What drivers said at Martinsville


Here is what drivers said at Martinsville on Sunday after the final race in the Round of 8:

Chase Elliott — Winner: “Oh, my gosh. This is the biggest win ever for us. I’m just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and have to win tonight. I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years and perform when we don’t have a choice. And, to do that tonight; we couldn’t ask for a better night. This is unreal. This is just unbelievable. We’re going to Phoenix with a shot to win a championship and have a beautiful blue NAPA Camaro headed out there with a shot to win a title. What more could you ask for? “I didn’t think our car was driving as good there at the end as it was at the beginning of the race. But those last couple of pit stops made some really good changes and had a good pit stop on that last one and a good last restart. And that was the difference. Everybody makes this possible. This is unbelievable. I’m just at a bit of a loss for words. Like I said, this is the piece we’ve been missing. I feel like we’ve had the group to do this. We just have to go make it happen and we did tonight.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 2nd: “We got progressively better. I sped on pit road before that first stage. That really set us back.  Good thing we had a lot of time to get back up through the field after that. We got the lead there, which was good. We were riding around, biding our time. Caution came out, we lost a spot on pit road, lost the lead, lost control of the race. Started third or fourth on the restart. Got back to second. Trying to run (Martin Truex Jr. ) down. Caution came out. Lost a couple more spots on pit road. Could never get back up there. By the time we got second, (Chase Elliott) was completely gone. Overall not a bad night. It sucks to finish second here, though, both times this year.”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “Really the past two weeks the advantage we earned was to be able to focus on our Phoenix car before everybody. That’s the advantage we had. We get to go to these races not having our tongues hanging out trying to get in. Our batteries are charged up and we’re ready to go. That part is nice. I think we proved that our pit crew tonight is absolutely incredible. They kept us up front all day long. I don’t think there was one pit stop I didn’t gain at least one spot throughout it. Our pit crew is strong. They’ll be ready to go when we get out there. I think we’ve proven our team is definitely the team to beat. We’re well‑rounded. I think that’s something that can help us next week.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 4th: “There was nothing I could do other than just pass as many cars as I could and look forward. The last two runs, I don’t know if we were the best car, but we were close to it. Credit to Jeremy Bullins and the team.  They just kept adjusting on it at the end and we got good when it counted. It was just frustrating because that pit road penalty I did not see it coming, to be honest with you. It’s the same thing I’d been doing and the place where I got the penalty was right outside my box, so I didn’t even think it was possible to speed right there, and I was wrong.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 5th: “We gave it all we had. I’m really proud of my guys. Chip Ganassi Racing put up a really good fight this year to get this far, to win and to post top five’s through the playoffs. We crossed over our threshold. Last week, we finished seventh at Texas, fifth tonight and we’re walking around kind of kicking the ground – like that wasn’t our best effort or we could have done this or could of done that. When I started here two years ago, we finished in the top  five and were celebrating. We’ve come that far in this short amount of time and I’m really proud of everybody back at the shop. To come here with a shot at it, we knew we had to win. It takes a team all the way through. The driver has to make good decision – spotter, pit crew, crew chief and adjustments. We just came up a little shy. Our weakest area was pit road and we know that we need to work on that. But all-in-all, I can’t thank everybody enough. It’s cool to see the evolution of where we’ve come in two years.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 6th: “I drive this place so wrong. I try to roll the center really fast and then I am like oh we don’t have any drive off. You would think I would figure it out, but I kind of know what I need to do. All in all, a good day for our Planters Chevrolet. Really proud of Chase (Elliott) and making the final four there. Bummed we aren’t a part of it, but I think we have a solid shot at getting fifth in points. The progress this team has made over the past two months has been incredible. This is something they really deserve.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 7th: “Good run for this Smithfield Ford team at Martinsville. We had a good car on the long run today. It feels good to have a decent run with one race left on the year. Hoping to have another solid run next weekend in Phoenix.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “Early on we had about a 20-lap car today. You had to pass everyone in the first 20 laps or you weren’t going to pass them. We worked hard and got it rolling there at the end. It’s always fun to race here. This is one of the tracks I’m going to miss.” 

Kyle Busch — Finished 9th: “We had a decent day with our M&M’S Camry. The guys did a nice job on pit road all day and gained us a lot of spots, but we just couldn’t find the right handling and we would slip back on many of the runs. Just didn’t have much on the last run of the race so ended up ninth. We’ll take that and move onto Phoenix.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 11th: “It was tough. Our car was fading a little bit. I was also getting into some spots where I was getting roughed up by some teammates, not really ours, just some of the guys that are in the battle. I didn’t even want to be a part of it, so I would just get out of it and then I put myself in an interesting spot where (Kevin Harvick) was going for it a little bit and we were very fortunate he didn’t go for it any further than he did. We did just enough. That’s what we needed to do – is do enough to make it to Phoenix and give ourselves a shot at the championship.’’

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a good day for our Germain Racing team. Our GEICOween Chevrolet Camaro would build tight over the run, but Matt (Borland) and the guys continued to make it better with every adjustment. Our team never gives up and I had a lot of fun behind the wheel today. To finish 16th is a great way to end our final Martinsville start together as a team. We are going to head to Phoenix next week and give it everything we have to make the last race for Germain Racing a memorable one.”

KEVIN HARVICK — Finished 17th: “We just weren’t good and everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford just kept battling to make it better and gave ourselves a shot there at the end. I tried to drive into the door of the 18 to get that last point to make it and spun him out. I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship 4 and doing everything you can. Just came up short. Just not the night we needed.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR. — Finished 22nd: “We had a great car all day long and just kept making adjustments waiting for it to cool off and get dark. That last run there before the final pit stop, the thing was on rails and it was perfect and we were driving away. I felt really good about it. Then we pitted and had a pretty good pit stop. Came out with the lead and right away I knew something was wrong. I was really, really tight and had a vibration. The 9 (Chase Elliott) car passed us and we started dropping and had to pit for a loose wheel. Unfortunate. I think we should be the one in victory lane right now, but you have to do it all. Just a little mistake there.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 23rd: “That’s not the finish we wanted in the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road/E-Z-GO Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway tonight, but we hung on all race and tried our hardest. We just missed the balance. For most of the race, we were too tight and the car just wouldn’t turn. Even though our team worked on our Chevy all race, we never got it. It’s not what we wanted, but I’m proud of this team for never giving up. We’ll go to Phoenix Raceway and finish this season off.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 24th: “This was only my second time at Martinsville Speedway in four years, and I definitely learned a lot today in the No. 8 MotorTrend Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We fought pretty much the same problem all day, just too tight in the turns from about two-thirds of the way in through the exit. My team did everything they could today, and we tried every adjustment we could think of to loosen our car up but nothing seemed to stick. Our changes would help for a handful of laps on each restart, but then the track would rubber up and the tightness would return every time. Not our day, but I’m thankful for my team for sticking with it all race long and continuing to fight. We’ll look to finish out the season strong at Phoenix Raceway next weekend.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 26th: “Not exactly the day we were hoping for in our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang. We struggled pretty much from the start. We were pretty tight and bouncing a lot on entry (into the turns). We kept trying different adjustments throughout the race but couldn’t quite get it to where we needed the handling in order to make a strong push towards the front.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 27th: “I think Dave (Winston, crew chief) did a good job with our Peacock Toyota. The balance of the car was OK, I think good enough for 30th or 29th, but we finished a little bit better than that. We have to keep working. One more.”

Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to track

MORE: Dr. Diandra: 600 tests man more than machine

And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”







Dr. Diandra: Charlotte’s 600 miles test man more than machine


This weekend’s 600-mile outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s longest race. It’s the ultimate stock car challenge: not just making a car fast but making it fast for a long time.

Although 600 miles is nowhere near the 3,300-plus miles in the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pace is similar. Most of NASCAR’s 600-mile races run between four and five hours.

The 1960 World 600 set the record for this race, requiring five hours, 34 minutes, and six seconds to complete — and it had only eight cautions. The second longest race, the very next year, ran 12 minutes shorter than the previous year’s outing.

The longest race in the modern era (1972 to present) happened in 2005. That race took five hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds to complete and set a record for cautions with 22.

Last year’s event was the second-longest modern-era race. With four fewer cautions than 2005, the 2022 race took just 44 seconds less to complete.

The field for the 1960 race included 60 cars. Only 18 of those cars (30%) crossed the finish line.

NASCAR disqualified six drivers for making illegal entrances to pit road. The reasons for the remaining 36 DNFs reads like an inventory of car parts, from “A-frame” to “valve.”

The number of cars failing to finish the race decreased significantly over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon for 50-70% of the field to drop out of the race before its end. As the graph below shows, the DNF rate is now in the range of 10-30%.

A bar chart shows how DNFs have decreased over time and turned the the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

Last year — the first year of the Next Gen car — had an abnormally high 46% DNF rate. That doesn’t signify a problem with car reliability.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Increased car reliability makes people more important

Racecar evolution has changed the nature of NASCAR’s longest race. The car have become so reliable that Charlotte’s 600-mile race is now more a test of drivers than their cars.

“All of the components in the car are pretty standard,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “So you just want to make sure you have it all in good condition and dot all your I’s and cross your T’s.”

That wasn’t how it used to be. Kevin Harvick remembers that drivers used to be warned to take care of their equipment early so it would last until the end.

“The engine guys freak out because you have to go an extra 100 miles, but the parts and stuff on the car are a lot more durable than they used to be,” Harvick said. “Back in the day, it was ‘take care of the motor.’ ”

Drivers worry much less about their car’s engine today. The graph below shows how DNFs due to engine failure have decreased since NASCAR started running 600-mile races.

A bar chart shows that engine failures have gone from 50-70% to 10-30%, turning the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

In 1966, more than half the field lost an engine during the race. Only six cars have retired due to engine failure in the last five years.

While cars are more reliable, their drivers are still human. Crash-related DNFs (crashes, failure to beat the DVP clock and inability to meet maximum speed) show no clear trend over time.

A bar chart shows how the number of DNFs due to crashes doesn't show any overall trend with time

Typically, between five to 10% of the cars starting a race will fail to finish due to an accident rather than a mechanical failure. Last year’s race was an exception, setting a record for the largest fraction of the field taken out by crashes since the 600-miler began.

It’s only one data point as far as 600-mile races are concerned. It is, however, indicative of a trend observed since the Next Gen car debuted. The car is so sturdy that contact is no longer the deterrent it used to be.

Man versus machine

NASCAR’s only 600-mile outing has become an endurance race for humans. Drivers draw upon research in hydration, nutrition and fitness, hoping to create an advantage by preparation and conditioning.

“As a driver,” Daniel Suárez said, “your goal is to be as fresh at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. It isn’t about making it to the end of the race. It’s about being at your best at the end and taking advantage of other drivers who are tired.”

Harrison Burton, who ran his first 600-mile race last year, was surprised by how taxing that extra stage was.

“I figured it’s only 100 more miles than 500 and we do that fairly frequently and didn’t think it would be that different,” Burton said, “but for whatever reason when that fourth stage starts it’s definitely daunting.

Burton also noted that last year’s Coca-Cola 600 was the first time he got hungry during a race.

“It’s actually a really important race to have something to snack on in the car during the race,” Ross Chastain said. “I typically have some sort of protein bar that I can eat during a stage break just to try and keep my stamina up.”

The driver isn’t the only one whose mental acumen gets tested during the Coca-Cola 600. Crew chiefs and pit crews must work at peak form for a longer time.

“There’s more pit stops, there’s more restarts, there’s more strategy calls and there’s more laps,” Gustafson said. “There’s more everything.”

That means more opportunities to make mistakes or lose focus — or to take advantage of other drivers who do.

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup