5 news item events this week ahead of Sunday’s race at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, VA — Rejoice! We made it through a week to where there wasn’t any major storylines to distract you from the playoffs. No penalties from Homestead in either of the three national touring divisions. No fights. No fines. Nada.

That’s huge news because a quiet week in the racing world is a good week. It means the focus is placed where it belongs – on the playoffs and on the track.

Here are five things that occurred this week that you may have missed.

Bowman Cleared

After missing the last 5 races due to a head injury, Alex Bowman will return to his seat in the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at the Phoenix Raceway. The Arizona native was medically cleared to compete.

Bowman, 29, suffered a concussion Sept. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway. The Tucson, Arizona, native was cleared Thursday following a full evaluation by Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins, clinical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program

“We’re thrilled Alex is 100% and will have the opportunity to race at his home track,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. “Throughout this process, he’s been incredibly diligent about following the advice of his doctors and prioritizing his health. All of us look forward to welcoming Alex back and seeing him finish 2022 with his No. 48 teammates.” 

Noah Gragson has filled in for Bowman for the last four Cup Series races and will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet again this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. In the substitute role, he has posted a best finish of 11th, which came Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

“Due to the timing (of the medical clearance), everyone agreed it was best to stick with our plan for Martinsville and allow the team to fully prepare for Alex’s return next weekend,” Andrews said. “On behalf of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, we’re grateful to Noah for stepping in and doing a terrific job under difficult circumstances. He’s a big talent and has been a complete professional.” 

As far as why he’d come back for just one race and elect not to just sit out the remainder of the season and be even better when the 2023 season begins next February, it’s all mental. It’s about pushing yourself to see how you feel inside of a race car and mentally telling yourself that you’re okay and that you can do this.

Plus, Bowman is from Tuscon which is south of Phoenix.

Cole Custer has brought up another penalty in NASCAR for his late race actions in Charlotte

Custer’s Penalty Upheld

Cole Custer’s penalty from his actions on the final lap of the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte was upheld on Thursday. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel listened to Stewart-Haas Racing’s side of things earlier and the members (Mr. Dixon Johnston, Mr. Bill Mullis and Mr. Dale Pinilis) felt like the penalty that NASCAR levied was substantiated.

That penalty was a $100k fine and docked 50 points as a result of violations of Section 5.5 of the NASCAR Rule Book, which states that competitors must race at 100% of their ability and takes action against competitors who intend to “artificially alter” the race’s finishing order.

Additionally, crew chief Mike Shiplett will remain indefinitely suspended from NASCAR and is also fined $100,000 as well.

As far as what transpired, Custer slowed down on the final lap of the Round of 12 elimination race on the final lap to what appeared to be a maneuver to allow Chase Briscoe a position or two on track. You can tell that they felt like if they gave up a couple spots by slowing down and affecting the drivers around him, then Briscoe could pass them all and have more than enough points to advance to the third round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

That’s exactly what happened but the weird thing is, Briscoe was already more than good at that moment and didn’t need Custer to make that decision.

It appeared that this decision was make on Custer’s pit box because Shiplett radioed to Custer that he had a flat for which NASCAR determined that there was no way Shiplett could have known that from his vantage point on the pit box at that time and in that manner.

“The data was pretty telling, and then we got to the audio and had the crew chief telling the driver that ‘I think you’ve got a flat, check up, check up, check up’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat,” said NASCAR’s Scott Miller on the penalty at the time. “Pretty telling as to what went on there. That coupled with the data and the video … nothing contradicted that that was done deliberately by those individuals. We were forced to react.

“We can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order. Certainly on super-high alert in the playoffs. Had this been the determining factor in (Briscoe) in making it in to the Round of 8 or not, our reaction certainly would have been bigger.”

Where this is different than say Chase Elliott vs. Kevin Harvick in Bristol last year is that Elliott wasn’t told to hold Harvick up but rather took it upon himself to do so on track. This result from last weekend had intention behind it.

“I don’t believe anybody told Chase Elliott to block Kevin Harvick so that Kyle Larson could win,” Miller said. “That was a driver taking things into his own hands. Sketchy? Yes, but premeditated to alter the results of the race? Don’t think so. Quite a different situation there.

“Involvement over the radio and instructions over the radio that they could not even be construed as anything else. Those are the things that you can’t overlook. 

“Could we call it teamwork? Yes, teams work together, they draft together and do all kinds of things together and work as a team, but blatantly pulling over and changing the finishing order on the last lap is what makes it over the top and especially with instructions from the pit box.”

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 26: Jessica Friesen, driver of the #62 Halmar International Toyota, and Tanner Gray, driver of the #15 Ford Performance Ford, race during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 26, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

David Gilliland Racing Rebranded, Gets Toyota Alliance

David Gilliland Racing has stepped into a larger role into the sport as it was announced on Thursday that the organization will shift from Ford to Toyota power for the 2023 season. Essentially, DGR replaces the departing Kyle Busch Motorsports for next season’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and as a result, changes the name to TRICON.

“Toyota is pleased to rejoin TRICON with this expanded partnership,” said David Wilson, president, TRD. “We are excited for this new opportunity for our Toyota development drivers and partners to experience TRICON’s success and winning culture. The Truck Series is very important to Toyota, and we know TRICON is going to continue to deliver for us as we begin our 20th season in the series.” 

“We are thrilled to return to Toyota and compete in the new Toyota Tundra TRD Pro next season,” said TRICON Partner David Gilliland. “I’ve seen Toyota’s dedication to the sport firsthand, and we are excited to partner with them going forward. I’m sure this new partnership is going to help TRICON reach our goals of consistently competing for race wins and championships.” 

TRICON’s name change is based on the word’s tri and icon, encompassing the partners in the organization and their plans to compete and win three titles – the driver, owner and manufacturer championships. The team is also involved in three different industries – racing, fabrication and transportation. 

“Our goal in the truck series is to create future racing icons,” said TRICON Partner Johnny Gray.  “We’ll know we did our job when several years from now our drivers are racing for Cup championships. As for Garage, what we do is more than just field a race team. We build chassis, we build bodies. We have a transportation company. We are marketers and content creators. We are teachers and mentors. It’s bigger than simply ‘motorsports’ or ‘racing.’ But what it all has in common is that it takes place in our garage. So, TRICON Garage just seemed to encompass what we’re all about.”

Toyota development driver and leading 2022 Truck Series Rookie of the Year candidate Corey Heim will run for his first Truck Series championship aboard the No. 11 Toyota Tundra. Heim has run just 15 races so far this season but has been impressive throughout, as he scored a hometown win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, before adding a second victory at Gateway in June. 

Tanner Gray will continue to compete in the No. 15 as he runs his fourth full-time season for the team in 2023. The youngest champion in NHRA Pro Stock history is looking for his first career Truck Series win but began the season with back-to-back top-five finishes and is on-track for his second top-15 final points finish in three full-time seasons. 

Taylor Gray will begin his championship run in the Truck Series starting at Circuit of the Americas in March aboard the No. 17 Toyota Tundra. The 17-year-old will miss the first three races of the season due to NASCAR’s age restriction policy. Taylor has made 12 career Truck starts with a best finish of sixth in Richmond in August. He has competed throughout the ARCA ranks this season and has scored multiple victories on the national, East and West tours. 

The fourth truck, the No. 1 Tundra, will feature several drivers throughout the season on a part-time schedule.

TRICON, then known as DGR-Crosley, previously fielded Toyotas from 2018-2019. Tyler Ankrum delivered the first championship for the team in 2018 as he drove to the ARCA Menards Series East championship before joining the Truck Series program in 2019. It was another successful year for the team as it earned its first ever Truck Series victory at Kentucky Speedway.

TRD official partners JBL, Mobil 1, Safelite AutoGlass and SiriusXM will join TRICON Garage and their existing partners to sponsor various Tundras throughout the season. Toyota and TRD, who clinched its 13th Truck Series manufacturer title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, will also continue to provide manufacturer support to Halmar Friesen Racing, Hattori Racing Enterprises and ThorSport Racing in the NASCAR Truck Series. 

The No. 1 truck drivers, full partner and crew chief line-up, complete ARCA Menards Series season plans along with the driver who will fill in for Taylor Gray at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas will be announced at a later date. 

It makes the most sense. DGR is set up to align the other feeder series to their Truck operation. They also field cars in the ARCA Menards Series as well as cars in both of their separate divisions of the East and West categories.

It now gives Toyota that flexibility to utilize this route from taking drivers from Late Models or USAC to place them in ARCA with DGR and allow them a path up from ARCA to the Truck Series with one organization.

Right now, they do so with Venturini, which can house drivers too, but DGR is a one stop shop. Plus, they started off with Toyota power out of the gates and utilized this relationship in 2018 and 2019 before shifting over to Ford power for 2020 on.

Now, they move back to the Toyota family.

Some may wonder why them and not ThorSport, but as I stated above, DGR goes down to the grassroots to where ThorSport just focuses on the Truck Series.

Does this also create a potential for Front Row Motorsports to turn to Toyota in the future? We know Toyota wants to expand some on the Cup level and David Gilliland is a former Front Row Motorsports driver as well as has his son driving for them now. Where this gets interesting is, Ford also could use FRM as well and could in turn utilize more focus their way because they need a flagship Truck team.

They’ve lost DGR and Hailie Deegan and likely the Gray’s too.

FRM has1 other full-time truck with Zane Smith and can now maybe throw so more resources FRM’s way to ensure they have a path from Trucks to Cup because if they don’t, they really are strung at the bottom level without much from ARCA to Trucks to Xfinity.

It’s really just the Cup level and RSS Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and SS-Green Light Racing in Xfinity. With just 1 seat in Trucks, that’s not enough. They can use the 2 bodies given up now by DGR and give them to FRM and even try to help FRM in an Xfinity role too since Smith is going to be doing select races in that series in 2023 as well. You can have a place for the Gray brothers and Deegan in this direction.

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE – JULY 17: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road Chevrolet, and Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Autotrader Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Keith Rodden To Be Austin Dillon’s New Crew Chief

With Justin Alexander stepping away from the pit box on Austin Dillon’s team at season’s end, RCR has found a new role for him. He’ll be the new director of vehicle performance. That was unveiled on Friday. Also announced in the same breath was that Alexander’s replacement will be Ketih Rodden.

Rodden is a former crew chief, most notably for Kasey Kahne (2015-2017) as well as Jamie McMurray in 2014 and William Byron for a race in 2020. He has 1 win in 139 races as a crew chief as well as 16 top 5 finishes, 41 top 10’s, four poles and 505 laps led.

Most recently, he was on the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group for General Motors. In that role, Rodden focused on working with Chevy race teams on how to best approach track tests, practice sessions, and race events to optimize race results. He also worked as the General Motors WFT project lead, serving as test team crew chief.

A North Carolina State University grad and Denver, North Carolina native, Rodden began his professional motorsports career in 2003 with owner Andy Petree. He worked as either a crew chief or engineer with top-tier NASCAR teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Evernham Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Team Red Bull, and Chip Ganassi Racing. Notably, Rodden worked for over a decade with Kasey Kahne, including as crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports.

“The addition of Keith Rodden to the Richard Childress Racing team highlights the ‘One Team’ approach to our race program and the commitment that our manufacturer partner has made to elevating all of the Chevy NASCAR teams with a shared approach to data gathering and technical development,” said Andy Petree, vice president of competition for Richard Childress Racing. “I’ve known and worked with Keith Rodden since the beginning of his NASCAR career, and I can confidently say that he will be a great match for Austin Dillon and our team at Richard Childress Racing. We’d like to thank Justin Alexander for his contributions to the No. 3 team and know that he will do a great job continuing to support RCR in his new role.”

Alexander guided Dillon to all four of his NASCAR Cup Series wins as crew chief of the No. 3 Chevrolet.

“In working with Richard Childress Racing, and in particular the No. 3 team, over the years, I’ve been really impressed with their competitive nature, dedication to hard work and emphasis on partner relationships,” said Rodden. “I’m looking forward to getting back into a team crew chief role and doing so with one of the strongest teams in the Team Chevy family.”

GMS Names Daniel Dye As Truck Series Driver For 2023

This afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, GMS Racing officials announced a new addition to the team’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver lineup for the 2023 racing season. There will be a familiar face in a new place, as the two-time series championship winning team promotes Daniel Dye to drive the new No. 43 Chevrolet Silverado RST entry for a full-time effort next year.

Dye, who joined GMS Racing in 2021 initially for a part-time ARCA Menards Series East and National schedule, made the transition to a full-time campaign in 2022, where he competed for the championship in his rookie year. In 20 starts, Dye earned one pole, a series-high 13 top-fives and 17 top-10 results; and finished second in the drivers’ points standings.

Additionally, Daniel won the ARCA CGS Imaging Four Crown championship, and secured the Bounty Rookie of the Year award by virtue of being one of the most consistent drivers on the tour. Dye has one ARCA Menards Series win on his resumé, conquering Berlin Raceway with the GMS Racing team in 2021.

Off the track, the eighteen-year-old showcases his philanthropic character by working closely with the family-formed Race to Stop Suicide non-profit. Race to Stop Suicide works to normalize the conversation and stigma surrounding mental health, as well as providing resources and education to professionals in the Daytona Beach community and across the country in regions in which Daniel and the GMS Racing team compete.

The rookie looks forward to next season, noting “I am really thankful for the opportunity to drive the No. 43 Chevrolet Silverado RST for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023. GMS Racing, their partners and staff, are the best in the business, and to drive their Chevy trucks next season is something that I’ve dreamed of for a long time. I’m counting down the days to coming back here at Daytona to race under the lights.”

Team President, Mike Beam, echoed Dye’s remarks ahead of the announcement, stating “It has truly been a pleasure watching Daniel progress so far in his relatively short time spent with the team. Since we signed him to our program, his dedication to learning the ins and outs of the sport has been top-notch. Early on, it was made clear to everyone that he has the talent to move up to the next level of competition. Now, with a full year of ARCA racing under his belt, the time has come to make that move. We are excited to be a part of his journey along with our partners at GM and Chevrolet, and look forward to seeing what he can do during his rookie year competing in the Craftsman Truck Series.”

A young, up-and-coming prospect of Chevrolet, Dye will continue to play an integral role in the Drivers Edge Development program, which was formed in a joint effort between GMS Racing and JR Motorsports in 2019. The Drivers Edge Development program aims at bolstering young talent’s careers by providing competition & marketing resources from the winningest OEM in NASCAR history.

“We look forward to seeing Daniel take his driving talent full-time to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Truck Series. “In only his second year in the Drivers Edge Development program, Daniel’s dedication to putting in the work on and off the track made him a championship contender in his ARCA Menards Series rookie season. We are excited to see him continue his growth behind the wheel with GMS Racing at the NASCAR national level.” 

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