What Cup drivers said after Charlotte, the Round of 12 opener

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. opened the Round of 12 the same way he started the 2017 playoffs: with a victory.

The Furniture Row Racing driver scored his sixth victory of the season in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m so lucky to get to do this and I don’t know, it’s just one of those weekends – lot of pressure,” said Truex, who started 17th. “We qualified horribly and I was mad about it. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) was mad about it, and (after) twenty minutes (of discussing), we’re like, ‘All right. I think this is where we went wrong.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s where we went wrong. We screwed up, we’ll get them Sunday.’ Just thankful to him and this whole team.

“Unbelievable win. Just a total team effort. Every single guy – every guy on this team just did a perfect job today, and I can’t be more proud of them and at this time of the year is just when you want it to happen. You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure go it in victory lane.”

Here’s what other drivers were saying after Sunday’s race:

Chase Elliott — Finished second: “We needed to be a little better I think in the middle stage and not lose so much track position. That was where Martin came on and got his track position and we lost ours and it was just hard to get all of it back there toward the end. It was a hard-fought day and really, from where we were in those middle stages, I was proud of the way we fought back and were able to get back to the front. It’s frustrating to run like this. We’re definitely tired of running second. But, if we keep running like we are, hopefully the opportunities will be there. … I don’t know why it was so hot. It didn’t feel that bad. But that was one of the tougher races of the year, I feel like and here we are in October.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished third: “That’s about about where we were gonna run, second or third.  We just kind of lost a little bit of the track there as the VHT started to wear off in the second half of the race.  But they did a great job all day.  For the most part, we had good stops all day – just the timing of the bad one came at the end, but, for the most part, they did a great job. Everybody in the field had a bad stop at some point today, so it was a good day for our Ford, and everybody is doing a good job with the speed of the cars.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished fourth after starting on pole: “Pit crew did a phenomenal job. Number one pit stall was big for us as well. It’s just, you know Charlotte on restarts, having a car fast enough to kind of make moves. We were decent in the long run, but you know still – not as fast as what we needed to be short or long.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished fifth: “We had such a good car at the beginning and you knew the race track was going to change as the substance wore off.  We just were so good at the beginning in that sticky stuff.  We were still good at the end, it is just man, it was all about getting in the right lane on the restarts. We had awesome pit stops. I’m so proud of those guys, they have turned their year around.  We honestly, had the best pit crew on pit road today.  But, it was good day, stage points in both stages, good top five finish.  Long day, it was super humid and I think it’s really hard to explain to people how sticky it is out there today.  It was super hot. … Well, we just had a good car.  Honestly, they don’t feel aggressive when your car is really good.  The track is so fast and that sticky stuff has so much grip until it just has none.  I actually wrecked on one of the restarts because I had good grip and then it just all of a sudden went away.  So, I honestly wasn’t being overly aggressive, my car was just that good.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished seventh“It was OK. We worked our way up to fourth and then had a little miscue on pit road and restarted 16th or something and got back up to seventh.  Decent progress, the car was not easy to drive and not fun to drive, but my conditions were a lot better than the other guys and I could work my way back up through there. … Humidity was up, but the track just had very little grip.  When you had clean air you could run really fast, but as soon as you got to someone or around someone, man you are like three-quarters of a second slower and out of control.  Traffic and passing was really tough and unfortunately, we had to come through the traffic a couple of times.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished eighth: “It’s solid.  It stinks we couldn’t get any stage points, especially in that first one, but I thought we did a good job of getting better throughout the race.  We were a lot better at the end of the race than what we were at the beginning.  That says a lot about the team and hopefully we can keep it up and run decent the next two weeks.  I’m proud of the effort to get better and the hard work, so that’s what we needed.  We just need to start better.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished ninth: “Yeah, we had to work really hard. The guys did a really nice job and had a pretty good car the first half of the run and then I would get pretty loose.  A little rough riding, but I was happy with a lot of things today.  We had to come from the back, a lap down when that right-rear went flat when we were running well.  So, it was a good fight.  Ended up top 10.  We will keep working on it.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 10th: “The damage made me a little nervous. But Daniel (Suarez) got a good restart behind me and got to my outside and was on my door pretty hard. I got loose and lost a bunch of ground. I felt like I had a car to win. I made a mistake on pit road early. We rebounded from that. And then we had a costly mistake late and somewhat rebounded; but then those last two restarts didn’t go my way.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 11th: “It was really frustrating, really puzzling. We were running third that one run, catching both leaders and the end of the run thought we were pretty close, just wanted a little adjustment. I don’t really know what happened. We took off the next stop, and it was just totally out of control. It was just so loose you just couldn’t drive it. We got a little bit better that last long run. We’re going to get back up in the top 10 there somewhere, it’s just I couldn’t restart either. It was just a frustrating day all around.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 12th: “I don’t know that I have worked any harder at any race this year, but looking at all these drivers, everybody is worn out.  What they did to the racetrack and had the race track kind of all screwed up, got everybody worn out.  We didn’t know where to run and how to run you were just in there chasing the race car around the corner, a lot of work.  So, the effort was hard.  Considering how little practice we got and how bad the car was at some points in the race, pretty happy with 12th to be honest with you.  I mean, we ran 18th – 20th all day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 13th: “We definitely brought a better Ford to the track this weekend than we did at Chicago. I’m happy with our better effort.  We thought if we could be 15th to 10th it would be a good day for us.  We didn’t get any stage points, which was a bummer, but we rebounded there on that last restart, which was key.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 15th: “It wasn’t the day we wanted, so we’ve got two races left to go and we need to have two strong races. … It was hot.  I was probably more frustrated with not being as fast as we wanted to be.  That makes the day a lot longer, but a little bit of heat, that’s what this sport is about. … It seems like Charlotte and Kansas we have just not been able to connect what we’re looking for here the last two fall races.  Hopefully, we can go to Talladega and connect with what we’re looking for.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 21st: “My team worked hard this weekend in Charlotte. We didn’t unload how we needed to on Friday, and then we didn’t get any practice laps in yesterday because of the rain. So, we had to make adjustments on the first few pit stops to get what I needed balance-wise. I felt pretty good late in the race, but I just needed track position. Charlotte is a tricky track, and it can be hard to pick up spots. We were really making progress, though. I was 15th when I had to pit for a flat tire with 13 laps to go. It was an unfortunate end to the day. I wish we could have gotten the top-15 finish, but that was out of our control. We have good notes to take home and be ready for next year.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 29th after crashing multiple times and being treated in the care center post race: “I’m all right. I’m better now. I got heat soaked and felt like I had heat stroke just from being inside the race car for 200 laps with the crush panels knocked out of it. Obviously, it was my bad, just trying to get a little too much too early in the race and got too high out of the groove and got myself into the fence and tore the right side off of it. My guys did a great job trying to rebound and get it back together as much as we could throughout the day. It was just evil out there the rest of the day trying to stay with a relative pace with the rest of the field. We were just kind of hanging on. After I first tore it up, it was just a handful from there. Literally as soon as I did it, just coasting around under caution I could feel it being about 50 degrees hotter inside the car. It just got so hot that you literally felt like you were going to puke and just trying to make it to the end of the race and luckily we did. From there, just trying to get cooled down and get body temperature back to normal.”

David Ragan — Finished 37th after crashing: “I just got into Turn 1 a little too high.  There’s a very fine line where there was a lot of grip and not much grip.  Our car was really bouncy and loose.  It was a handful for a lot of the day. Our team made some good adjustments, but we were just trying to hang on.  I should have been a little bit more conservative, but we were trying hard to just stay one lap down and I got a little too high and got loose.  I thought I was going to be OK, and I just ran back down the track, and Danica hit me.  She didn’t have anywhere to go.  If I would have locked the brakes up, I probably would have just backed it into the wall, so I was trying to do something and I ran out of talent and couldn’t hang on.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 43rd after a Lap 43 wreck with Clint Bowyer“For sure I didn’t see him. I know I got tight underneath him, and I washed up, but I checked-up and when you check-up sometimes you wash up even more, but nevertheless, I don’t know if he turned me on purpose or not, he probably had a right to, but it was early in the race, and we had a good car. The (car) was coming back through, we lost three spots on the pit stop and that was rough, but we started passing some cars and just either my mistake or his mistake, both of us going for the same piece of real estate off Turn 2.”

 

 

NASCAR America: Matt Kenseth unable to realize potential due to team’s mistakes

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Sunday’s pit road mistake — having seven crew members over the wall when only six are allowed — not only knocked Matt Kenseth out of the race, it also knocked him out of advancing in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

As a result, Kenseth lost out on his bid to earn a second Cup championship in what could potentially be his last season in the Cup series.

And it wasn’t the first time Kenseth has suffered through issues not of his making this season and in prior seasons.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan all gave their thoughts on what happened to Kenseth — and they didn’t hold back, either.

Click on the above video to hear what they had to say about Kenseth’s misfortune and how it could potentially impact his legacy going forward.

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s picks for Championship 4

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On Monday’s editions of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his predictions for which of the eight remaining championship-eligible drivers — including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott — will make it to the Championship 4 round.

In addition to Johnson and Elliott, Junior also makes it known in the above video that he’s also pulling for Ryan Blaney. He may even throw in a surprise to his picks.

Our NASCAR America team of analysts go over Junior’s picks and give their take, as well.

We don’t want to spill the beans of who Junior is picking here, so click on the video above to find out, as well as what our analysts think about his picks.

 

 

 

Long: Kyle Larson’s playoff exit significant to title contenders

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Lost among questions about rules, confusion on pit road and chaos on the track Sunday was just how significant Kyle Larson’s departure from the playoff is.

The owner of four wins this season, Larson was one of the few drivers who typically could race with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on the 1.5-mile tracks and some even considered Larson the championship favorite if he made it to Miami.

“I think Kyle Larson was going to be the car to beat, and still will be the car to beat at Homestead,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch. “Now that he’s not in the (playoff) mix anymore, it probably opens it up for the rest of us.’’

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think you eliminated the best car at Homestead. That’s a big deal. For everybody.’’

Larson entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway with a 29-point cushion before his title hopes ended when his engine blew with nearly 200 laps left. He finished 39th.

“It’s crazy,’’ Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., said of Larson’s playoff exit. “You can’t ever be safe, for sure.’’

Sunday marked the first time since 2013 that Larson failed to finish a race because of an engine failure. His first two career Cup races ended early because of engine issues that season.

Larson’s departure was as shocking as Busch’s exit in 2014 when he entered the elimination race at Talladega second in the standings with a 25-point cushion to advance to the next round.

Now a spot many presumed would be taken by Larson is open for someone else.

WORK REMAINS

Jimmie Johnson overcame two spins to finish 11th and advance to the Round of 8, moving a step closer to an eighth championship.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, though, wasn’t pleased after Sunday’s race.

On the radio afterward, Knaus said: “That was a pitiful performance.’’

Knaus had more to say after the race, telling NBC Sports:

“We ran like (expletive deleted). 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 race tracks 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 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.’’

Knaus is right to be concerned. The second round was mistake-riddled for the team.

The pit crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts late in the race at Charlotte, forcing Johnson to back up partially into his stall to remedy the issue, costing him time and positions.

An error by the team’s spotter led to the crew working on Johnson’s damaged car before the red flag period had ended, leading to the team being parked. The team had hoped to run one more lap after being collected in a crash to gain at least one more point.

Then came Kansas’ woes with the lack of speed, an ill-handling car and a seven-time champion causing back-to-back cautions.

“It’s no real surprise that mile-and-a-halves have been a little bit of a struggle for us this year,’’ Johnson said. “We’re putting in the effort. These guys are working around the clock. I’m looking under every stone I can to try to find something as well. We just don’t have the speed yet.

“We’ve got a real opportunity at Martinsville. If we’re able to win there … it sets us up for Homestead.’’

COMMUNICATION WOES

The communication issues Matt Kenseth’s team had Sunday wasn’t the first time for that team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the playoffs.

In the penultimate race of the 2013 season, Kenseth struggled all weekend and then had a disastrous pit stop when there was confusion on if the team would change two or four tires. After the call was made for four tires, Kenseth had to back up because the car was on the air hose.

The result was a 23rd-place finish that left Kenseth so far behind Johnson needed only to finish 23rd or better in Miami to win the title. Ratcliff apologized to his crew on the radio after the race for the effort.

Sunday’s scenario was different but communication again proved key and a miscue will keep the team from having a chance to race for a title.

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ Ratcliff said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully, we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.’’

So what happened?

“Two of them were holding tires (over the wall),’’ Ratcliff said of crew members. “We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically, it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

When Kenseth was told on the radio that he was being parked for having too many crew members work on his car while under the five-minute clock for crash damage, the former champion sounded incredulous that his — last? — chance to win a title ended in such a way.

With no plans announced for next year, there’s no guarantee Kenseth will be racing for a championship again. Now the goal becomes a win.

“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt,’’ Ratcliff said. “That would be special. Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.’’

PIT STOPS

The final eight Cup playoff contenders include four former champions — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. There has been a first-time champion in three of the last five years, which could be a good sign for playoff drivers Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. … With winning the pole at Kansas, Truex Jr.’s team earned the first pick of pit stalls also at Martinsville this weekend because qualifying is on the same day as the race there.

Memorial service to be held Friday for Furniture Row Racing team member Jim Watson

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A memorial service for Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson will be held Friday in Lincolnton, North Carolina, his family announced Monday.

Watson, who served in a number of roles for both the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. and No. 77 of Erik Jones, passed away Saturday night after suffering a heart attack in Kansas City, Kansas, where the teams were preparing for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race.

Watson was 55.

MORE: Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

MORE: Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

The memorial will be from 4-6 p.m. ET Friday at the Warlick Funeral Home, 125 Dave Warlick Drive, in Lincolnton.

Watson’s obituary was included in the announcement of the memorial service:

Watson was born Sept. 27, 1962, in Kenosha, Wis., to Betty Paulus Watson and the late David Harrison Watson. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ann Watson; a daughter, Brittany May Watson; his mother, Betty L. Watson; brother, Mike Watson; stepchildren, Eric James Conover and fiancé Claudia Rodriguez, and Matthew Sean Conover; Michael Patrick Conover, and wife Michele, and Nicholas Ian Conover; three grandchildren, Patrick Michael Conover, Michael Winston Conover, and Coleton Daniel Conover; nieces, Jennifer Watson and Katie J. Ballou; and many other uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorials be made to hatsalive.org.