What matters at COTA: Elliott, Truex in their own road course tier

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What matters in today’s NASCAR Cup Series race and how do Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. hold an advantage over other drivers? Let’s dive into the analytics and trends that will shape the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1):

Elliott, Truex share ability to pad stats, stage comebacks

Elliott and Truex occupy a tier to themselves on NASCAR road courses, reflected in the weekend’s betting odds and the superficial stat lines — they’ve combined to win eight of the last 10 road races — across the last four seasons.

Who has the upper hand on the other may come down to the venue in question. COTA, like most road courses, is unique in shape with natural, significant elevation changes. Though not all traits of their talent are translatable, what we’ve seen recently from Truex and Elliott at both natural road courses and stadium road courses appears promising.

They ranked first and second in surplus passing value — the difference in a driver’s adjusted pass efficiency and the expected APE of a driver with the same average running position, based on a field-wide slope — on road courses from 2019-21. Additionally, both drivers showcased an ability to throw down massive single-race passing numbers:

Whereas a +4.00% SPV would represent a dominant showing for a race winner on a normal oval track, sky-high surplus rates are the norm for Elliott and Truex on road courses, where passing numbers are especially volatile.

Elliott’s 2019 win on the Roval came in a come-from-behind effort following his solo crash on Lap 65, a race in which he created 32.8 positions beyond what was statistically expected of someone with his average running position. On the same track a year later, Truex recorded 65 passes and was never passed for position outside of green-flag pit cycles (where he lost 26 spots), more than 59 positions better than what was anticipated.

Truex believes parts of his base road course skillset are transferrable regardless of the track configuration.

“I think a general road course set of skills will translate to other road courses,” Truex said. “They all have a little bit of unique tendencies when it comes to grip and asphalt, elevation changes, the way the curbs are, things like that, that can play into your strengths or weaknesses.

“For me, it’s understanding what it takes to make speed on a road course. It’s understanding what it takes to make a heavy stock car, without a lot of grip and a lot of horsepower, how to make the most time on those road courses.

“Then, it’s really about being able to hold the car on the limit and not make mistakes because you talk about road course having 10, 12, 14 corners, one little mistake — overdrive one corner — you screw up your whole lap. A lot of it is really about discipline and understanding where the limit is and not making mistakes.”

Truex, though, isn’t impervious to mistakes on road courses. His effort in February’s Busch Clash exhibition resulted in a last-place finish after heavy damage and a procedural penalty for missing a chicane under caution-flag conditions.

Elliott is also far from perfect. In addition to his topsy-turvy performance in the 2019 Roval race, his pressing late in February’s Daytona points race led to a spin nine laps from the finish which helped relegate him to a 21st-place result despite having the fastest car for the entire event.

But their imperfections don’t seem to limit their chances at victory. Their abilities to make speed and pass efficiently suit them for epic comebacks and showings of a gaudy statistical caliber.

Strength on 750-horsepower ovals matters … at COTA

Comparing oval strength to road course strength is an exercise in nuance, but given that road courses in NASCAR are utilizing the 750-horsepower, low-downforce package seen on the schedule’s smaller ovals, it’s worth trying to comprehend how one might translate to the other.

Specifically at COTA, the central focuses on aero and grip at 750 horsepower should matter a great deal. The 3.41-mile course is a venue unlike any we’ve seen in the Cup Series across the last 30 years, far different from Sonoma or Watkins Glen.

The glaring difference is COTA’s two monster straights, the longest of which runs 0.67 miles between turns 11 and 12, while the other includes the start-finish line. The need for speed between corner exit and corner entry is real, naturally catering to teams that can reliably coax straight-line speed.

But those heavy straights come with heavier braking zones and offer advantages to drivers who can work brake and throttle well enough for efficient launches into the subsequent section. Interestingly, five of COTA’s most crucial turns are big left-handers, including the final turn before the start-finish line.

It’s these similarities that make Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, the two fastest drivers this season on 750-horsepower tracks, two drivers to watch in today’s race:

Logano and Hamlin have combined for two wins on road courses (Logano in 2015, Hamlin in 2016, both at Watkins Glen) throughout their time in NASCAR, but their brand of speed is ubiquitous on 750-horsepower tracks this season, including the lone road course race, on Daytona’s infield course, where they finished second and third, respectively.

Byron’s road racing acumen on the rise, thanks to repetitions at local karting track

When NASCAR last qualified on a regular basis, William Byron proved himself a reliable one-lap wonder, winning five poles and securing front-row starting spots in each of the three road course races that season. His knack for ripping off fast single lap times continued Saturday, when he secured the best lap during the weekend’s lone, rainy practice session.

But he’s more than a good short-run racer. Across the six road course races in 2019-21, he secured the third-most efficient surplus passing value (+7.09%, good for 71 positions beyond his statistical expectation), trailing only Truex and Elliott. This kind of efficient maneuvering may lead one to believe Byron’s star as a road racer is on the rise, a result of time spent working with one of the industry’s foremost driving coaches.

Max Papis, a former NASCAR, IndyCar and sports car competitor and Rolex 24 winner, has served as Byron’s performance advisor since 2014. Over the last seven years, they spent significant time at GoPro Motorplex, a kart track in Mooresville, N.C.

The 23-year-old driver believes his work with Papis and repetitions on the kart track is what formed his road racing acumen.

“He’s been probably the biggest asset for me when it comes to getting comfortable with a road course,” said Byron, who insists his deliberate kart-track practice with Papis, rain or shine, enhanced his appreciation of the craft. “It sounds silly, but that’s kind of where I grew to like it and enjoy it.

“And then if you like something and enjoy it, you work on it and get better and I’ve done it at the karting track.”

Today’s race is arguably his best chance to date at winning a Cup Series road race, given his speed. He enters the race at COTA with the fastest team in the series based on average median lap rank. The No. 24 car specifically ranks fourth on 750-hp tracks, tops among Hendrick Motorsports entries.

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.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.