NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary! Catch up on all the latest updates, news, and check the schedule as we kick off the 2023 NASCAR season.
America’s favorite motorsport has officially been running for 75 years. NASCAR Fans have witnessed plenty of racing legends like Richard Petty, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. in those 75 years. There have also been a number of manufacturers who have come and gone from the motorsport. Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Plymouth, and even Hudson have all seen NASCAR championship success, but they all eventually left the sport or went under. Now, only Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota are here to celebrate the historic milestone as they race head-to-head around some of America’s most exciting tracks this season.
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series kicks things off in Los Angeles for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum pre-season event before they head to Daytona International Speedway for a weeklong celebration of the sport that ends with the 65th running of the Daytona 500. The entire season will feature nods to NASCAR’s past by bringing back iconic liveries on the cars and making sure that this season is one that the fans will always remember. Before we excitedly tell the drivers to “start their engines”, let’s get a look at the changes to the motorsport for this season, some important news, and take a look at the schedule for this year of NASCAR.
There’s always something new when it comes to a new season of NASCAR. Last year it was the unveiling and complete adoption of the Next Gen Car. While this new car came with its benefits, there were also some outcries from teams about how the Next Gen Car performed on the track and questions about its safety. Last year also introduced new fans to the sport by creating the spectacle that is the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. This year there are a couple of rule changes, some updates to the Next Gen Car, and a couple more additions to the NASCAR schedule.
NASCAR recently released the rule changes heading into the 2023 season. First, road courses will no longer feature caution breaks at the end of the stages. Originally, road course events were broken into three stages and a caution was brought out at the end of stages one and two. Now the stage points will be awarded at the end of each stage, but racing will continue without these cautions.
Wheel violation penalties have been made more lenient. Previously, the crew chief of a team that had a wheel detach during a race faced a four-race suspension. That suspension has been removed and the penalty for this infraction occurs during the event in which it happens based on certain criteria. If the car loses its wheel on pit road, that team will serve a pass-through penalty under a green flag. If the wheel is lost on pit road during a caution, the team will restart at the end of the field. The largest penalty though occurs when a wheel is lost on the track. Should a wheel detach from a car while on the race track, that team will be given a two-lap penalty and two crew members in relation to the event will be suspended for two races.
Other rule changes at pit road include a change of allotted time for teams to repair a damaged car on pit road. The damaged vehicle policy previously was updated last year from six minutes to 10 minutes from the time the damaged car enters pit road to it leaving pit road due to the complexity of the new Next Gen Car. That time has been brought back down to seven minutes to repair a damaged car for the 2023 season and no specialized tools will be allowed to fix the vehicle during this time. If a team isn’t able to repair the car in this time or the car isn’t able to meet the minimum speed to run three consecutive laps under green, the vehicle will not be allowed to race.
A pit stall encroachment penalty has also been added that will penalize drivers that encroach on other pit stalls when coming into their own stall. All pit stalls will have orange markings to identify their separate confines and penalties will be issued at the discretion of pit road officials. This addition to the rules was made to limit vehicle interference with crews on pit road during pit stops.
NASCAR notoriously avoids wet-weather racing when possible. Road courses are purposely driven in the rain similar to GT and Formula racing, but oval tracks were previously placed under caution or delayed until rain subsided and track conditions were dried. Last year we saw a giant crash that involved a significant portion of the field because of wet conditions during the event. While we NASCAR is still instituting the wet-weather delays for most oval tracks, they’ve adopted the motion to allow wet-weather racing on oval tracks that don’t exceed one mile in length. This means that races at locations like Martinsville, Phoenix, and a handful of others could possibly be held during rainy conditions.
Back in 2020, NASCAR instituted the rule that the highest-ranking driver gets to pick whether they get to restart on the inside or outside lane instead of using their specific placement in the grid. This rule was only in effect for every race that wasn’t a superspeedway or a road course. Now superspeedways and road courses are included in this rule. NASCAR is also experimenting with the expansion of the restart zone, the marked area at turn four where the race leader initiates the restart of the race, by 50% for the first five races of the season. NASCAR will make a decision to keep or remove this change after the Ambetter Health 400 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR playoff system has only allowed the top 30 drivers in the season standings to compete since 2014. NASCAR has updated this requirement to allow any driver that competes throughout the full schedule that is able to also secure a win will be eligible for the playoffs should only 16 or fewer drivers win a race during the regular season.
Speaking of playoffs, NASCAR has also instituted what is essentially the “Ross Chastain Rule” to some fans’ dismay. Chastain shocked the motorsports world by performing a move only attempted in video games on the final lap of the 2022 Xfinity 500 at Martinsville – and it may be the last time we ever see this maneuver again. Chastain floored it going into turn three using the wall to keep speed around the corner ultimately moving him up five positions to secure a spot in the championship. While it was truly a sight to see, NASCAR has decided to institute a time penalty for any action that risks the safety of competitors, officials, spectators, or others. The penalty itself will be handled on a case-by-case basis but would ultimately negate any advancement made by such an act in a race.
NASCAR’s Next Gen Car received numerous complaints from drivers last year, the most significant of which was rear-end collisions. Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch both received concussions last season after having accidents that involved their cars rear-ends colliding with the wall. These accidents were so jarring that Busch has still not been medically cleared and has actually retired from full-time racing.
NASCAR had already begun an investigation into the rear-end of the Next Gen Car prior to Busch’s accident and has introduced an improved design that should lessen significant impacts to the rear of the race car. The updated Next Gen Car rear design is less ridged and will fold in more to dampen impacts. The update to the car had to find a good mix where it would help with impacts without reducing the durability of the car, creating a more dangerous implications to the driver, or lessening the performance of the car. The team behind the update also had to consider each of the different manufacturers’ aerodynamics when producing the solution.
Other changes for the 2023 NASCAR Next Gen Car include changes to the mufflers to reduce noise and extract heat. The cooling vents found on the hoods of all the cars have been increased in size in another move to help regulate heat. Internal temperature of the Next Gen Car was a talking point early in the season last year, so hopefully these adjustments will help alleviate those concerns. NASCAR also allowed each manufacturer to adjust their nose design to make them slightly flatter to help with drafting at superspeedway races.
These changes probably aren’t the only ones we’ll see this season as NASCAR has also been doing testing at Pheonix and will be collecting data from races throughout the year. Their engineers are looking at changes to the aerodynamics of the cars, such as using different sized spoilers. NASCAR will continue to evolve these Next Gen Cars for the betterment of the sport and for the safety of the drivers as they enter wind tunnel testing this February.
NASCAR hasn’t run at North Wilkesboro Speedway since 1996, but they’re coming back with a week full of racing and entertainment. The Cup Series will make its historic return to the 0.625-mile short track for a special All-Star Race on May 21st. Prior to that race, the speedway is celebrating the return by putting on a weeklong event featuring ASA STARS National Series Super Late Model stock car racing, CARS Pro Late Models, CARS Late Model Stock Tour, and bringing out the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series too. They’re even lining up two concerts with artists who are yet to be announced. Hopefully this event will help keep the once desolate speedway back in business for years to come.
NASCAR isn’t just coming to Chicago; they’re taking to the streets of Chicago. In the same way that F1 had taken over Miami and plan to race through the streets of Las Vegas this year, NASCAR is bringing their drivers to race through the streets of Chicago on a predetermined course. This is the first ever street race in NASCAR history and the format could branch out to other cities in later years depending on the success of the event.
The pre-season race at the LA Coliseum is getting a moderate change to its format, but it’ll hopefully make things exciting. The main event field is increasing from 23 cars to 27 cars. It’s only four additional cars, but the more the merrier. The race will also showcase all of the new/updated liveries the cars will be wearing for 2023.
Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured to have two dogleg kinks in its design, higher banking, a widened front stretch, and was repaved for the 2022 season. For this season, NASCAR is returning to the 1.5-mile speedway for two weekends with the second event taking place at night. The track will be lit by spotlights on July 9th with the NASCAR race starting at 7 PM eastern time.
Every NASCAR off-season sees drivers swapping seats, retirements, newcomers, and changes to the teams. The 2023 off-season is no different, but there have been some significant announcements heading into this year. Here’s your quick roundup of all the news heading into the NASCAR season.
The 60-time winner and 2014 Cup Series Champion has announced his retirement following the conclusion of the 2023 season. Kevin Harvick has led a career in NASCAR that’s sure to be recognized in the Hall of Fame soon after his retirement. Harvick’s NASCAR legacy spans over two decades in the driver’s seat with a prestigious record that places him in the top 10 for total Cup Series wins and admiration from fellow racers thanks to his advocacy for safety improvements to cars. This will leave the Stewart-Haas team with a vacancy in the number four car, but whoever dons the mantle will have some tough shoes to fill.
Toyota has their hands in numerous motorsports around the world, including NASCAR. The Japanese manufacturer joined the NASCAR Cup Series ranks in 2007 after reaching championship success with the help of Todd Bodine in the 2006 NASCAR Truck Series. Even though the Toyota Camry has been taking on the likes of Chevrolet and Ford for over ten years, it barely makes up a fourth of the racing field. David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, has announced his optimism about adding new teams for 2024 stating that they’ve “got some good irons in the fire now.” There are currently six full-time Camrys for the 2023 season with Wilson suggesting that “- nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.” Maybe updating the design to the Supra for the Cup Series would entice more teams Toyota…
The biggest news this off-season was Kyle Busch leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 years for Richard Childress Racing (RCR). Busch’s new car will be the Cheddar’s Scratch House number eight Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Kyle’s brother, Kurt Busch, will unfortunately not be returning in to a full-time role with 23XI Racing this season. He’s currently still dealing with an injury that kept him out of the last 15 races for last year.
Having his spot on the RCR team taken by Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick has officially moved over to the 23XI Racing team to drive full-time in the number 45 Toyota. Reddick was already poised to move to Michael Jordan’s race team for 2024, but circumstances surrounding the Busch brothers have obviously accelerated the timeline.
Ty Gibbs is coming up to the NASCAR Cup Series ranks after securing a Xfinity Championship win last season. The grandson of Joe Gibbs will be behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing number 54 Toyota, formerly the number 18 driven by Kyle Busch.
Another promotion to the Cup Series is going to Ryan Preece under Stewart-Haas Racing. Ryan Preece was a part-time driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last season and served as a reserve driver for Stewart-Haas, but now he’s taking his spot as the full-time driver of the number 41 Ford Mustang. Last year’s driver of the 41, Cole Custer, will be racing in the Xfinity Series for 2023.
AJ Allmendinger hasn’t seen the Cup Series since 2018, but he is returning to it full-time. He’ll be driving the Kaulig Racing number 16 Chevrolet for the 2023 season after winning five races last year in the Xfinity series.
Noah Gragson also had a good run in the Xfinity series last year, having won eight races and coming in second to Ty Gibbs for the season. Gragson is moving on from JR Motorsports and up to the Legacy Motor Club (formerly Petty GMS) team to race the number 42 Chevrolet. The Legacy Motor Club owners, Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson, must see something special in the driver, which speaks volumes given their legacies.
Ty Dillion is joining his sixth racing team, this time with Spire Motorsports. The grandson of Hall of Famer Richard Childress will be looking for his first championship as he races behind the wheel of the number 77 Chevrolet.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson, is returning to the driver’s seat part-time for the 2023 season after purchasing a part-ownership stake in the Petty GMS team and rebranding to the Legacy Motor Club. Johnson originally retired from the sport after the 2020 season and then dabbled in IndyCar racing for 2021 and 2022. But now the champ is back for a couple of races this season. It has yet to be seen if this will taint his already substantial legacy, but fans will enjoy seeing Johnson take to the track once again.
Pastrana has made a significant mark on the motorsports world. He’s had his hand in motocross, rallying, monster trucks, stunt performing, and has recently taken up the Hoonigan Gymkhana mantle. The racer has experienced NASCAR’s Truck and Xfinity series, but this year he’ll be making his Cup debut at the Daytona 500 in the 23XI Racing number 67 Toyota. While the position is only part-time, it’s another substantial item that Pastrana can check off his bucket list.
The Trackhouse Racing Project 91 made waves last year when Kimi Raikkonen of F1 fame took to Watkins Glen in the number 91 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. While it was unfortunate that Raikkonen crashed out of the race in the final stage, he was holding a top 10 spot for a majority of the road course event. The unique team plans to return with a focus on road courses throughout the 2023 NASCAR season, introducing different world-class drivers from different international racing backgrounds to compete against NASCAR’s Cup Series drivers. Perhaps Sebestian Vettel has some time to take a spin with Trackhouse Racing after having retired from F1 last season?
NASCAR has been hinting at their 24 Hours of Le Mans entry for a bit now, but the project is finally taking shape. The Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 stock car is riding on the same Next Gen Car chassis and features the same powertrain as the rest of the NASCAR Cup cars, just with a couple of improvements that tailor to road courses. The Camaro has received numerous aerodynamic improvements and a suspension tune that makes it quicker around the winding curves that’ll be at Le Mans.
These improvements have apparently given the car such a substantial boost in road courses that it’s kept pace with IMSA’s fastest GT Daytona cars while test around the Daytona course. IMSA GT Daytona cars are built to the specifications needed in order to meet regulations that classify them as a FIA GT3 class car, so having the NASCAR entry keep pace with them speaks volumes to its potential viability at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Garage 56 team has announced that seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, 2009 F1 Champion Jenson Button, and 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller will helm the wheel of the Chevrolet at Le Mans. A lot of NASCAR’s best engineers are behind the design of the Le Mans entry, so having a trio with this significant of backgrounds driving it should make waves in one of the world’s biggest races.
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