by David Vodden
Two more races to go and the 2021 racing season will be in the books. It will resume in January with the Chili Bowl for midgets in Tulsa Oklahoma followed in quick order by the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Busch Class specialty race in the Los Angeles Coliseum in Early February. Next up will be the Daytona 500 to start the 2022 NASCAR season and so it goes with local tracks opening up as the weather permits. The one exception to all this is the Red Bluff Outlaw Kart program that races all winter long at the local fairgrounds on Saturday nights ending in late February.
There were many highlights in the 2021 racing season starting with all of us who felt that Kyle Larsen’s race talents were wasted at Ganassi Racing and having Larsen prove we were right by winning ten NASCAR point races, the million dollars to win All-Star event and the NASCAR Cup championship. Everyone is talking about Larsen’s race performance! Larsen has raced midgets and sprint cars since the end of the NASCAR season adding more wins to his impressive 2021 record year. He will eagerly approach next year’s Chili Bowl looking for his third triumph in a row at the legendary meeting of all race people for the indoor midget race there.
NASCAR’s willingness to try new things was a highlight of the year including the road races at Daytona, Road America, and COTA. All three of these races had different entertainment values which clearly out ranked the circuitous and repetitive oval races, especially the mile and one-half cookie cutter tracks. The continued development of a new CUP stock car that looks more like its street-car version is a major change. The new CUP car features many new features including a single wheel-nut for holding on the tires that changes the pit stop process significantly. The new “Next-Gen” car will debut in 2022 but has been a constant subject for news and information to die-hards. 2022 promises more variation on venues and new ideas for the stock car show. Add to this the potential for Larsen to cement his role as the new powerhouse when it comes to winning races by outdriving the competition.
The Xfinity series and the Camping World truck series continue to evolve as the training grounds for new CUP drivers. With limited seating in the CUP series both programs have drivers who want to and maybe should advance but have to wait. Waiting takes place in these two series. In 2021 most of the truck and Xfinity races were better overall shows than their exclusive CUP relatives but the absent of real sports stars limits attendance and viewership. Daniel Hemric spent most of the year not winning races in keeping with his resume that showed no win in any NASCAR race program all of which he competed in with real good buy-a-rides. This alone made his win in the last race that awarded him the Xfinity Championship, a Cinderella story worthy of the history books. Austin Cindric dominated this series but got outraced in the final as expected. Cindric goes to CUP to take over for departing Brad Keselowski next year, a decision I think will not go well because Cindric is a precision driver that can take advantage of having the best car most of the time but not so in a pack where racing skills move the driver forward. Harrison Burton is also moving up to CUP despite not having shown the racing skills that will be needed to perform in that series.
This same last-chapter drama occurred in the Truck series as well where year- long dominant driver, John Hunter Nemechek, failed to win the last race and watched as Ben Rhodes did. The NASCAR playoff structure enables and, in fact, encourages, last chapter drama that changes the entire direction of the storyline. Like a good mystery book, you have to wait for the last chapter to see “who dun-it”.
The NASCAR awards banquet is tonight, Thursday, where all three NASCAR class champions and the ARCA champion will be feted. I imagine that Larsen is more nervous about his speech than he has ever been getting behind the wheel of a race car. It is the same to for the others I suspect.