Teamwork key to Joe Gibbs Racing recent success at Phoenix

Getty Images

Last spring in the 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Joe Gibbs Racing struggled. The organization’s best finish was a modest 13th by Carl Edwards.

In that race, Matt Kenseth finished 16th, David Ragan (driving in relief of the injured Kyle Busch) finished 18th, and Denny Hamlin finished 23rd. A frustrated Hamlin told NBC Sports after that race: “All of our cars suck right now.”

“When I came over to JGR, it kind of shocked me how I didn’t realize how much JGR had struggled at Phoenix,” Edwards said Friday at PIR.

Trouble can be a catalyst for improvement, and last spring’s Phoenix race was a big part of the reason for the domination of Gibbs later in the season.

“Everyone worked really hard and I think you saw from, I guess it must have been from this point on, it was a lot of forward momentum,” Edwards said. “A lot of improvement at Joe Gibbs Racing. I think we won with basically every package that NASCAR presented last year. We won at all sorts of types of tracks. But, overall I just think it’s just the team effort.”

Added Busch, who rallied from his season-opening injury to win his first career Sprint Cup championship: “We had to redo our sim model and stuff like that. But also getting the crew chiefs a little more zoned in around the package of what the shop engineers wanted us to run and them to kind of understand all that. I think it’s been better since. That’s kind of a useful thing for sure. It’s been better, and we’ve learned, and I guess we’re still kind of on that path.”

By the time the series returned to PIR in November, Edwards had a shot at winning before rain drenched the track. He was running fourth when half of the field decided to pit and other half stayed out. The race did not go green again and he finished 12th.

Edwards spent about 85 percent of the fall race inside the top five. Busch raced inside the top 10 for all but three laps and there were similar performances by Hamlin and Erik Jones, who was standing in for Kenseth while the regular driver of the No. 20 sat out a two-race suspension.

“I was also really proud of how we finished the year, and if it weren’t for that rain, I’d like to think that we’d have had a shot at competing for the championship there at Homestead,” Edwards said. ”So, yeah, as bad as it was, it also reminded me that ‘Hey, we were that close to getting a championship.”

Ultimately, it was teamwork that created this change in direction.

“I saw the attitude heading to Phoenix last year (fall) and it was all hands on deck and that was what was pretty interesting when we sat in meetings,” Edwards said. “It was, ‘Hey, we have to fix what’s wrong. We have to get faster.’ And, it’s pretty intense.

Busch agreed that Joe Gibbs Racing is working the way multi-car teams should.

“There’s some things that are the same and there’s definitely some things that are different,” Busch said regarding the similar setups on all JGR cars. “I think you’re going to have that every week unless someone just feels like they’re really off like us last week.

“We were really off for a while there, so we just bolted in (Kenseth’s setup) and it seemed to be pretty good for us in the race.”

Busch finished fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and was leading with six laps to go.

The addition of an alliance with the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team and Martin Truex Jr. also has been instrumental in the progress.

“When you have five crew chiefs going at the race car five different ways and learning as it goes along, you learn different things quicker,” Busch said.

“I definitely feel like the 78 has been a bit of a help this year. They’ve been doing a good job with us and giving some good information. There was some things in Atlanta we actually took from the 78 and helped us run better.”

The formula is working. The Gibbs team swept the top three positions in qualification on Friday with Busch on the pole, Edwards second, and Hamlin third. Kenseth is only three positions back in sixth and Truex will line up directly behind him in eighth.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

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).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“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


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


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.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

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


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.

MORE: A better way to determine the Cup champion?

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.