Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: What Happens If Shane van Gisbergen Whoops Them Again?

1. If the NASCAR Cup Series is going back to the Indianapolis oval, will the NASCAR Xfinity Series follow?

Last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, Denny Hamlin hinted that the NASCAR Cup Series will return to the 2.5-mile rectangle oval of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its 2024 Brickyard weekend.

Cool. Let’s make it happen.

But should the NASCAR Xfinity Series go with it?

There is little doubt that the Cup Series has had a roller coaster of viewpoints regarding its trip to the Indianapolis road course over the last couple of years. Two years ago, the track literally fell apart as the cars raced over the turtle grooves, sending cars into the tire barriers in a symphony of wrecked racecars, with last year’s edition producing an equally chaotic finale.

Plus, the new Next Gen car hasn’t raced on the oval yet, while it has underperformed slightly on the road courses so far.

So you can understand where Hamlin is coming from, even if you don’t agree with him completely.

For the Xfinity Series, however, it’s a different argument entirely.

Unlike the Cup cars, the Xfinity Series has still produced some incredible racing on road courses, with the most recent at Road America putting on a show the rivaled the likes of the legendary battle between Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen International in 2012.

As for the eight years of racing on the oval, the series didn’t produce the moments that the Brickyard 400 did, barring a couple special wins here and there.

So a repeat of 2020 in having a Xfinity race on the road course on Saturday while the Cup cars race the oval on Sunday sounds kind of fun, right?

Maybe, but there is an alternative solution.

You see, there’s this short track that’s 15 minutes down the road, and recently, it’s been hosting a few popular racing events for the Camping World SRX Series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and even the ARCA Menards Series.

Apparently the Xfinity Series used to go to this Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

If we really can’t figure out what to do with the series at the Brickyard, maybe it’s time to go back to where it once was.

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2. What does the future of an undefeated Shane van Gisbergen look like?

He’s baaaack.

The appearance of the bearded New Zealander is likely to strike fear in the heart of many of the most seasoned Cup veterans this weekend. After he stomped the field at the Chicago street course earlier this year and made history as the first driver in the modern era to win in his first Cup start, Shane van Gisbergen has been a hot topic in the silly season garage.

But what happens if he wins again?

The Kiwi has already hinted several times that he could enter NASCAR full time by as early as 2024, and being undefeated, he’s a pretty hot prospect for a lot of Cup teams looking to get some rides filled.

So winning again this weekend at Indianapolis — which isn’t that farfetched — may make him a bigger prospect than before.

One of the teams rumored to be looking at the supercar driver is Kaulig Racing, which is now in need of new talent in its No. 31 after Justin Haley announced his departure from the team at the end of this year for Rick Ware Racing. Van Gisbergen currently races for Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 entry, which is an allied team of Kaulig; the two consistently share drivers for Xfinity races.

But hold on, why doesn’t he just go to Trackhouse? Well, Trackhouse is unlikely to be rid of either of its two full-time drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, nor will it likely be purchasing a third charter anytime soon, so van Gisbergen doesn’t really have a landing pad there.

Yet.

Remember, van Gisbergen has interest in racing NASCAR full time. There’s no specification as to what series he’ll race in. In fact, according to this interview with Motorsport, he prefers to start in the lower series.

And suddenly the doors are wide open.

As of right now, a win has probably given the Kiwi a sure ride with Kaulig in the Xfinity Series for next year, but another win may just broaden his horizons.

JR Motorsports has already one car that’s open for next year in the No. 8, and now with rumor that Brandon Jones may return to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, it could have two cars open. Getting an undefeated road course ace sure would sound enticing, wouldn’t it?

And by the way, unlike in the Cup Series, there’s no limit to the number of cars one team can have in Xfinity.

3. Who should take over the No. 42 for the remainder of the season?

Legacy Motor Club has bought a couple weeks of time to decide who will step in to replace the suspended Noah Gragson for the rest of the year.

It has already been announced that Mike Rockenfeller will race the No. 42 both this weekend at Indianapolis and next weekend at Watkins Glen. Last week at Michigan, Josh Berry took over the ride and finished 34th after a crash ended his day early.

So who does that leave to take the No. 42’s reins? It isn’t impossible for Berry to return to the No. 42 for the rest of the year, and he has gotten plenty of Cup reps in 2023 after he filled in for Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman already.

However, Berry is in the hunt for a Xfinity championship, and while he may want to return at Daytona International Speedway in three weeks when Rockenfeller’s tenure is up, he’ll probably wish to focus on chasing a championship during the playoffs. That said, Ty Gibbs did the exact same thing last year in his road to winning the Xfinity title.

There’s also Grant Enfinger, the same driver who filled in for Gragson when he had concussion symptoms earlier this year at Sonoma Raceway. Enfinger races for GMS Racing — an affiliate of Legacy — in the Truck Series.

That said, it’s another similar argument as Berry. He’s already locked into the Truck postseason, which has already begun. So, while not impossible, he may not want to divert his focus either.

But what about a GMS racer who isn’t in the Truck playoffs?

Maybe a guy like Rajah Caruth?

Caruth is one of a handful of young prospects Chevrolet has been cultivating for the past couple of years in both ARCA and in the Trucks. What better form of practice could someone like that get than putting him in a Cup car for a decent number of races?

See also
Did You Notice?: NASCAR Silly Season Update Post-Truex, Front Row

4. Has RFK Racing become the top Ford team?

It’s getting harder to dispute every week.

With Chris Buescher‘s back-to-back wins, RFK Racing has now equaled Team Penske’s total amount of wins so far this season.

Really, that’s not saying much, but that’s the standard Ford is playing with right now, and RFK has just matched it. In fact, in some instances, it exceeded it.

Keselowski’s two-car team has led a combined 482 laps so far this season. Penske’s three-car organization has led 612.

Point for Penske.

Divided up into averages? RFK has led an average of 241 laps between both teams. Penske has led an average of 204.

Point for RFK.

Penske so far boasts an average finish of 17.1 between all three cars. RFK has an average of 13.5.

Game, set, match?

While there are plenty of other things to compare between the two teams, there is no doubt that RFK has completely closed the gap on Penske in the race for the top Ford team.

And if it hasn’t overtaken the reigning championship team yet, RFK is at least on its back bumper.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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4 Comments
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TiminPayson

Come on, Rajah before Carson or Zane? That’s simply the author working on his woke bonifides.

gbvette

Not only would it be great to see Xfinity back at Indianapolis Raceway Park, it would be great to see Cup there too. Cup has never really put on a good show at the Speedway, whether on the oval or road course. The new car hasn’t raced well on short tracks, and Raceway Park doesn’t have the infrastructure to support Cup, but it wouldn’t break my heart if NASCAR went somewhere else, to never go back to the Speedway.

Running Cup on the oval and Xfinity on the road course is an interesting idea. The Speedway already does something similar. The SVRA hosts a large vintage race at Indy every year on the road course. As part of the weekend, they switch the track over to the oval Saturday afternoon and let the vintage racers do exhibition laps around the oval. The biggest drawback is that it takes them over an hour to switch from one configuration to the other, which could cause time issues with two series trying to practice, qualify and race.

Mike

What is the vig deal about shane. He wins one race and you would think he won the championship. Not only that but with all the rain and poor track conditions it was a pretty sorry race. Wait until he gets on ovals then we will se how good he is

Ronald Thornton

Let Van Gisbergen drive it. If he runs top 5 or wins on the ovals he would be an instant story and maybe even the next great thing. He clearly has car control going left and right. Couldn’t hurt the ratings to try. Nascar should make it happen like only they can.

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