NASCAR’s annual media week hit Charlotte this week. A lot of team moves and sponsorships and the like get announced as they happen nowadays thanks to social media. So most of the announcements coming from the major teams were not unexpected or particularly noteworthy. A lot of “This is how excited we are for the season” kind of stuff. The sanctioning body dropped some big news to kick off the week and a number of teams did still have news worth talking about.
NASCAR Press Con
Xfinity Heat Races
NASCAR dropped a few bombs at the front end of media week that are going to shake up the lower tiers of the sport and it’s foolish to think that the reverberations won’t be felt in cup. For the fans, and likely the competitors, the best of these announcements is the introduction of heat races into select Xfinity races. These coincide with the Dash 4 Cash program which pays out bonus checks to the highest finishing Xfinity regular in the selected races. I always approved of this program for the Xfinity guys since so much of their thunder gets stolen from the Cup guys Bushwacking. Anything which lets the regulars of the lower series shine on their own is a good thing in my book.
As for the heat races themselves, I think this is a fantastic idea. A version of this has been part of the All-Star race (in its various names) for years. If you’re still on the fence about this, just check out Eldora. Check out Eldora’s Truck race anyways. It has become one of the best events in the NASCAR calendar and the heat race format is a part of this. This will be fantastic at Bristol and Richmond. This is a format made and perfected by short tracks, so it will be a homerun at those two tracks. Dover… eh, I think it can work there. Indianapolis? I’m not sold on that track. It is notorious for a lack of passing. So maybe the heat races will be a benefit to break up the racing, which NASCAR would have done anyways with Sweet Lady Debris, our mysterious and unseen friend.
Trucks and Xfinity Getting Chase
In the “It’s about time” category of NASCAR announcements is the introduction of the Chase format to Xfinity and Trucks this year. NASCAR even made a fancy info graphic to explain how it works. As it should be, the process is a bit condensed and not as many weeks as the Cup Chase.
I have always considered the Chase a success in both the ten race format and the bracket format that is going on now. Too many years pre-Chase had the championship locked up weeks ahead of time. I have zero problem with the Chase and, frankly, am surprised that it took NASCAR so long to bring it over to the lower tier series.
I also like the idea of 2015 Cup Chase drivers not being allowed into the Homestead finale of the lower tiers in 2016. Let the guys shine in their own series. On the surface, the year differential sounds a bit odd, but sponsors and drivers can be lined up so far in advance, it makes sense. Take Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon for example. They run a limited schedule in Xfinity and should be contenders for the Chase (I expect both to get a first win this year). Target and Bass Pro Shops need to know months in advance if they are going to sponsor an Xfinity car but no one knows what Cup guys are going to be in the Chase until September. I understand the logistics and figure it is a good thing.
The only thing I’m not sold on with this process is the number of guys in each lower tier Chase. There were only 19 drivers in the Xfinity championship to qualify for every race and 14 in the Trucks. (Although John Hunter Nemecheck is now old enough to run superspeedways) Having 12 qualify for the Xfinity Chase is 63%. 8 of 14 is 57% for Trucks.
I don’t think it’s practical to have any less than eight in a bracket Chase so I can’t see changing it for the Trucks but I definitely think that 8 is a much more appropriate sized field for the Xfinity Chase.
Trucks Getting the Caution Clock
NASCAR has decided to implement a Caution Clock for Truck Races. (Boo!) Every time a green flag is waved, a 20 minute countdown starts ticking. Every time a yellow flies, the clock is reset. No caution clock cautions at the very end of the race. At least it’s a simple system.
The most positive thing I can say about this is at least we know when the Caution Clock will ding as opposed to Sweet Lady Debris rearing her mysterious head. I get that restarts are the best opportunity to pass and passing is one (very strong) metric of a good race. I really want to think NASCAR has its heart in the right place by creating more exciting racing, although every time France mentioned working with their “broadcast partners” on the Caution Clock, the cynic in me is following the money. I think a better way to get more exciting racing in the Truck series would be to lower the bar for entry to allow for more teams to get involved. Right now in the Trucks there’s Kyle Busch’s team, Keselowski’s team, and Thor Sport. After that there’s a big step down in how well the teams are funded. The Truck series is taking a cue from ARCA and offering leases on crate engines. While still not cheap, I think that will raise the competition level by lowering the monetary investments that small teams need to be competitive. That is a more effective way at boosting competition, not this Caution Clock shenanigans.
Anyways. Boo on this.
Charter System, Still Nothing
Still no new news on the potential Charter System coming to the Cup owners. Some of the smaller teams are maneuvering around to put themselves in a good position for when the Charter System drops, because we all expect franchising is coming to NASCAR.
I still think this is a neutral thing. If it helps out teams finances, good. Like it or not, NASCAR is a sport that runs on dollars and running a NASCAR team can be about as financially responsible as running bricks of cash through a wood chipper. Out of all the major and minor team owners, I think Childress and Petty are the only ones who’s primary occupation is owning a race car team. Henderick owns half the car dealerships in the south. The BK Racing guys own a massive amount of fast food franchises, hence their constant Burger King and Doctor Pepper sponsorships. As I mentioned above, I think lowering the financial end of NASCAR will increase the competition end.
Circle Sport – Levine Merger
Joe Falk’s #33 Circle Sport Racing team has merged with the #95 of Levine Family Racing. Michael McDowell ran a partial schedule for Levine for the last couple years and is going to be the primary driver for the team. Circle Sport raced by committee last year with support from RCR, including being the unofficial fourth RCR team for select races featuring RCR’s Xfinity guys getting seat time in Cup.
The team is going to stick with Circle Sport’s Chevy’s and have a technical alliance with RCR and run ECR engines. RCR may be on a winning drought, but everyone running ECR engines shows up very well at plate tracks. Just look at how wells Germain Racing steps up their game at the plate tracks. They’ve announced that McDowell is going to run at least 26 races and Ty Dillon is going to show up for the others with both of them entering into the Daytona 500.
Tommy Baldwin Racing
In a surprise move, Tommy Baldwin Racing cut ties with Alex Bowman. Regan Smith is going to be running the #7 for the one car team. TBR already announced solid sponsorship with Toy State last year. Sponsors and drivers are often tied together which is why I was somewhat surprised by this move. If you follow Bowman on twitter, it seems like the news caught him unaware as he was looking forward to running Daytona. Seems like the news slipped out on Twitter before Baldwin even told Bowman. Kind of a lame situation but I think Bowman can bounce back.
Bowman does get to run a few races for JR Motorsports’ Star Car in the Xfinity series, so he’ll be running some races in very good cars. Also, he recently built a dirt track car to run in the Chili Bowl a couple weeks ago, so it sounds like he’ll be tearing up dirt tracks again.
Furniture Row Nabs New Sponsor Finally
With the success of Martin Truex Jr on the track, the Furniture Row Racing team has finally gotten some sponsors other than Barney Visser’s own Furniture Row brand. Bass Pro Shops has signed on with the team. Truex used to be sponsored by them back when he ran the DEI #1 car back in the day. ‘Course this means Bass Pro Shops is sponsoring less of Tony Stewart’s car, but I don’t imagine Smoke will have much problem filling the empty races.
Cassill to Front Row with Beuscher
Landon Cassill, who has managed to become a long time journeyman racer even though he’s only 26, is heading to Front Row Racing to be the teammate of Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Buescher. While not exactly top tier equipment, FRM and their new alliance with Roush should give Cassill more of a chance to shine. He’s been one of those guys who makes the best out of whatever car he gets. Remember that 4th place he managed in the #40 at Talladega in 2014? I think there are a couple tracks this year he could seriously shine at.
Busch Skipping Plate Races in Xfinity/Trucks
Kyle Busch has said that he is going to pass on plate races in Xfinity and Truck races this year. Considering the serious injuries he had to recover from last year, I’m not surprised one bit. Bonus, there’s a few less races he’s Bushwacking at. I’ve long thought there should be a cap on Cup guys racing in lower tiers (because an outright ban is not practical or smart) and a self imposed restriction is better than none.
Abreu Gets Full Time Truck Ride
Rico Abreu, the dirt tracker who just won his second straight Chili Bowl, is getting a full time Truck ride with Thor Sport and will be teammates with Matt Crafton. He put up solid number in ARCA last year with a couple truck races for the seat time.
Abreu has gotten praise from Tony Stewart and the Chili Bowl trophy is becoming one of the best in US motorsports so he’s got the skills. If you’ve ever seen him interviewed, Abreu has the charisma to do all the other things that go along with being a modern NASCAR driver. I look forward to watching him rise up the ranks and expect to see him challenging for wins.
Bubba Wallace Does Care for Your Conventional Shirt Grooming
Who needs to tuck in their shirt? Certainly not Bubba. High five.
Brian Scott Sponsors
In sponsor news as surprising as “Menard’s sponsors Menard,” Albertson’s and Shore Lodge are going to be sponsoring the #44 of Brian Scott. Companies owned by his family. I chuckle at the news because of its obviousness, but don’t take it as a knock against Scott. You need both talent and funds in this sport to survive, let alone thrive. Having a sponsor still means you have to back it up.
David Ragan to BK Racing
BK Racing, who ran with JJ Yealy, Jeb Burton and Matt DiBeneditto last year, has been listed as TBA on all three of their cars so far. They’ve announced one, with David Ragan running the Dr Pepper #23. No word on which driver is the odd man out, but there’s also word that they bought up some of Michael Waltrip Racing’s old equipment. With an experienced driver and a boost in gear, maybe we can see a performance boost too. I have to think they need to soon if they are going to survive as a three car team.