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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Long: 2018 schedule provides big test for one track; other musings on changes

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For all the talk about Indianapolis’ move to the last race before the playoffs or Charlotte’s road course event, the track that will face the most scrutiny from Tuesday’s 2018 schedule announcement is Richmond International Raceway.

Although the racing has been better when the track hosted day races, Richmond will go back to two night races next year and its September event moves into the playoffs after serving as the cutoff race since 2004. 

The change comes at a critical time for Richmond, a favorite among drivers but a track that has seen waning fan interest — thus the flip-flopping from night to day back to night events to please a fanbase that wants good racing but doesn’t want a sunburn. The spring crowd, no doubt affected by unseasonably warm temperatures in the 80s, was disappointing.

What makes the schedule change more critical for the track is what could be next. International Speedway Corp., which owns the facility, has slated Richmond as next for upgrades after Phoenix Raceway’s $178 million makeover is completed late next year.

While crowds have thinned at all tracks in the last decade, Richmond has seen its seating capacity cut from 110,000 in 2009 to its current capacity of 59,000, according to ISC annual reports. The 46.4 percent decline is the largest percentage capacity reduction among ISC’s 12 tracks that host Cup events.

The question becomes if the crowd continues to thin — even though Richmond is a day’s drive for nearly half of the U.S. population — will it be worthwhile for ISC to make the investments to the track? Or would it be better for ISC to invest in another of its facilities?

Something that could help Richmond is what will take place this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track’s upper groove is being treated by the same PJ1 TrackBite compound used at Bristol to improve the racing.

What’s unique is that the compound is applied to an asphalt track instead of a concrete track such as Bristol. If it entices drivers to use the high lane for part of the race, that will be significant. The challenge is that as the race moves into the evening and cooler temperatures, the bottom groove will be the fastest way around.

Richmond seemed to have a good solution when it sealed the track from 1988-2002 but hasn’t done since. The time seems right to do something to the track with two Cup night races. 

Drivers say that the best racing is during the day when conditions are the hottest. That’s not the most enjoyable conditions for fans. So fans who wanted night racing back at Richmond will get it for both events.

Fans should be careful what they wish for because cool, evening temperatures are not conducive to the best type of racing.

DAYTONA CHANGES

Another alteration to the schedule is that Daytona 500 qualifying and the Clash will be held on the same day, Feb. 11, a week before the 500.

It’s a nice move to tighten the schedule, but why can’t more be done?

Does Daytona need to be held over two weekends?

“I would say certainly we talked about a lot of things,’’ said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations when asked about shortening Daytona Speedweeks. “But when you kick off the season with your biggest event of the year, and you have a number of races to support that kickoff of the season, Daytona has a portfolio of races that commands a number of weeks. I think our fans look forward to spending a lot of time in Daytona in the month of February.

“Certainly there’s consideration around the race teams, the amount of time they spend. But when you talk about the biggest event of your season, it certainly warrants a couple of weeks based on what we have from a content standpoint.”

I’m not convinced. I think you could compress it into one week and make the week more entertaining.

Here’s one possible way how:

Tuesday: Cup haulers park in garage.

Wednesday: Cup teams practice and qualify. Truck teams park in garage.

Thursday: Cup teams compete in the Duels. Xfinity teams park in garage. Truck teams practice.

Friday: Cup teams practice. Xfinity teams practice. Truck teams qualify and race. Cup teams in the Clash practice.

Saturday: Cup final practice for the Daytona 500. Xfinity teams race. The Clash is held an hour after the Xfinity race ends.

Sunday: Daytona 500.

A doubleheader with the Xfinity Series and the Clash the day before the Daytona 500 creates more reasons for fans to be there for the weekend.

Maybe there’s a better way, but the point is cut a weekend out of Speedweeks and that can give teams a break at some other point in the season (or just start the season a few days later).

As the sport looks to be more efficient with its race weekends — Pocono, Watkins Glen and Martinsville each will have qualifying a few hours before the race in the second half of the season — cutting a weekend out of Daytona only makes sense.

Also, watch for more two-day Cup weekends if the experiment works this year.

INDY THE RIGHT RACE BEFORE THE PLAYOFFS?

Indianapolis taking the spot as the final race before the playoffs raises some questions.

When Richmond was there, at least many more teams had a chance to win. At Indianapolis, those that can win are fewer. Typically, the best teams excel at Indy because they have the best aero and engine packages. That’s not something a smaller team can overcome as much as it can on a short track.

The notion of an upstart winning their way into the playoffs is less likely at Indianapolis. Those who need stage points in a last-gasp effort to make the playoffs will have to gamble. Truthfully, that could make Indy more dramatic in some ways. Paul Menard won the 2011 race on a fuel gamble, but such payoffs are not likely to happen often and then what you are left with?

Something to consider is that the Xfinity cars will race there in July with restrictor plates and other modifications. If those changes enhance the racing, then it would make sense for the Cup cars to go with something similar. If NASCAR can get its cars to make passes like the IndyCars (there were 54 lead changes in last year’s Indianapolis 500), then you’d have something worth talking about.

If that doesn’t work, maybe you’re left with the tradeoff that Richmond gives the playoffs two short tracks.

A NOVEL IDEA BUT WILL IT WORK?

Charlotte’s roval for the playoffs will smack of desperation to some, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Still, one has to applaud the sport and the track looking for a different way to entertain fans. Sometimes, the greatest rewards come after the greatest risks.

While drivers will race on the infield road course, they still nearly will race all the way around the 1.5-mile track. If the action on the road course section mimics what fans see at Sonoma or Watkins Glen, then this will be a good move. If not, what then?

Charlotte’s format will present challenges for crew chiefs in setting up the car, but the key is going to be action. Few people go to races to watch the crew chiefs. It’s about the drivers. And it will be about contact on the road course.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Even with all the changes to the front half of the playoff schedule, three of the final five races are on 1.5-mile speedways.

Cassidy said NASCAR isn’t as concerned about that.

“I wouldn’t get too hung up on the number of intermediate tracks because I think what you’ve seen, if you want to focus on the back end of the playoffs, focus on the racing that we’ve seen at intermediate tracks, each of the intermediate tracks as kind of taking shape from having its own distinct personality from a racing standpoint,’’ he said.

“I think you saw that at Texas this year with the changes they made, again, a vision to change things up on that side, and to create a different racing dynamic at a mile‑and‑a‑half track.

“What you saw at Kansas a couple weeks ago kind of speaks for itself.

  “And then I don’t think you could argue that Homestead has provided some of the most compelling racing you could ever imagine to bring home a championship.’’

Miami is the best 1.5-mile track and has produced some good racing in the season finale. Nothing wrong with it where it is. Kansas has had its ups and downs but did have 21 lead changes earlier this month in what was viewed as an entertaining race. With its new track surface, we’ll see where Texas goes from its race in April.

If all three can provide entertaining racing and allow drivers to move through the field instead of being stuck in a line, then they should stay in their spots. But if they can’t do so, then NASCAR should not be afraid of making further changes to the playoff schedule.

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NASCAR America: Slugger Labbe says why he left Richard Childress Racing (video)

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Slugger Labbe announced Monday that after six seasons, he would be leaving the No. 3 team of Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing.

While he does not rule out a potential return to RCR at some point in the future, for now he’s just taking a break and fielding potential opportunities from other organizations.

Justin Alexander will take over as Dillon’s crew chief immediately, just in time for arguably the most difficult race on the schedule, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.