What drivers said after Richmond race

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Here’s what several drivers had to say after Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway.

Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I’ll tell you, our cars were really running well.  (Crew chief Mike Wheeler) and the whole group just gave me a great car. Really got it tuned in there the last half of the race. Just good restarts, finally everything just kind of worked well for us all day. I didn’t think staying out was the right thing to do, but great call there.’’

Kyle Larson— Finished 2nd: “It felt like a video game on rookie mode, having fresh tires like that. That was fun. Our Target car was probably a eighth to tenth car most of the race. I was really good on short runs. I could pass a few cars every restart which really helped us. It seemed like we could never get the race going there at the end of the race, which helped us. Fun, fun last restart, get all the way to second. I thought I could get to fourth, but second was a little bit better, so that was great. I had a blast there during the last couple laps.’’

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We’ve got a lot of momentum.  We’ve got a lot of confidence.  We’ve just got a great team.  We’ve got everything going the way we need it to right now.  Tonight we overcame a few mistakes, one by me speeding on pit road, and we had a pit gun issue on one of our pit stops and lost a bunch of spots. We overcame all that, we kept our head in the game and worked hard and in the end had a shot at it again, so that was good.  But I can’t say enough about our whole team, everybody in Denver, everybody at TRD, everybody at Toyota and everybody at Gibbs, the alliance we have is working great. All the drivers working together. I know there’s five of us, we can’t all five make the race at Homestead, but we’re going to try to get at least four of them there, so we’ll see what we can do.’’

Brad Keselowski — Finished 4th: “I just missed a shift and ruined Matt (Kenseth’s) day. I can understand. I didn’t hear what he had to say. But I can understand why he’s upset. He deserves to be upset. I made a mistake, and it was kind of crappy for everyone. But hopefully he’ll accept the apology. I certainly don’t want to miss a shift for myself let alone him, and when I got into the corner, I just missed the corner.  I was trying to get it in gear and missed the corner and got him, and it looks like it must have cut his tire down, so apologies to him and his team. That’s not what anybody wants to see, including myself.’’

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “This was definitely a battle of a weekend. But these are the weekends that you have to be able to figure out as you get through the next 10 weeks, and as bad as we thought everything was to come out of here with a top‑five finish really shows the character of the team. Really the last month just makes me really excited, the performance of the cars, all top‑five finishes, and then tonight really having a good night on pit road with all the pit stops and to battle back from my mistake of speeding penalty on pit road, and everybody just kept working at it, and those are the kind of things that you have to do, because what you are getting ready to step into the next 10 weeks is a lot of pressure. You’re going to have to adapt to some sort of issues or problems as you get into these next 10 weeks and figure out how to make something out of it. We’ve been there and we’ve done that. We’ve won. We’ve finished second. We’ve won races. We’ve had our backs against the wall. We feel like we know what to expect, and that is to expect the unexpected.’’

Kasey Kahne — Finished 6th: “I wanted to win, but Denny was a good bit better than we were. We got up there because of the right pit call. We got on tires at the right time and got by those guys and then when they pitted they were too far behind us to get us back. It worked out. I think we would have run fourth at best. We ended up sixth with that final restart. It was a good effort by our Farmers Insurance team, just not good enough.’’

Jamie McMurray — Finished 7th: “I feel better about our chances this year versus last year. I felt like last year headed into the Chase we didn’t really have anything in our pocket as far as a little bit better cars. I did a Chicago test, different chassis, some different stuff on our car, and we thought that was not a huge improvement, but a bigger improvement than where we’ve been and I feel like right now we have cars that are capable of winning, so I look forward to getting there.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 8th: “Just lots of fun all night long with the way we got to lead a little bit. We were off sequence a little early on and then it seemed like how are we supposed to balance out how many sets of tires do we have left? What do the other guys have for tires? That is really what created the excitement of the guys passing, the guys trying to preserve their position. It felt great to race three-wide at a short track and everybody gave each other room. I was impressed with the show from inside the cockpit. I hope the fans were as well.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 9th: “I thought there was way too many yellows. It was kind of crazy the way the race played out and guys having to save tires there towards the end when we used up most of our allotments there early on. But it was interesting, too, because you had guys that were up front, guys who would go to the back and flip‑flop on tire strategy. I thought it was an interesting race for sure from our perspective, maybe too interesting on our front, but we made the most of it tonight and just didn’t get in the right lane there on that restart.’’

Joey Logano – Finished 10th: “It was a long night, just like everybody else. We had a good long run car and not a good short run car. It took us 10-15 laps to start clicking them off and then we were really fast but it was just too late. Those cautions were coming out like every 15 laps. Every time we got going a caution would come out. Overall we were a lot better than what we were in the spring, at least on the long run. The way the race played out with tires and short runs it just didn’t play in our favor.”

Jimmie Johnson – FINISHED 11th: “Tonight was a scrappy race. We had trouble early and it seemed like everybody in the field started having trouble. I think we had two run in’s with the wall, damage on the left side from some racing incidents and kept it straight and somehow finished 11th. It was a long night. I’m glad our guys kept our heads in the game and were able to almost get a top 10 out of it.”

Austin Dillon – FINISHED 13th: “I’m just proud of our effort, our team, everything we went through this year. We shouldn’t have been in this situation. We had good enough cars to not have to be in this situation, but, hey, we were in a tight situation down to the end. Especially, with the No. 5 (Kasey Kahne) up there near the end, but we were racing the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) all night, we did our job, we stayed in that buffer. I’m proud to be here. I’m just excited. The stress level is off of me. I’m not going to take stress into the Chase. I’m going to go have fun and try to win, look at it with no pressure situation.”

 Trevor Bayne – Finished 14th: “We tried. You have to go for it every way you can. The cool box went out on like Lap 20 so that was a long night of melting down inside the car. We had a fast race car but it didn’t play out strategy-wise like we needed it to. I am really proud of my guys and the car they brought this weekend. It was a car that if it was put in the right situation could have won the race. We had a really good long run car tonight but it didn’t matter tonight because there were so many short runs it just killed us.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 19th: “I just think we have to first off be thankful that we were able to get in tonight after the night we had. I can’t thank my guys for working as hard as they did. I’ve never had to go through ‑‑ I’m sure they haven’t, either, all the stuff we went through tonight, so hats off to them, fixing our car multiple times. I appreciate our 3M NAPA group for doing that and we’re excited about these next 10. We have to go in with the mentality that we can give ourselves a chance at Homestead, and if not then we should have let the next one in.’’

Chris Buescher — Finished 24th: “It’s obviously a big night for Front Row Motorsports and Bob Jenkins for a small team like we are to be able to pull it off and get that win at Pocono and find ourselves in the Chase right now. It’s pretty special. It was a crazy race. I can’t believe how many cautions we had. We got involved in one of the accidents, had a tire go down, just a very eventful day. Just so proud to be here. Everything worked out the way we needed it to to pull this night off the way we needed to. It’s hard going that slow. When we were finally making progress and getting the car balanced better. We were to the point where we felt like we could start driving forward, and they said, we don’t need to. There was just no risk at this point.’’

Ryan Newman — Finished 28th: “The No. 14 (Tony Stewart) cut across my nose into Turn 1 and I got into him after that, but he’d already chopped into me and messed up my line and I clipped him a little bit coming off of (Turn) 2; but he just cut across my nose. Going down the back straightaway there, I guess he thought he was in a sprint car again; did not know how to control his anger. We’ll keep fighting like we always do. It’s just unfortunate not to end the way we wanted to. It’s just disappointing that you’ve got somebody old like that, that should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous.”

TONY STEWART — Finished 33rd: “I want to say I’m wasting a spot because it worked last time (referring to feelings before 2011 Chase he won). Who knows what’s going to happen? What you do up to the start of the Chase really doesn’t mean anything, obviously — 2011 is proof of that. We’ll get started next week at Chicago, and all I care about right now is getting ready for Chicago and running through Sunday at Chicago. Once we get through that, I’ll worry about week 2. This is a stressful 10 weeks and you take it one week at a time.  That’s what we did in ’11, and it worked.’’

Matt Kenseth — Finished 38th: “It looks like Brad (Keselowski) missed a shift or something and then he just had his angle all wrong and drove into the corner three car lengths too far because he didn’t want to lose his spot and he cleaned me out and knocked the fender down on a tire and we ended up blowing a tire and wrecking.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 39th: “(On early accident) I don’t really know what happened to be honest with you. I thought I was clear. It looked like we were clear and could get down. (Trevor Bayne) got us in the left rear pretty good and it eventually cut our rear tire down. I don’t know. I have to see it but I thought I was clear and he didn’t think the same way. It is an unfortunate race deal. They were telling me we were clear. Apparently (Bayne)  just came up and got us in the rear. It was probably a stubborn headed thing by both of us. I should know better than that. It is unfortunate that we didn’t get to run to see where our car was going to go. That is the most unfortunate part about this. We didn’t even give ourselves a shot at it. That is something I will have regret about. All we can do is go on to Chicago and try to do better there.”

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.

 

 

Winners and losers from the Clash at the Coliseum

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the non-points race that opened the NASCAR season:

WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex limped through a frustrating 2022 season, going winless and contemplating writing “finish” to his driving career. But he decided late in the year to make another run, and that choice paid big dividends Sunday as he put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane.

Richard Childress Racing — RCR opened the season with power, putting Austin Dillon in second and newcomer Kyle Busch in third. The new teammates even enjoyed some late-race collaboration, Busch backing off a second-place battle to give Dillon a chance to make a run at eventual winner Truex.

Ryan Preece — Preece, given a shot in the offseason at a full-time ride in Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing, showed strength in his first outing, leading 43 laps before electrical issues dropped him to seventh.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace held the lead at the halfway point and totaled 40 laps in first but was drop-kicked by Austin Dillon late in the race and finished 22nd.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott — It was a lost weekend for the former Cup champion. Elliott was lapped during the race, failed to lead a lap and finished 21st.

Ty Gibbs — Suspension problems parked Gibbs after 81 laps, and he finished next-to-last a day after his car caught fire in practice.

Michael McDowell — McDowell was involved in several on-track incidents during the evening and finished 24th after running out of fuel, along with teammate Todd Gilliland.

Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.