Friday, 19 April 2024

With the racing wrapped up for 2023, and the teams already looking forward to getting back to it next February starting with the Clash at the Coliseum, this is a time for Cup teams to reflect on what went right (or wrong) in 2023. And more importantly, what the future might hold in next year’s battle.

Below is part one of my reflections on the year that was, and what’s to come in 2024.

Team Penske
Results: Ryan Blaney (champion); Joey Logano (12th in points); Austin Cindric (24th in points)
Grade: A-

Team Penske was not the championship favorite all season, but the great thing about a playoff system is that sometimes a competitor will rise above expectations. 

Just as the New York Giants beat a previously undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, the formerly young Ryan Blaney won his way into the Final Four and then rose above the stiff Hendrick competition in the final race of the season to become the 2023 Cup Champion. That gave Roger Penske a second straight Cup title, following Joey Logano’s title in 2022. Blaney will be an excellent champion for the sport, and his win shows you can never count out the Captain.

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Beyond RFK Racing stealing the show at Michigan Speedway on Monday, there were a lot of other story lines to talk about, including some that impacted the playoff battle.

Martin Truex Jr. continues hot streak

Truex was the fastest overall car at Michigan on Sunday/Monday, but in the end he fell one position short in second.

But he has no reason to hang his head. Truex has 3 wins, 9 top-5s, 13 top-10s, only 1 DNF and 5 stage wins this season. He has a dominating lead in the Cup series point standings, leading his closest competitor by 57 points. Unless he collapses or wrecks out at the upcoming road courses and Daytona, he should be our regular season Cup champion and get some extra bonus points for the playoffs.

“We are excited. Every week we feel like we have a shot to win, that is all I can ask for,” Truex said. “It’s exciting to come to the track every weekend knowing what these guys are going to bring me. Hopefully, we can keep it up.”

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Now that we’ve reached the seven-race mark, and competed at a variety of different track types, it’s fair to start looking at this year’s winners and losers in the Cup series, to this point. Good fortunes can fade and bad fortunes can disappear, but it’s clear that some in the garage are in better shape than others right now. Here’s a few takes on the current landscape of the competition.

Biggest 2023 success stories


Hendrick Motorsports: 
Not really a surprise that the team that has more wins than anyone ever in NASCAR is leading the series this year, but the consistency this year is hard to ignore. 

William Byron is having a breakout year, and could win a lot of races (he’s already got two in the bag). Alex Bowman has six top-10s (more than anyone else in the Cup series) and leads the points. 

Kyle Larson just pulled out his first win (likely the first of many) this past weekend at Richmond. And while Chase Elliott will have a battle to make the playoffs once he returns from injury, fill-in driver Josh Berry was the runner-up at Richmond. Not too shabby of a start, and the future looks just as bright for HMS. In year two of the Next Gen car, they seemed to have things figured out better than anyone.

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Hendrick Motorsports caught a break this week when its L2-level penalties related to illegal modifications made to hood louvers on its four cars were lessened by an appeals panel.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel ruled to amend the penalty. Monetary fines totaling $400,000 and four-race suspensions to each Hendrick crew chief remain, but the panel overturned all the points penalties, restoring championship and playoff points that had been docked in the initial penalty.

My take is simple. If rules were broken and the monetary fines remain, the appeals panel shouldn’t have lowered the penalties by returning the points. It’s an irrational move, and it’s odd to me how the biggest teams seek to be the only ones who ever catch a break in the appeals process. 

NASCAR was clearly unhappy with the appeal board ruling, as they should be, and I’m curious to see if the appeal for Justin Haley’s #31 team gets the same treatment as Hendrick, as he was tagged with the same penalty.

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With so much focus on the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and Penske Fords so far this year, Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway was refreshing for fans to see. 

New faces up front, struggles from the usual leaders, and some hope that maybe the battle for the Cup will not be a runaway for Joe Gibbs Racing and the killer duo of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

Alex Bowman, it seems has different thoughts about this season. So does Hendrick Motorsports. And Chevy isn’t dead yet.

A few thoughts on the day’s action:

* A big congratulations to Alex Bowman. He has been constantly questioned by many who follow the sport since taking over the 88 car from Dale Earnhardt Jr. But he is finally living up to his potential in this 2019 season and has emerged as a team leader in terms of performance. After a long string of 2ndplace finishes, he finally climbed up that one final spot to the summit, and it was not easy. Passing Kyle Larson back after being passed with a few laps remaining was a tough chore, but Bowman came through.
 

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JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 CHEVROLET SS IN THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TEAM OWNER, RICK HENDRICK, MET WITH MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA THURSDAY TO DISCUSS JEFF GORDON’S ANNOUNCEMENT THAT 2015 WILL BE HIS FINAL FULL SEASON OF NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES COMPETITION.

BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPT FROM TODAY’S NASCAR TELECONFERENCE WITH JEFF GORDON and TEAM OWNER RICK HENDRICK aftef the announcement that 2015 will be Gordon's last year racing full-time in the Cup series:

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