What Drivers Said after Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

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Racing at Talladega — and how the race typically winds up — usually leaves NASCAR Cup drivers talking a lot.

And after Sunday’s Geico 500 was no different, as drivers had plenty to say about how the race wound up, being involved in a big wreck and more.

Here’s What Drivers Said:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished first: “We’ve been terrible for a long time. This year, every race we’re getting better and better. We knew that Talladega was a good racetrack for us. It’s been a good one in the past and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson. He was with us on that last lap. This Fifth Third Bank Ford was so fast today – qualified on the pole and got the win. I can’t say enough about the guys. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in Victory Lane. This is cool. The closest race track to my hometown and the fans were out here this weekend.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished second: “I thought it was super hard to pass today. I don’t know how everybody else felt. Until the tires wore out and the cars started sliding around, it was just three wide, and there really wasn’t anywhere to go. I actually raced with Kyle (teammate Kyle Larson) in about 30th for quite a bit of the race because there was no holes. It seemed like as the tires wore out and it got down to two lanes that you could kind of make people three wide and make some passes. It’s super circumstantial on the track of who’s in front of you, who’s behind you. Like there’s times when you feel like you’re going to have a good run and you don’t, and then there’s other times that it happens. So it was a good overall day for us.”

Kyle Busch – Finished third: “Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push and got by us there and then it was just about retaliation to get back on him and I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together. We did all we could here today and it’s all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn’t quite go our way, but we go to a real race track next week and we’ll try to win there.”

Aric Almirola – Finished fourth: “I thought I was right where I wanted to be. My car was really good through the middle of the pack and I didn’t want to get shuffled to the bottom. I was adamant about that, but I thought we had some pretty good runs toward the end and I thought we were gonna have a shot at it, but just getting side drafted and stuff we got stalled out. All in all it was a great day for our Fresh from Florida Ford Fusion and another Blue Oval two days in a row goes to Victory Lane.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished fifth: “We were a little better the closer we got to the front. We were trying hard, I just couldn’t push the car in front of me, so we weren’t really going as far as we wanted to go. But, it was still a great run for our UniFirst team. We ran up there throughout the last half of the race and that was pretty good. Congrats to Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) and Roush and those guys. They deserve it they have been working really hard.”

Kurt Busch – Finished sixth: “I felt like we had a nice bit of strength today. It was good to come back to a restrictor-plate race and battle and defend what we did in Daytona. We got sixth today. Had a really good run with (Jamie) McMurray down the back straightaway, and I thought we were going to do some great things coming to the front straightaway. We just didn’t keep that draft with him. Awesome day for Ford and the way that (Ricky) Stenhouse won and how all of us worked together. It’s good teamwork for the Blue Oval.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished eighth: “We had a very solid race car all day long. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, everybody on this Lowe’s car and just great teammates to work with out there. Great Chevy’s to work with and we finished a plate race and I don’t even think there is a scratch on this thing.  I mean that is like a double victory even though we finished eighth.”

David Ragan – Finished 10th: “Yeah, a team effort for sure. We had a really good car. It was a calm race until the last 50 laps. You just didn’t know when to be aggressive and when not to. We wanted to take care of our Camping World Ford. We got a little bit of damage there at the end and got damage from one of those wrecks and had to spend some time on pit road. The team did a great job fixing it up. The car still drove great at the end.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 13th: ”It was an intense 500-mile race, but I think our Geico Chevy ran well. It was tough to find cars to stay with us today, but we were able to move our way into the top ten on a couple occasions and even get out front to lead a few GEICO 500 laps. The car was a little tight, but overall, it was a strong day for this Germain Racing team.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 14th: “It was just an up-and-down day for us. Frustrating because we were fast and didn’t get to race for the win. It was cool to lead laps, though. We had a great First Fusion.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 22nd: “It was very disappointing. In traffic, it wasn’t very good at all. We didn’t run many laps inside the Top 5 or Top 10 all day because the car just really didn’t have a lot of speed doubled-up with everybody side-by-side. We’ve just got to try to work on that if we can. The car runs great by itself. But anytime we got a bit close to the front, those guys around me were just a little stronger to do things to put us in some bad spots and drop us back to the back. It happened time and time again. We’ll just have to see what we’re doing with the car and what we can improve.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 23rd: “I really don’t know what it was (the race-long vibration his car had), but it stayed with us all day. I didn’t know what to do. To have a car that can lead laps and run up front, this time we just happened to wreck up front. Solid performance from the team, just bad luck.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 30th: “(Allmendinger) just apologized. I don’t know that it was really his fault, per se. He had a big run, and he kind of got to my bumper and just happened to be in a bad spot coming up off the corner and was skewed a little bit to my left rear. And when that happens, it just unloads these cars too much.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 31st: “Yeah, I’m fine (after his wreck). I’m happy I didn’t get hit upside down. I’m all good. Our race team does a great job with safety. It’s just Talladega. It’s all it is. I think (Kevin) Harvick got behind me, and we were shoving, and Chase opened the door and then kind of closed it, and I tried to check up just a little bit and tapped him and when I checked up, it was a big wreck after that. I barely tapped (Elliott). And then I tried to get off him, but at that point, it was too late. It was just one of those things battling for the lead.”

Joey Logano – Finished 32nd: “I saw Chase tank-slapping it down the backstretch. I was hoping he’d turn to the left when he started spinning, but he went up the racetrack, and I was just sitting there in the outside lane saying, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be the first one there, and I can’t get away from him.’ So we got into the crash, unfortunately. That’s kind of a bummer. It’s part of it and part of superspeedway racing. Sometimes you win these things, and sometimes you get caught up in them. We’ll move on and hit the next race.”

Erik Jones – Finished 33rd: “I’m fine (limping after race). My heel is just a little bit hot from the race and hard to step on them when they’re cooking. I’m fine. It’s just unfortunate, I thought we had a good run going today, and I thought we had a car that was definitely capable of running in the top-10. I was up on the high side and saw the 24 (Chase Elliott) get loose and just can’t really do much, and there’s really nowhere to go. I wasn’t able to avoid it and got caught up in it.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 34th: “I’m not really sure. It kind of happened a few rows in front of me. All I saw was the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) coming back across the race track. I’m not sure how he got spun, but he ended up on the hood of the Winn-Dixie Chevrolet and unfortunately, just enough damage to not get it re-fired. The car wasn’t that bad, but must have done something to the motor there because I couldn’t get it fired up.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR – finished 35th: “It felt like we were in pretty good position most of the day. We got shuffled to the outside one time there and got in a bad spot and then they started wrecking. It’s a shame, it’s the way it goes here. Unfortunately for us, it’s been a tough one to finish, but we did get stage points today so that’s a bonus and at least it’s better than running all day and crashing out and not getting anything. All in all, it’s one of those deals, and it’s Talladega. Looking forward to Kansas next week for sure.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 36th: “I just saw somebody come across the field there and started checking up. I got kind of pushed back into it. I mean, it was just Talladega, it’s part of it. We are three-wide trying to get as much position as we can there at the end, and we were just too far back and we got in (it).”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 37th: Days of Thunder smoke, I think (on what he saw in the big wreck). I wasn’t trying to drive through it contrary to the way the video looks. I tried to get checked up, but you don’t have very good brakes at superspeedways, but I was on them as soon as I saw the smoke there. It’s just really hard to navigate. I stayed up high kind of hoping it would hit the wall and wash down and it didn’t. It stayed right up in front of me and I couldn’t see what I was driving into, but we had a really fast Ford this weekend. We qualified well with it. We ran up front all day and did all the things we needed to do.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 38th: “I was told to go low, and I just got spun. There was a lot of smoke, and it was hard to see. I really thought that everybody was doing a great job all day long. We were running two, three, four-wide all day long and nobody was getting too crazy. It’s to be expected. That’s part of the excitement of superspeedway racing. We had another really fast Aspen Dental Ford, we just couldn’t get to the finish.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 39th: “I have no idea (what happened in his late-race crash). We all kind of checked up, and I just got turned and destroyed. It figures. I haven’t gotten torn up too much here in the past, and I guess I was due one, but it wasn’t the week we needed. It’s been a few rough weeks in a row, but all you can do is get over it and move on.”

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Richard Petty Motorsports following the footsteps of Furniture Row

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WELCOME, N.C. – All of the noise at Richard Petty Motorsports’ cozy new home on a recent Friday afternoon was coming from behind a short wall in the corner.

Several No. 43 cars were parked on the shop floor in various states of inactivity and incompletion, but the “Fusion” on the front bumper betrayed they were last year’s models.

Drew Blickensderfer, RPM’s crew chief, didn’t seem concerned as he cast a smile toward the source of the noise – a specialized fabrication department that could be the key to solving a championship-tested equation.

Less space and fewer people can equal better results.

“We have shrank quite a bit,” Blickensderfer said. “Right now, we’re bare bones, but we have the people we need to go racing and performance-wise to go racing.

“To grow into a Furniture Row, or a model similar to that, we need to get that (fabrication department) up and running.”

As RPM makes significant structural changes – switching to Chevrolet, aligning with Richard Childress Racing, shuttering its body-hanging staff – no one is expecting a quantum leap in performance for a team that finished 24th in the 2017 owner standings.

But an improvement to a top-20 car with long-term winning potential is expected, and the model is the reigning team in NASCAR’s premier series.

In winning the 2017 title with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has excelled by taking Joe Gibbs Racing chassis and optimizing the accompanying suspension parts and pieces through precision engineering and manufacturing.

RPM hopes to mirror the process through its reorganized fab department, which will have the same equipment from its previous home but with a more laser-targeted focus.

“If we can get that up and running, we’d be better off in the long run,” Blickensderfer said. “And that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to take a car from Richard Childress Racing and develop and work on it and ultimately have a better product for Sunday.”

RPM has traversed various paths toward competitiveness in recent seasons.

In 2014, the team was receiving chassis from Roush Fenway Racing but hanging its own bodies when it made the playoffs with Aric Almirola via a win at Daytona International Speedway. In 2015, RPM added chassis building to its workload but stumbled. Last year, it returned to hanging bodies on chassis supplied by Roush Fenway.

This year, RPM relocated from a 65,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville to a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to RCR, which will deliver cars from its base just down the hill.

On arrival at RPM, all that is needed is interior (such as driver’s seat, steering wheel and column, air boxes and gear coolers) and mechanical work.

“Basically, it comes as a shell, the chassis with a body on it,” Blickensderfer said. “We do the wiring, the plumbing, the suspension parts, front and rear. Basically, all the parts you would bolt on.”

The change has allowed RPM to run leaner because there’s less work to be done on bodies. After employing about 80 last year (with 60 working on cars), RPM will have about 40 employees in 2018 with roughly 25 working on cars (about a half-dozen of those crew members will stay in the shop for assembly while the team is on the road, and RCR will supply the team’s pit crew).

The staff reduction will allow RPM to reallocate some funding toward R&D (after making zero trips to a wind tunnel last year).

Blickensderfer said the alliance with RCR should provide an aerodynamic foundation that will allow fine-tuning to have a greater impact. Last year, RPM “did a really good job of putting stuff that drove well under our race cars” but still faced the aerodynamic limitations of the Roush chassis.

“The thing that really creates speed on cars is the body and aero,” Blickensderfer said. “You can have the wrong springs in your car and mess up the other stuff a little bit, and you’d still be fast, at least in portions of the race. If you get all the springs right, and your aero is terrible, you still might be only a 20th-place car. That’s just the reality of it. The thing that is the most expensive to develop, create and implement is the aero stuff.

“So that’s why the big teams, they have all the wind tunnel data, and you’re racing against teams that are just developing faster than you can even produce cars. That’s why you’ve got to jump on board with them to get some of their information, or you’re going to be watching them coming behind you ready to lap you.”

With consolidation among chassis and engine builders an overarching trend in NASCAR for the past decade, alliances have become more prevalent. Besides RPM, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty also have similar arrangements.

But few have made it work as well as Furniture Row, which made the championship round in 2015 through an RCR alliance before switching to JGR and Toyota the next season. Relying on the setups and strategies of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex consistently outran JGR’s fleet of four Camrys in 2017 with a series-high eight victories and 19 stage wins – despite a few hundred fewer employees working at its Denver location.

“You step back and say, ‘How come no one else has been successful in that model?’ and you look at what Furniture Row has done with their model,” Blickensderfer said. “They still do some stuff in-house. So we pay RCR for an engineering agreement and to get cars from them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop ourselves. So you’d only be better off if you get extra money, you can start developing things yourself.

“Get all (the alliance team’s) information. Dump yours on top of it. You can’t help but get better in the long run that way. That’s what Cole and those guys have done. That’s the model that I would think the JTGs, the RPMs, the Germains, companies of this size, that’s what we need to strive to do is use that model to build up into that next level of race team.”

Though RPM will benefit from RCR’s aerodynamic R&D and assembly line capability, some of the information will be transferred the other way, too.

“They’re incorporating some of the stuff we had in our race cars into theirs that they think is going to make them better,” Blickensderfer said. “Before they put the body on it, we can change the brake system and do what we want, which eventually they’re going to do. And that saves us both time to make sure we have the best product.”

RPM took delivery of its first Camaro late last week for the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Its hauler will be on the road Jan. 26 to Nevada, leaving about a week to finish preparing and setting up the car.

“That’s not all that tight of a timeframe,” Blickensderfer said. “What will happen in the future when we start racing is we’ll get a car two to three weeks before the event, and when we come in on a Monday morning after an event, the next week’s car is on the setup plate ready to go, so there’s only about a day’s worth of work we have to do to it.”

RPM has put its surface plates and other tools in cold storage, keeping open the option to revert to hanging bodies. But with the sponsorship landscape scarce, it makes such autonomy more difficult.

“If you could do everything yourself, you’d be better off, because then nobody gets your information,” Blickensderfer said. “But if (RCR) can take the money they’re developing cars with, and we can take the money we’re getting to develop cars and combine it, I think we all end up better. When there is less money in the pot to grab, the more of us that can throw the money in, the better we’ll be.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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