What drivers said after Watkins Glen race

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Martin Truex Jr. — WINNER: “It means a lot to be in victory lane here at this race track. I’ve been coming here a long time and feel like we’ve been close and had a few slip away from us, but really excited. I just kept listening to (crew chief Cole Pearn). He said, ‘We need to slow down more. We need to slow down more.’ It’s the hardest thing in the world to do to slow down and let those guys pass you for the lead thinking that when you figure out that you have enough fuel to make it you can try to step up your pace again and they’re just going to do the same. You never know what strategy everybody is on. You don’t know how much gas they have or are saving. It’s so tough. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do just to slow down that much and watch those guys drive away. But, just Cole Pearn man, that’s his job and I trust him and everything he says.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 2nd: “I’m second happiest. Martin is the happiest. We really needed the win.  Honestly, I don’t even think about the playoffs. I more think about coming here for however many, 15, 17, 18 years, whatever it’s been, and not really having a win or an opportunity to win and never even really been that great here. I felt like we had a top-five car. Obviously we had good fortune there at the end with our track position and our fuel mileage and all that to stay in it and have a shot at it, but man, when it’s that close and you see him saving and you’re saving and then you go after him there on that last lap, it’s disappointing not to get it. Especially when I saw him miss Turn 6. I was like, ‘man, I’m going to have a shot,’ and he was so fast I still couldn’t get to him getting into (Turn) 7.’’

Daniel Suarez — Finished 3rd: “I feel like it was a good weekend. You know, we made a lot of progress from the first practice to second practice to qualifying and then to the race. You know, I’m very happy for the third-place (finish) and for the result and for the overall race, but very hard to finish third when you can see the leader right there and you are just cruising to try to save fuel because you don’t really know how much fuel you have left.’’

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “Yeah it was a great run for our FedEx Freight team. The Camrys were fast, all of them were today and just had to milk the fuel as much as we could there at the end and make it on fuel. Great run for us. Another fourth-place finish – I don’t know how many that is this year but definitely been ringing them off.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 5th:  “Yeah, that’s that hard thing. When you have them there at arm’s reach you want to go for it. That’s the win that will put you into the (playoffs) right there in front of you. But if you run out of gas that’s the dagger that will knock you out for good. It’s the right thing. We just have to keep knocking on the door.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 6th: “We ran hard on every single lap today and hit every turn flawlessly. We did a great job.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 8th: “I stumbled down the back coming to two to go, so we wouldn’t have made it. It stinks. I wish I would have saved earlier like (Truex) did. I pushed hard and thought we were better to go on gas than they were. They did a good job saving. I could have done better. If I would have started saving sooner I think we would have made it. You never know. I am pretty proud of the effort. We got up front at the beginning of the day and stayed there pretty much all day. I thought our strategy was right and we had a good race car. Things just didn’t work out for us. That is just the way it goes sometimes.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 9th: “Of course you always want more when you come here, at least I do. We had a tough weekend, and we fought hard. The car wasn’t very good on the first run, and we made some better changes. Got it better. Got it pretty competitive there. I just really struggled in traffic. I got behind Jimmie (Johnson), and tore up the tires. Once I got by him it was actually not too bad. From there it was just fuel saving. Don’t really know how much you have. I tried to save, I felt like I saved a lot. Maybe a little too much.”

Erik Jones — Finished 10th: “It was okay. I had brake issues all day long and it was kind of the biggest fight for us. Just could never quite get in the corner like we needed to so kind of fought that. The car was good. I thought we had a top-10 car, maybe a top-five car had circumstances played out. I had a bad stop and got boxed in behind (Aric Almirola), so it just didn’t quite get the finish that we wanted.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 11th: “Really proud of this Scott Products Chevrolet team. They worked really hard and put us in the right position with good strategy. We had good speed at times, our early run speed, I was really happy with it. It fell off a little bit harder than we would like, but to come home P11 here at The Glen it was pretty good!”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 15th: “I was going into the corner and I had the 47 (Allmendinger) behind me and when I got into the corner the 18 (Kyle Busch) next to me. My spotter called it but we were already in the corner. It was too much for me to avoid. We got into each other and that hurt everybody. All I know is I went in the corner and the 47 was the car behind me and I got to the corner and somewhere the 18 came up and he was behind the 47. I don’t know how he got there or what all transpired. I was already to the corner and unable to do anything by then.”

Paul Menard — Finished 18th: “Our day was full of hurdles, but we were able to overcome thanks to all the guys on this Dutch Boy / Menards team. We found a fluid leak in qualifying and had to change the rear gear before the race, which meant we had to start from the rear of the field. The car had speed, but we had a lug nut guard that cut the valve stem on the right rear and led to a flat tire. The guys were able to get it fixed, but there was a bit of a vibration in the rear for the rest of the race. We had solid fuel mileage all day, I was able to save some over that last run and we were able to make it to the end without stopping.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 19th: “Our day definitely improved from where we started. We had some brake and power steering issues at the very start, but I was able to keep it underneath me until we could bring our GEICO Chevy in during the first stage break. By the time we got to the final stage, we had the car handling exactly how I needed it. Fuel mileage games are always tricky, but everyone has to do their part. The engineers have to do the math, I have to back down my entries and the spotters have to tell me who I’m racing in fuel-saving mode and who is packed full coming up behind me. It’s a team effort, and we all did our jobs today to get it home with fuel in the tank and a top-20 finish.”

Joey Logano — Finished 24th: “Best-case scenario we were going to finish top 10, which does nothing for us. A top xfive or a win is the only thing that is going to help us, so we went for it by pitting and putting four tires on and hoping to get a caution and maybe cycle ahead of cars with new tires. Unfortunately, it went green all the way and we didn’t get a good finish. We need to win the next few races here.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 25th: “Overall, we had a pretty solid handling Caterpillar Chevrolet. We just lacked track position and it kept us from making a serious run to the front. With that said, we adapted our strategy and (crew chief Luke Lambert) said we were a lap to the good on fuel. Saving here is pretty hard to do but we felt confident we were going to make it. I ran out with three laps to go. We’re scratching our heads right now trying to figure out where we came up short. The guys were going back to the garage to measure everything. It’s really unfortunate. I can’t really say we were good or bad today. Things didn’t go our way.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 26th: “We just didn’t have the speed we needed in our No. 3 Dow STEM Chevrolet today. Our handling was a little off throughout the day today. I was too loose in essess and had trouble getting through the bus stop. We gambled on our fuel strategy when we pitted under that final caution, knowing we’d have to save to avoid being one lap short. I saved as much as I could by doing things like short-shifting, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough this time and we ran out with just two laps to go. We’ll learn from this though and be better next time.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. — Finished 37th: “We had a problem with the valve train and we can’t fix it. It’s been a really difficult week. We’ve been way down on speed and we had a pretty good car at Sonoma, so I was kind of looking forward to coming here. But, the guys worked really hard. We changed this car inside and out twice this weekend. And, we had made it better and we were kind of hanging in there. I think we had a shot at maybe a top 20 at best. But man, we showed up and we were about four seconds off.”

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Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

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What’s next?

In a season of change that has zoomed through NASCAR like history did in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 100 days remain in the year. That’s plenty of time for more upheaval.

Remember the beginning of the season when talk centered on the championship race moving to Phoenix Raceway this year?

That was back when teams practiced and qualified before races, before drivers chose what lane to restart, before midweek races.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced NASCAR and all sports to change, but when NASCAR returned after a 10-week break in May to Darlington without spectators, that was only the beginning of a season unlike any other.

Michael Jordan’s entry into the sport Monday night capped a day that started with Chip Ganassi hiring Ross Chastain to drive its No. 42 car next year and a report that NASCAR would add another road course to the 2021 schedule and move the All-Star Race.

The 2021 schedule has not been released so that is something to look forward to at some point in the next 100 days. The timeline on when it will be revealed continues to change, so let’s just say it will be out by Christmas, if not sooner. Who knows, there still might be more road course races on next year’s schedule. 

This is what we know of 2021: It won’t feature the Next Gen car, which has been delayed to 2022; the Daytona 500 is scheduled to open the season on Valentine’s Day; and Nashville Superspeedway will host Cup cars for the first time in June, the first in a four-year agreement.

Oh, and we also know where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021. He’ll drive for a team co-owned by Jordan and Denny Hamlin. JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty says of the three: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The sport’s quiet rock star, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, is watching his final full-time season — don’t worry he hints that he’ll look to run a few Cup races when his IndyCar schedule allows — end with muted fanfare in front of empty stands or socially distanced crowds.

Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce who it will add to its driver lineup with Johnson’s departure. That’s just among the unknowns with 100 days left in the year and 145 days until next year’s Daytona 500. Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth have yet to announce plans for next year. The status of Kyle Larson’s return looms over all of them.

One of the bigger questions on the track is if Kyle Busch can win a Cup race this season. He’s won at least one series race in each of the past 15 years, a streak that ranks tied for sixth on the all-time list with Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart.

“It’s really important,” Busch said of the streak. “Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment that we’ve placed on that being able to win a race in 16 consecutive seasons. Hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17 and then to 18 or however many that I’m here.”

Busch came close last weekend at Bristol, the first time that track hosted a playoff race. It was part of the revamped playoff schedule that has Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville as elimination races, NASCAR’s way of ramping the intensity as the season comes to a close.

There weren’t fireworks on the track but the 30,000 fans at Bristol saw a spellbinding battle between Harvick and Busch for the win over the final laps. Harvick prevailed for his ninth win of the season. Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 or more races.

Fans are slowly returning to the track, although there won’t be any at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Charlotte Motor Speedway found out Tuesday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will permit outdoor arenas with seating capacity of more than 10,000 to be filled to 7% capacity. Charlotte races in May were run without fans and the All-Star Race was moved to Bristol in July because Bristol could have fans and Charlotte could not.

Social initiatives, including the banning of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races and tracks, were added this summer.

“Ultimately,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in June, “when we get back to full grandstands, everyone who walks through the gates or on to our property or one of our tracks or where our races are being held will understand that they will not see the Confederate flag.”

That was among the key changes that Jordan said drew him to joining Hamlin as an owner of NASCAR’s newest Cup team.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Jordan’s entrance is significant. But the way this season has gone, a global sports icon joining NASCAR? That’s called Tuesday.

With 100 days left in the year, there’s plenty more change ahead.

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

NASCAR Power Rankings
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” said Daugherty, a teammate to Jordan on the University of North Carolina basketball team. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”