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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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.