Ty Dillon voices support for Bristol dirt, seeks Easter balance

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Ty Dillon scored his first top 10 of the season on Easter Sunday at the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway.

His strong performance shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his upbringing, which featured plenty of dirt racing. But Dillon takes exception to his NASCAR Cup Series colleagues who criticize the sanctioning body’s decision to take its premier series back to dirt.

One week before winning the Bristol dirt race, two-time series champion Kyle Busch said he agreed with Richard Petty, co-owner of Dillon’s No. 42 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet: “As Richard Petty said, dirt takes our sport backwards.”

Defending title winner and dirt dominator Kyle Larson lamented NASCAR’s decision to race on dirt with windshields, but further questioned the need for dirt at Bristol: “I’m all for not putting dirt on Bristol, whether we have windshields or not. I think the racing at Bristol is amazing just as normal.”

Dillon, on the other hand, defended the idea of continuing to run a points race on the dirt at the half-mile track.

“I think a lot of our drivers just like to complain because they’re bored and sometimes just want something to talk about it and try to show emotion in that way,” Dillon said in a Thursday media teleconference. “I mean, I think you’ve just gotta look at it a lot less selfishly. So what if you get a little dirty? … We’re all on the same track, and we’re all doing it together. The only thing that’s gonna make this sport continue to grow and be good for everyone is to have a positive outlook and see what worked and how we can make the things that didn’t work as good or better and move forward positively.”

Dillon, who is in his fifth full-time Cup season after a part-time ride in 2021, felt this year’s Bristol dirt race was “massively improved” from last season’s inaugural attempt. And with just two dirt races complete, Dillon isn’t ready to give up on the event.

“Sometimes people aren’t patient enough to let something mature and grow into what it really can be. And sometimes we’re quick to snap judge and say this isn’t gonna work and this is stupid,” he said. “And I just think that’s not a healthy way to look at things in our sport. I enjoy the fact that NASCAR is choosing a different way to go about racing at different tracks and trying to do things for our fans. I think if you take your driver-selfishness hat off and you look at it globally, that was an awesome event.

“And you think of all the things that we fixed from the previous event, that was great. And there’s another list of things that we can continue to do to grow it. But just saying this race isn’t worth it and hope we don’t go back, I think that’s kind of ridiculous.”

Busch and Larson weren’t the only former champions turned detractors. Kevin Harvick blasted the track preparation and said the event wouldn’t be happening if it was up to him. Chase Elliott, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the 2020 champion, agreed with Larson’s windshield assessment.

“I was a little disappointed in some of that and some of the decisions that were made because I think having a dirt race is a great idea,” Elliott said last week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think it’s a great way for us to spice up our schedule and to do something different, make an exciting weekend for the fans. But if we’re going to do it, we need to do it right.”

By the end of Sunday night, Busch, one of the more vocal opponents of the Bristol dirt race, found himself in victory lane after Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe tangled in Turn 3. Busch was pleased with how much better track conditions were than 2021 but said he still wasn’t a fan of the idea.

“The biggest thing that hinders me from enjoying this is just the application,” he said. “We’re trying to do something that isn’t applicable, in my opinion. I mean, the first 10 laps of the race, everybody is shooting mud off, we’re covering everybody’s grilles. Our windshields are covered with the dirt going off the windshield, stuff like that.

“Those guys talk about the windshields and stuff like that: If we get rid of the windshields, we could have tear-offs and stuff. That’s fine, but the cars are 3500 pounds. You saw what it’s like on the last corner, the last lap, to drive around here every single lap. You are on edge, on your toes, just trying not to crash every single lap.

“When you’re in a dirt car, I’ve now run micros, dirt late models, a few different types of vehicles on dirt. When there’s grip, it’s grip and rip. You are driving the heck out of that thing. Makes you breathe hard. This thing here, you’re just not breathing because you’re so tensed up of not crashing. It’s just the application.

“If it’s a good show, it’s a good show. I think Bristol is fine with or without. I’ve won on them all, so I think I have the best say.”

In a statement posted to the track’s website, Bristol Motor Speedway President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell confirmed the facility “will prepare for a spring night race on dirt in 2023” with a specific date to be announced at a later time.

That brings another dynamic into the Bristol dirt date debate: Does the race need to run on Easter Sunday?

Fox reported more than 4 million people watched Sunday’s race, which was the sport’s first scheduled contest on Easter since 1970. But while Dillon acknowledged his family was at the track with him, the impact of hosting a race on the holiday poses questions for other industry members who aren’t as fortunate.

“There’s a balance. I think we can work the schedule,” Dillon said. “I think the owners and NASCAR, in general, have to work together to do as much for their employees as possible in that situation. That’s the way I see it. But it’s a very positive thing that we had great viewership.

“I know next year, (an Easter race would) be going up against the Masters, which will be interesting to see how that works out. So we just have to work together to figure it out because these people that work so hard deserve time with their families, especially when you look at our schedule this year. We have one off weekend throughout this whole year and that is brutal.”

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell, who joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” on Tuesday, noted that the sanctioning body is aware of the grind crew members face while also citing the significance of racing in a key time slot.

“I think this year in particular, the way the calendar falls out, there was already one less off weekend,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So if you looked ahead to next year, that would be different. We’d be able to add a second off weekend. But for us, it’s what do we all want to do to grow the sport and expose it to more fans? And when you’re offered up the ability to be on an additional network race, you’ve got to take a hard look at that.”

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.