Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick leaves mark as behind-the-scenes mentor for ‘my kids’ in NASCAR


The longtime persona of Kevin Harvick was a NASCAR champion who made a career of making his opponents miserable.

There are endless examples of destabilization by the former high school wrestler from Bakersfield who devilishly played withering mind games during title battles, gleefully shoved the competition into brawls and ruthlessly put himself and his team first at all costs.

But as the 47-year-old nicknamed “Happy” (a moniker with sarcastic origins) enters his final season in the Cup Series, the next generation of drivers is happy to destroy the façade of Harvick as a selfish superstar.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver they know has been a fount of good advice and emotional support. A veteran who proactively has offered a hand even when many were unaware they needed it. An available and wizened ear to bend on virtually any topic – and with virtually any driver, regardless of their history with the mercurial star.

LONG: Kevin Harvick has provided a spark for NASCAR over the years

Though Chase Elliott and Harvick engaged in one of NASCAR’s most memorable recent feuds in 2021, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said he and Harvick still “have a good relationship” that dates back nearly a decade. When Elliott was entering his rookie Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports in 2014, it was Harvick (who was running his first part-time year with JRM) who became his biggest sounding board.

“Kevin was really the veteran there in the building that was willing to help me and willing to allow me to ask questions, and I asked a ton of questions,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “We talked quite a lot there early on, and I’m grateful for that. It’s not often you have a veteran guy who is willing to lend a hand to a young racer who really had very little experience, especially coming to a lot of these tracks for the first time. And he recognized that and was willing to help. So I’ve always had a lot of respect for him in many regards. Obviously, he’s a very good driver, but just that period of time and him being willing to help me, I’ll always really appreciate that. Those are important moments in a young driver’s career.”

Bubba Wallace recalls getting an unsolicited dinner invitation from Harvick just as he was making his first Cup starts several years ago. Wallace shared the meal with Harvick and his wife, DeLana, and “just was able to chat and talk about life.

“I’ll always remember that moment of him just wanting to help,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “Just knowing that ‘Happy’ has an actual nice side to him was pretty cool to see, and from the moments that we’ve had our run-ins on track, we still race each other with respect and treat each other with respect. So I’ll always remember that moment.”

NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum - Day 2
Kevin Harvick says the renewed focus on safety issues in last year’s debut of the Next Gen car resulted in him taking a more vocal leadership role (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Harvick wants to leave that impression but would prefer “to keep it as private as possible because I don’t want them to ever think it’s so that I can talk to (the media) about it.” It’s notable that the details of these meetings have emerged years later (and only by prompting the younger set).

“When they speak about it, I’m OK with it, but I just have a real interest in trying to share the things that I’ve been able to experience and make mistakes,” Harvick said. “There’s so few guys that drive these cars, that you can really have more conversations with them and just reach out. Some of them you reach out and don’t really hear much from them. Some of them you reach out to and wind up at dinner with you or at your house having dinner.

“They need to know that you’re there. Some of them can’t believe that you reached out, because they’re trying to figure out why you reached out to them. Or understand why you’re taking an interest in things that they’re doing. And really, it’s just trying to set an example, because in the generation before me, those guys all communicated and helped each other and knew each other and I think it’s important for our group of drivers. We’ve kind of gotten away from that. Some of that may be my fault for not trying to tie that together a little bit better, but we’ve worked hard on that over the last year and a half with all the safety stuff and things that we’ve had going on and trying to have everybody sit down a little bit more.”

Harvick left the first iteration of the Drivers Council five years ago after growing frustrated with its lack of impact. But with the safety issues raised by the Next Gen debut last year, he re-emerged as an outspoken force who was adamant about advocating for his younger peers. Before the 2022 season finale at Phoenix, the father of two explained why he had been leading more publicly.

“I want to keep my colleagues informed and educated, and I’m good with doing that,” he said. “It’s just an interesting time, and something that worked out that way. I feel like most of (the younger drivers) are my kids. I don’t feel obligated, but I think the timing of it is just what it is. You do the things you think will help everybody. And try to do the right thing and balance that with what’s right for the sport.”

After being thrust into a virtually untenable situation in filling the ride vacated by the death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Harvick got sideways with NASCAR and other stars often in his early years. He was parked for a Cup race after several incidents in a 2002 truck race at Martinsville Speedway (where he also had been in a spat with Bobby Hamilton in 2001).

But Harvick managed to stick around through the guidance of some NASCAR veterans (along with late PR rep Jim Hunter). He credits Hamilton, Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett as “guys that reached out when I was in trouble and always give you advice.” Later in his career, it became teammate Tony Stewart, who would “compare notes” on his past missteps and how he handled them.

In guiding his son Keelan’s burgeoning career, Harvick has seen how young stars need “somebody outside of their circle that they can trust and ask questions to and really talk to about certain situations and know that it’s not going to go anywhere but between the two of you.

“I guess being a father has given (me) some sort of idea of what is happening with some of the kids and what they’re up against and trying to understand that. So I think as you try to understand the kids – because they are kids, and they are young – there are so many sharks in the water in this particular sport that a lot of them just don’t understand how to manage their time and all the things that are asked of them. You can’t say yes to everything at this particular level, but they’ll try for a while until they’re in trouble from their job perspective because they’re not focused on the racing side of it. But really the safety stuff brought all this into play as far as being closer to understanding who all the competitors are and the drivers.”

The bridges have gotten firmer with some younger but established drivers, too. Joey Logano’s history with Harvick is well-documented, but the two-time Cup champion said they get along really well now.

Kevin Harvick NASCAR
Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick share a moment before the Clash at the Coliseum last week (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images).

“Yeah, we didn’t take off on the best note — some of my own doings, some of maybe his doings — we’ve had the conversations, and honestly, now I probably have a better relationship with Kevin than I do 90% of the drivers out there,” Logano told NBC Sports. “I think we can relate on a lot of different levels.

“I think one of my favorite moments for Kevin is we were flying back from Vegas (after a race)  last year. We were just BS-ing and back and forth. And we were talking about kids and the mistakes that we made and how they all live on YouTube. A lot of those videos, we’re laughing about it, which is great we can laugh about it. You know that that part’s pretty cool. Now that we have a friendship, it’s kind of funny because, gosh, if you said to me 10 years ago that I would get along Kevin Harvick, I’d say you’re nuts. No way.

“But I think now like we both have changed so much that we really get along well.”

NBC Sports asked several Cup drivers for their best memories and stories of Harvick. Here’s what many said:

Corey LaJoie: While racing in the K&N Series as a teenager, the Spire Motorsports driver was assembling a car for a 2010 race at Iowa Speedway with his father, Randy, who had DeLana Harvick as a PR rep while racing in NASCAR more than 20 years ago. “It was a Penske car. We couldn’t find parts. We couldn’t find pieces. I was having a hard time getting this car together for the race. Dad called DeLana and asked, ‘Hey, my son’s having a hard time building his car. He’s not going to get ready for the race. Next thing I know, my dad (is on) the intercom at the shop. ‘Hey, Corey got a call on. Pick it up.’ ‘Hey, Corey, I hear you’re having a hard time getting this car together.’ ‘Like, yes. Who is this? Santa Claus? Who is this?’ ‘It’s (Kevin) Harvick.  ‘Well, I’ve got a machine shop and I got a couple of guys that are familiar with that car. If you want to just bring it up here to KHI we’ll get that thing together.’ And I was like, ‘Sweet.’ I couldn’t get that thing loaded up fast enough. Booked it up to Kernersville and dropped it off.

“He put Bruce Cook Jr. and four or five guys on this car. They made suspension pieces and spindles and this and that. They got the car ready to go. Because they had way more expertise at it than I did. And we showed up, and we (finished fourth). So Harvick went out on a limb and helped a brother out and pretty much got my car together. He put his people on it and that’s just how Harvick gives me (help) behind the scenes. He does a lot for people that you wouldn’t know.”

Chase Briscoe: A Cup teammate at SHR for the past two seasons, Briscoe introduced himself to Harvick for the first time before his Xfinity debut for Roush Fenway Racing in 2018 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “He was driving the 98 car kind of part-time. I was going to run the 98 car for Stewart-Haas later that year, a couple of races. And I remember going over to Kevin at Atlanta, he had no idea who I was, and I just started asking him questions. And really from that day on, we’ve had a really good friendship and he’s just been such a mentor to me on and off the racetrack. Whether it’s on the racetrack, asking him for advice of what to do and off the racetrack asking him for advice in business or things like that.

“Kevin’s kind of just always been there for me. He’s always kind of had my back through everything. He’s always believed in me. Just being teammates with a guy that’s going to be a Hall of Famer has been huge for me to kind of see how he prepares for races, just how he even debriefs after the races. His leadership role in our company. It’s been really big for me just to be able to kind of see that behind the scenes. I know I’m going to miss Kevin when he’s gone for sure, just because he’s been such a huge asset in my career and just a guy that can I always call or text for anything. I definitely just can’t think of a better teammate to have than him.”

Kevin Harvick NASCAR
Kevin Harvick and Chase Briscoe are entering their third season as Stewart-Haas Racing teammates (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Ryan Preece: Harvick’s newest Cup teammate said their friendship started after Harvick and his management company posted a weekly contingency bonus in 2018 at Stafford Motor Speedway, Preece’s local track. “I was racing those few Xfinity races and still racing pretty much full-time at the time at (Stafford). So he sponsored the program, I said thank you to him and happened to win Bristol not too long after that. He was the first one to come up to me and shake my hand. It’s little moments like that that are things that people like him do, specifically Kevin, that maybe they don’t realize the impact that they really have on a guy like me or some racers up in the Connecticut area. Through the past four years of getting to know Kevin and DeLana and Keelan and Piper, they’ve been great to my wife and I. He’s been somebody that, if I necessarily don’t know I should be doing something, he’ll shoot me a note and say, ‘Hey, I think you should you should do this,’ or, he helps you. He doesn’t necessarily give you the answer to success, but he helps you achieve it and find ways to do it.”

William Byron: “The thing that stands out with Kevin is my rookie year. A lot’s happening fast, and my second race in my career after the Daytona 500 (at Atlanta), I got lapped by him a few times that that day. And then ended up sitting down with him a couple of weeks later and having breakfast and just kind of picking his brain on racing stuff, career stuff, and just getting a better idea of kind of a direction. It really helped me throughout my rookie year, and just my career in general. Thankful for him to take that time and help a younger guy like me. He’s always followed up and ask questions, and it’s just been good to have that relationship. We’ve got a mutual friend through Max Papis. Max knows Kevin really well (and) kept urging me to kind of get together with Kevin and meet with him and ask questions. So yeah, that’s how we kind of got together. Honestly, I didn’t expect much. I was like, ‘Man, this guy’s super successful in the Cup series right now he’s winning seven to 10 races a year, probably doesn’t want to share a lot with me.’ So I wouldn’t really expect it if I were in his shoes, but he did. That’s what stood out. He didn’t mind being open and communicating.”

Ty Dillon: Though Harvick’s criticism of the Dillon brothers in a 2013 truck race at Martinsville made headlines, he grew close to them while racing for their grandfather, Richard Childress. “Kevin has had such an impact on my life, my family’s, the race team from the time he stepped in for Dale and immediately brought victory back to the company and really helped RCR get through a time that was really tough. He was the cornerstone of the race team as I was growing up. So a lot of times, he was there to talk to. I remember my first truck win at Atlanta (on Aug. 31, 2012), he called me that morning. It was like 8 or 9 in the morning, and he really walked me through the speedway at that time because he was very dominant at the racetrack on that surface. The things he told me I applied and went out and beat Kyle Busch (and) some of the top guys, and I’ll never forget that Kevin’s always been there for good advice.

“We’ve obviously had our moments later on in the truck series and, but also after the Martinsville situation, it wasn’t within a year later where we had talked about it and moved on. And you know, we have a great relationship now. He’s been very helpful and impactful to my career. Almost every year of my career. He’s been somebody that’s worth talking to and always offers the best advice, and I appreciate what not only what he’s done for me, but what he’s done for the sport and done for my family’s race team at RCR.”

AJ Allmendinger: “There’s a couple of memories that stand out on Kevin. So before I got to NASCAR — my favorite clip of all time, I watched it live — was him standing on the pit wall at Bristol, just waiting for Greg Biffle to finish the race, so he could just go spider monkey on his ass once the race got over. Which he did, which was awesome.

“The other thing is always being able to call him just with a question or anything that I had needed advice on. I could call him, and he’d never lie, or he made time for it. I always appreciated that. And then you just knew on the racetrack — and it’s probably gonna be worse this year since it’d be his last year – he’s aggressive. He don’t give a damn about you on the racetrack. And he makes sure he lets you knows that.
“(The advice) was always asking him about driving certain racetracks and how he went about it. You always knew that, Obviously, the race car was involved in that as well of how his car handled. Things like that. But to be quite honest, I asked him about what he felt like was right or wrong (for Allmendinger in 2023 when he returned to Cup full time after four years). So I asked him about what he thought the right course of direction was for me to have what I wanted to do in my life. What would be said, what wouldn’t be said about it and things like that. As tough is he is on the racetrack, you can call him and get advice, or you can ask him at the racetrack about certain things and, and he’s just as nice off the racetrack about that stuff. It meant a lot more to me than it probably really did to him taking the time out of his day to do that. That’s the type of person he is.”

Ross Chastain: Harvick was critical of Chastain after they collided while racing for the lead in an Xfinity race in 2018 at Darlington Raceway, but the Trackhouse Racing driver jokingly recalls being on the other side long before that. “I have to back up to before my career in NASCAR, I was at his first Cup win in Atlanta. Really. to be honest, I was rooting for the 24 car (of Jeff Gordon). So I was bummed. We were in a suite, and the entire group I was with was cheering when Kevin won. I was the only one that was mad. I was convinced that the 24 won. He did not.

“So that’s a cool memory to have. But now once I got into the sport, my first time racing a competitive funded car was Darlington in 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing in their 42 Xfinity car and race for the win with Kevin and Brad (Keselowski). And to be racing that that time with two champions of our sport, it was under caution, I was looking in my mirror at one of them at one point and looking at Kevin in front of me. So that was really an awesome experience. Only the both of us forced the issue off Turn 2, three wide under a lapped car, got together and hit the wall. Neither one of us had a chance to win.

“So as much as I’ve looked up to him in my career, I can honestly say that I’ve never been more happy for a guy to be wrong based on what he said after that race. It has worked out pretty well for us. So he’s a hero of mine, and I’m just happy I’ve gotten to race with him. He’s helped me actually a lot. I’ve talked to him at times for advice. He’s helped me more than anybody even knows.”

Dustin Long contributed to this story

Kevin Harvick NASCAR
Kevin Harvick announced ahead of the 2023 Clash at the Coliseum that he would move to the Fox Sports booth in 2024 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

What NASCAR Cup Series drivers said about The Clash at the Coliseum


Here is what NASCAR Cup Series drivers had to say after Sunday’s Busch Light Clash exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Martin Truex Jr. was the winner and was awarded the gold medal (for results and stats, click here):

Martin Truex Jr. — winner: “Really good race car. The guys did a great job with this Toyota Camry. Last year was a pretty rough season with no wins. To come out here and kick it off this way, just really proud of all these guys. Sometimes, you just persevere. Tonight it went our way, and we made some good adjustments, too.”

Austin Dillon — Finished second: “I hate it for Bubba (Wallace), he had a good car and a good run. I just know he sent me through the corner. I saved it three times through there, Then I was going to give the same. Probably it was a little too hard. My teammate let me try to get Truex at the end, that was nice. Been fun. Hopefully, we can do this more often.”

Kyle Busch — Finished third: “It was a battle all night long, but you can’t count us out. We used the outside on a lot of passes. When you’re deep in the field, you can do that to make up ground. Overall good to get back up to third, could have gone second, but I let Austin go. He was better than us in practice. I thought he could have a shot at trying to get close to (Truex), and I’ll push him through to get a 1-2, but never made it there.”

Alex Bowman — Finished fourth: “Yeah, I think there was a couple good restarts from the outside the beginning of the second half of the race when we had a restart every half a lap. That helped us. I think we went from eighth to second there pretty quickly. Obviously that was a big gain for us, and then just kind of got put back a little bit. I had one bad restart from the outside of the front row, and that hurt our finishing position. But yeah, really good race car, and those couple restarts kind of got us out of the mess.”

Kyle Larson — Finished fifth: “It feels good to get to fifth. I didn’t really work my way forward to fifth. It was kind of a battle of attrition. I was just kind of stuck, which I’m sure a lot of people felt stuck and always wanted to choose the outside on the restarts, but everybody in the middle of the pack figured out that the outside was better at the same time. Then it just never worked out where I could choose the outside lane and just kind of got stuck in 10th for a while, and yeah, kind of just got slammed from behind forward. Never really passed but one or two cars and came from 14th to fifth. There was just a lot more slamming around this time. Last year was the first race for this car, and we didn’t know how tough they were at the time. There was not as much slamming. I think people didn’t quite know how strong the noses and rear bumpers were. This year it was just like everybody just ran through the person in front of them. If you got a hole to get down, somewhere to get down, then the three or four cars behind would just shove them through the two in front of them. A lot of accordion, and just difficult on the restarts, especially where I was, middle of the pack.”

Ryan Preece — Finished seventh: “The fuel pump (broke). The primary pump went bad. I don’t know. I don’t think we were close on fuel. At first, I thought it was ignition because usually when it’s fuel it just keeps cutting, so I shut off my alternator and all of my electrical stuff and it seemed to help a little bit. It did it again and I lost four spots, so I just flipped the switch and a miracle happened. Ultimately, this car was so badass. It was so fast. We drove from 16th outside, inside, everything it took. I’m proud of the speed. I’m happy for the opportunity, but it sucks giving them away. That just comes from, first off, my grassroots experience, just working hard and just having a fast race car. Chad and I, we’re a new team but we’ve already got a year-and-a-half experience together and knowing lingo. If it’s off, I’ll let him know it, but if it’s that close, he’ll go with his gut. I’m hoping that we can use this as a good start, go to the 500 and win that one and get ourselves in the Playoffs and then try to win some more.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 10th: “There are just no repercussions to driving in and using the bumper of the car in front of you. They hit someone in front of them, and the car two cars up spins. The only way to do it is to officiate unnecessary contact and (send them) to the rear. But the whole field would be black-flagged if we raced like that. I don’t really have a good answer.” (Could this be a points race with Auto Club Speedway off the 2024 schedule?) “I think they should put it in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect (smiles).”

Justin Haley — Finished 11th: “I’m so proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing and where we have come in a short amount of time. The race results weren’t exactly what we wanted, but this weekend was a fun confidence booster. It’s pretty cool to get mine and Kaulig Racing’s first NASCAR Cup Series pole, points race or not, and I think we really showed we belong here. I feel pretty confident about where we are, and I think we are in a good spot to start the season.”

Noah Gragson — Finished 14th: “I felt like we had a decent No. 42 Sunseeker Resort Chevy. We just had some damage on the front from the heat race that hurt us with cooling the right front and the brakes. We got really tight in the first half of the race. We started cutting some of it away, but overall, it was just a pinball machine out there. I thought we had some good restarts; good lane choices and we were making our way back up there. We got back up to eighth but just didn’t have enough there. I kind of made some poor decisions there at the end and chose the wrong line. I thought they were all going to stack up there on the bottom, so I went to the outside and they didn’t. It’s just part of the learning curve. Thank you to everyone at Legacy Motor Club: Jimmie Johnson, Maury Gallagher, Richard Petty, Mike Beam. Everybody that’s a part of this team. They worked really hard and I’m definitely excited to start the year off with making it into this race. I’m just very thankful.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 15th: “For us, we were never really good all weekend on a short run and that kind of killed us at the beginning. We kind of lost our track position. There wasn’t really very many long runs. On long runs we would always kind of go forward and then you’d be beating and banging, obviously. I got turned around there the one time and it was really hard to pass. I felt like unless you were maybe three or four of those cars, they were really the only ones that were good enough that they could just kind of move through the field. We were one of those cars, I felt like if you put us in fourth or fifth, we would maintain, but we weren’t good enough to drive from the back to the front. We were just a little bit off. We just needed a little bit more. There was a lot of beating and banging and a lot of cautions. That was a really long race, longer than I expected. I felt like it was a good start to the season, just getting a race mentality. The race was extremely hot with the mufflers. I was getting pretty fumed out, but it’s good to kind of get readjusted to those things when we get the season back going.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 16th: “It was an up-and-down weekend for us at the Coliseum. We made adjustments after practice that helped us qualify on the front row of our heat race. We just lacked grip during the heat race and last chance qualifier. We lacked speed all day, but we made the race, made handling improvements and learned a lot to take back and build on. We’ve definitely got some work to do on this style track.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 18th: “Man, we just made a big mistake there. I didn’t get notified that it was the choose lap and we got stuck on the outside and lost track position, and then I kind of burned the tires up trying to get down. It was a track position race all night. You needed to stay in the top three or four and I felt like took off really good. The car had great speed and it was doing everything I needed it to, but you can’t make mistakes like that. I’m not sure what happened on the communication side there, but it didn’t get relayed to me fast enough that we were coming to the choose. I hate that, but still a great way to start the year. We had a lot of speed in our Ford Mustang and led some laps in the big show, but once you get in the back it turns into bumper cars. It is what it is. We’ll go to Daytona.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 19th: “It was tough. I couldn’t breathe and it was tough because of that. I think at lap 30 or so in the first stage, we had contact in the right side of the car, and that made the exhaust get some fumes inside the cabin. After that, I struggled a lot, especially the second half of the race. I felt like I was okay for a while, but then the second half of the race I struggled big time. We just have to continue to get better. I felt like the car was okay. We definitely made a big swing for the main race and we showed that, but actually went to the other side of it. We just have to continue to work and continue to learn.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 24th: “I don’t know how many laps under caution we ran, but obviously just a calculation running the LCQ and a heat race. We just didn’t anticipate running over 100 laps of caution, so that was unfortunate. It was a battle out there for sure. I feel good about how we were able to start near the back and drive up into the top 12, top 13 twice, so our car was good. It’s just a good weekend. We’ve got a lot of new guys, so it was good to get up to speed and figure each other out.”

Erik Jones — Finished 27th: “I couldn’t move over. I was clear on the straightaway, but obviously (Michael McDowell) really wanted the spot. When we got spun out, I think we must have got hit in the right rear and it bent the toe link pretty bad. It kind of is what it is. Michael has gotten me twice pretty good now, which is frustrating. I think we had a decent car. We were kind of moving up there and I felt good about it. It’s a tough little place and it’s easy to get in trouble like that. We’ll move on with the No. 43 Chevy to the Daytona 500 and hopefully go for a win.”

Chris Buescher — DNQ for main event: “It’s definitely a bummer again.  We fought hard and thought we had made some improvements.  I think we did, but ultimately it didn’t yield a much different result here.  We had some really good short track runs last year, obviously Bristol and Richmond and a couple of others, and then there were a handful that didn’t go real good, I’m thinking like Loudon, so maybe it’s one of those deals where we’ve got to dissect what’s similar and what’s plaguing us at times like these or races like this and get back on track.  It’s definitely not the way you want to start the year, but we’ll be ready for Daytona. We’re racers, though, so it hurts your feelings.  You want to be better than that and we just weren’t.  It’s not much like other places we go and it’s kind of like bumper cars out there in a lot of ways, but it’s still a race and we need to be more competitive.”

Brad Keselowski — DNQ for main event: “We’re better than we were here last year but not enough better to make the difference.  This track has gotten slick, but we’ll go swing at them next week. There’s no other track like this and we were really good at Phoenix.  We’re excited to see what we can do there.  Of course, Daytona was really good for us last year, but we have to figure something out for this track, clearly, and we’ll just keep working on it. We are getting a better understanding of the car, but just not better enough of what it needs on the vehicle dynamics side.  We’re still working through that.  We’ve got some new hires and new things going on that started last week and we’ll see if we can get better. We just never could get the corner.  We were just really loose in with both of our cars and just couldn’t turn the wheel.”

Clash at the Coliseum NASCAR Cup Series race results


Martin Truex Jr. led the final 25 laps to win The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race in the results from the first event of the NASCAR Cup Series season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing team celebrated as the 2017 Cup champion quickly rebounded from a winless 2022 in his No. 19 Toyota by winning the NASCAR exhibition season opener for the first time.

Truex became the 25th driver to win the race. It’s JGR’s series-leading 11th Clash victory.

Austin Dillon finished second, followed by teammate Kyle Busch in his debut with the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet. Alex Bowman finished fourth, and Kyle Laron was fifth.

Tyler Reddick took sixth. Ryan Preece led a race-high 43 laps in his No. 41 Ford debut for Stewart-Haas Racing but faded to seventh because of an apparent electrical problem. The rest of the top 10: Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin (who also led 26 laps in the No. 11 Toyota), and William Byron.

BOX SCORE: Click here for full results from the Clash at the Coliseum

PENALTY REPORT: Click here for infractions during the race

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Click here for postrace reaction

Aric Almirola started on the pole position and led the first 16 of 150 laps in the race, which featured no pit stops and was split into 75-lap halves.

The race was slowed by 16 caution flags (up from five last year), including 12 in the final 75 laps. Laps under yellow weren’t counted in the official distance.

Bubba Wallace led 40 laps but finished 22nd after being rooted by Dillon into a late spin.

During a series of heat and qualifying races, the field was whittled to 27 cars for the Clash at the Coliseum main event. Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher both failed to advance for the second consecutive year, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Corey LaJoie and Harrison Burton were among others who were eliminated.

Click here for the results from the preliminary events in the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum.

Main event results (150 laps): 1. Martin Truex Jr.; 2. Austin Dillon; 3. Kyle Busch; 4. Alex Bowman; 5. Kyle Larson; 6. Tyler Reddick; 7. Ryan Preece; 8. Ross Chastain; 9. Denny Hamlin; 10. William Byron; 11. Justin Haley; 12. Kevin Harvick; 13. Christopher Bell; 14. Noah Gragson; 15. Chase Briscoe; 16. Joey Logano; 17. Ryan Blaney; 18. Aric Almirola; 19. Daniel Suarez; 20. AJ Allmendinger; 21. Chase Elliott; 22. Bubba Wallace; 23. Todd Gilliland; 24. Michael McDowell; 25. Austin Cindric; 26. Ty Gibbs; 27. Erik Jones

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


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, there 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 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.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.