Darlington NASCAR Notebook: Anyone Seen My Crew Chief?

·6 min read
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

The NASCAR Throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway is just that, a whole weekend of happenings. Here’s what went on during the days leading up to Sunday’s 400 miler.

Crew Chief’s, Crew Members Missing in Action

Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images

Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger goes into Sunday afternoon’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway at something of a competitive disadvantage. His No. 16 Chevrolet lost a tire last weekend at Dover, bringing NASCAR’s automatic four-race suspension for the crew chief and two over-the-wall crewmen.

Crew chief Matt Swiderski, front tire-changer Keiston France, and jackman Jonathan Willard will miss this weekend, then May 15 at Kansas Speedway, the May 22 All-State race at Texas Motor Speedway, and the May 29 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The No. 11 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing and Denny Hamlin also lost a tire at Dover. They were penalized four races but appealed and asked that their appeal be heard later in the season. In the meantime, crew chief Chris Gabehart, jackman Derrell Edwards, and tire changer Blake Houston are working this weekend at Darlington as usual.

On the Xfinity Series side, a wheel penalty at Dover has cost Chevrolet driver Sam Mayer crew chief Taylor Moyer and crew members Orane Ossowski and Markus Pierce-Brewster for Darlington, then May 21 at Texas, May 28 at Charlotte, and June 4 at Portland.

Crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for one unsecured lug nut post-Dover on the Xfinity Chevrolet of Allmendinger at Kaulig Racing.

Baby Watch

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

With Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, on baby-watch this weekend, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne is at Darlington standing by for the No. 18 Toyota. Kyle and Samantha Busch are expecting their second child – a daughter – by surrogate any day now and Kyle wants to be there when the baby comes. They have a son, seven-year-old Brexton, who is said to be quite a racer in his own right.

The Youth Movement is Strong at Hendrick Motorsports

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Hendrick Motorsports seems to have its driver lineup nailed down for the next few years. William Byron recently signed a three-year extension to stay in the No. 24 Chevrolet through the 2025 season.

Chase Elliott is good through 2026 in the No. 9 car, defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson is set through 2023 in the No. 5 car, and Alex Bowman has re-upped for two more seasons in the No. 48.

Combined, the four HMS drivers have five victories this season and 36 combined for owner Rick Hendrick in the past seven seasons.

"I think HMS is in a really solid place right now," Elliott said. "I feel like we all work pretty well together. It’s just kind of an easy flow in operation, which is good. I think it’s a great thing. I’m happy for William (Byron) and, in light of his news this week, I think he’s very deserving. I look forward to racing with him and working with him over the next few years too.”

John Hunter Nemechek Goes From Bad to Good

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

John Hunter Nemechek opened the Camping World Truck Series season about as consistent as could be--consistently bad, that is.

He was 24th at Daytona Beach, 25th at Las Vegas, and 24th at Atlanta. But a season that looked hopeless early-on has turned around, thanks to four consecutive top-five finishes, capped by an overtime victory on Friday night at Darlington Raceway.

In a Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, the 24-year-old second-generation driver dominated the 147-lap race that was extended by two overtime laps. He led 69 laps, including the final 27 for the 12th CWTS victory of his career and his first in seven starts this year. Carson Hocevar, Grant Enfinger, Ty Majeski, and Parker Kligerman completed the top-five.

Nemechek, 30 points behind series leader Ben Rhodes, was especially happy to win at the beginning of an eight-race stretch that includes Darlington, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Charlotte, St. Louis, Sonoma, Knoxville, and Nashville.

“To be able to win a race and have momentum on your side is huge,” he said. “I don’t have to show up at the Monday meeting and have (team owner) Kyle Busch ask me when we’re going to win a race. I don’t have to hear that, so that’s nice.”

The news wasn’t so good for Matt Crafton. Crafton needed a good finish and crossed the finish line fifth. But in post-race inspection the truck failed, being too low in the front. Crafton was disqualified and handed a last place finish.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images

Saturday, Joey Logano wheeled his Ford to the pole for Sunday’s race. It’s not only his first pole of 2022, but his first at Darlington and puts him in a good spot to overcome a 29th place finish last week at Dover.

In the practice session just prior to qualifying the ‘Track To Tough To Tame’ lived up to its reputation as Chase Elliott crashed hard forcing the team to a backup for Sunday and forcing Elliott to start at the rear of the field.

Gator Gets it Done

Photo credit: Emilee Chinn - Getty Images
Photo credit: Emilee Chinn - Getty Images

After qualifying third, Chevrolet driver Justin Allgaier was forced to start from the rear of the 38-car grid for Saturday afternoon’s Roxor Xfinity Series 200 at Darlington Raceway.

His JR Motorsports crew realized there was an electrical issue moments after drivers were called to start their engines. They rolled their No. 7 car to the side and quickly replaced the battery. By rule, the post-qualifying repair work brought a standard “to-the-rear” penalty.

It hardly mattered. Allgaier charged through the field to initially take the lead for laps 50-78, led three more times for 47 more laps, and went on to win by 0.259 seconds in an impressive last-to-first performance. “I might not have started absolute last,” he said after snapping a 34-race non-winning streak, “but I was on the last row. Does that count? In either case, I don’t think I’ve ever done that.

“The instant I flipped the ‘start switch’ and nothing happened, I figured it was a battery problem. There was no power to the car at all. I wasn’t too worried until I realized there might be a problem somewhere else within the electrical system. But the crew did a great job replacing the battery; the car was awesome the rest of the day.”

Allgaier held the point during two late-race restarts, leaving teammate Noah Gragson, Riley Herbst, Friday night Truck Series winner John Hunter Nemechek, and Sam Mayer to complete the top five. The 200-mile race at the 1.366-mile track went for 147 laps, none of them easy at the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

It was Allgaier’s first victory this year, his 17th overall, and his second in a row at the 72-year-old egg-shaped track. JR Motorsports is on a three-race winning streak: Gragson at Talladega, Josh Berry at Dover, and Allgaier at Darlington. Early in the season, Gragson won for JR Motorsports at Phoenix. All told, the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned organization has 62 Xfinity Series victories since 2005.