Race Weekend Central

Mouthing Off Behind The Wheel At Michigan

*Best Quote:*

“I was going to go all the way to the top of the grandstands today. I just appreciate all the fans coming out here. This is a great race track and track position is so important. Sadly, downforce is such a big factor in these cars and I am really hoping that NASCAR will take the opportunity in 2013 to take down force away so the fans can see the guys race race cars and not race downforce. That would be cool.” – _Carl Edwards, fifth, on his day_

Even in defeat, the sunny optimism of Carl Edwards seems to always shine through. Hidden in the optimism, however, was some insight on what he hopes NASCAR will do in 2013 with the new COT’s. A common complaint with the cars has been the lack of brand identity; as Tony Stewart was once quoted as saying, the cars look like “station wagons with ‘Star Wars’ wings” (To be fair, that line was made when the cars had the ungodly abomination known as the wing on the back of the cars). Many fans share the same thought process as Edwards and can only hope that in 2013, the cars return to at least some hollow shell of the now ancient brand identity of the past.

*Worst Quote:*

“I’m glad we didn’t have too many restarts because everybody drove like idiots today. I lost a lot of respect for a lot of drivers out there.” – _Tony Stewart, seventh, on how crazy the last restart was._

Tony Stewart has always been one to give an honest answer to an honest question, sometimes being brutally honest. While the last restart was somewhat chaotic, there have been far worse restarts this year in the closing races (Charlotte and Daytona come to mind in terms of utter chaos), so Stewart’s remark just sounded like sour grapes over a potential top-5 finish being reduced to a still respectable seventh. In all fairness, Stewart’s frustration could partially stem from being outside the top-10 in points looking into the Chase at the moment, but to criticize other drivers for the final restart seems a bit short-sighted.

*Funniest Quote:*

“That run was a credit to the Ford team in general. We struggled really bad. We were okay Friday and started struggling at the end of the day and we were really bad in qualifying. We looked at some notes and went off the other Ford cars, a different direction than we had been before and the car was great all day. I am going to blame Dale Inman, I think he did something in his past life to give us all this bad luck on this team (laughter).” – _A.J. Allmendinger, 13th_

For NASCAR drivers, it can be hard to maintain humor about a ho-hum 13th-place finish. But for A.J. Allmendinger, to have a humorous take on the day and make a reference to longtime Petty Enterprises employee Dale Inman in the process, one has to give him credit for his line about the team’s recent rough luck. Allmendinger, for much of the day, was a top-5 to top-10 caliber driver and despite a frustrating end to the day, at least he was able to take solace in finding some humor to the situation.

*Most Controversial Quote:*

“I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know. I just do a better job; I take better care of people than that. Hopefully, now that I know what to expect in a situation like that. I will still drive on the outside of him and hopefully he won’t run me in the wall.” – _Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 21st, on whether he was surprised by Mark Martin inadvertently running him into the wall._

The big controversy of the afternoon was between Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. following a late-race incident where Martin inadvertently ran Earnhardt, Jr. into the wall, derailing what had been a solid, if not spectacular, finish down to a disappointing 21st-place result. Martin tried to defuse the whole controversy, and odds are the two teammates will talk things over and cooler heads will prevail. Still, Junior Nation can’t be too happy with Mark Martin at the moment, whether his contact was intentional or not.

*Crew Chief Quote Of The Week:*

“We showed up to Michigan and started off kind of grim, but we made sure we put everything (from last week) behind us and didn’t let things affect us. This group did an awesome job. Pit stops today were incredible — that’s what won us the race. I can’t say enough about this team. Even the start of the race we were off — we were a half second off and once we got some track position we kept tightening the car up and it just came around. Denny [Hamlin] did a good job. His car wasn’t that good at the end either, so he did a really good job. I can’t say enough. Its a big win for us.” – _Mike Ford, Crew Chief of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, on how he was able to get his car into Victory Lane._

For a team that just a mere six weeks ago appeared to be in a free-fall, and was coming off a disappointing finish at Pocono after dominating much of the race, this victory at Michigan has to be sweet vindication for Mike Ford. To go from struggling early in the season and fearing for job security to back inside the top-10 and Chase contention says a lot about this team’s character to bounce back from adversity. It seems as if Mike Ford and company are hell-bent on making the 2011 Chase and getting their vengeance on the championship that got away last year. Don’t count out Denny Hamlin in the Chase for the Cup this year, as he’s determined to give this year’s top dogs a run for their money in the final ten races.

*Owner Quote Of The Week:*

“It was real encouraging. The way the day played out, kind of struggled at the start, worked hard, it paid off at the end. Overall, the No. 11 [Denny Hamlin] car, each year that it’s been in existence, has been a strong performing car. You kind of start the year off not as quickly and successfully as we would like. To watch them kind of come together and lift each other up, be a team, that was kind of for me I get a lot of satisfaction watching those guys rally around each other and look for some great momentum for the rest of the year.” – _J.D. Gibbs, team president of Joe Gibbs Racing, on how encouraging this win was for the No.11 team._

J.D. Gibbs must have a bit of his illustrious father Joe Gibbs’ genetic make-up in terms of motivational skills and pulling a team together in the face of adversity. His vote of confidence in Mike Ford could very well have been interpreted as saying that he was good as gone. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the potential unemployment line; the No. 11 FedEx team pulled themselves up like a phoenix rising from the ashes to blaze back into Chase contention and give their rivals a strong run for their money.

*Best Of The Rest:*

“We finished — that’s the thing. We got it done. Happy for all this team. They all got sons or daughters and everything, so it’s a big Father’s Day for all them and my dad, Dennis. He paved the way for me to get here, so I can’t thank them enough and all the fathers out there. Can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough, everyone at FedEx, all the employees. Glad to get the win for all of them. Just got to thank them, Toyota, Sprint, Coke, Gillette, Wiley X, the fans — it’s been an amazing fan base here in Michigan — everyone from Nike and the Jordan brand, I can’t thank them enough.” – _Denny Hamlin, race winner, on the importance of Sunday’s win._

“I just couldn’t quite get Denny. After restarts we were kind of slow and tight in the middle which isn’t a good thing to be in a short shootout. We had a great car in the long run though. I tried what I could to get around him but I slipped on the restart. I just needed more laps to get it going.” – _Matt Kenseth, runner-up_

“We’ve had a rough month, no doubt about that. My guys needed a good run. We’ve had a fast car for the most part, just been struggling to put together a full race. Wasn’t really sure what we had in practice. The car drove good, it seemed like we lacked a little bit of speed. Qualified in the top-10 and that’s so important at these intermediate tracks, track position. Slugger made a good call to take two tires at the end. Kind of went back and forth, two verses four. A lot of people took two, we did. A little too tight at the end but the Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevy was just a really solid weekend and that’s what we needed.” – _Paul Menard, fourth, on what has been making the difference for his team._

“I don’t have a history of having problems. I don’t think I have one now. I think we will get it sorted out. I feel like I give everybody on the racetrack respect. I made a mistake.” – _Mark Martin, ninth, on his conflict with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the late stages of the race._

“The race was long. We lost the track there a little bit at the beginning — the third run we got too loose and we didn’t keep up with the race track as it freed up. Then, when we pitted and that caution came out we beat the No. 18 [Kyle Busch] to the line and per the rule we were supposed to go back around the field before everybody pitted, which we would’ve been able to pit with the leaders, fuel the car and race with the leaders like we were supposed to. But, NASCAR didn’t let us go back around. I don’t understand. I want some clarification on that because they even admitted that we beat them to the line which says we should’ve had to go around before the pit stops. That pretty much screwed us the rest of the race. We were racing at the back of the field, trying to get track position again when we should’ve been racing the leaders.” – _Brian Vickers, tenth_

“It was great and we were really fast at some parts of the race and we kept getting the balance on one side or the other and we had a little bit of racer luck there that put us in position to put us on four tires there at the end and that is what made it for us and that was awesome. Great call on Nick Harris’s part.” – _Landon Cassill, 12th, on his best career finish._

“Yeah, tough day. We got turned around early and ground the sway bar off the right front and we lost a couple laps from that and we were just kind of in a hole at that point and couldn’t get caught back up. Its just part of it.” – _Jimmie Johnson, 27th, on his tough points day._

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