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Friday 5: Will Petty GMS be next breakthrough Cup team?

Watch Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, and Rick Allen call the best moments from the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

After the success of Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing this season, could Petty GMS be the next new team to stand out in Cup?

Trackhouse Racing, in its second year of competition, had both cars finish in the top 10 in points and Ross Chastain race for a championship.

23XI Racing, also in its second year, would have had Kurt Busch in the playoffs before he was sidelined by a concussion.

Next season will be the second for Petty GMS. The organization is a result of Richard Petty Motorsports merging with GMS Racing before the 2022 season.

Petty GMS returns Erik Jones, whose Southern 500 victory was the organization’s first Cup win, to the No. 43 team. Xfinity title contender Noah Gragson and crew chief Luke Lambert join the No. 42 team.

The organization, co-owned by Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty, also adds Jimmie Johnson as a co-owner and a driver for select races.

“Me and Maury talk all the time about what can we do to improve our situation, make our business bigger, win some more races,” Richard Petty said. “He called me one day and said, ‘I’ve been talking to Jimmie Johnson,’ and I said you’ve got to be kidding. Jimmie Johnson wants to be involved with us, and we’ll be involved with him?

“This has got to be one of the biggest things that has happened to the Petty crowd and GMS. With Jimmie adding on with his popularity and the people he knows and we don’t know, it had to be a heck of a deal.

“From my standpoint, it’s a big, big step. Not just for one year. I’m looking further down the road. If Jimmie comes in, does his deal. I’m 85 years old, so I’m not going to be here for another 15 or 20 years, and then Jimmie can kind of take over. That had to be a plus-plus.”

Johnson’s deal with the team came together quickly. He first visited the team’s shop Sept. 12, eight days after Jones’ Darlington victory.

“We laid it out, this is what we’ve done the last nine months,” Joey Cohen, competition director for Petty GMS told NBC Sports, about how team officials sold Johnson on the organization. “We didn’t have this. We didn’t have that. Here’s what we’ve done in nine months.

“If you give us another nine months, we’ll double or triple this. We’ll force multiply this effort we’ve put in, and it’s going to be another level that we’re going to be at nine months.”

Cohen said team officials told Johnson “if you come onboard … it’s going to happen even faster.”

Even before last week’s announcement that Johnson would join Petty GMS as a co-owner and part-time driver, he was working with the team.

“Jimmie has already been involved in some meetings on the technical side, on the aspects of where we’re going on the vehicle side,” Cohen said shortly after the announcement.

“(Team President) Mike (Beam) mentioned it the other day, we were preparing for this like it was going to happen even before it happened, knowing that this is something we needed to add to Petty GMS. It was a strategic mission to try to get somebody like Jimmie.”

Johnson will drive in the Daytona 500. His other races have not been announced.

The Daytona 500 could have an interesting lineup of cars vying for the four spots set aside for non-charter cars. Johnson will be in a third Petty GMS car. Truck champion Zane Smith will drive a third entry for Front Row Motorsports. Austin Hill will take over the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports. Those are cars without charters that have been announced for that race. More non-charter cars are expected.

2. A new entry

Soon, Kyle Larson will open the journal that has been passed along by Cup champions since 2011 when Jimmie Johnson started it and passed it along to Tony Stewart.

Every year since, it has been handed down from champion to champion. Joey Logano has called it “the best kept secret in our sport.

“That’s the best part about this is that nobody even really knows what it is. Nobody knows … what’s written in it.”

The journal’s existence was kept hidden until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing it to Martin Truex Jr.

“That’s been one of the coolest things about this whole deal is taking possession of it and getting to read it,” 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott after he received it.

“It makes you wish that somebody had started that back 30-plus, 40 years ago to just see what some of those guys would have to say or even when NASCAR was started. I think it would be really cool.

“On the flip side, I think about the guy or the girl who wins the championship in 2050 or 2060. How cool is that going to be to look back to see what Tony Stewart had to say or what Jimmie Johnson had to say, two legends of our time. Really cool tradition and proud to be a part of that.”

Larson says he will read the journal again for inspiration of what to write before handing it to Logano.

“It’s something that’s so special that you want to read it once when you get it and once again before I give it to the next guy,” Larson said. “It’s an extremely special book.

“That was the thing that I was most excited about from winning the championship was to receive that. … I hope I can win other championships down the road to see what’s been passed on since me.”

3. Looking ahead

Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 19 team will look ahead after a forgettable season that saw the team fail to win a race and make the playoffs.

“The story of the year for us, really, was missing opportunities,” Truex said. “Look at some of the races we had where we were pretty much dominant, should have won. We gave away a lot of races. We gave away a lot of points in other races where we ran good but didn’t finish good and put ourselves in a bad spot.

“We need to work on figuring out how to take advantage of those opportunities better next year and do what we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Asked about any changes to his team, Truex said: “I don’t foresee any. I love the team. I think we’ve got a great bunch of guys.

“We need to figure out some pit road issues. We need to figure out some simulation issues. There are going to be some changes with the cars this offseason, and we need to get on top of that and see where that puts us. Short tracks and road courses, obviously, have been really tough for us this year. We need to figure those out, as well. Lot to look at, look to work on.”

Truex says he remains motivated.

“My mindset every weekend is I know we can go win,” he said. “That’s what keeps you hungry, keeps you coming back, keeps you motivated. I’ve had years where I knew (when) we were showing up, we weren’t going to have a chance to win.

“So from that standpoint, it really wasn’t that difficult. It was more that by the end of the week, ‘OK, frustrated again, we didn’t get it done and now we’ve got to go back and start over and try to get it done next week.’ There’s always light at the end of the tunnel that we can get it done because I know we can.”

4. Big wins making an impact

Since February 2021, Front Row Motorsports has won a Daytona 500 with Michael McDowell and won the Camping World Truck Series championship this season with Zane Smith.

“I think the wins and now the championship, I believe, will just further cement Front Row as a competitive organization capable of winning races for sure, now winning a championship in one of NASCAR’s higher series,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports.

“I’ll tell you guys that the one thing that’s been kind of interesting, our crew chief with the 34 is moving on in Blake Harris, and that’s a blow to us that I thought was really going to cripple us. Blake has brought a lot to our Cup operation this year.

“I told Michael McDowell a few days after Blake had made his decision, I said, ‘You know, it’s kind of like a bad news-good news situation from what I can see so far. The bad news is we’ve run so good, there’s teams that want to hire our people. The good news is we’ve run so good, we’re getting a lot of decent phone calls from guys that want to come to work for us, and that wasn’t happening in the past.’

“So I think just industry-wide and especially in the situation with Blake moving on from the 34, I’ve really noticed it that I’ve had conversations that we didn’t have before. We’re embarking on our own pit crew program next year, and you’re talking to guys that you know are really talented guys that really like what they hear about what we have going on.”

5. More racing

While the NASCAR season is over, that won’t keep drivers from competing in various other series.

Reigning Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric and 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott will be competing this weekend in Nitro RallyCross in Phoenix. Races will take place Saturday and Sunday. The events air at 5 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on Peacock.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no better drivers on the face of the earth than NASCAR,”said Travis Pastrana, co-creator of Nitro RallyCross and series champion last year. “I got my butt kicked when I was turning left (with them) a couple of years.”