Long: Denny Hamlin’s All-Star win provides moments $1 million can’t top

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CONCORD, N.C. – His white polo shirt made it easy to follow J.D. Gibbs’ path as he deftly wound his way by purple-and-black clad crew members on the crowded stage.

Denny Hamlin, enjoying the spoils of his Sprint All-Star Race victory, never saw Joe Gibbs’ son approach. J.D. Gibbs grabbed Hamlin from behind and bear hugged him.

Together again.

The cameras, crowd and colleagues faded around them, as the longest-tenured driver in Joe Gibbs Racing’s four-team stable and the man who pushed the organization to take a chance on a Late Model racer embraced.

They are more than boss and employee. More than friends. The 34-year-old Hamlin calls Gibbs his second dad. When Hamlin arrived at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2004, the company’s namesake was in his second stint coaching the Washington Redskins. It was J.D. Gibbs, team president, who guided Hamlin.

“He was the one that looked after me, called me when I did something wrong, praised me when I did something right,’’ Hamlin said.

That it was Hamlin who delivered JGR’s first All-Star win after countless disappointments and close calls proved fitting. That Gibbs – undergoing treatment for symptoms impacting brain function – was at the track made the moment more special.

This was only third race the 46-year-old Gibbs has attended since the team revealed his health condition March 25, stating that his symptoms include speech and processing issues.

Gibbs was at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago and Kansas Speedway last week. Saturday, his wife and children joined him at Charlotte Motor Speedway, sharing the win together.

“Just brings tears to your eyes,’’ Gibbs told NASCAR Talk.

For years, the emotion has been anything but pleasant for Joe Gibbs Racing at this event.

Four times JGR cars finished second. Six other times, JGR cars placed third. One year the organization was five laps from winning before it lost the lead. Another year the team had the dominant cars only to see two of them fall out early because of engine failures.

“So many times we left here just mad and frustrated,’’ said Todd Meredith, who has been with the team since 1992, is a former pit crew member and serves as JGR’s chief operations officer.

Saturday’s All-Star Race was the final major Sprint Cup race Joe Gibbs Racing had yet to win in 24 seasons. The team has three Cup championships, three Brickyard 400 wins, three Southern 500 triumphs, a Daytona 500 victory and a Coca-Cola 600 win.

As Meredith talked about Saturday’s race, J.D. Gibbs came up behind him and howled in excitement.

The moment would not have been possible had Gibbs not gone to a test at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway looking at drivers to join the organization only to see that the best candidate was the kid shaking down the cars.

When Hamlin rewarded Gibbs’ faith by finishing eighth at Darlington Raceway in his debut of what is now the Xfinity Series, it made it easy to give Hamlin a ride at that level in 2005 and a chance to join the Cup team later that year. In a head-to-head tryout with JJ Yeley for the No. 11 ride late in the 2005 season, Hamlin scored three top-10 finishes in seven starts and had a pole. He moved into the No. 11 car’s seat in 2006 and has been there since.

While Hamlin has scored 25 career points wins, he called Saturday’s victory the biggest of his career.

Yet, it didn’t seem as if he and JGR would be celebrating.

Although Hamlin took the lead off pit road to begin the final 10-lap segment, Kurt Busch restarted beside him. Busch had been fast all night and led 24 laps, yet Hamlin left Busch in his wake on the restart. Busch never made up the lost ground and finished third, ending the night by apologizing on the radio to the team for the restart and then unleashing a string of expletives.

Hamlin’s troubles weren’t over, though. Kevin Harvick, who has three wins and the points lead this season, chased Hamlin and appeared poised to pass.

This time, Harvick didn’t. Nothing bad happened to Hamlin and a JGR car – after trying for nearly a quarter century – had won the All-Star race.

The feeling was so new that some team members ran to Victory Lane, not realizing that the winner’s celebration takes place on a stage at the start/finish line to be closer to the fans. Everybody eventually made it.

“You win, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh … we won!’ ” Gibbs said.

They hugged, smiled and shouted for pictures. They basked in the confetti, fireworks and feeling of accomplishment. They celebrated a $1 million paycheck.

No matter what the money buys Hamlin and the team, it cannot provide the true measure of this win.

For the man who believed in Hamlin and now fights a health issue, J.D. Gibbs got the chance to stand with his family next to the trophy and celebrate.

“It was awesome,” Gibbs said.

Joe Gibbs Racing built itself around family. And it ended Saturday night celebrating as family.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

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Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.