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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Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier fastest in first of 2 Xfinity practices at Indianapolis

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Elliott Sadler (166.420 mph) and JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier (166.211 mph) were fastest in the first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practices Friday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch, who has won the last two Xfinity races at IMS, was third fastest at 165.810 mph, followed by Erik Jones (165.508) and Paul Menard (165.466).

Teams are dealing with several changes for this weekend, including:

  • Taller rear spoiler and splitter package
  • Aero ducts on the lower front bumper area
  • 7/8-inch restrictor plate

There is one more Xfinity practice session scheduled for today from 3 to 3:55 p.m. on the NBC Sports app in preparation for Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250 race.

Click here for the full first practice session speed chart.

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NASCAR may further reduce how many Xfinity races Cup drivers can compete

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INDIANAPOLIS — NASCAR has talked with Xfinity teams about further limiting Cup drivers in Xfinity races, series managing director Wayne Auton said Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One possibility would be for Cup drivers to be limited to five Xfinity races only regardless of their experience level, which could be a significant cut for some drivers.

Currently, drivers with more than five full-time seasons in Cup are limited to 10 Xfinity races. They also cannot compete in the four Dash 4 Cash races and the final eight races of the season.

Drivers with less than five full-time Cup seasons — Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez for example — are allowed to compete in the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash races and all playoff events except the season finale in Miami.

The rule has had a limited impact with the results. Cup drivers have won 13 of 17 Xfinity races this season, heading into Saturday’s event at Indianapolis. Even with fewer Cup drivers in the Dash 4 Cash races, Cup competitors still won three of those four events.

“We have been in talks with teams about even limiting the number of races more or stay where we’re at,” Auton said. “Those conversations are ongoing. Stay tuned. I think some announcements will be coming out here pretty soon on what the garage area has asked us to look at.’’

With the current rules, 14 of the 17 Xfinity races have had at least three Cup drivers finish in the top five. The exceptions were Iowa (standalone race), Daytona (few Cup drivers competed) and Phoenix (a Dash 4 Cash race).

“We want to make sure that we have 40 cars on the racetrack every week and we have 40 competitive cars on the racetrack every week,’’ Auton said. “I’m very proud of the way our Xfinity drivers have held up this year. Have they won as many races as the other series drivers? No, they haven’t, but I’m going to tell you what, you can’t go from a lack of effort. They’re really driving their cars really hard this year to make sure they get that championship at Homestead.’’

Even so, Kevin Harvick has issues with further reducing the number of Xfinity races for Cup drivers. He notes such a change could impact teams financially. 

“I think that’s the one thing that a lot of people forget,’’ Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. “They want to take this Xfinity Series and they want to make it into Xfinity drivers only. Well, guess what? If you don’t race against the Cup guys and you don’t have that experience on a weekly basis of learning what those Cup guys are doing to run fast and how this sport works, all that is going to happen is you’re just going to struggle longer when you get to Cup. You’re not going to have all the tendencies of the things that you need just racing against Xfintiy drivers that don’t have all the experience that Cup guys get.

“And oh by the way. Those Xfinity sponsorships? Most of those sponsorships are tied to a Cup guy. If they dropped these races to five races like they’re talking to next year, we’ll have to cut two races. There’s probably a million dollars tied to those two races in sponsoring the race, associates on the Cup car, personal services contracts, so there is a lot of money on the line.

“So when you look at a Ryan Preece gets to run a Joe Gibbs car (as he did at New Hampshire last week, finishing second), he got that opportunity because they want to run that car full-time and obviously they’re getting enough money from the races that Denny Hamlin runs and Erik Jones runs and Kyle Busch runs to charge the top dollar.

“When you have a guy in it — and this is from a team owner standpoint when DeLana and I used to have the teams — when you have that top-dollar guy and you can charge $200,000 a race for sponsorship, you can take a chance on the non-companion races or the races you haven’t sold of selling a guy a race for $100,000 or $125,000. Those are where the opportunities come from.

“I just think we need to be very, very careful about cutting all the Cup ties to the series out of the (Xfinity) Series because there is a lot of sponsorship that really probably won’t show up until you get two, three or four years down the road, when these sponsors say, ‘Well, if I can’t have Kyle (Busch) in the car, I’ll put the money in the Cup car. We’ll just use the Cup car and that will be it because that is what will happen because the price point is becoming increasingly closer as we go through the years from one series to another.’’

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Ryan: A breakthrough or breaking rules? Kyle Larson’s star-making season is a NASCAR conundrum

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What happens when possibly the most talented driver in a racing series also is in danger of becoming viewed, however unfairly, as driving for the most tainted team?

This is the predicament currently facing Kyle Larson — and perhaps to an even larger degree, NASCAR and its most important narrative.

Alongside the breakaway playoff points push of Denver-based Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr. as championship favorites, Larson is among the best storylines the Cup Series has to offer this season.

He is delivering the circuit’s most thrilling drives, slicing through traffic with exquisite precision to finish second after starting from the rear of the past two races. He is laying claim to being the most versatile driver of his generation, equally excelling on asphalt and dirt across a broad spectrum of vehicles. He is finding his voice, calling peers to rebuild grass roots connections by running more short tracks, challenging the accepted norms of what makes stock-car racing great and shedding light on a merchandise business model that many say is broken.

But most importantly, he is validating the hype around being The Next Big Thing.

Desperate to hook a new breed of fans in the wake of a wave of retiring drivers (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr.), NASCAR needs its 20somethings to corroborate its promotional pushes with results – and none has been better than Larson.

But there is a weird dichotomy here, too.

The reason he has made compelling charges from the rear of the field is the same as why some might question the legitimacy of his blinding speed – incessant inspection woes with NASCAR that left Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet unable to qualify for three races this season and disqualified from the pole position at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It’s created the problematic optics of celebrating Larson’s emergence as a superstar doing superhuman things while simultaneously noting that his team has emerged as Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of NASCAR’s officials for building cars that skirt the bounds of legality.

That’s prompted conversations between the team and NASCAR about the risk of being competitive at the expense of credibility and possibly sullying the good names of Larson, team owner Chip Ganassi or sponsors such as Target (which is in a contract year and reportedly is mulling whether to stay).

To his credit, the low-key Larson has seemed typically nonplussed when reacting to the charge of being scofflaws.

“I think with how fast we’ve been running and all that, NASCAR has kept a closer eye on our team in particular,” Larson said after his runner-up finish at New Hampshire, explaining that the team’s infraction there “wasn’t anything different really than the other teams tinker with, just trying to maximize their aero performance in their cars. Just got to keep working hard on the areas of our race car that are legal and find some more speed that way.

“It seems like we have a target on our back. But that’s a good thing, too. It means everybody is paying attention to us. This is my fourth year, and I’ve never been in the position to where NASCAR and other teams are paying so much attention to our race car. That’s a compliment to everybody at our race shop.”

Within the NASCAR garage, the prevailing sentiment seems to be awe and respect (juxtaposed with a swath of fan negativity and outrage on social media). Outlaw culture always will be the backbone of an endeavor rooted in moonshiners outrunning the authorities with souped-up jalopies decades ago.

On his SiriusXM radio show this week, Kevin Harvick heaped effusive praise on Larson’s team for doing “what you’re supposed to do” and said he wanted to pat No. 42 crew chief Chad Johnston on the back for the success.

During a Tuesday interview at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Earnhardt also hailed Larson’s team (“you have to admire the ingenuity and engineering that goes into finding that speed”) while emphasizing with its driver by suggesting Larson probably feels “slighted” and “ticked off” by those who say there “must be something going on with the car. There’s no way somebody is that much better.

“It’s not a lot of fun,” Earnhardt said this week. “You want to get credit as a driver for being fast and good. I don’t think anyone can disagree that Kyle’s very talented, very fast. But any time you go out and do something really good and hear people questioning, ‘Is there shenanigans going on?’ As a driver, that really ticks you off. Not giving credit where it’s due. The team and driver, in your mind, are why the car’s fast. Not because the car is rigged in some way.”

But Larson’s car had the field covered by a few 10ths of a second at New Hampshire in practice and qualifying.

Is he really this sublimely gifted? Or is it because his equipment is, as some in the NASCAR hierarchy have implied, “unique”?

“I don’t think there’s a driver in the field that is three 10ths better than everybody else, but there will be years in his career he is considered the best driver on the track,” Earnhardt said. “He’s really, really good. Kyle (Busch) is going to lay claim to that argument to being best on track. Jimmie (Johnson) also. But Larson is right up in that conversation, and you also got to look at the team he’s with, that team’s been struggling a while and played second fiddle to Gibbs and to Hendrick at times. And now they’re not.

“He’s been a huge part of their success. He raised the bar for that company and that team, and that’s amazing when a driver can do that … get in cars and take the team to the next level. Usually the drivers are responsible for that. Kyle Larson is that kind of driver. That’s incredible.”

Unfortunately, that fact often is being obscured in the swirl of laser inspection, points penalties and crew chief suspensions (Johnston will miss his second of three consecutive races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway).

NASCAR can try to force Larson’s team to stay within the bounds of the rulebook, but it sometimes becomes counterproductive when those rules restrict the conversation around celebrating a singular talent.

It’s important to maintain the integrity of competition.

It also is more important than ever to keep the focus on the new faces who will carry the torch for big-league stock-car racing well into the 21st century.

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In the category of teams under the NASCAR microscope, Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford ranks with Larson’s for scrutiny. Though a rear-end suspension piece was confiscated by officials at New Hampshire under the auspices of safety, it was an uncommon step magnified by the penalty that rendered Logano’s victory at Richmond International Raceway as useless for playoff eligibility.

Logano and his team have maintained since then that its recent slump of two top 10s in 10 races didn’t result from being stripped of a critical setup advantage. That might be true in a literal sense – NASCAR officials privately have said the rear-suspension violation at Richmond deemed wasn’t a game-changing element – but there still could be lingering effects from being the first team to have a win’s impact so diminished

The key to finding speed often is getting highly engineered enhancements approved within a very limited window of rule maneuverability, and that depends on NASCAR cooperation. The underlying takeaway from Logano’s post-Richmond skid might be less about NASCAR scolding a team for what it did than hamstringing a team from what it’s allowed to do in the future.

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Filling the No. 88 Chevrolet this week ostensibly seemed to close off any path for Matt Kenseth to Hendrick Motorsports, but many still will be watching the performance of Kasey Kahne for the rest of the season.

Kahne has another season left on his contract, but he also is in danger of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. If Hendrick elected to go in another direction for the No. 5 Chevrolet, it could promote phenom William Byron, who has been tearing up the Xfinity Series lately and appears to have sponsorship. Another option would be bringing in Kenseth for a bridge season, giving Byron another year of experience on the junior circuit while providing a championship-caliber veteran an opportunity to diagnose

If Kenseth does continue racing in Cup, it likely will require a massive pay cut as market forces driven by a dearth of corporate sponsorship will make it difficult to command big money for veterans who have impressive resumes but lack significant contract leverage.

By replacing Earnhardt with Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports likely is reducing the driver salary line item in the No. 88 budget by at least 85 percent (if not more).

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The hiring by NASCAR this week of longtime Pocono Raceway president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky caught many off guard.

Igdalsky is well respected and liked, so it makes sense to put him as the sanctioning body’s track liaison as the managing director of event marketing and promotion.

But Igdalsky also hails from the family that has owned Pocono since its inception. Could his addition in Daytona Beach be a sign that NASCAR, which entered the track ownership business in 2013 with its purchase of Iowa Speedway, has plans in store for the 2.5-mile track?

NASCAR America: Parker Kligerman takes to simulator to show Xfinity changes at Indy (video)

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While Saturday will mark the sixth straight year the NASCAR Xfinity Series will race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there will be significant changes. 

Among the changes: the use of restrictor plates, as well as adding aero ducts to aid cars with the draft.

On Tbursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman took a spin around the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway — on the NBCSN iRacing Simulator, that is — to show how some of those changes will impact the cars and potentially the race.

Check it out in the video above.