What Drivers Said after Sunday’s race at Texas

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With their respective tickets now punched through to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks, Kevin Harvick and runner-up Martin Truex Jr. had plenty to say after Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

So did a lot of other drivers, especially the remaining five who will fight next week at Phoenix for the final vacancy in Championship 4:

Kevin Harvick – Winner: “This feels so good. We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to victory lane. Today we had to earn it. To be able to pass the 78 car (Martin Truex Jr) for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile at Homestead to race for the championship.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished second: “One of those deals, I think we could have held them off on a clean race track, but the 6 car (Trevor Bayne) is in the damn way every week – that’s pretty normal. … (On clinching a spot in the championship race) It feels great. It feels amazing – that’s what we set out to do this year was to make it to Homestead and fight for the title and we feel like we’re right there. I just can’t wait to get there and get back to work. I wish we could have won today, it would have been a little sweeter going and locking it up in victory lane, but we were off a little bit there at the end.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished third: “The 4 (Kevin Harvick) and 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) were really fast all day. We had a really good FedEx Camry, just had a couple bad restarts there where I went high, lost my track position and we had to take two (tires) to get that track position back that I lost. Overall, a good day – I mean great points day. We scored a lot of points, but lost positions there with the 4 winning, so we’ll – we’ll just keep digging, keep giving ourselves a shot to win and hopefully next week will be our week.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished fourth: “First run of the day was fun. Everybody was on three-cycle scuffs and we were on stickers. We got to the end, we had a good car when we got to get up through there pretty quick, but just got tight on that last set of tires for some reason. … I’d always draw the outside lane on a restart and lose a couple spots. It’s just hard to overcome that. That was our worst run of the day and it was still pretty competitive, so it was nice to be competitive.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fifth: “We had a pretty good car. Something happened on Lap 1 (collided with Kyle Busch) and basically we started the race last and a lap-and-a-half down. That cost us a bunch of stage points, but we rallied with a solid effort to get back to fifth. I’m happy for that. … (You are +19 in points) “I need more than that. I’d feel confident if we were locked in. These races you don’t know what’s gonna happen. Nineteen points isn’t terrible for a cushion. We’ll need to go and have a solid race at Phoenix next week and hope none of the other guys win. It’s doable, but it’s gonna be a nail biter next week for sure.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished sixth: “Obviously, we need to be really aggressive. We need to go try and win the race. That’s really the only thing we can do, so I’m proud of the effort by the team today. We didn’t start off very good and we got really good towards the middle and had one run where I was super-loose towards the end. I gave up like five spots. I got real loose and that was unfortunate, but we got our car a little bit better at the end. … (What he must do at Phoenix) You pretty much have to go and win the race. That’s all we can do. It’s gonna be hard to point your way in because everyone is running pretty good. We’ll just try to win Phoenix and do the best we can.”

Chase Elliott – Finished eighth: “We weren’t very good all day. Had some good restarts there and was able to get some decent track position at times, just never could hold it, so a frustrating afternoon. … (You have to win at Phoenix, right?) Yeah, I guess. So, we will try our best out there and see what happens.”

Kurt Busch – Finished ninth: “Man, We just still want more. We’re so close to being what we want, but we just still aren’t in that top five group right now. We’ve just got to find a little more. I’m real happy with our effort. We finished in the top-10 after a pit road mishap, so it’s a good day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 12th: “Our Fastenal Ford was solid all day. The guys did a great job making changes overnight. I’m bummed we didn’t get a top 10 but it was still a solid weekend for us overall.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “We were able to grab a couple of stage points at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 today, which I am really proud of. We could hit our marks as good as anybody. Speed-wise, we weren’t the fastest car, but we are obviously doing something right because it seems like nobody could keep up behind me. With everyone running such similar speeds today, track position was big. I’m proud of the team for all working together to get this 13th.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Finished 16th: “It was a solid day. We maximized the day for sure strategy-wise and going about it that was the best we could have asked for there. The car just got hot, it was slick, we were just kind of on a razor’s edge. It’s better, we finished, that is better than we did in a month, so we are gaining on it, but to get to the next echelon it’s a big leap. As a team, everybody did all they could, that was a solid weekend, maximized it. We will just continue to dig and figure it out.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 20th: “Texas hasn’t been good to us this year. We struggled since we unloaded off the truck on Friday. We got behind early. We were super loose so between major chassis changes and strategy, we raced back onto the lead lap in Stage 2 but struggled again on the next long green-flag run. We definitely need to pull together and figure out what the 31 needs because the 3 car (Austin Dillon) raced on the lead lap and in the top 10. We’ve obviously made some gains as a team, and we just need to figure out what works for us. On top of that, we had some cooling issues so, as a driver, I was burning up a bit. I’m OK, but it wasn’t fun out there for me at times.”

Paul Menard — Finished 23rd: “First off, I have to thank Daniel Hemric and all of the guys on this No. 27 team for getting this Atlas/Menards Chevrolet set up and ready for me this weekend (while his wife gave birth to their second child). We made some headway at the start of the race but suffered damage to the nose during the first stage. The guys fixed it up as best they could. We kept adjusting on the handling of the car but had to pit under green for a vibration in the final stage. These guys never gave up, and we were able to come out of here with a 23rd-place finish.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 24th: “Texas has been quite the challenge for our team to overcome this year. We didn’t have the day that we wanted, that’s for sure. This team works hard week in and week out, but we just haven’t hit on what we need to at these mile-and-a-half tracks. … We did what we could though and used strategy to get laps back for a stronger finish.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 27th: “We’ve got to figure something out. Kansas was a lot like this. It was just extremely difficult to drive the car and carry entry speed. And then we had a loose wheel and then contact on a restart. We started off in a hole and just kept digging a deeper one as we went. I’m definitely disappointed. And, I honestly just feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is pretty disappointing. … (Can you win at Phoenix to reach the championship round? “It’s been a good track for us. But this last half of the year has been really weird. In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven’t. But I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix and we’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. And that’s one thing this team will never do it give up.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 35th: “(Why did you take the car to the garage?) We burnt the hub up on the left-front, so we are going to change the spindle and change the hub and try to get back out there and finish the race. … (You looked like you were en route to a good showing today) Yeah, it wasn’t bad. I mean the car has ran about 11th to 20th all weekend in all the practices and everything. I don’t know, we’ve got to get a little bit better to beat some of them guys up there, but I was having a good time and the car wasn’t too bad.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 36th: “Man, we are plagued with bad luck lately. I think we would have had a top-10 today. Maybe we’ll get a break or two next week in Phoenix.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 37th: “Just can’t really execute, whether it’s bad pit stops or bad luck. It’s frustrating because I know I had the best car and lost track position and that is what happens. You try and move forward and it’s so hard to pass here you try and find some stuff and get in the wall. … (You’ve now had 3 DNFs in a row) I don’t know.  Can’t wait for the last lap at Homestead.”

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.

 

Ryan Truex to drive six races for JGR Xfinity team in 2023

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Ryan Truex is scheduled to run six Xfinity Series races in the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.

Truex ran five races for JGR in 2022, finishing in the top five three times. He ran third at Atlanta.

Truex also drove limited Xfinity schedules for JGR in 2011 and 2012.

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“We are looking forward to having Ryan back in our lineup in 2023 to run the No. 19,” said JGR vice president Steve DeSouza in a statement released by the team. “He has done well in the races he has run at JGR. His previous experience and driving ability will be assets as the No. 19 competes for an owner’s championship next year.”

JGR has not announced which races Truex will run or which drivers will be his teammates in the 19.

“I am thrilled to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 for a few races next season,” Truex said in a team statement. “It was fun to run well with this team this past year. I appreciate the opportunity to race for JGR again next year.”

Jason Ratcliff will be the team’s crew chief.

Truex, 30, has run 26 Cup, 84 Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck Series races without a win.