Ethan Miller is 17 years old and resides in Pennsylvania. He aspires to become a sports writer following high school, and views writing for Speedway Digest as the next step towards a career in journalism. Ethan currently hosts the QuickPitPodcast with a few fellow NASCAR fans, which can be found on all major podcast platforms.
B.J. McLeod, age 38, has a total of 300 career starts across NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series’, with only one top 10 in that span. Many fans consider him a backmarker, or ignore him completely since he runs in the back most of the time. Despite that, he runs multiple teams, including LiveFast Motorsports, which fields the no. 78 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series. McLeod co-owns that team with Joe Falk and former driver Matt Tifft, and he drives the no. 78 in a majority of the races on the Cup Series schedule.
LiveFast began in 2020, and the team turned their first laps in Daytona in 2021. While they may not be competing for wins yet, LiveFast and owner McLeod are optimistic that they have a long-term place in the sport- thanks in large part to the new NextGen car.
NASCAR’s Generation 7 “NextGen” car was heralded for being a cost-saving opportunity during its development and lead up to its release. Designed to feature a nearly spec chassis and body- teams would buy the parts directly from their choice manufacturer (Chevrolet, Ford, or Toyota)- the car was purpose-built to cut down on manufacturing costs for race teams, as well as scale back the amount of parts needed to repair. The car was also designed to produce better racing on track. McLeod confirmed that the plans for high quality racing have been realized.
“It's done more than live up to its expectations. NASCAR took a big chance. All the people in NASCAR and the team owners and the drivers and everybody took a big chance with this Next Gen car and it has done nothing but exceed 10 times over with some of the best racing we've ever seen.”
Despite these promises by NASCAR, there hasn’t been much evidence or confirmation that the plans for the NextGen’s financial impact holds true. McLeod says it has done what it was intended to, despite the obviously high upfront costs that come with a complete overhaul of race car design.
“It's a ton of upfront costs, but part of that is to just be said because we are at the highest level of stock car racing in the world, so we have to be ready to take that on as owners and and look towards the future and betterment of the sport and the budget for the car is absolutely better than Gen 6 or anything we've seen with before.”
McLeod thinks that the other main point of the car, to level the playing field, has also been achieved.
“You've already seen teams be able to win this year that didn't have a chance last year,” B.J. McLeod said. “You've already seen people run in the top 10 this year that couldn't run in the top 20 last year, even for a team as small as Live Fast, it's helped us be closer to where we want to be. Like last year, you look at California- we didn't run it in 2020, but I've ran there before. I think 2019 was my last time there and I was eight or nine laps down and this year we finished on the lead lap. Vegas, I think we were two laps down and that's 'cause I was a little bit, you know, extra courteous with the leaders, didn't want to mess up the race and lost an extra lap just getting out of the way. Gateway we were one lap down. You go back to 2020, we had very few races that we were just one lap down so it has done more than exceed expectations across the board.”
As an owner, McLeod sees into the day-to-day operations of his Cup Series team, including the parts and inventory. Early in the 2022 season, concerns were common that there weren’t enough parts for the NextGen car to go around- concerns that have since quieted down, but were never completely resolved. The owner of the no. 78 Ford Mustang confirmed that parts are much easier to come by now.
“It's part of being smart and proactive, and making sure that everything is covered and we've definitely been able to get what we need to be there and be secure,” he said. “And I think for taking on, post COVID, this kind of major switchover for a sport they couldn't have done any better.”
McLeod has big plans for the team even though they’re not a well-known powerhouse like Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske.
“The long term plan is to win a race without a doubt, right?” he said. “Like, the most important part is to be competitive week in and week out. And it's going to take a lot of time for us to build our team up to that.”
Despite entering the sport recently, McLeod sees a strong potential for his Cup Series team to become a competitive organization.
“Right now we're already happy with some of the results we've had this year,” B.J. McLeod said. “We’re very, very pleased with, like I said, more competitive finishes and having a little bit more speed on track than before. We have a lot of stuff that we want to clean up and make better and that just happens with prep every single week and also taking care of our partners and building that and getting that better year after year and just building up funding to be able to compete. So, it's a long road, but we're hunkered down and ready to go and just looking forward to working towards making that.”
B.J. McLeod, and LiveFast Motorsports also have a technical alliance with Motorsport Games, the developer that produces the current NASCAR Cup Series video game, NASCAR 21: Ignition. LiveFast provides information that Motorsport Games need to make their product more immersive and realistic.
The NextGen car has helped cut costs and level the playing field. For B.J. McLeod and LiveFast Motorsports, it’s been a boon for their small team’s growth. Though relatively new to NASCAR, they are continually improving with each race they run, and have a bright future ahead.
**Quotes edited for clarity**
Josef Newgarden already won a race at an oval and a street circuit this season. Entering Sunday’s race at Road America, he hadn’t completed the third requirement of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge. The bonus, $1 million to the first driver to win a race at all 3 types of tracks that the IndyCar series races at (oval, street course, road course), is set to pay half to the team and half to the driver’s charity of choice. Newgarden won at Texas in March and Long Beach in April and now, with his win on Sunday at Road America, has completed the challenge. Team Penske receives $500,000, and 2 charities will split the remaining $500,000, SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville. The win is Newgarden’s 23rd of his already stellar career, and moves the two-time champion to third in the points standings.
Alexander Rossi started on the pole, with Newgarden in second and Alex Palou in third. Rossi led the first 14 laps before ceding the lead at the first pit stop cycle. A flurry of cautions at the start of the race kept the field from getting into a rhythm early. Jimmie Johnson went off track in turn 3, triggering a lap 1 yellow when he couldn’t get his car running again. On the restart, Palou and teammate Marcus Ericsson made contact that sent Palou into the gravel trap. The wheels on Palou’s car were knocked out of alignment and, while he did eventually return to the racing surface, he finished in last place, 19 laps down. Palou was visibly frustrated when interviewed on TV after the wreck, with some strong words for his teammate, but Ericsson had a different view post race.
“I don't see I did anything wrong,” Ericsson said. “It was a fully race move. Might have been early in the race, but this race is a track-position race. If you get an opportunity, you need to go for it. As I said, there was nothing wrong with that move. That was clear on the TV pictures.”
Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco spun Will Power, the points leader coming into the weekend, into the wall, damaging Power’s front wing. The team for the no. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was able to put a new wing on the car after he limped it back to pit road, but he was unable to make much of a recovery and finished in 19th place.
As the field approached the first pit stop, Newgarden closed in on Rossi, the leader of the race.
Both drivers pitted on the same lap and Rossi, partially impeded by another car pitting in front of him, was unable to beat Newgarden out of the pits, a move which ended up deciding the race.
Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, and Rinus VeeKay all employed an alternate strategy, which was successful for Rosenqvist and Rahal as they saved enough fuel throughout the race to grab a top 10 finish.
Alexander Rossi continued to try to chase down Newgarden over the course of the afternoon, but was unable to make up a significant amount of time. He stayed out longer during the next pit cycle without much success. After the final pit stop of the race, Rossi did start to close in on Newgarden, cutting the lead down to under 3 seconds with 9 to go, and may have caught Newgarden if not for a late caution.
Pato O’Ward’s engine expired with 8 laps to go, bunching up the field. When they restarted with 5 to go in the race, Helio Castroneves spun onto the front stretch, forcing yet another caution flag out, setting up a 2 lap shootout to decide the race. Newgarden got a huge jump on Rossi on the restart and set sail, leaving the rest of the pack to fight amongst themselves for the remaining two spots on the podium.
Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson got around Rossi to finish second, with Rossi getting his second podium in a row with a third place finish. Romain Grosjean finished fourth, and teammate Colton Herta finished in the fifth position. Felix Rosenqvist, Scott McLaughlin, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, and rookie Christian Lundgaard rounded out the top 10.
Newgarden is the only driver with multiple wins on the season, which he says is an accomplishment given how tight the series is this year.
“Yeah, it is very difficult to win these races consistently. To be able to put multiple on the board, it's a job well done to everybody in the 2 group.”
Second place finisher Marcus Ericsson echoed Newgarden’s opinion on the competitiveness of the series.
“It's the most competitive series in the world. We have 27 cars this weekend. I think that's incredible. Out of those 27 cars, it feels like at least 15 of them can win the race if they have their day. It's really fun to be part of that. Yeah, I think it's going to be tough all year. Miss a little bit one weekend, you're P10 or P15. It means you need to be on top of things all the time. Last weekend was a good example. A bit off on strategy, didn't work our way. We managed to finish seventh. That's the results we need if we want to win the championship.”
Due to Power and Palou’s misfortunes during the race, Marcus Ericsson jumped back into the NTT IndyCar Series points lead by a commanding 27 points following Road America. Power drops down to second, with teammate and winner Josef Newgarden in third place. Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou complete the top 5. Alexander Rossi appears to have found a new gear, with 3 straight top 5s and 2 podiums in a row. He now sits in seventh in the points standings.
Newgarden admitted that he forgot about the bonus in his post race interview. But, with his third win and $1 million for his team and charities in his pocket, he definitely is aware of it now.
Will Power, one year after a crushing defeat at the same track, won the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in the final race at the famed Belle Isle circuit on Sunday. Last year, Power led the most laps and was in control of the race, but following a late red flag, his car failed to refire and he finished 20th. Sunday’s race was thrilling; Alexander Rossi chased him down in the closing laps on an alternate strategy, but Power held on with worn tires to beat the American star. The win is the 41-year-old Kiwi’s first victory of the season and 41st in his career.
2-time champion Josef Newgarden took the pole for the final race at the Belle Isle racetrack, situated on an island in the Detroit River. Next year, IndyCar will race instead on a street course in downtown Detroit that closely mimics the layout that Formula 1 used for 7 years from 1982-1988. Belle Isle, following this year’s race, has hosted 30 US open wheel events between CART and the NTT IndyCar Series. Newgarden led the first 13 laps of the race before teammate Will Power passed him for the top spot. Power led the next 11 before pitting, but resumed the lead following the conclusion of the pit stop cycle. Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi both opted for an alternate strategy, while Power chose to finish his last stint on the softer Firestone red alternates, which had more speed but expired faster. The race stayed green for all 70 laps, making it a straight strategy battle between the top teams.
Rossi bested Dixon towards the end of the race and set his sights on Power, who’s tires were beginning to fade. With 10 laps to go, Rossi had cut the lead down to 11 seconds; at 4 to go, Power’s advantage was at 8 seconds. Rossi made a hard charge in the last 2 laps, but was only able to get the lead down to 1 second at the checkered flag, forcing him to settle for second. Power led 55 laps en route to his victory.
Scott Dixon took the final podium spot in third, with polesitter Josef Newgarden finishing fourth and Indy 500 runner-up Pato O’Ward rounding out the top five. Defending champion Alex Palou placed sixth, last week’s Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson finished seventh, Colton Herta eighth and Simon Pagenaud finished ninth. In a tremendous drive from last on the grid, Swedish McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist grabbed the last spot in the top 10.
Following his win at Belle Isle, Will Power reclaims the points lead in the NTT IndyCar Series standings over Marcus Ericsson. Power sits at 255 points, only 3 points ahead of Ericsson and only 12 over third place Pato O’Ward. 2021 champ Alex Palou is still only 15 points back, so the top 4 are under a blanket in points as the season approaches the halfway mark.
Power is confident that he can continue his strong season next week, at Road America, and beyond.
“It's different every weekend. But we have been really strong at pretty much everywhere except Indy this year. Yeah, yep, I think the team, the engine is really good. I think the team is good. It has been. Everything is just flying nicely for us now. “
Power, 41, isn’t the young prodigy anymore; rather, he’s one of the seemingly few in the paddock who hold veteran status as a result of IndyCar’s youth movement. But in winning the final race at Bell Isle, he’s shown that he’s still very much a championship threat.
From 2014 to 2018, Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson made 97 starts in Formula 1 for Caterham F1 and later Sauber F1. The 32 year old only scored 18 points across nearly 5 complete seasons on open wheel racing’s international stage, with a best finish of 8th place. Following 2018, Ericsson was released from his F1 job and now, almost 4 years later, he’s an Indianapolis 500 champion.
Ericsson started 5th in Sunday’s race, the 106th running of the greatest spectacle in racing, 3rd out of 5 Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas that made the Fast 12 in last weekend’s qualifying session. Once the race started, Ericsson faded into the background- always there, running well, but rarely mentioned. Teammates Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, both of whom have won IndyCar championships, paced the field in the early going of the 500. Ericsson remained consistently in the top 10 while Dixon and Palou battled Rinus VeeKay for the early lead. VeeKay brought out the first caution when he got loose and crashed coming out of turn 2 following the first cycle of pit stops on lap 39.
The race continued through the afternoon, and Palou and Dixon continued to dominate up front. Palou received a stroke of bad luck when the caution came out while he was coming to pit road. Forced to pit while it was closed due to fuel concerns, he was sent to the rear of the field when the race restarted and only managed to recover to a 9th place finish. Romain Grosjean crashed on lap 106 when he spun off of turn 2, a trouble spot for the drivers throughout the race, which ended his first Indy 500 start.
Dixon continued to lead, though local driver Conor Daly ran up front as well, swapping the lead with Dixon multiple times during the course of the race. After a caution for Scott McLaughlin on lap 151, the field was set for the final run to the checkers for the Borg-Warner trophy. One pit stop lay between Dixon and his second Indy 500 win; if he nailed that, he’d be the favorite to win the race.
Unfortunately for the driver of the no. 9 PNC Bank CGR Honda, he did not nail the final stop. Dixon sped on pit road, necessitating a pass through penalty on the ensuing lap that effectively ended his chances at Indianapolis glory. With Dixon out of the picture, the door was wide open for other competitors and Ericsson, following the completion of the final green-flag pit cycle, found himself leading. Arrow McLaren drivers Pato O’Ward and fellow Swede Felix Rosenqvist followed closely behind, as did fan-favorite Tony Kanaan. As the laps wound down, O’Ward began to slightly reel Ericsson in, but it was not going to be enough to catch him barring a miracle. With 6 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson went head-on into the fence to bring out the caution once again, and IndyCar made the decision to red flag the race. They could have allowed the race to finish under yellow, but instead decided to give the fans a green-flag dash to the finish. O’Ward, it seemed, had his miracle.
The race restarted with 2 laps to go- an almost NASCAR-style finish to decide the winner. Ericsson led the field to green, with O’Ward and Rosenqvist in hot pursuit. Down the backstretch, Ericsson weaved and snaked his way towards turn 3 in an attempt to break the draft that would allow O’Ward to slingshot past- and out of turn 4, coming to the white flag, O’Ward had a run on Ericsson.
O’Ward shot his nose in front of Ericsson and briefly held the lead but was on the outside, and he had to lift entering turn 1. He regrouped and prepared for a last-ditch effort to pass Ericsson later in the lap, but Sage Karam crashed and the race ended under yellow. O’Ward had his miracle, but he couldn’t capitalize on it. Ericsson is now the second Swedish driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (Kenny Bräck, 1999), and the win is the first for owner Chip Ganassi since 2012 with Dario Franchitti.
O’Ward finished second, with 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan grabbing the last spot on the podium. Felix Rosnqvist and 2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi, the highest finishing American, rounded out the top 5.
Ericsson, following his Formula 1 exit, signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports full time in 2019 before moving to Chip Ganassi Racing prior to the 2020 season. Last year, in 2021, he won his first IndyCar race at Belle Isle, then backed it up with another win later in the summer at the inaugural Nashville GP. Since the Indy 500 is double points, his win puts him atop the standings, ahead of O’Ward and Palou.
Said Ericsson in his post-race press conference,
“I came over here, and people probably didn't think much of that. I had to work my way here as well, learning American racing. Moved here, put my whole life into trying to become an INDYCAR and mainly Indianapolis 500 champion.”
Ericsson may not have been able to showcase his talent to the fullest extent in F1. Some may fault him for that. But now that’s irrelevant, because he’s a winner of the biggest race in the world.