What drivers said after Brickyard 400

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There was a lot of carnage and two drivers made the playoffs and two others fell short in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We saw Jimmie Johnson eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in his Cup career after a big crash. Others who made an early exit in the race due to wrecks include Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones.

Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer made the playoffs, but Johnson and Daniel Suarez came up short.

Here’s what many of the drivers in Sunday’s race had to say:

Kevin Harvick — winner: “(On NBC frontstretch interview) This is great. I have to say thanks to all the fans. I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me. As a kid, I watched Rick Mears win Indy 500s and I got to be around him as a kid. He was my hero. Coming here and winning here is pretty awesome. These guys just built a great race car. I just can’t say enough on this Mobil One Ford Mustang. These guys on this team built a heck of a race car. This is the same stuff that we took to Michigan and had a great weekend obviously and went to victory lane.

“I know how much this means to everybody. This is a great engine package that Roush Yates has given us. It’s been to victory lane twice now, once at Michigan and now the same engine here. I kept telling myself, get the baby girl (daughter Piper) a trophy. It’s a good weekend to come. She doesn’t really quite know what’s going on, just a lot of noise, but pretty special.

“(What kind of statement is this?) I don’t know if we had the best car, but we had the fastest car. We gave up the lead on one of those restarts, came and pitted and the caution came out and the way the caution flag fell worked in our favor. It gave us control of the race and we kept control of the race and we didn’t make any mistakes and here we are in victory lane at one of the greatest places on Earth to race.”

Joey Logano — finished second: “We were so close to winning here. It means so much to winning at Indy and gosh, I wish we could have gotten it, but I’m proud of the effort of our team. We had a solid run. … Today was all about getting playoff points as much as possible. The 4 (Harvick) was fast and quick and we kind of needed something crazy to happen to get ahead of him. … Overall, I feel strong about our day today and going into a racetrack we won at last time (at Vegas) we were there and make another championship run at this thing. We need to execute there like we did here today. We have to have perfect days all the way through. It’s so hard to recover these days, you know? You’ve got to be perfect. I look forward to the playoffs every year because the time you learn the most about yourself and grow the most, the pressure kind of has the ability to do that, so I can’t wait for that.”

Bubba Wallace — finished third: “Heck of a day. I don’t know to say. We had speed all weekend in our Victory Junction Chevrolet. We never gave up all day no matter what happened on pit road. I still don’t know what happened. We went from the lowest of lows, to the almost highest of highs! It was just a solid day for our team. Smaller organizations having big runs. It is very uncommon these days. Almost like David and Goliath. Everything kind of clicked today for us. These little teams aren’t supposed to run with the big teams. It was a good day.”

William Byron — finished fourth: “(On NBCSN) Unfortunately, we got that damage on pit road at the beginning of the race. Not really sure what happened there. The front crunched in the left rear fender but I was really pleased with how our car was after that, it was really quick. It was a really good top five run for us and we’re really looking forward to the playoffs ahead. We’re pretty optimistic. I think we’ve learned a lot the last couple weeks with the way our car’s been set up and how it’s worked for us. It was a grind today to get track position but once we did, we were really happy with that. Hopefully, it should be a real good track for us.

“(Your thoughts on the playoffs?) I feel like any place that we’re going back to for a second time is going to be really good for us. Definitely going back to Vegas is going to be great. Going back to Richmond is going to be good. The Roval is a new one, but I feel those two out of three in the first round, going back for the second time, can help our team. I would say after these last two weeks we’ve had a better handle. We were really guessing on how much straightaway speed versus corner speed we wanted, and I think we’ve got a good package going into the playoffs.
“(Do you feel like you’re where you need to be to start the playoffs?) Yeah, I think so. I mean there’s no better way to go into than a Top 5 finish. And that’s really good for our team. It kind of helps start our momentum and I hope we can carry that into next week. … Martinsville is tough. Talladega is very unpredictable. I just don’t know. We’ve just got to take one race at a time, obviously, and do the best we can.”

Clint Bowyer — finished fifth: “We just kept digging. … That was a close call with the 88 (Alex Bowman). It was a wild race. These restarts are everything and you have to try to go for broke and everybody did. We got some momentum. This was key for us with a top-five and some top 10s before that. Teammate obviously won the race so we obviously have some things to work on in these playoffs. Hats off to everyone at Stewart-Haas. … I think we have the ship going in the right direction going to Las Vegas. We were putting ourselves in some bad situations and the driver wasn’t doing a good job of digging ourselves out of them, but I feel like collectively we’ve finally gotten over that, our confidence level is back a little bit. To finally leave some of these racetracks with some positive mojo is definitely important.”

Denny Hamlin — finished sixth: “I knew our car was strong, we just struggled with track position. After a few restarts, we were up in the top six. Then we got shuffled in the last restart to 10th and then got back to sixth in the last couple laps. The car was fast, but just never got a chance. It was a second and a half different between running behind someone and in clean air. The 4 (Harvick) had good car speed, controlled the race and that allowed you to leg it out like he did. It was a good regular season for us, we’re ready for the playoffs and hopefully we’ll get a few more wins before this thing is over. … Everywhere we’ve gone back to a second time, our results have been extremely good. I definitely like our chances when we go back to Vegas and all these other tracks coming up. We’re pretty excited about it. I feel we have as good of speed and handling as we’ve ever had. If we have good clean races, we’re upfront. If we don’t, we have a bad finish. That’s the only thing that’s been holding us back.”

Ryan Blaney — finished seventh: “Overall, I’m proud of thew whole 12 team. Man, I thought we had the car to win but we got back in the pack and got super tight and couldn’t pass anybody. That really stinks. I thought we were actually pulling away from (Harvick) when we got the lead easy. It’s just one of those things, it seems like the norm for this year, so hopefully it’ll turn around.

“(Will the first round be tough?) I guess so. Vegas has been pretty good to us. Richmond isn’t our strongest track and the Roval (Charlotte), you really don’t know what will happen. Hopefully we can have strong runs and no problems, no issues and do what we should and hopefully the runs will get better for us as the tracks get a little better for us. But take it just one race at a time.”

Ryan Newman — finished eighth: “(To NBCSN) We weren’t by any means the fastest car, were tight in traffic, I’m sure a lot of guys were, but we were one of the worst. Excellent strategy by (crew chief) Scott Graves, everybody at Roush Fenway. It’s been a year of progress, learning and a lot of things I feel like a rookie more than I’ve ever been. … We did everything we could and it was good enough but we have a lot of work ahead of us. What happened today could happen in three more races, so we have to put our nose to the grindstone. We have a lot of work to do. We showed we can progress throughout the race, but we have to start qualifying in the top 10 and finish in the top five. Then we’ll prove we’re made of more than what we’re showing.”

Chase Elliott — finished ninth: “I haven’t seen a replay of the pit road incident, but one thing about Indy is pit road is so narrow. You have to start braking before you turn into your box which is typically not the case. I think that was a contributor. I apologize if I didn’t stop quick enough. Once they all started stopping, they stopped so fast, I didn’t get stopped quick enough and about the time I got stopped, somebody piled into me. It was one of those chain reaction things. I hate that it happened, especially that early in the race, but luckily, we were able to piece our car back together and finish the race. My crew worked hard during to get us better. So, it finished alright.

“(On being in the playoffs) Just hopefully having a nice, smooth, uneventful race at Las Vegas would be good. These past couple of weeks have been wild with just a lot of stuff happening. So, we just need to get out there and I have confidence that we can have good cars. We’ve just got to get going in find a little consistency and just get things started off, uneventfully, would be great. (Are there any other tracks you’re looking forward to:) Yeah, the next one, really. I think you have to have the ability to win all of them, or the majority of them, to have a shot at Homestead. We just need to have that mindset going in. This first round is going to be tough. Michigan and Charlotte haven’t been our best two race tracks, so it’s important for us to not overlook it and put some emphasis on the first round and not just think we’re going to breeze right through.”

Paul Menard — finished 10th: “It was an up and down day for us. We qualified really good. We were really tight to start. That has happened to us the last two weeks where we fired off really tight and had to free up throughout the race. We finally got some track position back at the end and had a couple good restarts and got a top 10, so overall, not a bad day.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “(Your late charge just wasn’t enough to make the playoffs) I was just trying to drive as fast as I could. I knew it was going to be tough but I wanted to be positive. We had 26 laps or something to go, I had fresher tires, but I had track position and this is a track position race. It was a bad timing to get trapped in the pit stop cycle. We could have won the race doing that or we could have lost the race like this. … It just didn’t work out.

“(What will the remainder of the season hold for you?) We’ve been strong in some races and average in some others. As a team, we definitely have some work to do. We were just down in power this weekend. I qualified 20th and one of my teammates got the pole. We just have to keep working hard and trying to put ourselves in better position. I believe in this team and this team is used to win races and I want to take them there.”

Austin Dillon — finished 12th: “Starting off, our SYMBICORT® (budesonide/formoterol fumarate dihydrate) Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was tight in Turn 2 but handled really well everywhere else on the track. Trouble came early though when the caution flag was displayed during Stage 1. We all came down pit road to pit and a big group of cars got jumbled on pit road and started making contact with each other. The cars in front of me started colliding and I made contact with the No. 9 car, then the No. 17 car drove through all of us because someone hit him from behind, too. The craziest part of this entire race is pit road. You’re dodging slower cars and if something happens you have no where to go. You can’t dodge left. You can’t go anywhere. We were able to make repairs to our Chevy, but the damage definitely created handling issues for the rest of the day. We raced our way as high as seventh but the handling was so tight that we lost a few positions at the end to finish 12th. I’m proud of this team. We had a plan and we stuck to it. It feels great to put together a solid race for our partner AstraZeneca and everyone associated with the No. 3 team.”

Ty Dillon — finished 13th: “Today was another solid day for our GEICO team. We continued to make the car better and better throughout the race and were able to miss the accidents in front of us. I battled a tight car for most of the race but Justin (Alexander) and I worked through adjustments together. I’m proud of my team for working hard all weekend and to finish 13th is more momentum for us to carry into next week. We continue to build our program and runs like this show that we are making gains.”

Aric Almirola — finished 14th: “It was a crazy race today. Track position was really important and restarts were crazy and really important. You just have to go. You have to go all the time. You can’t give up spots on pit road or restarts. Once it gets single-filed out it is really tough.

“(What is it like to be back in the playoffs?) To be able to make it back into the playoffs and have a shot to run for a championship is great. Everything has to be better when you get to the playoffs. The car has to be better, the driver has to be better. I have to do a better job on restarts. We have to do a better job on pit road. It all stacks up. It all matters. I think when you get to the playoffs, everybody brings a whole other level and hopefully we can rise to the occasion like we did last year. … (Does last year’s experience help you?) I think so. I feel like going through this last year and the pressure and everything that goes with it really gives me a good understanding. I am not going into it blind. I really know what to expect and I know the level of intensity that is getting ready to come.”

Alex Bowman — finished 21st: “(Are you ready for the playoffs?) Yeah, I love Las Vegas. There’s three or three and a half grooves to run, basically. So, I’m really excited to get there and try to make the most out of a really strong 1.5-mile program for us. I think that’s a place that we can go and be capable of winning and I’m looking forward to it. … (How stressful will 10 straight weeks of playoffs be like?) We’ve just got to go out and perform and not have good days and then bad days, like we’ve had the last two weeks. There are a lot of really good race tracks for us. The second round is extremely good for us. So, I’m looking forward to it. I think our cars are going to be really strong and we can go out there and win some races.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 27th: “Well I can tell you that I’m glad to be rolling out of Indy. It’s been a pretty crappy weekend for us in general. Felt like we had something for them today at the start of the race. We were passing cars. We had to start way in the back, and then on the first pit stop, of course, we get in a crash. Unfortunate deal. The guys have been doing a good job, and I feel like the Playoff tracks line up well for us. We have a decent amount of Playoff points in the bank to start out with. First round, if we can just go do what we know how to do, be consistent, not beat ourselves, we should be able to move on pretty quickly. Hopefully, we can start to take advantage of the fast race cars. The last five to six races, we have been really strong. We don’t have a whole lot to show for it, so it has been disappointing. It has been frustrating from that point. Knowing that we have the team and the speed to go really far in the Playoffs and be a Championship contender feels good. We will be ready to start that next weekend.”

Kurt Busch — finished 30th: “(What track are you looking forward to the most in the playoffs?) Vegas. That’s my home town. (Describe the emotion and physicality of 10 straight weeks in the playoffs) You’ve just got to be ready for it. All year long you build up toward it. There are sister tracks to some tracks that other tracks that are own their own. Each week is a nice, fresh, restart; and you’ve got to get through three races each time, you know, the three rounds to get to Homestead. So, I kind of look at it as three races at a time and just try to piece together what you chew on.”

Kyle Larson — finished 33rd: “I am kind of happy with how the day went except for crashing myself out. I am proud of the car my team brought. I felt like I had the best car probably. I didn’t get to see the No. 1 car (teammate Kurt Busch), but he seemed fast as well. I was really, really good. I was happy with that, but upset with myself that I crashed myself. I’m looking forward to the playoffs. We’ve had faster, and faster cars every race.
“(Do you have confidence going into the playoffs?) Yeah, no doubt. It’s been a good couple of months. My cars have been good. We’re qualifying pretty well. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging along and hope we get a win and get through these rounds. … (This is your fourth time in the playoffs. You’ve only gotten past the first round once. What will it take to get through more than one round?) I think just having nice, clean days. Days like we have had the last couple of months. Aside from crashing today, we’ve gotten good stage points and good finishes. So, we just have to continue having days like that and eliminating our mistakes. We just have to do the best we can in the stages and the finishes.”
Daniel Hemric — finished 34th: “I felt like we had a good restart there and I got to the bottom, which is where you need to be, then next thing I knew I saw the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) sideways. I saw the left side of his car, his nose through the grass. I thought I had it missed and someone got turned down and caught me in the right side of the Liberty National Chevrolet Camaro Zl1 and turned me into the outside wall. I’m not sure what started it or what happened – just chaos. This was an important day, making my first Brickyard 400 start, all the way up until the point where we were crashed. That’s been the story for this No. 8 team all year. Everybody on this team works too hard to have this many unfortunate things happen to us. We’ll put this one behind us and move on to Las Vegas next week.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 35th: “(From NBC interview) It’s certainly disappointing. Unfortunately we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we were in today. We needed a stellar day and I think we were having a strong day and just really proud of my team and where we were at and what was going on.

“The 1 car (Kurt Busch) had a little bit of trouble on the restart I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened, certainly not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go below the white line, got snipped there and around we go.

“(This will be the first playoff you won’t be part of in your Cup career) It’s pretty impressive the run we’ve been on in the playoffs for this many consecutive years. We have that to be proud of and sure, we would have liked to continue that on. The goal is to win a race. The team is getting stronger each and every week. Cliff Daniels (crew chief) is doing an amazing job leading this group and we’re ready to roll. We’ll dust ourselves off and try to get a trophy.”

Kyle Busch – finished 37th: “(Did you have any indication the engine was about to go?) “No, we just left pit road and we were just coming up through the gears. Everything was fine. We got to fourth. We made it all the way to turn two on the apron there and then tried to blend up in traffic and it just let go. I don’t know. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be, where we thought we could run with those guys. We were definitely struggling in the long run similar to yesterday. We thought we qualified a little better than we should, and I guess that’s probably why we weren’t quite there for the long haul and keeping downforce in the car I guess. Just too tight overall. I thought we were going to have a solid third-to-fifth, something like that anyways, and try to come out of here with some points or some momentum going into the Playoffs, but we are stuck here. Once it blew up, it knocked the brakes out of it so I couldn’t stop coming to pit road so I couldn’t get out of everyone’s way and not cause a caution. So sorry about that.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 38th: “(That was a wild ride. What was it like for you?) Yeah, I sure would like to see the replay first. We had new tires and we were racing some cars that didn’t have new tires and wanted to make the pass there and got real tight to the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and lost the nose in the air. I was trying to leave room and probably came down on Erik (Jones) more than I thought I did and he got real loose. No air on my car. I hit the wall there. There is this spot on the wall with just an atrocious angle. I don’t know what that spot is for but it does not need to be there, but we found it. That is how racing goes. We find the things. This track really was part of the safety revolution about 15-20 years ago and I think it is time for another.”

“(The TV guys were saying with that bad wall angle, maybe that was a good spot for the tires given the angle of the wall. What are your thoughts?) “That is an interesting conclusion. I am not sure I agree with that. I think there probably should not be weird angles like that to wreck on. It is what it is and I am glad I am okay. It is just a tough day for everyone on the Discount Tire Ford team.”

Erik Jones – finished 39th: “I just got loose and made a mistake. I didn’t think Brad (Keselowski) would be so tight on me and I just lost it. It’s my fault. I feel bad for the 2 (Keselowski) and I feel bad for our team as well. It’s a shame, we had a good Stanley Camry and I just hate seeing it come down like that. I just wasn’t anticipating enough and I drove in too hard for it. It’s all good. We’ll move on. Wish we would have had a good day. Our car was really strong and we had a shot to probably win today. Just didn’t work out.

“(What was the racing like?) Really challenging. That’s part of why I was making that move and being aggressive with it. I was just trying to get track position. I made a mistake on pit road and stalled it. I was just trying to get back up there. We had a good restart and I was just hoping I could get some good track position back. Tried to get in there and get another spot and it just didn’t quite work out.”

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Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

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While NASCAR celebrates Michael Jordan’s entry as a Cup owner, his arrival comes at the expense of another team.

Jordan and Denny Hamlin purchased Germain Racing’s charter, marking the end of that single-car team when the season concludes Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Seven races remain for Germain Racing, Ty Dillon and the team’s 40-plus employees before they scatter, some within the sport and others elsewhere. The team races for the first time since the announcement Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

“It’s not been real easy the last couple of weeks,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

He has been Germain Racing’s driver the past four seasons. The team, which won Truck titles in 2006 and 2010 with Todd Bodine, has competed in Cup since 2009. Germain Racing’s best Cup finish is fourth, accomplished by both Dillon and Casey Mears.

The team’s future soured when GEICO determined it would not return after this season. Without sponsorship money and with multiple groups interested in the team’s charter, a sale became the best route for owner Bob Germain. Hamlin and Jordan quickly put together an effort to buy the charter and made headlines with their deal.

With lives upturned by the novel coronavirus, Germain Racing employees now seek work in a pandemic. It adds stress to a 2020 that has tested so many.

“We all in life go through things,” Dillon said. “Life is … never going to be easy or perfect. For me, this has definitely been an extremely stressful time with all the things, the virus that is going on, our team announces that we’re selling and is sold now with seven races to go, and you still have people that you care about that you want to see get opportunities.

“Everyone is trying to keep a good attitude. It’s a very tough situation. Then I have a little girl (who turns 3 in November) and my wife is pregnant and we’re going to have our son in November. You have your virus concerns and also wanting to make sure your daughter is raised and still be able to get out and do things a 2 1/2-year-old should be able to do. That is what is most important to me over all things, spending time with her.

“Then you have in the back of your mind you want to provide for your family. I’m 28 years old and just getting started. … Also, I’ve been (racing) since I was 13, I’ve put a lot of effort and time in it myself. I feel like I still haven’t gotten to prove what I’m fully capable of yet. That’s always in the back of my mind. So it’s been extremely stressful.”

Dillon said he’s relied on his faith to navigate these challenges.

“I believe that God is with me in this process, no matter how much I don’t understand,” he said. “He’s on the other side. He’s going to put me in a place that is going to allow me to do the most for his kingdom, and he’s going to bring me the most joy at the end of wherever I’m going here.

“Knowing that is my teeth in this bit of a storm. It’s definitely not an easy season, and I’m immature in the fact that I want to know what is going to happen.”

Dillon, who finished a season-best 10th at Las Vegas in February, said he’s put together sponsorship for 2021. He is among a number of drivers who have not announced rides for next year. That list includes Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley, among others. 

Dillon told NBC Sports that “this week and next week are going to be really crucial weeks in figuring out what the next step is. There’s an array of things that can happen and I’m not sure which one is going to happen.”

2. Staying Power

While Michael Jordan has made news for coming to NASCAR, the key is how long he stays as an owner.

The sport is filled with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone in ownership roles through the years.

While many in the sport hope Jordan can help attract more fans and businesses, he needs to remain in the sport to help achieve some of those goals.

Denny Hamlin, who is partnering with Jordan on the new team with Bubba Wallace as driver, told NBC Sports and Fox in an exclusive interview this week that he is confident he can create a program with staying power.

“He has me to help him with the day-to-day stuff,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Obviously, I’ve got a day job, racing a car and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for years and years with my FedEx team, but I know enough about this sport that I can help guide this ownership team in the right direction.”

The team is expected to align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another key will be the personnel hired to run the team with Hamlin racing and Jordan busy as owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and his other business ventures.

“I think we’re going to have the ability by starting a team from scratch essentially of hiring the best people available at every position,” Hamlin said. “Believe me, since this became public knowledge, we’ve already started those conversations.

“We’re going to give Bubba the best possibility or chance to win in Year 1. I believe that he can win in the first year, but I’m also not naive to think this is an easy business either. It’s hard to win.

“Two years ago, I didn’t win a race. I’ve got 12 years experience and I’m with the best team. My teammate, Kyle Busch, is one of the best, and hasn’t won yet in 2020. It’s not easy. It’s going to be difficult, but I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning.”

If so, that should keep Jordan in the sport for a long time.

3. TikTok the timing was right

For all the time Ryan Vargas spent searching for sponsorship, networking in the NASCAR garage and looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series, he could have not imagined how he landed a deal with this year’s hottest social media property.

Credit goes to Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas who designs paint schemes for some NASCAR teams.

Pistana created a TikTok car for Vargas because Vargas uses the social app so much. Pistana posted his concept scheme for Vargas on social media in July.

TikTok soon saw the image and talks began.

TikTok
Ryan Vargas’ TikTok car for JD Motorsports mirrors the design Vargas’ friend, Ryan Pistana, created in July and posted on social media. (Photo: JD Motorsports)

“They loved the scheme, they loved the sport,” Vargas told NBC Sports. “They’re very enthusiastic about jumping in.”

TikTok also had a good representative in Vargas, who has more than 40,000 followers and nearly 600,000 likes. Vargas’ TikTok videos are a mix of fun, behind the scenes images and inspiration.

Within about two months, TikTok completed a six-race deal with Vargas and JD Motorsports that will begin next week at Talladega Superspeedway. The agreement allows Vargas to run the rest of the season.

Those six races equal the number of races Vargas has run in the series since last year. He ran three races last year and three this season.

When he hasn’t been racing, he’s often been on the road crew for JD Motorsports. In the last month, Vargas was a mechanic for BJ McLeod’s car at Richmond and Daytona, drove for the team at Darlington (finishing 25th) and was a mechanic for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car at Dover.

“I learn just by doing that,” Vargas said of his role as mechanic at the track. “So when I hop into the car, I know what I want changed.”

It’s a great learning experience but drivers want to drive and Vargas is no different.

“I would be lying to you if I said that didn’t kind of sting sometimes, your friends are out there racing and doing what they want,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to have pretty much everything fall apart. I was very close to being completely done racing at the end of 2018, so I know what it’s like to sit out and not be in the car.”

Vargas credits a meeting with Mike Davis, director of brand strategy for JR Motorsports and co-host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download, with helping him push through after the 2018 season.

“His piece of advice to me, be present, have your gear and never stop working,” Vargas said of what Davis told him in their meeting.

Vargas has kept following his dream. Now he has a ride for six races thanks to social media.

4. A fan’s last ride

For nearly 20 years, Kenneth Chase took grandson Brendon Harmon to NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

They’d travel from Chase’s home in Sebago, Maine and camp with friends and family. Sometimes the group was so large, they’d need a second camper to accommodate everyone.

The trips started when Harmon was about 5 years old. They continued when Chase, known as Pa to his grandchildren, was found to have prostrate cancer.

Kenneth Chase with grandson Brendon Harmon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. (Photo: Brendon Harmon)

As his grandfather went through treatments in 2012, Harmon decided he wanted to take him to the Daytona 500.

Harmon worked two jobs and saved more than $3,000 so he could take his grandparents and mom to the 2013 Daytona 500. He paid for the plane tickets, race tickets and hotel.

Chase later got colon cancer. Doctors removed the tumor. The cancer returned. They did another surgery. The cancer came back and spread.

Chase died Aug. 25. He would have been 77 years old Saturday.

“He’s what I aspire to be some day,” Harmon said of Chase. “I really hope my future grandkids think of me the way I think of him.”

Harmon has found a way to honor his grandfather. The NASCAR Foundation and Martin Truex Jr. Foundation partnered for the Nominate a Cancer Hero program. The program auctions off space on a NASCAR Truck or car to put a person’s name for this weekend’s Las Vegas races. More than 40 drivers are participating. The program raised about $100,000.

Harmon found out about the auction shortly before it closed. He didn’t have enough money to provide a winning bid but asked friends for help and they rallied to provide the winning bid of about $2,800 to have Chase’s name on Alex Bowman’s car Sunday at Las Vegas.

Chase was a Dale Earnhardt fan. He switched to Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson after Earnhardt’s death. Chase remained a Hendrick fan after that, so putting his name on a Hendrick car was perfect for Harmon.

“He gets to go fast one more time,” Harmon told NBC Sports. “He gets to feel the race car one more time and hear the race car one more time.”

Harmon will gather with family Sunday and have a cookout at his house, serving deer steak and chicken on the grill. He’ll also have ice cream. Chase would eat ice cream, often chocolate, as he watched the races on TV.

Watching Sunday’s race on NBCSN and knowing his grandfather’s name will be on Bowman’s car will be special for Harmon.

“It’s going to kind of be a mixture of tears with joy,” he said.

5. Learn by example

The Xfinity playoffs begin Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While Chase Briscoe enters after his seventh win of the season, tying regular-season champ Austin Cindric for the most victories this season, rookie Harrison Burton looks to take the lessons he’s learned this season and turn them into a title run.

Burton told NBC Sports that one of the areas he’s improved most this season is “using my head and thinking about things.”

He notes his third-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a turning point.

“I think Kansas was probably one of the most fun races I ever lost,” he said. “I was really thinking, how can I beat Austin (Cindric, who finished second to Brandon Jones)? What can I show him to make him do something that I want him to do? (It’s) things I listen to Denny Hamlin talk about and say on his radio. Using the mental side of the game to their advantage. That has been really fun to go to the places where that is a big deal and try to make the most of it.”

The key, Burton said, is having a car that will allow a driver to think as they’re hitting their marks in each corner.

“When that becomes muscle memory, that’s when you free up your brain and you’re able to strategize in your head,” he said. “You’re able to show people lines that you know are going to hurt their tires but it’s fast. Then you run them down on a long run because they have been doing that.”

Who has taught Burton a memorable lesson in such a situation?

“Briscoe does a good job of that, of showing you a different lane and catching you with a different lane and then he has the ability to pass you in a completely different (lane),” Burton said.

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Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”