The Cross Flags Column is a new midweek summary of the news, with a hint of analysis mixed in.
With 11 days left in one of the longest NASCAR off-seasons of the 21st century, the final dominoes are falling into place to form (what could be) a totally different landscape in the sport.
In 2022, a revamped version of the tiered penalty system will feature some of the strictest baselines for penalties since the tiered system was introduced in 2014.
The revamped system adds a third tier to the two-tier system first introduced in 2017 when NASCAR moved from a six-tier penalty system to a two-tier system.
The third tier’s defining feature is the prospect of a team being penalized with getting disqualified from the playoffs if the infraction is serious enough.
For a sanctioning body that, before 2019, did not disqualify cars that failed post-race tech inspection – let alone disclose specific baselines for penalties prior to 2014 – NASCAR has made a major step that reflects what kind of a change the NextGen car could also bring.
One of the teams that could soon change the landscape of the NASCAR Cup Series is Kaulig Racing, a team that recently announced the driver schedule for its No. 16 car.
A.J. Allmendinger will, unsurprisingly, run the six road course races and the All-Star Race after his Indy GP win. However, he will also run the L.A. Busch Clash and eight other races.
Daniel Hemric will run all four superspeedway races, both Darlington races, the March Las Vegas race and the Feb. Auto Club race, while Noah Gragson will run the remaining 14 races.
Among Gragson’s races are six playoff races on his schedule, including the final four races that could be a striking tease for his 2023 plans.
2022 will be Gragson’s fourth full-time NXS season and, with JR Motorsports not showing the same realistic Cup Series aspirations as Gragson, his races could be an audition for a full-time ride in 2023.
The final four races could also fall into Gragson’s favor if his 2021 NXS season is any indication.
Although he had a rough start to the season, he quickly became a championship favorite after two tough pre-playoff wins in a row and a clutch Martinsville win to get into the Championship 4 at Phoenix.
Although Gragson was consistently third to Hemric and Austin Cindric at Phoenix, he was tenacious in his ability to drive the car on the ragged edge – even over the edge – and still keep going.
When his talent meshes well with his aggression, Noah Gragson is a force to be reckoned with and he’ll likely exemplify this throughout the 2022 NXS season. With enough time to familiarize himself with the Cup Series, Gragson should start showing flashes of that same strength by the end of the season ahead of what could be a big 2023 – and beyond – for him.
Gragson announced Tuesday he will be sponsored by Cure Token in the Kansas playoff race.
Kyle Larson was fastest in Tuesday testing at Phoenix, with a time of 27.329 seconds, besting Tyler Reddick by 0.145 seconds and Joey Logano by 0.171.
Kaulig Racing tested with Daniel Hemric, who posted the 14th fastest time of 18 drivers. Hemric ran a 27.848-second lap time, about a half-of-a-second off of Larson’s benchmark time.
On Tuesday, Sam Hunt Racing announced John Hunter Nemechek will run a No. 26 Berry’s Bullets Toyota in both NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Las Vegas this season.
Nemechek will also run full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Multiple options lie ahead for him in 2023, including a possible NXS ride – no word yet on what his future will hold for certain.
Also announced this week:
- Guaranteed Rate will partner with Richard Childress Racing and Tyler Reddick
The sponsor was previously partnered with Roush-Fenway Keselowski Racing.
- Kaz Grala, Howie DiSavino III will race for Alpha Prime Racing in 2022
Grala will run four NASCAR Xfinity Series races for the team and serve as their reserve driver. DiSavino III run six races, beginning with Phoenix in March.
- GMS Racing announced its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crew chief lineup for 2022
Charles Denike will be Grant Enfinger’s crew chief, while Tom Ackerman will be Jack Wood’s crew chief.
Denike won two NCWTS races in 2020 with Chase Elliott and Sam Mayer. He also served as Tyler Ankrum’s crew chief in 2021.
Ackerman served as Ted Musgrave’s crew chief in 2006, when he led the then-defending champion to 8 top 5 finishes, 11 top 10s, 146 laps led and a 6th-place points result.
Joe Gibbs Racing also gave a glimpse of the future with the first look at the single-lugnut pitstop: