Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick aim to keep Richard Childress Racing rising

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Following a poor 2019 season that saw both of its drivers miss the playoffs and fail to win a race, there was only one way for Richard Childress Racing to go in 2020.

Austin Dillon capitalized on pit strategy and late restarts to win at Texas Motor Speedway in July, and when the postseason arrived, he defied expectations to advance into the second round.

His teammate Tyler Reddick – runner-up that day in Texas – did not make the playoffs but he was the most consistent performer of the Cup rookie class. He equaled Dillon with nine top-10 finishes.

Both drivers hope to build on those successes, starting at the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 14.

Both drivers also have clear areas where they must improve to make that happen.

A smoother road?

Since entering the Cup Series in 2014, Austin Dillon’s road course results have been middling.

He’s yet to record a top-10 finish in 15 Cup road course starts. His best results are a pair of 16th-place finishes, one at Watkins Glen International in 2014, the other at Sonoma Raceway in 2018.

Last season, he missed the inaugural Cup race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway after testing positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). He finished 19th on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With seven points-paying road course races on tap for this season (as well as Tuesday’s Busch Clash at Daytona road course), Dillon has sought to improve his skills over the offseason.

Last December, he, Reddick, and several NASCAR drivers took part in amateur-level endurance races at Circuit of the Americas (Austin, Tex.), which hosts its inaugural Cup race May 23.

Last weekend, he made his professional sports car debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, co-driving Rick Ware Racing and Eurasia Motorsport’s Ligier LMP2 prototype to a fourth-place finish in class.

“From the short time I’ve jumped in the simulator and gotten in and out of other cars, I’ve been able to pick up speed a bit quicker,” Dillon said Wednesday in a media teleconference. “I want to do more and more road racing. I’ve got millions of laps in a dirt car and millions of laps in an oval car, but not in road-course races. That comfort of being around other cars is being better. My confidence is higher.

“I can’t wait to race Tuesday night in the (Busch) Clash. That’ll be a fun one … We’re taking it as a test session and are really focused on being aggressive with the adjustments on the car and how I drive in that race.”

After missing out last August, the Rolex 24 was Dillon’s first race on the Daytona road course, which he called “pretty self-explanatory” and “not so much of a technical track” as other road courses on the Cup schedule.

But for the Busch Clash and the second race of the Cup season on Feb. 21 – a week after the Daytona 500 – he’ll have one key difference to contend with.

“I haven’t gotten to run the new (NASCAR) chicane coming off Turn 4, so I need to make sure I try to stop when I get over there this time around from the Rolex to this race,” he said.

Crisis management

Along with leading the rookies performance-wise, Tyler Reddick closely matched his veteran teammate in 2020.

Reddick and Dillon not only had the same amount of top-10 finishes, but were near identical in other categories such as average running position during a race (Dillon: 16.5, Reddick: 17.2) and laps inside the top 15 (Dillon: 50.7%, Reddick: 49%).

More often than not, Reddick finished within the top half of the field. But to contend for a playoff berth in his sophomore Cup season, he’ll need top-20 days to become top-10 and top-15 days more often.

He believes the key is better managing the worst part of his races.

“Normally, that kind of occurred about midway through the race (last season),” Reddick said Wednesday. “Sometimes, we could recover from it and get back into running for a top 10, but a lot of times when we were in pretty good shape and on pace to run somewhere right outside the top 10 or top 15, that bad run (took) us so far back that it’s really hard to recover from it and get a good finish out of it.”

“… Each race, you’re going to have something that’s your biggest struggle. Just trying to get across that better, with a better head or maybe with a better strategy – whatever it might be, we’ve been looking at it and just trying to be more aware of that as an issue, how we can prepare better for it, how we can handle it better.”

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.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.