What Drivers Said after the Clash at Daytona

3 Comments

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.”

Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

Leave a comment

We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

and on Facebook

New Hampshire winners and losers

Leave a comment

WINNERS

Kevin HarvickHe no longer has to answer the question of when is he going to win (same for Stewart-Haas Racing). Now the question is if this will lead to a string of wins for the No. 4 team, which has shown speed but not been able to capitalize on it.

Parity — Kevin Harvick marked the seventh different winner in the last seven Cup races, the longest streak of the season.

Ryan Newman First, he was in a backup car and had to start at the rear on a track where passing is difficult. Then, he had a broken coil wire that sapped his engine’s power with about 100 laps to go. His team recovered and he finished seventh for his fifth top 10 in the last six races. Also, he climbed into a playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto His fifth-place finish was his third top-10 result in the last five races. Good progress for Leavine Family Racing.

LOSERS

Jimmie JohnsonBack-to-back 30th-place finishes have dropped the seven-time champion out of a playoff spot. He’s never missed NASCAR’s postseason — and is the only driver who can say that he’s been in the Chase/playoffs every year since its inception in 2004. Will that streak continue? Or will it end this year?

Richard Childress Racing — RCR cars finished 37th (Daniel Hemric) and 32nd (Austin Dillon). Hemric’s day ended after contact from Daniel Suarez. Dillon blew a right front tire early and that damaged his car.

Hendrick Motorsports — Alex Bowman’s team went through two cars before Sunday’s race. William Byron had to go to a backup because of an incident in practice. Mechanical issues caused Jimmie Johnson to finish 30th and Chase Elliott to place 29th. Bowman placed 14th and Byron led the way with a 12th-place finish. The best thing about the weekend for Hendrick Motorsports is it is over.

Kyle Larson — Two crashes within the last 100 laps made for a bad day Sunday.

With an inadvertent but legal deke, Erik Jones rallies for third

2 Comments

LOUDON, N.H. – With critical points hanging in the balance for a playoff bid, Erik Jones thought he screwed up Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he inadvertently might have stumbled across a new strategy for keeping opponents guessing on pit stops.

During the final caution with 35 laps remaining, Jones swerved to the right back on the racing surface at the last minute, driving over the pit lane commitment box.

Jones began fuming over the team radio, but he eventually was informed there would be no penalty from NASCAR, which changed its rule governing pit entry over the past two seasons. Drivers with four tires below the boundary must enter the pits; Jones had only his left-sides below.

Two tires below once would have committed a car to the pits at tracks such as New Hampshire and shorter, and that caused some confusion on Twitter (NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell clarified the call).

But it raises an interesting point: Should every driver who is committed to staying on track fake a move to the pits by rolling over the commitment box as Jones did?

“I don’t think NASCAR would appreciate that very much, and I’m glad we didn’t get a penalty,” Jones said with a smile. “But it’s definitely an interesting situation. I forgot (what) the rules actually said, and I think many people probably were surprised by that.

“So I think you might see some more faking out. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Crew chief Chris Gayle was sure Jones would escape punishment after he watched the replay and saw the No. 20 Toyota had at least two wheels above the inside boundary.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ because you’ve got to have all four below the box, and he kind of split it,” Gayle said. “I think he didn’t think about it. They say it in the driver’s meeting all the time now, and you’ve got to pay attention, but most everywhere it’s all four below the orange box.”

After restarting in second behind race winner Kevin Harvick, Jones hung on for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and punctuated a race in which he overcame contact with two drivers and a speeding penalty.

He started fourth and catapulted into the lead with a two-tire call by Gayle on Lap 48. Jones finished second in the first stage and then made contact with Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet while exiting his pit stall on Lap 111. That necessitated another stop dropping him to 28th as the last car on the lead lap.

“We had contact here on pit road (in the 2017 race), and it ended our day, blew a tire on the restart, so we couldn’t risk that,” Jones said. “We couldn’t have a DNF, so coming down to fix it was the right thing to do. We had to make that right and put ourselves back out there, but it was up and down.”

While battling through the field 20 laps later, Jones made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who brought out a Lap 138 yellow by hitting the wall with a flat tire from the damage. Jones incurred a speeding penalty entering the pits during the caution.

But he restarted in 11th and steadily marched forward during the second half. He was in fifth when the yellow flew the last time, allowing Gayle to keep his car on track and restart beside Harvick.

“That was the good thing,” Jones said. “The (car) had enough speed to get back up there and get in contention. I think at the end with some clean air, we could be in (Harvick’s) spot, I think we were just as fast as him there the run before, so we have to keep putting ourselves up there, and eventually it’s going to work out, but a good testament to our team, just the way we came back today.”

With six races remaining in the regular season, he is ranked 14th and is 28 points above the cutoff line after entering New Hampshire in 16th with only a two-point cushion. But when other bubble drivers had trouble Sunday, it made Gayle’s strategy decisions simpler.

“It wasn’t as bad today because you start seeing other guys having problems that we were racing in the points,” Gayle said. “So when they all started having trouble, and we’re at the back, I’m like OK, this makes it a little bit easier. We can just do something and go for the win here at the end.”

Jones seems on the verge of a win after finishing third in four of the past nine starts.

With contract talks at JGR progressing well, the only cloud on the horizon might be Stenhouse, who vowed payback against Jones between and the playoffs.

“I guess go ahead,” Jones said when told of Stenhouse’s threat. “He was racing me really hard and for nothing. We were 200 laps to go in the race, and he had the choice of lifting and letting me go, and he didn’t do it for five laps, and that’s just how it is.

“If you’re going to race hard, you’re going to get raced hard. I didn’t want to have to do it, but sometimes it comes down to it. I like Ricky, but he races really hard. I expect it. If I’m going to race Kevin Harvick at the front of the field like that 10 laps in a row, I’m going to get wrecked. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward and keep giving yourself a good day.”

Denny Hamlin laments ‘stupid decision’ on final lap against Kevin Harvick

1 Comment

In the aftermath of his runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick on Sunday in New Hampshire, Denny Hamlin was left regretting and praying.

He regretted his “stupid decision” on how to race Harvick on the last lap, which resulted in fenders banging and Harvick’s first win of the year.

That had Hamlin hoping a higher power might give him the win another way.

The tech gods could not be persuaded to intervene.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver wishes he had dealt with Harvick’s No. 4 Ford differently once they took the white flag.

He now knows he’d have been better off doing exactly what Harvick did in this race last year when he performed a bump-and-run on Kyle Busch in Turns 1 and 2 in the closing laps and went on to win.

“My decision was after Turn 1 and I got him out of the groove, ‘I don’t want to be the leader here, I’d rather be the guy behind’ and that was a stupid decision because I should have just went in there and carried him up the race track,” Hamlin said. “That’s just not the way I want to do it. We’re two veteran guys, we know how to race these things clean and let’s just figure it out in the end and he got the best of us.”

Hamlin said he has “lot of respect” for Harvick and “I did the best I could to be as clean as I could.”

Hamlin led 113 laps in a backup car after he crashed in practice on Friday.

“I knew we made it really good yesterday in practice, but once it got out front it was phenomenal and better than expected,” Hamlin said, but he lamented the difficulties of racing in dirty air with not getting to Harvick’s bumper sooner. “He never slipped a tire and I couldn’t quite get to him until he made that one little lane choice mistake coming to the white (flag) passing a lapped car and taking the bottom, I knew that was our opportunity to get a huge run and we did.”