What drivers said after Atlanta race

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Kevin Harvick – Winner: “I’m just really, really happy with everything that we’ve done at Stewart-Haas Racing over the last five years and this is a great start to getting ourselves in the playoffs and doing everything that we need to do. We overcame a lot of things today. We got a late-race restart that we drove off and won the race with, so there are so many demons that seem to haunt us here for a long time, but the coolest part was being able to try to replicate that first win celebration.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 2nd: “We were good, but we just weren’t as good as Kevin was.  We had a strong race car, but just couldn’t quite find that last little bit of speed we needed. There might have been a little bit of speed there, but, honestly, Kevin was better pretty much every run than we were, but we were sure trying to keep him honest.”  

 Clint Bowyer – Finished 3rd: “There aren’t many place left that can put on a show like that and be able to race all over the place, so I just appreciate this place. I appreciate Harvick’s speed. He was so fast. All of our Stewart-Haas cars were fast. That’s a credit to everybody’s hard work over the offseason and it paid dividends here tonight. It’s a lot of fun to be able to run like that so early in the season.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 4th: “We were short of the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car, but we were probably one of the better cars on long runs. We wanted to optimize our time on the race track similar to what we did in Darlington last year and if a caution fell, great and if it didn’t, then we had a pretty good gap there back to third place before the caution fell and the guys that short-pitted, their tires were already starting to fall off and they were in the same second bracket that we were in.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 5th: “We had some issues there that kind of sucked, but I guess we’ll have to work through it. We knew there would be some issues with that deal. Really just proud of them for all their hard work and getting ready for the season with these new rules. They really struggled in Daytona and I don’t think we had a pit stop faster than 19 seconds in Daytona the whole week and to come here and really have a good day except for those gun problems – really proud of them and proud of everybody. Proud of Cole (Pearn, crew chief) for fighting, we fought our butts off and did great all day. We fought track position, fought the car going away too much on long runs, but overall it was a decent day and something to work from.’’

Joey Logano  – Finished 6th: “I don’t think they need to repave it.  It’s still fun to go around this place and the strategy is actually pretty fun too. I don’t think they need to repave it. I just think we need to figure out how to be better than Kevin (Harvick), that’s all. It’s like the whole field versus one car at this point. He’s the best driver at this race track hands-down. They’ve got it figured out at Atlanta whatever it is. If I knew what it is, I would do it, but the fastest car won the race as it should.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 7th: “We were top five, top seven all day. It was pretty good. I never had anything for the leaders at all. And then I got snookered on strategy there for three spots. We just didn’t finish where we needed.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 8th: “I’m real happy with that run. I could really gas her up hard on green flag runs and the fresh tires after restarts. Harvick is a master at it and Keselowski is pretty good at it, but it just felt like our car would come unhooked on Lap 20 of a run and we were just trying to make sure we were on the right pit sequence and stayed with our car’s strength. Our car’s strength was short-run speed today.’’

Chase Elliott – Finished 10th: “Definitely not very good. We have a lot of work to do. I felt like we made the most of what we had tonight. … Fighting to stay on the lead lap is not where you want to be. We will go to work and great job by our NAPA team today to salvage what we could. I don’t know how much more we really could have got there, maybe a spot or two there at the end, but I felt like we did a pretty good job making the most of what we had.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 14th: “We didn’t have the best car today, but we did a good job on execution. We played around with pit strategy and then took the wave-around for the final restart. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the caution we were hoping for so that we could finish the race on fresh tires.”  

William Byron – Finished 18th: “We started the race so loose and I just had to work on dropping the trackbar quicker. I just didn’t do it quick enough. I’m not used to having that, so, we gained on it a lot. I felt like by probably the seventh or eighth pit stop we were at our best potential. And then from there we just kind of leveled off.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 19th: “Our first run was way off. That got us a lap down from the very start and then every time the caution came out we would just get lapped again and it just wasn’t a very good day for us. I don’t think that our car was horrible, but the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) was just so fast that he was getting guys a lap down pretty quick.”

David Ragan – Finished 19th: “We just missed it a little bit on our setups. We made some adjustments on it in practice that I thought helped, but with the track changing conditions and a green race track I felt like we got behind just a little bit. We made a couple of really good adjustments early in the race, but that was it. We couldn’t get our car any better.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 22nd: “I’m not sure yet what happened to our right-front tire. It’s unfortunate for this Liberty National Team. I think we led more laps in this race than we did all year. We started on the front row and took the lead on the first lap and by the end of the first stage we were loose, but our Camaro ZL1 was fast. I wasn’t pushing it. There was no need to. Our car was that good. We lost two laps the next run because of a tire issue and the damage we received from it. At that point, it was all about strategy and doing all we could to race back onto the lead lap with about 230 laps left.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 25th: “The team worked hard all weekend and did a good job. Got a little bit behind there on the green flag stop. It’s a team sport, so it’s all for one. You are going to have those days. I think we were a little better here than last year so we will keep working.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 26th: “Atlanta is a tough racetrack. You have to be on top of your game at all times to get a handle on it because of how worn out the surface is. Unfortunately, it got the better of us and our GEICO Camaro ZL1 today. I struggled with forward drive throughout the race. I worked my trackbar to try and get the drive I needed, but what I did to improve the drive would hurt other areas of my balance.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 35th: “From the green flag pit stop on it never came back up to RPM and we were running all the diagnostics trying to figure out what was going on. It was a really odd feeling. It wasn’t like a normal engine blow up, so I had reduced power for about five or six laps and then when it let go it wasn’t like a big moment where it let go. I actually saw the smoke and smelled it before the engine changed, so that was about the most smoke I’ve ever dealt with on an engine blowing up, so I’ll be interested to hear what happened and see it, but that was a bad day goes worse. We just weren’t handling like we needed to to have speed and then you have an engine expire, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

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The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett preview upcoming races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his weekly appearance on the show.

Krista Voda hosts with Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· Not long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bragged about his ability to remember who he’s beaten for wins in past races. In this episode, we’ll test his memory in a trivia game called “Who Did Junior Pass For The Win?” We’ll be taking your questions for Junior throughout the show. Just send it on social media with the hashtag #Wednesdale.

· Sonoma begins a critical summer stretch for the Monster Energy Cup Series. With Chicagoland, Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire on the horizon, teams will be challenged and playoff hopes will rise and fall. Dale Jr. & Dale Jarrett preview the upcoming races.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones at Sonoma

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Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones when the series visits Sonoma Raceway this weekend.

Ryan Newman leads the way with his 600th Cup start.

The Richard Childress Racing driver will become the 28th driver to reach the mark. His first start came on Nov. 5, 2000 at ISM Raceway with Team Penske.

Newman is one of four remaining active Cup drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Derrike Cope, who competed against Dale Earnhardt in a Cup points race. Only Newman and Busch compete full-time.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will make his 450th start. He will become the 52nd driver to reach that mark.

Hamlin’s first start came on Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway. All of his starts have been with JGR.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his 200th career start. He will be the 132nd driver to reach that mark.

Stenhouse’s first start came in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 with Wood Brothers Racing when he substituted for Trevor Bayne, who was out due to illness. Every other start has been with Roush Fenway Racing.

The last race at Michigan International Speedway saw AJ Allmendinger make his 350th Cup start. 71 drivers have reached that mark.

How much does starting position matter at Sonoma?

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Do you need to qualify on the pole, the front row or the even the top five to better your chances of winning a NASCAR race?

On a typical race weekend one would think that’s the case. Through 15 races this season, the winner has started in the top five eight times. Only four winners started 10th or worse.

But this isn’t a typical race weekend as the Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway for its first road course race of the season.

The series has held 29 races at the road course since 1989. In those 29 races, the winner started from the pole five times (17.2 percent).

That makes it the most prolific starting position at the track in terms of wins.

But a winner hasn’t come from the pole since 2004 when Jeff Gordon did it for a track-best third time.

The driver starting second has won three times, the last occurring in 2010 with Jimmie Johnson. Since that race, only one Sonoma winner – Carl Edwards (fourth) in 2014 – has started in the top five.

In the 13 races since Gordon last won from the pole, the race winner started in the top five three times.

The last three races saw the winner start 11th (Kyle Busch), 10th (Tony Stewart) and 12th (Kevin Harvick).

In contrast, the 14 races from 1992-2005 saw every race winner came from inside the top 10 and 11 from the top five.

What’s changed? Road course racing became much more aggressive with the transition to double fire restarts in 2009. The introduction of stage racing last year added another wrinkle to a type of racing that already saw aggressive pit strategy.

But Sonoma isn’t too kind to drivers starting in the back half of the field.

The deepest in the field that a race winner has started is 32nd, when Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007. Only one other time has the winner come from outside the top 15, when Kyle Busch started 30th and won in 2008.