What drivers said after Cup regular-season finale

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William Byron – winner: “I had confidence in (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and the guys that we could get four tires and make the most of it. So, I’m just extremely blessed, and this is incredible. It’s been a hard couple of years in the Cup Series and trying to get my first win and gel with this team. These guys did an awesome job today and got us in the Playoffs and it’s amazing.”

(How intense was it racing Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto?) “This is probably the hardest track to points-race. We had a great Stage 2 and kind of got back in the pack and got shuffled when everyone went single file. I thought my hopes were up there. And we were racing around the No. 21 (Matt DiBenedetto) and the No. 48 (Johnson) in the final stage and I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to really make something happen.’ Luckily, I was able to push the No. 43 (Bubba Wallace) and he and the No. 22 (Joey Logano) made some contact and opened up a hole for me, and I wasn’t going to lift. It was awesome. Thanks to Liberty University, Chevrolet, and it’s amazing.”

Chase Elliott – finished 2nd: “It was pretty wild from my seat. I was surprised it took us as long as it did to wreck, for sure. But I’m really proud of our Hooters team. I feel like we had faster Chevrolet’s than we’ve had in the last couple of trips, which was good. It didn’t drive as good as I think it probably should have, but I do think we were better by a pretty large margin, so that was nice. Congratulations to William (Byron) – getting your first win is something he’ll never forget and that’s a really special moment for him. He’s worked really hard for that. I’m happy for him, Chad (Knaus) and all of the 24 team. They’ve done a good job.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 3rd: “Just disappointed. I didn’t do a good job. Lack of focus or whatever it is. Not executing. If you have control of a green-white-checkered on a speedway, most of the time the win is going to come from the front row and you have to just make sure you make the right moves and I just didn’t after I took the green. I don’t know what I was doing and I didn’t have a push from the 21 (Matt DiBenedetto) and I was clear of the 24 (William Byron) and just didn’t pull down. I don’t know what I was doing. Disappointing, but I guess we escaped some mayhem, we were in some mayhem. Just a crazy race. Just everyone kind of out there for themselves and all the pushing and shoving and body-slamming and what not. Decent finish, but I hate having control and not finishing.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 4th: “We got ourselves in position there at the white flag and made a run through the tri-oval and got to the outside of the leader there. The 14 (Clint Bowyer) and those guys that were behind me, they were my pushers and they crashed. As soon as they wrecked behind me, I realized that I lost all my help and it was going to be tough from there on out. Then the 9 (Chase Elliott) just pushed the 24 (William Byron) back by us and ended up barely hanging onto fourth. Overall, it was a really good night. Our Bass Pro Toyota had a lot of speed and we passed a lot of cars at the end. We had to pit twice there at the end on those two cautions because we flat-spotted our tires and ran over all kinds of debris. To be able to come through the field in a short amount of laps was a lot of fun. Always nice when you leave here in one piece.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 5th: “A win was there and then it wasn’t. On to the next one.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 6th: “We worked pretty well together, (Joey Logano) and I, the first couple stages there and then we kind of got shuffled back once or twice, and then we were kind of mired in the back and everyone was three-wide, you can’t go anywhere, and then my job was just not getting in a wreck. I missed a couple of them and then had a decent run at the end. We had some good momentum going on the last couple laps and some big blocks and we kind of got stacked up and never kept our momentum going, but, overall, not a bad night for our strawberry banana BodyArmor Ford Mustang. It was bright, but came home clean.  We got DiBenedetto in the playoffs, which is good for that group, and looking forward to the next 10 weeks. It should be a lot of fun.”

Alex Bowman – finished 7th: “Super pumped for William (Byron) and the entire No. 24 team. Really cool to see them get the win. Bummed for Jimmie at the same time. It is a big mix of emotions there for Jimmie to miss it. Overall, not a bad day for the No. 88 team. Had a really fast car, didn’t drive really well though. I have no clue how we didn’t crash some of those times. We got really lucky there at the end and ended up with a solid top-10 finish.”

Brendan Gaughan – finished 8th: “The Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro had a heck of a run tonight. We saw pay dirt there at the end – third place coming out of turn four. The 19 car just side drafted us and pulled us back. I didn’t have any help behind me but what a night. I just have to say thank you so much to the Beard family, Darren Shaw (crew chief) and Ron Lewis, my spotter. I also want to say thank you to Richard Childress and ECR motors for all they do for us. Two top-10s this year at Daytona – what a way to go out. It was so much fun. We will see everyone in Talladega and we’ll actually be able to take the same racecar because it’s in one piece.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 10th: “It’s good to be in a good spot for the playoffs.  We have a lot of bonus points and obviously we wanted more than what we have, but we’re allowed to be greedy.  All in all, a good finish for us.  It was not the most fun night, but we’ll take it with our PIRTEK Ford and move on to Darlington and hopefully have great runs in the playoffs and get that second championship.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 11th: “I’ll take P11 for our No. 38 FAS Ford Mustang after all that. It was a wild end to the day, but I’m super proud of my guys for all of their effort and hard work. We had a pretty decent setup and made a few adjustments during the night that helped get us in a position to have a good result. We got caught up at the end in a wreck with some heavy right side damage, but my guys on pit road rallied and we were able to keep rolling to get a good finish for our partners at FAS. Overall it was a good points day for us, so we’ll take what notes we can and move on to the next one.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 12th: “It was too eventful.  I’m mentally worn out. I’m gonna sleep great tonight, but there was so much going on there at the end. First off, I’m so happy for this team and Menards, Dutch Boy, the whole Menard family, Motorcraft/Quick Lane and the Wood Brothers, Ford, our alliance with Team Penske. You name it. This means so much to get this for them, but in the race there if I could I hedged toward being on the bottom because, man, just when you’re in the bottom and the top it’s nearly a sure thing when you get that you get crashed, so I’m glad we were able to take it home because I wasn’t happy with the finish, but I came in here saying all that mattered I just wanted to make these playoffs and the finishing position didn’t matter too much.”

Michael McDowell – finished 14th: “Not the result that we wanted tonight, but our CarParts.com Ford Mustang was really fast. It sucked up really good in the draft and I was able to get up in the Top-10 and stay there pretty easily, but just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know, that’s Daytona and it happens, but I’m just really proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports. It wasn’t the finish that we had hoped for, but we still got a Top-15 finish with a crashed car. The speed that we had was some of the best that we’ve had on a superspeedway in a really long time, so I’m just really proud of everybody. Thank you to CarParts.com and CARDONE Industries for coming on board.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 17th: “First and foremost, congratulations to my teammate getting his first Cup win like that. This setting and the drama to go with it – that’s a big win for Chad Knaus and William Byron. I’m really happy for those guys. I really felt like we had a way to transfer, to win, or point our way in the way it went in the first two stages. Things just got ugly down in turn one. Unfortunate, but that’s plate racing.”

Austin Dillon – finished 25th: “We had a fast Dow VORASURF Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Even though we had to start at the back of the field, we were able to work our way into the top five and we had speed and handling. Things were getting exciting with less than 15 laps to go. I thought there was going to be a big one and I was going to be in the clear but it didn’t work out that way. I was on the high line and had nowhere to go when everyone started crashing in front of me. I should have known better. If you stay on the bottom you have an out. We ended up with a lot of damage to our Chevy and survived several additional end-of-race wrecks to nurse it home to a 25th-place finish.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 26th: “We had a really good CommScope Toyota tonight. We were really looking forward to this race and it was a lot of fun while it lasted. I was able to drive to the front in the middle part of the race and led laps for a while before we needed to save fuel. We were able to get through the first wreck without any significant damage, but there was just no way to avoid the second one. It’s a shame because we had a really good racecar. I’m proud of everybody who was involved in getting us ready for this race. We ran up front, so that felt really good. I think we have some good momentum to take to the last 10 races.”

Joey Logano – finished 27th: “It’s just superspeedway racing. It gets so intense at the end and everyone is pushing so hard. It’s one of those situations you’re so close to the front you’ve got to stay in it and keep going for it and try to get the lead. I got a good run off the top side. We had (Bubba Wallace) pushing enough to clear (Denny Hamlin) and I knew I could do that, which we did. I was hoping I could get back up in front of (Wallace), which we did and then (Hamlin) got me just off-centered a little bit. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just superspeedway racing  It’s hard pushing and it got me in the right-rear and turned me to the right and ran me into Bubba and that cut down my right-rear tire by the time I got to turn one and you can’t control it and spun out in front of the whole field. Thanks to NASCAR we have safe cars and Team Penske for building something safe. I’m okay. The good news is we’re ready for the playoffs.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 29th: “My spotter, Derek Kneeland, and crew chief, Randall Burnett did a great job calling a race that got me up towards the front with 10 laps to go. I tried to make a move for the lead with about eight laps to go, and it didn’t work out like I planned. It unfortunately hurt our car and chance to win. I was clear for about a second when I went to make it, but it’s Daytona and things change quickly. There weren’t a lot laps left at that time, and you have to do what you can to try to win to make the playoffs.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 32nd: “I think the race kind of played out similar to what we thought it was going to. Starting in the back, we decided we would just kind of cruise in our Kroger Camaro. It was nice running the bottom there in that final stage with the 9 (Chase Elliott) and the 88 (Alex Bowman) behind us. I felt like we were making headway, got up beside the 18 (Kyle Busch) for the lead and it was tough with the 18 and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) together. But I thought with us, the 9 and the 88, I thought that we could keep our momentum up. Something happened behind them and they got shuffled and separated from me. Then there at the end, we were just running the top lane. It looked like the 8 (Tyler Reddick) tried to pull a slider, didn’t quite have him cleared and we all just kind of bunched up. Our Kroger Camaro was fast again. I had a lot of fun, but it sucks not to get the finish out of it.”

Kyle Busch – finished 33rd: “Slide job gone bad. I just hate it for these Interstate Batteries guys. We had a good Camry all night long and made our way to the front multiple times and we were leading a lot of laps there. Just waiting for the end, for business to pick-up and I guess business was starting to pick-up, but just not clear. I saw him coming and even checked up and we still ran into each other.”

Kurt Busch – finished 34th: “We were just digging on the bottom – I thought that was the best spot to be. Our Monster Energy Chevy was fast and we were all in the right spot, I thought, for what we needed to get done. Just got clipped from behind and our day is done. But, all-in-all, we’ve been coming together as a team – we just haven’t had the results to show it. I like the clarity and focus that we have on the No. 1 car heading into the Playoffs. It’s been a consistent season all the way until these last few, but now it’s time. Now we have to lay down everything we’ve got with Darlington, Richmond and Bristol coming up.”

Erik Jones – finished 35th: “I mean, he (Tyler Reddick) wasn’t clear. Kyle (Busch) let him in, number one, to not cause a wreck and then he ran into the wall and wrecked everybody behind him. It’s frustrating. He had way too much speed to try to make that move up the hill with the grip that is left in the tires. We had a lot of laps on them. It’s unfortunate. He wrecked us a Pocono, and then to have this happen, you know, two times making racing moves that were not going to work out. Unfortunately, it was to the determent of us today. The Auto Owners Camry was pretty fast. We were up front. I think we were running third when we got wrecked, so we had a shot. We needed to win — we were there, we just didn’t get it done.”

Ryan Newman – finished  36th : “(Reddick) obviously just ran out of talent.  It seems like you can win a couple of Xfinity championships and still stick your head where the sun don’t shine when the time comes right.  I’m just disappointed.  It was kind of an average race sitting there waiting with our Guaranteed Rate Ford and never got a chance to show how good a car we had.”

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.