Thursday, December 22, 2022

NASCAR needs more driver-centric documentation

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In 2021, Chase Elliott became the focus of a Peacock documentary. “Chase” was a fascinating look at his youth and rise to stardom, but NASCAR and its partners should now build on that with other entries.

Elliott was a fitting subject for the Peacock documentary in 2021. After all, he was the reigning Cup Series champion and the sport’s most popular driver. He also had an interesting history involving trips to the racetrack with Bill Elliott, a move to Colorado, and a fascination with airplanes.

More than a year has passed since the release of “Chase” and NASCAR has crowned two more champions. There have also been several drivers who have risen and taken center stage with aggressive driving styles, big personalities and interesting backstories. Although there were quite limited options in terms of documentaries.

Why is it important to have more? The main reason is that documentaries highlight the specific riders, their respective journeys into the sport and the struggles they have overcome, rather than just focusing on wins and losses.

Fans and casual viewers can make a number of guesses about each driver just by watching races. Having a documentary to watch can only help them invest more in the sport and the drivers while continuing to learn about each one. It can also help bridge the off-season.

Austin Dillon’s Life in the Fast Lane gave an insight into the life of the Richard Childress Racing driver. Although the focus was on him, his wife Whitney and their friends Paul and Mariel Swan. The series did not delve into its background.

Another example is “Rowdy,” the documentary about Kyle Busch’s career. This film debuted in the 2022 season with a Nashville premiere. It shone the spotlight on his two championships, his relationships with some high-profile competitors and his recovery from an injury in 2015.

An interesting example is the Netflix documentary series about Bubba Wallace. “Race” was originally announced with a description saying it would focus on “the 2021 season through the eyes of the only black driver at the sport’s highest level.”

Wallace’s first season with 23XI Racing was still a story, but it became more of a thread that bound each episode together as the series jumped back and forth between seasons. Competition meetings, simulator sessions and meetings with boss Denny Hamlin were shown less frequently.

In fact, the series dedicated the majority of the 2020 season’s episodes. Big moments included Wallace’s urging NASCAR to get rid of the Confederate flag, investigating the garage door handle at Talladega Superspeedway, and his struggles with depression.

Putting Elliott at the center of a documentary was expected given his role in the sport, but who else would fit? There are actually several drivers who have interesting stories to tell.

A prominent example is Ross Chastain. The Trackhouse Racing driver didn’t have an easy road to NASCAR stardom. Raised on a watermelon farm, he raced for numerous underfunded teams and fought for every opportunity before eventually winning his first two Cup Series races.

Another option if he wants to join is Denny Hamlin. The driver of the #11 Toyota came from humble origins but earned a role as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing by dominating late model racing.

A documentary about Hamelin could focus on a variety of topics. His rise through the ranks would top the list, as would his recovery from a compression fracture of his lower back in 2013. The series could also focus on how he became a Cup Series team owner.

Hamlin and Chastain are just two of the possible options. There are countless others who would make fascinating documentaries such as Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick and Austin Cindric.

“Race For the Championship” told the story of the 2022 Cup Series season. It began with the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum and followed the top drivers through the 36-race schedule while finding the biggest moments and some unexpected issues highlighted.

There were also prominent drivers who participated in the series. Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Harrison Burton, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie all shared their personal lives and how they prepare for upcoming races.

While “Race For the Championship” offered an in-depth look at the everyday lives of some drivers, it didn’t focus on many others. For example, fourth championship driver Christopher Bell was not part of the series, nor were William Byron and Alex Bowman.

When the USA Network series returns in 2023, there are 10 more opportunities to focus on the current roster of drivers and their off-track time. New riders could take center stage and provide a deeper insight into their respective lives and personalities.

“Race For the Championship” told the story of the 2022 Cup Series season. It began with the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum and followed the top drivers through the 36-race schedule while finding the biggest moments and some unexpected issues highlighted.

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