It’s been another newsworthy week heading into Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) at the Daytona International Speedway. Here are 5 things we’re watching.
Chase Elliott vs. Kyle Larson
Both of Kyle Larson’s wins this season have come at the expense of Chase Elliott. From their late race contact in the 2nd race of the season at Fontana to their run-in on the final restart at Watkins Glen. Elliott didn’t seem pleased with Larson and how his Hendrick Motorsports teammate raced him for the win last Sunday.
While I don’t expect any fireworks out of these 2 for the next few weeks, I have to wonder the lasting impact of this as we move further along into the playoffs.
They sat down and met on Monday. Larson admitted that he did more listening than talking. He felt bad for how he had to race at the end of Watkins Glen but he also wanted a win too. I think it’s ironic that Elliott had Bristol on his mind afterwards.
While they’re in Daytona this week, I don’t see any sort of resemblance of a payback coming on Saturday. You don’t usher in a payback on a superspeedway.
Then it’s to Darlington followed by Kansas. Neither place you do that on either. Bristol…. Well that’s the place to do it, but I truly don’t see Elliott ushering in a payback there. He may be thinking longer term.
I don’t envision a scenario to where either Elliott or Larson are in any sort of jeopardy of being eliminated in the 1st round of the playoffs. The 2nd round?
It won’t happen at Talladega, but it could at the ROVAL ie. Elliott vs. Kevin Harvick last year. I can vision a scenario to where 1 of the 2 could be in a precarious playoff position for the 2nd round cut-race.
If both are battling for a win, does Elliott race Larson differently? I think so. What about if both advance to the Round of 8 and 1 of the 2 can make it to Phoenix and the other not and it’s down to the end of the race at Martinsville?
Elliott may cash in his favor from Larson there.
Which is why I can sense something brewing here. I mean HMS was Elliott’s team in 2020. He knew Jimmie Johnson was stepping away at seasons end and with a title in hand, this was now his future. He was going to follow in the lines of Jeff Gordon and Johnson. Now it was Elliott.
Then Larson came in during his championship defense to upstage him and win double digit races and took home the title instead. Was Larson stealing Elliott’s thunder at HMS?
With Larson running Elliott like he has for 2 wins, this could be in the category of when Johnson and Gordon were at odds at times.
It seems like as the days and weeks tick by, the likelihood of Kyle Busch remaining at Joe Gibbs Racing for 2023 is getting more and more slimmer. I believe that Busch doesn’t have a deal or down the road with anyone yet, but as Labor Day weekend comes next week, I have to believe that he’s getting antsy.
He has a family. He has goals for his family that involve Brexton racing for his own Truck team (KBM) by time he’s able to drive. This next contract has a lot riding on that fact. Busch also doesn’t want to race 36 weeks and be gone a lot for an underfunded team or one that’s not competitive either.
So what does he do?
I keep hearing Kaulig more and more and that could in theory work as the 16 car has had 3 different drivers in it this season. Why not 1 full time driver next year? Chevrolet I’m sure would love to get an established Truck Series team like KBM on their side and a way to funnel some younger drivers through there.
I’m also sure Toyota would hate to lose that opportunity as the Truck Series has been a great place to put their budding young stars at.
That’s why this is equally a manufacturer war too because who wouldn’t want KBM. It’s just where does Busch himself land?
Ford has limited options. It appears SHR is running it back in 2023. Penske isn’t expanding to 4 full time cars so the blue ovals don’t have a lot to offer. Chevy has Kaulig and Toyota could put Busch in the 45 at 23XI if Busch’s big brother somehow doesn’t return.
Which is why as long as this stays muddied which it will for a little further, Busch’s on track success will continue to look like it has.
Another part of silly season has been shored up though as potential free agents never became them. Last week Team Penske announced that Ryan Blaney has a long term contract to stay with the team and now a week later, they locked in Joey Logano for the foreseeable future.
Which means all attention goes to Busch and where he lands, Kurt Busch on if he returns in 2023 full time and if so, is it his final year as his contract is up at seasons end, Aric Almirola is he is truly retiring or not, then Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman for plans after 2023.
The Cup Series is testing at Martinsville early this week (Tuesday-Wednesday) but not necessarily to do so in hopes of improving the show this Fall. This was an already scheduled test among teams and one that is treated like a typical test and not one sanctioned by the sport to help. That test already occurred.
This one is certainly going to try to help with a different tire compound being brought to the test, but the gearing options that are being used will still force the drivers to shift which as a result, won’t alter the course of what we’re likely to see in October.
This is more about team specific improvements to help them in the playoff race instead.
That’s why this test isn’t what some thought it was going to be.
Kurt Busch News
This was the first time in over a month that I wasn’t honestly expecting any news on the Kurt Busch front. See, since his Pocono qualifying crash on July 23, each week his status was being questioned.
Would he be back for Indy? Each Wednesday afternoon it was unveiled he’d miss the upcoming race while still dealing with concussion like symptoms and that Ty Gibbs would fill in. Last week however, it was on Thursday that it was announced that Busch would just sit out the final 2 races of the regular season in hopes of being back for the 10 race postseason.
So we already knew that Ty Gibbs would be in the No. 45 Toyota for Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) at Daytona. However, I didn’t expect this Thursday to find out Busch would withdraw his playoff waiver and open up a spot into the postseason as a result.
“As much as I wanted and hoped to be able to get back in the No. 45 car to make a playoff run with our team, it’s still not the right time for me,” said Busch. “In addition to not being cleared to return to racing, I know that I am not ready to be back in the car. I respect the sport of NASCAR, my fellow drivers and the fans too much to take up a playoff spot if I know I can’t compete for a championship this season. The decision was not an easy one, but I know it is the right thing to do. I will continue to take time to heal and strengthen as I prepare to be back in the car and will do all I can to help 23XI continue the success we have had this season.”
“Kurt has elevated our entire organization this year,” said 23XI team president, Steve Lauletta. “Although Kurt will not be competing for a championship this season, he will continue to play a vital role in the organization as he works with our competition group to keep improving and strengthening the team.”
So what does all of this mean? Let’s take a look.
While Busch is out, the 45 car is still in the playoffs on the owners points side of things. Now, I get this can be confusing so lets address this here. Driver points and owner points are two separate things that on the Cup level aren’t really ever discussed because they most years coincide with one another.
Drivers score points each race and so does the car. I don’t want to bring up a dark past but this is a relevant example. In 2020, Kyle Larson was out of his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing after using a racial slur. Lets say he wasn’t suspended from NASCAR like he was. Someone could have picked him up a week later and when we returned to racing, Larson raced for them.
He would get to keep his driver points and still be championship eligible. The 42 car would have the same points Larson scored for them up until that point but from the first race Larson wasn’t in it forward, Matt Kenseth’s point (Larson’s replacement) would be scoring points for the 42 car.
Get it now?
So the 45 car has accumulated points still with Ty Gibbs driving it. Nothing has changed. Kurt Busch is the only one not scoring points but the 45 car still did. With the 45 car having a win from Busch in Kansas, it’s still playoff eligible and will remain that way.
If the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota team were to win the NASCAR Cup Series owners title, it would be just the third time in series history that a split driver and owner championship has occurred and the first time since 1963.
The first time the NASCAR Cup Series had a split driver and owners championship was in 1954. Lee Petty won the drivers championship that season on seven wins, driving a Petty Enterprises Chrysler, but it was car owner Herb Thomas who took home the owners championship in 1954 after his No. 92 Hudson team finished the season with 12 victories.
The second and only other time the series saw a spit championship was in 1963, when Joe Weatherly won the series driver championship, but it was the Wood Brothers Racing organization that won the owners championship that season. Weatherly’s season was strong putting up three wins and 35 top 10s in 54 starts, but the famous No. 21 team was able to grab five wins on the season and take the owners title.
Three members of the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing team have been suspended for the next four races after Cody Ware’s Ford lost ballast during Cup Series practice at Watkins Glen International, NASCAR announced in its penalty report Tuesday.
Crew chief Billy Plourde, car chief Jamie Edwards and team engineer Steven Gray will be sidelined through and including the Sept. 17 race at Bristol Motor Speedway after the ballast exited the No. 51 Ford during Saturday’s session. Ballast that separates from the vehicles poses a violation of Sections 126.96.36.199.A&B of the NASCAR Rule Book and incurs the penalties listed in Section 10.5.2.6.E regarding lost ballast.
Ware was not permitted to post a qualifying lap on Saturday afternoon and wheeled the No. 51 Ford to a 34th-place finish after a late spin in Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen.
In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet driven to second place by AJ Allmendinger was found with one lug nut not safely secured. Crew chief Bruce Schlicker was levied a $5,000 fine.