Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: What Should FRM Do With Zane Smith Next Year?

This weekend marks 30 years since One Hot Night, the critically acclaimed NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race of 1992. What can be done to bring the race back to its former glory?

The All-Star Race was struggling in the early ’90s, and the decision was made to run the race under the lights of Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1992.

It was a smashing success. It revived interest in the All-Star Race, and it remained at Charlotte under the lights for another 27 years.

But in the last decade or so, the race has begun to lose its fanfare among followers. Even hosting the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2020 wasn’t enough to bring the excitement back.

The race has been held at Texas Motor Speedway since 2021, but the same question remains: How can the race provide another One Hot Night? To bring interest back into All-Star weekend, three avenues should be considered: a consistent format, a longer length and a unique, permanent racetrack.

It doesn’t help viewership when the All-Star Race has been used as a guinea pig for ideas in points races. The 2018 edition used restrictor plates and the 2020 edition was the debut of the off-centered side numbers. In addition, the format of the race has been changed every single year since 2015. If NASCAR can decide on a consistent format, there would be a higher level of prestige to the race. The Daytona 500 wouldn’t be as prestigious if it alternated between being the Daytona 500, 400, 350 or 425.

Second, the race should be longer and with fewer breaks. The 2022 race at Texas is scheduled for 125 laps, slightly over a third of the 334 laps scheduled in September. A race that is closer to 150 or 175 laps would be ideal, as the fans and viewers will be able to experience more action. At the same time, the number of stages or breaks should be limited, as constantly starting and stopping every 15 laps doesn’t allow the race to get any flow or momentum. Thirty- or 40-lap stages would be more preferable in this scenario.

Finally, NASCAR should experiment with a unique track. The Busch Clash was moved to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the All-Star Race would also benefit from running in a unique place.

If the site can be upgraded to host it, Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., would be an ideal spot. It is a 0.25-mile oval with zero degrees of banking, similar to the track that was run at the Coliseum. It would also be local, which would prevent the teams from making the long drive out to the All-Star Open only to be sent home anyways. And it would give a level of attention and hype that the Clash received earlier this year. And if the racing is acclaimed, Bowman Gray could become the new permanent home for the All-Star Race.

See also
The All-Star Race Is Not the Problem

With his win at Kansas Speedway, Kurt Busch becomes the seventh driver to have a 20-year span between his first and most recent Cup win. How long will he continue winning?

Kurt Busch scored his first Cup Series win at Bristol on March 24, 2002. He picked up his 34th career win at Kansas Speedway on May 15, 2022, 20 years and 52 days after his first.

By winning last weekend, Busch joined elite company. He became just the seventh driver to have a 20-plus-year span between first and most recent Cup wins, joining Richard Petty (February 1960-July 1984), Terry Labonte (September 1980-August 2003), Bobby Allison (July 1966-February 1988), Dale Earnhardt (April 1979-October 2000), Jeff Gordon (May 1994-November 2015) and Cale Yarborough (June 1965-October 1985).

Busch’s longevity has been remarkable, as he has won at least one race every season since 2014, with 2015 being his only multi-win season in that time span. And anytime that it looks like he’s slowing down, he turns back the clock and shows the world that he still has it.

Busch will turn 44 in August, though, so he is racing against Father Time. But last weekend at Kansas was one of first races of the year where Toyota was far and away the best manufacturer, and it was Busch and his No. 45 23XI Racing team leading the charge.

If Toyota returns to its dominance for the rest of the year and Busch can continue with these great performances, he should have a year or two left in the tank at minimum.

With Stewart-Haas Racing slipping once again, is it time for the team to make internal changes?

At Phoenix Raceway in March, Chase Briscoe scored his first Cup win while Kevin Harvick ran top five all day. That race weekend presented a glimmer of hope for a team that had been struggling to run up front since the start of 2021.

It’s now two months later, and SHR hasn’t been able to capture the speed that it had at Phoenix.

Cole Custer has zero top 10s all season and Aric Almirola has just one top 10 in the last 10 races. Harvick has picked up a few good finishes, but tire strategy in the closing laps at Richmond Raceway has been the only other race where he’s sniffed the front of the field. Briscoe has been the best driver of the SHR camp, but he too has been wildly inconsistent with just three top 10s on the season.

SHR has shown some flashes of speed throughout the season, and Custer and Briscoe have had bad luck in reaching the finish in the races during which they’ve run well. But with the team’s misfortune withstanding, 2022 is now looking closer to a repeat of 2021 than a return to its past dominance.

Ford as a whole has only won three of the first 13 races, so SHR’s struggles are understandable. But at some point, the team needs to consider making changes; keeping the status quo will accomplish little.

With the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022, it is too early to make major shakeups at SHR. But if the team continues to run poorly for the rest of the season, 2023 needs to bring about major changes.

Whether it’s crew chief swaps or internal position changes, something needs to happen. The team needs to swing for the fences and hope that something sticks. Even the end of the Harvick-Rodney Childers pairing shouldn’t be off the table for 2023, as Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus were split up at the end of 2018 after going winless for more than a year.

Most importantly, SHR needs to try something because 2020 is now further in the rearview mirror with each passing week. And with the lackluster runs continuing to pile up, SHR is beginning to lose its spot as one of NASCAR’s elite teams at the Cup level.

See also
Up to Speed: Kevin Harvick Still Searching for Speed

What should Front Row Motorsports do with Zane Smith in 2023?

Zane Smith absolutely dominated at Kansas last week in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He led 108 of the 134 laps, and he was the fastest truck on track for 68 of the 115 green-flag laps. For a team that has solidly been running top five and top 10 all year, Smith and FRM left the rest of the field in the dust.

A clear favorite for the title hasn’t emerged in 2022 just yet, but Smith now has a strong case for it. He has three wins in the first eight races, and he has scored a top 10 in every race with the exception of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the team was disqualified after finishing second.

With his breakout at the start of 2022, the question now turns to what FRM will do with Smith in 2023 and beyond. He could return to Trucks for another season if he doesn’t win the title. He could also be scooped up by another team now that he has become a hot commodity.

But the best course of action, if possible, would be establishing a NASCAR Xfinity Series team for Front Row Motorsports. Ford has just a handful of teams in the series in 2022. If FRM starts a team in the Xfinity Series for 2023, it would instantly be second on the Ford totem (behind SHR) and in line for support. Smith will turn 24 next year, and by then he will have the experience to move up to the next level.

For now, FRM should focus on winning the 2022 championship, but it also can’t put its 2023 plans on the backburner. It is clear that the Smith-FRM pairing is a potent one, and FRM needs make sure it has it locked up for next year and beyond.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021. He is a staff writer and the Friday news writer. Stephen also pens the weekly “4 Burning Questions” column and contributes to “Friday Faceoff” and “2-Headed Monster.” A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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stubbscupseriesdotcom

Zane is currently the 2nd best young prospect in NASCAR right now behind Ty Gibbs. And while his season has been great, AJ Allmendinger is silently putting together the best season in NASCAR history. A win, 6 top 5’s, 11 top 10’s, and an average finish of 4.8. Reminds of Cale Yarborough’s ’77 season.

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