Nascar on NBC analyst Jeff Burton knows a thing or two about competing for the Nascar Cup Series.
The Virginia native finished within the top five of the Cup Series standings four times in his 22-year career before becoming one of the sport’s preeminent commentators. Burton, who has experienced some of NASCAR’s greatest changes during his leadership career, explained how 2022 is one of the most memorable seasons in NASCAR history.
“I can’t imagine things are going to calm down,” Burton said before the start of the Nascar Playoffs. “I don’t know who the drivers and teams are going up. I don’t want to say that anyone in the field can find themselves in Phoenix in Championship 4, but I think this is the year they can be one of the underdogs.”
With 28 races, there are 18 Cup Series winners, which is a record in the modern era. Qualifying began, and two non-racing drivers won the first two races – Eric Jones and Bubba Wallace.
Burton had a feeling this could happen, and explained how he would change the drivers’ strategies during the final 10 weeks of the season in the midst of the elimination rounds.
“There are times when a driver win in a playoff is an advantage for match drivers,” he said. “You didn’t get a new winner and now, you’re racing for points. Odd as it sounds, if you can’t win, it’s in the best interest of the qualifier driver to have a guy who actually won to win or someone else to win because you didn’t lock someone up in the next round and that’s It creates opportunity for you.
“It’s an interesting dynamic. It will be interesting to see how everyone navigates through these qualifiers in relation to that.”
The qualifying grid, made up of 16 drivers, will be reduced to 12 after the Bass Pro Shops night race on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. And for the 16 drivers who qualified for qualifying, everything is at stake.
The network of 16 drivers includes competitors from six different organizations. Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Trackhouse Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing are vying for at least the championship.
In the owner’s title fight, 23XI is also in the mix, as Bubba Wallace grabbed the #45 car during qualifying after Kurt Busch was diagnosed with a concussion after suffering a qualifying wreck at Pocono Raceway in late July. Wallace won last weekend at Kansas Speedway, and the 45th team advanced to the second round of the Owner Championship.
Thanks to the charter system, which led owners like Justin Marks and rapper Pitbull to start Trackhouse Racing, the qualifying grid looks a lot different this year. Relatively young organizations now have the chance to win the championship.
“There were a lot of people who criticized pacts in their infancy,” Burton said. “The idea of the charter was to give the owners something that increases their value. If you own the New York Giants, it’s not the ownership and all that, but the fact that you own the New York Giants. You can sell that. We didn’t have that here.
“He created a system where it’s hard to invest in a team. I don’t think charters have had the long-term impact they were supposed to have. We’re starting to see rental prices really high because the business of owning a NASCAR race team starts to make more sense.
“A man like Richard Childress, who has always invested in his company to improve it, can now invest in it with the belief that it will create more value. It is an important component. Moreover, we have to find a way for owners to control some of the costs in terms of putting the car on the right track. The more it makes sense to own this business, the more a car owner will be able to take a driver to drive for because it is a competitive advantage.”
Available charters are around $20 million, before the busy free agency period for drivers. With seven races remaining in the season, there will likely be several major announcements regarding drivers and teams getting charters ahead of the 2022 Daytona 500.
The green flag for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race in Bristol is waved at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, September 17 on USA Network.