What drivers said after Saturday Cup race at Pocono

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Kevin Harvick — Winner:  “We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position but we came back and made some great strategy calls to get in clean air and get out front and make some good laps. It is great to finally check Pocono off the list. Everybody at Stewart-Haas racing has done such a great job with all our cars over the last several years. … I knew when we came out of the pits and they told me how big of a lead we had. I saw the 11 come out of the pits and he was in second. I knew that the tire gap was going to be a little less. He caught us a little in traffic but I knew I could be pretty patient with the gap we had. As I started to see everything cycle out and see with the track position we had with the fresher tires you could kind of start to put it together in your mind as we started to run through the last stage and cars started to have to pit. Just a great call by Rodney Childers and aldl the guys up on the pit box for having the right strategy and getting us to victory lane.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “I don’t know if more time would have helped, but I had a bad vibration there the last 15 (laps) and that kind of hampered our efforts coming to the front there. Not sure what it was, but it was really, really bad and we just did all we could to run him (Kevin Harvick) down and that’s all we had.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 3rd: “(Crew chief Mike Bugwarewicz) and I talked about it coming here. This was a great opportunity to score a lot of points with a doubleheader. If you unload and you have a good car in the first race, you have an opportunity to score a lot of point in two days. Our Smithfield Ford Mustang was really, really fast. We opted to score a lot of points and that probably hurt us on strategy a little but I am proud of Bugga and these guys. They have been bringing some awesome race cars. I felt like we were tit for tat with (winner Kevin Harvick) when we were on older tires there and in clean air. Three top five’s in a row. I am really proud of my race team.”

Christopher Bell —Finished 4th: “Whenever I started working with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) two years ago in the Xfinity Series, well even before that, I started following him and I knew he was really aggressive on strategy to get his driver up front. Seems like the majority of the race tracks that we’ve been to the last couple weeks have just been, put four tires on and go, but Pocono is definitely a place where you can mix up strategy, pit early, pit before the stages and so forth. Obviously, Jason did a great job and got us up front and we had the car speed to stay up there.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “We had some speed and there were laps that I could run with (Denny Hamlin), but (Hamlin) could just do it lap after lap after lap where I was pushing everything I had to keep up with him there. I just couldn’t do it. I would make the tires mad and would start to fall back. We were just a little tight all day. We really fought tight early on, but we made some really good adjustments and got it a lot closer and got it a lot better. Our strategy there worked out to get us in the top-five – that was about all we could ask for out of today. We got some really good ideas for tomorrow hopefully that will help us out and hopefully get us some speed so we can keep up with those front guys.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 6th: “We started in a decent spot and lost some spots early. I thought we had a pretty decent SiriusXM Toyota early on and kind of had to do a little different strategy there. Stage one didn’t look too good, but I felt like we were pretty close with the car. We made some adjustments and got some track position through stage two, so we were able to get some decent stage points there. We were in a decent spot again towards the end and got a really bad vibration, so I was a little concerned that we were going to have a tire issue or something. Luckily, it held on and it wasn’t a great finish by any means, but a solid finish for sure and something we can work on for tomorrow.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 7th: “We were really loose and in traffic we were terrible. But I think we found our direction in the last part of the race. We had a vibration late or I think we could have gotten more spots. What a swing! Johnny Klausmeier and my guys did a good job calling the race.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 8th:

Brad Keselowski — Finished 9th: “We didn’t start where we wanted to but we adjusted really well. I thought by the end we were one of the best cars. It was incredibly difficult to pass. I caught cars that I was a second faster than and then I just couldn’t pass. It was a big track position day. I think you saw that with the guys that started up front all finished up front. We tried to make some moves to make some passes and probably caught ourselves some spots. If we rode around all day we would have maybe got two or three more spots out of it. I appreciate the fact that my team has a lot of effort and was shooting for the stars.”

William Byron — Finished 14th: “We struggled today. We had a hard time making speed and tried to salvage what we could there at the end. We started gaining more speed as the car tightened up by the end of the race. We’ll make some changes for tomorrow and see what we can do then.”

Cole Custer — Finished 16th: “Solid day for us today. We ended up 16th and at the end, I felt we were fast enough to run up front. It’s just trying to get track position and I think I can get my restarts better for tomorrow. It was a solid day, which is what we needed. We can improve on it tomorrow. I think we have a good car and I cannot thank my guys enough. Looking forward to improving on it all tomorrow.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 18th: “I’m not really sure what went wrong with the handling on our Monster Energy Camaro. The track changed dramatically for us. We were pretty good the first half of the race, before the car started handling really tight on the exit of the corners. The second half was not so good for us with the handling and track position. We’ll turn it around and work for a better result tomorrow”.

Austin Dillon — Finished 19th: “Not what we wanted. Lost our track position in the middle of Stage 2 when the caution fell. It stunk. We were running eighth, and hoping it would go green and cycle out, but it didn’t. Nineteenth is what we had.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 22nd: “Well, that was a whole bunch of nothing. We didn’t really hit on much all day. On the tight side; just could never get the front end to work. The guys did good trying to figure out something on our No. 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, it just wasn’t enough. We tried to pull some strategy there at the end, and just didn’t have enough raw speed to dial ourselves out. So, all-in-all, I’m proud of the effort. We just kind of swung for the fences but didn’t really hit anything good. We know what not to do for tomorrow. We’ll come back way better with a totally different package. I had a good debrief with the guys, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings for us starting in the 22nd-place. We missed that invert spot by two; stayed on the lead lap almost by a lap. But all-in-all it’s good to come out of there with a clean car. A lot of people had a bad day, so we capitalized. On to tomorrow.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 24th: “We made some adjustments to try and free it up and made some progress, but I just got loose under the 27 at one point, and slid up into him a little. We still struggled toward the end of the race and needed to be freer on our runs, but we made some good notes for tomorrow.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 26th: “Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 1LE was fast and handled well through the corners, but something was wrong under the hood. Our car just didn’t have the speed on the straightaway and it hurt our momentum. We started the race really tight, but Matt (Borland) made a big adjustment on the first stop which helped the balance. My Germain Racing guys will try to figure out what was wrong tonight, so it doesn’t hinder us tomorrow.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 27th: “That is not the way we wanted to end the race. We had a good run going and were going to end up top 10. (Brad Keselowski) got into us there at the end and we cut a tire. Definitely don’t have the finish to show how our day was going, but we will be back tomorrow with a new car.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 28th: “We brought our Camry home in one piece and I think we’ll be better Sunday. We were hoping to do the third stage without stopping and we came up just short with no yellows. We’ll work hard to make the changes we need to tonight and tomorrow morning. I’m confident we’ll be much better than a 28th-place car.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 30th: “We had good speed at the start of the race but we were involved in a wreck at the end of Stage 2 that put us two laps down and changed the course of our race. From then on out, it was all about finishing and earning maximum points. I have to thank my guys for their hard work and making repairs so I could finish the last stage. We kept after it as a team and finished all the laps, trying to maximize on as many points as we could. We will regroup and be ready for round two tomorrow.” 

Joey Logano — Finished 36th: 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.

 

 

 

SunnyD to sponsor Kevin Harvick in two races, Riley Herbst in Daytona 500

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Kevin Harvick has picked up a sponsor for the new season, and Riley Herbst has picked up a ride in the Daytona 500.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that orange drink SunnyD will be the primary sponsor for Harvick’s No. 4 Ford at Darlington Raceway (May 14) and Kansas Speedway (Sept. 10).

SunnyD also will be the sponsor for Herbst as he joins the entry list for the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing car. The orange drink also will be an associate sponsor for Herbst in the No. 98 Xfinity car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

The 2023 season will be Harvick’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

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The Daytona 500 will mark Herbst’s first Cup Series start. The 24-year-old native of Las Vegas has made 109 Xfinity Series starts.

“It’s great to have Riley making his first NASCAR Cup Series start with RWR and be a part of the next step in his career,” said team owner Rick Ware in a statement released by the team.

“As a kid you always dream of being able to race in the Daytona 500, and I’m able to accomplish that with Rick Ware Racing,” Herbst said. “It’s such a big event and for it to be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience.”

 

 

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.