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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Ryan: ‘Erase the Chase’ is an idea whose time had come

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CHARLOTTE – It was time to erase the Chase.

No, Monday’s announcement by NASCAR didn’t eradicate the 10-race stretch that has determined the champion of its premier series for the past 13 seasons. The structure remains largely untouched aside from a new wrinkle that carries over points from the regular season to ensure less arbitrary title outcomes.

But Monday did mark the death knell of what had become the primary pejorative in a NASCAR vernacular littered with unwieldy and unappealing terminology.

They are seemingly innocuous words that stoke the most hateful, negative and ugly reactions from passionate fans who claim precious ownership of racing like no other sport.

The Car of Tomorrow.

The top-35 rule.

The Chase.

Each of these terms, however well-intended, became the third rail for hyperbolic fan outrage on satellite radio and social media

And each of them now has disappeared into NASCAR’s dictionary dustbin of history.

The Car of Tomorrow was reconfigured and then renamed as the clever “Gen 6” car.

The top-35 rule essentially was erased and then replaced by the more benign charter system.

And now …

“I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said with a sly smile, “this is a great day for them.”

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Slapping a new title on a championship structure that has been maligned during its 13-year existent won’t be a cure-all for those who never have been fans of the format.

This admittedly is a PR and marketing exercise. It will have no impact on competition or the opinions of those who already believe the Latford points system of 1975-2003 shouldn’t have been abandoned.

There are Jeff Gordon fans who remain steadfast in their opposition to the Chase because they believe it cheated their hero out of multiple championships.

And there are others who actually will lament the disappearance of “Chase,” because they believe the term helped differentiate NASCAR.

But in an image-conscious sport desperate for corporate sponsorship, the switch to “playoffs” still matters even without an iota of on-track impact.

This isn’t a rebranding a la the Gen 6.

It’s about appropriating an existing sports term that carries major-league cachet.

The mere utterance of “Chase” became a dismissive rallying cry for many who hissed its name while railing about the system.

It’s harder to sound so disparaging when complaining about the “playoffs” (unless you’re Jim Mora). In fact, it sounds silly.

“Playoffs” are synonymous with indelible moments and must-see drama.

They connote an appealing sports conceit with an elegance and simplicity that always eluded “Chase”.

“When they’re talking about sports, people understand playoffs,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “We introduced a new word, i.e. the Chase, and we liked it at first, but when you really talk about it, when (Hendrick Motorsports president) Marshall Carlson is out talking to a sponsor, well, it’s ‘What’s the Chase?’  Well, it’s our playoffs.  And people immediately get that and they understand that.

“This is a big sport built on sponsorship for sponsors to understand, for fans to understand, and it’s a common word that most sports fans know.”

Some of us have been lobbying for ditching the Chase since NASCAR most recently overhauled it three years ago (and ratcheted up the action, intensity and pressure as a result).

But there always had been resistance to calling the Chase a playoff, despite how natural it seemed.

NASCAR heavily messaged the January 2004 news conference that introduced the Chase for the Championship. Reporters repeatedly were told by officials that “this is not a playoff” because “all of our events will continue to be Super Bowl-type races with 43 drivers competing.”

No one wanted to hurt the feelings of longtime fans asked to absorb a sea change that was antithetical to some core principles that were preached as gospel for decades.

There was major pushback on anyone who intimated that the Chase created two distinct seasons. When the Chase was introduced, NASCAR tirelessly emphasized there were no knockout rounds or points resets or anything analogous to how other pro sports handled their playoffs.

But things have changed. All that stuff has been happening in NASCAR since 2014.

There are eliminations. There are points resets (and still are with a few caveats). There is segmentation from the regular season.

It’s a playoff in every sense of the word – which is why the word changed.

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Questions and answers about NASCAR’s announcement

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — OK everyone, let’s take a deep breath and we’ll get through this.

NASCAR announced enhancements to the race formats on Monday that are intended to give fans more exciting moments during a race and the season.

As with anything new, there are plenty of questions. Here are answers to those questions.

So what is it with these stages?

Each NASCAR race will be divided into three stages. Points will be awarded for the top 10 finishers in each of the first two stages. That descends one point per position. Thus, 10th place in a stage receives one point. The final stage marks the end of the race. The winner receives 40 points with second-place receiving 35 points, third gets 34 points … on the way down to 1 point for any driver that finishes 36th or worse.

When will these stages take place?

The first stage will take place approximately 25 percent into the full race distance. So, for a 400-lap race at Richmond, the first stage would end somewhere around Lap 100.

The second stage will take place about 25 percent later.

That will leave the last half of the race to be run to conclusion.

So what happens after the first stage?

Once the field completes the lap that marks the end of the first stage, the caution will come out. Pit road is then opened for any teams that wish to stop. Once the pit stops are complete, TV will go to commercial break so fans can see more green-flag racing. Once TV returns from break, the race will resume. NASCAR estimates the breaks should take about five minutes.

How do they align the field for the next stage?

The field lines up the way the cars come off pit road. If not every car pits, then they are at the front with cars that made pit stops behind them for the restart.

OK, so what about those caution laps after the segment ends? Do they count?

Yes. All laps count.

Anything else unique about the stages?

Yes, pit road will be closed for five laps before each of the first two stages end.

Wait, what if there’s a caution right before the end of a segment? Can a segment end under caution or will it be extended?

Segments can end under caution. The end of the race will still have the overtime policy.

What is NASCAR calling these stages?

Stage 1. Stage 2. Stage 3.

What about the Daytona 500?

The 500 will have segments. The top 10 finishers in each of the duel qualifying races will receive points just like a regular segment. One difference is that the segment winner will not receive a bonus point for the playoff (more on these a little further down).

So what is the maximum number of points a driver can earn in any race now?

A driver can earn as many as 60 points. That would be 20 points for the two stage wins (10 points each) and 40 points for the race win.

Wait a minute, you’re forgetting those points for leading a lap and leading the most laps, aren’t you?

No. There will no longer be bonus points for leading a lap or leading the most laps.

Isn’t there a way the race winner can score fewer points than the runner-up?

Yes. Consider if the race runner-up won both stages (20 points) and then had their 35 points for second. That would be 55 points. Say the race winner failed to score a point in either stage. Thus, they would have only 40 points (for the win) for the event. So, the runner-up could score 55 points and the winner 40 points.

What else was announced?

The regular-season points leader after the 26th race will be rewarded — something many fans had requested.

How will the regular-season champ be rewarded?

The regular-season winner will receive 15 bonus points that carry over to their total once the playoff field has its points reset to 2000.

Is that it?

No, the top 10 drivers leading into the playoffs will receive a bonus. The second-place driver in the standings after the regular season ends will earn 10 playoff points, third place will earn eight points, fourth place will get seven points and so on. All playoff points carry through to the end of the Round of 8.

OK, is that it?

No, NASCAR has made those bonus points more valuable. Follow me. Say a driver finishes with six wins in the regular season. They would earn 30 playoff bonus points (five wins for each win). Now, say, they won seven segments in the regular season, they would have seven bonus points (one playoff point for each segment win). And, let’s say they finished as the regular-season champ, earning 15 bonus points. That means they would have 52 bonus points (30 from wins plus seven from segments and 15 for regular-season crown).

The driver will continue to receive those bonus points in each round of the playoffs as long as he/she remained eligible for the title — plus any additional victory or segment points earned in that round.

Anything else I should be aware of?

Yes, NASCAR is now using the word “playoffs” to describe its run to the championship instead of Chase. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. joked: “I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years, this is a great day for them.’’

Are these changes for the Cup Series only?

No, they are for the Cup, Xfnity and Camping World Truck Series.

What were some things the drivers said about all of this?

Denny Hamlin: There are no off weeks. Every single race matters. Not only that, but every lap of every race matters. From our standpoint, you always felt a little bit relaxed once you got a race win, and you would sometimes maybe go into test mode or something. Now with each accomplishment that you have during each given race, whether you’re collecting points for the overall regular season or you’re trying to collect points through a stage win or a race win, each accomplishment gives your road to Homestead a little bit easier, gives you a little bit of cushion there to be able to get through the playoffs and make it to Homestead, and that’s what it’s all about for us is making it to Homestead and trying to race for a championship.’’

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I love the fact that the bonus points or the playoff points will carry through the playoffs all the way to the last round. So everything you do throughout the season is really going to help you throughout the playoffs. That’s a great change.

Brad Keselowski: “Wait until you see it on the racetrack.When you see this on the racetrack, this is going to be the best racing you’ve ever seen.’’

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How will new in-race stages and points format be impacted by weather? (video)

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NASCAR can only control so much — but try as it may, weather is one thing it can’t.

How will the new enhancements to the points format be impacted if Mother Nature decides to open the skies and wreak her wet havoc upon races and racetracks?

NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell addressed that issue during Monday’s announcement of the enhanced points format.

NASCAR: From now on, it will be ‘the playoffs,’ not ‘the Chase’ (video)

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What’s in a name? For NASCAR going forward, it will no longer refer to its playoffs as “the Chase.” From now on, it will be simply “the playoffs.”

With the name change, the format for the playoffs will not change — with the exception of the enhancements to the points format that was announced Monday. 

NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said that it was time for the sport to move on from the unique “Chase” monicker, which spawned several similar formats and accompanying names in other sports, including drag racing and golf.