Chase Elliott thought Ford drivers ‘would want to win a little more’

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As Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway neared its conclusion, Chase Elliot was baffled by the lack of aggression among those he was racing with behind winner Joey Logano.

Specifically, Elliott was at a loss trying to explain the actions of three other Ford drivers — Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — who finished with the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s No. 9 Chevrolet in the top five.

“I was really surprised with how patient they were being with one another,” Elliott said after taking third behind Busch and Logano. “Really thought they would want to win a little more than what they did, or at least showed to me.”

Elliott was one of three Chevy drivers in the top 10, but the only non-Ford driver in the top seven. He finished ahead of Kevin Harvick, defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and David Ragan.

“Those guys around me were working together so much,” Elliott said. “If it was me, I feel like I would have wanted to try or do something. Those guys weren’t having it. I was trying to move forward and make a lane and push, and they were not interested in advancing.”

Though Busch passed Harvick for second on Lap 187 of 188, but there were no other dramatic moves made to try to dethrone Logano.

Asked about Elliott’s comments that he was deliberately patient, Busch said, “Well, I mean, the guy that’s leading the race is pretty fast.  The guy that’s second is really fast.  The guy that’s third is fast.  When you time together three guys that are from the same manufacturer (Ford), that’s what puts you in position to win.

“But then once it’s five (laps) to go, nobody’s really caring who’s got what brand underneath the hood, the shape of their car.  It’s my job as a teammate to help Kevin a little bit further down into getting two to go, one to go.  Then there’s Stenhouse, who has won a lot of these plate races recently.  He came in there with a head of steam.  I wanted to roll with him.  Didn’t materialize. That’s how we got all strung out, trying to be the one guy by himself, where you need three to kind of hook up and go and try to pass the leader.

Elliott improved a spot to third after Harvick got shuffled to fourth on the pass by Busch, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate.

“I tried to kind of break out of line and do a couple things there,” Elliott said. “Like I said, it was very obvious that nobody was going to help around me.  It’s hard to move forward.  Even if I just had one other person to help, I felt like it would have made a big difference.”

The result was Elliott’s second consecutive top-three finish after a second at Richmond. It’s also his best finish in 10 restrictor-plate starts and his second top five at Talladega.

The closest Hendrick Chevy for Elliott to work with belonged to Alex Bowman (eighth). Jimmie Johnson placed 12th after being part of a wreck with 23 laps to go that eliminated William Byron.

“It was a pretty wild afternoon,” Elliott said.  “Cars were hard to drive. Scared some people off from running three‑wide and four‑wide. That was interesting, as well. So could have been worse.”

Austin Dillon’s car fails pre-race inspection, will start from rear

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Bristol, Tenn. — Austin Dillon‘s No. 3 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection three times Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Dillon will start from the rear and his car chief, Greg Ebert, has been ejected from the event.

Dillon had qualified 18th.

Dillon will have to serve a 30-minute practice hold in two weeks at Darlington Raceway.

Kyle Larson seeks turnaround at ‘by far my favorite racetrack’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – With his team in a mini-slump in midsummer, Kyle Larson is back in his happy place, and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver wouldn’t mind returning more often.

“I love racing here,” Larson said Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I wish we could race here weekly. I think our sport would be in a good spot if we could.

“I didn’t watch a ton of NASCAR growing up, but I’d never miss a Bristol race. If you were to ask me what Bristol race stands out, I couldn’t tell you. I just loved watching Bristol. It was always a lot of fun. Ever since they added the progressive banking, it’s been a lot better, too, as far as style of racing goes. It’s by far my favorite NASCAR track.”

The love of Bristol grew only stronger Friday night as he won the Food City 300 and scored his first victory in 18 Cup and Xfinity starts at the 0.533-mile oval.

Larson will be trying for his first win in NASCAR’s premier series at the track – and his first in Cup this season – while starting from the pole position in tonight’s race.

A victory would be a welcome result for Larson’s team, which is virtually locked into the playoffs but has only two top 10s in six races since his memorable runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Chicagoland Speedway.

While Chevrolet teams Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing seem to have gotten faster in recent weeks, Larson’s No. 42 Camaro seems to have tailed off slightly after easily being the best Chevy in the first half of the season.

“I don’t know where we might be off,” he said. “Nobody really honestly knows where other teams have gotten speed from, so we’re working on all areas, really, I’m pretty sure, to try and get faster. We have moments where we’re really fast, but I would say we’re just a little inconsistent from track to track.

“You look at last year, we were good everywhere. This year, we’re good at our good tracks. Not as good at the tracks that we have struggled at years prior.”

But what about starting and finishing 17th last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, where he won three consecutive races from 2016-17?

A loose wheel after his first pit stop mired Larson in traffic and out of sequence, and then contact on a restart hampered into using an older set of tires for the last run of the race.

“It just snowballed into a bad run where I felt like we were going to have a shot to run top 3 or 5, but it just doesn’t show for it, and other people look at it as we just ran bad all day,” he said. “If you look at lap times, we were running some of the fastest laps of the race, just buried in traffic. I feel like we’re not that bad. We just had a little bit of a bad luck that cost us finishes we deserved the last few weeks.”

The urgency to maximize his speed stems more from being well positioned in the playoffs than making the 16-driver field. Larson is one of three provisionally qualified who have no playoff points yet.

“That part is a little frustrating,” he said. “It makes you more nervous when it comes to the playoffs, but the good thing is there’s been three guys taking up all the playoff points, so the other ones don’t have a whole lot, either, but every point matters.

“You look at it as you need to win some stages and win a race, but I also view Bristol as being my best opportunity to get some playoff points. I feel like we can win both stages and win the race. Not easily but this is our best shot. That five to seven points would be huge.”

And after getting bumped from the lead by race winner Kyle Busch at Bristol in April, Larson has earned some leeway in playing rough – not that he plans to use it.

He prefers the “options” afforded by the 2007 addition of progressive banking (which was retrofitted in 2012 in a manner that often makes the top groove the fastest).

“If there was progressive banking 20 years ago, the racing would have been a lot better back then,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the bump and run. I’m just a fan of Bristol.

“I’d much rather see two to three wide racing at Bristol than single file. I think the racing is really good, and that’s why I love coming here to race.”

Staff picks for Bristol night race

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Here’s who NBC’s NASCAR writers think will triumph tonight under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway (6:46 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Dustin Long

Ryan Blaney gets the win he should have had at this track in April.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. On Thursday, he told reporters he was convinced he could sweep both stages and win. On Friday, he took a big step toward convincing the rest of us.

Daniel McFadin

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins in his last good shot to get into the playoffs with a victory.

Dan Beaver

Really? I’m the only one going with Kyle Busch? I just hope everyone in my fantasy NASCAR league ignores him as well.

Trophy for Charlotte Roval race revealed

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — The trophy for the Sept. 30 Cup race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval was revealed Saturday prior to the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The trophy is inspired by Bank of America, which sponsors the 400-kilometer race.

It is designed to resemble the Bank of America building in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.

The track also announced a Sammy Hagar concert the night before the race. The “Rock the ROVAL” concert will be held at 9 p.m. ET on pit road.

 

Photo: Daniel McFadin
(Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)