What Drivers Said after Michigan

Leave a comment

Kevin Harvick – winner: “It was a day of a little bit of adversity that we were able to overcome. But we just had a really fast car all weekend. Our car handled really well today, and with the multiple lanes, we were able to run all three lanes pretty well and make our way through traffic. So just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford, everybody from Busch and Hunt Brothers and Jimmy John’s and everybody back at the shop from Haas Automation and Stewart‑Haas Racing, just put a really fast car on the racetrack and we were able to capitalize on it, and that’s always fun. …

(Are you guys peaking at the right time?) “Yeah, you know, we really got off on the wrong foot as far as where we needed to be on the cars, and it’s been kind of an uphill battle really all year to get where we needed to be.  The cars have been running a lot better as we’ve got into the last two months, and Dale knows this, I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for the last two months to try to make sure I made it through Watkins Glen, and that was no problem.  I hurt myself throwing a baseball to him, so it’s cut into my golf game.  So, we’ve had a lot of things that we’ve had to overcome to get to this point. But it’s kind of like last year; we started off on fire, we won eight races and then didn’t win the championship.  In the send you want to win that championship, and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 2nd: “We were right there. Really fast car. The FedEx team did a great job adjusting from the last time we were here. First and second on these tracks that we are going back to for a second time. They are just doing a great job making those adjustments. Nothing that I could really do, just didn’t have enough speed. The 4 (Kevin Harvick) was about a half-a-second faster than us in qualifying. … The fastest car won the race – speed wise. Who knows what the right thing to do is, but I feel like we had a great FedEx Camry. Just came up one spot short.”

Kyle Larson – finished 3rd: (Not a bad day after all, is it?) “No, I guess if you’re going to get a speeding penalty, the first run of the race is the time to do it. But yeah, I was surprised when they said I was speeding because I hadn’t hit a read light at all until after leaving my pit stall. That was the only time I hit a red. I was conservative on my lights the rest of the day and maybe I don’t know if we just misjudged a little bit or maybe I just was a little too fast. But anyway, our race was good. Our car handled really well, so I was happy about that. And, we had a great points day. So we saved just enough fuel there at the end to get to the finish line and now we’re well above the cutline. So, I’m happy about our day.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 4th: “It was a hot rod early. We were able to drive by everybody. The first couple runs of the race were really sporty. To get up there and win Stage 1 was a big deal. I felt through the middle of the race we had the best car. Just those last couple restarts, we got off sequence and lost all of our track position and restarted 19th. Just could not get in the right spot. Every restart we were in the wrong lane, we lost spots. Then we would just have to pick them off one at a time. Amazing race car. Thanks to everyone back at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), Toyota and TRD. The Auto Owners Camry was a rocket ship today, just didn’t get to show it at the end.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 5th: “It was a decent day for us. We had ups and downs. There was something wrong, a bad set of tires or something in that second stage. We couldn’t control it. The team was able to overcome that with good adjustments and they put me back in the game with track position and we were able to get a good result from there.”

Kyle Busch – finished 6th: We won Stage 2 and then I had to get back in traffic there. We were up to fifth on another restart, and just got shuffled back. I’d gain three spots in the corner and then lose four spots on the straightaway, and then gain three spots in the corner and then lose four spots on the straightaway. Just could never get going right with the balance of the car either. We just never felt in the racetrack all day long. It was always up on top, just sliding the back or sliding the front. Really ugly, but we persevered. Guys had to pit, and some guys ran out, and we finished sixth. We’ll take what we can get here and go on to Bristol.”

Ryan Preece – finished 7th: “It was a good day. Expectations-wise, it was a top 20 or 15 would be fantastic. Well, we ended up with a top 10 and we made the car better and better every lap. It was good. We had a good race car. Track position, like fuel helped, but we were still going to end up anywhere from 12th to 10th, so it was a good day.”

William Byron – finished 8th: “Honestly, I thought we tried a little different approach today and our car was just really hard to handle. We struggled in traffic a lot. But, to come out with a top 10 is good. I feel like we ran in and around there. We just struggled on restarts. But, not bad overall. I think we made up a lot of points. Just kind of needed a couple of different things to play a little bit differently for us to have a better finish. … (You may not be the winner but you’re solid). Yeah, I think so. Besides last week. I think we’ve finished in the top 10 in a two out of three, I guess. That’s great. And we can really build on that. It seems like (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) just calls really solid races. I think if we get our practice structure to be a little bit better, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Chase Elliott – finished 9th: “We finally got our car going pretty good there at the end and then ran out of gas on that last lap. I just needed to save a little better after the caution. … I need to be better, for sure. I just need to be a little faster. I needed to do a better job of saving.”

Alex Bowman – finished 10th: “We had a really good car in practice and just took off really right there in the race and nothing touched it. It was really tight. It was on the splitter all day. Track position was so key. A lot of opportunities to take a big swing at it and Greg did a good job calling the race. Strategy kind of bit us a little bit there getting buried. We didn’t have it today.”

Austin Dillon — finished 13th: “It was a battle all weekend at Michigan International Speedway, but this Richard Childress Racing team never gave up. We started far back in the field in our Chevy Accessories Camaro ZL1 but opted for two-tire pit stops during the early part of the race in order to get track position. That strategy worked because we were able to race our way into the top 10. There was a one-lap shootout to end Stage 2 and things got wild when we got spun through the grass at 200 mph. That was a scary moment, for sure. We ended up with damage that again put us far back in the running order. Luckily, our Chevy Accesories Camaro ZL1 remained fast. On a restart we gained a lot of spots but came really close to wrecking and lost them all. We drove back to the front and were on our way to a 10th-place finish but ran out of fuel with one lap to go and coasted to the end to finish 13th. What a day! Bring on Bristol Motor Speedway!”

Joey Logano – finished 17th: (Why he made a late pit stop with three laps left) “I needed more gas. The Shell car isn’t supposed to run out of gas. The positive is we were way better than we were on Friday and Saturday. The negative is that we almost won the race but ended up finishing 17th. You win some, you lose some. If the caution comes out, we would have been in good shape but it stayed green, and that is it. That is the gamble. We took the gamble and it didn’t pay off. Pocono, we played it the other way and the caution came out. That is two races and we played it wrong both times.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 19th: “Man, I want this one so bad. We got that flat tire early on and we recovered and got up to third there in the late stages and then we just ran out of gas. That is just the way it goes sometimes.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 24th: “I had a really good car. Our Mustang was fast, especially later in the race. I just got off pit road too early and we ended up running out of gas. It is easy to second guess those types of decisions after the race, but I didn’t second guess anything at the time. Just the way it shakes out sometimes.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 26th: “Luck certainly has not been on the side of this No. 8 team the last two weeks. We started at the back of the field but we had a strong Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and were able to race into the top 15 at the beginning of the race. Our troubles started at the end of Stage 2. There was a one-lap restart to end the stage and I don’t know if Aric Almirola thought he was clear or what, but he came right across my nose, put me into the outside wall and damaged the left front, collecting our teammate as well. From there, we just tried to salvage all we could out of the damaged race car. I’m proud of these guys for never giving up and doing all they could to get me back out on the track without losing a lap after that incident. We fell a lap down at the end but I was doing all I could to maintain position as best as possible.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 28th: “We struggled this weekend with overall speed. We started the race really tight and were making gains on our Fastenal Ford before we got a flat tire. I think we are all looking forward to getting to Bristol as our Ford was really strong there in the spring.”

Aric Almirola — finished 33rd: “We had decent day today before the accident. I’m not sure what happened there, but our guys worked hard to bring us a good 3D Systems Ford Mustang today. We still have a decent cushion right now for the playoffs. I’m looking forward to Bristol.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 34th: “The right-side tires went into the PJ1 and as soon as I got my tires in it, I went straight into the wall. When you’re aggressive, it doesn’t work and then sometimes you’re cautious and it doesn’t work. It was a great car. That hurt, for sure. We’re just going to have to rally on and these guys are doing an amazing job. We’ll keep digging. It’s super disappointing. It’s a little easier when it’s not on you and you can call it a mechanical or a flat or get caught up in a wreck. But, I’m behind the wheel and I’m the one that got us in the fence. … (What’s your attitude about being 12 points behind Bower for the final playoff spot?) To just fight hard for every point. The guys around that cutoff point, all seem to be having bad luck. If one of us could just string together some good races and get in the clear and get away. I think that’s what the No. 24 (William Byron) has been able to do is just have some good, consistent races and built a nice gap. You’ve just got to keep fighting for every point.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 37th: “Somebody got in the back of me. When I went around I just saw (Alex) Bowman and thought it was him. I guess maybe (Paul Menard) or somebody. As soon as it happened, I was just along for the ride. I don’t know. We have to get something figured out with these race tracks. We are really fast by ourselves, practice and qualifying really well, in the top five almost every single time but then we start the race and don’t make the grip we need to compete. We definitely need to find some things out. You can talk about the bubble and worrying about points but I am way more worried about getting established and running up front at these types of race tracks. If you make the playoffs and can’t compete in it then what is the use? We have some things to work out. We have some time. We have some good race tracks for us including Bristol coming up. We have plenty of racing but we have to get some things figured out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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

Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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 …

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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.