Ryan: Enough with the hand-wringing on retaliation, here are your clearly drawn lines

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The most important line in NASCAR lately doesn’t involve when the checkered flag waves and definitively determines the winner of a race.

No, this line is much hazier: The apparently nebulous border between being regarded a well-heeled, responsible citizen of NASCAR Nation who still gets a point across and (gasp!) an irresponsible scofflaw who indiscriminately commits revenge in the least noble of ways.

In the wake of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon escaping punishment for attempting to handle their own administering of justice, it seems everyone is searching for a line on where the line is in NASCAR …

Or if it exists at all.

These are desperate times, kids!

(Especially with the Cup Series headed to Martinsville Speedway this weekend.)

But fear not for those worried about the future of the republic in Charlotte and Daytona. I’ve got a handy chart that delineates the transgressions that will earn scorn.

Ready? Let’s draw some lines!

If you intentionally wreck a guy (out of the lead) while nine laps down, that’s bad.

Expect a two-race suspension or worse.

Also, feel free to avoid poking Brian France on Twitter about it.

If you intentionally wreck a guy while racing for position, that’s not as bad, particularly if it’s well-disguised.

It might not earn you a punishment, and if it does, it probably won’t be so drastic.

If you are traveling roughly 50 mph and lightly pin another car against the wall and cause so much “damage”, that car still finishes on the lead lap, that is mostly OK the first time (but probably not the second).

It helps if you also finish well behind that car (which ruined your shot at winning with a rookie mistake).

But there will be some light punishment: Be prepared to spend some quality NASCAR couch time with Steve O’Donnell and your favorite series director discussing the merits of getting angry under caution.

If you swing at a guy but don’t hit him flush and then fall down and wind up the only guy who is bleeding, you only will have to live with your injured pride.

If you swing and hurt someone or break their bones, you will face some sort of penalty based on the severity of the injury.

You know, as you would for any sort of physical assault in the real world.

If you scream at another guy and get held back by your team in a shoving match without much violence that goes viral, your sponsor might give you a bonus for the millions of extra impressions. But don’t expect any residuals from the tracks that incessantly use those highlights to sell tickets.

Good news, though! You won’t be fined as you would have been 11 years ago.

If you walk onto a hot track and angrily gesture at a driver who wrecked you, be prepared to write a five-figure check and then justifiably wonder about how that money is being spent.

Now we know where the lines are. That wasn’t hard!

Kidding aside, there is only one line that truly needs delineation, and it applies not just to NASCAR but to everything in life.

Every action has consequences. Choose your actions wisely.

A few other leftovers from the past week and weekend at Auto Club Speedway:

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–Courtesy of some salient points made by NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte on the NASCAR on NBC podcast, driver fraternization and prerace introductions were a hot topic on social media.

For some, it prompted the memory of a heated exchange between Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin after a dustup in a 2015 Daytona 500 qualifying race.

“You don’t have to actually hit me,” Patrick said. “I like you, Denny. You’re my friend.”

“I know, you’re my friend,” Hamlin said. “I get it.”

There’s no removing the friendships formed in the motorhome lot from modern-day NASCAR, where most of the drivers in the Cup series are raising families on the road, and teams want to simplify and streamline their lives outside the car.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

But how much of a Chinese wall needs to be built between the personal interactions of the motorhome lot and the professional workings of the garage?

At the very least, Letarte’s idea is worthy of being considered by tracks. There’s enough time for socialization throughout the course of a race weekend, and it probably is best done outside the view of the public.

When drivers walk out of their motorhome lot and underneath signs such as this one on the left at Texas Motor Speedway (“The greatest drivers and mechanics in the world work here!”), everyone’s gloves should go on, and their guards should go up.

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–Monster Energy is based in Corona, California, about a 30-minute drive to Auto Club Speedway, and the new series title sponsor made its presence felt at the 2-mile oval.

Monster erected a major hospitality display in the infield, and Clint Bowyer was among the drivers who took a tour of company headquarters.

“We had a ton of fun over there,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said. “The brass there was eager to meet us and bench race, which is always fun with any organization you meet.

“When the brass (wants) your perspective on the job they’re doing and what they can do to further enhance the impact, it’s a breath of fresh air. We definitely had that. I do think you’ll continue to see a bigger splash as we go on.”

There were some misgivings that Monster might have made too big a splash, however, with a drivers meeting entrance at Fontana that resembled the sort of club found in nearby Hollywood (minus the midday sunshine).

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The University of South Carolina’s first Final Four run will have much resonance in NASCAR, which has strong connections to the Palmetto State. NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bud Moore and Cotton Owens hail from South Carolina.

Late Darlington Raceway president and NASCAR PR executive Jim Hunter played football and baseball at South Carolina, and NBCSN analyst Dale Jarrett was offered a golf scholarship there.

Among those active in NASCAR who hail from South Carolina: Kerry Tharp, Darlington Raceway president; Brett Griffin, spotter for Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler (and an active Gamecocks fan on Twitter); Jason Ratcliff (crew chief for Matt Kenseth);

Donnie Wingo (crew chief for Landon Cassill); Steve Addington (longtime crew chief);Michael Nelson (vice president of operations at Team Penske); Jeremy Clements (Xfinity driver for family’s Spartanburg-based team).

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–It might have been prompted by being the leadoff to his media availability Friday, but the answer had the sort of edge unaccustomed from Jimmie Johnson.

“People are questioning your performance this year. Are you guys at a point where you could get that seventh win here?” asked Kickin’ The Tires.net editor Jerry Jordan (in a blunt but fair question).

“Sixteen years, 80 wins, and seven championships and people want to question us? I mean, come on,” Johnson immediately responded with a slight laugh, before telling Jordan, “I know it’s not you. You can’t be on top forever.  I think that we do have some work to do, especially on the short run.

“We haven’t executed as cleanly as we need to.  Daytona, we are running second or third and get crashed, last week we were a good top five, maybe top three car on the long run, but finished with some short restarts that was our weak point.  Yeah, sure, absolutely we have work to do, but nobody should panic.”

Of course, those turned out to be famous last words on a lost weekend in which Johnson crashed in practice, didn’t make a qualifying lap in a backup car and finished a nondescript 21st.

The future first-ballot Hall of Famer is right that it’s too early to ask too many questions about his lack of results. But his answer made it natural to wonder whether some questions have crossed his mind, too.

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Buried in the multimillion-dollar countersuit Kurt Busch filed last Friday against his former management agency was this nugget: When he entered into a 2010 contract extension with Sports Management Network, the firm received 4% of Busch’s base salary at Penske, or $250,000.

Kudos to colleague Dustin Long (who has more than two decades of experience combing through legal documents with these sorts of details) for noting that means Busch’s base salary was $6.25 million at Penske. Such driver compensation rarely comes to light.

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The best racing of the weekend was in the Xfinity race, which featured a stirring duel for the lead between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, and then another fierce battle at the front in heavy traffic between winner Kyle Larson and Logano (who rallied three times from deep in the pack).

Yes, all those drivers are full-time Cup regulars. There are some who will make the case that should disqualify the Xfinity race from being evaluated as stellar, but it’s impossible to deny it delivered the highest entertainment value (regardless of who was racing the cars).

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–NASCAR’s Snapchat account Sunday was filled with Hollywood types pledging their allegiance to stock cars, and roughly four dozen celebrities were in the pits for the Auto Club 400.

This isn’t new for Fontana, which has a long history of trying to attract the beautiful people from the west side of Los Angeles (with mixed results). But it’s good to see NASCAR actively leveraging their attendance into something tangible (even if in the most ephemeral of social media mediums).

Starting lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400 in Fontana

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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With the second pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson will lead the field to green Sunday in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Joining Larson the front row is Denny Hamlin.

Filling out the top five is Brad Keselowski, Martin Treux Jr. and Ryan Newman.

Click here to view the starting lineup for Sunday’s race.

What drivers said Sunday at Las Vegas

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While lots of people were talking about the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano fight, there were a lot of drivers who had other things to say after Sunday’s Kobalt 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Martin Truex Jr. (winner): “We finally got some (good luck). We definitely had our share of races where we’ve dominated and gave one away and it looked like today was going to be another one of those. The runs just didn’t work out the way we needed them. We were struggling on the really long runs. We had to run that last set of tires on that last caution longer than we did all race long. I was out of control and Brad (Keselowski) was really good on the long run. I hate that he had problems, he was strong and we weren’t going to do anything with him, but then he lost the brakes or something. A little bit of a gift, but we have given some away, so it feels good to come out on the good end for once.”

What was going through your mind in the closing laps?

“It was a gift. We’ve been on the other side of that plenty of times. This is the first one where we’ve kind of had it go our way. I can’t say enough about everyone on this team. They made a lot of changes last night and we said go for it, and they did. I’m really proud – this is the first victory for the 2018 Camry and to be out here on the west coast – this is a big one for us! Tons of people to thank at our team, with Barney (Visser), Joe (Garone), Furniture Row, Denver Mattress – my buddy Johnny Morris here for believing in us and coming on this car with Bass Pro and Tracker Boats. Proud of Toyota and TRD – these engines have been unbelievable this season so far. We have Auto Owners coming back this year and all our sponsors. West Coast for everybody, but it’s home for these guys – it feels really good.”

Is stage racing fun?

“It’s still hard and still tough. You still drive your butt off every single lap, I know I was. I felt like the race didn’t’ play into our hands and we had to go really long on that last set of tires and Brad (Keselowski) was better at the end and we had to stretch it and I was driving my little butt off and I couldn’t keep him behind me. We never give up and that’s why you keep fighting until the end. Pit crew was unbelievable today and you have to thank them. It’s a dream come true driving these cars for these guys and hopefully we can keep this momentum going.”

Do you feel like your team has the good luck you need this season to win?

“We finally got some. We definitely had our share of races where we’ve dominated and gave one away and it looked like today was going to be another one of those. The runs just didn’t work out the way we needed them. We were struggling on the really long runs. We had to run that last set of tires on that last caution longer than we did all race long. I was out of control and Brad (Keselowski) was really good on the long run. I hate that he had problems, he was strong and we weren’t going to do anything with him, but then he lost the brakes or something. A little bit of a gift, but we have given some away, so it feels good to come out on the good end for once.”

Did you feel you needed a few more adjustments on your Camry in the closing laps?

“The run before with about 40 to go it just locked up and I couldn’t use more. I think that’s why we struggled a bit on that run. All in all, that’s how it goes sometimes and you don’t get the tools you need. We did what we could with it and we were going to come up short to the 2 (Brad Keselowski), but they had problems and we took advantage of it. It was a team effort and we never gave up all day long. Here we are.”

How strong was your team today?

“We did last year, hopefully we can keep it going. It’s been a good start to the year for us. We had a solid day at Daytona and ran out of gas. Had a solid day at Atlanta and had some issues that cost us some spots. We’ve been solid and this is a brand new 2018 Toyota Camry for us, so it’s been a little bit to learn. It’s been a bit different and we’re still learning so hopefully we’ll continue to grow and get better.”

Kyle Larson (Finished 2nd): “Yeah, no fist flying for me. That was exciting right there, but no, awesome day for our Target team. Second in the first stage, third in the second stage and then finished second in the race. I can’t say enough about my team. I’m so proud of them. Our race cars are amazing right now. We are going to hopefully, keep building on what we’ve got and keep challenging for wins and they will come. Had a lot of fun today. … Back-to-back seconds. We would like to have back-to-back wins, but this is pretty awesome.”

Chase Elliott (Finished 3rd): “We had a really good car, had a bad restart there at the end and lost a couple of spots.”

Joey Logano (Finished 4th): “I don’t run from conflict. You just talk about it, but he wasn’t in a talking mood. He was in a fighting mood, I guess. I don’t know. Typically, you can handle this stuff like men and talk about it. You don’t have to fight, but whatever. … I guess it’s always surprising. Like I said, I’ve never had an issue with Kyle. Kyle and I have always raced really well together. We’ve never had an issue, but I guess that’s over.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI (Finished 5th): “I just know it was something major (what broke on his car on the final lap). It wouldn’t turn, and I lost brakes, so that’s a pretty good indicator, but that’s the way it goes. That’s racing, and that’s why you watch until the end, and you never know what’s going to happen. It’s frustrating, but you put yourself in position to win and good things will happen. That happened to us last week and didn’t happen this week, so you just pick up the pieces and move on. You just try to make the most of what you can — every day, every second. I was still trying to get the best finish I could and still lucky to come out with a top-five. … We had a great day. We ran up front and led a lot of laps. We were the fastest car at the end and just didn’t come together. That’s part of how racing works.”

Ryan Blaney (Finished 7th): “I thought we are a little bit better than that. We had to come in early in the race and get some lug nuts back on the right front to be able to race. That put us behind. Our car was good enough and once we got back inside the top 10 I felt that we had a shot at fourth or fifth but that last restart didn’t go our way. Good car. Good effort overall.”

Jamie McMurray (Finished 8th): “Just a solid whole weekend for the whole group. We got behind on one of the runs with scuff tires on. I just had a bad restart and we lost a bunch of track position. From there on out, our car was really good. I thought we actually had a little better car than where we finished.”

Clint Bowyer (Finished 10th): “It was a struggle. To be truthful, we weren’t the best all weekend, but we just kept digging. (Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) didn’t give up on the box and kept adjusting on it and got me pretty good, the best we’d been right there at the end. It’s a top 10 and gives us some momentum. It’s our third race together and we got a top-10, so we’ve got to keep digging.”

Jimmie Johnson (Finished 11th): “I don’t know what happened with strategies. It was coming our way and then we had some lug nuts not get on, on the last stop, and had to come back in. We had just about everything go wrong that we could today and somehow finished in 11th. I’m not really sure. I know we had some creative strategy working at the end that was going to play well and then whatever car blew up and then we pitted, and we came out in seventh and probably could have had a top five if we wouldn’t have had to come back (to the pits).”

Kasey Kahne (Finished 12th): “We did something to the car right there at the end of practice, and I liked it, but once the tires gave up and it was rough, you start bouncing more. I didn’t like it at all. It really handicapped our race. But we fought for 12th, which was solid for the effort. It was another good effort, we’ve just got to keep doing better, keep figuring out practice starting these races a little bit better, but that is on me and the crew chief and engineers just trying to figure it all out.”

Trevor Bayne (Finished 13th): “(Crew chief Matt Puccia) made some great changes that really helped our car as the race progressed. I’m pretty happy that we’ve been consistent so far to start the year with three top-15 finishes. I’m proud of the effort my guys gave this weekend, and I’m confident we can carry this start to the season on to Phoenix.”

Erik Jones (Finished 15th): “The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry was fast enough to run in the top 10, but we just didn’t execute in the pits. We know we’re capable of running up front, but we just have to make sure we execute as the race goes on. We can make up for those spots during the middle part of the race, but once it comes down to the end, it’s more difficult. I feel good about how we’ve run, but I just want to get some strong finishes to match. We’re not getting the finishes we deserve, so we just have to keep working at it.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Finished 16th): “We were about 8th to 12th all day. We made some adjustments real big there at the end to try to gain a bunch of spots, and it just didn’t work out for us, so we lost some spots on the restart. That bottom is no place to be on the restarts anyways in the back there, but we will take it. A couple of spots there, hopefully that will make or break the season for us, and we just can put a few races together and try to climb our way back into the points. We’ve got to finish them like we did today instead of the results we had at Daytona and Atlanta.”

Kyle Busch (Finished 22nd): “I got dumped (by Joey Logano). He flat out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me. That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”

Landon Cassill (Finished 27th): “I thought we had a good car and the race just kind of kept going the wrong way for us with the cautions, and then I got in the wall into turn three and gave us just enough damage that we didn’t have quite as good of a car as we had most of the race. That kind of put us back a couple spots. I still feel like we’re better than previously, and I’m looking forward to Phoenix, where we had a top-20 run last year.”

David Ragan (Finished 29th): “Our car was a handful all weekend. We made a lot of adjustments on all the corners, but we could never find a sweet spot. These cars are real finicky with their aero balance and splitter height, so there are a lot of things going on that once the race started, we couldn’t change. But I’m proud of the Juice Batteries team. They made a lot of adjustments and we were able to finish just a couple of laps down, and we’ll learn from it. We just need to work on our mile-and-a-half stuff a little bit more.”

Kurt Busch (Finished 30th): “We went through a lot today. Obviously, it wasn’t the day we were hoping to have. We didn’t have the long-run speed or the balance, and we had an electrical issue that forced us to change batteries on pit road. We kept battling, we didn’t give up.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Finished 33rd): “We struggled all weekend. My guys did a good job though on the backup Fastenal Ford and I think we could have finished in the top-15. Hopefully we can get all this bad luck out of the way and can rebound in Phoenix which is a track that has been good to us.”

Danica Patrick (Finished 36th): “We just got the car to a place where I think we could have got a little more racy with it, especially if we would have caught some breaks, but then it just flattened out. I just rode around the top in case I blew up, but having a teammate behind me was not ideal for the timing of it, but unfortunately it happened. We’ll just move on.”

Kevin Harvick (Finished 38th): “It started vibrating about four or five laps there before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage there. Obviously, it didn’t make it. The worst part was the medical response. It took them forever to get to the car. I thought we made that better, but obviously we haven’t. All in all, our Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford was running good. We were just too loose right there. It’s not like we were even tight, so it either just cut the tire, or came apart or melted the bead.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoys new hobby, but not the spandex or getting flipped off

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He’s not a Hells Angel, not even a Wild Hog. He doesn’t wear leather or chaps and he wasn’t born to be wild.

But Dale Earnhardt Jr. is definitely a biker.

Admittedly, we’re not talking motorcycles, but bicycles. Earnhardt is the latest convert in the NASCAR world to riding with other drivers in a pack not just on the racetrack but also on the road.

Jimmie Johnson, Landon Cassill, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Josh Wise, Trevor Bayne and former driver Carl Edwards are among those in NASCAR who, in addition to putting the pedal to the metal in their race cars, also enjoy pedaling away both around North Carolina as well as near many of the race tracks that the NASCAR Cup Series visits.

On his weekly “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast on his Dirty Mo Radio, Earnhardt talked about what being a biker means to him – and how he has Johnson to thank for getting him into bike riding.

“Jimmie does a lot of different things, but cycling is something he really enjoys,” Earnhardt said. “That has really picked up in the garage. If you were in Daytona in the bus lot, every morning, my neighbor Matt Kenseth would wake up at 7 o’clock. He would meet outside his bus with Jamie McMurray. They would make a lot of noise and wake up Amy (Dale’s wife) and that would wake me up. They were getting ready to go on their bike ride every morning. This happened quite a bit.”

Now before you start thinking Earnhardt has become a seasoned rider, well, let’s just say he’s relatively new to two-wheeling – as in roughly a week.

“I noticed that a lot of guys in the garage are starting to do this, Trevor Bayne, they are going in big groups, riding around town,” Earnhardt said. “Kasey Kahne, just a number of drivers are picking up on this cycling deal.

“So I’m thinking, you know what, I am going to give it a try. Jimmie gave me a bike about a year ago. It’s sitting in my garage. Tires went flat, dry rotted. Had to get new tubes, new tires this past week. Finally, loaded the bike onto the plane to Atlanta.

“I told Jimmie, ‘Look, I’m going to meet you outside the track. Ain’t no way in hell I’m going to let anybody see me ride through the infield wearing this bike gear, spandex stuff.’”

True to his word, Earnhardt, along with Johnson, Kahne and Alan Gustafson – Chase Elliott’s crew chief – went on a 16.7-mile ride last week before things got hot and heavy on-track at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Given that Hendrick Motorsports has implemented a health and wellness program company-wide, drivers are encouraged to get – and stay – in shape, as well. Because he’s been working on his physical conditioning, including installing a gym with Bo-Flex and a stationary bike in his house, that’s why Earnhardt didn’t come away from his outdoor bike ride with saddle sores and the like.

“(It was) a lot of fun, my first ride, it was a good time,” Earnhardt said. “I’m glad I got through my first ride without any incident.”

But his ego was a bit bruised in the process.

“I did get flipped off in the first five minutes,” Earnhardt quipped. “For whatever reason, I was super nervous and couldn’t keep my hands from moving. I’m shaking and all over the road, and Jimmie and them are like six inches from the shoulder.

“I’m like, I can’t ride that close to the shoulder. I’m all over the place and I’m wobbling all over the damn road and this guy goes by and flips me off. I guess I kind of ticked him off. Anyways, I was surprised at how rude drivers are on the road.”

While he’s still not all that comfortable about wearing spandex, Earnhardt is now more determined and ready to take his new hobby to the next level.

“I’m in,” he said on his podcast. “(I’m) talking to Jimmie about getting some more bikes so I don’t have to tote one back and forth, which is a little bit pain in the butt.

“I’m buying more gear, getting geared up and ready to go. That’s going to be part of my workout regimen. It is fun, I’ve gotta admit. I’m still not quite over the self-consciousness of wearing the spandex, but I’ll get there.”

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What drivers said after Atlanta Cup race

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Here are the comments from drivers after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I wouldn’t say a lot of things fell our way.  I don’t know if I would call it that way.  But I would say we’ve had races where we’ve led a bunch of laps and things fall apart at the end.  That’s just part of how this sport works.  You take advantage of the opportunities when they come, and we certainly call it an opportunity, but I don’t know if I would call it a break.  I didn’t really think much about Kevin or his scenario because at that time I still had multiple cars I had to pass, and I was just worried about doing the best I could to make the most of our day.’’

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “I can make the high line work at most tracks.  Here at Atlanta, I don’t do a good enough job up top.  That’s why I try to commit myself to the bottom throughout the race.  There when I restarted the leader after our Christmas present we got there, and Brad lined up behind me, I knew he was going to be the one to beat. I’d spent a lot of time around him throughout the race, especially on the short runs he was better than I was, and he would always pass me in 1 and 2. I knew I was going to have to try and take his line away.  I tried a few times, and he finally kind of guessed where I was going right one lap and got to my inside.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 6th: “We had some loose wheel issues and once the first one got loose it messes up the threads and then that is the end of that. We just kept battling and had a pit road speeding penalty, a loose wheel again and another loose wheel. Man, we were two down and before you know it we were back on the lead lap and had a shot there at the end, 13th to 6th the last 10 laps or so. Man, as fast as that thing was at the end, I wish we were toward the front.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 3rd: “It was an uphill battle all day. For some reason, our speed was off on pit road and we got two penalties there that put us behind and just the cautions fell and everything and it took all day to get our laps and get back in position, so everything kind of went our way at the end, except for that outside restart hurt us, but we had a good car and glad we got a decent result.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 4th: “It’s hard to do when you are one of the best teams and drivers and running up front all the time and you get back there, it’s tough to dig out of. For us, the last year or two it’s been really hard and today we did it, so that was really nice to see and nice to be part of and we will just keep building from there. It feels really good to dig out of where we started. It wasn’t good at the start.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 5th: “I really didn’t feel like Kevin’s (Harvick) car was any better than ours. I think he just did a little better job of driving and using the bottom of the race track and keeping his tires on his car and still going fast all at the same time. I think we made a big start in the right direction for me being able to keep up with him moving forward. At this place, he’s obviously really good. But the biggest thing is just seeing him have a struggle there at the end and us running second to him all day all the way up to the very end is pretty frustrating.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 7th: “It seemed like the stages really caught other teams off guard. We did a middle of the road approach. I liked it because we didn’t quite have the speed in the car to attack for those points but didn’t want to sacrifice tires and be caught at the end with fresh tires. We managed the stages, were just missing the handle.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 8th: “We needed longer runs. Once we got them, we were really good. Then we had a speeding penalty that got us back and at the same time the clutch went out and then we were just – kept losing spots on pit road because I’d have to shut out off to stop to pit and then we push started every time and we’d lose a bunch of spots, so really proud of the effort of my guys – everybody all weekend.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 9th: “I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself and then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach. That part is hard for me to swallow. The good part about it is our Ford has been really fast. We didn’t know what we were going to have when we got here and we had a great weekend the whole time. Man, I just, one way or another I have figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant. We will pick ‘em up and start again next week.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 10th: “The alternator went out really early in the race. We just kept having to change batteries, but we were fortunate there weren’t a lot of cars on the lead lap, so I only had to restart like 12th or 14th and our car was really good on restarts, so you could get a few. Both cars ran really good.  I look forward to Las Vegas and Fontana and all the 1.5-miles coming up.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 12th: “We had some good speed right off of the truck with our Liberty National Ford and were able to make good adjustments throughout the day today that kept us in the game. I can’t thank these guys enough on this team for their hard work. Today was a good step in the right direction and we’re ready to build off of this next week in Vegas.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 13th: “We weren’t really good for the first couple of laps of a run, but we could gain some of it back later in the run. I’m disappointed because I think we should have had a top-10 finish. It was a strong testament of our Fords with Trevor (Bayne) finishing 12th so I’m looking forward to Vegas.”

Erik Jones — Finished 14th: “I thought we had a seventh- to ninth-place car probably most of the day – ran around there, maybe a little bit farther back. Just last restart we came in, put tires on and just got super tight. Not sure why. Didn’t really know. Can’t really figure it out, so it’s going to be tough to figure out why, but it’s unfortunate. I wish we could have went up there and finished I feel like where we deserved, where our car was capable of. Just didn’t work out.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 15th: “We got in a little bit of a hole early and got ourselves a couple of laps down, but (crew chief Bootie Barker) made some good calls there at the end to do the wave around. Our car was strong, so a strong car kind of overcame some mistakes from us early.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 19th: “Tough day with two speeding penalties. We will have to look at our math and figure out what was going on there. The first one, I’m sure I could have gotten popped. The second one I made sure I didn’t get popped again and I still got in trouble. So, we might have had something off on our end. But, at the end I thought we were going to finish on the lead lap and there was some confusion on why the caution came out, who it came out for and if we were eligible for the ‘lucky dog’ scenario. The way it unfolded certainly didn’t work in our favor.”

Landon Cassill — Finished 22nd: “It was okay. I thought the car was alright, a little better than I thought based on Saturday. The caution at the end kind of killed us but I am pretty happy with the day overall.”

David Ragan — Finished 23rd: “I am really proud of the team. We made great adjustments to start the race. We weren’t expecting it to cool off and finish under the lights and I think I got a few adjustments behind. The first half of the race we were a top-20 car and just got off a little bit. That is a great race for our first downforce track back in the 34. We will learn some because the track changed a lot. I feel like our car was pretty good throughout the day but not as good as I needed it to be at the end.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 24th: “We fought a tight race car all race, and our steering was off a little bit throughout the run. Tire wear is so important here and luckily that wasn’t a huge factor for us, and crew chief, Trent Owens made a good call to keep us out during scheduled flag stops and we got the caution that gave us back a lap.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. – Finished 30th: “Well we got caught speeding on pit road as I guess a lot of people did. So, we got to look at that and see what we have wrong. I was on my lights perfectly, but seems like a lot of guys got popped in the same segment.  And then we had a flat right-rear tire and then we had a gun go bad and we had loose wheels all day long. And then when we tried to get the wave around the cautions didn’t quite fall in our favor to be able to try to find a way back to a respectable position. The car had good top-10 speed and we just had a lot of bad luck today and can’t really get too upset about that.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 32nd: “Got to go back to work.  I’m proud of my guys for the speed they put in this race car. We worked hard, really hard, this one just hurts there is nothing better to say about it, it just hurts.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 35th: “Just lost the charging system and therefore the battery went dead.  It took us out of it.  It was unfortunate.’’

Gray Gaulding — Finished 37th: “You’re going to have blown engines, blown tires and wreck and it’s all part of the deal, but I thought we had a solid run going. We had a couple bad breaks on pit road, but my fault. I sped on pit road one time, but I’m going to live and learn. I felt like I passed a lot of good cars. We beat some cars that – we were in front of some cars that usually should be in front of us.’’

Denny Hamlin — Finished 38th: “We had a decent car – top-10 car – and it’s up here hanging out around seventh or eighth all day. We kept gaining on them, which is a good thing, but just had a mechanical failure here.’’

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