Indy takeaways: New venues, new races provide NASCAR with many lessons

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INDIANAPOLIS — When NASCAR revealed its 2021 Cup schedule last September with a dirt track, three more road course races and an additional oval included, the changes were described by some as dynamic, monumental and huge.

Sunday’s race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course marked the last of those major changes to the schedule. The remaining 12 races, including all 10 playoff races, are at venues that have hosted Cup events previously.

So what has this sport seen with its race on the dirt at Bristol and events at Circuit of the Americas, Road America, the Indy road course and Nashville Superspeedway?

Some memorable moments, for sure, but many learning experiences.

Sunday’s race at Indy provided another such example. The carnage at the end of the race because of the curb issue in Turn 6 and the fact that a car under penalty spun the leader out coming to the white flag are matters NASCAR must prevent from happening again.

These cars and curbs and all that stuff just doesn’t go together,” said Denny Hamlin, who lost a chance to win at Indy after Chase Briscoe spun him out of the lead. “We’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans.

“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.”

It seemed as if there was something at most of these new events that could be improved for next year.

“A lot of lessons,” reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott told NBC Sports on Monday.

The dirt race at Bristol — the first Cup dirt event since 1970 — faced several issues.

Excessive tire wear in practice forced officials to add competition cautions, extend stage lengths and give teams an extra set of tires for the race.

Both Cup and Truck races were moved to Monday because of rain. There was no way either series could run on a wet track without mud caking the windshields and causing a safety issue.

That remains a question for next year: How to allow those series to race on a muddy track?

NASCAR’s debut at Circuit of the Americas was highly anticipated. The road course in Austin, Texas, provided a new venue for NASCAR, and the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series competed on a Formula One track.

The weekend turned when heavy rain forced NASCAR to cut short the Cup race. That came after multiple wrecks because drivers could not see due to the spray of water coming from vehicles ahead. Kevin Harvick called racing in the rain there the “most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car.”

A day later, three Cup teams took part in a previously scheduled test at Richmond Raceway to see if there was a way for Cup cars to run in wet conditions on a short track. Focus was put on trying to find a way to limit the spray. It doesn’t appear NASCAR is ready to run in wet conditions on a short track at this time.

At Road America, two incidents in qualifying caused full-course cautions as others were making their qualifying attempt. Elliott was among those who had his qualifying laps nullified. When the second caution ended, there wasn’t enough time in the session to make a third attempt and he had to start toward the back.

Elliott responded by winning that race in a spirited drive. He delivered a second burnout to fans on the course after they cheered for him to do so.

Also during that race, Hamlin’s aggressive driving against Kyle Larson raised the intensity of their duel for the regular-season championship. It wasn’t dirty. Just good, hard racing.

Just as memorable was the large crowd at Road America throughout the weekend, energizing the event.

“The crowd seemed to really enjoy their time all weekend,, no matter who won (the weekend’s races),” Elliott said. “There was a great crowd there.”

That electricity also was felt at Nashville Superspeedway, which had about 38,000 fans in its sold-out stands. A disappointment was that the start of the race was delayed about 10 minutes to give fans, stuck in traffic, additional time to get to the facility.

“Nashville is a great example, too, with all the people and the excitement,” Elliott said of a highlight of the new venues. “Candidly, I’m disappointed with how unprepared we were for traffic. I would be upset if I was a fan going to that event and sitting in traffic for that period of time.”

Nashville officials have pledged to make changes for next year’s event.

Among other highlights at the new Cup venues this year:

Such moments makes those events worthwhile, but NASCAR needs to avoid a repeat of the issues at those tracks to make fans want to see those races next year and beyond.

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MORE OR LESS ROAD COURSE RACING?

Sunday’s race was the sixth of seven road course races this season for Cup. For some drivers, road course fatigue is setting in.

“It’s a little bit too much,” Chris Buescher said before Sunday’s race at Indy. “I’m a road course fan, so I enjoy doing it four or five times a year, but this is enough and maybe a little bit on the high side for my liking.

“I feel like the majority of drivers would say the same thing. I know we’ve got a handful of people that are really good on road courses and probably would like to run more, but I’m a short track racer by trade. That’s what I grew up doing, and that’s what I want to do more of.”

Said William Byron on if he has road course fatigue this year: “I don’t feel like we need more of them. I think seven is plenty.

“I think the NextGen car is going to make the (road) courses better as a driver. They might be a little more spread out because they’re going to be easier to drive.

“I feel like the cars right now are really hard to drive. There is a lot of brake lock-up. The cars don’t stop well. They don’t turn well. So, you see a lot of accidents.

“Next year, you might see less of that because the car is going to be easier to brake and shift and you won’t have as many mechanical issues.”

Daniel Suarez can see more road courses being added to future Cup schedules.

“I love road course racing,” he said before Sunday’s race at Indy. “That’s what I grew up doing in go-karts. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, we have 10 road course racetracks on the schedule and 25 ovals. It’s a lot of fun. Everyone enjoys it.”

Suarez saw some of that excitement during the NTT IndyCar Series weekend in Nashville earlier this month. Suarez ran in the Trans Am TA2 race with car owner Justin Marks the day before the IndyCar race through the city’s streets.

“I don’t think it could have been any better from my perspective,” Suarez said of the event’s atmosphere. “The fans were amazing. The amount of fans, every single day … was crazy. Lot of NASCAR fans. A lot of people were asking for pictures. I was very, very surprised by that. I really hope NASCAR gives a street course a chance because it was an amazing event.”

With talk of NASCAR looking at a possible street course race in the future, Suarez might get his wish.

The NTT IndyCar Series race on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee, had a lot of energy, Daniel Suarez says. He raced there in a support series and said he’d like see NASCAR do a street course at some point. (Photo: Stephanie Amador/Tennessean)

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THINKING OF THE POSSIBILITIES

Esteemed motorsports journalist Robin Miller wrote Monday at RACER.com that the NTT IndyCar Series had to find a way to get Kyle Larson a ride in next year’s Indianapolis 500.

Miller suggested that Larson’s Cup car owner, Rick Hendrick, put together the deal. If not, Larson could possibly run with Roger Penske’s team or Ed Carpenter Racing. Both field Chevrolets in that series.

Larson’s adventures on dirt are leading to a year not seen in motorsports in decades.

The Coca-Cola 600 is among six NASCAR Cup races he’s won this year (including the All-Star Race). He’s also the points leader.

His resume this season also includes winning the Chili Bowl Nationals midget car race in January and the Knoxville Nationals sprint car race last weekend. Less than 24 hours after his Knoxville victory, he was in position to win the Cup race on the Indy road course until the chaotic ending.

“I’ve always wanted to be known as one of – if not the greatest – all-around race car drivers ever,” Larson told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan in June.

Even with wins in the biggest midget car and sprint car races this year, Larson has his sights on other races outside of his NASCAR goals.

“Now that I’ve gotten into the Late Model stuff, the World 100 is next month – that is their Knoxville Nationals and Daytona 500, so I would love to, someday, win that,” Larson said.

“Hopefully, I can get the opportunity to race it down the road even more. This year is unique. They’re making up the World event from last year, so I can run the midweek show, the Thursday night program of it. There’s a lot of late model races: The Dream, the Dirt Track World Championship.

“I don’t even know all the crown jewels since I’m new at it (late model racing). The National Open in sprint cars. The BC39 (at the dirt track inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week) in a midget will be up there with Belleville and the Chili Bowl. There’s a lot of big ones out there.”

For those who question if Larson could spread himself too thin and cause his NASCAR results to suffer, don’t count on it.

“I don’t go there (to the Knoxville Nationals) with any added pressure on myself,” Larson said before Sunday’s Cup race at Indy. “If you’re going to talk about pressure, I think more of it comes when I’m back here (in NASCAR). I need to show that I’m still fully committed to this.

“I think practicing as good as we did (Saturday) and hopefully having a good qualifying run (Larson started fourth) and then a good race this afternoon (he finished third), I think that kind of verifies (that with) everything I’m doing and staying busy with, NASCAR still is the top of my priority list.”

Should there be a way to get Larson to the Indy 500 next year, he could be joined by seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who is running a partial IndyCar schedule but has made overtures of running in next year’s Indy 500. He is expected to test at Texas Motor Speedway later this month.

Now, only if Kyle Busch, who has expressed interest in competing in the Indianapolis 500, could get permission to do so. Wouldn’t that be something to see all three of those drivers in the Indy 500?

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.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great originations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”

NASCAR Awards: Scene on the red carpet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community gathered at the Music City Center to commemorate the 2022 season and celebrate Joey Logano‘s second Cup title.

The event can be seen at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Here is a look at the scene on the red carpet before Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards:

Joey Logano and Brittany Logano (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ryan Blaney and Gianna Tulio (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle and Samantha Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Elliott (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Alex Bowman and Crystal Marsh (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Tyler Reddick and Alexa De Leon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Daniel Suarez and Julia Piquet (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Briscoe and Marissa Briscoe (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Christopher Bell and Morgan Bell (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Dillon and Whitney Dillon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle Larson (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

William Byron and Erin Blaney (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ross Chastain and Erika Turner (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Cindric (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kurt Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Harrison Burton and Jenna Petty(Photo: Dustin Long)
Mario Andretti (Photo: Dustin Long)