Drivers, crew chiefs seeking statistical breakouts in 2022 (Part 2)


Continuing our look at those with legitimate opportunities for statistical growth in the new year — Part 1 was posted Thursday — here are three drivers and three crew chiefs hoping to push their careers in positive directions:

James Small

The efflorescence of Small, heading into his third season ever as a crew chief, has been a sight to behold.

Following a rocky first season in which he and Martin Truex Jr. tallied just one victory — a five-year low for the driver — and position retention rates on green-flag pit cycles of 52.38% overall and 40.91% specifically when relinquishing a top-five spot, the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 team resembled championship contenders in 2021.

Truex won four times, all on prominent playoff racetracks. But for the whole of the season, Small’s strategic designs delivered better output, hitting 63.89% and 55.56% in the respective aforementioned categories. He called a near-perfect championship race, only to fall short of the win following a late caution and a pit stop 1.5 seconds slower than what was produced by Kyle Larson’s crew.

There’s still room for improvement in what his strategy is able to yield — he’s yet to reach the vaunted “60/60” mark that predecessor Cole Pearn hit four times during the Gen 6 era. But a change in race car provides Small a blank slate. This year is an opportunity for him to not only continue his growth as a crew chief, but also to see his progress manifest in a greater win total and a second legitimate chance at the title.

Ryan Blaney

Before 2021, Blaney had never won more than one race in a given season. Last year, he won three times, at Atlanta, Daytona and Michigan.

In this sense, the year was something of a breakthrough, but the 28-year-old still left some potential unfulfilled. Despite strong past performances at tracks like Martinsville and Bristol, he’s yet to win at a facility shorter than 1.5 miles. His surplus passing beyond the restart window — what used to be a discernible weakness — regressed after quantifiable growth in 2020. His pass differential last season ended in the black; however, he created 34 less positions than he did the previous year.

Could 2022 see several steps forward and none going backwards? He’s not fully formed as an all-around driver — he ranked second in Production in Equal Equipment Rating on tracks with low lap-time falloff on worn tires but just 10th on tracks with high falloff, which included Atlanta. But he’s made significant strides in virtually every stat category since entering the Cup Series on a regular basis in 2016. One of these days, all of those strides will coalesce for a banner season.

Rodney Childers

Without the car speed for which the Childers-Kevin Harvick combination is known, the crew chief had his hands full in a year with restrictions on parts development and otherwise normal methods for improvement. But the ability to do the heavy lifting when it came to procuring track position did not elude him.

Within the top-tier 7th-12th running range, Childers ranked in the 78th percentile for position retention rate during green-flag pit cycles. Against the entire series, Childers and Harvick benefited from having the fastest pit crew. This helped supplement the driver’s inability to overtake, both on short runs and long runs, where Harvick ranked as the least efficient restarter and passer within these running whereabouts.

At age 46, it’s doubtful Harvick will grow into a more reliable mover through traffic. Absent of a fast car and clean air, Childers will again have to fashion himself as an adept defender of his team’s running position and potentially turn green-flag stops into opportunities for offense.

Erik Jones

The drop from JGR to Richard Petty Motorsports appeared precipitous for Jones, who went from the 15th-fastest car in the series to the 22nd fastest and nine top-five finishes to none.

Independent of his equipment, the statistical outlay of the 25-year-old Jones suggested he still offers quite a bit. With JGR in 2020, he ranked as the fourth-most efficient passer in the series. He ranked as just the eighth-best passer among series regulars last year, though his skilled maneuvering on road courses provided a welcome surprise — his +3.07% surplus value ranked fifth among all drivers.

The acquisition of RPM by GMS Racing and a new crew chief — two-time Xfinity Series title-winner Dave Elenz — brings upside for Jones, who out-finished his yearlong speed ranking in 21 of 36 races last year.

Matt McCall

Within the running whereabouts Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 team called home, the green-flag pit strategy of McCall ranked in the 33rd percentile for both offense (weighted positional gain) and defense (position retention rate). While this was detrimental at times to Kurt Busch’s yearlong effort, it represented a vast improvement for the crew chief.

In 2020, he defended Busch’s running spot on 48.84% of green-flag pit cycles and just 9.09% when pitting specifically from the top five. Last year, those rates shifted to 62.90% and 30.77%, respectively. These rates weren’t ideal, but they were certainly much, much better.

Another significant step forward will be necessary for McCall as he moves to RFK Racing to serve as race-caller for Brad Keselowski. On paper, this is a match that should create a cutthroat competitor on big tracks. Keselowski was statistically more productive on the large tracks utilizing the 550-horsepower rules package in 2021 while all three of McCall’s Cup victories came at 1.5-mile facilities.

Ty Gibbs

After competing in 18 of 33 Xfinity Series races, Gibbs’ PEER ranked third among regulars and semi-regulars, trailing only Austin Cindric (3.606) and AJ Allmendinger (3.500).

His ability to replicate that production mark isn’t in doubt — his peripheral stats like surplus passing (+3.35%) and position retention rate on restarts (70.49%) were stellar. But the manner in which his team went about scoring results might not be replicable this year given their change in status.

As part-timers, Gibbs and crew chief Chris Gayle were able to ignore the need for stage points, certainly key in their road course performances which netted victories at Daytona and Watkins Glen. Now fully eligible for the Xfinity Series championship, those stage results can’t easily be punted.

How Gibbs and this team manage the season’s overarching goal will dictate their title-winning validity and could provide another dimension for one of the top prospects in all of NASCAR.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.