*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
It seems pretty obvious over the past few years that the sport of NASCAR racing is in the midst of a major change. This season has marked the entry of a new car that seems to favor younger drivers as the under 30 crowd has won numerous races so far. With that said, it appears as if the bigger stars are being phased out. An example of that is the current contract situation involving Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing in which the driver indicated the real possibility that he might not be in the No. 18 Toyota in 2023. If Kyle Busch can be phased then anyone can be, right?
Richard: Those who do NASCAR analytics have pointed out that most drivers do not even reach their peak until the age of 38 or so. Kyle Busch is still a couple of years away from that age so it would seem as if he would be a lock to have a contract in place well before his current one expires. This is a driver who has won two NASCAR Cup Series championships and 60 races at the top level. But as has been well documented, the Mars candy company has announced it will not return as the primary sponsor on the No. 18 car next year.
And this part of my response to this question brings me to a beef I have with NASCAR teams. It used to be that teams hired a driver then went out and found sponsors for their car. Now, the driver has to bring his/her own financial backer to the team. That just seems backwards to me.
But yes, to answer the question, if Kyle Busch could lose his ride and be phased out, then anyone can. All that said, however, I would almost be willing to bet that he will be somewhere in 2023 although it does not sound like it will be with JGR.
Michael: Any driver can be replaced at any time. It’s no different than in other sports where a team will trade or not re-sign an unhappy player or an aging player to make room for a younger player with loads of potential.
It’s no secret with sponsorship being harder to come by in NASCAR, we’re seeing drivers taking pay cuts to be able to race. If a big sponsor leaves, teams will plan their strategy of finding replacement sponsor(s) or looking at other drivers. I think some of that went into the “early” retirements of some of the recent stars of the sport.
JGR has been famous for cutting bait on drivers with expiring contracts or wanting to promote that promising driver they have waiting in the wings. This appears to be a case of where M&M’s leaving sooner than expected may be accelerating the rise of Ty Gibbs to the Cup level.
The Talladega Super Speedway elicits many different opinions among those who participate in or follow NASCAR racing. The giant track can be known for exciting competition and thrilling finishes while at the same time it can produce massive crashes that eliminate significant portions of the field in a short time. Is Talladega more about pure racing competition or crash-filled entertainment?
Richard: I have often wondered why the races at Daytona and Talladega are so popular among fans.
Do people watch the races held on those massive tracks for the competition or is it because of the strong possibility of the so-called ‘Big One’ type wrecks involving numerous cars that tend to take place there? Or, do they watch for the two and three-wide racing that takes place throughout the day which is almost certain to be topped off by a close and exciting finish?
The television networks seem to have an idea of why people watch. Most, if not all, promotional ads that run prior to the race feature clips of massive crashes.
I did some research and found that out of the last 20 races held at Talladega, 14 have had at least one ‘Big One’. On the average, 11 cars were eliminated with the reason given as “crash” for their failure to finish those events. And keep in mind that not all of those races were run under NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy so there were likely a number of wounded cars on track that were eliminated from contention but still able to make laps.
There are wrecks on the Super Speedways and they tend to be of the multi-car variety when they happen.
I believe there is an element out there who watch these races just for the crashes. However, I don’t really believe that is an extremely high number because if it was the ratings for the Talladega races would be far higher than others and that typically is not the case. I tend to think most people, such as myself, watch for the competition side of it knowing that big crashes are a probability.
And I would tend to think most real fans of the sport understand that if there is a big crash there is always the chance that their favorite driver might be caught up in it. I can’t imagine people sitting in the stands to watch a race in which their driver was knocked out of the event before the first stage break but still being happy that they got to see a big wreck.
I think the races at Daytona and Talladega are just different in the way short tracks and road courses are different and they add a little spice into the mix of the schedule. And that’s a good thing.
Michael: I fully believe ratings and attendance are higher for Daytona and Talladega because of the big crashes. A prime example is the lack of attention and low attendance numbers for Bristol Motor Speedway. Since the track was reconfigured with progressive banking in 2009, they replaced the bump-and-run and the temper tantrums with side-by-side racing. Race fans should enjoy that type of action because a faster car can actually pass a slower car, not knock them out of the way. However, attendance went from a must-see event to just another race on the schedule.
I have been for NASCAR to find a way to eliminate this pack style of racing. It tears up a lot of equipment and is potentially dangerous to the drivers. But, I think if they eliminate it, attendance will suffer. Fans didn’t seem to like the tandem drafting.
One thing Talladega has going for it is the massive infield party that takes place. Many fans definitely come for that, and some never see the racing.
The Geico 500 at Talladega marked the tenth race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. What is the one thing that has stood out to you so far?
Richard: Easily the thing that has stood out most to me is the first-time and young winners on the series this season. Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and now two-time winner Ross Chastain have infused new blood into victory lane. And more, only Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have won races so far this season among the over 30 crowd.
I would think that the new car has played a role in the those wins by younger drivers. Perhaps the Next Gen car has led to the emergence of Next Gen drivers.
My feeling is that with every race the teams are getting more and more of a feel for this new machine which will ultimately lead to the better organizations returning to the top of the heap. And if/when that happens, the more familiar names may start winning more races. But one never knows, the early results of 2022 may in fact signal a true changing of the guard with names such as Kurt & Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. being replaced by William Byron, Alex Bowman and Ross Chastain.
Keep in mind that some of those power teams, such as Hendrick Motorsports, are staffed with drivers under the age of 30 already. As I said above, I don’t think the old guard can be completely counted out just yet. However, their days are numbered, and who knows, maybe the takeover has actually begun.
Michael: One thing that has stood out to me is how the smaller teams can and are performing well on the non-plate tracks. I looked at how a team like Petty-GMS and Erik Jones has had several good finishes and had a shot to win at Auto Club Speedway. Of course, Trackhouse is making the biggest splash with Chastain and Suarez. I agree that the bigger teams will eventually rise to the top. I’m not sure how long that will take. There is a big diversity in tracks coming up with Dover, Darlington, Kansas, Charlotte, WWT, and Sonoma. I think these smaller teams will still be contenders, and probably winning some races, during that stretch.
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