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Six drivers earn season-best finishes at Las Vegas

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Racing is a zero sum game. For one driver to succeed, another must fail.

The opposite is also true. When one driver fails, it creates an opportunity for another to succeed.

Heavy attrition in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas last week opened to door for six drivers to score season-best results.

12th – Regan Smith: In his second start in relief for Kasey Kahne, Smith earned his 30th career top 15 in his 215th Cup start. This was his best finish since finishing third at Pocono in 2016 (19 races for the part-time driver).

16th – Corey LaJoie: This was the second time this season LaJoie finished on the lead lap. He also went the full distance at Michigan in June’s rain-shortened race and finished 27th.

17th – JJ Yeley: He scored another top 20 (18th) earlier in the year at Daytona in the Coke Zero 400. This was Yeley’s best finish on a non-restrictor plate track since he finished third at New Hampshire in June 2008.

18th – Landon Cassill: In 20 starts in 2018, this is Cassill’s first time to finish on the lead lap. His previous best finish this year was a 20th at Bristol in April.

26th – Kyle Weatherman: In six Cup starts, this is Weatherman’s first top-30 finish. He came close to cracking the top 30 in his last two starts, however, with 31st-place results at Pocono and New Hampshire.

28th – BJ McLeod: This is McLeod’s best career finish in 20 Cup starts. It comes on the heels of another top-30 finish the previous week at Indy (30th).

Two other drivers earned their second-best finish of 2018.

Playoff contender Aric Almirola took full advantage of problems for his championship rivals and finished sixth – moving up to ninth in the standings from 14th. His best finish this year was third at New Hampshire in July.

Coming off his first career Xfinity win, Ross Chastain finished 20th at Las Vegas. His best Cup finish of 2018 was an 18th at Texas – another race with heavy attrition.

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NASCAR America Scan All: ‘Meaningless guys in the back wreck’

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The regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway set the stage for raw emotion that bubbled over on the radio and into the pits.

Jamie McMurray and William Byron knew their only hope to make the playoffs was in winning one of the biggest races of the NASCAR season, but they were not the only drivers crushed when Brad Keselowski pulled into victory lane instead.

Here are some of this week’s highlights:

  • “All right driver. You know what we got to do today. Make it happen.” – Matt McCall, Jamie McMurray’s crew chief
  • “Boys remember, a win gets us in,” Darian Grubb, William Byron’s crew chief
  • “It was really fast man; sorry about the brakes.” Cole Pearn, Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief
  • “I let him go every time he’s been even close to me all year. Lead lap or not. If he don’t want to do the same, then the next time racing, good luck getting around me.” – Matt Kenseth on Joey Logano.
  • “The 6 wasn’t too appreciative of the blocking.” – Logano’s spotter
  • “Yeah, well I’m not too appreciative of a lot of things from that guy – so: so what.” – Logano
  • “He just frickin’ dive-bombed the hell out of me.” – Landon Cassill after contact with Jeffrey Earnhardt
  • “Cautions didn’t fall our way. Make sure to keep your heads up; no dejection here.” – Mike Wheeler, Denny Hamlin’s crew chief after they lost the race.
  • “Not have meaningless guys in the back wreck. I mean, I don’t know what they’re doing crashing with a couple of laps to go – multiple laps down.” – Hamlin

For more, watch the video above.

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What drivers said after Indy

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Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I gotta give credit where credit is due. My crew chief, Paul Wolfe, made a heck of a call to pit there late in that run and the yellow came out and we had new tires and started eighth and it was kind of like it gave me the ball. You know how that goes. I had to make a play. I knew it was going to be tough. We weren’t a dominant car by any means but Paul and everyone executed an incredible race. I just had to do my job and here I am in victory lane at the Brickyard. Man, I wish RP (Roger Penske) was here. I know he is watching at home. What a day!”

Erik Jones — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I would say that’s a pretty accurate representation. We just had an up and down day and it was kind of a weird race the way that cautions were falling. We never really seemed to get in a groove and get a feel for where our car was capable of. I thought maybe we had about an eighth-place car. We stayed out at the end and I was kind of like ‘man, I think we’re going to get hosed here on the restart with these guys taking tires’. Our Toyota Camry was fast and we had a good restart. The 14 (Clint Bowyer) spun his tires. We were able to get clear and it worked out. I was hoping to be a little bit closer to the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 2 (Brad Keselowski) when they were side by side to get a big run, but we weren’t quite close enough to do that. A strong day. A race like we needed to have when we’re in the playoffs – when we’re not a car that can contend, just persevere and make the most of what we can and that’s what we did today.”

DENNY HAMLIN — Finished 3rd: “I had the race pretty well in hand. Landon Cassill wrecked for no apparent reason at the end and then we just got roughed up by the 2 (Brad Keselowski) there at the end – on new tires. Very unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes cautions don’t fall your way. We were able to survive the first few, but allowed those guys to – with all those cautions and meaningless wrecks – to the guys on new tires to be right on us and that’s what happened.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 4th: “Disaster is a good word. It was not a smooth day by any means from start to finish, but our Jimmy John’s Ford was fast and that was the highlight of the day.”

CLINT BOWYER — Finished 5th: “You’ve got to use good runs like that for a confidence-booster for the playoffs. It was a good run for us. Man, it’s a game of luck. There wasn’t really any strategy. You can’t strategize for cautions that you don’t know are gonna exist. I felt like we were definitely faster than the 11, but when he beat us out of the pits there, that position nobody passed anybody for the lead and unless they were a huge advantage on tires, and then all of a sudden the cautions come out and hand the 2 the win. That’s what’s frustrating, but that’s the nature of the beast here.

Kurt Busch — Finished 6th: “We have to stick with our strengths and that is consistency. We’ve qualified well all year. We’ve had good pit strategy and we just have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes that hurt us and we lose a lot of track position. Today, we had one bad pit stop and it’s like, ‘You know what, the car is fast.’ We just have to take our time getting back up there, instead of trying to blitz through there. Sometimes when you do that you get caught up in some wrecks, so, right now, it’s the playoffs and we’ll just work our way through and advance through the rounds.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 7th: “You just do whatever you have to in order to win and it’s the same strategy that the No. 11 and No. 14 were on. I think we all pitted really close. It was hard to pass today and having that track position at the end I didn’t think… I mean I wanted to stay out because it was hard to make up any ground. When the No. 42 pitted I was worried about how many behind us might follow him in. We definitely made the right call. If the last caution hadn’t come out we would have run third or fourth, yeah it was a good day”.

Kyle Busch — Finished 8th: “Hopefully we can kick (the playoffs) off well. Hopefully we can kick them off with a win. We’ve not been to victory lane in Las Vegas in a long, long time. I’m hoping that we can get back to victory lane there and get ourselves started off with this playoff exactly the way we need so we can get our way through and not have to worry about the Roval.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 10th: “From the start of this race, it was all about track position. Tires didn’t mean a whole lot. Our No. 31 Grainger Camaro ZL1 was decent but really aero-dependent. If I got really close to someone, the car would plow. If someone got behind me, the car would snap loose. Our laps times in clean air were as good as the top-five cars, but we just needed the track position and a shot at the end. Fortunately for us our strategy paid off and we were in contention with 10 laps to go. We lined up sixth on the final restart, but with all that dirty air, it just wasn’t going to happen for us. All in all, we had absolutely no practice or qualifying so great job by my crew chief Luke Lambert and the rest of the No. 31 crew for unloading a competitive car for me at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Our regular season may be over, but our plan remains the same, win. We’ve got 10 races to keep improving on our Camaro and 10 more chances to win.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 11th: “We were running fourth or fifth (on the final pit stop) and green flag stops came and I missed my box. I went to the wrong box. I went to the 22 box like I was in the XFINITY race and missed mine. The bad thing was they were both set up the exact same in each race. The 12 was before the 22, so I had to come around the 12 in the XFINITY race and I just had a brain fart and cost us a bunch of time. That was dumb on my part, but I thought we had a fourth or fifth-place car today, and you never know how it would have played out at the end. It stinks, but it’s cool that Penske got one car to win here. That’s cool for that team, but we’ll put all this behind us and go to Vegas. That should be a pretty good track for us.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 12th: “We were fairly competitive. I felt like we had a top five to seven car. It’s hard to tell exactly because we weren’t always on the same tires, but we kept putting ourselves behind with the way the cautions fell and the way we did our strategy. And then the car fell off the jack when we were running fourth or whatever. That was pretty much the end of our day.”

Joey Logano — Finished 13th: “We just weren’t very good from the get-go. We swung at everything we could swing at and just kept shooting ourselves in the foot all day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 14th: “Our race was good. I felt like our car handled pretty decent there. The last little bit of the race just didn’t work out for us. We pitted for tires and then on that restart they all checked-up in front of me and I stacked up into (Ryan) Blaney and got some nose damage and then my speed was just really bad after that. I was tighter in the corners and slower down the straightaways. It allowed people to pass me pretty easily. So, felt like we had a third to fifth-place car and ended up 14th, so a little disappointing, but good that we had speed.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 15th: “I felt like we actually got our NAPA Camaro pretty good there at one point in time. I say pretty good; it was better than we have been here; better than I typically am. So, that was encouraging. We had some decent pace. Those restarts there at the end were just terrible for whoever was on the outside lane and I, unfortunately, got a couple of them. You could make it go if you were up towards the front. I certainly couldn’t figure it out so maybe it was me. But, we’ll go on to Vegas.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 16th: “I’m just proud that I’ve made every Playoff since NASCAR started them, so that’s a big honor for me. Now we just need to go the rounds and get hot at the right time.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 17th: “That was a good day for us. A top 20 at Indy is always a good day. I was really happy to get those last few spots at the end. We beat the cars we needed to beat to get into that top 25 in points. I’m really proud of everybody. We made good adjustments and got it good there at the end when we needed it. Happy to have a good run for John Andretti and Race for Riley. It was special to have them on the car.”

William Byron — Finished 19th: “We kind of just played some different strategy and couldn’t keep our track position up front, but overall it was a good effort. I thought we made some decent adjustments and good things, but still just got to keep working.”

Regan Smith — Finished 20th: “What a crazy day at Indianapolis. My first time back in the car in a while. I’ve got to tell you something, it’s just as wild as it’s always been and just as difficult as it has always been, very aero sensitive race cars. We hear the drivers talk about it every week. I got to experience it first hand today, but I had a lot of fun battling in the No. 95 car. Bob Leavine and his whole team have done a very nice job of putting a group of guys together, appreciative to get to drive for them. At one point, I looked over and I’m side-by-side with Jimmie Johnson, so not a bad day for us. I wanted to stay out of the middle of all the points stuff that was going on there naturally and let that play out for those guys that had some battles going on. Nonetheless, Indianapolis, this place is magical and will be back here next year for the Brickyard 400.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 21st: “Today was a good day for our GEICO Camaro ZL1 team. It was our third straight 21st-place finish. That may not seem like a lot to many people but that’s great consistency for our team. We’re improving and getting better week in and week out. I’m proud of our effort coming down to the last stretch of the season. We’re getting stronger as a team and we will keep making gains.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 22nd: “Frustrating day because we had a pretty good car. We just couldn’t ever keep the track position we needed to. The No. 9 car chopped us off going into (Turn) 4 and instead of wrecking him, I wrecked the No. 22 and then we blew a tire because of it. The playoffs are coming up though, here we go.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 23rd: “I feel good. I feel like we’ve got fast race cars and we’ve got a chance to go up there and compete to win races and go far into the playoffs. Just thinking about today and another lost opportunity for us. We had a car capable of challenging to win and run up front and we just keep having things pop up. Today, we had a flat right-rear tire running third getting ready to pass Blaney for second, so we keep having things go wrong and it’s unfortunate. But one of these days our luck is going to change and hopefully it starts this week at Vegas and when our luck changes, we’re gonna put our Smithfield Ford Fusion in Victory Lane. We’ve been too fast and had too good of a car lately these last couple of months to not put it all together.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 33rd: “I was watching the scoreboard a little bit. If the No. 1 (McMurray) won, he deserved to be in it more than we did. I kind of had that attitude all weekend. If somebody else wins, we can’t control that, you know? It was a pretty miserable day. I hate it for my guys. I hate it for the No. 47 (AJ Allmendinger) as well. I don’t know if I came down on his door too much or if he just got loose. Whatever it was, it was a bummer for both of us. I hate that. But, we’ll move on from it. It wasn’t a good day but at least we finished and we’ll move on to Vegas.”

AJ ALLMENDINGER — Finished 37th: “I was under Alex (Bowman) just trying to stay off of him. I was hoping I could get clear enough getting into the corner and he didn’t lift. Once he did that, I knew, I was just trying to do everything I could to stay off of him and it’s just so tight there. Once I got loose, there was nothing I could do. I know he is in the Playoff hunt, so I didn’t want to do that.”

BUBBA WALLACE — Finished 38th: “I felt the same. It scared the hell out of me, for a second; and I spun around so fast and I think I dropped the window net before I even spun out to let everybody know I’m fine. But after it slowed down and got on track I said we’re done. The brakes blew up or broke or something and we got killed there. It felt like an hour and a half later. It’s unfortunate. We’ve got to go back to the shop and figure out if it was brakes or a tire coming apart and ripping the brake line off. But, I had no sign of any indication before. It just went around. So, it’s unfortunate. I thought we were starting to make some headway. We were struggling on center exit, but I’m just glad it wasn’t like Pocono again.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 40th: “Left-front brake rotor exploded and went through the hood. I thought I blew a tire initially going into (turn) one there and I was like ‘oh this is going to hurt’, but the car kept turning luckily and I was able to keep it off the wall. Just brake rotor exploded. I don’t know what was going on with the brakes. We had major issues from the start of the race. Obviously, all that kind of compounded into having a major brake issue. It’s unfortunate. The Auto-Owners Toyota was really fast. As hard as it is to pass here, we were getting there making our way to the front. I felt like any time we had clean air, we had really good speed. Wish we could have raced all day and seen what we could have done with them, but hopefully we’ll get this bad luck out of the way before the playoffs start next week.””

Top-five finish at Indy does little to make Denny Hamlin happy

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Denny Hamlin’s best finish in more than three months meant little to him after he lost the lead in Monday’s Brickyard 400 coming to the white flag.

Hamlin’s third-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway normally would be seen as a way to build momentum into the playoffs, which begins next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But Hamlin would have none of that. He was frustrated with his finish and with some other cars.

“I don’t care about the playoffs at this moment. All I care about is not winning this race,” said Hamlin, who sought to add an Indianapolis victory to the crown jewel wins he’s scored in the Daytona 500 and Southern 500.

“It’s big on my list of races I wanted to win and the team gave me the car and we certainly were capable of doing that.”

Had he won, it would have left him needing to win only the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to triumph in each of the sport’s four major races.

Instead, his chances went away after a caution with six laps to go for a crash between Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt. That caution eliminated Hamlin’s lead and gave Brad Keselowski, who was on fresher tires, the chance to pass Hamlin for the win.

“Just those meaningless cautions at the end by drivers multiple laps down,” Hamlin said. “What they’re doing crashing with three laps to go, I have no idea. It cost us the race.

Hamlin’s finish Monday was his first top-five result since placing third at Charlotte in May.

“We deserved to win this race,” said Hamlin, who led 37 of 160 laps, tying Clint Bowyer for most laps led. “We had the fastest car or one of them. Us and (Bowyer) were very strong. I hate that the cars that caused the caution had nothing to do with this race.”

NASCAR America Scan All: ‘Lordy, don’t let us get hung behind him’

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Darlington Raceway is tough to navigate no matter where one is running in the field.

Lapped traffic was a big part of the conversation in last week’s Southern 500 and a spinning Jeffrey Earnhardt contributed to another frustrating night for Martin Truex Jr.

Here are some of this week’s highlights:

  • “Have a fun race tonight. This is a cool place to win – probably one of the coolest places to win.” – Joey Logano
  • “Landon, we do not have a light up sign here tonight; you’re going to have to go off the pit board. … Yeah, we’re going throwback all the way.” – Rick Bourgeios, Landon Cassill’s crew chief
  • “First few laps it’s strong; feels looser from there.” – Brad Keselowski
  • “Just watch this 99; I ain’t sure where he’ll be when you get to him.” – Austin Dillon’s spotter
  • “Lordy, don’t let us get hung behind him.” – Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick’s crew chief as Harvick ran up on another lapped car
  • “He’s going to be the next caution.” – Chase Elliott
  • “Here we go again, middle of the corner. I mean, come on.” –Truex
  • “It looked like he was texting and driving, to be honest with you.” – Drew Blickensderfer, Bubba Wallace’s crew chief about Clint Bowyer’s accident with Ryan Newman
  • “Like Days of Thunder … I got to scrape the wall, I gotta hit it to miss a frickin’ spinner.” Truex, after Earnhardt’s spin
  • “You beat him. You, 42, 22.” Brad Keselowski’s spotter
  • “Great job pit crew. That last stop was awesome. Thank you so much for that.” – Keselowski

For more, watch the video above.

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