Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Should Richmond Keep Two Cup Races in 2024?

Should Richmond Raceway keep two NASCAR Cup Series dates in 2024?

Andrew Stoddard: No, Richmond Raceway should only have one NASCAR weekend in 2024. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, Pocono Raceway had two NASCAR Cup Series dates for a while, but as time passed, attendance and enthusiasm for the track slowly dwindled. Since switching to one Cup race in 2022, Pocono has experienced a revival, with a loud sellout crowd taking in last week’s dramatic finish at The Tricky Triangle. Richmond appears to be at a similar crossroads to what Pocono went through, with fans bemoaning a decline in action at The Action Track in recent years. Addition by subtraction could benefit Richmond in the long term.

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Phil Allaway: I believe that it should. The Cup Series needs to have short track races and Richmond is a good venue. However, the schedule moves in recent years have not been positive for the track. Just look at this weekend. July 28-30 for a daytime race in Richmond? Last I checked, the forecast for Saturday has a high of 98 degrees. This isn’t 1986. Fans are quite a bit less likely to sit in humid 100-degree weather for races these days. You could make the argument that they’re being set up to fail.

Mark Kristl: Richmond provided great races years ago, yet those were as night races. The Next Gen car has not been the most exciting racecar on short tracks. So Richmond, as a 0.75-mile short track, is in a tough predicament. It is a bigger short track, which means the competitors don’t have to solely use their bumpers. If NASCAR chose to drop one Cup date from Richmond, it would add more prestige to the racetrack, akin to the sellout at Pocono last weekend. Just please make it a night race. Richmond was better that way.

Stephen Stumpf: Richmond has had the best racing with the short track package in the Next Gen car (which isn’t saying much, however). That said, NASCAR is testing another aero package after this weekend’s race, and it might be the fix that everyone is looking for. Richmond should have two dates for now, especially given the lack of short tracks on the schedule at the moment. But if Richmond is going to have two, one of them needs to be on Sunday night; there is no reason to have an afternoon race at Richmond in late July.

Amy Henderson: I hate to see any short track lose a date, but I’d rather see a date for a track like North Wilkesboro Speedway come from Richmond than Bristol Motor Speedway. Recent races at Richmond, even before the Next Gen car with its short-track issues, have not been particularly exciting, and the track’s configuration isn’t quite right for traditional short-track action.

Zach Gillispie: This car must really suck on short tracks if we are even talking about losing a short track date.

Where does Denny Hamlin rank all time in Cup Series history?

Henderson: Unless he changes the narrative, Denny Hamlin ranks as probably the best driver never to win a championship (Junior Johnson never competed for a title). One of the best of his generation, Hamlin has simply never been able to close the deal on a title. He’s come close, entering the final race of 2010 as the point leader by a decent 15-point margin, only to concede the title to Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin’s also made the cut into the championship race several times in the playoff era only to fall short. Ultimately, his win record is more than enough to earn him a spire in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Allaway: At this point, Hamlin is probably one of the three or four best drivers ever to not win a Cup Series title. You don’t get to be tied for 13th all-time on the wins list by being a random jamoke. At his best, Hamlin is one of the best drivers to enter the series in the last 25 years. I don’t think he’s the 13th-best driver ever. He’s probably closer to the 30th. He’s great in individual races (winning seven times at Pocono, three Daytona 500 wins, etc.), but has never put together a full season. He’ll likely be remembered in the same context as Mark Martin, but he’ll never be as well-liked as Martin was and still is today.

Mike Neff: There needs to be some context here. All-time driver? All-time personality? All-time champion? Hamlin is a great ambassador for the sport and an excellent corporate pitchman. He is also doing well at developing as an owner. Painting with a broad stroke, he is top 50 in the sport — whatever that means.

Stumpf: That’s a hard question to answer given that his career is not over yet. At the moment, he’s tied for 13th on the all-time win list, and he’s tied for the most wins without a championship. At this point in his career, Hamlin is top 20 at worst and potentially top 15 all time.

Kristl: Hamlin is already a Hall of Fame driver. He is the greatest driver without a championship. Hamlin’s won big races, he’s one of the last drivers to have a sponsor associated with him for the majority of his career in FedEx, he’s now a two-car team owner, and he has done so while driving for top Toyota team Joe Gibbs Racing. If Hamlin wins a championship, he’ll certainly move up a few notches. Either way, he’s a Hall of Fame driver.

Stoddard: Hamlin is just outside the top 10 on my all-time list. He has checked off every box on the career checklist except for that Cup Series championship. Without it, Hamlin is in the second tier of all-time Cup Series drivers alongside drivers like Martin and Carl Edwards. But there is no doubt that Hamlin is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer. Eleven of the 14 drivers in front of him on the all-time wins list are enshrined in Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the three who are not are Jimmie Johnson, who is on this year’s ballot, and active drivers Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

Gillispie: Hamlin will go down in history as the greatest driver never to win a championship.

Will interim crew chief Kevin Manion improve Ty Dillon’s performance?

Gillispie: Haha. Poor Ty Dillon. But, even worse, poor Manion. He is a great and very successful crew chief but the Spire Motorsports No. 77 car is slow, lacks the resources to be fast, and has a (if we are honest here) subpar driver behind. While a gradual tick in performance is expected, it likely won’t be very visible to the naked eye, especially when teammate Corey LaJoie, in equal equipment, is running circles around you. With rumors that Dillon will be replaced in the offseason and a large influx of new funding from sponsor Gainbridge’s recent investment, look for the 77 to have a much better 2024.

Stoddard: I doubt changing crew chiefs will move the needle significantly for the Spire’s No. 77. Manion has a solid resume with five Cup Series wins, including a three-win season with Jamie McMurray in 2010. Unfortunately, there is only so much an accomplished crew chief can do to turn around a team that sits 32nd in the points and a driver who has not won a NASCAR national series race in almost a decade. It will be more of the same for Spire going forward.

Neff: Manion is a championship crew chief. He has been around the sport and led rookies and veterans. He will give a level-headed leadership to the team and hopefully that will help Dillon perform better. It won’t happen overnight but could easily happen this season.

Henderson: I don’t think it was the crew chief that was the issue here. That said, whatever Dillon has brought to his last couple of teams, it has improved his teammates’ performances fairly dramatically, so I’m not sure firing him and losing whatever support he brings in the process is necessarily better for the team as a whole if they can’t replace it with whoever else they bring on board.

Kristl: The crew chief is not the problem; it is the driver. Dillon has seven top 10s in 223 total Cup Series starts. He was not even that great in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, accruing a combined four wins in those two series. In his three full-time Xfinity seasons, Dillon won once. Nepotism has kept Dillon in Cup. A crew chief change? Spire has two Cup drivers who have not earned their rides on talent, but rather their ability to attract sponsorship.

Stumpf: Dillon is on his fourth team in the last four seasons. A crew chief swap might provide an uptick in performance, but only so much can be done at the top of the box.

Allaway: That is a little early to say. As of now, Dillon has provided very little to Spire. Having said that, he’s running about as well as his replacement in the No. 42, Noah Gragson, has run to this point. I’m actually surprised that that is the case. You could argue that there really isn’t anywhere for Dillon to go but up from here, but you never know. The No. 77 team has never particularly been all that competitive.

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Where should Jesse Love race next year?

Kristl: Jesse Love has won his way through the ARCA Menards Series platform. Now he’s ready for a full-time Truck Series ride. Can he and TRICON Garage driver Dean Thompson switch places? Thompson has not earned one win in his Truck or ARCA tenure. Love? He has two ARCA Menards Series West championships and is well on his way to winning the ARCA championship. He has earned an opportunity to run Trucks full time.

Stoddard: After blowing the doors off the ARCA competition so far this season, Love is definitely ready for the next step up the ladder. Love should be full-time in the Truck Series next year with TRICON. The 18-year-old could also benefit from a handful of Xfinity Series starts, either with JGR or Sam Hunt Racing.

Gillispie: Anywhere where William Sawalich is. Those two have been at each other’s throats all year, and it has actually made the ARCA series somewhat compelling. It is the rivalry we didn’t know we needed. I’m all ears when Love ballparks Sawalich.

Allaway: Ideally, Love should probably be in the Truck Series in 2024, likely with TRICON. He’s shown well in limited appearances there so far. More than likely, he’s going to waltz away with the ARCA title as his two closest competitors are a rookie in Andres Perez de Lara, who is fairly inexperienced, and Frankie Muniz, who we don’t even know will be able to run all the races. I don’t think he learns anything else staying in ARCA beyond this year, although there’s no reason why he couldn’t do a guest appearance or two (ex: in the JGR No. 18 for the races Sawalich can’t run). He also doesn’t appear to have a driving style that is actively hurt by the Truck formula (ex: Hailie Deegan).

Neff: Opportunities are few and far between for young drivers. With the near certainty that Shane van Gisbergen is going NASCAR racing, Love should head over to Australia and run V8 Super Cars.

Stumpf: Almost guaranteed to win the 2023 ARCA title, Love looks to be the next driver in line at TRICON’s Truck team in 2024. After all, he’s already competing for them in three races this season.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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.

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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