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Thad Moffitt Confident Under Pressure with Faction46 

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

LEVEL CROSS, N.C. – Confidence and pressure go hand in hand when new teams enter NASCAR. For fourth generation racer Thad Moffitt, that is only compounded as he continues the Petty family legacy with the new Faction46 team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Thad moffitt will drive full-time in the nascar craftsman truck series for the new faction46 team in 2024.
Photo Courtesy of Faction46.

The new team, founded by Lane Moore, owner of Venture Food Stores, will have an alliance with Niece Motorsports. Moffitt will drive the No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado full-time, adding to the legacy started by his great-grandfather Lee Petty (42), grandfather Richard Petty (43), his uncle Kyle Petty (44), and cousin Adam Petty (45).

On top of the pit box for Moffitt will be veteran crew chief Doug George. The veteran crew chief has two victories in the Truck Series, both with Kyle Busch in 2009. Most recently, George led the CR7 Motorsports team with Colby Howard.

“I think that, like grandpa said, we’re starting a new deal,” Moffitt stated. “Yes, we have some help from Niece, but a new deal with a new team I just met Doug a couple weeks ago. To go and form that relationship is going to be something that we have to do over the next couple of weeks in couple of months and then and get ready.”

The alliance with Niece Motorsports has the potential to propel the Faction46 team up the running order. The Al Niece-owned team has eight victories in the Truck Series, four of which came in 2023 with Carson Hocevar. The Cody Efaw led operation has made the Championship 4 twice, first in 2019 with Ross Chastain, and last year with Hocevar.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we surprised a lot of people this year and make a playoff run,” Moffitt said. “I think with Niece’s equipment and with Chevy support, I think that we’ll have everything that we need to have that caliber of truck. A lot of it falls on me on my end, which I’m ready for.”

With the family tradition comes added pressure. Combined, Lee Petty and Richard Petty earned 10 championships and 254 victories in the NASCAR Cup Series. Both were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The family pedigree has, in part, always meant early expectations were high for Kyle Petty, Adam Petty, and ultimately for Moffitt.

While Moffitt understands the pressure and recognizes that he will always have to deal with it while he’s racing, he doesn’t expect anything dramatically different. He and his grandfather spend time together like any normal family would, watching football, racing, fishing, etc. For Moffitt, he’s never known Richard Petty as anyone other than grandpa.

“For me, it’s really cool to get to carry on the family tradition, there’s a lot that goes into it, but at the end of the day, we’re just a family,” Moffitt said. “I know that there’s been some cool accomplishments. I get the question what’s it like to be Richard Petty’s grandson, which is a tough question for me to answer because (I don’t know) what’s it like not to be Richard Petty’s grandson. I guess this is my counter question.

“I mean, we just, we watch football, we watch racing, we shoot, we go fishing, we travel together, we just do grandpa, grandson things. At the end of the day, a family is what this was all built on, and then we just had a similar (interest) which was racing, and it turned into 10 championships and 75 years of racing, and so it’sbeen incredible and for me to get to add on to that legacy is just, I mean you can’t really put it into words for me.

“I’ve lived under this pressure umbrella since I decided to do this thing. Everywhere I unload, I’m Richard Petty’s grandson. No matter what. (There’s) no getting away from it. You kind of just learn to deal with it. (I’m) just really grateful for this opportunity and I think that I think we’ll be really competitive.” 

As with any family dynamic, Moffitt does get advice from his grandfather. In 2022, that advice was front and center at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Richard Petty was hesitant about Moffitt having to ‘re-learn’ the aerodynamics of racing a truck prior to his NASCAR National Touring Series debut after competing in the ARCA Menards Series. In total, Moffitt made four Truck starts that season with a best finish of 18th at Daytona.

Fast forward two years and the lessons of watching others’ success has changed everything.

Carson Hocevar, Todd Gilliland, and Zane Smith have all largely skipped competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The trio jumped from the Truck Series up to the Cup Series. Hocevar had strong runs in the NASCAR Next Gen Cup car for Legacy Motor Club. Likewise, Gilliland had a strong second full-time season in Cup. Smith had mixed results driving for both Rick Ware Racing and Front Row Motorsports but turned heads when he filled-in for Chris Buescher at RFK Racing in 2022.

While the Cup car, Xfinity car, and Truck all drive differently, the aerodynamics and momentum of the Next Gen car are more akin to the Truck. The driving styles are not completely identical, but the similarities and success others have had has not gone unnoticed.

“I think that the Next Gen car changed everything,” Moffitt explained. “Nobody really at the time that Grandpa made those comments (in 2022), saw that coming. At the time, the Xfinity car drove really similar to the Cup car, so it didn’t make sense. But now from what we understand, the truck almost drives more like the Next Gen cars. Really all three of them completely drive differently now. 

“But you watch people like what Hocevar did last year, what Gilliland did, and what Smith’s doing, going from the truck straight to the Next Gen car. I think they’re a little more comparable now than what the Xfinity and the Next Gen car.”

Moffitt’s No. 46 Chevrolet will carry sponsorship from Venture Food Stores as well as longtime Petty family sponsors Clean Harbors, Safety-Kleen, Customers Bank, Pristine Auction, Joe Jurgielewicz and Son, America’s Tastiest Duck, Induction Innovations and Best Working Wipes. The team has opportunities for more partnerships as well.

Moffitt will make his debut the Faction46 team in the Fresh From Florida 250 at Daytona on Friday, February 16, 2024. The race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

Vargas Embraces His Inner Rock Star in Sink In’s Music Video


By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

Loud noises and motorsports have been virtually synonymous with one another since the beginning whether it’s from the engines or crashes. As such, a crossover between rock music and NASCAR is only natural. During a crossover for ‘Sink In’s “Cabin Fever” music video, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas embraced his inner rock star.

The crossover between the band and Dawson Cram, Brad Perez, Garrett Smithley, and Vargas came about from connections between the two industries. Perez has been a leader in connecting the musical world and NASCAR in recent years, most famously with ‘I Set My Friends on Fire’ sponsoring his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Chevrolet at Sonoma Raceway in 2022.

Fast forward to 2023 and the four up-and-coming NASCAR drivers joined with Tighe Eshelman (lead vocals), Corbrette Bardole (guitar), Josh Lamczyk (guitar), and Sam Clepper (drums) at the Concord Speedpark. Vargas never saw himself going to concerts, but has fallen in love with the rock genre, having been able to meet the members of several bands.

“I’ve known Tighe from Sink In for a little while now through knowing a bunch of buddies who are now in the music industry,” Vargas explained. “Brad, obviously, he’s one of the guys that’s kind of helped get me connected as well. And I’ve been to plenty of their shows now. I love their music. They do a phenomenal job with everything, and it’s been really fun to meet some of these bands, some of these groups. 

“I’ve been able to meet, the folks from Sink In, Afterlife, I Set My Friends on Fire, all these groups. I never saw myself going to shows like this and going to like, listening to rock music and going to all this stuff. But it’s so fun. And I have such a genuine good time and that’s what they’re about. 

As part of the music video, each driver went up against a band member in a one-on-one Go Kart race. First Lamczyk faced off against Smithley with the professional racer taking the win. Next up Clepper raced against Cram with the musician taking the checkered flag. Bardole then faced off against Vargas, narrowly taking the win. In the final race, ‘Bread’ Perez took the win in an ‘all or nothing fight’ with Eshleman.

While in the music video the races culminated in photo finishes, the overall racing was fun. Vargas was caught off guard by Bardole’s speed and had to play catch up. Following the one-on-one races, all were on track in a final race for the video.

“Cobrette, one of the guitarists of Sink In, he actually has a background in motorsport being around it,” Vargas recalled. “At first you see a part of the video where like, I’m kind of like behind him. I was going really easy and then all sudden he passed me and took off, and I was like ‘oh shit I got catch up.’ I had to speed up and try and catch him. I actually had to race him, and they didn’t stage any finishes, but they said like, ‘hey, we’re going to do a photo finish this time.’ We would actually be racing to line, and he got me by like an inch at the line. So technically Cobrette won.” 

Following the final race, the NASCAR drivers, still in the driver uniforms, took over the stage. Perez played well in the pocket on drums, taking Clepper’s place. Cram and Smithley both did their best impression of guitarists, filling in for Bardole and Lamczyk. That left Vargas to take over lead vocals from Eshleman.

The four drivers all had fun being a ‘band’ while also getting a chance to represent their various sponsors. Vargas proudly represented Lear Gas Security and Critical Path Security in the video, though he did check-in for permission to use the firesuit in the video.

“They’re about having a good time and spreading incredibly fun music,” Vargas said. “It was really cool to be part of that music video. It was also cool (that) I was able to call my sponsor, Patrick Kelly, over at Lear Gas Security and Critical Path Security and say, ‘hey, do you mind if I wear your race suit for a video? It’s a music video,’ and his response was ‘I’d be pissed off if you didn’t.’ 

“I volunteered as the lead singer and I wore his headband because Tighe always wears his headband whenever he’s performing and so I wore his headband, and he said I was like the only other person that wore head wore his headband.” 

Embracing the role of a lead vocalist, Vargas was a natural. To better fit in the role, he even took Eshleman’s headband, getting into character. Both the members of Sink In and the Concord Speedpark staff made it a fun experience to be a part of. 

“I felt natural, I feel natural, man, I like being in front of the camera,” Vargas joked. “That’s easy stuff. It was hot. We were very sweaty, but it was worth it. And honestly, the Concord Speedpark was a really good host of all of us there. They did a really good job helping the folks at Sink In. Those guys, they did it, they put on such a fun music video, and it was fun to be a part of and that it was unique to be a part of a music video. I never thought I’d be in a music video, but it was really cool to be a part of.” 

It was a unique opportunity for all parties involved, one though rare, is not unheard of in NASCAR. Both Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Tony Stewart were featured in ‘3 Doors Down’ “The Road I’m On,” Earnhardt later was in ‘Nickelback’s “Rockstar.” Richard Petty, Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain, and Daniel Suarez have all either been featured in or referenced in music videos as well.

The crossover between Sink In and NASCAR provides an opportunity to introduce the Los Angeles, Calif.-based band, and the sport, to new audiences. It also serves to strengthen the connection between NASCAR and the music community overall.

Per their website, Sink In’s next scheduled tour date is at the famous Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood, Calif. on January 7, 2024.

Meanwhile for the NASCAR drivers, the next schedule race weekend on track for the three National Touring Series is the season opening weekend at Daytona Int’l Speedway February 13 through 18.

Norse Force Racing Aims for Stress-Free eNASCAR Title Defense


By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

A successful title defense in sports can take many different forms, from a game-winning pass to a mistake from an opposing team. In motorsports, consecutive championships have the added factor of competing with teams inside and outside the playoffs. Steven Wilson and Norse Force Racing (NFR) hope another stress-free season can land a second eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship.

Norse force racing's stress-free approach brought steven wilson his first enascar coca-cola iracing series championship.
Photo by Michael P Frisch/Norse Force Racing.

Wilson dominated the 2023 eNASCAR championship race amongst his title rivals at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver representing Stewart-Haas eSports was the only NFR driver to make the eNASCAR Championship 4. Wilson’s virtual No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang found redemption in his second trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, comfortably taking the checkered flag behind teammate Donovan Strauss (Williams eSports), with several teammates, including Parker White (Kanaan eSports) and Graham Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix), behind him.

“I don’t really think I could have passed him,” Wilson said. “I think Donnie was really good. I drove really hard that second run, obviously both pulled away from the guys behind us and we held on to the end. So, Donnie was just a little bit better than me and testing of impacts all week, especially leading up to this race. He’s been really fast, he’s working amazing. He should have had one earlier this year in New Hampshire, maybe could have been the playoffs. But yeah, I’m super happy for him, and he definitely deserved it today.” 

The teamwork that NFR showed in the race allowed Strauss to earn his first career eNASCAR victory. After two consecutive championships in the Contender iRacing Series, it marked the backend alliance team’s first championship at the pinnacle of eNASCAR competition. However, it wasn’t their only championship in 2023. White captured the Barr Visuals FTF Cup Series title in dominant fashion with 14 victories in the fixed-setup league.

“I think the chemistry, the work that everyone’s putting in on our team is the greatest in the series,” Strauss said. “I think that we put in the most effort week in and week out and that’s why we slowly got better and better and better. That’s what’s been making it a stress-free journey. I mean it’s still pretty stressful with a lot of competition.

“These are some of the best teams in the series. If I’m not available to tests a lot one week, the next guy steps up and that’s just what we do. We stayed like that all year with how many guys we had, we just stayed in that cycle and that’s what paid off and overall.”

Norse force racing's stress-free approach brought steven wilson his first enascar coca-cola iracing series championship.
Photo by Michael P Frisch/Norse Force Racing.

That stress free environment created a moral boost that extended beyond just those that compete in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Michael P Frisch felt the boost while competing in the eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series, the final rung on the ladder before reaching the top-level of NASCAR’s sim racing arm.

“It was a big moral boost,” Frisch said. “Donnie should have got his first win a long time ago in the season. I think he came up short in New Hampshire and he was running really, really good. And then the yellow came. I think Garrett Lowe passed them. But Donnie’s been top of the line. He’s a guy to look at next year. Honestly him, and Steve Wilson paired up and with Graham Bowlin, I mean you got a lot of heavy hitters over here that are going to be up at the front.

“I’m not even kidding. It’s crazy to think we have built this team from going in the eNASCAR Road to Pro system, having only six guys at the time it was me. Zach Nichols … Larry Pace, and Blake McCandless were kind of part time running with us, so it’s crazy to think that we’ve added this many key factors to the team and how much we went up.” 

While Bowlin, Strauss, White, and Wilson avoided relegation, mixed results either due to incidents beyond their control or otherwise sent some of NFR’s drivers back to Contender. Brandon McKissic, Daniel Faulkingham, Derek Justis, Femi Olatunbosun, and Wyatt Tinsley all returned to the series that highlights the laser-scanned replicas of NASCAR Xfinity Series cars.

Faulkingham, Olatunbosun, and Tinsley returned to the top level of NASCAR’s esports arm. Matthew Zwack, a former championship contender in the FTF also made it to eNASCAR’s top level, 20th out of the guaranteed 21 to transfer with Michael Conti’s retirement. Justis could return pending another possible retirement.

Norse force racing's stress-free approach brought steven wilson his first enascar coca-cola iracing series championship.
Photo by Michael P Frisch/Norse Force Racing.

While NFR will have eight drivers in the Coca-Cola Series in 2024, there’s several that narrowly missed the cut. Swept up in multiple accidents throughout the Contender Series season, Max Brady, Daniel Buttafuoco, Blaze Crawford, Frisch, Eddie Kerner, and McKissic will have to return to the eNASCAR Qualifying iRacing Series.

“(Norse Force Racing) has so many guys who really put a lot of effort, time into every series,” Buttafuoco said. “Coke and now in this situation, Contender, everyone really pulls their weight. Everyone really works hard. They have a lot of knowledge in general when it comes to either setups, making adjustments with the car, maybe loosening or tightening things, or adjusting with driving lines.

“I know those tracks, you have really unique ones in a way, but there’s different lines you can take. And I’ve learned from my teammates. There’s different ways to go about driving a track and different ways to approach it. In a way, qualifying I say is probably the most stressful part in any I don’t even want to call it that.” 

The wide range of drivers and driving styles allows NFR to have more of a laid back approach to competition. The brainstorming and testing that come from a diverse driver lineup gives the team the ability to be stress-free in their events.

PHAROS, Stocks for Tots’ Intertwined Story Aids Kids

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – The annual story of bringing holiday joy to children through the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame’s Stocks for Tots charity event is practically cemented with PHAROS Parenting.

PHAROS and Stocks for Tots’ Connected History

As a result of the 2022 event, organized by Don Miller, along with other fundraisers, PHAROS touched 721 lives in 2023. That accounted for 260 parenting classes, 500 in-home visits, and 400 supervised visits. All of that is in the name of preventing child abuse and supporting the victims of child abuse.

Between the tickets that the event has sold and the toys that race fans, and industry insiders, have donated, the stress of the holiday season is often lifted, or lessened for the families that PHAROS works with.

“I can’t (describe) for 30 years Stocks for Tots have provided Christmas to our families, which eliminates a lot of stress from them at Christmas and they already have a lot of financial burden, and it is eliminating that one stressor can make a huge difference,” Tonya Fowler, Pharos Executive Director said.

“Not only are they, the N.C. Auto Racing Hall of Fame, helping provide toys at Christmas, but the financial donation that they make helps us provide programs all year to prevent child abuse. with parenting classes, parental education, and home parent aid to try to help break that cycle of abuse. It is a huge part of what we’re able to do throughout the year.”

The first Stocks for Tots event was held in 1989. That was two years after the Statesville, N.C. based PHAROS opened. Every year since then, minus 2020 due to COVID restrictions, the charity event has raised money and awareness for at-risk families in Iredell County, N.C. and the surrounding area.

“That’s what makes this event specifically so interesting is it has intertwined itself with our very existence,” Fowler explained. “We kind of started around the same time, (PHAROS) opened in 1987, this started in 1989. They immediately started doing this as a fundraiser for us. We’ve really never been without them. The racing community and child abuse prevention have gone together ever since we opened, and that’s been really cool.

“Over the years this has helped thousands, thousands of families. This past year we directly impacted 700 lives. If you multiply that by 30, we’re at tens of thousands of kids have been affected by just this event alone just this event. Not to mention all the other support and events that we have, throughout the year.” 

The Impact

The racing community came together once again to raise money for pharos parenting through stocks for tots.
Photo courtesy of PHAROS Parenting.

Drivers, media, and race fans alike travel to Mooresville to participate in the event at the Charles Mack Citizen Center. NASCAR legends such as Dave Marcis, media such as NASCAR on FOX’s Bob Pockrass, and drivers are active, recently semi-retired, up-and-coming, such as Ryan Vargas, Ryan Newman, and Justice Calabro all take time out of their off-season to support the community.

“People come from all over the country for this event to this little town of Mooresville, N.C.,” Fowler said. “It is unbelievable how much good is in this room and how far that good spreads across the country.” 

For the first time in the event’s history, tickets were sold out a month in advance. While 50 fewer tickets were available, it allowed for the event to run more smoothly and made the experience more special for the fans.

“It was a sellout three or four weeks ahead of time,” Miller said. “What was really good was that we have a chance to run at what we knew we were going to have, right. And it went so smooth tonight. I couldn’t believe it.

“I mean, (everyone from the Hall) did a really super bang-up job on it. And I said I told Ryan (Newman) a little while ago. I said, ‘well, if they all went this smooth, we could do them every week.’ He goes, ‘I don’tthink so.’ It was a wonderful thing. That’s always good at Christmas, people forget what Christmas is allabout.” 

The impact that Stocks for Tots has one those that take part is a lasting one. It gives everyone a sense of gratitude for what they have, but also allows them to empathize with those less fortunate. It creates a sense of humbleness for everyone as they give help children in the community.

The scope of that impact, however, is one that is hard to quantify. 721 lives were touched by PHAROS in 2023. Stocks for Tots being in its’ 34th year, has touched thousands of lives, hundreds, if not thousands of families. However, as Miller stated, even if it was only one child that was saved, it would be worth.

“I think it has an impact in the industry, but more than that, I think this event especially has a has a bigimpact and the community, the people, and the social services, they got to be happy and the children, of course,” Miller emphasized. “I think that’s the biggest thing to bring is giving them a Christmas that they might not have had.” 

“I don’t know (if the scope of how many lives we’ve touched will ever sink in),” Miller admitted. “I know it’shundreds, but I’m going to tell you this. Even if it was only one, it would be something worth doing, wouldn’t it? To save one child? It is just amazing to me, people that have a family, they understand.” 

Understanding the Generosity

Miller’s efforts through Stocks for Tots, much like Vargas, earned him the Fourth Quarter National Motorsports Press Association’s Pocono Spirit Award. Vargas earned the First Quarter award for his efforts with the FACES charity. The NASCAR Xfinity Series driver understands that some families don’t get to enjoy the holidays. Being able to spend some time with fans, signing autographs, gives Vargas, and others, a chance to give back.

“It’s a really cool event that the North Carolina Racing Hall of Fame puts together to raise funds for so many people to just bring some joy to the holidays,” Vargas said. “A lot of people don’t get the luxury of having a nice holidays with family or don’t have the luxury of those opportunities. So, to be able to be a small part of this and be able to sign some autographs for some really generous fans, that’s incredible.” 

The generosity of the fans and the industry can be overwhelming. Though the motorsports industry can sometimes be a dysfunctional family, it’s a family, nonetheless. That familiar feeling, to help those in need, helps bring everyone together, regardless of how their season went, how they may have been raced by others, and their future moving forward.

For PHAROS itself, Stocks for Tots is a hidden gem. The event is a specialty for representatives from PHAROS.

“I am so excited to just watch the faces of adults, children, everybody all come together for a great cause and getting something awesome out of it and to have something like this in Mooresville is so special,” Anna Campbell, PHAROS Development Director said. “It’s such a gem to have here. It is overwhelming and there’s so many people that don’t know what we do and so through Stocks for Tots, we’re getting our name out in the community and people can understand the things that we can do to help all of the families here and to break that generational cycle of child abuse.” 

The racing community came together once again to raise money for pharos parenting through stocks for tots.
Photo Courtesy of Chip Wilson

That generosity encourages race fans to attend Stocks for Tots every year. One fan, Chip Wilson, considers the autographs secondary to being able to help contribute to the betterment of children in the local community. Combined, Wilson and his friends got over 50 autographs from Ron Hornaday, Kevin Lepage, Matt DiBenedetto, and others.

“(Knowing that the money, the time helps children) really does make this special, it makes the autographs kind of the second reason for coming,” Wilson said. “The more kids you can help, the better it makes it. The drivers, autographs, photos, and the meet and greet is just icing on the cake. You know that at the end of the day you’ve done something good for the community and especially for the kids.”

Of those that attend and participate in Stocks for Tots, the one driver that always surprises Wilson is NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power. The gathering of industry insiders that participate in the event gives fans a wider range of access that they might not receive elsewhere. While that access comes with the price of a ticket, all fans that purchase one or donate a toy know that it helps touch the life of a child from an at-risk family.

“Will Power, IndyCar champion, he’s a huge driver,” Wilson said. “The fact that he takes time out of his busy, busy offseason is incredible. That he’s here and spends time with us blows me away.”  

Connecting with Stocks for Tots

Just being invited to participate not only is a privilege, but eye-opening. Calabro is one that, before he was invited in 2021, never expected to be able to participate. He is one that is able to connect to what Stocks for Tots is about, what the mission of the event is. The weight of being able to help children, help families, is one that Calabro is humbled to be able to help carry with others at Stocks for Tots.

“Renee Perks, Miss Winston Cup, she first told me about this event and told me that I actually had an opportunity to come here, my eyes lit up” Calabro recalled. “Stocks for Tots has been around since (1989). They’ve raised over $1,000,000. I think this year we’re peaking over 70,000 toys, maybe 85,000 and this is just really special that this event has touched it each year, if I had to ballpark it, probably 10-15,000 lives (in its’ history). 

“Anytime you get a chance to give back to the community, especially kids, you don’t have leverage and control over your environment and you’re at the will of society and your parents. I was blessed to be raised in a beautiful family, but I was around a lot of people who aren’t, and some of my closest friends did not have that gift when they were younger.

“So there’s a really, really deep place in my heart for being able to give back and give some beautiful moments back to these kids, especially those who have been through things that I would never wish upon any human being, so really special to be here and serving in whatever way that I can most profoundly showing up and being surrounded by so many incredible souls who are here to do the same thing.”

Ultimately, the impact that Stocks for Tots has had over the years, and will have moving forward, is immeasurable. Though the number of lives touched in 2023 was 721, that’s just how many were directly affected by PHAROS and Stocks for Tots in the short term. In the long term, that creates a chain that has the potential to improve someone’s life for years to come.

NASCAR Completes Short-track Package Test at Phoenix

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Exactly one month removed from when Ryan Blaney won the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title, some of the sanctioning body returned where all the magic went down to conduct a two-day test at Phoenix Raceway in an effort to improve the short-track package for the upcoming season. 

When the test was announced during championship weekend, NASCAR had intentions of running through a variety of modifications in relation to aerodynamics, tires, muffler and gearbox on the seventh-generation stock car ahead of its third tour around the Cup circuit.  

Blaney was one-of-six drivers to participate in the Phoenix test along with Chris Buescher, Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and Corey LaJoie, who were all chosen as representatives for their respective original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Like most all tests conducted by NASCAR, teams first established a baseline for what they sought to change by running the same short-track package and tire combination from the finale one month ago – a setup that derived from a similar test at Richmond Raceway in August. 

Those who took part in the test at Richmond hardly felt a difference in how the car drove. However, most every driver was able to feel moderate to significant changes in what was being applied on the first day of on-track activity in Phoenix.

Due to the higher speeds produced at the one-mile Phoenix as opposed to the three-quarter-mile Virginia track, NASCAR Vice President of Vehicle Performance Dr. Eric Jacuzzi believed testing at the site of the series finale manifested more of what the sanctioning body was expecting when they experimented at Richmond about three months ago. 

“I think our goal is to have some direction coming out of here,” Jacuzzi said. “It’s a tough thing to do, right? It’s only six cars … But I think for us it’s coming out of here with a direction on the tire, coming out with direction on the aero package that, ‘Yes, this is going to be neutral to positive.’ 

“There’s a lot to it that’s going to play into the early season and then kind of what we do in the future going forward.”

Following the baseline test to start the session on Tuesday, aerodynamic modifications were made in the form of one alternate design each for the splitter and diffuser.

Alternate splitter on the No. 12 – Photo by Cole Cusumano

While specifics weren’t provided on the dimensions of the new splitter, it incited the largest reactions across the board from drivers who participated in the test – especially the reigning champ.

“We unloaded exactly how we were here in the fall with this car,” Blaney said. “Ran a couple hours on it and then did the different splitter – big difference. Massive with the way it drives. I mean, there’s so much downforce taken off of it with that. It drove hugely different, which it should. I mean, it’s a massive aero loss when you do that.

“Hopefully we can continue to tweak it a little bit. I think we can get a little better.”

Even Larson, who didn’t feel a significant difference in general with what was tested, said he did notice a slight change in how the car handled with the alternate splitter.

“I’m not really into the technical side of it,” Larson said. “I’m just out there driving and not necessarily putting two and two together, but nothing seems way different to me. Ride quality and stuff changed with the different splitter, but I don’t know how it races any differently in traffic or anything like that.”

For the final application of the Tuesday session, teams ran a “simplified” diffuser, which wound up being an integral part of the short-track package test in Phoenix.

While the design isn’t finalized, the experimental diffuser was composed of aluminum and only featured two strakes at a 90-degree angle in the center of the underwing component. The diffuser ran in 2023 was made of a carbon-fiber composite and had seven blades.

Although teams only tested the new diffuser with the new splitter on the first day, driver reception was so positive, NASCAR decided to keep it on for the second day as they ran other splitter and tire combinations.

As is related to aerodynamics, a representative from NASCAR confirmed they did not conduct any tests without the diffuser or with modifications to the spoiler. 

Simplified diffuser on the No. 5 – Photo by Cole Cusumano

The final and most well-received experiment of the opening session was use of new Goodyear tires designed to create more fall off during green-flag runs to promote passing – something that’s been aggressively pursued for short tracks since the introduction of the Next Gen car.

Goodyear brought softer left-side tires with heavier tread gage on the rights to serve as a combatant for the thicker gage tires used at Martinsville Speedway following the Richmond test.

In an attempt to deviate from methods used at the Richmond test, NASCAR changed the on-track procedure for group runs at Phoenix by lining up all six cars single-file, slowest to fastest, to simulate green-flag racing.

Whereas in August, drivers were ordered to line up in three-double-file rows, which made it much easier to pass other cars.

After surveying drivers who participated in the session, it was evident the tires were one of the more prominent variables during the two-day test, and there’s a decent likelihood there will be a variation of them in 2024 – but nothing has been confirmed.

“Tire stuff was really good,” Jones said. “I think Goodyear’s got some good notes from that and probably it’s going to apply to a lot of places. We’ll see how durability does with the tire that we tried that everybody kind of liked. 

“It was definitely –  this isn’t really a tire test – but of all the tires I’ve tested over my career, by far, probably today was the biggest I’ve noticed a difference.”

Given the positive feedback provided by drivers in the post-test debrief on Tuesday, NASCAR decided to predominantly work around improving the aerodynamics of the short-track package centered around the simplified diffuser with different splitter and tire combinations.

As a result, prior plans to modify the gearbox were nixed.

Going into the test, NASCAR had intentions of trying to limit or completely eliminate shifting on short tracks. Instead, the sanctioning body and teams involved felt it would be more productive to act on what was learned the day prior, as work to the transaxle would be too time consuming for one day.

The only driver made available to the media on Wednesday was Larson, who said he “didn’t care,” the gearbox wasn’t being tested. 

Outside of what was already experimented with in the first session, the only real changes made during the final day of testing were to the muffler, as drivers have been outspoken in their concerns of excessive heat in the car.

Mufflers have been a hot topic – both literally and figuratively – since they were added to the Next Gen car in 2023 in an attempt to silence engine output by six to 10 decibels for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Chicago Street Course.

Instead of issuing a new muffler, NASCAR opted to tamper with the duct work of the current part to try to aid in expelling heat.

Standing on pit road, the only noticeable difference from the muffler modifications was the absence of the ear-piercing scream given off by the engine, which often even bleeds through headphones. 

“I haven’t felt really (any) heat difference,” Larson said. “I could definitely tell a sound difference, which I like. I definitely think our race cars are way too loud – and probably are still too loud with the muffler. I think the cars could be quieter to help the fan experience.”

Make no mistake: these cars still sound mean. Also keep in mind, there were only six cars on track and these changes would only apply to the L.A. Coliseum and Chicago Street Course.

Finally, to put to rest what everyone wants to know – No, there were no talks or tests of increased horsepower.

“Power is a topic that comes up, but we’ve kind of gone down this path with the engine builders, the OEMs and the teams to contain costs and all that,” Dr. Jacuzzi said. “Will we look at it? Perhaps in the future. But there’s a lot of people behind that that need to come together and agree. 

“It’s not just as simple as, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this and everyone’s going to be happy. We’ve got to be smart about what we do there. There’s a lot of inertia behind the engines and producers of those engines. Really got to bring everybody along on that journey.”

Ultimately, NASCAR accomplished what they set out to achieve and that was to have a good sense of direction for where to go with the short-track package in relation to aerodynamics and tires leaving Phoenix. 

If anything were to get implemented next season for the short-track package, it would likely be the simplified diffuser and a new tire combination based on response from the drivers. Larson was the only driver made available to comment on the muffler modifications, but him being an advocate is also a strong indicator that changes may occur in that area.

While it’s reasonable to anticipate changes in 2024, nothing has been confirmed by NASCAR as of the end of the test on Wednesday, December 6.

Kennealy Keller Motorsports, KKM Driver Development Adds Danica Dart For Rookie ARCA West Campaign


MADERA, CALIFORNIA (December 4, 2023) – 16-year-old Danica Dart of Ephrata, Washington will join female-owned Kennealy Keller Motorsports (KKM) for a full-time rookie season in the ARCA Menards Series West in 2024. She will carry the No. 11 in the series and join Madera’s Robbie Kennealy and Las Vegas’ Kyle Keller in the KKM stable in the upcoming season.

By starting the first race of the season in March at Phoenix, she will become the 37th woman to race in the West Series since its inception in 1954.

Dart is the 2021 Jr. Late Model champion at Stateline Speedway in Stateline, Idaho, joining her teammates Kennealy and Keller as graduates of Jr. Late Model programs on the west coast.

She participated in Pro Late Model competition in Idaho and Washington throughout 2023 before closing her 2023 season with a seventh-place finish in the Star Nursery Classic at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 4.0 GPA Ephrata High School student started her racing career at age six in quarter-midgets before progressing into Pro and Super Late Models. She has also participated in go-kart racing as well.

The mother and daughter team of Francesca and Harley Kennealy formed KKM Driver Development in September of 2023, fielding ARCA Menards Series West rookies Kennealy and Keller. Keller earned a best-finish of fifth in 2023 at Phoenix Raceway while Kennealy also has a best-finish of fifth in his series debut at Irwindale in July.

ARCA Menards Series West races are televised live on www.FloRacing.com and delayed on CNBC.

For driver development and sponsorship inquiries, please contact Francesca Kennealy at (925) 437-8425.

Donovan Strauss’ Championship Consistency Came From ‘Sim to Reality’


By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

The concept of ‘sim to reality’ has brought success to NASCAR drivers William Byron, Rajah Caruth, Kaden Honeycutt, Ty Majeski, and more. Another driver that has found success in the crossover from iRacing to real-life competition is two-time INEX Legend Car Pro Division champion Donovan Strauss.

The Marietta, GA native won the 2023 Winter Nationals Pro Division Championship at Citrus County Speedway at the start of the season. Strauss then bookended the season with the 2023 INEX Pro Asphalt National Championship. The 18-year-old took the championship at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by just three points over another competitor.

Donovan strauss aims to be the next 'sim to reality' success story to move from iracing to nascar.
Donovan Strauss. (Photo Courtesy of Donovan Strauss)

Strauss’ success in part was the result of his time on iRacing. The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver for Williams eSports earned his first career victory in the esports series season finale at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

While he competes competitively in eNASCAR competition, there’s been multiple important lessons that have translated to the real-world. Strauss has taken lessons from iRacing on everything from improving on the fundamentals of racing to his consistency, tire saving, and both when and when not to make a push.

“I think iRacing honestly has played a bigger part than I can honestly express because it teaches you the basic fundamentals of racing and how to be fast,” Strauss explained. “That was something I honestly could carry over to the Legend Car. (It was) all about being very smooth. (On) iRacing, where you have to save tires and conserve more, (the Legend Car) was all about going full push because of how short the races are.

“I got really consistent and that’s something I worked on iRacing, testing and just being really consistent. Everything transferred over to the real-life stuff really, really well. And I think that’s been a big part of my career and it’s going to be a big part of my career going forward.”

In addition to the thousands of laps and multiple hours that Strauss spent with his Norse Force Racing alliance teammates for eNASCAR competition, he also spent time preparing on iRacing for the INEX Pro Asphalt National Championship at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steven wilson captured the enascar coca-cola iracing series championship at the nascar hall of fame.
Donovan Strauss (51) and Steven Wilson (10). (Photo by Justin Melillo)

The laser-scanned track was very accurate, giving the up-and-coming driver an opportunity to familiarize himself with the track’s visuals and various characteristics of the track.

Preparation for on-track competition is not the only feature of the ‘sim to reality’ mantra that Strauss has taken to heart. He’s used the opportunity as an eNASCAR competitor to build his own brand. The media relation skills, marketing skills, and social media acumen he’s built on iRacing easily transfer to the real-life skills he will need moving forward.

“(The Bullring) transferred over really well on iRacing and it’s pretty accurate,” Strauss said. “I’ve got to thank iRacing for giving me a platform not only to transfer my talent from there to reality, but to give me a platform to develop my talent and my brand. (It’s) given me an opportunity to continue to pursue my career and I’m hoping we can get that set in stone for 2024.

“Honestly, (iRacing has) helped my media skills quite a lot and I think I’d be way behind now if it wasn’t for eNASCAR all when it comes to that. It’s been a big, big help and just developing basic skills, and I’d say honestly my racing career didn’t really take off to where it is now until this year. I’ve obviously been around the media this year and hopefully going into next year with the plans that we have, we can grow on that and only develop that and get better.”

Competitive sim racing has allowed Strauss to ‘break out of his shell.’ The once quiet driver learned not only to be professional but to be out-going and engaging. What can seem like basic skills to some can take years for drivers to develop, sometimes skills that don’t get reached until a driver has reached upper levels of competition. Strauss has had a headstart on training and learning those skills thanks in part to the concept of ‘sim to reality.’

Donovan strauss aims to be the next 'sim to reality' success story to move from iracing to nascar.
Donovan Strauss. (Photo Courtesy of Donovan Strauss)

“(eNASCAR has) definitely taken weight off my shoulders like when it comes down to social media, sponsors, our media is talking a lot when it comes to that and just being who I am and being really professional, learning basic skills and because I used to be a quiet person,” Strauss admitted.

“I wasn’t really out going a couple years ago and then I’ve kind of turned into who I am now in the last year and a half and grown into something different, something better. It’s been huge.”

The success that Byron, Caruth, Honeycutt and others have had throughout NASCAR’s Three National Touring Series and the ARCA Menards Series gives Strauss the confidence that he could follow in their footsteps. iRacing allows drivers like him to see if they have the talent, the skills to potentially make the leap from the simulation into real-life cars. Strauss’ championships are proof that he has found those skills and the talent to continue moving up the racing ladder.

The championship-winning driver was quick to point out that he has good people around him. Among those that are in Strauss’ inner circle is Honeycutt, a two-time ARCA Menards Series West winner and fellow eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competitor.

“I have really good people around me in my circle to work on stuff for next year and we’re going for it all, we’re going for the limit, and I don’t think there is a limit, honestly,” Strauss stated. “Kaden has been a huge help to me. He’s been in my circle for a couple of months now and he’s been really helpful for me for next year and I expect to see him help me out more.”

As for what is next on Strauss’ sim to reality journey, whether it’s competing in more Legend Car races, Late Models, or another series entirely, only time will tell.

Vargas Named 2023 Comcast Community Champion of the Year for FACES Charity Work

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

A champion is not always determined by a driver’s accomplishments on track, but rather their character. One driver that has fit that mold is Ryan Vargas, who was recognized as the 2023 Comcast Community Champion of the Year for his work with the FACES charity where he serves as a board member.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver for On Point Motorsports was born with craniosynostosis, a birth defect that stems from the abnormal or premature fusing of bones in a baby’s skull. Vargas has used his journey as part of his advocacy with FACES, encouraging others that have craniofacial differences that they can accomplish anything that they set their mind to. 

“I always go into these things prepared not to have it happen,” Vargas admitted. “The fact that it happened is a huge deal for FACES. I don’t do this to raise anything for me. I have nothing to gain out of this. I just like going to FACES camp and seeing these kids live a normal live, a normal summer. It makes me so happy. 

“I’ve gotten to meet and interact with so many incredible individuals through FACES. They do so much for these kids with craniosynostosis and craniofacial differences, not just kids, but young adults too. I’m fortunate, I had surgery when I was 11 months old, and I’m healthy to this day.”

Nascar driver ryan vargas was recognized as the 2023 comcast community champion of the year for his work with the faces charity.
Ryan Vargas receives the 2023 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award. (Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin’ the Tires)

Vargas has scored one top-10 finish in the Craftsman Truck Series and two top-10 finishes in the Xfinity Series. Across the National Touring Series, he has 74 career starts. Vargas also has two top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.

He’s also used his platform as a driver to raise awareness for children that, like him, are facing or have faced similar health challenges. Vargas lives with a ‘lightning bolt’ like scar from the corrective surgery he had as a child over 20 years ago. However, he recognizes that he is one of the lucky ones, as there’s other kids, young adults, and families that have encountered struggles. That is where FACES has made a difference.

“I don’t have any issues and I’m able to chase my dream, but there are so many other stories out there that are not the same, they’re constantly in and out of the hospital, constantly struggling to pay their hospital bills, insurance, and all of these other things. FACES is here to try and help that. Something like this from Comcast is a massive, massive deal.”

With the honor of the award from Comcast is a $60,000 check that goes to the FACES charity. The money from that award will very likely go towards paying the travel expenses for a family to reach a craniofacial surgical center, as well as the FACES camp. Vargas has been a fixture at the camp, spending several days with the campers in recent years. 

“The $60,000 award that we will get from this will serve so many families to be able to get to the cranial facial surgeries that they need to,” Emily McKay, Communications Director for FACES explained. “What FACES does primarily is we help families get to the surgery centers across the United States.

“Quite often all the families have some kind of medical insurance, but they don’t have the finances to get to the craniofacial surgery center that is going to best serve their child. We’ll be able to serve more families because of this, but also, we’ll be able to support FACES camp again this year with this.” 

As evidenced by Vargas’ career behind the wheel, the possibilities are endless for those that have craniofacial differences. While the road might be difficult or long, the beauty of those that have craniofacial differences is in their resilience and their determination.

“What I want everybody to know is (that) children and adults with craniofacial differences can do anything,” McKay said. “They’re only different because they’re born with a syndrome, or they have a cranial craniofacial difference because they’re born or they’re in a car crash, or they have a craniofacial difference because they have cancer, and people with craniofacial differences can do anything they want to do. That should not stop them. 

“People in the workplace, in society need to know that they have so much to offer. Since I have been with FACES, while I thought I was ‘woke,’ I have been more aware of the beauty of people with craniofacial differences, the resilience, and their actual beauty, and I don’t see (craniofacial differences) anymore. I think I want people to know that about me is I don’t see it. I see the beauty. I see what they have to offer to the world and that’s what I hope that Ryan’s advocacy can also promote and which it has.

“(The awareness the award brings) is tremendous because what the organization does is not only advocacy it helps these kids and adults get the surgery, (but they also) need to make their lives more meaningful and healthier, and they can work, go to school, eat. That’s what it boils down to sometimes.”

Ultimately, the biggest winners of Vargas receiving the Community Champion of the Year award are the kids that suffer from craniofacial differences. The award, and the recognition that comes with it gives them and their families hope. It offers an educational moment for those that have never heard of what a craniofacial condition is.

“(Ryan and FACES receiving this award) means that there is hope,” M.E. Sanders, a craniofacial patient that now works at FACES explained. “I talked about it in the video that I felt like having a kind of facial condition there’s no hope because a lot of people have surgeries that last you a lifetime. You think there’s a short term, but it’s not always short term, there’s a long term for having surgery. 

“And a lot of people don’t know what a craniofacial condition is. So, when we won, that was shocking to me because I want there to be more awareness, hope, and helping a family and good camp people really do have fun at camp.”

“I’m so happy about that because I think of having a kind of facial condition myself that it’s a weird thing to explain to people because I feel like we live a normal life, but people don’t look at us normally because we do look different,” Sanders continued. “I think there’s always that struggle to find who you really are in this world. I always try to put it to people that I know I’m a person. So, I think that’s (where) FACES comes in to help everybody be as normal as possible to strive and do the best they can in this world.” 

The winner of the 2023 Comcast Community Champion Award was chosen by a panel of executives at Comcast, NASCAR, and the 2022 Community Champion, Jes Ferreira. Dirt racer Jessica Friesen and NASCAR team owner Max Siegel were the other two finalists. Both of their charities Crossroads Center for Children and the Max Siegel Youth Foundation will receive $30,000 each.

Ragan Joins RFK’s #Stage60 For Daytona 500

CONCORD, N.C. – RFK Racing has announced that it will field a third entry in the 2024 Daytona 500, with David Ragan driving the No. 60 BuildSubmarines.com Ford.

The announcement comes as part of the new #Stage60 program, which brings back the iconic No. 60 to NASCAR with its RFK debut in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“The 60 car represents an opportunity for us to honor our past and look forward to the future of RFK Racing,” said Steve Newmark, President of RFK Racing. “We’re thankful to have partners like BuildSubmarines.com, who, like us, have a mission to grow and be best in class in all endeavors.”

#Stage60 kicks off with Ragan at Daytona Speedweeks. Plans to expand the program will be announced at a later date, with the intent on the No. 60 competing in additional events in 2024.

#Stage60 features a ‘modern retro’ font for the famed No. 60, while introducing a logo that pays homage to the classic Roush Stage III Mustang, while also staying true to RFK’s current brand marks.

“It’s really exciting to be back in an RFK Ford,” said Ragan, who led in the final laps of the 2011 Daytona 500. “I spent some of the best years of my career driving for Mr. Jack (Roush) and the team at RFK. They really gave me my first opportunity in the sport and I have to thank BuildSubmarines.com for helping make this happen.

“We had a really strong run going in my last year at Roush at the 500, and hopefully we can go back and finish what we started.”

Ragan competed 13 full seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series from 2007-19, five of which were in the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Jack Roush from 2007-11. The 37-year-old has two career Cup wins, including a victory in the 2011 summer race at Daytona.

Overall, he’s made 30 Cup starts at ‘The World Center of Racing’ with eight top-10 finishes.

BuildSubmarines.com, owned and operated by BlueForge Alliance, returns for its second season of partnership in 2024, coming off a 10-race program in 2023 that began in the summer, and featured seven top-10s alone in the BuildSubmarines.com scheme across RFK’s No. 6 and No. 17 machines.

They will serve as the anchor partner for team co-owner Brad Keselowski in 2024.

“To be on the track at one of America’s premier sporting events presents an enormous opportunity to showcase amazing careers across the nation,” said Kiley Wren, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, BlueForge Alliance. “Since its announcement in May 2023, our engagement with RFK Racing has already proven to be a game-changer in pursuing our mission to reinvigorate the U.S. manufacturing industry in building next generation submarines for the U.S. Navy.

“Our involvement in the full 2024 NASCAR campaign will get off to a roaring start thanks to the RFK team, and we’re thrilled to welcome David Ragan to the mission.”

Brighter Days Ahead for Erik Jones, Legacy M.C. with Toyota

Legacy Motor Club and Erik Jones hit all-time lows in what wound up being an excruciating 2023 campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, there’s a growing sense of optimism the pair can restore some semblance of former glory with an unlikely reunion for the upcoming season. 

Following a surprisingly successful year, in which Jones accumulated 13 top-10 finishes – highlighted by his spoiler victory in the Playoffs – under the maiden season of the Next Gen car, he and his No. 43 team were unable to properly adapt to the ever-changing nuances of the vehicle in its sophomore slog. 

While Jones categorized both his seasons under the seventh-generation car as “up-and-down,” he felt this year was more “wavy” in a sense of less consistency with more adversities. The 27-year-old believes after scoring his third Cup win the season prior, he and the team fell behind, which compounded into 2023.

Jones’ seventh full-time outing statistically marked his worst after finishing a career-low 27th in the driver standings with a 20.4 average and just seven top-10s on the year. 

“I would say the success level of the year probably wasn’t where we wanted it to have been to be 100% honest,” Jones said. “We went to victory lane last year. We were in a way better position in points last year.

“We just didn’t have all the tools we needed to really improve to get to where we wanted to be. So it’s been a challenging year in some ways (but) I think we’ve grown a lot, which has been good.”

After it was announced at the end of 2022 that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson would be taking on an ownership role for the newly-branded Legacy M.C. (formerly Petty GMS Motorsports), there was finally a positive buzz surrounding the middle-of-the-pack organization.

On top of Johnson jumping on board, they signed fan favorite Noah Gragson to compete for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, locked down big-name sponsors such as Guns N’ Roses and Wendy’s for the Daytona 500 and brought in new personnel to help take the team to new heights.

Then, the season started.

Bad results became a weekly occurrence, the No. 42 was a revolving door of drivers after Gragson abruptly left the organization midseason, and it felt like anything that could go wrong did for Legacy. 

“Within the team, we hired a huge group of people coming in on the engineering side trying to kind of grow that area, become a bit more self-sufficient in the reporting we do and the simulation and the testing and the building we do,” Jones said.

“It hasn’t all really shown yet. These guys next year are going to be getting some really good information – some really good puzzle pieces – to help them out to build. I’m excited for that part next year.”

At its core, it seems like most of the negativity from 2023 stemmed from an identity crisis brought on by too many visceral (and some completely unexpected) changes. But brighter days must be ahead for Jones and the beat-down organization, as a major move has been made to implement a fresh start.

After three seasons, Legacy Motor Club is ditching the bowties and switching to Toyota – the team’s fourth different manufacturer in 15 years. 

While last season may have shown too much change can be a bad thing, this could be exactly what Jones and the team need to rewrite the narrative in the near future. 

Ten years ago, Jones was signed as a Toyota Racing Development driver, where he started his rise through the ranks racing for Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA Menards Series. From there, he would ascend through NASCAR’s developmental series exclusively under the Toyota banner by winning races and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2015.

Before joining Legacy M.C. in 2021, Jones made his Cup debut driving for Joe Gibbs Racing – a place he’d call home for three seasons – after his first full-time campaign driving for Furniture Row Racing in 2017. 

“I was with Toyota for a long time before I came over here to Chevrolet in the last three years,” Jones said. “We’ve had a great three years, but overall I think there was a time for a change. We were ready to kind of take a step in performance that we weren’t really going to be able to find where we were. Toyota was looking to expand and grow their group and they have some great resources and options for us.” 

For Jones, Toyota has been there through it all.

In addition to winning his first title in 2015, the Michigan-born driver racked up 16 NASCAR developmental series wins for Toyota before making the jump to Cup. From there, he scored two poles, two wins and 62 top-10s in 147 starts between Furniture Row and JGR.

Most impressively, when Jones won his first Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in 2018, he became the first Toyota Racing Development product to win in all three NASCAR national touring series. 

After totaling just one win and 26 top-10s in 108 starts with Chevrolet and Legacy M.C., to say a reunion with Toyota would be welcomed for Jones could be a massive understatement.

“I’m excited to kind of get back with the guys I started with,” Jones said. “A lot of them are still there on the competition side and running that. But I’m excited really just for these guys to get the resources they’re going to provide. It’s going to be huge for them just trying to put together a better piece each week and have a better sense of what we’re doing each week at the track.”

Although it’s difficult to get caught up in the performance upswing of third-year team 23XI Racing, it’s more reasonable to expect a gradual climb over the span of a few years – like the aforementioned organization co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

Another thing 23XI had going for them was their alliance with industry powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing. As Jones states, Legacy M.C. will not have that luxury in 2024, but they will have an abundance of resources at their disposal as they become just the third team to field Toyotas this upcoming season.

Screen shot 2023 11 28 at 2. 02. 16 pm
Photo by Toyota Racing

However, there may not have been a better time for Legacy Motor Club to make the switch. It was revealed on November 27 the manufacturer would be debuting a brand-new body for 2024 in the form of the Toyota Camry XSE in the Cup Series. 

Whereas Legacy M.C. would’ve had to go through the motions of acclimating to life beyond Chevrolet alone, they’re now more or less on the same page as JGR and 23XI with the introduction of the fresh design.

“I think there will be somewhat of a learning curve,” Jones said. “We’re getting some great information, but at the end of the day, we aren’t going into an alliance with anybody. We don’t have an alliance with JGR (or) 23XI. We’ll be on our own. 

“We’re going to be getting the same resources and things as them, but we’re going to have to take and build those into what we want and figure out how to make them competitive. We haven’t gotten the chance yet to work with Toyota, so we don’t know exactly how that’s all going to fit together and what we’re going to get.”

Luckily for Jones, he and Championship 4 contender Christopher Bell will be among the first to test the Toyota Camry XSE during a two-day test at Phoenix Raceway beginning on December 5 to help improve the short-track package.

Aside from a long and successful relationship with Toyota in the past, Jones and his No. 43 team also got a feel for Legacy Motor Club’s complexion under new leadership and have gone through the tribulations of adapting to the seventh-generation car on limited resources – all of which should accumulate to a much better showing in 2024 and beyond.

“[2022], things weren’t necessarily easy, but the performance was better through most of the year,” Jones said. “That makes things a little bit simpler and more straightforward. It’s been a big building year in the sense that we’re trying to kind of set our footing and our groundwork for the next three, four, five years after this season.

“Overall, I think it’s going to bode well for us going forward and what we can build.”