Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: It’s Time for NASCAR Drivers to Stop Treating Themselves as Invincible

Will the Bubba Wallace suspension put an end to on-track retaliations?

There have been too many times this season where drivers have retaliated with their cars.

Joey Logano knocking William Byron into the wall at Darlington Raceway. Noah Gragson attempting to turn Sage Karam at Road America and igniting a Big One. Denny Hamlin running Ross Chastain out of room and sparking a crash at Pocono Raceway. Byron spinning Hamlin out under caution at Texas Motor Speedway. Ty Gibbs playing bumper cars with Ty Dillon on pit road at Texas.

And most recently, Bubba Wallace right-rearing Kyle Larson into the wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a crash that totaled their cars as well as Christopher Bell‘s.

It’s disappointing to see. These cars are speeding missiles that can become a weapon at any given moment. Prior to Vegas, none of the above incidents resulted in a suspension (though Gragson’s and Gibbs’ actions certainly warranted them). Even if Wallace’s suspension went against previous precedents this season, NASCAR needed to send a message to the entire field that these actions should not be tolerated.

Especially when there have been mounting safety concerns with the Next Gen car and its impacts. We are currently in a year where there is overwhelming concern for a driver’s well-being immediately after any crash. A lot of drivers may not have been around or even alive to witness NASCAR’s four fatalities between May 2000 and February 2001, but just because safety improvements have been made does not mean that drivers should have the green light to engage in road rage. It doesn’t matter what year it is, there is always an inherent risk in stepping behind the wheel of these automobiles.

Also disappointing is the amount of careless driving exhibited at the finish of these races. While none of these were intentional, Chastain sent AJ Allmendinger spinning into Alex Bowman on the last lap at Circuit of the Americas. Chase Briscoe tried a divebomb move on Tyler Reddick that resulted in both drivers spinning out on the final lap at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott pulled a late block on Corey LaJoie that sent the latter crashing in turn 2 on the final lap.

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Cup drivers collectively threw caution to the wind by spinning or crashing at least a combined 10 times in the closing laps of the two. That’s not even mentioning the superspeedway races, which have (mostly) turned into chaotic crash-fests in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck series this season.

Accidents will always be a part of racing, but it is disappointing to see the number of on-track retaliations and the lack of give and take at the finish of these races. The drivers are only human, and even the slightest of mistakes can result in a devastating crash. Somewhere along the way, that message got lost in translation.

If drivers have an issue with a crash or how they were being raced, they either need to get payback with a simple spin at Martinsville Speedway or talk it on pit road or behind closed doors after the race. Hopefully this ruling does just that going forward.

See also
Did You Notice?: NASCAR Bubba Wallace Suspension Sets New Precedent It Must Uphold

The Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is going head-to-head with Formula 1 at Circuit of the Americas. Why?

The Cup Series and its viewers have gotten used to 3 p.m. ET starts for much of the season. Criticism of the unified start time runs rampant during hot summer races and rainy days that had a clear window open earlier in the afternoon.

There is a reason for NBC’s late afternoon starts, though, as that is the sweet spot to maximize a viewing audience on a Sunday afternoon.

That said, the decision to put this Sunday’s (Oct. 23) race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on at 2:30 p.m. ET is a head-scratcher. With the start time, the race will be directly competing against the U.S. Grand Prix at COTA. That will be a hit in drawing racing fans away from NBC’s broadcast, but a double whammy is the race will also have to go against the NFL, as it does during every week of the playoffs.

With the scheduling conflicts, it is a missed opportunity to not run this race at night or dusk. During Homestead’s time as the season finale during the elimination format (2014-2019), the final race of the season started in daylight and ended under the lights. It would’ve been special to return to that for a weekend, especially when considering that the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 are the only day-to-night races remaining.

We won’t know until the ratings are released early next week, but it would be a miracle to see a dramatic improvement from years past.

Title favorites AJ Allmendinger and John Hunter Nemechek are below the cut. Can they make magic happen this weekend?

Xfinity regular-season champion Allmendinger had a rough outing at Vegas, as an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel in the final 30 laps put him two laps off the pace in 22nd. With two races remaining before the finale at Phoenix Raceway, Allmendinger has two races to make up 16 points.

While Allmendinger doesn’t have a win at Homestead in the Xfinity Series, he finished fourth at the track in 2020 and led 45 laps in the 2021 running before ending up 14th at the finish. Given how consistent the No. 16 Kaulig Racing team has been this season, they’ll come prepared for this Saturday’s (Oct. 22) race.

However, Allmendinger does not control his own destiny for the next two weeks. He has the potential to finish well and score of stage points, but so do Gibbs and Justin Allgaier, the drivers above the cut line that he’s trying to track down. Likewise, a win by Austin Hill, Brandon Jones or Sam Mayer would be disastrous, as that would represent yet another driver leapfrogging him to take a spot. For the No. 16 team, the goal at Homestead is to get the best finish possible and see how the cut line stands in preparation for the penultimate race at Martinsville.

While John Hunter Nemechek hasn’t reached the same highs as he did in the 2021 Truck season, 2022 has been a successful season nonetheless, as he has scored two wins while establishing himself in the top three for much of the season in regular season points. But after a 12th-place at Bristol Motor Speedway after starting last and a 24th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway after a last lap crash, Nemechek now finds himself five points below the cut with just one race remaining before Phoenix.

For Nemechek and the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports team, this Saturday’s race at Homestead is a question mark. The race was taken off the 2021 schedule at the last moment, which means that this weekend will mark Nemechek’s debut at the track in a KBM truck.

In four prior starts at Homestead in a truck, Nemechek has two top 10s. That number includes a second-place finish at the track in 2015, as he led 24 laps in one of his most impressive outings of the season as an 18-year-old.

Kyle Busch won the most recent Truck race at the track in 2020, but his results are generally not indicative of the series regulars on the team. KBM has won five races at Homestead in the Truck Series, with three coming from the boss while the other two came from Wallace (2014) and Byron (2016).

Even with the impressive showings from Nemechek and KBM in the past, there will be a mystique in watching them work together at the first time there. Given the chaotic nature at Talladega and having to play catchup at Bristol earlier in the round, it’s likely the No. 4 team has saved up a truck that will run up front all afternoon on Saturday.

See also
Truckin' Thursdays: Setting the Truck Series Championship 4

It’s a two-horse race for the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing car. Who should get it?

For much of the summer, it appeared that Cole Custer would reprise his role in the No. 41 car for 2023. But as of last weekend, there is another driver reportedly in consideration: Ryan Preece.

Preece had been rumored to the No. 10 car earlier in the year, but that ride went away with Aric Almirola‘s unretirement. Preece looked to be the odd man out at SHR until last weekend.

It’s a split decision among the SHR co-owners. It’s reported Gene Haas is in favor of Custer returning for another year, while Tony Stewart wants to put Preece in the car for 2023.

It is not a surprise to see Stewart want to try to mix things up. It had been a brutal two weeks for him and SHR as a whole, and his involvement and interest in the team has significantly waned. The fact that Stewart missed out on Larson in free agency and that the team has been on a downturn since 2021 hasn’t helped things either. With another season below expectations, it’s not a surprise to see Stewart want to try something different and find a new spark.

Plus, the reality is that Custer has yet to improve on his rookie season in 2020. In that year, he scored an upset win with a last-lap pass at Kentucky Speedway and recorded five top-10 finishes. In the 69 races since the start of 2021, Custer only has five top 10s and zero top fives. He finished 26th in points in 2021, and that’s where he sits with three races left in 2022.

If Stewart wins out and puts Preece in the No. 41, Haas should put Custer back in the Xfinity Series to see what he can do. He won the Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway in February, and he would certainly be a title contender if he moved back down for a year.

As for Preece, there is a risk in moving him back up to Cup, as he was largely outrun by teammates Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. during his tenure at JTG Daugherty Racing. That said, he has been impressive in his limited Truck starts this season, and given the wall that SHR has hit with results on the Cup side, a change of scenery may benefit the team.

Since SHR will likely have to replace Kevin Harvick after the end of his contract in 2023, it would be useful to keep both drivers around for the time being. Given that Custer has been with the same crew chief for his entire Cup tenure, bringing new people into the No. 41 team while arranging a full-time Xfinity ride for Preece should be the plan for 2023.

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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As for the Bubba deal, I’m with Kyle Petty, on this one.

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