What drivers said after Darlington

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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.”

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.”