Friday 5: Will Petty GMS be next breakthrough Cup team?

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After the success of Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing this season, could Petty GMS be the next new team to stand out in Cup?

Trackhouse Racing, in its second year of competition, had both cars finish in the top 10 in points and Ross Chastain race for a championship. 

23XI Racing, also in its second year, would have had Kurt Busch in the playoffs before he was sidelined by a concussion. 

Next season will be the second for Petty GMS. The organization is a result of Richard Petty Motorsports merging with GMS Racing before the 2022 season. 

Petty GMS returns Erik Jones, whose Southern 500 victory was the organization’s first Cup win, to the No. 43 team. Xfinity title contender Noah Gragson and crew chief Luke Lambert join the No. 42 team. 

The organization, co-owned by Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty, also adds Jimmie Johnson as a co-owner and a driver for select races. 

“Me and Maury talk all the time about what can we do to improve our situation, make our business bigger, win some more races,” Richard Petty said. “He called me one day and said, ‘I’ve been talking to Jimmie Johnson,’ and I said you’ve got to be kidding. Jimmie Johnson wants to be involved with us, and we’ll be involved with him? 

“This has got to be one of the biggest things that has happened to the Petty crowd and GMS. With Jimmie adding on with his popularity and the people he knows and we don’t know, it had to be a heck of a deal. 

“From my standpoint, it’s a big, big step. Not just for one year. I’m looking further down the road. If Jimmie comes in, does his deal. I’m 85 years old, so I’m not going to be here for another 15 or 20 years, and then Jimmie can kind of take over. That had to be a plus-plus.”

Johnson’s deal with the team came together quickly. He first visited the team’s shop Sept. 12, eight days after Jones’ Darlington victory.

“We laid it out, this is what we’ve done the last nine months,” Joey Cohen, competition director for Petty GMS told NBC Sports, about how team officials sold Johnson on the organization. “We didn’t have this. We didn’t have that. Here’s what we’ve done in nine months. 

“If you give us another nine months, we’ll double or triple this. We’ll force multiply this effort we’ve put in, and it’s going to be another level that we’re going to be at nine months.”

Cohen said team officials told Johnson “if you come onboard … it’s going to happen even faster.”

Even before last week’s announcement that Johnson would join Petty GMS as a co-owner and part-time driver, he was working with the team.

“Jimmie has already been involved in some meetings on the technical side, on the aspects of where we’re going on the vehicle side,” Cohen said shortly after the announcement. 

“(Team President) Mike (Beam) mentioned it the other day, we were preparing for this like it was going to happen even before it happened, knowing that this is something we needed to add to Petty GMS. It was a strategic mission to try to get somebody like Jimmie.”

Johnson will drive in the Daytona 500. His other races have not been announced.

The Daytona 500 could have an interesting lineup of cars vying for the four spots set aside for non-charter cars. Johnson will be in a third Petty GMS car. Truck champion Zane Smith will drive a third entry for Front Row Motorsports. Austin Hill will take over the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports. Those are cars without charters that have been announced for that race. More non-charter cars are expected. 

2. A new entry 

Soon, Kyle Larson will open the journal that has been passed along by Cup champions since 2011 when Jimmie Johnson started it and passed it along to Tony Stewart. 

Every year since, it has been handed down from champion to champion. Joey Logano has called it “the best kept secret in our sport.

“That’s the best part about this is that nobody even really knows what it is. Nobody knows … what’s written in it.”

The journal’s existence was kept hidden until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing it to Martin Truex Jr.

“That’s been one of the coolest things about this whole deal is taking possession of it and getting to read it,” 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott after he received it. 

“It makes you wish that somebody had started that back 30-plus, 40 years ago to just see what some of those guys would have to say or even when NASCAR was started. I think it would be really cool.

“On the flip side, I think about the guy or the girl who wins the championship in 2050 or 2060. How cool is that going to be to look back to see what Tony Stewart had to say or what Jimmie Johnson had to say, two legends of our time. Really cool tradition and proud to be a part of that.”

Larson says he will read the journal again for inspiration of what to write before handing it to Logano.

“It’s something that’s so special that you want to read it once when you get it and once again before I give it to the next guy,” Larson said. “It’s an extremely special book. 

“That was the thing that I was most excited about from winning the championship was to receive that. … I hope I can win other championships down the road to see what’s been passed on since me.”

3. Looking ahead 

Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 19 team will look ahead after a forgettable season that saw the team fail to win a race and make the playoffs.

“The story of the year for us, really, was missing opportunities,” Truex said. “Look at some of the races we had where we were pretty much dominant, should have won. We gave away a lot of races. We gave away a lot of points in other races where we ran good but didn’t finish good and put ourselves in a bad spot.

“We need to work on figuring out how to take advantage of those opportunities better next year and do what we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Asked about any changes to his team, Truex said: “I don’t foresee any. I love the team. I think we’ve got a great bunch of guys.

“We need to figure out some pit road issues. We need to figure out some simulation issues. There are going to be some changes with the cars this offseason, and we need to get on top of that and see where that puts us. Short tracks and road courses, obviously, have been really tough for us this year. We need to figure those out, as well. Lot to look at, look to work on.”

Truex says he remains motivated.

“My mindset every weekend is I know we can go win,” he said. “That’s what keeps you hungry, keeps you coming back, keeps you motivated. I’ve had years where I knew (when) we were showing up, we weren’t going to have a chance to win. 

“So from that standpoint, it really wasn’t that difficult. It was more that by the end of the week, ‘OK, frustrated again, we didn’t get it done and now we’ve got to go back and start over and try to get it done next week.’ There’s always light at the end of the tunnel that we can get it done because I know we can.”

4. Big wins making an impact

Since February 2021, Front Row Motorsports has won a Daytona 500 with Michael McDowell and won the Camping World Truck Series championship this season with Zane Smith. 

“I think the wins and now the championship, I believe, will just further cement Front Row as a competitive organization capable of winning races for sure, now winning a championship in one of NASCAR’s higher series,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports. 

“I’ll tell you guys that the one thing that’s been kind of interesting, our crew chief with the 34 is moving on in Blake Harris, and that’s a blow to us that I thought was really going to cripple us. Blake has brought a lot to our Cup operation this year.

“I told Michael McDowell a few days after Blake had made his decision, I said, ‘You know, it’s kind of like a bad news-good news situation from what I can see so far. The bad news is we’ve run so good, there’s teams that want to hire our people. The good news is we’ve run so good, we’re getting a lot of decent phone calls from guys that want to come to work for us, and that wasn’t happening in the past.’

“So I think just industry-wide and especially in the situation with Blake moving on from the 34, I’ve really noticed it that I’ve had conversations that we didn’t have before. We’re embarking on our own pit crew program next year, and you’re talking to guys that you know are really talented guys that really like what they hear about what we have going on.”

5. More racing

While the NASCAR season is over, that won’t keep drivers from competing in various other series. 

Reigning Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric and 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott will be competing this weekend in Nitro RallyCross in Phoenix. Races will take place Saturday and Sunday. The events air at 5 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on Peacock.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no better drivers on the face of the earth than NASCAR,”  said Travis Pastrana, co-creator of Nitro RallyCross and series champion last year. “I got my butt kicked when I was turning left (with them) a couple of years.”

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

NASCAR Toyota expand
Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, here were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.