What drivers said after Martinsville

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What drivers said after the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the opening race of the third round of playoffs.

Kyle Busch – Winner: “Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville. You know, I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead and that’ll make us this year’s champions, so we’ve got one more. Just wanted to say our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault, we just came out on the right end of the stick. Can’t say enough about NOS Energy Drinks, Cessna, DVX Sunglasses. My son Brexton’s at home, he’s not here with us this weekend, so want to say hey to him, we’ll see you later tonight buddy. Looking forward to going to Homestead.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “You know, to run second here is awesome. I think we had a fifth- or sixth-place car all day long. We couldn’t quite get better than that, but I’m really proud of that effort for everybody – for all our guys. So we fought hard all day, we didn’t give up and we had a shot at it there (on) the last lap. Got inside of Kyle (Busch), just couldn’t get the power down off of (Turn) 4. I didn’t want to be the one to knock him out-of-the-way for the win. Maybe I should have, but I don’t know. Those guys kept knocking each other out-of-the-way up there in the front, I’m not sure that’s the way to do it.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 3rd: “It seems we’ve been struggling here lately trying to get some consistency in there to say the least, but fell back and got back up through them. Then we had some more trouble and we’d gain some and lose some, gain some and lose some and we finally got there at the end. I wish they would have got into each other one more time and I just went ahead and finished the last one off if it was down to one, but it’s just a product of that situation. Those guys are racing for a lot, there’s a lot on the line and you know on a green-white-checker at a place like this all hell is gonna break loose. The only thing I can say is why we don’t race at night is beyond me here.  You should definitely utilize those lights for something other than a green-white-checkered because it’s pretty damn cool under the lights.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 4th: “I just knew I got in the corner and he was inside me and we had contact. I haven’t seen anymore of that to really have any clarity to it. The track is just real slick on the restarts for everybody. You saw that. It takes about five laps for anyone to get going or more, especially the leader, but there was a lot of hard fighting here because it’s a short track. That’s what short tracks are kind of about is rooting and gauging. You try not to take anybody out, but you’ve got to sometimes rub a little bit.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 5th: “Four races to go at Martinsville, playoff time and everybody is trying to get everything they can. It was a crazy finish. But for us our goal was to score stage points. I think we scored (four) stage points and got a top-five. My goal was a top 10. The goal was to not lose it today. I’m really proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing. They built this car in two weeks after our test. We were way more competitive here. And as you look at the results, they show it. We have bent up fenders but it looks like the whole field does.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 7th: “Well (Chase Elliott) said I wrecked him and obviously, you know Ray Charles saw that. Obviously it wasn’t intentional, I wanted to move him out of the way and there was just not enough grip on the race track for him to save it. There’s no difference, he washed the 2 (Brad Keselowski) up the race track as well. I mean, we can play favorites with who we want. Unfortunately, this is a ticket to Homestead at stake.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 8th: “I felt the first half of our day was pretty good. We lost a lot of handle in the second half after the second stage and really were struggling. On short runs I thought we were OK for 20 laps or so, but the last handful of restarts were just pandemonium. It was pretty ridiculous with everyone wrecking each other and running into each other. I thought we were gonna make it through the last one, but we just kind of got caught up off of four in all that stuff.  At least we salvaged a decent day.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 11th: “Yeah, we ran pretty good there toward the end of the race.  I liked the car.  We were sitting there on that long run saving the rear tires.  If it would have went green we were going to get a bunch of cars.  But, just had that caution when the No. 66 (Carl Long) blew the tire, so we had to run hard for the rest of the race.  But, man I can’t believe how everybody crossed the finish line.  I ain’t seen nothing like that … I don’t know if I ever have seen it.  Trying to think back.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.  There was a wreck one time at Richmond before they ever reconfigured it in the Xfinity race on the front straightaway in like 1982… that is the only thing I ever seen like it.  But, crazy finish.  Decent run.  I think that is, let’s see, 12th place is our worst finish in the last six weeks, pretty decent for us this year.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 12th: “We were just terrible all day.  Oh, what a bummer.  We had high hopes for this weekend.  Man, it just didn’t turn out so well.  So, we scored some points here and there.  We will go to the next one and try to get more.”

Joey Logano – Finished 24th: “I was passing the 24 (Chase Elliott). I had a good run on him and the 18 (Kyle Busch) sent it three-wide. I tried to give him room and he slid up. I don’t know. I have to watch the replay, but he slid up and got up in the left rear and cut it down.”

CHASE ELLIOTT – Finished 27th: “We had a great car today and we had an opportunity. We had a good restart there at the end and felt like I was doing what I needed to do. And I can’t control (Denny Hamlin’s) decisions and whatever the hell that was. We’re on to Texas.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 30th: “Our No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS was just a bit tight in the center of the corners tonight, but the crew made some good adjustments for that. We were able to run competitive speeds during the long green flag runs. Unfortunately, it was an uphill battle for us after we had the early problems. We knocked a hole in the left front and sustained some left rear damage when we were part of the first caution, then we ended up getting a flat left rear tire. We were never able to get all those laps back.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 37th: “I just got tight up off (Turn) 2 and got into a lapper’s left-rear and I just spun really quick and hit the inside wall. Another Martinsville for us. I’ve got to figure out how to get around this place. I suck here.”

Roger Penske was ready for his close-up in popular commercial

Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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MONTEREY, California – Roger Penske is the only team owner in auto racing history who has 18 “Baby Borg” Trophies in his possession for his team’s record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500.

Perhaps his next trophy should be an Emmy.

Penske took part in a commercial along with 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and one of his NASCAR Cup drivers, Ryan Blaney. The commercial was shot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 7 while NASCAR was in town for the Brickyard 400.

The premise of the commercials is a takeoff on the 2006 comedy, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” with Blaney playing the Ricky Bobby role and Pagenaud playing the Jean Girard role.

The commercial was shot by NBC to promote its coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and concludes with Penske stepping in between the two drivers, demanding them to, “Go out there and win races.”

Penske delivered the line perfectly and in just three takes.

“It took me about five minutes,” Penske told NBCSports.com. “They made it very easy for me. We let the guys do all of the hard work. It was fun for me to do. I saw it, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself.

“I’m ready for the next commercial.”

Penske’s ability to deliver his lines perfectly impressed NBC Sports Group President of Programing Jon Miller.

“I assume he’s got his SAG card,” Miller told NBCSports.com. “He has certainly been in front of the camera enough, and he’s quite an ambassador for the sport, so we were not at all surprised by that.”

NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood was also highly impressed with Penske’s ability to turn into an actor in front of the camera.

“We were thrilled that he agreed to do it,” Flood told NBC Sports.com. “It’s one of those special things and the kind of guy he is to jump on board and make it even bigger because we had a ‘Plan B’ if Roger couldn’t do it, and when we got the confirmation, we knew we had something special that was going to happen.

“Roger Penske did the ad with two of his drivers that we shot at the Brickyard last week that got out there. A lot of fun, a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past. I think that’s part of us leaning in as NBC in trying to grow all of motorsports, and it’s important that every form of racing gets attention, and that’s what we’re pushing, as you know all too well.”

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, who will take a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix, also was complimentary of his team owner.

“Wow, I was impressed,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “First of all, how did they get him to do a cameo? That was cool. And he nailed it.

“The pressure on Simon and Blaney to nail it, after Roger does it in only three takes? Wow, the pressure was really on them to deliver their lines.”

Pagenaud thought Penske’s first take was the best.

“It didn’t take long for Roger to deliver his line, he was on top of it,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com. “NBCSN was very excited about the idea. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made sure we were able to get into Gasoline Alley early that day. It was the Saturday of the Brickyard 400 and it was early, but Roger was probably up since 2 a.m. I’m sure, so it wasn’t early for him.

“It was good, the script was fun and well done. I forced my French and Blaney being the perfect American NASCAR driver and Roger just being himself was just perfect. It shows personality between NASCAR and INDYCAR. NBC is doing such a great job showing both fans on both sides what is going in and it helps everybody get interested in both sports.”

Penske was asked if that is how he normally talks to his drivers in a prerace situation to fire them up.

“That’s not the normal, daily message, but that’s how it helped those two guys get going,” Penske said. “I think NBC has done a great job in all cases on IndyCar. The continuity of having the same partner has made a huge difference. The talent knows the drivers. They know the situation. Guys like Paul Tracy and the experience of Leigh Diffey and the whole group has done a great job.

“It’s about good racing. We have good teams. Lots of competition, new drivers and date equity. And it’s attracting young people.”

Penske believes the addition of NBC Sports to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, including the season’s final race on the NBC, has been a big boost to the series.

“Any time you are on network is great,” Penske said. “It’s great for the sponsors, the notoriety for the team and the drivers is very important for all of us as we finish up the season. It’s going to be a great weekend, and I hope we can continue the movement we’ve had and the momentum we’ve had coming up to the last weekend.”

Richmond winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It was a 1-2-3-4 finish until Erik Jones’ car failed inspection. Still the team scored a 1-2-3 finish and claimed its fourth consecutive win on a short track with Martin Truex Jr.’s triumph. Don’t forget, the organization also won Friday’s Xfinity race with Christopher Bell.

Ryan Newman His fifth-place finish tied his best result of the year and was his third consecutive top-10 showing. He was encouraged by the team running toward the front and noted: “You take away those four Gibbs cars, we were racing for the win. I know it doesn’t work that way, but if they would have had one bad meeting (incident) we would’ve been in the hunt.” Still, Newman moved into a transfer spot heading into this coming weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Brad KeselowskiHe finished fourth and was the only driver outside of Joe Gibbs Racing to lead Saturday’s race.

Bubba Wallace His 12th-place finish was his third top-15 result in the last five races. He had one top-15 finish in the first 23 races of the season.

Front Row Motorsports — All three of its cars placed 21st or better, the first time the team has accomplished that feat this season. David Ragan was 19th, rookie Matt Tifft placed 20th and Michael McDowell was 21st.

LOSERS

Erik Jones He was feeling good about his fourth-place finish that put him within three points of the final transfer spot to the next round only to later find out that his car was disqualified for failing inspection after the race. Now he’s 45 points out of the final transfer spot and is essentially in a must-win situation. He faces being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for a second year in a row.

William Byron Got lapped in the final circuits before the end of each stage and also had a pit road speeding penalty. That led to a season-worst 25th-place finish. He holds the final transfer spot to the second round by two points on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman heading to the Roval.

Brad Keselowski bumped up to fourth, but JGR domination still ‘not good news’

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Brad Keselowski ended Saturday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Richmond Raceway with what he thought was a fifth-place finish.

About an hour later though, Keselowski was moved up one position to fourth place after original fourth-place finisher Erik Jones was disqualified after his car failed post-race inspection.

Still, gaining one extra finishing position didn’t make the 2012 NASCAR Cup champion happy because of Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination in the second race of the playoffs – even with Jones’ DQ.

(How JGR finished is) definitely not good news,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got work to do. (JGR is) really strong and we’re not where we need to be to be able to beat them heads-up, but we threw everything we had at them.

We put down a great qualifying lap, got the first pit stall, had great pit stops and got to the lead, but just didn’t have the raw speed to keep it.”

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

MORE: Results, points after 2nd race of Cup playoffs at Richmond

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ car for failing inspection

Keselowski tweeted a few hours after the race that he didn’t “take no pleasure & seek no treasure from another man’s loss,” referring to Jones’ DQ.


Even so, Keselowski took some consolation from his overall performance.

We led 80-some laps, so it’s not a bad day but just not nearly fast enough to dominate the race and win,” he said.

Keselowski mistakenly said in a post-race interview that he had joined Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in advancing to the Round of 12 two weeks from now due to his points in the standings.

Yeah, we’re locked into the next round,” Keselowski said. “That feels good. I’m proud of that effort.”

Actually, Keselowski left Richmond two points shy of being locked into the next playoff round. That will have to come next Sunday at Charlotte’s Roval.

There’s still work to do not only for Keselowski’s car, but also those of his teammates — Joey Logano finished 11th and Ryan Blaney 17th — to counter JGR’s domination.

But what exactly has to be done is a question mark, Keselowski said.

Honestly, I don’t know,” Keselowski said. “They’ve got all the secrets so we need to find some more secrets.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch sees progress in runner-up finish at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. — After his fiery comments last week led some to be critical of his attitude toward slower drivers, Kyle Busch was calmer after his runner-up performance to Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Busch led a race-high 202 of 400 laps but lost the lead to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate with 26 laps to go and had to settle for second place.

“We put up a valiant effort,” Busch said.

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ fourth-place finishing car

While his winless drought starched to 14 races, Busch noted that the performance was a step forward for the No. 18 Toyota team.

“I know we’re capable of it, the team is capable of it,” said Busch, who clinched a spot in the second round with his 54-point night. “Just stupid things have been biting us this year and we put it all together tonight. I didn’t speed on pit road, pit crew did a good job, our car was fast and we made the most of our effort.”

Whether it was Busch hitting the wall (or another car) at Las Vegas, an engine failure at Indianapolis, the pit crew losing the lead at Darlington or a speeding penalty at Watkins Glen (and hitting cars), Busch and the team have been off in recent races despite often having the speed to challenge for wins. In the process, Busch has lost the chance to collect many more playoff points.

He was strong enough Saturday night to win the second stage, giving him his third stage win in the last seven races.

But Busch didn’t have enough at the end to keep Truex behind him.

“We ran OK,” Busch said. “(Truex) could follow closer than I could, and he was better on the long run than I was. Why? Maybe I pushed my tires too hard there at the last stint at the beginning trying to stay ahead of (Denny Hamlin), which gave (Truex) the opportunity to kind of save his stuff and roll around and attack later.”