What drivers said after Texas race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “It feels awesome. Any time you can win at a track that kind of isn’t maybe one of your favorites or isn’t one of your best, then it definitely means even more because it just – you try to focus on those tracks and make it a little bit more meaningful and a little bit more special to get it done. So cool to be in Victory Lane here … and punch our ticket into the playoffs and of course, you know also just continue our hot streak of being the points leader right now and keeping these guys focused on what we need to do all year long.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 2nd: “We did overcome a lot. That was unfortunate. We had a pathetic day on pit road, two days on pit road because of pit guns. When you have a pit gun problem like we have multiple times and been able to overcome it and then today we couldn’t overcome it. Time after time you can’t get the lug nuts tight because the pit guns don’t work.”  

Jamie McMurray — Finished 3rd: “We just had a really good car and were able to miss some of those accidents. The off-weekend couldn’t have come at a better time for us. We had such a horrible season going and it’s awesome to run as good as we did today at a 1.5-mile. We have so many of these and I feel like we have been a little bit behind on the 1.5-miles but had a really good run today.”

Erik Jones — Finished 4th: “I don’t know that we really had enough for Kyle (Busch) or Kevin (Harvick). They were really fast, but overall I thought we were a third-place car. Jamie (McMurray) had some tires here at the end and we couldn’t really do much with them. We didn’t qualify where we wanted to this weekend. It was kind of a – kind of a downer coming into Sunday, but I knew we had a good race car and you know we showed that today. A big step up. That was the first day we’ve been up in the top five. We led some laps. That’s a good builder for next week, so we’ll keep going.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished: 5th: “That was a long day. It is a good thing it was 500 miles because we needed about every bit of it. We started good running second and had green flag pit stops and an uncontrolled tire and had to come back in. Then we worked our butt off to get back up there and got a lap down and caution came out and we got the lucky dog, got some damage. We were getting back up toward the front and had a loose right front wheel and had to come back in and get the lucky dog again and then I got in that wreck and had a bunch of nose damage. It was a long day that felt like it would never end. It just felt like it would get worse and worse but everyone did a good job on this Menards Ford Fusion to get back and have a solid finish.”

Joey Logano — Finished: 6th: “Three straight sixth-place finishes in a row. We scored some stage points, finishing fourth and third in the stages but at the end the caution came out and kind of bit us and we just didn’t pass enough cars at the end to get back up there. We made some good changes at the end. My car was pretty good and probably could have ran third but that caution came and those guys were hoping for that and they got it. They got track position on us. We fought hard, it is just where we are at right now. We are stuck at sixth. We need to go faster.”

Kurt Busch  Finished: 7th: “I’m really proud of these guys and the effort that we made today. We had really good speed. We didn’t have the whole package. We’d lose the front on restarts or lose the rear. We’re just trying to find that happy medium. We should have pitted with 12 laps on our tires because the restart after that was treacherous for us and we lost all of our track position. So we got bottled-up into seventh and that’s where we finished.”

Darrell Wallace Jr.  Finished 8th: “Hell yeah, we needed that. That was a good week off for us to re-group. The guys did a hell of a job all weekend long. I thought we had pretty decent speed and a lot of people in the garage were like ‘your car is pretty good, so just don’t mess it up.’ I had a couple of opportunities there, especially the first stop coming down, but our Click N’ Close Chevrolet was pretty decent all day for us. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) did a great job doing some pit strategy on that last call to get us out there to fourth. I don’t know if we were on the splitter on that last run, but she just wouldn’t turn going down into the corners and gave up a couple of spots.’’

William Byron — Finished 10th: “It was really good for us to get a top 10. We had a good car. Once the sun came out, we weren’t quite as good, I don’t think. Starting in the back, this was definitely a good day for us. We had a lot of adversity and kept having to go to the back. So, it’s good to come back from that and get a top 10. It feels awesome. It feels great to get a top 10. It obviously takes a lot of things to happen. We didn’t quite have the speed we wanted to. We were really good in practice, but I think some of our weaknesses showed up when the rubber laid down on the track a little bit on the bottom groove. Overall it was a pretty good day and we can definitely build on this.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 11th: “Definitely not the day we wanted. We started 20th and were able to get up to second at one point then just got tight and faded back for a while. We’re gonna keep working and move on to Bristol.”

Ty Dillon  Finished 13th: “There’s no doubt that this team has been working hard. The past two races have been our strongest of the year, and this weekend we had one of our best Fridays that we have had in a while. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 didn’t have quite the speed that the leaders did, but I was able to set a good pace and hold my position. I lost some track position at the very start of the race when the car was building tight on exit, but my crew chief made great adjustments to get us back on track and ultimately bring home a top-15 finish.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 14th: “We have had some bad luck and lost a lot of points but today we had good luck and gained some points. We were pretty lucky to get through that first accident. We had a little damage but not bad enough. Not as bad as some of the others.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 15th: “The weather didn’t really break like I think we were hoping and kind of planned on. That made it a little bit tough throughout the race. We hung in there and we just couldn’t get a little bit of luck on calls. We did a good job and got lucky avoiding some of the accidents and all that. So, that was good and at the end of the day had a decent finish.  Still got some work to do.  I’m looking forward to Bristol.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 17th: “We just missed it really, really bad early, but it got a lot better as we went. We would have definitely run top 15 if I didn’t screw up and spin out. But, we had a much better car the last 150 laps than we did during the first part of the race.”

David Ragan — Finished 23rd: “Our team did a nice job working on our car from Saturday night. I feel like our 1000Bulbs Ford was fast the first two stages. I saw the 11 (Denny Hamlin) spin and I checked up a little, and as he came back down the track I couldn’t go low quick enough and I tore our car up. We just didn’t have the car to compete in the last half. I am glad the team was able to repair the car enough to get back out there and I am really excited about the way it drove the first half of the race.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 27th: “This Grainger Camaro ZL1 had good speed this weekend. We stayed consistently in or around the top 12 for most of the race but tried to stretch our last run there and ended up blowing a tire and hitting the wall. I thought I probably could have left Texas with a top-10 finish if not for the blown tire, but things like that happen. It’s a gamble that didn’t pay off. I think the racing at Texas is exciting, and definitely fast, but we’re still getting adjusted to the new surface. We’ll be ready for when we come back in the fall, hopefully in the playoffs.”  

Alex Bowman – Finished 28th: “Today just wasn’t our day. A few laps in, I checked up when I saw the car in front of me get loose and then I think someone took the air off the rear and I got spun around. This Nationwide team worked their tails off fixing my Camaro ZL1. We kept working on it throughout the remainder of the race and we learned some stuff. We will regroup this week at the shop and get ready to go to Bristol next week.’’

Paul Menard — Finished: 30th: “Long day. We had a really fast Quick Lane Ford Fusion, but our day virtually ended on Lap 2. Disappointing. Not much you can do when someone spins in front of you at those speeds. You’re really at the mercy of what happens in front of you. Too much damage and it eventually caught up to us on that last incident.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 32nd: “We just come to these repaves and we are going really fast and all fighting for the bottom lane and the second lane isn’t as good and the third lane is really not as good. So we got down to Turn 3 and I was trying to be smart and be patient and we still have a long way to go in the race. I backed out of it to let the 18 (Kyle Busch) have the second lane and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) just got loose under me. It was a frustrating end of the day for us.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 33rd: “Somebody got loose and the next thing I knew there was a big mess in front of me and it was either pick left or pick right and I made a quick decision to pick right and it was the wrong decision. Tough break.”

DENNY HAMLIN — Finished 34th: “It all started with me speeding off pit road. I shouldn’t have been in that position, but obviously the 18 (Kyle Busch) was falling back there and I made a move to the inside and everyone is fighting for the bottom. I was obviously running the bottom there – the 10 (Aric Almirola) tried to squeeze and I realized that he was going to come down and I got out of the gas and I got loose underneath him. It’s my responsibility to keep the car under me, but we were just in such tight quarters there that it was nearly impossible to do. It all starts with me at the beginning of the race, it’s my fault and I hate it for this race team. We had a car that I thought was very capable of winning this race and unfortunately we’re back here.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 35th: “Yeah, by the time I saw what went on, the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was backwards and smoking the tires coming up the track. I knew where his arch was taking him, and I knew that I was in trouble in the outside lane and going to get into him some. And then the crash just kind of continued from there. So, unfortunate circumstances, but a lot to build on from this weekend. A strong Friday, a fantastic Saturday and then not the best Sunday. We had a lot of different things work against us today, but we are getting closer each and every week and I’m really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We will get back to our winning ways soon.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 36th: “Just hate that I blew a right-front (tire) there. I was pretty tight but didn’t really expect to blow a right-front. Restarted up front there and was just really tight for a few laps and then actually got going pretty good. Just needed to get by Joey (Logano) there and I felt like I was one of the faster cars out there. So, felt like we could have had a shot at the end of the race, but it was cut short.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 37th: “I don’t know if I run something over. Speeds are really fast here today with the cool temperatures, and I don’t know if that had something to do with it or not. We’ll just have to go back and evaluate that, but all in all we were going to be in for a good day. We were making the car better and still had room to go. We were as fast as anybody. At least that’s a positive and we’ll go on to next week and see what we can do.”

 

NASCAR America: Matt Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing fit perfectly

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Matt Kenseth assuming the driver duties of the No. 6 may be only a part of his future with Roush Fenway Racing.

“Obviously my driving is not the long-term answer for the 6 car,” Kenseth said to NBC’s Marty Snider during Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “Probably will be for the foreseeable future, but not a long-term answer. So I’m looking forward to seeing who the next guys are. Seeing if I can help Trevor, if I can help Ricky – and see if I can be a part of the company, making it better.”

And it was that last comment that raised the eyebrows of the panelists.

“We’ve heard Jack talk recently in the press about how he’s on a transition out of the company,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He’s looking for somebody or some kind of group of people to come in and carry this company forward. And this could be the first domino, I guess, in that transition.”

Jeff Burton, who raced for Roush from 1996 through August 2004 knows the passion former drivers for the organization still have.

“I wasn’t surprised that Matt said ‘I’m still a part of Roush Racing,’ because of the way Jack runs that program,” Burton said. “When you’re one of his drivers, you’re one of his drivers. He gives you a lot of rope and it makes you take ownership in that company.”

Kenseth’s value to the organization does not only come from the results he will give them on the track, but rather in how he helps them identify potential issues that need to be fixed. As an 18-year veteran, he is the franchise driver they have been looking for – basically since he left Roush after the 2012 season.

“I will raise my hand as one of the people that were very concerned we wouldn’t see a Roush Fenway in four or five years,” Steve Letarte said. “Because, I know they have been trying to get better, but going about it in a way that didn’t excite me. I heard a lot of the same names, a lot of the same people.”

“I was concerned the ingredients were already in the bowl at some point and it didn’t work. When you look at Matt Kenseth, I think he can come in there on a Tuesday and say ‘guys, it’s not motor, it’s aero. Guys, it’s not aero, it’s pit stops.’ He has nothing to prove in his career like the two young drivers do.”

When Kenseth announced his retirement last year, he said he would only return if the opportunity was the right one.

“It’s not just about driving,” Kenseth said. “If it was just about driving, I probably would have been at Daytona. But there’s a lot of other things in the organization. I feel they are definitely on the upswing from where they were two years ago. Even last year, to now. I feel like the cars are running better. I think we’re going to run OK, and I think I can help the organization keep getting stronger.”

Watch the above video for more commentary.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. explores concussion recovery in new book

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A year to the day after announcing he would retire from full-time NASCAR competition, Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed an upcoming book about his experiences with concussions, notably the one in 2016 that nearly ended his career.

“Racing to the Finish: My Story” is co-written by ESPN’s Ryan McGee and is scheduled to be published Oct. 16. You can pre-order it now.

Earnhardt revealed the book Wednesday on NASCAR America and explained the inspiration behind it.

The 15-time most popular driver missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season after he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms during the July race weekend at Kentucky Speedway. The symptoms stemmed from a wreck at Michigan International Speedway three races earlier.

Many of the details in the book come from a journal Earnhardt began keeping during his first concussion experience in 2012.

“I don’t think nobody outside (wife) Amy and my doctor knows exactly everything that went on, and how bad it was” Earnhardt said. “There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to write this book. My fans ask me all the time about why I retired early from driving when I probably had a couple of more years. I think this will answer all those questions.”

Earnhardt hopes the book will also help those who have gone through similar situations and felt “helpless.”

“There’s some really, really bad moments, very dark moments,” Earnhardt said of his recovery. “There’s some helpless moments. You want to give up. Luckily, I had a really good doctor that I could call at any hour of the night and talk me off this ledge and help me understand that this is going to get better and tell me that you’ve fixed this in someone else.”

Earnhardt was open during his recovery process, posting videos of himself taking part in exercises to show what he was doing to get back to full strength.

“When I was writing all those notes, I didn’t know why I was writing them other than I was scared of what I was feeling and what I was going through,” Earnhardt said. “If something were to happen to me where I couldn’t articulate these experiences, there they would be.”

Even before his 2016 concussion, Earnhardt revealed he would donate his brain to CTE research.

Watch the above video for more.

 

Long: Can Matt Kenseth return Roush Fenway to its glory days?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue skies poked through the gray clouds that had hung over the city for most of two days, delivering rain, wind and gloom.

Inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday morning, the forecast also was about to change for one Cup team.

Matt Kenseth is back in NASCAR to help turnaround Roush Fenway Racing.

It’s an interesting challenge for me and not just being a driver,’’ said Kenseth, who has 39 career Cup victories to rank 20th on the all-time list. “I hope I can be much more to the organization, and I’m hoping that there are a lot of different ways I can help in.’’

An organization that once dominated — Roush won 15 races and placed five cars in the top 10 in points in 2005 — has struggled to be competitive and retain drivers.

Kenseth left after the 2012 season. Carl Edwards departed after 2014. Greg Biffle left after 2016 because there wasn’t enough sponsorship to fund a car.

While Wednesday was a day for Roush Fenway Racing to celebrate and look toward the future, there is much work to do for an organization that has one top-10 finish between Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.

“We have enough resources to fix any number of things but what is very difficult to discern with a young driver lineup like we have is what is most important,’’ Tommy Wheeler, operations director at Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “What is going to be the most impactful today to make the car faster?’’

Bayne likely wouldn’t be sharing the No. 6 the rest of the year with Kenseth if his team’s performance hadn’t dipped.

Bayne has run in the top 15 in 10.5 percent of the laps run this season (Stenhouse is at 39.9 percent). Bayne’s average finish is 23.9 — compared to 19.5 last year — and he ranks 25th in the series in average running position (23.0).

“Really, when we look at last year, (Bayne’s team) and (Stenhouse’s team) were fairly close in overall performance, the 17 (of Stenhouse) was certainly better and certainly that split got greater this year and that’s just … not the direction we’re wanting to continue down,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports.

Kenseth understands the challenge he’ll face. After winning races in six of the past seven seasons, the focus is different.

“I don’t think any of us expect to come out and win races,’’ Kenseth said. “That would be great if you could, and I think we expect to eventually. I don’t think that the summer and a part-time schedule that we expect to win, but I do feel like the cars are much more competitive, I feel like they’re on the right track.’’

Wheeler said the work starts now. The team will integrate Kenseth in all that it is doing. Kenseth noted that he’s been watching races more closely and studying notes “the last few weeks” as the deal was put together.

As for why this wasn’t done at the start of the year when Kenseth was available, car owner Jack Roush had a simple answer.

“I still had a little bit of a rawness over the fact that he left me when he did,’’ Roush said. “We had another championship out there, I thought, that we could have had in short order. I missed that, so it took me a little while to get over it.”

With the performance down this year, Roush needed to act quickly.

Mark Martin, who has served in a consultant-type role since the playoffs last year, said what Kenseth can help the team with could make a significant impact for Stenhouse — who had three sponsors extend deals with the team last week.

“I have hopes (of the team winning) because I know the tools are there at the organization, I know the people are there at the organization,’’ Martin said. “Really, what’s preventing them right now is a little bit of enthusiasm and direction to be able to use those tools and spend that time on the part that bears fruit.

“You do that and put that in Ricky Stenhouse’s hands, he’ll get it done. Right now, Ricky is just trying too freaking hard. I think if we could get him in a little faster race car, I would hope that maybe he could tune it down. He’s just driving so hard right now, it’s hard to watch for me. I just feel like we have all the tools, we just still don’t have the cars fast enough inherently.’’

Stenhouse has had to go to a backup car in three of the first nine races because of accidents during practice.

Stenhouse, who made the playoffs last year, will be the team’s only driver eligible for the playoffs since it seems unlikely NASCAR would grant a waiver for Bayne or Kenseth if they’re not running the full season because of a team decision.

For Stenhouse to make the playoffs and be a factor, the organization must be better at the 1.5-mile tracks that play a key role in the Cup season. It’s no coincidence that Kenseth will make his debut May 12 at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile speedway and be back in the car for the May 19 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track.

“We’ve got to perform on the mile-and-a half tracks or we’re going to be disappointed with our end-of-the year results,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports. “Making the playoffs was really our goal last year. Well, now it’s about making the playoffs and making a strong run, validating that we deserve to be there and that we’re going to be competitive on these mile-and-a-half tracks that eat up so much of the schedule.’’

The rest of the driver schedule for the No. 6 car is to be worked out between Bayne, Kenseth and sponsor obligations.

That’s just a small part of the work ahead for Kenseth.

His biggest task is if he can help change Roush Fenway Racing’s fortunes and return the team to sunnier days?

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Ryan Blaney honors father with Southern 500 paint scheme

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Ryan Blaney‘s throwback paint scheme for this season’s Southern 500 is personal.

The Team Penske driver will pay tribute to the NASCAR career of his father, former Cup driver Dave Blaney, in the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

The No. 12 Ford will look like the No. 77 Jasper sponsored Ford the elder Blaney drove in the 2003 Cup season.

The car was revealed on NASCAR’s Facebook Live page. 

That year, Dave Blaney earned his first of two career Cup poles and his first of four top fives. The top five came in the spring race at Darlington.

Dave Blaney made 473 Cup starts from 1992 through 2014.

His son, in his first full-time season with Penske, will make his fourth Southern 500 start. His best finish is 13th in 2016.

Ryan Blaney is eighth in the Cup points standings through nine races.

MORE: Matt DiBenedetto pays tribute to Jeff Burton with Darlington scheme