Why is the ARCA Menards Series a train wreck?
So to be clear, the ARCA Menards Series has always been a bit of a train wreck.
Long the little brother to NASCAR and now a subsidiary of the sanctioning body, it cannot be said enough that ARCA is in a crisis on multiple fronts right now.
Let’s begin with the future. These last two years has been a trying time for all of racing, especially at the local level. If racetracks at that level can’t host fans, they couldn’t host races for much of last year in most of the country. This year, while COVID-19 restrictions were largely lifted in many areas, there is now a tire shortage at the lower levels that has led to some tracks having to cancel events or limit on-track time.
One of these things wouldn’t be that big of a deal long term. But losing two years and maybe even a third next year if the pandemic continues and the tire shortage isn’t solved is going to lead to a lag in new talent at the ARCA level. Drivers who Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota would decide to take a chance on do not end up materializing, which would lead to the makes continuing to feature drivers in those seats that simply are not up to snuff otherwise.
This is a future issue for the series to deal with, if it even really has to at all. NASCAR Cup Series drivers are not leaving in droves anymore, especially with the last of the young guns such as Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman probably retiring in the next few years. But it may well be a problem if, at best, things are too stagnate for too long.
What about the present?
ARCA’s administration this past month in particular has been tremendously awful. There were no less than two extremely blatant wrecks at Winchester Speedway a few weeks ago, one committed by a driver already on probation, and yet crickets from ARCA as to any kind of disciplinary efforts for that race.
At Michigan International Speedway last weekend, Thad Moffitt and Drew Dollar wrecked on the very first lap of the race. Moffitt responded on lap of the race by dumping Dollar on the frontstretch of the high speed oval in a terrible wreck in which Dollar collected independent driver Tim Richmond. Richmond’s car was destroyed, and he is indefinitely out with multiple injuries.
Now, did the Venturini Motorsports team cross the line in its reactions, which included them leaving tires in the David Gilliland Racing hauler and one person allegedly yelling homophobic slurs to an openly gay DGR PR staffer? Absolutely. But ARCA’s refusal to step in and actually show a back bone by policing on-track incidents like that will lead to more trouble for people like Richmond.
Not to mention that none of these on-track things leading to actual ramifications for the drivers is an absolute disservice to their development. I really don’t know what there is to learn in ARCA right now outside of learning how to drive the track itself. Drivers at this level need to be punished more, because there’s a much lower tolerance for this kind of stuff and more damage to a driver’s reputation the higher they climb up the ladder. Allowing rich kids to do whatever they want is what leads to things like what was described in that Tommy Joe Martins blog from a few years ago.
Who will advance to the Cup playoffs?
The Cup regular season ends under the lights at the Daytona International Speedway Aug. 28.
The 400-mile event, the third oldest annual superspeedway event on the calendar behind just the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500, had a successful season finale last year that ended with William Byron winning his first Cup race.
Fifteen drivers are locked into the playoffs. Fifteen more are eligible for the final spot in the playoffs entering this weekend. Tyler Reddick is currently the final driver in the playoffs if there is a locked-in or ineligible winner, with teammate Austin Dillon 25 points behind Reddick. The two Richard Childress Racing drivers are the only remaining drivers who can point their way into the playoffs, and with a 25-point difference, two good first stages by Reddick would guarantee him the provisional 16th seed in the playoffs with a 35-point lead after stage two.
This is the last stand for Matt DiBenedetto. DiBenedetto, once again racing for a job, seems to be on the pathway of potentially ending up on the floor once the music stops in silly season. Getting into the playoffs by getting that elusive 100th win for the Wood Brothers Racing team would dramatically help his case to even just stay in Cup next season.
Of the drivers not in the playoffs, two drivers stick out to me entering this weekend. Chase Briscoe has finally started to come into his own recently, and while his strength has been road courses, the equalizing factor at Daytona should help him if he can avoid trouble on Saturday night.
Bubba Wallace, the subject of a very good analytical piece by David Smith for NBC Sports this week, had a rocket ship at Daytona in February, performing well at almost every facet until an unscheduled pit stop took him out of contention in the 500. While this track is going to handle much differently on a late August muggy night, if there is any kind of translation from February to this weekend, the No. 23 Toyota will play a factor.
What is the state of silly season this week?
One of the stranger developments of the silly season recently is that 23XI Racing is in talks with Front Row Motorsports for a number of different scenarios.
It may seem odd that FRM owner Bob Jenkins may bow out of the sport now after winning a Daytona 500, but in some ways, it’s a realistic response. Front Row is probably never going to legitimately contend for a championship without going broke or some crazy event where a new manufacturer dumps a boatload of money into the team. This will probably be their peak, and now would be a decent time to leave with the new car coming next season.
Regardless of what happens, it is almost certain that Michael McDowell will be out of a ride next season in favor of Kurt Busch if Front Row ceases to be an independently operated team. McDowell has name value, the prestige of being a recent Daytona 500 champion, experience and is a road course expert in a series leaning more and more towards road courses; I have much more confidence in predicting he can land on his feet for another Cup team compared to DiBenedetto or Newman.
One team that has been largely quiet since announcing their Cup campaign for 2021 has been GMS Racing, which announced months ago that it would be going Cup racing at some capacity in 2022. GMS has a number of different options, be it veterans like the three above or promoting from within its Camping World Truck Series team.
The biggest question mark as NASCAR heads into September is JTG Daugherty Racing. It operates one Cup car with a charter, but it also runs the only unchartered full-time Cup car this season. If it can’t secure a second charter for 2022, it might not be economically feasible for the team to continue to operate an unchartered car once again. If that is the case, it would only make sense if Ryan Preece retreated down to the Truck Series a la John Hunter Nemechek next year.
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