Darlington takeaways: Hendrick trio seeks to overcome poor finish

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — With three of four Hendrick Motorsports drivers either near or below the cutoff line and the next playoff race at Richmond Raceway, the task of advancing could prove challenging for the trio.

Reigning champion Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron each finished 26th or worse after hitting the wall in Sunday’s Southern 500. Those woes dropped all three toward the bottom of the playoff standings.

The top 12 advance to the next round. Elliott is 10th — four points above the cutline. Bowman is outside a transfer spot based on a tiebreaker. Byron is nine points out of the transfer spot.

Two races remain in the opening round: Saturday’s event at Richmond and the Sept. 18 race at Bristol.

Richmond has not been a great track for Hendrick Motorsports, although that could be changing.

Until Bowman won there in the spring, Hendrick Motorsports had not triumphed at Richmond since 2008. Joe Gibbs Racing had won 13 times there during that stretch.

In the last seven Richmond races, Hendrick drivers have combined to lead 2.1% of the 2,806 laps run. Hendrick drivers have combined for five top-10 finishes in the last four races there.

Bowman’s win at Richmond didn’t matter much to him after Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway.

“I don’t think we have any comfort going forward the next two weeks,” he said. “We are going to places that we think we can be strong at, but this is a place where we felt like we should have been pretty strong at and our night was over five laps into the race.”

Kyle Larson, who finished second Sunday, admits his result in the Southern 500 makes him feel better going into Richmond. He placed 18th there in the spring.

Richmond was really the only bad race we’ve had from start to finish this year,” Larson said. “I know we’ll be better this time around just because we learned a lot off of what Alex was doing. Without even looking at his notes, we probably already knew what was wrong with our car. I know we’ll be better, but after a rough race like that it’s hard to be super confident.”

Jeff Andrews, executive vice president and general manager at Hendrick Motorsports, said the organization feels better about returning to Richmond after the spring race.

“As a company, we went there in the spring with quite a few different options in different cars and hit on some things with (Bowman’s car),” he told NBC Sports. “Certainly a late-race restart there enabled him to get to the win but (Bowman had) one of the better cars on long-run speed. We were really encouraged by that.

“There were some things when we got back, we started talking about some things and looking at some other items that had given us success at road courses and different things. We feel like we’ve got a pretty decent direction. We’re actually kind of excited to go back.”

Andrews cited the front geometry of the chassis and the car’s suspension as items that can transfer from road courses to Richmond.

Road courses helping Hendrick at Richmond would be significant. Elliott won road course races at Circuit of the Americas and Road America this season. Larson won the road course races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen this year. Hendrick drivers have led 51.8 of the 463 laps run this season on a road course.

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The Southern 500 marked only the fifth time in the last 16 races that Denny Hamlin finished ahead of Kyle Larson in a race.

Frankly, that total could have been worse. Larson was in position to win the first Pocono race when he blew a tire on the last lap and finished ninth (Hamlin was fourth). Larson likely was headed for at least a top-five finish at Road America before being spun by teammate Alex Bowman and placing 16th (Hamlin finished fifth). That race saw a spirited battle between Hamlin and Larson for position before Larson’s incident.

Even with those results, Larson’s strong finish to the regular season moved him past Hamlin to be the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

So to beat Larson Sunday at Darlington Raceway was significant to Hamlin.

“It means a lot,” Hamlin said. “I mean, certainly you don’t like just being the next best every single week. You know, you got to give credit to them. They performed the last 12 races of the regular season like we did the first 12, only they got the wins.”

Larson made it interesting Sunday night with his last-lap move that saw his car bounce off the wall and hit the back of Hamlin’s bumper but it wasn’t enough to get by.

“I was kind of stuck at that gap behind him for the last 15 laps or so,” Larson said. “I wasn’t going to be able to run the bottom and get to his inside and race him that way. Decided I would try to wall ride and see what would happen.

“He started to running a little safer line the last few laps.”

Hamlin explained what he was doing: “I figured there was something coming. I thought that he was actually going to dive down low because I had started backing up on entry to Turn 3 to make sure I kept it off the wall.

“As I kind of was maintaining that gap to him, I just kept creeping down a little bit to make sure I gave myself a little bit more room. With that, you’re giving up lap time. So I thought that the bold move was going to come from the bottom.”

With Hamlin defending the bottom, Larson had to make another move.

“I thought if I rode the wall, I could squeeze to his outside,” Larson said. “Who knows what would have happened after that down the frontstretch? I actually got to his bumper too early and he kind of protected the wall and diid a good job. It was wild. I hope the fans enjoyed the desperation.”

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Kevin Harvick’s fifth-place finish marked his first top-five result since late June.

While Harvick remains winless this year, Darlington continued to be good to him. His result was his 12th consecutive top 10 at the track, tying Bill Elliott for the longest such streak at the track.

More important was how the No. 4 car ran. While it wasn’t in position to challenge for the win, running the top five was a step forward.

“The biggest thing is proof we can unload off the truck with the balance right,” crew chief Rodney Childers told NBC Sports. “That’s one thing we struggled with the most this year. The first run of the race, we had the best car. The second run of the race, we had the best car.

“Got off there for a little bit and was able to kind of go back the other direction on things and get it going better. We probably didn’t have the best car, but we had a car that could have run fourth or maybe third if I had put tires on at the end.

“Overall, it’s kind of one his type of nights. A lot of people make mistakes and he just seems to not do those those kind of type of things.”

Harvick’s secret?

“I’ve been to Darlington a whole bunch of times,” he said. “You race the racetrack and it’s just what you do. Just because it’s the first race of the playoffs, you can’t force the issue here.”

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Martin Truex Jr.’s speeding penalty Sunday marked the fourth time this season he’s been caught going too fast on pit road.

Three of those speeding penalties have cost him a chance of finishing in at least the top two, if not winning.

He finished second in both stages at Richmond in the spring and was second when he was caught speeding on Lap 294 of the 400-lap race. The penalty dropped him to 12th. He finished fifth.

At Road America, pit strategy was going to put him ahead of the field when he beat teammate Kyle Busch off pit road at the end of the second stage. Instead, a speeding penalty dropped Truex to 32nd. He went on to finish ninth.

Sunday, he was caught speeding on pit road on Lap 319 of the 367-lap race. Truex had exited pit road first but the penalty dropped him to 15th. He went on to finish fourth.

“I know my lights,” Truex said, referring to the lights on his dashboard that show him if he’s exceeding the speed limit. “I know what I need to run.

“I was conservative all night long. I don’t know where the .03 miles over came from. I think I short cut that corner just a little bit more because I was kind of by myself. That’s probably where it screwed me.

“Honestly I was trying to be conservative all night because you never want to get a speeding penalty … in a race-winning situation. It sucks. If just go slow, you’re going to lose spots. That’s no good, either. Just a fine line to balance, and we were .03 over tonight.”

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After his third career top-five finish, Ross Chastain wasn’t celebrating his third-place result but lamenting what might have been.

Chastain started on the inside of the second row for the final restart, following race leader Denny Hamlin to that lane. Kyle Larson started on the outside of the first row.

The inside lane had often fared better on restarts. Chastain fired off well but was not far enough ahead to move in front of Larson. That allowed Larson to motor by on the outside lane through Turn 1 to take second place. Chastain later challenged but couldn’t get by Larson.

“I just can’t quite race with them, and it starts with my restarts,” Chastain said. “I’ve got some work to do there, so I gave up the outside to take the bottom to be safe and then Kyle rolls around me.

“Was able to make one last charge there at him at the end, but yeah, I just need to clean up a few things.”

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)