NASCAR President Steve Phelps delivers State of the Sport address

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed team ownership, the prospect of a new manufacturer joining the sport, and questions around next year’s Daytona 500, among many topics, in a nearly hour-long media session with reporters Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR will complete its season on schedule with Sunday’s Cup finale (coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will race for the Cup title in a season that was delayed 71 days by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The year has been in short I would say extraordinary, although I could probably use 15 or 20 other words to try to get to something,” Phelps said in opening comments. “It’s just unprecedented in the history of our country, in the history of sports, and certainly in the history of our sport. I would suggest this is the single most difficult year that we’ve faced as a sport.

“But through it all this industry, I’ve said this before, I believe this industry does adversity better than any sport. If you think about it, we’re at a competitive disadvantage. We don’t own ourselves. We’re not franchised, right? We have independent contractors who come to race as one.

“What we have done during this global pandemic is I think nothing short of remarkable. … I think a couple highlights that I want to touch on that I’m particularly proud of. When we shut down heading into Atlanta, we had no idea when we were going to get back to racing. It was our goal, and a stated goal, that we were going to run all races. Tomorrow when we crown a champion in our Cup Series, we will have run all our races. We did it through ways that frankly probably we didn’t think we could do, right?

“A bunch of midweek races. Three doubleheaders. No practice and qualifying. Things that were kind of significant in bedrock that we do, right? You come to the racetrack, you’re here for three days, you practice, you qualify, you’re on your way, right? For us to be the first sport back without fans initially on May 17th in Darlington, to the first sport back with fans, I think it’s an extraordinary achievement.

“When we were here the last time (at Phoenix) and we raced here on March 8th, we were focused on, ‘How is that short track package going to work?’  It was up in the air, weren’t sure. We thought it was going to be great. By the way, it was. Then three, four days later, the world goes crazy, right? We’re just in a situation that was unthinkable.

“What I would say is that on March 8th we were a sport that was coming back, right? Our ratings had stabilized last year. Our attendance was going in the correct direction. If you think about where we are as a sport today, I believe we’re stronger as a sport today than we were pre-COVID.  I believe that. I think that the momentum that we’ve been able to gain has been nothing short of incredible.

“I think the other word I want to use that I stole from one of the senior people at Comcast is that your sport is relevant. It’s not that it wasn’t relevant before, but where you are today, you’re in a significantly different place. I believe that to be true.”

Here are select comments Steve Phelps made Saturday

Q.  We’re going to have a new president in January. Donald Trump was at this year’s Daytona 500. Does NASCAR have any plans to invite Joe Biden to any of the races?

STEVE PHELPS:  If a sitting president, as President Trump did this year, wants to come to a race, then we would welcome that sitting president. We didn’t reach out to President Trump to come to the Daytona 500.  His people reached out to us.  Again, I don’t see us reaching out to a sitting president.  Again, if a sitting president wants to come to a racetrack, we would certainly welcome the sitting president.

 

Q.  There’s obviously a lot of interest in Cup team ownership. I’m curious if NASCAR is considering expanding the number of charters available?

STEVE PHELPS:  We are not considering expanding the number of charters.  The way the charter system works, we have the ability to expand if there’s a new OEM.  Without that, we do not.  That’s a contract that we have with our teams.  So there will be no expansion of our charters.

 

Q.  Last week the 20 car didn’t pass the 11 for whatever reason.  NASCAR found nothing wrong with that.  Fans are upset about the 100% rule, questioning if it was in play.  Does the rule need to be addressed or rewritten in any way to avoid scenarios that leave interpretation open such as last week?

STEVE PHELPS:  Yeah, I know that Scott Miller addressed that earlier in the week.  Whether the rule needs to be looked at, I think we have shown repeatedly if there’s a better way to do something, we’ll do it, whether that’s a rule change or some other competition change to a rules package, whatever that might be. I personally don’t think the rule needs to be changed, but we will certainly, again as we do with everything, if there’s a better way to do it, we’ll find it and do it.

 

Q.  I think the last time you spoke to us in September you said at that point you didn’t see any way that garage access would expand until there was a vaccine available.  Going into 2021, where does NASCAR stand on that?  Do you still see that as the only way forward to expand garage access?  Are you looking at COVID‑19 testing across the board in the future regardless?

STEVE PHELPS:  Kind of two parts of the question. I think the first part as it relates to the competitors and the current footprint or bubble, whatever we call this pristine area, it’s something we’ll look at.  I would suggest that our sport did as well or better than other sports did with respect to how our protocols worked with our competitors.  A significant number of competitors we have, not just our drivers but our crews, our officials, the safety workers.  Been proud of how that worked. John (Bobo, NASCAR vice president, racing operations) and his team are always looking to see whether there are ways to create a better, safer environment.  That was the goal all along, as you know, which is to make sure that our competitors felt safe in this environment.

That gets to the second part of your question.  When we talked in September, I did say until a vaccine was developed, widely distributed that was effective, we wouldn’t have people in there. I will clarify that.  If there is an opportunity, I’m not sure there is, to have rapid tests that are effective, that doesn’t have a bunch of false negatives or false positives, it’s something that we would entertain.  But it’s too early at this particular point to determine what that is going to look like.

 

Q.  Earlier this season you said that words without action are meaningless in terms of addressing racism and the sport being more inclusive.  Going forward, is NASCAR doing something concrete to continue its anti‑racism and inclusivity efforts inside or outside of the industry?  Can we expect to see things like Black Lives Matter written on the infield, continued sport for the LBGTQIA community that shows solidarity or welcomes others in?

 STEVE PHELPS:  What I would say is, will you continue to see results and action from NASCAR?  The answer is yes.  So we have broken this kind of in this area into three specific buckets. One is what we’re going to do internally.  The middle bucket is what we’re going to do from an industry‑wide standpoint.  The third is what are the partnerships that we’re going to do externally.

I would say on the internal side we’ve done things that it’s really just about us, obviously.  We have an ally council, a diversity council, employee resource groups we’ve put together to try to make sure we’re doing what we need to do.  We also have a drive to make sure that we are hiring diverse people, right?  That’s a stated goal for us, as well.  Then we’re doing, as part of our procurement, making sure we have minority vendors as part of that, too.  That’s internal.

 External is what are we going to do as an industry.  One of the things we are going to do, we talked early on at Talladega, as an industry we are going to mandate that everyone take sensitivity training, unconscious bias training.  We are going to do that.  Before we get to the 500, all the race teams, anyone affiliated with this is going to do that.  It’s part of our internal community.

The third thing is what are you going to do from an external standpoint.  Partnerships with Comcast, Coca‑Cola, GEICO, Anheuser‑Busch, others.  Other groups like ISSJ, Rise, others we’re using to try to help in this education process.

We believe we are a sport about action.  We are going to continue to be.  It’s an important journey for us to be on.  I’m excited about what the future holds there.

 

Q.  Obviously there’s no question the challenges you have faced this year to get to this point.  Obviously as any business, it can’t be just about the immediacy, it’s also about looking ahead.  I know there’s uncertainties and challenges, you referenced earlier the notion of relevancy in this sport.  How do you envision or hope to continue that relevancy for the sport so that it grows and becomes stronger, and the potential of adding another manufacturer since everything is being put back a year or so with the plans?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think it’s hard to say, Hey, we are going to continue to relevance.  I think it’s kind of an arrogant statement.  I think there are some building blocks here that indicate that’s going to continue.

We have new ownership coming into this sport.  That new ownership comes with different levels, right?  Then we have different drivers affixed to those new owners.  Take the Michael Jordan situation with Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace, the situation with Justin Marks and Daniel Suarez, the Tiffts and B.J. McLeod.  These are kind of all across the spectrum.

Do I believe we are positioned well to continue that relevance?  I do.  I think we’ve seen this year the significant number of new fans who are participating in this sport.  Because kind of the positions that we have taken, the great racing that we’ve had, the fact that we came back first, all those different pieces that created this relevance.

Do I think we’re positioned to continue that?  I do think we’re positioned to continue that.  I’m bullish on what the future looks like.  I know it’s kind of as the head cheerleader of this sport I’m supposed to say that.

If you look at where we are from a ratings standpoint, if you look at kind of where the sport is overall in the general kind of thought process of where things are in this country, I think we’re in a much better position than we were, as I said, pre COVID.

 

Q.  You’ve been very outspoken about human basic rights, the issue with the Confederate flag.  You talk about new fans.  Can this sport afford to be as vocal moving forward?  There are those that feel it’s a more conservative fan base.  How have you felt the fans responded in that time since in gaining new, losing some, what you can do moving forward, be potentially more aggressive?

STEVE PHELPS:  Kind of on balance you look at those new fans versus fans we have ‘lost’.  I think for us, it’s really about this notion of welcoming everyone to our sport.  I think people are feeling welcomed to our sport.

I think by and large people have said, Hey, NASCAR means more to me than displaying my Confederate flag, displaying a Confederate flag at our facilities.  I think by and large that has been a true statement.

What we do from a social justice standpoint moving forward really to me is about, to your point, human decency.  We want to make sure that people want to come to our facilities.  We want to make sure they want to participate in this sport on television, radio, digitally and socially.  We want them to feel part of this community.  It’s a fantastic community, it really is.

I know when I go to a racetrack and I see people who are camping next to each other who are total strangers, that invite each other for a beer, do you want a hot dog, brat, whatever it is, that’s what our community is about.  We want to make sure that everyone feels welcome when they come to those facilities.

Q.  I know you can’t predict the future.  The introduction of the NextGen car is pushed back to 2022.  Do you see there’s any way that doesn’t get introduced in 2022?

STEVE PHELPS:  It’s hard to say.  We are on schedule.  John Probst and his team have done a great job working with our OEMs, with our teams, to get us to a place where we feel confident where things are.

I just think the hard part is we were confident that we were going to introduce it in 2021.  Then it became very clear that we couldn’t.  It really has to do with are we going to have the parts and pieces in order to make this car, to build it at scale in order to have enough cars to race.  As of right now the answer is absolutely yes.

Our guys are excited about it.  I think we all are excited about it.  We’ve seen some renderings.  It’s a cool‑looking car that I think will have some great characteristics that will make the racing even better than we’ve seen this year.

Again, it’s hard to predict the future.  Given the things we know today, we’re in good shape.

 

Q.  If COVID would require the NFL to slide back its schedule, would you commit now to saying that NASCAR would not run the Daytona 500 against the Super Bowl even if it means moving the Daytona 500 date?

STEVE PHELPS:  No, I will not say that.  Right now we’re running on February 14th.  That’s as much information as we have.  Will we potentially scenario plan for a change?  Perhaps.  But I don’t foresee that.  It’s just hard to say.

The NFL, they’re trying to get their season in.  Thus far they’ve done a good job of having the majority of their football games take place.  But I think at this particular point, I don’t want to speculate what would happen with the 500 if the NFL were to put the Super Bowl on February 14th.  We’ll react to that at that particular time.  Obviously we’ll make sure our friends at FOX are aligned with the decision that we make.

 

Q.  If someone did come in, would there be a potential to expand the charter system?  It would be really tough to figure out where a new manufacturer starts out on an equal playing field ensuring they’re in the field every week.

STEVE PHELPS:  I don’t know the answer to that.  We have the opportunity to do that.  Again, someone coming in wouldn’t come in, I would suggest, until probably 2023 at the earliest.  I think the world is just going to look a lot different at NASCAR once you get to kind of the NextGen car.  Just the dynamics are going to change so significantly.

If we deem it would be in the best interest of the sport to add an additional charter or two to try to help jump start a new OEM, it’s something we’d consider.

 

Q.  New owners are considering coming into the Cup Series.  Conceivably they’re going to have to buy charters, which costs are rising.  Are you concerned with the charter system, how it’s working now, how it was devised?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think it’s a good question.  One of the thoughts about the charter system, and this really gets to the business of NASCAR, fans don’t care about charters.  But one of the thoughts on the business side for charters is that if someone decided to leave a sport, they would have enterprise value that they’d be able to sell their race car or race team and make some money.

I think that’s something that is happening in this system.  It’s not the only reason why the charter system exists.  I think there are things about the charter system that work quite well.  There are others that I think we could probably improve on moving forward.

It’s something that we’re not faced with at this particular time.  The charters go through 2024.  Again, I think it’s working well in some cases.  Again, as I said, in other cases I think there are some things that we would look to change moving forward.

 

Friday 5: Is it time to change how NASCAR champion is determined?

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Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both raise questions about how NASCAR determines its champion with a one-race event after whittling the 16-driver playoff field to four through a trio of three-race rounds.

Since 2014, the driver who finished the highest among the four championship contenders in the season finale won the title. The format creates a Game 7 type of moment for the sport in an event that has become a winner-take-all race. Joey Logano won the season finale at Phoenix to win his second Cup title. Ty Gibbs claimed the Xfinity title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. Zane Smith won the Truck title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. 

Thursday, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series announced a new way of determining its series champion that mirrors the NASCAR format. The late model series will cut its field of playoff drivers through eliminations, leading to one race where the four remaining championship contenders will vie for the title in 2023.

One of the questions with the NASCAR format is if it provides the most fair way to determine a series champion. Of course, the NFL determines its champion by the Super Bowl, a winner-take-all game. The best team hasn’t always reached that game or won that game, but the event has been played for more than 50 years with no change in sight.

Those who question NASCAR’s way of determining a champion note that the Super Bowl is between two teams, while the championship race for Cup, Xfinity and the Truck Series not only includes the four teams racing for a crown but also the rest of the field, which can include 30 more vehicles. What those drivers and teams do can make an impact on the race and play a role in who wins the championship.

“I think Dale Jr. covered it perfectly,” Hamlin said. “Should one season come down to this three-hour window?”

Hamlin, who seeks his first Cup title, says that the previous Cup champions have been worthy and admits that “I’m the last one that should comment on this” because he doesn’t have a title. 

Still, he raises questions.

“From a purist’s standpoint, it needs to have a bigger sample size,” he said.

Hamlin notes how he knew he wouldn’t win the 2020 Cup title even though he was among the four contenders because his team was not as strong at the shorter tracks such as Phoenix. 

“If you had more of a sample size, you have a chance,” he said. 

Earnhardt expressed the questions he had about the format when he spoke with former NASCAR Chairman Brian France on the Dale Jr. Download this fall.

Earnhardt said the playoff format, which features three-race rounds, is “compelling. It can be argued that it’s relatively fair. Everybody’s got the same opportunity. It’s three races. You can kind of dig yourself out of a hole. But I’ve always kind of struggled with the final race being all or nothing.

“The reason why I struggle with that is because the venue may suit a team or a driver. … You wouldn’t ever consider running it at a road course or a superspeedway because that certainly suits some drivers more than other. You try to have it at a neutral facility, if you will, like a Homestead or a Phoenix.

“But I always had a hard time with saying, ‘OK, it all boils down to this one race where you’ve got to get it right and if you don’t you’re not a champion this year.’ Even though you’ve really got this amazing body of work. You can still have that guy that wins one race be the champion and the guy that wins six not even make the final round.

“I wish we could figure out a way to make that championship moment not an all or nothing three-hour affair. … I’ve really warmed up to everything else we’ve done. It took me a long time because I was too much of traditionalist. But I still feel like there’s got to be a better scenario for the final moment.”

France responded to Earnhardt’s query by saying: “The reason you feel that way is because those are fair points that you make. They are.”

France went on to say that such questions are “part of the challenge of a playoff format in general with auto racing. You’re just going to have to accept that is not exactly perfect.”

France then said: “My decision was we’re not going to hold ourselves back from getting those (Game 7) moments because auto racing doesn’t quite fit perfectly into that. We just couldn’t do it.”

NASCAR changed how its champion was crowned ahead of the 2004 season. From 2000-03, three champions were so far ahead in the points that they clinched the title with one race left in the season (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Jeff Gordon in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in 2003). 

The Chase was created to generate interest in the fall, particularly when NASCAR was going against the NFL on Sundays. The Chase morphed into the playoffs and included eliminations and one race to determine the champion. 

Hamlin says a three-race round to determine the champion will keep the interest of fans.

“I think when you spread it out amongst a bigger sample size, such as a three-race (round), I don’t see how that’s not a positive thing for ratings. People will be compelled every week to tune in because this is the championship round. I think there’s something to be gained there.”

Asked about what if one of the title contenders wins the first two races to all but assure them the title ahead of the final race, Hamlin said: “Will not happen. There’ll be no lockup. No one will be locked going into the final race.”

Hamlin acknowledges that his viewpoint will not be shared by all.

“I’m a traditionalist like Dale,” Hamlin said. “This is just my opinion. I think that everyone is going to have a different opinion on it, but I just believe a larger sample size of our champion makes it more legitimate. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that, especially in the industry. 

“If you ask the drivers, ‘Do you see championships as valuable today as they did 10 years ago?’ I don’t think any one considers them as valuable just because it’s one race. It’s one race.”

2. Plugged in

Tyler Reddick moves to 23XI Racing and will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as his bosses. Reddick says that Jordan is not an absent owner.

“We’ve gotten to spend time (together) a little bit, here and there,” Reddick said of Jordan. “His involvement with the team is, I think, more than most realize.”

Reddick referenced the Martinsville race in October when he pulled out of the event because he wasn’t feeling well after contact on the track. Jordan reached out to Reddick afterward.

“It was really cool that you have a guy like him checking in on you to make sure you’re OK,” Reddick said. “He’s definitely locked in, and he really wants the team to do well. I’m excited to be working with him.”

3. Staying home

Kyle Larson said he will race very little this offseason. He’s staying at home for the birth of his third child with wife Katelyn Sweet.

Larson will compete in the Wild West Shootout, a dirt late model event at Vado (New Mexico) Speedway Park on Jan. 7-8 and Jan. 11-15.

Larson will not compete in the Chili Bowl this year. 

He said his focus will be on family this offseason.

“Help out where I can and just spend as much time with the family,” Larson said. “I normally go race a lot, but this year I’m not. I’m actually excited about it. I’ve only run one race so far this offseason. I’m surprised that it already feels like the offseason is going by really fast because I thought it’d be really slow with me not racing. It’s been good to just not race for once.”

4. Looking to improve

Ryan Blaney said he and crew chief Jonathan Hassler have looked back on the season and compiled a list of things to do for next year.

Blaney won the All-Star Race but did not win any points races. He finished eighth in points. It’s the sixth consecutive year he’s finished in the top 10 in points, but he’s never placed higher than seventh in the standings at the end of a season.

“We were up front so many races and led a lot of laps and won a bunch of stages, just never won (a points race),” Blaney said. “It is kind of a bummer. 

“So what kept us out of victory lane? Was it me? Was it a bad pit stop? It was kind of everything in some certain races. Sometimes they don’t work out for you. Some are self-induced. I felt like we took ourselves out of a handful of races I felt like we had a good shot of winning. … It is a bummer we didn’t win, but I was proud of the consistency and just hope to build on that.” 

Blaney is ready for the new season to begin.

“I’m kind of like two weeks is nice and then I kind of get itching to get back going,” he said. “It is nice to reset, and you kind of go through things you want to be better at. You have your own little list between myself and my team. … It’s a perfect time to work on that stuff.”

5. New partnership 

Among the new driver/crew chief pairings for 2023 is Austin Dillon working with Keith Rodden.

Rodden last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne. Rodden served as crew chief for William Byron in one race in 2020 but returns to full-time duty with Dillon, who finished 11th in points this past season, tying his career best. 

Rodden most recently worked on the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors. He takes over for Justin Alexander.

“Keith and I first got to work together in a wheel-force test for the Next Gen car at Richmond,” Dillon said. “It was a two-day test. We had dinner that night. It was good to talk to him. … Just knowing his passion was still very high to get back to the Cup level and crew chief. Him having the ability the work with Chevy this past year and seeing the different odds and ends of the Next Gen car was really the key to us (for him) to come over and crew chief for.”

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

MORE: Dr. Diandra: The best driver of 2022

MORE: RCR reveals Kyle Busch sponsors 

The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.