It was a busy week of news again on the NASCAR front. Here’s the top 5 news items entering this weekend’s Round of 8 race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
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Bubba Wallace wasn’t fined. He didn’t receive a points penalty. However, for his actions and role in the Lap 94 incident during last Sunday’s South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Wallace was suspended by NASCAR for a week and will miss Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) as a result.
This is unnecessarily controversial. He deserved to be penalized. What he did could have seriously injured Kyle Larson. In a season that safety has been questioned, including his owner calling NASCAR out many times for this car being unsafe, his teammate missing the last 14 weeks due to a head injury suffered in this car that Wallace is driving and Larson’s teammate missing the last 4 weeks due to a similar injury, Wallace hooked Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet and sent him in a direction similar to the others. Luckily for Larson, but unlucky for Christopher Bell, was that Bell’s No. 20 Toyota was there for Larson to hit first and sent him into the outside SAFER barrier in a different direction that it was initially heading.
That’s why this case is different than the rest. There is no, “well what about,” situation for this. He deserved to be penalized and has to suffer the consequences of his bad decision-making last week.
Bell, Wallace Talked On Plane Ride Back From Vegas
In wake of the incident between Wallace and Larson was that Christopher Bell was an innocent bystander. He was on his way to another solid outing in his No. 20 Toyota which would have put him solidly into the mix for a Championship 4 spot. However, that crash in Vegas puts him last among the 8 driver playoff field, 23 points back of Denny Hamlin for the final spot. While that’s not an insourmountable gap to make up, Martinsville isn’t one of his better tracks and that race next weekend sets the Championship 4.
Bell would like to go to Martinsville not needing a win.
Which is why one could say that Vegas crash could have demoralized his spirits. He even admitted that it did. He said this week that Sunday night and Monday he was sad about the situation but Tuesday on, he quickly rebounded and ready to stake claim on one of those 3 open spots to Phoenix this weekend in Homestead.
Bell also said Wallace and he shared a plane ride back from Las Vegas and that Wallace was very apologetic then as well as in the Toyota competition meeting earlier this week too.
Nemechek To Replace Wallace
As a result of 23XI Racing not appealing the penalty against Wallace, they’ll have John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 45 Toyota at Homestead instead.
Nemechek has made 39 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, 36 of which coming in a rookie season in 2020 when driving for Front Row Motorsports.
For the last two years, he stepped back to the Camping World Truck Series in a role with Toyota and KBM. Nemechek has 7 wins in 43 starts the last two seasons including winning the 2022 regular season championship. He’s currently in the Round of 8 and will also race his Truck in Saturday’s race on the same track.
Busch’s Crew Chief Also Suspended
In addition to Bubba Wallace’s suspension, NASCAR also announced on Thursday four other penalties following the Las Vegas weekend.
One of them was Ben Beshore, crew chief of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, missing the next four races along with jackman Derrell Edwards and tire changer Michael Hicks after the left-front wheel detached from Busch’s car under caution at Las Vegas. The suspensions carry through the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.
After Busch pitted on Lap 229 for fresh tires, the left front wheel was loose, and it came off on the backstretch. Busch rebounded to finish 3rd.
That creates an end of an era for Busch and Beshore. Busch moves onto RCR at seasons end and will be paired with Randall Burnett. With Beshore missing the rest of the season (3 races left) it ends their relationship.
Busch previously was paired with Adam Stevens.
Stevens helped guide Kyle Busch to a pair of Cup championships and 29 of his 60 (48%) career wins in just a 6-season span.
Busch amassed 5 wins in just 25 starts in 2015, 4 wins in 2016, 5 more in 2017, 8 in 2018 and 5 in 2019. He made the Championship 4 in all 5 years.
2020 was a bit of an adjustment though. COVID struck and out went practice and qualifying. It greatly affected the way that he and Busch worked together. Just 1 win, 14 top 5 finishes and 512 laps led ensued. Busch was eliminated in the Round of 12 of the playoffs.
Busch had led at least 1400 laps in each of the previous 4 seasons and now it felt like they were sliding backwards. With a plethora of crew chief and driver swaps occurring in the sport, Joe Gibbs Racing felt like it was best to split this tandem up. Give Busch a new voice and see if Stevens’ voice could help another driver.
Busch was paired with Beshore. Christopher Bell was paired with Stevens. Basically, the entire teams swapped. Bell was technically the 18 car while Busch was the 20. The only thing that stayed the same was the sponsors and car numbers tied to those drivers.
Over the last 2 seasons now, Busch has 3 wins, 22 top 5 finishes, 38 top 10’s and 1,084 laps led. He was eliminated from the playoffs in the 3rd round last year and 1st round this year.
Spire announced that Corey LaJoie will return to his seat in the No. 7 Chevrolet for the 2023 season and also that Ty Dillon will pilot the No. 77 Chevrolet on a full-time basis too.
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So where does this leave Silly Season. Most of the rides are now filled. The main thing left is Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing to announce Ty Gibbs as Kyle Busch’s replacement for the 18 car but outside of that, they’ll have Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell back with JGR and Bubba Wallace/Tyler Reddick with 23XI.
Ford is pretty much set too.
Penske signed Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano to multi-year extensions and has Austin Cindric on a rookie deal. Harrison Burton is back with the Wood Brothers while SHR has the same 4 car lineup with Aric Almirola announcing that he’ll forego retirement and come back on a new multi-year deal. While there’s speculation surrounding Cole Custer’s future again with it being split between bosses that one favors Ryan Preece and the other leaving it alone, I don’t see anything realistically happening between now and Daytona because Harvick’s contract runs out at the end of next season, Almirola renewed his and there’s not way you let a driver in the Round of 8 in Chase Briscoe walk. You can tell the writing on the wall was that Almirola was supposed to retire at seasons end like initially planned and Preece was going to step in. However, Smithfield wanted to come back and like the relationship with Almirola so they’re running it back in 2023. There’s a possibility that both Harvick and Almirola could each retire at the end of 2023 as rumor has it Harvick has already intended plans to leave SHR at the end of this contract. With that on the potential surface, why move Custer, especially when his dad is the President? You can put Preece with one of the 2 aligned Rick Ware Racing cars for 2023, then move him over in 2024 with Custer and Briscoe.
For Chevy, HMS is set with their current 4 car lineup with signing Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and William Byron to extensions already. Trackhouse has both drivers back with Daniel Suarez on a one-year contract extension. Kaulig has Justin Haley back and now AJ Allmendinger full-time in the 2nd car. RCR has Reddick and Busch. JTG has Ricky Stenhouse Jr. back. Petty GMS signed Erik Jones to an extension as well as bringing Noah Gragson up to drive the 42.
The only other rides for 2023 open are with smaller teams like Front Row Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing and Live Fast Motorsports.
- Hendrick Motorsports (4) – Larson, Elliott, Byron and Bowman. Each are back in 2023.
- Trackhouse Racing (2) – Ross Chastain is back while Daniel Suarez signed a one-year extension.
- Richard Childress Racing (2) – Austin Dillon is back in the 3 while Kyle Busch moves over to replace Tyler Reddick in the 8.
- Petty GMS Racing (2) – Erik Jones is back while Noah Gragson moves up from the Xfinity Series to run the 42.
- Kaulig Racing (2) – Justin Haley is back in 2023 with AJ Allmendinger taking the 2nd car on a full time ride next season too.
- Spire Motorsports (2) – Corey LaJoie is back in the 7 while Ty Dillon drives the 77 now.
- JTG Daugherty Racing (1) – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is back for 2023
- Stewart-Haas Racing (4) – All 4 drivers are back in 2023 but 3 of them are free agents for the season after.
- Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are back in 2023 with 2 of them signing extensions this season.
- RFK Racing (2) – Both drivers are back in 2023.
- Rick Ware Racing (2) – 2 seats are open as of now for 2023.
- Front Row Motorsports (2) – Both rides are open for 2023.
- Live Fast Motorsports (1) – Their seat is open for now in 2023.
- Wood Brothers (1) – Harrison Burton is back in 2023.
- Joe Gibbs Racing (4) – Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. are each back in 2023. Truex just signed a one-year extension this past June. Rumor is Ty Gibbs will graduate up to the 18.
- 23XI Racing (2) – Bubba Wallace signed a new extension this past August while Tyler Reddick moves over a year early to replace Kurt Busch in the 45.
The focus is now pretty much on 2024 though. Suarez, Truex Jr., Harvick and Alex Bowman are each free agents at the end of next season. Suarez is betting on himself while Truex and Harvick could step out the door in a swan song season leaving rides with JGR and SHR open.