Indianapolis 500 could chart course for more IndyCar-NASCAR crossover

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INDIANAPOLIS – The first Indianapolis 500 for Dale Earnhardt Jr. will create indelible and vivid memories for a racing lifer who will enjoy an unusually fresh perspective in a long career.

Earnhardt will lead the field to the green flag in a Corvette pace car, hop onto the NBC broadcast for some high-profile commentary and probably duck into the Snake Pit to watch 30,000 grooving to an EDM song or two.

But what will he remember most about the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500?

The emotion and energy that will be coursing through Indianapolis Motor Speedway moments before all of that begins.

“The big takeaway from events like the Kentucky Derby or the Indy 500 is just the energy and it’s not a tangible thing,” Earnhardt recently told NBCSports.com. ” It’s a feeling that you get when the event is about to happen. When you’re walking with the horses to the gate or pushing the cars out onto pit road. And there’s a lot of emotion in that and a feeling that’s amazing and incredible that you can’t describe. That’s probably going to be the coolest part.

“I’m absolutely sure that the feeling I have standing on that grid before the race begins will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at a NASCAR race, much less at a Super Bowl, or the Winter Olympics. All these things I’ve experienced over at NBC over the last several months, I think this will be the highlight.”

The 103rd Indianapolis 500, Sunday 11 a.m. on NBC: How to watch

Look for no greater validation of the Indianapolis 500’s standing as auto racing’s marquee event than the endorsement of a retired driver whose surname is synonymous with NASCAR.

But it’s also confirmation that a new era of once unimaginable détente is under way between America’s two biggest racing series – offering the promise of newfound collaboration between two longtime rivals.

The olive branches are sprouting everywhere.

A seven-time NASCAR Cup champion jets to IMS just for a gander at cars whizzing around at speeds roughly 40 mph faster than he’d ever seen at the 2.5-mile oval … the defending Indianapolis 500 champion makes a cameo on Earnhardt’s popular podcast … series executives check out and talk up the competition amid louder rumblings of sharing a race weekend stage at the same track.

IndyCar and NASCAR seem to be together at last as unlikely, but increasingly necessary allies in a motorsports landscape facing constant scrutiny from corporate sponsors seeking greater returns and discriminating fans eager for more entertainment.

“For a motorsports perspective, this is good for all of us,” said IndyCar president Jay Frye, whose background in NASCAR as a team executive makes him a “great friend” to many of his stock-car counterparts such as Mike Helton, Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell. “This is an industry. This is something that I think that the more we can do collectively to enhance the industry from a holistic perspective is great.

“So we’re talking about doing more down the road with our biggest events. I think the more we can do together, the better.”

That includes growing support for an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader, which was recently floated on (where else?) the Dale Jr. Download Podcast by NASCAR president Phelps, who traveled Friday to Indy and attended Carb Day with O’Donnell.

It’s been a welcome thaw in what once was one of racing’s biggest cold wars.

“I think we have to get away from, and I think more people are coming to that realization today in motorsports, that I don’t think we can be one against the other,” said Chip Ganassi, who has teams in IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA. “We shouldn’t be in a circular firing squad. I don’t know what purpose that serves.”

The reaction to Earnhardt being named the pace car driver was a series of effusively welcoming social media posts, namely by reigning Brickyard champion Will Power (another recent Dale Jr. Download guest) and five-time series champion Scott Dixon, who was flummoxed as to why he was consulted on before final approval was given to bring in a 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver to drive an IndyCar pace car (Earnhardt was a last-minute fill-in choice).

“I think some people were a little worried about it, maybe just like it’s this NASCAR guy and all that,” Dixon told NBCSports.com with a chuckle. “And I was like, ‘This is awesome, man!’ And to come to his first Indy 500 and be part of the broadcast and also drive the pace car. It’s going to be his views of this spectacle for the first time in the broadcast. It’s massive.

“I think all around it’s a knockout great idea.”

Said Power, who invited Earnhardt to wedge into the cockpit of his Dallara-Chevrolet during a Thursday stroll through Gasoline Alley: “I think everyone in the paddock is happy Dale’s here, not only commentating but driving the pace car. I was happy to hear that. He’s a great ambassador for motorsports.”

Noting the “genuine” enthusiasm among his peers about having “a legendary name and great personality” with Earnhardt, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden said, “it seems like this whole competition of who’s top of the heap – ‘We’re better! You guys aren’t great! Our series is more competitive.’ — just seems to be going away.

“It was like that for the last 20 to 30 years, and it’s not necessary,” said Newgarden, the 2017 series champion. “We’re two different types of motorsport, but at the end of the day, we’re all motorsport. They’re equally as difficult and just totally different in a lot of respects. We’re racers. We all like each other. And just to see the respect now that we’re both interested in what each other does, I think we should work together.

“We should all respect each other because they’re both top-level motorsports. They’re all very talented drivers and teams that fill both fields. We should have drivers who want to go run in a stock car from IndyCar and have stock car guys who want to run on the IndyCar side.

“To see this ego and competition between the two get set aside, I think that just benefits everybody.”

Earnhardt, whose Indy welcome Thursday also included a two-seater ride with Mario Andretti, still felt more secure in having his choice as pace car driver be approved by IndyCar’s biggest names.

“I’m glad those guys are so excited to have me there,” he said. “We certainly wanted to make sure that was OK with the drivers before we accepted and make sure they’re OK with that. And they all seem to be on board. The IndyCar guys have a real unique perspective on whatever helps their sport, they seem to all be on the same page. They’re uniquely united in doing anything that helps get more eyeballs.”


United isn’t how the relationship between IndyCar and NASCAR would have been described over the past quarter-century since stock cars began racing at the Brickyard 400.

Jeff Gordon won the inaugural race in 1994 after living in nearby Pittsboro while racing open-wheel cars on his way to stardom, but there was still some Indiana-bred animus about having NASCAR at the tradition-steeped track that had been devoted to open-wheel cars for the bulk of its existence since opening in 1909.

Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who was elected Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, has admitted he was one of those Hoosier natives who initially blanched at the idea of stock cars at Indy.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett recalled a chillier reception in part because NASCAR was rising as IndyCar – which split into rival series from 1996-2008 that damaged its popularity – was suffering.

“We at NASCAR were on such a huge upswing through the early ‘90s and 2000s that I think that even drag racing and IndyCar were being pushed aside and weren’t used to that,” Jarrett said. “And you don’t like to be the afterthought in anything that you’re doing, and I think maybe they felt that a little bit.”

As NASCAR has wrestled with the challenges of audience retrenchment over the past decades, it’s made for more common ground between two series that have had to deal with trying to enhance their relevance in attracting fans.

“Now that things have leveled out somewhat, and NASCAR been humbled a bit over the last decade, that’s changed sort of everybody’s perception,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But as a driver, I’ve always been interested and curious about not only IndyCar but other forms of motorsport. You want to go see and look and walk around and check out. You want to be welcomed into that world.

“Even at the height of the rivalry or whatever that was, if Mario Andretti or anyone else would have walked down the middle of the garage area, we would have all been like, ‘Hey, holy cow. Welcome! Incredible to have you here!’ You just know that’s a race car driver. He’s curious about racing. He’s wanting to see what stock cars are and what they’re about. I think the rivalry has probably been more fan driven than anything else.”

Indeed, more IndyCar and NASCAR drivers have built stronger relationships, some driven by sponsors and manufacturer ties, but others have been formed by authentic camaraderie.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has become a buddy of five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, and it’s easy to spot the similarities between two low-key superstars whose accomplishments often go unappreciated

“I talk to Jimmie quite often, and there is a lot more crossover talk” of NASCAR and IndyCar, Dixon said. “It’s hard work right now, and everybody knows that. No one has the captive audience. It’s shifting. Everyone is trying to keep up to speed with the changes.

“If we can do it as a group as opposed to, ‘Oh no, we have a bigger following and we don’t want you to take any of ours’ and all that kind of jazz. It’s nice to see the egos have kind of left, and everyone is trying to get on the same page to help each other. At the heart of it, man, we’re all motorsports fans.”

Last Thursday, Johnson hopped an early morning flight to Indianapolis just so he could spend a few hours watching Indy 500 practice.

“I wanted to see that place packed full of people and feel the energy that I’ve heard about so many times,” said Johnson, who also texts regularly with other IndyCar drivers such as Newgarden.

“He’s just a racer who keeps tabs on everything that’s going on,” Newgarden said of Johnson. “To get perspective from him on someone who has been in the sport and done so much and been so smart and savvy about it, it’s cool to have that line of communication. Jimmie cares about what’s going on outside the NASCAR bubble. He’s got so many friends in the IndyCar paddock. He knows everybody. He’s poking us and wants insider information on the event to learn more about it, which is fantastic.”

While there was an era roughly five decades ago when A.J. Foyt and Andretti, both winners of the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, regularly would switch between disciplines, racing has become more siloed as today’s drivers became much more limited by team commitments.

There are some rare exceptions, such as Kurt Busch running the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2014, but crossovers generally haven’t been feasible.

Aside from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, the top IndyCar and NASCAR series race at separate venues, which also has contributed to limiting drivers’ interaction.

“I think we’ve just been removed from each other too much,” Newgarden said. “There were two bubbles created, and the bubbles didn’t cross over. We had that for too long, and now that we’re seeing that bridge be created again, everyone is very capable of getting along and enjoying what each other does. I think the IndyCar guys are very open minded to that.

“Maybe we’re more open minded because we got pushed more to the bottom. Stock car had a bigger rise than IndyCar. Maybe we’re more open minded to it because of where we were 10 years ago or so, but that’s not a knock on anyone. We’re all getting closer. Those bubbles are starting to disappear and we’re putting everyone in the same ecosystem, which is great.”

Jarrett, a three-time Brickyard 400 winner, spent last weekend at IMS, witnessing practice and qualifying for the Indy 500 for the first time. Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud was among those who stopped the 1999 NASCAR champion, who considered it “a little bit of a shock” that he was recognized.

“Everybody was very nice,” Jarrett said. “There’s only a few of the IndyCar drivers that I really know, but a couple that I had never met or talked to or anything actually stopped me walking through the pit lane. So it was pretty cool to see and be a part of it in their world. A lot of people stopped and talked about NASCAR and the success that I had there. Race fans are truly race fans.”


Many drivers point at potential IndyCar-NASCAR weekend doubleheaders as being the best way to expose the racing to fans of both series.

Power and Graham Rahal are among IndyCar stars who believe they can race Saturday night on the Charlotte Roval, followed by a Cup race Sunday.

“We have to all help each other grow,” Rahal said on the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Doing these joint events that only certain tracks can do are huge. We have to do it. We have to build our sports together. To do it independently, yeah, we might make ground here or there, but ultimately we’ll never make enough.”

Because NBC Sports Group broadcasts the full IndyCar season and the final 20 races of the NASCAR Cup season, the tracks on its networks seem the ideal places for the most seamless crossover opportunities. (It worked for The Avengers!)

During a motorsports summit in December, NBC Sports executives brought together industry leaders from its various properties (NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA and Supercross) to discuss how to be more collaborative.

Frye, the IndyCar president, would be a “huge supporter” of an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader weekend.

“It could be a cool American motorsports extravaganza-kind of weekend,” he said. “We’ve talked about we’d run a Saturday night, and that Cup stays in its normal spot on Sunday. There are a lot of crossovers with manufacturers and amongst teams. We’ve talked about the friendships we have with them.

“I think it would be a game-changer in a good way. It’s not something you do every week. If you did it once or twice a year. You have to do it one time first. See how it goes. There would be certain tracks we would go to that would fit. At end of day, why not try it? It’s good for NBC, good for IndyCar and good for NASCAR.”

It still could be tricky, though, to avoid the “headliner” status and other ways that could result in one series being viewed as inferior.

“What’s been the reservation from both sides working together is the comparison between the two,” Newgarden said. “And that’s what we’ve got to make sure doesn’t happen. It’s not a competition of which car is quicker. Or which car is more difficult.

“They are different forms of racing. (A stock car) weighs twice as much. The horsepower levels are different. It’s a different art. We’re not there to compare what car is fastest. That’s not what it’s all about, so I think that’s where some of the reservation comes in doing the doubleheader, but I’d love to see it. If anyone is going to win in that situation, it’s going to be the fans.”

Given that possible outcome, perhaps it’s apropos that the latest example of NASCAR-IndyCar harmony will be symbolically led by Earnhardt, who holds sway over more fans than the 33 drivers combined who will be trailing him around the Brickyard at 12:45 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.

It’ll be quite a sight even for a racer who has seen nearly everything.

“When you look in that rear-view mirror and you don’t see stock cars,” Earnhardt said. “But you see these wild, exotic open wheel Indy cars.

“It’s going to blow my mind.”

Drivers give mixed responses to choose rule at Michigan

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Only a few days after it was announced, NASCAR implemented its new choose rule on restarts for the first time in a Cup Series points race.

The occasion came Saturday at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway, a far cry from its original use in the July 15 All-Star race at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.

On the lap before a restart, drivers could drive to the left or right of an orange cone symbol on the track located a short distance beyond the start-finish line. A driver in fifth place could go to the left and restart second in the inside row, giving him better track position in the non-preferred lane, which Bubba Wallace did late in the race before he finished ninth.

Among the top-three finishers in the race – Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. – the race winner voiced the most excitement about the choose rule ahead of Sunday’s Michigan race (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“The best thing about it is they had a race with it (Friday) with the Truck Series, made a lot of adjustments or a few adjustments this morning to the process, and I thought it went well today,” said Harvick, referring to NASCAR’s decision to move the symbol from 100 feet to 200 feet from the finish line. “I think it definitely gave some guys a chance that were kind of buried eighth or ninth, and I think (Chase Elliott) was one of those and wound up racing for the win.”

Elliott restarted second with 18 laps to go in the scheduled distance after he was fifth before the choose rule. He was able to lead nine laps before a caution.

“Definitely a lot to think about right there and definitely some processes that you have to go through, but you can take a chance and gain some track position,” Harvick said. “So I thought it went well and did exactly what everybody thought it would do.”

Keselowski said he was “agnostic” about the choose rule. He went from third to second for the final restart, bypassing Elliott, who finished seventh.

“There were parts I liked and there were parts I didn’t like,” Keselowski said. “I thought at the front, it seemed to be a little fun, something kind of different.  It’s one of those things where I think it’s just ‑‑ when you eat chocolate you want vanilla sometimes; it felt different and different was kind of fun. There was other parts where I was kind of a little questioning about it. Overall I’m kind of neutral on it.”

Keselowski called the rule a “different dynamic” that “opens up some different opportunities.”

“We’re all kind of learning together how that plays out,” Keselowski continued. “This was a first time on a bigger track or a 550 (horsepower) rules package track that we’ve seen this, and so it definitely changed a little bit of the race. I’m not confident to say whether it was better or worse, just felt a little bit different to me. Which it should feel different; that’s kind of the point. If it wasn’t a little different, then why would we do it?

“I thought there were times when it was interesting, there were times where I was kind of like, hmm, I don’t know.”

Truex simply called the result of the choose rule “ok.”

“I don’t know that it changed the race a whole lot, but it was interesting for sure,” Truex said. “We’ll see how it plays out ‑‑ we seen a lot of guys pick the outside, but a few guys were able to get the lead from the bottom, as well. Pretty interesting how it worked out, and definitely learned some stuff for tomorrow.”

Ryan Blaney, who finished fourth, wishes he could have kept third place before the final restart.

“Because I would have chose the bottom and had a little better shot,” Blaney said. “I am proud of the effort. (Harvick) was really fast. We need to work on our stuff a little and I think we can compete a little better tomorrow.”

Sunday Cup starting lineup at Michigan

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Chris Buescher will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway after finishing 20th in Saturday’s race.

The top-20 finishers Saturday have their position inverted for the Sunday Cup starting lineup. Clint Bowyer will start second.

Winner Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s race 20th.

Click here for the Sunday Cup starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Michigan 

Race Time: 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Michigan International Speedway; Brooklyn, Michigan (2-mile speedway)

Length: 156 laps (312 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 40. Stage 2 ends Lap 85

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Michigan Cup starting lineup: Click here for lineup

Next Xfinity race: Aug. 15 at Daytona road course (52 laps, 187.72 miles) 3 ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Aug. 16 at Daytona road course (44 laps, 158.85 miles) noon ET on FS1

What drivers said after Saturday’s Michigan Cup race

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Here is what drivers said after the race Saturday at Michigan:

Kevin Harvick — Winner:  “Anytime we come to Michigan since I’ve been at Stewart‑Haas Racing these cars have been just lightning fast. It’s definitely a place we feel like we should come up here and contend for the win, and today our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang was just on rails, could go bottom, top, middle, was fast down the straightaway, would do everything that you wanted to do. Just got challenged by a whole bunch of restarts at the end that made it kind of crazy. But in the end it was a great day for us. Everybody did a great job, called a great race, and we capitalized on a fast car and put it in Victory Lane.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “(Kevin Harvick) is just super fast in the corners and the straightaway. He was definitely the best car out here today. We put a good effort to kind of maximize our day and that is what we did, finished second. Proud of everyone on the Discount Tire Ford Mustang team. We will go back to work on it and hopefully find a little bit more for the race (Sunday).”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “It was a good day. I just made a little mistake there and barely rubbed (Tyler Reddick’s) car off (Turn) 2 there and I guess cut both of our tires down. I really don’t know how it happened. My bad on that one. I hate it for Tyler, it messed up his day early as well. We just fought back. The Auto Owners Camry was really strong. If we could ever have gotten to the front, I think we would have had something for them. Lots of restarts and they’re crazy here. A couple of them didn’t work out. The last one did. Really good car and really good job by the guys coming back like that. Just need a little bit more.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 4th: “I thought our Mustang was pretty good all day. We made a good call there before the competition caution to come in and pit and that cycled us up to 12th or something and we were able to drive to third before that stage and then ran second in the second stage. We took four tires there when we got in our fuel window and it was hard to get through traffic. We didn’t handle good so we came in again with maybe 18 to go and changed it up a little bit and made sure we were good on gas and were able to drive through there. I wish we would have kept third before that last caution because I would have chose the bottom and had a little better shot. I am proud of the effort. (Kevin Harvick) was really fast. We need to work on our stuff a little and I think we can compete a little better tomorrow.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “The car was pretty good right off the bat. There’s still some things we can tweak on, hopefully. I’m scared to mess with it to try to make it better. It was just really, really hard to deal with in traffic. Anytime there was anybody in front of me, I had to be away from them, whether lower or higher, but not follow. It would not track at all with the car in front of me. That’s kind of been our ‘MO’ actually. Overall, just work on that.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 6th: “I thought we were kind of a second-place car. Once (Kevin Harvick) was leading there, we were able to stay pretty close to him. He was just so much faster down the straightaway than we were. I’m not sure that we would have been able to do much with him. We were certainly fast in the corners and we were just kind of a second-place car. My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) was concerned about loose lug nuts there around Lap 130 when the caution came out so he wanted to come and take tires and work on the car and make sure the lug nuts were tight. That set us back and put us probably 11th or 12th in line. We could only muster coming back to sixth.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 7th: “We had a strong restart there at the end of the race from the inside lane. When that next caution came out, I just didn’t see it playing out the same way twice, so I chose to go to outside lane. Our NAPA Chevrolet was just tight all day and the team worked hard to try and get it dialed in – they had a solid day on pit road. I think we learned a few things today that we can hopefully use (Sunday).”

Joey Logano — Finished 8th: “It was a good recovery. A little bit of practice this week would have been nice. That was one of the loosest and out of control race cars I have had. At the start of this race. The clean air made us look better than what we were. As soon as I lost clean air I was just trying to hang on. Unfortunately I collected a lot of damage along the way on the back bumper from everyone hitting me. I don’t blame them, I was in the way. Over time, by probably the beginning of the third stage we got close. Not quite to where we needed to. Then there at the end we pitted and may have gotten to the other side of it finally. At least we know where the edge is so we can work on it for (Sunday). We got a top 10 out of it. If you had told me we were going to finish eighth after the first 50 laps of this thing I would have taken it but greed always sets in and you want a little more there at the end. We got our Mustang for tomorrow and we got to the other side of it. We should be in the ballpark.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 9th: “A solid day for us and our Victory Junction Chevrolet. I appreciate everybody back at the shop. I know this whole COVID-19 deal has been tough. I haven’t been able to go to the shop and show my appreciation and how much they really work and make our cars better week in, and week out. So, it’s been fun. We’re in the middle of ‘silly season’ right now, so my mind is there, it’s here. So, to come out with a solid top-10 finish is positive.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 10th: “With a shorter race we had a bunch of variables today, including a lot of restarts. When the spotter says, four and five-wide, and we didn’t get damage, I will take that any day. Our Monster Energy Camaro was really reliant on clean air, once we got back in traffic it was really a struggle for us, but we were able score points in the first two stages and battle back for another top-10 finish at the end. We know that we can do better, and we’ll get a chance to do that (Sunday).”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 12th: “We had a fast Ally Chevy all day, but restarts hurt us. It was up and down all day fighting traffic and weird things happening on the restarts. We are going to talk tonight and get a better plan for (Sunday). It’s a long day for these team guys but we will be ready.”

William Byron — Finished 14th: “It was a tough day for our No. 24 Axalta team. We worked hard to improve the handling of our Axalta Chevy as the day went on. Luckily we’ll get another chance at it (Sunday) and we’ll hopefully get a better result and stay in the playoff hunt.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 16th: “That wasn’t the day we hoped for, but we learned a lot about the way we set up our cars as a team. Proud of Stewart-Haas Racing and congrats to Kevin (Harvick) for bringing home the win. We’re going to take a big swing at it tomorrow and hope to build on that.”

TYLER REDDICK — Finished 18th: “We had some good speed in our No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro today at Michigan International Speedway, but we just seemed to get caught up in other people’s messes today. I was able to move up into the top 10 early in the race, but (Martin Truex Jr.) made contact with us when he had a tire go down, which gave our Chevrolet some left rear damage. It felt like we had a tire going down shortly after that, so we were forced to pit under green for fresh left-side tires. We had to fight hard to get our lap back and did, but then our right-rear tire went down and we had to pit to repair that under green as well. Somewhat luckily for us, that tire issue happened close to the end of Stage 2, so we were able to get our lap back with the wave around, stay mostly on sequence with the leaders and really get back in the game. We were making some progress after that and were up inside the top 20 when we got some additional right front damage from another on-track incident, so we had to hit pit road one more time for slight repairs but didn’t lose a lap. We were able to avoid a couple late-race accidents to pick up a few more spots but didn’t quite get to where we wanted to be today. Good news is that we get another shot at it with our No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro (Sunday).”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 19th: “We got back in traffic in the final stage and were really loose. You don’t want to be in the back at this place, it was like gridlock. We ran well early, got some positions in overtime today and we start second (Sunday) so I’m optimistic.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 24th: “I was pretty happy with the way our Toyota was handling during the second half of the race, especially on the longer runs. Good job by Dave (Winson, crew chief) and all the guys. We’re still lacking the overall speed we need to be more competitive. That will come. We have work to do to make things better for (Sunday). One good thing is we will have a much better starting position (24th) than we usually have, so hopefully we can take advantage of that and have a really good finish.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 29th: “It was a difficult day for our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops, Martin Transportation Systems (MTS) Ford Mustang. We didn’t fire off like we had hoped, but (crew chief Drew Blickensderfer) and the team did a nice job of working on the car all race long and I felt like we had a pretty decent run starting towards the end. Unfortunately we got collected in that last wreck and sustained heavy right front damage and we had to pit for repairs and ultimately brought the car home 29th. But tomorrow’s another day and that’s what we’re focused on. I’m ready to get back behind the wheel for race two of the Michigan doubleheader weekend and score Love’s Travel Stops and MTS a solid finish.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 31st: “Well, not the result we were hoping for today at Michigan International Speedway, but the good news is we have another shot at it (Sunday) afternoon. We started off too free but once (crew chief) Justin Alexander and the team were able to tighten up the No. 3 Dow MobilityScience Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 we were really good. At the end of the race, we were loose, sliding around four-wide when another car ran us over from behind. It ruined our top-10 finish. We’ll pull the backup out and go get them (Sunday).”

Cole Custer — Finished 34th: “It was a tough end to the day for us. We had a pretty good car and made good adjustments throughout the day. There at the end we just got in dirty air and it was hard to pass. Our HaasTooling.com/Jacob Construction Ford Mustang was good but track position and clean air were so important.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 36th: “It was a long, tough day at Michigan International Speedway for our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang. We actually weren’t too bad to start off, just needed to be a tick freer at the beginning. Unfortunately, we had some contact with (Chris Buescher), which sent us into the grass and then we had multiple tires go down, which ended our day prematurely. Appreciate all the hard work my crew has put into our cars this weekend and all the support from our partners. Thankfully, we’ll have another chance in tomorrow’s race.”

Bubba Wallace places 9th, notes deal that will put RPM ‘over the top’

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Bubba Wallace scored his first top-10 finish in a month Saturday and teased a potential deal that he said will send his Richard Petty Motorsports team “over the top if we can get it done.”

Wallace finished ninth after starting 24th Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. Kevin Harvick won the race.

“Everybody say a prayer for us,” Wallace told NBCSN’s Marty Snider after the race. “There’s a big deal on the line right now and this can only help so much. I’ve yet to check my phone to see the status of it. This will send us over the top if we can get it done. Been a lot of hard work off the racetrack from my team, everybody involved to make things better and that’s what we’re trying to do. So putting solid runs tighter and having awesome restart all night this is only going to help the effort.”

Wallace acknowledged that silly season also has weighed on him. His contract expires after this season. RPM owner Andrew Murstein has offered ownership in the team as part of a contract extension. There also is believed to be interest from other teams in Wallace.

“We’re in the middle of silly season right now,” he said. “My mind is there, it’s here.”

Wallace was pleased with the finish Saturday – his fourth top-10 of the year and the most he’s had in any Cup season – but seeks more performance Sunday.

“I know this whole COVID-19 deal has been tough,” he said. “I haven’t been able to go to the shop and show my appreciation (to the team) and how much they really work and make our cars better week in and week out. It’s been fun. …  To come out with a solid top-10 finish for us is positive. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

“I was not happy with the car, but I think that’s the racer mentality. I’m not sure if Harvick is happy about his car either. We always strive to be better. All in all a solid day.”