What drivers said after Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas

0 Comments

Drivers had quite a bit to say after Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, particularly about the new aero package.

Check out their comments:

Joey Logano, winner: “What a great car. What a great weekend for Mustang to get a win, playoff points and stage wins. And Mustang also won down (in Supercars) down in Australia, so pretty proud of that. We’ve got to figure out qualifying better, but the racing part, the cars were fast, we showed it last weekend and were able to show it again this weekend. Couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 2nd: “I’d like to have had one more lap. It was a good battle. We were both fighting really hard for the top. It seemed to really come down to what the lapped cars were going to do. If the lapped cars screwed the leader, then the second-place guy would get a really good run and that just kept happening over and over. First Joey got hosed by a lapped car and I got by him. I got hosed by a lapped car and he got by me. It was definitely a good battle.”

Kyle Busch, finished 3rd: If we didn’t have the speeding penalty on pit road, we would have won this race, but the guys gave me a great piece and we were certainly fast there at the end. We were running some of them leaders down and closing in on them running 31-flats and once I got within the vicinity of them, I just stalled out to 31.40s and couldn’t go any faster in order to gain on them anymore. I would try to go low, they would go low, try to go high and they go high and it’s just an air game. Very frustrating, but overall we had a really fast car – the M&M’s Camry was good and driver threw it away.”

Kevin Harvick, finished 4th: “Our Jimmy John’s Ford was too tight the second half of the race. That’s two weeks in a row we’ve gotten tighter as the race goes on. We’ve done a great job of getting in the game, being way off at the start of every practice for the last two weeks. Just a huge credit to our Jimmy John’s team for everything they do to this Ford Mustang. Got to thank everybody for that and we’ll keep plugging away. We’ll work on our car.”

Kurt Busch, finished 5th: “We made one adjustment and it got real tight in traffic. If we stay long on the second stage, we can stay out, so we worked that. It played out to where we got clean air but it completely changed the complexion of the car. When we were in clean air, the car (points down). When we’re in dirty air, it’s like that (points up). I’ve got to get it to where it’s balanced evenly. But it gave us a lot to learn from today and I’m real proud to get a top five today. We’ve got two top fives to start the year but we know we have some more work to do.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 6th: “It was a battle. It was fun. You couldn’t give up any track position. If you slipped up and a car got a run on you, you did everything in your power to hold them off. I did that to other people and people did it to me. So it was a tough battle out there. We got off a little bit there in the middle part of the race. The first part of the race, we were really, really good. Our Mustang was as good as what we thought it was in practice. What we had there translated over to the race. I think we were a top five on long runs. Struggled a little bit to get going. Looking forward to building off that. (Almirola) and I had a heck of a battle at the end. That’s how hard you have to drive to pass people.”

Aric Almirola, finished 7th: “We have a lot of learning to do, but overall a good day for a Smithfield Ford team. We saw a lot of similarities from Atlanta where we’re good on the short runs and fall off on the long runs. Everyone at Stewart-Haas is working hard to make our cars as competitive as can be, and we’ll get there. Right now, I think we’re a fourth- to eighth-place car, and we have some work to do if we want to win.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished 8th: For whatever reason, that last restart to begin the third stage, we just got really tight for some reason. But the car was really good before that. Especially in long runs. We had probably a third, fourth or fifth-place car. In the long runs, we were the best car and then it just completely jumped the fence and went tight. We made some good adjustments on the last pit stop and gained more spots. It was just too tight at the end. (Coming through the field is) insanely tough. You have to hope other guys run different lanes than you. It’s hard to follow through the corners. You have to be a half-second quicker than they are to be able to stay in line against them in the corners. It’s really tough once you get a few laps on your tires.”

Chase Elliott, finished 9th: “Definitely a lot better than last week (finished 19th). There were times throughout the day where we were better than that. That run there at the end was one of our worst of the day, I thought, which is never a good way to end it. So, just needed to finish a little stronger and I think we could have been maybe a few spots better. I don’t think we had anything to win, but could have maybe grabbed a few more spots there. Really important to have track position and hard to pass at times. You had to be really good and really think about your passes to get them done. The really fast guys could do it, so it’s not impossible, but definitely have to think through that a little bit.”

Denny Hamlin, finished 10th: We had a couple tough pit stops that set us back and we just weren’t fast enough to maintain from there. It seemed like we had about a fifth-place car, but we would come in and lose three or four seconds and then some guys would jump us and then it would put me behind some other cars. It’s just so tough to pass once you get strung out that you have to maintain your track position and we kind of struggled with that. Then we lost the balance there at the end. (The aero package was) about what I expected. The restarts were super exciting and you’re able to kind of dice around and put yourself in good positions and then once it gets strung out with all the on-throttle time, it seems like the bottom lane is the place to be and then if you’re second you can’t run the bottom either because the wake is so big. It’s kind of a catch-22 and it will work really, really good at some tracks. Other tracks it won’t, but overall, I don’t know how tight the field was there, but it definitely seemed like it strung out.”

Kyle Larson, finished 12th: “We fought as much as we could there throughout the race. Just tough when you don’t get any cautions or anything like that. I felt like our car was really good on the long runs. Just the short run, I mean, I felt okay on the short run too, I just didn’t have speed. So, we will have to work on that, but all in all we finished 12th the last few weekends and we should have been a lot better than that. That is positive. We have good handling race cars and just got to get a little bit faster is all and clean up pit road a little bit. You know on my end, I think, I probably messed the guys up a little bit. I just didn’t come in the pit stall hard enough and I think they jumped over too soon. Just got to clean up some things I’m doing, but the cars are decent.”

Chris Buescher, finished 13th: “That was a solid day for our Natural Light Naturdays Camaro ZL1. We were a little bit loose to start the run, but the car would come to us as the run went on it would come to us and we had decent speed to gain positions. The guys worked really hard all weekend and it’s a good start to our west coast swing.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 14th: “That was a tough afternoon for us. We made a lot of changes throughout the weekend, but we fought tight most of the race. We trimmed our car out and got it a bit better, but it was tough to pass today, real tough. We have a lot of work to do, but Phoenix next week will be better.”

Austin Dillon, finished 20th: “We had a really fast Dow Silastic Silicone Elastomers Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 throughout the weekend. We raced as high as second in Stage 1 even though we were battling a loose-handling chassis and lacked grip. During the first round of pit stops, we were penalized for having an extra man over the wall when one of the crew guys slipped and had a hand touch pit road. The penalty put us one lap down and altered our race strategy slightly, but we were able to take the wave around at the Stage 1 break and get back on the lead lap. After pitting under green in Stage 2, we were posting the fastest laps of everyone and went to work on regaining track position. We stayed out a little longer than everyone else during green-flag pit stops in Stage 3 and ended up leading a few laps. Unfortunately, the car’s handling became much too tight in the final Stage. I think we had a top-10 car, just never got the track position we needed. We ended up 20th and definitely learned a lot about this new package.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 17th: “We had a good Haas Automation Ford Mustang on the long runs, but we didn’t have the short-run speed today. I felt like we had a top-10 car, but once we lost a little track position it was hard to get back up there. Overall though, from Friday’s practice to Saturday’s practice we made improvements on the car, so our communication is good and the guys are able to adjust on the car to help me. We’ll move on to Phoenix next week, which is one of my best tracks.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 22nd: “A really frustrating day for our Menards/Pennzoil team. We had a really good car but just couldn’t overcome the unscheduled pit stop early in the race. I hope this is the end of our bad luck and we have a good run next week in Phoenix.”

Daniel Hemric, finished 23rd: “We just missed it a little bit today with our No. 8. Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, with this new package. I couldn’t go through the corners like I needed to at the start of the race, which set us back and caused us to fall down a lap. (Crew chief) Luke Lambert and the team didn’t give up though and we kept fighting and working on our Camaro. It started to come back to me towards the end of the race, and I was able to carry gas into the corners better than I could at the start of the day. We just ran out of time to really make anything up. I’m confident in this team’s ability to bounce back from this. We know what we need to work on and will regroup to get back after it at ISM Raceway.”

Ty Dillon, finished 29th: “There is still a lot left to learn with this new package. There is no doubt about it. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 is showing speed in practice and in qualifying. As we continue to run with this package, we will be able to make it all come together during the race. We want to have the advantage over the field, so we will keep grinding at the shop and at the track to learn everything we possibly can about the new rules package. I’m proud of this team’s hustle here in Las Vegas, and I’m excited to turn our focus to Phoenix.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

0 Comments

NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

0 Comments

Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

0 Comments

While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.