5 storylines heading into 2023 NASCAR season

This May Be The New Era

Prior to the 2020 season, in order to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship, the road went through Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Combined, that trio had won 4 of the 6 championships under this new format.

Harvick has five final round appearances in eight years at that but none in the last three including a first round defeat this season.

Busch had five championship 4 appearances in the last 8 years but none in the last three. He too was an opening round exit this year. Busch has only scored 5 wins in his last 130 starts. 

Truex also has had five Championship 4 appearances in the last 8 years. He didn’t even make the playoffs last year. He’s also entered 2020 having only two wins in his last 43 races run too. Then came a four win season and all the momentum back. That was lost in a winless campaign in 2022 to give him 6 wins in his last 115 tries.

While their reign appears to be ended, maybe this is the new norm. Chase Elliot, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney have since emerged.

Elliott has 3 championship 4 appearances in the last 3 years. He also has 6 straight Round of 8 appearances.

Hamlin has 3 final round appearances in 4 years.

Larson was surprisingly eliminated in the Round of 12 this year but just won the title on the heels of a 10-win season in 2021.

Logano has 5 straight Round of 8 appearances and 8 in 9 tries. He also has 2 Championship 4 appearances in the last 5 years including 5 overall and two titles.

Blaney has 4 Round of 8 appearances in the last 6 years too.

Combined 2 of the last 4 series champions made up the Round of 8 last year. The only ones missing was Busch and Larson…

The 4 drivers in the final round in 2022 were all 32 years of age or younger with 3 of them in their 20’s.

This is the future and maybe it’s now…

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 A SHOC Chevrolet, Harrison Burton, driver of the #21 Dex Imaging Ford, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The Future…

The future of drivers and their respective teams is one thing, but what about the teams in this sport in general? Last Fall 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 they have been working on, so how much safer is this year’s version going to be over last? Can we keep every driver healthy through every wreck? That’s a lot to ask in a dangerous sport…

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – SEPTEMBER 11: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #45 ROOT Insurance Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 11, 2022 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Parity Continuing? Can 2023 Top 2022’s Record Breaking Season?

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.

Plus, it’s going to be hard to replicate the record-breaking season we saw in 2022.

The re-written record books suggest an answer…

19 Different Winners: The 2022 season tied the NASCAR Cup Series record of the most different winners in a single season (19) all-time; joining 1956, 1958, 1961 and 2001.

All-Time Record for Green Flag Passes For The Lead: There were 1,544 green flag passes for the lead (GFPL), the most ever. A green flag pass for the lead, by the way, is defined as a lead change all around the racetrack, and not just at the start/finish line.

Nine Races Have Set Records In GFPL: A total of nine different NASCAR Cup Series races have set records in green flag passes for the lead this season, including Circuit of The Americas (30 green flag passes for the lead), Atlanta-1 (141), Las Vegas-1 (57), Bristol Dirt (20) Darlington-1 (28), Kansas-1 (41), Charlotte (64), Nashville (47) and Las Vegas-2 (46).

Overall Green Flag Passing Increased Year-Over-Year: In a year-over-year comparison (2021 to 2022), the 2022 season has seen an increase in total green flag passes throughout the field of +6.36%.

Second Closest Average Margin of Victory: The average MOV for this season was 1.011 seconds, which is the second closest since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993 (.909 seconds in 2014).

Highest Percentage Of Lead Lap Finishers In Modern Era: The 36 races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season have produced an average percentage of 59.46% of the competitors finishing on the lead lap per race – the highest percentage of lead lap finishers through 36 races in the Modern Era (1972-2022).

The firsts were many…

First year with the Next Gen car, a machine that ushered in a new era of competition in NASCAR.

First purpose-built racetrack inside a football stadium (L.A. Memorial Coliseum), a bold schedule vision in which more than 70% of ticket buyers were attending their first NASCAR race and one that kicked open the door for further innovation (see: Chicago Street Race in 2023).

Five first-time winners, a Modern Era record (Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, and Tyler Reddick).

First season with three graduates of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program winning a NASCAR Cup Series race (Kyle Larson, 3 wins; Bubba Wallace, 1 win; Daniel Suarez, 1 win)

The fans took notice…

Overall television ratings by the FOX and NBC family of networks increased by 4%.

The overall share – the percentage of televisions turned on and watching NASCAR – increased by 10%.

There were eight sellouts in 2022, including two of the earliest sellouts in recent history with the DAYTONA 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in Phoenix.

The number of fans who attended their first NASCAR race grew by 11%, when compared to the last event that allowed full capacity.

NASCAR Digital just experienced its best statistical season since 2015, including a 10% increase YOY in unique users.

That ‘wall-ride-for-the-ages’? NASCAR on NBC’s social video of Ross Chastain’s move on the final lap at Martinsville earned more than 50.4 million impressions and 27.9 million video views.

On the sports betting front, authorized gaming operators saw a 51.5% increase in their NASCAR handle, year-over-year.

And it all ending with a championship that cemented a first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Fame career…

NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary

On December 14, 1947, Bill France gathered 35 people for four days of meetings (Dec. 14 – 17) at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. The distinguished group represented the most influential names in the racing industry at the time and included drivers, mechanics, promoters, car owners, journalists, businessmen, and a recording secretary.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was born from that meeting and though he knew what was needed, not even Bill could envision what the sport would become.

“Stock car racing has got distinct possibilities for Sunday shows and we do not know how big it can be if it’s handled properly… It can go the same way as big car racing (Indianapolis), I believe stock car racing can become a nationally recognized sport by having a National Point Standing.  Stock car racing as we’ve been running it is not, in my opinion, the answer…  We must try to get track owners and promoters interested in building stock car racing up.  We are all interested in one thing — that is improving the present conditions.  The answer lies in our group right here today to do it.”

– Bill France Sr. on December 14, 1947 speaking at NASCAR’s organizational meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. 

In the last 75 years, NASCAR has expanded globally, with series in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Europe, and has produced some of the best drivers in motorsports. 

Below are some key milestones in NASCAR’s history:

DECEMBER 14, 1947 – Bill France Sr. organizes a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, to discuss the future of stock car racing. NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is conceived.

FEBRUARY 15, 1948 – NASCAR runs its first race in Daytona Beach at the beach road course. Red Byron wins in a Ford.

JUNE 19, 1949 – The first NASCAR “Strictly Stock” (current NASCAR Cup Series) race is held at Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway. Jim Roper wins the race, Bob Flock wins the first pole and Sara Christian, who finishes 14th, is credited as the first woman to race in NASCAR’s premier division.

OCTOBER 16, 1949 – Red Byron wins the first NASCAR Strictly Stock championship.

1959 – Jim France, son of Bill France Sr., joins the staff at International Speedway Corporation (ISC). He worked in all phases of operation in his early years of the company and moved up to serve as vice chairman/executive vice president of NASCAR before ultimately being named Chairman.

FEBRUARY 22, 1959 – The high-banked 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway hosts the first Daytona 500. More than 41,000 fans attend the inaugural event in which the winner isn’t decided until 61 hours after the checkered flag flies, as the result of a dramatic photo finish. Lee Petty is declared the winner by two feet after conclusive evidence from a newsreel is reviewed by Bill France Sr.

DECEMBER 1, 1963 – Wendell Scott becomes the first Black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier series, beating Buck Baker at Jacksonville Speedway.

1970 – Lesa France Kennedy, daughter of Bill France Jr., joins the staff at International Speedway Corporation (ISC). Instrumental in the growth of ISC and the advancement of motorsports, she has moved up to serve as vice chairperson of NASCAR and vice chairperson of the Board of Directors for ISC.

JANUARY 10, 1972 – The founder of NASCAR, Bill France Sr., hands over the reins of leadership to his son Bill France Jr., who becomes the second president in NASCAR’s history.

FEBRUARY 20, 1977 – Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500. She qualifies 39th and finishes 12th.

FEBRUARY 18, 1979 – CBS presents the first live flag-to-flag coverage of a 500-mile NASCAR event with the Daytona 500, a show not soon to be forgotten as Richard Petty avoids an incident between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison on the last lap to win the race. With Petty racing by to take the checkered flag, Yarborough, Donnie Allison and Bobby Allison are involved in a fight in the infield grass between Turns 3 and 4.

NOVEMBER 18, 1979 – Richard Petty wins his record seventh series championship.

JULY 4, 1984 – Richard Petty earns his 200th win in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, setting a mark that has yet to be challenged.

NOVEMBER 15, 1992 – One of the most significant races in NASCAR history, the 1992 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first in NASCAR premier series competition. Five drivers were eligible to win the title as the race began. Driver-owner Alan Kulwicki ends up leading one more lap than Bill Elliott to earn the five-point bonus for leading the most laps – and win the championship by 10 points.

AUGUST 6, 1994 – The series schedule expands to include the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jeff Gordon claims the win in the first Brickyard 400.

OCTOBER 23, 1994 – Dale Earnhardt joins Richard Petty as the second driver in series history to win seven NASCAR series championships, clinching the title at Rockingham.

JANUARY 2003 – NASCAR unveils the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.

2004 – NASCAR begins its first season under the banner of Nextel, with the series becoming known as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup (now the NASCAR Cup) Series. A new format is implemented to determine the series champion and is known as the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup (now NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs).

MAY 23, 2010 – The inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class is inducted in Charlotte, North Carolina: Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson.

FEBRUARY 17, 2013 – Danica Patrick makes history by winning the Busch Pole Award for the 2013 Daytona 500, becoming the first female to win a pole in NASCAR premier series history.

JANUARY 30, 2014 – NASCAR Chairman Brian France announces championship format change, virtually guaranteeing a berth in the NASCAR playoffs for each race winner. Key among the changes is a ‘Championship 4’ finale where the highest finisher among the four eligible drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway would be crowned champion.

NOVEMBER 20, 2016 – Jimmie Johnson makes history with his record-tying seventh NASCAR premier series title, joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the series leaders with seven championships.

DECEMBER 1, 2016 – NASCAR and Monster Energy announce a multi-year agreement for the premier series entitlement as well as the prestigious annual NASCAR All-Star Race. Monster Energy, which began its tenure as naming rights partner on Jan. 1, 2017, will become only the third company to serve as the entitlement sponsor in NASCAR premier series history, following RJ Reynolds and Sprint/Nextel.

2017 – NASCAR introduces a new three-stage format of racing across all three national series racing. On the eve of Daytona Speedweeks, Kennedy unveils a flagship tenant, Bass Pro Shops, at ISC’s ONE DAYTONA, a 300,000-square foot premier mixed-use and entertainment destination across the street from Daytona.

APRIL 27, 2018 – In a move designed to strengthen a relationship that dates back more than 60 years, NASCAR announces the acquisition of the Automobile Racing Club of America. Both NASCAR and ARCA, a Midwest-based sanctioning body for stock car auto racing, share a long history: ARCA founder John Marcum raced against Bill France Sr. and worked as a NASCAR official. More recently, the series has provided a valuable platform for talented drivers looking to make it to NASCAR’s national series.

2018 – Jim France, who joined ISC in 1959, assumes the role of NASCAR Chairman and CEO. He was elected to the ISC board in 1970 and has served as the company’s secretary, assistant treasurer, vice president, chief operating officer, executive vice president and president. He grew up in the early years of stock car racing, living and learning every detail of the sport from his own experiences and from his father, Bill France Sr., the founder and first president of NASCAR, and brother Bill Jr., NASCAR’s former president, chairman and CEO.

FEBRUARY 6, 2022 – After an initial delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Next Gen car officially takes to the track for the first time during the inaugural running of the Busch Light Clash at LA Coliseum.

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