Friday 5: Changes lead Cup drivers to moonlight in other forms of racing


As Kyle Larson and Rick Hendrick put a contract together for 2021, the car owner asked Larson what he wanted in the deal.

“I’d like to run some dirt races,” Larson said.

It was a bold request. Hendrick prevented his drivers from racing in many other forms of motorsports, including sprint cars, fearing injury. After discussing it within the organization, Hendrick relented and allowed Larson to race sprint cars.

That decision created opportunities for all of Hendrick’s drivers to race beyond NASCAR: William Byron honed his skills in Late Models. Alex Bowman ran sprint and midget cars. Chase Elliott drove in the Chili Bowl, the 24 Hours of Daytona, SRX races and a Nitro Rallycross event.

Next year, Larson will compete in the Indianapolis 500, marking the first time since 2014 that a full-time Cup driver will compete in that race.

“The crew chiefs and I have talked about it,” Hendrick said in June 2021. “They think it’s good. The safety deals are better. I’ve told (the drivers) they can drive what they want to.”

He also told his drivers something else.

“If you get hurt,” he said, “I got to put somebody in the car.”

Josh Berry is in Bowman’s car for the next three to four weeks after Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car crash Tuesday night. He was injured racing in a series Larson co-founded. Larson finished third in that event.

Bowman is the second Cup driver to be injured racing in another series this year. Chase Briscoe broke his left middle finger in a dirt late model race — which also featured Larson and Kyle Busch — a few days before the dirt race at Bristol. Briscoe didn’t miss any Cup races.

The injuries, particularly Bowman’s, bring back the issue of if Cup drivers should compete in any other racing series.

Bowman told NBC Sports earlier this month that sprint car racing is his “golf game” and a way to get away from the pressures in NASCAR’s premier series while honing his racecraft.

“I think it has its pluses and minuses, honestly,” Bowman told NBC Sports about the value of racing a sprint car. “I think anytime you’re in a race car is good. Obviously, I’m learning a lot. Every night is a learning experience in those cars.”

More drivers have raced in other series since NASCAR reduced the weekend schedule.

Four years ago, Cup teams had 150 minutes of practice spread over two days before the spring Dover race.

This weekend, Cup teams will be divided into two groups and each group will have about 25 minutes of practice at Dover. That’s a reduction of more than 80% of practice time.

It’s a trend that started when NASCAR returned during the COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR raced without practice at most events in 2020 before bringing back some practice time at tracks in 2022. Limited practice was viewed as a cost-cutting move for teams, but it might have had the biggest impact on drivers.

The loss of practice time follows a reduction of race lengths. In 2016, drivers ran 1,040 more laps than the Cup series raced last year in the same number of events. That’s nearly a 10% decrease in the number of laps run.

Then consider the limits on Cup drivers in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series. Drivers with more than three full-time years in Cup, who also score Cup points, are limited to no more than five Xfinity and five Craftsman Truck Series races a season.

The reduction in practice and race length, along with restrictions on the number of NASCAR national series drivers can run, limit their opportunities to learn in real-life situations. While simulators can help close some of the gap, it can’t replace the wheel-to-wheel action on track or dueling on a restart.

More drivers started looking to race beyond Cup after Larson’s historic 2021 season when he won 10 series races, the championship and some of the biggest dirt races in the country.

While some owners may consider further restrictions if more injuries persist, drivers are going to want to race as much as possible. If there’s not an option in NASCAR, drivers will look elsewhere to compete.

“Driving a racecar is the best thing I can be doing,” said Ross Chastain, who was scheduled to compete in his first Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model race Friday at Georgetown (Delaware) Speedway before a forecast for rain postponed the event to August.

As for racing in that dirt late model series, Chastain conceded: “I’m in way over my head. I should be in like the beginner hobby stock class … that’s like my dirt level driving ability and experience.”

But there’s a value in the experience and that’s among the reasons Chastain looked to compete in that event.

For those who want to keep drivers away from other series to keep them safe, drivers can get hurt in other ways. Hendrick knows that all too well. Elliott missed six races this season after fracturing his left tibia in a snowboarding accident. Jimmie Johnson broke his left wrist surfing atop a golf cart a few weeks after winning the first of his five consecutive Cup titles.

But it’s not just Hendrick drivers that have gotten hurt in unusual ways.

Elliott’s father, Bill, missed two races in 2000 after he suffered a fractured kneecap when he tripped and fell in his garage carrying a bag of fertilizer. Carl Edwards broke two bones in his right foot playing Frisbee with friends in 2009 but didn’t miss any races. Greg Biffle bruised ribs when he slipped trying to jump from the dock to a boat in 2009 but didn’t miss any Cup races. Denny Hamlin tore his ACL in his right knee less than two weeks before the 2015 playoffs and kept racing.

Unless drivers are going to be put in bubblewrap between races, things are going to happen. With drivers seeking more track time in other forms of racing since their Cup track time is limited, they will face the potential for injury. And car owners will face the decision of if to allow drivers to race.

2. Countdown to Chicago

It is a little more than two months until the Cup Series makes its debut on the streets of Chicago.

While NASCAR has big plans for the July 2 event, including concerts and other fan amenities that weekend, there have been questions about the event’s future even with a three-year contact.

Some of the consternation has centered on the holiday date, street closures and the city’s deal with NASCAR.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson, who takes office May 15, said in a March interview that he would review the deal if elected.

NASCAR’s contract with Chicago calls for the event to be held in 2023-25. NASCAR may request to extend the deal through 2027.

The contract states that the city of Chicago can terminate the agreement “at any time for convenience by providing NASCAR with prior written notice at least 180 days prior to the next Event. NASCAR shall not be entitled to any compensation or expectation damages due to termination by the District.”

Julie Giese, former track president at Phoenix Raceway, spearheads NASCAR’s efforts in Chicago. While the contract was done with the outgoing administration, she’s in touch with the incoming administration.

“We have had conversations with (Johnson’s) transition team and have briefed them on where we are with everything, especially over the last week with the traffic and street closures,” Giese told NBC Sports last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

“As we’ve solidified with the city what that plan looks like, we’ve spent some time with his transition team, bringing them up to speed on that, answering questions. The conversations have been very positive. For me, it’s just arming them with as much information as possible. I think, for us, the commitment we have is to put on the absolute best event weekend that we possibly (can).

“We’ve told that to the residents and the businesses and just the city in general. We owe that to them, and we’re committed to doing that. We’ve had a ton of planning meetings that really have, I think, (been) setting us up for success, but, ultimately, we have to execute a fantastic event.”

Some aldermen have raised issues about the race and the impact on the residents around Grant Park, which cars will race around and through.

“We do have an open dialogue with the aldermen,” Giese said. “We do regular briefings with them just to keep them in the loop. … (They detail) what they’re hearing from residents, businesses, sharing that with us and, honestly, I do think it’s incumbent on us, as well as the city, to just work through solutions.”

Giese confirmed that NASCAR has spent $50 million for this event, which marks the first Cup street course race.

This is among the new initiatives for NASCAR to take the sport to more people. It’s why the Clash moved from Daytona International Speedway to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, just a few miles from downtown LA. This year marked the second time the event was held at the Coliseum.

Giese told NBC Sports that 76% of the ticket buyers for the Chicago race are new to NASCAR. That means that they have not personally purchased a ticket, although they could have gone to NASCAR races with someone who purchased the ticket for them.

That number is similar to a figure NASCAR noted the first year the series held the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2022. About 50,000 fans attended that event. About 50,000 are expected for each of the two days at Chicago in July.

3. Hectic pit road 

Dover presents many challenges for drivers but its pit road is among the more difficult ones on the circuit.

Just getting to pit road can be hard. A driver has to slow down and not go faster than 35 mph or be penalized. Last year’s race had eight pit road speeding penalties and one commitment line violation.

Ross Chastain, who finished third in last year’s race, explains the challenges of getting on to pit road at Dover.

“It all starts with slowing down, and if you turn down on to the apron too soon in Turn 3, you’re going too fast,” Chastain told NBC Sports of entering pit road under green.

“It’s like Darlington. It’s scary to think about. You just have to really trust the process.”

One of the most famous incidents on pit road at Dover came in the 2004 Chase when Matt Kenseth, the reigning Cup champion at the time, came down pit road under green and lost control of his car and slammed into a tire barrier, ending his race.

“I think about that,” Chastain said in regards to what can happen entering Dover’s pit road. “I’ve spun in a truck, and I luckily spun on to pit road sideways and then straight down. I was speeding. I was going 90 mph. I was looking out the right side window at those barrels. It straightened out and I sped, but at least I didn’t hit anything.”

Once on pit road cleanly, challenges remain. A driver can’t go any faster than 35 mph or they’ll be penalized for speeding. So a driver is watching their dashboard to make sure they don’t speed. If they are coming in during a caution period, they’re right on the back of the car ahead and making sure they don’t run into that car. The spotter or crew chief is telling them when to turn into the pit stall.

“It’s the toughest multitasking part, I think, of our job really,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished second last year at Dover, told NBC Sports. “You’re listening to your spotter. They’re telling you 10 (stalls) out, then five out and your crew chief is guiding you into the box. You’re also looking for three pit stalls away. If nobody is in them, you can pull in three away.

“You’ve also got the people in front of you that you’re waiting (on to move). Sometimes they’re peeling off right in front of you. … When they peel off, they slow down, so you have got to slow down, but then you have got to get back to your speed as quick as you can. You’re looking for your sign in your pit box. I think pit road is one of the toughest things to do, depending on which track.”

4. All in a name

Trackhouse Racing co-owner Pitbull will call his upcoming album Trackhouse in a nod to the race team.

“The whole initiative when we got together with Trackhouse was all about uniting people and also creating awareness for Trackhouse and also for the sport,” Pitbull said.

“I feel that music is a universal language. It unites. It doesn’t divide. It’s the same way you can utilize the race car and how everybody loves racing, so you put them together. That, to me, is what it’s all about. How do we find different ways, unconventional and untraditional ways to be able to create awareness to unite people, bring them out to the tracks, so they have fun and enjoy (it), making them fall in love with Trackhouse on our journey.”

He admitted he had another name for the album but “then one day it dawned on me, what better stories to put together than Trackhouse and everything that’s happened to me in the music industry and what we got going on right now.”

The album will be the 12th internationally distributed album for the multi-platinum Grammy-award winning singer. The album is scheduled to be released July 7. The team will celebrate the album with a special paint scheme on Daniel Suarez‘s car this weekend at Dover.

Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain enters Sunday’s race at Dover second in the season standings. Teammate Suarez is 17th.

5. Rising and falling

With 10 races complete in the season, it’s a good time to see how drivers are doing in the points compared to this time last year. Here’s a look at those who have gained the most spots in the standings since last year and those who have fallen the most.

Drivers on the rise

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has gained 18 spots to be 13th at this point in the season

Brad Keselowski has gained 17 spots to be 12th. Last year, he was penalized 100 points, dropping him so far in the points

Denny Hamlin has gained 14 spot to be 10th.

Christopher Bell has climbed 13 spots to lead the points.

Tyler Reddick has gained nine spots to sixth with his new ride at 23XI Racing.

Driver falling

Chase Elliott has lost 30 spots to 31st after missing six races due to injury this season

Austin Dillon has dropped 16 points to 29th but part of that is due to a 60-point penalty that RCR is appealing. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Tuesday.

Aric Almirola has fallen 14 spots to 24th.

William Byron has descended 11 spots to 14th but that’s also due to a penalty.

Erik Jones has dropped eight spots to 25th.

Two drivers are in the same spot in the points as they were last year. Bubba Wallace is again 21st. Last year, he had 193 points. This year, he has 191 points. Harrison Burton is again 30th. Last year, he had 130 points. This year, he has 121 points.

NASCAR completes its list of 75 greatest drivers


In 1998, as NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary, the organization selected the 50 greatest drivers of its first half-century.

Twenty-five years later, during the season-long celebration of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, that list is being enlarged to 75.

Jimmie Johnson

He joins Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only seven-time Cup champions in series history. But no driver did what he did in winning five consecutive championships from 2006-10. His other championships came in 2013 and ’16.

Johnson won the Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 four times each. He took the checkered flag twice in the Daytona 500 and Southern 500.

He won 83 Cup races, including 11 times at Dover, nine at Martinsville and eight at Charlotte.

Matt Kenseth

Kenseth roared in from the Midwest to win 39 times in the Cup Series, scoring the national championship in 2003, the final season before the playoff system was implemented.

Kenseth’s most prominent runs were with Roush Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. He won the Daytona 500 twice, the Southern 500 and the All-Star Race.

Kenseth prepared for his success in the Cup Series with stardom in the Xfinity Series, where he won 29 times and contended for the championship in 1998 and 1999.

Joey Logano

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was labeled for stardom from his teenage racing years.

Logano has scored 32 Cup victories and won the title in 2018 and 2022. He has won at least one Cup race for 12 consecutive seasons.

Logano joined the Cup circuit full-time in 2009 and won in his 20th start. He moved from Joe Gibbs Racing to Team Penske, where he has scored his biggest successes.

Kevin Harvick

Now in his final season as a full-time driver, Harvick was thrust into the spotlight in 2001 after the death of Dale Earnhardt led team owner Richard Childress to elevate Harvick from the Xfinity Series to Cup racing.

Harvick responded, winning quickly and establishing himself as a weekly victory threat.

He has been a star in NASCAR’s major events, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 (three times), the Coca-Cola 600 (twice) and the Southern 500 (twice).

Harvick totals 60 Cup victories, putting him 10th on the all-time list. He won the Cup championship in 2014.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch has been a superstar in all three NASCAR national series.

He has won 62 Cup races and two championships (2015, 2019). He has won at least one race in 19 full-time Cup seasons.

He is the victory leader in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series.

Kurt Busch

A winner in all three NASCAR national series, Kurt Busch won the Cup championship in 2004, the first year of the playoff era.

Kurt joins his brother, Kyle, on the 75 greatest drivers list, making them just the second brother duo — after Terry and Bobby Labonte — to be so honored.

Kurt owns wins in the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. He has 34 Cup victories.

Sam Ard

Ard was a week-to-week standout on the old Late Model Sportsman circuit, winning with regularity. The tour became the Busch Series and later the Xfinity Series.

Ard ended his career with 22 Xfinity wins and won the championship in 1983 and 1984.

An injury forced Ard to the sidelines, although he stayed in the sport as a team owner.

Larry Phillips

Phillips was one of the most dominant short-track drivers in NASCAR history.

He won five national NASCAR Weekly Series championships from 1989 to 1996. His career victory total perhaps approaches 1,000. He won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts.

Phillips, who has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was based in Springfield, Missouri and raced primarily in the Midwest. He won 13 track championships in three states.

Phillips died in 2004.

Brad Keselowski

The 2012 Cup champion has 35 career series wins. He won the 2010 Xfinity Series championship and has 39 wins in that series. He also has one Truck win.

Keselowski scored at least one Cup victory in 11 consecutive seasons. His streak ended in 2022, his first season as co-owner of RFK Racing.

“I never really thought when I started my career that I would ever have this kind of opportunity and get to work with so many great people,” Keselowski said. “Just really proud of (the selection) and happy that the industry thinks that much of me to go vote me into that group. It’s humbling.”

Martin Truex Jr.

Thirty-two times a winner in the Cup Series, Truex won the Cup title in 2017.

He added that championship to a pair of Xfinity Series titles in 2004 and 2005 while driving for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Truex moved full-time to the Cup Series in 2006. He reached success after joining Furniture Row Racing, scoring 17 Cup Series wins and the championship with that team, winning eight races in the 2017 season. He moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing, the team with which he scored a win at Dover this season.

Bobby Labonte

He was announced on Friday as the latest driver to the list. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won the 2000 Cup championship.

He scored 21 Cup wins include the 1995 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 2000 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 2000 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Labonte also won the championship in 1991 in what was then known as the Busch Series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The NASCAR Hall of Famer won 26 Cup races, including two Daytona 500s, two Xfinity titles and was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver a record 15 consecutive seasons.

Earnhardt also is a champion car owner in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports and a broadcaster with NBC Sports.

When he announced his plans to retire after the 2017 season, he was asked about what he was most proud of in his career.

“You know, coming out of the gate and winning two Xfinity Championships blew me away,” Earnhardt said on April 25, 2017. “I had run 159 Late Model races and only won four. I didn’t think I was going to get a job. I thought, actually in ’97 dad came up to me and Kelley and said, ‘Your Late Model funds have dried up.’

“And I ran about seven Late Model races that year and didn’t have anything else to do going on. I was struggling to figure out what my next step was. I called up James Finch and begged him to let me drive his car and he turned me down. I still give him crap about that today. But believe it or not, I know you guys, a lot of you weren’t around or some of you were, but there was a point around ’96, ’97 where it just about didn’t happen.

“So going in there and winning those two championships and winning those a little more than a dozen races in a couple years was incredible. I was just shocked at everything we did every week. And to be doing it with Tony (Eury) Junior, Tony (Eury) Senior, my family, Uncle Danny, to be doing it with my dad’s family team was just so fun.

“Then one of the other things was coming back from our injury in 2012 and winning the Daytona 500 with Rick.  We won ‑‑ we swept the Pocono races which was really cool. But winning the Daytona 500, I always kind of wanted to leave some kind of mark here.”

Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton totaled 21 victories in the NASCAR Cup Series. He won a career-high six races in 1999.

Burton’s best finish in the seasonal point standings was a third in 2000. He finished fifth in 1999, winning six races.

Burton won NASCAR’s marathon race, the Coca-Cola 600, in 1999 and 2001 and scored a Southern 500 victory in 1999.

He drove for Roush Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Burton is nicknamed “the Mayor” for being a key advocate for safety improvements and a spokesman on any number of major issues in stock car racing.

Burton, now a racing analyst for NBC Sports, won 27 times in the Xfinity Series.

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Four-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2018.

Hornaday won Truck titles in 1996, 1998, 2007 and 2009. He drove for team owners Dale Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick in the championship years.

Hornaday won 51 Truck races, the series record until Kyle Busch won his 52nd race.

Hornaday won four times in the Xfinity Series and raced 46 times in the Cup Series without a win.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards roared into NASCAR circles from Missouri and ended his career with 28 Cup Series victories and several shots at the championship.

Edwards won for the first time at Atlanta in 2005 and scored his final victory in 2016 at Texas.

He was second in the points standings in 2008 and 2011. He and Tony Stewart finished tied for the title in 2011, with Stewart winning on a tiebreaker.

Edwards, the 2007 Xfinity Series champion, won 38 Xfinity races and six Craftsman Truck Series races.

He famously celebrated his race wins with a backflip.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott arrived in NASCAR carrying a family name built on success. His father, Bill, is remembered as one of the fastest drivers in the sport’s history.

Chase won the Xfinity Series championship in 2014. Six years later, he added the Cup Series title to join his father in that fraternity.

Through seven-plus Cup seasons, Elliott has 18 wins.

Ryan Newman

Ryan Newman rocketed to the front of the NASCAR Cup Series by showing power on qualifying day. He picked up the “Rocketman” nickname by winning 51 pole positions.

Newman scored 18 Cup Series wins. Highlights were checkered flags in the 2008 Daytona 500 and the 2013 Brickyard 400.

Newman scored eight of his wins in a remarkable 2003 season. His highest points finish was second in 2014.

Denny Hamlin

In a full-time Cup Series career that began in 2006, Denny Hamlin has won 48 times, including three Daytona 500 wins and three Southern 500 wins. He is one of only six drivers to have won the Daytona 500 at least three times.

Hamlin has won at least one Cup race in 16 of his 18 seasons.

Now 42, Hamlin continues pursuit of his first Cup championship. He was Cup runnerup in 2010 and has been in the running for the title in several other seasons.

Hamlin also has won 17 Xfinity and two Truck Series races.

Sterling Marlin

Sterling Marlin was a star on NASCAR’s biggest tracks.

A graduate of Tennessee short-track racing, Marlin won the Daytona 500 in 1994 and 1995 while driving for Morgan-McClure Racing.  The 1994 victory was his first in the Cup Series.

Marlin totaled three wins at Daytona International Speedway, two at Darlington Raceway and two at Talladega Superspeedway. He also won at Charlotte, Las Vegas and Michigan.

Marlin’s career stretched across 33 seasons — from 1976 to 2009. His top points finish was third in 1995. He led the points for most of the 2002 season but missed the last part of the year after being injured in a crash.

Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle, who raced for most of his career for team owner Jack Roush, enjoyed success in all three NASCAR national series.

He won the Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2000 and followed up by taking the Xfinity Series title in 2002.

Biffle established a goal of winning the championship in all three top series. He came close to winning the Cup title in 2005, winning six races and finishing runnerup to Tony Stewart.

Biffle won 19 Cup races, 20 Xfinity races and 17 in the Truck series.

Kyle Larson

The 2021 Cup Series championship solidified his spot at the top level of NASCAR.

A superstar of dirt-track racing, Larson jumped into NASCAR full-time in 2013 in the Xfinity Series after he had raced four times in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2012. He won 13 Xfinity races and two in the Truck Series.

He raced full-time in Cup for the first time in 2014. He scored five Cup wins over the 2016-17 seasons driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Larson underlined his talent when he joined Hendrick Motorsports, winning 10 races on the way to the Cup championship in 2021. He won three races in 2022.

Randy LaJoie

LaJoie won two Xfinity Series championships (1996-97) and is one of only five drivers to have won consecutive titles in that series.

LaJoie drove Chevrolets owned by Bill Baumgardner during the championship runs. He won five races in 1996 and matched that total the following season. He won 15 Xfinity races overall.

LaJoie also drove in the Cup Series, totaling 44 starts without a win.

LaJoie, a Connecticut driver, scored 10 victories in the NASCAR North Series and won that tour’s title in 1985.

LaJoie’s son, Corey, competes in the Cup Series and was chosen to inform his father about the 75 Greatest selection. “That’s pretty damn badass,” Randy LaJoie said of the honor.

Mike Stefanik

Stefanik won seven championships in the NASCAR Modified Series and scored two titles in the former Busch North Series. He was Rookie of the Year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1999.

Stefanik won Modified races across the Northeast from his home base in Rhode Island. He won the Modified championship in 1989, ’91, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’02 and ’06. The record-holder for wins and poles on the Modified tour, he was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class.

Stefanik died from injuries suffered in a private plane crash in September 2019.

Kasey Kahne

Kahne moved from hot laps on dirt tracks to stardom in the Cup Series. Over a 15-year career, he won 18 times, was honored as Cup Rookie of the Year in 2004 and won NASCAR’s marathon race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, three times. He also won a fall race at CMS, making the track easily his best.

Kahne broke into the Cup winner’s circle in May 2005 at Richmond Raceway. His best season was his third, as he won six races in 2006.

Kahne’s best points finish was fourth, in 2012. He drove for Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Rick Hendrick, among others.

Kahne also won eight Xfinity Series races and five in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Tony Stewart

Stewart began his career in the IndyCar Series but soon detoured to NASCAR, and he made that choice look golden as he won three Cup Series championships.

Stewart’s first two titles (2002, 2005) came for team owner Joe Gibbs. Stewart moved on to a team he co-owned — Stewart-Haas Racing — and won the championship there in 2011.

By career’s end, Stewart had won 49 Cup races, good enough for 15th on the all-time list.

Stewart built the foundation for his NASCAR success with championships and victories in Midget, Sprint and USAC Silver Crown racing. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020.






NASCAR Friday schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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Brad Keselowski‘s first and last NASCAR Cup Series wins were recorded at Talladega Superspeedway.

He scored his first Cup victory in electric fashion at Talladega in April 2009, pushing Carl Edwards into a slide — and seconds later into the frontstretch catchfence — as he took the lead in the final seconds and won the race. Keselowski is one of 12 drivers who have notched their first Cup wins at Talladega.

MORE: Toying with the number 200 at Talladega

Keselowski’s last win was in the April 2021 race at Talladega, and his winless streak stretches to 71 races.

Keselowski will look to end that run in Sunday’s 500-mile race at Talladega, a track where he has won six times, making him the leading winner among active drivers at the 2.66-mile speedway. Next on the list is Joey Logano with three.

Here’s a look at Friday’s schedule on the opening day of Talladega weekend:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mixed clouds and sun in morning. Cloudy in afternoon. High of 81 degrees.

Friday, April 21

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. — ARCA Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 4 – 5 p.m. — ARCA practice
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying

Matt Kenseth through the years: From young champ to Hall of Famer


Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth will be among those inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday (8 p.m. ET on Peacock).

Kenseth joins Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine in the Hall of Fame’s 13th class. The Hall will have 61 members after Friday’s ceremony.

Kenseth, 50, will be among the younger inductees to the Hall. His Cup career began in 1998 and ended in 2020. He scored 39 victories in 697 Cup starts and a championship.

Here is a look at Kenseth’s career through the years …


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Matt Kenseth with Bill Elliott before the fall 2001 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Craig Jones/ALLSPORT)

Kenseth’s first Cup start came as a fill-in for Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. Kenseth’s debut took place Sept. 20, 1998, at what was then called Dover Downs International Speedway. He drove Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s car to a sixth-place finish. Elliott missed the race to attend his father’s funeral.

“It’s a sad deal for Bill and his family, but I’m real flattered they picked me to drive this car because there are a lot of good drivers here,” Kenseth said after qualifying Elliott’s car 16th.



Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr
Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona in July 2003. (Photo By Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

The first time Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced against each other in NASCAR was April 19, 1997, at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Kenseth finished 11th. Earnhardt was 39th.

They both ran full-time in what was then the Busch Series in 1998. Earnhardt won the series title that year. Kenseth was second. Earnhardt repeated as champion in 1999. Kenseth placed third that year.

They both moved to Cup in 2000. Earnhardt drove for his father’s team, Dale Earnhardt Inc. Kenseth drove for Roush Racing. Kenseth won Rookie of the Year honors.



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Matt Kenseth celebrates the Winston Cup series title at North Carolina Speedway on Nov. 9, 2003. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Kenseth’s smooth driving style and consistency, a trait many compared to Hall of Famer David Pearson, led to the 2003 Cup title. Although Kenseth won only once, he had 25 top-10 finishes in 36 races and was so far ahead of the field that he clinched the title with one race to go.

This was the last year the champion was determined by a season-long points total. The Chase would debut in 2004 and morph into the playoff system used today.



January Testing Day 9
Teammates Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle during NASCAR Nextel Cup Series testing Jan. 31, 2006, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Kenseth drove five Cup races for car owner Jack Roush in 1999 before moving to Cup full-time for the team owner in 2000. Kenseth drove for Roush from 2000-12.

His teammates at Roush included Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch, among others. Kenseth scored 24 wins with the organization.


Daytona 500 champion 

2012 Daytona 500
Matt Kenseth celebrates his second Daytona 500 win in 2012. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Kenseth’s career includes two Daytona 500 victories. He won the 2009 rain-shortened race and won the 2012 race, leading the final 38 laps in that event.

Kenseth won the 2009 Daytona 500 after starting 39th. It marked the first time Ford had won the event since 2000.

Kenseth’s 2012 victory came in a race that was postponed a day and run under the lights at Daytona International Speedway. The race was delayed after a parts failure caused Juan Pablo Montoya to lose control of his car and hit a jet dryer under caution, sparking a fire on the track. The race didn’t end until after midnight, finishing early Tuesday.


New teammates 

2013 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour
Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing, speak to the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour on Jan. 24, 2013. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kenseth moved to Joe Gibbs Racing before the 2013 season. His debut season proved memorable. He won a career-high seven races, including the night race at Bristol.

Kenseth finished second in the season standings. Jimmie Johnson beat Kenseth by 19 points for the championship. Kenseth would go on to win 15 Cup races at JGR.


One last Cup victory

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500
Matt Kenseth celebrates his win at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 12, 2017 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Kenseth earned his 39th and final Cup win in the 2017 playoff race at Phoenix Raceway, taking the lead with 10 laps to go.

“I don’t know what to say but thank the Lord,” Kenseth told NBC’s Rutledge Wood after climbing out of his car on the frontstretch. “Just got one race left. Everyone dreams about going out a winner. So, we won today, no one is going to take that away from us.

Kenseth returned to Cup in 2018, running 15 races in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing to help the team diagnose the struggles with that car. Kenseth sat out the 2019 season but was called back to duty in 2020, replacing Kyle Larson after he was fired at Chip Ganassi Racing. Kenseth ran the final 32 races of that season.


NASCAR Power Rankings: Best drivers without a Cup championship


For most of its 75-year history, and particularly since the early 1970s, the focal point of the NASCAR Cup Series has been the season championship.

Winning the title was noteworthy prior to the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. joining NASCAR as its primary sponsor, but the stacks of money provided by the Winston cigarette brand increased the importance of the championship exponentially. To be known as a “Winston Cup champion” became a much-coveted honor.

Over the years, many talented drivers have chased the championship, won dozens of races, come close to winning the title trophy and built Hall of Fame careers, all while failing to reach that ultimate goal.

Here are 10 of the best “non-champions.”

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin had the look of a championship driver from his first full-time season (2006), when he finished third in the standings. Along the way, he has won the Daytona 500 three times, won 48 Cup races and built a Hall of Fame resume. In the race for the championship, however, he has finished second, third three times, fourth twice and fifth twice.

2. Mark Martin — Martin was Denny Hamlin before Denny Hamlin. He chased the championship across 23 full-time seasons in the sport, falling short on several agonizing occasions. He was second five times and was in the top five in eight other years. Forty Cup victories and a reputation as a racer’s racer gave him clear entry into the Hall of Fame.

3. Junior Johnson — Johnson was the opposite of a “points” racer. He drove cars like there was no tomorrow. The result was typically a win, a wreck or an exploding engine. Although he won 50 races as a driver and later six championships as a team owner, there would be no driving title for Johnson.

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4. Davey Allison — Truly his father’s son (Bobby won the championship in 1983), Davey checked every box that might be listed under “champion” in the early years of his career. He barely lost the title in 1992 but seemed on track to compete for numerous championships down the road. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993.

5. Fred Lorenzen — “Fearless” Freddy, smart, fast and handsome, was a runaway star in Cup racing in the 1960s. He won 26 times between 1961 and 1967 and never ran a full schedule (although he finished third in points in 1963).

6. Fireball Roberts — The sport’s first superstar never raced a full Cup season. He won 33 races, including at least one every year between 1956 and 1964, when he died from injuries suffered in a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He finished in the points top 10 six times.

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7. Ricky Rudd — Rudd drove for numerous teams, including his own, and won 23 times. A fierce competitor (ask Kevin Harvick about this), Rudd won at least one time every season for 16 consecutive years. He scored his best points finish — second — in 1991.

8. Carl Edwards — Edwards was solidly consistent throughout a career that produced 28 victories and earned him a shot at the title in 2011, when he tied Tony Stewart but lost the championship on a tiebreaker. He likely would have been in more championship races in future years but decided to retire early.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Junior, who won 26 times in Cup, repeated much of his father’s successes on the sport’s biggest tracks but fell short of joining him in scoring championships.

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10. Tim Richmond — Richmond had a short but brilliant career, winning 13 times across seven seasons. In 1986, he won seven races and finished third in points. Fast, fearless and controversial, he died of AIDS in 1989, two years after his final race.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Burton, Jim Paschal, Curtis Turner, Geoffrey Bodine, Buddy Baker, Greg Biffle, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant.