Upon Further Review: Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. — Just days after being knocked out of the lead on the last lap by a teammate, Kyle Busch likely will have to play the role of a good teammate at Talladega Superspeedway.

It will be car owner Joe Gibbs’ role to ensure the ripples of Sunday’s move by Carl Edwards are limited.

“I think when something like this happens, I don’t think there’s a game plan for it,’’ Gibbs said after Edwards’ contact moved Busch up the track and allowed Edwards to win his second Sprint Cup race of the year Sunday at Richmond International Raceway.

“You have no real organized way of handling it. What you do is you start out and work your way through it. That’s what we’ll do.’’

If Joe Gibbs Racing hopes to duplicate the dominance it had at Daytona, peace will need to reign. Recall how all four Gibbs cars and fellow Toyota team Furniture Row Racing worked together to control the front of the field, especially late in the race.

They occupied the front five spots heading to the final lap. Denny Hamlin went on to win, nipping Furniture Row’s Martin Truex Jr. with Busch third.

While it will be more difficult to have such control this weekend with Talladega’s wider lanes, that will be the goal again for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. That could mean that Busch and Edwards will have to work together at times.

“We’ll talk about it,’’ Edwards said Sunday about his bump of Busch. “I can say this, my teammates have been spectacular. They truly have been.

“Yeah, we’re going to have times like this when you’re running like this. We’re racing each other for wins, which is really, really good. So hopefully, it all works out fine.’’

Sunday marked the fifth time since 2007 Busch has lost a race on the last lap. Teammate Matt Kenseth passed Logano on the last lap at Pocono in August when Busch ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap.

Busch’s other last-lap defeats since 2007 include:

  • Aug. 2012 at Watkins Glen when Brad Keselowski and Busch made contact while Busch led. Busch spun and Marcos Ambrose got by Keselowski to win.
  • July 2009 at Daytona when Busch tried to block Tony Stewart coming to the finish line and they made contact, sending Busch into the wall and Stewart to the win.
  • July 2007 at Daytona when Jamie McMurray nipped Busch at the line after a side-by-side duel.

Busch kept his feelings to himself after Sunday’s race at Richmond, but should he get revenge against Edwards in the future, Edwards’ crew chief, Dave Rogers, says they’ll understand.

“There’s going to be plenty of days that (Busch) is faster than us and they’ll probably get to our back bumper and move us,’’ Rogers said. “We’ll go down to Victory Lane, shake their hands, tell them, ‘Good job.’ That’s just a testament to Joe Gibbs Racing, allowing us to put ourselves in that position.’’

— After contending for the win in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Richmond, Justin Allgaier’s race ended after contact with Brennan Poole in the final laps. Allgaier finished 35th.

Allgaier, who is seventh in the points, is in his first year at JR Motorsports. Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes what Allgaier has done this season after moving over from HScott Motorsports in the Cup series.

“Man, I’m going to tell you, he’s been a real surprise,’’ Earnhardt said of Allgaier. “Let’s be honest, it’s hard to get a measure of what he had running on the Cup side over the last couple of years, where that program is, where the car is, where the communication is, where he is. So it was a bit of a gamble.

“We have been pleasantly surprised with his speed, his personality with that team, what he’s done to sort of bring that group together. He’s got a real level, good personality, always positive. That does wonders for that team.

“(Allgaier and crew chief Jason Burdett) get along good, and they run great. Their cars are always one of the fastest cars we have at the track each week. I challenged the other teams to compete with Jason and his group.’’

Allgaier finished 30th in the Cup points last year at HScott Motorsports with one top-10 finish in 36 starts. He was replaced this season by Clint Bowyer, who is 29th in the points this season with one top-10 finish.

— In the first two weekends of heat races in the Xfinity Series, dominance has been the theme. Each of the four heat races has had one driver lead all the laps. Will NASCAR need to make changes to the heat races? Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed that question Monday on “The Morning Drive.”

“I think it’s important to know what that format is about, and it’s the emphasis on the Xfinity Series drivers and certainly the leader going flag-to-flag, we’d like to see more passing, but if you look at those who are eligible to compete for the Dash 4 Cash have really been mixing it up on the race track,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“This was something that we put together at four races that we wanted to see how we could improve on it each and every race. We’ll get through the four this year and look at what improvements we can make.’’

— Joe Gibbs Racing seeks its fifth consecutive Sprint Cup victory this weekend at Talladega after Kyle Busch’s wins at Texas and Martinsville and Carl Edwards’ wins at Bristol and Richmond. The last time a Cup organization won five points races in a row was 2014 when Hendrick Motorsports did it with Jeff Gordon (Kansas), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Pocono) and Jimmie Johnson (Coca-Cola 600, Dover and Michigan).

Kasey Kahne’s fourth-place finish Sunday was his first top-five result since Kansas last fall and just his fourth top-five finish in his last 45 races, dating back to the start of last season.

Chase Elliott finished 12th at Richmond. He’s placed 12th or better in five of his last six races.

— Carl Edwards is the only driver to place in the top 10 in each of the three short-track races (Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond).

 

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”