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What drivers said after NASCAR season finale at Homestead

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Here is what drivers had to say Sunday after the 18th annual Ford EcoBoost 400, the 2016 season finale, at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson – winner and 2016 champion: “Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth. Just beyond words. Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. (Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs.  Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship. I wouldn’t be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance.  From my dirt days – my parents first and foremost. My brothers. My wife and family today. Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe’s, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance. Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, all the men and women at Hendrick Motorsports for working so hard to get these cars fast and giving me an awesome 15 years with the company. Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart.  Thank you. So thrilled to be in this moment. So grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”

Kyle Larson – finished second: “Congrats to Jimmie (Johnson), congrats to Chevy for winning the championship, that’s pretty cool and that Jimmie could win seven there. We had the car to win there and I know that I did everything in my power to win the race. But rules are rules and I have to work in the (restart) box … Well, you are supposed to be side-by-side entering the box and he was all the way behind me. So not really anything I could do to maintain his distance behind me. But it’s whatever, I am happy for him.”

Kevin Harvick – finished third: “I’m proud of everyone on my Jimmy John’s team and every person that’s prepared my cars this year. We fought to the very end and tried to close out the season with one last win. I have to thank Jimmy John’s, Busch beer, Mobil 1, Outback, ditech, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Morton Buildings, Bad Boy Off-Road and all our great partners. I also have to say thanks to two great partners who played a major role over the course of my career: Chevrolet and Sprint. They were so good to us for such a long time, and I can’t thank them enough for their support. We finished strong, and we’ll be back in 2017 to try and make another run at a championship.”

Joey Logano – finished fourth: “It was eventful, to say the least. I hate being that close to a championship and not getting it. The team did a great job all day. We had a good race car and we put ourselves in position to win. No one made any mistakes or anything like that on our pit crew. That last restart, I was hoping to get Jimmie there and trying to get either to the inside or outside of him. I just timed it a little bit wrong to get underneath him. I just didn’t have enough time to get under him. We lost some time there and unfortunately we finish second. The championship means so much and everyone forgets about second place. That is what stinks. But overall I am proud of this team. This will be motivation for next year. This hurts.”

Kyle Busch – finished sixth: “We were just too far back. In order to make up that many spots, we were going to need more than just two laps, but we were going to be able to do it if there were more laps, but that’s the choice we made and we didn’t feel like we had a shot to win if we didn’t come down (final pit stop). So, we were going to just be fighting them off from that point. Just can’t say enough about this M&M’s team. All year long they fought hard and there were moments today where definitely it wasn’t going to be our race at all and then there were moments where it might be our race and we just weren’t able to pull through tonight.”

AJ Allmendinger – finished eighth: “Just a product of hard work. I will be honest, I was shocked by how bad we were. Dropped the green and the car wouldn’t turn and we just kind of fought that all night. This tire is a tire that we’ve definitely struggled on. Got to keep doing our homework on it. Had a pit road penalty, we fought back there and kept doing the right thing. I could see the No. 21 was the guy we were actually racing. He was having trouble, so I was just trying to be smart. Kept getting the wave around, kept getting our laps back, and missed the big wreck and hell I don’t know how we finished eighth. Good finish, we’ve definitely got to do our homework to be better and be ready for next year.”

Michael McDowell – finished 10th: “We had a great car. We made up a lot of spots in the beginning and we just sort of maintained that all day. We were running right there 16th – 20th most of the day and the strategy worked out, everything played out. Got back on the lead lap which obviously was a game changer. There at the end we got a couple of good restarts and we had a good car. We were able to close off a good season. … Well, it’s great momentum. The last 10 weeks have been great. We have run more in the top 20 than we ever have. As you do that every weekend it gets easier and easier to do it. We’ve got a busy offseason and still got to work hard and everybody is going to be trying to find extra speed come February.”

Austin Dillon – finished 12th: “We had a really good Dow-Dow Corning Chevrolet today. I’m so proud of everyone at RCR for putting together a car that was so unbelievably fast. We worked as a team and used a lot of what we learned at the Homestead-Miami test a few weeks ago. At the beginning of the race, I thought we were going to drive to the lead. The race just didn’t play to our favor at the end. I want to thank all of the partners on the No. 3 car. We’ve had a great season making the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the last few weeks have shown what we are capable of.”

Kurt Busch – finished 13th: “We really struggled on racetracks that chew up tires such as Homestead, Texas, Chicago and Fontana. We just didn’t have the long-run speed or the balance, but luck played in our favor today to take the wave around and guys we were running with in points got in that wreck to help us get back on the lead lap and to get a set of fresh tires at the end. We were able to dodge some of the cars on the restart with the damage we had. It wasn’t the Chase we wanted. We were the slowest seventh-place car in points that I’ve ever seen. We finished a spot higher in points but we didn’t have the car as good this year as we did last year. The second half of the season was a struggle. We need to revamp our notes and try to turn over a new leaf starting next year.”

Paul Menard – finished 14th: “First, I’ve got to thank my team for all the hard work they put in this year. This schedule can be tough. The Richmond/Menards Chevy wasn’t handling like we had it during practice at the beginning of the race. We were good in the shade but handling went away in the sun. Once the sun went down, we were able to make adjustments in the right direction. The long green-flag runs didn’t do us any favors as we were caught a lap down more than once. We were able to race to the free pass position, though, and started in the top 15 in the closing laps. It wasn’t the year we wanted. Luckily I have a team that doesn’t give up. We’ll regroup in the offseason and come back fresh in Daytona.”

Brian Scott – finished 15th: “We actually had a car that was capable of competing. That kept us in the race and kept us able to hang on when we took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. I thought we were gonna have a shot for a top 10, but it just didn’t play into our favor with not having a car that was very good on restarts the first couple of laps. I’m proud of my guys though for fighting all year. Even through the struggles it’s been a fun year … I’m excited. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m excited to find out.”

Danica Patrick – finished 19th: “Today was another reminder of why you don’t give up. We’ve had some tough races this year, but my guys have never given up. I’m so proud of everyone on the No. 10 TaxAct Chevy team for all of their hard work all season. They put in so much effort every single weekend. The tough days are character building, and they’ve definitely made us stronger as a team this year, and I know we’ll carry that strength into next season.”

Trevor Bayne – finished 20th: “That wasn’t the result we were looking for but I’m proud of my team tonight. We never gave up and fought hard tonight. I just want to thank everyone who worked on this AdvoCare team all season long. This is a great group of guys and I’m really looking forward to working with them again next season when we get to Daytona.”

Tony Stewart – finished 22nd: “I’m proud. It’s been an awesome 21 years racing in NASCAR with the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. That is really cool to see that No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) up there making history. Now we’ve got three guys in the seven win club. Pretty proud day, I was glad I got to race with him on the day he got his seventh … I raced, I did what I do every time I get in the car. I didn’t think of anything else other than just racing the race. We got behind there and we tried something to make ground and got caught out and had to run 60 laps on a set of tires. At the end the line-up there was, let’s say confusing. I was still screaming about that just like I would on any other race. I was true to form all the way to the end.”

Ryan Newman – finished 25th: “I hate it for the guys. Our Caterpillar Chevrolet struggled a bit today compared to Friday and Saturday, but Luke Lambert and the crew made our car better throughout the race to take an 11th-place car and put it into contention with 20 laps to go. I want to thank my Caterpillar pit crew for gaining me a bunch of spots on pit road. We gained track position after most, if not, every pit stop we made. Unfortunately, we got caught up in the big wreck. We tried to do everything we could to stay out and limp home to the finish, but our Caterpillar Chevrolet was too damaged to complete the final few laps. I want to thank everyone at RCR for a solid season and look forward to returning in 2017 to compete for another championship. ”

Ryan Blaney – finished 26th: “We just struggled tonight. I made a lot of mistakes. I made a big mistake early and we ended up getting a flat tire out of it. I just hit the wall early being impatient. That just wasn’t smart, so that’s something I need to be better at and not being so impatient. We learned a lot this year. It was a fun year and I’m just looking forward to years to come. This team does a great job. We’ll learn during the offseason and then come back.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 30th: “I was just trying to get all I could get there. It looked like (Austin Dillon) got underneath (Matt Kenseth) and I tried to get underneath (Dillon) and when I did he was really close to my door and it just kind of sucked me around and we got loose. It’s a bummer way to end. We were just kind of average all night. It’s a tough way to end the season, but we’ll build it and get back ready for next year.”

Ty Dillon – finished 33rd: “We were so solid all day. I’m really happy with our effort all weekend long and how much speed that we showed. We unfortunately just got caught up in that big wreck in the closing laps of the race. It stinks, because it looked like we were on our way to a top-10 finish. Matt (Borland, crew chief) called a great race and we had some really solid pit stops. The balance of the race car was pretty spot on all race and that’s credit to Matt and the guys for being prepared. I’m proud of our No. 95 Advil Chevrolet and the partial season I was able to race with this team. I’m excited for what the future holds. I’ve learned a lot this season and am appreciative of the opportunity.”

Carl Edwards – finished 34th: “Yeah, I think it was shared, you know what I mean? I think it was just racing. I haven’t seen a real close up view, but the way I had it figured is first of all that was the race of my life up to that point. That was a lot of fun and Joey (Logano) was so good on the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought we were – I thought everything was going to work out and (spotter) Jason (Hedlesky) told me he was looking low and I – he told me basically he was there. I knew what Jason was saying and I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there and so here let me watch it again. Yeah, Joey just timed it perfectly, he moved down, I thought I could feel him a little and I just thought that – I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift. I just thought I had just a little more time, but he drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended. I don’t know what the caution was for. I really hope it was something that we needed to have a caution for because that was really – that was going really well.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 35th: “It’s a product of a format that’s based on putting everything and risking everything. I don’t know. It’s not really all that surprising. It’s disappointing. I don’t think that’s great racing, but I understand why it happened on both ends.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 36th: “All I see is (Brad Keselowski) coming up the track and nowhere to go. This is one of those wrong place, wrong time. We got put in the back a few times. Once was our mistake early and (Kevin) Harvick’s after that. It’s unfortunate. We had a really good race car tonight and nothing to show for it. It’s two weeks in a row. Frustrating, glad this year is over and we will go and regroup and get ready for next year.”

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Ryan Blaney returns to Kansas where win slipped away in May

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Ryan Blaney got into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs thanks to his first career win at Pocono Raceway in June.

But Blaney nearly got to victory lane three races earlier at Kansas Speedway in May.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned his first pole, won Stage 2 and led 83 laps in the Go Bowling! 400. But the No. 21 Ford was passed by Martin Truex Jr. with 19 laps to go and Blaney slipped back to fourth before the checkered flag.

Now the Wood Brothers crew returns to Kansas for this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400, the elimination race for the Round of 12.

Blaney is currently inside the top eight that would advance to the next round, but he’s not safe. He is seventh in the standings, nine points above Kyle Busch in ninth place. Jimmie Johnson sits in the final transfer spot, seven points up from Busch.

Blaney comes into Sunday’s race after he earned 18 stage points at Talladega and one playoff point for winning Stage 2. But Blaney’s Sunday ended when he was involved in a five-car wreck with 10 laps to go.

“We saw how important stage points are last week at Talladega, and it’ll be the same this week at Kansas,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in a press release. “The 18 points Ryan earned in the first two stages at Talladega allowed us to move up four spots in the standings even after wrecking out of the race.”

Blaney will be battling with the bubble drivers of Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to advance at Kansas.

To advance, Blaney needs to either win the race or earn 54 points in the race according to Racing Insights. That competition for those points begins on Friday when teams qualify.

“The weekend starts for sure on Friday, of trying to qualify up front and staying up front for the first stage or second stage and trying to get those points,” Blaney said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “They’re so valuable to your weekend and your playoff run. I don’t want to say it’s all about it. But they’re a really, really big part of the race on Sunday.”

Though Blaney trails the other four bubble drivers in regards to stage points earned through all five playoff races so far, he has the advantage when it comes to stage points earned in the Round of 12.

Blaney has earned 20 to Johnson’s 14, Kenseth’s 12 and Busch’s eight.

Blaney has an average of 7.1 stage points per race at 1.5-mile track this season. That trails Kenseth’s 7.3 and Busch’s 10.

A glaring disadvantage for Blaney is in playoff points. When he won Stage 2 at Talladega, Blaney garnered his ninth playoff point of the season.

That gives him the fourth fewest among the 12 remaining playoff drivers. The only drivers with fewer are Chase Elliott (six), Kenseth (five) and Jamie McMurray (three).

Blaney has made five starts at Kansas, including his first Cup start in 2014. With three top-10 finishes among them, his average finish is 11.4.

Blaney’s average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is 11.8. Of the four main bubble drivers, that is only bested by Kenseth’s average (10.1).

When it comes to points earned per race at 1.5-mile tracks, Blaney (32.4) is topped by Busch (33.4) and Kenseth (34.1).

Here’s your primer heading into second half of NASCAR Cup playoffs

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If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.

That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.

And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thanks to our friends at RacingInsights.com, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:

  • Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
  • The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
  • The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
  • Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
  • Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
  • There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
  • There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
  • Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
  • A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
  • Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
  • Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
  • The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
  • Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
  • Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
  • Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
  • Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.

Long: Lack of stage points could end Jimmie Johnson’s bid for 8th title

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Jimmie Johnson’s spotter says he’ll be “crossing my fingers” this weekend at Kansas that the mistake he made at Talladega doesn’t keep Johnson from advancing in the playoffs.

Should the seven-time series champion fail to move on to the Round of 8 — he holds the final transfer spot entering Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway — it won’t be because spotter Earl Barban told the team it could work on Johnson’s car before NASCAR had withdrawn the red flag at Talladega, incurring a penalty that ended the team’s race.

No, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the team can look at their failure to collect as many Stage 1 points as their competitors. Even if Johnson advances, his lack of stage points could keep him from racing for a championship if he doesn’t win a race in the Round of 8.

Johnson goes to Kansas with a seven-point lead on Kyle Busch for the final transfer spot. Matt Kenseth trails Johnson by eight points.

Before the playoffs began, Johnson was asked if there would be more of a penalty for his summer slump that cost him stage points.

“I really think so,’’ he said. “We know our qualifying average doesn’t lead to a Stage 1 opportunity.’’ 

Johnson’s struggles in qualifying have put him in a mid-pack spot and made it difficult to score many points in the opening stage. His average starting spot of 17.0 this season is worst among the remaining playoff contenders

The result is that Johnson has scored 59 Stage 1 points in 31 races this season — fewest among all but one of the remaining playoff contenders. Johnson has scored only 35.8 percent of his 165 total stage points in the opening stage. To compare, Kyle Busch, who has an average starting spot of 7.1, scored 58.7 percent of his 315 total stage points in the opening stage. 

Johnson’s difficulties in the playoffs have been as pronounced.

Johnson’s average starting spot of 15.2 in the postseason is only better than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16.2 average starting spot in playoffs) and Jamie McMurray (18.2).

Johnson’s 27 stage points are more than only Stenhouse (14) and McMurray (13) in the playoffs.

Johnson also has scored 37 percent of his total stage points in the opening stage — the lowest percentage among the remaining title contenders in the playoffs. 

To compare with Busch, he has an average starting spot of 4.8 in the playoffs. That’s allowed Busch to score 63.5 percent of his 52 total stage points in the opening stage.

Add it together and Johnson could face quite a challenge to stay in title contention.

Having to hold off Busch won’t be easy, provided Busch doesn’t run into problems.

In four of the first five playoff races, Busch has scored five or more stage points than Johnson in the opening stage. If Busch does that Sunday, he will be in position to pass Johnson for a spot in the next round over the final 187 laps of the 267-lap event.

That’s a likely scenario. Busch has outscored Johnson 80-41 in stage points in the season’s eight races on 1.5-mile tracks.

If Busch moves into a transfer spot, Johnson likely will have to beat Ryan Blaney to have a chance to break his tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in championships. Blaney has a two-point lead on Johnson.

Blaney has scored 108 Stage 1 points compared to Johnson’s 59 for the entire season. Blaney has outscored Johnson 196-165 in total stage points this season. In the playoffs, Blaney has a 10.2 average starting spot (compared to Johnson’s 15.2). Blaney has outscored Johnson 28-27 in total stage points in the postseason.

The challenges could be difficult for Johnson this weekend.

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NASCAR video: A.J. Allmendinger could be spoiler at Kansas

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It’s admittedly been a rough season for A.J. Allmendinger.

In the first 31 races, Allmendinger has one top-five finish and five top 10s.

He’s 26th in the NASCAR Cup point standings, which is on pace to be the worst full-time season of Allmendinger’s Cup career.

But there’s a bright spot for Allmendinger in this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Allmendinger has recorded two top-10 finishes in the last three races at the 1.5-mile track.

And he’s ready to go for another top-10 Sunday.

“In the last few races, the track has widened out for three-wide racing,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a fun race track, run the bottom, middle or top. It’s a place we’ve had success at, we’re ready to go do it again.”