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What drivers said after Phoenix Cup race

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Kyle Busch, winner: “We knew the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was really, really fast. He was probably the best car here this weekend. I don’t know if he just got too tight in that long run. That’s what it looked like all of us were doing. Just seemed like I could get through there a little bit better. I tried to search around and find something that could help me to get me going a little bit better and get around to his outside and get the lead. Just an awesome day for us here at ISM Raceway. To come out here and celebrate with another win – back-to-back races here — I’d love to be able to come back and do it again next time.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished second: “We did save quite a bit (of fuel) there. The car was really fast there at the end. Just a good day overall for our Bass Pro Camry. Everybody at JGR and TRD and everybody back at the shop are really doing a good job. Our boys in the pits did a good job today as well, so thanks to Cole (Pearn, crew chief). James (Small, engineer) and all the guys, we’re starting to click. We’re a little bit off on Fridays and that’s getting us behind, but I feel like each weekend as the weekend goes, we’re getting a little strong and a little stronger. Two second places is pretty decent. We’ll just keep chipping away at it. Had a fun day today and congrats to Kyle (Busch) and those guys.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 3rd: “Honestly, we hung on better there on two tires than I thought we would.  Fired off really good.  Got Kyle (Busch) a little bit.  I was kind of riding trying to save tires, save gas.  They were telling me we were really close on gas just doing two.  I think he was kind of riding back there, too.  I think they knew what situation I was in.  Started to get real tight. I got to the lap cars, and I was done. Then when we got past the lead, just full‑on fuel save mode.  A good recovery.”

Aric Almirola, finished 4th: “We had a good car, but we’re just not quite as good as we need to be.  We still have work to do, but I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.  We keep chipping away.  That’s three top 10s in a row, our first top five of the year, so we’re getting there.  Our cars are getting a little better, but we just have to keep working and keep finding more speed.  We have a great race team and we’ll continue to improve on what we’ve got, so we’ll just keep working.  Our Smithfield Ford Mustang was decent, but just not quite good enough.”

Denny Hamlin, finished 5th: Frustrating. Trying to get track position when you have a fast car. You just can’t drive through the field. You have to be patient and wait on everyone to kind of mess up or you’ve got try to run a different line, but when you do it’s just too much distance. Just the frustration of having a faster car and you can’t pass.”

Kyle Larson, finished 6th: “It was a clean day for us, so I was happy about that. Had some really good restarts that kept us in the game. We worked on our balance throughout the race, tried to free it up and got too free and then had to go back on changes to tighten us back up. So yeah, to come away with a sixth is nice after the last couple of weeks we’ve had of just making mistakes. Even this week we made a big mistake in qualifying, but thankfully, we were able to work through it.”

Kurt Busch, finished 7th: “I’m glad we got a top 10. We had to battle hard for this one. We didn’t do really good on pit road and we didn’t really do good on restarts, but overall with the Global Poker Chevy it was nice to have a read on some looseness and tightness at a short track and get more notes under our belt. That is key for me and Matt McCall (crew chief). Awesome, fun, running with (Kyle) Larson. The two of us got a pretty good read on each other on when we are holding each other up or if we are helping each other. Then at the end they told me I was about a lap shy on fuel, so I had to save and I just let Larson go and it worked out. To have two Ganassi cars sixth and seventh, top Chevy’s that is good stuff.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished 8th: “It’s not a victory, but it’s definitely a solid day for the Ally Chevrolet. These guys have been working so hard at Hendrick Motorsports to get us more and more and we took a good step in the right direction. I even think at Vegas we were better than where we finished. Once we lost track position, we struggled the second half of the race. Atlanta was terrible, can’t say anything different there.  We are learning each week and I still think we have some catching up to do, but certainly a solid performance. Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) called a great race, it was really tricky with strategy, two tires, four tires, our pit crew had to adjust mid-pit stop one time and go from four to two and everybody responded really well.”

Kevin Harvick, finished 9th: “It took us I don’t even know how long to get past cars that were six, seven, eight-tenths slower than us at the end of the race, so just extremely difficult to pass.  We got shuffled there on the restarts and just decided to come down and get tires and see if we could do something better than being in the middle on two tires, and it took us a long time to get back going.”

Joey Logano, finished 10th:  “It was really, really, really, really, really hard to pass. You start to catch a car and you just stop. That big spoiler on the back just makes it really, really challenging to even get to the car in front of you to make something happen, so restarts became everything. If you can get through the first couple laps and settle out, you were fine. It’s just very challenging behind a car to even keep up to speed and then what happens is you get behind him and that makes the tires mad and you go slower. You’re better off just getting there and riding and hopefully that car falls off enough to where you can maybe get close enough to make a move or wait until there’s a lapped car and try to make a pass or something like that. That was tough. That was hard.”

Ryan Newman, finished 12th: “We definitely showed improvement from last week, which is a good sign for the weeks to come. Our No. 6 Oscar Mayer team worked hard after practice yesterday to make some changes, which showed once we took the green. Although we wanted a top 10, we’ll take the result, improve and move on to Fontana next week looking to capitalize on the momentum.”

Ty Dillon, finished 15th: “Today was a great day for our GEICO Racing team. We consistently ran inside the top 20, kept making adjustments to fine tune the handling, and then got ourselves in a position to run inside the top 15. I know this is what our Germain Racing team can do every single week and I’m proud of all the hard work that is going into building faster race cars. We will keep building on top-15 finishes like this and I know good things will continue to happen for our team.”

Alex Bowman, finished 35th: “We have just been too tight since we unloaded and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. We were pretty good as long as there was air on the nose, but get buried in traffic and we were just way too tight. It’s unfortunate, obviously, finishing that first stage fourth we had a good race car just had to have clean air and without that we were way too tight.”

Michael McDowell, finished 36th: “I just came off the corner and I noticed that the throttle pedal was gone. I knew I was in trouble at that point because it was still wide-open, so I tried hitting the ignition and jumping on the brakes and did everything I could to keep it up against the wall and try not to make a big mess. I was trying not to run into the car in front of me, which I think was Menard. I was just jamming on the brakes as hard as I could to try to get it to slow down and not take a bunch of people with me.”

Check back for more.

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

Photo: Denny Hamlin
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”

 

 

What they wore on the red carpet …

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Before the show, drivers and their significant others walked the red carpet. Here’s a look at their outfits for the evening.

Kyle Busch, wife Samantha and son Brexton. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Kyle and Katelyn Larson. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Kevin and DeLana Harvick (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Clint and Lorra Bowyer. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Joey and Brittany Logano.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Kurt and Ashley Busch. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott and Kaylie Green. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Aric and Janice Almirola. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Daniel and Kenzie Hemric. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.