What drivers said after Phoenix

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Chase Elliott — Winner:  “I just, man, I’m at a loss for words. This is unbelievable. Oh, my gosh. We did it. I mean, we did it. That’s all I’ve got to tell you. Unreal. Championship crew chief, Alan Gustafson, is now a NASCAR Cup Series champion, and very deserving. I just can’t say enough about our group. I felt like we took some really big strides this year, and last week was a huge one. To come out of that with a win and a shot to come here and have a chance to race is unbelievable. Heck, I don’t know. I don’t even know. This is unreal. I saw Joey was pretty loose there and felt like I needed to get to him while I could. I knew I’d been kind of tight on a longer run and he was probably going to get a little better. Just unbelievable. I mean, I just never would have thought that this year would have gone like it has.  I mean, NASCAR Cup Series champion; are you kidding me?  Unreal. I look at the guys who have achieved this honor as guys who perform in the toughest of situations. I felt like that’s been an area that we haven’t done a great job of over my first five years, really up until last week. We had a tough situation, a perform‑or‑go‑home type night there at Martinsville and was able to step up and really get the job done. I thought that was the piece of the puzzle that we haven’t had. I really felt like we had everything else that we needed, and I really believed that. Last week was a big week. I think it was a great practice session and a situation that really helped guide us through today in preparation and execution. I feel like we just put a lot of emphasis on the things that matter and really just didn’t care about anything else. There’s just so much distraction in the world.  Everybody is tied to their phones and you can get ahold of anybody at any time.  There’s just so many things from the outside that can reach someone. That’s one thing that I felt like our whole team just did a better job of was just boiling it down to the things that matter.  Ultimately it’s how good of a job did we do building that car, how prepared am I coming into a race weekend and how do we execute it. I feel like those three things we put more emphasis on than we ever have.  I feel like I was mentally locked in better than I’ve ever been.  And yeah, I think the results showed.

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “I would have loved to have a late-race yellow for sure. I thought we were pretty fast there at the end. It’s tough. We got behind there with some track position and I fought really hard to get it back. We didn’t get it all, but got most of it. We were right there with the Discount Tire Ford and just came up one spot short. I would have liked to have one of those late-race yellows like we saw in the truck race and the Xfinity race. I thought we were pretty good there and just didn’t have the track position to make it show. I knew we had a good shot at the end of the second stage and just couldn’t keep it up in a spot to where we could have the lead. I’m really proud of the speed we had. It was a solid day. I just wish we had one more spot.  We got up to second there at the end, and I feel like we were pretty equal. The 9 car and I would have loved to have had a chance to race it out, but that’s not the way it played out.”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd:  “I just didn’t have the speed at the right time. Early in the race our Shell Pennzoil Mustang was really fast and nothing anyone did wrong. Our pit crew was on it.  Our strategy got us out front there at the end, but the 9 seemed like he lit off there pretty good there and that last run was able to go really fast, and then got another vibration there towards the end of the run and lost the turn and was still a little free off. We were close. Everyone executed and did their job and that’s what we should be most proud of and also is how far we’ve come from the beginning of the season to now as a team. There’s a lot to be proud of. It stings not winning. I’m not gonna lie, it hurts, but at the same time we’re stronger because we went through it. When you don’t win it, it hurts. It definitely stings. Yeah, I told the guys before the race started, I said in these races when you get to the Championship 4, you can’t lose. You either win or you become stronger. Unfortunately we got stronger today. We learned a lot about ourselves and learned that we are capable.  We’re capable of executing when we needed to. We just need to go faster. That was one thing. But I think overall there’s a lot to be proud of throughout the season, where we’ve come from, how much we’ve grown as a team, especially with the crew chief swap in the beginning of the season this year and without practice. That was a pretty big hurdle we had to jump. I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job through the Playoffs to really come into our own.  That makes me really excited about 2021 because we’re starting way further ahead than where we did this year with the schedule being somewhat similar with limited practice sessions. I feel a lot better going into next year than what we did this year. Yeah, a lot to be proud of.  You need to look at the silver linings, you need to look at your mistakes and where you can be better. It still doesn’t take the pain away, but that’s how you get by at least.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “We were a little off handling, but overall car speed, we just didn’t have enough. Our next best teammate was 10th, so as an organization we have got to get a little better, especially on the short tracks. It seems like we were a little bit off all year, and that was all it had, that’s for sure. I was pushing for everything I had. The FedEx Camry just didn’t quite have enough today, and we ended up fourth. We just needed a little bit of speed and handling. Just a little bit every lap. It was so, so small. At time we were pretty good and maybe I had the fastest car, but it was just a few laps here and there. We just needed a little bit more. Obviously, this package in particular we weren’t great this year and this was one of our better runs with it, but it just wasn’t enough really. You’ve got to make sure you put your expectations kind of in check in the sense of, you know, we didn’t ‑‑ our organization hasn’t really been very good on the short tracks this year. It’s kind of a learning period for us. But we put our best effort forward. We had no mistakes today, did everything I possibly could, just I had nothing there to go. I think with our best teammate running 10th and the other guys having two teammates ahead of our best one, just our car didn’t have enough speed to go out there and compete.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 5th: “It definitely feels good for my final race to run well.  A big tent full of friends here watching.  My family was clearly here. I didn’t have too much riding on today. Making sure that I had a good run just because I always plan to run well.  In my head I always feel like I should. But ultimately this year is just a little bit bittersweet for me. And to have the issues we’ve had and not be competitive down the stretch, not make the Playoffs, all that still stings. But to finish with a solid top 5 to close things out is nice.I have friends that have been NASCAR drivers, friends of mine that have played professional football, professional baseball. Very few have had the opportunity to call their shot and say when they’re done.  Some have had injury, some were forced out, some sponsorship or opportunity passed them by. And either way, watching them, there’s a big void that I’ve noticed. I’m just thankful that I won’t have that void. I was able to do it on my terms, was able to have the support from Ally and Mr. Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports to be able to step down when I wanted to and on my terms, so I’m very thankful for that.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 11th: “We had a decent M&M’S Camry. I got into the fence there early and we ended up having to pit off sequence, but we did a good job of recovering from that and get back towards the front. We just couldn’t quite get the car to turn like we wanted after that, and that’s all we had there at the end.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 13th: “What a year. What a season. This Smithfield Ford team battled hard all year and we had a phenomenal year with a lot of room for improvement. We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward in the future.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 14th: “I appreciate all the texts and well wishes, but I was ready for the green flag this morning. That was kind of emotional. Seriously, that was a fun day. I want to thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing as well as the partners who have made the last four years so special. I have had a lot of people help me in my career and certainly wouldn’t be here without them. I don’t know if this has sunk in yet, but I think this will all hit me when we get to Daytona next season.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 18th: “We had a solid No. 3 Dow Chevrolet today at Phoenix Raceway. We started off tight in Stage 1, but the handling came to us the longer we ran. I just couldn’t get through the corners as well as I would have liked to all day long. Towards the end of the race, we knocked in both the left and right rears, which caused our Chevy’s handling to turn extremely loose. We hung on for all we had to finish 18th. Not the finish we wanted, but we’ll regroup and be ready next year. I’m so proud of the entire NASCAR industry for pulling together to complete the 2020 season despite the pandemic. Thank you everyone at RCR , ECR, all of our fans and partners for your support this year. Congratulations to Chase Elliott and Team Chevy on winning the Championship.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 19th: “Our No. 8 I Am Second Chevrolet had some good speed in it today at Phoenix Raceway. I just needed more to roll through the center of the turns, but it was tough to adjust on that since I was also fighting a loose feeling on entry and exit of the turns. We had a good top-15 run during part of the race today, but towards the end I started having some issues with my brakes and had to adjust a little bit to finish out the race. I want to thank everyone at RCR and ECR for building great cars this year and all the effort they put into this season, as well as all our great partners and fans for their support during an unprecedented season. I learned a lot during my rookie season and know our team will regroup over the off-season to study how to be better in 2021.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 21st: “All I can say is thank you to everyone at Germain Racing for a wonderful four years. It has been an honor to start my Cup career with this team and I can’t say thank you enough,” Dillon said after climbing from his GEICO Camaro for the final time. “To represent GEICO for four seasons was a privilege and I appreciate Bob Germain and GEICO for taking a chance on me as a rookie. I have so much love and appreciation for all those who have had a hand in this journey.” 

Michael McDowell — Finished 23rd: “Well that’s a wrap on the 2020 season. It’s been crazy and I’m so thankful for everybody at Front Row Motorsports. It’s been a great year for us; we accomplished a couple of our goals that we set out to grab; didn’t hit them all, but we finally got in the Top-25 in the owner points. It was a dogfight all the way to the end and I’m just so thankful for all of my guys, everybody at Front Row (Motorsports) and our partners: Love’s Travel Stops, Speedco, Delo, Luber-finer, Prime Inc, MTS, Fr8Auctions, The Pete Store, Digital Ally with their Shield Cleansers and CarParts.com. We’ve had so many cool cars this year and I’m just thankful for how much improvement that we’ve had this year and I’m really excited about 2021.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 26th: “Not quite how we would have liked to finish out the season today. We would have loved to get a top-15 or a top-10 finish for our partners at FAS, but we made what adjustments we could throughout the race. Thank you to Seth [Barbour] and my No. 38 crew for an awesome year. Thank you to Bob [Jenkins] and Jerry [Freeze], the entire Front Row Motorsports team and each of our partners for all the support in my rookie season in the Cup Series. It’s been an amazing opportunity to drive this No. 38 Ford Mustang this year.”

Cole Custer — Finished 28th: “I think it was definitely a rookie season with a lot of peaks and valleys. It was a really interesting season to be a rookie with no practice, no testing or qualifying, so it was a lot of just learning on the fly, but I think we all managed it very well. We had a really good rookie class of me, Tyler, Christopher, John Hunter, I think we all had really good runs throughout the year and it definitely means a lot to win that. I can’t thank everybody enough for putting me in this situation. Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, HaasTooling.com, Ford Performance, everybody that helps support this team.”

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.