What Drivers Said after Darlington

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Kevin Harvick – winner: “I want to thank everybody from NASCAR and all the teams for letting us do what we do. I didn’t think it was gonna be that much different and then we won the race and it’s dead silent out here. We miss the fans.

“It’s a pretty big honor to win 50 races in this deal and I just have to thank all my team guys and everybody for what they’re doing. I guess we’ll bring home the trophy.”

(On having 50 wins in his Cup career) “It doesn’t seem real and I think as you look at Darlington, at the things that happened this weekend, I really thought that it would definitely play into our hand just because our guys are so good at hitting the car off the truck for the most part. We put a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of studying, a lot of meetings and just have to thank everybody at the shop who has built all these cars and just, man, I’m excited. It is weird just because there’s nobody up there, and you can go to BuschBeer.com and maybe have your face on the car next week, up here on the hood.  I’m speechless.”

(At what point did you think you had a race-winning car?) “I was really happy that we had the first pit stall. That really played into our advantage. Track position was huge.  Our Busch Light Ford was fast enough on the restarts to be able to fight those guys off and then once I got in a rhythm I could start to pull away, but it was definitely close when we start and I think that was our goal — just not to be in right field.”

(We race again on Wednesday back at Darlington. Can you go back-to-back?) “It’s gonna be a little bit different. … It’ll be night, so I think you definitely have to figure out what you want to do with your car.”

Alex Bowman – finished 2nd: “It was a lot of fun to race a guy like Kevin at a place like Darlington. It sucks to finish second, but it’s really good to restart the season this way with a strong car off the truck. We just needed a little bit more … and just came up a little bit short.

“(What was it like coming back to racing?) It was great to be back. Obviously a little different, but felt really good to get back in the car. We were really strong on short runs right off the bat. Just got tight as the runs went on. Freed it up quite a bit during the first two‑thirds of the race. Got the car pretty good, then I kind of leaned on the wall a little bit and hurt us there at the end. Just a little bit off. I felt like I didn’t do a great job of knowing what I needed to be able to beat (Harvick) there on long runs at the end. I feel like if I could have gotten in front of him on the short run, I could have held him off with clean air. But I didn’t really know. I could get the car free right on the wall or get it tight by turning down off the wall a little bit. I didn’t really know which direction to go on the last change.”

Kurt Busch – finished 3rd: “I’m the happiest guy in the world, I got to drive 200 mph today, passing cars, felt the energy of the race car and just to be out here and to have a job. I miss the race fans, we didn’t have you here, but I felt you through the (TV) cameras.

“(On returning to racing) Wow, this was a great feeling to be able to have such a good car with a good team at Chip Ganassi Racing. To be out there with no fans but yet I could feel them all the way through the television cameras. Out there racing hard, trying to put on a good show. I think we were a third‑place car with the Monster Energy Chevy. We were a little tight to start the race. That pace that Kevin Harvick had for the first 10 laps was tough to beat. Bowman was really quick. His setup from Fontana helped him here today. Had a really good run at Fontana. So to dance with the Lady in Black, I’ll take a third‑place finish. It was great to be out there and to race 200 miles an hour, to feel g‑forces again, to have a day where I was out there working and being part of a team. Again, just thanks to (crew chief) Matt McCall and everybody making good adjustments. Felt good all the way through, good teamwork.”

Chase Elliott — finished 4th: “Had a slow start for sure, it was nice to get our NAPA Chevy back driving decent there at the end. Hate that we were so far in left field to start the race, but really proud of the effort. Pit stops were fantastic and the adjustments were really good. The track kept changing and we were able to kind of keep up with things and finally get caught back up to a decent place at the end. Hopefully we have something really good to build off of on Wednesday. Heard that was our best run at Darlington, so that’s good! Hopefully Wednesday is a few spots better.

“Thought NASCAR did a great job of executing today in a safe manner. It was a good atmosphere, in my opinion. The lack of people is certainly a weird vibe, but I think from execution and them (NASCAR) doing a really good job of keeping everybody safe and trying to execute the first race back was very well done. Looking forward to Wednesday, like I said, just excited to be back racing. It was a fun day, it was a fun vibe. I loved the atmosphere and the fact that we didn’t practice, I thought it was really cool. I think it had zero percent effect on the race winner today. Hopefully we can kind of make this a trend and get back to our roots. It reminded me a lot of short track racing, which I think is a lot of fun. Looking forward to Wednesday.”

Denny Hamlin — finished 5th: “It was definitely different for sure. Just very subdued, very quiet. That’s the biggest thing I noticed, it was just how quiet everything was. That was the biggest change I noticed.

“(What were the safety protocols like?) It was pretty quick and not much to it to be honest with you. We all have been isolating ourselves for a long time now so everyone is doing their part and social distancing. Felt like we were in a good spot with our sport where we’re a non-contact sport, player to player so this was a good opportunity for us to come back.

“(Will this finish give you confidence for Wednesday night’s race back at Darlington?) There’s definitely confidence for sure. We kind of ran about where we did last fall, somewhere in that range. Track position was huge. We were really good today. We lost a lot of spots on pit road early in the day. We got a few of them back by the end, but just so important to start up front and stay up front. We did that for the most part, but we just got shuffled on two bad pit stops and that kind of hurt our track position and we weren’t able to fully recover from it.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 6th: “It definitely had a weird feel to it. It almost felt like we were at a test session, but its like, ‘you have to race and this is serious and this is for points, a trophy and money and all that stuff.’ It kind of just had a weird feel to it. I think everybody felt the same way with the race, it was just kind of strange, but at the same time everybody was excited to be there and be able to get back to a little bit of normal even though it wasn’t quite normal.

“(What were the safety measures like?) Honestly, I felt totally comfortable with everything and I feel like they did a really good job of having a game plan and having a strategy. Honestly, I feel 100% comfortable with how things went today and that everybody is safe and everybody is able to go about their business and do their jobs and not have to worry about it. I have to commend NASCAR and everybody involved for what they did. It was very streamlined and very easy and even all the team guys commented on how well everything went and how smooth it was and it wasn’t like it was a big hassle for anybody to be able to do it. From that standpoint, I think everything went really, really good. I’m definitely comfortable with the way things are.

“(You struggled in the first two stages but rebounded nicely in the final one. What happened to turn things around?) It was looking pretty dark and gloomy there for the first two runs and honestly my biggest concern was not wrecking the first run because it was so far off and it was all I could do to just hang on to it and then the second run it took off a little bit better, but then it came right back around to being terrible again. I just had to ride and wait on the track to take some rubber and things to change and towards the end of that run, we were starting to get somewhat competitive so I knew there was some light there at the end of the tunnel. I still told James (Small, crew chief) that we need to make some big changes and I think he already knew that. From there, we just kept taking big swings at it. Great job by him and the guys to stay calm and doing what needed to be done. We were able to make something out of it. Felt like towards the end there, we had a top-three or four car and maybe if we could get out front, we might be able to hold them off. Then of course on the last stop we had a little issue on the right-rear and lost some spots and then restarted ninth on the inside, which was the worst place to possibly be – inside is a tough restart there. We lost a bunch of positions and then had to make them all up at the end. We passed a lot of cars all day, but especially at the end. We were faster than the leader when we could get clean air at the end so that was promising. Just really happy and proud of everybody for having so much time off and being able to come back and do it and hopefully we learned a lot for Wednesday that should help us.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 7th: “We’re officially back to racing, and it feels great. Our first day back in the No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet was a little rough around the edges at times, but starting out in the 29th spot and racing our way into the top five in the first 125 laps was just an outstanding kick off to our race. It felt like we were bouncing right back into our good momentum that we had at Phoenix Raceway before this break. It was a hot, slick track for sure today, which I love. We also saw the track change quite a bit. Our No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet was really good and took off so well at the start of the race, that it was tough to adjust on it throughout the day. We really needed to though as the track changed, so that’s something I think we can look to improve on for Wednesday’s race. It was a wild day for us though. We had a piece of debris come off the wall and stick to our splitter, which slowed one of our pit stops as we tried to get it all off. That caused a slight pit road miscue with a tire and sent us to the tail of the line, forcing us to fight back from 29th one more time. We never gave up, and all in all, it was a great day. A seventh-place finish is a great way to come back, and we’ll look to build momentum from here. The good news is, we get to come back Wednesday night and try to finish seven spots better.”

Erik Jones — finished 8th: “It was just unique. It really felt like you were just there for a test with nobody being there. Then you get on pit road, and it feels more like a race. You are just missing the fans. Unique, different. It was weird standing there for the anthem and it’s playing over the loudspeakers and then you hop in and go. It was really expedited. The longest part of the day was I got there probably way too early. I got there around 9:45 and I had to sit there for five hours. So, a long day from that standpoint, but once things started rolling and we went out to the cars it was time to go. A lot different and kind of the new normal for right now, but it paid off just being able to get out there and go run.

“(Why do you do so well at Darlington?) I don’t know, I just have a really good feel for there. I feel like I can move around and try some different stuff. I feel like I have one groove that works really well for me when I can get my car to do the things, I want it to do to run and that’s paid off really well for me the last four races. I’ve always felt really comfortable. Obviously, a lot different this race not having practice and not being able to tune on the car and get it where you want it to be. I think that’s the other part. The last few years at Darlington, we’ve done a really good job in practice of getting the car doing what it needs to do in practice to be good at night in the race. Even through, maybe it’s not the fastest during the day. Darlington’s just somewhere I’ve always felt comfortable. There and Bristol are the two places that I feel the most comfortable on the schedule.”

John Hunter Nemechek — finished 9th: “A solid day, very excited, an awesome day coming home P9. An amazing job by my team and the pit crew. Everybody executed all day with no mistakes. We made the right adjustments. Seth and the engineers did a great job. The pit crew was flawless and I couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was great to get kicked off on the right foot for these races coming up. Hopefully, we can continue to build on this and create some momentum and continue to get our cars faster each and every week. It’s great to be back and I’m so excited to be able to race again next week.  Thank you to all the fans that are out there supporting. We miss you at the race track. It’s definitely different without you guys there and I can’t wait until the day that you guys are back, but I have to give the glory to God and thank him for this plan and the life that I live. It’s amazing and I’m looking forward to the future.”

Matt Kenseth — finished 10th: “First off, thanks to NASCAR and everyone else involved in working to make today happen. Overall, today turned out really well for us. The first few laps today were kind of nerve-racking, but then it was sort of back to racing and thinking about what we needed to be better. Everyone on the team has worked extremely hard the last couple weeks to prepare for today, and I’m proud of what we accomplished today. I learned a lot throughout the race about the way the car handles and reacts to different situations, and it was nice to really get acclimated to the Camaro and the team in a real racing environment. It’s always a good feeling to get a top 10 at a place like Darlington, but to have done it under these circumstances feels that much better. I still have some room to improve, but today shows all of us we have a lot to look forward to as the season continues. It was great to be back racing.”

Austin Dillon — finished 11th: “Good job NASCAR. That was awesome to be able to pull off a race like that at Darlington Raceway. This place is great. I love this track. It can be so frustrating, and then so fun at the same time. We finished 11th in the No. 3 Symbicort Chevrolet. We had a really fast Chevy at the end of the race. We ran (Matt Kenseth) car down from way back, but we didn’t have enough time to pass him for 10th. I messed around too much early in the last run. That was a fun race. Both RCR entries were good today. The No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet was amazing. I think we can look at both of our setups and learn something, maybe a mix between the two setups for Wednesday night’s race. I want to thank everybody from AstraZeneca, and all of our partners. It was a huge accomplishment for our industry to come back, and to be successful. I missed the fans, for sure. I was worried it wasn’t going to feel like a race, but when you put the helmet on and got into the car, it was a race. It was nice to be out there racing. Thanks to everybody who put this on.”

Aric Almirola – finished 12th: “It was a decent day for us. When we had track position we ran up front. That was nice. Then we lost a little bit of our track position and then had a penalty where we got put to the back of the field. We just had to fight and climb our way back up towards the front for the rest of the race, but I’m really proud of my guys and I thought we had a top-10 car and finished 12th. We scored some stage points in stage one and had a solid day. I’m proud of everybody. I’m proud of NASCAR and our sport for being the first sport to get back going.  It was kind of eerie to walk out to pit road and not see anybody sitting in the grandstands, but it sure felt good to get back in the race car and that thrill of competition was much needed. I hope everybody enjoyed it, and I hope everybody got a little fill of their sports entertainment through watching us today in the race and hope everybody is doing well.  We’re one step closer back to normal. We’ll try again here Wednesday night back in Darlington and see if we can’t get it done. Congrats to my teammate Harvick and we’ll try again on Wednesday night.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 13th: “We had an up and down day and it finished on a down note after we lost the handling at the end. It was nice to be leading for quite awhile. It felt like with 100 to go we were going to win. I came off of pit road second and I don’t know if I just lost the clean air or what it was but it just went completely away and we just fell back. We ended up finishing 13th which was a major bummer but it is what it is. It is nice to be back and get the opportunity to race and try to put that all in perspective.

“(On coming back to Darlington on Wednesday) I think we would all like to think we can do better the second time around. Although the conditions will be much different with a night race and shorter race, everybody has some of the jitters worn off. I am sure it will be different.

“(What was it like not having fans and also doing so many things for yourself before the race) It was definitely a different vibe. There was tension because of everything going on and trying to make sure you do everything right. It is a huge feeling of hoping you didn’t miss something. We haven’t really been in contact with our team other than conference calls or video calls or whatever and that is so much different than a normal week for us where you might spend some time with the team and sit with them before at practice and debrief and do all those things. To not have the opportunity to do any of that, it really plays with your head. The whole time before the race starts you are just thinking, ‘Oh God, what have I forgot?’ It was such a relief to get the race started, at least for me, because all those feelings kind of go away and you just go out and do it. At least that was the vibe on my team. I shouldn’t speak for everyone else.”

Matt DiBenedetto — finished 14th: “We’ve had better days, but that’s part of it.  We just kind of struggled all day long.  Obviously, this case was unique because what you unloaded with is kind of what you had.  It’s not like you can make shock changes and big things like that, so I think just what we were stuck with was the best it was gonna be was probably about where we finished — maybe a couple spots better — but no matter what adjustments we did we just didn’t quite have the car that we needed, so we just had to kind of stay smart.  It’s hard to do as a driver to realize like, ‘Ah, we’re only gonna be so good,’ but that’s just kind of where we were at.”

Ryan Newman – finished 15th: “Really proud of everybody’s effort today to unload the Oscar Mayer Ford as good as we did.  We started pretty strong and for the first 180 laps or so we were really good, then we got the car too free and we needed it to turn better, but we never got the front to work and made the back loose. Overall, great to be back in the race car, proud of how everybody worked, not just our team, but everyone in NASCAR to break the ice on getting the world back in motion.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 16th: “It was great to be back at the track today. We struggled with the balance of our Menards/Duracell Ford. We were too tight to start and finally got the car to the loose side by the end of the race. Darlington has been a challenge in the past and we’ll regroup and get ready to go racing again on Wednesday night.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 17th: “That stunk. I don’t know how that got away from us. Really disappointed with what happened. I’ll be mad about this for a while, but we’ll get over it and be ready for Wednesday night. Our Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Ford was fast and it was cool to be back racing today, just wish we had a better finish. Glad Kevin (Harvick) got SHR and Ford to victory lane.”

Joey Logano – finished 18th: “First I think NASCAR and everybody did a great job to give us the opportunity to go back racing. I think that is the storyline here more than anything. The teamwork that the whole sport put together to successfully put on what I think was a great race. It was hard for me to see from where I was. It was a race nonetheless. Our race was up and down. We started off and the cars balance was way off. We made some adjustments in a few pit stops to get to the other side of it. We got to where we were okay and got up to third or fourth place at one point. Then we struggled with a loose wheel and we were able to maintain on the lead lap. Then we were able to recover some spots and then at the end there we just lost the handle on it, same as Brad (Keselowski), and couldn’t move forward. I thought that after our loose wheel that we could probably still scrape out a top 10 or maybe a little better but the car just didn’t do what I was asking it to do anymore. It seemed like a common trend between the two of us so we will have to figure that out.

“(What will it be like to return to Darlington and race in 3 more days) I think it is a great opportunity. There have been many times when you leave the race track and you wish you could rerun the race. We have a chance to do that now. Yeah, we only have a couple days to turn this thing around and come back down here but we have never really had the opportunity to come right back, besides the All-Star race to the 600. That might be the only time with something similar to this. We get a rematch on Wednesday. We have our work cut out for us to figure some things out.

“(Talk about the vibe today and any funny incidents?) Obviously the vibe itself was a little different. Maybe once the race started you kind of zone in and don’t really notice much. I am sure for Kevin (Harvick) that felt weird after he won the race and there was an empty grandstands. I don’t know what the ratings were but that might have been the biggest crowd he has ever won in front of. That is probably a weird feeling not knowing that at the time for him. Pre-race was kind of interesting. You walk out there and it was kind of funny because about 10 minutes before we are supposed to be there all of a sudden you see drivers popping out of their motorhomes carrying their helmets and walking to the grid. That was funny. I have never seen anything like it. But once you strap in and take a couple of laps, everything is kind of back to normal and you remember all of it. (As for funny stories) I was the first driver to the race track today and I go to put my shoes on today and had two left shoes. All I had was two lefts. Thankfully there was an extra pair in the hauler, but I thought that was funny.”

Ty Dillon — finished 19th: “My Germain Racing guys did a good job today and prepared a solid race car to bring here to Darlington.  It’s not easy to just unload and have your first lap on the track be the first lap of the race, but it is a pure testament to their hard work at the shop,” Dillon said after the race.  “Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 1LE was way too tight for two-thirds of the race, but Matt (Borland) and I kept working on it to make the handling pretty good by the end.  We, as a team, worked through the frustration in the beginning and kept building on it.  I’m happy to get a top-20 finish to kick off this stretch and now we will look forward to Wednesday night.”

Ryan Preece — finished 20th: “Overall, it was a solid day for our Cottonelle Chevy. We’ve been in a little bit of a hole to start out the season for reasons we weren’t able to control, but this is a positive step forward. We were able to get some stage points and run towards the front, just had a few pit stops that didn’t go our way. We’re a team and we’re moving forward together. We know we have the speed, just need to put everything together. Starting on the pole this Wednesday is going to be really fun. I’m very grateful for all of our frontline workers, everyone at the shop, and our NASCAR industry as a whole for rallying together to be able to safely get us back on the racetrack. We definitely miss the fans but hope that having our sport live on TV fills the gap until we can safely have everyone back at the racetrack.

Cole Custer – finished 22nd: “Definitely wasn’t the day we wanted at Darlington. We started off the race really good. We were in the top-10 and I was pretty confident with the car, but I think I probably started out too conservative. I didn’t want to get that Darlington stripe and ruin our day my first time here in a Cup car. I think I put us too far behind and it was so hard to come back from there. I’m looking forward to Wednesday. I think I learned a lot and we’ll be a lot stronger, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Michael McDowell – finished 23rd: “It was fun to get back racing again the Car Parts.com Ford Mustang.  It was not the day we hoped for.  We started out decent and then had a little bit of a loose wheel and had to overcome that, but a really great effort for John Hunter Nemechek and everybody on the 38 crew, so great finish for Front Row.  Now we have some good notes to look at for next week and we’ll get back after it.  Overall, a great day for our team.  We learned a lot and hopefully we can get both cars in the top 10 next week.”

Christopher Bell — finished 24th: “Yeah, it was definitely very different vibes today. Just no atmosphere. Very few mechanics, and obviously all the drivers and no fans. There was no atmosphere around prerace, but when the green flag dropped nothing much was different. I felt like it went really smooth. Everyone took it easy at the start of the race. We got some laps underneath of us. I hope it was a good show, because I had a lot of fun today. It’s nice to be able to get some races in here. We haven’t been racing in a while, so now we can get back in the swing of things and start to get some laps. Especially for me being a rookie – get some experience in the car. Today was a great learning, and we can build off of it and hopefully come back a little stronger for the next one.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 25th: “The race was OK. At this point, something that is positive is that we are overachieving. The speed that we have really wasn’t good enough to finish (where we did), but the team did a good job making good calls. I felt like we were able to defend our positions well and fight hard on restarts. We were able to get a decent finish. We want to keep getting better, but we are a young team. We are still building in many different areas. We will keep getting better as time goes on. Tomorrow, we are going to go to the shop. The original plan is to bring this car back for Wednesday. We will have to make some adjustments to try to make it better. We will go back to the shop tomorrow and have meetings and make adjustments based on that and come back on Wednesday. Hopefully, we can come back stronger. That’s the goal. Otherwise, it’s always good when you can go back to a racetrack, especially when we’ve been out of racing for over two months. That’s definitely a good feeling. The other side – it was very weird, just to show up to a racetrack and not being able to talk to anyone, and just go race and leave. It’s a little bit different. It’s not something that we want to get used to, but that’s what we have to do, for now, to be able to stay safe and to be able to put on a show for all the fans.”

Kyle Busch — finished 26th: “Really disappointing to have to start at the back when we had a fourth-place starting position. That was going to be a great day for us to just kind of be up front, ride up and front and hopefully stay up front all day and make our M&M’s Camry better after being in position from the start up where we feel we should be running. Instead we had to make up the whole day and finally we got to fifth and restarted there and fell to eighth or ninth on a restart because our car was so slow on restarts, but also I was too loose on that restart. Then got in the wall and had to go back to the back and worked our way back up to the front again. Then got back to fifth again for the final restart and had a loose wheel. My guys had a good pit stop, but obviously too good of a pit stop where we didn’t get all the lug nuts tight and it was a loose wheel. Ended up having to come down pit road and service the car again to make it to the end. Just got no result for the effort that was put out today.

“(Your thoughts on the safety protocols?) It seemed to go really smoothly and really easy. Just being able to walk around the track from your bus to the car and just be there to do a job and a duty and less chaos kind of going around the day seemed to make it a bit easier. Other than that, you kind of miss just being with or around your guys.

“(What do you need to do to improve on Wednesday?) Going back and trying to figure out what we need to do to get better. We’ve got problems unloading off the hauler and being good. It takes a lot of work between Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and myself and the engineers to get the car tuned in and dialed into the race tracks. We fought the same thing last year at Indy, which we ran terrible last year at Indy with no practice in the race and we had won the previous three years. It’s something we definitely have to work on.”

Joey Gase – finished 30th:

Corey LaJoie – finished 31st:

Chris Buescher – finished 32nd: “It was exciting to get back to racing after a long time off.  We started off just working on the race car aggressively to try to get it to turn better.  I got wrecked twice today, which was unusual and very frustrating and pretty much ruined any chance we had at having a good finish today, but we’re making good steps and good progress on the Fastenal Ford and we’re getting it going in the right direction.  It just wasn’t meant to be today.”

Timmy Hill — finished 33rd:

Josh Bilicki — finished 34th: 

William Byron — finished 35th: “We had such a fast car today. We just had a vibration that kept getting worse and the wheel finally came loose. I really appreciate me team sticking with it today and for all the hard work they have put in to unload with such a fast Axalta Chevy. Good thing we can rally and do it all again on Wednesday. We’ll be ready.”

Quin Houff — finished 36th:

Garrett Smithely — finished 37th:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 38th: “Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back to do it over again. Coming to the end of the stage, just trying to make sure I got a good run coming off Turn 2, I felt like I was going to be able to exit the corner side-by-side with (Chris Buescher) then things just went horribly wrong there. I feel terrible for my team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Man, that hurts, what a bummer. There’s a race in a few days and we’ll be back. Stuff happens, it’s racing. The good news is that the 48 is fast, my team is on it, and my Camaro is fast. We have great support from Ally and great support from my fans. This will sting a little on the drive home, there’s no doubt. But I will use this and learn from it. I will be back Wednesday and then it’s on.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 40th: “I’m not really sure a whole lot what to say there about our first lap, first corner. Pretty embarrassing for myself, our team, my crew guys, I feel awful for them. They put a lot of hard work into getting our cars ready and coming all the way down here to Darlington and then to put myself in a bad spot. (Corey LaJoie) looked like he had to check out and I put myself on the inside of him and I just put ourselves in a bad spot, ended our race before it ever started. Looking forward to getting back here on Wednesday to try and put a better run together and put this one behind us.”

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Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.

 

 

Winners and losers from the Clash at the Coliseum

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the non-points race that opened the NASCAR season:

WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex limped through a frustrating 2022 season, going winless and contemplating writing “finish” to his driving career. But he decided late in the year to make another run, and that choice paid big dividends Sunday as he put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane.

Richard Childress Racing — RCR opened the season with power, putting Austin Dillon in second and newcomer Kyle Busch in third. The new teammates even enjoyed some late-race collaboration, Busch backing off a second-place battle to give Dillon a chance to make a run at eventual winner Truex.

Ryan Preece — Preece, given a shot in the offseason at a full-time ride in Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing, showed strength in his first outing, leading 43 laps before electrical issues dropped him to seventh.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace held the lead at the halfway point and totaled 40 laps in first but was drop-kicked by Austin Dillon late in the race and finished 22nd.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott — It was a lost weekend for the former Cup champion. Elliott was lapped during the race, failed to lead a lap and finished 21st.

Ty Gibbs — Suspension problems parked Gibbs after 81 laps, and he finished next-to-last a day after his car caught fire in practice.

Michael McDowell — McDowell was involved in several on-track incidents during the evening and finished 24th after running out of fuel, along with teammate Todd Gilliland.

Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.