What drivers said after Martinsville Cup playoff elimination race

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What drivers said during and after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway, where Christopher Bell won for the first time to advance to the Championship 4:

Christopher Bell — winner: “Mom and dad, we did it! Wow. I can’t believe it, man. To come here in Martinsville, this place has always been so tough on me. Just prerace looking up, seeing all the fans, this place is packed. I don’t even know what to say. Just thank you so much to everyone on this Joe Gibbs Racing 20 team. They believed in me since Day One. We went to Xfinity and did pretty well, struggled on the Cup side for the first little bit. They stayed with me. Very appreciative to be here. Man, I say it all the time, but the driver is just a small piece of the puzzle for these races. The reason why this car won today is because it was the best car on the racetrack. Adam Stevens, this entire 20 group, they just never give up. When our back is against the wall, looks like it’s over, they show up and give me the fastest car out here. Words can’t describe this feeling.”

Kyle Larson — Finished second: “It must have been a little bit easier (to pass). (Denny Hamlin) was able to drive to the lead there. The leaders lapped a lot of cars today. To me, it seemed to be very close to normal Martinsville, but maybe still a little bit harder to pass when you got within a car length.” (On the Phoenix) “There is a lot on the line for us and our team. Two opportunities to bring Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) a championship and we would love to do that. We were decent at Phoenix  earlier this year, but I’m sure we’ll be a lot better than we were the last time.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished third: “It just wasn’t quite enough. It was a wild day. I didn’t think we were great to start. We kind of faded at the end of that first stage, but we got better throughout the night, which is good, and found ourselves in second on the second-to-last run and kind of ran the 20 down. I got to him and then you burn your stuff up trying to pass somebody. There weren’t many passes for the lead tonight and then the last restart I thought I was in a good spot on the bottom. I thought more pandemonium was gonna happen than that and the 20 got down and he was able to kind of go to work and I couldn’t really get going as good. It’s unfortunate not to transfer, but proud of the effort. I didn’t do a great job the last two weeks and put us in a bad spot, but I’m proud of everyone all year and we’ll try to go run well at Phoenix. I ran him down by a little ways and got closer, but I just couldn’t pass him.  You kind of burn your stuff off trying to pass somebody and he kind of drove away from me. We still had a shot at it there with the last caution and just didn’t get through the traffic as good as he did and once he was able to get the lead. I’m proud of the effort tonight by everybody, but it just wasn’t quite enough.” (On Ross Chastain’s move) “I just saw it and I guess I wish I should have done it.  I guess we’ll all start doing it now coming down to the end of the race.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished fourth (dropped to last on a disqualification): “We were solid all day.  We had the spin there early and recovered from that.  We had a good call at the end by Matt McCall to take two tires, but we just weren’t quite strong enough.  We kept locking up the left-front and had a good shot at it.  I was gonna cross over (Chase Briscoe), and he parked it and then everybody ran over me from behind and just never got another shot at it, so that was unfortunate, but, overall, it was a really good race for our team and another day of solid progress. We were that fifth to tenth place car and just needed a little bit more speed out of it to make something happen. We had some ups-and-downs for sure and at the end we rebounded with a nice top five.  I’m proud of our recovery and our effort.  We had a good day on pit road and a good call there at the end to take two tires, but just needed a little bit more speed out of our car to make that count.”

Ross Chastain — Finished fifth: (On his move to ride the wall and improve from 10th to fifth on the last lap) “Played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube with (brother) Chad growing up. You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work. I did that when I was 8 years old. I grabbed fifth gear, asked off of two on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn’t tell who was leading. I made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back. Full committed. Basically let go of the wheel, hoping I didn’t catch the Turn 4 access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it. For this Trackhouse group, we’ve done everything. We did so much right this year. Today for our Chevy, we didn’t have what we needed. Just glad we could do whatever we could do. A great pit stop on the last stop to put us in position to even be close enough. Our pit crew guys are incredible. All we asked for is a chance. I hope everybody remembers that two years ago in the fall of 2020, I went down to the Southern 500 with Spire Motorsports. It was a big deal for us to race with sticker tires on. We had a podcast sponsoring the car. It was a big deal to beat one car. Single-digit laps down. That was two years ago at the Southern 500. To be here fighting for a championship now, it’s so surreal. When I make mistakes on track, I hope everybody remembers two years ago I was out here seven laps down. I just can’t believe that we have a chance to go fight for a championship. All we ask for is a chance. We kept our world small this year so far. We’ll do the same thing going to Phoenix.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished sixth: “You got to execute all day. We just didn’t control the race when we had control of it. Each caution, we just kept losing some spots. That’s the way it is. But thank Chris Gabehart, the whole team for giving me a fast car today. It was unbelievable when it was out front. Yeah, just couldn’t quite hang on to it there on pit road. But congrats to (Bell), those guys just did an amazing job, really capitalizing and doing well, winning races when they needed to. Hopefully they can carry the banner for (Joe Gibbs Racing). Obviously I was trying to get in there. But it’s racing. It’s what racing is here as Martinsville. Actually pretty happy with somewhat how clean it was there towards the end, as crazy was it was with guys on different tires. Can’t say enough for my team to give us a shot. We were in 20s for most of the season in our points because of our up-and-down execution. We’re going to end up fifth in points. That is what it is. (On Chastain’s move) Great move. Brilliant. Certainly a great move. When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that. But well executed.”

Joey Logano — Finished seventh: “It was interesting.  We were OK.  I thought we were capable of running in the top five for sure.  We had that fire and had to pit to fix the fire and we lost our track position and then it’s just hard to pass.  You get a couple spots here.  You get a couple on a restart.  You get a couple on pit road and then we kind of found ourselves in the spot you don’t want to be in – you are the point person.  If the 11 passes me, he’s in.  If he stays behind me, he’s out.  That’s like the last guy you want to be, so I figured I was gonna get knocked out of the way at some point.  We accomplished our goal.  We did a really good job on pit road.  We needed some good stops and got some momentum there.  We had a solid race car.  I didn’t make any enemies and I still have my crew chief next week.  Those were the goals and we did that.”

William Byron — Finished eighth: “Unfortunately, we weren’t really in the game. I knew that early on in the race, we were making some progress, but we just struggled all day. The first three-quarters of the race were pretty miserable. Nothing like what we had in the spring. We were just tight with not a lot of pace. The No. 24 Chevy team kept their heads down and got a decent finish out of it, so that was a good lesson for the day.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 10th: “Yeah, I probably needed less laps, that would have been nice. If I would have known that move Ross did, I move done that. Yeah, we were obviously on a lot older tire there. Thought there for a little bit I was going to be OK. I just fell off a cliff pretty hard. I should have used the wall. Pretty good deal to use there. I thought about it in the past but was never brave enough to do it. I couldn’t hold those guys off with new tires. I just didn’t have the forward drive or even the side to hold them off. Knew when (Brad Keselowski) got to me, I was going to be in trouble. At that point I was so much slower than those guys, they were just able to drive through me. Proud of our team. We were in position at the end to potentially capitalize on it. Just the penalty at the beginning buried us. Win as a team, lose as a team. These guys have kept me in the Playoffs giving me positions on pit road. Go to Phoenix next week and see if we can win. (On Chastain’s move) “He was behind me. Probably 10 car lengths behind me. My spotter told me I think he was needing a point. I saw him coming, I was like, oh, my gosh, he’s cleaning me out here, coming wide open. I saw him go to the wall. I was pretty amazed. I was just cringing when he got to the gate off of (Turn) 4. I think all of us have done it on some video games, whatnot. He executed it well. Curious to see what kind wormhole that opens up at the end of these races going forward.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 11th: “Yeah, super mixed emotions. We made the drivers side and didn’t make the owners side. Just would have loved to have gotten the boss two cars in there. So certainly excited from the driver standpoint, but would have loved to have gotten both those boxes checked. Unfortunately didn’t. But, yeah, looking forward to getting home and working through what we need to work through to get ready for Phoenix. Certainly, we’ll be ready to go the best we know how next Sunday.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 34th: “It was an unfortunate ending to our race today at Martinsville Speedway. We didn’t have the greatest car all day, but I think we could have got up there and battled. Something broke during Stage 2 and we hit the wall. It’s not the way we wanted our day to end. We’ll head to Phoenix Raceway to close out this season on a strong note.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 36th: “It wasn’t the race we wanted today at Martinsville Speedway. We were running a solid race early. My spotter, Derek Kneeland, saw the stack-up coming, and I checked up a bit. I ran into the back of Noah Gragson a little bit, and the car behind me hit me pretty solidly from behind. It was a pretty hard hit from both the front and the back. After that I just didn’t feel 100 percent, so I didn’t want to put myself into any further danger. We ended our race early just to play it safe.”

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great originations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”