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What drivers said after Auto Club qualifying

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Austin Dillon — qualified 1st: “Well, a lot of the cars wanted to follow us, they knew we had the car to beat. So trying to get us to go was probably a part of that. And then, when the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) made a little bit of a move there, I was going to follow him to have one car to beat. I didn’t have to make it back around. Then the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) came through the grass, I thought he demolished his car. It looked like he left the ground over there, I don’t know what he hit, but it was pretty wild. At that point, my spotter said you can bring it around here, I knew we had gotten the pole. God never ceases to amaze me, Man. It is awesome to see the blessings that have been bestowed on me. It is special.”

Kevin Harvick — qualified 2nd: (On what happened in the final round): “I think the crowd booing tells the story.”

Aric Almirola — qualified 3rd: “That is the product of the environment we are in. We are all very dependent on posting a good lap based on the draft that you get. You are in that box and it is really stressful trying to figure out when to leave pit road and what position to put yourself in and you can’t be the lead car. The lead car is at such a disadvantage. You just play all the games and if you are going to be the lead car you try to drag it out until you are the only car that makes the line. If you misjudge a little bit you get what we just saw.”

Kyle Busch — qualified 4th: (Any solutions?) “They fixed it in trucks, right? Made single-car qualifying. … You can’t be the leader. If you’re the leader, you don’t qualify up front. … In a perfect world, you try to leave pit road with the exact amount of time that it takes to come back around for you to be able to take the green flag and everybody else’s time to be disallowed, but we all missed that.”

Joey Logano — qualified 5th: “We blew it, but at least we all did. The answer is to go sooner but nobody wants to be the first one out there. I don’t know really what to say. We have something to talk about now I guess. I don’t know what to tell you. That is the game. It is just part of it.”

Denny Hamlin — qualified 6th: “No, it’s not a mind game but you don’t want to be first. When you don’t want to be first, you wait until someone goes in front of you. … I knew I had a drop-down time on my dash (on when to leave pit road). But I was boxed in where I couldn’t go. Once everyone left pit road, they then checked up and slowed down. I knew we weren’t going to make it.”

Ryan Newman — qualified 7th: “I don’t think that was a very successful use of TV time for our sponsors. I told you all back in Vegas that I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying. That is all I need to say, really. That is the way qualifying should be. The gamesmanship that goes on, the lack of 100 percent, it is not what qualifying is all about. That is the program that NASCAR set forth and the rules they laid down and the box they put us in. Shame on us for not getting a lap in.”

Chase Elliott — qualified 8th: “Well, I don’t know. Obviously nobody wants to be the first guy so it’s unfortunate. I don’t know what the fix is. I feel like it’s entertaining with us going out there and drafting and trying to set-up that gap to do it right. It’s just tough because nobody wants to be the first one. And obviously you’re not going to go if you’re going to be first.”

Clint Bowyer — qualified 9th: “You know, I have seen it in other sports but never seen it in ours. We just got booed and it is disappointing. It is disappointing for everybody involved. I don’t know. I saw this coming three weeks ago. I think we all did. Unfortunately we are going to have to be reactive to it instead of proactive. It is just a learning process. The whole package is. Everybody knows that going in and everybody has been patience but I am a little out of patience with Friday’s. There is so much hard work and dedication on so many teams behalves to go out there and have the fastest car known to mankind that you are literally capable of building in the walls of your organization and it just doesn’t matter. That is not racing. I feel like we are capable as an industry of putting on a better show than that. I know they will make the right provisions to make that correction but unfortunately it is going to take something like that to make that adjustment.”

Ryan Blaney — qualified 10th: “It is just the way it is. It is such a big place and you don’t want to be the first person to go because you are going to qualify last in the round. We got close to the time we needed to go and we just didn’t make it. We had the truck deal three or four years ago and they went away from it and now we are back to doing it and running into the same problems. That is just how it is.”

Jimmie Johnson — qualified 11th: “I understand why we’re in this box. Single car qualifying isn’t all that entertaining. So, I guess we’ll just have to see what the opinion is from this and go with the lesser of the two evils in the end.”

Brad Keselowski — qualified 13th: “I don’t’ know. The race is going to be so much different than qualifying, so I don’t think there is a whole lot you can really take away from today. This was pretty much the same at Vegas. Kind of in between Vegas and Atlanta.”

Chris Buescher — qualified 14th: “We should have been a little bit better based on practice, but I love this race track. And, it’s a fun race. It’s just been a lot of fun to race everywhere this year. I’m glad the qualifying portion is over and we can get into the race and have some fun.”

Kyle Larson — qualified 15th: “I was the lead car for that big draft there. We ended up 15th. After last week you don’t want to mess up and not get a lap again. So, just trying to be as patient as you can be but still not be the lead car. But we wanted to leave ourselves some time. So we were just the lead car and were hoping that other people wouldn’t make it to the line in time.”

Ty Dillon — qualified 16th — “That’s a massive improvement over last year’s results. And we’ve been really succeeding in this style of qualifying. It’s different, for sure, but we also we’re all out there trying to do the same thing and be the fastest car. So, I’m proud of our effort and proud of what we’re doing as a team and we’re definitely embracing this style of qualifying.”

Daniel Hemric — qualified 17th: “We just kind of found ourselves on the back end of a draft that put us side-by-side racing cars and that’s not ideal when you’re trying to run a fast lap. We’ll roll off in 17th and it’s good to see a Bowtie on the front row there with (teammate) Austin Dillon getting the pole and it’s really cool for RCR. Those guys are putting in a lot of effort and Chevrolet and ECR and all our partners are doing a lot of good things to give us speed and it’s good to pay off. We thought we should have had two or three poles by now so it’s good for one of us at RCR to finally get one.”

Daniel Suarez — qualified 20th: “If you qualify well, it is fun. If you don’t qualify well, it is a little frustrating at times. It was a little frustrating for me because things didn’t work out the way that we were planning.”

Matt DiBenedetto — qualified 24th: “Just frustration, not at our guys. Our guys do nothing but work their tails off and give me a good Toyota Camry. That’s fun, but I have to say thanks to everybody here at Procore and all the folks that give me this opportunity, but the situation – I don’t love losing my mind every week in qualifying.”

Martin Truex Jr. — qualified 27th: “It was just that he (Cody Ware) ran the bottom in three and four, which is where I wanted to be. Since he was just leaving the pits, he ran high to get his momentum up like normal and just missed the bottom there and that obviously hurt our speed there off three and four. It’s unfortunate, we missed it today off the hauler. We were pretty tight in practice and then we were way too loose there. We were just on both sides of it. We’ve been struggling a little bit on Fridays, but I know we’ll be right tomorrow and we’ll have some cars to pass Sunday, but I know we can do it.”

Bubba Wallace — qualified 28th: “Been disappointed for a while. (What are you lacking?) Money. It’s where we’re lacking. We need money to make more speed.”

Cody Ware – qualified 34th: “Apologies on my part (for getting in Martin Truex Jr.’s way in qualifying). I’m just, obviously, not normally looking behind … in qualifying. I’m listening to what my spotter has to say. Apologies to Truex if I may have impeded his lap in any way.”

Jimmie Johnson fastest in Friday’s Cup practice at Fontana

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Jimmie Johnson was ight at home at his home race track in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Johnson covered the two-mile high speed oval with the best speed of the 38 drivers that took to the track at 179.386 mph. In fact, Chevrolet drivers comprised the top three fastest drivers with Austin Dillon second-fastest (179.350), followed by Chris Buescher (178.975).

Johnson has had significant success at Auto Club Speedway in his career. He’s made 24 Cup starts there, earning six wins, 13 top-fives and 17 top-10s.

“There are tracks that a driver can make a difference at,” Johnson said. “Dover has always been one for me. This track has been one. The one thing that is so different right now is we’re back to a package we’ve run two other times this year. We’re on a high wear track.

“I look at Atlanta, it did not go well. Atlanta is similar to this place. So, I’m hopeful that we’ve made our car better since Atlanta for this type of environment. That’s what I think the whole Hendrick Motorsports crowd is focused on right now.”

Johnson’s winless streak is now at 63 races. His last victory was at Dover in spring 2017. He’d love to break that dubious streak Sunday on familiar ground.

“Without a doubt,” Johnson said. “And, I’m not into crashing cars. I’m not into crashing other people for the win. So, moving somebody out of the way for a win is the way you need to race.

“And then the thing that I find so funny is people want to say that NASCAR has lost its character and that drivers are scared and they won’t move somebody out of the way; and then a guy does it and you have this backlash. So, I don’t know.”

All of the fastest speeds in the session came from cars that had a draft.

Click here for practice report

Kyle Busch, who hopes to earn his 200th overall NASCAR victory of his career in either Saturday’s Xfinity race or Sunday’s Cup race, was fourth-fastest at 178.802 mph, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin (178.767).

Brad Keselowski was the fastest and only Ford driver in the top 10 with a sixth-best speed of 178.399 mph, followed by Chase Elliott (178.390), William Byron (178.108), Matt DiBenedetto (178.020) and Kyle Larson (178.686).

Qualifying for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will take place later this afternoon at 5:40 p.m. ET.

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‘Crew chiefs will be covering their eyes on restarts’ at Auto Club Speedway

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Each of the three Cup races held since the Daytona 500 has featured an unknown.

Those races – at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix – each featured a different form of the 2019 rules package for teams to figure out.

Atlanta saw cars with 550 horsepower and brake ducts. Las Vegas swapped in aero ducts. The 1-mile ISM raceway in Phoenix had cars with 750 horsepower and brake ducts.

This weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway will be the first to use a package for a second time, as teams take to the 2-mile track with 550 horsepower and aero ducts.

Add the package to the track’s worn surface and wide corners, there’s one aspect of the race drivers seem to agree on.

Like Phoenix, restarts will be pivotal. But they’ll also be wild.

“I think the crew chiefs will be covering their eyes on restarts,” Clint Bowyer said in a media release. “These restarts are going to be crazy. They have been in the past at that track, so who knows how wild they’ll be this weekend.”

The first restart in the Auto Club 400 last year came with 18 laps to go in the stage and featured cars as many as four to five-wide in Turns 1 and 2.

In a media release, Ty Dillon said cars can be taken seven-wide in the corners “if you wanted to.”

Cars fan out in Turns 1-2 at Auto Club Speedway in the 2018 Cup race.. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

When talking about restarts, Bowyer sounds like he’s mulling strategy at Daytona or Talladega when deciding whether to race with the lead pack or avoid a multi-car wreck by riding in the back.

“As a driver, you think I should get up there and race and get as many positions as I can,” Bowyer said. “But, part of you is thinking that maybe I should just be safe this early in the race, hang back a bit and make sure we survive. Problem is, if you hang back and they don’t wreck, you feel stupid.”

But what should be expected after the first lap?

“I think those first four or five laps are going to be really crazy still,” William Byron said in a release. “I think that the lane choices that you have at Auto Club Speedway will help keep the racing a little bit closer, and with that, you are going to have to kind of be gritty throughout the run to keep your position.

Matt DiBenedetto thinks complaints of “dirty air” inhibiting the ability to pass will be less frequent on Sunday.

“You can go into the corner and run about ten different lanes, so I don’t think that we’ll have that problem,” DiBenedetto said in a media release. “We’ll be able to go and get the clean air in the corners and then draft on the straightaways, so I think it will work this weekend where we can actually pass quite a bit, unlike at some other tracks so far.”

A small example of what could be seen on Sunday was displayed in January during a Goodyear tire test at the track. It saw Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez swapping positions as if they were in a race, an unusual sight for a tire test.

Though cars will feature aero ducts like at Las Vegas, DiBenedetto’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, anticipates the racing will look “like the racing we saw in Atlanta,” which also features an aged, rough surface.

“Cornering won’t be as difficult as what you would have seen at Fontana last year, because you’re still going to be wide open through the corners and then being trimmed out to go as fast as you can down the straightaways,” Wheeler said in a media release. “Ultimately though, that top speed in the 170’s will still be that same top speed no matter what track we go to.  California, unlike Michigan and Texas, can wear tires out so that could also become more of a factor this weekend.”

Then comes pit strategy.

As one of the larger ovals on the NASCAR circuit, Auto Club Speedway invites a variety of decisions on when a team chooses to get four fresh tires if they must during a green-flag run.

“When you add in the tire falloff, then it becomes strategy and how many laps do you stay out when everybody else starts pitting because you’re going to give up three seconds a lap,” Kevin Harvick said in a media release. “If the caution comes out, you can get caught a lap down. So there are so many things that come into play, but it has become a great race and a great racetrack to race on.”

Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski fastest in Friday’s lone Cup practice at Phoenix

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Team Penske’s dominance continued in Friday’s sole NASCAR Cup practice session at ISM Raceway.

Ryan Blaney was fastest of the 36 cars that took to the track at 141.716 mph, followed by teammate and Atlanta race winner Brad Keselowski (140.680 mph). Kyle Larson was third (140.406), followed by Chase Elliott (140.367) and Kyle Busch (140.329).

Sixth through 10th were Jimmie Johnson (140.198 mph), Alex Bowman (139.980), Erik Jones (139.958), Martin Truex Jr. (139.898) and Matt DiBenedetto (139.800).

Blaney’s speed far exceeded the first practice speed at Phoenix in November (137.862 mph) and last March (138.281 mph).

“We were alright the first run and kept getting better,” Blaney told the Motor Racing Network after the session. “(It’s) nice to have speed. Hopefully that carries on to tonight (in qualifying).”

There will be two other practice sessions on Saturday.

However, later today, Cup qualifying – multi-car, three rounds – takes place at 6:10 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

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Penalty report from Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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NASCAR has issued two fines to Cup crew chiefs for having one unsecured lug nut on their cars Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Billy Scott, crew chief on Daniel Suarez‘ No. 41 Ford, and Mike Wheeler, crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, were each fined $10,000.

No other penalties were announced.