What drivers said after Phoenix playoff race

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Here’s what drivers had to say after the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

Matt Kenseth – Winner: “It couldn’t be any sweeter. I just don’t know how else to explain it, you know? You always feel like you can get the job done. If you’ve got a big enough sample size of numbers, numbers don’t really lie. So we needed to go out and get the job done and get us a win and we were able to do that today. So we’ve got one more race left and, like I said, great way to go out.”

Chase Elliott – Finished second: “Our car was really good on the short run after those cautions and the rubber got picked up. As I went, I just got tighter and tighter and couldn’t keep it turning and couldn’t roll the middle like I needed to.  I felt like I might have had enough to keep him back there if I hit all my marks and got really tight off (Turn) 2 and made it one lap and basically gave away all my gap and once he got there it was obviously hard to hold him off.  Man, it’s such a bummer to be so freaking close again. Had a shot to go race for a championship next week, so we fought as hard as we could today.  I told my guys a minute ago, at some point we will figure out how to close or I will figure out how to close and we can have some great opportunities down the road, I hope.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished third: “Definitely excited about the position we’re in, to go to Homestead.  Feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum, we’ve got a lot of consistency in our team, and doing all the right things right now.  Excited for Homestead, and hopefully go down there and get our first championship.  Ready to go.”

Erik Jones – Finished fourth: “A good day for us. The 5-hour ENERGY Camry was good. Definitely had the speed to run up front and contend for the win … I just didn’t really execute 100 percent on the last restart to really give myself the shot I needed. Kind of a bummer, but overall really strong day for us – another day we needed. It had been a minute since we had really ran in the top-five competitively and had a shot and that is what we did today. Nice to get back on track. Nice momentum for next week and hopefully being able to close the season out with a win.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished fifth: On getting a chance to race for title: “It means a lot, especially this year switching everything from our manufacturer to Ford and just seeing the steady climb of performance and peaking as the playoffs started and running good on really every race track that we’ve been to and this has by far been our best round — all three top fives and a win.  It’s the right time of the year to be peaking.  I feel really good about our mile-and-a-half program. Homestead has been a great race track for us through the years and hopefully we can go down there and contend.  I think, for us, you’re really happy with where you are just for the fact that I think as a company we know what we went through and kind of playing on house money at this point, so we’re gonna go down there and wing it and see what happens.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished sixth:  “We were really good about three quarters of the way through the race.  There was one kind of bad run there and the way the sequence of tire strategies worked, we didn’t quite have enough track position to stay out.  So, we had to pit and I think we did pretty good to hang on with the two tires that we had.   We had a really fast car and it’s really hard to pass here and we passed quite a few cars today, so I am really proud of our Cessna Chevrolet SS team.”

Kyle Busch – Finished seventh: “Today was not the prettiest of efforts on behalf of the 18 M&M’s Caramel team, but overall we fought through it and did a good job of being able to get back in the pack, come back up through and salvage a decent day.  Unfortunately for last week, we didn’t have luck on our side, we had two flat tires while under caution, and that set us behind, and of course today we just kind of weren’t all that great, so we were kind of behind today, as well, too.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished eighth:  “I’m real happy with that after starting last from my mistake in qualifying.  We kept working on our car.  It was really good on long runs and then we actually got it pretty decent on the short run as well.  It was a really good day for our guys and look forward to trying to carry this momentum into Homestead and try to finish 11th in points.”

Aric Almirola – Finished ninth: “It was a great run for us, a top 10.  I’m really proud of all the effort here to close out the season with these guys here on the 43 team.  It’s Veteran’s Day weekend and pretty cool to get the U.S. Air Force a top 10.  I’m proud of everybody and we’ve got one more to go.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 10th: “So happy for Matt (Kenseth).  Me and him kind of going out at the same time.  I’m so happy for him to be able to win and have some joy in his life and celebrate, but this place has been really good to me and we worked really hard today trying to get our car better and we made some improvements, but we still don’t have the kind of speed that we wish we had.  We really wore ourselves out trying to figure it out.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 11th: “I wish we could have had some more of these throughout the season.  When you are running good like that you get to learn a lot more.  We had a couple of mistakes that might have kept us from running even better than what we ended up.  But, proud of our effort.  I learned a lot about what it takes to race good here in the Monster Energy Cup Series.  I feel like all-in-all it was a great finish, but I feel like I learned more than what this finish is going to show.  Excited to keep going and it is great momentum going into the last race of the year.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 14th: “We had a really fast Realtree Chevrolet today. We struggled with a tight-handling condition on the front end, but (crew chief) Justin Alexander and everyone on the team did a good job making adjustments. We made an unscheduled pit-stop for a flat left-rear tire during a caution and ended up losing a little bit of track position. Later in the race, we ended up with a little bit of damage during a late-race restart that got pretty crazy and I think it hurt us a little bit. We ended up finishing 14th. Still, a pretty good day at Phoenix Raceway.”

Paul Menard – Finished 15th: “We had a strong No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet on the long runs today, but it took a while for it to fire off on the initial start. The guys on pit road did a great job gaining spots throughout the day. We got hit from behind and suffered some damage to the nose when the field stacked up on that late-race restart, and that hurt the handling of the car over the final run. We still came out of here with a top-15 finish and we will go to Homestead and try to end the season on a high note.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 16th: “We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today. I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure. I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 17th: “We just had no tires.  We were debating whether to pit or not there and just didn’t, so that made us fall back.  That stinks.  I thought we could have stayed up and you never know what could have happened, but we just never had the car all day to compete up front.  We did a good job on restarts.  I thought we were decent on restarts all day.  We were able to start up towards the front and just didn’t work out for us.  We still have one more race to go with the Wood Brothers group, so hopefully we can go and have a good run at Miami.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 20th: “We had one hell of a Cat MineStar Chevy today. We could have won this thing again. The pit crew did a great job when we needed, and it was just a lot of fun out there. There is not much more that I could have done on that restart. We just got rear ended and had to pit. We went back out there and out ran the leader with fast lap times. I told Richard Childress we have a lot to be proud of. We struggled all weekend and to go out on race day and run with cars this capable of winning, eventually they will win. Good job again to my entire team.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 35th: “Each person had their own opinion of how they do things and it just proved to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances, so, I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing. I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is. We did a great job all day. This is the best car I’ve had in a very long time. We just got behind on the pit stops and then that just gave those guys an opportunity to get close.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 37th: “These cars have come a long way and really appreciate all the innovation that goes into that.  I’ve had more than I want for impacts this year.  On that note, it’s fine, our Clorox Chevrolet was okay.  We were getting better through the race.  We got a little bit of a long (brake) pedal there and I think we broke a rotor or something along those lines.  The hood basically blew a part, thought it might have been a tire, but no brakes at that point.  Not fun, not how we wanted to end our day.  We were fighting back.  It wasn’t going to be a great day, but we were making the best of it.”

Trevor Bayne  – Finished 38th: “I just lost right-front there off of Turn 4.  I’ve done that in an Xfinity car before and it doesn’t feel good.  That wall gets pretty head-on once you’re coming off like that and I was just running hard trying to stay in the free pass and trying to catch Denny (Hamlin) and the 19 (Daniel Suarez) and those guys so we could get back to being one down. The bead just got hot and blew. We had a little damage early on when they checked up and knocked the bead fan off, so that cooling wasn’t getting there.  The car got really tight for about three laps and we were in our pit window, we were gonna be coming in a couple laps and it just didn’t hang on.  It was a really hard hit. That’s probably one of the harder frontal impacts I’ve had, but I feel fine and ready to go.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 39th: “I’m disappointed for sure. The last couple of months we’ve been staying alive and at this stage with the Round of 8 and then the Round of 4, you can’t just stay alive. You’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders and we just haven’t been there, unfortunately. Again, I’m very thankful for all the hard work that’s gone into this and all the efforts from (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and the team, but we just can’t get there right now. We’ll try again next weekend and then do some good changes over the off-season and come back next year and be ready to go.”

Kyle Larson – finished 40th: “I think I was passing a lap earlier and when I lifted, I heard it start to blow up. I was hoping it wasn’t. But, by the time I got back to the gas I knew it was done. It’s just unfortunate to have four DNF’s in a row; two from engines and then two from wrecks. It’s a crappy way to end the season. I thought I had, by far, the best car here today, so I was really happy about that. The Refresh Your Car! Chevrolet was definitely the best car I’ve had at Phoenix. So, I’m happy about that. I just hate that we don’t really get a shot to race for the win.”

 

Winners and losers at Indy

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WINNERS

Kevin HarvickWins Indy for the second year in a row and third time overall. He’s only one Indy victory behind his hero, Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Placed three cars in the top five for the first time this season and fourth time in team history. Kevin Harvick won, Aric Almirola finished third and rookie Cole Custer was fifth. For Almirola, it was his fifth consecutive top-five finish. For Custer, it was his best Cup finish. Don’t forget about Chase Briscoe. He won the Xfinity race for the organization the day before on Indy’s road course.

Matt KensethWhile he had to settle for his fourth career runner-up finish at Indy, it was his best result since returning to the series and driving the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing. Also of note, the two oldest drivers in the field finished 1-2.

Brad Keselowski — Finished fourth for his third top-four finish at Indy in the last four years. 

Michael McDowellHis seventh-place finish was his best Indy finish and his second top-10 in the last three Cup races this season.

 

 

LOSERS

All those involved in the pit road crash — Brennan  Poole, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier, Martin Truex Jr., Corey LaJoie and Ryan Preece were all eventually eliminated because of damage they suffered in a crash on pit road early in the race. Poole’s car hit Zach Price, a rear tire changer for Ryan Blaney’s team. The team stated that Price was treated and released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis but did not disclose any injuries.

Those who suffered tire problems — Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, William Byron, Ryan Newman and Alex Bowman all hit the wall after tires went down. Hamlin crashed while leading with eight laps to go.

Return to Indy provides another runner-up finish for Matt Kenseth

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INDIANAPOLIS — All around him, before one of the biggest restarts of his career, Matt Kenseth had no friends.

Maybe this was Kenseth’s final chance to win a Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Three times before Sunday he had finished second at this fabled track but the former Cup champion — who was brought back after not competing in 2019 — had never kissed the bricks.

Before the race, the 48-year-old said he was more focused on week-to-week than looking ahead on if he will return to Chip Ganassi Racing or the series after this season.

As he lined up next to leader Kevin Harvick for an overtime restart, Kenseth faced the challenge of trying to topple one of the sport’s hottest drivers and the reigning race winner.

And Harvick had help.

Behind him was Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer. Behind Kenseth was Harvick’s teammate Aric Almirola.

Kenseth was surrounded by SHR cars.

“Aric was great,” Kenseth said. “He was ready and pushed me. I didn’t do the best job taking off. I didn’t want to get a penalty for jumping the start. I started going, he pushed me. 

“Didn’t look like Kevin was going, so I hesitated just that beat that kind of got Kevin out there.”

Harvick was waiting on Custer to hit his rear bumper and give him a shove.

“Cole got a really good restart, was able to get attached to my bumper,” Harvick said. “Being right on the front row, especially late in the race, everybody is going to try to push as hard as they can to put themselves in a position to have the best restart.”

Said Kenseth: “(Almirola) still pushed me up there pretty good. Couldn’t get going that fast.”

Said Harvick: “We were clear before we got to Turn 1. At that point you have clean air, and those guys were side‑by‑side. We were able to break away right there. Definitely Cole was a huge part of helping us win this race at the end.”

The result was a fourth runner-up finish at Indy for Kenseth.

But it was the previous restart Kenseth lamented. It came with 22 laps to go.

Denny Hamlin led and restarted on the outside lane. Harvick was on the inside of the front row. Kenseth was fourth and started behind Hamlin. The outside lane was the preferred lane and had allowed the car restarting fourth to move to second soon after the green waved again.

Kenseth could only manage one spot and ran third behind Hamlin and Harvick.

“Really the restart before that was our chance,” Kenseth said.

With Hamlin and Harvick ahead, they controlled the race. Harvick assumed the lead after Hamlin crashed when a right front tire blew with eight laps left.

Although he didn’t win, the runner-up finish was Kenseth’s best since he began driving the No. 42 after Kyle Larson was fired for uttering a racial slur during a sim racing event while the series was not competing.

Sunday’s finish followed an 11th- and 12th-place finish in the two Pocono races last weekend.

“I feel like we had done some stuff at Pocono that really seemed to work for me and directionally seemed to be better,” Kenseth said. “The car drove pretty good here the whole entire day, too. I’m hoping we can just carry that momentum into Kentucky, just keep moving forward with that. Hopefully get to the front like we did today, running up front where this team belongs.”

Kenseth said such finishes as Sunday’s helps confidence.

“Whenever you run well, you build more confidence, not just for myself but for the team and everybody involved,” he said. “Running bad has opposite effect. Certainly we had a good day starting off at Darlington. I was super sloppy and rusty, we still finished 10th.

“Just kind of downhill from there. We went back and were a little faster. I hit the wall, got a bad finish. Nothing was going really well. Like I said, we had a couple decent races last weekend with no mistakes, no problems, no issues, got decent finishes. Today we were able to be competitive, run up front.”

The question is was this his last chance to win at Indy or will he back next year?

Aric Almirola’s team ‘has been on it’ amid top-five steak

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While Kevin Harvick got all the glory with his win Sunday in the Brickyard 400, he wasn’t the only member of Stewart-Haas Racing who left the track with something to smile about.

Harvick led a team effort that saw three SHR cars finish in the top five for the first time this year and for the fourth time in team history.

Finishing third was Aric Almirola, who overcame an early unscheduled pit stop for a tire vibration that briefly sent him a lap down. He scored his fifth consecutive top-five finish. Almirola entered this season having never earned consecutive top fives in his Cup career.

“We had such a fast race car and we kept getting behind the eight-ball because we kept having to pit for vibrations, but so proud of (crew chief) Mike Bugarewicz and this whole race team,” Almirola told NBC. “Just really proud of our race team. Five top fives in a row. We’re so consistent and when you run that consistently in the top five we’ll win races. … We just ran five top fives in a row at racetracks that are probably my worst racetracks statistically (Miami, Talladega, Pocono and Indianapolis). We’re going to some racetracks that are really good for me — Kentucky, Loudon, Bristol for the All-Star Race, so I’m excited for these next stretch of races. This team has been on it.”

Rounding out the top five was rookie Cole Custer, who earned his first Cup Series top five in his 19th start.

His previous best finish this season was ninth at Phoenix.

“It is awesome to have all of SHR running well here at Indy,” Custer told NBC. “It is (co-owner) Tony’s (Stewart) backyard so it is a huge race for us. For us, our team, this package has been exactly the opposite of what I am used to driving. For it to all come together today means a lot. … I am psyched. I am really happy we finally had it all come together.”

Why are things starting to come together for Custer through 16 races in his rookie season?

“I think it is just that I am getting better with the cars and knowing what to expect when we go to the track and getting better at what to bring in the cars to the track,” Custer said. “It is a work in progress and having no practice doesn’t help that. I think it is all starting to come to us.”

On the overtime restart to end the race, Custer restarted in the second row behind Harvick and helped push him to the lead.

“Cole had a great restart, got attached to my bumper,” Harvick said. “We were clear before we got to Turn 1. At that point you have clean air, and those guys were side‑by‑side. We were able to break away right there. Definitely Cole was a huge part of helping us win this race at the end.”

Almirola said he was “really proud” of Custer.

“I think he’s been learning the ropes,” Almirola said. “He’s figured out that the jump from Xfinity to Cup is a big jump. He’s doing a great job. He’s learning. He’s bringing cars home in one piece. He’s continuing to build and get better.”

Sunday’s performance by SHR and Harvick’s win capped off a memorable doubleheader weekend for the team. On Saturday, Chase Briscoe won the inaugural Xfinity Series race on the Indy road course for his fifth win of the year.

Tire issues derail several competitors at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS — Denny Hamlin was among at least eight drivers whose cars had tire issues in Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, saying “it’s kind of roulette if you’re going to get one that will stay together or not.”

Hamlin’s team was one of three at Joe Gibbs Racing that had tire issues or vibrations throughout the race. Hendrick Motorsports had two drivers suffer tire problems, and Aric Almirola had to pit out of sequence because of tire vibrations before rallying to finish third to winner Kevin Harvick. Ryan Newman also hit the wall after a right front tire went down.

Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, explained in a statement what happened with tires Sunday: “The importance of air pressure, and getting it right, is something that we cautioned about before the race. With the high amount of downforce on the Cup cars down the straightaways, we asked teams to respect our recommended pressures so as not to hurt the tire. 

“Early in the race, without having the benefit of any practice, teams obviously had to be very mindful of that. Most of the race was run in the heat and teams were obviously searching for grip, while several issues happened later in the event when track temperature cooled off a bit and speeds picked up. We had our engineers on the ground all race, working with teams as we do every week, trying to emphasize the importance of right-front pressures.”

The 2.5-mile speedway is difficult on tires and has created challenges in the past, most notably in 2008 when cautions had to be called throughout the race to prevent tires from blowing.

Hamlin crashed when his right front tire went out while leading with eight laps left.

“I had a fast car obviously and was stretching it out there but wasn’t pushing right front at all,” Hamlin said. “It’s kind of roulette if you’re going to get one that will stay together or not and mine didn’t. You saw the end result.”

Hamlin’s teammate, Erik Jones, crashed earlier in the race after a right front tire went down.

“I felt it pop, and I was kind of along for the ride,” Jones said.

Kyle Busch said he “had vibrations at various points throughout the race with different sets of tires so we had to stay on top of that and make sure we changed those.”

Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers also had issues. William Byron blew a left front. Alex Bowman crashed after a right front tire blew.

“We suffered a tire issue right before we made a green flag stop, which ended our day,” Bowman said.

Almirola finished third despite tire issues.

“We kept having left front tires come apart,” he said. “They would start shaking and vibrating so bad, I could hardly see where I was going on the straightaway. We had to pit for that. We kept getting off our pit sequence for our strategy.”

Brad Keselowski, who finished fourth, also had some tire issues.

I felt us have a problem one time and my crew chief confirmed we did,” he said. “Every time the tires would have an issue it was really concerning.  You blow a tire out here you wreck really hard and there’s no chance of saving it, so definitely concerned about that all race.”

Harvick said he had no tire issues in winning his third Brickyard 400.

“We had great tire wear today,” he said. “They hit the cambers and everything right on. I was able to really push my car hard, as hard as I could push it.”