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Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

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While NASCAR celebrates Michael Jordan’s entry as a Cup owner, his arrival comes at the expense of another team.

Jordan and Denny Hamlin purchased Germain Racing’s charter, marking the end of that single-car team when the season concludes Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Seven races remain for Germain Racing, Ty Dillon and the team’s 40-plus employees before they scatter, some within the sport and others elsewhere. The team races for the first time since the announcement Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

“It’s not been real easy the last couple of weeks,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

He has been Germain Racing’s driver the past four seasons. The team, which won Truck titles in 2006 and 2010 with Todd Bodine, has competed in Cup since 2009. Germain Racing’s best Cup finish is fourth, accomplished by both Dillon and Casey Mears.

The team’s future soured when GEICO determined it would not return after this season. Without sponsorship money and with multiple groups interested in the team’s charter, a sale became the best route for owner Bob Germain. Hamlin and Jordan quickly put together an effort to buy the charter and made headlines with their deal.

With lives upturned by the novel coronavirus, Germain Racing employees now seek work in a pandemic. It adds stress to a 2020 that has tested so many.

“We all in life go through things,” Dillon said. “Life is … never going to be easy or perfect. For me, this has definitely been an extremely stressful time with all the things, the virus that is going on, our team announces that we’re selling and is sold now with seven races to go, and you still have people that you care about that you want to see get opportunities.

“Everyone is trying to keep a good attitude. It’s a very tough situation. Then I have a little girl (who turns 3 in November) and my wife is pregnant and we’re going to have our son in November. You have your virus concerns and also wanting to make sure your daughter is raised and still be able to get out and do things a 2 1/2-year-old should be able to do. That is what is most important to me over all things, spending time with her.

“Then you have in the back of your mind you want to provide for your family. I’m 28 years old and just getting started. … Also, I’ve been (racing) since I was 13, I’ve put a lot of effort and time in it myself. I feel like I still haven’t gotten to prove what I’m fully capable of yet. That’s always in the back of my mind. So it’s been extremely stressful.”

Dillon said he’s relied on his faith to navigate these challenges.

“I believe that God is with me in this process, no matter how much I don’t understand,” he said. “He’s on the other side. He’s going to put me in a place that is going to allow me to do the most for his kingdom, and he’s going to bring me the most joy at the end of wherever I’m going here.

“Knowing that is my teeth in this bit of a storm. It’s definitely not an easy season, and I’m immature in the fact that I want to know what is going to happen.”

Dillon, who finished a season-best 10th at Las Vegas in February, said he’s put together sponsorship for 2021. He is among a number of drivers who have not announced rides for next year. That list includes Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley, among others. 

Dillon told NBC Sports that “this week and next week are going to be really crucial weeks in figuring out what the next step is. There’s an array of things that can happen and I’m not sure which one is going to happen.”

2. Staying Power

While Michael Jordan has made news for coming to NASCAR, the key is how long he stays as an owner.

The sport is filled with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone in ownership roles through the years.

While many in the sport hope Jordan can help attract more fans and businesses, he needs to remain in the sport to help achieve some of those goals.

Denny Hamlin, who is partnering with Jordan on the new team with Bubba Wallace as driver, told NBC Sports and Fox in an exclusive interview this week that he is confident he can create a program with staying power.

“He has me to help him with the day-to-day stuff,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Obviously, I’ve got a day job, racing a car and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for years and years with my FedEx team, but I know enough about this sport that I can help guide this ownership team in the right direction.”

The team is expected to align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another key will be the personnel hired to run the team with Hamlin racing and Jordan busy as owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and his other business ventures.

“I think we’re going to have the ability by starting a team from scratch essentially of hiring the best people available at every position,” Hamlin said. “Believe me, since this became public knowledge, we’ve already started those conversations.

“We’re going to give Bubba the best possibility or chance to win in Year 1. I believe that he can win in the first year, but I’m also not naive to think this is an easy business either. It’s hard to win.

“Two years ago, I didn’t win a race. I’ve got 12 years experience and I’m with the best team. My teammate, Kyle Busch, is one of the best, and hasn’t won yet in 2020. It’s not easy. It’s going to be difficult, but I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning.”

If so, that should keep Jordan in the sport for a long time.

3. TikTok the timing was right

For all the time Ryan Vargas spent searching for sponsorship, networking in the NASCAR garage and looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series, he could have not imagined how he landed a deal with this year’s hottest social media property.

Credit goes to Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas who designs paint schemes for some NASCAR teams.

Pistana created a TikTok car for Vargas because Vargas uses the social app so much. Pistana posted his concept scheme for Vargas on social media in July.

TikTok soon saw the image and talks began.

TikTok
Ryan Vargas’ TikTok car for JD Motorsports mirrors the design Vargas’ friend, Ryan Pistana, created in July and posted on social media. (Photo: JD Motorsports)

“They loved the scheme, they loved the sport,” Vargas told NBC Sports. “They’re very enthusiastic about jumping in.”

TikTok also had a good representative in Vargas, who has more than 40,000 followers and nearly 600,000 likes. Vargas’ TikTok videos are a mix of fun, behind the scenes images and inspiration.

Within about two months, TikTok completed a six-race deal with Vargas and JD Motorsports that will begin next week at Talladega Superspeedway. The agreement allows Vargas to run the rest of the season.

Those six races equal the number of races Vargas has run in the series since last year. He ran three races last year and three this season.

When he hasn’t been racing, he’s often been on the road crew for JD Motorsports. In the last month, Vargas was a mechanic for BJ McLeod’s car at Richmond and Daytona, drove for the team at Darlington (finishing 25th) and was a mechanic for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car at Dover.

“I learn just by doing that,” Vargas said of his role as mechanic at the track. “So when I hop into the car, I know what I want changed.”

It’s a great learning experience but drivers want to drive and Vargas is no different.

“I would be lying to you if I said that didn’t kind of sting sometimes, your friends are out there racing and doing what they want,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to have pretty much everything fall apart. I was very close to being completely done racing at the end of 2018, so I know what it’s like to sit out and not be in the car.”

Vargas credits a meeting with Mike Davis, director of brand strategy for JR Motorsports and co-host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download, with helping him push through after the 2018 season.

“His piece of advice to me, be present, have your gear and never stop working,” Vargas said of what Davis told him in their meeting.

Vargas has kept following his dream. Now he has a ride for six races thanks to social media.

4. A fan’s last ride

For nearly 20 years, Kenneth Chase took grandson Brendon Harmon to NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

They’d travel from Chase’s home in Sebago, Maine and camp with friends and family. Sometimes the group was so large, they’d need a second camper to accommodate everyone.

The trips started when Harmon was about 5 years old. They continued when Chase, known as Pa to his grandchildren, was found to have prostrate cancer.

Kenneth Chase with grandson Brendon Harmon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. (Photo: Brendon Harmon)

As his grandfather went through treatments in 2012, Harmon decided he wanted to take him to the Daytona 500.

Harmon worked two jobs and saved more than $3,000 so he could take his grandparents and mom to the 2013 Daytona 500. He paid for the plane tickets, race tickets and hotel.

Chase later got colon cancer. Doctors removed the tumor. The cancer returned. They did another surgery. The cancer came back and spread.

Chase died Aug. 25. He would have been 77 years old Saturday.

“He’s what I aspire to be some day,” Harmon said of Chase. “I really hope my future grandkids think of me the way I think of him.”

Harmon has found a way to honor his grandfather. The NASCAR Foundation and Martin Truex Jr. Foundation partnered for the Nominate a Cancer Hero program. The program auctions off space on a NASCAR Truck or car to put a person’s name for this weekend’s Las Vegas races. More than 40 drivers are participating. The program raised about $100,000.

Harmon found out about the auction shortly before it closed. He didn’t have enough money to provide a winning bid but asked friends for help and they rallied to provide the winning bid of about $2,800 to have Chase’s name on Alex Bowman’s car Sunday at Las Vegas.

Chase was a Dale Earnhardt fan. He switched to Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson after Earnhardt’s death. Chase remained a Hendrick fan after that, so putting his name on a Hendrick car was perfect for Harmon.

“He gets to go fast one more time,” Harmon told NBC Sports. “He gets to feel the race car one more time and hear the race car one more time.”

Harmon will gather with family Sunday and have a cookout at his house, serving deer steak and chicken on the grill. He’ll also have ice cream. Chase would eat ice cream, often chocolate, as he watched the races on TV.

Watching Sunday’s race on NBCSN and knowing his grandfather’s name will be on Bowman’s car will be special for Harmon.

“It’s going to kind of be a mixture of tears with joy,” he said.

5. Learn by example

The Xfinity playoffs begin Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While Chase Briscoe enters after his seventh win of the season, leading regular-season champ Austin Cindric by two victories, rookie Harrison Burton looks to take the lessons he’s learned this season and turn them into a title run.

Burton told NBC Sports that one of the areas he’s improved most this season is “using my head and thinking about things.”

He notes his third-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a turning point.

“I think Kansas was probably one of the most fun races I ever lost,” he said. “I was really thinking, how can I beat Austin (Cindric, who finished second to Brandon Jones)? What can I show him to make him do something that I want him to do? (It’s) things I listen to Denny Hamlin talk about and say on his radio. Using the mental side of the game to their advantage. That has been really fun to go to the places where that is a big deal and try to make the most of it.”

The key, Burton said, is having a car that will allow a driver to think as they’re hitting their marks in each corner.

“When that becomes muscle memory, that’s when you free up your brain and you’re able to strategize in your head,” he said. “You’re able to show people lines that you know are going to hurt their tires but it’s fast. Then you run them down on a long run because they have been doing that.”

Who has taught Burton a memorable lesson in such a situation?

“Briscoe does a good job of that, of showing you a different lane and catching you with a different lane and then he has the ability to pass you in a completely different (lane),” Burton said.

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Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

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What’s next?

In a season of change that has zoomed through NASCAR like history did in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 100 days remain in the year. That’s plenty of time for more upheaval.

Remember the beginning of the season when talk centered on the championship race moving to Phoenix Raceway this year?

That was back when teams practiced and qualified before races, before drivers chose what lane to restart, before midweek races.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced NASCAR and all sports to change, but when NASCAR returned after a 10-week break in May to Darlington without spectators, that was only the beginning of a season unlike any other.

Michael Jordan’s entry into the sport Monday night capped a day that started with Chip Ganassi hiring Ross Chastain to drive its No. 42 car next year and a report that NASCAR would add another road course to the 2021 schedule and move the All-Star Race.

The 2021 schedule has not been released so that is something to look forward to at some point in the next 100 days. The timeline on when it will be revealed continues to change, so let’s just say it will be out by Christmas, if not sooner. Who knows, there still might be more road course races on next year’s schedule. 

This is what we know of 2021: It won’t feature the Next Gen car, which has been delayed to 2022; the Daytona 500 is scheduled to open the season on Valentine’s Day; and Nashville Superspeedway will host Cup cars for the first time in June, the first in a four-year agreement.

Oh, and we also know where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021. He’ll drive for a team co-owned by Jordan and Denny Hamlin. JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty says of the three: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The sport’s quiet rock star, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, is watching his final full-time season — don’t worry he hints that he’ll look to run a few Cup races when his IndyCar schedule allows — end with muted fanfare in front of empty stands or socially distanced crowds.

Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce who it will add to its driver lineup with Johnson’s departure. That’s just among the unknowns with 100 days left in the year and 145 days until next year’s Daytona 500. Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth have yet to announce plans for next year. The status of Kyle Larson’s return looms over all of them.

One of the bigger questions on the track is if Kyle Busch can win a Cup race this season. He’s won at least one series race in each of the past 15 years, a streak that ranks tied for sixth on the all-time list with Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart.

“It’s really important,” Busch said of the streak. “Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment that we’ve placed on that being able to win a race in 16 consecutive seasons. Hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17 and then to 18 or however many that I’m here.”

Busch came close last weekend at Bristol, the first time that track hosted a playoff race. It was part of the revamped playoff schedule that has Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville as elimination races, NASCAR’s way of ramping the intensity as the season comes to a close.

There weren’t fireworks on the track but the 30,000 fans at Bristol saw a spellbinding battle between Harvick and Busch for the win over the final laps. Harvick prevailed for his ninth win of the season. Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 or more races.

Fans are slowly returning to the track, although there won’t be any at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Charlotte Motor Speedway found out Tuesday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will permit outdoor arenas with seating capacity of more than 10,000 to be filled to 7% capacity. Charlotte races in May were run without fans and the All-Star Race was moved to Bristol in July because Bristol could have fans and Charlotte could not.

Social initiatives, including the banning of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races and tracks, were added this summer.

“Ultimately,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in June, “when we get back to full grandstands, everyone who walks through the gates or on to our property or one of our tracks or where our races are being held will understand that they will not see the Confederate flag.”

That was among the key changes that Jordan said drew him to joining Hamlin as an owner of NASCAR’s newest Cup team.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Jordan’s entrance is significant. But the way this season has gone, a global sports icon joining NASCAR? That’s called Tuesday.

With 100 days left in the year, there’s plenty more change ahead.

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NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Silly Season: Ross Chastain to drive No. 42 Ganassi Cup car in 2021

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Another puzzle of Silly Season has been set with Ross Chastain headed to Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 Cup car for next season.

Chastain has been a development driver for the team since 2018. He drove three Xfinity races for Ganassi in 2018, winning once. Chastain was to drive a full Xfinity season in 2019 for the team until D.C. Solar’s sponsorship ended after its offices were raided by the FBI. The company later declared bankruptcy.

Chastain is competing for the Xfinity championship this season for Kaulig Racing. He is winless this season but has five runner-up finishes, including this past weekend at Bristol.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing. The team is considering putting itself up for sell.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that the team has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

What drivers said after Bristol night race

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Kevin Harvick – winner: “We had just a really, really good Busch Light Ford Mustang tonight. I got it a little dinged up with 50 or 60 laps to go. I knocked a hole in the nose and made it a little too tight through the center of the corner, but turned into a heck of a race, in and out of traffic there with Kyle (Busch). He got me once pinned up there in traffic and I was able to do the same thing back and then hold the lead there until the end. Just really proud of everybody for everything that they’ve done all year and just continuing to fight, and there’s not many races that you can win that are like winning here at the Bristol night race. That was a lot of fun.”

Kyle Busch – finished 2nd: “Frustrated over finishing second.  You know, just felt like this was one of our greater shots to win, and I don’t know. You know, just come up short. You know, Skittles Camry was fast and we had a good car, one that was in contention all night long.  Fired off the start of the race, I was like, oh, wow, this is a pretty good car and then got beat by another really good car, I guess.”

Erik Jones – finished 3rd: “I guess it was a solid day. I thought we had a good car there at the end. But had to start at the back and that took a while to work through there and get some track position. It is really challenging to pass here, even though it is a short track. But a good run. The Auto Owners Camry got better all night, and honestly the last run of the race was our best. We got up there into third and I kind of knew I couldn’t beat those guys straight up, so I tried to save a little bit on the front side of the run and run at the end hard, and just kind of ran out of time. I just started getting to those guys there when we took the checkered.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 4th: “Our No. 8 Childress Vineyards Chevrolet Camaro was a fast one tonight, and we had a great finish to show for it at Bristol Motor Speedway. It took a couple adjustments to get our car to where I needed it to be, but our communication as a team on what adjustments to make has been a big focus for us over the past few weeks and that paid off during tonight’s race. I fired off a little loose on the bottom and tight on the top, so our team had a decision to make on what to focus on. I felt that the top the better groove for our car, so we chose to work on loosening up our Chevrolet a little bit throughout the night and got it in a really good spot for the final stage.

“Those adjustments made it so I was able to cut through traffic during that last stage and race our way into the top five for the last 100 laps or so. I think I may have pushed my front tires a little bit too much on that final run, but this was a really good night for our team. We’re chasing wins in these remaining races while also working on building a strong notebook for next year, and this is a solid step in the right direction for both of those goals.”

Aric Almirola – finished 5th: “We had a solid top five tonight at Bristol and we’re moving on to the Round of 12 again. It was a great run. We missed it a bit to start. This Smithfield Ford team worked so hard to make the right adjustments all night. I was scrapping in the car to get everything I could get. Really proud of everybody on the race team. Ready to see if we can’t make it happen again in this next round.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 6th: “We definitely did what we needed to do. Our Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Engine Ford Mustang was pretty good tonight. We were just way too loose to run with (Harvick or Busch). The cycle on the tires when we actually had that caution, had a cycle on the tires and that usually makes it tighter and that was by far our best run. We drove up through them pretty good and put ourselves in position there, but as soon as the green flag dropped right there at the end I was right back loose again.  We did what we had to do. Obviously, you come here to win a race and be on top of that building over there, but proud of the guys and all their efforts.  We’re moving forward and that’s all that matters right now.”

Chase Elliott – finished 7th: “Definitely excited to move on in the playoffs. I thought the NAPA team had a solid race tonight. It’s unfortunate the way the pit cycle went there, but I felt like we were close. Not sure if we were as good as (Harvick) and (Kyle Busch), but I thought we were close to them. I am proud of the effort and I hope this next round is good for us. It’s definitely not going to get any easier as it goes. Nice to get the stage point and stage win and we will try again in Vegas.”

Ryan Preece – finished 9th: “That was a really fun night at Bristol Motor Speedway. This year has obviously had its challenges for us, and we’ve worked so hard to try and make the strategy play in our favor and get JTG Daugherty Racing the finish we deserve and it feels really good to be able to put it all together. Our BUSH’S Beans Chevrolet was really good on the long run … The cautions finally fell our way and we were able to capitalize on it. Every week for the rest of the season is so important to keep focusing on the positives and get as many good finishes as we can and to be able to get BUSH’S Beans as top-10 finish at their home track is something we’re all proud of.”

Michael McDowell – finished 10th: “Well, what an awesome night for our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang. We got a top-10 at Bristol. I’m really proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports. I’m so thankful to Bob Jenkins and all of my guys for giving me this opportunity. It’s the best season that I’ve ever had and another top 10 really helps to keep our momentum rolling. We also have a Ford in Victory Lane, so that’s awesome. I’m just super-excited to get a top 10 at Bristol.”

Joey Logano – finished 11th: “We had a car that was probably top five. It wasn’t as good as (Harvick and Busch) but we had something that was competitive and had that longer run with a loose right rear wheel and we tried to make it last long and it started to get pretty bad. Here, if you go too long it will ruin your chances for the day. It felt like we were late enough in the run that maybe we would start to cycle if we pit. We were so close. The caution was because of (Harvick) pitting and bottling everyone up. We were probably 10 or 15 laps from the cycle being complete and getting our lap back and being in contention for an even better finish. That is how it goes sometimes. We had a solid car and we have a lot of momentum still into the playoffs with three really solid runs outside of one little hiccup here. We will move on to the next round and be happy.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th: “We did what we had to do tonight in our Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road/ E-Z-GO Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We advanced to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs. We started off really strong, but our Chevy ended up getting extremely tight in Stage 2. We recovered from that and were running in the top 10 when Harvick slowed on the track to make a green-flag pit stop. I got on my brakes as hard as I could to avoid hitting him, but a lapped car was in the middle of the track and I had nowhere to go. My RCR team did a great job making repairs, but we were never able to catch the break we needed to get back into the top five. Our car was fast overall tonight, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish during the remainder of the season. We’ll go to Las Vegas next week and try to get a win.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 13th: “We started off tight and then that second run we got really tight after the competition caution and lost a lot of track position. After that, we kind of were able to drive up through there. We got to fifth or sixth the one time and we were super tight again and it went really long. That just kind of made it worse and we just kind of got behind there. The track just swung really tight. I was kind of tight all night, but it just swung really tight on us and that was just the wrong direction that the track needed to be at. That stinks.”

Kurt Busch – finished 15th: “It was a good day, we had a loose wheel and we battled after that, but our stage points are what really helped the Monster Energy Chevy tonight. That gave us the cushion we needed to absorb the problem that we had. All-in-all we advanced and that’s what we expected to do and that is what we have to continue to do. We will do it through teamwork and execution. The next round we have a mile-and-a-half Superspeedway and then the Roval. We’ve just got to be on our toes, keep adjusting and adapt to all the things that are coming our way in the next round.”

Alex Bowman – finished 16th: “That was pretty eventful. We had a really good car all night. Our Axalta Camaro was really fast. Probably going to end up somewhere in the top five, at least the top 10. We just had a tire issue under green there in the last stage and had to pit. Unfortunately, we were not in our window to pit. Once the caution did come out, we weren’t able to take the wave around. We were just kind of trapped there and unfortunately couldn’t recover from that. … So awesome to advance to the next round. Proud of my team. This is the strongest we have been going into the Round of 12. I feel like we have some great tracks for us coming up. This is the most consistent we have been as a race team. I am bummed we lost our streak of top-10 finishes, but we have plenty more opportunities throughout the year to have great cars and contend for wins. Wish we would have ended up a little better, but we are ready for Vegas.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 18th: “Our Germain Racing team battled all night long. It was a really good night for our GEICO Camaro ZL1 1LE. Everyone on our team executed throughout the entire race, from Matt (Borland) making good calls, the pit crew having great stops and Chris (Monez) on the spotter stand helping me navigate traffic. We all worked hard and it paid off. The car was its best at the end of the race, which is all you can ask for as a driver. I’m proud of our effort and we will keep digging to finish strong.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 19th: “If we didn’t have bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck at all. I don’t know. It’s just frustrating. I hate it. I want to get Menards and Dutch Boy and this team a good run like they deserve because we’ve had a rough couple weeks, and had a loose wheel, overcome it — drive through the entire field with a lot of green flag. We get to seventh, hoping for a caution, but either way we drove to the top 10 — good run — and I was screaming, ‘Debris in (Turn) 1,’ three damn times and we found it. We ran it over multiple times and I cut the right-rear down and it just ruins our day.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 20th: “The crew put together a solid top 15, maybe even top-10 car tonight at Bristol. Our No. 38 Mystik Lubricants Ford Mustang was decent on the long run, but we struggled a little with drive off. After the first stage, it was looking like we were going to have a decent night. We tried a couple of different adjustments on pit road tonight – some of them helped, some not as much. Overall, we wanted to be able to finish a few spots higher. Thanks to our partners at Mystik Lubricants for coming on board with us this season. We’ll debrief this week and come back ready for Las Vegas.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 21st: “I think (Martin Truex Jr.) must have been on the splitter or something when he came out after he took a green flag pit stop. He just kind of went straight off of the corner. I was running the top and when he went straight, he saw he was going to hit the wall, so he slammed on the brakes and I was going, so I jammed up under him. That was unfortunate. That was bad luck for us. I think he was a couple laps down, but they were fighting their car all day. I’m sure they got in the next round, but we just had some bad luck. We drove up to fifth, and I felt pretty good. We caught the lead within three seconds – drove to them within three seconds, so I was pretty happy about where we were going to be, and then we crashed.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 22nd: “We had a pretty fast No. 43 Cash App Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE tonight – probably the best car we’ve ever brought to Bristol (Motor Speedway), so that was a positive. We got a stage point in Stage 1. I thought the guys were doing a really good job throughout the night. Our Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was on the tight-side a little bit. We didn’t really seem to help it, but we didn’t really hurt it all either – kind of just stayed the same balance from the start of the race to the finish. A little frustrating, but super frustrated that we just can’t seem to get some luck on the strategy side. Unfortunate that we got trapped three-laps down, or whatever it was, and you’re just stuck, especially that late in the race. We’ll go onto the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and see if we can turn it around.”

Cole Custer – finished 23rd: “We just struggled here. I don’t know why. I’ve always liked Bristol, it just hasn’t come together this year here. We’ve just really struggled. I just can’t thank everybody enough at SHR, everybody at HaasTooling.com, Autodesk.  I just wish we had a better night. We were just a little bit off. I think we can hang our heads high on what we’ve done this year, but we still have a lot of races to win the rest of this year, so we just have to keep building.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 26th: “We deserved better than that. I don’t know what happened at the end there, but it should not have happened. We had a few things to work on at the start of the race. Then, in the middle part of the race, we were super tight for a long time until the Toyota Genuine Parts & Service car really started coming to me on old tires. We didn’t make any changes on the last stop and it was feeling pretty good until what happened there at the end. That’s Bristol, I guess. Let’s go to Las Vegas.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 34th: “It was a frustrating night, there is no way around that. I am thankful we were able to lead some laps but that certainly was not what we were hoping for. We had a power steering pump issue. I am not sure exactly what it was. I will let the team guys get to that and chase it down. Obviously it killed out chances. I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t have that problem but we did so we will move on to the next week and I am thankful we had the win at Richmond last week to fall back on.”

William Byron – finished 38th: “I think the No. 51 car (Joey Gase) checked up in the middle of the straightaway. As fast as we were running the top, I was right behind the No. 95 (Christopher Bell) and I had literally nowhere to go. You can’t stop in the middle of the straightaway when everybody is so committed to the top like that. Just ridiculous that that’s what takes us out. I thought honestly we had a shot to run top-five or seven. The car was really, really good. We just needed a couple good pitstops. We were running probably ninth or tenth there. Just super disappointing – I’ve got to go back and watch that because that was kind of ridiculous.”