NASCAR Champion’s Week Notebook: What the Cup Series stars had to say as they celebrated their season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Every December, the NASCAR industry gathers for the annual Week of Champions in Nashville, Tenn., where stock car racing champions are honored after taking enough time off-season to enjoy and process their accomplishments. Normally, raced cars are part of the attraction through public-facing events, such as a city street burnout contest. But without that, this year’s Champion’s Week essentially amounted to a corporate party and media event.

Thursday’s pre-dinner media availability marked a good opportunity for drivers to reflect on the 2022 seasons, while also sharing some of what they’ve been up to in the off-season and looking ahead to 2023. Here are some notable quotes and insights from the Champions Week guides:

The Journal of the Champion

In 2011, when his five-year reign as Cup Series champion ended, Jimmie Johnson began the tradition of the Champion’s Journal, which is passed down to each NASCAR champion with a message from the previous year’s champion to the next. For the second time, the magazine is owned by Joey Logano, who expressed his excitement to once again own the magazine and be able to make another contribution to what has become a very exclusive item among drivers.

“I can’t wait to read it again… It’s so interesting,” Logano said of the magazine. “Some guides are very detailed in what they write in the next champion, and some are a bit quick and simple. But it’s very interesting to read and it’s great because it’s a real secret.

“It’s an unwritten rule that you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s like something only championship drivers know and have read and seen and heard the stories about it. It’s a cool thing.”

Logano’s first entry in the magazine came as the 2018 champion, when he wrote a message to Kyle Busch after winning the 2019 championship. Interestingly, 2019 was also the first year that Champion’s Week was moved to Nashville.

Fresh from the farm

No driver has raised his racing profile more in 2022 than Ross Chastain, who went from underdog to up-and-comer to one of the biggest stars in all of NASCAR. As he returned to his hometown of Alva, Florida and his family’s watermelon farm during the offseason, it manifested itself in some ways, but not in others.

At the racetrack, things were decidedly different for Chastain as he helped his brother Chad with a very slow model — Ross served as his brother’s spotter and thus had to tell eager fans and admirers that the middle of the race it was not a good time to try and meet and talk. But other than that, those who have known Chastain for a long time treated him just like he did long before his stardom took off.

Just as things change and stay the same for Chastain, so do the Trackhouse Racing team, which has established itself as a major power player in NASCAR after upsetting the status quo in 2022. When asked if team owner , Justin Marks, said a new vision for the team in 2023, Chastain told CBS Sports “We wrote what we want Trackhouse to be and what Trackhouse means on paper and online where we can see it in words. And then we lived with it for the season, and we reiterated that to everyone… We are not changing, we have arrived. This was not just come and go, this is our arrival and now the difficult thing is to stay and maintain this kind of performance in it the level”.

Speaks

The last time Ty Gibbs spoke to the media before Thursday was Nov. 5, when he had just won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. Then, the greatest triumph of Gibbs’ young life quickly turned into his greatest tragedy when his father, Joe Gibbs Racing COO and former NASCAR driver Coy Gibbs he died suddenly in the night in his sleep.

Gibbs was in good spirits Thursday, expressing his appreciation for everyone’s feelings as he continues to grieve the loss of his father, while also declining to discuss family issues.

“I was doing fine,” Gibbs said. “… For now, I’m not going to touch on that at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and we’ll go from there.”

The prominent racing theme for Gibbs was the recent announcement that he will move to the Cup Series full-time in 2023, driving the newly numbered No 54 Toyota for his family’s team. Gibbs expressed his excitement about moving up to NASCAR’s highest level, while also expressing his gratitude to 23XI Racing for allowing him to gain experience as a backup driver for Kurt Busch in 2022.

Kurt still in their corner

Once the calendar turns and the new year begins, Tyler Reddick will be able to begin the onboarding process at 23XI Racing as he replaces Kurt Busch behind the wheel of the No. 45 Toyotas. Busch stepped down as the team’s full-time driver after suffering a concussion a crash at Pocono ended his 2022 seasonbut the ship that returns behind the wheel of a racing car has not sailed.

Busch suggested in October that he try to race part-time, and 23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin told reporters Thursday that the team would have a car for Busch whenever he wanted to drive it. However, it all depends on Busch’s medical to return to the driver’s seat.

Busch, meanwhile, will continue in his role as team captain in the 23XI, giving Reddick an edge he’s excited to have on his side.

“I’m really, really grateful that he’s staying as connected to the team as he is,” Reddick said of Bush. “He’s already kind of been in that role trying to help Bubba and coach the team and the team members and the direction they want the cars to go and everything like that. To continue to be in that position and be a part of organization will be a huge, huge help to me and Baba (Wallace) as well.”

A change for Chase

More than anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing, Chase Briscoe will have to adjust to his team’s new dynamic in 2023. SHR hired Ryan Preece as the new driver of the No. 41 Ford, replacing Cole Custer, who moved up to rank in the Cup Series along with Briscoe.

Briscoe shared that he was looking forward to having Preece as a teammate and getting to know him better, but he also went for Custer — who has effectively been relegated to the Xfinity Series — calling Custer a close teammate and one of his best friends, while also promoting the abilities of the 2020 Rookie of the Year after two years in the Cup.

“He’s in a good spot where he fell, in a sense. He can still show what a good race car driver he is — and Cole is a really good race driver,” Briscoe said. “I think he’s a lot better than people give him credit for … It’s, I think, a good point for him to come back and get his confidence back, because the last couple of years I think have been pretty tough for Cole. He won a Cup match two years ago and people forget that.”

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