What drivers said after Charlotte

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Here is what driver’s had to say after the 57th annual Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson – Winner: “No, I didn’t wonder, I just knew it was taking way too long. When you drive for Rick Hendrick and have all the great people at Hendrick Motorsports working for you, the great support from Lowe’s and everyone in their stores and Chevrolet. There are just so many great people behind us and that support us to make this happen. We knew we would get back. Yes, it was slower than we wanted it to be but to be here today and have this victory is great. Thank you to Sprint, to the fans, to Gatorade, and to Valvoline. This is something very special to our team.”

Matt Kenseth – finished second: “They did a great job. Honestly, last two years in a row pretty much Charlotte has kind of taken us out of the Chase – mostly my doing, different things happening the last couple years here – so had a lot of problems last year, this year we had a lot of problems again, but we were able to kind of rebound from them and just kind of take our time. We knew it was a long day and they had good pit stops, good strategy and got us back where we needed to be there at the end.”

Kasey Kahne – finished third: “It was quite the battle to get there. We had our work cut out for us. We got to where we were a lot better the first 30 laps of a run the last three runs there.  That helped us get some track position and avoid a couple of those wrecks. That was tough on a couple of those teams. I know Chase (Elliott) was part of one. I didn’t see what happened, but that is tough for those guys that are battling for this championship. Congrats to Jimmie (Johnson) and the Hendrick Engines, No. 48 team, those guys did awesome. Our Great Clips Chevrolet was strong the first 30 laps and then it would fall off a little bit. It was still a strong day. We did pretty good. We fought hard; the team had great pit stops all day also.”

Ryan Newman – finished fourth: “We had a good race car no doubt. The Caterpillar Chevrolet was strong, especially at the end of the run on top all day long. Just came up a little bit short there. I know some other guys had some problems, but I want to thank the fans that came back today and hopefully enjoyed a great race. We will keep digging. This is building for us for the rest of the year and starting next year.”

Kyle Larson – finished fifth: “It was a good finish for our Target Chevy team. We had a right-front tire come a part there early in the race and was stuck a lap down for a long time, but we were able to get our lap back and finish fifth. I thought I was a little bit better than fifth out of the good guys that wrecked and cars that were left. I will take a fifth today it was a hard-fought fifth.”

Kyle Busch – finished sixth: “There early on we had a tire come apart and that just kind of ruined our day. Right from there, it just seemed like we were playing catch up and thought we were going to have a good opportunity to have a good finish and then we had the 3 (Austin Dillon) spin his tires and clog up the inside lane and just chaos started and I did the best I could to try to avoid it and I didn’t want to check up too bad and slow down too much and get run over, but I ran over the guy in front of me, so I hate it that we ruined Chase’s (Elliott) day like that, but, man, things happen quick like that on restarts too, so I wish it – we had a little bit better breaks, but we certainly didn’t have a whole lot go wrong like some of them other guys.”

Brad Keselowski – finished seventh: “It’s a solid day. To run seventh is OK. We just weren’t quite anywhere near as fast as the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 24 (Chase Elliot), and we were behind a bunch of the others, so we just need to find a little bit of speed, but the execution was great. On the last pit stop my guys got the Wurth Ford out with the leaders, which was really good. We’re executing well. We just need to find a little bit more speed to be able to make that execution and speed and win races.”

Kurt Busch – finished eighth: “We went through a lot today. The restart, I guess we survived it better than most when everybody had that trouble. We just missed on the setup on the first five laps and then after 30 laps, man, she would just go away. We got what we could out of it and all-in-all an eighth-place finish, guys had trouble, it is one of those days where you just go ‘alright’ we will take it. It’s not the best, but with Haas Automation, Monster Energy, that is the finish we need to advance through this Chase.”

Tony Stewart – finished ninth: “Real proud of my guys today. We battled hard. The pit stops were great. I didn’t think I’d have a top-10 at the end of the day.”

Jamie McMurray – finished 10th: “I got lucky to get through the wreck. I thought we were torn up a little more than what it shows there. I don’t know we were really good the first 200 laps and then for some reason the last 100 we just couldn’t go on restarts, didn’t hang on very well.  We just didn’t have the speed we did earlier in the day, but still pretty solid day for both (Chip Ganassi Racing) cars.”

Danica Patrick – finished 11th: “The No. 10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet was loose for most of the race. Billy (Scott, crew chief) and the guys did a great job on adjustments to get us in solid position for the second half. We had a mistake on pit road late in the race and lost some ground when I overshot the pit stall, but the guys quickly recovered and we ended up only losing a couple of spots. The car got a little tight, but they took some wedge back out, and it was pretty good there at the end. I was really hoping we’d end up getting a top 10, but (Jamie) McMurray got us on the last lap, so we ended up 11th. Still, I think that’s our best run so far this year, so we’ll take it and try to keep building over the last few races to put ourselves in a better position for next season.”

Carl Edwards – finished 12th: “We had all sorts of trouble today. We had something wrong with the exhaust and then thought we had a tire coming apart and an engine coming apart – it ran for about 400 miles I guess so hat’s off to TRD, they did a good job keeping that together. I all but wrecked and somehow came out of that and then we had a lug nut hang up in the gun so we had all sorts of adversity to come out of here with a cushion on ninth so this is good.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 13th: “The clutch went out. I had the clutch on the floor sitting there in first gear when they dropped the right side and the clutch just pumped up and pushed my foot all the way up so the clutch just went completely out and I had no clutch at the end. I had to start it in gear and luckily we were able to get it started. Not sure what happened, just one of those freak deals. Just happened at the wrong time.”

Chris Buescher – finished 16th: “Overall, it was a tough day to move forward. There were a lot of wrecked race cars, which I was kind of surprised about. The track still had decent grip. It was nice and cool out, but it just led to a wild race. I guess everybody was figuring they’ve got a little cushion. They’ve got two more races before they really have to worry about the cutoff, so this was one of those days that we kind of expected three weeks ago.”

Landon Cassill – finished 19th: “We had a pretty good car up until we got some damage on that big wreck and that kind of killed my speed. We were fortunate we could at least maintain position on fuel mileage. It all worked out. The fuel-saving got us back to where we were running before the damage on that restart. These races at Charlotte seem to be pretty unpredictable, which is why they’re so much fun.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 20th: “We struggled with the handling. Under the right circumstances we could have probably finished on the lead lap but I got a speeding penalty on pit road under the green flag pit cycle. It was a crazy race. It was good points day for us though. We’ve got six more races to learn from and carry that momentum into the off-season.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 30th: “Just an engine failure there. We hadn’t had one in a long time with TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and Toyota. It’s just my time and it’s usually Chase time when I have these things happen. Tough break obviously. Had a good car and we’ll have to go to Kansas and get a good run there and do everything we can to advance.”

Austin Dillon – finished 32nd: “I am fine, it just sucks. We will have to work hard the next two weeks to get the points back.  I felt like I got to third gear pretty clean and then the next thing – I feel contact and I am spinning through the grass. It’s part of it and we took two tires there and you know the risk when you get into it. You just hope that doesn’t happen obviously. I got to third without spinning the tires, and I felt like we got contacted. We will just go on to next week.”

Chase Elliott – finished 33rd: “I think the No. 3 (Dillon) they stayed out on tires and tried to get some track position. The No. 78 (Truex) ended up getting him out of shape and then after that I tried to check up. I don’t think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) saw it, got into us and got us turned the wrong way. It happens we just got to go and try to have more runs like that next week.”

Paul Menard – finished 34th: “I have no idea. We got behind early and just got back on the lead lap, making some gains with the No. 27 Valvoline/Menards Chevy. Excited to be back on the lead lap and then that next restart everybody just kind of checked up and I got pushed out to the outside wall and couldn’t see anything, I just ran into Chase (Elliott). I’m not sure what started it all. I guess some guys took two tires, probably spinning tires and bumping and shoving each other.”

Greg Biffle – finished 35th: “Everybody got checked up there and sideways. My spotter did a great job and kept me out of it. I kind of thought everything was clear and I let off the brake and the 27 was spinning when all of a sudden somebody bounced off the wall right out in front of me. I didn’t see where they came from or what they did. We weren’t going very fast, but just enough to do a bunch of cosmetic damage and knock the oil cooler and radiator out. I don’t think we’re going to get that fixed and get the duct work back in it. The nose separated from the splitter, so it’s unfeasible to fix it in that amount of time.”

Joey Logano – finished 36th: “We’re not out by any means. We had a very fast car. I’m super-proud of the car we brought here. It was capable of winning, for sure. We ran up from 10th to third and was still running down the leaders early in the race, so I felt really good about the Pennzoil Ford we had. Things happen. It’s part of racing, but we’re not out. We’re not gonna die. This team is resilient. We’ve proved it before and we’ll just have to go out and prove it again. We just have to have two flawless races. It’s something we can make up.”

AJ Allmendinger – finished 37th: “I’m alright that was definitely a hard hit when you start from the bottom and get to the top not the way you ever want to hit. I’m not sure what happened. First off I can’t thank all my guys enough. Harris Teeter on the race car, Stouffer’s, everybody that is a part of this, built a brand-new race car it’s our first one since really the beginning of the year. It had a lot of speed in it. There is something weird that started to happen kind of I would say the first third of the race to where I didn’t like what was happening with the front end of the car. I couldn’t tell if it was just rubber build up or anything like that, but we kept having tire problems with 15 laps to go in the run. Had one start to delaminate and the same thing right there, I started feeling something go again and I don’t know if the tire went or something broke, but something was definitely starting to get messed up in front of cars when was costing us speed. We had a lot of speed early in the race, probably the most speed we have had all year at a 1.5-mile early in the race. There is something to be positive about just not the way we want to end it.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 38th: “No, it just suddenly shut off and the things that it points to are no oil pressure. It’s definitely not a power issue with the battery or anything like that. They are trying to diagnosis it. I hate it for everybody on our Busch team they made some great adjustments today and got our car back where we needed to be to run up front and everything was going fine. Lots of things can go wrong and today they did.”

Alex Bowman – finished 39th: “Blew a tire I guess. It’s really unfortunate. I hate it for these Axalta guys. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports worked so hard. They brought a great race car here, brand new and destroyed it. Really unfortunate, but it’s not anybody’s fault. We didn’t hit anything we just must have run over something.”

Casey Mears – finished 40th: “I don’t know. I just was going into the corner and I saw him come up all of a sudden. I don’t know. It’s too bad he didn’t put us out of our misery there. We were having a rough start of it. We were just kind of hanging on and actually those guys were going by us. They either blew a right-front (tire) or had something come loose or something and came up into us.”

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Austin Dillon: Richard Childress Racing looking to be ‘leaner and meaner’ with two-car team

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – When the 2018 Cup season begins next month, Richard Childress Racing will show up with what Austin Dillon hopes is a “leaner and meaner” two-car operation.

Dillon confirmed RCR will only field two full-time cars this season Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour.

The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet will be joined by Ryan Newman in the No. 31.

Paul Menard, who drove the No. 27 for RCR from 2011-17, is now with Wood Brothers Racing driving the No. 21.

“That was something I was really excited about in the offseason, when we decided to go to a little bit smaller organization,” Dillon said. “I see a lot of two-car teams being successful. Furniture Row is going back to one car and they were a two-car team last year, won the championship. I’m really positive about that. … It’s nice to be able to focus on two cars and our crew chiefs are our best friends. … They want to put RCR where it needs to be and that’s winning championships.”

This will be the first time RCR has been a strictly two-car operation since 2000, when it fielded entires for Dale Earnhardt in the N0. 3 and Mike Skinner in the No. 31. The next season, they fielded a third part-time car in eight races. At its peak, RCR fielded four full-time cars.

It went from four to three full-time cars in 2012.

The team has also downscaled its Xfinity operation from five to three cars.

RCR was able to win two Cup races last season, with Dillon in the Coke 600 and Ryan Newman in the spring Phoenix race. They were the team’s first Cup wins since 2013. Dillon, entering his fifth full-time season in Cup, doesn’t see 2018 as a rebuilding year.

“I think (it’s) just a go forward year,” Dillon said. “We’re getting more resources than we’ve ever had for two teams for a full year. Three teams, you’re getting spread thin at times and now we have the people that we want around us and enough of them.”

When it comes to personnel, Dillon said the team has “grown stronger” in the area it most needed to – engineering.

“It is leaner and meaner, but as far as the depth and places you need them, it’s probably better, truthfully,” Dillon said.

One new addition for RCR is an old face for the team. Andy Petree, who won two championships with RCR as Earnhardt’s crew chief in 1994 and 1995, has rejoined the team as the vice president of competition.

Dr. Eric Warren, who was the director of competition beginning in 2012, will now report to Petree in his role as chief technology advisor.

“I’ve enjoyed Andy since he got to our organization,” Dillon said. “It’s a line between my grandfather and myself and Eric Warren and my grandfather. … Our sport’s moving in a direction that’s heading toward the future and Andy has a passion and always has had a passion for engineering, but also kind of plays to my grandfather’s cards where he’s got an old school part to him, too.

“He’s letting Eric Warren work in his area and Andy’s kind of relaying those messages and pushing my grandfather in the right direction we need to go.”

Whichever direction they go in, they’ll be joined by Richard Petty Motorsports.

The team that owns the No. 43 Chevrolet driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. entered a technical alliance with RCR and now finds its home on RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina.

“It was really cool yesterday having the King (Petty) in the room for a meeting with all of us,” Dillon said. “My grandfather, seeing those two iconic brands kind of standing together, it makes it special. I’m sure Chevrolet is excited about that, too.”

 

Richard Petty Motorsports following the footsteps of Furniture Row

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WELCOME, N.C. – All of the noise at Richard Petty Motorsports’ cozy new home on a recent Friday afternoon was coming from behind a short wall in the corner.

Several No. 43 cars were parked on the shop floor in various states of inactivity and incompletion, but the “Fusion” on the front bumper betrayed they were last year’s models.

Drew Blickensderfer, RPM’s crew chief, didn’t seem concerned as he cast a smile toward the source of the noise – a specialized fabrication department that could be the key to solving a championship-tested equation.

Less space and fewer people can equal better results.

“We have shrank quite a bit,” Blickensderfer said. “Right now, we’re bare bones, but we have the people we need to go racing and performance-wise to go racing.

“To grow into a Furniture Row, or a model similar to that, we need to get that (fabrication department) up and running.”

As RPM makes significant structural changes – switching to Chevrolet, aligning with Richard Childress Racing, shuttering its body-hanging staff – no one is expecting a quantum leap in performance for a team that finished 24th in the 2017 owner standings.

But an improvement to a top-20 car with long-term winning potential is expected, and the model is the reigning team in NASCAR’s premier series.

In winning the 2017 title with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has excelled by taking Joe Gibbs Racing chassis and optimizing the accompanying suspension parts and pieces through precision engineering and manufacturing.

RPM hopes to mirror the process through its reorganized fab department, which will have the same equipment from its previous home but with a more laser-targeted focus.

“If we can get that up and running, we’d be better off in the long run,” Blickensderfer said. “And that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to take a car from Richard Childress Racing and develop and work on it and ultimately have a better product for Sunday.”

RPM has traversed various paths toward competitiveness in recent seasons.

In 2014, the team was receiving chassis from Roush Fenway Racing but hanging its own bodies when it made the playoffs with Aric Almirola via a win at Daytona International Speedway. In 2015, RPM added chassis building to its workload but stumbled. Last year, it returned to hanging bodies on chassis supplied by Roush Fenway.

This year, RPM relocated from a 65,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville to a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to RCR, which will deliver cars from its base just down the hill.

On arrival at RPM, all that is needed is interior (such as driver’s seat, steering wheel and column, air boxes and gear coolers) and mechanical work.

“Basically, it comes as a shell, the chassis with a body on it,” Blickensderfer said. “We do the wiring, the plumbing, the suspension parts, front and rear. Basically, all the parts you would bolt on.”

The change has allowed RPM to run leaner because there’s less work to be done on bodies. After employing about 80 last year (with 60 working on cars), RPM will have about 40 employees in 2018 with roughly 25 working on cars (about a half-dozen of those crew members will stay in the shop for assembly while the team is on the road, and RCR will supply the team’s pit crew).

The staff reduction will allow RPM to reallocate some funding toward R&D (after making zero trips to a wind tunnel last year).

Blickensderfer said the alliance with RCR should provide an aerodynamic foundation that will allow fine-tuning to have a greater impact. Last year, RPM “did a really good job of putting stuff that drove well under our race cars” but still faced the aerodynamic limitations of the Roush chassis.

“The thing that really creates speed on cars is the body and aero,” Blickensderfer said. “You can have the wrong springs in your car and mess up the other stuff a little bit, and you’d still be fast, at least in portions of the race. If you get all the springs right, and your aero is terrible, you still might be only a 20th-place car. That’s just the reality of it. The thing that is the most expensive to develop, create and implement is the aero stuff.

“So that’s why the big teams, they have all the wind tunnel data, and you’re racing against teams that are just developing faster than you can even produce cars. That’s why you’ve got to jump on board with them to get some of their information, or you’re going to be watching them coming behind you ready to lap you.”

With consolidation among chassis and engine builders an overarching trend in NASCAR for the past decade, alliances have become more prevalent. Besides RPM, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty also have similar arrangements.

But few have made it work as well as Furniture Row, which made the championship round in 2015 through an RCR alliance before switching to JGR and Toyota the next season. Relying on the setups and strategies of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex consistently outran JGR’s fleet of four Camrys in 2017 with a series-high eight victories and 19 stage wins – despite a few hundred fewer employees working at its Denver location.

“You step back and say, ‘How come no one else has been successful in that model?’ and you look at what Furniture Row has done with their model,” Blickensderfer said. “They still do some stuff in-house. So we pay RCR for an engineering agreement and to get cars from them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop ourselves. So you’d only be better off if you get extra money, you can start developing things yourself.

“Get all (the alliance team’s) information. Dump yours on top of it. You can’t help but get better in the long run that way. That’s what Cole and those guys have done. That’s the model that I would think the JTGs, the RPMs, the Germains, companies of this size, that’s what we need to strive to do is use that model to build up into that next level of race team.”

Though RPM will benefit from RCR’s aerodynamic R&D and assembly line capability, some of the information will be transferred the other way, too.

“They’re incorporating some of the stuff we had in our race cars into theirs that they think is going to make them better,” Blickensderfer said. “Before they put the body on it, we can change the brake system and do what we want, which eventually they’re going to do. And that saves us both time to make sure we have the best product.”

RPM took delivery of its first Camaro late last week for the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Its hauler will be on the road Jan. 26 to Nevada, leaving about a week to finish preparing and setting up the car.

“That’s not all that tight of a timeframe,” Blickensderfer said. “What will happen in the future when we start racing is we’ll get a car two to three weeks before the event, and when we come in on a Monday morning after an event, the next week’s car is on the setup plate ready to go, so there’s only about a day’s worth of work we have to do to it.”

RPM has put its surface plates and other tools in cold storage, keeping open the option to revert to hanging bodies. But with the sponsorship landscape scarce, it makes such autonomy more difficult.

“If you could do everything yourself, you’d be better off, because then nobody gets your information,” Blickensderfer said. “But if (RCR) can take the money they’re developing cars with, and we can take the money we’re getting to develop cars and combine it, I think we all end up better. When there is less money in the pot to grab, the more of us that can throw the money in, the better we’ll be.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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