What drivers said after Dover

Leave a comment

Kyle Larson – winner: Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressed next week at Talladega except for me. So, that’s good. The last time I was at Talladega, I was on my lid and I could still end up on my lid next week, but it doesn’t matter after this win. What a day! This Clover Chevy was really good. After the first stage, I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like we made the car better at the same time. And, they really benefitted our long runs. That’s as good as I’ve ever been around, cutting the bottom, here. So, it was just a great combination here. To be fast in practice and then be good in the race and you get the win.

“I can’t thank all you fans enough for coming out. This cool weather was nice for a change. This is unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a ‘Golden Monster’ (trophy) is pretty sweet. … A million dollars earlier this year (at the All-Star) was pretty nice but no, to win a playoff race, my first playoff victory, is special. I hope there’s another one in our future, especially in the next round. So, we’ll see what we can do. I kept saying that I felt really close to winning here, or anywhere, right now. Our pit crew has been doing a better job and the team is doing a better job and I’ve been doing a better job. We’s just got to keep it going now.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: (How big of a factor was traffic today?) It was about everything to be honest with you. We got the lead there at the end of Stage 2. Got that stage win. On the pit stop, we had the issue and lost track position and then the whole third stage we were behind. We were catching (Larson) at the end – we got close – but just unfortunate. We win and lose as a team. The guys will clean it up; I’m sure. It’s cool to come home second after that with how hard it was to pass. … (You earned 54 points today. How does that ease your mind heading to Talladega?) Yeah, it’s good. Every week is just about doing the best you can and getting all the points that you can. Positive day for us today. Had a shot at the win today and came up short. Been nice to have that win and the free pass, but second is the next best. Good job to all of the guys. Just a good solid day here at Dover. Wish we could have won again, but that’s how it goes.”

Alex Bowman – finished third: (It seemed like you got better as the race went on) Yeah, I mean I think we had a good car there to start. It’s just really hard to pass and it took a while for the track to widen out. I made up some track position and then I had an issue on a pit stop that kind of put us back behind some of the guys we just passed. We just have to keep working at it. Obviously, (Larson) and (Truex) were way out there, but we had a really good race car and I’m proud of my guys. I’m really proud of my race team and everyone for keeping their heads on straight. I’ll take it after last week. We got together with (Ryan Blaney) there off of Turn 2 really early and I was like ‘No, not again’. I’m glad he saved it. Just two cars going for one spot on the race track, nothing happened from there. We had a clean day. The only real issue we had was that one pit stop. But, aside from that pit stop, my guys were probably the fastest on pit road. I’ll take it for how good they are.”

Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: For us, we had a tight condition and just right off the bat we struggled with getting the front of our car to turn and we really just lacked overall grip for us. It was much different in the race today than it was in practice. … I would say that luckily this is a good race track for us and we were able to grind out a good solid finish and get some stage points on a day when a lot of people had trouble.”

Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: “(Talk about losing the lead late in Stage 2) I thought the 22 (Joey Logano) was trying to stay on the lead lap, but they said he was 24 laps down and so he was kind of air blocking us and we lost the lead, and we lost that stage. Then after that we lost control of the race and the track got tighter. There were no cautions to pick up the rubber. We just got tight. Once we lost control – lost the clean air – it was so difficult to pass. I needed to be up front with as tight as my car was, so I just lost the lead and backpedaled from there. Top five, this track, I’ll take it every week. … (You radioed in that you may be having engine issues, but you were able to finish the race. What happened?) I missed a shift on the last restart. The car changed tones and lost a little power, but it’s next year’s motor which is not concerning any more this year. Certainly, I was concerned that we weren’t going to make it.”

Kyle Busch – finished sixth: (How was your race?) I don’t know, speeding on pit road never helps. We probably finished about where we should’ve I guess, maybe one spot better, but that’s it. … (Where do you go from here heading to Talladega?) It’s a completely different thing. You try to go to Talladega and race and survive. I don’t even know, we haven’t talked about that. That’s Tuesday. We’ll figure it out.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished seventh: (How did you grind it out?) All day, inching forward. Very little by little. That was the team, just so you know. Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and my whole group, pit crew, everybody, making really good adjustments. This was the first time we’ve had Dumont Jets on the car in quite a while and I was like ‘this Dumont Jets car is flying’. But no, it took a lot of discipline today. The car was really fast. Even faster than seventh-place, but you get in situations with the dirty air and with the high downforce it was a lot harder to pass. The fastest drivers had to be a lot more disciplined. You had to stay behind them and not abuse your stuff and wait for traffic or situations to pounce.

(You’re not in the playoffs but there’s still a lot to race for. What do days like this mean?) It’s been big. It’s really neat. I love working with this team. They are such good people. I’m so appreciative to work with them. I’m so glad this whole second half of the season has really turned around where we have been knocking off a bunch of top 10’s, so it’s really important to us. We’re trying to get in the top 20 in points. We’ve been climbing up big time the second half of the year running where we probably deserved to run. I hate that we aren’t in the playoffs, because we have been contending like a Playoff car. But it is what it is. I’m just thankful we’ve had some good solid runs. This Toyota has been running fast.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished eighth: “I felt like we had a shot. When we were in clean air, our lap times were great. Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day. But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all. All in all, it was a good day. We ran better than eighth for most of it, but we just couldn’t finish higher. … (What are your thoughts about Talladega and Kansas?) Talladega is kind of its own animal. I think Kansas we’re really excited for and feel like we can control our own destiny. The high downforce tracks, the Hendrick cars have been more competitive. I know we are all excited to get back to Kansas and build off of what we’ve had the last month or two.

(Were you satisfied with the run today?) No, I mean we’re here to win the race and that’s where my heart and mind is. Throughout the day, I felt like we did have pace at times to run for the lead if we could just cycle through all the pit stops to get there. Unfortunately, we had some things happen on pit road. I had to avoid cars coming out of stalls and it just set me back. Coming in fourth and coming out ninth, I think the way it all worked out with the pit box location, I lost positions during each pit stop. So, just really tough to recover from that. I’m disappointed there, but in my heart, I know we’re going the right way.”

Kurt Busch – finished ninth: “Today, we started ninth, ran ninth, and finished ninth. It was about all we had. I was on the tight side and Kyle (Larson) was a little bit on the loose side, but we made it work. I’m happy for my teammate to win and advance. It was a good step for us to just have a nice, smooth day. We just never really found anything to help the car steer.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 10th: We started 17th and finished 10th, I don’t know. It was hard to pass. Extremely hard to pass. Almost impossible. You had to have a really, really good car. It was just kind of a struggle out there all day long for us. Our ITsavvy Ford was about where we came out about where we ran. I am looking forward to Talladega though because you can certainly pass there.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 11th: We had an okay day. We held serve. We came into the weekend 19 points up and we leave 20 points up with two big races in front of us. If we can have a great day at Talladega it would be huge. We are due for another great run there. … (Two of your teammates had issues. Were you nervous?) Oh yeah. There was something going on. I don’t know what it was, that is for the smart guys that build and engineer the cars but it is certainly not good when you see your teammates breaking down.”

William Byron – finished 13th: “(Talk about the costly pit road penalty) Yeah, we couldn’t recover from that after. We just had a miscalculation of when we could accelerate out of our pit box. I thought we were fine on pit road speed to leave the box hard. That was a bummer for sure. We had a pretty good car. We couldn’t really make many passes, but we were able to get from the back after having to start pretty close to the tail end. It just really hurt our day. But overall, the guys did a good job and got out of here with a decent points day, I guess. We’ll just have to go on strong next week. The team and I all were convinced that I could go straight out and have not issues. I got a really good launch off the pit box, probably a little too good. I was kind of worried about it because I beat (Johnson) pretty good off pit road and it nipped us for sure. It was just a miscalculation. We probably won’t pick that pit box again for that reason. It really kind of ruined our day, but at least we got some decent stuff out of it.

(What’s your mindset heading to Talladega?) Our cars are always fast at Talladega, so we’ll just have to go there, lay it out there and see what happens.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 14th: “It was very hard to pass today at Dover. We obviously didn’t get the result we were looking for in the ARRIS Mustang, but we’ll move on to next week at Talladega. My guys are working really hard, and we still have races left to go and win.”

Austin Dillon — finished 18th: “Our team showed a lot of improvement during the race today even though an 18th-place finish isn’t what we wanted. The No. 3 AAA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 started off super tight in the first stage. I had a difficult time passing cars, especially in traffic. During the first pit stop, our team made some chassis adjustments to free up my Chevy for the rest of the stage. This proved to be successful because I ran top-five lap times at the conclusion of Stage 1. The beginning of Stage 2 was excellent. My car felt great and we were fast out there. We made a  trackbar adjustment during green-flag pit stops thinking it might help, but it didn’t seem to affect the car much at all. For the final stage, I started near the rear because of a speeding penalty on pit road. Fortunately, the team made solid adjustments to the AAA Chevy between stages and I quickly made my way up through the field. I had one of the fastest cars on the racetrack and made big gains in track position, but even with that speed, I couldn’t manage to get back on the lead lap. Our final position wasn’t representative of how hard our team fought all day. We’ll learn from this weekend and be ready for a wild race at Talladega.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 21st: “Nobody on this No. 8 team gave up throughout the weekend and we were able to make gains from where we started with this Lucas Oil Chevrolet. The car bobbled on my first qualifying lap Saturday, so we had to start deep in the field today. We kept moving forward and fighting all race long. The shifter lever broke during the second stage but luckily it didn’t hurt us too bad on the final few stops of the day. With so few cautions, we were stuck multiple laps down but kept fighting for every position we could and focusing on racing whoever was on our lap. Hopefully we can go to Talladega next week, stay out of trouble and have a shot at contending for the win.”

Joey Logano – finished 34th: (What was wrong with the car?) Something back there wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, so we had to fix that and we were 20-something laps down from there. You can’t make up 20 laps, that is for sure. Maybe you can get one or two back if things go right. It was a bummer. Things happen. … We definitely used our mulligan. We used the playoff points we accumulated, we just have to be perfect now. We have two really good race tracks coming up though. Talladega is arguably one of our best race tracks and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here. … (It sounds like Denny Hamlin is upset with the way you were racing him near the end of the second stage) Well, the situation was that I had about four or five cars that it was possible for me to catch, which is five points. You tell me if it is worth it. I would say it is worth it and I have to go. I have to try to get those spots if I can get them. If some of those cars that were that slow out there and were going to be 20-something laps down, the pace we were running we were going to be within a lap or two of them. I had to race hard. I had to keep going.”

Chase Elliott – finished 38th: I just had an engine failure of some sort. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what it was just yet. It just quit running. It didn’t really seem like anything was off. We were just kind of making laps and then obviously had a failure. It’s an unfortunate way to start this round for sure. … I don’t know where we’ll stack up (after today’s race). I assume we’ll have to win one of these next few weeks. If you ever make it to Homestead, you’re going to have to win down there. I guess it’s a good opportunity to practice here these next few weeks.”

David Ragan to make first Truck start since 2006 at Atlanta

Leave a comment

David Ragan is coming back and going home at the same time.

The Unadilla, Georgia native, who stepped down from full-time racing after last season, will drive in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Ragan’s home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, on Saturday, June 6.

The 34-year-old Ragan will drive the No. 17 Ford for DGR-Crosley in his 30th career Truck Series start and his first since 2006.

David Ragan will make his first Truck Series start since 2006 in the June 6 race at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“I’m really looking forward to racing one of DGR-Crosley’s F-150’s at Atlanta,” Ragan said in a media release. “We were originally going to run the truck at Richmond Raceway in April, but since that race was postponed (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), I wanted to return to my home state of Georgia with Select Blinds for this race.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve raced in the Truck Series. Atlanta has always been one of my favorite tracks since it’s my home track.”

Blake Bainbridge will serve as Ragan’s crew chief. The Atlanta race was originally scheduled for March, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since stepping away from full-time racing, Ragan has made just one start in 2020, finishing fourth in the Daytona 500 for Rick Ware Racing.

Ragan currently works in a development role with Ford Performance, where, according to the media release, “he assists teams with simulator work and has a hand in developing the NextGen car that will come into play in 2022.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR schedule for Cup, Xfinity races at Bristol

Leave a comment

NASCAR has put Charlotte in its rearview mirror and moves next to Bristol Motor Speedway.

One significant change to the schedule has already occurred. The Xfinity Series race originally slated for Saturday has been moved to Monday due to travel and setup challenges.

Here is the schedule for Saturday through Monday at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile:

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday, May 30

5 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7 – 9 p.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening and equipment unloaded)

Sunday, May 31

7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Cup garage access screening in progress

1:30 – 2:30 p.m. – Engine prime and final adjustments

3:20 p.m. – Cup drivers report to vehicles on starting grid

3:30 p.m. – Cup Series race, 500 laps/266.5 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit track

Monday, June 1

8:30 – 11:30 a.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening in progress)

11:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

5 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

6:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to vehicles on starting grid

7 p.m. – Xfinity race, 200 laps/300 miles (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Winners and losers after Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte

Leave a comment

WINNERS

Chase ElliottAfter losing the Coca-Cola 600 when he pitted from the lead before the overtime restart, Elliott scored the victory Thursday night at Charlotte. “I think we were hungry and wanted to get back and try again,” Elliott said after his seventh career Cup victory.

Denny Hamlin Crew chief serving the first race of a four-race suspension and Hamlin was starting 29th in a 310-mile race. No problem. He worked his way through the field, helped by his pit crew, and finished second.

Ryan Blaney He left Charlotte with a pair of third-place finishes in the two races. Many would take that.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Fourth-place finish is his second top-five result of the season in his first season at JTG Daugherty Racing.

LOSERS

Alex BowmanWon the second stage and had a fast car. Saw his night come undone when he hit the wall while running second. He had to pit for repairs and finished 31st.

Kyle BuschCut tire while racing in traffic sent him to the pits under green and he lost two laps. He never recovered, finishing 29th.

Friday 5: When fans can return, how many will be allowed at tracks?

Leave a comment

As NASCAR moves ahead with racing, among the key questions are when will fans be allowed back at the track and how many fans will be able to attend?

NASCAR has stated that there will be no fans at any of its races through June 21, covering events at Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Miami and Talladega. NASCAR has not announced what its schedule will be after June 21 and when fans could be back in the stands.

Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, said “I think that NASCAR will be the first major sport with fans back in attendance, and I think it will be in a place where one, the state regulations allow it, and two, where the large outdoor facility gives an opportunity to provide plenty of space, plenty of distance and plenty of areas for people to still have fun but be in a  safe environment.”

Should Pocono Raceway maintain its June 27-28 Cup doubleheader weekend dates, it appears likely it would be without fans.

Pocono Raceway is in Monroe County in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf has set three phases for easing of restrictions — red (most restrictions), yellow and green (fewest restrictions).

Asked if NASCAR could race at Pocono, Gov. Wolf said in a May 18 press conference: “If Monroe County goes to yellow before that race happens and NASCAR, in fact, has the competition without spectators in the stands and they follow other guidelines to keep the competitors safe, yeah.”

Monroe County enters the yellow phrase today.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the first track that hosts fans when it has the NTT IndyCar Series and Xfinity Series race on the road course July 4 and the Cup Series race on the oval July 5.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has a five-step plan in easing restrictions for the state where the final stage is projected to be enacted July 4 and states that “raceway events may return to full capacity.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have not announced what plans they’ll have for the July 4-5 races. A track spokesperson told NBC Sports that they’re “hopeful” to have fans but “will be prepared to run with or without spectators.”

Whenever and wherever fans return, it won’t be at full capacity with the need for social distancing.

That will force tracks to determine who can attend races when they have more ticket buyers than seats they’re allowed to make available because of social distancing protocols.

“It’s going to be challenging,” Smith said. “I think if we have 40 percent or 50 percent capacity, it’s something that we’ll have to figure out. I don’t think we have those details yet, but it’s certainly something we’re sensitive to and working on right now.”

While Smith mentioned 40-50 percent capacity, he’s not sure what it will be at various tracks.

“Who knows if it’s 40 or 50 percent or 25 percent?” he said. “It’s something that when you take into account different regulations in different states, I think that percentage is going to change depending on what the regulations are.”

2. Feeling better

Crew chief Alan Gustafson admits it “wasn’t a great feeling” Sunday after his decision to pit Chase Elliott before overtime cost Elliott a chance to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But Gustafson didn’t let the decision wreck him the rest of the week.

“I don’t base my self‑worth on other people’s opinions, or if I’m doing a good job based on what other people say, but certainly I’m a human being, too, and when you get that many rocks thrown at you, it doesn’t feel great,” Gustafson said after Elliott won Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte. “It was a long couple days, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to look past it and move on.”

Gustafson said of the decision to pit late in the 600: “There’s a lot of factors that went into it, and our struggles earlier in the race probably influenced me more than I should have let it, and it didn’t work out. We’re also assuming that we stay out and we win the race, so it’s tough. It’s just a tough situation.”

While it’s easy to look at how Elliott could have three wins in a row — he was running second late at Darlington when Kyle Busch’s contact wrecked him, then the 600 pit call and Thursday’s win — Elliott prefers to look at things differently.

“I think the biggest thing is if we can continue to put ourselves in position and give ourselves chances and we do a good job at controlling the things that are in our control, that’s all we can ask for,” Elliott said after Thursday’s win. “We can’t control when a caution comes out two laps to go and you’re kind of in a lose‑lose situation there. We’ve got to keep doing things that are in our hands and keep doing those well.”

3. Hold on tight at Bristol

Much was made about drivers not having practice and qualifying before they raced at Darlington Raceway since it is considered among the sport’s most difficult tracks.

While not as much has been mentioned about the obstacles drivers will face at Bristol Motor Speedway before Sunday’s Cup race and Monday night’s Xfinity race, they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Tyler Reddick, who won the Bristol Xfinity race last August and finished second in the April 2019 race there, notes some of the challenges drivers will face this weekend.

“I think the first challenge is going to be just completing that first lap,” he said. “That’s one of the toughest race tracks to go around when it doesn’t have rubber and heat on it. I’ve run Truck races there through my career and when we’re one of the first ones on the race track, that first hour of practice you can’t really learn much. The traction compound is slick – you go down in there to try to use it and you almost spin out. You run the middle and that’s about it. Man, the first hour or so of practice you can’t get up in that either because it’s slick and you almost wreck.

“I remember the first time they put traction compound down at Bristol. I went out for practice and I was in the middle, we were OK. But I wanted to try the bottom, so I went down there, got loose and couldn’t go anywhere. So, I was like ‘that’s not going to work’. I went up to try to use the top and I drove it straight into the fence.

“I’m worried that the start of the race is going to be very chaotic. I don’t know how that’s going to go. There’s only one groove and we’re going to be starting double-file, so that’s going to be very interesting.”

4. Midweek racing

Thursday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the second midweek Cup race since NASCAR’s season resumed.

The series will race at Martinsville on June 10, a Wednesday night. There could be other midweek races as NASCAR seeks to run 32 Cup races in 25 weeks.

But what about next year? How realistic is it that there could be a Cup race in the middle of a week?

“Lot of people have talked about it,” Marcus Smith said this week. “Running midweek races with no attendees is not a concern in terms of how you pull it off. … You don’t have to take into consideration selling tickets and hosting live things.

“Very different model than hosting these big parties, these big events that we do. The biggest events happen on the weekends. That’s why NASCAR races typically are on a weekend. When you have these events as we do, and we have to think quickly and figure out how to catch up on this nine or 10-week delay of the NASCAR season, running races midweek was a natural way to get caught up.

“But going forward, I still don’t think that the biggest events in sports will be hosted midweek.”

Brad Keselowski would like to see midweek races continue.

“NASCAR, in my opinion, has hit gold with this format,” he said after Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The limited practice, show up and race, and the time window that benefits both the East and West Coast. No qualifying. Inversion from the week before is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there. I think it’s fair. 

“It’s compelling and it’s at a time where, quite frankly, the sports world, even if it wasn’t for COVID, midweek races in the summer, when you’re generally not having a lot of competition, is in a time period where everybody is hungry for content. I think they’ve got gold here. COVID or not, I hope we keep this for years to come. I think this is a great little format that’s good for the sport and good for the fans and good for everybody all around, so kudos to them.”

5. All-Star Race status

Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted four NASCAR races, including two Cup races, this week but none of those Cup races was the All-Star Race.

Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, was asked this week in a media conference about that event’s future and if it will remain at Charlotte.

“I think the plan is that it would be at Charlotte, but I think it’s important to note that we haven’t announced it because it’s just not ready to be announced yet,” Smith said. “With all the moving parts in this time, we have to be aware of how things change. Very soon, and I think in the next two weeks or less, we’ll have the next round of events that will be announced (by NASCAR) and it will help solve those schedules.”