Matt Kenseth’s spotter talks about return to track, void he can fill

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Chris Osborne, the spotter for Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez, will make his return this weekend at Martinsville Speedway after missing the season’s first five races while recovering from injuries suffered in a December car crash that also injured his wife and son.

Although Osborne had hoped to be cleared to begin work earlier this month, he told “The Morning Drive” on Tuesday he’s ready for this weekend.

Osborne suffered a compound fracture of his right leg in the crash. His wife suffered nine broken ribs and broke her right hip, shoulder and elbow. Osborne’s son, Austin, suffered a partially collapsed lung, cracked sternum, concussion, broken nose and lost a few teeth.

N.C. State Highway Patrol cited the driver of the other car, Michael Dale Kellison, with driving while impaired, careless and reckless driving and having an open container in his vehicle. His court case Monday was continued to May 3.

While Osborne has been out, Kenseth has been fast but has yet to score his first victory of the season.

Kenseth was in position to win the Daytona 500 when he decided to go from the bottom lane to the top lane with about a mile left to block teammate Denny Hamlin’s charge. Hamlin, who got a push from Kevin Harvick, steered underneath Kenseth and nipped Martin Truex Jr. at the finish line to win the race.

The following week, Kenseth led 47 laps early but was penalized for an infraction on pit road. As crew chief Jason Ratcliff disputed the call with NASCAR, Kenseth was not informed of the violation.

NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth for a lap before he came down to pit road after being informed of the penalty. Kenseth lost another a lap in the process and was two laps down. The race went green for the first 210 laps, giving Kenseth no chance to get his laps back and he wasn’t a factor, finishing 19th.

Kenseth’s bad luck continued at Las Vegas when he slid up the track into the path of Chase Elliott, ending the race for both. Kenseth finished 37th. Kenseth placed seventh at Phoenix and 19th at Auto Club Speedway.

Asked on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan about what it had been like to watch what has happened to Kenseth this season, particularly at Daytona and Atlanta, Osborne said:

“That’s been a mental struggle as well. I’ve watched each and every race. I’ve watched all the practices, the qualifying sessions for each division. I’ve watched all the races, and I listen to the in-car stuff as well through the course of the race.

“I can’t sit here and tell you that there is a guarantee that any of those finishes would have been any different had I been on the roof. All I can tell you is I know the chemistry myself and Matt Kenseth has and myself and Daniel Suarez. For myself and Matt, there’s just that continuity, if you will, between a driver and spotter just like there is with each and every team on the circuit. There’s things that I know he’s thinking about before he ever says it. I know what he’s looking for. I know what kind of information he wants.

“In the situation like that at the Daytona 500, it would have been a situation where I would have been on the button (talking to Kenseth) for the last lap for sure from the middle of the backstretch to the start/finish line, and I would have never let off. I would have been constantly giving him information on everything that was going on behind him in the lower lane and with the run with (Hamlin) and (Harvick) and those guys on the top.

“Hindsight is 20/20. We would have won the Daytona 500 if we could go back and change things. So would (Truex). In reality, it’s just a situation of knowing what is expected of you. Lorin Ranier came in and done an exceptional job at Daytona and Speedweeks. It’s just the first time he and Matt had worked together in a lot of years. They had worked together way back in the early stages of Matt being at Roush for a few races but it had been a long time.

“Then Curtis Markham coming in and filling out the rest of the four-race schedule until California last week, he’s done an exceptional job as well, but you know in those situations, had I been on the roof at Atlanta I would have just told Matt. I wouldn’t have waited on somebody to tell me that I should or shouldn’t be telling him.

“When the (NASCAR) tower tells you that the 20 car is receiving the black flag and what the penalty is for, it’s not my responsibility on the first time by to tell him he has to pit, but it’s as much my responsibility as it is Jason Ratcliff’s or anyone else to tell him the situation just so he’s aware of what is going on and he can start looking for the black flag.

“When they tell you they’re going to display the black flag with the white cross, the talking is over then. You have to come down pit road and serve your penalty because you’re only hurting yourself after that. So it just goes back to the communication thing and knowing what is expected of you, knowing what the driver wants from you and feeding him that information.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Daytona 500 on the track, if it’s penalties being served, if it’s pit stop stuff, whatever it is, that’s what I’m up there for: No. 1 for safety, but No. 2 to communicate with the driver and keep him aware of situations on the race track because, obviously, when they’re strapped in that race car, they know what is going on around them, but they don’t know anything outside of that until they’re told.’’

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.