What drivers said after Sonoma race

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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Drivers had much to say after Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 won by Tony Stewart. Here’s what drivers said:

TONY STEWART — Winner: “I made mistakes the last two laps. I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row. But I felt a nudge when I got down there, and he knew where it was, and (Denny Hamlin) did the right thing doing it there; but if I could get to him, he knew what was coming. He told me he was proud of me. He knows what it means. We were teammates for a long time, and we respect each other a lot.”

DENNY HAMLIN — Finished 2nd: “Just like you heard Tony say, I thought with two or three to go, he pretty much had it, but he made a couple mistakes and allowed us to get pretty close, and then we just both wheel-hopped into (Turn) 7, and I just let off my wheel hop a little bit so I could get to his rear bumper and get him out of the groove just a touch. It was perfectly executed, but I was going through the esses knowing that I needed to get the biggest gap that I could … I didn’t run a low enough line in Turn 11 from wheel-hopping in Turn 7. I got the rears hot, wheel-hopped it a little bit again, got out of line and obviously gave him the inside line. We definitely had a car that should have won, but we were on the bad end of the deal.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I thought I could win the race there at the last lap when you are watching those two going into 7 and 11, and you’re running third.  You think you’re in a pretty good spot to win this thing.  I’m thinking that they’re most likely going to crash each other.  It was a fun race to watch.  Going into Turn 11 I was 100 percent sure that Denny was not going to win just by watching it, and we were right there on the cusp of trying to sneak one by.  It would have been a gift if we got it, but hey, take them anyway you can.”

Carl Edwards — Finished 4th:“I appreciate Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. giving me the space there. Joey (Logano) got loose, I got under him, and Dale was three-wide. It was fun to race. Congrats to Tony; I know he drove his heart out there. It’s pretty neat to see him in victory lane.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “It was a lot of fun racing out there today. Feel like we had the best car, we just couldn’t get track position. Every time we would get past the guys that we were racing on the racetrack, caution would come out, and guys would beat us out of the pits. Little frustrated with that. Thought we had the car to win, and then that last set of tires we just got in position, and we just got too loose.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 6th: “I’m just really proud of Tony (Stewart). That is really the best thing. We didn’t have a lot of good happen today. We fought all day on pit road and got a decent finish out of it. But other than that we had a little bit of a struggle with getting it to turn.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 7th: “I don’t know what happened at the end of the race, but thought we had a shot to end up in the top four at least. For some reason there at the end, it blew the rear tires off there at the end on the last run when I was trying to race those guys for the top four. I couldn’t even gain on them. I was just trying to hang with them. We just burned the rear tires off on that last run just trying too hard and went backwards.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 9th: “We started off pretty good, and I just needed to be a little looser. We were on the tight side. So, we tried to loosen it up and for whatever reason it was the exact opposite. I got really tight then. So then we started going the other way with adjustments. We just kind of gave up the middle portion of the race.  If we hadn’t done that I think we were maybe better like a top five, but ninth is OK.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 10th: “We battled really hard, I was somewhat surprised by the lack of grip in the rear of the car. It showed a little bit of that in practice, and some of the other guys had the same issues as far as our teammates. We just didn’t correct it enough. It’s my fault that I didn’t relay the information well enough. Congratulations to Tony Stewart, this is a huge day for SHR. To have three cars in the Chase, to have Tony’s confidence up, to have him battle Denny Hamlin like that this is the best way for a champion like him to go out.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 13th: “We were OK. We had the same strategy as the No. 14 going and then we were coming in the next lap, and the caution came out.  It kind of hurt us there to leap frog those guys and the transition we were looking for. We just kind of rode from there.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 14th: “Randall Burnett (crew chief) and all the guys Brain Burns, Tony Palmer, all my guys they did a great job.  We weren’t very good. We were pretty junky on Friday.  They worked hard to get this thing as good as it could be. Such a strange race. At one point you think the tires go off and then you find something and manage them again. I thought whatever it was, 25 to go, we were coming. So in the end just a bad pit stop and let the tire get away and penalty. That took away our chance to win the race.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 15th: “It was a hot day. We had better speed than we’ve ever had before, but I just made too many mistakes.”

Greg Biffle — Finished 18th: “We had about a 16th-place car and that’s right about where we finished. We just fought all day and tried to hold our track position, but that’s just as fast as our car was. It was a really good call by Brian Pattie and the team on how to call the race. They did a great job. It couldn’t have worked out better for us, but that’s all we had.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 26th: “We just weren’t very good. We were really good on the long run, if I could save my tires, but I didn’t have any short-run speed. That really made the restarts tough to not lose any track position, but still not wear out my tires. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board for the road course here. We definitely struggled today.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 23rd: “It was a long day. Early on we short-pitted and got some track position. We had some good fortune (with the second caution), but I gave all the spots right back.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 25th: “We just ran around 25th all day. We tried some different strategies, but none of them seemed to work, and we never got any track position. I feel like I learned a lot, and we had decent speed at the end. We had top-15 speed, but we just never had track position.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 40th: “It had to be the ignition. It was a wiring fire. I’ve had oil smoke and stuff like that before in the car blowing out but I’ve never had an electrical fire. Man it shook me out. I couldn’t breathe. I bailed out and the thing starts rolling, so I had to reach in and put it in gear. That’s a great start to the day.”

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.