What Cup drivers said after New Hampshire playoff race

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What drivers said after the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch – Winner: “It was just a great day for our team and for the 18 team we were able to execute all day long and we did everything right. We did everything we were supposed to do and that’s where you end up when we’re able to do those things and it was a great race up front too with the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) there. The 20 (Matt Kenseth) was there for a little. I think he was a little better on that long run that one time, but overall we had some really good short-run speed there at the end. We were able to get out front there and kind of set the field because – set the pace – and that was what we needed to do today.”

Kyle Larson – Finished second: “I felt like on really long runs I was fairly equal to those guys in front of me. But, on the short run there, I could get pointed to the exit, but I couldn’t get the throttle down. I’d get loose. So, he just was really good. I think the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) was also really good, but he had his trouble. The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) was also good. We were next best. So, we finished second again (eighth time) with our Target Chevy. That’s a lot of second-place finishes this year, but I’m fine with second. Top fives will get us to Homestead.”

MATT KENSETH – Finished third: “We were decent on the long run, just really struggled getting through the gears and getting through (Turns) 1 and 2, and that really hurt us at the end, obviously, with all those short runs and restarts at the end.  I thought we had a third‑place car most of the day.  I thought the 78 (Martin Truex) and 18 (Kyle Busch) were better.  If I had the track position, I felt like I could do okay with them on the long run, but short run they’d get away from me pretty far, and it was hard to make that distance back up.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fourth: “It was great execution.  The pit crew was really solid today and a pretty good setup too.  Paul Wolfe and the engineers did a good job putting the right stuff under the car.  I felt like we were where we needed to be to win and to run up front with the pit crew and the setup, just kind of lacking a little bit with aero stuff to keep up, but this type of track aerodynamics are a little less important and I felt like it helped us run a little bit higher this week.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR. – Finished fifth: “I could not see anything and I was just approaching the smoke and I’m like, ‘Oh no, where am I going to go?’ I mean, literally I couldn’t see anything and my spotter said go low. By then, it was kind of too late and I was already like to the smoke and I couldn’t commit. I just kind of like just kept slowing down and the 33 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) just came by me on the outside and hit me and spun me down through there, so just unfortunate, you know? We were coming to the green-white-checkered to win the second stage, which would have been another bonus point, which would be helpful and, of course, you know we had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day, so proud of our effort to run fifth after all that, but it definitely hurt our day.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished seventh: “It really wasn’t a strategy race.  We just kept digging and were just off a little bit.  The same cars are kicking everybody’s butt every week.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished ninth: “We were kind of in that fifth to 10th range all day and we ended up with a decent finish. We worked hard on this race track. It definitely has not been one of my best, but it’s nice to see a decent run here. We finished OK and go on to a place like Dover, where we run pretty decent.  Hopefully, we can survive next week and move on.”

Joey Logano – Finished 10th: “We worked our way up into the top 14 or 15 the first run from last and that was the highlight, and then we just kind of stayed right there around 10th the rest of the day and finished there.  I don’t know, you can say if we started a little closer to the front we could hold a few of them off, but we’re just not fast enough really.  I sound like a broken record, but we’re just not fast enough.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 13th: “We fight. This 31 team never gives up. After a rough week at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend, we rallied and turned in a respectable performance today. I wasn’t sure how good we would be because we had two tough days of practice here.  I was happy to see us race into the top 10 in Stage 3. Everyone on this team turned in a solid performance, made gains and now we’re just one point out of the Round of 12. Dover is a good track for us so we’ll keep fighting.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 14th: “We had a lug nut not on our last pit stop on the left-front, so when I went to leave the box I had to stop and back up and put a lug nut on, so I fell from fifth to 15th or something and then just stuck in traffic and couldn’t go anywhere.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 15th: “I think it went as expected. It was a struggle for us all weekend.  I told my guys I felt like we were in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather all week. We just couldn’t find speed, couldn’t find the handle on the car. We made a lot of adjustments for today and was surprisingly a little bit better than we were in practice. I didn’t think we were as capable of a car to finish where we did, but we did what we needed and had some good breaks and some good pit stops and ended up gaining some points. That was our goal, so I feel really good about that. I’d say we’ve had two sub-par weeks and we’re still in this thing, so we’ll regroup and get focused and go to Dover.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 18th: “Billy (Scott) made a good call to wave around, and then we got the free pass, which put us back on the lead lap, and we were able to gain some ground there at the end. Overall though, the Code 3 Associates Ford was just too tight most of the day.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 19th: “We had a decent Chevrolet Accessories SS today but I think that long red flag hurt us. We had a little bit of front end damage, and the brakes getting hot and then cooling down during the red flag certainly did not help. We’re 13th in points now heading into the cut off race, so our goals for Dover are to go out and have a good race. We’ll see where we end up, and hope for the best.”

Paul Menard – Finished 20th: “Everyone on this team fought hard and never gave up today. The SYLVANIA/Menards Chevrolet handled well throughout the weekend, we just got behind on track position and couldn’t really make it up. We had a close call on the backstretch when they wrecked ahead of me and blocked the track. We thought we should have been in the free pass position. I slowed to avoid the wreck, was not involved at all, but for some reason NASCAR determined we were not the free pass. We finally raced back onto the lead lap during the last caution which was a good way to end the race.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 22nd: “We have had some hurdles this weekend in New Hampshire but we were able to make the most of what we had. The backup (car) rolled off the trailer pretty decent especially considering we had no practice laps in it. The GEICO pit crew took a big swing at it under the first stage break caution and we didn’t have to do a lot more to it. It was still a bit too tight but we were able to work with it and learn a lot today.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 24th: “We kept fighting all race long today. We will keep digging and get ready for next week in Dover. I want to thank all my guys on this AdvoCare Ford for their hard work this weekend. Today wasn’t the result we were looking for but we will rebound next week and look for a solid run in Dover.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 35th: “Something broke.  I think they said track bar, but that is all I know, I didn’t talk to Darien (Grubb, crew chief). But, that is what he had said while we were in the garage.  We were working hard.  We got really loose that first run and then got control of the car.  And then it was really tough to pass, but we worked our way back up and were passing for 12th when that happened. …  I think we had a top-10 car if the restarts went the right way.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 36th: “I know as I got sideways there I tried to get thing whoa’d down and pointed in the right direction and it snapped back the other way.  I tried to lock it down and it was too far up across the race track.  I knew I was probably worse off at that particular point, so once it turned back right and I was in trouble I should have just tried to keep it left, but I couldn’t really tell where I was with all the smoke and everything that was happening, but just got hit from behind and spun out.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 37th:  “I don’t know what to say.  It’s tough when you’re running where we were.  We were just trying to limp it to the end of stage two and I heard, ‘Car spinning off of two’ in my ear.  I saw smoke up ahead.  A lot of times they’ll come back up, and I tried to leave the high side or the low side and then, boom, as soon as the smoke cleared I’m looking at Harvick’s door, my teammate.  We’re both running for the Playoffs and it’s a shame that the handling is off and we’re both running where we were, but we were still going to fight all the way to the end, but now we don’t have a chance.  I cannot understand the bad luck that we’re having.”

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

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LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash

 

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR drivers are scheduled to hit the track today in competitive mode for the first time in 2023.

Practice is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on the oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum is scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. (ET). The 36 drivers will be divided into three 12-driver groups for practice.

Cup practice groups

Cup qualfying order

Saturday’s qualifying will set the starting lineups for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races. The top five finishers in each heat race will advance to the main event. Two 50-lap “last chance” races will follow, and the top three finishers in each of those events will join the feature field.

The 150-lap main event is scheduled at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

For the second consecutive year, the Clash is being held on a purpose-built track inside the LA Coliseum, one of sport’s iconic venues. Joey Logano won last year’s race and last year’s series championship and will be among the favorites Sunday.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High 71.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

New NASCAR Cup season features several changes

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While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:

Drivers

— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 

Races

— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.

Rules

Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.

Achievements 

— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.

Friday 5: Clash at Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing

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Mired in traffic was not where Chris Buescher expected to be. Sure, he knew that racing 22 cars on a quarter-mile track inside a stadium that has hosted the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Series would put him in tight confines, but when the green flag waved for last year’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Buescher was in traffic on the freeway.

He was headed to the airport — along with the rest of RFK Racing. 

Both Buescher and team owner Brad Keselowski failed to make last year’s feature, sending them home earlier than expected.

“A punch to the gut,” Buescher told NBC Sports.

NASCAR’s return to the Coliseum for Sunday’s Clash is not a redemption tour for RFK Racing, said Jeremy Thompson, the team’s vice president of race operations. He calls it a reset.

That’s what last year was thought to be with Keselowski leaving Team Penske to become an owner/driver of an organization that had gone more than four years without a points victory before 2022. The Clash was a chance for RFK Racing to show its new direction.

Instead, RFK Racing and Spire Motorsports were the only multi-car teams not to have a car in the feature.

“Yes, it was not a points race, but it just looked bad,” Buescher said. “And it was bad. It hurt our feelings more than anybody else’s, I promise.”

Through that disappointment, lessons were learned.

“We didn’t have a lack of hunger that was holding us back,” Keselowski said of last year’s Clash. “We had a lack of understanding our vehicle dynamics. Understanding was just not good enough on a lot of levels.

“We continue to invest in resources and people to continue to push that forward to where we can go to events like that and feel that we’re a threat to win and we’re not just trying to make the race.

“I don’t think I understood that when I came in, where we were at as a company on the vehicle dynamics side.”

It was clear immediately that Buescher and Keselowski were in trouble. Buescher was 21st on the speed chart in practice; Keselowski was 33rd of 36 cars. 

“The car bounced so bad that I thought we were going to rip the transmission right out,” Buescher said of last year’s Clash weekend. “We spent all of practice trying to make the car just drive in a circle vs. trying to make it faster. We missed … before we ever left (the shop).”

Said Thompson about last year’s Clash: “I felt like our effort going into that was exceptionally high. We left no stone unturned. We just turned over some of the wrong stones.”

Two weeks later, both Keselowski and Buescher won their qualifying races at Daytona, but there was much work to do to overcome flaws with other parts of their program.

“We’re pushing really hard on vision and values of what it takes to be a high performer at this level, whether that is getting all the details right in the shop or on the road,” Keselowski said.

RFK Racing learned from its struggles early in the season, particularly with its short track program. Buescher, who had never placed better than 16th at Phoenix at the time, finished 10th there last March, a little more than a month after the Clash. He called his top 10 that day “a small win.”

Progress continued but it was not quick. Buescher placed third at Richmond last August before winning the Bristol night race in the playoffs. Keselowski was seventh at New Hampshire last July and won the first stage at the Bristol night race in September before a flat tire ruined his chances.

Keselowski acknowledges that turning RFK Racing into a team that can contend weekly for wins will take some time, but he sees progress.

“We’re not everywhere we need to be, but we definitely have a plan to get there,” he said. “Navigating that plan is challenging, but we’re on a path.”

2. Why not more horsepower?

NASCAR will take what it learned in last week’s Phoenix test to the wind tunnel on Feb. 13. If the wind tunnel test of short track enhancements goes well, changes could be implemented before the April 2 race at Richmond.

The changes being tested in the wind tunnel are a smaller spoiler (2 inches) and some adjustments to the underbody of the car. 

Still, one suggestion drivers often make is to give them more horsepower.

“I think there’s a misconception that we could take the existing engines and just throw 200 horsepower in it,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in response to a question from NBC Sports. 

“We do have multiple-race engines today that we have to keep in mind. (More horsepower) is something that we are actively discussing, but, obviously, we don’t do that in a vacuum. We do that with the engine builders.

“But anybody that has been around, we’ve raced high horsepower and low downforce before and ended up at some point in time deciding to go away from that to get more entertaining racing. … I think we’re open to entertaining any horsepower gains that we can get with our current (engine) architecture, but anything beyond that is actually not something that can happen quickly.”

Probst later said that keeping the engines in the current horsepower range could prove helpful for any manufacturer looking to join the sport.

“One of the reasons we landed on the horsepower range we’re in now is to try to land in areas that have existing racing engines designed for them, similar to our current (manufacturers),” Probst said. “We’re not hiding from the fact that we would like to encourage some new (manufacturers) to come in. That is part of the equation for that whole thing. I’m not saying it’s the driving reason, but it is a consideration.”

3. Crossing the line

The quarter-mile oval in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will provide plenty of chances to hit bumpers, doors and other parts of the car Sunday.

But there’s a line between short track racing and racing without respect. 

For Ryan Preece, who is running his first race in the No. 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend, there is a clear divide.

“There’s certainly a way to go about it in quarter-mile racing where you can pass somebody without hitting them,” said Preece, a veteran of racing modifieds in bullrings. 

So how does he tell what’s crossing the line on a short track?

“If somebody drives into me getting into the center of the corner, they’re in control of their race car at that point,” Preece said. “So that or door slamming somebody, not even trying to make the corner, are two good examples (of not racing with respect).”

Preece relies on a lesson he learned racing modifieds with how to race in close quarters.

“I’ll never forget this, I was at Thompson (Speedway) and I used (seven-time modified champion) Mike Stefanik up pretty well into Turn 2 with probably six or seven laps to go, trying to chase down the leader. It didn’t happen. 

“I said, ‘Oh, hey man, I’m sorry. I had to do what I had to do for my team.’ He looked at me and said ‘Well, what about my team? What about the guys I race with?’ 

“I think that day really helped me understand that side of things. You want to race with as much respect as you possibly can. There’s a way to do it, a way to race somebody hard but not overstep the line.”

4. On the same page

Ty Dillon moves to Spire Motorsports this season as a teammate to Corey LaJoie.

Dillon will drive the No. 77 car, which has never finished in the top 30 in car owner points since its debut in 2019. The best the car placed was 31st in owner points in 2021.

Dillon says he has confidence in building the program based on Spire Motorsports’ approach.

“We aren’t unrealistic about where we are,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

But he also said that management has workable goals.

“We said, ‘Hey, here’s where we stand in the spectrum of the race teams,’ ” Dillon said. “Here’s our goals. Here’s what we believe we can accomplish. The structure of what everybody knows and how we’re all pulling in the same direction is a real confidence (boost).

“We know we’re not going to be the team that competes every single weekend for wins, but we’re going to be the best at who we are. Over time, people are going to say, ‘Damn, Spire has taken a step.’ … We’re long-term focused and everybody’s on the same page as that.

“I’ve been a part of a team that said, ‘Hey, we’re wanting to build something.’ Well, you get 10 races in and they haven’t won a race and they’re throwing everybody out the door.”

Dillon said the “realistic, genuine expectation” at Spire Motorsports makes this situation feel different for him.

“The hope and optimism is knowing that we’re all on the same page,” he said.

5. Rule book changes 

NASCAR announced a series of rule changes this week and stated that it would outlaw the video game move Ross Chastain made on the final lap of last year’s Martinsville race. 

NASCAR also made a number of changes to the rule book this week.

Among those:

— Intentionally damaging another car on pit road could lead a Cup driver to be penalized 25-50 points and/or 25-50 owner points and/or $50,000 – $100,000 fine. Last year, intentionally damaging another car on pit road could lead only to a fine of $25,000 – $50,000.

— Member to member confrontations with physical violence and other violent manifestations could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension or membership revocation. Last year, such an infraction was listed as incurring a penalty of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or a fine of $50,000 – $100,000. Violations also could result in a race suspension(s), indefinite suspension or termination.

— In the past, if a car could not go when it was time to make a qualifying attempt, it was put on a five-minute clock to do so. That’s changed this year. Now, the clock will be no more than one minute unless it is a safety issue. 

Also, NASCAR listed the length of each Cup race. The inaugural Chicago Street Course Race is scheduled for 100 laps.