NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: NASCAR Diversity Takes Giant Leap Forward During COVID-19 Pandemic

Did You Notice? … How far NASCAR diversity has come in just a few short months?

Flash back to April 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, and the viability of single-car teams (think: Richard Petty Motorsports / Bubba Wallace and Gaunt Brothers Racing / Daniel Suarez) was in doubt. Kyle Larson had just been fired from Chip Ganassi Racing for his public use of a racial slur. The sport felt more connected to its uglier moments from the 1950s and 1960s than a more progressive stance on diversity in 2020.

Fast forward almost seven months. Larson has been reinstated by NASCAR and has dedicated his future to enriching diversity programs. Wallace has jumped to a new team with arguably the most famous African American owner in NASCAR history: Michael Jordan. Armed with sponsorship from DoorDash and the Cash App, he’ll pair with Jordan’s influence to have a well-funded car capable of winning.

Suarez is with a new team of his own next year, Trackhouse Racing, whose owner Justin Marks has off-track plans of his own. The team’s focus on STEM education will take them specifically to minority and urban communities to teach them more about the sport.

Then, there’s Hailie Deegan, the most-hyped female prospect since Danica Patrick. Deegan announced she’ll run the 2021 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series full-time with DGR-Crosley, putting her in the best equipment of any woman running next season. But she likely won’t be alone: Jennifer Jo Cobb, Natalie Decker and Angela Ruch will all likely be running at least part-time.

Meanwhile, off the track, the sport made a bold move to ban Confederate flags in June. Wallace then joined Jimmie Johnson and a long list of NASCAR stars in pushing the sport’s “listen and learn” video after the death of George Floyd.

Two weeks later, the report of a noose above Wallace’s pit stall at Talladega Superspeedway brought the garage together. Their unified support of their driver in peril was the type of moment that made everyone proud to be part of the sport.

Of course, the noose turned out to be a false alarm, paired with some criticism of how the situation was handled. But the overall body of work has put NASCAR more in line with the type of progressivism we’ve seen from the NBA than an organization that once supported segregationist George Wallace.

I mention this point because progress is about to turn into pressure. Expectations for the Wallace-Jordan outfit will be absurdly high with Wallace in his fourth season driving in the NASCAR Cup Series. Tiger Woods grew golf not just because of his presence; it was ultimately through his success. Would the sport have gained a larger audience if he finished 50th at the Masters every year?

All eyes will be on Larson if, as rumored, he winds up in a Hendrick Motorsports ride with top-tier support. Each time he speaks, people will hang onto every word. It takes time for a second chance to supplant a sour taste about the previous mistake. Just ask Kurt Busch, whose post-2011 rehabilitation among both peers and the fan base took several years.

And Deegan will be out to forge new records for women after Patrick’s disappointing tenure in NASCAR: 252 career starts, just one top-five finish (and that came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series). There are some who still believe, unfairly, women cannot succeed in this sport. The only way they get proven wrong is when she takes a trip to victory lane.

As Matt McLaughlin says in his letter to Michael Jordan today, putting your name on a team is the easy part. Actually achieving success is what will truly transform a few simple actions into a long-term movement toward progress. The best way to get more minorities and women involved in the sport? Seeing them contend up front, lead laps and win races.

NASCAR has come such a long way in a really short time. We’ll see if those next steps can happen in 2021.

Did You Notice? … Two full-time Cup Series drivers remain without a top-10 finish this season? Suarez is finishing up a miserable season with GBR where he’s earned just eight lead-lap finishes. A DNQ in February’s Daytona 500 got the partnership off on the wrong foot, and the team never recovered. Suarez doesn’t even have a top-15 finish as other drivers, like D.J. Kennington and Parker Kligerman, have fared better with the No. 96.

The other driver on this list is rookie Quin Houff with StarCom Racing. Remember the Houff – Matt DiBenedetto brouhaha the last time NASCAR visited Texas Motor Speedway in July? Where Houff inexplicably turned down to pit in front of the No. 21 car, triggering a three-car wreck?

Nothing has gotten better for Houff since then. His average finish of 31.0 is significantly lower than Landon Cassill’s 29.3 from a year ago. (Remember when the team said they’d “make good” on Cassill’s commitment to them? We haven’t seen him in a Cup ride since.)

But I digress.

Houff does have a 13th-place finish from last month at Talladega, his only top-20 finish of the season. Can you believe that’s better than any run Suarez has had in 2020? That’s how far this former Joe Gibbs Racing driver has fallen. There’s a lot of repair work and pressure ahead for him next season (see above). Can his fourth team in four years finally be the fit Suarez needs?

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • I’m looking at all the Silly Season seats filled yesterday (see my article for more) and wondering where Corey LaJoie fits in. LaJoie left the No. 32 looking for a better ride, but at this point, no Cup seat is left available other than lateral moves to places like Spire Motorsports. And you know what ride also hasn’t been filled? The No. 32 at Go Fas Racing. Maybe this divorce didn’t work out for either one?
  • Strong runs in the Xfinity Series race by Brett Moffitt and Austin Hill at Kansas Speedway had me thinking both are ready for a full-time promotion to the series (Moffitt has competed in 26 of 30 races this season for Our Motorsports, Hill has eight starts for Hattori Racing Enterprises).  What better way to replace two outgoing title contenders in Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain?
  • The Cup race at Texas this weekend is Kevin Harvick’s race to lose. He’s won three straight fall races there and also had a fast car back in July. But what if we see another Joey Logano-like upset? It’s not inconceivable, say, that Alex Bowman finds his mojo on intermediates again and wins TMS. It would throw the championship into disarray and put the Harvick-Denny Hamlin title duel we’ve expected all season in serious jeopardy.

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19 Comments
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John W.

I’m looking for more diversity in the NHL. The sport needs more black and latino competitors and fans. Diversity for the sake of diversity is more importance than common sense. I finally accept this idea and know I am a better person for it.
I also hope other countries that tend to be less diverse will get on the diversity train also. They need to know that diversity is their strength.

WJW Motorsports

Beautiful… I’m out to build a successful competitive team to succeed in my business. I care not about your skills, work ethic or personal integrity. I only care about your race, how you look or possibly “identify” to fill out this diversity checklist I downloaded from the web.. I am very confident this will work (PS – Mom/Dad – just keep sending me more money please).

Bill B

Sarcasm?

Tom B

Of course its sarcasm. Sometimes its the only way left to make obvious points because facts mean nothing when arguing with PC people.
Well said WJW.

Bill B

I was wondering about the original post from John W because that’s the only way it made sense….
“Diversity for the sake of diversity is more importance than common sense.”

Nothing is more important than common sense and to say otherwise and that he “finally accepts that idea”. And even more ridiculous that all other countries follow suit.

Oh yeah, it’s got to be sarcasm.

Fed Up

Meanwhile, TV ratings are in free fall.

janice

deegan is workinig her way up the ranks. i think she might succeed. she doesnt’ seem to have chip on her shoulder like princess sparkle pony did.

hopefully she stays healthy and can be in cup full time with a good team in a few years.

Bill B

As long as she doesn’t carry herself like the princess until she earns it (i.e. an all-star when her performance sucked) , I will be pulling for her to succeed. My first impression of her is positive. I couldn’t say the same for the princess.

janice

sparkle pony came in with an attitude and wouldn’t race in trucks or xfinity. she’s always had an attitude.

Tom B

Princess Sparkle Pony was an INDY CAR star.

DoninAjax

She was an Indy Car driver.

Bill B

So? Big deal. That doesn’t make her a star in NASCAR. There were a lot of other Indy guys that tried to run in NASCAR at that time. They barely got mentioned unless they had good results. And they had previously had much greater success in that series.

MattG33

Preece to the Gaunt Brothers #96.
Moffitt(after winning Truck Title) gets Cup promotion to the JTG #37.
Lajoie gets the #98 Xfinity ride, Ty Dillon to the #10 for Kaulig Racing.
GoFas takes a flyer on Kaz Grala.

John

Figuring out where Spire got their 3rd charter may be a key to understanding what’s left for rides in the off-season. My guess is that GoFas is done. Their “association” with SHR produced zero for GoFas, LaJoie announced free agency very early in Silly Season, and they are not even engaged in the conversations about possible replacements. If it didn’t come from there, either Rick Ware, Front Row, or Roush is going down a car.
With John Henry rearranging money, Jack Roush getting older, and Matt Kaulig looking into Cup, that could be the ‘succession plan’ for Roush. JTG appears well funded for both cars, and its just a shame for Preece that Crash Stenhouse still has a year left on his contract. LaJoie would be a good replacement for Stenhouse, but Preece’s contract is up. Too little too late.
I completely agree that a minority winner is what spurs interest…Lewis Hamilton, Tiger Woods, even Willie T Ribbs in IMSA. Forced inclusion for the sake of inclusion always looks as contrived as Rutledge with a NFL player talking Nascar.

WJW Motorsports

They may appear to be diverse in terms of gender, nationality, race, etc… but they all tend to lack diversity in the one area that matters in NASCAR these days – money/connections that open doors for them. Huh – i think they used to call that the “old boys network” back in the day. Good to see things changing for the better.

David

Never fear the “good old boys” network is alive and well. Just look at the sons and grandchildren of executives and owners of multicar teams. They seem to doing quite nicely thank you. Yet that little fact seems to go by and large unmentioned.
Wonder why that is?

Bill B

There are good old boys networks in every industry. Always have, always will be. Whether it a father getting his son a job at the plant using his connections or a NASCAR owner hiring his grandson to drive. Funny how a lot of actors’ family members get jobs in the industry. They still have to do the work to keep the job but getting the opportunity to prove you can is the hard part.

BTW, I think WJW was making the same point using a little sarcasm. The more things change the more the stay the same.

Al Torney

The diversity program in NASCAR falls right in with ride buying. It cheapens the sport. It gives the drivers less credibility. Danica Patrick is a perfect example of what I am talking about. She was in the ride because she was a woman and brought money. As soon as the money went away so did she. Diversity should come naturally not forced. For a sport to brag that we have a woman, a negro, an Hispanic and an Asian so that shows we are not biased is absolutely ludicrous. But what the hell NASCAR has gone to hell in a hand basket anyway. The tv ratings as mentioned are terrible. The sport has lost 60% of their fan base.

kb

AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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