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.”

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

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.