TALLADEGA, Al.— As the first quarter of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season came to a close last week at Richmond, drivers begin to assess their seasons and where they would like to improve on throughout the rest of the season.
The first nine races of the season have seen encumbered wins and side-by-side racing. Seven different drivers have made their way to victory lane this season, while Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson have made their way into victory lane twice. Three short track, one restrictor plate event, and five different tracks have encompassed the first quarter of the season.
Some teams have struggled while some teams have flourished with the new aero packages, while some teams have excelled in stage racing.
Kyle Larson leads the points standing by 40 points over Martin Truex Jr, 52 points over Chase Elliott, 71 points over Brad Keselowski (pending points penalty from Phoenix), and Joey Logano sits 90 points out of the lead following his encumbered win at Richmond.
In his first season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Erik Jones has made a name for himself in the top series. He currently has one top-10 finish this season.
“I wish through the first part of the season we would have just had more results. I think we've ran a lot better than what we've really finished, which is disappointing and unfortunate in a way. But knowing that we showed up at the race every week ‑‑ I can only point at a couple races where I didn't really feel like we should have ran in the top 10, just circumstances, and the way these races have kind of played out, at the end of the them, it just hasn't been in the cards for us,” said Jones.
When asked how he would like to improve on the season, Jones stated, “I think beyond that as the season goes on, we just want to keep working on executing better at the end of the races, getting these finishes and running up front and honestly feel like we keep bringing these fast race cars to the track, one of these weeks it's just going to kind of click for us, and we're just going to be running up front and have a good shot at the win. I thought Bristol was kind of going to be that day, but it seems as things have gone, we just haven't had the tides been falling in our favor."
Although he received an encumbered penalty after his win last weekend at Richmond, Logano is impressed with how his season as gone.
“For us as the 22 team, we were able to kick off the season great with the win at The Clash. That was nice, and since then we’ve had decent speed in our cars. At the beginning part of the year we didn’t execute perfectly during the race, so we didn’t get many stage points, but we were able to recover and get a lot of top 5s and top 10s so far this year. Our average finish is great. I think last week to get through and win the race is a nice thing,” said Logano, “Obviously, this is a little bit of a setback, so I think in general we’re doing a good job. I think we’ve cleaned up the mistakes that we had earlier in the year to where now we’re running as well as we should during the event, which is gonna help us score stage points because we all know how big that is right now and it will be forever. I think the fact that we cleaned up our races a little bit, that’s a big deal, and our speed is still really well. We have good speed in our cars, so those wins will start clicking off is good. I feel happy with where we’re at. I think we have an average finish of around sixth and seventh with the blown right-front at Phoenix and a thirtysomething finish there, so I’m proud of the way we’ve handled the situations this year and the finishes we’ve been getting and the way we’ve been recovering I think that’s an A-plus, and I think we’ve cleaned up to where we don’t have to recover as much, hopefully, here in the future.”
For Ryan Blaney, the season has been filled with ups and downs. He assessed his second season with the Wood Brothers:
“We started off the year really strong. I feel like we didn’t get good finishes the first six or seven races. We had really good cars where things happened and we didn’t get the finish we deserved. I’d say our season started off really strong. The past two weeks have been kind of rough on us. Bristol was a shame. We were really fast and had that power-steering issue and had to ride around there for 300 laps to the end of the race. Richmond, I actually salvaged a really good finish out of that after not being good all day…running 18th all day. I think we drove up to eighth and got the car better, and then Kurt (Busch) wrecked us. I feel like those are the things that we need to do if we don’t run well the first three-quarters of the race, keep working on our car and finish well,” said Blaney. “That’s what we did last week, and I feel like we didn’t have that last year. If we ran bad last year, the first portion of the race we stayed there all day, so this year I feel like we’ve gotten better with that. I’m pretty happy how the Woods Brothers team is running now and where our performance is. It’s just a matter of getting back on track and getting the finishes that we deserve. I feel like there are some really good race tracks that we can definitely capitalize on.”
Consistency in second place, a win at Auto Club, and during the stages was key. Here is how Larson rated his first quarter:
“It’s been good. We had three consecutive second place finishes that led to the win and then we got another second-place finish after that. Four second place finishes and a win to start, I think our average finish is like basically sixth. It’s been a solid start to the year we’ve just got to keep working hard. It’s a really long season. Teams get better and worse throughout the year, so we’ve just got to continue to dig deep and build on what we have right now to get better and hopefully challenge for some more wins,” said Larson.
Chase Elliott has not had the first quarter he would like, it has been full of ups and downs.
“I think we’ve had some ups and downs. I feel like we fired off really well with the way we ran at Daytona and Atlanta. I thought our West Coast swing was pretty strong. I feel like over the past few weeks we really haven’t performed up to our potential. As a group, I think anybody in our group would feel the same way. We’ve had some fast cars at times. We’ve had our driving good and then other weeks, not so much,” said Elliott. “But, we definitely need to execute races; even on the days that your car is not driving like you want it to. That execution and doing everything correctly on pit road, restarts, giving the right information, can turn a bad day into a pretty good day, really. Like last week, for instance, we ran not very good and just inside the 15th; not quite inside the top 10 the majority of the day. We got towards the end of the day and had an opportunity to finish up well inside the top 10 if we had just executed a little bit better. So, that’s what we need to do. And we know we need to do that. And, we’ll try to make that happen.”
Although he won the Daytona 500 this year, Kurt Busch has had a season of ups and downs highlighted by alternator issues.
“For us on the 41 car, we’ve almost gotten a top 10 at half the races so far. This will be our 10th race, so if we get a top 10 this weekend that means we’ve been in the top 10 half the time. We had a couple alternator bugs and issues that we had to work through on the west coast trip. We missed the setup at Fontana. Martinsville was better this time around, we just didn’t seal the deal. We got caught up in a wreck there,” said Busch. “Overall, when you win the Daytona 500 it can carry you for a lifetime. It can carry you for a season and so for the first 10 races, we’ve had a great deal of success and we’re very happy about that with our Ford, with Haas, with Monster and for everybody on the team. Ring-sizing was this week at Stewart-Haas Racing for everybody to get their ring sizes measured up to get a Daytona 500 championship ring, so it’s been pretty special so far to start the year.”
Although the first quarter is a basis for many teams, there are still many more opportunities in 2017 to improve and stay consistent.
The Toyota Care 250 at Richmond International Raceway was calm and smooth until the final couple of restarts. The restarts that caused confusion amongst drivers, media, and fans.
The first incident happened on the lap 245 restart. Ty Dillon was the control car. Justin Allgaier line up second and Kyle Larson third. As the field was about to hit the restart zone, T. Dillon accelerated before the zone. NASCAR reviewed the restart and deemed that Dillon did in fact jump the start and was to start at the end of the field. When T. Dillon was relayed the message, he was hot.
Dillon started in the back of the field because shortly after the green flag waved again, the caution flag flew on lap 247 for an accident that involved six cars in the third turn. That caution also brought out the red flag for two minutes and 43 seconds.
Larson was deemed the leader after passing Allgaier on the first restart. The second caution would send the race in NASCAR Overtime. With NASCAR’s Overtime procedures, the race is deemed official when the leader crosses a pre-determined line on the first lap of overtime.
On the restart, Larson and Allgaier were battling for position and crossed the overtime line as three cars made contact towards the back of the field that would bring out the caution to end the race. Larson and Allgaier were in the third and fourth turn when the caution lights were illuminated.
However, as they were about to take the white flag, the caution flag was not waving. According to the NASCAR Rule Book, the race is deemed under caution when the lights are illuminated and/or the yellow flag is waving.
After the race, NASCAR would not allow anybody near T. Dillon to talk and Allgaier went up to a NASCAR Official to express his displeasure of how the race was handled in the end.
Once cooled down, Allgaier made comments to the media about the debacle in the closing laps.
“I wanted to punch and kick the side of the car once the race was over, but I felt like there were enough camera around that it might look goofy. I am frustrated, very frustrated actually. When you have these races, every scenario we could do something different and you could change the way you did it. You look back on it. It sucks. I just wish I could have done a few things differently. I wish other competitors would have done things differently. I think being that close to victory and having that dominant of a car with not really anything to show for it was probably the hardest part,” said Allgaier post-race.
While sitting under the red flag, Allgaier mentioned that his heart rate was 205 to 210 because of his frustration in the final laps.
Larson had a different approach and viewpoint to the final few laps in the race.
“I figured he (T. Dillon) would take off early. Ty got a little aggressive taking off too soon. This is kinda a tougher place to see where the zone starts because we are still turning when we get to the zone. It’s hard to see the zone start. He pushed early and definitely jumped a few feet and NASCAR made the right call,” said Larson of the restart that ultimately have him the victory.
After serving the penalty, T. Dillon ultimately finished in the 19th position.
Next up for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is the Sparks Energy 300 from Talladega Superspeedway.
After a late race charge from Clint Bowyer and pit road penalties for Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson was able to win the rain-delayed Food City 500 from Bristol Motor Speedway, his second win of 2017.
“Yeah, it was kind of interesting because when the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) was there, it just created an environment to run the top and I wasn’t as good on the top. The No. 42, not being up there and that first couple of cars; the bottom was really where it was at for the short run. This Lowe’s Chevrolet was flying!”
"I’m so happy to give everybody at A.O. Smith a good ride on the quarter panel this weekend. We wouldn’t be here without a ton of support from Valvoline, Gatorade, the fans, Lowe’s, and Chevrolet. This track has been difficult over the years and we really hit on something Saturday afternoon in that last practice session around the bottom and honestly, it’s what I’ve been looking for here for 16 years and we finally figured it out. So, I’m very very happy.”
This is Johnson’s 82nd career win. He is only one win behind Cale Yarborough and two wins behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip on the all time career wins list. This is Johnson’s second career victory at Bristol; He scored his first in 2010.
Bowyer was considered “Mr. Where Did He Come From?” in the closing laps of the race. A caution or a few more laps could have gave Bowyer the win. Despite being disappointed in a second place finish, this is Bowyer’s best finish of 2017. This is also Bowyer’s best Cup Series finish since driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in the spring race at Richmond in 2013.
“Yeah, you have to put it into perspective. We’ve come a long way with this team. These guys have worked so hard; it’s a fun group, everybody at Haas. My teammates are awesome. It’s so much fun to work with this group each and every week. Hell yeah you want to be up there and win it. But the day we had, I got caught speeding on pit road and had to bounce back,” said Bowyer. “The guys kept working on the car. I appreciate the opportunity that Gene Haas and Tony Stewart gave me. Mobil 1, Haas Automation and everyone that’s a part of it.”
Kevin Harvick sat quietly in the front of the field for the 500 lap event. Harvick led 14 of the 500 laps to finish in the third position.
“I thought our Jimmy Johns Ford was the fastest car, we just needed track position. I think we showed how fast it was there on no tires and kind of able to hold our own,” said Harvick. “You just never know where you’re going to come out on those restarts. I felt like we had a couple cautions and we were in control of the race with the 11 on two tires and we might have had a chance. A good weekend and we’ll just keep going.”
Larson, who won the first stage, finished in the sixth position. Larson led 202 laps, but a late race pit road speeding penalty bit Larson and his chance for a second victory in 2017.
“I’m a little disappointed, but not bad. I’m more disappointed in myself from getting that speeding penalty with 80 (laps) or so to go. I was just pushing it down pit road and pushed it a little too far. I had a shot there still at the end, but four tires were better than ours,” said Larson.
Truex Jr, who won the second stage, finished in the eighth position. Truex also received a late race speeding penalty sending him to the end of the field.
“We were going for it you know. Wish we could have had a shot there just to see if we could have won. This Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota with everyone that helps us make it right – Toyota, TRD 5-hour, Wix, Bass Pro and just everybody. This is the best run we’ve had here in a long time. It’s bittersweet, I wish we could have seen if we could have beat the 48 (Jimmie Johnson). We were close there before that last caution, but it is what it is and you try to get what you can get and sometimes you cross the line and today we crossed the line,” said Truex Jr. about the penalty
The Food City 500 was slowed nine times for 76 laps. There were 14 lead changes amongst seven drivers. The race was stopped once for a red flag on lap 67 for five minutes and 10 seconds.
Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is the Toyota Owner’s 400 from Richmond International Raceway. FOX and Motor Racing Network will have the broadcast beginning at 1:30 p.m. EST on Sunday April 30th.
FONTANA, Calif.— Despite hitting the wall numerous times during the Service King 300, Kyle Larson scored the victory at Auto Club Speedway, holding off Joey Logano.
“That was a lot of fun. I wish that last caution wouldnt have come out because it would’ve been easier for me to win, I think. I honestly didn’t think we would be here yesterday,” Larson told Fox Sports 1 in victory lane.
This is Larson’s sixth victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This is also his second victory at Auto Club.
The first stage was all about Logano, who led 31 of the 35 laps in the stage. The caution flew for a spin by Matt Tifft with five laps remaining in the stage. Everyone pitted, except for JJ Yeley. When the race restarted with one lap remaining in the stage, Yeley dropped back to 25th. Kyle Busch won the first stage, Elliott Sadler finished second, Larson finished third, Erik Jones inished fourth, and William Byron rounded out the top-five.
In the second stage, Larson quickly jumped to the lead for seven laps before getting passed by Busch, who used the side-draft. Busch would go on to dominate the second stage. Logano finished second, E. Jones’s finished third, Larson finished fourth, and Sadler finished fifth. Larson came off pit road behind Busch, but was caught speeding on pit road sending him to the tail end of the field to start the final stage.
As the third stage began, Busch quickly claimed the lead, but continued to be challenged by Logano. For Larson, he was working his way back towards the front following his speeding penalty. Despite a debris caution early in the stage, Logano and Busch battled for the lead. Logano was able to grab the lead using the side draft on Busch. However, when the caution fell for a hit by Paul Menard on the fronstretch, the race for the lead changed. Logano spent more time on pit road due to the car falling off the jack. On the restart, Busch chose the bottom lane, but didn’t get the momentum giving Larson the lead momentarily. When the caution flew for an accident involving Cole Custer, everyone but Busch pitted. Busch chose the inside lane on the restart. Logano was able to gain the lead with 32 laps remaining in the race. Busch began to fall back due to hitting the wall, moving Larson to second. Larson began to reel in Logano to reach his bumper with less than 20 laps remaining. Logano and Larson battled for the lead, but Larson hit the wall loosing momentum. When the momentum returned for Larson, he was able to pass Logano while hitting the wall and using the lapped car of David Starr. The caution flew with nine laps remaining. As the leaders hit pit road, Larson won the race off pit road as Spencer Gallagher came out second by taking only two tires. Larson chose the outside lane, which would ultimately be the move to win the race, putting Gallagher on the bottom in front of Logano. While Gallagher did not get a good start and Busch did not have the short run speed, Larson was able to set sail and win the race.
Logano finished second, Busch finished third, E. Jones finished fourth, and Byron rounded out the top-five. Darrell Wallace Jr. scored his fourth consecutive sixth place finish, Sadler finished seventh, Brennan Poole finished eighth, Justin Allgaier finished ninth, and Ty Dillon rounded out the top-10.
The race was slowed seven times for 42 laps. The lead changed 18 times among six drivers. The margin of victory for Larson was 0.127 seconds.
Next up for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is an off weekend before heading to Texas Motor Speedway on April 8th at 1:30 p.m. EST for the My Bariatric Solutions 300. FOX and Performance Racing Network will have the broadcast.
HAMPTON, Ga.— Kyle Larson was close, but came up short in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Larson assumed the lead after Kevin Harvick was busted for speeding on what would be the last pit stop of the race.
Larson lost the lead to Brad Keselowski due to the fact that he ran the high line of the racetrack instead of the lowline like Keselowsi.
Larson raced around Keselowski for majority of the race.
“Any time I was in front of him on short runs, he’s drive around me up top. And so, I knew I was going to have to take his line away on that start there for a couple of laps and try it,” said Larson.
Because tire wear is crucial at Atlanta Larson was unable to have the grip he needed.
Larson was disappointed that he was unable to get the win, but happy with his finish.
“It was disappointing not to get the win, but I’m happy about our second place run at a 1.5-mile where I struggle at. I can’t thank everybody at the shop enough for building great race cars, and Hendrick engines for supplying us with some great engines, I had a blast today. The Target Chevy was good. I ran the bottom a lot, which is not typically something I do. So, it was a lot of fun to learn how to kind of use both feet to get around the bottom and to do a good job with that.”
Larson’s second place finish comes after a 12th place finish at Daytona.