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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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Starting grid for Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

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The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway will begin Sunday with Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney on the front row.

They will lead a 38-car field to green in the ninth race of the Cup season.

Filling out the top five is Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano.

Click here for the full starting grid.

Denny Hamlin: Joe Gibbs Racing’s rebound won’t happen ‘overnight’ or ‘in a month’

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With NASCAR visiting a track where Joe Gibbs Racing has won the last three races, one of its drivers admits the issues that have plagued the team so far in 2017 won’t be remedied quickly.

“I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on,” Denny Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the (playoffs), we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.”

Entering the Toyota Owners 400, Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to win race through eight events. All four of its drivers sit outside the top 10 in points. Hamlin was the last active JGR driver to win, winning last years’ regular season finale at Richmond.

The 2016 Daytona 500 winner is 15th in the standings and has yet to finish in the top five. By this point in each of the last two seasons, Hamlin had three top fives and one win.

“It’s always taken me a long time to get over winter break,” Hamlin said. “For whatever reason, it’s taking 10 races or whatever into the season to kind of hit my stride. I’m not really sure what it is. I try just as hard at the beginning as I do at the end. It just seems like that break in the offseason, it takes myself a little while to get over that hump, get in the flow of things. I’m not really sure.”

JGR is still learning about its new 2018 Camry bodies, which Toyota introduced this year. Furniture Row Racing, which is in a technical alliance with JGR, has one win with Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), who is also third in points. Erik Jones is 13th in the standings with just one top 10.

Truex and Jones claimed the top spots in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

“We all get the same information,” Truex said Friday. “I guess at the end of the day it’s how you use it, how you put it to use. I think our team, (crew chief) Cole (Pearn), (engineer) Jazzy (Jeff Curtis), (competition director) Pete (Rondeau), our guys in general are just – right now we’re just clicking. We have a lot of confidence. Things are going well.”

Through eight races, there have been six different winners. NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte has called this Sunday’s race “pivotal” for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I think our competition also did a phenomenal job over the off‑season of getting better,” Hamlin said. “They just showed up this year with just more raw speed than what they had at the end of last year. It’s the same drivers, same crew chiefs, but their cars are faster. That makes their job a whole lot easier. But these are the trying times, you could say, that defines your character. It makes you work hard. We were on top for probably a year and a half, every week having four out of five of the fastest cars each week. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn’t. But we’re going to get better. We’re not on top right now, so we’ve got to work extra hard to get there.”

One piece of the JGR puzzle who has had to work harder is Daniel Suarez.

The defending Xfinity Series champion enters the ninth race of his rookie season 22nd in points. The biggest road block for him has been working with two crew chiefs. His initial partner, Dave Rogers, took an indefinite leave of absence following the West Coast Swing. Since then, the No. 19 team has been led by Scott Graves, who was Suarez’ crew chief last year during his title campaign.

“It’s been a lot going on for sure,” Suarez said Friday. “I felt like we were going in a good direction maybe a month and a half ago and then we had some changes that were out of our hands and I feel like we had to start again on these processes in the Cup car. Scott, he’s a very smart crew chief, he knows a lot and he has won two championships in a row in the Xfinity Series, but in the Cup car it’s different and he knows that and I’m learning that. I believe now we are learning together instead of I’m just learning myself.”

All of these comments were made Friday morning and afternoon. In the evening, Matt Kenseth did his part to turn things around for JGR by winning the pole for Sunday’s race.

It’s the first pole for JGR since the Kenseth claimed it last fall at Kansas Speedway.

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Matt Kenseth wins first pole of year for Toyota Owners 400

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For one afternoon at least, Matt Kenseth changed the conversation about Joe Gibbs Racing’s early season problems by winning the pole for the Toyota Owners 400.

Kenseth won his first pole of 2017 with a speed of 121.076 mph around Richmond International Raceway. It’s also the first pole for Toyota this season.

It’s Kenseth’s 19th Cup pole and his second at the .75-mile track (spring 2013). Kenseth’s previous best start this season was fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Those guys did really a job adjusting between rounds,” Kenseth told Fox Sports 1. “We had enough speed in out Circle K Camry that we only had to do one lap in each of the first two rounds to get into the third round. … This year has not been a good year for us, obviously so far. … We haven’t been getting any stage points, we’re buried in the points back there. We finally got a decent finish last week (at Bristol).

“Hopefully this week we can start up front, stay up front and collect some stage points.”

Kenseth will try to extend JGR’s win streak at Richmond to four races.

Ryan Blaney qualified second with a speed of 120.854 mph.

“The last lap of the last section we moved up (the track),” Blaney told FS1. “I wish I had done it both laps of the last session. so I knew how hard to go. I was in there little bit shallow the second lap and I knew I regretted it right away … I guess a bunch other cars did that and they picked up. I don’t know where (Kenseth) ran. It was a solid effort.”

It will be Blaney’s third start from second this season, which is a fact that annoys the sophomore driver in the No. 21 Ford.

“I really want to race the Clash at Daytona, that’s like my biggest thing right now,” Blaney said. “It’s upsetting me that we can’t get a pole.”

Filling out the top five for Sunday’s race is Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano.

In his first race since announce his retirement following this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 12th.

Other notable starting spots: Chase Elliott (14th) Brad Keselowski (15th), Denny Hamlin (16th) Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Kyle Larson (18th).

Austin Dillon will start last as a penalty for failing pre-race laser inspection five times last week at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Click here for full qualifying results.

 

Will Carl Edwards return? Denny Hamlin gives his odds of it happening

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What are the odds Carl Edwards returns to NASCAR after announcing in January he would not drive full-time?

“I would just be guessing, but I would say 50 percent,’’ former teammate Denny Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway — site of where Edwards scored one of his three Cup victories last season. “I think that Carl is a competitor. At his age (37), I’d find it hard to believe that he would just step away and not do it ever again.

“I think him leaving the window open in his press conference to say he’s not retiring, he’s just stepping away, I think it depends. I don’t know. Has anyone found out whether he’s having a good time right now or not? I think that would tell the story about whether he’s interested in coming back or not. From what I hear from all the retired drivers, it’s awesome for like a few months – then you kind of get bored a little bit.”

Earlier this week, Edwards responded by text to NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan on if he was interested in the No. 88 car after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would retire from the Cup series after this season.

Texted Edwards: “You may have it mixed up. I’m recruiting Dale to drive a tractor!”

Edwards also said that he was happy for Earnhardt and that it would be a great ride for someone.

Edwards announced in January that he would not race full-time in NASCAR this year, adding: “If I’m going to get back in a race car, which I’m not saying the R word (retirement) here, I’ve seen how that’s worked out for guys, but if I’m going to get back in a race car, I’m calling Coach (Joe) Gibbs first.’’

Edwards also said in January: “I don’t have any intention of going back to full‑time racing. I don’t have a plan to drive a race car right now. I just know how things work, and if it comes up and the right opportunity is there and at that moment, it’s the right thing, then for sure I’d entertain it. But like I said, the first person I’d talk to is Coach.’’

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