This Weekend’s action at Nashville Superspeedway is one of the final NASCAR weekends in the opening half of the season. Over four months in, there has been plenty of newsworthy headlines, as well as newly developing ones. Not just in the Cup Series, but across the sport as a whole, as drivers and teams get closer to the postseason. Here, we look back at some happenings from this 2022 season, but also look forward as silly season news begins to drop.
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Perhaps the biggest storyline through the first four months of the season has been Trackhouse. Not in a ‘what a good story they are this year’ kind of way. More so an ‘Oh wow they are legitimately one of the best teams in the sport already’ kind of way. After buying out Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR team, Pitbull and Justin Marks‘ squad only trails Hendrick Motorsports’ five wins this year among all Cup teams. Its three wins are tied with Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske for second in the series through 16 races.
First-year driver for the team Ross Chastain leads the way for Trackhouse, getting his first two wins of his Cup Career at COTA, then later at Talledega. Florida’s favorite watermelon farmer also ranks top four in both laps led and average finish as well. The team’s third win came last weekend at Sonoma, being a very popular one at that by Daniel Suarez. His numbers aren’t as strong as Chastain’s, but he is comfortably on pace for a career season. Additionally, he is also on pace to lead more laps this year than in the last three years combined.
If you told Marks that this is how the year would start for his second-year outfit, he would probably be over the moon. Chastain has real title aspirations and has raced like a contender all season. Suarez is also in the postseason and now could take some risks to get himself in a better spot come playoff time from a points perspective. Make no mistake, Trackhouse is ‘at the table’ with the blue bloods already. They even have Kimi Raikkonen coming over for a run at the Glen this summer.
No NASCAR Cup Series Champion has had a successful title defense since the end of Jimmie Johnson’s five-peat in the late 2000s. A feat that Kyle Larson hopes to achieve come November at Phoenix Raceway. After the mind-numbing year, he had in 2021, along with a new car, his numbers dropping isn’t much of a surprise. Larson didn’t begin ripping off wins until around this time last year and completely dominated Nashville a year ago.
One thing that is worth noting, however, is his average finish which was just shy of 4.5 positions better at this point a year ago (10.8 to 15). Larson also had two more wins at this point but has some good tracks coming up. Specifically Michigan, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, and the aforementioned Nashville. Some good runs will be needed as well, with crew chief Cliff Daniels suspended for the next four races due to a wheel falling off at Sonoma.
Windy City Racing?
Next year’s schedule should realistically drop by the end of the summer, one new venue may for certain be slated. That being a street course race on the streets of Chicago, Illinois. The idea of a street course in NASCAR is more than fine, however, this may be at the expense of Road America, one of the best road courses in North America. According to Adam Stern, the Wisconsin track does not have a deal in place for a 2023 weekend, which would make it the most likely candidate to lose a race. As for what the Chicago circuit could look like, iRacing has had a track up for some time now.
The Texas Motor Speedway Conundrum
NASCAR holding their All-Star race at Texas would be like the NBA holding their All-Star game in quicksand, bad and ill-advised. To call the annual event a disaster would be an understatement. Uneventful racing as far as the eye can see, broken up by cautions via tire failures (more on that later), and a late entertainment caution in the hopes to create a good finish. Yes, that last part is correct. A caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr brushing the wall coming out of two came out as Ryan Blaney was coming to the line. Luckily Blaney ended up winning anyway, but a shameless move by the control tower.
As for Texas as a whole, it has been an eye sore on the schedule for quite some time. Can’t say only a fifth of the corners being raceable makes for a good product. Despite this NASCAR gives it two races a season because of seating capacity and it being run by SMI. Marcus Smith even had an ‘It’s the children who are wrong’ moment, saying “If you talked to the fans who were, there, they had a great time.” You could say that you for 95 percent of all races period. Texas may be next in line for another reconfiguration, one involving the best demolition equipment money can buy.
The Next Big Thing
In any sport, the search for the next ‘guy’ is never-ending, especially in motorsports with the influx of incoming talent. Right now the next big thing currently resides in the ARCA National series, and his name is Rajah Caruth. Through seven races, he is the current series points leader, leading the series in laps led, average finish, and top-five finishes. Caruth has also begun to dip his toes into the Trucks and Xfinity Series on a part-time basis this year, with Spire Motorsports and Alpha Prime as well. As it relates to ARCA, a win still alludes Caruth, but that is a matter of when not if. He should be a hot commodity when he makes the jump to Trucks or Xfinity on a full-time basis.
Silly Season: A Tradition Unlike Any Other
Silly Season can never arrive too early, and this year’s hot topic appears to be Martin Truex Jr. The 2017 Cup Series Champion is reportedly in the final year of his deal. However, the bigger news is that Truex could be hanging up the helmet after this season. Should that happen, JGR has plenty of options in the Toyota pipeline to move up. One realistic name is John Hunter Nemechek. The Trucks Series title contender spent a full season in Cup just two years ago. Additionally, he has done well with Gibbs/Kyle Busch Motorsports in the two lower series after taking a step back.
Another option, which is the most popular/often mentioned one, is Ty Gibbs, however, that may be an ill-advised move. Despite winning last year’s ARCA title, he is currently in just his first Xfinity Series season. Completely bypassing the Trucks Series in the process. The talent Joe Gibbs’ grandson possesses is undeniable, but rushing a 19, soon-to-be 20-year-old to the NASCAR Cup Series wouldn’t be the most ideal decision.
Elsewhere, there will be rides that will 100 percent be open come this offseason. Namely the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing with Aric Almirola on the way out. Ryan Preece would make sense as a replacement given the alliance with SHR and Rick Ware Racing. Tyler Reddick meanwhile could end up on the open market but may have a driver/team option with Richard Childress for 2023. Rowdy Busch is still without a new deal but may have a sponsor lined up to replace M&M’s and stick at JGR. As for names outside the Cup Series to watch out for in general, keep an eye on Zane Smith and Noah Gragson. Smith impressed heavily at Gateway in reserve of Chris Buescher for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing a few weeks ago.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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