What drivers said after Las Vegas

0 Comments

Here’s what drivers had to say about their performance in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Joey Logano – winner: “Boy, we fought hard for this one today.  Man, what a battle between Blaney and I and Chase Elliott and (Martin Truex Jr.) earlier in the race, and then to see this finish with Matt finishing second is great day for Wood Brothers and for Team Penske. Man, nothing like winning the Pennzoil 400 in front of this amazing crowd with this awesome yellow car right here in the front.  Man, this is a huge win, and nice to kick off the season with a W.

“[Was the push from Stenhouse on the final restart the difference?] Yeah, it really was. You get a good start like that, and I watched him, he pushed me and then he shoved me ahead, which was great, and then the block on the 24, that was the winning move, I was able to get down in front of him and then be able to separate myself a little bit from the field. Clean air was going to be key with old tires. If I got swallowed up by a couple cars, I was just going to fall backwards really quick. Being able to get that clean air, secure that. Man, this is great getting back in Victory Lane.

“[It’s your first win with Paul Wolfe as your crew chief, one to remember] Yeah, it really is. He’s done such a great job, and it’s been fun getting to know each other, and with the whole team. The pit crew was amazing today. I think we gained a spot every time at least. Proud of the effort that everyone has put in over the offseason, to come out here the start of the West Coast Swing and get one of those cool stickers right next to my name on top of this car.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 2nd: “This is all just too surreal. Tough to be that close, but, hey, this is only the second race of the season. So it was the strength of this team. It’s so cool to have the backing of all the people that allow me to drive this thing.  It took so many people, Motorcraft, Quick Lane. To be driving this iconic car is so cool, Menards and Paul, I know you’re watching at home and proud and I can’t thank everyone in that whole family for this opportunity for it.

“Power under the hood is always good. I’m proud to have that Roush Yates power under the hood. This whole team, Greg Irwin, all of them, we were covered. It wasn’t pretty at the start, but, man, they did an excellent job. So happy to be working with this team, the fans. Thank you all so much. The journey has been pretty cool.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 3rd: “Brian (crew chief Brian Pattie) is just really good at calling races, and he apologized for that one (bad pit call). That one backfired on us that second run. We got good track position, and then we stayed out a little too long and gave up that track position. So then we were fighting kind of all race to get it back up, and he went long again, and it paid off with the caution. Our Kroger Camaro was good. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we know what we need to work on now, and it was cool to get a good solid run in this Camaro for everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing. Got to thank Hungry Jack, NOS Energy Drink and everybody that works on this car. So far so good. Two weeks, we’ve been fast this week, we weren’t bad this week, and we know what we need to work on, and I know Brian and the boys will tune it up.”

Austin Dillon – finished 4th: “We just needed some track position. Everybody is just really close. You can tell by how many cars are on the lead lap at the end of these races; it’s nuts. NASCAR did a great job to get these cars where they are. It is crazy racing out there. We saw those guys hit pit road. We were running the same lap times at the beginning of the tires to the end, so that was our best move. Luckily, we got the outside. Our teammate was doomed on the bottom. The bottom just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader. I just want to thank all of our sponsors; American Ethanol, Bass Pro Shop, Dow, everyone that helps this team. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 5th: “It was a strong day. With about 15 to go or so, I got into the outside wall and lost some spots. But we didn’t have a strong enough tire rub to cause any problems. We put rights on before that final restart. Chaos was happening in front of me and I was able to sneak through to get a top-five finish.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it. We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.

“[How important is the strong finish by the Chevrolets – six in the top 10?] It’s really rewarding to see. Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevy’s up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 6th: “We had a shot at a good finish and we capitalized on that. All-in-all, it was a good day and a win for us. It was just a good gamble call. We were terrible on restarts. It would take us ten or fifteen laps just to get going and get the car underneath us. Then, we could start fighting our way up there. There were frustrating moments over the radio, just trying to make this Coke Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE better. I know how I lose my cool a little bit, but one of the main reasons I brought [crew chief] Jerry Baxter in was to calm me down and show that light at the end of the tunnel. Every time I fired back, he said ‘I get it, you’re fine, we’re going to be fine’ and he was right. It was a good call by the team and everyone involved. Coke Energy, I appreciate them coming on board for this race. It was a great outing and it shows like we were running on some Coke Energy out there.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 7th: “We had a decent run today.  There were times where I felt like we were the best car and then there were times where I felt like we struggled.  We just didn’t quite have the long run speed all race long and we got to where we were really good in the middle of the runs and just learned a lot.  This is a little different car than I’ve ever raced before, so I’m learning how to adapt to that.  There are a lot of takeaways and I’m confident we were really close to being a winning car today.  I just wish I could re-run the weekend a little bit and work through a few things, but certainly learned a lot and very confident we can win races. … It came down to that green-white-checkered at the end and it was exactly what you would expect in a green-white-checkered, a crashfest, but it would have been interesting to see if it would have stayed green and the cars with tires could have had a shot at it, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 8th: “The caution really decided that.  I think there would have been some of us that got back close to the lead by the time we got off of turn four.  I don’t even know where we restarted, but we were seventh or so going into turn one on the last lap with a big head of steam and the caution came out.  Our Busch Light Ford was really good on the short runs.  We just kind of lost the handling as we would get deep in those runs and that kind of hurt us, but it came down to what we wanted there at the end, but we just got too far back.”

Kyle Larson – finished 9th: “I fought the balance a lot early in the race. It got better, but then we had some cautions there at the end, I would be on cycled tires and the balance would get really tight. All-in-all, it was a top-ten here and I feel good about that.”

Ty Dillon – finished 10th: “I’m just really happy with our GEICO Camaro. We got pretty tight through the middle of the race, so we started freeing it up and freeing it up. We just needed an opportunity to get some track position back there. Things went our way on that restart. I was able to find some holes and finally got aggressive there at the end. We got our first top-10 of the year, so that feels good. We ran really, really strong at Daytona, but didn’t get the result that we deserved. For our team to run the way we did today is a really exciting thing for our team.

“[What were the restarts like?] It was nuts. It was three or four-wide every single restart and you just had to find the lane that had a little bit of momentum. It was crazy, it was never the same. I think I restarted 19th and went through the middle, and we ended up 10th. I don’t really know what happened, but we just started passing cars. You just had to find the lane and you’re to process things at such a high rate of speed. You just had to be committed to where you were going.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 11th: “It was just a crappy situation. We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it. I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them. It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out. That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car. We were great on long runs. We were so good on long runs and that’s something to hold our heads up high about, it just stinks about the finish.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 12th: “That was a long day for us. We just couldn’t get our front end to work like we wanted it to work. Our car did not want to roll the middle today. We’ll be better in Fontana next week.”

Alex Bowman – finished 13th: “We had such a good car there at the end. Obviously, running down the 12 (Ryan Blaney) pretty quickly. At least looking at a second-place finish, if not, battling for a win there. Our car was so good. The caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong. Bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved. But at the same time, I’m so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously, we had it rolling there at the end.

“It’s unfortunate to not end up with a top-10, but I’m really proud of my guys. Having a shot at winning these things is really all you can ask for and this one just didn’t work out for us.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 18th: “I was loose for the majority of the day when I tried to run the bottom, but the adjustments my team made through the race helped a lot. I was able to get the top to work fairly well, especially on the long runs. I just needed a little more to fire off with, but we’ll work on that. It was great to be able to run inside the top 10 today. That’s momentum we can build on. When that final yellow came out, we decided to gamble in Las Vegas and stay out to go for the win. Unfortunately, we lined up fifth, which meant we were on the bottom for the restart. The bottom hadn’t restarted well all day, so that wasn’t in our favor and we fell backwards but ultimately had a shot at it.”

Cole Custer – finished 19th: “It’s not the result we wanted today with the Production Alliance Group/Haas Automation Mustang, but the guys worked hard on the car all day. I’m still learning a lot with the Cup car and wanted a better result. We came back from two laps down, and (crew chief) Mike Shiplett did a good job continuing to adjust on the car. I know I need to be better at restarts and some things like that, but I’m looking forward to next week and excited about working with the No. 41 team this year.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 20th: “(What happened when you hit the wall? ) He (Kurt Busch) kept blocking until I hit the fence. Then it was tire rub, blew the tire and hit the fence. That was it. … “(How are things with your new crew chief?) Everything is fine. We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.

“(How trying of a race was this?) Just unfortunate this early in the season. It’s nice to have a fast race car. Our Bass Pro Shops Toyota was really good. We were top two or three early in the first half and then the pit stop issue. We got back in traffic. I had a role on the 1 (Kurt Busch) car and he just moving up until I hit the fence on the front stretch. I thought we were going to be okay after that. Then just cut our right front tire down and pretty much ended our day. It is what it is, but luckily we got some good stage points the first two stages. We have a fast race car we can move forward with. The guys did a good job, just have to clean up pit road.”

Ross Chastain – finished 27th: “I was just overdriving there at the end for sure. It just got away from me there and got loose.  There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton. … [You looked comfortable in the car?] Yeah, the car deserved a lot better finish. Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. These guys kind of ate me alive on the restarts and I’d lose three or four spots every time, and picked the wrong lines through one and two, and then three and four again I just kept making silly mistakes that I should learn from after I make the mistake once. I just have to be better.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 30th: “(What happened at the start of the race? ) Obviously, this is just a learning process. We had an issue with the ECU box in the beginning. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, but it put us into a hole and it was difficult to get out of the hole. I feel like we could have finished somewhere in the top-25, maybe even better than that. We had to fight hard. We learned a lot of different things that we can improve for next week. It feels to get that first race in. We now know what we have to work on. We just have to go out there and keep digging.”

We will add more driver comments as they become available. Please check back.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

0 Comments

NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

MORE: Toyota looking to expand its NASCAR presence

Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

MORE: Surveying key race dates for 2023

4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

MORE: Legacy MC looking to make a leap forward

9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.