Friday 5: Is more practice a path to reducing cautions in Cup races?


Brad Keselowski says that with what RFK Racing spends on simulation, he’d rather have NASCAR expand practice each weekend.

Keselowski also notes that extra practice would help teams learn the nuances of the Next Gen car. The more track time, the more teams could adjust and possibly reduce the chance for accidents.

The Cup Series has seen a 72.7% increase in number of cautions for accidents and spins in races this season compared to last year through the first 15 events.

There have been so many cautions this year that six races (40%) saw the winner not need to make a green flag pit stop. That includes the Coca-Cola 600, which had 18 cautions — 14 for accidents and spins — after having four cautions (one for an incident) last year.

“I think Cup racing had really matured to the point where we were going to racetracks and having zero cautions and nothing was happening,” said Keselowski, who is in his first year as co-owner of RFK Racing. “Now we can’t run more than 20 or 30 laps wherever we go. There has got to be a happy spot in the middle. 

“A full tire run is good every once in a while. … I think a lot of that stuff is a product of not getting the practice to get the cars right and being so reliant on all these other engineering tools that candidly are never going to be 100% accurate.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who ran his first race in the Next Gen car last weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway, noted how different the new car is for a driver compared to last year’s model.

“This is entirely different,” Kligerman said on MotorMouths this week on Peacock. “Throw away everything I’ve known for the last decade about driving stock cars and sort of just reset, start anew, and now I have got to figure out ‘How do you drive this thing?’

“It just has changed everything. It has an entirely different feel. It has times where it has an entire lack of feel that you have to deal with. The aero effects are entirely different than anything we’ve experienced. 

“The amount of shifting you’re doing is different  The brakes are different. The way you feel the tire and actually how just you sense speed and create speed and where the grip is is entirely different. 

“Someone asked me to sort of relate it this past weekend. I was like, it would be like the NFL suddenly deciding that instead of having the football-shaped football that they’ve had for the last … ever, they would start playing with a soccer ball. That’s how different it is.”

That’s why Keselowski said it is better to have more practice.

Practice was reduced as a cost-saving move for teams. With so little practice most weekends, teams don’t have to have a fully prepared backup car. Some multi-car organizations do not bring a backup car for each of their teams. 

That has created the reliance on simulation tools for teams to be fast immediately. 

Only six of the 36 points races have practices longer than 20 minutes this season. Those tracks with 50-minute practice sessions: Daytona (500), Atlanta (in March), Bristol Dirt, Gateway, Nashville and Phoenix (championship weekend).

“I think we’ve probably saved a million or two in travel and spent it all back in simulation and engineering to try to unload at the racetracks and not blow out tires and still be fast, and arguably that’s not working for anybody,” Keselowski said, noting the money saved in travel with shorter weekends for Cup and less practice.

“It’s definitely time for a deep dive and look back at the weekend schedules and the practice and qualifying formats.”

Corey LaJoie, who crashed in practice before the Coca-Cola 600 and crashed a backup in the race after left rear tire failures, said he doesn’t think more practice time is best.

“If we had more practice, I could have popped another one in practice,” he said last weekend. “Obviously, whatever we had at Charlotte wasn’t the hot ticket. 

“I think you’re going to have, whether it’s 50 minutes of practice like we saw here at Gateway, or it’s a 20-minute session like we saw at Charlotte, the same issues are going to arise. What you come up with (at Gateway) with the setup is what you’re essentially married to, whether you have five minutes of practice, no practice or an hour long.”

2. Seeking change 

Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Austin Cindric are scheduled to take part in a Goodyear tire test June 21-22 at Martinsville Speedway. 

After what was a lackluster Martinsville race in the spring, this will be a key test. It will give NASCAR and Goodyear the chance to try some things with the car before an organizational test there in August. 

“This car is worse in traffic than the previous car,” Busch said last weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. “I feel like all of the underbody stuff is not at all what we anticipated it to be. The cars drive fun. They are good. The pleasant part of it is that they drive good when they are by themselves, and they have full air. 

“If what we were striving to do was to be better with cars in traffic, we did not do that. That’s kind what I feel like has been the biggest struggle in myself and around my team is some of that, so what do you do to fix that? I don’t know. 

“I think there is a Martinsville test in the next week or two and I’ve been highly politicking to take all of the underbody off and let us go make a couple of runs with that and see what we can figure out with that. It would also save the team owners a heck of a lot of money if we trashed those components and went on without them from here on it. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings.”

3. Safety work

Brad Keselowski says he has concerns with how quickly safety officials turned RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher’s car back on its wheels after it landed upside down in last month’s Coca-Cola 600. Buescher was not injured after his car rolled more than four times.

From the time Buescher’s car came to rest upside down to when it was put back on its wheels and Buescher climbed out of the car was 6 minutes, 30 seconds. Safety trucks arrived on the scene 10 seconds after the car came to rest. A safety worker reached the driver’s side of Buescher’s car 20 seconds after the car came to rest.

“I definitely have concerns,” Keselowski said. “If there was something wrong with the car, maybe they would have gone faster, maybe they would’t have. I can’t say I was on site to know all the contact that was had with Chris (by safety crews). 

“Either way I would like it to be a lot faster when it comes to that, for sure.”

NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600
Safety crews attend to Chris Buescher after his car landed upside down during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, addressed Keselowski’s concerns this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“Everybody always thinks that things should happen faster,” Miller said. “There’s definitely protocols in place. When the doctor arrives on the scene, the doctor is in control of the scene, and everybody else on site — like the track workers that flipped the car back over and all those — they’re on hold until they receive direction from the doctor on the ground. 

“This is a new car and certainly some different protocols and methodology for turning one back over. We’ve certainly practiced it and knew where the straps needed to be and knew how to do that. 

“That’s the first time we’ve turned a Next Gen car back over in the heat of the moment. I think they did a really good job of doing that safely. 

“Again, we don’t want to hurry and make a situation worse. We’re always learning from all of that, and I think everybody is going to think that if we get there in 30 seconds, that’s too slow. If we get there in 20 seconds, that’s too slow. If we get there in 10 seconds … We always try to make it faster. We’re going to get these questions on the response time in every single crash and we know that.”

4. Plenty of time

Kevin Harvick goes into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway (4 p.m. ET on FS1), outside a playoff spot. He is two points behind Tyler Reddick for what would be the final spot. Aric Almirola is eight points ahead of Harvick.

Harvick had been in a playoff spot last weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway until he crashed in the final laps of the race and finished 33rd. He was running 13th just before his incident. 

He was asked about being in the race for the final playoff spot last weekend before the event and if he started talking with crew chief Rodney Childers about strategies to collect as many points as possible.

“Just tell me where I am at the end of 26 (races),” Harvick said. “If we are in, we are in. If we are out, we are out. We are either good enough or not good enough. I have so much other stuff to think about to try helping with the cars and going to different places every week that you can’t really count points.”

There will be 10 races left until the playoffs begin after Sonoma.

5. Busier schedules

Hendrick Motorsports’ recent promotions of senior executives included Jeff Andrews becoming president and general manager. He had been executive vice president and general manager.

His duties will expand with his new role. Andrews and Chad Knaus, vice president of competition, typically trade off weekends at the track. While Andrews was at World Wide Technology Raceway last weekend, Knaus was in France as part of Hendrick’s involvement with the Next Gen car for next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A specially modified Next Gen car will be the “Garage 56” entry, competing in its own group at Le Mans. It will mark the most notable presence by NASCAR at Le Mans since 1976.

With the extra duties for Andrews and the Le Mans project for Knaus, will someone else have to pick up their duties with the Cup operation?

“Chad and I have discussed that briefly,” Andrews said. “ … There will be some of what I was doing that I will have to push off to him.

“Likewise, I hope I can do the same. I hope I can take some things that are high on his priority list that he needs to make some decisions on to help guide and direct the competition side of our company that I can do to get in place for him that makes his role better. 

“He’s been in that role almost two years and … he’s done an amazing job. Our crew chiefs and race teams are working better and closer than they ever have before. I think the difficult thing for Chad, as he’s grown into that role, is to figure out and understand how to kind of step back a little bit and watch and guide those race teams and not be someone who is directly involved with that one car. 

“He’s done a tremendous job. I’ll tell you the quality of our race cars is unprecedented what’s coming out of our shops right now and that is a testament to Chad and his level of detail.”

Hendrick Motorsports has won five of the first 15 Cup races this season. William Byron has two wins. Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott have one win each.

Friday 5: Is it time to change how NASCAR champion is determined?


Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both raise questions about how NASCAR determines its champion with a one-race event after whittling the 16-driver playoff field to four through a trio of three-race rounds.

Since 2014, the driver who finished the highest among the four championship contenders in the season finale won the title. The format creates a Game 7 type of moment for the sport in an event that has become a winner-take-all race. Joey Logano won the season finale at Phoenix to win his second Cup title. Ty Gibbs claimed the Xfinity title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. Zane Smith won the Truck title by winning the season finale at Phoenix. 

Thursday, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series announced a new way of determining its series champion that mirrors the NASCAR format. The late model series will cut its field of playoff drivers through eliminations, leading to one race where the four remaining championship contenders will vie for the title in 2023.

One of the questions with the NASCAR format is if it provides the most fair way to determine a series champion. Of course, the NFL determines its champion by the Super Bowl, a winner-take-all game. The best team hasn’t always reached that game or won that game, but the event has been played for more than 50 years with no change in sight.

Those who question NASCAR’s way of determining a champion note that the Super Bowl is between two teams, while the championship race for Cup, Xfinity and the Truck Series not only includes the four teams racing for a crown but also the rest of the field, which can include 30 more vehicles. What those drivers and teams do can make an impact on the race and play a role in who wins the championship.

“I think Dale Jr. covered it perfectly,” Hamlin said. “Should one season come down to this three-hour window?”

Hamlin, who seeks his first Cup title, says that the previous Cup champions have been worthy and admits that “I’m the last one that should comment on this” because he doesn’t have a title. 

Still, he raises questions.

“From a purist’s standpoint, it needs to have a bigger sample size,” he said.

Hamlin notes how he knew he wouldn’t win the 2020 Cup title even though he was among the four contenders because his team was not as strong at the shorter tracks such as Phoenix. 

“If you had more of a sample size, you have a chance,” he said. 

Earnhardt expressed the questions he had about the format when he spoke with former NASCAR Chairman Brian France on the Dale Jr. Download this fall.

Earnhardt said the playoff format, which features three-race rounds, is “compelling. It can be argued that it’s relatively fair. Everybody’s got the same opportunity. It’s three races. You can kind of dig yourself out of a hole. But I’ve always kind of struggled with the final race being all or nothing.

“The reason why I struggle with that is because the venue may suit a team or a driver. … You wouldn’t ever consider running it at a road course or a superspeedway because that certainly suits some drivers more than other. You try to have it at a neutral facility, if you will, like a Homestead or a Phoenix.

“But I always had a hard time with saying, ‘OK, it all boils down to this one race where you’ve got to get it right and if you don’t you’re not a champion this year.’ Even though you’ve really got this amazing body of work. You can still have that guy that wins one race be the champion and the guy that wins six not even make the final round.

“I wish we could figure out a way to make that championship moment not an all or nothing three-hour affair. … I’ve really warmed up to everything else we’ve done. It took me a long time because I was too much of traditionalist. But I still feel like there’s got to be a better scenario for the final moment.”

France responded to Earnhardt’s query by saying: “The reason you feel that way is because those are fair points that you make. They are.”

France went on to say that such questions are “part of the challenge of a playoff format in general with auto racing. You’re just going to have to accept that is not exactly perfect.”

France then said: “My decision was we’re not going to hold ourselves back from getting those (Game 7) moments because auto racing doesn’t quite fit perfectly into that. We just couldn’t do it.”

NASCAR changed how its champion was crowned ahead of the 2004 season. From 2000-03, three champions were so far ahead in the points that they clinched the title with one race left in the season (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Jeff Gordon in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in 2003). 

The Chase was created to generate interest in the fall, particularly when NASCAR was going against the NFL on Sundays. The Chase morphed into the playoffs and included eliminations and one race to determine the champion. 

Hamlin says a three-race round to determine the champion will keep the interest of fans.

“I think when you spread it out amongst a bigger sample size, such as a three-race (round), I don’t see how that’s not a positive thing for ratings. People will be compelled every week to tune in because this is the championship round. I think there’s something to be gained there.”

Asked about what if one of the title contenders wins the first two races to all but assure them the title ahead of the final race, Hamlin said: “Will not happen. There’ll be no lockup. No one will be locked going into the final race.”

Hamlin acknowledges that his viewpoint will not be shared by all.

“I’m a traditionalist like Dale,” Hamlin said. “This is just my opinion. I think that everyone is going to have a different opinion on it, but I just believe a larger sample size of our champion makes it more legitimate. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that, especially in the industry. 

“If you ask the drivers, ‘Do you see championships as valuable today as they did 10 years ago?’ I don’t think any one considers them as valuable just because it’s one race. It’s one race.”

2. Plugged in

Tyler Reddick moves to 23XI Racing and will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as his bosses. Reddick says that Jordan is not an absent owner.

“We’ve gotten to spend time (together) a little bit, here and there,” Reddick said of Jordan. “His involvement with the team is, I think, more than most realize.”

Reddick referenced the Martinsville race in October when he pulled out of the event because he wasn’t feeling well after contact on the track. Jordan reached out to Reddick afterward.

“It was really cool that you have a guy like him checking in on you to make sure you’re OK,” Reddick said. “He’s definitely locked in, and he really wants the team to do well. I’m excited to be working with him.”

3. Staying home

Kyle Larson said he will race very little this offseason. He’s staying at home for the birth of his third child with wife Katelyn Sweet.

Larson will compete in the Wild West Shootout, a dirt late model event at Vado (New Mexico) Speedway Park on Jan. 7-8 and Jan. 11-15.

Larson will not compete in the Chili Bowl this year. 

He said his focus will be on family this offseason.

“Help out where I can and just spend as much time with the family,” Larson said. “I normally go race a lot, but this year I’m not. I’m actually excited about it. I’ve only run one race so far this offseason. I’m surprised that it already feels like the offseason is going by really fast because I thought it’d be really slow with me not racing. It’s been good to just not race for once.”

4. Looking to improve

Ryan Blaney said he and crew chief Jonathan Hassler have looked back on the season and compiled a list of things to do for next year.

Blaney won the All-Star Race but did not win any points races. He finished eighth in points. It’s the sixth consecutive year he’s finished in the top 10 in points, but he’s never placed higher than seventh in the standings at the end of a season.

“We were up front so many races and led a lot of laps and won a bunch of stages, just never won (a points race),” Blaney said. “It is kind of a bummer. 

“So what kept us out of victory lane? Was it me? Was it a bad pit stop? It was kind of everything in some certain races. Sometimes they don’t work out for you. Some are self-induced. I felt like we took ourselves out of a handful of races I felt like we had a good shot of winning. … It is a bummer we didn’t win, but I was proud of the consistency and just hope to build on that.” 

Blaney is ready for the new season to begin.

“I’m kind of like two weeks is nice and then I kind of get itching to get back going,” he said. “It is nice to reset, and you kind of go through things you want to be better at. You have your own little list between myself and my team. … It’s a perfect time to work on that stuff.”

5. New partnership 

Among the new driver/crew chief pairings for 2023 is Austin Dillon working with Keith Rodden.

Rodden last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne. Rodden served as crew chief for William Byron in one race in 2020 but returns to full-time duty with Dillon, who finished 11th in points this past season, tying his career best. 

Rodden most recently worked on the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors. He takes over for Justin Alexander.

“Keith and I first got to work together in a wheel-force test for the Next Gen car at Richmond,” Dillon said. “It was a two-day test. We had dinner that night. It was good to talk to him. … Just knowing his passion was still very high to get back to the Cup level and crew chief. Him having the ability the work with Chevy this past year and seeing the different odds and ends of the Next Gen car was really the key to us (for him) to come over and crew chief for.”

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

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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


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.


“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.


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


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.