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.”

Ryan Newman to be sponsored by Progressive Insurance at Atlanta

Ryan Newman
Roush Fenway Racing
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Ryan Newman and his No. 6 Ford will be sponsored by Progressive Insurance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox), Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday.

“We’re excited to welcome Progressive Insurance to the team this weekend in Atlanta,” Newman said in a press release. “A major brand such as theirs fits well into the NASCAR space. Atlanta makes for a challenging and entertaining race with the differing options of the preferred line, so we’re looking forward to it with Progressive on board.”

This is the first time Progressive has been a primary sponsor on a car in a national NASCAR series.

“We’re inspired by the resolve of Ryan and thrilled to be working with him and the team at Roush Fenway Racing this weekend in Atlanta,” Jay VanAntwerp, Progressive’s Media Business Leader, said in the press release. “Racing fans, and sports fans in general, are craving live events, so everyone should be thrilled at the chance to see Ryan and his fellow drivers out on the track. Progressive’s competitive spirit is a great fit for the dynamic, fast-paced action of NASCAR, so we’re looking forward to being part of that excitement with the No. 6 car wrapped in blue and white and sporting the Progressive name. Hopefully we will see Ryan take the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon.”

Newman enters Sunday’s race coming off a 15th-place finish at Bristol. In the five races since NASCAR returned on May 17 at Darlington, Newman’s best finish is 14th in the second Darlington race.

Cup drivers preparing for hotter, slicker Atlanta race after March postponement

Atlanta Motor Speedway
Getty Images
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It’s time for NASCAR to go racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finally.

Almost three months after it was scheduled, NASCAR will head back to Georgia for its annual race weekend at the 1.5-mile track Atlanta.

Cars were hours away from being on track on March 13 when NASCAR announced that weekend’s races were postponed due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

All three national series will be in action, with the Cup Series highlighting the weekend with its race on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on Fox).

This is the first time the Cup Series has competed at Atlanta in June since 1965. The last five Atlanta weekends have been held in late February or early March after it was moved from Labor Day weekend in 2015.

With a forecasted temperature of 81 degrees at the start of the race, it will be the return of “Hotlanta.”

The series is preparing for the combination of warm weather and the track’s rough surface that hasn’t been repaved since 1997, thanks to petitioning by drivers.

“Atlanta is always a fun place to race because of the surface and how worn out it is,” Martin Truex Jr. said in a media release. “It has been a few years since we’ve raced there when it’s really hot to bring out just how slick the track can get, so that will be a bit of a challenge going in with no practice.”

Truex, who finished second in this race last year, is seeking his first victory of the year and his first win at Atlanta. Atlanta is one of two 1.5-mile tracks he hasn’t won at, joining Texas Motor Speedway.

Truex has failed to finish in the top 10 once in his last eight starts at Atlanta. He heads into Atlanta coming off a 20th-place finish at Bristol. Before that he had four consecutive top 10s.

“I feel pretty good about how we have ran on the bigger tracks where handling comes into play,” Truex said. “We need a little bit of speed overall, but we’ve been able to run pretty well at tracks where the surface is slicker, so I feel confident about the car we’ll unload and how we’ll run on Sunday.”

With the track’s rough surface, restarts will be vital according to Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Atlanta.

“I don’t know if it has to do with the asphalt mix or whatever when they paved that place that now you can definitely tell the difference between the inside lane and that outside lane,” Busch said in a media release. “Also, the inside guy has a straighter launch than the guy on the outside – he’s always kind of turning so that’s something to be said for it. Overall, it’s just some places are that way. Atlanta is the worst for the launch. The application of throttle to not spin the rear tires is so crucial there and it’s so easy to do when you’re in that outside lane.”

Busch was the winner of the 2013 Atlanta race, which was held Labor Day weekend. That was also Toyota’s last Cup win there.

“Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes there this weekend,” Busch said. “You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”

Like Truex, Busch is looking for his first win of the year. Should they or any other Toyota or Chevrolet driver win, they would end a three-year reign by Ford on the 1.5-mile track.

Brad Keselowski won two of those races and Kevin Harvick claimed the other.

Bubba Wallace joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

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Bubba Wallace will be on today’s “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. The show airs at Noon ET on NBCSN.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Wallace is also a guest on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, which airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • 12:00 p.m. – Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills head coach
  • 12:15 p.m. – Bubba Wallace
  • 12:30 p.m. – James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar driver
  • 12:40 p.m. –  Ken Niumatalolo, Navy football head coach
  • 12:50 p.m. – Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets captain

 

Bubba Wallace encourages drivers to speak on social issues

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Bubba Wallace, at times emotional in discussing the recent killings of unarmed black men, said on the Dale Jr. Download that he needs to be more vocal on such matters and encouraged fellow NASCAR drivers to do the same.

“Through all the chaos that has gone on in the world, all of the African Americans, all of the unarmed black men and women being killed, I’ve been silent,” Wallace said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’ve read all of them and I’ve been silent. I just felt that wasn’t my place. That was a huge mistake.”

Wallace, the only black driver competing in the Cup Series, said he’s reached out to fellow competitors and NASCAR officials and encouraged them to speak out in the days after George Floyd was killed while in custody of Minneapolis police on May 25. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Wednesday, the murder charged was changed to second-degree murder. Also, three other former Minneapolis police officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder on Wednesday.

“We have got to do better, we’ve got to step up,” Wallace said on the show about a message he sent to fellow Cup drivers. “I encourage everybody to say what they feel. … This is way more important than any race win, any championship that you’ve ever accomplished. This is something that can change on a global impact.”

Wallace also discussed a conversation he had with Chase Elliott.

“I texted him (Monday) night,” Wallace said. “I said, hey man, you’re the biggest name in our sport right now bud, like it or not. You’re the biggest name and your voice carries over much more than mine in our sport. I said don’t be silent on this please, don’t let it go under wraps.

“He was like, I know it’s tough to comment on and I’ve been trying to come up with something. What’s really going to change? I said Chase I don’t know but think about this. Imagine a follower, two followers that you have in how many you got. One is a person that is going to go hate somebody, go kill somebody today and the other one is somebody that is getting discriminated against.

“Imagine you saying something and both of those people look at that and they’re like, ‘Wow, that changed who I am today. I’m not going to hate on anybody anymore. I’m not going to be discriminated against. I’m going to stand up for what’s right.’

“Imagine your words changing somebody else’s life. Being silent on that they could have just (said) ‘I was waiting for somebody to tell me something.’ We have that platform and that voice to tell people we have got to stop and change our ways. That’s how to think about it.

“Could my words have helped people? Pissed off people for sure. It could have helped that one person that needed it and didn’t know it. Wow Bubba Wallace just said that, he’s my favorite driver. You know what, I’m going to change my life today because of that. That makes me feel good.”

Wallace became emotional on the Dale Jr. Download as he described seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, gunned down in February in Georgia after a white father and son followed him. They and a third man have been charged with murder in connection with Arbery’s death.

“My heart was broken and my stomach was ripped out of my body when I saw that video and even thinking about it I’m getting emotional about it now, thinking about that video and seeing how an unarmed black man … to be jogging down the street and being hunted by two armed civilians and shot and killed in broad daylight with the other guy videoing and it sounded like he was loading his gun and ready to do the same thing.

“So that’s my take on that, and I’m just like what kind of world do we live I where we hunt people and take their life away because we assume something? We assume that this is a black guy that is terrorizing our neighborhood so we’re going to go kill him? What in the hell, man? I don’t see how people can wake up and think like that.”

Wallace later said: “I’m taking an effort to understand where all the hate, where all the anger, the pain, the suffering is coming from. I’m doing my research, I’m learning about things. I feel better about speaking out about it.”

Wallace also told the story of a cousin who was killed in a police shooting in 2003 in Tennessee.

“We were at my sister’s basketball tournament, I can’t remember where,” he said. “I was running around the gym with all the brothers and sisters there and all of a sudden I hear a scream like the worst scream that you want to hear, not like somebody scared you straight, like something bad had just happened. I look over and I see my mom running out the door and we had just found out that my cousin was shot and killed by a police officer.”

A judge later cleared the officer in the shooting. The family filed a civil suit and lost in court on appeal.

Wallace will appear on Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico on Wednesday on NBCSN. The show airs at noon ET.

The Dale Jr. Download with Wallace airs at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.