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Dropping the Hammer: Cheers & Jeers for 1st Half of NASCAR Season

Pat yourself on the back, everyone.

We made it.

The 2023 NASCAR season is halfway over.

At times, especially in March and April, it was a slog.

There’s been some definite low points.

Moments and news cycles that felt unbearable. An overabundance of pointless shots of fans and kids in the grandstands. More than a few useless in-car camera angles, and way too many “HEEEEEART LIKE A TRUCK” commercials.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Bids Farewell to Cup for 2023 at Sonoma

But we’ve had some highs, especially in the last month, that really gave the sport a shot in the arm.

There’s stuff to feel good about going into the NASCAR Cup Series’ only off-week of the season.

And there’s things to roll our eyes at: like the fact the Cup Series only has one off-week from February to November.

So through 16 races of the 2023 NASCAR season, here are three Cheers & Jeers for the sport at large.

CHEERS: North Wilkesboro’s Return

The high point of the season for me was getting to cover the All-Star Race at the racetrack that had been dead for a quarter of a century.

Sure, the actual race itself was a dud. But that wasn’t the point of the weekend.

The track was.

The fact that about 30,000 people had descended onto Wilkes County, North Carolina, for not just the All-Star Race, but a jam packed NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, was what it was about.

For one whole weekend, Saturday afternoon rain showers included, the NASCAR world was content.

Anything felt possible that weekend.

It shared the same vibes I experienced during the Daytona 500 race weekend, but better.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

JEERS: Phoenix Continues as Title Race in 2024

Remember when I said the All-Star Race itself was a dud?

Aside from races at Richmond Raceway, in my opinion, short tracks and short-ish tracks and the Next Gen car have not been a good mix.

Which makes NASCAR’s decision to have the championship race weekend continue to be hosted by Phoenix Raceway in 2024 baffling.

Did NASCAR spend $178 million to renovate the track?

Sure.

Is Phoenix one of the few tracks where you’re almost guaranteed to have warm weather in November?

Yes.

Is the racing good?

When NASCAR swapped the frontstretch and backstretch at Phoenix in 2018, it resulted in objectively better racing.

But in the brief Next Gen era? Fairly forgettable.

NASCAR has a lot of work to do in an attempt to improve Cup racing at short, flat ovals.

Can they make the necessary changes before next year? We don’t know!

But the championship weekend needs to be moved around, and Phoenix hosting it for at least five straight years is sleep-inducing.

Solutions?

Send it back to Homestead-Miami Speedway?

Maybe.

Host it at the revamped Auto Club Speedway (if that ever actually happens)?

Or maybe, just maybe, NASCAR needs to bite the bullet and let Speedway Motorsports have it.

Let Charlotte Motor Speedway host the championship race.

CHEERS: Intermediate Revival

One of the best things about the 2023 season?

When it comes to intermediate ovals (except Texas Motor Speedway), it’s proven 2022 was not a fluke.

There’s a simple way to describe the racing at the 1.5-mile ovals that just two years ago were the bane of NASCAR’s existence.

For roughly a decade, Charlotte Motor Speedway was a black spot on the NASCAR schedule.

Without a doubt, it put on some of the worst racing in the Cup Series.

Who can forget when Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of 400 laps in the 2016 Coca-Cola 600?

Or when Kyle Busch led 377 laps in 2018?

They made the fall race into the ROVAL experiment for a reason.

Now?

The last two Coke 600s have been thrilling. The best in a decade.

They’ve been closely matched by the last three races at Kansas Speedway.

Throw in Nashville Superspeedway as well.

When the Next Gen car works, it works.

I don’t think NASCAR would be willing to have its championship race at a track owned by Speedway Motorsports.

But, potential weather concerns aside, they should at least consider doing it once.

CHEERS: Garage 56

Full disclosure: I didn’t get to watch a single green-flag lap of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

My Internet was down for almost the entire weekend. That left me to experience NASCAR’s and Hendrick Motorsports’ Garage 56 experiment in bits and pieces via social media on my phone.

But, from everything I’ve seen and read, it was an absolute success.

See also
NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports Surprise With Next Gen Car at Le Mans

The good international buzz came at a great time.

While we’re seemingly swamped by headlines of Formula 1’s Netflix-fueled popularity explosion in the U.S., it’s nice to know NASCAR can return the favor, at least for a weekend, across the pond.

Heck, any time we can get Jim France to talk into a microphone about something, it’s a good thing.

Now, it would be nice if this helped move NASCAR in the direction of once again holding a Cup race overseas.

JEERS: Hollywood’s Cold Shoulder

In the last few weeks, some good news came out about NASCAR film products, at least the non-fiction ones.

An Amazon Prime Video documentary is in the works, chronicling the Garage 56 adventure at the 24 Hour of Le Mans.

Over at Netflix, the Bubba Wallace documentary series Race earned a Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary Series.

Meanwhile, over on the fictional side at Hollywood …

Thanks to its popularity surge, Formula One is getting a feature film starring Brad Pitt.

It’s also getting a TV series starring Felicity Jones.

Over in the sports car world, a “Gran Turismo” movie will be released in theaters in August.

NASCAR?

It’ll be featured in an upcoming episode of the comedy series “The Righteous Gemstones.”

Netflix canceled its Kevin James sitcom “The Crew” after one season.

It’s been almost two years since it was announced that Amazon intended to make a NASCAR rom-com called “Clean Air,” produced by … Will Smith and The Chainsmokers (that’s a weird sentence to write).

Since I started covering NASCAR in 2014, I’ve lost track of the number of scripted NASCAR projects that have been announced and then never spoken of again.

Remember when a Bobby Allison biopic was touted back in 2015?

Nada.

That same year, NASCAR announced the development of a scripted drama series from the producers of the TV miniseries “The Bible,” “A.D. The Bible Continues” and “The Voice.”

Goose egg.

For some reason, the only scripted NASCAR projects that make it into the wild are comedies, such as 2017’s Logan Lucky.

I’m not saying we’re in desperate need of a Days of Thunder 2, but NASCAR needs something that’s cut from the same cloth.

It’s the most popular form of motorsports in the U.S.

It shouldn’t be exclusively depicted in an effort to get laughs.

2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com. 

The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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wildcats2016

I agree with you that the actual All Star race itself was a dud but I was happy that North Wilkesboro was revived. Having the end of the year race at Phoenix again – yep, that’s a stupid idea for sure. The racing has been dull and boring much like New Hampshire. We’ve been to races there. Yes they sell out (or did when we were going) but boring boring boring.

Charlotte seems to have finally improved from a racing standpoint and that might work out for a season ending race. When we went to the final race of year in Homestead, we enjoyed the track and the racing.

As far as movies go, I’m not a fan of the movies that make fun of Nascar racing. for that reason (and because I’m not a will Ferrell fan) I’ve never seen Talladega Nights. I’ve seen some very good racing movies – I liked Rush a lot; another one was Ford vs Ferrari. It would be good to see some documentaries but there probably isn’t a market base for distribution for them unless they did direct to DVD.

Kevin in SoCal

Atlanta used to be the final race of the season way back when. Was it owned by SMI back then? What happened?

DoninAjax

Atlanta used to be an oval. Like Richmond. What happened?

sdelfin

I agree with the points here mostly. I’ve said elsewhere, some of the complaints about the new car are valid, but the doom and gloom is overdone. Short tracks were better two years ago. But intermediate tracks are significantly better. Super speedways and road courses are arguably better as well. Hopefully they have a better tire for Bristol concrete this year.

North Wilkesboro was great to see back. I enjoyed both the truck race and the All-star race, though I recognize the cup event could have been better. At the same time, there was some passing mid pack, and Larson was class of the field by a ton and got to the front early, and sometimes that just happens no matter how the track races.

Another commenter mentioned New Hampshire being boring, and that’s totally fine. I thought NH provided some surprisingly good racing in recent years, and that used to be one of my least favorite tracks. I just thought it was worth mentioning. I don’t know if that’s just me or something other people also think.

Steve C

Yawn

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