William Byron gives Martin Truex Jr. a Jeff Gordon-like flashback

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Martin Truex Jr. looked in his rearview mirror in the closing laps of Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Martinsville Speedway and for a brief moment, felt like he saw a ghost.

As in the racing ghost of NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.

William Byron was doing his best imitation of Gordon — a nine-time Martinsville winner — behind the wheel of the legendary No. 24 Chevrolet while also trying to steal the win away from Truex.

“My original thought was did they put Jeff Gordon back in that car because he was so good here,” Truex said. “So I was like, damn, Jeff is giving (Byron) tips or something. Jeff was amazing here. So to see the 24 running that good was pretty cool, first off, and (Byron) did an amazing job.

“(Byron is) really good on restarts and I felt like every time — even midway through the race when he got to second — there was a lot of times we were in tons of traffic and I kept looking back there and he was just hanging around. So he did a really good job of hanging around all day long.”

Byron was seeking his first career Cup victory — ironically at the same site of Gordon’s 93rd and last career Cup win (Nov. 1, 2015).

“I knew he was hungry,” Truex said of Byron. “I knew he’s never won before, so I knew he was probably willing to do just about anything to get a win, and I just tried my best to try to get a little bit of a gap because I honestly didn’t want him anywhere near me with two or three laps to go. That’s all I was trying to do was just keep a little distance there, and luckily we were able to do that.”

Had the race gone maybe a few more laps, Byron – who was the runner-up by .373 of a second – potentially could have wound up in victory lane rather than Truex.

As it played out, the second-year Hendrick Motorsports driver tied his best Cup career showing, matching his Daytona finish in July. It was also his fifth top-five finish of the season.

(Truex) was super strong,” Byron told NBCSN when asked if he had anything left for Truex. “Our car bounced a little bit on the short run, which was tough to kind of get around, but overall it was a really good day. This isn’t a place that I’ve loved coming to, and it just clicked this weekend, the things we did with the car going into qualifying and then obviously our race.

So, I’m super excited, but second is not super fun either. We’ll try to get one spot better next time.”

Byron was eliminated from the playoffs last week at Kansas. Still, he leaves Martinsville 10th in the season standings with three races remaining.

In the eight races since Byron suffered back-to-back 21st-place finishes in the summer race at Bristol and the following week at Darlington, Byron has amassed three top-five finishes (second at Martinsville, fourth at Indianapolis and fifth at Kansas), as well as two other top-10 showings (sixth on the Charlotte Roval and seventh at Las Vegas).

Going back to the closing laps, Byron was asked if he would have pushed Truex out of the way if he would have been able to get to him.

I wouldn’t race him dirty, but I’m really hungry for my first win, so whatever it takes,” Byron told NBCSN. “But, he ran such a good race, I think he would have been able to drag the brake and do all he could to keep me behind him anyway. So, it was close.”

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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.