Monster Energy Cup Series News (16338)
Austin Dillon and The Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Team Kick Off Speedweeks with Sixth-Place Finish in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway
"Our Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ran really well today in the Clash, and I'm happy with a sixth-place finish, but I was really hoping for more side-by-side racing. The top lane was very dominant. I felt like my car was faster than some of the guys I was around, but you can't really do anything with it unless you get really aggressive. I tried to get aggressive and no one was wanting to work. Everybody got to the top and it was really about track position. It was definitely hard to make a move. At the end of the race, we were involved in the big wreck but, luckily, the Bass Pro Shops Chevy was still drive-able even though it had damage on all sides. When the wreck happened in front of me, I just tried to hold the wheel straight and punch a hole. I tried to slow down, but you can't stop when you're going 200 mph. It's a hard thing to do. For the Daytona 500, I think the racing will be better with 40 cars in the field. It will be good to have a car that handles well because so many things happen during a 500-mile race. You can get track position other ways than just racing, so we will do our job. I'm proud of RCR today. All of our cars had speed."
Crew chief Chad Knaus may not have discovered the fountain of youth in “trading” 43-year-old Jimmie Johnson for a driver less than half his age, but there was definitely a bounce in Knaus’ stride as he hastened to congratulate his new charge, 21-year-old William Byron, on his Daytona 500 pole-winning run.
Teamed together for the first time, Byron and Knaus led a 1-2-3-4 performance by Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday’s qualifying session for the Feb. 17 Great American Race.
That success comes after a season that was a struggle for all of the Hendrick teams, save for three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner Chase Elliott. But Hendrick power was unquestionably dominant in Sunday’s time trials.
“Yeah, our engine shop is pretty amazing,” Knaus acknowledged. “I think you can see that just from the accomplishments they've had over the course of the last… well, the course of its existence is pretty spectacular.
“And to have all of those cars on the first four qualifying positions is pretty remarkable.”
But that doesn’t mean Knaus feels as if he has shed a substantial number of his 47 years.
“As far as feeling 21 again?” Knaus said with a laugh. “Man, I'm a long ways from that. A wise man told me once, he said, when I was young, I used to go to bed sore and wake up feeling fine. Now that I'm old, I go to bed feeling fine and I wake up sore, and there's some reality to that. “But it has put some wind in the sails, for sure. To be around a young group of guys again, seeing that enthusiasm, the big eyes, the open eyes, is a lot of fun, and it's going to be a great time.”
RYAN BLANEY: NO WORRIES AFTER 17TH-PLACE QUALIFYING EFFORT
Sure, Ryan Blaney would have preferred to have qualified better than 17th in Sunday’s knockout time trials for the Daytona 500, but he’ll have plenty of time to redeem himself in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel and the race that follows on Sunday.
“We haven’t drafted with our 500 car yet, but I stress out the least about qualifying here, because you have a chance in the Duels to get better,” Blaney said Sunday between qualifying and the Advance Auto Parts Clash. “I think we qualified around there last year (15th), and we went out and won our Duel and were really good in the 500.”
What’s most important to Blaney is fine-tuning his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang to work well in the draft.
“I mainly look for how my car drives—if it’s going to drive well and make aggressive moves,” Blaney said. “Sometimes it seems the cars that qualify the best don’t handle great in the 500, so I think that was our strong point last year.
“We could make really aggressive moves, and our car did have decent speed, so we have chances to get up there, but we’ll see.”
KURT BUSCH WAS HOPING TO WIN CLASH ON A TECHNICALITY
When contact between the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard triggered the 17-car wreck that gave Johnson the victory in Sunday’s Advance Auto parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson had to dip below the yellow line to avoid Menard’s spinning car.
Race runner-up Kurt Busch, driving the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the first time, was hoping against hope Johnson’s action would be construed as "passing below the yellow line” and result in a demotion, giving Busch the win, but that was just wishful thinking.
After all, the scramble occurred after the accident had started, and cars throughout the field began taking evasive action.
“Yeah, I didn't quite see him until I saw the first replay after the race, and it clearly shows he's below the double yellow,” Busch said. “Can the rule be interpreted he went to go pass below the double yellow? Yes. Can it be interpreted that Menard forced him below the double yellow? Yes.
“Right now (team owner Chip Ganassi) is over there at the hauler just checking in, just seeing what the call can be, and again, it's like any sport right now—we see it in the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, it's all an umpire or referee call, and they can decide which way it needs to go.
“But, hey, we almost won our first race together, and we'll take second.”
Rick Hendrick smiled widely and acknowledged that his team’s 1-2-3-4 sweep of Daytona 500 pole qualifying is as good an omen as his championship organization could hope for. He loves the historical significance and the present message about their preparation for the season’s biggest race.
A couple hours later, he was in Victory Lane celebrating again – this time with his veteran seven-time champion driver Jimmie Johnson, who drove to victory in the rain-shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash non-points race Sunday afternoon.
It’s been a good start for Hendrick Motorsports as NASCAR opens the race season. A victory next weekend in the official Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 would be the cherry on top.
William Byron, the 21-year old second-year Cup driver earned his first-ever Monster Energy Series pole position for the sport’s biggest race – just besting teammate Alex Bowman and securing the front row for the organization. It’s the second time in the last three years the team has swept the prized grid positions.
Johnson was third-fastest and fellow two-time Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott was fourth.
“It’s been a pretty awesome day,’’ Hendrick said smiling Sunday evening following Johnson’s victory in the Clash.
“It’s just unbelievable to have four cars qualify like that, then have Jimmie win the Clash. It feels good to see [crew chief] Kevin [Meendering] and Jimmie have success today and good to see [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] and William have success.’’
It marks the 700th NASCAR Cup pole position for Chevrolet. It is also the first time a team has swept the first four positions in Daytona 500 qualifying. It is a record fifth consecutive Daytona 500 pole for Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon 2015, Elliott 2016-17 and Bowman in 2018) and marks a record 13 Daytona 500 pole positions in all for the team.
“Great day for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet,’’ Johnson said from Daytona Victory Lane.
Ironically, the day’s big winners – Byron and Johnson – were also involved in two major personnel moves in the offseason that Hendrick referred to post-race. Johnson’s long-time, seven-championship winning crew chief Knaus moved to lead Byron’s No. 24 Chevy team this season. Johnson got a new crew chief in Kevin Meendering.
All of them were winners this weekend.
“It's really good for Chad to come out of the box with he and William to sit on the front row,’’ Hendrick said. “William is his age (21). So it's a big morale booster. No secret we didn't have the year we wanted last year, so coming out of the gate, no matter what happens, we get to celebrate this for a week.
“I've been down here when I had a car in the back, one in the front, one in the middle qualifying, and then you have to answer to sponsors, well, why aren't you giving them the same stuff. I've had that question for 35 years, or as many years as I've run two cars. So this year to have them right on top of each other just means that the organization did a heck of a job, engine shop, body shop, teams working together.”
Johnson’s camp was equally as enthusiastic about what the strong start could mean for them, even though the Clash was a non-points race. Last year, he endured the first winless season in his entire full-time career. In fact, he had won multiple races each of his previous 16 years – a collection of 83 wins; tied for sixth all-time in the Monster Energy Series.
“Couldn’t ask for a better way to start the year,’’ Meendering said.
Johnson was equally as encouraged about what the strong showing on Sunday could mean. And he made no apologies for the close-quarter racing in the Clash that resulted in his first victory since June, 2017, at Dover, Del.
“There's different pressures put on each team, and certainly outside pressures of ‑‑ somebody came up with a great idea of who's going to win first, Jimmie or Chad, and then the pressure, can we win again?’’ Johnson said.
“There's just different things that any and every team and driver deal with, so to work through that today and to win today just kind of, I think, helps with some of that outside pressure on where the team is.
“And then internally, we've only talked about winning races. Kevin and I, this team have mentioned it many times, many different ways, I'm far from done. So for us today, there was no other thought process than to try to go out and win the pole and win the race, and we came close to doing both.
“Just a great day. Builds confidence for myself and the team, and hopefully we can get it done again next weekend. Great way to start.”
Jimmie Johnson, who had crashed in the past six running of the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, found a way to win the 2019 version of the season-opening exhibition race—by helping to trigger a wreck that eliminated nearly everyone else.
Moments before a rainstorm halted the action and ultimately made the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race official after 59 of 75 scheduled laps, Johnson—running second on Lap 56—pulled to the inside of leader Paul Menard, who moved down the track slightly as Johnson was attempting a close side-draft.
Contact between the cars in Turn 3 sent Menard spinning and caused a massive pileup behind him, damaging 17 of the 20 cars to varying degrees. Johnson took the lead in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and was declared the winner after NASCAR red-flagged the race because of rain for the third time.
The victory was Johnson’s third in the non-points Clash.
“Knowing the rain was coming—we could see it coming—and I knew that was probably my lap to make the move,” said Johnson, who suffered through a winless 2018. “I had a great run down the back. I got below him (Menard) before he blocked it, and then he came down a little bit, I think to defend and block.
“I got that move inside him, and I was hopeful the 1 (Kurt Busch) would follow me through, but I hate to see all these cars tore up. I think it was a racing thing more than anything. I feel sorry for Paul. I feel sorry for all the teams that lost race cars, but I’m here to win races, and this Ally car was fast.”
Johnson’s victory came in his first competitive outing with new crew chief Kevin Meendering. Earlier on Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron had claimed the pole position for the Daytona 500 in his first qualifying attempt with Johnson’s old crew chief, Chad Knaus.
“I did mention to Chad that he was able to win me my first pole here for the 500, and he did the same for William,” Johnson said.
“I’m really happy for those guys. With this group of Ally team members I have behind me, these guys have been working so hard and we’re off to a great start this year.”
Kurt Busch, who was following Johnson on the backstretch, dodged the melee and finished second. Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney were third and fourth, with Alex Bowman completing the top five.
Menard had led 51 laps to that point in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford and had controlled the 20-car field from the head of the outside lane.
“Jimmie pulled out, and I kind of moved down a little bit, and the next thing I know I get turned in the left rear,” Menard said.
“Just aggressive. Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks. I had a really fast Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. Led a lot of laps but tore up a car for no reason.
“It was a pretty tame race up until that point. We knew that last restart (on Lap 48) was basically a new race—a little dash for cash to the end. It was definitely expected. I’m surprised we actually got single-file up top again after that last restart, but I knew something like that was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.”
● Kyle Busch finished 14th in Sunday afternoon’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona after being caught up in a lap-55 accident.
● Busch started the 75-lap exhibition race in second but dropped to 11th on lap two as he pulled out to attempt a pass on the inside line.
● After a red flag for rain on lap nine, the race returned to green with Busch in seventh, a position he held until the mandatory caution at lap 25.
● The M&M’S Chocolate Bar driver made his only pit stop of the race on lap 25 and restarted seventh when the race returned to green on lap 32.
● Busch moved up through the field to fourth on lap 50, as heavier rain approached the track.
● As the field headed down the backstretch on lap 55 with Busch running third, the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard made contact in front of him. Busch almost snuck through, but his No. 18 was clipped by Johnson’s car, sending him spinning into the outside SAFER Barrier in turn three.
● The damage was too severe to continue, and at lap 59 the race was called, 16 laps short of the scheduled distance, because of rain.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Chocolate Bar Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
“We were just running along on the top there. It looked like the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) thought he had a run and took it to the bottom of the 21 (Paul Menard). I don’t know how they made contact or what happened, but it ended up getting the 21 kind of squirreled out, and he shot back across the track. I was trying to squeeze through that hole up against the fence and just wasn’t able to make it. We crunched up a pretty good M&M’S Chocolate Bar Toyota Camry. It’s unfortunate for all of our guys. We come down here every year working as hard as we can to build speed in our cars, and all we do is go out there and destroy them. That’s unfortunate and frustrating at the same time. We’ll be back here next week and try and chase after a 500 win.”
● Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Toyota, finished 15th.
● Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota, finished 17th.
● Erik Jones, driver of the No. 20 Toyota, finished 20th.
Next Up: The Gander RV Duel – twin 150-mile races that will set the rest of the Daytona 500 field –will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, with live coverage on FS1. Speedweeks at Daytona then culminates with the Daytona 500 at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, with live coverage provided by FOX.
Paired for the first time with crew chief Chad Knaus, sophomore driver William Byron put his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on the pole for the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), leading a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the top four spots and extending that organization’s dominance in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Daytona International Speedway.
Byron edged last year’s pole winner, Alex Bowman, by .036 seconds for the top starting spot in the 61st running of NASCAR’s most prestigious race with a lap at 194.305 seconds (46.319 seconds) in the final round of knockout qualifying.
Bowman’s lap at 194.154 seconds knocked seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (193.807 mph) off the front row for the 500. Johnson, in turn, beat two-time Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott (193.782 mph) for the third fastest lap by .006 seconds.
The Busch Pole Award was the first for Byron in 37 tries. The 21-year-old is the eighth driver to contribute to the total of 13 Daytona 500 poles won by Hendrick Motorsports, which won its fifth straight.
Only Byron and Bowman are locked into their starting sports for next Sunday’s race. The remaining 38 starting positions will be determined in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel 150-mile qualifying races (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“We felt we were prepared and ready and this was sort of the first step of our process together,” Byron said of his new partnership with Knaus, who moved to the No. 24 car this year after winning seven titles as Johnson’s crew chief.
“Hopefully, it goes well next Sunday. We can kind of hang out during the Duel races, learn a little bit. It’s awesome.”
The pole was the 700th for Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
As fast his car was, Byron acknowledged his lap wasn’t quite perfect.
“We lacked a little bit getting up to speed,” Byron said. “I think a little bit too much wheel spin. This thing is fast, and it’s obviously a lot of credit to the guys. I’m looking forward to next Sunday.”
In a session that both establishes the front row for next Sunday and sets the lineups for the Duels, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Hemric qualified fifth in his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, giving Chevys the top five laps in the final round.
Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano was sixth in the fastest Ford—the first competitive outing in the Cup series for the new Mustang—and 2017 champ Martin Truex Jr. was seventh in the quickest Toyota entry.
Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Denny Hamlin completed the top 12. The last driver to make a qualifying run in the first round, Truex knocked Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch (13th) out of the top 12.
“We ran about what we thought we would, maybe a tick better,” Busch said. “Didn’t expect the rest of the field to be as fast as they are, so we’re a little farther down on the lineup than we’d like to be.”
Two of the six drivers in open cars—those without charters—locked themselves into the Daytona 500. The first was Tyler Reddick, who was a strong 16th in the first round. The second was Casey Mears, who edged the non-chartered No. 71 Chevrolet of Ryan Truex by .028 seconds for the 26th fastest lap.
Truex, Brendan Gaughan (31st), Parker Kligerman (36th) and Joey Gase (42nd) will vie in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duels for the two remaining berths in the Great American Race.