Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.

 

 

2022 spotlights: The Clash, the King and Martinsville Mania

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.

In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: The name game

There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.

Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:

Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a roaring success. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.

Wiggling at Watkins Glen – The venerable New York road course produced another hot finish as teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win. Larson forced Elliott out of the main groove and took the lead for good with five laps remaining. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win,” Larson said. Elliott didn’t publicly criticize Larson, but it was clear he wasn’t pleased with Larson’s move.

MORE: Fighting knights and pie in the sky

Six hundred miles, and then some – The long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 600-mile race has produced some great competition – and some races that prompted long naps. This year’s was one of the craziest and, by the way, the longest. The race went to two overtimes, finally ending after 413 laps and 619.5 miles, making it the longest race in NASCAR’s 75 years. The winner – perhaps most accurately described as the survivor – was Denny Hamlin, who outran teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps.

The King is back…but where is he? – The Cup playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway with the storied Southern 500, but the playoffs took a back seat to other storylines. Erik Jones scored an upset win in Richard Petty’s No. 43, marking the iconic car’s first victory since 2014. Petty, however, missed the Victory Lane festivities. He and Dale Inman, the No. 43’s former crew chief, left the race early for the drive home to North Carolina. The long night held several incidents, including one involving Kevin Harvick, who criticized NASCAR after his car caught fire, uttering his now-infamous diatribe about what he called “crappy-ass parts.”

No watermelon, but a lotta juiceThe finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway generated international interest. Christopher Bell won in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, but the post-race spotlight was on Ross Chastain, who rode the outside wall through the final two turns at speeds rarely seen on the short track and finished fourth, good enough to stay in the championship hunt. Chastain’s remarkable move drew comment from observers outside NASCAR, including Formula 1 drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Friday 5: Will Petty GMS be next breakthrough Cup team?

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After the success of Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing this season, could Petty GMS be the next new team to stand out in Cup?

Trackhouse Racing, in its second year of competition, had both cars finish in the top 10 in points and Ross Chastain race for a championship. 

23XI Racing, also in its second year, would have had Kurt Busch in the playoffs before he was sidelined by a concussion. 

Next season will be the second for Petty GMS. The organization is a result of Richard Petty Motorsports merging with GMS Racing before the 2022 season. 

Petty GMS returns Erik Jones, whose Southern 500 victory was the organization’s first Cup win, to the No. 43 team. Xfinity title contender Noah Gragson and crew chief Luke Lambert join the No. 42 team. 

The organization, co-owned by Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty, also adds Jimmie Johnson as a co-owner and a driver for select races. 

“Me and Maury talk all the time about what can we do to improve our situation, make our business bigger, win some more races,” Richard Petty said. “He called me one day and said, ‘I’ve been talking to Jimmie Johnson,’ and I said you’ve got to be kidding. Jimmie Johnson wants to be involved with us, and we’ll be involved with him? 

“This has got to be one of the biggest things that has happened to the Petty crowd and GMS. With Jimmie adding on with his popularity and the people he knows and we don’t know, it had to be a heck of a deal. 

“From my standpoint, it’s a big, big step. Not just for one year. I’m looking further down the road. If Jimmie comes in, does his deal. I’m 85 years old, so I’m not going to be here for another 15 or 20 years, and then Jimmie can kind of take over. That had to be a plus-plus.”

Johnson’s deal with the team came together quickly. He first visited the team’s shop Sept. 12, eight days after Jones’ Darlington victory.

“We laid it out, this is what we’ve done the last nine months,” Joey Cohen, competition director for Petty GMS told NBC Sports, about how team officials sold Johnson on the organization. “We didn’t have this. We didn’t have that. Here’s what we’ve done in nine months. 

“If you give us another nine months, we’ll double or triple this. We’ll force multiply this effort we’ve put in, and it’s going to be another level that we’re going to be at nine months.”

Cohen said team officials told Johnson “if you come onboard … it’s going to happen even faster.”

Even before last week’s announcement that Johnson would join Petty GMS as a co-owner and part-time driver, he was working with the team.

“Jimmie has already been involved in some meetings on the technical side, on the aspects of where we’re going on the vehicle side,” Cohen said shortly after the announcement. 

“(Team President) Mike (Beam) mentioned it the other day, we were preparing for this like it was going to happen even before it happened, knowing that this is something we needed to add to Petty GMS. It was a strategic mission to try to get somebody like Jimmie.”

Johnson will drive in the Daytona 500. His other races have not been announced.

The Daytona 500 could have an interesting lineup of cars vying for the four spots set aside for non-charter cars. Johnson will be in a third Petty GMS car. Truck champion Zane Smith will drive a third entry for Front Row Motorsports. Austin Hill will take over the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports. Those are cars without charters that have been announced for that race. More non-charter cars are expected. 

2. A new entry 

Soon, Kyle Larson will open the journal that has been passed along by Cup champions since 2011 when Jimmie Johnson started it and passed it along to Tony Stewart. 

Every year since, it has been handed down from champion to champion. Joey Logano has called it “the best kept secret in our sport.

“That’s the best part about this is that nobody even really knows what it is. Nobody knows … what’s written in it.”

The journal’s existence was kept hidden until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing it to Martin Truex Jr.

“That’s been one of the coolest things about this whole deal is taking possession of it and getting to read it,” 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott after he received it. 

“It makes you wish that somebody had started that back 30-plus, 40 years ago to just see what some of those guys would have to say or even when NASCAR was started. I think it would be really cool.

“On the flip side, I think about the guy or the girl who wins the championship in 2050 or 2060. How cool is that going to be to look back to see what Tony Stewart had to say or what Jimmie Johnson had to say, two legends of our time. Really cool tradition and proud to be a part of that.”

Larson says he will read the journal again for inspiration of what to write before handing it to Logano.

“It’s something that’s so special that you want to read it once when you get it and once again before I give it to the next guy,” Larson said. “It’s an extremely special book. 

“That was the thing that I was most excited about from winning the championship was to receive that. … I hope I can win other championships down the road to see what’s been passed on since me.”

3. Looking ahead 

Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 19 team will look ahead after a forgettable season that saw the team fail to win a race and make the playoffs.

“The story of the year for us, really, was missing opportunities,” Truex said. “Look at some of the races we had where we were pretty much dominant, should have won. We gave away a lot of races. We gave away a lot of points in other races where we ran good but didn’t finish good and put ourselves in a bad spot.

“We need to work on figuring out how to take advantage of those opportunities better next year and do what we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Asked about any changes to his team, Truex said: “I don’t foresee any. I love the team. I think we’ve got a great bunch of guys.

“We need to figure out some pit road issues. We need to figure out some simulation issues. There are going to be some changes with the cars this offseason, and we need to get on top of that and see where that puts us. Short tracks and road courses, obviously, have been really tough for us this year. We need to figure those out, as well. Lot to look at, look to work on.”

Truex says he remains motivated.

“My mindset every weekend is I know we can go win,” he said. “That’s what keeps you hungry, keeps you coming back, keeps you motivated. I’ve had years where I knew (when) we were showing up, we weren’t going to have a chance to win. 

“So from that standpoint, it really wasn’t that difficult. It was more that by the end of the week, ‘OK, frustrated again, we didn’t get it done and now we’ve got to go back and start over and try to get it done next week.’ There’s always light at the end of the tunnel that we can get it done because I know we can.”

4. Big wins making an impact

Since February 2021, Front Row Motorsports has won a Daytona 500 with Michael McDowell and won the Camping World Truck Series championship this season with Zane Smith. 

“I think the wins and now the championship, I believe, will just further cement Front Row as a competitive organization capable of winning races for sure, now winning a championship in one of NASCAR’s higher series,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports. 

“I’ll tell you guys that the one thing that’s been kind of interesting, our crew chief with the 34 is moving on in Blake Harris, and that’s a blow to us that I thought was really going to cripple us. Blake has brought a lot to our Cup operation this year.

“I told Michael McDowell a few days after Blake had made his decision, I said, ‘You know, it’s kind of like a bad news-good news situation from what I can see so far. The bad news is we’ve run so good, there’s teams that want to hire our people. The good news is we’ve run so good, we’re getting a lot of decent phone calls from guys that want to come to work for us, and that wasn’t happening in the past.’

“So I think just industry-wide and especially in the situation with Blake moving on from the 34, I’ve really noticed it that I’ve had conversations that we didn’t have before. We’re embarking on our own pit crew program next year, and you’re talking to guys that you know are really talented guys that really like what they hear about what we have going on.”

5. More racing

While the NASCAR season is over, that won’t keep drivers from competing in various other series. 

Reigning Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric and 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott will be competing this weekend in Nitro RallyCross in Phoenix. Races will take place Saturday and Sunday. The events air at 5 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on Peacock.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no better drivers on the face of the earth than NASCAR,”  said Travis Pastrana, co-creator of Nitro RallyCross and series champion last year. “I got my butt kicked when I was turning left (with them) a couple of years.”

Dr. Diandra: Drivers with the best playoff performances

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Eliminating four drivers every three races ups the playoff tension, but resetting points sometimes obscures drivers’ playoff performances. Knowing who’s been consistently strong may give a hint as to who moves on after Martinsville — and who to watch in 2023.

Best finishes

The most important metric in racing is where drivers finish. The graph below shows the 11 drivers with average finishing positions below 15 in the playoffs. Kyle Larson has a 15.4 average finish, but no one else is better than 16.

A vertical bar chart showing playoff performance in terms of average finishing position.

Denny Hamlin’s average finishing position of 6.6 is the best of all drivers and markedly improved over his regular-season average finish of 19.0.

William Byron ranks second. He is a full three positions behind Hamlin, but, again, much better than his regular-season average finish of 18.1.

After Ross Chastain (11.4), the remaining eight drivers are all within 1.2 positions of each other. Five of those eight are non-playoff drivers.

Two playoff drivers do not appear on this graph. Chase Elliott’s 17.1 average is much worse than his regular-season finishing average of 10.5. Ryan Blaney’s average playoff finish is 16.1.

Best average running position

Average running position highlights drivers who have had races cut short by accidents or equipment problems. I included drivers with average running positions of 15 and better on this graph.

A vertical bar chart showing drivers' average running positions for the playoff races

Seven of the eight playoff drivers make the cut here. The exception is Chase Briscoe, who has an 18.4 average running position for the eight playoff races run thus far.

Byron leads with an average running position of 8.2, which is 1.4 positions better than his average finishing position of 9.6.

Hamlin is second with an average running position of 10.8, more than five positions worse than his average finish.

Top green-flag speed

NASCAR’s loop data ranks each driver in terms of green-flag speed relative to the field. I averaged those numbers for the playoff races and plotted the drivers with the highest average ranks.

A vertical bar chart showing average green-flag speed ranking for playoff performance

Seven of the eight playoff drivers make the top 10 this time, along with Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Tyler Reddick. Briscoe is again the sole playoff driver missing the cut with an average green-flag speed rank of 20.4.

Byron leads with an average green-flag speed rank of 6.0. More impressive is that Byron never ranked worse than 12th in green-flag speed in playoff races.

All three Hendrick Motorsports contenders make the top five. Larson comes in second at an average 8.0 rank and Elliott is fifth at 10.9.

Christopher Bell takes third place and is the top Toyota driver. He ranked in the top three in green-flag speed for the first four races, but broke the top 15 only once in the second four races.

Chastain ranks seventh, but if we eliminate his Roval results, his average rank would be 8.3, putting him third. You can learn a little more about these stats at Building Speed.

Playoff drivers with the best playoff performance

I weighted race and stage points earned by each driver, average finishing position, average running position and average green-flag speed rank. I weighted the latter two combined the same as average finishing position. The maximum score possible is 58.

Byron takes first place with a score of 53.2. That’s not too surprising given that he leads every metric except average finishing position. He’s made quite a turnaround from entering the playoffs with only six top-10 finishes.

Hamlin comes in second with 48.9 points. He has the best finishing average in the playoffs and comes in second on the other metrics.

Chastain (44.4), Bell (41.0) and Joey Logano (40.9) round out the top-five playoff drivers. The remaining playoff drivers are: Blaney (seventh overall: 35.3), Elliott (eighth: 32.2) and Briscoe (16th: 26.5).

Non-playoff-driver standouts

Of the non-playoff drivers, Larson takes sixth place overall, just 1.4 points behind Logano. Despite not making it into the round of eight, Larson has kept up with the playoff contenders.

Daniel Suárez ranks second highest of the non-playoff drivers. His 31.4 total puts him ninth overall, behind Blaney and Elliott. Suárez has the eighth highest race plus stage points total in the playoffs and the 10th best average running position.

A 100-point penalty at the start of the year kept Brad Keselowski off most “best of” lists this year. But he has the third-best playoffs of non-playoff drivers with a score of 30.8. That puts him 10th overall.

Michael McDowell (29.2) has a 13.6 average finishing position for the playoffs, behind only Hamlin, Byron and Chastain — and tied with Bell. His season average finish is 16.4, four positions higher than his previous career best.

The final top-five non-playoff driver is Erik Jones, who is 12th overall with 29.1 points. His season average finishing position is 16.3, the same as in 2019 when he ran for Joe Gibbs Racing. His playoffs have been even better, with a win at Darlington and top-10 finishes at Texas, Talladega and Las Vegas.

The driver with the best overall playoff performance doesn’t necessarily win the championship. Find out whether these stats predict who makes it to the Championship Four at Martinsville (2 p.m. ET; NBC).