Friday 5: How one Cup team’s playoff slogan reinforces ‘Every Point’

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Seeking a rallying cry for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Joey Logano contemplated a few ideas.

He pondered “Every Lap” and considered “Every Lug Nut” as slogans, noting how details matter in a 10-race journey scheduled to cover 3,693.4 miles.

Logano then decided on “Every Point” as the No. 22 team’s motto for the playoffs, which begin with Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“We’ve seen this come down to one point way too many times,” Logano told NBC Sports. “No matter if you’re 25th and it’s going to be one of those days – well, 25th-place points might be what we need to get. We need to get every point we can, and we cannot roll over.”

Kevin Harvick, last year’s regular-season champion, found himself one point shy of advancing to the title race when the white flag waved at the cutoff race at Martinsville. His banzai attempt to pass Kyle Busch spun both and kept Harvick from having a chance to race for the championship.

In 2018 at the Charlotte Roval, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola tied for the final two transfer spots to the second round. Larson, who finished 25th that day, and Almirola advanced on tiebreakers. Johnson’s title hopes ended.

Logano said the “Every Point” slogan is “a good reminder. To be honest with you, it’s as much a reminder for me as it is for (the team). When you get it and get behind it and say it enough, you kind of get into that mindset.”

But there’s also the concern about focusing too much on points inside the car and not just performing. One mistake can have significant repercussions. The difference between second and 16th place in the playoff standings this year is 22 points. That gap last year was 47 points.

Focusing too much on points is something Denny Hamlin – seeking his first Cup title in his 15th playoff appearance – once struggled with.

“Early on in my career in the playoffs, I would panic in the middle of the races thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m losing points to this guy or that guy’ when there was so much race left to be had,” Hamlin told NBC Sports.

Hamlin, seeded seventh and 10 points above the cutline entering Darlington, says he’s become better at controlling his emotions in such situations.

Logano, seeded ninth and eight points above the cutline, concedes that it’s impossible not to think about points inside the car during the playoffs.

“You’re not going to block that out,” he said. “In the week leading up to (the race), you know who you’ve got to beat and how much you’ve got to beat them by. Good luck blocking that out. If you can block that out, God Bless you. I know I’m not going to, so I might as well embrace it and make it a thing.”

2. Hendrick’s “fourth guy”

One of the intriguing playoff storylines is what to make of Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman.

Only teammate Kyle Larson has more victories this season with five. Bowman’s three wins are tied with Ryan Blaney – the hottest driver in the series with back-to-back victories entering the playoffs – and Martin Truex Jr., whose three wins in the first half of the year made him the early title favorite.

Bowman’s season also includes seven finishes of 20th or worse. He’s not had more than four top 10s in a row this year.

NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 400
While he might be easy to overlook, only one Cup driver has won more races than Alex Bowman this year. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In a playoff format that rewards winning, consistency doesn’t have to be the main path to the title race. One of Bowman’s wins this year came at Richmond, the second stop in this opening round.

The inconsistency this season can make it easy to overlook Bowman on a team that includes Larson, Chase Elliott and William Byron

“I think that’s just how it’s going to be,” Bowman told NBC Sports. “I think I can go win the championship and still, in the media’s eyes, be ‘the fourth guy’ there. That’s fine with me. I’m not here to win a popularity contest.

“I don’t really mind it. I read what people say, and I see it. It is what it is. Last year, we had a great playoff run. I think just about everybody that was covering the sport had us going out in the first round last year and we finished sixth in the points and scored the (second) most points of everybody in the playoffs. That stuff, it is what it is.

“I feel like the biggest thing that I can do to change that is just to improve our consistency. We’re just not consistent. We’re streaky. Can be really good for a couple of weeks and then struggle. If we could ever improve on that, I think that might change a little bit.

“At the same time, I have quite possibly the most talented race car driver of our generation as a teammate (Larson). I have the most popular race car driver of our generation as a teammate (Elliott). And I have ‘Boy Wonder’ in William Byron as a teammate.

“I’m just a guy that likes to wrench on race cars, spend time at home with my dogs. I’m a very regular person. I don’t mind if the media thinks I’m fourth in line to those three because they’re all pretty special and it’s just cool to be their teammate.”

3. Paying it forward

Tyler Reddick’s entry into the playoffs makes him the second alum from Brad Keselowski Racing to have a chance at the Cup title this year.

Reddick joins Ryan Blaney. Both raced for Keselowski’s former Camping World Truck Series team in 2014 and ’15.

NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 - Practice
Ryan Blaney drove for Brad Keselowski’s Truck Series team in 2014-15. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I’m finally catching up to Dale Jr.,” Keselowski told NBC Sports about having 1/8 of the playoff field come from his operation.

Both Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got their breaks in NASCAR with Earnhardt’s operation. Truex won two titles in what is now the Xfinity Series with Earnhardt’s Chance 2 Motorsports. Keselowski drove for JR Motorsports.

“That was part of the deal to pay it back forward the way (Earnhardt) paid it to me,” Keselowski said. “Kind of realizing that dream in some ways. I suspect that when Austin (Cindric) gets to Cup, he’ll be able to do the same. I’ll get to 3/16 of the (playoff) field, which would be cool.”

The list could expand in future years if Chase Briscoe makes the playoffs. Briscoe and Cindric were the two BKR drivers in 2017, the final season for the organization.

Blaney went from Keselowski’s Truck team to running select Xfinity races for Team Penske and select Cup races for the Wood Brothers in 2015. Blaney ran a full Cup schedule for the Woods in 2016 and ’17, then joined Team Penske in 2018.

“I honestly wouldn’t be here without Brad giving me that opportunity, and it’s led to so many more doors opening,” Blaney told NBC Sports.

4. A year of tests

Aric Almirola was headed toward his worst season since 2017 before he won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July to earn a playoff bid.

He finished 30th or worse in four of the first seven races. That left him 28th in the points after the Bristol Dirt race in late March. Almirola had only one top-10 finish in the first 16 races of the year.

In the last 10 races, Almirola has a win, two top-five finishes and nine top-20 results. He remains the only SHR driver to win a Cup race this season.

While it’s gotten better, struggles remain.

“This year tested me in a lot of ways,” Almirola told NBC Sports. “It tested me personally just with perseverance and waking up every morning with kind of a renewed sense of hope even after a bad weekend.

NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
Aric Almirola overcame the challenges of a difficult season to make the Cup playoffs. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

“It tested me professionally, like, ‘Man what is going on? Why is this happening? Why are we running bad? Why are we not performing at the level that I’m used to or the organization is used to?’ Just a lot of questions.

“When you start questioning yourself, it certainly takes a toll on you and tests you. And it tested my faith. I felt like for so long, my faith – I’ve kind of walked lockstep with my faith and my performance. I became a very devout Christian in 2018 and went on to have my best year ever, finishing fifth in the point standings and just had an incredible year.

“Years after, I have still had a lot of success and run really well, and this year, all that stuff wasn’t happening. I would at times find myself questioning, not my faith, but just like questioning ‘What is going on? What’s the Lord trying to show me?’ So battling that and questioning is also a form of testing.

“In many ways this year, I’ve questioned a lot of things, but I’ve always held on to a sense of hope, a sense of faith and a sense that this is all temporary. At a certain point this year, I got to a really good spot to where I realized, ‘Hey, this is all temporary. I’m not going to run bad forever. It’s temporary. I’m not going to race forever. It’s temporary.’ I don’t know if it’s going to last one more year or 10 years or whatever it is, that’s still to be seen.

“It’s all in the grand scheme of things. It’s all temporary. I got to a really good place, actually before Nashville. I felt all that testing throughout the year set me up for that win at Loudon.”

5. History repeat?

A few days before the 2011 Cup playoffs (then it was called the Chase), Tony Stewart took a sheet of paper that listed all the playoff drivers.

He marked those he thought had a chance to win the championship.

He did not include himself.

Stewart entered the playoffs winless. Ten weeks – and five wins later – he was celebrating this third championship.

What I was really frustrated about – and people didn’t really pick up on, I think, in 2011 – was I felt like there were drivers and teams that were ready for the playoffs that didn’t make the cut and had the potential to finish in the top five, and I took that spot away,” Stewart told NBC Sports. “I didn’t feel like our team was ready for it.”

Stewart won the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. He won the next week at New Hampshire.

“To win there at Loudon the next week, then that was like, ‘Wait, what’s going on here?’” Stewart said. “It wasn’t just a one-off win from the week before. To win back-to-back like that made us go, ‘Wait a minute, something is going on here.’”

 He won at Martinsville in the seventh race of the Chase. That moved him to second in points. He won the next week at Texas, putting more pressure on Carl Edwards, the points leader at the time.

Stewart won the season finale at Homestead, as he and Edwards finished in a tie for points (the format was different from today’s version, where the best finish in the finale wins the title). Stewart won the championship because he had more wins.

In some ways, it’s easy to spot the parallels to this season. Kevin Harvick, who drives for Stewart, is winless this season. Could this be a case of history repeating?

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a rallying cry in the shop, ‘remembering 2011’ and go ‘Hey, we’ve done this in the past, we can do this,’” Stewart said. “We have something that we’re fighting in the shop that we can’t put our hands on (this season).

“It was like that in 2011. I’m not going to say that it’s not possible, because we’ve proven it is possible.”

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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.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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.