What drivers said after Cup playoff race at Phoenix

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I’d like to think it gives us a lot (of momentum), but I don’t know – talk is cheap. We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial. I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was ‘all bets are off and it’s time to go.’ … It’s awesome to celebrate like this and we were the first ones in the Richmond victory lane and we’re the first ones in the Phoenix victory lane and I called my shot a few months ago because they had the 48 on the map showing everyone where things are at and I said, ‘That ain’t right, that’s going to be us.’ I’m glad I could be a man of my word.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “We definitely made the right call. It just didn’t quite work out. Man, it was close. I needed to pass (Aric Almirola) like a lap earlier and we were all racing for all we’ve got. It was close.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 4th: “I thought we were a seventh to sixth-place car and that’s what I thought we were yesterday too. (Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and all these guys fought their guts out and I fought my guts out inside the race car and gave it everything we had. We took a seventh or eighth-place car and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race. I’m just really thankful for this group and these guys on the Smithfield team are awesome. This is our first year working together. You look at all the teams we’re racing and they’ve got four, five, six, seven years working together, so what we’ve accomplished in one year is a hell of a lot, but right now all I can think about is being inside of Kyle down there in the new one and two and just not being able to get the power down to get up beside him. It’s bittersweet. It was a good day for us, but today we needed to win and we didn’t win.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “I felt (the tire) start to go down going into Turn 1 there and just slowed down to the point where I thought I could at least make it back to the pits and not hit the wall. It came at an OK time because it didn’t tear the car up. It never really drove as well after that, but we kept ourselves in position all day and there at the end it was just like with everybody wrecking and all over the place, we just needed to stay out of trouble and try to find a safe spot there.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 8th: “Yeah for sure, I’m proud of our American Ethanol E15 car and our team. It was a solid run all weekend. We had a top 10 car. That is what we had. We proved that. It kind of bit us, we pitted and the caution came out and that was… we had to really fight to get back that, but luckily the wrecks happened. It put us back in a pretty good position. We decided to stay out on old tires and fight them off to the end. That was a fun run for our team and our Camaro. We will work on that. That is two top 10’s in a row and I’m happy.”

William Byron — Finished 9th: “we haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying. Got some damage there, but we were able to come back, I guess, and finish ninth, so I guess that’s decent, and going to Homestead next week.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 10th: “We were up there and we had underdog speed in the top 15 three quarters through the race and I didn’t like having all those cautions. I did because it would give us a chance to fire back off, but once we got leveled out those guys could just drive right by us. We are still working on our speed. We are still making the most of it. It was nice to be able to survive, catch a couple of breaks, catch a lot of breaks actually. Just have luck on our side for once. It was great to have the Air Force on our car for Veteran’s Day and our Chevrolet was actually decent this time.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 12th: That was a really solid day for our Kroger ClickList team. We’ve been searching for some speed at ISM Raceway the last several years, and to be able to gain spots on pit road and track position was a huge advantage for us. That was probably the best Kroger ClickList car I’ve had here. I’m really proud of the whole team for being able to get us some solid finishes the last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to finishing out the season strong next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 13th: “We had an opportunity there and I think the (Erik Jones) got together there and going into the corner I got underneath and it looked like I got loose, I thought I got hit, but nobody was near me. I got loose and I chased it up the race track and (Kurt Busch) was right there. Then it looked like he hit the wall and I was up there and kind of pinched him and then hit the wall again. It was not going to be good. He kind of turned us then, but I can’t blame him, Kurt’s been fair to me in so many years of racing. I’ve never had one incident with him, he’s been as fair to me as anyone out there and I hate it for him because trust me, I was rooting for him – all of today I was rooting for (Busch) to be the guy that got in there. Ultimately we have to go out there to try to race to win and we were battling hard off the corner. Just ran out of real estate for sure.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “We didn’t have the greatest car, but we battled hard and we had a little bit of good fortune. Made good calls, good strategy and good adjustments on the car. We got it to where it was pretty decent. The short runs just really killed us today. It would take 40 or 50 laps for the car to come in and then a caution would come out. All in all, I’m just really proud of everybody, everybody back in Denver at the shop for continuing to bring good race cars and stay focused.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 16th: “It’s definitely probably the best run I’ve had here and I’m really proud of the guys. I made mistakes on pit road instead. It’s kind of a trick pit road now with curves and straights and I was just pushing it too hard. We were able to rebound. I wish we could have got that lucky dog a little bit sooner, but (Matt Kenseth) and I were racing hard for it and it was just a tough battle there. I’m glad to get a top 20 and get some momentum back going to Homestead.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 19th: “What a crazy day of highs and lows for our GEICO Military team. My Camaro ZL1 had a great balance through the start and middle of the race, I just needed a bit more drive through the corners. Then the battery problem hit us, and we had to switch out batteries during a caution. That could have potentially ended our day, but thankfully the voltage maintained instead of dropping. My balance wasn’t exactly where I needed it in the final stage of the race, but my team kept tweaking it to get it closer. Everyone’s hard work today earned us a top-20 finish. We came to Phoenix wanting to make the most of what we have left of the season, and I’d say that we capitalized on everything we had today.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 30th: “We had an uncontrolled tire early. I don’t know, I guess the computer told them it was an uncontrolled tire. It didn’t look uncontrolled to me, but the computer is probably a whole lot smarter than me. We kind of got off pit strategy trying to come back from that. We were going to be able to overcome it and have a decent day. It was just kind of odd. Some odd things going on and then they crashed in front of us and knocked the duct work out of it. Hendrick Motorsports builds great engines, this wasn’t an engine failure because of them, this was an engine failure because it had no duct work and it ran 350 degrees for 20 laps and it can only do that for so long.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 23rd: “Was speeding on pit road and ultimately that is what got us behind. You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week. Just unfortunate and especially that late in the race. So, that was just my fault and really no excuse for it. So, we will try again next year.

Kurt Busch — Finished 32nd: Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turn) 1 and 2. If I could have been to somebody’s outside off two, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out. I thought it was the right decision on staying out. I’m not gonna look back on it. If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rulebook. I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day. It was a really good year for our Haas Automation Ford. Thanks to Monster Energy and everybody that put their talent into that 41 car. I just didn’t get the job done to get us to Homestead.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 33rd: “It looked like we just blew a tire there.  We were actually getting our Ford Fusion better and better throughout the race.  We had a great qualifying spot, but obviously didn’t feel like we were capable of running there, but we were definitely getting our car better and better.  I felt pretty competitive that last run and bummed that it ended that way.  I thought we were moving forward and passing some good cars, but, all in all, it just wasn’t meant to be today and we’ll go on to Homestead.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 34th: “I thought we were pretty good. We definitely made big gains here. We were running top five all day. They noticed some water in the pit box on that last stop and I had no water pressure. We took off on the restart and it was blowing up. We found that a lugnut went through the radiator, so it’s just pure luck. We finally have a decent run here and that happens. The good news is we made good gains here, so that’s something to look forward to.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 35th: “I guess we cut a left-rear tire down. I don’t know if it’s a product of being able to get down on the back straightaway off the race track like that. At the end of the day it’s pretty unique. We travel all across the country running on race tracks that we race on the race track and this one we spend more time off of it. It’s fun to be able to do that, but I don’t know. After I saw (Joey Logano) and then felt my left-rear go, maybe that was a product of that. We’ve run low air on these short tracks like this on our left sides and maybe that was it. It’s just kind of the way our Playoffs are going. It’s frustrating. We’ve had a great year getting to where we were part of this Playoff situation and being in contention to be able to run for a championship. There’s a lot of pride with (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and all the guys on the 14 car. It’s been a lot of fun to go to battle each and every week all across the country with these guys. Stewart-Haas, I can’t say enough about the job the men and women have done at Stewart Haas getting all four cars in the playoffs and then obviously winning and being in victory lane, and everything Ford and everybody involved has done for us. I’m proud of our season, bummed for our day. It’s always fun to come out here to Phoenix. It’s a hell of a crowd today, appreciate everybody coming out. Unfortunately, we were a caution. You never want to be a caution.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th: “The left-rear tire went flat. I don’t really know why. It just kind of came out of nowhere. We may have run something over, I don’t know. I went down on the flat a couple laps earlier to make a pass and I don’t know if it hit a little bit hard, maybe it knocked the fender into it, who knows what happened there, but she just went out. I tried to save it. I thought I had it saved, but by the time I got it straightened back out the rest of the tires were flat because I had them flat-spotted. That’s what it is. We’ll move on. We’re locked into Miami, so it doesn’t really matter, so we’ll keep our heads high.”

 

 

Ward Burton gets ‘nailed’ — and has the blood to show for it

Ward Burton Twitter page
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Former NASCAR Cup driver Ward Burton has always had a kind of tough guy aura about him – in a good way. It takes a lot to slow him down or to make him feel pain.

What happened Thursday to the older brother of NBC NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton is a perfect example of Ward’s toughness.

First, let’s start out with the pre-story: Thursday morning the 2002 Daytona 500 winner took to Twitter to allude to a day of chores to do:

 

But a few hours later, the 57-year-old Burton had a completely different look on his face – and not of his own doing.

He apparently had a mishap with a nail and board and – well, we’ll let the following tweet tell the story. And once again, it shows how tough Burton can be. Apparently before he even got the wound treated, Burton decided to take a photo and post it online.

“Part of getting projects done,” Burton tweeted.

Now that’s tough.

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NASCAR America’s MotorSports Hour 5 p.m. ET; IndyCar championship preview

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents the MotorSports Hour airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Krista Voda and AJ Allmendinger. And joining them from our IndyCar on NBC broadcast team will be race announcer Leigh Diffey and analyst Paul Tracy.

The show will cover multiple racing disciplines, including previewing this Sunday’s IndyCar championship-deciding race at Laguna Seca.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

If history is any indication, Martin Truex Jr. is just getting warmed up

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With his playoff-opening win in Las Vegas, Martin Truex Jr. could easily coast in the next two Cup races, knowing he’s assured of a spot when the Round of 12 begins next month at Dover International Speedway.

But neither Truex nor crew chief Cole Pearn have ever been the cruising type. Even though they’re locked into the next round, there’s still plenty of motivation for the remainder of the opening round of the playoffs this weekend at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and next week on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

There are still valuable stage points for Truex and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team to earn in the playoffs. 

These next two races are all about scoring more playoff points for us,” Truex said in a media release. “It’s great for us knowing that we’re already locked in, but we want to try to pad our advantage to start out that next round.”

With his win at Las Vegas, the Mayetta, New Jersey native has won three of the last four playoff-opening races (also first at Chicago in 2017 and 2016). And he comes into Richmond with a decent career record there: 27 starts, one win, four top 5s, 10 top 10s, one pole and has led 909 laps.

Richmond has been a great track for us the past few years,” Truex said in a media release. “Obviously getting the win in the spring was huge because it was our first with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and kind of got us going for the rest of the season.”

In addition, JGR has 15 Cup wins at Richmond, including the last three there.

Richmond is not only where Truex earned his first of what five wins for JGR this season, but also was the site of his first Cup career short track victory. He’s also led the most laps in the last four races there (and five of the last six). But it isn’t the only track that been good to Truex of late.

Truex has dominated recently at the next three venues on the Cup playoff schedule:

* Won at Richmond in April.

* Won on Charlotte’s oval in May.

* Was one turn away from winning last fall on Charlotte’s Roval before a spinning Jimmie Johnson contacted Truex and ended his chances of winning. Also, in the last six road course races, Truex has three wins and two runner-up finishes.

* Won at Dover in May.

Richmond offers additional incentive for Truex, as well. If he can go back-to-back to victory lane there, he would reach a milestone 25th career Cup series win.

What’s more, he comes into a race for the first time this season atop the NASCAR Cup point standings, with a series-high five wins, as well as 11 top-five and 16 top-10 showings through the first 27 races of the season.

Truex, the 2017 champion, is trying to earn his second Cup title in the last three seasons. And to top things off, Truex’s seven Cup playoff wins since 2016 are the most in the series during that time.  Busch is second with five wins, followed by Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano with four wins each.

Add it all up and there most certainly won’t be any coasting from the No. 19.

We just need to keep it up and do all that we can to give ourselves the best chance possible for the rest of the playoffs and not just take it easy,” Truex said.

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Ryan Sieg, Shane Wilson ready for opportunity races in Xfinity playoffs

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When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.

This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.

“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”

That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.

“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.

At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.

Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led. He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”

The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.

This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.

He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.

But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”

For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.

“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.

Ryan Sieg has made the Xfinity playoffs for the second time in his career. (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.

Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.

The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finish Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.

That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.

Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”

“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.

“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”

But….

There are a few of those.

They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.

First, there’s the cars.

Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.

Meanwhile, Sieg’s team will be using the same three cars they’ve been rotating through all year. Luckily for Wilson, they’re relatively new chassis the team purchased from Richard Childress Racing before this season, so he’s familiar with them.

“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”

Then there’s the playoff points.

Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.

“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”

However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.

They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.

Why is that notable?

Shane Wilson, right, has been a NASCAR crew chief since the early 2000s in Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.

Well, maybe it felt like 30.

“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”

Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.

“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”

And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?

“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”

While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”