Kentucky, New Hampshire and Pocono using traction compound for races

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After criticism of the racing in its June Cup event, Pocono Raceway announced Wednesday that it will add the PJ1 traction compound to areas of all three of its turns for NASCAR’s return trip to the track July 27-28.

The move means the next three tracks the Cup Series visits – Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 21) and Pocono – will treat their racing surfaces with the traction compound.

At Pocono, PJ1 will be used in the third lane in Turn 1, the second lane in Turn 2 and the third lane in Turn 3. The Tire Dragon will be used in the application process.

The move comes after criticism over the ability to pass with the new rules package after the June 1 Cup race.

“I was along lines with everybody else, it could have been better,” Pocono Raceway CEO Nick Igdalsky told NBC Sports. “So that’s why we’re doing it. If I thought it was the best race Pocono has to offer, we wouldn’t be putting anything on track. But obviously we have some room for improvement with the current package.”

Igdalsky said the track had contemplated applying the traction agent “for a couple of years.”

“With the packages, every time they come to June race at Pocono it seems like the past couple of years there was a new nuance to it, aero packages, shifting packages, the new package and so on and so forth,” Igdalsky said. “It seemed like every June it was, ‘Hey, let’s see what happens and if we need a little something we can always add it in July.’

“I think we got to the point where coming out of the June race and knowing NASCAR was going to hold to this package for the rest of this season, we knew we had a few things at our disposal. … So we have this at our disposal to improve competition if need be.”

He added that “we would have left something on the table if we didn’t try this.”

Igdalsky explained the reasoning behind the specific location of the application.

“It was just to get some separation between the two racing lanes,” Igdalsky said. “That would create less disturbance in the air and create more stable racing, more stable cars … Lane 1 would be the ideal racing line. … Lane 2 would be one lane up. Lane 3 would be approximately an 8-foot separation from the inside line. What that does is it just creates a layer of cleaner air where they can have maximum grip” and leads to a “drag race down the straightaway.”

PJ1 wil be applied to Lane 2 in Turn 2 because that turn is narrower than the others.

“We’re kind of forced to put it on the second groove in that corner,” Igdalsky said.

“We are constantly looking at ways to improve racing across all tracks and series,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition in a press release. “Nick Igdalsky at Pocono Raceway shares the same goal – to give our fans the best experience and racing possible. After conversations with our drivers, teams, and Goodyear, we felt that the application of PJ1 in all three corners at Pocono would help put on the best race for our fans.”

Denny Hamlin released a statement supporting the decision.

“I’ve been an advocate for using traction compound at Pocono for a while now,” Hamlin said. “It gives us more lane options as drivers, and that’s what this current aero package needs. I think this will help put on a better show for the fans.”

Turn 1 at Kentucky Speedway (via Kentucky Speedway)

Alex Bowman believes the compound’s placement in Turn 1 will have a distinct impact on restarts.

“Turn 1 is obviously the widest racing groove of the three corners there anyway,” Bowman said in a Wednesday teleconference. “If it gives us another groove there it’s going to be a lot to work with. I think that will definitely amp it up a little bit. You might not see the need to be five and six-wide because you’ll have more opportunity to pass in the corners. But at the same time, the guy that’s on the top of three and four-wide isn’t going to be in trouble like he was previously. He’s going to be able to probably run the middle or the top of the racing groove and I think that’s going to be really good.”

Kentucky Speedway, where NASCAR visits this weekend, applied PJ1 and the Tire Dragon in Turns 1 and 2 and Turn 3 and 4. In Turns 1 and 2 it was applied in every lane except the bottom groove and goes all the way up to the wall.

In Turn 3 and 4, the substance was applied only in the middle groove.

At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the track will repeat what it did in 2018 with the PJ1.

The PJ1 will be added to the first (lowest lane) and third (just outside the main lane) grooves in all four turns on Thursday night and again on Saturday and Sunday morning of race weekend.

Each groove of PJ1 will be 12 feet wide with a 12 foot gap between them.

Turn 3 at Kentucky Speedway (Via Kentucky Speedway)

RCR reveals sponsors for Kyle Busch’s No. 8 car in 2023

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Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, 3CHI, Alsco, Lenovo and BetMGM will return to sponsor the No. 8 team in 2023, Richard Childress Racing announced Friday morning.

Kyle Busch takes over the No. 8 in 2023 after spending the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Our business relationships are paramount to our organization and we’re proud to confirm that our primary partners on the No. 8 team will be returning to RCR in 2023,” said Torrey Galida, president of RCR, in a statement. “Their commitment to our organization is a testament to our team’s collaborative approach and the value it has delivered to so many great brands.”

RCR also announced its deal with Cheddar’s is a multi-year agreement with the company that made its debut in the sport three years ago.

“We’ve loved partnering with RCR and the No. 8 race team since our debut into the sport three years ago, and we’re just getting started,” said John Felton, Senior Director of Marketing for Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, in a statement. “We’re excited to welcome Kyle Busch and Rowdy Nation to the Cheddar’s family, and we look forward to celebrating many wins to come.”

The 2023 Cup season opens with the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race Feb. 5 before the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.

Milestones in reach for NASCAR Cup drivers in 2023

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While the countdown to the start of the 2023 NASCAR season in February continues, here’s a look at some of the milestones Cup drivers could reach in the upcoming season:

AJ Allmendinger

Allmendinger returns to drive the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing in 2023. He’s scheduled to make his 400th career Cup start March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, a race he nearly won last year.

Aric Almirola

Almirola is 26 laps away from leading 1,000 laps in his Cup career.

Ryan Blaney 

Blaney is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start Sept. 24 at Texas in the playoffs. Texas was the site of his last Cup win, which came in the All-Star Race in May.

Chase Briscoe

Briscoe is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch 

Busch needs one win to set the NASCAR record for most consecutive seasons with a win. He is tied with Richard Petty with 18 entering the 2023 season, which will see Busch drive for Richard Childress Racing.

Busch is 92 laps away from leading 19,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is 34 starts away from tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. for 23rd on the all-time list of most career starts at 676. Busch is scheduled to tie Earnhardt’s mark Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the playoffs and surpass the mark the next weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the playoffs.

William Byron 

Byron is scheduled to make his 200th career Cup start July 16 at New Hampshire.

Chase Elliott

Elliott is a win from scoring a victory in six consecutive Cup seasons.

He is 100 laps away from leading 5,000 in his Cup career.

Justin Haley

Haley is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is two wins away from 50 career Cup wins. That would tie him with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 13th on the all-time victory list. 

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is scheduled to make his 800th career Cup start April 23 at Talladega.

He is 15 starts from tying Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list for most career Cup starts at 805. Harvick is scheduled to tie Gordon’s mark June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway and is scheduled to move ahead of Gordon on June 11 at Sonoma.

Harvick is 99 laps away from leading 16,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is five top fives away from having 250 in his Cup career.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is scheduled to make his 500th career Cup start June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

He is 93 laps away from 9,000 career laps led in Cup.

Kyle Larson

Larson is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start March 19 at Atlanta.

He is four top 10s away from 150 career top 10s.

Joey Logano

Logano is one win from having a Cup victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which would tie him for 13th on the all-time list with Denny Hamlin.

Logano is one top five away from 150 career top-five finishes.

He is nine starts away from tying Richard Petty for 19th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 513. Logano is scheduled to reach that mark April 16 at Martinsville and surpass it April 23 at Talladega.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick is nine top 10s away from 50 career top 10s.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is scheduled to make his 400th career start in the season finale at Phoenix.

He is five top 10s away from 50 career Cup top 10s.

Daniel Suarez

Suarez is one top 10 away from 50 career top 10s in Cup.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is 16 starts from tying Jeff Burton for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 628. Truex is scheduled to reach that mark at June 11 at Sonoma and surpass it June 25 at Nashville.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is scheduled to make his 200th Cup start June 25 at Nashville.

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.