TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 23:  Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads Brian Scott, driver of the #44 Goody's Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 23, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

What Sprint Cup drivers said after the Chase race at Talladega

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Joey Logano won the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, advancing to the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Here’s what the field of drivers had to say about their results at Talladega:

JOEY LOGANO – Winner:  “It’s never a layup here at Talladega. It’s always close. You never get a big lead … (Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) made some good adjustments during the race and found some speed in the car, so that was pretty neat to see some of that. We got that track position and just hung onto it. I was able to stay on the bottom and try to run the bottom and keep everyone in line, and that worked out really well. Kevin (Harvick) did a good job with that, which ultimately got us all a great finish. It was fun racing there at the end. I was really confused. I didn’t know what lane to pick coming to the last restart, but I knew Kevin had a lot of experience in these situations and is great at speedway racing, so he did a good job of pushing me out. And then had to defend the top lane with Brian Scott. So a couple of Fords out front here at Talladega is pretty cool.”

BRIAN SCOTT – Finished 2nd: “A good finish always helps. It helps with the team. It helps with the guys at the shop, the morale. Just trying to get any bit of a bright spot in this year has been difficult. I think that this is by far the brightest spot that we’ve had in a really challenging 2016 for Richard Petty Motorsports. I don’t know. I guess the results and what this does for us going forward is yet to be determined. But just proud. I mean, the guys have worked hard all year. They’ve deserved a lot better finishes than we’ve given them. Just proud to deliver a good, solid top five, to do my job behind the wheel to give us a shot at the win. Just have a good day for Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 3rd: “We needed some things to fall our way if we didn’t win the race. Today things fell our way. The last lap, we went out and earned it. I think back all the years that I’ve been doing this, honestly, 11 years. Of course, you remember all the bad beats that you have … But for me I really truly believe this is the first really great fortune that we had in a Chase in my 11‑year career. Things just happened well for us. We went out there and we did our jobs. It was very tough to be able to run against guys that had a lot of teammates up front. I knew that was going to be a problem for us all day. But we were able to have just enough there at the end to get past the 41 and get in.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “We were battling hard and had a great run. Our car just wanted to go to the front today. There were a few times I made a mistake and got shuffled back about 15th or so. We just worked our way back up and had good pit stops. This effort today just felt like that total team effort. The pressure is here, but we are going to get stronger and better as this Chase goes on. I’m really excited about this restrictor-plate car heading to Daytona next spring.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 5th: “Our Zest Ford was fast all weekend and qualified well. We lost some track position and it took us really all race to get it back, which was a struggle. We got in position there at the end. I really wanted to restart on the top. I thought if I could restart on the top we may have had a shot at winning the race, but being on the bottom our car wasn’t as good. I’m definitely thankful to get a top five out of it. It’s cool to see a Ford move on to the next round with Joey (Logano). It was a bummer for Brad (Keselowski), but, all in all, it was a really good weekend. We’ll try to keep gaining on it on these speedways.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 7th: “Yeah, the final laps everybody is just pushing and shoving and then (Kurt Busch) cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag. I don’t really understand that, but all in all the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet team did a great job and didn’t have a scratch on it until then. That is pretty good for Talladega.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 9th: “Yeah, it’s really close. I guess it wasn’t our day to (advance in the Chase). It wasn’t planned for us to do that. We tried. We didn’t really have enough speed all day to do much. I’m proud of my guys and all my teammates helped me as much as they could. We just couldn’t get another spot. We got a couple there at the end on the last little straight, but the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) was the car we needed and it didn’t work out.”

A.J. Allmendinger: Finished 10th: “The car is going to roll back onto the hauler so that is probably our best superspeedway effort so far this year. Just kind of sat in the back there and bided our time. When it was time to go, got a good line on the bottom there and it kind of got us back up to the lead pack there. From there it was just trying to hold the guys off. I thought we were going to be pretty good there coming to the checkered and I think the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) got kind of left out and lost all of his momentum, so I had to check up just a little bit. It cost us a couple of spots, but it rolls and a top 10 that is what we can do here.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “We had a strong Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion all day. I could have made better decisions in lane selection there toward the end but you never know how that’s going to work out. It’s too bad Brad didn’t get to finish. We tried to give him as much help as we could there when he was leading.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 12th: “We were trying to be as aggressive we could and try to make stuff happen. It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way through the pack. It just takes time. There’s definitely a lot of power in numbers. We’re disappointed that we came up short. The NAPA team has been fighting hard the past few weeks. We’ve had some awesome racecars. It’s unfortunate to come up short.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 17th: “We just couldn’t get any help when we needed it. I was doing all I can to move forward but we just needed some drafting help. Our AdvoCare Ford felt good today but we just didn’t get a chance to go race for the win there in the end.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 22nd: “It feels great to finish at one of these places. It’s what we wanted to do, just finish one of these things and come out with a decent finish. We were just jammed up there and the track wasn’t as racy as a lot of people were hoping, and we weren’t able to gain any speed. It was a good attempt and I’m proud of the effort that everybody put in. It felt good to be able to drive under the checkered flag at the end.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 23rd: “Yeah, excited about the three tracks that are coming up. They are great for us historically. I hope they continue to be great tracks for us as we look for our seventh championship. Not the day we wanted here, we were certainly trying to work with the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) and help them. Didn’t get the finish that we were really after, but big picture we are going to a great race track next weekend and just have some fun.”

Ryan Reed – Finished 26th in Sprint Cup debut: “Today meant so much to me. I truly hope I was able to earn some respect out there. We always want a better finish than 26th, but with no mistakes and not a scratch on the car, we’ll take that here at Talladega.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished 28th: “It goes against everything you ever want to do as a race car driver. You want to go try to win races, so I think it’s just kind of an unintended consequence of the way – being the cutoff race and the way the Chase works. You can’t afford to go up there and get wrecked and not have a chance to race for a championship, so it was just kind of the cards we were dealt and we had to play them. I don’t think any of us had any fun and none of us enjoyed, but it was just what we had to do to make sure we got to Martinsville and trying to race four more weeks and hopefully have a shot at the four of us trying to race for a championship.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 29th: “Stressful, stressful, stressful – that was the other word of the day. We don’t like to race like that, but it’s like Matt (Kenseth) said, it’s the hand you’re dealt. You don’t want to give it up and we played it right. I’m going to go get a rotisserie chicken sandwich and move on to Martinsville. I’m really excited to go there. Awesome that Denny (Hamlin) made it in too, he really raced his guts out too. I don’t know if he’ll give me as much advice as he did last time, but hopefully we can talk with him and I really want to get that win at Martinsville and advance.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 30th: “It’s frustrating, but to have a dull day today it’s certainly going to make for a heck of a lot more exciting days down the road. You have to look at it as you have to take the good with the bad sometimes, no different in that sort of scenario. Today was one of those having to ride around bad type days, but the reward is being able to race on and go into the next round and have a chance to race for another championship.”

Brad KeselowskiFinished 38th (DNF, engine):  “Something let go. I’m not sure exactly what, but it’s unfortunate. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford and that kind of ended our day. It was a lot of fun to be leading at Talladega. I really like this track. It’s been good to us and there are a lot of great fans here today. We were doing the best we could to make a show of it and have some fun and lead some laps and just happy and proud to have a fast car.”

Casey Mears – Finished 39th (DNF, crash): “I think we were probably about five (laps) away from pitting I think it was. At that point we just kind of move down to the bottom and were waiting for the cycle of pit stops to come around and something happened with the No. 16 (Greg Biffle). I couldn’t tell out of the corner of my eye, I thought maybe he got clipped on the outside and then it swung him back into whoever was below him. We were just cruising along there and all of a sudden just got taken out; a pretty hard hit to the inside wall. I felt like I had a car that had pretty good speed. It was a matter of kind of being up there inside that top 10 or 15 when it really counted to make a move.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 40th (DNF, engine): “It’s been a roller coaster (Chase) that’s for sure. I wish we could have done a better job at Kansas and Charlotte and maybe had a free pass coming here. That certainly would have been big knowing the circumstances, but we did the best we could. We have a great team and we’ve had a great season and we’re going to go out and try to win the rest of the races and see what we can do.”

Clint Bowyer looks to be relevant again

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 19:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet, sits in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer can be loud, wild and ready for the next good time, but after a season that felt as arduous as Odysseus’ journey, Bowyer’s voice softens when he states a goal for this season.

“I sure hope you are watching me,’’ Bowyer said as he stood next to his No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. “At the end of the day, relevancy in this sport is everything, and I’ve lost that a little bit. Not a little bit. A lot.’’

Four years after finishing runner-up in the championship, Bowyer could barely finish in the top 20 in races last year for HScott Motorsports, a team no longer competing in NASCAR.

It was a stunning fall for driver who seemed on solid ground after he signed a three-year contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing in May 2014, following back-to-back finishes in the top 10 in points.

Fourteen months later, though, Michael Waltrip Racing announced it would cease operations after the season.

Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas Racing this season. (Stewart-Haas Racing)
Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas Racing this season. (Stewart-Haas Racing)

A month after that, Bowyer signed to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, replacing Tony Stewart in 2017. That left Bowyer without a ride for 2016. With few options, Bowyer went to HScott Motorsports and suffered through a season that saw him record three top-20 finishes in the last 19 races.

“Was it the best thing in the world for me?’’ Bowyer said of last season. “Probably not. It probably wasn’t healthy as a matter of fact, but, nonetheless, this deal was worth it. This opportunity was worth whatever you had to go through, whether it was sitting at home or getting into something. It didn’t matter, I signed on for this thing. I want to be in this car because I knew it was my soonest opportunity to be in the best possible situation to win races.’’

But it has been four years since he last won, a span of 149 races.

He was asked Wednesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center if he is any good still.

“That’s a real legitimate question,’’ Bowyer said. “You just don’t know. I think the last time I was in a good car, I was good. I think that I’m a smarter driver than I was three years ago. I think I’m plenty capable of winning races. I love what I see at Stewart-Haas.’’

His team was set up for him. Mike Bugarewicz gained experience last year in his rookie season as a crew chief for Stewart. That should help Bugarewicz in the transition to his new driver. Bowyer and Bugarewicz started talking weekly in the second half of last season, discussing what setups Bowyer liked, track conditions, tires, etc. Anything to learn each other and help their communication this season.

“For me, that driver/crew chief relationship is everything and you’ve got to get that established,’’ Bowyer said.

Bowyer also can lean on some familiar faces at Stewart-Haas Racing. He was a teammate to Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer was at Michael Waltrip Racing when Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers was there. Billy Scott, crew chief for Danica Patrick, was Bowyer’s crew chief, for part of the 2015 season.

About the only person he doesn’t know well at SHR is Kurt Busch.

“We just never really hung out,’’ Bowyer said of the 2004 champion. “He’s the one guy that I really think has more raw talent than about anybody out there. I want to go out and learn as much as I can. I know he can really diagnose what’s going on with the car. The depth he goes in with the debrief is probably a lot higher than I’ve had in the past.’’

That’s just part of the culture at Stewart-Haas Racing that has Bowyer excited.

“They don’t take second as an option,’’ Bowyer said. “They go and work hard and figure out how to go win these races.’’

No longer does he have to worry about finishing 25th (his average finish last year was 23.6).

“With equipment like this, if you’re 25th or something at the end of the day … there’s a reason for it,’’ Bowyer said. “That’s the breath of fresh air. It’s not expected. It’s not going to happen.’’

Told that Stewart sees Bowyer as calmer, the 37-year-old replies that he’s “confident again.

“When 2016 finally came to an end, I was looking at Dale (Earnhardt) Jr and Amy having a good time (at their New Year’s Eve wedding), and I’m like I can’t wait for tomorrow morning,’’ Bowyer said. “Just get all that brushed off, get it behind you and … focus on the task at the hand and using this wonderful opportunity to be good and great again.’’

And relevant.

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Ford executive encouraged by changes at Roush Fenway Racing

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 12: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Roush Performance Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — The Global Director of Ford Performance says he’s optimistic Roush Fenway Racing will be more competitive this season because of leadership changes that “embrace becoming more of an engineering-led organization.’’

Roush Fenway Racing has been shut out of NASCAR’s playoffs each of the past two seasons and last won a race in 2014.

Ford’s Dave Pericak said Wednesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center that Roush Fenway Racing is in a better position to take advantage of Ford’s technical support after offseason changes.

“I think Roush has made all of the right, now, decisions and changes within their organization to truly embrace becoming more of an engineering-led organization and putting the technology into these cars as opposed to just bolting some stuff together and going out on the racetrack,’’ Pericak told NBC Sports.

“I think there has been a huge acknowledgement on their side that there has to be a shift within their own organization, a shift within their leadership. We’ve helped them on a technical side of things to get their equipment up to speed. I’m optimistic that this year you’re going to see all of that coming together and you should see better performance out of that Roush organization.’’

Roush Fenway Racing opens the season with new personnel in executive levels. The team announced in late November that Kevin Kidd, who had been the organization’s Cup team manager, would become the competition director, and Tommy Wheeler, who oversaw the production of the organization’s Cup and Xfinity cars, would be the team’s operations director. The team also announced that Robbie Reiser, who had been general manager, was being reassigned.

The organization also is smaller this season. Roush downsized to a two-car operation with the departure of Greg Biffle. The team will have Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne as drivers and loaned Chris Buescher to JTG Daugherty, a Chevrolet team, because there wasn’t a proper place to put him with a Ford team this year.

Stenhouse showed signs of progress early last season, climbing to 13th the points after the season’s fifth race before finishing the year 21st. Bayne placed 22nd and Biffle 23rd. The three drivers combined for zero wins, seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes.

The top-five and top-10 results were an increase from the 2015 season. Roush’s drivers combined for four top fives and nine top 10s that season.

Roush is one of two Ford teams downsizing this year. Richard Petty Motorsports will field one entry this year instead of two. Pericak said such moves could help both teams.

“The downsizing that you’ve seen is a way for us to re-focus those teams and get back to the fundamentals and get them back on the right path,” Pericak said. “You don’t want to have so much going on that you can’t focus in areas that you need to focus and fix what you need.’’

Something else that could help Roush and RPM is the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to the Ford camp. The move gives Ford two top-tier teams in SHR and Team Penske. Some of the information gleaned by those teams can be shared.

“I think when you look at that, it’s a very positive thing to bring that level of competition to your group, everyone is going to benefit from that,’’ Pericak said. “And the other thing we’ve been working strongly on is that one Ford approach, sharing where sharing makes sense.’’

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New Cup team to field Daytona 500 entry

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Gaunt Brothers Racing plans to enter all four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series restrictor-plate races this season, beginning with the Daytona 500.

D.J. Kennington will seek for the qualify for the season-opening race. The team has no charter and is not guaranteed a starting spot.

Other non-chartered teams that have announced plans to vie for a Daytona 500 starting spot are: Tommy Baldwin Racing (Elliott Sadler) and car owner Mark Beard (Brendan Gaughan). Michael Waltrip also has stated on Twitter he will compete but has not offered any other details.

Gaunt Brothers Racing is owned by Marty Gaunt, president of Triad Racing Technologies.

“With the recent unveiling of the 2018 Toyota Camry, we feel that now is the right time to return to the racetrack,” said Gaunt, whose Triad engines powered five championship-winning Toyota drivers and contributed to multiple manufacturer championships at the NASCAR national level, in a statement.

The team competed in what is now the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in 2011. Gaunt Brothers Racing is fielding a Toyota Camry in partnership with Triad client RAB Racing, which is led by Robby Benton. RAB Racing will supply cars, shop space and technical support.

“Our aspirations will be no small task, but we know what we need to do to position ourselves to make this a successful effort,” Benton said in a statement. “We’ll transition over to the Daytona 500 after competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with our sports car program later this month.”

Kennington, who is from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, is a two-time NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion. He made his Cup debut last fall at Phoenix International Raceway, placing 35th.

No driver has been announced for the team at the other three restrictor-plate races this season.

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 59: David Smith previewing the 2017 season

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 20:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 and the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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The makeup of a race weekend in 2017 is expected to look different, with some major enhancements expected to be announced soon for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

But the teams that will compete on the rebranded circuit will look very familiar.

While a NASCAR offseason normally is filled with personnel changes, many teams elected to stand pat for this season.

Why? That’s a topic explored by Motorsports Analytics founder David Smith in a recent column entitled “Welcome to 2016, Part 2, which was the subject of this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast.

Smith discussed the reasons why teams didn’t make changes and the reasons that perhaps some should have. He also floats some interesting possibilities for future moves (Chase Elliott and Chad Knaus? Cole Pearn to Team Penske?).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Stay tuned for time codes for easy referencing while listening to the podcast.