What drivers said after Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana

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Drivers talked a lot about their finish and performance in Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Here’s what they said:

Jimmie Johnson, finished 1st: “I knew we had a great car. To go there at the end and have good tires on the car, (Kevin) Harvick and I got by Joey (Logano) at the start. I had a great run off Turn 2 and thought maybe I had a shot at this thing, which I didn’t expect to have, because Harvick’s been so fast. I cleared him and kind of got away. We just saved our best for last, for sure. I told everybody that Superman would kick Batman’s butt, and it happened. It might send a statement, but it’s a long year and we need to keep doing this all year long, especially late in the season.”

Kevin Harvick, 2nd: “We weren’t very good on restarts for four, five laps, unless we were by ourselves. We just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to. Just didn’t have the front tires turning and the back wouldn’t grip. Still, a good day for us. We’ll keep at it.”

Denny Hamlin, 3rd: “It’s a disappointing third, I can tell you that. But two penalties, radio changes, just a lot of mistakes on my part early on. I gave ourselves a shot there and (Joey Logano), the one time he didn’t get a good restart, we didn’t have that push there and it hurt us there. Those two (Johnson and Harvick) linked up on the bottom and there was really nothing we could do at that point.”

JOEY LOGANO, 4th: (On the incident with Martin Truex Jr.) “It was completely my fault. I was going to go in on the outside of him and he was going to go in on the top as well and I just ended up being right on him. We never touched each other, but just taking the air off these cars makes them uncontrollable.  I didn’t mean to do that. I was going to try to go to the top and I just got a little bit close to him and got him free, so I’m taking the hit on that one.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 5th: “It was really good for us. That was a crazy restart there at the end.  We had a really good Fastenal Ford on the long run and that’s where we excelled – kind of like Atlanta and Las Vegas. On the long run we excelled and that really paid off today. Our tires were good every pit stop, which was good for us, and we made the right adjustments there at the end. It was just a really good bounce back weekend for us.”

Chase Elliott, 6th: “We were able to get up to third. I thought we had a really good car. Just need to get going a little bit better on those restarts and try to maximize that opportunity. This race track already produces good racing and I think with this package, if they optimize that a little bit more, I feel like there were a lot of different lanes you could run and that’s the kind of race track that you want to watch. And I feel like it was a good show for the fans.”

Carl Edwards, 7th: “We had every type of challenge you could have. We had a little bit of tire trouble. The tires, you could take it easy on them and you could kind of create your own destiny there. I think Goodyear has a good tire here and just have to be careful with them. … Some of those restarts were just a blast. That’s what it’s about. We were really – I was having a blast. At the end, I just got choked up one time behind Brad (Keselowski), he got really loose and kind of killed our momentum.”

AJ Allmendinger, 8th: “I thought we were as competitive as anybody on short-run speed. We just needed something there for the last 10 to 15 laps. We will work on it. The pit crew was awesome. They bounced back with great stops all day. Big momentum for everybody here at the shop. Just keep digging.”

Brad Keselowski, 9th: “We gave it all we had, but just came up a bit short. We seemed to be about a fifth to 10th-place car, probably with everybody having some troubles we should have finished fifth. I slid back to eighth there, which was frustrating, but, all in all, it was a decent day.”

Jamie McMurray, 10th: “We got a really good finish. We ran, I think, around 13th or 15th most of the day. We got caught in the pits on a green-flag stop and had to go to the back. And I still made my way up a little bit, but man, right before the caution came out, we were fading fast. The tires were just gone and I was sliding around and we were going backwards quick. That caution was a big turnaround for us. I think we restarted 17th and finished 10th. So it was good to have a really good restart.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 11th: “I had a blast. I love racing here regardless of what aero package we have. This is a fun track. I like the low downforce. What can I say? I’m having fun and had a good time today. Usually, you would be real frustrated driving the cars we drove the last two years finishing 11th, but I had fun running anywhere on the race track. No matter where we were we were racing somebody and driving the thing. (On Jimmie Johnson passing your father in wins) “It’s something inevitable I guess. I remember when Jeff (Gordon) passed Daddy and now he got all the way up to 93 wins. Jimmie is going to have quite a few more. He maybe will surpass Jeff. That will be a great story as well since Jeff sort of brought him onto the team. I’m not going to be surprised if (Johnson) matches Daddy and Richard (Petty) in that championship deal if we can’t get it.”

Brian Scott, 12th: “(Finishing 12th) was really important. We had a couple of hard weeks, so to have a good finish here – not only for the team but for our sponsors … everybody that’s on board this program – because we sold it and pushed it to them. We said, ‘We’re going to do good things this year.’ The first part of the year was tough, but we had to get through and now we’re bringing some new cars to the track and our performance is picking up. It’s great.”

Landon Cassill, 16th: “The car was really good on long runs but really, really bad on short runs. Fortunately, with 40 to go we had a long run that put us in the top 20 and the guys had a phenomenal pit stop that held my position and we just had a great restart for the green-white-checker. Sometimes you’re proud of what you did, but I feel like I got lucky in some ways that the line just went my way and we were able to run 16th.”

Aric Almirola, 21st: “I’m of course disappointed in our finish today (21st). We started off the afternoon with a much stronger car than where we finished. We struggled with a loose Smithfield Ford Fusion through the first part of the race, and then as the track cooled down our car tightened up.  We ended up losing the front downforce on our car and we never could find a solution that would get it driving for me. But, I’m proud of how hard my team fought this weekend, and I know that we’ll bounce back in Martinsville.”

Kasey Kahne, 28th: “I passed her in (Turns) 3 and 4 and then she had the momentum off the top and went back under me going down the front stretch. So I went just to kind of catch a side draft to make sure I was in position getting into Turn 1 and it didn’t hold me up when I got there because I was the one coming and I just got too close and the car was moving around and we hit and she had a bad wreck. I felt really bad because it was far from anything than just trying to hold my position. I’ve never had an issue with Danica at all. It was an avoidable accident in the middle of the straightaway that was far from anything but just trying to hold my position that I had just gained.”

MARTIN TRUEX, JR., 32nd: “We had a good run going until  (Joey Logano) put our car into the fence. There was a lot of right-side damage to the car, and we were pretty much toast after that incident. Not sure what he (Logano) was thinking about at the time, but that hit spoiled our day. We went from being a contender to the back of the field. Really frustrating to have a good car and not have anything to show for it. I think we were running in or close to the top five when the (No.) 22 rammed our Toyota.”

Chris Buescher, 33rd: “It’s unfortunate we had the flat tire there because we had a lot of speed in our Love’s Travel Stops Ford Fusion. I had a lot of fun today. We’ve made a lot of really big gains in a short period of time. If we hadn’t had that happen, we would have been in the top-20, no doubt, and probably a little bit better than that.”

Ryan Blaney, 35th: “We blew a tire.  I don’t know what happened. There was no warning and the tire just exploded into three. That stunk. We were good on some runs, but at the end of the race we weren’t very good. We really struggled bad on restarts, really bad. We were going to salvage a decent day, and then the tire exploded.”

Greg Biffle, 37th: “We’re not really sure. It might be something in the engine. It started smoking a little bit there and it was down on power, so we figured we would just bring it in and take a look at it before we break something out on the race track.”

Danica Patrick, 38th: (On wreck with Kasey Kahne): “We were on a restart and I had a run on him so I went down low. If you get too close to them then it will drag you both back. I was going low. I saw him chase me down the track and then the next thing I know I was getting spun up the track.  I was passing him. He was behind me in the right rear. I don’t know what kind of day he was having. I just heard he was a lap down actually. I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down. It’s just unfortunate; he must be having a very tough time. I was having a pretty good recovery day, kind of like last weekend. I was just running good race laps and on the lead lap at the end of the race back up into the top 20 from a bad starting position.”

Kyle Larson, 39th: “We were struggling all day. We were really bad. And just on that backstretch, my left rear tire got cut and spun me to the outside wall and then spun me back into the inside wall. By the time I could hit the brakes it must have ripped the brake line and I had no brakes. They just went to the floorboard. I couldn’t slow down and had a hard hit there; head-on. I’m okay. I’m thankful for SAFER barriers and thankful that I’m all right. That was definitely probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had in my career.  I’m glad to be on my feet right here.”

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NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).