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ICYMI: One more playoff spot opens; Almirola, Craftsman return; Zane Smith expands with FRM

The lead-up to the regular-season-ending Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona is a busy time for the industry and this week’s news reflected this. Here’s a look at what you may have missed:

Kurt Busch drops out of NASCAR Cup Series driver playoffs, two spots open at Daytona

Photo by Feliz Vigil/TRE

23XI Racing announced Thursday that the waiver for Kurt Busch to maintain eligibility had been pulled as the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion was expected to miss the start of the playoffs. Busch had a waiver after missing the July Pocono race – and four more Cup races – due to a brain injury.

The No. 45 23XI Racing team will still be eligible for the owners’ playoffs with Ty Gibbs continuing to fill in for Busch at Daytona and Darlington.

The announcement put Martin Truex Jr. in a spot to make the playoffs entering Daytona, instead of being 25 points behind Ryan Blaney for the then-last remaining spot.

At Daytona, Truex and Blaney will make the playoffs on points unless one of these drivers wins:

  • Erik Jones
  • Aric Almirola
  • Austin Dillon
  • Ty Dillon
  • Bubba Wallace
  • Chris Buescher
  • Justin Haley
  • Michael McDowell
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • Cole Custer
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Harrison Burton
  • Todd Gilliland

Corey LaJoie and Cody Ware are ineligible, despite attempting every race, as they are 71 and 173 points, respectively, behind 30th in points which would make them playoff-eligible.

Aric Almirola to return in 2023, Smithfield expands partnership with Stewart-Haas

Photo by Chris Salazar/TRE

Almirola announced Friday he will return to the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford on a multiyear deal with Smithfield sponsoring him in at least 2023 and 2024. Smithfield will be expanding its efforts in 2023 to the largest allotment of races as the primary sponsor since they and Almirola joined SHR in 2018.

Almirola announced in January he would step away from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition after 2022 to spend more time with his family. He detailed some of the accommodations they found to be able to spend more time, including a situation where his two children can do school remotely Fridays.

Craftsman returns as title sponsor of NASCAR’s truck series

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as Craftsman announced Friday they will once again sponsor NASCAR’s truck series beginning in 2023.

The tool brand sponsored the series from 1996 to 2008 when the brand was owned by Sears. Now, under Stanley Black & Decker ownership, they’ll replace Camping World who served as the title sponsor from 2009 to 2022.

Zane Smith to run NASCAR Trucks full-time again, Cup and Xfinity starts in 2023

Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media.

Front Row Motorsports announced Thursday that Zane Smith will return to the series full-time again in 2023. Smith will also make starts in the NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series for FRM, including an attempt at the 2023 Daytona 500.

Smith, who has finished runner-up in the Truck championship the last two years, joined the team prior to 2022. He has three wins this season and entered the playoffs with a 15-point advantage over second-place and holds a 46-point advantage to make the next round of the NASCAR Truck playoffs heading into the final race of the Round of 10.

Also:

  • Greg Ives will step down as Alex Bowman’s crew chief after 2022. Ives won seven times with Bowman and three times with Dale Earnhardt Jr after winning five straight Cup championships as Jimmie Johnson’s lead engineer and the 2014 Xfinity title as Chase Elliott’s crew chief
  • Joey Logano announced Wednesday a multiyear extension with Team Penske.
  • JR Motorsports, Director of Competition Ryan Pemberton announced Wednesday an amicable split.
  • T. Taylor Warren was named the Squier-Hall Award recipient for 2023 on Saturday. Warren photographed every Daytona 500 from 1959 until his death in 2008 and took the image that determined Lee Petty the winner of the 1959 Daytona 500.

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