What drivers said after Las Vegas race

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Kevin Harvick — Winner: “We have definitely had three good race cars with the Xfinity Car and the Cup car and we had a good race car at Daytona as well and got caught up in a wreck. As you look at the last two weeks and our 1.5-mile program in general it has been really good since I started here at SHR. They put a lot of effort into everything we do from every standpoint to get these cars going like they are.’’

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “Our M&M’s Camry was really strong there the last 100 laps of the race. Early on, just having to start the race on our qualifiers (tires) was really bad for us and then we over tightened and over adjusted for the second run. From there we were making small tweaks to it to get it back. It was rolling fast the last 100 laps or so. A lot of those guys would go and short pit on the long side of it and I think that helped us too getting back up through those guys, too. We came here and prepared well. They did a good job through practice getting us a great race car. There was no catching that 4 (Kevin Harvick), he was on rails today and lights out. I don’t know what we need to do to catch up and get better like those guys, but certainly we have some work to do, especially here at Vegas and some other places we go to maybe we’ll get closer. It was a great day for us and we’ll go to Phoenix.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 3rd: “I don’t know about catching the Ford (winner Kevin Harvick). He was quite a bit faster than everybody. But I felt like for the most of the day we were second or third best. I had to fight pretty hard there after a few bad pit stops. But, it’s nice that we have really fast race cars. If we can just clean up everything, I think we’ll be a contender for more wins. We’re not too far off from a win, I don’t think.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 4th: “It was up and down for sure, it was a battle. We battled the car, battled track position a lot and had some trouble in the pits here and there. All in all, good solid day. We started fourth and finished fourth, it sounds easy, but there was a lot going on in between there that we had to overcome. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I’m proud of everybody. Still trying to figure it out and we’ll just keep working forward here. We’re right there, we just can’t get the balance of our car where we need it. Just been struggling with getting it to turn good enough these last two weeks and when we get that figured out we’ll be right there with them.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 5th: “I thought it was a solid day for us. We had a pretty decent Ford all day. The first run we weren’t great and we got better. I thought our strongest run was right before the last green flag pit stops. We lost a little speed the last run there. Overall it was a good weekend for us. That is what we need to do, just have good, consistent weekends like that. Hopefully we can do the same for the rest of this west coast swing and the rest of the season. We will see.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 6th: “We had really good short-run speed and I thought we would be really good on the long runs today but it turned out we were really good on the short runs. That wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The short run speed was really strong but I just couldn’t get anywhere to capitalize on it.”

Joey Logano — Finished 7th: “We were better than seventh. We ran up top five most of the day and got to the lead for a little bit and took two. We were the only car that took two and the run went really long and we lost a lot of track position there as we fell back on the two tires. We never got a caution to kind of reset and get those spots back. We faded back to seventh, a little further back even, but were able to get a couple spots back. Overall we have been solid with the Pennzoil Ford all season. That was a solid race. Pit crew did a good job. We have okay speed in the car. We aren’t anywhere close to the 4 but we are competitive with the rest. We will keep working toward that. It is a decent start for us and I think we are second in points. We are running hard and running strong right now. We just have to find a bit more to be able to beat Kevin.”

Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “It was a decent day for us. This SportClips Camry was really fast. Just never had the track position we needed or wanted to run up front. Good to get a top-10 and good to get us more points to get us back in a good points spot after Daytona and starting out behind. We’ll be going to Phoenix and will keep going after it.”

Paul Menard — Finished 9th: “A great weekend for us. We unloaded fast on Friday and fell behind a bit on Saturday. We all got together last night and talked about what we needed to do and it worked out for us. A solid car all day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 10th: “Finally a top-10 for our Smithfield Ford Fusion. We have had a solid string of races and obviously everybody has been working really hard at Stewart-Haas Racing and the cars are obviously fast. We had to battle back from a lot this weekend. Our car was not very good on Friday or Saturday morning. The guys made a lot of changes for final practice and we finally hit on something that felt good for me.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 11th: “Well, we struggled at the start.  Had a real bad vibration, a set of tires I think, but that was a good bounce back for us with the Caterpillar Chevrolet. We’ve got some work to do it looks like. The boys with the Fords are strong here on the 1.5-miles, so we’ve shown that we’ve got some speed. We’ve just got to get it there the entire race. I know we can. We had it here in the test and we just… for whatever reason didn’t have it when we came back. We will regroup and go on to the next one.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 12th: “Yeah, that first set of tires, those scuffs we were on were just really off for our car. I don’t know what went on there. We just put tires on for the second run and had a lot more pace in the car and a lot easier to drive and then we just kept chipping away at it all day long. The last restart we had to start at the tail end. I wish we would have had a chance to start up in there with everybody. I think we could have been up inside of the top 10. Every outing we are learning more about (the car). There is a piece of performance that is familiar from last year, so I think we have some work to do ourselves underneath the body with the chassis and the set-up of the car. But, today I was in a lot of different aero situations that at first, I was flinching in and then I grew very comfortable with and kept charging and driving through. I think the body is definitely helping the car, we’ve just got some other stuff to sort out to go along with it and kind of find the sweet spot for the car too.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “We fought hard. We didn’t have enough speed to really fight with those guys up front. Getting to stay on the lead lap at the end of that first stage, getting the lucky dog twice and just fighting all day for that. That is the hardest I’ve fought for 16th just driving the wheels off of it for that position. It ended up paying off and we got all the way up to 13th. I’m proud of my guys they worked hard all day. Just got to find some speed in the racecars. Obviously, some of these other guys, other teams are doing a good job. We’ve got to do a better job also. (Ryan) Newman got to 11th, that is promising.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 15th: “That was a lot of fun first of all.  Best race we have had this year and looking at quite a few at the end of last year. From what I remember that was big. For us to be able to get a top 15 with our Natural Light Camaro ZL1 here at Vegas makes me excited to come back for the second one. I know conditions will be a lot different, but man it was a good time. We were able to go up there and pass some cars and get in a good spot. We just got a little bit off on that last stop there, but at the end of the day that was a lot of fun.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 17th: “We were pretty good and had a top-five car. We just sped on pit road under green, got a lap down and then just had struggles with a pit gun and lost some spots there. Then a caution comes back out and somebody else gets the ‘lucky dog’ – every time I was in the ‘lucky dog’ position and I needed to get the caution to get back on the lead lap we didn’t get it. I felt like we had a strong car and then we dropped a cylinder there with about 30 (laps) to go and ended up (with) seven cylinders. All in all, it was a tough weekend, but I know we have a car a lot better and that will perform pretty well in the race.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 19th: “We struggled just getting the front to turn. I was quite the handful, but the guys got it better. They stayed after it the whole time and we ended up with a top 20. I just wish we could have had it a little better we could have had more speed. It was just a little bit, but geez it was a long race.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 24th: “It took us a while to find a balance that worked. The dynamic of the car just changed so much from practice to the race. We finally got it to where it needed to be and were the best we had been all day at the start of the final stage. My boys were fast on pit road, didn’t make any mistakes. We just have to find our speed from the beginning of the race.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 34th: “Yeah, I think he (Kurt Busch) just got loose in the bottom there and I was, unfortunately, the guy that was up top. So, we were just trying to be solid today and make the most of what our NAPA Camaro had, and I thought we were doing a pretty good job of that; kind of like what we did last week in trying to get a little bit better. I was just kind of there at the wrong spot and the wrong situation and I’m headed home early. I thought we were getting a little bit of momentum. We had a really good pit stop there and gained a bunch of spots on pit road, got ourselves inside the top five and could run with them for a few laps. So, just trying to make the most of what we had and there was no guarantee how it was going to end up and ended up poorly. We will move on down the road.”

KURT BUSCH — Finished 35th: “I was running the low groove and it just stepped out on me. I wasn’t even trying to fill the hole or go 100 percent. I had it at 90 percent, and I knew Chase was going to be on my outside and it was just that quick. We were back there in the dirty air, but Turn 4, I always know it is slick and I wasn’t even pushing through there and it stepped out on me. Ruined his day, ruined my day. I hate it for all the Chase Elliott fans and the Kurt Busch fans and my hometown fans. I wasn’t even pushing hard. I knew we had one more stop and then we were going to go. It just stepped out on me. It is ridiculous.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 36th: “I blew a right-front tire. I don’t really know what happened. Up to that point we were definitely better than we were at Atlanta. I thought we had a good car. It was hard to pass today. The track really rubbered in and it seemed like the bottom was the preferred groove and when everybody was running the bottom it was pretty tough to pass, but we had a good car.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 37th: “We are still trying to diagnose exactly what happened. We started to lose some power there and had a lot of smoke in the cockpit. Normally they don’t fix themselves. The Love’s Ford was fast today. We had a good strategy and played it out. We were back on the lead lap, in a good position. We were able to maintain that first run but unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be for us today. I am really proud of everyone at Front Row Motorsports. We brought a fast car here. It is going to hurt us in the points.”

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.