What Cup drivers said after Digital Ally 400 at Kansas

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Brad Keselowski – winner: “We were just too loose early and then in the traffic I brushed the wall a little bit and we couldn’t get it tightened up and finally with about 100 to go (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the team made some adjustments and the car responded. I felt we were a top-three or top-five car but then the yellow came out right as we came to pit road and I thought we would have to claw to get a top 10. We clawed and clawed and a couple opportunities presented themselves and we were fighting for the lead. Alex Bowman ran an incredible race. I feel kind of bad. I think I kinda stole one from him. He was one of the best cars, him and Kevin Harvick. We just had a little fresher tires and I was able to catch the traffic just right to make the move on him and from there we were able to get the win.”

Alex Bowman – finished second: “We had a really good car, I just made bad decisions going through lap traffic on lane choice. They stayed where I needed to run. I should have gone high and I shouldn’t have picked the middle like I did. I just had to lift and let (Keselowski) and (Erik Jones) drive right around me. I’m pretty frustrated with myself. There was no way around that, that was a bad mistake on my part. We’ll go home and get them next week.”

Erik Jones – finished third: “It was kind of all over the map. When it started, we were kind of off and then we got better. Then we got off again and got better at the end. It was a good night and it was nice to have a shot at the win. The DeWalt Camry was for sure capable of winning. We just weren’t in the right situation and didn’t have some runs work out and the caution at the end. Just didn’t have the right push. Not a lot more you can ask for other than the win. Everybody did a great job, but it’s good momentum going on to two weeks now having good runs and having shots to run up front, it’s been nice after a rough month. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Chase Elliott – finished fourth: “It was OK. It was nice running top five. I hate to have been leading the laps that we did and not finish it off, but what do you do. It was unfortunate.”

Clint Bowyer – finished fifth: “Tonight wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be. We struggled. We struggled with handling, especially as soon as the night fell and it got dark outside we were not handling at all. It was tight and it was loose and on top of the race track. With two stops to go we came in and raised the back of the car up and we got better in traffic and were able to race. Then all hell broke loose on the restart and things like that. It was tires, no tires, two tires. Everyone was on different strategies, people were a lap down that should have been up front. It was hard to even figure out who you were racing. We should have finished second. I had a huge run on both those guys but that kid, I guess he was willing to wreck himself to hold the position.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished sixth: “The first three-quarters of the race was pretty awful for us. But, the guys kept their head in the game and made some big adjustments and made some good adjustments and we got back in the mix. We’re still missing some speed though. So, we’ve still got plenty of work to do. I’m pretty frustrated and we’ve got to try to get on top of things. That’s the bottom line.”

Kurt Busch – finished seventh: “It feels like when the sun was out, our car had grip and I could make moves and make aggressive passes and then as the sun went down and each of our adjustments, I was just struggling for grip as the track got cooler. So, it doesn’t quite make sense. We did battle for good stage points today. I think we were like fifth, seventh, and seventh. But overall, our car was real racey early. So, thanks to my crew and the set up and everything that (crew chief) Matt Mccall is doing, normally we get better as the race goes on. Today was not the case. We just kind of plateaued and stayed there and I think others got better grip at the end or maybe we didn’t quite get it exactly racey enough. Literally, I was just kind of stuck in one groove at the end.”

Kyle Larson – finished eighth: “I feel like the Hendrick guys are really close to winning right now. I don’t feel like I’m close to winning yet. I feel like I’ve had eighth to 12th-place car speed all year long, I just haven’t gotten the finisher. The last couple of weeks we’ve finally got to finish some races where we deserve. We still have a lot of room to improve, but it is nice to see some Chevy’s up there.”

Tyler Reddick – finished ninth: “We are very fortunate to have a lot of cars that were trapped down a lap or two. It honestly saved us from having a pretty unfortunate finish to how good we were at times throughout the race. I think we could have definitely had a little more there with the way the situation played out. From that aspect, it’s disappointing, but a top ten has a lot of positives. It was a lot of fun driving the car. It was a unique opportunity. I always want more. I’ve raced against some of these guys in the Xfinity Series. It’s still a lot of fun to finish in the top ten, but we didn’t come here to run top ten. We can here for the win.”

Chris Buescher – finished 10th: “It was really fun all day. This group did a fantastic job this week. We knew we had a good car. I’m not complaining about the system, I loved it. We did not qualify as good as we wanted to, but it was something that we sacrificed to be able to go out there and run up there. We did not need that caution at the end, that definitely made it hard to get going for the first two laps. After that, we were really solid. I had a lot of fun. I always love Kansas. This has been a really good track for me over the years. We always put on a good show. We are pretty happy with that.”

Aric Almirola – finished 12th: “We had a fast Smithfield Ford Mustang to start the race. We drove from the back all the way up to the top five but couldn’t seem to find that speed for the rest of the race. We’ll keep working hard to improve each weekend.”

Ty Dillon – finished 13th: “This just wasn’t our day. We decided to run a setup similar to our Texas car that ran well back in March after practice didn’t go how we wanted it to. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 qualified well with it, but we weren’t quite sure what it would do during the race because all of the intermediate tracks are just so different from each other. It started off a little loose, but my team made great adjustments when they had the opportunity and I was really happy with my car by the end of Stage 2. I wish we could have gotten a better finish, but we will take this as a learning night and be ready to come back in the fall.”

 

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.