What drivers said at Michigan

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Joey Logano — winner: What a great execution day from our race car. Obviously very fast, our pit crew was amazing. T.J. Majors spotted his butt off up there.  The race fans sticking around till Monday.  You guys are the best. We love coming up to Michigan. Nothing like bringing a Ford to Victory Lane in their home turf, Roger Penske cars as well.  This is a big win for us. A day like that, you don’t get those days all the time. The best car, the best team. We executed perfectly all the way through.

Kurt Busch — finished second: That’s more than what I was hoping to see for damage. But I had a blast.  Tightest I ever put my belts at the end of a race.  We got enough stage points today, we said hell with it, we don’t need to get anything but the win.  We got second today. Logano’s car was tough.  I really wanted it to go green at the end with Truex.  I was going to push him straight through the 22.  My best shot at it. What a day for our Camaro.  From Chevy and Monster, thank you, guys.  We’ll get it.  It gives us reason to smile and be happy.  We ran up front, were strong in our manufacturer’s backyard, but got second today.

Martin Truex Jr. — finished third:I felt like before that we were going to finish second no matter what. My mindset there was at least we got a shot at it here.  Rack ’em up, have a green‑white‑checkered and see. I don’t know, my second gear was off a little bit all day on restarts.  I was getting Jonesed. Then (Logano) went like a whole car length before the restart zone.  I don’t know how you get away with that. I thought we were supposed to go in the box. Aside from that, great day for Auto Owners Toyota, everybody back at JGR, TRD.  We had a solid race car. Man, you have to be so patient in this racing, it’s really hard. Early in the race I kept getting runs, going underneath guys, getting them in the corner.  If you can’t clear them, you lose two, three, four spots every time. Everybody did a good job.  We had a fill‑in rear tire changer this weekend.  That’s a lot of pressure to come in.  He’s a young kid, did a good job there.  Great job by everyone. Came up a little bit short, but a solid day for us here.

Daniel Suarez — finished fourth: “The car was pretty strong the entire weekend and then again today. We just struggled for whatever reasons on the long runs in the first half of the race. We were able to make some adjustments and come back and I am proud of my guys. We still have some work to do but we are slowly heading into the right direction.”

Kyle Busch finished fifth: “We just did the best we could with what we had. Our Camry was not great, but we just kept working on it all day. We just kept falling back or doing rounds, doing air pressure, everything we could to get improving on it and make it better. I don’t think we ever really made it faster. It was still kind of slow at the end. We saw (Logano) just drive away from us on that restart there, but overall we came with way better than we should have. Let’s go with that. Way better than we should have. … We had some issues in traffic a lot. The further back we got, the worse we got. There on that green-flag stop, the guys did a phenomenal job to jump us there and got us into the top four to be able to position ourselves for the end. That’s what saved our day. We’ll just go on to the next one.”

Brad Keselowski — finished sixth: We just didn’t put it all together today. We were in a really good spot and had the pit road penalty and lost the lap and it took us til about 70 to go to get it back. It is kind of a miracle that we got back up to sixth to be quite honest. We have to execute the entire weekend and we just didn’t today. We were hoping if we could get a yellow, we were 24th with 60-70 laps to go and we got up to sixth. With a yellow we might have had a shot at winning it. I thought the team did a good job with the strategy all day. The cars when they get behind each other they make the car in front of them faster. If you go back 20-30 years ago that was not the case. You would draft but you wouldn’t make the car in front of you faster. Now it seems like when you get up behind somebody you make them faster, too.”

Kevin Harvick finished seventh: “We had a really fast Busch Lite Ford and just made a lot of mistakes today.”

Ryan Newman — finished eighth: “To have our best lap I guess other than maybe one lap to be our fast lap makes me proud of the guys. The Coca-Cola Ford wasn’t the greatest all day. We had some good restarts toward the end but just struggled with the dirty air. I think everybody did. It is obvious if you know anything about racing. It was a good points day for us. We need to get some stage points. Nevertheless I am proud of the guys.”

Alex Bowman — finished 10th:I feel like it raced better than we expected after practice. Obviously, it being cool and overcast was really the best-case scenario for the package. Hopefully, it worked out to be a good race. It looked like a good race from where I was at. It was really hard to pass without help, but we were still able to come through the field more than you were in practice, so that was good. I wish we would have ended up a little better, but we’ll take it and move on.”

Aric Almirola finished 17th: “We had a better Ford Mustang than 17th place today. We got way behind on the restarts and just couldn’t recover in traffic. I’m proud of our No. 10 Ford team for bringing a fast Ford Mustang to Michigan.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 19th: “Our car was a handful today. It seemed like we were battling back all race from the pit-road penalty to the nose damage that caused us to pit multiple times. With this package, it was really hard to pass. We will go back and regroup and get ready for Sonoma.”

Ty Dillon — finished 22nd: “Our Twisted Tea team fought hard all day. We didn’t start the race off with the balance that we wanted, but (crew chief) Matt (Borland) took a big swing at it in the first stage break to tighten up our Camaro ZL1. We had a significantly better race car after that. I maybe could have used a little bit more front grip, but I was really happy with it overall. From there we just needed track position. We were running in the top 20 to start the final stage. But, these restarts can get wild, and I was shuffled back on the restart with 60 laps or so to go. Our Twisted Tea Camaro ZL1 had good speed, so I was able to drive back up and regain some of those spots. We just really needed more cautions to get back to where we had been. Once the field gets strung out after these restarts, it’s hard to make passes. I’m happy with the team’s effort today, though. They worked hard, had clean stops and made great adjustments all day.”

Daniel Hemric finished 24th: “I was fairly happy with how this No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 took off to start the race. I feel like we had the ability to make some good moves. That made me feel more confident than I needed to be, and I hung myself out a couple of times and lost a little bit of track position. Early in the race, we tried to take fuel only and it just killed our balance. After that, we started chipping away at the positions ahead of us and were able to score some points at the end of Stage 2. We were setting ourselves up to have good track position to start Stage 3, but we had an issue with the air hose getting caught on the splitter and that caused us to lose all of our track position. I was able to drive back inside the top 10, which shows the speed we had. When that last caution came out, we got stuck in the dreaded bottom lane, where nobody wanted to be all day, and got shuffled back on the restart. We salvaged a 12th-place finish. We’ll learn from today and come back here later in the year ready for an even better result.”

Austin Dillon finished 26th: “The No. 3 Chevrolet team showed their tenacity this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. After a few struggles in practice, the team completely changed the setup and gave me one of the fastest Chevrolets I’ve ever had for the race. We showed speed in Stages 1 and 2 and even picked up the Stage 2 win. Shortly after the start of Stage 3, we were running strong in the top 10 when another car got a run and clipped the corner of the No. 3 Chevrolet. We ended up tagging the wall and had damage to the right-rear. We made multiple pit stops to repair damage and ended up finishing 26th. It’s definitely disappointing considering how good our car was today, but that’s part of racing. We will start preparing for the road courses and be ready for Sonoma Raceway in two weeks. I want to thank Dow for honoring veterans and active-duty military members this weekend. It’s always special when those guys can ride with us. I just hate we couldn’t get them a win today.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 35th: “Yeah, frustrating for all of us. It just wasn’t our day. (Erik Jones) got loose, and I tried to move down to not hit him, and then I got loose with (Austin Dillon) underneath of me and got into (Jones) and got wrecked. (On the racing) I mean, it is not racing. I am sorry. I am biting my tongue. I have never been penalized for trying to make a pass in my whole life since I was 4 years old. You get a run on somebody, and you can make a complete pass, and by the time you get to the next corner you have been passed by four people. It is really, really frustrating.”

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500

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Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will seek to make his first Daytona 500 this month with The Money Team Racing, the Cup program owned by boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather.

The team also announced Tuesday plans for Daly to race in up to six additional Cup races this year as his schedule allows. Daly’s No. 50 car at Daytona will be sponsored by BITNILE.com, a digital marketplace launching March 1. Among the Cup races Daly is scheduled to run: Circuit of the Americas (March 26) and the Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13, a day after the IndyCar race there).

“The Money Team Racing shocked the world by making the Daytona 500 last year, and I believe in this team and know we will prepare a great car for this year’s race,” Mayweather said in a statement. “Like a fighter who’s always ready to face the best, Conor has the courage to buckle into this beast without any practice and put that car into the field. Conor is like a hungry fighter and my kind of guy. I sure wouldn’t bet against him.”

Daly will be among at least six drivers vying for four spots in the Daytona 500 for cars without charters. Others seeking to make the Daytona 500 will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to attempt to run in the Daytona 500,” Daly said in a statement. “It is the most prestigious race in NASCAR and to have the chance to compete in it is truly an honor. I am also excited to be running the entire IndyCar Series season and select NASCAR Cup events. I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of whatever BITNILE.com race car, boat, dune buggy or vehicle they ask me to drive. Bring it on.”

Daly has made 97 IndyCar starts, dating back to 2013. He made his Cup debut at the Charlotte Roval last year, placing 34th for The Money Team Racing. He has one Xfinity start and two Craftsman Truck Series starts.

 

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.