Friday 5: New Cup owners joining NASCAR but one thing is missing

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Since August 2020, Justin Marks started Trackhouse Racing, added Pitbull as a partner, witnessed the team’s first season and bought Chip Ganassi Racing – allowing Trackhouse to be a two-car operation in 2022 and have a charter for each car.

“It’s certainly been a learning experience,” Marks told NBC Sports about his first season as a Cup owner. “We’ve packed a lot of stuff into the last 12 months.”

Marks is not alone. The past 15 months have seen an influx of new Cup owners: Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan, BJ McLeod, Matt Tifft, Matt Kaulig, Brad Keselowski, Maury Gallagher, Pitbull and Marks.

Keselowski became the latest driver to move to the ownership ranks, joining Roush Fenway Racing to form RFK Racing. He’ll also drive the organization’s flagship No. 6 car this coming season.

My confidence in the sport and where it’s going increased – or has been increased – in the experience I’ve had so far, so that’s been a real positive for me,” Keselowski said. In a lot of ways, it’s reinvigorating. There were a lot of things happening behind the scenes that I didn’t know about that I think are sources of optimism.”

Gallagher, whose GMS Racing team announced in June plans to go Cup racing in 2022 with Ty Dillon, announced this month that it had purchased majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports. The new team will be called Petty GMS Motorsports.

Kaulig Racing will compete full-time in Cup next season for the first time – after winning its first Cup race this season while running a partial schedule. 

The influx of new ownership was bound to happen, as the core group of Cup owners grows older. Roger Penske is 84 years old. Joe Gibbs turned 81 in November. Jack Roush is 79. Richard Childress is 76. Rick Hendrick is 72.

Among the new group of owners, most already were in the sport. Only Michael Jordan and Pitbull came from outside NASCAR, although both were fans.

Hamlin said that the sport can use more owners coming from outside it. 

“What we want is the businessmen up in New York, or LA, or wherever they are, to say, ‘Why aren’t we owning a NASCAR team?,’” Hamlin said. “We have to create that interest somehow. But the moment in the past where you opened up your books to someone who wanted to invest in your team, they shut it after one page because it didn’t make sense. That’s been no secret.

“I think that NASCAR is trying to address that with the new car. We’ll see where the (next) TV (contract, which expires after the 2024 season) goes in the next 12-24 months, but ultimately, if you want to grow this sport, you’ve got to have people knocking on the door wanting to be a part of it. So, that’s where the next group is going to have to come from.”

But those outside the sport are not going to come to NASCAR for small investments. Medallion Corp. stated in its SEC filing that it sold its interest in Richard Petty Motorsports for $19.1 million to Gallagher.

While not to belittle the cost, it pales compared to other sports. Charlotte, North Carolina, will see its Major League Soccer team debut in February after reportedly paying a $325 million expansion fee.

Fenway Sports Group, a part owner of RFK Racing, reached a deal last month to reportedly pay $900 million for controlling interest in the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Team values in NASCAR have remained low because it wasn’t until 2016 that the charter system was introduced.

“We believe we made the team owner model more reliable, more stable, more open, more open to new investors, more capital to come into the sport,” former NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in announcing the charter system Feb. 9, 2016. The charter system was extended in 2020 to go through the 2024 season.

Value is predicated on supply and demand. Front Row Motorsports purchased a BK Racing charter in bankruptcy court for $2.08 million, including team assets, in Aug. 2018.

Hamlin acknowledged last week before the NASCAR Awards that 23XI Racing recently paid about $13.5 million for a second charter. 

Gallagher looked at purchasing the BK Racing charter in 2018. Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, put in an initial bid of $1.8 million for the charter and assets. They didn’t see a value in increasing the bid because of all the other costs associated with owning a Cup team at the time.

“I think the problem with NASCAR has been the lack of a charter, the lack of equity in a franchise … because anybody could show up in any given Sunday and get in,” Gallagher told NBC Sports. “Now it’s very regimented, which is good. Will (charter prices) go up? I believe so.

“Professional sports, who knows where the ceiling is with football, baseball? … I think the next thing is the sport has to make money, as these teams (in NASCAR) have to make money. You don’t have a lot of public disclosures, so you don’t know the numbers, but if I had to speculate, it’s not been a very lucrative business for even the people at the top, particularly in the last four or five years.”

Hendrick, whose teams have won the past two series championships, sees some interest in Cup ownership as charter prices have increased due to recent demand.

“There’s a bunch interested and that’s rewarding,” he said of potential new owners. “I think that’s going to be good for the sport.”

He also knows it is not easy coming into the sport.

“You’ve got to have the right talent like Kyle (Larson),” Hendrick said of the 2021 Cup champion. “When you look at our organization, you’ve got Jeff Gordon there, you’ve got Chad Knaus. It’s hard to go out and hire those people. You can hire people, but when you put them together it doesn’t mean it’s going to work.”

New owners bring new ideas. It doesn’t mean every idea will work, but it also can help broaden a sport’s reach. That’s what Marks wants to do with his team.

“We’re going to start doing partnerships, significant partnerships, outside of NASCAR,” he said. “That means building a scalable and diverse sports brand that starts penetrating a lot of different markets – with the goal of creating a platform of popularity and value to partners.

“That means content media. That means being in music, being in other sports, aligning with other significant personalities.”

Marks admits some of his ideas are “so outlandish that I want to try to make them happen.

“I bring some ideas to the group, and they look at me like, ‘You are so crazy.’ But, every once in a while, one of them works. Like maybe it’s the (biggest) Latin music star (Pitbull) in the world coming to NASCAR.”

2. Return to dominance

This past season marked the first time since 2015 that Chevrolet was the winningest Cup manufacturer. Chevy teams won 19 of 36 points races this past season. That came after a three-year period that saw Chevy win only 20 of 108 Cup points races.

Part of the change can be traced to the push for Chevrolet teams to work closer together.

Dr. Eric Warren, who was at Richard Childress Racing at the time and now is the director of GM’s NASCAR programs, got together with Jeff Andrews at Hendrick Motorsports and Tony Lunders at Chip Ganassi Racing to form a tighter coalition between those three teams.

“We we really working close to try to build the 2020 ZL1 1LE, which turned out to win the championship the two years it raced,” Warren told NBC Sports. “Part of that was learning each other and all the trust and development. It took a little of time to get everybody to trust each other on the aero stuff.

The rules (limiting wind tunnel time for teams) kind of changed. Wind tunnel was important. You had a certain amount of time that you had to maximize. … Then we got the crew chiefs going off that side of it. That kind of built a little bit of the foundation.”

Also, Earnhardt Childress Racing engines and the Hendrick Motorsports engine department began to work together.

The result was the 19 Cup races won by Chevy this past season came from six different drivers, led by Cup champion Kyle Larson’s 10 wins and Alex Bowman’s four.

Should Chevy’s winning ways continue in 2022, it could prove lucrative for teams under a new incentive structure with the manufacturer.

“Three years, we were struggling,” Warren said. “Toyota and Ford were winning 18, 19 races. We’re winning five, seven, whatever. It got to a point that (with) our continued spend for all of the partners (that) we need to have a little more focus on the incentive. So, there is the push to get the right drivers and right engineers and all those things.”

The incentives are the same for each team. Warren said previously that organizations would get a set amount from the manufacturer per team. This plan changes the focus.

“It was like, ‘We have a lot of competitive Chevy teams now. Do we really care if we have one more team?,’” Warren said. “Now, it almost becomes a decision by the teams: ‘Is this team going to give us more chances to get the incentives?’”

Warren said the program is “not anything uncommon. It’s just a different approach.”

3. Looking ahead

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said earlier this year that he was looking at the potential of moving his race team to Nashville, Tennessee.

Marks told NBC Sports that the purchase of Chip Ganassi Racing changed those plans. The team will continue to be run out of Nashville, which is where Marks lives, but there are no longer plans to relocate the entire organization to Tennessee.

“Building a race shop in Nashville was something I was very, very focused on doing when there were 12 (employees) and we were just trying to find a charter,” Marks told NBC Sports.

“When the Ganassi opportunity came, all of a sudden I’ve got a shop, I’ve got millions of dollars of equipment and 125-plus people. You can’t pick that up and move it. With our relationship with Chevrolet and the fact they are building this tech center (near Charlotte), proximity is important.

“So the vision changed. Nashville is very important to our company. We’re exploring ways to scale our presence in Nashville. I don’t think, with how fast we have grown and where Trackhouse is right now, that you will see the core of our competitive operations based here.”

So, is Marks satisfied with just being a two-car operation beginning with the 2022 season?

“Oh my gosh,” he quipped. “You can’t ask me that question. I haven’t even gotten on the racetrack yet with two.”

He said the growth to two cars in the team’s second year does not alter his five-year plan for the organization. When he looks to the future, though, he doesn’t see a four-car operation for Trackhouse. Just three cars.

“I think the sweet spot is three (teams), but we got to two really quickly,” he said. “There are absolutely zero plans in place for a third car.”

What makes having three cars better than four cars for him?

“I think when you get to four, you start to get an operation so big that it’s difficult to manage,” he said. “It’s difficult to keep a cohesive culture and a motivated workforce. I think it’s difficult because then you’re just (got) a lot of people and it’s a big operation.”

4. More Racing

William Byron, coming off his best Cup season, says one way he looks to improve as a driver is by racing more often.

“Honestly, for me, I want to try to race more outside of NASCAR,” Byron said. “I think just the hunger is there to get better for our team.

“It was different this year. I didn’t leave (the season finale at) Phoenix and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m ready for a break.’ I left, and I was like, ‘Let’s go to the next race. Let’s figure it out.’ I think with (crew chief Rudy Fugle), I think we are just ready to go to the next event.”

Byron won a race and had a career-high 12 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 finishes on the way to placing a career-best 10th in the points in 2021. He won at Homestead in the season’s third race, making him the first Hendrick Motorsports driver to score a Cup victory this past season.

As for what that type of racing Byron wants to do? He has one race planned.

“I’m doing a karting race (this week), and I like those a lot,” he said of an event at Go-Pro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina. “I was racing out there with (IndyCar driver) Will Power the other afternoon.

“I think just doing some other stuff that I enjoy. I don’t want to go do any huge races, but it’s fun to just maybe go race the kart sometime or maybe go do a Trans-Am race or something.”

Cup champion Kyle Larson looks to get Byron to race a midget car on dirt, just like Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott has done since last year.

“He’s an amazing racecar driver,” Larson said of Byron. “I get to see how dedicated he is to getting better. He puts in more effort than anybody I’ve ever seen.

“I feel like if he did try (a midget car), he would jump in headfirst at it and really try to get good at it, and I believe he would get good at it. Who knows, someday you may see him in a car.”

Maybe.

5. Five seasons later

Jimmie Johnson’s seventh and final Cup championship came in 2016. In the five seasons since, there has been a different champion each year: Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Joey Logano (2018), Kyle Busch (2019), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021).

Twenty-seven drivers have won at least one race in the past five seasons. Here is a look at the drivers who have won the most Cup races in that span:

24 — Martin Truex Jr.

23 — Kevin Harvick

21 — Kyle Busch

17 — Denny Hamlin

15 — Kyle Larson

14 — Brad Keselowski

13 — Chase Elliott

10 — Joey Logano

7 — Ryan Blaney

6 — Alex Bowman

5 — Kurt Busch

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Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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

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

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

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

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

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

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

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

Ross Chastain

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

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

Kevin Harvick

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

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

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

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

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

Tyler Reddick

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

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

Ty Gibbs

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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

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

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

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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

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

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

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

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

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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

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

Among new things for this season:

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

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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

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

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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