Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: A Million Bucks Ain’t What it Used To Be

1. Millionaire Drivers Aren’t Swayed by Million-Dollar Incentives

Although it wasn’t quite devised on a napkin at a dinner table or put together in a smoke-filled room at a Florida hotel, NASCAR succeeded Monday (May 13) in coming up with another form of competition that would garner plenty of attention.

The announcement of next season’s in-season tournament will add another wrinkle of something for drivers to race for in a five-week span of a bracket-style tournament with a million bucks going to the winner.

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NASCAR to Implement In-Season Tournament in 2025

NASCAR as well as the sport’s promoters need to realize that this is not 1985 or even 1992. These drivers have a whole lot more in the bank account than they used to. The days of piling into hotel rooms to travel cheap are done, shoved out of the way by motorcoaches and more luxuries.

If you watched NASCAR: Full Speed on Netflix, it did not take much time to see that these drivers are not exactly scraping by paycheck to paycheck. Kyle Larson, in the midst of getting ready to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 later this month, was able to take a quick trip to Paris to celebrate his child’s birthday, something nobody can be faulted for doing.

But here’s the point of all this. These guys are millionaires. A million bucks mean as much to them as someone telling me they’re going to give me a BBQ sandwich, and those who know me in person know that I love a good BBQ sandwich that does not have slaw on it.

A million dollars isn’t going to make a difference to these drivers and give them an incentive. Now, if someone wants to ante up to around 20 million? Now you’re talking.

2. Let’s Not Call it a Ford Comeback…Yet.

If you are a fan of Ford drivers, Sunday (May 14) at Darlington Raceway was a very good day. Brad Keslowski‘s win brought the legacy car number of one of the manufacturer’s top teams of the 1990s and 2000s back to victory lane and RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher was in a position to win for the second race in a row.

Even more is that the Fords took up half of the final top 10 with strong runs by Josh Berry, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley and Michael McDowell to add to the first Ford win of the season in the NASCAR Cup Series.

If this seems familiar, that’s because it is. Last year’s Coca-Cola 600 win by Ryan Blaney marked the back end of a slow spring for the blue oval camp with it being its second win of the season.

That win, by the way, did not lead to a summer of dominance for that automaker. On the other hand, no Ford won after Blaney’s win last May until Buescher in July at Richmond Raceway.

If Sunday’s run by the Fords had been on an intermediate track, it’d be cause to circle those drivers as odds-on favorites later this season. But since Darlington is so unique, it all amounts to good info for the notebook for drivers in the postseason when NASCAR heads there later this season.

Sunday is a good confidence-builder for the Fords, but until they can do the same somewhere else, there’s still more to prove.

3. How Long Can North Wilkesboro’s Novelty Last?

Remember this time a year ago?

It didn’t matter that the racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway had the excitement of a sucked orange. The fact that NASCAR was back at a track left for dead outweighed any lack of excitement.

Last year was a honeymoon for North Wilkesboro and the Speedway Motorsports team that worked so brilliantly to bring the track back to life. But novelty does not last long in this sport. The Busch Clash at the LA Coliseum was great…until the novelty wore off. Night racing? It was a huge draw until it wore old over time.

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Entry List: 2024 All-Star Race & Open

That’s why the on-track product will have more eyes on it this weekend. Frankly, you could’ve had a boring race last year because of the track reopening. Now? Any talk of a points event at North Wilkesboro will hinge on what kind of racing these cars and the hopefully evolving short-track package produce – with or without the gimmick of giving crew chiefs different tire options.

I’m looking forward to seeing racing in Wilkes County this weekend, but NASCAR has to figure out how to make this event more than just a parade on a nostalgic piece of land.

4. The Challenge of Staying Power for Trackhouse, Kaulig Racing

Some of the attention on Hendrick Motorsports’ anniversary earlier this year may have been excessive at times, but it reinforces this fact. It’s a lot harder to be successful over time than for a year or two.

No two teams show that as much as two new upstarts in NASCAR – Trackhouse Racing and Kaulig Racing.

Thanks to the Hail Melon by Ross Chastain and his willingness to mix it up on the track with established drivers, Trackhouse Racing showed that it had the resources to back up its bravado. Chastain being in the postseason again last year along with Shane van Gisbergen’s Chicago street course win and Daniel Suarez winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway this year backed that up, but the challenge now becomes going beyond a few single moments.

If not for Suarez’s Atlanta win, he’d be below the postseason bubble. Chastain is one of two drivers in the top 14 of the overall points with only one top-five finish so far this season.

And then there’s Kaulig Racing. With an average finish of 15th and currently seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings, a postseason spot is something AJ Allmendinger may have to scratch and claw for. This comes after winning for Kaulig in the Cup Series last year and winning a combined seven Xfinity races for Kaulig in 2022 and 2023. Josh Williams, beaten up by bad luck, is 21st in the standings with van Gisbergen’s transition to NASCAR having produced a pair of top 10s.

Trackhouse and Kaulig have one common thread in that they found ways to burst onto the scene. They also have another – that the next challenge is to find ways to be consistent.

5. Is Corey Heim to 23XI Racing Imminent?

So let’s talk about Corey Heim for a moment. All he has done this year is be among the top drivers in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, fill in for Erik Jones in the NASCAR Cup Series and post a top five in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway for Sam Hunt Racing.

Another layer of Heim Time will come in June when he drives 23XI’s third No. 50 entry in the Cup Series.

It’s very clear that Heim is a highly valued prospect for Toyota, and it seems intent on finding ways to move him up the ladder. With a degree of uncertainty on whether or not Martin Truex Jr. will return in 2025, some effort might be needed to find him an open seat. If that continues and 23XI can line up another charter, Heim being a teammate to Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick is not a matter of if, but when.

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