NASCAR’s Next Generation: Rico Abreu

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Rico Abreu is like any young race car driver.

When asked what’s on his bucket list not related to racing, the 23-year-old’s first answer – like the three NASCAR Next drivers before him – was skydiving.

Rico Abreu is not like any other young race car drivers.

The St. Helena, Calif.-native is 4-foot-4, a result of living with achondroplasia, a bone-growth disorder not shared by anyone else in his family.

That doesn’t impede Abreu, who won the 2015 Chili Bowl. He is scheduled to race in about 120 races in seven different classes in 2015.

When Abreu spoke with NASCAR Talk, he was more than week removed from winning his first stock car race, in the K&N East Pro Series at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NASCAR Talk: What’s the most races you’ve ever been in in one week?

Rico Abreu: I ran five in a row, five nights in a row. That was earlier in June in the USAC-Indiana Midget week. It’s five nights throughout Indianapolis race tracks.

source: Getty ImagesNT: How tiring was that?

Abreu: It wasn’t too bad because in open-wheel racing, they start around 4:30 p.m. and then they end up finishing around 10:30 to 11 p.m. You kind of have that morning and early afternoon to relax and not be too hard on yourself where K&N or NASCAR races is a little bit different where you have to be up at 8 o’clock for a driver’s meeting at nine and practice at 10:30, qualifying at 1 o’clock then you race anywhere from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

NT: What were you doing when you got the call about being part of the current NASCAR Next class?

Abreu: I believe I was at a sprint car race, and (I got) a text and it asked if we’d be willing to find the time and I was really happy to be apart of the NASCAR Next group. I wanted them to understand my schedule and how busy I am with my racing … I have 120 races this year on my schedule, so it’s really hard to get away and do something with them. Everyone worked really good with everyone at NASCAR Next and they worked out my schedule so it all works out where I can be at a majority of the events, but there’s only a few I can’t get to.

NT: What’s the worst accident you’ve ever been in?

Abreu: I crashed at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (Angell Park Speedway) and wound up with a broken collarbone. That was probably the hardest crash I’ve ever had. A guy moved up on me and kind of pinched me into the wall and our cars are open-wheeled, the sprint cars, so it’s really easy to flip and be in a really vicious, violent crash. The walls are really short there, so I easily went over the wall and kept going outside of the track about 100 feet.

Video: Abreu’s wreck at Angell Park Speedway

NT: What do you remember seeing?

Abreu: At that point you’re hanging on, and once I was done crashing, I went to get out and right when I got out my collarbone instantly started being in pain, so I knew something was wrong. I had the guy that works on our car drive me to the hospital and got some X-rays and they told me it was broken. So I headed back to Indianapolis. It was about six-hour drive, drove all the way back to Indianapolis. Went to OrthoIndy to a Dr. Kevin Scheid, he takes care of a lot of IndyCar drivers. It was a pretty crazy week, because I went in there Monday morning at 9 a.m. and he said to come back at 1 o’clock and I was in surgery by 1:15 and he fixed my collar bone; plated it, screwed it and then I was actually home by 2:45. It was about an hour and a half and I was already fixed up. I took about 15 days off, I went back for a check-up and he said I was good to go. and I started racing again.

NT: What do you consider your theme song?

Abreu: I’ve always liked the song “Redneck Yacht Club” by Craig Morgan. I just like the lyrics to it and I don’t know, I’ve always liked the song. I know all the words. I sing it every now and then when I’m in a good mood.

NT: I know you got your start racing motorcycles, but what’s your earliest clear memory related to racing?

Abreu: Probably about 1998 or ’99 I went to a World of Outlaw sprint car race at Calistoga Speedway, about 10 minutes from my house. Jac Haudenschild won the race and he was running the top lane by the wall and everyone was on the bottom, so it was really exciting to watch and that’s where I fell in love with the sport of open-wheel racing.

NT: What do you remember about the first time you got on a motorcycle?

Abreu: I remember getting a motorcycle for Christmas. I don’t know how old I was. We have a lot of vineyards in our backyard, obviously, I’m from wine country, so we live on a vineyard. I remember being able to ride it through the vineyard rows and then out back behind a pond at our house. I remember I took it out through the mud and got it all muddy the first day I got it. My dad wasn’t too happy about that.

NT: Do you consider that the best Christmas gift you ever got?

Abreu: Yeah, I’d say so.

NT: Since your dad (David Abreu) runs a vineyard, do you consider yourself a wine person?

Abreu: Yeah, I’m into it quite a bit. I enjoy being able to be around him and everyone at our ranch. We have a couple of different ranches and he has about 20 ranches that he takes care of, so any chance I’m home, I’m definitely outside with them. I really enjoy getting to go to dinner with my dad, just understanding it more and more, the wine side of it and all the different kinds of wines.

NT: What’s your favorite kind of wine?

Abreu: I like some white wine. My dad doesn’t make any white wine, but a couple of his clients do that are really good. There’s a case of Sauvignon blanc that I really enjoy trying at dinner with him. He’s always into trying new wines or drinking really vintage Cabernet from the early 1900s, which is different for me because it’s got a different taste being an older wine with all this sediment in the wine. That’s something he enjoys doing, drinking an older bottle of wine at dinner with the family.

NT: What’s it like to grow up in wine country?

Abreu: It’s a beautiful area. I grew up on a ranch, so I always had a lot of stuff to do. We had a lot of livestock on our ranch. I raised market hogs for 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) for 10 years. I spent a lot of time doing that. We didn’t just raise them for one show a year, we raised them year around for like 10 shows.

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Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

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Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.

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.