NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott on the rise after Dover win

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A Monday matinee at Dover Motor Speedway saw Chase Elliott get back to victory lane for the first time since July 2021.

The two-day event also provided plenty of jockeying for positions both on the track and in the NBC Sports Power Rankings.

See how the field shakes out after a trip to the Monster Mile:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Ross Chastain (Last week: No. 1) Chastain backed up his second career win with another impressive run at Dover to retain the top spot in the rankings. The No. 1 Chevrolet, which carried the face of Trackhouse Racing co-owner Pitbull this weekend, led a career-high 86 laps and held off Martin Truex Jr. for third in a fierce battle that required some aggressive blocks from Chastain. He may have made a new enemy along the way, but Chastain now has six top-three finishes in 11 races.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week: No. 4) Welcome back to victory lane. Wins can quickly change a narrative, and Elliott’s seems to have done just that. Although the Dover win marks his second top-five finish of the year, Elliott has only three finishes outside the top 10 all year (26th — Auto Club; 11th — Phoenix; 14th — Richmond). The 2020 champion holds a 50-point lead over Ryan Blaney in the season standings.

3. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 2) Speaking of Blaney, Dover did not go the No. 12 team’s way. Blaney was one of only two drivers to stay out during a late caution in Stage 2 in a gamble by crew chief Jonathan Hassler to win the stage. The gamble paid off in the short term, but Blaney finished 26th and three laps down, marking Blaney’s worst finish since crashing out at Las Vegas where he finished 36th.

4. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 5) For the first time since the Bristol Night Race in September 2020, Busch led over 100 laps Monday, totaling 103 circuits out front. An untimely caution flew at Lap 325 just as he hit pit road for green-flag pit stops, trapping him a lap down in 17th and forcing him to take a wave-around to restart on the lead lap from the tail of the field. He didn’t rally to win but did charge back for a seventh-place finish. Busch now has an average finish of 5.4 in his last five races, including a win on Bristol Dirt.

5. Alex Bowman (Last week: No. 6) Like Busch, Bowman was trapped a lap down while pitting when AJ Allmendinger‘s tire came detached on the track, necessitating the caution. Bowman fought back for a fifth-place finish at Dover, where he won a season ago, and now claims seven top-10 finishes in the last nine races, including a current three-race streak.

6. William Byron (Last week: No. 3) Dover continued a downward slide for the No. 24 team since Byron nabbed his second win of the year at Martinsville. In the three races since, Byron has finishes of 18th at Bristol Dirt, 15th at Talladega and 22nd at Dover. A crash during practice forced Byron to a backup car. Crew chief Rudy Fugle used strategy early to get Byron track position, but ultimately circumstances didn’t fall in the team’s favor. The team has shown speed, highlighted by 38 laps led at Talladega, but recent results leave much to be desired.

7. Kyle Larson (Last week: No. 8) Larson had a spin Monday at Lap 157 in Dover as the product of a rare on-track mistake, but the No. 5 team recovered for a sixth-place finish. He led 19 laps and overcame the issue for his fourth top-five finish in the last five races. The season started poorly for the defending champion with four finishes of 29th or worse in the first six races. Larson has turned it around and the team is proving how well it can execute.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: No. 10) Truex was on pace for his third top-five finish in the past five races before a block from Chastain on the final lap sent Truex sliding down the backstretch while battling for third. Truex only led five laps but showed steady speed in the No. 19 Toyota, posting the fourth-best average running position (6.26) in Monday’s race. He left with Dover with a 12th-place finish instead. The 2017 Cup champion struggled at Martinsville (22nd) and Bristol Dirt (21st) but has proven those finishes were more flukes than reality.

9. Joey Logano (Last week: No. 7) Logano’s results are falling fast, a trend continued at Dover with a 29th-place finish. In four of the past six races, the No. 22 Ford has finishes of 17th or worse, including three finishes of 29th or worse. The two exceptions were podium finishes at Martinsville and Bristol Dirt, but the team has failed to prove it can execute well on a consistent basis.

10. Tyler Reddick (Last week: No. 9) Things have gone downhill for Reddick after finishing second at the Bristol Dirt race. Dover was miserable for the No. 8 team. On Saturday, Reddick spun during practice and later hit the outside wall in a separate incident. He hit the wall Sunday on Lap 3 and crashed nose-first into the backstretch wall Monday at Lap 343. In the past two races, Reddick has finishes of 39th (Talladega) and 30th (Dover). The runner-up finish at Bristol is Reddick’s lone top 10 in the past five races.

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.