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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.”

Follow @KellyCrandall

Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger unveil Darlington throwback schemes

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Both Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger have revealed the paint schemes they’ll drive in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott will use his No. 24 Chevrolet to pay tribute to the car his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, drove in his first Cup start.

The light blue look was on his No. 9 car when he started in the Feb. 29, 1976 race at Rockingham Speedway.

The car was revealed on Facebook in the below video.

AJ Allmendinger will pay tribute to two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte with his No. 47 Chevrolet.

The car will resemble the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Oldsmobile that Labonte drove in during the 198 Cup season when he competed for owner Billy Hagan.

NASCAR America: Felix Sabates: ‘I’m lucky to be here’ after near-death experience from illness last year

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For nearly a month last year Felix Sabates was at death’s door.

The fears were so great that Sabates might not wake up from a coma he spent 29 days in, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit for the possibility he might have to attend his co-owner’s funeral.

But the 71-year-old made a full recovery through a rehab process that included learning to walk again.

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Sabates have a special relationship. Petty drove the No. 42 car for Sabates’ SABCO Racing for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s, winning six of his eight Cup races for the millionaire owner from Cuba.

Sabates sat down with Petty to discuss the ordeal, which began in January 2016 when Sabates began feeling ill during the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I came home and woke up the next morning and I (couldn’t) breath,” said Sabates, who drove himself to the hospital. “The minute they saw me I was in intensive care.”

Sabates was in the hospital for two and half weeks before he was released, but Sabates “should’ve know I wasn’t cured.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner returned to his usual grind until it caught up to him in August.

“My blood pressure was through the roof, my oxygen level was 55, which you should be dead then,” recalled Sabates, who has no memory of a three-month stretch. “They thought was I was brain-dead. They were pretty much going to disconnect me. So 4 o’clock in the morning, they took my tubes out.”

That’s when Sabates began the process of waking up.

“I’m lucky to be here,” said Sabates, who aside from being back at the track is also back to playing golf.

“I used to worry about little things,’ Sabates said. “Now I don’t even worry about big things.”

The full feature will air Sunday on Countdown to Green, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN before the Cup race at Pocono.

NASCAR America: Ryan Blaney glad Team Penske news is finally out in the open

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On Wednesday it was finally announced that Ryan Blaney would move from Wood Brothers Racing to Team Penske full-time next year in the Cup Series in the No. 12 Ford while Paul Menard will take over the No. 21 Ford.

NASCAR America’s Dave Burns caught up with Blaney on Thursday. Blaney was happy that his 2018 plans were finally public knowledge.

Blaney also acknowledged how a technical alliance between the two teams helped Wood Brothers Racing return to a competition level that allowed Blaney to get his first Cup win this season earlier this year.

“That was a big deal,” Blaney said. “That was getting us to where we could run a full-time season. That was really helpful not only to me but to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins, will be coming with me to the 12 car.”

Blaney has been driving for Team Penske part-time in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

“It’s been nice to get the news and tell everybody finally about what we’re doing,” Blaney said. “But mainly we’re trying to finish this year out strong with the Wood Brothers, getting their 100th win, that’s really big. That’s on my bucket list for this year and getting as far as we can in the playoffs.”

The No. 21 team returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, the site of Blaney’s first Cup win last month.

Watch the video for the full interview.

Numbers add up for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono

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Just six races remain for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make the playoffs in his final NASCAR Cup season.

Earnhardt is ranked 22nd in the NASCAR Cup standings and there are only four open positions — that could shrink further with additional first-time winners in 2017 in the next six races — left for winless drivers to qualify for the 16-driver playoffs strictly on points.

As a result, Earnhardt and his fans know that with each passing race where the No. 88 remains winless, the urgency to win even just one race to make the 10-race playoffs increases exponentially.

Junior’s fans may be heartened to hear some positive tidbits about his chances this weekend at Pocono Raceway, courtesy of RacingInsights.com.

  • Did you know that during Junior’s nine-plus year tenure with Hendrick Motorsports, he’s earned the most top-fives at Daytona (seven in 20 starts) and … this may come as a surprise … at Pocono (seven in 18 starts).
  • Earnhardt also has six top fives both at Martinsville and Michigan (18 starts each), and five top fives at Phoenix and Talladega (also 18 starts each).
  • Of Hendrick Motorsports’ last 10 wins, Jimmie Johnson has won eight, Kasey Kahne won last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and Earnhardt’s most recent Cup win came on Nov. 15, 2015 at Phoenix Raceway.
  • Earnhardt has gone 39 races since his last win.
  • Earnhardt won both races at Pocono in 2014. In the four races he’s been in since then, he’s finished fourth (mid-summer 2015) second (early 2016 race) — meaning he’s had four top-five finishes in his last six starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
  • He also was 11th in the early 2015 race there. His only finish lower than 11th came last month at Pocono when he completed just 58 of the scheduled 160 laps before his motor expired.
  • In 34 career Cup starts at the Tricky Triangle, Earnhardt has two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s and one pole.
  • Earnhardt is ranked sixth for most laps led by winless drivers this season, with 24 laps led. By comparison, Kyle Busch has led 1,040 laps, the most of all winless drivers in 2017.

Add all those elements together and could Junior’s best chance up to now to win and lock in a playoff berth come this Sunday?

We’ll soon find out.

Follow @JerryBonkowski