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

Friday 5: Can Kyle Larson break out of his slump at Talladega?

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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Two years ago, Kevin Harvick called Kyle Larson “the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon.”

Harvick remains bullish on Larson even though the 26-year-old enters this weekend on a 55-race winless drought.

Few drivers could have used last weekend’s break more than Larson — he said at Richmond it has been “a pretty crappy start to the year” — but can he turn things around starting at Talladega Superspeedway?

Larson’s struggles were discussed by Kevin Harvick and co-host Matt Yocum on “Happy Hours” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. Yocum asked Harvick how he kept himself mentally up when things aren’t going well.

Harvick responded by raising questions about Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston.

“I think when you look at (Larson’s) environment, I look at his crew chief,” Harvick said. “I don’t think he’s the most positive guy in the world. When you have a driver that is in a slump, I don’t think it’s going to come from his crew chief. I think Chad is a pretty low-key guy that kind of complains a fair amount.

“I think as you look at that, I don’t know if it’s going to come from his crew chief. I think it will have to come from (car owner) Chip Ganassi or somebody outside of what they do, crew chief to driver. (Larson is) still really young, so he needs some guidance and he needs some help to get through the situations that he’s in. In the end, when his contract is up, I don’t know exactly when that is, but he’s going to be a hot commodity.”

Johnston has been Larson’s crew chief since 2016. Johnston came to Chip Ganassi Racing after he was Tony Stewart’s crew chief in 2014-15. Those were Harvick’s first two seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Larson has scored all five of his Cup victories with Johnston as his crew chief.

Harvick said on his show of Larson: “The bottom line is Kyle Larson is a very, very talented driver that can win a lot of races with the right people around him and the right guidance from somebody kind of helping him finish races and helping him understand when things are good or if things are bad, if you’re running fifth, you need to finish fifth. Having those people around him would in the right environment, the right chemistry and the right things to go with it are really going to help him along in his career.”

It has been a tough start of the season for Larson, who has not finished better than sixth. He led 142 laps at Atlanta but saw his chances to win fade when he was penalized for speeding. Larson finished 12th that day.

Chevrolet’s struggles also haven’t helped Larson or teammate Kurt Busch. Joe Gibbs Racing has won six races for Toyota, and Team Penske has won three races for Ford this season. They’re the only two organizations to win in the first quarter of the season. Chevrolet teams have combined to win four races in the last 45 races, going back to last year’s Daytona 500.

Ganassi noted this week on Twitter the challenges Chevrolet teams face.

Larson’s task doesn’t get easier this weekend. He has five top-10 finishes in 21 Cup starts at Talladega and Daytona. Larson has never finished better than sixth at either track. After finishing 11th at Talladega in the playoffs last year, Larson lamented: “We just had a terrible race car and were really slow all weekend.”

Will the new package this weekend change Larson’s fortune?

2. What to expect this weekend?

Depends on who you ask? Drivers have different takes on what might happen.

There are many questions because of a few changes. Tapered spacers have replaced restrictor plates. Teams are getting about 100 more horsepower, meaning engines will top 500 horsepower.

To offset that speed gain and slow the cars, NASCAR raised the rear spoiler an inch to 9 inches. NASCAR also is mandating a 1-inch bolt-on track bar mount to change the height from 11 to 12 inches, raising the rear of the car by an inch.

“Handling should not be an issue at all, I’m pretty confident in that,” said Joey Logano, who has won three of the last seven Talladega races, including last spring’s event. “It was (before). You could tell some cars were better than others.

“Now, I think the field will be more equally matched. It’s already the great equalizer, and now we’re equalizing it even more. I would assume the pack will be tighter, cars will be closer, more aggressive moves, probably closer blocks. Maybe the runs happen quicker because the hole in the air is bigger. Maybe the runs on the leader will be bigger.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a tandem (draft). That can happen. I don’t know if it will or not. You would think with a spoiler that big there is a good chance of that. We’ll see.”

Paul Menard is among those who question how long tandem drafting — which was prominent about a decade ago — can work, if at all.

“The big restriction with tandem racing is cooling,” he said. “Our radiators and things aren’t made, the spec radiators don’t have the cooling we had a few years ago when we did the tandem. I think you will see people get to people’s bumpers and push as long as they can.”

There are other questions as well

“I am wondering how the side draft will work,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won this race in 2017 for his first career Cup victory. “How you can get different runs on cars and ultimately what you can do when you are out front to maintain the lead. That is what our speedway racing has turned into, get to the top five and if you are in the top two of each lane, bottom or top, how do you stay there. I think a lot of people have it figured out now, but now that the package is going to change. Is that still going to be something easy or capable of doing?”

Practice should be interesting today but even that will not provide all the answers. Those will come Sunday.

3. Memorable moment 10 years ago

The end of the April 26, 2009 race at Talladega will remain one that is replayed with one car flying into the fence on the last lap, a new Cup winner being crowned and the driver whose car flipped running across the finish line to complete a race his car couldn’t.

Brad Keselowski celebrated that day, driving for car owner James Finch in a part-time ride that saw Keselowski drive the No. 09 car five times that season. Keselowski was running full time in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports and did seven Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports in a fifth car teams were allowed to run with a rookie driver.

Keselowski’s future, though, wasn’t with Hendrick Motorsports. The team didn’t have an opening with its four-car team filled by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. That lineup would remain intact through the 2011 season.

In October 2009, Keselowski signed with Team Penske. That came less than a month after Martin inked an extension through the 2011 season with Hendrick Motorsports.

Keselowski’s Talladega victory a decade ago was the first of 29 in Cup for him. Six of those 29 victories have come at the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega. He’s won five times at Talladega and once at Daytona.

How different might things have been for Keselowski had he not won that race at Talladega in 2009?

“I’d like to think that it opened some doors for me,” Keselowski said. “It’s hard to say because none of us have complete control over our destiny, but when I look out the window, I’m not sure I would have ended up at Penske if I hadn’t won that race. 

“It was a major marker. It opened up, in my mind at least, but I can’t speak for Roger (Penske) or Discount Tire. It opened up the window for me to get the Discount Tire deal, which I needed to really feel good about driving for Team Penske because that opened up the Xfinity Series for me, opened up the team development side that I thought was going to be so critical to our success and to kind of get Penske on its feet. 

“If you recall, they were in a bad place at the time, and I don’t know if that would have happened without winning that race. Maybe it would have. I don’t know. It’s a better question for Roger and Discount Tire, but either way, I’m glad it happened. I’m thankful and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

4. Working together again?

One of the fascinating elements from the Daytona 500 was how Toyota and Hendrick Motorsports worked so well together to offset the dominance of Fords.

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan revealed the inside story of that deal after the race.

The question is will such a union be needed this weekend to combat the Fords or will the rules help others gets to the front?

Keep an eye on how this plays out this weekend.

5. White House visit 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced during a briefing Thursday that reigning Cup champion Joey Logano would be honored at the White House next week, continuing a tradition of Cup champions visiting the President.

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Kligerman’s Talladega car to honor Toyota Racing Development’s 40th anniversary

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NBC NASCAR analyst Parker Kligerman will be back behind the wheel at Talladega Superspeedway for this Sunday’s GEICO 500.

Kligerman will be driving the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota Camry, which will carry a special paint job commemorating the 40th anniversary of Toyota Racing Development.

“We’re proud to honor TRD’s American racing heritage as the organization continues to help build some of the best Toyota engines across all of motorsports,” Kligerman said in a media release. “This paint scheme honors so many great victories over the years.

TRD and Toyota have been involved in all types of racing – from dirt tracks, to the drag strip and pavement ovals – and we can’t wait to see TRD-powered Toyotas in victory lane for years to come.”

Kligerman is looking to improve upon his 15th-place finish in this year’s season-opening Daytona 500.

“It’s a race of attrition, and these super speedways even the playing field,” Kligerman said. “If we can avoid the big crashes, drive a smart race and just be around at the end, our chances are just as good as anyone’s.”

Added TRD president David Wilson, “It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since TRD first started in American motorsports. We’ve had a rich history in motorsports with over 1,300 TRD-powered victories across 35 series and we look forward to many more.”

Gaunt Brothers Racing team owner Marty Gaunt has had a relationship with TRD that dates back to 2004.

“It’s such an honor to highlight TRD’s 40th anniversary on our Camry,” Gaunt said. “TRD is a leader in technology and innovation – not just in NASCAR but in many different forms of racing. No matter what team, driver or manufacturer you root for, TRD has helped make the racing product better.”

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NASCAR America: What are the top five upset wins at Talladega?

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Of his 76 career NASCAR Cup wins, Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt earned a record 10 victories at Talladega Superspeedway.

Brad Keselowski has the most wins – five – of active drivers at the 2.66-mile facility, NASCAR’s largest racetrack.

On Thursday’s NASCAR America The MotorSports Hour, Krista Voda and analysts Parker Kligerman and AJ Allmendinger recapped the top five upset wins at ‘Dega:

No. 5: 1981 Talladega 500 – Ron Bouchard beats NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte in a wild three-wide finish. Bouchard’s winning margin was 2 feet. He would also go on to win the 1981 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors.

That was Ron Bouchard’s lone win in the Cup Series,” Voda said.

No. 4: 1988 Winston 500 – Phil Parsons earns the only win of his NASCAR Cup career, defeating runner-up and Hall of Famer Bobby Allison by .21 of a second.

Phil Parsons, stealing a win, in the black Skoal Bandit car, the classic Skoal,” Kligerman said. “The hair’s even better on Phil, it’s a blonde mullet.”

No. 3: 2006 UAW-Ford 500: Brian Vickers took out Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the backstretch on the final lap and wins under caution.

Brian Vickers tries to make a move on his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, and takes out Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” Kligerman said. “How did he make it out of Talladega alive?

No. 2: 2009 Aaron’s 499: Brad Keselowski earns his first career Cup win in one of the most dramatic finishes ever seen at Talladega. Carl Edwards tried to block Keselowski and force him below the yellow line at the bottom of the track. Keselowski wasn’t having any of it, held his ground, made contact with Edwards’ car – sending Edwards into the catch fence – and then held on to defeat Dale Earnhardt Jr. by .175 of a second.

You’re not supposed to go below the yellow line, Brad Keselowski said ‘I’m not going below the yellow line,’” Allmendinger said. “Carl Edwards went up in the grandstands and bounced back. I remember driving by there and said ‘wow, that was big.’”

Added Kligerman, “The reason (Keselowski) didn’t go below the yellow line is a year prior, Regan Smith got the win taken away for going below the yellow line. So (Keselowski) listened to that.”

No. 1: 2013 Aaron’s 499: This race went four laps into overtime before Front Row Motorsports teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1-2 for the organization’s first-ever Cup win. 

It was a long day,” Kligerman said, “It was basically nighttime (in victory lane) with rain delays and tornado warnings. It was a crazy day but that’s an exhilarating win for that team.”

Ragan comes into Sunday’s race “as a long shot, according to Vegas, 100-to-1 odds. Somebody’s got to take that bet,” Voda said. “David Ragan is a name you always have to pay attention to at Talladega.”

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NASCAR America presents The Motorsports Hour at 5 pm ET

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents The MotorSports Hour airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with Parker Kligerman, AJ Allmendinger and Krista Voda.

We’ll cover multiple forms of motorsports, including NASCAR, IndyCar, Supercross and more.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.