Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Are NASCAR Drivers the Most Versatile?

Landon Cassill tweeted NASCAR drivers are, “the most versatile professional racing drivers in the world.” Do you agree?

Wyatt Watson: Absolutely. NASCAR drivers come from different backgrounds and disciplines. From late models to sprint cars, and in some cases Formula 1, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMSA, NASCAR drivers absolutely take the cake for most versatile because of how many different racing backgrounds you can come from before setting foot in NASCAR. Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Christopher Bell are and have been dirt masters. Drivers like Ryan Preece and Ryan Newman built up from the modified scene. Juan Pablo Montoya has practically been in almost every major racing series in the world. Marcos Ambrose brought his talents from V8 Supercars, and just recently former F1 superstars Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen have graced NASCAR with their talents. The list goes on and on and will most certainly continue to grow in the future.

Mike Neff: That is a pretty braggadocious claim, but Landon Cassill is one of the fitter athletes in NASCAR. The ARCA Menards Series used to have the most diverse racing schedule in the world, but the NASCAR schedules are right there now. Motocross drivers are probably more diverse, but the gap is closing.

Stephen Stumpf: NASCAR may have the most versatile schedule in terms of the diversity of tracks at which it races, but I view versatility as being great in multiple disciplines of racing, not just at multiple types of tracks within a discipline.

Amy Henderson: NASCAR’s schedule is the most diverse, with ovals from 0.5-2.66 miles, road courses, a street course and a dirt oval. But there are drivers in other series that are just as versatile. There have been drivers who started on dirt or off-road who went to open-wheel cars. There are asphalt racers who went on to race on dirt. IndyCar has road course aces and oval specialists. F1 drivers have gone on to race sports cars or stock cars. Drivers have gone from two wheels to four. NASCAR doesn’t have exclusive rights to multi-discipline drivers.

See also
Time to Let the Engineers Play

Will the manufacturer switch to Toyota be a good move for Legacy Motor Club?

Luken Glover: It should be nothing but an improvement for the team. After winning at Darlington Raceway last fall and having 13 top 10s in 2022, Erik Jones has two top 10s, both coming at superspeedways. Outside that, his best finish is 14th with only three top 15s. Noah Gragson has one top 15 and two top 20s after a dominant 2022 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. It appears Legacy lacks the resources it had a year ago, and sponsorship has been a struggle. Having TRD power should help it get back to where it wants to be. Teams like Furniture Row Racing and Leavine Family Racing saw a leap in performance when they switched to Toyota. Legacy just has to survive, which the other two did not. 

Watson: . Yes and no. In the short term, absolutely. With LMC losing its backing from Richard Childress Racing, it needed to make an alliance somewhere, and taking a deal with Toyota will save it for now. It also returns Gragson and Jones to the Toyota camp, a manufacturer with which Jones is very familiar. However, in the long run, this won’t work out.

Henderson: If Toyota makes good on its promise to give Legacy equal support to Joe Gibbs Racing, the sky is the limit. I see a lot of people pointing to Leavine and Furniture Row, but that’s not an accurate comparison because they weren’t true Toyota factory teams — they were paying JGR massive sums to play in its sandbox, and JGR didn’t really want to share the sand. However, I sometimes question if 23XI Racing is getting equal treatment to JGR, so time will tell. If it was not, though, if Legacy and 23XI go to bat together, there is strength in numbers, and they both have room to expand. And if they outnumber JGR, it will only benefit them, as JGR would lose the power play.

Phil Allaway: On paper, it does seem like it would benefit LMC. Being in a smaller pond would mean it could get more manufacturer support since TRD is only supporting JGR and 23XI in Cup at the moment. In addition, being in the Toyota fold may make it a little easier to get sponsorship in addition to the factory support. That said, getting there might be tougher than you might think. The team is down significantly on the sponsorship front (at least on the No. 43) from last year. It needs to effectively replace FOCUS Factor to get through the year.

Neff: Does it really matter with today’s spec cars? The only difference in manufacturers is the nose and tail. You no longer win on Sunday and sell on Monday. The real benefit is that there are fewer Toyota teams, so it will hopefully receive more support.

Stumpf: Legacy is currently fourth or fifth on the Chevrolet totem pole behind Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing and Richard Childress Racing at the very least. With Toyota, it’d only be behind JGR and 23XI. Switching manufacturers is not a decision that’s done on a whim, especially when Jimmie Johnson has been associated with Chevrolet his entire NASCAR career. And if the team is willing to switch to Toyota this early into new ownership, there is a likely payoff awaiting in 2024.

Part-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Truex won his first career race at Dover Motor Speedway. If a driver like Truex has limited resources, is it better to run a full season with a mid-tier team or a partial schedule with a top-tier team?

Neff: Ask Ryan Preece what works best. He did the limited schedule with JGR, proved he could win and landed a ride. Putting your face in victory lane is always a better way to go.

Allaway: Running the limited schedule with a top team has worked out in recent years for drivers such as Ryan Truex and Preece, but it’s not for everyone. The garage is the kind of place where if you’re not there, you might as well be dead. It’s not like this in other forms of racing. If you can’t put yourself in position to potentially win, you could get exposed. If that happens, you’re done. If you’re not a top-tier talent, it would make more sense to take a mid-tier ride (DGM Racing, for example) for a longer schedule than a few races with Gibbs. With the extra track time, you can improve. Eventually, you’ll be able to get that top-tier ride.

Henderson: Ask Derrike Cope if winning one race is better ride insurance than running midpack with an also-ran. Winning gets a driver noticed, and getting noticed is how drivers get rides. Look at drivers like Preece, Michael McDowell and Matt DiBenedetto, who ran well in very limited schedules with JGR and moved on to full-time rides. Plus, a smaller-name driver who gets in great equipment and runs well usually turns into a fan favorite, and that’s another point of added value to a sponsor down the road.

Steve Leffew: My colleagues have made good arguments in favor of the part-time top-tier team plan. But how has it worked for Trevor Bayne, Joe Graf Jr. or Myatt Snider? In some cases, that plan can actually hurt the driver’s reputation because the expectations are so much higher. Bayne has actually run pretty well but hasn’t had enough opportunities to reach the expectation: victories. Josh Berry ran seven races with JR Motorsports from 2014-2017 and then disappeared from the Xfinity Series picture until re-emerging in 2021. Ross Chastain sharpened his skills and raised his profile by being in the field every week racing full time for JD Motorsports and overachieving compared to the expectations for that car. Truex didn’t just learn how to drive this season. He’s sharpened his skills over the years, which included some of both plans. If you’re at the track for every race on the circuit, you give yourself more chances to become a better driver, hit on something and raise your profile. Conversely, each weekend that a driver isn’t driving, they are fading into obscurity.

Glover:  For the most part, running a partial schedule with a top-tier team is optimal. Chastain may be the best example in recent years of gaining notice after running full time with a mid-tier team, but other notable drivers found success the other way. Berry’s part-time stint with JRM in 2021 landed him a full-time ride last year, and now he is staring down an opportunity in Cup. John Hunter Nemechek turned a part-time opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2018 into a stretch of strong rides and results. There was a notable change in AJ Allmendinger‘s excitement between running full time in Cup before running part-time with Kaulig Racing. That landed him a successful full-time stint with Kaulig that has now returned him to Cup. 

See also
Happy Hour: Was Dover Martin Truex Jr.’s Last Win?

For the last five years, a winner at Kansas Speedway has become the ARCA Menards Series champion in the same season. Is there any correlation between the two?

Allaway: That would partially be due to team strength. Intermediate tracks, especially in ARCA, would favor those with the most money to spend on developing the best setup. However, 2023 could be the exception to that rule since it’s more wide open.

Stumpf: Kansas is the only track that has two dates in the ARCA schedule; the probability of the champion scoring a win at Kansas is double the chance of scoring a win at any other track ARCA races at. And as a 1.5-mile track, Kansas is one of the tracks dominated by teams with strong equipment, and that is one of the most important pieces in putting together a championship season.

Watson: I find that stat interesting but not something to hang your hat on this year. Yes, Jesse Love seems like the man to beat, but what if he doesn’t win Kansas any of the times the ARCA goes there and he wins the championship anyway? Stat broken. Although there’s been a correlation in the past, there’s no guarantee that it will happen again this year.

Glover: There is a bit of correlation between the two. Kansas is one of those tracks that allows the cream to rise to the top. Drivers such as Nick Sanchez, Ty Gibbs and Bret Holmes were drivers who won at Kansas and went on to win the title. It is a track that will display who has the best equipment, as well as whose skill will shine. It is a wide track with many lane options, so drivers can test different grooves before finding their rhythm. Because of that, you typically see the heavy hitters ruling the day when it is all said and done. 

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.

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.

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.

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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janice

legacy motor club (what a name, sounds like a club rally cars join)……is a lower tier team. now you have 2 7 time cup champions trying to lure sponsorships to a team that has limited engineering alliance and results. with the path the economy is on, i can’t see big named sponsor jumping to join legacy. johnson’s open wheel sponsor is defunct, i’m sure he was banking on carvana to join him. so will all the toyota teams next year be tied directly or indirectly to gibbs?

will legacy motor club become the 2024 version of michael waltrip racing and the relationship with toyota? only time before that team has to hang up the helmet.

J.W. Farmer

Well the economy is good by any number or statistic, as well as unemployment. It’s simply that companies spend on attention span mobile ads and things these days versus traditional sponsorship. This is one of the reasons that CUP cars went to vinyl wraps versus painting, since sponsors seem to change week to week. I miss the days of single season sponsors.

Echo

Your 100% wrong on everything you said. Jimmie is running the whole show, watch and learn. Gibbs is 82, truex and Hamlin will be gone soon, so will Joe. You think Toyota didn’t recruit Jimmie and that team hard. JJ is the new face of Toyota for years to come. This has nothing to do with Petty. It’s about $$.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR drivers whine with the best of them.

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