Long: Even while celebrating another Sprint Cup victory, Joe Gibbs looks ahead

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LONG POND, Pa. – It’s an old habit. So much so that even in the best moments a thought remains about what could happen next.

Joe Gibbs experienced his share of sleepless nights as a Super Bowl-winning coach of the Washington Redskins. His NASCAR Sprint Cup team’s recent run – four consecutive victories and six in the last 10 points races – brings about similar feelings of what could happen next.

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“What keeps you going in pro sports is the nervous part of how easy it is to fall back and have other people up front and you trying to catch them,’’ said Gibbs, searching for his first Cup title since 2005 with Tony Stewart.

Gibbs experienced that nervousness Sunday after watching Kyle Busch take the lead when Joey Logano ran out of fuel three laps from the finish only to see Busch run out of fuel on the last lap. As has been the case lately, there was another Gibbs car near the front. This time it was Matt Kenseth, who collected his second victory of the season and gave Toyota its first four-race winning streak in Cup.

This recent run of victories for JGR comes after struggles by the organization last year – only two Cup wins after winning 12 times in 2013 – and the start of this year.

“I think as late as March, I think (Gibbs) was still yelling at us in meetings, and ever since he yelled at us that last meeting, we’ve all been running better,’’ Kenseth said.

After struggles at Phoenix in March led Denny Hamlin to say “all of our cars suck right now,’’ the organization has steadily improved building toward a turnaround that became evident in May when Hamlin won the Sprint All-Star race and Carl Edwards captured the Coca-Cola 600.

Yes, Edwards won via fuel strategy and Kenseth won Sunday the same way. While they might not have been the strongest cars in those races, they had teammates in position to challenge for the win. Kenseth and Hamlin combined to lead 79 of 400 laps at Charlotte. Busch led 19 laps Sunday but ran near the front much of the race.

This success comes as Edwards has become acclimated to the organization and put less pressure on himself than what he was earlier in the season. The turnaround also happened with Busch’s return at Charlotte.

“That’s elevated all of our games again,’’ Kenseth said of Busch’s return.

Still, Gibbs remains cautious, as is his nature.

“I’ve always been real nervous about being in pro sports, and I think it keeps you humble, and you’re never more than one race away from getting pounded,’’ Gibbs said.

Kenseth’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff understands how his boss feels with five races left until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins next month.

“We’re headed in the right direction,’’ Ratcliff said. “Each and every week you’re not going to come out here and just grab these victories.  This worked really well for Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole over the last several weeks, but we’ve got to keep after it. The prize is still there, and we know in the next 10 weeks we’ve got to step it up a few notches because the other group is, so we’ll be ready.’’

Gibbs’ rise comes as Hendrick Motorsports has shown a dip in performance. Although Jeff Gordon (third), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) and Jimmie Johnson (sixth) each scored top-10 finishes, only Johnson showed he was a top-five car throughout the race.

“Hopefully we can just continue to make gains and get ourselves in the Chase, and we’ve seen in the past where anything can happen when that Chase starts,’’ Gordon said.

Anything often has happened to Gibbs’ drivers in the Chase. So it is understandable that Gibbs has a sense of nervousness, but with the way his team is running now, it has become the leading candidate to win the title.

Five weeks from now? All of that could change. It’s why even during this stretch, Gibbs is mindful of the challenges ahead.


NASCAR Awards: Scene on the red carpet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community gathered at the Music City Center to commemorate the 2022 season and celebrate Joey Logano‘s second Cup title.

The event can be seen at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Here is a look at the scene on the red carpet before Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards:

Joey Logano and Brittany Logano (Photo: Dustin Long)


Ryan Blaney and Gianna Tulio (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kyle and Samantha Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)


Chase Elliott (Photo: Dustin Long)


Alex Bowman and Crystal Marsh (Photo: Dustin Long)


Tyler Reddick and Alexa De Leon (Photo: Dustin Long)


Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish (Photo: Dustin Long)


Daniel Suarez and Julia Piquet (Photo: Dustin Long)


Chase Briscoe and Marissa Briscoe (Photo: Dustin Long)


Christopher Bell and Morgan Bell (Photo: Dustin Long)


Austin Dillon and Whitney Dillon (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kyle Larson (Photo: Dustin Long)


William Byron and Erin Blaney (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kevin Harvick (Photo: Dustin Long)


Ross Chastain and Erika Turner (Photo: Dustin Long)


Austin Cindric (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kurt Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)


Harrison Burton and Jenna Petty(Photo: Dustin Long)
Mario Andretti (Photo: Dustin Long)

Chase Elliott wins NMPA Most Popular Driver Award


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott won his fifth consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver Award on Thursday.

The announcement was made during the NASCAR Awards at the Music City Center. The show will air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Elliott is one of only five drivers to win the award since 1984.

Bill Elliott won it from 1984-88, 1991-2000 and 2002. Dale Earnhardt won the award posthumously in 2001. Darrell Waltrip won it in 1989-90. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won it from 2003-17. Chase Elliott has won it every year since.

Noah Gragson was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Xfinity Series. Hailie Deegan was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series.

Kevin Harvick to make decision on future by Daytona in February


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Cup champion Kevin Harvick says he’ll know by Daytona in February his plans beyond 2023.

Harvick’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing ends after the upcoming season. 

Harvick said Thursday before the NASCAR Awards that “it could go either way at this particular point” on what he’ll do, but he affirmed that “going into Daytona, I’ll know what I’m going to do.”

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 19. Harvick anticipates making an announcement by then.

“We’re at a point where everybody needs to know what’s going on,” Harvick said. “There’s too many tentacles to everything that happens. Whether it’s the race team, driver management company, every element needs to know. It’s not fair to anybody to have to start the season not knowing.”

Harvick turns 47 on Dec. 8. Next season will be his 23rd in Cup. His debut came a week after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick was selected by car owner Richard Childress to drive for Earnhardt’s team. 

Harvick has gone to win the 2014 Cup championship and 60 races at Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s tied with Kyle Busch for ninth on the all-time Cup wins list.

Harvick won two races last season. His victory last August at Michigan snapped a 65-race winless streak. He followed that by winning the next weekend at Richmond. 

Harvick has won at least two races in nine of the past 10 seasons. He has scored 41 of his 60 Cup wins since he turned 37 years old.

“Kevin, I think, is probably the No. 1 leader of the drivers, as he should be,” two-time Cup champion Joey Logano said Thursday. “He’s been around the longest. He’s very accomplished. He’s very smart. He’s been through the ups and downs. He’s lived it. There’s wisdom in experience. It’s great to hear his opinion on where we are as a sport.”

Harvick’s business interests include a management company that represents Cup drivers Ryan Preece, Harrison Burton and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with other athletes. Harvick also has worked as a broadcaster on NASCAR Xfinity races for Fox Sports, earning positive reviews. 

Harvick’s son Keelan, who is 10 years old, races and has competed in karting in Europe. 

“He’s got one more race in Italy … and then we’ll start all over again,” Harvick said of his son.

Harvick went overseas after the season finale at Phoenix to watch Keelan race.

“I think he’s definitely matured a little bit since he’s been making these trips,” Harvick said. “I think it’s important to have that culturing aspect of life to be comfortable to do things like that anywhere in the world.”

The NASCAR Awards program airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 3 on Peacock. To sign up for Peacock, go here.

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.