Photo: NASCAR/iRacing

What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Homestead

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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “First thing I did, I got out of the rig and I came up and watched the last six laps to kind of see what was going on. I can’t see everything when I’m sitting in the car, but certainly I was intrigued to see the last six laps and see what it looked like on TV. I thought it looked great. My first reaction 10 seconds in to watching it was like, I asked the people around me, I was like, ‘Do you believe this is not real.’ Like it looks so real. That part was really cool. … I wanted the bottom, and he was really, really smart to ‑‑ I mean, he didn’t win, but he was smart to kind of block the bottom there because the bottom lane at Homestead on iRacing just has tremendous more grip than what the lane I was running in, but I knew that the difference in the two lanes was about a tenth and a half to two tenths, and I thought my tires were about three tenths better.  So I thought as long as I got beside him, I was going to be able to complete it, even though he was in the preferred groove.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 2nd: “A lot of fun. Finished second. Got beat by Denny Hamlin, not the first time that he’s beat me on sim racing. The guy is pretty good. … A lot of guys put in a lot of work to get better in just a really short period of time. Denny doesn’t really race a lot but worked really hard this week to be able to be real competitive and it showed. A lot of the other guys did the same thing. … We took tires with 30 laps to and Denny took tires with about 20 laps to go and I think that was certainly a big advantage for him. We were racing really hard up front, too, burning our stuff up. I didn’t expect Denny to get up there and he did. Went to the bottom because if I go to the top he can pass me a whole lot easier. Plus, he wanted to, he could take the whole lane and knock me out of the way and I don’t even finish in the top five.”

Timmy Hill Finished 3rd“It was a really fun race. The top five did an excellent job all day long. I want to say thank you to NASCAR and iRacing for putting on this show. Today was a lot of fun. I did the best I could saving my tires at the end. We finally had our longest run of the day, 20 laps to the end. Didn’t take tires there and got beat. … I hope we get to do something like this again. These guys did a fantastic job with putting this race on. A lot of drivers put in a lot of time practicing.”

Chase Briscoe Finished 4th: “It was fun to get to do some type of racing, especially with the Cup guys and some others that I don’t get to race against a lot. Hopefully, it was a way for the fans to escape from everything that is going on and enjoy some good racing.”

Garrett Smithley Finished 5th: “Wow, that was fun, that was a lot of fun. I hope you guys enjoyed that. Cool deal. Started pole, finished fifth, led some laps. It was a good day. … It was a good day for the sim racing community. Cool to have some fun on these uncertain times but making the best of it. Hopefully we can get to the real racetrack soon.”

Alex Bowman Finished 6th:Heard the top 5 failed tech and I’ve been declared the official winner. I’d like to thank my sponsors, and most importantly my dog for taking over for a few laps.

Ryan Preece Finished 8th: My takeaways from today: iRacing is difficult. Easy to forget you’re on Live Video.”

Ty Majeski Finished 9th: “That was fun! P9 in the iRacing Pro Invitational. Got wrecked a couple of times and lost track position, had fun coming back up through the field!”

Erik Jones — Finished 10th: “Enjoyed myself more than I thought I would … Hope we get to do it again.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 11th: My crew chief, aka myself, made a bad call at the end. I stayed out and then I was kind of a rolling roadblock on the older tires and fell to 11th.”

Landon Cassill — Finished 12th: “We had a good solid race. I got tore up at the beginning and had to use a reset. From that point it was just trying to get some green laps going. I let a lot of aggressive drivers by on restarts that ultimately ended up wrecking themselves.  That last restart with about 15 to go, there was a crash in front of me and I got through it, but I had to slow down enough that it gave like a two-second gap to the cars in front of me. Once I got going again, I just worked on my line, worked on kind of burning the right rear tire a little bit so I could wear the tires evenly and started picking them off very carefully and caught the field on the last lap.”

Parker Kligerman — Finished 13th: “Just stayed out on two tires there. Probably should have pitted with Denny, probably could have raced for the win but we didn’t have any more resets after getting involved in two wrecks there, one at the front and one trying to come up through the pack.”

Joey Logano — Finished 15th: “I don’t play on the reg and I struggled a bit throughout the race, but overall that was fun!”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 16th: “Guys, I let you down. Heck, I let myself down. I let my fans down. I had sponsors in the stands, praying for a good showing, and I end up wrecking our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang and using both redos, as a matter of fact. I think the real takeaway is, obviously, I need a lot more practice. With everything going on in the country right now, I hope the fans were satisfied and I hope they got their minds off of things for a little bit. We will be back. I will be better and, I promise you, if you get on iRacing and get online, you’re gonna see these boys, probably tonight, battling it out again.”

Ryan Truex — Finished 17th: “Not the day I wanted for the boys back at the shop. We will go back home and get to work on the cars and (come) back stronger.”

BOBBY LABONTE — Finished 18th:I didn’t use up all my credits for damage, so that was good. I hope it was awesome to watch. It was a lot of fun to do. We will get better at this, being this the first one. … That was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”

Justin Allgaier — Finished 20th: “Had damage at the end that kept us from finishing higher up, but what a heck of a race and a killer finish!”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 21st: “That was interesting. heck of a race for the win that was cool to see. I definitely needed more than a night of practice for this #ProInvitationalSeries race. Had a lot of fun learning the sim world with @iRacing . We finished 21st with our @kroger chevy by missing all the wrecks.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 22nd: “Last 10 laps was watching the TV more than track! Looked like a great show by the end. Fun to do something new.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 23rd: “That was fun.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 25th: I had a lot of fun, wrecked a lot. Congrats to Denny Hamlin. Great race for him. Drove to the front and won it, which is pretty cool with new tires. I tried to pit for new tires and be on the same strategy and got wrecked but that’s part of it. Hope you guys enjoyed.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 27th: “I didn’t do very well. We got up to the top 10. … We got some work to do. I’m going to practice this week for the next one. Hopefully this ties us over until we get to the real race track because I’m ready to go really racing. Thank you guys for all following it.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 29th: “We obviously didn’t qualify very good so we were kind of mired in the back. Guys were crashing and wrecking out and we were kind of moving our way up to the front. Restarted, I think 16th one time and was making up some positions and getting closer to the front and felt like we had a pretty good long-run speed that was going there, we were picking a couple of guys off and then a crash happened on the frontstretch … nowhere to go.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 31st: “Not a great showing. I’m going to take all the responsibility. I’ve not spent a lot of time in iRacing or really racing at all on sims. So I’m learning my way through that. Lots of things to learn within the race. I didn’t even have a spotter, which seemed to be a problem a couple of times with wrecks, race format, just a lot of race details.”

Anthony Alfredo — Finished 32nd: “I wish we didn’t have so many cautions, and I felt like I got caught up in just about every single one.  We used up both of our fast repairs, you were allowed two, by like 10 laps in. I was super cautious after that and made it all the way to the end and then I pitted with Denny Hamlin there from the top five, so we were on the same strategy and we were coming through the field and we got wrecked going into Turn 1 and I was out of fast repairs so couldn’t do anything.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 33rd: “Well that didn’t really work out. Hope everyone enjoyed watching though!”

William Byron — Finished 34th: “Really hope we continue doing this. I thought it was a lot of fun!

Kurt Busch — Finished 35th: What an experience. … Huge shoutout to David Gravel for letting me borrow his sim. I owe ya bro!”

Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch ‘get mojo back’ at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch is known for speaking his mind. He says what he has to say whether things are good, bad, successful or frustrating.

That kind of attitude has rubbed off somewhat on his crew chief, Adam Stevens.

After Busch finished a disappointing 29th in Thursday’s fourth Cup race in 12 days, dropping Busch from 8th to 12th in the standings, Stevens was asked in a Friday teleconference where he would assess the progress of the No. 18 team since returning from the COVID-19 hiatus.

Like his driver, Stevens didn’t beat around the bush – no pun intended.

“Overall, it’s been a disappointing start, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Stevens said. “You have stretches like that and I think we need to get our program a little better and then internally as a team we have to do better.”

In the four post-hiatus races, Busch finished 26th at Darlington, accidentally knocked Chase Elliott into the wall to finish second in the return trip to the Lady In Black, was fourth in the Coca-Cola 600, and then things just fell apart in Thursday’s race, his 29th-place finish being the second-worst finish this season (worst was 34th in the Daytona 500).

“In general, I would say we’re not as competitive as we’d want to be,” Stevens said. “We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to.

“We’ve managed to get a couple good finishes in there, managed to get a couple poor finishes – the poor finishes were probably more poor than what they needed to be because of mistakes or circumstances we fell into during the race.”

A potential part of the problem with the No. 18 team – it’s a likely problem for most teams that have struggled since the return to racing – has been fatigue.

By the time Sunday’s race at Bristol is over, that will make five Cup races in 15 days. Plus, wih limitations on personnel numbers both at-track and at the JGR shop due to the pandemic, fatigue is apparent.

But after Sunday’s race, NASCAR Cup teams get a luxury of sorts: no midweek races this coming week and a chance for everyone to collectively catch their breath and rest up for nearly a week until the next race on June 7 at Atlanta.

“There’s quite a few of my crew guys who have been worn out here and spread pretty thin,” Stevens said. “They could really use a day or two off for sure, and they’re going to get that early in the week.

“We have a race in Atlanta with no practice, so the prep is down, but no midweek race … will make it a lot more palatable next week. Next week will probably be a week to get caught back up and assess where we’re at and maybe do a little bit more leg work on some of the future races so we can be a little bit more ahead. For certain there’s a large group of guys who need a day off.”

Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol offers a chance at redemption — if not a kind of home track advantage — for Busch and Stevens. In 29 Cup starts there, Busch has eight wins — including three in his last five starts there — plus 12 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.

If there ever was a place to right the listing No. 18 ship, the world’s fastest half-mile may just be the place.

“What makes Kyle (Busch) good at Bristol doesn’t change,” Stevens said. “He’s just so good at adapting what he’s doing behind the wheel to suit how the track is changing. Hopefully he’ll get to showcase more of that this weekend.

“It’s the track and the nuances of the track and how that changes and the fact that it changes is what makes KB shine there. He can make time on the bottom, in the PJ1, he can make time around the top when that’s the place to be and he’s not scared to move around and really is exceptional at getting through the lapped traffic as well.

“If you had to circle a place to get your mojo back, this would probably be it.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”