They said it: Quote board from last night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards

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In addition to new champion Kevin Harvick, the other 15 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders were also recognized during last night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas.

Each member of the Championship 4, as well as each of the four drivers knocked out in the Eliminator Round, got their own time on the podium. As for the foursomes eliminated in both the Challenger and the Contender Rounds of the Chase, they shared their thoughts on the season together.

In case you didn’t get to watch last night’s festivities, here’s a little bit of what each driver had to say during the evening. We’ll start with the guest of honor:

Kevin Harvick – Champion

“The first time I was able to get in my No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, we were fast. And it didn’t matter if it was at an open test at Charlotte last December, a practice session, a qualifying session, or a race – we wanted to be on top of the board. After 13 seasons at Richard Childress Racing, I made the move to Stewart-Haas Racing and I have to admit, I was scared to death. I tried to play it cool, but it was a pivotal moment in my career. I was venturing outside my comfort zone, and I had to make it work.”

Ryan Newman – 2nd Place

“I’d like to congratulate Kevin, [crew chief] Rodney [Childers], everybody at SHR, Tony Stewart – my buddy’s here, just got out of the hospital [after] surgery. I think if he hasn’t got the nurse’s phone number by now, he’s probably not going to get it. *Crowd laughs* Richard and Judy Childress, thank you for the opportunity to drive your race cars. It’s been an amazing year. I really appreciate the opportunity. We had a lot of fun. We didn’t win anything, but we did have a lot of fun along the way and that’s really hard to do, so thank you very much.”

Denny Hamlin – 3rd Place

“It was an up and down year with our No. 11 team. We won, we wrecked, we fought, we were fined, but with all that, we still had a shot with one race to go. And with this great new Chase format, that’s all you can ask for. I have to thank [crew chief] Darian [Grubb] for three great years together. You’re a great leader, a motivator, and I’m proud of the success we had together…However, I’m not so proud of the things we did bring attention to such as Macklemore’s haircut at the beginning of the year, Taylor Swift, and Brad [Keselowski].”

Joey Logano – 4th Place

“Thanks to the entire 22 team – what an amazing season we had. Five wins, 16 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s – you guys are the best example of teamwork I’ve ever seen. And what a great season for all of Team Penske with the Nationwide owner’s championship and the IndyCar championship…Brad, you’ve still got a friend in me, man. We’re alright. *crowd laughs* It’s great to have a teammate that really knows the definition of teamwork and for a two-car team to win 11 races, it takes real teamwork and I appreciate that.”

Brad Keselowski – Eliminator Round

“Tremendous season. I can’t really tell you how much fun I had. It might not have looked like a lot of fun at times this year, but I had a blast…It couldn’t have been possible without a lot of great people and when I think about a great team and a great year, I think about great people. That really starts with the Captain down there, Roger Penske, everyone in the leadership team. The guys stick behind me, seems like, every time I do something dumb [laughs], so I’m really lucky and very fortunate. Thank you for that.”

Jeff Gordon – Eliminator Round

“Even though we didn’t make it to Homestead to battle for the championship, I truly believe that NASCAR got it right this year with the new knockout format for the [Chase for the] Sprint Cup. I cannot begin to describe the pressure and intensity we faced week after week, race after race. And this year, we crowned a deserving champion…I think most would agree this was a successful season for the 24 team. It felt incredible to go into each race with a car and a team that was capable of winning, and that was certainly highlighted by some big wins – especially that fifth Brickyard 400, an amazing weekend for us.”

Matt Kenseth – Eliminator Round

“This is the most dreaded three minutes – or in the case of my speeches, one minute – of the season. *crowd laughs* But I got to think about it last night, and it’s so easy to lose sight of how fortunate we all are to do this. The group that gets to compete at stock car racing’s highest level is so small, and the ones that get to drive for top-notch race teams and enjoy the successes are even smaller. I’m so incredibly thankful to be part of that group, and it really starts with NASCAR. Thanks for creating the most competitive form of motorsports and allowing us to compete in it.”

Carl Edwards – Eliminator Round

“Jack Roush – you are a man among men. You have taught me a lot, you have given me opportunities that I’ve never dreamed of, and particularly this year, when I came and told you my plans for next year, you stuck your hand out and said, ‘Let’s go win this championship.’ And you said some other things that I can’t say up here. *crowd laughs* But that part, seriously, you lived up to it. You never quit. You never gave up on me. Thank you very much, sir.”

Kasey Kahne – Contender Round

“I don’t know why it’s happened that way, but we’ve been able to perform late before the Chase a few times over the years. To get that win at Atlanta this year was big, and to get all four Hendrick cars into the Chase was big for our team at the time. It was great to do that, and from there, we just tried to do the best we could for the rest of the season.”

Jimmie Johnson – Contender Round

“I definitely want to be back at the head table, and a big congratulations to everybody on the 4 team. A Hendrick chassis and engine won the championship, which we’re very proud of. But I definitely want to be back and I’d love to have the opportunity to tie the greats, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. We’ll go to work hard, and get our Lowe’s Chevrolet tuned up, and hopefully, we’ll be back next year.”

Kyle Busch – Contender Round

“It was obviously an exciting season for us making it into the Chase and then having a great Chase going our way. To be here as an honorary member of the Hendrick Driver’s Club tonight in our elimination round is a bit awkward. But we’ll make it through and hopefully, we’ll get more success next year.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Contender Round

“Every [Chase] round was exciting with the elimination factor. I think the fans were pumped up throughout the whole thing. We had an awesome year. Thanks to [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and the whole team. Getting back to Victory Lane felt great. We really enjoyed it, and we’ll try to do it more next year.”

Aric Almirola – Challenger Round

“[The highlight of the year] had to be the big win at Daytona. That was huge for me personally, but when I signed at Richard Petty Motorsports, I said I wanted to be the guy that brought the 43 car back to Victory Lane and we were able to do that this year – 15 years after the 43 had won its last race…Our Chase didn’t go exactly to plan, but we have a lot to be proud of from this year and I’m looking forward to 2015.”

Greg Biffle – Challenger Round

“We certainly had a tough season altogether with Roush Fenway and the 16 team, but we certainly made a charge there at the end [of the regular season] and got ourselves into the Chase. Like Aric, we didn’t make what we wanted of it, but we’re excited for next year.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Challenger Round

“A special year for us. I think it’s really cool that my team owners, Tad – and the real boss, Jodi Geschickter – are sitting here with us. To be able to share such a year – they’ve made me feel like family, so to be able to go out there and get our first Sprint Cup victory together was something very special. And to come here for my first time and be a part of Champion’s Week and see what it’s all about and be somewhat in the same breath of all the great drivers that we have – it’s an awesome year. Hopefully, next year will be even better.”

Kurt Busch – Challenger Round

“It means a lot to me personally to have Gene Haas select me to try and give all of Stewart-Haas a shot at a championship. Congratulations to Kevin Harvick and his team, everybody, Rodney Childers – they did a fantastic job. Thanks to Tony Stewart, Gene Haas, everybody at the whole program. You have to be competitive and you gotta do it week in and week out, and Daniel Knost did a great job as a first-year crew chief to lead us into this position. And now, with Tony Gibson taking the reins – we finished the season strong and we’re looking to build on that.”

Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”