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.

 

 

Dr. Diandra: 2022 by the numbers: Overview

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The champion has been crowned and the desert wind has swept away the last bit of confetti from Victory Lane. That means it’s time for a numerical overview of the 2022 season.

I’ll start with a broad overview of who raced, when they raced and where they raced. In the coming weeks, I’ll delve deeper into topics like penalties, accidents and loop data stats. That analysis will focus on comparing drivers, but also comparing the Next Gen car’s performance against the previous car.

Logistics

45: The number of Cup Series races NASCAR officiated in 2022. That total includes:

  • The 36-race season
  • The Busch Clash
  • Two Daytona Duels
  • Four heat races for the Bristol dirt race
  • The All-Star qualifying race.
  • The All-Star Race

38: The number of points-paying races run in 2022. This includes the Daytona Duels because they award stage points.

28: The number of tracks visited. The Bristol asphalt and dirt circuits each count one and this number includes the temporary track at the L.A. Coliseum.

20 different states hosted races in 2022.A pie chart showing the distribution of track types on the 2022 schedule

7: The number of intermediate track races. The proportion of visits to 1.5-mile tracks has decreased steadily since 2011, when the schedule featured 12 intermediate track races.

6: The most superspeedway races in the Cup Series schedule ever. With the transformation of Atlanta, two races shifted from the intermediate to the superspeedway category.

6: The number of road course races. That’s one fewer than the record, seven, which was set in 2021.

3: The number of “other” tracks on the schedule. This category comprises large ovals that aren’t superspeedways, like Michigan, Pocono and Fontana. The series made the smallest number of visits to “other” tracks this year, in part because Michigan and Pocono dropped to one race each this year.

4: The most races in any one state: Virginia. The series raced three times each in Florida and Tennessee. If the Busch Clash is included, California also hosted three races — at three different tracks.

The season of racing

The remainder of this numerical overview focuses on the 36 races that make up the NASCAR season per se.

9,446: The number of laps scheduled to be run in 2022.

9,483: The number of laps actually run in 2022.

  • That’s a bonus of 37 laps and 60 miles, all due to overtime.
  • Last year, the series ran 66 laps (186 miles) less than scheduled.
  • Michael McDowell completed the most laps of the season with 9,380, or 99.91% of all possible laps.

MORE: Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway moving closer to hosting NASCAR

13,011: The total number of miles of racing in the 36 season races.

  • The Earth’s circumference is 24,902 miles, which means that Michael McDowell drove the equivalent of a little more than halfway around the world during the 2022 season.
  • The number of miles of racing is up from 2021, which totaled 12,595.

437,267: The total number of miles Cup Series drivers logged in 2022’s 36 races.

  • That number is down from the 450,039 miles drivers collectively ran in 2021.
  • To put this number in perspective, the mean distance from the Moon to the Earth is 238,855 miles. The total distance run on track during the season is just about to the Moon and back.

Days Raced

0: The number of races that started on a Monday. That might not seem worth noting, but the last time a season had no races start on Monday was 2015. Dover started on a Sunday and, due to rain, finished on a Monday.

8.3%: The percentage of races run on Saturdays. This year represents the smallest fraction of Saturday races since 2002.

91.7%: The percentage of races run on Sundays.

  • That’s the highest percentage since 1990, when 93.1% of the year’s 29 races happened on Sundays.
  • The smallest percentage since 1990 was in 2020, when only 69.4% of races happened on Sunday because COVID rearranged the calendar. But the same percentage of Sunday races were run in 2011 and 2009.

8: The number of races that went into overtime. That’s one less overtime race than in 2021.

0: The number of races shortened by weather and/or darkness.

  • There were two rain-shortened races and one darkness-shortened race in 2021.
  • The last time no races in a season ended early was 2017.

That’s not to say that weather didn’t affect this season’s racing.

3.5: Number of weather-impacted qualifying sessions. Rain cancelled qualifying at both Atlanta races and the summer Daytona race. Drivers completed the first round of qualifying at Nashville before rain kept the top ten drivers from running their second round.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings

3:19:57: The longest red flag of the season for rain, at the Daytona summer race.

  • Nashville comes in second for red flags with two delays for rain and lightning totaling 3:09:03.

Cars, Drivers and Owners

62: The number of drivers starting races in 2022. That’s down slightly from 2021, when 68 different drivers raced.

45 different car numbers were run this year.

6: The most different drivers in a single car number. J.J. Yeley drove 17 races in the No. 15 car. Garrett Smithley, Joey Hand, David Ragan, Ryan Preece and Parker Kligerman filled out the rest of the season.

27: The number of drivers who ran all 36 races. Last year, 31 drivers ran all the races.

5 full-time drivers missed one or more races due to injury or suspension.

36.7: The average number of drivers in each race

19: The number of drivers winning races this year, which ties the record for most different drivers in a single season.

  • Last year had 16 different winners.
  • 2019 and 2022 saw only 13 different winners each.

9: The number of different owners winning races in 2022. That number is up by one from 2021.

  • In 2001, the last year in which 19 different drivers won races, there were 13 different winning owners.
  • The last time nine different owners won races was in 2017.
  • Four organizations that were winless in 2021 won in 2022: Trackhouse, Petty GMS, Richard Childress and RFK. Together, those owners won nine of 36 races.

11: Most races won by a single owner in 2022. Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers won 11 races total.

  • That’s well short of their total last year of 17.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing went from nine race wins last year to six this year.
  • Stewart-Haas Racing improved from one win last year to three this year.

The season may be over, but there’s still plenty of data to crunch. The results of these analyses tell us not only who had good (or bad) 2022 seasons, but also preview drivers’ likely strengths and weaknesses for 2023.

NASCAR viewer’s guide: All-Star Race at Texas

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The 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race is set to hit Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.

The 1.5-mile quad-oval plays host to the exhibition event for the second season in a row, falling between the 13th and 14th points races on the Cup Series schedule.

Twenty drivers are locked into Sunday’s big show (8 p.m. ET, FS1), while four others will advance from the All-Star Open (5:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

The Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series also hit the track for their points events before the Cup stars fight for a $1 million prize.

Get set for the full All-Star weekend here:

The format

The full format for this year’s All-Star Race was unveiled in late April. Take a look at how the four-stage race will be broken down:

  • Stage 1 (25 laps): Stage 1 winner will start on the pole in the final stage as long as he finishes 15th or better in Stages 2 and 3.
  • Stage 2 (25 laps): Stage 2 winner starts second in final stage as long as he finishes 15th or better in Stage 3.
  • Special Stage Break (Pit Stop Competition): Each team must pit and perform a four-tire stop. The team with the shortest time on pit road (pit in/pit out) wins the pit crew award and the driver will start fourth in the final stage as long as he finishes 15th or better in Stage 3.
  • Stage 3 (25 laps): Stage 3 winner starts third in final stage.
  • Stage 4 (50 laps): Stage 1 winner starts first, Stage 2 winner second, Stage 3 winner third and pit stop competition winner starts fourth. If a “natural” caution occurs between laps 15-25 of the final stage, standard race procedures will be in effect. If no “natural” caution occurs during that time, NASCAR will call an “All-Star” competition caution. Winner of Stage 4 earns $1 million.

Preceding the All-Star Race will be the Open, in which the 16 drivers not yet entered in the main event will compete in three stages of 20-20-10 laps. The three stage winners will advance to the All-Star Race in addition to the fan vote winner.

Setting the grid

Qualifying for both the Open and the All-Star Race will take place Saturday evening.

The 16 drivers competing in the Open will go out for single-car, single-lap qualifying to set the lineup for their 50-lap race.

The All-Star Race competitors will then qualify in two rounds. The first round will feature typical single-car qualifying in reverse order of the owners points standings. The fastest eight drivers will then advance to the second round, utilizing a three-round, head-to-head elimination bracket.

Here’s the format for round two:

  • Elimination bracket will feature two cars staged in adjacent pit stalls near the end of pit road.
  • At the sound of an alert, each pit crew will perform a four-tire stop and, at the drop of the jack, drivers will exit their pit stalls (with no speed limit) onto the track.
  • First car back to the start/finish line advances to the next round.
  • Final pairing competes for the pole.

All eyes on the stars

Kyle Larson is the man to watch Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

The defending Cup champion is also the defending All-Star Race winner and has won each of his last two All-Star starts, missing the 2020 event due to his 32-race suspension. No driver has won in three consecutive All-Star appearances. Larson could become the first on Sunday and won the track’s playoff race in October.

The last two seasons’ All-Star Races have also produced that year’s eventual champion. Chase Elliott went to Victory Lane in 2020 at Bristol Motor Speedway before claiming his first Cup title in November. Hendrick Motorsports is also chasing its third straight win in the event, a feat no other team has accomplished.

Entry lists

Sixteen drivers will fight in the Open for the four remaining spots in the All-Star Race. Among them are Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones.

NASCAR Cup Series — All-Star Open Entry List

Twenty drivers are already qualified for Sunday’s All-Star Race. The drivers eligible are winners from the 2021 and 2022 seasons as well as full-time former All-Star winners and Cup champions.

Four multi-car teams have every driver entered in the 2022 All-Star Race: Hendrick (four), Joe Gibbs Racing (four), Team Penske (three) and 23XI Racing (two). Making the All-Star Race for the first time based on a points win are Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric, Phoenix winner Chase Briscoe, COTA winner Ross Chastain (made last year’s All-Star Race after winning a stage in the Open) and last fall’s Talladega winner Bubba Wallace.

Kevin Harvick will make his 22nd consecutive All-Star start, while Kurt Busch makes his 21st. Mark Martin holds the record with 24 straight appearances.

AJ Allmendinger will drive the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. He’s locked in thanks to his win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last summer.

NASCAR Cup Series — All-Star Race Entry List

In the Xfinity Series, 39 cars will compete for 38 spots, meaning one car will fail to qualify for Saturday’s race.

Tyler Reddick is back in the No. 48 Chevrolet for Big Machine Racing. Jeffery Earnhardt slides back to the No. 26 Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing, his fourth start of the year for that program. Driving the Nos. 44 and 45 Chevrolets for Alpha Prime Racing will be Ryan Ellis and Stefan Parsons, respectively.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Texas Motor Speedway

The Truck Series entry list features 39 trucks competing for 36 spots, meaning three will fail to qualify.

Ross Chastain returns to the No. 41 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet. Ryan Preece will drive the No. 17 Ford for David Gilliland Racing. Garrett Smithley will pilot the No. 20 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List — Texas Motor Speedway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, May 20

Forecast: Windy with PM thunderstorms, potentially severe, high near 95 degrees, winds south at 20-30 mph, 50% chance of rain

  • 4 – 4:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (single vehicle, one lap, FS1)
  • 6 – 6:30 p.m — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (single vehicle, one lap, FS1)
  • 8:30 p.m. — Truck race (147 laps/220.5 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, May 21

ForecastPartly cloudy, chance of stray thunderstorm, high of 84 degrees, winds south to north at 15-25 mph, 23% chance of rain

  • 1:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (167 laps/250.5 miles, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 7 – 7:35 p.m. — Cup practice (two groups — one for Open entries, one for All-Star, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 7:35 – 7:55 p.m. — All-Star Open qualifying (single vehicle, one lap, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 7:55 – 8:25 p.m. — All-Star Race qualifying, first round (single vehicle, one lap, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:25 – 9 p.m. — All-Star Race qualifying, second round (pit battle, elimination bracket, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, May 22

ForecastPartly cloudy, high 77 degrees, winds northeast at 10-20 mph

  • 5:30 p.m. — All-Star Open (50 laps/75 miles, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — All-Star Race (125 laps/187.5 miles, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Nine Cup teams have crew member ejected after inspection issues

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Nine Cup teams will be short a crew member the rest of the weekend at Phoenix Raceway after issues in inspection Saturday.

The cars of Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, Todd Gilliland, Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Garrett Smithley and Landon Cassill each failed inspection twice Saturday. That resulted in a crew member for each team being ejected.

No teams failed inspection three times.

Those ejected from the Cup garage were:

  • Nate Bellows, car chief for Busch’s team.
  • Robert Valentinsen, car chief for Smithley’s team
  • David Alexander, car chief for Reddick’s team
  • JR Norris, car chief for Cassill’s team
  • Tony Cardamone, car chief for Custer’s team
  • Chris Sherwood, car chief for Bell’s team
  • Troy Raker, engineer for Gilliland’s team
  • Danny Efland, engineer for Jones’ team
  • Cam Strader, car chief for Dillon’s team

The Cup Series races Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox) at Phoenix.

Friday 5: After 30 years of trying, Bobby Dotter made it to NASCAR Victory Lane

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Until last Saturday, SS Green Light Racing owner Bobby Dotter had won only once in NASCAR’s national series. Even then, he didn’t get to enjoy the spoils of Victory Lane.

It was 1992. Dotter drove in what was then the Busch Series. He led 58 of 200 laps at what is now Motor Mile Speedway in Dublin, Virginia, before Jeff Burton passed him with seven laps to go and took the checkered flag.

Burton’s car failed inspection after the race and was disqualified. That gave the win to Dotter, who crossed the finish line second, ahead of such drivers as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Ward Burton. 

Dotter was gone when Burton’s car was disqualified. His crew chief called him at home, awakening Dotter, to tell him he had won.

Dotter didn’t believe him.

“Am I dreaming?” Dotter said he thought at the time. “This has got to be a dream. This just doesn’t happen to me.”

It would be his only victory as a driver in 209 NASCAR Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck series races spanning 1988-2004.

Dotter went on to become a team owner, competing in the Truck Series before moving to the Xfinity Series. His team was winless in 305 Truck starts and in 320 Xfinity starts until last weekend when Cole Custer won at Auto Club Speedway.

It would have been easy for anyone to give up, even the son of a racer, but Dotter persisted through those lean times.

“Through the years, it’s just the small victories,” he told NBC Sports of what kept him going. “There’s only one winner, but for us for so many years, a top 10 was a win or a top 15.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance 300
Cole Custer gave Bobby Dotter his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win as a team owner last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Dotter finally got to experience a victory as a team owner — and a trip to Victory Lane — after Custer led the final 21 laps last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, holding off the field on the final four restarts.

Even after arriving in Victory Lane, Dotter kept his cool.

“A lot of people said to me that I didn’t seem as overjoyed as a lot of the other people,” he said. “It was just that I was taking it in. I was enjoying it.”

That’s OK, many others were overjoyed for Dotter, including Gray Gaulding, who has known Dotter since he was 7 years old and raced for Dotter in 2019 and in select races in 2020.

Gaulding, watching from home, couldn’t contain his excitement. He stood and raised his arms at the end of the race.

Dotter was the first person in NASCAR that Gaulding and his father got to know when Gaulding looked to pursue racing. Gaulding took his first laps in a bandolero car in the parking lot at Dotter’s race shop. Gaulding and Dotter often said they would race together at some point. 

NASCAR Xfinity Series Beef. It's What's For Dinner. 300 - Qualifying
Gray Gaulding recorded two runner-up finishes in 38 Xfinity starts with team owner Bobby Dotter. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“We didn’t want to do anything together unless we knew that we had a realistic chance and all the finances were right,” Gaulding told NBC Sports. “We weren’t going to go out of business because I don’t want to see my friend Bobby lose his business over promises that can’t be met.”

Gaulding finished second at Talladega for Dotter and missed making the playoffs by one position in 2019 despite the team’s limited budget. Gaulding often called local businesses shortly before the Xfinity race in that area to try to secure additional funding. 

He said that the team had four employees that season. Gaulding admits it would be difficult to run well three years later with the same type of resources.

Dotter’s SS Green Light Racing team is helped by its alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing. Dotter’s team bought seven cars from Stewart-Haas Racing and receives technical support from SHR and Ford. The team uses Roush Yates Engines. Dotter now has 15 employees for his two-team operation. 

The relationship with SHR started about five years ago when the Cup team had a few spots open on its chartered flights and invited SS Green Light Racing to travel with them. That led to closer ties and an alliance this season.

As part of the arrangement, Custer will drive at least four races for the team this season, and Chase Briscoe will drive at least one race as a teammate to Joe Graf Jr.

Dotter said he hopes the upgrades to the organization will help Graf, who is in his third season with the team, achieve success. Graf is among several drivers who have competed for Dotter. The list includes Ross Chastain, who was among the first to congratulate Dotter in Victory Lane last week, Spencer Boyd, Ray Black Jr., and Garrett Smithley. 

“NASCAR is a tough sport,” Gaulding said. “It’s kind of a dog-eat-dog type of sport. … Bobby Dotter has never lied to me or said anything that I couldn’t take to the bank to this day. … He’s an owner that every driver dreams to drive for. 

“Yes, he doesn’t have the big name. He’s obviously not Rick Hendrick yet, hopefully he will be, or a Stewart-Haas, but the way that man carries himself as a businessman and an individual and really just being a good human being, that’s the reason I’m happy. I’m proud to know him, and I’m really, really proud of him and his race team.

“I tell Bobby this all the time, even though I might not be driving for him anymore … I’m always rooting for him whether it’s from the couch, in the same race or pit box, I’m always keeping up and rooting for him.”

2. RCR rebound

Car owner Richard Childress doesn’t hold back when asked if his Cup operation is close to winning this season.

“I know we can win,” he said. “We are going to win.”

The start of the season has brought much excitement to Richard Childress Racing.

Austin Hill won the Xfinity season opener at Daytona in his first start for the RCR.

In Cup, Tyler Reddick has been fast. He led 51 laps at the Clash in the Coliseum before mechanical issues ended his race. Only Kyle Busch led more laps that day (64).

Last weekend, Reddick won both stages and led a race-high 90 laps at Auto Club Speedway before a cut tire slowed him and he was hit by Willam Byron.

Reddick’s teammate, Austin Dillon, finished second at Auto Club. That followed his third-place result at the Clash.

“I think the new car has brought everybody to a more equal level,” Childress said. “Our guys have worked really, really hard all winter over this project. (General Motors) has really been working with all the key partners to make sure we all are working close together. I think all that has helped.”

The 90 laps Reddick led at Auto Club were more than he had led in his first 74 career Cup starts combined.

NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash
Tyler Reddick (8) showed he was fast at the Clash at the Coliseum and carried that through Auto Club Speedway, winning both stages before a cut tire ruined his day. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

While Reddick doesn’t yet have the finishes, the performance is not a surprise to some. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson forecasted big things for Reddick last month at Daytona.

“I feel when I watch him, I am watching myself,” Larson said, “just because we are both really aggressive, and he seems to be even a little more aggressive and kind of (able to) keep things in control better than I could back when I was running really hard in Ganassi equipment, trying to run up front. 

“He’s the guy that … I feel like is going to have the breakout season and win a lot of races.”

Dillon’s runner-up finish at Auto Club marked the first time he had finished in the top five at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since placing fourth at Richmond in the 2020 playoffs. 

Dillon credits the early work the team did in developing the Next Gen car with the performance gains.

“We definitely tried to be the guys to embrace this new car the earliest in the process,” Dillon said. “I think some of the teams probably didn’t embrace it as much as we did. We saw it coming and tried to put a lot of effort into it from the beginning.”

3. Bumpy road

There were several issues that led to cars spinning and crashing last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, ranging from drivers trying to get familiar with the new car, limited track time and even the track’s bumps.

NASCAR has sought to help drivers get more track time this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead of the Cup field being divided into two groups and each group having 15 minutes of practice, NASCAR will have one 35-minute session the field before qualifying Saturday.

Series officials have not announced if it will change the practice schedule for any other upcoming events.

While the Las Vegas track is not as bumpy as Auto Club, those undulations might present some challenges for drivers this weekend.

“I think the biggest thing … is how you’re going to navigate the bumps in (turns) one and two,” Cole Custer said. “They’re some of the biggest bumps that we have on the schedule.  

“At Fontana, we saw the problems people had over the bumps in (turns) three and four, so it’s gonna be a matter of how far you can push it through those bumps and how your car is handling through that.”

Austin Dillon, though, is hopeful that the bumps won’t be as much an issue this weekend.

“(At Las Vegas), it’s an entry issue, unlike last week where it was an exit (of the corner) issue; where you’re kind of leaving the corner with wheel in the car,” he said. 

“I think it could definitely be a problem and it will be challenging. The stuff I’ve done on the simulator – for some reason, it wasn’t very upsetting like it was at Fontana. The Fontana stuff was pretty accurate to our sim, where we were busting loose across those bumps. So, I’m hoping that it’s accurate again, as far as the bumps in Vegas not being as much of a problem as they were in Fontana.”

4. Winless streaks 

Here is a look at the number of starts a driver has had since their last Cup victory going into Las Vegas:

1 – Austin Cindric

3 – Alex Bowman

7 – Bubba Wallace

8 – Denny Hamlin

10 – Martin Truex Jr.

12 – Ryan Blaney 

16 – Aric Almirola 

17 – Kurt Busch

18 – Chase Elliott

19 – Kyle Busch

28 – Brad Keselowski

31 – Joey Logano

35 – William Byron

35 – Justin Haley

36 – Christopher Bell

37 – Michael McDowell

45 – Kevin Harvick

55 – Austin Dillon

57 – Cole Custer

85 – Erik Jones

130 – Greg Biffle

165 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

197 – Chris Buescher

5. Looking ahead

After this weekend’s race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile speedway, the Cup Series will primarily race at tracks 1 mile or less through mid-April.

After Las Vegas, the series heads to Phoenix, a 1-mile track, on March 13. Cup teams will compete at the repaved 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway (March 20) and then the Circuit of the Americas road course on March 27 before three consecutive short track races: Richmond on April 3, Martinsville on April 9 and the dirt race at Bristol on April 17.

Las Vegas, Phoenix, Bristol and Martinsville each will host playoff races. Bristol will be the cutoff race in the first round of the Cup playoffs. Las Vegas is the opening race in the third round. Martinsville is the last race before the championship event at Phoenix.