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What Drivers Said after the Daytona 500

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Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the final restrictor plate race in NASCAR history — and with three wrecks in the final 17 laps that helped determine the race’s outcome — drivers were their typical, aggressive selves as things came down to the finish line and Denny Hamlin took the win.

Here’s what drivers had to say after the race at Daytona International Speedway:

Denny Hamlin, winner: “This is amazing. I don’t want to tear this one up because I want to put it back in my house. I’m just going to enjoy it more (than his 2016 Daytona 500 win). I think I was so dumbfounded about everything that happened the first time with the photo finish and everything. This one lets me soak it in a little bit more. I’m going to have a terrible hangover tomorrow, but I’m going to enjoy it the rest of my life. … Proud of not only our team, but (teammate Kyle Busch’s) team as well and having a great shot at the Daytona 500. I know this was as close as he came. He was a great teammate all day and we worked well together.”

Kyle Busch, finished 2nd:I just was trying to work on a run with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and you can never trust those behind you so they all scattered and went around me and I had to work my way back up there. Just wasn’t meant to be today obviously. It’s frustrating for sure. We had a great car. (We were) trying to make sure at least one of us got to victory lane, first and foremost. After that you try to go race it out and see what you can do for yourself and for your team. There wasn’t enough cars out there really. There was six cars running at the end. I don’t know that anything would’ve been any different really if anything would’ve materialized. I think we all would’ve been stuck side-by-side given if I would’ve been on the outside or something like that. It’s so hard to tell. I don’t know how it would’ve played out, but I’m not going to worry about it.”

MORE: Click here for Daytona 500 results, NASCAR Cup point standings

Erik Jones, finished 3rd:It was a weird day. The Sport Clips Camry had a lot of speed in it early and we kept finding ourselves towards the front. We were up there where we wanted to be with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) and I’m like, ‘Man, we’re in a great spot to get to the last 15 laps or so and race for it.’ I don’t know. We just lost fuel pressure and we came to pit road and came back. We didn’t change anything, fired it up and went back. Got back on the lead, got caught up in a wreck and got pretty significant amount of damage and we were just trying to get it fixed enough to get minimum speed. As more of the race happened and more and more people wrecked we found ourselves upfront. A day of never giving up and never giving in and it worked out great. It’s definitely the most perseverance I’ve had in a race in NASCAR. I had a lot of fun.”

Joey Logano, finished 4th: “I actually felt like we had the car to beat and just couldn’t get there. It’s so hard to get to the front. Once I got to the front I felt like we had a really good car, but I had a good push from behind with the 47 (Ryan Preece), which is pretty cool. We’re both from Connecticut and we raced quarter-midgets against each other, so I thought it was really neat to be working together in the Daytona 500. How neat is that? So it shows you that dreams can come true for little kids, so that was pretty cool.”

Michael McDowell, finished 5th: “Yeah, there’s always things you could do differently. We just didn’t have the speed to break the plain of 18 (Kyle Busch) or the 11 (Hamlin). We were trying like heck, but so was everybody else. When the 18 shot to the outside there he had a big run, a lot of momentum and I tried to go with him to hope that the 18 and the 11 would get together and maybe I’d sneak a win out of it. It just didn’t work out. … We would have loved to pull into Victory Lane, but a top five is great.”

Ty Dillon, finished 6th: “It feels good. I’m just really proud of our effort. God is good. It wasn’t really me driving this thing. I would leave it up to him to get me through those wrecks and boy that was fun. I had a blast tonight. What a great way to start our year with our GEICO Camaro. I’m really proud to be the top finishing Chevy at the very first race of the year. So that’s a great way to set the tone.”

Kyle Larson, finished 7th: “It was a pretty smooth race there until the very end. I got a tire rub and blew a left-rear and crashed. The second time me and (Ricky) Stenhouse got together and I wrecked. The third time, I got on the brakes really hard and spun and about crashed. My car is super beat up so to come away with a top 10 is pretty cool.”

Ryan Preece, finished 8th: “It’s intense, man. It’s something I’ve never been a part of. So, I have a lot of learning to do, for sure. Today was the type of day that you just wanted to race around these guys and not be erratic and not do anything stupid and hopefully when we go to Talladega or come back to Daytona, I can get a little bit more help.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished 9th:I’ve never been hit like that on pit lane. That was the start of the craziness. I don’t know if that kept us out of trouble and got us a good finish or what, but certainly not something that we were anticipating. That just set off a chain reaction of events from there. There is a lot to manage that last 30 laps from an issue with trying to get the fueler neck in place to fuel the car, which resulted in a penalty. Getting those two laps back, working on the car multiple times, multiple crashes, for a first true race together as a group, a really, really brilliant day.”

Alex Bowman, finished 11th:We were just kind of credited with a finish there. It was a bummer. We had over the wall too soon (penalty) and that put us behind. We got back to second and I kind of poked my nose out there for the lead at the wrong time and got shuffled and we were running third or fourth; and then the No. 20 (Erik Jones) ran out of fuel pressure right in front of us and just kind of buried us. From then on everybody’s brains went out the window and we just started crashing the rest of the night.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 12th: “A lot of wrecks. We got a flat tire. We got in a good spot with about 20 or so to go and I guess the 20 car ran out of fuel or something and the line failed and went all the way to the back. And then we got caught up in two wrecks not of our making and just never can get anything to go our way on these deals. I’m confident when they do we can win them. We don’t have to have good luck, but we can’t have all the bad luck we’ve been having.”

Austin Dillon, finished 16th: “We had a shot, but it is what it is. Daytona is really hard to position yourself to miss those wrecks and we didn’t do a good enough job to position ourselves like we did last year. I wish we could have missed that big one. Maybe if we were in the bottom lane, but I just think it happened so fast you needed to be up front. This has been a great process… it’s not over for us at Daytona we are going to come back and win this thing.”

Chase Elliott, finished 17th: “I didn’t really see much of anything. I think Clint (Bowyer) was just sliding up the track and I was in the outside lane, I really had no other option other than just to hit him. I had a huge run, I just didn’t have anywhere to go with it. We crashed I think four or five times, finally finished us off. It’s crazy what these things come down to and just survival, it’s crazy. The bottom (definitely) was a faster way around and I think once the power in numbers got down there it certainly showed that. I wish we could have just made it to the end.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 20th: “Hey, it is the Daytona 500, I had to go for it. I was a little bit frustrated with the lineup. I know I was ahead of the 22 (Logano) when the caution came out but I guess it went back to the last scoring loop or something. It seemed like the lineup had trouble all night long. This just sucks, man. We had such a good Rush Truck Centers, Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. This is my best foot forward I have ever had here. We had a shot at it and I took it. I had a big run on the 34 (McDowell) and knew that I had to make quick work of him because in the mirror they were going three-wide and losing their minds so you knew that was going to come down on ya. So I decided to lose my mind too.”

William Byron, finished 21st: “We were pushing the No. 22 (Logano), we were in sixth and made a good recovery. We had some damage from the previous wreck. That kind of hurt us a little bit, but we were able to restart sixth after missing the first wreck and the No. 34 (McDowell) just got hooked right or got loose right and slammed me in the door and that hooked me to the left and then I was just part of the meat sandwich after that.”

Jamie McMurray, finished 22nd: “Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end. It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end. … (On this being his last Cup race:) I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did. I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega Speedway, racing was a little different in my mind.”

Matt DiBenedetto, finished 28th: “It was just a racing deal (his wreck with Paul Menard). Nothing intentional. I have a great relationship with Paul. I think he was trying to sneak to my outside but wasn’t quite there and when he bumped me it just clipped my right rear and turned me in the wall. Just a racing deal. Nothing we can do about it. We had one hell of a day going. I’ll tell you that. The car was fast and I’m so darn thankful that Toyota, Procore my sponsor, Leavine Family Racing – I don’t know if everyone understands how big of a chance they took on taking me and I will be forever thankful. I have an amazing crew chief with Mike Wheeler and great people around me. We showed what we are here to do so we accomplished a lot. Led the most laps, had a fast race car so I’m thankful for that, but I’m not going to lie I’m pretty heartbroken.”

Paul Menard, finished 29th: “I am not really sure what happened. I hooked the 95 (Matt DiBenedetto). I was trying to get to his outside and he was kind of in the middle and he went to the outside and was going back and forth. The 12 (Blaney) had a big run so I jumped up in front of him and hooked the 95. I am not sure what really happened there. I will take the blame for that one I guess. We had really fast Fords. I sped on pit road and got us behind. We had to play catch-up. We had a shot there at the end though. It was time to go. It is frustrating that we have to put ourselves in that position to race this way. I had a big run with the 12 pushing and barely nicked the 95 and he got sideways. I tried backing off, but wrecked a lot of cars.”

David Ragan, finished 30th: “I just saw someone get turned in front of me a couple of rows. That is a product of speedway racing, pushing and being that aggressive at the end of a race. You have guys blocking and you have guys coming fast. That is just the way it is. Unfortunate that we were in the wrong place at the right time but we were up in the top-10, where we needed to be to try to win the race and sometimes things just don’t fall your way.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 31st: “We were racing the heck out of each other tonight. There wasn’t one bit of single-file racing. I thought it was a good race. It was exciting and it was a lot more intense to drive in tonight than what it has all of speedweeks. That is good. That is what everyone wanted to see. I thought our Mustang was really fast. We had a good run down the back and I think a couple guys were trying to push and got squirely and next thing I know I am in it. That stinks for Menards and Peak. I thought we had a good shot when we won that stage. We will just go on to Atlanta.”

Aric Almirola, finished 32nd: “Last year, taking the white flag with the lead with emotions high and feeling like you have a great shot to win was worse. Tonight we were about 10th or 12th and with 10 laps to go, a lot can play out, a lot can happen. It didn’t feel like we were as close right there. Still disappointing. You never wanna come down here and wreck out of the Daytona 500. You want a shot in the final closing laps. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the right position tonight.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 33rd: “The car was fast.  We were running in the top 10 pretty much the whole day and challenged for the lead.  We gained some stage points. Everything was going very well. I mentioned on the radio many times that one big wreck was going to happen and I wanted to make sure I was going to stay out of it.  With 10 laps to go it’s not like you can just hang out and wait for it. It’s time to go and unfortunately, we just got caught up in someone else’s mistake.”

Daniel Hemric, finished 34th: “You know you get that accordion effect corner entry and I just saw the No. 95 (DiBenedetto) get turned, at that point just kind of a road block. You are trying to make moves, but you are going so fast and everybody is trying to gouge to get to the end of the race and just no where to go. … I thought we would be in good shape there the next to last restart before the crash. We were lined up sixth and we just got hung up pushing a car that had damage and just started dragging the whole top lane back. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but the guy who got crashed was also running in the top five. You never know how it’s going to go, but at the end of the day count our blessings and move on and then go to Atlanta and start racing.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished 35th: “Yeah, we knew (the crash) was going to come, just hemming and hawing over when to go and when not to go. We finally decided to go before that last caution. We got 10 spots or so and were in good shape. Got a couple more on the restart and then all hell broke loose. It’s just Daytona. That’s the way it is. … We just kind of chilled out and tried to take care of our car and everybody did a good job of not wrecking most of the day and so when it was time to go we didn’t have track position and then like I said all hell broke loose and it was right in front of us. Just plate racing. Just the way it goes.”

Matt Tifft, finished 36th: “It was definitely getting crazy on that restart. Everyone knew it was time to go with 10 to go. So you knew it was going to be crazy. We were stuck in the middle, three-wide. I don’t know. I thought I saw the 95 or someone get turned up front and I just couldn’t see after that. I tried to get on the brakes but I couldn’t see anything and we were right in the middle of it. That is about it.”

Chris Buescher, finished 37th: “A lot more eventful than we wanted our (Daytona) 500 to be. … I can’t thank our team enough for the hard work put in over the off season for all our sponsors and for Kroger coming on board and really buying into our program, making this fun. To go out there and have an issue early on and to recover back and we kind of knew where we were at. We were towards the back after that recovery and it wasn’t worth going to the front yet. You knew the wreck was coming, you just expect it to come a lot earlier. With single digits laps to go it’s time to go and you just take that risk. The best I saw two or three rows in front of me all I saw was the No. 95 car sideways and it just piled in from there.”

All-Star winners & losers

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WINNERS

Kyle LarsonHe joked that by running in the Monster Open he was in the B Main, but he won the final stage to advance to the All-Star Race and then went on to win the main event. He became only the fourth driver in All-Star history to win the event after transferring in from the preliminary race.

Bubba Wallace It was the night he needed. He’s referenced recently how tough things have been on him in his life. After losing the opening stage of the Monster Open, a “pissed off” Wallace won the next stage in a tight finish to advance to the All-Star Race and get a big hug from Ryan Blaney. Wallace went on to finish fifth in the All-Star Race and beamed afterward. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said.

Fans — They saw spectacular finishes in the first two stages of the Monster Open, saw three-wide racing at times during the night, saw a different winner this season in Kyle Larson, and saw Clint Bowyer run to Ryan Newman’s car and start swinging at Newman, who remained in the car, in retaliation for contact that sent Bowyer into the wall on the cool-down lap. What more do you want?

LOSERS

Erik JonesThe best thing that can be said about his rough night was that it was a non-points race so his last-place finish didn’t hurt him in his bid to make the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick’s pit crew — Harvick was not happy with how his pit crew performed after his second-place finish. After winning the second stage, Harvick lost six spots on pit road and then had a loose wheel a few laps into the run. Said Harvick of his crew: “They just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year. Tonight wasn’t great.”

Fabricators — The All-Star Race promotes beating and banging and there was a good bit of it Saturday. There were five incidents in the 150 laps of racing on the night for incidents, involving nine different cars. Many others also were beat up. Of course, imagine if they held an All-Star Race on a short track.

Being in Open was key for 4 drivers who transferred into All-Star Race

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Saturday night showed the significance of how competing in the Monster Energy Open can pay big dividends in the NASCAR All-Star Race.

All four drivers who transferred from the Open – stage winners William Byron, Bubba Wallace and race winner Kyle Larson, along with fan vote winner Alex Bowman – showed their mettle by finishing in the top 10 of the All-Star Race, led by Larson, who took the checkered flag.

“I always think if there’s one positive to being in the B Main (the Open), it’s that you get that extra track time,” Larson said. “I feel like in the first few laps, those guys that are in the B main can be really aggressive because they know the limits of the race car and stuff.

“So you can see the four of us or whatever kind of be really aggressive and get to the mid-pack pretty quickly. And then everybody kind of figures it out after that. But there’s a slight advantage for the first 10, 15 laps, I think, of being in that race.”

It was the second time that Larson has won the Open – he also took the checkered flag in 2016 – and transferred into the All-Star Race.

Added Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston: I felt like when you run the Open, you kind of have an advantage — especially with the first 30-lap run of being on track, knowing what to expect, being able to adjust on your car. Where the guys that are in the All-Star Race don’t have that. So it’s a good time to take advantage of that information and being able to gain some of the track position back pretty quickly.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the Open came afterward when Stage 2 winner Wallace cried in joy of putting himself and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into the main event.

“It’s been hard, been really hard,” Wallace said of his season to date. “I was trying to hold them (tears) back and telling yourself you can’t do it anymore is tough. To give up and whatnot.

“I gave up the first Stage win and I didn’t say anything on the radio. But my parents and everyone that has always helped me always said, when I am pissed off I drive better. So, I did everything I could. I told myself to quit, and don’t even try again for the second Stage.

“My mental game is really shot right now, but damn it feels good to win something. I have failed at a lot of things in life recently, but I am working to make those things better.”

Wallace would go on to finish fifth in his first career appearance in the All-Star Race.

“I had tons of fun tonight,” Wallace said. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time. It’s been a struggle, but it was a big night for us. When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different.

“The first thing my mom said to me after the Open was ‘You know who that was? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet’. I’ve realized that. As many dark moments that I’ve had and telling myself to give up, it’s been really tough. It’s been tough to keep coming in and keep going. Tonight just shows that I’ll be back next week.”

As for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Byron, who won the first stage of the Open, and fan vote winner Bowman, the preliminary race helped in finishing eighth and ninth, respectively, in the All-Star Race.

“It was just amazing, it feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race,” Byron said of his first appearance in the event. “I’ve been coming to this race since I was about five or six years old. It’s really exciting to be a part of it. It was huge, we needed this. We’ve had some really good qualifying efforts this year; we just needed to finish it off with something positive and this was definitely positive for us. I’m excited for it.”

Said Bowman: “You want to race your way in, and we did that last year and had a car very capable of doing that this year. Restarts didn’t go our way, and it is what it is.”

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All-Star Race leaves Bubba Wallace with a big smile

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CONCORD, N.C. — It was a smile that wasn’t forced, a smile that didn’t deflect, and a smile that was not laced with hidden meanings.

This was genuine, perhaps a little forgotten, but oh so nice.

“I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said after a night that saw him win a stage in the Monster Open to advance to the All-Star race and then finish fifth in that event.

It has been a long time since Wallace could feel so good. He noted last week that he had been depressed about things in his life. Results on the track also had not been inspiring.

Asked earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway what his team was lacking, Wallace said: “Money. It’s where we’re lacking. We need money to make more speed.”

He has not finished better than 17th in a points race this season. He has one top-10 results in his last 41 points races. That runner-up finish for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver in the 2018 Daytona 500 – and the tearful hug with his mother – seems so long ago. 

All of that can make it hard to smile.

That’s why Saturday meant so much to Wallace. He won (the second stage in the Monster Open), earning a hug from Ryan Blaney in the garage. Wallace then finished close enough to the front in the All-Star Race that he could see the leaders.

Yet, this night started with the same cruelty that has struck him so often on the track. Wallace was in the lead on the final lap of the opening stage of the Monster Open but William Byron nipped Wallace by inches at the line.

Wallace yelled an adult word repeatedly on the radio to express his frustration.

“Ever since I was a kid, they said I drive better when I’m pissed off,” Wallace said. “I was pissed off. I was really off after that. I let that one go. I thought that was it. Then the caution came out (in the second stage) and the same scenario.”

Another overtime finish.

“I’m not giving it up this time,” Wallace said. “So you’ve got to do what you’ve got do.”

This time Wallace raced Daniel Suarez on the last lap of the stage for the win. They made contact. Suarez spun and Wallace won to earn a spot in his first All-Star Race.

Wallace ran toward the back of the 19-car field in the first two stages. He moved into the top 10 in the third stage, finishing sixth.

He started outside the top 10 in the final 15-lap stage but was ninth in a couple of laps. Wallace moved up as others pitted with 12 laps to go and climbed up to fourth after a restart. Joey Logano passed Wallace with four laps to go, dropping Wallace to fifth. He held off Aric Almirola to finish there.

How much did that all that mean for him?

“I’m showing teeth in my smile,” Wallace said. “So that says a lot.”

Yes, it did.

Kevin Harvick on pit crew: ‘They just weren’t prepared tonight’

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick described his runner-up finish in Saturday night’s All-Star Race as “terrible” because of the struggles on pit road.

Harvick won the second stage but lost six spots on pit road and then suffered a loose wheel a few laps later. He was helped when a caution came out for an incident that involved Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon. That kept him from needing to pit under green and lose a lap. But even that didn’t cool his frustration after finishing second to Kyle Larson for the $1 million prize. 

“We shot both of our feet off with the absolute dominant car,” said Harvick, who won last year’s All-Star Race. “The guys did a great job preparing the race car and weren’t ready to make a pit stop on pit road tonight.”

Asked if changes need to be made to the pit crew, Harvick said:

“They just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year. Tonight wasn’t great. That’s for sure. Spotted the whole field, started the tail back with 15 laps to go.

“All you’ve got to do is the same pit stop you do every week. It is not any different. You’ve just got to be prepared. They just weren’t prepared tonight.”

Harvick said he expects the pit crew to be better for next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

“They’re experienced enough,” said Harvick, who led 33 of 88 laps. “They know that it didn’t go the way they wanted it to go. They’ll go back and they’ll be ready. That’s the great part about having an experienced pit crew. They can go back and fix it. They better fix it.”