What Drivers Said after Watkins Glen

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Chase Elliott – winner: “That was awesome. I’ve never been so far from home and felt like I was at my house, so thank you. You all are awesome. What a day! We had such a fast NAPA Camaro and these guys called a great race. We just stayed mistake free and Martin (Truex Jr.) was a little quicker I felt like those last few runs, but the track position was key and I didn’t mess up into Turn 1 this time, so that was good. Just a huge thank you to everyone that makes this happen. Mr. Hendrick is here today and just a lot of people that have gotten me to this point. I wish my mom and my grandmother were here today, but I can’t wait to see you guys when I get back home. Love you. … (Ran out of gas on burnout) I’m sorry I ran out of gas again. I would have done more, but it happens. Just thank you! Like I said, you guys are awesome and I would have never thought that a New York race would feel like home, but you guys did that so thank you.”

MORE: Chase Elliott holds off Martin Truex Jr. for second-straight Watkins Glen win

Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: “I tried to do all I could. Chase (Elliott), he did an excellent job just not making mistakes. All I could do was get to within two car lengths or one-and-a-half at the closest in braking. Just trying to force a mistake, but he hit his marks and his car was really fast in the key areas there where it needed to be and leaving a few of the key corners. Just couldn’t get a run on him and was just kind of stuck there. Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today. We passed quite a few cars and finished up front, just couldn’t pass that last one. … (What does this say about your team and its performance on road courses?) We enjoy the road courses. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and all the guys really understand what I need here. Honestly, we weren’t as good as we needed to be yesterday and made some changes after practice. Definitely in the right direction, just wish we could have been just a tiny bit better. Really was all about restarts and track position. If I could have just got by him on that last one, we could have set sail I believe. We didn’t and he won and he did a good job. Overall, it was a good weekend for us.”

Denny Hamlin – finished third: “We were just a couple tenths off each lap. They were just a little better. I fought the bus-stop all day, I was just a third-place car all weekend and it showed up by finishing third. We optimized the most we were going to get out of our Camry right there. Good day for JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as a whole – two, three, four — 18 (Kyle Busch) we know was fast, but had issues. This keeps momentum for us, but just wish we were a little better. Overall, not bad. … (What has the team hit on the last several weeks?) Just been better as a whole. Just communication getting better, everything is getting better. I’ve got a first-year crew chief (Chris Gabehart) that’s finding his feet right now and our communication is good. He’s showing up to the race track and bringing me a fast car. I’m driving them as hard as I can. It’s all working right now.”

Erik Jones – finished fourth: “It’s good to keep it all going. Watkins Glen is kind of the wild card in there. Being a road course and everything, we’ve been on some tracks that have been really good to us and Watkins Glen has been good to us, but you still never know what can happen on strategy. It worked out the best it really could. I made a mistake yesterday, we started too far back and just took us all day to get the DeWalt Camry up front. I felt like we had a fifth-place car all through practice and we were able to get a little better finish than that. It’s nice to keep that streak going and now going to two places – Michigan next week and then Bristol where I think we can win. We have some really good momentum behind us these months. You can’t keep running up in the top-five every week and not win a race. That’s what I keep telling myself and hopefully we can do it here soon. …

(Do you feel like you can race for wins now without worrying about points?) “Real close. We’re right on the edge of that. We’re over a race up so we can definitely have a race where things don’t necessarily go our way, but we don’t want to get in a spot here with two races to go where we’re back in position where we have to really salvage points. We’ve done a great job this last month-and-a-half of carving our way back into it and really getting towards the top of the non-winners in the Playoff picture, which is a good feeling. Where we should be and where we belong – it’s nice to be up there. Points are off the mind a little bit more than they have been the last few weeks. …

(Was this a better finish than you expected?) “I felt like we were capable with a clean day and that’s exactly what we did. The DeWalt Camry had good speed and we just kept it clean all day. Never got in trouble, never made a mistake on pit road or on the track and came home close to where I figured we could. I don’t think we were capable of racing with the 9 (Chase Elliott) and the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), they were really fast and pretty far out there. Good for us. We’ve been good at Watkins Glen the past few years and it’s nice to get a good day after yesterday’s mishap. We definitely could have gotten some more stage points if we started up front. Still, a good, solid day for us.”

Ryan Blaneyfinished fifth: (Talk about the incident with Jimmie Johnson) It was just racing. He had old tires. They just did gas only and he was pretty slow and I passed 10 guys off the bus stop all day. He hit the third curb pretty bad and got in that position and he was up and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane-and-a-quarter or so, and I took it. At first he didn’t turn down like I thought he knew I was there, and then he kept coming. I tried to check up and it was just too late. I mean, obviously, I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t want to do that. It’s obviously an accident, but he was upset and I can’t blame him for being upset about it. We’re just racing hard and I thought there was a lane there and it just closed.

(How did you leave it with Johnson?) “He’s angry. I can’t blame him for being angry. He’s trying to get in the Playoffs right now and have good runs. Trust me, the last guy I want to spin out is Jimmie. We always race great together. I’ve looked up to him for a long time and still do, and he’s the last guy I want to spin out. It didn’t end well. He wasn’t happy and I can’t blame him. He’ll probably race me pretty hard here for the next few weeks, but I can’t blame him for that. It was definitely not my intention there. … (Were you happy overall with how you ran in the race?) “Yeah, our car was fast. We started dead last and took a lot of time to get up through there. We did some pit strategy stuff and got a little bit better throughout the day and got to fifth there. I might have been able to get to fourth, but it would have been tough. It was a good job by everybody for having a fast car and ended up pretty decent.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished sixth: “Track position was big and we got messed up in our qualifying run by a couple guys, but it wasn’t their fault. So that set us back and we just had to diligently all race long, inch our way forward little by little. It was cool and it’s always so satisfying on these road courses for us to inch our way forward and pass some guys. I wish we could have started a little further forward. I know we could have run a little bit better, but that’s fine. It’s fun to get so much support from all our team, Toyota, JGR and Procore. I just hope I can be a part of this for a long time to come. … (Elliott and Truex) had good track position all day and their cars were fast. Martin’s obviously an excellent road racer, I’ve gotten some good advice from him on the road course at Sonoma and some other places. He’s good, he’s a champion and he’s one of the best. Chase and that 9 team, they are fast at this place and their cars have a lot of speed so it makes sense that they were up front. I think we could have gotten a few more positions if we had track position. Our speed was there, but it was hard to pass with the dirty air.”

Kevin Harvick – finished seventh: “We probably overachieved. We knew we were off and we thought we could, at best, finish fifth and we finished seventh, so we were fine. We didn’t have any drama and we just haven’t been very good here.”

Brad Keselowski – finished ninth: “We were a fifth to tenth-place kind of car all weekend and ended up ninth. I thought we could have been a little bit better at the end if I would have done a few things different, but nowhere near the speed we needed to run with the Gibbs cars or the 9 car, so we made the most of the weekend with what we had. … (How far off from the JGR cars do you think you are?) Here they were probably about a good half-second faster. That’s a lot of speed.”

Kurt Buschfinished 10th: “At road courses, I expected to do a little better at Ganassi. It kind of shows (Kyle) Larson’s done well to improve and (Jamie) McMurray was a solid road racer is what it proves. But we got beat by the same exact cars we got beat by at Sonoma. So, we’ve got to keep plugging away. But I’m not satisfied at all with that. We pushed and pushed and pushed and that’s all it had. A little tight here. A little loose there. But, thanks to everybody at Ganassi for working hard; and to Monster Energy and Chevrolet. A top 10, hey, we’ll take it. But that doesn’t do anything for us right now.”

KYLE BUSCH – finished 11th: Busch refused to speak to reporters other than to say this about his incident with Bubba Wallace: You saw it.”

Aric Almirola — finished 12th: “Overall, it was a good day for me at a road course. The guys brought me a good Go Bowling Ford and I learned some things. It’s always good to see improvement at places like Watkins Glen.”

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR. – finished 15th: All in all it was a decent weekend. We usually struggle in qualifying so to advance to the second round was a huge accomplishment for our No. 17 team. I think this downforce package helps me a little bit here because you can be harder on the throttle through the esses. Overall, it was a mistake-free weekend for our No. 17 team which is what we needed.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON – finished 19th: “(What happened with Ryan Blaney?) He just drove through me in the carousel. I tried to hear what he was trying to say…but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak. I don’t know if he was nervous or scared or both…I don’t know what the problem is. He just drove through me…and spun me out. And clearly that has big implications with what we are trying to do for the Playoffs tight now, so clearly not happy with his actions. … We scored points in both stages which was nice. We were setting up for top-eight to top-10 and got drove through. He claims it was just racing. So I can hardly wait to go racing. Everybody stay tuned.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 20th: “That was frustrating, because I think we were on the right strategy. We were able to stay up front even on older tires and we got some stage points, but that flat tire kind of killed our day. We just didn’t have enough time to get back up to where we should have been.”

BUBBA WALLACE – finished 28th: (Talk about what led up to you spinning Kyle Busch?) “I’m going to get my respect on the track, and I don’t care who it is. That’s for when guys fail to think about the young guys, I guess, or with me. I won’t put up with no shit. So I flat out wrecked his ass back. I guess we’re even. We’ll see. … “That’s what happens when you get run over. You just pay him back. So I won’t be like, ‘Oh, it’s Kyle Busch, he didn’t mean to.’ … (Expletive) him.”

Ty Dillon – finished 30th: “I have always enjoyed road-course racing and wish our GEICO Military team had some better luck at these tracks. We worked on the handling throughout the first two stages and got it to where we needed it to be. It was the best it had been all day at the start of the final stage, and I feel like we were gaining some positive momentum. Unfortunately, the contact from the 8 car really set us back. We never could get that track position back, and it’s so valuable at a place like Watkins Glen. My guys worked hard all weekend though, and we’ll have another chance at a road course when we take on The Roval in September.”

Austin Dillon – finished 31st: “Road course racing has never been our forte, but we headed into Watkins Glen International with high hopes of using all of the tools at our disposal to earn a solid finish in the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. It was a struggle to gain track position after starting further back in the field than we had hoped, but I’m so proud of this Richard Childress Racing team because they never gave up. Throughout the race, I listened to my team as they gave feedback to help me hit my marks throughout the seven-turn road course. They also made great adjustments throughout the race to help with a tight-handling condition. In the end, we couldn’t overcome the lack of forward drive and ended up finishing just outside the top-30. We have work to do on the road courses, and this team deserves better. We’re resetting and heading to Michigan International Speedway next week with a goal of earning a win and punching our ticket into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 35th: “This was not how we saw today going with this Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The car took off well when the green flag flew and we were making progress after the first few stops of the day. I had some issues with the brakes after we got some grass on the ducts, and with about 50 laps to go they gave up on me going into the Bus Stop and I got into Ty Dillon. That sent his car through the grass and my car slid into the tire barrier with the left side. These guys on pit road did all they could to make repairs and get the car competitive again, but the time we spent on pit road put us multiple laps down. We’ll move on from this and focus forward as we head to Michigan next week.”

 

Milestones in reach for NASCAR Cup drivers in 2023

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While the countdown to the start of the 2023 NASCAR season in February continues, here’s a look at some of the milestones Cup drivers could reach in the upcoming season:

AJ Allmendinger

Allmendinger returns to drive the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing in 2023. He’s scheduled to make his 400th career Cup start March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, a race he nearly won last year.

Aric Almirola

Almirola is 26 laps away from leading 1,000 laps in his Cup career.

Ryan Blaney 

Blaney is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start Sept. 24 at Texas in the playoffs. Texas was the site of his last Cup win, which came in the All-Star Race in May.

Chase Briscoe

Briscoe is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch 

Busch needs one win to set the NASCAR record for most consecutive seasons with a win. He is tied with Richard Petty with 18 entering the 2023 season, which will see Busch drive for Richard Childress Racing.

Busch is 92 laps away from leading 19,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is 34 starts away from tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. for 23rd on the all-time list of most career starts at 676. Busch is scheduled to tie Earnhardt’s mark Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the playoffs and surpass the mark the next weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the playoffs.

William Byron 

Byron is scheduled to make his 200th career Cup start July 16 at New Hampshire.

Chase Elliott

Elliott is a win from scoring a victory in six consecutive Cup seasons.

He is 100 laps away from leading 5,000 in his Cup career.

Justin Haley

Haley is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is two wins away from 50 career Cup wins. That would tie him with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 13th on the all-time victory list. 

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is scheduled to make his 800th career Cup start April 23 at Talladega.

He is 15 starts from tying Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list for most career Cup starts at 805. Harvick is scheduled to tie Gordon’s mark June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway and is scheduled to move ahead of Gordon on June 11 at Sonoma.

Harvick is 99 laps away from leading 16,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is five top fives away from having 250 in his Cup career.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is scheduled to make his 500th career Cup start June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

He is 93 laps away from 9,000 career laps led in Cup.

Kyle Larson

Larson is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start March 19 at Atlanta.

He is four top 10s away from 150 career top 10s.

Joey Logano

Logano is one win from having a Cup victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which would tie him for 13th on the all-time list with Denny Hamlin.

Logano is one top five away from 150 career top-five finishes.

He is nine starts away from tying Richard Petty for 19th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 513. Logano is scheduled to reach that mark April 16 at Martinsville and surpass it April 23 at Talladega.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick is nine top 10s away from 50 career top 10s.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is scheduled to make his 400th career start in the season finale at Phoenix.

He is five top 10s away from 50 career Cup top 10s.

Daniel Suarez

Suarez is one top 10 away from 50 career top 10s in Cup.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is 16 starts from tying Jeff Burton for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 628. Truex is scheduled to reach that mark at June 11 at Sonoma and surpass it June 25 at Nashville.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is scheduled to make his 200th Cup start June 25 at Nashville.

Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

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Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.