5 people to know for 2021 NASCAR season


Often obscured by higher-profile names, there are many who play a key role for their team and could have a big impact on the NASCAR season.

Here’s a look at five names to know:

Mike Wheeler

Crew chief for Bubba Wallace at the new 23XI Racing team co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. The Toyota-backed team, which is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, should have some success and Wheeler will play a key role with that. 

MORE: 5 key storylines in 2021

He joins the team after having been at Leavine Family Racing the past two years. Wheeler was Matt DiBenedetto‘s crew chief in 2019 and moved to competition director in 2020 when Christopher Bell arrived. A former employee at JGR, his familiarity should help the No. 23 team with its alliance.

Just as important will be the communication between Wheeler and Wallace. If they connect and Wheeler can make the adjustments Wallace needs, it should help the team achieve success. With most races not expected to have practice or qualifying, communication will be key for a new driver/crew chief combination.

The more success this team has, the greater impact on the sport it could have.

Rudy Fugle

New crew chief for William Byron. Takes over for Chad Knaus, who moves into the role of vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports. Fugle comes from Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series and helped that organization win five owner titles and two driver crowns. 

The pairing of Fugle and Byron is a reunion. Fugle was Byron’s crew chief in 2016 in Byron’s lone full-time season in the Truck Series. Byron won seven of 23 races but failed to make the title race.  

The 23-year-old Byron has made the Cup playoffs each of the past two seasons and won his first Cup race last year at Daytona on the oval. It is Fugle’s job to further tap Byron’s potential.  

Ben Beshore

The last time Kyle Busch worked with a first-time Cup crew chief, he won the championship. He’ll look to repeat that this season with Ben Beshore.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Axalta presents the Pocono 400 - Practice
Ben Beshore served as Kyle Busch’s crew chief for three Cup races in 2017 when Adam Stevens was serving a NASCAR suspension. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Adam Stevens made his Cup debut in the 2015 Daytona 500 for Busch’s team but without Busch, who was injured the day before in the season-opening Xfinity race. Busch missed 11 races but came back to win the championship in his first Cup season with Stevens. The two also won the 2019 title. Last year saw the No. 18 car struggle for speed and win only once, leading to a crew chief change.

Beshore, a former engineer for Busch’s team, will become Busch’s crew chief. It’s Beshore’s first full-time season as a Cup crew chief. He enters this season having served as a crew chief for 66 Xfinity races, including seven with Busch. Beshore also served as Busch’s Cup crew chief for three races in 2017 when Stevens served a NASCAR suspension for a wheel coming off after a pit stop.

To compare, Stevens had been a crew chief in the Xfinity Series for 124 races, including 52 with Busch, before pairing with Busch in Cup in 2015.

The main numbers, though, will be how many wins Busch scores this season as the 35-year-old seeks to return to a dominant level in Cup.

Chase Briscoe

The 26-year-old Xfinity driver moves to Cup in the Stewart-Haas Racing ride that Clint Bowyer had occupied.

Briscoe won nine of 33 Xfinity races last season and placed fourth in the points. SHR teammate Cole Custer won Cup rookie of the year honors last season, winning a race and making the playoffs. Can Briscoe equal that this season?

“It’s going to take awhile to figure out this Cup car and get used to how it drives,” Briscoe said in December, also noting the lack of practice at most events. “I’m excited for the challenge. I’m just looking forward to getting going and kind of seeing where I stack up.”

Sam Mayer

He turns 18 in late June and will be in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports the rest of the year. He also is scheduled to run a full Xfinity season in 2022 with the team.

Mayer ran six Truck races in 2020, winning once for GMS Racing. He’s a young talent worth keeping an eye on.

David Smith, a driver talent scout and analytics expert, listed Mayer as his No. 2 NASCAR prospect in May 2020. Smith listed Mayer behind only Chandler Smith, who returns to Kyle Busch Motorsports for his first full-time Truck season after running half the season last year. No. 3 on Smith’s list? Chase Briscoe.

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.