Friday 5: Cup rookie Ty Gibbs turning things around after slow start


Ty Gibbs smiles and laughs. His brother Case recently pitched a shutout in a high school baseball game. His sister Elle was recently accepted by Cornell University.

“I’ve got to step my game up,” Ty Gibbs said with a grin.

He has. The rookie heads into Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway with four consecutive top-10 finishes. It marks only the second time since 2018 that a Cup rookie has had four top 10s in a row. Austin Cindric did it last year.

No other Cup driver has more than two top 10s in a row entering Martinsville. Only Tyler Reddick has a better average finish (6.0) than Gibbs (9.3) over the last four races. Gibbs is the first driver since Chase Elliott in 2016 to have four top 10s in the first eight races of their rookie season.

Gibbs’ run is quite a change from how the season started for the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing team. He finished no better than 16th in the opening four races of the season.

“It’s just me minimizing mistakes,” Gibbs told NBC Sports of the turnaround that has seen him place ninth three weeks in a row before his 10th-place result last weekend at Bristol.

“When I execute, when the team does, we have great finishes and for sure can finish way better.”

Gibbs’ top-10 streak has him up five spots to 18th in the standings.

A year ago, Gibbs admits he would have been “disappointed” with finishing ninth or 10th in four straight races in the Xfinity Series, but his move to a full-time Cup ride this year has him looking at results differently. He’s pleased but not satisfied.

“There’s times where I’m very frustrated, and I’m trying to make myself feel better and look at the positives,” Gibbs said. “‘OK, I finished ninth in the Cup Series today. I’m 20. That’s pretty good.’ But then … 20% of that feeling still may be angry because I don’t want to be finishing where that is. I want to get better every time.”

Helping him do so is crew chief Chris Gayle, who guided Gibbs to the Xfinity Series title last year. This is Gayle’s second time in Cup with a young driver. He was Erik Jones’ crew chief from 2017-20 and has taken that experience to help him with Gibbs.

“I would tell you the first time (as a Cup crew chief), I was a rookie, Erik was a rookie,” Gayle told NBC Sports. “There was lots of pressure from both sides to try to always get the last 1% of everything. I think sometimes I would make mistakes personally because I’m trying just as hard as him.

“So I think in this case (with Gibbs), I’m able to back away. I’ve been there before and say, ‘OK, both of us can’t be pushing 110% because we get ourselves in trouble. I’ve got to be more of the voice of reason and back off a little bit of that and try to let him be the guy who is young and aggressive.”

Gayle notes an example is not trying a setup that is so different from the other JGR teams, saying that “maybe it makes a little more sense to be a little closer to the teammates and learn things and just get good, solid base hits before we worry about that home run.”

Another adjustment for both Gibbs and Gayle is going from the Xfinity car to the Next Gen car. Gibbs got a head start last year, driving 15 Cup races in place of an injured Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing.

Gibbs calls it “a very big (learning) curve” to go from the Xfinity car to the Cup car.

In a way, that helps Gibbs adjust going from a season where he was often winning in Xfinity to a series where top 10s are quite an accomplishment.

“When you realize (the big jump in cars between series) and put it in the big picture, then you’re like, ‘I just have to get over this little speed bump and if I do everything and execute the same way, then eventually I’ll become a winner,” Gibbs said.

2. Livestream appeal cases?

After a confusing set of decisions by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, NASCAR changed its rule April 6 to require the panel to state a reason for its decision to modify, rescind or keep penalties as is, but some say NASCAR should go further.

“I think we should do them publicly,” Kevin Harvick said of the appeal hearings. “Why not? Right? If it’s truly fair, let’s just do it publicly and just livestream them on Let’s go for it.”

He’s not alone.

NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton also likes the idea, saying on the NASCAR on NBC podcast this week: “I think everything should be transparent. The appeals process, I think they should turn the camera on and let us all watch it. I think we should all be privy to all the information. If not, you don’t understand it. It feels inconsistent.”

The appeals panel confirmed March 29 that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule by modifying hood louvers on each of its cars before last month’s event at Phoenix, but rescinded the penalties of 100 points and 10 playoff points to each of the Hendrick drivers and teams. No explanation was given for the change.

A different group of panelists ruled April 5 that Kaulig Racing, penalized for modifying a hood louver on Justin Haley’s car, violated the rule but kept the penalties in place except reducing the 100-point penalty to Haley and the team by 25 points. Again, no explanation was given by the panel for its decision.

“As a hardcore fan, I need to know what in the hell just happened,” Burton said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast of the differing appeal results. “If I’m running a race team, I need to know what happened. If I’m driving a race car, I need to know what happened.”

Those decisions led to NASCAR making changes to its rule book in regards to what the appeals panel can do.

Car owner Richard Childress, who has appeared before the panel in the past, said he would be fine with cameras broadcasting the hearing.

“Make it transparent,” Childress said. “If I’ve got an appeal and they want to have a camera, let me tell my story and let them tell me why they don’t believe in my story.”

3. Better execution

One the goals for Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 19 team was to do a better job of execution in races after a season that saw the group fail to win a race and Truex miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Since a victory in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race in early February, things have not gone as smoothly for the team.

“Bristol’s the first clean race we’ve had all year almost,” Truex told NBC Sports of last weekend’s seventh-place result. “We’ve just had issue after issue after issue, but I feel like we’re better than we were last year. Like if we just do everything right, we’re going to be better.

“I’m looking forward to Martinsville because of how good we ran at Richmond and the Clash (win). Last year, we struggled so bad on short tracks, so I feel like we’re better. This weekend will be a good test.”

Truex has won three of the last seven Martinsville races. His most recent victory there came in April 2021.

The Richmond race was an example of the execution issues. Truex’s car did not handle well, forcing the team to pit during a caution in the first stage when much of the field did not. That meant that Truex had one less set of tires than the field.

When the field pitted on Lap 375 of the 400-lap race, Truex’s team did not have any new tires left, while most of the field had one set remaining. Truex’s team had to put on a set of scuffed tires. He restarted third but was quickly overtaken by cars with fresher tires before finishing 11th.

“I feel like we’ve got all the pieces, we’ve got all the people and now we’ve just got to do it and get in that comfort zone where things just click and you don’t feel like you’re having to try too hard,” said Truex, who is winless in his last 52 Cup points races.

4. Pushing the limits

Alex Bowman, who is tied with Christopher Bell for the most top 10s this season with six, spent Tuesday competing in the High Limit Sprint Car Series event at Lakeside Speedway, a 4/10-mile dirt track in Kansas City, Kansas.

The series was launched by Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet, the four-time defending World of Outlaws champion. Larson also competed in that event, finishing fifth.

The series features significant purses for sprint car races — Tuesday’s winner Giovanni Scelzi won $50,000 for his victory — and brings together top drivers from various series.

Bowman has a dirt background but he admits this is a challenge to compete against these drivers. That’s why he does it.

“It’s like a way to train outside my comfort zone because a big track and a sprint car I’m super uncomfortable,” he told NBC Sports. “I’m trying to figure it out against the Outlaws and all the best guys and it’s hard.”

Bowman needed a provisional to make the feature and finished 16th in the 27-car field.

“We don’t go to easy races,” Bowman said. “I didn’t make it easy on myself. I’m the guy that made the schedule and I made it as hard as possible. … I think I underestimated how hard it would be, but I think that continues to fuel me. I want to get better at it.

“I want to just be able to go places and be competitive. Like we’re decent here and there. I feel like we can be competitive at short tracks right now. … The big places I’d like to figure out and get better at. I just want to go to any sprint car race and be competitive.”

5. Odds and ends

Todd Gilliland has finished between eighth and 15th in the last four races. It marks the first time the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports has had four consecutive top-15 finishes. Gilliland has done that despite hitting the wall at Atlanta (finished 15th), twice getting his lap back at Richmond (15th) and recovering from an early accident at Bristol to finish eighth. He placed 10th at Circuit of the Americas during that streak.

Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon had an interesting comment this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about Indianapolis Motor Speedway: “I wish Indianapolis would have been once every four years. To me that would have continued to make it special, unique and I think people would have wanted to come and see stock cars be there and it’s not an every year thing. … I’m all about less is more. You give people just enough to come back and then you’ve got give them something a little bit more, something a little bit more unique and different the next time they come back or eventually it is going to kind of wear.”

Life has returned to normal for Xfinity driver Josh Williams after becoming a social media star when he parked his car at the start/finish line at Atlanta and walked away from his car after NASCAR had ordered him to go to the garage. He was suspended one race. Saturday’s race at Martinsville is his second race back since the suspension. As to what it was like to be a viral sensation, he told NBC Sports: “It was fun because I kind of got to tell people on multiple different platforms who I am and then gain more fans. A lot of fans came on board because of what I did. And then some fans came on board because they learned who I was as a person.”

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”







Dr. Diandra: Charlotte’s 600 miles test man more than machine


This weekend’s 600-mile outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s longest race. It’s the ultimate stock car challenge: not just making a car fast but making it fast for a long time.

Although 600 miles is nowhere near the 3,300-plus miles in the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pace is similar. Most of NASCAR’s 600-mile races run between four and five hours.

The 1960 World 600 set the record for this race, requiring five hours, 34 minutes, and six seconds to complete — and it had only eight cautions. The second longest race, the very next year, ran 12 minutes shorter than the previous year’s outing.

The longest race in the modern era (1972 to present) happened in 2005. That race took five hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds to complete and set a record for cautions with 22.

Last year’s event was the second-longest modern-era race. With four fewer cautions than 2005, the 2022 race took just 44 seconds less to complete.

The field for the 1960 race included 60 cars. Only 18 of those cars (30%) crossed the finish line.

NASCAR disqualified six drivers for making illegal entrances to pit road. The reasons for the remaining 36 DNFs reads like an inventory of car parts, from “A-frame” to “valve.”

The number of cars failing to finish the race decreased significantly over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon for 50-70% of the field to drop out of the race before its end. As the graph below shows, the DNF rate is now in the range of 10-30%.

A bar chart shows how DNFs have decreased over time and turned the the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

Last year — the first year of the Next Gen car — had an abnormally high 46% DNF rate. That doesn’t signify a problem with car reliability.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Increased car reliability makes people more important

Racecar evolution has changed the nature of NASCAR’s longest race. The car have become so reliable that Charlotte’s 600-mile race is now more a test of drivers than their cars.

“All of the components in the car are pretty standard,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “So you just want to make sure you have it all in good condition and dot all your I’s and cross your T’s.”

That wasn’t how it used to be. Kevin Harvick remembers that drivers used to be warned to take care of their equipment early so it would last until the end.

“The engine guys freak out because you have to go an extra 100 miles, but the parts and stuff on the car are a lot more durable than they used to be,” Harvick said. “Back in the day, it was ‘take care of the motor.’ ”

Drivers worry much less about their car’s engine today. The graph below shows how DNFs due to engine failure have decreased since NASCAR started running 600-mile races.

A bar chart shows that engine failures have gone from 50-70% to 10-30%, turning the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

In 1966, more than half the field lost an engine during the race. Only six cars have retired due to engine failure in the last five years.

While cars are more reliable, their drivers are still human. Crash-related DNFs (crashes, failure to beat the DVP clock and inability to meet maximum speed) show no clear trend over time.

A bar chart shows how the number of DNFs due to crashes doesn't show any overall trend with time

Typically, between five to 10% of the cars starting a race will fail to finish due to an accident rather than a mechanical failure. Last year’s race was an exception, setting a record for the largest fraction of the field taken out by crashes since the 600-miler began.

It’s only one data point as far as 600-mile races are concerned. It is, however, indicative of a trend observed since the Next Gen car debuted. The car is so sturdy that contact is no longer the deterrent it used to be.

Man versus machine

NASCAR’s only 600-mile outing has become an endurance race for humans. Drivers draw upon research in hydration, nutrition and fitness, hoping to create an advantage by preparation and conditioning.

“As a driver,” Daniel Suárez said, “your goal is to be as fresh at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. It isn’t about making it to the end of the race. It’s about being at your best at the end and taking advantage of other drivers who are tired.”

Harrison Burton, who ran his first 600-mile race last year, was surprised by how taxing that extra stage was.

“I figured it’s only 100 more miles than 500 and we do that fairly frequently and didn’t think it would be that different,” Burton said, “but for whatever reason when that fourth stage starts it’s definitely daunting.

Burton also noted that last year’s Coca-Cola 600 was the first time he got hungry during a race.

“It’s actually a really important race to have something to snack on in the car during the race,” Ross Chastain said. “I typically have some sort of protein bar that I can eat during a stage break just to try and keep my stamina up.”

The driver isn’t the only one whose mental acumen gets tested during the Coca-Cola 600. Crew chiefs and pit crews must work at peak form for a longer time.

“There’s more pit stops, there’s more restarts, there’s more strategy calls and there’s more laps,” Gustafson said. “There’s more everything.”

That means more opportunities to make mistakes or lose focus — or to take advantage of other drivers who do.