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What Drivers Said after Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway

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Kyle Busch – Winner: “It’s been a frustrating year, but an awesome day today. … We didn’t really outsmart anyone today, we just kind of played our race and our own strategy and thought about it a little differently than others and it worked out for us.”

Kevin Harvick – finished second: “Kyle (Busch) had the class of the field all weekend. His car was really, really fast. He got the pole. Got the win. Pretty much just charged through the field. We definitely have a little bit of work to do. I feel like we got closer and closer. I feel like we raced around all the Toyotas all day. Just proud of everyone on the Mobil 1 Ford.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished third: “It wasn’t the right strategy, but I think we still had a shot at it if we hadn’t got caught up there at the end in traffic so bad. Just kept catching lapped cars in the wrong spots and that cost us second without a doubt. I don’t know if we could have beat Kyle (Busch), he was really, really fast there at the end and we were off there at the end.”

Brad Keselowski – finished fifth: “A strategy day for sure. Our car was okay. I thought we had the best strategy out there, we just needed a little bit more speed.”

Clint Bowyer – finished sixth: “It was a big pit strategy day for sure and you know that going into a race like this. Our car was good all weekend. We unloaded a fast car. This is the best car that we’ve unloaded in quite some time. A little bit different build. Hopefully this is what we’re looking for, what I’m looking for and build on this.”

Erik Jones — finished eighth: “It was okay, just up and down, just needed track position most of the day and then got behind, had a loose wheel and put us way behind. Just had to work back from that. The SiriusXM Camry had good speed, but just the handling wasn’t great all day – rear grip really. We made some adjustments throughout the day and just have to keep working at it.”

Chase Elliott – finished 10th: “Our race was alright.  I made a mistake, thought I had a flat tire and pretty much ruined our day.”

Kasey Kahne – finished 11th: “We had a strong car, just track position was tough. … (On his run-in with Jimmie Johnson) Jimmie was high and everybody was going by him on the inside. I followed the next car and I was like way lower than where the groove is and he still hit me. I thought maybe he couldn’t steer because he had a problem or like something was flat because he obviously spun right after that. So, I’m not exactly sure what happened to him.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – finished 12th: “Man, I don’t know where the speed is that the front three or four have and they’ve got it every week. We don’t have that and we are not going to find it in that garage on Friday or Saturday. If we don’t show up with it, we ain’t going to find it. That is somewhere in the shop … so we will have to keep working back there.”

Kurt Busch – finished 13th: “I thought we did a good job on strategy based off the pace of our car. We were just kind of welded to 15th-place all day. We weren’t close enough to gamble and pit while it was under green conditions and the Stage breaks. We just kept chipping away at it. Restarts for us were 50-50; some were good, some were bad. Overall, we experimented with some suspension and we know not to do that again.”

Ryan Newman — finished 14th: “Our Caterpillar Chevrolet was loose in Turn 1 and tight in Turn 3 for most of the race. We had some pit strategy scenarios and we chose to go for the stage points in Stage 2 which was good for our team. But I found with our overall handling, our speed was in line with the six to seven cars in front of us and when you are all running equal, it’s tough to pass. We definitely have improved our race package from when we raced here in the spring. I’m happy to see our team starting to make the turn for a change to have a strong run during the Playoffs.”

Danica Patrick — finished 15th: “The Code 3 Associates Ford team did a great job today getting us another top-15. We have really gained some consistency over the past few weekends. I think we’re going to put together more top-15s and top-10s this season as long as we can stay out of trouble and finish the race.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 16th: “This is probably one of the best cars I’ve had at Pocono. We should’ve had a better finish today but the pit-road speeding penalty cost us. Overall we had a good weekend and will keep learning in these final races before the playoffs.”

Paul Menard — finished 19th: “We had our work cut out for us from the opening laps here at Pocono Raceway. When they wrecked ahead of us on the first lap, I got into the back of another car and it damaged the nose and hood on the Moen/Menards Chevrolet. The guys in the pits worked on it each stop and finally got it fixed up to where it wasn’t an issue. Thanks to my team, we were able to earn a top-20 finish. They kept fighting and never gave up.”

Trevor Bayne — finished 20th: “We were just really tight at the end. As each run got longer the handling would shift more and more toward being tight on the exit of the corners. But I want thank all of my guys for their hard work this weekend. We’ll rebound from this next week in Watkins Glen. We got a top-10 there last year and I’m confident that we can unload another fast AdvoCare Ford when we get there next week.”

Austin Dillon — finished 21st: “We got off on the wrong foot today that’s for sure. It’s one of those situations where we were at the wrong place at the wrong time. We got hit from behind on Lap 1. I hate if for our American Ethanol team but they pulled together and worked hard to make the repairs so we didn’t lose any laps. This weekend was a challenge from the get-go, but we are by no means giving up. We keep improving on our cars and it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing better results.”

Kyle Larson – finished 33rd: “I had a drive shaft break. I don’t know if it was my doing or what, but I didn’t change my motion up or anything like that. I thought it was fairly normal from what I did and everything just shattered when I got into third gear. Yeah, a little disappointing because our Energizer Chevy was pretty good today.  I thought we had a top five car for sure.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON – finished 35th: “It’s just hard racing. … I was in the outside lane and losing some spots. I think the No. 5 washed-up into me and kind of finished me off over there in Turn 3. It’s definitely not the day we wanted to have but I don’t think either one of those situations were intentional by any stretch. It’s just a bummer day for this whole Lowe’s team and we’ll get our Chevy ready for next week and go do it again.”

Aric Almirola – finished 38th: “(What happened on the first lap crash?) I have no idea. Our Smithfield Ford Fusion was really good to start off there. I had passed about seven cars the first two corners. I was making a lot of progress and then we got to Turn 3 and everybody just stacked up. I saw some smoke. I saw some cars stopped. I got piled in from behind and just drove into the accident. I haven’t seen a replay and have no idea what caused the wreck. Sort of a bummer not to even make a whole lap. Not our day.”

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Staff picks for tonight’s Cup race at Bristol

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win tonight’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Matt Kenseth. If it is the last time, he goes out in style.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Get the brooms out.

Daniel McFadin

Kyle Larson picks up win No. 4 on the season with his first Cup victory at track shorter than two miles.

Jerry Bonkowski

Joey Logano survives the typical Bristol mayhem to win and roll into the playoffs (provided this win isn’t encumbered like Richmond was).

Chase Elliott in ‘tight spot’ with three races left before playoffs

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Chase Elliott doesn’t know his exact spot or the exact number, but he knows his No. 24 team is “certainly in a tight spot” on the Cup Series playoff grid with three races left before the playoffs.

“You are never comfortable,” Elliott said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “We are there towards the back. I don’t exactly know 100 percent where we are, but I know we are one of the last few spots of non-winners that are still in.”

The spot Elliott finds himself in ahead of tonight’s Bristol night race on NBC is 14th on the playoff grid. He’s 68 points above the cutoff spot for the 16-driver field that will make the playoffs.

Elliott sits above Jamie McMurray (+52) and Matt Kenseth (+31) as the only three winless drivers in the top 16.

“That is not a comfortable position to be in because there is always an opportunity for a guy on the outside to win a race and bump you back another position,” Elliott said. “It’s tight for sure where we are at. We feel like we need a victory to feel good about it. I mean, heck, we are not many from having a full playoff list of winners. So, yeah, no, we aren’t real comfortable with it just because in that position you are not really guaranteed anything.”

If Elliott wins tonight, in two weeks at Darlington or Sept. 9 at Richmond, it would be the first Cup win for the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is 64 races into his Cup career and has only visited victory lane in a Daytona 500 qualifying race earlier this year.

In the last two seasons, Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney have won their first Cup races.

This year, Elliott has six top fives through 23 races but none in the last six races.

“I don’t think it’s eating at us per se,” Elliott said. “I feel like we’re all in a good place mentally. I am. I think (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) is. I think if we can get things rolling a little better and find some pace and find some consistency in running well each week, I think it’s easy to have everybody hyped-up and attitudes would be great when you’re running good. It’s the years and the weekends that you’re struggling to keep everybody’s morale high. I think Alan does a really good job of that.”

When it comes to gambling his way to a win or a good finish to solidify his points standing, Elliott says “a gamble is not so much a gamble anymore” when everyone is doing it.

“Now we see that every single weekend,” Elliott said. “Everybody knows all the tricks to track position and the pit strategy to move forward in a race or take a chance. Really the only time we see somebody have something weird work out for them is when a caution falls at the right time for them and none of us really know when that’s going to happen. So, I think we’re all gambling per se. We’re all just kind of doing it together instead of one person being on their own island.”

Right now, Elliott is one of three people on the island called “the bubble.”

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Cole Whitt’s crew chief working hurt at Bristol after car fell on him

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BRISTOL, Tennessee – Frankie Kerr, crew chief for the No. 72 driven by Cole Whitt, will be working hurt during tonight’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The TriStar Motorsports crew chief was injured Friday on pit road when Whitt’s car fell on him during practice.

The incident broke his right scapula and bruised his sternum and ribs, but the 56-year-old crew chief still will be on his team’s pit box for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 p.m ET on NBC).

There are no garage stalls at the 0.533-mile track, leaving teams to work on cars on pit road.

Whitt’s car was being placed on a jack stand when the accident occurred, Kerr told ESPN. Kerr was underneath the front of the car when it fell.

“It must not have been high enough, and they hit it again with the jack, and that’s when it fell over and the jack stand wasn’t in,” Kerr said “It landed on me and basically squeezed the air out of me.”

Kerr was taken to the hospital and released later in the day. In addition to some cuts, the front splitter of the car left a visible line on his body. Kerr’s right arm is in a sling today.

“It never entered my mind (to go home). I just won’t be able to help on the car as much,” Kerr said. “I’ll do what I can and call the race and go home and thank God we have a week off (next week).”

Exclusive: Dale Earnhardt Jr. evaluates his farewell tour so far, ‘I’ve signed twice as many autographs’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – In his last Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has varied his line – and not just because of the new bottom-lane grip on the 0.533-mile oval.

When he leaves the track through the Turn 3 tunnel to walk to an adjacent motorhome lot, Earnhardt is making multiple stops along a fence where fans line up for driver autographs.

“Usually on a Bristol weekend, I’d walk that fence once, probably Saturday afternoon,” Earnhardt told NBCSports.com. “But this year we’re walked it every day that we’ve been here, and there’ll be different people there each day because they know that’s where there is a great opportunity to get an autograph.

“Typically if you went through there once, that was good enough for you and your peace of mind individually. But this particular year, we’ll walk it every day, just so that if that makes a bit of an impression. That’s what you want.”

The 14-time most popular driver said he gladly has signed twice as many autographs during his final full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series, which he is marking with an “Appreci88on” campaign that kicked off two months ago.

With among the largest crowds of the season expected for Saturday’s Bristol Night Race, sponsor Mountain Dew has a major trackside presence via the DEW HQ/Outdoors campaign aimed at celebrating Earnhardt’s final season and love of the outdoors. A RideWithJr.com contest also is aiming to put 100,000 fans’ names on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet for his last Monster Energy Cup Series start at Talladega Superspeedway in October.

Those initiatives, along with the track’s Thursday announcement of establishing an annual automotive scholarship in Earnhardt’s name for a high school student in the Bristol area, are what the Hendrick Motorsports driver deems the spirit of “Appreci88on” – honoring those who have supported him over the past two decades.

“I think that when the tracks are like ‘Man, thanks Dale!’ or they paint (stuff) in the infield … thank me, hell,” Earnhardt said. “Thank the fans. They’re the ones who bought your tickets, not me. I just came and drove and walked around and had fun.

“I really didn’t do a lot of legwork to make this fan base. It’s just being myself, and that came really easy.”

Earnhardt’s last lap around the circuit came under scrutiny recently when Kevin Harvick said on his SiriusXM Satellite Radio show that he was underwhelmed by the “vibe of Dale’s last year” as far as souvenir sales and tickets sold.

How does Earnhardt think the Appreci88n tour has gone?

Here’s what he told NBCSports.com in an interview inside his No. 88 hauler before qualifying Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway:

Q: With some questioning whether your farewell tour had garnered the traction that was anticipated, is it going as you’d hoped?

A: “It’s going as designed. We wanted as little attention on ourselves as possible and as much on the fans as possible. To (Harvick’s) point, I think if we were performing better, yeah, people would be coming out to see us run, cause they feel like, ‘Yeah, if we watch him, he might have a shot to win. I want to see him win.’ So he’s right about that. And I thought he was right about half the stuff he said, some of it was a little bit overboard.

“But our whole angle really wasn’t to put me on a pedestal and say, ‘Hey, it’s the last year! Come get some of this! Bow down!’ It was nothing like that. I’m not very comfortable with that anyway. The level of attention I get, I like to keep that at arm’s length anyway. But we felt like our mission, what would make me comfortable and the right thing to do would be to give the appreciation to who deserves it, and the fans were the obvious answer to me. That, to me, is going as planned.

“I think that half the people out there when they see ‘Appreci88on,’ they don’t really know for who. So we might could have done a little better job sort of spelling it out a little bit better for everyone. But yeah, the appreciation isn’t for me, it’s for Junior Nation.”

Q: How has it made you reflect on the fans you have?

A: “I know that a big chunk of it came with dad. I’ve never disagreed with the fact that my father’s success, his celebrity, certainly opened a ton of doors for me, got me a ton of race fans right out of the gate. And the story of being his son and racing, all that adds to it for sure.

“But I think we did a lot of things in the last 20 years to grow that fan base. Obviously I didn’t have this many fans when Dad died. We got a lot of fans, but we’ve grown it. I hear more people actually follow me who didn’t follow Dad or didn’t even know who Dad was. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t know why that happened. What I keep hearing from people is we’re genuine, honest and our message is always pretty clear and straightforward, relatable, guy you want to have a beer with. So for whatever reason, that’s worked.

“The appreciation, that’s why we went that direction. It’s unorthodox, and the message is a little cloudy because it’s not what people expect. People expect in your final year, you’re going to stand up on a pedestal and wait for everyone to throw flowers at you or something. That’s not really (it). I’ve had enough appreciation for 10 men.”

Q: So your final trip around the circuit was never about collecting rocking chairs and other retirement gifts, in other words?

A: “I can say honestly watching Jeff (Gordon) and Tony (Stewart) go through (their final seasons) helped me sort of go ‘Whoa.’ Because I think watching them go through theirs, they weren’t anticipating any of that stuff. And you’d talk to Jeff, and he’d go, ‘Yeah, I don’t know why I got these horses. I don’t know what to do with these.’ We had those two guys to watch and get prepared on our end that maybe we should go this other angle, and try to safeguard against some of that stuff. Because I don’t need stuff piling up over at the house, pictures and things. It’s nice, and I appreciate the idea behind it.

“But what this track did here and what Sonoma did, those are awesome! I mean, damn! That’s really going to make a difference, or you hope. It has a great chance to do something good for somebody, way better than some photo I’m going to stick on the damn top of my storage that I’m never going to hang anywhere.”

Q: So the criteria or measuring stick for success is different than others who might be looking at T-shirts or tickets sold?

A:”I don’t know how many T-shirts I would have sold had I retired last year, you know? I don’t know whether I agree 100%, and I don’t even know what the numbers are.”

Q: You haven’t looked at how well your stuff has sold this year, right?

A: “Hell no! I don’t even know who to ask. But I’ve heard that there wasn’t a big spike in attendance for Jeff and Tony, and I didn’t ask and it doesn’t matter. It’s not a competition. (Pause) But yeah, 100% if we’d run better, it would have been a lot rosier.”

Q: Is there anything else you can do for fans beyond producing better results?

A: “I haven’t counted, but I think I’ve signed twice as many autographs up to this point in the season than I usually sign, because that’s the theme. If we’re really showing appreciation, let’s spend a couple of more minutes over here and a couple more minutes over there. We’ve got some other ideas. We want to do some things in the offseason.

“Whatever we do, it’s going to be really hard to reach everybody. But we’ve thought about some things that we can do. Like Mark Martin has this fan day (at his dealership in Batesville, Arkansas), and it’s freaking awesome. I was looking at the results from that last year. It’s been going on for a while, and fans love it. They continue to come. They have a great experience. I’m thinking about something similar to that, that is an annual event that’s for them and just cater to them all day long, and they get an enjoyable experience.

“Dad had something similar to that. He had an open house at his dealership, which was his way to kind of say, ‘Hey fans, I’m going to be here all day. And I’ll be here from noon until fricking midnight. However long it takes to sign for everybody.’ And he would. He’d sign for seven to eight hours straight. We were sitting over there beside him going “Golly. When is this going to end?” And he would just go and go until everyone was happy. That was one day a year he went all out. So that’s something I’d be happy or comfortable doing, maybe put something together. I’ve talked to the Hall of Fame about doing something there maybe. Because that would bring a lot of folks to the Hall of Fame, and it’s local, so that would be kind of cool. That’s something we’ve been bouncing around.

“Aside from that, all you can do is try to interact with everybody at the racetrack. You take a little more time instead of bee lining from the car to the hauler or the haulers to the bus. You’re casual about it. Sign for everybody and try to get everybody you can at the racetrack and on race weekends. Because there’s a lot more people, I don’t know about the numbers in the grandstands, but damn sure there are a lot more people wanting autographs this year. Around the garage Friday and Saturday, it’s ramped way up.”

Q: And the vibe you get from your fans is that they like how things are going, all things considered?

A: “It seems like people are fine. Not everyone’s last year is going to be as successful as Jeff’s. I’ve looked at other drivers’ careers and their final seasons, and there are a lot of big names that didn’t have awesome years as they wound down. I knew that I was up against a pretty difficult challenge when I decided to come back. But I knew that the team was strong. If we could get it going, we’d get it going. We didn’t going, at least not yet, but we’re just weathering through it (laughs) trying not to damn self-destruct or explode or turn it into a bad thing.

“Racing can bring the worst out of you. Your worst personality, attitude. Your worst habits. Bristol is the track that’s worst for me. It makes me want to go (expletive) bonkers on everybody, and I know that ain’t going to get us nowhere and just get us pissed off. So I’m safeguarding against that a little bit. Hopefully get in the playoffs and come to a couple of tracks we ran good at early in the season (such as) Texas. See if we can’t get a couple of good runs.”