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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NASCAR America Presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Kyle Busch

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver joins Rutledge Wood and Kyle Petty to discuss this week’s news as well as take fan phone calls.

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.

Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

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Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

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AJ Allmendinger to drive in Watkins Glen Xfinity race for Kaulig Racing

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NASCAR On NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will climb back behind the wheel for the August 3 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Allmendinger will pilot the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing for the second time this season.

Allmendinger is a past winner at Watkins Glen, having won the 2014 Cup race there. He has 10 prior Cup starts at the upstate New York road course, with the win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes, plus one pole.

He also has competed in one Xfinity race at Watkins Glen, starting fourth and finishing second for GMS Racing last year.

It’s an honor to be able to compete for Kaulig Racing at one of my favorite tracks, Watkins Glen International,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win there in the Cup Series and had a strong run finishing second last season in my only Xfinity start there.

Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and all of the guys made Daytona so enjoyable and fun, I can’t wait to get to The Glen.”

Allmendinger raced for Kaulig Racing two weeks ago in the Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, leading 33 laps and finishing third before the car was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, leaving Allmendinger with a last-place finish in the 38-car field.

Allmendinger has three additional Xfinity road course races scheduled with Kaulig Racing this season: Mid-Ohio (August 10), Road America (August 24) and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval race (September 28).

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch back to No. 1; Kurt Busch to No. 3

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When it comes to this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, all we can say is, “Oh brother” … as in siblings Kyle and Kurt Busch.

Younger brother Kyle once again regained the top spot in this week’s rankings, knocking Joey Logano from the No. 1 perch after Logano held it the last two weeks.

And after not being ranked in the top 10 last week, older bro Kurt rockets up the rankings to No. 3 by virtue of his come-from-behind win last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Also making a big move is Erik Jones, who goes from unranked last week to No. 4 this week. By contrast, six drivers from last week’s rankings dropped out of this week’s tabulations.

Here’s how this week’s rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Tenacious performance at Kentucky puts him back atop the rankings. Last week: 2nd.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Car wasn’t wide enough to block all those behind him on the final restart. In his last three races on a 1.5-mile speedway, he’s finished seventh (Kentucky), third (Chicagoland) and second (Charlotte). Last week: 1st.

3. Kurt Busch (32 points): What a difference a win makes. But Busch’s ranking isn’t a total surprise. He’s been knocking at the door all season. Had he not pitted at Daytona two weeks ago, he may be riding a two-race win streak now. Last week: Unranked.

4. Erik Jones (23 points): Returns to playoff territory and seems to have momentum for a finishing kick. Third-place finish was his fourth top 10 in the last five races on a 1.5-mile speedway. That includes a third at Kansas and Kentucky and a fourth at Texas. Last week: Unranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (22 points): His pit crew has been called for an uncontrolled tire violation five times this year, tying the series high. That’s unacceptable. Despite the penalty at Kentucky, Hamlin finished fifth. Last week: 7th.

6. Kyle Larson (20 points): Top 10s in three of last four races – including a second (Chicagoland) and fourth (Kentucky) – have solidified his standing for the playoffs. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Newman (16 points): Is in full grind-it-out mode for solid finishes exactly when he needs them. Finished ninth at Kentucky after starting at the rear because his car failed inspection. While he fell out of a playoff spot, he’s only two points away after scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. Last week: 8th.

8. Cole Custer (9 points): Kentucky victory in the Xfinity Series was his series-high fifth win of the year. Last week: Unranked.

9. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Ends four-race tailspin but still needs to work on amassing stage points. Last week: Unranked.

10. Chris Buescher (5 points): If all the tracks on the circuit were 1.5-milers, he’d likely be ranked higher. All four of his top 10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks. He’s been sixth at Charlotte, ninth  at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas and Kentucky. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Christopher Bell (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (4 points), Tyler Ankrum (3 points).