Friday 5: NASCAR season proves to be a celebration of youth

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NASCAR’s championship weekend at Phoenix Raceway wasn’t only a celebration of the end of the season.

It was a celebration of youth.

Not since the Truck Series joined the Cup and Xfinity Series in 1995 as one of NASCAR’s top three divisions has the average age of each series champion in a season been so young.

Cup champion Chase Elliott is 24 years old. Truck champion Sheldon Creed is 23. Xfinity champion Austin Cindric is 22.

MORE: Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson share a moment in time

This is the fourth time in the last six years that the average age of the Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions was 26 years or younger. 

In the 20 years before, only twice was the average age of the Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions 26 years or younger.

This is another sign of the sport’s shift with a new breed of drivers making an impact. The past five years saw Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. among others leave the Cup Series.

 

The change is continuing. Jimmie Johnson will not be back at Hendrick Motorsports. Alex Bowman, who is 27 years old, will take over Johnson’s ride and 28-year-old Kyle Larson joins the organization.

Matt Kenseth will not be back at Chip Ganassi Racing after this season, replaced by 27-year-old Ross Chastain.

Clint Bowyer will move from Stewart-Haas Racing to the Fox Sports booth. Chase Briscoe, 25, will take over that ride next year.

Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin selected 27-year-old Bubba Wallace to be the driver for 23XI Racing, which debuts in 2021. Justin Marks hired 28-year-old Daniel Suarez to be the driver for Trackhouse Racing Team, which debuts in 2021.

The move to young drivers also comes as teams look at costs in these challenging times. Younger drivers typically don’t command as big a salary as successful veteran drivers. Even so, that shouldn’t diminish the talent that the next generation displays.

This shift – as one generation ages and another generation replaces it – has made an impact throughout the sport. Some discussion before the Truck season finale was how aggressive the racing had been in that series, but 21-year-old Zane Smith, the rookie of the year in the series, said there’s a reason for it.

“There’s a lot at stake,” he said. “There’s a big movement in the sport right now on the Cup side; people that are going to be retiring soon. Those seats have got to refill.”

More change is coming.

Cindric will join the Wood Brothers in 2022. Xfinity drivers Justin Haley, Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton could be in contention for Cup rides after next season.

Each move creates a trickle-down effect for other young drivers.

Hailie Deegan, 19, moves up in the Ford development program to the Truck Series next season.

JR Motorsports will have Sam Mayer join the Xfinity team next summer after he turns 18 in June. He won the Truck race at Bristol, five of 13 ARCA races, five of six ARCA Menards East races and one of two ARCA Menards West races this season. Mayer is a part of Chevrolet’s Drivers Edge Program.

“I’m very excited about what I saw with the drivers that are in that program, and there will be some other ones coming along, as well,” Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet.

“In addition, if you think about it, the transition from kind of veteran championship drivers has been happening at Chevy for a number of years. … Along the way, we have picked up so many amazing young drivers. Every year, they get more experience, more mature, more reps at these tracks, and are really coming together not only as drivers, but then as teams. So I am really optimistic.”

A sign of how young the sport is becoming is taking place at Hendrick Motorsports.

Larson will be the oldest driver there next year at 28.

“I’m happy that there’s somebody older than me still,” Bowman joked after Larson’s hiring. “I don’t have to be the old guy on campus.”

Championship crew chief Alan Gustafson warns about putting all young drivers in the same category as Elliott.

“Chase is not a normal 24‑year‑old person, that’s for sure,” Gustafson said. “He’s got the physical attributes and skill sets of a 24‑year‑old, but he’s got the intelligence and the experience of someone much older and wiser, so he acts like he’s a 35‑year‑old in his prime.

“He’s very similar to the great champions I’ve worked with before, and he’s going to be every bit as good or better.”

2. What a year

Since 2006, only Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain have competed in more NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck races in a season than what Timmy Hill did this year.

Hill ran 75 races across the three national series this season. He ran 36 Cup races, 29 Xfinity races and 10 Truck races.

Here’s a look at those who have competed in the most races in a season since 2006:

Season

Driver

Trucks

Xfinity

Cup  

Total

2009

Kyle Busch

15

35

36

86

2008

Kyle Busch

18

30

36

84

2010

Kyle Busch

16

29

36

81

2006

Kyle Busch

7

34

36

77

2019

Ross Chastain

23

19

35

77

2020

Timmy Hill 

10

29

36

75

2010

Brad Keselowski 

4

35

36

75

2006

Clint Bowyer 

3

35

36

74

2018 Ross Chastain 7 33 34 74

Of course, that doesn’t include the iRacing events when the season was paused. Hill ran near the front in most of those races and had a memorable win at virtual Texas Motor Speedway, after he used a bump-and-run late to take the lead from William Byron.

On the track, his best finish of 2020 was a third-place finish in the season-opening Daytona Xfinity race.

Over the last three years, Chastain and Hill are the only drivers to run more than 55 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races in a season. Next on the list over the past three seasons is J.J. Yeley (53 races in 2018), Hill (53 races in 2018), and Landon Cassill (53 races in 2019). Brett Moffitt ran 52 races in 2020.

3. Looking ahead

No one can predict what conditions will be like a few months from now in a COVID-19 world, but that’s the task NASCAR faces as it prepares for next season.

There are numerous questions. A key concern is the return of more fans and teams being allowed to entertain sponsors at the track.

“It’s important to get our sponsors back at the track,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “We do understand that at least we’re able to race and finish the season. Hopefully, they’ll get a vaccine and we can do some things that can try to get some of those folks back.

“We love to see the fans also, but the sponsors … without them, we can’t do this. They’ve been really great to stick with us and try to be the best that they can.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “The experience that a fan can have at a race is totally different than other sports in that they can come in, they have a chance to get an autograph from somebody, they see things up close, they can get on the starting grid, they can be in hospitality and have questions and answers, get pictures taken with the driver and us as owners. It’s a huge deal for us.

“We need to get back to where we can get our fans back to the racetrack and our sponsors.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that fans and sponsors are key to getting back to the track when it’s possible.

“We need to make sure that the fan experience continues to improve,” he said. “When they come back, we need to give them a reason. They have great racing, but you have great racing on television, right? We need to have a great fan experience that is going to look different, almost certainly, than it did before.

“It’s incumbent upon us, our racetracks, to make sure they’re getting that fan experience. We’ll have to do that with our race teams, our drivers. It needs to be about access, right? If it’s not going to be physical access, what are the things we can do that create something unique and different for a fan at the facility?”

4. 2021 Daytona 500

Although the Super Bowl is about three months away, a key question is could that event impact the Daytona 500, which is scheduled for Feb. 14.

The season-opening Cup race is scheduled a week after the Super Bowl. With coronavirus cases increasing throughout the country, a key question is if the pandemic could force the NFL to pause its season or playoffs and force the league to move the Super Bowl back. If the Super Bowl moved back a week, what would happen to the Daytona 500?

NASCAR President Steve Phelps was asked about such a scenario in his state of the sport address last weekend at Phoenix.

“The NFL, they’re trying to get their season in,” Phelps said. “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.”

5. Odds and ends

A few notes from this past season:

Four organizations won 34 of the 36 Cup races (94%) in 2020: Stewart-Haas Racing won 10 races, Joe Gibbs Racing won nine races, Team Penske won eight races and Hendrick Motorsports won seven races.

Kevin Harvick‘s nine wins were the second most in a season by a driver 44 years old. Lee Petty had 11 wins in 1959.

The driver who won stage 1 went on to win a Cup race six times. The winner of stage 2 went on to win the race 11 times.

The driver who led the most laps won 21 races in 2020.

Denny Hamlin had a 2.25 average finish in the four speedway races at Daytona and Talladega.

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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.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”