Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity teams look to rebound in Texas

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Just over a month ago, the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Xfinity operation had plenty to feel good about.

Exiting the June 13-14 doubleheader at Homestead-Miami Speedway, two of its three series regulars — Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones — had combined for three wins and locked themselves into the playoffs.

Burton left Miami having earned his second win of the year, in the first race of the doubleheader.

After an eighth-place finish in the second part of the doubleheader, Burton boasted a Series rookie record with 10 consecutive top-10 finishes to start a season.

Since then, up is down and down is up for JGR.

In the five races following the Miami doubleheader, Burton has failed to finish better than 12th. That includes two DNFs for wrecks (Talladega and Pocono). Burton has only led 18 laps in that span, including 15 in the second Kentucky race last Friday.

But Burton finished 12th in that event after late-race contact with Noah Gragson. In a sign of the rising frustration for the rookie, Burton and Gragson got into a fight in the garage afterward.

Now the 19-year-old driver sets his eyes on Saturday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), where he’ll make his second series start at that track. He placed seventh there last fall.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on the track and getting things turned around this week at Texas,” Burton said in a media release. “My DEX Imaging team has brought me really fast cars the last few weeks, unfortunately, we just don’t have the finishes to show for it.

“As a team, we have had good speed at 1.5-mile ovals, so I expect that to be the same this weekend. I think we can take what we have learned since we have been back racing, continue to apply those tools this weekend, and come home with another good finish for DEX and everyone that supports us on this No. 20 team.”

While the last five races have been bad for Burton, it’s been worse for Jones.

After he was runner-up in the second Miami race, the two-time Xfinity winner hit a wall, multiple times

In the next race at Talladega, he only managed an 18th-place finish.

Jones failed to finish the next four races. At Pocono on June 28, he spun from contact with Austin Cindric exiting Turn  1 on the first lap and slammed into the inside wall.

Brandon Jones
Brandon Jones after his Lap 1 wreck at Kentucky on July 9. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

On the Indianapolis road course on July 4, a problem with an oil line caused flames to erupt from his No. 19 Toyota and sent him off course, ending his day on Lap 34 of 62.

Then he wrecked out of both races in the Kentucky doubleheader. The first race saw him spin in Turn 2 on the first lap, collecting Jeb Burton in the process. The next night, he made it within 22 laps of the finish when he spun and hit the Turn 1 wall while racing Daniel Hemric for position.

Jones journeys to Texas where he’s finished sixth or better in two of his last three starts there.

“We are heading to one of my favorite tracks on the circuit after a very frustrating weekend at Kentucky,” Jones said in a media release. “Our team showed speed last week, but unfortunately we didn’t get the finishes we were capable of. Texas Motor Speedway is exactly what we need as a team. It’s a fast mile-and-a-half and the track surface is starting to get a few bumps which really builds a unique characteristic.

“It also holds a lot of grip and always produces great racing. … Joe Gibbs Racing has always had strong cars at Texas, and it’s time to get back to our earlier season form and put our Menards Supra back in victory lane.”

The only bright spot for JGR over the last five races has been in rookie Riley Herbst.

After he earned five top 10s through the first 10 races – including a runner-up to Burton at Auto Club Speedway – the 21-year-old driver has earned three more since Miami. That includes a ninth-place finish at Pocono, his second career runner-up in the first Kentucky race and a 10th the following night.

Going into Texas, Herbst has eight top 10s – one more than Jones – but has only led four laps through 15 races.

“Heading to Texas this week should be a fun race,” Herbst said in a media release. “After a few weeks of tracks where I had been before in the ARCA series, we’re back to a track that I have never been before and I will make my first laps when we start the race on Saturday. I’ve spent time with Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and watched videos of past races, as well as spent time in the sim to learn as much as I can to prepare for the race.

“We’re coming off two strong runs at Kentucky with our Monster Energy Supra team, so I think we can keep the momentum going this weekend, find our best line on the track and get us another top-10 finish and maybe even leave with some new cowboy hats. That would be pretty cool for our first win.”

History has been kind to JGR in the Xfinity Series at Texas.

JGR leads all teams with 13 wins at Texas. But those 13 wins came from Kyle Busch (nine), Erik Jones (three) and Christopher Bell (one).

Busch is entered in Saturday’s race for his fourth of five Xfinity starts this season.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

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Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.