Kligerman: More money, more problems for F1, but merit mostly still matters more in NASCAR

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As the Daytona 500, the most watched and anticipated race of the NASCAR season, drew to a close, the results sheet showed what many of us expected: The new, large group of brash, seething, success-starved young drivers didn’t disappoint and took center stage in NASCAR’s biggest show.

Meanwhile, that same week on the other side of the racing world …

The principal of Williams F1 Team, Claire Williams, was dealing with the brash media and defending the merits of her own set of very inexperienced and young drivers for the 2018 Formula One World Championship.

And both events represented the polar spectrums of the most feared word in racing (and a four-letter word in my book): Funding.

How?

Last season, Williams, one of the most historic teams in Formula One, announced the signing of an unheralded 18-year-old named Lance Stroll. Many casual fans asked “Who?” and the PR machines drummed up all sorts of lovely attributes about the young Canadian. But as with most things in racing that make you utter “Huh?” you need only follow the money.

Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams (left) stands with drivers Lance Stroll (middle) and Sergey Sirotkin at the team’s 2018 unveil on Feb. 15. (Photo by Williams F1 Team/Getty Images)

Lance Stroll’s dad is a billionaire and by many reports agreed to provide to the team (and I am not exaggerating) a staggering $40 million U.S. paperbacks to make his son the new rookie driver at Williams. (Some had reported $80 million, but this is thought to be an exaggeration).

Throughout the world, the uproar wasn’t deafening but more nuclear explosion. “Silver spoon” didn’t suffice in this case. It was more being “born-with-sole-ownership-rights-to-Facebook”-spoon.

And yet one year later, Williams F1 Team said, “au revoir” to popular veteran Felipe Massa, who left for his second attempt at retirement. That left the team with only Lance Stroll, who had a respectable but by no means blistering debut season.

Williams had a decision: Who do they put beside the most garish display of a pay driver in the history of the sport?

The team had tested veteran Polish driver Robert Kubica, who is thought to be one of the most talented in the sport. He had driven for the likes of the factory BMW team and won. He was Renault’s star driver until February 2011 when he was doing a rally race in the offseason and had a horrific crash that partially severed his right forearm.

But through the years he had worked tirelessly to prove he had rehabilitated enough to come back to F1. And in this off-season, it looked like this would be the case. One of the most remarkable comeback stories in the sport’s history was about to come to fruition. He had tested with Williams and maybe lacked a bit of speed, but by all accounts, he had the veteran savvy to help this once-great team try to assemble the building blocks to its former glory.

But come Feb. 15th when Williams launched its new car for the 2018 season, Claire Williams wasn’t answering how excited she was to have Robert Kubica. She was maligning the term “pay driver.”

Williams had chosen another rookie who had a lot of experience in lower formula’s and was respectable but also was known to have another massive amount of personal funding: Sergey Sirotkin

As Claire remarked “It’s nothing new in F1 that drivers come with money, and thank goodness that they do. It would be incredibly naive for anyone to make that statement, saying ‘He’s just a pay driver.’ It’s great if a driver has financial interests from partners. It’s great for the team. It’s great for the driver.

“This is an expensive sport, not just F1 but at the grassroots level as well. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into F1 if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae, and bringing them into F1.”

She would continue defending Williams’ decision: “I think the terminology or the vocab used around pay drivers is wrong. It’s inappropriate, and it’s unnecessary, and it puts negativity around a driver that we just should not be doing in this sport anymore.

“There are commercial issues of course, but we make our driver decisions based on talent, based on what Paddy [Lowe]’s engineering team needs in order to take this team forward, not about any potential financial backing that they have.”

And the fact is, I have to agree with her.

As sponsorship is becoming increasingly harder to obtain, F1 budget numbers have won the space race to Mars (waving as they pass Elon Musk). Any sane person would have made the same decision. When the difference may be losing a couple tenths or being in financial hardship, she made the right decision.

But I am not convinced no matter how much PR drivel is shoveled my way that the two best drivers available in the world are driving for Williams F1 Team.

The pay driver argument will continue all season for Williams, as it has for decades in racing. And it may continue to get worse unless something is done to restrict the cost.

But in NASCAR, where sponsorship has become a very tough game, the top level somehow is being graced with a serious amount of young very talented racers being selected based on merit. And they showed this during the incredible race that was this year’s Daytona 500.

Now, I am not saying it didn’t take funding to get them to the door of those top Cup rides. But in the cases of Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr, William Byron, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher and Kyle Larson, what got them there mostly was a combination of success, talent, and luck.

They are in rides as the best choices for that particular car.

Some of you may say “But Matt Kenseth!” In his case, he was too expensive.

The fact is the drivers in Cup are the best the teams could afford. Unlike in the case of Williams F1, where it has the best drivers that could afford the team.

As for me? Well, I am too expensive.

Obviously.

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.