Upon Further Review: NASCAR’s new speedway leader

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Roger Penske’s Sprint Cup teams never won a restrictor-plate race until the 2008 Daytona 500. Now, his organization is the dominant team on such tracks.

Joey Logano’s victory Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — the sixth in the last nine plate races for Team Penske — evokes memories of Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s dominance and Hendrick Motorsports’ success.

Penske’s run at restrictor-plate tracks the last couple of seasons ranks as the one of the best since 2000. Only DEI, which won nine of 12 plate races from 2001-03, has a better winning percentage over multiple seasons at such tracks than Penske.

The last time any team was as strong was when Hendrick Motorsports won six of nine plate races from 2004-06.

“We have a special group of people at the shop that work all year on the restrictor-plate cars,’’ Penske told NBC Sports of the team’s reign. “You’ve really got to give a lot of credit to Ford and Roush Yates (Engines), they gave us some power.’’

The only thing surprising is that Penske’s streak didn’t continue with Brad Keselowski, who led a race-high 90 laps before his engine failed.

“He could drive up there anytime he wanted,’’ Penske said. “I remember one time he just kind of sat back and decided to go and drove right up to the front.’’

Keselowski looked as dominant as he was when he won at Daytona in July and Talladega in May. In the last three plate races, Penske cars have led 56.9 percent of the laps. Sunday, the Penske cars led 70.3 percent of the race.

It’s not just the team that has gotten better on such tracks. Penske also credits his drivers.

Logano put himself in position to win by what he did before Sunday’s race.

“You prep for each race differently but prepping for a superspeedway is probably more different than most because it’s not necessarily you’re talking about your setup, you’re talking about the changes you made in practice, it’s talking about, ‘OK this guy does this a lot of times,’ and you rewatch films, and you find some driver tendencies and which cars are good,’’ Logano told NBC Sports.

“After practice you rewatch that. You spend a lot of time with your spotter talking. I think about all that stuff, and I work on that. That’s where I can make a difference. I’ve got to understand the draft.’’

He and Keselowski both have done so. No team has won more restrictor-plate races since 2010 than Penske. Here’s that list:

7 – Team Penske

5 – Hendrick Motorsports

4 – Richard Childress Racing

3 – Joe Gibbs Racing

3 – Roush Fenway Racing

2 – Chip Ganassi Racing

1 – Front Row Motorsports

1 – Richard Petty Motorsports

1 – Stewart-Haas Racing

1 – Wood Brothers Racing

STOWAWAY

Joey Logano admits when he left his pit stall after his first stop he didn’t know that the jack was attached to the car.

“I didn’t even know when I first left the pits because of the raised ride heights on these cars, I didn’t notice it until the car kind of compressed in the corner,’’ Logano told NBC Sports. “My crew chief Todd (Gordon) told me that I’m taking a jack with me.

“I was looking. A jack? I looked in my (left-side) mirror and I couldn’t see it, and I turned my head and I saw the jack handle. I said, ‘That’s not good.’ I tried shaking it out, but I couldn’t get it to come loose.’’

Gordon told NBC Sports the plate of the jack got deeper under the car “and when you dropped the jack, the jack post slid off the backside toward the jack and lodged itself in there. It was stuck. It took three guys lifting up and somebody to really work the jack to get it back out.’’

The pit crew made up for it by getting Logano into the lead on Lap 148 after a two-tire pit stop. Logano went on to lead the final 45 laps to score his second victory of the season.

THAT CLOSE

NASCAR stated that Denny Hamlin beat Kurt Busch by .006 seconds for third place Sunday. Had Hamlin finished behind Busch, Hamlin would have not have advanced to the Round 8. Austin Dillon would have.

To compare, Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. for this year’s Daytona 500 by .010 seconds — the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.

PIT STOPS

Joey Logano’s win marked his sixth Chase win since 2014. He and Kevin Harvick are tied for the most Chase wins since 2014.

— Kurt Busch’s fourth-place finish was his best result since placing fourth at Kentucky in July.

— Denny Hamlin’s third-place finish marked the fifth time he’s rebounded from a penalty during a race to score a top-five result. He was caught for speeding on pit road.

— Martin Truex Jr. finished last, marking the first time since 2010 at Atlanta that the pole-winner finished last in a race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s sixth-place finish was his first top-10 result since placing second at Bristol in August.

— How much of an equalizer can restrictor-plate racing be for a smaller team? Michael McDowell finished 16th Sunday. His average finish in the four plate races this year is 15.5. His average finish in 23 other starts is 26.7.

— Half of the remaining eight drivers in the Chase have made the championship round in Miami since the elimination format debuted 2014. They are Kevin Harvick (2014 champion), Kyle Busch (2015 champion), Denny Hamlin (’14) and Joey Logano (’14).

Ryan Reed finished 26th in his Sprint Cup debut.

Brian Scott finished a career-high second, and Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola (eighth) scored his first top-10 finish of the season.

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.