Austin Dillon

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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What drivers said after Las Vegas playoff opener

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Martin Truex – winner: “We took a gamble and qualified 24th and for a while there, it wasn’t looking too smart with the 4 (Kevin Harvick) out there in front. But we got the right adjustments at the end, had a great car all day long. It’s a hell of a way to make a championship run. We got some good bonus points and move on to the next round and see what we can do. That was a lot of fun. … (The win) takes some pressure off us and the biggest thing is it gives us more playoff points. The next two weeks we can try to get even more of those and that’s huge. Any playoff points you can get are going to help you get to Homestead.”

Kevin Harvick – finished second: “We always want to win, but these guys just did a great job. We were way off when we got here this weekend and they just kept working. We qualified well, weren’t where we wanted to be when we started the race, got stage points and led there late and gave us an opportunity. I knew the Gibbs cars would be tough and Martin (Truex Jr.) was just so tough in the second half of the run. He had made up that ground and was able to stay close to us. Just a great job by our team. … I think we can do a little better going forward.”

Brad Keselowski – finished third: “Bad start tonight but good finish. We weren’t driving very good at the start. Nothing I was doing was working. We were kind of bleeding positions and losing laps. The team worked on it really hard and got us back to a spot where we could almost steal a win – and I thought for a minute that we might be able to. Not the win we were looking for, but a lot of perseverance and proud of that, that we didn’t freak out.”

Chase Elliott – finished fourth: It was a solid top five. I feel like we finally got our car going pretty good the last two or three runs, which was good, and a good time to do it. We just got some damage on the restart and he had to come down to pit road and fix it. We just couldn’t take a chance on cutting a tire. I felt like we were closer today than we have been the past few weeks, so that was nice. Hopefully, we can have cars like that for the next nine weeks. … We finally got it going pretty good there at the end, I felt like.”

(The restarts seemed crazy. Are we going to see more of that the rest of the playoffs?) Yeah, I would assume so. It’s unfortunate that you can just barely touch somebody and you have a flat tire. But, that’s kind of the box that we’re in. That really needs to be addressed because it’s really hard to be aggressive and not make a little mistake here and there. But that’s what we have to work with right now and it is what it is. So, onward.”

Ryan Blaney – finished fifth: It was a long night for sure. We didn’t start very good. We started really tight and didn’t go anywhere and I was really worried. We took really big swings at it. We were on the really tight side and really loose side and a little bit of both. We couldn’t take off very fast. Other guys would take off really fast. At the end of a run we were really fast up by the wall but we just lost too much ground and then I just got tight there at the end. I might have been able to run third but the top two cars were in a league of their own, especially the 19 (Truex).”

Alex Bowman – finished sixth: We just didn’t fire off very good. As the race ran, we got our car much better. I think kind of the in between from day to night was the best we were. When it grouped up there at the end, it helped out some of the other cars. But, proud of my guys. I wish we would have gotten some more stage points, but we’ll take sixth. I think we ran about where we should have run. Avoiding some of the mess was definitely a good thing. I’m just proud of our guys and we didn’t have any issues. … (What are you most frustrated about today?) Just not getting stage points, really. That’s frustrating. The racing is tough. You just get blocked, guys changing lanes. It’s just super frustrating, but everybody has to do it. That’s just part of it. Overall, it wasn’t too bad of a day.”

William Byron – finished seventh: “Getting back to seventh was great (after spinning earlier). It’s really good. We got a chance to get up front, restarted fourth and had a good restart. Felt we had a lot of good starts and restarts. … Overall, not bad and we’ll move on to Richmond and move on from there.”

Kyle Larson – finished eighth: “Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be. We felt like we probably could potentially win but got a pit stop penalty there and the restarts were wild. We still were able to avoid some trouble and get a top 10, so not bad. Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point. … We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

Joey Logano – finished ninth: “Our car was really fast in the head of the day. It was a rocket ship the first run, I won the first stage and felt like I should have won the second stage. … Frustrating because we had a fast car. I guess we scored a lot of points, so hopefully that kind of helps us in the next round. The ultimate goal is to win the championship so just frustrating when you have a very fast Mustang that was capable of winning. I definitely felt like we could run with those guys, but just too much damage and couldn’t get the speed back. … We’re in the hunt, I wouldn’t say we’re far out.”

Ryan Newman — finished 10th: “It was a decent run for us, one of our better 1.5-mile tracks, just way too loose in the race, tightened it up the whole race and couldn’t get it tight enough. Was a decent run for us, so we’ll just keep digging. … A 10th-place position isn’t anything to hang your hat on but it was probably better than we’ve been at most intermediate tracks we’ve been at this year, so it’s a product of the progress. … It’s a good finish. The progress we’ve made, we’re capable of more. If we can get the car balanced right and get a little more speed in it, and we’ll be even better.”

Austin Dillon — finished 12th: “Man, I wish this race was during the day. Our Bass Pro Shops Chevy was so good while the sun was out. I was a little tight off turn 4 when Stage 1 ended, but didn’t really need any adjustments. As the sun set, I lost stability and struggled in traffic. We used the stage break to make additional changes trying to free up my Camaro ZL1 as it still lacked forward drive. When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy. Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots. I’m proud of this No. 3 Bass Pro Shops team for the work this weekend. We unloaded fast, qualified in the top 10, and were good at the start of the race. We will continue to work on this set up to get it right, but now, it’s on to Richmond.”

Aric Almirola – finished 13th: I am leaving content. We dug deep and I feel like we maximized our day. We had a few miscues and weren’t 100% perfect on our execution. The car wasn’t 100% perfect and we still managed to go up there and lead the race and score stage points. I think we finished third in Stage 1 and scored a fair amount of stage points. After Stage 1 we kind of lost the handle on the car and lost some track position and it because even more of a handful. We dug deep and fought hard and got out of here with a decent finish. I think they just told me we are plus-six to the good on 12th so I feel good about that. It is better than leaving minus-six or minus-16 or minus-60. I am happy with that. We will keep our heads up and keep digging. Our Smithfield Ford Mustang showed some signs of strength tonight and we just lost a little bit of the handle on it.

Denny Hamlin — finished 15th: “(The car seemed like it was evil) Yeah, very much so. … It seemed like we were gaining on it a little bit as the sun was out, and as soon as the sun went down, we were battling with the 12 (Blaney) and got a little damage to the nose. We took two (tires), were a little tight anyway and the car just took off. It was like the front had a big hole, but I don’t see anything. Definitely not as good there at the end as we were expecting. Something was out of whack for sure because all of a sudden the car went dead backwards. We’ll go to Richmond and hopefully pack our way there.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 17th: “We made big strides from practice with this No. 8 Cessna Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. After qualifying, I had high expectations headed into the race. When the sun was out the car was just way too tight throughout the first run. Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose. We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run. All-in-all, proud of these guys for never giving up throughout the weekend. We have nine more chances to go out and do something special as a group and that’s the goal moving forward.”

Kyle Buschfinished 19th: “I don’t know. I was told (Garrett Smithley) was going to go high, I thought he was going to go high, he went middle because I thought he was going to high and killed our day. We should have run fourth probably, instead 19th. We’re the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys that have never won late-model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic, they don’t know where to go. What else do you do? … It’s pathetic to have to lean on insurance (playoff points). My premiums are going to go up.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 20th: “We had a tough day with Haas Automation Mustang, especially when we got damage to both sides of the car after that one restart. The good news is we led laps, but the car was difficult to handle after all of the damage. We did the best we could with what we had until the end, and we’ll move on to next week at Richmond.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 25th: We just weren’t very good tonight. We were just off. Off in all areas. … (Do you need to talk with Daniel Suarez after what happened on the first lap?) No, no. I mean, it is a product of it. I had a run on the (Chris) Buescher kid and he ran me in the wall so I tried to go inside of him and someone hit me in the left rear and knocked it down. It just wasn’t our night. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. I had a run on Buescher on the outside and he ran me in the wall. I went low and tried to fill the hole and I got nailed in the left rear. We shouldn’t have been back there though.”

Erik Jones – finished 36th: “It’s a bummer. I definitely thought we could have run top three. We broke just before the second stage even got going. We’re 25 points out and we just have to focus on and win well in the next two. I think we can still get in on points. The gap is not too big to climb out of. We need to run well. There’s no worse than top fives in the next two weeks if we don’t win. I think Richmond is our shot to win, the roval is a wildcard, tougher one to win. We have to push hard and not beat ourselves.”

Kurt Busch — finished 39th: “We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done. It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

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Clint Bowyer fastest in first of two Cup practices today at Las Vegas

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Clint Bowyer isn’t wasting any time making his presence known in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

The driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang was fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Bowyer ran 21 laps around the 1.5-mile track, with the final lap being the fastest of the 39-car field at 178.059 mph.

Click here for the first practice session results.

William Byron was second-fastest (177.223 mph), followed by three non-playoff entrants: Jimmie Johnson (177.148 mph), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (176.748 mph) and Austin Dillon (176.684).

Sixth through 10th fastest were Brad Keselowski (176.678 mph), Denny Hamlin (176.471), Ty Dillon (176.396), Daniel Suarez (176.327) and Chase Elliott (176.246).

The three slowest of the 16 playoff contenders were Ryan Newman (21st fastest, 174.950 mph), and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson (22nd, 174.836 mph) and Kurt Busch (23rd, 174.588).

There will be one more practice session this afternoon from 7:30 – 8:20 p.m. ET.

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Long: Indy success provides emotional lift for Bubba Wallace, Jeb Burton

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INDIANAPOLIS — Amid the weekend’s celebrations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most emotional moments came not in Victory Lane but on pit road.

One driver cried. Another beamed.

Jeb Burton and Bubba Wallace have faced various challenges in their careers. The 27-year-old Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, has fought to remain relevant in NASCAR. The 25-year-old Wallace, whose dynamic personality is engaging, has been open about his struggles on the track and off.

In a sport where the focus often shifts to the next young driver, it’s easy to forget how much racing Burton and Wallace both could have left and the impact they could make.

Of course, racing, as in life, isn’t always fair. Short tracks across the country feature drivers who had the talent to race in NASCAR’s premier series but never got the chance whether because they didn’t have the proper funding, right look or were too old when discovered.

So in that sense, Burton and Wallace can be considered among the fortunate to have climbed NASCAR’s ladder. That isn’t satisfying for either, though. They want more.

Burton has not had a full-time ride in any of NASCAR’s top three national series since a 2015 Cup effort with BK Racing, a team that no longer exists after going through bankruptcy court a year ago. Burton has pieced together rides with whatever sponsorship he can find. He’s run three Cup, 14 Xfinity and four Truck races since 2017.

He will drive two more Xfinity races this season (Texas and Miami) for JR Motorsports, giving him seven starts in the team’s No. 8 car this season.

Burton finished fourth in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis, tying his career-best result. He could not contain the tears after exiting his car.

Asked where the emotion was coming from, Burton said in a quivering voice: “Two years ago I didn’t know if I was going to drive again. That’s where it comes from.”

Burton later said: “Every time I get into a race car I feel like I’ve got something to prove. You don’t know, this could be the last time out there. You don’t know. I cried like a baby in my TV interview because it means so much. You don’t know when this could be your last day. You’ve just got to cherish every moment.”

That’s not been easy for Wallace at times this season. He tweeted in early May that he had not “been (in) a good place for some time now.” A few days later at Kansas Speedway, Wallace said how “you try to be the best you can and sometimes it ain’t good enough.”

The session with reporters ended with Wallace later burying his head in his hands.

He won a segment in the Monster Energy Open in May, received a heartfelt embrace from Ryan Blaney and was emotional in his interview with FS1, saying “Damn, I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time.”

His struggles on the track haven’t helped. Richard Petty Motorsports struggled to find proper funding for nearly the first six months of the year. The results showed.

Until Sunday’s Brickyard 400, Wallace had not finished better than 14th this season and had only four top-20 results.

After he finished third Sunday, Wallace screamed on his radio: “Yeah! That ain’t supposed to happen! That is not supposed to happen! We did it! Nice job!”

Wallace could not stop smiling after climbing from his car. Richard Petty hugged him.

“We needed this,” Wallace said. “We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.”

Wallace called Sunday “an unforgettable day at Indy.”

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There are many places one can find points gained or lost over a 26-race regular season that can determine who makes the playoffs. Such is the case for Daniel Suarez, who finished four points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot Sunday.

Here are a couple of key moments this season that had they gone differently could have given Suarez the chance to race for a championship instead of Newman:

# Suarez won the pole at Kentucky in July but did not score any stage points.

Suarez led the opening 49 laps at Kentucky but when a caution came out, the team decided to change four tires. Two cars took no tires and 10 cars took two tires during that caution. Suarez restarted 13th, the first car on four tires. He finished the opening stage in 14th and scored no stage points.

In the second stage, Suarez had a flat tire and had to pit under green and then was called for speeding. He fell three laps down at one point and never had a chance to score any stage points.

That was one of three times this season that the driver who started on the pole failed to score any stage points. Austin Dillon did not tally any stage points after starting on the pole at Auto Club Speedway in March, and Denny Hamlin failed to do so after starting on the pole at Bristol in August.

Drivers who started on the pole scored an average of 10.2 stage points per race in the regular season this year. Suarez could have used those 10 points Sunday.

# Newman’s extra pit stop at Michigan in August.

Twenty-seven cars, including Newman, pitted for fuel on Lap 150 at Michigan, putting them all on the edge of making it the rest of the race on fuel. Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road the next lap to top off on fuel.

With no caution the rest of the way, fuel mileage was critical. Newman went from 18th to 12th in the final three laps as cars ahead of him had to pit for fuel or ran out on the track.

Newman ran out of fuel on Turn 4 of the last lap but easily made it across the finish line. Had he not stopped on Lap 151 to top off, he wouldn’t have made it to the end and would have lost several positions.

Instead, those six points gained by others running out fuel helped Newman secure the last playoff spot.

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Ryan Newman helped snap the playoff drought for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car.

The car once piloted by Hall of Famer Mark Martin last made the playoffs in 2006 — the year Jimmie Johnson won the first of his record-tying seven Cup titles.

Newman’s team has gone through key changes since last season’s finale in Miami. Scott Graves became the team’s crew chief for this season. The team also has a different engineer and car chief from last year’s Miami race.

“Our team is so new,” Newman said. “It is newer than I have ever experienced. That is huge. With all the changes we had in our sport in the offseason, I think it was underestimated by me and a huge change to tackle.

“I feel like we have done a good job but to answer your question, we just need to continue to progress to make our cars go faster. I think we have had some good strategy and pit stops and good moves on the race track. All those types of things. Good things need to turn into great things and keep progressing as a team.”

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Leaders crashing late in a race can can create ill will and lead to spicy exchange between competitors. Not for Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis.

Instead, fans saw sportsmanship after the two drivers wrecked with seven laps left.

Reddick approached Bell on the track and gave him a tap on the back.

Reddick told NBCSN after leaving the infield care center: “No one in this garage or in NASCAR racing in general should ever question Christopher’s driving ability. That wasn’t the issue there.

“His car just simply got loose, and we just got together and we didn’t really have a lot of race track. It’s (the) end of the race, we’re going for it type deal. Nothing against Christopher. He did nothing wrong. His car just got loose. Just part of racing at the end at this place.”

Refreshing to see how this situation was handled.

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Shortly after celebrating Kevin Harvick‘s victory at Indianapolis, crew chief Rodney Childers was focused on the challenge of the playoffs, which begin Sunday (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I think this season is just tough,”  he said. “I think it’s going to be tougher the next 10 races than it’s ever been. You’ve got 550 (horsepower) races that you have to be good at. You’ve got 750 races you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got road course cars you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got to have a good Martinsville car. There’s so many different things in the playoffs this year that it’s going to be so important to have great race cars every week.”

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The quote of the weekend belonged to Kevin Harvick’s son Keelan.

Asked what it was like to kiss the bricks after his father’s win, Keelan said: “They don’t taste great, but it was fun kissing the bricks.”

What drivers said after Brickyard 400

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There was a lot of carnage and two drivers made the playoffs and two others fell short in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We saw Jimmie Johnson eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in his Cup career after a big crash. Others who made an early exit in the race due to wrecks include Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones.

Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer made the playoffs, but Johnson and Daniel Suarez came up short.

Here’s what many of the drivers in Sunday’s race had to say:

Kevin Harvick — winner: “(On NBC frontstretch interview) This is great. I have to say thanks to all the fans. I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me. As a kid, I watched Rick Mears win Indy 500s and I got to be around him as a kid. He was my hero. Coming here and winning here is pretty awesome. These guys just built a great race car. I just can’t say enough on this Mobil One Ford Mustang. These guys on this team built a heck of a race car. This is the same stuff that we took to Michigan and had a great weekend obviously and went to victory lane.

“I know how much this means to everybody. This is a great engine package that Roush Yates has given us. It’s been to victory lane twice now, once at Michigan and now the same engine here. I kept telling myself, get the baby girl (daughter Piper) a trophy. It’s a good weekend to come. She doesn’t really quite know what’s going on, just a lot of noise, but pretty special.

“(What kind of statement is this?) I don’t know if we had the best car, but we had the fastest car. We gave up the lead on one of those restarts, came and pitted and the caution came out and the way the caution flag fell worked in our favor. It gave us control of the race and we kept control of the race and we didn’t make any mistakes and here we are in victory lane at one of the greatest places on Earth to race.”

Joey Logano — finished second: “We were so close to winning here. It means so much to winning at Indy and gosh, I wish we could have gotten it, but I’m proud of the effort of our team. We had a solid run. … Today was all about getting playoff points as much as possible. The 4 (Harvick) was fast and quick and we kind of needed something crazy to happen to get ahead of him. … Overall, I feel strong about our day today and going into a racetrack we won at last time (at Vegas) we were there and make another championship run at this thing. We need to execute there like we did here today. We have to have perfect days all the way through. It’s so hard to recover these days, you know? You’ve got to be perfect. I look forward to the playoffs every year because the time you learn the most about yourself and grow the most, the pressure kind of has the ability to do that, so I can’t wait for that.”

Bubba Wallace — finished third: “Heck of a day. I don’t know to say. We had speed all weekend in our Victory Junction Chevrolet. We never gave up all day no matter what happened on pit road. I still don’t know what happened. We went from the lowest of lows, to the almost highest of highs! It was just a solid day for our team. Smaller organizations having big runs. It is very uncommon these days. Almost like David and Goliath. Everything kind of clicked today for us. These little teams aren’t supposed to run with the big teams. It was a good day.”

William Byron — finished fourth: “(On NBCSN) Unfortunately, we got that damage on pit road at the beginning of the race. Not really sure what happened there. The front crunched in the left rear fender but I was really pleased with how our car was after that, it was really quick. It was a really good top five run for us and we’re really looking forward to the playoffs ahead. We’re pretty optimistic. I think we’ve learned a lot the last couple weeks with the way our car’s been set up and how it’s worked for us. It was a grind today to get track position but once we did, we were really happy with that. Hopefully, it should be a real good track for us.

“(Your thoughts on the playoffs?) I feel like any place that we’re going back to for a second time is going to be really good for us. Definitely going back to Vegas is going to be great. Going back to Richmond is going to be good. The Roval is a new one, but I feel those two out of three in the first round, going back for the second time, can help our team. I would say after these last two weeks we’ve had a better handle. We were really guessing on how much straightaway speed versus corner speed we wanted, and I think we’ve got a good package going into the playoffs.
“(Do you feel like you’re where you need to be to start the playoffs?) Yeah, I think so. I mean there’s no better way to go into than a Top 5 finish. And that’s really good for our team. It kind of helps start our momentum and I hope we can carry that into next week. … Martinsville is tough. Talladega is very unpredictable. I just don’t know. We’ve just got to take one race at a time, obviously, and do the best we can.”

Clint Bowyer — finished fifth: “We just kept digging. … That was a close call with the 88 (Alex Bowman). It was a wild race. These restarts are everything and you have to try to go for broke and everybody did. We got some momentum. This was key for us with a top-five and some top 10s before that. Teammate obviously won the race so we obviously have some things to work on in these playoffs. Hats off to everyone at Stewart-Haas. … I think we have the ship going in the right direction going to Las Vegas. We were putting ourselves in some bad situations and the driver wasn’t doing a good job of digging ourselves out of them, but I feel like collectively we’ve finally gotten over that, our confidence level is back a little bit. To finally leave some of these racetracks with some positive mojo is definitely important.”

Denny Hamlin — finished sixth: “I knew our car was strong, we just struggled with track position. After a few restarts, we were up in the top six. Then we got shuffled in the last restart to 10th and then got back to sixth in the last couple laps. The car was fast, but just never got a chance. It was a second and a half different between running behind someone and in clean air. The 4 (Harvick) had good car speed, controlled the race and that allowed you to leg it out like he did. It was a good regular season for us, we’re ready for the playoffs and hopefully we’ll get a few more wins before this thing is over. … Everywhere we’ve gone back to a second time, our results have been extremely good. I definitely like our chances when we go back to Vegas and all these other tracks coming up. We’re pretty excited about it. I feel we have as good of speed and handling as we’ve ever had. If we have good clean races, we’re upfront. If we don’t, we have a bad finish. That’s the only thing that’s been holding us back.”

Ryan Blaney — finished seventh: “Overall, I’m proud of thew whole 12 team. Man, I thought we had the car to win but we got back in the pack and got super tight and couldn’t pass anybody. That really stinks. I thought we were actually pulling away from (Harvick) when we got the lead easy. It’s just one of those things, it seems like the norm for this year, so hopefully it’ll turn around.

“(Will the first round be tough?) I guess so. Vegas has been pretty good to us. Richmond isn’t our strongest track and the Roval (Charlotte), you really don’t know what will happen. Hopefully we can have strong runs and no problems, no issues and do what we should and hopefully the runs will get better for us as the tracks get a little better for us. But take it just one race at a time.”

Ryan Newman — finished eighth: “(To NBCSN) We weren’t by any means the fastest car, were tight in traffic, I’m sure a lot of guys were, but we were one of the worst. Excellent strategy by (crew chief) Scott Graves, everybody at Roush Fenway. It’s been a year of progress, learning and a lot of things I feel like a rookie more than I’ve ever been. … We did everything we could and it was good enough but we have a lot of work ahead of us. What happened today could happen in three more races, so we have to put our nose to the grindstone. We have a lot of work to do. We showed we can progress throughout the race, but we have to start qualifying in the top 10 and finish in the top five. Then we’ll prove we’re made of more than what we’re showing.”

Chase Elliott — finished ninth: “I haven’t seen a replay of the pit road incident, but one thing about Indy is pit road is so narrow. You have to start braking before you turn into your box which is typically not the case. I think that was a contributor. I apologize if I didn’t stop quick enough. Once they all started stopping, they stopped so fast, I didn’t get stopped quick enough and about the time I got stopped, somebody piled into me. It was one of those chain reaction things. I hate that it happened, especially that early in the race, but luckily, we were able to piece our car back together and finish the race. My crew worked hard during to get us better. So, it finished alright.

“(On being in the playoffs) Just hopefully having a nice, smooth, uneventful race at Las Vegas would be good. These past couple of weeks have been wild with just a lot of stuff happening. So, we just need to get out there and I have confidence that we can have good cars. We’ve just got to get going in find a little consistency and just get things started off, uneventfully, would be great. (Are there any other tracks you’re looking forward to:) Yeah, the next one, really. I think you have to have the ability to win all of them, or the majority of them, to have a shot at Homestead. We just need to have that mindset going in. This first round is going to be tough. Michigan and Charlotte haven’t been our best two race tracks, so it’s important for us to not overlook it and put some emphasis on the first round and not just think we’re going to breeze right through.”

Paul Menard — finished 10th: “It was an up and down day for us. We qualified really good. We were really tight to start. That has happened to us the last two weeks where we fired off really tight and had to free up throughout the race. We finally got some track position back at the end and had a couple good restarts and got a top 10, so overall, not a bad day.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “(Your late charge just wasn’t enough to make the playoffs) I was just trying to drive as fast as I could. I knew it was going to be tough but I wanted to be positive. We had 26 laps or something to go, I had fresher tires, but I had track position and this is a track position race. It was a bad timing to get trapped in the pit stop cycle. We could have won the race doing that or we could have lost the race like this. … It just didn’t work out.

“(What will the remainder of the season hold for you?) We’ve been strong in some races and average in some others. As a team, we definitely have some work to do. We were just down in power this weekend. I qualified 20th and one of my teammates got the pole. We just have to keep working hard and trying to put ourselves in better position. I believe in this team and this team is used to win races and I want to take them there.”

Austin Dillon — finished 12th: “Starting off, our SYMBICORT® (budesonide/formoterol fumarate dihydrate) Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was tight in Turn 2 but handled really well everywhere else on the track. Trouble came early though when the caution flag was displayed during Stage 1. We all came down pit road to pit and a big group of cars got jumbled on pit road and started making contact with each other. The cars in front of me started colliding and I made contact with the No. 9 car, then the No. 17 car drove through all of us because someone hit him from behind, too. The craziest part of this entire race is pit road. You’re dodging slower cars and if something happens you have no where to go. You can’t dodge left. You can’t go anywhere. We were able to make repairs to our Chevy, but the damage definitely created handling issues for the rest of the day. We raced our way as high as seventh but the handling was so tight that we lost a few positions at the end to finish 12th. I’m proud of this team. We had a plan and we stuck to it. It feels great to put together a solid race for our partner AstraZeneca and everyone associated with the No. 3 team.”

Ty Dillon — finished 13th: “Today was another solid day for our GEICO team. We continued to make the car better and better throughout the race and were able to miss the accidents in front of us. I battled a tight car for most of the race but Justin (Alexander) and I worked through adjustments together. I’m proud of my team for working hard all weekend and to finish 13th is more momentum for us to carry into next week. We continue to build our program and runs like this show that we are making gains.”

Aric Almirola — finished 14th: “It was a crazy race today. Track position was really important and restarts were crazy and really important. You just have to go. You have to go all the time. You can’t give up spots on pit road or restarts. Once it gets single-filed out it is really tough.

“(What is it like to be back in the playoffs?) To be able to make it back into the playoffs and have a shot to run for a championship is great. Everything has to be better when you get to the playoffs. The car has to be better, the driver has to be better. I have to do a better job on restarts. We have to do a better job on pit road. It all stacks up. It all matters. I think when you get to the playoffs, everybody brings a whole other level and hopefully we can rise to the occasion like we did last year. … (Does last year’s experience help you?) I think so. I feel like going through this last year and the pressure and everything that goes with it really gives me a good understanding. I am not going into it blind. I really know what to expect and I know the level of intensity that is getting ready to come.”

Alex Bowman — finished 21st: “(Are you ready for the playoffs?) Yeah, I love Las Vegas. There’s three or three and a half grooves to run, basically. So, I’m really excited to get there and try to make the most out of a really strong 1.5-mile program for us. I think that’s a place that we can go and be capable of winning and I’m looking forward to it. … (How stressful will 10 straight weeks of playoffs be like?) We’ve just got to go out and perform and not have good days and then bad days, like we’ve had the last two weeks. There are a lot of really good race tracks for us. The second round is extremely good for us. So, I’m looking forward to it. I think our cars are going to be really strong and we can go out there and win some races.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 27th: “Well I can tell you that I’m glad to be rolling out of Indy. It’s been a pretty crappy weekend for us in general. Felt like we had something for them today at the start of the race. We were passing cars. We had to start way in the back, and then on the first pit stop, of course, we get in a crash. Unfortunate deal. The guys have been doing a good job, and I feel like the Playoff tracks line up well for us. We have a decent amount of Playoff points in the bank to start out with. First round, if we can just go do what we know how to do, be consistent, not beat ourselves, we should be able to move on pretty quickly. Hopefully, we can start to take advantage of the fast race cars. The last five to six races, we have been really strong. We don’t have a whole lot to show for it, so it has been disappointing. It has been frustrating from that point. Knowing that we have the team and the speed to go really far in the Playoffs and be a Championship contender feels good. We will be ready to start that next weekend.”

Kurt Busch — finished 30th: “(What track are you looking forward to the most in the playoffs?) Vegas. That’s my home town. (Describe the emotion and physicality of 10 straight weeks in the playoffs) You’ve just got to be ready for it. All year long you build up toward it. There are sister tracks to some tracks that other tracks that are own their own. Each week is a nice, fresh, restart; and you’ve got to get through three races each time, you know, the three rounds to get to Homestead. So, I kind of look at it as three races at a time and just try to piece together what you chew on.”

Kyle Larson — finished 33rd: “I am kind of happy with how the day went except for crashing myself out. I am proud of the car my team brought. I felt like I had the best car probably. I didn’t get to see the No. 1 car (teammate Kurt Busch), but he seemed fast as well. I was really, really good. I was happy with that, but upset with myself that I crashed myself. I’m looking forward to the playoffs. We’ve had faster, and faster cars every race.
“(Do you have confidence going into the playoffs?) Yeah, no doubt. It’s been a good couple of months. My cars have been good. We’re qualifying pretty well. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging along and hope we get a win and get through these rounds. … (This is your fourth time in the playoffs. You’ve only gotten past the first round once. What will it take to get through more than one round?) I think just having nice, clean days. Days like we have had the last couple of months. Aside from crashing today, we’ve gotten good stage points and good finishes. So, we just have to continue having days like that and eliminating our mistakes. We just have to do the best we can in the stages and the finishes.”
Daniel Hemric — finished 34th: “I felt like we had a good restart there and I got to the bottom, which is where you need to be, then next thing I knew I saw the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) sideways. I saw the left side of his car, his nose through the grass. I thought I had it missed and someone got turned down and caught me in the right side of the Liberty National Chevrolet Camaro Zl1 and turned me into the outside wall. I’m not sure what started it or what happened – just chaos. This was an important day, making my first Brickyard 400 start, all the way up until the point where we were crashed. That’s been the story for this No. 8 team all year. Everybody on this team works too hard to have this many unfortunate things happen to us. We’ll put this one behind us and move on to Las Vegas next week.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 35th: “(From NBC interview) It’s certainly disappointing. Unfortunately we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we were in today. We needed a stellar day and I think we were having a strong day and just really proud of my team and where we were at and what was going on.

“The 1 car (Kurt Busch) had a little bit of trouble on the restart I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened, certainly not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go below the white line, got snipped there and around we go.

“(This will be the first playoff you won’t be part of in your Cup career) It’s pretty impressive the run we’ve been on in the playoffs for this many consecutive years. We have that to be proud of and sure, we would have liked to continue that on. The goal is to win a race. The team is getting stronger each and every week. Cliff Daniels (crew chief) is doing an amazing job leading this group and we’re ready to roll. We’ll dust ourselves off and try to get a trophy.”

Kyle Busch – finished 37th: “(Did you have any indication the engine was about to go?) “No, we just left pit road and we were just coming up through the gears. Everything was fine. We got to fourth. We made it all the way to turn two on the apron there and then tried to blend up in traffic and it just let go. I don’t know. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be, where we thought we could run with those guys. We were definitely struggling in the long run similar to yesterday. We thought we qualified a little better than we should, and I guess that’s probably why we weren’t quite there for the long haul and keeping downforce in the car I guess. Just too tight overall. I thought we were going to have a solid third-to-fifth, something like that anyways, and try to come out of here with some points or some momentum going into the Playoffs, but we are stuck here. Once it blew up, it knocked the brakes out of it so I couldn’t stop coming to pit road so I couldn’t get out of everyone’s way and not cause a caution. So sorry about that.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 38th: “(That was a wild ride. What was it like for you?) Yeah, I sure would like to see the replay first. We had new tires and we were racing some cars that didn’t have new tires and wanted to make the pass there and got real tight to the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and lost the nose in the air. I was trying to leave room and probably came down on Erik (Jones) more than I thought I did and he got real loose. No air on my car. I hit the wall there. There is this spot on the wall with just an atrocious angle. I don’t know what that spot is for but it does not need to be there, but we found it. That is how racing goes. We find the things. This track really was part of the safety revolution about 15-20 years ago and I think it is time for another.”

“(The TV guys were saying with that bad wall angle, maybe that was a good spot for the tires given the angle of the wall. What are your thoughts?) “That is an interesting conclusion. I am not sure I agree with that. I think there probably should not be weird angles like that to wreck on. It is what it is and I am glad I am okay. It is just a tough day for everyone on the Discount Tire Ford team.”

Erik Jones – finished 39th: “I just got loose and made a mistake. I didn’t think Brad (Keselowski) would be so tight on me and I just lost it. It’s my fault. I feel bad for the 2 (Keselowski) and I feel bad for our team as well. It’s a shame, we had a good Stanley Camry and I just hate seeing it come down like that. I just wasn’t anticipating enough and I drove in too hard for it. It’s all good. We’ll move on. Wish we would have had a good day. Our car was really strong and we had a shot to probably win today. Just didn’t work out.

“(What was the racing like?) Really challenging. That’s part of why I was making that move and being aggressive with it. I was just trying to get track position. I made a mistake on pit road and stalled it. I was just trying to get back up there. We had a good restart and I was just hoping I could get some good track position back. Tried to get in there and get another spot and it just didn’t quite work out.”

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