What Drivers Said after Wednesday’s Cup race at Darlington

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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “The weather really didn’t play a factor in our call there. It was really, we were limited on tires. We had just come to take tires, which was our last set, but we had a set of one-lap scuffs. They weren’t glued up in time. We didn’t have time to glue them. The only choice for us was to stay out. We were really the best car on that long run anyway. I think the right car won.”

(Was the field more intense with the shorter race and the threat of weather?) “It was good. The distance was perfect. It’s not too little and it’s not too much. I think the distance was perfect. I think it gives you enough racing to where things work out and you can still make your way from the back to the front and be able to win the race. It’s not too short. I’m in favor of these types of races.”

(On Darlington suiting his driving style) “I run good here. Sometimes I run a different line here than most. It just works and it’s always worked. I don’t know what it is. It’s awesome to win here with the Toyota 500. Ever since I came here for my very first Xfinity start and got a top 10, that essentially got my job in the Xfinity Series, there’s something about me and this track that works.”

Kyle Busch – finished second: “I’m certainly going to reach out (to Chase Elliott). Him and I have always had a cordial relationship over the years. Certainly we’re not near as close, we’re not friends like you’d say him and (Ryan) Blaney are or anything like that. I’ve known him since he was 12 or 13 years old, been racing with him ever since then, late models, super late models, trucks, Xfinity cars, all that sort of stuff.

“Obviously I just made a mistake, misjudged the gap, sent him into the wall.  That was entirely unintentional.  Yeah, I mean, I’ll definitely reach out to him and tell him I’m sorry, tell him I hate it that it happened.  All I can do.  That doesn’t change the outcome of the night. I hate it for him and his guys.”

Kevin Harvick – finished third: “We had to start 20th, battled kind of an ill‑balanced car tonight. The track conditions were just a lot different.  We made some adjustments going into the race.  Just couldn’t get the front of the car to turn. Every time we tried to adjust the back, it would just take the back out.  We never could get the front of the car to turn.  Had to use a lot more throttle tonight.  The things I could do with the car Sunday (when he won), I couldn’t do tonight. They kept clawing and fighting.  In the end we had a great pit stop on the last pit stop, were in position to have a chance to win the race there, and it rained.”

Brad Keselowski – finished fourth:  “I thought we were in a really good spot. We had made kind of an aggressive, bold move to stay out on the long run there and it was looking like it was going to pay off.  The yellow came out and we hit pit road and lost a few spots there, which was a bummer, but we cycled back to fourth right when the caution came out and were in position to have the optimum lane and be behind a car that had older tires.   I was licking my chops, but the rain never gave us a chance. Just part of the way it goes.  We weren’t the fastest car today, but I thought we persisted and put ourselves in a spot to potentially steal a race win and just came up a tiny bit short, but that’s a part of it.”

Erik Jones – finished fifth: “We were really strong. We had to start at the back. We had an unapproved adjustment there before the race and had to come from the back. But we made our way up pretty quick and got the car a lot better stop by stop. By the mid-part of the race, we were up contending in the top five and challenging for the lead. Got the lead there and led for a while till I got in the wall hard enough that it made the car drive a little bit worse. Finally got the damage fixed and got back up in the top-five, and then the rain came. Good day, and a disappointing day. Disappointed that I made a mistake and cost us a shot to win a race there, but another good points day for us and our first top five, so hopefully we can keep the momentum rolling. We’ve been a little bit better each race so far.”

Joey Logano – finished sixth: “Our race was hard fought, blue collar.  A lot of it was where you placed yourself, so it was just like last week.  Strategy calls that can play out the right way and being on the top lane for the restarts was what it was all about.  There was only one long run in these two races.  I feel like, overall, I’d say we maximized our day, but I also feel like if we had one more restart being sixth it’s a pretty sure bet you’re gonna get to fourth and with Denny (Hamlin) out there on old tires he was gonna be a sitting duck for Brad (Keselowski) for sure, and, most likely, a lot of cars would have got by him once he lost that clean air.  So I wish we ran a little bit more, but, overall, we made improvements from the first race.  I’m proud of that and we’re off to the 600.”

Aric Almirola – finished seventh: “I thought we had a really good car tonight. We ran up in the top five quite a bit and had a really fast car on the long runs. Everyone else’s car would slow down a lot and my car wouldn’t slow down nearly as much on the long run. We would start beating all the leaders really good on the long run. If we could have had that race go green to the end, I think it would have been interesting because we were beating the leaders pretty bad. I’m just really proud of all of the guys on our Smithfield team. We came back with some setup changes from what we ran Sunday, and I felt like we made some real improvements to the car and were very competitive. We cleaned up some things on pit road, so I’m really proud of those guys. We’ll just continue to build off of that. I feel like we’re in the game.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished eighth: “It was a solid night for the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet. We had to start in the back because of the crash during the first race. Things were looking pretty good early, we were able to march up through there. But the competition caution, and just so many cautions honestly, affected our strategy and affected us being able to take advantage of our strong race car and move forward. Finally, in the middle of the race, we got some longer runs in and were able to move forward. We were in a nice position and then we were caught a lap down when the caution came out when(Matt Kenseth) spun from his flat tire. So, we had to start all over again. On that last restart, I think I was 14th and, fortunately, I was in the outside line, which was the place to be, and we worked our way up to 8th before the caution happened and the rain came.”

“It was a good rebound from a few days before; I wish I could have that weekend back. I really felt like we had things going our way there and could have capitalized. But it’s nice to be back. Good finish in the top 10 and looking forward to going to Charlotte.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished ninth: “We started off the night okay. I thought we made some improvements on the car and had a little track position and moved forward. We pitted under the first caution and thought we might have had an issue. We did not. So that stuck us back in the field. From then on, not having track position with this high downforce racing is a real pain in the butt. We struggled to get it the rest of the day. As the track rubbered up we fought the same issue we did on Sunday of losing rear grip in the car. We were fading at the end and then (crew chief) Greg Erwin just made a good bold call at the end seeing some weather coming and my spotter Doug Campbell as well was in on that. We got lucky and pulled a ninth place out of it. All of the tracks except for Darlington we have had really good speed at so I know we will take a little luck from this one and moving forward we should be fast at a lot of places and be better at Charlotte.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 10th: “I was really happy with the car early on. Worked our way towards the front and really the first two stages – or the first stage was good. Passed a lot of cars and got track position and felt like we had a top-three car. Got right there to the two leaders and couldn’t quite make the move. Traffic has been pretty tough there at Darlington. We were able to stay right there. Then Stage 2, we started off towards the front and stayed there again. Pit strategy got a little off there and we stayed out, took the lead and everybody else pitted that we were racing with so it was a little touch-and-go there for a minute, but we were able to hang onto third on that run as well. Got good stage points and then the restarts in Stage 3, our car was still really strong and we just kept getting bottom restarts and every one of them we would go backwards because the bottom is so bad. Just frustrating night. Felt like we had a top-three or four car again and maybe a shot at the lead. When we were out front, we were really fast. Just frustrated.”

Christopher Bell – finished 11th: “We made the most out of those last couple restarts. I was fortunate enough to restart on the top and that’s a big advantage at a place like Darlington. I was able to bounce up through there those last couple restarts and make the most out of it.”

William Byron – finished 12th: “It was a solid night for us. We really just needed a decent result. We’ve had a tough stretch of races with a multitude of things go bad that were really out of our control. Today was good just to be able to put together a solid result. Obviously having to start in the back was a detriment with a short race and short runs. Our pit stall was difficult too, having to go around (Clint Bowyer) who ran really well all night and (Matt Kenseth) was in front of us. So, we had a tough time on pit road there. Overall, it was solid and we got some stage points in Stage 2. We got trapped a lap down in that green-flag sequence which was tough. We rallied though and finished 12th. We’ll take it. Definitely not where we want to be but at least we could put a number up there and go into Charlotte.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 13th: “Man, we had to fight hard for that finish, and I’m proud of my No. 8 Caterpillar team for sticking together tonight. We weren’t exactly where we needed to be to fire off  and missed the handling a little bit for the first half of the race. I kept bouncing from being too tight to too loose, but mostly too tight. It honestly felt different every lap we ran, which made it tough to decide which way to keep adjusting. I made a slight rookie mistake at one point and got some damage after a brush with the wall, but my team helped get back after it. I have to hand it all my guys. They kept after it and worked really hard to make the changes we needed to pick our way back through the field.”

Kurt Busch – finished 15th: “What a tough race. Seems like nothing went our way tonight. The handling was all over the map with our Monster Energy Camaro. After finishing third on Sunday, it is tough to understand how we had such a difficult time finding the handle on the car. The guys had to make a ton of adjustments on pit road, so it was hard to make up any ground on pit stops. We will have to go back and dissect that one and figure out what we had. Ready to move on to Charlotte this weekend.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 16h: “It was an interesting night at Darlington Raceway for the round two race. Position 16 – I’m excited about the finish and I’m bummed about the finish for two reasons. I wish we would have restarted, I know with the weather, but I also wish that caution wouldn’t have come out because we had a big run off of Turn 4. So, I believe we would have finished a couple of spots better, especially with another restart and starting on the top. I was excited about that. But, all-in-all, it was a great day for our No. 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet team. We pulled some strategy there, led some laps, and got a career-best finish at Darlington Raceway. So, we got a lot of positives that came out of it. I’ve already talked to (crew chief) Jerry (Baxter) on the way home. I’m proud of him and the guys for the efforts they put in. We’ll jump on calls in the morning on how to be better; the grind never stops.”

Michael McDowell – finished 17th: “It was a solid night for our No. 34 CarParts.com Ford Mustang. We definitely made improvements from our first race at Darlington Raceway, unfortunately the last restart didn’t go our way. The inside line was just really hard to get going and we lost a couple of spots, finishing 17th. We raced around a lot of competitive cars today and I felt really good. Everybody at Front Row Motorsports did a really good job this week, we just need a little bit more and we’ll be right where we want to be. All in all, it was a really good day. We built some confidence and my guys did a really good job on pit road.”

Ty Dillon – finished 19th: “My GEICO guys are awesome. They build and prepare solid Chevrolet Camaros each and every week, which gives me the confidence to dive it into Turn 1 like I did at the beginning of the race without any practice laps. For four years now, I’ve trusted them and it just builds confidence as a driver. I appreciate all the hard work everyone at Germain Racing is putting in, especially with racing so close together right now. A pair of 19th-place finishes isn’t a bad way to get this thing restarted and it was so cool to lead laps early, especially in the GEICO Hump Day car.”

Alex Bowman – finished 18th: 

Austin Dillon – finished 20th: “We started off the race with a tight-handling Dow Keep America Beautiful Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and that proved to be our challenge all race long. Handling issues plagued us in Stages 1, 2 and 3. I thought for sure that we were going to be able to get our Chevy freed up, but we never could. It wasn’t for lack of effort. The team never gave up and made adjustments all race long. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.The weather was much different than it was last Sunday. Cooler weather, rain and temperatures dropping didn’t play into our hands. We wanted a little more heat in the track. Even though it turned into a long race and we didn’t get the finish we were hoping for, I know we have it in us.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 21st: 

Clint Bowyer – finished 22nd: “Very proud of the car the guys brought for me on a short turn around. Fast hot rod. Thing just took off behind two cars racing for lucky dog and smoked the wall and blew our night. The No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil Delvac 1 Ford was fast. We keep doing that our day will come.”

Chris Buescher – finished 23rd: “Unfortunately that wasn’t as much fun as we were hoping to have. We were better tonight with our Mustang but we were still fighting a little bit of handing and some mistakes on my part that I need to clean up and try to get back in a rhythm there. We are trying to work to be better but it is tough without practice right now. We are working hard on simulation and do what we can to dial in and get ready for Charlotte. We have a long race coming for us and it was a good race for us last year. I am glad we got the race in tonight, a little late, but better late than never.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 27th: “We are building, so from that standpoint, I think Dave (Winston, crew chief) and the team did a good job. Compared to Sunday, I think we brought a lot more speed with our Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry this time. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize. I was surprised from the early to the middle part of the race how the car was getting more and more free. Darlington is a track that always gets tighter and tighter as the race goes. I thought the loose car actually seemed to be working for us on the longer runs. Then we made some big changes in the middle part of the race and the car got too tight. We were kind of stuck with that because of the long run. Other than that, I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”

Matt Kenseth – finished 30th: “It was an up and down day today. It ended on a down note, unfortunately. We had some good runs and some bad runs. I made a couple mistakes. I had a good run going and just scraped the wall a little bit off of Turn 2. We ran another 10 laps; we didn’t really think we had any damage. We came in and got new tires, got a tire rub and cut a right rear down. So, it got us a couple of laps down and pretty much ended our night. It was a disappointing finish to the day, for sure. But I felt like we learned a lot the last five days or so, and I’m ready to give it another shot at Charlotte!”

Cole Custer – finished 31st:

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 35th: “For as good as our day was on Sunday, we swung to the opposite end of the spectrum tonight. It was a long night. You never want to be that guy who goes out early. Not sure if I cut a tire or just drove it too hard and got loose. I really hate it for my crew and our No. 38 Scag Power Equipment team. These guys have been working their tails off over the last two weeks, and it’s obviously very frustrating to have the kind of race we did tonight. It happens sometimes, but I’m still happy to be here. We’ll take it as a learning experience and move on to Charlotte. Thank you to everyone at Scag Power Equipment and all of our Front Row Motorsports partners for continuing to support us race after race.”

NASCAR Penalty report from Michigan

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The NASCAR penalty report from Michigan International Speedway has been released.

It includes two fines for unsecured lug nuts. Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, and Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota, have each been fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut during the course of the weekend.

The report also includes the penalties issued Saturday to Roush Fenway Racing for the improper spoilers used on both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher‘s cars.

Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

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On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

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Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

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Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.