HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR’s evolving Cup schedule not only challenges today’s drivers, but also impacts those who could be the stars of the future.
While there are many ways for drivers to work their way up to the top ranks of NASCAR, a focus on a variety of tracks has become more important.
“It’s a unique time for our sport,” said former Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell. “We’re doing new things, new locations, but I think this is the right move.”
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As of 2019, drivers race on dirt roads, in a stadium, through city streets, and on various types of ovals and road circuits. Tonight’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (6:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) is only the fourth at the reconfigured track, which now resembles the speedway races at Daytona and Talladega.
As NASCAR looks to future changes, including a possible race in Montreal in 2024, possibly more street racing and an event abroad, the skills future drivers will need are changing.
Kyle Busch preps son Brexton with that in mind.
“I’m in favor of letting him do as many things as possible,” Busch said. “Some people tell me they think this is hurting his development or delaying his development in certain cars. Well, yes, but he can compete with every kid in the country and run in the top three anywhere, in any vehicle that we drive.’
“I feel like that’s a Kyle Larson type thing where we don’t just focus on quarter midgets or outlaw karts. … The only thing we’re a little short on right now is just the on-road kart stuff that Keelan (Harvick) is really good at.
“We haven’t done that very often and Brexton keeps asking me why we do it and why we haven’t. And I’m like, ‘Bro, there’s only so much time in a day.’ We’re pretty slammed as it is.
Kevin Harvick’s son, Keelan, competes in karting abroad. It’s part of Harvick’s plan to prepare his son for the challenges of top-level sport.
“I think road racing is obviously very important as you move forward,” said Kevin Harvick. “I don’t see the number of road races decreasing.
“I believe in the basics of giving those guys a good racing platform to learn on and people to learn from. The oval racing is also necessary, but there’s just a lot more to it with the rain, with the road courses and the changing short track system. … They just have to be versatile.
“Getting into the road racing stuff just creates a great platform for them to be able to learn and adapt and do things that are out of my comfort zone like wet and street courses and things like that because I wasn’t doing it. all of that.
“I think with these kids and I see it a lot with Keenan and Brent Crews (who is represented by Kevin Harvick Inc. and led by Harvick), whether it’s wet or dry, they just shrug and go, because that’s what they do at every race they’ve ever gone to.
Highlights: NASCAR Cup Qualifying in Atlanta
Watch the highlights of the NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway ahead of the Quaker State 400.
The changes to the cup schedule are profound for today’s drivers.
Four years ago, the NASCAR Cup schedule sent teams to Chicagoland Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in late June and early July.
Two of those races are no longer on the cup schedule. The third, Daytona, was moved to late August to be the regular season finale.
They have been replaced by Nashville Superspeedway, the Chicago Street Race and a reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway, showing just how varied and challenging the Cup Series has become for drivers.
Seventeen different drivers have finished in the top 10 in Nashville and Chicago over the past two weeks. That figure is likely to rise with tonight’s race in Atlanta.
“There’s no doubt it’s harder than ever these days,” said Cup points leader Martin Truex Jr. “You have to be much more versatile. You have to be much more committed. We don’t get a lot of practice. We don’t get tests. We don’t do all those things that we used to do. It’s all simulators and SMT and crew chief showing you data.
“It takes a lot of time. You have to invest a lot of time to be good. You have to be willing to learn, change and adapt. Part of what makes this sport so much fun is that it’s always changing. It’s also “what kind of tax you pay if you do 40 races a year and you have to keep doing that every week. You have to put in 110% or you won’t get what you want. It’s great fun, but it’s a big challenge.”