The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is about to have myriad changes take place over the next couple of years — or so it’s said.
In 2020, the schedule is rumored to be drastically different, and in 2021 the Gen-7 car is set to hit the track. Reports describe the vehicles as everything from more modern with independent rear suspensions and greater comparisons to the street versions, all the way to possibly having hybrids on the track.
Whatever the case may be, it will be a fantastic time to have a new manufacturer jump into the fray that is NASCAR.
2012 was the last year we had four manufacturers compete for the whole season, and even then there were only two or three Dodges on the track. Looking at the fields today, there are predominantly Chevrolets and Fords on the speedways with a smattering of Toyotas, although the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are the ones to beat most every week right now.
As the prospect of a new manufacturer begins to peek over the horizon, there are a few things that will hopefully happen should a fourth automaker reenter the NASCAR ranks.
For those of us currently looking in from the outside at the Toyota camp, it’s in a bit of a pickle. Everyone sees Christopher Bell consistently running near the front of the Xfinity Series races and most likely contending for a title this year. Even casual observers can see it is time for him to move up, but where will he go? The Gibbs cars are full of competitors who are not ready to retire or move on to another organization.
Leavine Family Racing just came into the fold as a satellite of JGR, albeit not at the same level as Furniture Row Racing was during its partnership. That is the extent of any Toyotas with factory backing, which is what Bell most certainly deserves.
In the end, either another organization is going to have to make the move to Toyota or the manufacturer is going to have to really step up to the plate and give much more assistance to LFR.
Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland are most likely going to be looking for Toyota rides in the not too distant future as well. Don’t forget Chandler Smith is also running well in the ARCA Menards Series and will probably be rising up the Toyota ladder rather quickly over the next couple of years, especially given his recent debut in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
What this all boils down to is that manufacturers in the sport need to make a commitment to NASCAR to field a significant number of cars. Only running two or three cars is not doing any justice to the brand recognition for the fans, and it also isn’t providing the training grounds for the developmental drivers. If drivers are working through the ranks to get to the big leagues but can clearly see there is no place for them, what motivation does that provide? There needs to be ample seats at the top level to provide rides for a decent group of drivers and to give fans enough contenders for whom to root.
That gets us to the potential of a new manufacturer. There are discussions about Honda and Volkswagen both having some interest in joining the sport. The Richard Petty Motorsports-merging-with-Andretti Autosport talk has gone on for months.
If either or both of these companies join the ranks of the sport, NASCAR should require them to field at least six cars on any given weekend. That is not an undue burden on the companies, and it gives a reasonable amount of input and support into the top level of the sport. With 36 charters in play, there is more than enough room for five manufacturers to field six cars each every race weekend.
In addition to the top level of the sport, new manufacturers should also be required to help the developmental levels of the sport. Field a respectable number of entries in the Truck and Xfinity ranks while also lending support to the regional series — K&N Pro Series, ARCA and Whelen Modifieds, plus the Whelen All-American Weekly Series. The developmental series are not only where the future stars of the sport currently reside, but they are also where the future fans of the sport are getting their first taste of the competition. Many people take their children to local races to find out if they’re interested in going to see auto racing before making the financial commitment to go to a national event. Supporting those series, either through vehicles or just support monies, will go along way toward ensuring the future viability of the sport.
The changes that are going to hit this sport in the next couple of years are going to change it dramatically. The guidance and forethought of the new leadership of the sport will hopefully engage new players to a level we have not seen in some time. If it is done properly, the sport will not only survive but thrive over the coming decade, while also hopefully encouraging a whole generation of fans who do not have a love affair with the automobile to at least become race fans.