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Big races, new faces and 11 NASCAR storylines to follow in 2024

The upcoming season is shaping up to have no shortage of storylines

NASCAR: Hollywood Casino 400
Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

The start of a new year means NASCAR is just around the figurative corner.

Closed for the holidays, NASCAR shops reopen in January and have a month to prepare cars for The Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Daytona Speedweeks because the grind will be relentless once the season begins.

The next month will also feature a media day and production day for the television networks. So while the season technically doesn’t begin until February 4, the next several weeks is where the work begins in earnest.

So while fans have to wait another month, the figurative and literal gears are starting to turn around shops in North Carolina.

With that in mind, here are 11 NASCAR storylines worth following in 2024.

The Clash at Los Angeles

NASCAR: Busch Light Clash
Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

I know this remains a polarizing event. Purists will forever maintain that The Clash belongs at Daytona. Some don’t like the concept of Cup races in a big city like Los Angeles. There are some who simply don’t like the racing product on a tight quarter mile. For the purposes of The Clash, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum becomes something akin to Bowman Gray Stadium. NASCAR certainly doesn’t need 38 races like the modern Clash but starting the season with drivers running over each other in a race that has minimal consequence is a lot of fun if you just embrace it for what it is designed to be. The 2024 running will also have the Mexico Series as a companion race so that will be a refreshing new wrinkle as well.

Streets of Chicago

NASCAR: Grant Park 220
Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

No one clamored harder for a NASCAR national touring division street course race than Yours Truly. I’ve seen too many compelling NASCAR Canada Series races in downtown city street settings to not expect the same of Cup and Xfinity. The scenic backdrops are equally incredible. The Cup Series race largely delivered in July but NASCAR deserves every opportunity to show off what the event can be holistically after the inaugural show was besieged by rain. Deep dish pizza, Cubs and NASCAR … this time without the historic deluge.

Races at Kansas

NASCAR: Hollywood Casino 400
Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

The sentiment would have sounded absurd a decade ago in the aftermath of its most recent repave. The NASCAR community lost traditional abrasive Atlanta but gained its spiritual successor in what Kansas has become in recent years. The track is increasingly wide and gives drivers a lot of options to pass across all three national tours. It’s a lesson in patience anytime a track repave comes around.

Literally every Xfinity race

NASCAR: Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250
Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The quintessential Stock Car series remains the gift that keeps on giving each week. The Cup Series is still trying to find its identity four years into the NextGen car but the Xfinity platform remains a love letter to NASCAR’s most passionate devotees. It features a compelling mix of youngsters like Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith alongside veterans like Justin Allgaier, Austin Hill, Sheldon Creed and Josh Williams. An added treat this year is the full-time return of AJ Allmendinger and three-time Supercars Series champion Shane van Gisbergen contesting the entire campaign.

S.V.G.

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying
Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Shane van Gisbergen is going to be subjected to several years’ worth of NASCAR indoctrination over the course of 12 months. The three-time Supercars champion will race a full-time Xfinity Series schedule for Kaulig Racing on loan from Trackhouse Racing. He will make a handful of Cup Series starts in advance of what he hopes is a full-time Cup Series season in 2025. Trackhouse owner Justin Marks will also try to schedule Truck Series and Late Model races just to acclimate his newest acquisition to the full-time NASCAR grind in the United States. At 34-years-old, SVG has a very short runway to transform himself into a Cup Series contender commensurate of his natural talent as this is a completely different world than the one he has perfected over the past decade.

Wither Stewart-Haas?

NASCAR: Cup Practice and Qualifying
Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Berry and Noah Gragson join the returning Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece. What an eclectic mix and none of that matters if SHR can’t solve its engineering woes from over the past three years. All four drivers have proven themselves as championship talents across numerous divisions and are a compelling mix of grit and heart that will make for good television if the organization returns to prominence in 2024.

Ford Dark Horse

Ford drivers have won the Cup Series championship the past two years, the first two of the NextGen era, but it’s been a struggle for the manufacturer to put together an entire season together. Maybe some of that is engine but Ford Performance is hedging its bets on a boxy, unorthodox body unlike anything Chevrolet and Toyota has developed over the past three years. In an era where so much is the same, it will be neat to see how something so different compares to its Camaro and Camry counterparts.  

Chase Elliott

Syndication: The Tennessean
Credit: Stephanie Amador / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Objectively, a lot hinges upon Chase Elliott being at least competitive in 2024. It provides his legion of fans something to invest in over the course of the season and for those who resent that popularity something to rally against. Both outcomes are better than those that had the No. 9 car just kind of there even after Elliott returned from his spring snowboarding injury.

Short Tracks

NASCAR: Xfinity 500
Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, there is no more downforce to be taken off the Cup Series cars on short tracks and road courses. NASCAR is not budging on its reluctance to increase horsepower and a slight increase might not make enough of an impact anyway. So if short track racing continues to disappoint into 2024, it will be interesting to see what NASCAR and teams agree to do next because there are not a lot of obvious levers to pull without a complete overhaul of the current design for some of the most important tracks on the schedule.

Spire ascendant

David J. Griffin | Getty Images for NASCAR

Rome wasn’t built in a day but Spire Motorsports have a lot of pieces in place to build the next NASCAR empire should any of the current major players slip towards the midpack over the next several seasons. Spire received a major influx of capital from Dan Towriss of Group 1001 and Gainbridge Financial and have put it to use by acquiring a third charter, the assets of Kyle Busch Motorsports and veteran championship executive Doug Duchardt. Collectively, the expectations have been raised for Corey Lajoie and the No. 7 team that has already teased becoming a playoff challenger alongside new teammates Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar.

The playoffs

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Credit: Alex Gould/Special for The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s probably not the proper way to determine a year long champion. It’s certainly not the fairest. With that said, the NASCAR playoffs create moments, headlines and intensity in spades for all three national touring divisions. It makes everyone who watches feel something. Everyone in the sport has strong feelings about the format. On one hand, it legitimately stinks to have a championship decided the way the Truck Series did in November. That was embarrassing. Then it was followed up by Xfinity and Cup Series championship races defined by a masterclass of race craft. In totality, this is just what modern day sports on television has come to. It’s the expanded playoffs of baseball and football. And while everyone will continue to debate the merits of the format, it is a considerable amount of fun to watch and talk about.  

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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