What matters at New Hampshire: Success is a playoff springboard

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What matters in today’s NASCAR Cup Series race? Let’s dive into the analytics and trends shaping the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

New Hampshire as a playoff springboard?

The 2020 blitzkrieg of key 750-horsepower tracks by Brad Keselowski and Jeremy Bullins that saw a dominant chassis secure a playoff win at Richmond and the fastest median lap time in the finale at Phoenix (en route to a second-place finish) began last August at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

With only Denny Hamlin in his competitive vicinity, Keselowski smashed the field, leading 61% of the race in the very vehicle that’d become a personal favorite, one for which he publicly begged Bullins to take to Phoenix following a victory of similar dominance at Richmond.

Flat, a mile long and with cornering a chief concern, New Hampshire doesn’t fit the mold of any one track in the playoffs. It does contains elements — Martinsville is flat, Richmond’s corners also confound, as do a few at Phoenix — that can translate elsewhere, though it’s not a guarantee; to wit, Chase Elliott’s nondescript ninth-place finish in last year’s New Hampshire race portended no doom in Races 35 and 36.

But the winner of today’s race is probably one we should hold in high regard when considering key tracks on this season’s playoff schedule, contrary to the other four remaining regular-season races. And though this was the springboard for Keselowski’s deep playoff run and the origin point for the most talked-about chassis last fall, his assault on this particular 750-horsepower track came as no real surprise. He won earlier that season on Bristol’s pavement and placed third at Martinsville, his speed ranking for the season going on to fare third best on tracks utilizing the rules package.

With just over a half of a season in the books, Keselowski’s speed isn’t in the same spot as it was a year ago, but fellow Team Penske driver Joey Logano boasts the second-fastest car on 750-horsepower tracks, trailing only Hamlin, one of two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers primed for a standout performance today, according to their speed ranks:

Interestingly, only two of the four fastest teams on 750-horsepower tracks this season have actually won, and one of them — Logano — triumphed exclusively on Bristol’s dirt.

Martin Truex Jr.’s first two wins this season, atypical compared to the manner in which he claimed victories in past years, were snatched from the more dominant Logano and Hamlin; his third, at Darlington, was a walk in the park in which he led nearly 85% of the race. A win today would only reestablish him as an obvious title favorite, a not-so-subtle remainder that the majority of tracks NASCAR visited this summer — where Hendrick Motorsports proved dominant — hold little bearing to a playoff slate that’s 50% occupied by 750-horsepower tracks.

Drivers fast on the 750-horsepower tracks were rewarded in 2020. Elliott, Logano and Keselowski ranked first, second and third in speed and each qualified for the Championship 4. Three of the four fastest drivers on 550-horsepower tracks — Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Truex — failed to secure championship eligibility in the finale.

If anything, today’s race will remind us of who is properly geared towards a credible playoff run, a sneak peek of what might come in the fall.

New Hampshire presents opportunity for a realistic new winner

To be fair, a win in any race delivers a playoff invitation, but New Hampshire is one of two races on normal non-drafting ovals left in the regular season, meaning it’s one of the last opportunities for a new, somewhat realistic race winner to emerge.

Hamlin and his industry-leading speed is an obvious choice to take his first win of the season in New Hampshire, secure a playoff spot (officially) and, in turn, bury the lame narrative of his supposed season-long struggle. Kevin Harvick, too, is in need of his first win this season, though comfortably in playoff contention. While crew chief Rodney Childers isn’t publicly bullish about the team’s chance at forming a juggernaut in time for playoff contention, the car does ranks seventh in average median lap time on 750-horsepower tracks. A win by them today wouldn’t constitute a surprise.

But with lap-time falloff just a hair over one second on worn tires and restarts, based on last year’s race, more compact and competitive, today’s winner won’t shock, needing many of the traditional strengths to properly execute a race worthy of victory.

Aric Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing car ranks 10th in average median lap time on 750-horsepower tracks but his pole-winning effort at Nashville, one with a car ranked as the third fastest in the race and able enough for a fourth-place finish, was arguably SHR’s best crack at a win this year for any of its non-Harvick drivers.

Both Almirola and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz have turned in technically sound seasons, per their advanced stats, but the overall lack of speed has washed over the airtight fundamentals. With good speed, a win at New Hampshire is somewhat realistic given Almirola’s past; he secured a pair of top-six finishes when driving for Richard Petty Motorsports and hasn’t finished worse than 11th since 2018.

Another realistic long shot, one with a bit of irony given the week’s events, is Matt DiBenedetto, an ARCA East winner at the track in 2009 who finished fifth (with the 10th-fastest car) in 2019 and sixth (with the eighth-fastest car) last year. His affinity for the facility runs counter to his production skew — towards 550-horsepower tracks — but this appears to be the clearest track falling firmly in the Venn diagram for what the driver does well and what the Penske alliance is admittedly most focused on in 2021.

This track saw a more competitive restart dynamic in 2020

Restarts will matter — we’re guaranteed three today, plus the initial start — but 20 of them took place across each of the last two races and the disparity between the two grooves has drawn closer in recent seasons.

A 45% disparity favoring the outside groove closed to 7% between 2019 and 2020, potentially due to the combination of a PJ1 application and the shift in downforce from one year to the next. Last year’s race saw the most competitive New Hampshire restart dynamic of its last four races, dating back to 2017:

NASCAR didn’t apply PJ1 in advance of today’s race, but there’s no statistical evidence suggesting PJ1 alone dramatically alters the retention rates of restart grooves. The current low-downforce package, introduced at 750-horsepower tracks last year, saw the wide disparities of restart grooves diminish at most tracks from 2019 to 2020 with Sonoma Raceway being the lone exception.

If the the more competitive dynamic remains, it could help foster a more straightforward race, one where a fast pit stop and keen aero-blocking fails as a winning formula on its own. The savviest restarters would be at an advantage relative to other tracks; on paper, these drivers will be able to retain position or move forward regardless of the launching point.

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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