Wednesday, Feb 08

Chandler Smith is preparing for the greatest test in NASCAR - the Daytona 500. Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that their new Xfinity Series driver Chandler Smith will attempt to compete in the 65th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19 (2:30 PM ET - FOX, MRN, SiriusXM). Smith will pilot the No. 13 for Kaulig with sponsorship from Quick Tie Products as part of a five-race deal.

Smith was announced late last season as the new driver for Kaulig's Xfinity Series program, replacing AJ Allmendinger as he will go full-time in Cup this season as a teammate for Justin Haley.

Should Smith qualify for the 500 through either pole qualifying on Feb. 15 or the Duels on Feb. 16, it will give Matt Kaulig a 3 car lineup with Allmendinger and Haley.

Chandler Smith is coming off a 2022 season where he scored three victories and made it all the way to the Truck Series Championship 4, ultimately coming home with a third-place finish in the points behind eventual series champ and race winner Zane Smith and rising star Ben Rhodes.

Petty GMS Racing has a new look. On the Jan. 11 edition of NBC's 'Today Show', Jimmie Johnson appeared to announce that Petty GMS Racing would be rebranding to Legacy Motor Club starting with the upcoming 2023 Cup Series season. Johnson also announced that he would drive the No. 84 in select races this season - a reverse of his iconic 48 car that he piloted to 7 NASCAR Cup Series titles; that car now driven by Alex Bowman.

"As we sat and tried to put together the team name - Maury Gallagher founded it, Richard Petty's involved, myself - we just couldn't find the right acronym to put all the names together. And as we thought about it - the legacy Richard has created, the legacy Mr. Gallagher has created in racing and business, mine...just seemed like a great name and great foundational point," Johnson said in his Today Show interview announcing the rebrand.

"And at that same point in time to have that nod to the past but also look forward to our young drivers - Noah Gragson and Erik Jones - and the legacy they want to create. Now I'm also a team owner and I clearly have ambitions and I want to create a new legacy as a team owner as well," added Johnson.

Johnson joined the Petty GMS group late last season and admitted that being a team owner is an entirely different skillset for him. "We really see an opportunity to build and grow this team," Johnson remarked in his Today Show interview. "It's all not possible without great partners."

Johnson is set to have his IndyCar sponsor - Carvana - on his No. 84 Chevrolet for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19. The rest of his schedule outside the 500 is currently to be determined, while Gragson and Jones are set to compete the full 2023 Cup Series season for the rebranded Legacy Motor Club.

2023 will be a critical year for NASCAR thanks in no small part to their next impending media rights deal, set to take effect in 2025, but expected to be announced later this year. Current rights partners Fox and NBC are signed through the end of next season - 2024 - as part of a deal that was signed back in 2023. Financial terms were never disclosed, but it was widely believed that Fox and NBC paid upwards of 50% more than the $2.7 billion that Turner and ESPN paid alongside Fox for the 2007-14 deal, placing the current deal at around $4 billion.

This next NASCAR deal will likely push the price tag even higher and with streaming possibly becoming more of a factor, broadcasters will no doubt pony up to have the stars of the sport grace their screens for the next decade plus. Here, we'll go over the favorites, the likeliest to land the sport, who might be dark horses and who might be out.

 

Favorites: FOX

Let's be clear - FOX needs NASCAR. Sure, they have NFL in the fall, Major League Baseball in the spring alongside Major League Soccer as well as the Pro Bowlers Association. But what do they have in the late winter to bridge the gap between the NFL playoffs and MLB Opening Day? Nothing except NASCAR. It's become clear that NASCAR and FOX need each other. FOX needs that stopgap between the end of the NFL playoffs and the start of the MLB season - that's where NASCAR comes in. NASCAR needs that first half ratings surge to lead into the summer stretch and that's where FOX comes in. Expect FOX to re-up with NASCAR as part of the next deal.

 

Likely: ABC/ESPN

Now the last run of NASCAR on ABC and ESPN as part of the 2007-14 contract may have left a sour taste in many NASCAR fans' mouths but since then, ESPN has started to recover as they not only snatched NHL rights from NBC but also took SRX on Thursday nights from CBS. By putting SRX on Thursdays, ESPN is likely telling NASCAR 'Hey, we know SRX is taking your drivers on weekends, so we're gonna move the races to midweek so that doesn't happen.' This is a show of good faith to the sanctioning body to perhaps get negotiations started early, get them out of the way and announce the deal sometime before the Chicago Street Race. With F1 already on the ABC/ESPN roster, the addition of NASCAR could potentially bring back the SpeedWorld branding ESPN had in the 80s and 90s. Now if only we could hear that iconic theme song again...

 

Dark Horse: CBS/Turner

A CBS/Turner team-up just makes sense considering the two media conglomerates already work together on another major sporting event in March Madness. Just one problem and it's a problem that hit NBC in the tail end of their 2001-06 run. That problem is the NFL. Not only does CBS have NFL during NASCAR's playoffs, but they also have college football, college basketball and golf clogging up their schedule throughout the year. CBS might only be able to take about 5-7 races with either TBS or TNT taking the rest if this team-up were to come to fruition.

 

Out: NBC

While NBC has made strides in NASCAR coverage over the past eight seasons, they'll probably out after the 2024 season. Reason being is the same reason that took them out of the 2007-14 deal - Sunday Night Football. SNF draws big ratings for the network and there is absolutely no way NBC is giving that up especially when the network is potentially in the running to take the NBA back from ABC in 2025. If you're NBC, you have to start thinking about what's more important in your sports properties - NASCAR or the NFL. 10 times out of 10, the answer is the NFL.

 

With this in mind, we could be looking at a FOX/ABC/ESPN triad in NASCAR when we get to February 2025.

The 2023 NASCAR season begins on February 5th with the running of the Busch Light Clash at the Colosseum at iconic Los Angeles Memorial Colosseum. After last year’s historic season and the debut of the Gen-7 cars, 2023 is shaping up to be an even more competitive and unpredictable season with not just old faces in new places, but also a promising rookie class, NASCAR’s first street race and the uncertainty of who NASCAR’s next media partners will be in just over 2 years’ time.

Needless to say, there's a variety of storylines set to shape the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series season and it all starts with a pair of rookies that dominated the Xfinity Series in 2022.

 

Ty Gibbs

Ty Gibbs is the defending Xfinity Series champion. He'll make the jump to the Cup Series driving the renumbered 54 car (formerly the 18) vacated by Kyle Busch, who defected to Childress in the offseason. He also comes off the death of his father Coy this past November, which caused him to miss the last race of his fill-in role at 23XI Racing. In his Xfinity championship season last year, he wound up with seven wins and was a consistent threat to win each and every week. It's a safe bet to expect that consistency to continue in his new role in the Cup Series in spite of the level of competition present at NASCAR's highest level.

 

Noah Gragson

The 24-year-old Vegas native is coming off a season where he won eight times and was a favorite to win the Xfinity Series title all season long, only missing it by one position in the final race at Phoenix at the hands of his Cup Series rookie rival Ty Gibbs. In 18 prior Cup Series starts over the past 2 seasons, Gragson has a best finish of 5th - that came at the August Daytona race. Last season, he filled in for Alex Bowman in the 48 while he recovered from a concussion. This season, he steps into the 42 for 7-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty. If Gragson can maintain the run of dominance that propelled him through his time in the Xfinity Series, the 42 team could be the surprise of 2023.

Either way, it's shaping up to be a great rookie battle from the green at Daytona to the checkers at Phoenix in November.

Perhaps the highlight of the 2023 NASCAR season is the running of NASCAR's first ever street race along Grant Park in Chicago - set for July 4th weekend. It began as a fantasy track on iRacing for the popular eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series in 2021, a race which saw James Davison take the virtual checkered flag. Since then, momentum only grew for the street race before the official announcement on July 19th, 2022.

The Chicago Street Race is replacing another popular Midwestern track in the 4-mile road course of Road America in the Milwaukee suburb of Elkhart Lake. In a statement, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing development and strategy Ben Kennedy told reporters "We've had some great racing there the past couple of years, we've seen some really exciting finishes...unfortunately we won't be back."

Kennedy however did leave the door open to return to Road America in the future, adding "I've had a long-standing relationship with them and just because we won't be going back in '23 doesn't mean we're not going to keep going back in the future."

Racing on city streets provides a great unknown in itself as most of these drivers have only seen the course through iRacing. The course itself is a challenge, starting through South Columbus Drive, weaving through South Lake Shore Drive, into East Roosevelt Road then back onto South Columbus, which will then lead them through East Balbo Road, then a run through South Michigan Avenue and East Congress Plaza finally turning through East Jackson Drive and back onto South Columbus to complete their 2.2 mile, 12-turn lap.

Race distance and title sponsor have yet to be determined, but we do know the Xfinity Series is set to be a companion race on July 1st with the Cup Series making their inaugural trip along the Chicago streets on July 2nd. This will mark both series' return to the Chicago area since they left Chicagoland Speedway after the 2019 season (their respective 2020 races were called off due to COVID and the 1.5-mile track was left off the schedule in 2021 in favor of Road America).

 

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