Friday 5: Future is now for next generation of Cup drivers


It no longer is about future for NASCAR’s next generation. While the new car has helped shift the balance in the sport, the surge of young drivers entering Cup within the past six years has made a significant impact.

Even with 41-year-old Denny Hamlin and 32-year-old Joey Logano still in title contention, the Round of 8 field is the youngest in playoff history at 30.1 years old. Hamlin and Logano are the only remaining playoff drivers over the age of 30 heading into Sunday’s Round of 8 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Six of the eight remaining title contenders began running Cup full-time since 2016: Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Chase Briscoe.

Four will make their first appearance in the Round of 8: Chastain (29 years old), Bell (27), Byron (24) and Briscoe (27). 

The 26-year-old Elliott is going for his second Cup championship.

“I think it’s a healthy dynamic right now between drivers who have been a part of the sport and have done amazing things who are still there … and then to be able to race with a lot of guys around my age or a little bit younger,” said the 28-year-old Blaney.

“I think we are all very fortunate to be where we’re at and given some really cool opportunities.”

The young drivers in the playoffs represent the sport’s elite teams: Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott and Byron), Joe Gibbs Racing (Bell), Team Penske (Blaney), Trackhouse Racing (Chastain) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Briscoe).

The pipeline will continue with 24-year-old Noah Gragson moving to Cup next season and 20-year-old Ty Gibbs expected to join him, taking over the No. 18 car at JGR with Kyle Busch moving to Richard Childress Racing. They’ll join, among others, 23-year-old Justin Haley, 24-year-old Austin Cindric, 26-year-old Tyler Reddick, 26-year-old Erik Jones, 29-year-old Alex Bowman and 29-year-old Bubba Wallace.

Blaney admits that looking back five years ago he “never would have thought” that he’d be racing so many drivers in his age range for wins and a championship.

“It’s pretty cool to see,” he said. 

Look back to 2017, it shows how much the sport has changed. Back then:

Byron won the Xfinity Series championship.

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series championship with crew chief Rudy Fugle, who is Byron’s crew chief in Cup.

Briscoe was in his first season in the Truck Series and scored his first NASCAR national series win in the season finale at Homestead.

Chastain made his first two Cup starts that season and had yet to win any of NASCAR’s national series (he has eight now across Cup, Xfinity and Trucks).

Elliott already had a title in the Xfinity Series but had yet to win in Cup — he has 18 victories now.

Blaney won his first Cup race, scoring a victory at Pocono for the Wood Brothers.

“It’s hard to believe it has been five years,” Blaney said of his first Cup win. “I was talking to (car owner Roger) Penske this year when we signed my new deal and I was like, ‘Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I walked in the door in 2012.’”

Byron, Bell, Briscoe, Chastain, Elliott and Blaney all took different paths to reach Cup. Byron’s journey was unique. He started via iRacing before he began racing cars as a teenager, well after most drivers get started. 

He made his Truck debut at age 17 in 2015 and ran his first full season in 2016 before moving to the Xfinity Series the following year for his only full-time year there. He moved to Cup full-time in 2018 at age 20.

“I felt like my path was quickly accelerated in each series,” Byron said. “When I got the Cup Series, there was a ton of learning that I had to do that I hadn’t done throughout the other series. There was a lot of conversation whether I would have gotten that other learning done in the other series. I don’t really think I would have.”

Byron admits that there has been quite a bit of learning to do in Cup.

“Once you get to the Cup Series it’s a totally different deal than any other series,” he said. “It’s a huge jump between Xfinity. I think that’s why you see so much adaptation time. It takes time mesh with the right people. You have to learn all those things and kind of figure out what people work well with you in the Cup Series.”

Byron and the other young chargers are ready to show what they’ve learned while seeking a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix.

2. Hard Impact

In a visit on the Dale Jr. Download, NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy revealed that Cody Ware’s crash last month at Texas Motor Speedway saw the highest speed change — from the moment before impact to the moment after the car hit the SAFER barrier — since NASCAR has been using incident data recorders to record such information.

Ware suffered a fractured right ankle in the incident. He raced the following week at Talladega but skipped last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval because of the demands of a road course on his foot. Ware will be back in the car this weekend at Las Vegas.

“For him to be able to come out of that car relatively unscathed, I think, speaks a lot for the safety of the car from that perspective,” said Kennedy, senior vice president, racing development and strategy.

Kennedy also provided some details on the changes to the rear clip and rear bumper structure NASCAR will make to the cars for next season after a successful crash test last week.

Kennedy said on the Dale Jr. Download that the new rear bumper structure “is a little more flexible, a thinner material. If you look at it visually, … the impact looks much less severe, and you have much more crush zone. 

“So we did (a crash test) at (a change of speed of) 33 mph, which would be a pretty high rate of speed for a rear impact and we did it at 18 mph as well, and then we looked at the data. I think if you look at the data overall, really trying to help on any impact in particular is bringing down that max G-load or that peak. … What we saw in some of those tests is that peak G-load come down quite a bit. 

“Is it perfect? It’s not. Can it be improved? Absolutely. But I think it was a step in the right direction for us, as we think about those rear-end impacts.”

Corey LaJoie said this week on his podcast Stacking Pennies that the changes to the rear bumper and clip “takes about 50 of the G-load away on a rear impact.”

NASCAR will pay for the update of any center/rear clip that a team has in its inventory (up to seven center sections and 10 rear sections), a series spokesperson told NBC Sports. The spokesperson also said that NASCAR has covered at least part of the cost to update parts in the past.

3. Future Cup owner?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download that JR Motorsports has talked to teams about the value of charters and who is willing to sell.

But Earnhardt said that after hearing what team executives told the media about the “broken” economic model for organizations, he decided that “I need to wait and pause. (The owners) are basically telling me this charter that I want to buy is a losing proposition or not money-making, it’s broken.”

“I thought as a potential buyer of a charter that what NASCAR would give them would be way more, so when I heard that NASCAR’s offer was very minimal, it made me go, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t expect that. I expected NASCAR to go, ‘OK guys, we feel it, we understand what you’re saying so here’s this new number to get you all in a little bit better position.’”

Curtis Polk, an investor in 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan’s longtime business manager, said that “the economic model is really broken for teams.”

Jeff Gordon, vice chairman at Hendrick Motorsports, said that the organization, which has won the past two Cup titles, will not make a profit this season. He also said it had been “awhile” since the organization had done so.

Team executives went public after their seven-point proposal to NASCAR to receive more revenue was rejected and that NASCAR’s counteroffer had “a minimal increase in revenue,” according to Polk.

Under the current model, sponsorship makes up about 60-80% of a team’s overall revenue, according to RFK Racing President Steve Newmark. He said how that is out of line with other sports.

Earnhardt noted how the value in charters have increased in recent years. 

“A charter … has went in less than a decade from $2 million to $28-$30 million in value,” he said, alluding to the BK Racing charter (and assets) that were sold for $2.08 million by a bankruptcy court in 2018.

“Everybody is wondering if that $28-$30 million valuation is real or it’s a bubble. For me, I went from being able to kind of somewhat justify that purchase to saying no way, not at that number. 

“Knowing what I know about what NASCAR came back with as an offer, knowing that these teams are operating at a loss, no way I’m going to go spend $30 million to get a charter that is going to operate at a loss and I’m going to get a minimal amount of money out of the TV deal.”

4. Xfinity playoffs 

The Xfinity Round of 8 begins Saturday (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock). 

Noah Gragson and AJ Allmendinger have combined to win the last six series races. No other driver has won in the series since August. Gragson won four races in a row. Allmendinger has won the past two races.

Gragson has an average finish of 3.5 in seven previous Xfinity starts at Las Vegas but has yet to win at his hometown track. Allmendinger has an average finish of 5.6 in three starts, including a win.

Gragson has won the past two races on 1.5-mile speedways: Texas and Kansas. After Saturday’s race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track, the series goes to Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-mile track before ending the round at Martinsville.

“Just really good race tracks for us is the biggest thing,” Gragson said of this round. “Vegas, we’ve got a really good average finish … Homestead, obviously we’re very good. I really enjoy Martinsville, too, and we were able to win last year. 

“Super excited to get to those race tracks and kind of get a reset. I was joking with the guys (before the Charlotte Roval race), we had a really good September, we’ve had a terrible October. Hopefully, we can turn it around.”

Gragson will move to Cup next season, joining Petty GMS Motorsports. Allmendinger will run full-time in Cup next year for Kaulig Racing. Even though this could be his last chance to win a championship in the Xfinity Series, Allmendinger said there’s no added pressure.

“This is a bonus to me,” he said after last weekend’s win at the Charlotte Roval. 

5. Rockingham repave 

A repave of Rockingham Speedway, which hosted Cup races between 1965-2004, is scheduled to begin later this month, according to a report by Queen City News.

The project on the 1.017-mile track is expected to be completed Dec. 1.

The project is being paid from the $9 million the track received as part of the American Rescue Plan. 

Justin Jones, vice president of operations at Rockingham Speedway, told Queen City News that the goal is to bring in various racing series, including NASCAR.

“My goal, when I first took this position, was to rebuild the foundation of Rockingham in hopes of inserting Rockingham back in the foundation of NASCAR,” Jones told Queen City News.

Matt Kenseth won the track’s final Cup race in February 2004. The track’s last NASCAR race was a Camping World Truck Series event in April 2013 won by Kyle Larson. 

Other current drivers who won at Rockingham include Joey Logano (2008 ARCA race), Parker Kligerman (2009 ARCA race), Ty Dillon (2010 ARCA race), Tyler Reddick (2014 ARCA Series East) and Chase Elliott (2011 Pro Cup Series).

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.