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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Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.