Talladega Takeaways: Winning as a car owner new emotion for Denny Hamlin

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ten months ago, Denny Hamlin stood in his team’s new race shop as 23XI Racing’s first car arrived.

Among the key issues to be dealt with that day: Getting the shop’s paint booth serviced and certified, and determining how many parts and pieces needed to be order for the team’s maiden season.

So, when the car came to the shop that day, there was little time to contemplate the significance of the moment before it was back to the many details that needed to be addressed.

When Wallace won Monday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway for his first victory and the first for the team, Hamlin felt a new emotion: Winning as a team owner.

“It’s going to take a minute,” Hamlin said of how he felt as he walked under an umbrella after NASCAR called Monday’s race because of rain. “It’s so much to process at this point. I’m not sure. This is going to be days’ worth of thoughts that will go through my head.”

It has been a whirlwind for Hamlin since he and Michael Jordan announced on Sept. 21, 2021 that they were forming a Cup team with Wallace as the driver.

“I knew it was going to be a process, but I maybe underestimated the process in which it takes to ultimately be a top-tier team and the time it takes to get all the (personnel) that you need,” Hamlin said Sunday morning at Talladega Superspeedway.

That process includes expanding 23XI Racing to a second car for the 2022 season. That meant hiring another driver (Kurt Busch), more personnel and acquiring a charter while also putting in plans to build a shop that will allow the organization to expand to four cars someday.

“It’s such a tough balance of trying to figure out how you can be fast and competitive and still run a legitimate business,” Hamlin last weekend. “That’s the tough part.”

The best parts, though, come with winning.

That’s what Jordan sought when he partnered with Hamlin.

“My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go … around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th,’” Jordan told NBC Sports and Fox Sports in an exclusive interview in September 2020.

“I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.”

Monday, Jordan got to celebrate his first win as a car owner.

“He’s as excited as I am,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Even though I probably do most of the work on the ownership side, he’s emotionally invested in this team as much as I am.

“This would not be possible without him. This would not be possible without the support of Toyota. There’s so many different people that said ‘Okay, you want to do this? All right, we’re going to stand behind you.’

That to me is what makes it so gratifying, is that when you have crazy dreams and you want to build something, that you have people that believe in your vision.”

Much work remains.

“We’re still again in the building stage,” Hamlin said after watching Wallace celebrate the win. “We’re still in the growing stages of our team.

“This is just a huge morale boost, a huge confidence boost for Bubba. There’s a lot of positives that will come out of this that will linger for a very, very long time.”

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There will be those who say that a NASCAR playoff race should never end early.

Two of the drivers who entered Talladega below the cutline – Alex Bowman and William Byron – each were asked about the prospect of a playoff race not going the full distance ahead of the event.

They weren’t bothered by the notion.

“I think it’s the same as every week,” Bowman said. “Any week of the year it can be expected by stuff like this (rain in the forecast). That’s just what we’re faced with (Sunday).

“I don’t think it’s any different than a regular season race being impacted by it. It would be tough to see the championship race impacted like that. That’s a hard position. Obviously, we can’t race in the rain. Just part of it.”

Last year, the Texas Cup playoff race was started on a Sunday and finished on a Wednesday because of persistent rain.

“Nobody wants to be here until Wednesday or Thursday like we were at Texas last year,” Bowman said.At some point, there’s only so much you can do with a weather situation that you’re given.”

Said Byron of his thoughts about a playoff race ending early: “I don’t really worry about it too much. You’re always kind of a ticking time bomb at Talladega, so I feel like you just race every lap as hard as you can.”

Byron finished 36th at Talladega and Bowman was 38th. They both head to Sunday’s Cup playoff cutoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC) outside the cutline.

Byron is 44 points from the cutline. Bowman is 52 points from the cutline. Both, essentially, are in a must-win situation to advance to the next round.

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Talladega became the first NASCAR track to have three first-time national series winners in the same weekend.

There had been three different first-time winners on the same weekend previously, but those were split among two tracks. Never had it happened at the same track until this past weekend.

Tate Fogleman scored his first career win in Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Brandon Brown won his first Xfinity Series race Saturday. Bubba Wallace completed the sweep of new winners with his first career Cup victory Monday.

The last time there were three different first-time series winners on the same weekend (but at different tracks) was August 2016. Michael McDowell won the Xfinity race at Road America. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race at Michigan. Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Michigan.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.