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.”