Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

What Drivers Said after Bristol Night Race

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Denny Hamlin – winner: “It feels good. My first reaction was I was sorry to Matt (DiBenedetto). I know those guys really wanted to win and Matt deserves a win, but –  I’m watching him do an interview, I get emotional for him. Just hate it that I had to take it from him. … (What does it say about your team that you bounced back from early damage from contact and rallied to win?) It means a lot. It’s emotional in a lot of reasons. … (DiBenedetto) was good. I knew it was something – that car, it was probably a setup that I ran last year. I know Mike Wheeler has a great set up for this place and Matt was just doing a phenomenal job. That’s all you can say. He’s just a hell of a racecar driver. He’s going to land on his feet in a better ride than he’s got now.

“(Is your team on a roll?) Absolutely. It’s on a roll like I’ve never seen before. It hasn’t been this good in a long time. … (About the battle with DiBenedetto?) I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, (crew chief) Mike Wheeler. I hate it. I mean, I know a win would mean a lot to that team.  I have to give it 110% for FedEx and my whole team.  Just sorry. Proud of this whole FedEx team for giving me a great car, pit crew, crew chief, everybody doing an amazing job.  Jordan, all the girls at home.  Just the whole team is just doing an amazing job right now.  They’re just kicking ass.

“(How did you chase DiBenedetto down?) Between my spotter and the crew chief, just stayed on me to not get anxious, just kind of take my time. I had plenty of time. I just worked him over, worked him over. I knew I didn’t want to show him the bottom until I knew I could make the pass. I ran the top, ran the top, ran the top, got the position on the bottom and finished it. We had a great car that could move around.  Came back from a couple laps down and here we are.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished second: “I don’t even know what to say. I’m so sad we didn’t win, but proud, proud of the effort. I got tight there from the damage from trying to get by (Ryan) Newman and that immediately flipped a switch and got tight. Man, this opportunity has been – that’s what I want everybody to know, how thankful I am that I got this opportunity and to work with great people like (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler), my crew chief. I am so thankful everyone on this team gave me this opportunity – all of our sponsors, ProCore, Dumont Jet, Anest Iwata spray equipment, Toyota for backing me this year, everybody at Leavine Family Racing. I want to try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week and I want to stick around and I want to win. That’s all I want to do is win in the Cup Series and we were close. It’s so hard to be that close, but it’s neat to race door-to-door with Denny Hamlin, someone who I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid.  It’s amazing. Great day, but this one is going to hurt for sure.

“(What is going through your head right now?) I don’t know. So much. I wanted to win so bad for these guys, for this team, for them giving me this opportunity. I’m just thankful that they gave me this opportunity, Toyota, Procore, Dumont Jets. I’m so thankful. But, man, I’m sad. We got tight after the deal with (Ryan) Newman when he came up into us. All of a sudden it got really tight after that. Congrats to Denny (Hamlin). He raced hard. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. To be racing door-to-door with him at Bristol, in front of a great group of fans – I’ll try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week. I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come. I love it. I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet. Something will come open. It’s going to happen. I’m here to win. Something’s going to come open. I’m proud of these guys. Thankful for my wife and fans for sticking with me. It’s been a tough journey, a hard week. Cool for this team.”

Brad Keselowski – finished third: “My nose without a hole in it would have been really good, but it was a decent finish for us nonetheless.  We led a lot of laps and that’s something to be proud of. … (What did you need to contend?) We seemed to fall off a little bit on the long run and then got in the back of some lap traffic and put a hole in the nose, and that knocked a little bit of speed out of it. That’s all she wrote for us. … (Was it hard to pass?) No more than usual Bristol.  It’s just the way the cars are around you. … (Are you disappointed?) We had a shot at winning. We probably weren’t good enough on the long runs to just dominate, but on the short and medium runs we were. I got a hole in the nose there late and that kind of ruined our day.”

Kyle Busch – finished fourth: “I was just too loose at the end. The car just wasn’t there really all weekend long. I  just never really found what I was looking for. We were kind of all over the place. Early on, we were so loose that I was just barely hanging on and trying to make up time there. We finally got it tightened up enough there when I was racing with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and got the lead from the 2 before that caution came out. Then we tried to make it a little bit better for exit after that because we were going to go a long ways on tires we figured and just made it too loose. I just had no rear traction getting into the corner. We salvaged a hard-fought day for fourth. That’s about it.

“(What does it say to come back from being a lap down and finishing as strong as you did?)  “It’s better than some other situations for sure. Obviously Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys do a really good job of being able to work on the car and constantly improve it and constantly make it better, but flat out getting our ass kicked right now by our teammates, so we’ve got to get better.”

Chase Elliott – finished fifth: “I thought we were just off a little bit off all night. All weekend we just needed a little bit. I felt like we were really close. We just never got over the hill. But our Hooters Spirits team did a good job. Heck, they executed a great race. I think we gained spots on pit road every time we came; like more than one spot, too. So, they did a great job. Alan (Gustafson) called a great race. I lined-up in the top multiple times. You can’t really ask for anything else. From a driver’s standpoint, I just didn’t do a very good job with it. I seemed to be a little bit better than these guys. I felt like the past Spring race and this race, we’ve been off just a touch. We’ve got to go to work.”

Kyle Larson – finished sixth: “It was difficult to pass. I think we could have had a good run for the win there, but we had some left front damage on the second to last stop that we made. As soon as I turned into my stall, the 20 was going to put his right front on and I clipped him. It pushed our left front fender in and then we had to come down and repair it the next pit stop. If we didn’t have to do that, we would have restarted sixth, which would have been really nice for that last big run there. I felt like my car was really good on the long runs. We could have given it a run for the win, but we ended up coming home sixth. We were probably the third-best car there at the end. … All-in-all, a really good day again. It was a solid points day and we jumped up a couple of spots in points. Hopefully we can get to 10th at least when the Playoffs get started. We’ll see. But, I’m happy with our day. The Credit One Bank Chevy was good, just not good enough early in the run.

“(You are building consistency for the playoffs, aren’t you?) Yeah, no doubt. We’ve been quietly building momentum and speed and have had a lot of good runs here recently. We’ve just got to keep it going here in these next couple of races and get in the Playoffs and carry it on through that. (How disappointed are you for not winning tonight?) You are disappointed that you didn’t win, but for Bristol, I felt like this was one was uneventful for us other than the minor fender damage. It was cool to not have to fight leaders off from going a lap down, miss wrecks and things like that. We had a good car, too. I felt like I could run the bottom really well. We were just too loose all race long to be really aggressive on the short runs. It maybe benefitted me for the long runs.”

Clint Bowyer – finished seventh: “We had a good race.  We were too loose.  I needed more rear grip all night long.  That’s probably the loosest I’ve ever been here.  We kind of fought front turn all weekend long and was trying to make up for it with wedge out and track bar up – stuff like that – and it just hurts rear grip.  I mean, all in all, it was a good weekend for us.  It was kind of a rebound weekend and what we needed, but you can’t expect those guys to just lay over for you.  We did all we could do.  I was hoping to be a top five car and when you’re a top five car here you’ve got a chance to win, but were just a beat off of that all night.

“(It looked like your night could have been a lot worse?) Yeah, but it could have been a lot better.  It’s short track racing.  You’re making split-decisions.  I was trying to pass those two cars and get some more stage points for us and I clipped him.  It wasn’t nothing he did, I was just trying to shoot the gap and I had a run on those guys and trying to do all I could do.

“(Your thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto’s race?) I hate that for that guy. He’s racing for a job and everything else. You know those Gibbs cars are fast. You knew he was gonna have a rocket and he did. Man, that last run those cars took off like crazy. I was just too loose to go with them.”

Daniel Suarez – finished eighth: “The racing was fun.  All in all it was a pretty solid day for the 41 Ford Mustang Haas Automation.  I feel like we had a top 10 car the entire weekend and that’s pretty much where we ran.  We had some ups and downs on pit road and had some mistakes there as well as some electrical issues that I feel like we’re lucky we were able to continue to finish the race with the battery, but overall I’m proud of my team.  Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going in the next few weeks. … (How big was it to get those stage points tonight?) I feel like that was probably the biggest thing of the day.  I feel like that was an amazing call from my crew chief Billy Scott and I’m proud of that call.  We have to just keep making those decisions. … It was a positive weekend.  I wish we could have finished a little bit better, probably in the top five or so, but for whatever reason we’re strong but we’re not super-strong.  We’re a top 10 car and that’s where we ended.

“(Your thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto’s performance?) He did an amazing job.  I feel like he deserved the win, but you never know how things are gonna work out.  I feel like I have to do my race and let everything else play out by itself.  I can’t control that, but I will tell you that I wish in a way I’m kind of lucky that he didn’t win, but I wish he would have won the race because he’s an amazing driver.  He deserves that ride and he’s been doing a very good job this year.”

Kurt Busch – finished ninth: “We just weren’t quite there all night. I think we had a nice sequence to get a stage win, but just tight center out. We just didn’t have the mojo all weekend. The first few laps in practice, I was like man I have to get this rotation to help turn center out. We just didn’t get it done. … (Were you rooting for a late caution?) It wouldn’t have helped us much.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 10th: (Did you see DiBenedetto leading near the end of the race?) “We were getting lapped there at the end and I was like, ‘Who is leading?’ And they said, ‘The 95 and the 11 is right there.’  I’m like, ‘No way, man.’ The 11 just got by him. That’s tough. That would have been a pretty cool story.  He just announced that he’s not gonna be in that car next year and I think he does a great job.  He really drove for that one.  It stinks he couldn’t get it done, but he’s a great driver.  I hope he lands somewhere good.

“(What was the racing like?) Typical Bristol, I thought.  I thought the bottom was gonna be a little bit more competitive.  A little bit later in the race when the top kind of was dominant I got in that wreck there.  I cut the right-front tire down on the restart and plowed into a couple of them.  We got it fixed and I was glad we were able to come back.  I would have liked a caution to see what we could have done, but the thing was killed.  That’s a big Dent Wizard car for sure, but I’m just glad we were able to salvage a decent day.  It could have been a lot worse.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 12th: “We worked hard during practice on Friday and made a few changes to the initial setup of our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet that Luke Lambert and the guys had success with in the past at Bristol Motor Speedway. I feel like that effort on Friday really helped us on Saturday during the race when the top of the racetrack came in, especially in Turns 3 and 4. At the start of the race, we rolled by a couple of cars and thought we’d be okay but as soon as we got in clean air our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet was way too loose, which made it hard to make speed on the bottom. We worked all night to get our Chevy tightened up and the handling would come to me if we could get a heat cycle on the tires. The race pace was so fast that it was a challenge to stay on the lead lap, but we had some things fall our way from time to time to get the free pass. If I had another corner or two, I think I could have passed the No. 6 car for 11th, but I’m just proud of everyone on the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet team for never giving up and bringing home the finish that we did.”

Joey Logano — finished 16th: “It was a tough night for our Shell-Pennzoil team. We started the race tight and then we had the right-front tire go down. We were able get back on the lead lap and kept making adjustments to get better. But once we got the damage late in the race, that pretty much sealed our fate.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 19th: “After the first incident, it was just too hard to make up ground after that. We just had so much damage. To come back 19th is respectable. The other part is that we had to get off strategy because we lost two laps. So, the first two-thirds of the race, we were running old tires against the field a lot of the time trying to get laps back. It was just one of those nights. Qualifying put us in that spot. A better qualifying effort would have had us in a much better position. I wouldn’t have been there when the 3 blew his tire and life would be totally different.

“(You seem like you’re in good spirits) For as beat up as that car is and the runs we did on old tires, we had a good night and just a lot of bad luck. I have to look at the truth inside of this team and how strong this team is, how good this team is. I know the results are coming, it’s just a series of bad luck and it all started with a bad qualifying effort. We have to clean things up for sure. This team is really starting to gel and come along. … (Is it pretty much win or else now?) I’ve got one more shot. I don’t know, it’s so hard to predict. These are two great tracks for me, two places that I love. We’ll see what happens.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 33rd: “It was a bummer of weekend, but at least we put ourselves in the top 10 towards the end of the race and it just didn’t work out. … (How devastated are you?) I didn’t feel like we were gonna win anyway, so I’m not super-bummed, I’m just more bummed that our car wasn’t better.  We struggled all weekend for speed.  We got closer when the top came in, but we still weren’t capable of going up and leading the race and running up front, I didn’t feel like.  I thought about 10th-place was as good as we could be tonight and we were doing that and that’s where we needed to be from what we had.  It’s a bummer to have it end that way, but I didn’t feel like we had a shot at the win.  I’m not as bummed as I thought I would be. … It’s just racing.  They got together and I was already committed to the outside of the 12.  They made contact, but I didn’t think it was gonna blow his right-front that quick.  Unfortunately, it did and trapped us between the wall.”

Austin Dillon — finished 34th: “I thought we did a good job with the balance of our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 so I’m not sure why we cut a tire. The balance of the race car was better than anything else we’ve had. It was early in Stage 1 and I didn’t really have much warning. We started to get tight off of the corners but the right-front tire went down really suddenly at the start finish line and I just tried to hold on. We might have been able to save it if the No. 48 car didn’t hit my rear but he just had so much momentum going and it was all over at that point. We scraped the wall with the right-side of our Chevy pretty bad and spent the rest of Stage 1 and the majority of Stage 2 in the garage making repairs to the suspension. That basically ruined our day but this Richard Childress Racing team never gives up so we went back out and finished the race, albeit multiple laps down. I hate that we couldn’t be more in contention today for Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Off Road and our friend Johnny Morris.”

David Ragan – finished 36th: “I saw Blaney cut a tire just past the start-finish line and I knew he was gonna run up and hit the wall, and I started trying to slow down.  I was already committed to running the top and that happens in a fraction of a second and I got off the gas and hit the brakes, tried to go low, but as they bounced off the wall they came back down the track a little bit and just knocked the radiator out.  That’s racing at Bristol.  That’s short track racing.  We had a solid run.  I felt like we had a top 15 to top 20 car.  We made some good adjustments throughout the night and it’s just one of those things.  That’s kind of the way short track racing goes.

“(How was the racing?) It was great.  I felt like the bottom groove was still really good for some cars.  Our car wasn’t that great on the bottom, but our Mustang was really fast up top.  I felt like the second stage we had a top 12 or 14 car because it was rubbered up a lot up top, and I think the top has kind of evened out some.  It’s a great race.  Bristol is a great track and it’s gonna be a good finish. I wish we were gonna be out there.”

Michael McDowell – finished 37th: “There’s always a lot going on at Bristol and a lot happening at one time.  The top was pretty much the dominant line.  It’s hard to pass, so guys were aggressive in making moves.  There at the end it looked like maybe the 12 blew a right-front tire.  Somebody blew a tire and they all slid up, and it’s Bristol you check up and you kind of all wash up into the same spot.  I saw my teammate try to dive low to miss it and just caught it and when he caught it, I just ran right in the back of him.  It’s unfortunate for everybody at Front Row Motorsports – lost two cars in that accident and not really anything of our own doing, just wrong place wrong time.  It’s unfortunate for the Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang and for David (Ragan) – not his last Bristol race, but this was an important race for him and I hate it for him.”

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Driver intro songs for the Bristol night race

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Here are the songs Cup Series drivers were introduced with before tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In order from last to first place.

Ross Chastain – “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd

Kyle Weatherman – “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor

Reed Sorenson – “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles

JJ Yeley – “Raining Blood” by Slayer

Josh Bilicki – “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

Quin Houff – “Levels” by Avicii

BJ McLeod – “Fuel” by Metallica

Landon Cassill – “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys

Kyle Busch – “Lights Come On” by Jason Aldean

Jimmie Johnson – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica

Chris Buescher – “Evil Like You” by Red Sun Rising

Michael McDowell – “The Floor is Lava” by Blake Rules and Netherfriends

Matt Tifft – “Cleveland Rocks” by The President of the United States of America

Corey LaJoie – “Brand New Man” by Brooks & Dunn with Luke Combs

Paul Menard – “Baby Shark” by Leo Moracchioli

Ty Dillon – “Gold” by Imagine Dragons

Ryan Preece – “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Mötley Crüe

Bubba Wallace – “Into Despair” by Currents

William Byron – “Fortunate Sun” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Clint Bowyer – “God’s Country” by Blake Shelton

Austin Dillon – “Cowboy Baby” by Kid Rock

Daniel Suarez – “El Mariachi Loco”

Daniel Hemric – “Lose Yourself” by Eminem

David Ragan – “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Anna Kendrick

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Ain’t No Grave” by Johnny Cash

Ryan Newman – “These Are My People” by Rodney Atkins

Brad Keselowski – “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

Ryan Blaney – “Living the Dream” by Sturgill Simpson

Joey Logano – “Circle of Life” by Elton John

Alex Bowman – “Bow Down” by I Prevail

Erik Jones – “The One I Loved Back Then” by George Jones

Kevin Harvick – “The Git Up” by Blanco Brown

Matt DiBenedetto – “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti (song made famous by the movie “Rocky”)

Chase Elliott – “Beer Never Broke My Heart” by Luke Combs

Aric Almirola – “Give Me the Green Light” by Pit Bull

Kurt Busch – “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

Martin Truex Jr. – “Drinkin’ Hours” by Cole Swindell

Kyle Larson – “Money in the Grave” by Drake

Denny Hamlin – “Some of It” by Eric Church

 

Long: Playoff drought could be coming to an end for one team

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — As cars ran out of fuel Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Ryan Newman gained positions.

Then his engine sputtered, and he ran out of fuel in Turn 4.

On the final lap.

Newman made it to the finish line without losing any spots. He went from 18th to 12th in the last three laps as others coasted or had to pit for fuel.

Those six spots gained — and six points collected — helped stretch Newman’s lead for one of the final Cup playoff spots. He can help end a significant playoff drought. Newman enters Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 15th in the standings. Clint Bowyer, who holds the final playoff spot, is 10 points behind Newman.

MORE: Click here for the point standings.

Not since 2006 has the No. 6 team made the Cup playoffs. That car number was the first number Roush Fenway Racing used when it entered NASCAR’s premier series in 1988 with Mark Martin. And it was Martin in the car when it last made the Cup playoffs. Now it’s Newman’s ride and he is three races away from making the playoffs.

“To get into the (playoffs), race our way in throughout the whole season, it would show a huge step for the program,” said crew chief Scott Graves.

The team struggled last year with Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth sharing the ride. Graves, who had been Daniel Suarez’s crew chief for the majority of the past two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, joined Newman with the No. 6 team this year.

Topping off for fuel played a key role in Newman’s finish at Michigan. Twenty-seven cars pitted on Lap 150 under caution but Newman returned to pit road the following lap to top off on fuel. Only Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road to top off for fuel on Lap 151

Without that extra fuel, Newman would have run out sooner and lost positions — and points.

Ryan Newman is in a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Newman looks to lead the No. 6 back in the playoffs with a grinding style that has not been pretty but has been productive.

The team has struggled to find speed. Newman has not started better than 16th in the last 15 races. It’s a key reason why Newman has scored 19 stage points in that span.

Newman is ahead of Bowyer, Suarez and Jimmie Johnson in the race for the final two playoff spots. Bowyer (54 stage points), Suarez (23) and Johnson (37) each has more stage points than Newman.

With the deficit on stage points, Newman and his team have had to score solid finishes. That made Graves’ decision to top off for fuel on Lap 151 at Michigan critical.

“We know the guys we’re racing against here, they’ve got the potential on any given weekend to go up there and bust off stage points and potentially win,” Graves said. “Obviously we are working really hard. We are grinding it out and getting the finishes we can to stay in this.

“That’s how we have to race right now. We know that to get in and even get anywhere in the (playoffs) if we do get in, we’ve got to really work on speed to get points.”

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Kevin Harvick revealed after his victory Sunday that he’s been racing with a right shoulder injury this summer.

The shoulder, he said, was not injured in an accident on the track. No, he injured the shoulder throwing a Nerf ball to son Keelan.

“It’s cut into my golf game,” Harvick quipped Sunday on NBCSN’s post-race show.

He later added that the shoulder is “probably 80 percent now. I mean, there was a point when I went to Sonoma that I couldn’t even lift it up. It feels better in the race car than it does  — the worst thing I had to do in the race car was shift.

“My main concern was Watkins Glen, but we got through it. It’s getting close to being back where it needs to be. But it was definitely uncomfortable. The load that these cars put on it is right next to the … it’s right in the spot where it’s not feeling well. So all the load from the shoulder is where it’s been injured. … But it’s fine.”

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Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, William Byron and Bubba Wallace were among the drivers who had conflicts after Watkins Glen and had to address it at Michigan.

Johnson and Blaney traded barbs through the media before eventually meeting in Johnson’s motorhome last Friday night. Busch had meetings with Byron and Wallace.

With the rules package intended to keep cars closer together and blocking more prevalent, additional conflicts are likely to occur toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. How one handles those situations could play a role in the final weeks of the season.

Such situations can be challenging, says Brad Keselowski, who had feuds with Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards early in his career. There remains friction with Busch even after Keselowski sought to smooth things between them.

“It wears on you as much as you let it wear on you,” Keselowski said of conflicts with other drivers. “Second, I would say that there are some drivers that handle conflict incredibly well and there are some that don’t. I have never considered myself to be the best at it.

“I will be honest, I do look at videos of guys like Dale Earnhardt. He was in so many situations of conflict and they were easier to deal with in his time and age because of the lack of social media and lack of a 24-hour news cycle and things of that nature. But then on the flip side, he was a master at dealing with it. So I think you look at those guys and you think that probably parlayed into some of the success of his career, so you would be a fool not to study and try to learn from it. In today’s landscape it is harder than ever to handle for sure.”

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Ben Rhodes collected a dubious honor Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

He ranked fifth in the points — before the standings were reset for the playoff competitors — and failed to make the playoffs. That makes him the driver who has been the highest in points before the standings were reset to miss the postseason in Cup, Xfinity or the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in this current format. 

Rhodes scored more points than playoff drivers Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, Johnny Sauter and Tyler Ankrum. The difference is that in NASCAR’s win-and-you’re-in system, Chastain, Hill, Sauter and Ankrum won this year. Rhodes did not.

Also what makes Rhodes standing unique is that not all the playoff competitors ran all the races or scored points in all the races.

Ankrum was not old enough to compete in the season’s first three races. Sauter was suspended one race when NASCAR penalized him for wrecking Hill at Iowa in June. Chastain started the season running for points in the Xfinity Series and switched to Truck points before the season’s ninth race, which was at Texas in June. That’s why they were behind Rhodes in points.

The Truck playoffs begin Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

What Drivers Said after Michigan

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Kevin Harvick – winner: “It was a day of a little bit of adversity that we were able to overcome. But we just had a really fast car all weekend. Our car handled really well today, and with the multiple lanes, we were able to run all three lanes pretty well and make our way through traffic. So just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford, everybody from Busch and Hunt Brothers and Jimmy John’s and everybody back at the shop from Haas Automation and Stewart‑Haas Racing, just put a really fast car on the racetrack and we were able to capitalize on it, and that’s always fun. …

(Are you guys peaking at the right time?) “Yeah, you know, we really got off on the wrong foot as far as where we needed to be on the cars, and it’s been kind of an uphill battle really all year to get where we needed to be.  The cars have been running a lot better as we’ve got into the last two months, and Dale knows this, I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for the last two months to try to make sure I made it through Watkins Glen, and that was no problem.  I hurt myself throwing a baseball to him, so it’s cut into my golf game.  So, we’ve had a lot of things that we’ve had to overcome to get to this point. But it’s kind of like last year; we started off on fire, we won eight races and then didn’t win the championship.  In the send you want to win that championship, and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 2nd: “We were right there. Really fast car. The FedEx team did a great job adjusting from the last time we were here. First and second on these tracks that we are going back to for a second time. They are just doing a great job making those adjustments. Nothing that I could really do, just didn’t have enough speed. The 4 (Kevin Harvick) was about a half-a-second faster than us in qualifying. … The fastest car won the race – speed wise. Who knows what the right thing to do is, but I feel like we had a great FedEx Camry. Just came up one spot short.”

Kyle Larson – finished 3rd: (Not a bad day after all, is it?) “No, I guess if you’re going to get a speeding penalty, the first run of the race is the time to do it. But yeah, I was surprised when they said I was speeding because I hadn’t hit a read light at all until after leaving my pit stall. That was the only time I hit a red. I was conservative on my lights the rest of the day and maybe I don’t know if we just misjudged a little bit or maybe I just was a little too fast. But anyway, our race was good. Our car handled really well, so I was happy about that. And, we had a great points day. So we saved just enough fuel there at the end to get to the finish line and now we’re well above the cutline. So, I’m happy about our day.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 4th: “It was a hot rod early. We were able to drive by everybody. The first couple runs of the race were really sporty. To get up there and win Stage 1 was a big deal. I felt through the middle of the race we had the best car. Just those last couple restarts, we got off sequence and lost all of our track position and restarted 19th. Just could not get in the right spot. Every restart we were in the wrong lane, we lost spots. Then we would just have to pick them off one at a time. Amazing race car. Thanks to everyone back at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), Toyota and TRD. The Auto Owners Camry was a rocket ship today, just didn’t get to show it at the end.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 5th: “It was a decent day for us. We had ups and downs. There was something wrong, a bad set of tires or something in that second stage. We couldn’t control it. The team was able to overcome that with good adjustments and they put me back in the game with track position and we were able to get a good result from there.”

Kyle Busch – finished 6th: We won Stage 2 and then I had to get back in traffic there. We were up to fifth on another restart, and just got shuffled back. I’d gain three spots in the corner and then lose four spots on the straightaway, and then gain three spots in the corner and then lose four spots on the straightaway. Just could never get going right with the balance of the car either. We just never felt in the racetrack all day long. It was always up on top, just sliding the back or sliding the front. Really ugly, but we persevered. Guys had to pit, and some guys ran out, and we finished sixth. We’ll take what we can get here and go on to Bristol.”

Ryan Preece – finished 7th: “It was a good day. Expectations-wise, it was a top 20 or 15 would be fantastic. Well, we ended up with a top 10 and we made the car better and better every lap. It was good. We had a good race car. Track position, like fuel helped, but we were still going to end up anywhere from 12th to 10th, so it was a good day.”

William Byron – finished 8th: “Honestly, I thought we tried a little different approach today and our car was just really hard to handle. We struggled in traffic a lot. But, to come out with a top 10 is good. I feel like we ran in and around there. We just struggled on restarts. But, not bad overall. I think we made up a lot of points. Just kind of needed a couple of different things to play a little bit differently for us to have a better finish. … (You may not be the winner but you’re solid). Yeah, I think so. Besides last week. I think we’ve finished in the top 10 in a two out of three, I guess. That’s great. And we can really build on that. It seems like (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) just calls really solid races. I think if we get our practice structure to be a little bit better, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Chase Elliott – finished 9th: “We finally got our car going pretty good there at the end and then ran out of gas on that last lap. I just needed to save a little better after the caution. … I need to be better, for sure. I just need to be a little faster. I needed to do a better job of saving.”

Alex Bowman – finished 10th: “We had a really good car in practice and just took off really right there in the race and nothing touched it. It was really tight. It was on the splitter all day. Track position was so key. A lot of opportunities to take a big swing at it and Greg did a good job calling the race. Strategy kind of bit us a little bit there getting buried. We didn’t have it today.”

Austin Dillon — finished 13th: “It was a battle all weekend at Michigan International Speedway, but this Richard Childress Racing team never gave up. We started far back in the field in our Chevy Accessories Camaro ZL1 but opted for two-tire pit stops during the early part of the race in order to get track position. That strategy worked because we were able to race our way into the top 10. There was a one-lap shootout to end Stage 2 and things got wild when we got spun through the grass at 200 mph. That was a scary moment, for sure. We ended up with damage that again put us far back in the running order. Luckily, our Chevy Accesories Camaro ZL1 remained fast. On a restart we gained a lot of spots but came really close to wrecking and lost them all. We drove back to the front and were on our way to a 10th-place finish but ran out of fuel with one lap to go and coasted to the end to finish 13th. What a day! Bring on Bristol Motor Speedway!”

Joey Logano – finished 17th: (Why he made a late pit stop with three laps left) “I needed more gas. The Shell car isn’t supposed to run out of gas. The positive is we were way better than we were on Friday and Saturday. The negative is that we almost won the race but ended up finishing 17th. You win some, you lose some. If the caution comes out, we would have been in good shape but it stayed green, and that is it. That is the gamble. We took the gamble and it didn’t pay off. Pocono, we played it the other way and the caution came out. That is two races and we played it wrong both times.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 19th: “Man, I want this one so bad. We got that flat tire early on and we recovered and got up to third there in the late stages and then we just ran out of gas. That is just the way it goes sometimes.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 24th: “I had a really good car. Our Mustang was fast, especially later in the race. I just got off pit road too early and we ended up running out of gas. It is easy to second guess those types of decisions after the race, but I didn’t second guess anything at the time. Just the way it shakes out sometimes.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 26th: “Luck certainly has not been on the side of this No. 8 team the last two weeks. We started at the back of the field but we had a strong Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and were able to race into the top 15 at the beginning of the race. Our troubles started at the end of Stage 2. There was a one-lap restart to end the stage and I don’t know if Aric Almirola thought he was clear or what, but he came right across my nose, put me into the outside wall and damaged the left front, collecting our teammate as well. From there, we just tried to salvage all we could out of the damaged race car. I’m proud of these guys for never giving up and doing all they could to get me back out on the track without losing a lap after that incident. We fell a lap down at the end but I was doing all I could to maintain position as best as possible.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 28th: “We struggled this weekend with overall speed. We started the race really tight and were making gains on our Fastenal Ford before we got a flat tire. I think we are all looking forward to getting to Bristol as our Ford was really strong there in the spring.”

Aric Almirola — finished 33rd: “We had decent day today before the accident. I’m not sure what happened there, but our guys worked hard to bring us a good 3D Systems Ford Mustang today. We still have a decent cushion right now for the playoffs. I’m looking forward to Bristol.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 34th: “The right-side tires went into the PJ1 and as soon as I got my tires in it, I went straight into the wall. When you’re aggressive, it doesn’t work and then sometimes you’re cautious and it doesn’t work. It was a great car. That hurt, for sure. We’re just going to have to rally on and these guys are doing an amazing job. We’ll keep digging. It’s super disappointing. It’s a little easier when it’s not on you and you can call it a mechanical or a flat or get caught up in a wreck. But, I’m behind the wheel and I’m the one that got us in the fence. … (What’s your attitude about being 12 points behind Bower for the final playoff spot?) To just fight hard for every point. The guys around that cutoff point, all seem to be having bad luck. If one of us could just string together some good races and get in the clear and get away. I think that’s what the No. 24 (William Byron) has been able to do is just have some good, consistent races and built a nice gap. You’ve just got to keep fighting for every point.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 37th: “Somebody got in the back of me. When I went around I just saw (Alex) Bowman and thought it was him. I guess maybe (Paul Menard) or somebody. As soon as it happened, I was just along for the ride. I don’t know. We have to get something figured out with these race tracks. We are really fast by ourselves, practice and qualifying really well, in the top five almost every single time but then we start the race and don’t make the grip we need to compete. We definitely need to find some things out. You can talk about the bubble and worrying about points but I am way more worried about getting established and running up front at these types of race tracks. If you make the playoffs and can’t compete in it then what is the use? We have some things to work out. We have some time. We have some good race tracks for us including Bristol coming up. We have plenty of racing but we have to get some things figured out.”

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Ryan: Importance of being Bubba takes on new meaning for NASCAR

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – By moving Kyle Busch, Bubba Wallace proved again he can move the needle for NASCAR unlike any driver other than the superstar he intentionally wrecked at Watkins Glen International.

The most-read NASCAR story on NBCSports.com this past weekend (and by a wide margin) was Wallace’s colorfully vulgar way of calling out the 2015 Cup champion. Though tossing in a few choice expletives attracts Internet traffic, the roar that erupted from the Glen crowd as Busch looped down the frontstretch already had affirmed that Wallace has a knack for striking a chord as the center of attention.

He spun Busch without compunction and then brazenly (and succinctly) explained why.

In a Monster Energy Cup Series too often bleached of controversy, moxie and verve, Wallace stood out Sunday – and for a different reason than what usually has put him in the spotlight for much of his career.

Being the most successful black driver since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott remains culturally and historically significant. It’s still a potentially vital step in the NASCAR blueprint for building a desperately needed diversity in its audience and a larger footprint in mainstream media.

But the uniqueness of his race is becoming nearly incidental to what makes Wallace’s story appealing and compelling (which is how he understandably would prefer it anyway).

Whether it’s openly admitting to flipping off his rivals, criticizing Pocono Raceway or candidly discussing his battle with depression (particularly in this interview with Marty Snider), anything Wallace does these days seems to be a headline-grabber. He owned NASCAR Twitter for 24 hours simply by mulling a tattoo of Richard Petty’s autograph.

This often has seemed the Summer of Bubba, who has remained relevant despite lacking the results (a season best of 15th at Daytona last month) just by being himself.

Each weekly trip through the media bullpen at qualifying brings another memorable quote or quip. “We’re stirring up some stuff, huh?” Wallace said with an impish smile at Pocono a few weeks ago as he detailed his dream NASCAR schedule “that would piss off everybody.”

It’s been a buzz reminiscent of the chatter that surrounds Busch, who consistently is the No. 1 newsmaker in the Cup Series.

Chase Elliott might be the Most Popular Driver by vox populi, but his win at Watkins Glen largely was overshadowed by various confrontations. That seemed fine with the naturally reserved Elliott, who is inclined to let his driving do the talking the same way his Hall of Fame father once quietly did.

It’s fine for NASCAR, too – to a point. As Dale Earnhardt famously said, a true measure of transcendence isn’t whether fans are booing or cheering. It’s whether they simultaneously are doing both at full volume.

There is an unremitting need for charismatic pit disturbers, and since the retirement of Tony Stewart, Busch often has seemed the only lightning rod left in NASCAR.

Wallace, 25, is poised to become another, provided he can overcome two major hurdles.

The first obstacle is (and always has been) sponsorship. As he said during a March appearance on NASCAR America, Wallace has made it this far in racing without having a consistently dedicated backer, which is somewhat inexplicable given his intriguing backstory and infectious youth should be an easy sell for any company. Funding would go a long way toward a solution to the second problem: Landing a first-class ride.

Though his No. 43 Chevrolet at Richard Petty Motorsports comes with boundless historical prestige, no one would attempt to argue that it could be competitive with even the world’s most talented driver. As a single-car team, there’s little hope of that changing.

Of course, Wallace also would need to perform in a high-caliber car. But he has excelled in limited instances with top-notch opportunities.

Driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2013-14, Wallace scored five victories and 26 top 10s in 44 starts. He was less impressive during a two-season Xfinity stint with Roush Fenway Racing from 2015-16, but in fairness, he wasn’t far off his teammates’ results, either. It’s been harder to judge his progress at RPM (which struggled for money this year before an injection of cash two months ago), but there have been flashes.

The world has yet to know how Wallace would fare with a Cup powerhouse. It might never know.

But if he could battle stars such as Busch for positions on a regular basis with the same brashness that Wallace flaunts so effortlessly?

That truly would move the needle.


An unusually stern postrace chastising of Ryan Blaney appropriately punctuated what was perhaps the most emotional week of Jimmie Johnson’s Cup career.

Though the seven-time series champion deflected and demurred on questions about whether he ultimately made the call to install Cliff Daniels as his new crew chief (“it’s a collective decision, though I certainly had to approve and had a big role in it”), Johnson left no doubt he was extremely uncomfortable about the removal of Kevin Meendering, who had no prior knowledge of his exit from the No. 48 after 21 races as a Cup crew chief.

“He was surprised and caught off guard and, who I am as an individual, I hate those moments,” said Johnson, who hadn’t switched crew chiefs during a season in his previous 17 years in Cup. “I honestly and truly do feel for him. I know Hendrick has big plans for him. I still don’t want him to rule out ever being a crew chief. I know we’re looking at opportunities of how we can use him internally in our company. He’s such a sharp dude. I hope he stays with us. And I know that Rick is going to do everything he can to make sure Kevin’s taking care of very well.

“Emotionally it’s tough, no doubt about it. If you look at my personal life and just everything, I’ve had long-term relationships, so this isn’t something I’m comfortable with. In my heart, I just felt like we will get back to our competitive ways faster and sooner with Cliff in that position.”

The next major decision could be even tougher for Johnson, who is tied with Ryan Newman in points on the playoff cutoff line with four races left.

Though his debut with Daniels went fairly well until the wreck, making the playoffs is still a serious question mark, as his future at Hendrick Motorsports beyond 2020.

“That’s when my contract will run out, and I’ve got to make a decision at that point if I want to continue on,” said Johnson, who turns 44 in September. “If my fire goes out or I feel like I’m not competitive, I think any driver would say that it’s time to walk away. I certainly have less years ahead of me than I ever had in my career. That will play a role if I feel like I’m doing my job right behind the wheel.”

A mediocre season, a guilt-ridden personnel change and the lingering uncertainty about how both could influence the conclusion of his Hall of Fame run … it’s no wonder we got a rare public glimpse of Johnson’s fiery side Sunday.


Tyler Reddick will race primarily on Sundays in NASCAR next season. Team owner Richard Childress made that abundantly clear last week, along with his desire to retain Reddick.

The question is how Richard Childress Racing would put Reddick in a Cup car for 2020. Childress said keeping Reddick “boils down to dollars,” indicating there are options in Cup outside RCR for the defending Xfinity Series champion (who has been politely vague when asked about next year).

The two scenarios for RCR retaining Reddick seemingly would be replacing a current driver or adding a third car.

There seems no doubt about the long-term job security of 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson who is in his sixth season driving the No. 3 Chevrolet. Teammate Daniel Hemric has a Cup contract at RCR through 2020 but told NBCSports.com that “I’m not sure if you ever feel OK” when asked about his status for next season.

“I feel like our supporters and partners see the progress we’re making, and I think they’ve been fairly intrigued and happy with the results as of late,” said Hemric, who is ranked 25th in the standings with two top 10s (including a seventh last week at Pocono Raceway). “So I hopefully can answer that a little more surely here in the next month or so.”

Asked what he made of Childress’ comments on Reddick, Hemric cited his busy schedule and said, “I haven’t really had a lot of time to even let it cross my mind, which I think is a good thing.”

Dillon, who called Reddick “a heck of a wheelman,” said he’d support RCR adding a third car if sponsorship allowed it. “I think we’ve got the room to do it obviously in the shop,” Dillon said. “It would be good to have another teammate. The more cars the better to bounce ideas off others.”


Corey LaJoie appropriately made many headlines this past weekend for donating a month’s salary to put a charitable cause on his No. 32 Ford, but the Go Fas Racing driver already should have been getting notice as one of NASCAR’s most outspoken drivers. LaJoie’s underrated (and oft-jarring) candor has been getting a weekly workout on the “Sunday Money” podcast that he began co-hosting this year.

LaJoie revealed in last week’s episode that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. told him his split with Danica Patrick partly was because of charging crystals and a full moon. Other recent LaJoie opinions from “Sunday Money”:

–On why the victory at Texas by Greg Biffle after a three-year absence (“he has been doing nothing but buying everybody’s bar tab at Fox and Hound”) made some truck series regulars look bad.

–A dissection of Paul Menard (and the ribbing he got from other drivers for “wrecking little kids” after his dustup with Harrison Burton): “That guy is a billionaire with a ‘B.’ He doesn’t care. If you run into him, he will just straight up wreck your shit. He’s funny.”

–On the low-key nature of Chase Elliott: “That’s been a topic of conversation within the drivers lately. He is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t do any autograph sessions. He literally goes from his car to his hauler to his motorhome. I don’t know if he’s getting too big time or what’s he doing. … We need to get him out a little bit. Because I can promise you if he doesn’t, he’s not going to be the most popular driver for a long period of time.”

Though the absence of a high-profile sponsor helps allow him to be so unfiltered, LaJoie also has a plain-spoken personality well suited for the podcast format – and probably as a spokesman for some edgy brand. If he continues to show promise at Go Fas, his name should be in the mix for stronger rides.


A major reason there is a lack of momentum for a dirt race in the Cup series? A lack of veterans championing the idea. There’s been lukewarm support even from those whose careers largely have been defined by dirt racing.

So for those who believe a Cup race at Eldora Speedway or elsewhere would deliver some scheduling diversity, it’s been refreshing to hear up and comers such as Christopher Bell (who made a case last year) and Chase Briscoe stumping for more dirt races in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I think Cup needs to go there,” Briscoe said last Friday at Watkins Glen International, which he scrambled to reach after racing a truck Thursday at Eldora Speedway. “Cup drivers are considered the best in the world, and I want to see them challenged at every discipline. We run a road course, a short track, a mile and a half, a superspeedway. So why not run a dirt track? That’s how I feel about it.

“I hear a lot of fans or people say it might take away from the trucks’ luster, but at the same time, there’s over 90 races of national series, and if five of those are dirt, they’re still going to be important. It’s no different than going to the road courses. People get excited we go to three or four road courses a year. It’s no different going dirt racing three to four times a year.”


While expanding its horizons to other surfaces, NASCAR also should consider adding “The Boot” – the currently unused stretch of Watkins Glen between Turns 5 and 6.

The nearly 1-mile section, which would increase the track distance to 3.4 miles while adding a few turns, has been used in IMSA and IndyCar races, and it’s been discussed as an option for NASCAR. The Glen’s popular campgrounds already extend into the area ringed by The Boot, so why not add race cars for those campers?

Xfinity winner Austin Cindric said The Boot would offer some low-speed corners and passing opportunities, easing concerns that it might string out the field.

“I’d really love to see NASCAR run The Boot here in a couple of years,” Cindric said. “If there is any petition there, I’ll be happy to sign it. I feel like we’re kind of just short-cutting the course, short-cutting some good corners. It adds more challenge.

“There is some really good, fun racetrack sitting back there waiting to be played with. I think it would give the people that go and camp back there more excitement, so I think it would be a nice addition.”


The news that NASCAR will apply traction compound at Michigan International Speedway this weekend and possibly at ISM Raceway near Phoenix in November brings some decidedly mixed reactions.

There were indications a few weeks ago that PJ1 wouldn’t be used at Michigan, so the shift in direction again signifies that NASCAR is soliciting driver input and reacting accordingly after many expressed misgivings about how the June 17 race unfolded with little action.

And the usage of PJ1 at Michigan and Phoenix also would represent a significant policy change at tracks owned by ISC, which had yet to use the compound employed with some degrees of success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

But even if it enhances the racing, the usage of traction compound always will be problematic because it inherently prompts the question of “Why is it necessary to ‘fix’ the racetrack?” Which leads down the rabbit hole to “If a track needs that type of Band-Aid, should it play host to a marquee NASCAR event?”

If the 2020 national series championships are contested at Phoenix with the help of PJ1, that’s bound to be a discussion topic — namely because traction compound never will be needed on Homestead-Miami Speedway’s natural multi-lane layout.