Friday 5: Justin Marks looks to make Trackhouse Racing into Nashville’s team


In 2018, Justin Marks strived to summit Aconcagua, the highest point in the Andes Mountains and the Western Hemisphere.

He failed.

Marks turned around less than 1,000 feet from the 22,841-foot peak after “I got my ass kicked” by the mountain.

Two years later, he reached the summit.

“The success of Aconcagua is not standing on the top,” Marks told NBC Sports. “It’s going through just a very difficult, uncomfortable experience and rising to the occasion.”

The Trackhouse Racing owner, who seeks to climb Everest someday, uses his mountaineering experience to help guide his first-year Cup team. Just as each step is planned well in advance in climbing, so is Marks’ plan for his team. He wants Trackhouse Racing to be “disruptive” in the sport by operating in a different manner.

One example is that he wants to relocate Trackhouse Racing to Nashville, Tennessee, and make it the city’s NASCAR team. He hopes to move there for the 2023 season.

“This new car is going to open up teams to rethink their shops and where they are,” said Marks, who lives near Nashville and has his team based at Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, North Carolina. “I think we’re entering an era of NASCAR where you no longer need to be buried in a 140,000-square foot manufacturing facility in an industrial park.

“I’m right now looking at ways to put our race shop in downtown Nashville and have our race shop be a public attraction for all the Nashville tourists to come in.”

But it might not just be a race shop in Nashville. Marks envisions more with the building.

“Maybe that’s a music venue and bar in downtown Nashville that is over the top of the race shop or something like that,” he said. “These are the kind of things that Trackhouse wants to think completely differently about and to just sort of rethink the entire team operations model. That’s just one example of 50 things on the whiteboard and 50 things that are in process right now.

“We’re just looking at everything and saying, ‘How do we do things different? How do we become the team of the people? How do we get a community to rally around us like one of the local professional teams?’”

A NASCAR team based outside the Charlotte, North Carolina, hub is not unheard of. Furniture Row Racing won the 2017 Cup championship with Martin Truex Jr. while based in Denver. The team shut down after the 2018 season.

With the Next Gen car’s debut next year, vendors will provide many of the key parts, including the chassis. Teams will not have to manufacture as many components. Marks notes that organizations won’t need to be tied to the Charlotte area.

“Nashville, there’s just so much opportunity here, and it’s becoming such a sports town that it just made too much sense,” Marks said of the city, which has teams in the NFL, NHL and MLS. “It’s the perfect fit.”

The area also has this weekend’s NASCAR races at Nashville Superspeedway, including the track’s first Cup race (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN). The city of Nashville will host a street race for the NTT IndyCar Series on Aug. 8 on NBCSN.

Marks is on the ownership group bringing the IndyCar race to Nashville. That group includes Dale Earnhardt Jr., entertainer Justin Timberlake and Scott Borchetta, president and CEO of Big Machine Label Group and owner of Big Machine Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Marks, whose resume includes a win in the 2016 Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and a class victory in the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona in a Porsche, has long been an advocate for street racing in NASCAR. Well before most advocated the idea, he was pushing for it. Marks said in 2018 he was for a NASCAR street course race because “I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people.”

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
Daniel Suarez has scored two top-10 finishes for Trackhouse Racing in its inaugural Cup season. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

That’s his approach with his team. Marks’ vision includes owning more than the No. 99 car of Daniel Suarez. Marks hopes to have a second car, potentially as early as next season.

“I want to be a multi-car, race-winning, championship-contending organization,” the 40-year-old Marks said. “That’s my goal. I’m willing to work for the next 25 years toward that goal.

“If that’s the goal and there is an opportunity to expand to two cars now, there’s no better time than the present. I mean why not just go for it? … This is what I’m going to invest my life, my heart and my soul into.”

Such an approach does not surprise AJ Allmendinger, who was Marks’ teammate in the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“You need people like that to come in and keep this thriving,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports of Marks and Matt Kaulig, owner of Kaulig Racing. “I love what Justin has been doing. I love the passion he has for motorsports. Not only when it comes to the NASCAR side of it, the Nashville IndyCar race. He’s got his hands in a lot of different things. He’s always been like that. It’s fun to see him having at least some success early to keep pushing him.”

Another way Marks is doing things differently is that he stated from the beginning that Trackhouse Racing would promote STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

That was among the concepts that drew Pitbull into joining Marks as co-owner of the team.

NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600
Pitbull (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“I wanted to get involved because I see it’s a higher calling,” Pitbull said. “It’s about utilizing the culture, creating the culture through NASCAR to bring people together. 

“I know it because I live it. I’ve seen it. Music is a universal language. When I’m out there performing for everybody, it doesn’t matter whether you speak English, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, if you are black, white, pink, purple or orange, it doesn’t matter. We all speak music when we’re there.  

When it comes to NASCAR, we watch the cars race, it’s about letting everyone know no matter what in life, if you focus, you work hard for it, you can achieve it.”

That’s a similar approach for Marks. One that has been reinforced by his experience mountain climbing.

“In the mountains, you are constantly learning how to overcome obstacles,” Marks said. “You are constantly learning how to adapt to hardships. My experience on the mountain has made me a better business owner because it’s changed my cognitive framework about how I look at things that didn’t go my way or problems that arise.

“Maybe before my time in the mountains, those were big problems and I had an emotional response to those problems. Now, I just look at it as a step in the process. … I’m much more methodical about how I look at adversity because if you react to adversity with emotion in the mountains, you get yourself in trouble. Same thing in business.”

2. Whiz kids

This weekend marks NASCAR’s return to Nashville Superspeedway for the first time in 10 years.

For many of the younger drivers competing there this weekend, going back a decade takes them to a time that included varying interests and interesting hair styles. It also was a time when not all of them were racing yet.

Ten years ago, Cup rookie Anthony Alfredo was 12 years old and building a computer for gaming. After watching YouTube videos on how to do so, he started work on his project.

Front Row Motorsports driver Anthony Alfredo, in 2011, building his first computer. (Photo: Anthony Alfredo)

“To be honest, it went very smoothly,” the Front Row Motorsports driver said. “I really didn’t have any issues or challenges (building it).”

His only issue was having all the parts. As he built it, he realized he needed a part or two he hadn’t ordered and had a part or two he ordered that he didn’t need. He couldn’t start playing games on the computer until the proper parts arrived a few days later.

“To be completely honest, I have people … who say ‘Man, that is crazy that you built a computer, especially in seventh grade,’ but, to be honest, everything clicks together,” Alfredo said. “It’s kind of like Legos with really expensive components.”

Alfredo used that computer for his iRacing for “a super long time.” He also used it as an office computer before building another computer for that purpose. He took the computer he built in 2011 to his family’s Connecticut home and uses that when he’s there.

Alfredo says it still is “running pretty smooth, which is awesome 10 years later.”

Before he drove the No. 24 in Cup, William Byron wore No. 35 in middle school football (Photo: William Byron)

A decade ago, William Byron’s focus was more on playing sports than racing. He was a linebacker on his middle school football team and also played lacrosse. It was at about this time Byron started to get into iRacing, which eventually led him to racing cars.

Consider what he’s done since his football playing days:

  • Won the ARCA East Series championship in 2015.
  • Won Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year in 2016.
  • Won the Xfinity Series championship and Rookie of the Year in 2017.
  • Won Cup Rookie of the Year in 2018.
  • Won his first Cup race in 2020, winning at the Daytona oval.
  • Won his second Cup race, winning at Homestead in 2021.
Quin Houff (No. 1) in his football days. (Photo: Quin Houff)

Quin Houff, who is in his second year in Cup for StarCom Racing, also played football his freshman year in high school.

He did that while competing in Late Model stocks at tracks such as Ace Speedway and Orange County Speedway in North Carolina.

Tyler Reddick also was racing a decade ago at age 15. He was in his sophomore year of high school and home schooled as he raced. He raced dirt late models in 2011 and scored his first career win, taking the checkered flag at East Bay Raceway Park. But just as memorable was Reddick’s hair style back then. He wasn’t the only one to have a memorable victory then. Erik Jones, then 15, won the prestigious Governor’s Cup 200 in Florida in 2011, giving his career a boost.

Many in the Xfinity Series had unique experiences a decade ago. Reigning series champion Austin Cindric celebrated his selection as a tuba player to the all-county band in 2011. Bayley Currey completed the eighth grade and finished the year on the honor roll despite missing 25 days of school because of his Legend Car racing schedule. Riley Herbst was entering the seventh grade that fall and had already won a few national Legend Car races. Harrison Burton won three USAC Quarter Midget championships. 

That year saw Gray Gaulding sign with Kevin Harvick Inc. to race full-time in the Pro All-Star Series and in 15 Super Late Model races. Colby Howard didn’t turn 10 until late October, but he already was racing dirt bikes. Ryan Vargas turned 11 in September 2011. He wouldn’t start racing until 2012.

Noah Gragson also had yet to start racing. He would do so in 2012. In 2011, he spent time dirt biking, mountain biking, snowboarding and skateboarding. Brandon Jones was going into his freshman year in the fall of 2011. He won the track championship taat year in the Super Truck Series at both Gresham Motorsports Park and Lanier National Speedway (now called Lanier Raceplex).

Joe Graf Jr. entered the seventh grade in 2011 and raced a Legend Car across the Northeast as well as in Florida. Jesse Little qualified for Martinsville Speedway’s Late Model race as a 14-year-old. Matt Mills was racing go-karts. Stefan Parsons raced a bandolero car in 2011.

3. A Big day for this Xfinity team

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) comes six months after music executive Scott Borchetta announced he would start a NASCAR Xfinity Series team.

Big Machine Racing’s Jade Buford has had a season-best four consecutive top-20 finishes entering this weekend’s race. It is a home event for Buford and Borchetta. Both live in the Nashville area and Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group is based in Nashville.

Borchetta admits the plan wasn’t to be an owner. He originally sought to be a sponsor. When he figured he could own a team for not much more money, he went into ownership.

“My entire life, if you look at the arc of my career in business and racing, it’s always been situations of, ‘Well, let’s do it ourself,’” Borchetta told NBC Sports. “I’ve never put ourselves in a position of having to count on somebody else for us to be successful. I’ve always been able to take my experience in working for others and creating our own businesses and our own culture. We’ve been very fortunate in pretty much everything that we’ve pursued.

“When we look at the first six months of the team, I’m very happy. Jade has delivered on everything I thought he could deliver.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300
Jade Buford has scored four consecutive top-20 finishes for Big Machine Racing, which is in its first year in the Xfinity Series. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Borchetta has been one to seize opportunities when presented. His father was involved in the country music business in Nashville. When Borchetta came from California to visit in 1981, his father said a country band needed a bass player for its tour.

“I’m thinking I’m 19 years old and I can go on tour,” Borchetta said. “So I went on tour with this country band and I never went back to LA.”

In 2005, he founded Big Machine Label Group, whose artists include Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett.

Borchetta said that a saying has guided him throughout his career: “I think we’re right until you prove us wrong.”

He explained why that resonates: “When you have that mentality, we’re going to figure out how to do this. When we started Big Machine, we were anything but a big machine. There was 13 of us. I didn’t tell them that we weren’t. I told them we were a Big Machine and we will figure out how to win. There’s always been that belief that we can do it.”

Borchetta also has done it on the track. He’s a three-time Super Trucks champion at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville and was enshrined in the track’s Hall of Fame last year. He also has competed in the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association and won a national championship last year driving a ’72 Corvette.

So what about driving an Xfinity car?

He nearly did. Borchetta planned to run the inaugural Xfinity road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. When COVID-19 struck, his plans went away. Instead, he sponsored Buford in a car for SS Green Light Racing. Buford finished 14th in his Xfinity Series debut. That led to Borchetta signing Buford for this season.

As for having another chance to run an Xfinity car? It could happen. Borchetta runs Trans Am races.

“I could see running an Xfinity road race or two within the next couple of years,” he said. “I would love to do it. Running Trans Am 2 has been great experience to lead up to that moment. I’m not counting it out.”

4. What will practice be like in 2022?

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, joined Marty Snider, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett on NASCAR America MotorMouths this week on Peacock. He  discussed what practice will be like next season for teams and if the package used in the NASCAR All-Star Race will be run again.

Since returning from the pandemic hiatus in May 2020, NASCAR has primarily had no practice or qualifying for events.

Cup storylines
The package used in last week’s NASCAR All-Star Race won’t be used again this season. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Eight Cup races this season are exceptions. Those include new Cup events: Circuit of the Americas, the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Road America and Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Other Cup events with practice and qualifying this season are: Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

With the series moving to the Next Gen car, how much practice will be permitted?

“I think one of the key things that allowed us to do what we did and do it so efficiently is the fact that the race teams had such huge notebooks on these cars,” Miller said on the show about limiting practicing and qualifying this season. “They really hadn’t changed too much over the last two or three years. Just the amount of sim work and how elaborate all the simulation and the models have gotten with these particular cars is what allowed us to do that.

“There’s going to have to be a vehicle to collect that data and get those same systems up and running for the teams. I don’t think zero practice is necessarily going to be something that is on the table but limited practice. They’re going to have to figure out things a lot quicker than they have before, for sure.”

Last weekend, NASCAR reduced the tapered spacer for the All-Star Race, cutting horsepower from about 550 to 510. Miller was asked on the show if such a package could be seen again.

“We don’t see that as something that we will implement between now and the end of the year,” he said. “As we finalize all the different things for Next Gen, power levels and the different downforce packages and things that will be available with that car, that kind of helped us a little bit zero in on something.”

NASCAR America Motormouths airs from 6-7 p.m. ET Mondays and Wednesdays on Peacock.

5. The best the first time around

Hendrick Motorsports has won the most inaugural Cup races since 1994, capturing five of 12 such races.

Here is a look at who won those inaugural races:

Circuit of the Americas (May 2021) – Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports)

Bristol Dirt (March 2021) – Joey Logano (Team Penske)

Daytona road course (Aug. 2020) – Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports)

Charlotte Roval (Sept. 2018) – Ryan Blaney (Team Penske)

Kentucky (July 2011) – Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Kansas (Sept. 2001) – Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports)

Chicagoland (July 2001) – Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing)

Homestead (Nov. 1999) – Tony Stewart (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Las Vegas (March 1998) – Mark Martin (Roush Racing)

Auto Club (June 1997) – Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports)

Texas (April 1997) – Jeff Burton (Roush Racing)

Indianapolis (Aug. 1994) – Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports)

NASCAR 75: Looking back on iconic moments in NASCAR’s history for 75th anniversary


75 years on the track is something worth celebrating. All season long, NBC will be recognizing NASCAR’s 75th anniversary and counting down some of the most iconic moments in the sport’s history.

Since 1948, the roar of engines and thrill of high speeds has captivated those around the world. Now, many years later, the excitement remains as the next generation sets another electrifying season in motion.

Whether it’s the first NASCAR Championship victory from Red Byron in 1949 or Ross Chastain’s unforgettable “video game move” in 2022, there are countless memories to relive from the track that will stand the test of time.

We’ll take a look at some of the most incredible moments  in NASCAR history, updating regularly throughout the season. Stay tuned to NBC Sports for memories and moments from over seven decades of competition.

RELATED: Click here for the full 2023 NASCAR schedule

Charlotte 2002: Jamie McMurray wins in second Cup start

It’s safe to say that Jamie McMurray’s arrival in Cup Series racing was more spectacular than most.

McMurray won in only his second Cup race, outrunning a raft of top drivers to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 13, 2002.

Chip Ganassi Racing called on McMurray to fill the seat in its No. 40 cars after Sterling Marlin suffered a serious injury in a race accident and missed the final weeks of the season. McMurray made his first start in the No. 40 at Talladega Superspeedway, finishing 26th.

The 500-mile fall race at Charlotte was next on the schedule, and the event would mark McMurray’s first Cup run on a 1.5-mile track.

McMurray took the lead after late-race pit stops and outran Bobby Labonte by .350 of a second to win. Following McMurray and Labonte was a group of talent-rich drivers: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and Jimmie Johnson.

McMurray, 26, scored seven Cup wins before he retired.

Talladega 2004: Jeff Gordon edges Dale Earnhardt Jr. in controversial finish

The Earnhardt name is magic at Talladega Superspeedway, where Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. enjoyed success after success. But it was Jeff Gordon who rode to victory in a controversial finish at the 2.66-mile track in 2004.

Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. were battling for the lead with five laps to go when Brian Vickers crashed, causing a caution flag. Green-white-checkered overtime rules had not gone into effect at that time, and NASCAR decided the winner — in this case Gordon — based on which driver was in front at the time of the flag. Gordon appeared to be about a half-car-length in front, and he took the caution and checkered flags for the win.

The ruling did not go over well with many in the Talladega grandstands. Drink cans, seat cushions and other debris — some hitting Gordon’s car — were thrown onto the track by fans as Gordon took a victory lap.

Gordon led the race’s final six laps, including the last four under caution.

2013 Daytona 500: Danica Patrick scores first pole win by woman

Danica Patrick’s decision to leave IndyCar racing for NASCAR brought a wave of publicity to stock car racing’s top level, and she rode the crest to headlines in qualifying for the 2013 Daytona 500 at the start of her first full season in Cup racing.

Patrick, driving for Stewart Haas Racing, ran a lap at 196.434 mph to win the 500 pole, becoming the first woman to do so. Jeff Gordon qualified second. Patrick finished eighth in the race.

Patrick’s hopes to have a successful career in NASCAR faded. She didn’t win another pole after the Daytona run in 2013, and she never won a race.

In five-plus seasons in Cup, she had no top-five finishes and seven finishes in the top 10.

2020 The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington: Back to racing

The NASCAR Cup Series had run its first four races of the 2020 season before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States in early March.

It would be more than two months before drivers and teams hit the track again. The start of a dramatically reconfigured 2020 Cup schedule took place May 17 at Darlington Raceway.

With strict COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the Real Heroes 400 ran behind closed doors. Only essential personnel were present at Darlington for the race, which was among the first major professional sporting events in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.

Kevin Harvick reached a milestone with his 50th career Cup Series win and celebrated by doing donuts at the start/finish line. When he climbed out of his Ford, he was only met with silence.

“The weirdest part of the day for me was getting out of the car and not hearing anybody cheering,” Harvick said.

It was a day unlike any other in NASCAR history. But the sport’s mission had been accomplished. Racing was back.

1959 Daytona 500: Photo finish determines inaugural winner

For years, cars raced on the Daytona Beach, Florida, shores, but Bill France Sr. had another idea — building a high-banked 2.5-mile speedway a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

NASCAR’s first race there was 1959. Johnny Beauchamp was declared the winner, crossing the finish line three-wide with Lee Petty and the lapped car of Joe Weatherly.

Petty claimed he won the race, but it wasn’t until three days later that photographic evidence was found that showed Petty beating Beauchamp to the finish line. The photo was taken by T. Taylor Warrne, who was selected as the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence and honored at the 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

The father of Richard Petty went on to win his third series title, going with crowns in 1954 and ’58.

2020 GEICO 500 at Talladega: NASCAR stands united for Bubba Wallace

During the June 2020 race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, a member of Bubba Wallace’s team reported to NASCAR that a noose had been placed in Wallace’s garage stall.

On the day of the race, drivers and crew members pushed Wallace’s car to the front of pit road in a show of solidarity. Wallace went on to finish 14th in the race.

An FBI investigation later ruled that there was no hate crime because the garage rope had been like that since the previous October and there was no way to know Wallace’s team would have that garage several months later.

After the FBI’s findings were revealed, Wallace said he was “relieved” that he had not been specifically targeted, but also frustrated over the ensuing reaction – which saw some on social media question his integrity and accuse him of perpetrating a hoax.

Since the incident, Wallace has gone on to become a winning driver at the Cup Series level.

In October 2021, he claimed his first career Cup Series win at Talladega, becoming the first Black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier division in nearly 58 years.

A second Cup win followed in September 2022 at Kansas Speedway.

2011 Daytona 500: Trevor Bayne adds to Daytona’s legacy of surprise winners

The Daytona 500 is not only NASCAR’s biggest race, but also one of its most unpredictable.

Nine drivers have earned their first NASCAR Cup Series win in the Daytona 500. In fact, it happened in both 2021 and 2022 (Austin Cindric – 2022, Michael McDowell – 2021).

Before then, the most recent driver to pull this feat off was Trevor Bayne.

The Tennessee native captured the 2011 Daytona 500 driving for Wood Brothers Racing, a team that’s competed in NASCAR since 1950 but was running only part-time in 2011 (the team returned to full-time status in 2016).

Making this an even bigger upset: Bayne won in just his second career Cup Series start, which matched a standing Cup record set by Jamie McMurray during the 2002 season.

As Bayne took the checkered flag in overtime, his yell over the No. 21 team’s radio summed it all up not just for himself, but everybody watching: “Are you kidding me?!? What?!?”

1993 Daytona 500: ‘The Dale and Dale Show’

The 1993 Daytona 500 was winding down, and a mother and father could only wonder what fate had in store for their son.

As Dale Jarrett raced for the win, his mother, Martha, watched from a van inside the track, while his father, Ned, helped cover the race for CBS Sports.

The final laps came, and Dale Jarrett had a chance. But could he beat the dominant Dale Earnhardt?

Opportunity presented itself coming to the white flag, and Dale Jarrett made his move. He eventually cleared Earnhardt for first place.

CBS producer Bob Stenner then had lead announcer Ken Squier go silent – and told Ned Jarrett to “call your son home and be a Daddy.”

Ned’s ensuing call has echoed through NASCAR history ever since:

“…It’s the “Dale and Dale Show” as we come off Turn 4! You know who I’m pulling for, it’s Dale Jarrett. Bring her to the inside, Dale! Don’t let him get down there! He’s gonna make it! Dale Jarrett’s gonna win the Daytona 500!”

Moments after Dale Jarrett had won, CBS cameras cut to an awestruck Martha Jarrett in the van.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and clasped her hands together in prayer.

Visit NASCAR on NBC for for more memorable moments and historic tracks all season long, and stay tuned to NBC, USA and Peacock for coverage of the 2023 season.

Dr. Diandra: With Chase Elliott out, these are the best Next Gen road racers


The Next Gen racecar is the ideal vehicle for road course racers. With none of the asymmetry of previous car generations — vehicles optimized for only turning left — the new car upended the road course pecking order.

Road course ace Chase Elliott will watch this season’s first road course race from the sideline while recovering from a fractured left leg.

Elliott has won seven of the 25 Cup Series road courses races he’s run, giving him a win rate of 28.0%. That’s a little more than one win in every four races. He posts top-10 finishes 68.0% of the time.

In 2022, Elliott:

  • led the most laps (121) at road courses
  • led four of the six road course races
  • led the most laps at three of the six road course races

But he didn’t win any of them.

Tyler Reddick won on two road courses, including his first Cup Series win on the way to a three-win season. Ross Chastain, Daniel Suárez, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell each won one race.

Winning isn’t everything… but it’s a start

The unusually high number of spins and tire/wheel issues last year means that finishes don’t always reflect how well a driver ran.

For example: Elliott led most of the first two stages at Sonoma but had to back up during a mid-race pit stop to retighten a wheel. His average running position was 2.2 before the glitch and 15.9 after. He finished eighth.

Despite not winning in 2022, Elliott still tied for the best average finishing position on road courses. The graph below shows all drivers with average finishing positions below 12 in 2022.

A vertical bar chart showing the most consistent Next Gen road course racers

Of last year’s road course winners, only Reddick and Bell make the graph.

  • Three finishes outside the top 20 drop Chastain’s average finish to 16.7.
  • Sonoma winner Suárez had three top-five finishes and three finishes of 24th and worse for an average finish of 16.5.
  • Although Larson finished third at Road America and won Watkins Glen, his other four finishes were 29th or worse. That averages out to 19.7.

That’s not to say these drivers aren’t contenders for a win at any road course race. But I’m more interested in the most consistent Next Gen road course racers.

Only four drivers have average finishing positions under 10: Elliott, Reddick, Chris Buescher and Austin Cindric. Michael McDowell is fifth on the list, 1.3 positions back from Reddick. Bell is 0.7 positions behind McDowell.

Going beyond averages

To gain insight, I examined driver finishes by track, as shown in the graph below. Average positions are represented by gray bars, with symbols showing individual race finishes.

A scatter plot showing 2022 road course finishes by race for 2022's best Next Gen road racers
Symbols overlaps when a driver had two finishes in the same place. For example, Tyler Reddick won twice, so the two symbols are overlaid.

This graph shows, for example, that Elliott had four top 10s and two finishes out of the top 15. Buescher had the same average finishing position but had five top 10s and one 21st-place finish.

Given the issues the new car introduced, this graph suggested that I give each driver a mulligan. So I also calculated the average of each driver’s best five road course races and summarized them in the table below.

A table comparing average finishes for 2022's best next-gen road course racers

Let’s look a little deeper into three of these drivers.

Chris Buescher

Buescher won the fall Bristol race and his name always comes up when talking superspeedways.

But the Next Gen car improved Buescher’s average road course finish by 3.1 positions relative to 2021. Buescher not only matches Chase Elliott’s average finish but beats Elliott in number of top-10 finishes.

If we throw out both drivers’ worst finishes — a 21st-place at COTA for Buescher and Elliott’s P20 at the Roval — Buescher beats Elliott in average finish position.

Austin Cindric

Cindric won four road courses in the Xfinity Series and posted the third-best average finish at road courses in his first Cup Series season. His 2022 performance included four top-10 finishes on the first four road courses of the season.

But even excluding his 21st-place finish at the Roval, Cindric remains ranked behind Elliott and Buescher.

Like Buescher, Cindric’s average running position is significantly higher than his average finishing position. That raises the interesting question of whether drivers advancing last year did so because they were better in the Next Gen car, or because other drivers had trouble.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick finished 35th at Sonoma last year, 13 laps down. He had been running consistently in the top six before requiring a brake repair.

But Sonoma was Reddick’s only misstep. His other five road course finishes were all top 10s, including two wins. Excluding the Sonoma finish gives Reddick a 4.4 average finishing position for 2022 road courses — the best of any driver.

Reddick’s move from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI raises some questions about how his 2023 road course performance will compare with 2022. Excepting last week at Atlanta where an ailing Reddick finished fifth, Reddick has finished the same or worse than last year. And that’s with an additional year of experience in the Next Gen car.

It’s just as hard to predict winners this year as it was last year. But if you’re looking for drivers who can reliably finish in the top 10, these are the best choices.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”