What drivers said after Sprint Cup’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix

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Joey Logano won the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, clinching a spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here is what most of the 40 drivers had to say about their day in the 324-lap race.

Joey Logano – Winner: “This feels so good. I’ve never felt this good about a win before. There was so much on the line and everyone brings their A-game when it comes to winning championships and this team did it. Man, this feels so good. I had a good restart there at the end and holding off Kyle (Busch) to try to get this thing into Miami. We’re racing for a championship now. We did exactly what we had to do. We’ve got to go to Homestead and do the same thing. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Roush Yates Engines bringing the heat again … I’m speechless right now. I feel like I just won the Daytona 500 again.”

Kyle Busch – Finished second: “It’s really unfortunate and devastating to have the race come down like that. I got a little bit better restart than (Alex Bowman) did and I felt like I had a run on him and had enough that I got to the inside and if he chopped me he was going to get wrecked and that’s what happened, but it carried on into (Matt Kenseth) and essentially I guess I wrecked a teammate.

“It’s so frustrating and aggravating and I feel horrible about it. It’s a shame to see it come down like that. I was really hoping I could get a good restart and force (Bowman) off the bottom and have him kind of block (Joey Logano) and I could have a position in between me and (Logano) and myself and both (Kenseth) and myself would transfer on into the final round. That’s how I was projecting the restart going, it certainly didn’t end that way. I felt really bad for (Kenseth) and all those guys. That was a really ugly race for us.”

Kyle Larson – Finished third: “I made a big mistake on the first lap and got loose into Turn 3 and got up into (Joey Logano). It obviously didn’t affect his race. Then we were coming in for a green-flag stop and all kind of had our hands full getting to the commitment line. I think (Ryan Newman) must have wheel-hopped behind me and had a lot of speed. He tagged me in the rear bumper and spun me around. So we went a lap down but we got the Lucky Dog pass-around later and fought hard the rest of the way.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished fourth: “We just started way too far off on Friday. We never got a handle on the racecar. They made it a ton better in the race and we were in contention there at the end and just came up short. Just really proud of everybody for the effort that they put in. It was a very challenging Chase for us for all the mechanical failures and situations that we had going on. We kept rebounding and winning races and today we were a lap down and came back to have a chance at the end. That says a lot about the character of our race team and we just came up short this year.”

Kurt Busch – Finished fifth: “We got up to the front as high as third and sniffed the front to try to win because we had to win to advance. We didn’t get the job done. The long run speed is where our Achilles Heel was these last few Chase races. It’s a little disappointing, maybe we can pinpoint that as our exact problem and figure out how to fix that, but really proud of (crew chief) Tony Gibson and everybody that worked on these cars all year-long from Stewart-Haas Racing. Thanks to Haas Automation, Monster Energy, Chevrolet, we finished fifth today, we battled hard we just didn’t have enough. You’ve got to have it all if you want to be in that championship four.”

Alex Bowman – Finished sixth: “We had a great car. We took four there and restarted on the bottom twice. Our car didn’t really take off on restarts all day long very well, so had to make our way back up through there, and we got to second at the end and had that caution come out, and didn’t get a terrible restart, and (Kyle Busch) turned me sideways getting into the corner … I almost feel like (Matt Kenseth) thought he was clear because I was against the ‑‑ I wasn’t at the best angle but I was also against the inside wall when we made contact. I guess he said something on the radio that he thought he was clear. I hate it for Matt. You take somebody out like that. I would have raced the hell out of him for the win, but definitely don’t want to do that.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished seventh: “We took two tires and I knocked my right front trying to avoid the 20 (Matt Kenseth) and really hurt the good rubber that I did have on my tires. That hampered us a little bit and we climbed back. We just needed those guys to tussle up front a little bit more, but proud of my whole FedEx team this whole year. Our Camrys have been fast and giving us a chance to win each and every week and we’ll go to Homestead and try to win that one and get our fourth win of the year.”

Paul Menard – Finished 10th: “I’m proud of my team and the never-give-up attitude they showed today. This was the first uneventful race we’ve had in awhile. We made a lot of adjustments and tried a few different things on our Rust-Oleum RockSolid Chevy throughout Friday and Saturday. I think those changes translated well to today’s race. We only had to make a few adjustments to get the handling where it needed to be. It was a good day.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 12th: “This day is on me. We had a much better Cat Minestar Chevrolet compared to where we finished. That first deal, I did not anticipate the amount of rear brake we had and I spun entering pit road. I hit the commitment cone and it cost us a lap. It seemed like every time we were in a position to get our lap back, we’d come up short. Then I spun with Martin Truex Jr. and it just compounded everything. Fortunately, we raced back on the lead lap and up to ninth but the final restart did not go our way and we ended up 12th. I told (crew chief) Luke (Lambert) and the Caterpillar team that they did a great job improving our car from yesterday. I’m just sorry we did not get the result based on the quality of car we had.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 19th: “Our race day wasn’t that great. Yeah, we just struggled for a little bit of speed all weekend, and then we got some track position. I thought we were going to be good. I thought we were going to come out of here with a top five, and at the end we were on old tires and I think somebody might have bumped me. I didn’t feel the impact but I almost wrecked into (Turn) 3 and I thought I had a flat tire so I went too easy into the next corner and they all drove by me. I think we could have squeaked out a top five, but definitely not a great day, but definitely excited to go down to Homestead and race for that championship.

Matt Kenseth – Finished 21st: “(Alex Bowman) was laying way, way back for that restart, more than a car would so I got going early on purpose and I looked at him at the start-finish line and I thought we were doing okay and I looked back and it looked like he had a little run on me, maybe not and shortly thereafter (spotter) Chris (Osborne) cleared me so with the glare I started looking to the corner to approach the corner and I got turned out of the way. He hollered ‘inside’ at the same time I got turned towards the fence so I really don’t know what happened. I was just going off the information I had to try to get the best corner I could and lead more laps.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 23rd: “We really struggled all weekend. We made our car better throughout the race but after we lost two laps from pit strategy, the cards never fell our way to let us get back on the lead lap. I’m looking forward to going to Homestead and ending the season on a high note.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 38th: “The thing there was just kind of a minor wreck in front of us and got into the back of (Greg Biffle) and it knocked the fitting off the oil cooler and we started leaking some oil. I think before that was the penalty I received for pulling up to pit, which was mind-blowing. In the 15 years I’ve been here that has never been officiated that way. The leader has always had the ability to pull up and maintain whatever gap they had to the cars behind them. They have never penalized the leader and make the leader stay alongside the pace car. On the majority of the tracks we compete at you just naturally progress in front of the pace car. So now to all of a sudden officiate this is mind-blowing to me. As long as they continue to do it from here on forward I will bite my lip and won’t say another word, but it just seems a little odd to be quite honest with you.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 39th: “This is a difficult one to stomach. We had another fast American Ethanol Chevrolet today but, unfortunately, we had a part failure that shut the engine off. Everything seemed fine but when we restarted the race following a caution flag, the car just locked up and shut off. We ended up in the garage making several changes and were able to fix the problem and return to the race. It’s a bummer to run in the top five and then finish 23 laps down. We only have one race left this season. I’m looking forward to Homestead-Miami Speedway and having the chance to finish the year off strong.”

Tire issues end race for Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott, who entered Sunday’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway leading the points, crashed and finished 32nd.

A right rear tire issue caused Elliott to lose control while leading on Lap 184 of the 334-lap race. 

He was the second playoff driver to be eliminated after tire issues. Christopher Bell finished 34th after having two right rear tires go down. After his second tire went down, Bell hit the wall. Cole Custer and Alex Bowman also had incidents after tire issues. 

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault. Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Elliott did not score stage points in the first stage and was eliminated before the end of the second stage, leaving him with no stage points.

“It’s not a great position to be in for sure, but it is what it is now,” Elliott said. “I hate it for our No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet team. We were actually decent here for once, so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega (Superspeedway) try to get a win and go on down the road.”

Bell also scored no stage points. Bell entered the race in a three-way tie for the final three transfer spots to the next round. 

“To have two right rears go in the first half of the race is very strange,” Bell said. “I don’t know. It’s a very disappointing day. We are probably going to be in a deep hole now.”

The second round continues next Sunday at Talladega and concludes Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Roval.

 

RFK Racing reaps benefits of hard work with Bristol win, Texas pole

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When Brad Keselowski arrived at RFK Racing after last season, among the early changes he made included repainting the walls and restructuring the team’s shop.

They were meant to infuse an organization that hadn’t won a Cup points race since 2017 with a new look and feel. And help create a new mindset for the 165 employees.

“The first thing (Keselowski) started changing was colors,” Justin Edgell, tire carrier on Chris Buescher’s team, told NBC Sports. “Everything is satin black. My man is a satin black-type guy. I’m talking about trash cars. I’m talking about equipment. I like it. You know, look good, play good.”

RFK Racing has looked great the last week. Buescher gave the organization its first points win of the season, taking the checkered flag in the Bristol night race. Keselowski followed by winning the pole for today’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). Buescher starts today’s race 13th. 

MORE: Details for today’s Cup race at Texas 

It has taken much for the organization to experience a week like this. The season didn’t start well. Both Keselowski and Buescher failed to make the feature in the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in early February. 

Less than two weeks later, they each won their qualifying race at Daytona. 

RFK Racing wouldn’t be back to Victory Lane until Bristol. In between were disappointments, close calls and plenty of work.

“We’re in a spot where with our company, we’ve made a lot of changes over the last six to 12 months,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after the team’s celebration on Monday. “And there’s a maturation cycle to those. 

“Nobody likes that maturation cycle. There’s still things that we’ve invested that haven’t matured. So there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, but we have a long ways to go.”

Having patience in such a fast-moving sport isn’t easy but it is needed.

“I wish we would have matured earlier,” Keselowski said,” but I ain’t going to look at gift horse in the mouth and scream at him. I will take it and we’re going to build off it. Right now we have two teams that are like 10th-place teams. Our last few weeks have shown that’s where we’re at in speed, that’s where we’re at in finishes. If we ran a whole season like that … we’d be a playoff team.”

When Keselowski spoke to the employees at Monday’s celebration, he told them to enjoy the moment. He also had another message for them.

“Winning at this level is really hard and it’s supposed to be hard,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fight to get there this year. Certainly some good moments and some really tough moments. I’m really proud of all of us and the work that went in.”

Another key to the organization’s success finding common ground between those who had been at Roush before Keselowski’s arrival and the new hires and their ideas.

After working through those issues, which included how the cars were prepared, Graves saw progress.

“You step back and embrace it and look at it and it’s like, ‘OK, this makes sense,’” Graves said. “You can start to develop and build on some ideas that make progress.”

The results started to show. Buescher finished second at Sonoma in June. He was sixth at Road America in July. He placed third at Richmond ninth at Watkins Glen in back-to-back weekends in August. 

“It’s been really nice to go to these race tracks and be in the hunt, be up there at the front,” Buescher told the employees at Monday’s celebration. “We’re learning every week. We’ve made huge progress really through the whole year.”

Buescher and Keselowski combined to lead 278 of the 500 laps at Bristol. Buescher found himself toward the front late in the race. Graves made a two-tire call on the last stop. Buescher went from entering the pits fourth to exiting first when no one else made such a move. Buescher led the final 61 laps to win. 

Then he got to do something he hadn’t in years. 

A burnout.

“I’ve only been able to do like three in my career,” he told NBC Sports, noting he didn’t do burnouts in ARCA because he often needed those tires for another event. “Xfinity wins, we were able do do some burnouts. 

“After the Pocono Cup win, it was rained out so we just had to push it to victory way, so it’s been a really long time since I’ve done any legal burnouts in a race car. So that part was nice. 

“It was nice to actually be able celebrate on the frontstretch with the team the real way, in the moment, not hanging around for that that rainout. That’s what made it that much better in my eyes.”

Keselowski looks to join Buescher in winning a points race this year. In a season with 19 different winners, Keselowski admits it’s challenging to be among those who have yet to win.

“Now we are in a spot where we are ready to play some offense,” he said. “It is a good feeling. It comes with a pragmatic view and a lot of humility of being able to walk away from some races where you were legitimately 20th or 25th and go to work the next morning and say, ‘Alright, we aren’t going to burn the house down. We are going to repaint the living room and then we are going to go to the next room and work on it piece by piece.’

“The easy thing to do is to lose control over yourself. That is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to work through it and be methodical in that approach.”

It’s an approach that has led RFK Racing back to Victory Lane.

Dr. Diandra: Surprises in playoff performance

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The first round of playoff performances defied expectations in both good and bad ways.

That is my excuse for why my very first attempt at making predictions was an abject failure. I projected Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon would be the first four drivers out of the playoff. Only Dillon failed to move on to the round of 12.

Of course, my algorithm did not account for Kyle Busch having two engine failures in three races. Especially after his not having had a single engine failure in the previous 92 races.

Nor did the algorithm predict Kevin Harvick’s Darlington race being ended by fire.

Or that none of the 16 playoff drivers would win even one of the first three playoff races.

On the positive side, playoff drivers took 11 out of 15 possible top-fives (73%), and 21 of 30 top-10s (70%.) That’s consistent with a season boasting 19 different winners.

Chase Elliott is the only driver to win more than two races this season. Drivers made the playoffs by finishing well rather than winning of lot of races.

Playoff performance by the numbers

In the table at right, I list drivers in order of points after Bristol — but before re-seeding. Red numbers indicate DNFs.A table showing drivers' finishing positions for the first three playoff races

DNFs played a major role in the first round. Each of the four eliminated drivers had at least one DNF. Harvick and Busch had two each. Both of Busch’s DNFs and one of Harvick’s were due to equipment failure.

Only three drivers earned top-10 finishes in all three playoff races: Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Byron. Two of my predicted eliminations over-performed. And the one driver I expected to dominate the playoffs didn’t.

Relative to the regular season

Excluding equipment failures and crashes, one expects most drivers to perform, on average, at about the same level they ran during the regular season. That mostly didn’t happen.

In the first two elimination rounds, top 10s are enough to stay in the game. So that’s the metric I’ll focus on here.

The graph below compares drivers’ top-10 finish percentage in the first three playoff races to the same metric from the regular season.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to

Each arrow starts at the driver’s regular-season average and travels to his playoff average. Blue indicates playoff performance better than the regular season and red indicates the opposite.

Six drivers performed better than their regular-season averages would suggest.

Byron entered the playoffs seeded 10th with only five top-10 finishes in the regular season. With three top-10s in the first round of the playoffs, he earned the second-most points of any driver in the round of 16.

Hamlin had the second-largest improvement with two second-place finishes and a ninth. That continues his season-long trend of trying to overcome a slow start.

Bell’s 53.8% top-10 rate for the regular season doesn’t give him much room to improve. But he did. He’s also the only driver with three top-five playoff finishes.

Bowman, whose crew chief, Greg Ives, will retire at the end of this season, increased from 38.5% to 66.6% top-10 finishes.

“I think we are super motivated,” Bowman said, “because its Greg’s last 10 races with me and we want to end on a high note. We know the summer doesn’t matter anymore, our troubles, and it’s a good reset for us going into the playoffs.”

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was Elliott. He has the most top-10 finishes of any driver with 18. But only one came from the first playoff round.

Momentum

Driver finishes rise and fall throughout a season. The ups and downs are even larger this year because of the new Next Gen car. For that reason, it’s worth comparing playoff performance not only to the entire regular-season average, but also to just the last five regular-season races.

The arrows on the next plot start at the top-10 rate for each driver’s last five regular-season races and travel to their playoff rate.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to the last five races of the regular season

Seven drivers improved relative to their last five regular-season races — the six from before, plus Daniel Suárez. Suárez rose from 20% to 33.3%. That’s typical of a season that has been fairly consistent, but not at a level that will take him to the final four.

Byron’s turnaround is even more impressive in view of his having zero top-10 finishes in the last five races of the regular season.

“I think we had a lot of really good tracks in the beginning of the year,” Byron said. “As we started to chase some speed and chase some things, we got off a little bit throughout the summer.”

He believes the team has returned to where it needs to be.

“We know what works; we know what doesn’t work,” Byron said. “We definitely know what doesn’t work after the last month or so, so that’s a good thing.”

Joey Logano has the largest downward trend relative to the last five races, going from a 80.0% top-10 rate to 33.3%.

This graph shows Elliott’s playoff decline to be a trend continuing from the end of the regular season. That might be good news for the other drivers struggling to catch up with him.

Scoring and re-seeding

The table below summarizes points and playoff points earned during the three playoff races and each drivers’ final score before re-seeding. The lineup looks quite different than it did going into this round of three races.

A table showing how many points each playoff driver earned in the first round But that’s before re-seeding.

I hadn’t appreciated playoff points until I did the math. Each driver moving on to the round of 12 gets 3000 points, plus their total playoff points.

Because none of these drivers won a race, only five of the 21 playoff points available in the last three races impact the new standings. Bell won two stages; Byron, Bowman and Busch one each.

So we’re mostly back to where we were leaving Daytona.

A table showing the re-seeded rankings entering the second round of playoff racesRyan Blaney fell a spot. Byron’s dramatic turnaround didn’t impact his playoff standing. Most of Bowman’s move up the charts is due to eliminating the drivers originally ranked seventh, ninth and 11th.

The current standings reflect NASCAR’s eternal struggle between winning and consistency. On the one hand, I understand the desire to mimic other sports’ playoffs and not let the results of the last round impact the next. But carrying over regular-season playoff points means that Elliott returns to P1 despite having earned fewer points in the three playoff races than seven of the 16 drivers.

That’s why Bell, who earned almost twice as many points as Elliott and won two stages, ties for sixth place with Hamlin and Blaney. Elliott goes from 40 points behind Bell to 27 points ahead of him.

If Bell or any of the other remaining drivers wants to challenge Elliott, even top-five finishes won’t be enough.

In these playoffs, performance isn’t enough. You have to win.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).