What drivers said after All-Star Race

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Kyle Larson — winner: “This is unbelievable. This whole day was up and down, from the B Main (the Monster Energy Open) we were in to getting a little bit of damage and repaired on the car. … (Kevin) Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row, and then to get by the 18 (Kyle Busch) on the final restart,” Larson told FS1. “Man, this is amazing. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All-Star Race, I’ve been close to winning. It’s neat to close it out. … There’s a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating and I’m excited about that. … This year has been different for me. I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm. I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think partly of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.

“I just ‑‑ I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl. I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. Tonight I wasn’t going to let that happen. With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like ‑‑ everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year. (How much is your cut of the $1 million dollars prize?) I don’t know. I was joking with (son) Owen today about what would you want me to buy you if you won a million dollars, and I don’t think he understands what a million dollars is. He didn’t really have an answer for me. So I don’t have any plans. I think, too, a million dollars is cool, but just winning is more cool than a million bucks to me. I think maybe we’re just ‑‑ us drivers, NASCAR drivers are in a good place in our life, it pays well. So whatever. But just winning a big race, a prestigious event means more to me than the money. I’m all about trophies and big wins. … You know, it’s been such a rocky start and we haven’t gotten any momentum at all up until the last couple weeks a little bit, and then today I hope kind of helps it.

“This is a great time of year for me to get a win. Winning not only is important for me in NASCAR because it’s what I make my living in, it’s what I race for points and for a championship in, but this is the time of year when I start getting to race a bunch. I’m going to be in a race car, I think, every day for the next probably almost seven or eight days, so this is a good time of year for me to get some momentum and get into my sprint car season, my midget season as well as the NASCAR stuff on the weekend. Hopefully this will turn it into where I can get some double digit wins this season. … (On a scale of 1 to 10, how was that push from Harvick?) Am I supposed to answer with emojis? It was fire.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 2nd: (How would you describe tonight?) Letdown. That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it. You spot them the whole field and just an incredible Busch Beer Ford. Rodney and all these guys on the team just did a great job and it was unfortunate the way pit road went tonight because it wasn’t even close for anybody having a good car like we had tonight. It was a great night for performance, just a bad night on pit road. (Is second a good finish or does it suck?) It’s terrible. I mean, we shot both of our feet off with the absolute dominant car. The guys did a great job preparing the race car and we just weren’t ready to make a pit stop on pit road tonight. (Do changes need to be made?) No, they just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. I mean, they’ve been great all year and tonight wasn’t great, that’s for sure. We spotted them the whole field. We started tail back with 15 laps to go. (Did you feel you had a chance to catch Larson?) Once they get single-file as soon as they drive in your lane they pushed up the groove, so you’ve got to go where they aren’t and he was fast enough to run the bottom and that’s where I needed to run to really make time. Everybody was wide-open, so once the restart thinned out everybody just kind of goes where they go.”

Kyle Busch – finished 3rd: “(Are the aero problems you referenced something you fought throughout the race?)All year long. This M&M’s Camry was fast, but just not fast enough by itself on restarts. Couldn’t hold off the guys behind us and fought aero problems after that. (How strong was your car in the race?) We had a really fast M&M’s Camry. Probably was the only guy to pass for the lead after a given set of laps. On restarts, we couldn’t go anywhere, we just weren’t fast enough, but we had long run speed. That’s all there is to it.”

Joey Logano – finished 4th: “All-Star racing, that’s what it’s all about. It was intense and the way these cautions fall and the strategy, we were there in the lead and then what do you do? You can stay out and that’s what I thought was our best shot to keep the clean air. If we got passed I knew we were gonna be in big trouble and we weren’t able to maintain the lead there. They did a better job up top pushing and pushed by me on the bottom and I lost the clean air and everyone with tires just drove by me. We had a caution there with 11 to go and pitted and went back to last, but got back to fourth. It’s frustrating. Everyone wants to win the All-Star Race. It’s fun. It’s for a million dollars. There’s a lot of prestige about it to say you’ve done it. We’ve done it before, but you always want to do it again. We’ve got the Coca-Cola 600 next week and I’d say that’s bigger than this one, so let’s make it happen there. (On the decision to pit out of fifth place?) That was the only play at that point. Our play to stay out was kind of the one that kind of got us in that position, but I feel like we had to. Our shot to win was from the front row and as the leader I was hoping I could clear those guys and be able to keep that clean air. If I kept the clean air, the tires weren’t gonna be that bad. I was gonna be all right, but as soon as I got passed on that restart when the 18 did a good job pushing the 9 I lost the clean air and I was in trouble. Once we lost that and the caution came out I was like. Well, we might as well put tires on it this time and give it a shot.’ We went back to 17th and got back to fourth in 10 laps or so. If we had one caution. A caution would have made a difference because we were in the best position tire-wise and we were in fourth-place, so if we get a caution we would have been in a really good spot to be able to try to take that million dollars from them, but it just wasn’t our night.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 5th: “I had it wide open on that last restart and when those guys pulled away, I knew we were done. It’s just a different class, a different animal when you get up there. I had tons of fun tonight. I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time. It’s been a struggle, but it was a big night for us. When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different. (What does the day you had tell you?) The first thing my mom said to me after the Open was ‘You know who that was? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet’. I’ve realized that. As many dark moments that I’ve had and telling myself to give up, it’s been really tough. It’s been tough to keep coming in and keep going. Tonight just shows that I’ll be back next week.”

Aric Almirola – finished 6th: “You have to be super-aggressive. You can’t really pass after it gets strung out, so you’ve got two or three laps to be as aggressive you possibly can be and if you check out of the throttle for just the slightest little bit, they go by you three and four-wide. It’s crazy. It’s all about momentum. It’s all about the right lane on the restarts. Everything is very situational. If the guy in front of you wiggles and he checks up and you check up to keep from running over him, you lose four, five, six spots in one straightaway. It’s aggravating, but that’s kind of the way it is when you don’t have a lot of horsepower and the cars are so draggy. It’s all about momentum. (What do you make about this race?) It doesn’t matter. If you don’t win the million dollars, everybody else leaves mad.”

Austin Dillon – finished 7th: “Restarts were good and we could make a lot of ground up on the top if I got in the right line. I don’t know, I got turned by the 18, he said he was dragging, but I have to look at the replay. We had a pretty good run going there and when he turned us, it just killed our left front fender. Then I got in the (Denny) Hamlin wreck too and that further killed our left front. I thought I had a good restart there at the end but the left front just wouldn’t turn anymore from all the damage.”

Alex Bowman – finished 8th: “Our car was really obviously good in the Open. We just took off really, really tight. Obviously, we had that left side damage from the Open and that probably got us really tight. Something got us tight to start the All-Star and we got it better until I got driven into the fence and pretty much knocked all four corners off of it. So, we just tried to play catch up from there. Eighth could have been a whole lot worse and we will move on to the 600.”

William Byron – finished 9th“We had a good car. Starting in the back, we got up to 4th, then 3rd coming to the final stop. We took four tires and I think that was the right move, we just got in the wrong lane on the restart. We restarted on the bottom twice. It’s not fun to have the restarts that go that way, but overall there was a lot of progress and we had a good night. (Do you think NASCAR will use this package in the future?) Yeah, I honestly don’t feel like it was any different. I think it was just the circumstance of how many restarts there were and how intense this race is. I think the cars have been racy all year and I feel like a little racier before tonight, but it’s hard to tell, honestly. We were able to pass cars, which was good.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 10th: “It wasn’t good for us. We had a really strong Camry and got to the front early. We lost track position and then go it back, lost it, got it back, lost it and got wrecked. It’s the All-Star race. If you’re not the first couple of guys, you’re in a bad spot. No fun.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 11th: “I was crushing the splitter there towards the end of the race and couldn’t hit a lick on that restart when we fell back. We pitted and put those packers in the front shocks and the Discount Tire Ford really took off. It was a night and day difference. Unfortunately we didn’t the finish we wanted to tonight.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 12th: “I don’t know what the hell his (Ryan Newman‘s) beef was. I thought he was a lap down. Our day was over. We lost track position there, got sideways, crossed up and basically buying time there to see if something was gonna happen at the end. They got four-wide off of four. Hell, I thought he was a lap down. I checked up and he ran into my left-rear and that’s the last I saw of him. Then after the race he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around and I pull up next to him and he dumps me into four. Where I come from you get poked in the nose for that, and that’s what he got.”

Ryan Newman – finished 13th: “We struggled all night. I’m really embarrassed about our performance with the Acorns Ford. We missed it on the balance, missed it on the package. We had a good restart and got up to fifth, but didn’t have anything after that. Our car was just too tight there at the end and struggled in traffic.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 16th: “We had a pretty good BODYARMOR Ford tonight. Unfortunately issues on pit road and on-track on hurt our night. We will try to clean them up and get ready for the Coca-Cola 600 next week.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 18th: “When you come to Charlotte Motor Speedway for NASCAR All-Star weekend the only thing that matters is winning, and I am disappointed we didn’t get that done tonight. This No. 8 Bass Pro Shops/Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was fast as can be, and we showed that by winning the pole on Friday night. We led the majority of the opening segment during the All-Star Open and I thought we were in a good spot to transfer into the All-Star Race but the caution came out and the car was just too tight to hang onto the lead on the overtime restart. We came in during the stage break and Luke Lambert and the guys put four tires on our Bass Pro Shops/Caterpillar Chevrolet and made a chassis adjustment that really improved the handling. We were racing hard with the No. 47 when we got together and it ended our day.  We had one of the fastest cars in the field and it is really a shame we didn’t get the chance to race in the main event tonight.”

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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.