What drivers had to say after Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 in Atlanta

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Here’s what several drivers had to say after Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

Kyle Busch, 3rd: “Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys did a great job. What else could I say? They fought hard to battle back from being at the tail end (at the start of the race) and got a good points day out of it. So we’ll go on next week and go to Vegas and see if we can’t score a win in the hometown.”

Kurt Busch, 4th: “It was hard driving with the lower downforce. We had a really good car short-run speed; we just didn’t have it on the long-run speed. That is sometimes what happens to a pole-sitting car. You are feeling confident like ‘Hey alright’, but we were just too aggressive on the tires.”

Carl Edwards, 5th: “This is real racing. We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just digging for everything they’re worth. I’m worn out. That’s a tough race and just a lot of fun. … Atlanta, don’t ever pave this place, it’s a perfect race track. I hope the fans enjoyed the show.”

Kevin Harvick, 6th: “We had issues about the last three runs. I had to start driving the car different. It just required a little bit different handling. And then we had a slow pit stop there. We got way behind and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) was way out front and I had to drive the car really hard and got the right rear burned up. We just didn’t execute today but everybody hung in there all day and we’ll keep at it.”

Martin Truex Jr., 7th: “I feel like we’ve started the season stronger than we ended last season. That’s exciting for all of us. They guys worked hard over the off-season to get ready. They deserve it and everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has really helped us along, helped us get off the ground strong and can’t thank them enough for that. Lot of exciting stuff going on and looking forward to going to Vegas next weekend, a place that’s been good to us the last couple years, and see if we can’t get to victory lane.”

Chase Elliott, 8th: “It was a solid day. I felt like on pit road, everything, Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) made good adjustments, the race went smooth. Obviously, not a lot of restarts, so a lot of it was green flag runs, which was different. That is something that you don’t see a ton of. Like I said, just happy that we finished today. Better than last week.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick on Chase Elliott: “Chase impressed me today about as much as I’ve ever seen a young driver drive in a race with a low downforce car that he’s never been able to experience in a race before when he’s having to race Kyle Busch and the guys he was racing, Brad (Keselowski), all day long, never make a mistake, just as cool on the radio as any seasoned driver, getting great feedback. I am really excited about that young man in the future.”

Brad Keselowski, 9th: “We seemed to have real good short-run speed, but not very good long-run speed and we didn’t get a lot of short runs. The ones we did, we were able to drive to the front and that was a lot of fun. It was beautiful weather and a beautiful day for racing. That race felt like I was in 1975.  That was kind of awesome.  I should grow my sideburns out after that one. … I loved the way the cars drive.  I understand that it takes more than my opinion to make the sport go round, but I thought it was awesome.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 10th: “All in all, I’m really happy with all the hard work that these guys put in. It’s only one weekend. I hope to get consistent with that and I’m looking forward to going to Vegas next week. … I thought (the low downforce package) was great. The tires being softer, Goodyear did a great job with the tires falling off a lot. It played a big role in the race. Cars would pass me early in the run, and I’d come back and get them late in the run. That’s really all you can ask for when you talk about racing, a racetrack and tires. It felt really good.”

Joey Logano, 12th: “That pass-through penalty is what set us down one lap and when you have green flag runs that are a couple hundred laps long, it never gives you an opportunity to get the lucky dog to get back on the lead lap. One mistake cost us a possible top-five finish and it felt like every bit of a top-five car, and maybe even better than that. I’m just frustrated with myself after that one because we don’t make mistakes very often on this 22 team and, I guess, for making a mistake and having a 12th-place finish isn’t that bad, but it kind of hurts when you know you had a better car.”

Aric Almirola, 15th: “This was certainly not the finish that we had hoped for. … We ran in the Top-20 all afternoon, and we had a competitive car. It was disappointing to have a wreck on the last lap, especially with how hard our team worked, but I know that we’ll be able to bounce back next week in Las Vegas.”

Ryan Blaney, 25th: “We were gonna run 13th to 15th, which would have been an OK day. … I didn’t know what happened initially (on last-lap accident), but I guess (Aric Almirola) got a big run off the top and I was inside (Ty Dillon) and got tagged in the back. That’s what they’re telling me and, unfortunately, that sent me around, which kind of stinks. We were just trying to salvage a decent day out of it and it just stinks to run all those laps and then get wrecked at the end of a race.”

Chris Buescher, 28th: “We had a long day. It was a long race. It changed a lot throughout every run, but all the guys worked really hard to try to improve this thing and get better as we go. I learned a lot along the way and I’ve got plenty to learn from for next time. It’s not the finish we wanted, but we keep getting better.”

Landon Cassill, 36th: “(On last-lap wreck) “They just kind of wrecked in front of me. I had the car slowed down to where I felt like I was going the pace of the wreck. It wasn’t clear in front of me yet, but it was gonna be because it looked like he was gonna go to the bottom and somebody hit me from behind. It was a frustrating way to end the day because it was a handful anyways. At that point, we did have a position to race for, but you didn’t want to risk anything. We just wanted to bring it home in one piece and we didn’t get to do that. I hate having a tore up race car, but maybe it will give us an opportunity to take a look at it and see what we can do to make it better.”

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Erik Jones fails to live up to Bristol intro song, but earns best finish of Cup career

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Erik Jones made a pivotal mistake leading up to Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He was one of six who forgot to choose their intro song prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

“I don’t even know who picked my song,” Jones said.

The Furniture Row Racing driver can thank someone named “DJ Du” for stepping up.

As a result, Jones was “a little surprised” when he appeared at the top of a ramp in Turn 3 to be introduced as the pole-sitter for the night’s race. The sounds of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” echoed throughout “Thunder Valley.”

“DJ Du” turned out not to be a prophet. But Jones did everything he could during the ensuing 500 laps to back up the song selection.

Making his 27th Cup start and his second at the .533-mile track, Jones led a career-high 260 laps. He matched wits with Kyle Busch, now a six-time Bristol winner, and Matt Kenseth, a four-time Bristol winner and the driver he’ll succeed in the No. 20.

The battle resulted in Jones finishing second, the best result of his Cup career.

Jones led nine times, swapping the lead with Busch, his former Camping World Truck Series owner, 10 times – three times in the last 139 laps.

Despite the lack of his first Cup trophy, Jones is confident it was the most fun he’s had to date in the Cup Series.

Though he’s only 21, the race reminded him of his good ol’ days driving modifieds.

“It takes you back to, you know, late model racing really more than anything,” Jones said. “You’re just on the gas. You’re not saving tires. You’re just hammer down and getting everything you can, which is a lot of fun. It’s hard on you as a driver, it wears you out, but you definitely have a lot of fun.”

Bristol, a track he’s won at twice in the Xfinity Series, reminds him of Winchester Speedway in Indiana, a .5-mile oval where he’s won three Winchester 400.

And he almost won like at Winchester.

Even Busch, who won all three Bristol races this week, thought it was Jones’ race to lose before he took the lead for good with 56 laps to go.

“He’s a phenomenal talent and a great race car driver,” said Busch, who first discovered Jones when he finished third to Jones in the 2012 Snowball Derby. “We knew that a long time ago. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing I found him or a bad thing I found him because one of these days I’m going to lose to him and I’m not going to be thrilled, but I’m still going to congratulate him.

“I thought today was actually going to be that day.”

Jones, who first experienced Cup action in 2015 when he relieved Denny Hamlin mid-race at Bristol, said leading a race for so long is a “burden,” especially for someone still figuring out how things work in the Cup Series.

“You’re letting all those guys be behind you get better and better and improve on their cars to gain up on you,” Jones said. “It’s hard to get your car better when you’re out front. You don’t really know what you need.”

If there was a burden, Jones said there was no pressure to win, even with a potential playoff spot waiting for him if he did visit victory lane.

With two races left in the regular season, he is 16th in the points standings but outside the 16-driver playoff grid.

“This was our best shot to win,” Jones said. “I was just actually really calm this week. I really had a sense we were going to run really well. … I feel really confident every time I come to Bristol. And, you know, kind of felt like we were going to be running up front, but just didn’t have enough.”

Saturday’s 500 laps left Jones the “most wore out” he’s been this season following a race, but he knows they’ll be instrumental when he finally gets to celebrate as Busch did Saturday night.

Said Jones: “You got to lose one to win one, right?”

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Denny Hamlin has mixed emotions over 3rd place Bristol finish

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 23rd in Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Bristol Night Race.

Martin Truex Jr. finished 21st. Clint Bowyer was 19th, while Chase Elliott was 18th.

All of those drivers would have given anything to trade their final results for a third-place showing like Denny Hamlin came away with.

But Hamlin? He wasn’t so sure whether to look at his finish as satisfying or disappointing.

“Half and half,” Hamlin replied.

Something was missing for him in the race, and it was difficulty on restarts that may have kept him from a win.

“With the track position, we definitely could have held those guys off,” Hamlin said. “We caught them a little bit in that last run, but I restarted on the bottom so many times that it’s one of those weekends where I would love that cone rule where you can pick what lane you want to go in on restarts.

“I’d be willing to start 12th on the outside versus third on the inside. It’s just I got killed on restarts all day, but we did a really good job of bouncing back and good finish.”

 

What drivers said after Bristol Night Race

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Kyle Busch – Winner: “That one was a lot harder. Man, Erik Jones put up a whale of a fight. That all I had. I was running with my tongue hanging. My arms were Jell-O and my throat hurts, but man that’s awesome. Can’t say enough about everybody on my Joe Gibbs Racing team. (Crew chief) Adam Stevens and the guys are phenomenal. Car might not have been perfect, but I’m never perfect. I never feel like we’re perfect, but this Caramel Camry was fast. So proud of these guys, so proud of my team, so proud of Joe Gibbs Racing.”

ERIK JONES – Finished 2nd: “This is one I had circled when we ‑ really all season, but especially when we got knocked out at New Hampshire with a flat tire. That was like, Okay, we need to win. What’s the tracks coming up that are our best shot? Bristol was definitely, you know, the one where I thought we were going to have the best shot to win. I felt like we had a really strong car in the spring. Felt like I could improve myself and improve what we had in the race car compared to what we had there. We did that. We qualified on the pole, you know, led a ton of laps. We just didn’t quite keep up with it. So, yeah, this was our best shot to win. Did I feel any pressure? No. I was just actually really calm this week. I really had a sense we were going to run really well. I had a really good feeling about it. I feel really confident every time I come to Bristol. And, you know, kind of felt like we were going to be running up front, but just didn’t have enough.’’

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We caught them a little bit in that last run, but I restarted on the bottom so many times that it’s one of those weekends where I would love that cone rule where you can pick what lane you want to go in on restarts. I’d be willing to start 12th on the outside versus third on the inside. It’s just I got killed on restarts all day, but we did a really good job of bouncing back and good finish.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished 4th: “I guess there’s only two races left, so somebody is going to make it by points. I don’t know where we are. I don’t even look at it, to be honest with you. If you don’t get a win in the next two weeks, hopefully we get in. Obviously we’ll be really far behind. If we do get in, we’re running a lot better as of late. We’ve had some solid finishes. Last week wasn’t. But we’ve definitely been closer to being in contention for wins.

Kurt Busch – Finished 5th: “We’ve been struggling with the VHT on the bottom, so I just knew we needed to wait and wait and wait, and I was hopeful at lap 250 that it would come to us. I pushed it too hard then and got some right-front tire damage on the fender. We had to work through that, but I think at the end we got in position because Tony Gibson made a good call and put us on fresher tires than the competition and it was the old fun Bristol for me.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 6th: “I got too fast on pit road, which cost us, but guys did a good job in the pits, which is a nice change. Overall, I’m proud of the team effort. Fought hard and kind of got lucky there with the tires. I don’t know that we had a sixth-place car, but we did tonight.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 7th: “I feel like the last month we had strategy, things went our way and we’ve gotten results from it. Here at Bristol, Roush Fenway always gives us good cars and we’ve had really good runs the last four or five races. Our Ford was fast tonight at the end when it mattered. At one point we blew a tire, hit the fence. I thought we were going to get lucky and get back on the lead lap. Got on the lead lap, got a caution and put new tires on it and started passing cars. We’ll keep working on it. Obviously we need to win. That’s what our goal is.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 8th: “We had a good Busch Outdoors Ford, but we were just tighter than we needed to be on the next-to-last run. Then the tire strategy just didn’t go our way at the end. Who would have thought we would run all the way to the end under green? It was a good car.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 9th: “It was a good race up until the last stop. I felt like we had a shot to win and then something went on with the left rear (tire) maybe. I didn’t get a good stop and lost all of our track position and that was kind of all she wrote. Just got stuck behind and then guys had better tires than I did and it just is what it is.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 10th: “We weren’t bad. We were probably a little better at the beginning and we had really good short run speed and really good long run speed, but that middle portion wasn’t the best. It’s something to be proud of. I wish those guys at the end with tires didn’t get us, but I didn’t think they were going to run all those green flag laps.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 11th: “We had a really good race. I got stuck on the inside on a lot of restarts, which kind of affected our progress. But we would drive up to the top three, top five and at the end there something happened with the back of the car, and I lost it going into Turn 1 and hit the wall with like 30 to go. Somehow still finished 11th. The car is destroyed. The tail is moved over like two feet, right front is pushed in, I’m surprised I didn’t get a flat. So, I got really lucky to finish, but a strong effort, very good race car. Just unfortunately, I had a little issue getting into Turn 1. I don’t know if it was brake related or something went wrong with the back of the car, but the back just started wheel hopping really bad that final 30 laps and it was a handful to drive.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 12th: “We struggled at the beginning did a really good job adjusting our car. (Crew chief Matt McCall) made some really good calls there. I had good track position at the end. We were just kind of at the end of the cars that didn’t put tires on and tires meant a little more than we expected. He (Matt McCall) was just telling me that he thought we got outran by all the guys that put tires on, but overall, we had a really good car.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 14th: “It was a really tough night. We battled back from a blown right-front and then that last stop they said I was a little too fast speeding, so we had to make up a lot of ground. The car was really good and it’s just a bummer. I feel like we didn’t get an opportunity to go race for a win there with the speeding penalty, but the guys gave me a good car, so you’ve got to be happy about that.”

Paul Menard – Finished 16th: “Tonight was a battle for everyone on this Knauf/Menards Chevrolet. We got the free pass a couple of times, Matt Borland and the guys kept adjusting on the car throughout the night. We used pit strategy to get inside the top 10 late in Stage 2. I was able to hold off a lot of those guys with fresher tires to pick up some stage points, which was big for this team. We took the wave around in the final stage and the car really came to life. The car worked well on the bottom on the last run, but it just got too tight at the end.” 

David Ragan – Finished 17th: “That’s a solid day for the Front Row Motorsports team. I feel like we had a little better car for the first half of the race and we made great adjustments, but I don’t know if the VHT wore off or the track cooled off, but we lost a little bit of the handle over the last 150 laps.  We wanted a little better, but it was a great race.  We ran in the top 20 all night and we’re happy with that.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 18th: “Yeah that was just a racing incident with Kevin (Harvick). I tried to… we were just working lap traffic and he and I had been racing really hard back and forth with each other and I kind of go to his inside and he was setting up to pass the guy on exit. He has been running the top and he just didn’t know I was down there. I had a really good Turn 1 and 2. He just didn’t know. I shouldn’t have stuck my nose in there, I guess.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 22nd: “That was just a long night.  We didn’t start off very good, but kept fighting, kept staying on the lead lap and got hit by the No. 38 and I went to turn back behind him and Chris (Buescher) had gotten there and he hit me in the left-rear. It’s not his fault. I overreacted about Chris hitting me. So, it wasn’t his fault and then it just had a bad tire rub, so we had to pit and we could never get those two laps back and I think we weren’t fantastic, but we were fighting. At times, we had a pretty good car and then we would try something else and we would lose a little bit, but I thought we could have ran top 15 to top 18 which would have been okay. It’s just a long night.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 23rd: “We struggled. We had a real fast car for like 10-15 laps and then we would just real, real tight, so we struggled all day trying to figure it out. We weren’t good, and we weren’t going to fix it on pit road either. We’ve got a lot of tools on pit road to really get after it, but the problems we had we couldn’t fix with wedge or trackbar.

Danica Patrick – Finished 25th: “It was a long, tough battle here at Bristol, and I wish we could have run better. We just didn’t have it this weekend, but we’ll move on. Thanks to all of the guys for working hard on my One Cure Ford Fusion this weekend.”

Landon Cassill – Finished 35th: “It’s just close quarters. Bristol is a tough race track and I was sliding up and I thought maybe there was a little room, but he just clipped me.  It’s tough racing at Bristol.” 

Ty Dillon – Finished 36th: “It really felt like we had some raw speed in our GEICO Chevrolet. We had a couple pit road penalties and ended up three laps down. We earned one back and felt like we were fast enough to get more laps back. We got into the wall a little earlier on and probably weakened the ball joint a little bit. We hit the wall again and the car is done. It was a really rough night but we did seem to have good speed in our car tonight.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 37th: “We had an oil line on the motor that had a hole in it and it started smoking real bad and caught on fire, so that’s the end of our night. We blew like four or five right-front tires. It was just a long night for our Smithfield team. We’ll have to regroup and go on to the next race.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 39th: “From my perspective, we were running really good and all of a sudden the left rear (tire) went flat. I don’t know what happened, if we had contact on that restart or our trackbar broke. My car chief said the letters on the Goodyear were rubbed off and about two laps later we broke. I was just moving forward. I passed like four cars and then it busted a tire. It never works out when you break when you are running bad, but we were running good and it broke. Bummer, our battery was going dead too, so it probably wasn’t going to be much longer we were going to be out of the race either way, but just a bummer I really love this track and was having a blast tonight. It sucks it had to end this way.”

Martin Truex Jr. still No. 1 in NASCAR Cup points, Kyle Busch up to 2nd after Bristol

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Martin Truex Jr. remains in command of the NASCAR Cup point standings with 951 points.

Saturday night’s race winner, Kyle Busch, climbed into second place in the points (850 points, 101 behind Truex), dislodging Kyle Larson (845 points, 106 behind Truex) from that spot.

Kevin Harvick remains in fourth position (824 points, 127 behind) followed by Denny Hamlin (753 points, 198 behind).

Kurt Busch, who finished fifth in the race, moved up to 13th in the standings in what was his 600th career NASCAR Cup start (see video above). He’s assured of a playoff spot after winning the season-opening Daytona 500.

Click here for the NASCAR Cup standings following Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.