What drivers said after Texas race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “It feels awesome. Any time you can win at a track that kind of isn’t maybe one of your favorites or isn’t one of your best, then it definitely means even more because it just – you try to focus on those tracks and make it a little bit more meaningful and a little bit more special to get it done. So cool to be in Victory Lane here … and punch our ticket into the playoffs and of course, you know also just continue our hot streak of being the points leader right now and keeping these guys focused on what we need to do all year long.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 2nd: “We did overcome a lot. That was unfortunate. We had a pathetic day on pit road, two days on pit road because of pit guns. When you have a pit gun problem like we have multiple times and been able to overcome it and then today we couldn’t overcome it. Time after time you can’t get the lug nuts tight because the pit guns don’t work.”  

Jamie McMurray — Finished 3rd: “We just had a really good car and were able to miss some of those accidents. The off-weekend couldn’t have come at a better time for us. We had such a horrible season going and it’s awesome to run as good as we did today at a 1.5-mile. We have so many of these and I feel like we have been a little bit behind on the 1.5-miles but had a really good run today.”

Erik Jones — Finished 4th: “I don’t know that we really had enough for Kyle (Busch) or Kevin (Harvick). They were really fast, but overall I thought we were a third-place car. Jamie (McMurray) had some tires here at the end and we couldn’t really do much with them. We didn’t qualify where we wanted to this weekend. It was kind of a – kind of a downer coming into Sunday, but I knew we had a good race car and you know we showed that today. A big step up. That was the first day we’ve been up in the top five. We led some laps. That’s a good builder for next week, so we’ll keep going.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished: 5th: “That was a long day. It is a good thing it was 500 miles because we needed about every bit of it. We started good running second and had green flag pit stops and an uncontrolled tire and had to come back in. Then we worked our butt off to get back up there and got a lap down and caution came out and we got the lucky dog, got some damage. We were getting back up toward the front and had a loose right front wheel and had to come back in and get the lucky dog again and then I got in that wreck and had a bunch of nose damage. It was a long day that felt like it would never end. It just felt like it would get worse and worse but everyone did a good job on this Menards Ford Fusion to get back and have a solid finish.”

Joey Logano — Finished: 6th: “Three straight sixth-place finishes in a row. We scored some stage points, finishing fourth and third in the stages but at the end the caution came out and kind of bit us and we just didn’t pass enough cars at the end to get back up there. We made some good changes at the end. My car was pretty good and probably could have ran third but that caution came and those guys were hoping for that and they got it. They got track position on us. We fought hard, it is just where we are at right now. We are stuck at sixth. We need to go faster.”

Kurt Busch  Finished: 7th: “I’m really proud of these guys and the effort that we made today. We had really good speed. We didn’t have the whole package. We’d lose the front on restarts or lose the rear. We’re just trying to find that happy medium. We should have pitted with 12 laps on our tires because the restart after that was treacherous for us and we lost all of our track position. So we got bottled-up into seventh and that’s where we finished.”

Darrell Wallace Jr.  Finished 8th: “Hell yeah, we needed that. That was a good week off for us to re-group. The guys did a hell of a job all weekend long. I thought we had pretty decent speed and a lot of people in the garage were like ‘your car is pretty good, so just don’t mess it up.’ I had a couple of opportunities there, especially the first stop coming down, but our Click N’ Close Chevrolet was pretty decent all day for us. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) did a great job doing some pit strategy on that last call to get us out there to fourth. I don’t know if we were on the splitter on that last run, but she just wouldn’t turn going down into the corners and gave up a couple of spots.’’

William Byron — Finished 10th: “It was really good for us to get a top 10. We had a good car. Once the sun came out, we weren’t quite as good, I don’t think. Starting in the back, this was definitely a good day for us. We had a lot of adversity and kept having to go to the back. So, it’s good to come back from that and get a top 10. It feels awesome. It feels great to get a top 10. It obviously takes a lot of things to happen. We didn’t quite have the speed we wanted to. We were really good in practice, but I think some of our weaknesses showed up when the rubber laid down on the track a little bit on the bottom groove. Overall it was a pretty good day and we can definitely build on this.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 11th: “Definitely not the day we wanted. We started 20th and were able to get up to second at one point then just got tight and faded back for a while. We’re gonna keep working and move on to Bristol.”

Ty Dillon  Finished 13th: “There’s no doubt that this team has been working hard. The past two races have been our strongest of the year, and this weekend we had one of our best Fridays that we have had in a while. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 didn’t have quite the speed that the leaders did, but I was able to set a good pace and hold my position. I lost some track position at the very start of the race when the car was building tight on exit, but my crew chief made great adjustments to get us back on track and ultimately bring home a top-15 finish.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 14th: “We have had some bad luck and lost a lot of points but today we had good luck and gained some points. We were pretty lucky to get through that first accident. We had a little damage but not bad enough. Not as bad as some of the others.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 15th: “The weather didn’t really break like I think we were hoping and kind of planned on. That made it a little bit tough throughout the race. We hung in there and we just couldn’t get a little bit of luck on calls. We did a good job and got lucky avoiding some of the accidents and all that. So, that was good and at the end of the day had a decent finish.  Still got some work to do.  I’m looking forward to Bristol.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 17th: “We just missed it really, really bad early, but it got a lot better as we went. We would have definitely run top 15 if I didn’t screw up and spin out. But, we had a much better car the last 150 laps than we did during the first part of the race.”

David Ragan — Finished 23rd: “Our team did a nice job working on our car from Saturday night. I feel like our 1000Bulbs Ford was fast the first two stages. I saw the 11 (Denny Hamlin) spin and I checked up a little, and as he came back down the track I couldn’t go low quick enough and I tore our car up. We just didn’t have the car to compete in the last half. I am glad the team was able to repair the car enough to get back out there and I am really excited about the way it drove the first half of the race.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 27th: “This Grainger Camaro ZL1 had good speed this weekend. We stayed consistently in or around the top 12 for most of the race but tried to stretch our last run there and ended up blowing a tire and hitting the wall. I thought I probably could have left Texas with a top-10 finish if not for the blown tire, but things like that happen. It’s a gamble that didn’t pay off. I think the racing at Texas is exciting, and definitely fast, but we’re still getting adjusted to the new surface. We’ll be ready for when we come back in the fall, hopefully in the playoffs.”  

Alex Bowman – Finished 28th: “Today just wasn’t our day. A few laps in, I checked up when I saw the car in front of me get loose and then I think someone took the air off the rear and I got spun around. This Nationwide team worked their tails off fixing my Camaro ZL1. We kept working on it throughout the remainder of the race and we learned some stuff. We will regroup this week at the shop and get ready to go to Bristol next week.’’

Paul Menard — Finished: 30th: “Long day. We had a really fast Quick Lane Ford Fusion, but our day virtually ended on Lap 2. Disappointing. Not much you can do when someone spins in front of you at those speeds. You’re really at the mercy of what happens in front of you. Too much damage and it eventually caught up to us on that last incident.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 32nd: “We just come to these repaves and we are going really fast and all fighting for the bottom lane and the second lane isn’t as good and the third lane is really not as good. So we got down to Turn 3 and I was trying to be smart and be patient and we still have a long way to go in the race. I backed out of it to let the 18 (Kyle Busch) have the second lane and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) just got loose under me. It was a frustrating end of the day for us.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 33rd: “Somebody got loose and the next thing I knew there was a big mess in front of me and it was either pick left or pick right and I made a quick decision to pick right and it was the wrong decision. Tough break.”

DENNY HAMLIN — Finished 34th: “It all started with me speeding off pit road. I shouldn’t have been in that position, but obviously the 18 (Kyle Busch) was falling back there and I made a move to the inside and everyone is fighting for the bottom. I was obviously running the bottom there – the 10 (Aric Almirola) tried to squeeze and I realized that he was going to come down and I got out of the gas and I got loose underneath him. It’s my responsibility to keep the car under me, but we were just in such tight quarters there that it was nearly impossible to do. It all starts with me at the beginning of the race, it’s my fault and I hate it for this race team. We had a car that I thought was very capable of winning this race and unfortunately we’re back here.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 35th: “Yeah, by the time I saw what went on, the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was backwards and smoking the tires coming up the track. I knew where his arch was taking him, and I knew that I was in trouble in the outside lane and going to get into him some. And then the crash just kind of continued from there. So, unfortunate circumstances, but a lot to build on from this weekend. A strong Friday, a fantastic Saturday and then not the best Sunday. We had a lot of different things work against us today, but we are getting closer each and every week and I’m really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We will get back to our winning ways soon.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 36th: “Just hate that I blew a right-front (tire) there. I was pretty tight but didn’t really expect to blow a right-front. Restarted up front there and was just really tight for a few laps and then actually got going pretty good. Just needed to get by Joey (Logano) there and I felt like I was one of the faster cars out there. So, felt like we could have had a shot at the end of the race, but it was cut short.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 37th: “I don’t know if I run something over. Speeds are really fast here today with the cool temperatures, and I don’t know if that had something to do with it or not. We’ll just have to go back and evaluate that, but all in all we were going to be in for a good day. We were making the car better and still had room to go. We were as fast as anybody. At least that’s a positive and we’ll go on to next week and see what we can do.”

 

Friday 5: Pressure builds for teams heading into Coca-Cola 600

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After all the fun and games of the All-Star Race, the focus returns this weekend to points and playoff spots.

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point in the 26-race regular season. With only six winners this season, there’s the chance that a number of playoff spots could be claimed by points.

That increases the pressure on those fighting for those positions.

Jimmie Johnson enters the weekend 16th in the points, the final transfer spot to the playoffs. He leads Ryan Newman by eight points, Austin Dillon by 11 and Coca-Cola 600 pole-sitter William Byron by 15.

Ryan Newman is eight points out of a playoff spot. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“The biggest thing is we need to get to victory lane,” Newman said after qualifying 18th Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “If you don’t get to victory lane, you don’t really have a chance.

“You’ve got to be a winner going into the last 10. Just pointing your way in doesn’t entertain me. If we do, great, and we come into a streak and progress in the last 10 (races), then even better. I really want to have that win and that momentum going into those last 10.”

Newman finished second for the championship in 2014 despite going winless that season. Since then, every driver racing for the championship in Miami has had at least one win that season. 

Some teams already are feeling that playoff pressure.

“It’s been a grind now for a couple of weeks for us,” said Dillon, the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 champion. “Hopefully, we can get a win, but it’s going to come down to points.

“I’ve been scratching and clawing every week. That’s where you hear some frustration from because you just want all you can get. When it comes down to it – and that last race happens – you’re going to want as many points as possible on your side.”

2. A fresh outlook 

Kyle Larson has been hitting the gym this season and working with Josh Wise, marking a new routine for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Wise, a former driver, now serves as the driver performance manager for Ganassi and for some of the younger drivers driving for JR Motorsports and GMS Racing.

Larson, who won last weekend’s All-Star Race, admits he’s not been one for workouts that much before this season.

“(Josh) would always still send information to me on pre-race stuff and things like that and I didn’t take it as serious as I needed to,” said Larson, who will start Sunday’s race 25th. “I kind of felt guilty about that. This year I’ve gotten into a good routine where I drop (son) Owen off at school and then I go to the shop and I work out.

“I think before it was hard for me to find that routine to get the motivation to do it. This year I feel like I’ve gotten that routine. It’s made it a lot easier and I’ve actually enjoyed it and noticed a little bit of a difference. I think just the way our sport has gone, more drivers are working out. You don’t want somebody to get an advantage or an edge on you. I feel like I’m just more prepared and confident now going to the track.”

3. Who is No. 1?

Joe Gibbs Racing has won the most races this season (seven). Team Penske won the most recent points race (Brad Keselowski at Kansas).

So which one is the strongest?

It might be another team.

I honestly feel right now the Hendrick cars are the best cars,” Keselowski said Thursday. “I feel like they really came on strong over the last two or three weeks and had some nice updates to their stuff, so I would expect them to be the ones to beat this weekend.”

He said that before Hendrick’s William Byron won the pole for the 600.

Kyle Busch also sees a difference in Hendrick Motorsports.

I think Hendrick has certainly found some speed,” he said. “They’re certainly getting better. They’re waking up. They’ve come to play a bit more lately.

“As far as the (Team) Penske group goes, they don’t really qualify well but they always race well. Then you look at the (Stewart-Haas Racing) cars and they qualify well and they’ll race well typically. It seems like the SHR cars are trimmed out a little bit more than some of the rest of us. They get more speed out of their cars but maybe they don’t have it for the long haul. Where it seems like the (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars are kind of a compromise.

“We might not qualify on the pole or be the best in qualifying, but we’ll race well. I wouldn’t call it middle of the road, but I feel like we’re in a position to win each week.”

4. More blocking?

In the most recent points race (at Kansas), Erik Jones upset Clint Bowyer with a block on the last lap. It was a big move from Jones who came down the track to block Bowyer and then moved up as Bowyer tried to go on the outside. That it was the last lap made it easier to understand Jones’ move.

Still, as the battles intensify, especially during restarts, more blocks are to be thrown. Did Jones’ block show others that they can be bolder in keeping a competitor behind?

“I didn’t even think twice about it when I saw it from my perspective,” Denny Hamlin said. “The person who gets blocked always makes it a bigger deal than what it really is. I think the other competitors probably don’t think anything about it to be honest with you.

“We all throw blocks at certain times and sometimes they’re not as dramatic. Sometimes … somebody would come up on you and you would just choose to run their lane and block them that way. It’s a less dramatic way of doing it but certainly one where you cut from high lane to low lane or whatever it might be, you are counting on the person either checking up or you are counting on them to lose enough air that they’re going to lose their car. That’s the whole reason you do it in the first place.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. described Jones’ block as “normal.”

“You can get mad about it, but we all do it, so you can’t get mad at somebody just because they do it to you. We throw blocks on each other all the time.

“Kyle Busch threw a block on me. I told (the spotter), ‘Hey, make sure he knows that later on in the race I’m not going to lift and he might end up in the fence.’ That’s just part of this package. The better track position you can keep yourself in, the better the car drives. … Obviously, at the end of the race, I think anything goes.”

5. An Olympian effort

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 will be the first for rookie Daniel Hemric.

He’ll rely on some training he got a few years ago from Olympic speed skating champion Dan Jansen.

In 2016, Hemric and Tyler Reddick were teammates at Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series. Keselowski heard Jansen tell his story of overcoming defeat to win gold in his fourth Olympics.

Jansen entered his second Olympics as the favorite in the 500- and 1,000-meter races in the 1988 Games at Calgary. His sister died of leukemia hours before his 500-meter race. Jansen fell in that race. He later fell with a lap to go in the 1,000-meter race.

He failed to medal in the 1992 Games in Albertville and finally won gold in 1994 in Lillehammer in the 1,000-meter race.

After hearing Jansen speak, Keselowski approached the former Olympic champion.

“We just asked each other questions,” Keselowski said. “What did you do for this, how did you handle that? Different athletes compare notes. Some of that crosses over. A lot of it doesn’t, that’s OK. The crossover there I thought was very interesting. I wanted to apply it to our team. What he said made a lot of sense, and I thought it was something we were missing.”

Hemric had the chance to train with Jansen.

“We would do a really hard workout and get our heart rate extremely high, up in the 190s, 200 range, if not more, and have to get off that and do some hand-eye coordination stuff,” Hemric said. “Then as soon as that’s over, your heart rate is as high as it can be and you’re breathing heavy, closing your eyes and think about qualifying a lap, think about a green-white-checkered restart, putting yourself in those moments, thinking about what you would do and how you would do it. Being able to bring your heart rate down in those moments, seeing your heart, imagine seeing your heart slow down, all those things to get your body calm.”

Those are lessons Hemric continues to practice and says will help him in his first Coca-Cola 600.

“A lot of times in our sport it gets focused solely on the physical endurance part of it,” Hemric said. “The mental side in my opinion is going to be the most crucial. When you talk to other guys that have ran this race for the first time they’ve always said that when the first thing goes and they get tired, it’s their mind.

“That’s a long time to keep yourself mentally in the game. I’ve always kind of trained and had my own mental things that I do to visualize and think about those moments late in the race. It’s something I’ve had a lot of success with in the past. I’ve got to credit Dan Jansen. I’ve kept a lot of those methods in my training regimen and a lot of that was mental.”

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Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman ‘clear the air’ about All-Star incident

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CONCORD, N.C. — Five days after Clint Bowyer threw several punches at Ryan Newman as Newman sat in his car after the All-Star Race, the two sat side by side during an autograph session at a Bass Pro Shops near Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowyer was upset with Newman for contact that led to Bowyer crashing after last weekend’s race. After Bowyer drove to pit road, he ran to Newman’s car while still wearing his helmet — earning a rebuke from his team owner for not removing his helmet. After reaching Newman’s car, Bowyer unleashed a number of punches.

Both drivers talked this week before they got to the autograph session.

“It was good to have a conversation about it,” Bowyer said Thursday night after qualifying eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. “At the end of the day there were a lot of things that escalated very fast and obviously got out of hand.

“There’s one thing I can always promise you about something like that and it is unfortunate, and you hate having things like that happen, (but) that’s probably the best attended autograph session at Bass Pro Shops that I’ve had in a long, long time.

“Obviously I don’t want to do that every weekend. At the end of the day we all love this sport, we are all passionate about this sport and every now and then that shows a little brighter.”

Bowyer was asked if he thought Newman would retaliate.

“I don’t know,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully it’s behind us. We both have a little better understanding of how it escalated into that and you’ve just got to get stuff like that behind you.”

Newman said it was good to talk to Bowyer about what happened.

“It was good to kind of clear the air,” Newman said. “It is what it is. It’s the past. Just something you always remember. You learn about somebody in a situation like that.”

Newman was asked if he’ll race Bowyer differently.

“I try to race everybody the same way and that’s hard because that’s what I get paid to do,” said Newman, who qualified 18th for the Coca-Cola 600. “I try to give-and-take when I came. The way it works anymore with stage points, especially in the All-Star race, you don’t give and take. You take.”

Starting lineup for the Coca-Cola 600

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William Byron will start first and Aric Almirola will start second for Sunday’s 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600.

Byron, 21, is the youngest pole-sitter in the race’s history.

The top five is completed by defending race winner Kyle Busch, 2017 race winner Austin Dillon and two-time 600 winner Kevin Harvick.

Click here for the starting lineup.

William Byron wins pole for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. —  William Byron won the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Byron claimed the top spot with a qualifying speed of 183.424 mph. At the age of 21, he’s the youngest Coca-Cola 600 pole-sitter.

It’s Byron’s second career Cup pole, joining his pole in this year’s Daytona 500.

He beat out Aric Almirola (183.069 mph), Kyle Busch (182.933), Austin Dillon (182.766) and Kevin Harvick (182.741).

“This is awesome, a dream come true,” Byron told FS1. “Obviously, I grew up in Charlotte so I came to this race every year. It’s a dream come true to qualify on the pole next to Hendrick Motorsports across the street over there. … Can’t think of a better way to start the weekend.”

Byron has qualified on the front row five time this year and four times in the last seven races.

The pole is the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports in the 600, which leads all teams.

Busch has qualified in the top three for the last three 600s.

Corey LaJoie‘s No. 32 Ford failed pre-qualifying inspection twice, resulting in the ejection of an engineer.

Click here for qualifying results.