The NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas took almost three-and-a-half hours. If the Cup Series returns to the track, should something be done to lessen that overall race time?
Anthony Damcott: If NASCAR wants to run the same amount of laps, it should at least consider the option of running the shorter national circuit length of the track, which is only 2.3 miles. If not, local yellows have to be a future consideration; the only time full-course cautions should be thrown is if either a major crash with extensive cleanup occurs or debris/fluid is laid down on the racing surface.
Luken Glover: Reducing the number of laps would be key to reducing the time, which needs to be done. COTA is a 3.41-mile track, with the race there being 68 laps. For what it’s worth, Formula 1 goes faster on the track than a stock car, and they do 56. That’s too many laps for a race that uses the full layout and goes slower.
Brad Harrison: COTA got a mulligan last year with the weather during the Cup race. That was not the case this year, and track officials need to be held accountable for a race format that made the event tough to watch. Not only should the race be shorter, but with so few laps already due to the track’s length, the consideration of not counting caution laps in the final 20 laps should also be strongly considered.
Stephen Stumpf: At Road America and COTA, NASCAR needs to implement local yellows. If the NTT IndyCar Series and F1 do it, why can’t NASCAR? If a car gets stuck in a gravel trap, there is no reason for a full-course caution to bring the field down to a snail’s pace for seven-plus minutes. Instead, have the field run slower through the corner while the safety crews work to either free the car or tow it into the infield. Local yellows would also stop people from stalling on the track to bring out a caution. While there are runoff areas for slow cars to pull off the track, drivers won’t do it if they can bring out caution. For instance, Erik Jones stalled during the middle of Sunday’s race, and he came back to finish ninth. If he pulled off the track, he would’ve finished further down the order. But if local yellows can remove the possibility of full-course cautions, drivers will look to pull off the track.
The first six Cup races of the season have seen three first-time winners, while former champions like Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have struggled mightily. Which former champion do you expect to turn around their season this weekend at Richmond Raceway?
Glover: In the past 15 races at Richmond, Kevin Harvick has eight top-five finishes, 11 top 10s and only one finish outside the top 15. He also owns three wins at the track. While Harvick is still not at the level to which we are accustomed, he has shown flashes of being more competitive upfront this season. When Harvick figures a track out, he can be lethal. Even if he doesn’t get the win this weekend, anything outside of a top five or top 10 would be a cause for concern.
Damcott: Kyle Busch is definitely one to watch at Richmond. He has six wins and 25 top 10s in 32 starts at the track. He’s off to a solid start this season, nearly winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and racking up three top 10s in six starts. Two factors will help fuel Busch to win this weekend: Richmond is a playground for Toyota (the race being sponsored by Toyota is a little extra motivation), and in his last two starts, he has finished 33rd and 28th, so he will be looking to rebound this weekend in a big way.
Joy Tomlinson: Martin Truex Jr. He has three wins, all within the last five races. He won last fall after leading 80 laps and swept 2019, leading over 100 laps in each event. Plus, he hasn’t finished worse than fifth in each of the last six events at Richmond. Though he is ranked seventh in points above his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, he crashed out early at Phoenix Raceway. Truex could use a bounce back at one of his best short tracks.
Harrison: There’ve been a few times where the Stewart-Haas Racing bunch of drivers not named Chase Briscoe, namely Harvick, have showed signs of breaking through. Next to Phoenix, Richmond has historically been one of Harvick’s better tracks, even back in his Richard Childress Racing days, Harvick and Rodney Childers have not forgotten how to run up and front each week, and if they get one win soon, it could easily be the catalyst for getting out of a funk that has seemingly plagued them since fall 2020.
The first points-paying short track race of this Cup season takes place at Richmond. What are your expectations for the Next Gen car there?
Stumpf: The Next Gen car has provided an abundance of yellow flags in the first six races. Richmond will most likely be the first race that breaks this trend with long green-flag runs. Last fall at Richmond, there were two green flag runs that lasted over 140 laps, and the race ended on a 146-lap green-flag streak to the finish. While this weekend’s race may not be that clean, it will be tamer than the first six of the 2022 season. In addition, the Next Gen car has made it easier for drivers to pass at all of the racetracks the series has been to, and a common complaint in the past few years is that Richmond has grown stale. Perhaps we will see the opposite this weekend.
Harrison: Much like Bristol Motor Speedway, many fans want to see the old Richmond back. Track temperatures should play a role, and that’ll be yet another test for the new car. At some point, this car is bound to produce a dud of a race. For the sake of the short track product, NASCAR needs an exciting race. If not, the chief goal of the new car will fall short and crank up the heat in a hurry to fix one of the bedrocks of the history of the spot.
Tomlinson: Whoever will start near the front will likely lead a lot of laps at the beginning, but the lead could get shuffled during pit stops, especially under yellow-flag conditions. Long green-flag runs could make the race a bit boring (at least on television), but I expect that at short tracks. Hopefully no tires will fall off this week.
Glover: So far, the Next Gen car has not disappointed me on any of the tracks. Richmond is a track that needs the Next Gen car to work. Several races in the past few years have not produced the side-by-side, trading-paint battles we’re accustomed to at Richmond. Yellows shouldn’t determine how good a race is, but Richmond’s lack of cautions in the past few races shows that the intensity is not where it once was. Part of that is on NASCAR for not looking into sealing the track or looking at the surface. Richmond has a great fan experience, modern facilities and great energy. The only thing that’s been lacking over the past few years is racing. I expect that to change with the Next Gen car.
Kaulig Racing nearly won both the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity series races at COTA with AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel. Has Kaulig surpassed others as the top team in the Xfinity garage?
Tomlinson: No, it was just one race. AJ Allmendinger, and Kaulig as a whole, did well at one of the types of tracks at which it usually excels — a road course. There isn’t one team that is currently on top, though JR Motorsports is making a case for that early on with three of its drivers in the top five in the standings. But we’ve seen five different drivers and teams win thus far, which count the most as far as making it into the playoffs. Let’s wait until May to see what team is strongest.
Damcott: Kaulig’s story is incredible, and its meteoric rise to success has definitely earned it the right to say that it is one of the top teams in the Xfinity garage. But I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s the top team. One thing JGR and JRM have on Kaulig is driver longevity. Almost every driver within those teams seems to be (or has been) in the Xfinity Series for the long term, with the possible exception of Ty Gibbs, Sam Mayer and Noah Gragson. Kaulig has gone through a lot of drivers throughout its time in the series, and its lineup is one that may be changing soon as well. Allmendinger, the oldest and most successful of the bunch, is inching closer and closer to retirement. Daniel Hemric, the defending champion, most likely looks to return to Cup and struggles to close out wins. Landon Cassill needs to prove himself this year if he wants any shot at a top-tier ride again. Matt Kaulig likes when his drivers get trophies, and if they don’t get, he ends up looking for another driver at season’s end. Until it can get itself a solid, semi-long-term lineup, it’s a stretch to say Kaulig is the best.
Glover: I would not give it that title quite yet. JRM and JGR still appear to have more raw speed on all track types. Kaulig struggled at Phoenix, a place at which it has had similar issues before. As a whole, JRM has a stronger roster, with Gragson, Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier consistently contenders at the front and Mayer not far behind. Allmendinger is no doubt a perennial title contender, while Hemric is the defending champion who will find his footing. Cassill has been streaky speed-wise to start the year and hasn’t shown race-winning pace. Kaulig is nearly at the top of the ladder, but there is still work to be done.
Stumpf: Kaulig in the Xfinity Series is at about the same strength as last year. If you discount the success that the team has had in the Cup Series, Allmendinger is running about the same in Xfinity as last year, with road-course domination and the occasional oval race where he is a threat for the win. He is also competing for the regular-season points lead, which is something that he also did in 2021. Behind Allmendinger, however, the rest of the team is lagging behind. Hemric and Cassill have had occasional flashes of success this season, but they are both well behind Allmendinger and off to slow starts. JRM is the best team in the Xfinity Series.
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How about unrestricted engines? That should shorten the lap times. That would increase the number of laps shown between 3 minutes of commercials every five minutes of event time. And maybe increase speed on caution laps until they get close to the pits.
Local yellows should be in use for anything other than major wreaks or fluid/debris on track. Maybe not at Indy or the Roval, but at the natural terrain courses, COTA, RA, The Glen, & Sears, there is no reason not to utilize them. Speeding up the pace laps, everywhere other than the area of the caution, might also help. As long as the cause of the caution isn’t in a location that could impact entering/using pit road, allowing cars to pit as soon as a yellow comes out, instead of waiting for them to be collected by the pace car, could speed yellows up too. Other series do this, without any issues.
I never want to see shorter races.
On a separate topic, is NASCAR media going to cover COTA was the lowest watched race of the year? May not fit the popular narrative – but nothing wrong with reporting the facts. It seems we hear of full stands and wild fan interest for road courses. Based on observation from last week, we may not be getting the facts.