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.”

 

 

First short track win slips away from Martin Truex Jr. on pit road

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Another short track race, another broken heart for Martin Truex Jr.

For the third time in four starts at Richmond Raceway, Truex led the most laps, and it didn’t result in victory.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, making his 450th Cup start and his 75th on a short track, saw his shot at winning the Toyota Owners 400 vanish on pit road.

After leading 121 laps from the pole, Truex lost the lead to Kyle Busch on a pit stop with 30 to go in the scheduled distance.

Truex was in second when the caution waved with nine to go in the scheduled distance. But when the dust settled, Truex found himself in 11th.

A problem with the jack as his team changed left-side tires was the culprit. After having to pit again under another caution, Truex ended the night in 14th.

“Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance,” Truex told Fox. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-track (races) and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight, we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short.”

In Sept. 9 playoff race at the 0.75-mile track, Truex led 198 laps before crashing in overtime. In the September 2016 event, he led 193 laps before finishing third to Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

In his 75 short-track starts, Truex has earned eight top fives. The last two have come in his last two trips to Martinsville Speedway.

What drivers said after Richmond Cup race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments. Trying to stay with the racetrack all night long. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys – my pit crew – they got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went. Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. Looking forward, we have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. I think the result shouldn’t weigh into how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do. I think that we have to keep that in mind.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We just got better as the race went on. We were 13th, 15th, something like that in the first half of the race. Just weren’t very strong. We just made some really good adjustments that got us rolling towards the front, especially on long runs. We got to the top five, then we had some pit stops there. We gained a few spots there. But, you know, restarting on that outside line, it was a huge deficit. I just couldn’t get the grip that I needed to try to run with (Kyle Busch) side‑by‑side into Turn 1. That’s all I wanted, to be within one car length getting into turn one, and I just couldn’t get it.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “We had a really good Shell Pennzoil Ford early in the race and got a couple stage wins early, which was great. We maxed out those points, which is awesome. We just lost the handle on the car and fell back to sixth or so. We had a bad pit stop and lost a bunch of spots and then had a really good pit stop and got them all right back and were able to come home with a top five. I wish I could rerun that. I feel like we can do better if we tried again. I am sure the whole field would say that. I am proud of the speed we showed at Richmond. Just want to be a little better.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “No more restarts. We were terrible on the restarts there compared to three or four of those guys. I was spinning the tires getting going there on the restarts. All of the night taken into consideration we were way better than we have been in the past and that is an important race for us to figure out where we need to be with all of the things that didn’t go right tonight and be ready for when we come back here for the playoff race.”  

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 6th: “We had to start the race on the tires we qualified with, and as soon as we got those tires off the car, we were a very competitive car and were able to stay on the lead lap. And with the long green-flag runs, we were able to still stay on the lead lap and work our way up through the field. I don’t know what we’re missing on scuff tires, but that’s something we’ve got to figure out.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 7th: “We weren’t very good all race long. And then I ended up getting the Lucky Dog there and then lost a lap … so that was kind of a hiccup on our part. I was able to get the Lucky Dog again and then charge from wherever we were to seventh the last laps. So, we salvaged a really good finish, which was good.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “We had a really good car. It’s just frustrating there at the end. All hell breaks loose. We lost a couple of spots on pit road, and that gets you back, and then you get on the outside and get stuck behind somebody that spun their tires, and you knock the front fender in on the 24 because he spun his tires. The next thing you know, you’re 10th thinking, ‘Boy, how did this night go to ruin so fast?’ Then it’s just beating and banging and everybody dive-bombing on the bottom. Those cars that are a lap down you’re lapping, and all of a sudden sticking it in three-wide with nothing to lose at the end. It’s a shame that a good, positive night ends up being like that, but that’s racing at this place.”

William Byron — Finished 12th: “I sped on pit road, and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner, and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway. Overall, a really good night. We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages, and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this.  I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.” 

Erik Jones — Finished 13th: “Just a really tough day. We really just didn’t have the right car from the start. I wasn’t too sure about it during practice, but once we fired off we realized it was going to be a pretty big struggle all day. We hung with it and fought hard and came home with an OK finish, but just need to get a lot better for the next one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “Richmond Raceway has always been what I consider the hardest track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, so I was really proud of our efforts in Stage 1. Our AAA Camaro ZL1 was really good. We were the fastest car on the track for most of the run and were able to race our way from 23rd to eighth and earn a few stage points. Once the race transitioned to night, we lost some of the magic. We just weren’t as strong. I put us in a bit of a hole by earning a commitment line violation coming to pit road, but we worked hard and had a good shot at the end. It was just hard to find a line that made moves.” 

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 16th: “A 16th for us at Go Fas Racing is a heck of a run. We outran some really, really good cars all day. Our car had crazy-good long run speed and of all days for us to have really good long-run speed, today was definitely the day. But even at the end when we had the green-white-checker, we were able to pass a couple of good cars and pick up a spot or two. The team did a really good job. You know how great of a run that is for us.”

Daniel Hemric – Finished 32nd: “Obviously the results and the finish isn’t at all what we came here to do, but we started the race too far off and we lost so many laps there the first run and that put us behind for the rest of the night. With it going green like it did, I didn’t get to show how much better we got our Camaro ZL1 there throughout the race. I thought we could take off in top-15 speed after we got to work on it for the first time. It just took us getting to pit road to give us that opportunity.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 37th: “Richmond Raceway is one of my favorite tracks and to run just outside the top five, get assessed a pit-road penalty and then battle back onto the lead lap says a lot about this No. 31 Childress Vineyards Camaro ZL1 team. It’s unfortunate on the restart with 30 to go that we got into the back of a car. Everyone started checking up, and I just hit him square in the back. I did all I could, but the damage cost us our race. I’m just so disappointed right now. We had a good car and a finish that doesn’t reflect it.” 

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Late cautions help Chase Elliott to yet another runner-up finish

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Chase Elliott‘s Cup career will always be measured against Bill Elliott’s, his Hall of Fame father.

Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, the third-year driver matched his father in a stat both impressive and underwhelming.

Elliott, who remains winless, finished second for the eighth time in 86 Cup starts.

Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before visiting Victory Lane.

But Chase Elliott, whose result was aided by a series of late-race cautions, was the first to admit it wasn’t a product of the team having turned the corner completely in a mostly disappointing season.

“A very fortunate (set of) circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went and having a short run there at the end, definitely in our favor,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “It’s nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. We have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. The result shouldn’t weigh in to how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do.”

Though he started a season-best second in the Toyota Owners 400, Elliott wasn’t a factor in the race’s outcome until he restarted in the top five for two restarts during final 11 laps. He finished seventh in Stage 1.

The second place was his second top five of the season (third at Phoenix) and just the fourth for HMS overall.

The No. 9 Chevrolet pulled off the feat despite not having crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was completing a two-race suspension for an L1 penalty after the Texas race.

In the first race without him, Elliott was involved in a Lap 3 crash at Bristol and finished 29th, 27 laps off the lead.

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” Elliott said. “I thought last week was really probably our best effort as a company. Obviously we crashed at the beginning. I felt like our car was solid throughout the whole weekend. Obviously, our teammates ran well.”

But Elliott said the team needs to be “realistic” about how the first night race of the season went.

“I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing,” he said.  “I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”

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Points after Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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With his third consecutive win this season, Kyle Busch padded his points lead over Joey Logano with a victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. He now has a 56-point lead and 17 playoff points.

Logano won both stages of the 400-lap affair, his first stage wins of the season.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively.

Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

Earning 39 points for his second-place finish, Chase Elliott is 25 points behind 16th and a playoff berth in the standings.

Click here for full results.