What Drivers Said after Daytona

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Justin Haley, winner: “It’s absolutely a blessing.  It’s pretty incredible that I have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come to this level and the stage that we’re performing on. …

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega, and it’s just unreal.  I don’t know how to feel.”

William Byron, finished second: “If a few things went our way under that last caution we might have won. You don’t want to win that way as your first win I guess … It’s not the prettiest way to do it, but I’d still take it. … Unfortunately, that’s wasn’t what the cards played for us today. To finished second with a backup car from the back starting 40th is really good.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished third: “If it did go back to green, I think there’s only a handful of cars that are still in good shape. Certainly William and I were going to do everything we could to get a Hendrick car to victory lane. But it is what is its, the race has been called and we’ll take the third-place points and go home.”

Ty Dillon, finished fourth: “We didn’t have a chance to race for the win but this was a first top five and best finish ever and I’m pretty pleased with that. I’m thrilled for our Germain Racing Team. It’s a nice little shot in the arm for our team to get the second half of the season going. There has been a little bit of disappointment the last couple of weeks. So, to be able to have a good finish is going to catapult us in the second half of the season. And hopefully we continue to build off that momentum. I’m proud of our effort today. Sometimes it just seems to work out.”

Corey LaJoie, finished sixth: “Sixth for us, no matter what the circumstance, is a good day.  If you told me I could take a sixth-place finish before we even started I would have taken it to the bank and ran with it.  That’s cool for Justin (Haley).  That’s obviously not how he wanted to win his first race, but at the end of the day there’s no asterisk in the record book and there’s no asterisk in the record book for finishing sixth, either.  We had a good Shine Armor car.  Our tactic was just to ride and try to miss those big ones and that’s what we did.  In hindsight, we shouldn’t have pitted and we probably could have ended up second, but coulda, woulda, shoulda.”

Aric Almirola, finished seventh: “It was a crazy day.  I think every time you come down here to Daytona you hope that you’ve got a shot to win and at certain points throughout the race I thought we would, and then at certain points throughout the race I thought we were in big trouble.  To get out of here with a top 10 is a good day and I think points-wise we stayed steady. I think we maybe moved up a spot to 10th in points and we built a little bit more of a gap back to 16th, so that’s important leaving here.”

Matt DiBenedetto, finished eighth: “I couldn’t see anything in the crash other than crap everywhere, so I listened to Doug (Campbell, spotter) 100%. I went wherever he told me. He said go low and I just slammed it down on the apron and hoped no one was underneath me. There wasn’t and we avoided it somehow, so Doug gets credit for that one.”

Kurt Busch, finished 10th: “I feel like we were in a really good position to win the race and it’s just a matter of when the one random lightning bolt comes down to decide when you make the call. It was a judgment call on their part.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 24th: “We were trying to work our way back to the lead and was in the top 10, so we were in decent position, but obviously when the wreck starts on the front row it’s all about luck after that and we weren’t able to get our Fifth Third Ford through that wreck as good as we wanted.  I just spent a lot of time on pit road, go a couple laps down trying to fix it, so, all in all, it was a good first two stages when we were strong and felt good, but it just didn’t work out.”

Joey Logano, finished, 25th – “I thought things were gonna go a little better today than they ended up.  We were able to get a stage win, which was great for our Mustang, but everything was going good until it didn’t.”

Austin Dillon, finished 33rd:  “I got turned a little bit left when (Clint Bowyer) went left and it kind of shot me down there and I just kept coming left. I mean, its part of this kind of racing. I was being aggressive and trying to keep the lead, and that is what you get, its part of it.  I just thought I would try and keep it up front.  We had a fast car and I am really proud of the guys. Hate it went that way and wished we could have worked with the Chevys to finish off what we started.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 34th: “I guess (Austin Dillon) didn’t want me to pass him.  I don’t know.  I got under him and he blocked, and we got together, I got off of him – moved down and got off of him – and here he comes back down even more and just finally wrecked us all.  That’s just part of racing like this.”

Chase Elliott, finished 35th: “I was just kind of on the bottom pushing along there and I saw Austin (Dillon) get turned around. You just hope you can get left enough, and slowed down enough, to miss it.  It’s unfortunate because I thought our NAPA Camaro ZL1 was one of the best ones we have had down here. It’s unfortunate and I hate that happened because I felt like we were doing a pretty good job as a group. Just needed to keep it going.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 36th: “I haven’t seen a replay, but apparently it was a case of someone not being cleared at all, so that part is frustrating.  It’s one thing if you’re kind of pushing each other and someone gets turned, something like that, but when you just chop somebody like that, from what I hear, it’s frustrating, especially since we were rows back.  In both Daytona races this year we’ve been four rows back in the deal and just get absolutely destroyed.  There was nowhere to go and none of our doing, so that’s the way it goes.”

David Ragan, finished 38th:  “I couldn’t tell what happened.  I knew we were in the middle and it was a really big accordion effect.  I would get a really big run.  (Kyle Busch) would push me, I would push (Brad Keselowski), we would surge for half a lap or a lap and then the bottom and the top would surge and we would fall back a little bit back and forth, so I was hoping we could get back in that top lane with a few of the other Fords, where I felt like we could get rolling, but never saw that hole and the next thing I know (Keselowski) is in the wall and (Kevin Harvick) came down and clipped us a little bit.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 39th: “I know I was going straight one moment and the next moment I wasn’t.  It’s unfortunate.  We were all two and three-wide racing and just got tagged from the back.  I’m not sure exactly.  I know we got to three-wide at the top of (Turn) 3 and it looks like Kevin (Harvick) gave me a real straight push.  I don’t know.  It just took off on me.  The Fords were working really hard to run together and Kevin and Joey (Logano) and (Ryan) Blaney and myself, I thought we were doing really good at it, but for whatever reason the car just instantly turned there.  It’s a bummer for everybody, but we’ll move on and hopefully go to the next one and be alright.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 40th : “I haven’t seen the replay. I don’t really know what happened, I just know a few cars wrecked ahead of me.  I was trying to slow down and I bumped (Logano) and someone bumped me from behind and we were starting to get it back straight and somebody spun me out and the track bar broke.  My car was actually fine.  I thought we were going to continue, but unfortunately the track bar broke and it’s something we can’t fix.”

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

Photo: Denny Hamlin
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”

 

 

What they wore on the red carpet …

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Before the show, drivers and their significant others walked the red carpet. Here’s a look at their outfits for the evening.

Kyle Busch, wife Samantha and son Brexton. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Kyle and Katelyn Larson. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Kevin and DeLana Harvick (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Clint and Lorra Bowyer. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Joey and Brittany Logano.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Kurt and Ashley Busch. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott and Kaylie Green. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Aric and Janice Almirola. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Daniel and Kenzie Hemric. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.