What Drivers Said after the Clash at Daytona

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Even though it was a non-points exhibition event, the first race of the 2019 NASCAR Cup season is now in the books, with Jimmie Johnson winning the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The race was shortened due to a massive crash on Lap 55, followed by resulting heavy rain, prompting NASCAR officials to call the event on Lap 59 of the scheduled 75-lap race.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson wins rain-shortened Clash at Daytona after contact with Paul Menard.

Here’s what drivers had to say afterward:

Jimmie Johnson, winner: “This is great to have all four Hendrick cars qualify 1-4, us in third with the Ally Chevy and then to have a very competitive race here today. I wish we could get in the full distance, but obviously the weather isn’t cooperating. I knew the rain was coming, so I was trying to set-up my move and make my run on the No. 21 car. I had it kind of set up down the backstretch a few laps prior to that and then my opportunity came along, I made that move to the inside and then we kind of got together. I’m not sure if just the air breaking his bumper plane pulled his car over or if he was late to block, but it was just really a racing thing honestly. So, I made my move and unfortunately he got sideway and it collected a bunch of cars. Without a doubt. I was going down into Turn 1 looking out into the distance and I could see it getting darker and darker and closer and closer. I knew within that lap or the next lap if I had a run, I had to take it. (Winning) feels good. I’m just really happy about honestly, a great day for Hendrick Motorsports, for Chevrolet, for Ally coming on board and qualifying third for the Daytona 500 and then to win the Clash. Kevin Meendering, leading this team; there have been a lot of things going on. I’m extremely excited to win. It’s not a points race, but it’s a good start.”

Kurt Busch, finished 2nd: “It was a pretty crazy day with the rain and just the yellows and the line-up and it was just kind of everybody getting back in the groove, but man, there was a lot to digest especially with me on a new team. I love all the guys at Ganassi, Matt McCall (crew chief), I didn’t know we were quite pitting under green at lap 25, but those are just those little things that we will learn to iron out. Today was a great day for us to finish second, get some bugs worked out and to jump into next week’s qualifiers.”

Joey Logano, finished 3rd: “We worked our way up into maybe the fourth spot when they started crashing in front of us. I’m proud that we were able to make the bottom work at least a little bit, but it’s just tough sledding down there. If you can get a few cars to commit with you, you can make it happen. It shows that we’ve got speed in our race cars. That’s a great thing, and then after that it’s a matter of getting people to work with you, which we did. They were our teammates, but I think we showed that we’ve got plenty of speed, which will help us in the 500. (We have to look at that race with) discipline, for sure. Everyone was very discipline to run the top, but I also felt like when you can get a few cars to really commit and you can work the bottom lane the way you’re supposed to, I feel like you can move up some and that’s what we were able to do. We had the Penske Fords and a couple other Fords down there with us as well and we were able to move fast, so I think that’s a good sign for what the 500 brings for our cars.  I feel like we’ve got fast cars that can commit to each other and we can draw to the front from the bottom lane. I didn’t see many other cars be able to do that, so that was good.”

Alex Bowman, finished 5th: “We were running almost last and just got through the crash okay. It is a really frustrating day. We kind of lucked our way into the top groove up there, we could be okay, but just didn’t have any speed. The car drove really good, probably drove too good. We probably have to make it drive bad again and then we will go fast again.

Austin Dillon, finished 6th: “Just tried to hold the wheel straight and punch a hole really. I tried to slow down, but you can’t stop from going 200 mph it’s a hard thing to do. You know we made it back around so I’m happy with that. The car drove well. I was really disappointed in the drafting. Everybody got to the top and it was really about track position, hard to make a move. We were just kind of where we were. I felt like my car was faster than some of the guys I was around, but you can’t really do anything with it unless you get really aggressive. I tried to get aggressive and no one was wanting to work. I think it is good for the (Daytona) 500 to have a handling car because so many things happen.You can get track position other ways than just racing. So, we will do our job.”

Ryan Newman, finished 9th: “Our Ford was pretty tore up, but I would have rather gone back green and had a shot at passing the 8 than where I was there when that melee happened on the back straightaway. We learned a few things today. Number one, watch the radar. Number two, there’s gonna be a crash, and, number three, we’ve got to work on our car and make it just a little bit better for just raw speed and some driveability.  It looked like it was pretty much follow the leader. Hopefully, the more cars that get on the race track that will change and make the racing a little bit more exciting.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 10th: “The car is good. Our Mustang was very, very fast, so I’m pleased. We had a lot of good speed, but just got caught up in something with that wreck right there at the end, but the car was pretty fast. That’s what I’m going to keep from today’s race is the car had pretty good speed and was handling pretty good as well. I was able to make good, aggressive moves, but we just have to make sure that we are there at the end to be able to be contending for the 500.”

Jamie McMurray, finished 11th: “I wasn’t as torn up as those other guys, but we were still pretty torn up and I don’t know what happened. I kind of saw a replay but I still know what really happened. When we get 40 cars out there it will be way better. It’s hard at plate races when you don’t have enough cars on the track, but I was shocked by that too. I was shocked by that too. I thought that race people usually don’t care if they have to go to the back so they will make it two-wide and it certainly got racier towards the end. The 150’s might be similar, but the (Daytona) 500 will be totally different and hopefully it gets hot. If it gets hot and the track gets slick it will be way different.”

Kevin Harvick, finished 12th: “It was an adventurous day. We got hung out in the beginning and went to the back and tried to make something happen. Everybody was in a single-file line and didn’t really want to race much. We had ourselves positioned in the outside line headed in the right direction and they all crashed when they decided to start racing for the first time.”

Paul Menard, finished 13th: (Leading the most laps is) something for the history books, I guess. Unfortunately, we just got turned there. I didn’t really know what happened until I saw a replay.  I felt like it was aggressive side-drafting. I got turned to the inside and hooked to the right and all hell broke loose. It was a pretty tame race up until that point. We knew that last restart was basically a new race – a little dash for cash to the end. It was definitely expected. I’m surprised we actually got single-file up top again after that last restart, but I knew something like that was gonna happen. It was just a matter of time.”

Kyle Busch, finished 14th: “I don’t know exactly. I wasn’t necessarily – I was paying attention obviously, just when I was behind the 1 (Kurt Busch) I was so focused on him, I guess, and the move that kind of went to the bottom I saw the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) making a move on the 21 (Paul Menard). I don’t know if the 21 came down and what all contact initiated it and just tried to squeeze through the hole before the 21 got back up to me but couldn’t do it. It’s just a product of kind of what we’ve got going on just with everybody trying to make runs sometimes and when do you get those runs you try to make sure that they stick and you can get past a guy so the side draft is really important and there’s not a lot of room for the cars to move around like they tend to do. Overall, I thought we had a good race going and I wish we would’ve ended up being able to finish it but we look forward to the 500 now. … (On his sprained ankle) It’s fine. Just messing around with my son and just playing on the trampoline and stuff like that. I guess I can’t hang. It is what it is. I’ll be fine next week. I’m moving and I’m walking and everything. It’s just a bit tender, but overall it will be alright.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished 15th: “It was a big crash. I saw the 21 (Paul Menard) sideways in front of me, the 1 (Kurt Busch) go down the track and turn the 21 and that’s all I saw. There was crap everywhere. Just get restarts on the outside and stay there and hopefully stay near the front somewhere. Pray the new package is better here than this one is.”

Denny Hamlin, finished 17th: “I think cars were skewed in Talladega and with the new rules, you’re not able to do that as much with the track bar. Relative to competition, they’re a little bit closer, which allows them to not just overpower us like they did at Talladega? It’s crucial. Any time you can get up beside somebody by an inch or so it just is such a big parachute on either side of the car. The moment you can break that plane, it’s amazing how much these cars get drug back versus cars in the past. Really, I try to work on the defense of that more than anything. You know it’s there. You just want to put yourself in the position that if you’re going to get passed, put them on the correct side of what side you want to get passed on that way you have a good defense when you get beside them.”

Erik Jones, finished 20th: “I didn’t see (the big wreck) very good. I haven’t seen a replay, but it looks like the 48 and the 21 were pushing and just got caught up. We were kind of mid pack and kind of got pushed into the wreck, so it’s unfortunate. Our Sports Clip Camry is pretty good, we just could never really get up front. I think we learned some good stuff for next week which is a positive, so we’ll apply it and hopefully be good Sunday. Everybody was getting more and more aggressive. We knew the rain was coming. Everybody gets pushing and shoving and things get moved around. The car drove really good which is a positive for me at least. We’ll keep working on it and hopefully have a good car for the 500.”

David Ragan to make first Truck start since 2006 at Atlanta

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David Ragan is coming back and going home at the same time.

The Unadilla, Georgia native, who stepped down from full-time racing after last season, will drive in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Ragan’s home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, on Saturday, June 6.

The 34-year-old Ragan will drive the No. 17 Ford for DGR-Crosley in his 30th career Truck Series start and his first since 2006.

David Ragan will make his first Truck Series start since 2006 in the June 6 race at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“I’m really looking forward to racing one of DGR-Crosley’s F-150’s at Atlanta,” Ragan said in a media release. “We were originally going to run the truck at Richmond Raceway in April, but since that race was postponed (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), I wanted to return to my home state of Georgia with Select Blinds for this race.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve raced in the Truck Series. Atlanta has always been one of my favorite tracks since it’s my home track.”

Blake Bainbridge will serve as Ragan’s crew chief. The Atlanta race was originally scheduled for March, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since stepping away from full-time racing, Ragan has made just one start in 2020, finishing fourth in the Daytona 500 for Rick Ware Racing.

Ragan currently works in a development role with Ford Performance, where, according to the media release, “he assists teams with simulator work and has a hand in developing the NextGen car that will come into play in 2022.”

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NASCAR schedule for Cup, Xfinity races at Bristol

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NASCAR has put Charlotte in its rearview mirror and moves next to Bristol Motor Speedway.

One significant change to the schedule has already occurred. The Xfinity Series race originally slated for Saturday has been moved to Monday due to travel and setup challenges.

Here is the schedule for Saturday through Monday at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile:

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday, May 30

5 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7 – 9 p.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening and equipment unloaded)

Sunday, May 31

7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Cup garage access screening in progress

1:30 – 2:30 p.m. – Engine prime and final adjustments

3:20 p.m. – Cup drivers report to vehicles on starting grid

3:30 p.m. – Cup Series race, 500 laps/266.5 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit track

Monday, June 1

8:30 – 11:30 a.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening in progress)

11:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

5 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

6:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to vehicles on starting grid

7 p.m. – Xfinity race, 200 laps/300 miles (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Winners and losers after Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte

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WINNERS

Chase ElliottAfter losing the Coca-Cola 600 when he pitted from the lead before the overtime restart, Elliott scored the victory Thursday night at Charlotte. “I think we were hungry and wanted to get back and try again,” Elliott said after his seventh career Cup victory.

Denny Hamlin Crew chief serving the first race of a four-race suspension and Hamlin was starting 29th in a 310-mile race. No problem. He worked his way through the field, helped by his pit crew, and finished second.

Ryan Blaney He left Charlotte with a pair of third-place finishes in the two races. Many would take that.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Fourth-place finish is his second top-five result of the season in his first season at JTG Daugherty Racing.

LOSERS

Alex BowmanWon the second stage and had a fast car. Saw his night come undone when he hit the wall while running second. He had to pit for repairs and finished 31st.

Kyle BuschCut tire while racing in traffic sent him to the pits under green and he lost two laps. He never recovered, finishing 29th.

Friday 5: When fans can return, how many will be allowed at tracks?

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As NASCAR moves ahead with racing, among the key questions are when will fans be allowed back at the track and how many fans will be able to attend?

NASCAR has stated that there will be no fans at any of its races through June 21, covering events at Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Miami and Talladega. NASCAR has not announced what its schedule will be after June 21 and when fans could be back in the stands.

Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, said “I think that NASCAR will be the first major sport with fans back in attendance, and I think it will be in a place where one, the state regulations allow it, and two, where the large outdoor facility gives an opportunity to provide plenty of space, plenty of distance and plenty of areas for people to still have fun but be in a  safe environment.”

Should Pocono Raceway maintain its June 27-28 Cup doubleheader weekend dates, it appears likely it would be without fans.

Pocono Raceway is in Monroe County in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf has set three phases for easing of restrictions — red (most restrictions), yellow and green (fewest restrictions).

Asked if NASCAR could race at Pocono, Gov. Wolf said in a May 18 press conference: “If Monroe County goes to yellow before that race happens and NASCAR, in fact, has the competition without spectators in the stands and they follow other guidelines to keep the competitors safe, yeah.”

Monroe County enters the yellow phrase today.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the first track that hosts fans when it has the NTT IndyCar Series and Xfinity Series race on the road course July 4 and the Cup Series race on the oval July 5.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has a five-step plan in easing restrictions for the state where the final stage is projected to be enacted July 4 and states that “raceway events may return to full capacity.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have not announced what plans they’ll have for the July 4-5 races. A track spokesperson told NBC Sports that they’re “hopeful” to have fans but “will be prepared to run with or without spectators.”

Whenever and wherever fans return, it won’t be at full capacity with the need for social distancing.

That will force tracks to determine who can attend races when they have more ticket buyers than seats they’re allowed to make available because of social distancing protocols.

“It’s going to be challenging,” Smith said. “I think if we have 40 percent or 50 percent capacity, it’s something that we’ll have to figure out. I don’t think we have those details yet, but it’s certainly something we’re sensitive to and working on right now.”

While Smith mentioned 40-50 percent capacity, he’s not sure what it will be at various tracks.

“Who knows if it’s 40 or 50 percent or 25 percent?” he said. “It’s something that when you take into account different regulations in different states, I think that percentage is going to change depending on what the regulations are.”

2. Feeling better

Crew chief Alan Gustafson admits it “wasn’t a great feeling” Sunday after his decision to pit Chase Elliott before overtime cost Elliott a chance to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But Gustafson didn’t let the decision wreck him the rest of the week.

“I don’t base my self‑worth on other people’s opinions, or if I’m doing a good job based on what other people say, but certainly I’m a human being, too, and when you get that many rocks thrown at you, it doesn’t feel great,” Gustafson said after Elliott won Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte. “It was a long couple days, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to look past it and move on.”

Gustafson said of the decision to pit late in the 600: “There’s a lot of factors that went into it, and our struggles earlier in the race probably influenced me more than I should have let it, and it didn’t work out. We’re also assuming that we stay out and we win the race, so it’s tough. It’s just a tough situation.”

While it’s easy to look at how Elliott could have three wins in a row — he was running second late at Darlington when Kyle Busch’s contact wrecked him, then the 600 pit call and Thursday’s win — Elliott prefers to look at things differently.

“I think the biggest thing is if we can continue to put ourselves in position and give ourselves chances and we do a good job at controlling the things that are in our control, that’s all we can ask for,” Elliott said after Thursday’s win. “We can’t control when a caution comes out two laps to go and you’re kind of in a lose‑lose situation there. We’ve got to keep doing things that are in our hands and keep doing those well.”

3. Hold on tight at Bristol

Much was made about drivers not having practice and qualifying before they raced at Darlington Raceway since it is considered among the sport’s most difficult tracks.

While not as much has been mentioned about the obstacles drivers will face at Bristol Motor Speedway before Sunday’s Cup race and Monday night’s Xfinity race, they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Tyler Reddick, who won the Bristol Xfinity race last August and finished second in the April 2019 race there, notes some of the challenges drivers will face this weekend.

“I think the first challenge is going to be just completing that first lap,” he said. “That’s one of the toughest race tracks to go around when it doesn’t have rubber and heat on it. I’ve run Truck races there through my career and when we’re one of the first ones on the race track, that first hour of practice you can’t really learn much. The traction compound is slick – you go down in there to try to use it and you almost spin out. You run the middle and that’s about it. Man, the first hour or so of practice you can’t get up in that either because it’s slick and you almost wreck.

“I remember the first time they put traction compound down at Bristol. I went out for practice and I was in the middle, we were OK. But I wanted to try the bottom, so I went down there, got loose and couldn’t go anywhere. So, I was like ‘that’s not going to work’. I went up to try to use the top and I drove it straight into the fence.

“I’m worried that the start of the race is going to be very chaotic. I don’t know how that’s going to go. There’s only one groove and we’re going to be starting double-file, so that’s going to be very interesting.”

4. Midweek racing

Thursday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the second midweek Cup race since NASCAR’s season resumed.

The series will race at Martinsville on June 10, a Wednesday night. There could be other midweek races as NASCAR seeks to run 32 Cup races in 25 weeks.

But what about next year? How realistic is it that there could be a Cup race in the middle of a week?

“Lot of people have talked about it,” Marcus Smith said this week. “Running midweek races with no attendees is not a concern in terms of how you pull it off. … You don’t have to take into consideration selling tickets and hosting live things.

“Very different model than hosting these big parties, these big events that we do. The biggest events happen on the weekends. That’s why NASCAR races typically are on a weekend. When you have these events as we do, and we have to think quickly and figure out how to catch up on this nine or 10-week delay of the NASCAR season, running races midweek was a natural way to get caught up.

“But going forward, I still don’t think that the biggest events in sports will be hosted midweek.”

Brad Keselowski would like to see midweek races continue.

“NASCAR, in my opinion, has hit gold with this format,” he said after Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The limited practice, show up and race, and the time window that benefits both the East and West Coast. No qualifying. Inversion from the week before is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there. I think it’s fair. 

“It’s compelling and it’s at a time where, quite frankly, the sports world, even if it wasn’t for COVID, midweek races in the summer, when you’re generally not having a lot of competition, is in a time period where everybody is hungry for content. I think they’ve got gold here. COVID or not, I hope we keep this for years to come. I think this is a great little format that’s good for the sport and good for the fans and good for everybody all around, so kudos to them.”

5. All-Star Race status

Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted four NASCAR races, including two Cup races, this week but none of those Cup races was the All-Star Race.

Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, was asked this week in a media conference about that event’s future and if it will remain at Charlotte.

“I think the plan is that it would be at Charlotte, but I think it’s important to note that we haven’t announced it because it’s just not ready to be announced yet,” Smith said. “With all the moving parts in this time, we have to be aware of how things change. Very soon, and I think in the next two weeks or less, we’ll have the next round of events that will be announced (by NASCAR) and it will help solve those schedules.”