Bump and Run: Key connection between recent Cup winners

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The first three races since Cup season resumed featured no practice and veterans Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski winning. Is this coincidence or is there a connection?

Dustin Long: The key is that these drivers and teams have put themselves in position to win those races. Kevin Harvick had a fast car and took advantage of the No. 1 pit stall at Darlington. Denny Hamlin benefitted from a strong car and good strategy at Darlington. Brad Keselowski bettered Jimmie Johnson on a late restart when Johnson had control as the leader, and Keselowski kept Johnson from taking the lead from him on the final restart. You expect top teams to do well when there’s no practice.

Daniel McFadin: While I can see the advantage to being a long-term veteran during the current situation, I think it’s mostly coincidental. Alex Bowman has been very competitive in two of the three races and he has far less experience than the three drivers who have won so far. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Veterans are expected to do the best and be the best because of their overall experience. So, no, I’m not surprised that they’ve emerged victorious. It’s more a connection based upon experience rather than a coincidence, in my opinion.

 

How would you rate Hendrick Motorsports’ performance in the first three races since the Cup season resumed?

Dustin Long: Above average but there is a level of disappointment. While there’s nothing Chase Elliott can do about being wrecked late at Darlington, there are some issues for each team. For as fast as the Hendrick cars have been, the inability to finish off races stands out from Alex Bowman and his team not able to keep his car fast all night at Charlotte and Darlington to the decision to pit Elliott out of the lead before the overtime restart at the Coke 600 to William Byron not able to have a complete race since the season resumed to Jimmie Johnson losing a lead on a late restart in the Coke  600. There are enough areas for each team to address.

Daniel McFadin:  With three laps to go Sunday night I would have given Hendrick an 8 out of 10. But after Jimmie Johnson’s car was disqualified, I’d drop it down to a 6. While Byron has a stage win, he hasn’t finished better than 12th. Bowman has finished in the top 10 in seven stages, won two and led 205 laps but has finishes of second, 18th and 19th. Throw in Johnson’s DNF in the first Darlington race and Elliott’s problems in the last two races, and it’s a very mixed bag.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tough luck but with signs of promise, most notably for Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson. Yes, both have done well but also have had issues, but I also believe that they will be able to build upon the difficulties they’ve had – Elliott getting booted by Kyle Busch, Johnson spinning at the first Darlington and being DQ’d after the Coke 600 – and will both ultimately wind up in victory lane sooner rather than later.

 

After Simon Pagenaud won last year’s Indianapolis 500, car owner Roger Penske said the free agent “absolutely” would be back with the team. Brad Keselowski gave Penske his first Coca-Cola 600 win since 2010 and second overall. What do you believe are the chances that Keselowski, a free agent after this season, returns to Team Penske?

Dustin Long: It’s as Brad Keselowski said after his Coca-Cola 600 win when asked about his future: “It’s not all up to me. A lot of things have to come together, whether it’s sponsors or whatnot, management things. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Daniel McFadin: I’m skeptical of him returning to drive the No. 2. Penske almost instantly committed to bringing Pagenaud back after he swept the Month of May following a winless year. Keselowski’s won three races in each of the last three seasons (including Penske’s first Darlington win since 1975 and his first Brickyard 400), plus his win Sunday night. The fact Keselowski’s future is still up in the air at this point when Penske has already re-signed Ryan Blaney (who has won once in each of the last three years) is a truly odd situation.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to say Keselowski will remain a Team Penske driver for the rest of his Cup career. But on the flip side, can Keselowski potentially enjoy greater on-track success – and earn more money – if he goes to another team, most notably Hendrick Motorsports with Jimmie Johnson retiring at the end of this season? Keselowski could be the most valuable free agent since Kevin Harvick when he left Richard Childress Racing. But Keselowski is also known for his loyalty, much like Roger Penske is loyal to his drivers, so I won’t be surprised if Keselowski stays with the No. 2 team going forward.

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.