Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Is Trackhouse Outracing 23XI?

1. Is Trackhouse showing up 23X1?

23X1 Racing and Trackhouse Racing have one similarity in that both entered NASCAR’s top series last season.

This year, Trackhouse continues to be, by far the better of the two teams, at least early on. Given the expectations for 23XI, partially due to Michael Jordan expressing at the start of last year an expectation to win multiple races, Trackhouse rivals Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain both challenging for the race win in each of the past two weeks cannot be good for morale in the Jordan/Denny Hamlin camp.

Will it transfer into a lack of job security on the No. 45 and No. 23 teams, whose ceiling in the last two races has been around the top 10?

A bit of a grace period is in order for the No. 45 since it’s only Kurt Busch‘s third race with the team after last week in Vegas. As for Bubba Wallace, right now his on-track reputation is as a very good superspeedway racer. There’s nothing wrong with that, as NASCAR history is peppered with drivers who were exceptional on larger tracks. At some point, though, performance has to improve. Sure, Bootie Barker moving atop the pit box guided Wallace to a Talladega win, but is it enough?

Wallace isn’t going anywhere. This is a sponsor-driven business, and Wallace, loathe him or love him, brings a lot of eyeballs and sponsors. But if Trackhouse continues to outperform 23X1, life could get tough for some on the No. 23 or No. 45 teams.

2. Did Busch’s radio rant ruin things?

What is it about Kyle Busch and new cars, anyway? When he won the first race in the Car of Tomorrow, Busch was barely out of the racecar when he bemoaned what was then NASCAR’s new car. Flashforward to Sunday at Las Vegas.

It had every element of a vintage win by Busch, racing a backup car that had to be put together like Humpty Dumpty after his big fall. He even overcame an early-race incident to be in a position to win late before a late caution foiled those hopes.

Busch put on his best face post-race, but his expletive-laden rant on his team radio negated any feelings of goodwill.

Sunday should have been about one of this sport’s best drivers showcasing why he’s one of this sport’s best. But that’s not what commanded all of the post-race chatter. Instead, it was about how Busch handled a remarkable rally coming up short. Bad breaks happen. It’s part of racing. It’s hard to tell that based on the post-race reaction from inside No. 18 car.

It turned what could have been a remarkable moment into one that took away from an incredible display of driving talent, and that’s a shame.

3. Is Phoenix a make or break for Harvick?

Here’s a phrase you never thought you would utter in the middle of the 2020 season.

Kevin Harvick is on a 46-race winless streak. He’s certainly been close, especially last year at Bristol. Through three races this year, he has guided the No. 4 car to a best finish of seventh at Auto Club Speedway, then came home 12th last week at Vegas. That’s a solid start to the season, but not what you saw from this team a few years ago.

For a team and driver like Harvick that obviously knows how to run well, the ticket might just be running near the front and contending for the win. That’s why this week at Phoenix is well-timed for Harvick, who has won there nine times, including four in a row at one point. His last finish there outside the top 10? 2013.

If there was ever a place for Harvick to get shot in the arm, this is it. If this weekend sees the No. 4 run around 15th or so, however, it’ll be hard not to reach for the panic button.

4. Is less better for FOX?

I’m not naive. I am very aware that, unfortunately, the late 1980s/early 1990s era of NASCAR on ESPN was the peak of the sport’s TV coverage, and it’s a time that will never come back again. One reason, by far, is the personalities. Try as everyone may, arguably the best broadcasting combo across all sports was Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett (with the Braves on TBS crew a close second), and it’s a group that’s never coming back.

But one thing the sport’s coverage did well in that time period was to simplify things. There was seldom a crazy or outrageous skit. Luckily, we don’t have to still ask what purpose “Digger” exists for, as that experiment ended. Sure, you had three announcers, but all of them provided insight and expertise.

Currently, NASCAR on FOX opts to rotate a third guest announcer each week, and one has to wonder how that impacts chemistry with a new face rotating in so often.

There’s a case to be made to keep things as simple as possible during race broadcasts, and that’s an idea worth considering, especially as NASCAR seeks to court new fans.

5. Should the season start with the West Coast swing?

NASCAR wraps up its west coast swing this weekend at Phoenix. It’ll conclude three weeks of the sport enjoying mostly good weather at three different venues.

The past few weeks have offered a healthy mixture of tracks giving drivers different ways to hone strengths and weaknesses rather than a luck of the draw superspeedway race.

That is nothing against Daytona and Talladega, where just watching can raise your blood pressure. But racing at Phoenix, Auto Club and Vegas is a much better measurement of driving talent.

That’s why NASCAR should consider starting the season out west and then heading to Daytona, followed by Atlanta.

Nowhere in the NASCAR rulebook does it say that the season must start in Daytona. In fact, there was a time when the season began at Riverside Speedway and then headed to Daytona. By giving teams a few weeks to build momentum, the excitement could be even higher for the 500. It’d make travel costs a heck of a lot easier for teams, too.

The sport is bigger than one track, and it’s time the schedule reflects that.

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WJW Motorsports

Agreed – Bubba’s prowess on superspeedways in inclement weather is legendary within the sport. And while I hope Trackhouse does well and blows 23X off the map – let’s not get too crazy here and pretend they aren’t just Ganassi with different stickers on the cars. It’s not like they are just a couple guys building cars in their parent’s garage at this point.

john dawg chapman

As for Kyle’s rant, in a word YES!

I’ve been following NASCAR for over 50 years, & I’ve never heard of a team turning away potential sponsors before, so $$ won’t be a problem near term. Jordon’s expectations were, & are totally unreasonable.
It’s talent that wins races, & not just driving talent. I’m not a fan of Hamlin, but I respect him & expect him to put the people in place to make things happen. Both 23X1 & Trackhouse have looked good & have better things to come.

As for Harvick, I’ve seen a point in many winning drivers careers when it’s like flipping a switch & the wins dry up. Not saying Harvick’s there yet, but at his age it wouldn’t surprise me. I do expect a few more wins, but maybe no more multiple win seasons.
Overall, things seem to be looking up at Stewart Hass. And that’s good, because it sure looks like both of the owners seem to have lost interest in NASCAR.

Echo

Michael Jordan has never cared that his NBA team is a bad team. He doesn’t care if they lose, as long as they make him money to gamble with. It will be the same with Nascar, get those sponsors, I need money for blackjack and betting on my golf games.

Bill B

Except he might find that NASCAR isn’t the guaranteed payday that other professional sports are.

Echo

True, and then Denny finds himself with a big problem.

Christopher

Kyle Busch’s ridiculous rant is just a glimpse into the miserable person he is, and completely unjustified as well. Bowman dropped to the back after a bad pit stop and then drove his way to the front, setting up the last start. Ben Beshore could just have easily called a 2-tire stop for Busch but didn’t. If Busch wants to rant it should have been directed at a misguided pit call.

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