Darlington takeaways: Early part of season reveals clues on playoffs

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — With NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway past, it’s time again to look ahead.

Sunday marked the last Cup regular-season points race at a playoff track this year (Texas, which hosts a playoff race, has the All-Star Race next month). Examining how drivers and teams have done on playoff tracks shows who the early favorites are.

Yes, Darlington winner Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and William Byron are among those who have fared best at those tracks, but the numbers show differences between them.

For those behind the trio, well, they have about four months before the Cup playoffs begin to improve.

MORE: Darlington winners and losers

Although Truex has won at three playoff tracks this year, he does not have the best average finish at the seven playoff tracks Cup has raced this season (the Bristol dirt race is not included because the conditions were so different from what the Bristol playoff race will be).

William Byron, who scored his 10th consecutive top 10 on Sunday, has the best average finish.

He has an average finish of 6.0 at the seven playoff tracks, excluding the Bristol dirt race, run this season. Truex is next at 7.3, followed by Denny Hamlin (8.7 average finish), Kyle Busch (9.7) and Chase Elliott (9.7).

“I feel like for us to run where we’re finishing all day is impressive and that’s kind of what the good teams do,” Byron said after his fourth-place finish at Darlington. “I feel like we’re in that mix. We’re kind of in that fourth-to-sixth range right now. So we just have to break that seal to get into that top two or three, which I think it’s pretty obvious what cars those are.”

When one examines points scored at the seven races on playoff tracks, it’s not the same order as how they ranked in averaged finish.

Hamlin, who has scored points in every stage but one in those seven races, has 299 points. He’s followed by Truex (291 points), Byron (276), Ryan Blaney (268) and Brad Keselowski (249).

With 60 points the most a driver can score in a race, Hamlin is more than 1/3 of a race ahead of Byron in points even though Byron is finishing, on average, nearly three positions better at these tracks. The difference is stage points scored. Hamlin has outscored Byron 101-59 in stage points at these tracks.

Hamlin said he and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have excelled despite only having race-winning speed in two events this year (Richmond and Daytona).

“Didn’t really have a race-winning car anywhere else,” Hamlin said after placing fifth at Darlington. “We just were executing well, doing a good job on pit lane, getting good restarts and finishing extremely well. We’ve maximized our day all year long. Twice we haven’t won with the best car.”

BEST AVERAGE FINISH

Here is how the drivers in a playoff spot and the first driver outside it have fared in the seven races at playoff tracks. (Results from the Bristol Dirt race are not included because the Bristol playoff race is not on dirt.)

6.0 — William Byron (Best: 2nd, Talladega; Worst: 9th, Kansas)

7.3 — Martin Truex Jr. (Best: 1st, Phoenix, Martinsville & Darlington; Worst: 31st, Talladega)

8.7 — Denny Hamlin (Best: 2nd, Richmond; Worst: 32nd, Talladega)

9.7 — Kyle Busch (Best: 1st, Kansas; Worst: 25th, Phoenix)

9.7 — Chase Elliott (Best: 2nd, Martinsville; Worst: 24th, Talladega)

10.1 — Kevin Harvick (Best: 2nd, Kansas; Worst: 24, Richmond)

10.7 — Ryan Blaney (Best: 5th, Las Vegas; Worst: 21st, Kansas)

11.3 — Matt DiBenedetto (Best: 4th, Kansas; Worst: 19th, Darlington)

11.6 — Brad Keselowski (Best: 1st, Talladega; Worst: 33rd, Martinsville)

12.3 — Christopher Bell (Best: 4th, Richmond; Worst: 28th, Kansas)

12.4 — Austin Dillon (Best: 8th, Talladega; Worst: 17th, Phoenix)

12.7 — Joey Logano (Best: 2nd, Phoenix; Worst: 39th, Talladega)

13.1 — Kyle Larson (Best: 1st, Las Vegas; Worst: 40th, Talladega)

15.0 — Tyler Reddick (Best: 7th, Talladega & Kansas; Worst: 29th, Phoenix)

15.4 — Chris Buescher (Best: 8th, Kansas; Worst: 25th, Richmond)

20.1 — Michael McDowell (Best: 3rd, Talladega; Worst: 31st, Martinsville)

21.1 — Alex Bowman (Best: 1st, Richmond; Worst: 38th, Talladega)

MOST POINTS SCORED

Here is how the drivers in a playoff spot and the first driver outside it have fared in the seven races at playoff tracks. (Results from the Bristol Dirt race are not included because the Bristol playoff race is not on dirt.)

299 — Denny Hamlin

291 — Martin Truex Jr.

276 — William Byron

268 — Ryan Blaney

249 — Brad Keselowski

245 — Chase Elliott

243 — Kyle Busch

225 — Kyle Larson

221 — Joey Logano

217 — Kevin Harvick

202 — Christopher Bell

199 — Matt DiBenedetto

179 — Tyler Reddick

175 — Austin Dillon

161 — Chris Buescher

154 — Alex Bowman

129 — Michael McDowell

“Racing for her”

William Byron announced last week on social media that his mother has a brain tumor.

He wrote that when his parents were at Martinsville that his mother started to have “numbing in her right arm.” Shortly, it was hard for her to speak. She was transported to a local hospital and a mass was discovered on the left side of her brain.

NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400
William Byron is the first driver for Rick Hendrick to score 10 top 10s in a row since Jeff Gordon in 2007. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Byron wrote that his mother has lymphoma and that it is treatable. He noted that she would be starting treatment soon.

“I’m definitely racing for her and trying to support her,” Byron said at Darlington.

Byron said he had lunch with his mother the day before the Darlington race, which was on Mother’s Day.

“Definitely excited to see her get home,” Byron said. “She means a lot to me.”

On the track, Byron is having a breakthrough season. His 10 top 10s in a row was last done at Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 by Jeff Gordon. Byron didn’t turn 10 years old until November 2007.

Crew chief Rudy Fugle likes the performance for the No. 24 team this season but seeks more.

“We just need to get a little bit better,” he said. “That’s driver, that’s engine, that’s setup, that’s downforce. We’ll just keep climbing.”

Good finish … but

Kyle Larson’s runner-up finish broke a string of three consecutive finishes outside the top 10.

Larson struggled at Richmond and finished 18th. His engine blew after three laps on track and he finished 40th at Talladega. He was in position to win late at Kansas but circumstances on two restarts were against him and he fell to 19th.

NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400
Kyle Larson’s Darlington result marks the second time he’s been a runner-up this season. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“We definitely needed to get a good finish,” Larson said at Darlington. “I thought we were going to get one last week, and I messed that up. Three bad weeks in a row and to come back and contend for a win and finish second and get good stage points after speeding at the end of the first stage, too, yeah, it was a good day.”

But he looked back and wondered if it could have been even better. Larson chased Martin Truex Jr. in the final stage and wonders if he let an opportunity get by.

“When we closed a bunch throughout the green flag cycle, that final one, and I could see that I was really close and noticed that I was gaining on him, I definitely had to tell myself to just calm myself,” Larson said. “I wish I was. Even the whole last stage I felt like I did a good job for where I was at and who I was battling with to take care of my stuff.

But yeah, when the leader is in front of you, it is tougher to remind yourself. But in a way I maybe was too patient at one point. I got to his back bumper in (Turns) 1 and 2 and I could see he was struggling in front of me, and I thought, ‘Well, if I am just patient here and stay behind him and put some pressure on him, maybe he’ll use his stuff up or get into the wall in (Turns) 3 and 4 because he was running so close to it.’ So I was just hoping that he would make a mistake.

Looking back, if there was something I could do different, I would have taken advantage of that opportunity and tried to get to his inside and maybe tried to clear him off of (Turn) 2 and maybe block him in my dirty air the rest of the race.”

Another dominating win

Martin Truex Jr. led 84.6% of the laps Sunday at Darlington but that’s not even his best work in a Cup race.

He led 98% of the laps on the way to winning the 2016 Coca-Cola 600.

That Cup race is one of 10 since May 2016 that a driver led at least 80.3% of the laps. Truex is the only driver to do it three times in that period.

His 2016 Coca-Cola performance ranks No. 1. He led 92.8% of the laps in the 2019 Martinsville playoff race to rank third on the list. The Darlington run ranks eighth.

Via Racing Insights, here is the top 10 highest percentage of laps led in a race since May 2016:

98.0% — Martin Truex Jr. (2016 Coca-Cola 600)

94.3% — Kyle Busch (2018 Coca-Cola 600)

92.8% — Martin Truex Jr. (2019 Martinsville playoff race)

89.8% — Kevin Harvick (2017 Atlanta)

89.2% — Brad Keselowski (2019 Martinsville regular-season race)

88.9% — Chase Elliott (2019 Watkins Glen)

87.6% — Kyle Busch (2016 Brickyard 400)

84.6% — Martin Truex Jr. (2021 Darlington regular-season race)

82.8% — Kyle Larson (2021 Atlanta regular-season race)

80.3% — Joey Logano (June 2019 Michigan regular-season race)

All those drivers won except Harvick at Atlanta and Larson at Atlanta. A pit road speeding penalty on Harvick’s last scheduled stop thwarted him. Larson lost his lead in the final laps to Ryan Blaney.

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.”