What matters at Sonoma: Different pit strategies on tap for maximizing day

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What matters in today’s NASCAR Cup Series race and how can different strategies result in big points bounties? Let’s dive into the analytics and trends shaping the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (4 p.m. ET on FS1).

Different strategies for “maximizing the day” at Sonoma

A scroll down the finishing order two weeks ago from Circuit of the Americas would note an interesting top 10. Despite the rain-shortened event, those among the highest-finishing quarter of the field were either established strategy-forward teams or teams with drivers like A.J. Allmendinger (with road racing origins stemming from his open-wheel upbringing) or Chase Briscoe (a two-time Xfinity Series road race winner who ranked eighth in median lap time at COTA) with varying road course bona fides.

Ideally, a team has both driver and strategy going for it, but that’s not always the case. When the driver isn’t a ringer on road courses, green-flag pit strategy can serve as the equalizer. In a crew chief’s control, good strategy can target stage finishes and/or the overall race finish. “Maximizing the day,” as it’s known, is a goal bringing forth options — and in extremes, wildly different races depending on a team’s playoff standing — in the stage-racing era.

In the 2019 race at Sonoma, the track’s most recent event, a tilt free of natural cautions saw a field split on vying for the win or low-hanging stage points:

  • Six teams secured wins (and playoff spots) prior to the Sonoma race. Four of them pitted under green in advance of the first stage finish, inheriting better track position on the ensuing restart. Joey Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon (now paired with Ryan Blaney) and Denny Hamlin with Chris Gabehart were the lone holdouts.
  • Three of the same six teams pitted in advance of the second stage finish, inheriting better track position on the restart opening the final stage. Brad Keselowski (with Paul Wolfe) joined Logano and Hamlin in staying out; Hamlin won the stage.
  • Only eight of 20 possible stage-point positions were comprised of prior race winners, but prior race winners earned three of the top five positions at the end of the race, including winner Martin Truex Jr.
  • On behalf of Ryan Newman, Scott Graves pitted the No. 6 car under green three laps prior to both stage conclusions. Newman began the final stage in seventh place and ultimately finished in the same spot. The strategy was atypical of Graves’ season; they were the only two green-flag pit cycles (of eight total that year) running near the ends of stages in which he didn’t keep Newman out in an effort to earn stage points.
  • William Byron (with Chad Knaus as crew chief) finished 19th but collected the race’s fifth-biggest points total, thanks to stage finishes of first and third. Kyle Larson (with Chad Johnston) finished 10th, but earned the fourth-biggest total, with stage finishes of fourth and sixth.

There are 11 teams that have already won races in 2021, meaning we may see more teams on a win-or-bust strategy, as stage points outside of the first-place offering are inconsequential to those already qualified for the playoffs. For those without wins, especially teams near the playoff cutoff, a strategy optimizing stage performance could fetch a points bounty better than one focused around the race result.

There’s no choose rule. Maybe there should be?

The carousel, reintroduced in 2019, tacks on an additional 0.53-miles to Sonoma’s lap length, creating more room for passing, more opportunity for mistakes, more wear on tires and, perhaps most importantly, dramatically altering the restart dynamic.

Traditionally, Sonoma saw retention rates across its inside and outside restart grooves close to equal, allowing driving talent and car speed to win out on short runs. But in the race two years ago, the inside groove saw a retention advantage of around 38 percentage points:

The inside groove is crucial to winning position in turn 3A (a right-hander), before the sharp right-hand entrance to the carousel at turn 4. Previously, those back-to-back right-handers didn’t exist, offering relief to those restarting from the outside groove.

Without that relief, it’s skewed the balance, creating the kind of gap between the two grooves that necessitated the choose rule on oval tracks.

How will Truex attack Sonoma without Cole Pearn?

From 2016-19, Martin Truex Jr. had a car ranked as the fastest or second fastest in the Cup Series race at Sonoma. From those races, he earned two wins.

Across different horsepower packages, tire combinations, course shapes, and teams, Truex was the common denominator, but Cole Pearn was on the pit box for each outing, in charge of both setup and strategy. Today’s race will be Truex’s first at Sonoma with James Small as crew chief.

Though it’s a tiny sample size — four races — Truex and Small have yet to win a road course race together since pairing in 2020. They finished 12th and 35th this season at Daytona and COTA, respectively ranking third and 16th in median lap time. It’s likely not a product of Pearn’s absence — Small worked closely with Pearn while at Furniture Row Racing and engineer Jeff Curtis was part of Truex’s 2018 Sonoma win, so winning information was certainly shared — but it begs the question of how Small will approach the race.

For as aggressive as Small has been this year, he has Truex’s unwavering trust.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Truex said this week. “We’ve been a little hit or miss here lately but having three wins in the bank is good. And I think we’ve probably gotten a little bit aggressive and that’s part of the reason why we won some races, I think. It’s also part of the reason why we’ve been a little bit inconsistent.”

After their Phoenix win, Small indicated the need for playoff points (something they lacked relative to other title contenders last season) to create a postseason safety net. Depending on their running whereabouts near the ends of stages, engineering a strategy for the stage win — maximizing “the day” as opposed to the finish — would be more pragmatic than aggressive, but if that’s the tactic he selects, it would buck the most likely path taken by teams that have already won races in 2021.

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.”