MOORESVILLE, N.C. — From IMSA’s next-generation GTP cars to more and more money being pumped into short-track purses, big-name drivers adapting to new rides and the introduction of SPEED SPORT’s digital format, there will be a lot to look out for during the coming year.
Here are some of the things we’ll be watching:
■ With money from streaming television flowing into short-track racing at an unprecedented pace, more of it than ever will make its way into the hands of racers and team owners.
Dirt late model star Jonathan Davenport topped $2 million in earnings last season thanks in part to his victory in the Eldora Million at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
With the Eldora Million featuring winged sprint cars this year and several other opportunities to earn big paychecks, it is certainly feasible that a sprint car racer could duplicate or surpass Davenport’s feat.
Larger purses and point funds are being offered across the board for dirt and asphalt racers alike. There are a lot of choices of places to race for the competitors and more ways than ever – though we advise the traditional method of sitting in the grandstands – for fans to watch short-track racing.
As a result of all the money available to short-track competitors, it will be interesting to see which racers remain loyal to a single series and chase a championship, and who goes for the gold.
Davenport followed the money trail last season instead of chasing a title.
■ Bob Senneker, Mike Eddy, Butch Miller and Gary St. Amant were among the mainstays of the traveling ASA late model tour, which entertained stock car fans throughout the Midwest and Southeast for three decades. Thanks to veteran dirt-track promoter Bob Sargent creating the ASA STARS National Tour, a similar series is set for 10 races at some of the country’s most legendary asphalt tracks.
A mix of veteran drivers and up-and-coming stars should combine to provide an entertaining product.
■ Tire shortages have been a topic of discussion over the past three racing seasons. While that may not end, Hoosier has made some interesting changes to dirt-track tires in the late model and sprint car divisions.
Hoosier consolidated its multiple late model tire selections into one, creating the National Late Model Tire that is the only late model tire offered by the company, allowing competitors to purchase fewer tires during the course of the season.
On the sprint car side, the company has issued a redesign of the rear tires to feature an updated symmetrical tread, allowing competitors to rotate tires to extend longevity compared to the previous tire design that was used for more than 25 years.
It will be interesting to see if these moves lead to fewer tire shortages and, perhaps, more parity at the front of fields.
■ Known as GTP cars in honor of the famed prototype sports cars of the 1990s, IMSA will debut its LMDh prototype machines during the Rolex 24 At Daytona later this month. Fans, competitors and manufacturers are all a flutter in anticipation of the debut. Porsche, BMW, Cadillac and Acura will field GTP cars this year, with Lamborghini scheduled to join the mix in 2024.
■ The Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series car produced unprecedented parity in its first season with 19 drivers posting victories in 36 races. No single driver won more than five (Chase Elliott) races.
What will happen in year two? Will one manufacturer, team or driver figure it out first and put together a dominant campaign, or will we continue to see a lot of different faces in victory lane. It should be fascinating to watch.
■ Late model stock cars have been the traditional training ground for NASCAR Cup Series drivers with a few exceptions, including the recent wave of racers who have come through the midget and sprint car ranks.
That could change quickly thanks to the Next Gen race car and NASCAR’s schedule now placing more emphasis on road racing.
There are six road-course events on the Cup Series schedule and eight road races on this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series calendar.
As a result, many of tomorrow’s NASCAR drivers are making laps in the Trans-Am series.
Thad Moffitt, Kaylee Bryson and Brent Crews are among the rising stars scheduled to participate in Trans-Am events this season.
■ When will second-generation Indy car driver Colton Herta perform as advertised? Herta has seven victories in 65 NTT IndyCar Series starts, but has yet to be a dominant force, never winning more than three races in a single season.
The 22-year-old driver has never finished better than third in the standings and ranked 10th in 2022.
■ Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson battled tooth and nail for last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series title with Gibbs edging Gragson to secure the championship. Gibbs won seven races and Gragson claimed eight victories.
Both graduate to the Cup Series – Gibbs driving for his grandfather’s Joe Gibbs Racing operation and Gragson joining Petty GMS Motorsports. Gragson made 18 Cup Series starts last season with one top-five finish, while Gibbs garnered a single top-10 effort in 15 Cup Series races.
■ It’s going to be an interesting season. Let’s get it started.
This story appeared in the Jan. 11 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.