Clint Bowyer

What drivers said after Chicagoland Cup playoff opener

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Martin Truex Jr. said Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 win to open the NASCAR Cup playoffs was not a statement.

Oh, but it was: By taking the checkered flag, Truex has an automatic berth in the Round of 12 that starts on Oct. 1 in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s what Truex and other drivers had to say:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “I don’t care much about statements, I’m just having fun. I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you and I think we did a good job of that. Every time you go to victory lane, it’s special. There’s just so many people to thank. I’m kind of speechless. … It’s a dream come true and we’re having the time of our lives.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 2nd: “Just a huge step in the right direction. Days like this are the days we are going to have to have. There is no way around that. I thought we had a solid day overall.  Our car drove good, it had pace, our pit stops were good. I didn’t have anything for Martin (Truex, Jr.). I thought we made the most of our day without some luck I wasn’t going to get around him unless we had a late-race restart or something. I had a solid day and frankly, it is a lot better than we have been doing and we’ve got to have days like this to keep moving forward.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 3rd: “Our focus was to make sure that we didn’t make any mistakes today and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing worked hard to work on that gap between those cars, but we’ve known about that gap and feel like we’ve closed that up and we knew that not making mistakes was gonna go a long way. We saw the 78 made mistakes today, but they had a fast enough car to recover from that. The 18 didn’t recover from his mistakes. We just had to execute and take what they’ll give you and not finish any worse than that.  I think we did that today. I felt like the 24 and the 78 were a little better than us and we finished right where we should have.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “It was about a fourth-place car – the 18 (Kyle Busch) was very strong at the beginning. We just hung around the top five or sixth at worst and third at best. Finished about right where we should have.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 5th: “I thought we were about a fifth or sixth-place car all day. I didn’t start the race off very good. We were really tight, but worked on it and got it better at times. It was just really hard to pass for us. I know the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) was really good and he was able to cruise to the front no problem, but we seemed to and it looked like everybody really struggled in traffic except for a couple of guys. But, a solid day, got stage points and then a top five finish. That will be good going into Loudon.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 6th: “Yeah, we can be happy with sixth. We scored a bunch of stage points and had a solid day up front. One more of these races either Loudon or Dover and we should be good to advance to the next round. I think we can pull that off. We are still looking for a little speed but execution today was really, really strong. Great day on pit road, great restarts. All that stuff was what you look for, we just need to marry that up with some speed and we can win any of these races.”

Joey Logano – Finished 7th: “We executed well. We ran in the top 10 the whole race and had no issues, nothing crazy, just not fast enough to compete for the win. We made gains the last few weeks to get closer but we have just caught up to our teammates. That is where we are at now, the same as our teammates but not good enough to go up there and win. I thought I would run seventh today and I ran seventh. We just have to go faster, that is all.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 8th: “The cars are all so equal at least the guys from third or fourth on back we are all so equal.  If you could get by somebody on a restart that was really about it, but for me, my car just really wanted to run the bottom of the race track. The higher I would go the looser it would get.  I knew there was a lot of real estate up there to try to take advantage of I just couldn’t make it work and had to chase the bottom all day long.”

Matt Kenseth (comment from crew chief Jason Ratcliff) — Finished 9th: “Honestly, I’m really disappointed. I thought that we would be way more competitive. At the start of the race, you know having our qualifiers (tires) on, I thought we were making ground. We kind of settled in and I thought OK, we’ll just keep working on it and making progress. It just didn’t seem like we could make any gains for some reason. We could change the car, but we kept getting stuck somewhere between seventh and ninth. It was good to get out of here with a top 10 and we’ll go to Loudon.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 10th: “There were a lot of issues for people in the playoffs it looked like. So, 10th place isn’t bad. I think we finished 10th in one of the stages as well. I don’t know what happened on the backstretch. I think I just didn’t give the No. 31 (Ryan Newman) enough room and it got me turned around. We were lucky the caution kind of fell right and then we had a pretty fast car as well. We were faster probably at the beginning than we were at the end, but overall it was a good way to start the first race.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “We started off not great, got into it with a lapped car. That put us behind and got us a lap down. We spent a long time trying to get a lap back and finally did and were able to go racing. We went the wrong way on our last adjustment and that hurt us unfortunately. We can’t hang our heads about that. A lot of other cars had problems today. It stinks we didn’t get any stage points, but maybe next week.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 13th: “We kind of went back and forth all day between loose and tight. I think we were on the splitter there for a while as well. We kept working on it but never really got it to where we needed it to be to race with the leaders.”

Paul Menard — Finished 14th: “This team never gave up all day, and we have a solid result to show for it. The Moen/Menards Chevrolet had speed all day, we just fell a lap down early because of our track position. We took the wave around and got on a different pit sequence than most of the field, and it worked out in our favor. We got the free pass a couple of times and were able to end the day 14th. It was a great strategy and a solid effort all around for this No. 27 team.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 15th: “We had such a fast Skittles Sweet Heat Camry. It’s just disappointing that we had trouble on pit road like that. We just never had the opportunity with how the cautions fell to get back on the lead lap. We’ll get back to the shop and talk about it, and really all we can do is move on and put it behind us.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 16th: “It’s just frustrating. I put ourselves in a hole speeding on pit road and just trying to get too much. You talk about not making mistakes, and we made one. We had a really good race car truthfully. It was a top 10 car for sure, maybe top five. We got behind. We were two laps down. We got one back. Racing the No. 18 (Kyle Busch), he’s a hard one to beat for the Lucky Dog. I had him for a long time. But, there were just no cautions today. We needed more cautions. It went green a lot.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 18th: “It was a little tight in the middle and off (in the final stage).”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 22nd: “We just couldn’t get the speed we were looking for on the short run. Our Performance Plus Ford was really fast on the long run and (crew chief) Matt (Puccia) made some really good adjustments. I hate that we made some contact with the wall but my guys kept fighting all afternoon and never gave up. We’ll move on from today and get after it in Loudon.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 23rd: “This Caterpillar Chevy was pretty solid Friday and Saturday, but when the race started today, we were facing an uphill battle and could never really recover.  I’m not sure what happened between our practices and the race. We were extremely loose and in desperate need of grip. We tried just about everything to race back onto the lead lap, but it just didn’t work out for us. This isn’t the way we wanted to kickoff the playoffs. We’re fighters so we are certainly still in this thing.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 24th: “I felt like we had a really good car to start off with. We were good on the long run. The first few adjustments we made were good, but then, the car just got really loose. We battled the loose condition the rest of the day. We got it better at the end but were stuck laps down at that point. The timing worked for us on the last caution, and (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) made a good call to run to the end.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 25th: “I got into the fence early on and then had a commitment line violation which put us two laps down. With so few cautions, we weren’t able to get back on the lead lap. It’s definitely not the race we wanted to kick off the playoffs. We head to Loudon which is usually a decent track for us.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 28th: “This wasn’t the day that we were looking to have in Chicago. We were too far off to start the first stage. I was way too loose and didn’t have any grip on entry and exit. My team made changes to get us handling better, but we had lost too much ground to the leaders by then. We’ve grown a lot as a team this year and the next step is to start these races stronger. We always get to where we need to be later in the race, but we need to be there from the time that we unload on Friday morning. This team grinds like no other, though, and we will take what we can from this weekend and use it to be better at this track next year.”

Kyle Busch is fastest in final NASCAR Cup practice at Chicagoland

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JOLIET, Illinois – Kyle Busch put some icing on his pole position for Sunday’s Tale of the Turtles, being fastest in the final NASCAR Cup practice session Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Busch covered the 1.5-mile oval with a speed of 180.252 mph, nearly one mph more than second-fastest Austin Dillon (179.438 mph).

Third through 10th were Brad Keselowski (179.289), Chase Elliott (179.134), Clint Bowyer (178.542), Kevin Harvick (178.359), Denny Hamlin (178.312), points leader and defending Chicagoland race winner Martin Truex Jr. (177.871), Joey Logano (177.643) and Ryan Blaney (177.515).

Of the 16 drivers in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, eight were in the top 10 and 12 were in the top 17. Four playoff drivers that struggled for speed were Kurt Busch (22nd, 176.016 mph), Matt Kenseth (23rd, 175.793), defending series champion Jimmie Johnson (24th, 175.701) and Kasey Kahne (27th, 174.803).

Only 36 of the 40 qualified drivers took to the track for the final practice.

Click here for the full final practice speed grid.

Here’s your primer for this weekend’s opening of the NASCAR Cup playoffs

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As we prepare for this weekend’s start of the NASCAR Cup playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway, here’s a primer – courtesy of our friends at Racing Insights – on what to expect.

We’ll cover the playoff format and the number of playoff appearances to date for all 16 drivers and 16 crew chiefs:

2017 Playoff Format Explained

The format for the 2017 the playoffs will be divided into four rounds:

Round One – Round of 16 (Races 27-29 – Chicago, New Hampshire, Dover)

  • All drivers have their points adjusted to 2,000
  • Top-10 in regular season points are awarded regular season playoff points
  • Playoff points accumulated during the first 26 races are added
  • All playoff points earned will continue to transfer as long as a driver remains playoff eligible
  • A win by a playoff driver in round one automatically advances them to round two
  • Remaining positions are filled based on points earned in round one
  • All playoff points accumulated during round one will be applied in the second round as long as that 
driver has advanced

Round Two – Round of 12 (Race 30-32 – Charlotte, Talladega, Kansas)

  • All drivers that advance to round two have their points adjusted to 3,000
  • All playoff points accumulated are then applied, including any playoff points gained during round 1
  • A win by a Playoff driver in round two automatically advances them to round three
  • Remaining positions are filled based on points earned in round two
  • All playoff points accumulated during round two will be applied in the third round as long as that 
driver has advanced

Round Three – Round of 8 (Race 33-35 – Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix)

  • All drivers to advance to round three have their points adjusted to 4,000
  • All Playoff points accumulated are then applied, including any points gained during rounds 1 and 2
  • A win by a Playoff driver in round three automatically advances them to Homestead
  • Remaining positions are filled based on points earned in round three
  • Playoff points are not awarded in Round three

Round Four – Championship 4 (Race 36 -Homestead)

  • All four drivers have their points reset to 5,000, No Playoff Points
  • No Playoff points or stage points awarded to the Playoff eligible drivers during the race
  • The highest finisher at Homestead among the remaining four eligible drivers in the Playoff grid wins 
the Championship******************************************

Playoff Appearances and Best Year End Finish during the Post Season Era: 14th year of the post season:

  • Martin Truex Jr. – 5th Playoff Appearance, best finish 4th in 2015
  • Kyle Larson2nd Playoff Appearance, best finish 9th in 2016
  • Kyle Busch – 10th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2015
  • Brad Keselowski – 6th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2012
  • Jimmie Johnson14th Playoff Appearance (every year), seven-time champion
  • Kevin Harvick – 11th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2014
  • Denny Hamlin – 11th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 2nd in 2010
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.1st Playoff Appearance
  • Ryan Blaney1st Playoff Appearance
  • Chase Elliott2nd Playoff Appearance, 10th in 2016
  • Ryan Newman – 8th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 2nd in 2014
  • Kurt Busch – 11th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2004
  • Kasey Kahne – 6th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 4th in 2012
  • Austin Dillon2nd Playoff Appearance, best finish of 14th in 2016
  • Matt Kenseth – 13th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 2nd in 2006 & 2013 **
  • Jamie McMurray3rd Playoff Appearance, best finish of 13th in 2015 and 2016

**Matt Kenseth won the Championship in 2003, the last year of the pre-Post Season era

*******************************************

Crew Chiefs Making First Playoff appearance:

* No. 5 Keith Rodden – Fourth full-time season as Crew Chief, third with Kasey Kahne, Lead Engineer of #5 from 2012- 2013

* No. 21 Jeremy Bullins – Third season with #21 all with Ryan Blaney, won 2013 & 2014 NXS Owners title as Crew Chief of #22, Race engineer with multiple teams from 2000-2011

*******************************************

Playoff Appearances by Crew Chiefs:

* No. 1 Matt McCall – 3rd appearance, all with Jamie McMurray all in the last three years

* No. 2 Paul Wolfe – 6th appearance, all with Brad Keselowski, won 2012 Championship together

* No. 3 Justin Alexander – 2nd appearance, first with Austin Dillon, one with Paul Menard 2015

* No. 4 Rodney Childers – 4th appearance, won the 2014 Championship with Kevin Harvick

* No. 11 Mike Wheeler – 2nd appearance, both with Denny Hamlin (currently suspended)

* No. 17 Brian Pattie – 5th appearance, first with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., three with Clint Bowyer, one with Juan Pablo Montoya

* No. 18 Adam Stevens – 3rd appearance, all with Kyle Busch, won 2015 Championship together

* No. 20 Jason Ratcliff – 5th appearance, all with Matt Kenseth

* No. 24 Alan Gustafson – 10th appearance, second with Chase Elliott, five with Jeff Gordon, two with Kyle Busch, one with Mark Martin

* No. 31 Luke Lambert – 3rd appearance, all with Ryan Newman

* No. 41 Tony Gibson – 5th appearance, third with Kurt Busch, two with Ryan Newman

* No. 42 Chad Johnston – 3rd appearance, second with Kyle Larson, one with Martin Truex Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing
* No. 48 Chad Knaus – 14th appearance, all with Jimmie Johnson

* No. 78 Cole Pearn – 3rd appearance, all with Martin Truex Jr.

*******************************************

2017 Playoff Manufacturer Break Down:

Chevrolet – 7 Ford – 5 Toyota – 4

2017 Playoff Organization Break Down:

Joe Gibbs Racing – 3

Hendrick Motorsports – 3

Chip Ganassi Racing – 2*

Richard Childress Racing – 2

Stewart-Haas Racing – 2

Furniture Row Racing – 1

Roush Fenway Racing – 1

Team Penske – 1

Wood Brothers Racing – 1*

*All Cars of Organization made the playoffs

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not entering Chicagoland — NASCAR Cup playoff edition

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As the 10-race NASCAR Cup playoffs begin, attention turns to the 16 playoff drivers and what type of momentum they have going into this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. is the defending winner of this race. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are both two-time winners there, while Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin have single wins there.

Cup – Who Is Hot

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Finished 20th at Richmond, wrecked in OT while running top 5, led 198 laps
  • Passed for the win within 3 to go in three of the last four races
  • Finished in the top-10 17 times this season, the most
  • Won 18 stages this season, the most
  • 53 Playoff Points this season, includes 15 points for clinching the regular season
  • Wins at Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky and Watkins Glen
  • Led a series high 1646 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races
  • Won this race last year, only finish better than ninth in 11 races
  • Only driver to finish top 10 in all six 1.5 mile races this season, winning three of them

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Decent at Chicago)

  • Won at Richmond, first win NOT on a 2.0 mile track
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • Finished second in seven races this year
  • Finished top 10 in two of his three starts at Chicago, best of third in 2014

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished ninth at Richmond, sixth straight top 10 finish
  • Two wins this season, both came in the last six races (Wins at Pocono and Bristol)
  • Won at least one stage in six of the last eight races of 2017
  • One Chicago win, 2008
  • Finished top 10 in the last five races at Chicago
  • Finished top five in the last three 1.5 mile races

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (Hot)

  • Finished 38th at Richmond, six top-10 finishes in the last eight races, all but Michigan, flat tire in OT 
while running 3rd and an ambulance problem at Richmond
  • One Chicago win, 2013
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races at Chicago (his only starts there with JGR)

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Warm, Great at Chicago)

  • Finished 11th at Richmond, fifth straight result outside the top 10
  • 11 top fives, tied for the most in 2017
  • Two Chicago wins, 2012 and 2014
  • Finished top 10 in the last six races at Chicago

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (All about the wins)

  • 8th at Richmond, broke a streak of six races without a top 10 finish
  • Two top 10s in his last 11 races (10th at New Hampshire, 8th at Richmond)
  • Three top 5 finishes this season, all wins
  • Best Chicago finish is second, three times
  • One of three active winless tracks (Kentucky and Watkins Glen)
  • Only two finishes worse than 12th in 15 Chicago starts

No. 77 Erik Jones (Hot, Good in NXS at Chicago)

  • Finished 6th at Richmond
  • Finished top 10 in the last six races, best streak of his career
  • First Cup start at Chicago
  • Two NXS wins at Chicago

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot, Good at Chicago)

  • Finished fifth at Richmond, third straight top-five finish (longest ever streak of top-fives is four races)
  • Top-five finishes in nine of the last 12 races, including two wins
  • One Chicago win, 2015
  • Finished top 6 in the last three Chicago races

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot, struggled lately at Chicago)

  • Finished 15th at Richmond
  • Five fewer top fives and top 10s in the regular season this year compared to last year
  • Two Chicago wins, the first two races in 20o1 and 2002
  • Finished 20th and 42nd the last two years at Chicago

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Hot, Ok at Chicago)

  • Finished 4th at Richmond, third straight top five finish
  • First time he has scored three straight top 5s since 2015 (career longest streak if four races)
  • Best Chicago finish in 16 races is third in 2015, finished top 10 in three of the last four races there

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Has two wins this season)

  • 19th at Richmond, last top 10 was his win at Daytona
  • Zero wins in first 157 starts, two wins in last 17 starts
  • Only one finish better than 17th at Chicago, eighth in 2013

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Pretty Good lately)

  • Third at Richmond, top-10 finishes in the last four races, his best streak since Spring 2015
  • One Chicago win, 2003
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the last six at Chicago

No. 24 Chase Elliott (Starting to turn things back around)

  • Finished 10th at Richmond, only three top 10s in the last six races
  • One series start at Chicago, finished 3rd last year
  • Won Xfinity race at Chicago in 2014

 

Cup – Who Is Not

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Has a win but is NOT HOT)

  • Finished 21st at Richmond
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 10 at this point last year
  • Best Chicago finish is 14th in three starts

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not, Not, Not… won)

  • Finished 12th at Richmond, only one top-10 finish in the last 16 races, win at Indy
  • Six DNFs because of accidents this season
  • Won at Indianapolis, ending a 102-race winless streak
  • Best Chicago finish is third, twice
  • Finished seventh at Chicago last year, only top 10 in the last four years there

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Mixed)

  • Finished 18th at Richmond
  • Nine top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the last eight races
  • One Cup start at Chicago, finished fourth last year

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • 14th at Richmond, fifth straight top-15 finish
  • 13 top-10 finishes this season, four more than this point last year
  • One top 10-finish in the last six races at Chicago

Even though they failed to make the playoffs, there are three other drivers that fans will likely be watching as potential playoff spoilers:

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017)

  • Finished 24th at Richmond, contact behind an ambulance
  • Was 88 points out of a playoff spot
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017
  • 10 top-10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016
  • 11 Chicago starts, best of fourth in 2010

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Not)

  • 13th at Richmond, last top 10 was Sonoma in June (sixth)
  • Only two top 10s in the last 14 races
  • One Chicago win, 2005
  • Did not run at Chicago last year (concussion symptoms)

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season, good at Chicago)

  • Second at Richmond, only fourth top-10 finish since encumbered win at Richmond in April
  • 10 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 17 races
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the last five races at Chicago including Chicago best 2nd last year

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Cup drivers with most speeding penalties during regular season

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Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. tied for the most speeding penalties with seven each during the regular season, which ended last weekend at Richmond.

Matt Kenseth was the playoff driver with the most speeding penalties with six.

The Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs start Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m., NBCSN).

Here’s a look at the most speeding penalties this season:

All Drivers

7 — Trevor Bayne

7 — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6 — Matt Kenseth

5 — Kyle Busch

5 — Michael McDowell

5 — Reed Sorenson

4 — Aric Almirola

4 — Clint Bowyer

4 — Matt DiBenedetto

4 — Timmy Hill

4 — Joey Logano

4 — Ryan Newman

3 — Austin Dillon

3 — Denny Hamlin

3 — Kasey Kahne

3 — Corey LaJoie

3 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

3 — Darrell Wallace Jr.

3 — Cole Whitt

Playoff drivers

6 — Matt Kenseth

5 — Kyle Busch

4 — Ryan Newman

3 — Austin Dillon

3 — Denny Hamlin

3 — Kasey Kahne

3 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2 — Ryan Blaney

2 — Kurt Busch

2 — Chase Elliott

2 — Kevin Harvick

2 — Jimmie Johnson

2 — Brad Keselowski

2 — Kyle Larson

2 — Martin Truex Jr.

1 — Jamie McMurray

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