Friday 5: The ‘best-kept secret’ in NASCAR is champion’s journal few have seen


The NASCAR Cup Series championship is forever. The memories are special, but there is one thing about winning a Cup title that makes Joey Logano’s smile stretch a bit wider.

“The coolest part about winning the championship,” he tells NBC Sports of the journal passed from one champion to the next. “It is the best-kept secret in our sport. That’s the best part about this is that nobody even really knows what it is. Nobody knows … what’s written in it.”

The journal’s existence was hidden until 2017, when Jimmie Johnson posted a picture on social media handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr., the series champ that year. Johnson started the tradition in 2011 after a chat with NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton about how nothing was passed from one champion t the next.

The tradition continued in December. Kyle Busch gave the journal to reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott when both competed in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Elliott said he is waiting to find the right time to go through the book.

“That’s been one of the coolest things about this whole deal is taking possession of it and getting to read it,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “It makes you wish that somebody had started that back 30-plus, 40 years ago to just see what some of those guys would have to say or even when NASCAR was started. I think it would be really cool.

“On the flip side, I think about the guy or the girl who wins the championship in 2050 or 2060. How cool is that going to be to look back to see what Tony Stewart had to say or what Jimmie Johnson had to say, two legends of our time. Really cool tradition and proud to be a part of that.”

Busch said he spent a good bit of time thinking about what to write to Elliott. Busch wrote multiple drafts before penning the page-long note.

NASCAR Cup Series Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500
Kyle Busch said he spent a lot of time crafting the note he wrote to Chase Elliott in the champion’s journal. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“I ran out of space,” Busch told NBC Sports. “I filled a whole page. I probably could have done a page and a half on the backside if I kept going. I tried to keep it to a page because it seems everybody was keeping it to a page, so I didn’t want to be the guy to screw it up.”

What did he need all that space to say?

“Just that, to me, it’s the growth of Chase Elliott,” Busch said. “I’ve seen him at such a young age and as a young driver and race against guys much older than him, much more experienced than him.

“He grew up with a famous father. He grew up on TV. His dad was friends with Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. He was in pictures with Dale Sr. all the time and stuff like that.

“I guess I just was kind of explaining like, ‘Hey, this is new territory for you, but this is a territory where you can not necessarily change the sport or change the world, but man, just live it up and enjoy it and know that you’re Chase Elliott and now that you’re a champion, you’ve made it in this sport.’”

While Busch needed a few drafts before writing, Martin Truex Jr. needed more time before giving the journal to Logano. Truex did so a few months after Logano bumped him out of the lead on the last lap to win the Martinsville playoff race and advance to the championship in Miami. Logano beat Truex for the 2018 title.

“When it came time for me to write mine, it was tough,” Truex told NBC Sports. “I had to wait a little while, because I didn’t want to write something that just kind of came out, a knee-jerk reaction. I wanted to make sure I wrote what I should write, which is take the heat-of-the-battle things out of it and write important things that somebody would enjoy reading after I’m done racing and this stuff doesn’t matter anymore.

“Jimmie gave it to me at the banquet (the previous year). I couldn’t give it to Joey until the next season started. I feel like I did it for the right reasons. In the end, I meant what I wrote and felt he deserved to have something written to him that meant something.

“It’s a big enough honor to ignore your feelings of hate or resentment or being mad about any race and talk about more what it means to pass on a championship, to pass the torch in something that is really bigger than you are.”

Logano said fear was among the emotions he felt when he received it from Truex.

“The first thing you think is, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to be the guy to lose this,’” Logano said. “First thing, I put it in a safe.

“It’s so much fun to take this step back. Jimmie started it and you start reading. They’re one page most of the time, a letter to the next champ. Some of them are pretty deep. Some of them are very quick. ‘Here you go, whatever.’

“There’s usually a story that goes behind it. It’s really fun to just read through it. It’s something that I thought was very special. I thought it was the coolest part of winning the championship just because of the uniqueness of the book and seeing people’s stories and their feelings about maybe their championship season or whatever it may be to the next champion.

“I hope to get it again. I’d love to see kind of where it’s gone over the last couple of years.”

When his reign ended, Logano presented the journal to Busch. They’ve had their issues and Logano sought to address that.

“I wrote a letter to Kyle,” Logano said. “Obviously, Kyle and I have had our run-ins on the racetrack and there’s no secret to that. At the same time, I think we respect each other as competitors. I think we’re very different people, but I think as competitors, we’re probably more similar than he thinks. It’s just kind of connecting at a different level and then handing it off.”

How did Busch feel about Logano’s note?

“I can admit I was not touched by what Joey wrote to me,” Busch said. “I felt as though he was trying to explain something or why our differences were. He was giving his side of the story and not necessarily understanding both sides of the story.

“He can say he put a lot of effort into it and thought into it and that’s great. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. But under different interpretations, it could come off a little bit differently. That’s all. I think the champion’s journal is pretty cool. It’s got some unique touches to it.”

2. New owners coming to NASCAR?

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, hinted Thursday to reporters that new ownership groups could be coming to NASCAR.

“I’ll say candidly that we’re talking to no less than two potential owners that are not racing today — that are outside the sport entirely — because of (the) Next Gen (car), because of circumstance, because of the relationship we’ve been building,” he said.

“They’re interested in taking a shot potentially. That’s exciting when you get new ownership that comes from the business world that is well funded, that’s credible. I think the sport is going to be rocked. Stay tuned.”

The Next Gen car, which is scheduled to debut next season, has been cited as a reason for raising the interest in team ownership. While costs will be high the first year as teams change from the current car to the new one, the Next Gen car is anticipate to help reduce costs to team owners by year three or four. That makes the financial model for team ownership more viable for more owners.

Wilson said he is interested in adding another, as he calls it, “top-tier” Cup team to the Toyota family.

“I’d love to see three organizations that are relatively independent and are healthy from a sponsorship standpoint and have top-tier driver talent,” he said. “We’re counting 23XI (Racing) as one of those three teams (along with Joe Gibbs Racing).”

Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan, has made it known that the organization wants to expand to a multi-car team at some point.

The 23XI Racing team is one of three new Cup teams this season. Trackhouse Racing is in the Chevrolet camp, and Live Fast Motorsports is a Ford team.

3. New look

One of the challenges in starting a season with the Daytona 500 is that new spotter/driver combinations don’t have much time to work together before one of the year’s biggest races.

That’s critical because Daytona and Talladega are among the tracks that spotters matter the most to drivers. Ensuring that the spotter feeds the driver what they want and how they want it is something that can take time.

Brad Keselowski experienced the adjustment in 2019 when Coleman Pressley became his spotter.

Keselowski said that Pressley “was up to speed right away. Still, there’s a comfort level that comes with who you are working with. Those reps take time. You can’t really simulate them.

“I look at 2016 where Matt Kenseth didn’t have his normal spotter and it probably cost him the 500.”

Denny Hamlin won that race, passing Kenseth in Turn 3 on the last lap. Kenseth went high to block and Hamlin cut underneath. Kenseth did not counter Hamlin’s move quick enough. Hamlin went on to edge Martin Truex Jr. for the win.

Truex and Michael McDowell are among the drivers with new spotters this season.

Truex has Drew Herring as his spotter to help get better at speedway racing. Truex is winless in 16 Daytona 500s.

“Drew’s been working really hard in the offseason to prepare for this, and as a driver himself, he knows the things that I need to hear and want to hear,” Truex said. “It will be a work in progress for sure. It will take a little time to get on the same page and just to be able to understand exactly what he means when he says something.”

Truex’s former spotter, Clayton Hughes, will be McDowell’s spotter. McDowell has finished in the top 10 in two of the last three Daytona 500s.

“Having Clayton up on top of the roof gives me a lot of confidence,” McDowell said. “He’s won a lot of races and won a championship and has worked with Martin for a long time and worked with a lot of great drivers, so he’s a huge asset that we’re very fortunate to bring to Front Row. 

“But, like you said, it’s tough to come to Daytona not working with somebody and getting that communication down, so (Wednesday) in practice, we jumped right out in the draft and tried to get in the pack just so we could kind of get used to each other a little bit. Everything has gone pretty smooth and then (Thursday) with the Duels, that will give us an opportunity to race and then debrief afterwards and talk about what I need different, what he can do different, what I can do different.”

4. Changes to make

While the last-lap contact between Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney made for a thrilling finish with Kyle Busch winning Tuesday’s Clash, it overshadowed a key issue in the race.

Dirt and mud were kicked up on the track in the backstretch chicane known as the “bus stop.” Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick each spun after hitting the dirt and mud. Truex hit the wall and his race was over.

While the Clash was an exhibition race, the series holds a points race on the Daytona road course on Feb. 21, a week after the 500.

Drivers said some sort of adjustment needs to be made in that area of the chicane before next weekend’s race.

“I think we need some sort of curbing,” Kurt Busch said. “It needs to be a mid-range style height. The big yellow curbs that are on the front straightaway chicane are a bit too abrupt for the speed that we run back there. The paint, where it was, once we rubbered that in on the curbing, you couldn’t tell where the curbing ended and the grass started.”

Said Truex: “The biggest thing is that was the first time we’ve raced here at night. It was a lot darker. It was really hard to see. It was really hard to distinguish where the grass was, where the curb started. Then when guys started going through the mud, track conditions changed lap to lap. I think we need some kind of visual that is not just flat. The rumble strips in the bus stop are even with the grass and the pavement. With it being that dark, you can’t distinguish it.”

Next weekend’s race is scheduled 3 p.m. ET, so darkness shouldn’t be an issue.

“When we were here in August, you could see the sand and the dust pick up and be on the racetrack,” Truex said. “But it wasn’t mud. I definitely think we could do something better.”

5. Offense is the best defense

Aric Almirola admits that his tactic at the end of his qualifying race might not work all the time, but it was a move he felt he had to make to win the race.

Entering Turn 3, Joey Logano was second to Almirola. Logano was backing to Christopher Bell, who was third, to get a push to get by Almirola. That’s when Almirola made his move.

“I just knew I wanted to try to move around before he started his run to try and mess up his run or get him off on thinking which way he was going to go,” Almirola said. “I was able to do that to where I could at least get him going in a direction that I knew he was going to go opposite of me rather than me guessing where he was going to go.

“I felt like I did everything I could. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop his run. I wasn’t going to be able to just blatantly block him. That would probably cause a wreck. Our race car was way too fast. I wasn’t going to concede the win, but I certainly wasn’t going to get my really fast Smithfield Ford Mustang tore up trying to be overly defensive.

“I made a move one way, then I blocked the top. He got to my inside. I was able to just side draft him and pull him back to where he couldn’t clear me.”

That’s one way drivers have to counter the runs trailing cars get. Blocking those runs can lead to wrecks.

“You still can get wrecked if you block too much,” said Austin Dillon, who won the second qualifying race. “I noticed that. There’s some that you don’t want to step in front of, then there’s some if you time it early enough, you can step in front of. You got to be careful.”

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “Just the restarts kind of went our way. We were able to get through on the outside on that one and push (Kyle) Larson out, then he took bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4, I was able to carry the momentum around the high side to take the lead. That was really important. I think that was kind of the key moment of us being able to win today. Being able to control the rest of the restarts for the rest of the race. Kyle is one of the best. It’s good to be able to sit up here and race hard with him, being a Team Chevy partner. He gave me great respect, I appreciate that. That will be given back down the road.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 19th: “We battled handing issues all day and just couldn’t find it. We were loose to start the day and it felt like our car was tight on aero and loose mechanically. Our long-run speed was really all we had today and we could pass cars late in the run, but we had so many cautions in the final stage we didn’t have the chance to run those cars down. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) put me on offense on the last 20 laps with fresh tires and I thought we could’ve driven up to 15th, but someone missed a shift on the last restart and stacked us up and put us behind. Just one of those days. We had to battle to get all we could get.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: WWT Raceway Cup results

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.

Kyle Busch wins Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime


Kyle Busch scored his third victory of the season Sunday, holding off the field on five restarts in the final 45 laps at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch’s previous two wins this season were at Fontana and Talladega. Sunday’s win is the 63rd of his Cup career. He started on the pole and led 121 of 243 laps — including the last 60 — in a race extended three laps by overtime.

MORE: Race results, driver points 

MORE: What drivers had to say

“That was pretty awesome,” Busch said to FS1. “Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us.”

Denny Hamlin finished second and was followed by Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

Sunday’s race featured an event-record 11 cautions. Failures with brake rotors led to crashes by Carson Hocevar, Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson and Bubba Wallace.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Denny Hamlin’s runner-up finish is his fourth top-five result of the year. All have come in the last seven races. … Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his first top-five result since Martinsville in April. … Ryan Blaney finished sixth for his sixth top 10 in the last seven races and took the points lead from Ross Chastain. … Michael McDowell‘s ninth-place finish is his second top 10 of the year.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brad Keselowski, making his 500th career Cup start, had mechanical issues early that left his car underpowered for most of the event. He finished 28th. … Carson Hocevar, making his Cup debut, was running 16th when a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing last. … Tyler Reddick spun early in race. After getting back toward the front, a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing 35th.

NOTABLE: This is the 11th time in Kyle Busch’s Cup career that he has had at least three wins in a season.

NEXT: The series races June 11 at Sonoma Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox)

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”