Penalties, off track drama stealing NASCAR’s thunder and setting them back in a crucial time and it’s a shame, my essay

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season was a record setting one. Last year tied the NASCAR Cup Series record of the most different winners in a single season (19) all-time; joining 1956, 1958, 1961 and 2001.

There were also 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.

Also, total of nine different NASCAR Cup Series races have set records in green flag passes for the lead last 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).

How could NASCAR back that up in Year 2?

So far so good.

Off to a fast start, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season has seen six different winners from five different organizations this season – JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Daytona), Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch (Fontana), Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron (Las Vegas, Phoenix) and Kyle Larson (Richmond), Team Penske’s Joey Logano (Atlanta) and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick (Austin). The only repeat winner this season has been the opportunistic William Byron, who was able to grab both of his wins on the heels of late race cautions and overtime restarts at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

In addition to a bevy of different winners this season, through six races the NASCAR Cup Series has produced an average of 11.33 lap leaders per race; which is the seventh-most in the Modern Era (1972-2023); behind the 2011 (13.0), 2014 (12.5), 2010 (12.0), 2022 (12.0), 1989 (11.7), and 2007 (11.5) seasons. In total, 30 different drivers have led laps in the first six races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, led by Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson with 270 laps led (20.22% of the total 1,335 laps run this season).

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season has also produced an average margin of victory of 1.111-seconds through six races; with three events finishing with a margin of victory under a second. Four of the first six NASCAR Cup Series races this season have resulted in overtime finishes (Daytona, Las Vegas, Phoenix and COTA).

Plus, this season has produced 369 Green Flag Passes for the Lead in the first six points-paying races of the year (Daytona 204 GFPL, Fontana 35 GFPL, Las Vegas 22 GFPL, Phoenix 14 GFPL, Atlanta 73 GFPL, COTA 21 GFPL) – second-most through the first six races of a season since the Loop Data statistic was initially tabulated in 2007 (last 17 seasons); just behind the 2022 season with 378 GFPL.

For a sport that has grown so much lately with the addition of several new teams (Kaulig, 23XI Racing, Trackhouse, The Money Team, Live Fast), drivers becoming owners (Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Tifft, BJ McLeod), A-List owners (Michael Jordan, Pitbull, Floyd Mayweather), new tracks including a football stadium (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Chicago Street Course) and fresh ideas, all are being overshadowed by off track drama.

It’s a shame.

TV ratings are taking a massive hit at the worst time to be doing so. The next TV contract is up for grabs and their ratings are down double-digit percentage points each week. That ironically enough is laughably the least of their problems.

The drivers don’t respect the other drivers. The owners don’t respect the top brass. Everyone is out for “me” instead of having a “we” outlook. It’s getting ugly.

No matter how good the on-track product has become, the attention can’t seem to get focused on it because of all these outside factors.

I mean look at last year’s playoffs. The most important part of the season. Never did NASCAR get the attention squarely on it.

We were talking penalties…weekly.

We were talking safety…weekly.

We were talking about the Next Gen and fires, tires and crashes…weekly.

Silly Season…weekly.

Nothing in regard to what was happening on track.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – APRIL 02: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 02, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)

Between the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (final regular season race) and the Southern 500 (1st playoff race), we talked about the rain that sparked the melee in Turn 1. After the Southern 500, it wasn’t the fact a non-playoff driver won and that it was a Richard Petty named car going to victory lane, we were talking “crappy parts” and Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

After a weeks’ worth of off-track stories and nothing focusing on Kansas we showed up for the 2nd playoff race. Instead of a quiet week going into Bristol (3rd playoff race), you had more news geared Kyle Busch moving from JGR to RCR and what that means for Tyler Reddick and KBM. It was the 2023 schedules being released and Jeremy Clements’ Daytona win being reinstated. It was Brandon Jones moving from JGR to JRM. More about next season than this actual season itself.

After Bristol it was tires and power steering problems from the Saturday night race. There was more penalty talk about Ryan Blaney. The only thing discussed on the upcoming race at Texas was that challenges lied ahead for the race.

After Texas it was a plethora of news in just the 1st four days of the week. We were talking the Byron vs. Hamlin spat, how NASCAR missed that call, air pressures etc. We weren’t talking Talladega. Even race weekend at Talladega we were talking safety and not playoffs.

Then we went to Charlotte. It was Alex Bowman and Cody Ware being out. It was Kaulig’s 2023 plans. It was William Byron’s appeal decision.

After Charlotte was Cole Custer’s penalty for him trying to help his teammate.

The start of the third round was in Las Vegas which was overshadowed by Bubba Wallace purposely crashing Kyle Larson and as a result, getting suspended.

Homestead came and luckily didn’t have much to distract us then came Martinsville where the Hail Melon move shared the limelight with drama between Ty Gibbs and Brandon Jones from the Xfinity Series race.

Phoenix was the final race but unfortunately, Coy Gibbs tragically passed away in his sleep the night before the Cup season finale.

They just needed to get to 2023.

This season has been worse. The rough driving in the Coliseum and COTA, the Phoenix debacle from the louvers and Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain incident, the penalties and appeals from HMS, Hamlin, Kaulig and the outcomes and now another HMS penalty from Richmond. That doesn’t even mention Chase Elliott missing the last five weeks due to a snowboarding crash that broke his leg the week leading into Vegas.

When do we just stop this nonsense? Every week another news cycle comes out to distract you from some great on track racing. Unfortunately, it’s comical at this point.

You’d never know we’re racing at Bristol Dirt on Sunday. A race on Easter night.

Last week you were distracted that HMS somehow got their points back. This week it’s that Kaulig for the same penalty didn’t. Hamlin’s appeal also didn’t work in his favor. Then both HMS cars taken to the R&D Center failed inspection.

When NASCAR announced that Hamlin’s penalty stood, it was a matter of minutes that they went from no further penalties outside of Kaulig going to a final appeal to HMS now having an issue and likely going to file another appeal next.

Then you have the owners grandstanding the top brass by no calling-no showing a scheduled meeting to plan for the future. Instead of keeping this behind closed doors and to themselves, they called the media to “show up” NASCAR. Why? What point are you making by doing that? They sound childish.

Well, this all is.

NASCAR’s top team has been penalized twice in four weeks. Fans are questioning their performance and integrity now. That’s trickled to the series in general. Fans are sick of it. They’re tuning out in droves.

NASCAR just had to make a rulebook update because they were having troubles policing their sport. Too many penalties not enough consequences that would stand. No one knew what a penalty was or how it would be enforced anymore.

It’s a circus. It’s a massive laps in integrity all around in this sport and people are seeing right through it.

This seems like they’re squandering a great opportunity here and I honestly don’t know how you stop it. It’s a shame. It’s a future 30 on 30 episode on the fall of something that could have been so good.

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