Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will Kaulig Be Unrecognizable in 2024?

1. Why wasn’t the first Camping World SRX Series race at Stafford Motor Speedway stopped sooner?

The Camping World SRX Series made its debut on ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder on July 13. True to its name, the first race at Stafford Motor Speedway had no shortage of thunder — literally.

What started as a calm night in the first two heats eventually turned ugly with a massive storm on the horizon.

The problem was that the race pressed onward despite a thunderstorm approaching.

The lightning clock — the policy used in NASCAR and most outdoors sporting events that halts all action for 30 minutes if there is a lightning strike within eight miles — may not a popular policy to some, but it’s there for a reason.

As someone covering the race from the infield, I could see that lightning kept getting closer and closer to the track as the race went on. You could visibly see lightning flashes in sky every 15 minutes while the race was going on.

The race was ended after 58 of the 75 scheduled laps, but there was little time left before the crowds got drenched.

Race winner Denny Hamlin posed for a couple of photos and was given the trophy in victory lane, but there were no interviews. And by the time the abrupt celebrations had concluded, the skies opened up.

When I first felt the raindrops, I tried to bolt out to the garage. What started with a light pitter patter ended in a monsoon, and as I started making my way toward the exit, there was a loud clap of thunder and lightning that emitted a collective response from the grandstands.

Everyone was able to make it out safely, but whatever the reason was, SRX, ESPN and Stafford played with fire in how long they waited to evacuate everyone. Move on from the race, but there needs to be better protocols and plans in place when severe weather is about to touch down.

See also
Hailie Deegan on Pole for SRX Heat 1 at Stafford

2. If he were to retire at the end of the season, who would replace Martin Truex Jr.?

Martin Truex Jr. dominated to conquer New Hampshire Motor Speedway at last in the NASCAR Cup Series, but the win did not dispel the rumors surrounding his potential retirement at the end of the season.

With Truex either undecided or taking his time to think things over, what is known is that the No. 19 car is for as long as he wants it. After all, that’s exactly what Joe Gibbs said in the post-race press conference at Dover Motor Speedway after Truex ended a 54-race drought in May.

But if Truex does decide to call it a career, who would be the driver waiting in the wings?

This time, it appears there’s an obvious answer: John Hunter Nemechek.

Nemechek went back down the ladder to compete for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and he scored seven wins for the team between 2021 and 2022.

Nemechek was elevated to Joe Gibbs Racing’s NASCAR Xfinity Series team in 2023, and he has already dominated to the tune of four wins and an average finish of 7.4 as he closes in on the Xfinity regular season championship. And at the age of 26, he already has a year of Cup experience under his belt.

But while Nemechek has the best resume of any realistic candidates, sponsorship may get in the way. JGR was dealt a major blow with the exit of M&M’s and Mars, Inc. at the end of 2022, and now it appears that FedEx is downsizing its program with Hamlin in 2023. The company sponsored the No. 11 in 30 of the 36 races last season, but it’s only appeared on the car in eight of the 20 events this season.

The reality is that if Truex leaves, JGR will have to find sponsorship in the same way that Stewart-Haas Racing has to find sponsorship for the No. 4 and Josh Berry.

Bass Pro Shops and Auto-Owners Insurance have sponsored Truex since 2016, and they followed him over from Furniture Row Racing. Like Kevin Harvick and Busch, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them leave if Truex decides to retire.

None of that is a concern for JGR at the moment, however, as Truex has yet to make a decision; the only thing to team can do is wait for his decision and then go from there.

See also
What's Next for NASCAR's Veterans With Martin Truex Jr's Decision Looming?

3. Will Kaulig Racing be unrecognizable in 2024?

A bombshell dropped July 20 as Justin Haley announced he will leave Kaulig Racing at the end of 2023, signing a multi-year deal with Rick Ware Racing.

Unlike certain announcements — cough Berry to SHR and Busch Light to Ross Chastain cough — this one came out of the blue. Haley looked to be a long-term piece for Kaulig at the Cup level, but that is no longer the case.

That, however, begs the question: What is the case for Kaulig in 2024?

The No. 31 car is now vacant. AJ Allmendinger enjoyed competing in Xfinity full time and was originally weary about returning to Cup, so he’s not a lock for the No. 16 next season.

On the Xfinity side, Daniel Hemric has lagged behind Chandler Smith and the multi-driver No. 10, and further stability within the No. 10 team probably wouldn’t hurt. Then there’s Smith, who’s had a sensational rookie season in the No. 16. But would he be ready for the Cup Series in 2024? And on that point, would Kaulig sign drivers away from other teams or downsize its own operations?

All of those questions remain unanswered, and Haley’s departure has created a ripple effect that will lead to a new-look Kaulig team for 2024.

4. Kyle Busch set out a long-term plan for his future in NASCAR. Is it attainable?

In a Sirius XM interview with Jason Stein, Busch stated that his goal was to remain in NASCAR until the early 2030s. He would:

  • Retire from the Cup Series when his son Brexton is 15 years old (Brexton is currently 8) and run in the Truck Series full time.
  • Split a truck with Brexton while he’s 16 and 17 years old.
  • Retire from NASCAR when Brexton turns 18 and goes full time in the Trucks.

With that timetable, Busch would retire from the Cup Series after 2029 or 2030 and then retire from NASCAR in the middle of the 2033 season, when he is 48 years old.

Is it feasible for Busch as a driver? It certainly is, especially given how dominant he’s been. And at 38 years old, he’s shown the NASCAR world that he still has it with three wins in the first 20 races of his tenure with Richard Childress Racing. Seven, eight more years in Cup is a long time, however, and who knows what the NASCAR landscape will look like by then?

Busch also admitted in the same interview that he does not have a life after racing plan set. But with a long-term goal set out years in advance, he’s certainly taking the steps to make it a reality.

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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