Jesse Iwuji’s Xfinity team will have deep ties to Wendell Scott’s Hall of Fame legacy

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – There was a poignant interruption during a Monday unveiling of the Xfinity Series Chevrolet co-owned by Jesse Iwuji and Emmitt Smith that will carry a Wendell Scott tribute.

After being acknowledged by moderator and Chevrolet Motorsports vice president Jim Campbell during a news conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Wendell Scott’s son Franklin rose and politely asked for a word.

Stepping to the mic, he singled out one of two No. 34 cars that were parked in the museum’s “Great Hall” atrium – and not the black and green Camaro wrapped with the sponsors that Iwuji also will represent as a driver in 2022.

COFFEE WITH KYLE: The life and times of Wendell Scott

Scott instead gestured behind a stage backdrop to an unmarked blue car, which sat below the Glory Road ramp of brightly colored championship cars covered with corporate logos.

This No. 34 was driven by Wendell Scott, who overcame pervasive racism and a persistent lack of funding to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame as the first African-American driver to win a Cup Series race.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this sitting there, looking at all the cars in this hall,” said Franklin, one of many family members on his father’s crew. “The only car in here that doesn’t have a sponsor on it is that 34. The only car. My father never had sponsorship, but he reached the pinnacle of his career off determination and guts and perseverance and humility. These are words he taught us to use.

Franklin Scott (far left) and Warrick Scott (far right) attended a news conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to unveil the No. 34 Xfinity Series Chevrolet co-owned by Jesse Iwuji and Emmitt Smith (Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing).

“Jesse, you have an opportunity. Just think what Wendell Scott could have done if he had any of the sponsors on (your) car. Everything we earned went back into the race team and family. He was a great man. So you are following in the footsteps of one of the vanguards of the sport and a giant in the racing world. I just want to encourage you to give yourself patience to learn because you’re not going to learn it all in one year.”

Scott then encouraged an audience that included NASCAR fans to support Iwuji’s rookie season.

“Give him an opportunity because there are going to be detractors,” Scott said. “There are going to be critics. So you have to ignore them and don’t ever let quitting be in the plan.”


Iwuji and his team, which is co-owned by Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, vowed they were committed for the long term. They also preached patience in revealing details Monday of their first-year effort that still is ramping up since its assembly began five months ago.

With eventual plans to relocate to the Charlotte or Mooresville area, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports currently is working out of Johnny Davis Motorsports’ shop in Gaffney, South Carolina, and obtaining parts from a few Xfinity teams.

Iwuji said his team has acquired points from JDM to help ensure he makes the Feb. 19 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The No. 34 that was rolled Monday into the NASCAR Hall of Fame was the car that Iwuji will race on the 2.5-mile oval in less than two weeks. A backup car still was being built.

“We fully expect to be in the race,” said Iwuji, who has made five career Xfinity starts (with a best finish of 23rd) and 15 in the truck series (with a best of 17th). “It’ll be nerve-wracking running Daytona the first time for me in the Xfinity Series. To be in the draft with highly experienced drivers and competing, we’ll be finding our way, figuring out where we fit. It’s going to be tough and won’t be easy, but it’s going to be fun.”

Crew chief Jason Houghtaling said the new team will have the points from the JDM Chevy that finished 26th in the 2021 car owner standings. Engines will be supplied by Hendrick Motorsports.

“I’m not going to say we’ll be a top 10 or top 15 team,” said Houghtaling, a veteran of Cup and Xfinity teams owned by Rick Ware, B.J. McLeod, Carl Long and Mike Harmon. “We’ll finish every race and make every race. We won’t be anything if Jesse doesn’t get experience. His experience is very limited, so our goals and aspirations are to make him better. That’s first and foremost.

“I’ve had to do a lot with a little. I’m very proud of where I came from, and I can help lead these guys and teach them a few things. The Hendrick engine and cars and things they’ve given are a cherry on top for me. It’s going to pay off. My past is definitely going to help me get where we’re trying to go.”


Asked about the team’s expectations in Year 1, Smith immediately replied “Finish,” which Iwuji reaffirmed.

“In order to finish first, you must first finish, so our goal is to finish every race, but as we’re finishing each race, work on slowly progressing to get faster, get better and be more consistent,” said Iwuji, a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserve who is juggling a racing career with his duties in the armed services (he took a redeye from Los Angeles to Monday’s announcement after Navy drills last weekend). “Because we want to find our way into the top 20 consistently. We’re working hard to get that experience. The second time we go to tracks, we’ll be better.”

Said Smith: “We got a late start, but we’re here. As Jesse gets more comfortable around the car and the crew get comfortable with him, then we’ll see where we are. I’m sure if there’s an opportunity to fly to the top, we’ll fly to the top. I’m excited about where we are.”

Dr. Eric Warren, director of NASCAR Programs for General Motors, told NBC Sports that the team would be supported by GM’s new Charlotte Technical Center, which will employ more than 100 engineers when it opens in May. “Us writing a check isn’t going to help a young team like this, but our experience — and I’ve got hundreds of people that have won championships and races on the Chevrolet side — really that’s where our strength is going to be,” Warren told NBC Sports.

Campbell told NBC Sports that Chevrolet wanted “to give a small startup team an opportunity to grow quickly and get their feet underneath them” by helping Iwuji and Smith, who met when Smith was part of a company sponsoring Iwuji’s Xfinity debut at Texas Motor Speedway. Playing youth football in the Dallas suburbs during the late 1990s, Iwuji, 34, wore a No. 22 jersey in honor of the star Cowboys  running back.

“Their partnership is amazing,” Campbell said. “It’s going to be a journey. I think it’s going to be Jesse learning a lot about having a consistent car at many tracks he hasn’t been to with a crew that’s supporting him. Previous to this, he had races here and there but didn’t the repetition and consistent support. Emmitt loves performance, but his expectation is that the team’s progression will go up over time. It’s a long season, and they’ll learn a lot and have some ups and downs.”

Houghtaling said he intentionally chose a crew of team members who are eager to learn and “to help push our message.

“We are a bunch of younger guys what want to make people proud,” he said. “We want to do the best we can for our partners and manufacturer, but more importantly, we want to do the best we can for Wendell Scott and his heritage. It’ll be a whole lot different than taking just a number to the track. Now I get to take that number to Daytona, and I’m glad to be a part of it.


This will be the Iwuji’s second affiliation with the number. His ARCA debut at Daytona in 2018 also was in the No. 34, which he raced in four more races.

“With everything Wendell did to pave the way for African-Americans in the future, we just felt it would be fitting,” Iwuji said. “Jumping into Xfinity, we just thought it would be a great opportunity on a bigger stage. Now we have more support and people rooting for us and trying to help us succeed. Why not use this opportunity to inspire others and continue to motivate and bring diversity to the sport with the No. 34, which has had so much meaning with Wendell and everything he’s done for the sport.”

The Scott family has remained active in the NASCAR industry, particularly since Wendell’s 2014 election to the Hall of Fame.

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports currently is operating out of Johnny Davis Motorsports’ shop in South Carolina. The team will have engineering support from Chevrolet during its debut Xfinity Series season (Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing).

They celebrated Bubba Wallace becoming the first Black driver to win in a NASCAR national series on October 2013 at Martinsville Speedway (just west of the family’s roots in Danville). When Wallace won at Talladega last October to become the first Black winner in the Cup series since Scott, he shared the moment with Frank Scott in a celebratory phone call.

But having an African-American driver behind the wheel of the No. 34 will establish an even stronger connection.

“It is a proper homage to Scott Racing and not just the sacrifices my grandfather put in, but my father as well,” Warrick Scott, Frank’s son and CEO of the Wendell Scott Foundation, told NBC Sports after also attending the Monday announcement. “He’d been working in the pits from such a young age. With what we do at the Wendell Scott Foundation with STEM education, this is what helps push it forward. This is very important to us.”

In honor of Black History Month, the Wendell Scott Foundation will hold its annual legacy gala Feb. 12 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, awarding scholarships and presenting driver Rajah Carruth with a trailblazer award to highlight increased minority involvement in racing.

Iwuji and Smith also have ambitious plans for their team to be an “opportunity generating system” for diversity by partnering with lower-income communities on eSports and initiatives to further youth interest in science, technology engineering and math (STEM). Campbell said Chevrolet also would be working with Iwuji’s team on hosting STEM events at the track (as the manufacturer has for two decades with the Urban Youth Racing School and more recently with Rev Racing).

“We share that common interest” with the team,” Warrick said. “These things are exactly what it takes to further integrate my grandfather’s legacy into pop culture. It adds an additional layer of connectivity for any driver who’s a minority who comes after him. As Bubba has experienced that, other drivers will experience that oomph to it. A rising tide floats all boats.”


It also could help solve the sponsorship problem that dogged Wendell Scott’s career.

“The world has changed a lot from when we couldn’t get any sponsorship,” Franklin Scott told NBC Sports as he held his left thumb and index finger 6 inches apart. “We’ve got a book at home that thick. We call it the ‘Book of Disappointments.’ It’s filled with letters and interviews from when my father went to Detroit and begged them, ‘Just give me some help.’ Couldn’t get it. Signs of the time.

“We’re living in a different era now. Hopefully, things are better in a lot of ways. And things haven’t changed a lot, too. But we’re just here to encourage (Iwuji) and hope he’s going to do well. I told him don’t expect success overnight. It doesn’t happen like that. Just to be there and participate means a lot.”

The face of NASCAR ownership has begun to change over the past year with Michael Jordan and Pit Bull entering the Cup Series, and Smith said their presence impacted his involvement.

Wendell Scott’s famous No. 34 served as the backdrop while Jesse Iwuji and Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith announced the details of their new NASCAR Xfinity Series team at the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing).

“Of course it did,” he said. “When you know people you can hitch your wagon to and help support, it makes a big difference. Jesse created an opportunity for me to come in and be part of it, and here I am. So I’m excited that NASCAR really has taken a leap of faith as well as creating opportunities for others.

“I think by them doing that, there’s going to be some folks out there that may not agree with it. But that’s OK. They don’t want to change. They want things to stay the same. If you want things to stay the same, you’re going to regress. If you want them to progress, you have to change. Change is something most people are scared about, but in this particular case, change creates opportunities for us to get better. Embrace change, and you can grow, we can grow.

“NASCAR is supporting what we’re doing. I think the country will, too, as well because it’s a sport. You’ve just got a different driver going around the track and trying to compete like any other driver. You’re going to have your favorites. Hopefully, someday we become your favorite. It’s just that simple.”

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”