What drivers said after Watkins Glen race

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Martin Truex Jr. — WINNER: “It means a lot to be in victory lane here at this race track. I’ve been coming here a long time and feel like we’ve been close and had a few slip away from us, but really excited. I just kept listening to (crew chief Cole Pearn). He said, ‘We need to slow down more. We need to slow down more.’ It’s the hardest thing in the world to do to slow down and let those guys pass you for the lead thinking that when you figure out that you have enough fuel to make it you can try to step up your pace again and they’re just going to do the same. You never know what strategy everybody is on. You don’t know how much gas they have or are saving. It’s so tough. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do just to slow down that much and watch those guys drive away. But, just Cole Pearn man, that’s his job and I trust him and everything he says.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 2nd: “I’m second happiest. Martin is the happiest. We really needed the win.  Honestly, I don’t even think about the playoffs. I more think about coming here for however many, 15, 17, 18 years, whatever it’s been, and not really having a win or an opportunity to win and never even really been that great here. I felt like we had a top-five car. Obviously we had good fortune there at the end with our track position and our fuel mileage and all that to stay in it and have a shot at it, but man, when it’s that close and you see him saving and you’re saving and then you go after him there on that last lap, it’s disappointing not to get it. Especially when I saw him miss Turn 6. I was like, ‘man, I’m going to have a shot,’ and he was so fast I still couldn’t get to him getting into (Turn) 7.’’

Daniel Suarez — Finished 3rd: “I feel like it was a good weekend. You know, we made a lot of progress from the first practice to second practice to qualifying and then to the race. You know, I’m very happy for the third-place (finish) and for the result and for the overall race, but very hard to finish third when you can see the leader right there and you are just cruising to try to save fuel because you don’t really know how much fuel you have left.’’

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “Yeah it was a great run for our FedEx Freight team. The Camrys were fast, all of them were today and just had to milk the fuel as much as we could there at the end and make it on fuel. Great run for us. Another fourth-place finish – I don’t know how many that is this year but definitely been ringing them off.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 5th:  “Yeah, that’s that hard thing. When you have them there at arm’s reach you want to go for it. That’s the win that will put you into the (playoffs) right there in front of you. But if you run out of gas that’s the dagger that will knock you out for good. It’s the right thing. We just have to keep knocking on the door.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 6th: “We ran hard on every single lap today and hit every turn flawlessly. We did a great job.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 8th: “I stumbled down the back coming to two to go, so we wouldn’t have made it. It stinks. I wish I would have saved earlier like (Truex) did. I pushed hard and thought we were better to go on gas than they were. They did a good job saving. I could have done better. If I would have started saving sooner I think we would have made it. You never know. I am pretty proud of the effort. We got up front at the beginning of the day and stayed there pretty much all day. I thought our strategy was right and we had a good race car. Things just didn’t work out for us. That is just the way it goes sometimes.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 9th: “Of course you always want more when you come here, at least I do. We had a tough weekend, and we fought hard. The car wasn’t very good on the first run, and we made some better changes. Got it better. Got it pretty competitive there. I just really struggled in traffic. I got behind Jimmie (Johnson), and tore up the tires. Once I got by him it was actually not too bad. From there it was just fuel saving. Don’t really know how much you have. I tried to save, I felt like I saved a lot. Maybe a little too much.”

Erik Jones — Finished 10th: “It was okay. I had brake issues all day long and it was kind of the biggest fight for us. Just could never quite get in the corner like we needed to so kind of fought that. The car was good. I thought we had a top-10 car, maybe a top-five car had circumstances played out. I had a bad stop and got boxed in behind (Aric Almirola), so it just didn’t quite get the finish that we wanted.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 11th: “Really proud of this Scott Products Chevrolet team. They worked really hard and put us in the right position with good strategy. We had good speed at times, our early run speed, I was really happy with it. It fell off a little bit harder than we would like, but to come home P11 here at The Glen it was pretty good!”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 15th: “I was going into the corner and I had the 47 (Allmendinger) behind me and when I got into the corner the 18 (Kyle Busch) next to me. My spotter called it but we were already in the corner. It was too much for me to avoid. We got into each other and that hurt everybody. All I know is I went in the corner and the 47 was the car behind me and I got to the corner and somewhere the 18 came up and he was behind the 47. I don’t know how he got there or what all transpired. I was already to the corner and unable to do anything by then.”

Paul Menard — Finished 18th: “Our day was full of hurdles, but we were able to overcome thanks to all the guys on this Dutch Boy / Menards team. We found a fluid leak in qualifying and had to change the rear gear before the race, which meant we had to start from the rear of the field. The car had speed, but we had a lug nut guard that cut the valve stem on the right rear and led to a flat tire. The guys were able to get it fixed, but there was a bit of a vibration in the rear for the rest of the race. We had solid fuel mileage all day, I was able to save some over that last run and we were able to make it to the end without stopping.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 19th: “Our day definitely improved from where we started. We had some brake and power steering issues at the very start, but I was able to keep it underneath me until we could bring our GEICO Chevy in during the first stage break. By the time we got to the final stage, we had the car handling exactly how I needed it. Fuel mileage games are always tricky, but everyone has to do their part. The engineers have to do the math, I have to back down my entries and the spotters have to tell me who I’m racing in fuel-saving mode and who is packed full coming up behind me. It’s a team effort, and we all did our jobs today to get it home with fuel in the tank and a top-20 finish.”

Joey Logano — Finished 24th: “Best-case scenario we were going to finish top 10, which does nothing for us. A top xfive or a win is the only thing that is going to help us, so we went for it by pitting and putting four tires on and hoping to get a caution and maybe cycle ahead of cars with new tires. Unfortunately, it went green all the way and we didn’t get a good finish. We need to win the next few races here.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 25th: “Overall, we had a pretty solid handling Caterpillar Chevrolet. We just lacked track position and it kept us from making a serious run to the front. With that said, we adapted our strategy and (crew chief Luke Lambert) said we were a lap to the good on fuel. Saving here is pretty hard to do but we felt confident we were going to make it. I ran out with three laps to go. We’re scratching our heads right now trying to figure out where we came up short. The guys were going back to the garage to measure everything. It’s really unfortunate. I can’t really say we were good or bad today. Things didn’t go our way.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 26th: “We just didn’t have the speed we needed in our No. 3 Dow STEM Chevrolet today. Our handling was a little off throughout the day today. I was too loose in essess and had trouble getting through the bus stop. We gambled on our fuel strategy when we pitted under that final caution, knowing we’d have to save to avoid being one lap short. I saved as much as I could by doing things like short-shifting, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough this time and we ran out with just two laps to go. We’ll learn from this though and be better next time.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. — Finished 37th: “We had a problem with the valve train and we can’t fix it. It’s been a really difficult week. We’ve been way down on speed and we had a pretty good car at Sonoma, so I was kind of looking forward to coming here. But, the guys worked really hard. We changed this car inside and out twice this weekend. And, we had made it better and we were kind of hanging in there. I think we had a shot at maybe a top 20 at best. But man, we showed up and we were about four seconds off.”

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Ryan: Now and Zen, NASCAR stars need to stay focused on the positives

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Hey, you don’t have a confirmed Cup ride for next season?

I know. Isn’t it great?

Uhh, but what about the precipitous decline of a steady seven-figure annual income?

Couldn’t be happier!

OK, but this is the end of your professional life as you’ve known it for at least a decade, right?

Well, I’m thinking of taking up croquet.

Zen, baby.

If you’re a veteran facing an uncertain future in stock-car racing, it’s become the mantra of an unsettling 2017 season.

Danica Patrick used the word to describe her state of mind in a recent story about her contract being up, and she has been preaching it well through social media postings (and on a recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast).

We heard echoes again after Matt Kenseth’s fourth-place finish Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed a chance to capture a playoff berth while also failing to outduel the upstart (Erik Jones) who will take his job next season.

Yet Kenseth, the stoic champion whose deadpan wit sorely will be missed if his 18th season on NASCAR’s premier circuit also is his last, was in a lighthearted mood afterward, joking with reporters and poking fun at Jones in a side-by-side news conference that was amusing instead of awkward.

Kenseth seemed to be in a state of … Zen.

“I don’t really have anything to be unhappy about,” he said. “Knock on wood, because things can turn on dime. But my life couldn’t be much better. I’ve never really been in a better place. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. There’s more to life than racing.

“I think everything happens or doesn’t happen for a reason. It will all become clear.”

It dovetailed with the feelings Kenseth had expressed when asked about the future a day earlier (“I’m not worried about it even really 1 percent, to be honest”) and mirrored the sanguine sentiments of peers who are facing similarly indeterminate outlooks.

Whether it’s Patrick, Kenseth, Kasey Kahne or Kurt Busch, several familiar names with disparate backgrounds and personalities have at least two things in common: 1) the lack of a contract for 2018; and 2) a sunny disposition about what is next despite the absence of certitude.

It’s made some media center interviews this year seem as if they are missing only a comfortable couch and the soothing voice of a therapist helping drivers manage the cognitive dissonance of being unwanted by a major Cup team but encouraged by the liberation of free agency.

Aside from underscoring the importance of good mental health, the calm acceptance in the face of the great unknown represent the best (and perhaps only) option for reckoning with the possible career finality.

It’s easy to poke fun at the positive attitudes, but it also is the best outward stance for the hope of remaining gainfully employed in Cup. Kenseth, Patrick, Kahne and Busch have weathered enough as public figures to know the importance of public relations.

Also, things aren’t so bad anyway for those on the cusp of potentially needing work.

Patrick has launched a successful athletic leisure clothing line and released the first Cabernet Sauvignon from her new vineyard and has her first book scheduled for a January release.

Busch is tweeting photos from a happy marriage. Kahne constantly is doting on his 22-month-old son, Tanner. Kenseth is cycling a few hundred miles monthly to peak physical condition (and has three young daughters at home who seem the apple of his eye).

So, life is good regardless of the racing?

Yes. Either way, it’s just about going in circles while trying to keep a smile.

XXX

Though Logan Lucky missed box office expectations for its opening weekend, the Steven Soderbergh vehicle still put NASCAR in the middle of national movie reviews (most of which were overwhelmingly positive) – and without the stigma of being spoofed or worse in past presentations on celluloid.

“NASCAR was really critical to the movie,” Soderbergh, the director of Ocean’s 11, told the audience at the Charlotte premiere a few weeks ago. “We were wanting to do for the Coca-Cola 600 and NASCAR what we did in the first Ocean’s movie for the Bellagio. We wanted to make this seem like this was an event that you would attend and was fun, and I hope we accomplished that.”

Though there were a few fanciful elements (the proximity of West Virginia to Charlotte Motor Speedway, the wacky car owner subplot), Logan Lucky presented a narrow but attractive view of stock-car racing. Talladega Nights is a frequent target for its incessant lampooning, but NASCAR also wasn’t done many favors by the cartoon campiness of Days of Thunder or (the long-forgotten) Steel Chariots.

“I think we’ve learned from maybe our mistakes with other movies and how a nonfan perception of our sport could change from a movie to what we really are,” said Joey Logano, who has a cameo in Logan Lucky. “Talladega Nights is maybe the worst presentation or representative of what we are. I think we’ve learned a lot from that.

“I think Cars is one of the best things that has ever happened to our sport. It’s for kids to watch and really a lot of it makes sense. I just watched Cars 3 the other night and it’s like whoa, this really lines up with a lot of things that go on in our sport. That’s important when we select the movies we’re in; we don’t want to just be in any of them, you have to be aware of the brand of the sport when making these decisions.”

XXX

Last Saturday’s race was the best blend of the old and new at Bristol Motor Speedway, which has taken its lumps since a 2007 reconfiguration of the banking erased the bump and run and a 2012 makeover eliminated the bottom lane.

With the application of traction compound to the bottom lane that essentially lasted for 500 laps (after many predicted it would be gone within 100), the 0.533-mile oval featured the right amount of variation for frequent battles for the lead. While it didn’t have as many of the memorable clashes and contact that have defined vintage races at Bristol, it satisfied Kyle Larson, who was a vocal detractor in March when the track initially attempted to work in a lower line.

“I thought it was awesome,” Larson said Monday at a news conference to announce a new sponsorship. “I really liked how the lane changed a lot, not only throughout the race but throughout the run. It seemed like you could run the middle a couple of laps, get to the bottom, then 25 laps in the run, you could go where you wanted. It seemed like the top would be better a little bit, then you’d get back to the bottom. Then it changed. Each run was a little different. I think the racing is always good, but especially this time, it seemed really fun.”

XXX

Though his winning car at Michigan passed scrutiny at the NASCAR R&D Center, Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet needed four trips through inspection before qualifying at Bristol. After a two-race stretch of multiple run-ins with officials last month, Larson’s team recently had been out of the crosshairs, and car owner Chip Ganassi said Bristol was “a little bit of an anomaly” in its quest to push the limits of the rules without breaking them.

“It’s obviously been a challenge,” Ganassi said Monday. “I think we’ve shown NASCAR that it’s important we communicate with them and they communicate with us on a clear basis about what they want done, and we’re happy to do that.

“We’re working hard. Nobody wants anybody to break rules. We’re not known for that, OK? But any championship team or contender, they know you have to run right up to the edge of the rules. Anybody in racing knows that’s important to be competitive is to run up to the edge of the rules. Don’t go over the line but go up to the edge of the line. I’d hope they respect us for that, and I’m sure they do. And we have to respect what they do as well.”

XXX

It was hard to find flaws in Kyle Busch’s tripleheader sweep, but there were a few, and all were in the pits.

In the Xfinity and Truck series, it was about Busch going too fast, but more troubling was his crew being too slow on Saturday. At least twice, slower pit stops cost Busch the lead, and crew chief Adam Stevens said it wasn’t because of the No. 18 Toyota.

“We just missed a little something,” Stevens said. “One time we had an issue on the front, one time on the back.  I feel like we’re about half a step off there and we’re going to have to clean that up heading into the (playoffs) for sure.”

XXX

With NASCAR considering a way to police the manner in which the order of double-file restarts is determined, it’s raised discussion of the “cone rule” that is in place at many short tracks.

Under the procedure, drivers are allowed to choose the inside or outside lane on restarts, incentivizing the need to gain spots during yellow-flag pit stops (instead of decelerating to gain an even or odd position). A variation, known as “the choose rule,” actually was implemented more than a decade ago in the Summer Shootout series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It seems a simple fix, but something also rings hollow about applying a minor-league codicil to a major-league entity.

Hong Kong group to sponsor Richard Childress Racing Xfinity car at Darlington

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Richard Childress Racing on Wednesday announced a new one-race sponsorship for the Sept. 2 Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200 Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

The unique sponsorship is with KCMG, a motorsports group based in Hong Kong, China. KCMG was established in 2007 and has become a major force in development of professional racing across the Asian Pacific region.

It is also currently expanding operations to Europe.

Brandon Jones will drive the No. 33 KCMG Chevrolet in the race.

Both RCR and KCMG are looking at a potential future full-time sponsorship in NASCAR, as well as develop additional racing opportunities in the Asia Pacific region.

“The opportunity arose to partner with Richard Childress Racing, one of the premier stock car racing teams, and we felt that a partnership for a Xfinity Series race would be the next best step in exploring opportunities in NASCAR,” KCMG founder Dr. Paul Ip said in a media release.

KCMG entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013 and claimed the LMP2 win in the French Endurance race in 2015.

One Cup crew chief, two others in Trucks, fined for Bristol penalties

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NASCAR on Wednesday issued three penalties from the past weekend of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was found to be in violation of Sections 10.9 and 10.4 of the NASCAR Rule Book: Tires and wheels (lug nuts not properly installed).

As a result, crew chief Scott Graves has been fined $10,000.

In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the No. 51 and No. 83 Trucks were also found to be in violation of Sections 10.9 and 10.4 (lug nuts not properly installed).

As a result, Kevin Manion, crew chief of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, and Richard Mason, crew chief of the No. 83 DJ Copp Motorsports Chevrolet, were each fined $2,500.

All penalties were issued for safety level violations.

There were no penalties in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. There also were no suspensions or other penalties across all three series.

JR Motorsports mourns team member Adam Wright, killed in car crash

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JR Motorsports is mourning the passing of team member Adam Wright, who died Sunday night in a one-car crash near Statesville, North Carolina.

Wright, 33, was traveling on Flower House Loop around 10:50 p.m. Sunday “when he ran off the road twice and his vehicle became airborne,” according to Statesville.com, per North Carolina State Patrol Trooper J. S. Swagger.

Swagger added that Wright, who worked as a mechanic on Michael Annett’s JRM Xfinity Series team, was not wearing a seatbelt and was partially ejected from the wrecked vehicle.

Wright was pronounced dead at the scene. Troopers are still investigating the crash.

Wright is being remembered on social media by many in the NASCAR community: