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What drivers said after Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway:

Brad Keselowski (finished 1st): “This is awesome. We’ve ran so good here with the Miller Lite Ford, but something always happens and we haven’t been able to bring it home. Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks. The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it’s really just an honor to win here and get to compete here. This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a clock. … Team Penske has put so much effort in these Martinsville cars the last three or four years because we knew it was one of our weakest tracks, and finally we got the result they deserve.”

Kyle Busch (finished 2nd): “It’s just frustrating when you come down pit road and you don’t make any changes and you bolt a set of tires on it and it goes to junk. I hate that that happened. We still haven’t finished where we should have this year. We haven’t gotten any finishes that are indicative of where this team’s been running or where we’re capable of running or finishing and that’s just frustrating, so we’ll continue on.”

Chase Elliott (finished 3rd): “For me, at this place I was way much improved than I’ve ever been here in the past, which I thought was great.  This is such an important race, especially when you come back here in the fall, it’s not a place that you can just get by with running bad in life, expect to just go on in the playoffs if you’re a part of it. I was really proud of our improvements this weekend. I hope that it wasn’t just a fluke deal and we didn’t just get lucky today and run good. I really hope that we’ve found something or I have found something at this track that will lend some more consistent finishes that are further towards the front.”

Joey Logano (finished 4th): “Every time we got ourselves in position to get some stage points something happened and, I don’t know, we’d be about 30th. … It wasn’t really because of the stages, it was more or less because of the tire. The tire just rubbered-up this racetrack so much, it was crazy to see how high we were getting. We were pushing the edges of concrete. You’ve never seen that here at Martinsville in a long, long time. The tires were chunking on the racetrack and rubbering up. It kept it interesting for everyone. It was an eventful Martinsville, like normal. Just a little wider race track and, I’m not going to complain about that.”

Austin Dillon (finished 5th): “We finished fourth here last year, and to come back and back it up with a fifth, it’s one of my favorite tracks, and really at one point I thought we were going to have a little something for the two leaders, but middle of the run our car just lacked a little bit more turn and forward drive, and then at the end we could come back to them again. … We’ve still got work to do, but it’s huge to see RCR running better and having cars capable of running with guys like this. It’s just fun to see his back bumper most of the time.”

AJ Allmendinger (finished 6th): “This is the best we’ve ever been here on a long run. I knew we needed (it). … I kept hating to see all those yellows. I knew we needed about 100-120 green flag laps there because the car was so fast. I wish we would have had it there at the end. Randall Burnett (crew chief), probably one of the best races he has called when it comes to adjustments. Just to work together like that, we both have to work on each other. We are both animated, we kind of feed off each other. We have a weekend like this where we learn and are able to stay calm and keep building our race cars the way we are we will be okay.”

Clint Bowyer (finished 7th): “Obviously not what I wanted. I thought that I would have a shot at running up front and leading laps. It just wasn’t our day. We’re learning. The guys were so tight last year when that ran with Tony (Stewart) that it freed up a lot today. I was just holding on all day. All and all it was solid. Even on an off-day it was solid, single digits. I appreciate everyone at Haas and Ford for everything they do.”

Ryan Newman (finished 8th): “Just struggled a little bit. I’m surprised we finished as good as we did for how bad the car felt. Good job for the guys. (Matt) Kenseth and I had a hell of a race for nothing, but that is sometimes what you’ve got to do. Just fun racing at Martinsville. A lot of single-file racing today man, I think the other tire might have been better, but we will just keep digging.”

Matt Kenseth (finished 9th): “The finish was okay for how bad we were all weekend. We just were really slow all weekend. We just fought the car being really tight. We made a little progress in the middle of the race and then we just got way off the end of the race again and just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 10th): “Going into today we had better hopes of Martinsville than normal. We haven’t been good here in the past. My normal is really bad here. When we got turned by the 27 (Paul Menard), I thought that our day was going to go like it usually does. We fought hard all day. We got our car better all day. I was really good on long runs. I really needed long runs. Those cautions really stacked me up. Once I got going I was really good.”

Chris Buescher (finished 11th): “We lost a lap there early and Trent (Owens, crew chief) and those guys made a really good call to stay out when a lot of the leaders pitted. Got our track position back and were able to get the lucky dog once or twice there to just kind of keep working on it. We made some really good progress with our Chevrolet. We got it running so much better and really just one or two little adjustments that we kept doing were bringing it to life. It is good notes to bring for the next race here at Martinsville.”

Erik Jones (finished 12th): “It was a lot of ups and downs. I thought at one point we had a pretty good car. We were running up in the top five and as the day went on we kind of lost the handle on it, got tight in the center and just never could really get it back. Right up there at the end we went two laps down. We had to pit under green. We had a tire rub and after that the 5-hour Energy Camry got caught up in an accident, but honestly that was the best we were was after that. So (12th) isn’t the day we wanted, but definitely we’ll take it for the first time here at Martinsville.”

Trevor Bayne (finished 13th): “This was a good day for us here in Martinsville. I’m really happy that we were able to come out of here with another top-15 finish and that we were able to keep our Ford clean for the most part. We’ve had a pretty good start to our season and I’m looking forward to getting to Texas next week and keeping that momentum going.”

Kasey Kahne (finished 14th): “We kind of ran about the same spot all day. We were really close, just needed a little more forward drive. And then in order to get that and I was too tight rolling, so we would just go back and forth with that. But I think we ended about as good as I felt throughout the race. Just had some places to make up with speeding, I barely sped. It was what we were trying to do all day and I just got going a little too quick out of the box. That put us back a little bit, but I think we finished about where we were.”

Martin Truex Jr. (finished 16th): “I just couldn’t drive off the corner. The car pushed and nothing appeared to be right after the first stage. It was nice to at least get something out of the race by winning the first stage and picking up more valuable points. Those extra playoff points could turn out to be very important when we get into the post season.”

Paul Menard (finished 19th): “We took a gamble with 82 laps to go by taking the wave-around rather than pitting for fresh tires. Track position is so important here at Martinsville Speedway. The gamble seemed to work, and it looked like it was going to pay off nicely for us for the finish. Unfortunately, we got collected in an accident shortly after that which caused some pretty bad nose damage to our No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevy. But that’s part of racing at a short track like this. I always enjoy racing at Martinsville, and I hope to improve on our finish later this season when we come back.”

Ty Dillon (finished 22nd): “Martinsville Speedway is always a battle and today was no different. We struggled towards the end of the first stage and went a lap down, but we were able to get the balance how we needed it and started to pick up speed. But, in the nature of short-track racing, the leader catches the back of the back so quickly and keeps putting cars a lap down. It seemed like every time a caution came out, the leader had just caught a car in the back and knocked us out of the free pass spot. And, it certainly didn’t help to be caught up in someone else’s wreck there towards the end.”

Danica Patrick (finished 23rd): “We struggled at the start of the race, but the TaxAct team did a really good job on pit road all day, and (crew chief Billy Scott) made some good calls to get the car turning better. We were able to run up in the top-15, and it’s unfortunate we got turned by the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) and that just took us out of contention for a great finish today.”

David Ragan (finished 24th): “Kind of typical of our season so far. We didn’t unload good on Friday. We were a little bit behind on Saturday and even to start the race on Sunday. We haven’t had a lot of racing luck so far. We were really aggressive on pit calls and strategy. A couple of the times that we had a chance to gain back a lap and get in front of our competitors it just didn’t work out.”

Landon Cassill (finished 27th): “I think our car was okay. It wasn’t quite the car we wanted. The engine issues put me in an hole on all the restarts. It would have been nice to not have that issue, nothing I could do.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 34th): “I love this place. It was a lot of fun today. The car was really good. Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the guys made a lot of changes last night and made our car way better. … We got bottled-up there in (Turn) 3 and they’re ain’t no bumpers on these cars. It knocked the radiator out of it. So, we’re out of the race. We went to the garage to try to fix it, but can’t with the new rules. So, we’re done. I was having a good time. But, I’m disappointed with the way we’re finishing. We’ve got to finish better than this.”

Matt DiBenedetto (finished 35th): “We got ran into a few times and and lost some laps to fix the damage. In the end, we cut down a left-rear tire from the damage and that put us into the wall. We had a good car. Just hard racing at Martinsville.”

Kurt Busch (finished 37th): “Tough day. We weren’t running that good and we were racing hard to get the Lucky Dog to get a lap back. Somebody checked up in front of us in the outside lane and jammed it up. No place to go. It was crazy.”

Jamie McMurray (finished 38th): “I think the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) got into the left rear and it knocked the body on the tire. I was kind of leaving it up to the team whether we pit or not because I knew they could get a better idea of what it looked like and maybe where it was hitting the tire. And then it somewhat quit smoking, which made me think maybe the body had relieved itself, but then I blew a left-rear tire going into the corner. It’s like a no-win. If you stay out and you blow a tire and you wreck, your day is done. If you pit here and you lose two or three laps, I don’t think you can get those back. So, we made the decision to stay out and ended up blowing a tire.”

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Rick Ware Racing acquires NASCAR Cup charter for 2018, will also field ‘open’ car

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Rick Ware Racing (RWR) announced Friday that it has acquired a NASCAR Cup Series charter for the 2018 season.

However, RWR did not identify which Cup team it acquired the charter from.

As a result, RWR will be able to compete full-time in the Cup Series with the No. 51, beginning in the 60th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

The team will also field an “open” team – one that will not have a charter and will have to qualify for every race it enters – sporting the No. 52 car number.

In addition to not identifying where it acquired the Cup charter, RWR is not identifying at this time what manufacturer it will field for either car in the upcoming season.

In a media statement, however, it did say that will be both be building and acquiring cars both during the off-season and in-season, including Chevrolet Camaros, Ford Fusions and Toyota Camrys.

The Thomasville, North Carolina-based organization is also increasing the amount of personnel, updating equipment, adding engineering support on and off the road, as well as upgrading its 20,000-square-foot shop.

The team said it will finalize its driver lineup for both the No. 51 and No. 52 “in the immediate future,” it said in a media release.

Six drivers drove a combined 29 races for RWR in the 2017 NASCAR Cup season: Timmy Hill (9 races), B.J. McLeod (8 races), Cody Ware (5), Ray Black Jr. (3), Kyle Weatherman (2) and Josh Bilicki (2).

The team’s two best finishes were both by Hill: a 28th-place showing at the spring race in Kansas, followed the next week by a 29th-place finish at Charlotte.

The team also entered three Camping World Truck races, with 2 starts by Jordan Anderson and one by Spencer Boyd. It also competed in one Xfinity race.

‘Old dog’ Matt Crafton preparing to make USAC Midget debut Saturday night

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Matt Crafton is proving it’s never too late for to try new things in auto racing.

Crafton, the 41-year-old driver for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, will break new ground Saturday night.

It all started a few months ago over dinner with Jack Irving, the director of team and support services at Toyota Racing Development.

“We were just sitting down, having dinner one night a couple of months ago and thought it would be a great idea for me to drive a midget,” Crafton said last Saturday during the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet.

“I didn’t think it was too crazy when (Irving) brought it up,” Crafton said. “At that point, it was just casual conversation. I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ and he texted (Keith) Kunz to see if it was okay. Two days later, he told me, ‘Okay, pick where you want to go.’”

Crafton chose Saturday night’s USAC Indoor Junior Knepper 55 in DuQuoin, Illinois, as the place to make his midget debut.

He will make it in a car owned by Keith Kunz Motorsports.

On Dec. 6, the two-time Truck Series champion found himself sitting in a midget for the first time, getting fitted for the dirt car.

“About to find out if you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Crafton later tweeted.

But Crafton has already been fine tuning his dirt racing skills over the last five years. Since 2013, the Truck Series has visited Eldora Speedway, the Tony Stewart-owned dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.

Crafton has been in every Eldora race, but before 2017 his best finish was eighth in the inaugural event.

Before this season, Crafton decided to really figure out dirt racing.

He and his father worked together to rebuild a Modified dirt car and in the downtime between Truck races, Crafton took it racing.

It worked out quickly, with Crafton coming in second in an event at Volusia Speedway Park in February.

Then in July, Crafton triumphed over Stewart Friesen to win the fifth Eldora Dirt Derby.

“It helped a lot,” Crafton said after the race. “Just learning what the track does. In the years past, I didn’t know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying.”

That Eldora win was the only victory for the No. 88 ThorSport Racing team in 2017, but it put Crafton in the Truck playoffs.

When the prospect of a midget race was raised to him by Irving, the pursuit of a third Truck title kept Crafton from it until the offseason.

“I wouldn’t say the Eldora win propelled any of this … but it’s definitely opened up some more doors,” Crafton said last weekend. “Now, everyone realizes how much I enjoy it and how much of a racer I am and that I love to race.

“I’ll say it again: I’m a racer. There’s a reason why I race dirt races and do everything that I do, and it’s because I want to go out and race anything and everything I possibly can. That’s why I got my own dirt modified, that’s why I got a go-kart … to be able to perfect road courses and that style of racing as well.”

One of Crafton’s teammates in Saturday’s race will be the defending Truck Series champion and dirt veteran Christopher Bell. Crafton’s also received advice from Chase Briscoe, who drove for Brad Keselowski Racing this season.

“(Briscoe) won’t be my teammate, but he sent me some in-car footage of him racing at DuQuoin and I’ve watched it 10 times, just to see what I can learn,” Crafton said. “I mean, you get about four laps, and then you try to race your way into the main event. There’s gonna be a lot of cars there, so it won’t be easy.”

“I talked to Bell this week, and he has a simulator with the midget on it, so I may go over to his house and run the simulator a little bit and see if I can figure out anything there.”

Crafton said he keeps getting pressured to take his dirt experience one step further and compete in January’s Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But Saturday’s 55-lap race comes first.

“I’d love to give (the Chili Bowl) a shot in the future. But we’ll see,” Crafton said. “I’m going out to DuQuoin to have fun; that’s the main goal.”

Four young Ford NASCAR drivers to compete in IMSA opening weekend at Daytona

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Four of NASCAR’s up-and-coming young stars – all Ford drivers – will get a nearly month’s head start of sorts for the 2018 season opener at Daytona.

A pair of 23-year-olds, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski, and 19-year-olds Austin Cindric and Cole Custer will all compete in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge January 26, part of the Rolex 24 weekend (Jan. 25-28) at Daytona International Speedway.

The four drivers will be mentored by Scott Maxwell, who won the Continental series championship with co-driver Billy Johnson in 2016.

Maxwell will also compete in the event, which will feature the four young drivers being part of a two-car Mustang GT4 team in the GS class. The pairings of which drivers will drive with each other will be announced closer to the four-hour endurance event.

“We have an outstanding group of young drivers coming up and we feel putting them in this kind of environment with Scott Maxwell will benefit them for the rest of their careers,” Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook said in a media release. “You have to be good on all types of tracks to compete for a NASCAR championship and this will give each of them valuable road course experience in our exciting Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports.”

Cindric, Briscoe and Majeski were recently named to share driving duties for the No. 60 Ford in the 2018 Xfinity Series for Roush Fenway Racing, in collaboration with Team Penske and Ford Performance.

Custer will enter his second full Xfinity season for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.

The four drivers plus Maxwell will take part in a three-day test session at DIS from Jan. 5-7.

When asked about how much they’re looking forward to the opportunity, here’s what the five drivers had to say:

CUSTER: “I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ve never done any endurance racing, but I’m looking forward to having some fun and learning what it’s all about. This is obviously a big race and great way to start the season. Being able to race with the other guys is going to be a lot of fun as well because we’re all pretty much the same age and have a lot in common. I never thought I would get the chance to do something like this, but road course racing has really grown on me. I think it’s fun to learn the different sides of things and this is going to be a chance for me to learn as a driver and make myself better.”

CINDRIC: “For me with my background some of my biggest moments in the early part of my career have been with Multimatic racing Mustangs in the Continental Tire Series, so for me I’m coming home. I come from a different background than the other guys and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, learn a few things and hopefully bring home some hardware because I know those Mustangs are pretty strong around Daytona. Scott and I have become really good friends and he’s been a big help to me in my career and I look forward to being teammates with him again and having a little fun throughout the weekend.”

BRISCOE: “This is something I certainly never thought I would get an opportunity to do, but I’m super-excited for it. This will be something new and I’m going to do a lot of it this year, so I think it’s going to be a good learning curve. I’ve only run two road courses my entire life and even though we ran decent, I didn’t feel like I ever knew what I was doing. Hopefully, I can get to the point by the end of this year where I know what I’m doing on a road course. Even though I’ll be driving two different kind of race cars, the principals of how you drive and the technique it takes will be something I can learn. I’m also looking forward to having a teammate and competing in an event where both of you have an impact on how well you run.”

MAJESKI: “I have virtually no road course experience at all. I’ve been on one road course my entire life and that was this past summer when I was sent out to the Ford Performance Driving School in Utah. Outside of that, I have not been on a road course, so this will be great for me to get some experience and be around people who know a lot about it. I’m looking forward to working with Chase, Austin and Cole as well. They’re good guys and I’m excited for the opportunity Ford has put in front of us.”

MAXWELL: “The Ford Mustang GT4 has been a great project from the start, and I’m glad to get back in the seat in Daytona. It’s just a fun car to drive. I’m happy to work with the young NASCAR drivers Ford has signed up, too, to help these drivers get acclimated.”

Report: Two race attendees sue NASCAR, Daytona for 2015 Coke Zero 400 crash-related injuries

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Two additional persons have filed suit against NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Daytona International Speedway for injuries sustained in a July 2015 race crash, according to a report by ESPN.

Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was involved in a last lap crash that resulted with Dillon’s car flying into the catch fence during the July 2015 Coke Zero 400.

Debris and fluids from Dillon’s car got through the catch fence and impacted several fans in the seating area. One lawsuit has already been settled, and two other men – Florida residents John and Wayne Vanpatten – have now filed suit for injuries they claim they suffered as a result of the crash.

MORE: Austin Dillon talks about Daytona crash on Today show

MORE: 5 fans treated, one at hospital for injuries from Austin Dillon’s airborne crash at Daytona

 

According to the ESPN report, the Vanpatten’s claim they were hit by a toxic fluid from Dillon’s car that was ingested by John Vanpatten and which sprayed onto Wayne Vanpatten’s arm. The men claim they are still recovering from their injuries.

The Vanpatten’s lawsuit falls within the four-year statute of limitations to file such a claim per Florida state law.

According to ESPN, NASCAR, ISC, DIS officials and the Vanpatten’s attorney all did not comment on the suit.