Friday 5: Cup champs among those keeping an eye on Ty Gibbs

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During last weekend’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway, reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson took advantage of a caution period to ask crew chief Cliff Daniels how Ty Gibbs was doing in his Cup debut. 

Chase Elliottdeclared the winner after the top-two finishing cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified — asked his father after the race how Gibbs performed. 

Many were interested in how the 19-year-old Gibbs, who has impressed with his success in the Xfinity Series, did in his first Cup race.  

He drove for Kurt Busch, who was out because of what Busch said were “concussion-like symptoms” after a crash in qualifying the day before. Gibbs knew he would be driving for Busch less than 24 hours before the start of the race. Gibbs finished 16th.

Gibbs will be back in the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing at Indianapolis after the NASCAR medical team did not clear Busch to drive this week. The Cup race airs at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.

“I think he’s deserving,” Elliott said of Gibbs getting this Cup opportunity. “I think he’s done a really good job on the Xfinity side.”

Gibbs has eight wins in 37 career Xfinity starts. He stunned the sport when he won last year on the Daytona road course in his Xfinity Series debut.

Gibbs is one of 12 drivers to make their Cup debut under the age of 20. That list includes Kyle Busch, who was 18 years, 10 months and 5 days when he made his first series start March 7, 2004, at Las Vegas. Joey Logano was 18 years, 3 months, 21 days when he made his first Cup start on Sept. 14, 2008, at New Hampshire.

The list also includes Chase Elliott, who made his Cup debut at age 19 years, 4 months, 1 day on March 29, 2015, at Martinsville.

Elliott got the chance to speak to Gibbs before the start of last weekend’s race.

“I just told him, ‘Man, there’s a lot going on for you in the last 24 hours.’ I had time to kind of think about my first one,” Elliott said. “Obviously that didn’t get me very far (Elliott finished 38th in his Cup debut).”

When Elliott talked to his father, Bill, after the race, the Hall of Famer gave Gibbs a positive review.

“He told me (Gibbs) ran a really good race, he was really smart about his opportunity and ran a really respectable event,” Chase Elliott said. “I’m not very surprised by that in watching him through his Xfinity racing. I think he’s done a great job for his team and put himself in position in a lot of events, been very fast.”

It was another sign of how good Gibbs is.

Gibbs’ future has been debated much of the season. While Joe Gibbs has said he prefers to keep his grandchild in the Xfinity Series another season before moving him to Cup. With Kyle Busch’s contract expiring after this season and remaining unsigned, there is speculation that Ty Gibbs could move up to Cup if Busch doesn’t return.

There’s little doubt Gibbs could move up to Cup if there was a place for him in the Toyota camp.

“We know Ty Gibbs is ready to race (in Cup),” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development told NBC Sports. 

2. Time for a change to post-race inspections?

After NASCAR’s historic decision last weekend to disqualify the winner of a Cup race — which had not happened in 62 years — series officials may need to look at a change in regards to its post-race inspection procedures.

NASCAR tears down the top-two finishing cars after a race. It was during that inspection at Pocono that an infraction was found with the cars of Denny Hamlin, who had won, and Kyle Busch, who had finished second. 

Both cars were disqualified. That meant that Chase Elliott was the winner.

Elliott’s car crossed the finish line third. The third-place car is among cars that go through inspection after the race, but those cars typically are not torn down as much as the winning car or runner-up car. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he wasn’t sure if Elliott’s car was still at the track when both JGR cars were disqualified.

Miller also said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that to have every car that NASCAR puts through some sort of post-race inspection go through the full process would take too long.

Thursday, a NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that the sanctioning body had not made any changes to its post-race procedure.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett suggested on MotorMouths this week on Peacock that NASCAR should look into making a subtle change.

“I think the third-place car needs to be held there,” Jarrett said of keeping that car at the track until the winner passes inspection.

NBC Sports analyst Steve Letarte responded by saying, “So we can learn from this and say, ‘Hey, do your inspection, just don’t put it on the (team’s hauler) … don’t be in a hurry to leave. You finish third, just let it sit right there and let’s go on with inspection.’ I’d be OK with that. That’s a small change.”

3. Safety work

Before Kurt Busch was injured at Pocono, missing that race and this weekend’s race at Indianapolis, drivers told NBC Sports they had experienced some of the hardest hits in their career this season. 

Joey Logano said that he had “never hit harder” than his crash in May’s Coca-Cola 600. Bubba Wallace called the contact he had at Atlanta in March among the hardest he’s felt. Christopher Bell said he had headaches after a couple of hits this season.

What some drivers have felt doesn’t match what data from crash recorders show, John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR, told NBC Sports this month. 

“So that leads the drivers to ask, ‘Then why do I feel the way I feel?’” Patalak said. “‘Why does it feel so harsh? The data you’re showing me doesn’t match up with what my body is telling me.’

“We’ve had those discussions with drivers. I certainly will tell a driver, ‘I absolutely don’t doubt or dispute how you feel.’ At the moment, I don’t have a great engineering explanation as to why the perception is not matching with the data that we’re seeing.”

NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton, speaking on the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan, addressed the questions about the impacts this season and how the sport is reacting.

“The great thing about where we are today is that the sports is committed to it,” Burton said of safety. “The sport and the industry is committed to providing (drivers) the best opportunity to be safe and recognizing when there’s a problem and addressing it. 

“Those things never happen as quickly as we want them to happen. It’s almost impossible for them to happen as quickly as we want them to, but we have to push hard. We have to stay committed. Safety is never reached. It’s just are we as safe as we possibly know how to be right now?”

NASCAR is undertaking various measures to improve driver safety.

Patalak told NBC Sports that series officials working on mouthguard accelerometers to measure the impact of a crash on a driver. 

While other racing series use accelerometers that are in a driver’s ear, Patalak said a mouthguard accelerometer would provide better information because the roof of a person’s mouth is “extremely well coupled to your skull. … If you put on a skin patch or an ear-plug accelerometer, your ears are loosely attached, I’ll say, to your skull.”

Patalak said when NASCAR examined using ear-plug accelerometers more than a decade ago, research stated that the “ear canal is not very well — in engineering, we say coupled, but what that means is that it’s not very well attached to your skull.

“So, those two accelerometers, they report very different things, the one attached to the skull and the one in your ear canal. So at that point in time, we didn’t pursue ear-plug accelerometers. The other main issue with that is in those tests, in order to get good attachment, you have to put the accelerometer so deeply into the ear canal that a live diver just really wouldn’t tolerate that from a comfort level.”

Patalak said that NASCAR is working on the mouthguard accelerometer for drivers with Dr. Joel Douglas Stitzel, Jr., a professor of biomedical engineering at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His research interest includes concussion in sports.

Patalak said that NASCAR has been working with Stitzel for about four years to make the mouthguard accelerometer work well for drivers.

“We have obviously had challenges,” Patalak said. “Communication is super important, has to happen from the drivers. We’ve been looking at material changes and geometry changes. During COVID, we weren’t able to put mouthpiece sensors in drivers, obviously, and we essentially took that year and redid the boards, the firmware and software to make everything smaller and work better, function better.”

He said some tests show that the mouthpiece doesn’t impact a driver speaking on the radio to the team. 

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Patalak said.

4. Top Cup crew chiefs 

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, remains the winningest active Cup crew chief but that could soon change if points leader Chase Elliott continues his hot streak.

Childers has 38 career Cup wins. Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott, has 37 career Cup wins after last weekend’s victory at Pocono. Elliott has five consecutive top-two finishes, including three victories. He’ll be among the favorites this weekend on the road course at Indianapolis. Elliott has won seven of the last 17 road course events.

Here’s a look at the winningest active Cup crew chiefs:

38 – Rodney Childers (crew chief for Kevin Harvick)

37 – Alan Gustafson (crew chief for Chase Elliott)

35 – Paul Wolfe (crew chief for Joey Logano)

30 – Adam Stevens (crew chief for Christopher Bell)

16 – Chris Gabehart (crew chief for Denny Hamlin)

11 – Cliff Daniels (crew chief for Kyle Larson)

10 – Greg Ives (crew chief for Alex Bowman

9 – Jeremy Bullins (crew chief for Austin Cindric)

6 – Brian Pattie (crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.)

5 – James Small (crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.

5. Playoffs are here 

While it’s not yet August, the playoffs begin tonight for the Camping World Truck Series. 

The opening race of the first round takes place at 9 p.m. ET at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. This marks the first time the series has raced at the .686-mile track since 2011.

The three-race opening round, though won’t end until Sept. 9 at Kansas. 

After Friday night’s race, the series doesn’t compete again until Aug. 13 at Richmond and then Sept. 9 at Kansas. 

Zane Smith won the regular-season championship, scoring three victories in 16 races.

This will be the final playoffs for Camping World as series sponsor. Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, announced Wednesday night on social media that the company would not return as series sponsor after this season. 

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.”