NASCAR Hall of Fame welcomes three new members

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season, its Hall of Fame inducted three men whose careers collectively spanned from the sport’s beginnings to recent times. 

Matt Kenseth, Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night, becoming the Hall’s 13th class.

Kenseth opened his speech by thanking the members of the Hall of Fame voting committee, then corrected himself, displaying his dry wit by saying: “I only want to thank the ones that voted for me.”

Kenseth used his speech to thank those for his career, highlighting, among others, car owners Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and former teammate Mark Martin. 

“I am not sure that I would have ever got on Jack’s radar without him,” Kenseth said of Martin. “Mark was a big fan of mine and a big proponent and he certainly helped (crew chief Robbie Reiser) and I get in the door at Roush Racing.”

Kenseth said that was “very intimidated” by Roush when he went to his team but noted Roush did everything he could to help his drivers win.

“Jack, you always treated me with a tremendous amount of respect, which I probably didn’t always deserve,” Kenseth said. “It was a great honor to drive for you.”

Kenseth also noted how he went from one Hall of Fame car owner to another when he moved from Roush’s team to Gibbs’ team.

“Joe Gibbs Racing felt like a family, and I was blessed to be a part of it for five years,” Kenseth said. “I’ll always cherish all the great times we had together. Thanks Coach.”

Shelmerdine strayed from his prepared marks after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Dale Earnhardt Jr., saying: “This is cool.”

Shelmerdine highlighted a few individuals key in his career, including car owner Richard Childress and Earnhardt.

Shelmerdine noted that his time in the sport came after the pioneers but when some of the sport’s heroes reigned. 

“I’m humbled that my name and picture are on pages beside those of the greats I respect so much, to have the privilege of knowing them and working beside them, traverse that slice of time with them and to have gotten the chance to beat them,” Shelmerdine said.

“And then I was lucky enough to gain the immeasurable honor of being considered one of them. It’s precious to me that all this happened when it did.”

McGriff accepted his honor even though his racing career might not be over. He said that Childress and Bill McAnally both have pledged to provide him a car to race when he turns 100. McGriff quipped: “I hope they both stay healthy.”

McGriff sprinkled humor with history in his speech.

“My speech shouldn’t be too long because most of the people I have thank are dead,” he said. 

McGriff noted that his racing career began at age 7 driving a cart “pulled by a goat that I bought from my uncle for $4.”

McGriff twice raced on the Daytona Beach course and noted he was racing against Lee Petty when Richard Petty was “playing in a sandbox.”

Also Friday, NASCAR Senior Advisor Mike Helton was honored with the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR. Helton became the first person outside of the France family to be president of NASCAR in 2000. 

The late photographer T. Taylor Warren, whose photo of the finish of the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 determined who won that race, was honored with the Squier—Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence. He is the first photojournalist to be honored.

Matt Kenseth through the years: From young champ to Hall of Famer

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Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth will be among those inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday (8 p.m. ET on Peacock).

Kenseth joins Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine in the Hall of Fame’s 13th class. The Hall will have 61 members after Friday’s ceremony.

Kenseth, 50, will be among the younger inductees to the Hall. His Cup career began in 1998 and ended in 2020. He scored 39 victories in 697 Cup starts and a championship.

Here is a look at Kenseth’s career through the years …

Beginnings

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Matt Kenseth with Bill Elliott before the fall 2001 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Craig Jones/ALLSPORT)

Kenseth’s first Cup start came as a fill-in for Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. Kenseth’s debut took place Sept. 20, 1998, at what was then called Dover Downs International Speedway. He drove Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s car to a sixth-place finish. Elliott missed the race to attend his father’s funeral.

“It’s a sad deal for Bill and his family, but I’m real flattered they picked me to drive this car because there are a lot of good drivers here,” Kenseth said after qualifying Elliott’s car 16th.

 

Friendship 

Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr
Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona in July 2003. (Photo By Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

The first time Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced against each other in NASCAR was April 19, 1997, at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Kenseth finished 11th. Earnhardt was 39th.

They both ran full-time in what was then the Busch Series in 1998. Earnhardt won the series title that year. Kenseth was second. Earnhardt repeated as champion in 1999. Kenseth placed third that year.

They both moved to Cup in 2000. Earnhardt drove for his father’s team, Dale Earnhardt Inc. Kenseth drove for Roush Racing. Kenseth won Rookie of the Year honors.

 

Champion

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Matt Kenseth celebrates the Winston Cup series title at North Carolina Speedway on Nov. 9, 2003. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Kenseth’s smooth driving style and consistency, a trait many compared to Hall of Famer David Pearson, led to the 2003 Cup title. Although Kenseth won only once, he had 25 top-10 finishes in 36 races and was so far ahead of the field that he clinched the title with one race to go.

This was the last year the champion was determined by a season-long points total. The Chase would debut in 2004 and morph into the playoff system used today.

 

Teammates 

January Testing Day 9
Teammates Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle during NASCAR Nextel Cup Series testing Jan. 31, 2006, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Kenseth drove five Cup races for car owner Jack Roush in 1999 before moving to Cup full-time for the team owner in 2000. Kenseth drove for Roush from 2000-12.

His teammates at Roush included Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch, among others. Kenseth scored 24 wins with the organization.

 

Daytona 500 champion 

2012 Daytona 500
Matt Kenseth celebrates his second Daytona 500 win in 2012. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Kenseth’s career includes two Daytona 500 victories. He won the 2009 rain-shortened race and won the 2012 race, leading the final 38 laps in that event.

Kenseth won the 2009 Daytona 500 after starting 39th. It marked the first time Ford had won the event since 2000.

Kenseth’s 2012 victory came in a race that was postponed a day and run under the lights at Daytona International Speedway. The race was delayed after a parts failure caused Juan Pablo Montoya to lose control of his car and hit a jet dryer under caution, sparking a fire on the track. The race didn’t end until after midnight, finishing early Tuesday.

 

New teammates 

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Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing, speak to the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour on Jan. 24, 2013. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kenseth moved to Joe Gibbs Racing before the 2013 season. His debut season proved memorable. He won a career-high seven races, including the night race at Bristol.

Kenseth finished second in the season standings. Jimmie Johnson beat Kenseth by 19 points for the championship. Kenseth would go on to win 15 Cup races at JGR.

 

One last Cup victory

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Matt Kenseth celebrates his win at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 12, 2017 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Kenseth earned his 39th and final Cup win in the 2017 playoff race at Phoenix Raceway, taking the lead with 10 laps to go.

“I don’t know what to say but thank the Lord,” Kenseth told NBC’s Rutledge Wood after climbing out of his car on the frontstretch. “Just got one race left. Everyone dreams about going out a winner. So, we won today, no one is going to take that away from us.

Kenseth returned to Cup in 2018, running 15 races in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing to help the team diagnose the struggles with that car. Kenseth sat out the 2019 season but was called back to duty in 2020, replacing Kyle Larson after he was fired at Chip Ganassi Racing. Kenseth ran the final 32 races of that season.

 

Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick get early start with new teams

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Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick — among the key storylines this season — got their first days on track with their new teams this week. 

Busch, Reddick and Austin Cindric participated in a tire test Monday and Tuesday at Circuit of the Americas. The session marked Busch’s first official laps with his Richard Childress Racing team. It also was Reddick’s first laps with his 23XI Racing team.

Busch, a two-time Cup champion, joins RCR after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. Lack of sponsorship led to his move. 

He takes over the No. 8 Chevrolet that Reddick drove last year. Reddick had signed a contract to join 23XI Racing in 2024 but was allowed to leave a year early with Busch taking his spot at RCR.

Busch heads into this season having won at least one Cup race in each of the past 18 seasons, tying him with Richard Petty for the all-time Cup record.

Busch, who estimated he ran 200 laps during the two days at the 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, was pleased with the session.

“Had a lot of fun,” he told NBC Sports. “Was able to work with the guys and really (have) good communication, give good feedback and have that opportunity to have dialogue of ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s try this. What do you think about this?’ 

“(Was) able to talk about the car in ways I’m used to and have them hear me describe things in certain ways, so they can get a better understanding where, as you go on, you can say less words and they get what you’re saying.”

Reddick said the session was helpful to get settled in the No. 45 Toyota.

The session also proved valuable for Toyota, which seeks to improve its performance on road courses. Reddick won at Road America and the Indianapolis road course last year and could provide key feedback for Toyota.

The manufacturer struggled in the first five road courses last season — twice failing to have a driver finish in the top 12. In the season’s final road course event, Toyota won the Charlotte Roval playoff race with Christopher Bell. 

Reddick told NBC Sports that a goal at the session was to “try and close the gap Toyota feels like they’ve had on the Chevys and some of the other competition last year on the road courses. I think we made some gains, but certainly, we’re going to work hard on that.”

2. More testing in January

A key organizational test takes place Tuesday and Wednesday at Phoenix Raceway.

Cars scheduled to test are those of Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

Elton Sawyer, recently promoted to senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the sanctioning body will be looking at several things, including changes that could help the racing at short tracks.

While the racing at intermediate tracks was viewed favorably last year, drivers were critical of the racing on short tracks and how difficult it was to pass. 

Sawyer said the sanctioning body will look at some changes to the underbody of the car.

Scott Graves, crew chief for Chris Buescher at RFK Racing, told NBC Sports that NASCAR will test some changes to the car’s underbody. Those changes came about from the Garage 56 effort. 

That’s the specially modified Camaro that will run at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, marking NASCAR’s return to that event for the first time in nearly 50 years. Hendrick Motorsports is preparing the car in a joint effort with Chevrolet, Goodyear and NASCAR.

“Some of the things they’re learning (have) started to trickle on to our side,” Graves said of the Garage 56 car. “They’ve done some things on the underbody. 

“As NASCAR is looking to make short tracks in particular a little bit better, we’re trying to be less dependent on the outer body with aero and get more of it with the underbody — with the theory that it’s going to be less affected by traffic.”

A look at the underbody of a 2022 NASCAR Cup car. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Graves said that the plan is for the rear spoiler to be smaller at the Phoenix test with the underbody of the car generating more of the car’s downforce. NASCAR also is looking to better channel the air underneath the car with the diffuser. 

Graves explained how having more of a car’s downforce generated underneath it could impact the race:

“When you look at the lap times, the guys that are up front have a huge advantage, but when they get to the back of the pack, they run the same speed.

“That’s what everybody in the pack is doing the whole race, running the same speed and having a hard time getting around each other. Hopefully, this will help with some of that, where it’s not so dependent on the outer body. You get into turbulent air, dirty air (in traffic) the (aero on the) outer body really goes away. The theory is that the underbody is still going to have that air underneath the car, so it will keep it a little bit better.”

3. Two Kyles running the double?

Kyle Larson will attempt to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2024, driving at Indianapolis for Arrow McLaren. 

Could he be joined by Kyle Busch? Busch has expressed an interest in also doing the double — something his brother Kurt did in 2014. 

“I think that’s great that Kyle (Larson) has been able to kind of button that up early and get that done for himself to run the Indy 500 in 2024,” Busch told NBC Sports. 

“I wasn’t so fortunate (in the past). We had a couple of deals kind of right there, right to the sign phase almost I guess you would say. It just didn’t really materialize. Teams got other deals that were more important to them that kind of didn’t want to give me the chance, or they didn’t want to go from three cars to four cars, whatever it might have been.

“A lot of discussions happened behind the scenes, but nothing materialized. I would say that our industry, both NASCAR and IndyCar is just short on people, having the right amount of people and good people to go and do these ventures. Yeah, you could go do it and go run circles and make laps, but is it going to be a winning effort was the question. That’s just kind of why it never materialized.”

Asked if he felt the door was closed to him to running the Indy 500, Busch said: “Yeah, I would say 2023, the door’s closed. I would say 2024, with Kyle (Larson’s) announcement, the door closed because that’s probably about the only team that could do it. Given the nature of who he’s racing with, but just with other teams trying to stretch too thin and not have enough people. Again it comes down to the people part. So, you just never know. See what happens.”

4. Looking into the future

As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season, it’s a chance to look back at many of the memorable moments on and off the track.

One of the more recent memorable events was Ross Chastain’s video game move on the final lap of last fall’s Martinsville playoff race. Chastain drove his car against the wall and sped by five cars to gain enough spots to advance to the championship race. 

When NASCAR celebrates its 100th season and others in the future, Chastain’s move is likely to be among those memorable moments.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “There will probably be people that will learn about me because of that. I’m good with that. I’m proud of that.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that that paid off for us. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it, and I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked, or why I did it.”

5. A celebration

NASCAR takes time tonight to honor its past and induct three people into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Hershel McGriff and former champion crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine will be inducted as the 13th class in the Hall of Fame. NASCAR executive Mike Helton will be the recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions. Photographer T. Taylor Warren will be honored with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence.

The ceremony airs at 8 p.m. ET on Peacock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A long look at the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4

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On Sunday evening in the Southwest desert, Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott or Joey Logano will hoist the NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy.

Sunday’s race, a 312-mile journey around the Phoenix Raceway oval (3 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock), is the 36th point event of the season and the last of 10 races in the playoffs. Bell, Chastain, Elliott and Logano jumped every hurdle to make the Championship 4, and the highest finisher among them will be Cup’s newest champion.

Here’s a look at each of the four entering championship weekend:

CHRISTOPHER BELL

  • 2022 wins: 3
  • 2022 laps led: 573
  • 2022 average finish: 13.91
  • 2022 stage wins: 4
  • Career wins: 4
  • Career average finish: 16.68

The 2022 season is Bell’s third full-time in Cup racing. He won the 2017 Truck Series championship. He advanced to the Cup playoffs last year but was eliminated in the Round of 12. After a slow start this year, Bell blazed a new path in the second half of the season, scoring must-win victories at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville.

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Crew chief: Adam Stevens is Bell’s not-so-secret weapon. He won Cup titles with Kyle Busch in 2015 and 2019 and has the opportunity to become the seventh different crew chief in Cup history to win three or more championships. He has 32 Cup wins.

ROSS CHASTAIN

  • 2022 wins: 2
  • 2022 laps led: 692
  • 2022 average finish: 13.54
  • 2022 stage wins: 6
  • Career wins: 2
  • Career average finish: 22.21

Chastain is the upstart in this year’s playoffs. In the preseason, few would have predicted he would wind up in the Championship 4. And absolutely no one would have predicted his last-lap charge at Martinsville last weekend to qualify for the Phoenix finale.

Chastain made his NASCAR national series debut in the Truck Series in 2011 and raced in trucks and the Xfinity Series for several teams. He joined Chip Ganassi Racing, which ultimately became Trackhouse Racing, where he scored two wins this year and stirred the pot with aggressive driving, no more so than at Martinsville, when he rode the outside wall for a half-lap to finish high enough to advance.

Crew chief: Phil Surgen made his debut as a crew chief in the Cup Series with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016. He has worked with Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth and became Chastain’s crew chief last season. In 71 total races together, Surgen and Chastain have 17 top fives and 28 top 10s.

CHASE ELLIOTT

  • 2022 wins: 5
  • 2022 laps led: 857
  • 2022 average finish: 12.03
  • 2022 stage wins: 6
  • Career wins: 18
  • Career average finish: 12.98

Elliott could step into relatively unknown territory with a second Cup championship Sunday. Kyle Busch, with titles in 2015 and 2019, is the only active driver with more than one championship. Elliott won his first in 2020.

He also could join another select group, becoming part of only the third father-son combination to win multiple Cup titles. His father, Bill, won in 1988. Lee and Richard Petty won a total of 10 titles, and Ned and Dale Jarrett won a total of three. Chase has qualified for the playoffs in all seven of his Cup seasons and has reached the final four three consecutive years.

Crew chief: Alan Gustafson has worked with a splendid collection of drivers over the years. That list includes Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. He and Elliott have been teammates since 2016, winning the championship in 2020, and Sunday will mark his fourth appearance in the Championship 4. Gustafson could become the 16th different crew chief to win multiple Cup titles.

JOEY LOGANO

  • 2022 wins: 3
  • 2022 laps led: 597
  • 2022 average finish: 13.83
  • 2022 stage wins: 6
  • Career wins: 30
  • Career average finish: 13.95

It seems not that long ago that Logano drove into NASCAR national series racing with the nickname “Sliced Bread,” as in, “He’s the greatest thing since …” But Logano, at 32, has logged 14 Cup seasons and is the oldest driver in this year’s Championship 4. He has qualified for the playoffs in nine of those 14 seasons, winning the title in 2018. If experience counts, count Logano in.

Crew chief: Paul Wolfe is one of the most respected crew chiefs in the Cup garage. He gave Team Penske its first Cup championship with driver Brad Keselowski in 2012. A former driver in the Xfinity Series, Wolfe moved to the crew chief role in 2006. He and Logano teamed for the first time in 2020. They have reached the Championship 4 twice.