Nashville win by Chase Elliott could make impact in playoffs

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LEBANON, Tenn. — With no clear front runners nine races before the Cup playoffs begin, every point, every decision and every move can make an impact on the race for the championship. 

A day before last weekend’s Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin noted how close the competition will be in the playoffs. What Chase Elliott did in Sunday’s race could have reverberations in the fall.

Elliott’s win gives him 13 playoff points, tied with Ross Chastain and William Byron for most this season. Joey Logano and Hamlin both have 12 playoff points. Seven more drivers are within at least seven playoff points of Elliott, Chastain and Byron. 

“I think that this will be without a doubt the most unpredictable playoffs simply because one bad race by a good team, they will not have the playoff points to give them a buffer to get to the next round,” Hamlin said. “There’s liable to be very big teams or even favorites in this championship that will be taken out in the first and second round because they don’t have the big playoff points that our favorites had in the past.

“I’m one one stage win away from being P1 in the playoffs which is crazy considering our season, but it shows when we’re upfront, we get it done, and when we are bad, we’re fully bad. So I think that I’m excited to see where it goes, but I’m also nervous that we better get our (stuff) together at every every racetrack here in the next 10 weeks.”

There were a couple of key moments in Sunday’s race that helped Elliott score his second win of the season.

When the race resumed near halfway, Elliott restarted 15th. He quickly moved to ninth after the restart and finished fourth in the stage.

“I felt like that was kind of the moment in the race I was like, ‘All right, we should win this race,’” crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “Ultimately I didn’t feel like we were going to pass (Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.) at the time on equal ground, so I wanted to get off sequence with them there, and when I did, not as many people pitted as I had hoped so we were a little bit further back, and he got back to what you’re referencing, fourth or fifth, in no time. I was like, this gives us a huge advantage.”

On the restart to begin the final stage, Elliott was second and started on the front row with Busch, who was on the outside. Elliott quickly got the lead and control of the race.

“I felt like the opportunity was there to do it, if the circumstances go your way, and fortunately they did,” Elliott said. “Once we got the lead there, it was just trying to control my gap to him, run my race, manage my tires the best I could and not lose the lead. Then hope that a caution didn’t come out. I hate that it did, but it did, and fortunately it worked out for us.”

Elliott held the lead and when the caution waved, he stayed out, while the Gibbs cars of Busch, Truex and Hamlin all pitted. With 10 cars staying out, they were trapped behind those cars and saw their chances of winning end.

And it was Elliott scoring the five playoff points that could matter later in the season.

“Look, you just have to keep bringing strong race cars to the racetrack,” he said. “You have to keep putting yourself in position to win. 

“When you’re battling up front and you have shots to win, the points thing is going to take care of itself. You might be faced if you can achieve the first part of that, you might be faced with a situation here or there where you have to decide whether or not you want to get stage points or whether or not you want to try to go for the race win, and those things are — that’s just part of the world we live in now with stages.”

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Sunday was a step in right direction for Kevin Harvick and his team — even if crew chief Rodney Childers walked out of the garage frustrated.

Childers wasn’t happy with his decision to pit Harvick before the final restart. Harvick was seventh when the caution waved. Had he stayed out, he would have been third before the restart. Instead, he restarted 15th after pitting because 10 cars stayed out. Harvick finished 10th.

Probably should have finished third, but the 4 car’s M.O. has always been being on the aggressive side; on the going-forward side, not the trying-to-hold-people-off side,” Childers told NBC Sports.

“With this car, that’s really difficult, to be honest with you. I think I’ve got to do a better job of adapting to the new car and realizing that we’re not going to pass 10 cars in five laps like we used to be able to.”

Still, Harvick has scored back-to-back top 10s. His longest streak this season is three top 10s in a row. 

“Just to have speed and be able to run with the Gibbs cars all night, that was a big deal,” Childers said.

Kevin Harvick Rodney Childers
Crew chief Rodney Childers.(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He told NBC Sports before the weekend that a key goal would be to qualify better and gain points in the opening stage. Harvick qualified 10th, the first time in the last nine races he had started in the top 10. 

Harvick scored points in the opening stage for the first time in nine races. He also scored points in the second stage. The result was that he climbed back into the final playoff spot, bumping teammate Aric Almirola.

Another key was pit road. The team changed its front tire changer and jackman last week after Harvick had made critical comments about his pit crew’s performance after two of the last three races. 

Childers said all went well on pit road.

“We had the fastest pit crew on pit road,” he said. 

Harvick’s crew had six of its seven pits stops in the 10-second range, according to Racing Insights. The team’s fastest stop for a four-tire change was 10.24 seconds on its first stop. It’s slowest stop was 11.98 seconds. Harvick gained three spots on pit road during a stop under caution after the end of the second stage, moving him to fifth.

“It was a really good weekend and something we can build on,” Childers said.

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Ross Chastain overcame pitting an extra time early in the race to tighten the rear right wheel and rally back to a fifth-place finish. 

It was a matter of being cautious and avoiding a four-week suspension for Chastain’s crew chief and two pit crew members should the wheel come off.

Before Chastain came back to pit on Lap 46 of the 300-lap race, there was some debate if to do so.

“The nut wasn’t quite tight and it looked fine,” Chastain said after the race. “Half of our group said to leave me out there, and half of our group said, ‘No, let’s take it back off and put it back on.’

“I couldn’t see anything. Part of our coaching staff was looking at the video and said we would have left the car out on the track. 

“It was better safe than sorry. It was one of those 50-50 (calls). We don’t want (crew chief) Phil Surgen and our crew gone (as part of a four-week suspension for a wheel coming off on track). It’s just such a penalty to lose them if the tire comes off.”

Later in the race, Chris Buescher’s wheel came off on track and his team faces that penalty. That is the 11th time this season a wheel has come off during the race. 

Here are the previous 10 times a wheel came off, leading to a penalty to a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members:

  1. Justin Haley (Daytona 500)
  2. Kaz Grala (Daytona 500)
  3. Todd Gilliland (Auto Club)
  4. Corey LaJoie (Phoenix)
  5. Bubba Wallace (COTA)
  6. BJ McLeod (Talladega)
  7. Denny Hamlin (Dover)
  8. AJ Allmendinger (Dover)
  9. Justin Haley (Kansas)
  10. Kyle Larson (Sonoma)

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Justin Allgaier’s win Saturday was his second Xfinity victory of the season. It marks the fifth time in the last six years he has won multiple Xfinity races in a season. 

It’s a big turnaround from when he was in Cup with a smaller team and struggled in 2014-15. He returned to Xfinity in 2016 and has been with JR Motorsports since. Fifteen of his 18 career series wins have come after he returned from Cup.

“Do I feel like I could still go to (Cup) and get in a good car and be competitive? Absolutely,” Allgaier said. “But the opportunities aren’t necessarily always the right opportunities. I love this series. I love this race team that I’m a part of.”

Allgaier appreciates the situation he is in and sees how not being with the right team can impact a driver’s career.

“There are some overly talented race car drivers on the Cup side that just don’t have the right situation,” Allgaier said. “I’m not saying that it’s even a good car. Especially with the (Next Gen) car and the parity there is with the car, it takes every detail. You’ve got crew chief, the engineers and you’ve got the pit crew and all these things that just gel together and work. That’s where we’re at with this race team.”

The victory also is the sixth in 15 races this year for JR Motorsports. The organization has won five of the last seven races. 

Noah Gragson started the run with a victory at Talladega. Josh Berry followed by winning at Dover. Allgaier made it three in a row for the organization with his Darlington triumph. Berry later went on to win at Charlotte. Then came Allgaier’s win at Nashville. 

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.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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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?

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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.”