Who will be eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series’ Round of 16?
Mark Kristl: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Kevin Harvick and Christopher Bell. Harvick is winless and Stewart-Haas Racing has not performed well in 2023. Stenhouse won the Daytona 500, but that race garnered him his only playoff points, so he will be out quickly. While McDowell has enjoyed a solid year, the racetracks in the first round are not racetracks where he normally excels. And Bell’s lone win was on dirt. He’s run consistently well thus far, but someone usually has one race in the first round that results in an early exit, and Bell’s luck will run out.
Taylor Kornhoff: There are always some drivers who you would think are first-round exits that go advance, along with a couple of surprises. That said, Stenhouse belongs to neither category and will be a first-round exit. He will be joined by Ross Chastain, Bell and Ryan Blaney.
Luken Glover: While McDowell earned a spot in the playoffs and Front Row Motorsports continues to elevate, the Round of 16 tracks don’t favor him compared to the competition. Kansas Speedway presents a strong opportunity for Bubba Wallace and he has improved in 2023, but I don’t like how Darlington Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway serve him. Bell can no doubt go deep; he proved that last year. However, his momentum is not where it needs to be entering the playoffs. He has one top five since winning the Bristol dirt track and the execution has not been there. Lastly, it’s hard to overlook Chastain’s struggles this summer. Since winning at Nashville Superspeedway, he has just one top 10 and two top 15s. We know he can go deep, and the Round of 16 lines up well for him. However, I’m taking Stenhouse to be the upset transfer due to Chastain’s lack of momentum.
Mike Neff: Always a surprise in the Round of 16. Someone won’t make it that everyone thinks is a layup. McDowell, Stenhouse and Harvick will be joined by Bell as the Round of 16 casualties.
Zach Gillispie: Stenhouse, Tyler Reddick, Wallace and Blaney.
Will the crew chief switch benefit Harrison Burton and or Austin Cindric?
Neff: At this point of the year, it might help a small amount, but 2024 is when we will most likely see a benefit. Austin Cindric will probably get the bigger bump of the two.
Kristl: Harrison Burton will benefit more than Cindric. Cindric already drives for Team Penske, a team that has two playoff drivers. Burton, meanwhile, competes for Wood Brothers Racing, and he has struggled more than Cindric since they both entered the Cup Series. Head-to-head, Cindric has bested Burton, so perhaps Burton’s new crew chief Jeremy Bullins can help him succeed more.
Kornhoff: The crew chief switch will benefit Cindric, as he has shown potential, and the resources and surroundings he has will allow him to become even better. Cindric has had speed in the playoffs before.
Gillispie: This move will benefit who gets the Wood Brothers seat in 2024.
Glover: We will only get a sample size this season with 10 races remaining, but both should benefit from the swap. It’s a good time to experiment with such a move and establish the vision for what 2024 will look like. Next year, however, Cindric should be the beneficiary. It has no doubt been a sophomore slump for the 2022 Daytona 500 winner, but we have seen past stars experience a similar bump in the road. Bullins is worthy of being a Cup crew chief, but that pairing never seemed to really mesh well. It should be mentioned that Wilson was Cindric’s NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief when he won the title in 2020 and came five feet short of doing so again in 2022. That should serve him well in 2023 and beyond.
Door Bumper Clear suggested Richmond Raceway could host a doubleheader for the Cup Series in 2024. What do you think?
Glover: It’s an experiment worth trying. As I pointed out in an article this week, it likely would give teams an additional off-week, could allow for a night race to return to the track and bring excitement to the track for one week of the year. Richmond is a track that contains flexibility that can be attempted with its dates, and there is still a passion around the track. But rather than dates, the track needs a facelift, whether that is by repaving the track or adjusting the banking. As far as a doubleheader, it was a trial that got called off too quickly. There are questions surrounding how the doubleheader would work, but Richmond would be a good spot to host it and see where we can go from there.
Neff: If you are looking for Cup with another series, throw it in with the NTT IndyCar Series. It could work, and it has run Richmond before. It would be better to have the World of Outlaws late models join Cup on a dirt track.
Kornhoff: I do not particularly like this idea, mainly because there are only so many slots on the Cup schedule these days. There are so many great venues for racing that only a select few coveted tracks deserve two dates. Not to bash Richmond, but if we’re considering moving Bristol to one date, Richmond should not have two. Instead, the schedule could be shifted and that slot could be filled by a venue such as Circuit Gilles Villeneuve or Chicagoland Speedway.
Kristl: The Next Gen car does not race well on short tracks, and Richmond lost some of its prestige from back when it hosted the Cup regular season finale. While I doubt this move would help ratings, an invert from the first to second race of 30 could produce some good racing. Think about it: if the winning driver in the first race starts 30th in the second race, there are good storylines. Conversely, finish 30th in the first race, unhappy with the racecar? You’re starting first; let’s see what you can do with it.
With Grant Enfinger looking for a ride, what are his best options?
Gillispie: What if Grant Enfinger already has a ride for 2024 that no one knows about? Matt Kaulig, is this your mystery driver of the No. 31? He does bring sponsorship. Didn’t you say you needed some? Aside from that wishful thinking, Enfinger actually has a lot of cool places he could go: a JR Motorsports Xfinity car, a Kaulig Racing Xfinity car, a Kyle Busch Motorsports NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ride. Spire Motorsports could also make its truck a full-time ride, or there are also potential openings for an FRM or Niece Motorsports truck ride. Some left-field possibilities could include a Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity ride, a Hattori Racing Enterprises truck entry, a Spire Cup ride and a seat with Sam Hunt Racing. The world is his oyster.
Glover: Enfinger is one of the most underrated drivers in the NASCAR garage. He is consistent, takes care of his equipment, is a respected driver and has proven that he can get the job done when it matters. What did he do this past week after GMS Racing announced it would cease operations after 2023? He went out and bulldozed the field, proving that he deserves a job. It feels like every lower series free agent under the sun is being linked to JRM’s No. 8 car, but Enfinger deserves a close look there. Kaulig should also give him consideration, considering he can supply some funding and knows how to win. If he stays in Trucks, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing would be a good option for him given its alliance with GMS. If Carson Hocevar departs Niece, Enfinger should be on its short list as well.
Kristl: Enfinger would be an underrated fit at Kaulig in its No. 31 in Cup. Kaulig is seeking a driver with funding; Enfinger brings that with Champion Power Equipment. Kaulig needs someone who will not tear up equipment; Enfinger has only 13 DNFs in his 168-race career. Furthermore, Enfinger has 10 Truck wins at 10 different racetracks. He is a veteran who has been to most of the Cup circuits, he’s already in the Chevrolet camp, and at 38 years old, he’s the perfect age for Kaulig. By perfect, I mean he could sign a two-year deal with the organization while Chandler Smith continues his development in the Xfinity Series.
Neff: Since Denny Hamlin is going to 23XI Racing, or so everyone says, Enfinger should slide into the No. 11. As much as Enfinger would like that, it probably won’t happen. It would be great to see him in a Kaulig Xfinity car. The No. 8 vacancy at JRM would also be a great location.
Kornhoff: Enfinger’s best options are certainly within the Truck Series. Depending on how he does this year, he should look toward joining another championship-level organization and aiming to put together a title-worthy season even better than 2023 in order to solidify himself as a candidate for big Xfinity or Cup rides. One potential landing place would be ThorSport Racing if it decides to move Hailie Deegan to Xfinity. Of course, there’s another huge landing spot that is hard to ignore, the JRM No. 8. There are several drivers further up in line for that ride, though.
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