What drivers said after Sonoma

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Martin Truex Jr. – winner: “Through the years you’ve seen guys figure things out, it lasts a while. I wasn’t sure this weekend how it was going to hold up, what we’ve been doing. With the Carousel, the big left‑hand corner, it really changed things up. Took a while to figure that out in practice.

“But luckily, we were able to just make the right tweaks. I had confidence that when the track got hot and slick on the long runs, we’ve had what we needed. Just a matter if we had enough speed to get there, and we did today.”

Kyle Busch – finished second: “Any time I had to lean on the left rear (tire), I just didn’t have the drive that I needed. Actually, tried to hold on to it, trying to save it. I knew that was going to be our problem. That had been our problem all day long. You get closer, you’re like, Okay, I can get him (Truex), I better go, pounce on him fast, so then he doesn’t have the time to pick up the pace.

“But it didn’t work. He was obviously saving a lot. I knew he was going to be saving a lot, have enough to be able to most likely hold us off. I was right.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “I had no shot if there wasn’t a yellow. They were really good on long runs. You just give yourself a hope of restarting close to them and trying to make a move. We almost got the lead one time on a restart. I was hoping to get that shot again but it never came.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished fourth: “I cannot explain how thankful and glad I am that we got a good run that we deserve. It has been a tough year; we just haven’t had the results that we deserve. We have had fast cars. I cannot explain how thankful I am to have this opportunity and how desperate I was to get a run like this for my team and how many people took a chance on me. I can’t explain how many people had to say yes including all of the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates, Toyota, TRD, the sponsors, Procore and Dumont Jets, team owner, everyone on the team, it took every one of those people to say yes because my path to get here is unorthodox. I didn’t have the funding to get there; we did it the old school way.”

Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: “I just drove as hard as I could drive. We restarted 26th and drove back up to fifth with no cautions. We had a very, very fast car. It was a strategy we decided to play out there to optimize stage points and get a stage win, and take the guaranteed points. It may have cost us a shot at victory, but we still had a good day. I think at the time we decided to do that strategy the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) was better than us, but I am not so sure at the end.”

Kevin Harvick – finished sixth: “We did grind one out. We didn’t have a great car this weekend. We aborted everything that we were doing and put (Clint Bowyer‘s setup) in and we still weren’t very good. We wound up grinding the right front tire off at the end and was just hanging on for dear life. That is a gritty performance. That is what we have done all year. We need to figure out how to be closer at the beginning of the weekend. We will. We have been scrapping pretty hard for 16 weeks.”

Ryan Newman – finished seventh: “I just got really light-headed when I got out. Other than that I feel alright. We had good strategy and good pit road, good everything. We just didn’t quite have the speed today to be able to get up there and pass those guys that were in the front today.”

Erik Jones – finished eighth: “It was good. We passed a lot of cars. I am just happy we were able to come out of here with a solid day. Wish we could have gotten some more stage points, but it was nice to get a good finish. The Craftsman Camry was good; we just needed track position. I think we were probably a few spots better than that, but it’s still good. It’s nice to get back on track. Hopefully this is good momentum for next week in Chicago.”

Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “I made a mistake there at the top of Turn 3A and spun out and basically we fell to the rear. We went back all the way to last. After that, I just had to work my butt off to recover. We passed a lot of cars today. My Mustang was good. I just put us behind.”

Kyle Larson – finished 10th: “It was better than normal for us. I fell back early but I was just taking care of my stuff. I seem to be a lot better on long runs than normal, so I’m happy about that. And we came away with a top 10. So it was good.

“I finished better than I ever have here, so it was an improvement.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 11th: “That was disappointing, for sure. We had a bad break with the air gun and that put us on a strategy that kind of killed our chances at getting stage points. It looked like we were going to have a shot at the top five, but we just couldn’t get our car to turn there at the end and gave up a lot of positions. We had a good Rush Truck Centers Mustang all weekend and expected a lot better finish.”

Alex Bowman – finished 14th: “We lost some front turn from where we were at in practice. Track position was really key. Obviously, we didn’t qualify very well, so that hurt us. We had great pit stops. We were sitting pretty good there towards the end and then we lost power steering. I hate losing spots like that at the end, but I’m glad we still brought home a top-15 finish. I’m glad I’ve been working on being more fit because I’m worn out and that would have been way worse.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 15th: “I thought we did a great job of making the most of our day here at Sonoma Raceway. We didn’t have track position to start the race, but (crew chief) Luke Lambert did a great job of not worrying about points and trying to get us track position instead. Every time we did it we gained four or five spots. I’m proud of everyone on this No. 8 team and this Poppy Bank Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for sticking with me all weekend. We got better every lap and that’s what our first road race as a group is all about.

Daniel Suarez – finished 17th: “We had a good Ruckus Mustang today even though we had to start in the back. My crew did great with the calls, and we were able to get track position and show that we had a good car. Unfortunately, mistakes on the last pit stop bit us and we couldn’t recover from it so late in the race.”

Austin Dillon – finished 24th: “It’s been a long weekend in the Dow Coatings Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but the good news is we learned a lot that we can take back to Welcome, (North Carolin) and use in preparation for future trips to Sonoma Raceway. We fell behind in practice and just never recovered. During the race, I was just hanging on the best I could but it was difficult because the Dow Coatings Chevrolet was plowing tight. Who knows, maybe if we would have utilized a different strategy we could have gained a few positions at the finish, but the main issue is definitely working on our cars and on my skills as a road course racer.

Ty Dillon – finished 27th: “Sonoma is a tough racetrack. Only coming here once a year definitely makes it more challenging to learn how to get around the course, and this was only my third time racing here. The addition of the Carousel added an extra layer of difficulty. Our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 started out pretty tight going both right and left, but my team made great changes to get our balance back to where we needed it. My rear grip just started to fade at the end. But, I have a lot of notes from this weekend to study for next year. We will keep building and getting better each time we come to Sonoma.”

Chase Elliott – finished 37th: “We lost oil pressure so we think a belt broke. We’re not exactly sure why. Our NAPA Chevy was good. I hated I gave Martin (Truex Jr.) the lead there. It was just a mistake on my part. I needed to keep control of the reins. That was an important point. It’s going to be hard to go up and pass a guy for the lead. So, that was big. I hated that happened.”

 

Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

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Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

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AJ Allmendinger to drive in Watkins Glen Xfinity race for Kaulig Racing

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NASCAR On NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will climb back behind the wheel for the August 3 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Allmendinger will pilot the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing for the second time this season.

Allmendinger is a past winner at Watkins Glen, having won the 2014 Cup race there. He has 10 prior Cup starts at the upstate New York road course, with the win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes, plus one pole.

He also has competed in one Xfinity race at Watkins Glen, starting fourth and finishing second for GMS Racing last year.

It’s an honor to be able to compete for Kaulig Racing at one of my favorite tracks, Watkins Glen International,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win there in the Cup Series and had a strong run finishing second last season in my only Xfinity start there.

Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and all of the guys made Daytona so enjoyable and fun, I can’t wait to get to The Glen.”

Allmendinger raced for Kaulig Racing two weeks ago in the Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, leading 33 laps and finishing third before the car was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, leaving Allmendinger with a last-place finish in the 38-car field.

Allmendinger has three additional Xfinity road course races scheduled with Kaulig Racing this season: Mid-Ohio (August 10), Road America (August 24) and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval race (September 28).

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch back to No. 1, Kurt Busch to No. 3

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When it comes to this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, all we can say is, “Oh brother” … as in siblings Kyle and Kurt Busch.

Younger brother Kyle once again regained the top spot in this week’s rankings, knocking Joey Logano from the No. 1 perch after Logano held it the last two weeks.

And after not being ranked in the top 10 last week, older bro Kurt rockets up the rankings to No. 3 by virtue of his come-from-behind win last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Also making a big move is Erik Jones, who goes from unranked last week to No. 4 this week. By contrast, six drivers from last week’s rankings dropped out of this week’s tabulations.

Here’s how this week’s rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Tenacious performance at Kentucky puts him back atop the rankings. Last week: 2nd.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Car wasn’t wide enough to block all those behind him on the final restart. In his last three races on a 1.5-mile speedway, he’s finished seventh (Kentucky), third (Chicagoland) and second (Charlotte). Last week: 1st.

3. Kurt Busch (32 points): What a difference a win makes. But Busch’s ranking isn’t a total surprise. He’s been knocking at the door all season. Had he not pitted at Daytona two weeks ago, he may be riding a two-race win streak now. Last week: Unranked.

4. Erik Jones (23 points): Returns to playoff territory and seems to have momentum for a finishing kick. Third-place finish was his fourth top 10 in the last five races on a 1.5-mile speedway. That includes a third at Kansas and Kentucky and a fourth at Texas. Last week: Unranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (22 points): His pit crew has been called for an uncontrolled tire violation five times this year, tying the series high. That’s unacceptable. Despite the penalty at Kentucky, Hamlin finished fifth. Last week: 7th.

6. Kyle Larson (20 points): Top 10s in three of last four races – including a second (Chicagoland) and fourth (Kentucky) – have solidified his standing for the playoffs. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Newman (16 points): Is in full grind-it-out mode for solid finishes exactly when he needs them. Finished ninth at Kentucky after starting at the rear because his car failed inspection. While he fell out of a playoff spot, he’s only two points away after scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. Last week: 8th.

8. Cole Custer (9 points): Kentucky victory in the Xfinity Series was his series-high fifth win of the year. Last week: Unranked.

9. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Ends four-race tailspin but still needs to work on amassing stage points. Last week: Unranked.

10. Chris Buescher (5 points): If all the tracks on the circuit were 1.5-milers, he’d likely be ranked higher. All four of his top 10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks. He’s been sixth at Charlotte, ninth  at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas and Kentucky. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Christopher Bell (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (4 points), Tyler Ankrum (3 points).

Clint Bowyer looking for some of his old magic at the ‘Magic Mile’

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While the next race on the NASCAR Cup schedule is Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer is already thinking four months and 17 races ahead to mid-November’s season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Winning a championship is the reason we are in this sport,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said in his weekly media release. “It’s why everyone puts in these long hours during a long season.

Winning a championship is what we dreamed about ever since we started racing. It was a great feeling to win the Xfinity title in 2008, and I can’t imagine the feeling of satisfaction you would get by winning a Cup title.”

But Bowyer also knows all too well that to make it to the four-driver, winner-take-all championship-deciding race in South Florida, he has a bit of work to firm up his position just to make the playoffs, which begin Sept. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Clint Bowyer hopes to be smiling and partying after winning what would be his third career triumph this Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing.

Heading to New England, Bowyer is tied for 14th place with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. They’re eight points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones, who holds the final playoff spot. Ryan Newman, the first driver outside a playoff spot, is 10 points behind Bowyer and Johnson. Daniel Suarez is 12 points behind the duo.

A win would lock Bowyer into the playoffs. That’s why Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) is so important to the Kansas native.

Of Bowyer’s 10 career Cup wins, two have been at New Hampshire’s “Magic Mile.” He won there in 2007 and 2010. He also has four top fives and nine top 10s in 25 career starts at that track.

I love New Hampshire,” Bowyer said. “That place just fits my driving style.

We don’t get up to that part of the country a lot, so it’s good to see the race fans there. They have so many tracks and they love their racing, from Modified to Late Models to our stuff. The support races they put on at New Hampshire are some of the best of the year. Man, do they like to party there.”

Bowyer will be partying himself if he can win Sunday’s race. Still, it’s not been a bad season for Bowyer to date, either. He has five top fives and four other top-10 finishes.

Bowyer is coming off a sixth-place finish at Kentucky last Saturday, a marked improvement from what he suffered through in three of the four previous races with finishes of 35th (Michigan), 37th (Chicagoland) and 34th (Daytona).

We dug ourselves a hole in June and we are trying to climb out of it,” Bowyer said. “We aren’t a 16th-place team. I know we are better than that.”

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