Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Does It Matter if There Is No Cup Race in Southern California?

Does it matter if there’s no NASCAR Cup Series points race in Southern California next year? If it does, where should the race be?

Zach Gillispie: Let’s make one thing clear: The Los Angeles Coliseum should not be a points race. Yes, it’s been fun racing there, but it is a gimmick for TV money. The crowd was pretty bad this year, and the race was a complete crash fest. The fact that there are even rumors and speculation flying around that it could become a points race is absolutely absurd and blatantly dangerous for the health of the sport.

From a market standpoint, a race in Southern California would be good but should not necessarily be treated as an end-all, be-all on the schedule. If you are going to plop a race in the area while Auto Club Speedway is being transformed, there should be only one location: Irwindale Speedway. It’s the same size as Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, the two most exciting tracks on the circuit.

Wyatt Watson: I would like NASCAR to continue to run a points-paying race in Southern California to continue to build the brand and recognition in that area of the country while Auto Club is reconfigured (may the 2-mile oval rest in peace). However, I do not subscribe to the notion that the LA Coliseum should be a traditional points-paying event. The track is meant to be a fun and different experience rather than taken too seriously.

My two proposals while waiting on Auto Club would be to run at either WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca or the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit, depending on how street racing goes at the Chicago street course this year. Come to think of it, Auto Club was temporarily replaced in 2021 by the Daytona International Speedway road course, so I could definitely see NASCAR green lighting this move in the future.

Josh Calloni: Southern California is much too important to abandon completely for one season, so yes, there’s a need for a race there. However, the LA Coliseum isn’t the answer. The track is much too small for a points-paying Cup event.

The series should look into Irwindale for its 2024 season. While the streets of Long Beach are enticing, there’s no guarantee a street circuit works well, and since Chicago is on the schedule for the next few years, adding another right away could be counterintuitive. Irwindale offers a short track that many Cup regulars are already familiar with, though some improvements would likely need to be done to the facility.

Luken Glover: It doesn’t bother me to not have a race in Southern California. However, from a big-picture standpoint for the sport and its market, it does. The counties in Southern California have become key targets for NASCAR, so it will very likely want a race in that region. The LA Coliseum should absolutely not become a points race, especially since fitting 27 cars on the track pushed the boundaries. If it’s vital there’s a race there during the Auto Club reconfiguration, NASCAR should look at going to Irwindale.

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What have we learned the most about the Cup field after the first few weeks of 2023?

Jack Swansey: It’s like nothing has changed at all. Parity is still the name of the game — the two guys that have won so far are among the few who didn’t win last year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. might have won the Daytona 500, but I wouldn’t write his name on my playoff bracket in ink just yet. I’m confident we’re going to hit 16 winners by the end of the regular season again — and maybe more. Drivers are still pushing the limits of aggression and finding themselves facing the wrong way. Joey Logano’s making enemies on the racetrack, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski still haven’t won the Daytona 500, FOX has too many commercials and fans are finding something new to complain about on Twitter every day. Welcome back, NASCAR. We missed you.

Calloni: We haven’t learned anything about the Cup field at this point. The two races thus far are too random to really get a good vibe on what the season will look like. Daytona International Speedway, with the draft, is too much of a wild card, and the Coliseum doesn’t give teams many opportunities to show off raw speed. Once we end the West Coast swing at Phoenix Raceway, we’ll have a better idea of how the remainder of the season will stack up from there.

Watson: Tough to draw any major conclusions quite yet from the entire field since NASCAR ran only the Clash and the Daytona 500, but Richard Childress Racing continues to impress. Both cars continue to show good speed and positioning, and both seem have a good chance of winning Sunday (Feb. 26) if all goes well.

Over his last 10 races, Chris Buescher has one win and four top-15 finishes. Is Buescher poised for a breakout season?

Glover: Yes. Chris Buescher backed up strong speed in the Bluegreen Vacation Duels with a powerful performance in the 500. Superspeedways and road courses are tracks where he has established himself as a threat. However, RFK Racing as a whole has been strong on short tracks, and Buescher can turn in strong runs at intermediate tracks. That is a balanced resume and one that could lead to Buescher becoming a dark horse threat. Remember, he is a NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, and he has a hungry co-owner/teammate in Keselowski.

Swansey: Buescher is the real deal, and that win at Bristol won’t be his last in the RFK No. 17. Watching the Texan battle it out at the front of the pack, he wasn’t making the erratic moves of a desperate underdog who knows he’s got one draft-assisted shot at making the playoffs. Buescher wasn’t over-driving. He was wheeling his racecar like a man who had nothing to prove, and more often than not, that’s what makes the difference. Certainly, having a Cup champion teammate and supportive car owner in Keselowski has helped Buescher’s development, but inertia is a powerful force. His strong season last year, capped off by the Bristol win, suggests there’s more to come for Buescher.

Gillispie: Buescher will make the playoffs in one way or another. He’s been knocking on the door of the playoffs for the last few years, and his breakout victory at Bristol is the start of something special at RFK. Look for Buescher to be in contention for multiple wins this season, especially at short tracks and superspeedways.

Watson: It’s time. Buescher has shown the speed in his No. 17 Ford to compete at not just superspeedways but also short tracks and even road courses. Buescher can win a race this year and advance into the championship, and if all goes well, he could make it into the Round of 12. Take note of the pride of Prosper, Texas; he’s primed for success this year.

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Is Austin Hill the favorite to win the Xfinity championship? If not him, then who?

Calloni: No. If his wins have shown us anything, it’s that Austin Hill is a phenomenal superspeedway racer, and while he’s talented at all styles of racing, the drafting tracks have been the only style of racing where he’s emerged victorious at this level of the sport. I wouldn’t count out a non-superspeedway win or two from Hill this year, but at this point, Cole Custer to be the favorite for the Xfinity title in 2023. He brings Cup experience to an Xfinity Series that’s seen a lot of turnover from last season and is a recent proven winner in the series, winning last year’s Auto Club race. All things considered, Custer has the upper hand to start the season.

Swansey: Hill’s run on the Xfinity drafting tracks (including Daytona, Talladega Superspeedway and the mini-superspeedway that is the new Atlanta Motor Speedway) has been nothing short of extraordinary. That being said, there are 27 other races on the Xfinity schedule, and while Hill has shown consistency on the other track types, he hasn’t dominated them in the same way.

I’m going with the guy with Cup experience who won seven races in his last full-time Xfinity campaign even when up against Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick, the defending winner of this weekend’s Auto Club race and the man whose name raises an unquenchable desire for frozen dessert in all who hears it. Custer is going to be your 2023 Xfinity champion.

Gillispie: Not at all. What we have seen has been the prowess of the Xfinity Series’ best superspeedway driver. Since joining the Xfinity Series full time, Hill has nearly looked unstoppable at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta.

But that doesn’t make him the championship favorite. In NASCAR, you have to be good at all types of track configurations. A master at one is a master of none in NASCAR nowadays. Hill has really not shined at the other configurations, so there is reason to doubt him as your early-season championship favorite. But hey, there is no reason why he can’t prove this wrong in his sophomore season.

Glover: Hill will be favored to make the Championship 4, but I wouldn’t call him the favorite. Justin Allgaier has to be in the conversation annually, though he has never won the title. John Hunter Nemechek is one who should not be overlooked now that he has a full-time opportunity in superior equipment.

Josh Berry is my favorite to take home the trophy right now. He made the Championship 4 and won three races in his first full-time season. With his talent and blue collar style, Berry will be tough to beat out of the JR Motorsports camp this year.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

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.

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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I don’t care if there is a race in Southern California. Nascar has tried all kinds of things and not had much success with it so really why make the teams travel that far? The thing at the coliseum was not IMO all that interesting as far as a race went.

Chris A

The successor for the race in California is an easy pick. Here in NC we have this track called Rockingham Speedway which a lot of newcomers will not know about, but many old timers like myself know of very well. The reason is it produced some great racing all the up till Nascar wanted to head west. Also it has new surface that was put down this year and should be a prime target for next year. Rockingham is basically the cousin of North Wilksboro which will be hosting this years All-Star race. Rockingham also would fill more seats than Southern California. Come on powers to be, this is to simple not to do it.

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