What drivers are saying about inaugural NASCAR weekend at COTA

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Here’s what some drivers have said about Circuit of the Americas going into the track’s inaugural NASCAR weekend.

NASCAR CUP SERIES

AJ Allmendinger

“It’s always fun going to a new race track, so I’m looking forward to something new. It’s a doubleheader weekend for us, so it’s going to be busy. I’m excited to be back in the Cup car after a really fun race at the Daytona road course earlier this year. Overall, I think it’s a technical race track – weather is going to be a factor, so there will be a lot of challenges that we will have to face. I’m confident that Kaulig Racing will have a solid weekend.”

Aric Almirola

“Personally, I feel that I have improved in my road course abilities over the years. In the Busch Clash and the Daytona road-course race in February, I was much more confident behind the wheel and found more speed than 2020. I think our Smithfield Ford team has found more speed in the car, too, with the 750-horsepower package. Circuit of the Americas is going to be a completely different challenge for everyone, but we’re going into the weekend with more road-course confidence than years prior.”

Chase Briscoe

“I think it’s gonna be hard. The thing is there, I don’t think you can necessarily try stuff that’s gonna work at other places with it being a road course, but I will say that it’s probably gonna be a challenge to go and do a practice environment. That’s something that normally doing a shock change or doing whatever is so second nature and they can do it so quickly to really maximize that practice time, where we haven’t done that a lot in the last year and a half, so I think the team guys might be a little rusty when it comes to that, but I think the other thing at COTA as far as I know there’s only a 50-minute practice and by the time you do an out lap, do an in lap, and do whatever lap you’re doing, you’re probably not gonna get but maybe eight to nine laps of practice at the most, so it’s gonna be really hard to make changes and figure out what kind of works because you’re probably only gonna get two or three changes at the absolute most.

“So, you’re still gonna have to unload very quick from a speed standpoint and a balance standpoint, so it’s gonna be hard. I’m glad we’re gonna have some practice just, for me, to get back in the rhythm of especially road course racing to see what I need. I felt like at the Daytona road course at the very end of the race we were pretty good, it just took us three or four adjustments to get to that point, so hopefully at COTA we can kind of start where we ended Daytona and have some good speed.”

Kurt Busch

“I laugh a little bit when I think about going to COTA. That track was designed for Formula 1 cars, cars that can cut around tight apexes like turn 1, turn 11 and 12. Our big heavy stock cars are going to struggle with that; but it’s a new challenge and I’m looking forward it. With the asphalt being abrasive at COTA, it’s going to wear out the tires, so your strategy is going to have to evolve on the fly. It’s going to be quick movements that you make and commit to, so with all that being said, I’m ready to attack course, find the right rhythm with the lap time but also find the right tire strategy bring us to Victory Lane. It’s a cool place with 20 corners; lots of action coming!”

Kyle Busch

“They’ve had a little bit of history there with Formula 1, IndyCar and other racing series there, but obviously the first time for NASCAR Cup Series cars there this weekend. There are a lot of flat turns on that circuit and a little bit of elevation change, which could make for some interesting moments. Our big heavy stock cars with not a lot of downforce running around that road course is going to take a lot. We’ll see how it goes. There’s some experience like that with the NASCAR Xfinity Series guys running Road America, with its long road course, as well. Some of the young guys in our series who have run at Road America will have a little bit of an advantage there, and also when we go to Road America in the summer. But I was able to visit a couple of times in April, it was even in the same week. We went there for a Toyota media event and announcement and then I was back there in another type of car just trying to learn the circuit and what it takes to get around there. We’ve also had plenty of simulator time, too, so hopefully we can be on top of things when we arrive there this weekend.”

William Byron

“It’s going to take a really long time to make one lap. So, we’re kind of nervous about practice and how that’s going to go and how many laps you’re going to get legitimately. That’s going to be tough. There’s not a lot of walls there so there’s a lot of runoff, which is probably a good thing for our cars because we usually run into each other a lot on road courses. Usually, guys make big mistakes. Hopefully I’m not one of those that’s making a big mistake. But at least if I do at COTA, I feel like I can get away with it, which is nice. Typically, if there’s a lot of grass around the race track for us, it doesn’t work well for our cars. This is one of those tracks where there’s just a lot of asphalt where you can run off. That might make it a more aggressive race, maybe; knowing that you can get away with it. But for me, I feel like it’s just like every other road course. You’ve got to figure out how to get in and off the corners. Like the same old things, be good at shifting and down shifting and all those things.”

Cole Custer

“It’s a very technical track and a little bit awkward. Not a ton of flow because there are long straightaways and how tight the corners are and every single corner is different. It’s a very hard track – I can see some people doing really well in parts of it and struggling in others. There will be a lot of passing zones, I think, and it’s going to be racey as hell.”

Austin Dillon

“I think the best passing zones are probably on all the big straights. The esses are pretty tight; you can’t really gain anything there. Turn 11 (a hairpin turn) is probably the best. … Obviously, lengthening the straightaways as much as you can is huge and in the final corner. … Into the stadium section on the downhill braking zone, leaving the last corner, and then the one before the big straightaway are the three that I see that will be the most important. Turn 1, up the hill, you can out-brake someone into there, but it gets tight quick. I think the first three I named are probably the big ones. But Turn 1 is a struggle to really get off of that corner sometimes, in what I’ve noticed. You can maybe get someone on entry, but it’s probably going to put you in a bad position leaving.”

Ty Dillon

“To me, it will be an equalizer race. We do have the opportunity to get some practice in, but I’m looking forward to a race where no one has any experience at before. I think that lends a hand to someone like myself. I really strive on adapting quickly to new situations and road courses have been a good place for me to capitalize on that.”

Chase Elliott

“It’s a super neat facility – super nice facility, number one. The track’s fun. It has a lot of character to it, I feel like. I’ve never been here, never seen it before in person before (doing the Goodyear tire test) and really haven’t watched a ton of races here, so it’s really been a pretty steep learning curve for me, trying to piece together all the different parts of the track and understand where you need to be good and how to make it flow.”

Brad Keselowski

“One of the things about this track here in Austin, it’s got a couple of key action spots. Turn 1 is designed as though a fan said, ‘how can I have the most calamity in that corner on the start?’ So, there’s a couple of things – first off, it’s uphill, which helps the car stop, so it encourages the driver to try to out-brake another driver, which is big on a restart or a start because all of the cars are already so close together. Second thing is, it’s really wide on entry, so it’s almost impossible to block because there’s just a lot more racetrack. And then, of course, the third part is it’s a super slow corner meaning you have to use a lot of brakes to get through there. So, like I said, almost like it was intentional – I’m sure it was intentional – to create some epic starts. I think you’ll see that here.”

Erik Jones

“I think it is just technical as far as COTA is concerned. From what I’ve done on the simulator, there’s just a lot of technical portions of the race track. A lot of slow-speed stuff and a lot of really tight hairpin corners. It’s a matter of taking your time and being easy with it. Our cars are really heavy and got a lot of power and not a lot of grip so you just have to be easy with the race car and get it to do its work and not really force it to do anything.”

Corey LaJoie

“There’s not a whole lot of elevation change besides that big uphill climb into Turn 1. I ran a BMW down there, which was a WRL (World Racing League) race and there were about eight different classes. The speed discrepancy was big. So, I was right there in the middle. My point being if I’d gone off Turn 1 and there was a GT car behind me and he didn’t get around me through that right-hand sweeper, up until the esses, he was stuck behind me because the course is so slow and those esses tighten-up so much. I think if you are somebody who might not be as fast as somebody in front of you, if you can just maintain your position on a restart through (Turns) 1 and 2 and get to the esses, you can maintain that position all the way down into (Turn) 11 and into the hairpin and it’ll single out and you can probably maintain for a long time. There are only three passing zones, I think. Beyond that, there’s going to be a lot of sliding around because that track is pretty racy.”

Tyler Reddick

“One thing in particular, that’s like ‘wow, I haven’t experienced that before’ – maybe aside from how after you exit Turn 9 and you’re going into (Turn) 10, is you have a very important and slightly downhill hairpin right ahead of you. You can’t afford to underdrive it and you can’t, obviously, afford to blow through it. And then right after you get done doing that, one of the most important acceleration zones is after that hairpin. You pretty much follow it up with, yet again, another very critical, high-speed, really important braking zone into (Turn) 12. I don’t say we have a lot of tracks that I’ve ever experienced or I’ve ran in NASCAR that has two corners that are kind of back-to-back exactly like that. I think maybe at Road America, you have turn one that’s the high-speed, right-hander; you have that little short chute, if you will, into (Turn) 2. And then you haul back down into Turn 5 – I can’t remember the nickname for that corner. That’s the only place that’s somewhat like that, that I’ve experienced.”

“This track, just for me, has a little bit of everything from other road courses that I’ve been to and experienced. The amount of run-off that we do have, I was really excited about. The big turtles (curbing) that we’re putting in – I think we’ll still be able to, if you can get over the turtles without destroying your race car, there’s a lot of track you can use to save it and get back going. But those turtles are definitely going to tear some stuff up. There’s a lot of room for error, if you do make a mistake. I think that will promote drivers to be aggressive and race hard with all the run off that this track does have.”

Martin Truex Jr.

“I feel like there’s a handful of really good passing zones. Obviously, as usual, after the long straightaways and the front straightaway and back straightaway are both really long going into really hard braking zones that are low speed, first gear. Those are definitely good areas. There’s a little short chute on the back, about halfway around the track that should be pretty good. Then I think coming out of the last corner onto the front straightaway is a good one as well. I think there’s going to be plenty of opportunities there with it. Especially the fact that it’s got older pavement and it’s going to have pretty decent tire wear. That’s going to open up a lot of opportunities as well and should be fun.”

NASCAR XFINITY SERIES

Austin Cindric

“I think the restarts are gonna be wild. You have a very wide inviting front straightaway. You even see it in the (Formula One) races there. I mean, guys will drive it off in there and collect three or four cars, so I think restarts are definitely going to pretty crazy in all three series — a lot of opportunities to pass at this racetrack, a lot of tire fall off, which obviously provides a bit of a dynamic to the race, whether if it’s on strategy or on the racetrack, so, otherwise, you kind of have every type of corner at this racetrack. There’s a lot to look forward to, I think for the NASCAR fans and a lot of unknowns for us as drivers.”

Daniel Hemric

“I am blown away. You cannot fully appreciate COTA for itself until you actually come and have a chance to run a lap. We can all have simulation and look at film and do all kinds of stuff, but being on the racetrack, seeing all the elevation, seeing how fast some of the high-speed stuff is, how hard some of the braking zone are and how tight some of the switchback corners are, it’s going to be incredible to see how everybody, all of us – the whole field – can navigate that together. It’s going to be a challenge for these race teams, a challenge for the drivers, but I’m sure we’re up for it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

John Hunter Nemechek

“All in all, this place is amazing. It brings a lot of different road courses together and kind of throws a lot of different components in to it and I think it’s going to be fast, it’s going to be technical, it’s going to be a mixture of a bunch of different road courses, and as a driver, I like to see that.”

Friday 5: Is it time to change how NASCAR champion is determined?

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Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both raise questions about how NASCAR determines its champion with a one-race event after whittling the 16-driver playoff field to four through a trio of three-race rounds.

Since 2014, the driver who finished the highest among the four championship contenders in the season finale won the title. The format creates a Game 7 type of moment for the sport in an event that has become a winner-take-all race. Joey Logano won the season finale at Phoenix to win his second Cup title. Ty Gibbs claimed the Xfinity title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. Zane Smith won the Truck title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. 

Thursday, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series announced a new way of determining its series champion that mirrors the NASCAR format. The late model series will cut its field of playoff drivers through eliminations, leading to one race where the four remaining championship contenders will vie for the title in 2023.

One of the questions with the NASCAR format is if it provides the most fair way to determine a series champion. Of course, the NFL determines its champion by the Super Bowl, a winner-take-all game. The best team hasn’t always reached that game or won that game, but the event has been played for more than 50 years with no change in sight.

Those who question NASCAR’s way of determining a champion note that the Super Bowl is between two teams, while the championship race for Cup, Xfinity and the Truck Series not only includes the four teams racing for a crown but also the rest of the field, which can include 30 more vehicles. What those drivers and teams do can make an impact on the race and play a role in who wins the championship.

“I think Dale Jr. covered it perfectly,” Hamlin said. “Should one season come down to this three-hour window?”

Hamlin, who seeks his first Cup title, says that the previous Cup champions have been worthy and admits that “I’m the last one that should comment on this” because he doesn’t have a title. 

Still, he raises questions.

“From a purist’s standpoint, it needs to have a bigger sample size,” he said.

Hamlin notes how he knew he wouldn’t win the 2020 Cup title even though he was among the four contenders because his team was not as strong at the shorter tracks such as Phoenix. 

“If you had more of a sample size, you have a chance,” he said. 

Earnhardt expressed the questions he had about the format when he spoke with former NASCAR Chairman Brian France on the Dale Jr. Download this fall.

Earnhardt said the playoff format, which features three-race rounds, is “compelling. It can be argued that it’s relatively fair. Everybody’s got the same opportunity. It’s three races. You can kind of dig yourself out of a hole. But I’ve always kind of struggled with the final race being all or nothing.

“The reason why I struggle with that is because the venue may suit a team or a driver. … You wouldn’t ever consider running it at a road course or a superspeedway because that certainly suits some drivers more than other. You try to have it at a neutral facility, if you will, like a Homestead or a Phoenix.

“But I always had a hard time with saying, ‘OK, it all boils down to this one race where you’ve got to get it right and if you don’t you’re not a champion this year.’ Even though you’ve really got this amazing body of work. You can still have that guy that wins one race be the champion and the guy that wins six not even make the final round.

“I wish we could figure out a way to make that championship moment not an all or nothing three-hour affair. … I’ve really warmed up to everything else we’ve done. It took me a long time because I was too much of traditionalist. But I still feel like there’s got to be a better scenario for the final moment.”

France responded to Earnhardt’s query by saying: “The reason you feel that way is because those are fair points that you make. They are.”

France went on to say that such questions are “part of the challenge of a playoff format in general with auto racing. You’re just going to have to accept that is not exactly perfect.”

France then said: “My decision was we’re not going to hold ourselves back from getting those (Game 7) moments because auto racing doesn’t quite fit perfectly into that. We just couldn’t do it.”

NASCAR changed how its champion was crowned ahead of the 2004 season. From 2000-03, three champions were so far ahead in the points that they clinched the title with one race left in the season (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Jeff Gordon in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in 2003). 

The Chase was created to generate interest in the fall, particularly when NASCAR was going against the NFL on Sundays. The Chase morphed into the playoffs and included eliminations and one race to determine the champion. 

Hamlin says a three-race round to determine the champion will keep the interest of fans.

“I think when you spread it out amongst a bigger sample size, such as a three-race (round), I don’t see how that’s not a positive thing for ratings. People will be compelled every week to tune in because this is the championship round. I think there’s something to be gained there.”

Asked about what if one of the title contenders wins the first two races to all but assure them the title ahead of the final race, Hamlin said: “Will not happen. There’ll be no lockup. No one will be locked going into the final race.”

Hamlin acknowledges that his viewpoint will not be shared by all.

“I’m a traditionalist like Dale,” Hamlin said. “This is just my opinion. I think that everyone is going to have a different opinion on it, but I just believe a larger sample size of our champion makes it more legitimate. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that, especially in the industry. 

“If you ask the drivers, ‘Do you see championships as valuable today as they did 10 years ago?’ I don’t think any one considers them as valuable just because it’s one race. It’s one race.”

2. Plugged in

Tyler Reddick moves to 23XI Racing and will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as his bosses. Reddick says that Jordan is not an absent owner.

“We’ve gotten to spend time (together) a little bit, here and there,” Reddick said of Jordan. “His involvement with the team is, I think, more than most realize.”

Reddick referenced the Martinsville race in October when he pulled out of the event because he wasn’t feeling well after contact on the track. Jordan reached out to Reddick afterward.

“It was really cool that you have a guy like him checking in on you to make sure you’re OK,” Reddick said. “He’s definitely locked in, and he really wants the team to do well. I’m excited to be working with him.”

3. Staying home

Kyle Larson said he will race very little this offseason. He’s staying at home for the birth of his third child with wife Katelyn Sweet.

Larson will compete in the Wild West Shootout, a dirt late model event at Vado (New Mexico) Speedway Park on Jan. 7-8 and Jan. 11-15.

Larson will not compete in the Chili Bowl this year. 

He said his focus will be on family this offseason.

“Help out where I can and just spend as much time with the family,” Larson said. “I normally go race a lot, but this year I’m not. I’m actually excited about it. I’ve only run one race so far this offseason. I’m surprised that it already feels like the offseason is going by really fast because I thought it’d be really slow with me not racing. It’s been good to just not race for once.”

4. Looking to improve

Ryan Blaney said he and crew chief Jonathan Hassler have looked back on the season and compiled a list of things to do for next year.

Blaney won the All-Star Race but did not win any points races. He finished eighth in points. It’s the sixth consecutive year he’s finished in the top 10 in points, but he’s never placed higher than seventh in the standings at the end of a season.

“We were up front so many races and led a lot of laps and won a bunch of stages, just never won (a points race),” Blaney said. “It is kind of a bummer. 

“So what kept us out of victory lane? Was it me? Was it a bad pit stop? It was kind of everything in some certain races. Sometimes they don’t work out for you. Some are self-induced. I felt like we took ourselves out of a handful of races I felt like we had a good shot of winning. … It is a bummer we didn’t win, but I was proud of the consistency and just hope to build on that.” 

Blaney is ready for the new season to begin.

“I’m kind of like two weeks is nice and then I kind of get itching to get back going,” he said. “It is nice to reset, and you kind of go through things you want to be better at. You have your own little list between myself and my team. … It’s a perfect time to work on that stuff.”

5. New partnership 

Among the new driver/crew chief pairings for 2023 is Austin Dillon working with Keith Rodden.

Rodden last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne. Rodden served as crew chief for William Byron in one race in 2020 but returns to full-time duty with Dillon, who finished 11th in points this past season, tying his career best. 

Rodden most recently worked on the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors. He takes over for Justin Alexander.

“Keith and I first got to work together in a wheel-force test for the Next Gen car at Richmond,” Dillon said. “It was a two-day test. We had dinner that night. It was good to talk to him. … Just knowing his passion was still very high to get back to the Cup level and crew chief. Him having the ability the work with Chevy this past year and seeing the different odds and ends of the Next Gen car was really the key to us (for him) to come over and crew chief for.”

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.