Friday 5: Auto Club Speedway presents challenge for NASCAR drivers, teams

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It was one thing for Cup teams to race without having any practice, competing with a car they knew so well.

But this weekend at Auto Club Speedway could present as much of a challenge as teams have faced. They’ll run the Next Gen car at a track that has not hosted a Cup race in two years. Teams, still trying to learn the new car, get only 15 minutes of practice Saturday.

“It’s a big challenge, for sure,” said Alex Bowman, who won the last Cup race at the Fontana, California, track in 2020.

Bowman said that while simulation programs will help teams prepare, “until you really do (get on track), who really knows?”

That’s how it is likely to be the next several weeks, as teams run on different style of tracks with the Next Gen car for the first time.

“I feel like if you show up at the racetrack and you’re not close, you’re probably not going to fix it by the race,” former Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. told NBC Sports. “You’re not going to get it fixed during the race.”

“There’s going to be a lot of crazy storylines early in the year. There’s going to be a lot of surprises, and there’s going to be a lot of guys that have a good week, bad week, good week, bad week, hit and miss.

“I just feel like until we get some time under our belt and find kind of a baseline of what this thing wants at certain tracks, we’re all going to be searching. We’re all going to be taking gambles on what we’re taking to the racetrack, setup-wise.”

Auto Club Speedway marks the first time this season that teams will not have much track time before the race. 

At the Clash, teams had practice, heat races and some even had a consolation race before the main event. There were multiple practice sessions before the Daytona 500.

This weekend marks NASCAR’s revamped practice/qualifying schedule. Teams will be divided into two groups. Each group gets 15 minutes of practice before qualifying. 

Teams and NASCAR continue to learn nuances about the car — as was the case with series officials not penalizing Team Penske or RFK Racing for modifications to wheels at Daytona and then coming out with a change. 

Auto Club last hosted a race in 2020, shortly before the pandemic halted the sport. Last year’s race was moved to the Daytona road course because of pandemic regulations in California. 

Series officials had work done on the track recently to grind some of the bumps because the cars are so low to the ground. Officials also added resin to the track to provide more grip.

“It is really an unknown territory for us, and it’s probably one of the more challenging tracks we go to,” Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, told NBC Sports. “The bumps, the way that works, in conjunction with a really aero-sensitive track, it makes it very difficult.”

The limited practice could make a turnaround like what Team Penske had at the Clash more difficult to achieve. The organization struggled in practice at the Clash but had time to make adjustments before Joey Logano won the event. Once practice ends at Auto Club Speedway, teams qualify, leaving time only for minor changes.

“We needed every run and every minute of practice we had (at the Clash),” Geisler said. “It’s a little bit intimidating when you look at 15 minutes with a very limited list of things to change. You just have to absolutely nail it off the trailer.”

2. Special memories

As Austin Cindric celebrated his Daytona 500 victory last weekend, Trevor Bayne was transported back to his surprise victory in 2011.

Bayne won the Daytona 500 in his second career Cup start. It came a day after he turned 20 years old, making him the youngest winner in the event’s history. 

The 23-year-old Cindric is the second-youngest Daytona 500 winner.

Daytona 500
Trevor Bayne celebrating his 2011 Daytona 500 win with his Wood Brothers Racing team. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Bayne said watching Cindric celebrate brought back memories from 2011.

“There’s really no way to put it into words, or explain to anyone else who hasn’t experienced that of how much that feeling is of ‘this has to be a dream,’” Bayne said this week. “’This can’t be real.’ I don’t know. 

“Your heart rate is up. You’re so excited in Victory Lane. You’re looking around – there’s nothing like it. It really did put that same emotion kind of right back into me when I watched him on TV winning, and I don’t know how else to say it – pure celebration and enjoyment when you see a young guy like that win.”

While their situations are not the same — Bayne was running only a partial schedule that year for the Wood Brothers, while Cindric is with a championship-caliber team at Team Penske — Bayne says there is one thing he would tell Cindric if he could.

“The thing I would tell Austin is just to enjoy where you are at right now,” said Bayne, who will run the first of seven Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

“I think as race car drivers, as competitors, we are already looking to that next thing. … He’s probably already thinking about the next win, which is great and that’s what you want to do, but you also need to enjoy the moment a little bit because you don’t know when or if you are going to get that opportunity again. Be hungry to win, but also enjoy where you are at.”

Austin Cindric Daytona 500
At age 23, Austin Cindric is the second-youngest Daytona 500 winner. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

3. Crashes down in Daytona 500

The number of cars involved in crashes during last weekend’s Daytona 500 included more than two-thirds of the 40-car field. But it also marked the fewest number of cars in accidents in that race since 2016.

There were 27 cars in crashes in last week’s Daytona 500, based on NASCAR’s race report and video review. This marks the fourth consecutive year the total has dropped after 37 cars were involved in crashes in the 2019 Daytona 500. 

An average of 31 cars have been collected in accidents in the Daytona 500 since 2017.

The last time there was less than 27 cars to crash in the season-opening race was 2016. Eleven cars crashed in that race. 

A total of 75 vehicles were involved in crashes during the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series events at Daytona — the lowest number in more than a decade. Of course, this year marked the first time the Clash was not held at Daytona, moving to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Not having that event at Daytona contributed to the lower number of cars in crashes this year.

Here is a look at the number of cars crashed in the Daytona 500 since 2010:

 

4. New role

Mike Bugarewicz’s new role as performance director Stewart-Haas Racing, has the former crew chief busier than ever.

“Kevin (Harvick) was really excited and wanted me to do this position,” Bugarewicz told NBC Sports. “The first thing he said to me was ‘Mike, you need to run this how you ran your race team. Be strict. Be very detailed oriented. Ask questions. Be involved. That’s how you need to run this new position.’”

Bugarewicz oversees half of SHR’s engineering department, focusing on vehicle dynamics, speedway program, road course program, simulation, tire data, seven-post data and track testing.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of the (SHR) teams on the development side of things, working on setups, going to the simulator,” said Bugarewicz, who won four races as a Cup crew chief from 2016-21, scoring victories with Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola.

“We’re trying to be a few weeks ahead of (the SHR teams) to try and give them some things to look at that they can build on and improve it.”

But he’s also troubleshooting for all four SHR Cup teams. After last week’s qualifying races at Daytona, Bugarewicz spent the night running simulation and studying aero reports.

Stewart-Haas Racing placed two cars in the top five in last weekend’s Daytona 500. Chase Briscoe was third. Almirola was fifth. Cole Custer was 20th. Kevin Harvick finished 30th after he was collected in a crash.

5. Balanced results

It’s only one race — and a superspeedway at that — but 10 organizations were represented in the top 12 of last week’s Daytona 500.

Team Penske won with Austin Cindric and recorded a fourth-place finish with Ryan Blaney.

Bubba Wallace finished second for 23XI Racing.

Stewart-Haas Racing had Chase Briscoe third and Aric Almirola fifth.

Kyle Busch was sixth for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Michael McDowell finished seventh for Front Row Motorsports.

David Ragan scored an eighth-place finish for Rick Ware Racing.

Brad Keselowski was ninth for RFK Racing

Chase Elliott placed 10th for Hendrick Motorsports.

Ty Dillon finished 11th for Petty GMS Motorsports.

Daniel Hemric was 12th for Kaulig Racing.

 

Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”