AAA Texas 500

NASCAR America: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch finish strong at Texas after first lap contact

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Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch‘s day did not get off to a good start Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Both drivers made contact with each other on Lap 1, forcing each to pit for cut tires and damaged cars.

They returned to the track a lap down. Busch didn’t need to worry as he’d already clinched a spot in the championship race due to his win at Martinsville. But he still managed to bounce back to finished 19th.

Keselowski, on the other hand, went from being 29 points ahead of the final transfer spot to the championship round entering the race to 20 points back after the accident.

But the Team Penske driver charged back to finish fifth and leave Texas 19 point to the good entering this weekend’s race at Phoenix. Keselowski is one of five drivers vying for the final spot in the championship four.

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty called Keselowski’s rebound a “championship-caliber performance.”

“I think there are moments in a career, there are moments in season, there are moments that you look at, maybe the team doesn’t win, but you look at and say, ‘championship performance,'” Petty said. “Boom. Fifth-place finish and they’re still in the mix.”

Petty and Parker Kligerman also discussed why Busch’s finish is important for the No. 18 team despite already being part of the championship four.

“They need to keep their head in the game,” Petty said. “Pit stops, they basically got a free day of, ‘let’s go over there, let’s bust these pit stops, let’s stay in that rhythm. Let’s stay in the rhythm of spotting, let’s stay in the rhythm of driving, let’s stay in the rhythm of running a strategy and seeing where we’re at.'”

Watch the above video for the full segment.

Chase Elliott: ‘Not a very good day for us’ in Texas playoff race

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Chase Elliott is in a must-win scenario in the Cup playoffs after finishing eighth in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Elliott is 49 points back from the final transfer spot heading to Phoenix Raceway, where the final spot in the championship round will be determined.

A week after the controversial finish at Martinsville Speedway, Elliott ran in the top 10 most of the day Sunday but never contended for the lead.

“Not a very good day for us,” Elliott told NBCSN. “Just never really could find the balance. I don’t know what was wrong. Had (balance) on Friday, didn’t have it yesterday and didn’t have it today. Frustrating afternoon for us, kind of all over the board.”

Both Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson occupy the bottom spots on the playoff grid. Elliott is seventh, 49 points back from the final transfer spot. Johnson is eighth, 51 points back.

With his eighth-place finish, Elliott has placed in the top 10 in all four of his Cup starts at Texas. The 1.5-mile track is where he earned his first Xfinity Series victory in 2014.

“I wish that they hadn’t (re)-paved this place, we ran better here when it wasn’t,” Elliott said.

Watch the full interview above.

Jimmie Johnson: Two races away from title No. 8, or one race away from elimination

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After Jimmie Johnson won his seventh championship in the last 11 years last season – tying NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for one of the loftiest records in the sport – 2017 was expected by some to be the year Johnson moved into an echelon of his own.

An echelon that would be a record like Petty’s 200 career Cup wins: never to be broken.

When Johnson won two of the first eight races (and three of the first 13) this season, it appeared he was right on track to win a record-breaking eighth championship.

But something has gone horribly wrong between then and now. As the NASCAR Cup playoffs move into their penultimate race this Sunday at Phoenix, Johnson is one race away from advancing to the Championship 4 race at Miami in two weeks – or not.

And given how the No. 48 performed in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway – finishing 27th, three laps off the lead lap – it’s looking like “not” is more likely.

Sunday’s result was Johnson’s worst showing in the first eight races of this season’s NASCAR Cup playoffs (his previous had been 24th at Talladega, where he was parked after his team worked on the car during a red flag period).

Johnson finds himself in a very unlikely position after Texas: last of the five remaining Championship 4 contenders: Brad Keselowski, who is above the transfer line, and the four drivers below the transition line: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Johnson.

Johnson cannot make the championship race at Miami on points. He’s in a must-win situation at Phoenix, plain and simple.

Johnson has an excellent record at Phoenix Raceway: four wins, 15 top five and 20 top-20 finishes (plus three poles) in 28 Cup starts.

But there’s a caveat: his last win at the one-mile oval was in fall 2009. And since the fall 2014 race in the Valley of the Sun, Johnson has just one top five and one other top-10 finish.

At the opposite end of the spectrum in those last six races, he also has two poor outings: 39th in fall 2014 and 38th in last year’s fall playoff race (although he would still go on to win the championship the following week).

After Sunday’s race at Texas, even Johnson seemed to slightly question his chances of reaching Miami via Phoenix.

“(Phoenix has) been a good track for us, but this last half of the year has been really weird,” Johnson said. “In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven’t.

“But I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix and we’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. And that’s one thing this team will never do is give up.”

Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 team have to literally pull a rabbit out of a hat at Phoenix to reach Miami.

Even though the No. 48 team finds its back against the wall, if anyone can rally and pull a win out of its back pocket and then win the championship, it’s definitely Johnson and his crew.

“We’ve got to figure something out,” Johnson said.

NASCAR drivers react to mass shooting at Texas church

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Sunday morning, 26 people were killed in a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which is located roughly 40 miles east of San Antonio.

Victims of the shooting ranged from 18 months to 77 years old. It is the largest mass shooting in Texas’ history.

The shooting began around 12:20 p.m. ET, about a couple of hours before the scheduled start time of the Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

A moment of silence was held at the track prior the awarding of the race trophy. The track also did not present its signature six-shooters to the winner, Kevin Harvick.

“In light of what happened, it was the respectful thing to do,” said track president and general manager Eddie Gossage. 

Drivers began learning about the tragedy after exiting their cars Sunday night. Below are drivers reactions on social media.

 

What Drivers Said after Sunday’s race at Texas

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With their respective tickets now punched through to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks, Kevin Harvick and runner-up Martin Truex Jr. had plenty to say after Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

So did a lot of other drivers, especially the remaining five who will fight next week at Phoenix for the final vacancy in Championship 4:

Kevin Harvick – Winner: “This feels so good. We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to victory lane. Today we had to earn it. To be able to pass the 78 car (Martin Truex Jr) for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile at Homestead to race for the championship.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished second: “One of those deals, I think we could have held them off on a clean race track, but the 6 car (Trevor Bayne) is in the damn way every week – that’s pretty normal. … (On clinching a spot in the championship race) It feels great. It feels amazing – that’s what we set out to do this year was to make it to Homestead and fight for the title and we feel like we’re right there. I just can’t wait to get there and get back to work. I wish we could have won today, it would have been a little sweeter going and locking it up in victory lane, but we were off a little bit there at the end.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished third: “The 4 (Kevin Harvick) and 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) were really fast all day. We had a really good FedEx Camry, just had a couple bad restarts there where I went high, lost my track position and we had to take two (tires) to get that track position back that I lost. Overall, a good day – I mean great points day. We scored a lot of points, but lost positions there with the 4 winning, so we’ll – we’ll just keep digging, keep giving ourselves a shot to win and hopefully next week will be our week.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished fourth: “First run of the day was fun. Everybody was on three-cycle scuffs and we were on stickers. We got to the end, we had a good car when we got to get up through there pretty quick, but just got tight on that last set of tires for some reason. … I’d always draw the outside lane on a restart and lose a couple spots. It’s just hard to overcome that. That was our worst run of the day and it was still pretty competitive, so it was nice to be competitive.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fifth: “We had a pretty good car. Something happened on Lap 1 (collided with Kyle Busch) and basically we started the race last and a lap-and-a-half down. That cost us a bunch of stage points, but we rallied with a solid effort to get back to fifth. I’m happy for that. … (You are +19 in points) “I need more than that. I’d feel confident if we were locked in. These races you don’t know what’s gonna happen. Nineteen points isn’t terrible for a cushion. We’ll need to go and have a solid race at Phoenix next week and hope none of the other guys win. It’s doable, but it’s gonna be a nail biter next week for sure.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished sixth: “Obviously, we need to be really aggressive. We need to go try and win the race. That’s really the only thing we can do, so I’m proud of the effort by the team today. We didn’t start off very good and we got really good towards the middle and had one run where I was super-loose towards the end. I gave up like five spots. I got real loose and that was unfortunate, but we got our car a little bit better at the end. … (What he must do at Phoenix) You pretty much have to go and win the race. That’s all we can do. It’s gonna be hard to point your way in because everyone is running pretty good. We’ll just try to win Phoenix and do the best we can.”

Chase Elliott – Finished eighth: “We weren’t very good all day. Had some good restarts there and was able to get some decent track position at times, just never could hold it, so a frustrating afternoon. … (You have to win at Phoenix, right?) Yeah, I guess. So, we will try our best out there and see what happens.”

Kurt Busch – Finished ninth: “Man, We just still want more. We’re so close to being what we want, but we just still aren’t in that top five group right now. We’ve just got to find a little more. I’m real happy with our effort. We finished in the top-10 after a pit road mishap, so it’s a good day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 12th: “Our Fastenal Ford was solid all day. The guys did a great job making changes overnight. I’m bummed we didn’t get a top 10 but it was still a solid weekend for us overall.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “We were able to grab a couple of stage points at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 today, which I am really proud of. We could hit our marks as good as anybody. Speed-wise, we weren’t the fastest car, but we are obviously doing something right because it seems like nobody could keep up behind me. With everyone running such similar speeds today, track position was big. I’m proud of the team for all working together to get this 13th.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Finished 16th: “It was a solid day. We maximized the day for sure strategy-wise and going about it that was the best we could have asked for there. The car just got hot, it was slick, we were just kind of on a razor’s edge. It’s better, we finished, that is better than we did in a month, so we are gaining on it, but to get to the next echelon it’s a big leap. As a team, everybody did all they could, that was a solid weekend, maximized it. We will just continue to dig and figure it out.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 20th: “Texas hasn’t been good to us this year. We struggled since we unloaded off the truck on Friday. We got behind early. We were super loose so between major chassis changes and strategy, we raced back onto the lead lap in Stage 2 but struggled again on the next long green-flag run. We definitely need to pull together and figure out what the 31 needs because the 3 car (Austin Dillon) raced on the lead lap and in the top 10. We’ve obviously made some gains as a team, and we just need to figure out what works for us. On top of that, we had some cooling issues so, as a driver, I was burning up a bit. I’m OK, but it wasn’t fun out there for me at times.”

Paul Menard — Finished 23rd: “First off, I have to thank Daniel Hemric and all of the guys on this No. 27 team for getting this Atlas/Menards Chevrolet set up and ready for me this weekend (while his wife gave birth to their second child). We made some headway at the start of the race but suffered damage to the nose during the first stage. The guys fixed it up as best they could. We kept adjusting on the handling of the car but had to pit under green for a vibration in the final stage. These guys never gave up, and we were able to come out of here with a 23rd-place finish.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 24th: “Texas has been quite the challenge for our team to overcome this year. We didn’t have the day that we wanted, that’s for sure. This team works hard week in and week out, but we just haven’t hit on what we need to at these mile-and-a-half tracks. … We did what we could though and used strategy to get laps back for a stronger finish.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 27th: “We’ve got to figure something out. Kansas was a lot like this. It was just extremely difficult to drive the car and carry entry speed. And then we had a loose wheel and then contact on a restart. We started off in a hole and just kept digging a deeper one as we went. I’m definitely disappointed. And, I honestly just feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is pretty disappointing. … (Can you win at Phoenix to reach the championship round? “It’s been a good track for us. But this last half of the year has been really weird. In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven’t. But I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix and we’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. And that’s one thing this team will never do it give up.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 35th: “(Why did you take the car to the garage?) We burnt the hub up on the left-front, so we are going to change the spindle and change the hub and try to get back out there and finish the race. … (You looked like you were en route to a good showing today) Yeah, it wasn’t bad. I mean the car has ran about 11th to 20th all weekend in all the practices and everything. I don’t know, we’ve got to get a little bit better to beat some of them guys up there, but I was having a good time and the car wasn’t too bad.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 36th: “Man, we are plagued with bad luck lately. I think we would have had a top-10 today. Maybe we’ll get a break or two next week in Phoenix.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 37th: “Just can’t really execute, whether it’s bad pit stops or bad luck. It’s frustrating because I know I had the best car and lost track position and that is what happens. You try and move forward and it’s so hard to pass here you try and find some stuff and get in the wall. … (You’ve now had 3 DNFs in a row) I don’t know.  Can’t wait for the last lap at Homestead.”