What Drivers Said from NASCAR Cup Awards in Las Vegas

1 Comment

Thursday was Martin Truex Jr.’s night, being toasted and feted as the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship.

But throughout the evening, all 16 drivers that qualified for this season’s playoffs were asked their thoughts about the evening, their season and what may be ahead in 2018.

Here’s some of the best comments from drivers during both the red carpet ceremonies before the awards, as well as during the awards show itself:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “(Tony Stewart pinched his butt while passing by) ouch! He’s always pinching your butt, it’s weird. … I was really looking forward to coming to Vegas to celebrate Martin. He’s such a great fan. I’m super excited and a lot of people are very excited for him to be our champion. He’ll represent our sport so well as champion. It’ll be fun to see him celebrated. They’ve been through so much tough things, this is going to be fun to see him celebrated and he deserves it. What a story of everything they’ve been through. It’s going to be fun to have all that praise heaped on him. It’s great.”

Erik Jones: “(His suit) is right from Men’s Wearhouse, man. It’s easy enough. You can get your own, if you want. … (Winning 2017 NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year) was a big goal of ours, that, winning a race and making the playoffs. To get Rookie of the Year was a nice way to end it off. It was a tight battle with Daniel (Suarez). It was nice to be able to lock it up in Homestead.”

Jamie McMurray: “I think that Christy, like most of the girls, look forward to it more than the guys do. For them, it’s not an all-day event, but much longer even than for the guys. Yeah, it’s been a good day. … Highlight of the week, everything’s kind of fun. The burnout contest is pretty cool to do and see the fans. I had the lady that’s in charge of the Monster Energy girls ride with me. She actually sat on the fuel lines and the sheet metal. It was kind of cool to see her reaction to all that. It’s normal for us, we’ve done it before, but it was kind of cool to see her reaction. … It’s been amazing to see the turnaround our organization has had and the commitment to make our cars contend every week.”

Kasey Kahne: “It’s been a really good week. It’s nice to be here. Last year, I wasn’t. It’s great to be back here for Champion’s Week, to watch Martin enjoy it and get to enjoy it with the other drivers. … It’s a good time to actually spend with the guys you race with and are so competitive with every week. … When you miss this – we missed it plenty of times over the last 10 years – and get to come back you realize it is actually really cool and you need to think of it that way and I want to come back next year. … (Brickyard 400 win) was just a great win for us. We had to be in position and we were fortunate to be in position late and got it done.”

Austin Dillon: “The wedding is next Saturday, so it’s coming fast. … Considering Ryan (Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman) blew up his, I felt like I outdid him on the burnouts. I definitely used more of the intersection than he did. I’m very thankful for RCR, they put a good motor in my car, so I got to do a good burnout. Some guys, those cars weren’t as good as they needed them to be to really put on a show. … (On his first Cup win at Charlotte) It was pretty amazing. I grew up watching Jimmie Johnson winning races there and how he would get through there was how I wanted to do it. He ran out of gas and I was able to beat one of the greatest of all-time.”

Kyle Larson: “Last time I wore this was this night last year. I had a tie last year, I got a clip on bow tie this year. It wasn’t hard to get dressed. I can’t tie my shoes, let alone a tie or bow tie. … We had four DNFs (heading into season finale) but we were still fast in three of the four. We didn’t have the finishes we wanted at the end of the year, but still had the speed we needed to contend. We’ll build on that and hopefully be better in our Camaro.”

Chase Elliott: “(Came stag to the awards) I need some game, I guess. But I’m happy to be here nonetheless. … I don’t dress up a whole lot, so this is definitely different for all of us. I don’t think there’s very many of us here that dress up a ton, maybe Jeff Gordon. For me, I’m a t-shirt and jeans guy. … It is (strange to see everyone dressed up). At the track, everyone’s wearing blue jeans and stuff like that, so it’s strange. … Definitely a lot of learning processes this year, ups and downs and missed opportunities. You have to take them for what they are, learn from them and change the result the next go-round.”

Ryan Blaney: “I almost walked out here (with his ball cap). It’s cool to be here, nice to be on this carpet and to be here with a lot of other drivers and teams and see a bunch of friends and nice to have the Wood Brothers out here, so that’s always fun. It’s a little bit different than what I’m used to, but we’re going to make the most of it. It’s going to be a fun night. … It’s my first time (at Awards) and I felt like driving up and down Las Vegas Blvd. in our cars was really cool. We got to do burnouts on the strip, and you can never get to do that without being arrested. To drive the 21 car one last time and always remembering it was special, that’ll probably be the highlight for me. … (When asked how long he’ll keep his flowing hair) probably two weeks. … Being able to win for the Wood Brothers and getting one of their 99, just to be up on their wall of people who have won in their race cars, I wanted to be on that wall ever since I got there. I can’t thank them enough for the last three years. I’m excited about the next chapter but I definitely am glad to be part of their family and their being part of mine.”

Kurt Busch: “I’m just floating along on her (his wife’s) coattails. … It’s a big night. There’s so many different veterans retiring and Dale Jr. is a legend that none of us will ever be able to compare with from our era. And then Truex, what a story, to have that Furniture Row team win it all, I’m very proud of them. Congratulations to Truex, Cole Pearn, Joe Garone and Barney Visser.”

Matt Kenseth: “We’re just about ready to have a complete basketball team (his wife is due with their fourth child in three weeks). It’ll be exciting and I know we’re looking forward to it and I know the kids are really looking forward to it. I’m missing her out here a lot. Right now, this is my last year being here, more than likely, so this was something she always looked forward to, getting dressed up and hanging out with everybody. I’m definitely missing her and wish she was here with me. … I can’t really put a percentage on that (he’ll be in a car next season) is in the way low single digits that I’ll be at Daytona. But you never know what’s going to happen in the future, but I think it’s unlikely you’ll see me run full-time again.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: “I was pretty excited to make the playoffs and be able to come and use this (tuxedo). It’s been a cool week here, hanging out with all the other playoff drivers, and looking forward to working harder this offseason to make sure we make it back here and preferably on the top step. Just more motivation I feel like every time you come to a banquet and you’re not the one sitting on stage all night. … It finally felt good to get that first win (Talladega) and then follow it up with the other one. We look forward to hopefully continuing that starting at Daytona (in February).”

Denny Hamlin (dressed in FedEx purple): “I’m a little down (gambling), but you come here, you always plan to donate a little bit. The lights will burn bright for another day. … Who cleans up the best (among his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates)? They always look so good. I’d say Kyle (Busch) probably cleans up the best. … It’s fun to get around your competitors, you’re no longer in the competitive atmosphere of the race track, so we get to come here, joke around with each other, talk about when we’re going to hang out in the offseason. We enjoy this time to kind of unwind with each other. … We were so close (in 2017). We’re really close to the goals we want to achieve. Ending the season without a championship is not a successful year by our standards so we’re just going to keep digging and make a run at it.”

Kevin Harvick: “(Pregnant wife Delana is) doing great. I think the hardest thing for her is just to fly across the country in the airplane. Makes her ankles not look like ankles. She opted to stay home, which I don’t blame her. She’s doing good and the main thing is she hasn’t had the baby since I’m out here, so it’d be a little bit of a challenge to get home in time. As long as she can wait until the morning, hopefully we’ll have the baby by the new year. She had Keelan three weeks early. She’s due Jan. 5. So starting next week, we’re in show time. … (Son Keelan) asked me if I spun Kyle Busch out and caused the flat tire. No, Kyle did a burnout and then it popped.”

Brad Keselowski: “Just being in the final four (highlight this week). Last year we came here and weren’t in the final four, you go through all the stuff and you want to be one of the guys on the top. It’s good to be a little bit higher up than I was the last few years, but I still want to be on the top stage and this is a good kind of reminder of the season you had and also where you aspire where you want to be.”

Ryan Newman: “I’m not comfortable (to be in a suit and tie), everybody knows that, but I’ll be back on the farm in a couple days. … (The engine that blew up on the burnout yesterday) the car blew up, I did not blow it up, the car blew up. It was a rough day with the Caterpillar Chevrolet so hopefully we’ll have a new engine put in that show car for next year. … (Plans for offseason) the animals for sure, you always have to keep tending to them and feeding them, especially in the cold months when nothing else is growing. Aside from that, just enjoying some family time, the holidays, spending some vacation time and getting ready for next year.”

Jimmie Johnson: “It’s not old hat, it’s fun to come down the (red) carpet and to watch our sport celebrate a great year, to see the media and all the drivers in tuxedos is kind of a rare occurrence and our ladies looking so good is fun, too. … (On creating the Champion’s Journal, which began in 2011) it’s something that shockingly wasn’t in our sport previously or already. We just put it together and I wrote the first letter to Tony Stewart (2011) and it moved on from there. The (NASCAR) Hall of Fame is really interested in it and hopefully in years to come, a lot of what’s inside of it will be able to be viewed by fans. It’s a cool journal, happy to do it. … (Saying goodbye to Dale Jr.) it’s been a lot of fun. Dale is in such a good place with it, is embracing it and is excited to see what’s next. I guess I feed off his energy. He’s going to be missed, there’s no way around it, but he’s still going to be a part of the sport and Hendrick Motorsports. … (This year’s level of competition) stage racing changed the game, amplified everything and made it much more intense. We got off to a good start at the beginning of the season but unfortunately didn’t finish how we wanted to. … We want (eight championships) badly but it’s been a great run of seven, I look forward to the years to come and we’ll see if we can get it.”

Kyle Busch: “Pretty much everything, she does it all (wife Samantha for Kyle to dress himself). … (He surprised a fan) it’s just a unique opportunity. When you see someone wearing your stuff, you appreciate them being a fan and wearing your stuff. They were just off to the side checking out the menu at the restaurant, so I went up to her and asked her for a Sharpie and she just freaked out. It’s fun and neat to do that to the fans sometimes when you’re out at places like that.”

Martin Truex Jr.: “It’s been pretty busy but definitely enjoying it all. It’s been a lot of fun. I got a lot of tips from past champions, like Jimmie Johnson, but it’s unbelievable. … (Being champion) is a lot different, a lot more work, a lot busier and a lot less sleep, just getting to see all and do all the things, it’s been a lot of fun and looking forward to tonight. … (Champion’s Journal from Jimmie Johnson) just some cool things from one champion to another, kind of those personal bonds you make throughout your racing career, they share that and what their journey was like in their championship season. I’m very proud and honored to add my story and give it to somebody next year.”

Christopher Bell (2017 Camping World Truck Series champion): “I behaved great (in Las Vegas). We’ve been real busy this week so we haven’t had a lot of time to get in trouble. … It’s really cool to be able to get on stage and take pictures with Martin Truex Jr., a guy I’ve looked up to … hopefully one day I’ll be able to get up here on my own.”

William Byron: “(Winning the 2017 Xfinity Series championship is) starting to sink in, just a huge thrill to win that championship and be here in Las Vegas and celebrate it with Martin (Truex Jr.). … The two of those guys have had an incredible career and just celebrating them. … Dale’s done a lot for my career, definitely going to enjoy his final night as a driver and celebrate both those guys.”

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for Martinsville Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A busy day is scheduled for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway with the Camping World Truck Series race followed by qualifying for Sunday’s Cup race.

Here’s the full schedule for day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Without NASCAR ride, Blake Koch devoting energy to helping younger drivers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Blake Koch‘s son Carter is 5, but he’s already developed some understanding of how NASCAR works.

“All he’s ever known is me as a race car driver,” Koch tells NBC Sports. “He’s smart enough to know now that when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. retired and Matt Kenseth retired and Danica (Patrick) retired, he now knows what retirement means.”

At some point since last November, Koch had to explain to Carter why he wasn’t competing in 2018.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, are you retired?'” Koch says. “I was like, ‘No, buddy, I just lost my sponsor.'”

Koch is four months removed from his last start in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series.

After two years racing full-time for the team, he was replaced by Ryan Truex, who brought sponsorship with him. Koch was left without a ride after making 213 starts in the Xfinity Series since 2009.

Koch has heard many of the same questions since November.

Are you done racing? Are you still trying to get sponsors? What are you doing?

“My answer is no, I’m not done racing,” Koch answers. “I can’t be done racing.”

At 32 and with 229 national NASCAR starts on his resume, Koch was left with two options when the 2017 season ended.

“Sit around and feel sorry for myself and read all the support and the tweets and let it (allow me) to think that an opportunity should come to me or go out and make something happen and have fun and utilize my resources and knowledge,” Koch says.

He decided he wasn’t going to pursue any ride this season. But Koch is not going anywhere.

In addition to a weekly appearance on Fox Sports 1’s “NASCAR Race Hub,” Koch wanted to try his hand as a driver mentor, helping young NASCAR drivers develop with the knowledge he’s accrued the last decade.

Koch jokes that his love of helping people may have been one of his “downfalls as a driver.”

“I helped other drivers,” Koch says. “If someone asked me what I was doing or about the race, I told them my honest opinion because I actually liked helping.”

Koch also observed a lack of people in similar roles in NASCAR.

“Every other sport has a coach or someone to lean on or someone on your side. Golfers, quarterbacks, everybody does. Except for NASCAR drivers,” Koch says. “Even Supercross racers have trainers and coaches and people making them better and better. But in our sport, it was just nonexistent, because there were no drivers that would retire and still want to be at the racetrack helping other drivers.”

Before committing to the idea, he went to former NASCAR driver Josh Wise for advice. Wise works with Chip Ganassi Racing helping their drivers.

“I did pick Josh’s brain a little bit on if he was happy doing it, if he missed being in a car and all that kind of stuff,” Koch says. “He still had the adrenaline rush, he loved what he was doing. … He saw results from the work he’s putting in. … You don’t want to do something and feel like there’s no results behind it and you don’t want to do something if you don’t think it’s going to be fun or rewarding.”

Through Chris Biby, a driver manager, Koch was connected with Matt Tifft, who joined Richard Childress Racing this season after a year with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s also begun working with Truck Series driver Myatt Snider.

Koch and Tifft did not interact much last year, aside from greetings at driver introductions.

Their first real conversation came over a meal at Hickory Tavern in Huntersville, North Carolina.  Now they talk almost every day.

Koch didn’t officially begin his role helping out Tifft until after the season opener at Daytona.

“What I try to be for Matt Tifft is everything I’ve always wanted,” Koch says. “Confidence is key. It’s a big part of going fast, being confident in yourself. I believe that comes from hard work.

“I knew I had that feeling, and that’s something I implemented into Matt’s weekly routine, that when he shows up to the racetrack he knows he’s been working harder than every single person out there, and he’s more prepared than anyone out there. Then you have a little extra pep in your step when you’re walking in the garage.”

Koch says a “very small portion” of the work he does with his drivers is at the track. Most of his “two cents” comes between Monday and Friday.

On Sunday nights, he sets a schedule for Tifft and Snider, what to do with their workout program, race prep and what to work on in the simulator in addition to general notes for the race weekend.

Tifft says Koch is “very particular about every single thing” he’s doing.

“I set up specific workouts for him to do throughout the week and I tweaked his nutrition a little bit,” Koch says. “But he was already pretty disciplined with his nutrition. I set a checklist of things he needs to know every single week before he gets to the racetrack. Small details, even little things like garage flow. … When you get to the race track, the only thing you should have to think about is hitting your marks and running in a perfect line and focusing on your task at hand, not the other small details that are just cluttering your mind.”

Through roughly four weeks of working with Tifft and Snider, Koch has found the same satisfaction that Wise has in his role with Ganassi.

“When this opportunity came across to work with Matt, I could still race,” Koch says. “You have that competition, the adrenaline because you feel like you’re invested in part of it and I could help them out. It kind of helped fulfill the desire I had for helping people and helping someone make the best of their opportunity. I know how difficult it is to get an opportunity in this sport. When someone has that opportunity, I love nothing more than to see them maximize it. That’s what keeps me excited.”

Working with the two young drivers also keeps Koch on his toes in the case an offer materializes from a team.

“It absolutely helps,” Koch says. “I have to stay in shape and constantly watch, read and study data and work as hard as I was, probably working harder now than I was when I was driving. Because I have the accountability of Matt Tifft and Myatt Snider. Those guys are starting to push me harder in the gym, too. I have to get stronger. You can’t have your athletes stronger than the coach. I got to step up my game.”

Koch isn’t done adding things to his work life.

He plans to launch a new business in May, which he works on in the afternoons following his morning workout.

Koch isn’t giving away any details on that business will entail.

“The reason I started it is back when I was racing, if I poured as much effort and passion and hard work into my own business and product that I did into everybody else’s I’d be in a much better position right now,” Koch says. “I’ve learned a lot, about business and marketing and how to create a successful company, especially being friends with Matt Kaulig and seeing Leaf Filter grow over the years, I came up with an idea that I know people need and use and want, and I’m going to supply that to people here very soon.”

In the meantime, with the Xfinity Series off the next two weekends and Koch not making the trip to Texas Motor Speedway, he will spend his weekends nurturing his son’s dirt bike career. Carter competed in his first race last weekend.

“He was begging for it,” Koch says of the dirt bike. “I wanted to get him in a go kart or something a little safer but he’s just about as hardheaded and stubborn as I am.”

A Driver’s Drive: Darrell Wallace Jr. aggressive and confident

1 Comment

Returning to the site of his first Camping World Truck Series win provided a great opportunity for Darrell Wallace Jr. to reflect on his meteoric rise through the NASCAR ranks in the week’s edition of “A Driver’s Drive”.

Finishing second in the Daytona 500 put his name in the record book as the highest finishing African-American driver and raised expectations about Wallace’s potential at the Cup level.

Martinsville is going to raise another challenge to see if he can live up to that potential without stepping over the line. Wallace earned his first victory in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions on this track in the 2013 Kroger 200. He backed that up with another win in the same race the following year. Those victories add to his confidence and possibly his aggression on the bullring.

“Looking back on stats and what not, you’ll see that I’m one of the most aggressive guys coming up through the ranks,” Wallace said.

On Sunday, Wallace will need to temper that aggression if he wants to score another top-10 in Cup competition.

For more on what Wallace says, watch the video above.

Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports extend relationship though 2022

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Axalta and Hendrick Motorsports announced a four-year extension of their relationship through 2022, continuing a 26-year partnership.

Axalta, a supplier of liquid and powder coatings, will serve as a 25-race primary sponsor of Hendrick over the next two years. Axalta will sponsor Alex Bowman (15 races in 2018 and 12 races in 2019) and William Byron (10 races in 2018 and 13 races in 2019).

Schedules for the 2020-2022 seasons will be announced at a later date.

Hendrick’s deal with NAPA was recently extended through 2020.

Axalta, formerly known as DuPont, has been with Hendrick since November 1992 when it sponsored Jeff Gordon in his first Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon went on to win four Cup titles with Axalta as his primary sponsor.

Last May, Axalta opened a 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Customer Experience Center on the HMS campus outside Charlotte, North Carolina, to enable customers to train and be part of a full racing experience.

“We are so proud of our partnership with Axalta,” said Rick Hendrick in a press release. “Their long-term commitment to our organization and our sport as a whole has been unbelievable. They are constantly innovating and investing to keep the program fresh, enhance the experience for their customers and ultimately drive value for their business. Projects like the Customer Experience Center on our campus are unprecedented and reinforce the strength of our relationship. We’ve worked together for more than a quarter of a century, and I believe it’s just the beginning.”