What drivers said after Dover Cup race

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Kevin Harvick — Winner: “I felt like we had a really good car from the time we unloaded, and I think you could tell that from when we qualified. That’s usually not my strong point, qualifying up here, and to be able to qualify on the front row, we had three great practices and everything just kind of fell into place, and when they dropped the green flag, it was definitely still good. It was just one of those weekends where the car was spot‑on from the time we got here, and the guys are just doing a great job.  Everybody is just so detail oriented right now, and I feel like we’re playoff racing on a weekly basis, and if you’re going to win a bunch of races, that’s what you have to do.’’

Clint Bowyer Finished 2nd: “We had a really good car all weekend long, and I would say speed‑wise, sheer speed‑wise, Kevin was a little bit better. That’s a pretty good man to have happy right there, know what I mean? But I mean, it just ‑‑ I needed a run in clean air to work on my car. That was the first time that we took off on stickers in that clean air, and the cars just drive way better, way different. You can carry momentum and do things that you can’t do mired back there in traffic. Battled through a lot of adversity today, having that bad pit stop and having to come back in and go to the back and battle back up through them. This is a fun racetrack. This is a challenging racetrack, a very competitive racetrack, one of the most competitive and challenging tracks I think we go to. The balance of your car is just so important, balancing those front tires to the rear. You’ve got to enjoy places like this.’’

Daniel Suarez — Finished 3rd: “My pit crew did an amazing job right there in the last stop picking – I don’t know, four, five spots. They did it right when it counts, so very proud of those guys. The team actually did great adjustments to help me in the short run when we were struggling a little bit and we were able to keep the third-place, which is good for us. In the beginning of the season, we had some struggles and now finally it seems like we’re going in the right direction.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 4th: “It was up and down, you know? We – I thought we were pretty good at the beginning of the race and lost that lap and had to come from the back. Just really hard to pass here today. Our car was fast in clean air, but I couldn’t pass anybody – especially those last 200 laps once we got somewhere up towards the front, so it was all about where we come off pit road and how we restarted and it’s frustrating, but we just couldn’t seem to make the car turn off the corner all day long. It was tight from the get go and that really hindered me in traffic.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 5th: “It’s all about the team effort. Good day for us. The way that the pit stops went, we had to come back from a penalty. Restarts went fair the early part of the race and went good in the latter part. Those restarts are close quarters and you need to grab spots then. These cars are really aero-sensitive. Thanks to Haas Automation and Ford we had a top-five day.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 6th: “We led some laps which was good. We kind of fell apart on the last two runs. We’ll just keep working on it.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 9th: “All in all, it’s been a really good day for our Lowe’s for Pros Chevy. We had a couple of restarts being in the wrong lane. We pitted and we expected a lot more (cars) to come but they didn’t, so we had to start in the teens and start all over again. It’s a good driving car. I’m was really happy with it. It’s amazing how much faster I was when I was up in third and fourth; just had a half a second of speed on our side just due to the cleaner air.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 10th: “It was a hard-fought top 10 for sure. We were three laps down at one point. I guess happy about the top 10. I was hoping we could pick off some cars there that last run once we finally got on the lead lap, but it was just so hard to pass. Everybody was the same speed until the very end of the run and then you could kind of move around. Found a little bit of time and was catching a few of them in front of me, but just ran out of time.”

William Byron – Finished 14th: “It was hard for us to get track position. We had a couple of times we had to go to the back, but overall once we got up there it felt like we were a 10th to 15th kind of day. We kept making the car better, we just kind of needed to end on a short run there on the last run and also have some rubber in the race track. Long race, it was good to get all 400 laps in and hopefully we can definitely come back stronger here in the fall. I think we have a lot of ideas on what to work on, so looking forward to that.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 15th: “I feel like we’ve had a top-15 to top-10 car throughout the race. We decided to stay out on that caution not to use up another set of tires. We had a great restart. I tried to gap myself as much as I could knowing that the guys on four tires were going to be coming. I wish it would have rained really bad when I was leading (laughs). All in all, we gained a lot of track position making that strategy call. It’s been a decent day for us. A decent weekend.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 19th: “We just didn’t have any grip when the track rubbered up.  Every time the track cleaned up for a few laps we would be OK, but the more rubber got down the worse our performance was.  We just couldn’t get the car to turn in the middle like we needed it to and every time we tried to make it turn better we just took the back end out and got it too loose in and never fixed the center.  I fought being on the splitter early in the run all race long and that hurt us, so we finished 19th.  That’s not the day we wanted for sure, but we also gave it everything we had.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 20th: “It wasn’t a bad day for us, but I wish it could have been better. Just got a little off on the last run of the day as you would have it. Unfortunately, we lost rear grip there. During the weekend, we made some good progress from practice and qualified good. There’s a lot of positives, but still a lot to work on yet.” 

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 21st: “Thanks to my guys for always working hard. It was a tough day overall for us. We started off comparable to where we had been all weekend. Then the end of the second stage the car got really loose. It jumped sideways on me so quick I thought something broke. I don’t know what happened there, but I killed the right side of the car. It was just really loose and it took the side force we had away from it. Chris (Buescher) and I were pretty comparable during the race. We would kind of go back and forth. We still have got to keep working on stuff. I didn’t help us at the last half of the race. It was just survival at that point and we got what we could.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 23rd: “Just got off on pit sequence there and there was no coming back from it. I feel like we had a solid top 10 race car, but you just can’t make up two laps without some help. There weren’t very many cautions today and it’s a bummer because we had a decent race car. Proud of my guys.  We were really bad yesterday in practice and we made a lot of gains, but it’s just part of it.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 24th: “Today was a challenge for our GEICO Racing team. Dover is such a tough track to get a handle on, and we struggled with overall grip and speed throughout the weekend. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 certainly wasn’t perfect, but we kept working at it and made the most of what he had. This Germain Racing team has been gaining momentum over the past few weeks, and this weekend will not get us down. We are always building and improving our program so that we can keep growing as a team each and every week.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 35th: “We started the race with (a vibration) unfortunately and it just kept getting worse and worse as the day was going. I don’t know why we started the race with it – we hadn’t had anything like that in a long, long time. I know what it was, but not sure why we had the problem to begin with, so, you know, we had a really fast Pedigree Camry. I thought we were going to be top-three car for sure – no question about that – but then what was going to happen with the guys in front of us. I felt like if we could have jumped them In track position, maybe we could have done something better about keeping the clean air and keeping the lead and stuff like that, but it just got so bad there that last run vibrating it even blew the shifter ball off the shifter and when it finally broke, I couldn’t even grab the shifter in order to knock it out of gear so I could just push the clutch in, so I had to nurse it back and get out of everybody’s way.”

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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.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500

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Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will seek to make his first Daytona 500 this month with The Money Team Racing, the Cup program owned by boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather.

The team also announced Tuesday plans for Daly to race in up to six additional Cup races this year as his schedule allows. Daly’s No. 50 car at Daytona will be sponsored by BITNILE.com, a digital marketplace launching March 1. Among the Cup races Daly is scheduled to run: Circuit of the Americas (March 26) and the Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13, a day after the IndyCar race there).

“The Money Team Racing shocked the world by making the Daytona 500 last year, and I believe in this team and know we will prepare a great car for this year’s race,” Mayweather said in a statement. “Like a fighter who’s always ready to face the best, Conor has the courage to buckle into this beast without any practice and put that car into the field. Conor is like a hungry fighter and my kind of guy. I sure wouldn’t bet against him.”

Daly will be among at least six drivers vying for four spots in the Daytona 500 for cars without charters. Others seeking to make the Daytona 500 will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to attempt to run in the Daytona 500,” Daly said in a statement. “It is the most prestigious race in NASCAR and to have the chance to compete in it is truly an honor. I am also excited to be running the entire IndyCar Series season and select NASCAR Cup events. I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of whatever BITNILE.com race car, boat, dune buggy or vehicle they ask me to drive. Bring it on.”

Daly has made 97 IndyCar starts, dating back to 2013. He made his Cup debut at the Charlotte Roval last year, placing 34th for The Money Team Racing. He has one Xfinity start and two Craftsman Truck Series starts.

 

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.