Friday 5: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

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The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November. 

Here are some of the photos that stood out for me:

1. Daytona 500 

Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions. 

Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.

Cindric blocked teammate Ryan Blaney coming to the finish line and beat Bubba Wallace by half a car length. 

It was the second time Bubba Wallace had finished runner-up in this race. Unlike 2018, when Wallace was excited with finishing second, Wallace felt no such emotion this time. 

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.

Austin Cindric‘s car after winning the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

A dejected Bubba Wallace after finishing second in the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

2. Road America 

The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.

This past season’s race was memorable. Tyler Reddick scored his first career Cup win on July 3. Nine days later came the announcement that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 (That timetable moved up to 2023 after RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8.).

Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.

Austin Cindric hugs Tyler Reddick in victory lane at Road America on July 3, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.

“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works. 

“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”

When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.

In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.

Tyler Reddick’s son Beau sleeps in victory lane after his father’s first Cup win in July 2022 at Road America. (Photo: Dustin Long)

3. Special moments

One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar. 

These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.

As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was replacing Custer with Ryan Preece in the No. 41 Cup car and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.

Cole Custer walks under an ominous sky at Daytona in February 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.

The track held up. So did most of the cars and the fans came. While not a sellout, more than 50,000 people attended the event and NASCAR noted that many had not purchased tickets to a NASCAR event before. The event was a success.

What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers. 

Fans stand in line for merchandise at the Clash at the Coliseum in Feb. 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).

NASCAR Hall of Famers Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Dale Inman at the NASCAR Hall in April 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

4. New winners 

This season saw five first-time Cup winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 in February), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix in March), Ross Chastain (Circuit of the Americas in April), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma in June) and Tyler Reddick (Road America in July).

I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.

Daniel Suarez at Nashville Superspeedway in June 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

5. Martinsville

Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.

Amazingly, it worked. He passed five cars and earned a spot in the championship. Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.

As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.

Turn 4 wall after Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the October 2022 race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Ryan Preece replaces Cole Custer in No. 41 Cup car

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Driver Ryan Preece has been promoted to Cup by Stewart-Haas Racing. He will replace Cole Custer in the team’s No. 41 car.

Custer, who has raced in Cup for three seasons, will stay with the team but will drop down to the Xfinity Series and be a teammate to Riley Herbst.

Preece spent much of the 2022 season as SHR’s simulator test driver and as a stand-by driver. He was instrumental in the team’s development of the new Next Gen car.

MORE: Where drivers are racing in Cup, Xfinity in 2023

“This is the opportunity I’ve been working for,” Preece said in a statement released by the team. “Nothing was guaranteed at the start of this year, but I felt like if I put in the time, whether it was in a race car or in a simulator, that SHR was the place for me. It’s a company built by racers, for racers, and it’s exactly where I want to be.”

Preece, 32, won the NASCAR Modified championship in 2013. He has driven a mix of Cup, Xfinity and Truck races and has wins in trucks and Xfinity. He won in the Truck Series at Nashville Superspeedway in June.

“Ryan Preece has been a real asset to our race team this year as we’ve developed the Next Gen car,” said co-owner Tony Stewart in a team release. “The time and effort he’s put into our program, combined with his real-world racing experience, earned him this opportunity.”

Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe and Preece will make up SHR’s Cup lineup for 2023.

Custer, the son of SHR executive Joe Custer, has driven the No. 41 SHR Ford since 2020. He scored a win in his rookie season at Kentucky Speedway.

“Cole Custer has been a part of SHR since 2017, and we’re glad to have him stay with us,” Stewart said. “Cole’s experience will be invaluable to Riley Herbst as he continues his development in the Xfinity Series.”

The team did not announce Wednesday any sponsors for Preece or who his crew chief will be.

 

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.

 

 

Joey Logano wins pole for NASCAR Cup Series finale at Phoenix

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Championship contender Joey Logano won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Logano, who ran a lap at 134.389 mph, will start first in pursuit of his second Cup championship. Other championship contenders: Chase Elliott fifth, Christopher Bell 17th, Ross Chastain 25th.

The Cup championship will go to the highest finisher of the four contenders.

MORE: Phoenix Cup starting lineup

Ty Gibbs, Kevin Harvick, Harrison Burton, Ryan Blaney and Elliott advanced to the final round of time trials from Group A. Advancing from Group B were Chase Briscoe, Cole Custer, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Logano. Elliott and Logano were the only two championship contenders to advance to the final round of qualifying.

Following Logano in the top five in the final round were Blaney, Briscoe, Larson and Elliott.

Long: Ross Chastain’s frenzied finish divides competitors

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ross Chastain was trying to comprehend what he had done nearly an hour after his video game move upended the Cup playoffs and thrilled a sold-out Martinsville Speedway while also leaving some drivers uneasy about such a maneuver and NASCAR officials pondering a possible rule change to make sure it never happens again.

“It’s sinking in the we did something that no one else has ever done,” Chastain said of his last-lap, rim-riding run. 

But what to call the wall-hugging move was too difficult a question for him to answer.

“I’ll check the Internet,” he said.

It was easier, instead, for him to answer how he drove his car into the wall as fast as he could.

“It was fight or flight,” Chastain explained. 

Chastain was two points behind Denny Hamlin for the final transfer spot to next week’s championship race on the last lap. Chastain was too far behind to gain those two positions so he put his car into fifth gear on the backstretch, planted his Chevrolet against the wall, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his vehicle around the final quarter mile while he floored the throttle.

“My brain could not comprehend, my bandwidth was shot when I entered (Turn) 3 and I grabbed fifth gear,” Chastain said. “Everything went blurry. I couldn’t comprehend it.”

It’s understandable why. Data from Chastain’s car reveals that its peak speed through Turns 3 and 4 on the last lap was 50 mph faster than a normal lap.

Cole Custer, who was trailing Chastain, told NBC Sports that he originally thought the No. 1 Chevrolet lost its brakes until he realized what Chastain was doing.

“That was crazy,” Custer said. “He’s got some balls. That was cool.”

Chastain’s car appeared to be going at a cartoonish rate of speed compared to the rest of the field.  

He passed five cars between Turn 3 and the finish line to gain enough points to beat Hamlin for a chance to race Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Martinsville winner Christopher Bell for the championship Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

“How did that work?” Chastain later said of his move.

However it did, it made for the fastest lap a stock car has ever run at Martinsville Speedway, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The track record was 18.954 seconds. Chastain’s final lap was 18.845 seconds.

Chastain said he had never tried anything like that in a car before. He said he first saw such a move more than 15 years ago in a video game. 

“My brother Chad beat me doing it,” Chastain said. 

“It flashed back in my head on the white flag (lap). … If it wrecks, OK, we don’t make it. It might not work, but I’ll try it.”

Not everyone was enamored by the move. 

Kyle Larson, who tried a similar wall-riding move at Darlington last year, frowned upon Chastain’s actions Sunday.

“It’s just a bad look,” Larson said. “I’m embarrassed that I did it at Darlington. Maybe if I didn’t do it last year, people wouldn’t even think to do that, so I’m embarrassed myself and glad that I didn’t win that way (at Darlington). It’s not just a good look. Not a good look. … It’s embarrassing.”

Larson went on to say: “If you think (Chastain’s move is fair), why would you think that’s fair?”

Logano enjoyed Chastain’s move but also suggested that the sport should not see such a daring ploy again, citing safety concerns.

“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right?” Logano said. “Now every Xfinity race, every Truck race, every Cup race, no matter the track, this wall riding is going to be a play. That’s not good. That’s not good.

“I mean, it was awesome, it was cool. It happened for the first time. There’s no rule against it. There needs to be a rule against this one because I don’t know if you want the whole field riding the wall coming to the checkered flag.”

Logano suggested that a rule needed to be in place before this weekend’s championship races in Truck, Xfinity and Cup. 

A NASCAR spokesperson stated Sunday night that Chastain’s move “was within the bounds of the rule book and (officials) will discuss any driver concerns this week.”

Hamlin, eliminated by Chastain’s charge, admitted his team’s struggles in the pits played a factor in not making it to the title race. Still, to lose on such a move by a competitor. 

“It’s funny,” Hamlin said, “but not for me. … We lost on a move that’s fair game.”

Chase Briscoe admitted that “I think all of us have thought about” doing what Chastain did but don’t.

Briscoe was the first car Chastain passed. Then Bubba Wallace, Logano, William Byron and Hamlin just before the finish line. 

“I wish that I would have done it now,” Briscoe said of Chastain’s move. “It’s like a 50-50 deal. Any of us could’ve done it, but is it fair to the (five) guys he passed? Probably not. But all (five) of us could have done the same thing.”

Instead, it was Chastain who did it.

But after watching a video of his daring move?

“I can’t believe it’s me in there,” he said.