We are five races into the new Cup series season, and NASCAR has gotten off to a strong start.
It has not been without its challenges, as tech inspections seem to be dominating much of our discussions, and overall, I don't think that's very healthy for the sport.
What is healthy is watching the senior driver and Kevin Harvick perform at such an extremely high level: Winning three consecutive races at three different tracks is a monumental accomplishment. While the trio of wins does not assure Harvick the Cup championship this year, it certainly establishes him as the early favorite.
One of my favorite things to do throughout the year is answer your questions. I enjoy your curiosity, and I also appreciate your perspective, so let's jump to the mailbag and knock out a few of these. I got some good questions this week, I have to say, and I saved my favorite for last!
How far behind is HMS and how long until they can contend for wins with the 4/78 on 1.5-2 mile tracks? #askRicky
— Brad 🇺🇸 #Di9 (@BeachandBHawks) March 19, 2018
This is the farthest behind Hendrick Motorsports has been since the days before Jeff Gordon. It is not only behind the Toyota and Ford teams, but it is also behind the Chevrolets of Chip Ganassi, specifically Kyle Larson. HMS has just three top-10 finishes among its Cup drivers this season. But Hendrick won't go the way of Roush Fenway. The organization has too much talent and energy behind it to fail.
#AskRicky What makes guys like Kyle Busch, Brad K, and Jimmie so good at Martinsville while clearly talented guys like Kevin Harvick still can't put it together there?
— NASCAR Nerd (@_NASCARNerd) March 19, 2018
Every racetrack requires a different technique; some drivers thrive on 1.5-mile tracks, and others might favor restrictor-plate tracks, while some look forward to competing at road courses. There are only a few drivers who are outstanding everywhere they compete. In fact, it's what made Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart so special because they were a threat to win anywhere they competed.
Martinsville Speedway is a difficult track and requires as much precision from a driver's feet as it does his hands. Those who understand, embrace and enjoy the short-track racing at Martinsville seem to thrive there, and that's why Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have had so much success there.
#AskRicky what is your opinion on all the failed inspections we've been seeing? Have the teams changed anything they normally do or is NASCAR being more strict this year? Are the rules too confusing?
— Mark Herwick (@GrayGhost28_88) March 20, 2018
The tolerances for inspection are very tight; therefore, it has never been more difficult than it is now for teams to find or create a decided advantage. I've been advocating that we continue to press hard in terms of NASCAR tightly inspecting these race cars Friday through Saturday. But we need to close the book on that week's race when the cars leave the racetrack Sunday evening. NASCAR can continue to use the research and development center to educate itself on what teams might be attempting, but we cannot continue discussing rules on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as it relates to the previous week's race and its finish. These actions are counterproductive, and they're killing the mood.
Do you think Nascar will bring any new tracks to the series in the next 5-10 years? If so any ideas of where? #AskRicky
— Bill Patrick (@bp207) March 19, 2018
Yes. Iowa Speedway is almost certain to be added to the Cup series schedule at some point in the next five years. With the introduction of the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, all eyes will be on this event in terms of public reaction and participation if it succeeds, and if it does, I wouldn't be surprised if one of our other 1.5-mile tracks doesn't follow suit by incorporating a short track on the front stretch somehow.
Any chance that we could see you behind the wheel again? I would love that man! As a fellow New Englander i wanna see u wheel a car once more. #AskRicky
— Mike Rodrigues (@MikeRodrigues48) March 19, 2018
No. I seldom have the desire to compete, though this weekend would be the exception. Martinsville is my favorite track because to me it represents the purest form of racing, and it represents the early days for most drivers.
How do I get around martinsville like you used to?? #AskRicky
— Erik Jones (@erik_jones) March 19, 2018
Erik, go to Martinsville with the same enthusiasm and determination you had in the first five races of the year, as you've gotten off to a strong start already.
You're right that Martinsville has always been good to me. I got my first Xfinity and first Cup poles, my first Cup win and my only truck win. I love competing at the paper clip-shaped facility. Like most short tracks, the key is the very center of the turn. Beyond that, I highly recommend you spend some time talking with your teammate Denny -- he can help you more than I can right now. Good luck on Sunday, Erik!
Ricky Craven, a driver with wins in all of NASCAR's top three series, is ESPN's NASCAR analyst, frequently appearing on SportsCenter and other ESPN news platforms on race weekends and when breaking news warrants. He joined ESPN in 2008. During his driving career, Craven won the rookie of the year titles in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series (1992) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (1995). He won races in both series as well as in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He also won the 1991 championship of what was then known as the NASCAR Busch Grand National North Series.