What drivers said after the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

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Here is what drivers had to say after the 68th annual Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson – Winner: “I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven (championships) but now I can’t! We’re locked in. I’m just honored to be in this position. I wouldn’t be in this position without the belief of Lowe’s and all their employees had in me back when I was running 10th or 15th in the Busch Series. Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon … all of the people who have believed in me to get this point. It’s crazy that we have a shot at seven now. We couldn’t do it without our partners at Chevrolet, Valvoline and the list goes on and on. Thanks to them all very much.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished second: “It was a good day for us, not the win. I think we had the speed capable to pull it off, but still a really strong day. The car was good. The team executed really well, we just kind of missed out on the racing Gods today. We have a lot to be proud of, a great effort, and showed that we’re still a strong team if not the strongest in the garage and I’m really proud of that.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished third: “It’s hard racing those guys (Jimmie Johnson) and racing very, very tough. Out of character for him over the last few years in the Chase, but they’re doing what they think is successful, but upsetting me is not going to make their job any easier. I think that he nearly wrecked us at New Hampshire and then we raced him hard for the lead. It’s one thing if it’s the lead at Charlotte because I was upset about New Hampshire and then we race like a bunch of dummies for seventh or eighth or something like that during halfway. That’s their prerogative and they can race however they want and we can race the way we want, but in turn they’re doing what they think they need to do to win a race.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished fourth: “We had a good day, not a great day. The guy doing a great day is the guy doing a burnout. We had a great car, we just got a caution when we didn’t need one – we were on pit road and then at the end when we needed a caution, I saw a car hit the wall and a car smoking so I was hoping to get another yellow and get a shot at it, but just didn’t get it. The chips just didn’t fall our way today, but we had a good car, we led some laps and ran a little better than we finished, but we still got a pretty decent finish out of it.”

Kyle Busch – Finished fifth: “You can’t wreck each other and that’s all there is to it I guess. We worked so good together that we gave the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) car the win today. That’s how good JGR is. We had a great M&M’s Camry and we could have been a little farther up front, but we were held up there and we couldn’t pass and if I did try to make moves or try to make a pass, I got cutoff. But we came through it with a top five. We probably could have been about second, I don’t know if we could have got up there and caught the 48 as long as we got caught up behind all that stuff, but we had a fifth-place car today and we showed that today. (Matt) Kenseth led the most laps today I think and we were right there with him much of the day so it’s frustrating not to be higher up.”

Jeff Gordon – Finished sixth: “Well, I had a lot of fun out there. It is great to be here in front of all these awesome short track and Martinsville NASCAR fans. It’s just a special place to me and I had a lot of fun and had a great car. This No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet was really good. I knew we didn’t have the short run speed for some of those Gibbs cars. I don’t know where Jimmie (Johnson) came from, wow; he is just so good here. You get him out front like that and he is just unbelievable. Congratulations to those guys stamping that victory and getting them to Homestead that is amazing just like we did last year. Had to overcome a lot of adversity, but that last run I don’t know if it was from running so many caution laps there trying to figure out the scoring, which was kind of a disaster, but that was a tough one for NASCAR to figure out. I don’t know if that had an effect on our tires or what, but the car just didn’t feel the same on that last run and had to settle for sixth.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished seventh: “This was a good step forward for us at Martinsville. Probably had the best car we ever had here. We started up front (on the pole) and led a bunch of laps early (147). We were up there all day, but have to figure out how to be better the second half of the race at Martinsville. Once we can do that we’ll have a shot at winning one of those grandfather clocks.  I really want one of those clocks. The second half of the race it was typical Martinsville — tight in the center and too loose on exit. We fought that for almost the entire second half of the race.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished eighth: “We had a good car. We got a little bit lucky with the caution there after we had a bad run and got a lap down there. It is nice to have a little bit of luck on our side. We had a really good car; we got a little bit of luck and got a good finish.”

Joey Logano – Finished ninth: “Overall, we had a top-five car, but we didn’t have the race play out the way we needed it to. No one made a mistake or is at fault, but that caution came out that jumbled the field up and we had the wave around to get back on the lead lap. Then when we waved around we were like thirty-something on the race track, so we just maintained. I just needed a caution to get caught up. I was hoping for a quick five-lap run and a caution so we could get caught up with those guys, but our car was better than ninth. We raced in the top five early in the race and that’s probably where we should have finished, but that’s racing sometimes. Sometimes you’re on each end of it. We got an OK day out of it – nothing bad and nothing great – but we got through it.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 10th: “Just a good day. Just missed it a little bit, couldn’t quite get the car to turn kind of right through the exit of the center of the corner to get it pointed. Just kind of struggled with the same thing all day. Compared to the spring I thought we were just a little bit off, but we still had good speed, ran in the top 10 all day. The way that played out I thought we were actually going to be real fortunate and have a shot and unfortunately I just ran out of fuel and had to make the decision to try to go right to pit road there to make sure we didn’t get stuck on the racetrack. Never seen a race at Martinsville last 100 laps green, I thought if we could have got a caution there we could have maybe fought back up to sixth, seventh or eighth that is kind of where we could run, I thought on outright speed. Third top 10 in a row, I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had three top 10’s in a row. I think it’s the first time the team has ever had it. Martinsville has always been a good place, but it just shows we are getting more speed in the car. A lot of these places that we are going to it’s definitely helping. Looking forward to the last three races, brand new cars and Texas and Phoenix are places we have kind of struggled at, look forward to going there and trying to improve.”

Greg Biffle – Finished 13th: “It feels good. We still split the nose apart around lap 30 and that cost us a top-10 finish today. Nothing has changed. We just keep learning every week about what we’ve got to do to our cars to get them better.  I’m pretty happy with coming home 13th.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 15th: “This is progress and it’s something we need to keep doing. It was a solid day for us. That’s what we need to do. Our team is capable of running top 15 and that’s what we need to do. It takes executing perfectly and getting everything right and today we did that. We did a good job on pit road. We executed the best we could and the car was decent. I’m proud of everybody on the Smithfield Ford Fusion. We’ll get ready for next week.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 16th: “We had a good Caterpillar Chevrolet during the first half of the event and we were able to race our way to as high as fifth. However, we had a few lengthy green-flag runs where we fought a tight-handling condition through the corners and that hindered us a bit. We never got the final caution to be able to adjust before the end of the race. We’ll move on from today and get ready for Texas Motor Speedway.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 17th: “We started the race with a challenge after we qualified 32nd on Friday but the entire Dow-Dow Corning team did a great job of giving me everything I needed to get the No. 3 Chevrolet up front. As we raced into the top 10, we were consistently clocked as one of the fastest cars. We were on the charge and made it as high as seventh before the caution was displayed in the middle of one of our fastest runs. As the race progressed, the track bar adjuster started to give us problems. It made it really difficult to work on the car’s handling and I wasn’t able to use it at all. Eventually, we were pinned a lap down. It’s a shame because we had a fast car all weekend.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 19th: “It was kind of an up-and-down day for sure. On some runs we were OK and other runs we kind of struggled a little bit. I didn’t think we were that bad. Our strong point was up to about lap 40 of a run and then we’d kind of fall off, but this is a place I’ve struggled pretty bad as a driver. I need to change some stuff up here, but I thought we were gonna finish better than what we did. I kind of got in some trouble there and lost a bunch of spots, but, overall, it was a decent day. I need to get a lot better here and that’s probably the biggest thing.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 20th: “We were slow all weekend. We could just never get the handle on it.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 22nd: “We missed it. I don’t know where, how, why, we missed it. Even SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) as a group we didn’t perform well.  That was not the day we needed. Sorry to State Water Heaters, their only race of the year and we didn’t perform well for them. We just missed it.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 23rd: “We were really tight on the short-run. We had a really fast AdvoCare Ford on the long-run but we just lost too much track position on the short-run because of how tight we were. We fought hard all race long and my guys never gave up. We’ll move on from this weekend and get ready to head to Texas next week and race in AdvoCare’s backyard.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 24th: “That was a tough one. The Nature’s Bakery crew did a great job on pit road all day, and I have to give them credit for that. The brake issue just hurt us so much, especially early in the race, and we weren’t able to rebound as well as we would have liked. It’s tough having days like this, but when you’re down, you just have to dig in and do all you can to finish it out as best you can.”

Paul Menard – Finished 25th: “The car just wouldn’t turn today. We made adjustments to fix it but nothing seemed to stick for the long run. We had the handling better after final practice on Saturday, so we came a long way from Friday to today’s race. I’m not sure what caused the balance issues, but we’ll go back to the shop and look at our notes on Monday. I’m proud of this Dutch Boy Paints/Menards team for not giving up today.”

Tony Stewart – Finished 26th: “We just couldn’t get our car to turn today.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 36th: “Goodyear was kind enough and I have a lot of respect for them – they came down here and looked at the tire and said it was a belt failure so that’s really big of them to say, ‘Hey, there’s nothing you could have done about it.’ We had a really good race going and sometimes that’s just what happens in racing. I just feel bad for Sport Clips, I think we had a top-three car. I was having a lot of fun and now we just go to Texas and try to win there and Phoenix – we could win at either one of those race tracks.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 40th: “It was the same thing that happened in qualifying. I just got in the brakes and the rear end started hopping. You lose all grip as soon as it happens, so that seems to be a typical thing for us at Martinsville – not finishing these races clean. I hate it for all the Fastenal guys and all of our fans.”

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Rick Ware Racing acquires NASCAR Cup charter for 2018, will also field ‘open’ car

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Rick Ware Racing (RWR) announced Friday that it has acquired a NASCAR Cup Series charter for the 2018 season.

However, RWR did not identify which Cup team it acquired the charter from.

As a result, RWR will be able to compete full-time in the Cup Series with the No. 51, beginning in the 60th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

The team will also field an “open” team – one that will not have a charter and will have to qualify for every race it enters – sporting the No. 52 car number.

In addition to not identifying where it acquired the Cup charter, RWR is not identifying at this time what manufacturer it will field for either car in the upcoming season.

In a media statement, however, it did say that will be both be building and acquiring cars both during the off-season and in-season, including Chevrolet Camaros, Ford Fusions and Toyota Camrys.

The Thomasville, North Carolina-based organization is also increasing the amount of personnel, updating equipment, adding engineering support on and off the road, as well as upgrading its 20,000-square-foot shop.

The team said it will finalize its driver lineup for both the No. 51 and No. 52 “in the immediate future,” it said in a media release.

Six drivers drove a combined 29 races for RWR in the 2017 NASCAR Cup season: Timmy Hill (9 races), B.J. McLeod (8 races), Cody Ware (5), Ray Black Jr. (3), Kyle Weatherman (2) and Josh Bilicki (2).

The team’s two best finishes were both by Hill: a 28th-place showing at the spring race in Kansas, followed the next week by a 29th-place finish at Charlotte.

The team also entered three Camping World Truck races, with 2 starts by Jordan Anderson and one by Spencer Boyd. It also competed in one Xfinity race.

‘Old dog’ Matt Crafton preparing to make USAC Midget debut Saturday night

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Matt Crafton is proving it’s never too late for to try new things in auto racing.

Crafton, the 41-year-old driver for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, will break new ground Saturday night.

It all started a few months ago over dinner with Jack Irving, the director of team and support services at Toyota Racing Development.

“We were just sitting down, having dinner one night a couple of months ago and thought it would be a great idea for me to drive a midget,” Crafton said last Saturday during the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet.

“I didn’t think it was too crazy when (Irving) brought it up,” Crafton said. “At that point, it was just casual conversation. I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ and he texted (Keith) Kunz to see if it was okay. Two days later, he told me, ‘Okay, pick where you want to go.’”

Crafton chose Saturday night’s USAC Indoor Junior Knepper 55 in DuQuoin, Illinois, as the place to make his midget debut.

He will make it in a car owned by Keith Kunz Motorsports.

On Dec. 6, the two-time Truck Series champion found himself sitting in a midget for the first time, getting fitted for the dirt car.

“About to find out if you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Crafton later tweeted.

But Crafton has already been fine tuning his dirt racing skills over the last five years. Since 2013, the Truck Series has visited Eldora Speedway, the Tony Stewart-owned dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.

Crafton has been in every Eldora race, but before 2017 his best finish was eighth in the inaugural event.

Before this season, Crafton decided to really figure out dirt racing.

He and his father worked together to rebuild a Modified dirt car and in the downtime between Truck races, Crafton took it racing.

It worked out quickly, with Crafton coming in second in an event at Volusia Speedway Park in February.

Then in July, Crafton triumphed over Stewart Friesen to win the fifth Eldora Dirt Derby.

“It helped a lot,” Crafton said after the race. “Just learning what the track does. In the years past, I didn’t know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying.”

That Eldora win was the only victory for the No. 88 ThorSport Racing team in 2017, but it put Crafton in the Truck playoffs.

When the prospect of a midget race was raised to him by Irving, the pursuit of a third Truck title kept Crafton from it until the offseason.

“I wouldn’t say the Eldora win propelled any of this … but it’s definitely opened up some more doors,” Crafton said last weekend. “Now, everyone realizes how much I enjoy it and how much of a racer I am and that I love to race.

“I’ll say it again: I’m a racer. There’s a reason why I race dirt races and do everything that I do, and it’s because I want to go out and race anything and everything I possibly can. That’s why I got my own dirt modified, that’s why I got a go-kart … to be able to perfect road courses and that style of racing as well.”

One of Crafton’s teammates in Saturday’s race will be the defending Truck Series champion and dirt veteran Christopher Bell. Crafton’s also received advice from Chase Briscoe, who drove for Brad Keselowski Racing this season.

“(Briscoe) won’t be my teammate, but he sent me some in-car footage of him racing at DuQuoin and I’ve watched it 10 times, just to see what I can learn,” Crafton said. “I mean, you get about four laps, and then you try to race your way into the main event. There’s gonna be a lot of cars there, so it won’t be easy.”

“I talked to Bell this week, and he has a simulator with the midget on it, so I may go over to his house and run the simulator a little bit and see if I can figure out anything there.”

Crafton said he keeps getting pressured to take his dirt experience one step further and compete in January’s Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But Saturday’s 55-lap race comes first.

“I’d love to give (the Chili Bowl) a shot in the future. But we’ll see,” Crafton said. “I’m going out to DuQuoin to have fun; that’s the main goal.”

Four young Ford NASCAR drivers to compete in IMSA opening weekend at Daytona

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Four of NASCAR’s up-and-coming young stars – all Ford drivers – will get a nearly month’s head start of sorts for the 2018 season opener at Daytona.

A pair of 23-year-olds, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski, and 19-year-olds Austin Cindric and Cole Custer will all compete in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge January 26, part of the Rolex 24 weekend (Jan. 25-28) at Daytona International Speedway.

The four drivers will be mentored by Scott Maxwell, who won the Continental series championship with co-driver Billy Johnson in 2016.

Maxwell will also compete in the event, which will feature the four young drivers being part of a two-car Mustang GT4 team in the GS class. The pairings of which drivers will drive with each other will be announced closer to the four-hour endurance event.

“We have an outstanding group of young drivers coming up and we feel putting them in this kind of environment with Scott Maxwell will benefit them for the rest of their careers,” Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook said in a media release. “You have to be good on all types of tracks to compete for a NASCAR championship and this will give each of them valuable road course experience in our exciting Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports.”

Cindric, Briscoe and Majeski were recently named to share driving duties for the No. 60 Ford in the 2018 Xfinity Series for Roush Fenway Racing, in collaboration with Team Penske and Ford Performance.

Custer will enter his second full Xfinity season for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.

The four drivers plus Maxwell will take part in a three-day test session at DIS from Jan. 5-7.

When asked about how much they’re looking forward to the opportunity, here’s what the five drivers had to say:

CUSTER: “I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ve never done any endurance racing, but I’m looking forward to having some fun and learning what it’s all about. This is obviously a big race and great way to start the season. Being able to race with the other guys is going to be a lot of fun as well because we’re all pretty much the same age and have a lot in common. I never thought I would get the chance to do something like this, but road course racing has really grown on me. I think it’s fun to learn the different sides of things and this is going to be a chance for me to learn as a driver and make myself better.”

CINDRIC: “For me with my background some of my biggest moments in the early part of my career have been with Multimatic racing Mustangs in the Continental Tire Series, so for me I’m coming home. I come from a different background than the other guys and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, learn a few things and hopefully bring home some hardware because I know those Mustangs are pretty strong around Daytona. Scott and I have become really good friends and he’s been a big help to me in my career and I look forward to being teammates with him again and having a little fun throughout the weekend.”

BRISCOE: “This is something I certainly never thought I would get an opportunity to do, but I’m super-excited for it. This will be something new and I’m going to do a lot of it this year, so I think it’s going to be a good learning curve. I’ve only run two road courses my entire life and even though we ran decent, I didn’t feel like I ever knew what I was doing. Hopefully, I can get to the point by the end of this year where I know what I’m doing on a road course. Even though I’ll be driving two different kind of race cars, the principals of how you drive and the technique it takes will be something I can learn. I’m also looking forward to having a teammate and competing in an event where both of you have an impact on how well you run.”

MAJESKI: “I have virtually no road course experience at all. I’ve been on one road course my entire life and that was this past summer when I was sent out to the Ford Performance Driving School in Utah. Outside of that, I have not been on a road course, so this will be great for me to get some experience and be around people who know a lot about it. I’m looking forward to working with Chase, Austin and Cole as well. They’re good guys and I’m excited for the opportunity Ford has put in front of us.”

MAXWELL: “The Ford Mustang GT4 has been a great project from the start, and I’m glad to get back in the seat in Daytona. It’s just a fun car to drive. I’m happy to work with the young NASCAR drivers Ford has signed up, too, to help these drivers get acclimated.”

Report: Two race attendees sue NASCAR, Daytona for 2015 Coke Zero 400 crash-related injuries

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Two additional persons have filed suit against NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Daytona International Speedway for injuries sustained in a July 2015 race crash, according to a report by ESPN.

Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was involved in a last lap crash that resulted with Dillon’s car flying into the catch fence during the July 2015 Coke Zero 400.

Debris and fluids from Dillon’s car got through the catch fence and impacted several fans in the seating area. One lawsuit has already been settled, and two other men – Florida residents John and Wayne Vanpatten – have now filed suit for injuries they claim they suffered as a result of the crash.

MORE: Austin Dillon talks about Daytona crash on Today show

MORE: 5 fans treated, one at hospital for injuries from Austin Dillon’s airborne crash at Daytona

 

According to the ESPN report, the Vanpatten’s claim they were hit by a toxic fluid from Dillon’s car that was ingested by John Vanpatten and which sprayed onto Wayne Vanpatten’s arm. The men claim they are still recovering from their injuries.

The Vanpatten’s lawsuit falls within the four-year statute of limitations to file such a claim per Florida state law.

According to ESPN, NASCAR, ISC, DIS officials and the Vanpatten’s attorney all did not comment on the suit.