NASCAR starts season with fresh new champion and off-track revenue sharing dispute
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — NASCAR launches its new season with rivals attempting to dethrone Team Penske after two years atop the Cup Series while an off-track battle over revenue sharing threatens to overshadow the competition.
Teams report to Daytona International Speedway this week for Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500 without a new agreement that has been a sore spot for months. Talks on extending the charter agreement — which essentially is a franchise system in the top racing series in the U.S. — took a backseat to NASCAR's negotiations on the new, $7.7 billion television deal that begins next year.
The current charter agreement expires at the end of this season. The teams declined to extend exclusive talks with NASCAR into February. They could theoretically race for another series if the situation deteriorates, though the challenges there would be immense.
Members of the negotiating council for the teams say they want a fair share of NASCAR revenue, do not believe the TV deal was as lucrative as NASCAR expected and believe teams are getting shut out of licensing agreements that should be shared.
Denny Hamlin, the three-time Daytona 500 winner for Joe Gibbs Racing and co-owner with Michael Jordan of 23XI Racing, used his podcast to accuse NASCAR of using the TV package negotiations as a stalling tactic.
“We tried to start these conversations two years ago and it’s just been delay, delay, delay. So now here we are at the end of the rope," Hamlin said. "Do I believe we are closer to a deal now than 12 months ago? I don’t think so.”
While ia deal will likely be reached — NASCAR, after all, controls most of the major racing facilities in the United States — the discontent could make for a strained season.
BLANEY THE FACE OF FORD, POSSIBLY NASCAR
Ryan Blaney is the reigning Cup champion after a late-season surge helped him follow Penske teammate Joey Logano with back-to-back NASCAR championships for Roger Penske. Blaney's title was somewhat surprising largely because Ford teams struggled last year with just eight wins in 36 races.
But Blaney held off Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson and William Byron, as well as Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing, to win his first career championship.
Blaney is NASCAR's dream champion, a blue-collar racer from a family of racers rooted in the mill country of northeastern Ohio. He seems soft spoken but showed he's got the internal fire to be a champion and delivered down the stretch last year.
He was beaten by good buddy Chase Elliott in the fan-voted NASCAR most popular driver contest, but Blaney is the one guy many believe — if marketed correctly — is NASCAR's next star
Ford, meanwhile, introduced a remodeled Mustang for Cup competition this season. Ford will use the Dark Horse model as it attempts to pick up its performance with top teams Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and RFK Racing.
Toyota has been looking to add more teams to its stable and does so this year with Legacy Motor Club, the team co-owned by Jimmie Johnson. The move keeps Toyota development drivers Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek with the automaker, as well as nine races for Hall of Famer Johnson, who starts his season with the Daytona 500.
Toyota always expects all four of its Gibbs entries to make the playoffs and 23XI saw both Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace make the playoff field last season.
Like Ford, Toyota also rolled out a new design for its Camry and the XSE will race in 2024.
KYLE LARSON PLANS THE DOUBLE
Larson fell short of a second Cup title last year but is poised to have another magical season. His year is centered around the Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 double, the longest day in motorsports over the Memorial Day weekend.
He will drive a Hendrick Motorsports entry fielded by McLaren Racing, which has been impressed so far with Larson car. He's just the fifth driver to attempt to run the Indy 500 and the Coke 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, and only Tony Stewart in one of his two attempts completed all 1,100 miles.
Larson started this year with a win in the Wild West Shootout, a slight recovery after his wreck that same week of January at the Chili Bowl. When boss Rick Hendrick checked in with Larson following his sprint car win last month, he said Larson “forgot to tell me” about his flip at the Chili Bowl.
“I found out about it later and asked him about it,” said Hendrick. “He said, ‘I was hoping you wouldn’t find out about that.'"
CHASE ELLIOTT COMEBACK
Hendrick Motorsports celebrates its 40th year in NASCAR with Rick Hendrick's first Indy 500 entry and a hopeful comeback year for Chase Elliott.
Elliott missed seven races last year — six with injury after a snowboarding accident and one for a suspension — and it led to the worst season of his career. He was winless and missed the playoffs for the first time. Elliott has vowed to be better and back among the title contenders come November.
Kevin Harvick is the latest veteran to retire and made his debut as NASCAR on Fox's new full-time analyst with the exhibition Clash. He was been replaced at Stewart-Haas Racing by Josh Berry, a journeyman who finally gets his shot with a Cup team and joins Noah Gragson as SHR newcomers.
Shane van Gisbergen, winner of the street race in Chicago in his NASCAR debut last season, has now moved from Australia and embarks on a multi-series season that begins with ARCA and Xfinity races this week in Daytona.
Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar are both moving from the Truck Series to Cup with Spire Motorsports, Smith under a development deal with Trackhouse Racing.
RFK Racing has introduced a program that will allow the team to field a third Cup entry at select races. First up? David Ragan will attempt to make the Daytona 500 this week.
SHORT TRACK STRUGGLES
NASCAR will continue to try to improve its short track racing package, which has suffered since the 2022 implementation of the“Next Gen” stock car. NASCAR tested a new rules package at Phoenix Raceway in December that was encouraging but clearly not a miracle fix..
“NASCAR threw the kitchen sink at it in Phoenix and the consensus was, ‘Eh, maybe a couple things might have helped,’” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development. “Unfortunately, with technologies in aerodynamics, there is no silver bullet. There is no magic that’s going to be a cure-all, because you may fix one thing but then you’ve created a problem somewhere else.”
NASCAR last year brought North Wilkesboro in North Carolina back to the schedule and successfully held its first street race in downtown Chicago.
This year, NASCAR takes the Cup Series to Iowa Speedway for the first time. Atlanta Motor Speedway and the road course at Watkins Glen in upstate New York were added to the playoffs. Bristol Motor Speedway is removing the dirt for its spring race and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is returning NASCAR to his historic oval. The season ends once again at Phoenix Raceway, where the Cup champion will be crowned on Nov. 10.
The Clash was held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the last three years as NASCAR built a temporary track inside the iconic venue. Fan interest in the event has waned and NASCAR could explore a new concept, or even country, for next year's event.
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