What Drivers Said after Richmond

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “I’m really excited to win here at Richmond. I’ve always really enjoyed this track. I’ve always loved coming here. The short track win – everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen. Tonight we didn’t have the best car, but we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times. We just fought, we battled. … (On Logano getting close late in the race) I was struggling the last 40 laps. I had no front turn. I was just real, real tight in that last run. You just had to hold them off. Being out front was important tonight.

“Thanks to the pit crew, they kept us out there. They had a tough year and a tough week last week. We beat up on them pretty good all week after Bristol and they had the best stop of the year tonight. Just really proud of everyone. Really, really happy to get our first win with (Joe) Gibbs and definitely our first short track win is pretty awesome too. … (How difficult was it late in the race) It’s like driving in the snow and trying to hit a line of six to eight inches in the center of the corner. It’s just – it’s lack of grip. The car wasn’t doing anything I wanted to do that last run. We got really, really tight. Being out front was really the key and trying to do all I could to not screw up and hold those guys off. It was definitely really, really difficult.”

Joey Logano – finished second: “We had a car that was capable of winning for the third week straight and we didn’t win. That part is frustrating. We need to clean up some mistakes on our end. We lost the lead there on a pit stop. We gotta get faster there. That is when we lost control of the race at that point and fell back to third and had a decent green-flag cycle that got us up and then we reeled in (Truex) and (Clint Bowyer) from pretty far back. I was watching them race and thought that if I was just patient and saved my tires, I saw them coming off the corner sideways every time. They were a little faster than me but I knew they were going to kill their stuff and they did. I got there, I was just a couple laps late getting there. I was able to get to (Truex) but it just wasn’t enough. It is kind of a double-edged sword. You go to the bottom and you can’t get the drive to clear ‘em and getting to the outside is pretty tough. Just couldn’t get there. Ran out of time. Needed a few more laps.”

MORE: Results, standings from Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

CLINT BOWYER – finished third: “This place is a challenging race track. I got to him and couldn’t keep the nose with the air on it and it got really tight. As I continued running in his wake, I got tighter and tighter, and all of a sudden Joey ran us down. Next thing you know, he’s on the outside of you and the rest is history. I don’t know what I could have done any different. All-in-all, it was a good day for us. But man, you hate to get that close. I want to get to victory lane and thought this was our night but I guess we’ll have to wait ’till next time.”

Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: “I like nights like this when we can take a car that is a seventh to ninth place car and adjust on it and make it so it is capable of contending at the end. We ran those guys down but we just ran out of time. I am proud of everyone on our Mobil 1 Ford for hanging in there and fighting and we had another good night on pit road. It was a solid night.”

Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: We really closed on the leaders there at the end. We were fast, really fast the last 20 laps. We just didn’t have enough time. We battled from the back and really couldn’t gain a whole lot on restarts, but just really grinded our way two or three positions each run and found our way up in the top five there at the end. I could at least see the leaders. Certainly a great day for our FedEx Camry. We wanted to win but we just didn’t have the winning car. We would have liked to have tuned it during happy hour, we just didn’t have enough time. I think we maximized what we had out of our car. We just didn’t quite have the car to battle with those guys until late in the day and by then they had just built too big of a lead.”

Austin Dillon – finished sixth: “We had a meeting on Monday and talked about what we needed to do here at Richmond Raceway as a team and then we came here and we did it, so I am really proud of everyone on this Richard Childress Racing team. We had a really fast AAA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 tonight, especially during the last run. I think we actually had a little something for at least the top three spots. We had a little bit of a mess-up on our last pit stop and lost some track position, but we passed some good cars there at the end, including Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. I’m really proud of the AAA team. I just wish we could have been a little further forward to see what we had. I saved a lot of my stuff for the end and was ready for that last run. But, we didn’t have enough. I’m definitely excited about the direction our team is going. It’s always good to go into the off weekend with a solid, top-10 finish.” 

BRAD KESELOWSKI – finished seventh: “We had a lot of short run speed and unfortunately it came down to long runs at the end. Overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was good. We needed the race to come to us with short runs at the end and it didn’t. I like short tracks, I think they are a lot of fun. It is hard to pass, but that is racing, that is how it is going to be. I can’t see the whole picture, I am only in the car. I know we cycled back, but I couldn’t tell you why.”

Ryan Newman – finished ninth: “Our Roush Performance Ford Mustang was good. We needed some track position to start and I think we could have done something with it. We had good lap times at points but just battled track positioning. We got blocked in on the first pit stop and set us back even farther than when we started. I am proud of the guys. They did a good job in the pits and we had a good car.”

Paul Menard – finished 10th: “It was kind of an uneventful night really, for Richmond. We started ninth and just kind of stayed in the back half of the top 10 all night long. The guys really stepped up their game on pit road and we gained some spots or we maintained and that is what you need when you start running up front. It was a really solid day for us.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 16th: “We tried all kinds of adjustments but unfortunately they didn’t help my Fifth Third Ford,” Stenhouse said. “Our teammate had a strong run so we will look at his notes and see what we can improve on. We have an off weekend coming up so we can regroup and get ready for Talladega.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 18th: “We had a difficult race tonight, especially after my mistake on pit road. Our Haas Automation Ford Mustang was very good early in the race during the long green-flag run, but we couldn’t make the adjustments to stay that way until the end. It was tough to get through traffic and get spots back after we went down a lap. We learned a lot and we have a good team, so we will come back later this year and be better.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 19th: “Coming out of Richmond with a top-20 finish? We’ll take it. This No. 8 team is focused on putting one foot in front of the other. It’s great to have a group of guys that haven’t given up on me. We didn’t finish exactly where we wanted, but we definitely out-kicked our coverage from the positions we’ve put ourselves in over the last few weeks. We’ll take it and hopefully it’s a building moment for everyone on this No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet team. I still love racing at Richmond and I feel like I know what I need when we come here in the Fall to contend and run where our teammate Austin Dillon was tonight. Those guys had good speed all weekend, so hopefully we can trend a little bit in that direction and build on it.”

Kyle Larson – finished 37th: “It’s been a pretty crappy start to the year. We’ve had decent speed. We didn’t have great speed tonight, but on the weeks that we have speed, we still run into issues. I hate the start to the season I’ve had. On that restart, I got stuck in the middle. I probably squeezed whoever was underneath me and caused some tire damage and we had to pit to fix that. But they didn’t do a good job of pulling the fenders out and then I got a flat and was back in the wall. But, hopefully this break is a good time and we can re-group. I hate it for McDonald’s and Chevrolet and everybody on our team.”

By Jerry Bonkowski

Sunday’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast and more

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After four races on tracks more than 1 mile in length, NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday afternoon’s race.

NASCAR’s first short track race of the season concludes a two-week period where the Cup Series will have run five times.

Kevin Harvick won the first race in this stretch May 17 at Darlington Raceway. Denny Hamlin won the May 20 Darlington race. Brad Keselowski won last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Chase Elliott won at Charlotte on Thursday night.

Here are the details for Sunday’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will give the command to start engines at 3:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:53 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 1:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 3:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:35 p.m. by Mike Rife, pastor of Vansant Church of Christ in Vansant, Virginia. The national anthem will be performed at 3:36 p.m. by Edwin McCain. There will be a flyover at 3:37 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the 0.533-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 3 p.m. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race. Its broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny conditions with a high of 70 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Chase Elliott took the lead from Kevin Harvick with 28 laps to go and went on to win Thursday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin finished second. Ryan Blaney placed third.

LAST RACE AT BRISTOL: Denny Hamlin passed Matt DiBenedetto with 12 laps to go to take the lead and went on to win last year’s night race. DiBenedetto finished second. Brad Keselowski placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

CATCHING UP TO SPEED WITH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE:

Matt DiBenedetto: “No margin for error” at Bristol Motor Speedway

Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch “get mojo back” at Bristol?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, “I just like to race”

Chase Elliott’s “Sent it, for Judd” in Charlotte Cup Series win

When fans can return, how many will be allowed at tracks?

Where are they now? Catching up with Casey Mears

 

Matt DiBenedetto: ‘No margin for error’ at Bristol Motor Speedway

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It will be a weird feeling for Matt DiBenedetto on Sunday.

He and the rest of the Cup Series will embark on a 500-mile race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first true short-track race of the season.

It will be DiBenedetto’s first trip back to the hall-mile track since last August, when he came within 12 laps of earning his first Cup Series win. Instead, he finished second to Denny Hamlin in his best career finish. For DiBenedetto, Bristol represents the site of “probably one of the most defeating and toughest days of my life” and one of the “most rewarding.”

“It was a tough week on us, so there was a lot of not really feeling how to feel,” DiBenedetto said Friday in a Zoom press conference. “But ultimately it led to being a big factor in me getting this opportunity to drive the 21 car this year, so it was a big day and everything was meant to be.”

DiBenedetto enters his ninth race as the driver for Wood Brothers Racing.  But he’s not revisiting last year’s night race in his preparation for Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

“It’s still that painful that I’ve never watched (it),” DiBenedetto said. “I can’t remember what lap, but I cut it off and I can’t even watch it.  It would be too much.

“But as far as what I’m gonna try to learn for this Sunday, I’m actually gonna go back and probably watch mostly 2018 stuff because, thank goodness, we have the low downforce back for Bristol, which will make the racing way, way better, so I’m excited about that.”

As with the first four races back amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cup teams will get no practice before taking the green flag in “Thunder Valley.”

DiBenedetto said it has been “amazing” how cars have been able to fire off without any preparation, thanks to simulations and notes from previous races.

“The heights (on the car) and everything are usually pretty close, just because they have so much information to work (with),” DiBenedetto said.  “Really, it’s not too big of a deal.

“Actually, it’s even better than I thought just firing straight off in the race. The (competition) yellow and things like that help so you have a little time to adjust on your car and work on it, so they’ve done a good job with that.”

But Bristol is a different animal. DiBenedetto said the race will be “nerve-racking” without on-track preparation.

“Bristol, there’s just no margin for error.,” he said. “It’s really, really fast.  It’s an insanely fast short track.  You’re on edge already even when you have your car dialed in. … It’ll work out fine, for sure, but you just really are out and out praying that your car is dialed in right because it’s very sensitive.

“If you’re off just a little bit at Bristol, it can affect you worse than these tracks where it’s a big race track – a mile-and-a-half – and you don’t have to worry about going a lap down if you miss it or things like that, so this one will be a little bit more treacherous.”

DiBenedetto will be hoping to capture some of his Bristol magic from last year. Since finishing second at Las Vegas in February, DiBenedetto has finished better than 13th just once in the following six races, placing ninth in the second Darlington race.

After starting fourth Thursday night at Charlotte, he led 10 of the first 11 laps before ending the first stage in third, but finished 15th.

“Car speed is there and great and we’ve shown if we hit it or we’re close we can be up front at any of these races,” DiBenedetto said. “I’d say we’re not in our rhythm yet, but we will be. I have no doubt about that, but we’re still learning each other and making little mistakes figuring out each other’s communication.

“(Crew chief) Greg Erwin and I are figuring out working together and we still have a lot of room for improvement, which is a good thing because I know we can run up front and can contend for wins quite often. We have a lot of room for improvement on the execution side as far as putting our race together perfect from start to finish.”

Where Are They Now? Catching up with Casey Mears

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There are certain days most people never forget: their anniversaries, their children’s birthdays and for race car drivers, their first win.

These days Casey Mears may live 2,100 miles away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he was there in spirit for last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

Mears won NASCAR’s longest race in 2007. He was in the right place at the right time, taking the lead from Denny Hamlin late in the race and hanging on for the final six laps – the only laps he led all day – for the win.

Casey Mears celebrates after winning the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“It was definitely the high point of my career, for sure,” Mears told NBC Sports. “I remember everything about that night.

“The one thing – and it’s not a regret – but it’s unfortunate that it ended up being a fuel-mileage race because we had a very fast car that night and ran inside the top 10 and top five the majority of the night.

“We probably weren’t going to win it, but we had a good shot at a top five and were going to be in the hunt. (Crew chief Darian Grubb) made a great call and we won the race, which was amazing for several different reasons.

“I mean, obviously winning in Charlotte, the 600 is the longest race, winning on Memorial Day weekend, which is a huge week for my family and then also being sponsored by the National Guard at that time. It was just a big night.”

While the 600 was his only Cup win, Mears also recalls several other key moments of his career, including runner-up finishes in 2006 at the Daytona 500 and later that year at Kansas.

“That night at Charlotte was a huge part of my career but some of the stuff that I feel like we earned on speed which was really cool were, we sat on the pole at Indy, did well at places like Chicago, Pocono and Michigan, being competitive and leading laps at places like Atlanta and Homestead, going back and forth with Tony Stewart at Atlanta one year.

“Some of those big moments in my career weren’t necessarily the only parts that stand out. The moments I remember the most were when we had competitive race cars and when we were on the verge of getting those wins and getting real close.”

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Mears lives in the Phoenix area with his family. It’s also where he met his wife, Trisha.

“We always said that when the NASCAR things slowed down, we’d like to be back out this way,” Mears told NBC Sports. “So we picked up and moved the kids and came out to Phoenix. We’re loving it, and I’m really enjoying spending a lot of time with them. I’ve also been fortunate to reconnect with some of my off-road racing buddies since I’ve been out here.”

This is the off-road truck Casey Mears co-drove in last year’s NORRA Mexican Baja 1000. (Photo courtesy Casey Mears)

Mears may be gone from NASCAR, but he’s still taking part in other forms of racing part-time, including off-road competition like the NORRA Mexican Baja 1000 last year with Lynn Chenoweth. Casey’s father Roger drove for Chenoweth back in the 1960s and 1970s, and also is part of Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks Series.

“I also hang out with (NBC IndyCar analyst and former racer Paul Tracy) and drive his Lamborghini sports car, just taking it on the track and sliding around, just having fun,” Mears said. “If opportunities come around, I’d love to race some more.

“I really, really enjoyed racing out in the desert, doing off road stuff. I’d also love to get involved in some sports car stuff as well if there’s an opportunity.

“I love what I’m being able to do right now, just dabble. Playing in Robby’s series, that’s been a blast and picking up random off road, desert opportunities. But racing’s racing, it always boils down to the dollars and cents and sponsors or finding some guy that just wants to go racing and spend some money and have fun. It’s few and far between these days.”

Even though Mears has moved on from NASCAR, he admits he misses it.

“I was fortunate to get to do it for about 15 years,” Mears said. “I lived that life and it really becomes almost the opposite. Your family and friends end up being all the people on the road and people at home become extended friends and family, you’re on the road so much.

“For sure I miss a lot of the people that you saw week in and week out. I definitely miss the competition. I don’t think I’ll ever not miss being in a race car because, like so many others in the sport, I didn’t really get to go out on my own terms.

“For so many people, the sport decides it for you before you’re ready to decide not to do it. I think I’ll always have that desire to want to get in a car again.

“But the one thing that helped me make this decision to move to Phoenix is that I didn’t want to be one of those guys that lingered in the sport either. I didn’t want to be with a back marker program and not be able to be competitive and that’s kind of probably what would have happened. I would have stuck around and would have gotten into something I probably really didn’t need to be in.”

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Mears made 489 career Cup starts, his last full-time season being in 2016. He came back for a start last year for Germain Racing in the season-opening Daytona 500. He started 40th and finished 40th, involved in a crash just past the halfway point.

Mears also made 107 Xfinity Series starts, earning his lone series win in 2016 at Chicagoland Speedway.

He still keeps his hand in NASCAR somewhat, just not on a steering wheel. He does promotional work for Phoenix Raceway and visits his former chums each time NASCAR comes to town.

Casey Mears, right, remains good friends with a number of his former teammates, including seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

He also keeps in regular contact with close friends and former teammates and bosses including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick, Bob Germain and Doug Barnette.

But moving on from being a race car driver, pretty much the only thing he had known for more than 30 years since being a kid growing up in Bakersfield, California, gave Mears pause.

“This move really forced me to figure out what’s next in life,” he said. “I’m 42 years old and although I’ve done well and been very fortunate, but I need to do something.”

He’s looking at a variety of business opportunities in the Phoenix area, primarily in the automotive industry.

“I feel very fortunate to have the career that I’ve had in the sport,” Mears said. “I drove for a lot of real good teams and programs and learned a lot from a lot of people.

“The people I got to race with and learn from just from the business standpoint is going to help me later in my career with whatever’s next. I had some great opportunities and will always miss it, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to the future and what’s next.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Starting lineup for Monday night’s Xfinity race at Bristol

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Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones will start on the front row for Monday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw.

Burton will start on the pole and Jones will be second. Austin Cindric will start third, Justin Haley starts fourth and Ryan Sieg starts fifth.

There are 37 cars in the field. NASCAR on NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will start 27th in his season debut in the series.

Monday’s race is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

The starting lineup was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: The first 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up Eligibility will be assigned starting positions 1st – 12th using a random draw.
  • Positions 13-24: The next 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up eligibility will be assigned starting positions 12th- 24th using a random draw.
  • Starting positions 25-36:The next 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up eligibility will be assigned starting positions 25th -36th using a random draw.
  • Any vehicles that are eligible for the Event in position 37th – 40th will be assigned starting positions based on their order of eligibility.

Click here for starting lineup

 

NASCAR Xfinity Series at Bristol

Race Time: 7 p.m. ET Monday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile oval)

Length: 300 laps, 159.9 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Cup race: May 31 at Bristol (500 laps, 266.5 miles), 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1