Jeremy Bullins

Friday 5: Cup champs among those keeping an eye on Ty Gibbs

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During last weekend’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway, reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson took advantage of a caution period to ask crew chief Cliff Daniels how Ty Gibbs was doing in his Cup debut. 

Chase Elliottdeclared the winner after the top-two finishing cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified — asked his father after the race how Gibbs performed. 

Many were interested in how the 19-year-old Gibbs, who has impressed with his success in the Xfinity Series, did in his first Cup race.  

He drove for Kurt Busch, who was out because of what Busch said were “concussion-like symptoms” after a crash in qualifying the day before. Gibbs knew he would be driving for Busch less than 24 hours before the start of the race. Gibbs finished 16th.

Gibbs will be back in the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing at Indianapolis after the NASCAR medical team did not clear Busch to drive this week. The Cup race airs at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.

“I think he’s deserving,” Elliott said of Gibbs getting this Cup opportunity. “I think he’s done a really good job on the Xfinity side.”

Gibbs has eight wins in 37 career Xfinity starts. He stunned the sport when he won last year on the Daytona road course in his Xfinity Series debut.

Gibbs is one of 12 drivers to make their Cup debut under the age of 20. That list includes Kyle Busch, who was 18 years, 10 months and 5 days when he made his first series start March 7, 2004, at Las Vegas. Joey Logano was 18 years, 3 months, 21 days when he made his first Cup start on Sept. 14, 2008, at New Hampshire.

The list also includes Chase Elliott, who made his Cup debut at age 19 years, 4 months, 1 day on March 29, 2015, at Martinsville.

Elliott got the chance to speak to Gibbs before the start of last weekend’s race.

“I just told him, ‘Man, there’s a lot going on for you in the last 24 hours.’ I had time to kind of think about my first one,” Elliott said. “Obviously that didn’t get me very far (Elliott finished 38th in his Cup debut).”

When Elliott talked to his father, Bill, after the race, the Hall of Famer gave Gibbs a positive review.

“He told me (Gibbs) ran a really good race, he was really smart about his opportunity and ran a really respectable event,” Chase Elliott said. “I’m not very surprised by that in watching him through his Xfinity racing. I think he’s done a great job for his team and put himself in position in a lot of events, been very fast.”

It was another sign of how good Gibbs is.

Gibbs’ future has been debated much of the season. While Joe Gibbs has said he prefers to keep his grandchild in the Xfinity Series another season before moving him to Cup. With Kyle Busch’s contract expiring after this season and remaining unsigned, there is speculation that Ty Gibbs could move up to Cup if Busch doesn’t return.

There’s little doubt Gibbs could move up to Cup if there was a place for him in the Toyota camp.

“We know Ty Gibbs is ready to race (in Cup),” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development told NBC Sports. 

2. Time for a change to post-race inspections?

After NASCAR’s historic decision last weekend to disqualify the winner of a Cup race — which had not happened in 62 years — series officials may need to look at a change in regards to its post-race inspection procedures.

NASCAR tears down the top-two finishing cars after a race. It was during that inspection at Pocono that an infraction was found with the cars of Denny Hamlin, who had won, and Kyle Busch, who had finished second. 

Both cars were disqualified. That meant that Chase Elliott was the winner.

Elliott’s car crossed the finish line third. The third-place car is among cars that go through inspection after the race, but those cars typically are not torn down as much as the winning car or runner-up car. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he wasn’t sure if Elliott’s car was still at the track when both JGR cars were disqualified.

Miller also said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that to have every car that NASCAR puts through some sort of post-race inspection go through the full process would take too long.

Thursday, a NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that the sanctioning body had not made any changes to its post-race procedure.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett suggested on MotorMouths this week on Peacock that NASCAR should look into making a subtle change.

“I think the third-place car needs to be held there,” Jarrett said of keeping that car at the track until the winner passes inspection.

NBC Sports analyst Steve Letarte responded by saying, “So we can learn from this and say, ‘Hey, do your inspection, just don’t put it on the (team’s hauler) … don’t be in a hurry to leave. You finish third, just let it sit right there and let’s go on with inspection.’ I’d be OK with that. That’s a small change.”

3. Safety work

Before Kurt Busch was injured at Pocono, missing that race and this weekend’s race at Indianapolis, drivers told NBC Sports they had experienced some of the hardest hits in their career this season. 

Joey Logano said that he had “never hit harder” than his crash in May’s Coca-Cola 600. Bubba Wallace called the contact he had at Atlanta in March among the hardest he’s felt. Christopher Bell said he had headaches after a couple of hits this season.

What some drivers have felt doesn’t match what data from crash recorders show, John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR, told NBC Sports this month. 

“So that leads the drivers to ask, ‘Then why do I feel the way I feel?’” Patalak said. “‘Why does it feel so harsh? The data you’re showing me doesn’t match up with what my body is telling me.’

“We’ve had those discussions with drivers. I certainly will tell a driver, ‘I absolutely don’t doubt or dispute how you feel.’ At the moment, I don’t have a great engineering explanation as to why the perception is not matching with the data that we’re seeing.”

NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton, speaking on the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan, addressed the questions about the impacts this season and how the sport is reacting.

“The great thing about where we are today is that the sports is committed to it,” Burton said of safety. “The sport and the industry is committed to providing (drivers) the best opportunity to be safe and recognizing when there’s a problem and addressing it. 

“Those things never happen as quickly as we want them to happen. It’s almost impossible for them to happen as quickly as we want them to, but we have to push hard. We have to stay committed. Safety is never reached. It’s just are we as safe as we possibly know how to be right now?”

NASCAR is undertaking various measures to improve driver safety.

Patalak told NBC Sports that series officials working on mouthguard accelerometers to measure the impact of a crash on a driver. 

While other racing series use accelerometers that are in a driver’s ear, Patalak said a mouthguard accelerometer would provide better information because the roof of a person’s mouth is “extremely well coupled to your skull. … If you put on a skin patch or an ear-plug accelerometer, your ears are loosely attached, I’ll say, to your skull.”

Patalak said when NASCAR examined using ear-plug accelerometers more than a decade ago, research stated that the “ear canal is not very well — in engineering, we say coupled, but what that means is that it’s not very well attached to your skull.

“So, those two accelerometers, they report very different things, the one attached to the skull and the one in your ear canal. So at that point in time, we didn’t pursue ear-plug accelerometers. The other main issue with that is in those tests, in order to get good attachment, you have to put the accelerometer so deeply into the ear canal that a live diver just really wouldn’t tolerate that from a comfort level.”

Patalak said that NASCAR is working on the mouthguard accelerometer for drivers with Dr. Joel Douglas Stitzel, Jr., a professor of biomedical engineering at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His research interest includes concussion in sports.

Patalak said that NASCAR has been working with Stitzel for about four years to make the mouthguard accelerometer work well for drivers.

“We have obviously had challenges,” Patalak said. “Communication is super important, has to happen from the drivers. We’ve been looking at material changes and geometry changes. During COVID, we weren’t able to put mouthpiece sensors in drivers, obviously, and we essentially took that year and redid the boards, the firmware and software to make everything smaller and work better, function better.”

He said some tests show that the mouthpiece doesn’t impact a driver speaking on the radio to the team. 

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Patalak said.

4. Top Cup crew chiefs 

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, remains the winningest active Cup crew chief but that could soon change if points leader Chase Elliott continues his hot streak.

Childers has 38 career Cup wins. Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott, has 37 career Cup wins after last weekend’s victory at Pocono. Elliott has five consecutive top-two finishes, including three victories. He’ll be among the favorites this weekend on the road course at Indianapolis. Elliott has won seven of the last 17 road course events.

Here’s a look at the winningest active Cup crew chiefs:

38 – Rodney Childers (crew chief for Kevin Harvick)

37 – Alan Gustafson (crew chief for Chase Elliott)

35 – Paul Wolfe (crew chief for Joey Logano)

30 – Adam Stevens (crew chief for Christopher Bell)

16 – Chris Gabehart (crew chief for Denny Hamlin)

11 – Cliff Daniels (crew chief for Kyle Larson)

10 – Greg Ives (crew chief for Alex Bowman

9 – Jeremy Bullins (crew chief for Austin Cindric)

6 – Brian Pattie (crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.)

5 – James Small (crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.

5. Playoffs are here 

While it’s not yet August, the playoffs begin tonight for the Camping World Truck Series. 

The opening race of the first round takes place at 9 p.m. ET at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. This marks the first time the series has raced at the .686-mile track since 2011.

The three-race opening round, though won’t end until Sept. 9 at Kansas. 

After Friday night’s race, the series doesn’t compete again until Aug. 13 at Richmond and then Sept. 9 at Kansas. 

Zane Smith won the regular-season championship, scoring three victories in 16 races.

This will be the final playoffs for Camping World as series sponsor. Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, announced Wednesday night on social media that the company would not return as series sponsor after this season. 

Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric has ‘zero regrets’ about final lap

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A day after Austin Cindric made a big block on Ryan Blaney to win the Daytona 500, Cindric said he has “absolutely zero regrets” about how he raced his Team Penske teammate.

For the second year in a row, Team Penske teammates dueled to win the Daytona 500.

Last year, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski wrecked as they battled for the win on the last lap, allowing Michael McDowell to win. That led to car owner Roger Penske meeting with his drivers to discuss how they should race each other for the win.

Sunday, Blaney and Cindric raced each other for the win.

Asked if the discussions from last year impact how he raced Cindric, Blaney said: “I wanted to try to win the race for Roger Penske. Whether that was me or another car, that’s what I was doing, and I didn’t want to make a move too early because that throws a big chance out the window. That’s about it.”

Blaney went high coming down the frontstretch. Cindric moved from the bottom up the track. They made slight contact and Blaney hit the wall.

Cindric then dived back down the track to block Bubba Wallace’s move before the finish line. 

“The last lap, I got good pushes on the bottom from (Wallace) and then I was able to get Austin in front,” Blaney said. “Off of (Turn) 4, where we were good enough to make a move, I got blocked and I ended up getting fenced.”

Asked if the block was fair or foul, Blaney said: “I don’t know. Congrats to him, I guess. You’ve got to throw a block in that situation.”

NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500
Austin Cindric celebrates his Daytona 500 win on the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Said Cindric on Monday morning about how he raced Blaney: “I have absolutely zero regrets. I think that everybody behind me put themselves in position to win the race, and I think I did the same and, obviously, it worked out quite well.

“I’m just really proud of the effort, proud of the teamwork there, proud of the teamwork with Fords throughout the race, so I’ve got zero complaints and zero regrets.”

Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske and Austin’s father, spoke with Blaney after the race.

“If there’s a guy that deserves to win the Daytona 500, it’s Ryan Blaney,” Tim Cindric said Monday. “The frustration of finishing second and so forth, I think you see that with Bubba Wallace and those that haven’t been able to do it yet.  

“Without a doubt, I talked to (Blaney) after the race as far as congratulations and he wanted it. He wanted to win the race. Every driver does. From my standpoint, you wish there could be two guys that win the race because they both deserved to win.”

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Car owner Roger Penske defended his team’s modification of wheels after Sunday’s Daytona 500.

NASCAR confiscated wheels from Team Penske and RFK Racing on Friday.

With vendors supplying parts and pieces instead of teams building their own, NASCAR has made it known that teams are not to alter such items. 

NASCAR announced in January that it had toughened its penalty structure, which included nullifying a team’s playoff eligibility.

Penske cited safety concerns as the reason the team altered the wheels. Even so, some suggest the changers could make it easier for a tire changer to put the wheel on or take it off, providing a potential competitive advantage. 

Penske said the team reached out to NASCAR on the matter.

“I think that we had contacted NASCAR a week before and said that the wheels we were getting were not all the same, and we felt we needed to modify the holes where the drive pins go,” Penske said. “We didn’t really get any feedback, and at that point we went ahead and opened the holes up.

“In fact, when you look at it, they’re much … smaller … than we had either on IndyCar or in sports car. I just think there was so much going on and trying to get the communication back and forth —we certainly talked about it with them. This wasn’t something we did under the covers trying to beat anybody. It was right there.”

Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Austin Cindric, said that the team had a set of wheels for the Daytona 500 that the pin holes did not measure to what they were comfortable using. Bullins said the team did not use that set “because we were afraid they might not go on.”

The garage is watching how NASCAR reacts to this situation.

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Bubba Wallace has long admired Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton, but it was something that Hamilton did after the controversial F1 season finale at Abu Dhabi — which cost him an eighth championship and led to the FIA removing Michael Masi as its F1 race director — that struck Wallace. 

“I still carry the pain for him and the frustration for him from the season finale,” Wallace told NBC Sports in January. “Crazy way to end. 

“The thing that you can take a page out of his book from is how he handled it after the race. … He got out and gave his praise and was thankful for the opportunity and moved on. That was it. It was just like, ‘I want to be mad, but I can’t.’ Just something to learn.”

After coming close to winning Sunday’s Daytona 500, Wallace dealt with his own frustrations. 

Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace after his second-place finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

His emotions were much different than when he finished second in this race as a rookie in 2018. He and his family celebrated the accomplishment.

Sunday, Wallace finished 36-thousandths of a second behind winner Austin Cindric — a matter of a few feet after a 502.5-mile race (extended a lap by overtime). 

After stopping his car on pit road, Wallace climbed onto the door and hung his head. When he saw a replay of the finish and how close it was, he winched. An opportunity lost. 

There’s no guarantee he’ll be as close again to winning this race. Just as there’s no guarantee Kyle Busch, a two-time Cup champ who still seeks his first Daytona 500 victory, will win this race. 

Wallace doesn’t hide his emotions and his frustration was evident. He showed that emotion but addressed repeated questions from the media without pouting, no matter how much anguish he felt. 

Just as Hamilton did at Abu Dhabi.

Long: Daytona 500 win fulfills ‘racer’s dream’ for Austin Cindric

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Austin Cindric arrived at Daytona International Speedway this week only to find his name misspelled on a sign marking his garage stall.

He will leave with his name forever marked in cement.

Such are the spoils of a Daytona 500 winner, something that the 23-year-old Cup rookie can say he is, while former champions Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski can not make the same claim. 

Sunday’s winner is the same person who was collected in a crash after the first lap of his first Daytona Camping World Truck Series race in 2017. The next year, he made 10 laps in his first Daytona Xfinity race before he crashed.

Cindric admits that if someone told him then that he would win the Daytona 500 one day, “I probably would have said, ‘Bull—-.”

Cindric overcame those early woes and improved as a driver. He won last year’s Xfinity season-opener at Daytona and followed that a year later by winning the biggest Cup race of the season in just his eighth series start. 

His success is due to his work ethic. Although he is the son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, he got no special favors.

“Quite honestly, if he didn’t get the job done, we might have changed it, but he came along, I think, as well as he could under the circumstances initially,” team owner Roger Penske said. 

Cindric said he didn’t listen to those who said he got his ride with Penske based on his last name.

“I’m not an externally motivated person, and I’m not an externally intimidated person,” Cindric said. “My head is pretty much in the game 24/7. I don’t think about much, anything else, except for racing. 

“I don’t have much of a social life. I hardly do anything else but go to the race shop and spend time either staring at my race cars or working out or spending time with my crew chief. 

“For me, I guess I don’t have time for the noise. But if there’s anything I have left to prove, I’m not sure what it is.”

That wasn’t his only challenge. After three full-time seasons in Xfinity, he was told by Penske that he would remain in the Xfinity Series.

“Probably one of the tougher meetings I had with him was when we decided not to put him into Cup,” Penske said. “ … He said, ‘You make the call. I’m going to make it happen.’ That’s exactly what he did.”

A plan was put in place for Cindric to drive for the Wood Brothers in 2022. When Brad Keselowski left to be an owner/driver at RFK Racing, Penske changed the plans.  

Cindric would take over the No. 2 ride — a move that sent Harrison Burton to the Wood Brothers. Cindric is only the fourth person to drive for the No. 2 team since 1991, following Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and future Hall of Famers Kurt Busch and Keselowski. 

Putting a rookie with such an established team, though, could have caused some problems. For a team used to winning and contending for championships, working with a rookie could have been seen as a letdown for the crew.

“We’ve been together for so long that we felt like, if we stuck together and did what we always do, we could give him the tools that he needs to learn and be successful,” crew chief Jeremy Bullins said. 

The team did. Sunday, Cindric ran with the leaders most of the day. His average running position of 6.2 was second only to Keselowski’s average running position of 4.8.

Cindric led the final eight laps, but as he crossed the start/finish line to begin the final lap, even he wondered if he would still be in the lead 2.5 miles later.

“Everyone started lifting,” Cindric said. “Everyone was trying to get their runs, and I was probably 20 percent throttle for most of the last lap, just trying to stay relatively close to where I could at least defend something or be able to be close enough to be able to get to the tri-oval.

“I knew if I got to the tri-oval and I was nose ahead, I would get it. I actually learned that Thursday night (in his qualifying race). But for me, yeah, just holding off the wolves, it’s the race that means everything to everybody. Once you come off of (Turn) 4, all gloves are off and everybody wants it.”

And Cindric got it.

After a burnout near the start/finish line that broke the car’s starter and shredded a right rear tire, Cindric celebrated with his team. While awaiting a new tire and push to Victory Lane, he sat on the hood of his car and looked up at the stands, basking in the win.

“Definitely a good time to collect my thoughts and just appreciate the moment there for a minute, to be able to do this in front of a sellout crowd, to be able to do this in general, to be able to be part of this race, having a shot,” he said.

“It’s a racer’s dream, and so many people get close to it, and I feel very grateful and very proud to be able to pull it off.”

Monday morning in Victory Lane, he put his hands in cement to leave an imprint and did the same with his right foot. Then, he signed his name in the cement block that will become a permanent part of the Daytona 500 Champions’ Walk of Fame.

Never will his name be misspelled again at Daytona.

Austin Cindric signs his name in cement that will become a part of Daytona’s Walk of Fame for Daytona 500 winners. (Photo: Dustin Long)

2021 Season in Review: Brad Keselowski

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CREW CHIEF: Jeremy Bullins

TEAM: Team Penske

POINTS: Sixth in NASCAR Cup Series

WINS: One (Talladega I)

LAPS LED: 331

TOP 5s: 10

TOP 10s: 17

QUALIFIED FIRST: Four times (Phoenix I, Kansas I, Darlington I, Watkins Glen)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Keselowski secured his eighth consecutive Cup Series playoff berth with an overtime win in April at Talladega Superspeedway. He only led the final lap in claiming his sixth career Cup win at NASCAR’s biggest track, which puts him equal with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon; only Dale Earnhardt Sr. (10 wins) has more ‘Dega victories.

Off the track, Keselowski realized his ambitions of team ownership at the Cup level. After weeks of reports and rumors, it was announced in July that he would leave Team Penske at season’s end to join Roush Fenway Racing as a driver/owner.

Along with attaining an ownership stake, Keselowski noted his long-term contract to drive for the organization and a chance to play a key role in its competition department among his reasons to make the move.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Following a trip to the Championship 4 in 2020, Keselowski and the No. 2 team couldn’t carry that form into 2021.

His single win and 10 top-five finishes were his fewest in both categories since 2015. Additionally, his 17 top-10 finishes and 331 laps led were his fewest in those categories since 2013; that season, Keselowski failed to make the playoffs after winning the Cup title the year before.

With just eight playoff points on hand, Keselowski doggedly stayed in the post-season picture. He entered the Round of 8 cut race at Martinsville just six points behind the cutline to reach the Championship 4. But needing to score a win in the final laps, Keselowski could only come away with third place.

All three Team Penske drivers in playoff contention – Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney – failed to reach the title finale.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: After 12 seasons as a full-time driver for Team Penske, Keselowski begins a new chapter at the recently rechristened RFK (Roush-Fenway-Keselowski) Racing. While driving the organization’s No. 6 entry, Keselowski seeks to help revitalize RFK, a former NASCAR powerhouse that hasn’t won a Cup race since July 2017. He’s already revealed his mission to create “a culture of high expectations” that isn’t afraid to “fail forward” – being able to try new things, learn from them, and get better.

Phoenix penalty report: Kyle Busch’s crew chief suspended for 2022 Clash

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NASCAR’s penalty report from Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway confirms that Kyle Busch‘s crew chief, Ben Beshore, is suspended for February’s Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Along with the suspension, Beshore has been fined $20,000.

Busch’s car was found with two lug nuts not secure during post-race inspection Sunday.

Earlier in this year’s playoffs, Beshore was suspended and fined for the same violation coming out of the Charlotte Roval weekend. Race engineer Seth Chavka was Busch’s interim crew chief for the next race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Five additional Cup crew chiefs have been fined $10,000 for their respective cars having one lug nut not secure during post-race inspection.

Among this group are three of the Championship 4 crew chiefs: Cliff Daniels, who guided Kyle Larson to the race win and the title; Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Denny Hamlin; and James Small, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. The others are Jeremy Bullins of Team Penske and Jonathan Hassler of Wood Brothers Racing.

XFINITY SERIES

Crew chiefs fined $5,000 each for their respective cars having one lug nut not secure in post-race inspection Saturday:

  • Alex Yontz (No. 11 – Kaulig Racing)
  • Chris Gayle (No. 54 – Joe Gibbs Racing)

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Crew chiefs fined $2,500 each for their respective trucks having one lug nut not secure in post-race inspection Friday:

  • Scott Zipadelli (No. 16 – Hattori Racing Enterprises)
  • Charles Denike (No. 26 – GMS Racing)