What Drivers Said after Chicagoland

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Alex Bowman becomes the first first-time winner this season and one of only two drivers other than those from Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske to win this season.

Here’s what Bowman and other drivers had to say after Sunday’s Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway:

ALEX BOWMAN – winner: “It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life. I feel like this is a lot of validation for a lot of people that said we couldn’t do this. I’m so proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Axalta and the Hendrick Engine Shop. My guys have worked so hard and we struggled so bad last year and the beginning of this year. I had questions if Mr. Hendrick was going to let me keep doing this. All the rumor mills. But, to be here winning a race in the Cup Series means so much. I just couldn’t do it without these guys. My pit crew is the best pit crew on pit road. And, this is all I ever wanted. … I’m just tired of running second. I don’t want to do that anymore. So, I feel like this is the last box, aside from chasing the championship, I needed it personally for myself, to validate my career. I feel like obviously there’s a lot more left to accomplish but this is always what I hear is ‘you haven’t won a race’. So, I think even Chad (Knaus) said something about me not winning a race. So, Chad Knaus, there we went and did it. Everybody can stop giving me crap. We finally did it!”

Kyle Larson – finished second: “I could see him (Bowman) struggle when I was getting to him, and when I got by him, I’m like, all right, good, he’s going to be in my dirty air and get loose. He could get big runs on me down the straightaways, and I think that allowed him to get that run into (Turn) 1 and he got to the main side and I got tight, I don’t know if him getting air on my spoiler or something got him tight, but I had to kind of breathe it a little bit, and then we side drafted on the backstretch. I wish I would have maybe done some things different into (Turn) 3 instead of going all the way to wall, maybe chase him to bottom, just try to hang on his quarter, but he might have cleared me anyways down there. But yeah, I wish I could have got a win for McDonald’s and got them to Victory Lane.

“But still a great day for Chevy and Hendrick engines. That was really cool to see a lot of us Hendrick engine guys up front and kind of drafting and breaking away from the groups behind us on the short runs. I felt good about my car on the long runs. If I was out in clean air, I think we just had a lot of downforce and drag in our car, so I just felt slow in clean air, but when I could get behind people I was okay and could just wait until we got laps on tires, then I could start making ground. Was actually surprised I even got to him. I thought when he came out about the same distance off pit road in front of me, I thought he was just going to check out. But like I said, he was struggling, and we were able to get to him and get by him, but he did a good job. He did a good job regrouping and figuring out how to make his car drive better and got the win. Cool to see him get the win there. Would have liked for him to have to wait another week or so, but happy for him. He’s an open-wheel guy, so cool to see.”

Joey Logano – finished third: “It looked like after we had that last green flag cycle things were looking pretty good. We ran down (Larson) and I thought if we could get by him we were catching (Bowman) together, both of us were. I just couldn’t get to his inside or outside and get a run. I would get right to him but not enough of a run to make a move. I just got tight at the end and he drove away at the end. We were pushing really hard on the front tires and eventually they are going to give out. Congrats to Alex, that is his first win and there is nothing like that. That is cool for that team but I don’t really care a whole lot about that. It is all about our car and we come home with a third out of the day, so we will take it.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished fourth: “It was just a solid performance for our Ally team. I’m really proud of everyone. I just couldn’t clear the No. 4 car (Kevin Harvick) when he was so on-track and the car to beat and I think he was probably the strongest car tonight. The way some of those restarts unfolded, the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) had a great opportunity with the draft and working very well and got the lead. Once he had that control, there’s really no taking it from him. I’m extremely happy for Hendrick Motorsports. I can’t wait to see Alex and congratulate him and this No. 48 team is smiling. It was a good night.”

Brad Keselowski – finished fifth: “That was a struggle all day. We couldn’t get a handle on it. We got our best at the end which is certainly what matters. A decent day. We will take it and learn from it and move on. (What were you missing?) Somewhere in the balance of speed and handling 1+1 didn’t equal 3. I am a little frustrated. I was hoping to be a little better than we were today. … We dug really hard at the end. We had a good run at the end and made a lot of passes and made a lot of ground with some good strategy on pit road and good execution. It wasn’t quite enough speed to run with them. We had some real good glimpses of having what it takes but they were just glimpses, it wasn’t long enough.”

Ryan Blaney – finished sixth: “Myself and two other cars blew tires at the same time early in the race and that stunk. We were running second and put a splash of gas in it to end the first stage. There were five or six guys doing that and the right rear started peeling apart and that pretty much ruined our day. We went a lap down and had to play catch-up all day. I think we gained seven seconds on the leader there during the last run, so today, the fastest car didn’t win the race.”

Erik Jones – finished seventh: “We put it together pretty well. The DeWalt Camry was good, and it was good at the end. I really think we had a top-four car. We just gave up to much on the second-to-last run. We were loose and fell back to 15th and just had to work up from there. It made it kind of difficult to get the track position from there. It just was a little bit tough to pass all day and get up there. The car was good; it had good speed. But good day for us. … I think we have to keep improving our stuff. It looks like the Hendrick (Motorsports) cars were really fast this weekend. We’re going to have to keep working to keep up with them. It’s a different kind of race track; Chicago is kind of its own animal. We will keep improving our stuff; we will have to keep working to keep up with them.”

William Byron – finished eighth: “We were really good. We just had a couple of things not go our way; the one restart and we had one run that wasn’t the greatest. We got back to the top five and we just didn’t quite have enough that last run. Alex (Bowman) and those guys were really fast. Congrats to them. They did a great job. I just have to close in on those details a little bit more. We, as a team, are really close. It’s a little disappointing now that we have the speed that we do, but it’s good to take the lead at some point in the race. I think that’s six or seven in a row for that, so we just have to continue to do that. It’s good for Alex (Bowman) and hopefully we can piggy-back on that. I think we had another good points day, which doesn’t sound great, but we are making our way up the playoff grid.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished ninth: “Fought it hard. We knew at the end of practice that we were a little bit lost on what we needed to do to try to hit the balance today. We were kind of taking a big swing at it and it was not bad. At one point in the race, we were really good, and we were the fastest car and then the next restart, it wouldn’t go because it was on the track so hard. We lost that track position and then we got it back on that really long run. We got all the way to the front and then had a good restart and got to fifth or fourth or something. Then when we had the caution for the 4 (Kevin Harvick) scraping the wall in (Turns) 1 and 2, the next restart we got the bottom and it didn’t go so well. I got drug back and I got really tight on that run. We lost all our track position that we worked all day to get at the beginning of that third stage. At the end, just ran out of time. We were fast again.

“Our car was really sensitive and on edge all day. It would go from too loose to too tight without almost doing anything different from lap to lap. Little bit of a tough day, but we soldiered home to a fifth and a sixth in the stages and ninth at the end. When you have a tough weekend, that’s a good day to get a top 10. … (Is this just one race or a new trend with this package?) I think it’s just one race. You look at these things and you come to these tracks now with this package and every track is just so different. I can’t stress it enough how different it is. You only get two 50-minute practices and we came here, and we were totally lost for the first whole practice and then two-thirds of the second practice and it’s like, if we had another 30 minutes, we could have been so much better. It’s one of those things where all these tracks are so different, and they want just a different package all together that the first time here is hard to hit it. Clearly, they (Hendrick Motorsports) hit it out of the park because they were fast right off the truck.”

Austin Dillon – finished 10th: “The outside on restarts was awful. It was a freight train on the bottom and it was just wild. I need to go back and watch the restarts; it was crazy trying to see how to gain momentum. It was fun. We had a really good car on the long runs and got some track position there at the end. We’ll build off of this. Our cars are fast; we got a pole and a top ten so that’s a good start to where we need to head. We got behind in track position and it’s just so hard. We were fast enough to run in the top five and that gives you a better position. But we need a little bit more. It’s good to see a Chevrolet win. Alex (Bowman) and team have gotten their stuff better progressively the last couple of weeks with all of the second-place finishes. Hopefully we can learn off of they’ve done somehow.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 24th: “Our Ruckus Ford was too free all day, and we had a hard time making the right adjustments to get the handling to where we needed it. It was hard to get any laps back with the green-flag pit stops, but the No. 41 guys worked hard all day, and we’ll keep learning and getting better.”

Ty Dillon – finished 35th: “Our result doesn’t show how much speed and grip we had in our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1. I feel very confident that today was going to be our best mile and a half race of the season so far. My Germain Racing team continues to work hard to improve our cars and this weekend was a step in the right direction. It’s a shame we had a loose wheel and broke a stud during the first stage, because even when I went back out after repairs, the car was still very good. We made the most of our situation though and learned as much as possible to carry over into future intermediate races.”

We will add more driver quotes as they become available. Please check back.

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.