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.”

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.