Friday 5: Key stretch begins for NASCAR in development of Next Gen car

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The celebration is over. The party has ended. While there might be some hangovers from Thursday night’s coronation of Cup champion Kyle Larson, Friday brings NASCAR one day closer to the start of the 2022 season.

And with it, questions remain about the Next Gen car.

NASCAR seeks to find some answers in the wind tunnel Friday. Officials will take what is learned there and apply it to a three-car test Dec. 10 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval. That precedes an organizational test there for all Cup teams Dec. 15 and 17.

The car’s handling, particularly in traffic during two tests days at Charlotte last month, raised concerns — even more than the slower speeds.

Joey Logano will be among those taking part in the three-car test next week.

“I think right now we just need to figure out how do we get cars as close as possible and race as good as we can,” he said Thursday before the NASCAR Awards program. “There’s a lot of pieces to this new car that will allow that.”

The design of the new car, though, has changed where the aerodynamic “dirty air” affects a trailing car.

“If you could imagine a boat where the wake would get wide but to the right,” Logano said of the previous car. “So, if you’re three car lengths back, and you move to the right, you’re done. You’d rather go to the left or stay right behind the car. It was worse if you went to the right.

“Now (with the Next Gen car), if you go to the right, it’s cleaner air. … Almost like the (leading) car isn’t even there. That part is a huge gain. It’s getting that when you’re actually behind a car better. That wake is bigger right now.

“You can imagine all the air is funneling right behind (the leading car) instead of being dispersed all the way across it. That part is where I think we can make some adjustments to make it better, but I think there’s definitely some great signs of hope to fix ‘dirty air’ on ovals.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
Kevin Harvick says increasing the horsepower on the Next Gen car should be done. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick said more horsepower is needed. Teams originally were at 550 horsepower at last month’s Charlotte test. Teams were allowed to try some different things to improve speed and handling. Stewart-Haas Racing went with a different tapered spacer that generated closer to 670 horsepower.

“Right now, you don’t have enough power to start a pass when somebody (ahead) screws up,” Harvick said of the 550-horsepower package for intermediate tracks. “I think that the power is key.

“There’s no way the car behind you is ever going to be as good as the car in front of you. … Everybody wants the car to be hard to drive, but you want a balanced car that you can work on and be able to make the car driver better than somebody else’s.”

Harvick said he would like NASCAR to give teams more horsepower on bigger tracks.

“I think the easiest thing to do is to make it the same as the short track engine package,” he said of the 670-horsepower package that will be used at short tracks and road courses. “Make it as easy on the engine shop as possible.

“If I was in charge, I would send that press release out yesterday, that a we’re going to go to more horsepower.”

Whatever is done, Denny Hamlin said needs to happen soon.

“I think it’s going to be very, very important for NASCAR to really be organized in this Charlotte test and, honestly, just come up with a plan of like good, bad or indifferent, this is what we’re going to do,” Hamlin said.

One concern he has is the with the supply chain for parts with the new car should the latest COVID-19 variant halt or slow production of items used for it.

“The supply chain issue is what we’re kind of worried about,” he said. “Any more changes, we’re 60 days from racing. We’re nervous. We’ve got to lock it in.

“I believe that we do collectively have some good ideas of how to race this car better and drive better. The (Car of Tomorrow) was a mess when we started it, and it got better. I hope we can do the same with this car.”

Logano is confident that will happen, but he notes it will take patience, not only from competitors but from fans.

“There will be learning curves with this car,” Logano said. “For our whole industry, we have to be a little bit patient because it’s the biggest change in the history of our sport. Richard Petty told me that, so I know it’s true.

“We have to be careful not to say this is going to be the savior and going to be everything and completely fix all of our issues immediately. It’s so different.

“We have a lot to learn, so we have to be a little bit patient on how this car is going to be. The theory and where we’re going with it is going to be fantastic for our sport.”

2. Words to ponder

It has been called the best-kept secret” in NASCAR.

No, it’s not some setup sheet. It is the journal that gets passed from one Cup champion to the next.

Jimmie Johnson started it in 2011 after a chat with NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton about how nothing was passed between champions. The existence of this journal was hidden until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media giving the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

Exactly what the champions write is largely held private.

Kyle Busch said he filled a page in his letter to Chase Elliott.

“I guess I just was kind of explaining like, ‘Hey, this is new territory for you, but this is a territory where you can not necessarily change the sport or change the world, but man, just live it up, and enjoy it and know that you’re Chase Elliott and now that you’re a champion, you’ve made it in this sport,’ ” Busch said in January.

NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500
Chase Elliott says he plans to give the champion’s journal to Kyle Larson later this month. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

With Kyle Larson winning this year’s title, it soon will be time for Elliott to give the journal to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

“One of the coolest parts about being champion, I feel like, is having that,” Elliott said of the journal before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards program. “I haven’t given it to Kyle yet. I’m going to write in it probably the next week or so and give it to him around our Christmas party at Hendrick.

“It’s a great honor to have seen (the journal) and to have read what is in it and to be able to pass that along. I think it’s one of the coolest things that we do. … I just wish it went back further. I think it would be incredible. I can’t wait for the champion in 2050 or 2040 or whatever to get that and read what some of the greats have written, like Tony (Stewart) and Jimmie.”

As Elliott ponders his words to Larson, will he write something personal to his teammate or something more broad in scope?

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Elliott said. “I haven’t decided exactly how I want to angle it. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t share it. That’s kind of the whole point of the book is for no one else to know what is in it. So, whatever I decide I’ll make a personal decision and try to make it special.”

3. Special trip

Cup champion Kyle Larson will attend the Dec. 12 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the season-ending event for Formula 1.

“I’ll be a race fan and am really excited about it,” Larson said.

He’ll be there only on race day, limiting his chances to meet any competitors.

“I hope I can meet drivers, team managers … and just meet as many people as I can and just kind of enjoy the whole experience,” he said.

Asked what he would want to talk to F1 drivers about, Larson said: “I just hope that people know who I am. I hope I go there and have people know because I feel like that naturally starts a conversation. I’m not one to go up and talk about myself.”

Larson said he’s sure this trip will give him a greater appreciation for F1.

“I’m not like a car guy, so I haven’t ever in the past gotten into the technology side of it or anything like that, but I think once I go to this Formula 1 race, I’ll have a way different appreciation and just curiosity about the cars and the technology,” he said.

4. Baby names

Kyle and Samantha Busch documented their struggles to have a child before son Brexton was born in May 2015. The couple continued to share their experiences as they sought to have a second child.

Unable to do so, they will have a surrogate carry a baby girl for them, sharing the news Nov. 16.

“Early on, in the transfer with the surrogate, we have certainly tried to hold our emotions down, don’t let them get too high,” Kyle Busch said. “Since we announced, we announced after the quote-unquote safe period of 12 weeks, so we feel pretty good that it should come through and should have a baby girl in May.

NASCAR Champion's Banquet
Kyle and Samantha Busch will have a surrogate deliver a baby girl for them in May. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“That’s been really great just to get to that part of that. I’m sure it is disappointing and a little hurt sets into Samantha with not having that ability to carry. She did with Brexton and that’s the greatest thing that she has ever done and felt and been a part of.

“She’ll obviously miss that with this one, and she even said ‘Now I kind of feel like the husband of the relationship because I’m not carrying it, but there is something going on and there is something big happening, but yet I really don’t know about it. I’m not intertwined in it until it happens.’ Now she sees my side of the fence a little bit. Her and the surrogate have a great relationship and they talk daily.”

As they look ahead, one of the key decisions will be to come up with a girl’s name. They’re not set on a name at this point.

“This one is harder,” Kyle Busch said. “Brexton was easy. We wanted to give him the B.B. initial. this one, we’re wide open. We don’t have have a first initial picked out. I think instead of having about 20 names to choose from we’re on 500 or something.”

5. Full circle

The last time NASCAR was in Nashville for the Cup awards was 2019. It was an awful time for Daniel Hemric.

NASCAR Champion's Portraits
Daniel Hemric with the sport coat that carried extra meaning this week. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

He was there to be honored as the Cup Rookie of the Year, but he was without a ride for the following season.

“You felt like your life was unraveling,” Hemric said. “My wife was a pregnant. … All those emotions.

“I remember that week, as her and I walked around town, I ended up buying a sport coat. Spent a little money on it. I thought, ‘I’m going to wear this with pride.”

When he returned to Nashville this week as the Xfinity Series champion, he brought that sport coat with him and wore it Wednesday as he NASCAR took photos of the series champions in various locations in the city.

“That’s pretty cool,” Hemric said. “A full-circle moment.”

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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).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“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.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”