Should NASCAR do more regulating of who should and shouldn’t be able to drive in the Cup Series?
It’s a fair question that existed before Sunday’s race at Texas. And it’s a question that may have even more merit after Quin Houff’s ridiculous crash that altered the outcome of the race.
Houff inexplicably tried to pit under green from the middle of the track during Sunday’s race. As he moved across the inside groove to pit he ran into Christopher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto before crashing into the wall. Houff’s absurd crash came as lead drivers were in the middle of varying pit strategies and ruined any chances that Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney had of winning the race.
Hamlin and Blaney were set to be the top drivers once everyone had made their final pit stops. But since Houff crashed before everyone had made that stop, they had to restart outside the top 10.
Brad Keselowski finished ninth on Sunday and might have finished higher if it wasn’t for Houff’s crash. He was asked about the crash after the race and had this to say about NASCAR potentially getting more involved in policing who is and isn’t able to drive in the Cup Series.
“I think there are two ways to look at it. There’s the entertainment way to look at it and say that probably created a more entertaining finish, so if you like chaos, then that was good. I think on the other side of that there’s the, ‘Hey, I’m a professional race car driver that’s worked my entire career to get here. Had to jump through a lot of hoops to make it and would like to think that those efforts have created a spot for me in this series to be joined with peers of similar talent levels.’ I have nothing personal against anyone that has an issue like that because they do happen from time to time, but there are certainly a handful of drivers that kindly I wonder exactly how they got to this level. Part of it plays into all the rules. When you’ve got this rules package with cars that are super easy to drive by themselves, it’s very hard for NASCAR, I think, to be able to tell who’s got it and who doesn’t. So it kind of puts them in a box until you actually get in a race, but one thing I would like to see, and I think I’ve been pretty consistent with this, is I would like to see drivers be able to graduate into this level and equally I’d like to see them be able to be removed from this level when they have repeated issues. I can’t speak enough to the gentleman that had that issue today, but I have seen in the past where drivers that have had this issue multiple times somehow are still here, where I think they should effectively be placed in a lower series or asked to go back to a more minor league level to prove their salt. But that’s ultimately not my decision to make. It’s what I would like to see, but it’s not my decision to make and until it is, I guess I should probably just shut up, but I certainly think there’s some merit to it.”
For whatever it’s worth, Houff tried to blame his pit road maneuver (we think?) on a mirror.
Keselowski is right that Houff’s crash helped create chaos in a race that badly needed something. With tires not wearing much and passes incredibly hard to make, Sunday’s race was not the greatest display of NASCAR racing. And randomness is very much a part of racing, especially with 30+ drivers on the track.
But it’s also fair to wonder if Houff is qualified to be racing at NASCAR’s top level even if Keselowski is using his answer to talk about NASCAR approvals in a much broader sense.
So far, Houff has crashed out in four of 18 races in 2020. Cassill crashed out of two races in all of 2019. A driver who brings money isn’t much of an asset if he’s forcing a team to spend more money to fix and build cars.
Houff also entered the Cup Series without any statistics that would make you think he was worthy of a Cup Series ride based on his talent. He raced in 17 of 36 Cup Series races for Spire Motorsports in 2019 after making a combined 15 ARCA and Xfinity Series starts in 2017 in 2018. He never finished in the top 10 in any of those 15 starts and had an average finish of 21.8 in those races.
But getting a Cup Series is not solely merit-based. Heck, you can argue that sponsor money is as important as driving ability. Teams need sponsors and checks to help balance the books. And when the choice is between a good driver with no sponsor money and an OK driver with some sponsor money, a lot of Cup Series teams are going to chose the driver who has the cash.
That’s not fair, of course. Unfortunately, it’s the NASCAR world that we live in. Until the system is fixed so that sponsor money can’t eliminate a significant talent gap between drivers, NASCAR teams are going to be making the decisions like StarCom made for the 2020 season.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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