Front Row Motorsports Cup teams to have new crew chiefs in 2023

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Both Front Row Motorsports Cup teams will have new crew chiefs in 2023, the team announced Wednesay.

Travis Peterson will be the crew chief for the No. 34 car that has been driven by Michael McDowell. Peterson replaces Blake Harris, who will be the crew chief for Alex Bowman in 2023 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Peterson, 31, has been a race engineer. He spent the past five seasons at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. He worked with drivers Chris Buescher, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth during that time. Peterson previously served as a race engineer at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and also at JR Motorsports.

“I think there are a lot of people in the NASCAR garage who are noticing what Front Row Motorsports has accomplished with the new car and their truck program,” Peterson said in a statement from the team.

“This is an opportunity to come into a winning and championship organization and help take that next step of getting more wins in the Cup Series and be in the playoffs. I’m ready to get to work. I’ve always had the goal of becoming a crew chief, and now I’m ready to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Front Row Motorsports also announced Wednesday that Seth Barbour, who had been the crew chief for the No. 38 driven by Todd Gilliland, has been named as the organization’s technical director. Barbour will oversee all track engineering and car preparation processes for the Front Row Motorsports Cup cars.

A new crew chief for the No. 38 team will be announced later.

Also, Ryan Bergenty, car chief for the No. 34 team, has been promoted to performance director and will oversee all body and chassis assembly for all Front Row Motorsports entries.

“The past two seasons Front Row Motorsports has seen success and we’re taking the next steps forward,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, in a statement.

“We know that Travis is a person that can immediately come in, take the baton, and continue to move the No. 34 team to the front. We also made several changes internally to help with car preparation and engineering for all our race cars and trucks. Our final piece is finding a new leader for the No. 38 team. We’re confident that with these changes that we’ll be even better next season.”

Front Row Motorsports has not announced its driver lineup for next season. Both McDowell and Gilliland have said they plan to be back with the organization.

Silly Season scorecard: New faces, new places

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Joey Logano soon will officially be crowned NASCAR’s 2022 Cup Series champion in Nashville, but time waits for no driver. Already fans are eyeing the start of the next season on the short track at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.

The schedule will be somewhat different – there’s that big, unprecedented turn in the summer as Cup cars race for the first time on the streets of Chicago, for example — and there will be old names in new places (Jimmie Johnson, for one).

Here’s a look at the NASCAR Silly Season scorecard, at least as it currently stands. As with all things Silly, don’t be surprised if things change before 2023 arrives.

Cup Series

No. 1: Ross Chastain, the surprise driver of 2022, returns to keep the fire burning — and the watermelons smashing — at Trackhouse Racing.

No. 2: Austin Cindric, Daytona 500 winner and rookie of the year, returns to Team Penske.

No. 3: Austin Dillon returns in Richard Childress Racing’s flagship number.

MORE: Can Petty GMS make a big move forward in 2023?

No. 4: Kevin Harvick will seek a return to playoff power.

No. 5: Signed by Hendrick Motorsports through 2026, Kyle Larson drives toward a second championship.

No. 6: Now firmly established as the boss at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, Brad Keselowski will look to boost RFK’s profile in his second season there.

No. 7: Corey LaJoie returns, and why not put his face on his car hood for Daytona again?

No. 8: After a long and successful run at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch joins Richard Childress Racing. What will happen? Just watch.

No. 9: Chase Elliott might be in this car for the rest of his career. He’s signed through 2027.

No. 10: Aric Almirola announced his retirement but made an abrupt U-turn and will return to this car for Stewart-Haas Racing. Bring the bacon.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: The Champ is No. 1

No. 11: Denny Hamlin tries again to nab that first championship.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney, Mr. Almost But No Point Wins in 2022, is back with Team Penske.

No. 14: A return to Stewart-Haas Racing for one of the surprise drivers — Chase Briscoe — of 2022.

No. 16: AJ Allmendinger jumps back into Cup full-time for Kaulig Racing.

No. 17: Chris Buescher scored RFK Racing’s first win this season.

No. 18: No announcement about Kyle Busch’s replacement, but odds favor Ty Gibbs.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. considered retirement for a while but will be back with JGR for at least another year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell was Mr. Magic in the 2022 playoffs. He’s back for another shot.

No. 21: Harrison Burton returns for another season in the iconic Wood Brothers car.

No. 22: The champ, Joey Logano, won’t be leaving the Penske ride.

No. 23: Bubba Wallace is back.

No. 24: William Byron remains at Hendrick Motorsports.

No. 31: Justin Haley makes another run for Kaulig Racing.

No. 34: Michael McDowell a likely returnee to Front Row Motorsports.

No. 38: Todd Gilliland expected back for another run with FRM.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at 2022’s numbers

No. 41: Ryan Preece takes over this ride from Cole Custer in 2023.

No. 42: Noah Gragson, fresh from a sensational season in Xfinity, moves up to Cup with the new and improved Petty GMS team, now co-owned by Jimmie Johnson. Johnson plans to run a part-time Cup schedule with the team — car number not yet known.

No. 43: The King’s car will carry Erik Jones again.

No. 45: Tyler Reddick drives from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI in one of Silly Season’s biggest moves.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse returns.

No. 48: Alex Bowman expected back full-time after missing several races late in 2022 with concussion-like symptoms.

No. 54: Ty Gibbs will drive this car, while Joe Gibbs Racing parks the No. 18 for the 2023 season.

No. 77: Ty Dillon moves from Petty GMS to race for Spire.

No. 99: Daniel Suarez, now a Cup winner, is back for Trackhouse.

Xfinity Series

No. 1: Sam Mayer returns to JR Motorsports for a second season.

No. 2: Sheldon Creed returns to Richard Childress Racing.

No. 4: Bayley Currey is back at JD Motorsports.

No. 7: Justin Allgaier returns to JR Motorsports for another shot at an elusive title.

No. 8: Josh Berry looks to reach the playoffs again for JR Motorsports.

No. 9: Brandon Jones departed Joe Gibbs Racing to drive for JR Motorsports.

No. 10: Landon Cassill is back with Kaulig Racing.

No. 11: Daniel Hemric returns with Kauling Racing.

MORE: Start times revealed for 2023 season

No. 16: Chandler Smith moves into the Kaulig Racing vacancy left by AJ Allmendinger.

No. 21: Austin Hill returns to Richard Childress Racing and also will run six Cup races for Beard Motorsports.

No. 39: Ryan Sieg back for another season.

No. 45: Ryan Ellis returns.

No. 48: Parker Kligerman will run Xfinity full time for the first time since 2013.

No. 51: Jeremy Clements back with his family team.

No. 78: Garrett Smithley will race full time for BJ McLeod Motorsports.

No. 98: Riley Herbst returns to this ride and will have Cole Custer as a teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

 

 

Brad Keselowski goes winless but more focused on building RFK Racing

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – As Joey Logano headed for his second Cup championship Sunday, the driver who paved the way for Logano’s arrival at Team Penske saw his season go up in smoke. Literally.

A fire ended Brad Keselowski’s race at Phoenix Raceway, leaving him with a 35th-place finish and completing his first winless Cup season since 2010.

This year was going to be a challenge for Keselowski after he left Team Penske — where he won a Cup title, 34 races and convinced team owner Roger Penske to hire Logano in 2013 — to become an owner/driver of RFK Racing this season. 

Only 14 drivers in NASCAR history have had more consecutive seasons with at least one win than Keselowski’s 11, but the former champion said the day before the season finale that the end of the streak would not be devastating. He had other priorities.

“If I’m able to do what I want with this company — and we’re on the track to do it — it’s not going to mean a damn thing to me,” Keselowski said of the streak. “Part of the risk of taking the opportunity and making the move I did is giving up some of those stats, which feel good in the moment, but 10-20 years from now, I’m not going to remember or care about those things. 

“What I’ll remember and care about is whether I was able to take this company where it was a year ago to where I want it to be in the next year or so. That’s what is going to matter.”

While Keselowski didn’t win, teammate Chris Buescher did, giving the organization its first Cup victory since 2017. Buescher had a career-high 10 top-10 finishes, including his win at Bristol in the playoffs, but also failed to finish six races. Keselowski had six top 10s and failed to finish three races. 

Neither driver finished in the top 20 in points. Buescher was 21st and Keselowski was 24th. 

Keselowski was penalized 100 points in March after Atlanta for modification to a single-sourced piece and was disqualified after last month’s Martinsville race because his car was below minimum weight. The disqualification cost him 41 points. Without those two penalties, Keselowski would have finished 19th in the driver standings. 

“I definitely didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted to, but looking realistically at the challenge, probably somewhat on schedule,” Keselowski said. 

“I think we’ve got a lot of things coming over the offseason. … We’ve got a lot of things we’re doing to progress that have come over the last 6-12 months of understanding where the company is at and making the moves accordingly to get both race teams where they can compete for wins.”

Keselowski said his first year as a Cup owner has been one of much work.

“It is what it should be. Hard,” he said. “And I appreciate that challenge.”

Keselowski was asked to compare the challenges of owning a truck team, which did from 2008-17 to a Cup operation.

“It’s similar (to truck team challenges), it’s just every check has another zero on it,” he said. “Things that cost 50 grand, cost 500 grand, things that cost 500 grand cost 5 million. 

“More expensive is the biggest thing but all the same values and principles hold true of how you treat your people. How you develop your car. How your interact on a daily basis with company, team, sponsors and all the stakeholders. So the fundamentals are all the same just a little more expensive and a little more competition.”

Dr. Diandra: Can the Cup Series reach 20 different winners?

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It’s nail-biting time for people who predicted the NASCAR Cup Series would reach 20 different winners this year.

The 2022 season tied the record for most distinct winners after Chris Buescher became the 19th winner at Bristol. But how likely is it that a new driver gets his first win of the season in the last two races?

How many drivers win their first race in the season’s last 10 races?

Let’s consider seasons from 2001 to the present. I picked 2001 because that’s when 36 races per season became the norm.

In the plot below, I represent the number of distinct winners after the first 26 races of each year — what we now call the regular season — in green. New winners in the last 10 races of each year are shown in gray. The red numbers at the top are the totals for each season. Even before 2001, the series never reached 20 different winners.

A stacked vertical bar chart comparing the number of distinct winners after 26 races to the number after 36 races

The most recent season with 19 different winners was 2001. Although there were no playoffs then, 15 different drivers won during the first 26 races. Drivers notching their first wins of the season took four of the last 10 races.

That tells us that it’s possible to have four new winners in the last 10 races of a season. It happened in 2013 as well. Seasons like 2014 and 2016, however, had zero new winners in the playoffs.

The average number of new winners in the final 10 races is 1.9 over the last 21 years. We’re already over the average with three this year.

But the 2022 season has bucked more trends than it has followed.

Records already broken

The 2022 playoffs are already unlike any other playoffs since the format began in 2014. The next graph details who typically wins the last 10 playoff races.

A stacked bar chart showing the status of drivers who won playoff races, 2014-2022

Let’s start with the simplest year: 2016. The solid green tells you that all 10 playoff races were won by a driver still eligible for the championship at the time of the win.

The bars for 2018 and 2019 are also all green, but with two hatched races. Eight races in each of those years were won by drivers still in the hunt for the championship. Two drivers who had qualified for the playoffs on points won their first races of the season in each of those years.

In total, seven drivers pointed into the playoffs and then won their first race of the season during the playoffs. That hasn’t happened this year, but only one driver made the playoffs on points.

Yellow bars represent drivers who made the playoffs, but had been eliminated when they won. That happened to Alex Bowman last year, along with two drivers each in 2014, 2015 and this year.

Hatches on yellow are for drivers who won their first race of the season after they’d been eliminated from the playoffs. That was Kyle Busch in 2020 and Matt Kenseth in 2017.

I reserved red for drivers who didn’t make the playoffs but won a playoff race. No red appears until 2021 when Bubba Wallace won Talladega. That was both his first win of the season and his first career win.

Drivers not in the playoffs at the time of their win have won more playoff races in 2022 than any other year. Three drivers got their first race wins of the season in the playoffs this year.

Even if playoff drivers win the last two races, they will have won only 50% of the playoff races, the lowest percentage in playoff history. If non-playoff drivers win the next two races, playoff drivers will have claimed only 30%.

Running out of time

Only two races remain in the 2022 season. So how many of these new winners in the last 10 races won the last or second-to-last race?

Here’s the same type of graph, with blue bars representing the number of winners in the first 34 races of each season. The seven gray bars show years in which a new winner won the last or second-to-last race of the season. About one-third of the seasons featured a new winner in the last two races.

A stacked vertical bar chart comparing the number of distinct winners after 34 races to the number after 36 races

In 2001 and 2013, winless drivers took the checkered flag at the final race of the year. Robby Gordon accomplished that feat in 2001 and Denny Hamlin in 2013. But both years were before the current playoff system started.

That leaves five drivers who got their first win of the season in the second-to-last race of the year. Those five seasons are 2003, ’10, ’11, ’12 and — importantly — ’17. Importantly because 2017 is the only season in this sample using the current playoff system. Matt Kenseth won the second-to-last race that year.

Getting to 20 different winners

Here’s the catch: Who’s left to win? Ryan Blaney is the only driver who made it into the playoffs on points. He has the fourth best average finish (14.3) and the fourth best qualifying average (10.5). He did win the All-Star Race this year. To secure the record and his place in the championship four, Blaney must minimize mistakes, avoid fading at race end, and focus on getting good restarts.

It looked like Martin Truex Jr. might get his first win of the year at Homestead last week. Then a combination of sun in his eyes and Kyle Larson on his tail sent him for a spin on pit road. And that’s hardly the only bit of bad luck he’s had this year.

Truex’s season stats don’t engender much optimism. Although he has the second-highest number of fastest laps, he is seventh in average running position, sixth in laps led and eighth in average finish. His average qualifying is only 15.0 (tied for 15th), which doesn’t bode well for a track like Martinsville.

Between a new team and a new car, Brad Keselowski has an average finish of 18.3. Keselowski has improved over the season, but so have his competitors.

Aric Almirola has a better average finish than teammate and playoff driver Chase Briscoe by 0.1 positions. But his average finish at Martinsville is only 20.3.

Overall, Blaney seems the best bet for the Cup Series to reach 20 different winners in 2022.

 

Friday 5: Team Penske turnaround could lead to two teams in title race

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Team Penske has turned around its performance on 1.5-mile tracks and it could be enough to get two of its cars in the championship race.

Joey Logano became the first driver to make it to next month’s title event at Phoenix Raceway by winning last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Could Ryan Blaney be next?

The 1.5-mile tracks have played a key role in the playoffs. Four of the 10 playoff races — including Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) — are at 1.5-mile tracks. Homestead marks the third race in the last five at 1.5-mile tracks. 

Earlier in the season, it didn’t appear as if a stretch of 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs would be good for Team Penske. The organization had no finish better than 11th at Las Vegas, Kansas and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the first half of the year (Atlanta is not included since it mirrored superspeedway racing after its changes). Team Penske drivers led 2.3% of the 954 laps run in those races.

But in the three playoff races on 1.5-mile tracks, Team Penske has a victory and four top 10s. The organization also has led 14.7% of the 868 laps run at those speedways.

“It’s kind of a building momentum thing,” Travis Geisler, competition director for Team Penske, told NBC Sports. “I thought we were pretty good at Kansas and found some things. We were able to go to Homestead and work it out a little bit. We were able to go to Texas and probably be a little better than where we’ve been.”

The Kansas playoff race in September marked the first time a Team Penske car scored a top-10 finish. Blaney was ninth there.

“It’s such small incremental changes,” Geisler said of the improvement at the 1.5-mile tracks for Team Penske. “You can’t wholesale change anything. It’s just tiny little tweaks. I think the engine shop has done a great job. They’ve been working really hard for us to get us an advantage in that area.’’

With limited practice time and single-supplier parts, it can make it challenging for teams to overcome deficits to the field. Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano, said a tire test at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway in June helped the team. Team Penske carried what it learned at that test into the second half of the year and to an organizational test at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month. 

“Having those opportunities, I’m thankful that we were able to take advantage of it, because it’s one thing to test, but you’re hoping you can learn something, as well.”

They have. Logano finished second at Texas before his Las Vegas victory. Blaney has won a stage at both races.

Wolfe also said that Blaney was good at the Homestead test.

“There’s no reason he can’t go to Homestead with the speed there and have an opportunity to win, as well,” Wolfe said.

If Blaney wins this weekend, it will mark his first points victory of the season (he won the All-Star Race at Texas in May). A Blaney victory also would mark the fifth consecutive year the championship race will have had teammates in the event. 

Last year’s title race was between two organizations. Both Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports had two cars each in the event. Team Penske last had teammates racing for the championship in the final race in 2020 with Logano and Brad Keselowski.

2. Keep an eye on … 

Denny Hamlin was the driver who stood out the most to Chase Briscoe at last month’s Homestead test.

Hamlin ranked third on the speed chart the first day and fifth the second day. 

“I felt that Denny was the best car by quite a bit,” Briscoe said. “I felt like we were kind of a 10th (of a second) or two better than almost everybody else and then Denny was like two or three tenths better than us. 

“He was pretty unbelievable. Short run. Long run. It didn’t matter. He was just lights out. They were the car to beat if we were racing on that weekend.”

Hamlin has eight wins between Homestead and Martinsville, the final two races in the Round of 8. His victory total at those two tracks is more than seven other remaining playoff drivers combined (five). Hamlin has three wins at Homestead, tied for the most all-time with Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle. Hamlin has started first in each of the last five Homestead races.

3. In search of another manufacturer

A recent report by SportsBusiness Journal stated that Dodge’s talks about returning to NASCAR had stalled. That keeps the Cup Series at three manufacturers: Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. 

Toyota was the last manufacturer to enter the sport, doing so in 2007. Dodge was still in the series then, giving the series four manufacturers. Dodge left NASCAR after winning the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski and Team Penske. 

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development is surprised there there remains only three manufacturers in NASCAR’s premier series. 

“Our perspective as a car manufacturer is we want to compete,” he said. “We compete in the showrooms and the more manufacturer engagement the better. That’s why we love sports car racing because there are nine manufacturers we race against in IMSA. We love that.

“So, it’s terribly disappointing that we’re still only three manufacturers (in NASCAR). We’re in far too delicate of a position as a sport because we can’t afford to lose any one of us. NASCAR can’t afford to lose any one of us. But it’s business, you don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re in the midst of what appears to be a recession. Inflation is impacting each of us from a business perspective. You want to be a little deeper in terms of manufacturers.”

So does NASCAR still work for Toyota?

“It absolutely does,” Wilson said. “We still talk to the fans. We still get a tremendous lift. We’re not going anywhere. Our commitment and our resolve is as strong as it has ever been. I’m not worried about Toyota, but I’d like to get another make or two because the sport would be better for it.”

4. No duplication 

There have been 10 different winners in the last 10 Cup races. The last time there were 11 different winners in a row in a season was 2012. 

The winners in the past 10 races are:

Las Vegas — Joey Logano

Charlotte Roval — Christopher Bell

Talladega — Chase Elliott

Texas — Tyler Reddick

Bristol — Chris Buescher

Kansas — Bubba Wallace

Darlington — Erik Jones

Daytona — Austin Dillon

Watkins Glen —Kyle Larson

Richmond — Kevin Harvick

Also, the last seven races have been won by seven different teams:

Las Vegas — Team Penske

Charlotte Roval — Joe Gibbs Racing

Talladega — Hendrick Motorsports

Texas — Richard Childress Racing

Bristol — RFK Racing

Kansas — 23XI Racing

Darlington — Petty GMS

5. Been a long time

This weekend’s Homestead race will come 602 days since the last race there Feb. 28, 2021. William Byron won that race, which was the third event of last season.

There have been 66 races between that race and this weekend. There have been 24 different winners, including first Cup wins for Bubba Wallace, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick.