What drivers said after Phoenix race

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The field is set for next weekend’s NASCAR Cup championship race at Miami, following Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

Here’s what many drivers had to say afterward about their performance:

Denny Hamlin – winner: “(How does it feel to know you’re going to Miami to race for the championship?) The caution was the most nervous moment. I was counting down, I have a clock inside the car and I was looking at the clock and thinking, 20 more minutes of laps, 10 more minutes of laps, five more minutes of laps. I knew it was inevitable. I’ve been through so much at this race track. Obviously in 2010 and the downfall of our championship run there to get it all back 10 years later, this is special to me.

“(Is this the best drive of your career?) One of the best cars of my career, I can tell you that. Fast car. But, yeah, I pushed for all I had. I mean, that’s all I got. Once we got the big lead there, a little over 10 seconds, I just kind of sat there. I got to thinking about if the caution does come out, I want to lap as many as I can. That’s all we had. So proud of this whole FedEx racing team … There’s still work to be done. Doesn’t guarantee a championship. Gives us a chance. Live to fight another day. That’s all you can ask for.”

Kyle Busch – finished second: “Just didn’t quite have enough (to win). I knew (Hamlin) was the best car in practice. I knew we were going to be about third to fifth. We were second. Guys did a great job, this M&M Camry was good. Thanks to everybody at JGR, Stanley, Toyota, TRD. It’s cool to have a chance to go race for a championship. Just keep coming up short.

“(You go to Miami with a 21-race winless streak. How do you change that?) Yeah, thanks for the reminder. Fight as hard as we can, do the best job we can, exactly what we did today. Today we just weren’t good enough. Next week we’ll just have to make sure that we are. Somehow, some way, if it works out, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Hopefully the sun will come up for another day.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “We ran third. I thought we got better all day. I thought we did a good job of getting better on long runs all day and the short runs too. We just got overall better, and then passed a couple cars we were behind the first couple runs, but nowhere near in the league, especially the 11, but in the 18 and the 19 were in. We’ve got to do our homework. We’ve got to start working on that. I’m really proud of the whole group for today, but the whole playoffs as well. It stinks that you miss it, but a solid day.

“(It seems like a Gibbs year. How do you battle that next year?) You’ve got to figure something out, right? It’s gonna be the same car next year, so everyone will spend the offseason trying to figure out the most efficient way to build these cars and everything like that, and we talk all the time about how this sport goes in cycles and they’re obviously on a really high one all year, which is really impressive, but I’ve got faith in the whole Penske group to really find some stuff and hopefully we have a decent run at Homestead and that leads into next year.”

Kyle Larson – finished fourth: “(Denny Hamlin) had an amazing race car there. So, he would have had been tough to beat. But obviously with that final restart there, everybody felt like they had another chance to try and beat him. I just felt like if I could have lined up on the outside row, I would have had a really good shot. Had I lined up sixth or eighth even, I felt like I would have been in a much better position than starting seventh. It didn’t work out. I restarted on the bottom every time but one today, so that was unfortunate. It’s still a good year for us. It was a little rough in the beginning of the season, but we have rebounded from that, worked hard, got our cars better and our team better. We were battling for a championship. We’ll go to Homestead next week, race and try to get a win.

“(What are your feeling emotion-wise now?) I would like to battle for a championship next week. We did a good job in the playoffs; I feel like we’ve learned a lot. We stayed consistent, didn’t get too anxious at times and got good finishes. I think we’ve ran in around the top 10 in every race, but Talladega. It was good. We finished top 10 at Martinsville in thepPlayoffs, so that was an improvement. We’ll try and be better for next year; get our cars a little bit better for these short tracks and have a better shot.”

Kevin Harvick – finished fifth: “(How would you evaluate your day?) I’d say about like I thought it was gonna go. The Gibbs cars were strong and we were probably about where we finished, about a fifth-place car. I’m just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford for battling through the day and we’ll see what happens next week in Homestead. … (You’re the only non-Gibbs car in the championship race. What do you need to do?) Beat three Gibbs cars. Go faster than them.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished sixth: “I know we’re ready for Homestead, and feeling really confident about that. Today we had a really strong car on the long runs, we just would get killed on restarts there. I was in a good spot on that last one to make a run at him, and went down into 1 and it just went straight. We fought that all day long, just took us too long to get going. You know, for having half a team and an old car and not really working on it, I thought we had a second‑ or third‑place car today, so that’s pretty good.  Excited for Homestead, and can’t say enough about everybody back at JGR.  To put three cars in the Championship 4 is pretty incredible.

“(What will it be like racing against two of your teammates?) I’m not sure.  We’ve raced against the 18 there a few times, and kind of quasi‑teammates, but never under the same roof, so to speak.  I’m not sure.  It’s going to be interesting for sure.  I feel like we’re here for a reason, and that’s because we all work together so well, and hopefully we’ll do that the same this week and throughout the weekend next weekend and then Sunday let the best team win.”

Erik Jones — finished seventh: “We struggled with the handling on our Interstate Camry early in the race. We made good adjustments but track position was everything.  We had a really fast racecar at the end but we just needed a few more cautions. We had a solid top-10 day and we’re ready to head to Homestead to finish up the season.”

Clint Bowyer — finished eighth: “That was a tough race today. We worked hard to get our car better and everyone did a really good job. We were just in the wrong lane there at the last restart. It was tough to pass today. Track position was everything. We’ll go to Homestead and finish this season out right next weekend.”

Joey Logano – finished ninth: “(What happened to your car?) I don’t know. I have no idea. It went from a really good car to a car that couldn’t stay on the lead lap with changing tires and a half-pound of air. A lot of things don’t line up there. That doesn’t make any sense. The car shouldn’t do that, but it did and once we put tires back on it we got to where we could run competitive at least again, but we were so far back and I was running so hard trying to get back to (Hamlin) that we ended up using it up again. We just needed a caution at the right time and we didn’t get it to try to get back up there. It stinks.

“We did the first half of the race really well. We had a fast car. We scored a ton of stage points and to the point that we could tie (Kyle Busch) and all I had to do was finish in front of him, which was the goal, and it went bad from there. I don’t get it, but it just wasn’t our year I guess. I don’t know what to say. You’re up there wishing that somebody gets up there and passes him, but (Busch) wasn’t gonna pass him. He could have, but wasn’t going to obviously to have all of their cars in, so it is what it is. We’ll move forward.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 10th: “I don’t know if I had anything for (Hamlin and Kyle Busch). I didn’t really get a chance to run around them on equal tires, but I felt like we were a top three or four car at least and lost a cylinder at the end. I felt lucky to bring home 10th. … (Can you be part of the conversation at Homestead?) We’re gonna sure try, I can promise you that. The tracks where tires fall off and the short tracks the Gibbs cars have been lights out, so we certainly have some room to be better and hopefully we can show it at Homestead.”

Kurt Busch – finished 11th: “Just battled with a loose handling car all day. We just couldn’t find the balance that we needed to be competitive. I got penalized for speeding on pit road and that just put us way behind. With no cautions, it was hard to make adjustments or recover the lost track position.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 15th: “We had good speed in the car on the long run, but we were lacking a little bit on the short run. I got a pit road speeding penalty early on, but we were fortunate enough to recover from that. At the end of the race we were 11th, and then the last caution came out. We all restarted with a few laps to go, and everyone had their own agendas. We lost a few spots and had some damage to the car, which is disappointing.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 19th: “We just struggled all weekend honestly. We could never really get the right handling on our NOS Energy Drink Ford. I’m still proud of my guys has they never gave up despite going a lap down due to the tire issue. I’m looking forward to Homestead next week and finishing my season out strong.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 21st: “We made small gains today at ISM Raceway, and that’s what it is all about. The No. 8 Cat Large Dozers Chevrolet was too tight for much of the day, but Luke Lambert and all the guys on this crew kept adjusting on it to help the handling. We made some gains in the Rookie of the Year battle today, so we’ll go to Homestead next week to try to finish the year out right and lock up that rookie title. I’m proud of this entire team and all their hard work all season long.  I’m hopeful we can end the season on a positive note with that rookie of the year accomplishment.”

Aric Almirola – finished 22nd: “We fought hard all day, and even though we weren’t where we needed to be from a handling standpoint, we managed to get up to 11th to where a top 10 was possible. But then we got a flat tire and that was it.”

Austin Dillon — finished 24th: “Even though we didn’t qualify as well as we had hoped, we had a lot of confidence that we were going to have a solid day. Danny Stockman and the No. 3 American Ethanol team did their best to make improvements throughout the race, including making a big swing at adjustments during a pit stop between Stages 2 and 3. We ended up with a pass-through penalty at the end of Stage 3 for speeding exiting pit road, and that put a further damper on our day, even though our Chevrolet was definitely handling better towards the end of the race. We know we can improve on this so we’ll go back to the drawing board on this one. We’re looking forward to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week and ending the season with a strong run.”

Chase Elliott – finished 39th: “It’s just a continuation of our first two weeks, unfortunately. I hate it for our NAPA group. We had a decent NAPA Chevy today. It was really tough in traffic to catch guys and then pass and whatnot. But, I feel like we were in a good position to run solid. I’m not sure why we had a tire go down. I think that’s what happened, at least; it seemed like it. It’s unfortunate. Like I said, these last three weeks have been pretty rough. So, hopefully Homestead goes better and we can get prepared good for next season and get a good notebook for next year.

“(Track position seemed to be the key today?) It certainly seemed that way. You’re racing really hard and it’s like slow motion. It’s just hard to make a lot happen in a little amount of time. You really just have to think about what’s coming and where lapped cars ahead of you are running and where the person in front of you is running if you’re better than he. It’s definitely tough. It was a tough race to that point. I enjoyed racing there towards the end of that stage. I thought we were racing hard. You never want to have a round go like that.”

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NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”