What drivers said after Richmond race


Here’s what several drivers had to say after Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway.

Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I’ll tell you, our cars were really running well.  (Crew chief Mike Wheeler) and the whole group just gave me a great car. Really got it tuned in there the last half of the race. Just good restarts, finally everything just kind of worked well for us all day. I didn’t think staying out was the right thing to do, but great call there.’’

Kyle Larson— Finished 2nd: “It felt like a video game on rookie mode, having fresh tires like that. That was fun. Our Target car was probably a eighth to tenth car most of the race. I was really good on short runs. I could pass a few cars every restart which really helped us. It seemed like we could never get the race going there at the end of the race, which helped us. Fun, fun last restart, get all the way to second. I thought I could get to fourth, but second was a little bit better, so that was great. I had a blast there during the last couple laps.’’

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We’ve got a lot of momentum.  We’ve got a lot of confidence.  We’ve just got a great team.  We’ve got everything going the way we need it to right now.  Tonight we overcame a few mistakes, one by me speeding on pit road, and we had a pit gun issue on one of our pit stops and lost a bunch of spots. We overcame all that, we kept our head in the game and worked hard and in the end had a shot at it again, so that was good.  But I can’t say enough about our whole team, everybody in Denver, everybody at TRD, everybody at Toyota and everybody at Gibbs, the alliance we have is working great. All the drivers working together. I know there’s five of us, we can’t all five make the race at Homestead, but we’re going to try to get at least four of them there, so we’ll see what we can do.’’

Brad Keselowski — Finished 4th: “I just missed a shift and ruined Matt (Kenseth’s) day. I can understand. I didn’t hear what he had to say. But I can understand why he’s upset. He deserves to be upset. I made a mistake, and it was kind of crappy for everyone. But hopefully he’ll accept the apology. I certainly don’t want to miss a shift for myself let alone him, and when I got into the corner, I just missed the corner.  I was trying to get it in gear and missed the corner and got him, and it looks like it must have cut his tire down, so apologies to him and his team. That’s not what anybody wants to see, including myself.’’

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “This was definitely a battle of a weekend. But these are the weekends that you have to be able to figure out as you get through the next 10 weeks, and as bad as we thought everything was to come out of here with a top‑five finish really shows the character of the team. Really the last month just makes me really excited, the performance of the cars, all top‑five finishes, and then tonight really having a good night on pit road with all the pit stops and to battle back from my mistake of speeding penalty on pit road, and everybody just kept working at it, and those are the kind of things that you have to do, because what you are getting ready to step into the next 10 weeks is a lot of pressure. You’re going to have to adapt to some sort of issues or problems as you get into these next 10 weeks and figure out how to make something out of it. We’ve been there and we’ve done that. We’ve won. We’ve finished second. We’ve won races. We’ve had our backs against the wall. We feel like we know what to expect, and that is to expect the unexpected.’’

Kasey Kahne — Finished 6th: “I wanted to win, but Denny was a good bit better than we were. We got up there because of the right pit call. We got on tires at the right time and got by those guys and then when they pitted they were too far behind us to get us back. It worked out. I think we would have run fourth at best. We ended up sixth with that final restart. It was a good effort by our Farmers Insurance team, just not good enough.’’

Jamie McMurray — Finished 7th: “I feel better about our chances this year versus last year. I felt like last year headed into the Chase we didn’t really have anything in our pocket as far as a little bit better cars. I did a Chicago test, different chassis, some different stuff on our car, and we thought that was not a huge improvement, but a bigger improvement than where we’ve been and I feel like right now we have cars that are capable of winning, so I look forward to getting there.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 8th: “Just lots of fun all night long with the way we got to lead a little bit. We were off sequence a little early on and then it seemed like how are we supposed to balance out how many sets of tires do we have left? What do the other guys have for tires? That is really what created the excitement of the guys passing, the guys trying to preserve their position. It felt great to race three-wide at a short track and everybody gave each other room. I was impressed with the show from inside the cockpit. I hope the fans were as well.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 9th: “I thought there was way too many yellows. It was kind of crazy the way the race played out and guys having to save tires there towards the end when we used up most of our allotments there early on. But it was interesting, too, because you had guys that were up front, guys who would go to the back and flip‑flop on tire strategy. I thought it was an interesting race for sure from our perspective, maybe too interesting on our front, but we made the most of it tonight and just didn’t get in the right lane there on that restart.’’

Joey Logano – Finished 10th: “It was a long night, just like everybody else. We had a good long run car and not a good short run car. It took us 10-15 laps to start clicking them off and then we were really fast but it was just too late. Those cautions were coming out like every 15 laps. Every time we got going a caution would come out. Overall we were a lot better than what we were in the spring, at least on the long run. The way the race played out with tires and short runs it just didn’t play in our favor.”

Jimmie Johnson – FINISHED 11th: “Tonight was a scrappy race. We had trouble early and it seemed like everybody in the field started having trouble. I think we had two run in’s with the wall, damage on the left side from some racing incidents and kept it straight and somehow finished 11th. It was a long night. I’m glad our guys kept our heads in the game and were able to almost get a top 10 out of it.”

Austin Dillon – FINISHED 13th: “I’m just proud of our effort, our team, everything we went through this year. We shouldn’t have been in this situation. We had good enough cars to not have to be in this situation, but, hey, we were in a tight situation down to the end. Especially, with the No. 5 (Kasey Kahne) up there near the end, but we were racing the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) all night, we did our job, we stayed in that buffer. I’m proud to be here. I’m just excited. The stress level is off of me. I’m not going to take stress into the Chase. I’m going to go have fun and try to win, look at it with no pressure situation.”

 Trevor Bayne – Finished 14th: “We tried. You have to go for it every way you can. The cool box went out on like Lap 20 so that was a long night of melting down inside the car. We had a fast race car but it didn’t play out strategy-wise like we needed it to. I am really proud of my guys and the car they brought this weekend. It was a car that if it was put in the right situation could have won the race. We had a really good long run car tonight but it didn’t matter tonight because there were so many short runs it just killed us.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 19th: “I just think we have to first off be thankful that we were able to get in tonight after the night we had. I can’t thank my guys for working as hard as they did. I’ve never had to go through ‑‑ I’m sure they haven’t, either, all the stuff we went through tonight, so hats off to them, fixing our car multiple times. I appreciate our 3M NAPA group for doing that and we’re excited about these next 10. We have to go in with the mentality that we can give ourselves a chance at Homestead, and if not then we should have let the next one in.’’

Chris Buescher — Finished 24th: “It’s obviously a big night for Front Row Motorsports and Bob Jenkins for a small team like we are to be able to pull it off and get that win at Pocono and find ourselves in the Chase right now. It’s pretty special. It was a crazy race. I can’t believe how many cautions we had. We got involved in one of the accidents, had a tire go down, just a very eventful day. Just so proud to be here. Everything worked out the way we needed it to to pull this night off the way we needed to. It’s hard going that slow. When we were finally making progress and getting the car balanced better. We were to the point where we felt like we could start driving forward, and they said, we don’t need to. There was just no risk at this point.’’

Ryan Newman — Finished 28th: “The No. 14 (Tony Stewart) cut across my nose into Turn 1 and I got into him after that, but he’d already chopped into me and messed up my line and I clipped him a little bit coming off of (Turn) 2; but he just cut across my nose. Going down the back straightaway there, I guess he thought he was in a sprint car again; did not know how to control his anger. We’ll keep fighting like we always do. It’s just unfortunate not to end the way we wanted to. It’s just disappointing that you’ve got somebody old like that, that should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous.”

TONY STEWART — Finished 33rd: “I want to say I’m wasting a spot because it worked last time (referring to feelings before 2011 Chase he won). Who knows what’s going to happen? What you do up to the start of the Chase really doesn’t mean anything, obviously — 2011 is proof of that. We’ll get started next week at Chicago, and all I care about right now is getting ready for Chicago and running through Sunday at Chicago. Once we get through that, I’ll worry about week 2. This is a stressful 10 weeks and you take it one week at a time.  That’s what we did in ’11, and it worked.’’

Matt Kenseth — Finished 38th: “It looks like Brad (Keselowski) missed a shift or something and then he just had his angle all wrong and drove into the corner three car lengths too far because he didn’t want to lose his spot and he cleaned me out and knocked the fender down on a tire and we ended up blowing a tire and wrecking.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 39th: “(On early accident) I don’t really know what happened to be honest with you. I thought I was clear. It looked like we were clear and could get down. (Trevor Bayne) got us in the left rear pretty good and it eventually cut our rear tire down. I don’t know. I have to see it but I thought I was clear and he didn’t think the same way. It is an unfortunate race deal. They were telling me we were clear. Apparently (Bayne)  just came up and got us in the rear. It was probably a stubborn headed thing by both of us. I should know better than that. It is unfortunate that we didn’t get to run to see where our car was going to go. That is the most unfortunate part about this. We didn’t even give ourselves a shot at it. That is something I will have regret about. All we can do is go on to Chicago and try to do better there.”

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for Martinsville Speedway

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A busy day is scheduled for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway with the Camping World Truck Series race followed by qualifying for Sunday’s Cup race.

Here’s the full schedule for day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Without NASCAR ride, Blake Koch devoting energy to helping younger drivers

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Blake Koch‘s son Carter is 5, but he’s already developed some understanding of how NASCAR works.

“All he’s ever known is me as a race car driver,” Koch tells NBC Sports. “He’s smart enough to know now that when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. retired and Matt Kenseth retired and Danica (Patrick) retired, he now knows what retirement means.”

At some point since last November, Koch had to explain to Carter why he wasn’t competing in 2018.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, are you retired?'” Koch says. “I was like, ‘No, buddy, I just lost my sponsor.'”

Koch is four months removed from his last start in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series.

After two years racing full-time for the team, he was replaced by Ryan Truex, who brought sponsorship with him. Koch was left without a ride after making 213 starts in the Xfinity Series since 2009.

Koch has heard many of the same questions since November.

Are you done racing? Are you still trying to get sponsors? What are you doing?

“My answer is no, I’m not done racing,” Koch answers. “I can’t be done racing.”

At 32 and with 229 national NASCAR starts on his resume, Koch was left with two options when the 2017 season ended.

“Sit around and feel sorry for myself and read all the support and the tweets and let it (allow me) to think that an opportunity should come to me or go out and make something happen and have fun and utilize my resources and knowledge,” Koch says.

He decided he wasn’t going to pursue any ride this season. But Koch is not going anywhere.

In addition to a weekly appearance on Fox Sports 1’s “NASCAR Race Hub,” Koch wanted to try his hand as a driver mentor, helping young NASCAR drivers develop with the knowledge he’s accrued the last decade.

Koch jokes that his love of helping people may have been one of his “downfalls as a driver.”

“I helped other drivers,” Koch says. “If someone asked me what I was doing or about the race, I told them my honest opinion because I actually liked helping.”

Koch also observed a lack of people in similar roles in NASCAR.

“Every other sport has a coach or someone to lean on or someone on your side. Golfers, quarterbacks, everybody does. Except for NASCAR drivers,” Koch says. “Even Supercross racers have trainers and coaches and people making them better and better. But in our sport, it was just nonexistent, because there were no drivers that would retire and still want to be at the racetrack helping other drivers.”

Before committing to the idea, he went to former NASCAR driver Josh Wise for advice. Wise works with Chip Ganassi Racing helping their drivers.

“I did pick Josh’s brain a little bit on if he was happy doing it, if he missed being in a car and all that kind of stuff,” Koch says. “He still had the adrenaline rush, he loved what he was doing. … He saw results from the work he’s putting in. … You don’t want to do something and feel like there’s no results behind it and you don’t want to do something if you don’t think it’s going to be fun or rewarding.”

Through Chris Biby, a driver manager, Koch was connected with Matt Tifft, who joined Richard Childress Racing this season after a year with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s also begun working with Truck Series driver Myatt Snider.

Koch and Tifft did not interact much last year, aside from greetings at driver introductions.

Their first real conversation came over a meal at Hickory Tavern in Huntersville, North Carolina.  Now they talk almost every day.

Koch didn’t officially begin his role helping out Tifft until after the season opener at Daytona.

“What I try to be for Matt Tifft is everything I’ve always wanted,” Koch says. “Confidence is key. It’s a big part of going fast, being confident in yourself. I believe that comes from hard work.

“I knew I had that feeling, and that’s something I implemented into Matt’s weekly routine, that when he shows up to the racetrack he knows he’s been working harder than every single person out there, and he’s more prepared than anyone out there. Then you have a little extra pep in your step when you’re walking in the garage.”

Koch says a “very small portion” of the work he does with his drivers is at the track. Most of his “two cents” comes between Monday and Friday.

On Sunday nights, he sets a schedule for Tifft and Snider, what to do with their workout program, race prep and what to work on in the simulator in addition to general notes for the race weekend.

Tifft says Koch is “very particular about every single thing” he’s doing.

“I set up specific workouts for him to do throughout the week and I tweaked his nutrition a little bit,” Koch says. “But he was already pretty disciplined with his nutrition. I set a checklist of things he needs to know every single week before he gets to the racetrack. Small details, even little things like garage flow. … When you get to the race track, the only thing you should have to think about is hitting your marks and running in a perfect line and focusing on your task at hand, not the other small details that are just cluttering your mind.”

Through roughly four weeks of working with Tifft and Snider, Koch has found the same satisfaction that Wise has in his role with Ganassi.

“When this opportunity came across to work with Matt, I could still race,” Koch says. “You have that competition, the adrenaline because you feel like you’re invested in part of it and I could help them out. It kind of helped fulfill the desire I had for helping people and helping someone make the best of their opportunity. I know how difficult it is to get an opportunity in this sport. When someone has that opportunity, I love nothing more than to see them maximize it. That’s what keeps me excited.”

Working with the two young drivers also keeps Koch on his toes in the case an offer materializes from a team.

“It absolutely helps,” Koch says. “I have to stay in shape and constantly watch, read and study data and work as hard as I was, probably working harder now than I was when I was driving. Because I have the accountability of Matt Tifft and Myatt Snider. Those guys are starting to push me harder in the gym, too. I have to get stronger. You can’t have your athletes stronger than the coach. I got to step up my game.”

Koch isn’t done adding things to his work life.

He plans to launch a new business in May, which he works on in the afternoons following his morning workout.

Koch isn’t giving away any details on that business will entail.

“The reason I started it is back when I was racing, if I poured as much effort and passion and hard work into my own business and product that I did into everybody else’s I’d be in a much better position right now,” Koch says. “I’ve learned a lot, about business and marketing and how to create a successful company, especially being friends with Matt Kaulig and seeing Leaf Filter grow over the years, I came up with an idea that I know people need and use and want, and I’m going to supply that to people here very soon.”

In the meantime, with the Xfinity Series off the next two weekends and Koch not making the trip to Texas Motor Speedway, he will spend his weekends nurturing his son’s dirt bike career. Carter competed in his first race last weekend.

“He was begging for it,” Koch says of the dirt bike. “I wanted to get him in a go kart or something a little safer but he’s just about as hardheaded and stubborn as I am.”

A Driver’s Drive: Darrell Wallace Jr. aggressive and confident

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Returning to the site of his first Camping World Truck Series win provided a great opportunity for Darrell Wallace Jr. to reflect on his meteoric rise through the NASCAR ranks in the week’s edition of “A Driver’s Drive”.

Finishing second in the Daytona 500 put his name in the record book as the highest finishing African-American driver and raised expectations about Wallace’s potential at the Cup level.

Martinsville is going to raise another challenge to see if he can live up to that potential without stepping over the line. Wallace earned his first victory in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions on this track in the 2013 Kroger 200. He backed that up with another win in the same race the following year. Those victories add to his confidence and possibly his aggression on the bullring.

“Looking back on stats and what not, you’ll see that I’m one of the most aggressive guys coming up through the ranks,” Wallace said.

On Sunday, Wallace will need to temper that aggression if he wants to score another top-10 in Cup competition.

For more on what Wallace says, watch the video above.

Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports extend relationship though 2022

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Axalta and Hendrick Motorsports announced a four-year extension of their relationship through 2022, continuing a 26-year partnership.

Axalta, a supplier of liquid and powder coatings, will serve as a 25-race primary sponsor of Hendrick over the next two years. Axalta will sponsor Alex Bowman (15 races in 2018 and 12 races in 2019) and William Byron (10 races in 2018 and 13 races in 2019).

Schedules for the 2020-2022 seasons will be announced at a later date.

Hendrick’s deal with NAPA was recently extended through 2020.

Axalta, formerly known as DuPont, has been with Hendrick since November 1992 when it sponsored Jeff Gordon in his first Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon went on to win four Cup titles with Axalta as his primary sponsor.

Last May, Axalta opened a 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Customer Experience Center on the HMS campus outside Charlotte, North Carolina, to enable customers to train and be part of a full racing experience.

“We are so proud of our partnership with Axalta,” said Rick Hendrick in a press release. “Their long-term commitment to our organization and our sport as a whole has been unbelievable. They are constantly innovating and investing to keep the program fresh, enhance the experience for their customers and ultimately drive value for their business. Projects like the Customer Experience Center on our campus are unprecedented and reinforce the strength of our relationship. We’ve worked together for more than a quarter of a century, and I believe it’s just the beginning.”