What drivers said after Darlington

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Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew. We were running second and that last stop they nailed it and got us out in the lead. I thought Kyle was really good, and he was flat-out flying. I know how it goes. In 2015 we led a bunch of laps and lost it on the last pit stop and today my team won it on the last pit stop. Then it was just about me hitting all my marks and not screwing it up. How cool is this winning in Rusty Wallace’s Throwback car, the Southern 500, Throwback Weekend.”

Joey Logano — Finished 2nd: “We had a good car. We were like a third-place car and whether it was a short run or a long run it didn’t really matter. We made some adjustments there at the end to take off a little bit better, but I didn’t get by the 42 in time to try to run down the 2. We were just matching lap times, so I couldn’t catch him enough. I was just hoping lap traffic would screw it up enough to try to catch him, but one-two for Team Penske, that’s pretty cool. Brad sweeping the weekend, that’s awesome for him to do at Darlington. That’s no easy feat, so congratulations to them. I just keep going back to two restarts to the end. I didn’t have the best of restarts and if I got to second our pit stop was good enough to get us to the lead and give us control and that’s what ultimately won Brad the race was his pit crew that got him out in the lead. Once he was out in the lead, he was gonna be hard to catch. I had a lot of fun on the Throwback Weekend. It’s really cool to drive Steve Park’s car and give it a good run. I wish I got to celebrate with him in Victory Lane and hold up the 1 that he used to drive.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 3rd: “It’s always important to come out the leader off pit road or be the control car on the restart. I felt like if I could have been in clean air, I would have been all right. All day when I would get in traffic I’d get loose. There on that last run I was just really loose and allowed Joey (Logano) to get by. I knew the only really weakness we would have throughout the race was a short run and that’s what it kind of came down to. On long runs, I was just really, really good all race long. That was good. Hat’s off to everybody back at our race shop. This car was extremely fast. We had the dominant car and we proved it. We just came up a little bit short. Thanks to DC Solar and everybody, like I said. It’s nice to show some dominant speed like that and a 1.5-mile like this leading up to the Playoffs.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 4th: “Darlington just has a lot of ups-and-downs in general just because of the fact that it’s a tough old race track. As a driver, it’s a challenge and a lot of fun. For us, we just could not make the front end of our car work all night and everything we did to try to help it just undid the back and just never could get it right. Track position was bigger here than I’ve ever seen, so we all got to figure that out as a sport.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 5th: “I thought we got it better as the night went along and got to a pretty decent place there and we just so happened to get into a decent place when we had track position as well. Circumstances were pretty good for a course of that run when we ran second and was trying to pace Kyle (Larson) and just felt like I was probably having to work a little too hard to pace him and was really hard on my rear tires and then by the end fell off pretty bad. Have a little work to do, but mistake free night, which is nice and we just got to find the next little step to keep up with that crowd.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 6th: “We’ve got sixth through tenth covered. We had a good car, we just got pinned a lap down with 80 miles to go and that’s happened to me a lot here. We just end up on the wrong sequence and we got pinned a lap down. Then we had some overheating issues. I guess our grille screen – there’s an outer and an inner – and the inner got clogged, so we had to come in. Luckily, the engine held together over 300 degrees, so thanks to Doug Yates and those guys for building the durability and being able to salvage a top-10 finish. Otherwise, engines like that blow up, so thanks to Doug Yates and Ford.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 7th: “We never are very good here. I don’t know what the problem is. Just fought a lot of things and tried to make the most of the effort. We made some good changes on pit road, but just nothing there at the end could free us up for the short run to make our Camry very fast. Hard to make lap time at the end.”

Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “We had a really good car. It’s funny, you look at the last lap time and we were the first or second-fastest car. We just needed a long time to come in. I mean we needed 15 laps to get going and that’s just kind of how it was. I knew if they came down to some short restart stints, it was going to probably hurt us quite a bit unfortunately. The Sport Clips Camry was good. You can’t complain. We worked hard on it all night and had a fast car – had a car that I think if it would’ve stayed green, maybe we could have contended with (Kyle) Larson. You know Larson didn’t win either, so sometimes it’s just not your night to have a shot and tonight wasn’t ours.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 9th: “I missed the commitment line I guess on one of the green flag stops, so we had to fight to get back on the lead lap like two or three times, but had a really good car. Both of our cars were… Kyle (Larson) was really fast tonight. We had a great car too we just could never get the track position that we needed, but yeah, a really good day.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 11th: ““It’s really disappointing to have a car that good to be up front and have that many troubles on pit road. It’s pretty disappointing. We have to clean it up. Playoffs are coming. We do that in the playoffs and we’ll be out in the second round.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 12th: “Overall, it’s our best career finish and really running the whole race at Darlington. I kept it out of the fence, which was goal number one. We got off two or three runs, which was a bummer because I felt like we were really good the rest of the race. Those three runs just caught us off-guard. That’s a little lack of laps here because I haven’t run many, but it was a good finish for us. I was real happy we were able to get back on the lead lap and pass some good cars and race some good cars there at the end. All in all it was a good weekend.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 13th: “That is a good day for us there. I’m proud of this team and everyone on this Bush’s Best Since 1908 Camaro ZL1. I mean that was a good race. It’s a long race and it’s always fun when you get to run the whole thing and be there at the end. Kind of a wild one with the way it played out with everybody all over the place, but we had a good run. We had one set of tires that corded on us really early and that was strange. Got a little behind there. I think we should have had a better day. Everybody did an excellent job. Everybody with Kroger Clicklist, JTG Daugherty Racing they are putting solid efforts in and we are starting to get some results and even though Bristol didn’t end up the way we wanted to they knew we were there and we were definitely fast. We are sneaking up on it.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 16th: “First, I’d just like to say it was a privilege to drive the ‘Silver Secret’ and honor Dale Earnhardt for NASCAR Throwback weekend at Darlington. The No. 3 American Ethanol e15 Camaro ZL1 showed solid speed today even though we finished 16th. At one point during the first stage, we were the fastest car on the track. Near the end of the stage, I battled to stay on the lead lap and managed to do so even with some contact before the stage break. I battled a loose car during Stage 2. And again, near the conclusion of the stage, I was touched by another car as I fought to stay on the lead lap. Even though I missed staying on the lead lap by a nose, I got the Lucky Dog to start the final stage. Our guys did a great job making repairs to the minor damage. The final stage proved to be a bit more difficult. Unfortunately, we were assessed a penalty for an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop halfway through the stage. Even though we went a couple laps down, we didn’t stop fighting and eventually found ourselves back on the lead lap with less than 25 laps to go. In the end, our finish didn’t represent the team’s effort. We had a better car than 16th and will look to get back on track next week at Indy.”

David Ragan — Finished 18th: “I felt like we struggled a little bit when they dropped the green flag. Our car just wasn’t balanced as good as it could have been, but as the track cooled off we made some pretty good adjustments. We had a little different strategy too and I think it all played out. I’m proud of our Citgard 700 team for overcoming some adversity in practice. We didn’t get a lot of practice, but that was a good recovery and a top-20 finish. We would have liked to gotten a little bit more, but that was a lot of fun.”

RYAN NEWMAN — Finished 19th: “We had another strong start to the weekend by leading final practice and qualifying sixth. When the race started, our Caterpillar Camaro ZL1 was extremely tight so we needed to use our first stop to free us up. For most of the race, we fine tuned our No. 31 with wedge adjustments. Turns 1 and 3 were my biggest issues while we ran loose on longer the green flag runs. Regardless, we raced the majority of the event in the top 10. There were two pit strategies going and we were on the more favorable side with the No. 42. We had an extra set of tires compared to half of the front runners. With about 55 laps to go, it was time to pit. But, before we made it to pit road, we got wrecked. It’s a shame. The Cat Racing team brought me another fast car. We found ourselves three laps down after addressing a tire rub under green, and from there, we hoped for cautions so that we could take the wave around. We got two laps back, but it wasn’t enough. Our bid for the Playoffs comes down to Indy. We have to win, and I’ve done it before when it mattered most.”

William Byron — Finished 35th: “I mean it’s hard to hear, but they don’t really know what happened yet. Overall, we were trying a couple of different strategies out there. The track was really slick. I felt like our car was capable of finishing probably 10th or 11th, which was kind of where we were running. Overall some good positives, tough race track, but wanted to definitely finish this one.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 36th: I hit the 31 really hard. I don’t know. I guess he was pitting or something and it’s a product of this place, I guess. There are lapped cars that are 50 laps down all over the damn place. That’s pretty frustrating. I’m about tired of that. This track is too narrow for cars to be that far off the pace. You’re in and out of those guys, diving all over the place, trying to navigate around them, trying to figure out where the hell they’re going, and then you come up on somebody trying to actually compete in the race and you’re not on the game — he’s pitting or something and I run over him. I didn’t see him wave, but, like I said, when you come off of two and you pass 37 lapped cars and you get your bearings and everything else – maybe he waved, maybe he didn’t – I didn’t see it. He just stopped right in front of me and I hit him hard. I’m obviously pissed off and frustrated, but it seems to be that way for me every time I come here. We run decent. We had a frustrating night, just mistake after mistake and obviously we ended up wrecked.

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 39th: “Our engine shop is so rock solid, if anything I would be a little nervous for my teammates out there right now that have the same stuff. Sometimes we have material issues and things out of our control that we have seen when one engine goes a bunch go. So, fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen with my teammates. These guys are the best in the business we will be fine next week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”

Pocono race weekend to be held without fans

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Pocono Raceway officials on Friday announced that all races scheduled for its tentative upcoming race weekend on June 27-28 will be held without fans in the stands.

The track made the decision not to admit fans based upon guidelines issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following the guidance on sporting events in Pennsylvania issued by Governor Tom Wolf, it is with sadness to announce the 2020 NASCAR events at Pocono Raceway will be held without fans in attendance,” the track said in a media release. “This decision, made in coordination with NASCAR and our state officials, was not made lightly.”

All race dates are tentative, per the track statement.

“The exact dates of our 2020 races is being finalized and will be announced by NASCAR at a later date,” the track said in a media release.

NASCAR has not announced confirmed dates on the schedule past the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. However, NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted this afternoon that NASCAR is “hoping to put out next portion next week – not a full schedule yet though.”

For now, the tentative weekend schedule at Pocono includes the first-ever NASCAR Cup doubleheader with a 130-lap/325-mile race on June 27 and a 140-lap/350-mile race on June 28.

Click here to read the full statement from Pocono Raceway.

Also slated are a 60-lap/150-mile Truck race on June 27, which would precede the first Cup race that weekend, and a 90-lap/225-mile Xfinity Series race on June 28, which would precede the second Cup race.

“Our Raceway family shares in your disappointment and will certainly miss your passion, laughs, cheers, and smiles as the green flag drops in the Pocono Mountains,” the track said.

Ticket holders have the option to either receive a refund or account credit for the value of their tickets, track officials said.