Friday the 5th: New Cup owners reshape the sport with their bold moves

The new owners of the NASCAR Cup are reshaping the sport with bold moves that could force other team owners to react accordingly or risk falling behind.

This week’s decision by the Legacy Motor Club – co-owned by Maury Gallagher and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson – to join Toyota in 2024 is the latest in a series of aggressive moves the Cup’s new owners have taken to the search for a competitive advantage.

Justin Marks (Trackhouse Racing), Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing) and Denny Hamlin (23XI Racing) have all made moves over the past two years that not only impact the sport now, but likely will for years to come. come. Those three teams have five drivers in the top 12 in points heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

“A lot of the battles you see on the circuit happen in boardrooms, with decisions about hiring drivers, hiring crew chiefs and where to put resources – aero, engine, vehicle dynamics – how to get that next big talent out of schools, whether it’s a pit crew member or an engineer,” Keselowski said.

“These are very serious battles. They fight every day. There are winners and losers every day. The guys who are good at it, they are the ones who win the races. He’s hiding behind the rider who won the race, and I think a lot of those owners are totally fine with that, myself included.

“But the reality is that there are a lot of battles going on at the ownership and (CEO) level of what you see on any given Sunday.”

Marks, Keselowski and Hamlin – all new owners since 2021 have had their share of off-road wins.

Marks was a one-car team owner in 2021 when he bought Chip Ganassi Racing, securing both charters from that organization and later signing Ross Chastain to join Daniel Suarez in the team.

Both drivers made the playoffs last year. Chastain finished second to Joey Logano for the championship a year ago and leads in points nearly a third of the way this season.

Keselowski left his run at Team Penske – where he had been for more than a decade – to co-own what is now RFK Racing after the 2021 season. In his first year as a team owner, Keselowski celebrated Chris Buescher’s win at Bristol last fall, the organization’s first Cup win since 2017. Both Keselowski and Buescher enter a playoff spot this weekend.

Denny Hamlin and co-owner Michael Jordan shocked many in July 2022 when 23XI Racing announced that they had signed Tyler Reddick for the 2024 season and beyond.

Hamlin celebrated the announcement by posting a chess piece on his Twitter account, the conclusion that his team is playing chess while the rest of the garage is playing checkers.

“We’ve said from the start that 23XI Racing wants to be a different kind of racing team and it’s a forward-thinking team,” said Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing at the time.

The move was not unprecedented, but it’s rare to sign a driver more than a year before they join an organization. Hendrick Motorsports signed Kasey Kahne in 2010 to join the team from 2012. Stewart-Haas Racing signed Clint Bowyer in 2015 to take over racing from Tony Stewart in 2017.

After Richard Childress Racing signed Kyle Busch, the organization allowed Reddick to leave a year early and join 23XI Racing for this season. Reddick already has one victory, winning at the Circuit of the Americas, and is sixth in points.

Now comes Legacy MC’s move to Toyota, joining Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing in that camp. Legacy MC was never going to be in Chevrolet’s top three organizations. These are Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Trackhouse Racing.

The move continues Gallagher’s aggressive style. Less than a year after buying Richard Petty Motorsports to form a two-car team, he partnered with Johnson. The new ownership group was announced six months ago.

“It’s evolved really quickly,” Johnson said of the move from new ownership to announcing a new manufacturer for the team. “When Maury and I sat in this (press conference) room in November, I didn’t think we would be sitting here today (announcing the move to Toyota). It just wasn’t in the cards. We didn’t have those conversations and our journey was very different.

Johnson noted that the team isn’t done making such decisions as they prepare to be more competitive with Erik Jones and Noah Gragson.

“It’s a chapter of that fast pace,” Johnson said. “We know there are many more to come. We are gearing up and preparing.”

The rest of the sport better be ready because it won’t just be Legacy MC with daring moves.

2. RFK Resurgence

RFK Racing have placed in the top 10 for both of their cars over the past two weeks at Talladega and Dover. It’s the first time since 2014 that the organization has had back-to-back top 10 finishes for both cars.

It’s quite a contrast to last year.

A year ago, around this time, Keselowski had finished in the top 10. He has five this season. Buescher had three top 10 finishes a year ago. He has four this season.

Keselowski said he saw progress starting to be made for RFK Racing last fall.

“At that point, it’s really hard to see because you’re kind of buried in the dots and all that stuff, it doesn’t really show,” he said. “During the offseason we added a few more key elements, people and resources. You have the restart with the points and now it’s very visible, two cars in the hunt for the playoffs.

Keselowski is ninth in points; Buescher 12th. Keselowski notes that the organization has had a chance to win in about a third of the races this season.

But for all that RFK has done, that doesn’t guarantee much. The season is just under a third of the way through. This is a key milestone for Keselowski.

“I really look at the season in thirds,” he said. “You have your first third of the season where you kind of offload all your preseason changes, really trying to see who made the right ones in the offseason.

“Mid-summer is really about refining who you are, and then you have the playoff push in the third part of the season. … The summer stretch is a very important stretch to try to get some momentum to get into the playoffs and if you’re not in the playoffs you really need to solidify with wins or good runs.

After heading to Kansas this weekend, the series heads to Darlington. Both are playoff tracks. Teams heading to North Wilkesboro for the All-Star Race before ending the month in Charlotte. Kansas and Charlotte are 1.5 mile tracks and Darlington is a 1.366 mile track. This stretch will give the teams a good idea of ​​how they stack up on the aero tracks.

“I look at Kansas, Darlington and Charlotte, those are big races for us,” Keselowski said.

3. Thrill Ride

As Formula 1 driver Pierre Gasly drove the Charlotte Roval in an RFK Racing car on Tuesday, he experienced something he hasn’t had in motorsport.

Driving on a 24 degree inclined track on bends.

“Going through the bank in fifth gear… at the lowest I thought about my insurance and if their car was well insured,” said Gasly, who is racing in the Miami Grand Prix on Sunday. “They say don’t push too hard, but you don’t know how to do that. If you jump in the car, you want to feel the limits.

“I must say that I was quite amazed by the braking. I didn’t expect the car to brake so hard.

He also came away impressed with the racing store.

“I was amazed by the factory,” Gasly said of visiting the RFK Racing shop and museum.

His alpine teammate Esteban Ocon drove the car on the Roval and left enthusiastic.

“I enjoyed it immensely,” Ocon said. “It was great to have an experience in a real next-gen NASCAR car.”

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has said in Miami that he remains interested in competing in a NASCAR race but remains focused on his F1 career.

If Hamilton ever races in NASCAR, he would follow other F1 champions who have tried the Cup, including a pair this year. Former F1 champions Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button have both competed on the Americas Cup circuit this season. Button is also expected to compete in Chicago and the Indy road course this season.

4. The highs and lows of Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson’s uneven season continued last weekend at Dover, which has us wondering if he might end well this weekend at Kansas.

Larson failed to finish or had to go to the garage in a race six times in the first 11 events of the season. He failed to finish after crashes in the Daytona 500, Atlanta, Talladega and Bristol Dirt Race.

Larson has four top-five finishes, scoring wins at Richmond and Martinsville. He placed second in Las Vegas and fourth in Phoenix.

Circuit of the Americas is the only top-11 race this year where Larson didn’t have a top five, failed to finish or had to drive to the garage for repairs. He finished 14th that day, completing all 75 laps.

Through it all, Larson has scored the most playoff points so far. His two wins and two stage wins give him 12 playoff points. William Byron is next with 11 playoff points, followed by Kyle Busch, who has 10 playoff points.

5. A new winner?

There has been a different winner in each of the last eight races at a 1.5-mile track (excluding Atlanta, which is now in the same category as Daytona and Talladega with its drafting).

These last eight winners are:

Las Vegas (March 2023) — William Byron

Homestead (October 2022) – Kyle Larson

Las Vegas (October 2022) — Joey Logano

Texas (September 2022) – Tyler Reddick

Kansas (September 2022) – Bubba Wallace

Coca-Cola 600 (May 2022) — Denny Hamlin

Kansas (May 2022) – Kurt Busch

Las Vegas (March 2022) — Alex Bowman

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