What drivers said after the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

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Fords dominated Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, with four drivers sitting behind the blue oval winding up in the top-five.

Here’s what many of the drivers in today’s race had to say after the checkered flag:

Joey Logano – Winner: “Coming from the back, being the 300th start and pulling into victory lane, man, that feels good. I drove my guts out there. We ended up with the winning car, something I’m really proud of. … Good, good, it’s nice to finally break through to get a win.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished second: “What we really needed was another 10 more laps, I wish it was the Richmond 410 or 500. … Just getting all those yellows at the end and couldn’t make any of it. Glad for our teammate to get a 1-2. We didn’t get quite all the breaks to fall our way and that’s how it goes sometimes.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished third: “We were competitive and our car drove really good. We were just missing some of the speed from the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Joey Logano), they run a little more sideways than what we run and just they have more grip. I think we optimized our day for the most part and that’s about as good as we could do.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished fourth: “Man, we had to fight hard for this top five. I made a mistake early. I thought we had  car capable of running in the top five a lot. I just got loose into (Turn) 3 and got into the fence and had to play catch-up for there. I was on the splitter. I couldn’t run my fastest lap until about la five or six. As soon as that caution came out I was like, ‘We have to stay (out)’. It worked out for us. Our Ford was really fast. I want to thank the fans for coming out. It was a hot one.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished fifth: “We had a good day. This has been a tough race track for us. We ran in the top-five all day and battled up front for the lead off and on. The last three runs we got tight in the center and loose off the corner and couldn’t find anything to make that better. Our Busch Light Ford team did a great job and we just keep knocking off those top-fives and the wins will come.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished sixth: “Yep, I had a really consistent car all day. I didn’t have any problems. It was really a normal race. The cautions at the end helped us on one, and hurt us on one. But overall it was a really good day. I’m super happy for GearWrench. This was their debut in NASCAR and it was awesome to let those people in the suite have a super good day and see all that, so I’m really excited about of performance all year long.”

Ryan Newman, Finished seventh: “It was a good day for this No. 31 team today. We got to lead laps and contend for the race win, so that’s all I can really ask for. I’m just proud of how we were able to improve on our Chevrolet all weekend long. Our car really raced well during the long green flag run; and if the race would have stayed green for the final 50 laps, I think we would have had something for them.”

Kurt Busch – Finished eighth: “We had to drop back and punt. We came down pit road a lap down, in the lucky dog position and just started throwing rubbers and went wholesale on it and made great improvements. We are somehow missing the balance but we were able to make changes today to improve the balance and be competitive enough to get in the mix. We got eighth and that is about as best as we could hope to attain.”

Aric Almirola – Finished ninth: “It was a solid day for us. I am really proud of everybody on the Smithfield Ford Fusion here. We had a good day. We needed that. We typically run well here. This is one of our better tracks. It is great to get a good solid finish here in Richmond, Virginia, Smithfield headquarters aren’t far away and we had a lot of friends and family of employees at the race. It was a solid top-10 and I am really proud of the effort today.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 10th: “We were going to finish about tenth either way. We just weren’t that good today. Just one of those days where you battle all day and hope to get a top 10 and we barely did that. Got some work to do for next time but all in all it’s a – wish we were better.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 11th: “I just have to try to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me or if it wasn’t told to me. I just feel terrible, obviously. Man, I’m surprised our cars even kept rolling after that because I just body slammed him into the wall and I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know, but that’s the last thing you want to have happen with a teammate.”

DANIEL SUÁREZ – Finished 12th: “I think it was okay. The first half of the race it was very tough. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it’s just so difficult. You get behind one or two adjustments and then you get a lap down or two laps down and it’s very difficult to recover that. Luckily we got a lot of cautions right there at the end and I was able to overcome those laps down that I was down. Very proud of the team. They never give up. They were working hard on the race to try to make it better. I just feel like we have to work hard in the first third – first half – of the race to try to stay with the rest of the guys.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 13th: “This was a hard-fought 13th. We were really tight all race long rolling through the center but I am extremely proud of everyone on this team. We never gave up all race long and got ourselves another top-15 finish. We’ll take it. It’s nice being this consistent every week. We’ll keep building on this and get after it again next week in Talladega.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 15th: “No doubt we’re disappointed. We were going to have a top-10 and maybe a top-five today. Everyone is trying hard. Car was good, and we had great pit stops today.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 17th: “We made some good steps throughout the race. We took a big chance there at the end, we had some good strategy and we got us a couple of positions out of it. We just fought tight in the center all day and just kind of a characteristic of this race track it is just part of it. We will keep working on it and not a bad day overall.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 18th: “We were just off to start the race, but the guys made changes all day in an effort to make the Code 3 Associates Ford handle better. The car was just way too tight in the center of the corner. The penalty definitely didn’t help matters, but we still came home with the best finish we’ve had in a while, so we’ll take it and move on to Talladega.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 20th: “I wish we would have stayed out on that last pit stop. That was my call to pit and it didn’t work out for us this time. The No. 17 car was right with us and he stayed out and ended up finishing fourth. Our AAA Chevrolet was fast during portions of the race but during other portions of the race we struggled with handling. Overall we had a lot of obstacles to overcome today and we worked hard as a team so I am proud of our efforts.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 24th: “We just never really hit on anything and I thought we were going to salvage a decent day there by just luck and then kind of the way everything worked forward and just got in trouble there at the end and it hurt too much.”

Paul Menard – Finished 25th: “Today was a challenge for sure. That was the loosest race car I think I’ve ever driven. Matt Borland did a good job making calls for adjustments throughout the race. We also had great pit strategy which helped us end on the lead lap. Borland took a risk hoping for a caution and we stayed out during green-flag pit stops. That paid off when the yellow flag came out and we were able to pit, then took the wave around during the next yellow flag. That allowed this team to get back on the lead lap, where we ultimately crossed the finish line in 25th.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 26th: “I’m so proud of this team. We really had a fast race car today. There’s no question. I hate it that we ended up damaged there at the end. I’m not sure how I could’ve avoided what happened there but the Chevy was really fast and we were able to gain some stage points today. Next week is the GEICO 500 at Talladega and I’m sure we are all looking forward to getting there.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 30th: “Jimmie didn’t know the car was there (his crash with Jimmie Johnson). … It wasn’t a great day. We made a lot of adjustments. That last run, I was pretty happy. Obviously, we were trying a wild strategy to stay out. … Just terrible luck. I don’t know what to do. We were probably going to finish between 10th and 15th today. Not all that awesome, but we just had terrible luck.”

Erik Jones – Finished 38th: “I don’t know what happened. I guess they were three-wide. I was on top and just got ran into the fence right on lap one and that’s unfortunate. I mean, it’s 400 laps – I just wish there was a little bit more patience at times. It’s frustrating – I was just trying to get this race going and work. We’re racing hard, so it’s a bummer, you know? We cut a left front, couple of laps later out in the wall and our day is over. Those guys get to keep racing, so it sucks, but we just have to move on.”

We’ll continue to update as driver quotes come in to our desk. Please check back soon.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits Jimmie Johnson for top 10; congratulates Austin Dillon for Coke 600 win

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CONCORD, N.C. – On the night the number synonymous with his legendary father returned to victory lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. found some consolation in his final Coca-Cola 600.

Earnhardt placed 10th in the circuit’s longest race, his best showing since a fifth in the April 9 race at Texas Motor Speedway. He improved a spot to 23rd in the points standings after a dismal showing by his No. 88 Chevrolet in last week’s All-Star Race.

“The car got better last couple of runs,” Earnhardt said. “We made a lot of changes, and some of them (were) working pretty good.  We would have liked to have run a little bit better than that for sure.  We think we should be running in the top five every week as a team, so that is still not really good enough, but compared to last week it’s a huge improvement.”

Earnhardt credited some of the improvement to teammate Jimmie Johnson, who finished 17th after his No. 48 Chevy ran out of fuel while leading with two laps remaining.

“He was communicating with me all week, calling me, talking on the phone,” Earnhardt said. “He would come across the garage and get in my window even during practice.  Get out of his car and come talk to me.  What a great teammate. I hated to see him run out of gas.”

But he was happy to see the win by Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet that was driven by his father. Richard Childress Racing sidelined the number from February 2001-14 after the seven-time champion’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

“Congratulations to Austin, man, that is awesome for RCR and Richard,” Earnhardt said. “Anytime they can win, it’s pretty cool.”

Earnhardt will get one more shot to win at Charlotte. In 34 starts at the 1.5-mile oval, he has a career-best third in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600.

Martin Truex Jr.: VHT ‘a huge factor’ in Coca-Cola 600 — but wouldn’t work as well elsewhere

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CONCORD, N.C. — Though the rain paid a visit to the Coca-Cola 600, the traction agent applied high in the corners of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a “huge factor” in NASCAR’s longest race, according to Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who led a race high 233 laps, lauded the VHT chemical used to improve racing at the 1.5-mile track after a dud of an All-Star Race.

“I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent,” Truex said after finishing third early Monday morning. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack.”

But that changed Sunday. Following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, NASCAR and the track reapplied refresh coats of VHT to the upper grooves in the turns after consulting drivers and crew chiefs. Even after a downpour swept over the track on Lap 143, Truex said the traction compound was a factor for 375 of the race’s 400 laps.

“It was the main groove,” Truex said of the higher grooves. “Where typically there is the least grip (there) on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit. I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.

“It definitely changed the race tonight. It made it a lot of fun. I thought it was a good addition.”

Winner Austin Dillon thought the VHT – also known as PJ1 TrackBite – benefited the race. But the Richard Childress Racing drive would like to see a change in where the agent is applied to the track surface.

“The middle groove had a lot of speed, took away from the bottom,” Dillon said. That’s usually dominant here. The bottom got good again. After the rain, the bottom was pretty dominant. As the race went on, I could actually see the VHT leaving the track. It was getting clean higher and higher.

“We’ve got something there as far as trying it. It’s not a bad thing. I really think we should try it more often. I think the next thing you look into is the placement of it. I feel like we needed more on the very top because the middle was really dominant, but you couldn’t really get into the top of it like you needed to. That would be my next shot at it. It’s not a bad thing at all. I like it.”

What’s next?

The chemical has been used on the concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway and the asphalt of Charlotte and been mostly praised.

Should it be tried at any other tracks on the NASCAR circuit?

“I don’t think so,” Truex said. “I think this track is so unique, the pavement here, the geometry of the racetrack, the bumps that are in it. It’s almost got a concrete feel the way the bumps are. They’re really, really small, high‑frequency bumps, almost like a washboard, kind of the feeling you get at Dover (International Speedway). Most asphalt tracks are not bumpy that way. They’re more of a swell. The car kind of goes through swells, a place like (Chicagoland Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway).

“It’s very, very different here. The pavement is different than anywhere we go. The bumps in the racetrack are way different than anywhere we go. I think both of those things kind of contribute to us needing to do some different things here to change-up the racing.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions. (The video is available above).

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Others took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

But some agreed with Earnhardt’s stance.

After defending Busch, Earnhardt also poked some fun at him later Monday, too.

 

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.