Who will replace Tony Stewart? Here are some candidates

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As Sprint Cup cars roar to life next weekend at Daytona International Speedway, the most pressing question of Speedweeks suddenly is who will drive Tony Stewart’s car?

The three-time series champion will miss the Daytona 500 with a fractured back, leaving Stewart-Haas Racing scrambling Thursday for the third time in four seasons to find a substitute driver for No. 14 Chevrolet.

Stewart missed 18 races from 2013-14 with Mark Martin, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith and Jeff Burton taking turns as replacements.

Dillon now has a full-time ride at Richard Childress Racing, Martin and Burton are retired, and Smith recently signed a full-time contract with Tommy Baldwin Racing.

So it’s likely there will be a new face behind the wheel at SHR for an indefinite period as Stewart recovers from back surgery Wednesday. SHR said he will make a full recovery but hasn’t determined the timeframe.

Who will be in the car in the interim? Here’s a list of a candidates:

POSSIBLE

Clint Bowyer: This would seem the most logical choice with Bowyer already slated to drive the No. 14 in 2017 after Stewart retires from NASCAR. But it could require much contractual heavy lifting in working out how Bowyer’s No. 15 at HScott Motorsports would be handled.

Bowyer brought 5-hour Energy sponsorship to the car for 24 races, and it also picked up Visine for three races this week. Both sponsors might want to be keep Bowyer in the car or be given assurances that he would return to the car in 2016.

But if SHR is worried about whether Stewart would miss the bulk of the season, it might make sense to bring Bowyer over regardless of whether he could be returned for the balance of 2016 to HScott Motorsports, which always was a one-year stopgap solution to signing Bowyer a year ahead of time.

If Bowyer has to run only a partial season in Stewart’s car, it still might be preferable to a full season at HScott. His odds of performing well or winning would be much better in the SHR car, and it would give him a chance to adapt to crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who is making his debut with Stewart this year and staying on to work with Bowyer.

A possible way that SHR could sell the concept to HScott: A win in the regular season ties a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth to that driver, regardless of the car. So if Bowyer won in an SHR car and then returned to HScott before the Chase, he conceivably could race in the playoffs under the HScott Motorsports banner – an appealing proposition for a smaller team that could use the exposure.

Another possible compromise: If 5-hour Energy, which has strong ties to Bowyer, wanted to keep its driver for its premier races (such as Daytona), Bowyer could shuttle between the rides at SHR and HScott with both teams using other fill-ins.

Ty Dillon: The full-time Xfinity driver has Sprint Cup aspirations and experience. He also has sponsorship ties at Richard Childress Racing to Bass Pro Shops, which will be on Stewart’s Chevy a few times this season.

When Stewart broke his right leg and missed the final 15 races of 2013, SHR used Dillon’s older brother, Austin, in races at Michigan at Talladega, so the organization already has a working relationship with RCR in such situations.

Justin Allgaier: New JR Motorsports driver is in the Chevy pipeline and has 75 starts in NASCAR’s premier series. Having run the past two full seasons with HScott, he is familiar with recent setups.

Elliott Sadler: Similar credentials to Allgaier but with much more experience in Cup (435 starts). But as full-time Xfinity since 2011, Sadler is five years removed from being a regular on the top circuit.

LESS LIKELY

David Gilliland: Currently has no ride in NASCAR’s premier series but is an accomplished restrictor-plate racer (three top fives, including a second at Talladega in 2013) who was among Stewart’s favorite drafting partners.

Brian Vickers: Hasn’t raced since recurring blood clots sidelined him a month into the 2015 season, but if cleared by NASCAR to return, he might be interested. Has other options, though, with other business interests and his work as an NBC Sports analyst.

Bobby Labonte: Might be a good play for Daytona. The 2000 series champion made four starts at Daytona and Talladega last year and was a solid plate racer in his day.

Sam Hornish Jr.: Without a ride after a disappointing return to Cup with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015, the three-time Xfinity winner has experience as a fill-in driver for A.J. Allmendinger at Team Penske in 2012.

Alex Bowman: Unceremoniously and unexpectedly dumped by TBR last month, he started in 71 of 72 Sprint Cup races over the past two seasons. Also has Chevy ties through a part-time Xfinity ride at JRM.

WILD CARD

Erik Jones: The most highly rated prospect in NASCAR will race in Cup full time someday, perhaps as early as next season. But he is under a multiyear contract to Joe Gibbs Racing, and it’s unlikely Gibbs or Toyota would approve him driving a Chevy.

UNLIKELY

David Ragan: Another restrictor-plate ace (wins at Daytona and Talladega), and he did an admirable job filling in for Kyle Busch and Vickers and Michael Waltrip Racing last season. But Ragan has committed to a long-term project of helping build BK Racing into a contender.

Regan Smith: Would have to be extricated from a TBR contract that he signed only a few weeks ago. That was an unexpected rescue after an uncertain offseason in which the Xfinity driver seemed destined to be left out in the cold. It would be hard to break that deal.

NO

Martin: See tweet.

Burton: Ditto.

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.