What drivers said after the Pure Michigan 400

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Here’s what drivers and a crew chief said after Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Kyle Larson — WINNER: “I was teared up that whole last few laps because I could just feel it. It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We love you guys. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool. We had a lot of work to do for that first third of the race, and got it done. (On final restart) “We both spun our tires really bad. And (Brad Keselowski) pushed me really good. He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by. But he stayed with me and got me the lead. So, thanks to him. I had a lot of fun.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Bummer again here. I hate to let my guys down is the biggest thing. For the second time, this has happened. I made a mistake early on in the race. I asked my guys to bail me out, and they did. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my part again.That’s a couple races in a row in just a few short months here at this place we had a really good car, had an opportunity. That’s one thing I try really hard to do is make the most of opportunities when they’re presented. Obviously I didn’t do a very good job of that here both trips. Need to do my restarts a little better. That’s obviously not a strong point, at least here at Michigan. Think about that some, and I guess take the positives. We were strong I felt like as a company today, which was encouraging. Look at that, try to get to Darlington.’’

BRAD KESELOWSKI — Finished 3rd: “It was a typical crazy restart at Michigan here at the end. It is about getting a good launch and push. It looked like Kyle (Larson) got a good launch and maybe something happened to (Chase Elliott). I was able to give him a push, a really hard push, and got sideways there and was able to get the lead. (Larson) just drove away.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 4th: “We were up towards the front most of the day, and some runs were better than others. It is kind of a decent day for us. It is nothing to complain about. I thought we were in a decent spot there that last restart, and it didn’t work out great. Congrats to (Kyle) Larson. That is cool to see a rookie winning. These are the days we need. These are the days this team deserves. We always want to win in Ford’s backyard, but we will go on to Darlington and try to get it done there.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “We just lost the handle there on the last couple of runs. For whatever reason we got really loose in and then after that on the restart we were tight on two tires. Everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Busch Beer Chevrolet did a good job we just didn’t quite have what we need to to win the race today.”

Jimmie Johnson �� Finished 6th: “Just a very good day for all of Hendrick Motorsports. Unfortunately, one of our cars didn’t win today.  We had an issue with some fueling on pit road that dropped us back.  Then I thought I had a right-rear tire going down. To rally back and end up sixth is good. We are working hard, and it’s nice to see the speed showing. There has been a lot of hard work for months and months and months going into this. We didn’t see the consistency in speed that we wanted, but this weekend we’ve had it from day one until now.  It’s going in the right direction.”

Carl Edwards — Finished 7th: “We really struggled badly most of the day. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) did a great job there at the end. Just a little disappointed, I thought we would have been a lot better than that. We’ll just have to regroup, figure it out and talk to our teammates. We’ll figure it out.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 8th: “Well I thought we were going to be better than that in practice. I thought that (Kyle Larson) and our cars were really comparable. An awesome job by him to get his first win here. I had a really good restart at the end and probably finished better than we should have and finished ahead of the guys that we needed to.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 9th: “We just struggled with speed – really a lot of little things. The car was tight then it was loose but really just lacked the speed that the leaders had for the most part. Struggled on restarts a little bit, too, on the bottom lane. Overall, we had about a fifth-place car, and we ended up in the top 10, so not too bad.”

Joey Logano — Finished 10th: “We kind of ended on a down note there. I don’t know. We lost our track position early in the race, which hurt us and then we got our car balance fixed, but it is so hard to pass. To get back up there was challenging. We came back down pit road there at the end to take four (tires) and somehow I guess (Kevin Harvick) car hooked our air gun and send the rear air gun flying, and we lost time in the pits. We were the last car on the lead lap on that last run and got back to 10th so I am proud of the effort this weekend. The pole was nice. We just weren’t as competitive as we were in the spring race. Our car drove the same, everyone just got better.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 12th: “We gave it a battle. We were just lucky with where the yellows fell to maintain our position. Overall, we just couldn’t attack because we were way too loose today. Unfortunate. Everything fell our way at the end to get a nice 12th-place finish, but we’ve got some things we need to iron out, and other things that we need to focus on for the Chase.  We’ve got a couple of weeks here, and we will be at our best come Chase time.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 15th: “That is the best we have been here for sure. We made a lot of gains, and our long run car was really good. Just never could get going on restarts. I couldn’t figure out where I needed to run. That last caution hurt us a lot. Just didn’t get a good restart. I didn’t get to the outside quick enough, and then we were just too loose there. I still should have gotten to the top earlier. I was trying to see what was going to happen, and I didn’t get to the outside quick enough. Just wish I would have got more there. I thought we deserved better than a 15th, but we haven’t been close to being 15th here in three years. It’s definitely a lot of gains there. Overall happy, but just in the short term, disappointed with the finish.” 

Austin Dillon – Finished 16th: “During the race, the car just wasn’t very good on takeoff but we excelled on long runs. We posted some of the fastest lap times of the race at the end of runs. I wish we had a little bit more today but overall, we’re still looking good in the point standings and even stayed out to lead a lap today. Our goal remains the same–to win a race and make it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Hopefully, we can do that at Darlington Raceway next weekend.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 17th: “Luke Lambert and the Freightliner team definitely improved our Chevy over the course of today’s race.  They worked hard all race long to adjust to the slick conditions that were out there. We raced in the top-16 for the first half of the race but then made big gains to climb into the top-10 and to be honest, that’s really what I was expecting for our finish. On the final restart, we lined up 11th in the low line and it really hurt us. The line stalled and it resulted in a sub-par finishing position. We were a much better car than 17th. I’m looking forward to Darlington Raceway next week. It’s my favorite track so I hope it’s where we can clinch a Chase spot.”

Paul Menard – Finished 18th: “We struggled early on during a run, but this Chevy got significantly better on the longer green flag stints. On that last restart we were just too tight, and fell back a few positions crossing the line in 18th-place. We definitely deserved a top-10 today.  I’m looking forward to Darlington this upcoming weekend, and honoring Al Unser, Jr. with our Valvoline / Menards throwback scheme.”

CREW CHIEF ADAM STEVENS (Kyle Busch) — Finished 19th: “The finishing order makes it look that way, but we actually had a pretty fast car. We ran some really fast laps, but we just got in a bad spot there on the restart and got sucked around and wore off part of our splitter, but even after that, we were one of the probably five or six quickest cars on the racetrack, and just whenever we got in the lucky dog spot, we ran there for I can’t tell you how many laps and just didn’t get a caution. The leaders started lapping cars again, and we just couldn’t catch that caution to get back on the lead lap and really show what we had.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 20th: “We were never the same after that pit stop (where the left rear wasn’t on when the jack was dropped). We made a number of unscheduled stops to try to fix the problem, but the damage was just too severe to overcome.”

Tony Stewart — Finished 21st: “Everyone fought hard today.”

DANICA PATRICK — Finished 23rd: “We were hoping to have a little different outcome today, but it was extremely difficult to gain positions with the long, green runs. I have to thank (crew chief) Billy (Scott) and the guys for their hard work today. It sounds like everyone was having similar issues, and they kept telling me to remain consistent and make the moves for position when I could. I felt like I was racing the same guys all day for the same spots. I might have had a better car timewise, but it was just really difficult to get past some of those guys. We’ll keep working at it and see if we can improve next weekend in Darlington.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 24th: “We’ll rebound from this. We just needed some help through the center of the corner all race long and those long runs really affected us trying to make up track position.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 35th: “I know it isn’t fun opening a hood of a race car that is as hot at it is and trying to work on it. Kudos to my guys for keeping their heads down and working at it and getting it fixed. Usually when you have engine trouble you are along for the ride. It ended up being something a little bit more simple than I guess we originally figured. We got back up and running and made some laps and made a really terrible day into just an OK day. Now we get to go to Darlington, and I am excited for that. I was excited for here. Even with the troubles we had the balance was really good so it is a shame we didn’t really get to participate today.”

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.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”