Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: What Are Expectations for Derek Kraus’ Cup Debut?

What do you expect from Derek Kraus in his NASCAR Cup Series debut?

Luken Glover: This year looks different for Kaulig Racing’s Cup program, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered. While AJ Allmendinger got a top 10 for the team at Daytona International Speedway in the first race of his part-time stint and Daniel Hemric earned a pair of top-20 finishes, it is a common belief across the garage that the season really gets going this week. The superspeedways can tell us a little about who will be strong, but tracks like Las Vegas Motor Speedway will help give a much larger picture. For Derek Kraus, he needs to have a clean day and log as many laps as possible. Josh Williams‘ day at Atlanta Motor Speedway lasted two laps, something that cannot be repeated this week. For Kraus, I don’t expect a lights-out performance, but a top 25 or top 30 would meet expectations.

Austin Bass: Kraus has earned a reputation as a driver who gets in over his head frequently. His NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career has been riddled with mistakes and crashes, though showing glimpses of his pure talent and speed on occasion, as well as in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in limited attempts. Kaulig at the Cup level fits the same mold as Kraus, having competitive speed sporadically, but often running into problems that mar their performances. Barring an unusual amount of attrition at LVMS, Kraus and Kaulig will struggle to run 25th and stay on the lead lap.

Josh Calloni: He’ll endure some growing pains. He’s only run eight Xfinity races in his career, and has never found victory lane anywhere above the ARCA Menards Series ranks. Further, he’s only been in a Cup car once, last year in practice and qualifying at Richmond Raceway. He’s talented enough to come into his own eventually, but his debut at Las Vegas this weekend should have low expectations.

Mark Kristl: Kraus’ average finish in his Xfinity and Truck starts is about 16th, which is mid-pack for those series. However, the Cup field is much stronger and Kaulig has struggled to start this Cup season. Frankly, I doubt whether Kraus will finish higher than 30th. Other than JJ Yeley in an open entry for NY Racing Team, I don’t know which entries Kraus’ No. 16 is better than as Rick Ware Racing has upped its performance. Moreover, Kraus hasn’t excelled in any NASCAR series with zero wins and four top fives in his 84 total starts. He’s in for a long day in Vegas.

See also
It Gets Late Out Here: Three Drivers In Need of a Vegas Bounce Back

Justin Marks said he envisions Daniel Suarez remaining at Trackhouse Racing and “You don’t know what we’re working on behind the scenes.” What would be the best path forward for the team with its driver logjam?

Calloni: The best solution is probably the most difficult, and that is to get another charter. The talent at Trackhouse is among some of the best of any team in the sport, including Zane Smith and Shane van Gisbergen. Going out to another team and discussing the purchase of an additional charter to accommodate their growing lineup of talented drivers seems like the most logical approach, with Kaulig perhaps acting as a nice matchup for a charter sale agreement.

Glover: Justin Marks and Trackhouse have proven over and over that they are willing to not just dip a toe in the water, but to plunge into it. They have taken bold risks that continue to pay off, but in a way that is carefully calculated and processed. Still a relatively new team, they can’t branch out too quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have a third car within the next year or two. That allows them to have a spot for either Smith or van Gisbergen. If you look at Ryan Blaney at Wood Brothers Racing from 2015-2017, that is something that Trackhouse can mirror by continuing to develop Smith at Spire Motorsports. SVG could end up in a third Trackhouse car or be loaned out to Kaulig next year depending on its driver situation. Trackhouse also has Connor Zilisch in its pipeline, meaning there is at least one odd man out still. Overall, this is a team looking to perform and make waves, and that challenges each of its drivers to be consistently competitive.

Kristl: The answer will be partially determined via the new charter agreement. If the system stays the same, the easiest answer is for SVG to drive the No. 16 for Kaulig in a deal akin to his current Xfinity Series one. Trackhouse therefore could have its current drivers, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, stay in their current Cup rides. As for Zilisch, Trackhouse can take its time allowing him to become a well-rounded driver. He’s only 17 years old [will turn 18 on July 22]. Trackhouse can properly develop him by having him participate in Xfinity, Trucks and ARCA.

Bass: The victory for Suarez was massive for his career, but it alone didn’t do enough to cement his position within Trackhouse beyond this year. His two Cup trophies were won on a road course and drafting track. Until he wins on a standard oval or continues to perform well and win on drafting and road course tracks, those victories will have an asterisk, fair or not. Otherwise, Suarez does not run up front consistently enough to beat back the piñata that will surely be filled with rumors and speculation about his ride for 2025. He will be on the outside looking in if he doesn’t win again this season.

Rockingham Speedway Executive Vice President Justin Jones said there have been talks with NASCAR about NASCAR returning to the racetrack. Which series should go there first?

Kristl: NASCAR ought to be strategic here. If Rockingham has the infrastructure to host a Cup race, then it should host a Cup race within the next two to three years. For the first year, move an Xfinity race from Atlanta to Rockingham. Then add an ARCA race there, from Kansas Speedway perhaps as it hosts the series twice. Looking at the 2024 schedules, how about Friday night ARCA at Rockingham, Saturday daytime ARCA Menards Series West at Sonoma Raceway, Saturday night Xfinity at Rockingham and Sunday Cup at Sonoma. Cup regulars, if they want more track time, could compete in the ARCA West race, highlighting that series. Xfinity and ARCA at Rockingham, shining the spotlight on those two series at a historic venue. Win-win, right.

Bass: The Cup Series must be the headliner if The Rock reopens. We’ve been down this road before with the Truck Series in 2012-2013, and it didn’t make an impact worthy of returning for a third time, even considering Cup stars won those two races. The southeast, and specifically North Carolina, is a saturated market for NASCAR fans who have to decide which race(s) and series they will attend when there are already so many excellent options from which to choose. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Atlanta, Bristol Motor Speedway, and now North Wilkesboro Speedway, too, are all within arm’s reach from Rockingham. The only way to guarantee ticket sales and viewer ratings with a return there is to ensure a Cup race is the marquee event.

Glover: Typically, you will see either Cup or Truck Series go to a new track on the schedule first. However, if one series should go to The Rock first, it should be the Xfinity Series. Cup would have to follow behind quickly, or even the same weekend, but watching the current Xfinity product at Rockingham would be intriguing. The Xfinity cars have drastically less side force and downforce than the Cup cars, and there is a lack of grip. Rockingham presents multiple lane options, and with that lack of grip, it would have the potential for fun battles and several comers and goers. You won’t be pressed to find many fans who think Xfinity is the best series for racing currently, and it would be worth a shot sending them to Rockingham.

Calloni: The Truck Series. The roots of the Truck Series are on smaller, local tracks, and Rockingham is a perfect example of that, especially after the series has already returned to North Wilkesboro for points-paying races. Additionally, the lack of field counts this season in the series, especially in races that are further away from the teams in North Carolina should be seen as concerning, and keeping the teams local at a track like Rockingham could be a solution for that.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: Time for the Meat & Potatoes

Do Austin Hill’s back-to-back Xfinity Series wins put pressure on Austin Dillon to perform at Richard Childress Racing?

Bass: Austin Dillon has nothing to worry about as it relates to Austin Hill’s hot start to the Xfinity Series season. Hill signed an extension with RCR last year to remain in the Xfinity Series, so there likely is no rush to move him up and move out Richard Childress’ grandson. Kyle Busch, age 39, presumably has a few years left in the tank before calling it a career, which could align with Hill’s contract situation and allow him to move up when Rowdy is ready to move on. The real threat to Dillon, though not imminent, might just be Hill’s teammate, Jesse Love. The rookie sensation has matched the early season hype with two stellar performances to start his Xfinity career. If he can perform at this level all season, show speed similar to teammate Hill, and contend for wins or the title, the pressure will begin to mount on PopPop to find a path to Cup for Love or risk losing a generational talent.

Kristl: Maybe. Dillon is the grandfather of team owner Childress and he has four Cup wins as well as five top-15 points finishes. But as Dillon’s brother Ty showed, a lack of success cannot keep a ride forever, no matter who you’re related to. Since the Next Gen debuted in Cup, Dillon has one win, six top fives and 18 top 10s. If Hill keeps winning and Dillon struggles, Childress is going to have quite a quandary on his hands for 2025.

Calloni: No. The only pressure put on Dillon is from himself. His spot at RCR is as safe as can be, just as long as he wants it. The pressure comes with him deciding internally if he wants it further.

Glover: RCR would likely attempt to field a third car for Hill before replacing Dillon with him. The number one thing that is pressuring Dillon is how his performance will be reflected in the future. Dillon has had a fairly solid career. The record books will show that he has won the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, and he’s made the playoffs five times dating back to 2016. However, when he hasn’t earned a win or made the playoffs, the valleys have been pretty rough, especially compared to teammates past and present like Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, and now Busch. Many drivers would love to have multiple Cup wins, including two crown jewel victories. But as pressure heaps on RCR for its Cup drivers to produce with young drivers breathing down their necks, it doesn’t make it any easier for Dillon.

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.

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Austin Bass joined Frontstretch in 2024 as a contributor to combine his passion for racing and writing. Born in Wilson, NC, he developed a passion for racing at an early age while attending local short tracks on Saturday nights with his dad and watching the stars of the sport from their living room on Sunday afternoons.

Bass is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a degree in Communication Studies where he developed a deep understanding, appreciation, and love for the Oxford comma. He is an industrial degreaser salesman for Cox Industries whenever he is not writing or talking about racing.

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