What drivers had to say after Sunday’s 58th Daytona 500

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With one race down, 25 to go to the Chase for the Sprint Cup and 35 to go to determine the 2016 champion, NASCAR is off to a strong start.

Denny Hamlin won Sunday’s Daytona 500 and is all but assured a spot in the Chase.

Sure, there were a few minor wrecks, but the overall race did not have the multi-car “Big One” wreck that is synonymous with both Daytona and Talladega.

Here are comments from several drivers on how the Great American Race played out for them:

Kyle Busch (3rd): “I thought (Matt) Kenseth was in the catbird seat. Leading, being up there like that, but then the top lane got going and he tried to go up there and throw a block, but Denny (Hamlin) just had to much momentum and then rolled back through the middle, so I’m sure it was an exciting finish and I’d love to go back and see it again. I certainly wish it was the yellow car over there, but Joe’s (Gibbs) happy, so that’s all that matters.”

Kevin Harvick (4th): “I was hoping that they would start pushing and shoving like they did to get that outside lane going. You just want to be the first one to be in that outside line. Denny pulled up in front of us and he got the honor of being the first car in that line with all that momentum, but congrats to them.”

Joey Logano (6th): “You have to try. This is the Daytona 500 and you try to win this thing no matter what. I was the only Ford up there though. I was the lone ranger. It was tough. Overall, it is a great start for our Shell Pennzoil team and we kicked off the season with a bunch of great finishes down here in Daytona and we are looking forward to getting to Atlanta.”

Kyle Larson (7th): “The whole time, all the hairy moments we were in, it was just like ‘Oh, I have to get out of here so I can get to the checkered flag.’ The last lap there it got really hectic. I was pushing the guy in front of me. I was getting pushed from behind. I was just trying to hold a steady wheel. Happy to get a finish. I would like to have a top-five here at the 500 or possibly a win, but I will have plenty of opportunities, hopefully in my career. Just happy to finally start hopefully a trend of finishing every race this year.”

Regan Smith (8th): “It was a good, smooth day for us. The car, other than the spin at the beginning, I don’t know what happened there. But I got on the brakes and it just spun out. It handled great all day long. All the guys at Tommy Baldwin Racing, gave me probably one of the better handling cars I’ve ever had here. … I’m proud of this team. It’s a small team. We work hard. Tommy pours everything he’s got into this race team. And we’ve got some great partners and great investors, and we’re going to work hard all year.”

Austin Dillon (9th): “It was a lot about handling. My guys did a good job. The first two runs we were pretty far off. We were tight through the exit of the corner. We kept freeing it up and we had a free race car there at the end. But it was fun. They did good pit strategy. I’m proud of my guys. I wish we could have got in. That bottom lane was really fast.”

Kurt Busch (10th): “I thought it was a good first half of the race. We seemed to have things where we wanted them and the second half of the race things didn’t seem to go as smooth. I made a couple of drafting errors and then one of the pit stops we had to wait on fuel. When you are at the tail end of the lead draft we just had to come in, put four tires on it, fill it up and then go after it. I was able to work my way back up. I fell to the back again. The bottom line was surprisingly where people would make up their time.  I did what I could to gather the draft.  I’m real proud of everybody not giving up and the spotter helping me.  We worked our way back up to 10th.”

Matt Kenseth (14th): “Well, I didn’t get a photo finish, so I was back in Turn 3 somewhere. No, if I can’t win, I want my teammate to win. That’s what being teammates is all about is to get everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing running good and we did that today. Those guys got the finish. I didn’t unfortunately.”

Brian Vickers (26th): “We ran as hard as we could the whole time. We almost had a shot at it once when the No. 3 was pushing us. We just couldn’t quite get there. The low lane was just so strong.  No one could make any ground in the high lane.  We did all we could.  Just wasn’t enough today. … It was great to be back in the Daytona 500.  I really enjoyed the race.”

Greg Biffle (34th): “It was a pretty rough day for us. We got a flat trying to make the outside groove push to the front and couldn’t get our lap back and then later the 10 came across our nose there. It was unfortunate but it happens. I don’t know if she was trying to block me or didn’t know I was there but it happens. Tough day for sure. I am proud of my guys for all their work this week. We had a pretty good week minus these issues today.”

Danica Patrick (35th): “That pit road penalty really put us in a bad spot at the end of the race. I didn’t realize Greg (Biffle) was below me and I tried going low and we made contact. It’s a disappointing way to end the day, but overall, I’m happy with the way my Nature’s Bakery team performed throughout Speedweeks.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (36th): “I got loose and just busted my tail. It was time to go. We were making some moves on the outside and moving forward and passing some guys. Just got loose trying to do too much at once. We were up there around fifth or sixth there when we spun out. We were moving forward. We had passed about four or five cars there in the last three or four laps.  We were making up some ground.”

Chase Elliott (37th): “I hate it for everybody at less than 20 laps in and have something dumb (his spin) like that happen. I apologize to my guys. (Racing at Daytona is) definitely different. That wasn’t what happened, but yes, that is definitely different. … We had a real fast car all week.  I just hate it ended so soon.”

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NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

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NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”