Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick — among the key storylines this season — got their first days on track with their new teams this week.
Busch, Reddick and Austin Cindric participated in a tire test Monday and Tuesday at Circuit of the Americas. The session marked Busch’s first official laps with his Richard Childress Racing team. It also was Reddick’s first laps with his 23XI Racing team.
Busch, a two-time Cup champion, joins RCR after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. Lack of sponsorship led to his move.
He takes over the No. 8 Chevrolet that Reddick drove last year. Reddick had signed a contract to join 23XI Racing in 2024 but was allowed to leave a year early with Busch taking his spot at RCR.
Busch heads into this season having won at least one Cup race in each of the past 18 seasons, tying him with Richard Petty for the all-time Cup record.
Busch, who estimated he ran 200 laps during the two days at the 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, was pleased with the session.
“Had a lot of fun,” he told NBC Sports. “Was able to work with the guys and really (have) good communication, give good feedback and have that opportunity to have dialogue of ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s try this. What do you think about this?’
“(Was) able to talk about the car in ways I’m used to and have them hear me describe things in certain ways, so they can get a better understanding where, as you go on, you can say less words and they get what you’re saying.”
Reddick said the session was helpful to get settled in the No. 45 Toyota.
The session also proved valuable for Toyota, which seeks to improve its performance on road courses. Reddick won at Road America and the Indianapolis road course last year and could provide key feedback for Toyota.
The manufacturer struggled in the first five road courses last season — twice failing to have a driver finish in the top 12. In the season’s final road course event, Toyota won the Charlotte Roval playoff race with Christopher Bell.
Reddick told NBC Sports that a goal at the session was to “try and close the gap Toyota feels like they’ve had on the Chevys and some of the other competition last year on the road courses. I think we made some gains, but certainly, we’re going to work hard on that.”
Who else is counting down the days to @NASCARatCOTA ?? pic.twitter.com/WrKaQNS7S8
— Austin Sports Commission (@sportsaustin) January 17, 2023
2. More testing in January
A key organizational test takes place Tuesday and Wednesday at Phoenix Raceway.
Cars scheduled to test are those of Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Elton Sawyer, recently promoted to senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the sanctioning body will be looking at several things, including changes that could help the racing at short tracks.
While the racing at intermediate tracks was viewed favorably last year, drivers were critical of the racing on short tracks and how difficult it was to pass.
Sawyer said the sanctioning body will look at some changes to the underbody of the car.
Scott Graves, crew chief for Chris Buescher at RFK Racing, told NBC Sports that NASCAR will test some changes to the car’s underbody. Those changes came about from the Garage 56 effort.
That’s the specially modified Camaro that will run at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, marking NASCAR’s return to that event for the first time in nearly 50 years. Hendrick Motorsports is preparing the car in a joint effort with Chevrolet, Goodyear and NASCAR.
“Some of the things they’re learning (have) started to trickle on to our side,” Graves said of the Garage 56 car. “They’ve done some things on the underbody.
“As NASCAR is looking to make short tracks in particular a little bit better, we’re trying to be less dependent on the outer body with aero and get more of it with the underbody — with the theory that it’s going to be less affected by traffic.”
Graves said that the plan is for the rear spoiler to be smaller at the Phoenix test with the underbody of the car generating more of the car’s downforce. NASCAR also is looking to better channel the air underneath the car with the diffuser.
Graves explained how having more of a car’s downforce generated underneath it could impact the race:
“When you look at the lap times, the guys that are up front have a huge advantage, but when they get to the back of the pack, they run the same speed.
“That’s what everybody in the pack is doing the whole race, running the same speed and having a hard time getting around each other. Hopefully, this will help with some of that, where it’s not so dependent on the outer body. You get into turbulent air, dirty air (in traffic) the (aero on the) outer body really goes away. The theory is that the underbody is still going to have that air underneath the car, so it will keep it a little bit better.”
3. Two Kyles running the double?
Kyle Larson will attempt to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2024, driving at Indianapolis for Arrow McLaren.
Could he be joined by Kyle Busch? Busch has expressed an interest in also doing the double — something his brother Kurt did in 2014.
“I think that’s great that Kyle (Larson) has been able to kind of button that up early and get that done for himself to run the Indy 500 in 2024,” Busch told NBC Sports.
“I wasn’t so fortunate (in the past). We had a couple of deals kind of right there, right to the sign phase almost I guess you would say. It just didn’t really materialize. Teams got other deals that were more important to them that kind of didn’t want to give me the chance, or they didn’t want to go from three cars to four cars, whatever it might have been.
“A lot of discussions happened behind the scenes, but nothing materialized. I would say that our industry, both NASCAR and IndyCar is just short on people, having the right amount of people and good people to go and do these ventures. Yeah, you could go do it and go run circles and make laps, but is it going to be a winning effort was the question. That’s just kind of why it never materialized.”
Asked if he felt the door was closed to him to running the Indy 500, Busch said: “Yeah, I would say 2023, the door’s closed. I would say 2024, with Kyle (Larson’s) announcement, the door closed because that’s probably about the only team that could do it. Given the nature of who he’s racing with, but just with other teams trying to stretch too thin and not have enough people. Again it comes down to the people part. So, you just never know. See what happens.”
4. Looking into the future
As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season, it’s a chance to look back at many of the memorable moments on and off the track.
One of the more recent memorable events was Ross Chastain’s video game move on the final lap of last fall’s Martinsville playoff race. Chastain drove his car against the wall and sped by five cars to gain enough spots to advance to the championship race.
When NASCAR celebrates its 100th season and others in the future, Chastain’s move is likely to be among those memorable moments.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “There will probably be people that will learn about me because of that. I’m good with that. I’m proud of that.
“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that that paid off for us. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it, and I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked, or why I did it.”
5. A celebration
NASCAR takes time tonight to honor its past and induct three people into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Hershel McGriff and former champion crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine will be inducted as the 13th class in the Hall of Fame. NASCAR executive Mike Helton will be the recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions. Photographer T. Taylor Warren will be honored with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence.
The ceremony airs at 8 p.m. ET on Peacock.