Questions and answers about 2022 Cup schedule: Will stadium races be new trend?

NASCAR schedule questions stadium
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When the green flag drops Feb. 6 on the Clash exhibition at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it could christen a new era of NASCAR and major metropolitan markets.

After a late 1990s building boom that included Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than two decades have elapsed since a major-league track was built near a big city (Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway, which both opened in 2001, were the most recent).

Plans for tracks in New York, the Pacific Northwest (either Seattle or Portland) and Denver fizzled, putting the brakes on NASCAR’s schedule expansion.

If it wants to fulfill a two-pronged goal of adding more short tracks while renewing the push to reach new markets, the L.A. Coliseum template might be the best path for NASCAR, which has added five new track layouts to its Cup schedule over the past two seasons.

2022 CUP SERIES SCHEDULE: Where NASCAR will be racing next year

“We think about what existing tracks are out there that you could realistically and feasibly go to, but also about what new markets are out there, too,” NASCAR vice president of strategic initiatives Ben Kennedy told NBC Sports. “And I think the L.A. Coliseum and a concept like this brings about the ability to go to different markets. And in particular as we think about international markets as well. There’s a ton of soccer stadiums across the world, and being able to duplicate this in other markets, I think really turns this into a proof of concept as well.”

Because of limited room on the temporary asphalt quarter-mile (which will allow up to only 10 pit stalls), the Coliseum will make its debut as an exhibition race.

But Kennedy said NASCAR “would not rule out the possibility of either the Coliseum or some sort of stadium event being a points race in the future.”

Many have pointed to Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as another model for stadiums playing host to NASCAR’s premier series (which once raced at Soldier Field in 1956).

Kennedy, though, cautioned that many stadiums are less well-suited for playing host to temporary racetracks.

“I think part of the reasoning why the Coliseum hopefully will work out so well is just the size of the footprint inside the field itself,” Kennedy said. “So I think a lot of football stadiums you have today are frankly too tight to build a track inside of it. The L.A. Coliseum, seeing that they had track and field events in the past for the Olympics, I think gave us an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, can we actually put a short track in here?’

“So I think that’s something we can look at in the future is what other venues like this would you realistically be able to do something like that. But that said, really our core focus right now is really putting on a special event at the Coliseum for our fans and something new and fresh.”

The Clash at the Coliseum tops the list of curiosities about the decision-making process behind next season’s slate.

Here are answers to more pressing questions about the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule and the future of short-track stadium racing:


Q: How did World Wide Technology Raceway gain a Cup race?

A: Track owner Curtis Francois, who rescued the 1.25-mile oval after it fell dormant 10 years ago, said it’s because the track has shown an ability to attract large crowds while building connections to grass-roots fans (WWTR has sponsored dirt-track drivers and also has been involved in the Chili Bowl).

As the Camping World Truck Series returned to the track seven years ago, Francois said he told NASCAR from the outset that the track eventually wanted a Cup race, and that 2022 provided the right timing.

“(NASCAR) realized we’re just authentic folks here,” Francois told NBC Sports. “We lead with authenticity. We try to be good listeners to the fans and always deliver the best experience we possibly can. We’re rock-solid stewards of our community here. All of that goes a long way. It’s a very folksy atmosphere here of having fun and doing a great job at the same time.”

Francois also credited a small NASCAR delegation that visited St. Louis a couple of months ago to meet with St. Louis business and political leaders.

“An important part of the process was introducing NASCAR to St. Louis and introducing St. Louis to NASCAR,” he said. “Many of the stakeholders in our city were able to meet with the France family and others at NASCAR, and it was just a great day of conversations and camaraderie around the sport. I think both NASCAR and our city were impressed with one another, and I think that was a pivotal point in making sure everything came together for us to have a Cup date.”

Though there are no financial commitments yet from St. Louis, Francois said “I would anticipate as we’re working toward bringing thousands of (hotel) room nights into the metro area, it would be fair to have conversations around that subject.” The track cites a recent economic impact study by The Rawlings Sports Business Management Department at Maryville University that projects the Cup race weekend generating $60 million for St. Louis.

Francois said the goal is a sellout of the track’s 57,000 seats for its inaugural Cup race (though the series raced at the track from 1997-2010, there are no current plans for an Xfinity race). Francois said there will be “a lot more fan-facing improvements,” continuing a decadelong trend of annual infrastructure upgrades at the track, which will become the only U.S. facility to play host to the NHRA, IndyCar and NASCAR Cup series.

Though the track’s Cup race will come as Pocono Raceway loses a date, Francois said he “had no line of sight into anything with respect to where our date was coming from or how it was getting to St. Louis, that wasn’t part of our discussions.” In a Wednesday statement from the track, Pocono Raceway said it was “disappointed NASCAR has chosen to eliminate” one of its races.

Asked by NBC Sports whether Pocono track ownership was compensated or would be involved with World Wide Technology Raceway date, Kennedy said “I can’t really share any details on that.”

Kennedy said NASCAR was attracted to World Wide Technology Raceway because it’s “a strong market, just the Midwest in general, for NASCAR fans. And it puts on a great racing product, too. The truck series there for over 20 years always puts on a great race. The fans always turn out. … I know that community is going to embrace it. They want to make that event really special.”

Q: Why is Homestead-Miami Speedway moving to the playoffs and bumping Richmond Raceway to the regular season?

A: Homestead built a reputation as perhaps the best 1.5-mile track on the circuit during an 18-year run as the Cup Series season finale from 2002-19.

Returning Homestead to an Oct. 23, 2022 race after a two-year run with dates in February and June, NASCAR is acknowledging that the fall is a better fit for the racetrack and also validating its reputation for races that are worthy of the playoffs.

“The data we’ve seen from the fans is they love the racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway,” Kennedy said. “So I think introducing that to the playoffs, and in particular the penultimate round of the playoffs, will create some really neat storylines.”

Q: Why are both of Richmond’s races shifting to Sunday afternoons?

A: Though Richmond Raceway officials previously have defended Saturday night racing as the 0.75-mile oval’s “brand,” the racing under the lights has been noticeably more of a single-groove affair. Recent daytime races at Richmond (some scheduled; some because of postponements) have produced more options on slicker asphalt.

“I think primarily to enhance the quality of racing,” Kennedy said about moving Richmond’s races to Sundays. “And I think a lot of fans are just frankly accustomed to coming out to a racetrack on a Sunday or tuning in on a Sunday, too. We saw a little bit of that in 2021 with midweek racing and the number of doubleheaders we had throughout the season. I think our fans and myself personally, I’m accustomed to turning on the TV Sunday afternoon and seeing Cup racing.”

Q: Why is the Bristol Dirt Race moving to Easter Sunday evening?

A: The prime-time event will be the first time in more than 30 years that NASCAR will run on Easter Sunday, which typically had been viewed as a taboo holiday for racing. That philosophy has shifted as NASCAR has grown more comfortable with racing on Mother’s Day weekend, and Kennedy said an evening race also will allow for better track conditions than in direct sunlight (when it’s difficult for a surface to hold moisture that is critical for dirt racing).

We looked at a handful of dates and one of those was Easter Sunday,” Kennedy said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a Cup race on Easter Sunday. That said, having families together on that weekend and at home, we thought what better way to introduce NASCAR racing on a special holiday then to put it on that evening in prime time.”

Q: Does NASCAR still want more short-track races?

A: Kennedy said “that’s fair to say,” given that next year will mark the second consecutive year of only five short-track asphalt races (and now two in the playoffs).

The introduction of three new road courses last year was driven by fan interest, which also remains strong for short tracks.

There are some potential candidates on the horizon with the Nashville Fairgrounds and the proposed reconfiguration of Auto Club Speedway – but that track in Fontana, California, will remain a 2-mile oval next year.

“As you look toward the future, it would be great to continue to have more short tracks come into the schedule,” Kennedy said. “I think the L.A. Coliseum will be one of them that we’ll be able to see. Nothing to report today, but something that we’re continuing to look at, too, is that redevelopment of Auto Club and potentially turning that into a short track.”

Q: What is the rationale behind how NASCAR decides which tracks lose races while others keep two annual events?

A: This remains a hot topic as Pocono has joined New Hampshire and Dover in losing one of its dates next year. Meanwhile, Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway – which once both lost a second race more than a decade ago — will have two annually scheduled races for the second consecutive season.

NASCAR officials previously have said they wanted to reward Darlington, which was the site of the return to racing during the pandemic last year. Kennedy cited Atlanta’s makeover for next season as the reason for its second race.

It’s something we continually look at,” Kennedy said. “We moved to two races this year with the thought of the reconfiguration coming to Atlanta, so I think that was part of the calculus and the reasoning behind why we decided to shift the two races in 2021 to set us up for 2022 and kind of prime the market.

“But we’re continuing to look at the number of tracks that have two dates, one date and the number of new venues that we’re going to, too. We had a lot of good research and insights from our fans and the fan council and then a number of studies that we do outside of that. Our OEMs, team and broadcast partners, the entire industry. We have a lot of good feedback and data on the schedule that ultimately helps us try to make a lot of these decisions.”

Q: Is a Chicago street race still a possibility?

A: In running an iRacing event on a downtown Chicago layout in June, NASCAR disclosed it had explored the concept in reality with a marketing agency. Kennedy visited the site in person several months ago but indicated this week that nothing is imminent.

“It was great to see the support and excitement in the Chicago area during that iRacing event,” he said. “It’s something we’ll continue to look at as we do everything on the schedule.”

Q: What will become of Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway?

A: For the third consecutive year, neither of the 1.5-mile speedways will be on the Cup schedule. With no racing at either track since 2019 and none planned, the futures of both facilities seem very uncertain.

Friday 5: Is it time to change how NASCAR champion is determined?

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Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both raise questions about how NASCAR determines its champion with a one-race event after whittling the 16-driver playoff field to four through a trio of three-race rounds.

Since 2014, the driver who finished the highest among the four championship contenders in the season finale won the title. The format creates a Game 7 type of moment for the sport in an event that has become a winner-take-all race. Joey Logano won the season finale at Phoenix to win his second Cup title. Ty Gibbs claimed the Xfinity title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. Zane Smith won the Truck title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. 

Thursday, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series announced a new way of determining its series champion that mirrors the NASCAR format. The late model series will cut its field of playoff drivers through eliminations, leading to one race where the four remaining championship contenders will vie for the title in 2023.

One of the questions with the NASCAR format is if it provides the most fair way to determine a series champion. Of course, the NFL determines its champion by the Super Bowl, a winner-take-all game. The best team hasn’t always reached that game or won that game, but the event has been played for more than 50 years with no change in sight.

Those who question NASCAR’s way of determining a champion note that the Super Bowl is between two teams, while the championship race for Cup, Xfinity and the Truck Series not only includes the four teams racing for a crown but also the rest of the field, which can include 30 more vehicles. What those drivers and teams do can make an impact on the race and play a role in who wins the championship.

“I think Dale Jr. covered it perfectly,” Hamlin said. “Should one season come down to this three-hour window?”

Hamlin, who seeks his first Cup title, says that the previous Cup champions have been worthy and admits that “I’m the last one that should comment on this” because he doesn’t have a title. 

Still, he raises questions.

“From a purist’s standpoint, it needs to have a bigger sample size,” he said.

Hamlin notes how he knew he wouldn’t win the 2020 Cup title even though he was among the four contenders because his team was not as strong at the shorter tracks such as Phoenix. 

“If you had more of a sample size, you have a chance,” he said. 

Earnhardt expressed the questions he had about the format when he spoke with former NASCAR Chairman Brian France on the Dale Jr. Download this fall.

Earnhardt said the playoff format, which features three-race rounds, is “compelling. It can be argued that it’s relatively fair. Everybody’s got the same opportunity. It’s three races. You can kind of dig yourself out of a hole. But I’ve always kind of struggled with the final race being all or nothing.

“The reason why I struggle with that is because the venue may suit a team or a driver. … You wouldn’t ever consider running it at a road course or a superspeedway because that certainly suits some drivers more than other. You try to have it at a neutral facility, if you will, like a Homestead or a Phoenix.

“But I always had a hard time with saying, ‘OK, it all boils down to this one race where you’ve got to get it right and if you don’t you’re not a champion this year.’ Even though you’ve really got this amazing body of work. You can still have that guy that wins one race be the champion and the guy that wins six not even make the final round.

“I wish we could figure out a way to make that championship moment not an all or nothing three-hour affair. … I’ve really warmed up to everything else we’ve done. It took me a long time because I was too much of traditionalist. But I still feel like there’s got to be a better scenario for the final moment.”

France responded to Earnhardt’s query by saying: “The reason you feel that way is because those are fair points that you make. They are.”

France went on to say that such questions are “part of the challenge of a playoff format in general with auto racing. You’re just going to have to accept that is not exactly perfect.”

France then said: “My decision was we’re not going to hold ourselves back from getting those (Game 7) moments because auto racing doesn’t quite fit perfectly into that. We just couldn’t do it.”

NASCAR changed how its champion was crowned ahead of the 2004 season. From 2000-03, three champions were so far ahead in the points that they clinched the title with one race left in the season (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Jeff Gordon in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in 2003). 

The Chase was created to generate interest in the fall, particularly when NASCAR was going against the NFL on Sundays. The Chase morphed into the playoffs and included eliminations and one race to determine the champion. 

Hamlin says a three-race round to determine the champion will keep the interest of fans.

“I think when you spread it out amongst a bigger sample size, such as a three-race (round), I don’t see how that’s not a positive thing for ratings. People will be compelled every week to tune in because this is the championship round. I think there’s something to be gained there.”

Asked about what if one of the title contenders wins the first two races to all but assure them the title ahead of the final race, Hamlin said: “Will not happen. There’ll be no lockup. No one will be locked going into the final race.”

Hamlin acknowledges that his viewpoint will not be shared by all.

“I’m a traditionalist like Dale,” Hamlin said. “This is just my opinion. I think that everyone is going to have a different opinion on it, but I just believe a larger sample size of our champion makes it more legitimate. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that, especially in the industry. 

“If you ask the drivers, ‘Do you see championships as valuable today as they did 10 years ago?’ I don’t think any one considers them as valuable just because it’s one race. It’s one race.”

2. Plugged in

Tyler Reddick moves to 23XI Racing and will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as his bosses. Reddick says that Jordan is not an absent owner.

“We’ve gotten to spend time (together) a little bit, here and there,” Reddick said of Jordan. “His involvement with the team is, I think, more than most realize.”

Reddick referenced the Martinsville race in October when he pulled out of the event because he wasn’t feeling well after contact on the track. Jordan reached out to Reddick afterward.

“It was really cool that you have a guy like him checking in on you to make sure you’re OK,” Reddick said. “He’s definitely locked in, and he really wants the team to do well. I’m excited to be working with him.”

3. Staying home

Kyle Larson said he will race very little this offseason. He’s staying at home for the birth of his third child with wife Katelyn Sweet.

Larson will compete in the Wild West Shootout, a dirt late model event at Vado (New Mexico) Speedway Park on Jan. 7-8 and Jan. 11-15.

Larson will not compete in the Chili Bowl this year. 

He said his focus will be on family this offseason.

“Help out where I can and just spend as much time with the family,” Larson said. “I normally go race a lot, but this year I’m not. I’m actually excited about it. I’ve only run one race so far this offseason. I’m surprised that it already feels like the offseason is going by really fast because I thought it’d be really slow with me not racing. It’s been good to just not race for once.”

4. Looking to improve

Ryan Blaney said he and crew chief Jonathan Hassler have looked back on the season and compiled a list of things to do for next year.

Blaney won the All-Star Race but did not win any points races. He finished eighth in points. It’s the sixth consecutive year he’s finished in the top 10 in points, but he’s never placed higher than seventh in the standings at the end of a season.

“We were up front so many races and led a lot of laps and won a bunch of stages, just never won (a points race),” Blaney said. “It is kind of a bummer. 

“So what kept us out of victory lane? Was it me? Was it a bad pit stop? It was kind of everything in some certain races. Sometimes they don’t work out for you. Some are self-induced. I felt like we took ourselves out of a handful of races I felt like we had a good shot of winning. … It is a bummer we didn’t win, but I was proud of the consistency and just hope to build on that.” 

Blaney is ready for the new season to begin.

“I’m kind of like two weeks is nice and then I kind of get itching to get back going,” he said. “It is nice to reset, and you kind of go through things you want to be better at. You have your own little list between myself and my team. … It’s a perfect time to work on that stuff.”

5. New partnership 

Among the new driver/crew chief pairings for 2023 is Austin Dillon working with Keith Rodden.

Rodden last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne. Rodden served as crew chief for William Byron in one race in 2020 but returns to full-time duty with Dillon, who finished 11th in points this past season, tying his career best. 

Rodden most recently worked on the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors. He takes over for Justin Alexander.

“Keith and I first got to work together in a wheel-force test for the Next Gen car at Richmond,” Dillon said. “It was a two-day test. We had dinner that night. It was good to talk to him. … Just knowing his passion was still very high to get back to the Cup level and crew chief. Him having the ability the work with Chevy this past year and seeing the different odds and ends of the Next Gen car was really the key to us (for him) to come over and crew chief for.”

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.