What Drivers Said from NASCAR Cup Awards in Las Vegas

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Thursday was Martin Truex Jr.’s night, being toasted and feted as the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship.

But throughout the evening, all 16 drivers that qualified for this season’s playoffs were asked their thoughts about the evening, their season and what may be ahead in 2018.

Here’s some of the best comments from drivers during both the red carpet ceremonies before the awards, as well as during the awards show itself:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “(Tony Stewart pinched his butt while passing by) ouch! He’s always pinching your butt, it’s weird. … I was really looking forward to coming to Vegas to celebrate Martin. He’s such a great fan. I’m super excited and a lot of people are very excited for him to be our champion. He’ll represent our sport so well as champion. It’ll be fun to see him celebrated. They’ve been through so much tough things, this is going to be fun to see him celebrated and he deserves it. What a story of everything they’ve been through. It’s going to be fun to have all that praise heaped on him. It’s great.”

Erik Jones: “(His suit) is right from Men’s Wearhouse, man. It’s easy enough. You can get your own, if you want. … (Winning 2017 NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year) was a big goal of ours, that, winning a race and making the playoffs. To get Rookie of the Year was a nice way to end it off. It was a tight battle with Daniel (Suarez). It was nice to be able to lock it up in Homestead.”

Jamie McMurray: “I think that Christy, like most of the girls, look forward to it more than the guys do. For them, it’s not an all-day event, but much longer even than for the guys. Yeah, it’s been a good day. … Highlight of the week, everything’s kind of fun. The burnout contest is pretty cool to do and see the fans. I had the lady that’s in charge of the Monster Energy girls ride with me. She actually sat on the fuel lines and the sheet metal. It was kind of cool to see her reaction to all that. It’s normal for us, we’ve done it before, but it was kind of cool to see her reaction. … It’s been amazing to see the turnaround our organization has had and the commitment to make our cars contend every week.”

Kasey Kahne: “It’s been a really good week. It’s nice to be here. Last year, I wasn’t. It’s great to be back here for Champion’s Week, to watch Martin enjoy it and get to enjoy it with the other drivers. … It’s a good time to actually spend with the guys you race with and are so competitive with every week. … When you miss this – we missed it plenty of times over the last 10 years – and get to come back you realize it is actually really cool and you need to think of it that way and I want to come back next year. … (Brickyard 400 win) was just a great win for us. We had to be in position and we were fortunate to be in position late and got it done.”

Austin Dillon: “The wedding is next Saturday, so it’s coming fast. … Considering Ryan (Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman) blew up his, I felt like I outdid him on the burnouts. I definitely used more of the intersection than he did. I’m very thankful for RCR, they put a good motor in my car, so I got to do a good burnout. Some guys, those cars weren’t as good as they needed them to be to really put on a show. … (On his first Cup win at Charlotte) It was pretty amazing. I grew up watching Jimmie Johnson winning races there and how he would get through there was how I wanted to do it. He ran out of gas and I was able to beat one of the greatest of all-time.”

Kyle Larson: “Last time I wore this was this night last year. I had a tie last year, I got a clip on bow tie this year. It wasn’t hard to get dressed. I can’t tie my shoes, let alone a tie or bow tie. … We had four DNFs (heading into season finale) but we were still fast in three of the four. We didn’t have the finishes we wanted at the end of the year, but still had the speed we needed to contend. We’ll build on that and hopefully be better in our Camaro.”

Chase Elliott: “(Came stag to the awards) I need some game, I guess. But I’m happy to be here nonetheless. … I don’t dress up a whole lot, so this is definitely different for all of us. I don’t think there’s very many of us here that dress up a ton, maybe Jeff Gordon. For me, I’m a t-shirt and jeans guy. … It is (strange to see everyone dressed up). At the track, everyone’s wearing blue jeans and stuff like that, so it’s strange. … Definitely a lot of learning processes this year, ups and downs and missed opportunities. You have to take them for what they are, learn from them and change the result the next go-round.”

Ryan Blaney: “I almost walked out here (with his ball cap). It’s cool to be here, nice to be on this carpet and to be here with a lot of other drivers and teams and see a bunch of friends and nice to have the Wood Brothers out here, so that’s always fun. It’s a little bit different than what I’m used to, but we’re going to make the most of it. It’s going to be a fun night. … It’s my first time (at Awards) and I felt like driving up and down Las Vegas Blvd. in our cars was really cool. We got to do burnouts on the strip, and you can never get to do that without being arrested. To drive the 21 car one last time and always remembering it was special, that’ll probably be the highlight for me. … (When asked how long he’ll keep his flowing hair) probably two weeks. … Being able to win for the Wood Brothers and getting one of their 99, just to be up on their wall of people who have won in their race cars, I wanted to be on that wall ever since I got there. I can’t thank them enough for the last three years. I’m excited about the next chapter but I definitely am glad to be part of their family and their being part of mine.”

Kurt Busch: “I’m just floating along on her (his wife’s) coattails. … It’s a big night. There’s so many different veterans retiring and Dale Jr. is a legend that none of us will ever be able to compare with from our era. And then Truex, what a story, to have that Furniture Row team win it all, I’m very proud of them. Congratulations to Truex, Cole Pearn, Joe Garone and Barney Visser.”

Matt Kenseth: “We’re just about ready to have a complete basketball team (his wife is due with their fourth child in three weeks). It’ll be exciting and I know we’re looking forward to it and I know the kids are really looking forward to it. I’m missing her out here a lot. Right now, this is my last year being here, more than likely, so this was something she always looked forward to, getting dressed up and hanging out with everybody. I’m definitely missing her and wish she was here with me. … I can’t really put a percentage on that (he’ll be in a car next season) is in the way low single digits that I’ll be at Daytona. But you never know what’s going to happen in the future, but I think it’s unlikely you’ll see me run full-time again.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: “I was pretty excited to make the playoffs and be able to come and use this (tuxedo). It’s been a cool week here, hanging out with all the other playoff drivers, and looking forward to working harder this offseason to make sure we make it back here and preferably on the top step. Just more motivation I feel like every time you come to a banquet and you’re not the one sitting on stage all night. … It finally felt good to get that first win (Talladega) and then follow it up with the other one. We look forward to hopefully continuing that starting at Daytona (in February).”

Denny Hamlin (dressed in FedEx purple): “I’m a little down (gambling), but you come here, you always plan to donate a little bit. The lights will burn bright for another day. … Who cleans up the best (among his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates)? They always look so good. I’d say Kyle (Busch) probably cleans up the best. … It’s fun to get around your competitors, you’re no longer in the competitive atmosphere of the race track, so we get to come here, joke around with each other, talk about when we’re going to hang out in the offseason. We enjoy this time to kind of unwind with each other. … We were so close (in 2017). We’re really close to the goals we want to achieve. Ending the season without a championship is not a successful year by our standards so we’re just going to keep digging and make a run at it.”

Kevin Harvick: “(Pregnant wife Delana is) doing great. I think the hardest thing for her is just to fly across the country in the airplane. Makes her ankles not look like ankles. She opted to stay home, which I don’t blame her. She’s doing good and the main thing is she hasn’t had the baby since I’m out here, so it’d be a little bit of a challenge to get home in time. As long as she can wait until the morning, hopefully we’ll have the baby by the new year. She had Keelan three weeks early. She’s due Jan. 5. So starting next week, we’re in show time. … (Son Keelan) asked me if I spun Kyle Busch out and caused the flat tire. No, Kyle did a burnout and then it popped.”

Brad Keselowski: “Just being in the final four (highlight this week). Last year we came here and weren’t in the final four, you go through all the stuff and you want to be one of the guys on the top. It’s good to be a little bit higher up than I was the last few years, but I still want to be on the top stage and this is a good kind of reminder of the season you had and also where you aspire where you want to be.”

Ryan Newman: “I’m not comfortable (to be in a suit and tie), everybody knows that, but I’ll be back on the farm in a couple days. … (The engine that blew up on the burnout yesterday) the car blew up, I did not blow it up, the car blew up. It was a rough day with the Caterpillar Chevrolet so hopefully we’ll have a new engine put in that show car for next year. … (Plans for offseason) the animals for sure, you always have to keep tending to them and feeding them, especially in the cold months when nothing else is growing. Aside from that, just enjoying some family time, the holidays, spending some vacation time and getting ready for next year.”

Jimmie Johnson: “It’s not old hat, it’s fun to come down the (red) carpet and to watch our sport celebrate a great year, to see the media and all the drivers in tuxedos is kind of a rare occurrence and our ladies looking so good is fun, too. … (On creating the Champion’s Journal, which began in 2011) it’s something that shockingly wasn’t in our sport previously or already. We just put it together and I wrote the first letter to Tony Stewart (2011) and it moved on from there. The (NASCAR) Hall of Fame is really interested in it and hopefully in years to come, a lot of what’s inside of it will be able to be viewed by fans. It’s a cool journal, happy to do it. … (Saying goodbye to Dale Jr.) it’s been a lot of fun. Dale is in such a good place with it, is embracing it and is excited to see what’s next. I guess I feed off his energy. He’s going to be missed, there’s no way around it, but he’s still going to be a part of the sport and Hendrick Motorsports. … (This year’s level of competition) stage racing changed the game, amplified everything and made it much more intense. We got off to a good start at the beginning of the season but unfortunately didn’t finish how we wanted to. … We want (eight championships) badly but it’s been a great run of seven, I look forward to the years to come and we’ll see if we can get it.”

Kyle Busch: “Pretty much everything, she does it all (wife Samantha for Kyle to dress himself). … (He surprised a fan) it’s just a unique opportunity. When you see someone wearing your stuff, you appreciate them being a fan and wearing your stuff. They were just off to the side checking out the menu at the restaurant, so I went up to her and asked her for a Sharpie and she just freaked out. It’s fun and neat to do that to the fans sometimes when you’re out at places like that.”

Martin Truex Jr.: “It’s been pretty busy but definitely enjoying it all. It’s been a lot of fun. I got a lot of tips from past champions, like Jimmie Johnson, but it’s unbelievable. … (Being champion) is a lot different, a lot more work, a lot busier and a lot less sleep, just getting to see all and do all the things, it’s been a lot of fun and looking forward to tonight. … (Champion’s Journal from Jimmie Johnson) just some cool things from one champion to another, kind of those personal bonds you make throughout your racing career, they share that and what their journey was like in their championship season. I’m very proud and honored to add my story and give it to somebody next year.”

Christopher Bell (2017 Camping World Truck Series champion): “I behaved great (in Las Vegas). We’ve been real busy this week so we haven’t had a lot of time to get in trouble. … It’s really cool to be able to get on stage and take pictures with Martin Truex Jr., a guy I’ve looked up to … hopefully one day I’ll be able to get up here on my own.”

William Byron: “(Winning the 2017 Xfinity Series championship is) starting to sink in, just a huge thrill to win that championship and be here in Las Vegas and celebrate it with Martin (Truex Jr.). … The two of those guys have had an incredible career and just celebrating them. … Dale’s done a lot for my career, definitely going to enjoy his final night as a driver and celebrate both those guys.”

Where are they now? Scott Riggs races with son, Layne

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Scott Riggs, who raced for 15 years in NASCAR’s top three national series, now is guiding the racing career of his 20-year-old son, Layne.

And things are going well.

Layne won this year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model championship, scoring 16 wins in 43 starts and edging former series champion Peyton Sellers by four points for the title.

Riggs thus became the youngest champion in Weekly Series history.

“It all started when Layne was 10 years old, mostly just something to entertain him and to have some fun,” Scott told NBC Sports. “But it’s turned into a full-fledged job. My life and plate have been full.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes

The Riggs family’s race shop is located in Bahama, North Carolina, Riggs’ home base during his NASCAR career. Scott describes himself as the “truck driver, spotter, crew chief and in-shop mechanic.”

“I am very tired,” he said.

The team, which depends on volunteers, didn’t plan to race in so many events this season, but when Layne started the year with a string of victories, it made sense to chase the national championship and give him a chance to be the youngest winner ever.

“To chase it that hard and be that close and then to win it, it was very exhausting,” Scott said. “It was a very big relief to finish the year.”

Success on short tracks resulted in Layne racing in three Camping World Truck Series events this year with Halmar Racing. He had a best finish of seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in his series debut.

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Scott Riggs ended his NASCAR driving career in 2014 in the Truck Series. He won five Truck races and four Xfinity races and ran 208 Cup races without a win. He made his Truck debut in 1999, moved to Xfinity in 2002 (winning Rookie of the Year) and then to Cup in 2004.

Riggs, now 51, raced in the Cup Series from 2004-13 with stops at MB2 Motorsports and with teams owned by Gene Haas, Tommy Baldwin and Ray Evernham, among others. He had four top-five finishes.

“I think I was very fortunate and the timing was right for me to move up through the ranks and get so many good opportunities,” Riggs said. “I raced late models for a long time, and then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to get in a truck. Won some races and poles and won races and poles in Xfinity.”

MORE: Jody Ridley’s upset for the ages

He ran out of chances in Cup as team models shifted, including some downsizing and mergers.

“I felt like I couldn’t get an opportunity that I had worked for and earned,” Riggs said. “It was hard for me. I was bitter for a year or so. But I look back, and a realization came over me that I was fortunate to have that time with my kids when they were at the right ages. I got to watch them do their things and just be the dad I wanted to be — not being gone four out of every seven days racing.

“I don’t think I’d have the relationship I have today with my kids if I had had a longer time in the sport.”

 

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

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The best quotes from drivers and others involved in NASCAR competition often come in the heat of the moment — after a crash or a close finish or a controversial decision by officials.

NASCAR’s history is filled with memorable quotes from drivers who won races to drivers who watched wins slip away to officials caught in a moment of history.

Here’s a look at 10 that stand out:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. “I didn’t mean to turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage, though.” — Dale Earnhardt, describing how he didn’t mean to wreck Terry Labonte after he wrecked Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race.

2. “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no way to get around that.” — Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010, offering his opinion on why Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team won so many races after Johnson outran him to win at Auto Club Speedway.

MORE: An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley wins at Dover

3. “It’s a stump-puller.” — Sterling Marlin, emphasizing the strength of his engine after he won the Daytona 500 Feb. 19, 1995.

4. “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.” — Joey Logano, talking about Kevin Harvick after they were involved in a late-race crash at Pocono Raceway June 6, 2010. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, often wore a firesuit similar to those worn by team members during races.

5. “Do you have a brother?” — Ward Burton, responding to a reporter who asked if it was tougher to finish second because the race winner was his brother, Jeff, March 7, 1999 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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6. “I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.” — Ricky Rudd, commenting on what Kevin Harvick said to him after they wrecked at Richmond Raceway, Sept. 6, 2003.

7. “We can’t race with tears in our eyes.” — team owner Robert Yates, explaining why his team would not participate in the next week’s race after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash, July 1993.

8. “He’d have to toast everyone with milk.” — Dale Earnhardt, commenting on the celebratory drink choice Jeff Gordon might make if he ever won the Cup championship. After he won the 1995 Cup title, Gordon followed through, toasting his championship with a glass of milk at the awards banquet.

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9. “You know they say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.” — Tony Stewart, winning the pre-race trash-talk contest with Carl Edwards prior to the 2011 race for the championship. Stewart had won the title in 2002 and 2005 and notched another over Edwards in 2011.

10. “This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever personally had to make, but after the accident in Turn 4 of the Daytona 500 we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.” — NASCAR President Mike Helton, confirming Earnhardt’s death at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 18, 2001.

Honorable mentions: David Pearson, after being told that Richard Petty had said Pearson was the best driver he ever raced against: “I agree with him.” … CBS broadcaster Ken Squier, calling the famous finish of the 1979 Daytona 500: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers, overflowing. They are angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.” … NASCAR founder Bill France, providing a unique ending to a pre-race prayer after temporarily forgetting to use Amen: “Sincerely, Bill France.”

Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.

 

 

An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley’s 1981 victory at Dover

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NASCAR’s history is sprinkled with upsets, from unlikely winners riding the Talladega draft to short tracks that yielded unexpected wins when favored leaders crashed on the final lap.

Survey the list of surprise winners over the decades, and Jody Ridley’s name likely will stand out.

On May 17, 1981, two days shy of his 39th birthday, Ridley won a 500-mile race at Dover Motor Speedway in Delaware. It was the only victory of Ridley’s Cup career and the only win scored by Virginia team owner Junie Donlavey, who participated in the Cup Series for 45 years, with 863 starts.

Donlavey’s team was perpetually underfunded, and his drivers often raced with tired, overused engines and tires that had too many laps. He survived with a mostly volunteer crew and enough sponsorship to carry him from race to race. Rival drivers and team owners considered Donlavey one of the most popular residents of NASCAR garage areas across those many years, but he rarely had the chance to reach for victory lane.

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On that spring day at Dover, one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks, everything fell the right way. Many of the tour’s leading drivers parked with engine or overheating problems, and the day’s best car – the Wood Brothers entry driven by Neil Bonnett — was sidelined with an engine issue late in the race after leading 404 laps.

Ridley, running a steady race, benefited from an unusual day at Dover. The race had only two cautions, and the final 471 laps of 500 were run under green-flag conditions. A general lack of cautions prevented top teams from changing tires frequently, putting Ridley, who was used to running tires longer than normal, on better footing.

When Cale Yarborough left the race with engine trouble 20 laps from the finish, Ridley inherited the lead — he had been two laps down to Yarborough — and led the rest of the way. He won by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt finished third, a lap down. Illustrating the problems experienced by many in the field — not an unusual result in those days — was the fact that the fourth-place driver, D.K. Ulrich, was nine laps off the lead pace.

Ridley drove into Victory Lane for the first time, much to the delight of Donlavey’s crew.

“Junie took it all in stride,” Ridley, now 80, told NBC Sports. “He wasn’t as excited as the team guys were. Junie was the type of guy who didn’t want to cash in on other people’s bad luck. He kind of felt sorry for the guys who blew up. That’s just the way he was.

“For me, it was the highlight of my career. Once I got into Cup racing, I knew we probably wouldn’t do much winning because we didn’t have the equipment. It was icing on the cake to win that one.”

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Jody’s son Anthony, then 22 years old, was listening to the race via radio in Chatsworth, Georgia, where the family lived.

“I was upstairs at my girlfriend’s house, and I think I bounced all over the upstairs and then floated down to the first floor,” Anthony said. “It was all pretty cool. Dad called home. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get real excited about anything, but he was happy.”

The win paid $22,560. Ridley’s cut from the check (40 percent, generally standard in those days) was $9,024, a nice payday but not Ridley’s biggest in Cup. He would win more for finishing in the top 10 in the Daytona 500.

“We were having a good day,” Ridley said, “but I never thought about winning it. We just didn’t have the cars. But we stayed in the hunt, and the other teams couldn’t get too many new tires, and Junie had put a different gear in the car. Normally he would put in a taller gear and drop the RPMs down (to protect the engine), and you couldn’t keep up. For some reason that day, he didn’t. And it paid off.”

Before joining the Cup tour full time in 1980 at age 37, Ridley had established himself as one of the top short-track drivers in the country. Across the South, at top Eastern Seaboard tracks and into the Midwest, a visit by Ridley usually meant a tough night for the locals.

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Ridley’s older brother, Biddle, and Anthony kept the Ridley short-track cars running.

“We did all that together for 36 years,” said Anthony, who started changing tires during pit stops at the age of 14. “It was how we made a living, but trying to feed three families out of a race car is tough.”

Ridley still lives in Chatsworth, where his 1981 victory was a sports highlight for years.

“He can’t hear well, but he’s still tough as a pine knot,” Anthony said.