1. For NASCAR, how important is having a successful video game?
In what has turned into a week chock full of breaking news, it was announced Oct. 5, that iRacing will produce a brand new NASCAR simulation-style video game in 2025 after buying out NASCAR’s contract with Motorsport Games.
In addition to releases on the traditional gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5 and the Nintendo Switch, the game will also be available for computers and mobile devices.
NASCAR gets to move on from its rocky, turmoil-filled relationship with Motorsport Games in exchange for iRacing’s vast pedigree of success. When it comes to producing a quality game, NASCAR hit a home run with the development.
But for NASCAR, why is having a successful video game so important? After all, it’s just a game. Right?
It’s more than just a game: It’s NASCAR’s portal into captivating kids, teenagers and young adults. Any look at NASCAR’s TV ratings will show that the sport has struggled to draw younger crowds, and the recent run of mediocre to outright terrible games has absolutely played a factor.
What the biggest sports have in common is that they all have a successful video game franchise. Madden NFL, NBA 2K, MLB: The Show, FIFA (now EA Sports FC), you name it. I didn’t have any friends during my high school years who watched NASCAR, but I had plenty who watched football and played its respective video game.
If NASCAR had a long, established video game franchise that drew rave reviews from all over, would more play it and acquire an interest in the real thing? Absolutely.
The new game won’t be ready until 2025 — and even then, it takes a long time for a brand to gain recognition. But if iRacing knocks the game out of the park, it’ll be the first step in putting NASCAR back on the map in the console gaming world.
2. Denny Hamlin was engaging with critics online after Talladega Superspeedway. Is he simply leaning into the villain role, or are the comments starting to get to him?
Denny Hamlin finished third in Sunday’s (Oct. 1) YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in the NASCAR Cup Series, and after getting out of the car, he decided to banter with a couple of online critics.
Although he wasn’t exactly popular to begin with, 2023 has seen Hamlin emerge as the villain of the Cup Series. The boos he’s received during driver introductions and post-race interviews have only been amplified to 11, and he’s just two weeks removed from telling the Bristol Motor Speedway crowd that he beat all of their favorite drivers to the tune of thundrous jeers.
That interview and this week’s post-race interactions show that he’s no longer taking any prisoners when it comes to interacting with critics or haters. But has Hamlin learned to embrace wearing the black hat as NASCAR’s villain, or is this his way of coping to the mounting pressure and criticism placed on his back this season?
I could write a convincing argument for either side, but the truth is that only Hamlin knows the answer to that question. And it doesn’t matter what the answer may be, because there’s no doubt that Hamlin has been fun and entertaining to watch from afar these last few weeks.
3. The Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL is back for 2024, and stage cautions are back this weekend. Did NASCAR get it right or wrong with these decisions?
With lackluster racing on road courses and exemplary racing on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks, it looked as if the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL’s days on the NASCAR calendar were numbered.
However, that did not turn out to be case, as the 2024 schedule announcements on Oct. 4 revealed that the ROVAL will indeed be back for more in 2024.
The ROVAL was a fun and unique idea back when it was first implemented on the 2018 schedule, but at the moment, it’s clear that a 400- or 500-mile race on the Charlotte oval would be a far better show than what the ROVAL will produce this weekend.
The series is already at five road courses for the 2024 schedule anyway, and with road courses like Circuit Gilles Villeneuve still a possibility for 2025, six of them just feels like one too many.
Regardless, the ROVAL is here to stay for another year. It’s far from a safe date on the schedule, however, so fan attendance, fan interest and the quality of road course racing in 2024 will likely decide the ROVAL’s fate for 2025 and beyond. And if this Sunday’s (Oct. 8) race is a dud, the calls to return to the oval will only increase.
As for the return of stage cautions on road courses, they won’t be the magic bullets that singlehandedly improve the racing this weekend. I wrote about this in-depth in August before the decision was made, and the reality is that the stages are only a Band-Aid for the underlying problems with the Next Gen car. The two extra restarts may bring side-by-side racing for a handful of laps, but the same problems will persist once the field gets strung out again.
4. What are the expectations for Hailie Deegan in the NASCAR Xfinity Series?
Hailie Deegan will drive AM Racing’s brand new No. 15 NASCAR Xfinity Series car for the 2024 season and beyond, the team announced Oct. 5.
It’s still unknown who will pilot the team’s second car — the No. 25 — next year. Brett Moffitt currently drives the car, but it’s unknown if he will be back for a second season.
As for Deegan, anyone expecting her to be an immediate contender in 2024 will have to adjust their expectations. While she did finish 13th in her lone Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2022, she has five top 10s and an average finish of 21.3 across 67 starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series; moving up and putting together solid results will not be an immediate process.
How she performs in 2024 will also depend on how much support AMR receives from Ford. Deegan has been part of the Ford developmental ladder since 2020, and with AMR’s single-car operation expanding to two, it appears that Ford will be providing more support to the team.
For now, however, all that’s available as a measuring stick is Moffitt’s 2023 season in the No. 25. The 2018 Truck champion and 13-time Truck winner has scored one top five and nine top 10s with AMR this season to go along with an average finish of 16.4 in 28 races. Solid results for the team’s full-time season in the Xfinity Series.
Deegan may not reach those marks, but the goal for her should be the same: consistent top-20 finishes to go along with the occasional top 10.
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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