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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A long time coming: Kurt Busch earns best finish since Daytona 500 win

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With a win in the Daytona 500, the 2017 Cup season couldn’t have started out better for Kurt Busch.

But since, it’s been a struggle much of the time for the 2004 Cup champion.

The Daytona win qualified him for the playoffs, but he exited after the first round.

Along the way, he managed just four other top-five finishes, had seven DNFs (six crashes, one engine issue) and has endured a mediocre 16.2 average finish per race.

But much of that was forgotten – at least for a little while – after Busch’s runner-up finish in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, his best showing since his Daytona 500 win.

“I really wanted that one bad,” Busch told NBCSN. “I don’t know what it is about this place. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Later, the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion praised Gibson further, although he didn’t exactly feel that way after Saturday’s qualifying.

“All in all, Tony Gibson deserves this second‑place finish,” Busch said. “He got on me pretty hard on Saturday morning after qualifying (15th). He said, You know, we got a brake problem. I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“He goes, ‘You didn’t use brake, that’s why we didn’t run good in run two and run three.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I never use brake in qualifying.’ So he actually really pissed me off. I spent the whole race pretty agitated. At the end, I made sure I used brake and brought it home in second.”

While his championship hopes were dashed at the end of the Round of 16, Busch hopes to build momentum for the remaining four races.

Yeah, it was nice to have things unfold in our favor today, even though I brushed the wall and got us a lap down early,” Busch said. “The mentality that I’ve been trying to accept right now is run for 10th, try not to push the car too hard. Anything above 10th is icing on the cake.”

One thing that helped Busch’s finish was using sticker tires instead of scuffs late in the race. That allowed him to close on race winner Martin Truex Jr., even though Busch still came up over two seconds short at the start-finish line.

“It’s a matter of just keeping track of the adjustments throughout the race, making sure that we use every set of sticker tires that we possibly can and get the most out of sticker tires,” he said. “When we have scuffs, we struggle. We’re a 15th place car on scuffs.”

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Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Among his final acts alive, James “Jim” Watson texted his wife Saturday night and told her what a great time he was having with his Furniture Row Racing teammates at a local go-kart track.

Soon after, the 55-year-old father suffered a fatal heart attack.

“I take a little bit of solace in that he was happy in his last moments,’’ said a misty-eyed Cole Pearn after Martin Truex Jr. rallied to win Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Pearn was on the way to the hospital Saturday night when he was told Watson died. The team later gathered at their hotel to grieve.

“We just all looked at each other and shed some tears and some hugs,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports.

No Cup team has faced so much personal adversity in such a public way this year as Furniture Row Racing. Its greatest season on the track has been offset by tragedy and tribulation.

Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, had surgery in July for a recurrence of cancer. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2014 and announced she was cancer-free in January 2016. Her ovarian cancer returned this summer. Truex won at Kentucky Speedway and brought her home from the hospital the next day. Her chemo treatments continue.

After the Kentucky race, Pearn’s closest childhood friend suddenly died after he caught a bacterial infection from a cut. Truex won that weekend at Watkins Glen to cap what Pearn called then “the hardest week of my life.’’

After Truex won at Charlotte two weeks ago, Pearn said “my wife and I put our dog down … that we’ve had for 13 years.

“It’s just like, man, I don’t know if regular life is supposed to be like this.’’

Then came Saturday night.

Watson had been with the team since February, joining as a fabricator, who worked on both the cars of Truex and Erik Jones. Watson was a longtime racer from Wisconsin.

“James was a friend to everybody,’’ said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “It’s hard to talk about.’’

Truex said both teams helped each other work through the pain while preparing for the race Sunday morning. Truex’s seventh victory of the season continued his dominance and is the most wins by a Cup driver in a season since Matt Kenseth won seven races in 2013.

Pearn called it “kind of overwhelming” to see Truex cross under the checkered flag ahead of the field less than 24 hours after Watson’s death. 

“I was doing OK and then I started seeing the faces on other guys,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports. “It just hits you like a ton of bricks.’’

When Truex won in the past, it had just been the No. 78 crew that gathered in Victory Lane. Sunday, the No. 77 crew also joined Truex’s team to celebrate a win and a life.

“Chris (Gayle) and I came to it … that if either one of us were fortunate enough to win, we’d both go to Victory Lane because Jim worked on both of our cars and was a part of both of our teams,’’ Pearn said of the crew chief for the No. 77 team.

It proved a fitting honor for Watson.

“He always wanted when we won to celebrate as a group,’’ Pearn said. “I just couldn’t think of any better way to pay tribute to him and know that he would have been happy with that call.’’

Tough night but the result was some solace we all needed. So proud of the team. For you Wildman RIP

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What Drivers Said after Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to be the most dominant – and winning – driver of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season and playoffs.

Truex’s win in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway was his third in the first six playoff races and his series-leading seventh win of 2017 – six which have come on 1.5-mile racetracks.

Now the playoffs advance to the Round of 8 semifinal round. Kyle Busch is second in the points, 27 points behind Truex, and Brad Keselowski is third, 43 points back.

Four drivers were eliminated from advancing to the next round: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

All of them, as well as many other drivers, had a lot to say about Sunday’s race:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (team member Jim Watson, who passed away Saturday night from a heart attack) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here. Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 2nd: “I really wanted that one bad. I don’t know what it is about this place. Kyle (Busch) struggles here too. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 3rd: “It was a good race. We did a nice job coming from the back and I thought we got our car pretty decent there in the second stage. Then there was a mixup with some strategy stuff and pit calls and it felt like we were kind of at the back part of that but we were able to recover and miss that wreck which was big for us. We ran strong enough all day that we should have been in with where we ran. I am really proud of my team for the effort and we will move on to the next round and Martinsville.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 4th: “It was a wild day for sure. We fought our balance all weekend. I know the result wasn’t terrible, but definitely feel like we could have been a lot better this weekend and just the way things worked out for us. But, our car got better as the day went along, we just didn’t have the balance on a very long run to go up and pass guys like you need to have. So, we will go to work and get this side of things ready for Texas.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 5th: We definitely got our car better from where it was yesterday, but still a little bit off today. Just fought a terminal condition that we just couldn’t fix on pit road, but proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team for giving me something I could battle up front there with a little bit. Just got to get a little faster on the short run and we’ll be fine. The biggest thing we need to work on is short run speed. If we can do that, then we could contend, but we’re heading to a mighty good race track for us next week (Martinsville) that hopefully we’re able to capitalize.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 6th: “Yeah, absolutely that was an awesome day for our Scott brands Chevrolet. But, just proud of everybody back at JTG Daugherty Racing. We have been working really hard the last several months to try and get it turned around. We have hit the summer months and we haven’t had the speed we wanted. So, this weekend was a big step in the right direction for us. It’s excited. It’s fun to come back and run well.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 7th: “We ended up having a decent run. I am just glad that we brought another good finish home. I think that is about where the car should have finished this weekend. … (On missing the big wreck) It’s all luck.  A lot of times if you just run the back of somebody and push them through it that kind of works for you too. I did a little bit of that too. Just real lucky. That helped us on our finish today. I don’t know if we could get the track position and get a top 10. The car was fast enough at times to run up there and finish up there, but we will take it.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 8th: “As you look at the result of the day you want to have a chance to win. We had a car capable of winning. Just got stuck in a box and the box kept on getting smaller and smaller. The caution came out with the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger spin) and that put us and the 18 in a bad spot. That was it. Our focus was one stage at a time and we accomplished that. After that it was about trying to win the race.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 10th: “I thought we had a good shot to go for the win today and got off on tire strategy a little today. (Martin) Truex got by us and he was checking out, but was just going to play it out when we pitted and the rest of those guys pitted, where it would all shake out. But obviously that caution came out and it bit us and got us behind. Fortunately, our situation today was that we had to race guys that ended up crashing out, hate it for them. I would have liked to race it heads up and that might have been a different situation, but all in all we’ll take what was given to us today and we’ll live to see another day and fight again next week going to Martinsville.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 11th: “(On Martinsville, where he has nine wins) It’s not a bad track for us. So, hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it. It’s not back to zero with all those stage points. For us to advance moving forward we’ve got to win. We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up. It’s really simple from our stand point. We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 13th: “We were good enough and better than our finish. The pit road speeding penalty was ridiculous because I was way under pit road speed and running right with everyone else both times and they didn’t get a penalty. I will have to see that one for my own eyes. All in all, my guys put a good effort in it and I think we were better than we finished.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a definitely a crazy day at Kansas Speedway. With the changing track conditions as the sun set and shaded parts of the track, we had to be on top of the adjustments to our GEICO Chevrolet for the entire race. My team did a great job making calls, and I didn’t struggle with balance much at all. Track position was just key, and it was hard to make passes out there. Overall, I think this was a good weekend and shows the improvements to our intermediate-track package. There’s still work to be done, but we are definitely getting closer.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 19th: “We just couldn’t get on the right side of anything, strategy-wise, nothing. We got caught up in the wreck. Certainly not the way you want to finish at home. I had a top-five car all weekend long, just wasn’t meant to be.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 20th: “We really didn’t have anywhere to go during that deal on the backstretch. … It’s really unfortunate we didn’t get the result we deserve but we will keep fighting and get after it next weekend at Martinsville.”

Joey Logano — Finished 21st: “We had a tough day with our Shell-Pennzoil Ford. We struggled on short run speed and once the field got spread out it was tough to make up spots. Then we got caught up in the wreck later in the race and that damage certainly didn’t help us. We’ll regroup and head to Martinsville next week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 29th: “We really struggled today with the handling of our Fastenal Ford. It’s a bummer we couldn’t advance but no one really gave us a chance to make the Round of 12. Overall, we have had a great season so we can’t hang our heads. We have four more races to gain as many points as we can and finish off the season strong.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 34th: “I had a really fast car. I thought we had one of the best cars, and I felt like if we could have gotten to the lead, I could have led the race for a while. It was a good Cessna Chevy. But we’ve had two bad races in a row and there’s nothing you can do about it. We had a car that could have won. I think if we could have gotten to the front, but just didn’t make it to the end.”

Erik Jones — Finished 35th: “(On his wreck) I just lost it. It’s unfortunate and I feel bad for my guys and my team and I also feel bad for the cars that we took out of the race. It’s just a shame, I made the same mistakes here in the spring and this place has just been tough to me. Fortunately we had a fast 5-hour ENERGY Camry and it was up front, we had worked our way back up to that point after having mishaps at the start of the day. Nonetheless, not the ending that we wanted, but hopefully we can come back a little stronger for Martinsville.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 36th: “You have to thank NASCAR very much for all the work that they do on these race cars to make them very safe because I got hit from everywhere and I hit the 77 (Erik Jones) very, very hard. I’m perfect – the car’s not, but I’m good. Honestly, I don’t really know what happened. I just know that the 77 got very loose somehow and the next thing I saw was his door and my nose. I really couldn’t do anything at that point, but I haven’t seen a replay yet.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 37th: “I don’t know what any of the rules are. Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it, to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed. We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win. … Honestly, I’ve never heard of disqualifying somebody from a race if you got one too many guys over the wall or whatever happened there. Couldn’t be any more disappointed.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 38th: “I came out and said, ‘I got a turkey,’ three in a row. That is some bad luck. The Code 3 car had just started to get better, just starting to get hooked up, actually. I actually felt like I was catching the right lanes and right movements on the track and having good restarts. Would have been nice to finish one off. We haven’t done that in awhile.

Kyle Larson — Finished 39th: “I guess, I’m not stunned because freak things happen in every sport.  I mean you look at every year in the past and a lot of times – most every time at least in the new playoff format era – not always does the best team win. Not saying we are the best team, but we have been one of the contenders all season long. So, I’m not stunned, because it is a long 10 race playoff season, so anything can happen, but we have had a solid playoffs.  We have been consistent and just now got bit. … (On winning 4 races and gets eliminated) It’s painful. A part of me, I guess, will maybe be thankful that it wasn’t on my doing. I keep saying everything sucks. I don’t really know how to answer these because it’s the same answer for every question.”

Jimmie Johnson survives multiple accidents to advance in playoffs

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Jimmie Johnson‘s championship hopes were in peril on Lap 197 of Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

They were saved on Lap 198 by a 14-car crash that Johnson narrowly made it through.

Johnson, who finished 11th in the playoff elimination race, had come off consecutive spins on Laps 189 and 194 and trips to pit road for repairs when the wreck broke out on restart following his second spin. The first spin had sent his No. 48 Chevrolet sliding through the rain-soaked grass in the infield.

“The car was extremely loose,” Johnson told NBCSN. “We fought the balance throughout the day and the car would swing so hard. We were trying for short run speed to free the car up and we just got too far with it and I spun out twice. Thankfully I didn’t hit anything too hard.

“And when things really changed was down the back straightaway in that wreck. Somehow, I went through there at a high rate of speed and missed everybody. I don’t know how, but I made it. And then the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) car was sitting there and I thought I had him lined-up for a square impact, but fortunately he slid out of the way. … It wasn’t a pretty day, but we got it done.”

Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, had less kind words for his team’s day.

“We ran like (expletive),” Knaus told NBC Sports. “It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good racetracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We’ve obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Johnson is the active wins leader at Martinsville with nine. He is the defending winner of the fall race. It is his only top five in the last six races at the short track.

“It’s not a bad track for us,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it.”

Johnson is also the defending winner at Texas Motor Speedway, where he earned one of his three wins this year in April.

At Phoenix, Johnson has four wins, but the last one came in 2009. He also only has one top five there in his last six starts.

Johnson heads into the Round of 8 seeded fifth in the standings with 4,017 points.

“It’s not back to zero with all those stage points,” Johnson said. “For us to advance moving forward, we’ve got to win.  We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up.  It’s really simple from our standpoint.  We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

In his quest to win a record eighth Cup championship, Johnson has earned just four top fives this season. His third-place finish at Dover in the final race of the first playoff round is the only one since his June win also at Dover.

Johnson is the only driver who has won a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. He has four races left to continue the streak.