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.”

Ryan Preece leaving NASCAR future ‘up to fate’ and his own talent

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This is it.

Just 250 laps.

A track in Iowa.

The second half of a two-race gamble on himself that Ryan Preece has spent 20 years investing in since his days at a quarter-midget track in Meriden, Connecticut.

The 26-year-old driver is three days away from a race that could determine if he has any future at NASCAR’s highest levels.

The biggest race of Preece’s career comes in Saturday night’s Xfinity Series event at Iowa Speedway (3:30 p.m., NBC), a race where there will be no Cup drivers to keep him out of the spotlight.

He’s been on this stage before, though. He competed in this race against many of the same drivers last year, but in nowhere near the equipment provided by Joe Gibbs Racing’s No 20 Toyota. That’s why his presence in the Xfinity race two weeks ago at New Hampshire and his second-place finish may have taken some off guard.

“At a national level with Xfinity, there’s still probably some people who still don’t know I ran last year,” says Preece, who ran in all 33 Xfinity races in 2016 with JD Motorsports.

A second-generation driver, Preece rose through the ranks of modifieds and late models in the Northeast, winning numerous series and track championships and becoming the youngest champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2013. He has 17 wins in the series since 2007.

He eventually got a taste of the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series with underfunded teams the last three years.

But after his year with JD Motorsports, mostly spent in the back half of the field, Preece didn’t want another stagnant season. He didn’t want a 10th-place finish at Darlington to be his ceiling.

Ryan Preece during practice for the Xfinity Series Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Getty Images).

He’s relied on Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on what he should do.

“(Newman) said ‘If you’re not having fun, why do it?’” Preece recalls. “ ‘If you’re not doing what you want to be doing, why do that?’ I said ‘You’re right.’ I want to win, and I feel I wasn’t going to be able to at that point in time.”

Preece chose to return to his home in modified racing.

There, he knew he was good. There, he knew he could be at peace and win at the same time.

“I learned that I’m just not somebody who is just going to settle, to just be there” Preece says. “I’m not about being just part of the show. I want to show everybody, more prove to myself that I can do this. Not that I don’t think I can, but I want to show everybody else too. I feel like I need that opportunity and I finally got it (with Joe Gibbs Racing).”

While Newman’s words helped him come to a conclusion, Earnhardt encouraged him along a specific path.

“I said, ‘If you can get into a Gibbs car, get in a Gibbs car,” Earnhardt said. ” ‘That would be your best opportunity to win a race. That’s really the only way you’re going to be able to get people to take notice. I’m not saying it was my idea, but I think he made a great decision with what little money he had.”

“When opportunity doesn’t knock, you’ve got to knock the door down,” Preece says.

If Preece didn’t heed the words of Earnhardt, he listened to Kevin Manion.

During his one season with JD Motorsports, Preece lived in the race shop of the Kyle Busch Motorsports crew chief.

It was Manion who gave Preece the phone number of Steve deSouza, the executive vice president of Xfinity and development at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Kevin Manion gave me his number and said, ‘Hey, at least you can call. If he doesn’t call back, it’s no big deal, at least you can say you called’,” Preece says. “That’s really, to be honest with you, what got everything going because (deSouza) called me back that night. Obviously, it took sponsors to get me into the car and finish off the deal. Those phone calls are what really got me to this point.”

Preece said this three days removed from the best finish of his Xfinity career in 37 starts.

Driving the No. 20 Toyota usually piloted by Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin or Christopher Bell, Preece finished second at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Ryan Preece sits in the No. 20 MoHawk Northeast Inc. Toyota during practice for the Xfinity  Series Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

It was a race that saw Preece lead two laps and finish runner-up to Kyle Busch.

But neither of those were the most fun part of the experience for Preece. That came with 10 laps left in Stage 1 as the race resumed after a caution and Preece restarting 16th on fresh tires.

Ten laps later, Preece finished the stage in second behind Kyle Larson.

“That’s what I like to do,” Preece said. “I’m used to on Friday and Saturday nights where we have what they call a handicap. You win your heat race and then you start 15th or whatever. I’m used to starting mid-pack and driving through the field and navigating through holes and keeping the car safe doing it. That was the most fun to me.”

Preece will get one more chance to show off his kind of fun in the Xfinity Series to anyone that’s paying attention.

With the backing of five sponsors who have supported his modified and late-model careers, Preece secured the race at New Hampshire. Three of those sponsors will be on his car this weekend in Iowa.

Preece says he hasn’t felt any more pressure to perform in these two races than he would in any at the modified level. Even if they could be his last real shot at NASCAR success.

“I knew what the value of those races could be, the risk that was being taken,” Preece says. “It’s funny, some people have even said after this point they thought what I was doing was pretty risky. They wouldn’t do it, it’s not the conventional way. I believe in myself, and I knew that if could get the right opportunity and be a part of something like that it could go exactly the way I felt it could go. I could have gone and blown up on Lap 5 and you still wouldn’t know who Ryan Preece is.”

But for at least one more race, Preece can force the spotlight on himself.

He seeks to make his name when it seems any noteworthy driver rising through NASCAR’s top three series hovers around the legal drinking age. But the 26-year-old believes his age is a benefit.

“One thing I know from personal experience is that I’ve gotten better and wiser with age and that’s something about our sport,” Preece says. “As long as you’re willing to put in the effort, you can keep going to the next level. You’re only going to get better as you get older.”

Even as the days tick down to his second start, Preece’s mind last week was focused on his full-time job. He drives a modified owned by Eddie and Connie Partridge that he takes care of himself.

Last Tuesday, he was in the middle of attaching panels to the car he drove to an eighth-place finish Friday night at Stafford Motor Speedway, located roughly 40 miles northeast of his hometown of Berlin, Connecticut.

Preece has taken it upon himself to prepare his modifieds since 2011 when he parted ways with a team after only three races.

It’s a work ethic Preece aspired to after witnessing one of his heroes, the late sprint car driver Dave Steele, from a distance. As a kid still driving in midgets, Preece watched Steele work on his car following a race at the Speedrome in Indianapolis.

“He won that night of course,” Preece recalls. “He had his lap top plugged into the whole system and from that day on he made me want to be like him. …  I watched him work on his race car and really, he didn’t have many guys with him. From what I remember it was only two or three of them. It was a memory for me and kind of what set the tone for who I want to be and how I want to be.”

Now Preece is waiting to see if the combination of his work ethic and a gamble on himself will pay off following his Iowa venture.

But Preece is leaving his NASCAR fortunes “up to fate.”

“That will tell us if I was meant to do this or not at a bigger level,” Preece says. “My goal is to go out there and show the world what I feel I can do and that’s hopefully winning races at this level.”

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Xfinity crew chief Chris Gabehart penalized $5,000 for loose lug nut at Indy

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NASCAR has issued one penalty resulting from last weekend’s races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chris Gabehart, crew chief for the No. 20 Xfinity Series car of Joe Gibbs Racing, was fined $5,000 on Wednesday.

Gabehart was penalized for violating Sections 10.4 and 10.9 of the NASCAR Rule Book covering Tires and Wheels: Lug nut(s) not properly installed at the conclusion of the Lilly Diabetes 250.

There were no other penalties related to last weekend’s Xfinity or NASCAR Cup races in Indianapolis or the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

Richard Childress Racing to announce plans for a third Cup team ‘at a later date’

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With Paul Menard and his family’s home improvement chain sponsorship on the move to Wood Brothers Racing for 2018, Richard Childress Racing has a major funding gap to address.

Menards has adorned the No. 27 Chevrolet for RCR for seven consecutive Cup seasons and is among the last full-season sponsors in NASCAR’s premier series. It assuredly is the most lucrative of RCR’s sponsorships.

Though the team is committed to fielding Chevys for Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon next season, the impending departure of Menard leaves questions about whether RCR will remain a three-car team in 2018.

In a statement Wednesday morning, team chairman and CEO Richard Childress said the team “will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

Here’s the full statement from Childress:

Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.

Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.

We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.

 

Paul Menard will move to the Wood Brothers for 2018 season

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Paul Menard will join Wood Brothers Racing next season, the team announced Wednesday. He will replace Ryan Blaney, who will move after this season to run a third Cup car for Team Penske.

Menards will sponsor the car in 22 races. Additional sponsorship, including plans for longtime partner Motorcraft/Quick Lane, will be announced later. The technical alliance between Team Penske and the Wood Brothers will continue. Greg Erwin will serve as Menard’s crew chief, car owner Eddie Wood confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s fantastic to have the ability to continue to race in the highest level of motorsports full time and something we look forward to doing with Paul for years to come,” Wood said in a statement. “I know this will allow us to continue to perform as an organization and will give Paul a great opportunity to go out there and compete for wins. Paul is not only a great driver with a lot of experience in the Cup Series, but he’s great with partners, which is a big part of what we do these days. We are looking forward to finishing out this season with Ryan (Blaney), going for more wins and maybe even a championship, and continuing that with Paul in 2018.”

Said Menard: “I’ve really enjoyed my time in NASCAR and as a Cup Series driver, but to get the chance to drive the iconic No. 21 for the Wood Brothers is the coolest thing I’ve ever got a chance to do. I’m looking forward to working with the team, working with Roush Yates, Ford Performance and Team Penske to see what we can do. Ryan (Blaney) has done a fantastic job and is a constant threat to run up front. Hopefully, we can do the same thing and keep the momentum going into 2018 and beyond.”

Also, Menard will run a handful of Xfinity races for Team Penske next year.

Menard had been with Richard Childress Racing since 2011, scoring his lone Cup victory — the 2011 Brickyard 400 — with the organization.

Menard’s best finish in the points with the organization was 14th in 2015. He is 23rd in the points with no wins, two top fives and three top-10 finishes this season.

The move marks the fourth organization the 36-year-old Menard has raced full-time for in his Cup career. He drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. from 2007-08, Yates Racing from 2009-10 and Childress since.

Car owner Richard Childress issued a statement:

“Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.
“Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.
“We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

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