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.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast and more

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After four races on tracks more than 1 mile in length, NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday afternoon’s race.

NASCAR’s first short track race of the season concludes a two-week period where the Cup Series will have run five times.

Kevin Harvick won the first race in this stretch May 17 at Darlington Raceway. Denny Hamlin won the May 20 Darlington race. Brad Keselowski won last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Chase Elliott won at Charlotte on Thursday night.

Here are the details for Sunday’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will give the command to start engines at 3:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:53 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 1:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 3:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:35 p.m. by Mike Rife, pastor of Vansant Church of Christ in Vansant, Virginia. The national anthem will be performed at 3:36 p.m. by Edwin McCain. There will be a flyover at 3:37 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the 0.533-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 3 p.m. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race. Its broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny conditions with a high of 70 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Chase Elliott took the lead from Kevin Harvick with 28 laps to go and went on to win Thursday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin finished second. Ryan Blaney placed third.

LAST RACE AT BRISTOL: Denny Hamlin passed Matt DiBenedetto with 12 laps to go to take the lead and went on to win last year’s night race. DiBenedetto finished second. Brad Keselowski placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

CATCHING UP TO SPEED WITH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE:

Matt DiBenedetto: “No margin for error” at Bristol Motor Speedway

Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch “get mojo back” at Bristol?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, “I just like to race”

Chase Elliott’s “Sent it, for Judd” in Charlotte Cup Series win

When fans can return, how many will be allowed at tracks?

Where are they now? Catching up with Casey Mears

 

Matt DiBenedetto: ‘No margin for error’ at Bristol Motor Speedway

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It will be a weird feeling for Matt DiBenedetto on Sunday.

He and the rest of the Cup Series will embark on a 500-mile race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first true short-track race of the season.

It will be DiBenedetto’s first trip back to the hall-mile track since last August, when he came within 12 laps of earning his first Cup Series win. Instead, he finished second to Denny Hamlin in his best career finish. For DiBenedetto, Bristol represents the site of “probably one of the most defeating and toughest days of my life” and one of the “most rewarding.”

“It was a tough week on us, so there was a lot of not really feeling how to feel,” DiBenedetto said Friday in a Zoom press conference. “But ultimately it led to being a big factor in me getting this opportunity to drive the 21 car this year, so it was a big day and everything was meant to be.”

DiBenedetto enters his ninth race as the driver for Wood Brothers Racing.  But he’s not revisiting last year’s night race in his preparation for Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

“It’s still that painful that I’ve never watched (it),” DiBenedetto said. “I can’t remember what lap, but I cut it off and I can’t even watch it.  It would be too much.

“But as far as what I’m gonna try to learn for this Sunday, I’m actually gonna go back and probably watch mostly 2018 stuff because, thank goodness, we have the low downforce back for Bristol, which will make the racing way, way better, so I’m excited about that.”

As with the first four races back amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cup teams will get no practice before taking the green flag in “Thunder Valley.”

DiBenedetto said it has been “amazing” how cars have been able to fire off without any preparation, thanks to simulations and notes from previous races.

“The heights (on the car) and everything are usually pretty close, just because they have so much information to work (with),” DiBenedetto said.  “Really, it’s not too big of a deal.

“Actually, it’s even better than I thought just firing straight off in the race. The (competition) yellow and things like that help so you have a little time to adjust on your car and work on it, so they’ve done a good job with that.”

But Bristol is a different animal. DiBenedetto said the race will be “nerve-racking” without on-track preparation.

“Bristol, there’s just no margin for error.,” he said. “It’s really, really fast.  It’s an insanely fast short track.  You’re on edge already even when you have your car dialed in. … It’ll work out fine, for sure, but you just really are out and out praying that your car is dialed in right because it’s very sensitive.

“If you’re off just a little bit at Bristol, it can affect you worse than these tracks where it’s a big race track – a mile-and-a-half – and you don’t have to worry about going a lap down if you miss it or things like that, so this one will be a little bit more treacherous.”

DiBenedetto will be hoping to capture some of his Bristol magic from last year. Since finishing second at Las Vegas in February, DiBenedetto has finished better than 13th just once in the following six races, placing ninth in the second Darlington race.

After starting fourth Thursday night at Charlotte, he led 10 of the first 11 laps before ending the first stage in third, but finished 15th.

“Car speed is there and great and we’ve shown if we hit it or we’re close we can be up front at any of these races,” DiBenedetto said. “I’d say we’re not in our rhythm yet, but we will be. I have no doubt about that, but we’re still learning each other and making little mistakes figuring out each other’s communication.

“(Crew chief) Greg Erwin and I are figuring out working together and we still have a lot of room for improvement, which is a good thing because I know we can run up front and can contend for wins quite often. We have a lot of room for improvement on the execution side as far as putting our race together perfect from start to finish.”

Where Are They Now? Catching up with Casey Mears

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There are certain days most people never forget: their anniversaries, their children’s birthdays and for race car drivers, their first win.

These days Casey Mears may live 2,100 miles away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he was there in spirit for last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

Mears won NASCAR’s longest race in 2007. He was in the right place at the right time, taking the lead from Denny Hamlin late in the race and hanging on for the final six laps – the only laps he led all day – for the win.

Casey Mears celebrates after winning the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“It was definitely the high point of my career, for sure,” Mears told NBC Sports. “I remember everything about that night.

“The one thing – and it’s not a regret – but it’s unfortunate that it ended up being a fuel-mileage race because we had a very fast car that night and ran inside the top 10 and top five the majority of the night.

“We probably weren’t going to win it, but we had a good shot at a top five and were going to be in the hunt. (Crew chief Darian Grubb) made a great call and we won the race, which was amazing for several different reasons.

“I mean, obviously winning in Charlotte, the 600 is the longest race, winning on Memorial Day weekend, which is a huge week for my family and then also being sponsored by the National Guard at that time. It was just a big night.”

While the 600 was his only Cup win, Mears also recalls several other key moments of his career, including runner-up finishes in 2006 at the Daytona 500 and later that year at Kansas.

“That night at Charlotte was a huge part of my career but some of the stuff that I feel like we earned on speed which was really cool were, we sat on the pole at Indy, did well at places like Chicago, Pocono and Michigan, being competitive and leading laps at places like Atlanta and Homestead, going back and forth with Tony Stewart at Atlanta one year.

“Some of those big moments in my career weren’t necessarily the only parts that stand out. The moments I remember the most were when we had competitive race cars and when we were on the verge of getting those wins and getting real close.”

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Mears lives in the Phoenix area with his family. It’s also where he met his wife, Trisha.

“We always said that when the NASCAR things slowed down, we’d like to be back out this way,” Mears told NBC Sports. “So we picked up and moved the kids and came out to Phoenix. We’re loving it, and I’m really enjoying spending a lot of time with them. I’ve also been fortunate to reconnect with some of my off-road racing buddies since I’ve been out here.”

This is the off-road truck Casey Mears co-drove in last year’s NORRA Mexican Baja 1000. (Photo courtesy Casey Mears)

Mears may be gone from NASCAR, but he’s still taking part in other forms of racing part-time, including off-road competition like the NORRA Mexican Baja 1000 last year with Lynn Chenoweth. Casey’s father Roger drove for Chenoweth back in the 1960s and 1970s, and also is part of Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks Series.

“I also hang out with (NBC IndyCar analyst and former racer Paul Tracy) and drive his Lamborghini sports car, just taking it on the track and sliding around, just having fun,” Mears said. “If opportunities come around, I’d love to race some more.

“I really, really enjoyed racing out in the desert, doing off road stuff. I’d also love to get involved in some sports car stuff as well if there’s an opportunity.

“I love what I’m being able to do right now, just dabble. Playing in Robby’s series, that’s been a blast and picking up random off road, desert opportunities. But racing’s racing, it always boils down to the dollars and cents and sponsors or finding some guy that just wants to go racing and spend some money and have fun. It’s few and far between these days.”

Even though Mears has moved on from NASCAR, he admits he misses it.

“I was fortunate to get to do it for about 15 years,” Mears said. “I lived that life and it really becomes almost the opposite. Your family and friends end up being all the people on the road and people at home become extended friends and family, you’re on the road so much.

“For sure I miss a lot of the people that you saw week in and week out. I definitely miss the competition. I don’t think I’ll ever not miss being in a race car because, like so many others in the sport, I didn’t really get to go out on my own terms.

“For so many people, the sport decides it for you before you’re ready to decide not to do it. I think I’ll always have that desire to want to get in a car again.

“But the one thing that helped me make this decision to move to Phoenix is that I didn’t want to be one of those guys that lingered in the sport either. I didn’t want to be with a back marker program and not be able to be competitive and that’s kind of probably what would have happened. I would have stuck around and would have gotten into something I probably really didn’t need to be in.”

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Mears made 489 career Cup starts, his last full-time season being in 2016. He came back for a start last year for Germain Racing in the season-opening Daytona 500. He started 40th and finished 40th, involved in a crash just past the halfway point.

Mears also made 107 Xfinity Series starts, earning his lone series win in 2016 at Chicagoland Speedway.

He still keeps his hand in NASCAR somewhat, just not on a steering wheel. He does promotional work for Phoenix Raceway and visits his former chums each time NASCAR comes to town.

Casey Mears, right, remains good friends with a number of his former teammates, including seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

He also keeps in regular contact with close friends and former teammates and bosses including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick, Bob Germain and Doug Barnette.

But moving on from being a race car driver, pretty much the only thing he had known for more than 30 years since being a kid growing up in Bakersfield, California, gave Mears pause.

“This move really forced me to figure out what’s next in life,” he said. “I’m 42 years old and although I’ve done well and been very fortunate, but I need to do something.”

He’s looking at a variety of business opportunities in the Phoenix area, primarily in the automotive industry.

“I feel very fortunate to have the career that I’ve had in the sport,” Mears said. “I drove for a lot of real good teams and programs and learned a lot from a lot of people.

“The people I got to race with and learn from just from the business standpoint is going to help me later in my career with whatever’s next. I had some great opportunities and will always miss it, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to the future and what’s next.”

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Starting lineup for Monday night’s Xfinity race at Bristol

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Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones will start on the front row for Monday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw.

Burton will start on the pole and Jones will be second. Austin Cindric will start third, Justin Haley starts fourth and Ryan Sieg starts fifth.

There are 37 cars in the field. NASCAR on NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will start 27th in his season debut in the series.

Monday’s race is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

The starting lineup was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: The first 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up Eligibility will be assigned starting positions 1st – 12th using a random draw.
  • Positions 13-24: The next 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up eligibility will be assigned starting positions 12th- 24th using a random draw.
  • Starting positions 25-36:The next 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up eligibility will be assigned starting positions 25th -36th using a random draw.
  • Any vehicles that are eligible for the Event in position 37th – 40th will be assigned starting positions based on their order of eligibility.

Click here for starting lineup

 

NASCAR Xfinity Series at Bristol

Race Time: 7 p.m. ET Monday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile oval)

Length: 300 laps, 159.9 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Cup race: May 31 at Bristol (500 laps, 266.5 miles), 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1