What drivers said after Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway:

Brad Keselowski (finished 1st): “This is awesome. We’ve ran so good here with the Miller Lite Ford, but something always happens and we haven’t been able to bring it home. Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks. The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it’s really just an honor to win here and get to compete here. This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a clock. … Team Penske has put so much effort in these Martinsville cars the last three or four years because we knew it was one of our weakest tracks, and finally we got the result they deserve.”

Kyle Busch (finished 2nd): “It’s just frustrating when you come down pit road and you don’t make any changes and you bolt a set of tires on it and it goes to junk. I hate that that happened. We still haven’t finished where we should have this year. We haven’t gotten any finishes that are indicative of where this team’s been running or where we’re capable of running or finishing and that’s just frustrating, so we’ll continue on.”

Chase Elliott (finished 3rd): “For me, at this place I was way much improved than I’ve ever been here in the past, which I thought was great.  This is such an important race, especially when you come back here in the fall, it’s not a place that you can just get by with running bad in life, expect to just go on in the playoffs if you’re a part of it. I was really proud of our improvements this weekend. I hope that it wasn’t just a fluke deal and we didn’t just get lucky today and run good. I really hope that we’ve found something or I have found something at this track that will lend some more consistent finishes that are further towards the front.”

Joey Logano (finished 4th): “Every time we got ourselves in position to get some stage points something happened and, I don’t know, we’d be about 30th. … It wasn’t really because of the stages, it was more or less because of the tire. The tire just rubbered-up this racetrack so much, it was crazy to see how high we were getting. We were pushing the edges of concrete. You’ve never seen that here at Martinsville in a long, long time. The tires were chunking on the racetrack and rubbering up. It kept it interesting for everyone. It was an eventful Martinsville, like normal. Just a little wider race track and, I’m not going to complain about that.”

Austin Dillon (finished 5th): “We finished fourth here last year, and to come back and back it up with a fifth, it’s one of my favorite tracks, and really at one point I thought we were going to have a little something for the two leaders, but middle of the run our car just lacked a little bit more turn and forward drive, and then at the end we could come back to them again. … We’ve still got work to do, but it’s huge to see RCR running better and having cars capable of running with guys like this. It’s just fun to see his back bumper most of the time.”

AJ Allmendinger (finished 6th): “This is the best we’ve ever been here on a long run. I knew we needed (it). … I kept hating to see all those yellows. I knew we needed about 100-120 green flag laps there because the car was so fast. I wish we would have had it there at the end. Randall Burnett (crew chief), probably one of the best races he has called when it comes to adjustments. Just to work together like that, we both have to work on each other. We are both animated, we kind of feed off each other. We have a weekend like this where we learn and are able to stay calm and keep building our race cars the way we are we will be okay.”

Clint Bowyer (finished 7th): “Obviously not what I wanted. I thought that I would have a shot at running up front and leading laps. It just wasn’t our day. We’re learning. The guys were so tight last year when that ran with Tony (Stewart) that it freed up a lot today. I was just holding on all day. All and all it was solid. Even on an off-day it was solid, single digits. I appreciate everyone at Haas and Ford for everything they do.”

Ryan Newman (finished 8th): “Just struggled a little bit. I’m surprised we finished as good as we did for how bad the car felt. Good job for the guys. (Matt) Kenseth and I had a hell of a race for nothing, but that is sometimes what you’ve got to do. Just fun racing at Martinsville. A lot of single-file racing today man, I think the other tire might have been better, but we will just keep digging.”

Matt Kenseth (finished 9th): “The finish was okay for how bad we were all weekend. We just were really slow all weekend. We just fought the car being really tight. We made a little progress in the middle of the race and then we just got way off the end of the race again and just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 10th): “Going into today we had better hopes of Martinsville than normal. We haven’t been good here in the past. My normal is really bad here. When we got turned by the 27 (Paul Menard), I thought that our day was going to go like it usually does. We fought hard all day. We got our car better all day. I was really good on long runs. I really needed long runs. Those cautions really stacked me up. Once I got going I was really good.”

Chris Buescher (finished 11th): “We lost a lap there early and Trent (Owens, crew chief) and those guys made a really good call to stay out when a lot of the leaders pitted. Got our track position back and were able to get the lucky dog once or twice there to just kind of keep working on it. We made some really good progress with our Chevrolet. We got it running so much better and really just one or two little adjustments that we kept doing were bringing it to life. It is good notes to bring for the next race here at Martinsville.”

Erik Jones (finished 12th): “It was a lot of ups and downs. I thought at one point we had a pretty good car. We were running up in the top five and as the day went on we kind of lost the handle on it, got tight in the center and just never could really get it back. Right up there at the end we went two laps down. We had to pit under green. We had a tire rub and after that the 5-hour Energy Camry got caught up in an accident, but honestly that was the best we were was after that. So (12th) isn’t the day we wanted, but definitely we’ll take it for the first time here at Martinsville.”

Trevor Bayne (finished 13th): “This was a good day for us here in Martinsville. I’m really happy that we were able to come out of here with another top-15 finish and that we were able to keep our Ford clean for the most part. We’ve had a pretty good start to our season and I’m looking forward to getting to Texas next week and keeping that momentum going.”

Kasey Kahne (finished 14th): “We kind of ran about the same spot all day. We were really close, just needed a little more forward drive. And then in order to get that and I was too tight rolling, so we would just go back and forth with that. But I think we ended about as good as I felt throughout the race. Just had some places to make up with speeding, I barely sped. It was what we were trying to do all day and I just got going a little too quick out of the box. That put us back a little bit, but I think we finished about where we were.”

Martin Truex Jr. (finished 16th): “I just couldn’t drive off the corner. The car pushed and nothing appeared to be right after the first stage. It was nice to at least get something out of the race by winning the first stage and picking up more valuable points. Those extra playoff points could turn out to be very important when we get into the post season.”

Paul Menard (finished 19th): “We took a gamble with 82 laps to go by taking the wave-around rather than pitting for fresh tires. Track position is so important here at Martinsville Speedway. The gamble seemed to work, and it looked like it was going to pay off nicely for us for the finish. Unfortunately, we got collected in an accident shortly after that which caused some pretty bad nose damage to our No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevy. But that’s part of racing at a short track like this. I always enjoy racing at Martinsville, and I hope to improve on our finish later this season when we come back.”

Ty Dillon (finished 22nd): “Martinsville Speedway is always a battle and today was no different. We struggled towards the end of the first stage and went a lap down, but we were able to get the balance how we needed it and started to pick up speed. But, in the nature of short-track racing, the leader catches the back of the back so quickly and keeps putting cars a lap down. It seemed like every time a caution came out, the leader had just caught a car in the back and knocked us out of the free pass spot. And, it certainly didn’t help to be caught up in someone else’s wreck there towards the end.”

Danica Patrick (finished 23rd): “We struggled at the start of the race, but the TaxAct team did a really good job on pit road all day, and (crew chief Billy Scott) made some good calls to get the car turning better. We were able to run up in the top-15, and it’s unfortunate we got turned by the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) and that just took us out of contention for a great finish today.”

David Ragan (finished 24th): “Kind of typical of our season so far. We didn’t unload good on Friday. We were a little bit behind on Saturday and even to start the race on Sunday. We haven’t had a lot of racing luck so far. We were really aggressive on pit calls and strategy. A couple of the times that we had a chance to gain back a lap and get in front of our competitors it just didn’t work out.”

Landon Cassill (finished 27th): “I think our car was okay. It wasn’t quite the car we wanted. The engine issues put me in an hole on all the restarts. It would have been nice to not have that issue, nothing I could do.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 34th): “I love this place. It was a lot of fun today. The car was really good. Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the guys made a lot of changes last night and made our car way better. … We got bottled-up there in (Turn) 3 and they’re ain’t no bumpers on these cars. It knocked the radiator out of it. So, we’re out of the race. We went to the garage to try to fix it, but can’t with the new rules. So, we’re done. I was having a good time. But, I’m disappointed with the way we’re finishing. We’ve got to finish better than this.”

Matt DiBenedetto (finished 35th): “We got ran into a few times and and lost some laps to fix the damage. In the end, we cut down a left-rear tire from the damage and that put us into the wall. We had a good car. Just hard racing at Martinsville.”

Kurt Busch (finished 37th): “Tough day. We weren’t running that good and we were racing hard to get the Lucky Dog to get a lap back. Somebody checked up in front of us in the outside lane and jammed it up. No place to go. It was crazy.”

Jamie McMurray (finished 38th): “I think the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) got into the left rear and it knocked the body on the tire. I was kind of leaving it up to the team whether we pit or not because I knew they could get a better idea of what it looked like and maybe where it was hitting the tire. And then it somewhat quit smoking, which made me think maybe the body had relieved itself, but then I blew a left-rear tire going into the corner. It’s like a no-win. If you stay out and you blow a tire and you wreck, your day is done. If you pit here and you lose two or three laps, I don’t think you can get those back. So, we made the decision to stay out and ended up blowing a tire.”

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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.