Thanks to a social media fan vote, Anheuser Busch dubbed this weekend’s Cup race the “Buschy McBusch Race 400”. Is such naming genius or silly? Do you even consider it relevant either way?
Luken Glover: I think it was a great way to get the fans involved, and I think many expected a crazy name when the vote was announced. Either way, it really isn’t important to the race. Yes, some outsiders may look at it and think it is stupid, but it was a fun way to get fans involved. There just needs to be a fine line of how crazy race names get, which has unfortunately not been the case at times in the past.
Dalton Hopkins: For anyone saying that the name isn’t appropriate as a race name, may I remind you we had a race (that was also at Kansas Speedway) that was named the Spongebob Squarepants 400, complete with a Spongebob Squarepants trophy? As long as the presenting sponsor is happy with it, I don’t see any reason to be upset with it. The name was an excellent way to get fans involved with the sport. In addition, Busch has shown their humorous side of marketing plenty of times in the past (ie: the Millenials car) and it has shown great success and popularity among the racing world, and of course, this was their idea. Ask yourself, how many races last year do you actually remember the presenting sponsor for? Probably not many. I guarantee you, however, that plenty of fans will remember this one if not for its absurdity, and with a name like “Buschy McBusch Race 400”, brand recognition is a cinch.
Jared Haas: The marketing ploy of a fan vote for a race works well with Busch even if it sounds ridiculous. Busch has fans talking about the race, which is positive exposure for the brand. The worst-case scenario is the name of the race becomes a footnote in history, while the best case would be other race titles interacting with fans for naming rights of the race.
Josh Roller: The idea of having fans name a race is honestly overdue. It is marketing and social media gold, especially for NASCAR fans. The name of a race is relevant because if industry people and promoters are smart, they will use the race’s actual name to promote the race. Is “Buschy McBusch Race 400” silly? Not with Busch Beer. I think Anheuser Busch, with its Busch and Busch Light brands, have proven they are willing to do what other corporations are not. If this is Kroger, FedEx, or Jimmy John’s, then I’m skeptical and think it’s a little over the edge. But not with Busch Beer. I personally may not be a super big fan of the race’s name, but I one hundred percent appreciate the fan activation effort that Busch Beer is putting into NASCAR. We need more of it.
Jeb Burton and Kaz Grala both had great runs at Talladega Superspeedway in their respective outings. Who is the better long term prospect?
Hopkins: Both drivers have had very similar journeyman-like careers in the sport. Both have only one career truck series race win in what appeared to be the beginning of a promising career that eventually faltered. Both have also now had limited Cup Series starts as well. The difference is Jeb Burton has an Xfinity Series win. With all of that being said, I believe Kaz Grala will have a promising career ahead of him. With Kaulig Racing announcing a full-time Cup entry in 2022, the question is now; who will be the driver? While Burton finally clinched his first win in Xfinity, it was a rain-delayed race, at Talladega no less. Grala placed a top 10 in the Cup Series this weekend. While it was also at Talladega, let’s not forget that it wasn’t his first cup series top 10. He finished seventh in his very first career Cup start last year at the Daytona International Speedway road course while subbing for Austin Dillon.
Haas: Kaz Grala. Grala has impressed me so far in his Cup starts at the Daytona road course and last week at Talladega. Burton had a rougher entrance to the Cup Series with a rookie season where he failed to qualify for nine races in 2015. Grala has performed to be there at the finish at a consistent level, which is a rare form in today’s racing world. Another consideration of long-term plans is age. Grala is six years younger than Burton. For comparison, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are about the same age apart as Grala is to Burton. Both drivers need something big to happen to their respective careers.
Roller: Difficult question. Their statistics in the Camping World Truck Series are relatively the same. Burton has the edge on Grala statistically in the Xfinity Series but has run more races, and Burton has sponsorship backing. It’s tough to say because I think it is too early to judge. Burton is by far in the best full-time equipment he has been in since 2014 when he drove for ThorSport Racing. He hasn’t attempted an entire season in any series since 2015, when he drove for BK Racing in the Cup Series. Grala put together 22 races in the 2018 Xfinity Series season after competing full-time in the Truck Series in 2017 and hasn’t run full-time since. To definitively pick Burton or Grala as the better long-term prospect, I need to see more. When the 2021 season is over, we’ll definitely know more about where Burton stands. Grala, we’ll see what he puts together. But track time is a major advantage when trying to impress potential suitors.
Glover: Burton is 28 while Grala is 22. Both are good prospects to be fixtures in the sport despite Grala being younger. This is the first time we’re really getting to see how Burton performs in top equipment at the Xfinity level, and so far he has impressed. However, Grala appears to be the better prospect. Grala really stood out in 2018 when he drove the No. 61 for Fury Racing in 12 races. He took an underfunded team who raced week-to-week and earned four top 10s and eight top 15s. His first top five came in a car that was over a decade old. He also really impressed in his Cup debut when filling in for Austin Dillon at the Daytona road course. With no experience in a Cup car at the inaugural Daytona infield road race, Grala earned a seventh-place finish. Now, he has two top 10s in three Cup starts. Grala has proven he has what it takes to be in NASCAR and I look for that to be rewarded soon.
With NASCAR allowing a limited amount of people into the garage area starting next weekend at Darlington Raceway, is it time to bring back some form of on-track qualifying?
Haas: Absolutely. We need qualifying sessions, especially for the Xfinity Series. The exclusion by points hurts trying to get a footing in this sport in the lower series. For a short field, it is not necessary, but NASCAR would benefit by having qualifying for the fans and the teams. Otherwise, if there is no qualifying, Jordan Anderson is going to end up with more DNQs than his car number.
Roller: Every other racing discipline is (using on-track qualifying) and why NASCAR isn’t is mind-blowing. I understand that the reason may be because of wanting to save teams money with the NextGen car change coming up, but I’m a big believer in ‘if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ With just about every race starting at 2:30 p.m. ET or later for the Cup Series, NASCAR should adopt a morning-warmup session. Give teams the option to go out and complete a couple of laps if they choose to. The fastest lap gets pole, the second quickest lap starts second, and so on. If a team doesn’t want to participate, no problem. But if 41 or more cars come out, obviously, the ‘open’ cars would need to turn a lap or two to make the race.
Glover: Absolutely! Just look at what happened to Kyle Larson this past weekend at Talladega. A piece of sheet metal was left around the radiator, causing it to overheat and leading to engine failure. The sheet metal is typically taken out following transportation to the track. While this is inexcusable to occur to a team like Hendrick Motorsports, it is a product of no practice or qualifying. Look at Matt DiBenedetto this year. His fifth-place starting position for Kansas is his first single-digit position this year. Christopher Bell started 11 races last year outside of the top 30. The current qualifying format has hurt many drivers’ opportunities to go for stage points. NASCAR has done a great job in taking protocols for COVID-19. Now, it’s time to bring back extra track time.
Hopkins: With the world returning to some form of normalcy, it may be time for NASCAR to make the same approach. We saw Larson this weekend have his race ruined early because of a forgotten part that is used for travel being left in the car. Because of that mistake, Larson will have to also start at the rear of the field this weekend, which adds more salt to the wound. We’ve also seen plenty of drivers complaining about how practice has drastically changed the way the teams have looked at preparing for upcoming events, leaving them underprepared. Finally, fans like to see practice and qualifying. I can understand wanting to leave practice out, as it is saving race teams a fortune (something that NASCAR desperately needs right now), but qualifying, even if it’s only for one lap, would add more of a normal vibe and bring some sponsorship exposure on broadcasts. That includes the little teams as well. I understand NASCAR’s decision either way, but, on a personal note, I miss qualifying.
Cup and Xfinity have had a multitude of series regulars pick up their first career wins in 2021 but it hasn’t happened yet in Trucks. Who will be the first to break through and what track gives them the best shot?
Roller: There isn’t one driver that jumps out at me. I would say Christian Eckes without taking a second look, but with him not running the full schedule, it’s hard to come to the track prepared to win. Other than him, no winless driver in the Truck Series at this time is convincing me that their first win is coming.
Glover: Two guys who could do it soon are Chandler Smith and Derek Kraus. Kraus has not had a lot of luck to start out the year, but he came close to winning Darlington a year ago and could be in the conversation again this go around. Smith seems like the safest pick as he has shown strength in his young trucks career. He had a strong run at Richmond to earn his first top five of the season. Smith can run well at a variety of tracks, and with the speed Kyle Busch Motorsports has shown don’t be surprised to see him compete for the win at Darlington or Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hopkins: The only reason we haven’t had any regular first time winners this year in the trucks is because there aren’t many winless regular drivers to begin with. In fact, if you look at the top 10 in the truck standings, not one of them are winless career truck racers. You’d have to look at 11th to find the highest winless truck driver, which is Carson Hocevar. With that being said, the driver I see winning next is Chandler Smith, if not because there aren’t many others to pick. He sits 12th in the standings and has two top tens in 2021. Even without that, you can’t doubt that KBM power.