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.”

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

0 Comments

Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500

0 Comments

Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will seek to make his first Daytona 500 this month with The Money Team Racing, the Cup program owned by boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather.

The team also announced Tuesday plans for Daly to race in up to six additional Cup races this year as his schedule allows. Daly’s No. 50 car at Daytona will be sponsored by BITNILE.com, a digital marketplace launching March 1. Among the Cup races Daly is scheduled to run: Circuit of the Americas (March 26) and the Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13, a day after the IndyCar race there).

“The Money Team Racing shocked the world by making the Daytona 500 last year, and I believe in this team and know we will prepare a great car for this year’s race,” Mayweather said in a statement. “Like a fighter who’s always ready to face the best, Conor has the courage to buckle into this beast without any practice and put that car into the field. Conor is like a hungry fighter and my kind of guy. I sure wouldn’t bet against him.”

Daly will be among at least six drivers vying for four spots in the Daytona 500 for cars without charters. Others seeking to make the Daytona 500 will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to attempt to run in the Daytona 500,” Daly said in a statement. “It is the most prestigious race in NASCAR and to have the chance to compete in it is truly an honor. I am also excited to be running the entire IndyCar Series season and select NASCAR Cup events. I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of whatever BITNILE.com race car, boat, dune buggy or vehicle they ask me to drive. Bring it on.”

Daly has made 97 IndyCar starts, dating back to 2013. He made his Cup debut at the Charlotte Roval last year, placing 34th for The Money Team Racing. He has one Xfinity start and two Craftsman Truck Series starts.

 

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

0 Comments

Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.