Trevor Bayne looks to take Nationwide lead in Fontana

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A steady start for Trevor Bayne has him one point behind Regan Smith for the lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, and he’s hoping to continue that consistency in tomorrow’s 300-miler for the NNS at Auto Club Speedway.

Bayne started the year with a third at Daytona, followed by another Top-5 at Phoenix and Top-10s at Las Vegas and Bristol. It’s led to a much closer fight for the top spot than at this time last year, which had Sam Hornish Jr. leading by 22 points over Justin Allgaier going into Fontana.

“Obviously, we want to contend for Top-5s every single weekend and I think we can do that,” Bayne said this morning at ACS. “The last race I ran here, last season, we ran Top-5 the majority of the day and got too loose at the end. Today, it is going to be all about making the right race adjustments as the track changes and being able to fire off quicker on restarts.

“I feel like that is where we struggled a little last year. Over the long run, we were pretty good. I think [crew chief] Chad Norris and I have a pretty good plan for this weekend.”

Smith has only collected two Top-10s in 14 career NASCAR national series starts at the two-mile oval, while Bayne’s best Nationwide finish there was a sixth back in 2011. However, both of them did log Top-10 runs last year in this event (Smith with a third, Bayne with a ninth).

Either way, they’ll both likely have to go through the Joe Gibbs Racing camp to contend for victory tomorrow. A Gibbs driver has won the last nine consecutive Nationwide races at ACS, and the team will have Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler going for a 10th trophy.

“They have been really fast and having the drivers that they do…They are able to bounce a lot of things off of each other,” Bayne said of the Gibbs teammates. “Normally, Kyle doesn’t need anyone to bounce it off of – he has just been fast on his own.

“We need to get our [Roush Fenway Racing] teammates up to speed a little and our car up to speed where we can try three different things in a weekend and figure out which package is going to be best and what direction we need to go. Hopefully, we are going to be able to do that.”

Last weekend at Bristol, Busch collected his second Nationwide win of the year and the 65th Nationwide win of his career.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”