What drivers said Sunday at Las Vegas

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While lots of people were talking about the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano fight, there were a lot of drivers who had other things to say after Sunday’s Kobalt 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Martin Truex Jr. (winner): “We finally got some (good luck). We definitely had our share of races where we’ve dominated and gave one away and it looked like today was going to be another one of those. The runs just didn’t work out the way we needed them. We were struggling on the really long runs. We had to run that last set of tires on that last caution longer than we did all race long. I was out of control and Brad (Keselowski) was really good on the long run. I hate that he had problems, he was strong and we weren’t going to do anything with him, but then he lost the brakes or something. A little bit of a gift, but we have given some away, so it feels good to come out on the good end for once.”

What was going through your mind in the closing laps?

“It was a gift. We’ve been on the other side of that plenty of times. This is the first one where we’ve kind of had it go our way. I can’t say enough about everyone on this team. They made a lot of changes last night and we said go for it, and they did. I’m really proud – this is the first victory for the 2018 Camry and to be out here on the west coast – this is a big one for us! Tons of people to thank at our team, with Barney (Visser), Joe (Garone), Furniture Row, Denver Mattress – my buddy Johnny Morris here for believing in us and coming on this car with Bass Pro and Tracker Boats. Proud of Toyota and TRD – these engines have been unbelievable this season so far. We have Auto Owners coming back this year and all our sponsors. West Coast for everybody, but it’s home for these guys – it feels really good.”

Is stage racing fun?

“It’s still hard and still tough. You still drive your butt off every single lap, I know I was. I felt like the race didn’t’ play into our hands and we had to go really long on that last set of tires and Brad (Keselowski) was better at the end and we had to stretch it and I was driving my little butt off and I couldn’t keep him behind me. We never give up and that’s why you keep fighting until the end. Pit crew was unbelievable today and you have to thank them. It’s a dream come true driving these cars for these guys and hopefully we can keep this momentum going.”

Do you feel like your team has the good luck you need this season to win?

“We finally got some. We definitely had our share of races where we’ve dominated and gave one away and it looked like today was going to be another one of those. The runs just didn’t work out the way we needed them. We were struggling on the really long runs. We had to run that last set of tires on that last caution longer than we did all race long. I was out of control and Brad (Keselowski) was really good on the long run. I hate that he had problems, he was strong and we weren’t going to do anything with him, but then he lost the brakes or something. A little bit of a gift, but we have given some away, so it feels good to come out on the good end for once.”

Did you feel you needed a few more adjustments on your Camry in the closing laps?

“The run before with about 40 to go it just locked up and I couldn’t use more. I think that’s why we struggled a bit on that run. All in all, that’s how it goes sometimes and you don’t get the tools you need. We did what we could with it and we were going to come up short to the 2 (Brad Keselowski), but they had problems and we took advantage of it. It was a team effort and we never gave up all day long. Here we are.”

How strong was your team today?

“We did last year, hopefully we can keep it going. It’s been a good start to the year for us. We had a solid day at Daytona and ran out of gas. Had a solid day at Atlanta and had some issues that cost us some spots. We’ve been solid and this is a brand new 2018 Toyota Camry for us, so it’s been a little bit to learn. It’s been a bit different and we’re still learning so hopefully we’ll continue to grow and get better.”

Kyle Larson (Finished 2nd): “Yeah, no fist flying for me. That was exciting right there, but no, awesome day for our Target team. Second in the first stage, third in the second stage and then finished second in the race. I can’t say enough about my team. I’m so proud of them. Our race cars are amazing right now. We are going to hopefully, keep building on what we’ve got and keep challenging for wins and they will come. Had a lot of fun today. … Back-to-back seconds. We would like to have back-to-back wins, but this is pretty awesome.”

Chase Elliott (Finished 3rd): “We had a really good car, had a bad restart there at the end and lost a couple of spots.”

Joey Logano (Finished 4th): “I don’t run from conflict. You just talk about it, but he wasn’t in a talking mood. He was in a fighting mood, I guess. I don’t know. Typically, you can handle this stuff like men and talk about it. You don’t have to fight, but whatever. … I guess it’s always surprising. Like I said, I’ve never had an issue with Kyle. Kyle and I have always raced really well together. We’ve never had an issue, but I guess that’s over.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI (Finished 5th): “I just know it was something major (what broke on his car on the final lap). It wouldn’t turn, and I lost brakes, so that’s a pretty good indicator, but that’s the way it goes. That’s racing, and that’s why you watch until the end, and you never know what’s going to happen. It’s frustrating, but you put yourself in position to win and good things will happen. That happened to us last week and didn’t happen this week, so you just pick up the pieces and move on. You just try to make the most of what you can — every day, every second. I was still trying to get the best finish I could and still lucky to come out with a top-five. … We had a great day. We ran up front and led a lot of laps. We were the fastest car at the end and just didn’t come together. That’s part of how racing works.”

Ryan Blaney (Finished 7th): “I thought we are a little bit better than that. We had to come in early in the race and get some lug nuts back on the right front to be able to race. That put us behind. Our car was good enough and once we got back inside the top 10 I felt that we had a shot at fourth or fifth but that last restart didn’t go our way. Good car. Good effort overall.”

Jamie McMurray (Finished 8th): “Just a solid whole weekend for the whole group. We got behind on one of the runs with scuff tires on. I just had a bad restart and we lost a bunch of track position. From there on out, our car was really good. I thought we actually had a little better car than where we finished.”

Clint Bowyer (Finished 10th): “It was a struggle. To be truthful, we weren’t the best all weekend, but we just kept digging. (Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) didn’t give up on the box and kept adjusting on it and got me pretty good, the best we’d been right there at the end. It’s a top 10 and gives us some momentum. It’s our third race together and we got a top-10, so we’ve got to keep digging.”

Jimmie Johnson (Finished 11th): “I don’t know what happened with strategies. It was coming our way and then we had some lug nuts not get on, on the last stop, and had to come back in. We had just about everything go wrong that we could today and somehow finished in 11th. I’m not really sure. I know we had some creative strategy working at the end that was going to play well and then whatever car blew up and then we pitted, and we came out in seventh and probably could have had a top five if we wouldn’t have had to come back (to the pits).”

Kasey Kahne (Finished 12th): “We did something to the car right there at the end of practice, and I liked it, but once the tires gave up and it was rough, you start bouncing more. I didn’t like it at all. It really handicapped our race. But we fought for 12th, which was solid for the effort. It was another good effort, we’ve just got to keep doing better, keep figuring out practice starting these races a little bit better, but that is on me and the crew chief and engineers just trying to figure it all out.”

Trevor Bayne (Finished 13th): “(Crew chief Matt Puccia) made some great changes that really helped our car as the race progressed. I’m pretty happy that we’ve been consistent so far to start the year with three top-15 finishes. I’m proud of the effort my guys gave this weekend, and I’m confident we can carry this start to the season on to Phoenix.”

Erik Jones (Finished 15th): “The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry was fast enough to run in the top 10, but we just didn’t execute in the pits. We know we’re capable of running up front, but we just have to make sure we execute as the race goes on. We can make up for those spots during the middle part of the race, but once it comes down to the end, it’s more difficult. I feel good about how we’ve run, but I just want to get some strong finishes to match. We’re not getting the finishes we deserve, so we just have to keep working at it.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Finished 16th): “We were about 8th to 12th all day. We made some adjustments real big there at the end to try to gain a bunch of spots, and it just didn’t work out for us, so we lost some spots on the restart. That bottom is no place to be on the restarts anyways in the back there, but we will take it. A couple of spots there, hopefully that will make or break the season for us, and we just can put a few races together and try to climb our way back into the points. We’ve got to finish them like we did today instead of the results we had at Daytona and Atlanta.”

Kyle Busch (Finished 22nd): “I got dumped (by Joey Logano). He flat out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me. That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”

Landon Cassill (Finished 27th): “I thought we had a good car and the race just kind of kept going the wrong way for us with the cautions, and then I got in the wall into turn three and gave us just enough damage that we didn’t have quite as good of a car as we had most of the race. That kind of put us back a couple spots. I still feel like we’re better than previously, and I’m looking forward to Phoenix, where we had a top-20 run last year.”

David Ragan (Finished 29th): “Our car was a handful all weekend. We made a lot of adjustments on all the corners, but we could never find a sweet spot. These cars are real finicky with their aero balance and splitter height, so there are a lot of things going on that once the race started, we couldn’t change. But I’m proud of the Juice Batteries team. They made a lot of adjustments and we were able to finish just a couple of laps down, and we’ll learn from it. We just need to work on our mile-and-a-half stuff a little bit more.”

Kurt Busch (Finished 30th): “We went through a lot today. Obviously, it wasn’t the day we were hoping to have. We didn’t have the long-run speed or the balance, and we had an electrical issue that forced us to change batteries on pit road. We kept battling, we didn’t give up.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Finished 33rd): “We struggled all weekend. My guys did a good job though on the backup Fastenal Ford and I think we could have finished in the top-15. Hopefully we can get all this bad luck out of the way and can rebound in Phoenix which is a track that has been good to us.”

Danica Patrick (Finished 36th): “We just got the car to a place where I think we could have got a little more racy with it, especially if we would have caught some breaks, but then it just flattened out. I just rode around the top in case I blew up, but having a teammate behind me was not ideal for the timing of it, but unfortunately it happened. We’ll just move on.”

Kevin Harvick (Finished 38th): “It started vibrating about four or five laps there before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage there. Obviously, it didn’t make it. The worst part was the medical response. It took them forever to get to the car. I thought we made that better, but obviously we haven’t. All in all, our Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford was running good. We were just too loose right there. It’s not like we were even tight, so it either just cut the tire, or came apart or melted the bead.”

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NASCAR Penalty report from Michigan

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The NASCAR penalty report from Michigan International Speedway has been released.

It includes two fines for unsecured lug nuts. Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, and Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota, have each been fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut during the course of the weekend.

The report also includes the penalties issued Saturday to Roush Fenway Racing for the improper spoilers used on both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher‘s cars.

Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

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On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

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Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

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Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.