Upon Further Review: Sonoma

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No matter how good or mesmerizing an athlete is, eventually, time and other factors prey on their performance. Only a few continue to succeed at a high level at the end of their career.

Jeff Gordon left on his own terms, winning a race and contending for the championship last year in Miami. Tony Stewart is leaving this year and could have the opportunity to exit as Gordon did last year if things go his way.

That both scored victories in their final season — Stewart won Sunday at Sonoma — is a rarity in NASCAR. Often victory lane is closed in a driver’s final season whether it is because of the driver, team or other factors. Richard Petty didn’t win in his final eight seasons. Rusty Wallace didn’t win in his final season, although he did make the Chase back when 10 drivers made it instead of 16. Bill Elliott won in his final full-time season in 2003 but continued driving in select events the next nine years without a win. Many others have had similar fates.

Stewart is aware of the chatter about him. How some have suggested that injuries have conspired against him, how much the tragic sprint car accident in New York took out of him and how much the missed time in recent years left him behind his competitors.

“I guess the one thing that I did think about is in this day of social media where everybody is a cricket, a lot of people are crickets,’’ Stewart said Sunday of what winning in his final season means. “On social media, they sit there and chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp until they’ve got to be in front of you, and then they don’t say a damned word, and listening to people say I’m old and washed up, I know how old I am. I know I haven’t ran good for the last three years, but I’ve felt like if we got things right that it was still there.’’

That’s one of the secrets of Stewart. The three-time series champion cares what others think. It might not seem that way with what can be a gruff exterior, but he’s well aware of the detractors.

It’s been easy to scrutinize Stewart since his last victory in June 2013 at Dover. He hadn’t won in his last 84 Sprint Cup starts before Sunday. He’s finished 20th or worse 44 times since that Dover win.

Stewart showed at Sonoma that when put in the right position, he still can win. It helped that a caution came shortly after crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called Stewart to pit road, putting Stewart into the lead. Then it was a matter of holding off the field — and getting by Denny Hamlin on the last corner after losing the lead.

What Stewart displayed late is something Joey Logano, who finished third, saw early in the race from the 45-year-old driver.

“It still shows he’s got what it takes if you give him the right stuff, and he’s going to push hard when he needs to,’’ Logano said. “I noticed it from lap one. I started right next to him, and he was hammering right off the bat, and I said, ‘All right, so we’ve got that Tony Stewart today.’ There’s two different ones. It was the aggressive one all day, and obviously we saw that going into Turn 11.’’

Hamlin took the lead in Turn 7 when Stewart’s car wheel-hopped, and Hamlin slipped underneath. Stewart came back when Hamlin drifted wide and failed to negotiate the hairpin properly, giving Stewart the chance to get underneath and pass for the win.

Now the question is what kind of a threat Stewart will be in the playoffs. His team has made progress in the last few weeks, but it still has a way to go to challenge the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, Team Penske’s duo and Jimmie Johnson.

The benefit for Stewart and his team is they have 10 weeks to get ready for the playoffs with what should be little pressure once they climb into the top 30 in points. Stewart is nine points behind heading to Daytona.

“Daytona is going to be a big hurdle,’’ he said. “As much as you want to go win that thing, it’s crisis management more than anything, I think, because I think if we can get through that, I feel like our performance is good enough to get us the rest of the way there. We’ve just got to take care of ourselves to get through there.’’

Something else to consider is that with eliminations in the Chase, Stewart’s teams needs to be only 12th best in the opening round, and then the points are reset. The second round includes Talladega, which can alter any Chase, and he’ll need to be in the top eight to advance.

“We’re getting closer to being where we need to be,’’ Stewart said. “We’re not there yet, but we’ve still got time to get there, and we’ve gained a bunch of ground in a short amount of time, and if we can keep making that ground and keep getting better, who knows.’’

STREAK CONTINUES

Tony Stewart’s win Sunday was the first Cup victory for crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. It is the fourth consecutive year a crew chief has scored his first Cup win at a road course (either Sonoma Raceway or Watkins Glen International).

Adam Stevens earned his first Cup win at Sonoma last year with Kyle Busch — the first of five races they won on the way to claiming the series title.

Crew chief Brian Burns scored his first win in 2014 at Watkins Glen with AJ Allmendinger.

In 2013, crew chief Chad Johnston scored his first Cup win at Sonoma with Martin Truex Jr.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN 

AJ Allmendinger was set to restart sixth after the final caution until NASCAR penalized him for a tire violation on his pit stop. Allmendinger dropped to 35th for the restart. He rallied to finish 14th.

Had he not been penalized, he likely could have scored a top-10 finish, if not a top-five finish. That penalty could have cost him about 10 points.

With 10 races left until the Chase field is set, there still is time to overcome such a deficit, but it doesn’t make Allmendinger’s task easier if he doesn’t win a race.

Winner Tony Stewart should climb into the top 30 in points and be Chase eligible soon if not after Saturday’s race at Daytona. That provisionally would put 11 different winners in the playoffs. Last year, there were 11 different winners before the playoffs began.

If Allmendinger does not win, then points will determine if he makes the playoffs. After Sunday’s race, he’s 18th in the standings, 20 points behind Kasey Kahne for the final transfer spot at this moment after climbing a position. With another new winner or two possible, the key spot to focus on would be Austin Dillon, who is 14th in the standings (he would be 15th if Stewart were Chase eligible at this point). Dillon is 33 points ahead of Allmendinger. The most points a driver can make up on another driver in a race is 47, so Allmendinger has a ways to go.

“You are not guaranteed anything until the checkered flag.’’ Allmendinger said Sunday. “It is part of life. We win and lose as a team. We have to get our stuff straight if we actually want to be a Chase team and consider ourselves a Chase team. Another fast race car — that is all I can ask for.”

PIT STOPS

Clint Bowyer had finished in the top 20 in four of the past six races for HScott Motorsports before placing 40th on Sunday.

Dylan Lupton finished 35th in his Sprint Cup debut Sunday.

— Kurt Busch’s 10th marked his fifth top-10 finish at Sonoma in the last six races.

Carl Edwards placed fourth Sunday. He has four top-five finishes, including a win, in his last six races there.

— Jimmie Johnson’s 13th ended a streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Sonoma.

— Kasey Kahne’s ninth marked his fourth consecutive top-10 at Sonoma.

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great originations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”

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)