Does Joe Gibbs Racing regret letting Kyle Busch walk in free agency?
Steve Leffew: JGR replaced a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest wheelmen of all time with the team owner’s grandson. Right now, it would be crazy to say it didn’t wish it still had Kyle Busch on their team. He’s won three races driving for a team that is unanimously considered inferior to JGR. The final judgment on the move will take years to play out. Ty Gibbs came into the NASCAR Xfinity Series from the ARCA Menards Series and lit the racing world on fire. But the competitive jump to the NASCAR Cup Series is bigger than the leap from ARCA to Xfinity. Gibbs not only brought nepotism, he also shouldered sponsorship with Monster Energy, and that can’t be ignored.
I’m sure Joe Gibbs wishes his team had three wins, but when looking at driver salaries and sponsorship dollars, the numbers support his decision. Ty Gibbs has been showing progression and seems to spend more time in the top 10 each week. He still has the potential to be a multi-championship driver who can keep JGR going for another generation. With other drivers and sponsorships in question, JGR will need to survive long enough for him to have a shot at realizing that potential.
Andrew Stoddard: Busch has three wins so far in 2023, while the entire JGR group only has three. That stat sums it up perfectly. Busch is making JGR look silly for cutting him loose. Richard Childress Racing was on an upward trend for the past couple seasons, evident from Tyler Reddick’s three wins in the No. 8 last year. A top-tier driver like Busch was the final ingredient RCR needed to become a championship contender. RCR has made the Championship 4 only once in the playoff era with Ryan Newman in 2014. Do not be surprised if Busch and the No. 8 are vying for the Cup title at Phoenix Raceway
Mike Neff: In case you weren’t paying attention, Reddick won three races in the same cars last year. There is no doubt Busch has a more impressive resume than Reddick, though. Having his talent in the cars is lifting the whole organization just as a rising tide lifts all boats. JGR cars are still very competitive, so it isn’t missing Busch much.
Wyatt Watson: Gibbs has to be missing Busch right now. Going from a two-time champion to his young, not nearly as experienced grandson at the wheel was going to be a costly move in the short term, but Busch has made it much harder for Gibbs to swallow losing him after firing off three impressive wins this season. If Gibbs had the foresight, Busch retires with JGR.
World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway’s length is unique on the NASCAR circuit at 1.25 miles. What is your ideal size for a NASCAR oval to provide the best quality racing?
Neff: Ideally, a track that is 5/8 to 7/8 of a mile is the perfect size for great racing that showcases driver talent. Horsepower isn’t a big deal and driver skill is showcased.
Leffew: The ideal size is 1.366 miles, preferably egg-shaped with sharply progressive banking. Darlington Raceway is my favorite track on the circuit, but part of its appeal is how unique it is. I can’t imagine a developer trying to build another Darlington. With today’s package, the 1.5-mile tracks, sans Atlanta Motor Speedway, are producing the best racing. This brings up the biggest issue NASCAR currently faces, short track racing. The Cup Series needs to find a way to improve short track racing as soon as possible. Many fans throughout the world would answer this question by saying under 1 mile. But today, those tracks don’t produce a good show.
Watson: 1.5 miles is the most ideal track length in NASCAR. In fact, that’s the length of track on which NASCAR should hold its championship race. (Except Texas Motor Speedway; anything but that!)
Stoddard: The ideal distance for an oval is right around 1.33 miles. That length would allow for the spread-out, multi-groove racing of mile-and-a-half tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the speeds would be down enough to blend in short track elements like the bump-and-run. There is one current Cup track that is very close to this distance: Darlington. The general consensus is that Darlington produces some of the best racing on the Cup calendar. There are many other variables that go into quality racing, like the track surface, banking, the car and driver talent, but as far as track length is concerned, 1.33 miles sounds about right.
Where will Carson Hocevar drive in 2024?
Stoddard: Carson Hocevar will make the leap to the Xfinity Series to race in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet in 2024, most likely the No. 8. First, there are rumblings that Josh Berry is the heir apparent to Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in the Cup Series next season. Also, Hocevar turned heads in his Cup debut last week. Before winding up dead last with a brake failure, he moved up steadily from his 26th starting spot and spent several laps in the top 20 driving a lower-level Spire Motorsports Chevy. This performance drew the attention of one prominent member of the Xfinity Series garage: Dale Earnhardt Jr., who praised Hocevar on social media shortly after he exited the race. All of these factors put together seem to point to Hocevar joining JRM in 2024.
Leffew: Hocevar’s stock is peaking after his brief run for Spire at Gateway. He may have actually benefited from the mechanical failure, because the perception is that the arrow was pointing upward before something happened that was out of his control. Hocevar is an ideal candidate for a top-tier Xfinity ride next season to further prove his run was not a fluke. I expect Chevrolet will find a way to get him into a JRM car next season, where he will compete for an Xfinity championship. If that doesn’t happen, the next most likely path would be for either Hendrick Motorsports or Spire to open up a full-time Xfinity team with Hocevar driving.
Watson: Hocevar is performing very well so far in everything he competes in. The two top-10 finishes for Spire’s new Xfinity team by Hocevar has me believing that Spire will double down on Hocevar and give him a full-time ride next year. I would love to see Hocevar get an opportunity with JRM in the No. 8 car. I thought he could’ve taken over the No. 9 this year. Hocevar would make a lot of noise and capture multiple wins if he signs with the team for next year.
Will any of the on-track Xfinity driver spats from Portland International Speedway carry over to Sonoma Raceway?
Watson: Certainly the Jeb Burton vs. Chandler Smith situation should be closely watched this week, but I’m going to remind some people about what happened back at Circuit of the Americas. Remember when AJ Allmendinger and Sheldon Creed got together fighting for the lead? Creed is down on that score, and Allmendinger is back racing in the No. 10 entry for Kaulig Racing this week. I’m watching the Nos. 2 and 10 very closely this week with a bag of popcorn close by.
Stoddard: The Xfinity Series is going to another road course with significant braking zones and multiple opportunities to dump a competitor that a driver may have been beefing with in recent weeks. Not only that, but it is also a road course in Sonoma to which the Xfinity Series has never been. Fans can expect a fair number of fireworks in the Xfinity Series’ first trip to Wine Country this weekend.
Leffew: John Hunter Nemechek and Creed say they are even and bumped knuckles to declare a truce, but it will only take one minor wrongdoing for that tinderbox to ignite again. The unsolved conflict is between Smith and Burton. Burton drove for Kaulig in 2021 and had the best season of his career. Now his former team’s new hotshot driver has tangled with him several times, leading to the Portland altercation. I don’t see either Burton or Smith giving the other an inch, and any perceived wrongs are likely to boil over. Burton claims he has respect for his former teammates at Kaulig and doesn’t want to wreck their cars, so his fury could come through in another post-race incident. Smith, however, could be more likely to take out his frustration on the track.
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