Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Is Kyle Larson Receiving a Double Standard?

1. Is Kyle Larson receiving a double standard?

If not for a late-race turn of events, Saturday’s (June 10) NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Sonoma Raceway would have given us a familiar sight: a walkover win by Kyle Larson.

Even so, it was clear that the No. 17 had the best car when he unloaded, at one point being one second quicker than the rest of the field in practice.

That comes as no surprise. Larson is perhaps the most talented driver in the sport today, and to say that running Hendrick Motorsports equipment is an unfair fight is a gross understatement.

Larson sealed the deal in his only other Xfinity start this year, taking the victory at Darlington Raceway. It’s a similar tale in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series where, in his only start this year at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Larson — you guessed it — dominated.

He’s not not the only NASCAR Cup Series driver to take advantage of a chance in the lower series. Kyle Busch, also one of the sport’s most talented drivers, racked up wins in NASCAR’s two lower series and became the poster child for needing to limit drivers in those series below the Cup level.

It may be the reason for Busch’s dominance or it may be coincidental, but limits were placed on how many times a driver could race in a lower series. So far, though, criticism of Larson beating up on the field in support races has been mostly muted.

Is it because Larson gained more acclaim during his time away from NASCAR when he seemingly raced anywhere he could? Possibly. Is it because Busch attracted disdain from fans almost by default? Also possible.

At least to this point, criticism of Larson whipping lower series has not mounted, begging the question: are fans applying a double standard to Larson because he’s not Busch?

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Does Martin Truex Jr.'s Sonoma Win Provide Toyota Pre-Break Momentum?

2. Who’s more rejuvenated, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr.?

Speaking of Busch, he and Martin Truex Jr. have one more thing in common: going into this week’s off weekend, the two drivers, one a current Joe Gibbs Racing driver and another formerly part of the team, have two wins this season.

In interviews this year, both appear more carefree or at ease, which can be speculated as having to do with off-track factors being different now than a year ago.

Last year was a year of transition for JGR between Busch’s eventual exit and Ty Gibbs replacing him. Busch seems relaxed in a fresh start, and for whatever reason, Truex seems to be finding his groove as well.

It may be only June, but the title could very easily come down to two drivers making the most of a fresh 2023.

3. Are Atlanta and Nashville must-wins for Chase Elliott?

The clock is ticking on Chase Elliott‘s postseason hopes.

Although a top five at Sonoma is good for momentum, that does little for the No. 9 team. It needs a win, pure and simple.

If you are an Elliott fan, though, you have to feel pretty bullish about these next few races coming off the weekend off. Sandwiched around the Chicago street course are Nashville Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, both tracks that Elliott won at last year.

Yes, other road courses are yet to come aside from Chicago with stops coming at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen International. But Elliott is no longer the road course master of even two years ago. Since the start of 2021, Elliott has gone from nearly an automatic win on road courses to pretty good. He scored two 2021 wins at Circuit of the Americas and Road America, and the former of those was shortened by rain. Pretty good is good for points, but not when the mentality is win or in.

For that reason, a lack of a win at Nashville or Atlanta could move the playoff hopes for Elliott away from concern to thinking about reaching for a panic button.

See also
Up to Speed: Chase Elliott Still Has a Points Path to the Playoffs

4. Has Trackhouse Racing taken a step back?

Fueled in part by Ross Chastain‘s Hail Melon, it was understandable for Trackhouse Racing to have higher expectations this season. Both Chastain and Daniel Suarez logged wins last year, and both were playoff drivers.

This year? Chastain is amid a winless drought going back more than a year, though he has enough points to be in the top five for now. Suarez, meanwhile, is mired in 17th.

Chastain is probably safe for a playoff spot, but as last year showed us, you don’t want to assume there will be fewer than 16 winners.

Trackhouse made an impact last year with its success but so far is trying to find a way to make that next step. Not having both drivers in the playoffs would be a step back in that regard.

5. Is Kyle Busch the new Darrell Waltrip?

If you followed racing in the 1980s, you are aware of how the perception of Darrell Waltrip changed.

Once a brash driver who’d seemingly say anything, earning the nickname of Jaws, his move to Hendrick Motorsports to drive the Tide-sponsored car ended up, partly by coincidence, cleaning up his image.

Of course, being wrecked by Rusty Wallace at The Winston in 1989 did not hurt that ascension.

If you became a fan of the sport in the 1990s, you had no knowledge from real-time experience of Waltrip being disliked, for the most part.

That puts him in an even plane with Busch. Once a frequent target of boos, Busch this year, at least from judging multiple driver introduction reactions, had had a new leaf turned over for him by fans.

Is it sympathy for no longer being at JGR? Is it a desire for longtime fans to see Richard Childress Racing thrive again? Or is it simply due to driving a Chevy?

Whatever it is, it’s hard not to compare Busch and Waltrip’s later careers to each other.

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19 Comments
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kb

The media have their favorites and like to stir the pot, painfully obvious for those with even a few brain cells.

At this point with Larson or anybody being in CUP for so long, you would think they would be embarrassed to drop down. No shame. XFINITY was going good for a while with no drop downs, what gives now?

Last edited 11 months ago by kb
janice

if you’re in top x number in points i don’t think you should be in xfinity or truck series. you’re taking away money that the guys who run the series weekly need. and honestly, no current or past champion of cup series should run it. it’s enough of crowd draw that earnhardt jr runs a race a year in xfinity. unless both series runs the same configuration of car, then a cupper in xfinity gets more practice time, but i dont’t hink they run the same car.

Joshua Farmer

Busch has three wins, not two. You state that in point 2.

WJW Motorsports

I’ve done some deep thinking on this issue and concluded the main difference is people actually like Kyle Larson.

Bill B

Good one!

Dawg

It’s a two edged sword. Cup drivers using the ladder series as a test session for upcoming Cup races. Take much needed points, & $$ from series regulars.
But except for Martinsville, these feeder series usually race before pretty sparce crowds. The presents of Cup stars don’t fill the stands, but they do fill some seats.
There’s already a limit to how many races they can run, & I’m good with that.
But another change I’d favor would be to award points, & stage points to the highest running eligible car, rather than having them just go away.
That way the Championship picture wouldn’t be affected by the Cup drivers.

Bill B

Knowing there were several Cup guys in the Xfin race, I knew I wasn’t going to watch much of it. Sure enough, every time I flipped to the race the Cup guys were all running in the top positions, so I’d change to something else. It’s a shame because, being a Saturday night when nothing else is on TV, I would have probably watched a good amount of it had the Cup guys not invaded.

Jeremy

If I’m reading and following this right, it’s probably because Larson has only ran 1 race in each series this season? By comparison, for a while Busch was running and winning 1/3 or more of the lower division races. I think people will tolerate a one-off, but I bet you’d hear complaints if Larson started running the lower series races every other week.

I do recall people lamenting Mark Martin doing the same back in the 90’s.

Personally, I think extra seat time in lower divisions should only be allowed for Rookies in the Cup series, or drivers who finished the previous Cup season outside the top 20.

Last edited 11 months ago by Jeremy
DoninAjax

I don’t think Larson will count that win in his NA$CAR total.

Alex Curtis

Answer to question 1: Yes. It’s funny though, people complaining about who races Xfinity even though the series was nearly dead and Cup drivers had to come down to get sponsors for teams. And no one complained about Mark Martin. Also tired of hearing that there are thousands of poor kids who could race the cars if it weren’t for Busch. If you believe that then start your own team and invite “poor ” kids to race the cars. Last point, NASCAR hated Kyle Busch so much they changed the rules to keep him from competing and as soon as he met the requirements they changed the rule back.

Mason Jones

Kyle isn’t dipping down in competition. He is racing with some of the best drivers in the world when he races a late model or sprint car. I don’t know of many that has raced NASCAR and went to race sprint cars especially late models and succeeded. It goes both ways not many can go from the dirt and become NASCAR champions. It just shows how good Kyle Larson truly is.

DoninAjax

Why would the drivers or owners in the lower series want Cup drivers to compete with them when the have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning or getting decent prize money?

Norm johnson

Any cup driver having started 2 races should automatically start at the back in an xfinity race to be fair.

Cathy Stover

You evidently havent been reading some of the nascar sites! There are people who dont like Larson running in the lower series!

SB

Ask the owner of the car Aric Almirola drove to the win how they feel about a Cup driver running in the Xfinity race? If cup drivers ran in cars that are owned and regularly compete in the Xfinity series, they can give a real boost to that team. Maybe that’s the cure.

DoninAjax

How many do that? Aric is an exception to the rule. Mr. H drivers drive Mr. H cars. Reverend Joe drivers drive Reverend Joe cars. Carl Long can’t get a Cup driver for his car.

Marshall

Yeah, I’m not happy about Hendrick drivers going trophy hunting. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. It’s not like Hendrick is running an Xfinity team to develop talent like Gibbs does, they just run the car now and then to take wins away. I don’t know why it’s not receiving way more hate from fans and the media than it is.

Steven

If I were another 18 year old rich kid who had been racing kiddy cars since I was 8 and decided to make a career as a Race Car Driver I suppose I’d be thrilled to get lapped by a Future Hall of Fane driver like Mr Larson.

Kurt Smith

I don’t disagree that when fans hate a driver they look for anything to criticize him for, and that’s probably a difference between how Larson and Busch are viewed. That said, Kyle Busch was hardly the only guy running in the lower series…back when he was doing it regularly almost the whole damn field was Cup drivers. He was vilified for it because he won all the time. For a time the rookies in Cup were all coming from open wheel series because there wasn’t any development series anymore.

D.W., who I don’t agree with often, stated at one time that the solution was to run more races at shorter tracks where driver skill mattered more and aero mattered less. If NASCAR moves to Next Gen in the Xfinity series that won’t work, but I agreed with him that that was the best solution to Buschwhacking.

Last edited 11 months ago by Kurt Smith
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