What drivers said after Darlington

3 Comments

Erik Jones – winner: “(What was your late-race battle with Kyle Busch like?) Well, it was just a lot of pressure. Kyle (Busch) is a great race car driver. I’ve raced him a lot and you obviously want to beat him to win, right? I know our first win at Daytona was great, but man, this one feels good. Just getting back to victory lane, showing we can do this continuously. Man, it was a lot of work. I’m mentally drained, I’m physically drained. I knew he was running the wall and I knew I was going to have to go up there and try to hold him off. It took everything I had to do it. I was pedaling hard. Fortunately, he got into the wall a couple of times. He gave me a little breathing room for the last two laps. That felt good, but awesome to come home with this win.

“(Is that the hardest you’ve ever had to drive and how much pressure was Kyle Busch putting on you?) “Yeah, I mean, I’m wore out just mentally and physically – more mentally than anything, but Kyle was really running hard, and he’s one of the best guys out there. Our Sport Clips Camry was good, but man, I was pedaling as hard as I could and just glad to hold him off and to finally get to victory lane. I feel like it’s been coming for us for a long time, so it just feels really good.

“(How special is this win?) Well, it’s pretty special, my 100th start. I guess sometimes funny things happen, right, and 100th start we’re in victory lane with my first‑ever scheme on a big car, so it’s pretty special.  Thanks to Sport Clips for letting me run that. That meant a lot to me and my family. My mom is here for this one and that’s great. But all my partners, man, I’m so happy for them, DeWalt, Craftsman, Reser, Stanley, Circle K, Interstate, Toyota, just sticking with me through this – it’s been a big year of speculation and maybe moving around and I don’t think there’s much more to say than this right here, so it’s pretty good.”

Kyle Larson – finished second: “It was just really hard to pass. I think this package has been good for a lot of places but here. It’s a high grip track, already narrow. It was just tough to pass. I felt better than the 18 there at the end. Anytime I got within a few car links from him, I would lose a lot of grip. It came down to restarts and pit stops. We just didn’t have the greatest restarts there to allow Erik (Jones) to get by me and then that last green flag stop was not as fast as the 18 or the 20. I’m disappointed about that, but we had some good stops and some bad ones. But, all in all, it was a good day. Good to get another good finish here. It was nice to have a shot to win. We thought we would have a dominating car after practice, but we were still a top-3 car. I thought it would be a little easier.

“(What did you need to beat Jones at the end?) Erik (Jones) did a good job on that last restart to get by me and I was better than him throughout that run, but I could never do anything with him just because the dirty air was really bad. It’s a worn-out surface and the groove was already narrow and it was extra difficult. I feel like both the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and I were a little bit better than he was at the end, but I couldn’t do nothing with him. So, that part of it was frustrating. But still, it was good to have a good run.”

“(You’re now locked into the playoffs) I feel like we were going to have a good shot to make it after the last few weeks we’ve had. It would have been nice to get a win today, but yeah, it’s good to be locked-in and to look ahead to the Playoffs. We’ve been running really strong here lately. So, we’ve just got to keep going.”

Kyle Busch – finished third: “You just can’t get there with this package. It’s just such a one‑lane racetrack. There’s not enough options, there’s not enough grooves that you can get enough air on your car to close that gap and make that pass. We kind of lost control of the race there on pit road when we came down the leader and then came out third and I thought if we could just keep in touch with those guys and keep close to them, then we might be able to out‑pit road them at the end of the race, and we did one of them but not the other one. Overall a good day and the Snickers Camry was fast and was the best we’ve run here in a long, long time, so that was fun.  It was nice to lead some laps, be up front like that, but I hate it that we got behind on pit road and then we couldn’t make it up on the track. That kind of sucks.

“(Were you trying to save a little bit to try to get to Jones late in the race?) Yeah, when he started to inch out a little bit, I was trying to save my right front because I knew my right front wasn’t going to make it the whole rest of the way without me knocking the wall down, and I was right. I hit the wall with about four to go and then I hit it again with three to go, and that was ‑ it killed it that time. Luckily, we were able to salvage a third, just dragging the fence for the last two laps. I don’t think I’ve ever seen NASCAR not throw a caution in that scenario ‑ oh, yes I have, that’s right. I blew a left-front tire at California in an Xfinity race and we had to finish the whole last lap, so doesn’t surprise me.”

Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: “I don’t think it was really anything that was one spot, it was just all weekend we just struggled with the front of the car.  Really, they did a great job to do the things that we did tonight to finish fourth and made the car better all night and just had a solid night and finished fourth. … I ran (the race) without air-conditioning or fans or anything. The battery went dead, so we had to turn it all off, and luckily it was cool. They did a good job. It was nice and cool inside the car tonight.”

Brad Keselowski – finished fifth: “It was kind of a blue-collar top five.  We just hung around fifth to tenth all day and was able to clear off a few cars there at the end and ended up fifth.  We had really good short run speed with the Miller Ford, but we didn’t really have the long run speed and the long runs, you’ve got to have that. … (On late start due to rain) I actually thought it was great.  I had as much fun as I’ve ever had here at Darlington.  I thought it was good.”

Clint Bowyer – finished sixth: “(What about the late contact with Jimmie Johnson?) Obviously the situation there at the end with Jimmie just trying to hold on and fend for spots.  He’s doing everything he can do to make the Playoffs and we are too.  You don’t want to race those guys like that.  He’s one of my old heroes, a good friend, but that’s all out the window when you’re on the race track.

“(You’re 15th now in the points. Is that a relief heading to Indy?) Yes, it is.  That was the task at hand.  We put ourselves back in position, but, kid you not, yes, I want to make the Playoffs, but I want to make the Playoffs to get past the first round and to hit that thing in stride and race to our capabilities.  Tonight was our capability.  Single-digit finishes we’re capable of rattling off and this was a good shot in the arm, a momentum boost for our race team going into that last race in Indy, and if we can do that again is what I’m looking for because, again, you always have to be looking down the road.  Yes, the task at hand is right here in front of us, at the forefront of making the Playoffs, but, man, to be honest with you, my eye is on making those Playoffs and getting through that first round.  It’s kind of like racing on this race track, you’re racing that guy in front of you, but you’ve always got your eye on the guy in front of him as well.”

Kurt Busch – finished seventh: “I thought our Camaro was going to be bulletproof, and we just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and got some damage. It hurt the left-front toe. I just couldn’t dodge the cars, there was like five or six of them in front of me. We just ended up getting collected. I’m proud of the crew for getting the toe straightened back out. We got the fenders to clear and I didn’t think we would run that good after we got all that damage. But we raced our way back up to seventh. Overall, we had a race winning car and we led a lot of laps early. We just have to seal the deal. We have to have solid pit stops all night, we have to keep our track position, and I have to dodge cars better when they are wrecking.”

Paul Menard – finished ninth: “It was an up-and-down night.  We had big swings with balance.  The whole race was in darkness, it wasn’t like we went through a transition, but we fired off really tight and did a fairly normal adjustment and got really loose.  We got back to tight with no adjustments, so I don’t know if we had some inconsistencies in tires or what, but basically just freed it up all night long and got something to show for it.  Greg made a great call and got us some track position and held on. … (This is your first career top 10 at Darlington) Yeah, it feels good.  I’ve always loved this place even though she hasn’t always liked me, but it was a fun night.  Anytime you drive any car at Darlington it’s a lot of fun.  These 550-horsepower tracks sometimes get a little timid, but Darlington is one of those tracks you just have to be on all the time and it’s a lot of fun.”

Austin Dillon – finished 10th: ““It has been hard mentally for everybody on this team across the board, and I’m glad my grandfather (Richard Childress) stuck with us and believed in us. It was really nice to give him a good run in his car tonight, that was special too. I love Darlington, it’s so much fun to race here. I wish we raced here two times. It’s just a fun track to race. I hope we have a little bit more speed next week to kind of dictate what we want to do there at the end.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 11th “It’s gonna be a lot of fun going to Indianapolis and have everybody all in pretty much with Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.  I feel like we’re gonna race extremely hard all the way to the end. … I think we’re putting on a good show for you guys and all the fans, and now being tied heading to Indianapolis that makes things even more interesting, so I’m really looking forward to the challenge. … (Are you confident going to Indy?) Yeah, for sure.  My team has been strong.  I feel like today we missed it a little bit.  We had a faster car than 11th, but we just missed it for whatever reason heading into the race.  We have to study what happened and come back stronger.

“(What happened with Ryan Newman?) “That’s a racing thing.  I didn’t touch him.  As a driver it’s very, very easy to know that the guy behind you is very, very close and to feel that air, but he’s experienced to know.  Once he sees the race he’s going to realize that we didn’t touch.  It was everything aero and just hard racing, that’s it.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 16th: “I had at least 15 years with a lot of luck on my side, 7 years of championships and having 2 or 3 bad ones is just part of it. I keep saying that we’re getting and tonight we showed it, from the way we qualified to how we ran on those stages. I was running fourth when that accident took place in turn three and I just had nowhere to go.

“(How do you view Indianapolis?) I mean we are running out of days, and if we miss it, it’s just going to be by a few I believe. If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. So, it’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indy. But it is what it is and we are going to go there to win a race.”

Aric Almirola – finished 17th: “That’s what happens. It’s really, really hard to unload a backup car and not get any laps on it. I put our race team behind on Friday and wrecked our primary car and then we just battled all night. At the beginning of the race we had a 30th place car and we worked on it all night and fought really hard and got out of here with a 17th-place finish, so I’m actually real proud of that. I know it’s crazy to be proud of a 17th-place finish, but that’s the kind of fight and perseverance and determination that I feel like will pay off in the playoffs. … “(Would you have liked a better finish with only one race before the playoffs now?) Absolutely.  You want to build that momentum, but the worst thing we could do is have another 35th place finish in a wreck and a DNF.  We did that at Michigan and Bristol, so we kind of need to right the ship and finish a race and get back on track and get the wheels turning the right direction.”

William Byron – finished 21st: “I think we were sixth, maybe seventh, there and everything was going pretty well. I guess the guys started wrecking in front of us. We passed the beginning of it and somebody got hooked back up the track or something and we hit them square. From there, we were just kind of off the pace and had to ride it out until the end.”

Ryan Newman – finished 23rd: “We got spun and we came back, and we did not have a top 10 finish, so it’s unfortunate. We lost some points today, but we’ve got a lot of fight in us and we’ll go into the last one here in the regular season and fight. … (Do you feel like you owe Suarez something?) I have to watch the replay. They said he hit me, but I don’t know. He had me jacked up sideways going into the corner, so do I owe him? Probably a little something.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 37th: “I’m really proud of this team, but I’m kind of at a loss of words. Our No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet got better and better throughout the last half of the race and we were moving through the field. I felt like we had a top-10 car in the final stage until the contact with the No. 6 car, which cut the right rear tire. I hate so many other cars were involved. That incident damaged something under the hood and ended our night. Everyone at RCR is working as hard as possible to get better and it will pay off. Tonight was just not our night. I know we’ll show up to Indianapolis next week stronger than before. Thank you to Caterpillar for the awesome scheme for Throwback weekend, and to all of the fans that waited through the weather today at Darlington.”

Michael McDowell – finished 38th: “I saw the 8 start to get loose like he blew a tire and chased it up the track. I was already on the bottom and I saw the 11 and a few other cars on the top and they were just trying to get down and we all kind of jumped on the brakes. You’re so fast at that point when you jump on the brakes the cars get pretty loose and out of control. I think I got clipped by the 11 in the right-rear and just kind of turned me hard right into the wall and in front of the field, but it’s really unfortunate.  We had a decent Dockside Logistics throwback car. We were logging laps trying to get to the end and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.