What drivers said after Daytona road course race

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Here is what drivers said after Sunday’s Cup race on the Daytona road course:

Christopher Bell — Winner: “It’s unbelievable. Watching last night and seeing Ty (Gibbs) win was such a special moment. I was so proud of Ty. Obviously Joe Gibbs Racing does a great job giving everybody great equipment. I knew that going into this year that I was going to have to perform. Just really, really proud to be here. … I just kept doing what I was doing all day long. Whenever we took the green flag, I felt like I was really patient. Kyle (Busch) tried to go three-wide around me at the start. I knew that I was okay. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) kept asking what I needed in the car and I didn’t really need anything. Just took my time to get going, get up to speed and really proud to be here. … Yeah, the last lap was pretty surreal. All race long I kind of felt like I was trying to do my best job and not screwing up, hit my marks, not overdriving the corners. Whenever I got by (Joey Logano) coming to the white flag, I knew I was faster than him. I ran him down from a while back. All I had to do was get a couple good corners and get away. The last thing I wanted was coming down to the checkered flag with him on my bumper. You have to make a decision if you try to protect, just race the racetrack. I was thankful I was able to get away there through the infield section because I felt like that was my better part. The chicanes were my struggle points. I definitely didn’t want him on my bumper going through the chicanes.”

JOEY LOGANO — Finished 2nd: “I was trying to keep him behind me. We gambled by staying out and then I’d say it paid off overall, but you just hate being so close and one lap away. He started catching me a second a lap and it wasn’t like I blew any corners or anything, he was just faster. We just got beat, plain and simple. We’ve got to get our long run speed faster. We made some gains and gotten better with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang.  We’ve just got to be able to find a way to keep our rear tires on these things on the road courses. We’ve identified the issue, now we can go to work. He was the one that got through with tires.  One more lap.  One more caution lap would have been enough to at least have a door-to-door finish across the line maybe, I don’t know.  It’s hard. When he starts catching you a second a lap.  Gosh, I was just trying to get all I could on that restart, trying to get out there as far as I could because I knew as soon as those guys with tires were gonna catch us really quick, but we’ve made gains with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang on road courses, but we’re not quite good enough yet.  As you can tell, our long run speed is off.  We’ve got to keep working to get that better, but we maximized the day. 

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We were third-best to be honest with you. The 20 (Christopher Bell) was fast there the second half of the race. Maybe I was fourth-best. I thought we were solid. Was trying to hold onto third or fourth fastest and that’s all I’ve got. I just have to get a little bit better. I have to keep getting better to put ourselves in position to win more.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 4th: “Man, I just crossed over that fine-line of grip and the car – it’s there, but I was just over-driving. The tires at this track, with the worn-out asphalt in that infield section, is really easy to step over the line. I actually took a deep breath and just said ‘stay cool, stay cool’, and then I pounded that curb and it shot me straight out. Matt McCall (crew chief), all my guys – they had an awesome day on pit road, strategy-wise and with their stops to get us that track position and to get us back up front. If I’m going to make a mistake, it’s on me to then dig us out of that hole and stay out there on old tires. Really good points day.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 5th: “It was just one of those never-give-up kind of races. We just fought and fought and fought and just made some mistakes, caught some bad breaks, kind of all threw together. But, in the end, just a lot of perseverance, a lot of heart, a lot of will from the entire team and put us in a good spot there at the end, so tried to make the most of it. We’re not where we need to be on these types of tracks, but we’re not gonna accept that and just run 15th-20th, we’re gonna fight our butt off and I think that’s what we did today.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 6th: “There was lots of chaos. We had a pretty solid day and were a lot better. We missed all the chaos and finished the race. Our goal was to score stage points and we did that a couple of times. We also wanted to finish in the top 10 and we did that, so we’re gonna leave and go home.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 8th: “That was way too much excitement for me. The FR8 Auction Ford Mustang was actually really good. We had a flat tire there coming to the green. I knew something was wrong. I should have just pitted, so I screwed that up and that hurt us a little bit. We lost track position and then missed the chicane. Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong today, but this is what our team is all about — Front Row Motorsports — we grind it out and we fought hard. We just kept the fight in it and ended up with another top 10, so pretty crazy how that all went down. It was another great run. I’m really excited to keep this momentum going. We’ve got to clean it up a little bit, but not a bad night altogether.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 9th: “Our No. 37 Kroger/Coca-Cola Chevrolet was the best road course car we’ve had. We struggled early in the race needing a little more forward drive, but Trent (Owens, crew chief) made some really great adjustments and kept working on it to get us where we could make moves. I’m really proud of everyone at JTG Daugherty Racing for giving us a car that was fast and even with the damage from a late-race caution, we were able to hold our track position and get a second top-10 finish for the season. It’s been a great start so far.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 10th: “Not a great day, but we definitely held on and got an OK finish out of it. Just was buried at the end and monster-trucked a turtle. They are unforgiving, bent something up a little bit and kind of had to fight through it. But really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, Ally and my whole No. 48 team.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 11th: “This has been a really good road course for us. I think a lot of things we learned from the Clash got a lot better, so I was real proud of that  I think I need to clean up a few things on my end, and need the field to clean up a few things on their end and that really changes our day a good amount. At the end of the day we were able to salvage a decent day out of it, a decent finish, especially after last week being a rough start to the season. I’m proud of everybody. I’m ready to do a little bit more road racing this season for sure. I feel pretty confident we’re gonna be competitive at all of them.”

Cole Custer — Finished 13th: “Man, we deserved a top 10 today. It was just chaotic (on the Lap 58 incident), and there was nothing else we could do in that situation but stop. We made it through all the other incidents today, and our Dixie Vodka Ford got stronger as the race went on. The guys made good calls after we were struggling early in the race with rear grip and turning in the right-handers. It’s just a little disappointing to not get rewarded with a top 10..”

Erik Jones — Finished 14th: “It was a pretty up-and-down day for our Richard Petty Motorsports team. We had a tire issue early and then got lucky with a caution, stayed on the lead lap, and then had to battle back from that. We struggled a little bit keeping the track position and staying up front. It was kind of a back-and-forth battle for us. I thought we had a top-15 Chevrolet, maybe top-10 finish if some things worked out.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 15th: “It was a tough day for our Menards/Libman Ford Mustang team. We struggled with the balance and having to start 27th was a heck of a hole to begin with. (Crew chief) Todd Gordon and this No. 12 team never gave up working on this Mustang and we brought home a top-15 finish. I’m looking forward to racing at Homestead next week.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 16th: “That was a good run for us today. I felt like we kept making the car better and better. We were definitely better on long runs. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of long runs until the end. It was fun to lead those laps. We want to do that a lot this year. We will keep working.’’

Aric Almirola — Finished 17th: “Our Smithfield Ford team showed a lot of improvement today for our road course program. Our pit crew did great, and (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and the team brought us a fast Ford Mustang today. We improved a lot on our road course program. I spun out there in Turn 3 when my tires hit the rumble strip and it snapped me loose. We made minimal mistakes today, but that set us back later in the race. We had them beat in areas we weren’t able to beat them before – even with some nose damage. We need to head to Homestead and get some stage points and get ourselves a good finish, but I’m looking forward to seeing where our road course program goes.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 19th: We just stayed tough. I knew the car would be there at the end when we needed to get ourselves in position for a good finish. Experience says that a lot of guys kind of take their brains out and put it on the dash there for the last few laps. You’ve got to be smart and put yourself in position for a good finish. Obviously, we want to be winning races, but our Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry got better and better and that’s what we’re doing with this race team. We want to progress every time we get in. We learned a lot. There are a lot of things we could do better, but I’m really proud of our effort.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 21st: “When you have those late-race cautions like that and you have a mixed bag of who stays and who goes, it’s a bit of a gamble either way, I felt like. I thought tires was the right move. Tires won the race, so I think it was the right move. You get back in traffic and it just gets to be so chaotic, and then just depending on who gets through and who doesn’t kind of determines how it’s going to shake out. I hate it. I made too many mistakes. We went off track and it was just a bad deal. We had a fast NAPA Chevy and I appreciate the effort. I hate it for Corey (LaJoie). He ran me off there, so I thought he was going to take the lane again, so I went to cross him over and I think that time he was actually going to give me the lane. So, go figure. But we’ll try again next week.”

Anthony Alfredo — Finished 22nd: “We had a really solid Pete Store Ford Mustang. Unfortunately when they stacked up in Turn 1 on one of the restarts we got pushed into it and got a little nose damage. It didn’t hurt temperatures or anything like that but did slow us down a little in the high speed sections. We ended up cutting a left front tire down. The crew did a good job clearing the tire and we fought hard to get the lucky dog so we could battle back in the last 15 laps and salvate a top 25. We got a little more damage in those last 15 laps but we were able to make it work.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 30th: “It took five or seven laps to get comfortable on the track, but even after that you’re inching up on your braking zones. I think halfway through the first stage I was in a good spot with being comfortable with the race track. I made some decent passes and we made the car better. We were in a great position to win but made a mistake that cost us a chance to win. I just drove in really far and probably got a little wheel hop. I just carried too much speed and backed it into the tire barrier. I just got overly aggressive.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 32nd: “I made too many mistakes at the beginning and it put us behind the rest of the day. One thing is for sure – Cup Series racing is no joke and racing with no power steering makes it that much harder. We had a chance toward the end for a good finish, but when we all got stacked up the additional damage took us out of contention. I’m learning a lot each week and the guys have done a great job of giving me what I need to be able to run all of the laps. On to Homestead and another chance at improvement for our Ford Performance Racing School team.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 34th: “We had a really strong Dow MobilityScience Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. We were able to earn a few stage points in Stage 1 and probably would have finished the race around eighth if it weren’t for problems at the end. That’s how these races are, though. You can’t control everything. I had a run but we got caught up in somebody else’s fighting match. The No. 17 (Chris Buescher) and No. 18 (Kyle Busch) got into it through the chicane. (Buescher) jumped the last curb so I tried to go low. I don’t know if he got blocked down there or what, but I just got into the grass. We ended up with damage but we fought to get it back out there. We had to make a couple of unscheduled pit stops for tires and to make repairs. It’s a shame but we can’t control the things that happen in front of us. This Richard Childress Racing team worked so hard all day. I really didn’t want that outcome but we did learn a lot today that we can build off of for the rest of the road course races on the schedule.”

KYLE BUSCH — Finished 35th: “That’s not how we wanted the day to go with this Interstate Batteries Camry. After the early trouble, we got the car to where it was handling well and thought we would make something out of the day. Those last restarts we just got bottled up back there and made a lot of contact. It just didn’t go our way today.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 37th: “At the start of the race, we were just trying to cruise up through the field. Everything was fine. The car was OK. The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was probably not a race winner, but it was going to be fun to get up there and run competitively. Then out of nowhere, I ran over something and blew the right-rear tire to pieces. It took the whole right side off the car.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 38th: “We headed into this weekend with high hopes for our No. 8 Cat Rental Stores Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, given how well we ran in the Clash last week. Unfortunately, today was a little bit more of a roller coaster, but we kept fighting as long as we could out there. There was definitely speed in our Chevy today, so that is promising. I was able to drive into the top 15 on the initial start but then had to fight my way back through the field a couple times after that. Unfortunately on one of the late-race restarts, the field got bottled up and I got shoved off-track on the restart, which ended our day. We’ll study this race to prepare better for the other road courses later this season, but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend and our chances there.”

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.