NASCAR storylines: It’s Bristol, baby – now with 100% less dirt


As Chase Elliott said before this year’s Cup Series playoffs began, if you don’t enjoy the big moments, you’re never gonna thrive in them.

Elliott did that in last year’s playoffs. He won the last three elimination races, including the championship race in Phoenix, to claim his first Cup title.

Now, it’s time to see if his flair for the dramatic continues.

Entering Saturday’s Cup Round of 16 elimination race on the concrete at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Elliott is 19 points above the cutline to advance to the next round. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, is already there along with Denny Hamlin and last week’s winner at Richmond, Martin Truex Jr.

That 19-point cushion isn’t safe, but Elliott’s rally for fourth place at Richmond gives him momentum.

Additionally, he doesn’t seem far off from claiming his first Cup points-paying win at Bristol (although he did win the exhibition All-Star Race there in 2020). He’s won three of the last four Bristol stages and has led laps in each of the last five Bristol races.

Of course, any time you mention Bristol, you have to mention Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Harvick isn’t back to front-running form. But as he’s done all season, he’s been grinding. Finishes of fifth and eighth in the first two playoff races put him 25 points above the cutline entering Bristol, where he’s earned two wins (including last year’s Night Race) and eight top-10 finishes in his last 11 races.

Kyle Busch is a master of the .533-mile short track. An eight-time Bristol Cup race winner, he’s earned three wins and six finishes of fourth or better in his last seven races there. Coming in at just eight points above the cutline, this is as good a track as he could hope for in a make-or-break situation.

Don’t forget his older brother, either. Kurt Busch is tied on the cutline with Alex Bowman, while holding the tiebreaker for better Round of 16 finish.

But Kurt is a six-time Bristol winner who’s finished inside the top 10 in four of his last five races there (including his 2018 win for Stewart-Haas Racing). In contrast, Bowman has finished 15th or worse in his last four Bristol races.

Danger zone

The final three Xfinity playoff positions will be decided in Friday’s regular season finale (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Bristol.

Jeremy Clements (+74), Brandon Jones (+67) and Riley Herbst (+66) all have healthy cushions above the playoff cutline. But Friday will still be nerve-wracking for them.

Only eight points separates the trio. That sets up a compelling ‘race within the race’ between them. Every point gained could be the difference in surviving or being eliminated if someone below the cutline scores an upset win.

JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett is currently “first driver out” at 66 points behind 12th-place Herbst. But teammate Noah Gragson’s win last week at Richmond was JRM’s fifth in the last seven Xfinity short track races.

JRM has also been strong recently at Bristol. Gragson won there in June 2020, albeit in controversial fashion following a run-in with teammate Justin Allgaier. Speaking of Allgaier, he’s led at least 126 laps in each of the last four Bristol races.

With Gragson and Allgaier playoff-bound, JRM can go all in on Annett to help him fight for a win.

Then there’s the usual short track clashes to consider, which could turn Friday into an attrition race that gives others behind the cutline – Ryan Sieg (-93) and Brandon Brown (-109) in particular – a chance to turn everything upside down.

The ‘other’ playoff race

Bristol also hosts the first elimination race for the Camping World Truck Series playoffs on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, FS1). Two playoff drivers will be eliminated, leaving eight still in the hunt.

Last year’s champ, Sheldon Creed, didn’t have a particularly great regular season. But before the playoffs began, he was confident that he and his No. 2 GMS Racing team were heading in the right direction.

Indeed, they were. Creed, who was named Tuesday to a full-time 2022 Xfinity ride for Richard Childress Racing, won the first two playoff races at World Wide Technology Raceway and Darlington Raceway.

He and regular season champion John Hunter Nemechek are safely in the Round of 8, with Nemechek advancing on points. That leaves six spots in the Round of 8 up for grabs Thursday.

Here’s how the Truck playoff standings look, minus Creed and Nemechek:

Zane Smith, the other GMS playoff driver, faces elimination after making the Championship 4 last year. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Chandler Smith is also on the outside looking in.

But in potentially good news for Zane Smith, his organization has won the last two Truck races on the concrete at Bristol (2019 – Brett Moffitt, 2020 – Sam Mayer). Last year, GMS drivers Mayer, Moffitt and Tyler Ankrum combined to lead all 200 laps.

Chandler Smith also has something going for him. He only has two career Truck starts on the concrete at Bristol, but he’s finished top five in both (second in 2019, fifth in 2020).

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.