What drivers said after Sprint Cup’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix

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Joey Logano won the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, clinching a spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here is what most of the 40 drivers had to say about their day in the 324-lap race.

Joey Logano – Winner: “This feels so good. I’ve never felt this good about a win before. There was so much on the line and everyone brings their A-game when it comes to winning championships and this team did it. Man, this feels so good. I had a good restart there at the end and holding off Kyle (Busch) to try to get this thing into Miami. We’re racing for a championship now. We did exactly what we had to do. We’ve got to go to Homestead and do the same thing. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Roush Yates Engines bringing the heat again … I’m speechless right now. I feel like I just won the Daytona 500 again.”

Kyle Busch – Finished second: “It’s really unfortunate and devastating to have the race come down like that. I got a little bit better restart than (Alex Bowman) did and I felt like I had a run on him and had enough that I got to the inside and if he chopped me he was going to get wrecked and that’s what happened, but it carried on into (Matt Kenseth) and essentially I guess I wrecked a teammate.

“It’s so frustrating and aggravating and I feel horrible about it. It’s a shame to see it come down like that. I was really hoping I could get a good restart and force (Bowman) off the bottom and have him kind of block (Joey Logano) and I could have a position in between me and (Logano) and myself and both (Kenseth) and myself would transfer on into the final round. That’s how I was projecting the restart going, it certainly didn’t end that way. I felt really bad for (Kenseth) and all those guys. That was a really ugly race for us.”

Kyle Larson – Finished third: “I made a big mistake on the first lap and got loose into Turn 3 and got up into (Joey Logano). It obviously didn’t affect his race. Then we were coming in for a green-flag stop and all kind of had our hands full getting to the commitment line. I think (Ryan Newman) must have wheel-hopped behind me and had a lot of speed. He tagged me in the rear bumper and spun me around. So we went a lap down but we got the Lucky Dog pass-around later and fought hard the rest of the way.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished fourth: “We just started way too far off on Friday. We never got a handle on the racecar. They made it a ton better in the race and we were in contention there at the end and just came up short. Just really proud of everybody for the effort that they put in. It was a very challenging Chase for us for all the mechanical failures and situations that we had going on. We kept rebounding and winning races and today we were a lap down and came back to have a chance at the end. That says a lot about the character of our race team and we just came up short this year.”

Kurt Busch – Finished fifth: “We got up to the front as high as third and sniffed the front to try to win because we had to win to advance. We didn’t get the job done. The long run speed is where our Achilles Heel was these last few Chase races. It’s a little disappointing, maybe we can pinpoint that as our exact problem and figure out how to fix that, but really proud of (crew chief) Tony Gibson and everybody that worked on these cars all year-long from Stewart-Haas Racing. Thanks to Haas Automation, Monster Energy, Chevrolet, we finished fifth today, we battled hard we just didn’t have enough. You’ve got to have it all if you want to be in that championship four.”

Alex Bowman – Finished sixth: “We had a great car. We took four there and restarted on the bottom twice. Our car didn’t really take off on restarts all day long very well, so had to make our way back up through there, and we got to second at the end and had that caution come out, and didn’t get a terrible restart, and (Kyle Busch) turned me sideways getting into the corner … I almost feel like (Matt Kenseth) thought he was clear because I was against the ‑‑ I wasn’t at the best angle but I was also against the inside wall when we made contact. I guess he said something on the radio that he thought he was clear. I hate it for Matt. You take somebody out like that. I would have raced the hell out of him for the win, but definitely don’t want to do that.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished seventh: “We took two tires and I knocked my right front trying to avoid the 20 (Matt Kenseth) and really hurt the good rubber that I did have on my tires. That hampered us a little bit and we climbed back. We just needed those guys to tussle up front a little bit more, but proud of my whole FedEx team this whole year. Our Camrys have been fast and giving us a chance to win each and every week and we’ll go to Homestead and try to win that one and get our fourth win of the year.”

Paul Menard – Finished 10th: “I’m proud of my team and the never-give-up attitude they showed today. This was the first uneventful race we’ve had in awhile. We made a lot of adjustments and tried a few different things on our Rust-Oleum RockSolid Chevy throughout Friday and Saturday. I think those changes translated well to today’s race. We only had to make a few adjustments to get the handling where it needed to be. It was a good day.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 12th: “This day is on me. We had a much better Cat Minestar Chevrolet compared to where we finished. That first deal, I did not anticipate the amount of rear brake we had and I spun entering pit road. I hit the commitment cone and it cost us a lap. It seemed like every time we were in a position to get our lap back, we’d come up short. Then I spun with Martin Truex Jr. and it just compounded everything. Fortunately, we raced back on the lead lap and up to ninth but the final restart did not go our way and we ended up 12th. I told (crew chief) Luke (Lambert) and the Caterpillar team that they did a great job improving our car from yesterday. I’m just sorry we did not get the result based on the quality of car we had.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 19th: “Our race day wasn’t that great. Yeah, we just struggled for a little bit of speed all weekend, and then we got some track position. I thought we were going to be good. I thought we were going to come out of here with a top five, and at the end we were on old tires and I think somebody might have bumped me. I didn’t feel the impact but I almost wrecked into (Turn) 3 and I thought I had a flat tire so I went too easy into the next corner and they all drove by me. I think we could have squeaked out a top five, but definitely not a great day, but definitely excited to go down to Homestead and race for that championship.

Matt Kenseth – Finished 21st: “(Alex Bowman) was laying way, way back for that restart, more than a car would so I got going early on purpose and I looked at him at the start-finish line and I thought we were doing okay and I looked back and it looked like he had a little run on me, maybe not and shortly thereafter (spotter) Chris (Osborne) cleared me so with the glare I started looking to the corner to approach the corner and I got turned out of the way. He hollered ‘inside’ at the same time I got turned towards the fence so I really don’t know what happened. I was just going off the information I had to try to get the best corner I could and lead more laps.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 23rd: “We really struggled all weekend. We made our car better throughout the race but after we lost two laps from pit strategy, the cards never fell our way to let us get back on the lead lap. I’m looking forward to going to Homestead and ending the season on a high note.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 38th: “The thing there was just kind of a minor wreck in front of us and got into the back of (Greg Biffle) and it knocked the fitting off the oil cooler and we started leaking some oil. I think before that was the penalty I received for pulling up to pit, which was mind-blowing. In the 15 years I’ve been here that has never been officiated that way. The leader has always had the ability to pull up and maintain whatever gap they had to the cars behind them. They have never penalized the leader and make the leader stay alongside the pace car. On the majority of the tracks we compete at you just naturally progress in front of the pace car. So now to all of a sudden officiate this is mind-blowing to me. As long as they continue to do it from here on forward I will bite my lip and won’t say another word, but it just seems a little odd to be quite honest with you.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 39th: “This is a difficult one to stomach. We had another fast American Ethanol Chevrolet today but, unfortunately, we had a part failure that shut the engine off. Everything seemed fine but when we restarted the race following a caution flag, the car just locked up and shut off. We ended up in the garage making several changes and were able to fix the problem and return to the race. It’s a bummer to run in the top five and then finish 23 laps down. We only have one race left this season. I’m looking forward to Homestead-Miami Speedway and having the chance to finish the year off strong.”

Kyle Busch calls publicity emphasis on young Cup drivers ‘bothersome,’ ‘stupid’

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Kyle Busch was critical of how much more attention young Cup drivers receive in marketing and publicity compared to veterans, calling the gap he perceives “stupid” and “bothersome” during the NASCAR Media Tour Tuesday.

The topic arose when the 2015 Cup champion was asked if he thought there was an emphasis on the younger generation of drivers.

Absolutely there is. Do you feel like that, too?” Busch deadpanned in response.

The 32-year-old driver for Joe Gibbs Racing was pressed on whether it bothered him.

It is bothersome,” Busch said. “We’ve paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you’re doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver. I think it’s stupid. But I don’t know, I’m not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is.

“I guess one thing that can be said is probably the younger guys are bullied into doing more things than the older guys are because we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that and have families, things like that, and want to spend as much time as we can at home. You know, maybe that’s some of it. … Some of these marketing campaigns and things like that, pushing these younger drivers, is I wouldn’t say all that fair.”

The 2018 season opens next month with a growing field of drivers under the age of 30. Rookies William Byron (20) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (24) join the ranks of Chase Elliott (22), Ryan Blaney (24), Erik Jones (21), Kyle Larson (25), Alex Bowman (24), Ty Dillon (25) and Austin Dillon (27).

Busch is teammates with Jones, Daniel Suarez (27) and Denny Hamlin (37).

Jones, entering his second year in Cup, is replacing Matt Kenseth in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth, 45, ended last season as the oldest full-time driver in Cup.

Kenseth’s departure from the sport coincided with the retirement of 15-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both had been in Cup since 2000.

Clint Bowyer, 38, also called the focus on younger drivers “bothersome,” but allowed that some of the attention is warranted and necessary for the growth of the sport.

“You have somebody getting in Jeff Gordon’s car (Byron), somebody getting in Dale Jr.’s car (Bowman),” Bowyer said. “We have to figure out how to fill that void somehow and it can’t always be the same guys that have been there. I get it.

“If they deserve it, push it now. If people are beating them — there were drivers last year. Look at Matt Kenseth. He was outrunning them pretty much every week and not getting the limelight. Some of those things are bothersome at times. Did I deserve it (the spotlight)? I wasn’t running as good as I needed to. If I was running up front and should have been in the limelight I would have been barking back a little bit.”

Busch, who was on the cover of the “NASCAR Heat 2” video game last year, won five times in 2017 and advanced to the Championship 4. There he finished second in the race and standings to Martin Truex Jr.

Kevin Harvick, who has been in Cup since 2001, was blunt when asked about Busch’s perception.

“That is like the child that’s whining for some attention,” Harvick said. “I can’t complain about that because of the fact our sponsors have been so involved with the things that we do. NASCAR’s been very open to the things that they’re doing and involved us in. I can’t back (Busch’s comment) up to be honest with you. Honestly, you have to have a push for the younger generation drivers as well in order to help introduce them to the fans and in the end that only works if they have the success on the race track. But there has to be a push for the guys coming up to introduce them to who they are and if they happen to perform like they need to perform on the race track and start acquiring these race fans that are looking for drivers to support. That’s good for everybody.”

Meanwhile, other Cup veterans, like Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne are OK with not being the center of the spotlight

“All of us, as race car drivers or as humans, some seek attention more than others,” said McMurray, who turns 42 in June and has been in Cup full-time since 2003. “I don’t really seek attention. So I’m OK with all that. I think some want attention more than others.”

Bayne, 26, is seven years removed from winning the Daytona 500 the day after his 20th birthday. The Roush Fenway Racing feels like the “middle child” when it comes to the two major generations of Cup drivers in the field.

“I was a young guy at one point getting that attention, so I think it’s fun when you’re a young guy coming in, and I don’t necessarily want all that attention,” Bayne said. “I just want to do my job well and win races and be fast and get attention for that, not because there’s media hype or because of my age.”

What does Byron’s generation think about the dynamic between generations?

According to Byron, “it’s all relative.”

The driver for Hendrick Motorsports will make his first Cup start in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

“When new guys come in it’s a kind of fresh thing to talk about, but we’re ultimately going to have to prove ourselves on the race track and do the things that we’re capable of,” Byron said. “I think that’s going to show over time, and hopefully a couple of us young guys can win some more races.”

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Austin Dillon: Richard Childress Racing looking to be ‘leaner and meaner’ with two-car team

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – When the 2018 Cup season begins next month, Richard Childress Racing will show up with what Austin Dillon hopes is a “leaner and meaner” two-car operation.

Dillon confirmed RCR will only field two full-time cars this season Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour.

The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet will be joined by Ryan Newman in the No. 31.

Paul Menard, who drove the No. 27 for RCR from 2011-17, is now with Wood Brothers Racing driving the No. 21.

“That was something I was really excited about in the offseason, when we decided to go to a little bit smaller organization,” Dillon said. “I see a lot of two-car teams being successful. Furniture Row is going back to one car and they were a two-car team last year, won the championship. I’m really positive about that. … It’s nice to be able to focus on two cars and our crew chiefs are our best friends. … They want to put RCR where it needs to be and that’s winning championships.”

This will be the first time RCR has been a strictly two-car operation since 2000, when it fielded entires for Dale Earnhardt in the N0. 3 and Mike Skinner in the No. 31. The next season, they fielded a third part-time car in eight races. At its peak, RCR fielded four full-time cars.

It went from four to three full-time cars in 2012.

The team has also downscaled its Xfinity operation from five to three cars.

RCR was able to win two Cup races last season, with Dillon in the Coke 600 and Ryan Newman in the spring Phoenix race. They were the team’s first Cup wins since 2013. Dillon, entering his fifth full-time season in Cup, doesn’t see 2018 as a rebuilding year.

“I think (it’s) just a go forward year,” Dillon said. “We’re getting more resources than we’ve ever had for two teams for a full year. Three teams, you’re getting spread thin at times and now we have the people that we want around us and enough of them.”

When it comes to personnel, Dillon said the team has “grown stronger” in the area it most needed to – engineering.

“It is leaner and meaner, but as far as the depth and places you need them, it’s probably better, truthfully,” Dillon said.

One new addition for RCR is an old face for the team. Andy Petree, who won two championships with RCR as Earnhardt’s crew chief in 1993 and 1994, has rejoined the team as the vice president of competition.

Dr. Eric Warren, who was the director of competition beginning in 2012, will now report to Petree in his role as chief technology advisor.

“I’ve enjoyed Andy since he got to our organization,” Dillon said. “It’s a line between my grandfather and myself and Eric Warren and my grandfather. … Our sport’s moving in a direction that’s heading toward the future and Andy has a passion and always has had a passion for engineering, but also kind of plays to my grandfather’s cards where he’s got an old school part to him, too.

“He’s letting Eric Warren work in his area and Andy’s kind of relaying those messages and pushing my grandfather in the right direction we need to go.”

Whichever direction they go in, they’ll be joined by Richard Petty Motorsports.

The team that owns the No. 43 Chevrolet driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. entered a technical alliance with RCR and now finds its home on RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina.

“It was really cool yesterday having the King (Petty) in the room for a meeting with all of us,” Dillon said. “My grandfather, seeing those two iconic brands kind of standing together, it makes it special. I’m sure Chevrolet is excited about that, too.”

 

Richard Petty Motorsports following the footsteps of Furniture Row

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WELCOME, N.C. – All of the noise at Richard Petty Motorsports’ cozy new home on a recent Friday afternoon was coming from behind a short wall in the corner.

Several No. 43 cars were parked on the shop floor in various states of inactivity and incompletion, but the “Fusion” on the front bumper betrayed they were last year’s models.

Drew Blickensderfer, RPM’s crew chief, didn’t seem concerned as he cast a smile toward the source of the noise – a specialized fabrication department that could be the key to solving a championship-tested equation.

Less space and fewer people can equal better results.

“We have shrank quite a bit,” Blickensderfer said. “Right now, we’re bare bones, but we have the people we need to go racing and performance-wise to go racing.

“To grow into a Furniture Row, or a model similar to that, we need to get that (fabrication department) up and running.”

As RPM makes significant structural changes – switching to Chevrolet, aligning with Richard Childress Racing, shuttering its body-hanging staff – no one is expecting a quantum leap in performance for a team that finished 24th in the 2017 owner standings.

But an improvement to a top-20 car with long-term winning potential is expected, and the model is the reigning team in NASCAR’s premier series.

In winning the 2017 title with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has excelled by taking Joe Gibbs Racing chassis and optimizing the accompanying suspension parts and pieces through precision engineering and manufacturing.

RPM hopes to mirror the process through its reorganized fab department, which will have the same equipment from its previous home but with a more laser-targeted focus.

“If we can get that up and running, we’d be better off in the long run,” Blickensderfer said. “And that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to take a car from Richard Childress Racing and develop and work on it and ultimately have a better product for Sunday.”

RPM has traversed various paths toward competitiveness in recent seasons.

In 2014, the team was receiving chassis from Roush Fenway Racing but hanging its own bodies when it made the playoffs with Aric Almirola via a win at Daytona International Speedway. In 2015, RPM added chassis building to its workload but stumbled. Last year, it returned to hanging bodies on chassis supplied by Roush Fenway.

This year, RPM relocated from a 65,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville to a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to RCR, which will deliver cars from its base just down the hill.

On arrival at RPM, all that is needed is interior (such as driver’s seat, steering wheel and column, air boxes and gear coolers) and mechanical work.

“Basically, it comes as a shell, the chassis with a body on it,” Blickensderfer said. “We do the wiring, the plumbing, the suspension parts, front and rear. Basically, all the parts you would bolt on.”

The change has allowed RPM to run leaner because there’s less work to be done on bodies. After employing about 80 last year (with 60 working on cars), RPM will have about 40 employees in 2018 with roughly 25 working on cars (about a half-dozen of those crew members will stay in the shop for assembly while the team is on the road, and RCR will supply the team’s pit crew).

The staff reduction will allow RPM to reallocate some funding toward R&D (after making zero trips to a wind tunnel last year).

Blickensderfer said the alliance with RCR should provide an aerodynamic foundation that will allow fine-tuning to have a greater impact. Last year, RPM “did a really good job of putting stuff that drove well under our race cars” but still faced the aerodynamic limitations of the Roush chassis.

“The thing that really creates speed on cars is the body and aero,” Blickensderfer said. “You can have the wrong springs in your car and mess up the other stuff a little bit, and you’d still be fast, at least in portions of the race. If you get all the springs right, and your aero is terrible, you still might be only a 20th-place car. That’s just the reality of it. The thing that is the most expensive to develop, create and implement is the aero stuff.

“So that’s why the big teams, they have all the wind tunnel data, and you’re racing against teams that are just developing faster than you can even produce cars. That’s why you’ve got to jump on board with them to get some of their information, or you’re going to be watching them coming behind you ready to lap you.”

With consolidation among chassis and engine builders an overarching trend in NASCAR for the past decade, alliances have become more prevalent. Besides RPM, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty also have similar arrangements.

But few have made it work as well as Furniture Row, which made the championship round in 2015 through an RCR alliance before switching to JGR and Toyota the next season. Relying on the setups and strategies of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex consistently outran JGR’s fleet of four Camrys in 2017 with a series-high eight victories and 19 stage wins – despite a few hundred fewer employees working at its Denver location.

“You step back and say, ‘How come no one else has been successful in that model?’ and you look at what Furniture Row has done with their model,” Blickensderfer said. “They still do some stuff in-house. So we pay RCR for an engineering agreement and to get cars from them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop ourselves. So you’d only be better off if you get extra money, you can start developing things yourself.

“Get all (the alliance team’s) information. Dump yours on top of it. You can’t help but get better in the long run that way. That’s what Cole and those guys have done. That’s the model that I would think the JTGs, the RPMs, the Germains, companies of this size, that’s what we need to strive to do is use that model to build up into that next level of race team.”

Though RPM will benefit from RCR’s aerodynamic R&D and assembly line capability, some of the information will be transferred the other way, too.

“They’re incorporating some of the stuff we had in our race cars into theirs that they think is going to make them better,” Blickensderfer said. “Before they put the body on it, we can change the brake system and do what we want, which eventually they’re going to do. And that saves us both time to make sure we have the best product.”

RPM took delivery of its first Camaro late last week for the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Its hauler will be on the road Jan. 26 to Nevada, leaving about a week to finish preparing and setting up the car.

“That’s not all that tight of a timeframe,” Blickensderfer said. “What will happen in the future when we start racing is we’ll get a car two to three weeks before the event, and when we come in on a Monday morning after an event, the next week’s car is on the setup plate ready to go, so there’s only about a day’s worth of work we have to do to it.”

RPM has put its surface plates and other tools in cold storage, keeping open the option to revert to hanging bodies. But with the sponsorship landscape scarce, it makes such autonomy more difficult.

“If you could do everything yourself, you’d be better off, because then nobody gets your information,” Blickensderfer said. “But if (RCR) can take the money they’re developing cars with, and we can take the money we’re getting to develop cars and combine it, I think we all end up better. When there is less money in the pot to grab, the more of us that can throw the money in, the better we’ll be.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.