Friday 5: New Cup owners reshaping sport with their bold moves


NASCAR’s newest Cup owners are reshaping the sport through bold decisions that could force other team owners to react accordingly or risk falling behind.

The move this week by Legacy Motor Club — co-owned by Maury Gallagher and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson — to join Toyota in 2024 is the latest in a string of aggressive moves new Cup owners have made seeking a competitive edge.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson unsure of 2024 driving plans but NASCAR a priority

Justin Marks (Trackhouse Racing), Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing) and Denny Hamlin (23XI Racing) all have made moves in the past two years that not only impact the sport now but likely will do so for years to come. Those three teams have five drivers in the top 12 in points heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

“A lot of the battles that you see on the racetrack are happening in the boardrooms, with decisions on hiring drivers, hiring crew chiefs and where to put resources — aero, engine, vehicle dynamics — how to get that next great talent out of the schools, whether it be for a pit crew member or an engineer,” Keselowski said.

“These are very serious battles. They fight every day. There’s winners and losers on these every day. The guys that are good at it, they’re the ones that are winning the races. It hides behind the driver that won the race, and I think a lot of these owners are quite OK with that, myself included.

“But the reality is a lot of battles happen at the ownership and the (general manager) level of what you see on any given Sunday.”

Marks, Keselowski and Hamlin — all new owners since 2021 have had their share of victories off the track.

Marks was a single-car team owner in 2021 when he purchased Chip Ganassi Racing, securing both charters from that organization and later signing Ross Chastain to join Daniel Suarez on the team.

Both drivers made the playoffs last year. Chastain finished second to Joey Logano for the championship a year ago and leads the points nearly a third of the way through this season.

Keselowski left his ride at Team Penske — where he had been for more than a decade — to be a part owner in what is now RFK Racing after the 2021 season. In his first year as a team owner, Keselowski celebrated Chris Buescher’s victory at Bristol last fall, the organization’s first Cup victory since 2017. Both Keselowski and Buescher enter this weekend in a playoff spot.

Denny Hamlin and co-owner Michael Jordan shocked many in July 2022 when 23XI Racing announced it had signed Tyler Reddick for the 2024 season and beyond.

Hamlin celebrated the announcement by posting a chess piece on his Twitter account, the inference that his team plays chess while the rest of the garage plays checkers.

“We’ve said from the beginning that 23XI Racing wants to be a different kind of a race team and that’s a forward-thinking team,” Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing said at the time.

The move wasn’t unprecedented, but it is rare to sign a driver more than a year before they’ll join an organization. Hendrick Motorsports signed Kasey Kahne in 2010 to join the team beginning in 2012. Stewart-Haas Racing signed Clint Bowyer in 2015 to take over Tony Stewart’s ride in 2017.

After Richard Childress Racing signed Kyle Busch, the organization allowed Reddick to leave a year early and join 23XI Racing for this season. Reddick already has a victory, winning at Circuit of the Americas, and is sixth in the points.

Now comes the move by Legacy MC to Toyota, joining Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing in that camp. Legacy MC was never going to be among the top three organizations at Chevrolet. Those are Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Trackhouse Racing.

The move continues Gallagher’s aggressive style. Less than a year after he purchased Richard Petty Motorsports to form a two-car Cup team, he partnered with Johnson. The new ownership group was announced six months ago.

“It really has moved quickly,” Johnson said of going from new owner to announcing a new manufacturer for the team. “When Maury and I sat in that (press conference) room in November, I didn’t think we’d be sitting here today (announcing the move to Toyota). That just wasn’t in the cards. We weren’t having those conversations and our path forward looked a lot different.”

Johnson noted the team isn’t done making such decisions as it builds to be more competitive with Erik Jones and Noah Gragson.

“This is one chapter in that fast pace,” Johnson said. “We know that there are many more to come. We’re gearing up and getting ready for it.”

The rest of the sport better be ready because it won’t be only Legacy MC with bold moves.

2. RFK Resurgence

RFK Racing scored top-10 finishes for both its cars in the past two weeks at Talladega and Dover. It marks the first time since 2014 that the organization has had consecutive top 10s for both cars.

It’s quite a contrast from last year.

At this time a year ago, Keselowski had one top-10 finish. He has five this season. Buescher had three top 10s a year ago. He has four this season.

Keselowski said he saw progress start to be made for RFK Racing last fall.

“By then, it’s really hard to see because you’re kind of buried in the points and all those things, it just doesn’t really show up,” he said. “Over the offseason, we added a few more key pieces and people and resources. You have the start over with the points and now it’s very visible, two cars in the playoff hunt.”

Keselowski is ninth in points; Buescher 12th. Keselowski notes that the organization has had a shot to win in about a third of the races this season.

But for all that RFK has done, it guarantees little. The season is just under a third of the way through. That’s a key milepost to Keselowski.

“I really look at the season in thirds,” he said. “You have your first third of the season where you kind of unload with all of your preseason changes, really trying to see who made the right ones in the offseason.

“The middle part of the summer is really about refining who you are and then you have the playoff push in the third part of the season. … The summer stretch is a really important stretch to just try to have a little bit of momentum getting into the playoff and if you’re not in the playoffs, you really need to solidify yourself  with wins or good runs.”

After going to Kansas this weekend, the series heads to Darlington. Both are playoff tracks. Teams that go to North Wilkesboro for the All-Star Race before ending the month at Charlotte. Kansas and Charlotte are 1.5-mile tracks and Darlington is a 1.366-mile track. This stretch will give teams a good view of how they compare at aero tracks.

“I look at Kansas, Darlington and Charlotte, those are big races for us,” Keselowski said.

3. Thrill ride

As Formula One driver Pierre Gasly drove the Charlotte Roval in an RFK Racing car on Tuesday, he experienced something he had not in motorsports.

Driving on a track banked 24 degrees in the turns.

“Going through the banking in fifth gear … bottoming out, I did think about my insurance and whether their car was well-insured,” said Gasly, who is competing in Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix. “They say don’t push too much, but you don’t how to do that. If you jump in the car, you want to feel the limits.

“I must say I was quite amazed with the braking. I didn’t expect the car to brake that hard.”

He also came away impressed with the race shop.

“I was amazed with the factory,” Gasly said of visiting the RFK Racing shop and museum.

His Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon drove the car on the Roval and left enthused.

“I did enjoy it massively,” Ocon said. “It was awesome just to have an experience in a proper NASCAR new generation car.”

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said in Miami that he remains interested in competing in a NASCAR race but remains focused on his F1 career.

If Hamilton runs in NASCAR some day, he would follow other F1 champions who have tried Cup, including a pair this year. Former F1 champions Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button both drove in the Circuit of the Americas Cup race this season. Button also is scheduled to compete at Chicago and the Indy road course this season.

4. Kyle Larson’s ups and downs

Kyle Larson’s uneven season continued last weekend at Dover, making one wonder if he might be due for a strong finish this weekend at Kansas.

Larson has failed to finish or had to go to the garage during a race six times in the first 11 events this season. He failed to finish after crashes in the Daytona 500, Atlanta, Talladega and Bristol Dirt Race.

Larson has four top-five finishes, scoring wins at Richmond and Martinsville. He placed second at Las Vegas and was fourth at Phoenix.

Circuit of the Americas is the only race among the first 11 this year that Larson has not had a top five, failed to finish or had to to go to the garage for repairs. He finished 14th that day, completing all 75 laps.

Through it all, Larson has scored the most playoff points so far. His two wins and two stage victories give him 12 playoff points. William Byron is next with 11 playoff points, followed by Kyle Busch, who has 10 playoff points.

5. A new winner?

There has been a different winner in each of the last eight races on a 1.5-mile track (excluding Atlanta, which is now in the same category as Daytona and Talladega with its drafting).

Those last eight winners are:

Las Vegas (March 2023) — William Byron

Homestead (October 2022) — Kyle Larson

Las Vegas (October 2022) — Joey Logano

Texas (September 2022) — Tyler Reddick

Kansas (September 2022) — Bubba Wallace

Coca-Cola 600 (May 2022) — Denny Hamlin

Kansas (May 2022) — Kurt Busch

Las Vegas (March 2022) — Alex Bowman

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton reaffirms interest in NASCAR

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Miami Gardens, Fla. — Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton says he would like to try NASCAR some day but doesn’t see it happening soon.

“I did a car swap with Tony Stewart years ago, which was fun,” Hamilton said Thursday afternoon ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix around the home stadium of the Miami Dolphins.

“I’d love to try it at some stage. It’s not a dream for me to go race another series, but I am an admirer. I’m a fan of racing and other sports. So I would like to try it.”

MORE: Lewis Hamilton will carry rainbow flag on helmet in Miami Grand Prix

Hamilton and Stewart swapped cars in 2011 at Watkins Glen.

“I just feel like a kid today,” Hamilton said in 2011 after driving Stewart’s car.

If Hamilton does run in NASCAR some day, he would follow other F1 champions who have tried Cup, including a pair this season.

Former F1 champions Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button both competed in the Cup race at Circuit of the Americas earlier this season. Button placed 18th; Raikkonen 29th.

That was Raikkonen’s second Cup race with Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car. The 2007 F1 champion made his Cup debut last year with the team at Watkins Glen.

Button, the 2009 F1 champion, is scheduled to run three Cup races this season. COTA was his first series start. He is slated to race July 2 on the Chicago street course and Aug. 13 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for Rick Ware Racing. Button also will drive the Garage 56 NASCAR entry at Le Mans in June.

But Hamilton didn’t stop with NASCAR on Thursday. He expressed an interest in other forms of racing some day.

“I’d love to swap with Valentino Rossi and try Moto GP,” said Hamilton, who wore blue pants and a blue shirt that both featured red and white stripes in a nod to racing in the U.S. this weekend. “I sometimes watch IndyCar and would love to try one of those at some stage. But right now my focus is solely on Formula One, and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”

Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes expires after this season. The 38-year-old stated to ESPN that he considers himself to be “in my prime.”

Hamilton’s 103 Formula One victories are a series record, but he hasn’t won since Dec. 5, 2021, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Mercedes’ car hasn’t been as strong since and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen has won the past two world championships. Verstappen leads the standings heading into Sunday’s race, while Hamilton is fourth.

NASCAR completes its list of 75 greatest drivers


In 1998, as NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary, the organization selected the 50 greatest drivers of its first half-century.

Twenty-five years later, during the season-long celebration of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, that list is being enlarged to 75.

Jimmie Johnson

He joins Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only seven-time Cup champions in series history. But no driver did what he did in winning five consecutive championships from 2006-10. His other championships came in 2013 and ’16.

Johnson won the Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 four times each. He took the checkered flag twice in the Daytona 500 and Southern 500.

He won 83 Cup races, including 11 times at Dover, nine at Martinsville and eight at Charlotte.

Matt Kenseth

Kenseth roared in from the Midwest to win 39 times in the Cup Series, scoring the national championship in 2003, the final season before the playoff system was implemented.

Kenseth’s most prominent runs were with Roush Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. He won the Daytona 500 twice, the Southern 500 and the All-Star Race.

Kenseth prepared for his success in the Cup Series with stardom in the Xfinity Series, where he won 29 times and contended for the championship in 1998 and 1999.

Joey Logano

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was labeled for stardom from his teenage racing years.

Logano has scored 32 Cup victories and won the title in 2018 and 2022. He has won at least one Cup race for 12 consecutive seasons.

Logano joined the Cup circuit full-time in 2009 and won in his 20th start. He moved from Joe Gibbs Racing to Team Penske, where he has scored his biggest successes.

Kevin Harvick

Now in his final season as a full-time driver, Harvick was thrust into the spotlight in 2001 after the death of Dale Earnhardt led team owner Richard Childress to elevate Harvick from the Xfinity Series to Cup racing.

Harvick responded, winning quickly and establishing himself as a weekly victory threat.

He has been a star in NASCAR’s major events, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 (three times), the Coca-Cola 600 (twice) and the Southern 500 (twice).

Harvick totals 60 Cup victories, putting him 10th on the all-time list. He won the Cup championship in 2014.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch has been a superstar in all three NASCAR national series.

He has won 62 Cup races and two championships (2015, 2019). He has won at least one race in 19 full-time Cup seasons.

He is the victory leader in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series.

Kurt Busch

A winner in all three NASCAR national series, Kurt Busch won the Cup championship in 2004, the first year of the playoff era.

Kurt joins his brother, Kyle, on the 75 greatest drivers list, making them just the second brother duo — after Terry and Bobby Labonte — to be so honored.

Kurt owns wins in the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. He has 34 Cup victories.

Sam Ard

Ard was a week-to-week standout on the old Late Model Sportsman circuit, winning with regularity. The tour became the Busch Series and later the Xfinity Series.

Ard ended his career with 22 Xfinity wins and won the championship in 1983 and 1984.

An injury forced Ard to the sidelines, although he stayed in the sport as a team owner.

Larry Phillips

Phillips was one of the most dominant short-track drivers in NASCAR history.

He won five national NASCAR Weekly Series championships from 1989 to 1996. His career victory total perhaps approaches 1,000. He won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts.

Phillips, who has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was based in Springfield, Missouri and raced primarily in the Midwest. He won 13 track championships in three states.

Phillips died in 2004.

Brad Keselowski

The 2012 Cup champion has 35 career series wins. He won the 2010 Xfinity Series championship and has 39 wins in that series. He also has one Truck win.

Keselowski scored at least one Cup victory in 11 consecutive seasons. His streak ended in 2022, his first season as co-owner of RFK Racing.

“I never really thought when I started my career that I would ever have this kind of opportunity and get to work with so many great people,” Keselowski said. “Just really proud of (the selection) and happy that the industry thinks that much of me to go vote me into that group. It’s humbling.”

Martin Truex Jr.

Thirty-two times a winner in the Cup Series, Truex won the Cup title in 2017.

He added that championship to a pair of Xfinity Series titles in 2004 and 2005 while driving for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Truex moved full-time to the Cup Series in 2006. He reached success after joining Furniture Row Racing, scoring 17 Cup Series wins and the championship with that team, winning eight races in the 2017 season. He moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing, the team with which he scored a win at Dover this season.

Bobby Labonte

He was announced on Friday as the latest driver to the list. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won the 2000 Cup championship.

He scored 21 Cup wins include the 1995 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 2000 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 2000 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Labonte also won the championship in 1991 in what was then known as the Busch Series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The NASCAR Hall of Famer won 26 Cup races, including two Daytona 500s, two Xfinity titles and was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver a record 15 consecutive seasons.

Earnhardt also is a champion car owner in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports and a broadcaster with NBC Sports.

When he announced his plans to retire after the 2017 season, he was asked about what he was most proud of in his career.

“You know, coming out of the gate and winning two Xfinity Championships blew me away,” Earnhardt said on April 25, 2017. “I had run 159 Late Model races and only won four. I didn’t think I was going to get a job. I thought, actually in ’97 dad came up to me and Kelley and said, ‘Your Late Model funds have dried up.’

“And I ran about seven Late Model races that year and didn’t have anything else to do going on. I was struggling to figure out what my next step was. I called up James Finch and begged him to let me drive his car and he turned me down. I still give him crap about that today. But believe it or not, I know you guys, a lot of you weren’t around or some of you were, but there was a point around ’96, ’97 where it just about didn’t happen.

“So going in there and winning those two championships and winning those a little more than a dozen races in a couple years was incredible. I was just shocked at everything we did every week. And to be doing it with Tony (Eury) Junior, Tony (Eury) Senior, my family, Uncle Danny, to be doing it with my dad’s family team was just so fun.

“Then one of the other things was coming back from our injury in 2012 and winning the Daytona 500 with Rick.  We won ‑‑ we swept the Pocono races which was really cool. But winning the Daytona 500, I always kind of wanted to leave some kind of mark here.”

Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton totaled 21 victories in the NASCAR Cup Series. He won a career-high six races in 1999.

Burton’s best finish in the seasonal point standings was a third in 2000. He finished fifth in 1999, winning six races.

Burton won NASCAR’s marathon race, the Coca-Cola 600, in 1999 and 2001 and scored a Southern 500 victory in 1999.

He drove for Roush Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Burton is nicknamed “the Mayor” for being a key advocate for safety improvements and a spokesman on any number of major issues in stock car racing.

Burton, now a racing analyst for NBC Sports, won 27 times in the Xfinity Series.

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Four-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2018.

Hornaday won Truck titles in 1996, 1998, 2007 and 2009. He drove for team owners Dale Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick in the championship years.

Hornaday won 51 Truck races, the series record until Kyle Busch won his 52nd race.

Hornaday won four times in the Xfinity Series and raced 46 times in the Cup Series without a win.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards roared into NASCAR circles from Missouri and ended his career with 28 Cup Series victories and several shots at the championship.

Edwards won for the first time at Atlanta in 2005 and scored his final victory in 2016 at Texas.

He was second in the points standings in 2008 and 2011. He and Tony Stewart finished tied for the title in 2011, with Stewart winning on a tiebreaker.

Edwards, the 2007 Xfinity Series champion, won 38 Xfinity races and six Craftsman Truck Series races.

He famously celebrated his race wins with a backflip.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott arrived in NASCAR carrying a family name built on success. His father, Bill, is remembered as one of the fastest drivers in the sport’s history.

Chase won the Xfinity Series championship in 2014. Six years later, he added the Cup Series title to join his father in that fraternity.

Through seven-plus Cup seasons, Elliott has 18 wins.

Ryan Newman

Ryan Newman rocketed to the front of the NASCAR Cup Series by showing power on qualifying day. He picked up the “Rocketman” nickname by winning 51 pole positions.

Newman scored 18 Cup Series wins. Highlights were checkered flags in the 2008 Daytona 500 and the 2013 Brickyard 400.

Newman scored eight of his wins in a remarkable 2003 season. His highest points finish was second in 2014.

Denny Hamlin

In a full-time Cup Series career that began in 2006, Denny Hamlin has won 48 times, including three Daytona 500 wins and three Southern 500 wins. He is one of only six drivers to have won the Daytona 500 at least three times.

Hamlin has won at least one Cup race in 16 of his 18 seasons.

Now 42, Hamlin continues pursuit of his first Cup championship. He was Cup runnerup in 2010 and has been in the running for the title in several other seasons.

Hamlin also has won 17 Xfinity and two Truck Series races.

Sterling Marlin

Sterling Marlin was a star on NASCAR’s biggest tracks.

A graduate of Tennessee short-track racing, Marlin won the Daytona 500 in 1994 and 1995 while driving for Morgan-McClure Racing.  The 1994 victory was his first in the Cup Series.

Marlin totaled three wins at Daytona International Speedway, two at Darlington Raceway and two at Talladega Superspeedway. He also won at Charlotte, Las Vegas and Michigan.

Marlin’s career stretched across 33 seasons — from 1976 to 2009. His top points finish was third in 1995. He led the points for most of the 2002 season but missed the last part of the year after being injured in a crash.

Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle, who raced for most of his career for team owner Jack Roush, enjoyed success in all three NASCAR national series.

He won the Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2000 and followed up by taking the Xfinity Series title in 2002.

Biffle established a goal of winning the championship in all three top series. He came close to winning the Cup title in 2005, winning six races and finishing runnerup to Tony Stewart.

Biffle won 19 Cup races, 20 Xfinity races and 17 in the Truck series.

Kyle Larson

The 2021 Cup Series championship solidified his spot at the top level of NASCAR.

A superstar of dirt-track racing, Larson jumped into NASCAR full-time in 2013 in the Xfinity Series after he had raced four times in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2012. He won 13 Xfinity races and two in the Truck Series.

He raced full-time in Cup for the first time in 2014. He scored five Cup wins over the 2016-17 seasons driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Larson underlined his talent when he joined Hendrick Motorsports, winning 10 races on the way to the Cup championship in 2021. He won three races in 2022.

Randy LaJoie

LaJoie won two Xfinity Series championships (1996-97) and is one of only five drivers to have won consecutive titles in that series.

LaJoie drove Chevrolets owned by Bill Baumgardner during the championship runs. He won five races in 1996 and matched that total the following season. He won 15 Xfinity races overall.

LaJoie also drove in the Cup Series, totaling 44 starts without a win.

LaJoie, a Connecticut driver, scored 10 victories in the NASCAR North Series and won that tour’s title in 1985.

LaJoie’s son, Corey, competes in the Cup Series and was chosen to inform his father about the 75 Greatest selection. “That’s pretty damn badass,” Randy LaJoie said of the honor.

Mike Stefanik

Stefanik won seven championships in the NASCAR Modified Series and scored two titles in the former Busch North Series. He was Rookie of the Year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1999.

Stefanik won Modified races across the Northeast from his home base in Rhode Island. He won the Modified championship in 1989, ’91, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’02 and ’06. The record-holder for wins and poles on the Modified tour, he was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class.

Stefanik died from injuries suffered in a private plane crash in September 2019.

Kasey Kahne

Kahne moved from hot laps on dirt tracks to stardom in the Cup Series. Over a 15-year career, he won 18 times, was honored as Cup Rookie of the Year in 2004 and won NASCAR’s marathon race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, three times. He also won a fall race at CMS, making the track easily his best.

Kahne broke into the Cup winner’s circle in May 2005 at Richmond Raceway. His best season was his third, as he won six races in 2006.

Kahne’s best points finish was fourth, in 2012. He drove for Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Rick Hendrick, among others.

Kahne also won eight Xfinity Series races and five in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Tony Stewart

Stewart began his career in the IndyCar Series but soon detoured to NASCAR, and he made that choice look golden as he won three Cup Series championships.

Stewart’s first two titles (2002, 2005) came for team owner Joe Gibbs. Stewart moved on to a team he co-owned — Stewart-Haas Racing — and won the championship there in 2011.

By career’s end, Stewart had won 49 Cup races, good enough for 15th on the all-time list.

Stewart built the foundation for his NASCAR success with championships and victories in Midget, Sprint and USAC Silver Crown racing. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020.






COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins


Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Kyle Busch decries lack of respect among NASCAR drivers


HAMPTON, Ga. — Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch laments the lack of respect between drivers in NASCAR, saying he’s tried to talk to competitors but that hasn’t helped. 

“We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers at all,” Busch said Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “That’s where the problem lies. Nobody gives two (expletive) about anybody else.

“It’s just a problem where everybody takes advantage of everybody as much as they can. We’re all selfish, granted. But there was an etiquette that once did live here. 

“Mark (Martin) started it. Tony (Stewart) lived by it. I think Jeff (Gordon) lived by it. Bobby Labonte, Rusty (Wallace) for the most part, Dale Jarrett, for sure. It did exist. That’s gone.”

The issue of driver respect was a topic Saturday at Atlanta in light of Denny Hamlin wrecking Ross Chastain on the final lap last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. 

NASCAR penalized Hamlin 25 points and $50,000 only after Hamlin admitted on his podcast that he did hit Chastain intentionally after past issues with Chastain.

Busch referenced Hamlin and Chastain when asked Saturday if he understood the difference between hard racing and taking someone out.

“No,” Busch said, “because last year at Gateway was a pretty good representation of cat and mouse and nothing was done. What do we do in those situations?”

Chastain’s contact wrecked Hamlin at Gateway last June. About 15 laps later, Hamlin drove Chastain down to the apron on the backstretch before Chastain passed. Hamlin later impeded Chastain again. It got to the point that NASCAR instructed the team to tell Hamlin he had made his point.

Asked what he would like seen done in such situations, Bush said: “Drivers to be ethical and take responsibility for their action and race and race hard. 

“If you make a mistake, OK fine, I get it. When you intentionally drive over somebody because they made a move on you or something you didn’t like, then you get punched in the face afterward.”

Busch also expressed displeasure Saturday with Chandler Smith, noting their contact on the last lap at Phoenix while racing for third in the Xfinity Series race. Smith called the contact a “racing incident” after the race.

“I’ve tried to talk to guys,” Busch said. “They don’t listen, so I’ve lost interest in talking to them. I had a teammate that I talked to, a kid that raced for me two years in the Truck Series real recently who I got into it last week with and tried to talk to him about those exact same issues. Lo and behold, it happened to me three races into a new year somewhere else, so I’m done taking to them.”

Busch said two conversations with Tony Stewart earlier in his career proved impactful.

“I think the biggest thing was the impact it had for me was him taking the time and doing that, but also giving him the respect and understanding that he’s been around for a long time and raced against a lot of those really great drivers and was a two-time champion at that time,” Busch said. “So I gave him that respect and we rarely had issues since then. I think that says it.”

Busch said one solution to the issues on track would be to do in NASCAR what happens at some small tracks.

Involved in an incident, the driver gets sent to the back of the pack. It’s what happens in the racing that Busch’s son, Brexton, does.

“He already knows that he can’t run somebody over because he gets sent to the back,” Busch said of his son. “I think that’s something else, there’s no repercussions for running somebody over. If you want to do that, you get sent to the back, you get held a lap, something. But if you spin somebody out — and I’m guilty of it, I spun somebody out for the lead before or the win before or something like that on accident racing —  but if it happens, then you get sent to the back.

“Caution comes out, you go to the back. There’s repercussions for that right now. That’s the short track adage and how these kids learn when they’re growing up. Maybe we need to implement that here.”