Love is in the air among NASCAR drivers (and their sisters)

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CHARLOTTE – An unsuspecting Ryan Blaney was walking to the drivers meeting at Martinsville Speedway last October when a friend hit him with some major family news.

“My buddy’s like, ‘Hey I didn’t know about Willy and your sister,’ ” Blaney recently recalled in an interview with NASCAR on NBC’s Rutledge Wood. “And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”

Oh.

Well, Ryan, your younger sister, Erin, is dating someone you might now.

William Byron.

The guy who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet that you might be slamming fenders with on NASCAR’s shortest track in a couple of hours.

“Oh gosh,” Byron said when recently told how Ryan Blaney had learned the news. “Man. No wonder he raced me so hard that day. I should have handled that better.”

Though somewhat upset to have learned secondhand, Blaney resisted the temptation of immediately telling Byron he knew, saving it for a card game later (“It was a little awkward that he actually brought it up first,” Byron said.).

“I really wanted to mess with him before the race and really tell him that I slyly figured it out, but I didn’t,” Blaney said. “I texted Erin first. ‘I think you forgot to tell me some news.’

“I mean, people always ask me, ‘Are you mad that Will is dating your sister?’ I don’t care, she’s 22 and can do whatever she wants. And I like him. So it’s all good.”

But the blossoming romance has rekindled discussions about love in the fast lane involving parties who will be on opposing ends for roughly three hours every weekend over the next 10 months.

NASCAR featured the most high-profile romance in racing history when Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. became an item shortly before they began battling for the 2013 Cup rookie of the year. They made it through five seasons together despite wrecking each other a few times.

How will Blaney and Byron handle the unusual ties that indirectly will bind them this year?

“Oh, that is a hot topic in the garage,” Corey LaJoie said with a laugh. “That is the ultimate mind games you can play, too. I am sure that gets in (Blaney’s) head a little bit just thinking about it when he lines up next to (Byron) on a restart. You can’t wreck your sister’s boyfriend. You can’t do it!”


There are those who view dating a competitor’s sister as having an inherent upper hand behind the wheel.

“Knowing that he knows, that’s the best part,” Clint Bowyer said. “Oh, I would love it.

“Whatever happens on the track, guess what? I’m going home with your sister! I mean, it’s done. What is he going to say?”

Others were less on board with the concept, notably Jimmie Johnson after learning Blaney discovered the truth before Martinsville. “Great track to do that,” Johnson deadpanned. “I don’t think I would do it. That whole category seems to be trouble.”

“I could see some conflict there,” Erik Jones said. “I try to avoid conflict.”

There is a long history, though, of drivers who started long-term relationships in the pits, particularly some well-documented examples in NASCAR.

Kyle Larson married the former Katelyn Sweet, the sister of Brad Sweet, who had raced with Larson on dirt tracks for years.

“Been there, done that,” Larson said. “It’s worked out for all of us.”

Any advice he’d offer the newest happy couple?

“No, because I want to see everything that happens,” Larson said. “William has a sister, and Blaney could probably work on that. Then it gets extra weird!

“Or maybe it gets less weird. I don’t know.”

William Byron (right) and Ryan Blaney were racing in close quarters Oct. 27 at Martinsville Speedway, where Blaney had learned hours earlier that Byron was dating his younger sister (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images).

It was weird for Daniel Suarez when he began dating the sister of former F1 and NASCAR driver Nelson Piquet Jr., one of the few friends he had shortly after moving to America several years ago.

I couldn’t really communicate with a lot of people because I only spoke Spanish, so at the time the only people I was able to get along with spoke Spanish or something similar,” Suarez said. “I used to hang out a lot with Nelson Piquet and some Brazilian drivers. And then I met Nelson’s sister and then I’m dating her. He didn’t find it too fantastic when he found out.”

Alex Bowman can relate from having dated the sister of Chad Boat, whom he raced often on dirt.

“I really like Chad, and I thought Chad really liked me,” Bowman said with a laugh. “I don’t think he does anymore. I think that adds a very awkward element to a lot of things, and I’m here for it. I love sitting back and watching it.”

Aric Almirola knows the complications of dating within a team member’s family from another perspective. He is married to the former Janice Goss. She is the daughter of Randy Goss, who was Almriola’s crew chief for four Xfinity races in 2005.

“You know what kind of nerves go into when you date your crew chief’s daughter,” Almirola said. “Can you imagine if something goes haywire or wrong, and you get in a fight or break up, and she cries to her daddy about how you treated her wrong – and he’s your crew chief?

“I was committed.”

Joey Logano said that’s the right standard to apply when dating a rival driver’s sister.

“You’re assuming a lot of risk, so it’s got to be worth it,” the 2018 champion said. “She’s gotta be like smoking and really cool. This is like you see her and you’re like, ‘This might be the one.’ This isn’t like, ‘I’m going to date you for a little bit and maybe we’ll end up together.’

“Because the risk you’re taking is you’re going to get backed in the fence a few times, probably. If someone dated my sister and I competed against them and if it ever went wrong, that car would be (damaged) all the time.”

Though it could make for “some ugly Thanksgiving dinners,” Austin Dillon also believes there’s a power shift if the relationship becomes permanent. “The guy that has the sister holds the upper hand if they’re married,” Dillon said.

Kevin Harvick, who “absolutely” would have dated a competitor’s sister when he was younger, said the dynamics are unique in Byron’s case.

“He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” Harvick said. “I think that’s a different situation.”


It seems to have gone well so far for Blaney and Byron, who joined an annual offseason holiday trip with his girlfriend, her brother and their friends (including Bubba Wallace).

“We rent a big house and just go hang out,” Blaney said. “And we had made this plan before they started dating. She’d sent a text to our group chat, like, ‘Hey do you mind if Willy B. comes?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t care. It’s fine.’ We had a good time. He was a little shy at first, not really knowing a ton of people in our group, but he’s a good guy.”

There has been one awkward moment, though.

Byron made his relationship Instagram official on Nov. 24, thanking Erin Blaney for a lovely time in Asheville, North Carolina.

Blaney posted to Instagram that day, too – a black and white self-portrait in which he cradled a shotgun while donning a state trooper-style hat pulled down on his forehead. He stared into a fire pit with a wry grin.

The caption read, “Turkey week,” but it naturally was interpreted as being much more than a Thanksgiving coincidence.

“That had people going nuts,” Byron said, smiling. “I was a little scared, too, to be honest.”

View this post on Instagram

Turkey week.

A post shared by Ryan Blaney (@ryanblaney10) on

Blaney also playfully commented on Byron’s photo with an emoji of a knife and coffin, but there were no hard feelings.

That was a relief to those in Cup who want “the Blyrons” to succeed.

“Full support on that one,” Chase Elliott said. “I hope it ends well. I’m pulling for them. I really am. They are both really good people.”

As a Hendrick Motorsports teammate of Byron and a buddy of Blaney’s, Elliott has a unique perspective on the relationship. But the two-time Most Popular Driver is particular about keeping tabs through only one source.

“I just ask Ryan because I want him to tell me the update,” Elliott said. “He’s in the know. He’s a blood brother there.”

Blaney said communicating directly with family is how he would have done it if he were dating a competitor’s sister.

“That’s kind of the gentleman thing to do, not just kind of slide in there,” Blaney said. “These kids nowadays, they probably just go behind someone’s back, but I’d ask that competitor first. ‘Hey, do you mind if I take your sister on a date?’

“The nice way to do it. Especially if they’re a competitor you see every weekend. It’s an easy knock on the bus.”

Much better than a blindside on the way to the drivers meeting.

Stay tuned next week for Rutledge Wood’s interviews with Byron, Blaney and many other drivers about dating a competitor’s sister as the popular “Rut’s Basement” feature returns to NASCAR America.

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.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”