What drivers said after Bristol Cup race

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A look at drivers’ reaction following Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway…

Kyle Larson (playoffs) – WINNER: “It was a good race from start to finish for us. Our car was really fast. Really loose for five laps, then it would get good, then loose again, then good again, then would be pretty good at the end of the run. The next-to-last run we had there, the long one, I was really good. Thought I was going to be good there again in the last run but I didn’t have the front turn that I needed. Just tried staying patient with everything, tried not to overheat my tires, abuse them, just give myself a shot. We were able to stay close enough to Kevin (Harvick). Chase (Elliott) was obviously upset with the contact, was just making things kind of tough on him. It kept me in the game. Able to make some moves on him there late. Yeah, fun race. Have always wanted to win here, so cool to finally do it.”

Kevin Harvick (playoffs) – Finished 2nd: “What else do you say? You throw a temper tantrum like you’re two years old because you got passed for the lead and got a flat tire. We barely even rubbed. It’s all Chase (Elliott)’s way or it’s no way and if he doesn’t get his way, then he throws a fit. He did the same thing earlier. He let the 24 (William Byron) go by in the middle of the stage and then just rode around until the 5 (Kyle Larson) caught me, and I was tight behind him, and we wound up getting passed by the 5, so I just hate it for our guys.”

William Byron (playoffs) – Finished 3rd: “Honestly, I don’t think I breathed for 100 laps. I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could. I mean, I don’t know. I had the best seat in the house for the leaders getting together. I was just trying to make as much speed as I could. I felt like that was what our car had, and we were just trying to hold off the 12 (Ryan Blaney) and just drive it as hard as I could. It was a pretty awesome moment that we could pull through being 18 points out and come into this race and advance is pretty amazing.”

Ryan Blaney (playoffs) – Finished 4th: “I thought tonight we did a good job of just staying kind of in the hunt all night. I felt like we kind of ran top five most of the night. It wasn’t the best car. I’d take off really good, but I couldn’t keep the long run speed as good as other guys, like the 4 (Kevin Harvick) was crazy fast on the long run and we just didn’t quite have that speed, but I thought we were a little better that last run and were kind of able to keep pace with the leaders, but just not quite enough. I’m proud of the effort. It’s nice to move onto the next round, that’s for sure, and look forward to Vegas.”

Alex Bowman (playoffs) – Finished 5th: “It was an interesting night, for sure. We were pretty awful at the start of the race. Greg (Ives, crew chief) threw everything, including a laptop at it, I think. I heard there was a laptop casualty there during the race, it was so bad (laughs). I just started really out of the race track and it took a lot of adjusting on it to get it where we needed it; and it was obviously really fast there at the end. I’m just proud of everybody on this 48 team for not giving up. My mistake at Darlington kind of put us in this box; us and the 24 (William Byron). I’m really glad the 24 made it because if they wouldn’t have, that would have been on me, too.”

Brad Keselowski (playoffs) – Finished 6th: “That’s the most speed we’ve shown in quite some time and I’m super proud of that. It’s awesome. That’s the best we’ve been. I’m thrilled to death with that and trying to move on and advance and find more speed for next week.”

Martin Truex Jr. (playoffs) – Finished 7th: “Just a battle. We battled with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota all night long and had a decent night for Bristol. No problems, no wrecks, no drama. We got some stage points that first stage and then struggled a little bit with the car, but got a bit better in the end, but came home seventh. Not a great night, but for us at Bristol, it was uneventful and not a terrible night by any means.”

Erik Jones – Finished 8th: “Solid day for the Air Force Chevy. Glad we could get them a top 10 run there. We had some damage on the right side and the balance was just a bit tight to run further forward than we did. But proud of the effort and hope we can keep the good runs going.”

Denny Hamlin (playoffs) – Finished 9th: “Really disappointed about today. We were racing to to try to win and cut a tire there. We were fast, we were so fast. We got under Kyle (Larson) there on that run and cut a tire then didn’t have a caution there at the end to try to catch back up. Overall, I think we’re doing a great job. Our cars are fast every week.”

Joey Logano (playoffs) – Finished 11th: “It was just a struggle. We tried some things and didn’t really get anywhere with it. The car was just very disconnected, very free in, tight landing — tight two-thirds especially and never were able to fix it with the adjustments we got in the race. It just eventually wears the front tires off and back up lights come on. I thought we might finish in the top 10 and get that out of it, but fell off pretty hard the last 15.”

Tyler Reddick (Eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 12th: “Unfortunately, we certainly gave up more than two spots over the course of this first round. Darlington, getting stuck down a lap at Richmond. Not just one key opportunity, but there was a number that was the difference. One situation, the situation tonight, doesn’t really stick out as the one that makes it sting. It was just unfortunate getting to the playoffs, we don’t really have the pace that we had to just point our way into the playoffs leaderboard. Missed it by two. Have the races we did, it kind of all adds up. For us to miss it by two and run the way we did isn’t a surprise.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 13th: “I’d say we had a good night overall. We were definitely working in the right direction in terms of adjustments and just doing what we needed to do to get the best finish we could. We had a really good Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford, but it would get a little tight later in the long runs, and that would hurt us a little. I’m just glad we were able to stay out of trouble and come out with a good finish.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 15th: “Good job by everyone tonight on this Richard Childress Racing team. We fell behind a little in the middle of the race, but (crew chief) Justin Alexander came through clutch with a strategy to get us back on the lead lap, and we were able to climb back into the top-15 in the final stage. We were just too tight to really make anything happen. Everyone on this Bass Pro Shops / TRACKER Off Road Chevrolet team hung in there through all of the twists and turns tonight.”

Aric Almirola (Eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 18th: “It was frustrating. I’m disappointed to have it end like that just because we had battled so much adversity throughout the night and got ourselves in position to where we were running top 10 and doing what we needed to do, and then that caution came out there at the end where we had 18 laps on our tires and we stayed out, and for whatever reason when we re-fired on those tires the car was up on top of the racetrack, skating, wouldn’t turn, I didn’t have any side bite and just struggling. I don’t know. That’s not the way we wanted it to end, but we’ll keep going and battle it out the rest of the playoffs and see if we can’t finish inside the top 10 in points.”

Kurt Busch (Eliminated from playoffs) – Finished 19th: “Really disappointing effort today. That was not a championship-type effort. We missed it big time. We had bad luck last week and we have no shot at a championship this year. We have to race for pride, dignity and honor for the next few weeks. The team is shutting down and we’re eliminated early. That’s not the way we wanted this to go. Maybe we can crawl our way back up to a fifth to tenth-range in points. But tonight was not a night to miss the setup.”

Kyle Busch (playoffs) – Finished 21st: “Just lack of speed really. We just weren’t very good at being able to make up time on the leaders there. Was only going to be about fifth quick. We fought hard there all day long and had a flat there at the end and got way behind. I guess we made it (into the Round of 12) so that’s all that matters.”

Chase Elliott (playoffs) – Finished 25th: “It’s something (Kevin Harvick) does all the time. He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks. Sometimes, it does cut down your left side. Other times, it doesn’t. He did it to me at Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of racing with me. Whether he did it on purpose, it doesn’t matter. At some point, you’ve got to draw the line. I don’t care who he is or how long he’s been doing it. I’m going to stand up for myself and my team and we’ll go on down the road.”

Cole Custer – Finished 28th: “Man, I never thought we’d have this much bad luck in a season, but here we are. I can say I do feel good about getting the car solid at the end of the race tonight, but that getting caught up in that wreck in the second stage just set us back too far. It’s on to the next one.”

Christopher Bell (playoffs) – Finished 29th:

Ryan Newman – Finished 38th: “I don’t know. I got turned into the fence. I’m not sure if it was my fault or if I got hooked or what, but it ended our day for our Kohler Generators Ford.”

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.