Ryan Blaney poised to join Penske’s ‘win club’ in Phoenix

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The track is smaller and the speeds are slower than the last two race weekends, but one thing hasn’t changed for the Cup Series with its visit to ISM Raceway in Phoenix – Team Penske is fast.

Entering today’s TicketGuardian 500, the three-team squad at Penske has picked up where it left off last week in Las Vegas when Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished 1-2.

It has dominated the speed charts in practice, with at least two Penske drivers in the top three in all three sessions.

On top of that, the team earned its first pole of the year with Ryan Blaney.

“Maybe we haven’t reached our peak,” Logano said Friday. “You can’t be peaking too soon if you didn’t get to your own peak. That’s my opinion. No, it’s so early in the season things are going to be changing week after week of who the dominant car is. What I will say is, yeah, we came out of the gates pretty strong and I’m super-proud of that, but I wouldn’t say we’re peaking too soon. No way. I wouldn’t want to think that way if we were.”

If anyone doesn’t want Penske to have peaked already, it’s Blaney, who finished 22nd in the last two races.

On top of his pole, Blaney was the most consistent of the Penske drivers over the last two days, appearing in the top three in every practice, including leading Friday’s session.

All of this is good news for Blaney, who is ready “to be part of the win club” that’s formed with Keselowski and Logano with their back-to-back wins.

But Blaney lagging behind his teammates goes back to last year.

While Penske has won eight of the last 15 Cup races dating back to the Southern 500 last September, Blaney accounts for just one of those. That came on the Charlotte Roval and was made possible by the last-lap contact between Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Now Blaney will try to give Penske three straight wins for the second time in 16 races. But he’ll have to do it on a track he’s never finished better than eighth at in six starts.

“We just have to clean some stuff up, it’s been unfortunate,” Blaney said Friday of his results at Atlanta and Las Vegas. “While it’s nice to have Penske winning and obviously I’m selfish and I want to win, but it’s good to have our cars really fast and our finishes definitely don’t reflect how we’ve been running. We’ve been really fast this year at all three places so far.”

A shredded tire at Atlanta and a tire going down at Las Vegas resulted in him finishing 22nd in both races.

“We didn’t even really get to race at Vegas,” Blaney said. “Just trying to clean up some stuff and maybe get a little bit of luck on our side. The best thing we can do is control the things we can control and if we keep bring fast cars to the race track hopefully it will work out for you one of these times.”

Should he luck out and win today, he’d join a small Phoenix club.

Only once in the last 16 races has the pole-sitter went on to win.

 

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)

Chase Elliott wins NMPA Most Popular Driver Award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott won his fifth consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver Award on Thursday.

The announcement was made during the NASCAR Awards at the Music City Center. The show will air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Elliott is one of only five drivers to win the award since 1984.

Bill Elliott won it from 1984-88, 1991-2000 and 2002. Dale Earnhardt won the award posthumously in 2001. Darrell Waltrip won it in 1989-90. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won it from 2003-17. Chase Elliott has won it every year since.

Noah Gragson was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Xfinity Series. Hailie Deegan was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series.

Kevin Harvick to make decision on future by Daytona in February

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Cup champion Kevin Harvick says he’ll know by Daytona in February his plans beyond 2023.

Harvick’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing ends after the upcoming season. 

Harvick said Thursday before the NASCAR Awards that “it could go either way at this particular point” on what he’ll do, but he affirmed that “going into Daytona, I’ll know what I’m going to do.”

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 19. Harvick anticipates making an announcement by then.

“We’re at a point where everybody needs to know what’s going on,” Harvick said. “There’s too many tentacles to everything that happens. Whether it’s the race team, driver management company, every element needs to know. It’s not fair to anybody to have to start the season not knowing.”

Harvick turns 47 on Dec. 8. Next season will be his 23rd in Cup. His debut came a week after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick was selected by car owner Richard Childress to drive for Earnhardt’s team. 

Harvick has gone to win the 2014 Cup championship and 60 races at Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s tied with Kyle Busch for ninth on the all-time Cup wins list.

Harvick won two races last season. His victory last August at Michigan snapped a 65-race winless streak. He followed that by winning the next weekend at Richmond. 

Harvick has won at least two races in nine of the past 10 seasons. He has scored 41 of his 60 Cup wins since he turned 37 years old.

“Kevin, I think, is probably the No. 1 leader of the drivers, as he should be,” two-time Cup champion Joey Logano said Thursday. “He’s been around the longest. He’s very accomplished. He’s very smart. He’s been through the ups and downs. He’s lived it. There’s wisdom in experience. It’s great to hear his opinion on where we are as a sport.”

Harvick’s business interests include a management company that represents Cup drivers Ryan Preece, Harrison Burton and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with other athletes. Harvick also has worked as a broadcaster on NASCAR Xfinity races for Fox Sports, earning positive reviews. 

Harvick’s son Keelan, who is 10 years old, races and has competed in karting in Europe. 

“He’s got one more race in Italy … and then we’ll start all over again,” Harvick said of his son.

Harvick went overseas after the season finale at Phoenix to watch Keelan race.

“I think he’s definitely matured a little bit since he’s been making these trips,” Harvick said. “I think it’s important to have that culturing aspect of life to be comfortable to do things like that anywhere in the world.”

The NASCAR Awards program airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 3 on Peacock. To sign up for Peacock, go here.

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.