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What Drivers Said after Monday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Monday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway:

Clint Bowyer – WINNER: “This is a place where I’ve gotten so close. I wanted to win this grandfather clock so bad. … We got so close back in 2012. …  For whatever reason, it felt right driving up here. … I told (son Cash) this morning, I was like, ‘Damn it, we’ve got to get our picture in victory lane.’ He told me he wanted a checkered flag. Let me tell you something, Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, to give this old dog a fresh chance and fresh blood with a new opportunity. Finally, to get the 14 in victory lane is just a weight off the shoulders. It’s been a long time. You start to question if you can get it done or not. To have it come at this place meant a lot. … This place is an acquired taste. When I first got here I was a duck out of water just like everybody else that starts here at first. I learned from Jimmie Johnson and learned from Jeff Gordon, sometimes the hard way, but nonetheless I learned over the years and finally put it to good use. To keep Kyle Busch, one of the best in the business behind you in those closing laps, the nerves were through the roof. It’s unbelievable how it all came true and to have everybody here.”

KYLE BUSCH – Finished 2nd: “We have to keep executing and doing a good job. That’s what we’re doing right now, it’s just not working our way. The M&M’s Caramel Camry was really close today. It wasn’t as good in practice. I thought we were better today than we were in practice, so that’s an improvement. … I was not expecting the 14 (Clint Bowyer) as one of those guys that was going to stay there and be one we had to race for the win. It’s funny. All of our finishes, for as good as we are in second place, as far ahead as we are of third, the leader is that far ahead of us. It seems like we’re kind of on our own island but then we get beat by somebody else on their own island. All is good, we just have to keep going.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 3rd: “It was a good showing for us, for sure. I think the track tightened up a good bit there towards the end and we just got a little bit behind. Congrats to Clint for winning that race. It was fun racing with him for a bit, but for us to come out of here and lead a bunch of laps, win a stage and run third here at Martinsville – where I usually run terrible – that says a lot about this team and the preparation that they did getting ready for this race. That’s nice to have, we just need to be a little bit better.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 4th: “It’s just so cool to see (Bowyer win a race). He’s worked so hard through a lot and has had a couple of tough seasons. And now he’s obviously with a great team. They have started the year off strong. He’s always been strong here at Martinsville. I know this place is special to him and it’s really cool to see him win today. … It’s cool to see him win with his kid here and everything. I couldn’t imagine the emotion he has right now. … It was definitely a difficult day for us – we struggled early, the second stage we really, really got bad and fell backwards, dropped like a rock. I think we barely stayed on the lead lap at the end of that second segment. … We made a bunch of (adjustments) and got better on the long run and made it back to the front of the field. … You never know how it’s going to go, but I’m proud of my guys for sticking with it. We were all pretty frustrated early on trying to figure it out, just kept our heads down and kept digging and came home with a great finish.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 5th: “I didn’t mess it up today. We had a good car and saw how fast the SHR cars can be with the right driver in them here. This hasn’t been one of my better spots, but everything today went reasonably well and we were able to get Clint to Victory Lane and it was a good day for our Jimmy John’s/Busch Ford. … It’s been a long road for (Bowyer) and I’m really, really proud of him and (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and everybody for sticking with it because you could see that they had potential and they could do things that were gonna be good, so they just needed to get that year under their belt and have it right.”

Joey Logano – Finished 6th: “At the start of the race we may have made some bad changes over the snow break and weren’t really good compared to where we were in practice. The team made some good adjustments and got to the end there and were probably a third-place car, but it was too little, too late to get back up there; I drove back up to sixth. I was catching up to fifth and wanted a top-five stat because it at least sounds a little better than sixth, but we’ve been kind of stuck there in sixth or seventh no matter where we’re at right now, so we’ve got to find a little bit more speed. I’m proud of the fight and proud of everyone that keeps building these good, solid, consistent cars. Pit road is always consistent, so that’s nice. We’ve just got to go a little faster.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 7th: “It’s frustrating to say we are looking for a seventh, but much better than we have been the last couple of weeks and just happy for all my guys. They have worked really hard all off season and all year. We haven’t had the results we wanted, so to come here and finish stronger is definitely a step in the right direction. We’ve got a long way to go, but we are headed the right way. … We know we are off, but everybody is just real motivated and working harder. It’s a lot of guys that have won a lot of races and they want to get back to that winning feeling. So, they are all working really hard and got the best in the business back at the shop working to get better.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Finished 8th: “It was just a solid day. We were just missing just a little bit to go up there and run with the best of them. The last set of tires didn’t agree with the car, the car was bouncing around a lot. It’s unfortunate that our last set of tires were our worst, but that happens. We still got a top 10 out it, ran in the top 10 all day and was able to start 25th and pass a lot of cars. Solid day, what we needed at one of our better racetracks. These are the places we know that we have a better chance at and we have to take advantage of it. So, I would say I’m okay with eighth, I wish we could have got a little bit more at the end of the race there, but a solid day all around.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 9th: “I thought our last run was way better than what we had had before that.  But, we were just way too far off there for the majority of the day to expect that you are going to catch up by the end.  We have some work to do.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 10th: “I tore up the car a little bit on the nose and bent up the splitter and the car wasn’t quite the same after that. I just made a mistake there.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 12th: “He (Harvick) just got to me and I think bumped me three or four times. And then I was just bumping him back and he brake-checked me. I probably shouldn’t have brake-checked him in the first place. They were just some light bumps here and then slammed on the brakes here. So, classy. … We still have to work on a few things but this is definitely a step in the right direction from where we’ve been in the past couple of races here. Really happy with the FedEx Camry. We didn’t get a good finish like we probably deserved but all-in-all, a decent day. No mistakes. We’ll keep building from this.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 14th: “I worked all day to get my track position back after the first mistake, and then I made another. But our Mobil 1 Ford Fusion was fast, and while we needed to roll the corner a bit better all day, we still had a solid run. All of our finishes at Stewart-Haas have been solid this year, really showing that Mobil 1 oil technology performs on the track and Mobil 1 Annual Protection can do the same for our fans at home.”

Erik Jones – Finished 17th: “Martinsville is kind of a tough place for myself. Kind of ran where we thought would. Wanted to run better but we struggled a little bit all weekend. Just didn’t have the forward drive. Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit better for the fall (race at Martinsville) and finish toward the top 10.”

William Byron – Finished 20th: “The first couple of runs I thought we were decent.  Fifty lap runs seemed to be kind of our money spot, we needed a lot of 50-lap runs.  I think that once we got into the run we struggled a little bit and towards the end we kind of managed.  We just needed a couple of more short runs to kind of be able to gain some spots, but not bad.  Not what we wanted by far, but this is a fun racetrack and hopefully come back stronger in the fall.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 21st: “The long run was good, the short runs we struggle a little bit. We had a brake fan issue there that kept flipping the breaker, so I’m not sure if we got something stuck in it, but we didn’t have a whole lot of brakes left to challenge at the end. I don’t think it cost us a whole lot, maybe a couple spots, but every point matters. We still haven’t reached our potential, but we’re close to the Top 20, so not bad.”

David Ragan – Finished 25th: “We just started off way too slow. Our car wouldn’t roll the center and didn’t have good forward drive, so it made for a real long day. We raced hard and we just never caught any lucky breaks and we couldn’t make our car better, so we’ll definitely have to go back to the drawing board before the fall.”

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Clint Bowyer snaps 190-race winless streak at Martinsville; first victory since October 2012

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Given that a grandfather clock went to the winner, it was about time for Clint Bowyer to win Monday’s rescheduled STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Postponed one day due to snow at the track on Sunday, Bowyer finally broke a 190-race winless streak, earning his first trip to victory lane since the fall race at Charlotte in October 2012.

It was also Bowyer’s ninth win in his 13-year Cup career in 439 starts.

Bowyer led a race-high 215 laps in the 500-lap event around the .526-mile bullring.

The 38-year-old Bowyer took the lead from Ryan Blaney on Lap 285 and after briefly losing the lead, led the final 114 laps. It was the 43rd career win for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Sixth through 10th were Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, A.J. Allmendinger, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.

“To have it come here, a place where I’ve gotten so close and wanted to win that grandfather clock … it was just time,” Bowyer told FS1. “I told my son this morning, ‘Damn it, we’ve got to get a picture in victory lane.”

MORE: Results of Martinsville Cup race

MORE: Kyle Busch leads Cup point standings after Martinsville

Stage 1 winner: Denny Hamlin

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney

How Bowyer won: In his first career win at Martinsville, Bowyer took the lead for good on Lap 285, but it was getting a good jump on the final restart of the day (Lap 392), that iced it for Bowyer, holding off Kyle Busch and others who would stay close but could never pass Bowyer.

Who else had a good day: Kyle Busch earned his third runner-up and fourth overall top-three finish in the first six races. … A.J. Allmendinger once again had a good day at Martinsville. In his last five starts at the southern Virginia bullring, he’s finished 2nd (spring 2016), 10th (fall 2016), 6th (spring 2017), 40th (fall 2017) and 8th (today).

Who had a bad day: Darrell Wallace Jr. suffered mechanical problems early in the race and finished 34th, 14 laps down. … Jamie McMurray spun into the wall after being tapped by Austin Dillon on Lap 385, but was able to continue. Still, the damage was done, as McMurray finished 26th, followed by Dillon (30th), Trevor Bayne (33rd) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (37th).

Notable: Bowyer led more laps today (215) than in his last 159 starts combined. … Bowyer becomes the only driver in Cup history to win in all three active manufacturer rides (Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota). … Stewart-Haas Racing has now won four of the first six races of 2018 (the other three wins came from Kevin Harvick at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix). … The race had only 38 cars in the field, two short of the usual 40-car field.

Quote of the day: “You start to question if you can get it done or not. To have it come at this place meant a lot.” – Clint Bowyer

What’s Next: The Cup, Xfinity and Truck series all have the Easter weekend off. The next Cup race is the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 8.

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Saturday’s schedule at Auto Club Speedway

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Today’s action at Auto Club Speedway will feature two Cup practices, Xfinity Series qualifying and the Xfinity race to cap off the day.

Here’s how the day’s schedule shapes up (all times Eastern):

SATURDAY, MARCH 17

10 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

11 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Cup garage open

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Cup practice (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network)

1:35 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying; single vehicle/two rounds (FS1)

3:15 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

3:30 – 4:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

4:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

5 p.m. — Roseanne 300 Xfinity race; 150 laps/300 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR America: What do NASCAR drivers and Hollywood have in common?

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Each time NASCAR returns to Southern California and races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, there is a distinct Hollywood connection.

Actors and entertainers come out to the race – some in official capacities, others just as regular fans – while NASCAR drivers often head to Tinseltown in their off-time to hang out and rub elbows with some of the biggest celebrities.

On Thursday’s NASCAR America, host Leigh Diffey asked analysts Parker Kligerman and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett about the sport’s connection with Hollywood, as well as what drivers might be Hollywood-like in their own ways.

Here are the topics they discussed and excerpts of their answers:

Who would be NASCAR’s version of Hollywood’s leading men?

Jarrett: “This is easy in my opinion. It has to be Kevin Harvick. When you look at the leading man and who’s on top and everybody wants to be like in that role, it’s Kevin Harvick. He’s doing his very best to stay on top. He’s the man that’s there right now.”

Kligerman: “I’m going with Kyle Busch as the leading man. He’s right behind Kevin Harvick, is the leading man at Joe Gibbs Racing and the leading man at Toyota, and I just believe he’s had the performances to be that leading man and has the personality to command the screen, if you’d give him a chance.”

Who’s the next big thing in NASCAR?

Jarrett: “The man that just got slapped with a 25-point penalty, Chase Elliott. Going back the last two years, we’ve been talking about when will get that first win? When will it happen. But I foresee that coming in the very near future.”

Kligerman: “Erik Jones in that 20 car. We saw some sparks of brilliance from him last season in the 77 car. I remember when he raced Kyle Busch and beat him in the Snowball Derby and he beat Kyle Busch. Kyle said, ‘That guy is the next me,’ and a lot of people think that (Jones) will be the next Kyle Busch.’”

Who’s the best character actor in NASCAR?

Jarrett: “There’s a lot of characters out there, for sure. I’m going to go with Ryan Blaney. He has everything you’d look for in an actor, the personality, the good looks, all of that. But along with it, he’s very, very talented. You have to have all of that to fit this role, I believe, and Ryan Blaney is doing his part single-handedly.”

Kligerman: “Kyle Petty. No, I’m just kidding. I’m going to go with Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. He has great personality, we saw the Daytona 500 weekend and some of his antics off the track. I love following him on social media, he’s a very funny guy. I just think he’s full of enthusiasm for the sport, he enjoys what he’s doing, he enjoys his chance and is relishing it, and I believe the performances will match his personality.”

Who isn’t really standing out right now?

Jarrett: “Our reigning champion, Martin Truex Jr.? He’s exactly that. Nothing flashy at this point but being very solid. Going from winning a championship last year and then trying to go out the next year and try to make things happen … I just think they’re trying to get their legs under them after having that great championship offseason and trying to get back to that championship level that they’re accustomed to.”

Kligerman: “Aric Almirola. I just believe this guy has been given a new lease on life and getting a chance at a top-caliber organization like Stewart-Haas. We’re seeing a little hint of that performance, but it’s going to take a little more to eclipse that teammate of his, Kevin Harvick, who obviously has been the leading man.”

Who’s the villain this year?

Jarrett: “Kyle Busch has been fantastic in his interviews the last couple of weeks after finishing second to Kevin Harvick. But I can assure you this man is ready to explode if he finishes second, especially to Kevin Harvick, this weekend.”

Kligerman: “I’m going to go with the most hated man on NASCAR Reddit, and that’s Denny Hamlin. For whatever reason, he finds a way to rile up the fan base on the Internet, whether it’s what he does in the car, what he tweets or what he says on TV, he plays that villain role nicely at times and has the performance to back it up.”

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NASCAR America: Analyzing penalty vs. Chase Elliott, team and planned appeal

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On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Nate Ryan, Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman gave their takes on Wednesday’s penalties assessed to Chase Elliott and his team.

One bit of good news: because Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalties, car chief Josh Kirk (who faces a two-race suspension), will be able to attend this weekend’s race in Fontana, California.

Also, crew chief Alan Gustafson will have his $50,000 fine held in abeyance pending the outcome of the appeal.

Elliott has lost 25 driver points (falls from 16th to 23rd in the Cup standings) and team owner Rick Hendrick lost 25 owner points, but those numbers could be reversed if the appeal reverses the penalties.

NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan compared Elliott’s penalty to the kind Joey Logano received after winning last year at Richmond, missing the playoffs as a result.

Elliott finished third last Sunday at Phoenix before being assessed with the Level 1 penalty for a rear suspension violation.

“The team is going to try and challenge (the penalty),” Ryan said. “There has not been a day and time scheduled for that appeal hearing yet. I presume it will probably happen next week.

“Hendrick Motorsports will go in front of the three-man panel and make its case with the possibility the penalty could be reduced or overturned, but that doesn’t happen often, only about a third of the time does that (appeals) panel reduce a penalty.”

Jarrett called the penalty “very unfortunate,” but added, “if there’s a good side of it from the team side, it happened early in the year and they can make up those 25 points, although you don’t want to put yourself at a deficit.”

Jarrett said his biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s penalty is that it came three days after the race, and about 2,000 miles away in Concord, North Carolina, rather than be found and assessed where the race occurred Sunday, in Avondale, Arizona.

“We have to some way, some time, find a way that we’re not taking these cars back and looking at every little detail and then levy penalties on Wednesday,” Jarrett said. “It’s not that it’s a little (violation), I understand there’s something there, but going to back to the R&D Center and levying these penalties on Wednesday, I don’t agree with.”

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