DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — From on-the-track jostling to back-room negotiating, the 2024 NASCAR season promises to have a little bit of everything.
So to kick off Daytona 500 week (Feb. 18, 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX), let’s take a look at the top 24 storylines (in my humble opinion) for the 2024 season. These are the topics that likely will have people talking throughout the year.
1. Racing at short-tracks & road courses
Short tracks and road courses make up 16 points races on the schedule and have historically produced some of the best Cup races. Since the Next Gen car was introduced in 2022, the aerodynamic package has struggled to produce the type of racing fans are accustomed to, so NASCAR has changed the aerodynamic package for the third consecutive year on short tracks and road courses. It has made significant changes to the underwing as it doesn’t cover all of the underbody of the car, which will impact downforce. To manage some of the loss in downforce, NASCAR has increased the size of the rear spoiler from 2 inches to 3 inches. What does it mean? The overall reduction in downforce is less than 5 percent, but NASCAR and the teams hope it means that the car out front has less of an advantage, that the change of where the downforce comes from increases the ability to maneuver through traffic.
2. Stewart-Haas Racing future
SHR was formed in 2009 when Gene Haas, then owner of Haas CNC Racing, gave half of his team to Tony Stewart and they became an instant force as Stewart was able to attract talented drivers, crew members, executives … and big-name sponsors. They won titles in 2011 (Stewart) and 2014 (Kevin Harvick) and won 65 races through 2020. But in the four years since 2020, they have won only four races and now have a lineup of four drivers with a combined one Cup win. Their Ford deal ends after this year and questions remain whether Ford will continue to pay SHR the same amount as it has in recent years. SHR has lost major sponsorship from Busch Light and Smithfield. Those factors inherently will make people wonder if SHR can continue as a four-car organization in the years to come. This is a team in transition and did a rebrand this year in hopes of generating buzz … and funding. But the best way to do that is to win. The pressure is on.
3. Larson double
Kyle Larson will attempt to be the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Only Tony Stewart has completed a full 1,100 miles in one day in the two races. Larson is running for two of the best teams — Arrow McLaren on the IndyCar side and then his regular Hendrick ride at Charlotte. All eyes in May will be on him.
4. 2025 schedule
Denny Hamlin said on his podcast “Actions Detrimental” that NASCAR hopes to release the 2025 schedule earlier than it has the last couple of years (when it has been in late September). The biggest questions: Will 2025 finally be the year that Cup teams have a points race outside the United States? What will NASCAR do with its preseason Clash? Is there a commitment to run at Iowa Speedway — new to the schedule this year — for several more years? Inquiring minds want to know, especially if any of the new events are temporary street circuits (like Chicago) or ovals (like the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum). And hopefully, they will know in the summer.
5. Car safety
This is a standard storyline because racing is dangerous. NASCAR took significant steps in 2023 after a 2022 season that saw Kurt Busch (who is now retired) and Alex Bowman miss races because of concussions, and several drivers complained that they were absorbing too much of the energy in a crash. Those complaints were few in 2023 although like any season, drivers did suffer injury. Noah Gragson missed one race because of concussion-type symptoms. Ryan Blaney had some concussion-type symptoms following a Nashville crash where he hit a wall not protected by SAFER Barrier. In a big nod to NASCAR’s ability to keep drivers safe, Ryan Preece walked away from a violent flipping crash at Daytona in 2023. NASCAR has taken steps to avoid similar flips this year.
6. Charter agreement getting done
The charter agreement between NASCAR and its teams ends after the 2024 season and negotiations between the two sides have not made much progress in recent months. Both sides want to get the deal done, but the arguments come down to — of course — money. Teams want enough dollars so they can be less dependent on sponsorship and also have a value that they can show to investors and, when they no longer want to race, to potential buyers. This is one of those things that you expect will get done, but there could be some bruising and hard feelings along the way. If it doesn’t? Well, it would be a battle of wills that likely wouldn’t turn out pretty.
7. Charter sales
Sales of charters likely won’t happen until the agreements are extended. If SHR can’t renew with Ford at its current deal and it has minimal sponsorship, does it scale back from four cars and sell any (or all) of its four charters? Single-car JTG Daugherty Racing, the only single-car team that has a shop where it assembles its own cars, always is mentioned when talking about whether a charter is available. There certainly are teams looking for charters, with Trackhouse and 23XI Racing leading the way. Spire never seems to stop wheeling and dealing. After a year when only one charter changed hands (from Live Fast to Spire), this could be a more active charter selling season once everyone knows the guarantees from the new charter deal. As long as that happens.
8. Chase Elliott rebound?
The sport’s most popular driver missed seven races last year — six after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident and another race for a suspension. He missed the playoffs. And he didn’t win. A happy and winning Chase Elliott is something that makes NASCAR smile because it knows that energizes the fan base.
9. New Ford, Toyota bodies
Ford and Toyota rebranded to different Mustang and Camry models this year, and they hope the new body styles help them. For Ford, it hopes that the impact comes on the intermediate tracks and it didn’t give up too much of an edge it seemed to have on the superspeedways. Toyota hopes it helps its ability to push on the superspeedways. Chevrolet, which has to decide what model to brand its Cup car as the Camaro is ending production (Chevy doesn’t have to change the Cup car but it would seem silly to continue racing a car that fans can’t buy), didn’t change its body for this year. And why should it? It was the best last year. And there certainly are no guarantees that Ford and Toyota made improvements.
10. Chicago (hopefully) in the dry
The inaugural Chicago street race was an epic event last July … that nearly didn’t go off on the day scheduled as heavy rains pelted the track Saturday and Sunday. It was so cool to see the Cup cars racing a street course — a first for the Cup Series. If it can be a sunny weekend in Chicago where the concerts and race can go as scheduled, it will be one of the most awesome events produced by NASCAR.
11. NASCAR officiating/inspecting
NASCAR issued some big penalties in 2023, and while a hefty one to Hendrick was overturned, many were not as NASCAR tried to make sure teams didn’t mess with parts and pieces of the Next Gen car. Early in the season after some penalties and appeals, NASCAR started displaying illegal parts and also started having its appeal panel release a statement of why it upheld or denied an appeal. Those were good steps toward more transparency in the process. How teams react this year will be a sign of whether NASCAR is handing out penalties that are tough enough. Also in the officiating realm, NASCAR tried to get a handle last year on restart shenanigans, something they likely will have to continue focusing on into this year. And then there will always be questions about the consistency of when the caution comes out. NASCAR just needs to be consistent enough to keep those controversies to a minimum.
12. Martin Truex Jr. retiring or not
For the third consecutive year, the season starts with no one knowing the future plans for 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., including, most likely, the driver himself. It likely will be a storyline into late summer, although his Joe Gibbs Racing team probably will want an answer sooner.
13. Rest of silly season driver movement
The big-name driver believed to be on the biggest hot seat likely is Daniel Suarez, even with a contract that takes him through 2025 with Trackhouse. He needs to perform with a couple of drivers (Shane van Gisbergen, Zane Smith) there waiting in the wings. Several drivers are believed to be in contract years, including Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Ryan Preece, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — but contracts don’t always mean that a driver will have a ride. Among the drivers who might be looking over their shoulders if they struggle, don’t win and don’t make the playoffs: Austin Cindric and Alex Bowman.
14. Return to Iowa
NASCAR has owned Iowa Speedway since 2013, so if it wanted to put a Cup race there the last 10 years, it easily could have done so. But it didn’t. Until 2024. The decision to have a Cup race there appeared to be last-minute when a deal to race Montreal didn’t come to fruition. But NASCAR insists it will be there for more than one year, and the Cup race for June already is sold out for the seven-eighths mile oval.
15. Shane van Gisbergen development
SVG, as he is known, won in his Cup debut in July on the streets of Chicago, an experience that led the three-time Supercars champion to seriously consider moving from New Zealand to the United States full time. He then competed in the truck race at the Indianapolis Raceway Park bullring and another Cup race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. That was enough to convince him to make the move, and he will compete full time in the Xfinity Series this year with a handful of Cup races while on loan from Trackhouse to Kaulig Racing. He hopes to learn ovals well enough to run a full Cup schedule in 2025.
16. Trackhouse, 23XI Racing growth/performance
Both of these organizations enter their fourth season and continue to look to expand. Trackhouse signed SVG and Zane Smith last year and is leasing them to other teams for this season (and also signed development driver Connor Zilisch). 23XI is beginning the new year with a stunning (at least from the outside) new facility. These two organizations combined for three of the top-10 drivers in points last year. Will that continue? And will they be able to obtain charters to field additional car(s)?
17. Revamped first championship round
The first playoff round went from Darlington, Kansas and Bristol to Atlanta, Watkins Glen and Bristol. That is a huge change with a drafting track and road course in the opening round replacing two intermediate tracks. Darlington, because of the way the schedule worked out with two off-weekends for the Olympics, is the regular-season finale this year with Daytona as the 25th of 26 regular-season races.
18. 2024 rookie battle
There are three Cup rookies this year and all have shown great promise. SHR’s Josh Berry, Spire’s Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith (driving for Spire while being a Trackhosue driver) should have a spirited rookie battle. The Rookie of the Year goes to the driver who finishes best in the final standings.
19. Hailie Deegan performance
Deegan, the only full-time female driver in the three national series, moves from trucks to Xfinity after an uninspiring three years in trucks. She will drive for AM Racing, a team that is still building its program. The 22-year-old daughter of extreme sports star Brian Deegan has had hefty expectations on her, and it seems as if her time is running out to show the potential many saw when she won three ARCA West races in 2018-19.
20. Spire expansion
Spire went from two Cup cars and a part-time truck to three Cup cars and four full-time trucks (one fielded by Rev Racing) after buying another charter and purchasing the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop. Spire is still building, and it will see if it is growing too big, too fast.
21. Xfinity: Young vs. old
The Xfinity Series has a group of 30-year-old-plus drivers including AJ Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier, two top drivers in their mid/late-20s in defending champ Cole Custer and Austin Hill, and relatively young drivers in Sam Mayer, Sammy Smith and Chandler Smith. It should provide an interesting dynamic.
22. Impact of Netflix Series
“NASCAR: Full Speed” dropped on Netflix on Jan. 30 as a five-episode docuseries on some of the playoff drivers. NASCAR is obviously hoping for it to generate significant interest and new fans. It ranked No. 9 in its first week among Netflix television shows.
23. Jimmie Johnson/Legacy Motor Club
Last year was a disappointing season for Legacy Motor Club, the first year in which Jimmie Johnson was a co-owner. The team struggled on the track, at least partially because it was announced in May that the organization would move from Chevrolet to Toyota for 2024. That meant little to no information shared from other Chevy teams. And this year could be another rough season as it learns the Toyota. The seven-time Cup champion Johnson is driving nine races this year, so he will have a good feel of whether his organization is making progress. Former drivers Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne were hired to help coach drivers Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.
24. Kevin Harvick’s new job
Finally, there’s a new dude in the FOX Sports booth for 2024. It’s former Cup champion Kevin Harvick. He brings with him knowledge from racing the Next Gen car into the booth, so he should give fans additional insight.
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.
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