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.”

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.