What drivers said after Las Vegas Cup race

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Here is what drivers said after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Kyle Larson – Winner: “It feels good. I guess I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to win a NASCAR race again. To get this awesome opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) taking a massive chance on me, then going out there and being strong all year, it’s been great. I knew we were close to getting a win. Our pit crew done a really good job all season long. (Crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) and everybody has been bringing really fast racecars to the track. For the most part I’ve been doing my job, too, on the racetrack. I knew if we could continue to do that, we would get a win. Today we put it all together, had a dominating race car to go along with it. Made my job behind the wheel a lot easier. Cool to get a win this early in the year, now focus ahead and try to win a lot more, rack up Playoff points, put ourselves in a good spot once the Playoffs start.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 2nd: “It’s such a strange year. I think every company is a little different. Inside every company, the teams are a little different. I think there’s a fair amount of companies that have probably punted to (the) NextGen (car), which is sensible. Then there’s some companies that have really doubled down on this year’s car, their team and lineup, which makes sense, too. To each their own. It’s hard to tell in the first three races who’s done what. I felt like all along, Vegas was the clearest indicator of what we’re going to see for a lot of the season. Both of these races, Vegas and next week in Phoenix, I think they represent what it’s going to take to win the championship, being good on tracks of these two types. We can tell the most from these races. As far as teams that might be ahead or behind others, it’s still pretty early. Certainly cause for concern if you weren’t towards the front today.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 3rd: “We fought hard obviously. We were a little behind the eight ball at the start of the green flag and just were super, super tight all day long. Ben (Beshore, crew chief) and the guys made awesome adjustments to and I was trying to give the best feedback I can to give them good information that they can base that off of and make the good adjustments. We improved each time. I don’t know where we missed it so far from the simulator, but that’s two weeks in a row where we’re not apples to apples. … Ready to keep working on it and keep improving. We were just a little off on pace, overall pace, overall lap time from the fast guys.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 4th: “We got it in the short runs, but not enough long run speed. I thought it was a great start for the FedEx Camry team, gathering data trying to figure out what we can do to be better when we come back here when it really counts. Overall, good start. We will see, gather all the data and I will figure out this week what we have to do.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 5th: “I thought it was a pretty solid day all day. We had to start pretty far in the back from our bad finish last week, and was able to make it up to ninth, I think, before the comp caution and got third in the first stage and then like fifth in the second and ended up fifth. I thought we could have run second or third. The 5 was really the fastest one all day long. It didn’t matter where he was he just drove through the field, but, overall, a really good effort by our group. We really needed that after having three pretty bad races to start off the year. It’s nice to kind of finally get a good run and just a no problem day, just having a solid car and working on it throughout the day. I’m really proud of Todd and the whole 12 bunch and nice to get a good finish. Now we can get rolling here.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 6th: “These tracks are really tough, it’s a real big guessing game on what cars to bring and what kind of approach to take. You kind of get guessing on a lot of different things – the weather, the wind and all this kind of stuff. Overall, I think our cars were decent. We definitely have to find some more speed to run with some of those guys. I would say for us, we were probably a little bit off from where we were last weekend. Definitely some stuff to build on for all of us across the board. We’ll obviously talk about it all and figure out what we need to do to be better.”

Christopher Bell – Finished 7th: “It was definitely a good week to build on. I’m really happy with the turn around from last week at Homestead, another mile-and-a-half. We were significantly better this time. It’s something to build on for sure. I felt like my Craftsman Camry drove really well. We just need to dial a little bit of speed in it.”

William Byron – Finished 8th: “We had a couple of issues. Just execution things. We struggled a little bit on pit road and then I stalled it and that killed us. We had a shot at the lead then and I could never really make it up. The Liberty University Chevy was really good and congrats to Kyle (Larson, race winner). That’s awesome. Our cars are fast right now. He did a great job.”

Joey Logano – Finished 9th: “We just weren’t as fast as we wanted to be today. There’s a little bit of confusion at the moment to figure out exactly where it is and what we need to do better. There are two different theories and hopefully we can figure out what those are, but, overall, we tried some strategy stuff to get up there in a stage, led a couple laps, but fell off on the older tires, and then tried some more strategy stuff with tires to try to pass two cars and it just seemed like we were a ninth-place car. That’s where we ran most of the day. That’s where we were on restarts. That’s where we were on the long runs, it’s just where we were. We’ve got a little bit of work to do to make up that difference, but it’s a top-10 finish. Hopefully, it keeps us up towards the front in points. We didn’t get many stage points. I’m not sure where we’re at yet, but we’ll head off to Phoenix.”

Erik Jones – Finished 10th: “It was a really good day for us in the Richard Petty Motorsports Medallion Bank No. 43 Chevy. It was a good day to build. It was way better than last week. We’re really headed in the right direction. We tried a lot of different things this week and made a lot of different changes and it’s just nice to see them pay off and get a Top 10 out of it. That was definitely our goal for today, I felt like. So, hopefully we can keep building on that and continue to get better and better each week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 11th: “It was a really solid day for our No. 47 Kroger team. We had a really strong run here last year, and our intermediate track program has really been improving over last year and this year. Consistency is key and with a solid run last week and a better run this week, this is exactly what we need to keep our momentum going and continue improving. Everyone at JTG Daugherty Racing has been working really hard and our pit crew has had some really solid weeks. I’m looking forward to continue improving next week at Phoenix Raceway.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th: “The No. 3 BetMGM Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was definitely better at the end of the race today than it was to start off. We were extremely loose for a majority of the race, but it started to come alive late in Stage 3. We were tight at the end, which is not surprising because we had a ton of wedge in our car. I tried to get the No. 47 at the end, but he was pretty good and I just had to keep backing up my entry. We didn’t have the greatest of cars, but we hung in there and turned it into a decent day. Good job by (crew chief) Justin Alexander and all of the crew on their hard work to turn things around in the race. We have some work to do, but we will get it.”

Ryan Preece – Finished 15th: “We were kind of all over the place to start the race in our No. 37 Natural Light Naturdays Chevrolet. I felt like we needed to be in the track a little bit more from the start, and Trent (Owens, crew chief) did an excellent job on pit road of adjusting every time we came down and getting our car to where it needed to be. We were strong at the end and I’m proud that we were able to hold our track position and get a top-15 finish out of it. We’re running really strong between us and our teammates and all we can do is keep digging.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 17th: “Not the day we were hoping for in the Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang. We just got behind a little bit with some of the adjustments and just needed a little bit more speed. The car drove pretty well. We could stay wide-open for quite a long time, but just needed a little bit more speed. That was a fight all day. We finished 17th, not terrible, but we were hoping for more. I’m really proud of everybody and keep the good finishes rolling here and head to Phoenix, my home track. We’ll have some fun with the family and looking forward to being in my hometown.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 19th: “We just really missed it today on our setup, we could never find the balance that we needed with the Monster Energy Chevy. It is disappointing for everyone, but there is no quit in this team, so we will go back and evaluate.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 21st: “It felt like every race so far I’ve learned a ton just throughout the race. Obviously I wish I could start the race kind of where I end, knowing what I need from a speed standpoint. I feel like I learned a lot today, and hopefully when we come back here it’ll help. It’s just hard with no practice to show up and go, but I feel like we made gains on it, and right now I feel that’s the most important thing.”

Tyler Reddick – Finished 22nd: “Today was a tough day for our No. 8 Ben Gallaher / Quartz Hill Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, but I’m thankful to my team for sticking with me and fighting all day. I started off the day just way too edgy in the rear and couldn’t run anything but the bottom. We started to make some gains on it throughout the race, but it just stayed a touch free pretty much all day. Unfortunately, we had a tire rub towards the middle of the final stage and I thought we had a tire going down, so we had to pit outside of our window. Luckily, we ended up being able to stretch the fuel long enough to just make it to the checkered flag without pitting again. My team and I kept after it as much as we could today and will study this race to learn how to be better for our next trip to Las Vegas.”

Anthony Alfredo – Finished 24th: “We ran inside the top 25 and even inside the top 20 for the majority of the day. We actually stayed out at the start of Stage 2 on old tires, like five or six-lap tires, not that old. But I got eaten up. I was the last car to stay out on old tires, so all the guys on new tires split me four and five-wide. There’s just nothing you could do. It just stalls your momentum so bad. I did my best to get rolling again, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get all that track position back that we gave up. But we still came home in the top 25 – another 24th place finish. I can’t be disappointed with that. I’m just a little frustrated because I know we had a lot better speed than that. Still, a solid day. We finished the race, ran a lot of laps, and learned a lot. I’m excited for the next one.”

Cole Custer – Finished 25th: “That was not the day we were looking for. It was a struggle all day to find rear grip, and we couldn’t attack the corners the way we wanted to on entry and exit. We’ll do everything we can to improve our performance for the next one. We have a lot of season left.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 26th: “We were off at the beginning of the race today. The front of the car was bouncing a lot. My crew made a lot of changes and we got it pretty decent by the end of the race. We will keep working and be better in Phoenix.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 28th: “Big bummer there. I really struggled in dirty air all day, but we were pretty fast. Once things got strung out and we could get going and get some clean air on the race car, I had an issue when we pitted and some stayed out on the restart; got back through the field, got back to ninth and then cut a left rear with like 15 (laps) to go. We definitely should have at least had a solid Top-10 day for Ally and Hendrick Motorsports. But a big congrats to the No. 5 (Kyle Larson, race winner) team. That was really cool to see Kyle get a win early. Hopefully we can join him in that next week and have a good one in Phoenix. I’m looking forward to getting to a short track.”

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500

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Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will seek to make his first Daytona 500 this month with The Money Team Racing, the Cup program owned by boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather.

The team also announced Tuesday plans for Daly to race in up to six additional Cup races this year as his schedule allows. Daly’s No. 50 car at Daytona will be sponsored by BITNILE.com, a digital marketplace launching March 1. Among the Cup races Daly is scheduled to run: Circuit of the Americas (March 26) and the Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13, a day after the IndyCar race there).

“The Money Team Racing shocked the world by making the Daytona 500 last year, and I believe in this team and know we will prepare a great car for this year’s race,” Mayweather said in a statement. “Like a fighter who’s always ready to face the best, Conor has the courage to buckle into this beast without any practice and put that car into the field. Conor is like a hungry fighter and my kind of guy. I sure wouldn’t bet against him.”

Daly will be among at least six drivers vying for four spots in the Daytona 500 for cars without charters. Others seeking to make the Daytona 500 will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to attempt to run in the Daytona 500,” Daly said in a statement. “It is the most prestigious race in NASCAR and to have the chance to compete in it is truly an honor. I am also excited to be running the entire IndyCar Series season and select NASCAR Cup events. I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of whatever BITNILE.com race car, boat, dune buggy or vehicle they ask me to drive. Bring it on.”

Daly has made 97 IndyCar starts, dating back to 2013. He made his Cup debut at the Charlotte Roval last year, placing 34th for The Money Team Racing. He has one Xfinity start and two Craftsman Truck Series starts.

 

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.