As a Cup champion will swap groups for the second yr in row, a key query turns into what’s extra invaluable in NASCAR’s high sequence: Youth or expertise?
Brad Keselowski moved this yr from Group Penske to what’s now RFK Racing to be an proprietor/driver. Kyle Busch moves next year from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing.
In each situations, the transfer got here close to the height season, statistically, for every as a driver. David Smith — who operated his personal analytics web site and worked for NBC Sports earlier than becoming a member of RFK Racing earlier than this season — famous that the age 39 season was a driver’s peak season. Keselowski turned 38 earlier than this yr’s Daytona 500. Busch turns 38 subsequent Might.
Because the Cup lineup developments youthful, what’s the place for drivers of their late 30s?
Cindric is worthy, having practically received back-to-back Xfinity championships the earlier two seasons. Gibbs won in his first Xfinity start last year. He’s received greater than 20% of his Xfinity begins.
“We know Ty Gibbs is ready to race (in Cup),” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Growth advised NBC Sports activities in July.
Cindric and Gibbs had been amongst eight drivers in final weekend’s Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway who’re age 25 or youthful.
The common age of final weekend’s Cup race — won by 28-year-old Bubba Wallace — was 30.4 years.
That’s a barely youthful common age than the sphere for final weekend’s IndyCar season finale at Laguna Seca. The common age for that race — won by 25-year-old Alex Palou — was 30.8.
Automobile proprietor Rick Hendrick began the change towards youthful drivers in Cup, hiring a 21-year-old Jeff Gordon to run the complete season in 1993. Two years later, Gordon received the primary of his 4 championships.
It took time for different others to observe, however the sport has step by step appeared to youthful drivers. That turned extra vital when the economic system pressured firms to reduce sponsorship of groups. Youthful drivers don’t price as a lot as veterans. That helped drive a number of the sport’s actions in recent times.
Joe Gibbs Racing deliberate to maintain Busch after Mars, Inc. announced last year that it was not returning to the team and sport after this season. JGR had an organization to sponsor Busch’s No. 18 group till the deal fell by means of due to financial components.
With no sponsor, JGR couldn’t supply Busch what he felt the one lively two-time Cup champion deserved, one thing he alluded to final month at Watkins Glen when he foreshadowed change.
“You need to have the ability to go someplace that you just really feel like you’ve got a legit shot to race to win,” Busch mentioned. “You already know, belief me, I don’t really feel prefer it’s truthful to me or my household or the rest if we’re going to need to spend much less time collectively transferring ahead as a result of we’re going to have to vary our way of life, no query.
“There’s an enormous change coming. And so, is it price it to go run round and never have a chance to win immediately versus constructing one thing versus leaping in one thing that may win. All these questions are actually being weighed out.”
Busch mentioned this week, after saying he’ll be a part of RCR, that he was advised at one level that returning to the No. 18 automobile at JGR was now not an possibility.
Requested how might a deal not get achieved with JGR, Busch mentioned: “Solely factor I can say to that’s it didn’t occur. Apparently, they’ve bought different irons within the hearth, perhaps different sponsors for different drivers and that’s the highway they’re happening.”
Requested if he felt JGR was taking a look at a less expensive possibility than paying a former champion, Busch paused and mentioned: “Honest evaluation.”
For as a lot as folks want sports activities to be concerning the occasions, it’s typically about enterprise. With out the monetary sources, groups can’t compete. Homeowners comparable to Roger Penske, Gene Haas and Hendrick can have a bonus as a result of they produce other firms and may join these firms with sponsors, making offers extra invaluable to firms.
It’s not shocking that Hendrick (9 titles), Penske (two) and Haas (two) have mixed to win 13 of the final 16 Cup championships. Joe Gibbs has two titles and Barney Visser, whose Furnishings Row Racing group now not is within the sport, has the opposite title in that point.
That is what groups comparable to RFK Racing and Richard Childress Racing face to win a championship.
None of RFK’s vehicles made the playoffs this yr. Each of RCR’s vehicles made the playoffs. Tyler Reddick enters Saturday night time’s elimination race two factors above the cutline, whereas teammate Austin Dillon is three factors under.
Richard Childress Racing seeks to have a driver end within the high 10 in factors for the primary time since 2014. Busch is predicted to assist the group, which has three wins this yr, develop into much more aggressive.
“I understand how severe (Busch) is about eager to win that subsequent championship,” mentioned Childress, who final received a Cup title in 1994 with Dale Earnhardt. “I feel together with his data of vehicles and his data as a racer, he’s going to deliver some stuff to the desk.”
Kevin Harvick said in July he would be for having Busch join Stewart-Haas Racing due to how Busch might assist a group.
“I do know there’s a number of issues that go on round Kyle, however in the long run Kyle continues to be the most effective that’s ever come by means of this storage,” Harvick mentioned. “There’s a number of groups that may say that they’ve by no means had a type of varieties of drivers. He actually might rebuild a corporation if anyone took an opportunity that hasn’t had a type of varieties of drivers.”
Harvick, who’s 46 years outdated, has received twice this season. He’ll seemingly have to win Saturday night time to advance to the second spherical after a fireplace and crash sidelined him within the first two races of this spherical.
Hamlin additionally has proven what an older driver can do. The 41-year-old seeks his fourth consecutive look within the title race.
“I nonetheless assume that there’s a degree of expertise that actually, actually issues in our sport,” mentioned Hamlin, who owns 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan. “I really feel pretty much as good as I’ve ever been within the automobile. My craft, I really feel pretty much as good as ever.
“I’ve been lightning quick regardless that the win column hasn’t proven it as a lot this yr. So I’m fairly proud of the place I’m at contemplating my age. After I see Harvick, nonetheless being aggressive and successful at this age, it simply makes me have a look at my future and say, you understand, I’ve bought an extended runway than I believed.”
2. Former champs search to keep away from elimination
Busch and Harvick have mixed to win three of the final eight titles. Busch’s championships got here in 2015 and ’19. Harvick received the 2014 crown. They account for 32% of all Cup title race appearances.
Neither driver has been eradicated within the first spherical for the reason that playoff format debuted in 2014. Harvick was in a must-win state of affairs in 2015 and received to advance to the second spherical.
He’s in an analogous state of affairs after a fire eliminated him at Darlington and a crash ended his race early last week at Kansas. Harvick goes into Bristol 35 factors from the switch spot and all however wants a victory to maneuver on within the postseason.
“It is what it’s,” Harvick mentioned final week at Kansas of his deficit. “We had been racing to win anyway right now, so that’s what we’ll do once more subsequent week.”
Busch entered the 2015 first spherical elimination race exterior a switch spot by one level and completed second to Harvick at Dover to advance. Busch and Harvick took the spots of Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, eliminating them.
Busch is 2 factors out of a switch spot this time. Whereas he doesn’t have to win, he’s winless in his final 17 quick observe races, relationship again to 2019. His longest quick observe winless drought is eighteen races from 2012-15.
Busch has 23 whole wins at Bristol. He has eight Cup wins on concrete and won the spring race there on the dirt. He additionally has 9 Xfinity wins and 5 Truck victories there.
“If I can have previous Bristol outcomes be Bristol outcomes, then, yeah, shouldn’t be an issue,” Busch mentioned after the Kansas race of advancing to the subsequent spherical. “But when I’ve Bristol outcomes just like what’s occurred this yr each week, then no, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
3. What it’ll take to advance
A have a look at what it’ll take for drivers to advance to the second spherical of the Cup playoffs.
Christopher Bell — Has clinched a spot within the second spherical. Reached the second spherical in final yr’s playoffs earlier than he was eradicated.
William Byron (+48 to the cutline) — Wants to attain eight factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Was eradicated within the first spherical in 2020, made it to the second spherical in 2021.
Denny Hamlin (+47 to the cutline)— Wants to attain eight factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Has made it to the title race every of the previous three years.
Joey Logano (+40 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 16 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Has made it to the title race each even-numbered yr of the Cup playoffs: 2014, ’16, ’18 and ’20.
Ryan Blaney (+36 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 20 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Has been eradicated within the first spherical solely as soon as. That was in 2020.
Alex Bowman (+30 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 26 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Has made it to a minimum of the second spherical in every of the previous 4 seasons.
Chase Elliott (+28 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 28 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Has made it to the championship race every of the previous two seasons.
Kyle Larson (+27 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 29 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Reigning Cup champion.
Ross Chastain (+26 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 30 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. First time in Cup playoffs.
Daniel Suarez (+6 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 50 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. First time in Cup playoffs.
Tyler Reddick (+2 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 54 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Eradicated within the first spherical final yr in his first time within the Cup playoffs.
Austin Cindric (+2 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 54 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. First time in Cup playoffs.
Kyle Busch (-2 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 55 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Two-time Cup champion who has by no means been eradicated within the first spherical.
Austin Dillon (-3 to the cutline)— Wants to attain 55 factors to ensure development to the second spherical. Has twice been eradicated within the first spherical.
Chase Briscoe (-9 to the cutline)— Must win or have assist to advance (others falling out of the race early or ending poorly). First time in Cup playoffs.
Kevin Harvick (-35 to the cutline)— Must win or have assist to advance (others falling out of the race early or ending poorly). The 2014 Cup champion has by no means been eradicated within the first spherical.
4. Bristol’s questions
Saturday night time’s race at Bristol is a thriller for groups.
The spring Bristol race was on grime, so this marks the primary time on the observe’s concrete floor. Apart from wheel-force testing with one automobile per producer, no groups have been on the observe. And the fitting aspect tires are completely different from wherever else the sequence runs (the left aspect tires are the identical as these used at Pocono).
“It’s actually an unknown,” Randall Burnett, crew chief for Tyler Reddick, advised NBC Sports activities. “I feel it makes for thrilling races while you go into an unknown like that. … I feel you’ve actually bought to do your homework, and I feel our group strives on that.
“These tracks that we’ve had a number of unknowns, I really feel like we’ve unloaded nicely and rose to the problem. I look ahead to these sort of races.”
Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, calls Bristol the “the final problem of the Subsequent Gen automobile and the final unknown setup-wise of the Subsequent Gen automobile.”
Whereas the sequence will race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the primary time this yr later within the playoffs, groups will be capable to check there forward of time. That can give them a greater understanding of what’s wanted there than what groups have going into Bristol.
“I don’t know the place you go get notes for Bristol,” Gabehart advised NBC Sports activities. “It’s very distinctive, so I’m so grateful to be going into Bristol with a really massive (factors) cushion. A few of these guys towards the again of the (playoff) standings, having to go to Bristol and run 500 laps with this automobile, it’s going to be a nail-biter.”
5. Again within the playoffs
Jeremy Clements mentioned on Wednesday’s NASCAR America MotorMouths that an appeal panel rescinding the penalties against his team and placing him again within the Xfinity playoffs this week felt like “we received once more. We’re celebrating once more.”
Clements won at Daytona last month to earn a spot within the playoffs, however NASCAR penalized the team three days later for an intake manifold infraction discovered on the NASCAR R&D Middle. Among the many penalties was that Clements’ victory wouldn’t depend towards playoff eligibility.
“We ended up noticing that there have been different successful engines there they usually didn’t have their intakes, and we, sadly, introduced ours simply because we didn’t know and it didn’t must be,” Clements mentioned on why the group appealed.
A part of the argument from Clements and his group was that different organizations didn’t have their consumption manifolds inspected and that the Clements group shouldn’t be penalized for bringing their consumption manifold to the R&D Middle.
Clements mentioned the attraction panel “simply had widespread sense and that’s what prevailed. Simply so blissful to get this victory again and be again within the playoffs.”
With Clements again within the playoffs, it meant one particular person was dropped. Ryan Sieg, who was holding the ultimate playoff spot after Clements’ penalty, fell out of a playoff spot with Clements again in.
Landon Cassill holds the ultimate playoff spot going into tonight’s common season finale for the Xfinity Collection at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET on USA Community). Cassill leads Sieg by 19 factors. Sheldon Creed trails Cassill by 32 factors.