Ryan: NASCAR needs a Daytona 500 warmup act in South Florida

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Why does NASCAR start the Sprint Cup Series season with its version of the Super Bowl?

There are myriad explanations for a question that perpetually arises each winter, but there’s one succinct answer.

It shouldn’t.

That revelation has come into sharper focus through a scheduling change that resulted in an extra weekend between the Super Bowl and the start of Speedweeks in 2014 and ‘15.

There were many years in which the Super Bowl and the run-up to the stock-car equivalent butted against each other – five years ago, NASCAR moved Daytona 500 qualifying to Saturday because of a direct conflict with Super Sunday. Yet the past two years have provided a stark contrast that leads to a glaring conclusion.

On arguably the most lackluster weekend of the year in pro sports – with basketball and hockey in the doldrums, football in its offseason and baseball in pre-spring training lull – NASCAR is missing a chance to dominate the conversation.

This isn’t an indictment of the Daytona 500’s drawing power, nor the suggestion of a waning cachet. The Great American Race will command the widest audience regardless of its spot on the calendar, and last year’s scintillating victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. – which didn’t seem dampened despite a six-hour rain delay – reaffirmed its stature on the NASCAR schedule.

The placement could be improved, though, and there is precedent for it.

From 1970-81, the season opened in mid-January at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway before heading to Daytona Beach Fla., a month later. Considering the two greatest finishes in Daytona 500 history (’79 and ’76) occurred in that span, it hardly diminished the luster of the crown jewel.

Riverside still had its failings as a season opener. Why start a month earlier at a road course on the other side of the country?

Three decades later, there’s an optimum location that makes as much sense competitively as it does logistically.

Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Just four-and-a-half hours south of Daytona (which should make a turnaround for Speedweeks relatively easy) is a track that has made a deserving case for hosting a second annual Sprint Cup race ever since its 2003 reconfiguration.

Amid a rash of ill-conceived repavings over the past decade, Homestead’s progressively banked surface has become the gold standard for the 1.5-mile layouts that comprise 11 of the season’s 36 races and have been maligned for producing their fair share of processional racing.

There’s no such conundrum at Homestead, whose thrilling 2014 season finale punctuated the revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff  It’s a crime the track is allowed to flaunt its considerable action only once a year – and then just before the circuit is mothballed for three months.

A new testing ban exacerbated the lack of buzz during this offseason, which mostly is a good thing. Overworked teams need the rest, and it also helps to have a break from incessantly flogging the marketing and promotion of Sprint Cup stars who are competing for 10 months annually.

But Thursday’s Daytona 500 Media Day will underscore the downside of a preseason with virtually no on-track activity. Though a bevy of rules changes (causing lower horsepower and downforce) offer much to discuss, the interviews figure to be an echo chamber of last month’s preseason Media Tour, where stars already were asked the same questions they will face Thursday.

Imagine if they were analyzing their results from Homestead, and what that portends for the rest of the season – particularly in the Chase for the Sprint Cup?

Racing a week earlier at Homestead adds another championship dimension to the Daytona 500. If a team mightily struggles in South Florida and is concerned about its speedway prospects, the restrictor-plate roulette wheel of Daytona suddenly promises the relief of a golden ticket to the Chase.

Bookending the schedule at Homestead will present some scheduling hassles (namely, would a race need to be dropped for the new opener), but they are outweighed by the benefits. This is the ideal way to tie the beginning and end of the season together in a Florida-shaped bow.

Dropping the green flag before Daytona won’t make NASCAR’s most iconic event any less super. It’ll make it more special.

Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”