Tuesday, 23 July 2024

While Stewart-Haas Racing as we know it will end after 2024, team owner Gene Haas will continue on a leaner scale in the sport.

Haas will keep one NASCAR Cup Series legacy charter from Stewart-Haas and operate a two-car NASCAR Xfinity Series team. The new enterprise will be known as Haas Factory Team.

“My commitment to motorsports hasn’t changed, just the scope of my involvement,” Haas said. “Operating a four-car Cup Series team has become too arduous but, at the same time, I still need a platform to promote Haas Automation and grow HaasTooling.com.

 “Maintaining my presence in Cup allows Haas Automation to compete at NASCAR’s highest level, which is important to our customers and distributors. The Xfinity Series program provides a full weekend experience for our guests, and it delivers added depth and scale to our overall operation.”

Joe Custer will be the president of Haas Factory Team and it will operate out of the existing Stewart-Haas facility in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Drivers and team partners will be announced in the lead up to the 2025 NASCAR season.

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With the announcement of Martin Truex Jr’s retirement from full-time Cup racing officially announced (after years of reporters asking him about it), now comes the fun part: We get to see the dominoes fall.

Silly Season is in full effect, and here are my predictions on how things will play out in the months to come.

No. 19 car: Joe Gibbs Racing
So many possibilities here. There are rumors that Chase Briscoe is the front-runner, which makes sense since he’s a proven winner who is young with a lot of strong years ahead of him. There are also fans who would love to see a return from JGR’s past discards. Could there be a Kyle Busch reunion, since his new team at RCR has been struggling this year? What about Erik Jones, now floundering at Legacy Motor Club? And don’t leave out the young Toyota drivers waiting in the wings — John Hunter Nemechek was once a shoe-in for this ride, but now that may not be the case. Corey Heim and Chandler Smith are also solid young talents eyeing the ride.

So basically this is the prime seat for 2025, and everyone wants it. If it goes to Briscoe that’s a major coup for Toyota to pull one of Ford’s promising young drivers. And I believe this is the route they’ll go, leaving Nemechek and Heim to look to other teams like an expanding 23XI for ride options.

Stewart-Haas refugees: Where will they go?

The big question this year — with a four-car team shutting down (and likely its Xfinity program), where will all their drivers go?

Chase Briscoe — LIkely going to the 19 car, but other options within the Ford camp include a third car for RFK (if they expand) or Wood Brothers’ 21 car (when Harrison Burton is inevitably let go due to underperforming).

Noah Gragson and Josh Berry — I’m lumping these two together because I can see them going to the same place: Front Row Motorsports. With a newly announced third charter, and Michael McDowell already leaving for Spire, there is only one spot filled right now (Todd Gilliland). Gragson and Berry are two promising young drivers that should be high on Front Row’s target list. And if they’re smart, they’ll keep Rodney Childers on as Berry’s crew chief.

Ryan Preece — Preece has worked his way up to Cup after showing his talent in the lower series, and he’s definitely got talent. But without bringing a lot of sponsor funding, I can see him getting sidelined from Cup in 2025. Whether he makes it back up the ladder down the road is not a certainty.

Riley Herbst — Considering that he brings daddy’s money with him, finding another ride shouldn’t be a problem for Herbst. And he should stay in Xfinity at least another year, as I don’t believe he’s ready for the much tougher Cup series.

Cole Custer — I can see him getting the Wood Brothers ride in Cup if Briscoe goes to the 19. But if the Cup slots are all filled, he is strong enough of a driver to land a quality ride in the Xfinity Series as he continues to grind his way up to the top series for another go-around.

Other thoughts
— Zane Smith has struggled mightily in the 71 car this year, and will be looking for a new ride for 2025. He might be one of the drivers better suited by dropping down to the Xfinity Series rather than struggling again next year at another bad Cup team.

— Austin Dillon should make the choice to step down from his ride at RCR. He’s only damaging the team’s legacy with his abysmal performance, and would be better suited for a management role in his grandfather’s company. It’s unlikely, but that move would open up yet another high-profile ride for the many talented drivers seeking a new spot.

— It would seem logical to me that once it’s announced that Trackhouse will receive one of the SHR charters (Front Row has claimed one officially, and rumors are that 23XI and Trackhouse each have one too; TBD on the fourth), Shane Van Gisbergen should be given that ride. He’s a clear talent on the road courses, and has shown promise on the ovals. Moving him to Cup is a no-brainer to me.

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Follow AutoTechReviews on Instagram at @autotechreviews, and on Twitter @AutoTechReview. Follow Matt Myftiu on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

 

Published in NASCAR

After 21 years, 674 races, 34 wins, 146 top-5s and 287 top-10s, 23 pole positions and 12,639 laps led in the Cup series, one Cup series championship and two Xfinity (then Busch) Series championships, Martin Truex will bid farewell to full-time Cup racing at the conclusion of the 2024 season.

His career is one with many highs and lows, and looked to be on life support on multiple occasions early on. Despite winning two Busch Series titles driving for Dale Jr.’s Chance 2 Motorsports, he did not find consistent success in his early years with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing, and after a decade in the sport he had only notched 2 victories.

Furniture Row miracle

Truex’s rise began at Furniture Row Racing, the now-defunct “little team that could” based out of Colorado owned by Barney Visser that took Truex in starting in 2014 (in the wake of the disastrous “spingate” incident that Truex was a part of in 2013, a PR nightmare that left him looking for a ride). This one-car team was not likely to be a path to winning races and competing for championships. But that’s exactly what happened.

Truex won 17 races in his five years at Furniture Row, including 8 wins during his Cup championship-winning season in 2017. The scenes of that championship race and Truex’s celebration with longtime partner Sherry Pollex (RIP) are some of the most emotional and memorable in recent NASCAR history. This one-car team had stunned the field to win the title and slayed all the giant three- and four-car battalions.

Strong finish at Gibbs

After his time with the Furniture Row team came to a conclusion when the team sadly closed its doors at the end of 2018, Truex then moved on to powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing, where he has continued to rack up wins (15 in total under the JGR banner).


Perhaps the most telling stat on Truex: Between 2017 and 2021 he not only won the lone Cup title, but also finished 2nd in points 3 different times. If a few small things change in those championship races, we could be talking about a multiple-time series champion.

So what’s the lesson from Truex’s career? He’s proof that a talented driver will eventually deliver if given the right equipment. The talent was always there, but the circumstances were not always in his favor at the teams where he drove.

Despite a decade of mostly struggling as a mid-tier performer in the Cup series, nowhere near showing championship caliber, a little team from Colorado showed faith in him, and together they shocked the world.

Other drivers have had late-career resurgences. Michael Waltrip comes to mind, for example. But none have taken that opportunity and made the most out of it as well as Martin Truex did. If you went back in time to 2014 and told a 34-year-old Truex that he would retire in a decade with 34 wins, he would have told you to get your head examined.

But it happened, and it’s a great story with a Hall of Fame spot likely awaiting Truex down the road. And don’t lock in those career stats just yet: He very well could knock out a few more wins and contend for one more title before he transitions to part-time in 2025.

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Follow AutoTechReviews on Instagram at @autotechreviews, and on Twitter @AutoTechReview. Follow Matt Myftiu on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

 

Published in NASCAR

Before we get into the thrilling racing at Darlington on Sunday that saw Brad Keselowski return to Victory Lane in a stunning day of redemption for both driver and team, let’s talk a bit about history.

When I think of Roush Racing, I initially think of the 1997 Cup race I attended at Michigan Speedway, my first race I watched at the track, where Mark Martin took home the checkered flag for Jack Roush in the No. 6 Valvoline car, one of 35 victories for Mark in the 6 car.

I think about all the races I saw won over the next two decades — with Roush drivers including Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and more. Since launching his Cup team in 1988, the Cat in the Hat had a team that was formidable week in and week out, not only in Cup but also dominating many races in Xfinity and Trucks for years.

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DQS Solutions & Staffing is off to the races.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based company, which places employees in a variety of industries in areas like security, warehousing, healthcare, and automotive, is now in the passenger seat of a promising young Truck Series racer making his full-time debut. 

Along with strategic partner Masked Owl Technologies, DQS will support Bayley Currey’s first full-time season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, which gets underway in February. Currey drives the No. 41 truck for Niece Motorsports. The team’s primary sponsors include Precision Vehicle Logistics and AutoVentive.

“I’m excited to work with everyone at Precision Vehicle Logistics, AutoVentive, Detroit Quality Staffing and Masked Owl Technologies” Currey said. “We can’t do what we love without the support of great partners, so it means a lot that they’ve returned to Niece Motorsports with the 41 team. We’re looking forward to a strong season.”

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Below is part four (the final installment) of my reflections on the year that was, and what’s to come in 2024, for Cup series teams:

Legacy Motor Club
Results: Erik Jones (27th in points); 32nd in owner point standings for 42 car (multiple drivers)
Grade: C-

The big news for Legacy Motor Club this year was that they’ll be moving from Chevy to Toyota for 2024, and that’s probably a wise move. 

Their final year with Chevy was disastrous, as talented Erik Jones could only muster a single top-5 in 2023, and 7 top-10 finishes, in the 43 car. 

The 42 car was even worse, with Noah Gragson delivering zero top-10 runs in 21 races before being sacked after his social media controversy. Next year is much more promising for the team, with John Hunter Nemechek taking over the 42 car full-time and bringing his crew chief with him, and Jones returning. If Toyota can provide them with fast cars, these are two drivers who can definitely step up for Legacy Motor Club in 2024.

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Part three of my reflections on the year that was, and what’s to come in 2024, for Cup series teams:

RFK Racing 
Results: Chris Buescher (7th in points); Brad Keselowski (8th in points)
Grade: A-

Talk about overachieving: RFK Racing was the breakout Cup team of 2023. RFK Racing co-owner/driver Brad Keselowski had long hyped up his teammate Chris Buescher’s talent, but that was backed up when Buescher shocked everyone by rattling off three wins this summer. 

Meanwhile, Keslowski consistently ran up front all year, and took home 7 top-5 finishes. He could easily return to victory lane next season. The fact that both these drivers finished in the top 8 in points is extremely impressive for a team still aiming to rebuild back to the levels of success once enjoyed in the former glory days of Roush Racing. 

Look for Buescher and Keselowski to remain contenders in 2024 in the newly unveiled Mustang Dark Horse. 

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Part two of my reflections on the year that was, and what’s to come in 2024, for Cup series teams:

Joe Gibbs Racing
Results; Christopher Bell (4th in points); Denny Hamlin (5th in points); Martin Truex Jr. (11th in points); Ty Gibbs (18th in points) 
Grade: A-

Despite only one driver making the Final Four, this was a very strong overall year for Joe Gibbs Racing, with 8 wins between the trio of Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell. Ty Gibbs did not win, but he did run very well as a rookie and had the second-best finish in the points among non-playoff drivers. With all four drivers returning in 2024, I expect all four, including young Ty, to make the playoffs and several to make deep runs. 

Denny Hamlin’s continued struggles with completing a title run will once again be at the forefront of conversation next season, but I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility that Hamlin does win it all in 2024, and Truex and Bell could be right there beside him battling for the title.

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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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I remember the first time I had a hint of what was to come from young Ryan Blaney, in the media center at Michigan International Speedway in 2013.

It was back when he was quite young, still a teenager in fact, and I had just watched him finish second in an ARCA race at the track.

He was very fresh in the sport at that point, having competed in some Xfinity and Truck series races as an 18-year-old in 2012.

When Blaney showed up in the media room to take questions, he was agitated, almost pissed off the entire time. Why, you ask? He hadn’t won the race (coincidentally, the race was won by Brennan Poole and Grant Enfinger finished 5th that day.)

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