With the addition of Ty Dillon, will Spire Motorsports improve upon its 2022 performance?
Amy Henderson: That depends more on what Ty Dillon brings with him than Dillon himself. If he brings any kind of technical help from Richard Childress Racing, that could have an impact, and we should see it through Corey LaJoie‘s performance. Dillon himself hasn’t really improved any team for which he’s driven. He brought an improvement in equipment and technical help to Germain Racing but there wasn’t much tangible improvement. His average finish improved slightly, but Dillon didn’t match the team’s best points finish. It’s hard for a driver alone, without bringing money or something else to sweeten the pot, to improve an entire organization. That driver has to be an exceptional talent or leader to do that with no other organizational changes.
Luken Glover: The No. 7 team with LaJoie will show improvement. LaJoie has had a lot of bad breaks this year, but he has also had some really good runs that have flown under the radar. With a year of the Next Gen under its belts and increased familiarity, I expect its performance to rise. However, just like LaJoie in 2021, Dillon may struggle to get up to speed. He has been outrun by Erik Jones week in and week out this year, and the No. 77 is a downgrade in equipment. What he needs is long-term consistency, and he should find that at Spire.
Stephen Stumpf: Dillon isn’t a driver that will drastically move the needle for a team, but it will absolutely be a help for Spire to have two full-time drivers. With LaJoie and a rotating lineup of drivers in the No. 77 this year, it was much harder for the two teams to share notes and prepare for races without driver stability. Spire will improve on its 2022 performance, but it won’t be a huge difference. Both cars finishing between 26th-30th in points would be a feasible goal for 2023.
Mike Neff: Spire is still stacking pennies. It isn’t Trackhouse Racing Team, but it is better than when LaJoie started there. Will it win a race? It is still a long shot but more realistic than it has been.
Two out of the last five NASCAR Cup Series champions have also won that season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Is there a correlation between winning at Vegas and winning the championship? And will Joey Logano continue this trend?
Neff: It is a cute stat, but there isn’t much correlation. The cars, drivers and teams that are at their best over the last four races become champions for a reason: they are good at the right time. Anyone winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway or Martinsville Speedway is just as likely to win the title, assuming they are playoff drivers.
Glover: There isn’t much correlation between the races, but it is just the way it has played out. Vegas has served as a round opener ever since it was put in the playoffs in 2018. The advantage here is that it gives teams two weeks to focus on the next round. None other than Joey Logano himself did this in 2018 when he won the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville. Those two weeks to focus on the next round, or in this case the championship race, were very valuable. Logano should definitely be a favorite to win the title. Just look at 2018. However, the advantage isn’t as prevalent this time due to the uncertainty and fluidity of the Next Gen car.
Stumpf: Given the completely different layouts at Phoenix Raceway and Vegas, using results at Vegas to predict Phoenix is the equivalent of comparing apples and oranges. That said, Logano has an advantage over everyone else in that he will have two race weekends to breathe easy and prepare before everything’s on the line at Phoenix. Conversely, everyone has to turn their focus toward the next two races. In the last six seasons (since 2016), the driver that won the Round of 8 opener went on to win the championship three times, a number that includes Logano’s first championship in 2018. I wouldn’t say that Logano is now the title favorite, but his chances have certainly gone up.
Henderson: Logano could very well continue the trend, simply because he’s been the most consistent driver throughout the playoffs. He’s got an added advantage in that the team can put their full focus on the championship race while the rest of the playoff field has to worry about making the cut for at least one more week. Logano has been a favorite since the playoffs started because of his consistency, and now he has an advantage as well. I like him for the title.
Following his actions at Vegas, Bubba Wallace has been suspended one race, but with no fine or points penalty. What is your line in the sand of when a suspension should be issued?
Glover: The line really sits on the extent of the situation. Bubba Wallace hooked a driver intentionally at 170-plus mph in the most unsafe car we have had in two decades, took out an owners’ playoff driver who also took out a drivers’ playoff driver, walked across a live track, shoved Kyle Larson multiple times and forcefully disobeyed a NASCAR official. In the rule NASCAR cited for Wallace’s suspension, there were five subpoints listed as criteria. Wallace violated four of them. It’s a situational approach, but this must be the precedent going forward. Because he had so many violations, Wallace should have been fined at least $50,000 and suspended 1-2 races. Incidents like Ty Gibbs at Texas Motor Speedway, Noah Gragson at Road America and William Byron at Texas have been compared to it. However, none of those instances included these many obstructions. The suspension was warranted, but there should have also been a fine.
Henderson: A line in the sand needs to be a straight line before you can talk about where it goes. NASCAR’s line has been anything but straight and has curved around plenty of drivers before landing at Wallace’s feet. To be clear, I do not condone Wallace’s actions, and NASCAR was right to punish him, but it’s really hard to look at it as a fair penalty because drivers this year have done worse and not been suspended, and a driver hasn’t been penalized for retaliation under green for years. Yet they have been suspended for intentionally wrecking another driver under caution until this year when they got barely a slap on the wrist. The most egregious on-track retaliation incident this season was Gragson dumping Sage Karam in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America. He did it in a blind corner and the end result was something like 13 cars involved, yet Gragson didn’t face suspension. That incident, and all the others, pale in comparison to Gibbs trying to turn Dillon on a hot pit road, which nearly resulted in Dillon hitting a NASCAR official. All Gibbs got was a fine. For NASCAR penalties to have the intended result, they have to be equal and consistent. Either penalize everyone for something or nobody, but the picking and choosing must stop. Playoff status shouldn’t be a factor if what the driver did was truly dangerous and making an example out of one driver after basically condoning the same action from others just looks terrible. If Wallace’s action was truly punishable, it should never appear in a race promotion ad.
Stumpf: A suspension was warranted, and a suspension should’ve been handed out to Gragson at Road America and Gibbs at Texas after their respective actions. These cars are missiles rocketing at over 150 mph, and with the concussion issues with the Next Gen car, it has been disappointing to see many on-track retaliations this year as well as the reckless driving at superspeedway races and on restarts (the Cup race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL comes to mind). Hopefully the suspension sends a message and puts a stop to this.
Neff: Right-rearing anyone is a justifiable suspension offense. That said, on a short track or slow-speed section of a road course isn’t nearly as egregious. Wallace absolutely crossed the line and deserved the one-race suspension.
Neither NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice nor qualifying will be broadcast on TV for the second straight event. Should this be the case?
Stumpf: Either reach a new TV deal in 2025 with a provider that will put these sessions on air or make them available via an app or streaming. Practice and qualifying bring far less viewership than the main event, so providing viewer access to them off of the air is important if TV networks don’t see a purpose in establishing a timeslot.
Henderson: This is where having a streaming service makes sense. It allows the diehards who want to watch practice and qualifying in all series to do so and potentially get better coverage than a traditional broadcast. If done right, fans could be treated to extra driver interviews, in-car camera or scanner footage, no commercials so that every qualifying run gets shown. I don’t know that every fan wants to watch every practice or qualifying session, especially under the current TV format where only a handful of drivers get covered and commercials usurp some teams’ qualifying efforts, but if there was a streaming option that provided better coverage that fans can catch at home or on the go, bring it on.
Glover: Two things come to mind. One is to live stream the events on the FOX Sports app, or it should be shown on the NASCAR website. Understandably, these sessions will not draw a lot of viewers. However, there are many fans of Truck drivers who deserve access to practice and qualifying. Using the app and website to provide live coverage could be the way to go for these sessions.
Neff: Put it on freaking TV. It is that simple. The series deserves attention.