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.”

Results, stats for Cup Series playoff opener at Chicago

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Martin Truex Jr. bounced back from an early speeding penalty and other mistakes to win the NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

The win in the Tales of the Turtles 400 is a career-best fifth this season. It’s Truex’s second win in two years in the race.

Truex led 77 laps on the way to the win.

Making up the top five were Truex, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Here’s where the 16 playoff contenders finished.

Martin Truex Jr. – winner

Chase Elliott – second

Kevin Harvick – third

Denny Hamlin – fourth

Kyle Larson – fifth

Brad Keselowski – sixth

Jimmie Johnson – eighth

Matt Kenseth – ninth

Jamie McMurray – 10th

Ryan Blaney – 11th

Kyle Busch – 15th, one lap down

Austin Dillon – 16th, one lap down

Kurt Busch – 19th, two laps down

Kasey Kahne – 21st, three laps down

Ryan Newman – 23rd, three laps down

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 25th, four laps down

Click here for the full results.

Chase Elliott takes Stage 2 of NASCAR Cup playoff race at Chicagoland

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JOLIET, Illinois – Chase Elliott captured Stage 2 of Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

It was Elliott’s third stage win of the season as he hopes to turn that into his first career NASCAR Cup win.

After 160 laps, Elliott leads Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.

Harvick, who finished behind Kyle Busch at the end of Stage 1, took the lead away from Busch on Lap 88.

During the pit stop following Stage 1, No. 1 seed Martin Truex Jr. had to return to pit road to have his crew tighten two loose lug nuts before Stage 2 began.

Kyle Busch made an unexpected pit stop on Lap 98 for a loose wheel. To add insult to injury, he and his team were penalized for a pit crew member over the wall too early.

That led to a pass-through penalty that put Busch two laps down, being scored 30th on Lap 103.

Just before Busch came down pit road, NASCAR officials brought four tires of the No. 18 team to be examined, but officials said it was standard operating procedure.

There was no immediate word of any penalty or violation, but it was an indication of how NASCAR has been increasingly cracking down in recent weeks.

By Lap 116, Busch was back up to 26th position and had gained back one of the laps he lost, now just one lap down to the leaders.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who scraped the wall in Stage 1, was still unable to recover. By Lap 120, Stenhouse was the last of the 16 playoff drivers, scored in 28th position, still two laps down.

Elliott beat Harvick off pit road following service to both cars to take the lead on Lap 125.

Ten laps later, Truex battled his way back to fifth place.

By Lap 153, Truex had climbed back to third, Kyle Busch to 16th (one lap down) and Stenhouse had fallen to 31st (three laps down).

Kyle Petty: Brad Keselowski almost beyond ‘point of diminishing returns’ on Toyota criticism

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Brad Keselowski again was vocal this week with criticisms of Toyota and its performance level of late in the Cup Series, saying on Twitter that he hasn’t seen NASCAR “let a manufacturer get this far ahead since the ’70s.”

The tweet was followed by rebukes from Toyota drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and crew chief Cole Pearn.

Keselowski’s latest comments followed those he made in July and August about the manufacturer.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett responded to Keselowski’s continued criticisms of Toyota before Sunday’s Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway.

“Yes Brad, we know that you’re disgruntled,” Petty said. “We know what you think. We understand that. It’s time to kind of quiet down a little bit, do your job. Because you’re almost past that point of diminishing returns on what you’re saying, where it becomes whining and it’s not very constructive.

“We’re in the playoffs, this is a special time for the sport. Let’s focus on what’s going on on the race track.”

Said Jarrett: “I think Toyota has an advantage. Was it something they were given? No. Is it unfair? No. They worked extremely hard to make all of this happen.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Chicagoland

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Matt Kenseth. After so many unfortunate twists for his team over the last 18 months, he said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast he might be due for 10 consecutive races of good luck. It starts here.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. After trading barbs on Twitter and elsewhere with Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch does the mic drop with a big win.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. gets the win after two miserable endings at Darlington and Richmond.

Jerry Bonkowski

Brad Keselowski. While some may think he put his foot in his mouth for criticizing Kyle Busch, Toyota and others, Keselowski thinks that same foot can help him start the playoffs with a win, like he did in 2012 when he won the championship.