What Drivers Said after Monday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Monday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway:

Clint Bowyer – WINNER: “This is a place where I’ve gotten so close. I wanted to win this grandfather clock so bad. … We got so close back in 2012. …  For whatever reason, it felt right driving up here. … I told (son Cash) this morning, I was like, ‘Damn it, we’ve got to get our picture in victory lane.’ He told me he wanted a checkered flag. Let me tell you something, Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, to give this old dog a fresh chance and fresh blood with a new opportunity. Finally, to get the 14 in victory lane is just a weight off the shoulders. It’s been a long time. You start to question if you can get it done or not. To have it come at this place meant a lot. … This place is an acquired taste. When I first got here I was a duck out of water just like everybody else that starts here at first. I learned from Jimmie Johnson and learned from Jeff Gordon, sometimes the hard way, but nonetheless I learned over the years and finally put it to good use. To keep Kyle Busch, one of the best in the business behind you in those closing laps, the nerves were through the roof. It’s unbelievable how it all came true and to have everybody here.”

KYLE BUSCH – Finished 2nd: “We have to keep executing and doing a good job. That’s what we’re doing right now, it’s just not working our way. The M&M’s Caramel Camry was really close today. It wasn’t as good in practice. I thought we were better today than we were in practice, so that’s an improvement. … I was not expecting the 14 (Clint Bowyer) as one of those guys that was going to stay there and be one we had to race for the win. It’s funny. All of our finishes, for as good as we are in second place, as far ahead as we are of third, the leader is that far ahead of us. It seems like we’re kind of on our own island but then we get beat by somebody else on their own island. All is good, we just have to keep going.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 3rd: “It was a good showing for us, for sure. I think the track tightened up a good bit there towards the end and we just got a little bit behind. Congrats to Clint for winning that race. It was fun racing with him for a bit, but for us to come out of here and lead a bunch of laps, win a stage and run third here at Martinsville – where I usually run terrible – that says a lot about this team and the preparation that they did getting ready for this race. That’s nice to have, we just need to be a little bit better.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 4th: “It’s just so cool to see (Bowyer win a race). He’s worked so hard through a lot and has had a couple of tough seasons. And now he’s obviously with a great team. They have started the year off strong. He’s always been strong here at Martinsville. I know this place is special to him and it’s really cool to see him win today. … It’s cool to see him win with his kid here and everything. I couldn’t imagine the emotion he has right now. … It was definitely a difficult day for us – we struggled early, the second stage we really, really got bad and fell backwards, dropped like a rock. I think we barely stayed on the lead lap at the end of that second segment. … We made a bunch of (adjustments) and got better on the long run and made it back to the front of the field. … You never know how it’s going to go, but I’m proud of my guys for sticking with it. We were all pretty frustrated early on trying to figure it out, just kept our heads down and kept digging and came home with a great finish.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 5th: “I didn’t mess it up today. We had a good car and saw how fast the SHR cars can be with the right driver in them here. This hasn’t been one of my better spots, but everything today went reasonably well and we were able to get Clint to Victory Lane and it was a good day for our Jimmy John’s/Busch Ford. … It’s been a long road for (Bowyer) and I’m really, really proud of him and (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and everybody for sticking with it because you could see that they had potential and they could do things that were gonna be good, so they just needed to get that year under their belt and have it right.”

Joey Logano – Finished 6th: “At the start of the race we may have made some bad changes over the snow break and weren’t really good compared to where we were in practice. The team made some good adjustments and got to the end there and were probably a third-place car, but it was too little, too late to get back up there; I drove back up to sixth. I was catching up to fifth and wanted a top-five stat because it at least sounds a little better than sixth, but we’ve been kind of stuck there in sixth or seventh no matter where we’re at right now, so we’ve got to find a little bit more speed. I’m proud of the fight and proud of everyone that keeps building these good, solid, consistent cars. Pit road is always consistent, so that’s nice. We’ve just got to go a little faster.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 7th: “It’s frustrating to say we are looking for a seventh, but much better than we have been the last couple of weeks and just happy for all my guys. They have worked really hard all off season and all year. We haven’t had the results we wanted, so to come here and finish stronger is definitely a step in the right direction. We’ve got a long way to go, but we are headed the right way. … We know we are off, but everybody is just real motivated and working harder. It’s a lot of guys that have won a lot of races and they want to get back to that winning feeling. So, they are all working really hard and got the best in the business back at the shop working to get better.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Finished 8th: “It was just a solid day. We were just missing just a little bit to go up there and run with the best of them. The last set of tires didn’t agree with the car, the car was bouncing around a lot. It’s unfortunate that our last set of tires were our worst, but that happens. We still got a top 10 out it, ran in the top 10 all day and was able to start 25th and pass a lot of cars. Solid day, what we needed at one of our better racetracks. These are the places we know that we have a better chance at and we have to take advantage of it. So, I would say I’m okay with eighth, I wish we could have got a little bit more at the end of the race there, but a solid day all around.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 9th: “I thought our last run was way better than what we had had before that.  But, we were just way too far off there for the majority of the day to expect that you are going to catch up by the end.  We have some work to do.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 10th: “I tore up the car a little bit on the nose and bent up the splitter and the car wasn’t quite the same after that. I just made a mistake there.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 12th: “He (Harvick) just got to me and I think bumped me three or four times. And then I was just bumping him back and he brake-checked me. I probably shouldn’t have brake-checked him in the first place. They were just some light bumps here and then slammed on the brakes here. So, classy. … We still have to work on a few things but this is definitely a step in the right direction from where we’ve been in the past couple of races here. Really happy with the FedEx Camry. We didn’t get a good finish like we probably deserved but all-in-all, a decent day. No mistakes. We’ll keep building from this.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 14th: “I worked all day to get my track position back after the first mistake, and then I made another. But our Mobil 1 Ford Fusion was fast, and while we needed to roll the corner a bit better all day, we still had a solid run. All of our finishes at Stewart-Haas have been solid this year, really showing that Mobil 1 oil technology performs on the track and Mobil 1 Annual Protection can do the same for our fans at home.”

Erik Jones – Finished 17th: “Martinsville is kind of a tough place for myself. Kind of ran where we thought would. Wanted to run better but we struggled a little bit all weekend. Just didn’t have the forward drive. Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit better for the fall (race at Martinsville) and finish toward the top 10.”

William Byron – Finished 20th: “The first couple of runs I thought we were decent.  Fifty lap runs seemed to be kind of our money spot, we needed a lot of 50-lap runs.  I think that once we got into the run we struggled a little bit and towards the end we kind of managed.  We just needed a couple of more short runs to kind of be able to gain some spots, but not bad.  Not what we wanted by far, but this is a fun racetrack and hopefully come back stronger in the fall.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 21st: “The long run was good, the short runs we struggle a little bit. We had a brake fan issue there that kept flipping the breaker, so I’m not sure if we got something stuck in it, but we didn’t have a whole lot of brakes left to challenge at the end. I don’t think it cost us a whole lot, maybe a couple spots, but every point matters. We still haven’t reached our potential, but we’re close to the Top 20, so not bad.”

David Ragan – Finished 25th: “We just started off way too slow. Our car wouldn’t roll the center and didn’t have good forward drive, so it made for a real long day. We raced hard and we just never caught any lucky breaks and we couldn’t make our car better, so we’ll definitely have to go back to the drawing board before the fall.”

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Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”