Changes to NASCAR's 2024 schedule? Amazon/ESPN in the TV mix? And more: Mailbag (2024)

Just because NASCAR is on an off week doesn’t mean things slow down. And not surprisingly, with so much going on, readers had plenty of questions about meaty topics that include the 2024 schedule, free agency and NASCAR’s next television contract.

(Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

Are you able to give us some 2024 schedule intel? You hinted at some stuff on “The Teardown.” No Bristol dirt race, does Bristol get a regular race back or is it going elsewhere? — Aaron S.

As discussed on The Teardown” podcast Sunday night, from discussions with multiple people with knowledge of how the schedule is coming together, the consensus is that the Bristol dirt race won’t likely be on the 2024 schedule. It’s also my understanding that NASCAR likely won’t be racing Easter Sunday at Bristol, instead racing at a different racetrack. Neither of these moves is final as things can, and often do, change as such talks continue and tentative plans get reshaped. But at present, it would be surprising if NASCAR is racing on the dirt at Bristol in 2024.


Whether Bristol’s spring date returns to the concrete or is shifted elsewhere is still to be determined. One scenario laid out to The Athletic is Bristol’s date shifting to North Wilkesboro, which would then host its first Cup points race since 1996. Both Bristol and North Wilkesboro are owned by Speedway Motorsports, making such a transfer relatively seamless.

Again, though, nothing regarding the Bristol dirt race or where NASCAR will race on Easter Sunday is definitive at this point.

Why is NASCAR so slow to react with changing the schedule to produce the best racing product? We all know these Next Gen cars produce great racing on the intermediate tracks, yet we have too many road courses producing dull racing. Is changing the schedule year to year too much to ask? Does anyone really want to sit through more races like Sonoma? — Charlie S.

What are the chances that NASCAR adapts future schedules to the strengths and weaknesses of the Next Gen car? It seems like the general consensus is that the car races really well on intermediate tracks but struggles on short tracks and road courses. Will we see a shift back towards more intermediates? — John M.

The Next Gen car has changed the dynamic in how NASCAR lays out its schedule each season, no doubt. It was thought that the new car, which shares characteristics with sports cars that compete in IMSA and other series, would transform for the better the racing on road courses. But the car has proven to be too adaptable to road courses, where the mistakes that defined NASCAR road courses for so long — brake lock, wheel hopping, drivers overshooting corners and/or spinning out — now occur less frequently and so the racing has taken on a much different complexion. And not one that’s left fans or drivers all that happy with the on-track product.

But let’s keep in mind this is only the second year of the Next Gen, so any decisions NASCAR made about how the 2023 schedule shook out would’ve been based on a small sample size. Doing so would’ve been unwise.

The hope was that an offseason spent tweaking the car, including devising a revised rules package, would’ve resulted in improved competition on short tracks and road courses. Thus far, the results are certainly mixed.

If NASCAR cannot solve the enigma of how the Next Gen performs on road courses, it will likely be reflected in which style of tracks NASCAR visits — a philosophy which isn’t a rapid departure from how NASCAR currently operates.

After years and years of the same old tired schedule, NASCAR has adopted an approach of greater flexibility in how and where it schedules events. As the quality of racing deteriorated on intermediate‐sized ovals using the previous generation car, NASCAR moved away from intermediates to road courses where the competition was better, prompting fans to seek more of these types of tracks. The result is oval races at Charlotte, Michigan, Texas, Indianapolis, Chicagoland and Kentucky were dropped while road course races were added at the Charlotte Roval, Circuit of The Americas, Road America, downtown Chicago and the Indianapolis road course, in addition to new oval tracks in the untapped markets of Nashville and St. Louis.

Expect such fluidity to continue. In part because a number of fans (and drivers) believe NASCAR visits too many road courses annually, combined with the tepid racing, the expectation is that the 2024 schedule could feature fewer road courses with the strong possibility the Indianapolis race reverts back to its 2.5‐mile speedway. Also, don’t be surprised if there is a push for Speedway Motorsports to shift the fall Charlotte playoff race off the Roval to the 1.5‐mile oval.


Call me a biased Martin Truex Jr. fan if you must, I like the team’s chances for a title. … Pardon the lack of question but your prompt in the intro made me want to answer the championship question. If Martin does bring it home and drops the mic, I feel like John Hunter Nemechek is the best candidate to take over, sponsorship pending. Sammy Smith or Corey Heim instead? Thanks for all your efforts on the beat, and your personality on “The Teardown.” — Ethan R.

Who’s in the driver pipeline for Joe Gibbs Racing? Seems like big changes on the horizon with Denny Hamlin & Truex nearing retirement. Hendrick Motorsports had a similar transition a few years ago and came out just fine, I’m sure JGR will too but wonder who takes over (for Hamlin and Truex)? — Greg B.

Considering Hamlin and Truex are each age 42 and approaching the finish line of their respective careers, it’s a certainty that JGR’s driver roster will take on a much different look at some juncture in the next few years. That said, don’t expect that to happen in the immediate future with both expected to return to Toyota’s flagship team in 2024.

Now, what happens beyond next year, that’s up in the air. Forecasting what will happen in 2024 is challenging enough, let alone two years from now.

What is known is that JGR and Toyota don’t have as many top-tier prospects in their pipeline compared to a few years ago when its developmental program produced the likes of Erik Jones, Daniel Suárez, Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace, among others.

There is still talent within that pipeline, however, should a hole eventually need to be filled at the Cup level. John Hunter Nemechek is someone Toyota is very high on, and he’s delivered on that by currently leading the Xfinity Series in points and laps led. His teammate Sammy Smith, 19, is another name that’s earned kudos, though the belief is he could use another year or two in Xfinity. And Truck Series points leader Corey Heim, 20, has surprised a lot of folks, though he too likely needs more seasoning. And how 18-year-old Jesse Love develops as he begins transitioning to the national level is something to watch.

The good news for JGR is that it has two pillars in Bell, 28, and Ty Gibbs, 20, to build around for the next decade‐plus. Both are young and talented, giving JGR a pair of drivers that should be counted on to win multiple races and contend for the championship on a near-annual basis. So regardless of who is driving the other two JGR Toyotas, that’s a great foundation to have; something many other organizations lack.


And, yes, Truex should absolutely be considered a championship favorite. He’s capable of winning on any type of track, JGR has as much speed in its cars as any team, and he’s proven time and time again he knows how to successfully navigate the pressure cooker that is the NASCAR playoffs, which also sets up well for the 2017 Cup champion by featuring some of his best tracks (Darlington, Kansas, Las Vegas, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead.) Truex winning a second title would shock no one.

Also, thank you for the kind words. They are appreciated. That you enjoy listening to the podcast is something Jeff Gluck and I don’t take for granted.

GO DEEPERTop 5, Sonoma: NASCAR road racing, illegal parts, Chase Elliott defends crew chief

What’s up with the performance of AJ Allmendinger? I know road courses are his strengths, but in Xfinity he was not bad at the ovals. How does the organization’s performance compare to last year? — Paul G.

Allmendinger has largely underwhelmed thus far in his return to full-time Cup racing, though most of the issue centers around Kaulig Racing rather than anything Allmendinger is or is not doing. Kaulig is experiencing growing pains in this its second full year competing in Cup and is fielding two full-time teams and a third part-time.

Despite the struggles, Allmendinger enters the break on an upswing, recording top-15 finishes in four of five races. That’s moved him up to 20th in the standings, 33 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the last playoff spot. And with three road courses remaining on the regular-season schedule, there’s ample opportunity for Allmendinger to close that points gap or even earn a playoff-clinching win.

Will NBC be back as a TV partner in 2025? Lots of rumbling about ESPN coming back along with a streaming partner getting some races including a playoff race. What are you hearing about those two rumors? — Stewart M.

As things presently stand, Fox Sports and NBC Sports are viewed as likely to return as NASCAR’s television partners, persons familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to speak publicly have told The Athletic. NASCAR is also exploring carving out a package of summer races that would air exclusively on a streaming service, with Amazon considered the leading candidate. Both items were first reported by Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand.


While NASCAR was encouraged by ESPN’s interest in regaining NASCAR’s TV rights, that interest has since cooled. One reason why is that ESPN’s deal with the NBA is coming up for renewal, a package one would assume is a priority to retain, and it must negotiate such an extension amid company‐wide belt-tightening. This doesn’t leave a lot left over to pursue deals with other sports leagues, like NASCAR.

Out of all this, NASCAR shifting to airing a select number of races exclusively on a streaming service is most noteworthy. Fans weren’t happy, and some still aren’t, when NASCAR during its last TV rights negotiations shifted a bulk of Cup races off network TV to cable, so how will they react when they learn they will have to subscribe to an additional platform in order to watch every race? This likely won’t go over well.

Perhaps a bigger question is how all this would go over with teams, who in some instances may have to go to their sponsors and explain why races are being broadcast to a smaller audience on a streaming service compared to a wider audience that network or cable TV typically brings in.

Team executives have been varied in their reaction to this possibility when asked by The Athletic. Some have said, yes, it’s a concern. NASCAR’s business model is constructed in a way where it’s essential to have high-dollar sponsorship, and their partners want their brands before as many eyeballs as possible. Others have replied that if Amazon is going to overpay — similar to how Fox and NBC did during the last negotiation to primarily shift races to cable — that could offset the loss of any sponsorship dollars.

We’ll see how it unfolds. Any decisions are far-reaching and could alter NASCAR in a myriad of unintended ways. What we know definitively is that it will be an interesting and newsy summer.

Other than Kevin Harvick, which driver(s) will be retiring after this season? I don’t see Martin Truex Jr. retiring. He is now safely qualified for the playoffs and will probably sign another extension with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive next season. Once the FedEx-Gibbs negotiations get finalized, I think Denny Hamlin sticks around for at least another season. Aric Almirola isn’t having a great year, but he brings a big sponsor in Smithfield at a time when big sponsors are hard to come by. Stewart-Haas Racing will work hard to keep Almirola and Smithfield in their stables for next year. — John I.

The Athletic recently went in-depth into these respective situations, so for brevity’s sake here’s a light version:

Truex: Expect him to return to JGR. The veteran is competitive, having fun and loves his team, all of which check three important boxes that entice him to come back.


Hamlin: Like Truex, Hamlin is expected back at JGR. The main holdup with his contract extension is that the team he co-owns, 23XI Racing, is also negotiating an extension with Toyota. And as these things go when multiple parties are involved, it can get complicated, making it hard to find a deal that suits everyone’s needs. Eventually, this should all get sorted out with Hamlin re-upping with the organization he’s been with for three decades.

Almirola: Of the three, this is less straightforward. Almirola has been noncommittal about his future plans, and there is widespread belief he will step away after this season. If Almirola indeed retires, who replaces him at SHR becomes the No. 1 question of this year’s Silly Season.

GO DEEPERNASCAR free agency: What we're hearing about Stewart-Haas, Corey LaJoie and more

(Photo of April’s Bristol dirt race: James Gilbert / Getty Images)

Changes to NASCAR's 2024 schedule? Amazon/ESPN in the TV mix? And more: Mailbag (2024)


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