Top 5 noteworthy NASCAR news items that occurred this past week

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — The NASCAR Cup Series as well as the NASCAR Xfinity Series turns their focus to the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway this weekend for a doubleheader at the World Center of Racing. However, the week leading up to the pair of races has been as busy as they come.

Between 3 driver and team announcements, a driver removing himself from playoff contention, an entitlement sponsor, a two-day test and more, this week has plenty of noteworthy items leading into Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN).

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, walks the grid during practice for NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

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.

They each met in an organizational wide debrief on Monday. Both said that Watkins Glen is behind them and neither have anything bad to say about the other. Essentially both say the past is the past and ready for move forward.

But are they really?

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.

Larson admitted that he did more listening than talking in that Monday meeting. 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.

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JULY 24: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&Ms Toyota, Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Duracell Ford, lead the field to start during the NASCAR Cup Series M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Silly Season

Joey Logano signed a long term extension to remain at Team Penske. Daniel Suarez signed a new deal to stay at Trackhouse. Zane Smith got a new deal to remain a Front Row Motorsports driver as he’ll run full time the Truck Series again in 2023 but also make some Cup and Xfinity Series starts too. Smith will be among those in the Daytona 500 field in a 3rd FRM car for next February too. Aric Almirola changed his mind and won’t retire after all. Not only is he back in 2023, he’ll be in NASCAR on a multi-year deal to stay with SHR in the No. 10 Ford.

Greg Ives also announced on Friday morning that the 2022 season will be his last. Alex Bowman is now in a search of a new crew chief for a contract year for him in 2023.

Speaking of 2023, where does Kyle Busch land?

It seems like as the days and weeks tick by, the likelihood of 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. More on that in a minute.

But 23XI Racing was clear this week that they’re not expanding to a 3rd car in 2023. They’re set a two and the plan is for both drivers now to return. Bubba Wallace was just given a few weeks ago a contract extension and the deal with Kurt Busch runs through 2023.

While rumors are that Tyler Reddick would be open to coming over a year early and that Richard Childress isn’t still fond of how Reddick handled things, each side is basically saying that’s not going to happen.

Chidress said after Reddick’s Indy win that they’re keeping Tyler for 2023. Steve Laluetta said this past week that they made the announcement that they’ve signed Reddick early because it gives them time to plan. Why he wonders, would they put themselves in a bind again?

They have a plan in place and sticking to it. It’s too late to add a 3rd car and too far down the road to secure a 3rd charter so they’re sticking to their guns for 2023.

The only change would be if Busch doesn’t come back which is where Kyle Busch makes the most last minute sense to hire.

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.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 09: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 LLumar Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 09, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Martinsville Test

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.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 15: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, drive 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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.

Truck Series Gains Craftsman Back

NASCAR and Stanley Black & Decker, the world’s largest tool company and a leader in outdoor equipment, today announced American tool icon CRAFTSMAN will return as the title sponsor of the NASCAR Truck Series beginning in 2023. After serving as the series’ title sponsor from its inception in 1995 to 2008, the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series will make its homecoming at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2023.

In addition to the Truck Series title sponsorship, Stanley Black & Decker will further expand its presence in the sport, entering into a multi-year partnership designating the company and its iconic brands as the “Official Tools Partner of NASCAR” and “Official Tools” of all NASCAR-owned and operated tracks. 

“We celebrate the return of the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series with our customers, distribution partners and employees,” said Doug Redpath, President of Hand Tools, Accessories and Storage for Stanley Black & Decker. “From proud homeowners and homebuilders to auto enthusiasts and master mechanics, CRAFTSMAN has been the brand generations have trusted to get the job done. The Truck Series represents authentic, bold and proud drivers and fans, which embody the same characteristics of our CRAFTSMAN brand. We look forward to our return in Daytona in 2023 to reunite with our loyal fans as we begin this new chapter in NASCAR history.”

NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series title sponsorship includes exclusive brand integrations on vehicles, crew uniforms, tracks and more in addition to the branding of the Triple Truck Challenge and Championship Race entitlement. It will also serve as a platform to support the launch of new products, amplify seasonal promotions, and highlight the many ways CRAFTSMAN is building pride.

As part of the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Title Sponsor announcement, representatives from NASCAR and Stanley Black & Decker revealed a CRAFTSMAN Toyota Tundra truck at Daytona International Speedway alongside current Truck Series driver Zane Smith and inaugural Truck Series champion Mike Skinner.

Stanley Black & Decker Named the Official Tools Partner of NASCAR

With a mission to celebrate those who make the world, paired with an enduring partnership history with NASCAR, Stanley Black & Decker and its brands such as CRAFTSMAN, DEWALT and MAC TOOLS will be put to work across all NASCAR locations. The company’s tools will be highly utilized from the pit crews during the big race, to the teams responsible for constructing new racing facilities across the country, generating unrivaled enthusiasm on and off the track.

“Stanley Black & Decker is an innovative company that has a rich history in our sport and these new agreements connect our brands in an authentic and meaningful way,” said Daryl Wolfe, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer at NASCAR. “We know NASCAR fans are brand loyal and recognize how important tool performance is in racing. We are excited to see how this official partnership deepens the connection with our racing community while also bringing back CRAFTSMAN, the brand that started it all in the Truck Series.”

As an Official Partner, Stanley Black & Decker has exclusive NASCAR Marketing and Promotional rights and becomes a member of the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council.

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