What Cup drivers said after Talladega playoff race

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Here’s what the field had to say after the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Brad Keselowski – Winner: “This is still sinking in. It is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three, and we had them all today.”

Ryan Newman – Finished second: “We held them off longer than I expected. I couldn’t tell how much nose damage I had, and I hadn’t led all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I saw (Brad Keselowski) in the mirror backing up and then he lost his draft and then he backed up again and he caught (Joey Logano). That was all it took for him to get a good run. I would have maybe played it differently and backed it up in hindsight, backed up to them in hindsight, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. They were double-teaming me, and you know it was still a good race to finish second.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished third:  “I was right in the middle of it and, man, I was sliding backwards up the race track thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to hurt.  Somebody is coming through or I’m going to back it in the fence.’  I just kept turning the wheel to the left trying to get the nose to slide around and it did, and I ended up going straight, so that was pretty cool.  My guys did a good job of fixing the damage. We couldn’t have been back out there with speed if they didn’t assess it.  We got a red flag to be able to look at everything, and they did a great job getting the work done, getting it back on track and just thankful we finished one. We just survived better than everybody else. It wasn’t injury-free for sure.”

JOEY LOGANO – Finished fourth: “Brad and I worked well together, and we were able to help him win the race today, which was good.  I wish we could have won the race.  I had a good enough run, but the damage and all – even though the guys did a good job fixing it – you could tell the speed wasn’t there as much at the end, but we were still able to pick up enough to keep some speed in it and get a fourth-place finish.  It’s a good way to recover after a crash to finish fourth.  I guess you should be proud of that, but I’m still mad I didn’t win.”

Aric Almirola – Finished fifth:  “That was exciting.  The whole race was exciting.  Right there at the end I was really committed to making sure that we got a blue oval (Ford) to Victory Lane.  I was kind of watching (Brad Keselowski) and (Joey Logano), and we were all kind of trying to work together, and my car had some damage on it from earlier in the race, and I knew my car wasn’t probably good enough to lead, but if I could have done something right there at the end, we might have been able to pull one off.  But, nonetheless, we were able to get a (Ford) to Victory Lane.  It’s great for everybody at Ford and cool to see Brad win.  He’s obviously been really successful here at Talladega, but I honestly thought for a minute there we might have a shot at it.  Some things just didn’t work out going down the back straightaway.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished sixth: “I maybe should’ve pushed (Ryan Newman) a little bit longer. I tried to pass him in a different spot. Yeah, just a flick shy of clearing him there, and I knew if I could clear him, then the runs were going to be very small because there were very few cars out there. I did what I wanted to do. I pushed him out there to the lead, stayed attached and then made a move, but I just didn’t do a very good job there those last two laps.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished seventh: “Yeah, we got lucky. That was just luck being in the right place at the right time and not getting swept up in any of those wrecks. We had one there that knocked the splitter down really bad on the right front, and that is why we couldn’t do anything at the end.  The car was just dragging the ground and wouldn’t go, wouldn’t take off, so it was a little wounded out there at the end.  Still got a decent finish and came out of here in one piece.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 11th: “We were able to avoid a lot of the crashes today at Talladega, and the GEICO Chevrolet was really fast. We suffered a little bit of nose damage early, but it wasn’t anything that affected the car. I thought if we had a chance to work with another Chevrolet we would be able to get to the front, but I couldn’t get any help from behind. We ended up 11th. It was a good day for our team, but I know our car was better than 11th. It’s just tough, and it’s disappointing we couldn’t get any help from behind to make a run at it at the end.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 13th: “I think (Chase Elliott) got into (Daniel Suarez) and got him sideways and in to me. There are a lot of torn up cars, but we still finished 13th and maintained our points on the cutoff there. It would have been a worse day. But it also could have been better … could have won. I was glad we decided to race there in the second half. There was a lot of opportunities to get caught up in crashes. It was just crazy that a lot of the playoff guys, pretty much everybody except Brad (Keselowski) and Denny (Hamlin) got collected in wrecks. Pretty crazy day but a typical Talladega. Just need to go to Kansas and have a solid race. A top-10 run will be all we need to do probably.”

CHASE ELLIOTT – Finished 16th: “I had a really big run, Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) was giving me a great shove and Daniel (Suarez) had left enough room in the middle and (Kyle) Larson left me enough room from the bottom. There was a hole and I filled it. I don’t guess Daniel (Suarez) either saw me in time or what it was just had a high rate of speed coming and he didn’t know or tried to block it I’m not sure. We will move on.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 18th: “We were up by the wall, and somebody probably got turned, and I got in it.  I didn’t think there were enough cars to wreck that much anymore, but we happened to find it and a good day kind of down the drain.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 20th: “I’m fine. The last (wreck) we slowed down, and I got in the back of (Brendan Gaughan). I checked up and then (Ryan Blaney) popped up on the race track, and I couldn’t get slowed down. It was just a bad weekend. The Busch Light Ford wasn’t as good as we needed. We had to start in the back and went to the back a couple other times and just couldn’t make anything happen.  We were on defense the whole time and wound up wrecked twice, so not a good weekend.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 23rd: “I got into the right rear of (David Ragan) a little bit, and he got squirrelly, and then they started wrecking in front of us so I don’t know if I turned him sideways, and he hit somebody on the inside and then hit somebody on the outside in front of me. I’m not sure if that was the cause of the accident or it was just a secondary thing. I hadn’t seen anything up ahead of us. If it was my fault, I hate it for everybody involved. Just Talladega. Just everybody running hard with 18 to go and trying to get in a hole that really wasn’t there yet.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 24th: “Really hard to tell what started (the wreck with 16 laps to go). I just saw (David Ragan) turning down across the group and hooked me and sent me up into the wall. What we are trying to get to the bottom of is our spotter was informed to let us start working on the car, and I guess there was some miscommunication there from NASCAR to our spotter, and we may have lost some valuable points on pit road as a result. So, we’ve got to get to the bottom of that and find out what happened there.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 25th: “We got hooked in the right rear, and I was pretty close to the front of the pack. I am just happy everything turned out the way it did to just not get clobbered by all the cars coming by. My guess is the outside lane was all jumbled up getting aggressive and pushing and somebody spun out and clipped us in the right rear. I thought we were looking good. We were coming from behind and the inside lane was open and we were making hay but now here we are coming out of the infield care center. That is just Talladega. That is how it works out. We need to figure out how to make the cars better so everybody can bump draft a little harder.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 26th: “I really haven’t seen the replay. I was just running up the bottom there and (David Ragan) ended up right in front of us. It was a bummer. We were working on getting our track position back. We felt good in the first run and got hung out there at the end of the second stage and were just working on our track position. I felt like we had a really fast Ford to contend for a win and put on a show for all these fans that came out. Bummer we don’t get to do it but we will go on to Kansas next week and have some fun.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 27th: “I’m fine. I just didn’t know where the heck (Jimmie Johnson) came from with all of the headrests and all of that stuff I never saw him coming. I wish I would’ve obviously, I would’ve tried to dodge left and go to the apron and shoot down there. Looking at it, it looks like I could’ve missed it. Just never seen him coming, so unfortunately we got caught up in that mess. None of our own wrong doing. I thought when I cleared (David Ragan), I was home free of it and then had another one come up from the left side. Just hate it for my guys and everything going on with what our situation was today. We’ll just have to go on and go to Kansas now.”

Landon Cassill – Finished 28th: “Honestly, I just saw David (Ragan) sideways in front of me.  I don’t know what started (the wreck) or if he was the second thing that happened, but somebody hit me from behind or something and sent me into the wall.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 29th: “Just part of this racing. What do you do? You can go and race hard all day. You can ride in the back and try to not to get in one of those big wrecks. I was proud we got some of those stage points. Was trying to push back up there. We were in a pretty good spot. Had a little momentum there. Just got caught in the wreck. There was nowhere to go. You are just holding on after that. It took the car out. (Ryan Newman) got shuffled to the back and (was) just riding there. He does that a lot in these races and it seems to work out. Maybe I need to do that strategy. If your car is not fast enough to lead, you should probably stay in the back.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 30th: “It was just chaos. Just tried to get clear of it. I almost had it cleared and then somebody came down the track and got us. It is part of Talladega racing. You know there is going to be a big one, but you don’t where or when, you just hope you aren’t in it. Just doesn’t seem to matter if you are in the front, or the middle or the back. You just aren’t immune to it.”

Erik Jones – Finished 36th: “It was kind of hard to see from my view. I was behind (Kyle Busch) and he started checking up, he swerved off to the left, and (Jamie McMurray) was sitting there really slow on the race track so I didn’t really have any choice. Unfortunately ran him over and kind of caused a chain reaction from there. It’s a bummer. We didn’t get to race today and I was hoping we’d just get a chance to go up and see what we had. It’s unfortunate, but those kind of things are going to happen here.”

JAMIE McMURRAY – Finished 37th: “We wanted to pit a couple of laps earlier, and you’re somewhat dependent on the spotters to tell you when you’re going to pit. You assume everyone is working as a group. It was my fault. I assumed that they said (Kyle Busch) was going to let me in, so I thought we were all going to pit. I didn’t even know where (Erik Jones) was. When I got on the brakes, I thought we were all coming to pit road as a group. I’ll take the blame for that. I just kind of assumed we were coming to pit road right there. Obviously not everyone was.”

Friday’s schedule for Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR’s race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today with Cup qualifying and practice sessions for Cup and Xfinity.

Here’s the day’s full schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

Noon – 8 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

5 – 5:50 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Friday 5: Kansas could be start of dominant run for Big 3

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The opening half of the playoffs, with its Roval and other schedule changes, saw five different winners but such parity may be replaced beginning this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Three of the season’s final five races will be at 1.5-mile tracks — Kansas, Texas and Homestead. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have dominated this season on the 1.5-mile tracks.

Consider what they’ve done this year on such tracks:

Atlanta — Harvick won, leading 181 of 325 laps; Truex was fifth.

Las Vegas — Harvick won, leading 214 of 267 laps; Busch was second and Truex was fourth.

Texas — Busch won, leading 116 of 334 laps; Harvick was second.

Kansas — Harvick won, leading 79 of 267 laps; Truex was second 

Coca-Cola 600 — Busch won, leading 377 of 400 laps; Truex was second.

Chicago — Busch won, leading 59 of 267 laps; Harvick was third and Truex was fourth.

Kentucky — Truex won, leading 174 of 267 laps; Busch was fourth and Harvick was fifth.

Las Vegas — Brad Keselowski won; Truex was third, leading 96 of 272 laps.

Also consider that Harvick, Busch and Truex combined to win 12 of the 17 stages at those tracks and one can see how difficult it could be for other drivers if this trend continues.

Keselowski (-18 points), Ryan Blaney (-22), Kyle Larson (-26 with his team appealing his Talladega penalty) and Alex Bowman (-68) enter this weekend’s race below the cutoff line. Bowman must win or he’ll be eliminated. Larson, Blaney and Keselowski will need to win or hope others have problems to advance. Scoring a victory won’t be easy against Harvick, Busch and Truex, who have combined to win the last five Kansas races.

Don’t be surprised if the Big 3 dominate the second half of the playoffs.

2. The value of playoff points

Martin Truex Jr. enters Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) in the last transfer spot.

He holds that position because of the 38 playoff points he’s accumulated this season. His advantage would be much less without having scored so many playoff points.

Brad Keselowski trails Truex by 18 points for that transfer spot. Keselowski has scored 13 fewer playoff points than Truex.

Ryan Blaney trails Truex by 22 points. Blaney has scored 25 fewer playoff points than Truex.

All the points matter throughout the season.

3. Kind words about Kyle Busch from a competitor

At a media event Thursday to promote the upcoming Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was asked about competing against Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

“I love racing against Kyle Busch,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle is one of the best drivers that is ever going to come through this sport. The things that he does in the car are great, but he knows a lot about the car, too.

“And Martin (Truex Jr.) and those guys have run well over the last few years, so racing with those two teams, we’ve been around each other in the garage a lot. There’s a lot of respect amongst the three teams, but we all want to beat each other.”

4. What’s at stake …

Jimmie Johnson has five races left to score a victory this season and continue his streak of seasons with at least one win.

He’s gone 16 seasons with at least one victory, tying him with Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace for third on the all-time list.

Richard Petty holds the record at 18 consecutive seasons with at least one victory. David Pearson had at least a victory in 17 consecutive seasons.

5. How much does testing matter?

Kansas was one of three tracks NASCAR held organizational tests this season, allowing one car per organization to test.

In the previous two organizational tests this season (Las Vegas and Richmond), the winner did not test.

Kyle Larson was the fastest both days of the Las Vegas test on Jan. 31-Feb. 1. He finished third, highest among those who tested.

Kevin Harvick took part in the organizational test at Richmond on Aug. 27-28. He went on to finish second, highest among those who tested.

The organizational test at Kansas Speedway was Sept. 24-25. Here’s who tested:

Playoff drivers: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

Drivers eliminated or didn’t make playoffs: Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard.

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Dale Jr. Download: Talladega’s wild weekends

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A mostly uneventful race at Talladega last week turned wild in Turn 1 of the white-flag lap. A multi-car crash might have ended the race if not for the fact that NASCAR judged all the drivers in the accident were safe. Some drivers – notably Kurt Busch, who ran out of gas in Turn 4 of that same lap – were not happy.

But NASCAR was in a no-win situation.

“If NASCAR throws the yellow, they’re going to get criticized for not letting it play out; if NASCAR doesn’t throw they yellow, they’re going to get criticized for not throwing the yellow,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download.

Earnhardt then recalled some other controversial calls when NASCAR threw the caution to this disapproval of the fans.

In April 2004, Jeff Gordon beat Earnhardt when the field was frozen due to a yellow flag. Afterward, irate fans hurled cans of beer at Gordon’s car.

“Jeff had just gotten up toward the front,” Earnhardt said. “And we’d been doing well all day long – and this would have been five in a row. So down the back straightaway going into [Turn] 3, Jeff side-drafted me and got ahead and I was side drafting him back and was starting to go back by him. And that motion as I’m starting to go back by him … another couple of hundred yards and I’d be back out front. And the 25 car [Brian Vickers] spun in the middle of the corner. NASCAR’s precedent at the time was the field was froze as soon as the car started to spin.”

Earnhardt was frustrated that Gordon, who had led significantly fewer laps in the race, was going to win.

We’re riding around and those beer cans are flying across the racetrack,” Earnhardt continued. “I got up against the wall behind the fence so I’m not getting many beer cans. Jeff goes further and further down toward the apron. … They were like throwing full beer cans. Now you know you’ve got some pissed off Alabama fans when they’re willing to throw a full can of beer.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Aric Almirola replaces grim Kansas memories with fond ones

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The 2017 crash in the spring Kansas Speedway that seriously injured Aric Almirola and kept him from competing in seven races that season continues to define his career.

“Breaking my back was obviously not in the plan,” Almirola said in an interview on NASCAR America. “I didn’t anticipate ever being injured in a racecar. Everybody always thinks, ‘that’s not going to happen to me.’ ”

But it did and each time Almirola returns to Kansas – like he will Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC) – he is met with memories of the accident that will not go away. That’s because his crash continues to be part of the highlight reel for this track as one of its most dramatic moments.

As it turns out, his thoughts about the track have become fond ones.

Later in 2017, Almirola finished ninth in the fall Kansas race after finishing fifth the week before at Talladega. He finished ninth again this spring.

“Something that really stuck out to me there is how his perception has changed,” Parker Kligerman said on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. “Sometimes you have drivers who ascend to the top very quickly and they don’t have, maybe, a respect for what they’re doing and what they’re getting to do week in and week out. And when they’re … forced to watch the sport from another angle and … just observe, a lot of time they come away being faster, better, more appreciative.”

This week, Almirola goes to the track with an even better feeling after winning last week’s race at Talladega.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter