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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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.