For a race car driver, a good day on the track is when everything comes together, whether it’s a much-needed performance or a victory. For a member of the media, a good day at the racetrack is an opportunity to capture the stories and emotions of the event. It’s to be the ones who put into the story what happened, how and who was involved.
If winning is the ultimate goal of a pilot, telling great stories is the equivalent in journalism. Fortunately, there have been plenty of opportunities to do so this season. Even better, the fun factor is back as the stories change weekly.
Darlington Raceway was the last place this thought was prevalent. With three laps to go, William Byron became the only three-time NASCAR Cup Series winner in 2022, and his further development as a championship contender looked like the angle. With two laps to go, it was talked about how Joey Logano took the lead and won the race. Now it’s about getting both sides of the story and capturing Byron’s emotions.
It can be a heck of an adrenaline rush, especially when it’s time to hustle after the race. Whether it’s something dramatic or exciting, as in the case of Byron and Logano, or Erik Jones so close at Talladega, or Tyler Reddick having scored a win on Bristol soil.
Yes, the only constant is to tell the story of the Next Gen car and its evolution; how different it is, what riders and teams experience when they try to wrap their arms around a radically different machine. Those who cover the sport learn as much as the participants, which is a nice change of pace for those who want more than just reporting what happened on the circuit on any given Sunday.
Each track brings a new challenge, and when you turn up each weekend for practice and qualifying, the unknown begins again. It’s intriguing to watch NASCAR Cup Series drivers stay on their toes and wonder how they think the car will react from track to track.
Meanwhile, the sanctioning body is basking in what it considers to be a successful rollout of the car both competitively and parity across the field. So far there has been a mix of everything, with good races and bad races.
Las Vegas and Fontana, for example, were very 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 dissected by NASCAR officials ahead of its next race, after a lackluster weeks ago.
Like the car or not, the race provided talking points, and it apparently brought more teams into the fold. At least for now.
Nine different organizations finished in the top 10 at Darlington. There were seven different organizations in the top 10 at Dover. Keep scrolling through the results of the first 12 races and you’ll see it’s a growing trend. A trend that brings new story angles to follow: Petty GMS Motorsports and the growth of Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing is also on a rising trend. And on the other hand, those who are not as strong as expected, like the Toyota camp.
Don’t you feel that the field is still a little wide open? Yes, strong teams will always win, but it’s hard to predict which driver will come out on top on any given weekend. We have not yet reached the point of seeing a clear favorite.
One week the conversation might be around the Ford camp needing to step up because it lacks speed, then Joey Logano takes pole, leads the most laps and wins Darlington. Surprisingly, that conversation took place last week when Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Rodney Childers admitted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the Fords were behind it. Then Logano told the Darlington Media Center on Saturday that his No. 22 team “wasn’t fast enough.”
Just over an hour later, Logano took pole and the next day won the race. Seriously, it happened that fast.
But that storyline was lost in the shuffle because of how Logano won the race. While it’s hard to complain about that because controversy is always good for business, and Logano fully embracing who he is and not being afraid of what he’s done on the right track is quite refreshing. He will never be accused of being vanilla or failing to take responsibility for his actions after fully confessing to kicking Byron.
Ross Chastain is another great story to tell. A two-time winner for Trackhouse Racing, Chastain went from proving himself in lesser gear to achieving his dream at the highest level of the sport. Some of the stories around Chastain already are the wins, but also how he settles into stability under Justin Marks and, most recently, his determination to keep learning where the edge is after crashing the second week of the year and how that translates into incredible results.
Sooner or later, the conversation will turn to how dangerous Chastain and the No. 1 team are this season and whether they should be considered a deep playoff threat.
Every week it’s a rush to try and capture it all; first-time winners, watermelon smashers and pilots on the ragged edge.
Emotions and honesty flow throughout the garage, from Kevin Harvick being candid with his NASCAR thoughts to Kyle Busch being Kyle Busch. Even winning at Bristol, the two-time series champion was unhappy.
Gosh, it’s just fun to cover NASCAR again. There have been some ups and downs recently where there was a vibe where it felt like everyone was going through the motions. It’s hard to explain why, but the level of enjoyment for everyone in the industry was low.
But now there’s so much to dig into that there’s a renewed joy in the work and the best thing about it: telling stories.