Michigan takeaways: COVID-19 protocols ‘very frightening’ for Cup on eve of playoffs

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BROOKLYN, Michigan – There was confusion, frustration and resignation, but the overriding emotion last weekend about NASCAR’s COVID-19 protocols seemed to be fear.

With one race remaining until the playoffs begin and COVID-19 cases surging across the country, the specter of a NASCAR championship being dashed even without a positive test left Cup Series drivers so on edge, NASCAR executives commissioned a Zoom call last Friday to explain the risks with Corey LaJoie sidelined amid increasing restrictions.

While the call assuaged some worries about potential exposure (including some tweaks to the weekly media availability that caused pushback from stars), it hardly put anyone at ease.

“Under normal circumstances, I don’t think I’d ever miss a race, but definitely the Corey LaJoie piece, how he’s not sick and he’s not here today, is very, very frightening,” said Christopher Bell, who is on the cusp of beginning his first championship bid for Joe Gibbs Racing. “It’s not ideal for sure. It’s very eye opening for all of us drivers to understand the protocol that’s in place. You don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a shame that it’s that way.

“Yeah, it’s definitely unnerving that a guy that’s not sick is not allowed to race because unfortunately he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. So that just doesn’t seem right for sure. I don’t know. Hopefully he can stay healthy, and I guess lock yourself in your house for the next 10 weeks.”

LaJoie, who watched Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway with fans on Instagram while serving his mandatory seven-day quarantine for a close contact, could be back as early as Saturday at Daytona International Speedway and has received a waiver for making the Cup playoffs if he wins.

A waiver has been granted in each of three instances that a Cup driver was sidelined in season by COVID-19 as NASCAR has seemed slightly more lenient than other professional sports leagues (which have mandated daily testing while heavily incentivizing vaccinations).

That hardly seemed of any solace at Michigan, where some drivers stood nearly 10 feet away from reporters during their media availabilities.

“I think obviously it’s a concern of everybody,” Kyle Larson said, gesturing toward two reporters. “Like one of you guys could test positive, and we’re screwed.”

Chase Elliott spoke at length Sunday about what he felt was a powerless situation.

“I don’t know what you do about it,” the 2020 champion said. “Some things you can’t control. You can be smart about what you do and where you go, but that still doesn’t guarantee it’s not going to happen to you, so it’s a tricky situation is the best way for me to put it without getting political. I feel like it’s just tricky. Especially for our situation this time of year. You can’t really afford to miss a race. Especially once the playoffs start.”

The backdrop of all the angst and worry is a world-weariness that is shared by everyone about being 18 months into a pandemic that seemed to be subsiding as recently as six weeks ago.

“I feel as though it’s … I don’t know,” Kyle Busch said with a laugh. “As the world we live in, it’s about time to move on, but I’m definitely not as smart as the smart guys.

Said Joey Logano: “Everyone is going off guidelines that have been put out there, and the guidelines change daily. It can go either way from here. We can be locked down more so than what we are tomorrow. Or who knows, maybe (case) numbers change the other way, and we’re good to go.

“We were just about good to go two weeks ago, and then everything started to lock back down again to a certain level. There’s only so much we can actually do about it. Some of it is out of our control. The main thing is to be racing. That’s most important, and we need to do that safely.”

Logano said Sunday that he got vaccinated last week after LaJoie’s situation came to light because of the benefits of being able to return more quickly after a close contact.

LaJoie’s exposure occurred on a Monday, meaning he could have been cleared to race at Michigan by Thursday, Friday or Saturday if he were vaccinated, vs. the seven-day mandatory quarantine he served instead.

“If it’s a matter of when you get to race, I think that’ll change a lot of opinions,” Erik Jones told NBC Sports about the rules for being vaccinated vs. unvaccinated. “It’s definitely brought up a lot of opinions in the garage area between drivers. I don’t want to get too deep into that obviously because it’s kind of a sensitive subject with everybody. But there are definitely a lot of opinions on it right now of how the drivers’ stance might change on that.”

Here were some observations from Michigan about drivers’ thoughts on COVID-19 protocols:

What drivers think and what they want: Since LaJoie’s benching, drivers have lobbied NASCAR to tweak its exposure protocols (which parallel the Centers for Disease Control guidelines).

“It’s just from our standpoint of how can you trust a positive test but not trust a negative,” Denny Hamlin said. “It’s a whole other Pandora’s Box that if you treat one test as negative, believe it. If it’s positive, believe it. There’s just a lot of protocols.”

Instead of a mandatory seven-day quarantine for an unvaccinated driver, or a three-day wait for the vaccinated to be cleared, drivers believe that multiple negative tests should be enough to get a driver out of protocols early.

“I feel like if you take multiple tests and come back negative over the course of numerous days, you’re probably good to go,” Brad Keselowski said.

Said Elliott: “I feel like if you don’t have COVID, I’m not sure why you can’t be here. It makes sense if you have a negative test, logically speaking. Why can’t you be around? I don’t know.”

NASCAR Michigan takeaways
Tyler Reddick said he made the decision to get vaccinated “months and months ago” (Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

Logano suggested that drivers would be willing as a compromise to return to last season’s policy of being cordoned off from their teams until walking to their cars alone shortly before the green flag.

“You can come to the racetrack and never see anybody,” Logano said. “You can drive yourself to the track and stay in the car until it’s game time. You can walk out with some hazmat suit on if you want. As a driver, I feel safe with that. I’m not going to get COVID from the guy in the race car next to me. We’re going 200 mph. I think everyone would feel OK about that, but that’s not my decision.”

Of course, the twist to LaJoie’s close contact also is that it’s the first time a Cup driver has been out without a positive test (which happened to Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon last year).

“It’s a tough, unfortunate situation, but it’s part of what makes COVID-19 such a very impactful virus,” Tyler Reddick said. “You can go days and days and days and test negative, negative, negative and still have a good chance over a period of time where you could then become positive and infect a lot of people.”

Though NASCAR President Steve Phelps has said he wants drivers to advocate for vaccination and get their shots, there have been no signs that COVID-19 testing or vaccines would become mandatory.

In a sport that’s built around the rugged individualism and resourcefulness of being a racer, any move by NASCAR to require vaccinations likely would be met by blowback from drivers who typically have found through embracing independence that often can border on bullheaded.

“There’s no real facts that say vaccinating or unvaccinated is really any different these days,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “I’m really happy that they haven’t went down the mandatory road (of vaccinations) because I don’t think that’s fair from any perspective at all. I just don’t think it’s fair you can force someone to do something that they don’t want to do. If they want to take the chance, they take the chance.

“We see other sports leagues doing that. You can’t play if you don’t get vaccinated. So it’s a controversial subject obviously. I’m happy with the route NASCAR is taking. I think they’re being as smart and safe as possible. I don’t think they’re being careless in any way. They’re putting a lot of effort into it just like they did last year, and if you look at what we were able to do last year coming back before anyone and finishing our season when nobody thought we could, I think they’ve done a great job of making the right decisions, and I think everybody in our industry has done a great job of trying to take care of each other and be as safe as possible.”

NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan
Martin Truex Jr. is against making vaccines mandatory (Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

Despite the call last week, there still is some misinformation about the impact of vaccination, though.

During Sunday’s media sessions, several drivers referred to there being only a “two-day difference” between the waiting period for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated when it’s actually four days (vaccinated drivers can be cleared by a test in three to five days after exposure; unvaccinated drivers must wait seven days with a negative test on the fifth day).

“The policy is so fuzzy and X amount of days and X amount of hours and X amounts of tests,” Bell said. “So I don’t really understand it all.”

Even though he didn’t necessarily agree with all of the polciies, Logano said he still respected them. “What do I know? I’m a race car driver,” he said. “I drive in circles. I don’t study COVID stuff. I do know what the protocol is, and I need to adjust to that.”

What drivers are doing: There seems to be a blend of rapid reactions and status quo to last week’s news.

Logano said he has cleared his schedule of all public appearances for the foreseeable future. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) both said their teams have changed policies to move any sponsor visits out of indoor suites.

Chase Elliott said he already had been limiting his visibility.

“I feel like we’ve been on that side of things just until we kind of get a better idea of where things are going and what the landscape is,” he said. “We’re fortunate to still have jobs and still come to work every week and be able to do what we love to do. So I think we’re all very fortunate just to be here. There’s a lot of people that aren’t. I recognize that first and foremost.

“From my end, I’ve tried to be smart about where you go and what you do and who you’re around. But man, I don’t know how you just completely eliminate the possibility of you getting sick. I just don’t know how you do that. There’s just way too many ways you can get COVID or just get sick in general. By inadvertently being around somebody that may not know they have it. It’s a tricky situation, and I don’t really know how else to put it.”

During a weeklong visit to his native Michigan, Erik Jones threw out the first pitch for a Detroit Tigers game, announced his new foundation in Flint and also attended the Woodward Dream Cruise in downtown Detroit.

“We’ve done a good job of keeping everyone spaced out at events, so I didn’t feel concerned about it,” he said.

Before his victory Sunday at Michigan, Ryan Blaney said he had made no changes to his schedule. “I just try to be as safe as I can and do the same things I’ve been doing for a year and a half,” he said. “That’s the best thing you can do. Whatever happens, happens. The best thing you can do is do what you’re doing, try to stay safe and social distance and stay as healthy as you can.”

What drivers will do next: While it seems likely more drivers will get vaccinated, it’s unlikely to be revealed.

Aside from Logano, only Tyler Reddick and William Byron confirmed Sunday at Michigan that they had been vaccinated. At least seven other drivers demurred when asked or preemptively said they would not be disclosing their vaccination status.

“That’s not a topic of conversation I’m interested in having,” said Almirola, who noted that NASCAR medical and infield care staff are aware of drivers’ statuses.

Could the calculus change, though, for drivers weighing the benefits of getting vaccinated as Logano did before Michigan?

“I don’t know,” Chase Elliott said. “That’s tough. I view it as a personal thing, right? I think it’s a personal decision for everybody. And just as it’s a personal decision. I think it’s personal whether or not you want to share that with people or how you want to go about voicing that. We all have a voice. Sometimes we have a bigger voice than we might realize, so I’ve always tried to keep my private life and my health and all the things that I do day to day, a lot of them I keep to myself, and this being one of them.

“So I’m not sure … I don’t think anyone knows what the right answer is or how you navigate this properly. So for me, I’m going to make my decisions with the information I have available to the best of my ability. And I’m going to keep those things to myself.”

Down and dirty

There has been no better team in Cup this season on 550 horsepower package tracks than Hendrick Motorsports. So it raised an eyebrow when points leader Kyle Larson said he was glad that only three of the final 11 races are on 550 hp intermediate tracks similar to Michigan.

NASCAR Michigan takeaways
Kyle Larson finished third Sunday after leading a race-high 70 laps at Michigan (Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

“You don’t really get to race here,” Larson said. “You kind of just race on the restarts and race at the end. Other than that, you’re just trying not to race so you don’t get stalled out.”

But hasn’t Hendrick been so good at these tracks?

“We’ve been good at every track,” he said with a smile. “Yeah.”

What kept Larson happy last week was nonstop dirt racing after his prestigious Knoxville Nationals victory in the four days prior to Michigan. He won three more times between two Midget races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dirt oval and Dirt Late Model events at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania and Sharon Speedway in Ohio.

“I chose those ones just because logistically it works out really well,” he said. “I ran Williams Grove Friday and had a four-hour drive to Hartford, Ohio, which is only three and a half hours from (Michigan International Speedway). I don’t have to get on an airplane, fly and risk travel stuff going wrong. So I can just drive and get sleep, good sleep, all that. Most of the time, I pick the race around logistics.”

Larson said he has no dirt races this week but will have “a handful” before the playoffs begin. The open-wheel racing schedule will tail off in the fall, but Larson said he still was open to running dirt during the playoffs.

Spotter swap

The spotter swap that began at Michigan between Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano was about best friends as much as business. Logano has known former No. 2 spotter Coleman Pressley for more than 20 years.

“We talk every day about what life and racing,” Logano said before the Michigan race. “When Brad made his decision to move on (to Roush Fenway Racing next season), Penske didn’t want to lose Coleman. This was the best thing for our team and really a good thing for Brad as well. I think this is a win-win on both sides.

“The connection I have with Coleman is something pretty rare across the field. Where you kind of know what each other is thinking without even saying it. He knows how to connect and tell me what I need, so I think it’ll be a successful pairing for those reasons. I would argue TJ and Brad have the same thing. It took a long time to make this change because you’re nervous to jeopardize a relationship over a job. You’re working with friends becomes sometimes a little tough.”

Keselowski has been friends for nearly 15 years with TJ Majors, who had been spotting since 2018 for Logano after a long run with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were in an interesting situation with the team change and shuffles and all that going on, and the spotters’ contracts were all in different positions and trying to get alignment on it, and I think it ended up working out in a really good way for all parties,” Keselowski said. “So I’ve had a lot of good success with Coleman Pressley and proud of that history we had and look forward to doing the same with TJ. I feel like I’m looking at having the No. 1 spotter in the sport here, so that’s a big kind of get for me. Not just now but in the years to come.”

An ode to AJA

Is the most popular storyline in NASCAR currently in the Xfinity Series?

After hearing the fans’ reaction to AJ Allmendinger’s victory Saturday at Michigan, it certainly seems the feel-good story of the 2021 season.

Though it also helped that the winner earned his roars of approval by channeling a Helio Castroneves-style catchfence victory climb … before electing to stop a little short of the four-time Indy 500 winner’s famously high peaks.

“Since I saw Helio on Monday at the Meyer Shank (Racing) golf tournament there, I was feeling like I still had some of that energy from Helio,” Allmendinger said. “I know I have a lot of energy, but he surpasses me by a lot. So I wasn’t going to go all the way to the top of the fence, because I wasn’t quite confident in my climbing ability. So I gave it like a half-Helio and then made sure I got back down.”

Allmendinger is on an all-time high during his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series (and his first in NASCAR since 2018). He already has a career-best three victories this year and has emerged as the primary challenger to defending series champion Austin Cindric. He also scored his biggest victory in NASCAR in the first Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

A week later, Michigan was the continuation of a remarkable career arc that started with a dreadful Cup rookie season (missing 19 of 36 races in 2007). Allmendinger, 39, hung on through a 2012 firing by Team Penske for a positive drug test and returned to win his first Cup race in 2014 … and then waited five years until his next checkered flag in a NASCAR national series.

He celebrates every victory as if it’s his last, which is a combination of his effervescent personality and an appreciation for having emerged from many valleys during the past 14 years.

“I spent a lot of years in my career in NASCAR barely sniffing a win, not even close to it,” he said. “So I don’t get tired of (celebrating).”

Nor are crowds getting tired of watching after his inspirational and memorable journey.

Witness the Michigan fans who screamed “AJ! AJ! AJ!” for a few minutes Saturday after he burst from his No. 16 Chevrolet.

NASCAR Michigan takeaways
AJ Allmendinger celebrates in victory lane at Michigan after his second oval victory in NASCAR (Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports).

“When they’re chanting my name, it means so much to me,” Allmendinger said. “I think more than anything, and all of you that have covered me, good and bad, what you see is what you get. You see my emotion. You see the love that I have for the race teams that I drive for, and especially for Kaulig Racing.

“It means the world to me to get these opportunities, and when you win, you need to celebrate it. That’s how I’ve always been. I love what I do and when it’s going well, because I know when it’s going bad, it’s really bad and can be miserable. So just enjoy it. That’s what (Kaulig Racing president) Chris Rice has pounded into my head. Just be a part of the team and keep making us better.

“Sometimes it may not seem like it because of how outgoing I can be, but there’s a lot of times I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself. It’s like I’m always trying to prove to myself that I belong here. So it’s one of those things that I have a lot of passion for the fans, for the sport, for enjoying it and maybe that resonates with people. What you see is what you get. And that’s the way it’s always going to be.”

Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’


One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.

Winners and losers at Circuit of the Americas

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A look at winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas:


Tyler Reddick — Reddick needed patience and perseverance to stay in front through three overtimes to win Sunday’s race. Considering the supreme strength of his Toyota and his nearly flawless performance, losing first place in that calamity near the end would have been heartbreaking. Instead, he gives Toyota its first win of the year.

Kyle Busch — Busch never led, but he pushed through the field in the final stage, worked his way through the restarts and finished second.

William Byron — Byron appeared to have the only answer to Reddick’s power. He led 28 laps but was shuffled to fifth at the finish.

Todd Gilliland — Gilliland was in the top-15 mix through the three overtimes and worked his way to a 10th-place finish, the third of his Cup career.

Jenson Button — Former F1 champion finished 18th in his Cup debut, highest among the road course ringers. He told his team after the race on the radio that Cup drivers “are on it every second of the race” and also said that the race was a “roller coaster … a whole F1 season in one race.”


AJ Allmendinger — Always expected to be a threat at road courses, Allmendinger left the race after 60 laps with damage from an accident, finishing 34th.

Brad Keselowski — Spins limited Keselowski’s effectiveness Sunday, and he parked after 56 laps with a driveshaft issue, finishing 35th and dropping four spots in the points standings.

Bubba Wallace — The year has not started well for Wallace, who finished 37th Sunday and now has four finishes of 20th or worse in six races. He fell three spots in points.

What drivers said at Circuit of the Americas


What drivers had to say during and after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas:

Tyler Reddick — Winner: “It means the world. This whole 23XI team has been working so hard all winter long to make the road course program better. Was extremely motivated to come in here and prove that performance, too. Just so proud of this Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD. Toyota, everybody, all the resources they’ve been putting into this to help turn around the road course program means a lot. I’m out of gas. But I feel a little bit better with Monster Energy. I really had to dial it up there at the end to get an advantage. I was making mistakes on every single restart. I was able to make it a little better there in the end. … Obviously, there was a lot of cautions at the end. I mean, the way that things kind of have progressed, the front and rear bumpers of this car are really resilient. You can really hit someone pretty hard without knocking the nose of your car out. The rear bumpers are really tough, too. We saw that at the Clash, people being able to lean on each other front to rear. It kind of brings that to light at the end of these races. But seriously, though, you look at Turn 1 here, Turn 1 at Indy road course, they’re very inviting corners with a lot of room. It’s just a product of restarts and the nature of NASCAR racing and how aggressive all the drivers are. Someone’s going to be on the short end.”

MORE: COTA Cup results, driver points

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “I don’t know if we could have (beaten Tyler Reddick). Even if we were on equal tires, when we tested here, they were lights out. Had us beat on the frontside of the runs. We needed longer runs. Even today we didn’t have great long-run speed. We had great middle-run speed. Overall, for as much effort and everything that we’ve put into coming here and focusing on this place, all the testing and everything we’ve been able to do during the off-season, come out here with a really good finish. Tyler obviously is a really good road racer. He proved it driving this car here last year. I was able to get in it and run right back to him. I’ve been trying to emulate the things he did in order to make this car fast last year, but not quite all the way there. They had a whale of a car.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 3rd: “It probably wouldn’t have been that bad if my interior stuff worked. When this Coolshirt doesn’t work, it just heat soaks, kind of cooks you. I’m hot. It stopped working pretty early. I don’t have issues with stuff from Hendrick Motorsports very often. Shout-out to all the guys back at the shop. This road crew, I’m not the greatest road course racer, so to come here and run top five again means a lot. It was a hot day. Proud of the 45 (Tyler Reddick). A heck of a road course racer. Fastest car definitely won today. Wish our Ally Camaro was a couple spots better. All in all, a good day for us. (On post-race talk with Daniel Suarez): He just thought I drove in and tried to drive through him. I had the corner made. Only reason I was inside of the 99 was to protect from the 1. Then the 1 just hammered me in the corner, dumped me, then I ran into the 99, kind of cleaned him out. Daniel and I, we’ve been teammates in the past, raced together a long time. I respect the hell out of him. I’m sure he’s still not super happy. Just tried to explain that I wouldn’t race him like that, that I was shoved in there. You see that a lot at these road courses. Indy last year, Harvick was super mad at me and crashed me. Then he watched the video, and he was like, ‘Man, I crashed the wrong guy.’ Sometimes just it’s a chain reaction. Fortunately, it worked out for us, ended up with a top five.”

Ross Chastain — Finished 4th: “When we got spun, I think we restarted down at Niece Equipment south of town. To come back to a top five was a top effort for our Worldwide Express team. I thought we were a top-five car all day. Thought the 45 (Tyler Reddick) had us covered. There was a line of Chevys second through sixth. It was about positioning each other while we were saving fuel, then racing each other, whoever was in front was going to be pretty good. Another top five here. I love this place. I love road course racing. But the fight to get better never stops. I know there’s things I can be doing better.”

William Byron — Finished 5th: “It was all right. I probably could have done better on those restarts. I gotta look. I just kept getting pushed wide, and it seemed like the last one didn’t happen for some reason. I just gave up too much track position. It was really my only option. Good to get a top five. We had a good racecar; I think a top-two racecar really, with the 45. He was a lot better than everybody, but I thought we were a close second. It was really fun. Tyler is great, and they were great all weekend. Tyler’s been great on the road courses. We made it a battle for sure every time with crossovers, out-braking each other — that was a lot of fun. I hate that it kind of got down to restarts there at the end. I got shoved off one time in second. We needed a top five and probably could have done some things different.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 6th: “Great to lay some laps. Good to be able to show some speed in our Discount Tire Ford Mustang. It’s one of those days where you win or lose as a team. There were quite a few miscues on pit road that probably kept us from having the track position. Then, it’s a fight. Fair recovery to finish sixth. A lot of things had to go our way for those restarts. But for a long, hot day, we never gave up.”

Chris Buescher — Finisned 8th: “It was our first bumper car race of the year. Our Fifth Third Ford Mustang ended up pretty solid there toward the end. We got a solid top 10 out of it. That’s a big testament to this team and its ‘never give up’ attitude. I started into the 30s for the day, 32nd. I had to really power through, and we had some issues there that probably came from getting run into… backward a couple times. But I’m proud of everybody. That was a good finish for a really hard-fought day.”

Ty Gibbs — Finished 9th: “I’m sure it was entertaining. We had a really great first half of the race and then we had an issue with our lugnut – lost a lot of time and I got two penalties. I just have to minimize mistakes. We will take it.”

Todd Gilliland — Finished 10th: “The restarts were really good for us, even in the very beginning of the race. We were able to fire off and gain a lot of spots right off the bat. So, after that, we had fallen off a little worse than everyone else, but our fire-off speed was probably top-five to 10 every time. It was really nice to have some speed there, and to be really aggressive on the restarts. Most of them worked out really well. I got spun once, but we were able to rebound up to 10th or so. That’s good —  15th and 10th the last two races. That’s something to build on.”

Jenson Button — Finished 18th:  “It was an emotional rollercoaster. First, it was terrible. I mean, I must’ve been last by the end of it. And I was just like, ‘Everyone: Go. I just need to drive and find a rhythm.’ I’ve never gone through a corner too wide so often. And trying to place my car in the right place — I just got it wrong every time. Normally, if you’re a little bit slow through a corner, nobody tries to overtake you from the outside. Because they’re not going to make it all the way on the next one. But here they do, because they get a wheel inside for the next one, and if you turn in, you turn around. The first stint was really bad — it was embarrassing for me. I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that. The pace was good, consistency was good. I was really happy — and passed a few cars, which was nice. We got a little bit unlucky with the safety car because it was just two laps before our window. Pitted, then the next stint was mayhem. We also made a couple of changes that just didn’t work. Big oversteer —  went from the car feeling great to really difficult to drive. I also had a massive whack from Kimi (Räikkönen), and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right. Every time I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer. It was really difficult, but toward the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tires. I enjoyed the last three restarts — got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside. Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion. It was so hot, I don’t have a fan in my seat which really didn’t help me too much. It was so hot, I thought I was going to faint in the car. So, I stopped twice for a minute. They put ice on me, gave me loads of water, and I went back out. I was so close to getting out of the car because I thought I was going to faint. I must’ve drunk eight or nine bottles of water during the race. The team kept me calm, and it’s the reason why we got a good result in the end. So, I was happy.”

Noah Gragson — Finished 20th: “Had a solid day in our Black Rifle Coffee Camaro. We ran inside the top 10 and top 15 for a large part of the day with good speed. We kept working on the car. Luke Lambert and the rest of the guys called a great strategy. The pit crew did an awesome job. We put ourselves in position during the green-white-checkers to be in the top 10. I ended up getting spun and rallied back. We never quit.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 21st: “Certainly, wasn’t the day we were looking for. Starting in the back we managed to gain quite a few spots early but got hit really hard in the left rear and had to make repairs. Glad we had a shot late for a decent finish, but those overtime restarts are crazy and sometimes it works out and other times it doesn’t.”

Erik Jones — Finished 23rd: “Frustrating day here in at COTA. I felt like we had a pretty fast Allegiant Chevy, but it seemed like we kept getting hit. There were a couple times there on restarts that we just flat got ran over. Wrong place wrong time for sure, and it stinks that we weren’t really able to have anything to show for the speed we had. I’m thankful that we were able to show as much promise as we did early on with a good run in qualifying, and I can tell we are moving in the right direction at Legacy Motor Club. On to Richmond.”

Jordan Taylor — Finished 24th: “Yeah, it was definitely wild. I wouldn’t say I survived; I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side. So, yeah, it was pretty much just survival. The guys knew I’d be a little bit more hesitant, so they would take advantage of it. At the end, I got more aggressive and made our way almost back to the top 10. On the last restart, I don’t know who went down on the inside, but they were never going to make the corner and used us to stop themselves. I’d say it was a disappointing day. I made a couple big mistakes early on that probably put us back there, but the No. 9 UniFirst Chevy was fast. I need to thank UniFirst and Hendrick Motorsports for giving me the opportunity. We had good pace, but we just got shuffled back every restart. Tough day.”

Joey Logano — Finished 28th: “We had a decent day going with the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang. Paul (Wolfe) made some good strategy calls to gain track position. Felt like we had a top-10 car, but depending on how the end played out maybe a top-five. The restarts at the end normally play out that way and we ended up spun out. We’ll move on to Richmond.”

Kimi Raikkonen — Finished 29th: “I think it wasn’t too bad. We got unlucky with the incidents that happened. It was one of those things, unfortunately. Then there were no tires left. They kept coming, getting more restarts and more restarts, so I think after the spin I had, the tires were just done. It’s a shame because when we were there, but then we restart, and just wrong place, wrong time. It was a case of trying to stay out of the issues in the first corner and every time. It looked like you’d be very good, then three corners later, somebody’s going the wrong direction. There’s a bit of mess and luck involved.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 33rd: “We had a really solid run going in our Get Bioethanol Chevrolet today, so it’s disappointing that we ended up in the garage early. We didn’t qualify where we needed to, but we worked our way into the top 15 by the end of Stage 1 and earned stage points at the end of Stage 2. The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart, and everyone just pile-drove into each other. I had nowhere to go. I don’t know if it would have worked out better for us if we chose the bottom or not. I hate it for all of the guys on this RCR team. We had a lot of good things going today, but nothing to show for it. There’s still a lot of racing to go. We’ll regroup and head to Richmond Raceway.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 38th: “What a disappointing finish. Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start yesterday and qualified poorly. We all know what happens when you start in the back and, unfortunately, we were caught up in that. Just a wild and crazy first lap that was taking place. I thought I had the wreck missed, but I just saw a flash of red out of nowhere. I guess there was more going on the outside of the No. 6 car (Brad Keselowski) as it was spinning, and I saw him and just got collected.”

COTA Cup Series results: Tyler Reddick wins


Wrecks led to a series of restarts over the closing miles in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas, but Tyler Reddick, who had the day’s fastest car, held on through all of the calamity to score his first win of the year.

Kyle Busch was second, Alex Bowman third and Ross Chastain fourth. William Byron, who challenged Reddick for supremacy most of the day, was fifth.

MORE: COTA Cup results

MORE: COTA Cup driver points

MORE: What drivers said at COTA

Reddick led 41 laps on the way to his fourth Cup win (three on road courses).

Jenson Button finished 18th in his first Cup race, and Jordan Taylor was 24th in his Cup debut.