Long: Can surprise win at Indy lead to happily ever after for Kaulig Racing?

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INDIANAPOLIS — It can be debated, and was this week, if Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Cup race is a crown jewel event since the series moved to the track’s road course for the first time Sunday instead of racing on the historic oval.

Regardless of what side one favors, Indy remains rich in motorsports history. Just as Daytona International Speedway is.

Both tracks saw surprise Cup winners in a year that Hendrick Motorsports has dominated: Michael McDowell for Front Row Motorsports in the Daytona 500 and AJ Allmendinger for Kaulig Racing’s part-time Cup effort at Indy.

As Allmendinger, car owner Matt Kaulig and general manager Chris Rice celebrated their surprise victory – Allmendinger admitted he felt he had a seventh- to 10th-place car but then everything went his way in overtime – they looked at this as a beginning. Kaulig Racing will field full-time Cup entries next year while continuing to field cars in the Xfinity Series.

It was with the same optimism and excitement that Front Row Motorsports celebrated after McDowell’s win in February.

“I’m sure, hopefully, some other opportunities will come along,” car owner Bob Jenkins said the day after McDowell’s win. “It is now time to go build some cars and try to run better and take our chances in the playoffs.”

Three weeks until the playoffs begin, talk this weekend in the garage centered on if 23XI Racing would purchase a charter – or both – from Front Row Motorsports.

When 23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin was asked Saturday if he had a deal going with Front Row, he said: “I don’t have any deals with anyone right now.”

Maybe nothing comes of the situation. A spokesperson for Front Row Motorsports told NBC Sports that “everything is status quo at FRM” without elaboration.

But clearly, there is the possibility that the Daytona 500-winning team could face a downsizing or restructuring for next season.

Maybe it’s a sign of how tough NASCAR’s premier series can be even when a team wins the sport’s premier race.

The Indy road course event, though, won’t be confused with the Daytona 500.

We’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans,” Hamlin said after he was turned by Chase Briscoe while leading with less than two laps left. “Although the finish was a crash-fest, I’m sure everyone will love it.

“It’s just stupid. It’s a complete circus at the end of the race. You just roll the dice and hope you don’t get crashed.”

What is one man’s garbage is another’s paradise.

Allmendinger understands the allure of this speedway, having led the Indianapolis 500 and driven for car owner Roger Penske. Allmendinger said walking from Gasoline Alley to the track with Penske before the 2013 Indy 500 remains a special memory.

“I don’t mean it when I say this, but it was like, ‘I’m walking with God right now. Like this is what God feels like. I’m walking with Roger Penske, Indy 500, and he’s calling my race, and I’m driving for Roger Penske.’

“That moment will always stand out.”

Sunday’s also will be special. While Allmendinger cried when close friend Mike Shank was the winning car owner of this year’s Indianapolis 500 with Helio Castroneves, Allmendinger did not shed tears for his win Sunday. Excitement quashed tears.

“Just give him a minute and a couple more beers,” Rice said.

“Because Matt (Kaulig) would make fun of me if I started crying is the biggest thing,” Allmendinger quipped.

But Allmendinger said his second career Cup win holds special significance.

“I love what we’re sitting here being able to do right now,” he said. “But for me, I’m like, ‘This is awesome for me,’ but for them, they deserve it because (Kaulig) puts so much of his own money into it. (Rice) puts every … dying moment into this race team and all the men and women.

“I love it for myself, but I always say I drive really for a couple of people. I drive for myself because it’s pure enjoyment, challenging myself, and it’s really pushing myself for all the men and women at that race team because they’re the ones putting their heart and soul and, really, my life in their hands.

“That’s why I enjoy it so much, really.”

So was Rice.

“To win a Cup race and to sit in an amazing venue like this and think about it, I don’t even know what to say,” he said.

“I told somebody down there just a minute ago, they said, ‘Just soak it all in,’ and I said, ‘I can’t. I don’t even know what to do.’ I still have cold chills.”

Those chills were still with him several minutes later as he talked excitedly about winning at Indianapolis.

This is a team worth watching. Kaulig entered the sport as a sponsor, found he could operate a team for not much more, and built an organization that has become among the prominent Xfinity operations.

When Kaulig Racing debuted in the Xfinity Series in 2016, the team finished 16th in car owner points. Five years later, nearly half the cars that finished ahead of Kaulig then no longer exist. That includes cars from Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.

While Trackhouse Racing could be the disrupter in the sport and much is expected of 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan’s role as co-owner, Kaulig Racing could be a sleeping giant in Cup among new teams.

Kaulig is at the track most weekends. He guides his team with the same mantra that helped his LeafFilter North, Inc. business go from his home to having more than 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada – and be expected to do $1.5 billion in sales this year.

“There’s a quote that I have that I really live by, and I do this in business and even in the business of racing: ‘Either you continue to grow or you begin to die,’” Kaulig told NBC Sports earlier this year. “That’s up on the wall for everybody to see in the race shop.

“You want to keep getting better, and you want to keep growing.”

Sunday, Kaulig Racing took a step forward. What it does with the opportunity could determine its path.

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Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

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7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

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Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.

Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

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