What drivers said after Watkins Glens race

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Drivers had much to say after Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, won by Denny Hamlin.

DENNY HAMLIN – WINNER: “I was probably driving a little bit more conservative there after my last-lap shenanigans at Sonoma. I thought, ‘Look don’t overshoot the corner’ and it probably lent itself for them getting closer than they probably should’ve. Just can’t thank my Toyota teammates enough. They came here and tested and gave us a good baseline setup and allowed us to have a car that could win today.”

Joey Logano — FINISHED 2nd: “It’s just awesome, crazy racing, full contact.  Just insane out there.  So a lot of fun from the driver’s seat and I’m sure the fans loved it as well in front of a sold‑out grandstand.  It was pretty cool when I pulled over for the red flag in front of the grandstands and I could hear just fans screaming and yelling and loving it.  I thought, Man, this is really cool to be in the driver’s seat right now. Having those moments, I thought it was neat. Overall our car was really good today.  Driver shot himself in the foot a little bit with getting some damage in the Bus Stop when we were working our way back through the field.  Ripped the splitter up.  That was kind of the beginning of the end.’’

Brad Keselowski – FINISHED 3rd: “I thought we had a really good Miller Lite Ford Fusion and got pushed back on a couple of the restarts. I was trying to sort my way back to the front and just couldn’t quite get there at the end. I got right up to the bumper of (Martin Truex Jr.) and couldn’t do anything there and he made a move to get by (Denny Hamlin) on the inside and (Hamlin) blocked him. I went high and (Truex) went high and by then I was already deep in the corner and got into him and turned him. That was really unfortunate and the last thing I wanted to see. This track here, when you drive into the corner, you commit and sometimes you don’t know what will happen when you commit. The last thing I wanted to do was turn him.”

AJ Allmendinger – FINISHED 4th: “Our last corner there, racing with Kyle (Larson) I just… I can’t say sorry enough. It doesn’t help the case, I spun him out. I didn’t mean to spin him out. (Martin Truex Jr.) was spinning, and I was starting to get my nose under Kyle to try to drag race him to the checkered. He was turning to come back down, but it was my fault. It would be different if we were battling for the win, but I just hate it for him. It’s not going to help to say sorry, I know, I would be pissed off. He should be.”

Tony Stewart – FINISHED 5th: “Yeah, we got some breaks there at the end. But our Haas Automation Chevy was really good. It is so chaotic here. You get under 10 laps and get restarts; you know it’s going to be a crash-fest there. But we were able to survive and got through a couple of them and got a couple of spots there coming to the line. I’ll take a top five here in the last run.”

MARTIN TRUEX, JR. — FINISHED 7th: “Yeah, definitely unfortunate. I wish we could’ve seen what would’ve happened when we got to the start/finish line. I felt like I maybe had (Denny Hamlin) squared up a little bit off (turn) 11 and maybe could’ve drag raced him to the line. It’d have been fun to see, but it was all not to be with getting hit in the left rear. It’s unfortunate, but hard racing at the end, all of us going for a win and all of us locked in the Chase it’s – I guess he (Brad Keselowski) kind of races with that mentality that ‘Hey, it doesn’t really matter where we finish or if we finish,’ so just have to be mindful of that when we’re around him for the rest of the time.”

Jamie McMurray – FINISHED 8th: “We had a really good car. We qualified well and the first run I thought we had a fifth- to eighth-place car, pretty good. I got blocked in on my last pit stop and lost about 20 spots. We did fuel only and we were the 43rd stall. Somebody was coming in and I had to stop. We lost a lot of track position. Honestly, the last couple of laps I probably could have held off the No. 47 and No. 18, but you are kind of point’s racing right now.’’

Trevor Bayne – FINISHED 9th: “This is a good weekend. A fifth (in Saturday’s Xfinity race) and a ninth. That is a good road course weekend for me considering I am not a road course ace. The thought was to try to get better and I think we did that this weekend. We made progress and that is really good. We are excited. Hopefully we can keep getting better at these and contend for a win one day.”

Kurt Busch – FINISHED 11th: “We didn’t quite time the final pit stop to our advantage. We ended up behind and then too many restarts and yellow flags at the end. There is no way to get caught up.  I didn’t drive aggressive enough and the strategy didn’t play out, but the car was underneath us we just got put in a hole.”

Ryan Newman – FINISHED 16th: “Our team never gives up. I hate it that we got behind there when we spun out. I did everything I could and luckily, no one hit us. We stayed out and restarted 28th. We managed to dodge another close call with five laps to go. Our biggest challenge was that we battled tighter than expected track conditions with the new surface. Plus, all the pit strategies and cautions made for an interesting day for all of us. I’m just happy that we were able to battle back and get our team a respectable finish with all things considered.”

Michael McDowell – FINISHED 17th: “The team did a great job all weekend. We had a good qualifying effort with an 11th-place starting spot for the race. The race result was solid but not entirely what we wanted. We’ve progressed a lot in the past few weeks as a team and the results are starting to show.”

Paul Menard – FINISHED 22nd: “Today isn’t what we wanted, but I’m proud of my team for not giving up. We didn’t have an ideal starting position. We tried some things during qualifying that just didn’t work out, so we knew going into today that we had a battle ahead of us. (Crew chief) Danny Stockman and the guys worked hard to get a new setup ready for today. Handling didn’t feel right at the beginning of race, so during the first caution we made a few big changes that really helped. We decided to take a chance and went with a pit strategy that got us to the front. It was a lot of fun to be up there and play the strategy game. The brakes started to give me some trouble near the end, so guys were beating me in the braking zones. It’s something we will go back to the shop and work on.”

Kyle Larson – FINISHED 29th: “We were about a 10th-place car and we were going to get a top five day out of it. We were running sixth coming to (Turn) 7; (AJ Allmendinger) was behind me. He is always aggressive. I figured he would be smart. Obviously, (Martin Truex Jr.) was spinning in front of us. That is a free spot for both of us and just dumped me. He had already ran me down to the front stretch wall once with about 15 to go or so. Pretty dumb move right there too, but I was the smarter one racing for points, lifted, could have wrecked him, but didn’t. I don’t know.  He wrecked me earlier in the year at Vegas. He has ran me hard, but we always race pretty well, but today was flat out stupid.”

Chris Buescher – FINISHED 30th: “That is not how we expected that one to go. We got down to it at the end and were racing through the bus stop and came out of it and I am not sure who but a couple guys went through the dirt and caused a wall that we couldn’t see through. I came through the other side of it and (Kevin Harvick’s) car was sitting there backwards. I tried to get down to avoid it and hooked the splitter in the mud, tucked it under, and got stuck. I was trying to get it where I could drive back around but I had to get out and go through all that. These CSX guys, they worked really hard to get this fixed quickly and got back on track and took the green flag with everybody else there. I am proud of them for that. They did a good job and we were still running there at the end. In the grand scheme of things, from a points standpoint, it was a little bit of a gain but we definitely don’t want to do it like that anymore.”

Austin Dillon – FINISHED 31st: “This definitely wasn’t our day. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up with some damage on the Dow Chevrolet that required a trip to the garage in the middle of the race. When you’re in a tight Chase battle like we are, you have to do everything you can to get back out on track. This Richard Childress Racing team knows how to keep digging. With all the repairs, we only lost four laps. Every lap counts in this championship battle. All the cautions at the end of the race really helped. We made up all but one of our laps. We won’t give up. We’ll regroup over the off weekend and be ready for Bristol.”

KEVIN HARVICK — FINISHED 32nd: “Yeah, I started getting checked-up and I think (David Ragan) hit me from behind and we all just kind of piled in there. I was battling some brake issues and just trying to maintain the brakes, but they got me great track position and up in the front. And then, coming to the yellow that one time, I got into the Speedy Dry and the front tire locked-up and we had to pit. But, we had it where we needed to be. We just got back there and we got tore up.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — FINISHED 38th: “We were just hustling hard on that restart and got loose over the curb and just kind of spun. From that point we were just along for the ride. It looked like everybody scattered and it was probably pretty hard to see. We got hit pretty hard. The guys had a fast car. We had some issues yesterday in qualifying that put us toward the back and we were fighting all day to get back up there.”

Greg Biffle — FINISHED 39th: “It just looked like (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) started wrecking up in front of us. I started slowing up to avoid it. I remember the 24, a vivid memory of him going up and hitting and coming back across. I started slowing up because I wasn’t sure where (Stenhouse) was going. I thought he was coming back across so I started slowing up and got wrecked from behind. They were on both sides of me. They hit me from behind and both sides to send me spinning. It is tough. You can’t see up there.” 

Jimmie Johnson — FINISHED 40th: “Yeah, we had a rough first pit stop and then we were just kind of biding our time and trying to get on a fuel strategy that could benefit us. The cars started checking up in front of me and they all moved out of the way and (Ricky Stenhouse) was sitting there, stopped. I remember seeing a door number and I was so thankful it was the passenger-side door and not the driver-side door because I plowed him. I really hit the car hard. I was afraid that I might have injured him. But, thankfully he’s okay and everybody is all right.”

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.