NASCAR Roundtable: Danica's impact and the future of RPM

What will the future be for Danica Patrick and also for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2018 are some topics discussed this week by the NASCAR team at Motorsport.com.

NASCAR Roundtable: Danica's impact and the future of RPM
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet four wide salute to the fans
The 16 Playoff drivers with the Monster Energy Cup Series Trophy
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Ben Rhodes, ThorSport Racing Toyota
Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski Racing Ford
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Ryan Truex, Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota
Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Race winner Darrell Wallace Jr., MDM Motorsports Chevrolet
A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet four wide salute to the fans
Four wide salute to the fans
The field goes four-wide to show appreciation to the fans before the race
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota wrecks
Ambulance blocking pit entrance
Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Jamie McMurray, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

The 16 drivers have been determined for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Playoffs. What do you think will be the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway will look like and who will win it all?

Jim: My picks for the Championship 4 are Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. I would not be surprised (is anyone really?) if Jimmie Johnson were to show up in the championship race but the No. 48 just hasn't seemed to be on its game of late. My preseason pick to win it all was Joey Logano, so I was definitely off on that one. I think Truex wins his first series championship.

Lee: The first three drivers are easy — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson — with Truex to win it all at Homestead. The fourth and final driver is tough but given Jimmie Johnson’s record over the final 10 races it’s hard to pull against the seven-time champ.

Nick: It would be foolish to beat against Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. I would also include Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Although the No. 48 has struggled as of late, you can never bet against the seven-time champion. As for who will win it all, I'd have to go with Truex. Barring any bad luck, I think this is his championship to lose.

Tim: I picked Joey Logano to win it all in the preseason, so what do I know? But I’ll give it another try on my final four in Homestead-Miami Speedway. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson. I know Johnson might surprise some people, but he always seems to rise to the occasion. I think Truex gets his first title.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has one race remaining to determine its playoff field. As of now, two drivers are in but on the edge - Chase Briscoe and Ben Rhodes. Will they hang on or do you think someone else will grab the win at Chicagoland and take a playoff berth? 

Jim: I predict a new winner at Chicagoland and I'm going with Noah Gragson. Kyle Busch Motorsports trucks have dominated the 1.5-mile tracks this season and I think Gragson will win his way into the playoffs, which will likely leave Rhodes on the outside looking in. Gragson led the most laps of a race in his rookie season at Kentucky and he's become much more consistent the more races he's run this year.

Lee: Ryan Truex still has a shot at of overtaking Rhodes in points. Just seven points separate the drivers. Both drivers have one start at Chicagoland Speedway. Truex finished 15th, Rhodes 25th. On 1.5-milers, Truex has an average finish of 10th with two top-fives and three top-10 finishes. Rhodes’ average finish on intermediate tracks is 13.4 with two top-fives, three top-10 and 30 laps led including 25 laps at the point at Kansas where the No. 27 truck appeared to be sailing off to the win until the engine failed with seven laps remaining in the race. This will be an interesting battle to watch on Friday.

Nick: Ryan Truex and Noah Gragson are the leading candidates to win their win in, but I doubt they will be a change in the standings at Chicagoland.

Tim: Much like the Cup Series, I think both of them will make the playoffs. If there is a surprise winner I would say Noah Gragson has run the best of any driver yet to win this season.

With the announcement of Smithfield leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season, what do you think the future holds for RPM?

Jim: It's certainly not good news and right now, I would say there is a good chance, RPM as we know it may not exist next season. There are just not a lot of multi-million dollar sponsors around for the picking and the ones that are, want to be attached to teams and drivers that are in contention for wins. Considering its inability to reach Victory Lane on any sort of consistent basis, it's amazing RPM has remained in business as long as it has and is a testament to the staying power of owner Richard Petty.

Lee: RPM is in a tenuous position after losing long-time sponsor Smithfield. However, a fresh start with a new driver such as Darrell "Bubba" Wallace could go a long way in revitalizing the team. At 23, Wallace has plenty of blue sky ahead of him. It's up to RPM to find a comparable sponsor and build it's program around Wallace.

Nick: It's obviously a huge punch in the gut, but the addition of Darrell Wallace Jr. is a big opportunity for RPM. He is a proven young talent and could attract some much-needed sponsorship to the team. In the end, I expect the team will perserve through this. They've been through worse before.

Tim: Any time a team loses a primary sponsor – especially in the economic climate around NASCAR right now, can’t be good for a team of the sport. While it appears Smithfield will stay involved in the sport, as someone who grew up watching ‘The King,' I can’t imagine a NASCAR season without Richard Petty a part of it.

The incident on track at Richmond Raceway with the safety equipment was the icing on the cake of an unusual night of race calls by NASCAR. Do you see a trend developing or was it the result of unique circumstances on that particular night?

Jim: The optics of Saturday night was bad but I believe the circumstances were overblown. If the ambulance driver ignored/didn't hear commands to stop on the backstretch, how is it NASCAR's fault for that incident happening? Certainly they are responsible for how the races are run, but as good as technology is, there is still a human error factor in everything involved. The best thing NASCAR can do is to put in additional backup communication channels with safety vehicles and remain vigilant on what is transpiring on the track. As far as the late-race caution, there have been cautions in every race this season for FAR LESS than what took place with Derrike Cope. While the timing was poor, the idea that caution was "clearly not necessary" flies in the face of the hundreds of cautions thrown this season for far smaller incidents.

Lee: I hope it’s not a trend. The inconsistencies in officiating were stark — which was unfortunate given the size of the stage the sport was on that night. Although the outcome of the standings weren’t altered, if that race goes green at the end, there’s no doubt that Martin Truex Jr., runs away with the win. With the championship at stake over the next 10 races, NASCAR has to get its act in order. The sanctioning body cannot afford another debacle similar to Saturday night in the playoffs.

Nick: It was a freak incident, but I agree with Martin Truex Jr. who called it "inexcusable." That shouldn't happen, especially when the stakes are so high at a place like Richmond. NASCAR cannot afford to let that happen again.

Tim: Nobody is perfect and I’m sure the last thing NASCAR wanted was for this to dominate headlines, but it happened. Most of the drivers have asked for consistency and I’m sure that’s NASCAR’s goal too. Anybody can be a Monday Morning quarterback on calls, but it appears Martin Truex Jr. was more upset about a caution not thrown at Darlington for his incident when it seemed to be more worthy of a caution than Derrick Cope’s incident at Richmond. As for the safety crew, NASCAR made improvements this season with a traveling group of medical personnel. However, I think it’s time to look at a complete traveling crew to work safety at events, at least with ambulances, etc.

Now that Danica Patrick has announced she won't be back with SHR next year, what do you think her impact has been on NASCAR?

Jim: It's no surprise the revisionist history stories are already appearing from many media - the same media who claimed when Patrick first arrived that she was going to drive millions of new fans to the sport and filled sports pages with stories about where - not if - she would win her first NASCAR race. Considering her entire motorsport history was involving open-wheel racing, Patrick ended up doing about the same as the other big-name open-wheel drivers that moved to NASCAR of late. But she failed miserably to reach the unfair expectations that many media and fans placed on her before she even hit the track for the first time. In the end - even after all the hoopla - performance still dictates drivers' future.

Lee: Patrick blazed a path for other young females looking to enter the sport. Unfortunately, they, too, will need to bring sufficient funding to have the opportunity Patrick has enjoyed with two of NASCAR's organizations. Still, during her tenure, Patrick brought tremendous exposure to the sport. Imagine what she could have accomplished had she been consistently competitive.

Nick: Danica appeared to be a modern trailblazer for woman in the sport when she first arrived on the scene, but unfortunately, the novelty wore off when the results on the track did not come. There's no doubt she has had a positive impact on the sport off the track, but I hope people realize that her lack of success is not a reflection of the many young female racers out there that deserve a shot at the national level. Danica came from IndyCar and like many other open-wheel turned NASCAR drivers, the switch just didn't work out.

Tim: As a parent of a young lady, having Danica Patrick in the sport showed me first-hand how young girls looked up to Danica in the sport of NASCAR so I will go on record that I feel she has been good for the sport. I think she’ll be missed in ways that can’t be measured by results on the race track, but at the end of the day that’s probably what cost her the opportunity to keep sponsors. Off-track marketing and name recognition is vital to NASCAR, at the end of the day most sponsors want to see results, some on the bottom line and others on the track.

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