5 newsworthy items between Dover and Kansas

Austin Dillon’s Penalty Upheld

Austin Dillon’s L-1 penalty was upheld by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel on Tuesday. The appeal was for the No. 3 Chevrolet team violating the overall assembled vehicle rules related to the underwing assembly and hardware for the April 16 NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

The $75,000 fine to crew chief Keith Rodden was upheld by the three-person panel, as was his two-race suspension. Rodden was permitted to delay his suspension through the appeal process, but he and the team elected to serve the suspension instead and sat sidelined for the events at Talladega Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway. Justin Alexander, who previously served as Dillon’s crew chief, returned to fill the position on an interim basis in Rodden’s absence.

The team and driver Austin Dillon maintain their loss of 60 points and five playoff points, respectively. Dillon currently sits 31st in the driver standings with finishes of 38th (Talladega, crash) and 27th (Dover) in the past two races.

Dillon is in the midst of his 10th season as a full-time competitor for his grandfather’s team with four career victories to date, including the 2018 Daytona 500 and the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. A champion in both the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity series, Dillon scored a walk-off win at Daytona in last summer’s regular-season finale to pounce into the playoffs for the fifth time in his career.

Sections 14.1 C&E&Q, covering overall vehicle assembly, and 14.6.1 A&B were cited in the original penalty report as the particular rules violated. Sections 14.6.1 A&B refer to the specific underwing assembly mounting and hardware.

On the panel for Tuesday’s hearing were J. Kirk Russell, Lake Speed and Kevin Whitaker.

In reaching the above decision, the panel provided the following explanation: “As submitted the nuts are not a thread locking device — they are connected and part of the turn buckle. The nuts do not lock the assembly. Therefore, the assembly has been modified.”

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 15: Erik Jones, driver of the #43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, 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)

Legacy MC Switches to Toyota Power For 2024

Toyota announced on Tuesday a partnership with LEGACY MOTOR CLUB beginning with the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) season. With LEGACY M.C. two entries, Toyota will field eight full-time Toyota Camry TRD’s in NCS action starting next season.

“All of us at Toyota are thrilled to add LEGACY MOTOR CLUB to our NASCAR family,” said Jack Hollis, executive vice president of TMNA (Toyota Motor North America) and president of Toyota Motor Sales. “While Toyota’s tenure in NASCAR has yielded on-track success, our proudest accomplishments are those relationships that have been built off the racetrack. Jimmie Johnson and Maury Gallagher along with the great club that LEGACY M.C. is assembling, will be a great addition to our existing Cup Series team partners with Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing who are truly part of our family.”

LEGACY M.C. is co-owned by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and businessman Maury Gallagher. Johnson’s NASCAR legacy ranks him amongst the series’ best drivers, as the California-native ranks sixth all-time in NASCAR Cup Series victories with 83, along with his seven championships, five of which happened in consecutive years (2006-2010). Johnson owns two Daytona 500 victories (2006, 2013) and four All-Star Race wins (2003, 2006, 2012, 2013). Gallagher has achieved his own success on the track with his GMS Racing team. GMS Racing owns two NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series championships (2016 and 2020) along with 65 race wins across six national racing circuits. Johnson partnered with Gallagher’s Petty GMS team at the end of the 2022 season and guided the rebrand to LEGACY M.C. beginning with the 2023 racing year. Adding to the legacy of the organization is team ambassador, Richard Petty, ‘The King.’ Petty etched his name into NASCAR’s history with his seven championships and an incredible 200 wins.

“Maury Gallagher and I are very excited about the partnership with Toyota and TRD beginning in 2024,” said LEGACY M.C. co-owner Jimmie Johnson. “We admire and respect the level at which Toyota conducts their business in this sport and look forward to forging a new legacy for the future. I will always be appreciative to Chevrolet and everything we have accomplished together. I’m so thankful they took a chance on a kid from California so long ago and proud that the history books will forever memorialize our record-breaking success we shared.”

Toyota has achieved its own legacy in NASCAR as it celebrates its 20th season in national NASCAR competition this year. With nearly 600 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions, Toyota has truly made a mark in its short tenure in the sport. Toyota’s Christopher Bell leads the Cup Series in top-five and top-10 finishes, while four Camry drivers currently hold top-10 positions in the point standings, which is tied for the most with any manufacturer. Its winning legacy includes such drivers as Kyle & Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., all of whom rank amongst NASCAR’s most legendary drivers. Toyota’s legacy in the sport is not only at NASCAR’s top level as the manufacturer continues to give young drivers opportunities to exceed with its extensive driver development program.

“We are humbled and delighted to welcome LEGACY MOTOR CLUB into the Toyota and TRD NASCAR family,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development). “Jimmie Johnson and Maury Gallagher have impressed us with their long-term vision and commitment to building a championship caliber organization. More importantly, their character and values are aligned with ours and our current Cup Series partners, Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing. Of course, we also look forward to being reunited with our old friends, Erik Jones and Noah Gragson.”

Part of Toyota’s legacy includes both of LEGACY M.C.’s current drivers. Gragson made both his NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) and NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series (NCTS) debuts with Toyota. Gragson ran 47 races across three seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NCTS, earning two victories – Martinsville (2017) and Kansas (2018). The Las Vegas-native finished second in the NCTS standings in 2018 – the same season he made his NXS debut, where he finished an impressive second at Richmond Raceway in April of that year driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Jones made history while with Team Toyota as he is the first driver in NASCAR history to earn Rookie of the Year in all three national series. He made his Toyota debut in the NCTS in 2013 and won later that year in his fifth career start at Phoenix Raceway. Jones later earned the NCTS championship in 2015, which is the same season he earned his first NXS win at Texas Motor Speedway. He later moved to the NASCAR Cup Series, where he earned two wins while competing for Joe Gibbs Racing – Daytona in July 2018 and Darlington in September 2019.

The eight full-time Toyota Camry TRD entries are the most Toyota supported entries to compete in the NCS since 2011.

Truex Brothers Rule Dover, Does It Help Their Futures?

You could say NASCAR’s stop at Dover (De.) Motor Speedway was “All in the Family;” a kin-to-win kind of weekend.  Martin Truex Jr. answered his younger brother Ryan’s NASCAR Xfinity Series victory on Saturday with a win in Monday’s rain-delayed Wurth 400 NASCAR Cup Series race – the fourth win of his career at the one-mile oval he considers his “home track.”

Truex, who started 17th in the 36-car field after qualifying was cancelled due to weather, methodically worked his way forward in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The 42-year-old New Jersey native finally took the lead for the first time with 69 laps remaining and led all but one of those final laps to claim his first points-paying victory of the season, ending a 54-race winless streak.

“Yeah, it’s super awesome, honestly,” Martin said. “It’s very special. Happy my dad was here for that. Just really cool.

“Ryan has been through a lot. He’s really worked hard, and he’s gotten beat down and knocked down a lot and been through some tough times that he’s had to kind of persevere through. So I was just really happy for him.

“But like I said, yeah, it’s not a long list of brothers that have swept a weekend in NASCAR racing history. To be on that list with some of the guys that have done it is really, really cool for both of us and our whole family.”

For Ryan, this goes a long way in helping secure a longer future in the sport. The 31-year-old led a dominating 124 of the 200 laps at his hometown Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway on Saturday. He swept both stage wins and ultimately took the checkered flag an impressive 4.8-seconds ahead of the field to claim his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in Saturday’s A-GAME 200.

It was such a big day for the 31-year-old who has raced in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series – primarily part-time – for nine seasons and is scheduled to only make a handful of starts in 2023. Yet he parlayed this part-time opportunity driving the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into a hugely sentimental victory at a special place – one the Mayetta, N.J. native has always claimed as his “home track.’’

“I’m just so thankful, all these fans, my team, they really stuck behind me,” said a smiling and emotional Truex, who becomes the 13th different NASCAR Xfinity Series driver to claim his first win at Dover.

“Most people didn’t believe in me, and I still did – my girlfriend, my family, my parents, my brother did. I’m just so thankful to be here.

“I felt like with 20 to go, I was just waiting for something to happen,’’ he continued, ‘just praying, please God keep everything straight and let’s get to the end of this. What a car, what an amazing Toyota Supra. I’m speechless. 

“I thought I’d be more emotional right now, but when I crossed the flag I couldn’t even talk on the radio and I’m not an emotional guy. This is for everyone that doubted me.”

Now, with a win in hand, both he and Joe Gibbs will try and find more funding to continue this relationship past their current agreement of six races. It helped Ross Chastain when he followed this similar path a few years ago. He could have came back with JD Motorsports in Xfinity Series on a full-time basis but instead took his funding to a three-race deal with Chip Ganassi Racing.

It was one last gasp to make it to the big leagues with the big teams. Fail and the career path upwards is gone. Succeed, like he did, and you get a better path towards the Cup Series.

Can Truex make this happen?

What about his brother. Martin Jr. long mulled last year on if he’d even come back in 2023. He decided on a one-year deal. Now, with a decision likely needing to be made in the next 6-8 weeks, does this win help?

“I think in general, it’s been worth it the whole time,” Truex said on if this win on Monday made coming back this season all that more rewarding. “I feel good about, like I said, our team, where we’re at and what’s going on. I’m still having fun. Yeah, that was definitely the reason.

“Winning doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure. It feels great. It’s always good to win. This is the best feeling you can have in racing.

“It’s hard to say. We’ve won now, so I can’t say if we didn’t win all year how I would have felt about it.

“But glad I’m back, and I was glad before this weekend even. It’s been going good. I’ve been enjoying my team and working together with those guys. They’ve been doing an awesome job, and it’s been fun.”

Last year, Truex decided in late June at Nashville to announce a comeback in ’23. However, as good as his season went in terms of results, he still went winless and missed the playoffs.

“These races are big. They’re hard to win,” Truex said. “They’re all special. They’re all important. They all mean a ton. Yeah, I don’t think you can just pick one. It’s all very important. Last year after missing the Playoffs, that one is pretty big. Missed it by three points. We were fourth in points at that point in time, and we missed it. It was a real gut punch. Especially after how many times we felt like we were capable of winning races or should have won races, just had a lot of tough luck.

“Just proud to be able to do it, and it’s always good to win.”

Winless Streaks

On the final restart on Monday in Dover, four drivers lining up in the top three rows had long winless droughts that spanned over a year. Martin Truex Jr. (54 race drought) shared the front row with Ryan Blaney (56 race drought). Ross Chastain (36 race winless streak) was on the Inside Row 2 while Brad Keselowski (72 race skid) was in Row 3. It set up a mad dash for whom could end their long drought.

Truex eventually prevailed.

“You never know when your last win is going to be or what’s going to happen,” Truex admitted. “Certainly, in those 54 races, there’s certainly a bunch of them that we probably should have won or had the best car.

“I think as tough as that is to swallow, when those heartbreaking races happen, it keeps you motivated. It keeps your mind like okay, yeah, we know we can do it. If the belts don’t fall off the engine, we’re going to win Darlington. If we didn’t use a set of tires in Stage 1 of Richmond, we’re going to win Richmond.

“You have all these races throughout that period where you’re like, we were good enough to win, we should have won. It’s not like we can’t do that, we just need to put it all together. It’s kind of like that carrot dangling out in front of you. You know you can get it, you’ve just got to find a way.

“Yeah, it definitely helps to be running good. If you’re not running good and you’re not challenging for wins and not leading laps, then yeah, it’s like you don’t know if you’ll ever win again, but other than that, when you’re running good, you know it’s going to happen eventually.”

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 30: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 30, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

Hamlin’s Pit Road Woes

Denny Hamlin has had some success in 2023, but not as much as he’d have liked to have. The thing holding his team back right now is pit road. Hamlin feels the pressure riding on him because when he has to come down pit road, he feels like there’s a great chance that he’ll lose spots due to the struggles on his pit crew. That’s not a good feeling to have.

As a result, Hamlin has to push harder coming onto pit road and exiting to try and make up some ground that will surely be lost in the pit box. Due to that, speeding penalties tend to occur on his end. Which in all, compounds one mistake with another.

Until this gets rectified, Hamlin feels like a win is out of sight.

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