Hall of Famer Tony Stewart offers his take on various topics

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NASCAR Hall of Famer remains unafraid to share his opinion and did so Tuesday, raising concerns about driver development programs that pluck youngsters, sharing his take on the Next Gen car’s impact for teams and discussing 2021 for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, spoke to reporters on a conference call after SHR announced that Chase Briscoe will take over the No. 14 Cup ride next year with Clint Bowyer moving to the TV booth.

Briscoe becomes the third driver to race the No. 14 at SHR, following Stewart and Bowyer.

Here is what Stewart had to say on a variety of subjects:

Q: YOU SAID YOU SEE A LOT OF Chase Briscoe IN YOURSELF. WHAT ARE THOSE QUALITIES?

Tony Stewart: “I think (Ford Performance Global Director) Mark Rushbrook just mentioned it, actually.  When he makes a mistake he will spend more time reflecting on that mistake, unfortunately, than he does the rest of the good things that he does all day, but that’s kind of the way I was in my career, too. I felt minimizing mistakes was the key to winning races and championships and that’s also the same mindset that Chase has as well. 

“He’s very, very diligent about making sure he learns from everything that happens on the racetrack and he’s got a pretty good memory bank to hold all of that knowledge in, so he’s great about realizing when he makes a mistake and then analyzing what happened, why did he make the mistake and what can he do to correct it for the next time. That’s something that I had to try to do through my career as well.”

Q: DID CHASE’S PERFORMANCE EARLY IN THE YEAR IMPACT YOUR THOUGHTS OF GOING AFTER KYLE LARSON OR ARE THOSE TWO SEPARATE THINGS? 

Tony Stewart: “They were two separate things, actually. I think Ford has done an awesome job with their driver development program. There aren’t a lot of drivers in it, but there’s a reason there’s not a lot of drivers in it because they put that focus on that small group of race car drivers versus one of the other OEMs out there that is, in my opinion, ruining other drivers’ careers on a daily basis by just signing mass numbers of drivers and then at the end of it they don’t have anywhere to go with them or they decide they don’t like them and then those drivers, and most of them are young drivers, lose opportunities that they could have had along the way to go somewhere else. 

“That’s what I’m really proud of Ford about is that they’re very selective, they’re very mindful of realizing when these drivers make that commitment to be a part of that driver development program that they work with them and really push to get them where they need to be and make sure that they really are the right drivers before they actually get signed up in the system. So, it’s not throwing darts at a dart board. I feel like Ford has done an awesome job and Chase is a perfect example of that. 

“They were the first ones to really recognize his talent before anybody else got him in the system, so we obviously with our Xfinity program that is the whole point of having an Xfinity program is to try to cultivate talent, whether it be from the driver’s side, crew chief’s side, crew member’s side, pit crew guys’ side.  That’s what the Xfinity program is for us and to be able to run Chase through that system with us it was a natural transition to eventually get him from the Xfinity car to a Cup car. The Larson piece was a whole separate side.”

Q: DID STEWART-HAAS RACING IMPROVE TODAY WITH THE HIRING OF CHASE BRISCOE?  

Tony Stewart: “I feel like obviously that’s part of why we made the decision. I love Clint. You’re not gonna have more fun with anybody than Clint Bowyer and you’re not gonna have anybody that’s got any more passion, drive and desire than Clint Bowyer, so losing him is a detriment, obviously. 

“But looking down the road in the future of Stewart-Haas Racing, knowing that Clint was going to the booth in another year, we had an opportunity to get Chase I think now at the right time to get him in a car and work on the future.  We could have ran Clint another year in the 14 car, but I don’t know that it really was gonna progress the program any further than where we’re at with him right now, so giving Chase an opportunity to get a year under his belt and, ultimately, at the end of the year it may not be a step forward in one year, but long-term and down the road we feel like Chase has a lot of potential. 

“You obviously have seen what he’s done in Xfinity this year and the competition level goes up when you go to the Cup Series, but we feel and have a lot of confidence that he has what it takes to be a great Cup driver. So in year one, at the end of the year will we say it was a great decision? Maybe or maybe not. I hope he goes out and rattles off three wins and wins rookie of the year next year and ties our record for most wins as a rookie, but the big picture is what we’re looking at and I feel like even if the first year is a struggle for him, we’re committed to him and we’re gonna make sure we get him where he needs to be, and I think we will have a lot of success with him down the road.”

Q: HOW WILL THE CHANGEOVER BE FOR THE DRIVERS AND TEAMS FINANCIALLY WITH THE MOVE TO THE NEXT GEN CAR? 

Tony Stewart: “Financially, it shows on paper that it’s gonna be a huge improvement for all the teams, especially the bottom third of the field. It’s a great opportunity for them to be able to be more competitive with the top third tier teams, so I think all in all that’s gonna be a great thing. 

“Getting Chase in a car this year. Getting him used to his team. Getting him used to the drivers, the tracks in a Cup car, I think, is a valuable learning year even though you’re gonna be switching to a different car the next year. I think having him get that experience this year with that group will even make year two and getting into that new car put him on a more level playing field with everybody once he’s got that first year under his belt. 

“Everybody is gonna have to start kind of from scratch when the new car comes out, but financially it’s good for the sport and good for the teams and for Chase I think getting this year is a gonna be valuable for him before he gets in that car.”

Kevin Harvick Bristol
Kevin Harvick has won a series-high nine races this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Q: IF KEVIN HARVICK GETS ONE MORE WIN THAT WOULD BE 10 AND HE WOULD BE ONE OF ONLY THREE DRIVERS TO DO THAT IN THE LAST 25 YEARS, AND HE WOULD BE AT AN AGE WHEN MOST DRIVERS ARE LOOKING AT RETIRING. IS THIS A PROGRESSION OF DRIVERS CAN HAVE GREATER SUCCESS AT OLDER AGES AND WE SHOULDN’T BE JUDGING THEM WHEN THEY REACH AGE 40? 

Tony Stewart: “I think you’re definitely right on that. You look in different forms of motorsports there are drivers that are over the age of 40 that still win a lot of races, win a lot of championships as well. I feel like, and I can’t remember how many years ago this wave of starting to try to find these 14-, 15-, 16-year-old drivers that was a huge push for everybody, and I feel like they’ve really put an emphasis in an area that they’ve overlooked some really good talent, and I think Kevin is a perfect example of that. 

“But I’m also gonna go back to years ago. I’ve said it then and all the way to the present and I’ll still continue to say it — Kevin Harvick is the complete package. He’s a great race car driver. He was a great owner. He’s great at building teams. He’s great at managing teams. He understands how partnerships and sponsorships work in this sport and he also has a great management company, so Kevin Harvick single-handedly is the most well-rounded driver in NASCAR right now — has been for years and that’s why someone like him is able to do what he’s done this year. 

“He has the ability every week to go out and if we can give him a car that’s close and in the ballpark, he can do the rest of the work and get it the rest of the way.  On days that the car is perfect and he’s perfect, you’ve seen what happens. It’s proof that you don’t have to be a 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old driver to be great and all this emphasis on finding the next young guy, there are other guys in the sport. 

“Look at Martin Truex Jr. Martin has been around this sport for a long time. One variable changed in the equation and all of a sudden Martin is a championship-caliber driver, so I laugh and I make fun of all the organizations that are looking for these super young kids that are kids. Some of them don’t even have their driver’s licenses and their parents are having to drive them to the race shop and I’m like, ‘You have to let these kids grow up.’  They aren’t mature yet. They’re great race car drivers, but at the same time I’ve also told people to tell my how good their 14- or 15- or 16-year-old kid is I said, ‘Well, has he crashed hard yet?  Or her?’ And when they say no, I said, ‘Well, don’t tell me how good he is until he comes back from a hard crash and then let’s see how good he is because then you’re gonna find out what you’ve got.’ 

“So a lot of these young guys, the cars are so safe that they feel like they’re invincible in them and they all run fast, but they don’t have the savvy and the background of someone like a Kevin Harvick has and a Martin Truex has to sit there and go out and understand why they’re doing everything the way they’re doing and that’s why you see a guy like Kevin Harvick have the success that he has.”

WHAT IS THE TEAM STATUS ON THE XFINITY SIDE FOR NEXT YEAR?  

Tony Stewart: “We’re still working on it, but we have been working on it for a couple months now. We’ve got a couple prospects that nothing is done yet to announce, but we’ll keep working on our end. We definitely plan to continue the Xfinity program. We obviously see the value in it as you see with the announcement today, so we plan to continue down that path.”

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

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.