Daniel Suarez powers from Monster Open stage win to All-Star runner-up finish

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Entering the first turn of the overtime finish of Saturday night’s All-Star Race, Daniel Suarez thought he had a chance.

Then the gut feeling he had before the green flag waved proved accurate.

“I knew that two Fords together are dangerous,” Suarez said after finishing second in the race.

Suarez, who had raced his way into the main event by winning Stage 2 in the 50 lap Monster Energy Open, began the overtime restart in second in the inside lane.

Behind him was Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.

But in the outside lane was leader Kevin Harvick and fellow Ford driver Joey Logano.

“I was trying to somehow on the radio, obviously that didn’t work, to keep them away from each other,” Suarez said. “Kevin did a good job. I think in the previous restart, he went on the bottom, then he went up top. I think he did the right decision, trying to find the right guy behind him to push him to the lead.

“Denny, like I say, he did a very good job. For whatever reason, we just disconnected. He couldn’t keep moving forward.”

When Hamlin’s push failed and Logano’s succeeded, Harvick pulled ahead of Suarez’s No. 19 Toyota as the field charged down the backstretch.

In a two-lap shootout, no one had a chance.

Until then Suarez thought he “had the car capable to win the race.”

The 26-year-old driver was competing in his second All-Star Race. For the second consecutive year Suarez won a stage in the Open to make the field. He led a race-high 18 laps in addition to his stage win.

Suarez didn’t think the 50 extra laps in the Open offered him any advantage over his competitors in the main event when it came to figuring out how to master the special rules package, which included restrictor plates, a taller spoiler and larger splitter.

“What I learned is that the top came in actually faster and quicker than what I was expecting,” Suarez said. “I’m sure that these guys, they find out at exactly the same time (as) me. Maybe even sooner, because they were watching everyone, and I was just watching a few cars.

“I don’t feel like I had any advantage. For sure I was able to adjust my car a little bit for that. But other than that, I feel like we were in the same boat.”

Suarez never led a lap, but he came within a corner of winning the third stage before he was passed by Harvick.

Of the three drivers who advanced to the All-Star Race from the Open via a stage win, Suarez was the only one who finished in the top five.

“I feel like we did everything that we could,” Suarez said. “If I would have to do it again, I’m not sure what I would do different. The car was driving well, maybe a little bit tight at times, but I was loose as well. I don’t know. I feel like just different circumstances maybe could give us the victory. Just didn’t work out.”

What’s next for All-Star rules package? That’s what NASCAR faces

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CONCORD, N.C. — The fans stood even as Kevin Harvick held the lead for the final 10 laps.

They stood because this was unlike anything they had seen at Charlotte Motor Speedway — cars bunched on a track that typically stretches them like taffy over 1.5 miles; cars two-wide often, three wide at times and four wide once.

This was so different even though there wasn’t a lead change in the final stage — duplicating the finish of last year’s race.

“I think you knew on Lap 7 that Kyle Busch had won the All-Star Race, I think we all knew that last year,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer.

Not Saturday night. A new aero package combined with restrictor plates created a form of racing that Harvick suggested could be a seminal moment years from now.

But for fans wanting more of what they saw Saturday, when will it return to Cup?

Not until next year.

While O’Donnell said “never say never’’ to the rules package being run this year, the reality is it won’t. NASCAR’s charter agreement precludes rule changes that would create significant costs for teams unless it is safety related. That’s not the only reason this package will not return this year.

Many questions need to be examined and that goes deeper than what took place on the track, O’Donnell said.

“For us, we’ve got to take the time, be smart about this, really look at it, see where we can go from here,’’ O’Donnell said. “But I think it’s fair to say that this is something we absolutely want to look at.’’

The question will be where else to run it.

“I wouldn’t want to take it to every 1.5-mile track,’’ said Kyle Larson, who finished seventh. “I’d hate to see this at Homestead or Chicago or something like that. I’d think Kentucky would be a nice one to try at it. It seemed like you could run with people on your right side a little bit a lot better than normal, so I’m thinking Kentucky when somebody’s on your door into (Turn) 3, maybe you won’t get as loose getting in, but yeah, I don’t think every track, but there’s some it could work for.’’

Denny Hamlin, who finished fourth, was open to the possibilities.

“I thought the race looked decent from my perspective,’’ he said. “Maybe it could use some refinement but overall if the fans or the stakeholders believe they saw a good race, then we can work on it from here. I’m not really opposed to anything, really.’’

What to do next is just another obstacle to hurdle. One that Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, has been doing for the past few months.

Smith spearheaded the push to run this package in the All-Star Race before the season when NASCAR discussed a plan with the sport’s key stakeholders to try this package in 2019.

Not everyone liked Smith’s idea. So he and other SMI officials worked for a few months to convince team owners it was worth the additional cost. The point being teams could do this in a test and pay for the costs or they could do it in a race that paid the winner $1 million.

But there’s much to consider before such changes can be instituted. Team executives told NBC Sports that restrictor plate motors are typically more expensive than a regular motor, so more races with this setup could prove more costly. Also, with cars running closer together, there’s the great chance of more multicar crashes and the added costs of repairing or replacing cars.

“It’s going to be different than our other packages,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing. “It’s a motor package, potentially a body change from what we race on downforce racetracks. We’re just creating more work for ourselves which just takes more resources. It puts good racing on, the races are spread out, we’ll all figure it out as teams.  Dumping it on us right now wouldn’t be the right thing to do.’’

Of course, cost shouldn’t be the determining factor for why something isn’t done. The ultimate goal, as Smith sees it, is simple.

“To me the measure is highlights, and we had a lot of highlights tonight,’’ he told NBC Sports. “Highlight-worthy racing is something I like to talk about, that’s my goal with every single race. Tonight I spent most of the day from 10:30 this morning to just now out with the fans … I was able to observe a lot and hear a lot and I saw a lot of fans standing on their feet, they weren’t using their seats much.’’

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What drivers said after the All-Star Race

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Kevin Harvick – Winner: “I thought on that last restart that my best opportunity was (Joey) Logano. He is one of the best on the restarts. I knew he would work with me as good as possible because that is just the way that most of us do it from Ford. We were able to just stay even through (Turns) 1 and 2, and I really thought once we got to the backstretch, we could clear him. I didn’t want to be on the bottom. I didn’t feel my car was stable enough to be under someone when they were on my right side. I had to take my lumps through (turns) 1 and 2 and hope that the guy behind me was still with me when we got to the exit of 2, and we were able to win.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 2nd: “I felt like we had a car actually capable to win the race. We were very strong, competitive. For whatever reason (on) restarts, my car was taking like one lap to go and those guys, when two Fords were connected, they were pretty strong. We just – I needed a little bit more right there. (Denny Hamlin) got disconnected with myself a little bit. I tried to side draft (Kevin Harvick), but it was just tough. After that it was pretty much game over because I started racing (Joey Logano) instead of (Harvick), but proud of my guys. We’ve been racing really in the All-Star twice already, two times, so that’s not bad. It hurts to be close and to not get it.”

Joey Logano – Finished 3rd: “We wanted to be up in the lead, and I thought we were in the best spot. We put tires on, and the cars ahead of us didn’t have as good of tires as us. We restarted fifth, and the bottom is just rough down there. We were able to push ahead, and the car in front of me got pushed back and the bottom lane fell apart. I lost like five spots at least and started making them back up and got tangled up and put in the wall and got back and thought I had a decent shot there at the end hooking up with Kevin. Kevin and I always end up together at superspeedway races, and we did again tonight, which is kind of funny.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 4th: “I think in general our cars were just too slow to be up front. Once we did get the lead, it was complete defense mode. It looked like when (Kyle Busch) and (Martin Truex Jr.) were up front as well, it was just constant defense where when (Kevin Harvick) got up front, he could just kind of run his line. Hard to overcome that seven tenths that we were off from speed, especially in a drafting type race. Still, we did a good job there. Tried to get (Daniel Suarez) free of (Harvick) there on the bottom, I just came off his bumper there just slightly there and he wasn’t able to get us free of (Harvick).”

Chase Elliott – Finished 5th: “Yeah, I actually had some fun, really. It was different for sure, but it wasn’t all bad, I don’t guess. Obviously, there was way more potential to crash and what not, which is I guess good and bad depending upon who you are. If you are sitting at home and watching it was probably fun because we are all close. If we see this package more, I’m sure you will see some more torn-up cars, too.  And I’m sure the teams will get better at building and preparing for it too, but proud of our night. To be able to come from last to fifth, and I get the fan vote and end up coming home with a top five wasn’t all bad.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 6th: “I mean, it’s funny how there ends up being a sweet spot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a restricted motor or not.  The outside lane was really the place to be to keep the momentum up.  Depending on the restart you had and the lane you are in and how to time a pass, I spent plenty of time kind of coming through the field. I really couldn’t get past second or third.  The times I tried to make a pass on the leader, I would get pinned on the bottom and go to the back and have to start all over again.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 7th: “It was just tough.  I felt like I could get to around second or third, just getting to the lead was tough.  I never really got to lead. The times I would get to lead, they would get a run on me and pass me right back.  We just didn’t have the speed the Toyotas had.  I thought the Toyotas were super-fast and then obviously, (Kevin Harvick) I mean he won, but (Martin Truex Jr.) was ridiculous. But, yeah it was a pretty fun race.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 8th: “The first stage was pretty awesome to go 18th to fourth in a couple of laps.  The car handled really good. I just got a little bit tight there with the track getting going into the night.  We were a little bit draggier down the straightaway, so I had to keep the momentum up that second stage. I just got too close to (Truex), and it snapped loose and got some body damage.  The guys did a good job to fix it. Kind of salvaged the third session there.  I thought if we could have got back up there we could have maybe had a chance to fight inside the top three or top four again. I cost us a little bit there, but I was getting after it.  It was a fun night.  Really competitive and proud of the guys.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 11th: “We weren’t very good tonight. We were slow. The car drove about the same with this package as it did with the other package, and everybody else was just a lot faster. It was a bummer we couldn’t take that front row start and do something with it. We were kind of a moving road block out there.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th: “What a race! I had a blast out there tonight, and I hope it was as fun to watch as it was to drive. Throughout the race, we made quite a few adjustments to the Dow Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. With limited practice and this being the first time we have raced this package, we were a little off on the setup. We got it pretty close, though. At the end, we opted to pit. Looking back, it’s a toss-up on whether that was the right call or not.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 16th: “This one is on me. I miscounted the green-white-checkered flag to end Stage 3, and I left off the gas too soon. It cost us a top five on the final restart and instead we took the green in 11th. I hate it for the Caterpillar/Grainger team. We got off sequence on pit stops and the way the cautions fell from there, it really worked in our favor. I simply messed up. I did all I could do to regain the ground I had lost. On the final restart, we climbed back into the top five, but unfortunately when we took the white flag, I made contact with the wall and lost all our momentum resulting in the 16th-place finish. We had nothing to lose so I went for it in the end.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 17th: “This was the first time running this package and we had to gamble a little bit. We had to roll the dice a little bit, and we were off when we came in. Had a lot to learn today and we used it well. The guys did a really good job with our car. Pit stops were really good tonight again. We had a lot to be proud of, just sucks that we couldn’t finish it off. We had a really strong race car and felt like we maybe had a shot to win it, just four wide going into three there we all just ran out of room. (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), I had him squeezed down so low, I just don’t know that he could hold it down there. I was trying to keep (Clint Bowyer) to my outside and just one those deals at the end of the race.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 20th: “You definitely seem to draft more, which has its highs and lows. Track position, power and drag is super important. Give us a few weeks to work on the race cars with a package like this, and I am sure we can mess it up.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 21st: “Yeah, just got loose. We had been really tight all night.  I knocked the nose off of it early.  We got slid, and I wasn’t happy about it and instead of checking up, I didn’t lift.  I probably should have lifted because it hurt me more than the guy that ran us like that.  I’m just frustrated.  I feel like these guys have taken advantage of me quite a bit this year, and I’m over lifting for guys.  I’m not going to go out of my way to slow myself down to help somebody else out.  They would race me the same way.  I’m just kind of over it, but as far as the crash, I just got loose, and it stepped out. I saved it, it stepped out again, and I couldn’t save it.  Really frustrating.  I hate it for my guys, it’s my fault that we were in the situation further back than we should have been.  I should have just been more patient and not knocked the nose off of it early.”

Podcast: Denny Hamlin on his sitdown with Joe Gibbs about speeding penalties

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Denny Hamlin’s penchant for pushing the accelerator too much in the pits recently earned “a sitdown with the boss.”

On the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Hamlin said team owner Joe Gibbs recently admonished him for accumulating four speeding penalties through the first 10 races of the season.

“I think he’s offended a little bit when they kind of make jokes on TV about it,” Hamlin said with a laugh about the meeting with Gibbs. “He’s like, ‘This is not a joking matter. This is costing you finishes.’

“It’s amazing we’ve had the finishes we’ve had with the penalties we’ve had. I think if we can just tighten things up a little bit. Honestly, we have not had many mistake-free races this year. I think once I have a race where there’s nothing going on that doesn’t set me to the back of the pack, middle of the race, results are going to show a lot better.”

Hamlin was caught for speeding at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and twice at Talladega Superspeedway. Each penalty occurred on entry to the pits.

The No. 11 Toyota driver said that’s been a consistency in his long history of getting caught for speeding.

“Most of our penalties has been entering the pits,” Hamlin said. “There’s so much data out there, I’m learning from it and trying to get better at it.”

One method for improvement is trying to understand how much reward and risk there is within the system used by drivers to stay under the limit. Cars don’t have speedometers, so a system of lights helps indicate when they are near the limit.

“Being more informed of that extra light, what does that amount to in feet,” Hamlin said. “Tell me is it a car length? Two feet? That will help manage my risk as well.”

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, here for Spotifyhere for Stitcher, here for Google Play or play the Art19 embed below:

Matt Kenseth wins pole for All-Star Race; Roush Fenway sweeps front row

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CONCORD, North Carolina — One week after coming off the bench, Matt Kenseth won the pole for Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 6 Ford, Kenseth posted the best average speed in the session which saw drivers make three laps around the track and a pit stop.

Kenseth claimed his third All-Star pole with an average speed of 126.915 mph. He also had the best pit stop time at 16.1 seconds.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified second (126.427 mph), giving Roush Fenway Racing a sweep of the front row. It’s the third time a team has swept the front row in the All-Star Race.

“It’s neat to sit on the pole,” Kenseth told Fox Sports 1. “Ricky was a huge help obviously. Having both cars on the front row is really a tribute to these guys, the pit stops and obviously the engines … to get this done. This is more about the car and the team then it really was about me.”

Kenseth’s pole comes while he’s driving a paint scheme honoring Mark Martin‘s 1998 win in the All-Star Race. He last won the All-Star pole in 2007.

Qualifying came after teams got minimal practice time due to rain. That prevented teams from getting a grasp of the rules package this weekend that includes restrictor plates.

“It’s always good to start up front, no matter what the racing is like and no matter where you’re at,” Kenseth said.

The top five is completed by Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

Denny Hamlin qualified 14th after overshooting his pit box and then being dealt an outside tire penalty.

Kasey Kahne will start last. During his qualifying run he overshot his pit box and then had two unsecured lug nuts, which is a 10-second penalty.

The full field will be determined by the Monster Energy Open tomorrow night. Three drivers will advance via stage wins and a fourth will make it through a fan vote.

Click here for qualifying results.