Can the Next Gen’s ability to put on better shows at 1.5-mile tracks save even Texas [Motor Speedway]? – @Walker_Skeeter
Frankly, if TMS is dead, I think the Next Gen killed it.
In May of this year, the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race returned for the second time to the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. Ryan Blaney won the race (and the check for $1 million), but the lack of on-track passing and farcical overtime situation left many fans with a bad taste in their mouths.
That’s certainly nothing new for Texas, as ever since its 2017 repave, it’s been the subject of concentrated vitriol from both NASCAR and IndyCar fans. While the introduction of the Next Gen car this season has revitalized racing on the Cup Series’ numerous mile-and-a-half speedways in 2022, Texas has been left behind. While Auto Club Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway have produced some of the most exciting racing action this year, their fellow intermediate oval in Fort Worth gave us yet another stinker.
RYAN BLANEY (officially) WINS THE 2022 ALL-STAR RACE.
Retweet to congratulate the No. 12 team on their Texas victory! pic.twitter.com/0isKFlZr94
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 23, 2022
And so, despite Texas already advertising its All-Star date, NASCAR dropped TMS down to a single date in 2023 with the traditional fall playoff race. And, in the greatest irony in the history of motorsports scheduling, gave the spring date back to North Wilkesboro Speedway, the short track from which Texas had taken the date in 1997.
It seems the North Wilkesboro decision happened at the last minute, with the All-Star announcement coming just days after the historic North Carolina racetrack unexpectedly suspended its Racetrack Revival dirt series, preserving the old asphalt layout for use by the Cup cars in 2023.
There’s no way to read this other than a lack of confidence in Texas’ product, one that NASCAR has been wrestling with for nearly half a decade. While longtime TMS president Eddie Gossage long held a monopoly on racing dates in the Lone Star State, NASCAR held a long-awaited race at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas starting in 2021. That race, the Echo Park Texas Grand Prix, keeps its spring date in 2023.
38 weekends of non-stop action.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 14, 2022
However you look at it, TMS’ hold on racing in the state of Texas is weakening by the year. But that isn’t to say that NASCAR will rule it out forever. Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway both previously dropped down to a single date before returning to two apiece in 2021. And — I can’t say it enough — North Wilkesboro is coming back.
Until TMS is reduced to rubble and turned into a shopping center, I’d never rule out the possibility of NASCAR deciding to race there twice a year once again. All it will take is interest.
Whether that’s a car change, a repave or the reconfiguration-to-a-Texas-World-Speedway-clone I keep pushing on this site, should something change in NASCAR to make fans excited to show up to Fort Worth — or more importantly, tune in on television — NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports will happily throw some other track aside to get a second date for TMS.
I wouldn’t sign the death certificate yet, but Next Gen or not, Texas in its current form isn’t long for this world.
What is the status of the [Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series] team in 2023? With Brandon Jones leaving for [JR Motorsports] and Ty Gibbs leaving, will the team field four cars or just two? – @Clowe1411
I predict neither four nor two, but three.
Here’s the thing. Joe Gibbs Racing’s current situation reminds me a lot of Hendrick Motorsports in the latter half of the 2010s, when first Jeff Gordon, then Dale Earnhardt Jr., then Kasey Kahne and finally Jimmie Johnson retired, leaving seats open for Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Kyle Larson, respectively. While Larson was an exception, the other three failed to set the world on fire for their first couple of years in the Cup Series.
Last year, though, they combined to win 17 of 36 races.
With Kyle Busch out for 2023 and elder statesmen Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin surely not far behind, JGR is in store for a generational changing of the guard, one that will likely be built around Joe Gibbs’ grandson, JGR Xfinity Series phenom Ty Gibbs (who, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, has not yet been announced as the driver of the No. 18 in 2023, though he almost certainly will be).
But as talented as he may be, Gibbs can’t drive three racecars, and so every lower-series driver in NASCAR likely views a JGR Xfinity Series seat as a quick and easy path to the Cup Series with one of the best teams around.
With Brandon Jones making the move to JRM next year, Gibbs all but guaranteed as Busch’s replacement and the No. 18 making a run at the owner’s championship with a variety of drivers, all three JGR Supras are currently open for next season, ready for the next generation of Toyota Racing talent to make their mark on NASCAR’s second-tier series.
NEWS: @BrandonJonesRac named to JR Motorsports 2023 lineup.
— JR Motorsports (@JRMotorsports) September 14, 2022
First, I’d say that Sammy Smith is all but guaranteed as a full-time driver. The young Iowan is tearing up the ARCA Menards Series this year and has been running a majority of Xfinity Series races for JGR since he turned 18 in June, scoring a top five at Watkins Glen International in just his third career start. Smith is likely to follow the path forged by Ty Gibbs, skipping the Camping World Truck Series entirely and jumping straight into success at the Xfinity level.
Most importantly, Smith has a consistent, loyal sponsor in Iowa-based Pilot/Flying J. With both talent and backing, I don’t see a world in which Smith isn’t handed a full-time drive next season, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish.
From one Smith to another, I can’t imagine JGR isn’t seriously considering Truck Series championship contender Chandler Smith for the other full-time car. Behind the wheel of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 Tundra, Smith has impressed by scoring three wins and eight top fives so far, regularly out-racing his more experienced teammate John Hunter Nemechek.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) August 14, 2022
He would also bring some funding from electric vehicle infrastructure company Charge Me, which has backed Smith’s exploits with KBM as well as his occasional ventures into the Xfinity Series with Sam Hunt Racing (the other SHR).
With an all-Smith full-time lineup, I’d expect to see JGR continue to operate the No. 18 as a part-time car, both for its Cup drivers to make the occasional start and for experienced journeymen like Ryan Truex and Trevor Bayne to show off their skills.
Of course, the rumored departure of Nemechek from KBM’s Truck Series program suggests he may find himself behind the wheel of an Xfinity Series GR Supra in 2023, but I’d think it’s far more likely that Nemechek will find a full-time home at SHR behind the wheel of the No. 26.
Will all, or any, of these three Toyota prospects find themselves behind the wheel of a JGR Cup car in years to come? That I can’t predict, but I will say that as long as there’s a chance that any driver could graduate from the Xfinity team to NASCAR’s premier series, JGR won’t have any difficulty filling the seats.
About the author
Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.
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