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What drivers had to say after Sunday’s STP 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinsville

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What kind of a day was it for drivers in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway?

Here’s what many of them had to say about the good and/or bad:

Kyle Busch, 1st: “I’d say it certainly helps when you get to run other divisions and that’s why I do it to pay off on Sundays. It doesn’t work every single weekend, but it works more times than it doesn’t, so can’t say enough about everyone at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) for giving me a great piece yesterday to help me learn, teach me some more things about Martinsville that I didn’t already know in 30 other prior starts. … (We ran) up front all day, led a lot of laps, probably led the most laps there and to win here in Martinsville is pretty cool – finally get to take a clock home. A lot of people said I didn’t deserve yesterday – maybe I don’t – but I certainly got one today.”

AJ Allmendinger, 2nd: “Well, I was hoping for one more spot for a culmination. But, I passed Jimmie Johnson like five times at Martinsville; that’s pretty cool! … We weren’t where we wanted to be about six months ago. We brought in so many people who stepped up to embrace their new roles. I thought we might really have a shot at them. Randall Burnett (crew chief) and all the guys and pit crew I can’t thank them enough. They really stepped it up the last two weeks and gave us a shot to win that race. I had to get aggressive. I thought, heck, with 12 (laps) to go we might have a new clock in the shop. Came up a little bit short, it’s pretty cool to be racing Kyle Busch for the win here though.”

Kyle Larson, 3rd: “We had a really good Target Chevy. It was really fun this whole weekend to be competitive every time I was on the race track. Normally, I’m very bad here and to finish top 3 feels like a win for me. Never would I have thought that I’d get a top 3 here and now I can kind of see a (grandfather) clock maybe in my future. … I learned a lot. I spent a lot of time behind Jimmie Johnson and I felt like I just followed his track there and got a lot better throughout the race. … So, hat’s off to everybody on this Target Chevy and it was cool to get a good finish.”

Austin Dillon, 4th: “I’ve got to learn to keep my mouth shut on the radio (calling out teammate Paul Menard). That’s part of racing. I’m a fiery guy and it was fun today. It’s nice to see the front of a short track like that. Sometimes you’ve just got to grow up a little bit, but It’s nice to be running up front. … A lot of things happened today. It’s Martinsville. Your head’s hot. You say things you don’t want to mean. Monday morning I’ll talk to everybody and we’ll figure it back out.”

Brad Keselowski, 5th: “It was a good Martinsville race. We had a lot of speed with the Miller Lite Ford on the long runs, but just not quite enough on the short runs to make anything of the Gibbs cars. They were really strong all day. All in all, I’m real proud of my team. We’re starting to get this place where we’re real consistent and can run up front and that’s a good feeling. … There were good battles all across the field. I think there’s a lot to be proud of for the style of racing that we’re seeing as of late. … We want to win, but I think we ran very competitive and that’s something to be proud of.  We’re not happy (with the finish), we’re proud.”

Carl Edwards, 6th: “My guys just do not quit. We were 32nd or 33rd and my guys didn’t give up. We got the fastest pit stops on pit road regardless of where I’m at in the field. Dave Rogers (crew chief) makes great adjustments and by the end we were moving forward, so really cool. We went from basically almost a last place race car to a top-five car at the end – just a super day for our ARRIS Camry.”

Brian Vickers, 7th: “I was pleased but not satisfied. We had such a good car. We were so fast. I don’t know if the track changed or we had different tire codes today. It just wasn’t quite as good as practice all weekend. But I’m really proud of the effort by the guys. We had a great car. It was a top 10. Gosh, we wanted to win this race for Arnie’s Army and everybody. This is a bittersweet special track for me. I lost my best friend here (Ricky Hendrick). I really wanted to win for him. But it was still a good day. We’ll take a seventh and move on. The team is getting stronger every week, really. I’m proud of those guys and it’s going to be a strong team.”

Paul Menard, 8th: “We had a really fast car all weekend, top 10 in all the practice sessions, qualified fourth and drove up and took the lead. Led a little bit and we started with a little bit higher air pressure to start the race. We just gave up too much. Kind of got backwards and then had a set of tires that had a loose wheel, it was back in the middle part of the race and just battled back. Really fast car all weekend. Just trying to tune on it throughout the race.”

Jimmie Johnson, 9th: “The first half of the day we were really good at the end. We had some short run speed, but would fade. Better than last fall (12th), but need to get better yet.”

Ryan Newman, 10th: “Coming into this race I told the team that they had given me the best car I’ve ever had at Martinsville Speedway. … With about 50 to go, we got the break we needed and raced our way back onto the lead lap. A late-race caution allowed us to pit for fresh tires and we were able to race from 17th to a 10th-place finish. … We worked hard this off season and to see all three cars end up in the top 10 says a lot about our organization. Glad to see this team rally back for a top 10 because we had another good car and now a decent finish to reflect it.”

Joey Logano, 11th: “It was frustrating. You want to go out there and win for sure and we just missed it. … I think we know where we missed it, but we didn’t have the tools to fix what we needed to fix. Once the race starts a lot of times your hands are tied because you only have a certain amount of adjustments on your car or even on pit stops that we could fix what our problem was. … “We’ve just got to go back and learn from our mistakes and learn from what happened today. … We come here expecting to run up front and challenge to win and we just weren’t there today, so we’ve just got work to do.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 14th: “We had a good car. … The car was fun. We had good long run speed. Just didn’t end up working out for us as far as the line we were in on our last restart. The second place guy, we passed him – the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) – but the guy who started fourth where we would have started if we didn’t pit finished right in front of me. What do you do? If you can’t start in the inside you are screwed.”

Matt Kenseth, 15th: “Yeah, we had a great Dollar General Toyota today. We’ve had fast cars this year, but got shuffled to the back, so disappointing ending but it was an encouraging day. We ran really well, had great pit stops and they gave me fast cars. Hopefully we’ll start getting some finishes soon.”

Danica Patrick, 16th: “Our biggest problem was just we generally had some inconsistency with runs. We would have a good one, then a bad one. … We had a lot of contact with a lot of cars, but I feel like that is also fun to watch. It’s fun to watch as a fan and it makes it fun inside the car.” … You take matters into your own hands pretty easily here at Martinsville. It was all-in-all a pretty decent day for the TaxAct car. I was really hoping when we got inside the top 10 we would hold, but that run it just went loose and that set of tires was a little different. It is what it is.”

Ryan Blaney, 19th: “It was a long day for sure. There were some runs where I thought we were OK and other runs where I thought we were way off. At the end we were just OK and that penalty didn’t help us during that last pit stop. That probably cost us a few spots, but not a bad day for this Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. Finishing on the lead lap isn’t too bad for coming here for our first time, so it was definitely eventful but there’s a lot we can learn from this race and we can apply it later in the year. … I was pretty courteous today. You don’t want to be the rough guy when it’s your first time and you’re a rookie, so I probably gave a little bit more than I should have took, but maybe we’ll put that in our bank and utilize that in the fall.”

Landon Cassill, 28th: “It didn’t kill us, but it didn’t work out to the favor that we wanted it to, but that’s just part of the risk versus reward. I have a hard time not taking those wavearounds when you have the opportunity. We had a pretty good car, but it still needs to be a little bit better. We’ve got a lot of ideas to keep working on it, so I’m excited to move on to the next one and glad we get to go back to another short track in a couple of weeks.”

Chris Buescher, 33rd: “Martinsville is a tough place and we’ve got a lot of learning to do here. I felt like we got a lot better about halfway through the race and that’s exciting for coming back. We’ll have to wait until the fall and see if it all turns out the way we hope, but we’ll get better next time.”

Denny Hamlin (39th): “It’s my first time ever doing it here (wheel hopping), so it’s a little embarrassing, but I mean we were the fastest car those last 30 laps and we got back to the top-five and I was making up a lot of my speed on entry. As the tires wear, the rears get hotter, less grip, you can’t brake at the same amount and I just – it was really out of the blue. I didn’t ever have a hint of it up until that moment, so a bit of a rookie move on my part. I’ve been around here too much to do something like that, but learning for the fall and I’m really encouraged about how good our car came up through the pack and I really thought we had a car that could win.”

Aric Almirola (40th): “We had a part failure with a part that typically doesn’t break, so I’m not sure.  Doug (Yates) will go back and investigate it and I’m sure they’ll figure something out so it won’t ever happen again.  It was a disappointing end to our day.  We had an okay STP Ford Fusion.  We were making it better and were probably a 15th place car.  Walking out of the track now, I certainly would have taken a 15th place finish because this is gonna put us in a pretty big hole.”

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Why Tyler Reddick chose to reveal his many sides through Twitter

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How to stop worrying about and start loving The Twitter?

Tyler Reddick said he found the secret a few years ago after much hand-wringing over how his thoughts and views would be perceived when they took shape in social media.

“Half the time I wouldn’t say them, and I just said, ‘I’m going to let it go and let it chill and filter it some,’” Reddick told NBC Sports during a recent media availability at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Because you don’t want to get out there and just blast someone and be swearing at them. There’s a fine line.

“I’m sure at some point in the future, my interaction will cross that line on accident, and there’ll be some serious backlash for it.”

Tyler Reddick honors Dolly in his unique way at Bristol (Donald Page/Getty Images).

In the meantime, the NASCAR world is getting the best version of the Richard Childress Racing driver – the raw, candid and often hilarious (check out the wig he wore at Bristol to commemorate his Dolly Parton-sponsored car) but sometimes controversial sides – as the 2018 Xfinity Series champion shares more of his stream of consciousness with the world.

Whether it’s been a Daytona feud with Bubba Wallace, mercilessly trolling the Xfinity Series for a lack of championship recognition, or offering some serious thoughts on group qualifying in Cup, Reddick has a sharp pair of thumbs working over his smartphone.

Though he seems more prolific since winning the title last November, Reddick said he had grown comfortable with being himself on Twitter long before that.

Among the first times was when he called out truck series driver Ben Rhodes for describing the Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway as a “demolition derby” during a TV interview. “It’s truly an incredible event, and it’s cool we’re even at Eldora,” Reddick said. “For him to bash it, it hit a soft spot obviously because I’m a dirt racer.”

“Half the time I’d type something out, and me being reserved when I was younger, I just wouldn’t say it,” Reddick said. “And I figured I might as well be myself and say what I want to say when I’m feeling it, or type it, I guess I should say.

“I think it was there before the championship. I think it’s just kind of coincidence (since then). Obviously, there have been people who have poked about the championship, so I think maybe in that sense because of that, it’s gotten more attention since then. I think as I’ve gotten more comfortable with me being who I am and not afraid to show it, I’ve just opened up to it more.”

It already has gotten delicate, though, in the case of Wallace, whose Richard Petty Motorsports team has an alliance and engine deal with RCR.

Without using his name in a tweet, Wallace blamed a crash on Reddick, who was making his Daytona 500 debut.

“It was a touchy deal, but I was very frustrated naturally in that situation,” said Reddick, who leads the Xfinity points with seven top 10s through eight starts of his first season with RCR’s No. 2 Chevrolet. “He was, too. But he just went on Twitter and said something I didn’t agree, and he kind of did it in a light that he was trying to throw it under the radar a little bit.

“He knew who he was talking about, and he didn’t want to say anything to me about it, he wanted to put it on Twitter, so I had no problem calling him out for it. It’s just the way it was. I’ve done it in the past.”

And will continue to do so in the future – at least until he crosses that line. Until then, Reddick recognizes that the byproduct of his honesty is some honest laughter from his followers.

“There are people getting chuckles that I know (are) getting a kick out of it,” Reddick said. “I don’t really do that to get those responses. I just do it because that’s how I feel about it.”

Shotgun! Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer share a beer over Twitter

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Before Clint Bowyer dropped by to raise a little hell on this week’s episode of “The Dale Jr. Download,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a modest proposal for the podcast episode.

Alas, while there was plenty of talk about beer, beer signs and partying, no beers were consumed, let alone shotgunned.

But Bowyer didn’t forget!

He called out Earnhardt on Twitter Thursday afternoon, shotgunning a Miller Lite in the process.

A Budweiser in hand, Earnhardt answered the call within 40 minutes.

On a quiet week with NASCAR off for Easter, plenty of NASCAR drivers chimed in to judge Earnhardt’s shotgun technique and the beer used.

Friday 5: Key questions to ponder during NASCAR’s break

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While Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have dominated the headlines by combining to win each of the first nine races, many questions remain as NASCAR takes its Easter break.

Here is a look at five key questions with a quarter of the Cup season complete:

1. What’s up with Stewart-Haas Racing?

An organization that saw all four of its drivers win last season has yet to visit victory lane in Cup this season.

The last Cup victory for the organization was at Texas in November by Kevin Harvick with a car that later failed inspection. Stewart-Haas Racing has won two of the last 21 Cup races. Team Penske has nine wins during that time and Joe Gibbs Racing has eight victories.

Stewart-Haas Racing has been the best of the rest. Five times in the season’s first nine races, a Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been the top finisher outside the Gibbs and Penske camp.

Harvick finished fourth at Las Vegas (Joey Logano won). Aric Almirola was fourth at ISM Raceway (Kyle Busch won). Harvick placed fourth at Auto Club Speedway (Busch won). Clint Bowyer finished second at Texas (Denny Hamlin won). Bowyer was third at Richmond (Martin Truex Jr. won).

“We’ve just got to keep working,” Greg Zipadelli, SHR competition director, told NBC Sports after the last weekend’s Richmond race. “Everybody around you is. I feel like we’re getting better. I don’t feel like we’ve been terrible. We haven’t executed. We haven’t unloaded as good as we need to. We make our cars better over the weekend. That’s a plus.

“By no means are we where we want to be. We’re at a race track that is good for a bunch of our drivers the last couple of weeks and weren’t able to capitalize on it. I’m taking the approach that I’m looking at my glass as half full rather than half empty.”

Even though SHR won four times at this point last year (Harvick won three races and Bowyer had one victory), the organization has shown signs of greater depth.

Almirola, Bowyer, Harvick and Daniel Suarez have combined to score nine top-five finishes and 22 top 10s this season. Each driver has had at least one top-five finish. Each driver also has at least four top 10s.

Last year, Almirola, Bowyer, Harvick and Kurt Busch had eight top-five finishes and 19 top 10s. Busch and Almirola had yet to score a top-five finish. Only Bowyer and Harvick had at least four top 10s at this point a year ago.

“All four of our cars have been running good,” Zipadelli said of SHR’s performance this season. “All four of our cars have been running better. Everybody has been working good together. We’ll just keep plugging away.”

Then Zipadelli added: “Small victories. That’s how you eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

2. The next few weeks will be most critical to what team?

Obviously, the top organizations that have been shut out seek to win as soon as possible, but let’s look a little deeper.

This could be a key time for Roush Fenway Racing. The organization has Ryan Newman in a playoff spot but he’s 15th in the standings and only four points ahead of 17th (the first spot outside a playoff position). Teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 18th in the standings, eight points behind Newman.

One has to figure that even for Kyle Larson’s poor start — he’s 19th in the standings, 12 points behind Newman — that Larson will find his way into a playoff spot either via a win or points. With the way Joe Gibbs Racing has been so strong, Erik Jones, who is 17th, would be a good candidate to move into a playoff spot.

Ryan Newman is 15th in the points standings after a quarter of the Cup season. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

If those situations happen, then it will be more challenging for Roush Fenway Racing to put either of its two cars in the playoffs. The organization has failed to have a car in the playoffs three of the past four years.

This is a key time for Roush Fenway to collect points, including stage points to position itself better for a playoff spot. Stenhouse has 20 stage points and Newman 18.

Fifteen drivers have more stage points than Stenhouse and 16 have more stage points than Newman.

“We’ve got to keep working on some raw speed,” Newman said after placing ninth last week at Richmond. “We’re off just a little bit still.

“We’re doing better but we’ve got to keep working on it. Ninth isn’t good enough. Tenth isn’t good enough.”

3. What driver needs a win the most?

Long list here.

Kurt Busch, who has a one-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing, could use victories to enhance his chances of driving next year provided he wants to continue.

Jimmie Johnson has a 68-race winless streak. His last victory was at Dover in June 2017 — close to a two-year drought. He’s led laps in only three of the last 21 races.

Kyle Larson is winless in his last 55 races and has only five top-10 finishes in his last 16 starts (nearly half a season). Larson has led laps in three of those 16 races. His frustration was evident after he finished last at Richmond and said “it’s been a pretty crappy start to the year.”

Along with Johnson and Larson, one could put any Chevrolet driver on this list. Chevrolet has won four of the last 55 races, dating back to the start of the 2017 playoffs. Elliott has three of those victories and Austin Dillon the other.

4. What will the 2021 driver lineup look like?

There are some intriguing situations that will be worth watching as the season progresses.

Kurt Busch has a one-year contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. Will the 40-year-old (he turns 41 in August) be back after this season with the team or will Ganassi have a spot to fill in its lineup for 2021?

Unless NASCAR allows car owners to have more than four teams, Joe Gibbs would seem to have a wealth of riches and not a place for all of them. Kyle Busch signed a contract extension in February, Martin Truex Jr. is in his first season with the team, Denny Hamlin says his contract goes beyond this season and Erik Jones says he’s in talks with JGR on a contract extension.

So where does that leave Christopher Bell? With the investment Toyota has put into his career, there’s no chance he’ll drive for any other manufacturer next season. With 10 wins in 48 career Xfinity starts (a 20.8% winning percentage), there’s no way he should be in Xfinity after this year. Does that mean he goes to Leavine Family Racing, which is aligned with JGR, or does Toyota pull something else out to ensure Bell will be with the manufacturer in Cup next year?

Another interesting proposition is where will Cole Custer race next year? He’s won twice in the first eight races this season (he had two wins in his previous 70 Xfinity starts entering this year).

When Stewart-Haas Racing was looking to fill the No. 41 last season, car owner Gene Haas was asked if Custer could take that position. He said that Custer needed to win more. If Custer does that this season, can SHR find a way for him or will he need to go to another Ford team?

5. What will the qualifying format be?

Still to be determined. Or at least NASCAR hasn’t announced anything.

The series heads to Talladega Superspeedway next weekend and that will be single-car qualifying, same as it has been done in recent years there.

Then it’s off to Dover. Maybe the format used at Richmond (five minutes for each round) could work there. After that, NASCAR heads to Kansas Speedway and drafting will again be key. NASCAR will need to have its plans set before Kansas.

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Watch NASCAR America’s MotorSports Hour 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents the MotorSports Hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET, where we break down news not just in NASCAR but also IndyCar, Supercross and other racing series.

Our analysts will be Marty Snider, Parker Kligerman and AJ Allmendinger.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.