What drivers said after Atlanta Cup race

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Here are the comments from drivers after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I wouldn’t say a lot of things fell our way.  I don’t know if I would call it that way.  But I would say we’ve had races where we’ve led a bunch of laps and things fall apart at the end.  That’s just part of how this sport works.  You take advantage of the opportunities when they come, and we certainly call it an opportunity, but I don’t know if I would call it a break.  I didn’t really think much about Kevin or his scenario because at that time I still had multiple cars I had to pass, and I was just worried about doing the best I could to make the most of our day.’’

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “I can make the high line work at most tracks.  Here at Atlanta, I don’t do a good enough job up top.  That’s why I try to commit myself to the bottom throughout the race.  There when I restarted the leader after our Christmas present we got there, and Brad lined up behind me, I knew he was going to be the one to beat. I’d spent a lot of time around him throughout the race, especially on the short runs he was better than I was, and he would always pass me in 1 and 2. I knew I was going to have to try and take his line away.  I tried a few times, and he finally kind of guessed where I was going right one lap and got to my inside.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 6th: “We had some loose wheel issues and once the first one got loose it messes up the threads and then that is the end of that. We just kept battling and had a pit road speeding penalty, a loose wheel again and another loose wheel. Man, we were two down and before you know it we were back on the lead lap and had a shot there at the end, 13th to 6th the last 10 laps or so. Man, as fast as that thing was at the end, I wish we were toward the front.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 3rd: “It was an uphill battle all day. For some reason, our speed was off on pit road and we got two penalties there that put us behind and just the cautions fell and everything and it took all day to get our laps and get back in position, so everything kind of went our way at the end, except for that outside restart hurt us, but we had a good car and glad we got a decent result.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 4th: “It’s hard to do when you are one of the best teams and drivers and running up front all the time and you get back there, it’s tough to dig out of. For us, the last year or two it’s been really hard and today we did it, so that was really nice to see and nice to be part of and we will just keep building from there. It feels really good to dig out of where we started. It wasn’t good at the start.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 5th: “I really didn’t feel like Kevin’s (Harvick) car was any better than ours. I think he just did a little better job of driving and using the bottom of the race track and keeping his tires on his car and still going fast all at the same time. I think we made a big start in the right direction for me being able to keep up with him moving forward. At this place, he’s obviously really good. But the biggest thing is just seeing him have a struggle there at the end and us running second to him all day all the way up to the very end is pretty frustrating.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 7th: “It seemed like the stages really caught other teams off guard. We did a middle of the road approach. I liked it because we didn’t quite have the speed in the car to attack for those points but didn’t want to sacrifice tires and be caught at the end with fresh tires. We managed the stages, were just missing the handle.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 8th: “We needed longer runs. Once we got them, we were really good. Then we had a speeding penalty that got us back and at the same time the clutch went out and then we were just – kept losing spots on pit road because I’d have to shut out off to stop to pit and then we push started every time and we’d lose a bunch of spots, so really proud of the effort of my guys – everybody all weekend.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 9th: “I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself and then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach. That part is hard for me to swallow. The good part about it is our Ford has been really fast. We didn’t know what we were going to have when we got here and we had a great weekend the whole time. Man, I just, one way or another I have figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant. We will pick ‘em up and start again next week.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 10th: “The alternator went out really early in the race. We just kept having to change batteries, but we were fortunate there weren’t a lot of cars on the lead lap, so I only had to restart like 12th or 14th and our car was really good on restarts, so you could get a few. Both cars ran really good.  I look forward to Las Vegas and Fontana and all the 1.5-miles coming up.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 12th: “We had some good speed right off of the truck with our Liberty National Ford and were able to make good adjustments throughout the day today that kept us in the game. I can’t thank these guys enough on this team for their hard work. Today was a good step in the right direction and we’re ready to build off of this next week in Vegas.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 13th: “We weren’t really good for the first couple of laps of a run, but we could gain some of it back later in the run. I’m disappointed because I think we should have had a top-10 finish. It was a strong testament of our Fords with Trevor (Bayne) finishing 12th so I’m looking forward to Vegas.”

Erik Jones — Finished 14th: “I thought we had a seventh- to ninth-place car probably most of the day – ran around there, maybe a little bit farther back. Just last restart we came in, put tires on and just got super tight. Not sure why. Didn’t really know. Can’t really figure it out, so it’s going to be tough to figure out why, but it’s unfortunate. I wish we could have went up there and finished I feel like where we deserved, where our car was capable of. Just didn’t work out.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 15th: “We got in a little bit of a hole early and got ourselves a couple of laps down, but (crew chief Bootie Barker) made some good calls there at the end to do the wave around. Our car was strong, so a strong car kind of overcame some mistakes from us early.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 19th: “Tough day with two speeding penalties. We will have to look at our math and figure out what was going on there. The first one, I’m sure I could have gotten popped. The second one I made sure I didn’t get popped again and I still got in trouble. So, we might have had something off on our end. But, at the end I thought we were going to finish on the lead lap and there was some confusion on why the caution came out, who it came out for and if we were eligible for the ‘lucky dog’ scenario. The way it unfolded certainly didn’t work in our favor.”

Landon Cassill — Finished 22nd: “It was okay. I thought the car was alright, a little better than I thought based on Saturday. The caution at the end kind of killed us but I am pretty happy with the day overall.”

David Ragan — Finished 23rd: “I am really proud of the team. We made great adjustments to start the race. We weren’t expecting it to cool off and finish under the lights and I think I got a few adjustments behind. The first half of the race we were a top-20 car and just got off a little bit. That is a great race for our first downforce track back in the 34. We will learn some because the track changed a lot. I feel like our car was pretty good throughout the day but not as good as I needed it to be at the end.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 24th: “We fought a tight race car all race, and our steering was off a little bit throughout the run. Tire wear is so important here and luckily that wasn’t a huge factor for us, and crew chief, Trent Owens made a good call to keep us out during scheduled flag stops and we got the caution that gave us back a lap.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. – Finished 30th: “Well we got caught speeding on pit road as I guess a lot of people did. So, we got to look at that and see what we have wrong. I was on my lights perfectly, but seems like a lot of guys got popped in the same segment.  And then we had a flat right-rear tire and then we had a gun go bad and we had loose wheels all day long. And then when we tried to get the wave around the cautions didn’t quite fall in our favor to be able to try to find a way back to a respectable position. The car had good top-10 speed and we just had a lot of bad luck today and can’t really get too upset about that.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 32nd: “Got to go back to work.  I’m proud of my guys for the speed they put in this race car. We worked hard, really hard, this one just hurts there is nothing better to say about it, it just hurts.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 35th: “Just lost the charging system and therefore the battery went dead.  It took us out of it.  It was unfortunate.’’

Gray Gaulding — Finished 37th: “You’re going to have blown engines, blown tires and wreck and it’s all part of the deal, but I thought we had a solid run going. We had a couple bad breaks on pit road, but my fault. I sped on pit road one time, but I’m going to live and learn. I felt like I passed a lot of good cars. We beat some cars that – we were in front of some cars that usually should be in front of us.’’

Denny Hamlin — Finished 38th: “We had a decent car – top-10 car – and it’s up here hanging out around seventh or eighth all day. We kept gaining on them, which is a good thing, but just had a mechanical failure here.’’

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Las Vegas Winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kurt Busch Winless in 21 previous attempts at Las Vegas, Busch scored an emotional win at his hometown track. Busch took advantage of a strategy call by crew chief Matt McCall and a timely debris caution to take the point and led the final 26 laps. He earned his first win of the season. “This is 20 years of agony and defeat and now today with triumph,” Busch said after the race.

Matt DiBenedettoStill seeks his first career Cup win and the 100th series victory for Wood Brothers Racing, but DiBenedetto finished second in both Las Vegas races this season.

Alex BowmanHe finished fifth but scored more points (43)  than any driver except Denny Hamlin, who had 53 points. Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round.

Chris Buescher — His ninth-place finish is his second consecutive top 10 and third top 10 in the last five races.

Chase Briscoe Had a dominant car and scored the win in the playoff opener for the Xfinity Series at Las Vegas.

LOSERS

Austin DillonHis race was going well — he scored 10 stage points — until overheating problems sent him to pit road. He lost nine laps as his crew made repairs and went on to finish 32nd.  That drops him to last among the playoff drivers with two races left in this round.

Chase ElliottWas 10th on overtime restart but got shuffled back and finished 22nd.

Caution comes at wrong time for Denny Hamlin at Las Vegas

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Denny Hamlin said he knew it would happen. He just didn’t know when.

A debris caution during a green-flag cycle proved key to Kurt Busch winning Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas and Hamlin finishing third despite leading a race-high 121 laps.

The caution on Lap 237 caught most of the playoff drivers a lap down, forcing them to wave around. Busch was the only playoff driver who had not made a pit stop.

Hamlin, who was leading, pitted on Lap 233. He came in a lap after Alex Bowman stopped. Bowman was running second to Hamlin before the stop.

“Our hand got forced by (Bowman) by him coming in early there,” Hamlin said of his team not wanting to have Bowman gain time with fresher tires. “We both had a lead over the field. I thought we could have run a little bit longer, but we had to answer their strategy because they were within one second of us. We didn’t want to just to kind of give them the lead and count on running them down at the end of the race. You have to keep yourself in front of them.”

Instead of possibly celebrating a win and advancing to the next round, Hamlin left Vegas frustrated with his third-place showing.

“I just hate getting burned by the same thing, that’s it, that’s all I’m saying,” Hamlin said on the radio to crew chief Chris Gabehart after the race. “It’s the same thing I get burned on. I know we had no choice because we were at.”

Gabehart responded to Hamlin on the radio: “The choice is I stay out another five or six laps and if the caution doesn’t come, we have no shot to win. I don’t know what I’d do different. The problem is there is no reason for the leaders to come early because you leave yourself vulnerable to that, but you can’t get all these goofballs to understand that. It’s what happens.”

Even after such a finish, Hamlin is 58 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the next round.

But that wasn’t enough to console Hamlin.

“I just hate missing out on victories,” he said of his playoff spot. “We’re so much better than the six victories that we’ve got. It’s just disturbing. I’ve never been so fast in so many races and not finish it like we feel like we should, but we’re up front. That’s what counts. That’s what’s going to get you to Phoenix, keep getting those wins and keep battling for race wins. You’ll get yourself to Phoenix (for the title race)  and hopefully you’’ll get a championship out of  it. That’s what we’re all here for. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Hamlin’s finish was his best in the playoffs and came after a first round that saw him score a stage win but not place higher than 12th.

Hamlin discounted the notion that putting together a new Cup team with Michael Jordan for next year and signing Bubba Wallace to drive for it had been a distraction earlier in the playoffs.

“I’ve been working for like 10 weeks on stuff, not just racing stuff, but stuff in general,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had bad breaks. Tonight was just another bad break like Darlington was, to be honest with you. Or Bristol. We led laps. We were, I thought, the best car.”

At Darlington, Hamlin missed pit road and had to go back around. Then a debris caution about 10 laps buried him outside  the top 10 with less than 50 laps left. He finished 13th.

At Bristol, Hamlin started at the rear because his car failed inspection twice before the race. He ran fifth when he had contact with teammate Martin Truex Jr. as Truex returned to the track after pitting. Hamlin finished 21st.

Kyle Busch still below playoff cutline after ‘pretty dismal’ Las Vegas race

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Though he finished sixth Sunday night in the Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch described his experience in the Round of 12 opener as “pretty dismal.”

The defending Cup champion now goes into the second race of the round, at Talladega Superspeedway, outside the transfer position to the next round. He trails Alex Bowman, who holds the final transfer spot, by nine points.

“Started a little up, went a little down and finished just kind of mediocre there,” Busch said. “We brought an okay M&M’s Camry. Just didn’t seem to have the overall speed that it needed, especially on the long runs early in the race. Then there late, just no overall speed. Nothing to go blitz anybody and try to make moves and get to the front. We just salvaged along and got what we got. We got lucky to get what we got for sure. It was looking like it was going to be a 12th- or 14th-place day, but came home sixth.”

Busch’s issues began at the start of Stage 2 after he earned the lead by getting off pit road first. As he raced Joey Logano for the lead on the Lap 87 restart, he was on the inside of Logano as they drove toward Turn 3.

That’s when Busch’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, dove to Busch’s inside to make it three wide and then take the lead.

But as Hamlin pulled even with Busch, Busch lurched to the right and made contact with Logano. The Team Penske driver would pit to repair a tire rub while Busch continued.

“I don’t know if (Logano) knew that was coming and didn’t adjust for it and didn’t plan for it,” Busch said. “It kind of seemed like he expected me to go to the bottom and run the bottom and he was gonna run my door.”

Logano said on the radio to his spotter he didn’t realize he was three-wide until it was too late.

Later, Busch pit from fourth on Lap 118 and fell to 28th when his front tire changer’s pit gun broke, resulting in a 22.5-second stop.

“We worked on it and I thought we were making some gains on it and then we got that damage and got way back in traffic,” Busch said. “Then there towards the end, was just able to get lucky on a couple of the last restarts in order to pick off a few spots with the M&M’s Camry and get ourselves in a better position for the finish. It was a pretty dismal day I guess.”

Busch heads to Talladega. He has one win in 30 Cup starts there. He has just one top 10 there in the last six races.

How does Busch plan to navigate the race as he faces his nine-point deficit to the playoff cutoff?

“I’ll just do what I’m told,” Busch said.

What drivers said after Las Vegas race

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Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday night’s Las Vegas race.

Kurt Busch — Winner: “This is what kids dream of when they grow up racing. You dream of winning at your hometown track. And for two decades it’s kicked my butt. And tonight, with this Monster Energy Chevy, I’m in awe. I knew the race would come to us. We needed to get to nightfall and one of those quirky Mac McCall (crew chief) pit sequences finally unfolded. We got lucky. You’ve got to be lucky. And you have to be lucky in any race, but we did it tonight with teamwork and pulling through and just not giving up. … Yeah, the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) had a ton of speed. I was wide-open. And you just have to manipulate the draft. I pulled out some old drag racing skills on the restarts. I knew that was our strong suit. We just put ourselves in position and we held off. Chip Ganassi was up in the suite somewhere and I could feel him breathing over my neck, I want to win. And we did it.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 2nd: “Two seconds at Vegas.  It’s tough to come that close, just wanted it so bad for this team. I love driving for the Wood Brothers.  I want that number 100 for them so bad and for Menards, the whole family and everything they do for us and the team, and having Duracell on the car this week, we’re keeping her charged up good. Our car was the best it had been at the end, just couldn’t get control on those restarts. The 1 car, Kurt, did a great job. We had completely different ratios for the restarts and once he gained control of the race, he played the right games on the restarts, knew what we had on our weakness there. Man, it’s tough to come that close. I just want it so bad, but I’m proud of the team. They did a great job. My pit crew did a great job tonight and really earned that one for us.”

DENNY HAMLIN — Finished 3rd: “We had a dominant car today and I’m proud of the whole FedEx team for giving me such a great car. By far the best car I’ve had in Las Vegas in a long time. It was really, really good. Happy with it and this new tire here. We’ll run that a few more times this year. Really encouraged by the way we ran, but very disappointed that we didn’t get a win. It’s just been the way that the playoffs have gone. Whoever stays out the longest puts themselves in a great spot to win. … I feel good about it. I certainly had a great day. It’s something I’m happy about, it’s about how we ran and how fast we were. We restarted 13th there with just a few laps and then the top got shuffled and we were able to make some ground on the bottom. If either one of the cautions don’t happen, we’re still in great shape, but it took them like seven laps to get a piece of debris off and then we had debris right in the fuel window.

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 4th: “We were right there in the hunt coming down after the last pit stop there under green. We were third and we were tracking them down just a little bit at a time. Felt like we were maybe going to have a three-way race for the win and then that caution came out and put us all the way to the back. To be able to battle through that and ended up pitting again for tires because we weren’t going anywhere and restarted like 24th there on not the last caution, but the one before that. To be able to drive back up to fourth is really something. The Bass Pro Toyota was really strong tonight. We needed just a little bit to be as good as the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and maybe the 88 (Alex Bowman), but we were a third-place car, no question. Just missed it a tiny little bit. Decent night. Just needed a little bit more, but happy with the team and the job they’re doing. See what we can do next week at Talladega.”

ALEX BOWMAN – Finished 5th: “I guess it is good to be disappointed in a fifth-place finish. We did not need that caution to come out in the middle of the pit cycle like that. I thought it was going to be ok for us, but we just couldn’t get through traffic as well as we needed to. Our program is continuing to improve and I just feel like this is another Vegas race that go away from us. At least it was a good points day, which is what we need.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 6th: “We weren’t great early on and didn’t quite have the long run speed. We worked on it and I thought we were making some gains on it and then we got that damage and got way back in traffic. Then there towards the end, was just able to get lucky on a couple of the last restarts in order to pick off a few spots with the M&M’s Camry and get ourselves in a better position for the finish. It was a pretty dismal day I guess. I looked like it was going to be about 12th or 14th if we didn’t have some good moves on that last restart there to get us a sixth-place finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “Overall it was a decent night. We had to start mid pack and were able to drive up through there pretty quick. I thought our Mustang was good and we made good adjustments on it throughout the night. By the second stage I thought we were really strong, we just needed to kind of restart with the leaders and stay in touch with them. That caution that trapped a bunch of us a lap down was unfortunate. I think we were running fourth or fifth at the time. That stunk. We were able to rebound alright and we started third on that last restart and tried to push Matt (DiBenedetto) and get there but the top just kind of trained up on us. It was unfortunate to run seventh but we had a good car and really good adjustments all night. I thought we were right there, it just didn’t all work out. I thought our car was really fast though, so I am proud of that effort.”

Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “It was kind of an up-and-down day. We started off and I didn’t think that our Toyota Camry was really where it needed to be. We were struggling with rear grip in the heat and couldn’t really get the thing going in the right direction. Towards the end, got some track position and had some good restarts and got the car a lot better. We got caught a lap down with the pit cycle and had some contact there with another car trying to avoid (John Hunter Nemechek) and had to come in and pit and fix some damage. It put us behind there with six laps to go, but still good to come home eighth. Top 10, we will take that and move on.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 10th: “We just missed everything tonight. The car just didn’t drive good. We were slow on pit road and that was pretty much it. We just got buried in the field there.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 12th: “I was more worried about this race than I am the next two. We didn’t get out of here as good as I wanted to. Obviously, the 1 car was not a car that we needed to win a race. It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. Him winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out. It wasn’t near as bad as it could have been. The car was nuclear meltdown and I was lucky to finish, so 20 points is pretty easy to overcome at a track like Talladega that’s for sure.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 13th: “It just wasn’t the night we wanted. It’s a good thing we had a little bit of a points cushion to lean on and we’ll run our best the next two weeks. It could have been a lot worse. It is frustrating but we are certainly not out of it. We still have a pretty good points cushion so we will try to get through these next two weeks and put up a good race and build ourselves a cushion.”

Joey Logano — Finished 14th: “Unfortunately, we got a little damage there and had to pit for the left-rear tire. You can’t afford to blow a left-rear tire in the playoffs and back the thing in the fence and shoot yourself in the foot. We had to pit and then just no cautions, and then the one time I had a shot at it the 48 just got me, so that was a little unfortunate. Eventually, we got the lucky dog and went around with our Pennzoil Mustang and drove back to 14th. I felt like that second stage, not scoring any stage points there hurts, but we’re still above the cutline and we’ll head on to Talladega and see how that one goes.”

Cole Custer — Finished 16th: “We just didn’t have the restarts we needed tonight. Obviously, the caution that came out in the middle of the green-flag pit stop cycle hurt us. The guys did a good job tonight and were good on pit road too.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 17th: “Our mile-and-a-half stuff has been really good lately. We ran really good at Kentucky, Texas and we’ve just been solid, so I came in here with a lot of confidence. I thought we would come here and run good. The guys have been working really hard on the cars back at the shop and we just missed it tonight. We were off in speed, off in handling, we were not very good at all on pit road. We didn’t do a lot of things right myself included, so it was just a bad night. Nothing went the way it was supposed to go. We’ve got to be better than that. You can’t transfer through these rounds running that poorly, so we’ll go to Talladega and see if we can’t pull one out of our hat.”

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK — Finished 20th: “Man, that was a heartbreaker. Our No. 38 Speedy Cash Ford Mustang was on the free side to fire off and we were bouncing on the splitter pretty bad. Seth (Barbour) and the crew did a fantastic job on pit road getting the handling to where we were comfortable, and we fought our way up into the top five. Unfortunately, we had a tire go down towards the end of the final stage and then made contact a few laps later trying to avoid a wreck. Definitely not the finish my guys deserved today.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 21st: “That was definitely a tough finish to what was a much stronger performance by our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops | Delo team all race long. We ran inside of the top 20 for basically the entire race, getting as high as fifth or sixth at one point; but unfortunately the handful of late-race cautions and multiple restarts just got us shuffled back to where there weren’t enough laps to drive back towards the front.”

William Byron — Finished 25th: “Just a bummer of a result tonight. We really had a good car. We needed to keep adjusting to keep up with the track but we were running inside the top 10 before that caution during green-flag pit stops. Then we could never rally back unfortunately. Being stuck back there, we then got caught up with two laps to go and couldn’t recover.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 26th: “Our GEICO Military team battled all night long. At the start of the race, the car didn’t have enough rear grip to charge and make speed, but Matt (Borland) kept chipping away at it. Our Chevrolet continued to get better throughout the race. The caution came at the wrong time after our green flag pit stop there at the end, which trapped us a lap down. You can’t control those things though. I’m looking forward to Talladega next week. It is important to our Germain Racing team to finish these final six races strong and we will keep working hard to do that.”

Bubba Wallace – Finished 28th: “Awful. Just missed it. On to Talladega.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 32nd: “We were doing what we needed to do. We were a solid, top-five car in Stage 1 and Stage 2 and were able to earn some points during the end of each of the first two stages. We weren’t so fortunate in Stage 3. We were issued a safety violation on pit road with less than 80 laps to go and had to restart at the tail end of the field. We shook it off because we knew that we work well under pressure. We made our way up to 20th and we were in pretty good shape because we were three cars behind the No. 1 car and we were going to run long, probably. But then I suddenly lost all steering and the water pressure gauge pegged at 400 degrees. We made quick repairs but lost nine laps on pit road and that pretty much did us in. I’m proud of this team for continuing to fight. We’ve got two races left in the Round of 12 and we’re not giving up. It’s on to Talladega Superspeedway where anything can happen, and our goal is to win.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 37th: “We just didn’t really have any luck on our side tonight. I was a little tight to fire off, but we had good overall speed in our car. Unfortunately after our first pit stop of the night, we had a loose right rear tire so we had to make a second stop to fix that and fell a lap down. It’s frustrating to have a car as fast as the one we had and be trapped a lap down, but as a team, we knew we still had a lot of time to get back on the lead lap and into the mix before the race was over. On the final lap of Stage 2, I got into the wall pretty hard and it ended our night early.”