What drivers said after Road America

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A collection of driver quotes following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America…

Chase Elliott – Winner: “Just really, really proud of our team. Yeah, we really kind of struggled yesterday and never got into a good rhythm I didn’t feel like on my end. And I thought we could be a little better with the car. Made a lot of changes overnight. Kind of started the day. I thought that I liked it – I thought. But I just still wasn’t in a good rhythm. About halfway I felt like I started to kind of put things together, start minimizing some mistakes I’d been making all weekend, then started finding some pace. So, yeah, after that it got fun. I was able to get a flow going, get in rhythm. Then from there we were able to get on — we kind of got caught up from our bad starting spot, got on the same strategy as the leaders. From there, we were able to go to work. Had things going good enough to keep up and get by those guys.”

Christopher Bell – Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I think it was close, closer than anyone else was to the 9 (Chase Elliott). That was good. At the end of the race everyone was telling me that I was matching if not a little better lap times, so never had track position to start up there with him and see what we had against the whole run. I’m sure he was saving a little bit to make sure if there was a restart there or something, but that was a lot of fun. The SiriusXM Camry was really good, and I knew that we would have a really good week this weekend.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 3rd: “We kept working on it, making adjustments there. We just did not have the tire life the 9 (Chase Elliott) did. That was incredible. He was able to drive away from us. His braking was really good, but his drive off was awesome. They beat us by far today, but proud of the Skittles America Mix bunch. Everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry did a good job. We all ran up front. We all had good speed. It showed that we were close. That was all we had, but overall good day fighting through traffic. It was really uneventful because we jumped the stages, so that kind of gave us that track position there at the end. We didn’t get very many points today doing that, but I feel like we are in a good spot. Hopefully, we will go get them next week.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “It was fun. I really enjoyed Road America and just the whole challenge of running here; posting good laps early with fresh tires and then managing the tires on the long run. I knew our strategy was to go for Stage points; which man, I was going to have to work hard today. I gave it everything I could. So, I think we got a lot of points with the Monster Energy Chevy. … I’m just really proud of our group to come here. I worked through the simulator work and worked through everything we could. I put one tire wrong today and gave up one point to (Kyle) Larson in Stage 2. I really enjoyed coming up here today and the Wisconsin people were great. There were tons of old school gear that I saw from racing back in my Penske days. The fans here were just ecstatic that the Cup Series was here. It was a lot of fun.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 5th: ”I thought that was kind of what I was capable of and what the car was capable of. A combination of both. I’m proud of our FedEx Toyota team. They gave me a good car; I just need to find three or fourth tenths here and there at this big of a track. It’s like three hundredths at an oval track. If I can do that, I will be right in the game.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 6th: “I thought we were good enough to run fourth there at the end but my engine shut off. It was really cool to run sixth and be the best Ford today. We definitely had a lot of adversity with not getting a qualifying lap in and then the penalty at the beginning. I felt like we had a really good car on the long run. I am proud of that. It was a good day overall. We needed that. We will go on to the next one and see if we can get better.”

Ross Chastain – Finished 7th: “Seventh-place here at Road America in our No. 42 AdventHealth Camaro ZL1 1LE. We got good stage points and a good finish. Proud of the effort from all the men and women at Chip Ganassi Racing to bring two really fast hotrods. Kurt Busch and the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy was fast and we were too. We were around each other all day and had speed passing a lot of cars. … Proud of AdventHealth, Clover, McDonald’s, and Moose for all the support. It puts a little calming factor into everybody I think now. We’re still going to bring fast cars. It’s been a crazy week. We still race for Chip Ganassi and Team Chevy; and we’re going to keep pushing and keep trying to win.”

Tyler Reddick – Finished 8th: “We worked really hard on prepping for these road course races over the offseason, and it’s great to see all the hard work pay off when we have a solid day like today. I was really happy with the speed and handling of our No. 8 Kalahari Resorts & Conventions Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE right from the start of the race today. It handled so well that I was worried about adjusting on it at all today, but my crew chief, Randall Burnett, and the team made some good changes on air pressure throughout the race that helped me with all around rotation through the course. We stayed out during Stage 2 and played a little bit of strategy to grab our first Stage Win of the year, which is great for our points situation in the standings. By doing that, we did trade-off a little bit and have to climb back up through the field in the final stage, but I was confident we had both the speed and handling to do so today. It got a little tough during the final laps of the race when I felt like my brakes were starting to fade, but we were able to fight through it and grab another top-10 finish.”

Matt DiBenedetto – Finished 10th: “I thought the adjustments we made and everything we did to get the car ready to qualify were great and the race, it was pretty clear we were a short-run car. That was very evident. But we made the most of it all day. The adjustments were good. The guys did a great job all weekend. We have been working hard to get our road course cars better and it was nice to get a glimpse of some hope and speed and to lead laps. I know we have to work on our long run speed a little bit. That was cool. I wanted to get Menards and Dutch Boy a good run because we have had some bad circumstances this year so it was nice to get a top-10 and lead laps.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 11th: “I’m proud of everyone who works on the No. 3 Dow Salutes Chevrolet. We knew we had our work cut for us since we started deep in the field, but if there’s anything this Richard Childress Racing team has proven this year, it’s that we aren’t afraid of grinding it out. We passed a lot of cars on old tires in Stage 1, which really shows how fast our Chevy was. It was hard to get track position today, but we finally clawed our way into the top 10 to start Stage 3. Overall, 11th is a solid finish with what we overcame, so nice job to the pit crew, spotters, road crew and everyone involved with today. Thanks to all of our troops, especially the 1,903 veterans and active-duty military members featured on the No. 3 Dow Salutes Chevy this weekend. It was great to highlight them, Team Rubicon and Dow’s Military Degree Equivalency program on the July 4th holiday. We’re headed to Atlanta next, and we’ll do our best to get a win there.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 13th: “We had a hard-fought day in our Snap-on Ford. This is a tough track and we fought hard to make the most of our day with what we had.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 14th: “I’ll take a 14th-place finish at a newer road course. Our Smithfield/Pit Boss Ford just needed more rear grip and speed to race with the top guys. We’re continuing to build on our road course program. All of the fans who came out on Fourth of July weekend was awesome to see. On to Atlanta.”

Joey Logano – Finished 15th: “We struggled today overall with handling and braking. The guys on pit road did a great job on each stop, grabbing us positions every time, just needed a little more to be super competitive. We’ll regroup and we’ve got a few weeks before we hit another road course and we’ll be stronger at Watkins Glen.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 16th: “Yeah, hate to give up points, but there’s still a lot of racing left before the playoffs start. We’ll just keep trying to do a good job in the stages. It would be nice to get back and win some stages, win some more races and pad our bonus points. Obviously, it would be good to beat Denny (Hamlin) and get those five extra. Really shooting for it. You can tell he’s really shooting for it too. He was really aggressive today. Those five bonus points are important.”

Cole Custer – Finished 17th: “It was a rough day at Road America, but it was awesome to be back for the holiday weekend. We had a solid car. We just struggled with a loose-handling racecar and didn’t have the short run speed we needed. I’m pretty excited to get to Atlanta and slip and slide around.”

Erik Jones – Finished 19th: “Was a fight all day for the SCAG Chevrolet. We stuck with it and came home with a top twenty. Think we learned some things for the next road course and hope for some more improvement there.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 20th: “Lacked some overall grip early in the race, felt like we made some good adjustments but then taking the damage really set us back for the rest of the day. The good news is, we head to Atlanta next week and the last time we were there we won.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 26th: “We had a long way to go from practice and qualifying to get into a contention speed zone. We did good. We improved and improved. P.26 is a good run for what we had to put together today. We would have liked to get more out of it, but I’m pretty proud of the effort to not make any mistakes. I had a little mess up earlier in the race, but to come back and to get a good finish for this Lure Lock/Bass Pro Shops Camry is a good day.”

Austin Cindric – Finished 38th: “I only had one wheel drive and when you only have two other ones spinning with 750 horsepower it is a bit challenging. It was quite dramatic taking the lead and then immediately losing everything. Not a weekend I am necessarily happy about. To have the opportunity to show up at this race track with extremely well-prepared race cars and have a shot to win both races is really great for someone in my position. But I want to make the most of it and I put way too much into it to have it go that bad, especially when you get moved out of the lead and then take it back as clean as possible, and then this is all you’ve got. That is racing. That is my motto for the weekend. I appreciate Pirtek and everyone at Road America for coming out to support us. It has been a great weekend.”

2022 spotlights: The Clash, the King and Martinsville Mania

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.

In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: The name game

There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.

Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:

Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a roaring success. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.

Wiggling at Watkins Glen – The venerable New York road course produced another hot finish as teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win. Larson forced Elliott out of the main groove and took the lead for good with five laps remaining. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win,” Larson said. Elliott didn’t publicly criticize Larson, but it was clear he wasn’t pleased with Larson’s move.

MORE: Fighting knights and pie in the sky

Six hundred miles, and then some – The long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 600-mile race has produced some great competition – and some races that prompted long naps. This year’s was one of the craziest and, by the way, the longest. The race went to two overtimes, finally ending after 413 laps and 619.5 miles, making it the longest race in NASCAR’s 75 years. The winner – perhaps most accurately described as the survivor – was Denny Hamlin, who outran teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps.

The King is back…but where is he? – The Cup playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway with the storied Southern 500, but the playoffs took a back seat to other storylines. Erik Jones scored an upset win in Richard Petty’s No. 43, marking the iconic car’s first victory since 2014. Petty, however, missed the Victory Lane festivities. He and Dale Inman, the No. 43’s former crew chief, left the race early for the drive home to North Carolina. The long night held several incidents, including one involving Kevin Harvick, who criticized NASCAR after his car caught fire, uttering his now-infamous diatribe about what he called “crappy-ass parts.”

No watermelon, but a lotta juiceThe finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway generated international interest. Christopher Bell won in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, but the post-race spotlight was on Ross Chastain, who rode the outside wall through the final two turns at speeds rarely seen on the short track and finished fourth, good enough to stay in the championship hunt. Chastain’s remarkable move drew comment from observers outside NASCAR, including Formula 1 drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 5: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

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The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November. 

Here are some of the photos that stood out for me:

1. Daytona 500 

Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions. 

Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.

Cindric blocked teammate Ryan Blaney coming to the finish line and beat Bubba Wallace by half a car length. 

It was the second time Bubba Wallace had finished runner-up in this race. Unlike 2018, when Wallace was excited with finishing second, Wallace felt no such emotion this time. 

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.

Austin Cindric‘s car after winning the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

A dejected Bubba Wallace after finishing second in the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

2. Road America 

The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.

This past season’s race was memorable. Tyler Reddick scored his first career Cup win on July 3. Nine days later came the announcement that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 (That timetable moved up to 2023 after RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8.).

Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.

Austin Cindric hugs Tyler Reddick in victory lane at Road America on July 3, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.

“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works. 

“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”

When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.

In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.

Tyler Reddick’s son Beau sleeps in victory lane after his father’s first Cup win in July 2022 at Road America. (Photo: Dustin Long)

3. Special moments

One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar. 

These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.

As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was replacing Custer with Ryan Preece in the No. 41 Cup car and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.

Cole Custer walks under an ominous sky at Daytona in February 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.

The track held up. So did most of the cars and the fans came. While not a sellout, more than 50,000 people attended the event and NASCAR noted that many had not purchased tickets to a NASCAR event before. The event was a success.

What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers. 

Fans stand in line for merchandise at the Clash at the Coliseum in Feb. 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).

NASCAR Hall of Famers Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Dale Inman at the NASCAR Hall in April 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

4. New winners 

This season saw five first-time Cup winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 in February), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix in March), Ross Chastain (Circuit of the Americas in April), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma in June) and Tyler Reddick (Road America in July).

I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.

Daniel Suarez at Nashville Superspeedway in June 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

5. Martinsville

Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.

Amazingly, it worked. He passed five cars and earned a spot in the championship. Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.

As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.

Turn 4 wall after Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the October 2022 race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Dr. Diandra: 2022 accidents steady, spins up 200%

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Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.

Cautions

I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.

My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.

A stacked bar chart showing the planned and natural cautions from 2013 to 2022

The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.

Causes

Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?

This year presented an even thornier problem.

The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.

To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.

The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.

Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.

My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.

The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.

A table comparing breakdowns of cautions

The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.

There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.

Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls

I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.

And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.

The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.

A stacked bar graph showing the drivers involved in the most accidents, spins and/or stalls

Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.

Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.

No full-time driver evaded incidents entirely. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron tallied six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell came in at eight each.

Cautions by race

The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.

But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.

The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.

A vertical bar graph showing the races with the most cautions per 100 miles of racing

That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.

Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4  The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).

What about superspeedways?

The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.

But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.

The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.

Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.

We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.

And there were a lot more spins that didn’t bring out cautions.

Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.

Front Row Motorsports Cup teams to have new crew chiefs in 2023

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Both Front Row Motorsports Cup teams will have new crew chiefs in 2023, the team announced Wednesay.

Travis Peterson will be the crew chief for the No. 34 car that has been driven by Michael McDowell. Peterson replaces Blake Harris, who will be the crew chief for Alex Bowman in 2023 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Peterson, 31, has been a race engineer. He spent the past five seasons at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. He worked with drivers Chris Buescher, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth during that time. Peterson previously served as a race engineer at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and also at JR Motorsports.

“I think there are a lot of people in the NASCAR garage who are noticing what Front Row Motorsports has accomplished with the new car and their truck program,” Peterson said in a statement from the team.

“This is an opportunity to come into a winning and championship organization and help take that next step of getting more wins in the Cup Series and be in the playoffs. I’m ready to get to work. I’ve always had the goal of becoming a crew chief, and now I’m ready to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Front Row Motorsports also announced Wednesday that Seth Barbour, who had been the crew chief for the No. 38 driven by Todd Gilliland, has been named as the organization’s technical director. Barbour will oversee all track engineering and car preparation processes for the Front Row Motorsports Cup cars.

A new crew chief for the No. 38 team will be announced later.

Also, Ryan Bergenty, car chief for the No. 34 team, has been promoted to performance director and will oversee all body and chassis assembly for all Front Row Motorsports entries.

“The past two seasons Front Row Motorsports has seen success and we’re taking the next steps forward,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, in a statement.

“We know that Travis is a person that can immediately come in, take the baton, and continue to move the No. 34 team to the front. We also made several changes internally to help with car preparation and engineering for all our race cars and trucks. Our final piece is finding a new leader for the No. 38 team. We’re confident that with these changes that we’ll be even better next season.”

Front Row Motorsports has not announced its driver lineup for next season. Both McDowell and Gilliland have said they plan to be back with the organization.