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What drivers said after Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, N.C. – Martin Truex’s No. 78 Toyota did all of the talking during the race, but many drivers still had something to say after Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s what they were saying:

Martin Truex Jr. – finished first: It meant a lot to me. Just kind of sinking in now, you know? We won the 600, so just really proud of my team. Everybody that made this possible and believed in me and gave me this opportunity. Man, my guys are just … they’re something special, so just got to thank all them. This is a big day, you know? Got the troops on the car – it’s a special weekend. It’s really neat to bring – to bring that name home and to victory lane, so just a lot of emotion right not and not real sure it’s sunk in yet but just an amazing day, an amazing weekend for all of us and just a weekend you dream about. … I had confidence. I had faith. I had confidence in my team. I’ve got a lot of great people behind me. Sherry’s (Pollex, girlfriend) – she gives me a lot of inspiration and we just keep fighting. We never give up. We never quit. … It feels awesome. Coca-Cola 600, man, this is one everybody wants to win. I feel like we had this thing won last year when we gave it up and just I don’t know. There are so many emotions, I had to unplug my radio and just ride around and think for a few minutes, because I didn’t even know what I was going to say or what I was going to do.”

Kevin Harvick – finished second: “Yeah, we struggled the first 450 miles, but they kept swinging at it and were finally able to find some tire pressures that were better.  At the beginning of the race, we were just having the same problem getting in the corner and then sliding the back of the car up off the corner, and towards the end we got the car on the racetrack a lot better and were able to really start driving it like we needed to keep up.  I think we’d have been better off if they would have just kept running, but when the caution came out, because we had caught (Truex), passed (Johnson) and then once he got new tires and an adjustment on there, it seemed like he was kind of able to get out in front of us, and we were never really able to make up any ground once we got around (Johnson). … We ran 10th all day.  I’m just really, really happy with when you’re able to take a 10th‑place car at best, for the first 450 miles and make adjustments on it, those are huge gains.  I was just happy we were competitive at the end of the race. We didn’t have the fastest car, obviously.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished third: ““It’s nice when you have a car like that.  I’m so proud of the effort we put in tonight.  This is the best car I’ve had in Charlotte for a long time.  It just shows you how good (Truex) was, and (Harvick) got a little bit better than us at the end.  I thought we had a chance at them a few times, a couple of times on the long run we would get close. A couple times on the restarts we would get close, but all-in-all a very strong performance for this Lowe’s Chevrolet.  Very proud of the team work and the support that we have from all the employees at Lowe’s.  Just came up a little short today.”

Denny Hamlin — finished fourth: “It was a battle, but we kept good track position all day – had one bad restart where I lost some spots, but other than that fourth is about par for us today. The pit crew did an amazing job all day keeping us up front and our car was pretty good at the end. That’s about what we had, nothing else. (Truex) did a great job, and we saw it in practice, he had a bunch of speed and really a lot of the mile-and-a-halves those guys have really hit on something really nice. We’ll go back and work and figure out what we can do to be better, but obviously a good top-five is a good step in the right direction for us.”

Brad Keselowski – finished fifth: “On the long green-flag runs, it seemed like we would be able to move up a little bit.  On short runs we would fall back, but we definitely didn’t have anything for those guys.  (Truex) and (Harvick) were just really fast, and Martin Truex deserves this finish.  He had a good run. It’s a long 600 miles and to come home fifth is decent.  It’s not what we want, but we needed a little bit more to be able to run with those guys. The day to night transition is always a challenge, but some places more than others.  I think this track in particular it’s more about the temperature and how hot it is during the day and the long mileage.”

Matt Kenseth — finished seventh: “We were kind of off all weekend. We obviously didn’t qualify good. I think that’s the worst I can remember qualifying since I’ve been over here at least, so we had pretty good pit stops most of the night. (Crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and those guys made good adjustments, and we worked out way towards the front as far as we could. … All weekend, really, just at times we could get the balance sort of OK, but we were way off on the speed and just had a hard time getting a nice corner balance and enough speed to be able to go race the good cars. (On colliding with Austin Dillon) Well, whenever you get hit on pit road it’s a surprise. I was just leaving honestly, and he was leaving his spot and I don’t know. They must have cleared him out of there and didn’t see me or something.”

Chase Elliott – finished eighth: “Definitely a long one, very difficult.  We fought hard and we are trying to get that next little bit.”

Joey Logano – finished ninth: “We got a pit road penalty. You’re trying to make pit stops so fast and you’re going to push everything to the edge.  I guess we jumped off the wall a little bit too soon.  I haven’t seen it, but unfortunately, that kind of made us make a green-flag pit stop, which is really hard to overcome.  Overall, we were able to get our lap back by racing up there, which was kind of cool.  We didn’t have to take a lucky dog or any of that.  We actually raced back to the lead lap, but we lost the balance a little bit on the last run and I couldn’t make much time once we got going. … As it got cooler and cooler out I felt like we lost a little bit of speed compared to the field.  Obviously, the more grip in the racetrack the tougher it was to try to pass, so there were a lot of things going against us there. … Yeah, we got a pit road penalty during one of those super-long green flag runs and had to make a pass-through and went down a lap.  We did a good job recovering without a caution because we were able to pass the leader back and be able to get back on the lead lap and then we finally got a caution, but it was so late in the race and you can only pick a couple off on the restart.  We kind of settled in there and it was hard to pass tonight, so I had a lot better car than ninth – that’s for sure.  I had something that could have finished in the top three or four, and maybe second.  We didn’t have anything for (Truex).  Martin Truex was on fire tonight and really all weekend.  They had it figured out. … We had our own battle to worry about.  There were times that we were racing him up front for the lead on restarts.  We’d run with him for a while and then eventually on the long run he just took off.  We had nothing for him, but at times I thought we were definitely a second-place car, but unfortunately it’s a distant second.”

Ryan Newman – finished 10th: ““I messed up and sped on pit road and it sent us back.  I don’t know that it cost us a whole lot.  I’m just proud of everybody on the Whelen Engineering Chevrolet. They came on board for this race to sponsor us.  Got a decent finish and decent point’s day, I guess, but congratulations to my buddy Martin. He deserved that one.”

Greg Biffle – finished 11th: “That’s all the speed we had.  It was a hard-fought battle and I think we’re gaining on it.  It’s frustrating that we didn’t get up to the top-five, but at times we could run top-five lap times.  It’s a huge amount of progress from where we’ve been, but we clearly have a little ways to go.  Everybody is working hard and hopefully we’ll get there soon.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 20th: “It was a long night, man. A really, really long night. Nothing could go right for us. That was the frustrating part. I didn’t do us any favors speeding on the first stop. I think we got most of our track position back after that. Then we had a green-flag stop, and there was a total miscommunication. The next stop we were able to line up with the lead-lap cars and the left-front wheel was loose and had to come back and change that tire. We just struggled from there on out. We definitely didn’t do ourselves any favors tonight. There’s some stuff we have to work on with the race car. I probably didn’t do the best job tonight.”

Kyle Busch — finished 33rd: “It was a tough night, start to finish. The car had great acceleration toward the end, but we were tight all night and really never able to pass anybody. Definitely not the run we wanted for our M&M’S Red, White and Blue Camry.”

Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth to start at rear at Kentucky

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth each will start at the rear in Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway after their cars failed pre-race inspection twice.

Truex was to have started ninth. Kenseth was to have started 17th in the 38-car field.

Truex has won two of the last three races at Kentucky. Kenseth is coming off a runner-up finish last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky: Start time, lineup and more

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The final 10-race stretch of the regular season begins for the Cup Series Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

After years of mostly only racing under the lights there, the series will race in the daytime.

Can Kyle Busch, who starts from the pole, earn his first Cup win of 2020?

Here’s all the info you need for Sunday’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START:  The command to start engines is at 2:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:54 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:35 p.m by Darrell and Stevie Waltrip. The national anthem will be performed at 2:36 p.m. by Robert Randolph.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 79 degrees and a 58% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Matt Kenseth to win the Brickyard 400.

LAST RACE AT KENTUCKY: Kurt Busch defeated younger brother Kyle Busch for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Front Row Motorsports reaching new heights without practice

NASCAR to team: Address “complacency” toward COVID-19 protocols

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’m smarter, stronger’ after COVID-19 episode

Stage is set for Cup teams in race for points

Glow in the dark: Cup cars get new look for All-Star Race

Here is what upcoming NASCAR Cup races fans can attend

NASCAR reveals schedule through end of Cup regular season

Harvick takes hot streak to Kentucky, one of his last winless tracks

Power Rankings after Indianapolis: Kevin Harvick back to No. 1

Zach Price, Ryan Blaney’s injured tire changer, to miss Kentucky

 

Racing community mourns driver killed after crash at Langley Speedway

Photo: Mark Wertz
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Shawn Balluzzo, an 11-time track champion at Langley Speedway, died after a crash in a modified race Saturday night, the track confirmed. Balluzzo was 64.

Balluzzo, who won 16 of the Hampton, Virginia track’s 17 modified races in 2019, died after his car went over the hood of another and hit the Turn 2 wall at about 70 mph, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The newspaper reported that safety personnel cut the roof of Balluzzo’s car off to extricate him.

Saturday’s twin modified races were the first of the season for that series at the track. Belluzzo finished second in the opening race.

Balluzzo and his daughter Bryce were featured last year by WAVY TV 10, which chronicled Bryce’s battle with leukemia.

 

Tributes to Shawn Balluzzo were abundant Sunday morning and came from throughout the racing community.

 

Cole Custer ready for encore of first career Cup top-5 finish

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Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway will be a night and day difference.

In recent years, the Cup race at the 1.5-mile Sparta, Kentucky track has primarily been a nighttime affair. Teams have compiled big notebooks of data from racing under the lights.

That won’t be the case Sunday, as the green flag is slated to drop at 2:54 p.m. ET.

While this will be his first career Cup start at Kentucky, rookie Cole Custer is no stranger to the track, having won last summer’s Xfinity race there – and scored consecutive fifth-place finishes in the two preceding races in 2017 and 2018.

“It’s something that you definitely see a difference in the track, I feel like, when it’s day and when it goes to night,” Custer said in a media teleconference. “So trying to figure out how you want to adjust your car to kind of a slicker track is gonna be pretty important.

“And also the biggest difference is we don’t have all the practice sessions before the race to work in the track. You saw that Thursday night with the Xfinity race, there was dust all over. The bottom lane was not worked in very well, so it’s gonna take a little while for that bottom lane to work in. We’re gonna see how worked in it is by the time we get to our race.

“There’s a lot of differences, honestly, but, at the same time it’s still the same track. It’s a really edgy racetrack because it’s new pavement, it’s a repave, so the tires are a little bit harder. The track takes a little bit of time to get worked in and you have that PJ1 (traction compound), so you’re able to take things from the Xfinity car – what lines kind of worked there and how it changed throughout the weekend – so basic characteristics with the track you’re able to kind of carry over. But at the same time, the feel in the car is completely different and how you work traffic and things like that.”

Custer enters Sunday’s race ranked 25th in the Cup standings, the lowest position of the four major drivers in this year’s Cup rookie class (Tyler Reddick is 18th, John Hunter Nemechek is 22nd and Christopher Bell is 24th).

“There’s definitely been a lot of learning, for sure,” Custer said. “Obviously, these cars are a lot different than what the Xfinity cars were, so trying to wrap your head around that and figure out how to effect every little thing, whether it’s passing or restarts or how to work traffic or pit road, just anything about it, you’re trying to make sure you’re getting 100 percent out of it.

“It’s always going to be challenging being a rookie, but at the same time it’s probably been a little bit more challenging this year because you don’t have practice, we didn’t have rookie testing, and these cars are a big difference from the Xfinity Series. It’s hard to do that without the practice time.

“I think it pushes all of us to be better because we all want to compete against each other and make sure we’re not falling behind too much. I think it’s just a matter of you still have to focus on yourself most of the time. If you’re focused on other people, you’re not gonna be making yourself better and working on your own problems. But at the same time it does push you to make sure you’re pushing yourself as much as you can.”

Custer is coming off his first top-five finish of the season at Indianapolis last weekend. He  has just one other top 10 in the first 16 races.

Still, Custer’s finish at Indy, which included pushing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick to the win, leaves Custer optimistic heading into this weekend.

“At that point, my best shot was to push Kevin and that might have got me in a better position to try and maybe make a move to try to win the race also,” Custer said. “It’s definitely nerve-wracking. I mean, you’re coming to that line and you’re like, ‘I’ve got to do this right. This is important right here. We need this.’

“So I’ve been in those situations before where you’ve got to push people if you’re running up front in the Xfinity cars or the Truck Series or whatever it is, so you have experience doing that kind of stuff, but doing it at this level puts that much more pressure on it and you’re at the Brickyard 400 so you want to make it happen. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but it was something that we were able to kind of control those nerves and make sure that we do our jobs right.

“Now I feel like we’re at a good point where we’re putting it all together and get close to affect all those little things. But you have to do it on a consistent basis and I think we’re gaining on that.”

The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang has his work cut out for himself Sunday, starting 29th.

“I feel like I’ve already spent hours trying to figure that out,” Custer quipped. “It’s definitely gonna be a tough race.

“It looks like it’s gonna be a really dominant top lane kind of race, so that makes it a little bit tough to pass. But at the same time, the track is gonna be changing throughout the whole weekend, so it’s hard to tell exactly what our race is gonna be like yet.

“You’re trying to work through all the different possibilities in your mind of what our race might look like. But overall I feel like it’s gonna be a track position race. You’re gonna want to try to get towards the front on restarts and on pit road, and from there you’re just trying to run a solid race without having mistakes.”

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