Key Cup drivers still searching for playoff spots as summer arrives

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Many NASCAR Cup drivers are wandering the globe this week, enjoying some vacation time in the only off week of the long and winding season.

When the schedule resumes June 26 at Nashville Superspeedway on NBC, the first race of a long, hot summer, some key drivers face a considerable workload. The Nashville race is the first of a 10-event run to the end of the regular season, and numerous top drivers, including Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski, remain in precarious situations relative to playoff qualifying.

The season to date has seen 12 different winners, and those drivers are virtually guaranteed to be in the playoffs. That list includes four first-time winners (Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez), and the victory lane success of those drivers has made life more complicated for others generally considered playoff regulars.

If the regular-season victory list contains less than 16 drivers, points will be used to determine those who join seasonal winners in the search for the Cup championship, but winning a race remains the smoothest way to the playoffs.

The next 10 races include action on road courses, superspeedways and one short track. Here’s a look at 10 of the season’s winless drivers and what could be their best routes to joining the playoff group:

Kevin Harvick — Harvick has had a frustrating season with no wins and only 13 laps led, but his record at tracks hosting the final 10 races of the regular season is excellent. He has won at seven of the 10 speedways and has five victories at Michigan, four at New Hampshire and three each at Atlanta and Richmond. But Harvick needs better cars and more consistent pit road performance.

Martin Truex Jr. — The final race of the regular season is Aug. 27 at Daytona International Speedway. As the last chance to qualify for the playoffs, that race is likely to be even wilder than the typical zany affair at Daytona. Truex might be advised not to count on that last chance. He is 0-for-34 in his career at Daytona. The former champion’s best shots at winning are at Richmond (three wins) and Pocono (two).

Ryan Blaney — The Team Penske driver won three times last season but hasn’t been able to cash in this year despite scoring five top-five runs and leading more than 100 laps at Phoenix and Richmond. His career victory list includes wins at these upcoming tracks: Atlanta, Pocono, Michigan and Daytona. Blaney currently is the top non-winner on the playoff leaderboard, followed by Truex, Christopher Bell and Aric Almirola.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski has found the first season of both owning race cars and driving them a challenge. He has only two top-10 finishes and has led laps in only three of the season’s 16 races. He’ll need better cars to return to the playoffs, but his career record includes wins at Atlanta, Daytona, New Hampshire, Pocono and Richmond, so he knows the right paths.

Christopher BellBell’s only career win came on the Daytona road course, but he has had good runs at several of the upcoming tracks. Richmond might be his best bet for a playoff-producing victory, as he has two top fives there. In his brief career, Bell also has top-five runs at Road America, New Hampshire and Pocono.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace’s season has been bumpier than most, with bad runs and bad luck clouding the schedule’s first half. His best shot at making the playoffs clearly will be the final regular-season race at Daytona, where he has four top fives and where he almost won the Daytona 500 in 2018. Wallace’s only career win came at Talladega, Daytona’s sister track.

Aric Almirola — Almirola has wins at Daytona and New Hampshire but also has run well at other remaining tracks. He has two top fives at Pocono and Richmond. In what Almirola says will be his final full-time season in Cup, he’ll be pushing to close out his career in playoff competition.

Austin DillonDaytona, where Dillon won the 500 in 2018, might be his best shot to roll into the playoffs. He has two other top fives there. Michigan and Richmond also have been good tracks for the Richard Childress Racing driver.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse’s only two career victories came at Daytona and Talladega, so it’s easy to pick the regular-season finale at Daytona as Stenhouse’s best bet. He has a second top five there. Richmond could give him an earlier chance at victory.

Erik Jones — Jones’ career is sprinkled with top-five runs at remaining tracks, including a win at Daytona in the 2018 summer race. Pocono has been good to Jones, with five top-five runs. He also has top fives at New Hampshire, Michigan and Watkins Glen.

Remaining regular-season races:

June 26 — Nashville (5 p.m. ET, NBC)

July 3 — Road America (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 10 — Atlanta (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 17 — New Hampshire (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 24 — Pocono (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 31 — Indianapolis road course (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Aug. 7 — Michigan (3 p.m. ET, USA)

Aug. 14 — Richmond (3 p.m. ET, USA)

Aug. 21 — Watkins Glen (3 p.m. ET, USA)

Aug. 27 — Daytona (7 p.m. ET, NBC)

 

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.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”