Ryan: Where could Matt DiBenedetto be heading next season in Cup?

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – The audition essentially is over for Matt DiBenedetto, who again proved Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway that he is worthy of keeping a ride in NASCAR’s premier series.

Do withering auditions now begin for scads of other drivers whom DiBenedetto has outperformed for two months (his runner-up finish after leading a race-high 93 laps is his third top five and fifth top 10 in nine races)?

As NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said during the NBCSN broadcast (and has said before), “I can give you a list of drivers who should be scared to death of Matty D. because he deserves their seats.”

There could be team owners feeling some heat, too, by remaining complacent. Bristol winner Denny Hamlin said on the NBCSN postrace interview in victory lane, “all you car owners are idiots” if DiBenedetto didn’t land a Cup ride in 2020.

“There’s many car owners that finance cars that are on the racetrack, good teams,” Hamlin said later in his media center interview. “They got to step up and grow some balls and take a chance on somebody they really believe in. That or they can continue to run 15th.”

Hamiln said numerous times that there is “no doubt in my mind” that DiBenedetto will land “better even than he is right now.”

The question is where, and the chattering classes of NASCAR were in overdrive this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, trying to chart how the annual parade of driver movement will unfold (after it began in earnest last week later than normal).

A few important parameters:

–While contracts are important, they can vary as to how ironclad they are because of results clauses and options. DiBenedetto originally was announced as having a two-year deal last October with Leavine Family Racing, but the team actually had to approve his renewal. A driver can be “set” for next season and still be removed.

–The possibility always exists that a team with fewer than four drivers could add a car for DiBenedetto, but the reality is highly unlikely anyone would.

–Before being informed Aug 13 that he wouldn’t be returning to LFR, DiBenedetto said he hadn’t talked to any other teams about 2020.

Here’s everything we seem to know about the status of major rides next year, in a team-by-team analysis:

–Chip Ganassi Racing: Kyle Larson is under contract through next season. Kurt Busch, who has had Monster sponsorship the past five seasons, said Friday at Bristol that he still isn’t set for next year. That could open a slot in the No. 1, but Ross Chastain is believed to remain under contract with Ganassi and probably would be the first option if Busch were to leave.

Front Row Motorsports: The full-time retirement of David Ragan opens a ride here that Front Row intends to fill, but Ross Chastain would be high on this team’s list for the No. 38 Ford, and Corey LaJoie also has been mentioned as a possibility. Michael McDowell and Matt Tifft are believed to be returning to the team.

–GoFas Racing: LaJoie is putting up solid numbers while emerging as a breakout personality, and that could draw attention and opportunities from other teams. DiBenedetto remains friendly with many on this team from his 2017-18 stint.

–Hendrick Motorsports: Jimmie Johnson (contract through 2020), Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman (pending sponsorship finalization) all are solid for next year

–Joe Gibbs Racing: Clearly no room here with all four drivers seemingly set for next season.

JTG Daugherty Racing: Ryan Preece said Friday his deal with the team is beyond 2019. Chris Buescher was announced in August 2017 as having signed a multiyear deal. The team has ended its deals before the end of a term before, though, with A.J. Allmendinger leaving after last season despite two years remaining on an extension he signed in 2015.

Leavine Family Racing: This isn’t an option for next year with the expected arrival of Christopher Bell.

But thanks to the trigger-happy Twitter thumbs of team owner Bob Leavine, it’s known that a scenario has been discussed in which DiBenedetto could spend a season in Xfinity before returning to Cup in 2021 (when the Gen 7 car is expected to make its debut). DiBenedetto has been careful to avoid burning any bridges (he immediately thanked LFR and its team members in postrace interviews).

-Richard Childress Racing: Daniel Hemric’s contract with the team is through 2020, but he has sent signals he isn’t certain of being kept (Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick will need a Cup ride to stay at RCR). Austin Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress, is set.

Richard Petty Motorsports: Bubba Wallace was signed to a multiyear deal last year and has indicated he will return in 2020.

Roush Fenway Racing: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recently reaffirmed that he has a contract through 2021, and the team would seem very happy with Ryan Newman taking the No. 6 to the playoffs in his first season.

Stewart-Haas Racing: Kevin Harvick is set beyond this season (and probably as long as he wants to drive the No. 4). Aric Almirola came with sponsor Smithfield to SHR last year and is good through 2020. Clint Bowyer is in a contract year and while indications have been positive about his return, sponsorship on his No. 14 has been difficult, and an extension likely would include a pay cut similar to many other veterans in his class. Daniel Suarez is in his first season at SHR and said last Friday that he and the team both have options for remaining together in 2020 “but everything is looking pretty good” for remaining in the No. 41.

Team Penske: Its trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney is firm.

–Wood Brothers Racing: Paul Menard recently said he expects to be back in the No. 21 Ford next year.


In taking on Bell as its No. 95 driver next year, LFR will function much more like a de-facto fifth Joe Gibbs Racing car in a stronger alliance resembling what Furniture Row Racing had with JGR.

LFR switched to Toyota this season but was running a 2018 chassis Saturday, according to crew chief Mike Wheeler, who also said as “JGR learns stuff, we get upgrades.” Based on how well DiBenedetto ran at Bristol, where he led final Cup practice, qualified seventh and finished second, there was some speculation that the team might have received a full-fledged JGR-prepared Camry at Bristol.

“There’s a misconception out there about it being a JGR primary car,” Wheeler said. “It is a generation behind, but it’s good. If you put a good setup and good driver in it, it can go fast, and you saw that tonight.”


As difficult as Saturday night’s finish was for Denny Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto, it was just as gutting for Mike Wheeler, who had to watch as his current driver got beat by the driver whom he guided as the No. 11 crew chief from 2016-18 before being transferred to LFR by JGR.

Though it isn’t expected that Wheeler will remain as the No. 95 crew chief next year (Bell has spoken highly of his Xfinity crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, who previously won with Matt Kenseth in Cup), Gibbs said Wheeler was under long-term contract to the team. “We all love Wheels,” Gibbs said. “He’s been a very key part to our organization. Then when he moved over to the 95, he’s just done an outstanding job over there.”

Wheeler told reporters he “definitely needed a moment to compose myself” after Saturday’s finish (as captured in this photo by Dustin Long).

“If you told us we’d ran second before we got here, but to lead the whole last stint and come up short, that was disappointing,” he said. “It’s like gosh. I don’t know why things happen to me like that. But it makes you a better person I guess in the future.”


In making the switch to 18-inch tires with the Gen 7 car, NASCAR also is considering the use of a single lug nut to secure wheels. That would be another step toward bringing NASCAR in line with IndyCar, whose common chassis by Dallara has been pushed by team owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi (whose teams compete in both series) as a model for the Gen 7 on cost-savings components.

The move to a single lugnut (from the current five-lugnut wheel) could be viewed as a safety enhancement by greatly reducing the possibility of loose wheels, but it also would overhaul the dynamics of pit stops and likely de-emphasize the importance of tire changers.


Brad Keselowski long has been sensitive to how private aviation in NASCAR is perceived by a fan base that formed its bonds with stars through workingman’s roots. The Team Penske driver once banned news media that traveled with him from taking photos or video aboard his plane.

In the wake of the crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plane last week, Keselowski made another impassioned and well-reasoned defense of flying in NASCAR – particularly in the case of Bristol, which is about a three-hour drive from the Charlotte area homes of many drivers.

“It’s work-life balance,” said Keselowski, who flew into the same airport Friday morning where Earnhardt’s plane crashed the previous afternoon. “That’s the reality of it. We’re trying to be dads and be husbands. And try to leverage the privileges we have to do just that. That’s probably the easiest way I can answer it.

“My staying home (Thursday) night, I got to have dinner with my daughter. Her grandparents got to come over. That’s a big deal. I don’t get many nights like that. Michigan week, I wasn’t home at all and didn’t spend any time with my family. I look through the pictures of my daughter when she’s growing up, and it’s, ‘Oh my God, how did my daughter turn 4 years old?’ It happened like that, and it happened while I was at races in Michigan and gone all week And when I have a week like this where we can make the most of it, we’re going to try like hell to make the most of it. We were able to do that because of private aviation.

“I understand that most people might not get that concept, but most people aren’t in the situation we’re in as race car drivers that travel every week. We don’t get to skip a week. We’re not like LeBron James where we get to sit on the bench or stay home for a week or whatever it is from other sports. This is 38 weeks, and they will run the race without you. And your ass will get fired if you don’t show up. So that’s really hard to explain to people. And it’s very hard to explain to your wife and daughter when you miss something that’s really special to them. Private aviation is a great way to try to fill those gaps. And we might get a black eye because of that, but it’s something that I’m really passionate about and very thankful for.”


Facing the likelihood that he will miss the Cup playoffs for the first time in 16 years, Jimmie Johnson said Friday that failing to qualify for championship eligibility would change his goal from grinding out points to advance through rounds to focusing exclusively on getting a win with new crew chief Cliff Daniels.

The seven-time champion also would need to begin considering whether the 2020 season would be his last. In the instances of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., that decision was made months (or in Stewart’s case, more than a year) ahead of the final race. Despite his current slump, Johnson seems inclined to keep racing because “our team is getting so good, so strong” but also recognizes foresight on exit strategy is necessary.

“I know for the team, sponsor and for (team owner) Rick (Hendrick), following some sort of timeline would be best for them,” said Johnson, who turns 44 next month. “Like Jeff did and some just decide to walk away, some want a year, others want half a year. I fortunately have not put any thought into that. My commitment is still the team. I’m sure I’ll be pressed for a decision at some point, but I’m not really ready to make that decision. I love what I’m doing being on the track. If I had to pick right now, I’d sign on for more years.”

Johnson added that new primary sponsor Ally seems more focused on branding and name recognition than on-track results.


Besides some unfortunate mainstream publicity, the controversy over the removal of Slayer as the sponsor of a Rick Ware Racing car again underscored the mixed messages that the entangling alliances of sponsorship often tend to breed in NASCAR. RWR released a statement that the band’s “brand image and beliefs” did not align with the team and its longtime partners – though it probably would be more than welcome in many other corners of stock-car racing.

Slayer is one of the progenitors of death metal, a genre that is popular among the ranks of up and coming youth in NASCAR. Longtime Megadeth fan Tyler Reddick had the band on his Xfinity car at New Hampshire last month. Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney have noodled around as a death metal duo in social media clips and have posted videos from concerts.

The mainstream headlines last week, though (driven in part by the team’s 11th-hour cancellation), were “NASCAR says no to death metal band,” which doesn’t really help a series desperately trying to be as inclusive and universally appealing as possible in order to build audience. Sponsorship choices are made individually by teams, tracks and the sanctioning body, but their negative ramifications often can be felt across the board.


There’s another Cup alliance being considered in the Ford camp. Stewart-Haas Racing has discussed the possibility of offloading many of its cars to GoFas Racing in anticipation of its four-car fleet having a lot of extra inventory next season as it moves to the Gen 7car. It’s uncertain if the arrangement also might include technical support.

Racing chassis that are a few years old, Corey LaJoie is 29th in points with the No. 32, a spot higher than it was ranked with Matt DiBenedetto through 24 races last year.


Saturday night’s crowd at Bristol undoubtedly was better than April, but there’s been some debate over how much of the grandstands filled in after there were significant pockets at the green flag (which seemed to mostly disappear in photos of a gorgeous dusk at the track).

There is a simple way to resolve this, of course: If more auto racing tracks would release attendance, like virtually any other professional sport. The longtime excuse is that Cup tracks owned by publicly held companies don’t provide crowd numbers because they don’t want to provide “earnings guidance.”

With ISC and SMI on the cusp of being taken private and no longer required to report earnings, it would be a welcome end to the policy so that officially provided attendance figures could be used to comparatively demonstrate when a NASCAR crowd is truly a success story.

Dustin Long contributed to this report

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.

What Drivers Said after Watkins Glen

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Chase Elliott – winner: “That was awesome. I’ve never been so far from home and felt like I was at my house, so thank you. You all are awesome. What a day! We had such a fast NAPA Camaro and these guys called a great race. We just stayed mistake free and Martin (Truex Jr.) was a little quicker I felt like those last few runs, but the track position was key and I didn’t mess up into Turn 1 this time, so that was good. Just a huge thank you to everyone that makes this happen. Mr. Hendrick is here today and just a lot of people that have gotten me to this point. I wish my mom and my grandmother were here today, but I can’t wait to see you guys when I get back home. Love you. … (Ran out of gas on burnout) I’m sorry I ran out of gas again. I would have done more, but it happens. Just thank you! Like I said, you guys are awesome and I would have never thought that a New York race would feel like home, but you guys did that so thank you.”

MORE: Chase Elliott holds off Martin Truex Jr. for second-straight Watkins Glen win

Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: “I tried to do all I could. Chase (Elliott), he did an excellent job just not making mistakes. All I could do was get to within two car lengths or one-and-a-half at the closest in braking. Just trying to force a mistake, but he hit his marks and his car was really fast in the key areas there where it needed to be and leaving a few of the key corners. Just couldn’t get a run on him and was just kind of stuck there. Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today. We passed quite a few cars and finished up front, just couldn’t pass that last one. … (What does this say about your team and its performance on road courses?) We enjoy the road courses. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and all the guys really understand what I need here. Honestly, we weren’t as good as we needed to be yesterday and made some changes after practice. Definitely in the right direction, just wish we could have been just a tiny bit better. Really was all about restarts and track position. If I could have just got by him on that last one, we could have set sail I believe. We didn’t and he won and he did a good job. Overall, it was a good weekend for us.”

Denny Hamlin – finished third: “We were just a couple tenths off each lap. They were just a little better. I fought the bus-stop all day, I was just a third-place car all weekend and it showed up by finishing third. We optimized the most we were going to get out of our Camry right there. Good day for JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as a whole – two, three, four — 18 (Kyle Busch) we know was fast, but had issues. This keeps momentum for us, but just wish we were a little better. Overall, not bad. … (What has the team hit on the last several weeks?) Just been better as a whole. Just communication getting better, everything is getting better. I’ve got a first-year crew chief (Chris Gabehart) that’s finding his feet right now and our communication is good. He’s showing up to the race track and bringing me a fast car. I’m driving them as hard as I can. It’s all working right now.”

Erik Jones – finished fourth: “It’s good to keep it all going. Watkins Glen is kind of the wild card in there. Being a road course and everything, we’ve been on some tracks that have been really good to us and Watkins Glen has been good to us, but you still never know what can happen on strategy. It worked out the best it really could. I made a mistake yesterday, we started too far back and just took us all day to get the DeWalt Camry up front. I felt like we had a fifth-place car all through practice and we were able to get a little better finish than that. It’s nice to keep that streak going and now going to two places – Michigan next week and then Bristol where I think we can win. We have some really good momentum behind us these months. You can’t keep running up in the top-five every week and not win a race. That’s what I keep telling myself and hopefully we can do it here soon. …

(Do you feel like you can race for wins now without worrying about points?) “Real close. We’re right on the edge of that. We’re over a race up so we can definitely have a race where things don’t necessarily go our way, but we don’t want to get in a spot here with two races to go where we’re back in position where we have to really salvage points. We’ve done a great job this last month-and-a-half of carving our way back into it and really getting towards the top of the non-winners in the Playoff picture, which is a good feeling. Where we should be and where we belong – it’s nice to be up there. Points are off the mind a little bit more than they have been the last few weeks. …

(Was this a better finish than you expected?) “I felt like we were capable with a clean day and that’s exactly what we did. The DeWalt Camry had good speed and we just kept it clean all day. Never got in trouble, never made a mistake on pit road or on the track and came home close to where I figured we could. I don’t think we were capable of racing with the 9 (Chase Elliott) and the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), they were really fast and pretty far out there. Good for us. We’ve been good at Watkins Glen the past few years and it’s nice to get a good day after yesterday’s mishap. We definitely could have gotten some more stage points if we started up front. Still, a good, solid day for us.”

Ryan Blaneyfinished fifth: (Talk about the incident with Jimmie Johnson) It was just racing. He had old tires. They just did gas only and he was pretty slow and I passed 10 guys off the bus stop all day. He hit the third curb pretty bad and got in that position and he was up and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane-and-a-quarter or so, and I took it. At first he didn’t turn down like I thought he knew I was there, and then he kept coming. I tried to check up and it was just too late. I mean, obviously, I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t want to do that. It’s obviously an accident, but he was upset and I can’t blame him for being upset about it. We’re just racing hard and I thought there was a lane there and it just closed.

(How did you leave it with Johnson?) “He’s angry. I can’t blame him for being angry. He’s trying to get in the Playoffs right now and have good runs. Trust me, the last guy I want to spin out is Jimmie. We always race great together. I’ve looked up to him for a long time and still do, and he’s the last guy I want to spin out. It didn’t end well. He wasn’t happy and I can’t blame him. He’ll probably race me pretty hard here for the next few weeks, but I can’t blame him for that. It was definitely not my intention there. … (Were you happy overall with how you ran in the race?) “Yeah, our car was fast. We started dead last and took a lot of time to get up through there. We did some pit strategy stuff and got a little bit better throughout the day and got to fifth there. I might have been able to get to fourth, but it would have been tough. It was a good job by everybody for having a fast car and ended up pretty decent.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished sixth: “Track position was big and we got messed up in our qualifying run by a couple guys, but it wasn’t their fault. So that set us back and we just had to diligently all race long, inch our way forward little by little. It was cool and it’s always so satisfying on these road courses for us to inch our way forward and pass some guys. I wish we could have started a little further forward. I know we could have run a little bit better, but that’s fine. It’s fun to get so much support from all our team, Toyota, JGR and Procore. I just hope I can be a part of this for a long time to come. … (Elliott and Truex) had good track position all day and their cars were fast. Martin’s obviously an excellent road racer, I’ve gotten some good advice from him on the road course at Sonoma and some other places. He’s good, he’s a champion and he’s one of the best. Chase and that 9 team, they are fast at this place and their cars have a lot of speed so it makes sense that they were up front. I think we could have gotten a few more positions if we had track position. Our speed was there, but it was hard to pass with the dirty air.”

Kevin Harvick – finished seventh: “We probably overachieved. We knew we were off and we thought we could, at best, finish fifth and we finished seventh, so we were fine. We didn’t have any drama and we just haven’t been very good here.”

Brad Keselowski – finished ninth: “We were a fifth to tenth-place kind of car all weekend and ended up ninth. I thought we could have been a little bit better at the end if I would have done a few things different, but nowhere near the speed we needed to run with the Gibbs cars or the 9 car, so we made the most of the weekend with what we had. … (How far off from the JGR cars do you think you are?) Here they were probably about a good half-second faster. That’s a lot of speed.”

Kurt Buschfinished 10th: “At road courses, I expected to do a little better at Ganassi. It kind of shows (Kyle) Larson’s done well to improve and (Jamie) McMurray was a solid road racer is what it proves. But we got beat by the same exact cars we got beat by at Sonoma. So, we’ve got to keep plugging away. But I’m not satisfied at all with that. We pushed and pushed and pushed and that’s all it had. A little tight here. A little loose there. But, thanks to everybody at Ganassi for working hard; and to Monster Energy and Chevrolet. A top 10, hey, we’ll take it. But that doesn’t do anything for us right now.”

KYLE BUSCH – finished 11th: Busch refused to speak to reporters other than to say this about his incident with Bubba Wallace: You saw it.”

Aric Almirola — finished 12th: “Overall, it was a good day for me at a road course. The guys brought me a good Go Bowling Ford and I learned some things. It’s always good to see improvement at places like Watkins Glen.”

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR. – finished 15th: All in all it was a decent weekend. We usually struggle in qualifying so to advance to the second round was a huge accomplishment for our No. 17 team. I think this downforce package helps me a little bit here because you can be harder on the throttle through the esses. Overall, it was a mistake-free weekend for our No. 17 team which is what we needed.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON – finished 19th: “(What happened with Ryan Blaney?) He just drove through me in the carousel. I tried to hear what he was trying to say…but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak. I don’t know if he was nervous or scared or both…I don’t know what the problem is. He just drove through me…and spun me out. And clearly that has big implications with what we are trying to do for the Playoffs tight now, so clearly not happy with his actions. … We scored points in both stages which was nice. We were setting up for top-eight to top-10 and got drove through. He claims it was just racing. So I can hardly wait to go racing. Everybody stay tuned.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 20th: “That was frustrating, because I think we were on the right strategy. We were able to stay up front even on older tires and we got some stage points, but that flat tire kind of killed our day. We just didn’t have enough time to get back up to where we should have been.”

BUBBA WALLACE – finished 28th: (Talk about what led up to you spinning Kyle Busch?) “I’m going to get my respect on the track, and I don’t care who it is. That’s for when guys fail to think about the young guys, I guess, or with me. I won’t put up with no shit. So I flat out wrecked his ass back. I guess we’re even. We’ll see. … “That’s what happens when you get run over. You just pay him back. So I won’t be like, ‘Oh, it’s Kyle Busch, he didn’t mean to.’ … (Expletive) him.”

Ty Dillon – finished 30th: “I have always enjoyed road-course racing and wish our GEICO Military team had some better luck at these tracks. We worked on the handling throughout the first two stages and got it to where we needed it to be. It was the best it had been all day at the start of the final stage, and I feel like we were gaining some positive momentum. Unfortunately, the contact from the 8 car really set us back. We never could get that track position back, and it’s so valuable at a place like Watkins Glen. My guys worked hard all weekend though, and we’ll have another chance at a road course when we take on The Roval in September.”

Austin Dillon – finished 31st: “Road course racing has never been our forte, but we headed into Watkins Glen International with high hopes of using all of the tools at our disposal to earn a solid finish in the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. It was a struggle to gain track position after starting further back in the field than we had hoped, but I’m so proud of this Richard Childress Racing team because they never gave up. Throughout the race, I listened to my team as they gave feedback to help me hit my marks throughout the seven-turn road course. They also made great adjustments throughout the race to help with a tight-handling condition. In the end, we couldn’t overcome the lack of forward drive and ended up finishing just outside the top-30. We have work to do on the road courses, and this team deserves better. We’re resetting and heading to Michigan International Speedway next week with a goal of earning a win and punching our ticket into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 35th: “This was not how we saw today going with this Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The car took off well when the green flag flew and we were making progress after the first few stops of the day. I had some issues with the brakes after we got some grass on the ducts, and with about 50 laps to go they gave up on me going into the Bus Stop and I got into Ty Dillon. That sent his car through the grass and my car slid into the tire barrier with the left side. These guys on pit road did all they could to make repairs and get the car competitive again, but the time we spent on pit road put us multiple laps down. We’ll move on from this and focus forward as we head to Michigan next week.”

 

Martin Truex Jr. leads Toyota fleet in final Cup practice at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Martin Truex Jr. turned the fastest lap as Toyotas took the top four spots in the final Cup practice Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.

Truex’s No. 19 Camry made a lap at 205.936 mph, ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin (205.738 mph) and Erik Jones (205.724 mph). The No. 95 of Matt DiBenedetto was fourth fastest at 205.381.

Matt Tifft (205.292) rounded out the top five, followed by Parker Kilgerman, Clint Bowyer, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Hemric and Ty Dillon.

In an incident late in the session, Brad Keselowski bumped William Byron,  who was able to recover without losing control of his No. 24 Chevrolet but sustained enough damage for a backup car.

Kyle Busch was fastest in the opening session for Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Click here for speeds from the final Cup practice.

Sonoma Cup results, points report

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Martin Truex Jr. scored his fourth Cup victory in eight races, holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch over the closing laps Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

Truex became the second driver to win consecutive Cup races at Sonoma, joining Jeff Gordon (who won three straight from 1998-2000).

Ryan Blaney finished third, followed by a career-best fourth place for Matt DiBenedetto and a fifth for Denny Hamlin.

It was the 23rd career victory for Truex, who has three wins at Sonoma. The 2017 series champion led three times for 59 laps, including the final 24.

Click here for the full results from the Sonoma race.

Click here for the full race report from Sonoma.

In the season standings, Ryan Newman moved into the 16th spot in the standings with a seventh at Sonoma, clinging to the final provisional playoff spot with 10 races remaining in the regular season.

Newman has a one-point edge over Jimmie Johnson, who finished 12th at Sonoma and slid a spot to 17th in the standings. Erik Jones (eighth at Sonoma) is five points behind Newman in 18th.

At the top of the standings, Joey Logano (23rd at Sonoma) leads by one point over Kyle Busch.

Click here for the Sonoma points standings.