What drivers said after the All-Star Race

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Kevin Harvick – Winner: “I thought on that last restart that my best opportunity was (Joey) Logano. He is one of the best on the restarts. I knew he would work with me as good as possible because that is just the way that most of us do it from Ford. We were able to just stay even through (Turns) 1 and 2, and I really thought once we got to the backstretch, we could clear him. I didn’t want to be on the bottom. I didn’t feel my car was stable enough to be under someone when they were on my right side. I had to take my lumps through (turns) 1 and 2 and hope that the guy behind me was still with me when we got to the exit of 2, and we were able to win.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 2nd: “I felt like we had a car actually capable to win the race. We were very strong, competitive. For whatever reason (on) restarts, my car was taking like one lap to go and those guys, when two Fords were connected, they were pretty strong. We just – I needed a little bit more right there. (Denny Hamlin) got disconnected with myself a little bit. I tried to side draft (Kevin Harvick), but it was just tough. After that it was pretty much game over because I started racing (Joey Logano) instead of (Harvick), but proud of my guys. We’ve been racing really in the All-Star twice already, two times, so that’s not bad. It hurts to be close and to not get it.”

Joey Logano – Finished 3rd: “We wanted to be up in the lead, and I thought we were in the best spot. We put tires on, and the cars ahead of us didn’t have as good of tires as us. We restarted fifth, and the bottom is just rough down there. We were able to push ahead, and the car in front of me got pushed back and the bottom lane fell apart. I lost like five spots at least and started making them back up and got tangled up and put in the wall and got back and thought I had a decent shot there at the end hooking up with Kevin. Kevin and I always end up together at superspeedway races, and we did again tonight, which is kind of funny.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 4th: “I think in general our cars were just too slow to be up front. Once we did get the lead, it was complete defense mode. It looked like when (Kyle Busch) and (Martin Truex Jr.) were up front as well, it was just constant defense where when (Kevin Harvick) got up front, he could just kind of run his line. Hard to overcome that seven tenths that we were off from speed, especially in a drafting type race. Still, we did a good job there. Tried to get (Daniel Suarez) free of (Harvick) there on the bottom, I just came off his bumper there just slightly there and he wasn’t able to get us free of (Harvick).”

Chase Elliott – Finished 5th: “Yeah, I actually had some fun, really. It was different for sure, but it wasn’t all bad, I don’t guess. Obviously, there was way more potential to crash and what not, which is I guess good and bad depending upon who you are. If you are sitting at home and watching it was probably fun because we are all close. If we see this package more, I’m sure you will see some more torn-up cars, too.  And I’m sure the teams will get better at building and preparing for it too, but proud of our night. To be able to come from last to fifth, and I get the fan vote and end up coming home with a top five wasn’t all bad.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 6th: “I mean, it’s funny how there ends up being a sweet spot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a restricted motor or not.  The outside lane was really the place to be to keep the momentum up.  Depending on the restart you had and the lane you are in and how to time a pass, I spent plenty of time kind of coming through the field. I really couldn’t get past second or third.  The times I tried to make a pass on the leader, I would get pinned on the bottom and go to the back and have to start all over again.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 7th: “It was just tough.  I felt like I could get to around second or third, just getting to the lead was tough.  I never really got to lead. The times I would get to lead, they would get a run on me and pass me right back.  We just didn’t have the speed the Toyotas had.  I thought the Toyotas were super-fast and then obviously, (Kevin Harvick) I mean he won, but (Martin Truex Jr.) was ridiculous. But, yeah it was a pretty fun race.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 8th: “The first stage was pretty awesome to go 18th to fourth in a couple of laps.  The car handled really good. I just got a little bit tight there with the track getting going into the night.  We were a little bit draggier down the straightaway, so I had to keep the momentum up that second stage. I just got too close to (Truex), and it snapped loose and got some body damage.  The guys did a good job to fix it. Kind of salvaged the third session there.  I thought if we could have got back up there we could have maybe had a chance to fight inside the top three or top four again. I cost us a little bit there, but I was getting after it.  It was a fun night.  Really competitive and proud of the guys.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 11th: “We weren’t very good tonight. We were slow. The car drove about the same with this package as it did with the other package, and everybody else was just a lot faster. It was a bummer we couldn’t take that front row start and do something with it. We were kind of a moving road block out there.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th: “What a race! I had a blast out there tonight, and I hope it was as fun to watch as it was to drive. Throughout the race, we made quite a few adjustments to the Dow Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. With limited practice and this being the first time we have raced this package, we were a little off on the setup. We got it pretty close, though. At the end, we opted to pit. Looking back, it’s a toss-up on whether that was the right call or not.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 16th: “This one is on me. I miscounted the green-white-checkered flag to end Stage 3, and I left off the gas too soon. It cost us a top five on the final restart and instead we took the green in 11th. I hate it for the Caterpillar/Grainger team. We got off sequence on pit stops and the way the cautions fell from there, it really worked in our favor. I simply messed up. I did all I could do to regain the ground I had lost. On the final restart, we climbed back into the top five, but unfortunately when we took the white flag, I made contact with the wall and lost all our momentum resulting in the 16th-place finish. We had nothing to lose so I went for it in the end.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 17th: “This was the first time running this package and we had to gamble a little bit. We had to roll the dice a little bit, and we were off when we came in. Had a lot to learn today and we used it well. The guys did a really good job with our car. Pit stops were really good tonight again. We had a lot to be proud of, just sucks that we couldn’t finish it off. We had a really strong race car and felt like we maybe had a shot to win it, just four wide going into three there we all just ran out of room. (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), I had him squeezed down so low, I just don’t know that he could hold it down there. I was trying to keep (Clint Bowyer) to my outside and just one those deals at the end of the race.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 20th: “You definitely seem to draft more, which has its highs and lows. Track position, power and drag is super important. Give us a few weeks to work on the race cars with a package like this, and I am sure we can mess it up.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 21st: “Yeah, just got loose. We had been really tight all night.  I knocked the nose off of it early.  We got slid, and I wasn’t happy about it and instead of checking up, I didn’t lift.  I probably should have lifted because it hurt me more than the guy that ran us like that.  I’m just frustrated.  I feel like these guys have taken advantage of me quite a bit this year, and I’m over lifting for guys.  I’m not going to go out of my way to slow myself down to help somebody else out.  They would race me the same way.  I’m just kind of over it, but as far as the crash, I just got loose, and it stepped out. I saved it, it stepped out again, and I couldn’t save it.  Really frustrating.  I hate it for my guys, it’s my fault that we were in the situation further back than we should have been.  I should have just been more patient and not knocked the nose off of it early.”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

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As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

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Justin Bonnett out of ICU, faces more surgery after fiery Snowflake wreck

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Justin Bonnett faces a long road to recovery from Saturday night’s fiery wreck in the Snowflake 100 Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

After being in intensive care for more than 48 hours, the grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett is out of ICU, has been taken off oxygen and is breathing on his own, but also faces additional surgeries, including two more on Wednesday, according to a post on his team’s Facebook page.

“Justin has been moved from ICU and into a regular room. He is now off oxygen and breathing well on his own. Justin is currently scheduled to undergo two surgeries tomorrow (Wednesday) to place rods in his left leg and a procedure to tend to his burns. The family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, concerns and messages. The love and support shown for Justin in this difficult time has been nothing short of phenomenal. Justin says, “It is truly an honor to have all of the support. Thanks everyone for everything.”

The 26-year-old Bonnett was seriously injured in a wreck in Saturday’s final qualifying race for the annual Snowball Derby. Bonnett had nowhere to go when the car of fellow competitor Jarrett Parker spun in front of him, leading to contact between the two cars. The impact ruptured the fuel cell on Parker’s car, sending flames and burning fuel across the racetrack, including enveloping Bonnett’s race car.

He suffered a broken fibula and tibula in his leg and burns to his face, hands and neck. After initial treatment at a Pensacola hospital, Bonnett was airlifted to a larger hospital in Mobile, Alabama that was better equipped to treat the significant trauma he had experienced.

A post of gratitude from Bonnett’s family on his Facebook page thanked supporters for their concern and prayers for a speedy recovery for the Hueytown, Alabama native.

“Thank you to the Melvin family for starting this Go Fund Me page for Justin. Justin will have medical bills after his lengthy stay in the hospital and will be out of work for some time, as he has a long road of recovery ahead. He is the sole provider for his family and 10 month old daughter. Together we can make sure he does not battle financial stress while recovering. Thank you for the prayers, encouragement, and any contribution you can make!”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Bonnett and his family. As of 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday, more than $4,700 of the $10,000 goal has been raised.

Here is the post on the GoFundMe page:

“Justin sustained serious injuries during the Snowflake race at 5 Flags Speedway December 7, 2019. He received burns on his arm, neck, mouth, and hands. He also had a compound fracture of his leg that has already had one surgery and will have another Wednesday the 11th. Justin is the sole provider for his family and will be unable to work for quite sometime. In addition he is hospitalized 4 hours from home. Justin, Taylor and their sweet baby Brynlee could use all the help we can give them. No amount is too small. It all adds up!”

To contribute to Justin Bonnett’s GoFundMe account, click here.

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Ty Majeski to race full-time for Niece Motorsports in Truck Series

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Ty Majeski will compete full-time for Niece Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2020, the team announced Tuesday.

Majeski, a former Roush Fenway Racing development driver, will pilot the No. 45 Chevrolet that Ross Chastain drove to an appearance in the Championship 4 this year. Chastain will compete full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Majeski, 25, made one start for Niece Motorsports last year, making his Truck Series debut in the playoff race at ISM Raceway. He finished 11th.

The team confirmed to NBC Sports that crew chief Phil Gould will return to the team.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to race full time with Niece Motorsports,” Majeski said in a press release.  “I’m appreciative of (owner) Al (Niece) and everyone at the team for giving me this opportunity.  We’re looking to continue to build on what Ross and the team accomplished this year.  We expect to be contending for wins and ultimately the championship.”

“Last season was really a dream come true for me and this team,” said Niece in the press release.  “No one expected us to be contending for a championship in Homestead – but there we were. We’re confident that we can do the same next season. Ty is clearly extremely talented – he’s won in everything he’s driven.  I’m excited to have him join the team full time.  We’re looking forward to great things in 2020.”

After competing part-time for Roush Fenway Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2018, Majeski made six starts in the ARCA Menards Series this year, winning three times and finishing in the top five in the other three races. The 25-year-old native of Seymour, Wisconsin, also earned four wins on the ARCA Midwest Tour.

Majeski’s news comes the day after his attempt to win the Snowball Derby came up short.

The rest of Niece Motorsports’ driver lineup will be announced at a later date. The team did not include in sponsor info in their announcement.

 

Joey Logano: Next Gen car will put car ‘more in the driver’s hands’

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In the midst of a two-day test of the Cup Series’ Next Gen car at ISM Raceway, Team Penske driver Joey Logano provided some insight into the car Cup teams are scheduled to begin racing in 2021.

Logano is the second Cup driver to test the car after Austin Dillon did so in October at Richmond Raceway.

“We’re trying things on different extremes – a lot of downforce, and then little downforce and then figure out what’s going to make the best racing,” Logano said in a media release. “Then you go from there to make the next step, bring some more cars. We’re still in the preliminary stages, but we definitely have some cool pieces to the car.”

Compared to what he races now in the Cup Series, Logano said a major difference in the Next Gen car is in its brakes.

“The brakes are way bigger on this thing – it stops really good, where our brakes now are way smaller as we try to take weight out of them,” Logano said. “So trying to get used to that feel will be one thing.

“Some of the steering feeling is way different, but that’s still one of the things we want to adjust. When the car gets loose with this Next Gen car, it doesn’t come back until the driver steers the car back – it doesn’t fix itself. And that puts it more in the driver’s hands. And I like that piece.

“It’s going to be challenging, but I think you’ll see more mistakes on the race track which makes, in my opinion, better racing, and more passing opportunities.”

Logano added that due to a bigger wheel, a wider tire and differences in the body, “your natural reactions are wrong. And you have to be able to adapt quick when you feel something instead of trying to let the car fix itself.”

John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, provided an update on how much work had gone in the Next Gen car since its initial test, including having to adjust the car for the much taller Logano.

“We had a really good test at Richmond, and then said, ‘How can we make the car better?’,” Probst said in the media release. “We came up with 60-plus things we could do to the car. Not all of the things could be implemented into the car we have now, but some of them are in the design phase. We effectively updated a lot of the aerodynamics on the car.”

Probst said that ISM Raceway, a relatively flat 1-mile track, is a “logical progression from Richmond” for testing the car.

“A lot of the testing we needed to do before we head to a track like Homestead – which is where we’re headed next – wasn’t completed at Richmond,” Probst said. “For us it was a really good progression from Richmond loads and speeds, and now we’re creeping the speeds up to start really testing out a lot of the mechanical parts and pieces on the car.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said during championship weekend in Miami that the car is expected to be delivered to teams in July of next year.

Sources told NBC Sports’s Nate Ryan last month that at least three companies are being strongly considered to build the chassis for the Next Gen car, including Joe Gibbs Racing.

In a video he posted to Instagram, Logano went into more detail on his reaction to driving the Next Gen car.