With the introduction of the Next Gen car reducing the amount of cars a team can build from 15 to seven, does this open the door for teams to expand their fleet? If so, which team would be the most likely to add to its stable?
Josh Roller: Well, first, NASCAR needs to do away with the limit of four cars per organization in the NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR can limit the amount of charters a team can possess, and that limit should be four. With the right drivers, I could easily see a team like Joe Gibbs Racing opening up a fifth or maybe even sixth team. Hendrick Motorsports could maybe run a fifth car, too. But for teams not currently at the four-car limit, Team Penske and 23XI Racing are the two standouts. Team Penske won’t make any expansion if it doesn’t make financial sense, and the cost reductions of the NextGen car are supposed to do that. If Matt DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing keep improving as they have for the past two months, a decision will need to be made about where Austin Cindric — or DiBenedetto — will actually drive next season. Yes, Cindric has already been announced to the No. 21 next season but plans can change. For 23XI, Harrison Burton is a likely candidate for the second car there next season, especially if NASCAR’s four-car limit rule is not modified.
Alex Gallacher: I see four teams most likely adding to their stable in the future — the obvious being 23XI, expanding to most likely two or three cars next year. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin said they wanted to add cars to their team, and I’m sure Toyota wants some more cars on the grid than the five it usually has. Who do I see driving those hypothetical two extra cars? My money is John Hunter Nemechek and a ride split between the JGR Xfinity Series drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Burton. Next, I see Team Penske going to a four-car operation and giving Cindric the full-time No. 33 in 2023 after a season or two with the Wood Brothers. And finally, I see Kaulig Racing expanding following its first full-time season in 2022 to at least two cars, one for Justin Haley and one for the assortment of other drivers it has.
Adam Cheek: It will, especially since there’ll be more resources to go around. If we focus only on one-, two- and three-car teams given the limits on how many full-time cars a team can run, I would look to solo entries like 23XI and Trackhouse Racing Team to expand. Jordan and Hamlin for sure won’t be content with a single-car effort, and the No. 23 has shown speed this season but has run into quite a bit of bad luck (the flat tire and spin at Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt track and the last-lap Daytona 500 crash among them), while Trackhouse has kind of run under the radar but has been a contender early and often; Suarez already has a top-five finish and has six top-20 finishes to his name, making up half of his 12 starts. I could also see Penske (currently three cars) and Richard Childress Racing (two cars) adding fourth and third cars, respectively. While I do think RCR will focus on the Nos. 3 and 8 right now, Penske is the biggest possibility; with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney the staples there, it could add the fourth for Cindric to drive once he moves on from the Wood Brothers.
Alex Gintz: 23XI certainly has the backing and long-term ambitions to make expanding a safe bet, given that Hamlin and Jordan have both already expressed interest in doing so. I’d like to see Trackhouse expand as well, though with more lowkey backing than 23XI, that prospect won’t be a priority for the team until the end of the year. Organizations like Gibbs and Hendrick certainly may look to expand as well, especially with talent Gibbs has in the pipeline.
Dover International Speedway sold out its lone date on the Cup schedule in 2021. Should the Monster Mile return to two dates in the future, or is one race enough for a track that’s produced subpar competition in recent years?
Cheek: Dover’s one of those meh races every year for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it drops a date in the coming years. It’s possibly the most hit-or-miss track on the schedule, and the races range from snoozefests to thrillers. More often than not, they can get very monotonous. NASCAR has finally removed the second points-paying dates from tracks like Michigan International Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in recent years, so it didn’t surprise me that Dover was included in that purge as well. Given the past several years, it certainly could regain a second date in the near future if the racing there suddenly turns exceptional, but I have my doubts.
Roller: The subpar competition and diminished popularity has been caused by two things: the package and race length. Dover needs high horsepower, low downforce and tires that have a good amount of wear. Cars need to go fast, slip in the corners, and if there is a caution with 20 laps into a run, left in a stage or the race, crew chiefs really need to think about whether to stay out or come down pit road and take two or four tires. When it comes to race length, I’d really like to see NASCAR and the broadcast partners to look into splitting the 400-mile race at Dover into two separate races. I propose a 200-mile race on Saturday and a 300-mile race on Sunday. This would create a 37th points race, which is the contractual hang-up. If I’m Dover, this is what I’m lobbying for with NASCAR and the broadcast partners.
Gintz: Before returning Dover to two races, NASCAR owes the track time to establish some consistency package-wise. Dover necessitates a low-downforce package, which will generally open up strategy diversity, especially after long runs. Until this has been worked out, Dover doesn’t warrant a second race.
Gallacher: I’ve never liked Dover with this current package. Ever since we moved into the Gen-6 era, the races haven’t been too consistent; some have been amazing and others have been lame. Dover is on a list of tracks where I never understood why they had two race dates in the first place; for now, one is good enough.
William Byron is on a historic streak right now, becoming the first Hendrick driver to earn 10 straight top 10s since Jeff Gordon in 2007. Is he the top championship threat from HMS this season?
Why not?. William Byron
finally has his act together after a few underwhelming seasons in the No. 24. I don’t see Byron as a threat for the championship, but in the current format, who knows these days? He has just as good a chance as anyone.
Byron is the top threat for the championship at this point in the season. Since leaving Daytona International Speedway, Byron, Rudy Fugle and the rest of the No. 24 have been quietly the best team at Hendrick. Chase Elliott
usually starts out slow but has typically picked it up a bit more 12 races into the season than he has. Under this playoff format, if you make the playoffs, you have a shot. The way Byron has run this season, those finishes should get him to the Round of 8, if he remains consistent.
At this point, I like Kyle Larson
for the championship. While the overall results don’t quite match those of Byron, Larson’s performance in a new team being so impressive from the start of the season leaves me thinking the No. 5 team will only become more of a threat as the season goes on. Byron will need to maintain his consistency and then some to seal the deal.
I’m torn on this one, because the consistency is there from Byron and the No. 24. Bringing back Fugle to team up with Byron again after their mammoth rookie season together is a huge plus, but Byron hasn’t been up front often. He’s in the top five or top 10 but not contending for the lead on a consistent basis; that’s been Larson. Alex Bowman
has been up and down the running order but does have a win, while defending champ Elliott has some decent finishes and two runner-up efforts, so I’d rank Byron second behind Larson. Byron dominated at Homestead-Miami Speedway but has just 150 laps led, while, despite some bad luck befalling the No. 5 team, Larson has led a whopping 511 — third among all drivers.
After having his appeal overturned, Noah Gragson sits in ninth in the playoff standings, 36 points above the cutline. Is Gragson in actual jeopardy of missing the postseason, or will the No. 9 team get its act together?
With or without the disqualification, Noah Gragson
will make the playoffs. Both driver and car are more than capable, and it’s a matter of time before the No. 9 is back in victory lane. I’m not sure, however, if Gragson’s consistency will be up to par, given his rough start to this season.
Gallacher: Gragson has had some bad luck this season and most likely should’ve had a win at Homestead. No, I don’t see him missing the playoffs at all.
I have a solid level of confidence that Gragson will find victory lane at some point this season; like Larson, a lot of bad luck has come his way, especially the completely accidental failure David Starr
had at Homestead. Stuff happens. But JR Motorsports does have the speed (as Justin Allgaier
and Josh Berry
have already shown by getting to victory lane this year), and Gragson already has a couple of Xfinity wins to his name, so I figure they’ll get in. But it’s a matter of how much Gragson’s aggression and late-season desperation will factor in. Given the limited number of prominent title contenders in comparison to the bigger teams, he’ll likely get in, be it on points or with wins. It’s just a matter of balancing the driver with the car and the situations he’s in week in and week out.
Roller: Gragson will get a win and pull himself up by his bootstraps. The speed is there, the will is there, but he just have to get all the switches on the railroad track aligned on the same track. Right now, I know Gragson is gonna be fast, but I don’t know how the team is going to finish. The Xfinity Series has 17 races left before the playoffs, and Gragson and his team will win before then.
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