Friday 5: Future is now for next generation of Cup drivers

2 Comments

It no longer is about future for NASCAR’s next generation. While the new car has helped shift the balance in the sport, the surge of young drivers entering Cup within the past six years has made a significant impact.

Even with 41-year-old Denny Hamlin and 32-year-old Joey Logano still in title contention, the Round of 8 field is the youngest in playoff history at 30.1 years old. Hamlin and Logano are the only remaining playoff drivers over the age of 30 heading into Sunday’s Round of 8 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Six of the eight remaining title contenders began running Cup full-time since 2016: Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Chase Briscoe.

Four will make their first appearance in the Round of 8: Chastain (29 years old), Bell (27), Byron (24) and Briscoe (27). 

The 26-year-old Elliott is going for his second Cup championship.

“I think it’s a healthy dynamic right now between drivers who have been a part of the sport and have done amazing things who are still there … and then to be able to race with a lot of guys around my age or a little bit younger,” said the 28-year-old Blaney.

“I think we are all very fortunate to be where we’re at and given some really cool opportunities.”

The young drivers in the playoffs represent the sport’s elite teams: Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott and Byron), Joe Gibbs Racing (Bell), Team Penske (Blaney), Trackhouse Racing (Chastain) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Briscoe).

The pipeline will continue with 24-year-old Noah Gragson moving to Cup next season and 20-year-old Ty Gibbs expected to join him, taking over the No. 18 car at JGR with Kyle Busch moving to Richard Childress Racing. They’ll join, among others, 23-year-old Justin Haley, 24-year-old Austin Cindric, 26-year-old Tyler Reddick, 26-year-old Erik Jones, 29-year-old Alex Bowman and 29-year-old Bubba Wallace.

Blaney admits that looking back five years ago he “never would have thought” that he’d be racing so many drivers in his age range for wins and a championship.

“It’s pretty cool to see,” he said. 

Look back to 2017, it shows how much the sport has changed. Back then:

Byron won the Xfinity Series championship.

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series championship with crew chief Rudy Fugle, who is Byron’s crew chief in Cup.

Briscoe was in his first season in the Truck Series and scored his first NASCAR national series win in the season finale at Homestead.

Chastain made his first two Cup starts that season and had yet to win any of NASCAR’s national series (he has eight now across Cup, Xfinity and Trucks).

Elliott already had a title in the Xfinity Series but had yet to win in Cup — he has 18 victories now.

Blaney won his first Cup race, scoring a victory at Pocono for the Wood Brothers.

“It’s hard to believe it has been five years,” Blaney said of his first Cup win. “I was talking to (car owner Roger) Penske this year when we signed my new deal and I was like, ‘Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I walked in the door in 2012.’”

Byron, Bell, Briscoe, Chastain, Elliott and Blaney all took different paths to reach Cup. Byron’s journey was unique. He started via iRacing before he began racing cars as a teenager, well after most drivers get started. 

He made his Truck debut at age 17 in 2015 and ran his first full season in 2016 before moving to the Xfinity Series the following year for his only full-time year there. He moved to Cup full-time in 2018 at age 20.

“I felt like my path was quickly accelerated in each series,” Byron said. “When I got the Cup Series, there was a ton of learning that I had to do that I hadn’t done throughout the other series. There was a lot of conversation whether I would have gotten that other learning done in the other series. I don’t really think I would have.”

Byron admits that there has been quite a bit of learning to do in Cup.

“Once you get to the Cup Series it’s a totally different deal than any other series,” he said. “It’s a huge jump between Xfinity. I think that’s why you see so much adaptation time. It takes time mesh with the right people. You have to learn all those things and kind of figure out what people work well with you in the Cup Series.”

Byron and the other young chargers are ready to show what they’ve learned while seeking a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix.

2. Hard Impact

In a visit on the Dale Jr. Download, NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy revealed that Cody Ware’s crash last month at Texas Motor Speedway saw the highest speed change — from the moment before impact to the moment after the car hit the SAFER barrier — since NASCAR has been using incident data recorders to record such information.

Ware suffered a fractured right ankle in the incident. He raced the following week at Talladega but skipped last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval because of the demands of a road course on his foot. Ware will be back in the car this weekend at Las Vegas.

“For him to be able to come out of that car relatively unscathed, I think, speaks a lot for the safety of the car from that perspective,” said Kennedy, senior vice president, racing development and strategy.

Kennedy also provided some details on the changes to the rear clip and rear bumper structure NASCAR will make to the cars for next season after a successful crash test last week.

Kennedy said on the Dale Jr. Download that the new rear bumper structure “is a little more flexible, a thinner material. If you look at it visually, … the impact looks much less severe, and you have much more crush zone. 

“So we did (a crash test) at (a change of speed of) 33 mph, which would be a pretty high rate of speed for a rear impact and we did it at 18 mph as well, and then we looked at the data. I think if you look at the data overall, really trying to help on any impact in particular is bringing down that max G-load or that peak. … What we saw in some of those tests is that peak G-load come down quite a bit. 

“Is it perfect? It’s not. Can it be improved? Absolutely. But I think it was a step in the right direction for us, as we think about those rear-end impacts.”

Corey LaJoie said this week on his podcast Stacking Pennies that the changes to the rear bumper and clip “takes about 50 of the G-load away on a rear impact.”

NASCAR will pay for the update of any center/rear clip that a team has in its inventory (up to seven center sections and 10 rear sections), a series spokesperson told NBC Sports. The spokesperson also said that NASCAR has covered at least part of the cost to update parts in the past.

3. Future Cup owner?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download that JR Motorsports has talked to teams about the value of charters and who is willing to sell.

But Earnhardt said that after hearing what team executives told the media about the “broken” economic model for organizations, he decided that “I need to wait and pause. (The owners) are basically telling me this charter that I want to buy is a losing proposition or not money-making, it’s broken.”

“I thought as a potential buyer of a charter that what NASCAR would give them would be way more, so when I heard that NASCAR’s offer was very minimal, it made me go, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t expect that. I expected NASCAR to go, ‘OK guys, we feel it, we understand what you’re saying so here’s this new number to get you all in a little bit better position.’”

Curtis Polk, an investor in 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan’s longtime business manager, said that “the economic model is really broken for teams.”

Jeff Gordon, vice chairman at Hendrick Motorsports, said that the organization, which has won the past two Cup titles, will not make a profit this season. He also said it had been “awhile” since the organization had done so.

Team executives went public after their seven-point proposal to NASCAR to receive more revenue was rejected and that NASCAR’s counteroffer had “a minimal increase in revenue,” according to Polk.

Under the current model, sponsorship makes up about 60-80% of a team’s overall revenue, according to RFK Racing President Steve Newmark. He said how that is out of line with other sports.

Earnhardt noted how the value in charters have increased in recent years. 

“A charter … has went in less than a decade from $2 million to $28-$30 million in value,” he said, alluding to the BK Racing charter (and assets) that were sold for $2.08 million by a bankruptcy court in 2018.

“Everybody is wondering if that $28-$30 million valuation is real or it’s a bubble. For me, I went from being able to kind of somewhat justify that purchase to saying no way, not at that number. 

“Knowing what I know about what NASCAR came back with as an offer, knowing that these teams are operating at a loss, no way I’m going to go spend $30 million to get a charter that is going to operate at a loss and I’m going to get a minimal amount of money out of the TV deal.”

4. Xfinity playoffs 

The Xfinity Round of 8 begins Saturday (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock). 

Noah Gragson and AJ Allmendinger have combined to win the last six series races. No other driver has won in the series since August. Gragson won four races in a row. Allmendinger has won the past two races.

Gragson has an average finish of 3.5 in seven previous Xfinity starts at Las Vegas but has yet to win at his hometown track. Allmendinger has an average finish of 5.6 in three starts, including a win.

Gragson has won the past two races on 1.5-mile speedways: Texas and Kansas. After Saturday’s race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track, the series goes to Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-mile track before ending the round at Martinsville.

“Just really good race tracks for us is the biggest thing,” Gragson said of this round. “Vegas, we’ve got a really good average finish … Homestead, obviously we’re very good. I really enjoy Martinsville, too, and we were able to win last year. 

“Super excited to get to those race tracks and kind of get a reset. I was joking with the guys (before the Charlotte Roval race), we had a really good September, we’ve had a terrible October. Hopefully, we can turn it around.”

Gragson will move to Cup next season, joining Petty GMS Motorsports. Allmendinger will run full-time in Cup next year for Kaulig Racing. Even though this could be his last chance to win a championship in the Xfinity Series, Allmendinger said there’s no added pressure.

“This is a bonus to me,” he said after last weekend’s win at the Charlotte Roval. 

5. Rockingham repave 

A repave of Rockingham Speedway, which hosted Cup races between 1965-2004, is scheduled to begin later this month, according to a report by Queen City News.

The project on the 1.017-mile track is expected to be completed Dec. 1.

The project is being paid from the $9 million the track received as part of the American Rescue Plan. 

Justin Jones, vice president of operations at Rockingham Speedway, told Queen City News that the goal is to bring in various racing series, including NASCAR.

“My goal, when I first took this position, was to rebuild the foundation of Rockingham in hopes of inserting Rockingham back in the foundation of NASCAR,” Jones told Queen City News.

Matt Kenseth won the track’s final Cup race in February 2004. The track’s last NASCAR race was a Camping World Truck Series event in April 2013 won by Kyle Larson. 

Other current drivers who won at Rockingham include Joey Logano (2008 ARCA race), Parker Kligerman (2009 ARCA race), Ty Dillon (2010 ARCA race), Tyler Reddick (2014 ARCA Series East) and Chase Elliott (2011 Pro Cup Series).

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 originations 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.”