Friday 5: NASCAR Cup pit crews set for busy offseason with changes for 2022

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In the 14 years pit crew coach Ray Wright has been at Richard Childress Racing, he’s seen NASCAR cut the over-the-wall pit crew from seven to six and then to five people.

But those changes don’t compare to what is in store for next season. The wheels will have one lug nut instead of five. While that seems minor, it will impact pit stops in significant ways. 

“Every change seems major at the time, but this is change to everything,” Wright said.

He went on to add “This is the first time we’ve had so many unknowns.”

So, how can going from five lug nuts to one on a wheel be such a big deal?

Wright notes how the change alters the characteristics of the pit stop. Previously, the key for any pit crew was finding tire changers who could remove five lug nuts in less than a second.

“We’re having them off in .9s and .8s, and man, that made everything,” he said. “The whole pit stop was about the lug nuts.”

Now, Wright notes, a key element with the pit stop will be about the jackman. A key for the jackman before was to get a nice stroke so the car rose smoothly. That was important so the tire changers could hit a lug nut as the car was going up.

“Now, we don’t need that with one lug,” Wright said. “It’s just blast that thing up and that’s a major difference.”

The tire changers also have much to adjust to with the single lug nut.

First, they have a different air gun. One that is 2 pounds heavier than the previous air gun, estimates Chase Masterson, front tire changer for Tyler Reddick in Cup and Myatt Snider in Xfinity this past season.

“Even from our previous gun that we had to the Paoli gun (used by all teams) you are talking about 1/2- to 3/4-pound (difference), and we thought that was the end of the world,” Masterson said.

Another nuance is that tire changers would trigger their air guns as they got into position to ensure it reached maximum RPMs to remove the lug nuts immediately.

“Now if we do it (crank the gun before engaging the single lug), it’s not going to lock up on the wheel,” Wright said. “It’s just going to throw out a bunch of sparks. It’s just going to spin. So you’ve got to engage it and then you turn (it on).”

Wright said that, eventually, the pit stops will be faster. He notes how Kyle Larson had an 11.8-second pit stop to get the lead on the final stop in the season finale at Phoenix to win the championship.

“I think by October of 2022 an 11.8 is probably going to lose you spots,” Wright said. “Eleven-eight in Daytona (in February) might be OK.”

He noted that his team performed a 10.5-second stop, which featured only simulated fueling, during last week’s Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Give it a year or give it two years, and you’ll see them in the 9s,” Masterson said on the possibility of sub-10-second pit stops for four tires. “We’ll figure it out. That’s what we do.”

To get to that point will take work. That will make this a busy time for pit crews as they prepare for a new way to do Cup pit stops.

“We’ll have a good Thanksgiving, and then we’ll come back and it will be reps city,” Wright said, alluding to plenty of practice for his pit crews.

2. A new approach

Even before 23XI Racing ran its first race this season, competition director Mike Wheeler looked at ways to do things differently when the organization expanded.

He’s putting those plans in place with the team adding Kurt Busch as a teammate to Bubba Wallace.

Team co-owner Denny Hamlin said earlier this year that the organization was looking to be set up more similarly to a Formula 1 team. Wheeler said he talked to “top-five teams, organizations” in Formula 1 and IndyCar via Zoom calls to learn how they structure their teams. He declined to reveal which teams.

“I talked to people last January about this, knowing that Gen-7 was coming,” Wheeler told NBC Sports. “How F1 teams go have two teams. They work together, yet they have one core group on the station on pit lane calling the race.

“In practice, everyone has their own ideas, but they have a boss and one of them is a senior race engineer, who says ‘You are going to change the camber, and you are going to change toe, and you’re going to report back to us what it does.’ Everyone knows where everyone’s setup is supposed to start. Everyone knows where they’re headed for setup.”

The conversations with teams in other series showed Wheeler that he was headed in the right direction with this concept.

“I found a few guys to talk and they said they studied the NASCAR system and was like they don’t think it’s better,” Wheeler said. “They saw the same holes that I have been seeing. It just gave me confirmation that I cannot be scared to chase it.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
The addition of a second team has allowed 23XI Racing to alter its internal structure, mirroring, in some ways, what Formula 1 teams do. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Wheeler also credited Steve Lauletta, the team’s president. Lauletta had previously been an executive at Chip Ganassi Racing and saw how that organization’s NASCAR and IndyCar teams operated.

“I think this is an efficient way to go,” Wheeler said. “We’re not duplicating work. That’s one of the biggest things is I’m trying to get rid of personal preferences and pick a path to go down.

“I don’t want to limit creativity. We’re allowed to do setups that we want to do, but I want to make sure that (crew chief Billy Scott) is one of the guys on both side of the fence and not going ‘I don’t know what they are doing, but I’ll find out why they are faster than me on Monday.’ That’s not really a good way to learn.”

With a single-car team this year, Wheeler didn’t have the luxury he has now. He also was the crew chief for Wallace much of the year. Wheeler’s time was divided between work for the next race and looking further ahead for the team. With Bootie Barker now Wallace’s crew chief, Wheeler can focus on bigger picture items, such as the team’s structure.

“We’re basically going to have the guys that assemble the 23 cars are going to assemble the 45 cars as well,” Wheeler said. “Everyone reports to a common person and not a team number person. Once they go to the racetrack, Billy (Scott, crew chief for Busch) is going to be with his group and they’re going to execute the weekend for the 45 car. Bootie is going to go over to the 23 group and execute the weekend with that car.

“I’m not going to have those guys worry about trivia things. I have managers in the shop doing that kind of stuff. They’re going to be worrying about car performance, educating the crew and execution.”

To help with that, the team recently added several people. Among the new hires was Dave Rogers, who won the Xfinity championship as crew chief for Daniel Hemric.

“The idea with Dave, he’s one of those guys that are available and you need good people,” Wheeler said. “We call him the performance director. He’ll be a lot with the engineering side of it, not necessarily setups but the core group, whether it be aero or strategy or some other development.

“Right now, we have a good alliance with (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Toyota, but we’ve still to use it to the fullest advantage while making our own better. Dave is one those guys with a unique talent in the garage area, highly respected and experienced that we can put him to use and help develop our program as a whole.”

3. More work to do

Cup teams will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s oval to test the Next Gen car Dec. 15 and 17. The two-day test there earlier this month showed more work was needed on the 1.5-mile track with the new car.

One of the issues that came up in the test was how much slower the Next Gen cars were compared to the times run on the Charlotte oval in May with the previous car. While a variety of factors played a role, including drivers working their way to be comfortable in the new car, it did raise the issue of how important speed is.

Former champion Chase Elliott says he noticed a difference.

“I definitely feel like you are going a little slower down the straightaway,” he said at last week’s test. “But once you kind of land in the corner itself, I don’t know that it feels a ton different, maybe a little bit.

“Certainly, I feel like the biggest difference, just from a momentum standpoint that I felt, was just the tire falloff. I could really hear and feel how much I slowed down from the beginning of a 20-lap run to the end. That was probably the biggest thing to that stood out to me. But that’s going to change track to track.”

As for the speed differential and if it’s an issue, Elliott wasn’t sure.

“If it’s entertaining and it’s exciting and we’re able to put on a good race, like, who cares, really, how fast we’re going at the end of the day,” Elliott said. “But, if the racing is no better and if we take a step backwards in our product on our track, then I don’t think we should be going slower.”

4. New look

Moving the car number forward from the door is meant to give sponsors a larger space to use. The recent Next Gen tests on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and oval gave a glimpse of how the space could be used.

Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team, said the company has had positive responses from its sponsors on the change and what it can allow them to do on the car.

“This year has been, I think, particularly energizing because there are so many new aspects of this,” Newmark said. “By moving the number, that gives you the ability to do a lot more with the paint scheme … than you could before.”

The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing car the team used at the Next Gen test shows how the area on the side can be used for sponsors. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Newmark also noted that with more space on the side of the car, there’s a little less space for other sponsors in other areas.

“This may not be apparent to the average fan, the lower rear quarter panel is way smaller than it used to be, so now you have to look at where’s other spaces we can showcase an associate sponsor,” he said. “There’s been some difficulties with it, but for the most part it’s been a huge positive. The partners have loved it. It gives them, I don’t want to say a blank canvas, but a different canvas to paint on. I think you are going to see some pretty cool paint schemes coming out next year.”

Newmark also noted that not all companies would use all the space available to them.

“Some brands like the minimalist approach, and … there are others that want to be loud and bold and use every space on the car,” he said. “A lot of those will depend on the sponsors. I’ll bet you’ll see some really creative paint schemes out there because this allows for more creativity than we have had before.”

5. Road warriors

With seven road course events on the Cup schedule this past season, there was talk about how many of those races Chase Elliott would win and who could challenge him.

Both of Elliott’s wins this season came on road courses. He won at Circuit of the Americas in May and at Road America in July. Teammate Kyle Larson won a series-high three races on road courses.

Elliott and Larson each finished in the top five in five of the seven road courses. Elliott, Larson, Denny Hamlin (four top fives), Kyle Busch (three) and Joey Logano (three) combined to score 57.1% of the top fives on all the Cup road course events in 2021.

Tyler Reddick won three stages on the road courses, most in Cup. Elliott, Larson, Logano and Busch each won two stages.

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Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

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.