Transcript: What NASCAR said about the All-Star Race

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After Kevin Harvick’s victory in the Monster Energy All-Star Race on Saturday night, the focus turned to what NASCAR will do next with the rules package that was used in the race and created closer competition.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief racing development officer, met with the media after the race and talked about the event, what NASCAR saw and what’s next. Here’s what he said:

STEVE O’DONNELL:  From an eye test, we were certainly pleased with what we saw.  I think you’ll hear drivers say directionally there’s some things we can look at.  We agree.  But would certainly say we’ve got to take time to digest what we saw, look at a lot of facts, see where we go from here.

THE MODERATOR:  We’ll open it right up for questions.

Q.  You obviously said there is some tinkering that needs to be done.  What kind of things are you looking at?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I think it’s really premature.  We just got off the racetrack.  It’s even going through the stats.  We haven’t had a chance to look through a lot.

I can throw one out.  We had zero lead changes at the loops last year.  I think we had 38.  That’s more than the last four years.  Pretty good data when you look at that.

You also look at being able to approach the leader, what are some of those challenges we may want to look at.  Certainly from first to tenth throughout the night, much closer.  At the end of the day the best teams and the best drivers are going to go out there and win.  We also saw that tonight.

Q.  Where do you go from here?  What would be the timeline if you wanted to integrate any of these concepts into the 2019 package?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Good question.  I think one of the things in getting to tonight and talking to the industry was we knew going in that we had a lot of data through what Eric did and a lot of CFT data.  Especially with the OEMs, a lot of things to work on.  Didn’t want to push too much with what we do because we didn’t know what we would see on track.

I would say now, directionally you do like some of the things you see, now you’ve got to get together with the industry, debrief like we always do with the race teams, the drivers, certainly listen to the tracks and the fans, then the OEMs, talk about how do we continue to look at this and look at it in a smart way, look at it in an efficient way.

Can’t really put a timetable on it other than we know we have some meetings set up that we’re contingent upon what we saw tonight.  Those will take place, then we’ll try to put a timeline together to look towards 2019.

Q.  For fans who watched tonight’s race and liked it maybe better than a normal mile and a half, would want to know why this can’t be implemented sooner, what would you tell them?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Well, I probably would wait to see that, first of all.  We just got done with the race.

I answered that with Bob.  We have a process in place.  Talk to the industry about what we wanted to do to see if even directionally this was right.  You don’t want to assume that what you put on track is going to be a home run.  We certainly hoped it would be, but there’s certainly some things that you look at that you could tweak if you went this route.

For us, we’ve got to take the time, be smart about this, really look at it, see where we can go from here.  But I think it’s fair to say that this is something we absolutely want to look at.

Q.  Talked to Martin Truex Jr., he said it was very racy.  He liked it, had some ideas obviously.  For you up in the box, you could see it like the rest of the fans, were y’all high-fiving, thinking we’re moving in the right direction here?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  That’s a good question.  I think no, we’re not high-fiving because we got to control ourselves up in the booth.  I think you judge it by the fans.  I think you look down the last 10 laps, everybody is standing up.  Marcus has a suite next to us.  I can say that last year’s All-Star Race was fairly silent.  Don’t know if everybody stood or everybody was even still there, but it was packed.  We heard screaming in the suite next to us.

People were enthused.  I think the one thing, you saw Kevin Harvick go out there and win, and he certainly dominated this year, but you didn’t know who was going to win that race in turn three.  You saw drivers out there competing.  You saw three lead changes in one lap at the end of the third stage.

A lot of drama built in.  For us in race control, I think you look at it and you certainly saw things every lap that you wanted to watch a number of spots on the racetrack.

Q.  Joey Logano mentioned earlier that this is naturally more exciting with everything that’s on the line and no points.  How do you kind of adjust how you view the excitement in this race compared to what you would see if you incorporated this package in an actual points race?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I think if you asked Joey Sunday night at the Coke 600 if he’s going to race just as hard, he is.  We have the best race drivers in the world that are going to go out there and go after it every lap.

This race package, it’s important for people to know, we saw a lot of things even coming into this about this being a superspeedway package.  That’s not the intent.  The intent for us was to really look at taking the best of our short tracks, taking the best of the superspeedways, trying to find that balance where you could bring the cars closer together.  You were not going to see, we didn’t expect to see, pack racing.  We expected the best cars would still win, but we thought they would be running close together.  We saw that tonight.  That was the goal of this.  The goal will be to continue to look at how we can continue to dial that in.

Q.  I understand what you’re saying about lead changes at the loops.  Harvick led the final 10.  It seemed like once the leader got up front, he was harder to catch.  Would that be something you would look to address?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Yeah, no, we’d absolutely look to address that.  You always want to see that.  I think Kyle Busch won the All-Star Race last year by 1.1, 1.2 seconds.  Tenth place was 1.5.  There’s a big difference there.  I think you knew on Lap 7 that Kyle Busch had won the All-Star Race.  I think we all knew that last year.

It was different this year.  But still certainly something when you look at this package, very similar to Indy last year, when you looked at the ability for someone to get up to the leader, then that stall, that is something we want to look at.

I’d go back also to looking at our guys with Eric and the crew.  This was a package really meant for the Indianapolises of the world, Michigans.  We wanted to try this at Charlotte to see what we could learn.  I think that’s part of what we would look at for sure.

Q.  Is it fair to say this package could be used again this season?  Is that in play?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I would never say never, but our intent is we’ve talked coming into this, was to try this here, then really take a deep dive into how do we make this the best package possible for 2019 if we liked what we saw.  Again, it’s still very early.  You all watched the race, we just watched the race as well, so we have to digest a lot of information and see where we go from there.

Q.  I think it’s fair to say bringing this to a mile and a half track compared to Indianapolis, being so flat, this package would behave differently.  Did it behave how you anticipated it coming in here or were there some things you may have been surprised by tonight?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Again, still fairly early.  I asked Eric in our really quick five-minute debrief, I think you’d say yes.  One of the things we looked at even prior to coming here was the wheel force data from the car.  Eric went out and looked at that.  It was almost an exact match for us coming in.  We felt like we were on the right track.  We felt like we’d see what we saw tonight.

I think the question mark was, can you potentially draft, if you got behind the leader, what would happen, could somebody really get away.  We saw a mix of that tonight.  I think it was stage two or maybe even in the open where a bunch of cars got loose but were able to get back up and close to the front.

A lot of things to look at throughout the field.  Could you move from back to front?  What could you do when you were out front?  So we’ll look at all those.  Each track has different characteristics, for sure.  I’d applaud the team for getting us here and really seeing I think the results we hoped we would see on track.

Q.  I saw the Truck race earlier this year in Vegas.  Did that spark some ideas about bringing that pack or closer racing to this track?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  That’s a great question.  I think if you look back to where we were 2013, 2014, we were more of a high downforce package, had a lot of discussions in the garage area about the racing, what we could do.  We chose to go all really low downforce at that point.  That mixture produced some good racing, but some challenges as well.

When we looked at that, one of the things was the speeds at which the cars were going.  If you look at Charlotte, Atlanta, higher speeds usually make it tougher to pass.  There’s usually one groove.

I think the angle we all looked at, certainly at least what I hear from our fan base is, I love the Trucks, Trucks are great.  I don’t really hear anybody talk about the speeds of the Trucks.  They say it’s great racing.  That was the goal tonight, too, is to put on a great race, but also be able to showcase the best drivers.  I think it did accomplish that still early.

But Kevin Harvick winning for us is by no means a negative.  It’s the best team right now.  He went out there and proved it.

Q.  If there is a big buzz off of this race and people did leave excited about what they saw and you want them to come back next week for the Coca-Cola 600 but they’re not going to see the same thing, does that hamstring NASCAR and the track?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I think it’s a fair question, but I’d also say that we’re proud of the race product that we have on track each and every week.  We always look to improve it.  One of the ways that you improve it and you do it in a smart way is to work collectively with the industry to make sure that you have all your bases covered.

The last thing for us to do would be to roll something out with a number of unanswered questions.  That would be the case if we did that.  We’ve got a lot of work to do.  We’ve got a lot of work to do on the garage area to make sure we’re on the right track.  We feel we are.  I want to make sure the OEMs are comfortable with where we’re going, the direction, so we continue to have that fair playing field across the board.

I would say certainly the direction that we saw tonight is one we would like to pursue, but you need to have continuing conversations.  Again, go back and really analyze everything that we saw.  It’s a one hour eye test for us.  We haven’t gotten into all the data as of yet.

Q.  When you woke up this morning, what was your mixture of excitement and nervousness for today, the significance of what you were trying to do today?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  A lot of prayers this morning probably.

You know, a lot of anticipation for the race because I knew how much work went into it, especially from our team.  So was certainly cautiously optimistic, but you never know, all kinds of things to look at.

Really just wanted to see it play out.  Knew that either way we would have a direction from this.  We would know that this is something we want to continue to pursue or we would also know that we collectively tried something and it’s not a direction we want to go.

I think all in all, was excited beginning of the race, honestly was excited throughout the race.  I thought every lap had something to watch out there on the track.

Q.  How many packages do you feel you can have in the sense of if you want to go this route, how many races would you want to use it, or are you looking for something you feel like you can use on short tracks, intermediate tracks, everything but Daytona and Talladega?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Great question.  I think that’s one of the things when we analyze this.  We did a lot of work over the offseason, Bill, Gene, crew, with the engine builders, to look at how could we be more efficient with the engines.  This was not part of that.  When you look at this race, one of the challenges was are we going to create an entirely new engine package.  That is not the intent at all.

If we were to pursue this route, that’s one of the things we’d want to look at, is how do you keep potentially a restricted engine package, then just one other, not go to three different engine packages.  Very similar to the rules for the racecars, what they look like.  You want to be as efficient as you can, but also put on the best racing possible.  That’s something we’ve got to look at and make sure we can limit the number of packages, but certainly make it so that it’s the best racing possible for the race fans.

Q.  When you have these conversations in the future about this race package, what is going to be in terms of how should it put it?  The conversations that will be had in terms of what could work for a Charlotte and Michigan, then thinking what could be something similar that may work for Richmond or Bristol or Martinsville, or even one of the road courses?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I would say it’s fairly simple when you think about all that.  I think the team owners, the tracks and everyone would say the same thing.  If Marcus Smith’s phone is ringing, I got to get to that race, I haven’t been in a while, that’s a good sign.  If NBC and FOX are calling saying that business is good, ratings are good, that’s a good sign.  If you’re seeing more sponsorship inquiries to the race teams, that’s a good sign.  That all comes from race fans speaking up.

If this is something the fans liked, hopefully we’ll hear that.  We’d continue in that direction.  But that’s ultimately how you dial in.  If it’s 36 different packages or if it’s three, you want to end up on the right one.

We believe we can keep it simple with the number of race packages we put together.  We want to be as efficient as possible.  Ultimately it’s about the fans and putting on the best race we can.

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Mechanical issue drops Martin Truex Jr. to final transfer spot entering Kansas

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Martin Truex Jr. knows Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway could have been worse because of a mechanical issue that made his car “evil to drive.”

The result is that Truex, one of the members of the Big 3 that has dominated the series this season, holds the final transfer spot entering next weekend’s cutoff race at Kansas Speedway.

MORE: Aric Almirola wins at Talladega 

MORE: Kurt Busch criticizes NASCAR 

With an issue in the rear gear, Truex said he fought the car most of the race.

“Couldn’t even go straight,” he said after finishing 23rd. “There was no chance of me getting up there and racing as much as I wanted to.

“I rode around all day broke, hanging on, miserable. I couldn’t even race, my car was so screwed up. It felt like the rear end housing was falling out of it.”

The struggles had him in a spot late in the race where he would have been outside the cutoff spot heading to Kansas.

Truex’s fortune changed when some playoff drivers, including Brad Keselowski, had to pit for fuel in overtime and gave up several spots.

Instead of being outside the cutoff,  Truex enters Kansas in the final transfer spot and has an 18-point lead on Keselowski and a 22-point lead on Ryan Blaney.

Truex won at Kansas last fall and finished second there in May.

“I think that’s a good place for us even if we had to win,” Truex said. “I am not saying we’re going to go there and win. But anytime we can go to any of those tracks, I feel like we have a shot. It’s racing. A lot can happen as we saw today. We’ll give it everything we got and bring a great car to Kansas. We’ll try to get the checkered flag.”

What drivers said after the Cup race at Talladega

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Aric Almirola — Winner: “I felt like I kept giving it away and I was so disappointed for all these guys behind me because they’re awesome. They’re the best. I’m with the best team in the garage and I felt like I kept letting them down not winning a race. Today, the Good Lord was shining on us and we went to Victory Lane. We did it, finally.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 2nd: “Man, that was about as easy of a Talladega race as I have ever experienced. What a day to be in a Ford! Every time I looked in my mirror it was a wave of blue ovals. What a day for SHR, too. That was all about cooperation. There’s no way you could overstate how good our cars were today. We finished second in both stages and the race, so that’s a pretty good day for us. We’ll go to Kansas and get a good run and make sure we are in the Round of 8 after next weekend.” 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We definitely had to fight hard today. We weren’t near as good as we normally are at the speedways, so that was a real bummer, but we fought hard and made a lot of adjustments to try and make our car faster. It seemed to work a little bit there and obviously fell on the lucky side of having to pit and having enough fuel, so everything worked out good for us today to get that good finish and back-to-back top 10s is a start.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “I thought we were the next best in line today. The Ford cars seemed to have a little more speed than us. We stayed disciplined and in line there. We chose the right line when the lines came. Got a great top-five finish today. We were almost the best in class there.”

Joey Logano — Finished 5th: “Those Stewart-Haas cars drove great and they were really, really fast. They showed it in qualifying and they were so committed to each other and they did a great job. They probably would have finished 1-2-3-4 if they didn’t run out of gas, so they were definitely quick. We had a pretty good Shell/Pennzoil Ford, not the winning car, but definitely a top-five car, the best of the rest you could call it. We scored some stage points and then a solid top five, so I’m proud of that. I don’t know where that puts us in points, but I think it puts us in a decent spot to where we can go to Kansas and race hard, so not that we didn’t race hard today, but it was just gonna take a lot to beat the teamwork and the cars that they had today.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 6th: “I thought prior to the final restart I got myself in a good position on the outside there. It just seemed like every time the line went to move somebody made a move and it checked the lineup. I was just getting pinned out there. I thought my car handled good compared to the guys I was around. I thought that was our strength. And then the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) got turned, I saw him get turned and figured at some point he was going to come snapping back up the race track and I was like to say that was skill missing that, but it was pretty much luck that he didn’t hit me. The final restart was just trying to pick a lane. A couple of guys ran out of fuel coming to the green, so we got to move up a couple of rows and then it was just trying to pick the right lane coming to the checkered. For once we didn’t wreck at Talladega, so that is a good day.” 

Kyle Larson — Finished 11th: “We just had a terrible race car and were really slow all weekend. We were able to salvage a decent finish, but the Fords are so fast here and can rack up a lot of stage points. Even when they have a bad day, they still gain points on us. It is what it is. We’ll just go to Kansas and try and win.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 14th: There was two missed calls by NASCAR at the end. Why did we have an extra yellow flag lap is beyond me. The track was ready to go. And at the end. Once we crossed the white flag, if there’s a wreck and an ambulance needs to be dispatched. I’ve been on the other side of that where I was racing coming back to win the race and they said ‘Well, we had to dispatch an ambulance.’ There was two cars dead in the water.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 15th: “This was a solid day for our GEICO Camaro ZL1 team. We didn’t make any mistakes on track. My spotter did a great job and kept me clean all day. Talladega has always been a strong track for me because I’m comfortable with this style of racing. This was the kind of day our team needed after a couple of tough weeks. We ran up front, earned a bonus point at the end of Stage 1 and showed once again that Germain Racing builds fast superspeedway cars. I wish we could’ve gotten a top 10, but those are the brakes sometimes at these tracks with how quickly drafts change and cars move around. I’m proud of my team’s effort today, and I’m looking forward to Kansas next weekend.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “To he honest, I was worried at the start of the race because the American Ethanol Camaro ZL1 was not handling very well. My crew chief, Justin Alexander, and the team worked hard to fine-tune our Chevy throughout the race and we were able to earn some Stage points at the end of Stage 2. We opted to hang back in Stage 3 in anticipation of ‘The Big One.’ We knew that if we could avoid that, we would have a solid shot at the end. It didn’t work out quite the way we hoped with a relatively calm race and not enough laps to get to the front at the end. You win some, you lose some.”

William Byron — Finished 20th: “It was good. I thought my goal was really to survive. We were fortunate to lead some laps when we got the track position, which was good. Just couldn’t get enough guys to work with me. Hopefully, next year will be different with the rookie stripes off, it should make a difference, but other than that I thought our day was good. Got the car better handling-wise, handling was pretty important and then from there we just were kind of trying to fight for track position. I was able to bring it home, which was good.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 23rd: “It didn’t really matter what we did to the car. It didn’t go away. We tried a lot of stuff. It was tough to drive. It couldn’t even go straight. I could run hard for two or three laps. As soon as the tires got some air pressure, I was just hanging on. The longer the runs were, the worse it got. There was no chance of me just getting up there and racing. I wanted to. Luckily, we were able to get some tires there in the end. I could go for about three laps. I felt good going to the green-white checkered. They wrecked in front of us and we barely made it through. As soon as we got through there, I was able to salvage something.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 25th: “Before the final stage, we did a fuel-only pit stop to give us options later in the race. We were in lucky dog position for the final 20 laps and eventually caught a break to put us on the lead lap with two laps remaining. However, in overtime I was caught in a wreck and the car was heavily damaged. I know we were better than where we finished, P25. Sometimes the dominoes just don’t fall your way. We’ll be ready for Kansas next week and hopefully string together some solid runs to close out the year.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 26th: “We tried everything today and struggled to get up front.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 27th: “We ran out of gas from what I could tell, so we’ll go through and look at it and see.” 

Kevin Harvick — Finished 28th: “I’m just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. Mine sputtered there on the fuel pressure and it dropped down in the red and they did the right thing of coming in and pitting and not taking a chance. You just need to put yourself in a position to where you’re good for next week and just glad that one of our cars won and happy for Aric.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 31st: “Yeah, I mean it is what it is. We were far enough back in the pack where if it does happen you are probably going to be in it. Yeah, it happens.”

Late fuel stop adds to ‘frustrating three weeks’ for Brad Keselowski’s team

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — All that positive momentum Brad Keselowski’s team had entering the playoffs is long gone after another frustrating finish that has his title hopes in jeopardy.

Keselowski pitted for fuel in overtime and finished 27th Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. He is 18 points out of the final transfer spot entering next weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway.

“Ever since Richmond, we haven’t done much, made bad decisions and we didn’t have speed this weekend, and last weekend was bad,” crew chief Paul Wolfe told NBC Sports. “We wrecked two cars at the Roval. It’s been a frustrating three weeks and now we’re sitting I don’t know how many points out … We’ll go to Kansas and do what we try to do every week and that’s win and see what happens.”

It’s a marked change for the team, which won the Southern 500 and at Indianapolis to end the regular season and won the playoff opener at Las Vegas.

At Richmond, Keselowski finished ninth, hindered by a slow pit stop in the first half of the race. At the Charlotte Roval, he was fastest in practice but crashed in the final session and had to go to a backup. He crashed while leading late in the race and placed 31st. Last week at Dover, Keselowski finished 14th after he was hit by Aric Almirola in the final laps and his car was damaged.

“We made a bad call not to pit last week there at the end and then we got run over,” Wolfe said. “So that’s not good.”

Sunday, Keselowski had a loose wheel that forced him to stop under green and fall a lap down. He recovered to lead 21 laps but Stewart-Haas Racing’s cars were clearly better.

Why?

Sounds like they’ve got some really good engineering,” Keselowski said.

The team made some changes this weekend to the car but couldn’t counter the Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

“We went for handling today, thought that’s what we needed and I don’t know, I didn’t really see it pay off for us,” Wolfe said. “There were cars out there driving a lot worse than we were but we weren’t able to capitalize on it. Disappointed in that.”

Keselowski was running ninth when the race went to overtime and then pitted for fuel while most of the field stayed out.

“We just got a little bit of air in there and I think he panicked and came to pit road and likely should have just rolled on and we would have probably run out down the back (straightaway) or something but had enough speed to carry it around and maybe finish a few spots higher,” Wolfe told NBC Sports.

“When you get down to the end like that and you got a lap-and-a-half of fuel, we’re talking about half a gallon of fuel, you’ve got to be really aggressive keeping that pick up full and sometimes you‘ll get a little sputter there and got to let it recover and go on. It’s just been a frustrating three weeks.”

Results, stats for the Cup race at Talladega

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Aric Almirola passed a fuel-starved Kurt Busch in Turn 4 on the final lap of  the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to win his first race of the season and advance to the third round of the playoffs.

Teammate Clint Bowyer followed him across the line.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

Stewart-Haas Racing started first through fourth and ran that way for most of the race. With less than 10 laps remaining, they separated from the field – building an advantage of more than 20-car-lengths with five to go.

That advantage was erased with three laps remaining when Alex Bowman spun and brought out the caution.

Kurt Busch fell to 14th on the final lap. Teammate Kevin Harvick pitted as the field was about to take the green flag. He finished 28th.

Click here for complete results