As a sport which prides itself on hard work, determination, and a great amount of skill, should NASCAR be stricter in terms of who exactly competes?
NASCAR has been a melting pot of motorsport talent from across the globe. In NASCAR, drivers including but not limited to former IndyCar drivers, Formula 1 drivers, and local racers find themselves in a competition to determine who is the best stock car driver.
Formed on moonshiners engaging in a friendly competition, the sport has transformed into a collaboration of intense competition on circuits across the United States.
Like any sport, NASCAR has seen its share of legends as well as those who were once thought of the second coming of greatness, only to not pan out.
Dale Earnhardt, a seven-time Cup Series champion, started out on dirt tracks in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Meanwhile, open-wheel legend Juan Pablo Montoya scored only two wins in his Cup Series career.
Regardless of background, success isn’t guaranteed in NASCAR.
But just as any business looks to its employees to represent its core values, NASCAR should do the same.
That raises the question: is there a line that needs to be drawn in terms of who exactly competes in the sport? Multiple factors play into answering this question, despite many feeling that is an easy “yes” or “no” answer.
Of course, sponsorship always plays a key factor in terms of who has a ride and who doesn’t. After 2021, Wood Brothers Racing replaced Matt DiBenedetto with Harrison Burton, largely in part to Burton’s sponsorship from DEX Imaging.
DiBenedetto finished in 13th and 18th place in the point standings in his two years in the #21 Ford, while Burton sits in 31st after 11 starts.
In addition to sponsorship, the combination of talent and the ability to put on a good show is a balance which NASCAR wants their drivers to develop. One the best drivers in history, Jeff Gordon once told Joe Buck that he was told to back off while leading to keep the races entertaining.
But what happens when both talent and reputation damage the sport and its established competitors?
Rick Ware Racing’s Cody Ware has been the subject of much performance-related and attitude-related criticism on the track as of late. While drivers such as Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott were able to let his actions go, his struggles recently ended up unintentionally taking out Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.
To put this in perspective, in the Xfinity Series, Navy veteran Jesse Iwuji elected to take time away from the wheel after struggling to qualify, giving additional seat time to Kyle Weatherman.
So when a driver doesn’t bring sponsorship money, a marketable name, or an undeniable talent, when should NASCAR step in, if at all?
It’s a subject matter which the sport will have to look over with a fine-tooth comb, but there is definitely a cost if unattended. Competitors, fans, and business partners could become deprived of an opportunity to bring the sport back to heights some argue are now completely in the past.