NASCAR viewer’s guide: Auto Club Speedway


On March 1, 2020, Alex Bowman won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

Less than two weeks later, and after one more race at Phoenix, NASCAR began to postpone races as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States.

NASCAR eventually returned to racing. It’s taken longer for Auto Club Speedway to do so. Pandemic and logistical issues compelled NASCAR to move the track’s planned events for 2021 to the Daytona International Speedway road course.

But, at long last, America’s most popular motorsport returns to the 2-mile oval this weekend.

At the risk of stating the obvious, a lot has changed for the sport since March 1, 2020.

With one horrible mistake, Kyle Larson turned himself into a pariah. Then he worked to be better. And finally, he became a champion.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson continues his adventures in IndyCar and IMSA.

Michael Jordan, Pitbull, Floyd Mayweather and Emmitt Smith have become team owners.

And an all-new car is taking the sport into the future.

Auto Club Speedway may have been standing still. But time has not.

Digging out of a hole

While the Daytona 500 officially opens the season, it’s an event unto itself. For most drivers and teams, they’re more focused on the win than positioning themselves in the standings.

That said, as Auto Club Speedway beckons, a lot of important names find themselves with work to do as the grind of the “real” season begins.

While rookie Austin Cindric enjoys the limelight after winning Sunday’s “Great American Race,” seven drivers from the 2021 Cup playoffs – Bowman, Larson, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin and William Byron – are all sitting 25th or worse in the Cup standings.

Of that group, only Bowman managed to finish Sunday’s race, and he ended up four laps down in 24th. The rest were eliminated by accident or, in Harvick’s case, under the damaged vehicle policy. Bowman himself took damage in a Stage 1 wreck that eliminated Hamlin and Byron (and sent Harrison Burton briefly upside down).

With only one race on the board in 2022, there’s plenty of time to recover. But they’ll all want to put their rough rides at Daytona behind them quickly.

Start strong, finish strong

As of late, figuring out the eventual Cup winner at Auto Club Speedway has been straightforward.

Since the inception of stage racing in 2017, the Stage 1 winner at Auto Club Speedway has gone on to win the race: Kyle Larson in 2017, Martin Truex Jr. in 2018, Kyle Busch in 2019, Alex Bowman in 2020. Truex and Kyle Busch won both stages on the way to their victories.

Those last four winners at Auto Club Speedway all led the most laps that day, and each led over half of the laps to boot. Larson led 110 laps in 2017, Truex led 125 laps in 2018, Kyle Busch led 134 laps in 2019, and Bowman led 110 laps in 2020.

A little more time?

Back in September 2020, NASCAR revealed plans to transform Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile oval into a half-mile short track.

But the 2-mile oval is still here. COVID-related disruptions and ongoing supply chain issues have left NASCAR’s plans stuck in neutral.

And earlier this month during Clash weekend in Los Angeles, track president Dave Allen couldn’t say if the short track would be ready for the 2023 season.

So, as it stands now, fans may have a little more time to enjoy Auto Club Speedway as it’s been since its opening in 1997.

The 2-mile oval produces multi-groove racing from top to bottom on its rough, worn-out surface – the oldest asphalt surface in Cup.

New look practice and qualifying

NASCAR welcomes back regular practice and qualifying in 2022 with a revamped format that debuts this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

For a majority of the Cup schedule, the field will be split into two groups and take part in a joint practice/qualifying event.

On most ovals (including Auto Club Speedway), each group begins with 15 minutes of practice. Then, each group takes part in single-car, single-lap qualifying. The top five drivers from each group go to the final round, where they have another single-car, single-lap qualifying session to determine the pole winner.

As for the Xfinity Series, its practice/qualifying event for most ovals (including Auto Club Speedway) features a 20-minute practice, then single-lap qualifying for all entries.

Entry lists

36 cars are on the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s Cup race.

41 cars (previously 44) are on an updated preliminary entry list for Saturday’s Xfinity race. This race will have a 38-car field.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List – Auto Club Speedway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List – Auto Club Speedway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Feb. 26

Forecast: Mostly sunny, high of 70 degrees, low of 41 degrees

  • 12 p.m. ET – Xfinity practice (all entries; FS1)
  • 12:30 p.m. ET – Xfinity qualifying (single lap, single car, all entries; FS1)
  • 2 p.m. ET – Cup practice (Group A & B; FS1, MRN)
  • 2:35 p.m. ET – Cup qualifying (Group A & B … single lap, single car, two rounds; FS1, MRN)
  • 5 p.m. ET – Xfinity race (150 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 27

Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 73 degrees, low of 45 degrees

  • 3:30 p.m. ET – Cup race (200 laps, 400 miles; FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor


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

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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


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.


“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.


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


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


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.