The NASCAR Cup Series will make history today by racing around the 12-turn 2.2-mile street course around and in Grant Park in downtown Chicago in what will be NASCAR’s first ever street course race, the Grant Park 220, with the Chicago city skyline and Lake Michigan as the backdrop.
Drivers to watch
The Grant Park 220 will consist of 100 laps (220 miles), and will have three stages of 20, 25, and 55 laps but like road course races this season, there will be no stage ending cautions, giving crew chiefs more options with strategy.
The green flag has been moved up from 5:30pm ET to 5pm due to downtown Chicago receiving a month’s worth of rainfall in the last 24 hours with the intention of avoiding further weather however it will be a very wet start to the race at least.
Drivers on Saturday prior to qualifying did get some practice in light rain conditions but will possibly have to relearn the track in the anticipated tricky conditions.
Check NASCAR and the @PitCrew_Online on Twitter for updates.
Denny Hamlin knocked three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen off provisional pole, to secure his third pole of the season with a 1.28.435.
Hamlin said: “The course is actually very very good and raceable. I think there will be a ton of passing zones [in Sunday’s race].”
Shane van Gisbergen, who is making his NASCAR Cup Series debut with the Trackhouse Racing Project 91 team, ended up third fastest in the top-10 shootout with a 1.28.588.
23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who Hamlin is the team co-owner of, qualified second with a 1.28.479.
Jenson Button, in his second Cup Series start with Rick Ware Racing, also made the top-10 shootout, qualifying eighth with a 1.29.571.
Mexico’s Daniel Suarez topped the Round 1 Group A qualifying session with a 1.28.755, with Larson, Button, Reddick, and Allmendinger joining him for the top-10 shootout.
Group B’s qualifying session was not so smooth with Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick crashing and bringing out two red flags in the session.
Elliott, while following Shane van Gisbergen, clipped the right hand wall going into turn eight and the hit the wall opposite head on. Harvick made the same mistake in turn one, hitting the wall hard.
Polesitter Hamlin topped Group B with a 1.28.369, while van Gisbergen was second with a 1.28.509. Bell, McDowell, and Logano also joined them for the top-10 shootout.
Drivers to watch
In terms of one-lap pace, Hamlin, Reddick, and van Gisbergen were nearly a whole second quicker than the rest of the top-10 shootout contenders.
Van Gisbergen is a three-time and reigning Supercars champion in Australia and topped the practice charts on Saturday in what has been a mighty impressive performance so far from the New Zealander.
With the Gen 3 Supercars sharing many similarities with NASCAR’s Gen 7 car, Gisbergen who drives for the Red Bull Ampol Racing Chevrolet Camaro team in the series, is accustomed to racing heavy V8-powered muscle cars around street courses, with the Supercars series competing on several street courses each season such as in Newcastle, and Townsville, Australia.
Shane van Gisbergen could very well take the chequered flag today, if he can carry over his experience, patience, and sensational car control and placement that he has shown in the Supercars series.
The NASCAR Cup Series regulars could come out on top by the end in Hamlin or Reddick, with Hamlin having one road course win at Watkins Glen, and Reddick winning three of the last six road course races, at Indianapolis Road Course, COTA, and Road America.
Martin Truex Jr. has been on fire lately, including winning the Sonoma road course race three weeks ago for a second consecutive year and has five road course wins to his name.
Chase Elliott, while not having been at his best this weekend, should not be dismissed, as he holds the highest number of road course wins amongst active drivers with seven, coming at five different road courses.
2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button finished 18th at NASCAR’s Cup Series race at COTA earlier this year. With improved pace on the field this weekend, and extensive experience driving in the wet, we could see Button dueling it out for a top-five finish or better today.
Shane van Gisbergen
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Featured Image: A general view of the setup for the Chicago Street Race frontstretch (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
William Byron won Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway by avoiding two huge pile-ups and keeping his car inside the top 10 all race long, to secure his seventh career win and third win of the season while lots of drivers’ good days, including teammate Kyle Larson, were ruined by being caught up in multi-car pile-ups caused by Ross Chastain and Martin Truex Jr.
Another Blow to Larson’s Quest for Darlington Cup Win
Chastain Overdrives into Truex
Truex wrecks Logano
Bubba Wallace Comeback
Rest of Race Recap
Full Race Results
Byron snuck past the carnage caused by Truex Jr. and Joey Logano wrecking in turn one on a late race restart that created a pile-up behind them, moving Byron up into third place, where he had spent much of the race until a slow pit stop with less than 40 laps to go saw him fall back to ninth.
He found himself taking the lead via another pile-up on the very next restart with six laps to go as Chastain and Larson wrecked in turn one much like Truex Jr. and Logano had.
Byron easily fought off Harvick in the two-lap overtime shootout as Harvick’s car had suffered front-end damage from the first pile-up, to take the chequered flag in what was a moment of redemption for Byron as he had lost last year’s Spring Darlington race to Joey Logano via a bump and run in turns three and four on the final lap.
Byron said: “My grandad passed away on Thursday, and just, man, I wish my family could be here. Just things have a way of working out, honestly. It just worked out that way today. We didn’t have the best third stage. We just kept battling, and things just kind of come back around.”
As part of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend at Darlington’s Raceway on its 75th anniversary, William Byron’s No. 24 team was running a throwback paint scheme to four-time Cup champion and Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman, Jeff Gordon’s shiny 1998 All-Star Race DuPont (now AXALTA) Chromalusion/NASCAR 50th anniversary car.
On this day in 1998, Jeff Gordon's "Illusion Car" paint scheme for that year's All-Star Race was unveiled. It was painted in ChromaLusion Pure Fire Prizm, DuPont's new paint that changed color from red to gold depending on the light. The expensive paint cost $17 an ounce. pic.twitter.com/h7qW3gSBYw
Byron’s redemption Darlington victory appropriately secures the No. 24 car it’s 100th win in NASCAR, with Jeff Gordon having scored 93 of them.
Another Blow to Larson’s Quest for Darlington Cup Win
Kyle Larson fell short of a Darlington Cup Series win once again, after marching through the field and appearing to have the best car, only to be taken out by Ross Chastain who while also having one of the strongest cars in the race, failed to stop himself from causing multiple pileups from asking too much out of his race car.
Larson, Saturday’s Darlington Xfinity race winner, became buried back in traffic after having a slow pit on lap 39 in stage one but went from 29th to 12th by the end of the stage.
Larson impressively cut through the field all the way up to third by the end of stage two and was a threat for the win as he jumped race leader Ross Chastain during the final green flag pit stop on lap 246, and led over 20 laps until a caution for returning Cup Series veteran Ryan Newman saw the field be restacked with Larson and Chastain lined up together for the lap 281 restart.
As Truex and Logano wrecked behind them, Larson lost the lead as Chastain had inched ahead on the inside from the last scoring loop the two had past prior to the caution.
The next restart saw the pair race tightly side-by-side into turn one before Chastain sailed up into Larson and spun off Larson’s nose causing a pile-up behind with Larson pushing Chastain sideways out of turn two, dashing both their hopes for a Darlington win with Larson and Chastain ending up 20th and 29th.
Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet post-race said regarding Chastain’s aggressive driving: “It’s hard to win a championship when you got a lot of paybacks out there. Dale Earnhardt Sr. said ‘he got all the talent. He just doesn’t know how to race. [Chastain] is making a lot of enemies out there.”
Chastain said: “I got really tight and drove up and turned myself. I wanted to squeeze him. I wanted to push him up. We’d been racing back and forth all day. But I definitely didn’t want to turn myself.”
Larson did make contact with Chastain prior to the incident as they battled over the race lead as Truex Jr. and Logano wrecked behind them on the previous restart.
It’s yet another one that got away for Larson’s Darlington Raceway quest for a Cup Series win at The Lady In Black after previously amassing three runner up finishes, in 2019 and in both 2021 races as well as finishing third in the 2016 and 2018 Darlington races.
It’s the third time this season that Chastain has had a coming together with Larson that cost them the chance at a win, previously at Dover and Talladega.
Chastain Overdrives into Truex
Chastain had ran inside the top-five for much of the race and led over 100 laps before crashing into Larson. After finishing fourth in stage one, Chastain drove like he had been shot out of a cannon following the green flag pit stop halfway through stage two that saw him fly by Byron for second on lap 147 and race leader Truex Jr. four laps later as was able to hold off a late charging Truex for the final 11 laps to win stage two but not without controversy.
In turn three on the final lap Chastain broke hard behind a lapped car and bounced off the wall and into Truex who was sent spinning down the track and would finish 10th while Chastain would win stage two.
Truex’s car remained tight for the remainder of the race, with Truex putting it down to a bent toe link in the right front as a result of the contact.
All this comes just days after Chastain’s fighting incident with Legacy Motor Club driver Noah Gragson following the Kansas Cup race where he decided to land the first punch on pit road post-race after Gragson was displaying his displeasure towards him for running him into the turn four wall during the race.
Martin Truex Jr. started on the inside of Logano on row two for the lap 281 restart but got tight underneath him in turn one and ran Logano into the wall, and spun off of Logano’s Ford Mustang causing an eight-car pile-up and all but ended what had a been a strong day for the polesitter having led 145 laps.
Truex said: “Like I said, knocked the toe out in the right front. Pretty crappy from there, and then on that restart, I guess I just got real tight and I don’t even know who I squeezed into the wall, but I apologize to them. Probably my fault, just got real tight and couldn’t stay down the track.”
Logano and Truex Jr. would finish 18th and 31st respectively. Logano was running a distinctive 1973 Mark Donohue throwback scheme for the race that had got Team Penske their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Riverside.
Bubba Wallace came back to a fifth place finish after plummeting to 18th from third during the stage one break following a slow pit stop due to a lug nut issue.
Wallace had qualified second and dominated stage one with Truex until Byron passed Wallace for second with 10 laps to go in stage one.
Wallace found himself stuck during stage two unable to move forward much as only managed 15th at the end of stage two.
Avoiding being caught up in the late race drama saw Wallace earn valuable points with the fifth place finish.
Rest of Race Recap
The drivers to give command for Sunday’s race were none other than the drivers from NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list, all of which had been selected and revealed throughout the year up until the throwback weekend with drivers who could attend it in person such as Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., and Kevin Harvick giving the command to start engines.
Truex Jr. following the last lap spin in stage one, led the first half of stage two keeping ahead of Byron, despite Byron pitting lap earlier for fresh tyres, bringing the gap down from over four seconds to 1.4.
Lap 194 saw Erik Jones crash into the pack off turn two on a restart due a loose wheel coming away from under him, causing a nine-car crash that took Austin Dillon, and Daniel Suarez out of the race.
Jones, who was running a 1968 Richard Petty Daytona 500 throwback scheme, had worked his way up inside the top 15 from a 28th starting position.
A few laps into the final stage saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who had ran as high as sixth throughout stage one, spin out in turn three bringing out another caution.
With 78 laps to go on the next restart, Chastain and Kyle Busch, who had been inside the top ten all race, led the field back to green but Busch slid up into the turn two wall dropping down to fourth.
There was a three car battle in Chastain, Byron and Larson inside of 50 laps to go that saw Larson come out on top following the final green flag pit stop.
Three time Darlington Southern 500 winner Denny Hamlin stayed out for several laps during the final green flag pit cycle in a hope for a caution that would drag the field down pit road with him but did not come in time before Larson took the lead back from Hamlin on fresher tyres.
Christopher Bell was running second to Larson inside of 20 to go but a loose wheel from the pit stop forced him back down pit road under caution following Newman’s spin, which saw him start from the rear.
Due in part to the two late race pile-ups, the final top 10 was somewhat new compared to the rest of the race with Chase Elliott finishing third after a steady march through the field, Harrison Burton sixth, Justin Haley eighth, and Chris Buescher tenth.
The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series sees them return to the legendary and freshly renovated North Wilkesboro Speedway in Wilkes County, North Carolina this Sunday for this season’s All-Star Race with the All-Star Open last chance qualifying starting 5:30pm ET and the All-Star Race starting at 8pm ET.
Full Race Results
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.
Stage 1 Top 10
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stage 2 Top 10
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.
Ross Chastain – 429
Christopher Bell – 402
Kevin Harvick – 400
Denny Hamlin – 393
William Byron – 387
Martin Truex Jr. – 385
Ryan Blaney – 381
Tyler Reddick – 371
Brad Keselowski – 365
Kyle Larson – 363
Kyle Busch – 353
Joey Logano – 334
Chris Buescher – 329
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 325
Bubba Wallace – 293
Chase Briscoe – 275
Daniel Suarez – 262
Ty Gibbs – 260
Austin Cindric – 248
Michael McDowell – 241
Todd Gilliland – 240
Corey LaJoie – 238
Justin Haley – 225
Erik Jones – 221
Aric Almirola – 221
AJ Allmendinger – 214
Chase Elliott – 212
Ryan Preece – 201
Harrison Burton – 176
Austin Dillon – 166
Noah Gragson – 138
Ty Dillon – 110
BJ McLeod – 70
Featured Image: DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 14: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Throwback Chevrolet, reacts after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 14, 2023 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Joey Logano outduelled former Penske teammate and two-time Atlanta winner Brad Keselowski in the final laps of the Ambetter Health 400 on Sunday, with a push from Christopher Bell down the backstretch helping Logano clear the pack to win for the first time at Atlanta in the Cup Series.
It was a dominant display from Logano, having nabbed the pole from Penske teammate Austin Cindric by 0.006 of a second on Saturday, and going on to lead the most laps in Sunday’s race, leading 140 of the 260 laps, and also winning stage one before taking the chequers.
The reigning Cup Series champion said: “Yeah, first off so special to win Atlanta for me. So many memories of me and my dad racing right here on the quarter mile. This is the full circle for us. So many memories gritting over there with the Legends car, racing, having a big time. Dreaming of going straight at the quarter mile and going onto the big track. That was always the dream to do it. To finally win here means so much to me here personally, but the team.”
The track has deep family ties for Logano, having lived at one of the condo’s at the race track for four years with his family whilst working his way through the racing ranks.
Logano and his Team Penske teammates executed a strong race plan all day long. After the trio qualified one-two-three for the race with Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney qualifying second and third respectively, they helped Logano lead from the off. They stayed together for most of the race including in the final twenty laps where they persisted on the bottom lane, not allowing Brad Keselowski and the top lane to run away with the race.
With six laps to go it appeared all momentum and hope for Logano and Team Penske had been lost but a reenergized bottom lane put Logano back in contention.
On the final lap, Corey Lajoie bump-drafted Logano into turn one propelling Logano to lead the top lane and race side-by-side with Keselowski before Bell bumped him down the backstretch and into the lead.
Logano said: “The Auto Trader Mustang; this thing was an animal. Very, very fast.”
Runner-up Brad Keselowski furthered a dominant Ford display, with Ford having taken the top eight spots in qualifying, a feat that Ford hadn’t reached since 1965.
Keselowski looked in control of the race until he could no longer halt the momentum of Logano and raced cleanly to the chequered flag. Keselowski led the second most laps with 47.
Keselowski said: “The coolest thing about this race is two veterans showed you can run a race here side by side, bump-drafting, and not wreck the field. It can happen if you race respectfully. I thought everybody did a great job.”
Corey LaJoie had a career best fourth place finish after running inside the top 15 for the majority of the race.
Rest of race recap
Joey Logano and Austin Cindric led the field to green for the third Atlanta race since the 2021 repave where the banking was raised to 28 degrees in both corners, as well narrowing the corners, turning the track into a downsized Daytona superspeedway with the cars using the same race package used for Daytona and Talladega.
Logano led the first 10 laps before a caution came out for an out of control Bubba Wallace when he got loose on the outside next to Kyle Busch coming off turn two, before spinning across the track into the wall. Wallace was able to continue the race after repairs but would finish 27th five laps down.
Early on in stage one saw Kevin Harvick lead the bottom lane, but was not able to take the lead away from Logano for long. The NASCAR veteran was competing in his final Spring Atlanta race before retirement, the race of which he won in just his third Cup start 22 years ago, driving for Richard Childress, only three weeks after Childress and the NASCAR world suffered the loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
It was single file for the second half of stage one with Logano comfortably taking the stage win.
Stage two briefly saw a six-car breakaway at the front, midway through the fuel run in Logano, Kyle Busch, Blaney, Keselowski, Chris Buescher, and Cindric, before the rest of the pack came back to them.
Green flag pit stops just after 70 laps into stage two saw Ryan Blaney who had been running second behind Logano receive a speeding penalty for driving too fast on the apron in turn four in what is now part of pit entry, after NASCAR doubled the length of pit road entry, after the drivers had voiced safety concerns of having no runoff for pitting under green with the new configuration.
After serving the drive-through penalty, Blaney ended up being three cars in front of Logano trying to prevent his No. 12 BodyArmor SportWater Ford going two laps down before the stage break.
Blaney held on, with Cindric pinching the stage two win coming off turn four. Blaney would get the free pass later in the final stage.
The final stage saw both lanes in use with Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Harvick all taking turns to lead.
Disaster struck for Harvick when on lap 190, as he was sent around after Ross Chastain pushed air onto his rear bumper aggressively around the corner in turns one and two until Harvick’s car squirrelly lost control causing carnage for the field behind to avoid.
Buescher, Josh Berry, Daniel Suarez, Harrison Burton and BJ McLeod all got collected up in the mayhem.
Aric Almirola led the field back to green but on lap 209, on 72 lap old tyres, he blew a tyre in front of the pack, taking out Kyle Larson who was running second. Almirola had prior to the restart, gained 17 spots on pit road after taking fuel only under the caution.
The final 40 laps saw a duel between Logano and Keselowski, swapping the lead, before the duel intensified further with 13 laps to go.
Logano had help in his Penske teammates on the bottom, while the three Toyota’s in Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and Denny Hamlin raced on the top, with Keselowski methodically blocking both lanes with help from his spotter TJ Majors.
Logano outduelled Keselowski on the final lap with help from LaJoie and Bell sending the Connecticut driver to victory lane at Atlanta for the first time in the Cup Series.
The next race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season is the 68-lap road-course race around Circuit of The Americas (COTA).
It’s a star-studded lineup for COTA’s Cup race with F1 champions Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen as well seven-time Cup Series champion as well as 2017 IMSA Champion Jordan Taylor all competing in the first road-course race of the season.
The race starts at 3:30pm ET.
Featured Image: Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Autotrader Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Photo by Jonathan Bachman | Getty Images)
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)
Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 saw Kyle Busch outrun Chase Elliott’s late race charge to win NASCAR’s final Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in its two-mile superspeedway format before being taken off the schedule to be reconfigured most likely into a short track of one mile or less.
Kyle Busch’s first win of the 2023 Cup Series season, in just his second points paying race with Richard Childress Racing, sees him go above Richard Petty for the most consecutive seasons with at least one win, making it 19-consecutive seasons, starting in 2005.
Busch mirrored his previous triumph here when he won the 2005 Auto Club Cup race, his first Cup win, in just his fourth start for Hendrick Motorsports.
In 2005, @KyleBusch won his first Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway. Busch and Rick Hendrick both donated their winnings to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund. pic.twitter.com/OSZjIytjlt
The four-time Fontana winner teared back through the field in what seemed like a handful of laps, after being penalised and sent to the rear for speeding on pit road on lap 43 under caution, after running inside the top 10.
Busch took the lead of the race for the first time with 63 laps to go, then again with 36 laps to go after passing Chastain through the green flag pit cycle and then again following green flag pit stops on lap 180 of the 200-lap race where he would stay.
Busch added: “I’ve worked with a lot of great people who’ve given me a lot of great opportunities in my career. It’s awesome to be able to reward them.”
It was Busch’s 61st Cup career win, ninth-all time.
The track proved to entertain much like last year with drivers using all five lanes to race and search for clean air, but this time without any sudden tyre failures.
It was Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain that spent the most time upfront, winning both stages convincingly, leading the most laps with 91 and coming home third. He has won three of the four stages this year, including winning stage two of last week’s Daytona 500.
Chastain’s teammate Daniel Suarez showed speed, racing in the top 10, and was looking for a way past Chastain for the lead on the opening laps of a stage one restart. Suarez finished fourth.
Chase Elliott was in the mix during the second half of the race, slowly working his way through the top 10 until he got past Chastain for second with 21 laps to go and narrowed the gap to Busch down to 3.4 seconds before the gap levelled out. Elliott finished 2.998-seconds behind Busch.
Joey Logano had been a contender for most of the race, taking the lead multiple times from Chastain and Hamlin, until the final stint following green flag pit stops with under 40 laps to go, where he dropped back throughout the final run to finish 10th.
It had been the Chastain-Logano-Busch show previous to final green flag pit stops. With 55 laps to go, Chastain threw an aggressive block on Logano when he and Busch got stalled out side-by-side for the lead, but Logano swept down to the apron and cleared both going into turn one.
Rest of race recap
Saturday’s qualifying was cancelled due to a historic weather event that swept the racetrack including blizzard-like conditions of snow, sleet and wind, hitting Fontana and the surrounding LA area Friday and Saturday.
A five-wide salute was shown to the sell-out crowd on the warm-up laps in appreciation of their continued support and love given to Auto Club Speedway.
It was Bakersfield, California’s Kevin Harvick 750th straight Cup start, only behind Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd for all-time.
JGR’s Christopher Bell led from the off after being awarded the pole due to having the best fastest lap speed and finishing position combination from last week’s Daytona 500.
Alex Bowman, who finished eighth, took the lead on lap two going into turn one and went straight to the top groove while the rest of the field searched all over the race track for grip.
A lack of rubber being laid down prior to the race due to the weather, saw everyone run the top groove following Bowman but before long drivers throughout the field were diving to the middle and bottom lanes again to find extra speed and clean air while the top was still preferred.
On lap 13, Kyle Larson, last year’s Fontana winner, came down pit road and went to the garage to fix an electrical problem. Larson did go back out but was not operating under full power. The Cali kid finished 29th, 15 laps down.
Chastain took over the lead on pit road during the competition caution period on lap 17.
Team Penske’s Logano and Ryan Blaney traded the lead after surpassing Chastain before Brad Keselowski was sent spinning down the back straightaway after Corey LaJoie tagged his left rear on lap 42.
Keselowski was running 13th place at the time and came back to finish seventh, in what was a solid day for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing with teammate Chris Buescher running inside the top 10 throughout the race before finishing 13th.
Blaney and Suarez kept Chastain honest at the end of the first stage but it wasn’t enough to beat the eighth-generation watermelon farmer to the finish line.
Denny Hamlin passed Chastain for the lead on lap 72 before he threw an aggressive block three-laps later on Logano, much like Chastain would later on in the race, but Logano dived to the inside to take the lead on the frontstretch.
Austin Dillon and Noah Gragson briefly led during stage two after staying out on older tyres before Logano seized back the lead.
Corey LaJoie continued to find himself in trouble. On lap 76, he clipped AJ Allmendinger trying to avoid Blaney and Stenhouse Jr. in front, sending the Californian skidding into the inside wall on the backstretch.
LaJoie became the victim of the next caution several laps later when Tyler Reddick ran into the back of him sending him into the infield grass.
The biggest incident of the day was yet to come. On the lap 86 restart a 10-car crash occurred when the field stacked up sending Ty Dillon spinning into the grass, and Bell, Reddick, Preece, and Almirola crashing into the pack among others.
All four except Ty Dillon would retire from the race, only for Dillon to retire later with 61 laps to go due to engine trouble. Blaney received heavy damage from the crash and had to settle for 26th.
Kyle Busch would take second away from former teammate Hamlin on lap 93 while Chastain led. Busch was filling Chastain’s mirrors inside of 20 to go in stage two; a blanket could be thrown over second to sixth place in the closing laps. Chastain won stage two with a six second lead over Busch.
Kevin Harvick, in his final season before retiring, got the lead on pit road during the stage break before Kyle Busch took the lead for the first time on lap 138.
Michael McDowell led for a handful of laps during the final green flag run as he held out for a caution compared to most of the field pitting 10+ laps earlier. On fresher tyres following his final pit stop, McDowell managed to finish 18th.
Bubba Wallace spent the first half of the race inside the top 15, often inside the top 10, but overheating issues would force him out of the race on lap 172.
The third race of the season sees the Cup Series go to the 1.5 mile speedway Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Sunday, Kyle Busch’s home track, for the Pennzoil 400 with the race starting at 3:30pm ET.
Full race results
Kyle Busch, 200
Chase Elliott, 200
Ross Chastain, 200
Daniel Suarez, 200
Kevin Harvick, 200
Denny Hamlin, 200
Brad Keselowski, 200
Alex Bowman, 200
Austin Dillon, 200
Joey Logano, 200
Martin Truex Jr., 200
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 200
Chris Buescher, 200
Corey LaJoie, 200
Harrison Burton, 200
Ty Gibbs, 200
Todd Gilliland, 200
Michael McDowell, 200
Erik Jones, 200
Chase Briscoe, 200
Justin Haley, 199
Noah Gragson, 199
JJ Yeley, 199
BJ McLeod, 199
William Byron, 198
Ryan Blaney, 196
Cody Ware, 195
Austin Cindric, 194
Kyle Larson, 185
Bubba Wallace, Engine, 172
Ty Dillon, Engine, 140
Christopher Bell, Accident, 88
Ryan Preece, Accident, 87
Tyler Reddick, Accident, 87
Aric Almirola, Accident, 86
AJ Allmendinger, Accident, 75
Martin Truex Jr.
Ross Chastain – 92
Joey Logano – 91
Alex Bowman – 80
Kevin Harvick – 79
Daniel Suarez – 77
Chris Buescher – 74
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* – 73
Kyle Busch* – 67
Denny Hamlin – 64
Brad Keselowski – 64
Martin Truex Jr. – 60
Ryan Blaney – 57
Corey LaJoie – 51
Chase Elliott – 49
Christopher Bell – 49
Michael McDowell – 40
Ty Gibbs – 38
Austin Cindric – 38
AJ Allmendinger – 35
Harrison Burton – 35
Todd Gilliland – 35
Cody Ware – 33
Austin Dillon – 32
Kyle Larson – 32
Aric Almirola – 31
Bubba Wallace – 28
Noah Gragson – 28
Travis Pastrana – 26
William Byron – 25
Justin Haley – 21
BJ McLeod – 20
Erik Jones – 19
Chase Briscoe – 19
Ryan Preece – 15
J.J. Yeley – 14
Jimmie Johnson – 10
Ty Dillon – 7
Tyler Reddick – 4
Featured Image: Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet, celebrates with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by Meg Oliphant | Getty Images)
This Sunday the NASCAR Cup Series’ regular season gets underway at Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida, for the 65th running of the Daytona 500 on its 75th anniversary. 40 cars will compete in the Great American Race in front of a sold out crowd at speeds over 200mph, inches apart from each other for 200 laps, in a bid to win one of NASCAR’s most prestigious prizes, the Harley J. Earl Trophy and forever immortalise themselves in the history books on stock car racing’s biggest day.
Drivers to watch
42 drivers have entered into the 500-mile 200 lap race around the 2.5-mile superspeedway with seven part-time entries including seven-time Cup Series champion and Legacy Motor Club co-owner Jimmie Johnson and X Games gold medallist and Hoonigan driver Travis Pastrana.
Last year saw Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric win the Daytona 500 on his full-time debut. It was the first time a rookie has won the Daytona 500 since Trevor Bayne in 2011, driving for Wood Brothers Racing.
There are 36 chartered cars in this year’s Daytona 500 meaning they are guaranteed a spot in the race regardless of where they qualify. There are four spots available for non-chartered cars to claim with six entering meaning two will fail to qualify for this year’s race. Two cars will able to secure their spot from single car qualifying while the remaining two spots will be decided in the duels.
The NASCAR Cup Cars will run single car qualifying on Wednesday at 8pm ET where in round one they will run a single timed lap attempting to lay down a top-10 lap to get through to the final round where they will set another single timed lap in an attempt to secure the pole for the Great American Race.
The top two from single car qualifying will keep their starting positions on the front row for the Daytona 500 regardless of where they finish in their duel race. Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson scored the pole in last year’s event with teammate Alex Bowman qualifying second.
The Bluegreen Vacations Duels, the two qualifying 60-lap races, will be run on Thursday starting at 7pm ET. The finishing positions determine where the drivers will start the Daytona 500, and which two non-chartered cars will go home. Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher won last year’s duels.
As and added incentive, the top 10 in each duel race will receive points; 10 for finishing first, nine for second and so on all the way down to receiving one point for finishing 10th.
On Friday the Cup Series will have the first of two 50-minute practice sessions starting at 5:35pm ET before the NextEra Energy 250, the Craftsman Truck Series 100-lap night race, starting at 7:30pm ET.
Saturday sees the Cup Series have its final 50-minute practice session starting at 10:30am ET before the Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner 300, the Xfinity Series 120-lap race, starting at 5pm ET.
Sunday sees the biggest day in stock car racing with the 65th running of the Daytona 500 starting at 2:30pm ET in front of a sold out crowd for the eighth year running. The 200-lap race will be broken down into three stages of 65,65 and 70 laps respectively.
Drivers to watch
Two-time Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson will attempt to win the Daytona 500 for a third time to join the likes of three-time Daytona 500 champions Denny Hamlin and old Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in the history books. He will drive the No. 84 Carvana Chevrolet for Legacy Motor Club. He has to qualify his way into the race due to having an non-chartered car.
Travis Pastrana, the legendary Hoonigan stunt performer and Nitro RallyCross series founder will attempt to qualify for his first Daytona 500 as a third entry for 23XI Racing driving the No. 67 Black Rifle Coffee Toyota.
Pastrana said: “I’m thrilled at the chance to race in the Daytona 500. It’s the one event every year that all my friends and family come together to watch at our buddy Dale’s house and it’s an event I’ve wanted to race my entire life.”
He has competed in five Craftsman Truck Series races and 42 Xfinity Series races and has raced at Daytona three times before in NACAR’s national series including finishing 10th in the 2013 Xfinity Series Daytona season-opener.
Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will also attempt to qualify for his first Daytona 500 with The Money Team Racing which is co-owned by boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, sporting the No. 50 BitNile.com Chevrolet. Daly has one Cup start to his name, competing in last year’s Charlotte Roval race where he finished 34th.
Rookie Ty Gibbs will make his first start for his grandfather’s team Joe Gibbs Racing competing full-time, replacing two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch. The reigning Xfinity Series champion will be driving the No. 54 Monster Energy/Interstates Batteries Toyota.
Ty Gibbs is racing with a heavy heart after his dad, a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing family, Coy Gibbs, suddenly passed away the day after he won the Xfinity Series title last November. Ty made 15 Cup starts last year after subbing for Kurt Busch where he earned one top-10 at Michigan.
Rookie Noah Gragson will drive the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Wendy’s Chevrolet in what will be his second Daytona 500 start. Gragson is in his first full-time Cup season, after 18 Cup races last year with the majority being with Kaulig Racing. The 13-times Xfinity Series winner was runner up to Ty Gibbs last season championship finale in Phoenix.
Denny Hamlin will be going for a fourth Daytona 500 victory with Joe Gibbs Racing, sporting the FedEx 50 Toyota. Hamlin won the 2016, ’19, and 2020 Daytona 500’s with JGR.
In case you missed the unveil, here is the scheme I'll be running at @DAYTONA. Anytime you have a 50th birthday, it's a cause for celebration and definitely deserves a special paint scheme. Excited to hit the track! pic.twitter.com/O4X9wcDp3g
Bubba Wallace will compete in his sixth Daytona 500, racing the No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota for Denny Hamlin’s and Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing. The Alabama native will hope to finish one place better after being the 2018 and 2022 runner-up. If Wallace wins this year’s race, he would become the first African-American to have done so.
This will be Kevin Harvick’s final Daytona 500 driver as a full-time Cup driver after announcing his retirement in the off-season. Harvick won the 2007 Daytona 500 when he pipped fan-favourite Mark Martin at the finish line. Harvick will drive No. 4 Busch Light Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Austin Hill, the 2022 Daytona Xfinity Series race winner, will attempt to qualify for his first Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports and will pilot the No. 62 Bennett Transportation and Logistics Chevrolet. He made his Cup debut at last August’s Michigan race in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Bennett Transportation and Logistics sponsored Chevrolet where he impressively finished 18th.
23-year-old Zane Smith, the 2022 Craftsman Truck Series champion, will attempt to qualify for his first Daytona 500 with Front Row Motorsports driving the No. 36 Wellcare Ford. Smith impressed the NASCAR garage when he subbed for RFK’s Chris Buescher last season, finishing 17th on his Cup debut at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Rookie Chandler Smith, the five-time Craftsman Truck Series winner, will attempt to qualify for his first Daytona 500 with Kaulig Racing driving the No. 13 Quick Tie Inc. Chevrolet. The 20-year-old is racing full-time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing this season.
Austin Cindric will hope to go back to back in this year’s edition of the Great American race, joining Denny Hamlin and Sterling Marlin who did it in 2019 and 2020, and 1994 and ’95 respectively. Cindric will drive the No. 2 Discount Tire Team Penske Ford.
Rookie Riley Herbst will race in his first Daytona 500 and first Cup start with Rick Ware Racing, sporting the No. 15 Sunny D Ford. The Las Vegas native has competed in 109 Xfinity races, bagging 54 top-10 finishes.
Herbst said: “It’s such a big event and for it be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do behind the wheel.”
Catch the 65th running of the Daytona 500 this Sunday at 2:30pm ET!
Wednesday 8:15pm ET – Cup Series single car qualifying
Thursday 7pm ET – Bluegreen Vacations Duels (Cup Series two 60-lap qualifying races)
Friday 5:35pm ET – 1st Cup Series 50 minute practice session
Friday 7pm ET – NextEra Energy 250 (Craftsman Truck Series 100-lap race)
Saturday 10:30am ET – 2nd Cup Series 50 minute practice session
Saturday 5pm ET – Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300 (Xfinity Series 120-lap race)
Sunday 2:30pm ET – 65th running of the Daytona 500 (Cup Series 200-lap race)
Featured Image: 20: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/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)
Erik Jones inherited the lead with just over 20 laps to go after Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch both dropped out of the race due to engine issues. Jones then defiantly held off three-time Southern 500 winner Denny Hamlin to win his second Southern 500.
This is Jones’ third career win, last winning the 2019 Southern 500 when he himself raced for Joe Gibbs Racing. This is the first win for the Maury Gallagher group who partnered with Richard Petty in the 2021 offseason to form Petty GMS Racing.
It wasexactly 55 years to the day for when the last time the 43 car won the Southern 500 which was with Richard Petty himself on September 4th 1967.
Ironically, it was the two JGR cars and former teammates of Truex Jr. and Busch that handed the lead to Jones in what Jones described as a “gift from above” and had to hold off JGR’s Denny Hamlin to win the race in what felt like a flashback to the 2019 race for Jones.
With 18 laps to go as Denny Hamlin came up on Jones, Jones changed his line to take away Hamlin’s clean air and then laid down a set of blistering laps that kept Hamlin from mounting a charge.
Hamlin came close on the final lap when he attempted to send it in turn three but was unable to get side by side with Jones or reach his rear and had to settle for the runner up spot. Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick finished third.
Jones said he was “very happy to have won the race, but was more proud of the group around him who are apart of this win.”
Jones had ran inside the top five for part of the night on raw pace, and earned eighth and ninth place finishes in stages one and two respectively. It was near disaster though when he came close to wrecking on lap 80 as he got sent up the race track after losing grip on the apron, nearly collecting Ryan Blaney in the process.
The Michigan driver had come close to winning with the 43 car for the first time since joining Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021 at Fontana at the beginning of the season but failed to seal the deal.
The last time Richard Petty had won a Cup race as an owner was with now Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola in the 2014 summer Daytona race. It was also the 200th win for the 43 car.
Jones’ win also means it’s the first time a non-playoff driver has won the opening race of the playoffs since the playoffs began in 2004. Jones was two places short of making the 2022 NASCAR playoffs after the conclusion of the regular season last week at Daytona.
Jones taking the chequered flag was not just an upset win in that it seemed almost certain it would be a JGR car in victory lane. Kyle Busch finished third in stage one and had pressured stage one winner William Byron for the lead in the closing laps before going on to lead nearly all of stage two including taking the stage two win.
Stage three saw JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr, who had briefly taken the lead away from Busch in stage two, reclaim the top spot on lap 293, but following his final green flag pit stop Truex Jr, lost power steering due to the engine suddenly overheating with Kyle Busch taking the lead back with 32 laps to go. Truex Jr, who was two points short of making place of making this year’s playoffs, then was forced to retire the car.
After a caution came out for a stopped Cody Ware, Kyle Busch’s car, after pitting under yellow, began puffing out smoke while following the pace car before the engine blew up taking him out of the race. Erik Jones who had just gained two spots on pit road, inherited the lead and led the final 20 green flag laps. Busch led the most laps with 155 whilst Truex led 48.
Kyle Busch responded to the tragic late race retirement saying: “the sun will come up tomorrow.”
Playoff contender Kevin Harvick had a scary moment when his car began to fill with fire from his dash for two laps before being forced to stop the car on the apron and quickly evacuated himself before the car violently burst into flames. Harvick put it down to “crappy-ass parts.”
It was a rollercoaster Southern 500 for the Hendrick Motorsports camp. Regular season champ Chase Elliott crashed out in stage one after he “greedily” dived into turn one and made contact with the wall before spinning down the race track and getting collected by fellow playoff contender Chase Briscoe. Elliott was unable to continue after the 10-minute Damage Vehicle Repair clock expired for the No. 9 team on pit road.
Reigning NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson began losing engine power 78 laps into stage one in what was a near repeat of last week and went three laps down. Miraculously despite the engine issues not being fully resolved, Larson worked his way back onto the lead lap upon completion of stage two and came home to finish 12th. This wasn’t before Larson brought out the caution on lap 190 in stage two after spinning out in turn four when he was still two laps down.
Hendrick teammate William Byron took the lead away from polesitter Joey Logano in stage 1 who led the first 66 laps, and went on to win stage one. Byron then fell to fourth in stage two after reporting that his engine was “flat and loud.” Byron came home eighth.
It was also a rough day for playoff contenders Trackhouse Racing with Daniel Suárez serving a drive-through penalty at the start of the race for failing pre-race inspection three times and immediately went a lap down. Then with five laps to go in stage two Bell squeezed Suárez into the turn one wall nearly wrecking both of them as Logano and Byron slipped past.
Trackhouse teammate Ross Chastain had worked his way up third in stage two but was then forced to come down pit road after having suspension issues in the left rear. Suárez found himself in fifth at the start of stage three and came home 18th while Chastain finished 20th.
The second race of round one of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway this Sunday at 3pm ET.
Full Race Results
1st Erik Jones, 2nd Denny Hamlin, 3rd Tyler Reddick, 4th Joey Logano, 5th Christopher Bell, 6th Michael McDowell, 7th Brad Keselowski, 8th William Byron, 9th Bubba Wallace, 10th Alex Bowman, 11th Aric Almirola, 12th Kyle Larson, 13th Ryan Blaney, 14th Cole Custer, 15th Ty Gibbs, 16th Austin Cindric, 17th Austin Dillon, 18th Daniel Suárez, 19th Justin Haley, 20th Ross Chastain, 21st Harrison Burton, 22nd Ty Dillon, 23rd Daniel Hemric, 24th Corey LaJoie, 25th Landon Cassill, 26th Christopher Buescher, 27th Chase Briscoe, 28th Todd Gilliland, 29th BJ McLeod, 30th Kyle Busch, 31st Martin Truex Jr., 32nd Cody Ware, 33rd Kevin Harvick, 34th JJ Yeley, 35th Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 36th Chase Elliott.
Stage 1 results
1st William Byron, 2nd Denny Hamlin, 3rd Kyle Busch, 4th Christopher Bell, 5th Martin Truex Jr., 6th Ross Chastain, 7th Tyler Reddick, 8th Erik Jones, 9th Ryan Blaney, 10th Bubba Wallace.
Stage 2 results
1st Kyle Busch, 2nd Martin Truex Jr., 3rd Ryan Blaney, 4th Joey Logano, 5th William Byron, 6th Christopher Bell, 7th Alex Bowman, 8th Daniel Suárez, 9th Erik Jones, 10th Michael McDowell.
1st Joey Logano (+38), 2nd William Byron (+32), 3rd Denny Hamlin (+30), 4th Christopher Bell (+28), 5th Tyler Reddick (+23), 6th Ryan Blaney (+20), 7th Kyle Larson (+17), 8th Ross Chastain (+15), 9th Chase Elliott (+14), 10th Alex Bowman (+10), 11th Kyle Busch (+8), 12th Daniel Suárez (+2), 13th Austin Cindric (-2), 14th Austin Dillon (-4), 15th Chase Briscoe (-10), 16th Kevin Harvick (-13).
Featured Image: Erik Jones, driver of the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 04, 2022 in Darlington, South Carolina (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)