What Drivers Said after Michigan

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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.”

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Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”