What Cup Championship 4 drivers said at Media Day

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The drivers who will compete for the Cup title this weekend convened in Miami Beach today for the Championship 4 Media Day.

Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick addressed many topics ahead of Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here are highlights from each driver’s availability.

 

Martin Truex Jr.

On being less successful on 1.5-mile tracks than last year: “If I compare this year to last year, I would say this year ‑‑ you know, like last year, we were lights out.  The 4 car (Kevin Harvick), if they could hit it, they could beat us.  This year the 4 car has been lights out, and if we hit it, we can beat them.  I know, if we hit it, we can beat any of them, and we showed that.

“It’s been harder to consistently hit that target this year.  It’s been more difficult.  With that said, though, I felt like both Kansas and Texas, we weren’t bad.  Man, we had everything go against us.  Like everything that could possibly happen wrong went wrong, so we really had to battle and fight.  You know, pit stop issues and cautions falling at the wrong time and all that stuff, and we didn’t have any of that last year.

“All that being said, I feel good about this weekend.  But it’s going to be tough.  It’s not going to be easy.  There’s no question.”

 

On what he’ll miss about working with Furniture Row Racing: “I’ve never been on a team that I feel like makes me a better driver every single weekend.  Always finds a way to make me better.  I don’t know if we’ll be able to continue that.  I don’t know if we’ll be able to put together a group that can keep that going.  I know (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) is a really, really big part of that, so obviously, staying together with him is important.

“But there’s so many things that go into building a championship caliber team and so many decisions throughout the week.  You know, I don’t know how the dynamic will change, but just feeling the way I feel every weekend that I go to the racetrack, and I feel like we can win.”

MORE: Martin Truex Jr.: ‘I won’t just wreck a guy … unless it’s the 22’

Joey Logano

On being with his Championship 4 rivals during a long week of promotion: “You don’t know what you’re getting into until you get there sometimes, how everyone is going to handle the situation.  There’s been times I’ve been part of this, the head games start when we go to New York.  Everyone starts throwing little jabs here and there.  You’re like, ‘Wow, okay.’

“Then the last couple times really for me … we’ve all tried to find ways to enjoy it.  The situation is we’re all going to be stuck on an airplane together, we’re going to be stuck in a car together, we’re going to do all these things in New York together.  There’s no one else with us.  We didn’t bring our assistants with us or anything like that.  We were on our own.

“Actually we talked a lot, talked a lot about racing, talked a lot about not racing.  We have so much in common, race car drivers do, right?  No one else knows our lifestyle but other race car drivers.  I think you have a lot in common to talk about things like that.

“I think everyone understands that when we get to the racetrack, you put the helmet on, you’re there to win.  You’re still a competitor, there to beat them.  You got to be able to find the light switch in there at some point.  I feel like I found that quite a few years ago to where you can flip a light switch, be competitive, be a hard racer, but flip it off and be human.”

 

On making Championship 4 after missing playoffs in 2017: “I think you finish second in the points (in 2016), you think making the playoffs is a given.  That’s going to be easy.  We quickly found out that is not a given.  It’s a little harder than you think.  We learned a lot last year as a race team.  We dug hard.  We’ve slowly scratched and clawed our way back to where we are.  Didn’t come till about 10 weeks ago.

“We scratched and clawed throughout a lot of this season to find a little bit more speed, a little bit more, a little bit more.  We kept ourselves up there in points all season, but we weren’t in contention to win, like I said, last 15 weeks or so.”

Kevin Harvick

On how having children keeps him from losing his temper: “Look, if I was jumping over the hood of a car right now, went into my house, had a 6‑year‑old (who) saw me trampling, do you know how embarrassed I would be to walk in the front door and answer that question?  ‘Hey, dad, why did you jump over that guy’s car, grab him by the throat?’ Well, probably wasn’t the right thing to do. Then it would get more embarrassing as you take him to school, drive through the carpool lines to see his teachers that are all watching as well. Don’t say all the right things, do the right things.  As you go through life, I would hope we all mature from a life standpoint to be able to be a better person. I still screw up a lot.”

On his strengths and weaknesses at Miami: “A lot of that depends on what your car is doing on a particular weekend.  I don’t think any year is going to be the same as to what you fight. They changed the tire this year.  That’s obviously a little bit different than what we’ve had in the past. It’s definitely a situation to where tomorrow is really not going to tell us anything as far as that goes, as well, because you’re going to run three laps in practice, hopefully run three laps in qualifying, then you’re going to put it into what matters, and that’s race trim. You want to qualify on the pole if you can because the pit box is an advantage, so close to the timing line.  It’s a unique racetrack. You know running right against the fence is probably the fastest way around after lap 25. What happens if there’s only 20 laps left? Where do you run then? Do you run the bottom, the middle? You just have to have options here from what your car will do, what you do as a driver because it’s such a unique track.”

 

Kyle Busch

On the finale being disappointing if Joey Logano wins the title:  “I would agree with that statement.  He’s been there.  He’s been consistent.  He’s been good.  He hasn’t necessarily performed to the level of the Big 3 and that’s no shake on them at all.  It’s just the fact of the matter.  So if he wins the title over the rest of us, then that would certainly be a little bit more disappointing.”

 

On if he gets nervous in championship scenarios: “I think so. I think last year in the situation between myself and Truex, like, yeah, I wouldn’t say you’re nervous, but you’re just feeling everything and pushing everything.  So you’re tensed up a lot more than what you would probably normally be just trying to not mess up and hit every single mark exactly perfect.

“Sometimes that’s ‑‑ I go faster in those situations, and sometimes I go slower in those situations.  So you’ve always just got to try to keep a level head and a frame of mind of being able to go out there and just focus on the job and the task at hand.”

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Tony Stewart: Clint Bowyer ‘has got to take his helmet off’ for a fight

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart was in a “virtual black hole of cell signal” in Waverly, Ohio, last Saturday when Clint Bowyer ran to Ryan Newman‘s car after the All-Star Race and threw punches in his driver-side window.

Stewart, who was competing in and won a sprint car race at Atomic Speedway, was ignorant of this fact until he was miles away from the track and had a better cell signal.

“I got five miles down the road and all of a sudden I’m getting all these texts,” Stewart said Wednesday after being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I’m going, ‘How do all these people know we won that fast?’ It wasn’t about us, it was about Clint’s deal. Finally got another five miles down the road, had a real signal. Somebody goes ‘Look at Twitter.”

That’s when the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing saw the video of Bowyer, still wearing his helmet, furiously throwing both fists at Newman, who still sat in his car.

Bowyer was angry with Newman after contact between them on the cool-down lap after the race had sent Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford nose-first into the wall.

“That kid has got to take his helmet off if he’s going to fight,” Stewart said. “Kids leave their helmets on to fight. Men take their helmets off and they fight. If you’re going to fight, fight.”

While still on the highway Saturday night, Stewart let Bowyer know his thoughts on his fighting form.

“Listen, take your helmet off if you’re going to get into a fight,” Stewart texted Bowyer.

Bowyer responded by saying “I didn’t have time.”

Stewart, who has a long history of driver altercations and arguments, then offered his driver more encouraging wisdom.

“Don’t lose that passion to fight for what you believe in,” Stewart said.

Social media salutes NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020

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Social media quickly rose to congratulate the five men named Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Tony Stewart, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte and Waddell Wilson.

Here are some of the more noteworthy posts from Twitter:

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Nate Ryan’s ballot for the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

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Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.

It’s the 11th consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 59 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans; two voters, Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson, recused themselves because they were on the ballot).

A maximum of five votes may be cast from a list of 20 nominees (this was the first year in which Ryan voted for fewer than five)

His ballot for the 11th class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding 10 years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):

  1. Tony Stewart: Three Cup championships, 49 victories and two Brickyard 400s (plus an IndyCar championship) are a testament to his boundless talent, but “Smoke” also has left a mark as an alluring and highly quotable superstar and a respected team owner. His irascible personality and tenacious grit provided some of NASCAR’s best moments of the past two decades.
  2. Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
  3. Waddell Wilson: Perhaps the greatest across-the-board garage resume on this year’s ballot with three championships and 109 victories as an engine builder and 19 wins (including three Daytona 500s) as a crew chief.
  4. Joe Gibbs: Nine NASCAR titles (four in Cup; five in Xfinity) and his four-car team remains the class of the premier circuit. Deserves to be elected in the wake of contemporaries Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Jack Roush and Roger Penske being elected the last few years.

2020 Landmark Award: Ralph Seagraves

Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:

2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.

2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty

2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner

2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock

2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly

2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick

2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac

2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron

2018: Evernham, Byron, Robert Yates, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker

2019: Jeff Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker, Davey Allison, Jack Roush

2020: Tony Stewart, Baker, Waddell Wilson, Joe Gibbs

LANDMARK

2015: Raymond Parks

2016: Raymond Parks

2017: Raymond Parks

2018: Ralph Seagraves

2019: Jim Hunter

Tony Stewart leads 2020 Hall of Fame Class

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who took NASCAR by storm after transitioning from open-wheel racing, was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 on Wednesday.

Stewart’s election comes two days after his 48th birthday.

Joining Stewart in the Class of 2020 are: Joe Gibbs, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte.

The class, the eleventh elected to the Hall of Fame, will be inducted on Jan. 31, 2020.

Edsel Ford won the Landmark Award.

Stewart was selected on 88% of the 57 ballots cast. Gibbs and Wilson were selected on 72%, Baker was on 70% and Labonte was on 67%.

The next three top vote-getters were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.

Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Baker, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Labonte and Stewart.

MORE: Nate Ryan reveals his Hall of Fame ballot.

“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” Stewart said on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths. “There are so many great people in this sport. … to be part of it and have all the great names that are in and the people that were going to be in in the future we’re going to be with, it’s an unbelievable feeling. But it is extremely humbling.

“A lot of it is really mixed emotions because I’m still in race car driver mode and car owner mode. I’m not even thinking about hall of fames. To be inducted earlier this year into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and now going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s just a very humbling experience.”

When asked what he would say to voters who didn’t select him, Stewart gave a typical Stewart answer.

“I don’t know but when I find out, I’m going to throw eggs at their front door tonight,” Stewart joked.

A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stewart’s election comes in his first year on the ballot. He retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016 with 49 Cup Series wins and three titles as a driver (2002, ’05 and ’11).

In 2014 he earned a fourth title in his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

After being crowned the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, Stewart split time in 1998 between the IRL and the Xfinity Series, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved up to Cup in 1999 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title after earning three wins. He was the first rookie to win a race since Davey Allison in 1987.

Stewart won two Brickyard 400s, four July Daytona races and eight road course races, including his final Cup win in June 2016 at Sonoma Raceway.

Stewart is one of the most prolific Cup drivers to never win the Daytona 500, joining fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin in that category.

Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is also one of four drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He did it twice, in 1999 and 2001.

Stewart’s election also comes 27 years after he attended his first NASCAR race, the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as a 21-year-old wearing a $2,000 suit and trying to “impress people.”

“I thought like I was wasting my time being down there,” Stewart said in 2016. “I thought there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to come do this.”

Stewart will be joined in the Hall of Fame by Gibbs. Stewart raced for Gibbs in Cup from 1999-2009, and Labonte, his teammate at JGR until 2005.

“I couldn’t think of a better day than my boss, Joe Gibbs, or my teammate, Bobby Labonte, that was the one responsible to get me in to Joe Gibbs Racing to go in with those guys,” Stewart said on MotorMouths. “And Waddell Wilson, who was part of Ranier-Walsh Racing, who I drove for in ’96 before I drove for Joe. It really is a cool day, a cool day to be in with these guys.”

Gibbs, a NFL Hall of Fame head coach, entered NASCAR as an owner in 1992. Since then he has accumulated four Cup titles, five Xfinity titles and 157 wins. He was elected in his third year on the ballot.

Labonte was also elected in his third year on the ballot. The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby is a Cup (2000) and Xfinity champion (1991). He earned 21 Cup wins, including two Brickyard 400s and one Southern 500. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.

Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He crafted the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. He also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.

Baker, known as the “Gentle Giant,” was elected in his sixth year on the ballot. Baker made 699 starts from 1959-92 and claimed 19 Cup wins, including one Southern 500 and two Coke 600s. After retiring he transitioned into TV, where he worked for TNN and CBS and later SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.