During my most formative years as a NASCAR fan, intermediate tracks made up a large majority of the NASCAR schedule. In recent years, NASCAR has tried to shake things up by adding a little more diversity to the mix.
Atlanta, which was once one of these dreaded “cookie cutters”, is now a superspeedway-style track. Texas is down to 1 date. Fontana, Chicagoland, and Kentucky are all gone (though the California track may or may not be being reconfigured into a short track). Road courses hold a heavier weight.
There’s no denying that intermediate tracks still make up much of the NASCAR schedule, but there isn’t as much of an emphasis placed on them. That said, these types of tracks (especially with the NextGen car) are great for measuring a team’s strength. Odds are, if you’re fast on intermediates, you’re fast anywhere and a major threat to win the NASCAR Cup Series title. Here are, by our estimation at The Daily Downforce, the biggest threats on intermediate-style tracks.
Kyle Larson is undeniably a generational talent. He may remind some drivers of Jeff Gordon but I would even go a bit further than that. Kyle Larson can get behind the wheel of just about any kind of vehicle and be a consistent threat to take home the trophy. It will be interesting to see how he does in this year’s Indy 500!
In 2021 (his first year with Hendrick Motorsports), Kyle Larson won 10 races en route to winning his first NASCAR Cup Series title. Of those 10 wins, 5 were won on intermediates. 6 if you count Phoenix as an intermediate. In 2022 he won at Fontana and finally scored a win at Homestead, a track he has always been very strong at, even back in his Ganassi days. Even as recently as last year, Larson scored victories at Vegas and Darlington.
To be a champion, you have to perform well on intermediate tracks. Kyle Larson has done just that his entire career. In 2024, expect him to consistently be in contention on these types of tracks and expect him to make a strong run for his second Cup Series title.
Chase Elliott had a bit of an off year in 2023, to the point where it may have scared some of his fans. I don’t think Elliott’s 2023 season is a sign of what is to come. I expect the second-generation driver to bounce back in ’24. In addition, I think he’ll be contending for wins at all different sorts of tracks, including intermediates.
While Chase Elliott may be thought of by many (and for a decent reason) as being a road course ace, he’s not a one-trick pony. Chase Elliott has proven he can win just about anywhere, even on intermediates. Especially on intermediates. In 2022, Chase won 6 races, the most of any HMS driver. 3 of those wins (Dover, Nashville, and Pocono) came on intermediate-style tracks.
In 2020 (the year in which he won his first Cup Series title) Chase Elliott won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the championship finale race at Phoenix. Prior to that, he nabbed a win at Dover in 2018 and he also won at Kansas that year.
Road courses do not define Chase Elliott and you can expect that Engine Number 9 machine to be up front in any of the intermediate races in 2024.
The rise of William Byron in the NASCAR Cup Series has been a long one. During his rookie year in 2018, he was pretty much an afterthought. He’s made the NASCAR Playoffs each year after that but never could break that glass ceiling to score his first win…that was until 2020 when he won the cut-off Daytona race to qualify for the playoffs. Still, he was considered to be the third-best driver, at best, at Hendrick Motorsports. That was until 2023.
2023 saw William Byron ascend into true championship contention form. He was a constant threat for MTJ’s regular season title and that was largely due to his performance on intermediates. In 2023, Byron won 6 races. 4 of them were on intermediate tracks. Prior to that, he also had a win at Homestead. With Byron emerging as an elite driver who can and should now be spoken about in the same breath as his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, expect to see him out front a lot on these types of tracks.
Kyle Busch is one of the all-time greats in NASCAR. That’s undeniable at this point. He is a consistent threat to win just about anywhere but especially on intermediate tracks. When Kyle left (or, maybe, was forced out for a cheaper client) Joe Gibbs Racing, the spotlight was on him and his rebranded No. 8 Chevy crew. Everyone was curious about how he’d do, given the circumstances. Many of the boos in the crowd turned to cheers. He seemed happier and he had a better attitude. But the big question heading into 2023 was: Can Kyle Busch win with RCR?
It didn’t take him long to silence the doubters. In only his second start with the team, Kyle Busch won the final race to be held at Fontana. He also won a bit later in the year at Gateway. While he struggled on the short tracks and road courses and his performance largely dwindled out in the summer months, it would be a mistake in 2024 to sleep on Rowdy’s chances when heading to these intermediate tracks. He’s silenced his doubters more times than anyone cares to count. He could easily do it again.
We have to have the defending champ on this list! The 2023 Coca-Cola 600 winner has emerged in the last couple of years as the top dog at Team Penske. He’s consistently in contention to win, no matter the style of track. His most successful track in recent memory has been Phoenix Raceway, which gives him a decent leg up in the championship 4 each year. Look for Blaney to be strong as he attempts to defend his first career Cup Series title.
When it comes to Joey Logano’s dominance, it kind of depends on the year. It has long been joked about that Joey Logano can only perform well on even-numbered years. After a less-than-stellar 2023, expect Logano to bounce back in a big way in 2024. He has been historically the strongest on intermediate tracks so expect that success to continue into the new season.
Bubba Wallace gets better every year. After his 2021 rain-shortened win at Talladega, many fans said it was a fluke. He silenced the haters, though, with a dominant performance at Kansas Speedway, his best track statistically. Though he did not score a victory in 2023, he was insanely consistent, particularly on intermediate tracks, scoring top-5 finishes at Kansas, Vegas, Darlington, Charlotte, and Texas. There were also a number of intermediate tracks where he was running in the top 10 and 5 for much of the day.
Look for Bubba Wallace and his No. 23 Toyota to take yet another big step forward in 2024 and keep an eye on him on those intermediate tracks. They seem to have become his strong suit.
Like his former teammate, Denny Hamlin is one of the all-time greatest drivers to ever zip up a fire suit. Love him or hate him, that’s the way it is. If he had only won a championship in his career (he still has a chance but his hopes are thinning) there wouldn’t even be a discussion about it. Hamlin, like Busch, can win just about anywhere on just about any kind of track. In 2023, he won at Kansas, continuing his and 23XI’s dominance at the intermediate oval. He won the Coke 600 last year, he’s won at Vegas, Darlington, Homestead, Texas, Dover, you name it! I expect much of the same in 2024. That number 11 car could be pulling into victory lane at any of the intermediates on the 2024 NACAR Cup Series schedule.
Do you agree with our list, Daily Downforce readers? Who do you think we left out? Who would you add? Who would you remove? Let us know! As we gear up for the 2024 season, keep it right here at DailyDownforce.com for all the latest updates and stories coming out of the NASCAR garage.