Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Should Cup Drivers Be Allowed to Dip Down When a Track Is Added to the Schedule?

1. The NASCAR Xfinity Series might be off network TV entirely in 2025. Is that good or bad?

NASCAR is inching closer and closer to the expiration of the current TV deals in 2024 and a radical shift for 2025.

One of the shifts will be an increasing focus on streaming. So much of an increase that the NASCAR Xfinity Series might be off cable and network TV entirely.

The streaming service that’s interested in the Xfinity Series? It’s one of the most prominent and well-known options: Amazon.

Xfinity’s sponsorship deal expires at the end of 2024, which would make exclusive streaming a possibility. Amazon has also shown an increased interest in streaming live sports, as the company became the sole provider of Thursday Night Football during the 2022-23 NFL season.

There are rewards if such a deal is put in place for NASCAR. More people are switching to streaming services, so the Xfinity Series would have access to a brand-new viewing audience that it might not have had otherwise.

However, if the Xfinity Series is taken off TV entirely, the series risks a decline in viewership. The viewership for Thursday Night Football last year was down from 2021, the most recent season on network TV; Xfinity risks the same decline in viewership if the switch is made, especially if its current viewers don’t have Amazon Prime.

The happy medium is to keep Xfinity on TV while working out a supporting streaming contract. But if a big name like Amazon wants to be involved, the reality is that it’ll want exclusive coverage.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: NASCAR to Move Xfinity to Streaming by 2025?

2. Should Cup drivers be barred from Xfinity and NASCAR Craftsman Truck series races at a track making its Cup debut?

Last week’s Friday Faceoff discussed the double standard between allowing Cup drivers to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at North Wilkesboro Speedway but not the upcoming Xfinity race at the Chicago street course.

To not allow Cup drivers for the Xfinity race in Chicago makes me wonder if Cup drivers should even be allowed to dip down when a track is making its debut.

A plethora of tracks have been added to the Cup schedule since the 2021 season, and the debut weekends have almost always featured a Cup driver winning on Saturday.

Year/TrackCup Driver Wins
2021 Circuit of the Americas Kyle Busch (Xfinity)
2021 Bristol DirtMartin Truex Jr. (Trucks)
Truex’s first Truck win.
2021 NashvilleKyle Busch (Xfinity), Ryan Preece (Trucks)
Ryan Preece‘s first Truck win.
2021 Road AmericaKyle Busch (Xfinity)
2023 North WilkesboroKyle Larson (Trucks)
Todd Gilliland‘s Truck win at COTA in 2021, Austin Cindric‘s Xfinity win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2021 and Corey Heim‘s Truck win at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in 2022 were the only times a series regular pulled off a win.

While the advantages that Cup drivers receive in moving down during a debut weekend is a story for another time, what’s a story now is that the Cup drivers in the North Wilkesboro Truck race took the spotlight away from regulars who rarely receive it.

The race was broadcast on FOX instead of the usual FOX Sports 1, and while every driver wants to win every race, this one felt extra special: who wouldn’t want to be the first Truck winner at the track since 1996?

See also
Truckin' Thursdays: Ty Majeski Holds Torch for ThorSport Amid Subpar Season

Ty Majeski was the highest-finishing Truck driver, coming home second behind Larson. An afternoon when the Truck Series had a special spotlight instead ended with a Cup driver in victory lane.

Drivers in the lower series have generally appreciated the sporadic appearances from Cup drivers, as it gives them a chance to race and learn against the best the sport has to offer.

That said, Cup drivers are barred from competing in the Xfinity or Truck playoffs in addition to Dash 4 Cash and Triple Truck Challenge races. It’s a rare occurrence for a track to be added to the NASCAR schedule; Xfinity and Truck drivers should have their time to shine on them without having to fight with Cup drivers for the spotlight.

3. North Wilkesboro is the latest NASCAR track to return after a long absence. What’s next?

North Wilkesboro has been the most prominent track to return to the NASCAR schedule since 2021, but it isn’t the only track to return.

Nashville Superspeedway sat vacant from 2012 to 2020 before it was announced that all three series would visit the track in 2021. In August, the Milwaukee Mile is set to return to the Truck schedule for the first time since 2009.

With brand-new tracks like COTA joining into the picture, the parity of the 2020s schedule has been refreshing in contrast to the stagnant 2010s. We’ve already had three ovals return to the schedule, and there’s potential for more.

See also
NASCAR Mailbox: Will Rockingham Speedway Return to the Schedule?

After North Wilkesboro returned last weekend, the attention of course went to the nearby Rockingham Speedway, which last held a Cup race in 2004.

Rockingham, like North Wilkesboro, received state funding for upgrades and renovations. The track completed a repave at the end of 2022, and if the track were to return to the schedule, it absolutely has the infrastructure to do so.

Iowa Speedway was taken off the Xfinity and Truck schedules in 2019, and the future of the speedway looked bleak when the NTT IndyCar Series was removed after the conclusion of the 2020 season. But the ARCA Menards Series has kept racing at Iowa since 2020, and IndyCar has been back since the start of 2022 with an annual double header.

The catalyst of Milwaukee’s return to the Truck schedule was an annual ARCA race that began in 2021. As long as ARCA — which is now owned by NASCAR — keeps racing at Iowa, there’s always a possibility for a return.

Chicagoland Speedway sat vacant after its final race in 2019, but the neighboring Route 66 Raceway drag strip has since reopened with a NHRA weekend. Racing will return to the oval on Sept. 16 for the first time in four years, as Chicagoland will be the host for the SuperMotocross World Championship. And with the future of the Chicago street course uncertain for 2024 and beyond, there’s an oval in the area if the street circuit proves to be a one-and-done.

4. Has the Next Gen car revitalized the Coca-Cola 600?

While it’s only been one race, the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 was arguably one of the most exciting in years.

The race had become a lopsided affair in the back half of the 2010s, as the 2016, 2018 and 2021 Coke 600s saw a driver lead over 300 laps en route to the win.

Last year was a nice change of pace, as the race had constant battles for the lead with comers and goers throughout the evening. While the race had some hiccups with 18 cautions and a five-hour run time, it got people talking. And if the racing quality seen last year is what’s in store for the future, the 600 will be back as one of the most heavily anticipated races of the year.

With a Kansas Speedway-record 37 lead changes in the Advent Health 400 on May 7, Charlotte Motor Speedway, on paper, looks to be in store for another excellent 600-miler.

However, rain has the possibility to mess with the festivities. The forecast looks bleak for Sunday and much of Monday, and cooler temperatures (forecasted high for Sunday is currently in the 60s) may be a detriment to the racing quality as the Next Gen has excelled in warmer weather (the air temperature at Kansas was 90).

Here’s hoping Mother Nature stays away on Sunday.

About the author

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.

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sb

Bad move streaming Xfinity, especially if it’s Amazon Prime, one of the most expensive.

Jill P

Having Cup drivers in lower series races usually deprives a driver on a small team from an opportunity to race. Their team ends up not qualifying and they go home with nothing to show for it.

WJW Motorsports

First, please stop repeating the nonsense that lower series drivers welcome the opportunity to have close to no chance at all of winning. Second, the irony of a series sponsored by a media behemoth shopping itself to others – because the media behemoth isn’t interested in televising it is rich. That said – Xfinity is the best racing series they have, they know it, and yet it is worth nothing. Also note, everyone wants to be F1 – globally popular for literally anything BUT actual racing. So, a good racing series is worth nothing, but a reality show pretending to be an actual racing series is priceless. NASCAR will fold soon – 5-10 years max, and the manufacturers will be in Indy/F1.

wildcats2016

I won’t pay to watch Xfinity series on streaming. If they switch to Amazon and I can use that, I may watch it but not paying extra for it.

As far as drivers racing in other series, they’ve been doing it for years but I do believe it takes opportunity away from drivers who race in that series as regulars.

Last edited 11 months ago by wildcats2016
Kevin in SoCal

What about the Trucks? Are they locked into FS1 or could they go to streaming-only, too?

Christopher

Wonder what the looks on NASCAR TV negotiators faces were when FOX and NBC essentially laughed them out of the room for wanting X amount of money.

DoninAjax

This kind of tells me that the networks don’t want to put the events on TV. Maybe they are getting the message that how they show the events is not want viewers want to see and hear. There hasn’t been a real “race” or “race car” for years. And then there are the stooges in the booth.

Echo

This tells me what Christopher said. Nbc and Fox laughed at Nascar’s money proposal. Laughed so hard that nascar realized streaming was their their only choice. Now nascar has to rethink Cup series and so will everyone else. If nascar can’t get big money from sponsors because nobody is watching Nascar’s product , then that’s a huge corner nascar has painted themselves into.

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