What drivers said after Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono

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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I was just hoping for no cautions, I knew we had the car. I was just maintaining my gap right there and didn’t want to make any mistakes like I did at Bristol and threw that win away. I just tried to work through the traffic as best I could and obviously (crew chief Chris Gabehart) is paying attention to strategy there and made the right call. … A lot of adversity early. We got some nose damage and had to fix that. Then we just worked on the car and got it better and better. It finished the race there a lot better than we finished yesterday and I thought we had a race-winning car yesterday. We knew after yesterday’s race and showing the speed that we had, just don’t mess it up and we’ve got a good shot today and that’s what we did.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 2nd: “Car was actually better today than it was yesterday. Just the way that the end worked out.  We had to run in a lot of traffic there. Denny (Hamlin) kept clicking off laps. They did what they had to do, did the opposite of what we did as far as when we pitted.  We lost time going through that traffic, just came out behind him, wound up second today. …  I think overall you can’t be dissatisfied with a first and a second. I’d feel childish if I sat her and nitpicked that apart.”

Erik Jones — Finished 3rd: “Yeah, today was a lot better than yesterday for sure. It’s great to rebound like that. Unfortunately, I think we could have – definitely could have had two top-fives, and really, I think our primary car was quite a bit better than this car. I thought we could have probably contended both days a little more towards the win if we had our primary, but the Craftsman Camry was good. We made good changes overnight. We actually changed a lot of stuff and tried to kind of rebalance with what we had with this backup car. It’s nice to get a solid finish. I mean, we came off a good run at Talladega and went right back to a DNF and to come back here with a third. We just need to be consistent from here and keep it rolling.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 4th: “It was good to have a solid run for our NAPA team after yesterday being so poor. Obviously, we would’ve liked to of been a little better, but after starting in the back, I was pleased how I was able to move forward and gain a lot of that track position back. It was a good rebound. Looking forward to getting back on track at Indy.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 5th: “Another top five. I’m so proud of (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and al the guys on this 10 team. That’s four top fives in a row. What a weekend we had here in Pocono, got a lot of stage points and finished third yesterday and fifth today. We’re riding a wave of momentum … We’ll go to Indy, a place that’s very similar to the tunnel turn at Pocono and felt like we were really good there this weekend.  I’m excited about Indy and another top five.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 6th: “Two races back-to-back was pretty cool. Knocked them both out in one weekend, but we got stage points in all four stages between the two races, so that’s good and I felt like we finished solid yesterday and today we had a good day. We got stage points in both and the second stage we were actually anticipating possibly giving up the stage points for our strategy to have a good finishing position, but it worked out to where we still had some solid restarts and got up there to get at least a couple points, so everything helps. That was big and today was just pretty much real smooth from start to finish, just was up there in that top 10 for most part start to finish for the day, so Greg and the team did a real solid job keeping us up there and having a real good strategy.”

William Byron — Finished 7th: “We ended up with a top-10 finish today which was good. It was definitely an improvement from yesterday – seven spots better to be exact – which is good. We still struggled a good portion of the race but I think we made the right calls and adjustments at the end. We had a lot of speed actually the last couple runs. I think the track kind of came to us and ultimately that’s what we needed. So we’ll go on to Indy and hopefully have a better run there.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “That was a tough race. We were just so loose today. By ourselves we were good and could turn in a good lap, but in traffic we struggled.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “It was an up-and-down day. So many people are on different pit strategies throughout the day here in Pocono. We had a top-10 car all day, just didn’t have the running positions to show for it. Greg (Ives) and the guys made great adjustments on pit road and really improved the car throughout the race. A top-10 finish today is good momentum for us going to Indy next weekend.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 13th: “The team made a lot of changes to the car from the race yesterday, but we still really struggled with the handling in traffic. The difference between dirty and clean air is crazy. The Monster Energy Chevy was good early on when we had track position (clean air) and we were able to lead all the laps and get the Stage 1 win, but just a tough ending for the No.1 team, a little Pocono Deja vu for us today!”

Austin Dillon — Finished 14th: “Everyone on the Symbicort Chevrolet team did a great job hanging in there today and working together to pull off a top-15 finish. We made a few adjustments to our car and strategy based on what we learned yesterday. There was a lot more grip on the track then what I figured there would be for a 4 p.m. race start. We just battled a tight-handling condition for most of the day today, especially at the beginning of the race. We had to free up a bunch. We missed stage points at the conclusion of Stage 1 by just one position, but then earned a few key Stage points at the end of Stage 2. During Stage 3, we worked our way into the top five before pitting for fuel with 13 laps remaining. All-in-all, can’t complain about a 14th-place finish.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 15th: “Overall, I think it was a solid weekend. We definitely learned some things on Saturday that we were able to adapt to for Sunday, but the track raced very differently on Sunday than it did on Saturday. We were really loose most of the race, but Brian (Pattie) made some great strategy calls to keep us running up front and ultimately get a top-15 finish at the end. We’re on a solid momentum streak and I’m looking forward to carrying that over to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend.”

Cole Custer — Finished 17th: “Thank you so much, guys. We got the car a lot better today. We definitely made gains and got the car better during the race. Well go get them next week.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 19th: “Wasn’t quite the day we were hoping for at Pocono Raceway, but we finished better than we did in yesterday’s race, and that’s an accomplishment for us. Our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang was decent in clean air, but we just couldn’t make it work in traffic. I was too tight whenever I got behind another car and we couldn’t quite get the handling right in order to really make the kind of gains we wanted to on track. I’m proud of my team and thankful for their effort.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 22nd: “Our Richard Petty Motorsports team made the right adjustments for what we fought yesterday, but it still was not the right adjustments; that is kind of the frustrating part. We did not have enough raw speed and couldn’t quite get the handling we needed. All-in-all, we came-out with a top-20 finish and it’s an improvement from yesterday. Good to get out of Pocono, and give us time to refocus before we come back.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 26th: “The balance of our CommScope Toyota was OK in Turns 1 and 3, but unfortunately we were still struggling in Turn 2, especially in the first 10 or 15 laps of the run. Obviously, we’re lacking overall speed, but we’ll just keep on digging. It was a good job by the guys all weekend. We just need to keep digging and we’ll get there.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 35th: “This weekend did not go at all how we wanted it to, but I’m proud of the No. 8 Caterpillar team for never giving up at any point. Unfortunately, when I came across the line to take the green flag today I lost all power steering and had to drop back to protect the car. Right as I was going to hit pit road to see what we could do to fix the handling, the caution came out for rain, which almost ended up helping us. I was able to pit and give my team the entire yellow to work on the car. We figured out we would be able to replace the alternator belt right as the red flag came out. Once the yellow flag came back out, my team worked as fast as they could to make the repairs but we still ended up a handful of laps down by the time we could rejoin the field. From that point on it was just a matter of capitalizing on everything that came our way to gain as many spots as we possibly could. Every point matters in the fight to make the Playoffs, and we weren’t going to go down without a fight. We got trapped a little bit with how the race played out, but we gave it our all today to get everything we could. I wouldn’t want to be racing with any other group than the one I have right now and am looking forward to getting back after it at Indy next weekend.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 38th: “I don’t know. The guys did an amazing job from yesterday to today. I guess it proves that if you get a little practice time in and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with so hopefully life gets back to normal eventually but we are in 2020, so it doesn’t surprise me getting crashed out of the lead. The M&M’s Camry was pretty fast today. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. It’s just very frustrating and unfortunate. I know what happened but it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it. It will just come across in a bad way.”

Christopher Bell — Finished 39th: “I was kind of rolling out there by myself, and I had a good gap between the guy in front of me and behind me, and it just stepped out getting into Turn 2 there. It’s disappointing, but I’m really happy with the speed that we’ve had these last couple weeks. Obviously, yesterday here we were really fast and we had another great car today, so these guys keep bringing really fast Rheem Camrys to the racetrack and we will have good shows.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 40th: “Today was a real shame. The first few laps of today’s race felt really good and I thought that we were going to have the opportunity for another strong run. I’m still proud of the race that we had yesterday and the speed that we’ve been showing all year. Unfortunately, it’s all part of the ups and downs of racing. I’m really proud of the effort by everyone at Front Row Motorsports for bringing us a competitive car and I’m ready to head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend and hopefully rebound after today’s unfortunate events.”

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

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What’s next?

In a season of change that has zoomed through NASCAR like history did in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 100 days remain in the year. That’s plenty of time for more upheaval.

Remember the beginning of the season when talk centered on the championship race moving to Phoenix Raceway this year?

That was back when teams practiced and qualified before races, before drivers chose what lane to restart, before midweek races.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced NASCAR and all sports to change, but when NASCAR returned after a 10-week break in May to Darlington without spectators, that was only the beginning of a season unlike any other.

Michael Jordan’s entry into the sport Monday night capped a day that started with Chip Ganassi hiring Ross Chastain to drive its No. 42 car next year and a report that NASCAR would add another road course to the 2021 schedule and move the All-Star Race.

The 2021 schedule has not been released so that is something to look forward to at some point in the next 100 days. The timeline on when it will be revealed continues to change, so let’s just say it will be out by Christmas, if not sooner. Who knows, there still might be more road course races on next year’s schedule. 

This is what we know of 2021: It won’t feature the Next Gen car, which has been delayed to 2022; the Daytona 500 is scheduled to open the season on Valentine’s Day; and Nashville Superspeedway will host Cup cars for the first time in June, the first in a four-year agreement.

Oh, and we also know where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021. He’ll drive for a team co-owned by Jordan and Denny Hamlin. JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty says of the three: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The sport’s quiet rock star, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, is watching his final full-time season — don’t worry he hints that he’ll look to run a few Cup races when his IndyCar schedule allows — end with muted fanfare in front of empty stands or socially distanced crowds.

Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce who it will add to its driver lineup with Johnson’s departure. That’s just among the unknowns with 100 days left in the year and 145 days until next year’s Daytona 500. Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth have yet to announce plans for next year. The status of Kyle Larson’s return looms over all of them.

One of the bigger questions on the track is if Kyle Busch can win a Cup race this season. He’s won at least one series race in each of the past 15 years, a streak that ranks tied for sixth on the all-time list with Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart.

“It’s really important,” Busch said of the streak. “Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment that we’ve placed on that being able to win a race in 16 consecutive seasons. Hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17 and then to 18 or however many that I’m here.”

Busch came close last weekend at Bristol, the first time that track hosted a playoff race. It was part of the revamped playoff schedule that has Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville as elimination races, NASCAR’s way of ramping the intensity as the season comes to a close.

There weren’t fireworks on the track but the 30,000 fans at Bristol saw a spellbinding battle between Harvick and Busch for the win over the final laps. Harvick prevailed for his ninth win of the season. Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 or more races.

Fans are slowly returning to the track, although there won’t be any at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Charlotte Motor Speedway found out Tuesday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will permit outdoor arenas with seating capacity of more than 10,000 to be filled to 7% capacity. Charlotte races in May were run without fans and the All-Star Race was moved to Bristol in July because Bristol could have fans and Charlotte could not.

Social initiatives, including the banning of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races and tracks, were added this summer.

“Ultimately,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in June, “when we get back to full grandstands, everyone who walks through the gates or on to our property or one of our tracks or where our races are being held will understand that they will not see the Confederate flag.”

That was among the key changes that Jordan said drew him to joining Hamlin as an owner of NASCAR’s newest Cup team.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Jordan’s entrance is significant. But the way this season has gone, a global sports icon joining NASCAR? That’s called Tuesday.

With 100 days left in the year, there’s plenty more change ahead.

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

NASCAR Power Rankings
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” said Daugherty, a teammate to Jordan on the University of North Carolina basketball team. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”