Martinsville is first chance for Chase’s “lesser names” to punch ticket to Homestead

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Take a look at the set of races in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and you’re tempted to cross off the middle round at Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks.

On a 1.5-miler like Texas, we have an idea of what the likely outcome will be – a win for either Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, or perhaps Kevin Harvick and the Hendrick-powered Stewart-Haas Racing. They’re the power players on the power tracks.

So if the remainder of the Eliminator 8 – that’s Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman, and Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards – want to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a win, their best shots lie at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway and the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.

Martinsville kicks off the Eliminator Round this Sunday, and thus, a golden opportunity awaits Hamlin, Kenseth, Newman, and Edwards.

Based on past exploits at Martinsville, Hamlin would seem to have the best chance of this foursome in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500. The Virginia native usually performs well in front of his home fans (four wins, nine Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 17 Martinsville Cup starts) and rarely bombs (just two career M’Ville finishes outside the Top 30).

However, his teammate Kenseth has also been much better at the Paperclip since his move to JGR in 2013. He finished second in this race last year to Jeff Gordon (Hendrick’s lone Chaser still standing), and this past spring at Martinsville, he ran sixth. Most importantly, the JGR duo won’t have to deal as much here with the power deficit that they’ve had on the big ovals vs. Penske and Hendrick.

Newman, like Hamlin, is a previous winner at Martinsville but since that spring 2012 triumph, he’s been up-and-down there with finishes of 11th, 31st, 38th, and 20th. But you can’t deny that he’s carrying some serious momentum right now with his four consecutive Top-10s. A fifth such result would not be a surprise here.

Then there’s Edwards, who has not finished in the Top-5 at Martinsville since a third in the fall of 2008. In the 11 starts he’s had there since, his best result has been a pair of eighths in 2010 (he ran 13th this past spring).

One is tempted to say that, based on his fifth at Kansas and eighth at Charlotte in the Contender Round, that he might have a better chance at Texas than Martinsville. On the other hand, he did pick up a short-track victory at Bristol back in the spring.

All of that said, the Eliminator Round points reset to 4,000 has these potential dark horses on equal footing with the big boys and with the same chance to lock themselves in for Homestead. That’s all they can ask for.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.