Phoenix International Raceway

What drivers said after Phoenix playoff race

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Here’s what drivers had to say after the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

Matt Kenseth – Winner: “It couldn’t be any sweeter. I just don’t know how else to explain it, you know? You always feel like you can get the job done. If you’ve got a big enough sample size of numbers, numbers don’t really lie. So we needed to go out and get the job done and get us a win and we were able to do that today. So we’ve got one more race left and, like I said, great way to go out.”

Chase Elliott – Finished second: “Our car was really good on the short run after those cautions and the rubber got picked up. As I went, I just got tighter and tighter and couldn’t keep it turning and couldn’t roll the middle like I needed to.  I felt like I might have had enough to keep him back there if I hit all my marks and got really tight off (Turn) 2 and made it one lap and basically gave away all my gap and once he got there it was obviously hard to hold him off.  Man, it’s such a bummer to be so freaking close again. Had a shot to go race for a championship next week, so we fought as hard as we could today.  I told my guys a minute ago, at some point we will figure out how to close or I will figure out how to close and we can have some great opportunities down the road, I hope.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished third: “Definitely excited about the position we’re in, to go to Homestead.  Feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum, we’ve got a lot of consistency in our team, and doing all the right things right now.  Excited for Homestead, and hopefully go down there and get our first championship.  Ready to go.”

Erik Jones – Finished fourth: “A good day for us. The 5-hour ENERGY Camry was good. Definitely had the speed to run up front and contend for the win … I just didn’t really execute 100 percent on the last restart to really give myself the shot I needed. Kind of a bummer, but overall really strong day for us – another day we needed. It had been a minute since we had really ran in the top-five competitively and had a shot and that is what we did today. Nice to get back on track. Nice momentum for next week and hopefully being able to close the season out with a win.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished fifth: On getting a chance to race for title: “It means a lot, especially this year switching everything from our manufacturer to Ford and just seeing the steady climb of performance and peaking as the playoffs started and running good on really every race track that we’ve been to and this has by far been our best round — all three top fives and a win.  It’s the right time of the year to be peaking.  I feel really good about our mile-and-a-half program. Homestead has been a great race track for us through the years and hopefully we can go down there and contend.  I think, for us, you’re really happy with where you are just for the fact that I think as a company we know what we went through and kind of playing on house money at this point, so we’re gonna go down there and wing it and see what happens.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished sixth:  “We were really good about three quarters of the way through the race.  There was one kind of bad run there and the way the sequence of tire strategies worked, we didn’t quite have enough track position to stay out.  So, we had to pit and I think we did pretty good to hang on with the two tires that we had.   We had a really fast car and it’s really hard to pass here and we passed quite a few cars today, so I am really proud of our Cessna Chevrolet SS team.”

Kyle Busch – Finished seventh: “Today was not the prettiest of efforts on behalf of the 18 M&M’s Caramel team, but overall we fought through it and did a good job of being able to get back in the pack, come back up through and salvage a decent day.  Unfortunately for last week, we didn’t have luck on our side, we had two flat tires while under caution, and that set us behind, and of course today we just kind of weren’t all that great, so we were kind of behind today, as well, too.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished eighth:  “I’m real happy with that after starting last from my mistake in qualifying.  We kept working on our car.  It was really good on long runs and then we actually got it pretty decent on the short run as well.  It was a really good day for our guys and look forward to trying to carry this momentum into Homestead and try to finish 11th in points.”

Aric Almirola – Finished ninth: “It was a great run for us, a top 10.  I’m really proud of all the effort here to close out the season with these guys here on the 43 team.  It’s Veteran’s Day weekend and pretty cool to get the U.S. Air Force a top 10.  I’m proud of everybody and we’ve got one more to go.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 10th: “So happy for Matt (Kenseth).  Me and him kind of going out at the same time.  I’m so happy for him to be able to win and have some joy in his life and celebrate, but this place has been really good to me and we worked really hard today trying to get our car better and we made some improvements, but we still don’t have the kind of speed that we wish we had.  We really wore ourselves out trying to figure it out.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 11th: “I wish we could have had some more of these throughout the season.  When you are running good like that you get to learn a lot more.  We had a couple of mistakes that might have kept us from running even better than what we ended up.  But, proud of our effort.  I learned a lot about what it takes to race good here in the Monster Energy Cup Series.  I feel like all-in-all it was a great finish, but I feel like I learned more than what this finish is going to show.  Excited to keep going and it is great momentum going into the last race of the year.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 14th: “We had a really fast Realtree Chevrolet today. We struggled with a tight-handling condition on the front end, but (crew chief) Justin Alexander and everyone on the team did a good job making adjustments. We made an unscheduled pit-stop for a flat left-rear tire during a caution and ended up losing a little bit of track position. Later in the race, we ended up with a little bit of damage during a late-race restart that got pretty crazy and I think it hurt us a little bit. We ended up finishing 14th. Still, a pretty good day at Phoenix Raceway.”

Paul Menard – Finished 15th: “We had a strong No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet on the long runs today, but it took a while for it to fire off on the initial start. The guys on pit road did a great job gaining spots throughout the day. We got hit from behind and suffered some damage to the nose when the field stacked up on that late-race restart, and that hurt the handling of the car over the final run. We still came out of here with a top-15 finish and we will go to Homestead and try to end the season on a high note.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 16th: “We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today. I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure. I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 17th: “We just had no tires.  We were debating whether to pit or not there and just didn’t, so that made us fall back.  That stinks.  I thought we could have stayed up and you never know what could have happened, but we just never had the car all day to compete up front.  We did a good job on restarts.  I thought we were decent on restarts all day.  We were able to start up towards the front and just didn’t work out for us.  We still have one more race to go with the Wood Brothers group, so hopefully we can go and have a good run at Miami.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 20th: “We had one hell of a Cat MineStar Chevy today. We could have won this thing again. The pit crew did a great job when we needed, and it was just a lot of fun out there. There is not much more that I could have done on that restart. We just got rear ended and had to pit. We went back out there and out ran the leader with fast lap times. I told Richard Childress we have a lot to be proud of. We struggled all weekend and to go out on race day and run with cars this capable of winning, eventually they will win. Good job again to my entire team.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 35th: “Each person had their own opinion of how they do things and it just proved to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances, so, I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing. I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is. We did a great job all day. This is the best car I’ve had in a very long time. We just got behind on the pit stops and then that just gave those guys an opportunity to get close.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 37th: “These cars have come a long way and really appreciate all the innovation that goes into that.  I’ve had more than I want for impacts this year.  On that note, it’s fine, our Clorox Chevrolet was okay.  We were getting better through the race.  We got a little bit of a long (brake) pedal there and I think we broke a rotor or something along those lines.  The hood basically blew a part, thought it might have been a tire, but no brakes at that point.  Not fun, not how we wanted to end our day.  We were fighting back.  It wasn’t going to be a great day, but we were making the best of it.”

Trevor Bayne  – Finished 38th: “I just lost right-front there off of Turn 4.  I’ve done that in an Xfinity car before and it doesn’t feel good.  That wall gets pretty head-on once you’re coming off like that and I was just running hard trying to stay in the free pass and trying to catch Denny (Hamlin) and the 19 (Daniel Suarez) and those guys so we could get back to being one down. The bead just got hot and blew. We had a little damage early on when they checked up and knocked the bead fan off, so that cooling wasn’t getting there.  The car got really tight for about three laps and we were in our pit window, we were gonna be coming in a couple laps and it just didn’t hang on.  It was a really hard hit. That’s probably one of the harder frontal impacts I’ve had, but I feel fine and ready to go.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 39th: “I’m disappointed for sure. The last couple of months we’ve been staying alive and at this stage with the Round of 8 and then the Round of 4, you can’t just stay alive. You’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders and we just haven’t been there, unfortunately. Again, I’m very thankful for all the hard work that’s gone into this and all the efforts from (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and the team, but we just can’t get there right now. We’ll try again next weekend and then do some good changes over the off-season and come back next year and be ready to go.”

Kyle Larson – finished 40th: “I think I was passing a lap earlier and when I lifted, I heard it start to blow up. I was hoping it wasn’t. But, by the time I got back to the gas I knew it was done. It’s just unfortunate to have four DNF’s in a row; two from engines and then two from wrecks. It’s a crappy way to end the season. I thought I had, by far, the best car here today, so I was really happy about that. The Refresh Your Car! Chevrolet was definitely the best car I’ve had at Phoenix. So, I’m happy about that. I just hate that we don’t really get a shot to race for the win.”

 

Joey Logano fends off Kyle Larson, wins Stage 1 from the pole at Phoenix

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Pole-sitter Joey Logano won the first stage of Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix Raceway.

The Team Penske driver led 74 laps of the Camping World 500 at the 1-mile oval, fending off a strong challenge by Kyle Larson with five laps left in the stage.

“Not a bad start. Got pretty tense there at the end,” Logano told Fox Sports. “But overall, it’s nice. Our first stage win of the year. Long ways to go, (and) we’ll keep fighting hard.”

Kyle Larson finished second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray.

Logano, who has been in the spotlight this past week after a postrace scuffle at Las Vegas initiated by Kyle Busch, is seeking his first victory of the season.

Reed Sorenson led the other lap during the 75-lap stage. He stayed on track to assume first after the caution flew on Lap 29 when Corey LaJoie scraped the wall, sending the lead-lap cars into the pits.

 

NASCAR Chairman Brian France: There will be ‘no retaliation’ by Kyle Busch

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NASCAR Chairman Brian France signaled that Kyle Busch and Joey Logano likely won’t face severe penalties, if any at all, for their altercation after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

France, speaking on “Tradin’ Paint’’ on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio said of the incident:

“We’re going to have moments. We just shouldn’t come out of our chairs over this. It is what it is. The drivers are doing everything they can.

“The pressure on these guys today is so difficult. So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that every once in a while somebody is going to boil over, somebody is going to think that they saw an incident in a different way and, whether it’s true or not true doesn’t matter, emotions are going to get the best of them. That’s just part of it.’’

France also addressed the subject of retaliation, which Busch hinted at in his interview with Fox Sports after the race.

“There will be no retaliation,’’ France said. “That will not be happening. That’s not going to happen anyway. The drivers understand what we did a couple of years at Martinsville (suspending Matt Kenseth two races for wrecking Logano), that is unacceptable. So what happens on the track, good or for bad for one driver or another, that’s where it stays, and we move on to the next event.

“My guess is that Kyle and Joey will sort that out, and there really won’t be anything that we need to worry about down the road. If there is, we’ll deal with it.

“We also want to be realistic, there is just a lot of emotion and a lot of pressure on these guys to do well and compete at a high level. When something goes terribly wrong, as it did for Kyle, you know, emotions are going to get the best of all of us at some point or another. Obviously, that’s what happened on Sunday.’’

Busch walked to Logano’s car after Sunday’s race and swung at the driver. Logano’s crew members interceded as Logano was held back. A NASCAR official pulled Busch, bleeding from a cut on his forehead, from the scrum.

The incident started on the last lap when Busch tried to pin Logano on the bottom of the backstretch to get by Brad Keselowski’s ailing car. Logano said that action caused him to fight the handling of his car in Turn 3, and his car went up the track and hit Busch’s car, sending it spinning. Busch finished 22nd. Logano placed fourth.

Earlier Monday, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials planned to meet with Busch and Logano before they got on track this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

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Phoenix Raceway will move start/finish line as part of changes

Phoenix International Raceway
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Phoenix Raceway confirmed Monday that it will move its start/finish line to Turn 2, just before the track’s dog leg, as part of renovations that will be completed in November 2018.

NBC Sports first reported in November about plans for the track to move its start/finish line to Turn 2.

“It will make it more exciting,” Joey Logano said of the new start/finish location. “There are going to be high-energy restarts.”

That change is just part of a $178 million redevelopment project by International Speedway Corp. that will include new seating areas, escalators, elevators and additional restrooms for fans. Also being added are new suites and better in-seat Wi-Fi capability and a new tunnel to the infield for fans. 

Phoenix also is redesigning its infield, creating a fan zone while moving victory lane and the garages. Pit road will be moved in closer to the infield in Turns 1 and 2.

“This is a great day for ISC and Phoenix Raceway, but more importantly, for racing fans in the state of Arizona and around the world,” ISC Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy said in a statement. “A project of this magnitude is monumental for our company as we get to work enhancing the experience of the great fans who love to watch our races in Phoenix and enjoy this beautiful area. Having Phoenix Raceway within our prestigious stable of venues always has been a tremendous asset and source of pride for us. We are thrilled to create a best-in-class facility in Phoenix, and we’re confident it will grow the fan base here and further serve as a destination track for motorsports fans everywhere.”

Also, in paperwork filed with International Speedway Corp.’s 2016 Annual Report, the company lists Phoenix’s spring 2018 NASCAR race weekend as March 16-18 and the track’s 2018 IndyCar race weekend as April 13-14.

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A look at some of the changes at Phoenix International Raceway. (Courtesy Phoenix International Raceway).

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Back in the saddle: Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to this season and beyond

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands that it could take time to return to an elite level after a concussion forced him to miss half of last season.

“You can’t take six months off and come right back and expect to be right there where you were like you hadn’t missed a step,’’ the two-time Daytona 500 winner told NBC Sports in a recent interview.

“The sport has changed, the cars have changed and any week you’re not in the car you’re getting behind. So if there is some learning curve, I won’t be shocked. Hopefully, it doesn’t last very long. I expect to be able to adapt very quickly.’’

Earnhardt will be back in a car Tuesday for only the second time since July when he takes part in a NASCAR organizational test at Phoenix International Raceway. The session continues Wednesday.

The only other time Earnhardt has been on track since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway was a one-day test at Darlington Raceway that doctors and NASCAR used to determine if he was ready to return to competition.

Now that he’s back, Earnhardt has much work ahead of him. That’s why he is doing the Phoenix test for Hendrick Motorsports. Each organization is allowed to have one team at the test.

Earnhardt admits that the beginning of the season will be important as he seeks to catch up to his competitors. He seeks more than moral victories.

“I feed off statistics,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports when asked what he wants to see early in the season. “Top fives, wins. Obviously, we want to win every race. If we can go get some good runs and supplant ourselves in the top 15 in points really well early in the season, that would relieve some stress and concern about what the learning curve is for me having been out of the car.

“Also, every race you put in the bank gives you the confidence in your health. I’ve got to rebuild sort of the confidence in myself and my health as well as my performance, my ability to go out there and do the best job I can.’’

While every driver and situation is different, Kyle Busch won in his fifth race back after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season because of injuries suffered in a crash in an Xfinity race at Daytona. Busch returned for the All-Star race and then ran four points races before winning at Sonoma — the first of five victories in his championship season.

If things go as well as his Darlington test, Earnhardt figures he’ll be in good shape when he competes in his first event, which will be will be a qualifying race Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway (Earnhardt won’t compete in the Feb. 18 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona even though he is eligible). It didn’t take Earnhardt long to feel comfortable in the car during that Darlington test.

“I was a little bit apprehensive for sure, wondering how I was going to feel and how the car was going to feel and what was going to happen,’’ Earnhardt said. “We ran about three of four laps and it felt pretty comfortable and pretty familiar. After about 15 or 20 laps, it was like me and the car were one piece.’’

Earnhardt, who is 42 years old, said the time out of the car gave last year him a glimpse of what retirement could be like. 

“I never thought that the transition from driving a car to retirement would be a difficult one for me, but it certainly answered some questions and made me lot more comfortable with that prospect,’’ he said. “There’s going to be some opportunities for me beyond driving that will be fun and interesting. I have some businesses that can be successful if I pull the right levers, so I’m not too worried about it. It was interesting to see the sport from the angle I did and to sort of get what being out of the car is like.’’

While he was out of the car, Earnhardt also did some broadcasting. Could that be a part of his future once he’s no longer driving?

“I would certainly entertain the opportunity to be in broadcasting, but … I just know there’s a lot of guys that want to do that,’’ Earnhardt said. “(Kevin) Harvick has talked about that. There’s just going to be more people interested in filling those small, select positions, and I don’t know if that is a competitive field I want to get involved in. It will just have to come naturally. I really did love being in there.

“I could certainly have a lot of fun trying to describe the action to the fans. I could see myself doing that. We’ll just have to see how it works out. I’m not sure what those opportunities will be. … but I’d love to be a part of the sport one way or the other.’’

He’s clear on one thing about his future, though.

“I’m pretty sure that (Cup) ownership is not one of those options,’’ he said of post-driving plans. “It’s not a way that I want to be connected to the sport, going down the road on the Cup level. But I’d love to be at the track and at the races and have a purpose to be there.’’

And once he’s done racing in NASCAR, he still might compete.

“If my health allows me to race Late Models and do all that stuff,’’ he said. “I would do it.’’

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