Sunday saw William Byron, for two-weeks in a row, beat Kyle Larson in a overtime restart to win the Cup Series race, this time at Phoenix Raceway in the United Rentals Work United 500. Kevin Harvick had overtaken Larson for the lead with 43 laps to go but a caution with 11 laps to go for Harrison Burton blowing a tyre, saw Harvick lose the lead on pit road and fall back to seventh, having taken four tyres, while Larson and Byron came off pit road first and second on just two tyres.
William Byron had taken the lead away from pole-sitter Kyle Larson on lap two and went on to win stage one but Kyle Larson took the lead back on pit road during the stage break and won stage two.
Heading towards the white flag, Tyler Reddick gave a helpful push to Byron coming down the backstretch heading, as Blaney, Larson and Byron were three-wide for the lead with Byron on the outside, helping Byron clear Larson and Blaney going into turn four to take the white flag and the checkered flag.
It’s Byron sixth career win and his first at Phoenix in the Cup Series.
Byron thanked crew chief Rudy Fugle for the win saying: “Owe the last couple weeks to him. He’s done a really good job strategy-wise, and execution-wise we’ve done a good job to put ourselves in those positions on the front row with a shot at the end.”
Kyle Larson led 201 of the 312 laps so was not too pleased to come in fourth after losing the win to Byron in the same fashion for two-weeks running, being beat in last week’s overtime restart in Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 400-mile race, saying: “Restarts are just tough. [Byron] did a really good job of holding it to my outside, clearing me down the back. Yeah, I’m pissed off.”
Kevin Harvick aka “The Closer” was looking to become a 10-time Phoenix Cup Series winner. Having started 15th, he finished eighth and third in stages one and two respectively before in the final stage on a long green flag run passed Larson for the lead with 43 laps to go.
Harvick was clear sailing prior to the caution with 11 laps to go and was not able to gain any positions when the field went back to green with three laps to go before Noah Gragson, AJ Allmendinger, and Ty Gibbs wrecked in turns one and two sending the race into overtime.
Harvick said: “That’s the way it goes. Just smoked ’em up until the caution. They did a great job with our Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang. Didn’t need the caution at the end.”
It was Harvick’s 20th straight top-10 finish at Phoenix Raceway in the Cup Series.
Ryan Blaney had a strong race from start to finish coming home in the runner up spot. Blaney finished sixth and eighth in stage one and two respectively. The Team Penske driver was running sixth at the time of Burton blowing his tyre.
Ford and former Penske teammate Brad Keselowski also had a strong race prior to the overtime finish, being ninth and fourth in stages one and two respectively before finishing eighteenth.
Josh Berry, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott, drove the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet to an impressive 10th place finish. Berry was getting used up in stage one struggling to get inside the top 25. The full-time JR Motorsports Xfinity driver worked his way into the top 15 in the final stage before finishing one place behind Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman, placing all four Hendrick Chevrolet’s in the top-10.
Rest of race recap
The United Rentals 500 marked the debut of the new short track package, seeing a 30% reduction in downforce compared to last year’s short track package, due in part to halving the spoiler from four inches to two.
The cars were permitted to race in wet conditions if they occurred during the race as part of NASCAR’s expansion to allow wet-weather racing at one mile or less sized oval tracks in addition to the road course races.
2021 Phoenix winner Kyle Larson led the field to green flag before Byron released Larson of the lead getting by on the inside of turn one on lap two.
With under ten to go in stage one, BJ McLeod retired with a fuel pump issue before Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tagged the turn one wall running 25th but was able to continue. Byron led the rest of the laps to win stage one.
During the stage one caution break, Kyle Larson was able to win back the lead on pit road in part to having the number one pit stall at the end of pit road.
Aric Almirola brought out the caution on lap 139 after his wheel hub and tyre broke free. Larson was first off pit road again and went on to win stage two.
Harvick started the final stage side-by-side with Larson on the restart but Larson quickly pulled away to a 2.5 second gap by lap 207.
During the rest of the final stage, the whole field split the 127-lap stage in half except Erik Jones who stayed out in the lead on old tyres until Kyle Larson caught and passed him for the lead on much fresher tyres with 52 laps to go. Jones was hoping for a caution to force everybody else down pit road again while with the lead but one didn’t come before having to pit. Jones finished 21st.
As the run went on Harvick closed back down the gap to Larson to just 0.3 seconds and cleared him coming out of turn three with 43 laps to go.
The crash that led to the overtime finish came from Gragson and AJ Allmendinger colliding into the turn two wall together, while Gibbs piled into the back of them after getting tangled with Corey Lajoie on the high lane in turn one.
The 2022 Hamlin-Chastain clash was revived on the final lap when Denny Hamlin washed up the race track in turn two dragging Chastain into the wall. Hamlin had spent most of the day in the top five but would only come home 23rd in the end, with Chastain 24th. Both had a long conversation with each other on pit road post-race.
The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series is the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway this Sunday, with the race starting at 3pm ET.
Featured image: William Byron, driver of the #24 Valvoline Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2023 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and is meshing the old with the new, bringing back the iconic and beloved North Wilkesboro Speedway for its All-Star Race, while introducing its first ever street course in downtown Chicago this summer. There has also been exciting changes made to the rulebook including the introduction of wet weather tyres for short oval tracks. With a revised Next Gen car coming off its maiden voyage last season, and plenty of significant driver changes, this year’s NASCAR season is set to bring the thunder.
Discussing the 75th anniversary, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said: “I think anyone who is involved in this sport at all, whether you work at NASCAR, or you work at a race team or for a racetrack, or our fans, it’s just a moment in time for us to take a step back and really celebrate and honor the past which is what we’re going to do. And I think the unique thing is we also need to celebrate what’s happening today in this sport and then a look forward. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re talking about this, our “75th” and we have a tagline, “always forward”. That’s going to represent what we’re going to do.”
North Wilkesboro Speedway
North Wilkesboro Speedway returns to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for it’s All-Star Race, after being removed from the schedule following the conclusion of the 1996 season after NASCAR had to replace some Southeast tracks in order to expand further into new markets across America such the Midwest. Wilkes County historically, was NASCAR’s heartland for both team and fans with much of their fanbase still found there and in the surrounding region today.
NASCAR have rightly brought one of NASCAR’s most legendary tracks back into the limelight where it will shine again on May 21st. It makes North Wilkesboro Speedway officially the oldest track on the schedule, having being opened in 1947. It saw on-track racing again last August including Late Model racing, after being closed since 2011. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will also have a 250-lap points-paying race on May 20th.
NASCAR is in with the old and new this year, introducing it’s 220-mile street course in the downtown Chicago area. Chicago continually proves to be one of NASCAR’s largest market, with a much needed return to the region after cutting Chicagoland Speedway from the schedule in 2021.
The new street course debuted virtually in iRacing in 2021.
The July Atlanta race has been converted into a night race with all races since the 2021 reconfiguration, where it was turned into a superspeedway, taking place in the daytime. They have not had a night race in the Cup Series there since 2014.
World Wide Technology Raceway & Bristol Motor Speedway
The 300-mile race at World Wide Technology Raceway returns for a second year after the Cup Series’ inaugural race there last season, where Joey Logano took his second points-paying win on his way to his second Cup Series championship.
We will also see a third rendition of the Bristol Dirt Race, hoping to capitalise on last year’s dramatic race ending that saw Chase Briscoe collide with Tyler Reddick on the final lap allowing Kyle Busch to beat both to the finish line.
Auto Club Speedway
NASCAR is taking its 75th anniversary tagline “Always Forward” to the construction site as well as it will sadly be the last race for Auto Club Speedway on February 26th in its two-mile configuration before being temporarily taken off the schedule to be reconfigured into a half-mile track on the same site with the race venue not set to return to the NASCAR schedule until after 2024.
By far the biggest driver change this season is the switch of two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch from leading Toyota team Joe Gibbs Racing after racing for “The Coach” for 15 years, to Richard Childress Racing’s Chevrolet team.
Busch was unable to secure new sponsorship with Gibbs after M&M’s announced in the 2021 off-season that they were pulling out of the sport. Busch replaces RCR hotshot Tyler Reddick after he controversially signed a contract with Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing to drive for them starting in 2024 without consulting with Childress. This resulted in Childress removing Reddick from his seat early as he was due to race for RCR still for the 2023 season.
Kyle Busch returns to Chevrolet after starting his Cup Series career with them in 2004 with Hendrick Motorsports until 2008 when he went to Toyota’s JGR. It is a huge loss for Toyota, having lost their most successful NASCAR driver, with Busch winning the first Cup Series race with them in 2008 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and having won the 2015 and 2019 Cup Series championships with them.
Luckily for Reddick, Denny Hamlin, who ironically drives for JGR, had the contract brought forward to have him race for him this season instead of having to sit the year out. This became possible after 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch announced he would no longer be racing full-time after not being able to return to race for 23XI Racing following a serious injury he received during qualifying for the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway last July. Kurt Busch remains a key part of the 23XI Racing operation.
Ty Gibbs, the grandson of Joe Gibbs, replaces Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing and will compete full-time this season after he filled in for Kurt Busch last season competing in 15 Cup races for 23XI Racing. Ty Gibbs won last year’s Xfinity Series Championship after controversially spinning out teammate Brandon Jones at Martinsville Speedway the week before, preventing him from having the chance to make the Final 4 at Phoenix to compete for a championship.
Tragically, Ty’s dad Coy Gibbs, a much beloved long-time member of the Joe Gibbs Racing family, suddenly passed away the day after he watched his son win the championship and be loudly booed by fans. Ty Gibbs has been through an incredibly difficult time but is now all set to go for the 2023 season.
Ryan Preece returns to the Cup Series full-time after he was left without a ride after the 2021 season. He replaces Cole Custer who’s performance was mediocre at best across his three seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, only bagging one victory at Kentucky Speedway in 2020. It’s not all doom and gloom for Custer however, as he will still race part-time for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, to the world’s excitement announced in the off-season he had become a co-owner at Petty GMS Motorsports, now renamed to Legacy Motor Club, and would also race on a part-time schedule for them including the Daytona 500 and the Chicago street course.
Jimmie Johnson will also compete in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race as part of NASCAR’s Garage 56 program alongside the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button and 2010 Le Mans 24 winner Mike Rockenfeller.
Kaulig Racing have promoted AJ Allmendinger to a full-time Cup ride this season alongside Justin Haley after competing part-time only in the Cup Series after the 2018 season when he then raced for JTG Daugherty Racing and joined Kaulig’s Cup program the following year. He brought Kaulig success when he won the Cup Series race at the Indy Road Course in 2021. This was his second Cup win after earning his first at Watkins Glen in 2014.
Noah Gragson, the 13-time Xfinity Series winner, replaces Ty Dillon at Legacy Motor Club after competing for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity series from 2019-2022. Gragson is another fresh driver like Ty Gibbs that we could see some outstanding performances from this year. The Las Vegas native has already competed in a handful of Cup races for Beard Motorsports and Kaulig Racing over the last two seasons.
Ty Dillon, while having one of his strongest season performances last year, including at Talladega and the Bristol Dirt Race, did not perform consistently enough compared with teammate Erik Jones but has found himself a new home at Spire Motorsports with new teammate Corey LaJoie, joining the teams ambition to become a more competitive car this year. Ty is more motivated than ever to prove to everyone he belongs in the Cup Series and at the front. He will also race a part-time schedule for his grandfather Richard Childress in the Xfinity Series racing the infamous No. 3 car.
Zane Smith will run a select number of races this year for Front Row Motorsports with six of his seven starts replacing Todd Gilliland, who is good friends with the 2022 Craftsman Truck Series Champion, forcing Gilliland to find new rides for those races in order to compete full-time this season and be eligible for a championship run. The two will race alongside each other as teammates for Front Row for the Daytona 500.
In the off-season Kevin Harvick announced that 2023 would mark his final season in the NASCAR Cup Series before retiring following a 23-year run in the Cup Series. He will join the FOX Sports Booth NASCAR alongside former Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer.
Harvick has accomplished a lot, including taking the 2014 Cup Series championship, winning the 2007 Daytona 500, and helping take the sport out of a tragically difficult time when he took over the Richard Childress Racing seat, making his Cup debut in 2001, following the passing of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. after a serious crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick, a highly respected voice in the garage, will surely continue to voice his opinion about all things NASCAR this season too.
The Team Penske driver from Connecticut, will attempt to go back-to-back for Cup championships this year after becoming a two-time Cup champion last season. He took four wins on his way to his second title, in addition to winning the inaugural LA Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race at the start of the season, including the inaugural World Wide Technology Raceway Cup race and winning the Championship 4 race at Phoenix. The 2015 Daytona 500 winner earned his first Cup championship in 2018.
Harrison Burton, son of former NASCAR Cup Series driver and now NBC Sports commentator Jeff Burton, comes off his rookie season with only two-top 10’s with him struggling to be seen in his first campaign in the Cup Series. Driving for the famed Wood Brothers, who have a technical alliance with Team Penske, Burton will be expected to step up this season and deliver a more competitve performance.
Wet weather tyres
There is a whole roster of rule changes that aims to improve the racing and keep the cars on track. No more exciting is the addition of wet-weather tyres being permitted at several tracks of one mile or less including the LA Coliseum, Martinsville Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, and Richmond Raceway.
Officials tested wet weather tyres at Martinsville’s 0.526-mile short track in March 2021 and June 2022. Windshield wipers will also be required on the cars for these tracks but only starting with the Phoenix Raceway race in March.
Road course races will no longer have mandatory caution periods during stage breaks. Instead, the race will continue under green at the stage break with stage points being given out as normal at the end of the stage-ending lap. With the removal of mandatory stage break cautions, this brings back the prospect of having entire green-flag races with only organic strategies influencing them.
Loose wheels became a thorn in teams’ sides last season. Thankfully, there will no longer be any four-race crew chief suspensions for loose wheels. Instead, pass through penalties under green or being sent to the tail end of the longest line under yellow will be given out with however NASCAR have said: “If the wheel breaks free outside of pit road, the new rules guidelines mandate a two-lap penalty, plus a two-race suspension for two crew members.”
Drivers will now be able to choose which lane they restart on during races at superspeedways and dirt tracks. This adds Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Speedway, and the Bristol Dirt Race to the list of eligible tracks.
Hail Melon move
Ross Chastain’s “Hail Melon” move at Martinsville Speedway last season, where he wall-rided around turns three and four like it was an EA Sports NASCAR video game to gain enough positions to qualify for the championship 4 in Phoenix, has been clamped down by NASCAR due to safety concerns.
There will be a time penalty handed out to anyone who tries to make the move. Still, it became one of NASCAR’s most iconic moments in history becoming the most viewed moment of NASCAR in a matter of days via social media.
Little has changed to the playoff structure despite calls from fans to have it changed, such as cycling the championship 4 race destination, other than making it so that drivers will no longer be required to be in the top 30 in points to be eligible for the playoffs.
Damaged Vehicle Policy
Teams will now be see a seven-minute repair clock instead of five for working on the car on pit road under the damage vehicle policy.
Safety became a huge talking point last season after serious concussions caused by crash impacts fell upon the drivers Kurt Busch, while qualifying at Pocono, and Alex Bowman during the Texas Motor Speedway race, as well as serious car fires experienced by Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski due to rubber build up in the wheel well. In addition, many drivers complained of hard impacts during crashes throughout the season with driver such as Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Noah Gragson concerned for their own safety.
This season, teams will use new centre and rear clips on the car chassis, with both sections modified to better absorb rear impacts.
NASCAR stated: “The improved 2023 design features the removal of some bars, a reduction in the thickness of some tubing and adding pivot points called “triggers” in the structure to encourage deformation while protecting both the oil tank and fuel cell.”
Alex Bowman will miss Talladega with concussion-like symptoms.
NASCAR are mandating new incident data collection systems on all Cup cars for 2023. Dr. John Patalak, NASCAR’s Vice President of safety engineering said: “It is a completely new system from the ground up. This will give us more data channels, will give us dedicated GPS data as far as the speed of the vehicle, and we’ll have a lot of those things all synchronized in time.”
Some drivers will also voluntarily wear mouthpiece sensors this season, continuing from 2022, which provide vital information about the driver’s bodies during the crashes as well as the race in general.
The SFI-approved foam that surrounds the driver’s head has been improved to better protect the drivers from injury, addressing the most significant heights, positioning and gaps that best protect the driver’s head in a crash.
Longtime NASCAR executive Mike Helton, talking about the 75th anniversary 2023 season said: “It’s kind of indicative going into 2023, [that] our 75th anniversary, with the uniqueness of the LA Coliseum for the Clash and then the Chicago Grant Park race because it all signals we’ve been doing this for 75 years, but one of the ways we figured out how to do it for 75 years was to stay fresh and current.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps furthered the sentiment by saying: “Our fans have told us again and again and again, they want schedule variation. So, whether we’re going to North Wilkesboro for the All-Star race, or to the Chicago street course, in our 75 years we’ve never raced on the street ever, so you’re talking about milestones.”
NASCAR 2023 has the most diverse schedule ever seen for a season in decades, with arguably the most competitive driver line-up to date. In the modern era, and most certainly in the playoff era, it’s not just an exciting time to be a NASCAR fan on it’s 75th anniversary, it’s the best time to be a NASCAR fan.
We cannot wait to cover the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season for you here at ThePitCrewOnline!
Featured Image: NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary logo (Photo by NASCAR)
Martin Truex Jr. led the final 25 laps holding off the chasing Richard Childress Racing duo of Austin Dillon and former teammate Kyle Busch to win the 150-lap Clash at the LA Coliseum under the lights.
Truex Jr. spent most of the race up front alongside Toyota teammate Bubba Wallace who led 40 laps including leading going into the halftime break after a two-lap shootout holding off Dillon. With seven laps to go Dillon dumped Wallace in turn one fighting over second place as Truex pulled away. Wallace ended up finishing 22nd.
Truex stated that there was a “lot of fire in my belly to change what we did last year” in reference to going winless in the 2022 season and just missing making the playoffs.
It’s a complete reversal of last year’s inaugural clash at the LA Coliseum where the 2017 Cup champion barely made the main event, was unable to pass and spun on his own on the final lap. Truex said Sunday’s race day from winning heat two before the main race onwards has been “a huge confidence booster” now going into Daytona.
A new and unexpected addition for NASCAR fans to this year’s Clash at the LA Coliseum was the top three drivers receiving honorary “Clash” medals post-race, in what was a nod to the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games previously held at the Coliseum, as opposed to just the race winner receiving a trophy. Truex additionally was awarded with a separate Clash trophy.
Dillon’s new teammate and two-time champion Kyle Busch experienced getting moved himself when with 65 laps to go, reigning champion Joey Logano drove deep into turn three and tagging Busch, spinning him around. Not at all pleased with the Team Penske driver’s actions Busch said post-race “Logano didn’t get hit by nobody. He just flat-out drove through me, so he’s got another one coming. I owe him a few.” Busch then impressively drove back up through the field from 25th to second before relinquishing the position to Dillon with four laps to go.
Busch’s climb back through the field was all the more impressive given that this year’s race at the Coliseum dealt out 16 cautions, over three times as many compared with last year’s five, including being bombarded with yellows during the middle third of the race with many cars spinning out including AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, and Kevin Harvick after being tagged, attempting to race around the extremely tight quarters arena.
Busch post-race said “we were spoiled” by last year’s race with Dillon adding there was “much more parody” this time around with the teams and drivers being more familiar with the track. Most of the race was also ran under the lights increasing the overall grip for the drivers compared to last year’s daytime running of the event.
Busch went on to say that if they had used the old generation car in Sunday’s race, half of the radiators would have been knocked out with Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson adding that the current generation car is much stiffer and stronger in comparison.
It was actually New England’s Ryan Preece “Lightning” who led the most laps with 43 but shortly after getting bumped out of the way for the lead by Truex Jr. with 25 to go, his car experienced a temporary electrical problem and quickly fell back to fifth; Preece finished seventh. Preece had been Stewart-Haas Racing’s reserve driver in 2022 after competing full-time for three seasons for JTG Daugherty Racing.
Preece climbed through the stock car ranks by dominating on the short tracks in the New England region so Truex was “not shocked at all” to see him leading at the quarter-mile mile track despite being out of a full-time Cup ride last year.
Pole-sitter Aric Almirola led the opening 16 laps before being overtaken by Denny Hamlin. By lap 67 however he found himself being lapped by then leader Bubba Wallace.
It was a short lived race for Legacy Motor Club’s Erik Jones, previously known as Petty GMS Racing in 2022, after he made contact with Kevin Harvick, damaging the toe link, forcing him to retire.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney had a rough ride of a race after being spun out twice, the first time in turn one in the opening stage of the race, with the second incident seeing him end up backwards in the turn two wall while running ninth.
Ty Gibbs and Todd Gilliland crossed swords for several laps knocking into each other’s fenders before on lap 43 AJ Allmendinger, an innocent bystander, would get wiped out by Gilliland after Gibbs ran into the back of him. Gilliland would then spin out Harvick on lap 72 before having the favour returned with 69 laps to go. Gibbs would retire with suspension damage.
Another draw for fans attending the Clash was the pre-race entertainment as well as the Clash’s halftime show. Cypress Hill performed ahead of pre-race ceremonies that had many bobbing their heads to the multi-platinum hip hop group.
As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary, the biggest race of the season, the 65th running of the Daytona 500 is less than two weeks away, with the Daytona Duels taking place on February 16th starting at 7pm ET and the green flag for the Daytona 500 flying on February 19th at 2:30pm ET. You don’t wanna miss it!
Full race results
Martin Truex Jr.
Heat 1 winner – Aric Almirola
Heat 2 winner – Martin Truex Jr.
Heat 3 winner – Denny Hamlin
Heat 4 winner – William Byron
First last chance qualifying race – Michael McDowell
Second last chance qualifying race – Chase Elliott
Featured Image: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, celebrates with the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Clash at The Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
After running inside the top five for the first two stages, Daniel Suárez controlled the race at the front for the final stage, holding off challenges from Chris Buescher and Kevin Harvick for the final 40 laps before pulling a four second lead heading to the chequered flag to get his first NASCAR Cup Series victory by winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway road course on Sunday.
This was Suárez’s 195th career start in the Cup Series and his sixth season since joining the top division in 2017. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Suárez becomes the first Mexican driver to win a NASCAR Cup race and joins the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the 2007 Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in his rookie year, in being the fifth foreign driver to win a Cup race.
Suárez also joins Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe in becoming the fourth first-time winner in the Cup Series in 2022.
Speaking to FOX’s Jamie Little Suárez said: “A lot of people in Mexico, my family, they never gave up on me, a lot of people did but they didn’t. This is the first one of many.” Suárez was Trackhouse Racing’s first driver in the Cup Series when they entered in 2021 after buying Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation.
For Chris Buescher and Kevin Harvick, both had opportunities in the final stage to take the lead away but were unable to find a way past the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. Buescher, who was unable to race last week at WWT Raceway due to testing positive for Covid, had initially led the start of stage three but went wide at both turns four and seven and would drop back to fourth, handing the lead to Suárez.
Harvick moved up to second and was pressuring Suárez in what was a three-car battle for the lead for two laps before Buescher dived down the inside of Harvick in turn 11 to retake second.
On a restart with 23 laps to go, Suárez got a great launch over Buescher, but four laps later had to go defensive into turn 11 to cover Buescher off. With Buescher appearing unwilling to use the bumper with over 15 laps to go, Buescher would then proceed to slip back reporting he had weak forward drive and with five laps to go, Suárez had built a five second lead over him.
Talking to FOX, Buescher said: “I’m just disappointed with myself, didn’t get the job done there when it counted.” Both Buescher and Harvick were looking for their first win of the season.
Suárez was not looking to be the race favourite as that went to Hendrick drivers Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, as Larson and Elliott have dominated the road courses in recent years, but due to poor execution on pit road resulting in penalties, Larson would only manage 15th while Elliott finished eighth.
Kyle Larson was the reigning race winner and led the field to green before leading all 25 laps of stage one. Larson chose to go for the stage win instead of pitting for tyres and fuel prior to the end of stage one and would consequently start 24th. In the 2021 race, Larson was able to work his way to the front in stage two, but was only up to 14th when he and everyone pitted again.
On the final pit stop with 28 laps to go, Larson’s crew would fail to get the front right tyre secured and instead Larson’s tyre came off the car in turn two after exiting the pits bringing out the caution and ending any hopes of a race win. His crew chief Cliff Daniels, and two crew members were all given a four-race suspension for the incident.
Elliott had ran inside the top three in stage one, only getting overtaken by Buescher for second with four laps to go in the stage before giving up stage points and pitting in exchange for a good starting spot for stage two. Elliott led most of stage two with Buescher following him and at one point had an eight second lead over then third place Suárez.
In Elliott’s pit stop sequence at the end of stage two, disaster struck when Elliott was called back to the pit box by crew chief Alan Gustafson for having a loose left rear wheel but failed to get his car fully inside the box and instead the team serviced his car resulting in a costly penalty that saw Elliott start from the rear of the field for the final stage.
Elliott however was successful in delivering Hendrick Motorsports its 100,000 mile in leading Cup races during stage two. They are the first organization to reach the milestone.
Road course veteran Michael McDowell would finish third in the end after qualifying fourth and moving up to third in the opening laps before fighting amongst the top ten for the majority of the race.
Apart from Larson’s loose wheel, the only other cause for caution came on lap 10 when Bubba Wallace’s engine let go.
After already spinning out in stage one, Erik Jones during stage two spun out trying to pass on the inside entering turn seven. Suárez’s Trackhouse Racing teammate Ross Chastain then performed a carbon copy of it a few laps trying to pass Suárez and fell back from fourth to seventh. Chastain had ran ahead of Suárez in third earlier in the stage.
Joey Logano, after concluding they didn’t have a race winning car, decided to stay out at the end of stage two to bag a stage win and a playoff point. Logano fired off 24th at the start of stage three and finished 17th.
AJ Allmendinger had an incredible afternoon as despite having lost power steering early on in the race, he broke into the top 10 inside of 20 laps to go. Allmendinger risked bringing out the caution with two laps to go when he went off in turn three, the sight visible to “Daniel’s Amigos” who had been cheering Suárez on every lap, but Allmendinger got going, and the race stayed green until Suárez took the chequered flag.
Stage 2 results: 1st Joey Logano, 2nd Aric Almirola, 3rd Chris Buescher, 4th Daniel Suárez, 5th Kevin Harvick, 6th Todd Gilliland, 7th Harrison Burton, 8th Michael McDowell, 9th Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 10th Ryan Blaney.
Featured Image: Daniel Suárez , driver of the #99 Onx Homes/Renu Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 12, 2022 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Watermelon farmer turned NASCAR Cup racer Ross Chastain smashed out his first career win at Circuit of the Americas in final lap brawl.
On the hottest day of the year just outside of Austin, Texas, the NASCAR race at COTA came down to an overtime finish between Ross Chastain, road-course ringer AJ Allmendinger and Hendrick’s Alex Bowman.
On the final restart, it was Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick who led the field to green with Ross Chastain right beside him in second, but Chastain used the chrome horn and power moved by Reddick in the S’s to retake the lead.
Reddick would fall back to sixth while Chastain would take the white flag and would lead the break away with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman in tandem.
Allmendinger closed up to Chastain in the turn 12 heavy braking zone and would continue to fill his mirrors up in turns 13 and 14 before sticking his Camaro up the inside of Chastain in turn 15, consequently pushing Chastain wide after he tried to cover him off.
Chastain would get passed by Bowman too after he dived past him on the inside of 18 while Chastain returned the favour to Allmendinger going into the penultimate corner, using him as a braking block. Allmendinger’s car stepped out on him and flew into Bowman who was alongside him. Allmendinger ended up backwards in the sand while Bowman had to take evasive action to avoid him. Chastain went on to take the checkered flag.
The highly anticipated ritual-like smashing of the watermelon was performed by Chastain on the straightaway from on top of his ONX Homes/iFly Camaro. Chastain was so thrilled he ate the juicy fruit while being interviewed, saying to FOX, “it’s never tasted sweeter.”
It was also Trackhouse Racing’s first Cup win and was quite the birthday present for co-team owner Justin Marks.
Celebrations continued throughout the first half of the week with Chastain’s own Melon Man Brand, a grassroots lifestyle organisation uniting all watermelon lovers, putting up pre-orders for a most appropriate T-shirt on Tuesday to mark the iconic moment.
Back at the race shop on Tuesday, Team Trackhouse were all bought a celebratory breakfast. Watermelon may or may not have been present.
Back to Sunday’s race, other drivers had found to be fast throughout the race, most notably Team Trackhouse teammate Daniel Suárez, who after starting second would take the lead away from polesitter Ryan Blaney on the opening lap. Suárez would go onto win the first stage of the race. He had a not so fun experience on the restart however, finding himself spinning around while in a five-wide mess in turn one. Denny Hamlin, in desperate need of points, would sacrifice track position and stay out to win stage two.
Ford drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric would also be at the front throughout much of the race but not when Cindric brought out the first non-scheduled caution of the day for spinning coming out of the turn 10 kink, with Christopher Bell narrowly avoiding him by a whisker. The race would go to overtime when Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano came together in the turn one sandpit.
Bowman, Bell, Elliott, and Reddick made up the top five finishing order.
Featured Image: Ross Chastain, celebrates after winning at COTA (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)