Former F1 driver Jenson Button said that NASCAR should race in Europe in the near future. Is there a need for NASCAR to compete in Europe? If so, where?
Steve Leffew: NASCAR should have one NASCAR Cup Series international race per season. It should be Mexico and Canada most of the time, with someplace more exotic every few years. The options for the exotic race could include Japan, England, Spain, Belgium, France, Germany and any other European venue that will welcome the beating and banging of NASCAR.
Vito Pugliese: Short answer? No. Long answer? Also no, prefaced with the need to ease off the Garage 56 throttle a bit following the glowing reviews of the Hendrick Motorsports Camaro at Le Mans a couple weeks ago. I love the Instagram memes with the “Freebird” guitar solo playing as much as the next person, but we have bigger fish to fry. Can we get the current car to race competitively on a short track first? Let’s grab some of that low hanging fruit before we fall back into the same pattern of chasing the new shiny penny for another decade.
Luken Glover: For the most part, no, there is not. It would be compelling to see the response of fans in Europe to a NASCAR Cup Series race, but overall, the NASCAR market needs to stay here. Branch series on other continents and running things like Garage 56 here and there certainly bring exposure, but traveling over there would involve a lot of unnecessary costs, travel headaches, and a lot to sort for broadcasting. If NASCAR were to go international, I have always been interested in seeing them revive the Japan exhibition race one day. But as far as I’m concerned, NASCAR needs to focus on their own homefront product.
Can successful short track drivers still earn top level rides based primarily on their ability, similar to the way Josh Berry and Ross Chastain have recently?
Pugliese: Yes, but they are the exception to the rule. Josh Berry got lucky in that he had Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his corner. Ross Chastain may have been a short track driver, but he was also toiling along in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for a few years before he was ushered into Cup. Talent is coming from all over now, with interest coming from all disciplines at the top level. That can be a good thing or a bad thing but is still preferable to being inundated with a bunch of 17-to-19-year-olds who couldn’t change the oil on their own car but are being promoted as the next Jeff Gordon.
Leffew: The answer is in the question. It’s still possible. Those guys proved it, but it has become pretty rare. These guys will serve as a test case for future teams. Is it better to get an infusion of cash from a sponsored driver with average talent, or to invite the cash by hiring a very talented driver? We should all be rooting for Chastain and Berry because of this.
Glover: Absolutely! Unfortunately, it has become rare in this day and age, but it can be done. Berry just proved that by earning his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing. There are several late model stars who have had to work hard to gain some notice, and there are several who I would like to see get a shot. But if you keep a strong work ethic, have the right conversations and make sure that the NASCAR world can’t overlook your name, there is potential. Berry and Chastain both did it without a solid backing partner like many drivers have now. Aspiring Cup drivers have to be thinking that if they can, why not them?
With the way the NextGen car performs on intermediates compared to short tracks, is it actually a better option for NASCAR to keep the Nashville race date at the superspeedway in Lebanon instead of moving to the Fairgrounds?
Glover: That’s a tough question. The Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway holds a similar level of intrigue and anticipation to what we saw with North Wilkesboro Speedway. But the current short track product holds a very high risk of disappointment that could hit the Fairgrounds. What might be the best route to go is what we just saw at North Wilkesboro. If they are able to get through all of the red tape to host a race at the Fairgrounds, a points race should remain at Nashville Superspeedway and NASCAR should look at hosting the All-Star Race on the short track. But until then, the short track blues must be cured.
Leffew: NASCAR was dead set on bringing back the Fairgrounds. They can’t let the flaws of this car derail those plans. They need to fix the car. That said, Nashville Superspeedway has put on better racing than initially expected, so the urgency has been reduced.
Pugliese: It’s not a bad idea either way. Nashville Fairgrounds has gotten a lot of hype simply because Earnhardt Jr. has voiced his support of it. No fan under 40 has ever even seen a Cup race there, so they’re advocating for something they have no experience with. North Wilkesboro was a huge win, but I also don’t think we need to go all nostalgia all the time with everything as we like to do recently, which is usually the result of the current state of something being awful. I don’t think the new car is awful — last year was a blast. But now that we’ve had a year of races and notes to work off of, it definitely has some shortcomings on short tracks not named Bristol Motor Speedway. Let’s get the short track package first before we bring any more onto the schedule.
Which NASCAR Cup Series driver or team do you think has the best chance to turn around their season after an off week to fully reset?
Leffew: Austin Dillon and the No. 3 team. They’ve had a few good runs gone bad, but overall they just haven’t been on the same level as the No. 8 team. Some difference is to be expected when you’re comparing Dillon to someone like Kyle Busch, but this off week should help them close the gap and become a more frequent contender.
Pugliese: I’m going with a driver that most would probably ignore — and that’s Dillon. He’s currently 28th in points, while his new teammate has won three races and seems to have turned the clock back 10 years on his career. Dillon gets a lot of flak from some fans, mostly due to the relationship with his car owner and the number on the door. That said, he’s still a solid superspeedway driver and won last summer at Daytona International Speedway as the rains fell and he navigated his way through the carnage. Busch has proven the equipment is solid, and there’s likely going to be some of that success from the No. 8 car that trickles down to the No. 3. The entire program should improve the second half of the season.
Glover: I’m taking a close look at AJ Allmendinger. The Kaulig Racing driver hasn’t had a bad season, but I was expecting more from that team. Kaulig as a whole has been a little off across the board, but they have shown speed at times. The main reason I am so optimistic about Allmendinger is because of his part-time stint a year ago. In his final 10 starts of 2022, Allmendinger earned seven top 10s. That string of momentum came in the second half of the season. Despite only having two top 10s thus far, he is 20th in the standings, only 33 points outside the playoffs. And one look at the remaining 10 regular season races shows how dangerous he can be. There are three road courses remaining, two of which he has won in Cup. Additionally, he is a solid superspeedway racer, and Atlanta Motor Speedway and Daytona are on the agenda. Don’t write off the Dinger just yet.
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