What drivers said at Darlington Raceway


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

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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.”

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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.”

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”