DARLINGTON, SC — The plan was for GMS Racing to run select Cup races when the series moved to the next-generation car.
That changed when team owner Maury Gallagher completed a deal with Richard Petty Motorsports nine months ago to form Petty GMS Motorsports and go full-time Cup racing with two teams.
On Sunday night, Petty GMS Motorsports won their first Cup race.
Erik Jones’ victory in the Southern 500, however, is not the end of a journey, but a step for an organization that is already looking to next season.
“This month and October, the decisions we make for people will affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, president of Petty GMS Motorsports, told NBC Sports after our departure from Victory Lane.
Beam, 67, and team owner Maury Gallagher, 72, are looking to quickly build a winner.
The organization has come a long way in a short period of time. Gallagher, who owned a successful Truck Series team, had considered moving to Cup in the past.
He had looked at BK Racing’s charter when it was up for grabs in bankruptcy court in 2018, but passed on it before the charter (and team assets) were sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports. Gallagher ran the map for Furniture Row Racing before it was purchased by Spire Motorsports in December 2018.
Each time, Gallagher didn’t see the financial benefits. With the Next Gen car, the model was better.
He bought a majority stake in Richard Petty Motorsports last December for $19.1 million. The deal included two RPM charters.
Petty GMS Motorsports continues to redefine itself in this era of Cup racing. Joey Cohen, director of competitions, said the Cup program has 13 engineers among about 50 employees.
“We feel like we’re the model for what Next Gen racing is going to be long term, what it looks like in terms of personnel, what it looks like in the structure of the store,” Cohen told NBC Sports in Victory Lane.
Cohen said the focus is on engineering. He notes that “we’re going to employ more engineers than engineers at some point in a race car. This is the truth. … We know that’s where races are won or lost, with the tools available to the mechanics.”
Jones showed his commitment to the team by signing a multi-year extension in late July. Sunday’s win reaffirms the faith he has in the organization and the effort Petty GMS Motorsports is making to grow.
“You have to keep growing, building on this moment,” Jones said after driving the No. 43 car to victory at Darlington Raceway. “We’re doing well right now obviously with the car and what we’re doing, but we’ve got to keep making it better and keep improving our program.
“We’ve hired a lot of great people, but there’s — hopefully with this win it’s going to stimulate more people to want to come and work with us and continue to make this program stronger.”
One change for next season is that Noah Gragson will drive the team’s No. 42 car next year, replacing Ty Dillon.
The organization is working to catch up with other groups. While the top teams have their own version of the optical scan station that NASCAR uses for on-track inspection each weekend, Petty GMS Motorsports received its version in June. It came during the season’s isolated weekend, prompting Cohen to cancel vacation plans to watch the devices be installed.
Sunday’s victory is worth such efforts and shows what can be achieved.
“We needed something good to get us through the winter,” Beam said. “There are people in the team who have never won before and it’s great to share it with them.”
The win was special for Jones. It marked his third career Cup run, but his first since the 2019 Southern 500 with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I guess a lot of people probably counted me out,” he said “I just never looked at it that way. My overall view was to build, and I knew once I got to know the group in the 43 group—who are almost all the same guys as today—that they had a lot of potential. These are guys that have been on a few other teams but mostly on the 43 team for a while. They had a lot of potential.
“I guess the biggest thing for me that I’m proud of personally is seeing the growth. We went from a team last year where we were 30th here last year and dropped a motor in the Southern 500, and to come this year and be a top-five car all day and then win the race, man, it’s just something to be pretty proud of.” .
One of those drivers is second in points. The other is 15th in points after Sunday’s Southern 500. Can you guess which is which?
A top 10 in the last 18 games before the playoffs
Average finish of 19.9 in those races
Averaged 15.4 starts in those games
He led 130 laps in this segment
He scored 83 points in those 18 games
A top 10 in the last 18 games before the playoffs
Average finish of 19.4 in those races
Averaged 14.8 starts in those games
He led 110 laps in this segment
He scored 54 stadium points
One of those drivers scored a top-10 at Darlington. The other finished outside the top 25.
Driver A is William Byron. Driver B is Chase Briscoe.
After qualifying eighth and winning a stage on Sunday, Byron is six points behind series leader Joey Logano entering Sunday’s playoff race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA Network).
So how does a team that has struggled to finish in the top-10 since April leave Darlington second on points?
“We stayed confident,” Byron told NBC Sports. “We knew what not to do in the summer. We know what didn’t work, so we came here knowing what not to do and implemented the things that did work. … Tough summer, but we really came together this week.”
He is confident that what he did in Darlington he can carry over to Kansas.
“I think Kansas can be really good for us,” said Byron, who was leading when he suffered a flat left rear tire and finished 16th there in May. “It’s just a matter of perfecting those little details.
As for Briscoe, he was unable to avoid Chase Elliott’s spinning car and was damaged. Briscoe was a non-factor, finishing 27th. He is 10 points behind Daniel Suarez, who holds the final transfer position with two races remaining in the first round.
“That kind of killed our day,” Briscoe said of contacting Elliott, “but we were able to get lucky because a lot of those guys were in trouble as well. It’s not the way we wanted to start the round by any means, but we’ll have to improve and probably have to win.”
Daniel Suarez looked headed for the top five until a pit road penalty derailed his return from the rear. He finished 18th though he walked away charged for contacting Christopher Bell.
Suarez had to start at the back after his car failed inspection three times before qualifying. He also had to take a passing penalty after the game started. That put him down, but a caution a little later for rain, allowed him to get his lap back.
He raced to the front until he was penalized on Lap 271 of the 367-lap race.
Despite this, however, Suarez was not happy with Bell for the contact as they raced for fourth with five laps to go into the second stage. They made contact and Suarez dropped back, finishing eighth. Bell finished stage six.
“Whenever necessary, I will take him back,” Suarez said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be Kansas or Bristol. He definitely owes me one and I’ll save it for later.”
Although this season has been one of inconsistency for many teams, a few drivers added to their career-high total of top 10s in a season with strong runs in the Southern 500.
Michael McDowell’s sixth place finish is his 11th top 10 of the season. His previous high for top 10s in a season was five last season.
“That was probably one of our best performances in what I would call a mile-and-a-half style racetrack, so we’re making good gains,” McDowell said.
Bubba Wallace’s ninth place finish is his seventh top 10 of the year. His previous best was five in 2020.
“Jwe’re proud to get out of here with a finish,” Wallace said after the race. “Good car for us, we just have to keep trucking to Kansas.”
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