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.”

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.