Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: NASCAR in the Netherlands?

1. What can be expected of Taylor Gray and Bubba Pollard in their Xfinity debuts at Richmond?

Four drivers will make their NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Richmond Raceway on Saturday (March 30), and the two highest-profile names to attempt start numero uno are Taylor Gray and Bubba Pollard.

Gray will debut in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 in what will be his first start in a multi-race schedule. At 19 years old, he’s currently running full time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for TRICON Garage, with three top-five finishes through five races of 2024.

For Gray, a top-15 finish should be the expectation. JGR has proven time and time again to be one of, if not the best team in the Xfinity Series, and Richmond Raceway is one of its best tracks. With Gray knocking on the door of his first win in the Truck Series, he absolutely has the talent to run toward the front on Saturday, and a top-10 finish in his debut would be a success.

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Sammy Smith Running 4 Truck Races With Spire

Pollard will be a sentimental fan favorite going into the weekend, as he will make his Xfinity debut in JR Motorsports’ No. 88 for his first ever start in NASCAR’s top three series. The 37-year-old has torn up the late model short track ranks, winning races and titles left and right.

It’ll be interesting to see how he performs in practice and qualifying the morning before the race, and that will give an idea of what to expect. He may not be as familiar with the stock cars run in NASCAR, but there’s no doubt that he can wheel it on these types of tracks. If he’s running fast lap times in practice and has the car figured out, it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to compete for a top 10 or better. Regardless of how he runs on Saturday, this race will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Pollard to show what he can do at the NASCAR level.

2. NASCAR in the Netherlands?

Montreal and Mexico have long been rumored as international locations to be added to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but could they be joined by another country overseas?

Just a week ago, it was reported by Ziggo Sport — a Dutch TV channel — that NASCAR representatives were in talks with Circuit Zandvoort.

While the attached video is blocked in the United States, the premise is that the local NASCAR announcer revealed on a talk show that NASCAR was in talks with representatives at the track about a potential race and that the next step would be a meeting in the United States.

Zandvoort is a 2.646-mile road course in the Dutch coastal town of Zandvoort, which itself is approximately a 40-minute drive from the heart of Amsterdam. The circuit hosted the Dutch Grand Prix on the Formula 1 schedule from 1958 to 1985 (sans 1972), and the track underwent an extensive renovation in anticipation of its return to the F1 schedule in 2020 — a move that was aided in part by the rise of Dutch three-time F1 champion Max Verstappen.

From a racing standpoint, it would be a relatively good fit. Part of the upgrade included 19-degree banking in turn 3 and 18-degree banking in the final corner, and said turns wouldn’t look out of place on the typical NASCAR oval.

There are plenty of hoops to jump through before such an event becomes a remote possibility, but how big would it be for NASCAR to have a race in Europe —and a race at the home track of F1’s biggest star, no less?

It would be huge, especially if NASCAR wants to take a stand in expanding its fanbase beyond North America. Like Canada and Mexico, any noise about international additions to the schedule is pure speculation at this point, but with so many different places/countries in the rumor mill, it’s exciting to see what places strike a deal for 2025.

3. Is Joe Gibbs Racing the most complete Cup team to start 2024?

Even if all four cars of a team receive the same equipment and resources, it’s difficult to have all four equal from a performance standpoint. There always seems to be some cars that stand out and others that lag behind in the history of four-car teams in the Cup Series.

That hasn’t been the case at Joe Gibbs Racing this season, as all four of its drivers have come out swinging to start 2024. Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Gibbs are first and second in points, while Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell — who won at Bristol Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, respectively — aren’t far behind in fourth and seventh. The only other team to have multiple drivers inside the top 10 is Hendrick Motorsports, with Kyle Larson fifth, William Byron sixth and Chase Elliott ninth.

Of the five drivers to have led at least 100 laps in the first six races, four of them are from JGR. Hamlin leads the field with 272, followed by Larson of Hendrick with 224; Gibbs (195), Truex (124) and Bell (110) complete the rest of the top five.

Gibbs leads all drivers with five top 10s in six races, while Bell and Truex are in a four-way tie for the second most with four. Gibbs (7.8) and Truex (8.8) also lead the field in average finish, and they are the only drivers to have an average finish better than 10th.

All four JGR cars led at least 50 laps each at Phoenix, while the quartet combined to lead 383 of the 500 laps at Bristol. Bell and Gibbs were the drivers that led the JGR charge at Circuit of the Americas, but they both took a backseat to Byron, who dominated at COTA despite a late challenge from Bell.

Chevrolet may have won the first three races, but Toyota and all of JGR have risen to the challenge in the last three weeks. And with JGR’s stomping grounds in Richmond Raceway on the calendar this Sunday (March 31), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them at the front of the field once again.

4. What can we expect of the Cup race at Richmond this weekend?

The short answer is nothing out of the ordinary when compared to the Cup races run at Richmond last year.

The long answer is that Richmond will feature the same aero package and tire seen at Phoenix on March 10. Even if the racing improved somewhat, the new package wasn’t the magic bullet that fixed Phoenix.

What Richmond has, however, is an abrasive surface that is rough on tires. It won’t be as rough as Bristol, but tire strategy will play a pivotal role in Sunday’s 400-lapper. That will eliminate the worry of dirty air for cars making their way through the field on a tire advantage, and as we’ve seen in years past, slightly fresher tires may be the difference that decides the win.

Another thing to keep an eye on this weekend is the TV ratings. Ratings have been up across the board to start 2024, and with Richmond marking the third straight year with a race on Easter Sunday, it’s especially important for this week’s ratings to continue the trend.

See also
NASCAR Has an Easter History, But Should It Continue?

Long a traditional off-week, the Cup Series began racing on Easter again in 2022 in an effort to capture TV ratings in a Sunday night slot when people would be at home for a holiday weekend. Running on Easter has been a contentious debate from the start, especially considering that it used to serve as a reprieve in what has become a grueling schedule.

And if the ratings don’t deliver this week, there may be calls to reevaluate running a race on Easter for 2025.

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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DoninAjax

Nether Lands is much more appropriate!

Echo

lol

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