What Drivers Said after Daytona Qualifying Duels

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Duel No. 1

Kevin Harvick — winner: “It handled good when we were behind cars. Last week taught us that we needed to have track position. They did a good job on pit road and got on and off pit road and then we had a couple Ford Mustangs behind us as well. Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and Paul (Menard) worked with us and we were able to keep the track position and our cars were fast enough together to keep everyone else back there. I am really proud of everybody on our Busch Beer Ford Mustang. It is a great way to get Mustang into victory lane. I think that low line is going to come into play on Sunday just because when you get all the cars out there we won’t have as big a discrepancy in the speed of the lines. Once we get all the cars out there you will have a lot tougher time guarding the bottom.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 2nd: “That was a great start for the Mustang, finishing 1-2-3 there. I was just talking to Paul (Menard) and I spent the last 25 laps just trying to figure out how to time it right where I could get a run on Kevin (Harvick) and just couldn’t seem to time it. We didn’t have as many cars out here tonight as we will have come Sunday. All in all a really good strong night for us. We wanted to be in victory lane but we learned a lot and I think we can make our car better. It was handling a little bad there in the middle part of the race – a little loose. When I restarted on the bottom I felt I could be aggressive with it and that gives me confidence for Sunday.”

Paul Menard — finished: 3rd: “We really had a bunch of fast Fords up front, and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was really good. Ricky [Stenhouse] and I had some fun at the end there. He came over after the race and we were trying to figure out if we should have gone earlier, later, whatever else might’ve worked. I was faster than him through the trioval, he had me by a bit down the back… at the end I had a little run and I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep tonight if I didn’t try at least something there.”

Matt DiBenedetto — finished 4th: “I learned a ton, so that was good for us and finished fourth. A good way to start the year. We just raced hard and didn’t make any crazy moves – just smart, decisive moves and that’s kind of what picked up spots at the end and got us to fourth.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 5th: “Just getting a feel for our Camry – you know what it does well, what it needs to do better. I feel like we have really good speed in it. I feel like we need to handle a little bit better, especially looking at Sunday, it’s going to be 80 degrees. Tonight, is a night race and we still could have handled better, so I think we learned plenty of things that we can work on the next two days and we’ll see what we can do with it. I’m thankful that we get to hopefully race this car Sunday. We really wanted to get through tonight unscathed and we did that. I feel like we probably should have finished third or fourth – a little bit undecisive on that last move when they got side-by-side going into (Turn) 3. I wasn’t sure which way to go and I probably picked the wrong lane, but like I said, we were just looking to get out of here clean and take this car on to Sunday.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 6th: “Got to do something. I hate riding around. I am not a fan of riding around the top. It’s like everybody knows if more cars go to the bottom we can race on the bottom, but it’s just where momentum takes us with the aero package we’ve got now. I was trying to just learn. Last year it was all just stay in line and ride and I’m not saying I’m over that, but I’ve got to learn at some point. I’ve got to have the guys, the veterans, behind me saying well he made that move in the duel so maybe he’s got a little bit more confidence. Just trying to build that. It’s always a learning game, it’s always a guessing game who is going to go, who is going to go where, but our AfterShokz Chevy was okay.”

Jimmie Johnson — finished 8th: “Yeah, I just got it wrong. Clearly. We got three wide and I just kind of misjudged that situation in being three wide and trying to tuck in behind Kyle. Unfortunately, just turned him around. Apologies to he and his team and I know that is not what they wanted with their 500 car, but I just got it wrong there.”

Ryan Newman — finished: 9th: “I thought we had a good Mustang. We need to work on it a little bit and get some more raw speed in it. Our Oscar Mayer Ford performed good strategy and executed well in the pits. We had a shot of maybe being in the top-five but I was conservative with it that last lap and didn’t feel the need to be crazy. It is a better start to the Daytona 500 than what we qualified with for the Duels. It is a good improvement and we will keep trying to improve on it.”

Ryan Preece — finished 10th: “I felt like I was patient the entire race. I just at the end… I could have been conservative. I wanted to win, but at the same time I just wanted to make a move. I was expecting… I kept trying to get that run and time it and going into (Turn) 1 I was kind of expecting and hoping that two or three more would have done it too and when I went no one went so I was the odd man out and that is what it is.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “I feel like our Mustang has good speed. It is a little different than our Clash car and we will work on it and try to tune up for Sunday. It was okay in traffic. I feel like we need to make a couple adjustments with the handling of the car to be able to be a little bit better. We just have to keep working on it. It was the very first time I have been in the draft with this race car, so we have to work on that a little bit.”

Parker Kligerman — finished 12th: “I mean, first of all I’ve got to thank Kyle Busch, a Toyota teammate. When he back out of the draft that is what it took. If we didn’t have him and all of that TRD power working together there’s no way I would’ve been able to pass Tyler Reddick. Ryan Truex, man I hate it for him. He put up a heck of a fight. It was so weird that we came out of pit lane together and we were drafting together, and I was like, ‘I mean, of all things.’ Us two just locked together. We have been our whole career. This is awesome. This is an amazing feeling for how hard everyone has worked to put this Toyota in the race, but its bittersweet knowing that he’s out. He’s a good friend of mine and I really think he’s one of the most underrated drivers in the sport so I really hope he can find a way in.”

Ryan Truex — finished 14th: “(Martin Truex Jr.)  just asked me what happened. He said when we came off pit road, he saw me and the No. 96 were with each other the entire race, me and Parker (Klingerman). Just yeah, we got on our own and when you are three cars riding around like that you can’t create a pass. The No. 96 was able to create a huge run by backing up to the No. 18 and that was that. There was not much I could do about it.”

William Byron — finished 16th: “We raced for a while there. I thought we learned a little something towards the beginning of the race with leading and how our car was going to be. And then we were able to make some moves that were pretty good. After that restart we got in a huge hornet’s nest and we were on the bottom of three- wide, so we just bailed on that. Overall, it was good. Pretty happy with it. It was mission accomplished for us so far.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 20th: “Looks like just a discrepancy over what the rules are and we got the bad end of it tonight. It is what it is. We will start the Daytona 500 from the back and have to go from there. The good news is that Daytona is a place where you can move up. It is just going to take us awhile to get there.”

Duel No. 2

Joey Logano — winner: “You have the whole race to think about making a move and we were all out there just waiting. Everyone behind me really wanted to go and I just knew that I had to wait. The later you can do it, the less the risk if it doesn’t work. I got a good run from the 12 (Ryan Blaney) behind me and went to the bottom and got a good run. Was able to side draft the 10 (Aric Almirola) and pull him back and just barely get enough to break that plane in front of the 14 (Clint Bowyer) and clear him up. From there I was just blocking to the finish like. My spotter TJ (Majors) did a great job feeding me all the information I needed to make a decision.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 2nd: “I guess I could have gone down there and blocked a little bit but when you are leading the train like you can’t see the runs that are coming behind you. All you can do is hear your spotter telling you that they are coming but I can’t tell if he pulls out how fast they are coming or anything else. They came with a big run and by the time he got to me, I could have gone down there and blocked it and gotten myself wrecked. It was just one of those things. I thought we would still be able to connect and get back up through ‘em. It is what it is. We will start up front for the 500 which is the goal and the car is still in one piece. The Mustangs are fast. That is two Mustangs winning both Duels and we did all the right things.

Denny Hamlin — finished 4th: “I mean guys just don’t want to race until the end. There’s just nothing rewarding until the end. Short of giving us points every 10 laps, this is going to be a lot of what you see on superspeedway races simply because guys just want to get to the end. Knowing it’s 500 miles, there is no reward for running the first 150 miles aggressively.”

Kurt Busch — finished 5th: “We need heat, we need daytime and we need handling to come into play. Right now, everybody is just doing fuel only and the cars are driving pretty easy. With the handling, the draft is still very unstable, so we will see how it plays out.””

Ryan Blaney — finished 6th: “We were all just kind of hanging out, riding around. I got passed by a couple of cars on that pit stop. Riding in fifth behind Joey [Logano] and we were just waiting to make our move, didn’t really know what anyone else was going to do and I didn’t want to dump him. We waited until last lap entry to Turn 1 and I was able to push him from fourth all the way to the lead… bad thing was just that I had no one behind me. I almost got to third but the 11 (Denny Hamlin) stopped me… just so easy to stop cars to the right, at the top. If I would’ve had a push I probably could’ve gotten it done. People don’t want to just watch that train up at the top, so now that we’re through the Duels I’m hoping for some side-by-side racing in the 500.”

Chase Elliott — finished 8th: “Yeah it was hard (to make moves). Certainly, was very doable. Really hard to do, but you could make your way forward, I think, with it like that. Luckily, Joey (Logano) was far enough up where he could time it to get all the way to the lead. He did a really good job of that and yeah, I just couldn’t get far enough up to the front.”

Ty Dillon — finished 10th: “My GEICO Camaro ZL1 was dialed in tonight. It handles incredibly well in the draft, and I was able to move around pretty easily when I wanted to try the bottom lane. I love that handling is a thing we can talk about at Daytona now with this new package. It really fits my aggressive driving style. After tonight, I am more than ready to get to Sunday to show everyone what this machine can do.”

Alex Bowman — finished 13th: “I mean I would have liked to have raced a little more, but just kind of got in a bad box there. When we were going around those lap cars, I got stuck on the bottom of three-wide and I was going to be at the back of the group running anyway. The blue oval gang (Ford) did a little better job on and off of pit road than we did. That was frustrating because I think we were on both sides of the strategy between the first and second Duel and they did a better job both times. That is frustrating. We’ve got to get that part of it together if we are going to go beat them, but it’s good to have the car in one piece and the No. 88 Nationwide Camaro was pretty good.”

Brendan Gaughan — finished 15th: “I always come off as a class clown, but I haven’t been that nervous in a long time getting behind the wheel of a race car. The Beard family put so much into this and we come here to run very well; not run like that. You’ve got to have discretion of valor, you’ve got to make do with what you have to make do with. I had to change strategies on the fly. Darren Shaw, my crew chief, and Ron Lewis, my spotter did a great job. Thank you, Corey LaJoie. He just kind of stuck right in there with us on that pit stop and that’s what got us in this position; so, thank you, guys. We’ll see you at the Daytona 500!”

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

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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

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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?

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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.”

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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.”

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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

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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.