What drivers said after the Coca-Cola 600

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Brad Keselowski – Winner: “I’m tickled to death. One (major) left, the Daytona 500.  It’s been a great 10-year career I’ve had so far and I hate it took me 10 years to get this one.  I feel like I’ve had cars and a team good enough to do it many times over and it just slipped through our hands and today it didn’t.  I’m just really proud of everyone and persistence pays off.”

(Did you question decision not to pit?)  “No, we’ve lost too many races that way and I knew we had to take the chance.  If it didn’t work out, I knew it was the right call.”

(Why did you restart on the inside?) “I think first off I felt confident that if I took the bottom with (Ryan) Blaney up there that he would have an opportunity to take it three‑wide, slow that lane down.  If you take the outside, you risk that happening to you.  I didn’t want that to happen. It’s a little bit like a game of blackjack where you count cards there.  You’re thinking to yourself, when Chase (Elliott) pulled off, I think we made the right move.  How many cars stayed out behind us?  I think I heard it was like six or seven that stayed out behind us.  I knew it would be really hard for him to pass all those cars in two laps.”

Chase Elliott – finished second: “You just make the best decision you can based on the information you have.  When you are leading the race like that, people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. That was the situation we were put in.  (Crew chief) Al (Gustafson) made the decision, we stuck with it, and it didn’t work out.

(Would this be the toughest stretch you’ve had in your career, these couple races?) “Yeah, this week’s been pretty unfortunate.  We’ve had some tough losses in my career, for however many years I’ve been doing this, five, six years, unfortunately.  It is what it is.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “We started towards the back and gained a lot of spots in the beginning, but we got boxed in on the first stop and lost all those spots we gained. I had to pass a bunch of cars tonight.  I think we got that award.  I thought we were in a good spot on the restart with 45 or 48 (laps) to go and somebody got loose on the bottom into (Turn) 3 and we had to go all the way up to the wall to miss him in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4  We lost a lot of spots right there and that really hurt us.  That lost us all the track position we gained towards the end.  I was feeling really good about it.  We restarted sixth or maybe even eighth on the top and I thought we were gonna roll, but that dropped us back to maybe 12th and we had to fight back from there.  I thought our car was pretty competitive, probably not the best car out there, but definitely a top-five car all night.  It was a good call to stay out there at the end, I thought.  We restarted fourth and gave us a chance.  We would have come home with a decent day, but we passed a lot of cars and definitely had a long night working on it.”

Kyle Busch – finished fourth: “During the middle stages of the race, I thought we were really fast. I feel like we had a great M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Camry and ran up front and got back up front from having to go to the back. But we put tires on it and it was never the same after that from about lap 280 or 290 when we put tires on it and it wasn’t the same as it was before that. We were lucky to steal a fifth-place finish out of it today and we’ll have to go back to work and figure out some things to make our stuff better for when we come back on Wednesday and get back after it.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished sixth: “It was a long and typical 600. You battle the car all night long and you just keep making adjustments and trying to stay up with the race track. The Bass Pro Toyota was really strong when we started off and I was able to pick off a few spots and work our way towards the front. I really rode there behind the 88 (Alex Bowman) for the first two stages. I felt like at times we were stronger than he was and just couldn’t make the move. Track position was crazy important tonight with the cooler temperatures and everybody having a year under their belts now with this car.

“Everybody is getting so close and they changed the tire and it was way different. It just felt really hard and had really low grip and it was really bouncy. We tried to keep up with the track, and at times, I felt like we were the best car. When we could get the lead, we could pull away. We had the lead late there in the last stage – early in the last part of the last stage and just had some trouble in the pits. It seems like every week we’re having a little bit of hiccups here and there and it set us back. The guys are working hard trying to get better.”

Kurt Busch – finished seventh: “We got the pole with the GEARWRENCH Chevy and led some laps; it was great to be up front and had good pace early. After the rain delay we just got buried in some dirty-air back in traffic. We just got to get our car a little better to maneuver in traffic. We just need the front tires front aero to be a little better in dirty-air. I know (crew chief) Matt McCall my guys are going to work on it; I’m gonna work on it, but a top 10 after all that, I will take it.”

Tyler Reddick – finished eighth: 

Christopher Bell – finished ninth: “I think we are headed in the right direction. We have to obviously keep making gains – getting a little bit faster, me doing a better job. We’re gaining on it. We are creeping up on it. I think we snuck a little bit of a better finish out than what we probably deserved, but we will take it after the first couple weeks.”

Cole Custer – finished 12th: ”Man, definitely a persevering night for the HaasTooling.com Mustang. I could’ve done better at the start of the race. We definitely got the car better throughout the race. We fought hard all night. We fought hard to stay on the lead lap and got our lap back that one time. To finish 13th in my first 600 that I’ve run was definitely pretty cool. I got a good restart at the end. We have some things we know we can do better when we come Wednesday. I can do some things better. I’m looking forward to it. We’re moving in the right direction with this package. We just have to keep grinding through it.”

Joey Logano – finished 13th:

Austin Dillon – finished 14th: “I feel really good, overall, physically, so that’s a good thing. We ran in the top 10 all night. We had a really solid car. We showed sometimes when we were up front in the top five, we ran some of the fastest laps of the race at times. Bummed when you go all night long running like that and give it away at the end. Our call was if a couple pitted, we were going to stay out. I actually said if all of them stay out, I’m pitting. Not all of them stayed out; I thought more would stay out. Probably should have came and got two tires. The 18 (Kyle Busch) was running one position in front of us, came and got two, and ended up fifth. You never know – my teammate Reddick had the outside and ended up being able to maintain and run ninth. We were too tight at the end and I kind of drove the wheels off of it, and the caution came out. Just a little over-confident, I wanted to get another good finish.”

Aric Almirola – finished 15th: “From the start of the day to the end of the day it was just a tough day. I was loose on the qualifying lap and spun, but was able to keep car from having much damage. We started in the rear and, on the pace laps, debris came out of the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) car and damaged some of the splitter, so we had to make some repairs there later on. We battled both ends of the balance with the car all four stages and started to ease our way to the top 10 at the end before that final caution came out – then the restart didn’t go my way. The Coke 600 is such a long race and so much can happen. I’m proud we battled back up there, but didn’t get the finish we wanted.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 16th: “It was kind of an up and down day, but overall, we had a good run in our No. 38 YANMAR Ford Mustang. We started off the night pretty free. Once we re-fired after the rain delay, we had a pretty tight race car for most of the night. (Crew chief) Seth (Barbour) and the crew kept trying different adjustments to get our handling better and we managed to run in the top 20 for most of the last stage. We never gave up and got some good notes to come back on Wednesday.”

Michael McDowell — finished 18th: “Our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang had a tough time getting over the bumps in Turns 3 and 4 to start today’s Coca-Cola 600 … my guys on pit road did a good job of making adjustments all race long to get us more competitive. Thankfully, we caught a lucky caution with two laps to go and were able to get back on the lead lap.”

Alex Bowman – finished 19th: “That finish does not show how great of a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE we had today in Charlotte. We won two stages, led over 160 laps and really had a solid car. We would get loose or tight in certain areas, but (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys made some good adjustments on pit road. At the end there, it just went straight. Not much I could do with that and unfortunately don’t have a finish to show how strong we were today. We learned a lot and hopefully can come back strong on Wednesday.”

William Byron – finished 20th:

Ty Dillon – finished 25th: “First and foremost, the Coca-Cola 600 is about so much more than ourselves and it was an honor to have SPC Richard C. Emmons III on our car. While we missed having his family at the track with us, hopefully we were able to honor them the best we could. Tonight wasn’t what we were looking for. The balance of our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 1LE was pretty good, but unfortunately, we had to make an unscheduled pit stop under green in Stage 1 and never were able to recover. We usually don’t see a lot of cautions at Charlotte and that trend proved to be the same again. Just couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole. It’s a shame, because I thought we were going to have a good night after a solid qualifying effort. The positive is we do have a good baseline setup for Wednesday night and we will try to have a better result then.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 28th:

Bubba Wallace – finished 38th: “Well, what a bummer. Tonight wasn’t our night. We burned-up a hub, and it put us way behind. I don’t know if we had other issues going on with the car or what, but it wasn’t worth the risk. I thought we had a really good car, especially before all this stuff happened. We were running some really good lap times, so I was excited to try and get some track position and go race with our Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 U.S. Air Force Camaro ZL1 1LE. But sometimes you’re the bat and sometimes you’re the ball; tonight we were the ball.

Clint Bowyer – finished 39th: “It pretty well sucks.  It knocked the wind out of me there.  I mean, we’re 100 laps into a 400-lap race and to be out already, you talk about a helpless feeling.  The guys worked really hard on the Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Delvac Ford, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  We’ll get ready for next Wednesday and we’ll be back at it. I’m gonna go somewhere and take this (mask) off and find somewhere where I can find a cold beer.  I’m outta here.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 40th (disqualified): “When that pit stop happened at the end, it’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is. We were talking about it too maybe for ourselves, but (crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) had a great sense of the right call to make. I feel for Chase (Elliott). He had such a great car on Wednesday, and to be leading here and have the caution come out with a couple to go, I feel bad for him. But I’m very proud of my team, very proud of everybody on this Ally Chevrolet. Second is OK – I’m very proud of the effort we’re putting in. But second, stinks. It’s tough being this close to victory lane, but we’re knocking on the door and we’ll get there.”

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.