What drivers said after first drafting session at Las Vegas

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Cup drivers were on track Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, running in a pack for the first time with the new rules package.

The rules package kept the cars closer together in a 25-lap run Thursday afternoon. Two more drafting sessions were scheduled for Thursday and two more for Friday.

Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch spoke to the media after the session. Here is some of what they had to say:

CLINT BOWYER

“The cars seemed like they handled well. Obviously a lot of wide-open throttle time, a lot of the things we knew going in. It’s going to be a work in progress how you balance that drag with downforce. Kind of business as usual for a test.”

“This is an important test. Everybody knows that. We need to learn as much as we can. The neat thing about what you just saw is a lot of different variations of what we can do with these race cars on the race track, whether it is pulling that drag out and making that thing go cat go and not handling the best or go for handling. That happy medium balance is going to be important when we come back and race.”

“Aric (Almirola) is already on my phone and Kevin (Harvick) is waiting on a phone call. They’re home watching. There are a lot of people watching what is going on because there’s opportunities within these changes and everybody is looking for those opportunities to beat the next guy to the punch.”

KURT BUSCH

“It’s been a good start for us on the (Chip) Ganassi team. For us, we’re just trying to do a lot of checklist items to make sure we were getting up to speed on all the communication items, all the little checkmark items as far as switching teams, as far as seat, mirror, a lot of little things that we were working on this morning. It seems like we’re off a little bit on speed. It’s because we really haven’t turned up the wick on how aggressive we were going to attack this package with. I’m expecting more out of the afternoon session. It will be fun to get out there with a different setup and see how it blends in with the traffic with all the cars mixed in.”

“This new package, the way that it drives, it is as radically different as when we switched to the Car of Tomorrow. That’s how much a dramatic difference it is. It’s a lot to adjust to, lot of differences. It’s wide open all the way around but when you do crack the throttle, you do lose a lot of speed and lose a lot of momentum and you’re trying to keep focused on the handling.”

“What we’re trying to do with this package is have a better on-track product and that is to get the cars side-by-side, have the draft down the straightaways, have the drivers have the option moreso than the engineers as far as where the speed comes from. It’s more a chess game, trying to balance out this setup and package right now. We just have to have better racing on track. That big draft that we saw earlier today, I was wide open and lost the draft in the back. That’s very similar to what you would see at Daytona and Talladega, so it’s just going to happen at a mile-and-a-half track instead of a big track.”

KYLE BUSCH

“I faded back to see how far back I could get, where I could find a relatively safe hole, I think it was sixth or seventh. I was able to pass a couple of guys and a couple of guys kind of quick and a couple of guys it kind of took a little bit to get by them. Then got back up to third or so and then the 3 (Austin Dillon) was fading, he was dropping back and then I was I behind the 14 (Clint Bowyer), trying to work over the 14 and the 14 pulled over and that’s how I got the lead back. There was no like once I got to second, it didn’t seem like you could anything with the guys in front of you.”

“It reminds me a lot of the trucks when we were with the truck race last spring with myself and Brett Moffitt. We ran 1-2 and kind of drove away. We could get in a draft and kind of drive away from the rest of the field. We were the ones that weren’t lifting as much as the rest of the competition was and I had a hard time passing Brett. I couldn’t get by him. I was behind him for 30 laps and couldn’t do anything to get by him. There’s just not enough off-throttle time for handling to come into play. You’re under the tire. You’re driving through the corners under the limits of the tire, so your speeds are just too slow. That doesn’t allow you, the runs on the straightway doesn’t allow you to get big enough runs to blitz guys on the inside or outside or whatever it might be. I did a couple of those today because guys were getting out of the gas. Once you get into race situations and guys figure out what they need to be a little bit better, those aren’t going to happen as easy they were today.”

“Guys are going to figure out how far they can trim their stuff out for how bad they can get the car to drive and then there’s going to kind of go back the other way a little bit, they’re going to put a little bit of drivability back into the cars. Right now, I feel like there were a couple of guys out there that looked a bit evil, their cars were ill-handling. Ours was driving pretty good, so we’re going to step their way and get my car to drive bad so we can figure out how bad is too bad in order to kind of play the fence a little bit and see what is going on.”

“Predictions (for what the March Cup race at Las Vegas will be like) are tough especially this early. But if I had to say, yeah, I think the competition is going to be closer together than what we’ve seen in years past. I don’t know that you’ll see a lead guy be able to stretch it out five, six, seven seconds or whatever. You might see the top three, four, maybe five guys that will kind of keep within two seconds of one another. As far as the racability and the maneuverability and the passing back and forth and runs and such, slingshot moves, I don’t foresee that coming. There’s not enough draft effect on the straightaways that give you enough speed to launch you into the next corner. When you get closer and closer and closer to the car in front of you, like you’re drafting off him because it’s helping you, then you get within a car length of him and it’s start to push him away. Like I tried to move out when I was behind Brad (Keselowski), I had a run on him and I tried to move out from behind him and I just hit the wind and my car was not as trimmed out as his so mine fell backwards. There’s not enough draft effect.”

“We’ve taken the driver’s skill away from the drivers in this package. Anybody can go out there and run around there and go wide open. It’s a lot more of a mental game. It’s going to be a lot more skill, it’s going to be a lot more chess match, thinking how you’re going to make moves and how daring you will be in making some of those moves and how hard of a time the guy that you’re trying to pass is going to give you back and suck you around or spin you or whatever it might be. We’ll see, we’ll see how that plays out. Overall, it’s going to be interesting.”

AUSTIN DILLON

“I thought it was pretty interesting. Really reminded me of the truck days, and I always feel like the Truck Series really races well and gets some exciting racing going. Restarts are going to be really aggressive. I thought we stayed together pretty good so there will be groups of guys racing really hard together at different points of the races. We have a lot to learn. We haven’t really quite hit the balance that we would like in our race car, but it shows some pretty good speed. I’m pleased with it and I’m having fun right now.”

“I thought that first drafting practice was solid. No one was kind of just out there riding around. I thought everybody was pretty aggressive and it’s a hard balance because you don’t want to tear anything up testing. I thought we got pretty aggressive. I got three-wide a couple of times off of Turn 2. That’s good. We can see what the package can do. I’m sure a lot of guys are like, whoa, we’ve got to change our direction because some guys were really good, some guys weren’t and some guys were OK.”

“I think my biggest thing was Clint and I hooked up a couple of times and I tried to push him by a car and it was kind of frustrating that I couldn’t push him past the side-by-side battle but … the side-by-side battle was pretty intense and it created three-wide. I think you’ll see a lot of three-wide this year to clear someone. If a guy is slower and guy goes under him and can’t pass him for a lap, then the next guy gets a huge run from that bubble and can create a three-wide pass down low. I think there’s draft studies that will continue to go on from each team to figure out where to place their car to make the best pass. It’s definitely going to be hard, but you’re going to see passing. It’s going to be more passing than we have in the last couple of years I feel like.”

JOHN PROBST, NASCAR VICE PRESIDENT OF DEVELOPMENT AND INNOVATION, to NASCAR.com:

“I’d say that kind of the takeaway that I took from that (first drafting session) was that if you watched the beginning of the run, there were some cars that were pretty good that stayed at the front there and if you watched the 1 (Kurt Busch) and the 21 (Paul Menard), they kind of hung out at the back there, the last five laps they were actually coming pretty quick through the field. I stopped by and talked to Travis Geisler of Penske before I came up here and they’re talking about having to make compromises. If you just want pure speed or do you want to be better later in the run, which should make for some pretty good strategy decisions that the teams are going to have to make kind of on how they feel yellows may fall during the race. If they want a fast car to check out and hopefully get a lot of yellows and keep doing that, or if you think there’s going to be a lot of green-flag runs and you got to set your car up, maybe you’re not so good at the beginning but by the end you’re coming to the front.”

“We’re encouraged by what we saw on the track. But by no means, we’ve all done this long enough, we’re not going to sit here and declare victory or anything. We know that teams are going to keep massaging on this package and we’ve just got to stay with them to make sure that we put on some really exciting races for our fans.”

“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can from the top to the bottom. I think the one thing you know that is important out of this, we’re not trying to create some artificial level of competition. I think you’re still going to see the good guys are going to go out and win and compete for wins. That’s kind of the way we wanted it to be. That’s probably the way it should be. We want to have entertainment, but we want to keep the competition in it as well.”

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.