NASCAR had input in makeup of drivers’ council; was pleased by the first meeting in Dover

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NASCAR had input into the formation of the new Sprint Cup driver’s council which met with high-ranking officials last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

During his weekly appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s The Morning Drive, executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said NASCAR had worked with drivers in setting up Saturday’s initial session.

“It’s something we’ve always done in terms of meeting with the drivers,” O’Donnell said. “We certainly meet with them individually, and we have met during the preseason more formally. I think you’ve seen us form the (manufacturer) council, and we meet with the tracks, and it’s gone really well in terms of opening the dialogue with everyone in the industry. It’s something the drivers had talked about, and we had looked at, as well as a potential formation of a driver’s council.

“It was a little more formal in terms of the drivers bringing in the drivers they did. We put some criteria around it. But really (it was) the first formal if, you want to call it, drivers’ council meeting. We’ll continue to do those.”

Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick confirmed Sunday that they were part of the council, which comprised about eight or nine drivers. Past champions Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth said they weren’t in the discussions. NASCAR.com’s Holly Cain reported that Tony Stewart also said he attended.

Sources have told NASCAR Talk that the drivers were asked to select a panel that represented all the manufacturers and a wide swath of teams ranked throughout the points standings, as well as a mix of youth and experience.

Echoing what Earnhardt and Hamlin told reporters before Sunday’s FedEx 400, O’Donnell said the meeting was productive.

“The dialogue was great,” he said. “We’ve got a unique sport in that we’ve got athletes who care about the future of the sport, so we certainly talked about where we’re at today, but more importantly, these are drivers who want to see the sport grow and continue well beyond their career, so it was refreshing to sit down and hear some of their ideas and talk about where we should go together in the future.

“It’s a unique sport in that aspect and something the fans should really appreciate that they’ve got drivers who care not only about today but the future.”

O’Donnell compared the driver council with NASCAR’s quarterly meetings with manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota to plot the future direction.

“Everyone has a voice,” he said. “The drivers are the first line when talking about the sport. They need to feel good about where we’re going as a sport (and) what they’re driving. We’re not always going to agree. That’s not the purpose of this meeting.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make a call that we believe is right for the sport. Sometimes, not everyone agrees, but as long as there is respect for how decisions were made, that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we’re working toward. But I thought it was a great start for the meeting, really great dialogue and the ideas coming out of it.”

NASCAR is soliciting feedback from the industry while building its rules package for next season. Though it initially planned to make another cut in downforce after reducing horsepower and downforce this season, there also is the possibility of keeping the 2015 rules intact.

O’Donnell said the trick is managing the triangle of aerodynamics, horsepower and tire construction, adding there were “a lot of good ideas on the table for ’16 (and) a lot of work being done in the next 30 days that I think folks will see. It’s not a lack of looking at ideas but finding the right combination to go forward.”

Other topics addressed Monday morning:

–NASCAR is looking at monitoring the cooling of fuel after Kurt Busch’s team was asked to remove heat shields from its fuel during Sunday’s race. “That’s something we continue to look at, and with the heat in Dover, it was unbelievably hot, but that’s something we have to continue to monitor anytime we’re dealing with fuel,” O’Donnell said. “You know we’ve had some incidents on pit road where we’ve taken some reactive measures from a safety standpoint. We’ll sit down (Tuesday) and walk through that and look at the upcoming schedule and see what may or may not be happening on pit road as we go forward.”

–After being chastised for leaving their vehicles while under caution in the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup races at Dover, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Trevor Bayne could face further penalties Tuesday. NASCAR instituted a rule last August prohibiting drivers from leaving their cars until a safety team arrived after a crash. The move came in the wake of Kevin Ward Jr. being struck and killed by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart when Ward angrily approached Stewart’s car under caution during a race in upstate New York.

“It’s something we haven’t seen in a while and hope to never see,” O’Donnell said of Bayne and Cobb leaving their vehicles. “But it goes back to a rule we put out last year in terms of being as safe as possible when there’s an incident on the racetrack, reminding the drivers at no time should they get out of the car or truck unless it’s on fire, which you saw potentially in Trevor Bayne’s situation. But from there we ask everyone in an incident where a vehicle may or may not be on fire, if they do get out (to) stay by your vehicle for the safety crew and under no circumstances are you to walk across the track or apron. Unfortunately, we saw that in both instances this weekend. We had a conversation with both drivers. They understand the potential harm that could come from that, and we’ll continue to have that dialogue, and you’ll see us probably react (Tuesday) as well.”

–After concrete came loose in Stewart’s pit stall during Sunday’s race, O’Donnell said “we obviously are looking at that. It’s a concrete surface, (and) it’s been there several years. We think it had to do with the heat this weekend. It expanded and caused the initial break, and you saw that crack through the pit box. We’ll look back at that area and up and down pit road to make sure we can avoid that in the future.”

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.

 

Ryan Truex to drive six races for JGR Xfinity team in 2023

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Ryan Truex is scheduled to run six Xfinity Series races in the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.

Truex ran five races for JGR in 2022, finishing in the top five three times. He ran third at Atlanta.

Truex also drove limited Xfinity schedules for JGR in 2011 and 2012.

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“We are looking forward to having Ryan back in our lineup in 2023 to run the No. 19,” said JGR vice president Steve DeSouza in a statement released by the team. “He has done well in the races he has run at JGR. His previous experience and driving ability will be assets as the No. 19 competes for an owner’s championship next year.”

JGR has not announced which races Truex will run or which drivers will be his teammates in the 19.

“I am thrilled to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 for a few races next season,” Truex said in a team statement. “It was fun to run well with this team this past year. I appreciate the opportunity to race for JGR again next year.”

Jason Ratcliff will be the team’s crew chief.

Truex, 30, has run 26 Cup, 84 Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck Series races without a win.