Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

A look at Cup driver uniforms for 2023

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It won’t be long before cars are on track for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Before the action takes place there, check out the driver uniforms for the 2023 Cup season.

Listed below are the drivers, based on their car numbers. Driver uniform pictures are not yet available for AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Erik Jones, Ty Gibbs and Ty Dillon. The rest of the drivers with chartered teams are displayed here.

 

1 – Ross Chastain

2023 NASCAR Production Days
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

2 – Austin Cindric

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

3 – Austin Dillon

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

4 – Kevin Harvick

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

5 – Kyle Larson

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

6 – Brad Keselowski

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

7 – Corey LaJoie

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

8 – Kyle Busch

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

9 – Chase Elliott

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

10 – Aric Almirola

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

11 – Denny Hamlin

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

12 – Ryan Blaney

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

14 – Chase Briscoe

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

17 – Chris Buescher

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

19 – Martin Truex Jr.

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

20 – Christopher Bell

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

21 – Harrison Burton

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

22 – Joey Logano

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

23 – Bubba Wallace

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

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24 – William Byron

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

31 – Justin Haley

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34 – Michael McDowell

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38 – Todd Gilliland

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41 – Ryan Preece

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

45 – Tyler Reddick

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

48 – Alex Bowman

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51 – Cody Ware

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78 – BJ McLeod

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99 – Daniel Suarez

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Ty Gibbs vs. Noah Gragson: The Cup chapter is next

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Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson ended the 2022 season as something less than best pals.

Across much of last year’s Xfinity Series season, they wrestled and wrecked in search of the championship, and all of the issues bubbled over in the final weekend as they approached the title race at Phoenix Raceway. It was almost as close as two combatants could make it — Gibbs won the race (and the title) by .397 of a second over second-place Gragson, who was charging for the front but ran out of laps.

Their rivalry took a rest for the offseason, but soon they’ll be on the same playing field — although a larger, more important one — again, seeking wins and the Rookie of the Year title in the Cup Series. Gibbs will be driving for his family-owned team, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Gragson moves to Cup with Legacy Motor Club, formerly Petty GMS.

MORE: Todd Gordon will be Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief

Both drivers were aggressive — sometimes overly so, said some of their competitors — last season, and there is little reason to think their methods of operation will change at the next level. Lack of experience might be their speed limit, but expect them to poke their noses in tight spaces and, perhaps, into each other.

“I don’t like him,” Gragson said of Gibbs approaching last year’s final Xfinity race. “I want to beat him straight up. It pisses him off a lot more.”

In addition to racing at the top level of the Xfinity Series last year, Gragson and Gibbs got some unexpected Cup experience in similar circumstances. Gibbs filled in for Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing after Busch was injured at Pocono Raceway, and Gragson substituted for the injured Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports late in the year. Gragson also drove some Cup races for Kaulig Racing and Beard Motorsports.

Illustrating how tight their competition could be in their first full season in Cup, Gragson and Gibbs recorded very similar statistics in both Cup and Xfinity last year. Gibbs won seven Xfinity races, Gragson eight. Gragson had 26 top 10s, Gibbs 23. In Cup, Gragson had one top five and one top 10, with an average finish of 23.1. Gibbs had one top 10 and an average finish of 22.9.

Although neither pushed their top-flight cars to wins in Cup, that experience is likely to pay big dividends as the 2023 season starts.

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA schedules

“Getting that extra experience, kind of having a preconceived thought of what I should expect for this year — it’s nice having that experience going into this year, not just getting thrown in cold turkey and saying, ‘Go race.’ ” Gragson told NBC Sports.

“The shifting is a lot different now. We have five-speed sequential. At Atlanta, I ran around there for four laps and the whole dash was lit up red. I couldn’t figure out why. I’m like, ‘Oh, shoot, there’s five gears in this thing.’ I’d run around there in fourth gear the whole time and shifted to fifth. So, little things like that that you start to learn about the car and the differences of being so familiar with the Xfinity car and now getting thrown into a different situation — it’s nice to have a little bit of experience.”

Gibbs had a top finish of 10th (at Michigan Speedway) in the 23XI Racing Toyotas.

“I think it was very beneficial to have those Cup races,” he told NBC Sports. “A lot of work, but I learned a lot during those times.”

 

 

Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs will compete for Cup rookie title

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Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs, entering their first full-time seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series, will compete for the series’ Rookie of the Year title.

Although Gragson, with 18 races, and Gibbs, with 15, ran in Cup competition last season, they will be officially considered rookies this year.

Gragson is moving into Cup with the Legacy Motor Club team, and Gibbs replaces Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing.

MORE: Dr. Diandra: Kevin Harvick picked the right time to retire

Gragson and Gibbs were involved in several incidents last season in pursuit of the Xfinity Series championship, a title Gibbs eventually won.

Sammy Smith, driving for JGR, will compete with Parker Retzlaff of Jordan Anderson Racing for the Xfinity rookie title this year.

The Craftsman Truck Series has five rookie candidates: Rajah Caruth, Daniel Dye, Nick Sanchez, Jake Garcia and Bret Holmes.

There is the possibility other candidates will apply for rookie status.

Jimmie Johnson reveals car number, new team name

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Jimmie Johnson, seeking his 84th career Cup win, will drive the No. 84 in Cup this season, he announced Wednesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

It also was announced that Petty GMS, the team Johnson will drive for and is a co-owner of, will change its name to Legacy Motor Club. 

MORE: Five intriguing races for 2023 Cup season

Johnson, whose seven championships are tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most in Cup history, explained the name change. 

“After brainstorming about the new name of our team, (co-owner Maury Gallagher) and I recognized the opportunity to do something special and different,” Johnson said in a statement.

“We felt it was important to have a name (Legacy) that honored the past and acknowledged the future. The term ‘Motor Club’ is a nod to car clubs of the past. 

“Legacy M.C. will be an inclusive club for the automobile racing enthusiast. I am excited to be a part of a story so rich in heritage and look forward to creating a new legacy in this sport outside of the racecar.”

Said Petty in a statement: “As we were all talking about creating a new name for the team, we looked at Jimmie, myself, and Dale Inman – that’s 22 championships – so there couldn’t be a better name to fit our race team than Legacy. The “Motor Club” is a perfect fit because we want our fans to pull for the whole team.

“When I see the No. 42 & 43 cars, no matter who the driver was, is currently, or could be in the future, I want our fans to remember the Petty history that comes with them, and that history will continue to be made with Legacy M.C.”

Johnson announced his return to NASCAR on Nov. 4, becoming a part owner in Petty GMS and plans to run select races, including the Daytona 500. He said on the “Today” show that Carvana would be his sponsor for the Daytona 500. He has yet to announce the rest of his racing schedule this season. 

He’ll have Erik Jones and Noah Gragson as teammates at Legacy Motor Club. 

With Johnson in the No. 84, it will mark the first time that number has been run in a Cup race since the 2011 season finale. 

“I’m looking forward to a new era in the No. 84 Chevrolet with Legacy M.C. and getting a shot to drive the new Next Gen car this season,” Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson last raced in Cup in 2020 before spending the past two seasons running in the IndyCar Series.