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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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Here’s the point(s): Brad Keselowski locked into second round already

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Brad Keselowski came into the NASCAR Cup playoffs concerned primarily about one thing: wins.

His strategy was if he won at least once in the first two or three rounds, it likely would leave him in good position to reach the final Round of 4 for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Ironically, Keselowski is just two races into the 10-race playoffs and he’s already advanced to the second round Round of 12 not on wins, but points.

After finishing sixth in the playoff opener last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, Keselowski finished fourth in Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

That’s enough points earned to put Keselowski and Kyle Larson into the second round with points, while Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. and New Hampshire winner Kyle Busch also advance to Round 2 with their victories.

While Keselowski would have liked to earn his first playoff win and third triumph of the season, knowing he doesn’t have to worry about where he’ll finish next Sunday in the first round elimination race at Dover gave the 2012 Cup champion satisfaction indeed.

“It was great execution,” Keselowski said. “The pit crew was really solid today and a pretty good setup too. (Crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the engineers did a good job putting the right stuff under the car.”

Even though he never led a lap in Sunday’s race, a win was definitely possible for Keselowski, even though he was contending with the Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Truex Jr.

He stayed in the top 5 for much of the race, didn’t suffer any problems on pit road and stayed out of trouble.

“I felt like we were where we needed to be to win and to run up front with the pit crew and the setup, just kind of lacking a little bit with aero stuff to keep up,” Keselowski said. “But on this type of track, aerodynamics are a little less important and I felt like it helped us run a little bit higher this week.”

Now, Keselowski can go into Dover a bit more relaxed, knowing he’ll race yet another day after next Sunday – as in the Round of 12 opener at Charlotte on Oct. 8.

“I think today this execution is as good as you can get,” Keselowski said. “A little bit of luck helps and of course you want to be the fastest car.

“That’s not the scenario with rules the way they are now, so we’ve got to make the most of it and hope to catch a few breaks and make sure we do our part.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. overcomes tough day to hold on to final transfer spot

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — No, there were not any bruises although Ricky Stenhouse Jr. admits it felt like “we were in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather all week.’’

Stenhouse persevered Sunday, coming back from scraping the wall on Lap 7 of Sunday’s  race and getting lapped before halfway to finish 15th. That puts him in the final transfer spot for the second round with only next weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway left before the playoff field is trimmed.

Stenhouse is tied with Austin Dillon for the final transfer spot but owns the tiebreaker based on a better finish in this round. Stenhouse’s best finish in this round was the 15th-place finish he scored Sunday. Dillon’s best finish is 16th, which he scored last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stenhouse entered Sunday’s race four points behind Dillon for the final transfer spot. Odds were not in his favor to gain ground. Stenhouse had the worst average finish (20.44) at New Hampshire among the 16 playoff drivers coming into the race. It looked all weekend as if he’d struggle to make it into the top 20.

“We just couldn’t find speed, couldn’t find the handle on the car,’’ Stenhouse said. “We made a lot of adjustments for today and was surprisingly a little bit better than we were in practice. I didn’t think we were as capable of a car to finish where we did, but we did what we needed and had some good breaks and some good pit stops and ended up gaining some points. That was our goal, so I feel really good about that. I’d say we’ve had two sub-par weeks and we’re still in this thing, so we’ll regroup and get focused and go to Dover.”

Stenhouse has 2,044 points, tied with Dillon and one point ahead of Ryan Newman.

Dillon finished 19th and was involved in an incident with Kevin Harvick that spun Harvick and triggered an eight-car crash at the end of the second stage.

Dillon said he didn’t know what happened.

“He kept coming left and I was in the gas and he bobbled and when he bobbled I tapped him and it spun him out,’’ Dillon said of Harvick.

As for next week, Dillon said: “We’ve got to go get ‘em … and have a good race and we will see where we end up.”

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Kyle Larson: ‘Top fives will get us to Homestead’

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Kyle Larson has finished in second a lot.

His runner-up finish Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was his eighth of the year and his first in the playoffs.

In Sunday’s ISM Connect 300, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver started and finished second after failing to track down Kyle Busch in the closing laps of the race.

But Larson doesn’t mind, especially after he’s earned two top fives to open the playoffs.

“That’s a lot of second-place finishes this year, but I’m fine with second,” Larson told NBCSN. “Top fives will get us to Homestead (for the championship race), so hats off to everybody on our Target team. The pit crew was great all day. I think we gained spots every time. Normally I’m struggling on short tracks, but this year we were pretty good.”

Larson placed second in both New Hampshire races this year. Before this season, he hadn’t finished better than 10th in his previous four starts. He placed third and second in his first two New Hampshire starts in 2014.

Larson earned his first short-track win two weeks ago in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway. The rest of his five Cup victories have come at 2-mile speedways, of which there are none in the playoffs. But there is the short track of Martinsville and the 1-mile oval at Phoenix in the third round.

Any sting of finishing second once again is likely dulled by the fact Larson has already advanced to the second round based on points.

But Larson wants to make more trips to victory lane in the final eight races.

“You could probably point your way to (the championship race), but I would prefer to get a win in each of these rounds,” Larson later said in his post-race press conference. “If we can keep the good runs going, we should be all right.

“Obviously, I think as you get into the later rounds, wins are even more important than they are now. We had good regular season points, gave ourselves some good playoff points. This first round I knew would be fairly easy, but I think as we get into the next round and then the third round, a win would be great.”

Larson leaves New Hampshire second in the NASCAR Cup standings. He is 24 points behind Martin Truex Jr.

Larson’s next chance to win in the first round of the playoffs is next weekend at the 1-mile Dover International Speedway. In his seven starts at the “Monster Mile,” Larson has three top fives.

Two of those were runner-up finishes, including in the last visit there in June.

NASCAR Cup standings after Loudon: 4 drivers locked into second round

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Four drivers emerged from Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a bit of pressure taken off their shoulders.

In addition to race winner Kyle Busch and last week’s winner, Martin Truex Jr., Sunday runner-up Kyle Larson and fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski are all locked into the second round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs, also known as the Round of 12.

That means no matter what happens at Dover International Speedway next Sunday, those four will have automatic berths in the second round.

Drivers in the first round that need strong results at Dover to advance — or run the risk of being eliminated if they don’t — are Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12th place), Austin Dillon (13th), Ryan Newman (14th), Kurt Busch (15th) and Kasey Kahne (16th).

Following Sunday’s race, Martin Truex Jr. remains No. 1 in the standings, holding a 24-point lead over Larson, a 30-point edge over Kyle Busch, 43 points ahead of Brad Keselowski, 61 points ahead of Denny Hamlin and 62 points ahead of Matt Kenseth.

Click here for the full NASCAR Cup standings after Sunday’s race at New Hampshire.