NASCAR President Steve Phelps meets with Denny Hamlin

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin confirmed that he met with NASCAR President Steve Phelps before Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The meeting came a day after Hamlin’s explosive comments to the media, saying the Next Gen car needed to be redesigned and blaming “bad leadership” by NASCAR for the safety concerns with the car.

Asked by NBC Sports about the meeting with Phelps, Hamlin said: “I don’t have any details on it. I’m grateful for Steve Phelps. He is a leader that we need. He is not who I directed any of my comments toward because he’s a huge asset for our sport.

“Me and Steve talk about much bigger and broader things than the safety of the cars. He’s got a lot bigger tasks ahead of him. I don’t task him or bog him down with knick-knack things like car safety.”

Asked if Phelps discussed Hamlin’s comments to the media in their meeting, Hamlin said: “We talked about that because we have that kind of relationship. I trust Steve. Best relationship I’ve had with any president of NASCAR. He’s done a lot for our sport. I made it very clear that I wasn’t directing anything at him.”

Hamlin’s frustration — and that of other drivers — has been the hard hits competitors have suffered in the car. The new car was designed to be stronger and better protect drivers in crashes similar to Ryan Newman’s airborne incident in the 2020 Daytona 500 and Joey Logano’s airborne crash in the April 2021 Talladega race. 

While the car has been improved for those accidents, the more common crashes, particularly those where the car backs into the wall, have been felt more by drivers.

Both Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman are out because of concussion-like symptoms after rear-end crashes. Busch, who has been out since late July, said this past week that he is “hopeful” to return this season. Car owner Rick Hendrick after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway said that he is hopeful Bowman can be back as early as this coming week for the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval.

The injuries to Busch and Bowman and the hard hits have raised the tension in the Cup garage. 

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticism Saturday about the car and series officials.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

In regards to the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “The car needs to be redesigned. It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned. It needs to be redesigned everywhere.”

Hamlin appeared on “Countdown to Green” before Sunday’s race on NBC and spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, who also leads the Drivers Advisory Council, about the car and his comments to the media.

“It’s not about what we can do right now, it’s what we can do about the future,” Hamlin said of the car. “In my mind, if we’re redesigning something for 2024, we need to be designing it now, testing it throughout the 2023 season and then implementing it for 2024. 

“There is no easy answer to this. This has been a buildup. We’ve been talking about this as drivers for over a year now. So that’s where the frustration has boiled from. 

“Certainly saying what can we do to fix it next week, it’s impossible. There’s a box that we’re in that we can’t get out of now. My thing is that while a (rear) clip is a really good thing —and I think it’s a start — we need to be in the redesign process of the entire car and that has to start now if we’re to implement that anytime in the next 12 to 14 months.”

Hamlin also said in that interview that he felt a responsibility to speak on behalf of drivers, particularly the younger drivers, on such issues. He noted that it was a mantle he and Kevin Harvick have taken.

“I do feel like at times that me and Kevin have the brunt of the responsibility to go out there and voice what we hear from our competitors and our peers. But as you are starting to see in the media, guys like Chase Elliott and others are starting to voice their displeasure and what they would like to see different as well.”

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing: A long, sometimes rough, road

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Of the 16 drivers racing Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway to earn spots in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, one is likely to draw the most attention.

Kyle Busch. And for multiple reasons.

Saturday night’s 500-lap marathon will be Busch’s first Cup race since the Tuesday morning announcement that he will depart Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season to drive in 2023 for Richard Childress Racing.

Busch enters Saturday’s race in a bit of trouble. He is 13th in the 16-driver standings, two points below the cut line. He needs either a win Saturday or a move on the positive side of the cut line to continue pursuit of a third Cup championship in the Round of 12.

A failure to qualify for the playoff’s second round would mark the first time Busch has been eliminated in the opening round, and it would be a major black mark on what will be his final season with JGR and a rather ignominious result for a driver of his caliber.

A collapse in the playoffs would not be the darkest of times for Busch during his 15-year JGR tenure, however. The partnership between one of the sport’s most volatile drivers and the former Super Bowl-winning football coach has been one of amazing highs — dozens of victories and two Cup championships — and embarrassing lows.

That their long ride together has come to an end is a low in itself. Busch figured to close his career in the warm embrace of Toyota and Gibbs; instead, he is moving to a Chevrolet team that has promise but isn’t considered at the sport’s top level.

Instead of breezing into retirement somewhere in his 40s and possibly opening the door for major-series competition for his son, Brexton, Busch faces a bit of rebuilding at RCR, which has two drivers — Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick — in his year’s Cup playoffs but has scored only four wins since 2019 and no Cup championships since 1994.

Busch will arrive at the doorstep of the Childress shop with a history of altercations, including, ironically, a significant one with his new boss. Aggravated at how Busch was racing his Truck Series drivers in 2011, Childress punched Busch several times at Kansas Speedway in 2011, absorbing a $150,000 fine from NASCAR. That incident, quite serious at the moment, was played for laughs at Tuesday’s press conference as Childress presented Busch with a watch, a reference to Childress asking someone to “Hold my watch” before engaging in fisticuffs with Busch 11 years ago.

Even if he misses a crack at another title, however, Busch’s time with the Gibbs team is one of the most remarkable driver-owner success stories in stock car racing history.

He has scored 56 of JGR’s 198 Cup victories and won his two titles (2015 and 2019) in Gibbs cars. Since Busch joined JGR in 2008, his 56 wins top the overall winners list, with Jimmie Johnson (50) and Kevin Harvick (49) next. It is not stretching matters too far to imagine that Busch’s Cup win total with JGR could have been doubled. He has finished second 51 times for the team.

Busch has led a staggering 17,335 laps in JGR Cup cars.

In addition, Busch practically owned the Xfinity Series for a time, winning 90 times in JGR entries and finishing second 40 times.

Pockmarked in that run of success are Busch’s battles with other drivers, crew members, his own crew chiefs, media members and a significant collection of fans. Although Busch has a big fan support group that he has labeled Rowdy Nation, many fans delight in his failures, give him thumbs-down (and other fingers) at driver introductions and even boo his team hauler as it rolls by.

There is not a lot of middle ground in the Kyle Busch landscape.

In 2008 at Richmond Raceway, Busch, newly arrived at JGR after leaving Hendrick Motorsports, which replaced him with Dale Earnhardt Jr., made what Junior’s extensive fan base considered a major no-no. Fighting for position, the two cars crashed, sending Earnhardt Jr. hard into the wall.

That sparked a feud that fans of the two drivers were only too happy to pour fuel on. Earnhardt returned the favor in the next race at Richmond, spinning Busch.

Earlier that year, at Atlanta, Busch had scored a historic win, putting Toyota in a Cup victory lane for the first time.

Across the years, Busch’s ride would include more ups and downs:

  • In 2009, he and Tony Stewart tangled at Daytona.
  • At Bristol in 2010, he logged a remarkable achievement, winning the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races there on the same weekend.
  • In 2011, he crashed into Ron Hornaday’s truck at Texas Motor Speedway and was suspended for the rest of that weekend’s racing at the track. At Darlington that season, Busch and Kevin Harvick had an on-track disagreement. Harvick parked beside Busch on pit road and tried to hit him through the driver-side window. Busch moved away in his car, and Harvick’s car, minus its driver, rolled into the pit wall.
  • In 2015, Busch ultimately would win his first Cup title, but the year started under a big cloud when he crashed hard in the February Xfinity race at Daytona, breaking his leg and missing three months of racing.
  • In 2017, Busch, angered by Joey Logano‘s aggressive racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, made a beeline for Logano’s pit after the race and threw a punch at him. A collection of crew members became involved in the scuffle.
  • Busch won his second Cup championship in 2019 and now is the only active driver with more than one title.

Saturday night he continues along the road toward another. And toward the end of the biggest part of his racing journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Jones to join JR Motorsports in 2023

Brandon Jones JR Motorsports
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Brandon Jones will join JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2023, the team announced Wednesday morning.

The 25-year-old Jones will drive the No. 9 car at JR Motorsports. He replaces Noah Gragson, who will drive for Petty GMS in the Cup Series in 2023.

Jones, who has been at Joe Gibbs Racing since 2018, has five career Xfinity Series wins, including a victory this season at Martinsville Speedway.

“Brandon’s been a tough competitor over the years, and he’s a talented addition to JR Motorsports,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, JRM co-owner and general manager, in a statement. “He’s a series veteran that brings a lot of experience, and we’re going to see big things from Brandon and the 9 team in 2023.”

Jones said in a statement: “To watch how competitive JRM has been over the years is really impressive. They’re a threat to win every week, and one of the premier teams in our series. I’m so thankful to Dale (Earnhardt Jr.), Kelley and Mr. Hendrick for allowing me to be part of it.”

Sponsorship and Jones’ crew chief will be announced later.

Report: Kyle Busch going to Richard Childress Racing in 2023

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KANSAS CITY, Kans. — Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch will leave Joe Gibbs Racing for Richard Childress Racing after this season, according to a report Saturday by The Athletic.

The report came shortly after Busch was asked by the media at Kansas Speedway if he would be going to RCR next season. Busch said: “I do not have any new news to share. If I did, I guarantee there would be some sort of big announcement. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been one of those yet. We’re still working on it behind the scenes trying to put it all together. It’s not done.”

A move to RCR would end Busch’s 15 years with Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch acknowledged Saturday that he was closer to resolving his future.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train,” he said. “It is sunshine, so that’s a positive thing and trying to keep the train on the tracks right now for a little bit longer.”

An announcement on Busch’s future is expected early next week.

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports, is in Laguna Seca for Sunday’s IndyCar finale and was asked if Busch will be a Chevy driver next season.

“When you’re involved in eight series around the world, there is a silly season on drivers, teams and teams switching manufacturers goes on all the time,” he told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan and The Associated Press. “What we’re focused on right now is the championships for IndyCar, same thing for NASCAR. So what happens and where people land, it’ll work itself out.”

A pairing of Busch and Childress presents a unique tandem among former combatants. 

Upset with Busch’s actions toward his drivers in the Truck Series, Childress found Busch in the garage at Kansas in 2011, removed his watch and repeatedly punched Busch. NASCAR fined Childress $150,000 for instigating the altercation.

Busch said Saturday his relationship with Childress has improved, even joking about negotiations: “Who’s to say he hasn’t punched me again in any of these conversations?”

Busch went on to say Saturday: “Whenever you go into negotiations, it’s never fun, so you’re duking the whole time. I think you grow up and you work through things and you talk it over. Really it was fine the first time I sat down with him, and everything was okay. 

“The biggest thing about it was just having an opportunity to kind of put that behind us. It was no different than going on the Dale Jr. Download and talking about 2008 and crashing (Earnhardt) at Richmond. You get through it and you talk about it and life moves on.”

Busch has been headed on this path after a sponsor pulled out of negotiations with Joe Gibbs Racing earlier this year. The team needed a new sponsor after Mars, Inc. announced last year that it would not return to the team and the series. 

Joe Gibbs Racing was in talks with Oracle, a technology corporation based in Austin, Texas, to sponsor Busch’s No. 18 team, but that fell through when the technology market changed and Oracle began looking at cutting costs and issuing layoffs. 

Without a sponsor, it became more difficult for Gibbs to sign Busch. He talked with other teams. Those who emerged as the leaders were Kaulig Racing, RCR and 23XI Racing. 

Matt Kaulig, owner of Kaulig Racing, declined to answer questions from NBC Sports and Fox Sports last weekend at Darlington Raceway if he was out of the race for Busch. Kaulig only smiled and walked away. 

A key element with Busch is the status of Kyle Busch Motorsports, his Camping World Truck Series team, which won Friday’s truck race at Kansas with John Hunter Nemechek.

Asked Saturday if there is more clarity on that organization’s future, Busch said: “I’m definitely not comfortable with where that’s at yet. Trying to put all the right things in the right places simultaneously was the objective and the goal. It’s not going to happen that way, but we will certainly keep fighting for that to make sure that KBM is at the forefront and we have a place to go race trucks next year.”

Chevrolet’s Campbell acknowledged the benefit of a stronger NASCAR Truck program.

“We have a decent-sized Truck field,” Campbell said. “I think we need to bolster our Truck program. We’re strong in Cup. We’re strong in Xfinity. We have not been as strong in the Truck side.

“We’ve just got a couple of drivers that are going to vie for the championship, and we washed one of them out yesterday, so we’ll see where it goes.

Busch joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 after he was let go by Hendrick Motorsports to make way for Earnhardt.

Busch has scored 56 of his 60 career Cup wins with Joe Gibbs Racing. No driver has won as many Cup races since 2008. Busch gave Toyota its first Cup win at Atlanta in the fourth race of the 2008 season. 

He won Cup titles in 2015 and 2019 while at JGR. Busch is the only active series driver with multiple championships. 

Ty Gibbs is expected to replace Busch in the No. 18 Cup car next season at Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs, who is racing for the Xfinity championship this season, has been running Cup races in place of Kurt Busch since Busch has been out because of a head injury suffered in a crash at Pocono in July.

Tyler Reddick is under contract through next season at Richard Childress Racing before moving to 23XI Racing in 2024. 

Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing, said Saturday that he didn’t think Reddick would join the team next season.

“I think Tyler would like to play out his contract at RCR and that’s what he’s always intended,” Hamlin said. “We’ve not planned for anything otherwise. Kurt’s going to drive the 45 as far as we understand and unless he says differently and if he does say differently, then we have a couple options that we’re looking at. But we never intended on getting Tyler before 2024.”

Said Reddick: “I’m just going to keep doing my job, the task at hand. That’s what we did today and got a pole, we were fast in practice in a lot of measures. So yeah, if if I was pretty bored during the week and didn’t have a lot going on, wasn’t spending a lot of time trying to prepare, it’d be easy to get distracted and give that some of your mind and some of your attention. Thankfully, I stay busy with my team.”