In the NextGen era, the NASCAR short track package has taken a bit of a hit. What was once some of the hottest tickets and best races on the NASCAR schedule were now boring snoozefests where no one could pass. They also were getting consistently outshined by the massive racing improvement of the intermediates. Now, we can go back and forth as to why this is and what needs to be done to fix the short track package. But that’s not what we’re here to do today.
Short track racing is, in many ways, the foundation of NASCAR racing. The heroes of the 1950s and ’60s cut their teeth on these types of tracks and this is how most racers get their start. There is a bit of an artform to short track racing and there are a few who stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Here are The Daily Downforce’s picks for the biggest threats to win on short tracks in 2024.
Like Carl Edwards, when Brad Keselowski was rising through the ranks, racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, he garnered a reputation for being dominant on concrete tracks. His first Xfinity Series victory came in 2008 at Nashville Superspeedway. He followed it up later that year with a win in Bristol. Then he took Dover the next year.
Moving to the Cup Series, Keselowski took his success on the shorter ovals to a whole new level. He’s won at all three major short tracks on the schedule: Bristol, Richmond, and Martinsville, and he’s won at each of these tracks multiple times. It can be argued that one of Keselowski’s best tracks is Bristol Motor Speedway, a 1/2 mile high-banked concrete oval.
Though he has been winless thus far with his new team of RFK, he was a heavy contender at the short tracks in both 2022 and 2023, leading a lot of laps at BMS in the fall of ’22 before mechanical failures took him out. I expect Brad Keselowski to return to victory lane in 2024…and if that win is not on a high-banked superspeedway, I’d bet money that it’ll come at Bristol or one of these other shorter ovals.
Let’s move over to the other RFK car now, the No. 17 of Chris Buescher. Buescher is a 4-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series thus far, all 4 of those wins coming in the last two years. In addition, 2 of those wins came on shorter ovals. In 2022, Chris Buescher won a thriller of a Bristol race…the same race that his boss and teammate, Brad Keselowski, dominated before he had his issues. In a breakout year in 2023, Buescher won 3 races on the year, one of them coming at Richmond Raceway.
While Buescher proved that he can win at intermediates (Michigan) and superspeedways (Daytona), I think it’s pretty clear that he (and RFK in general) are at their best on a short oval. Expect the No. 17 RFK Ford to take another sizeable step forward in 2024…and don’t be surprised if this team, as a whole, continues their strong runs on the short tracks.
Though he’ll be a rookie heading into the 2024 season, Josh Berry is a short track veteran. He competed for years in the CARS Tour as well as the NASCAR Advance Auto Weekly Late Model Series, winning championships in both. Berry got his first big shot with JR Motorsports in 2021 where he got the opportunity to drive the No. 8 car on a part-time basis during the first half of the year. He’d capitalize on this opportunity by winning at Martinsville in only his 6th start in the ride.
Though Berry did go winless in the Xfinity Series in 2023 and the year, as a whole, is viewed as somewhat of a disappointment, he did perform well on the shorter ovals. In addition, he also got a second-place finish in the 2023 spring Martinsville race as he was filling in for an injured Chase Elliott.
With Stewart-Haas Racing struggling the last couple of years and then losing their franchise driver, the pressure for Berry to perform in the No. 4 car is on. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares on the shorter ovals…but I have a feeling that he’ll impress many of his doubters.
Martin Truex Jr.
For a while, largely back when he drove the No. 78 car for Furniture Row, short tracks were considered Martin Truex Jr.’s Achilles heel. He struggled at them, adapting much more quickly to road courses and intermediates. But, once he made the move over to JGR to pilot the No. 19, that narrative changed. While he has yet to win at Bristol, for a few years there he dominated Martinsville and ran really well at Richmond as well. Even in 2023, while he didn’t win a true short track race, he did win New Hampshire, which many compare to Martinsville, saying that it’s the paperclip’s big brother.
With Truex Jr.’s future in the sport very much in doubt, expect to see the 19 team swinging for the fences to allow their driver to go out on top. With a return to form last year, I look for Truex to carry that into 2024 and win some races. I also think that at least one of those wins will come on a short, flat oval. Martinsville, perhaps? Richmond? Maybe even North Wilkesboro?
What do you think of our list, Daily Downforce readers? Who would you add? Who would you take off? Let us know! And keep it right here at DailyDownforce.com in the coming weeks as we prepare you for the 2024 NASCAR season. We could not be more excited!