What drivers said after Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

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Here’s what many of the drivers had to say after Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway:

Brad Keselowski – Winner: “It’s been a kick in the you-know-what (not having won before at Daytona). I got down on myself here. We came down here for the 500 (in February) and quite honestly we ran like dog crap, but my team worked on it. I didn’t give up on them. I believe in my team and my team believes in me and we went to work and we put together a better car, and it really showed today with a great effort from the whole team. I’m really proud of everybody.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 2nd: “It was a tough night but, man, you had to have a whole lot of help to get by that 2 (Brad Keselowski) car. He was just so strong today. Strong at Talladega too, we finished second to him there. There was just so much going on and there wasn’t enough of a run that I could get (in the final two laps) in order to get enough alongside of him or pin him down or pin him up – whichever way it might have been. He could make his car really, really wide and hold us off. … To race a backup car and finish second there is a true testament to this team and Joe Gibbs Racing and everyone back at the shop.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 3rd: “I owe the guys behind me that were pushing me. I had a lot of help. The race was really crazy today. Just watching some of the guys working the middle you knew there would be trouble at some point. It was a tough night. I am really proud of this Roush Fenway team. We had a pole this weekend, three cars in the top-10, two in the top-five.”

Joey Logano – Finished 4th: “It was hard fought for sure. Anytime you have an opportunity to win and you are in the top four or five or six on the last restart you know you have a shot at it. I was able to get Brad a good push to clear and get a Penske car to victory lane, which is really cool. … Overall a solid day for us. The 2 was the fastest car and he deserved to win the race. We need to find a little more speed in our race car.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 5th: “It was wild out there. The Roush Fenway guys worked really hard and Jack has put a lot of confidence in everyone to get our cars better each week. We have really improved on the speedways.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 6th: “I had a decent run. … I knew the last couple of laps were going to be hairy. So, me messing up on the backstretch probably ruined our shot at a win, but we still finished at Daytona, so that’s good.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 7th: “These are wild and crazy races. To come home seventh on all four this year is better than upside down (flew into the catchfence in last year’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona). We had a good day. I’ve got to thank the good Lord for taking care of us and we’ll keep working.”

Greg Biffle – Finished 8th: “It was a rough night after we got in that wreck. We got shuffled out of line and that will happen with speedway racing. … We got pretty severe damage and were able to come back and finish eighth. We had a pretty fast car and the 2 car was unbelievably fast. We have some work to do still but I am so proud of my guys.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “Yeah, a solid night.  You always want to do better and there were a couple times there where I would have, could have, should have. Its one of those deals where you know if you take action you know that the chances of crashing are far greater than not.  I just kind of was watching to see and what happened, happened. … Certainly needed a little bit more speed but 10th is always a good run for us.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 10th: “I was wishing I started on the outside lane (on the final restart). It was a still great night. When you restart top five, you want to be able to stay up there. I don’t know anything I could have done different other than when (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) was coming on the inside, try to block that. By the time I saw him coming, it would have been a mess if I would have tried to do it.”

Casey Mears — Finished 12th: “I’m disappointed because we ran so well. To be able to salvage a 12th place finish out of a night like this is pretty good, I guess. It was good to be competitive all night long and have fun and get to run up front and show people what we’re capable of. Hopefully this gives us a little something to build from going into the second half of the season. It’s indescribable how odd this year has been. We’ve had some of the best cars we’ve ever had and the team is the best it’s ever been and we’re just getting terrible results. It was nice to have a good night tonight.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 13th: “I kind of just rode around for the first 80 laps like we planned and I was fortunate.  We were just kind of in the right place when the wreck happened to not really have to feel like I was in any trouble. From there it was just trying to pick the right lane.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 14th: “It was a long night, that’s for sure. We had a really fast car, I’ll say that. All of the Fords were really fast. It’s cool to see Brad win it. That’s awesome. … Unfortunately we couldn’t get out with a finish we deserve. I thought we were a top five. But not bad.”

David Ragan – Finished 16th: “We really had a car that drove well. I think that we needed a little bit more speed to contend for the win but our car drove nice and on the long runs we were really good. We just needed to restart on the outside lane those last two restarts — starting fifth and seventh we were just kind of a sitting duck on the bottom. Unless you restart on the front row the bottom is not that good of a choice. … It was a fun race and I’m glad to be in one piece.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 21st: “I just rode around. I couldn’t get in there and get two and three-wide because the car needed a couple lanes to run well.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 23rd: “We positioned ourselves to be the car to get a good run off the bottom. It just didn’t work out with him (Joey Logano) trying to drive straight through us. And it would have worked out better if he would have pushed us. We could have had a shot at the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski). And with just the way that it turned out, I feel disappointed that I didn’t get the win for (Tony) Gibson (crew chief) and all these guy that work for our team. We did everything right tonight except cross the line where we were supposed to.”

Tony Stewart – Finished 26th: I got loose into one, hadn’t been loose all day, then I just over corrected for it and drove it into the fence, so it was definitely my fault. … I don’t know why I got loose, but I got loose.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished 28th: “I was just trying to make my way back toward the front a little bit there. We had a bad pit stop exchange and came out way, way behind everybody. Carl (Edwards) was up towards the front and we were running with him before the pit stop. I probably should have just hung in the back, in hindsight, but who knows when they’re going to wreck, you never know if they’re going to wreck. Just trying to get back towards the front and there was a wreck somewhere a few rows up in front of me and just nowhere really to go.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 29th: “We were right smack in the middle of this unnecessary accident (the 22-car ‘big one’) and took big-time hits from all different directions. Someone just made a questionable move out there and a lot of other people paid the price. We happened to be one of those teams. We did the best we could to fix the car, but it took a severe beating.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 32nd: “Once you see everybody start checking up you really can’t see much when you are in the pack like that. So you just kind of try to slow down and hope that there might be a way to get out. Unfortunately we were getting in the corner obviously everything is going to go straight at that point. I hate it. I had such a good car tonight. I felt like by far that was the best-ever plate car I have ever had at either Daytona or Talladega.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 34th: “I think somebody might have gotten into my left rear. I don’t know if that cut the tire down or what but after I felt that happen, I just didn’t have any control any more. It seemed like a tire maybe went down and it actually felt like I hit oil. I think the contact with the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) might have cut the tire because I just didn’t have any control of the car there. It is unfortunate but it is just part of plate racing. I rode back in the ambulance with all those guys and we just talked about it is part of plate racing.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 35th: “I was in the middle and something happened to the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) and he went to the right and then he chased it, was in a slide and came back down in front of me, hit the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) door-to-door, kind of light contact. I thought we were fine, but I eventually turned him sideways and the whole thing happened. I don’t know what happened to the No. 1 to change lanes as fast as he did from the outside, but we are all dealing with a matter of inches and once that started, it just collected everybody.”

Paul Menard – Finished 36th: “I saw the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) get squirrely over a couple hundred yards down the tri-oval. I don’t know if Jamie had a problem; he thought maybe he might have had a tire problem. He wasn’t sure. Typical plate racing.”

Brian Scott – Finished 37th: “I didn’t see a lot. I was on the outside and our lane seemed to get a good run entering turn 1 and I saw guys check-up and hands out the windows so I started checking up. Then the check-up kept going and it became an accordion effect. We were in the wall and jacked up and I guess the 4 came up under me and drove underneath my car and then I was up in the air. It was a pinball effect. It is an unfortunate end.”

Regan Smith – Finished 38th: “It’s just that everybody has to be so aggressive up front on their blocking that its not up front where it’s a problem, it trickles back into the field and that is where you get into a situation. The blocking is getting a little crazier than it has been, and it may be just this package, but you have to do what you have to do to stay up there. Nobody is to blame, just somebody eventually messes up and a lot of cars crash.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 39th: “We started in the middle of the pack and dropped to the back and as we pitted there and we knew we wanted to work our way back to the front. We stayed connected to that front pack and then we had a little bit of a handling problem that we had to address during the next pit stop. Those guys got tangled up there in front and we were in the middle of it. We had one car on our roof and everybody else just kept piling in. I don’t know who that was. It was just one of those things that just doesn’t take much for it all to go south here at these superspeedways. It is what it is.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 40th: “It all happened in front of us. I tried to get on the brakes and just slid right in to it. There was nowhere to go. I tried to go up the middle. There seemed to be fewer cars there at the time but by the time we got there the hole filled up and we ended up in it. It was a really tough 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.