What drivers said after Kentucky race

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Cole Custer — Winner: “We have definitely done a lot better job these last few weeks. We started putting the whole picture together. You just got to have the whole thing working together, whether it’s pit stops, restarts, me doing my job, having the car perfectly right. When you’re just a little bit off in this series, you’re going to pay for it big‑time. You can’t be off in one area too much. You got to perfect all those areas, work at it. It’s a lot of days when your eyes are sore trying to look at film, trying to figure everything out. But it’s just trying to put the whole picture together. I think we still have a ways to go. We have things we can do a lot better for sure. I think we’re to the point now where we can race with these guys. We can take advantage of it when we’re near the front.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “Just trying to get in line behind the 4 (Kevin Harvick) off of (Turn) 2 there and got into him a little bit. Then got outside him because I screwed that up and went into (Turn) 3 and I knew he was going to run me up pretty high. I was up in the loose stuff pretty good there, but I was able to hang onto it. (Cole Custer) came with a big run and I didn’t see him coming.”

Matt DiBenedtto — Finished 3rd: “Man, it was crazy. We had a really good car. I mean, we could have contended for the win. It was really fast, but lost track position when things shuffled around and we had to do the wave around. Me and my spotter, I’ve got to give him a lot of credit, Doug Campbell, I told him we should win some sort of restart award. We were 18th because of track position how it cycled out with like seven to go. We had two monstrous restarts and then pushed Cole to the win there, which kind of felt cool. Good for him.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 4th:I had a couple good restarts there and got the car better, but still just not where we needed to be — but the restarts worked out in our favor and we were able to get the lead and Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways. I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway here and the 12 hit the drain and came up and hit the side of the car and then i couldn’t see, so yeah, it got wild and that’s what you’re supposed to do. I’m just really happy for Cole Custer and everybody on the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 5th: “We ran strong, we raced tough. We weren’t quite able to rekindle last year’s success, but a top five is solid.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 6th: “I thought we had a good car all day. We drove up through there a lot. From the get-go it was hard to pass, but I thought it was better than the Xfinity or Truck races as far as the passing goes. We might have wore out that stuff a little bit more than them and the bottom seemed to come in a little bit more, especially through one and two, so that was at least better than what it’s been the last couple nights of racing. I finally got the lead from the 10 and I look at the point where we lost control of the race and it was when that caution came out close to the end of stage two and it gave the 2 the lead when they stayed out late and they just crossed the start-finish line on pit road and cycled into the lead. That lost us control of the race, I thought. We couldn’t choose where to restart and it was so hard to get the lead on the bottom, so we were just fighting to try to get back to the lead. I thought we were close to the 19. It was just kind of, I think, between he and I it was just who was in front of who as far as who was gonna have a good shot to win the race. We got a break there on that one restart, where we got a quick caution and we were a nose ahead of him and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re finally back in control of this race,’ and then he got put three-wide in the top of three and couldn’t maintain the lead. And then I hit a damn X Games bump, jump on the frontstretch there and bounced me into Harvick, so that sucked, but, overall, I was happy with our speed, just didn’t quite catch the breaks we needed to try to win the race.”

Christopher Bell — Finished 7th: “It was a very confusing day. I have moments where I felt like my Camry was really fast and I could run really good lap times, and then I had moments where – I wasn’t very good in traffic today for whatever reason. Normally, that is our strong suit, being able to pass guys, and today I really struggled with that. Obviously, I’m happy with getting out of there with a seventh, but disappointed. I wish we could have been a little bit better when we had that track position.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 8th: “It’s hard to be mad about another top 10, but we had such a great car and led the most laps. We had a really fast car and got caught with a caution that came at the wrong time. We had to battle our way back up there most of the day. We’re bringing incredible cars. Congrats to Cole and everyone at Stewart-Haas. Six top-10s in a row. We’ll go on to Bristol and try to race our way (into the All-Star Race) for a million bucks on Wednesday.” 

Brad Keselowski — Finished 9th: “An interesting race with the (traction compound) being what it is, trying to manage that. We started off not to my liking. We worked on it and got the car really good in the middle of the race, and that allowed us — the fact that we were so fast allowed us to run really fast while everybody was pitting, so we stayed out and as soon as we pitted the yellow came out, which cycled us to the lead, which was great, and then we just kind of fell off again. That was kind of a bummer and we were about a fourth- or fifth-place car there towards the end and on that restart it’s just mayhem. The cars have so little horsepower that you just have to push and take and take and take. Each restart was a takefest, which is part of the deal. I got used up on one or two of them probably, and had one where I got into Jimmie (Johnson) and probably took more than — took like the other guys had on me the others — but it’s just part of the chaos and it’s interesting because the restarts were the great passing opportunities, but they mix up the races so much that the finish is nowhere near indicative of who ran where, but that’s part of the deal.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 10th: “Races like today are ones we need to get ourselves into a playoff spot in the next few weeks. We really had to fight for our top-10 finish today at Kentucky Speedway. Our No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was really tight for most of the day but freed up almost too much in the final few laps. My team kept after it all day, and we were able to get up into the top 12 during Stage 2 after some pretty big swings on a couple adjustments. We got shuffled back in the field during the stage break between Stages 2 and 3 when we hit pit road thinking more cars behind us would follow. Unfortunately, they didn’t so we had to fight up through the field one more time, while also being smart and not getting in any situations that would end our day early. We were able to do that today and grab a top-10 finish with a car we struggled with, so that’s a positive. I know spots in the playoffs are starting to dwindle down, so we’re going to have keep picking it up. Top-10 finishes are going to help us, but we’re in a very volatile spot in the standings where things like today could happen and drivers behind us in points could win and lock in a spot. We’ll stay aggressive and not let points get away from us as we get down to the final races of the regular season.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “Well, I feel really stupid after spinning out trying to avoid the orange box. I did make it – it gave us some big, important track position, but it killed the splitter in the process. It kind of separated hitting the wrong way, so we were just super tight there at the end. We were able to make some of probably the best restarts of my career. Eleventh to fifth on that one and just holding on hoping it would go green to the end running ninth. Had that last restart – had another good one, but it kind of got choked up on the bottom that time. Everybody kind of bogged down and couldn’t continue the momentum. And then us being tight, we were just kind of sitting ducks.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 14th: “Our One Cure Ford Mustang was really fast today, but passing was so hard for everyone. We were sailing there at the end and figured we were top-five at least, but a caution after we pitted hurt us again. We got some damage before the finish so we were kind of hanging on. My guys gave me a great car today. They are working hard and I appreciate what they are doing. We are going to get the results soon. Congratulations to Cole (Custer), Gene (Haas) and SHR for winning the race. That was cool.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Solid 16th-place finish today at Kentucky. That’s two top 16s in a row, which is awesome. I’m so proud of our GEICO Racing team and we are going to keep digging and building on these consistent finishes. We are learning a lot and definitely getting better. Our team is going to go after it this second half of the season.” 

Alex Bowman — Finished 19th: “That is just one of those things. We had a great car today. We battled some tight conditions there at the end, but overall, we had a decent day.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 22nd: “We had a frustrating day. It just felt like something was wrong with the right rear the entire day and could never figure it out. After almost spinning we stayed out as long as we could and got lucky with the caution, but had some damage to fix to be able to be competitive and by that time we didn’t have the track position. We’ll move onto the All-Star Race.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 24th: “Well that one definitely stings. We had a really good car on the long run, we just couldn’t fire off on the short run. (Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer)  and the guys did a great job all day. We ran long and caught a caution and had good track position at the end, sitting in the top 10. Unfortunately, I had to restart on the bottom and got sucked around and that was about it. You get loose one time and can lose about 10 spots. It’s really unfortunate. I hate it. I hate giving up spots at the end of a race, but that happens with this package and especially when some of these restarts get crazy. If you’re not in the right line, it just happens. I feel like I let my guys down. We had another solid performance speed-wise; we just didn’t get the result today.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 25th: “A tough day again for us after a couple of good weeks. The Clover Chevy was pretty fast, and we were able to work our way up into the teens after starting in the back. The conditions today were really tough; probably the toughest I’ve raced under, and passing was pretty difficult with the track conditions and rules package. But, we were making our way towards the top 10 when a miscue in the pits resulted in a broken valve stem that caused the left rear to go down and put us a lap down. We finally got the lap back towards the end of the race and I took a ride through the infield off of Turn 4 trying to get all I could get. So, a disappointing day, but I’m really encouraged by the speed we had in our Camaro, which was probably the best mile-and-half car I’ve raced. Just need to have mistake free days to be able to take advantage of fast cars.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 26th: “Wow, that was a good job by the guys and everybody to get us a lead-lap finish like that. I want to thank everyone for not giving up because we had several issues today, starting on lap one. Our Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry struggled for the first 10 to 15 laps every run, but then it always managed to get better and better as the run went along. We have to keep working, keep fighting, to just keep making everything better.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 27th: “Our No. 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was not good today. On to the Bristol Motor Speedway.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 36th: “Wasn’t the day we were hoping for. We were loose to fire off and we were hitting the splitter, and it got worse before it got better. (Crew chief Seth Barbour) and the crew tried a few different adjustments, but by the time we were able to get the handling to a better place, we were already multiple laps down and then we made heavy contact with the wall, which ended our day.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.

Talladega jumbles Cup playoff grid heading to elimination race

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In an unpredictable season and topsy-turvy playoffs, it only made sense that Talladega would deliver a wildcard result.

A playoff driver won a playoff race for the first time this season. How about that?

Chase Elliott’s victory moves him to the next round, the only driver guaranteed to advance heading into Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are tied for the last transfer spot, but Briscoe owns the tiebreaker based on a better finish in this round. At least for now.

Hendrick Motorsports will have its appeal this week on the 25-point penalty to William Byron from the Texas race. Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega, but if the team wins the appeal and he gets all 25 points back, Byron would be back in a transfer spot and drop Briscoe below the cutline.

 

XFINITY SERIES

AJ Allmendinger became the second driver to advance to the next round, winning at Talladega.

Ryan Sieg finished fourth and holds the final transfer spot heading into the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock). Reigning series champion Daniel Hemric is six points behind Sieg. Riley Herbst and Brandon Jones are each 10 points behind Sieg. Jeremy Clements is 47 points behind.

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Matt DiBenedetto’s first career Camping World Truck Series victory didn’t impact the playoff standings after Talladega since DiBenedetto is not a playoff driver.

Reigning series champion Ben Rhodes holds the final transfer spot. He leads Christian Eckes and Stewart Friesen by three points each. John Hunter Nemechek is five points behind Rhodes, while Grant Enfinger is 29 points behind Rhodes. Ty Majeski is the only driver guaranteed a spot in next month’s championship race.

The Truck Series is off this weekend. The next Truck race is Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

Winners and losers at Talladega Superspeedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway:

WINNERS

Chase Elliott — After a rough race at Texas, Elliott returned to the role of championship favorite Sunday with a victory. He takes the point lead to Charlotte and, with Sunday’s win, is locked into the Round of 8.

MORE: Talladega Cup results

MORE: Talladega Cup driver points

Ryan Blaney — Despite another tough race day and a second-place finish in a race he could have won, Blaney remains in good shape in the playoffs, even without a points win. He is second in points to Elliott, only two behind.

Denny Hamlin — Hamlin took some time off from leading the charge for changes in the Next Gen car to run an excellent race. He led 20 laps, finished fifth and is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all five playoff races. He gained a spot in points to fourth.

LOSERS

Christopher Bell — Bell zipped onto pit road with too much speed during a round of pit stops and slid to a stop, earning a speeding penalty. He is 11th in points.

Kyle Larson — Larson led eight laps Sunday but was not a part of the drafting mix at the front at the finish. He was 18th and fell three spots in points to sixth.

Joey Logano — Logano held the point lead entering Sunday’s race. At day’s end, he had a 27th-place finish and had fallen four spots to fifth.