Each week The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi answers readers’ questions about the latest happenings across motorsports.
Note: Some submitted questions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
I don’t think there has been enough reporting on the Bubba Wallace situation Sunday night. Was it a team error that made him park it? — Ryan G.
After Wallace went to the garage, Bootie Barker, Wallace’s crew chief, told The Athletic and Fox Sports it was a team mistake that led to Wallace failing to meet the minimum speed, which then would’ve taken Wallace off the damaged vehicle policy clock.
Per NASCAR’s rulebook, a driver must make the minimum speed within three laps. The confusion on 23XI Racing’s part centered on this rule and whether the minimum speed rule went into effect if it had time remaining on the DVP clock to complete repairs. With time remaining on the DVP clock, Barker deliberately had Wallace lag toward the back to avoid being caught in an accident, but by doing so, Wallace failed to meet the minimum speed within three laps. Thus, he had to head to the garage even with a car that had “very little” damage; a car that also was one of the fastest on the track.
What Sunday’s mistake underscores is just how much Wallace’s pit crew repeatedly has let him down this season either due to slow stops, penalties or failing to understand the rulebook.
The two most notable occurrences came at Kansas where the No. 23 team had two penalties — a crew member going over the wall too soon and a tire violation — and Sunday at Charlotte. In both races, Wallace had a potential winning car but with little to show for it. For a team without a win that needs every point it can get if it’s going to claim a playoff wild-card spot, such mistakes must be minimized.
. @bobpockrass and I spoke to Bootie Barker, Bubba Wallace's crew chief, on the No. 23 team failing to clear the DVP clock before it expired, sending Wallace to the garage despite having only minimal damage. pic.twitter.com/aQJLhcatR1
— Jordan Bianchi (@Jordan_Bianchi) May 30, 2022
NASCAR’s Cup Series travels to the track formally known as Gateway this weekend. As an Iowan who is a race fan, what hope does this give Iowa Speedway for a Cup Race? — Justin V.
Among the lessons learned from NASCAR reshuffling the schedule, it’s that never say never when it comes to which tracks end up on the calendar. Ten years ago, both World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway) and Nashville Superspeedway were left virtually dead, shuttered and seemingly just waiting to be bulldozered.
Now, WWT is days away from its first Cup Series race. That race will be held in front of a sold-out crowd of 57,000 sitting in the grandstands plus however many in the infield and suites. And next month Nashville will host its second Cup weekend, one that followed the track hosting a much-anticipated race last year in front of a sold-out crowd.
The lesson: If you’re a fan of Iowa Speedway, don’t give up hope. Sure, the facility needs a good amount of work. Sure, the track is not located near a major city — sorry, Des Moines, you’re a fantastic city but the statistics speak for themselves. And sure, Iowa’s future appears bleak with NASCAR yanking all of Iowa’s dates off the national series schedules despite owning the track itself. But things can change. And sometimes do.
So if Iowa somehow can find a way to hang around like Nashville and WWT, perhaps in a few years NASCAR will return and do so in a big, big way.
What lessons could Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR learn from each other after this weekend’s races? — Matthew S.
Great question, one that required some serious thought.
NASCAR: Though it’s imperative not to turn your back on your hardcore fan base like you once did in your pursuit of new fans, it is also important to balance that by finding a way to have a race with Monaco’s sex appeal that entices new/casual fans to pay attention. Maybe the Clash at the Coliseum can grow into that with time, maybe it’s a race in a fun urban setting like Miami. Wherever it may be, NASCAR would be better off with a race that organically draws in celebrities and carries the cool factor Monaco possesses. Again, this is a hard balance, but it can be done.
IndyCar: Embrace elements that provide your audience a satisfying conclusion — like NASCAR’s green‐white‐checkered finish where fans know they’re going to see a race finish under green. Some purists (and drivers) lamented IndyCar calling for a red flag when Jimmie Johnson crashed with four laps remaining in the Indianapolis 500. Yet, it was the correct decision. Giving fans a proper finish that rewards their investment is a good thing and only helps your series in the long run.
F1: The reluctance among many F1 team principals to expand beyond 10 teams is understandable as no one wants a smaller slice of the financial pie. Except expansion is not a bad thing, if done correctly. Adding new owners with fresh ideas and a willingness to spend money to be competitive is a huge positive that only benefits your series. 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing in NASCAR and Arrow McLaren SP and Meyer Shank Racing in IndyCar are proof of the value new organizations can provide to a series’ overall growth, including overall competitiveness. It’s not hard to envision Michael Andretti doing the same for F1 should he be granted an expansion team. There is tremendous upside to another American team on the grid, especially if that team has an American driver in its lineup. And yet, Andretti is unlikely to get the chance to demonstrate this.
After the best Coca-Cola 600 since maybe 2005, is it wrong to be disappointed that we won’t see this (style of racing on an intermediate-sized track) until Michigan in August? This new car has completely resurrected tracks that fans have been wanting less of on the schedule for years, except Texas of course. — Lloyd L.
There’s nothing wrong at all with feeling this way. Outside of the duration, which took a little more than five hours to complete, the Coca‐Cola 600 showcased NASCAR at its absolute best on an intermediate-sized track.
To your latter point, of the storylines that have emerged this season, maybe the most astonishing is how the Next Gen car has completely transformed the perception of racing on intermediate tracks. In recent years, races on 1.5‐ and 2‐mile tracks were viewed with near-universal disdain. The racing was largely monotonous and uncompetitive. No way did a majority of fans circle a race at Fontana, Charlotte or Michigan on their calendars as one not to miss. Now, the reaction is, “When is the next one because I can’t wait to watch?”
Part of the hype surrounding the Next Gen car was how it would improve racing on intermediate tracks. Skepticism existed, however, that this actually would be the case. Too many times NASCAR has pushed hard on some new development only for it to fall short of expectations. On this one, NASCAR has more than delivered — with the acknowledgment that significant work must be done to improve how the Next Gen car races on short tracks.
Let’s give NASCAR credit for doing what it said it would do.
Is Mick Schumacher the next Marco Andretti? He is in his second season in F1, he is getting destroyed by Kevin Magnussen, and he keeps wrecking cars in a cost cap era? It is sad to see because he seems like a good guy, and he worked his way up through the ranks. — Michael S.
This is a more than fair question. Schumacher is wrecking a lot, and it’s occurring with a cost cap in place all for a team in Haas that doesn’t have the budget to easily replace equipment.
Adding to the justifiable criticism is that it’s not as if Schumacher is balancing out his numerous crashes with occasional flashes when you see his potential that makes it worth Haas riding out his growing pains. Schumacher has not scored a single point in 28 career races, and this season, only the much-maligned Nicholas Latifi has started as many races as Schumacher has and failed to earn a point. Schumacher needs to be better than this.
You have to wonder how much longer Haas can continue to withstand before the team feels compelled to make a change. At this juncture, the negatives far outweigh any positives over keeping Schumacher in that seat, regardless of his last name.
If we run the 6 Hours of Charlotte next year, do you think we should do proper driver swaps every two hours? — Phil F.
Instituting a 50 percent rule where each driver is required to drive three hours sounds reasonable. To further add to the novelty, award double points, too.
This Trackhouse/Kimi Räikkönen news is exciting. Who else could/would/should want to do this from the open‐wheel world? Furthermore, let’s say a Cup driver was to drive an F1 race — I know there’s a connection there for Stewart‐Haas Racing — it has to be Kyle Larson, right? — Jim J.
Any drivers outside NASCAR who want to test themselves should be interested in this one-off opportunity. The main concern about whether they’ll have competitive equipment is now a non-issue with Trackhouse supporting the effort. Obviously, there are sponsor and manufacturer conflicts, but those can be managed.
If someone like Daniel Ricciardo is serious about trying his hand competing in NASCAR, this offers him an ideal gateway to do just that. Going further, the hope is Trackhouse eventually expands this venture beyond international drivers. It would be nice to see American IndyCar drivers Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta or Alexander Rossi be given a shot to make a Cup start on a road course.
Answering your second question, watching either of the Kyles, Larson and Busch in an F1 car would be a treat.
(Photo: Sean Gardner / Getty Images)