NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Larson launches back to the top

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The results from the Next Gen car’s debut at Auto Club Speedway have shaken up the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Some names from the season-opening Daytona 500 stuck around, but many new challengers vaulted into this week’s list, including race winner Kyle Larson.

Plenty of drivers turned in eye-catching performances, but there’s only room for 10 on this list. Here’s our selection.

NASCAR Power Rankings after Auto Club

1. Kyle Larson (Last week: Unranked) — The defending Cup Series champion returns to his throne after winning for the fifth time in the last seven points races. The No. 5 team wasn’t the most dominant, but Larson outdrove his competition through multiple late restarts to grab his second win at Auto Club and 17th career victory.

2. Tyler Reddick (Last week: Unranked) — Sunday was a day of what-could-have-beens for Reddick, the third-year driver for Richard Childress Racing in search of his first Cup win. Reddick dominated the race by leading a race-high (and career-high) 90 laps and was surely the driver to beat. That was until a flat left rear tire and subsequent contact from William Byron at Lap 152 derailed his day, relegating him to a 24th-place finish. Hard to believe that’s the last we’ve seen of Reddick near the front of the field in 2022.

3. Austin Cindric (Last week: No. 1) — Finally, a name that was on last week’s Daytona 500 Power Rankings. Cindric remains the series points leader after two races and the first rookie atop those standings since Jimmie Johnson in 2002. The Team Penske driver impressed the field with a pole run Saturday and brought home a 12th-place finish Sunday.

4. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 4) — If it felt like Blaney was charging through the field back into the top 10 on every restart, that’s because he was. Blaney’s No. 12 car appeared to be a top-five car all race, but pit road was a disaster for the team all day, forcing Blaney to play catch-up instead. Losing that track position (coupled with a sliding save off Turn 2 on the final lap) cost him a good finish, but the car certainly had speed.

5. Aric Almirola (Last week: No. 8) — Almirola had a fairly quiet Sunday but leaves Fontana as the only Cup driver with top 10s in both races this season (fifth at Daytona, sixth at Auto Club). Almirola slid sideways both Saturday and Sunday and even had to pit an extra time Sunday after flat spotting his tires. The No. 10 Ford rebounded for another strong finish, starting Almirola’s retirement tour in good fashion.

6. Erik Jones (Last week: Unranked) — Jones was remarkable all weekend, starting with his qualifying effort that placed him second on the grid. With new crew chief Dave Elenz atop the pit box, Jones was statistically a top-five car all day, notching a fourth-place average running position and never crossing the start/finish line lower than 12th. The No. 43 Chevrolet spent 18 laps out front, was a legitimate factor for the win and sits sixth in points. Strong start to the Petty GMS Motorsports era.

7. Chase Briscoe (Last week: No. 7) — There has been no sophomore slump yet for Briscoe, who was on track for a much better finish at Auto Club than 16th before late contact and an extra trip down pit road. The Indiana native sits fifth in points through two races, thanks in large part to a third-place finish in the Daytona 500. Briscoe spent 20 laps in the lead Sunday, the most laps led in his career. After being in position to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last season, perhaps we should expect the No. 14 Ford to contend regularly this season.

8. Joey Logano (Last week: Unranked) — Logano has snuck his way to second in points with finishes of 21st at Daytona and fifth at Auto Club. His secret? Stage points. Through four stages, Logano has already accumulated 27 stage points, earning at least four points in every stage this season. The 2018 Cup champion was also in the mix for the win Sunday. Heading into Las Vegas, that’s very likely to be the case again this weekend.

9. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 5) — The theme of Busch’s season so far has been recovery. In each of this year’s opening races, Busch has spun early and had to overcome significant setbacks. That was exemplified at Auto Club after three early issues (a spin, overheating and a flat tire) left him four laps down. Somehow, the No. 18 team rallied for a 14th-place, lead-lap finish and now sits 11th in points.

10. Chase Elliott (Last week: Unranked) — On paper, it was a miserable day for Elliott, who spun twice and finished 26th. The first time he spun came shortly after contacting the wall by himself as the race leader. The second time, of course, came after getting walled by Larson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, in a three-wide battle for the lead with 21 laps to go. That battle for the lead came after Elliott rebounded from a two-lap deficit through, which is why Elliott makes the top 10 this week.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (Last week: No. 2), Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: No. 3), Bubba Wallace (Last week: No. 6), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Last week: No. 9), Michael McDowell (Last week: No. 10)

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.