How team owner Matt Kaulig has made his mark in NASCAR by building ‘the perfect way’

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No one knew Matt Kaulig was coming, yet many from his NASCAR team were unsurprised when he materialized unannounced at a Top Golf team outing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On the day before AJ Allmendinger’s Xfinity Series victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Kaulig Racing closed its shop and paid for 100-plus employees (and their significant others and children) to celebrate its regular-season championship and all three of its Chevrolets making the playoffs.

Team president Chris Rice wasn’t expecting Kaulig, the entrepreneurial owner of a billion-dollar gutter protection business who was taking part in a tree-planting charity event that Friday morning in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I was on the phone with him, and he said, ‘I’ll see you in 15 minutes,’ and I didn’t really know what he was talking about,” Rice told NBC Sports. “Like, what? You’re coming here?’ ”

“I just showed up at 1 o’clock and said, ‘What bay am I in?’ ” Kaulig, 48, told NBC Sports with a laugh.

A few hours later, he commuted home via private plane for dinner … and then flew back to Concord, North Carolina, the next morning to watch Allmendinger’s fifth victory of the season. After staying over to watch the Cup race Sunday, Kaulig caught some of the Next Gen test Monday before making another round trip to Cleveland – his third in four days – to retrieve his golf clubs to play 18 holes Tuesday with Allmendinger.

“We honestly don’t know when and where Matt’s going to be when we do events like that, he just shows up out of the blue,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Like you turn around and, ‘Oh hey, Matt’s here!’ He’s like, ‘If everybody is here hanging out. I want to be with my people.’

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
Chris Rice (left), AJ Allmendinger and Matt Kaulig celebrate Aug. 15 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after Kaulig Racing’s first NASCAR Cup Series victory (Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

“He’s got so many things going on, but if he can be there, he will. We do a victory team lunch on Wednesday, and he flies in for that just to hang out a bit and fly home again. He does this for fun. This is not a Richard Petty or Roger Penske to a certain extreme where (racing was) his original passion. So what makes it fun for him is all of his people. And he definitely tries to make sure he spends as much time as possible with them.”

Said Rice of Kaulig, who has become one of his best friends: “It is his M.O. He wants to show his support to the race team, and even though he lives in Ohio, that this is his main priority. He knows how hard it is to win and make playoffs. So when we do, he just wants to show everybody how much he cares for them. How much he loves the race team and how appreciative he is.”

Just like its namesake’s impromptu appearances, Kaulig Racing is becoming more and more ubiquitous in NASCAR.

Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, the team will attempt to reach the Xfinity Championship 4 for the second consecutive season and possibly with half the field. Allmendinger, the regular-season champion, is tied for the points lead and in a strong position to reach his first title round, and teammate Justin Haley is just below the cutline in bidding for his second championship berth in a row.

After needing three years to earn its first victory, Kaulig Racing now has 14 victories over the last three Xfinity seasons and scored its first Cup victory by Allmendinger at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August. After successfully executing a five-year startup plan, the team is in the first of a 10-year blueprint that Rice and Kaulig discuss daily.

Next season will bring a two-car expansion into the Cup Series with Haley and likely a mix of drivers while also fielding two cars full time in Xfinity (for newcomer Daniel Hemric and Allmendinger). Through a $2 million renovation of a building purchased from Richard Childress Racing (its technical alliance partner/engine supplier), Kaulig Racing will add 80,000 square feet adjacent to its primary 90,000-square-foot shop in Welcome, North Carolina.

“We’ve done a really good job as an organization, even according to everyone else in the garage and NASCAR, we’ve built this thing the perfect way,” Kaulig said. “If you were going to do a textbook on ‘How do you build a NASCAR race team?’, they would use us. We’ve had other team owners ask us for our business plan. You can figure it out. It’s not hard to see how we do it.

“Philosophically, you either continue to grow or start to die. It’s true. It’s like everything. So we keep growing.”


Matt Kaulig’s first experience with exponential growth was in gutter protection.

Starting with a three-person staff in his basement 16 years ago, his LeafFilter dealership mushroomed from $350,000 in revenue to $1.75 million within its first three years. By 2015, Kaulig had acquired the company, which has since grown to more than 130 locations, $1.5 billion in revenue and nearly a million customers.

LeafFilter now is the flagship brand of Kaulig Companies, which has interests in financial services, consumer products, marketing, sports/entertainment and philanthropy (supporting more than 70 nonprofits through giving programs).

It’s helped turned Matt Kaulig, who was named a 2017 entrepreneur of the year by Ernst and Young, into a community pillar in Northeast Ohio. His LinkedIn bio has a background photo of Kaulig with NBA superstar LeBron James, whose foundation’s “I Promise School” is supported by Kaulig Companies’ media arm.

It was through his businesses that Kaulig took a cold call for a NASCAR sponsorship that led to bringing 60 employees to Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2014, which ramped up to full-season sponsorship a year later and then team ownership in ’16.

After nearly six seasons, Kaulig still employs many business-to-business practices between his team and companies (whose brands often are on the cars driven by Allmendinger and Haley).

NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina
Chris Rice, Matt Kaulig and AJ Allmendinger celebrate after the No. 16 Chevrolet’s Oct. 9 victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, the third consecutive in the Xfinity Series on the course for Allmendinger (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Kaulig Racing’s new shop is being wired by the IT department of Kaulig Companies, and Kaulig Media helps produce team content such as postrace video updates from the team owner that run on Cleveland’s NBC affiliate on Sunday nights (“We talked about being Northeast Ohio’s NASCAR team, so that’s helped with getting a big following.”).

But while his companies are heavily involved with the business of the team, Kaulig has stayed out of meddling in competition.

“The only question I really ever ask is, ‘Did we get through tech (inspection)?’ but that’s really the extent of me talking about the cars,” Kaulig said. “My role is just to be here and be supportive of Chris Rice, the drivers, the team. Showing up at Top Golf means a lot to them to know that I’m here. I’m in it. I’m not just sitting in Ohio writing checks. I actually am here and leading by example and help pump them up.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that Kaulig is all business – as Allmendinger learned shortly before his July 5, 2019 team debut at Daytona International Speedway.

“I knew I was at a different team when I walked into my lounge to get ready, and there were like 20 Coronas just sitting on the tables,” Allmendinger said. “Matt and his buddies were all there hanging out. He’s just enjoying this. If it’s not fun for him, there’s no reason for him to do it, so he’s going to have a good time.”

Racing has a history of independently wealthy team owners who have flamed out quickly, and there naturally were initial questions about Kaulig’s sustainability

Nearing the end of his first season at Kaulig, Allmendinger asked Rice “what the end game was” for his team owner.

“I knew nothing about him when I joined, and in a way, I was like, ‘How much money does he really got? It’s gutter protection,’ ” Allmendinger said. “It’s not like one of these many guys we’ve all seen that come into the sport like, ‘Hell yeah!’ and then say, “Well, shit, this is expensive. Never mind!” And Chris told me what the company and he was worth, and I was like, ‘Does he come from money?’ ‘No, he started the company,’ and I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Credit Karma Money 250
A former starting quarterback at the University of Akron, Matt Kaulig fields the No. 11 for Justin Haley in honor of the number he wore as a college football player (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Rice also didn’t know Kaulig before he began working with him and immediately tested the relationship by asking Kaulig for a sizable down payment to secure the team’s first deal with Richard Childress Racing. A cashier’s check was on Rice’s doorstep the next day.

“You always are going into it thinking, ‘Man, is this guy for real? Is he going to really go racing?’ and that got our alliance going with RCR,” Rice said. “It showed them that we were real, and it’s been blue skies ever since. It’s been amazing.”

A dichotomy exists between the team’s fun-loving and off-the-cuff image (its motto is “Trophy Hunting”) and its adherence to strict planning.

The team’s 2021 budget was set last year, and Kaulig reviews its financials weekly.

“It’s definitely all calculated,” Kaulig said. “It appears like hey, we’re just having fun, and we keep it light. But all the other teams ask, ‘Why is everybody so happy? And why are you having fun? You’re not supposed to do this.’

“It has become more serious because we are running for a championship in the Xfinity Series. For me, it’s racing. You’re looking for fun. But there is pressure to perform. Everybody is doing it to make a living, every single person is. If one of our tire guys is doing a bad job, he’s going to lose his job. Same with the drivers. They aren’t performing, there’s a lot of pressure, because we’ll bring someone else in. That’s the business of sports. If that means your buddy is doing a not good job changing tires and isn’t fast, we’ve got to get rid of him.”


Many point to the cornerstone of Kaulig’s success as the relationship between Kaulig and Rice, who handles day-to-day business as the team’s president and consigliere.

When Kaulig first was contemplating team ownership, he was introduced by Blake Koch (his first driver) to Rice, who gave him a price tag for the startup that drew a “hard no” from Kaulig.

“I sat down with him and told him the truth, and I’ve always told him the truth,” Rice said. “Never have once had to do any different, and we became best friends. We have great conversations about everything, not only racing related but personally related. We have some amazing conversations.

“He trusts me with anything, but also man, I hold nothing back. If something goes wrong or something’s haywire, I tell him.”

Rice’s initial cost estimate was within $100,00 of what Kaulig spent after changing his mind and deciding to start the team three months before the 2016 season.

“We were spending a good amount of money on sponsorship, even in the millions, and when you’re starting a race team, it’s different than having a race team for several years,” Kaulig said. “It was a little more than I was comfortable with, but then we’re talking several months later, LeafFilter is doing great. My business is doing really good. Better than expected. So we just decided let’s do it. We can do this.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250
Matt Kaulig shares a hug with Justin Haley after the driver won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Aug. 28 at Daytona International Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Said Allmendinger: “He gives us all the resources we need. But you counteract that with Chris’ overseeing of the team and making sure it’s just not money being blown and wasted. It’s a great dynamic that Matt and Chris have. It’s ultimately Matt’s decision, but it’s basically on Chris to tell him yes or no. If you tell him this is the right thing to do and is going to make us better, Matt’s going to do it because he wants to win.”

The team owner has strong relationships with his drivers, too. Allmendinger said it’s “probably the most friendship with a car owner I’ve ever had.” The bond grew out of impromptu trips for celebratory golf outings (such as a last-minute trip to play TPC Michigan) after starting during the early stages of the pandemic last year.

“I really got to understand what type of person he was,” Allmendinger said. “He would call me a lot. Just for no other reason than, ‘Hey man, how you doing? You good? Can I do anything for you? What do you need?’ And as a lot of teams started cutting down, whether it was cutting people’s salary or whatever, he was the first person to step up right away and said, ‘Everybody at this shop, don’t you worry about it. You’re getting paid normal, and we’ll all get through this, but I want to make sure that’s not even on your radar.’

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
A quote from team owner Matt Kaulig hangs above the shop floor in Welcome, North Carolina (Nate Ryan).

“I know he’s my boss still, but I don’t even really look at it that way. And he makes sure that I never look at it that way. We’re just close friends, and I’m very fortunate that I drive his race car as well.”

Haley said he spends 30 minutes talking to Kaulig in his motorhome after every race and “most of the time it’s not even about racing, just about life and fun stuff.

“I’ve never seen Matt Kaulig down in the dumps,” Haley said. “He is always positive, no matter where he’s at in life, he’s always a leader. And he always is looking at the best in every situation. After every race, I go in his motorhome, and we sit for probably a half an hour and talk and most of the time it’s not even about racing. I think he’s really done a good job at leading the team and putting the right people in place. He’s just a fun, bubbly kind of guy, and he’s also super serious.”


Matt Kaulig said he made two promises to himself in becoming a NASCAR Xfinity team owner: “That I would have fun, and that it would not ruin my weekend or my life.”

But he recognizes the degree of difficulty in entering Cup next season will make the competition much more difficult – and more reminiscent of its first three Xfinity winless seasons that produced only one top five.

“When we started, and the team would talk about having a fast car and then you’re running 22nd all day, and that can dampen your spirits,” Kaulig said. “That’s tough to deal with, so it’ll be even bigger next year when we’re in the Cup Series. Now you’re running with the big boys, and now it means something. It’s not just going out to have fun and race. We’re trying to get better to do that. But I try to keep that in perspective. If we wreck, you’ll rarely see me just pissed or want to go fight somebody because they ran us off the track.

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
In moving to the Cup Series next season, Kaulig Racing will add this second building that as adjacent to its primary shop (Nate Ryan).

“That’s one of my jobs is just to make sure that everybody is in a good place, and it’s a great work environment where people are happy. Nobody wants to be around a team or if the crew chief is a jerk. It’s not fun.”

While Haley has been named the driver for one of its full-time chartered Cup cars next season, Kaulig Racing has yet to announce its plans for the second Camaro in NASCAR’s premier series, which will be moving to the revamped Next Gen model in 2022.

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
Matt Kaulig moved into NASCAR team ownership after a season of sponsorship (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Kaulig said the team is leaning toward a lineup of multiple drivers sharing the car, but “we’re still talking to drivers and sponsors to see what the options are. I’m more than fine if we have to run it that way.

“The whole thing is we want to win Xfinity championships and build our Cup program the right way,” Kaulig said. “We just don’t want to throw a bunch of money at it, and we aren’t even used to Cup as an organization. It’s not just about the driver. It’s the equipment and figuring out the program, so it’s great timing for us as far as the Next Gen car because nobody has experience with it.”

Kaulig also will benefit from increased support by Chevrolet. A contingent of General Motors executives, including the president of its North American operations, visited with Matt Kaulig before and after Allmendinger’s recent victory at the Roval – another sign of the team’s growing stature.

“It’s kind of strange because Kaulig Racing went from, even in just the time I was here, from, ‘Oh yeah, this just is one of those little teams that could,’ to ‘No, it’s a big team now,’ ” Allmendinger said. “It’s a big organization now. I keep trying to work on Matt a little bit about, ‘Hey, remember what it was like to start Xfinity and how you guys ran back then? Times that by 10 now because it’s Cup. It’s the best of the best.’

“There’s definitely going to be struggles. I think you’re going to have competitive runs, but you’re definitely going to have days that are miserable, and that’s life in the Cup Series as a brand new team. But with Matt’s drive and what he wants to get out of the sport and how truly passionate he’s gotten over the last couple of years about the sport, I think the ultimate goal is to try to be a championship-caliber team, however long it takes.”

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.