Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is This Finally William Byron’s Breakout Year?

Is this finally William Byron’s breakout year?

Zach Gillispie: No. Five wins in the last 86 races is pretty impressive already. Young William Byron has already proven that he belongs at the top rung of the stock car racing ladder. He’s been a perennial playoff threat over the past three seasons. He consistently runs in the top 10. So what more is there to prove?

For it to truly qualify as a breakout season, he would need to have a Kyle Larson 2021-type season to truly break out of his current performance. And a Larson 2021-type season has only happened once in a generation. The chance Byron could do that this year is basically zero.

Luken Glover: For the third consecutive season, Byron has earned a win within the first five races of the season. Last year, he was considered a title favorite early on … then the summer hit. That summer time of year is crucial for both Byron and Alex Bowman. Several Hendrick Motorsports drivers in the past have had the summer make or break their season because of the momentum that is needed for the playoffs.

For Byron, his summer performance in his young career has not allowed him to break through. I have a lot of confidence in the pairing with Rudy Fugle, so they could certainly break out this season. It just comes down to consistency.

Mike Neff: Way too early to make a call on that. Hendrick certainly seems to be back in its familiar position as one of the most dominant teams in the sport. With the absence of Chase Elliott, Byron is in a position to grab a few more wins, but he still has Larson to deal with under the same roof. Let’s see what it looks like when we hit the midpoint of the season.

Wyatt Watson: Although Byron and Hendrick dominated at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I need to see Byron beat his teammates and execute on a week-to-week basis. He did the same thing last year, winning early in the season and falling off for the rest of it. I hope to see consistency out of Byron for the rest of the year, but right now, Byron hasn’t shown that he will completely break out in 2023.

See also
William Byron Back With KBM for 3 Races

NASCAR Cup Series TV ratings have been down every race this year. Should NASCAR be concerned?

Neff: Again, a little too early to panic. There are some compelling stories starting to develop and there are numerous personalities in the garage who will attract eyeballs to the sport. If FOX would cut down the pre-race show and pay a little more attention to the post-race, it wouldn’t hurt.

Gillispie: Yes. Every NASCAR fan should be very concerned and ignore the rationalizations that pundits, insiders, and competitors that have been offered in a very public manner. NASCAR has once again fallen into a seemingly endless pattern: pursuing new markets, new fans, and television money while consistently ignoring the dwindling fanbase. The direction we are heading is once again abandoning the grassroots, blue-collar fan base that is left, and guess what? THEY ARE LEAVING.

The fan base wants to see mean short tracks. Not a gimmick race in a football stadium (the attendance was pitiful this year). They want to see stock cars, not the Gen 7 sports cars (which coincidentally have destroyed the short track racing fans know and love). Races in rural America like Bristol Motor Speedway, Watkins Glen International and Talladega Superspeedway have, are, and will always be more popular than Chicago, Las Vegas or New York City.

This is a message to every NASCAR executive, insider and my fellow journalist colleagues. The NASCAR fanbase has proven to overwhelmingly attract the blue-collar demographic no matter what marketing initiative we’ve tried. We’ve tried to pursue new markets in the past and have perpetually failed. Why in the world are we doing it again? But this time, we are doing it with even more outrageous stunts like street races, football stadium demolition derbies, the most technologically advanced sports cars, and leadership that ignores the fanbase that is left.

So what do you expect? This should be no surprise that TV ratings are falling. They’ve been falling for nearly two decades. That is the hard truth that everybody is afraid to say.

Glover: There is always somewhat of a concern when ratings are down. NASCAR doesn’t need to hit the panic button, but they need to address issues as quickly as possible. Part of the problem has been more head-to-head, with the Las Vegas race going up against the XFL and Arnold Palmer Invitational, as well as some elite NBA games.

Another part is something that they need to fix next year: race start times. Waiting until at least 3 p.m. for a race to start is not working any wonders. Some have switched to streaming only, so that plays a part, and the broadcasts have been subpar so far.

Watson: NASCAR should definitely be concerned about the recent falloff, and with Elliott out of action for approximately six weeks, this problem will only get worse. When the most popular driver is going to be sidelined, inevitably, those fans may not tune in to watch races. I expect ratings to be down for the next couple of weeks, but the numbers coming out of Vegas are definitely alarming.

Will the adjustments made to the Cup short track package make the racing better?

Glover: Based on the results of the test, plus some things we know about the aero components, the racing should improve on short tracks from last season. However, we won’t know until the Monday after Phoenix Raceway what kind of racing the new package will produce. Honestly, we never got a great look at how it performed last year.

Obviously, the biggest issue to address is the lack of passing in dirty air. Dirty air gets so overlooked because no matter the package, there is going to be an impact. It is just limiting how much of an impact it has that is important. Hopefully, we will get some good insight into its performance this week.

Watson: The news coming out of the Phoenix testing session in January has me believing that the changes made to the short track package will definitely improve the racing product at the select tracks, and soon, we will all get a good look at the product live next weekend. Drivers such as Christopher Bell, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski had good things to say about the shorter two-inch spoiler and other various changes to the car, and if the drivers say that they like it, I’ll trust them to put on a good show.

Neff: We sure hope so. Taking grip away from the cars, either through downforce or mechanical grip, can only help. The premier stock car racing series in the world should have cars that are difficult to drive. The changes are a good start.

Gillispie: As a willing but unfortunate witness to the 2022 Martinsville Speedway spring race, any change will make it better.

See also
2-Headed Monster: Should NASCAR Issue Playoff Waivers for Off-Track Injuries?

The NTT IndyCar Series is exploring adding races in the East and Southeast in the United States. Which racetrack should it add to its schedule?

Watson: IndyCar has many options to choose from in these areas due to the fact that it has such a short schedule and almost half of its slate takes place in the Midwest. Broadening the reach of the sport will surely help the series reach more fans.

The east coast has plenty of options to choose from. If I had to choose an oval, IndyCar should consider returning to Pocono Raceway. It provides good fast racing on the tricky three-cornered superspeedway. The track also brings opportunities for good strategy as well. If I were to pick a road course, I would either choose Watkins Glen or Virginia International Raceway. The Glen is a great watch no matter what series races there, and IndyCar returning to upstate New York would be nice to see. Alternatively, VIR is a track just begging for a bigger market to fish in, and the 3.27-mile behemoth would certainly be a good place to race.

For the southeast, the only oval that could legitimately suit IndyCar is Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 1.5-mile oval has been a good place for NASCAR over the past couple of decades, and IndyCar lacks ovals on its schedule. However, if I had to choose a road course, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta would be a good place to go. The 2.54-mile road would provide good racing for the IndyCar series and would give an opportunity to tap into the Atlanta market. Like VIR, I believe Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta is underutilized and could use a racing league such as IndyCar to give the track more publicity.

Gillispie: Pocono Raceway has had a black cloud hanging over it for IndyCar, but with the amazing safety improvements the sanctioning body has made of late, there is no reason why they should not be at the Tricky Triangle. If IndyCar wants to return to its former glory, it also should return to one of America’s historic road courses: Watkins Glen.

While the opposite can be said for NASCAR, IndyCar could use a street course in New York City or Washington DC. Richmond Raceway, Homestead-Miami and Kentucky Speedway should also be considered as options because the series needs more ovals as well. Two left-field options that could also put on some fantastic shows could be Darlington Raceway and North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Glover: Simple answer: Richmond. IndyCar obviously is made up largely of road courses, and rightfully so given the discipline, but I would like to see at least one more oval race added to the list. On the NASCAR front, Richmond has faced some criticism for its lack of action. While I believe the racing is better than given credit for, the track does need another event to continue to make it appealing. IndyCar put on good shows when the series raced there, and they had a lot of anticipation built up for the return in 2020 before COVID ruined those plans. Maybe they could even consider doing a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader there.

Neff: There are several good opportunities in the southeast. VIR immediately jumps to mind. Sebring International Raceway would be another great location to see the IndyCars compete. On the oval front, it would be amazing to see Daytona International Speedway or Talladega, but they won’t take that chance. They put on a great show at Richmond before. Heck, if we are gonna bring North Wilkesboro back, let’s push all in!

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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.

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.

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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Bill B

NASCAR should be upset about the ratings. Usually, ratings start off strong and then deteriorate as the season goes on into the summer. To start off down doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.

Luken Glover, the XFL? Really!? Very lame way to support your argument. No one gives a rat’s ass about the XFL and if NASCAR is truly losing viewers to the XFL then the battle is already lost and NASCAR might as well just give up and fold. The XFL… what are you smoking?

I will believe NASCAR has fixed the short track racing when we get to Martinsville and don’t have a repeat of last year’s parade. NASCAR has a history of not being able to “fix” the racing anywhere once it is determined that the racing needs fixing.

wildcats2016

NASCAR should be upset about the ratings. But they haven’t been upset about losing a large number of fans over the years thru poor decision making by management (yes I’m pointing at you Brian France).

NASCAR used to be about racing and fast cars. Now it is about gimmicks and a crapshoot to decide the champion. I don’t like the stages or G-W-C (multiple times) to decide the win at the end. That tends to produce a wreckfest and screws over the driver who most likely should have won the race if they weren’t crashed out in the end.

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