Viewer’s guide to Daytona 500, Speedweek

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The long wait is nearly over for NASCAR fans. While the Clash at the Coliseum provided an appetizer, it is Daytona that marks the beginning of the season.

It is a season full of change.

Teams have a new car. The Clash was among the changes to the schedule, which includes Cup racing for the first time on June 5 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

The season also sees drivers in new places. Brad Keselowski left Team Penske to become an owner/driver of what is now RFK Racing. Austin Cindric takes over what had been Keselowski’s ride at Penske. Kurt Busch is Bubba Wallace‘s teammate at 23XI Racing.

This season also marks the debut of Petty GMS Motorsports with Ty Dillon and Erik Jones. Kaulig Racing, which won at the Indy road course while running a limited schedule last year, will have two cars run a full-time schedule this season. Justin Haley will be driver one car, while AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson will share the other car.

There’s much to keep an eye on this season.

Be careful

Parts for the Next Gen car come from vendors instead of teams making those parts themselves, as has been done in the past. The pandemic has created supply issues in many areas, including the parts needed for the cars. Each organization is allowed seven cars for each of its teams. No organization will have the full complement of cars heading into Daytona. Some organizations may not have a backup car at Daytona for each of its teams.

What it means is that drivers will have to be careful to avoid damaging their car in practice and their qualifying race. This could mean that practices won’t see as much drafting by a large group. It also could mean that drivers take it careful in their qualifying races. It will be interesting to see how teams react and how much this might change things this week.

Quest continues

Michael McDowell scored his first Daytona 500 win last year (and his first career Cup victory). Still, there are a number of prominent active drivers who have never won the Daytona 500.

Former Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. is winless in 17 Daytona 500 starts. His best finish is second in 2016.

Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch is winless in 16 Daytona 500 starts. His best finish is second in 2019.

Former Cup champion Brad Keselowski is winless in 12 Daytona 500 starts. His best finish is third in 2014.

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson is winless in eight Daytona 500 starts. His best finish is seventh in 2016 and ’19.

Former Cup champion Chase Elliott is winless in six Daytona 500 starts. His best finish is second in 2021.

Entry list

Forty-two cars are on the entry list. Thirty-six chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That leaves six non-chartered cars vying for four spots in the starting lineup. Among those not guaranteed a starting spot are Greg Biffle, seeking to make his first Cup start since 2016, and former Indy 500 and Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve.

Daytona 500 entry list

AUTO: JAN 12 NASCAR Next Gen Testing
Harrison Burton (21), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47) and Austin Cindric (2) during the NASCAR test at Daytona in January. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Tuesday, Feb. 15

ForecastCloudy with a high of 69 and low of 61 degrees.

Noon – 10 p.m. – Cup garage open

5:05 – 5:55 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network)

6:35 – 7:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

Wednesday, Feb. 16

ForecastMostly sunny with a high of 74 and a low of 63 degrees

2 – 10 p.m. – Cup garage open

8:05 – 9:30 p.m. – Cup qualifying/single vehicle, one lap, two rounds (FS1, MRN)

Thursday, Feb. 17

ForecastMostly sunny with a high of 78 and a low of 65 degrees

9 a.m. – 6 p.m. – ARCA garage open

11 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

4 – 11 p.m. – Cup garage open

4:05 – 4:55 p.m. – ARCA practice

5:05 – 5:35 p.m. – Truck practice (FS1)

7 p.m. – Cup Duel 1 qualifying race/60 laps, 150 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Approx. 8:45 p.m. – Cup Duel 2 qualifying race/60 laps, 150 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Friday, Feb. 18

ForecastEvening showers with a high of 80 and a low of 57 degrees. Chance of rain is 35% at 7 p.m.

8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – ARCA garage open

9 a.m. – Truck garage opens

9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 – 2 p.m. – ARCA qualifying (groups)

3 – 4:30 p.m. – Truck qualifying/single car, one lap, two rounds (FS1)

4:35 – 5:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

7:30 p.m. – Truck race; 100 laps, 250 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Feb. 19

ForecastPartly cloudy with a high of 66 and a low of 58 degrees

6 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

10 a.m. – ARCA garage opens

10:30 – 11:20 a.m. – Cup final practice (FS2, FS1 joins at 11 a.m., MRN)

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying/single car, one lap, two rounds (FS1)

1:30 p.m. – ARCA race; 80 laps, 200 miles (FS1, MRN)

5 p.m. – Xfinity race; 120 laps, 300 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 20

Forecast: Partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 and a low of 62 degrees

8 a.m. – Cup garage opens

2:30 p.m. – Daytona 500; 200 laps, 500 miles (FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

AUTO: JAN 11 NASCAR Next Gen Testing
Teams testing at Daytona in January. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NBC Coverage

My first Daytona 500: Drivers share memories from a special day

Busch Light makes $10 million commitment to female drivers in NASCAR

Daytona 500 win brings back many memories for Michael McDowell

Former F1, Indy 500 champ Jacques Villeneuve focused on Daytona 500

NASCAR Cup competitors form Drivers Advisory Council

Richard Petty’s grandson to make Truck debut at Daytona with STP

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

 

 

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.

 

Ryan Truex to drive six races for JGR Xfinity team in 2023

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Ryan Truex is scheduled to run six Xfinity Series races in the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.

Truex ran five races for JGR in 2022, finishing in the top five three times. He ran third at Atlanta.

Truex also drove limited Xfinity schedules for JGR in 2011 and 2012.

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“We are looking forward to having Ryan back in our lineup in 2023 to run the No. 19,” said JGR vice president Steve DeSouza in a statement released by the team. “He has done well in the races he has run at JGR. His previous experience and driving ability will be assets as the No. 19 competes for an owner’s championship next year.”

JGR has not announced which races Truex will run or which drivers will be his teammates in the 19.

“I am thrilled to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 for a few races next season,” Truex said in a team statement. “It was fun to run well with this team this past year. I appreciate the opportunity to race for JGR again next year.”

Jason Ratcliff will be the team’s crew chief.

Truex, 30, has run 26 Cup, 84 Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck Series races without a win.