Stewart-Haas Racing

Ryan Preece’s hiring provides another case for an overlooked driver to shine

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To call them underdogs would be a disservice, so a better way to describe them is to say they have been overlooked.

Ross Chastain (Cup), Josh Berry (Xfinity) and Ty Majeski (Trucks) all faced long obstacles in their careers. All raced for a championship this year. While none won a title, they provide hope for grassroots racers and mid-pack drivers that there is the chance to contend for race wins and a championship in NASCAR’s premier series. 

Ryan Preece’s hiring Wednesday to drive the No. 41 Cup car for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, caps a year that has seen overlooked drivers demand attention with their performance on the track.

Preece, who came from the modified ranks, joins that group in his return to Cup. 

“This is a second chance for me, but they’re few and far between,” he told reporters Wednesday. 

After running a full season in 2016 with a low-budget Xfinity Series team, Preece took what funding he had and parlayed it into a four-race showcase with Joe Gibbs Racing. He figured it was better to get attention for running at the front than running at all. He won at Iowa in his second start that year. 

That led to a 15-race run in the Xfinity Series with JGR in 2018 and a full-time Cup ride the following year with JTG Daugherty Racing. He ran three seasons with JTG, including the final year without a charter for the team, before parting ways. 

Stewart-Haas Racing signed him to do simulator work and be a reserve driver this past season. He ran two Cup, three Xfinity and 10 Truck races this year, winning once in Trucks.

Co-owner Tony Stewart wanted Preece with SHR’s Cup program for 2023. Preece will have a second chance to show that he can have the success in Cup that he’s had in other series throughout NASCAR.

Chastain and Majeski know about second chances. 

Chastain labored for nearly four Xfinity seasons with underfunded rides before getting his break in 2018 in a three-race deal with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Xfinity program. 

Chastain won in his second start with the team, taking the checkered flag at Las Vegas. He was signed to join Ganassi’s program full-time before the FBI raided the headquarters of his sponsor and the CEO’s home in December 2018. Chastain’s funding was gone and so was his team.

He admits, for a while, he thought he was “done racing in NASCAR.

“In my head, once that (ride) was gone, I just never thought I’d have another opportunity like that, and I wasn’t mentally ready to go back and run scuffed tires (for underfunded teams),” he said before the playoffs. “Ultimately, I decided to go back and run scuffed tires.”

He ran for a low budget Xfinity and Cup team and also for a winning Truck team that season. It led him to Ganassi’s Cup ride in 2021. He moved over to Trackhouse Racing after the team purchased Ganassi’s assets. Chastain won two Cup races and finished second in the series this year.

Majeski, a Wisconsin driver who came from the Super Late Model ranks, was a part of the doomed No. 60 Xfinity Series ride at Roush Fenway Racing in 2018, sharing the car with Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe. Majeski failed to finish four of his first eight races because of crashes. While his performance improved in his final races it wasn’t enough to keep him in the series.

He went back to short track racing, running Super Late Models.

“My short track success has always sort of kept me … relevant,” said Majeski, a two-time Slinger Nationals champion and the 2020 Snowball Derby winner. “It’s been able to keep creating some opportunities for me.”

He later worked as an engineer at ThorSport Racing and didn’t get a full-time NASCAR ride until this past year in the Trucks with ThorSport. He finished with two wins and placed fourth in the series standings.

“It has been a long road and, naturally, you start to doubt yourself after you’re not able to succeed at this level,” Majeski said. “Just happy that I’ve been able to make the most of this opportunity and to go out and prove I can win races.”

Berry has been a driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has wanted to move into Xfinity for more than half a decade. After Chase Elliott won the 2015 Xfinity race at Richmond for JR Motorsports, Earnhardt spent part of his time in the press conference talking about Berry, who placed seventh in just his third series start. Earnhardt sought sponsors then for Berry but there backing wasn’t found. 

It wasn’t until 2021 that Berry got his chance. JR Motorsports signed Sam Mayer to drive for the team but he would not turn 18 until 15 races into the season. Berry, a late model star, was tabled for 12 of those races. He won at Martinsville in his sixth start that year, scoring a win for short track racers across the country.

“I’m proud of my journey to get here,” Berry said after his win at Las Vegas in the Xfinity playoffs this season.

“I believe I would do it all over again, I would’t change a single thing no matter what. But at the same time you get to this level and what you’ve done before really don’t mean a whole lot. I’ve obviously been really successful and fortunate to have some great opportunities, but when you strap into those race cars and go racing, nobody else out there cars what you did.”

Berry finished this year with three wins and placed fourth in the series.

Now, it is Preece who gets a chance to further his career and follow in what Chastain, Berry and Majeski did this year.

“We’ve had to dig deep,” Preece said. “We’ve had to fight for every opportunity because we don’t necessarily have the easy path of having the funding that it takes to make some of these cars or some of these organizations run. The little opportunities that we do get we have to take advantage of them.”

Preece also wants to help help those racing at short tracks gain attention. He calls it his responsibility.

“There’s absolutely a responsibility to it, and that’s something that I think I can do a better job at and I could have done a better job at it the first time, but it’s certainly something that I carry proudly,” he said.

“I’m from the grassroots. I’m from Stafford Speedway. This year, I’ve pulled plenty of all-nighters working to try and win races, which we did, and that’s a small glimpse of what a racer, in my eyes anyways or where I’m from, is what we are.”

Dr. Diandra: 2022 by the numbers: Overview

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The champion has been crowned and the desert wind has swept away the last bit of confetti from Victory Lane. That means it’s time for a numerical overview of the 2022 season.

I’ll start with a broad overview of who raced, when they raced and where they raced. In the coming weeks, I’ll delve deeper into topics like penalties, accidents and loop data stats. That analysis will focus on comparing drivers, but also comparing the Next Gen car’s performance against the previous car.

Logistics

45: The number of Cup Series races NASCAR officiated in 2022. That total includes:

  • The 36-race season
  • The Busch Clash
  • Two Daytona Duels
  • Four heat races for the Bristol dirt race
  • The All-Star qualifying race.
  • The All-Star Race

38: The number of points-paying races run in 2022. This includes the Daytona Duels because they award stage points.

28: The number of tracks visited. The Bristol asphalt and dirt circuits each count one and this number includes the temporary track at the L.A. Coliseum.

20 different states hosted races in 2022.A pie chart showing the distribution of track types on the 2022 schedule

7: The number of intermediate track races. The proportion of visits to 1.5-mile tracks has decreased steadily since 2011, when the schedule featured 12 intermediate track races.

6: The most superspeedway races in the Cup Series schedule ever. With the transformation of Atlanta, two races shifted from the intermediate to the superspeedway category.

6: The number of road course races. That’s one fewer than the record, seven, which was set in 2021.

3: The number of “other” tracks on the schedule. This category comprises large ovals that aren’t superspeedways, like Michigan, Pocono and Fontana. The series made the smallest number of visits to “other” tracks this year, in part because Michigan and Pocono dropped to one race each this year.

4: The most races in any one state: Virginia. The series raced three times each in Florida and Tennessee. If the Busch Clash is included, California also hosted three races — at three different tracks.

The season of racing

The remainder of this numerical overview focuses on the 36 races that make up the NASCAR season per se.

9,446: The number of laps scheduled to be run in 2022.

9,483: The number of laps actually run in 2022.

  • That’s a bonus of 37 laps and 60 miles, all due to overtime.
  • Last year, the series ran 66 laps (186 miles) less than scheduled.
  • Michael McDowell completed the most laps of the season with 9,380, or 99.91% of all possible laps.

MORE: Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway moving closer to hosting NASCAR

13,011: The total number of miles of racing in the 36 season races.

  • The Earth’s circumference is 24,902 miles, which means that Michael McDowell drove the equivalent of a little more than halfway around the world during the 2022 season.
  • The number of miles of racing is up from 2021, which totaled 12,595.

437,267: The total number of miles Cup Series drivers logged in 2022’s 36 races.

  • That number is down from the 450,039 miles drivers collectively ran in 2021.
  • To put this number in perspective, the mean distance from the Moon to the Earth is 238,855 miles. The total distance run on track during the season is just about to the Moon and back.

Days Raced

0: The number of races that started on a Monday. That might not seem worth noting, but the last time a season had no races start on Monday was 2015. Dover started on a Sunday and, due to rain, finished on a Monday.

8.3%: The percentage of races run on Saturdays. This year represents the smallest fraction of Saturday races since 2002.

91.7%: The percentage of races run on Sundays.

  • That’s the highest percentage since 1990, when 93.1% of the year’s 29 races happened on Sundays.
  • The smallest percentage since 1990 was in 2020, when only 69.4% of races happened on Sunday because COVID rearranged the calendar. But the same percentage of Sunday races were run in 2011 and 2009.

8: The number of races that went into overtime. That’s one less overtime race than in 2021.

0: The number of races shortened by weather and/or darkness.

  • There were two rain-shortened races and one darkness-shortened race in 2021.
  • The last time no races in a season ended early was 2017.

That’s not to say that weather didn’t affect this season’s racing.

3.5: Number of weather-impacted qualifying sessions. Rain cancelled qualifying at both Atlanta races and the summer Daytona race. Drivers completed the first round of qualifying at Nashville before rain kept the top ten drivers from running their second round.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings

3:19:57: The longest red flag of the season for rain, at the Daytona summer race.

  • Nashville comes in second for red flags with two delays for rain and lightning totaling 3:09:03.

Cars, Drivers and Owners

62: The number of drivers starting races in 2022. That’s down slightly from 2021, when 68 different drivers raced.

45 different car numbers were run this year.

6: The most different drivers in a single car number. J.J. Yeley drove 17 races in the No. 15 car. Garrett Smithley, Joey Hand, David Ragan, Ryan Preece and Parker Kligerman filled out the rest of the season.

27: The number of drivers who ran all 36 races. Last year, 31 drivers ran all the races.

5 full-time drivers missed one or more races due to injury or suspension.

36.7: The average number of drivers in each race

19: The number of drivers winning races this year, which ties the record for most different drivers in a single season.

  • Last year had 16 different winners.
  • 2019 and 2022 saw only 13 different winners each.

9: The number of different owners winning races in 2022. That number is up by one from 2021.

  • In 2001, the last year in which 19 different drivers won races, there were 13 different winning owners.
  • The last time nine different owners won races was in 2017.
  • Four organizations that were winless in 2021 won in 2022: Trackhouse, Petty GMS, Richard Childress and RFK. Together, those owners won nine of 36 races.

11: Most races won by a single owner in 2022. Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers won 11 races total.

  • That’s well short of their total last year of 17.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing went from nine race wins last year to six this year.
  • Stewart-Haas Racing improved from one win last year to three this year.

The season may be over, but there’s still plenty of data to crunch. The results of these analyses tell us not only who had good (or bad) 2022 seasons, but also preview drivers’ likely strengths and weaknesses for 2023.

Appeals panel upholds penalties to Cole Custer, No. 41 team

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The National Motorsports Appeals Panel upheld the penalties issued to Cole Custer and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team for attempting to help teammate Chase Briscoe at the end of the Charlotte Roval playoff race.

NASCAR fined Custer $100,000 and docked him 50 points. Crew chief Mike Shiplett was indefinitely suspended and fined $100,000. Stewart-Haas Racing was penalized 50 owner points for the No. 41 car.

The team can appeal Thursday’s decision to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer. The team has not stated if it will do so.

At issue was Custer dramatically slowing on the backstretch of the final lap as Briscoe battled for position behind him.

During the last lap, Shiplett told Custer on the team’s radio: “I think we’ve got a flat tire. Slow up. I think we’ve got a flat tire. Check up. Check up.”

Briscoe was listed in the final transfer spot via a tiebreaker over Kyle Larson on the final lap while battling Austin Dillon and Erik Jones for position. As they headed down the backstretch, Dillon, Briscoe and Jones came upon Custer’s car, which slowed and impeded Dillon.

Briscoe went to the inside and shot by Dillon and Custer on the backstretch chicane. Briscoe beat Larson by two points for the final transfer spot to the Round of 8.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said earlier this month that the comments by Shiplett proved that Custer’s action on the backstretch was deliberate.

“The data was pretty telling, and then we got to the audio and had the crew chief telling the driver that ‘I think you’ve got a flat, check up, check up, check up’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat,” Miller said. “Pretty telling as to what went on there. That coupled with the data and the video … nothing contradicted that that was done deliberately by those individuals. We were forced to react.”

NASCAR cited Custer and his team for violating Section 5.5 of the Cup Rule Book and failing to race at 100% of their ability ”with the goal of achieving the best possible finishing position in the Event.”

That section also states that “Any Competitor(s) who takes action with the intent to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event or encourages, persuades or induces others to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR. … “Artificially Alter” shall be defined as actions by any Competitor(s) that show or suggest that the Competitor(s) did not race at 100% of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the Event, in NASCAR’s sole discretion.”

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Custer and his team violated the rule set forth in the penalty notice and that the panel upheld the penalty issued by NASCAR.

The panel consisted of Dixon Johnston, Bill Mullis and Dale Pinilis.

Chase Briscoe keeps moving closer to championship goal

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LAS VEGAS — While few may have expected Chase Briscoe to make it this far in the Cup playoffs, he looks ahead to a championship he could win in four weeks.

“I think you need to think about it,” said Briscoe, who starts 16th in today’s Round of 8 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

“If you can’t think about it, you probably don’t think you have shot in the first place. I feel like we have a shot.”

He has a one-in-eight shot. That’s better than the start of the season when he was one of 36 drivers with a chance. 

Not many forecasted him as a title contender after scoring only three top-10 finishes last year in his rookie campaign. But Briscoe started well this season, placing third in the Daytona 500 and winning at Phoenix in March. His struggles, though, soon followed. 

MORE: Details for Las Vegas Cup playoff race 

He entered the playoffs with one top-10 finish in the last 18 races in the regular season and then failed to score a top 10 in any of the three races in the opening round. 

But in this unpredictable season that has seen the playoffs just as chaotic, Briscoe advanced because two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch suffered two engine failures in the round and was eliminated, as was former champion Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon.

An example of how these playoffs have followed no logical path, Briscoe scored three consecutive top 10s in the second round to earn the last transfer spot, eliminating reigning champion Kyle Larson by two points.

“This whole thing is unpredictable,” Briscoe said. “The playoffs in any sport, you see teams all the time that have not been the greatest in the regular their season kind of squeak in and they make this huge run to the playoffs when it matters the most. It’s the team that is the best in the playoffs, not the whole season, at least in this format.”

That gives Briscoe hope.

“I feel like we’ve really turned it on in the playoffs,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been racing my best races throughout the playoffs, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Should he do well Sunday, it would help lighten the mood at Stewart-Haas Racing, which has been penalized by NASCAR each of the past two weeks.

After Talladega, Kevin Harvick’s car was among two taken back to the R&D Center for further inspection. Series officials found an impropriety with the rear deck lid. NASCAR suspended crew chief Rodney Childers four races and fined him $100,000. Harvick was docked 100 points. 

After last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval, NASCAR penalized Cole Custer and his team for manipulating the finish when he slowed dramatically on the final lap when Briscoe was nearby. NASCAR fined Custer $100,000 and 50 points and indefinitely suspended crew chief Mike Shiplett. Stewart-Haas Racing is appealing the penalty.

And this week, SHR’s Xfinity hauler, carrying the cars and equipment for Riley Herbst had an accident on the way to Las Vegas. No one was seriously injured.

“It’s been a rough tough couple of weeks for Stewart-Haas Racing,” Briscoe said. “Glad that we could be that one kind of light. … Definitely trying to keep the spirits up there.”

Nothing would be better for the organization than Briscoe advancing. 

He can see it. 

Long: Kurt Busch’s growth among his greatest achievements in Hall of Fame career

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LAS VEGAS — Once known as the Outlaw, Kurt Busch morphed into a mentor and statesman in as dramatic a change by an individual in NASCAR over the past 20 years. 

Busch, the last active Cup competitor to race against Dale Earnhardt, announced Saturday that he will not compete the rest of this season and will cede his No. 45 seat to Tyler Reddick next year, as he continues to recover from a concussion he suffered this summer.

While the 44-year-old Busch seeks to race again, Saturday’s announcement closes the chapter of his full-time career in a sport that has tortured him at times but also will honor him with induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame some day. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas 

Busch won the 2004 Cup title, 34 series races and scored victories with five different organizations — well worthy of enshrinement in the Hall. Among his wins are the 2017 Daytona 500 and the 2010 Coca-Cola 600. 

On Saturday, Busch called himself a “blue-collar kid” who had success early in NASCAR and “wasn’t quite prepared for the big stardom and the corporate side of it and the professional side of it. It was kind of learn as you go.”

Busch arrived during NASCAR’s most popular era in the last 25 years. Cameras were everywhere. Mistakes, gaffes and conflicts were captured and replayed repeatedly. Busch was among those who often provided moments that live forever on YouTube.

A series of public missteps led Roush Fenway Racing to fire him late in the 2005 season and Penske Racing to do the same thing after the 2011 season. 

A driver known as much for his volatility as trips to Victory Lane was relegated to the lowest end of the sport after he lost his ride with car owner Roger Penske’s team.

There were questions about if Busch had a future in the sport, if his talent could return him to the top, a recovery few drivers ever complete once they fall so far. 

Busch went to James Finch’s underfunded Phoenix Racing team in 2012 and began a slow climb back up the sport’s ranks. After a year at Furniture Row Racing, he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and won the Daytona 500 three years later. 

For all that he accomplished, his growth ranks among the biggest achievements in his racing career. Busch was brought to 23XI Racing before this season to serve as a mentor to Bubba Wallace. Busch said Saturday he looks forward to working more with Wallace off the track, as well as Reddick.

While the challenges were not the same, AJ Allmendinger can appreciate Busch’s climb, just as Allmendinger has gone from seemingly out of the sport to contending for the Xfinity title this year and moving back full-time to Cup next year.

“We’re all different modes, but I think Kurt, you just saw whatever that switch was, he’s just a lot happier over the last several years,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports.

That’s the key, finding that balance between what happens on the track and how one responds off the track.

With his experiences, Busch can provide wisdom gained from his journey. It is something he’s willing to share. He’s also looked to impact the sport in other ways.

“What I will say about Kurt that probably not most everyone knows is that his impact from behind the scenes of wanting to progress our sport over the last few years for sure … he was pulling a lot of strings back there,” former champion Joey Logano said. “I believe he still will. It’s a true statement of a champion that he is, is that he cares about the sport. He wants to leave it better when he got here. That’s Hall of Famer to me in my opinion.”

That Busch doesn’t have the chance to go out on his terms is because of symptoms related to the concussion he suffered July 23 in a crash during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. Busch has not been cleared to race.

The only time Busch’s voice quivered during Saturday’s announcement came as he said “I will be stepping away … from full-time Cup competition in 2023.”

But he looks to continue racing once he recovers from his concussion. He noted how he still wants to win at Darlington and Watkins Glen but also looked beyond NASCAR. LeMans, Australia and elsewhere around the world are items on his bucket list.

Chase Briscoe says he’ll miss racing Busch.

“I will say that Kurt Busch my entire rookie year, I felt like on the race track, gave me more respect than anybody else,” Briscoe said. “Any time I got to me, he was super, super clean. He was the only guy in the field that, if I was faster, would let me go. I don’t know if Kurt was like that with everybody but I appreciated it.”

Ross Chastain has benefitted from Busch’s growth by learning from the former champion when they were teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing. Chastain appreciates what Busch has become.

“He’s molded himself into the person that he wants to be,” Chastain said.