What drivers said at Martinsville

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Here is what drivers said at Martinsville on Sunday after the final race in the Round of 8:

Chase Elliott — Winner: “Oh, my gosh. This is the biggest win ever for us. I’m just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and have to win tonight. I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years and perform when we don’t have a choice. And, to do that tonight; we couldn’t ask for a better night. This is unreal. This is just unbelievable. We’re going to Phoenix with a shot to win a championship and have a beautiful blue NAPA Camaro headed out there with a shot to win a title. What more could you ask for? “I didn’t think our car was driving as good there at the end as it was at the beginning of the race. But those last couple of pit stops made some really good changes and had a good pit stop on that last one and a good last restart. And that was the difference. Everybody makes this possible. This is unbelievable. I’m just at a bit of a loss for words. Like I said, this is the piece we’ve been missing. I feel like we’ve had the group to do this. We just have to go make it happen and we did tonight.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 2nd: “We got progressively better. I sped on pit road before that first stage. That really set us back.  Good thing we had a lot of time to get back up through the field after that. We got the lead there, which was good. We were riding around, biding our time. Caution came out, we lost a spot on pit road, lost the lead, lost control of the race. Started third or fourth on the restart. Got back to second. Trying to run (Martin Truex Jr. ) down. Caution came out. Lost a couple more spots on pit road. Could never get back up there. By the time we got second, (Chase Elliott) was completely gone. Overall not a bad night. It sucks to finish second here, though, both times this year.”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “Really the past two weeks the advantage we earned was to be able to focus on our Phoenix car before everybody. That’s the advantage we had. We get to go to these races not having our tongues hanging out trying to get in. Our batteries are charged up and we’re ready to go. That part is nice. I think we proved that our pit crew tonight is absolutely incredible. They kept us up front all day long. I don’t think there was one pit stop I didn’t gain at least one spot throughout it. Our pit crew is strong. They’ll be ready to go when we get out there. I think we’ve proven our team is definitely the team to beat. We’re well‑rounded. I think that’s something that can help us next week.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 4th: “There was nothing I could do other than just pass as many cars as I could and look forward. The last two runs, I don’t know if we were the best car, but we were close to it. Credit to Jeremy Bullins and the team.  They just kept adjusting on it at the end and we got good when it counted. It was just frustrating because that pit road penalty I did not see it coming, to be honest with you. It’s the same thing I’d been doing and the place where I got the penalty was right outside my box, so I didn’t even think it was possible to speed right there, and I was wrong.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 5th: “We gave it all we had. I’m really proud of my guys. Chip Ganassi Racing put up a really good fight this year to get this far, to win and to post top five’s through the playoffs. We crossed over our threshold. Last week, we finished seventh at Texas, fifth tonight and we’re walking around kind of kicking the ground – like that wasn’t our best effort or we could have done this or could of done that. When I started here two years ago, we finished in the top  five and were celebrating. We’ve come that far in this short amount of time and I’m really proud of everybody back at the shop. To come here with a shot at it, we knew we had to win. It takes a team all the way through. The driver has to make good decision – spotter, pit crew, crew chief and adjustments. We just came up a little shy. Our weakest area was pit road and we know that we need to work on that. But all-in-all, I can’t thank everybody enough. It’s cool to see the evolution of where we’ve come in two years.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 6th: “I drive this place so wrong. I try to roll the center really fast and then I am like oh we don’t have any drive off. You would think I would figure it out, but I kind of know what I need to do. All in all, a good day for our Planters Chevrolet. Really proud of Chase (Elliott) and making the final four there. Bummed we aren’t a part of it, but I think we have a solid shot at getting fifth in points. The progress this team has made over the past two months has been incredible. This is something they really deserve.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 7th: “Good run for this Smithfield Ford team at Martinsville. We had a good car on the long run today. It feels good to have a decent run with one race left on the year. Hoping to have another solid run next weekend in Phoenix.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “Early on we had about a 20-lap car today. You had to pass everyone in the first 20 laps or you weren’t going to pass them. We worked hard and got it rolling there at the end. It’s always fun to race here. This is one of the tracks I’m going to miss.” 

Kyle Busch — Finished 9th: “We had a decent day with our M&M’S Camry. The guys did a nice job on pit road all day and gained us a lot of spots, but we just couldn’t find the right handling and we would slip back on many of the runs. Just didn’t have much on the last run of the race so ended up ninth. We’ll take that and move onto Phoenix.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 11th: “It was tough. Our car was fading a little bit. I was also getting into some spots where I was getting roughed up by some teammates, not really ours, just some of the guys that are in the battle. I didn’t even want to be a part of it, so I would just get out of it and then I put myself in an interesting spot where (Kevin Harvick) was going for it a little bit and we were very fortunate he didn’t go for it any further than he did. We did just enough. That’s what we needed to do – is do enough to make it to Phoenix and give ourselves a shot at the championship.’’

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a good day for our Germain Racing team. Our GEICOween Chevrolet Camaro would build tight over the run, but Matt (Borland) and the guys continued to make it better with every adjustment. Our team never gives up and I had a lot of fun behind the wheel today. To finish 16th is a great way to end our final Martinsville start together as a team. We are going to head to Phoenix next week and give it everything we have to make the last race for Germain Racing a memorable one.”

KEVIN HARVICK — Finished 17th: “We just weren’t good and everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford just kept battling to make it better and gave ourselves a shot there at the end. I tried to drive into the door of the 18 to get that last point to make it and spun him out. I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship 4 and doing everything you can. Just came up short. Just not the night we needed.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR. — Finished 22nd: “We had a great car all day long and just kept making adjustments waiting for it to cool off and get dark. That last run there before the final pit stop, the thing was on rails and it was perfect and we were driving away. I felt really good about it. Then we pitted and had a pretty good pit stop. Came out with the lead and right away I knew something was wrong. I was really, really tight and had a vibration. The 9 (Chase Elliott) car passed us and we started dropping and had to pit for a loose wheel. Unfortunate. I think we should be the one in victory lane right now, but you have to do it all. Just a little mistake there.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 23rd: “That’s not the finish we wanted in the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road/E-Z-GO Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway tonight, but we hung on all race and tried our hardest. We just missed the balance. For most of the race, we were too tight and the car just wouldn’t turn. Even though our team worked on our Chevy all race, we never got it. It’s not what we wanted, but I’m proud of this team for never giving up. We’ll go to Phoenix Raceway and finish this season off.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 24th: “This was only my second time at Martinsville Speedway in four years, and I definitely learned a lot today in the No. 8 MotorTrend Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We fought pretty much the same problem all day, just too tight in the turns from about two-thirds of the way in through the exit. My team did everything they could today, and we tried every adjustment we could think of to loosen our car up but nothing seemed to stick. Our changes would help for a handful of laps on each restart, but then the track would rubber up and the tightness would return every time. Not our day, but I’m thankful for my team for sticking with it all race long and continuing to fight. We’ll look to finish out the season strong at Phoenix Raceway next weekend.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 26th: “Not exactly the day we were hoping for in our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang. We struggled pretty much from the start. We were pretty tight and bouncing a lot on entry (into the turns). We kept trying different adjustments throughout the race but couldn’t quite get it to where we needed the handling in order to make a strong push towards the front.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 27th: “I think Dave (Winston, crew chief) did a good job with our Peacock Toyota. The balance of the car was OK, I think good enough for 30th or 29th, but we finished a little bit better than that. We have to keep working. One more.”

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.