RPW Column: Yes Or No? Is It Time To Pull The Plug On NASCAR Drivers Racing Other Stuff?

Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – DOVER, DE – Alex Bowman will not compete in Sunday’s Würth 400 and the next few races due to a fractured vertebra.

Bowman, the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48, was competing in Tuesday’s High Limit Sprint Car Series race when he flipped after contact with Conner Morrell in his heat race. Both drivers walked away from the incident. Bowman was treated that day and evaluated Wednesday morning.

“I want to let everyone know I’m feeling ok,” Bowman said in a statement on Twitter Wednesday. “My focus is now on healing and resting. I’ll be doing everything I can at home to help the team and ensure my recovery is as quick as possible to get back in the 48 car soon.”

So the question pops up once again, what can drivers do in their free time?

When Chase Elliott was sidelined for a couple of weeks this year due to a fractured tibia while snowboarding, there was a lot of chatter throughout social media if drivers should be allowed to do that.

“These guys have to go out and live a life outside of the race track,” said Jeff Andrews, president of Hendrick Motorsports, in a March 4 news conference following Chase Elliott’s injury.

But what if the downtime is racing in another car, like Bowman and Kyle Larson driving sprint cars? Could Rick Hendrick outlaw it at Hendrick Motorsports?

Hendrick is currently the cream of the crop in Cup, so his team should primarily focus on Cup competition.

Andrews said the policy would stay the same.

“The message from Mr. Hendrick is that – I don’t want to stop these things, but be careful,” Andrews told RPW in a news conference Saturday.

Andrews confirmed that all races are reviewed of what the drivers want to run and that the drivers understand the most critical thing for Hendrick Motorsports.

Larson is in an interesting situation. We already know he can race sprint cars, late models, midgets, anytime, anywhere. However, he’s already contracted to run the Indy 500 with McLaren in 2024, part of his double attempt, in a car co-owned by Rick Hendrick.

That should be kept in mind too.

Christopher Bell is a notable dirt racer with many Chili Bowl wins. He is a co-owner of the Bell Kemenah Racing sprint car team. Back in February, on David Gravel’s podcast, he explained why he was not racing as much dirt outside the Cup Series, including his absence from the Chili Bowl this year.

“Joe Gibbs has been extremely vocal about his ‘close to hatred’ towards dirt track racing,” Bell said. “He does not love dirt track or open-wheel racing at all. Me and Coy Gibbs (the late son of Joe Gibbs) had a great relationship, I would always funnel my dirt track stuff through Coy, and Coy loved it. He thought it was good for me to do. He would tell his dad that we talked about it, and it was fine for me to do. Coy passed away in November, and I lost that connection, and Joe is very vocal about me not dirt track racing.”

What about other teams like, say, Stewart-Haas Racing?

Ryan Preece races an asphalt modified when able to, and then Chase Briscoe runs dirt. When he was racing NASCAR on weekends, team owner Tony Stewart typically raced in his Sprint Car on weekdays.

To many fans, you can do what you want at SHR.

“I haven’t talked to Tony about it,” Briscoe told RPW. “I think that Tony probably would be on my side.  At the same time, there’s a lot of other people involved in those decisions.”

When a driver is racing in their downtime, especially with a big-name sponsor like what Bowman had in Ally, they’re also doing their job. Tuesday night’s High Limit race was $23,023 to win, and when there are big money races, Cup drivers like to run them.

If a driver wants to run the Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royal, Eldora Million, the Firecracker 100, or even SRX, races like those should be an exception.

At the same time, we live in a world where race fans get concerned about their local short tracks. But when a big series comes into town, like High Limit or the World of Outlaws, it’s a big deal and brings a lot of fans.

Suppose a NASCAR driver, like Bowman, Larson, or even Stewart Friesen, shows up. In that case, it brings a lot of fans in to watch their favorite driver for a more affordable price.

After race completion, they can also get more opportunities to meet their favorite driver in the pits. Look at Ross Chastain, who was supposed to race with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Friday at Georgetown before it was postponed due to threatening rain.

“I think having mingling between different forms of motorsports is good,” Bell commented.

“For us, we love racing,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who ran at Talladega Short Track last weekend in the undercard to World of Outlaws Late Models. “Talladega was selling that Larson and I would be there, which brings more fans to short tracks across the country. It’s important to short-track racing and to us. We wouldn’t be where we are today without it.”

“It’s huge for both and helps NASCAR because there’s a lot of dirt tracks that fans are there that might not have the opportunity to see a NASCAR driver in person and have a good interaction and become a fan and start watching on TV,” stated Briscoe. “I think it helps both series, whether dirt track racing or NASCAR or even a pavement late model. It helps the crossover of the sport. Tough situation to be in right now.”

Ultimately, it should be left to owners’ discretion regarding what drivers should do and not NASCAR’s discretion. Any changes should go into effect next year.

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