What drivers said at Bristol cutoff race

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What drivers said after Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series first-round cutoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Chris Buescher became the third consecutive non-playoff driver to win in the first three races of the 2022 playoffs:

Chris Buescher — Finished first: “This is so special, this team did such a great job. Love this racetrack, love the fans. Love every time we come here. It’s so special to me. We had a really fast Fastenal Mustang. Just so proud of everybody. We knew we had a good race car after practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying, but what a race car. It’s just special. Get RFK in Victory Lane for the first time, and we had great race cars. Brad had really good speed, too. I don’t know what else to say right now. I’m out of breath. This place will wear you flat out, and I love that about it, but such a special night.”

Chase Elliott — Finished second: “I actually really liked my car. I thought our Chevrolet was driving really good, and honestly, I don’t think I could realistically ask for anything more balance-wise. I just needed to be able to do a better job getting in some different lanes. And then being second there, the top had gotten so dominant there at the end. The bottom was pretty good there early in the night, and you could run down there for a long time, and then as the night went on the top got better and better and better, and that momentum was hard to beat. Unfortunately for me, we never got to any lapped traffic to make him move, but we were starting to there in those last three or four laps. I felt like we were gaining, but I wasn’t close enough to do anything with him. But I appreciate the effort. We had a long day yesterday. Was able to battle back from a bad qualifying effort to get a top 2, so proud of that. Glad to be moving on, and looking forward to some more opportunities here these coming weeks.”

William Byron — Finished third: “Honestly, with this Next Gen car, the pace is so fast around here and I didn’t really have a chance to see what was going on around me. I would see guys up in the wall, having flat tire issues or blowing up, so I just tried to avoid it. Our team did a great job tonight. We were a little bit timid early and didn’t really quite have the car in stage one. We wanted to get those points so we could advance. And then they told me after stage one that we were locked in. We were a little bit freer after that. We really didn’t change much, but we got the car better and had a good second and final stage. I’m really proud of this team. This whole round, we’ve been getting better each race. Just really proud of the effort. After a rough summer, this is really good to see how we brought ourselves to the playoffs. Thank you to all of our partners and supporters back home. We’re really excited.”

Christopher Bell — Finished fourth: “It’s terribly disappointing. That’s two weeks in a row we have had speed, and the car underneath me to win the race and haven’t done it. Extremely proud of this 20 group. They keep bringing Camrys that are incredible to the racetrack. It makes me really excited about where we are going, especially Texas, which is one of my best race tracks. I’m proud of everyone on this group. Hopefully, we can carry this momentum. Looking at the next seven races, I would say Texas is arguably the most important race, outside of Phoenix. Talladega, we all know how that is – there is going to be some lucky guys, and some unlucky guys. Texas is kind of the one place where you can control your destiny into the next round and the winner is going to feel really good if it is a playoff car.”

Ross Chastain — Finished sixth: “I’m proud of the effort from Trackhouse Racing, the No. 1 Worldwide Express team and Chevrolet to minimize things that take you out of the race. The minimal amount of flat tires. None for Trackhouse. That’s what we need; we needed extra air in the tires and extra clearance off the ground. We struggled just being tight all night. We put a couple rounds in the right-rear there at the end and drove up to sixth. We were up there where we needed to be all night. … To be honest, I’ve only had Homestead on my mind next for the test this week. We have a lot of questions to answer there. Good, bad or indifferent – Wednesday night, we’re going to know a whole lot more and that’s what tests are for. We’re taking a lot of spare parts. I need to work on running up top more, running the wall. That’s a big thing we’re going to focus on.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished seventh: “I’m happy to run 500 laps at Bristol anytime I can do that. That’s a good night. I was pretty happy with our Camaro ZL1. We just needed a little bit more I think to get to the next level, but really happy when we can run anywhere from about seventh to 10th all night. We had good strategy, and our pit stops were really good. So overall, I’m just really, really happy with the night.”

Cole Custer — Finished eighth: “We had a really solid day. The guys brought a really fast car the whole weekend from when we just unloaded. It was a lot of fun to drive, so we had a solid day.  We executed well and stayed out of trouble and was able to end up with a top 10.  Hopefully, we can carry that momentum to next week.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished ninth: “Had good track position from our qualifying effort but passing was just impossible. It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point. (The Next Gen car) was tough. I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues. We just battled through it and held on to a ninth place today. … We can win anywhere we go to. We’ll go to Texas and try to win like we always do. Just need to get a good, solid round going. Just seems like mechanical stuff with this Next Gen and wrecks are the X-factor in moving on so you just have to be really consistent and with five races to go, that’s when you have to start winning.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 10th: “It was pretty tough (on the last pit stop). We pitted in front of (Buescher), so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass. The car is way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”

Justin Haley — Finished 12th: “That’s a really strong night. We fought hard all night, played some excellent strategy and just had an overall good car. That was a good, good run for the company. We are definitely building something. We will take this and keep improving.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 13th: “There are 40-some of the best cars that nobody is going to give you anything.  You scratch and claw for every little bit every day and every hour and, if you’re lucky and you don’t wreck, you don’t blow up, you don’t have a problem and you finish 10th to 15th, and if you’re lucky and you’re damn good, you win.  If you’re damn good and you’re not lucky, you still finish 20th or worse, so we had two cars that were really good today and one that was unlucky and one that executed and everything came the right way for them. … Oh yeah, I’m proud as hell (as a team owner).  Everybody has some level of ego and I’m not going to say I don’t have any ego, but it’s easy to get over ego when you see that.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 14th: “I was kind of worried pretty early in the race that I was going to struggle and was able to get fourth in that first stage, third in the second stage and really set us up to where I think we were right at the cut line starting that final stage.  We had some luck with the 18 blowing up and a couple guys getting wrecked and there at the end it was unfortunate, we kind of just rode around making sure we didn’t eliminate ourselves, so I’m super proud to be able to move onto the Round of 12.  That’s a really big accomplishment.  We’ve just got to do what we did today, not eliminate ourselves.  That’s going to be the key to this next round, especially with how many wild card races there are, so if we can go there and do that, guys are going to keep eliminating themselves.  We just have to limit our mistakes and if we do that, we know we’ve got to have a little more speed, but if we can just limit our mistakes it gives us a chance to move on in the next round as well. … I didn’t have (power steering) the whole race.  My arms are smoked.  That was not the most fun.  It was ripping the wheel out of my hands every time I ran the bottom and up at the top it was a little bit easier, so I kind of had to run the top no matter what just to try to last, but luckily there wasn’t a ton of long, long runs.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 19th: “It was a long day. It wasn’t pretty, but we did what we needed to do. We thought we were going to be able to make our car better from yesterday to today, but it was not. We have to regroup. Hopefully, we can find some answers and come back stronger. I think the next round is pretty good for us. Texas, we’re going to be strong. A road course is in our wheelhouse. A superspeedway, anything can happen. I’m very thankful for our team. They never give up. The car wasn’t what we needed, but we’re still on the good side of it. You have no idea how easy it’s going to be for me to reset (for the second round) because that car was not fun. For me, to be able to make it to the next round with the way the car was driving, is a huge plus. Thank you to everyone on our team. They did a very good job. We had the speed, but there were a lot of mistakes; on pit road, myself, overall. We’ll come back stronger for the next round.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 20th: “For a while I was just trying as hard as I can and as they fell off like flies just trying not to force any issues, try not to force any more right-front tire failures.  From there, I think I was tied with the 18 for 100 laps, but just one hell of a night.  I still don’t think this place loves me back, but it probably showed me a little mercy tonight, so I’ll take it and run with it.  We’ll be on offense for the next three races just like we were to start Darlington this round and have some fun with it. … Yeah, there’s a part of me that wants to go, ‘Man, that’s kind of b.s. I blew a tire and didn’t get a caution,’ but I would also think that NASCAR probably recognized there might be some issues with tires and probably understand that, ‘OK, it’s not just a one-time deal.’  Mine was the first to go. I’m happier about it because I made it in. I’d be less happy about it if I didn’t make it in, but certainly there’s something to be said about coming to a very important race in the year with a new tire, but it’s not my decision to make and just understand how we can make that better on our side.”

Erik Jones — Finished 21st: “We knew this week may be a test with the new car at Bristol and it proved to have its challenges tonight. We struggled with the handling early in the race and were making the right changes, but spun missing a wreck and that put us a few laps down and then had a couple of tire issues late in the race. A disappointing night for sure. We have seven more races to build for next year and I know we are capable of running up front and winning races, just need to turn things around. We’ll had to Texas next week, one of my favorite tracks, and see what we can do.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 25th: “Frustrating for sure. We didn’t quite have the pace or the balance really to make our car better, and unfortunately, the balance issues we were fighting, we were pretty much limited. We couldn’t really adjust on it without hurting downforce of the car overall, so we were kind of boxed in. Then we just kind of got collected in that accident back there. I checked up in time, but I got absolutely ran over from there. Caught the right front and broke the upper control arm for the second week in a row.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 26th: “Such a bummer way to end an otherwise pretty solid night out at Bristol. Our No. 42 team was able to make some pretty good changes to our car to help us throughout the race, and that put us in a position for a top-15 finish. Unfortunately, a mechanical issue of some sort took us out early. It’s a shame because we had made some good gains up until that point, but that just how it goes sometimes. Looking forward to heading to Texas next weekend and put this one behind us.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 30th: “You never know what can happen and having that flat, there’s nothing that we can do about it.  You’re lucky you have that cushion going into this race.  The most unfortunate part is our car was super fast, too.  That was the terrible thing about it.  The worst part about it now, looking back.  The car was really good and just had no indication.  It seemed like a lot of guys had right-front problems tonight, but I’m proud of everybody for getting it fixed up and just out there to finish the race.  There really wasn’t much we could do, just log laps and let everything play itself out.  That’s why you try to have two good races beforehand because you never know when you’re gonna need some points.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 31st: “I heard Daniel (Suarez) just wrecked (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) and caused a big one. Part of it. Wish we would have been in a little better spot. Just broke the suspension on the left front. We had gotten stage points and had a pretty good race car. Feeling pretty good about it. We just needed to miss that one. That was the best race car we brought. We put ourselves in a bind the first two races and brought something to race with today. We’ll just try to win a race before the year’s over.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 32nd: “Cars stopping in a hurry and no way for me to get stopped. We lost power steering and tried to work our way through it. We stayed out to get stage points, which thankfully we had a great race car and we were able to get stage points even without power steering and lock ourselves in. But the flip side of that was restarting in the back there and just getting collected. It’s a bummer, but at least we’re onto the next round and we can focus on Texas next weekend.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 34th: “It just goes with our year. I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low, down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you. I really feel bad for all of Rowdy Nation, everybody at M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Rowdy Energy, all of the partners that get us going every week. This is not our normal.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 36th: “It blew the seal out and pushed all the (power steering) fluid out on the right-front tire. Just unbelievable. What did (Kevin) Harvick say? Crappy parts. … You literally can’t drive the car here without power steering. You lose it, you’re done. It’s been a horrible string of luck for us, and we had another strong car tonight. We were working our way forward, every run going forward. Ready for this year to be over and start over.”

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.