What drivers said after Cup race at Miami

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Denny Hamlin  – winner: “Our car was really good. This is a setup based off of what we had in the fall here last year going for the championship. Had a strong car all day. Obviously with the laps led and was able to get around Chase (Elliott) there at the end. This whole FedEx team has just done a phenomenal job. This Camry is real special. Have to thank Coca-Cola, Jordan Brand, FedEx and all of our partners. Everyone at JGR for putting together great race cars and keep digging to make ourselves a little bit better.”

(Did you feel patience would pay off and Chase Elliott would come back to you after the last pit stop?) “I didn’t know. It seems like the end of these races are Chase’s best suit. I knew that if I was just patient and ran the pace that I wanted and the pace I was comfortable with, we were going to be hard to beat in the long run.”

Chase Elliott – finished second: ” I just need to get through lap traffic better.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “When we came off pit road after that last green flag stop we were a ways behind those two guys and we made up a lot of ground, tons of ground on them, and just got to them and everyone is running the wall.  You just get tight, especially in (Turns) 3 and 4.  (Turns) 1 and 2 there are multiple lanes, but three and four if you weren’t on the fence when you got 15 laps on your stuff, you were just tight and gonna hit the fence, so that made it hard for us to kind of go once we got there.  (Tyler Reddick) was the same way with me.  He kind of got there and stalled too, but I’m proud of the group.  We had really good short run speed early in the race and I thought by the end we had really good long run speed, so we crossed over which is a good effort by the Jack Links team.”

Tyler Reddick – finished fourth: “I’m really proud of my Chevy Cares Chevrolet team and the effort we showed today. We had really good speed and were able to run up front pretty much all night long. The men and women of RCR and ECR did a great job preparing us with a fast race car to bring down to my favorite track on the circuit. We were able to use that speed to our advantage and race into the top 10 within the first 30 laps, and we were able maintain that track position. We fined tuned our car from then on out for the rest of the race and tried to make it better to run the fence. It was tough, though, because sometimes the top seam worked better instead of the fence, so figuring out which lane was the best to use at what time was tricky. We got a little too tight by the end of the night to really make the fence work like I wanted, but all in all, it was a solid effort. I’ve won the past two times I’ve come here, granted in the Xfinity Series, but it was so fun to be ripping the fence with three of the best tonight in the NASCAR Cup Series. It was a hard-fought battle and one we can build momentum off of.”

Aric Almirola – finished fifth: “Man, we finally had a nice clean day today. We really needed that as a team. We haven’t raced a full race yet without having something go wrong. This proves we have the speed we need to compete this season if we continue to run clean with no mistakes. Homestead is not an easy track to earn a top five at either. To get our first of the season here shows we have a lot of potential.”

Austin Dillon – finished seventh: “It feels great to be able to capture a top-10 finish for my first race as a new dad, and to bring home a solid result for everyone on the Dow Coatings and Behr teams. The No. 3 Dow Coatings Chevrolet was much stronger at the end of the race than it was at the beginning of the race, so I am proud of everyone for sticking in there until the end. We started off way too loose, but adjustments on pit road helped us improve handling. By the end of Stage 2, the handling transitioned to tight, but we were really fast, especially in clean air. We worked our way up to seventh when we were issued a penalty for an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop and had to battle through the field to earn our seventh-place finish. We had a fast Chevy at the end of the race, and I’m proud of everyone at Richard Childress Racing. It was a solid effort all around for our organization this weekend.”

Christopher Bell – finished eighth: “Our Rheem Camry was really, really loose to start the night and then Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) did a great job adjusting on it got it pretty close to where I was happy and then we were able to pick our way though there. The races are so long – there are so many yellows – that I really wasn’t worried about our starting position. I knew that if we had a car that was good; we were going to get up front.”  

Brad Keselowski – finished 10th: “It was a good comeback for our MoneyLion Ford team tonight. We were really tight for most of the race but (crew chief) Jeremy (Bullins) and the guys kept working hard and we came away with a top 10.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 11th: “That was frustrating. Our BlueDEF Ford had the speed tonight, but we just couldn’t get it to turn like we needed. We were tight and really struggled for grip.

Michael McDowell – finished 15th: “That was great. Another top 15 run; that’s two in a row for us. Everyone at Front Row Motorsports has worked really hard. Our No. 34 program has been a lot better this year and we’re starting to see some of the fruit of that, so thanks to all of the guys back at the shop who have been working really hard to get everything that they can out of our race cars. Our Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang was fast on the long runs; we just needed a couple more laps at the end to grab a couple more positions, but I’m really excited about our performance today. Drew and the boys did a good job tonight and I’m ready to keep the momentum rolling with Love’s Travel Stops next weekend at Talladega.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 19th: “We had a solid night in our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang. We fired off pretty tight and battled with that for probably two-thirds of the race. The crew was lightning fast on pit road all night long and we managed to get the car a little bit freer towards the third stage. We would have finished a few spots higher but I had a right front tire go down on the last lap. We still were able to get a top 20, which is another solid result for us.”

Cole Custer – finished 22nd: “The guys did a great job staying with me all day. We fought a tight car for most of the day, and we’re working hard to figure these cars out, but I can’t thank the guys enough for hanging with me all day.”

Joey Logano – finished 27th: “We just really struggled tonight, even when we were leading early in the race. The team made a lot of adjustments the first two stages and we just couldn’t ever get the front tires to work and turn the center. We’ll regroup and head to Talladega next Sunday.”

Corey LaJoie – finished 29th:

Daniel Suarez – finished 31st: “It was a good job by the pit crew. It was a good job by Dave (Winston, crew chief) and everyone. The balance of the car was good for most of the night. Now we just need to find more speed.”

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

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.