The world of auto racing diecast has evolved significantly over the past 20 years. Gone are the days of walls full of Racing Champions’ NASCAR offerings at Toys R Us (also most likely gone is Toys R Us, but that’s another story for another day). Unless you’re in Indianapolis, chances are the only open-wheel cars you’re finding at department stores are whichever fantasy ones Hot Wheels has put together for the year.

Most likely, whatever you find in your local store is the latest wave of Lionel’s NASCAR Authentics, relegated to a couple of pegs and in the $5 range. The good news? While the paint scheme choices on this year’s first wave are occasionally interesting, the quality is still decent.

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NASCAR Authentics started life about two decades ago as Winner’s Circle, a Kenner product that was later sold to Hasbro and then folded into the Action family. They pioneered a number of changes in packaging for mass markets, including the introduction of plastic hoods, stickers, and magnets instead of trading cards to go with the cars. Winner’s Circle was rebranded in 2012; Lionel took over NASCAR Authentics in 2016.

While its earliest waves two years ago featured only six or seven cars, the first few waves of 2018 will all feature nine. Wave 1 features eight of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series schemes, plus Austin Dillon’s Coca-Cola 600 winner from last year in a Raced Version. I don’t tend to buy raced versions because I’m not a huge fan of approximating damage or confetti with decals, but I picked up the other eight.

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The results are, in some ways, a mixed bag. The value for money isn’t an issue at all; if you go to the track, chances are you’ll be paying $7 for these cars and not even getting the bonus magnets that come with them, and the quality is indistinguishable. They’re well worth tracking down for anyone who plans on collecting NASCAR this year, rather than buying at the track.

What’s strange, however, is that a number of the cars in this first wave are only running a handful of times this year. In fact, here’s the full breakdown, according to Jayski:

No.

Driver Name

Primary Sponsor

2018 Races

2

Brad Keselowski

Wurth

3

4

Kevin Harvick

Mobil 1

6

9

Chase Elliott

NAPA Auto Parts

26

11

Denny Hamiln

FedEx

36

22

Joey Logano

Shell/Pennzoil

32

31

Ryan Newman

Caterpillar

8

78

Martin Truex Jr.

Auto Owners Insurance

8

88

Alex Bowman

Nationwide

21

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Most of these drivers were in the first or second wave of last year’s issues, with the exception of Hamlin, who was inexplicably skipped by the entire program last year until the bonus waves. Last year, Harvick’s Jimmy Johns sponsorship (a co-primary with Busch) was his Wave 1 entry, while Keselowski’s AutoTrader car (which only ran twice) was also represented in Wave 1. Truex’s Bass Pro Shops car came out in Wave 7 last season, but due to the co-primary sponsorship with 5 Hour Energy, probably won’t be represented in mass retail this year.

Based on the NASCAR Authentics website, there’s plenty to look forward to in the next few waves. Even if you skip out on the 2017 Cup, Xfinity, or Raced Version cars, by the end of Wave 3, you’ll have at least one car for 17 of this year’s full-time Cup Series drivers. I’ll keep a running tally throughout the year, but as of this writing, here’s what’s been announced for 2018:

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No.

Driver Name

Paint Scheme 1

Paint Scheme 2

1

Jamie McMurray

Wave 3: Gearwrench

2

Brad Keselowski

Wave 1: Wurth

Wave 2: Discount Tire

3

Austin Dillon

Wave 2: Dow

4

Kevin Harvick

Wave 1: Mobil 1

6

Trevor Bayne

9

Chase Elliott

Wave 1: NAPA

10

Aric Almirola

Wave 3: Smithfield

11

Denny Hamlin

Wave 1: FedEx

12

Ryan Blaney

Wave 3: Menards

13

Ty Dillon

14

Clint Bowyer

17

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Wave 3: Fifth Third

18

Kyle Busch

Wave 2: M&M’s

19

Daniel Suarez

20

Erik Jones

21

Paul Menard

Wave 2: Motorcraft

22

Joey Logano

Wave 1: Shell/Pennzoil

24

William Byron

Wave 2: Axalta

Wave 3: Liberty

31

Ryan Newman

Wave 1: Caterpillar

Wave 2: Grainger

32

Matt DiBenedetto

34

Michael McDowell

37

Chris Buescher

38

David Ragan

41

Kurt Busch

42

Kyle Larson

43

Darrell Wallace Jr.

47

A.J. Allmendinger

48

Jimmie Johnson

Wave 2: Lowe’s

78

Martin Truex Jr.

Wave 1: Auto Owners

88

Alex Bowman

Wave 1: Nationwide

95

Kasey Kahne

It’s hard to forecast, but don’t be surprised to see Wallace, Bowyer, and Kurt Busch among the next releases, as their respective teams were early-season entries last year. On the other hand, Front Row Motorsports didn’t even make it to stores until the 2017 Bonus Waves, so McDowell and Ragan fans may be waiting for their favorite drivers for a little while. That said, if you don’t want the bonus magnets, cards, and hoods, there should be a much wider selection available at the track and online.

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