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.”

 

Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.