A four-wide dash on the final lap ended with Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity driver Daniel Suarez and former NFL wide receiver Willie Gault taking the checkered flag to win NBC Sports’ NASCAR Gridiron Racing Challenge presented by Toyota.
The 20-lap race ended a series of competitions involving six tandems of NASCAR drivers and ex-NFL players at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Before the serious business began, the day started with a laugh as Joe Gibbs himself jokingly gave the football greats something he figured they may need: Diapers.
The players then ran in single-car qualifying on the 1.5-mile oval to begin the Challenge. Rod Smith, another former NFL receiver, paired with JGR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, ran the fastest time:
Then came the second event: A football throwing competition for the NASCAR drivers, where every ball through a target meant seconds taken off their respective player’s qualifying time.
Busch bested Suarez in their head-to-head match-up – probably a given as Suarez admitted beforehand that he had never thrown a football before.
As for the other match-ups, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer topped JGR newcomer Carl Edwards …
… and Denny Hamlin defeated Matt Kenseth, even with the latter earning three points for putting a late throw through the deepest target.
Edwards may have lost his duel with Bowyer, but his five passing points allowed him and NBC Sports’ Super Bowl XLIX pregame analyst Hines Ward to claim the pole position for the 20-lap race.
For this final event, the players rode along in the passenger seat as their driver teammates raced at more than 180 miles per hour. On the last lap, Suarez went to the inside of Busch/Smith, Bowyer/Christian Okoye, and Kenseth/Doug Flutie as they all barreled into Turn 3.
As Bowyer slipped back, Suarez passed Busch for the lead in Turn 4 and went on to victory.
The ex-NFL stars all came away impressed not just with the speeds, but with the precision that’s needed to drive a race car. During the halfway intermission of the race, Smith had this to say about riding shotgun with Busch:
The Super Bowl XLIX pregame show on NBC will feature a segment of the Gridiron Challenge. Pregame coverage from Arizona begins Sunday at Noon ET.
NASCAR Gridiron Racing Challenge presented by Toyota
Charlotte Motor Speedway – Results
For the fifth time in 10 rounds of the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season, the three riders at the top of the championship standings shared a podium and while those points tell one story, the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit tell a slightly different tale.
Chase Sexton has been all but perfect during the past 45 days with podium finishes in each of his heats and Triple Crown features. His only stumble during this period was a 10th-place finish in the Indianapolis Main. Last week, Sexton was perfect with wins in both his heat and the feature, although he needed a little help from an Aaron Plessinger mistake to take the top spot on the podium at the end of the night.
Cooper Webb finished fifth at Houston and was beginning to worry ever so slightly about his position in the points. Prior to the race in Tampa, he told NBC Sports that it was time to win and like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield fence, Webb went out and captured it. Following that race, Webb has swept the podium and earned the red plate two weeks ago in Indianapolis. At Detroit, he added two more points on Eli Tomac as the season begins to wind down.
Tomac struggled with a stiff neck at Indianapolis and after a modest third-place showing in Detroit, he revealed he was still suffering a little. Webb and Sexton have been able to close the gap on Tomac in the past 45 days, but one of the main reasons he is so close in the points was a pair of wins that started the year. Seattle is going to be important for the defending champion because Tomac cannot afford to lose any more momentum with seven rounds remaining.
It appeared Jason Anderson was turning things around. He earned his fifth heat win at Detroit, which was also his sixth consecutive race (including features) in which he scored a top-five. A fall in the Detroit Main dropped him a lap off the pace and sent him home with a season-worst finish of ninth, causing a ripple effect in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings.
Justin Barcia was a huge part of the show last week in Detroit. He swapped positions with both Webb and Tomac in the middle stage of the race, which allowed Sexton to close the gap. Barcia finished fourth in that race to earn his third consecutive top-five. He’s been outside the top 10 only once in the first 10 rounds.
Adam Cianciarulo had a great start to the Main. He led a couple of laps before losing a lap and slipping back to eighth in the final rundown. That run was strong enough to elevate him three positions in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit.
The NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings look at the past 90 days in the 250 class in order to have a balanced comparison between the East and West divisions and Hunter Lawrence has been all but perfect this year. At Detroit, he earned his fifth win of the season and kept alive a streak of podium finishes in six rounds. He tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 250 wins one week before the West riders take to the track for back-to-back races at Seattle, Washington and Glendale, Arizona.
The Lawrence brothers are dominating the points in each of their respective divisions, which means the remainder of the field is battling to be best in class.
In the East, that rider is Nate Thrasher, who beat Hunter in a head-to-head matchup in their heat only to finish second in the main when the majority of points were awarded. Thrasher seems to have accepted his position in the championship standings, but that doesn’t mean he won’t keep trying for wins.
Haiden Deegan showed a lot of aggression in his heat last week. He threw a couple of block passes at his teammate Jordon Smith and set up a series of events that kept Smith from making the big show while Deegan settled into second in the preliminary. Deegan was unconcerned about how he raced his teammate and would not let a little controversy keep him from celebrating his second career podium in Detroit.
Jeremy Martin just keeps clicking off solid results. He won his heat last week by making a pass on Deegan and Smith while they were in the heat of their battle. Martin finished fourth in the Main, which means he continues to have only one finish worse than sixth in any of the features or mains.
Smith fell one position in the points standings, but the damage was even worse in SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit. Crash damage in his heat contributed to a last-place finish in that race, for which he earned minimal points. He was not able to advance from the Last Chance Qualifier after stalling his bike in heavy traffic.
Hunter Lawrence – E
[5 Main, 5 Heat wins]
Jett Lawrence – W
[3 Main, 3 Heat wins]
Nate Thrasher – E
[1 Main, 3 Heat wins]
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat win]
Haiden Deegan – E
[1 Heat win]
Jeremy Martin – E
[2 Heat wins]
Jordon Smith – E
[3 Heat Wins]
Levi Kitchen – W
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
RJ Hampshire – W
[4 Heat wins]
Max Anstie – E
Tom Vialle – E
Max Vohland – W
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
Chris Blose – E
Chance Hymas – E
Enzo Lopes – W
Michael Mosiman – E
Pierce Brown – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).