John Hunter Nemechek will drive Team Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity Series car, the team announced Thursday morning.
Ben Beshore, who served Kyle Bushcrew chief in the Cup, will be Nemechek’s crew chief in the Xfinity series.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to return to full competition in the Xfinity Series,” Nemecek said in a team statement. “I know JGR is a group that I can win with after winning Texas in 2021. I am very excited to get to work in the 2023 season so that we can go out and win some races and compete for the championship.”
The 25-year-old Toyota driver competed in three Xfinity races for JGR last season and also raced full-time in the Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Nemecek has 13 Truck victories and two Xfinities in his career.
Mobil 1 will act as the main sponsor. Nemecheck will also have support from longtime partners. Berry’s Bullets, Pye Barker Fire and Safety, Romco Equipment and its grocery store brands for the 2023 Xfinity season.
Denny Hamlin as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr. both raise questions about how NASCAR defines its champion with a single race after reducing the 16-driver playoff field to four in three rounds of three races.
Since 2014, the title has been won by the driver who placed first among the four contenders for the championship in the season finale. The format creates a game type 7 moment for the sport in an event that has become a winner-takes-all race. Joey Logano won the season finale in Phoenix to win his second cup title. Ty Gibbs captured the Xfinity title by winning the season finale in Phoenix. Zane Smith won the Truck title by winning the season finale in Phoenix.
Thursday, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has announced a new way to determine its series champion that reflects the NASCAR format.. The late model series will reduce the number of playoff drivers through eliminations, leading to a single race with the four remaining championship contenders competing for the title in 2023.
One of the questions surrounding the NASCAR format is whether it provides the most fair way to determine the series champion. Of course, the NFL determines its champion in the Super Bowl, a winner-take-all game. The top team hasn’t always made it to or won this game, but this event has been running for over 50 years and no change is in sight.
Those who question how NASCAR defines a champion point out that the Super Bowl is played between two teams, while the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series not only have the four teams vying for the crown, but also the rest of the field, which may include another 30 vehicles. What these drivers and teams do can affect the race and play a role in who wins the championship.
“I think Dale Jr summed it up perfectly,” Hamlin said. “Should one season be limited to this three-hour window?”
Hamlin, who is aiming for his first Cup title, says previous Cup champions have been worthy and admits “I’m the last one to comment on this” because he doesn’t have a title.
However, it raises questions.
“From a purist perspective, the sample size should be larger,” he said.
Hamlin points out how he knew he wouldn’t win the 2020 Cup title even though he was among the four contenders because his team wasn’t as strong at shorter courses like Phoenix.
“If you have more samples, you have a chance,” he said.
Earnhardt answered questions he had about the format when he spoke with former NASCAR chairman Brian France on Dale Jr Download this autumn.
Earnhardt said the playoff format, which includes three rounds of race, is “attractive”. It can be argued that this is relatively fair. Everyone has the same opportunity. These are three races. You can sort of dig yourself out of the hole. But I have always struggled with the fact that the final race is all or nothing.
“The reason I’m fighting this is because the venue might suit the team or the rider. … You would never consider using it on a freeway or super fast track, because it certainly suits some drivers more than others. You are trying to get it on a neutral facility if you want, such as Homestead or Phoenix.
“But it’s always been hard for me to say, ‘OK, it all comes down to this one race where you have to do it right and if you don’t, you’re not the champion this year.’ Even though you actually have this amazing job. You can still make the guy who wins one race become the champion and the guy who wins six doesn’t even make it to the final round.
“We wish we could find a way to make this moment of the championship not a three-hour all-or-nothing affair. … I really warmed up to everything else we did. It took me a long time because I was too traditional. But I still feel like there needs to be a better script for the last moment.”
France responded to Earnhardt’s question by saying, “The reason you feel this way is because you are making fair remarks. They are.”
Frans went on to say that such questions are “part of the problem with the playoff format in general with motor racing. You just have to admit that it’s not exactly perfect.”
Frans then said, “I decided we weren’t going to hold back on getting those moments (Game 7) because auto racing doesn’t quite fit into that. We just couldn’t do it.”
NASCAR changed the way they crowned their champion ahead of the 2004 season. From 2000 to 2003, three champions were so far ahead in points that they clinched the title with one race to go (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Jeff Gordon in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in 2003).
The Chase was created to generate interest for the fall, especially when NASCAR played the NFL on Sundays. The chase turned into a playoff and included an elimination and one race to determine the champion.
Hamlin says the three-race round to determine the champion will spark fan interest.
“I think when you distribute it over a larger sample, like three races (rounds), I don’t see why it’s bad for the rankings. People will be forced to tune in every week because it’s a championship round. I think there’s something to be gained there.”
Asked if one of the title contenders won the first two races for everyone but secured them the title before the final race, Hamlin replied: “That won’t happen. There will be no blocking. No one will be blocked before the final race.”
Hamlin acknowledges that not everyone shares his view.
“I’m as much of a traditionalist as Dale,” Hamlin said. “That’s just my opinion. I think everyone will have their own opinion on this, but I just think our champion’s larger sample size makes him more legit. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue with that, especially in the industry.” .
“If you ask riders: “Do you think championships are as valuable today as they were 10 years ago?” I don’t think anyone considers them valuable just because they are one race. It’s one race.”
Tyler Reddick moves to 23XI Racing and will be bossed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. Reddick says that Jordan is not the absent owner.
“We had to spend time (together) a bit here and there,” Reddick said of Jordan. “His involvement with the team, I think, is more than a lot of people think.”
Reddick cited a race at Martinsville in October when he withdrew because he felt unwell after contact on the track. After that, Jordan contacted Reddick.
“It was really cool to have a guy like him checking to make sure you were okay,” Reddick said. “He is definitely locked in and he really wants the team to succeed. I am very happy to work with him.”
3. Stay home
Kyle Larson said he would race very little this off-season. He stays at home due to the birth of his third child with wife Caitlin Sweet.
Larson will compete in the Wild West Shootout, a late model competition at Vado, NM Speedway Park January 7-8 and January 11-15.
Larson will not compete in the Chili Bowl this year.
He said his focus will be on family this offseason.
“I help where I can and just spend as much time as possible with my family,” Larson said. “Usually I do a lot of racing, but not this year. I’m actually excited about this. I’ve only done one race this offseason. I’m surprised that the off-season is already going very fast because I thought it would be very slow if I didn’t race. It’s good not to race for once.”
4. Desire to improve
Ryan Blaney said he and crew chief Jonathan Hassler looked back on the season and made a to-do list for the next year.