What drivers said at Darlington Raceway

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A look at what drivers said at Darlington Raceway during and after Sunday night’s Cup Series playoff opener:

Erik Jones — Winner: “Richard (Petty) hasn’t been to Victory Lane at Darlington probably since he last won here. It’s just awesome. Just so proud of these guys, Petty GMS and Focus Factor  Crew. We’ve been so close all year, and I didn’t think today was going to be the day. It was going to be a tough one to win, I knew, but no better-fitting place. I love this track, I love this race. On that trophy twice, man. I was pumped to be on it once, but to have it on there twice, pretty cool. … That’s the calmest I’ve been in the race car going for a win ever, really. I think back to the last time winning here, and I was driving my guts out, my nerves were pounding, my stomach was hurting, and today it was just business as usual. Just feel good about this track and knew Denny (Hamlin) would run me clean and knew it was going to be tough for him to pass. It was tough to pass all day, and we got a good restart there. But man, so proud of everybody. Just what a dream come true. That’s all you can say. I never lost any belief in myself through any of it. I knew I could still do it, and I just knew we needed to grow the program to do it, and we have. We’ve brought on a lot of great people in the last year.”

MORE: Erik Jones scores upset win at Darlington

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd:  Last night in Xfinity there was like two and a half seconds of falloff in the last 15-lap run, and I think it was about a second for us in a 15-lap run. So the speeds are so fast, and so much on throttle time. It’s an error game. Erik just did a really great job. 

Tyler Reddick — Finished 3rd: “I just couldn’t quite put the whole race together. I just felt like we — well, I didn’t do a good job of getting in the box tonight. I just felt a little inconsistent. Ultimately, I wish I could have been better there. Last time we were here I felt like I was pretty good at that. Just got to figure out what exactly changed. Always something to be learned, but considering all things, at one point we were in a pretty tough spot. I think Ty Gibbs, (Austin) Cindric and myself kind of got sandwiched together and got in the wall off 4, so to rebound like we did and get third out of it, it was a really good night. It’s what we needed in the playoffs, what we didn’t have here last year. So to get that tonight is great, but certainly when you’re that close and one spot away on a restart from having the lead, it certainly always stings.”

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “It’s a solid day but a missed opportunity is probably where I would put it. With so many others having trouble, every time you come to the Southern 500, especially in the playoffs, you’ve just got to survive and you get a solid finish. That’s what we were able to do is finish fourth after so many teams had issues. We had plenty of our own issues, too. We gave up track position a couple times and then we got caught with that caution and lost track position fairly late in the race, and then we just battled hard. It’s really hard to come up through the field here. It’s really hard to pass and was able to kind of battle back and get a top five out of it, which is OK. I mean, you’ve got to be happy about it because we scored a lot of points and that’s what it’s all about here in the first round, but also a missed opportunity to win the Southern 500 and I really want that one. That one stings a little bit because I think we were better than the cars in front of us if we had the air. If we were able to stay toward the front we could tune to cleaner air, instead of going in the back and trying to tune to dirty air. We just set ourselves back too far.”

MORE: Darlington Cup results

MORE: Darlington Cup driver points

Christopher Bell — Finished 5th: “Overall, a good points day, but just disappointed. Our Camrys were super-fast, but I don’t know, just whenever you have your teammates that are running one, two, three and you’re struggling to get up there and race with them, it’s disappointing. Overall, good day and it’s a good way to start this playoff stretch and hopefully we can continue the momentum. I don’t know if anybody could pass exceptional, but our teammates could make their way to the front, so I’m disappointed with fifth just because of how strong our teammates were and we were always kind of back there always in that outside of the top-five range. Caught a couple bad breaks, but a couple good ones at the end and ended up fifth with some stage points. Overall, a good day for the Yahoo Camry and we’ll try and build on this and continue the momentum into Kansas.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 6th: “We had a really fast FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang. We were really good on the long run, but honestly we just needed to execute a little bit better on pit road. We just lost a few spots each time and then had to pass those cars back and lose a little bit of momentum, but Darlington is a tough place. Running 500 miles here is just tough and to run as competitive as we did all night and run up front I’m really proud of the effort, but I’m not surprised, either. We’ve had speed. We’ve been fast. We’ve had a lot of top 10s this year. That was probably one of our better performances on what I would call a mile-and-a-half style racetrack, so we’re making good gains. Everything is good and in a positive direction, so I’m thankful to get out of here.  We had a couple close calls like you would image in a 500-mile race, but I’m proud of the effort.”

William Byron — Finished 8th: “I feel great about leaving here eighth tonight. We’re second in points. Obviously, I’m frustrated we didn’t win especially with how Stage 1 went. I definitely thought we were going to be battling for the win, but overall I’m really happy. We executed our race. It was just that caution that got us behind being caught a lap down. There’s nothing we could do about that, but we fought back.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 9th: “All in all, a decent day for our Root Toyota Camry team. Just have to get better at calling the adjustments and getting on top of our balance to stay ahead of the curve. All in all, just proud to come out of here with a finish. Good car for us, just have to keep on trucking onto Kansas.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 12th: “It felt like it was blowing up. It sounded funny off of (turn) two for a lap and by the time I got back around, it was really laying down. People are passing me, and I was kind of pulling down and letting people go. We pitted and nothing looked funny. We went back out and it kind of ran crappy for a few laps, and then kind of cleared itself out and it was fine the rest of the race. So, I don’t know yet what it was. If it was fuel pressure, my dash would have been lighting up. So, I don’t know if it was something electrical for a quick second or what. I am sure when they plug in the data, they will learn the whole story. I am just glad that it wasn’t terminal, and we were able to get back out there and fight back from three laps down. We got back to the lead lap by the third stage. I was hoping for a better result, but we restarted like 30th every time. We were just trapped in dirty air and my balance wasn’t great. Finally there at the end, we were going to have some decent track position, but I wasn’t sure if we had a lug nut tight and we decided to pit to be safe rather than giving up 20 spots for more. So, pretty bummed about it, but also happy at the same time because I thought we were going to have another DNF. So, I just hope they just learn what happened and we can cure the problem.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 13th: “The caution hit us at the wrong time, but we were gonna be fine, and then we had to re-pit for a wheel that was gonna be loose. You can’t do that when there are 20 laps to go in the race. It’s just unfortunate, but, like I said, we stayed in it all day and got some decent stage points and at least finished.”

Ty Gibbs — Finished 15th: “We were really fast when the sun was setting but needed to make some different adjustments to keep our Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD fast into the night. The team did a good job, but we were just a little off tonight.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 16th: “We didn’t take ourselves out of it tonight, and that was certainly goal number one. I just wish we would have made more progress in the car tonight.  We really struggled on the short runs and really got my lunch money taken on restarts and felt like we could hang with the rest of them on the long runs, but anytime we’d try to fix that we’d kind of just hurt the rest. It’s certainly something to learn for tonight. (On) those restarts I lost track position and really kept killing us, but we didn’t take ourselves out of it. We were able to come away with more points than a lot of guys, so I’ll take it, but I’m certainly not satisfied with it.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 17th: “We just didn’t have it tonight. We were tight from the start, and in the middle of the race, we had something that was decent and then it flip-flopped to loose. Our No. 3 BetMGM Chevy wasn’t great, but we are not last in points right now and we made some improvements on the points situation. We just need to bring a better hot rod to Kansas (Speedway) and go get it from there.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 18th: “My 99 Jockey Camaro ZL1 was good and felt like the pit crew did a really good job. I just made a mistake and sped on pit road. That shouldn’t happen.”

Ross Chastain — Finished 20th: “Just stayed in my bubble and kept my world small. It’s what we prepare for — for moments like that. It’s not in my control. It’s a freak deal that we haven’t had happen in the whole time we’ve had this car, so it took me a while to describe what was happening. To me, it felt like the left rear was just low on air. Our No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet team came back from four laps down, to be one lap down at the end and plenty fast enough to fight with these guys. … To come back to 20th and fight the way we fought is just a testament to this team.”

MORE: Chase Elliott finishes last after crash

Chase Briscoe — Finished 27th: “We just really struggled with the balance. At the beginning of the race we were starting off extremely tight and then we got to where we were extremely loose and then we had nowhere to go with the 9 car when he wrecked. That kind of killed our day, but we were able to get lucky because a lot of those guys had issues, too. It’s not the way we wanted to start the round by any means, but we’re gonna have to improve and we’re probably gonna have to win. I don’t even know what the points look like, but we shouldn’t have been in that situation where we were struggling anyway. We just couldn’t find the balance.  It’s unfortunate, but we know what we’ve got to do now and that’s what we’ll try to go do. When he (Elliott) went into one, he just plugged the fence and then he started spinning and he went down, and I felt like if I stayed up on the bank I didn’t feel like he was gonna come up, and then right when he came up I saw him coming and I locked them up. Once I locked them up, I was just sliding with him. I wish I could do it over again. Obviously, it’s way easier in hindsight, but it was a split-second decision, and I made the wrong decision.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 30th: “Engine broke. Just unfortunate circumstances for us tonight. The guys did a great job and brought a really fast M&M’s Toyota Camry. Just real proud of the effort. All the stuff the guys have done and gone through – just all the news and everything that’s going on all year. They’ve dug in and never given up and continue. Just had a great car and don’t have anything to show for it. That’s what I really, really hate about it. We were obviously leading a lot of laps and had a really fast car. Proud of the guys and their fight. The guys on pit road tonight were awesome. Had a lot of fun being up front, leading laps like that and show what we’re made of. I just hate that we can’t finish with the points we need.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 31st: “I lost power steering and the car started overheating real quick and losing power. Kicked some belts off or something. Thanks to all my guys and everybody at JGR, TRD, everybody at Bass Pro for supporting us all year. It’s been tough and this is another tough night for sure, but we’ll come back next week and fight again. Just mad. Upset, angry. We deserve better and no matter what we do this year it seems wrong. When we run good, stuff goes wrong and when we run bad, nothing happens. Just one of those years that we can’t get anything to go our way. It’s about the fifth time I should have won this race and I’ve only won it once so pretty pissed off.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 33rd: “I’m sure it’s just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going. The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash. What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burned up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy ass parts. … I just stopped. The rocker was on fire for a couple laps.  I just stopped because I couldn’t see anymore because the flames were coming through the dash and I couldn’t make myself sit in there and burn up.”

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.