1. Which Cup drivers will compete for a title at Phoenix?
Four drivers were eliminated after last Sunday’s (Oct. 8) NASCAR Cup Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, and the remaining eight drivers will go to battle for the next three weeks, starting this Sunday (Oct. 15) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The finale will be held at Phoenix Raceway for the fourth straight year on Nov. 5, and the attention now turns to the four drivers that will lock in their spots.
For starters, they have the most playoff points of the eight drivers left. What they also have, however, is at least one Cup win at all four tracks left on the schedule.
|Martin Truex Jr.||2||1||3||1|
Sure, Byron, Hamlin, Truex and Larson have been in NASCAR longer (sans Byron) and have more wins than the other four. The point, however, is that they’ve been the most successful drivers of 2023, and they do not have a single weakness in the final four races.
Tyler Reddick is great at Homestead, but his weakness is Martinsville.
Ryan Blaney is great at Las Vegas and Martinsville, but his weakness is Homestead.
Christopher Bell won at Martinsville last year, but he has a combined six top 10s in 17 starts at the Round of 8 tracks.
Chris Buescher, meanwhile, is the ultimate wild card.
He’s burst onto the scene as a contender, but the No. 17 team has struggled in collecting stage points. And in a cutthroat round where every point matters, that may be the difference between advancement and elimination.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Truex has not scored a top-15 finish in the last seven races. I even wrote two weeks ago that his title hopes were numbered if the No. 19 team failed to pick up the pace.
With that said, the Round of 12 was poised to be the worst round for Truex. Texas Motor Speedway is a battle of track position, and the No. 19 team pitted for tires too often. Talladega is Talladega, and it’s a style of racing at which Truex has never excelled. At the ROVAL, Truex had to sacrifice track position in order to acquire stage points, so last week didn’t provide an accurate read on how good the team was or wasn’t.
The No. 19 team hasn’t had speed, per se, but it hasn’t had a proper chance to showcase it either. Truex looked to be one of the best cars at Kansas in practice and qualifying until an early tire puncture, and Las Vegas is one of his best tracks. Ultimately, he’ll break out of his slump and join Byron, Hamlin and Larson in the Arizona desert.
2. Demolition work has started at Fontana. Will we ever see racing there again?
It’s been nearly three years since the plan for a short track at the site of the track formerly known as Auto Club Speedway was laid out. It was supposed to be ready by 2022, until the pandemic cancelled the 2021 race and pushed the plans back a year. Flash forward to 2023, and the race was once again on the 2-mile configuration.
That configuration is now history. The track we know today bid its NASCAR farewell on Feb. 27, and NASCAR sold a majority of the land for redevelopment.
The work did not begin immediately. Pictures popped up throughout the spring and summer, and they revealed that the speedway had sat largely vacant and untouched. And by the time of the final race, even the future plan of a short track seemed to be up in the air.
If the land was sold, what was the holdup?
Perhaps it was the rumors of motorsports being a potential addition to the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Auto Club, located not too far away in Fontana, would be a perfect motorsport venue for 2028.
My hunch is that everyone involved was waiting to see if Auto Club would be needed in five years’ time. In the end, motorsport did not make the final cut. That news was revealed on Oct. 9, and demolition work began by the next day.
After three years of planning, speculation and waiting, the 2-mile will be gone in a matter of months.
It’s a big loss for American motorsports as a whole. Two-mile-plus ovals are hard to come by, and there are only five remaining in the United States today: Pocono Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway.
Fellow 2-mile track Texas World Speedway had largely sat abandoned in the 21st century, and it officially bit in the dust by the end of the 2010s.
Unlike Texas World, however, Auto Club at least has a future as a short track. Right?
Truthfully, I don’t know the answer to that question. There have been so many delays, hoops and setbacks in the process, and there is radio silence on whether the short track plan will actually go through. Maybe I’m wrong, and Fontana will triumphantly return to the schedule as a short track. But at the same time, it’s looking more and more likely that we’ve seen the last of NASCAR there.
3. What’s the latest silly season news?
If you’ve been out of the loop since Sunday, here’s all the late 2023 and 2024 updates you need to know.
- Carson Hocevar will replace Ty Dillon in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Cup car.
- Matt Mills will replace Hocevar in Niece Motorsports’ No. 42 truck.
- Sheldon Creed will not return to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Xfinity car.
- Riley Herbst will return to Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 98 Xfinity car.
- Marco Andretti will drive Spire’s No. 7 truck for the final two races of 2023.
- AJ Allmendinger may potentially drop down to Kaulig Racing’s Xfinity team due to a lack of funding.
In Cup, the picture is getting clearer by the day. At this point, there are only three seats left to fill: Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 car, Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 car and Rick Ware Racing’s second car.
While the Cup silly season is almost over, the Xfinity one is only beginning. Richard Childress Racing will need to replace Creed in the No. 2 car, while Joe Gibbs Racing is looking for two full-time drivers to replace the departing Sammy Smith and John Hunter Nemechek. All three of Kaulig’s Xfinity cars are open at the moment, and there’s still a question of whether Cole Custer will remain with SHR’s Xfinity team or get promoted back to Cup.
The Truck Series silly season has largely yet to begin, other than the news that Kyle Busch Motorsports was sold, and that GMS Racing will close its doors. Mills was one of the first dominos to fall in terms of driver signings, and it’s likely we’ll more Truck Series (and Xfinity Series) contracts fall in place during the upcoming weeks.
4. Where does AJ Allmendinger rank all time in NASCAR road racing?
Allmendinger is a wheelman on road courses, and last Sunday was further confirmation of that. Allmendinger now has three Cup wins on road courses, and he’s won more Xfinity races on road courses (11) than anyone else.
The Charlotte Roval is Allmendinger’s playground in particular; he is undefeated in four Xfinity starts at the track, and he followed up his four straight Xfinity wins at the Roval with a Cup win in year five.
On the Cup side, just 19 drivers have scored three or more wins on road courses.
|Driver||Road Course Wins|
|Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace||6|
|Bobby Allison, Tim Richmond, Martin Truex Jr., Darrell Waltrip||5|
|Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Mark Martin||4|
|AJ Allmendinger, Geoff Bodine, Ernie Irvan, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Tyler Reddick, Cale Yarborough||3|
In Xfinity, Allmendinger has doubled up on the competition with his 11 wins; no one else has more than five. With his Cup and Xfinity wins, Allmendinger is arguably top 15 on road courses all time and top 20 at the very least.
Why I’d put him at that ranking is that while he has a vast collection of wins, the 2020s decade has more road courses on the Cup schedule than ever before. If the drivers from the 1950s all the way to the mid-2010s had five, six road courses a year, how different would the leaderboard look?
We’ll never know. What is known, however, is that Allmendinger — in his resurgence with Kaulig — has proven to be one of the best road racers of his era.
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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