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.”

 

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.