Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Is There a New Rivalry in NASCAR Town?

1. Are we getting an early start to a Gibbs/Gragson rivalry?

We already know that Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs will have a lot of say in terms of who this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series champion will be, although regular-season champion AJ Allmendinger will likely have a lot to interject, as well.

But we also know that signs point to both being full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers next year following part-time drop-ins in NASCAR’s top series. We already know that Gragson will be in the No. 42 for Petty GMS Motorsports next year. And it’s safe to expect Gibbs moving up to race in the Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18.

Both tangled during Friday’s night’s Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and with the way both have run of late, expect them to have to go door-to-door a time or so between now and Phoenix.

But it could go beyond that.

Both figure to be going for Cup rookie of the year in 2023, but who’ll emerge there?

Sure, Gibbs will be in better equipment at JGR, but Gragson’s recent run and willingness to move someone to do what it takes could equalize things a bit, too.

Gibbs played off the contact with Gragson on Friday night, but if these two are in close quarters going into next season, Gibbs could have his first big rival in NASCAR’s top division.

2. And the 20th winner will be …

Remember a few weeks back when we wondered if we’d see more non-playoff winners?

Thanks to Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher, that has happened. Buckle up, because they probably won’t be the only first-time-in-2022 winners we see.

Talladega breeds the unexpected with restrictor-plate racing. You can’t discount a Michael McDowell or whoever is in the second 23X1 car racing up there for a win. The same goes for Brad Keselowski. And that’s not even mentioning that both Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex, Jr. have run well enough to win at times this year.

In terms of producing parity, NASCAR’s current car has been a success, that’s for sure.

3. Will short tracks doom the current car?

What makes a good race? It’s tougher to gauge at short tracks than on other racing surfaces. That’s because to some fans, a good race is lots of passing. But when a track like Bristol built its reputation in the 1990s was built on bump-and-runs and driver confrontations, you have the desire to see the same time and time again. A monster was created in that time, and since the track’s banking was tweaked, it’s been hard to replicate that for one reason or another.

Saturday gave us 12 lead changes, but that’s not what grabbed the attention. What did garner the attention, however, was the parts failures off of cars during the race. What was the culprit? That’s for NASCAR to look into and figure out.

It definitely puts the heat on the sanctioning body when one of the sport’s most-known races is marred by issues with this heralded new car. And the wick is turned up even higher when you have a past champion taking a backhanded shot by being the latest driver to see an opportunity for a t-shirt sale.

It’s bad enough that the hot topic, no pun intended, coming out of this race was the new car not being ready for prime time at Bristol. Whatever the issue is, it needs to be fixed and ensured not to be a factor at the next short-track race at Martinsville Speedway, because a new car parts failure at the final race before Phoenix Raceway would not be good, to say the least.

4. Should NASCAR ditch dirt racing?

A bit of good news was dished out with the recent schedule release with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series 2023 slate going away from the dirt at Knoxville Speedway in Iowa. Try as NASCAR may, it cannot run a dirt race. You wouldn’t expect the IndyCar Series to go to a Daytona or Bristol where it isn’t used to running races and have success, and you can’t expect NASCAR, a series primarily on asphalt, to run good shows on dirt. It’s just not plausible.

Was Saturday’s race at Bristol a spectacular on-track show? No. But it was a heck of a lot better than the worst things for race fans’ eyes aside from racing in torrential rain on a road course.

NASCAR should be commended for trying something new, but it’s high time to admit that some ideas don’t work, and NASCAR on dirt is one of them.

5. Vindication for Wallace & Buescher?

It’s not fair that we live in a world shaped by the court of public opinion, but fair is something that comes in the fall and has funnel cakes and fried Oreos.

As has been the case for the racing careers of both Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher until recently. Sure, the record books showed that each driver had a win in NASCAR’s top level, but each win had a “yeah, but …” alongside it.

Buescher’s win on Saturday was the second of his career. His first was by way of a Pocono win where he was in the lead as a fog that was as Yukon Cornelius said, was “thicker than peanut butter” prevented the race from continuing. In the case of Wallace, last fall’s win at Talladega surely counted as a win, but it was also not a race run at its full length as it was shortened by weather.

Wallace was neither the first nor last driver to win a race shortened by weather, but no matter where Wallace went, there was a bit of the “but it was rain-shortened … anyone can win on a plate track” drivel.

Both Wallace’s and Buescher’s wins had one huge thing in common: They had to get up on the wheel late in the race when it counted. There was no stroke of luck from Mother Nature. There was no opportune push in the draft. Both had to straight up race to the lead and stay there.

If there was any doubt of whether or not they belong at NASCAR’s top level, both have proven it.

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janice

you’re kidding right about gragson and gibbs? i see many visits to the na$car hauler for a talking to next year.

Jeremy

Is anyone else starting to think NASCAR purposely created this new car to actually BE terrible on short tracks in order to sabotage them? Intention being to create the ratings drop needed so they can justify pulling the dates from Bristol and Martinsville in favor of new 1.5 mile D-Oval tracks (to be built) in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and perhaps another in California? Or perhaps they might add a couple more 2.5 mile restrictor plate tracks to hold 4 more demolition derbies per year?

Jeremy

Hey, I don’t like it either! Given NASCAR’s track record (pardon the pun) of horrible ideas and dreadful decisions, it’s entirely possible!

Kurt Smith

I’m quite certain NASCAR isn’t that smart, but don’t think they aren’t seeing the opportunity now.

Sally Baker

Covering Bristol with dirt is pathetic. It’s like putting ‘sticky stuff’ on tracks to make the racing better. How about fixing the car Sad state of affairs when you have to pour stuff on the track to make it raceable.

Kurt Smith

I love that NASCAR decided to race on dirt, but there are so many great dirt tracks like Eldora they could have used instead of pouring dirt on a short track that already produced (or used to produce) exciting races.

Kurt Smith

It really says it all when you have to go to the minor league series to find a rivalry worth talking about. The Petty-Pearson and Earnhardt-Gordon rivalries were based on two guys that won a lot of races and had their devotees and detractors. By NASCAR’s design, no one wins a lot of races anymore, so we’ll never see a great rivalry again.

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