Cup drivers prepare for heat in a scorcher at Nashville for Next Gen car

Nashville heat
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
0 Comments

LEBANON, Tennessee – Kyle Larson will carry six extra pounds Sunday in his No. 5 Chevrolet, but it’s worth every ounce of cool comfort from the heat of a Nashville Superspeedway scorcher.

With temperatures hovering near 100 degrees this weekend for the second NASCAR Cup Series race at the 1.33-mile concrete track, Larson has been weathering the Nashville heat just fine since convincing crew chief Cliff Daniels last month to let him use a new cool suit that he tried during a brisk test at the Roval last year.

“I had it on, and it was freezing,” Larson said. “So yeah, I’ve been bugging (Daniels) to put it in my car all year. It’s like 6 pounds heavier than what we had before, but crew chiefs are worried about 6 pounds with a 3,500-pound car. He didn’t want to put it in, but it was starting to get hot, and I wasn’t feeling anything out of my old system.

“I was able to talk him into it, and it’s been great.”

NASHVILLE PRIMER: How to watch Sunday’s race on NBC

Even without Daniels (who is beginning a four-race suspension at Nashville), Larson was in good spirits about the chances to defend his win in last year’s inaugural event and seemed completely unaffected Friday by the blistering heat after a one-hour practice.

Many other drivers entered the media center with bright red faces and matted hair from sitting inside a Next Gen car that had major problems with airflow during testing last fall. NASCAR made changes with windshield ducts and exhaust systems that at least made it bearable.

“If we didn’t have that, no one would be making it now,” Joey Logano said.

Still, it still wasn’t as if he just flipped on the A/C in his No. 22 Ford Mustang.

“It’s like standing in front of a blow dryer,” Logano said. “Better than nothing, though.”

Sunday’s Cup race will be 300 laps, or about 40 percent longer than Saturday’s 188-lap Xfinity race, which was run in the mid-90s and ended with some drivers headed to the care center for fluids.

The scene likely will be similar Sunday in Cup, though many drivers have been combatting the heat with “cool suits” that circulate cold water through a series of hoses.

Logano donned one of the shirts for the first time at Sonoma Raceway and “now I’m spoiled and don’t ever not want to have it. It’s awesome.”

Denny Hamlin, who will start from the pole after a rain-shortened qualifying session Saturday, said he will wear a cool suit for the first time this season at Nashville because “why not take the luxury when you’ve got it,” but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver isn’t planning any extra preparation beyond his typical hydration routines.

“I typically don’t fight heat as much as other guys do,” he said. “I don’t know why. Probably because I’ve been doing it for a decade longer than most of them, but I don’t fight heat that much. … But it’ll be a factor (Sunday) for some for sure.”

Logano said he focuses on training outside on asphalt but also believes most Cup drivers are in good shape from training under race conditions for three hours virtually every week (Nashville will begin a stretch of 20 consecutive race weekends to end the 2022 season).

“The biggest thing the heat does is I feel it really limits your reaction times, your ability to think quickly, and then mistakes are happening,” he said. “You’ve got to be the best at the end.”

Chase Elliott has used cool suits, too, but also relies on the power of positive thinking

“Just embrace the heat, be the heat and tell yourself ‘It’s cold,’ ” Elliott said. “It’s about all you can do. There’s a lot of options but I think embracing it and telling yourself it is not hot is the best thing you can do.”

“I don’t think anybody’s immune to it. I think we all need to be mindful of it. And we are coming into this with these hot months with this car for the first time. If you’re seeing significant temperatures being higher than we have in the past three or four years, I think we should address it.”

Larson joked a few times he should “get a cut of sales” for evangelizing about the new Chillout system he has been using. It connects to his cool suit in the same manner as a previous system but has been more effective with the Next Gen.

“It’s just a different brand of what I had last year, but it is super good,” Larson said. “What we used last year used to work really well then, but these cars are a lot hotter, so the interior temp, I needed more out of it. I’d turn it on and wouldn’t feel anything. So we went to this new system, and it’s really good. I highly recommend it for all the teams out there.

“The heat could be a factor (Sunday) for some drivers who might not have the cooling I do. I’m not worried about it. I feel like we’ve done a really good job with our cars to please me. I know Cliff doesn’t like it because it’s a heavier system, but I feel great in the car.”

Larson also has the advantage of extra conditioning from his extracurricular dirt racing. Next week, he will be racing sprint cars nightly in Pennsylvania ahead of the July 3 race at Road America.

“I’ll do my best to stay hydrated, and it’s never bit me, but being out in the sun and racing as often as I do helps condition me,” he said. “I’m young and that helps, too. And I’m skinny.”

Larson was tipped off to his new system by Justin Allgaier, who used a different cooling setup while winning Saturday’s Xfinity race but had experience with ChillOut from testing the Next Gen for Chevrolet last year. The JR Motorsports driver said the system was so effective “it almost made me sick, just the shock of the cold water running through the suit.

“If we could fit that system in my car, I’d be running it in my (Xfinity) car as well,” Allgaier said. “These races are a hard go, and you get to the end, it’s hot, you’re exhausted, your heart rate is up, and the fresher you are, the more mentally prepared you are, the better you’re going to be. Kyle’s obviously a great race car driver, but if you can take any advantage you can, why wouldn’t you? And I think for all of us, just staying cool in these race cars, it’s going to extend the longevity of our racing careers for sure.”

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

0 Comments

Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

0 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”