Petty GMS celebrates Southern 500 win but more work to do

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — The plan was for GMS Racing to run select Cup races when the series moved to the Next Gen car.

That changed when team owner Maury Gallagher completed a deal with Richard Petty Motorsports nine months ago to form Petty GMS Motorsports and go full-time Cup racing with two teams.

Sunday night, Petty GMS Motorsports won its first Cup race.

Erik Jones’ victory in the Southern 500, though, isn’t the end of a journey, but a step for an organization already looking to next season.

“This month and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, president of Petty GMS Motorsports, told NBC Sports after leaving Victory Lane.

Beam, 67, and team owner Maury Gallagher, 72, seek to build a winner quickly.

The organization has come far in a short time. Gallagher, who owned a successful Truck Series team, had considered moving to Cup previously.

He had looked at the BK Racing charter when it was available in bankruptcy court in 2018 but passed on it before the charter (and team’s assets) were sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports. Gallagher looked at the charter for Furniture Row Racing before Spire Motorsports purchased it in Dec. 2018. 

Each time, Gallagher didn’t see the financial benefits. With the Next Gen car, the model was better. 

He purchased majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports last December for $19.1 million. The deal included RPM’s two charters. 

Petty GMS Motorsports continues to redefine itself in this era of Cup racing.  Joey Cohen, competition director, said the Cup program has 13 engineers among about 50 employees.

“We feel like we’re the model for what Next Gen racing is going be long term, how that looks personnel wise, how that looks in structure in the shop,” Cohen told NBC Sports in Victory Lane. 

Cohen said the focus is on engineering. He notes that “we will employ more engineers than mechanics at some point on a race car. That is the truth. … We know that those are where the races are won or lost, with the tools the engineers have.”

Jones showed his commitment to the team by signing a multi-year extension in late July. Sunday’s win validates the faith he has in the organization and the effort Petty GMS Motorsports makes to grow. 

“You’ve got to continue to grow, build on this moment,” Jones said after guiding the No. 43 car to the win at Darlington Raceway. “We’ve got it going right now obviously with the car and what we’re doing, but we’ve got to continue to get it better and continue to get our program better. 

“We’ve hired a lot of great people, but there’s — hopefully with this win it’ll boost more people to want to come over and work with us and continue to get this program stronger.”

One change for next season is that Noah Gragson will drive the team’s No. 42 car next, replacing Ty Dillon.

The organization has been working to catch up with other teams. While top teams have their own version of the optical scanning station that NASCAR uses for inspection at the track each weekend, Petty GMS Motorsports got its version in June. It came during the season’s lone off weekend, leading Cohen to cancel vacation plans to monitor the devices installation.

Sunday’s win makes such efforts worthwhile and shows what can be accomplished. 

“We needed something good to happen to get through the winter,” Beam said. “There’s people on the team that have never won before and that’s great to share that with them.”

The win was special for Jones. It marked the third in his Cup career, but his first since the 2019 Southern 500 with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I guess probably a lot of people counted me out,” he said “I just never looked at it that way. My total view going in was to build, and I knew as soon as I met the group on the 43 team — which is almost all the same guys as it is today — that they had tons of potential. These are guys that have been at a few other teams but mostly the 43 group for a while. They had lots of potential.

“I guess the biggest thing for me that I’m proud of personally is just to see the growth. We went from a team last year that we were running 30th here last year and we blew a motor in the Southern 500, and to come this year and be a top-five car all day and then win the race, man, it’s just something to be pretty proud of.”

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One of these drivers is second in the points. The other is 15th in the points after Sunday’s Southern 500. Can you guess which is which?

Driver A: 

One top 10 in the last 18 races before the playoffs 

Average finish of 19.9 in those races

Average start of 15.4 in those races

Led 130 laps in that stretch

Scored 83 stage points in those 18 races

Driver B:

One top 10 in the last 18 races before the playoffs

Average finish of 19.4 in those races

Average start of 14.8 in those races

Led 110 laps in that stretch

Scored 54 stage points

One of those drivers scored a top-10 finish at Darlington. The other finished outside the top 25.

Driver A is William Byron. Driver B is Chase Briscoe. 

After placing eighth and winning a stage Sunday, Byron is six points behind series leader Joey Logano going into Sunday’s playoff race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA Network).

So how does a team that struggled to score a top-10 finish since April leave Darlington second in the points?

“We stayed confident,” Byron told NBC Sports. “We knew what not to do over the summer. We know what wasn’t working, so we came here knowing what not to do and applied the things that worked. … A tough summer, but we really kind of came together this week.”

He is confident what he did at Darlington can carry over to Kansas.

“I think Kansas can be really good for us,” said Byron, who was leading when he had a flat left rear tire and finished 16th there in May. “It’s just a matter of fine-tuning those little details. 

As for Briscoe, he couldn’t avoid Chase Elliott’s spinning car and suffered damage. Briscoe wasn’t a factor, finishing 27th. He is 10 points behind Daniel Suarez, who holds the final transfer spot with two races left in the opening round. 

“That kind of killed our day,” Briscoe said of the contact with Elliott, “but we were able to get lucky because a lot of those guys had issues, too. It’s not the way we wanted to start the round by any means, but we’re gonna have to improve and we’re probably gonna have to win.”

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Daniel Suarez looked to be headed toward a top-five finish until a pit road speeding penalty derailed his comeback from starting at the rear. He finished 18th but left charged about contact with Christopher Bell.

Suarez had to start at the rear after his car failed inspection three times before qualifying. He also had to do a pass-through penalty after the start of the race. That put him a lap down but a caution moments later for rain, allowed him to get his lap back. 

He ran toward the front until he was penalized on Lap 271 of the 367-lap race. 

For all that, though, Suarez wasn’t pleased with Bell for contact as they raced for fourth with five laps to go in the second stage. They made contact and Suarez fell back, finishing eighth. Bell finished the stage sixth.

“Whenever I need, I’m going to get him back,” Suarez said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be Kansas or Bristol. He definitely owes me one and I’m going to save that for later.”

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While this season has been one of inconsistencies for many teams, a couple of drivers added to their career-high total of top 10s in a season with strong runs in the Southern 500.

Michael McDowell’s sixth-place finish is his 11th top 10 of the season. His previous high for top 10s in a season was five last season. 

“That was probably one of our better performances on what I would call a mile-and-a-half style racetrack, so we’re making good gains,” McDowell said. 

Bubba Wallace’s ninth-place finish is his seventh top 10 of the year. His previous best was five in 2020. 

 “Just proud to come out of here with a finish,” Wallace said after the race. “Good car for us, just have to keep on trucking onto Kansas.”

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

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LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash

 

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR drivers are scheduled to hit the track today in competitive mode for the first time in 2023.

Practice is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on the oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum is scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. (ET). The 36 drivers will be divided into three 12-driver groups for practice.

Cup practice groups

Cup qualfying order

Saturday’s qualifying will set the starting lineups for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races. The top five finishers in each heat race will advance to the main event. Two 50-lap “last chance” races will follow, and the top three finishers in each of those events will join the feature field.

The 150-lap main event is scheduled at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

For the second consecutive year, the Clash is being held on a purpose-built track inside the LA Coliseum, one of sport’s iconic venues. Joey Logano won last year’s race and last year’s series championship and will be among the favorites Sunday.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High 71.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

New NASCAR Cup season features several changes

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While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:

Drivers

— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 

Races

— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.

Rules

Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.

Achievements 

— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.