Why was Talladega Superspeedway surprisingly clean last weekend?
Kurt Busch has been out for months with concussion symptoms and Alex Bowman has been ruled out for the last two weekends with concussion symptoms as well. And with the announcement that Cody Ware will be sitting out on Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL (Oct. 9), there will be three drivers simultaneously sitting out from injury for the first time since at least 2004.
It has been an ominous two weeks, and the fact that Talladega was on the schedule last Sunday (Oct. 2) didn’t help. With safety on everyone’s mind, Last week, I wrote that drivers should have the right to sit out if they felt overly concerned about racing at Talladega.
That didn’t happen. The Big One never happened either. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday (Oct. 1) had every car running at the finish and the 500-miler for Cup had only three cars retire due to crash damage. Both races ended in photo finishes, and neither was dragged out due to crashes at the finish. With the concerns heading into the weekend, the outcome of last weekend was a relief.
The tranquil races at Talladega came on the heels of a destructive weekend at Daytona International Speedway in August. While numerous cars crashed in the rain during the Cup race, both the Xfinity race and the first half of the Cup race were not short of crashes caused by aggressive driving.
That weekend, along with the concerns heading into Talladega, may have influenced how the Cup race played out. A third lane rarely formed, and drivers were mostly stuck in a tug of war for 188 laps as the inside lane tried to prevail over the outside and vice versa. Drivers were pushing the cars in front of them, but there was only one incident due to a bad bump. There were few egregious blocks, and in a two-lap shootout to decide the finish, not a single car crashed before the checkered flag waved.
Both the Cup and Xfinity finishes were impressive for the way that they ended. Instead of pulling an aggressive move that wadded up half the field, drivers running in 10th appeared resigned to the fact that they couldn’t make magic happen after the white flag. All the aggressive moves happened up front, but no one up front threw caution to the wind either.
It was a welcoming sign, and the owners likely appreciated not having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs. We’ll see at Daytona next year if the same kind of driving returns on superspeedways.
This weekend at the Charlotte ROVAL is the cutoff for the Round of 12. What is the outlook?
With today’s news that William Byron‘s 25-point penalty has been rescinded, the current playoff grid is Chase Elliott (advanced), Ryan Blaney (+32), Ross Chastain (+28), Denny Hamlin (+21), Joey Logano (+18), Kyle Larson (+18), Byron (+14), Daniel Suarez (+12), Austin Cindric (-12), Chase Briscoe (-12) and Christopher Bell (-45), with Bowman eliminated.
As is the case with all road courses, the stage cautions will paint a perplexing picture of who will and will not advance to the Round of 8. Some drivers will sacrifice track position to score as many stage points as possible while others will sacrifice stage points to have coveted track position for the final stage of the race.
With Elliott advanced and Bell in a must-win situation, they both have the luxury of not having to worry about stage points. For them, the only mission is to retain track position and be out front when the checkered flag waves.
Blaney, Chastain and Hamlin are likely safe on points unless they fail to finish, but their advancement isn’t a guarantee. Their strategy may be to collect points in stage one as insurance and forgo stage two to be out front for the end of the race.
For everyone else, every point is crucial, and that may mean staying out in both stages to rack up as many points as possible. Unless one of the teams is confident in having a car that can win the race, missing out on up to 20 points in the stages may be the difference between advancement and elimination.
For the race win, Elliott can never be counted out on road courses. He’s winless on them in 2022, but he came close to wins at Road America and Watkins Glen International after leading the most laps. He’s also won two of the last three at this track and is fresh off a huge win at Talladega.
AJ Allmendinger will be a dark horse candidate for the win, as he is a perfect 3-for-3 in the Xfinity Series at the track. He was also in contention on the final lap to win at Watkins Glen and Circuit of the Americas earlier this season, and just like Elliott, he will not have to worry about stage points. Byron also has a chance, as he has led a combined 80 laps in his last three starts at the track. Beyond them, Larson, Tyler Reddick and Trackhouse Racing Team will also show up to play.
All that’s known now is that it will be an intense 109 laps.
Race for the Championship has struggled with poor ratings. Will its inclusion on Peacock be the fix it needs?
NASCAR fans have been treated to Race for the Championship, a new documentary series that takes a closer look into the professional and personal lives of drivers and their teams involved in making NASCAR possible, since September.
It has generated mostly positive reviews from the people that have watched it. And with the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, there were hopes that the series would help put NASCAR back on the map.
Unfortunately, the keyword there is the people that have watched it, as the series has seen disastrous ratings in its first weeks. The Sept. 29 episode hit rock bottom with just 96,000 viewers — a number smaller than the population of Concord, N.C.
The "Race For The Championship" NASCAR series averaged 96,000 viewers on the USA Network last night.
Last week’s episode averaged 173,000 viewers. That’s almost a 50% drop in viewership.
— Austin Konenski (@AustinKonenski) September 30, 2022
The ratings have the alarm bells ringing at USA Network and NBC, and it was announced earlier today (Oct. 6) that the series will now be available in full on Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) October 6, 2022
What didn’t help the show was that it aired on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA Network. With the show being on cable at that timeslot, it’s not a surprise to see the ratings struggle. The move to Peacock is crucial, as viewers can now watch the entire series at any time they please. That is part of the reason why streaming services have exploded, as waiting for a certain timeslot to watch a show is no longer necessary.
However, of the streaming services available, Peacock is still no match to Netflix or Amazon Prime, to name a few. That’s to be expected though, and the remainder of season one will be a test to see if Race for the Championship gains a wider following. And if Peacock continues to grow in subscribers, the chances of success will only go up.
For now, the goal is to see if the show has enough success to get renewed for 2023. And if that’s the case, it would be time to begin testing the market in streaming services beyond Peacock.
With its new changes, will Kaulig Racing perform better in 2023?
There was a lot to unpack in Kaulig’s Wednesday (Oct. 5) announcement. It was first announced that Allmendinger will return to full-time Cup competition for Kaulig’s No. 16 car. Likewise, Justin Haley is back in the No. 31 to complete Kaulig’s Cup lineup for 2023.
In a surprising twist, it was announced that NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Chandler Smith will leave longtime home Toyota to replace Allmendinger in the No. 16 Xfinity car. The rest of the Xfinity lineup is expected to remain the same, as it was announced that Landon Cassill was returning the No. 10 car as well. The only question mark is Daniel Hemric and the No. 11, as the team has stated it would love to have the defending champion return if sponsorship can be found.
2022 has also been a year of growing pains, as the team expanded from a part-time Cup car in 2021 to a two-car team this season. While Allmendinger has been cruising to the tune of four wins and 25 top 10s in 28 races on the Xfinity side, Cassill and Hemric have struggled to run up front. Likewise, the Cup cars have struggled with consistency aside from a pair of third-place finishes for Haley and Allmendinger’s results on road courses.
All of that is to be expected, and the team will likely be a greater force next season with a year of experience under its belt. Allmendinger will be a threat to win at road courses and more, while Haley will be aided in his improvement by Allmendinger’s years of experience at the Cup level. On the Xfinity side — assuming that Hemric returns — Cassill and Hemric will each have another year to turn around disappointing seasons. Smith may struggle at first, but it takes time for most drivers to figure it out at this level.
And with Kaulig’s 2023 plans largely squared away in early October, it will have more than four months to prepare for another year of racing.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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