Friday 5: Is it time to change how NASCAR champion is determined?

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Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both raise questions about how NASCAR determines its champion with a one-race event after whittling the 16-driver playoff field to four through a trio of three-race rounds.

Since 2014, the driver who finished the highest among the four championship contenders in the season finale won the title. The format creates a Game 7 type of moment for the sport in an event that has become a winner-take-all race. Joey Logano won the season finale at Phoenix to win his second Cup title. Ty Gibbs claimed the Xfinity title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. Zane Smith won the Truck title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. 

Thursday, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series announced a new way of determining its series champion that mirrors the NASCAR format. The late model series will cut its field of playoff drivers through eliminations, leading to one race where the four remaining championship contenders will vie for the title in 2023.

One of the questions with the NASCAR format is if it provides the most fair way to determine a series champion. Of course, the NFL determines its champion by the Super Bowl, a winner-take-all game. The best team hasn’t always reached that game or won that game, but the event has been played for more than 50 years with no change in sight.

Those who question NASCAR’s way of determining a champion note that the Super Bowl is between two teams, while the championship race for Cup, Xfinity and the Truck Series not only includes the four teams racing for a crown but also the rest of the field, which can include 30 more vehicles. What those drivers and teams do can make an impact on the race and play a role in who wins the championship.

“I think Dale Jr. covered it perfectly,” Hamlin said. “Should one season come down to this three-hour window?”

Hamlin, who seeks his first Cup title, says that the previous Cup champions have been worthy and admits that “I’m the last one that should comment on this” because he doesn’t have a title. 

Still, he raises questions.

“From a purist’s standpoint, it needs to have a bigger sample size,” he said.

Hamlin notes how he knew he wouldn’t win the 2020 Cup title even though he was among the four contenders because his team was not as strong at the shorter tracks such as Phoenix. 

“If you had more of a sample size, you have a chance,” he said. 

Earnhardt expressed the questions he had about the format when he spoke with former NASCAR Chairman Brian France on the Dale Jr. Download this fall.

Earnhardt said the playoff format, which features three-race rounds, is “compelling. It can be argued that it’s relatively fair. Everybody’s got the same opportunity. It’s three races. You can kind of dig yourself out of a hole. But I’ve always kind of struggled with the final race being all or nothing.

“The reason why I struggle with that is because the venue may suit a team or a driver. … You wouldn’t ever consider running it at a road course or a superspeedway because that certainly suits some drivers more than other. You try to have it at a neutral facility, if you will, like a Homestead or a Phoenix.

“But I always had a hard time with saying, ‘OK, it all boils down to this one race where you’ve got to get it right and if you don’t you’re not a champion this year.’ Even though you’ve really got this amazing body of work. You can still have that guy that wins one race be the champion and the guy that wins six not even make the final round.

“I wish we could figure out a way to make that championship moment not an all or nothing three-hour affair. … I’ve really warmed up to everything else we’ve done. It took me a long time because I was too much of traditionalist. But I still feel like there’s got to be a better scenario for the final moment.”

France responded to Earnhardt’s query by saying: “The reason you feel that way is because those are fair points that you make. They are.”

France went on to say that such questions are “part of the challenge of a playoff format in general with auto racing. You’re just going to have to accept that is not exactly perfect.”

France then said: “My decision was we’re not going to hold ourselves back from getting those (Game 7) moments because auto racing doesn’t quite fit perfectly into that. We just couldn’t do it.”

NASCAR changed how its champion was crowned ahead of the 2004 season. From 2000-03, three champions were so far ahead in the points that they clinched the title with one race left in the season (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Jeff Gordon in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in 2003). 

The Chase was created to generate interest in the fall, particularly when NASCAR was going against the NFL on Sundays. The Chase morphed into the playoffs and included eliminations and one race to determine the champion. 

Hamlin says a three-race round to determine the champion will keep the interest of fans.

“I think when you spread it out amongst a bigger sample size, such as a three-race (round), I don’t see how that’s not a positive thing for ratings. People will be compelled every week to tune in because this is the championship round. I think there’s something to be gained there.”

Asked about what if one of the title contenders wins the first two races to all but assure them the title ahead of the final race, Hamlin said: “Will not happen. There’ll be no lockup. No one will be locked going into the final race.”

Hamlin acknowledges that his viewpoint will not be shared by all.

“I’m a traditionalist like Dale,” Hamlin said. “This is just my opinion. I think that everyone is going to have a different opinion on it, but I just believe a larger sample size of our champion makes it more legitimate. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that, especially in the industry. 

“If you ask the drivers, ‘Do you see championships as valuable today as they did 10 years ago?’ I don’t think any one considers them as valuable just because it’s one race. It’s one race.”

2. Plugged in

Tyler Reddick moves to 23XI Racing and will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as his bosses. Reddick says that Jordan is not an absent owner.

“We’ve gotten to spend time (together) a little bit, here and there,” Reddick said of Jordan. “His involvement with the team is, I think, more than most realize.”

Reddick referenced the Martinsville race in October when he pulled out of the event because he wasn’t feeling well after contact on the track. Jordan reached out to Reddick afterward.

“It was really cool that you have a guy like him checking in on you to make sure you’re OK,” Reddick said. “He’s definitely locked in, and he really wants the team to do well. I’m excited to be working with him.”

3. Staying home

Kyle Larson said he will race very little this offseason. He’s staying at home for the birth of his third child with wife Katelyn Sweet.

Larson will compete in the Wild West Shootout, a dirt late model event at Vado (New Mexico) Speedway Park on Jan. 7-8 and Jan. 11-15.

Larson will not compete in the Chili Bowl this year. 

He said his focus will be on family this offseason.

“Help out where I can and just spend as much time with the family,” Larson said. “I normally go race a lot, but this year I’m not. I’m actually excited about it. I’ve only run one race so far this offseason. I’m surprised that it already feels like the offseason is going by really fast because I thought it’d be really slow with me not racing. It’s been good to just not race for once.”

4. Looking to improve

Ryan Blaney said he and crew chief Jonathan Hassler have looked back on the season and compiled a list of things to do for next year.

Blaney won the All-Star Race but did not win any points races. He finished eighth in points. It’s the sixth consecutive year he’s finished in the top 10 in points, but he’s never placed higher than seventh in the standings at the end of a season.

“We were up front so many races and led a lot of laps and won a bunch of stages, just never won (a points race),” Blaney said. “It is kind of a bummer. 

“So what kept us out of victory lane? Was it me? Was it a bad pit stop? It was kind of everything in some certain races. Sometimes they don’t work out for you. Some are self-induced. I felt like we took ourselves out of a handful of races I felt like we had a good shot of winning. … It is a bummer we didn’t win, but I was proud of the consistency and just hope to build on that.” 

Blaney is ready for the new season to begin.

“I’m kind of like two weeks is nice and then I kind of get itching to get back going,” he said. “It is nice to reset, and you kind of go through things you want to be better at. You have your own little list between myself and my team. … It’s a perfect time to work on that stuff.”

5. New partnership 

Among the new driver/crew chief pairings for 2023 is Austin Dillon working with Keith Rodden.

Rodden last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne. Rodden served as crew chief for William Byron in one race in 2020 but returns to full-time duty with Dillon, who finished 11th in points this past season, tying his career best. 

Rodden most recently worked on the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors. He takes over for Justin Alexander.

“Keith and I first got to work together in a wheel-force test for the Next Gen car at Richmond,” Dillon said. “It was a two-day test. We had dinner that night. It was good to talk to him. … Just knowing his passion was still very high to get back to the Cup level and crew chief. Him having the ability the work with Chevy this past year and seeing the different odds and ends of the Next Gen car was really the key to us (for him) to come over and crew chief for.”

Bubba Wallace says he’s learned his lesson after sitting out one race

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Bubba Wallace said he’s learned his lesson after being suspended one race for wrecking Kyle Larson at Texas, but said that series officials need to be consistent in addressing such matters. 

Wallace spoke to reporters Saturday at Martinsville Speedway. 

“I totally accepted the penalty and the repercussions that came from my actions,” Wallace said. “I talked to (NASCAR executive Steve) O’Donnell and I talked to (NASCAR President Steve) Phelps and I said, ‘Hey, I’m good with being the example. If we can keep this consistent moving forward because it’s happened multiple times this year and it’s something that may still continue to happen for other drivers down the road.’ I definitely learned my lesson. But we have to be consistent, no matter if it’s here at Martinsville or if it’s at Daytona or Talladega. We’ve got to keep it consistent across all the boards, across the all the series. It was a good conversation.”

Wallace sat out last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. John Hunter Nemechek drove for him in that race.

Wallace said sitting out “was tough. … I hated not being in that race. That was one of those races that was circled on the schedule. The Toyotas have been really strong on the mile-and-a-half side, I really love running Homestead. I was legit bummed I wasn’t racing but I had to put that aside and still help the team go out and grow and continue to gain speed with those two drivers (Ty Gibbs and Nemechek).”

Wallace was upset that a move by Larson forced Wallace into the wall at Texas. Wallace then hooked Larson in the right rear, sending both cars into the wall. Larson’s car hit Christopher Bell’s car. After the incident, Wallace exited his car before safety crews arrived and walked along the track to Larson’s car and repeatedly shoved Larson.

Wallace said he and Larson talked this week.

“We had a great conversation this week,” Wallace said. “I think the best thing for us is we both understood where our frustrations were and moving forward and how we both can handle those situations better.”

Larson agreed with what Wallace said.

“I thought it went really well,” Larson said. “I think we both moved on from it really fast. It was good to have a talk and and just kind of talk over the frustrations and mistakes on both of our parts and kind of move on and forget about it and get on to racing. I feel like we race really well together in the past. I hope I don’t make any more mistakes and we continue to race good.”

Asked about what he’s learned after sitting out, Wallace said: “I got to think before you do. … Going back and looking from a 10,000-foot view definitely could have handled everything way different. I put myself in a bad light, I put our team in a bad light, our sponsors. It’s just something that I’m not proud of. Moving on, moving forward, you’re not allowed to make that mistake.”

Asked about his conversations with team 23XI Racing co-owners Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, Wallace said: “They were understanding of the heat-of-the-moment type things, but they were very adamant on how we need to handle those five seconds later, like I said earlier, think before you do. That was the biggest thing, but they still support me and we’re here and just going to go out and continue to build this team.”

Denny Hamlin fights for title spot, while 23XI races with substitute drivers

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Denny Hamlin holds the final transfer spot to the championship race and serves as part-owner of a team that will have two substitute drivers competing for it Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway after NASCAR suspended Bubba Wallace.

“Ownership,” Hamlin told reporters Saturday after a heavy sigh.

John Hunter Nemechek, driving in place of Wallace, qualified fourth for Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Ty Gibbs, who is driving in place of the injured Kurt Busch, qualified sixth. 

“I think that John Hunter is going to do a great job for us,” said Hamlin, won co-owns 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan. “Ty’s been doing a great job, kind of learning the ropes and getting some seat time before he makes a move (to Cup). While it’s not ideal for 23XI, it kind of gives these young guys an opportunity to go out and prove themselves.”

MORE: Kyle Petty says Bubba Wallace should have been suspended rest of season

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead 

Wallace is out after NASCAR penalized him for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wallace reacted after Larson forced Wallace into the wall. Wallace then drove down the track and hit Larson in the right rear, sending both into the wall. The contact caused Larson to hit Christopher Bell, a playoff driver, ending Bell’s race.

“Obviously, he was certainly frustrated with the on-track part of it,” Hamlin said Saturday of Wallace. “I totally understand. Larson put him in a bad spot there. I’ve done it many times this year where I kind of squeezed (a car) and it’s why William (Byron) got so mad (at Hamlin at Texas). 

“These cars coming off the corner just have a weird air buffer that you get someone to the inside of you, it just kind of pushes your car up. I understand why (Wallace is) mad, certainly, but I think he understands the bigger picture … it’s just a bad look for us.”

Hamlin said Wallace understands what he’s done.

“We’ve all done tough stuff in our career that has defined us,” Hamlin said. “How you return from it will define (Wallace). What was a shame is that he’s made some huge strides since Nashville as a driver. He’s a perennial top-10 running guy now. 

“It’s a shame because people aren’t going to focus on how much better of a driver he’s gotten through the year. They’re going to focus on this one incident, this one millisecond in time that he made a bad decision. It will just take some time for him to change that narrative.”

Hamlin said he and the team supported NASCAR’s decision to suspend Wallace one race for the incident. 

“It’s not a good look for our team,” Hamlin said, “but he’s got to learn. I truly believe if he had it to do all over again, he’d do it different.”

Hamlin said that team also dealt with Wallace’s actions internally but did not reveal details.

Hamlin said Wallace would be in the shop for Sunday’s race, monitoring the event, similar to what Busch has done since suffering a concussion in a July 23 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin said that while NASCAR “drew a line in the sand” in penalizing Wallace’s retaliation, he still has questions on when it is a penalty. 

NASCAR did not initially penalize Byron for spinning Hamlin under caution at Texas after Hamlin forced Byron into the wall. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron points and fined him, but an appeals board changed the penalty to only a fine, increasing the amount.

NASCAR did not penalize Carson Hocevar for hooking Colby Howard in the right rear in a Camping World Truck Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in July. The contact sent Howard into the wall head-on.

Hamlin said the different reactions from NASCAR create many questions on intentional contact.

“Is it the speeds of the track? What is the determining factor,” Hamlin said of such a penalty. “Is it because the crash (at Las Vegas) looked real bad?”

With all that behind him, Hamlin’s focus is on returning to the championship race and seeking his first Cup title. He starts 14th Sunday.

Hamlin leads Byron, the pole-sitter at Homestead, by six points for the final transfer spot to the title race. Chase Briscoe trails Hamlin by nine points, Ryan Blaney trails Hamlin by 11 points and Bell trails Hamlin by 23 points. 

Suspended Bubba Wallace will be replaced by John Hunter Nemechek for Homestead

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John Hunter Nemechek will drive at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend in place of Bubba Wallace, who was suspended for one race by NASCAR for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In a statement via social media, 23XI Racing announced Nemechek in the No. 45 Toyota. The team co-owned by Cup Series championship contender Denny Hamlin and six-time NBA champion and legend Michael Jordan also said it was “aligned with NASCAR on the one-race suspension issued to Bubba, and we understand the need for the series to take a clear stand on the incidents that took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Bubba’s actions are not in keeping with the values of our team and partners. We have spoken to Bubba and expressed our disapproval of how he handled the situation. Bubba has made impressive strides this season, and this experience is an opportunity to further learn and grow as a competitor in NASCAR.”

Wallace crashed Larson after being squeezed into the outside wall on Lap 95 at Las Vegas, where Wallace had won Stage 1 of last Sunday’s race. He was driving the same Camry that he took to victory lane last month at Kansas Speedway for his second career victory in the Cup Series.

Nemechek has been a Toyota-affiliated driver the past two seasons, driving full time in the Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports and part time in Xfinity for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The second-generation driver finished third in the truck series points standings last season. He currently  is ranked sixth this season with two victories after qualifying for the playoffs.

Nemechek will be making his 40th start in NASCAR’s premier series, having run full time in 2020 with Front Row Motorsports. His career-best finish is eighth, twice at Talladega Superspeedway as a Cup rookie. He tested one day at Homestead during a two-day test in September for 23XI Racing.

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

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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).