Phoenix winners and losers

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A look at the winners and losers following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway

WINNERS

Chase BriscoeBriscoe finally capitalized on all the speed his No. 14 Ford has shown in each of the opening three races. After a third-place finish in the Daytona 500, Briscoe placed 16th at Auto Club and 35th at Las Vegas, wrecked out on lap 135. Briscoe managed to lead a career-high 101 laps Sunday en route to his first career Cup win. Briscoe had never led more than 20 laps in a race in 39 prior starts. The sophomore driver sits tied for fourth in points with Kyle Larson and behind Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.

Ross ChastainChastain is getting closer and closer to putting his No. 1 Chevrolet on top of the leaderboard by the time the checkered flag waves. Chastain didn’t lead Sunday and spent much of his day in the back half of the top 10, as evidenced by his 8.7 average running position per NASCAR’s loop data statistics. But his car improved throughout the day, and by the final two restarts was a legitimate threat to Briscoe. Posting a second-place finish after placing third a week ago in Vegas is a great boost of momentum to end the West Coast Swing.

Kurt BuschWhere was Kurt Busch all race long? Well, largely outside the top 10. Busch averaged a 15.55 running position, but track position and correct lane choice on the final two restarts launched Busch into a fifth-place finish, his first top five of the season and first with 23XI Racing. The No. 45 Toyota should be running better than it has — and the same can be said for nearly all six Toyotas despite Kyle Busch’s near-win at Vegas — but a top-five finish is a good way to mask some of those performance problems.

Chris Buescher: Buescher was far from a contender on Sunday, but even he expected that as Phoenix is one of his worse tracks. But like Busch, Buescher pounced when opportunity rang and finished 10th, his first Phoenix top 10 in 13 races. The No. 17 Ford lingered inside the top 20 most of the day but never fared much better. Two restarts within the final 20 laps — and staying on the lead lap — offered Buescher a chance to make up lost ground. Mission accomplished.

Ty DillonWhile Dillon’s Petty GMS Motorsports teammate Erik Jones has been getting his rightful share of praise, give credit to Dillon. After a 15th-place effort Sunday, Dillon has yet to finish outside the top 20 this year, backing up finishes of 11th (Daytona), 17th (Auto Club) and 20th so far. Surely the No. 42 team has high hopes to match or better Jones’ third-place effort at Auto Club, but building consistency is a great place to start.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott: Elliott’s 11th-place finish feels far worse than it probably should. The No. 9 was a contender all race, leading 50 laps and earning the field’s best average running position at 3.92 (better than Ryan Blaney‘s 4.5 average position despite the No. 12 leading a race-high 143 laps). But his spin at lap 305 after restarting sixth on the penultimate restart ruined his chances for a better finish. He restarted so far back due to a pit stop at lap 288 that cost him four positions. Perhaps trying to make up lost time, Elliott spun by himself at the exit of Turn 2. Elliott was Hendrick Motorsports’ highest finisher, marking the first time since Talladega in October 2021 that HMS didn’t have a single car inside the top 10.

Martin Truex Jr.Truex, who won this race a year ago, seemed to have a car capable of running anywhere from seventh to 15th. That went out the window at Lap 219, when his No. 19 Toyota snapped loose at the exit of Turn 2. Truex overcorrected and hammered the outside wall with the right front of his car, ending his day and relegating him to 35th, his first DNF of 2022.

Kyle Larson: This season has proven to be feast or famine for the No. 5 Chevrolet, and the team left Phoenix starving. Larson broke a valve spring in his engine at Lap 239, sending the defending Cup champion and most recent Phoenix winner home early. The 34th-place finish is Larson’s second finish outside the top 30 this year. He placed 32nd after his crash in the Daytona 500. The two weeks in between brought Larson a win at Auto Club and a runner-up finish at Las Vegas.

Brad KeselowskiPerhaps the No. 6 team at RFK Racing isn’t yet built to perform on short tracks. Keselowski spent much of Sunday’s race at Phoenix outside the top 25 and off the lead lap, proven by boasting the 26th-best average running position at 24.53. To see Keselowski that far out of the picture at Phoenix was startling given his past runs, including five finishes of 11th or better in his prior five starts and bolstered by 120 laps led in those events. The team also struggled mightily at the Clash, held on the quarter-mile track built inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. There are no comparisons to draw as Phoenix is four times larger, but Keselowski is 0-for-2 at tracks 1-mile or shorter in 2022.

Christopher BellWhile drivers like Busch and Buescher seemed to magically appear inside the top 10 at the end of the race, Bell happened to disappear. Like Elliott, Bell spun on his own a Lap 119 from inside the top 10. But Bell fell off the lead lap while his No. 20 team worked to repair damage from a flat tire and never recovered, finishing 26th, two laps down.

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.