For a race car driver, a good day at the racetrack is when it all comes together, either for a much-needed performance or a win. For a media member, a good day at the racetrack is the opportunity to capture the stories and emotions of the event. It is being the ones to put into history what happened, how and who was involved.
If winning is the ultimate goal for a driver, telling great stories is the equivalent in journalism. Fortunately, there have been plenty of chances for doing so this season. Even better, the fun factor is back in doing so because the stories are changing each week.
Darlington Raceway was the latest venue where that thought was prevalent. With three laps to go, William Byron becoming the NASCAR Cup Series’ only three-time winner in 2022, and his further development as a championship contender looked like the angle. With two laps to go, it was punted to how Joey Logano took the race lead and won the race. Now it’s about getting both sides of the story and capturing Byron’s emotions.
It can bring quite an adrenaline rush, especially when it’s time to scramble post-race. Whether it’s something dramatic or exciting happened, as in the case of Byron and Logano, or Erik Jones being so close at Talladega, or Tyler Reddick having a win taken away on the Bristol dirt.
Yes, the one constant is telling the story of the Next Gen car and its evolution; from how different it is, to what drivers and teams are experiencing as they try to wrap their arms around a radically different machine. Those covering the sport are learning just as much as the participants, which is a nice change of pace for those who want more than just to report what happened on the racetrack on any given Sunday.
Each track brings a new challenge, and when showing up each weekend for practice and qualifying, the unknown starts all over again. It’s intriguing to see NASCAR Cup Series drivers kept on their toes and to ask how they think the car is going to react from track to track.
Meanwhile, the sanctioning body is basking in what it considers to be a successful rollout of the car from both a competition standpoint and parity throughout the field. So far, there has been a mix of everything, with good and bad races.
Las Vegas and Fontana, for instance, were highly entertaining compared to some of their previous events. Atlanta Motor Speedway was different. Circuit of the Americas was memorable. Phoenix had a great finish but lacked a bit throughout the afternoon. Martinsville Speedway is being dissected by NASCAR officials before its next race, following a lackluster one a few weeks ago.
Like the car or not, the racing has provided talking points, and it’s seemingly brought more teams into the fold. At least for right now.
Nine different organizations finished in the top 10 at Darlington. There were seven different organizations in the top 10 at Dover. Keep going through the results from the first 12 races and you’ll see it’s a developing trend. A trend that brings new story angles to track: Petty GMS Motorsports and Kaulig Racing’s growth, Richard Childress Racing is on an upward trend too. And on the flipside, those who aren’t as strong as expected, like the Toyota camp.
Doesn’t it feel like the field is still a bit wide open? Yes, the powerhouse teams will always prevail, but which driver will get the upper hand on any given weekend is hard to predict. We have yet to get to the point of seeing a clear favorite.
One week the conversation might be around the Ford camp needing to step it up because they lack speed, then Joey Logano wins the pole, leads the most laps and wins Darlington. Amazingly that conversation was last week when Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Rodney Childers admitted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio the Fords are behind. Then Logano told the Darlington media center Saturday that his No.22 team “wasn’t fast enough.”
A little over an hour later, Logano won the pole and the next day won the race. Seriously, it happened just that quick.
But that storyline was lost in the shuffle because of how Logano won the race. Although it’s hard to complain about that because controversy is always good for business, and Logano fully embracing who he is and not shying away from what he did on track is quite refreshing. He will never be accused of being vanilla or not taking responsibility for his actions after fully owning up to punting Byron.
Ross Chastain is another great story to be able to tell. A two-time winner for Trackhouse Racing, Chastain has gone from proving himself in lesser equipment to living the dream at the sport’s highest level. Some narratives already around Chastain are the wins, but also how he’s settling into stability under Justin Marks and, most recently, his determination to continue to learn where the edge is after crashing the second week of the year and how it’s translating to incredible results.
Sooner or later, the conversation will shift to how dangerous Chastain and the No.1 team can be this season and if they should be considered a deep playoff threat.
Every week it’s a rush trying to capture all of this; first-time winners, watermelon smashing, and drivers on the ragged edge.
Emotions and honesty are flowing all over the garage, from Kevin Harvick being blunt with his thoughts on NASCAR to Kyle Busch being Kyle Busch. Even while winning at Bristol, the two-time series champion was displeased.
Gosh, it’s just fun to cover NASCAR again. There were some up and down years recently where there was a vibe where it felt like everyone was just going through the motions. It’s hard to explain why, but the enjoyment level for all in the industry felt low.
But now, there is so much to keep digging into that there is a renewed joy in the job and the best thing about it: telling stories.