Top 5 early storylines for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season

AVONDALE, AZ — The aroma of victory champagne and celebratory beer is still gracing the Arizona desert air, as while one season comes to a close, another one will quickly come on soon.

Here are my top 5 early storylines for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Kyle Busch In The 8 Car

How does Kyle Busch are in the shift from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing. The only multi-time champion in the sport joins a once proud organization that won 6 titles with Dale Earnhardt. They’d not won a championship since with their last occurring in 1994. Can Busch bring them back to the promise land?

If he could, this would be a massive feat and another notch on his storybook tale. It’s not like he’s coming to RCR while the organization is fully down. They’re on a rise. Tyler Reddick took this car to victory lane 3 times in 2022 while Busch only had 1 trip to victory lane himself. Factor in Austin Dillon’s Daytona win and you get 4 combined RCR victories this past year.

Busch has 4 combined wins since the start of the 2020 season. That’s why I want to see if he is rejuvenated in a move for next year.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 04: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 04, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Future Of Harvick, Truex Jr.

Both are on the final year of their respective contracts. I’m curious on how many are back in 2024? Kurt Busch was injured and missed the final 16 weeks of this past season and announced he won’t be full-time again.

Martin Truex Jr. weighed heavily on coming back this year and after missing the postseason all together in 2022, does he truly want to fight another bad season in 2023 and come back in 2024?

“You know, I mean honestly for me I didn’t ever feel like it was a distraction,” he admits. “And I’ll make sure that it’s not for my team as well, because I feel like that’s where I have the most impact. You know, so I think for me, it’s all going to be just I’m not a big planner. I don’t like to plan too far ahead. I don’t want to talk about what I’m doing in the year and a half.”

Truex said that he’d take it as it comes and goes but he genuinely thinks that this team is a winning team and that if they can clean some things up in the offseason then they can come back here next November fighting for his second championship.

“You know, I just want to take it as it comes and I know you know the reason I came back is because I knew we could win at any single weekend,” he continued. “And I’m like, I can’t stop yet, we’re too good. You know, I mean not saying that in an arrogant way, but I just feel like any weekend we just show the wind still and I’d hate to date and not take advantage of that. After all leaders struggle, like you mentioned earlier. So hopefully, like I said, we can get the ball rolling next year early and be more consistent and we’re having fun and winning races again, and that’ll be it’ll make decisions a lot easier. As long as everything else comes together and there’s a lot of things that need to come together to make these deals work. So no idea at this point in time, but excited for you know, obviously coming back next year and hopefully doing some great things.”

Truex said that he can point to a number of times that they had a race winning car. It was just that they didn’t execute to get the job done. In saying that, he some would wonder if they would move on from James Small and bring in a new crew chief to propel this team back.

Truex doesn’t foresee that happening. He doesn’t think any changes would occur and hopes that they don’t. He likes this team the way that it is now and feels like there’s nothing concerning to break it up.

“I mean I love the team I like we’ve got a great bunch of guys we just need to get some things figured out, some pit road issues we need to figure out you know, some simulation issues,” he said. “You know, there’s going to be some changes with the cars this offseason need to get on top of that obviously, probably really see where that kind of puts us you know, short tracks and road courses, obviously been really rough and really tough for us this year. And we need to figure those out as well. So lots of look to work on it. And car for sure. Next year is a lot of this new year and it all starts over and anything can happen.”

As far as him personally, he says that his mindset never changes, it’s the same every weekend. While a win would be nice, it’s not just going to magically make things great again for his team. They need to be more consistent on a weekly basis.

“I think for me, my mindset is the same every weekend,” he says. “And that’s what keeps you hungry, keeps coming back keeps you motivated. You know, I’ve had years where I knew we were showing up, you’re gonna have a chance to win. So from that standpoint, I mean, it really wasn’t that difficult. It was more of that by the end of the week and you’re like, Okay, frustrated again. We didn’t get it done. Now we gotta go back and start over. And try to get it done next week.

“So there’s always light at the end of the tunnel that we can get it done because I know we can you know we I mean two weeks ago at Homestead we have shot when there you know and so just kind of be more consistent. We got to take advantage of opportunities when they arise and not make as many mistakes as we did including me. You know, I made my share of mistakes this year as well so I mean I need to work on that and make sure I don’t do it again. So as a whole we just need to work on all those little details. And like I said hopefully understand these cars better for certain tracks and have a better overall car on certain tracks compared to some of our competitors.”

In Harvick’s case, he feels like he’s a completely new driver at this point of the season compared to where he was at the beginning. This new car completely changed him which gives him reason of optimism in 2023.

“It’s drastically different,” he told me of himself as a driver now compared to earlier this season. “Yeah, you know, I think as you look back at the first race, you know, being very tentative to downshift the car going into corners and the way that you use the throttle and how far you drive it in the corner and what you’re looking for in the car is drastically different than then what you look used to look for. So it’s been a it’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s the new norm.”

For Harvick, he’s been very vocal against NASCAR this past season and with a possible TV future, I can see all 3 (counting Busch) no longer in the Cup Series when we show up to Daytona in 2024..

“I don’t know. You know, I think everything is kind of kind of a moving target at this point,” Harvick said to a group of reporters from the Phoenix Raceway media center on Saturday afternoon. “For me I just I just want to have fun, you know, as we go forward and enjoy it and you know, there’s just there’s a lot to consider for 2024. So, you know, I’ll sit down after we get done with this week and start to worry about what all that looks like so that it doesn’t put anybody in a bad spot.”

The Future…

The future of drivers and their respective teams is one thing, but what about the teams in this sport in general? Last month it was revealed that the owners are pissed. The RTA stepped in because for 2025, a new contract has to be in place for not only charters, but for the piece of the pie for the next TV contract.

The owners submitted a 7 point plan months ago. NASCAR said they’d counter and give feedback. Weeks turned to months with no direction from NASCAR on what they were going to do. Finally, they sat down in Charlotte and the meeting didn’t go well.

The teams are worried about the future because NASCAR’s plan is for them to cut more cost via employment. There’s not many other areas to cut back. The teams are already operating on the slimmest budgets in decades and now NASCAR is asking for them to make more concessions.

That’s not going to fly.

The team expected a bump in revenue from this next TV deal and it sounds like NASCAR’s version is a slim increase for the teams.

“I think two things, right? We want to make sure that teams are profitable,” Phelps said. “It’s important to us. We fully believe that having profitable teams does lead to more competitive racing.

“If you look at it, there are two areas to do it: increasing revenue, which we have every intention of doing with our race teams, and controlling expenses, right?

“The teams have asked us to control expenses. Where those come from, I don’t know. That will be up to the race teams to determine the best way to figure out how they would control those expenses.

“I’m not suggesting that we have a specific discussion around what that would be or the mechanisms that we put in place. The teams, the idea of having caps, floors, ceilings, luxury taxes. Those conversations, to the last part of your question, will be between ourselves and our race teams.

“We’ll continue to have dialogue with our race teams. The charters go through the end of 2024. We will have meaningful dialogue with our teams next year, I’m sure. We’ll figure out what is going to be a fair opportunity for all stakeholders. Moving forward in 2025, what that looks like, I don’t know. It will absolutely have to be around both revenue increases as well as some type of expense restriction in some way.”

On Future Of The Charter Arrangement

I think the charter system has been very good for NASCAR,” said Phelps. “I think if you look at it, there are many positive things.

“What do you get when you buy a charter? You get three things. You get guaranteed entry into the race, which helps the teams from a sponsorship standpoint. You get two pieces of revenue: fixed revenue and then revenue you compete for on the racetrack. The third piece is governance.

“Steve and the top competition guys, they’ve got meetings all the time with the race teams to move the sport forward from a competitive standpoint.

“So I would say the charter system, although not perfect, has worked really well. You look at the enterprise value, which I’m not going to get into what charters are going for, what they were at, but the number right now is a significant multiple of what it was three years ago.

“We have people out there that want to get charters who are both in the sport and are outside of the sport that can’t get them right now because the teams are holding them. That’s their right. Whether we want that to happen or not, there’s nothing we can do about that.

“To answer your question fully, do I think we’ll extend the charters? I do. Do I think it’s a good thing for the sport? I do.

  1. But there’s a possibility you might not?

STEVE PHELPS: “There’s certainly that possibility. I don’t want to get into the negotiating through you all. We’ll get with our race teams.

“My intention and all of our intentions is to renew the charters.”

Could there be more charters allowed if a new OEM comes in?

 “I think we have the ability to do that. If you look at the landscape today with the ownership and the number of charters we have, a new OEM coming in, we certainly would want that OEM not to be blocked from coming in. That’s why it was put there.

“I think best-case scenario for us is to have one or more of your existing charter teams have an affiliation with an OEM. It’s important as we continue to grow to make sure that that OEM support is throughout the field. That is going to be a real key for us to look at going forward.”

What About That New OEM?

“No fresh news other than there is ongoing dialogue,” said Phelps. “I think it’s a really complicated time in the auto industry in general. So balancing that in terms of what is the sport going to look like three, four, five years from now.

“The good news is you heard Steve talk about the growth of the sport, the eyeballs, the interest. So no matter what you’re racing, that interest is there.

“But I think the ability for us now to line up what type of engine, what type we do across all three national series, gives us a really good opportunity.”

On TV Deals

“With respect to where we go from a television standpoint, our relationship with FOX and NBC has never been better, ever,” said Phelps. “It is at a level that we haven’t seen from a television perspective since the early 2000s when kind of this whole new model came to be. That’s done through a lot of hard work. It’s done because the sport, its ratings have stabilized and grown.

“You look at our share over the last just two years, share this year for NASCAR Cup races, plus 11%, share last year for NASCAR Cup races, plus 14. Our share has increased in two years by 25%, while our friends at FOX and NBC have sold out their inventory, CCPM increases.

“The sport is having a moment on television, but it’s also having a moment on our own digital and social channels, our own channels. On NASCAR digital, we haven’t seen numbers this high since 2005. There’s something that’s coming here.

“I’m not sure where the future’s going to be with respect to our media partners. I do know that it will go through NBC and FOX. Whether there are additional folks that want to come bid and we get to that particular point, I have no idea.

“I do know there is a significant amount of interest in NASCAR from those that are not our incumbents. That’s a good thing for our industry, right? Frankly, our media deal, it feeds a lot of mouths in this industry. It’s important to do that. It is the future of what healthier teams look like. It’s the future of continued investment in capital at our racetracks, continued investment in expenses around creating better fan experiences that we talked about before.”

This is a massive story to watch next season to see how this evolves.

Next Gen Updates

The safety of this car came to question last season with at one point 3 full-time drivers missing a race. You know NASCAR is going to update this car as the 2022 version was far from the final product. How much though is changed between now and the Busch Light Clash in 2 months and with what’s changed, does this stop the parity?

Joey Logano celebrates in front of the fans on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix

Parity Continuing?

In 2021, we saw 17 different winners in 36 points paying races. With a new car in 2022, that number unticked to 19 winners in 36 points paying races. Factor in the Duels and All-Star race and that number actually jumps to 22. Do we see a similar parity trend in 2023?

Part of me thinks yes because that’s this new generation. However, another part of me says, no because the bigger teams are big for a reason and after a full year’s worth of learning and data, even with limited practice still another year, they have a better idea on what direction to go down when we return to these tracks for a 2nd and even 3rd and 4th time next year. How much of an advantage will that be?

“I do think the car has been a major factor in the competition this year,” said Team Penske’s Walt Czarnecki. “19 different winners. It’s really boiled down to, and we’re going to have to do this on Sunday, boils down to preparation, execution, strategy, and a driver who wants to win.

“The cars are relatively even. I’ve got to be careful what I say here because nothing is ever even. I realize that. But it’s the closest I’ve ever seen.”

Rick Hendrick agreed.

“The car has made it super competitive on any given day, anybody can win,” he says. “You’ve seen all these different winners this year. Nobody has really just dominated the sport. The parity is really unreal.

“I think NASCAR got what they wanted. We’re all trying to figure it out a little bit better each and every week. But boy, you just look at the lead changes and how many people are up there running up front, and you always expect to see coach up there and Roger, and Trackhouse has done an unbelievable job.

“And you look at other teams like Petty and I think Brad and his team, they’re going to be contenders next year.

“So I think it’s leveled the playing field, and it’s good for the sport. I think the fans love it.

“I sometimes look back and like the old way, but it’s good for the sport.

“I look at Trackhouse and any other competitor that comes into the sport. I think the 23 crowd has shown a lot of muscle. They’re going to be competitors and fierce competitors next year.

“I think you’ve got to race everybody now. I’m going to pull for a Chevrolet team if it’s not us for sure, because we’re stronger together.

“But I look at them like Brad is going to be tough next year, having Reddick over in that Toyota is going to be tough. Hey, you’ve got to race everybody, so it’s going to be a bunch of good cars out there, and we just have to go race and win our share.

“But they have done a super job, and I commend them on that. We can’t really look at other people. We just have to get better ourselves. We have to do a better job of figuring out the car and crew chiefs and drivers working together and the whole organization working together.

“We’ve won 11 races this year, and you always want to win more, but I’m thankful to win 11.

“I see other competitors coming, and you can’t rest on your laurels. We’re going to have to be better.

“I think we are better. I think we are getting better every race. Some races don’t show it, but in some areas I think we’ve improved, and then in other areas we need to improve a lot more.

“I look at everybody as competition.”

Czarnecki doesn’t think that with a second year of this car in 2023, that the gap will necessarily widen just because the bigger teams have more money to develop it faster.

“I think we’ll see the lesser teams still have the same chance,” he says. “I really do. They’re being given that opportunity. Again, I think the car has indicated that or has illustrated that.

“It really boils down to the people. There are some darned good people, whether it’s Penske or Hendrick or Gibbs, there are a lot of good, talented, smart people in this sport that know how to race and know how to win.

“I think it could be just as open next year as it was this year.”

Other than Martin Truex Jr’s title with FRR in 2017, you have to go all the way back to Kurt Busch’s championship with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004 as the last team not named Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, Penske, or Hendrick to win a Cup championship.

A comparison to 2020 and prior?

In 2020, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports won 34 of the 36 points paying races. They took all four of the Championship 4 spots too.

In 2019, the same four teams won 33 of the 36 races run. They also took all four Championship 4 spots again. In 2018, they won 31 of the 36 races. Furniture Row Racing with a JGR alliance won four times that year which if you count them in this mix, that’s 35 of 36 races.

The last 2 years we’ve seen Kaulig, 23XI Racing, Trackhouse, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports all reach victory lane. All are ascending.

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