Martinsville takeaways: Hendrick vs. Gibbs carries on to Phoenix


MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Throughout a playoffs that saw former champions feud, tempers flare and a momentous victory, one thing remained constant.

The two best organizations were Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

It’s no surprise that it will be Hendrick vs. Gibbs in Sunday’s Cup championship race at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

Kyle Larson, who won a series-high nine races this year, and reigning series champ Chase Elliott represent Hendrick. Former champion Martin Truex Jr., who won at Phoenix earlier this season, and Denny Hamlin, who will make his third consecutive title race appearance, represents Gibbs.

I think when you look at the four that are in it, I think it’s the best four that you could possibly put in that race,” Hamlin said after Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway. “I think all of them would be deserving champions.”

Hendrick and Gibbs drivers combined to win eight of the nine playoff races. The exception was Bubba Wallace’s win at Talladega, making him only the second Black driver to win a Cup race. His 23XI Racing team is co-owned by Hamlin and gets its cars from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Six times in these playoffs, cars from Hendrick and Gibbs finished 1-2. Martinsville represented the third time in this postseason that Hendrick and Gibbs cars took four of the top five finishing positions.

What happened in the playoffs was a continuation of what fans saw during the season.

Hendrick drivers won 16 races, including five in the playoffs. Gibbs drivers won nine. The two teams combined to win 71.4% of the races this season.

That Larson and Hamlin are among the championship contenders is fitting. Larson won the most races (nine), won the most stages (17) and led the most laps this season (2,474). Hamlin ranked second in top fives (18), second in top 10s (24) and second in stage wins (10).

“I’ve said for many, many weeks now that it would be a disservice if someone other than the two of us didn’t win,” Hamlin said of either he or Larson winning the title. “I mean, he’s obviously probably the most deserving over the course of the year that he’s had from start to finish.”

Said Larson: “As Denny mentioned, the way we both performed throughout all the season, I’m glad to see us both with the opportunity to race for a championship, as well as Chase and everything he’s kind of had to go through throughout this playoffs.”


Reigning champ Chase Elliott made it back to the championship race, but what a journey it was the past nine weeks.

His feud with Kevin Harvick was a key storyline for part of the playoffs, erupting at Bristol in the final race of the opening round and continuing through the Charlotte Roval race at the end of the second round.

Elliott’s finishes at Bristol (25th) and the Roval (12th) were impacted by incidents with Harvick. Elliott’s playoffs began with a crash in the Southern 500 after he had a tire cut down after contact from Christopher Bell’s car. That resulted in a 31st-place finish.

Elliott’s average finish of 13.0 in the playoffs is the worst of the Championship 4 drivers. Hamlin had an average finish of 7.2 in these playoffs, Larson 8.1 and Truex 10.3.

“Certainly hasn’t been pretty,” Elliott said of his playoffs. “At the end of the day, having a shot (this) week is really all that matters.

“Frankly, I feel like you make it to Phoenix, it’s anybody’s game. Getting out there and being a part of the final four is a really big deal. It’s really hard to do. I’m really proud of my team for continuing to push through and battle some adversity. Just keep fighting.

I got a great group. I don’t want to go to battle with anybody else. Really proud of my group for not only (Sunday) but just the whole run. Our guys are on Phoenix now. We can focus on going out there and putting together a solid race, which I know we’re very much capable of doing. I’m excited for the opportunity.”


Kyle Busch fell three points short of advancing to the Championship 4. It marks the second year in a row he’s failed to advance to the title race.

“We ran like (expletive) last week and this week,” Busch said after Sunday’s race at Martinsville. “We had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end, and we were trying to make something out of nothing.

“Great effort. We did everything we could all day long. We never stopped working on it.

“We have missed it way too much lately. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Busch has led 334 laps this season. The fewest laps he’s led in a Cup season is 362. That came in 2005, h is rookie season.


Alex Bowman’s victory Sunday gave him his fourth of the season.

Countering those wins are 11 finishes outside the top 20. Only once this season did he score more than three consecutive top 10s.

That inconsistency plagued the No. 48 team all year.

I was confident coming into this year, but the thing that I’ve always circled is to just try to be consistent, consistently run well,” Bowman said. “We’ve struggled to do that.

“It’s really hard for me to be super excited right now. The beginning of the season, if you told me I was going to win four times, I’d be pretty excited. Wish we were going to Phoenix with a chance to win the championship.

“It has been painful to kind of go through the playoffs the way they’ve been, but it’s awesome to at least start to end the year on a strong note.”

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”