Friday 5: Did driver quit NASCAR race to watch man walk on moon?

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As the celebration of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon 50 years ago takes place Saturday, the event puts a spotlight on NASCAR folklore.

And an independent driver named Henley Gray.

The story goes that Gray pulled off the track and quit the Bristol race so he could return to his Rome, Georgia, home and watch man walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Here’s what is known: NASCAR raced that day at Bristol. The Volunteer 500 began at 1:30 p.m. ET. with a field that included Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker among the 32 drivers.

Pearson won. Runner-up Bobby Isaac finished three laps down. Gray placed 15th, completing 206 of 500 laps. The reason he did not finish is listed as “quit.”

The race ended just after 4:30 p.m. ET. The Eagle lunar module with Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the moon at the Sea of Tranquility at 4:17 p.m. ET. Armstrong didn’t step on to the moon until 10:56 p.m. ET.

Based solely on the timeline, the story is possible that Gray quit to watch man walk on the moon.

But there’s a problem.

“That didn’t happen,” Gray told NBC Sports this week. “I don’t know how that got started.”

Gray is 86 “I’ll be 86 and a half next month,“ he said. “Halves count when you get my age.” — and ran 374 Cup races from 1964-77. He never won.

His best finish was fourth at Nashville on July 30, 1966. Petty won the 400-lap race, leading every lap. Petty was followed by Buck Baker (five laps down), Allison (six laps down) and Gray (17 laps down) in a field of 28 cars. Henley went on to finish a career-high fourth in the points that season. It was the only season he placed in the top 10.

Since he wasn’t a “hot dog” as he called the factory-backed drivers of that era, Henley admits he quit some races. As an independent, he had to be wise with his money. Sometimes it wasn’t worth running 100 more laps in hopes of earning another $100 when the wear and tear on the car would be greater. So he packed up and headed to the next race.

“I was having a ball,” Gray said of his career. “I wasn’t making any money, but I was having a ball.”

After a crash at Michigan ended his driving career, Gray remained in the sport as an owner.

Dale Earnhardt drove for Gray in October 1977 at Charlotte. It was Earnhardt’s fourth career Cup start. He finished 38th after a rear end failure 25 laps into the race. Baker drove for Gray at Martinsville in April 1982, finishing 28th. Benny Parsons finished 28th at Daytona in July 1982 in Gray’s car.

Gray goes from one story to the next, recalling his career, laughing at the stories and times with drivers who have since passed.

But he is adamant. He didn’t leave Bristol early to watch man on the moon.

Now, there is one story that is true about Gray looking up to the heavens.

“(One) time, there were three of us on our way from Charlotte going down to Rockingham, an eclipse was going to happen at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. “We pulled over on the side of the road and stood there for a while and watched all the eclipse and got back in the trucks and went on to the race.”

2. NASCAR is watching

Alex Bowman on the roof of his car after winning at Chicagoland Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Twice in the last three weeks, victory celebrations featured drivers standing on the roof of their car. Alex Bowman did it after he scored his first Cup win three weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway. Kurt Busch did it last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

In the early 2000s, NASCAR frowned upon drivers standing on the car’s roof after a victory. NASCAR penalized a team after its roof was found to be too low. It so happened that the team’s driver jumped on the roof after winning. That celebration went away.  

Kurt Busch celebrates his Kentucky win atop his car’s roof. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

What Bowman and Busch did evokes the spontaneity some suggest has been lost because of corporate sponsorship and the need for drivers to thank sponsors before relishing a victory.

Last week also saw five crew members ride on Kurt Busch’s winning car from the start/finish line after his celebration there. The moment was lauded on social media for how it resembled such celebrations decades ago. 

It’s a wonderful image. So is a driver standing on the roof of a car after winning. But both present potential problems for NASCAR.

In an era where a failure in post-race inspection can lead to a disqualification of any car, including the winner, NASCAR has to be mindful of ensuring the vehicle’s integrity while permitting celebrations that fans enjoy. 

On the recent celebrations by Bowman and Busch, a NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports: “Our inspectors are very good at their jobs, so it hasn’t been an issue thus far. We will continue to remind the teams about celebrating responsibly.

We will not hesitate to make a stand if celebrations turn nefarious, but the very recent trends of drivers being human and showing emotion over something they’ve worked so hard for isn’t hurting the integrity of the sport in our opinion.”

3. A new strategy

Since lightning stopped the Daytona race a couple of weeks ago and rain later finished it, some teams are taking a closer look at how they monitor weather.

Previously, many watched radars for when rain would arrive at the track. Now, teams have to be aware of NASCAR’s policy that any lightning strike within an 8-mile radius of the track will stop the action.

While there’s no way to predict when and where lightning will strike, if an approaching storm features lightning, teams will have to be aware of that.

Kurt Busch gave up the lead at Daytona under caution to pit when NASCAR announced that the restart would be on the next lap. Shortly after pitting, lightning struck 6.3 miles from the track and the race was stopped with Justin Haley in the lead. The race never resumed and Haley won.

“I asked NASCAR about their policy and how they handle things and what they look at so we are now making sure we copy everything the same,” Kurt Busch said. “That will help us gauge how to call a better race.”

Said Kyle Busch: “That’s certainly something that we all have to got to look at and think about now.”

Lightning won’t be an issue this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Instead, drivers will have to deal with the heat. Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s this weekend.

4. Beating the Big 3 in Xfinity 

Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick went 1-2-3 last weekend in the Kentucky Xfinity race, continuing their dominance this season. They’ve combined to win 10 of the last 11 races (Ross Chastain‘s win at Daytona was the exception). Twice, the trio took the top three spots in a race (Bristol and Kentucky). In seven of the last 11 races, the trio has taken at least two of the top three spots.

So, who can top them?

Michael Annett finished fourth at Kentucky and said that was a key performance for his JR Motorsports team.

“At least I’m able to be up there and see where they’re better,” said Annett, who won at Daytona and has 12 top 10s in 17 races this season. “I’m at least able to see that now in the race and just be able to put a whole weekend together. That’s what you’re going to have to do to beat those guys.”

Justin Allgaier, who has six top-three finishes this season, also sees the progress Annett, his teammate, sees.

“I felt (at Kentucky) we were way closer to them speed wise than we have been,” said Allgaier, who finished seventh. “We ran right there with (Custer and Bell) for quite a while.”

Allgaier admits that’s something he couldn’t say earlier in the season.

5. Sticky situation  

This marks the second of three consecutive weekends that a traction compound will be applied to a track surface. It was done last weekend at Kentucky, will be done this week at New Hampshire and also will be done at next week at Pocono.

Watkins Glen follows Pocono but the next oval after Pocono is Michigan. There are no plans at this time for Michigan to use the traction compound next month.

Bristol winners and losers

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WINNERS

Matt DiBenedettoHe won the night at Bristol if not the race, starting with his selection of the theme from “Rocky” for his intro music and then strolling on to the walkway in a silk boxing robe and boxing gloves. He led 93 laps and looked to be headed toward his first Cup win until Denny Hamlin passed him with 12 laps to go. DiBenedetto’s emotions after the runner-up finish also garnered new fans. They showed their appreciation with loud cheers when his interview was played on the track’s video board.

Denny Hamlin — Scored his fourth win of the season and sixth consecutive top-five finish. He is showing that this could be the year he wins that elusive championship.

Jeremy Clements Finished fourth in the Bristol Xfinity race, his best result since he won at Road America in 2017. Next up on the Xfinity schedule? Road America. Clements said that “it wouldn’t matter if we wrecked and finished last, I’d still be pumped up to go to Road America. I’m ready to kick their ass. That’s a place we can win”

Gray GauldingPlaced sixth in the Xfinity race for his best finish of the season at a track other than Daytona and Talladega. Afterward, he said: “What an awesome night. For all the little guys out there, this is what we work for … We’re definitely going to celebrate.”

Timmy HillMatched his career-best finish seventh in the Xfinity. That marked the first race in the partnership between Hattori Racing Enterprises and MBM Motorsports. How did the partnership help a team that had been cash strapped? Hill said HRE joining “gave us a little more tires. Normally we’re running on 40-50-lap scuff tires. That certainly helped tonight to have fresh tires.”

LOSERS

Austin DillonHis 34th-place finish was his fifth finish of 30th or worse in the last seven races.

Clint BowyerHis spin after making contact with Quin Houff just before the end of stage 2 could cost Bowyer a spot in the playoffs. The leaders pitted but those needing stage points, including Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, stayed out. Suarez scored nine stage points and passed Bowyer at the end of the night for the final playoff spot. Newman gained eight stage points and pulled further ahead of Bowyer in the points.

Aric AlmirolaDamage from a crash led to a 29th-place finish. He has placed 29th or worse in four of the last five Bristol races.

Former NASCAR driver Scott Speed begins recovery from broken back

Photo: Scott Speed official Facebook page
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Former NASCAR and Formula One driver Scott Speed remains in a Utah hospital after suffering three broken vertebrae in his back following a hard landing on a jump during qualifying Friday for the American RallyCross Championship Nitro World Games in Salt Lake City.

MORE: Scott Speed breaks back in rallycross landing

Even with the injuries he suffered and the pain he was in, the 36-year-old California native remained in his Subaru USA car to finish the qualifying session before he climbed out and was immediately sent to a Salt Lake City hospital.

Here’s part of what Speed — including a photo of him giving a thumbs up — posted on Facebook after being admitted to the hospital, saying he and surgeons are working to determine the best course of action to treat the broken back.

“CT scan confirmed a destroyed t6 then … was taken to a spine specialist at University of Utah,” Speed posted. “Finally got an MRI done around 3 am… We found I have 3 fractured vertebrae. Waiting now for the surgeons to give us the game plan. Last night was easily the scariest and most painful time I can remember. Was in a pretty dark place.”

 

Later on Saturday, Speed gave this update:

Speed won the inaugural Americas RallyCross championship last season for Andretti Autosport. He entered this weekend holding a five-point edge over Tanner Faust in the series’ standings.

After competing full-time for two seasons in Formula One in 2006 and 2007, Speed competed in NASCAR from 2008 through 2013. He made 118 NASCAR Cup starts with a career-best of fifth-place in the spring 2009 race at Talladega.

He also made 29 Xfinity Series starts, and 16 Truck Series starts, including the lone win of his NASCAR career in 2008 at Dover International Speedway for Bill Davis Motorsports.

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Long: Fans, family and foes help Matt DiBenedetto leave Bristol with a smile

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — After climbing from his car, Matt DiBenedetto celebrated his runner-up finish at Bristol Motor Speedway by unzipping the top of his uniform to remove a bag of ice on this hot, sticky night and toss it to the ground.

DiBenedetto’s slumped shoulders, pursed lips and faraway glaze displayed the angst, frustration and disappointment that have been constant companions since he was told Tuesday that he would not return to Leavine Family Racing after this season, leaving him without a ride for 2020.

While this was the 28-year-old’s career-best result, DiBenedetto only felt pain immediately after the race. He led 93 consecutive laps in the final stage, but contact with Ryan Newman’s car with about 40 laps to go as Newman sought to stay on the lead lap damaged the left front of DiBenedetto’s car. His car’s handling suffered.

“When I was marching through the field, I was hoping that somebody would pass him so that I didn’t take the win away,” Hamlin said. “I knew I was going to get him. I was just thinking, there’s a lot of people at home and a lot of people in the stands that probably don’t want to see this happen but it’s going to happen.”

Hamlin passed DiBenedetto with 12 laps to go.

DiBenedetto was close enough to Hamlin that he could see the leader in the final laps — “I was screaming in the car,” DiBenedetto said — but far enough away that he could not get to Hamlin’s rear bumper even as his spotter repeatedly said on the radio “whatever it takes.”

Passion, persistence and even the hopes of many fans at Bristol were not enough to keep Hamlin from winning his fourth race of the season.

DiBenedetto suffered in silence as Hamlin celebrated.

“The pain was like being stabbed a hundred times in the chest,” DiBenedetto said.

Tony DiBenedetto tried to console his son with a hug. DiBenedetto looked down as his father spoke to him.

“I cannot believe you don’t have a ride (for 2020),” Tony DiBenedetto said he told his son. “I cannot believe you do not have a ride in a top race car. I don’t know what else you can do.”

Sandy DiBenedetto, who cried earlier this week after being told that her son was without a ride beyond this season, saw only success in the second-place finish. The proud mother yelled “Yay! as she hugged her son.

His look was not one of excitement.

“Wrong thing to say in the moment because he’s devastated,” she said.

DiBenedetto’s mood lightened as other drivers congratulated him. Chase Elliott was first. Then came Daniel Suarez. Ryan Blaney. Clint Bowyer. Jeff Gordon. And others.

“It was hard to hold it together with all these drivers coming up to you,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s amazing to have earned that respect from them.”

Denny Hamlin gives Matt DiBenedetto private encouragement after Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

DiBenedetto later went to victory lane to congratulate Hamlin and they embraced. Hamlin whispered encouragement.

What Hamlin said, he will keep to himself. As they separated, DiBenedetto told Hamlin: “Means more than you know.”

Hamlin later said he expects DiBenedetto to continue to race in Cup after this year.

“Matt is doing a phenomenal job of showing his résumé in front of everyone,” Hamlin said. “So he doesn’t need to type it out. He’s going out there and performing. He will land as good or better on his feet, I am certain of it, after this year.”

DiBenedetto’s humility, his roller-coaster journey and his underdog story is making him a fan favorite. The crowd gave its loudest roar of the night when his interview was played on the video board and PA system after the race. He responded by turning and raising his arm to the crowd. The fans yelled louder.

While all drivers experience racing’s highs and lows, DiBenedetto has been challenged as much as anyone in Cup. After his family moved from California to North Carolina to further his racing career when he was a teen, they eventually reached a point where they could not support his racing. He landed a ride in Joe Gibbs Racing’s development program but ran only seven Xfinity races in 2009-10 because of a lack of sponsorship.

He later drove start and parks in the Xfinity Series, feeling that it was better to be in even a low-budget ride than not being at the track.

His first season in Cup was in 2015 with BK Racing, a team that was sold in bankruptcy court last year. He decided to leave his ride with Go Fas Racing after last season even though he had no ride lined up at the time.

DiBenedetto landed with Leavine Family Racing for this season but there were questions even from the beginning of if he would last more than one season because of Toyota Racing Development’s backlog of drivers.

Once Joe Gibbs Racing completes an extension with Erik Jones, all four of the team’s drivers will be set for next season. But there still needs to be a place for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell in Cup. With Leavine Family Racing aligned with JGR, it only made sense that Bell could go there. No official announcement has been made but all indications are that Bell will be driving the No. 95 next year.

So DiBenedetto faces an uncertain future. Again.

“This journey has made me strong and I would not change it for the world,” he said. “It makes you appreciate being here 1,000 times more. This journey has beat me down on the ground more than I can possibly explain.

“It’s hard. It’s been really hard. I’m glad it’s been hard. I want to appreciate it the most that I can. I want it to make me fight and claw and dig as hard as I possibly can, and that’s what this journey has done.”

It was only fitting that with drivers picking the song to be played when they were introduced before the race that DiBenedetto selected the theme from “Rocky” to serenade his arrival.

DiBenedetto thrilled the crowd by wearing a silk robe with “Italian Stallion” on the back and boxing gloves. He threw a few punches at the air as he sauntered down the walkway.

Call him the people’s champ.

“It was what I was going to do it last year, but it was more fitting this week,” DiBenedetto said with a smile of his song and outfit. “It was a cool intro and fitting, I guess, for my story that fans have embraced so much.”

Each time DiBenedetto has been challenged, he’s come back in his career. Now that he’s with a ride that has had him racing closer to the front than any time in his career, the next chapter is finding a ride that can keep him in that spot. Or better.

He said Friday that he just wants to win in Cup. He came as close as he ever has Saturday night.

The pain on his face showed. But just as the ice in that bag he tossed after exiting his car melted, so did his disappointment.

And what could have been one of his most frustrating finishes ended with him smiling, and fans chanting his name as he walked out of the track and toward the next part of his journey.

What Drivers Said after Bristol Night Race

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Denny Hamlin – winner: “It feels good. My first reaction was I was sorry to Matt (DiBenedetto). I know those guys really wanted to win and Matt deserves a win, but –  I’m watching him do an interview, I get emotional for him. Just hate it that I had to take it from him. … (What does it say about your team that you bounced back from early damage from contact and rallied to win?) It means a lot. It’s emotional in a lot of reasons. … (DiBenedetto) was good. I knew it was something – that car, it was probably a setup that I ran last year. I know Mike Wheeler has a great set up for this place and Matt was just doing a phenomenal job. That’s all you can say. He’s just a hell of a racecar driver. He’s going to land on his feet in a better ride than he’s got now.

“(Is your team on a roll?) Absolutely. It’s on a roll like I’ve never seen before. It hasn’t been this good in a long time. … (About the battle with DiBenedetto?) I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, (crew chief) Mike Wheeler. I hate it. I mean, I know a win would mean a lot to that team.  I have to give it 110% for FedEx and my whole team.  Just sorry. Proud of this whole FedEx team for giving me a great car, pit crew, crew chief, everybody doing an amazing job.  Jordan, all the girls at home.  Just the whole team is just doing an amazing job right now.  They’re just kicking ass.

“(How did you chase DiBenedetto down?) Between my spotter and the crew chief, just stayed on me to not get anxious, just kind of take my time. I had plenty of time. I just worked him over, worked him over. I knew I didn’t want to show him the bottom until I knew I could make the pass. I ran the top, ran the top, ran the top, got the position on the bottom and finished it. We had a great car that could move around.  Came back from a couple laps down and here we are.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished second: “I don’t even know what to say. I’m so sad we didn’t win, but proud, proud of the effort. I got tight there from the damage from trying to get by (Ryan) Newman and that immediately flipped a switch and got tight. Man, this opportunity has been – that’s what I want everybody to know, how thankful I am that I got this opportunity and to work with great people like (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler), my crew chief. I am so thankful everyone on this team gave me this opportunity – all of our sponsors, ProCore, Dumont Jet, Anest Iwata spray equipment, Toyota for backing me this year, everybody at Leavine Family Racing. I want to try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week and I want to stick around and I want to win. That’s all I want to do is win in the Cup Series and we were close. It’s so hard to be that close, but it’s neat to race door-to-door with Denny Hamlin, someone who I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid.  It’s amazing. Great day, but this one is going to hurt for sure.

“(What is going through your head right now?) I don’t know. So much. I wanted to win so bad for these guys, for this team, for them giving me this opportunity. I’m just thankful that they gave me this opportunity, Toyota, Procore, Dumont Jets. I’m so thankful. But, man, I’m sad. We got tight after the deal with (Ryan) Newman when he came up into us. All of a sudden it got really tight after that. Congrats to Denny (Hamlin). He raced hard. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. To be racing door-to-door with him at Bristol, in front of a great group of fans – I’ll try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week. I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come. I love it. I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet. Something will come open. It’s going to happen. I’m here to win. Something’s going to come open. I’m proud of these guys. Thankful for my wife and fans for sticking with me. It’s been a tough journey, a hard week. Cool for this team.”

Brad Keselowski – finished third: “My nose without a hole in it would have been really good, but it was a decent finish for us nonetheless.  We led a lot of laps and that’s something to be proud of. … (What did you need to contend?) We seemed to fall off a little bit on the long run and then got in the back of some lap traffic and put a hole in the nose, and that knocked a little bit of speed out of it. That’s all she wrote for us. … (Was it hard to pass?) No more than usual Bristol.  It’s just the way the cars are around you. … (Are you disappointed?) We had a shot at winning. We probably weren’t good enough on the long runs to just dominate, but on the short and medium runs we were. I got a hole in the nose there late and that kind of ruined our day.”

Kyle Busch – finished fourth: “I was just too loose at the end. The car just wasn’t there really all weekend long. I  just never really found what I was looking for. We were kind of all over the place. Early on, we were so loose that I was just barely hanging on and trying to make up time there. We finally got it tightened up enough there when I was racing with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and got the lead from the 2 before that caution came out. Then we tried to make it a little bit better for exit after that because we were going to go a long ways on tires we figured and just made it too loose. I just had no rear traction getting into the corner. We salvaged a hard-fought day for fourth. That’s about it.

“(What does it say to come back from being a lap down and finishing as strong as you did?)  “It’s better than some other situations for sure. Obviously Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys do a really good job of being able to work on the car and constantly improve it and constantly make it better, but flat out getting our ass kicked right now by our teammates, so we’ve got to get better.”

Chase Elliott – finished fifth: “I thought we were just off a little bit off all night. All weekend we just needed a little bit. I felt like we were really close. We just never got over the hill. But our Hooters Spirits team did a good job. Heck, they executed a great race. I think we gained spots on pit road every time we came; like more than one spot, too. So, they did a great job. Alan (Gustafson) called a great race. I lined-up in the top multiple times. You can’t really ask for anything else. From a driver’s standpoint, I just didn’t do a very good job with it. I seemed to be a little bit better than these guys. I felt like the past Spring race and this race, we’ve been off just a touch. We’ve got to go to work.”

Kyle Larson – finished sixth: “It was difficult to pass. I think we could have had a good run for the win there, but we had some left front damage on the second to last stop that we made. As soon as I turned into my stall, the 20 was going to put his right front on and I clipped him. It pushed our left front fender in and then we had to come down and repair it the next pit stop. If we didn’t have to do that, we would have restarted sixth, which would have been really nice for that last big run there. I felt like my car was really good on the long runs. We could have given it a run for the win, but we ended up coming home sixth. We were probably the third-best car there at the end. … All-in-all, a really good day again. It was a solid points day and we jumped up a couple of spots in points. Hopefully we can get to 10th at least when the Playoffs get started. We’ll see. But, I’m happy with our day. The Credit One Bank Chevy was good, just not good enough early in the run.

“(You are building consistency for the playoffs, aren’t you?) Yeah, no doubt. We’ve been quietly building momentum and speed and have had a lot of good runs here recently. We’ve just got to keep it going here in these next couple of races and get in the Playoffs and carry it on through that. (How disappointed are you for not winning tonight?) You are disappointed that you didn’t win, but for Bristol, I felt like this was one was uneventful for us other than the minor fender damage. It was cool to not have to fight leaders off from going a lap down, miss wrecks and things like that. We had a good car, too. I felt like I could run the bottom really well. We were just too loose all race long to be really aggressive on the short runs. It maybe benefitted me for the long runs.”

Clint Bowyer – finished seventh: “We had a good race.  We were too loose.  I needed more rear grip all night long.  That’s probably the loosest I’ve ever been here.  We kind of fought front turn all weekend long and was trying to make up for it with wedge out and track bar up – stuff like that – and it just hurts rear grip.  I mean, all in all, it was a good weekend for us.  It was kind of a rebound weekend and what we needed, but you can’t expect those guys to just lay over for you.  We did all we could do.  I was hoping to be a top five car and when you’re a top five car here you’ve got a chance to win, but were just a beat off of that all night.

“(It looked like your night could have been a lot worse?) Yeah, but it could have been a lot better.  It’s short track racing.  You’re making split-decisions.  I was trying to pass those two cars and get some more stage points for us and I clipped him.  It wasn’t nothing he did, I was just trying to shoot the gap and I had a run on those guys and trying to do all I could do.

“(Your thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto’s race?) I hate that for that guy. He’s racing for a job and everything else. You know those Gibbs cars are fast. You knew he was gonna have a rocket and he did. Man, that last run those cars took off like crazy. I was just too loose to go with them.”

Daniel Suarez – finished eighth: “The racing was fun.  All in all it was a pretty solid day for the 41 Ford Mustang Haas Automation.  I feel like we had a top 10 car the entire weekend and that’s pretty much where we ran.  We had some ups and downs on pit road and had some mistakes there as well as some electrical issues that I feel like we’re lucky we were able to continue to finish the race with the battery, but overall I’m proud of my team.  Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going in the next few weeks. … (How big was it to get those stage points tonight?) I feel like that was probably the biggest thing of the day.  I feel like that was an amazing call from my crew chief Billy Scott and I’m proud of that call.  We have to just keep making those decisions. … It was a positive weekend.  I wish we could have finished a little bit better, probably in the top five or so, but for whatever reason we’re strong but we’re not super-strong.  We’re a top 10 car and that’s where we ended.

“(Your thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto’s performance?) He did an amazing job.  I feel like he deserved the win, but you never know how things are gonna work out.  I feel like I have to do my race and let everything else play out by itself.  I can’t control that, but I will tell you that I wish in a way I’m kind of lucky that he didn’t win, but I wish he would have won the race because he’s an amazing driver.  He deserves that ride and he’s been doing a very good job this year.”

Kurt Busch – finished ninth: “We just weren’t quite there all night. I think we had a nice sequence to get a stage win, but just tight center out. We just didn’t have the mojo all weekend. The first few laps in practice, I was like man I have to get this rotation to help turn center out. We just didn’t get it done. … (Were you rooting for a late caution?) It wouldn’t have helped us much.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 10th: (Did you see DiBenedetto leading near the end of the race?) “We were getting lapped there at the end and I was like, ‘Who is leading?’ And they said, ‘The 95 and the 11 is right there.’  I’m like, ‘No way, man.’ The 11 just got by him. That’s tough. That would have been a pretty cool story.  He just announced that he’s not gonna be in that car next year and I think he does a great job.  He really drove for that one.  It stinks he couldn’t get it done, but he’s a great driver.  I hope he lands somewhere good.

“(What was the racing like?) Typical Bristol, I thought.  I thought the bottom was gonna be a little bit more competitive.  A little bit later in the race when the top kind of was dominant I got in that wreck there.  I cut the right-front tire down on the restart and plowed into a couple of them.  We got it fixed and I was glad we were able to come back.  I would have liked a caution to see what we could have done, but the thing was killed.  That’s a big Dent Wizard car for sure, but I’m just glad we were able to salvage a decent day.  It could have been a lot worse.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 12th: “We worked hard during practice on Friday and made a few changes to the initial setup of our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet that Luke Lambert and the guys had success with in the past at Bristol Motor Speedway. I feel like that effort on Friday really helped us on Saturday during the race when the top of the racetrack came in, especially in Turns 3 and 4. At the start of the race, we rolled by a couple of cars and thought we’d be okay but as soon as we got in clean air our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet was way too loose, which made it hard to make speed on the bottom. We worked all night to get our Chevy tightened up and the handling would come to me if we could get a heat cycle on the tires. The race pace was so fast that it was a challenge to stay on the lead lap, but we had some things fall our way from time to time to get the free pass. If I had another corner or two, I think I could have passed the No. 6 car for 11th, but I’m just proud of everyone on the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet team for never giving up and bringing home the finish that we did.”

Joey Logano — finished 16th: “It was a tough night for our Shell-Pennzoil team. We started the race tight and then we had the right-front tire go down. We were able get back on the lead lap and kept making adjustments to get better. But once we got the damage late in the race, that pretty much sealed our fate.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 19th: “After the first incident, it was just too hard to make up ground after that. We just had so much damage. To come back 19th is respectable. The other part is that we had to get off strategy because we lost two laps. So, the first two-thirds of the race, we were running old tires against the field a lot of the time trying to get laps back. It was just one of those nights. Qualifying put us in that spot. A better qualifying effort would have had us in a much better position. I wouldn’t have been there when the 3 blew his tire and life would be totally different.

“(You seem like you’re in good spirits) For as beat up as that car is and the runs we did on old tires, we had a good night and just a lot of bad luck. I have to look at the truth inside of this team and how strong this team is, how good this team is. I know the results are coming, it’s just a series of bad luck and it all started with a bad qualifying effort. We have to clean things up for sure. This team is really starting to gel and come along. … (Is it pretty much win or else now?) I’ve got one more shot. I don’t know, it’s so hard to predict. These are two great tracks for me, two places that I love. We’ll see what happens.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 33rd: “It was a bummer of weekend, but at least we put ourselves in the top 10 towards the end of the race and it just didn’t work out. … (How devastated are you?) I didn’t feel like we were gonna win anyway, so I’m not super-bummed, I’m just more bummed that our car wasn’t better.  We struggled all weekend for speed.  We got closer when the top came in, but we still weren’t capable of going up and leading the race and running up front, I didn’t feel like.  I thought about 10th-place was as good as we could be tonight and we were doing that and that’s where we needed to be from what we had.  It’s a bummer to have it end that way, but I didn’t feel like we had a shot at the win.  I’m not as bummed as I thought I would be. … It’s just racing.  They got together and I was already committed to the outside of the 12.  They made contact, but I didn’t think it was gonna blow his right-front that quick.  Unfortunately, it did and trapped us between the wall.”

Austin Dillon — finished 34th: “I thought we did a good job with the balance of our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 so I’m not sure why we cut a tire. The balance of the race car was better than anything else we’ve had. It was early in Stage 1 and I didn’t really have much warning. We started to get tight off of the corners but the right-front tire went down really suddenly at the start finish line and I just tried to hold on. We might have been able to save it if the No. 48 car didn’t hit my rear but he just had so much momentum going and it was all over at that point. We scraped the wall with the right-side of our Chevy pretty bad and spent the rest of Stage 1 and the majority of Stage 2 in the garage making repairs to the suspension. That basically ruined our day but this Richard Childress Racing team never gives up so we went back out and finished the race, albeit multiple laps down. I hate that we couldn’t be more in contention today for Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Off Road and our friend Johnny Morris.”

David Ragan – finished 36th: “I saw Blaney cut a tire just past the start-finish line and I knew he was gonna run up and hit the wall, and I started trying to slow down.  I was already committed to running the top and that happens in a fraction of a second and I got off the gas and hit the brakes, tried to go low, but as they bounced off the wall they came back down the track a little bit and just knocked the radiator out.  That’s racing at Bristol.  That’s short track racing.  We had a solid run.  I felt like we had a top 15 to top 20 car.  We made some good adjustments throughout the night and it’s just one of those things.  That’s kind of the way short track racing goes.

“(How was the racing?) It was great.  I felt like the bottom groove was still really good for some cars.  Our car wasn’t that great on the bottom, but our Mustang was really fast up top.  I felt like the second stage we had a top 12 or 14 car because it was rubbered up a lot up top, and I think the top has kind of evened out some.  It’s a great race.  Bristol is a great track and it’s gonna be a good finish. I wish we were gonna be out there.”

Michael McDowell – finished 37th: “There’s always a lot going on at Bristol and a lot happening at one time.  The top was pretty much the dominant line.  It’s hard to pass, so guys were aggressive in making moves.  There at the end it looked like maybe the 12 blew a right-front tire.  Somebody blew a tire and they all slid up, and it’s Bristol you check up and you kind of all wash up into the same spot.  I saw my teammate try to dive low to miss it and just caught it and when he caught it, I just ran right in the back of him.  It’s unfortunate for everybody at Front Row Motorsports – lost two cars in that accident and not really anything of our own doing, just wrong place wrong time.  It’s unfortunate for the Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang and for David (Ragan) – not his last Bristol race, but this was an important race for him and I hate it for him.”

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