What Drivers Said after Sunday’s race at Texas

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With their respective tickets now punched through to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks, Kevin Harvick and runner-up Martin Truex Jr. had plenty to say after Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

So did a lot of other drivers, especially the remaining five who will fight next week at Phoenix for the final vacancy in Championship 4:

Kevin Harvick – Winner: “This feels so good. We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to victory lane. Today we had to earn it. To be able to pass the 78 car (Martin Truex Jr) for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile at Homestead to race for the championship.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished second: “One of those deals, I think we could have held them off on a clean race track, but the 6 car (Trevor Bayne) is in the damn way every week – that’s pretty normal. … (On clinching a spot in the championship race) It feels great. It feels amazing – that’s what we set out to do this year was to make it to Homestead and fight for the title and we feel like we’re right there. I just can’t wait to get there and get back to work. I wish we could have won today, it would have been a little sweeter going and locking it up in victory lane, but we were off a little bit there at the end.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished third: “The 4 (Kevin Harvick) and 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) were really fast all day. We had a really good FedEx Camry, just had a couple bad restarts there where I went high, lost my track position and we had to take two (tires) to get that track position back that I lost. Overall, a good day – I mean great points day. We scored a lot of points, but lost positions there with the 4 winning, so we’ll – we’ll just keep digging, keep giving ourselves a shot to win and hopefully next week will be our week.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished fourth: “First run of the day was fun. Everybody was on three-cycle scuffs and we were on stickers. We got to the end, we had a good car when we got to get up through there pretty quick, but just got tight on that last set of tires for some reason. … I’d always draw the outside lane on a restart and lose a couple spots. It’s just hard to overcome that. That was our worst run of the day and it was still pretty competitive, so it was nice to be competitive.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fifth: “We had a pretty good car. Something happened on Lap 1 (collided with Kyle Busch) and basically we started the race last and a lap-and-a-half down. That cost us a bunch of stage points, but we rallied with a solid effort to get back to fifth. I’m happy for that. … (You are +19 in points) “I need more than that. I’d feel confident if we were locked in. These races you don’t know what’s gonna happen. Nineteen points isn’t terrible for a cushion. We’ll need to go and have a solid race at Phoenix next week and hope none of the other guys win. It’s doable, but it’s gonna be a nail biter next week for sure.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished sixth: “Obviously, we need to be really aggressive. We need to go try and win the race. That’s really the only thing we can do, so I’m proud of the effort by the team today. We didn’t start off very good and we got really good towards the middle and had one run where I was super-loose towards the end. I gave up like five spots. I got real loose and that was unfortunate, but we got our car a little bit better at the end. … (What he must do at Phoenix) You pretty much have to go and win the race. That’s all we can do. It’s gonna be hard to point your way in because everyone is running pretty good. We’ll just try to win Phoenix and do the best we can.”

Chase Elliott – Finished eighth: “We weren’t very good all day. Had some good restarts there and was able to get some decent track position at times, just never could hold it, so a frustrating afternoon. … (You have to win at Phoenix, right?) Yeah, I guess. So, we will try our best out there and see what happens.”

Kurt Busch – Finished ninth: “Man, We just still want more. We’re so close to being what we want, but we just still aren’t in that top five group right now. We’ve just got to find a little more. I’m real happy with our effort. We finished in the top-10 after a pit road mishap, so it’s a good day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 12th: “Our Fastenal Ford was solid all day. The guys did a great job making changes overnight. I’m bummed we didn’t get a top 10 but it was still a solid weekend for us overall.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “We were able to grab a couple of stage points at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 today, which I am really proud of. We could hit our marks as good as anybody. Speed-wise, we weren’t the fastest car, but we are obviously doing something right because it seems like nobody could keep up behind me. With everyone running such similar speeds today, track position was big. I’m proud of the team for all working together to get this 13th.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Finished 16th: “It was a solid day. We maximized the day for sure strategy-wise and going about it that was the best we could have asked for there. The car just got hot, it was slick, we were just kind of on a razor’s edge. It’s better, we finished, that is better than we did in a month, so we are gaining on it, but to get to the next echelon it’s a big leap. As a team, everybody did all they could, that was a solid weekend, maximized it. We will just continue to dig and figure it out.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 20th: “Texas hasn’t been good to us this year. We struggled since we unloaded off the truck on Friday. We got behind early. We were super loose so between major chassis changes and strategy, we raced back onto the lead lap in Stage 2 but struggled again on the next long green-flag run. We definitely need to pull together and figure out what the 31 needs because the 3 car (Austin Dillon) raced on the lead lap and in the top 10. We’ve obviously made some gains as a team, and we just need to figure out what works for us. On top of that, we had some cooling issues so, as a driver, I was burning up a bit. I’m OK, but it wasn’t fun out there for me at times.”

Paul Menard — Finished 23rd: “First off, I have to thank Daniel Hemric and all of the guys on this No. 27 team for getting this Atlas/Menards Chevrolet set up and ready for me this weekend (while his wife gave birth to their second child). We made some headway at the start of the race but suffered damage to the nose during the first stage. The guys fixed it up as best they could. We kept adjusting on the handling of the car but had to pit under green for a vibration in the final stage. These guys never gave up, and we were able to come out of here with a 23rd-place finish.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 24th: “Texas has been quite the challenge for our team to overcome this year. We didn’t have the day that we wanted, that’s for sure. This team works hard week in and week out, but we just haven’t hit on what we need to at these mile-and-a-half tracks. … We did what we could though and used strategy to get laps back for a stronger finish.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 27th: “We’ve got to figure something out. Kansas was a lot like this. It was just extremely difficult to drive the car and carry entry speed. And then we had a loose wheel and then contact on a restart. We started off in a hole and just kept digging a deeper one as we went. I’m definitely disappointed. And, I honestly just feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is pretty disappointing. … (Can you win at Phoenix to reach the championship round? “It’s been a good track for us. But this last half of the year has been really weird. In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven’t. But I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix and we’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. And that’s one thing this team will never do it give up.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 35th: “(Why did you take the car to the garage?) We burnt the hub up on the left-front, so we are going to change the spindle and change the hub and try to get back out there and finish the race. … (You looked like you were en route to a good showing today) Yeah, it wasn’t bad. I mean the car has ran about 11th to 20th all weekend in all the practices and everything. I don’t know, we’ve got to get a little bit better to beat some of them guys up there, but I was having a good time and the car wasn’t too bad.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 36th: “Man, we are plagued with bad luck lately. I think we would have had a top-10 today. Maybe we’ll get a break or two next week in Phoenix.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 37th: “Just can’t really execute, whether it’s bad pit stops or bad luck. It’s frustrating because I know I had the best car and lost track position and that is what happens. You try and move forward and it’s so hard to pass here you try and find some stuff and get in the wall. … (You’ve now had 3 DNFs in a row) I don’t know.  Can’t wait for the last lap at Homestead.”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll ever get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Should be a force to be reckoned with when he moves to Cup next season. Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status and handled the championship race pressure perfectly. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but fell short when it counted: to make it to the championship round and try to defend last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his prior Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. NBC Sports has asked the team if it will appeal the suspension.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.

Truck Series gets minor name change for 2020

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Four days after the end of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, NASCAR announced the series will receive a minor name change for the 2020 season.

The series will be called the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the season starts in February at Daytona International Speedway.

This is the second name change for the series in two years.

This season saw the name change from the Camping World Truck Series, which had been the title from 2009-2018.

Gander Outdoors and Camping World are owned by the same company.

Next year will also see a different name for the Cup Series. With the series going to a new sponsorship model, it will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.