Richmond takeaways: Alex Bowman frustrated by playoff errors but owning them


RICHMOND, Virginia – His 2021 season will be remembered much more for his stunning victory in April at the same track, but Alex Bowman delivered another signature moment Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

In the aftermath of a disappointing 12th-place finish that left him on the precipice of playoff elimination (tied with Kurt Busch for the final transfer spot after two of three first-round races), the Hendrick Motorsports driver reminded us of why this has been a breakout season beyond just a career-high three wins.

Mixing his trademark introverted irreverence with a direct and honest assessment of his lagging championship hopes, Bowman lingered far longer than any of the 16 Cup Series playoff drivers while providing the postrace accountability and insight in the media bullpen on the pit lane.

“I think this is the most you guys have ever wanted to talk to me in my entire life,” Bowman joked with reporters. “Typically, it’s one question, and you’re like, ‘Aww, this kid sucks. Can we get the next one?’

“Yeah, I got the most popular kid in school, ‘Baby Jesus,’ and Kyle Larson, the most talented race car driver of our generation as teammates, so I’d rather talk to them, too.”

While Hendrick teammates Chase Elliott and Larson might have better career results and storylines, it’s been fun watching Bowman’s development into a confident, albeit overlooked, contender in NASCAR’s premier series.

When he was named by Hendrick to succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. four years ago, success was no sure thing for Bowman, a Chevy simulator driver with no national series victories and a little more than 100 Cup and Xfinity starts (mostly with back-marker teams).

But after winning in each of the past two seasons, Bowman, 28, earned his first multiyear contract extension three months ago. Even if he exits the playoffs after the first round for the first time in four appearances, the stand-up way he has handled the letdown of the first two races shows he was a worthy long-term choice by team owner Rick Hendrick.

After an “up-and-down weird night” at Richmond where his No. 48 Chevrolet vacillated between being “really bad” and being one of the fastest cars, Bowman still was owning his error from the playoff opener a week earlier.

Shortly after the green flag of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Bowman slapped the Darlington Raceway wall and collected teammate William Byron (who now is in the danger zone of being 18 points behind the cutline and in potential must-win territory for Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway).

“(Richmond) could have been way worse for us, but Darlington is just on me. I tried to let (Reddick) go and I drove it straight into the fence instead of on Lap 7,” Bowman said. “When you put yourself in a hole like that, it’s tough to overcome. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a night capable of overcoming that tonight and we’re going to have to go do that (at Bristol). Yeah, it’s a bummer. It puts us in a really tough spot. But when you have these three-round deals, that’s what happens.”

“To be honest, I think the only person I can be frustrated with is myself for hitting the wall early last week. That’s what it all comes down to, and I feel pretty responsible with (Byron) on that front as well. I’ll take the blame on that one. All the haters on Twitter can come at me for that because that’s my fault. I just drove into the wall really early and made a mistake. I think if we have a day like we should have had at Darlington, we’d be fine right now.

“Am I frustrated? Yes. But what am I going to go do? Cry about it for the next seven days until I go to work at Bristol? I’m going to go home and drink some beers, study for a week and try to haul ass at Bristol.”

Preparation has been a key this season to his wins at Richmond, Dover and Pocono, as Bowman and team each time capitalized on the opportunity presented by another driver’s misfortune.

Bowman has talked at length this year about the extra homework that he has put in to study his rolling speeds on pit stops, and Bristol will require a new cram session. Bowman was unsure Saturday night how traction compound would be applied to the 0.533-mile concrete oval.

“Sometimes they put it in the group chat,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t put it in the group chat. Sometimes I’m not in the right group chat. Technology, right?”

How many group chats are there?

“Too many,” Bowman said. “I want to leave all of them. I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but I just want to do me and live in my own little world and not be in any of the group chats.”

We’re good with that — but the NASCAR playoff world will be a little less fun in Round 2 if Bowman stumbles again at Bristol.

While the Richmond dominance was expected by Joe Gibbs Racing (which was a Kyle Busch speeding penalty from its first 1-2-3-4 finish), Team Penske’s relative lack of performance was a surprise.

“Disappointing day,” said Keselowski, who had called his shot by winning at Richmond a year earlier. “Didn’t have any speed. Just ran a whole race and didn’t really make any mistakes, but that’s all we had. I was hoping this was going to be a big day for us, but we never really showed any strength.”

After pushing its chips in on 750 horsepower tracks last year (and landing two spots in the championship round), Penske drivers have yet to flash the same speed at the two 750 tracks that opened the 2021 playoffs (the first round will end on a third 750 track with Bristol Motor Speedway).

“We’re grinding them out, but had nothing for the Gibbs cars tonight,” Joey Logano said after placing fifth at Richmond. “They’ve come out of the gate swinging pretty hard right now. Ten weeks is a long time. A lot of things change in that amount of time. You just got to be around and keep yourself in the hunt. So that’s what we’re doing now.

“There’s no doubt that we’re a little behind right now, but we just have to stay focused on ourselves. Every track is a little different.”

But Logano was mindful Saturday of his third-place finish in the April 18 race at Richmond, where he was able to compete with JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

“I’d say maybe a little discouraged because this is our best racetrack, so I was probably expecting a little bit more here,” he said. “(In) the spring race, I was in the mix with those guys and able to pass (Hamlin) on the long haul. Tonight, there was no chance of that. I couldn’t see him on the long haul. They made gains over the last few months. We just have to catch up in whatever it is. Racing is always a little bit of everything. I wouldn’t say it’s engine at a track like this. It’s probably a little bit of aero and maybe some chassis stuff.”

With three of the final seven races at 750 tracks (including the final two at Martinsville and Phoenix), Logano said he still “absolutely” felt that “750 is our wheelhouse.”

Saturday night marked the sixth consecutive Cup race at Richmond to feature between three and five caution flags – a 2,400-lap stretch that has featured two yellows for multi-car incidents. It’s evident that the bottom lane has become dominant to the point where the outside isn’t an option the way it once was at the 0.75-mile track.

As Chase Elliott told NBC Sports last week: “There are multiple grooves, but I feel like the guy that wins is typically around the bottom. So are there really multiple grooves? No, not really. I feel like the race is won at the bottom. When you get to that desperation mode of having to make something happen, then you have to start searching, but I feel like the race is won by who can be tidy and clean to the bottom.”

During Richmond’s heyday prior to a 2004 repave, the outside lane actually was the preferred route (such as during this magical battle between Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon in the Sept. 12, 1998 race).

That also was during the era when the surface was being treated with a sealer that helped promote side-by-side racing as it wore off during the course of the weekend.

The company that sealed Richmond from 1988-2002 still is located just a few miles from the track. Given so much experimenting with traction compounds in recent years, it certainly couldn’t hurt to try reintroducing the sealer.

At a bare minimum, NASCAR should be looking hard at moving one of Richmond’s races back to Sunday afternoon (an annual daytime Cup race in 2015-17 produced better on-track quality on par with last Saturday’s Xfinity race).

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


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


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.

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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


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


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.