Dr. Diandra: Best drivers of the season often win the All-Star Race

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The format and the venue have changed over the years, but the NASCAR All-Star Race remains a welcome chance for drivers to cut loose. There’s nothing on the line but the trophy and the purse.

That’s slightly less true this year. With Texas Motor Speedway hosting only one points race — the kickoff for the Round of 12 — the All-Star race weekend is teams’ only opportunity to gather data on the NextGen car’s performance at this track.

“You can certainly look at it for a lot of things,” Austin Cindric told NBC Sports. “It’s an opportunity to win a million dollars. That’s pretty cool for a 23-year-old. At the same time, you can easily use it as a practice session in many facets… I think Texas has kind of defined itself as its own beast, depending on what they do with track prep.”

But even with that caveat, most drivers won’t be able to avoid the ‘checkers-or-wreckers’ mentality.

All-Star Race victory history

Twenty-five drivers have won one or more of the 37 All-Star Races run to date.

  • Jimmie Johnson has driven to the most victories: four. All were with crew chief Chad Knaus on the pit box.
  • Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won ten All-Star Races, including the last two with Kyle Larson (2021) and Chase Elliott (2020). That’s the most wins for any owner.
  • Richard Childress Racing and RFK Racing come in a distant second with four wins each.
    • RCR won last in 2007 with Kevin Harvick (although Harvick won in 2018 for Stewart Haas Racing.)
    • Carl Edwards won in 2011 for the team that is now RFK Racing.

How All-Star Race winners finish the season

The list of All-Star Race winners reads like a who’s who of NASCAR. Let’s examine how drivers did during the season in which they won the All-Star Race.

I tallied end-of-year driver standings for All-Star-Race winners. The pie chart below shows the percentage of drivers ending the season in each position. The chart begins at 12 o’clock and goes counter clockwise.

A pie chart showing where All-Star Race winners end up in the season standings

Some highlights:

  • Almost one-third of All-Star Race winners went on to win the series championship that year. Those drivers are: Jeff Gordon (three times), Dale Earnhardt (three times), Jimmie Johnson (twice), Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip.
  • Almost two-thirds (64.8%) of the drivers who won the All-Star Race finished the season in the top four.
  • 72.9% of the drivers ranked in the top six at season’s end.
  • Once we get past sixth place, we’re looking mostly at single drivers. The exception is 14th place: Two drivers ended the year there.

Can an All-Star win kick-start a season?

The All-Star race usually happens the week before Memorial Day weekend. The exceptions were in 1986 (Atlanta, on Mother’s Day) and in 2019 and 2020, when COVID shifted the race to mid-July and mid-June, respectively. But most years, the All-Star Race comes at the perfect point to evaluate which drivers are on track to meet their goals and which one are lagging behind.

I tallied how many races each winning driver had won coming into the All-Star Race. I then calculated how many races they’d won in the same number of races after the All-Star race. If there were had 13 races prior to the All-Star Race, that means 13 races after the All-Star race.

On the graph below, the drivers are listed in order of year from left (1985) to right (2021).

  • The number of races won before the All-Star Race is shown in blue,
  • The number of races won in an equal number of races after the All-Star Race is shown in yellow,
  • Crosshatched yellow indicates wins made during the rest of the season.

Looking at Kevin Harvick’s 2018 season as an example: Harvick won five races of the 12 run before the All-Star Race. He won two races between Charlotte and Bristol (the 12 races after the All-Star Race) and then one more in the playoffs.

A stacked column chart showing the numbers of races won at various times in the season
Because of the pandemic, the 2020 All-Star Race happened much later in the year (July 15th) than usual.
  • In 15 cases (40.5%), the All-Star Race was the winner’s first win of the season. You can identify those entries because they’re the ones without any blue bar — or any bar at all.
    • Two of those 15 drivers — Michael Waltrip (1996) and Jamie McMurray (2014) — did not win any points races the year they won the All-Star Race.
    • Three of those 15 drivers (Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, and Kyle Larson in 2019) didn’t win another race in the races immediately after the All-Star Race, but won races after that.
  • The winner had only one win coming into the All-Star Race 10 times, which is 27%.
  • That makes 25 out of 37 races (67.6%) where the All-Star Race was won by a driver with one or no point-race wins entering that event.
  • The All-Star Race win was the winner’s last win of the season in six cases. Those entries have only blue bars.

Larson fans concerned that he’s only won one race this season can relax. He was in the same situation last year coming into the All-Star Race. He went on to win nine more races that year — and the championship.

Chase Elliott’s win in 2020 kicked off a similar streak. The All-Star Race didn’t happen until July 15th, but Elliott had still only won once coming into the race. He, of course, went on to win four more races and the championship.

Total number of wins

Drivers who won the All-Star Race ended the season with anywhere from 0 to 11 wins. Below, I show the number of drivers who accumulated each number of wins.

A vertical bar graph showing the number of total wins All-Star-winning drivers accumulate over the course of the season

  • 94.6% of drivers won at least one points race the year they won the All-Star Race.
  • 43.2% of All-Star Race winners won five or more races during the season.
  • 67.6% of the winners ended the season with between one and five wins.

NASCAR Open winners

How do drivers who get into the All-Star Race by winning the NASCAR Open finish? Because stages are a relatively recent phenomenon, I’ll consider only the overall winners of the Open races and not the stage or segment winners in the graph below.

A vertical bar chart showing the finishes of Open winners in the All-Star Race

Given that the best drivers have mostly already qualified for the All-Star Race, it’s not too surprising that Open winners rarely win the All-Star Race.

  • The only time a driver won the Open and then the All-Star Race was in 2019. That feat was accomplished by Larson. (Although Michael Waltrip transferred into the All-Star Race in 1996, and then won the All-Star Race, he finished the Open in 5th.)
  • Open-winning drivers have come close to winning the All-Star Race. Three drivers have finished second: Sterling Marlin (1988), Tony Stewart (1999) and Martin Truex, Jr. (2010).
  • Since 2011, with the exception of Larson, no winning Open driver has finished better than fifth.
  • Overall, 16.7% of these drivers finished in the top five of the All-Star race.
  • Four of the last seven Open winners finished out of the top 10.

Winning the All-Star Race doesn’t mean you’ll do well the rest of the season. But if all your team needs is a spark, a win might do it. But the All-Star Race is better viewed as a barometer of the current field rather than a predictor of the future.

Got technical or statistical questions you’d like answered? Send them to ask (at) buildingspeed ( dot) org.

Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

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Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.

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.