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What drivers said after Can-Am Duel 1 at Daytona

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Here’s what most of the 21 drivers in the first of two Can-Am Duel races had to say after Thursday night’s race:

Chase Elliott (winner): “Just a great way to start the season. I know it’s just a Duel win. We wished it counted towards the playoffs. We would rather it be on Sunday, but at the same time it means a lot to me and means a lot to our team. … We didn’t say one word about points before the race. We just kind of set out and wanted to race, not ride around. I think sometimes you ride around and you don’t know what your car is like and if it’s going to be the way you want it for Sunday. And you can also get yourself in trouble riding around. We took chances and it worked out, so I’m excited for Sunday.”

MORE: Chase Elliott wins first Can-Am Duel race at Daytona

MORE: Results from Can-Am Duel 1 at Daytona

Jamie McMurray (finished 2nd): “I went home (after the Clash race) and watched a lot of video on Monday, of some of the cars I thought were really good, to see how they were getting runs and how they were doing restarts. And, this car just had a little more speed in it and was able to suck-up a lot better than our other car. The balance was a little bit better. … I got hung out a couple of times and I was able to maintain and come back in at around fifth. So, it’s a really good car. I’m proud of our guys and glad that it’s still in one piece.”

Kevin Harvick (3rd): “We got there, but we just didn’t clear the 24. … We’ve got a couple things we need to work on before the 500, but, all in all, I’m pretty happy with no practice and still building our notebook on all these Fords.  We’ve still got plenty of speed, so that’s a good thing. … We got some points and that’s a good thing. … We didn’t get to victory lane like we wanted to, but still okay.”

Brad Keselowski (4th): “We had a good night. We knew the 24 car (race winner Chase Elliott) was going to be strong. It just didn’t shake out like I hoped it would in some of those pivotal moments, that’s part of it. I could have taken a few more risks. We’re going to work on some things that make that possible.”

Matt Kenseth (5th): “It was pretty good. We got in a lot of different situations out there. I felt like we had pretty decent speed. Wish we would’ve finished better but it was a productive race and didn’t get wrecked and got in a lot of different spots and kind of got a pretty good feel for what we’ve got.”

Trevor Bayne (6th): “My car felt really good tonight. It pushed like crazy and it runs the bottom better than any car I’ve ever really had here. It’s funny seeing all the Fords now. There are more out there with the 4 (Harvick) and the Stewart-Haas guys, but they seemed strong tonight. The RPM car, our Roush Fenway cars, Penske cars, Stewart-Haas cars — all the Fords are just fast, so it was fun sticking together and pushing up through there with the 4 and Joey (Logano) pushing me there at the end. I thought if we could have gotten the bottom lane rolling there at the end we had a shot at a top-three finish or so, but it was a good day and we raced hard, so it was a lot of fun.”

Martin Truex Jr. (7th): “Without a doubt it was more aggressive than I expected. I thought it was just as aggressive as the Clash on Sunday. That’s really saying something when you’re talking about a non-points race and everybody going for the win compared to a qualifying race, so Sunday is going to be a wild one for sure with the sun is out. Guys had their hands full tonight. I can’t imagine what Sunday is going to be like. It should be a lot of fun. We’re going to have to work on handling a little bit tomorrow and hopefully we’ll get a bunch of cars out there to do that with.”

Aric Almirola (8th): “It was a good run for us. I think that our Smithfield Ford Fusion had good speed in it. We mixed it up there a bit. I thought we had better car, I just couldn’t make the moves when I wanted to. We’ll find some more speed in our car. All in all it was a decent race for us. I think we have good momentum heading into the Daytona 500. We have good speed in our car. Our car drove well. We’ll just tune on it and find some more speed.”

Joey Logano (9th): “I was just talking with Todd (Gordon) and trying to figure out where our mistakes were tonight. I made a few on the race track. I was up there toward the front and made a move and lost everything I had gained. That one sucked on my part. We also had a loose wheel and need to understand why we had that. We had a couple of mistakes we need to clean up. Besides that, we learned some stuff tonight.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th): “I was really hoping that outside line would have got going. The front couple of cars just kept getting held back some. We were just in line and I was hoping with Kevin (Harvick) leading, it seemed like he had a strong car qualifying and stuff, but it just wasn’t as strong as the 24. I thought the 2 was a little bit better leading than the 4 was, but we were just riding in line behind the 43 (Aric Almirola). I thought the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) was just gonna keep trying to get that line to go and they got checked up and he jumped to the outside, and then we were stuck in the middle.  I just kept trying to push the 43, but we weren’t going anywhere.”

Landon Cassill (15th): “Not much changed other than the fact we got in the back and couldn’t back up to the front. I tried to get behind the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) there at the end, but it was blocked up front and we couldn’t go anywhere. It was kind of like gridlock, but I feel like my car is fast and faster than what we had last year, for sure. I’d like to get it handling a little bit better. I wanted to get up front and it did. I felt like it wasn’t handling quite as good at the end of the race as it did at the beginning for sure, but the holes just opening up for me and I was able to get up there.  I just wanted to try and hold that track position if I could.”

Chris Buescher (16th): “I am glad it was clean. That was my biggest worry was coming into this one and tearing up our Daytona 500 car. I’m glad to get out of here without a scratch on it. We can take the Cottonelle Mega Roll Chevrolet to the next one, which is the big one, the one that means something. Unfortunately, didn’t get any bonus points out of it, but was pretty happy with what we got.”

Corey LaJoie (18th): “Every kid in a race car dreams of racing in a Daytona 500 and I get to do that on Sunday. I really do feel bad about Reed (Sorenson). I just tried to fill a hole and it was getting down to it and I probably did have position on him. … Man, you come here idolizing Jimmie (Johnson), Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., all of these guys. I’m fans of all of these guys and I get to race all of them on Sunday. It’s amazing. The big man has got a plan. I’m excited to get up there and dice it up.”

Paul Menard (20th): “We had a good run and I think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) kind of came up to shoot the middle and I was kind of side drafting and we just came together. I’m not really sure what happened. Good run with the Peak/Menards Chevy, it was tight, but fast all day long. We could get some momentum, just couldn’t do much once we got towards the front.  I’m proud of my guys. Shook some rust off from the off-season.  We will be ready for the (Daytona) 500.”

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Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.