Friday 5: Youth movement growing stronger in Cup Series


The youth movement in the Cup Series continues to gain momentum with this week’s announcement that Austin Cindric will drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske and Harrison Burton will drive the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing in 2022.

Cindric will be 23 years old when next season begins Feb. 20 with the Daytona 500. Burton will be 21, the youngest full-time Cup driver next season.

Last month, Kaulig Racing announced that 22-year-old Justin Haley will drive one of its Cup cars full-time next season.

The Cup Series is on pace to have more than half of the Daytona 500 field filled by drivers in their 20s for a fourth consecutive year. This year’s Daytona 500 marked the first time that the event had at least 20 drivers in their 20s for three consecutive years, according to Racing Insights. 

The sport has skewed toward those in their 20s with the departure of veterans Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon since 2015. All were in their 40s. Many of them were replaced by drivers in their 20s.

Hendrick Motorsports leads this youth movement with all four of its drivers in their 20s.

Kyle Larson is the oldest. He turns 29 on July 31. Alex Bowman is 28, Chase Elliott is 25 and William Byron is 23.

Elliott was the third-youngest champion to win a Cup title last year. Only Bill Rexford (age 23 in 1950) and Gordon (age 24 in 1995) won titles at a younger age.

Larson and Bowman have signed contract extensions this year through 2023. Both Elliott and Byron are signed through next year.

“My plan is for Chase and William to retire with us,” car owner Rick Hendrick said this week. “I love the lineup, and I want to keep the band together.”

Hendrick’s approach has gained noticed elsewhere in the sport.

“It clearly, with other things, worked well for them,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports.

It could work well for Team Penske, which will become younger with Cindric replacing Brad Keselowski after this season.

The combined age for car owner Roger Penske’s Cup lineup next season won’t add up to his age. Penske turns 85 on the day of next year’s Daytona 500. The combined age of his drivers that day will be 82 — Joey Logano will be 31, Ryan Blaney will be 28 and Cindric will be 23. Add Burton with Wood Brothers Racing, which is affiliated with Team Penske, and Penske will have among the youngest lineups in the series.

“I don’t say it’s a gamble, I think what it is is an opportunity,” Penske said of his lineup for next season.

Six drivers under the age of 30 have won at least one race this season to earn a playoff spot: Larson, Elliott, Byron, Bowman, Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell.

A key to the movement is how well organized development programs are. Toyota’s TD2 development program is rooted in analytics and sports science principles and has a deep pipeline of talent. The development program has helped grow Toyota’s driver lineup throughout NASCAR, but the manufacturer’s limited seats in various series have led to some of its drivers moving elsewhere.

Burton is the latest who will move beyond the Toyota developmental program, which he’s been a part of since he was 13 years old.

“My years that I spent with Toyota have all been amazing ones, and I really am thankful for the opportunities they’ve given me,” Burton said. 

Others from the Toyota chain now racing elsewhere include Larson, Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing) and Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports). Those who came from Toyota’s development program in its Cup lineup are Bell and Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing).

Ford’s development program has paved the way for Chase Briscoe, Cole Custer and now Cindric to move to Cup.

“We put a lot of focus on our own development program and bringing drivers up through that as you saw with Chase Briscoe,” Rushbrook said. “But the way the sport works, the timing of bringing drivers up and having them ready when seats are open, you can’t always plan on that or be ready for that.

“So when drivers are available that have come up through different systems, you need to take advantage of that and bring them into the overall Ford program or with the team in the right way with the right support.”

The Wood Brothers are becoming accustomed to having young drivers. Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 at age 20. Blaney scored his first Cup win with the team when he was 23 years old.

“It’s just like watching your kids grow up,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said of seeing the younger drivers develop.

2. Thanks are coming

Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood explained why the team did not thank Matt DiBenedetto for his time with the organization in Thursday’s announcement that Harrison Burton will drive the car next season.

“Well, in our eyes, we’re not done,” Wood said. “There are five races left before the playoffs. We’re gonna try to win a race and get in the playoffs. We obviously have to win a race, and then there are 10 races after that, so it just didn’t feel right. 

“I’m not ready to say goodbye. Everybody who has ever driven our car becomes family, and we view Matt as family. Everybody knows Matt. Everybody loves Matt. Matt’s a great driver. 

“He’s a great person, got a great big heart — got big arms, too — but it’s just a thing that we viewed that as we get through the year. We give our best effort. He’s gonna give his best effort and that way when it comes time to say goodbye and thank you, that’ll happen, but Matt will always be a part of our family.”

In his video to fans Thursday, DiBenedetto stated that the Wood Brothers are “family and always will be. … I’m so freaking lucky and still am to be driving the 21 car. Love it. I want to get that 100th (career) win for them bad.”

3. What a week

A few years ago, could anyone had imagined a week where two Hendrick Motorsports drivers were competing in short track events during the Cup season?

Chase Elliott competed in a USAC national midget race in Oklahoma and was to have competed also in Kansas but that event was rained out. He’s racing in the SRX event Saturday night at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway.

Kyle Larson also has been racing this week with the World of Outlaws in Ohio.

Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement this week that it had signed Larson to a contract extension through 2023 and would have sponsor him through that period came with an interesting item.

The sponsorship package was not only for 35 Cup races each season, but the company also will sponsor Larson in all non-NASCAR events in which he competes, including branding on the driver’s helmets, gloves and firesuit.

“For us, from a marketing perspective, it’s a brand extension,” said Brian Johnson, vice president of marketing for the Hendrick Automotive Group. “Kyle talked about brands being associated with drivers throughout history. We want to have the same effect with him.

“So whenever he’s in a late model or a sprint car or whatever he’s in. Whenever he competes, we want that brand with him. It touches a different audience. In marketing we’re trying to reach specific audiences through all of our different campaigns we can.

“A lot of those fans are just as passionate about cars. There are potential technicians there. There are potential customers there. We want to make sure we reach that segment, extend our brand but also support Kyle in his efforts.”

Car owner Rick Hendrick said: “It’s just a whole new group of fans. They buy cars. Kyle’s popularity is growing like crazy. He’s got so many fans on both sides. Now we’re seeing more people wearing sprint car stuff at the Cup races. If he’s racing, we want to be there (with”

4. Unique race

One of the tracks that is viewed as being helped by the addition of traction compound in the corners is New Hampshire Motor Speedway. NASCAR, though, won’t apply traction compound for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

That’s the case because the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races before the Xfinity Series event and its tires don’t work as well with the traction compound. Traction compound also will not be applied before Sunday’s Cup race.

Noah Gragson said not having the traction compound is significant. He said the key in the Xfinity race will be “who can figure it out sooner just because it hasn’t been that way for us for a while.”

The traction compound has been used at New Hampshire Motor Speedway since 2017.

Modified racer Doug Coby explained on social media this week the challenge the traction compound presents for that series:


5. Champion’s list

The Cup series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Eleven of the past 12 New Hampshire winners were either Cup champions when they won or later became series champions. The last 12 winners there:

Sept. 2013 – Matt Kenseth

July 2014 – Brad Keselowski

Sept. 2014 – Joey Logano

July 2015 – Kyle Busch

Sept. 2015 – Matt Kenseth

July 2016 – Matt Kenseth

Sept. 2016 – Kevin Harvick

July 2017 – Denny Hamlin (only driver without a Cup title on this list)

Sept. 2017 – Kyle Busch

July 2018 – Kevin Harvick

July 2019 – Kevin Harvick

Aug. 2020 – Brad Keselowski

 and on Facebook


Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “Just the restarts kind of went our way. We were able to get through on the outside on that one and push (Kyle) Larson out, then he took bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4, I was able to carry the momentum around the high side to take the lead. That was really important. I think that was kind of the key moment of us being able to win today. Being able to control the rest of the restarts for the rest of the race. Kyle is one of the best. It’s good to be able to sit up here and race hard with him, being a Team Chevy partner. He gave me great respect, I appreciate that. That will be given back down the road.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 14th: “We had an up-and-down day today fighting the balance in our No. 16 Chevy. I felt like we had a top-15 car most of the day, but we had to play defense to stay there. I wasn’t able to roll speed through the corner like I needed to be more aggressive and keep moving forward. We made a strategy call to take two tires, which didn’t work in our favor. Then we got caught up on pit road and restarted pretty far back at the beginning of the third stage. We’ll take a 14th- place finish after everything we battled with our car today and move forward to Sonoma.”

Justin Haley — Finished 16th: It was an up-and-down day for this No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection team. We fired off tight in traffic, and it was just hard to pass. My crew chief, Trent Owens, made some really good strategy calls and we had positive adjustments all day, despite a couple pit-road mishaps. We had another good Chevrolet hot rod, and we will take a 16th-place finish after a hard fought day.

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 19th: “We battled handing issues all day and just couldn’t find it. We were loose to start the day and it felt like our car was tight on aero and loose mechanically. Our long-run speed was really all we had today and we could pass cars late in the run, but we had so many cautions in the final stage we didn’t have the chance to run those cars down. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) put me on offense on the last 20 laps with fresh tires and I thought we could’ve driven up to 15th, but someone missed a shift on the last restart and stacked us up and put us behind. Just one of those days. We had to battle to get all we could get.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: Cup race results at WWT Raceway

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.