NASCAR Analyst Steve Letarte Details 4 of the Season’s Most Interesting Stories

NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400
Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Don’t be surprised if NASCAR Cup Series drivers feel a little jumpy lining up at Nashville Superspeedway June 25. Coming off their last free weekend, they’ll be charging around the speedy 1 ß-mile concrete oval knowing it’s time to get in gear for a championship run.

“In 10 weeks, we’re going to set this playoff field,” says NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte of August’s Daytona race. “There’s anxiety: What things could you implement that might change the trajectory of your season?” It’s been competitive thus far. Letarte sizes up some of the most interesting stories.

Chastain vs. Himself

NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway

Ross Chastain’s take-no-prisoners driving style has led the 2022 championship runner-up to several tussles over the last two seasons. Things reached a head after he punched pal and rookie-of-the-year candidate Noah Gragson in the mouth as they argued post-race in Kansas, then a week later wrecked himself and 2021 champ Kyle Larson late in May’s Darlington race. Chastain’s car owner, Justin Marks, reportedly told him to “stop hitting things.” Says Letarte, “Only [Chastain] can decide whether his aggressive style is acceptable.”

Harvick’s Swan Song

Nascar driver Kevin Harvick

This is the final full-time racing season for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Kevin Harvick, who’s feeling the calm. “Kevin is known for his tenacity, but he’s found this magical balance of [determination] on the racetrack and just enjoying the year,” Letarte says. But could the 2014 champion end his career with a second title? “He absolutely has the pace, the drive and the desire.”

Byron’s Upswing

William Byron

Letarte regards 25-year-old William Byron as the biggest positive surprise. “He just gets better,” the analyst says of the first racer with three victories this year, who took over the No. 24 Chevy made famous by Jeff Gordon. “He has really filled out the position of superstar driver, and those are big shoes [to fill].”

Changing of the Guard

Big, gritty change has come to the Cup Series, as the July 2 inaugural race on Chicago’s 2.2-mile street course suggests. “A four-lane highway seems wide until you put cars going 140 miles an hour there. All of a sudden, Lake Shore [Drive] looks really narrow,” says Letarte of the route.

Another shift? Older racers are giving ground to the likes of Byron, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell. At 33, even defending champ Joey Logano must watch his rearview. The younger drivers “have to take the wins from someone,” Letarte notes. The grueling schedule starting in Nashville will be the great equalizer. Says Letarte: “Can you be at your best for [the next 134] days? That’s asking a lot of anyone.”

NASCAR Nashville Superspeedway, Sunday, June 25, 7/6c, NBC

NASCAR Chicago Street Race, Sunday, July 2, 5/4c, NBC and Peacock