Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: Intermediates, the New Short Track

A driver punching another in the face.

Another throwing his helmet at a former teammate’s car (and missing) after a hard crash from contact.

A driver running up to a car during post race and unleashing a torrential stream of obscenities in anger over a late-race crash.

Two good friends getting into a mini-feud after contact on a restart ruined one’s chances of a win and delivered the victory to the other.

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The crowd raining down boos on said winner as he celebrates on the frontstretch.

Earlier in the the year, those same two drivers were involved in last-lap contact at a different track that ended in the same result.

Now, any one of these scenarios seems like it was ripped from the headlines following a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway or Martinsville Speedway.

But, alas that can’t be said — at least not yet — in 2023.

All of these, every single one of them, occurred at an intermediate track.

And they happened at Kansas Speedway and Pocono Raceway, of all places.

The idea of Austin Dillon or any driver throwing a helmet at someone at Pocono does not compute.

“I guess I need to just starting wrecking some people,” Dillon said after exiting the care center.

Noah Gragson being mad enough at Ross Chastain to confront him after a race, only for Chastain to deck him … at KANSAS?

Come on, who’s writing these scripts?

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge this isn’t a new phenomenon at intermediates.

Jeff Gordon‘s and Brad Keselowski‘s infamous post-race scuffle?

Texas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch marching down pit road and attempting to slug Joey Logano?

Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Matt Kenseth ambushing Keselowski between haulers?

Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But in 2023, it feels like short track behavior at big tracks is happening more often.

And I’m not entirely complaining.

We currently live in a Next Gen car world where intermediate tracks provide better racing and more highlight reel and viral moments than their short track brethren.

Imagine reading that sentence five years ago.

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Road courses shared the “short track” mantle in the 2010s, and that made sense to a degree.

But intermediates?

It’s weird.

But it doesn’t hurt.

2.8 million people watched Sunday’s race — the first Cup race since June to not be impacted by rain in any form — which was up from 2.5 million who watched in 2022. It was the most-watched motorsports event of 2023 on a cable network.

Two years after it went down to hosting just one NASCAR race weekend a season rather than two races separated by six weeks, Pocono enjoyed a sell-out crowd and its best attendance since 2010, according to the track.

This is after 4.8 million watched the inaugural Chicago street course race.

“What I cannot stop thinking about is how wicked good it is right now to be a NASCAR fan,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download. “How great the last four weeks have been. (Pocono) looked like a 1994 crowd. …

“Your sport that you love is thriving. If you can, take a little comfort in just being a little happy about what kind of growth we’re seeing, what kind of sparks we’re creating, what kind of conversations we’re starting.

“We need exactly what we got yesterday. We need that villain. We need contact, confrontation. God dang, man. When it ain’t there, good lord, it’s boring. …

“What we got right now, man, it ain’t scripted. This is real. This is authentic.”

Now imagine what we would be talking about this year if NASCAR’s short track package was worth a damn.

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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Shayne

Well, if NA$CAR’S #1 shrill says it, it must be true.

DoninAjax

I wonder if Chicago phoned Tronto or Detroit to find out what is involved in setting up for a real street race?

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