Ka-chow: Daniel Suárez wins Atlanta race in three-wide Pixar-esque photo finish

The Disney Pixar Cars movie intro came to life on Sunday night when Daniel Suárez edged Ryan Blaney by 0.003 seconds and Kyle Busch by 0.007 seconds in a three-wide finish in the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to take his second Cup series win of his career and his first oval win.

Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, crosses the finish line ahead of Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford, to win the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)
  • Suárez wins
  • Blaney and Busch
  • Front Row Motorsports vs Team Penske
  • Rest of race recap
  • Full race results
  • Points standings

6 min read

In what had been a thrilling and intense restrictor plate race, with dynamic hypercompetitive pack racing all race long, came down to a five-lap shootout that Suárez lost control of on the restart as Blaney retook the lead, only on the final lap coming out of turn four for Kyle Busch and Suárez to pull up alongside Blaney, with Suárez surging ahead with side drafting and momentum on the top lane to win the third closest NASCAR Cup series race in history.

Suárez said: “It was so damn close. It was good racing. Ryan Blaney there, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric also was doing a great job giving pushes. In the back straightaway he didn’t push me because he knew I was going to [screw] his teammate, but man, what a job. We wrecked [on] lap two. The guys did an amazing job fixing this car.”

Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Suárez was caught up in an Atlanta record-breaking 16-car crash on lap two when Front Row Motorsport’s driver Todd Gilliland checked up to let teammate and polesitter Michael McDowell in on the top, causing a large stack up behind, pinballing Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace sideways, taking Josh Williams out of the race and later Noah Gragson as he would retire the car at the end of stage one as a result of the crash.

Suárez recovered from the crash but would narrowly escape further carnage when with 21 laps to go, Chase Briscoe boldly made it four-wide with Suárez on the bottom entering turn three resulting in Denny Hamlin collecting Briscoe, taking them both out of contention.

Suárez would find himself on the row front row inside of 30 laps to go, and would battle for the lead until taking the checkered flag.

It’s Suárez’s second Cup win, his first coming in the 2022 Sonoma road course race, both with Trackhouse Racing.

Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, and crew celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Reigning Cup series champion and race runner up Ryan Blaney was one of the cars to beat throughout the race, leading six times for 31 laps, including duelling with Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson for the lead in the first half of stage one, and staying up front for the second half of stage two, before leading for much of the final 40 laps prior to the checkered flag.

Blaney said: “I thought I laid back enough in [turns] one and two to not let both lanes get that big of a run. What a cool finish. Appreciate the fans for sticking around. That’s always a good time when we can do that, race clean, three-wide finish to the end. Happy for Daniel. Fun racing with Kyle. I can’t complain; I’ve won them by very, very little too, so I can’t complain too much when I lose them by that much.”

Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Third place Richard Childress Racing driver Kyle Busch had an up-and-down race being involved in three crashes including when Denny Hamlin spun off Busch’s front end as he came down on him with nine to go in stage one, at the beginning of stage three when Kaz Grala ran Busch very tight on the bottom of turn one before being collected by Busch as a result, and escaping the four-wide melee crash with Briscoe with Busch up top.

Busch even had to come from a lap down in the final stage after a serving a drive through speeding penalty under green but after getting the free pass, he found himself charging to the front inside of 50 to go through a four-wide manoeuvre and would fight to the checkered flag to try to claim his third Atlanta Cup win.

Busch said: “Typically whoever is behind getting into [turn] three prevails at the start finish line with the side draft and everything, so I was second to the 12 [Blaney] right there, and the 99 [Suárez] was the furthest back, and he made the ground back up with the side draft and stuff. It’s good to see Daniel get a win. We were helping each other, being Chevy team partners and working together there.”

The finishing order may have been different if Bubba Wallace, who is close friends with Blaney, had been able to lock bumpers and push Blaney in turns three and four on the final lap but instead washed up the race track and lost touch with the front three.

The race featured a record 48 lead changes amongst 14 different drivers. Suárez led twice for nine laps. The race saw 10 cautions for 65 laps of the 260 lap 400-mile race.

Front Row Motorsports vs Team Penske

It was a bittersweet day for Front Row Motorsports after competing with Team Penske for the top positions in the race.

Front Row’s Todd Gilliland led a career high of 58 laps, the most of anyone, on six separate occasions while Michael McDowell would lead five times for 27 laps including winning stage one in a one-lap shootout.

Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Benebone Ford, lduring the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Team Penske’s Joey Logano was due to start second but the reigning race winner was sent to the rear for the start of the race and had to serve a drive through penalty under green due to wearing a webbed left glove during qualifying that NASCAR deemed illegal due to violating NASCAR rule 14.3.1.1 governing driver protective clothing and equipment. It is possible that Logano wore the glove to gain a competitive advantage due to being able to manipulate the airflow more on the drivers side.

To Logano’s fortune, he was serving the drive through penalty as the 16-car crash on lap two happened, so was able to stay on the lead lap.

Stage two was a fierce battle between the two teams, as Gilliland led the opening segment with Logano behind, and McDowell inside the top five.

Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 BuildSubmarines.com Ford, and Todd Gilliland, driver of the #38 Georgia Peanuts Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

The second half of stage two saw Front Row’s race become undone as they first drifted back as their cars became tight before McDowell, during the green flag pit stop, wheel hopped entering pit road and collided with last week’s Daytona 500 winner William Byron, sending them both spinning into and off the wall. The race miraculously stayed green and both were able to continue with McDowell just one lap down after repairs.

After the green flag pit stop cycle, it was the Penske trio of Austin Cindric, Logano, and Blaney out front but Logano drifted back with a few laps to go and coming off turn two on the final lap crashed into the wall as his car got very tight, collecting Chris Buescher.

Cindric won stage two. Logano would finish the race several laps down following multiple repairs.

Front Row fell short in the final stage as despite Gilliland leading the start of stage three and again later, Gilliland had to pit for damage late on, and was forced to pit under green inside of 15 laps to go for right side tyres, taking him out of contention.

Todd Gilliland, driver of the #38 Georgia Peanuts Ford, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

McDowell gambled to stay out longer than most of the field in stage three to regain track position but was forced to pit with 35 laps to go as he began slipping down the order. McDowell still recovered to an eighth place finish.

Rest of race recap

Ross Chastain sent Georgia’s Chase Elliott for a spin as he pushed Elliott in the rear in turn three with 65 laps to go, as Chastain was fighting with Wallace for the free pass who was just one car length ahead.

Elliott rescued his car with a sideways drift in the turn three grass reminiscent of Lightning McQueen’s save at the end of the Cars movie.

Elliott was then caught up in Josh Berry’s crash with 12 to go spinning down the backstretch, but was able to recover to a 15th place finish.

Denny Hamlin, despite being involved in multiple crashes including with Busch and Buescher, led parts of the final stage, only to receive heavy damage in the Briscoe crash with 21 to go.

Hamlin’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. would lead parts of the final stage also, fighting Kyle Larson for control of the race.

The next race is the Pennzoil 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday 3rd March with the race starting at 3:30pm ET (8:30pm UK time).  

Full race results 

  1. Daniel Suárez
  2. Ryan Blaney
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Austin Cindric
  5. Bubba Wallace
  6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  7. Ross Chastain
  8. Michael McDowell
  9. Chris Buescher
  10. Ty Gibbs
  11. Harrison Burton
  12. Martin Truex Jr.
  13. Corey LaJoie
  14. Kaz Grala
  15. Chase Elliott
  16. Ryan Preece
  17. William Byron
  18. Daniel Hemric
  19. Carson Hocevar
  20. Justin Haley
  21. John Hunter Nemechek
  22. Austin Dillon
  23. Denny Hamlin
  24. B.J. McLeod
  25. Erik Jones
  26. Todd Gilliland
  27. Alex Bowman
  28. Joey Logano
  29. Josh Berry
  30. Tyler Reddick
  31. Chase Briscoe
  32. Kyle Larson
  33. Brad Keselowski
  34. Christopher Bell
  35. Zane Smith
  36. Noah Gragson
  37. Josh Williams

Points standings

*=win -=playoff cut line

  1. Kyle Busch – 77
  2. William Byron* – 76
  3. Austin Cindric – 76
  4. Bubba Wallace – 74
  5. Ryan Blaney – 69
  6. Chase Elliott – 65
  7. Daniel Suárez* – 64
  8. Ross Chastain – 62
  9. Alex Bowman – 60
  10. Martin Truex Jr. – 60
  11. Kyle Larson – 58
  12. Corey LaJoie – 57
  13. John Hunter Nemechek – 53
  14. Ty Gibbs – 50
  15. Chris Buescher – 49
  16. Christopher Bell – 47

  17. Erik Jones – 47
  18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 44
  19. Denny Hamlin – 44
  20. Michael McDowell – 40
  21. Daniel Hemric – 40
  22. Chase Briscoe – 37
  23. Harrison Burton – 36
  24. Ryan Preece – 35
  25. Tyler Reddick – 31
  26. Noah Gragson – 29
  27. Zane Smith – 29
  28. Justin Haley – 29
  29. Carson Hocevar – 26
  30. Kaz Grala – 24
  31. Josh Berry – 20
  32. Todd Gilliland – 19
  33. Joey Logano – 18
  34. David Ragan – 17
  35. Austin Dillon – 16
  36. Brad Keselowski – 16
  37. Jimmie Johnson – 9

Featured image: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, crosses the finish line ahead of Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford, to win the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Sweet Home Chicago: Grant Park 220 preview, lineup, drivers to watch

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.

  • Preview
  • Qualifying report
  • Drivers to watch
  • Starting lineup 
Bubba Wallace, driver of the No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 at the Chicago Street Course (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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.

Qualifying

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].”

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Yahoo! Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 at the Chicago Street Course on July 01, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Shane van Gisbergen, driver of the No. 91 Enhance Health Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 at the Chicago Street Course (Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Studios)

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.

Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford took on damage during practice on the Chicago Street Course (Photo by Taylor Robbins/Race Service)

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, driver of the No. 91 Enhance Health Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 at the Chicago Street Course (Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Studios)

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.

Jenson Button, driver of the No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 at the Chicago Street Course (Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Studios)

Starting lineup 

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Tyler Reddick
  3. Shane van Gisbergen
  4. Christopher Bell
  5. Daniel Suarez
  6. Michael McDowell
  7. Kyle Larson
  8. Jenson Button
  9. Joey Logano
  10. AJ Allmendinger
  11. Martin Truex Jr.
  12. Ty Gibbs
  13. Alex Bowman
  14. Bubba Wallace
  15. Chris Buescher
  16. Chase Briscoe
  17. Ryan Blaney
  18. Kyle Busch
  19. Corey LaJoie
  20. Brad Keselowski
  21. Erik Jones
  22. William Byron
  23. Noah Gragson
  24. Aric Almirola
  25. Todd Gilliland
  26. Chase Elliott
  27. Josh Bilicki
  28. Ryan Preece
  29. Austin Dillon
  30. Andy Lally
  31. Austin Cindric
  32. Harrison Burton
  33. Ty Dillon
  34. Ross Chastain
  35. Kevin Harvick
  36. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  37. Justin Haley

 

Featured Image: A general view of the setup for the Chicago Street Race frontstretch (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Kyle Busch wins final Auto Club Speedway Cup race in Rowdy fashion

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.  

  • Race summary
  • Rest of race recap
  • Full race results
  • Point standings

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.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by Meg Oliphant | Getty Images)

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.

Talking on the frontstretch after the race Busch said: “I death gripped that wheel throughout the second half of that race, we held on man, we got it today.”

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.”

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by Meg Oliphant | Getty Images)

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.

Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by Meg Oliphant | Getty Images)

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.

Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Sirius XM Toyota, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, driver of the #47 Ralphs/Tree Top Chevrolet, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 AAA Southern California Ford, Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Pala Casino Ford, in a five-wide salute to the fans prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2023 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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.

Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Sirius XM Toyota, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr, driver of the #47 Ralphs/Tree Top Chevrolet, lead the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2023 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

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.

A general view of racing during the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2023 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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.

Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 AAA Southern California Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by Meg Oliphant | Getty Images)

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 

  1. Kyle Busch, 200
  2. Chase Elliott, 200
  3. Ross Chastain, 200
  4. Daniel Suarez, 200
  5. Kevin Harvick, 200
  6. Denny Hamlin, 200
  7. Brad Keselowski, 200
  8. Alex Bowman, 200
  9. Austin Dillon, 200
  10. Joey Logano, 200
  11. Martin Truex Jr., 200
  12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 200
  13. Chris Buescher, 200
  14. Corey LaJoie, 200
  15. Harrison Burton, 200
  16. Ty Gibbs, 200
  17. Todd Gilliland, 200
  18. Michael McDowell, 200
  19. Erik Jones, 200
  20. Chase Briscoe, 200
  21. Justin Haley, 199
  22. Noah Gragson, 199
  23. JJ Yeley, 199
  24. BJ McLeod, 199
  25. William Byron, 198
  26. Ryan Blaney, 196
  27. Cody Ware, 195
  28. Austin Cindric, 194
  29. Kyle Larson, 185
  30. Bubba Wallace, Engine, 172
  31. Ty Dillon, Engine, 140
  32. Christopher Bell, Accident, 88
  33. Ryan Preece, Accident, 87
  34. Tyler Reddick, Accident, 87
  35. Aric Almirola, Accident, 86
  36. AJ Allmendinger, Accident, 75

Stage 1 

  1. Ross Chastain
  2. Ryan Blaney
  3. Daniel Suarez
  4. Alex Bowman
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. William Byron
  7. Joey Logano
  8. Kevin Harvick
  9. Martin Truex Jr.
  10. Chase Elliott

Stage 2 

  1. Ross Chastain
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Joey Logano
  4. Kevin Harvick
  5. Daniel Suarez
  6. Denny Hamlin
  7. Chase Elliott
  8. Alex Bowman
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Corey LaJoie

Points standings 

  1. Ross Chastain – 92
  2. Joey Logano – 91
  3. Alex Bowman – 80
  4. Kevin Harvick – 79
  5. Daniel Suarez – 77
  6. Chris Buescher – 74
  7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* – 73
  8. Kyle Busch* – 67
  9. Denny Hamlin – 64
  10. Brad Keselowski – 64
  11. Martin Truex Jr. – 60
  12. Ryan Blaney – 57
  13. Corey LaJoie – 51
  14. Chase Elliott – 49
  15. Christopher Bell – 49
  16. Michael McDowell – 40

  17. Ty Gibbs – 38
  18. Austin Cindric – 38
  19. AJ Allmendinger – 35
  20. Harrison Burton – 35
  21. Todd Gilliland – 35
  22. Cody Ware – 33
  23. Austin Dillon – 32
  24. Kyle Larson – 32
  25. Aric Almirola – 31
  26. Bubba Wallace – 28
  27. Noah Gragson – 28
  28. Travis Pastrana – 26
  29. William Byron – 25
  30. Justin Haley – 21
  31. BJ McLeod – 20
  32. Erik Jones – 19
  33. Chase Briscoe – 19
  34. Ryan Preece – 15
  35. J.J. Yeley – 14
  36. Jimmie Johnson – 10
  37. Ty Dillon – 7
  38. 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)

NASCAR 2023 Season Preview: Always Forward

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.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – December 14th 1947, Founder’s Day: NASCAR’s early leaders meet in the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. Seated (L-R): Bob Richards, Freddie Horton, Jack Peters, Ed Bruce, Chick DiNatale, Harvey Tattersall Jr., Tom Galan, Alvin Hawkins, Bill Tuthill, Bill France Sr., Mildred Ayres, Joe Littlejohn, Jimmy Cox, Eddie Bland, Joe Ross, Sam Packard, Bill Streeter, Lucky Sauer. Standing (L-R): Larry Roller, Fred Dagavar, Bob Osiecki, Jimmy Quisenberry, Ed Samples, Marshall Teague. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

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.”

  • Schedule changes
  • Driver changes
  • Driver updates
  • Rule changes
  • Safety changes
  • 75th anniversary

Schedule changes

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.

Chicago Street Course

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.

Atlanta Motor Speedway

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.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Mars Crunchy Cookie Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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.

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 27: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Menards/Quaker State Ford, leads Daniel Hemric, driver of the #16 Poppy Bank Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Erik Jones, driver of the #43 FOCUS factor Chevrolet, in a five-wide salute to the fans prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 27, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Driver changes

Kyle Busch

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.

Tyler Reddick

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

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.

Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, embraces the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship trophy in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 05, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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

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.

Jimmie Johnson

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.

Drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, and Jenson Button pose for a photo after a press conference announcing the NASCAR Garage 56 driver lineup for entry in 2023 Le mans before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 28, 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

AJ Allmendinger

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.

AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Hyperice Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Noah Gragson

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

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.

 

Josh Bilicki

Ty Dillon replaces Josh Bilicki who will now race part-time for Live Fast Motorsports who have switched from Ford to Chevrolet. It will be Bilicki’s seventh year in Cup.

Zane Smith

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.

Austin Hill

Austin Hill will attempt six Cup Series races with Beard Motorsports for 2023 including the Daytona 500 and Chicago street course.

Driver Updates

Kevin Harvick

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.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford Ecoboost 400 and championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16th, 2014 in Homestead, Florida (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Joey Logano  

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.

2022 NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano poses for a photo on the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge on December 01, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Harrison Burton

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.

Harrison Burton, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Rule changes

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.

Stage breaks

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.

Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 CommScope Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Loose wheels

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.”

Choose rule

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.

Playoffs

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 changes

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.

Chassis

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.”

Data collection

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.

Foam

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.

75th anniversary

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 75th Anniversary Icon Logo (Photo by NASCAR)

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)

Erik Jones stuns playoff field by winning second Southern 500

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.

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. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

It was exactly 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.

Erik Jones, driver of the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, race for the Southern 500 win at Darlington Raceway on (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Erik Jones, driver of the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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.” 

Erik Jones, driver of the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, and crew chief David Elenz celebrate in victory lane together for the first time after winning the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Erik Jones, driver of the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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.

Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA/Children’s Chevrolet, spins after hitting the turn one wall during the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, spins into the wall after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 20 Yahoo! Toyota, lead the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 99 Jockey Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

Playoff Standings

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)

 

Daniel Suárez becomes first Mexican driver to win a NASCAR Cup race

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.

Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 99 Onx Homes/Renu Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.

Daniel Suárez celebrates with a Mexican flag after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Suárez also joins Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe in becoming the fourth first-time winner in the Cup Series in 2022.

Daniel Suárez celebrates by drinking wine 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)

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.

Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 99 Onx Homes/Renu Chevrolet, leads Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, during the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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 smashed a taco piñata in celebration.

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.

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, leads the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 12, 2022 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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.

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, nears the wall exiting Turn 4A and heads down the short chute to turn 7 with Buescher, Chastain and Suarez behind (Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Digital Media)

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.

Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, racing in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 with Chris Buescher, Daniel Suárez and Tyler Reddick behind (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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.

Daniel Suárez (front) paces Trackhouse Racing teammate Ross Chastain (behind), driver of the No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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.

FOX’s Mike Joy said: “You’ve got to love it when nice guys finish first.”

The FOX Deportes broadcast team enjoyed the win too!

The NASCAR Cup Series returns in two weeks time when they race at Nashville Superspeedway in the Ally 400.

Full race results: 1st Daniel Suárez, 2nd Chris Buescher, 3rd Michael McDowell, 4th Kevin Harvick, 5th Austin Cindric, 6th Ryan Blaney, 7th Ross Chastain, 8th Chase Elliott, 9th William Byron, 10th Brad Keselowski, 11th Austin Dillon, 12th Justin Haley, 13th Chase Briscoe, 14th Aric Almirola, 15th Kyle Larson, 16th Alex Bowman, 17th Joey Logano, 18th Kurt Busch, 19th AJ Allmendinger, 20th Joey Hand, 21st Cole Custer, 22nd Erik Jones, 23rd Ty Dillon, 24th Todd Gilliland, 25th Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 26th Martin Truex Jr., 27th Christopher Bell, 28th Harrison Burton, 29th Josh Bilicki, 30th Kyle Busch, 31st Denny Hamlin, 32nd Cody Ware, 33rd Scott Heckert, 34th Corey Lajoie, 35th Tyler Reddick, 36th Bubba Wallace

Stage 1 results: 1st Kyle Larson, 2nd Joey Logano, 3rd Kyle Busch, 4th Justin Haley, 5th Aric Almirola, 6th Harrison Burton, 7th Josh Bilicki, 8th Kurt Busch, 9th Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 10th Cody Ware.

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)

Kimi Raikkonen to race in NASCAR again!

Kimi Raikkonen will drive the No. 91 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International this August in his NASCAR Cup Series debut.

He last competed in NASCAR in the 2011 Truck and Xfinity races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kimi Raikkonen, driver of the No. 87 Perky Jerky Toyota, and Michael Annett, driver of the No. 62 Pilot Travel Centers/Flying J Toyota, race in turn four during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 2007 Formula 1 World Champion is to be the first driver to race as part of Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 program, the program they announced on Tuesday that aims to expand their international reach by fielding the No. 91 car for various international superstar racing car drivers from other motorsport disciplines.

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said: “Kimi Raikkonen is the driver I first had in mind when we created PROJECT91. Kimi is a world-renowned driver with a tremendous amount of talent and fan following.”

Raikkonen, nicknamed The Iceman, said: “I wasn’t looking to race again, but Justin came to my home in Switzerland and convinced me how serious he was about putting together a top-notch program. This will be fun, but it’s something I will take very seriously. I know how competitive the NASCAR Cup Series is and it will be a big challenge.”

This will be Raikkonen’s first NASCAR road course race, as back in 2011 he competed on the 1.5 mile Charlotte Motor Speedway oval for Kyle Busch Motorsports where he finished a very respectable 15th place in the Truck race, and also drove for NEMCO Motorsports, who KBM partnered with, in the Xfinity race finishing 27th.

Kimi Raikkonen, driver of the No. 15 Perky Jerky Toyota, races Jason White, driver of the No. 23 GunBroker.com Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, 2011. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Co-team owner Justin Marks said: “I truly believe the Next Gen car represents an opportunity for NASCAR to enter the global professional motorsport conversation. We now have a race vehicle with international technological relevance where world-class drivers from other disciplines can compete at NASCAR’s highest level without the steep learning curve that the previous generation cars required.”

Darian Grubb, winner of 23 Cup races and the 2011 champion crew chief, will captain Raikkonen’s No. 91 team for the Watkins Glen Cup Race. Trackhouse Racing plan to bring Raikkonen to the race shop in Concord, North Carolina for preparations.

The Watkins Glen Cup Race is the only race Trackhouse’s PROJECT91 program plans to enter in 2022. Marks expects more races in 2023 with more drivers taking part.

Featured Image: Kimi Raikkonen, driver of the No. 15 Perky Jerky Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20th, 2011. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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