What Drivers Said after Martinsville

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Brad Keselowski had just enough to hold off a late charge by runner-up Chase Elliott and third-place finisher Kyle Busch to win Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Here’s what drivers had to say about their day:

Brad Keselowski – winner: “The car was really good – this Ford Mustang. You know, Ford worked really hard in the offseason to build these cars and make them real strong and so far, so good. It’s just a great day for our team, awesome execution on pit road and big credit to Doug Yates and all the engine guys. Those guys work really hard and it’s just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you’ve got a great car. I don’t know if we were as good as the 9, Chase Elliott. He was really strong, but he passed me there with about 200 to go and I watched him and studied him and kind of broke it down and knew what I had to do to hold him off with that fast of a car and we were able to pull it off that last run with the Reese/Draw Tite Ford.”

Chase Elliott – finished second: “It was really tough. Our NAPA Camaro was good. I felt like we were about as even with him (Keselowski) as we could be. When I did get the lead, I felt like there was a little advantage to being out front and being able to work traffic your way and play off it and whatnot. But, yeah, I tried to move up there at the end and I don’t know if I could have got to him. Maybe if I moved up a little sooner, maybe. But, I tried to get to him there in (Turn) 3, but maybe next time.”

Kyle Busch – finished third: “I had a nose underneath the 2 (Brad Keselowski) there in the middle of (turns) three and four and he just chopped my nose off. Normally when you hit a guy, they move out of the way. Instead it seemed like my car had to move out of the way and then the 9 (Chase Elliott) got by me so we ended up finishing third. That was a lot better day then we probably should have had and we made the most of our opportunity with our M&M’s Camry. … (We needed) more raw speed. We were just kind of off a little bit. We didn’t qualify good and I didn’t think we were very good in practice. Not as good as we typically are here. Just lacking a little bit of something. From where we ran midway point of the race to where we finished there, that was a really good turnaround. I’m thankful to have Adam Stevens and all of my guys that work so hard for me and give me everything I need here for this M&M’s Camry to stay up front and be up front and come home with a top five again here at Martinsville.”

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for points report

Ryan Blaney – finished fourth: “Long runs, that’s what I needed. I needed long runs and I didn’t want to see that last caution. For like a110-lap run to the finish is what it was gonna be, 120, I was like, ‘Man, that’s perfect. We’re gonna get them here.’ Our car was just starting to come to us. We just got to third and the caution came out and I was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to fire off alright,’ and we didn’t and we kept losing spots on pit road and you can’t have that. We would lose at least one or two spots every time we’d come down pit road and you can’t win races like that. We’ve got to clean that up, but, overall, a solid day, it’s just that those guys had a good short-run car and that’s just what it came down to. I was more 50 laps or more, but the last three weeks have been pretty smooth for us. We just have to keep having weekends like this and maybe we’ll be able to win one of these things. … (On teammate Brad Keselowski’s win) He put it on them today. It looked like from the drop of the green flag he was great. Him and the 9 looked like they had some really good racing going on for a while. They swapped back and forth, so that was good for him. He’s great here. He’s proven to be one of the best guys out here. They were on it all day. Like I said, we were kind of swapped. He was better than me short run and I was a little bit better after 50 laps, but it didn’t come down to that. It’s nice for him to get the Penske group another win and get Ford back to Victory Lane.”

Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: “It’s just one of those days where one guy hit it and was just a little bit better than everyone else, and everyone else was chasing. It seemed like we were the next car in line after the 9 (Chase Elliott), so probably a third place car. We just finished fifth because we lost there on pit road. We have a lot of races where we always have to battle back from the back of the pack, but certainly another top five and overall steady day. We just needed a little bit more speed and a little bit more handling to run with the 2 (Brad Keselowski). … (Being frustrated with pit road mistakes) we’ve got to get better. We know that. We’re struggling a little bit right now for sure, but certainly it’s a team thing. Last week I had a speeding penalty so it all equals out. If you’re not going to be the best car, you have to execute perfectly. The best car didn’t falter so it wouldn’t have made a difference either way, but certainly cost us maybe one or two spots today. Nothing to hang our heads about. Overall a good day.”

Kevin Harvick – finished sixth: “It was an OK day for us. I think as you look at our Martinsville stuff it’s been hit or miss. I feel like I was a little better than the 11 and the 12, but you’ve got to be able to get by them on the restarts. We just never could get the car right all day and be able to let off the brake and roll to the center of the corner. It was definitely not what we wanted, but not a bad day for us at Martinsville. … We just were a little bit off rolling speed to the center of the corner and I couldn’t quite get to the throttle like I needed to and kind of just, I don’t know, we could kind of hold our ground on the restarts, not really gain anything, and track position was a big deal.”

Clint Bowyer – finished seventh: “I don’t think anybody obviously had anything for the 2 or the 9 made some adjustments there early and was really fast. I think we were a top three car for sure, but we kept beating ourselves. … I guess we need to get our stuff together on being on the same page with that pit road speed. It’s such an important thing and such a big part of this style of racing, where track position is everything. We push it to the limit, but it’s so hard to practice pit road speed. You’ve got trucks on pit road when you’re trying to practice that. I’m not making any excuses, it’s just when you’re trying to pinch every little thing out of it, it was hard this week to practice pit road speed because of all the stuff on pit road. … It’s obviously on us. We just weren’t on the same page. It’s frustrating. It is what it is. We just have to quit beating ourselves.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished eighth: “It was tough. We started ninth and finished eighth. It sounds pretty simple. Actually we started eighth. A lot of stuff we worked on in between. Just really could never get the handle all day long. Too loose off the corner. I couldn’t get forward drive. No matter what we did it seemed like we couldn’t get it. We struggled a little bit. I thought we were going to be better than that today. Good job by the guys. A nice consistent day. We just didn’t have anything special. … We just missed it a little bit. We were really good yesterday in practice. Martinsville is a weird place. You can be the best car in practice and finish 20th in the race. We were too good yesterday I guess. Just fought one thing all day, a terminal problem, and really couldn’t do anything to get it better.”

Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “We just lost a lot of track position on pit road today and then the 18 got in my left-rear quarter on one of those restarts. I got together with the 19 off two and had to check up a little bit and the 18 kind of bonsai’d it down there into turn three and about wiped me out. I lost 10 or 15 spots and then we fought track position the rest of the day. Every time we’d pass a bunch of cars and get back in the top six or seven we’d have a horrible pit stop and come back out 13th or 15th. It was just a long, long, tough day.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 10th: “We were good in the long run, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of longer runs the rest of the day. felt like in the long run maybe my car was the best, but the short run wasn’t as good. It’s funny because yesterday it was the opposite, but something good to build on and hopefully we can keep going in the right direction. … The consistency was good. I wish we had a little bit more speed on the short run, but it was a decent day. It’s something good to build on and hopefully we can keep getting better.”

Ty Dillon – finished 13th: “Our GEICO Camaro was extremely fast, but we had two speeding penalties. To finish 13th after starting 22nd and having those two penalties, that shows how much speed we had today. I am very proud of our day, and you can always say ‘what if’, like if we didn’t have the penalties – where would we have been? But I am really proud of our effort, and this is what we envisioned three years ago in doing. Just getting better every year and making sure we had taken the right steps to be where we needed to be in year three. We just want to keep going in that direction and I think if you look at Phoenix, Martinsville, and these short tracks, we have gotten better and better every year. I think as we continue to grow we are going to be more and more competitive at the short tracks. We just have to get it where we are running top-15 at the 1.5-mile tracks, and then we can be really competitive.”

Alex Bowman – finished 14th: “When the clouds came out we got a whole lot worse. That is a bummer because we were running ninth or 10th right before that. Really good execution today. We weren’t fast, but we had good execution today and it’s one of those days where you can go home and feel pretty good knowing you did everything you could. Pit stops were really, really good and adjustments were good for the most part. So, we didn’t have the race car we needed, but the team executed today really well.”

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Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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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

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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

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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
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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).

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“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.