What drivers said after Cup playoff race at Miami

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Joey Logano — Winner: “No, I told you we weren’t and showed you why were not (the underdog). We were the favorite like I told you before the race started. I am so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business. … I can’t wait to break that Mustang out.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “I just needed time. That’s all I needed. They were faster than us for 15 or 20 laps all day long. It was like a reverse scenario from last year. Last year we took advantage of the short run car at the end – the 18 (Kyle Busch) car should’ve won the race and tonight we should’ve won the race and they (Joey Logano) took advantage of the short-run car. I don’t know what else we could’ve done. Honestly, we worked our guts out all weekend and just to get here, I told you earlier we shut a lot of people up and made them eat crow and that felt good. To come here and almost upset the field and almost win it back to back was really awesome. I just wish that last caution hadn’t come out. Other than that, I don’t know what we could’ve done.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 3rd: “Obviously, we got loose as the night went on. Really, it was a great pit call there in position to win the race if the caution doesn’t come out and we came down to a pit stop and a restart and we didn’t do either good. I just hate it for all our guys on our Jimmy John’s Ford.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 4th: “Just not at all what we wanted obviously and not what we expected either. We knew the 22 (Joey Logano) was fast, but man, I thought we were way closer than that. We kind of held up the first half of the race, but after that we were just never close. I don’t know what happened, just didn’t have the feel in the race car that I needed tonight. Just all night long, as soon as we got out of the gas and into the corner we were just sideways, just turning to the right and trying to save it. You do that for 50 or 60 laps, whatever it is on tires and you just can’t hang on. I couldn’t hang after eight laps, let alone the 50. Bummed for all of our guys, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. This M&M’s Camry team was really, really good – just not good enough on the night we wanted the most. We finished fourth, last of the Playoff guys. That’s not what it takes these days.

Chase Elliott — Finished 7th: “Man, if we make this (Championship) 4 one day, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “I want to congratulate everyone at Ford Performance. I wish it were Kevin (Harvick) winning the championship, but I’m glad we kept it in the Ford family. That was a decent way to end the season tonight for us. We didn’t qualify like we wanted Friday, but we had a good car tonight. We’ve had a good year. My guys have worked hard and had a lot of fun and a lot of success. We’re ready for a break, but it won’t be long, and we’ll be ready to go to Daytona and start the new season.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 9th: “It was a great year for us, our first year working together. That was quite an accomplishment for us to battle the way we battled and to come out of here with a top five in points, I’m just really proud of everybody on this Smithfield team. Ford had an amazing year. We won 19 races, so just an incredible year and I’m really excited about getting ready for 2019.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “Man, I really wanted a top-10 finish today to finish out the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and we came so close. Our Dow UCON Camaro ZL1 had handling issues for most of the race, but I had confidence in crew chief Justin Alexander and the Dow Racing team that they would be able to work on our Camaro ZL1 during pit stops. They’ve been great at that all season long. We knew half the battle was gaining track position and we worked hard to do that both on the track and on pit road. By the final stage, the handling improved a lot. I was digging at the end but came up just short of a 10th-place finish. That was fun. I want to thank everyone at RCR and ECR and all of our partners for a great 2018 season. We were able to accomplish a lot together and I’m looking forward to next year.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 13th: “I didn’t push it too early because I ran up there every lap, but I don’t know… I guess lost focus or whatever and hit the wall. I’m pretty mad at myself about that because I felt like we had a really good shot to win there and I just gave it away.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 14th: “It’s tough. When you think of the relationship with Lowe’s, I hate to see that come to an end. Seventeen, 18 years really when you look at my first three races that I ran for them, everything we accomplished together, their belief in me and the company’s support of me and this team over the years. So that is one piece and then the other piece obviously with Chad (Knaus), you know it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with. But he is my brother, there is just no way around it. So, not an easy situation it sure has not been easy, especially the second half of the year. We knew this was coming prior to the release or the announcement, I should say, but the season is behind us now and I look forward to a good off season and get geared up for 2019.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 15th: “Our E-Z-GO Camaro ZL1 was consistent all weekend. We turned in a great qualifying effort, made it to the final round and started eighth. No matter what changes we threw at it tonight, our Camaro ZL1 was tight through the middle of the corner and crazy loose off. I want to thank Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to drive for him these last five seasons. To my crew chief Luke (Lambert), my crew, my teammate Austin (Dillon), and all the RCR team members, I want to say thank you. It was an honor to work with so many incredible people and partners over the years. We did great things together and it sure was fun to run for championships and give Luke his first ever Cup win.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 22nd: “I appreciate all of the hard work that this Germain Racing team put in all year long to get our GEICO Camaro ZL1 to the track every week. Our road crew leaves their families behind each weekend, and all of our guys put in countless hours at the shop. We didn’t have the results this year that we wanted, but we had a lot of great racing moments and this team never gave up. That hard work mentality isn’t going to end just because the season is over. They will all be back in the shop tomorrow morning to start building our cars for the 2019 season. We’re in this together, and there’s nobody else that I wanted battling with me tonight in Homestead and come February for the Daytona 500.”

William Byron — Finished 24th: “It was a good effort today, but things didn’t go our way. Overall, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but it’s been a good learning experience. We’ll get back after it in 2019.”

 

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

Photo: Denny Hamlin
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”

 

 

What they wore on the red carpet …

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Before the show, drivers and their significant others walked the red carpet. Here’s a look at their outfits for the evening.

Kyle Busch, wife Samantha and son Brexton. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Kyle and Katelyn Larson. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Kevin and DeLana Harvick (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Clint and Lorra Bowyer. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Joey and Brittany Logano.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Kurt and Ashley Busch. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott and Kaylie Green. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Aric and Janice Almirola. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Daniel and Kenzie Hemric. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.