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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Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”

RCR, Hendrick to collaborate on Chevy engine

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Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing will team up on research and development of a common Chevrolet engine after the conclusion of the 2020 season, the teams announced Thursday.

The two organizations will continue to function independently as they “fully leverage the knowledge and intellectual property of our two successful programs to advance Chevrolet’s engine for NASCAR,” they said in a joint statement.

Engines produced by Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing (via ECR Engines) have earned a combined 20 Cup titles and the two teams have totaled 369 Cup wins.

Jeff Andrews, the new executive vice president at Hendrick Motorsports, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” Thursday that discussions about the venture between his team and RCR began two years ago.

“The day was going to come when we really needed to figure out how to get these two programs together,” Andrews said. “A tremendous amount of talent, people and a tremendous amount of equipment and resources between the two programs. How could we do this? How could we take the longstanding heritage between these two companies and get that together to start working on an alliance that truly would produce the ultimate powertrain for Chevrolet NASCAR?”

RCR is headquartered in Welcome, North Carolina and Hendrick’s campus is in Concord, North Carolina.

“I think when you step back and look at it, ultimately you have to get to a point to where, when you have these resources and you have these people, we have to do what’s best for Chevrolet, first and foremost, to continue to push their performance and get them back to the front of the field and get them wins and championships,” Andrews said. “Really, we work together in a very similar fashion. We started two years ago on the aerodynamic side with our groups working very close together and we’re kind of taking somewhat of that template and applying to the engine side in starting this joint alliance.”

Chevrolet last won a Cup title in 2016 when Jimmie Johnson earned his record-tying seventh championship. Since then, Chevy has not had a car reach the championship four.

The Cup Series is in the middle of the Round of 12. The series races Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Of the 12 cars that remain, four are Chevrolets: Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch.

Chevrolet cars have won six times through 30 races this season. That’s compared to seven wins in all of 2019, four in 2018 and and 10 in 2017.