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What drivers had to say after Sunday’s STP 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinsville

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What kind of a day was it for drivers in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway?

Here’s what many of them had to say about the good and/or bad:

Kyle Busch, 1st: “I’d say it certainly helps when you get to run other divisions and that’s why I do it to pay off on Sundays. It doesn’t work every single weekend, but it works more times than it doesn’t, so can’t say enough about everyone at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) for giving me a great piece yesterday to help me learn, teach me some more things about Martinsville that I didn’t already know in 30 other prior starts. … (We ran) up front all day, led a lot of laps, probably led the most laps there and to win here in Martinsville is pretty cool – finally get to take a clock home. A lot of people said I didn’t deserve yesterday – maybe I don’t – but I certainly got one today.”

AJ Allmendinger, 2nd: “Well, I was hoping for one more spot for a culmination. But, I passed Jimmie Johnson like five times at Martinsville; that’s pretty cool! … We weren’t where we wanted to be about six months ago. We brought in so many people who stepped up to embrace their new roles. I thought we might really have a shot at them. Randall Burnett (crew chief) and all the guys and pit crew I can’t thank them enough. They really stepped it up the last two weeks and gave us a shot to win that race. I had to get aggressive. I thought, heck, with 12 (laps) to go we might have a new clock in the shop. Came up a little bit short, it’s pretty cool to be racing Kyle Busch for the win here though.”

Kyle Larson, 3rd: “We had a really good Target Chevy. It was really fun this whole weekend to be competitive every time I was on the race track. Normally, I’m very bad here and to finish top 3 feels like a win for me. Never would I have thought that I’d get a top 3 here and now I can kind of see a (grandfather) clock maybe in my future. … I learned a lot. I spent a lot of time behind Jimmie Johnson and I felt like I just followed his track there and got a lot better throughout the race. … So, hat’s off to everybody on this Target Chevy and it was cool to get a good finish.”

Austin Dillon, 4th: “I’ve got to learn to keep my mouth shut on the radio (calling out teammate Paul Menard). That’s part of racing. I’m a fiery guy and it was fun today. It’s nice to see the front of a short track like that. Sometimes you’ve just got to grow up a little bit, but It’s nice to be running up front. … A lot of things happened today. It’s Martinsville. Your head’s hot. You say things you don’t want to mean. Monday morning I’ll talk to everybody and we’ll figure it back out.”

Brad Keselowski, 5th: “It was a good Martinsville race. We had a lot of speed with the Miller Lite Ford on the long runs, but just not quite enough on the short runs to make anything of the Gibbs cars. They were really strong all day. All in all, I’m real proud of my team. We’re starting to get this place where we’re real consistent and can run up front and that’s a good feeling. … There were good battles all across the field. I think there’s a lot to be proud of for the style of racing that we’re seeing as of late. … We want to win, but I think we ran very competitive and that’s something to be proud of.  We’re not happy (with the finish), we’re proud.”

Carl Edwards, 6th: “My guys just do not quit. We were 32nd or 33rd and my guys didn’t give up. We got the fastest pit stops on pit road regardless of where I’m at in the field. Dave Rogers (crew chief) makes great adjustments and by the end we were moving forward, so really cool. We went from basically almost a last place race car to a top-five car at the end – just a super day for our ARRIS Camry.”

Brian Vickers, 7th: “I was pleased but not satisfied. We had such a good car. We were so fast. I don’t know if the track changed or we had different tire codes today. It just wasn’t quite as good as practice all weekend. But I’m really proud of the effort by the guys. We had a great car. It was a top 10. Gosh, we wanted to win this race for Arnie’s Army and everybody. This is a bittersweet special track for me. I lost my best friend here (Ricky Hendrick). I really wanted to win for him. But it was still a good day. We’ll take a seventh and move on. The team is getting stronger every week, really. I’m proud of those guys and it’s going to be a strong team.”

Paul Menard, 8th: “We had a really fast car all weekend, top 10 in all the practice sessions, qualified fourth and drove up and took the lead. Led a little bit and we started with a little bit higher air pressure to start the race. We just gave up too much. Kind of got backwards and then had a set of tires that had a loose wheel, it was back in the middle part of the race and just battled back. Really fast car all weekend. Just trying to tune on it throughout the race.”

Jimmie Johnson, 9th: “The first half of the day we were really good at the end. We had some short run speed, but would fade. Better than last fall (12th), but need to get better yet.”

Ryan Newman, 10th: “Coming into this race I told the team that they had given me the best car I’ve ever had at Martinsville Speedway. … With about 50 to go, we got the break we needed and raced our way back onto the lead lap. A late-race caution allowed us to pit for fresh tires and we were able to race from 17th to a 10th-place finish. … We worked hard this off season and to see all three cars end up in the top 10 says a lot about our organization. Glad to see this team rally back for a top 10 because we had another good car and now a decent finish to reflect it.”

Joey Logano, 11th: “It was frustrating. You want to go out there and win for sure and we just missed it. … I think we know where we missed it, but we didn’t have the tools to fix what we needed to fix. Once the race starts a lot of times your hands are tied because you only have a certain amount of adjustments on your car or even on pit stops that we could fix what our problem was. … “We’ve just got to go back and learn from our mistakes and learn from what happened today. … We come here expecting to run up front and challenge to win and we just weren’t there today, so we’ve just got work to do.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 14th: “We had a good car. … The car was fun. We had good long run speed. Just didn’t end up working out for us as far as the line we were in on our last restart. The second place guy, we passed him – the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) – but the guy who started fourth where we would have started if we didn’t pit finished right in front of me. What do you do? If you can’t start in the inside you are screwed.”

Matt Kenseth, 15th: “Yeah, we had a great Dollar General Toyota today. We’ve had fast cars this year, but got shuffled to the back, so disappointing ending but it was an encouraging day. We ran really well, had great pit stops and they gave me fast cars. Hopefully we’ll start getting some finishes soon.”

Danica Patrick, 16th: “Our biggest problem was just we generally had some inconsistency with runs. We would have a good one, then a bad one. … We had a lot of contact with a lot of cars, but I feel like that is also fun to watch. It’s fun to watch as a fan and it makes it fun inside the car.” … You take matters into your own hands pretty easily here at Martinsville. It was all-in-all a pretty decent day for the TaxAct car. I was really hoping when we got inside the top 10 we would hold, but that run it just went loose and that set of tires was a little different. It is what it is.”

Ryan Blaney, 19th: “It was a long day for sure. There were some runs where I thought we were OK and other runs where I thought we were way off. At the end we were just OK and that penalty didn’t help us during that last pit stop. That probably cost us a few spots, but not a bad day for this Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. Finishing on the lead lap isn’t too bad for coming here for our first time, so it was definitely eventful but there’s a lot we can learn from this race and we can apply it later in the year. … I was pretty courteous today. You don’t want to be the rough guy when it’s your first time and you’re a rookie, so I probably gave a little bit more than I should have took, but maybe we’ll put that in our bank and utilize that in the fall.”

Landon Cassill, 28th: “It didn’t kill us, but it didn’t work out to the favor that we wanted it to, but that’s just part of the risk versus reward. I have a hard time not taking those wavearounds when you have the opportunity. We had a pretty good car, but it still needs to be a little bit better. We’ve got a lot of ideas to keep working on it, so I’m excited to move on to the next one and glad we get to go back to another short track in a couple of weeks.”

Chris Buescher, 33rd: “Martinsville is a tough place and we’ve got a lot of learning to do here. I felt like we got a lot better about halfway through the race and that’s exciting for coming back. We’ll have to wait until the fall and see if it all turns out the way we hope, but we’ll get better next time.”

Denny Hamlin (39th): “It’s my first time ever doing it here (wheel hopping), so it’s a little embarrassing, but I mean we were the fastest car those last 30 laps and we got back to the top-five and I was making up a lot of my speed on entry. As the tires wear, the rears get hotter, less grip, you can’t brake at the same amount and I just – it was really out of the blue. I didn’t ever have a hint of it up until that moment, so a bit of a rookie move on my part. I’ve been around here too much to do something like that, but learning for the fall and I’m really encouraged about how good our car came up through the pack and I really thought we had a car that could win.”

Aric Almirola (40th): “We had a part failure with a part that typically doesn’t break, so I’m not sure.  Doug (Yates) will go back and investigate it and I’m sure they’ll figure something out so it won’t ever happen again.  It was a disappointing end to our day.  We had an okay STP Ford Fusion.  We were making it better and were probably a 15th place car.  Walking out of the track now, I certainly would have taken a 15th place finish because this is gonna put us in a pretty big hole.”

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Kyle Larson posts fastest lap in Saturday morning practice at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Kyle Larson recorded the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Larson topped the field with a lap of 132.586 mph.

He was followed by fellow playoff contenders Ryan Blaney (132.517 mph), Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. (132.503), Matt Kenseth (132.163) and Denny Hamlin (132.071).

Truex had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 131.396 mph. He was followed by Jimmie Johnson (131.173) and Ryan Blaney (131.064).

The final Cup session is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET.

Fourteen teams will miss practice time in that final session because of inspection issues.

Click here for practice report

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Long: Time for NASCAR to regulate victory burnouts? What’s the fun in that?

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — Strip away the debate, peel away the nuances and look not at NASCAR but yourself.

Can you enjoy watching someone smoke the tires after winning a race, or must you see tires blow, thus damage the car and possibly hinder officials in inspecting the vehicle afterward?

Denny Hamlin knows how many of you will vote. He’s seen your reaction when he’s done burnouts down the frontstretch like he did in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — site of Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He blew a left rear tire in that celebration.

“The moment that the tires pop … that’s the moment the fans get excited,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after qualifying Friday.

Is that what it comes down to for you? After half a day at the track and three hours of racing, one of the key moments of your trip is seeing someone blow a tire in their victory burnout?

If it’s that important to see those tires blow, then are you OK that it could allow a car to skate the rules?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR should regulate those celebrations because they’re as nefarious as they are exhilarating.

“I’ve been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to say, “Look we’d just rather you guys not blow the tires out,’ ‘’ Earnhardt said Friday. “They talk about not being the fun police. Being the fun police is not on the radar of their damn problems. I don’t think they need to worry about it. That’s a cop-out in my opinion.’’

Why?

“I just feel like that they should step up,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re the governing body. It’s obvious (blowing tires) is done intentionally.’’

Earnhardt said that the penalty to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and Elliott’s team for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties was too severe compared to drivers who are not penalized for damaging their cars in victory celebrations.

“(Elliott’s team) is going to get a suspended crew chief and car chief for this tape mess and the winner of the race (Martin Truex Jr.) was riding into victory lane with a damn rear tore all to hell,’’ Earnhardt said of last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway “Can’t even tech it. I love Martin. It ain’t about Martin. Every guy out there has done it.’’

Truex says he did nothing wrong when he blew a rear tire in his celebration at Chicagoland. He was overjoyed after coming back from a speeding penalty and having to pit a second time under caution for loose lug nuts to win. So, yes he had a robust celebration.

“It was definitely not something that was on purpose or somebody told me to do it,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It was just caught up in the moment. The burnout was pretty nice. Maybe it went on a little longer than it should have. In that case, there’s no rules against it. Nobody said you can’t do it. If there was obviously a rule against it, then we would probably not do it anymore.

“People are just reaching for unicorns at this point and trying to figure out why we’re so fast. They can say what they want. We’ve not had any inspection issues (after a race). We’ve been to the R&D Center probably more than everybody this year.’’

Section 8.5.2.1.c of the Cup Rule Book allows burnouts, stating: “The first place vehicle may engage in appropriate celebratory activity (such as a victory lap, burn-out(s) or donuts) prior to reporting to victory lane.’’

The key word in that rule is “appropriate.”

This isn’t the first time victory celebrations have been debated. It has become as regular as shorter days and birds flying south in autumn.

Excessive victory celebrations was a topic during the playoffs in Oct. 2015 after Kevin Harvick’s car appeared to hit the inside wall while he did a donut after winning at Dover. His car passed inspection after the race.

Last year, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, hinted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials could address victory celebrations. His comments came two days after Hamlin had to walk to victory lane at Watkins Glen after his celebration. Hamlin’s car passed inspection.

“We hear the same thing from them all the time,’’ Hamlin said, recalling the last time NASCAR commented publicly on the issue. “Until they really do something, people are going to do the same things.’’

Still, shouldn’t there be a line on what is allowed and what isn’t? Why give drivers the chance to damage their car before going through inspection after the race?

NASCAR has docked teams practice time for swerving after a race to ensure they make it through inspection. Those weren’t winning cars. So, should the benefit of winning be that as long as the driver gives fans one last thrill show, they’re given more leeway in possibly damaging or resetting their car?

If NASCAR penalizes teams for celebrations, it likely will take away some of the emotion the sport wants to display, particularly at the end of the race. Few want to see a winner treat a victory nonchalantly. Such achievements are difficult and are worth reveling in.

“The hard part of judging that is that sometimes, when it’s a big enough win and you’re celebrating the heck out of it, it’s hard to make that call between a celebration and trying to get through tech after the race,’’ Austin Dillon told NBC Sports.

Dillon, who scored his first Cup win this year, isn’t sure he likes the idea of NASCAR constraining a celebration.

“I’ve been really excited and blew the tires off it when I won my first couple of races,’’ he said. “When you win more than that, the issue with me is I want to take that clean car and race it again.

“Blowing the wheel tubs out of it, I’m probably going to do it if everybody else is doing it, if it helps getting through tech. The bad part about it is it kind of looks bad on the money side of things when you’re tearing cars up and they’re crying we don’t have any money.’’

By not doing anything, is NASCAR inhibiting its ability to properly inspect cars afterward, assuring a level playing field among competitors?

It’s not like ‘Oh, my bad, blew my tire.’ I mean it’s deliberate,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, it tells me there’s some purpose behind it. It just upset me with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on when all this is sort of going on right under everybody’s nose. It doesn’t make sense.”

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14 Cup teams to lose practice time in final session at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — More than a third of the Cup starting lineup will lose practice time today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of inspection issues.

Joey Logano will be forced to sit out the entire 50-minute session after failing qualifying inspection four times Friday. Logano never made it on track for qualifying and will start last in the 39-car field for Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four teams — playoff drivers Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr., along with Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones — will be forced to miss 30 minutes of the final practice.

Truex and McMurray are serving their penalties because their cars failed inspection before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway three times.

Suarez and Jones are serving their penalties because their cars failed inspection before last weekend’s Chicagoland race twice and failed inspection twice before qualifying Friday at New Hampshire.

Nine teams will miss 15 minutes of practice in the final session for failing inspection before qualifying two times Friday.

Those docked are playoff contenders Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. Also docked 15 minutes are Danica Patrick, Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Matt DiBenedetto and David Ragan.

Final practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. today.

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Saturday’s NASCAR schedule includes races at New Hampshire (Trucks) & Kentucky (Xfinity)

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While the countdown to this weekend’s main event — Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 — continues, there’s plenty of racing action for NASCAR fans today.

After two Cup practices, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will play host to the UNOH 175 Camping World Truck Series race this afternoon.

Then this evening, Kentucky Speedway hosts the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

Here’s today’s schedule:

(All times Eastern)

At NEW HAMPSHIRE

6:30 a.m. – Truck garage opens

7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

9 a.m. – 9:55 p.m. – Cup practice (CNBC)

10:05 a.m. – Truck qualifying (FS1)

11:15 a.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBC Sports App)

12:30 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

1 p.m. – UNOH 175 Truck race (175 laps, 185.15 miles) (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

At KENTUCKY

1:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

5:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN)

6:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

8 p.m. – VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 race (200 laps, 300 miles) (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)