What drivers said after Phoenix race

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Kevin Harvick – Winner: “I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job. This organization does a great job, and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week. To come here to a racetrack that is so good for us is a lot of fun, and everyone was just determined this week, and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly. What a badass team right there!”

Kyle Busch – Finished 2nd: “Today wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t say any day is ever easy, but today was definitely just a bit harder than other days. It’s just so much physicality out there to make sure you’re right on top of the edge and flirting with it a lot during the race and try to chase down (Kevin Harvick). I think if roles were reversed there on that final pit stop, I don’t think (Harvick) would have got to us. I think our cars were evenly matched, and I thought we were right there with him. His car definitely turned the center a little bit better all throughout the day, and I know when he was racing with (Denny Hamlin) there, he was getting his stuff burned up pretty bad, and he was getting held up. I was just thankful that I got out there and got clear and was able to make some ground there on those guys and then before that green-flag pit stop.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 3rd: “Yeah, we had a good car. It was solid, you know? Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) made a good call there at the end, and we had a good pit stop there to get into the lead, and I just felt like I needed a little bit of drive there to put the power down in front of (winner Kevin Harvick). I had a pretty good turn those last two runs and before that I wasn’t turning good enough and too good of forward bite. So, he was definitely the car to beat, and it felt like there were a lot of laps left. I tried my best to hold him off as long as I could, but I felt like him and Kyle (Busch) had just a little bit on us. We’ll go to work and try to get better for California.”

DENNY HAMLIN – Finished 4th: “Just lacked a little speed honestly. Once we got the rear of the car hooked up there in the middle part of the race after the pit road miscue, the car took off and ran extremely well. Once we started to lose rear grip, that’s when those guys started to run us back down. We got a good baseline there to come back here in November in the playoff race, and we’ll build on that and come back. We’re running well, we’re leading laps, and we’re doing some things that are good. We just need a little bit. Obviously, I want to be a little faster and a little more consistent and eliminate some mistakes we’re making on pit road.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 5th: “Just a solid day for us, not a great day and not what we were hoping for. There were times in the race where we were really good and just lost some track position there with about 100 or 80 to go. We had one run that went really long that we got really bad on, but overall today we were pretty close. We just lost a little there and felt like we could have run second or third maybe – one run we were as good as anyone, just couldn’t get perfect all day.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 6th: “It was a solid day. We just have to get better as a team. I buried us a little bit in qualifying. It was a good run for us. A good run for Stewart-Haas Racing. We weren’t very good here last year. We sucked as a matter of fact, so that is a breath of fresh air after stubbing our toe last week. Having a good run today is definitely some positive mojo going.” 

Aric Almirola – Finished 7th: “We just keep plugging away. Johnny (Klausmeier, crew chief) and the guys made a lot of good adjustments on the car throughout the day. We started off okay and then we started dialing ourselves out the first few stops. We got some track position there with that two-tire call and got our Smithfield Ford Fusion up front, and it really liked the clean air. Our car got a lot better up there. I am proud of everybody. We just keep building on it. Top-10 ‘em to death. Just keep scoring points and doing what we do.”

DANIEL SUÁREZ – Finished 8th: “We didn’t have a winning car, but we had a good, solid top-10 car all race long. We made a couple of mistakes there with adjustments and on pit road, but we were able to overcome. Those mistakes were early in the race that we were able to overcome. I am just excited. We really needed something like this. We have had fast race cars and have had some issues and bad luck and stuff like that. Finally we were able to make it work.”

Erik Jones – Finished 9th: “It was kind of a struggle all day. The SportClips Camry fired off really tight, and we had to fight all day to get it back to the balance we were looking for. We got it close there at the end. We were finally getting where we needed to be and came in sixth on the pit stop and got some damage on pit road. We had to go to the back, and it just went green until the end. It was nice to be able to get back to ninth to get a top 10, but it would have been nice to race up there in the top five. We’ll keep working at it. We just have to keep working on some stuff and some adjustments we make overnight and fire off these races a little bit closer. We’ll keep working that way and come out strong for the next one.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 10th: “The car responded well to my steering and gas inputs. I was a little slow on restarts, but I love being able to lean on the right-rear tire and make passes later in the run. Our strategy unfolded the best it could have to win Stage 2 and get back in the top 10. We just didn’t run the same lap times we did at the end as we did at the beginning of the race, but all in all, it was a good day.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 11th: “The one thing we struggled to do last season was to lead laps and now we’ve led in two races so far. It’s great to see the RCR Chevys up front. Our biggest challenge was maintaining track position, and it is pretty evident what we need to work on, and I’m sure we’ll get it resolved. I’m just proud to have contended because the more laps we lead will soon convert into wins.”

William Byron – Finished 12th: “I think the two tires worked for us, just the way our car was handling. We were really tight all day, and we couldn’t really get that out of it. But the middle stage of the race, we started running closer to the top 10, ninth or 10th I think, and that was the perfect call at the time. I was a little, I guess, not sure if it was going to work out just because we had done it already one time. But it worked out. We could kind of keep some clean air, and I think that was a net gain for sure.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 13th: “Yeah, it was a frustrating day. I don’t know if we had brake fans or not because we didn’t have any other fans, everything inside the car quit. My helmet blower quit, everything quit. It was hot. I burnt my feet pretty good, but the race car wasn’t bad. Just my trackbar quit when everything else quit, so I had no adjustment all day, too. We overcame a lot. I sped on pit road, when I swerved to miss some debris. Had some bad pit stops and rebounded from it. We will take 13th for as rough as today was.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 14th: “We certainly made the car better throughout the course of the weekend. We got up to eighth and then had some pit strategy kind of work against us and fell back into the teens again, and it’s just so stinking hard to pass. I think if we could have stayed up there in that top 10 where we were, we would have finished there, but once we got mired back and had to start all over again, it was just a long grind.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 18th: “(The spin) definitely wasn’t a tire going down. We’ve had, all weekend, like a wheel hop, tire chatter, some issue like that. It’s hard to kind of tell what it is. I feel like it just starts as soon as I get to the brakes and turn the wheel, and then I just start wheel hopping. I fought it all day yesterday and was hoping that we could fix it. We still had the issue in the race. It was fairly annoying having the tires bounce around underneath you, but hopefully we will figure out what was going on all weekend with our setup and come back later in the year better.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 24th: “I was on the loose side the whole race.  So, that made it a little tough to do anything on restart, usually we would get taken advantage of, but it would actually come in alright, just kind of stalled out.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 30th: “Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 fired off great to start the race because we were tight, and that worked well for us on the green racetrack. Once the track started to rubber up and change, we were too tight. I tagged the wall there in the middle of the first stage and had body damage to the right rear of the car that we needed to fix. We worked on the damage on every stop after that until the fender was clear, and my team kept adjusting the car to keep my balance in a good spot throughout the race. We had some good moments today in being able to muscle around the cars in front of us and using strategy at the end of Stage 2 to pick up our first stage points of the season. We know that we need to be in a position each week to get more of those points because they are so critical, and we’re going to get there. I have no doubt about this team’s ability and the fight that we’ll put up to keep growing and improving.”

Paul Menard – Finished 36th: “I think the tire went down. The right-rear tire blew. Not sure what caused it (Goodyear later said it was a melted bead on the right-rear tire). Maybe bead temp or something. It is a disappointing day for sure. We made some good adjustments early and I thought we would be OK. I had a hard time getting in the corner that last run and we started backing up, then something happened to the tire.”

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

Photo: Denny Hamlin
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”

 

 

What they wore on the red carpet …

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Before the show, drivers and their significant others walked the red carpet. Here’s a look at their outfits for the evening.

Kyle Busch, wife Samantha and son Brexton. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Kyle and Katelyn Larson. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Kevin and DeLana Harvick (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Clint and Lorra Bowyer. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Joey and Brittany Logano.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Kurt and Ashley Busch. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott and Kaylie Green. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Aric and Janice Almirola. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Daniel and Kenzie Hemric. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.