Chris Buescher and Brett Moffitt making most of unexpected Sprint Cup opportunities

3 Comments

They came from small towns.

Brett Moffitt hails from Grimes, Iowa, a community of 9,000 about 20 minutes northwest of Des Moines.

Chris Buescher is from Prosper, Texas, a town of nearly 13,000 about 40 minutes north of Dallas.

While their parents built houses for a living, both moved to Charlotte, N.C., to pursue their racing dreams, eventually signing as development drivers for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams.

Now the 22-year-olds – born about two months apart – find themselves in the unexpected role of replacement Cup drivers with a chance to prove they can be permanent solutions.

“This has been a hectic year and not really in a good way on the Cup side,” Buescher told NASCAR Talk. “A lot of crazy things have happened.”

***

For Moffitt, it began with Brian Vickers’ recovery from offseason heart surgery, which forced Vickers to miss the first two races of this year.

“The day they announced that Michael (Waltrip) would be in (Vickers’) car at the Daytona 500, they pulled me aside afterwards and told me ‘Hey, everything’s done, we’re just waiting to announce it, but you’re going to be in the car at Atlanta,’” Moffitt said. “Then I had to go a week without telling anyone, which is really hard because I was obviously super excited.”

That enthusiasm and Moffitt’s talent led Waltrip to hire the youngster in 2011 to drive in the K&N Pro Series East and be a test driver for the Cup team.

“When I see a kid like that, it reminds me of when I was that age and how much I wanted to race and what it would mean to me to be able to get in that car and race in NASCAR,” Waltrip said.

Moffitt’s seven Cup races for Premium Motorsports in 2014 also helped convince Waltrip to put a driver with one Xfinity Series race and two Camping World Truck Series starts in a Cup ride.

Moffitt exceeded expectations with an eight-place finish at Atlanta before Vickers returned at Las Vegas. Moffitt’s run led to a two-race stint with Front Row Motorsports to drive for David Ragan while Ragan filled in for an injured Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18.

Moffitt was to have driven a third race with Front Row at Auto Club Speedway before a 4 a.m. phone call changed that.

“I actually thought I was in trouble for something,” he said.

Instead, MWR needed a driver. Vickers suffered a recurrence of blood clots, which also forced him out of the car in 2010 and 2013. Vickers was back on blood thinners and out of the car at least three months.

Later that day, Moffitt had to literally squeeze into Vickers’ fire suit.

“It was kind of comical,’’ Moffitt said. “It wasn’t a height thing, I’m just bigger all the way around.”

Since Moffitt was only scheduled to drive the No. 55 in one race, he had contemplated storing his fire suit in a shadow box.

That enclosed glass display case is on hold, though, for as long as MWR and its sponsors deem Moffitt a worthy replacement.

“We’re trying to figure out the future of the team,” Waltrip told NASCAR Talk. “There’s a chance there’s a road racer at (Sonoma), or maybe I drive it at Talladega. We just want to have those options open. Brett’s a part of our team. He’s been there for a couple of years now … he’s the guy in our car for the near future.”

***

Chris Buescher was taken aback.

That same morning Moffit received his wake-up call, Buescher was eating breakfast at his team’s hotel when the second-year Xfinity Series driver was asked by Front Row Motorsports if he could substitute for Moffitt in the Auto Club 400.

“It was very quick, very to the point, ‘What do you think?’ said Buescher, who consulted Robbie Reiser, the general manager of Roush Fenway Racing.

Reiser told Buescher to do it, noting the experience the driver would gain. Within a couple of hours, Buescher was fitted for a seat.

Two days later, Buescher made his first career Sprint Cup start and finished 20th, two spots ahead of Moffitt.

The ensuing month has been hectic for Buescher. He’s split time between the Roush Fenway Racing and Front Row Motorsports shops with his Charlotte home halfway between them.

“You’re running down to one in the morning, going past the house all the way back up to the other one, then back down in the afternoon,” Buescher said. “So it’s been a lot of driving, a lot of work trying to get fit in at both shops. It makes it a little tougher during race week having to communicate with two entirely different organizations.”

While Moffitt had turned heads with his eighth-place finish at Atlanta, Buescher impressed his employer’s when he didn’t turn them. A week after his Cup debut at Auto Club Speedway, Buescher made his first start at Martinsville, finishing 24th.

“Martinsville is a give-and-take place and rookies can’t take much,” car owner Jack Roush told NASCAR Talk. “They’ve got to give a lot and he gave enough so that he didn’t manage to make somebody mad at him and get wrecked and he still got a reasonable finish.”

Buescher knows he’ll drive a Sprint Cup car a few more weeks. The day before finishing 30th at Texas, Front Row Motorsports announced that Buescher would drive at Bristol and at Talladega. He’s skipping Richmond to focus on his full-time Xfinity ride.

“We’re looking great in points right now, and we need to go out here and capitalize on it and the cards will fall as we go forward,’’ said Buescher, who is two points behind series leader Ty Dillon.

Roush said he believes Buescher is two to three years away from a shot at a full-time Cup ride. An Xfinity title, though, could alter the schedule.

“That would certainly grease the skids for him,” Roush said. “This is probably not a bad time for a driver to be doing what Chris is doing, showing his skill and ability and to show his blue sky potential.”

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

0 Comments

The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

0 Comments

Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.