What drivers said after Daytona

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Erik Jones — Winner: “What a day. I didn’t think we were going to have a shot to win this one about halfway. Got ourselves back into contention and our guys did a great job getting this thing fixed up and getting the buyatoyota.com into Victory Lane. I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much that has felt better than this one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “Man, they destroyed some cars tonight. That was insane. Cool to get to the end. I wish I could have done a better job for my team. We had a fast car. I’ve got to get better at the blocking. It’s never been my strong suit, without a question. I struggle a little bit seeing the runs coming and me and my spotter are trying to figure it out together.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 3rd: “I think it was a destruction derby out there instead of a Cup race, but first of all congrats to Erik (Jones) and that whole team. I know what it’s like to get that first win, so he well deserves it, congrats to him. Yeah, see it from the left side of the car here it’s like sometimes you try to figure out what the plan is. We tried to run in the back and still got wrecked running in the back. So, you know it was just about survival and I thought the Kroger Clicklist Chevy was pretty good. Just had a lot of drag on it so I thought our chance to win was going to be tough, but I tried to make the right decision there. I missed about seven wrecks it felt like. Anytime you can walk out of here with a decent finish and to have a top five especially both cars in the top five, so great for our whole organization. It’s one of those things you would like to go get the win, it was close, but top three it was a good day.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 4th: “Well, get back to the lead from the time I lost the lead I needed to get back to the lead and I never got there. I just about cleared Martin (Truex, Jr.) off of (Turn) 2. But he just barely hung on my left-rear and pulled me back a bunch. From that point I needed to block the No. 20. I tried to slow him up, but he was coming fast. The gap was pretty big and he was coming fast and I didn’t do a good enough job of stopping him.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 5th: “Yeah, it was a wild night overall. Just proud of everybody on our Kleenex Wet Wipes Camaro ZL1. We fought hard today and stayed out of trouble and were there at the end with our teammate AJ (Allmendinger). We got a good run on the outside, we were able to give (Erik) Jones a good shove down the back there and got him clear. We just couldn’t quite clear with him. So, congrats to him on his first win. Proud of our operation and what we were able to accomplish today. Wish we could have lined up and tried to get it, but that’s always easy to say after Daytona you go back and would love to replay it, but a good day for us.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 7th: “I guess that was probably one of the craziest races I’ve ever taken part in. I’m glad we survived and we seem to always position ourselves in a spot to be up front and competing for the win at the end of these speedway races at Daytona quite often. We’ve got that down pat and I’m really, really glad we got a good run for Zynga Poker. They’re a huge part of our team. They’ve stepped up and helped us a ton this year, so I’m pretty proud of that.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 10th: “Yeah, that early damage definitely didn’t help things. It kind of made the car a parachute out front, but we tried all night. I made some bad calls and got put in the wrong spot a couple of times, but just kind of couldn’t put it together there at the end. Little bit of a bummer, wish we would have ended up a little better, but not a terrible day.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt — Finished 11th: “Just proud of all these guys. Nine Line Foundation, Black Rifle Coffee, Xtreme Concepts – they are the reason I am here with the cause that they are trying to push and its just an honor to get to be a part of it. It’s an incredible company and they support our country, our military and all of our veterans. I am so happy I got them a good run. Everyone kept asking me what it means to come here with the Earnhardt name at Daytona, and it does mean a lot, don’t get me wrong. But to show support to our veterans and be a part of what the foundation is doing…..that meant more to me than anything tonight. Proud of all the guys at Premium in giving me a good car tonight and keeping the car in one piece. Its my best career finish in the Cup series, so hopefully this will lead to some more sponsorship and get me back out here on the track more often.”

David Ragan — Finished 15th: “I felt like we were involved in about all the wrecks out there. It was a long night, but I can’t say enough about our pit crew. They just never gave up and kept fighting and to come out of here with a top 15 is really like a win. We very well could have been in the garage with a 35th-place finish, but they kept working on the car and patching it up. We dodged the other wrecks, so I’m grateful for them and the Shriners for coming out and having some fun.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 17th: “It was fun for a while. I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that. You don’t ever really want to do that. For us, my car was a lot of fun to drive. Everybody else had a lot of handling issues and my car drove really good and had really good speed, so hat’s off to Jimmy Fennig and those guys and Doug Yates. We just didn’t finish it off.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 19th: “The night was crazy. The restart was really poorly executed and then teammates wound up side-by-side again trying to get everything situated and we crashed into each other. I just hate it for all my Jimmy John’s guys. I don’t really know what I could have done any different on the last restart.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 26th: “It’s just plate racing. We lost a little bit of track position and that just put us in the back there and everybody is fighting hard for the same real estate at the end. But I’m really proud of everyone at Front Row Motorsports because we had a really fast car. I was able to push Ricky to both the first stage and second stage wins and finished second in the second stage. We overcame a lot and got within a few laps of being in position and just didn’t execute.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 29th: “I think I cut a tire. It just spun out on me when I turned into (Turn) 3. A little bit unlucky there for Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) for me to be… he had just blended on the track and then I drive around him and just unlucky timing on both of our parts I guess there. I am not sure how much damage he has, but I hate that for him. Just kind of a frustrating race for us. I was just patient all race long and got caught up in that first wreck down the backstretch a little bit. Got some damage and was just kind of riding around again there are a ton of torn up cars, so I was going to be able to salvage a pretty decent day, I thought. Yeah, just had a random tire issue there. When we made our green flag stop I didn’t wave off to the guys behind me because I just assumed everybody was pitting and whoever was behind me got my rear bumper and I guess it sounded like we had a little bit of right-rear damage there, so it must have gotten to the tire when we came back out and ultimately cut our tire.”

William Byron — Finished 32nd: “The No. 17 car (Stenhouse) just kind of I guess hooked the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) into me. It seemed like he was being really aggressive and that is the second time we have kind of been on the wrong end of something with him. Unfortunate for us, but we had a good race going. We needed to really have a really good day because of the points position we are in, but that is just part of speedway racing I guess, but it stinks to be on that side of it. But at least we led some laps so that was good.”

KYLE BUSCH — Finished 33rd: “Disappointing to get crashed out by the same guy that caused the first crash. Our Interstate Batteries Camry showed some good speed and patience there in that first stage. We were able to come home second and grab some points there. You always come to Daytona waiting to crash and figure out when or where, and hope you can walk away from it. That’s really frustrating and disappointing to have to race these races like that on the fence or line of when are you going to wreck. But we’ll move on to next week.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 34th: “Yeah, I don’t know. I was watching the most recent wreck, we are not going to have anybody left before it’s over with. But, yeah, I don’t know, I think the best I can remember Brad (Keselowski) had a pretty big run on William (Byron) and I don’t think William was clear, but he didn’t know he wasn’t clear and then Brad tried to get on the brakes really hard to stop for him. We were getting really close to the corner so he couldn’t enter on the apron and whoever was behind him hit him and turned him up the track. Not really a whole lot you can do about that.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 35th: “I think that I didn’t get to race any. The first stage I had to start in the back to repair my car from qualifying and I was just riding in the back because we lost the draft and finally in the second stage we were able to get some track position back and I felt like we could pass enough race cars to drive to the front and that was exactly what I was doing. Just raced for two laps. Just a shame. Just not very smart for Lap 55 or so. Still a long ways to go. I don’t know. I mean half of the field is out so, it’s a real shame.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 36th: “Ricky was doing the best he could to give me a good push and had a great run to take the lead and the car in front of me just threw a late, bad block. I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him and that’s my fault. I know better than that. I’ve got to wreck more people and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that. That’s my fault. I’ll take the credit for my team and we’ll go to Talladega and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 37th: “I was running in the high lane and I just have to giggle, there’s no safe spot. I thought being in the top two or three is pretty safe, but we just got clipped from behind. Usually, there’s that danger zone that everybody knows about from third to 12th and we didn’t get strung out enough to get away from some of the action. It’s a bummer night for Monster Energy Ford. It was fast. We put her on the bottom at the end of stage one to gain some points, but now we’ve got nothing. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I do have to giggle. There’s no safe spot out there.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 38th: “The 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) turned the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and then that was it. Once cars get sideways on the backstretch, everyone just battles to try to get through the wreck. You know most of the strong contenders in front, they got taken out in that one, so we’re going to have a crapshoot from here on out.”

Joey Logano — Finished 39th: “It looks like they crashed a lot of cars. I was in the middle of it and I got hit from every corner really quick and it just seemed like they kept coming. I was like, ‘Stop, everyone.’ It was just so hard to stop when you’re going so fast out there, but it’s part of the game here. Sometimes you’re in the half of the field that finishes and sometimes you’re in half of the field that doesn’t finish it and we were in the bad 50 percent this time. That’s part of the game and we’ll come back to Talladega at the next superspeedway and hopefully do what we did there in the spring and get our Shell/Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 40th: “I don’t know what happened. By the time I looked up and started checking up I was already in it. I haven’t seen the replay, so I can’t really talk about it. It’s just one of those deals. When you come here everyone is really close and racing hard and sometimes you’re the bug as opposed to the windshield.”

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’m smarter, stronger’ after COVID-19 episode

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Having been in an admitted “dark head space” after testing positive for COVID-19 a week ago, Jimmie Johnson said Friday that he is “ready to go” to return to the NASCAR Cup Series and Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Johnson was forced to miss last weekend’s race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Johnson tested negative twice more than 24 hours apart. After that and being cleared by a doctor, NASCAR reinstated Johnson.

“It’s been an interesting week or so, to have a positive test and then the two negative tests, just the emotional journey you go through and worrying about your safety, your family’s safety, watching a race with someone else in your race car,” Johnson said during a media Zoom conference. “Coming to grips with the reality of all that has been challenging.

“I feel like I’m a smarter, stronger person today experiencing all this. Clearly extremely happy to be reinstated and ready to be back with my race team and that race car.”

Johnson proved to be asymptomatic. He demurred when asked if the original test was a false positive.

“I’ve had no symptoms through this journey,” he said. “There are a lot of scenarios that can play out and to go through them and to form an opinion would just be speculating. At this point, I just don’t think that’s very intelligent or smart to do.

“I followed the protocol that NASCAR has in place and is the same protocol all the other major sports have as well. I’ve been watching the numerous positives take place and also seen many examples of a double negative within a 24-hour period take place and those athletes have been reinstated. It’s a science-based reinstatement process.

“… I’ve followed the protocol, it brings a lot of questions as to where I was in the journey of being positive. There’s a lot of speculation there. I don’t know those answers and I’m the most frustrated person out there, especially living in the world of facts that I do. To not have the facts drives me bananas.”

Johnson pronounced himself fit for Sunday’s race: “I feel great, I’m excited and I’m ready to go. … I’m super excited. In my head of optimism, boy, what a comeback story, the COVID comeback. It would really be a special moment. I’ve always been highly motivated but it would be really cool to have great success Sunday or certainly in the near future with everything.”

As the last week has played out, Johnson has run the gamut of emotions since he was first told about the positive result.

“My first response was just anger, I started cussing and I used every cuss word I knew of and I think I invented a few new ones,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “It was just so weird at the anger because I’ve been asymptomatic. First anger hits and then speculation in my mind and it was like wait a second, there’s nothing good to come of this. No one knows, I don’t know, it’s just time to move on.

“Then I got very excited looking at the facts: I missed just one race, still am above the (playoff) cut line and then the optimism I hope I get that second negative (result) and then I did. I feel like I’m more on the optimistic side of things and really out of the dark head space I was in, and moving in the right direction and looking forward in all this.”

Last Sunday, sitting at his family’s home in Colorado, Johnson admitted it was strange to see someone else – namely fill-in driver Justin Allgaier – in his No. 48 Chevy for the first time since Johnson first began driving that car in Cup late in 2001.

“It’s a weird set of events,” Johnson said. “Saturday night trying to go to sleep was probably the most difficult time for me, knowing I wasn’t going to be in the car.

“It was the peak of emotions going with missing a race and the consecutive start streak coming to an end, not being in a car, my final year (racing in NASCAR), all the things you can think of.

“Sunday morning wasn’t great, but I joined the team call we have before the race, I was able to hear the voices of my crew guys, and give them a shot in the arm and pump them up and just be involved in that team moment. It’s crazy how that relaxed me because I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to watch the race.”

Johnson’s teleconference lasted nearly 30 minutes. Here are some other topics he covered:

Racing this weekend at Kentucky, one of only four current tracks the seven-time Cup champ has never won on (others are Charlotte Roval, Chicagoland and Watkins Glen): “Kentucky has probably been one of my top two or three most difficult tracks to compete at. I have mixed feelings for the place because when I first started at Hendrick Motorsports, I felt like I lived at that raceway doing testing for the team, getting in my laps and reps as a rookie coming into the sport. I have positive vibes from there, but my race experience there from the Busch Series days and even the Cup (series), has been demanding and tough. I hope to conquer the track from that personal standpoint and then clearly with what I’ve been through, my friends, family and fan base have been through, it’d be nice to leave there with a trophy.”

Why he tweeted out another show of support for Bubba Wallace earlier this week: “With the current events, just letting it be known I stood with Bubba at the beginning of this journey and I continue to stand with Bubba. (It was in response) to the tweet the President put out.”

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Friday’s Xfinity race at Kentucky: Start time, forecast and more

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Time for Part II of the Xfinity Series doubleheader at Kentucky Speedway.

Xfinity teams return to the 1.5-mile speedway tonight for the Alsco 300.

The top-15 finishers from Thursday night’s race have been inverted, resulting in Myatt Snider starting on the pole for tonight’s race. Jesse Little will start second.

Here’s all the info you need for the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be at 8:05 p.m by Tyler Reddick. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:14 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 10:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments are at 6 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:57 p.m by Larry Campbell of Kentucky Raceway Ministries. The national anthem will be performed at 7:58 p.m. by Felita LaRock, former lead vocalist, United States Air Force Band of Flight.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 20

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for mostly clear skies, a high of 81 degrees and a 2% of rain predicted at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Austin Cindric beat Riley Herbst in overtime to win Thursday night’s Kentucky race.

TO THE REAR: Daniel Hemric (driver change for No. 8 car), Justin Allgaier (backup car), Colby Howard (backup), Brandon Jones (backup), Kody Vanderwal (backup), Timmy Hill (backup), Brandon Brown (backup), Ronnie Bassett Jr. (backup)

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup

Stage is set for Cup teams in race for points

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With 10 races left in the Cup regular season, the push for stage points is starting to play a key role in strategy and the results are showing in the standings.

Austin Dillon holds what would be the 16th and final playoff heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1). But as Matt Kenseth nearly showed last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a victory by a driver outside the top 16 will take a playoff spot away from one hoping to make it by points.

Teams also are mindful that the regular season finale will be at Daytona International Speedway, which could lead to a surprise winner. Three of the last five Cup points races at Daytona saw a driver score either their first or second career Cup win: Dillon, Erik Jones and Justin Haley.

Teams already are trying different strategies to get away from 16th in the standings or climb into a potential playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto entered the Pocono doubleheader weekend 15th in the standings. Focusing on stage results, he scored 17 stage points in the two races that weekend and added 11 stage points last weekend at Indy.

Stage points can just make such a huge difference, especially this point in the year when the point stuff is really starting to settle out a little bit,” DiBenedetto said after the Pocono weekend. “People are settling in place, so you’ve got to take everything you can get because that makes a big difference as far as securing a solid spot in the playoffs.”

Those 28 stage points he’s earned the past three races helped DiBenedetto climb to 12th in the standings heading to Kentucky. He’s scored 26 more stage points than Clint Bowyer the past three races. That 26-point advantage helped put DiBenedetto three points ahead of Bowyer in standings.

William Byron‘s stage win at Indy proved key in helping him climb the points standings. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

William Byron won the first stage last weekend at Indy and collected 10 stage points (and one playoff point) after crew chief Chad Knaus had Byron stay on track under caution when most of the leaders did pit with eight laps left in the stage. Byron restarted in the lead and held that position for the final four laps of the stage under green.

Those 10 points helped Byron pass Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for 14th in the standings. Byron leads Johnson, who sat out Indy because he had tested positive for COVID-19, by two points. Johnson has since had two negative tests for the coronavirus and been reinstated for this weekend.

Another driver who has benefitted from a strategy focused on stage points is Dillon. He’s scored 18 stage points the past three races to nine stage points by Jones. Dillon holds what would be the final playoff spot by six points on Jones.

2. Will this be Kyle Busch’s weekend?

The reigning series champion has one win in the last 38 races but heads to a Kentucky Speedway that has been good to him, even though Kurt Busch nipped his younger brother for the win in last year’s race.

Kyle Busch has two wins in nine starts at Kentucky and leads all drivers in top-five finishes (seven), top-10 finishes (eight) and laps led (621) at the track.

Busch’s lone victory in the last 38 races came in last year’s championship race in Miami. In that same span, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have combined to win 14 races.

Also during that 38-race stretch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have combined to win 16 races (42.1%). Each has eight wins in that time.

3. Speeding on pit road

Here’s a look at the number of pit road speeding penalties drivers have had in the first 16 races of the Cup season:

6 – Quin Houff

5 – Ryan Newman, Bubba Wallace

4 – Corey LaJoie, Garrett Smithley, Daniel Suarez

3 – Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JJ Yeley,

2 – Christopher Bell, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Brennan Poole, Ryan Preece.

1 – Chris Buescher, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Joey Gase, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, John Hunter Nemechek, Tyler Reddick,

0 – Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr.

4. Streakin’

With Jimmie Johnson missing last weekend’s race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19, his consecutive starts streak ended at 663, ranking fifth on the all-time list. Johnson has since been cleared to race this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Kevin Harvick ranks sixth on the list of longest consecutive starts streak with 656 consecutive starts heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Here is the top 6 in longest consecutive streaks:

797 — Jeff Gordon

788 — Ricky Rudd

704 — Bobby Labonte

697 — Rusty Wallace

663 — Jimmie Johnson

656 — Kevin Harvick

5. More of the same for Chevy teams?

Chevrolet teams are winless in their last eight Cup races and the manufacturer has one win in nine races at Kentucky. That victory came last year with Kurt Busch beating Kyle Busch at the finish.

Since Chase Elliott won the second Charlotte race in late May, Chevy drivers have not won. Elliott finished second in Miami, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second at Talladega and Matt Kenseth was second at Indianapolis.

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UPDATE: Justin Allgaier cleared to race tonight at Kentucky

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UPDATE (1 p.m. ET): After Thursday night’s wreck that sent him to a local Sparta, Kentucky area hospital, Justin Allgaier has been cleared to race in tonight’s second half of the Xfinity Series weekend doubleheader at Kentucky Speedway.

His team, JR Motorsports, made the announcement via Twitter:

Allgaier will have to start from the back of the field due to having to go to a backup car, as his primary car was damaged in Thursday night’s wreck.

UPDATE (9:15 a.m. ET):

Justin Allgaier was released early Friday morning from a local Sparta, Kentucky area hospital after being evaluated following his last-lap crash in Thursday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

According to a tweet from his team, JR Motorsports, “Justin Allgaier was treated and released from a local hospital early this morning for non-racing related medical purposes following last night’s event at Kentucky Speedway. He will undergo further evaluation today before being cleared to race.”

The second race of the Xfinity Series weekend doubleheader at Kentucky will take place tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

Allgaier’s wife, Ashley, was upset at several rumors that appeared on social media regarding her husband’s condition which ultimately were proven to be false.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Justin Allgaier has been taken to a local hospital for further evaluation after he was involved in a last-lap crash in Thursday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway.

The wreck occurred in overtime and involved four drivers: Allgaier, Kody Vanderwal, Timmy Hill and Ronnie Bassett Jr.

The other drivers were checked and released from the infield care center.

The Xfinity Series is set to hold its second race of a doubleheader at Kentucky Friday night at 8 p.m. ET.