What drivers said after Kentucky

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Martin Truex Jr. — Winner: “It feels good, you know? You never know how these races are going to play out. You never know quite what is going to happen and we had such a strong Toyota tonight they weren’t going to beat us. You never know how they’re going to turn out, so we just keep our heads down. We don’t get too excited. We keep working on the race car and trying to stay calm and not get ahead of ourselves, so we had to make a lot of adjustments tonight on the car and had to battle back a from a few times getting passed for the lead and coming out of the pits second or third, but this Auto-Owners Toyota was amazing tonight, so just thanks to everybody for their support and making all this possible.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 2nd: “It’s not a win. It’s a positive, that’s for sure. I hate it. I thought we were in a good spot there restarting fourth and Martin struggled a little bit the first couple laps and I thought I could get by him, but just couldn’t quite get a run on him. His car came in and mine kind of faded a little bit and he won the race. That stunk. I thought we had a shot at it tonight, but I’m really proud of the gains we made all race though, to be honest with you. I didn’t think we were a second-place car at the beginning of the race, and we got a lot better throughout the night so Jeremy Bullins and everybody did a great job. I can’t thank DEX Imaging and Ford and Menards enough for what they do. You said it, after the last few weeks we’ve had this is a very good positive for us. Hopefully, we can keep it going in the right direction.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 3rd: “It was a good call from my crew chief, Paul Wolfe. We had better speed than we’ve had at the mile-and-a-halves, but not enough to run with the 78. He eventually got by us there and I thought we might have had a shot at it if we could have restarted fourth there, but we kind of cycled back to sixth and it wasn’t enough to be able to make something happen there. All in all, a decent day. I hate that I kind of dug a hole early in the race with the speeding on pit road. We were just racing the 18 off pit road and tried to get a little bit too much, but we’ll take this and hopefully build off of it for the mile-and-a-halves in the Playoffs. It’s gonna be really important and I’m looking forward to next week in Loudon. I think we’ll be really good there.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 4th: “We look at the same sheet of paper the 78 (Truex) does every week, and we just didn’t have anything for them tonight. I don’t know what we were missing, but the SNICKERS Intense Flavors Camry was good, it was a top-five car. I thought it was a top-two car there for awhile, but the 12 (Blaney) was really strong. It kind of depended where people lined up on a restart. But overall a decent night for us; we made a few points on the 4 (Harvick) and lost some of our lead to the 78. We’ll just keep plugging along and try to hold onto this points lead.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “It’s just hard to pass. It’s hard to make anything happen. I think for us we got worse the last run and got loose into three and that really just killed everything, and then I hit the wall with 15 laps to go and that pretty much ended everything we had.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 6th: “I really enjoyed the way Billy Scott called the race because our lap times were really strong on the super-long runs, and that’s why he left me out there in Stage 1. We didn’t get points, but it put us in good position for Stage 2 and then we were ahead of the game to make a call again. It just kept us ahead the whole night. Even though we didn’t have the fastest car, we led a lot of laps tonight and it was fun to have the Monster Energy Ford out front. We probably would have ended up seventh and we finished sixth. It was a good battle.”

Erik Jones — Finished 7th: “Kind of a long day. Got our Freightliner Camry better pretty much every adjustment, so that was a positive. We moved our way forward and got a solid finish out of it.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 8th: “We had a good car. I messed up in qualifying, got greedy and tried to go for the pole and qualified 12th. This place is so track position dependent that we ran eighth to 12th all night. We just kind of got stuck in that area of track position and we just never could jump ahead. I’m mad at myself really for not executing qualifying better because we had a really fast car. We could have run top five easily.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 9th: “It’s hard to say if I would have had anything to win. I drove by the No. 78 and then right after that we had our trackbar issue there and went plowing tight. Then we had to crutch it with wedge there the last run and it drove okay, just built being back really tight at the last 25 laps or so. So, yeah, it’s hard to say if I would have won or not, but I would have at least liked to have had the shot.”

Joey Logano — Finished 10th: “Honestly, I thought at the beginning of the race we were probably better than we thought we’d be and were able to gain quite a few spots, and then the track was wider than we expected it to be. It rubbered out and the track was wide so it was harder to hold everybody off on the older tires. We tried. I don’t think we got the best gain out of it. We didn’t lose any, so it was kind of a wash, and then after that it seemed we just kind of lost the handle the last run. … We’ve got to keep pushing hard. We’re close in the points and we’re hanging in on that part of it, but we’ve got to figure out how to get more speed in our race cars.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 13th: “We were better than we started the day, but when the sun went down the track started gaining grip – everybody moved to the bottom and we needed more front turn.”

David Ragan — Finished 18th: “Our MDS team did a nice job on pit road and we made the car a little bit better throughout the night, so that’s important on these 400-mile races. You can’t get behind much and I felt like we were decent when they dropped the green flag and as the track changed Seth and Angela made good calls. We would have liked to finish in the top 15, but there were a few cars that were just a little better than us at the end, but I’m encouraged by the effort on the mile-and-a-half track to see some improvement and that will be good for later on in the year.”

William Byron — Finished 20th: “I felt like at certain times we would gain a little bit on adjustments, but just didn’t have a lot of potential to run any higher than really where we were. I felt like if other guys made mistakes we could run a couple of positions better than where we were, but we were just kind of right around that 15th to 20th range and it seems kind of like when the other guys hit their adjustments right we were already kind of maxed out to where we could adjust. I felt like we fought really hard and had some good pit stops that got us some track position. I felt like we were always gaining spots on restarts, we just couldn’t hold that.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 21st: “Track position was the name of the game tonight. We started off with a really bad vibration. Fortunately, it worked itself out after we bolted on new Goodyear tires. From there, we focused on improving our handling. My biggest issue all night was Turns 1 and 2. Everyone talks about Turn 3, but it was neutral for us.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 22nd: “I hate that we had problems early. We had a vibration as soon as we started the race and we had no option but to pit for four tires on the AAA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. I actually started feeling it during the pace laps at the start of the race, but I thought it was just a cold set of tires. It must have been a bad set of tires. As soon as we pitted the vibration was gone and we were one of the fastest cars on the track. From there, it was a battle to earn the Lucky Dog, and then to keep up with changing track conditions with chassis adjustments during scheduled pit stops. Every position was hard-fought tonight. We have a lot of work to do.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 39th: “We are right in the thick of the points stuff, so we can’t afford this, this will hurt us quite a bit. It’s a big bummer for my guys and for Axalta and Nationwide and everybody that makes this deal happen. Really unfortunate, but it’s not something that we could prevent it’s nothing that we caused and there is not much you can do about it. You pop a right front and have a long time to star at the wall and then you hit it and then you’ve got to move on.”

MORE: Alex Bowman out of Kentucky race after Stage 2 incident

Kyle Petty: NASCAR should ‘step into’ Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. feud

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NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty believes NASCAR should “step into” the Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. feud before it erupts into a repeat of the Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano feud from 2015.

Petty made his comments Saturday on NASCAR America prior to the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“Where is NASCAR?” Petty said. “They didn’t step in when Logano and Kenseth got in their scrap and we saw how that ended up at Martinsville. We heard Ricky say, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ That seems to be a little bit over the line. NASCAR needs to step into this before it ends up on the race track and these other 36, 37 guys are involved in something that’s not of their making. … I don’t care who it is. NASCAR needs to step into this.”

After Kenseth was spun by Logano in the closing laps of a playoff race at Kansas Speedway, the feud simmered for weeks until Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano in the playoff race at Martinsville Speedway while Logano was leading. Kenseth was punished with a two-race suspension.

Stenhouse and Busch have been at odds since last weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch and Stenhouse were running 2-3 in Stage 2 when Stenhouse attempted to side-draft off Busch’s car. The two made contact, sending Busch into the wall. The resulting incident collected six cars.

That was 10 laps after a 26-car incident that began when Brad Keselowski, who was in second and being pushed by Stenhouse, checked up due to a block from William Byron and spun off Stenhouse’s bumper.

On Friday, Busch said he was “disappointed” Stenhouse hadn’t reached out to apologize.

“He wiped out half the field,” Busch said. “Pretty sure there would be a pretty busy Monday for him but there wasn’t. So, apparently he just doesn’t care.”

Asked if he would race Stenhouse differently, Busch said: “I can’t worry about people that far back in the field.”

During qualifying later in the day, Stenhouse approached and spoke to Busch as he sat in his car.

“I told him that, I was like, ‘Hey, you’re right, you do run a lot further up front, but pick and choose your battles wisely because you will have to deal with me sometime whether you are lapping me or we get our cars better and we are up there racing with you,’” Stenhouse told NBC Sports. “So I told him if you want to keep running his mouth, he can come over and do it around me and I’ll stop it for him myself.”

Busch starts fifth in tonight’s race. Stenhouse starts 14th.

Before the race NBC Sports’ Marty Snider asked Stenhouse if he’ll race Busch differently.

“No, I won’t, unless he gives me another reason to,” Stenhouse said. “I don’t ever plan on getting into anybody on purpose or holding up a leader if they’re lapping me.”

Kyle Larson leads opening Cup practice at Kentucky

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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SPARTA, Kentucky – Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s opening Cup practice at Kentucky Speedway.

Larson went 185.867 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (184.653 mph), Joey Logano (184.300), Kyle Busch (183.955) and Martin Truex Jr. (183.892).

Daytona winner Erik Jones was eighth on the speed chart at 183.455 mph. He ran 36 laps, more than any other driver.

Click here for practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 2 – 2:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

Friday 5: No panic for Chase Elliott in battle for playoff spots

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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SPARTA, Kentucky — Chase Elliott is quick to point out that he doesn’t feel helpless, but he knows that he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates face challenges to secure playoff spots in the final eight regular-season races.

Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, Elliott and Alex Bowman hold what would be the final three playoff positions, heading into Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Johnson has a 54-point lead on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — the first driver outside a playoff spot. Elliott leads Stenhouse by 37 points and Bowman leads Stenhouse by 19 points.

“I think that we certainly have room to improve, and I think we have improved from where we started the season,” Elliott said earlier this week after unveiling the tribute throwback scheme he’ll run in the Southern 500.

“There’s been some weeks where we end practice on Saturday and we’re not in the same league as some people. What you have to do is go make the most of what you got. At the end of the day that’s sometimes the best thing. It’s easy to overreach sometimes and get yourself in more trouble than what you could have done if you just had done what you had in front of you.”

That could be an easy trap to fall in.

Hendrick Motorsports, an organization that measures success by championships, has gone nearly a year since its last Cup victory.

Jimmie Johnson is on a career-long winless streak of 41 races and Elliott seeks his first career Cup win as he nears 100 career starts. Teammate Alex Bowman makes his 100th start this weekend and looks for his first Cup win, although many of his starts were with underfunded teams, and William Byron is in his rookie season.

Elliott had scored eight consecutive finishes of 12th or better before he placed 19th at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago and then finished 34th at Daytona after he was eliminated by an accident.

“You can’t wig out over it,” Elliott said. “It is what it is. I had no control over the crash on Saturday night. Chicago, yes I thought I could have done a better job at the end of that race to improve our finish, sure, but this past Saturday night I don’t know what I would have done to keep that from happening. That stuff happens. Once we fall out of a  race I can’t control anything beyond that.”

2. Class by themselves

Moments after exiting a boiling car at the completion of 400 miles at Chicagoland Speedway, Brad Keselowski sat on the pit wall and wiped sweat from his face with a towel as Kyle Busch celebrated another victory.

Busch’s win two weeks ago continued a trend that has seen Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominate. They have won 13 of the first 18 Cup races this season and the last 12 races on 1.5-mile speedways, dating back to last year.

“It’s like there’s an A, B, C, D group,” Keselowski said of ranking the teams. “We’re in the B group. We want to go from good to great.”

He noted then that they were behind Truex, Busch and the Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

“I think the difference, as you look at those cars, they have more speed and you don’t see their mistakes because they’ve got speed to recover from it,’’ Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, said after the Chicago race. “We’ve got to keep working on trying to find more speed in our cars.

Busch admitted his car was awful the first two stages at Chicagoland before hitting on the right changes and taking the lead on pit road.

Clint Bowyer showed how fast the Stewart-Haas cars are — Gordon said Bowyer’s car at Chicago was “stupid fast” — by finishing fifth after two speeding penalties and a third trip down pit road when he did not serve a stop-and-go penalty on his second speeding infraction.

That’s not a luxury most of the field has. They have to be perfect.

That’s the challenge Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Kentucky Speedway for many teams.

3. Ruh-roh

That seems to be the common theme about the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway (or Roval as some call it) after some teams tested there Tuesday.

Tight turns, minimal run-off areas before hitting walls or tire barriers, and the race being the cutoff event in the first round of the playoffs, should make for a wild afternoon of racing.

What that race will do, though, is put more pressure on teams to do well in the first two races — Las Vegas and Richmond — in the opening round. Have poor finishes at either of those races and be toward the bottom of the playoff standings will only add pressure on drivers at Charlotte in the Sept. 30 event.

Another key factor will be how many playoff points drivers have. That could make the difference in advancing from the first round if the race is as chaotic as some forecast.

The rest of the Cup field is scheduled to test on the Charlotte road course Tuesday.

4. Gauntlet thrown

After Ben Rhodes’ Camping World Truck Series win Thursday night at his home track of Kentucky Speedway, ThorSport Racing General Manager David Pepper had a warning to competitors.

“With five races to go in the regular season, leading into the playoffs,” Pepper said, “the rest of these teams need to look out for ThorSport. We’re going to be a factor.”

Along with Rhodes giving the team its first win of the year Thursday, ThorSport’s Matt Crafton finished third and Grant Enfinger placed sixth. ThorSport’s Myatt Snider crashed in qualifying and never had a chance to do much in his backup.

GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter has won a series-high four times and Hattori Racing Enterprises’ Brett Moffitt has three wins.

5. Drivers to get their first win while at Joe Gibbs Racing

Erik Jones is the fifth driver to score his first career Cup victory while at Joe Gibbs Racing. He joins Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

Labonte’s first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600. Stewart’s first win was in the September 1999 Richmond race. Hamlin’s first win was in the June 2011 Pocono race. Logano’s first victory came in June 2009 at New Hampshire.

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Bump & Run: Time to change the yellow line rule at Daytona, Talladega?

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Should NASCAR eliminate the rule prohibiting drivers from going below the double yellow lines to advance their position on the last lap of a race at Daytona and Talladega?

Nate Ryan: Ideally, yes, but everyone knows what that would produce. Still, Ryan Newman‘s point is well taken that a racetrack with an out-of-bounds marker seems less legitimate. Would it be too much to ask (or too difficult to incorporate) for an inside wall with a SAFER barrier where the lines are at Daytona and Talladega? 

Dustin Long: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. 

Daniel McFadin: While tempting, the rule is there for a reason, spelled out through this exhaustive Twitter thread. It’s out of bounds and drivers need to be mindful of boundaries. 

Dan Beaver: It doesn’t seem right to have a different set of rules for the final lap. If NASCAR is going to enforce the double-yellow line at all, they should be consistent throughout the race. But, perhaps the line doesn’t need to be a perfect arc through the corner and could give a little more room in the middle of the frontstretch.

Several drivers had season- or career-best finishes at Daytona. What was the best feel-good story for you among such drivers?

Nate Ryan: The scene around Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s car was unforgettable as the driver took selfies with an endless parade of family, friends and sponsor reps. With no definitive future plans for Earnhardt’s next Cup race, it’s natural to wonder if his 11th-place finish might have been the end of an era, too. 

Dustin Long: Ty Dillon’s sixth-place finish. It has been a rough year for Dillon and the Germain team. He had not been credited with a top-10 finish in 71 career starts before last weekend. He had an average finish of 25.4 this season before his Daytona run.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Matt DiBenedetto. The No. 32 Ford was in the top five very late in the Daytona 500 before getting taken out in a wreck. So seeing DiBenedetto surviving until the end this time around and finish seventh was a pleasant sight. With GoFas Racing, you never know if you’re going to get another shot at the front of the field.

Dan Beaver: It’s difficult to not go with the winner of the race since Erik Jones was such a dramatic story. Other than Jones, Jeffrey Earnhardt’s 11th-place finish is a great story because it almost put an Earnhardt back inside the top 10 on a track that has meant so much to the family.

After Erik Jones’ win at Daytona, how soon before the next win by a driver under age 30?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson always is a threat at Michigan and Bristol, and he possibly could factor into Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway. But with the way this season has unfolded, it feels as if it could be a while if he doesn’t break through.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson will win in the next month. Joey Logano might win even sooner.

Daniel McFadin: Either at Michigan or Bristol and it’ll probably be Kyle Larson. I just can’t imagine him going winless through the entire regular season.

Dan Beaver: Within the month, the new guard is going to start to chip away at the dominance of the Big 3. After Kentucky is in the books, look for youth to be served on the flat tracks of New Hampshire and Pocono.