What drivers said at Martinsville Speedway

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What drivers said at Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway:

Kyle Larson — Winner: “Just huge congratulations to this whole 5 team and Hendrick Motorsports. I feel like Cliff (Daniels) and everybody did a great job all day on pit road making the right calls, having great pit stops, and then it all kind of worked out for me there at the end. We had a great car. That was the best my car had been, I think, being able to get out front and manage. I never ever would have thought that I would win here at Martinsville. This place has been so tough on me. Just does not suit my driving style at all. I like to charge the center. I like to roll momentum, and that’s just not what this place is like. But thanks to Cliff Daniels and everybody for making me feel like I know what I’m doing sometimes around here. So I just can’t believe it. It means a lot to me, but I think more importantly, it means a lot to the whole Hendrick family and Hendrick Motorsports family. Everybody knows what happened here so long ago, and I think everybody — you know, that’s on everybody’s minds every time they come to Martinsville, so wish Rick was here (and) Linda, but we’ve got Jeff Gordon here. I think when you can accomplish something that you don’t see possible, when you do accomplish it, it moves up the ladder pretty high. So this is an extremely special win for me. I’ve worked very hard to get better here. I feel like every time there’s a test available, I get put on that list to test here because I struggle. We want to get better. I’ve got tons of laps around here, and not many top 10s. Honestly, probably more races where I have finished a lap down than on the lead lap. So it’s been difficult. And then, like I said, when you can win at a place like this, it is definitely up there. I was teared up the whole last lap. I heard Cliff was teared up, too. So that feels really, really special because he is so strong and, like, emotionally strong. To hear that means a lot. This win here today means a lot for everybody and, too, Hendrick Motorsports as well with everything that they’ve — everything that this kind of racetrack and trip means to them.”

MORE: Martinsville Cup results, driver points

Joey Logano — Finished 2nd: “Solid recovery for what the start of the race looked like. We went down a lap twice, two times. At one point in the race I would have been just happy to finish on a lead lap. And Paul (Wolfe) did a good job of getting some good changes to the Verizon Mustang to where it got competitive. We just needed track position. Was able to stay out and get a lucky caution there during a green flag cycle. Stayed out again when everyone pitted and put us on the front row and a shot to win the race. I tried holding off Larson as long as I could, but overall there’s days when you are mad about second. Today is not one of those. Today is when you are pretty stoked that you finished a little better than I thought we were going to. We just couldn’t get the car to rotate through the center of the corner. I was just so slow right in the center, and I couldn’t make any passes for that reason, so I was trapped back there. There was one change that woke it up a little bit, and I was, like, all right, I’m decent now, but I’m trapped. It was really hard to pass. Paul was able to give me what I needed to get towards the front. And then fight hard with Larson. I didn’t have a fighting chance there. He drove away from me so quick, but he was pretty patient. I knew I was going to get bumped. That was the only way he was going to go by me was he was going to have to get physical. Nothing wrong with that. It was fun. Like I said, overall, it feels like a win considering how the day went so far.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We had kind of a crazy day with the Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry TRD, but really just got a little bit lucky there getting back on the lead lap mid-race and kept working on our car. We were just so loose all day long, and then finally at the end we got it a whole lot better. So, it was fun at the end passing a lot of cars and getting up there, but still needed to be a little bit better, but overall, you know, proud of everybody for sticking with it and just grinding one out today.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “The package was terrible – it’s either the package or the tires. You can’t pass. Cars that I was lapping 10 laps before, we caught a caution, and I couldn’t pass them for second. It’s very difficult. Next Gen racing is all about strategy, execution on pit road – that’s who wins. Rarely does the car that dominates or the best car win, simply because you can’t control the race when you need to – at least we couldn’t. We made a great strategy call at the end to get positions back. I just needed to stay in the lead. It’s the biggest thing – just like Richmond. When you get the lead, you have to stay there. Just had unfortunate timing of that caution in the green flag pit stop cycle. We pitted, which put us towards the end of the lead lap cars. Cars that I was just lapping 10 laps prior – I couldn’t pass them. It is Next Gen racing with these tires and this aero package – there is no passing. You saw the 41 (Ryan Preece) dominate the race, and then he got caught and went to the back and that was it. That’s just what we’ve got.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 5th: “It would have been more of a statement if we won the race, obviously. I thought as a company we had a really good day. All four cars were in contention. I felt like a Stewart-Haas car probably should have won the race, and we just couldn’t catch the breaks we needed there at the end, but, overall, a great day. That’s something that as a company we needed to go and run up front. All four cars were really competitive. I wish one of us would have won the race, but you’ll have that. We’ll go on to next week and hopefully we can continue this speed and this momentum as a company. I thought our car was really, really good at that point. Even with the caution I thought we were gonna be OK, and then I thought we were gonna stay out, and then at the end it looked like more guys were gonna come down pit road, so we decided to come down with them. Obviously, Monday morning quarterback. It’s a lot easier to say you should have stayed out, but we didn’t. We win and lose as a team. At the time, I thought that was gonna be OK with the amount of laps we still had to go, but track position was obviously super important. It was really hard to pass. Even if you were better than a guy, they could just kind of hang on. It seemed like tires — it took them 50-60 laps for them to fall off even if you had older tires. We probably made the wrong decision at the end, but at the time and the perspective that we had, we thought it was gonna be the best decision. Sometimes you make the wrong one, but it’s hard when you’re in the lead because everybody normally does the opposite of you. That’s part of it, and you just move on. I thought inside the car we were maybe slipping and sliding around maybe 10 percent more. It was still obviously extremely hard to pass. Yeah, I thought it was five to 10 percent better even though there’s still a really long way to go. I did think in the driver’s seat you made a little bit more of a difference. The problem is when you can downshift and things like that, these cars have so much forward drive and obviously not a lot of power coming off the corner, so everybody is kind of the same speed. It’s unfortunate. I wish we turned a page there with the package. Like I said, I thought it was a little bit better, but it needs to be a lot more better.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 6th:  “It’s crazy that Martinsville is a track position race. The cars are so close and so competitive. I thought we were arguably the best car the first part of the race and then we got a little bit behind as the track changed and the car changed a little bit. Then after that, we got the car really good. Drew made some great adjustments, and I thought we were arguably the best car. We went through that green flag pit sequence and then a caution comes out for a wheel and gives a lot of those guys just a free gift that stayed out. A lot of those guys we had lapped already in the race and it’s just so hard to pass that you give those guys track position and you start behind them on the same tires. It’s hard to pass.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 8th: “It was kind of a crazy day. I felt like we were slowly making gains on our Chevy. We got better and better, and then we caught that caution. We had pitted and we had to take the wave-around, and we ended up at the very back. But Mike Kelley (crew chief) and all the guys did a great job. Our war room back at the shop said we should stay out there. They felt like if we stayed out, our lap times would come back around and we’d be able to hang on. Really nice that it went green there. Our No. 47 Kroger/Tree Top Camaro was just a little tight in the center all day. We made it a little bit better. It felt like we were definitely the best we’ve been here in a long time, so we’re really happy with our day.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 9th: “Yeah, for sure. J.R. (Houston), my engineer, and I just walked to figure out where that last section was. I’m 95 percent sure I was good. Obviously, I was speeding, but I was like there is no way. Anyway, it is good to just stay in it, mentally for myself and the team and pull that strategy there. I was calling that tire in the restart zone for three laps – I’m like, ‘Call it, this is our chance.’ We capitalized. All-in-all, it was an okay day. We are missing something. This is one of my favorite tracks and we come here and run sixth-to-ninth every time. We need to be better, but overall, proud of our McDonald’s Toyota Camry group. We will just keep on digging.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 10th: “It was about what I expected, so that’s a good thing. It was warm. I’ve been sitting on the couch for six weeks, so I think that probably hurt me more than anything. But our NAPA Chevy, we struggled every run but the last one. We finally got it going there at the end, and I was able to make some passes and do things that I didn’t really think I’d be capable of doing, or at least of us fixing it to that degree here at the race track. So I was pleasantly surprised by that. Got us a top 10 out of our first day back, so that’s definitely something to not be too bummed about. … Really nice to be back and appreciate the warm welcome this weekend by everybody, so I appreciate that. It definitely didn’t go unnoticed.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 12th: “What a battle today at Martinsville Speedway. Everyone on the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevy team worked hard all day, and a 12th-place finish is pretty good considering how loose our Chevy was throughout the race and some of the strategy that played out. We were trapped a lap down for a while, but this team never gave up. Our Chevy was really loose in traffic with the nose down. It was pretty bad. I could set them up, but I couldn’t get the throttle down. It was like that all day. I thought we were going to end up with a top-10 finish, but I got too loose. I tried to get the No. 23 on the outside with about four or five laps to go. It was the only shot I had, and I did everything I could, but it wasn’t enough. A couple of other cars snuck on our inside and we lost the top 10. All-in-all, a good day for this RCR team. We’ll keep battling.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 15th: “I sped off pit road, I guess. That ultimately cost us the track position. We had a really fast race car, so once we got in the back it was so hard to do anything, so that’s on me. I’ll take blame for that. I was trying to beat them out and ultimately got snapped speeding. I didn’t think we could (speed in his pit box), to be honest with you, but I guess it’s my job to know that. It’s unfortunate, but when we had track position I think it showed that we had a really fast HaasTooling Ford Mustang, but you can’t do those things. You can’t make mistakes. I pride myself on not making mistakes, so that was pretty brutal there, but, like I’ve said, we have a fast race car and really felt like we could have probably swept the stages and ran top three or top five. We were just as good as anybody, but it’s really tough. Dirty air against the pack. You didn’t want to smash them out of the way, but it was really hard to move around.”

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).