What drivers said after Talladega Cup race

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Joey Logano – Winner: “I guess we got luck. I have a great spotter. Dale Jr. left me a good one with TJ Majors, who allowed me to make the right decisions. He gives me the picture behind me and tells me where to go. I just hold the steering wheel and make the right moves. It was a great car, very fast. The Fords dominated today. I am so proud to be in a Blue Oval with Roush Yates motors under the hood. That is a huge deal. A big part of our victory today. Teamwork was a big part of it as well. At the end you are racing and don’t know what will happen, you just hope to get in the right lanes at the right time with the right moves. It is always exciting to win at a superspeedway, especially Talladega because you never know you’ve got it until you cross the line. After waiting a full year since our last win, it feels so good to get back in victory lane and get into the playoffs. It feels really good to get those playoff points, and now we will make a run at a championship.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 2nd: “We just needed the assistance from behind. (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) was strong. All the Fords were great today. I was hoping he would get to us on the back straightaway so we could go on offense on the front to go win it but it just didn’t materialize. I wanted to stay with Harvick, my teammate, and navigate around (Logano), but everyone behind kind of broke off and was racing too hard and nobody got that big head of steam to try to push through and break apart (Logano)’s lead.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 3rd: “I thought our NAPA Chevy was good. It wasn’t as fast as we’ve been previously at the restrictor-plate tracks, but I feel like it was a solid car. I got to the end, and those guys around me were working together so much. I thought for sure one of them wanted to win a little worse than what they did. They were being very patient with one another, and I was surprised by that. 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. So, it could have been a lot worse, so we’ll move on to Dover.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 4th: “We had a really good Bush Ford. We got the handling a lot better there after the first run of the race when it was pushing really bad and loose in the corners and through the trioval. They did a good job adjusting the car. (Kurt Busch) pulled out sooner than I thought he would there, and we wound up getting hung out. All in all, it was a really good day. I am happy to finish the race. It is a good day for the guys. We can tweak on one finally rather than having to rebuild one.”

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – Finished 5th: “I just wasn’t sure what to do there. I knew (Chase Elliott) was going to try to get by us, and we are all trying to get a win there. (Joey Logano) was in a great position. When we got two-wide behind him, it didn’t slow him down much. We weren’t ever really gaining on him. It was a lot of fun out there today. I made a few mistakes on pit road, and we caught some good cautions to keep us on the lead lap. I thought the racing was good. The cars were super tough to drive. They were sliding around everywhere, which was fun. I think that made for a good race throughout the runs and the stages and the different strategies that we had. All in all it was a fun weekend, and I had fun on the boulevard with all the fans. I appreciate all of them coming out. I really wanted to win on Dale Sr.’s birthday. That would have been really cool.”

David Ragan – Finished 6th: “We had a fast car all weekend. We qualified 12th, and if it wasn’t for my speeding penalty early, I think we could have run in the top 15 all day. Kudos to the Front Row Motorsports guys for assembling this car and the team at the shop and the engine shop and even Roush Fenway Racing, who put a lot of effort in. Special thanks to Jimmy Fennig for helping us on this car.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 7th: “It was an unusual Talladega. The cars are a big handful. They keep getting them lower and lower and lower, and we are going faster and faster and faster, but the cars just drive worse. It is a lot harder to run in a big pack three- and four-wide all day long. You definitely saw it kind of file out and pit strategy and a lot of that stuff. The one thing that I do know is that the Fords were all really fast. All of us were really fast. We had a great Smithfield Ford Fusion the whole weekend. We put ourselves behind in qualifying, but that was a nice way to battle back with a solid day for us. I thought we had a car capable of getting up there and racing for the win, but we got shuffled there on the restarts. Coming from the back to get a top 10 is a good day.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 8th: “The cars are just pretty unstable, so the racing is just different. Nobody is going to want to race quite as hard because their stuff is not driving as good to be able to do it. I feel like people were pretty limited on how their stuff drove, but our stuff drove better than most. We were really fast until we got that hole in the nose, and that just killed us. Miscommunication on that, but we will learn from it and move on.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 9th: “I’m just happy to have been in front of the ‘Big One’ for a change. The start of our weekend saw us caught up in a practice wreck. It is what it is at a place like this. So many things happen here that are out of our control, but we kept our primary engine and raced the backup. Stage 1 did not go as planned for us, but we managed to get back out front by Stage 2 to run in the top 10. My plan was to go when we could but be smart about it, and fortunately for us, we had luck on our side. We’ve been running well but haven’t had much to show for it as of late, so I’m happy that this Cat Racing team can leave here with a ninth-place finish.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 10th: “It was OK. Made a lot of mistakes through the day. We went out there to survive and tried to get a decent finish, and that’s what we got. We have to keep working to get these race cars a little bit better. There were a lot of people who were having issues handling-wise; we were one of them as well. We don’t have a lot of luck at superspeedway racing, but there’s definitely work to be done.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 11th: “Yeah, that was good for our Kroger Clicklist JTG Daugherty team. We needed to come here and have a good showing. We ran good at Daytona this year and trying to stick to a strategy that keeps us out of trouble. It’s still hit or miss. AJ (Allmendinger) was on the same deal and got caught up in that one there. It’s a little bit of luck involved with just being out of that stuff. Definitely, a more white-knuckled race than usual here. Very on edge. Tires gave out a lot and really slowed our pace down or hurt the handling. So, it was a more fun race than normal out here. I will say that. I am not the best advocate for plate racing, but I can enjoy it from time to time. I’m glad we were able to bring our Degree Camaro ZL1 home in one piece with very limited damage, and we got an 11th-place finish out of it.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 12th: “I knew I had help somehow just the way it turned around. Unfortunately, when I was sliding, (Ryan Blaney) hit us and bent something in the rear end. It wasn’t the same after. (Looking at the car), there really isn’t much damage, and he hit me pretty hard on the other wheel and it was just super draggy and slow that last restart. Something is bent in the rear end and very loose.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 13th: “Once we got in that wreck, it was over, but we had a decent car up until then. We got the car handling better all day long and every adjustment we made to it was an improvement and gave us more on the racetrack, but we just lack speedway speed.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 15th: “Geico 500 weekend was not an easy one for us. Our primary car was incredibly fast in practice, but we were forced pull out our backup car after I got caught up in the big wreck on Friday. We were confident in this backup car though because it has run well at superspeedways in the past. We knew that we wanted to run a conservative race at the beginning after we got too aggressive in Daytona and were taken out before the end of Stage 1. Our plan to survive worked, but we were bit by a tire issue early on and had to come back from a lap down. It is not how we wanted to race, but we battled back to the lead lap and a top-15 finish. A solid finish is exactly what we needed. I know it was a tough weekend for our Geico Camaro ZL1 team, and I appreciate all of their hard work to keep us in this thing.”

William Byron – Finished 29th: “Honestly, I think we just got side-drafted going into (turn) 3 and got me a little bit free and then I think I just packed some air on his (Jimmie Johnson) left rear. I haven’t seen a replay, so I can’t really tell. Hopefully, one of our guys can get it done. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t get to the end of the race, but we’ll learn from it and come back here in the fall and hopefully have an even better run.”

Paul Menard – Finished 30th: “We just got the bottom lane rolling decent and kind of got shuffled back. It is so hard to get back forward. We went for the top, and that wasn’t working, so we went to the bottom and started going forward, but (Jimmie Johnson) just cut across (William Byron) from what I saw and caused a big wreck.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 31st: “It looked like, I don’t know if he got loose or was trying to get in a whole, but (Jimmie Johnson) wasn’t clear and wrecked a bunch of us. That was just kind of par for our day. It started when we locked the right-rear wheel up somehow coming to the pits and flat spotted that and had to come back in. We finally got two laps back. I got one lap back and then finally got on the lead lap and then we wrecked. Par for the course.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 32nd: “All I saw was smoke unfortunately. We were just in the wrong lane at the wrong time. We had a really fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford. Unfortunately, that happens here at Talladega, and it always feels like it is 20 to go when we crash. I am not sure how to get to the end of these ones. It has been a rough last few years.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 33rd: “There was just a wreck in front of me, and I couldn’t make any sense really of what happened, and we just got into it.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 34th: “Yeah I’m not sure what happened. I just saw (Jimmie Johnson) spin, and all heck broke loose after that. I actually got it checked up, got it to the apron. There was so much smoke and grass flying. I had it slowed down. I wasn’t going to drive into the wreck and just got clobbered from the right side. I don’t know. I felt like I did everything I was supposed to do and still got wrecked.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 35th: “I just saw them wrecking in front of me and I got it slowed down. I went to cut through the grass because everybody was kind of wrecking that way, and when I hit the grass, it just tore the oil cooler off of it. It sucks because we really wouldn’t have had any damage if I had kind of rolled through the grass. It’s part of this racing and hate it. We were on the good side of it at Daytona, bad side here we will just go back to Daytona and see what we can do there.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 38th: “We went into Turn 1, and I saw Kyle Busch kind of get rooted up high. The third lane seemed to be the best for us. The car was on the splitter, and the higher I could stay the better off we were. I went to the top to keep my run going and coming off the corner, I didn’t see what happened but watching the replay it looks like (Erik Jones) got turned and turned up into us. It stinks. You try to manage your highs and lows, though. We will move on and go to Dover next weekend. It is frustrating because Talladega is one of the ones you know you can win at, and we wanted to do that today.”

Erik Jones – Finished 39th: “We’ve been fighting a loose car all day and unfortunately just got down on the apron there and kind of fighting it being free and then it took off up the hill after that. I was out of the throttle with it cranked left, and there’s only so much you can do. Unfortunately, it ruined our day and took out a few others along the way, so it’s really unfortunate for them and for us. It’s not what you want to have happen. We’ll move on and go to Dover next weekend and hopefully have a better weekend.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 40th: “Yeah, I mean I haven’t really seen what happened. I saw Jamie (McMurray) get loose and then I saw (Erik Jones) get into the wall and then Jamie came back down, and I ran into him. Just nothing I could really do, and then there wasn’t much we were trying to repair there. We were just waiting on pit road to close so we could back up and get back to the garage area and out of the way of everybody on pit road. I hate that we are going to get a DNF (Did Not Finish) here. I feel like our Credit One Bank Chevy drove a little bit better than it did at Daytona, so would have liked to have gotten to race. I didn’t really ever feel like we got to race. We were just single file, and it was kind of boring. I was ready to start racing, get two and three wide. It would have been fun but ended up getting in a crash.”

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.