What drivers said about Bristol Motor Speedway

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Comments from drivers after Monday’s rain-postponed Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Jimmie Johnson won for the second time:

JIMMIE JOHNSON Winner: “Yeah, it was kind of interesting because when the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) was there, it just created an environment to run the top, and I wasn’t as good on the top. The No. 42, not being up there and that first couple of cars; the bottom was really where it was at for the short run. This Lowe’s Chevrolet was flying.

“… This track has been difficult over the years, and we really hit on something Saturday afternoon in that last practice session around the bottom, and honestly, it’s what I’ve been looking for here for 16 years, and we finally figured it out. So, I’m very very happy.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished second: “Yeah, what a day. Starting off, I was way too loose and fell way back, just missed it. You know, heck, last car on the lead lap. (Crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) made some great adjustments all day long. The pit crew was on their game all day long and gained spots almost every time, and then I lost them all back on pit road speeding. Went to the back again, and then drove back up through them and got ourselves some position there. Mike made a good call of putting me in a position of one of the first cars on four tires there. I think (Jimmie Johnson) was the other one, and he won the race, so the right strategy was there. The team effort was there. You know, that’s what a weekend is all about. It’s just been this long since I’ve won a race, and here is pretty special. It would have been pretty cool to be over there in Victory Lane.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished third: “I thought our Jimmy Johns Ford was the fastest car, we just needed track position. I think we showed how fast it was there on no tires and kind of able to hold our own. You just never know where you’re going to come out on those restarts. I felt like we had a couple cautions and we were in control of the race with the 11 on two tires and we might have had a chance. A good weekend and we’ll just keep going.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished fourth: “Well we haven’t had a top five in a long, long time. We got better there at the end and got a little bit of track position finally. It was an uphill battle all day without qualifying, and then I sped on pit road and got us to the back. At the end, we had a car that was good – most of the day it wasn’t very good, but the last two runs we were fairly competitive.”

Joey Logano – Finished fifth: “Yeah, we weren’t a restarter today. Kind of non-typical for the 22. It’s usually a short-run speed car. I started out hitting the splitter, up the race track, I was all over the place. I couldn’t even retain the lead when we had it. That probably cost us the race when we lost the lead to (Jimmie Johnson). Good long-run car, just didn’t have enough long runs. We have another top five, I think that’s four straight. We got some good stage points which we haven’t done all year. I just want to win when we come to this race track.”

KYLE LARSON – Finished sixth: “I don’t know if we had the car to beat. I thought early on in the race before all the rubber got laid down we were really good. In the middle part of the race, I didn’t think we were very good. And then there at the end, I got the top going really good. And then I got that speeding penalty and set us back. We had to gamble there for that last stop and take two lefts, and we hadn’t done that all day. The balance honestly wasn’t that bad with our Credit One Bank Chevy on two tires. Four tires just had a little more grip around the bottom for a little bit longer than we did. And I had to get to the top early and was just following Kevin (Harvick) hoping that he’d make a mistake because I knew I couldn’t go down to the bottom and get by him. So I had to kind of ride. But it was another good run for us.”

Chase Elliott – Finished seventh: “It was all right. We just kind of got behind through those stages and fought back a little bit, just not enough.”

MARTIN TRUEX, JR. – Finished eighth: “We were going for it you know. Wish we could have had a shot there just to see if we could have won. … This is the best run we’ve had here in a long time. It’s bittersweet, I wish we could have seen if we could have beat the 48 (Jimmie Johnson). We were close there before that last caution, but it is what it is and you try to get what you can get and sometimes you cross the line and today we crossed the line. All in all, it was an awesome day and a lot of fun. Had the VHT not worn out quite as bad then we would have really killed them. The top lane came in, and some guys could run that better than I could, but overall it was a good day and a lot of fun all day.”

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR. – Finished ninth: “I just couldn’t keep our track position the way we needed to with some mishaps on pit road, but the car wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. For as bad as we were Saturday, I was really happy with our Sunny D Ford. We got the top working and we actually got the bottom working some, but we just couldn’t keep our track position the way we needed to, and then I got behind some cars that were slower a lot of the restarts and I’d lose some positions. But as long as I had clear track in front of me I could really go and felt like I could pass whoever I wanted to.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 10th: “We were average. We were about a fifth- to 10th-place car most of the day. Just kind of where we ended up. We just haven’t had the speed to run with those guys, so we have to keep gambling with our strategy to try to make something happen and steal a win because we just don’t have a car fast enough to do it right now.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 11th: “Today was a solid day. We just got tight toward the end, but today was another consistent day. I’m really proud of all my guys on this AdvoCare Ford for their work this weekend. We keep improving each week and knocking on that door to turn those top 15s into top 10s. We’ll keep making gains and get after it again next weekend in Richmond.”

Austin Dillon– Finished 13th: “Our New Era Caps Chevrolet was probably better than where we ended up finishing. We couldn’t do a whole lot on the track today, mainly because we struggled on the bottom. We lost some track position in the middle of the race, but once we got it back, we ran smart and minimized any mistakes. Overall, it was a decent day for our team at Bristol. It wasn’t the finish we wanted, but we needed a solid day, and that’s what we ended up with here.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 14th: “The speeding penalty is on me. I pushed it to get all I could, and unfortunately, it bit us, and we went from sixth to 17th. We gambled on the final stop and took two left-side tires with 50 to go to restart sixth. It didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. We had a top 10 Grainger Chevrolet and despite our race, I’m happy to see the speed and handling potential is there. We had no idea what to expect with the addition of VHT on the lower portion of the track, and I think we fared well considering.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 15th: “It was definitely a battle for our No. 13 GEICO Chevy team today. We got damage to the right rear at the end of the first stage that really hurt our speed through the rest of the day. So, our race really became about getting track position any way that we could. My spotter did great getting me through traffic, and crew chief Bootie Barker and my guys on pit road did everything that could to keep us where we needed to be. We had to fight for all that we could, and I gave it everything that I had. It was a good day to come out of Bristol with a 15th-place finish.”

Paul Menard – Finished 16th: “Our No. 27 Libman/Menards Chevy was good all weekend. We really didn’t need to adjust on it much during the race. The pit crew had good stops and kept us where we needed to be all day. We got screwed out of a top-10 finish there at the end. After we got into the back of the No. 5 car, we didn’t have time to fix the nose damage, and that kept me from moving forward. Bristol is always a fun race, and it was interesting today with the different grooves.”

Erik Jones – Finished 17th: “(Gray Gaulding), we were side-by-side passing him and I don’t know if he got loose, but he got down into us about halfway down the backstretch and must have cut a tire – cut the right front. Pretty unfortunate, I thought we had a really good car and a car that if we could have got some track position and maybe got up front, I think we could have led some laps and had a shot at the win. I thought we were just as good as (Jimmie Johnson) for the majority of the day. We’ll keep working on it, and we have a good package to come back in the fall.”

David Ragan – Finished 23rd: “We had a great Jacob Companies Ford today. We were able to pass some cars and stay on the lead lap for a lot of the race. We just got caught up in a little skirmish with our teammate and Danica. I think that Landon (Cassill) had a suspension part break. I was trying to get out of his way and Danica squeezed us a little bit, just one of those racing things. Three wide at Bristol is hard to get through.”

Landon Cassill – Finished 32nd: “Yeah, we had a loose wheel that led to broken wheel studs. A real bummer. I thought that we had a real good car.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 33rd – On power steering issues: “I didn’t think that was ever gonna end. We had to come in and fix it, which stinks because when we went back out we were actually really fast, but you’re not racing for anything, which is unfortunate. It’s something to look forward to in the fall race because I felt like that was one of the best cars I’ve had at Bristol. It stinks that it happened. I know it happened to us and (Brad Keselowski), the same problem, so we’ll have to figure out what happened and what was different (with Joey Logano) to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Kyle Busch– Finished 35th: “I was the fastest one out there those last two runs picking cars off and driving from the back to the front after we lost our track position the first time. We had our issues, and we were trying to march our way back up toward the front and get there and thought we were doing a good job of that and trying to be conservative with the tires because obviously they can’t make it through a full distance for us for some reason. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s fundamentally wrong what we’re doing, but it seems like all the rest of our five JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars are fine.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 36th: “I’m just frustrated it was so miserable after I right-reared it. I thought to myself, ‘I’m catching cars and passing them.’ I was starting to pass lead-lap cars and thought that we were on track to climb our way back up there. With the yellows and the competition cautions and stuff, it was maybe going to work out, so I’m mostly just thinking it was kind of just miserable for half the time out there after I right-reared it. But it’s not from a lack of effort, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying after that all happened, it was just kind of one thing after another, including pitting for a second time before the green came back out. I’m a half-a-lap down and the car is super-loose still, and just kind of a dumb decision with 18 laps to go to come and put tape on it like we did. I know there was a hole in the grille from all the stuff that happened, but it was one thing after another. I had about 30 laps of hope today.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR– Finished 38th: “I don’t know (if) we broke something in the oil system under caution. The guys said there was some oil in the pit stall after our pit stop. I noticed when I was getting lined up double file for the restart, the car was smoking. I just thought maybe we had a tire rub for some reason, but I couldn’t remember what might have caused that. And went into Turn 1 on the restart, and the car went straight into the wall with oil all over the tires. Came into the garage there, and they are working on where the hole in the system is. Just something is messed up, but that is going to be the finish for us. It’s unfortunate. We weren’t running that great, but we were working on our car and trying to figure out how to get it to run better. And get something out of today, but we are going to have another bad finish. We have had a lot of them this year. It’s going to be tough.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 39th: “We started at the back, and we were making really good headway. And was really happy with the balance of it, and it was looking to be a good start to a race. I am honestly not really sure what happened. Came off (Turn) 4 there and fighting for the (free pass) and trying to get in that spot. Everybody starts checking up, and I locked the brakes up and just couldn’t get slowed down in time. I think I ended up tearing the radiator out of the car and pretty much it just ends our day now.”

Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

Are the youngsters set to celebrate at Talladega?

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After Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in February, he was asked about how the top eight finishers that day each had at least eight full-time seasons experience and if that was coincidence.

Recall, this was after some veterans expressed discontent with how NASCAR promoted younger drivers and that youngsters finished first and second in the Daytona 500 with 27-year-old Austin Dillon winning and 24-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. placing second.

Harvick’s response to the question about experience that day in Atlanta?

“Talladega is April,’’ he said. 

As NASCAR heads to Talladega SuperSpeedeway this weekend, Harvick’s forecast proved correct. No driver under the age of 30 has won since Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500.

So, will the youngsters prevail? For that to happen, they’ll have to  outwit the veterans.

But one who has done so is 27-year-old Joey Logano, who has won two of the last five Talladega races and three restrictor-plate races since 2015, including that year’s Daytona 500.

If not Logano, who?

Talladega has been known as a place for drivers to score their first career — and sometimes only — victory. Defending event winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who turned 30 in October, became the 11th driver to record his first Cup win at Talladega last May.

Dillon’s best finish in nine starts at Talladega is third in May 2016. Chase Elliott’s best finish in four starts there is fifth in that same race. Elliott continues to look for his first series win after finishing second last weekend at Richmond — the eighth time in 86 career starts he’s been second.

Erik Jones has failed to finish either Talladega races last year. His best result was 33rd in May 2017. Kyle Larson’s best finish in eight Talladega races is sixth in Oct. 2016. Ryan Blaney‘s best finish in seven Talladega races is fourth in May 2015.

This will be the first Cup start at Talladega for Wallace and William Byron.

Of course, any of them will have to beat Kyle Busch, who has won the past three Cup races, or Harvick, who had his own three-race winning streak earlier in the season.

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NASCAR America: Joey Logano has strong Richmond run a year after last win

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A year after his win at Richmond Raceway was encumbered following an inspection violation, Joey Logano had one of his best races since.

And it came at the .75-mile track on Saturday.

Logano, one of two drivers (Kyle Busch) to finish in the top 10 in eight of the season’s nine races, won the first two stages of the 400-lap race and led 92 laps before finishing fourth. It matched his previous best result in the Daytona 500.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed Logano’s season so far and how the team is pursuing its first win in a year.

“They’re just not quite there yet,” Jarrett said. “They’re not where the Stewart-Haas Fords are at this point in time. Even though he got a better finish than they did, I just don’t think they have that speed that they’re looking for at this point. If he goes back and thinks (about) everything that took place after this race last year and where he is right now, I know he’s extremely excited about the prospects of the future and races to come for them.”

The fourth-place finish is the third top five for the No. 22 team this season. Logano heads to Talladega Superspeedway, where he has two wins and three top fives in his last five starts.

Watch the above video more on Logano and Chase Elliott.

Report: Matt Kenseth to return to Roush Fenway Racing?

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Roush Fenway Racing has what it is billing as a “Major Roush Fenway Partner Announcement” at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states the team will reveal that Matt Kenseth will return to drive select races in the No. 6 Ford of Trevor Bayne.

No one from Roush Fenway Racing responded to multiple requests for comment from NBC Sports. Several industry insiders contacted by NBC Sports also had no knowledge of Kenseth going to the No. 6 car.

SB Nation’s Jordan Bianchi, citing unnamed multiple sources, reported Monday night that the 2003 Cup champion will rejoin the NASCAR team that Kenseth drove for from 1998-2012.

The report stated that Kenseth’s first race in the No. 6 is expected to be May 12 at Kansas Speedway.

Bayne is 26th in the points heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. Bayne’s best finish this season is 12th at Texas. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not had a top-10 finish in his last 12 starts, dating back to last season. Sponsor AdvoCare signed a contract renewal with the team through the 2019 season in Nov. 2016. 

Kenseth left the series last year, unable to find a ride after he was told he would not be retained by Joe Gibbs Racing after the season. The move allowed JGR to put Erik Jones in the No. 20 car this year.

Kenseth told Nate Ryan in the NASCAR on NBC Podcast in November that he was putting his career on hiatus but didn’t say retirement.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and pretty much decided after Martinsville, which I kind of already knew anyway, but we decided to take some time off,” Kenseth told Ryan. “I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards.

“Really most of my life, everything has been very obvious to me. Moving to Joe Gibbs, everybody was like, ‘Oh that must have been the hardest decision. Actually, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Both ends, everything lined up. It lined up to not stay where I was for a whole bunch of different reasons, and it lined up to go over there for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was just like it was really easy. This one, I’ve been fighting it as long as I can, because I’m like, ‘Man, once you’re done doing this, not many of us get to do this, especially at the top level.’ I think I fought it for a long time.

“Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate, because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different.”

Kenseth joined JGR in 2013 after 13 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series with Roush, compiling 24 victories while making the playoffs eight times. The 2000 Cup rookie of the year also scored 26 Xfinity wins with the team, finishing runner-up in the standings in 1998-99. He ranks 20th on the all-time Cup wins list with 39.