Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: If Kyle Larson Isn’t the Greatest Racer Alive, Who Is?

1. All-Star Weekend Made People Fall in Love with North Wilkesboro Again, But Was That Enough?

Everything about staging the NASCAR All-Star Race at historic North Wilkesboro Speedway was great. Fans ate it up, no surprise since the venue last hosted a NASCAR race more than 25 years ago and was long since left for dead. Drivers were excited to compete there, and why wouldn’t they be? None of them had likely ever dared dream it was a possibility.

There was only one aspect of the weekend that introduced any clouds to the otherwise blue-sky story of North Wilkesboro’s return, but it was a fairly big one: the race itself was dreadfully dull.

Kyle Larson fans will likely disagree, since they saw their driver lead nearly three-quarters of the 200 laps on Sunday (May 21) night. There’s no denying, however, that if you didn’t watch the last hour of the race, you missed pretty much nothing.

By itself, that’s not a big deal. There are stinkers in every NASCAR Cup Series season, but this one was especially unfortunate given the otherwise tremendous story that is North Wilkesboro’s revival.

It was also a high-profile example of NASCAR’s problem du jour, the Next Gen car’s seeming inability to offer entertaining racing at short tracks. At just 0.625 miles, North Wilkesboro falls square into that category and seems to have been swept into the most vexing question the sport’s governing body faces.

The answer ties directly into the track’s future in the sport. Nostalgia and goodwill appeal to stock car racing’s traditional base, the fans who often appear forgotten as NASCAR continues its eternal search for what’s next, combine to form an intoxicating mix that suggests an actual points race should be on the table for North Wilkesboro.

Fans will probably forgive the first boring race there for all the same reasons we just saw play out. But no number of fuzzy feelings can keep them engaged year after year if NASCAR doesn’t improve its racing product at short tracks, and nothing would be sadder than this venue returning just to fall victim to apathy.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud: The Next Gen Has a Short Track Problem, So Don't Write Off North Wilkesboro After 1 Race

2. If Kyle Larson Isn’t the Greatest Racer Alive Right Now, Who Is?

Larson’s dominance during the All-Star Race was simply another of many feathers he’s added to his cap over the last few seasons. Here was a track he had never raced on, ostensibly against the best stock car drivers around, and he turned it into a laugher. To boot, he swept the race weekend, also winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, one in which he wasn’t originally supposed to compete in at all.

His continuing dirt track exploits are the stuff of legend. Larson is also going to tackle the Indianapolis 500 next year, and at this point, no one would be shocked if he runs well.

It’s a bit of a fool’s errand to compare drivers across different forms of motorsport, but Larson did win the 2022 ESPY Award for Best Driver, beating out nominees from Formula 1, IndyCar and even NHRA. That suggests that he’s the best all-around driver on the planet right this second.

Who else has a claim? Certainly Max Verstappen, the back-to-back defending F1 series champion. Given the fact that many consider Formula 1 the premier form of auto racing in the world, it would be silly not to have him in the mix.

But could Verstappen transition to other forms of racing as effortlessly as Larson? Or better yet, would he do better dabbling in NASCAR than Larson would in F1?

Will Power, last season’s NTT IndyCar Series champion, is an excellent wheelman, but it doesn’t feel like he’d receive much support for “Best Driver in the World.” My personal racing knowledge doesn’t extend to rally racing, but Sébastien Ogier, the eight-time world champ, would likely get some votes.

Still, when you have to work this hard to come up with contenders, that proves Larson’s claim to the title. He’s absolutely right in the thick of the discussion.

3. Ty Gibbs Almost Had His Reputation Repaired

Ty Gibbs finished the All-Star Race as the highest finisher among the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. That should be the takeaway regarding his performance at North Wilkesboro.

Instead, the discussion has mostly been around his run-in with Michael McDowell during the All-Star Open.

McDowell is too nice a guy to just go off on Gibbs on live TV, but when he said “Ty just plowed into me,” that’s suboptimal.

There’s no question that as he rose through the NASCAR ranks, the book on Gibbs was that he was undeniably talented but also prone to being impatient and overly aggressive — tendencies exacerbated by being unapologetic after the fact.

His rookie Cup Series campaign has been mostly free of similar kinds of dust-ups, and with Ross Chastain drawing all of the ire over on-track incidents, Gibbs has been able to stay under the radar. Maybe he figured it was the Open so no points were at stake and just figured “What the hell?” But when you tick off McDowell of all people, it’s worth filing this away in case it’s not just a one-off lapse.

4. Will People Pay to Watch Xfinity?

Insert your joke here about how many of us already do. In this case, we’re talking about the NASCAR Xfinity Series, which Sports Business Journal says NASCAR is shopping to potential partners with an eye toward making it a streaming-only series. The Journal says at least two companies are interested, one of them being Amazon.

From the perspectives of both the sport and streaming companies, this appears to be a no-brainer. NASCAR’s previous broadcast rights deal was signed before streaming surged in popularity, so having someone willing to pay for the Xfinity Series instead of simply lumping it in with the Cup Series on TV is like found money.

Similarly, it’s not hard to see why Amazon or other streamers that don’t currently have much if any live sports would want to give it a shot. The article notes that it’s possible a midsummer package of Cup Series races could be part of the deal as well.

The questions are all on the fans’ side. Having to pay extra got something you are accustomed to getting for no additional charge is always a pain point, and is anyone going to subscribe to Amazon just to see Xfinity Series races? That feels like a stretch.

Still, this isn’t even a discussion about the future of sports programming because it’s already very much here. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and the reaction to it from all sides: NASCAR stakeholders, streaming partners and fans.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: What Could an Xfinity All-Star Race Look Like?

5. Ford is Going to Win More Races This Year, Right?

Just a quick reminder that as we sail off into the second half of the Cup Series season, Ford drivers have combined to win exactly one points race: when Joey Logano claimed the checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It’s not exactly a cause for panic, as if the playoffs began today, there would be six blue ovals in the field of 16, more than any other manufacturer. It’s just that the number could easily slip if other drivers grab a few wins and Ford doesn’t, and it’s just sad to go 1-for-13.

The next few months are either going to compound the misery or prove it was only a matter of time, but this is a number one would think Ford would desperately like to see a change in a hurry.

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Dawg

There’s no denying Larson’s greatness. But, & as Pee Wee Herman says, “everyone’s got a big but.” When he wins the Indy 500, then in my estimation he’s deserves to be included with Mario, & AJ. Because both tried their hands at Nascar & won the biggest races. And then there’s the fact that Mario also has a FI Championship to his credit. As well as AJ’s 24 hours of LeMans, & 4 Indy wins. That’s a steep hill to climb. And that’s not taking anything away from Larson.

WJW Motorsports

Totally agree with you. These articles make great debate fodder but don’t really translate to the modern era where the type of cross-over “success” that the greats like AJ and Mario can’t really be duplicated due to all the barriers in place now. Plus – hard to know how good drivers like Max and/or Lewis really are with the system they are in now. If Mercedes happens to hit on its upcoming new design and suddenly Max is driving around in 4-6th every week – is he no longer great?

Bill B

I think the author made a mistake with the title. The work ACTIVE was implied. I knew someone would latch on to the “alive” word and bring in those two drivers and a few others. I’m betting if they all got out on the track today in any vehicle, Larson would have a huge advantage.

Ricky

If North Wilkesboro is to have any future in Nascar they have to repave the track.If I wanted to watch a parade of expensive automobiles running around a race track I would watch F1, at least those no passing events have exotic vehicles. It seems to me that with modern technology there should be a way to repave a track that supports passing and good racing. Grass roots tracks like North Wilkesboro deserve a revival but the show has to be entertaining or the expense involved would not be worth the investment

WJW Motorsports

Did you attend the race – or are you basing your opinion on the broadcast? Just curious.

jdquick

Hey Nick, talk about a worthless act that no one has the balls to talk about. The wonder man gave the finger the the watching world when Jamie Little was trying to interview him. How low is that from that idiot. When will someone take him to task? Guess never, he is CRAPCAR’s chosen one isn’t he. If it was anyone else, they would be setting for a couple weeks and pay a hefty fine. Not the chosen one, he is strictly hands off. I call BS on CRAPCAR and you writers that have no balls to go after him.

Echo

Your right, not one mention of Wallace being a disgrace. I thought that if you humiliated nascar then you were punished. Especially on all star weekend with everyone watching post race interviews. My 4 year old great granddaughter was standing two feet from the TV listening when he did that. Where are you Nascar.

kb

I agree with you. Where is the FCC, etc? They go after everybody else. I keep waiting for an article of condemnation, but I searched high and low, and nothing came up! And then the UTTER tweet that somebody “hacked” into the clown’s audio and something. Jeez, if true….I swear. Seems like a Smollett in NASCAR as a 2.0. But crickets. WTF? Is the FBI swarming? I am not a fan of Jamie Little and that damn ponytail, but she deserves much better than standing next to that clown. Jamie is a professional and he should have acted professionally in kind. Maybe a boycott of interviews towards him might snap him out of his bizarre ways? Nah, who am I kidding. He is addicted to being an ass, imo. Booing the crowd at the intros… can only go downhill from there. And it did. IMO

SS

Larson is the only driver in my opinion who I could see having a legitimate shot to win every NASCAR race he starts until he retires. I haven’t been able to say that about any driver(not even Jimmie, Jeff, Kyle Busch) since probably Richard Petty. He’s just good everywhere, I would have said superspeedways were his lone weakness before the season, but now he’s contending at those, too. If the car isn’t a pile of trash and he’s not getting wrecked, he’s either winning or finishing in the top 5 this season. One of the greatest talents to ever grace a racetrack and I’m honored to get to watch him.

wildcats2016

Larson is certainly a good race car driver. Is he the greatest? IMO no.

As far as paying for Xfinity, well someone may pay to stream it but I doubt that I will PAY to WATCH it. I’m not that interested and my cable bill is high enough.

RCFX1

The best in his time, with his car, at this particular time. It all changes especially as Nascar plays around with the rules and the cars themselves.

RCFX1

Never going to pay to watch a race. The racing just isn’t that good to pay for anything.

Matt

Although he hasn’t done much racing in the USA, Shane Van Gisbergen is similar to Larson in racing and succeeding in multiple forms of racing. He would be a contender for greatest current driver (albeit I do believe Larson is ahead of him at the moment). A telling sign would be to see how he goes in the Project 91 at Chicago. Justin Marks rates him very highly. Van Gisbergen is a multi supercars champ in Aussie and has raced in sportscars in Europe. He has done drifting, rallying and sprintcars (at high level) and has wins in everything he jumps into. Unfortunately he’s too tall for Indy cars or F1. But he should be in the conversation.

Steven

Larson is probably the main reason I watch Nascar. His unquestionable talent helps me overcome the revulsion I feel seeing token drivers like the arrogant Wallace and the airhead truck driver Deegan. Those two in particular remind me of a painful hemorrhoid.

germancarsonly

I’ve been watching Kyle on the Northern California tracks since he was young and he can be amazing. Is he the best of all time? Not yet, but check back in 10 or 15 years and there is a really good chance he will be then

Last edited 1 year ago by germancarsonly
Carl D.

I already have Amazon so if they get the contract for the Xfinity series, I ‘ll watch it. But I’m not subscribing to another streaming company for Xfinity.

Kyle Larson is a generational talent, accent on the “talent”.

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