What drivers said at Richmond Raceway


RICHMOND, Va. — What drivers had to say after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway:

Kyle Larson — Winner: “It’s really cool. We’ve been close to winning a couple. William (Byron) has been extremely good this year. It was going to be between probably him, the 19, us, and the 20 was really good. So just things worked out. My pit crew had a great stop. So shout-out to Brandon Johnson. He is our jackman. He just turned 30 today. Our spotter, Tyler Monn, he turned 30 today. Great day for them guys. What an awesome Hendrickcars.com Chevy. Can’t say enough about it. I got into the 99 (Suarez) on pit road there sometime in the second stage, and we were awful after that. I was hoping the damage was the reason why, but they had to calm me down a little bit and get refocused and was able to get it done. Thanks to everyone on this team, (crew chief) Cliff Daniels, for everything he does to prepare the team to be as strong as we are without him on the box. So good to get a win, and hopefully many more. … So when I was going backwards in the second stage and mad, I just needed a caution to take a break and then tell myself just to not overreact and just we still have 170-something laps left or whatever it was. It’s plenty of time to get back to the front. So our car was good enough to do that, too. Just a great day all around for Hendrick Motorsports. Great week, especially. So, yeah, a lot of significance to this week, and I’ll probably remember it now for a long time.”

MORE: Richmond Cup results, driver points

Josh Berry — Finished 2nd: “Man, this is really cool. I have to give all the credit to this NAPA team. Tom (Grey, interim crew chief), Alan (Gustafson, full-time crew chief) remotely, of course, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. When we got some clean track, we weren’t running bad lap times. I’m so glad they tried something different to get us there at the end. Felt like we were decent the whole time. Just getting in cleaner air. We were free to run with Kyle. Man, what a huge day. You know, to come here and start in the back, no practice, qualifying, get spun out, work through the field like that, just second place, it’s pretty cool.”

Ross Chastain — Finished 3rd: “We definitely needed more to fight for the lead. For our Jockey Chevy, it was probably more about clean air. There were better cars throughout the race that got cycled back on strategy. For our group – the 5, the 9, the 20 was probably a little better – but out of the Chevys I thought that in clean air that any of us – the 5, 9 or us – could lead. Hats off to the 5 team, Kyle, and everyone at HMS. Chevrolet keeps locking down these wins with the Bowtie. We’re proud to be part of it.”

Christopher Bell — Finished 4th: “For us, we needed it to stay green. It didn’t work out today. It was pretty disappointing. I felt like we had enough speed in our Rheem Camry to be up there all day, but I had a couple of restarts that put us in the back. We would lose spots when the yellow flags would come out, so it was just an uphill battle all day. (On the wreck with William Byron): It was a pretty standard restart with the 1 (Ross Chastain) behind you. I tried to protect from him going to the inside, and he still made it three-wide there at the last minute and there wasn’t enough room.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “We didn’t have a very smooth day and the car didn’t really do anything that I wanted it to do to have a shot at winning, but we fought hard all day. We were definitely expecting to be a little bit better, but that’s the way it goes. … I think we definitely handled a little bit worse than we did at the last race here, but there was a lot different on the car, too.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 6th: “I think the strategy was a good call. A lot of that was our car was really good on the long run, and I think we were gonna be 15th or 16th, so you might as well go for it and see if you can’t come up with something good and it worked out. I thought it was a great call by Travis Peterson. The Love’s Ford Mustang was pretty good all day. We needed a little bit more speed on the front end and not lose so much track position early on, but the long-run speed was great. Had a couple of those runs gone a little longer, I think we would have actually been a little bit better yet, so I’m proud of everybody. Phoenix was a good race for us and this obviously being a good race, so I feel like our short track program is turning the corner, at least I hope so. I’m optimistic about that.”

Joey Logano — Finished 7th: “We had a really good car. Our Mustang was fast, maybe definitely could have won. It felt pretty good. That loose wheel set us back, but it was so early in the race we thought we could recover. We started to recover and did recover, and then we were trying to split it halfway and get the track position, but we had two untimely cautions that just didn’t work out for us. Typical Richmond it does work out, but more cautions today than typical. I thought it was a fun race. I had fun. It’s a tricky track. It’s fun. It’s one of my favorite tracks, probably my favorite track to run and manage your tires and when you run hard and all that it’s really fun for the driver. It’s probably the most fun track for the driver.”

Ty Gibbs — Finished 9th: “It has been a pretty solid start for us. The biggest thing is just minimizing mistakes. I think my team is the best and only going to get better. My pit crew did a great job today. I’m happy. My Monster Energy Toyota Camry was fast today, and I’m excited to be up there racing with those guys.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 12th: “We were just like a 12th-place car all day. The whole day we ran between 10th and 15th and just kind of depended on restarts and pit road. That kind of determined where we would fall out. The long-run speed wasn’t probably as good as what we needed it to be, and our short-run speed was kind of just OK to kind of hang on, so for how our season has been going this was honestly a good day – just to kind of run 10th to 15th all day long and not have anything crazy happen. I’m looking forward to next week going to the dirt track, for sure.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 13th: “We struggled a little bit. I feel like this is one of my better places, and I just thought we were a little bit off of where we needed to be. We’ve got some work to do before we come back, but proud to finally get out of a race with a decent day where we didn’t have anything catastrophic happen. We didn’t have everything go perfectly, but we were able to get out of here with a race car that’s still in one piece and go forward from here. Hopefully, this is the start to turning our season around.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 14th: “We were a little bit off the mark today, but overall it was a decent day for our 3CHI Chevrolet team at Richmond Raceway. At the beginning of the race, we were just too loose and needed more grip. Randall Burnett and the guys on our team made a ton of adjustments to our car throughout the race but it was challenging to keep up with the track. Our pit crew did a great job all race so that was certainly a highlight for us today. I think we gained a few spots on each stop. We’ll rebound next week at Bristol.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 18th: “We got a top 20, but our team definitely deserved a top-10 finish. We were in it all day, and my guys made great adjustments on our stops. That final caution at the end of the race threw everything off. We only had scuffs at the end, and we were just off the pace. We lost a few spots in those final laps and were able to finish off the day 18th. Moving in the right direction and looking forward to Bristol dirt next week.”

William Byron — Finished 24th: “It looked like the 1 was inside the 20 and the 20 just overcooked the corner and had the fronts locked up and nailed us in the left rear. So I was just kind of restarting fourth there and trying to stay tight to the 9 and get a good restart. I just got tagged in the left rear. So, yeah, just a dive bomb move on the inside on his part and it is what it is. I had a great race car. The Raptor Chevrolet was awesome all day and we will just keep bringing fast race cars like that and we will get a lot more wins. It was looking like it could be another win before the caution. That’s the way it goes.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 25th: “Richmond Raceway is statistically one of my best tracks, so I wish we could have capitalized with a solid finish. … We just never got a feel for the handling of our Chevy. We started deep in the field after practice and qualifying were canceled due to inclement weather on Saturday and that put us in a hole. We made plenty of adjustments to the balance of our car during pit stops, but never got it where it needed to be, and then had a slow stop under green. We’ll do some homework before the fall race to make ourselves better. Bring on the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race.”

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

Dr. Diandra: Is 2023 the season for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption?


Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two career Cup Series wins in 364 starts. But both wins — and his career-high 13th-place season finish — happened back in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the news every now and then at a superspeedway but could be counted upon to head up season-ending lists of drivers involved in the most accidents. In the years Stenhouse hasn’t been at the top of the list, he’s been near the top.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse throughout his NASCAR career. Jack Roush went so far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days in the Xfinity Series because he tore up so much equipment.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, going on to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way his 2023 season has started, it looks as though Stenhouse might be on a similar mission of redemption this year in the Cup Series.

Finishing races

Stenhouse started the 2023 season in the best possible way – winning the Daytona 500. But drivers from less-funded teams who win early superspeedway races usually settle to the bottom of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks 13th heading into Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Standings aren’t as good a ruler this year as they usually are because of drivers missing races and teams incurring penalties. But Stenhouse’s statistics back up his ranking.

Stenhouse has finished every race this year on track, as opposed to in the garage or on the hook. Only Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the same distinction.

In 11 of those 14 races, Stenhouse finished on the lead lap. That’s the same number of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for most races finished on the lead lap with 13 each.

This time last year, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he would be involved in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this year, Stenhouse has been involved in only two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire go out at Darlington.

Approaching his career best

I compare three years in Stenhouse’s career in the table below: the 2017 season — his best to date — along with last year and the 14 races run so far this year.

A table comparing loop data stats for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing his path to redemption

Stenhouse’s current average finishing position of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth best in the Cup Series. That’s 9.3 positions better than Stenhouse’s 2022 average. He’s even beating his 2017 average by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying results are down a bit from 2017 — but remember that those numbers are from the days when NASCAR allowed multiple practice sessions. Stenhouse is only two positions worse relative to 2017, but 7.6 positions better than last year when it comes to establishing his spot on the starting grid.

Stenhouse’s average running position is comparable to 2017 and 2.8 positions better than 2022. He ranks 20th among full-time Cup Series drivers in average running position. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still more than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 average running position this year.

More interesting is the difference between Stenhouse’s average running position his average finishing position. Some drivers run better than they finish. Stenhouse is doing the opposite.

In 2017, Stenhouse finished about 1.4 positions better than he ran. This year, he’s gaining an average of about five positions from where he runs.

One might argue this gain results from the plethora of late-race incidents this year that have removed drivers in the front of the field from contention. But Stenhouse deserves credit for putting himself in a position to benefit from those events.

Stenhouse’s green-flag speed rank is 11th among full-time Cup Series drivers. His 15.3 average, however, is 1.7 positions worse than 10th-place Kyle Busch. Still, it’s impressive that JTG Daugherty is right there in the mix with much better-funded teams. William Byron again has the best average green-flag speed rank at 7.9.

Consistently strong finishes

It’s not uncommon for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. But Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win appears to be something more. The table below summarizes his wins and finishes for the same three years.

A table comparing finishes for 2017, 2022 and 2023 showing Ricky Stenhouse Jr's redemption attemptsThe difference between last year and this year is striking.

In 2022, Stenhouse finished in the top 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this year. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 compared to 33.3% last year. Top-20 finishes aren’t the same as contending for a championship. But they’re a first step.

Stenhouse finished 2017 with nine top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned five top-10 finishes this year.

What’s changed? The Next Gen car is one factor, but it didn’t make much difference for Stenhouse last year. I would point instead to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted both of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Although Kelley worked with Stenhouse and previous crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, this is the first year Kelley is back up on the pit box.

Together, they’re basically halfway to matching Stenhouse’s best year.

And another step closer to redemption.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points


Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).