Richmond takeaways: No. 48 team’s winning call harks back to Dale Jr.

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Before teaming with Alex Bowman in 2018, Greg Ives spent the first three years of his career as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief working with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was a lesson about Richmond with Earnhardt that Ives used to help guide Bowman to Sunday’s win.

“Going back to something I learned with Dale here, I think we were running top five, top eight, something like that,” Ives recalled. “We had an adjustment late. It worked okay, but didn’t work quite exactly how we wanted.

“He didn’t yell at me, but he advised me on some of the things that this track did in the last 50 laps.”

Early on Sunday, Ives decided to “trial” those pointers during the the first adjustments to Bowman’s car following a Lap 30 competition caution.

“I didn’t think it was anything magical,” Ives said about those adjustments. “I just thought it was the right direction. Put that in our memory bank and go from there. Know that we did make adjustments based on (Bowman’s) comments and what he thought on the short run.”

Bowman’s long run speed had been much better than his short run speed Sunday. The former enabled him to get to third place when Kevin Harvick crashed to bring out a caution with 19 laps to go.

It was time for Ives to put what he learned at the start of the race to use.

“I would say, majority of the time, these races come down to restarts at the end of the race with a handful of laps to go,” Ives said. “… You have that adjustment in your mind that you’re going to use. Until it happens, you never know it’s going to work.

“That’s probably where the guys think the gamble comes from, especially when we have such a good car. But we didn’t have a good car in the circumstance that we needed to make adjustments to it. Otherwise, we were just going to struggle on the restart, probably finish third or fourth.

“If we’re sitting sixth maybe, but we’re sitting there third, have the ability to make an adjustment, allow us to take advantage of – shift our strength of our car towards the front of the run versus the end of the run.”

Bowman retained third coming out of the final pit stops and got the preferred inside lane coming to the restart with 12 laps to go.

Having been poor on short runs, Bowman focused on saving a top-five finish. Instead, he rocketed past Joey Logano and then Denny Hamlin for the winning pass with 10 laps to go.

On what exactly Ives did to his car to make that happen, Bowman replied: “I don’t have a clue.”

“I didn’t see a wedge wrench go in it, so I would say air pressure stuff,” he went on to guess. “Which is typically your go-to for short run versus long run stuff. It sure woke it up, that’s for sure.”

It wasn’t a clean race for Bowman, Ives and the No. 48 team, which had to overcome those short run woes and a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire during the Stage 2 break.

But for Ives, it made the outcome all the more rewarding.

“If we just cruised, lapped the field, cruised to a huge victory, I probably wouldn’t be as satisfied as I am right now for us to have fast cars, to battle through some adversity that we’ve been fighting, to go out there and continuously be a team, a team that doesn’t point fingers, but locks arms and go out there and get a win,” he said.

“Not once did Alex come on the radio with any other thing other than, ‘Hey, we’re going to go pass some more cars.’ That’s what I’m most proud of. That’s what real teams are made of.”

Vote of confidence for Chase

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400
Chase Elliott remains without a win this season after finishing 12th on Sunday at Richmond. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Bowman’s win on Sunday means that reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott will be the last Hendrick Motorsports driver to get a victory this season.

William Byron was the first to strike at Miami. He was followed by Kyle Larson the following week at Las Vegas.

But just as Elliott himself wasn’t concerned with his performance entering Richmond, neither was HMS general manager Jeff Andrews coming out.

“As far as the (No.) 9 team, (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson), Chase, we have the utmost confidence in those two guys, in that team,” Andrews said. “Really, all the same players that were on that team last year. You go through these spells where they’ve had good runs. Look at last week, they had a really good car last week. Came up a little bit short.

“It’s not been that the performance hasn’t been there. I think more we’re looking for a little bit of the consistency. Nobody is going to work harder at it than Alan Gustafson and that team.”

On Sunday, tight handling caused Elliott to fade to 17th at the end of the first stage. He had somewhat better performance in the second stage, but could only get to 12th by that stage’s conclusion.

That would be where Elliott finished the race. It’s his fifth result outside the top 10 in nine races this season.

But Andrews senses a potential turnaround for Elliott and the No. 9 team. The next four weeks of the Cup schedule includes Talladega (2.66-mile superspeedway), Kansas (1.5-mile oval), Darlington (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval) and Dover (1-mile concrete oval).

Among those four tracks, Darlington is the only one where Elliott doesn’t have a Cup win.

“We still have a lot of racing to do here, a lot of good tracks coming up,” Andrews said. “Excited to go to Talladega next week. It’s been a good track for them. Then back to some of the mile-and-a-half stuff. We’re looking forward to that, as well.”

Penalties cost MTJ, Kyle Busch

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400
Martin Truex Jr. finished fifth Sunday, but only after a pit road speeding penalty ruined his hopes of winning. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Pit road gaffes dashed shots at a win on Sunday for both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

For a while, it seemed Truex would again battle Hamlin for a win after besting him the previous week at Martinsville. Truex led over 100 laps during the first half of the race and was running second prior to his green flag pit stop at Lap 294.

But Truex was penalized for speeding and forced to pass through on pit road. He managed to stay on the lead lap, but with roughly 100 laps to go and Hamlin and Logano as stout as they were, the penalty was a killer.

“Driver screwed up our chances there for sure,” said Truex, who rallied to finish fifth for his fourth top five of the season.

With Truex out of contention, Busch sought to put himself in position to go after Hamlin and Logano. After starting the final stage in fifth, Busch climbed to third when he made his final green flag stop with 58 laps to go.

But as he dove toward pit entrance, Busch failed to get all four tires on his No. 18 Toyota below the commitment box and drew his own pass-through penalty that knocked him off the lead lap.

Busch claimed the free pass off the Harvick caution, but was unable to get higher than eighth at the finish.

“The car didn’t start off well, but (crew chief) Ben (Beshore) and the guys kept adjusting on it, and we got it a lot better,” Busch said. “There at the end, you try to get all you can on and off pit road to have a shot at the win, and I just came in there too hard and got the commitment box.”

Almirola, DiBenedetto get needed boost

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400
After a brutal start to the season, Aric Almirola enjoyed a solid run to sixth place Sunday at Richmond. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto finally notched their first top-10 finishes of the season Sunday. Almirola finished sixth to lead Stewart-Haas Racing, while DiBenedetto finished ninth for the Wood Brothers.

The result was especially needed for Almirola, who’s been emblematic of SHR’s struggles. The 2020 playoff driver suffered three DNFs and six finishes of 20th or worse in the first eight races before Sunday.

Finishing 12th in the first stage and 10th in the second stage, Almirola continued his steady drive to fifth when teammate Kevin Harvick suffered a tire failure and crashed with 20 laps to go.

Almirola retained that position following pit stops and moved up to fourth off the restart with 12 laps to go. But trying to stay in the top five took a toll.

“I really battled for fifth there at the end, but burned up my tires on the outside in the process,” he said. “Finally, a solid day for our Smithfield team. Everyone did their part, and we were mistake-free today. We showed what this team is capable of today. Let’s fire it up and keep it rolling.”

As for DiBenedetto, he and the No. 21 team began the season poorly but had stabilized recently with four consecutive top-15 finishes entering Richmond.

He was 18th at the end of Sunday’s first stage. But during the first round of green flag stops in the second stage, he caught a break. He was one of six drivers who had not yet pitted when Ryan Newman spun on Lap 141 to bring out the caution.

That effectively put DiBenedetto in and around the top 10 for the rest of the race.

He finished sixth in the second stage. Later, he just missed out on the free pass position prior to Harvick’s caution but got to return to the lead lap with a wave-around. He retained ninth place throughout the 12-lap run to the finish.

DiBenedetto was glad to finally have his team’s growing consistency pay off with a top 10.

“We couldn’t even look at (the bad finishes) and say they were self-inflicted – it was just kind of bad circumstances,” he said. “So, something that was out of our control – not as bad a luck as Aric Almirola, but it just goes to show between him and I and kind of the rough starts to the season that sometimes things have to go your way.

“And as easily as that momentum can be pretty bad, it can flip around and we haven’t even really had smooth races until today, but we’ve still been climbing up in the points. It just shows the strength of our team … digging out of that hole and doing what I’ve known all along that we’re more than capable of as a team.”

Twenty-six full-time Cup drivers have scored at least one top-10 finish this season. A 27th driver, Jamie McMurray, finished eighth in a one-off at the season-opening Daytona 500.

Full-timers still looking for their first top 10 of the season include Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer, Chase Briscoe (rookie), Anthony Alfredo (rookie), Quin Houff and Josh Bilicki.

Milestones in reach for NASCAR Cup drivers in 2023

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While the countdown to the start of the 2023 NASCAR season in February continues, here’s a look at some of the milestones Cup drivers could reach in the upcoming season:

AJ Allmendinger

Allmendinger returns to drive the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing in 2023. He’s scheduled to make his 400th career Cup start March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, a race he nearly won last year.

Aric Almirola

Almirola is 26 laps away from leading 1,000 laps in his Cup career.

Ryan Blaney 

Blaney is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start Sept. 24 at Texas in the playoffs. Texas was the site of his last Cup win, which came in the All-Star Race in May.

Chase Briscoe

Briscoe is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch 

Busch needs one win to set the NASCAR record for most consecutive seasons with a win. He is tied with Richard Petty with 18 entering the 2023 season, which will see Busch drive for Richard Childress Racing.

Busch is 92 laps away from leading 19,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is 34 starts away from tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. for 23rd on the all-time list of most career starts at 676. Busch is scheduled to tie Earnhardt’s mark Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the playoffs and surpass the mark the next weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the playoffs.

William Byron 

Byron is scheduled to make his 200th career Cup start July 16 at New Hampshire.

Chase Elliott

Elliott is a win from scoring a victory in six consecutive Cup seasons.

He is 100 laps away from leading 5,000 in his Cup career.

Justin Haley

Haley is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is two wins away from 50 career Cup wins. That would tie him with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 13th on the all-time victory list. 

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is scheduled to make his 800th career Cup start April 23 at Talladega.

He is 15 starts from tying Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list for most career Cup starts at 805. Harvick is scheduled to tie Gordon’s mark June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway and is scheduled to move ahead of Gordon on June 11 at Sonoma.

Harvick is 99 laps away from leading 16,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is five top fives away from having 250 in his Cup career.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is scheduled to make his 500th career Cup start June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

He is 93 laps away from 9,000 career laps led in Cup.

Kyle Larson

Larson is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start March 19 at Atlanta.

He is four top 10s away from 150 career top 10s.

Joey Logano

Logano is one win from having a Cup victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which would tie him for 13th on the all-time list with Denny Hamlin.

Logano is one top five away from 150 career top-five finishes.

He is nine starts away from tying Richard Petty for 19th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 513. Logano is scheduled to reach that mark April 16 at Martinsville and surpass it April 23 at Talladega.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick is nine top 10s away from 50 career top 10s.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is scheduled to make his 400th career start in the season finale at Phoenix.

He is five top 10s away from 50 career Cup top 10s.

Daniel Suarez

Suarez is one top 10 away from 50 career top 10s in Cup.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is 16 starts from tying Jeff Burton for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 628. Truex is scheduled to reach that mark at June 11 at Sonoma and surpass it June 25 at Nashville.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is scheduled to make his 200th Cup start June 25 at Nashville.

Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

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Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.