Friday 5: Five laps that impacted 2022 NASCAR Cup season

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In the 4,712 laps run in the first half of an unpredictable Cup season filled with 13 different visitors to Victory Lane, including five first-time winners, and numerous ups and downs, not all laps count the same. 

Some laps are significant because they come at the end, while others that seem insignificant prove to be anything but as a race progresses. 

Here’s a look at five laps this season that have made an impact on the season:

1. Lap 188 at Talladega 

Erik Jones led the field off the final corner of the final lap, but Talladega’s start/finish line is further down the frontstretch than most tracks.

By the time the field reached the finish line, Jones was sixth after an ill-fated block on the high side opened the bottom lane for Ross Chastain to score his second win of the season. 

This lap in April matters because if Jones had won, the series would have 14 different winners instead of 13. With 14 different winners, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. would be on the cutline going to Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on USA Network). Instead, Truex’s teammate, Christopher Bell, is on the cutline. 

After crossing the finish line, Jones radioed his team: “I just got too far out there. Sorry.”

By getting too far out off Turn 4, he allowed the field to draft and build momentum. 

As the field closed, Jones moved up the track to block Kyle Larson, who darted to the outside of Jones’ car. Jones had no help behind. Chastain and others cruised by on the inside since Jones was too far up the track to block them.

Just as important is that Chastain won. He is tied with Chase Elliott and William Byron for most playoff points this season with 13. Chastain sits third in the season standings, trailing Elliott by 35 points going into this weekend. Those playoff points could come in handy for Chastain later this season. 

2. Lap 354 at Richmond 

Few could have imagined how significant this lap would be except maybe those on Denny Hamlin’s team.

Passing was difficult in the 400-lap race at Richmond in April, but tire wear was significant. That provided an opportunity to move through the field.

A key question in the final stage of the race was if crew chiefs would split the final 90 laps and pit twice or just once. Pitting an extra time meant more time on pit road, but it would be worth it if the fresher tires overcame that deficit.

William Byron made his final pit stop at Lap 311 and ran the final 89 laps of the race on the same set of tires. He had run no more than 73 laps on a set of tires earlier in the event.

Hamlin pitted at Lap 310 after running 50 laps on a set of tires. He made his final pit stop at Lap 354. He was among the last cars to pit during that cycle.

Hamlin chased Byron and passed him with five laps left to win.

The finish made the Lap 354 pit call by crew chief Chris Gabehart significant because it was the first win of the season for Hamlin. 

Had he not gotten it, his Coca-Cola 600 win would be his only victory of the season. That’s key because Hamlin is assured a playoff spot with two wins. 

If he only had one win, he’d rank lowest among the one-race winners and would be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs if there were enough winners to bump their way into the playoff field. 

3. Lap 325 at Atlanta 

The March race on the reconfigured racetrack proved dramatic with 11 cautions, 31 cars involved in accidents and 46 lead changes.

The biggest moment came on the backstretch on the final lap. As William Byron led the field, Christopher Bell passed Ross Chastain and crossed the finish line second to Byron. 

But Bell went below the double white line to advance his position on the backstretch. 

That was a new rule for this race, which used the superspeedway race package and some of the rules seen at Daytona and Talladega — such as no passing below the double yellow lines at those tracks. 

NASCAR penalized Bell by making him the last car on the lead lap. That dropped him from second to 23rd. The penalty cost Bell 21 points.

He heads into Sunday’s return visit to Atlanta holding the final playoff spot by 20 points on Kevin Harvick. Had Bell gotten by Chastain without going below the double white line, Bell would be 41 points ahead of Harvick and only 20 points behind teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the playoff standings. 

4. Lap 293 at Nashville 

The field had a decision with the caution out eight laps from the finish of the June race at Nashville Superspeedway. 

Pit or stay out.

Leader Chase Elliott stayed out. Trailing him were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. 

All had a chance to stay out and restart on the front row with Elliott.

None took it.

Two by mistake.

Busch was called to pit road for two tires. Hamlin was told to stay out if he could get the front row for the restart, which by Busch pitting, he would do so. 

But before Hamlin approached pit road, interim crew chief Sam McAulay told him to stay out only if he could get the lead when McAulay actually meant the front row. McAulay, the team’s engineer, served as interim crew chief with Chris Gabehart serving the last race in a four-race suspension for a wheel coming off the car at Dover. 

Following the directive to pit if he couldn’t get the lead, Hamlin did just that. 

That meant that Truex — seeking his first win of the season to claim a playoff spot — could restart on the front row by staying out. That was the order from crew chief James Small, but Truex mistakingly came down pit road, throwing away a chance to win and not be in jeopardy of falling out of a playoff spot. 

Elliott claimed his second victory of the season and five more playoff points. Truex, instead of possibly winning, finished 22nd. Not only did the mistake cost him a win, it also cost him about 20 points. 

This was the second time a pit call on a late caution cost JGR drivers a chance to win. Busch led and Truex was second when the caution came out at Las Vegas, sending the race to overtime. The field pitted. Busch and Truex each took four tires, but Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron each took two tires and restarted ahead of Busch and Truex.

Bowman passed Larson on the restart to win. Busch finished fourth. Truex was eighth.

5. Lap 292 at Darlington 

Joey Logano bumped William Byron out of the lead with less than two laps to go and went on to win the May race at Darlington.

Logano took umbrage with Byron squeezing him against the wall in Turn 2 with 26 laps left as they dueled for the lead. After that, Logano was willing to be more aggressive with Byron. 

“He runs everybody over,” Byron said, walking through the garage after the race. “I don’t see what’s different. He does it to everybody. Didn’t even let us finish. He goes in (the corner) 10 mph faster. Stupid.”

The biggest impact wasn’t that this was Logano’s first of two points wins this season or that it prevented Byron from winning what would have been a series-high third race this year, it’s what could happen. 

How Will Byron race Logano the closer it gets to the playoffs or in the playoffs? Will that finish alter how they race with each other in other close situations?

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.”