’s return remains unclear.

2. Kurt Busch out and back again: Just days before the Daytona 500, NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch after a Kent County (Del.) Family Court commissioner issued an opinion in which he determined Busch had committed an act of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend.

Busch immediately entered NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and shortly after the Delaware Attorney General’s office elected not to press criminal charges, Busch was reinstated by NASCAR. He made his delayed season debut with his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team at Phoenix and finished in the top five.

1. Don’t mess with tires: If there was any doubt about NASCAR’s disdain for teams tampering with tires, it cleared it up when issuing one of its most stern penalties last week to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31. NASCAR found – and confirmed through a third party – the team had altered its tires in the March 22 race at Fontana, Calif.

Driver Ryan Newman’s crew chief and two other members of the team were suspended for six races and placed on probation. NASCAR issued a fine of $125,000 and penalized the team 75 driver and owner points.

RCR plans an appeal.

Utter: 704-358-5113; @jim_utter

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