Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick walked into his post-race press conference munching a slice of pepperoni pizza. He ended it with 2-year-old son Keelan on his lap and walked out of the room with a bottle of his sponsor's beer in his hand.
All pretty normal stuff.
But the 2014 season, to which Harvick applied his exclamation mark Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was anything but. It was special and quite remarkable for the team, its owners and its driver.
Moreover it was about the combined family that Stewart-Haas Racing had become in the last year, bringing in new faces like Harvick and Kurt Busch and talented behind-the-scenes people like eager-to-achieve crew chief Rodney Childers.
It's a family that has experienced rough times. Co-owner Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, had personally weathered the darkest season of his career, sitting out three races after his sprint car struck and killed a fellow driver in Upstate New York and failing to win a race for the first time in his career. This week, the spector of domestic abuse allegations hovered around Kurt Busch.
None of that could, however, deter or diminish the accomplishment of the Stewart-Haas family as it related to Harvick's phenomenal season or virtually flawless performance to hold off Ryan Newman for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400.
"I'm just glad tonight turned out," Stewart said. "You know, the rest of it's history. We've talked about it over and over. I'm more excited about what this organization and what this group of people has done together. You know, there are a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them."
Harvick agreed on every count.
"For me, personally, there's nothing better than to see your friends smile," he said. "I know (Tony's) been through a lot this year but very rarely have we talked about those situations. He's my friend and I want to see him happy. "
Stewart noted that sometimes change can be a good thing and change is what put Harvick in the No. 4 Chevrolet.
Although finishing third in points three out of the last four previous seasons, Harvick had become stale after 13 years at Richard Childress Racing where he won 23 Sprint Cup races and six poles. This year alone he won five Cup races -- including the final two -- and eight poles.
"I just wasn't excited about going to work," Harvick said, reflecting on his move. "I'd known Kurt and Danica and to be part of building something--it really changed my life. Really, (having) my son started that. In evaluation it was (wife) Delana and I looking at things and saying, 'What's going to make us happy?' Because, in the end, if you're not happy, nothing is going to work like it should.
"I don't think I've ever been happier in my whole life than I have been this year--from a personal and professional standpoint. You see all the things that you have around you and you're lucky. Honestly, I have no idea how much money I make. I love showing up to work. I love coming to the race track and I love what I do."
Harvick was convinced that Stewart and co-owner Gene Haas were serious about building a winner from the ground up--which the Harvick team literally did, with new equipment, cars and personnel.
"As I look at the decision to come here, I keep coming back to the people and the resources that you have available to you," Harvick said. "Tony was pretty adamant that we could race for wins and championships. I think, for me, that was really what it was all about."
Harvick said it wasn't just his Stewart-Haas family, but the extended family that helped him settle in during championship week at Homestead. More than once he mentioned the support he received from Jimmie Johnson. The six-time premier champion drives for Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies engines and chassis to Stewart-Haas.
When it came to actually winning the race, everything just sort of fell into place for Harvick, who led 54 laps including the final eight once he utilized fresh tires to get by Denny Hamlin.
"I have no idea how I got the lead--no clue," said Harvick of the closing laps, after Childers' decision to take four tires left the No. 4 Chevrolet sitting 12th on a restart with less than 10 laps to race. It was as deep in the field as Harvick had been all race."
It came as little surprise to Harvick that Childers had made the call for fresh rubber, even as Hamlin stayed on the track and Ryan Newman--a close friend and driver he replaced at SHS--gained an on-track advantage by taking right sides only.
"I can drive the car, but these guys have made some bold decisions, whether it be on the pit box tonight, changing the pit crew (prior to the Chase) or whatever it might be," Harvick said. "I believe in life that sometimes you have to make bold decisions. Sometimes they work out."
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Joey Logano sat on pit road in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford for what seemed an eternity, as his crewman tried in vain to get a jack under the left side of the car.
After a superb run in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a performance in which he had two victories and accumulated more points than any other title competitor through nine Chase races, Logano's hopes for a title disappeared with the catastrophic mistake on pit road.
On Lap 249 of 267 in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 Championship 4 Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Logano brought his car to pit road for the money stop. After routine work on the right side of the No. 22 Ford, the car slipped off the jack as the team prepared to change tires on the left side.
Logano's crew frantically tried to lift the car high enough to slide the jack under the left side but lost precious seconds in the process. When the stop was finally completed, Logano was 29th in the running order, with his hope of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship all but gone.
Logano described his emotions as he sat in the car--and waited.
"I was pretty pissed off, if that is an emotion," Logano said.
Logano advanced to 16th place by the end of the race, but with Kevin Harvick winning the race and the series title, and with Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin finishing second and seventh, respectively, Logano was credited with fourth in the final Sprint Cup standings.
"I didn't say it was over," Logano said of his attitude after the disastrous pit stop. "We didn't give up. At that point, I was trying to pass as many cars as we could and really hoped those guys (the other three championship contenders) wrecked each other. That's all I had going for me at that point.
"When you're that far back, 24th or 25th, you can't make that up with 12 (laps) to go, or whatever it was. It's just too hard to make that up. All you can do is try. It was an amazing opportunity to be here, and it would be dumb to give up. You keep trying, and hopefully something happens. We put ourselves in that boat to have to be able to pull that out. It was too hard."
MUCH ADO ABOUT A WHEEL SPACER
NASCAR summoned Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, to the sanctioning body's transporter after the race to discuss what NASCAR termed a "failure to obey a NASCAR directive" during Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But after the race, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton said the issue was a small matter and had been put to rest.
With Johnson having driven a stint with a loose wheel, Knaus told his crew to put a spacer on the wheel in question, without first asking a NASCAR official for permission. Over the official's objections, the No. 48 crew put the spacer on the wheel, earning the summons to the hauler.
"We just had a discussion on pit road between our official and Chad, and really it was just to discuss it, what they tried to do, and that's it, really," Pemberton said. "It was really not a big deal. We were just trying to clarify what went on, that's all."
Pemberton said no penalties would be forthcoming.
"No, it's so far under that it's ridiculous," Pemberton said. "We're good."
News that Knaus had been called to the hauler spread quickly on social media, but Johnson had a brisk reply for those questioning Knaus' motives.
"FYI: CK put a wheel spacer on because of a loose wheel," Johnson posted on his Twitter account. "That destroys the threads on the studs & won't let the wheel tighten up #ChillHaters"
MAN AT WORK
Marcos Ambrose raced his last race as a full-time NASCAR driver on Sunday at Homestead, and his night went the way most of the rest of his 2014 season had--with difficulty.
One of the top road course racers ever to drive a stock car, Ambrose fought an ill-handling No. 9 Ford and overcame contact with the wall to finish 27th, on the lead lap.
Ambrose will return to his native Australia, where he'll drive a V8 Supercar for a team fielded by Roger Penkse.
"It's been the story of our year, just fighting and gouging and trying all the way to the very end," Ambrose said after the race. "I finished all the laps here tonight and finished 23rd in points, so we'll take it. It wore me out.
"I'm just tired, to be honest with you. I'm feeling the effects of a hot night here in Miami. The car was handling rough and I was fighting it, but that's what makes NASCAR so great. I'm going to miss it, no doubt about it. It's bittersweet for me, but I've got a lot to look forward to and a lot to be thankful for."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Without a victory this season, Ryan Newman couldn't really point fingers at anyone when his heroic quest for a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship came up one position short Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But, in a tongue-in-cheek way, he did manage to point the fickle finger of blame at--of all people--Jeff Gordon.
"I was thinking, when I got out of the car, that our tables really turned when Gordon didn't win Phoenix (last week)," Newman said. "If Gordon had won, then (Kevin) Harvick would have been out (of the final four). So, I blame all this on Jeff Gordon."
Newman was, of course, kidding, understanding the irony that Gordon was the odd man out after finishing second to Harvick at Phoenix--and only after Newman used an aggressive last-lap strategy to move up one position.
Furthermore, at Homestead, it was Gordon who elected to pit from the lead in the final 10 laps, giving the 36-year-old Richard Childress Racing driver his best shot at the title.
Not only that--his best shot at a victory this season for the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.
"They say you've got to lose one before you win one. I'm ready to win one now," said Newman, whose team produced arguably its best effort of the 2014 season in Sunday's finale.
"We weren't victorious, so we didn't win many battles, but we sure came close to winning the war. ... I drove my heart out, no doubt about that."
If not for Harvick's flawless effort, Newman would have had the racing world buzzing with the question: How just is it to crown a champion who did not win a race all season?
It's still a question to ponder, but not one that Newman needed to dwell upon Sunday night as he lauded his team's efforts.
"To come from where we came this year was amazing," said Newman, in his first season with RCR. "We started the season at Daytona getting spun out in the last five laps and ended up running for a championship. For me, this is the first real championship I've been in position to lose -- the first time I've really had a shot at anything.
"It says a lot about the organization. It says a lot about how quick we grew. (Crew chief) Luke Lambert and all the guys did an awesome job -- the whole RCR/ECR group. It's been a whole lot of fun."
Qualifying 21st, Newman fought an uphill fight throughout the race but clawed his way to fifth in the running order by Lap 72. Newman's car proved to be excellent on fresh tires but drifted back to the pack late in long runs.
"We fought back hard," Newman said. "We were one spot short and probably (had) one caution too many for us. But that's the way it happens. That's part of racing. Kevin and those guys did a good job of putting themselves in position and had the better tires in the end. It paid off for them."
Lambert made a potentially decisive move when a crash involving Blake Koch and J.J. Yeley brought out a caution with 11 laps to go. Lambert took right side tires only, sending Newman out alongside title contender Denny Hamlin, now on the front row but on older tires.
Newman, however, didn't get the restart he had hoped and Harvick, restarting sixth on fresh tires, capitalized by sweeping to the lead within a lap. Harvick then managed to hold off Newman on one final restart with three laps to go.
"Luke made a great call on that two-tire stop," Newman said. "When Jeff pitted and gave us the front row, that caught me by surprise.
"We were in a good spot. Restarts haven't been our strong suit with the package we run, but I was happy with the situation I was in. In the end, I was the one guy with a shot at (catching Harvick). You live for that moment and drive hard and we just didn't have quite enough."
Newman, who raced his way into the Championship Round with a last-lap nudge of Kyle Larson at Phoenix a week ago, contemplated a similar scenario as he raced alongside Harvick late in the race. He resisted the urge.
"I thought about hauling it in there, wide open under Kevin, but that wasn't the right thing to do," Newman said. "I wouldn't have wanted him to do that to me. ... If we were close enough on the last lap it might have been a different game. But I wasn't. I slipped off of Turn 4 coming to the white (flag) and it was pretty much over."
Newman, who has accumulated 17 victories and 51 Coors Light Poles during his Sprint Cup career, said that his Championship 4 Round experience will prepare him and his team at RCR for next season.
"We made a lot of adjustments on the race car today," he said. "There's a lot to be said about that. The guys did an awesome job. I'm proud of everyone. Hopefully we can have more fun and be one spot better next year."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The fastest driver doesn't always win a race -- or a championship -- but on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kevin Harvick did both.
Driving a No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that has been the class of the field for most of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Harvick won Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at the 1.5-mile intermediate track and claimed his first premier series championship after a three-lap drag race against underdog title contender Ryan Newman.
Harvick was so wrapped up in the championship battle that the victory in the race didn't register right away.
"I forgot we won the race -- how about that?" Harvick chuckled. "I think this Chase is about the best thing that has happened to this sport over the last decade. This is probably going to shorten the drivers' careers, because it's been so stressful, but I want to thank every single fan for sticking with this sport, and to the industry for working to get it right."
After the 13th caution slowed the field on Lap 32, the result of debris dripping from the No. 32 Ford of Blake Koch, Harvick led the field to green on Lap 265 of 267 with Newman beside him.
Newman stayed to the inside of Harvick's car through the first corner, but Harvick, on four fresh tires to Newman's two, cleared the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and pulled away to a half-second victory.
Under NASCAR's new elimination format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the driver who won five times, including Sunday, and led 2,137 laps throughout the season beat the driver who was winless with 41 laps led by a single point.
In his first season with SHR, Harvick won for the first time at Homestead and for the 28th time in his career. With the highest finisher among the Championship 4 contenders assured of the title, Denny Hamlin came home seventh, and Joey Logano ran 16th after a disastrous late-race pit stop.
Harvick's crew chief, Rodney Childers, made a critical call to bring Harvick to pit road for four tires under caution on Lap 249. With three cars staying on the track and eight others taking right-side tires only, Harvick restarted 12th, but two quick cautions fell his way.
Harvick made up six positions almost immediately and restarted sixth after the 12th caution for an accident involving Koch and J.J. Yeley on Lap 254.
"I knew I needed to get a bunch of (positions)," Harvick said. "I was fortunate to start on the outside. The seas kind of parted there as I came off of Turn 2 and was about to get four or five of them; I don't really know, but it was time to go for broke at that particular point.
"When the next caution came out, we were fortunate enough again to line up on the outside (for the restart on Lap 259). That was pretty much what we needed-to get the run on the outside down the backstretch."
On the final restart against Harvick, Newman said he contemplated the sort of all-or-nothing move he had used a week earlier against Kyle Larson to edge Jeff Gordon by one point for the final position in the Championship 4 Round.
But Newman quickly thought better of the idea.
"In the end, I just got down underneath him and he was close enough to me, took some of the air away from me," Newman said. "I could have kept it wide open and washed up into him, and it wasn't the right move. It wasn't what I would have wanted him to do to me.
"If we were close enough on the last lap, it might have been a different game, but I wasn't. I slipped off of Turn 4 coming to the white, and at that point it was pretty much over. I really was hoping he would slip a tire, blow a motor, something like that. That was our only hope. All those things go through your mind, but I had a pretty good run and cut down to the bottom and just ran out of racetrack, ran out of room, and he had the air-he had the line."
Hamlin, who forewent a pit stop on Lap 249 when most of the other lead-lap cars came to pit road, restarted in the lead on Lap 259, with Newman second and Harvick sixth, but Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota quickly fell victim to cars on superior tires.
By the time NASCAR called the 13th caution on Lap 262, Hamlin had dropped to third behind Harvick and Newman, and he fell back to seventh in the final three-lap run.
"For me, there's not one thing I would have done different," Hamlin said. "I mean, we brought a car that was capable of winning. I just don't know how to express it enough. Sometimes breaks go your way; sometimes they don't. They just didn't go our way.
"There's not much else we could have done with the strategy that we played with the cautions that came out. I wouldn't do a thing different. I think we overachieved greatly by being here, and we haven't had the speed to compete for race wins all year, and we did today, on the race that really mattered. Just came up short."
Logano's first flirtation with a title came to an inglorious end when the No. 22 Team Penske Ford fell off the jack as the crew was changing left-side tires under caution on Lap 249. Last out of the pits, Logano restarted 29th on Lap 253 and could recover only to 16th by the checkered flag.
"It's hard to be proud right now after coming home wherever we finished in this race," said Logano, who gets credit for fourth in the championship standings despite winning five races. "I don't even know what that is. I don't even care.
"You don't get shots at championships often. Hopefully we get another next year. This car had a lot of wins and a lot of top fives, and it doesn't mean a thing."
Gordon, the Coors Light Polesitter, led 161 laps, but came to pit road for tires on Lap 256 and wasn't a factor the rest of the way, finishing 10th.
Notes: Kyle Larson finished 13th and was the runaway winner of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award after an outstanding freshman season... Marcos Ambrose finished 27th in his final race for Richard Petty Motorsports before returning to his native Australia to race V8 Supercars for owner Roger Penske... The victim of an early accident, Carl Edwards ran 34th in his final trip in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford before moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. It was also the last race as a crew chief for Edwards' veteran pit boss, Jimmy Fennig... Chevrolet won its 12th straight manufacturers' championship and 38th overall.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Ford EcoBoost 400
Sunday, November 16, 2014
1. (5) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267, $346498.
2. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, $244450.
3. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, $231758.
4. (16) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 267, $172664.
5. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, $165239.
6. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, $160151.
7. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, $108315.
8. (6) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 267, $127481.
9. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, $135001.
10. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 267, $143626.
11. (2) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267, $82340.
12. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, $96640.
13. (27) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 267, $109085.
14. (11) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $88890.
15. (14) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 267, $108523.
16. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, $116356.
17. (10) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $107873.
18. (32) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 267, $87665.
19. (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 267, $116276.
20. (29) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 267, $104373.
21. (38) Michael McDowell, Ford, 267, $75290.
22. (22) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 267, $114265.
23. (13) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 267, $110215.
24. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 267, $91998.
25. (24) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 267, $123751.
26. (42) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 267, $77290.
27. (17) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 267, $103335.
28. (30) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 267, $85448.
29. (33) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 267, $76590.
30. (31) David Ragan, Ford, 267, $94912.
31. (35) David Gilliland, Ford, 267, $81165.
32. (37) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 267, $72940.
33. (41) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 264, $72740.
34. (15) Carl Edwards, Ford, 263, $91540.
35. (39) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 263, $72340.
36. (43) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 262, $80115.
37. (34) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Accident, 254, $71888.
38. (40) Blake Koch(i), Ford, Accident, 254, $66730.
39. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 246, $110571.
40. (25) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 235, $58730.
41. (20) Greg Biffle, Ford, 220, $99305.
42. (26) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, Accident, 204, $50730.
43. (28) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 182, $81388.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 122.28 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 16 Mins, 31 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.500 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 13 for 52 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Gordon 1-12; B. Koch(i) 13; Kurt Busch 14; K. Harvick 15-25; J. Gordon 26-63; D. Hamlin 64-65; J. Gordon 66-120; K. Harvick 121; J. Gordon 122-123; K. Harvick 124-157; J. Gordon 158-159; D. Hamlin 160; J. Gordon 161-165; D. Hamlin 166-195; J. Gordon 196-212; D. Hamlin 213-222; J. Gordon 223-252; D. Hamlin 253-259; K. Harvick 260-267.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Gordon 8 times for 161 laps; K. Harvick 4 times for 54 laps; D. Hamlin 5 times for 50 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap; B. Koch(i) 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick - 5,043; R. Newman - 5,042; D. Hamlin - 5,037; J. Logano - 5,028; B. Keselowski - 2,361; J. Gordon - 2,348; M. Kenseth - 2,334; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 2,301; C. Edwards - 2,288; Kyle Busch - 2,285; J. Johnson - 2,274; Kurt Busch - 2,263; A. Allmendinger - 2,260; G. Biffle - 2,247; K. Kahne - 2,234; A. Almirola - 2,195.
Under a formula that was touted to put more emphasis on winning, Kevin Harvick claimed his first series championship by winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
"I don't think there's any doubt about the level of competition that is up, which has our fans excited, and it has the interest level of the sport as a result of that higher, and that's precisely what we want to achieve," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said.
The championship came down Harvick and Ryan Newman in the closing laps of the Homestead race. That pair finished first and second, respectively, in the race and the season-ending standings.
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano were the other two championship contenders remaining in the Chase that began with 16 drivers 10 races ago. All but Newman started the Homestead race in the top 10, and for much of the day, all four ran in or just outside the top five.
As the Chase progressed from round to round, with four drivers eliminated every three races, winless driver Newman kept his championship hopes alive by squeaking through on points. With Newman's continuing run, critics of the Chase pointed at the possibility of a winless driver claiming the Sprint Cup, something that has never happened in NASCAR Cup level history.
France emphasized that while wins are important, consistency also needs to count for something in the championship system.
"Well, I think it's accomplished -- naturally you would expect me to think that it accomplished all of our goals, probably exceeded them, in the balance between winning and consistency," France said. "We always know in auto racing there needs to be both, but we felt strongly that by emphasizing winning on the track, we might not have had that balanced correctly. We do now. We think that that's in a really good place."
Harvick's win of the race and, as a result, the championship silenced those critics, at least for the time being. Harvick won a total of five races on the season, winning twice during the 26-race regular season and three times in the 10-race Chase. His final three victories came in the final six races of the season.
Throughout the Homestead-Miami Speedway race weekend, ideas for Chase tweaks were tossed around. Those with new concepts included NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
"I proposed something to NASCAR and maybe I've said this to a number of y'all before," Jarrett said. "My solution to the situation, and we'll use this year. Ryan Newman's here, but (under my proposal), the only way he could become the champion is if he wins this race. Otherwise, the other three are the ones racing for the championship, to finish ahead of each other."
Gordon's idea didn't remedy the possibility of a winless champion. Instead, Gordon wished for a distinct points system for the Chasers, separate from other drivers in the postseason.
"I would say that the one thing that I thought about -- and this would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it's the right thing to do -- and that's you have a separate points system just for the 16 and then for the eight, or the 12 and then the eight," Gordon said. "I just think there's so many factors with all the other competitors out there that you should be racing those guys. You should be racing them in points, not necessarily racing them and all the other competitors out there. I think you've earned that right."
"Well, I just really don't know what to even say about how much I appreciate this," Harvick said. "Everybody on this Budweiser, Jimmy Johns, Outback team, Stewart-Haas Racing, Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, for everything that they put into this team."
Fellow Chase for the Sprint Cup competitor Ryan Newman finished second, while Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray finished third through fifth.
The other two title contenders, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, finished seventh and 16th, respectively.
"Execution was our strong point all year, and we just didn't do it tonight," Logano said. "For that reason, we finished fourth (in the Chase) after, I think, we scored the most points this whole Chase."
Harvick became the 30th driver to win a NASCAR series championship and the first under the new format.
"It's been an amazing year," Newman said moments after the race ended. "They say you've got to lose one before you win one. I'm ready to win one now."
Harvick restarted in 12th with just under 20 laps to go after taking four tires. Jeff Gordon and Hamlin stayed out to restart on the front row, and Hamlin took the lead on the restart.
"Championship effort," Hamlin said. "It wasn't for a lack of trying. I thought we had a better car than those guys, just I had a bad restart and lost position to the 4 (Harvick) and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) made the decision to leave us out there on tires, trying to do something to get that track position back that I lost on the restart and it just didn't work out for us."
Newman was also in the top five after taking only two tires, while Logano was mired outside the top 20 after his car fell off its jack on pit road.
"It came down to a pit call and I thought, 'Man, we are in big trouble here,'" Harvick said. "Rodney Childers (crew chief) and all these guys that have put together these teams have just done and amazing job."
The yellow flag waved two additional times. On a restart with nine laps to go, Harvick lined up seventh and then quickly moved up to second when the race returned to green. After a final caution with six laps to go, Harvick, Newman and Hamlin restarted first through third with Logano still outside the top 20.
"I was just going to hold the pedal down and hope for the best," Harvick said of his strategy on the final restart. "I knew our car was fast."
Gordon dominated the early part of the race after starting on the pole, only temporarily giving up leads to Harvick and Hamlin.
Harvick, Hamlin, and Logano all started the race inside the top 10, while Newman started midpack in 21st. Harvick, Hamlin and Logano ran inside or just outside the top five most of the race. Newman worked his way into the top 10 by lap 60 and then into the top five by lap 77. Like his championship rivals, Newman ran in or near the top five for most of the remainder of the race.
Harvick took the lead from Gordon soon after a restart on lap 127. However, when the yellow flag waved about 30 laps later, Gordon got off pit road first to restart with the lead.
When the yellow flag waved again a few laps later, for the sixth time in the race, Gordon restarted with the lead again but lost the top spot to Hamlin. Other title contenders also got by Gordon, as Logano moved into second and Harvick third, but after a few laps of green-flag racing, Gordon got back up to second.
Gordon retook the lead by getting off pit road first during the seventh caution of the race to restart up front with 69 laps to go. During the yellow flag, Logano endured a slow stop to restart in the back of the top 10. Newman restarted eighth. Hamlin and Harvick, meanwhile, restarted second and third, respectively, behind Gordon.
Hamlin gained the lead again on a restart just inside 60 laps to go, but Gordon got off pit road first to move back in front during a yellow flag on lap 220. During the same caution, Newman got back into the top five. For the first time in the race, Logano fell outside the top 10, restarting 11th after his team dropped a lugnut during his pit stop.
NOTES: Roger Penske, owner of Joey Logano's No. 22 car, entered Homestead-Miami with a chance to become the first motorsport team owner to win a Verizon IndyCar championship and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same year, with Will Power claiming the IndyCar title. He came close to the feat in 2012 with a Sprint Cup championship with driver Brad Keselowski but fell short with Power in the IndyCar season finale. ... The Ford EcoBoost 400 was the final NASCAR race for Marcos Ambrose, who is returning to his native Australia to race V8 Supercars for Penske. The race is also expected to be the last for crew chiefs Jimmy Fennig (Carl Edwards) and Steve Letarte (Dale Earnhardt Jr.). Fennig is expected to retire, and Letarte is moving to the NBC Sports broadcast booth. ... Denny Hamlin won the 2013 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his second victory at the track. He was the only previous winner at Homestead among the four championship contenders. ... Joey Logano headed into Homestead with the highest average Chase race finish at 5.3. ... Ryan Newman was the only winless driver among the four Chasers. No driver has won a NASCAR Cup championship without at least one race win. ... Tony Stewart's steak of 15 consecutive seasons with at least one win ended when he took his car to the garage because of an overheating issue in the final third of the race.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Charging away from a pack of pursuers on the final restart, Matt Kenseth scored his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win since October of last year in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Chase Elliott, who had clinched the driver's championship last Saturday in Phoenix, finished 17th after scraping the outside wall late in the race. Brad Keselowski delivered the Nationwide Series owner's championship to Roger Penske with an eighth-place result in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
In a mere formality, Elliott also received Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, making the him the first driver to win both a rookie title and a series championship in the same year in any of NASCAR's top three national series.
At age 18, Elliott also is the youngest national touring series champion in NASCAR history.
After losing the lead to Kyle Larson after a restart on Lap 199 of a scheduled 200, Kenseth got a second chance when NASCAR threw the 11th caution of the race for a multicar wreck behind the leader moments before Larson was to take the white flag signaling the final lap, which would have made him a winner under the caution.
Instead, Kenseth pulled ahead from the outside lane after a restart on Lap 205 and took the checkered flag on the sixth lap of overtime. Kyle Busch won a drag race to the finish line to take the runner-up spot from Larson, who held third.
Ryan Blaney and rookie Chris Buescher completed the top five.
Kenseth won for Joe Gibbs Racing in the final outing with the company for crew chief Kevin Kidd, who moves to Roush Fenway Racing next year as director of competition in the Sprint Cup Series.
"It's been a long time since I won a race in anything, so just happy for Kevin," Kenseth said. "Happy to send him off with a win here. That was pretty cool. Kyle got around me on that second-to-last restart, but when he chose the bottom there, and I had Kyle (Busch) behind me, I knew we had a shot.
"I just had to do a better job than I did the time before, so luckily, we got that one last chance to redeem ourselves."
Larson, who led 111 laps, spun his tires slightly on the final restart, allowing Kenseth to take the advantage.
"I had good restarts up there until the last 50 laps or so," Larson said. "Then I finally got a good one underneath Matt (on Lap 199) and was able to get to the lead… I was about 15 feet short of the win. Then we got the yellow, and I thought the 12 (Blaney) had been getting really good restarts, so I wanted to start in front of him (in the bottom lane).
"Spun my tires a little bit, and the 20 (Kenseth) was hanging there. I was side-drafting down the frontstretch, and he was able to swerve at me and get me shaken off him. That spun my tires into (Turn) 1, and got me sideways. I was three-wide there, and that was all the 20 needed to win."
Penske won the owner's championship with five different drivers taking turns in the No. 22 Ford: Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell and Alex Tagliani. The championship was the fourth for Penske in the last five years (2010 Nationwide driver's title with Keselowski, 2012 Sprint Cup title with Keselowski and back-to-back NNS owner's championships).
"Everyone did so much to make this happen, and obviously it didn't come down until the last lap there until we knew we had it," Penske said. "Two years in a row, I think we had four championships here over the last few years, and that's really important to us as we go forward."
NASCAR Nationwide Series Race -- Ford EcoBoost 300
Saturday, November 15, 2014
1. (3) Matt Kenseth(i), Toyota, 206, $77375.
2. (6) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 206, $58825.
3. (2) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 206, $53725.
4. (5) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 206, $37700.
5. (10) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 206, $39025.
6. (15) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 206, $31475.
7. (21) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 206, $27725.
8. (1) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 206, $25750.
9. (4) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 206, $27160.
10. (7) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 206, $27550.
11. (13) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 206, $25425.
12. (31) Paul Menard(i), Chevrolet, 206, $18825.
13. (20) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 206, $24675.
14. (25) Ross Chastain(i), Toyota, 206, $24565.
15. (30) TJ Bell(i), Dodge, 206, $25055.
16. (17) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 206, $24295.
17. (14) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 206, $24110.
18. (24) James Buescher, Toyota, 206, $24175.
19. (9) Dylan Kwasniewski #, Chevrolet, 206, $23965.
20. (19) Dakoda Armstrong #, Ford, 206, $24405.
21. (28) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 206, $23595.
22. (22) Blake Koch, Toyota, 206, $23481.
23. (18) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 206, $23345.
24. (35) Jake Crum(i), Chevrolet, 206, $17235.
25. (12) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 206, $23575.
26. (27) Eric McClure, Toyota, 206, $22965.
27. (11) Ryan Reed #, Ford, 206, $22855.
28. (33) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 206, $16735.
29. (8) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 205, $22785.
30. (29) David Starr, Chevrolet, 205, $22775.
31. (40) Tanner Berryhill #, Toyota, 204, $22345.
32. (37) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, 203, $22235.
33. (26) John Wes Townley(i), Toyota, 201, $16195.
34. (39) Milka Duno, Toyota, 201, $22134.
35. (23) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Engine, 190, $22084.
36. (32) Ryan Sieg #, Chevrolet, Suspension, 179, $20645.
37. (16) Corey LaJoie(i), Ford, Accident, 116, $20575.
38. (36) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, Transmission, 57, $20540.
39. (38) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Engine, 54, $20250.
40. (34) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 3, $14215.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 115.442 mph.
Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 40 Mins, 36 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.713 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 11 for 48 laps.
Lead Changes: 16 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: B. Keselowski(i) 1-5; K. Larson(i) 6-36; J. Clements 37; K. Busch(i) 38-39; K. Larson(i) 40-75; K. Busch(i) 76-78; K. Larson(i) 79-95; R. Blaney(i) 96-119; T. Bayne 120-122; K. Larson(i) 123-144; B. Koch 145; C. Elliott # 146; M. Kenseth(i) 147-172; P. Menard(i) 173-175; M. Kenseth(i) 176-198; K. Larson(i) 199-203; M. Kenseth(i) 204-206.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson(i) 5 times for 111 laps; M. Kenseth(i) 3 times for 52 laps; R. Blaney(i) 1 time for 24 laps; K. Busch(i) 2 times for 5 laps; B. Keselowski(i) 1 time for 5 laps; P. Menard(i) 1 time for 3 laps; T. Bayne 1 time for 3 laps; C. Elliott # 1 time for 1 lap; B. Koch 1 time for 1 lap; J. Clements 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: C. Elliott # - 1,213; R. Smith - 1,171; E. Sadler - 1,154; B. Scott - 1,154; T. Dillon # - 1,148; T. Bayne - 1,086; C. Buescher # - 1,014; B. Gaughan - 954; R. Reed # - 889; J. Buescher - 868.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The fastest car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season asserted its superiority immediately in Saturday's first practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Driving the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that has carried him to four victories and 2,083 laps led this year, Kevin Harvick jumped to the top of the speed chart as soon as the noon practice began—and stayed there.
Running 175.069 mph in race trim, Harvick was .007 seconds faster than Jeff Gordon (175.029 mph).
No one else posted a lap within a 10th of a second of Harvick in preparation for Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), the race that will decide the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship among four drivers -- Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.
In final practice, Harvick was eighth fastest in his first run but cut it short because of issues with the handling of his car. An adjustment didn't help.
"We've got to do something different," Harvick radioed to crew chief Rodney Childers with roughly 28 minutes left in the 50-minute session. "Bringing it to you."
Harvick returned to the garage, climbed out of his car and studied the data on a computer perched above the team's tool box.
Childers made additional adjustments and put new tires on Harvick's car for the final practice run. Afterwards, Harvick gave his verdict.
"Too loose on exit," Harvick said. "I got my rhythm down in (Turns) 3 and 4 pretty good. Good on entry and in the center (of the corners). Loose late center and exit on both ends."
Harvick ended the session where he began, in eighth, with a top speed of 173.099 mph. Of the Championship 4, Logano was quickest, seventh on the speed chart at 173.127 mph but significantly off leader Jimmie Johnson's 175.200.
"Yeah, we struggled getting the balance right," Harvick said after the session. "And I don't think we've really hit it exactly where we need it to be yet.
"So, we'll go back through the stuff that everybody did on our cars and definitely try to improve for tomorrow."
THE VALUE OF WINNING
In NASCAR's Championship 4, the four drivers competing for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, all three manufacturers are represented -- Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota -- as well as four different engine builders: Hendrick Motorsports (Kevin Harvick), Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines (Ryan Newman), Roush-Yates Engines (Joey Logano) and Toyota Racing Development (Denny Hamlin).
In the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center on Saturday, executives representing each of the car makers shared their perspectives on the value of one of their drivers winning the title on Sunday.
Ford's success this season, with 14 victories in 35 Cup races, already has spurred interest in the brand, according to Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing.
"We have generated 570,000 leads yet this year, up 60 percent from a year ago," Allison said. "We track sales, match to leads generated from on track activation, and our sales are up 90 percent versus a year ago. These are gigantic swings in engagement, gigantic swings in fan affinity, and it translates all the way down from awareness down to conservation to shopping to intention to buy. So success on the track translates into fan consideration and purchase intention.
"At the end of the day, we are here because of our fans, our fans of Ford, and what we race on the track increasing with relevance to what's being shown in the showroom as well as what's in people’s driveway --there's that direct correlation. Whoever said: 'Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,' it's absolutely true, because we're seeing it in the evidence of the data that we have."
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, says the manufacturer starts each season with the same objectives.
"For Chevrolet, that's one of our goals every year is to help our teams win a driver's championship and collectively giving our teams the best opportunity to win enough races for us to win the manufacturer's championship," Campbell said.
"We have two opportunities out of the four (on Sunday), and if you look over the past number of years, eight of the last nine driver's champions have been Chevrolet drivers. We do see a lift in opinion, and when you get a lift of opinion on a brand, great things happen. Customers put you on their shopping list more quickly. It's a fact. So that's big."
On Sunday, Hamlin could become the first driver to deliver a championship to Toyota in NASCAR's premier series.
"For Toyota, it would simply be historic and unprecedented," said David Wilson, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development USA. "We're still the new guys, so to speak, in the series. This is our ... celebrating our 10th anniversary in NASCAR in their national series. We've won championships, multiple championships in the Camping World Truck Series, in the Nationwide Series.
"Cup, the Sprint Cup Series, that box hasn't been checked yet, so for Toyota it would be huge. It would be significant, I think, for the sport. It would be huge for TRD. Certainly Toyota, our engagement model is a little bit different than my colleagues' and I have 250 people that work their butts off, and they have for years and years, so it would be very emotional."
In Saturday's first practice session, Ryan Newman's No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ran over debris on the track and dislodged the bead blower (the fan that cools the edge of the tire that sits on the wheel).
Repairing the problem and changing the splitter, which had sustained slight damage, cost Newman approximately 10 minutes of practice time.
"We caught something on the splitter and it came underneath the car and took out one of the fans which made a pretty good racket," Newman said. “That's why I slowed down and came in. I didn't know what it was.
"If it were the race, I would have kept going, but it never popped the tire or anything, it just made a racket. I could hear something metal bouncing off of the frame rails and the bars and the chassis so I knew that we hit something or something happened. Brought it in and the guys assessed it and figured out what it was."
Newman nevertheless was 12th fastest in Saturday's first session, an improvement in race trim over his 21st-place starting position. Newman also was 12th fastest in final practice…
Championship 4 driver Joey Logano was rim-riding throughout Happy Hour and brushed the wall with the right rear corner of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. The damage was cosmetic, and Logano soon returned to the track…
NASCAR isn't likely to make a penalty determination about the rear suspension parts confiscated from the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. until Tuesday at the earliest.
The car failed Sprint Cup pre-qualifying inspection on Friday…
QUOTES OF THE DAY
"Mind games don't make that car go any faster." -- Denny Hamlin, when asked whether Kevin Harvick was trying to get into the heads of Championship 4 competitors Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.
Asked what he would do to prepare for Sunday's championship race, Kevin Harvick said: "Eat!"
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- By far the oldest of the three manufacturers competing for NASCAR's biggest prize, the 111-year-old Ford Motor Company is banking on one of the sport's youngest stars, not just this weekend, but going forward.
Joey Logano, a 24-year-old from Middletown, Conn., carries Ford's hopes for its first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship since Kurt Busch took home the trophy in 2004 into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
"That would be an exclamation point for us to celebrate a Ford champion," said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, which goes through great effort and expense to maintain the naming rights to Ford Championship Weekend and the title-determining events at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "We're capping off a phenomenal season with 14 wins, our most since 2005."
Even so, Allison knows that to a certain extent, Championship Weekend is likely to be bittersweet for Ford which bids adieu to two of its biggest stars this weekend.
Carl Edwards, who'll drive a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, will be in his final race for Roush Fenway Racing. Marcos Ambrose, returning to his native Australia after nine years in the U.S., is driving his final event for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Logano came through Saturday's practice sessions unscathed. Posting the fastest lap among the four title contenders during Happy Hour, the Team Penske hopeful appeared confident in his No. 22 Ford Fusion machine.
"I feel we are in pretty good shape," Logano said. "We were still seventh on the board, but we didn't quite have the takeoff speed we need, so we'll try to find a little bit there. I feel like the long runs are where our Shell Pennzoil Ford is really fast. Maybe we are a few little adjustments away from being the fastest car, but I already feel like we are a top-three car right now."
Logano believes that whoever prevails on in Sunday's race will need to be able to run at the top and the bottom of the mile-and-a-half oval.
"The top is still the preferred (line) but you've got to be able to move around a little bit and I feel like our car can do that," Logano said. "Toward the end of the practice we were able to make (the bottom groove) work a little better."
No matter what happens on Sunday, it appears that Logano and his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who have combined for 11 Sprint Cup wins this season, will be Ford's standard bearers for the foreseeable future.
"At Ford we're a family company and that permeates everything we do," Allison said. "Whenever you have a member of the family pursuing other options, it leaves a void, personally with team members as well as professionally in terms of fan outreach. It's personalities that people want to follow.
"Obviously, with Marcos, he's stepping out of one Ford to another Ford (racing for Roger Penske and Dick Johnson) in another part of the world and we wish him the best. Carl Edwards is someone we hold in the highest regard. He's the winningest (current) Ford driver. He's been part of many of our outreach (efforts) to our fans and nothing will ever take that away."
Edwards, a winner in both 2008 and 2010 at Homestead-Miami Speedway would like nothing more than to reprise those winning efforts in his Ford finale.
"It's Ford Championship Week and I want to get a win for Jack Roush, (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig and all my guys," said Edwards, eliminated from Chase title contention after finishing 15th at Phoenix. "I want to give the performance to finish the season the way that everyone deserves."
Fennig, retiring from his crew chief responsibilities, was the last Ford crew chief to win a Sprint Cup title when he was with Busch in 2004.
"One thing Jimmy Fennig and I agreed on," said Edwards late in Friday's practice, "we're not going to leave anything on the table. If we go down and fail, it's only because we're trying everything."
Twice a runner-up for the Sprint Cup championship (2008, 2011), Edwards has spent his entire Cup career at Roush Fenway, racking up 23 victories, including nine in 2008. He also collected 38 Nationwide and six Camping World Truck Series victories and brought Jack Roush a then-Busch Series title in 2007.
Ambrose, 29, was a V8 Supercars champion in Australia (2003-04) before coming to the U.S. He raced Sprint Cup cars for Wood Brothers, Tad Geschickter, Michael Waltrip and JTG Daugherty before joining forces with Richard Petty Motorsports, for whom he won twice at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
"RPM has been so gracious with my departure," said Ambrose, who expects his family to be permanently resettled in Australia by mid-December. "Sometimes when you end a chapter like this it can get a bit sticky at the end, but RPM has been fantastic. Everyone is really pleased for me and thrilled for what I've been able to contribute. It's just great to be held in that regard."
Ambrose also won five road course events on the Nationwide circuit. But if he heads home with any regret, it's that he did not win on a NASCAR oval.
"I've got some unfinished business in NASCAR, which I wish I could have ticked the box on," he said. "Obviously, winning a race on the ovals is tough. I wanted to make the Chase -- and we came close -- but couldn't quite make it. So, there are some pieces to the puzzle that I'm missing. But, in general, I'm just thrilled to have experienced it and (for) my family to enjoy what America is."
Ambrose, who has 18 top-five finishes in Sprint Cup, said his most memorable moment was sharing a Victory Lane celebration with Richard Petty. "Winning a race is great," he said, "but sharing it with The King was pretty special -- just an amazing thing."
Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, will also be driving his final Sprint Cup race for Wood Brothers on Sunday. But he's not leaving Ford -- simply shifting over to Roush Fenway, where he will be behind the wheel of the No. 6 Fusion on a full-time assignment next season.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Each of NASCAR's three manufacturers is convinced that it has a driver who can win it all on Sunday, when performance in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) will determine the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Saturday afternoon at Homestead, each manufacturer's top racing executive explained what separates their brand's driver(s) from the pack and why that driver is so likely to bring the title their way.
J. David Wilson, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development on Denny Hamlin: "Denny is comfortable and confident -- quietly confident I would say. The fact that he has won here twice in the past five years and the fact that he's the reigning Homestead (race) champion gives him just what he needs to do the job on Sunday. He's been here before."
Jim Campbell, General Motors vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports on Kevin Harvick: "Kevin Harvick is focused. He's mentally tough. He's a leader from the cockpit of the car and when I think about the last time Stewart-Haas won the championship with Tony (Stewart) in 2011, Tony was focused, mentally tough and led from the cockpit."
Campbell on Ryan Newman: "Ryan Newman just keeps coming -- just keeps getting stronger race after race. That team has gotten in great rhythm and stronger every single week. They have momentum. They haven't won a race yet (this year) but they're charging."
Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, on Joey Logano: "It's Todd (crew chief Gordon). It's Penske. It's Ford. When you put that ensemble together, this has been an absolute standout season: Five wins for Joey, six wins for Brad (teammate Keselowski), 11 wins for Penske. Now, with Joey in the final race, he's laser-focused. Joey Logano, when he came to the sport, he was billed as a phenom. Indeed, he is that now. He's got the talent and, with the team around him, he's driven to succeed."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- After becoming the first driver to ever win consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series titles, Matt Crafton could talk about making history.
"Definitely an awesome feeling," Crafton said after joining Ron Hornaday Jr., Todd Bodine and Jack Sprague as the only drivers to win the NCWTS title more than once. "To be on the list with those guys is unreal. To say that I've done it back-to-back and no one has done that, it's such a good, good feeling."
But Crafton, sitting between crew chief (Carl) Junior Joiner and ThorSport Racing general manager David Pepper, wasn't about to take all the credit.
"To say I made history is definitely very, very cool. But it's all about the guys that are behind me. Without them, I'm just an average race car driver at best."
Completing his 14th full season, Crafton, 38, has run his entire NCWTS career for Sandusky, Ohio-based ThorSport and owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson.
"The very first time I sat down with Duke at the end of 2000 he told me going to run this like a business," Crafton recalled. "He said, 'We're going to make it better and better each year, but I'm not going to outspend myself or go away in two or three years. I'm going to be an owner who will be around for the long haul. If you want to stick it out with me, we'll win races and win championships.'"
Stick it out, Crafton did. He didn't win a race until 2008, finished no higher than fifth in the point standings until 2009 and didn't win two races in a season until this year when he triumphed at Martinsville and Texas. Friday night was his 14th top five in 22 races.
"That's what makes it so much sweeter to be where we are today," Crafton said. "We didn't have all the resources and all the tools that we have today. I'd say (Duke) has been a man of his word -- as has Rhonda -- since the day I met him."
Crafton said that after winning his first title a year ago, he promised Joiner the team would lead more laps and win more races in 2014.
"We led 10 more laps and won two races," he said. "We had the capability to win more if we didn't have bad luck in the middle part of the season. It's a damn shame, because I feel we should have won at least five races, without a doubt."
But Crafton is hardly complaining.
"I think I'm the luckiest man on earth," he said. "I'm getting paid to do what I love. I'm getting paid to drive a race car."
Crafton entered Friday's EcoBoost 200 with a relatively comfortable 25-point lead on Ryan Blaney. He knew that a finish of 21st or better in the 36-truck field would get the job done.
He finished ninth, good enough to finish 21 points ahead of Blaney, who persevered for a fifth-place finish despite finishing the race with vise-grips replacing his broken shifter.
He also raced cautiously throughout the first half of the race, maintaining a low line to keep a safe distance from the wall while maintaining his spot within the top 10.
Any hope Blaney had virtually disintegrated during the fourth caution period of the race. The 20-year-old, who had been running second for much of the early going, suffered that shifter problem and dropped all the way to 15th on the restart.
"That was one of the worst trucks we've had all year," Blaney said. "I can't believe we (managed to) finish fifth. That was tough."
Larson led 96 of the first 100 laps and ended up chasing Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace to the finish line in the closing laps. Wallace, driving the No. 54 Tundra, was thrilled to finally “beat the boss.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports captured its third NCWTS owner's championship in five seasons (second consecutively). Erik Jones made 12 starts and Busch drove 10 races in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra, which edged ThorSport and Crafton for the owner’s title by 24 points.
"It's a great milestone for us," said Busch, who is ineligible to race for the driver's championship because he is a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor. "It's what we can race for. We've had a lot of people come to KBM to work who have stayed a long time. Some move on to other things. That's really what the Truck Series is all about: a proving ground and a growing series."
Wallace's victory gave KBM 14 wins for the season and provided Toyota with 18, tying Chevrolet’s 2010 mark for most wins in a season.
Ben Kennedy was named NCWTS Sunoco Rookie of the Year, despite settling for 17th in his No. 31 Chevrolet.
"We weren't really all that great tonight," Kennedy said, "but it pays off for the whole season we put together. It's a testament to this team and how hard the guys at Turner Scott Motorsports worked. When we were on, we were really on -- up there with the top dogs. When we were off, we struggled a little bit, but we worked hard and we worked together to make the most out of each position and each lap."
Kennedy held off Tyler Reddick (sixth in his No. 19 Ford on Friday) for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, based in part on each team's 14 best finishes of the season.
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- After breathtaking three-wide racing during the final 20-lap green-flag run, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. held off hard-charging Keystone Light Polesitter Kyle Larson to win Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Behind the wild battle for the victory, Matt Crafton ran ninth and won an unprecedented second straight series title with room to spare—by 21 points.
Timothy Peters came home third, followed by Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney, runner-up to Crafton for the series championship. Busch won the NCWTS owner's championship in the No. 51 Toyota he drove on Friday night.
"Toward the end, battling the two Kyles -- the (Sprint) Cup stars -- it was tough," Wallace said. "But I didn't get too excited, didn't get too down. I kept a cool head and stayed patient and was able to come out on top."
Wallace won his fourth race of the season and fifth of his career in his final ride in the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, as the organization picked up its 14th victory in 22 races. Signed to Joe Gibbs Racing, Wallace is expected to move up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year.
"It is going to be sad to see him go," Busch said, "but we've got another great shoe that's going to be able to fit into that role really, really good with Erik Jones. It's not that I'm saying good-bye, but I'm wishing him the best next year in what he gets to do, and I'm excited about his growth and opportunity to move up to the Nationwide Series."
Wallace said he hopes to get plans for 2015 settled soon.
"I wish things were finalized," Wallace said. "We're continuing to work hard to find my future plans. For me, I'm just going to go play some golf while I'm down here in Miami and enjoy this win, enjoy the offseason.
"But as far as plans, we're continuing to work hard."
As he closed on Wallace in the final laps, Larson said he contemplated trying the same sort of banzai move Ryan Newman had used on Larson on the final lap of last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix, where Newman secured the final spot in Sunday's Championship Round at Homestead by a single point.
"I thought about it -- very quickly," Larson said. "But I figured that would definitely be the wrong thing to do, especially in a truck race where I'm just kind of out there to have fun, and Bubba's out there to try to gain points, or whatever, and get the win."
Blaney's waning championship hopes suffered a blow when his shifter broke, causing him to stall his No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford exiting his pit stall on Lap 72. Blaney dropped to 14th for the subsequent restart on Lap 76 and quickly worked his way up to ninth, three positions behind Crafton in the running order.
By then, only 21 trucks remained on the lead lap, providing Crafton with a comfortable margin of error, given that Crafton entered the race needing a finish of 21st or better to claim the series title.
Using vise-grips to control the broken shifter, Blaney was fourth off pit road for a restart on Lap 104, after the fifth caution of the night. His hard-fought top five wasn't enough to overcome the 25-point lead Crafton held entering the race.
During that same pit stop, Larson fell from first to third on pit road, after having led 96 laps to that point.
Wallace grabbed the lead from Busch on Lap 119 of 134 and held it the rest of the way, as Larson charged into second place and closed the gap to .294 seconds at the finish.
NOTE: Ben Kennedy won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the series. Kennedy and Tyler Reddick tied in the rookie standings, with Kennedy winning the title because of his higher position in driver championship points.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race - Ford EcoBoost 200
Friday, November 14, 2014
1. (8) Darrell Wallace Jr., Toyota, 134, $42095.
2. (1) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 134, $27735.
3. (15) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 134, $21326.
4. (5) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 134, $16200.
5. (2) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 134, $16675.
6. (4) Tyler Reddick #, Ford, 134, $16450.
7. (7) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 134, $13000.
8. (14) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, 134, $15050.
9. (6) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 134, $15850.
10. (17) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 134, $15925.
11. (3) Ross Chastain, Toyota, 134, $14550.
12. (13) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 134, $14375.
13. (9) Jeb Burton, Toyota, 134, $14250.
14. (16) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 134, $14150.
15. (22) German Quiroga, Toyota, 134, $14875.
16. (18) Mason Mitchell, Ford, 134, $11675.
17. (11) Ben Kennedy #, Chevrolet, 134, $13825.
18. (10) Bryan Silas, Chevrolet, 134, $13725.
19. (20) Tayler Malsam, Chevrolet, 134, $13625.
20. (26) Austin Hill, Ford, 134, $11880.
21. (24) Matt Tifft, Chevrolet, 134, $11050.
22. (27) Justin Jennings, Chevrolet, 134, $13050.
23. (19) Joey Coulter, Chevrolet, 133, $12925.
24. (25) Tyler Young #, Chevrolet, 133, $12625.
25. (28) Kyle Martel, Chevrolet, 131, $10325.
26. (32) Todd Peck, Chevrolet, 131, $10975.
27. (33) Derek White, Chevrolet, 130, $9775.
28. (21) Ray Black Jr., Chevrolet, 130, $10575.
29. (23) Mason Mingus #, Chevrolet, 130, $9350.
30. (31) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 129, $9150.
31. (30) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, Electrical, 114, $8600.
32. (29) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, Clutch, 58, $8575.
33. (36) Scott Stenzel, Chevrolet, Electrical, 11, $8550.
34. (35) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 7, $8525.
35. (12) John Wes Townley, Toyota, Accident, 6, $8495.
36. (34) Caleb Roark, Chevrolet, Vibration, 5, $8410.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 113.791 mph.
Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 45 Mins, 59 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.293 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 28 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson(i) 1-25; J. Cobb 26; K. Larson(i) 27-42; K. Busch(i) 43; K. Larson(i) 44-74; D. Wallace Jr. 75; K. Larson(i) 76; D. Wallace Jr. 77; K. Larson(i) 78-100; B. Silas 101; K. Busch(i) 102; D. Wallace Jr. 103-114; K. Busch(i) 115-118; D. Wallace Jr. 119-134.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson(i) 5 times for 96 laps; D. Wallace Jr. 4 times for 30 laps; K. Busch(i) 3 times for 6 laps; B. Silas 1 time for 1 lap; J. Cobb 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: M. Crafton - 833; R. Blaney - 812; D. Wallace Jr. - 799; J. Sauter - 773; T. Peters - 746; G. Quiroga - 683; J. Coulter - 680; J. Burton - 679; B. Kennedy # - 679; B. Silas - 548.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Defending race champion Denny Hamlin says he knew he had the car to win last year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway—and he did.
Asked how "close" his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is this weekend to the car he had a year ago, Hamlin demonstrated he had his sense of humor if not quite the same speed.
"Last year's winning car is scrapped somewhere, so it's pretty far away," said Hamlin after qualifying for Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
"We don't have that all-out speed. That we haven't had all year. But we're very encouraged by what we've seen so far. We'll figure it out on Saturday. Our expectations are to win the race. I think we're fully capable of doing that."
Hamlin, whose only win in 2014 came in the 10th race of the season at Talladega, will start eighth on Sunday. He'll roll off three positions behind Kevin Harvick and one spot ahead of Joey Logano, Sprint Cup title contenders who reached the 12-car final round of Friday's qualifying session.
The fourth contender, Ryan Newman, failed to make the final round. Although Newman's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet will start 21st, he remains undeterred.
"A buddy of mine once said, ‘it's not where you start, it's where you stop' and we've got half of (the field) beat to start," Newman said. "We've got 267 laps to beat the other half on Sunday."
Of the four drivers vying for the championship, Harvick clearly had the fastest car on Friday. He was second to Brad Keselowski in practice, second again to Keselowski's track record (181.238 mph) in the first round of qualifying, and fifth at 179.946 when the field was set.
"Everything went according, pretty much, to what we wanted to do," said Harvick, fresh off last week's victory in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet at Phoenix. "I know we can get the car better (Saturday) in race trim and now we have a good spot to start. All and all, we have a lot to look at and a lot of resources to pull from.
"I just want consistency from my car and enough tape on the window so I can see going into Turn 1."
Joey Logano was happy to advance through the first two rounds of qualifying in his Team Penske Ford.
"I felt like we unloaded in race trim and had good speed in our car," Logano said. "We switched over to qualifying trim and the speed didn't transfer. We were third in the first round (of qualifying) and that surprised the heck out of me."
None of the four finalists came close to challenging Coors Light pole-sitter Jeff Gordon, who delivered the 200th all-time pole for Hendrick Motorsports.
But Harvick will have a Hendrick engine under the hood.
Harvick said it will be important to have a car than can excel on the bottom of the track, then move to the top as the race goes on.
"This is going to be a race where you go through some changing conditions," Harvick said. "The top is treacherous. It's six inches away from you at all times in order to run as fast as you need to. That's hard to do during the daytime.
"I think you have to be aggressive. I think everybody is going to be aggressive. (But) I think you also have to be smart about where you put your car and who you're around."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jeff Gordon edged Kurt Busch for the top starting spot in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) as three of the four contenders in the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualified in the top nine during Friday's time trials.
In the third and final round of the knockout qualifying session, Gordon covered the 1.5-mile distance at 180.747 mph, narrowly beating Busch (180.632 mph) for the top spot on the grid.
Championship favorite Kevin Harvick (179.946 mph) will start fifth, with fellow contenders Denny Hamlin (179.348 mph) and Joey Logano (179.259 mph) eighth and ninth, respectively. Ryan Newman (178.241 mph), the fourth driver eligible for the championship, failed to advance to the final round and will start 21st.
Matt Kenseth (180.294 mph) and Brad Keselowski (179.994 mph), both eliminated from the Chase last Sunday at Phoenix, qualified third and fourth, respectively, for the Sprint Cup title race.
In the 25-minute first qualifying round, Keselowski set a track record at 181.238 mph, breaking the mark of 181.111 mph established by Jamie McMurray in 2003. No driver has won a Sprint Cup race at Homestead from the pole since Busch accomplished the feat in 2002.
Gordon, eliminated from the Chase by one point last Sunday, moved toward the top of the track for his pole-winning run.
"The bottom just wasn't the perfect place for us to run," Gordon explained. "I could feel the tires going away, and then we needed to move up. So when we saw some of those guys running fast laps a little bit higher up, I was looking forward to making that last lap.
"The guys made some great adjustments. We unfortunately had a tire going down on the left front, so I don't know if that helped us or hurt us, but it was pretty nice to get that pole. That's awesome."
Gordon's pole -- his first at Homestead, his third of the season and the 77th of his career -- also was the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports.
"To be the 200th pole for Hendrick Motorsports is really cool," Gordon said. "I think the way we're looking at this weekend is we want to close out the season the absolute best we can. It's been a tremendous season. The No. 24 team has been incredible this year.
"We're disappointed that we aren't in this thing for the championship, but that's not going to stop us from trying to go out to win the pole and win the race."
For Harvick, the most gratifying thing about Friday's qualifying session was beating the three other championship contenders -- not to mention earning a top-five starting position.
"This is going to be a race that you are going to go through some changing conditions," Harvick said. "Today was really about trying to get a solid starting spot. And we were able to do that.
"Just really proud of my guys. We had a really good day today. Just got to keep doing what we have to do and see where it all falls on Sunday."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Kyle Larson says it took him about 10 minutes to get over his displeasure with Ryan Newman after last week's final-lap incident at Phoenix International Raceway.
"No, I didn't want to kick his butt," said Larson, standing in front of his hauler and standing on the cusp of wrapping up his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year season.
"He called me on Tuesday and it was fine. I was upset for 10 minutes, then over it. I understood the situation and what was at stake for Ryan. I get over things pretty quickly."
On the line was Newman's ability to reach The Championship 4 and advance to Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) with the chance for his first Sprint Cup title.
By nudging Larson into the wall, Newman was able to move up one position and finish in 11th place, just enough to bump Jeff Gordon from the quest for the championship.
"I think there are a lot of people out here that would probably have done the same thing," Larson said after Friday afternoon's practice session.
Asked if he would have considered the same thing, Larson replied, "It's hard to really say until you're in that position. I got a ton of criticism a couple years ago -- even probably worse -- at a late model race."
Larson said he hopes he's not a driver to alter the course of Sunday's championship by making contact with a contender.
"I don't want to get into any of them," he said. "I got into Ty (Dillon) a couple years ago when he was going for the Truck championship and I felt horrible after that, so I don't want to go through that again. None of (the Championship 4) have won a championship. I know how much it means to them."
Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson, with 17 top-10 finishes, has unofficially locked up Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors by virtue of being the top-finishing rookie in 25 of this season's 35 Sprint Cup races. Austin Dillon has been the first rookie in the other 10.
"It feels awesome," Larson said before claiming the pole for Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
"I think everybody kind of picked Austin Dillon as the favorite going into the year and I don't blame them. He's accomplished so much in his NASCAR career and dirt car career before that. I've only been in stock cars for a couple years. It's nice to prove some of the doubters wrong.
"It's (also) nice to see how many people who've won Rookie of the Year who've gone on to win Sprint Cup championships. We've challenged for a handful of wins. I think my patience has gotten better as the season went on. I think this season has been pretty successful, other than missing the Chase. I think we’ll get into the Chase next year."
Dale Jarrett, NASCAR's 1999 Sprint Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer, was impressed with what Ryan Newman did on the final lap at Phoenix -- and that was before the contact that put Kyle Larson into the wall.
"I was more impressed with how he kept himself in position to even be in that position," Jarrett said, "because he was at a huge disadvantage with the tires he was on versus the people he was racing around.
"I've (long) said that man is the best in a two-tire situation or some kind of strategy. The way he drives the wheels off the car is better than anybody else out there. In that situation, I'll put him up against just about anybody."
Rusty Wallace, the 1989 premier series champ and NASCAR Hall of Famer, said he's not surprised that Newman and Richard Childress Racing are in position to win a title despite not winning a race this season.
"Richard Childress Racing (became) masters at winning championships (because) they knew how to adapt to whatever it took to get the job done," Wallace said. "That's one thing Childress, I think, has got up his sleeve coming into this weekend. Maybe they haven't won, but they know how to figure it out."
DON’T OVERLOOK THE NON-CHASERS
NASCAR's eventual champion won't necessarily need to win Sunday's race, he simply must finish ahead of the other three contenders. And potential spoilers abound at Homestead-Miami Speedway, including Joey Logano's shop mate at Team Penske, Brad Keselowski, who posted the fastest lap in Friday's practice session (179.004 mph).
Consider that Carl Edwards is the career leader in laps at the 1.5-mile track (560) and easily owns the best average finish at 6.6. He has seven top-10 finishes in 10 career starts, including wins in 2008 and 2011.
Only Edwards (6.6) and Kevin Harvick (8.1) have a better average finish than Martin Truex Jr. at 9.2, whose driver rating trails only Edwards in the last nine Sprint Cup races at Homestead.
Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has had season-finale races in which he did not have to go all out for victory. Though Homestead is one of four current tracks at which Johnson has yet to win, he does have eight top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon has 11 top-10 finishes in 15 starts, including a victory in 2012.
Greg Biffle dominated in Miami, winning three consecutive races from 2004 to 2006 -- before permitting then teammate Matt Kenseth to have a shot at victory lane in 2007. Kasey Kahne has the best average starting position at Homestead (8.3), although his average finish is a comparatively miserable 15.2.
Patricia Driscoll, Busch's ex-girlfriend, has made the accusation against Busch. Police in Delaware are still investigating an incident that allegedly occurred inside Busch's motorhome at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 26.
Busch has not yet been arrested or charged with any crime.
"We are watching that case carefully," France said Friday at his "State of the Sport" question-and-answer session with reporters. "It's under review by law enforcement and others, and they have not made a decision on that regarding Kurt. So until they make some judgments on that investigation, it wouldn't be right of us to just intervene before they've even gotten the investigation completed. So that's our position. We'll respect their process. It's in their hands."
Driscoll has filed court documents asking a judge to order Busch to stay away from her and not contact her. She claims Busch verbally and physically abused her and smashed her head against a wall three times.
Dover Police Department officials told SI.com that Busch has yet to be interviewed by authorities.
France said Friday that NASCAR is sensitive to the issue of domestic violence in a year where the NFL has been under national scrutiny for its handling of cases involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and other players.
France said there are no changes planned to NASCAR's domestic dispute policy.
"If charges are filed, that will change our equation, and we will look at that," France said. "We realize the heightened awareness of this important topic, and our policies will reflect that as we go down. They'll reflect how serious it is."
Busch's attorney, Rusty Hardin, has said Busch "vehemently" denies the allegations and that Driscoll's accounts are "a complete fabrication by a woman who has refused to accept the end of a relationship."
Busch has continued to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing. He is scheduled to race in Sunday's season finale, the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Stewart-Haas executive vice president Joe Custer said the team was awaiting word from the authorities.
"We have spoken to Kurt in depth regarding this matter and he has vehemently denied that it happened and assures us there is no truth to it whatsoever," Custer said. "At this point in time we are taking Kurt at his word and his status with the team is unchanged."
France also confirmed Friday that U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) sent a letter to NASCAR president Mike Helton and to Stewart-Haas Racing saying she was "disappointed" that Busch hadn't been suspended until the matter is resolved.
"NASCAR would rather let Mr. Busch drive for the remainder of the racing season than take a stance on violence against women," Speier wrote in the letter. "While he rounds the track, the legal processes for his domestic violence charges race forward as well. Until his legal proceedings end, NASCAR should put Mr. Busch's car in park. The charges are horrifying, and NASCAR's inaction sends a clear signal to drivers that owners do not take these violent actions seriously."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- In Brian France's estimation, the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format introduced this year has struck a perfect balance between winning and consistency in determining the series champion.
At the same time, France said, the new system, featuring an expanded 16-driver field and eliminations after every third race, has elevated interest in the sport.
"It's exceeded what I had hoped for, and it's done precisely what we thought we wanted to do, which was recalibrate competition -- or winning, rather -- and still have a strong place for consistency and all the rest, but recalibrate that balance," NASCAR's chairman and CEO said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his "State of the Sport" question-and-answer session with reporters.
"It's only year one, but clearly we're on our way."
France said any changes to the format would be "modest to zero," and he doesn't have an issue with the possibility of Ryan Newman winning the Sprint Cup championship in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) without winning a race.
"Well, we would like that," France said. "The best team will win on Sunday. What I mean, though, is any format that we've ever had always has the possibility that somebody might win the championship without winning an event, short of us -- which we're not going to do -- making it a hard prerequisite that you have to win a race to qualify. That takes it out of balance, frankly."
Based on what he has seen through the first nine races in the Chase, however, France expects the eventual champion -- be it Newman, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano -- to be celebrating in Victory Lane.
"I do think whoever comes out as champion on Sunday probably needs to think about winning the race," France said. "I'd be surprised if one of those four drivers can get out of here with a championship, and what we've seen, if you go through past years, of how those teams will be elevating their game against everybody else, no matter what people say.
"You go back to Tony Stewart a few years ago. You go back to Jimmie Johnson when he needed to do what he needed to do or anybody else -- those will be the teams, and they were last weekend in Phoenix, too, by the way, those will be the teams that will be running up front most of the day. I think that, as Kevin Harvick said last week, he thought he had to win the race to get it done. I think that would probably be what you'd be expecting on Sunday."
Though Brad Keselowski's aggressive driving may have rankled some of his fellow competitors, France has no issue with the ramped-up intensity generated by the new Chase structure.
"I think he's doing exactly what he should be doing," France said emphatically. "I've told him that. Everybody has got a right to have their own style of driving out there. If you go back to any of the great ones -- Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, all of them -- they faced a similar discussion from time to time as they started to have success on the track, as some of those drivers believed a little bit more contact was necessary sometimes, and they were young and they were getting some words about that.
"But if you go through NASCAR's history, that's what we're about. I say it all the time: late in a race, we expect -- there are limits and lines, but we expect tight, tight racing that sometimes will have some contact. It's in our DNA. I think he's doing a great job of being aggressive."
France also reaffirmed NASCAR's commitment to its announced ban on discretionary testing in 2015.
"We like reducing the cost structure," France explained. "We listened to the teams in our various team owner meetings through the last couple years, and I think we have enough in place to enforce the testing policy for 2015. We'll see how it goes."
The changes to the Sprint Cup schedule, which include a western swing early in the season and a return of the Southern 500 Darlington race to its traditional Labor Day weekend date, comprise another major positive for 2015 in France's view.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Call it superstition.
Call it the ultimate exercise in compartmentalization.
With a 25-point lead entering the final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race of the season Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1), Matt Crafton steadfastly refuses to discuss the prospect of a second straight championship - something no other driver has accomplished in the 20-year history of the series.
"If it's meant to be, it's meant to be," Crafton told the NASCAR Wire Service after the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship Press Conference at the 1.5-mile track. "I've stuck with that saying since Daytona. We have a shot at winning it, and if everything... the stars and the moon align, and we just go out there and do what we've been doing all year, we should be fine."
That's a colossal understatement. All Crafton has to do in Friday's season finale is finish 21st or better to shut out the only other driver still in contention for the championship, Ryan Blaney. Only twice in 21 starts this season - and not since the seventh race of the year at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis - has Crafton finished outside the top 21.
In his last 14 races, his worst finish is 14th at Talladega, and that's his only result outside the top 10 during that stretch. Only an early catastrophe could keep the NCWTS trophy out of Crafton's hands.
Nevertheless, Crafton contends he can block thoughts of an unprecedented second straight title out of his mind.
"I haven't had one sleepless night -- not one sleepless night -- waking up and thinking about it," Crafton said. "If we do what we're supposed to do, and we do what we've been doing all year, we'll be fine. God willing, it'll happen."
Crafton, 38, is content with life in the Truck Series, but he also has shown speed on occasional stints in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series car. In four NNS starts over the last two years, he has finished third twice, 10th and 12th.
"If I stay here for the rest of my driving career, I'll definitely be happy with that," Crafton said of the Truck Series. "I know each and every week I can go win races. I have no desire to go somewhere where I'm going to run 15th to 25th and be happy with that."
Nonetheless, Crafton is justifiably proud of what he's accomplished in his four Nationwide starts.
"We've been very, very fast and led laps in a lot of those races as well. I know I proved to a lot of people that I can do it, I can go run with the capability of the guys in the Nationwide Series. If I had that opportunity to go run with them, I'd go run with them - in the right equipment."
CHANGE OF PLANS FOR EARNHARDT
Crew chief Greg Ives, who led Chase Elliott's NASCAR Nationwide Series team this season, was on a career track that would have kept him with Elliott long-term.
Steve Letarte's decision to leave Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s pit box for the NBC Sports TV booth, however, caused Ives' career to go off-script.
As Elliott's car owner at JR Motorsports, Earnhardt got a close look at the working relationship between Elliott and Ives. But Earnhardt said that had less to do with the choice of Ives as his crew chief than the vacancy created by Letarte's impending departure.
"I think that (Ives) was sort of tabbed as a crew chief at HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) prior to working with Chase," Earnhardt said. "He just moved to JRM to get his bearings and get some experience. The plan was sort of for him and Chase to stay together for the future and for them to work together long into the future, as Chase moved up.
"But other opportunities came about for myself and for Chase, and so this is kind of what's going to work out for everybody in the best interests of all the teams combined. I'm pretty excited, because I know how talented Greg is, and at the same time, I feel like that, in a way, Chase is in a better position, too. He's going to be working with a great guy next year in Ernie (Cope), and his future is solidified in the mind of (owner) Rick Hendrick as to what's going to happen after that."
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT DRIVERS?
Brad Keselowski tried to go up the middle between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson late in the Chase race at Texas.
The result? A cut tire and a 29th-place finish for Gordon, a fight on pit road and criticism of Keselowski from many of his peers.
Last Sunday at Phoenix, Ryan Newman door-slammed Kyle Larson on the final lap to pick up the one position he needed to advance to the Championship 4 Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
For the most part, Newman got a pass for doing what was necessary to retain his title hopes.
To be sure, there were differences between the two incidents. Newman's move worked - he got the position he needed. Keselowski's didn't, in the sense that it didn't propel the driver of the No. 2 Ford to the victory he sorely needed.
And Newman began apologizing immediately after the Phoenix race. At Texas, Keselowski was unapologetic.
"Clearly, the standards are different across the driver platforms," Keselowski said on Thursday, appearing as the owner of championship contender Ryan Blaney's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series entry. "I think we all see that. I can sweat that, or I can sit here and point out that I'm still the youngest one of the guys that have won a championship in the last decade, which makes me kind of the newest guy in the circle.
"I'm a threat to those that are established in the sport. I understand that. I accept that, and they're going to try to put a double standard on me to hold us back. I'm not going to stand for it, and I'm to continue to do the things I do, knowing that and hoping it will put me in a position to be a threat for many years to come."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MIAMI -- It didn't take Kevin Harvick long to start the needling -- and his target was the new guy, Joey Logano.
Before the drivers' portion of Wednesday's Championship 4 Media Day was 10 minutes old, Harvick made an issue of Logano running interference for teammate Brad Keselowski at Talladega in a race that Keselowski had to win to stay in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Seated at the dais in the ballroom at Trump National Doral with fellow Championship 4 Round drivers Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman, Harvick suggested Keselowski, who was eliminated last Sunday at Phoenix, might return the favor and block for Logano in Sunday’s title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
"I thought you were going to say that you were going to send Brad out to be a moving chicane the way you were at Talladega," Harvick said.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Kevin," Logano retorted.
"Maybe you should ask Roger," Harvick rejoined, referring to Logano's team owner, Roger Penske.
Competing in his first Chase, Logano might have seemed to Harvick the most vulnerable target. Or perhaps Harvick, the championship favorite, considers Logano the biggest threat to his own title aspirations.
"Bingo," tweeted Keselowski when that precise notion was suggested on social media.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters after the press conference, Harvick demurred.
"I think anybody can be a threat," he said. "Obviously, Denny (Hamlin) has been really good at this particular race. Joey's been good all year, and Newman's been pretty consistent. I think if you put yourself in position to win this race, you're going to win the championship.
"So that's really our focus going into the weekend, to try to win. Obviously, the 22 car (Logano) has been probably one of the better cars all year, as far as speed and consistency and winning races."
A WELCOME MULLIGAN FOR HAMLIN
If Denny Hamlin wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday, he'll be the first driver to do so without competing in a full slate of races since Richard Petty took the title in 1971 running 46 of the 48 scheduled events.
Hamlin missed the March race at Fontana, Calif., because of an eye injury. Before NASCAR's new, revamped championship format went into effect this year, that injury likely would have ended Hamlin's title hopes, but a medical exemption built into the new system proved his saving grace.
That and a pep talk from NASCAR president Mike Helton, who helped Hamlin make the agonizing decision to sit out the Fontana race after a tiny shard of metal lodged in his eye. A year earlier, a compression fracture of the spine, the result of an accident at Fontana, caused Hamlin to miss four races.
As he contemplated his eye injury, Hamlin experienced a case of deja vu until Helton put his mind at ease.
"As devastated as I was when I was in that infield care center," Hamlin recalled, "Helton walked in and said, 'This is why we have this format put out there -- now just go win a race and put yourself in position. I'll never forget that, because at the time I was thinking, 'Our year is done. How can this happen two years in a row?'
"And he said, 'Just do the job that we know you can do, and you'll find yourself in that position when we get to the Chase.' We did it. And we just keep battling the odds every single round, and now we've got one more round to battle the odds."
Even with the encouraging words, however, getting out of the car was far from an easy decision for Hamlin.
"We had a difficult conversation -- am I able to do my job or not?" Hamlin said. "We had a difficult conversation, and Helton said the best thing to do is not race, and this is why we set out these medical exemptions. They granted me one, and we kept moving on."
As it turned out, Hamlin did exactly what Helton suggested. He won the spring race at Talladega to qualify for the Chase.
DOES THE GLASS SLIPPER FIT?
Conceivably, Ryan Newman could win the championship without a victory this season, an anomaly in a new championship format where the primary path to the Chase is through winning at least one of the 26 races during the regular season.
But Newman balked at the notion that he is a Cinderella story, even though he has a chance to drive his No. 31 Chevrolet to the first championship for Richard Childress Racing since Dale Earnhardt won his seventh title in 1994.
"I didn't know Cinderella was a race car driver," he said. "For me, really, it's just another opportunity -- for all four of us -- to go into the last round, the Championship Round, and really end up ...
"What really matters is racing each other, and we've had a lot of fun getting to this point, and we need to just keep doing what we're doing on the 31 side. It's really a storybook, I guess, in some form or fashion.
"But, hopefully, we can get through Sunday and write our own book."
TSX Motorsports Writers Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore break down each driver remaining in the Chase, and their history at the track where all the drama will unfold.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin comes into the final race of the season, a winner-take-all event for the championship, as one of four drivers tied for the lead in the Sprint Cup standings. Hamlin is tied with Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick, each with 5,000 points. Whoever finishes the highest in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will become a first-time Sprint Cup champion.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 9 career starts, 2 wins, 4 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2009 and 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was 24th in the 2012 season finale there.
LOOKING AHEAD: It doesn't get much simpler than this. The driver who finishes ahead of the other three Chase finalists on Sunday will emerge as the 2014 champion. Hamlin has a strong record at Homestead - he's the only one of the four drivers that has ever won a Cup race there - and is ready to win for a third tie there, which would automatically also earn him the championship.
"I've had a one-in-three shot (to win the championship heading into Homestead) before in 2010, but this is so different with this format," Hamlin said. "You know you're up against three other guys and whoever comes out on top is going to be our champ. I'm very encouraged after the test we had there two weeks ago."
As for some of the criticism leveled at the new elimination format of the Chase, Hamlin is totally fine with it.
"The people that outcry this system is bad is when their favorite driver doesn't make it," Hamlin said. "The system is fine. It's exciting. Every race is exciting. There's not been one boring race, and every race, it comes down to somebody on a restart or something. This is the best thing that's happened to this sport in a really long time. Just because your favorite driver doesn't make it, it could go the other way for them next year. Let's just leave this thing alone for a little while."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had a strong run at Phoenix. He sat on the pole and led the first 24 laps before falling back. He twice fell off the lead lap, only to work his way back and ultimately end up with a well-deserved and strong fifth-place finish.
ETC.: Hamlin has completed a near-perfect 99.8 percent (2,399) of the 2,404 total laps contested in nine career starts at Homestead. His average start there is 29.2, but his average finish is a much more respectable 11.2. He has zero DNFs there. ... Hamlin's crew chief, Darian Grubb, won the 2011 Sprint Cup championship with Tony Stewart, only to be released after that achievement by Stewart-Haas Racing. While Grubb has said little about looking to avenge his firing by leading Hamlin to the championship this season, including over SHR driver Kevin Harvick, you can't help but wonder if revenge is on Grubb's mind.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano is one of four drivers tied for the lead as the points were reset after four other drivers were eliminated following this past Sunday's race at Phoenix. Logano is tied with Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick heading into the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead. All four drivers won't have to worry about points in that race, just to finish as high as they possible can. The highest finishing driver will ultimately be crowned the 2014 Sprint Cup champion. All four drivers are vying for their first-ever Cup crown.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 1 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Eighth in 2013. Finished eighth in this race last year and was 14th in the 2012 race there after starting from the pole position.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano is the lone representative of Penske Racing in the Chase finale after teammate Brad Keselowski failed to advance and was eliminated after this past Sunday's race at Phoenix.
How Logano runs this Sunday's race at Homestead should be interesting, as he does not have the most stellar career record there. While there will be 42 other drivers in the race, he only has to worry about the three other championship contenders. How does Logano feel coming into Sunday's race?
"It is exactly how you would think it feels - it's the accumulation of a whole season of hard work," he said. "This No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford team has been strong all year, and I think we deserve to be in the final four competing for this Championship. I think it would have been a shame not to race for the title after the year we have had. Thankfully, we were able to make it through the Chase and make it to the final round. All of the teams in the Chase will say the same thing, but we deserve it. This team has worked its butt off all year long. We've been through a lot and we've come a long way to get where we are. (Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) has led this team, and we are all very close. This is the type of team you win Championships with."
When asked who will be the biggest competition for the championship, Logano said: "I think they are all going to be strong. You don't make it to this position without being strong. Kevin (Harvick), of course, has been strong all year long. They've led a lot of laps, and they've been strong at almost every single track. Denny (Hamlin) and that team have been coming on lately, and they've been strong in the Chase. And he won last year at Homestead, and that's probably one of his better tracks. And Ryan (Newman) is consistent.
"Sometimes you just don't think about him and there he is running fourth or fifth in the race out of nowhere. All of the teams are strong, but I think the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil team is just as strong, if not stronger, than all of them. I think we have as good of a shot as anyone, and I'd put my money on me. It will be fun to watch as a fan for sure."
LOOKING BACK: Logano led 17 laps at Phoenix en route to a sixth-place finish, but it was a hard-earned finish. Logano had to come back from being one lap down, much like Denny Hamlin did, and even though Logano finished two spots behind teammate Brad Keselowski, it was Logano who advanced to the championship round by virtue of being tied with Hamlin for the Sprint Cup points lead heading into Phoenix. Those extra points were the difference in why Logano made it and his teammate didn't.
ETC.: The numbers don't lie that Homestead is not exactly one of Logan's best tracks. He has completed just 92.4 percent (1,234) of the 1,335 total laps contested in five career starts at Homestead. His average start there is 18.0, and his average finish is worse at 20.8. He also has one DNF there.
31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Tied for first.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished third in the 2012 race for his career-best finish. Overall has four top-10 finishes in 12 starts including two top-seven finishes in the last four races.
LOOKING AHEAD: As he heads to Homestead with the opportunity to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, Newman is quick to point out "we did what we had to do to get to this position. We flew under the radar and turned in the solid performances to earn one of the four positions. There's been so much on the line week in and week out during this new Chase format. We've able to dig in and move on. It's no different with the race at Homestead. We are going to keep digging and hope it will be good enough to win a Sprint Cup Championship. We are going to do everything we can to win the race. If we can win Homestead, it would be the icing on top of all the cake."
LOOKING BACK: Newman began the day knowing he needed to finish ninth or better to clinch a spot in the Championship Round. And that he is where he was running on the final restart with 12 laps to go. But five laps later, he had fallen to 12th. Newman was told by his crew that he had to pass one car to make into the final four. And when Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Larson got to racing ahead of him it allowed Newman to get close enough to make a last-lap charge. He dove onto the apron below the yellow line to boost his chances as he came off turn four.
"They paved that down there I guess for a reason," said Newman. "They didn't make any rules that said we couldn't use it. I did what I had to do as clean as I could do it. I'm not the kind of guy to turn somebody, so I just drifted as much as I could (as he pulled alongside Larson. The contact pushed Larson into the wall.) I wasn't proud of it," said Newman, who got by Larson to finish 11th and edge Jeff Gordon by one spot for the final spot in the Championship Round.
"I didn't take him out," added Newman. "It's hard to rationalize, but like I said, I did what I had to do and tried to keep it as clean as I possibly could. I don't like racing that way, but there's a lot on the line. There is a Sprint Cup Championship on the line and I did all I could."
ETC.: Newman knows a lot of people are upset that he, a winless driver in 2014, is one of the four drivers with a chance to win the championship in the final race of the year. "It doesn't matter to me," said Newman. "I mean, in the end it doesn't really matter. The fastest car may not win; the best car on a restart may not win. You just never know. It could come right down to fuel mileage and three of the four of us could be coasting on the last lap. You just never know. We're in this hunt. I'm proud of all my guys. It (winning the championship) would mean a lot to me, regardless of history. Just to have a shot at it is amazing. For me personally just to have this opportunity. We are going to keep digging and hope it will be good enough to win a Sprint Cup Series Championship."
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Tied for first.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Will be seeking his seventh straight top-10 finish and 11th in the last 12 races. Has two second-place finishes and two third-place finishes in this stretch. In 13 starts has only finished outside the top 10 twice.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick is going to approach this championship week "as having a good time, having fun and really try to keep it as low key as possible, just for the fact that this is what we all signed up to do - to race for a championship and to go to Homestead and just have a chance. So, let's go down there and go for it and see where it all winds up." Harvick, who has led a series-high 2,083 laps this year, admits his confidence level couldn't be any higher. "When I climb into the car every week, I know that thing is going to be fast, and if it's not, I know we can figure out what we need to do to make it better."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick knew he needed to win Phoenix to qualify for the Championship Round and that's exactly what he did as he totally dominated the race, leading 264 of the 312 laps including the final 187.
"Wow, I guess that is what it feels like to hit a walk off (home run) in extra innings," said Harvick after his third straight win at Phoenix and fourth in the last five races. His six wins at the track are the most of any driver in track history.
"This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for this team this year. Man, I think this says a lot about our team. They put our backs against the wall; we put it in victory lane and get to go on."
ETC.: Harvick has won a lot of races during his Cup career, but "the Cup (championship) trophy is the one thing that's eluded us up until this point. I definitely want to check that off of the list and be able to experience that for not only myself, but for all the guys that work on my car and haven't been able to win that championship either. This is all about winning a championship. That's what we all show up for. We all want to be competitive on a weekly basis, but at the end of the year, you want that championship trophy. I've been fortunate enough to have won all of the marquee races and won at different race tracks, Nationwide championships, and truck championships as an owner, so we've been able to achieve a lot of things. It's been fun and hopefully we can reach that goal (Sunday afternoon)."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship will be decided not only by the drivers but their teams in the pits.
In-race decisions by the crew chiefs, the hands-on preparations and adjustments made by the crew members, and the coordination between the four contending drivers and their teams will impact the drama as it unfolds in South Florida.
"It will be a battle of mental toughness," predicts Luke Lambert, the 32-year-old crew chief for Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
"At any given point throughout the weekend, each of the four championship contenders will be faced with situations that will be less than ideal. Exactly what that is going to look like, I can't say, but the team with the best mental toughness will be the one that rises above."
Guaranteed, the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) will be a Sprint Cup event like no other.
For the first time, four and only four drivers have the chance to win the title. The champion won't necessarily have to win the race, only find a way to finish in front of his other three rivals because previous points don't matter.
"We'll definitely monitor what's going on with the other competitors," said Darian Grubb, crew chief for Denny Hamlin. "You don't have to win. You just have to be in front of the other three -– and you don't have to be in front the whole race -- only at the end of 400 miles.
"Before that, it doesn't really matter what position you are on the track."
If experience becomes the deciding factor, give Hamlin and Grubb the edge.
Grubb, 39, captured the 2011 Sprint Cup title at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Tony Stewart.
Hamlin has won the final race of the year at Homestead twice in nine starts, including last year with Grubb as his crew chief.
"We should be able to adapt and do what we have to do to perform," Grubb said Tuesday when NASCAR got the four championship-contending crew chiefs together for a teleconference. "The fact that we were able to win last year shows that we know how to run up front.
"I've won twice here as a crew chief, Denny has won the race twice and raced for the championship under similar circumstances, so the pressure should not make us crack where some other guys down there may."
Hamlin is a decidedly more mature driver than he was in 2010, when he came to Homestead leading the points but succumbed to the pressure and could not hold off Jimmie Johnson for the championship.
"Denny is that relaxed individual now," Grubb said. "He's matured a ton since the last time he was here in a battle for a championship. He knows that adding stress is not going to add anything to performance.
"We had some pretty big problems at Phoenix (on Sunday) and he didn't get out of control. We managed to get a top-five out of it and make our way to the Championship Round."
Like each of his three competitors, Kevin Harvick has never won a Sprint Cup title. But he seems unlikely to crack. And if momentum matters, he and crew chief Rodney Childers might have an advantage.
Harvick has two victories in the last five races, including Sunday's dominant performance at Phoenix International Raceway. Moreover, Harvick has finished in the top 10 in 11-of-13 career starts at Homestead, including in each of the last six years.
"Anytime you win a race going into that last one, I think it gives everyone a boost," said Childers, thrilled with the progress his team has made, considering it had to build a program from the ground up in Harvick's first year at Stewart-Haas Racing.
"We had parts and pieces that had never been raced before. When we started the season, we didn't have a single chassis, radiator, not even fuel lines. ... We were building our trailer. We didn't have a jackstand or a bench for our shop. Every bit of that, we had to make. The coolest thing was to see how hard everyone worked to get all that stuff done."
Undeterred by a start to the season in which Harvick finished 36th or lower in four of the first seven races, the Stewart-Haas team persevered.
The crew found speed for Harvick, who won eight Coors Light Pole Awards, including two in the Chase after he and non-Chase qualifier Tony Stewart swapped pit crews.
"Going into that deal, we all knew that something had to be done," said Childers, who has top 10s in six of the first nine Chase races. "The crew that had been on the 14 had been in high-pressure situations before and we all thought about what was the right thing to do for the company.
"This wasn't just Kevin saying he didn't like his pit crew. We all thought this was the right thing to do to win a championship."
But if the team that best overcomes adversity prevails, well Todd Gordon and driver Joey Logano might have the inside track.
Running second 125 laps into Sunday's race, that was Logano's fuel can that went sliding into the next pit stall, resulting in a penalty that left him in 29th place and ultimately put him a lap down.
The previous week, at Texas, loose lug nuts in the last 40 laps dropped Logano from fourth to 22nd. But the 24-year-old Team Penske driver recovered to salvage a 12th-place finish and take the points lead into Phoenix.
"We've faced adversity in the last two weeks and recovered from it," Gordon said. "It's a statement of where this team is and what we're made of."
Gordon believes Logano has what it takes to be a champion.
"When Joey walked in here (from Joe Gibbs Racing last year), I think he walked in with confidence and knew what he needed in a race car," Gordon said. "He knew this was his opportunity and his race team and he's owned that.
"That confidence is something that we believe in -- and this whole race team believes in Joey. He's 24 years old now and he's been in the Cup Series for six years. He's got a lot of bangs and bruises, but he understands the business and what it takes for us to be successful together."
If consistency wins over speed, Lambert and Newman will be the perfect combination.
The only team of the four not to test at Homestead, Newman has yet to win a race this season but utilized top 10s in five of the last seven Chase races and a last-lap bump of Kyle Larson at Phoenix to nudge his way into The Championship 4.
"As that lap unfolded, I was just curious if it would be possible for Ryan to mount any sort of challenge and get door-to-door with the 42," Lambert said.
"I guess I was a bit in shock watching it all unfold and pleased to see what we needed to happen for us to transfer."
Lambert won't be surprised if any team shifts its focus from its own car to what competitors are doing late in Sunday's race.
"Early on, you have to execute the best you possibly can," he said. "I don't think early in the race it will be very important to focus on what the other teams are doing.
"In the closing stages, when you're down to one final pit stop or the final run or run-and-a-half, then you start racing against your competitors."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Ryan Newman has no reason to apologize.
Sure, Newman dive-bombed Sunoco Rookie of the Year front-runner Kyle Larson on the final lap of Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, but there were extenuating circumstances.
For Newman, that one move, made in the final two corners of the final lap of the final race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round, defined an entire season.
And the hands that held the steering wheel of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet also held the fate of Jeff Gordon.
It was a case of cosmic balance. Newman's aggressive pass of Larson in Turn 3, where Newman steered his car to the apron, hit the gas and used Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet as a cushion, earned an 11th-place finish -- just enough to advance to Sunday's one-race Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Newman's gain was Gordon's loss, as the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, a sentimental favorite to win a long-awaited fifth title, won't get the chance this year. Newman's pass of Larson was worth one point in the Chase standings, and that one point edge cut Gordon out of the Chase like a cruel scalpel.
For the final 70 laps, the suspense was riveting. Gordon ran comfortably in second place, unable to challenge runaway winner Kevin Harvick. Newman rode on the cusp of elimination and was running 14th -- and out of the money -- when NASCAR called the track-record-tying 11th caution for debris on the frontstretch.
At that point, Newman's crew chief, Luke Lambert, made what proved to be the pivotal call of the race. Lambert opted to forego a pit stop under the yellow, and Newman gained nine positions by staying out. He lined up fifth for the restart on Lap 293.
But Newman's car wasn't good on restarts, and before the next caution flag waved on Lap 296, Newman had dropped back to ninth. Soon after the race restarted with 12 laps left, Newman lost positions to Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marcos Ambrose and Larson.
At that point, the No. 31 was running 12th and again out of the money. And at that point, Lambert began exhorting his driver, saying repeatedly on the radio, "One more spot."
Newman got that spot on the last lap, diving into Turn 3 and door-slamming Larson's Chevrolet. The impact knocked Larson into the Turn 4 wall, but Larson still managed to cross the finish line in 14th.
Newman said later that he didn't like to race that way, but there was no reason for misgivings. Nor was there any need for Newman to recall the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on the half-mile dirt track at Eldora Speedway, where Larson "used me up," as Newman put it, on a succession of restarts.
Sunday's race was not about evening a score. It was about doing what was necessary -- whatever was necessary -- to survive and advance under a Chase system in which an entire season can be distilled into one bold, aggressive move.
No apologies necessary. And no regrets warranted.
As the season finale approaches, and Newman, Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano prepare to race for the series championship, Newman will field countless questions about his status as the only eligible driver without a victory this season.
It's entirely possible that Newman could post the highest finish among the four drivers at Homestead and claim the title without winning the race. After all, Newman already has defied conventional wisdom by advancing to the Championship Round.
But if he does bring Richard Childress Racing its first championship since the late Dale Earnhardt last won in 1994, let's hope Newman confines his emotions to celebration.
Because there won't be any reason to apologize for that either.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The right side of Ryan Newman's Caterpillar Mining Chevrolet bore more than a few dents and scuffs, emblematic of its epic struggle on the track.
At least one or two of those blemishes might deserve a place in history, representing the bumping of Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Kyle Larson that ultimately gave Newman the chance to battle for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Although he took little pride in the method, Newman did what he needed to do on the final lap of Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Simply put, push came to shove as Newman forced Larson up against the wall to accomplish his mission.
"I wasn't proud of what I had to do, but I did what I had to do as cleanly as I could do it," Newman said. "I'm not the kind of guy to turn somebody, so I just drifted as much as I could to get in there. My Caterpillar Mining Chevy stuck on the apron and we made it.
"I guess the only mistake I made all day was showing these guys what I'll do on the last lap when everything is on the line. I think if Kyle Larson was in my shoes, he'd have done the exact same thing. I don't like racing that way, but there's a lot on the line here."
Newman, 36, is in his first year driving for Richard Childress Racing, a team which last won a championship with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1994. Competing in his 13th full Sprint Cup season, he has never finished higher than sixth in the point standings.
Although Newman has won 17 NSCS races and 51 poles, he'll be the only title contender this season without a victory on his 2014 resume.
"Just to have a shot at it (a championship) is amazing," Newman said. "With respect to RCR and Dale Earnhardt Sr., if you're going to follow in anybody's footsteps and have some history, that's the man.
"But I won't strap into the race car thinking of that next Sunday. I'll strap into the race car thinking about what we've got to do to get the Caterpillar Chevrolet into Victory Lane."
Childress thinks the elder Earnhardt would have been proud of Newman's efforts at Phoenix.
"Ryan drove with his heart," Childress said. "That is what it took to get in.
"It is unbelievable ... (being) in it for the championship when we go down there (to Homestead-Miami Speedway). That (last set) of tires was the worst set that we had all day long. We had run in the top five, six, seven, eight. Then that set of tires just knocked us plumb out of it. But (Newman) made it happen."
Actually, Newman and his pit crew had to make things happen early on after sliding from his 20th starting position to 25th in the first 11 laps, then as far back as 27th after the race's first caution. Gaining positions on consecutive pit stops, Newman broke into the top 10 by the time the race was 100 laps old.
Newman entered Sunday's race third in the point standings, needing a ninth-place finish or better to clinch a spot in the Championship 4. Rallying from 14th with 34 laps left, he was sitting in ninth on the final restart with 12 laps remaining.
However, Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed him on the restart. Then Marcos Ambrose got by him on fresher tires. After that, Larson roared by.
Newman was left in a desperate situation, knowing he had to make a decisive move on the final lap.
"I tried to get the best run I could off Turn 2," Newman said. "And I had one of the best runs of the race I had off of Turn 2 at that point. Kyle was right on (Ambrose's) rear bumper and when he went into Turn 3, I think he slipped just a little bit. I just went down to the bottom, no matter what. I figured I'm going to try this and see if it works - and it did. I don't know how much of it was racing luck."
Newman said his last-lap maneuver would probably have been impossible before the track at Phoenix International Raceway was slightly revamped during a 2011 repaving project.
"They paved that (area) down there, I guess, for a reason," he said.
Race winner Kevin Harvick wasn't surprised by Newman's move and knew he needed to be wary of similar tactics as the race leader.
"In the end, you've got to be ready for everything," Harvick said. "The 24 (Jeff Gordon) and 2 (Brad Keselowski) racing on the bottom, to me, had the most intriguing lineup. This format has just created (situations where) you have to do things you normally wouldn't do."
That fact alone will make next Sunday's Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway a very different animal than what has been the norm when it comes to the last race of the season and the battle for the Sprint Cup title.
Normally, Jimmie Johnson is one of the drivers with a real shot at the championship as the series heads to southern Florida, and usually only one other driver has any chance of keeping Johnson from adding to his long list of championships.
But NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France wanted more drivers to have a legitimate opportunity to win the title at Homestead so he decided to completely change the format for this year's Chase for the Championship to ensure that four drivers will go to Homestead with a very real shot at it.
And to make sure none of the four -- Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman - has any advantage, all four will start the race tied for first place.
At Homestead, there will no bonus points for leading a lap or leading the most laps.
The highest finisher among the final four will be the 2014 champion.
It took until the last lap at Phoenix Sunday to determine who the final four would be. Johnson, a six-time champion, had been eliminated earlier in the new Chase format that eliminates four drivers after every three races.
Harvick knew he had to win the race. "Because," he said, "everybody that we were racing against was running up in front of the pack. That was our goal coming in here and that's really the goal every time we come to Phoenix. This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for this team this year."
Harvick not only won the race but did so in dominating fashion as he led 264 of the 312 laps in posting his third straight win at Phoenix and fourth in the last five events. His six wins at Phoenix are the most of any driver in track history.
"Man, I think this says a lot about our team," he said. "They put our backs against the wall; we put it in victory lane and get to go on."
And it is Harvick who may be the early favorite since he has been the driver to beat at most of the races this season, leading more laps than anybody -- 2,083. That is more than double the laps Logano has led.
"When you are having a season like this and doing the things that we have done this year, you just want to finish it out (with a championship)," said Harvick.
But Logano, who has won five races, has won more races this season than Harvick, who has won four, and two of Logano's wins have come at a 1.5-mile track like Homestead, while only one of Harvick's has come at a mile-and-a-half -- Charlotte.
Hamlin's lone win in 2014 came at Talladega, a restrictor-plate race. Newman has yet to win a race, with his last victory coming over a year ago at Indianapolis.
Both Logano and Hamlin came to Phoenix needing only to finish 11th or better or 12th if they led a lap. And each one did. But both of them ran into major problems and had to battle back to qualify for the Championship Round.
Hamlin, who won the pole and led the first 24 laps, was running fourth when a broken valve stem cut his right-rear tire as he left pit road during first yellow flag. The second stop to change tires dropped him to 36th on the restart, and two different times he went a lap down to Harvick.
But he got both laps back and rallied to finish fifth.
"What a crazy day," said Hamlin. "It looked like it wasn't meant to be. But we just kept fighting. I'm so proud of my team. Now we get to go to Homestead, one of my favorite tracks, with a shot at the championship."
Hamlin won the 2013 finale for his second win at Homestead. He has two other top-five finishes in nine starts at the Florida facility.
"And our test went really, really well there," adds Hamlin. "I'm very encouraged after the test we had there two weeks ago. I told you all (the news media) before the Chase started that I feel really better about winning Homestead than Martinsville, and after our test I still believe that. This is just an unbelievable day and gives us a lot of confidence going into next week."
Logano was running fourth when a gas can got lodged in his car as he left pit road during the fourth caution flag of the day. The pit-road penalty dropped him to 26th.
"When the 4 car (Harvick) laps you, you don't know how the race is gonna play out," said Logano. "When those situations happen, you try to stay calm, but it was just so hard because there's so much on the line. Then we got crashed when the 18 (Kyle Busch) was spinning out, but we were able to recover for a sixth-place finish after all that. My hat's off to all the Shell/Pennzoil guys on this team. They deserve to be in the final four. We proved it throughout this whole Chase and really this whole year. We're gonna have some fun next week going for a championship."
Logano has already called this "the greatest season of my career. And now we get to go and try and win a championship."
Newman knew he needed to finish ninth or better to earn a spot in the final four. And he was ninth for the final restart with 12 laps to go. But five laps later, he was passed by Marcos Ambrose and rookie Kyle Larson, who both had fresher tires.
With five laps to, he was told he had to pass either Ambrose or Larson to make the Championship Round.
Larson was the one in front of Newman as they got the white flag.
"I just gave it my all," said Newman, who drove down onto the apron to get a good run coming off the fourth turn. He got alongside Larson and pushed Larson into the marbles to earn the spot and become one of the final four.
"I did what we had to as clean as I possibly could," said a relieved Newman. "I wasn't proud of it but I will do what I got to do, to make to this next round. That little boy (Larson) has got a lot of things coming in this sport. I think if he was in my position he would have probably done the same thing.
"I'm whipped. I haven't been this tired in 312 laps around this place in a long time. To have a chance to go to the last race with a shot at the championship -- I mean we are all tied. Any one of the four of us can win."
Newman's best finish at Homestead is a third that came in 2012. He has four top-10 finishes in 12 starts.
Logano's best finish is eighth, which came last year in his fifth start.
Harvick finished second in 2008, which started a streak of six straight top-10 finishes.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A victory at Phoenix -- and a dominating one at that -- was exactly what Kevin Harvick needed to keep his hopes for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship alive.
But a second-place finish in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 did Jeff Gordon no good, thanks to a final-lap banzai run by Ryan Newman, who passed rookie Kyle Parson for the 11th position on the final lap to eliminate Gordon from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by a single point.
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, who shared the Chase lead entering the Eliminator Round's final event, both recovered from bizarre errors on pit road to join Harvick and Newman in next Sunday's championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The driver who finishes highest among those four will claim the series title.
"Wow, I guess that's what it feels like to hit a walk-off in extra innings there," said Harvick, who completed the season sweep at Phoenix with his fourth victory in the last five races there. "I could tell that we were probably going to have to win, because everybody was running up in the front of the pack that we were racing against. That was our goal coming in here and that's really the goal every time you come to Phoenix.
"This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for this team this year. To do that in front of all your almost hometown fans (Harvick is from Bakersfield, Calif.) and all these people who have been rooting for me since the mid-'90s is pretty unbelievable. Man, I think this says a lot about our team. I think we have been through a lot this year. They put our backs against the wall. We put it in Victory Lane and get to go on."
As such, Harvick goes from desperation mode-needing a victory at Phoenix to advance to the season finale-to the role of favorite at Homestead, given the speed his cars have shown all season long.
Asked to handicap the championship race, Gordon was emphatic, and for good reason. He chased Harvick to the finish line and fell 1.636 seconds behind in the final 12-lap run.
"I like Harvick," Gordon asserted. "Yeah, I think Harvick looks really good... the guy has led the most laps all year long, guys. It's not me that's saying this. I do think that Denny won that race (at Homestead) last year, so he can be really, really strong there.
"But Kevin looked good there in the test (in late October), and, man, they've just been so strong lately, and it seems like they've gotten some of the bugs worked out in their team that they had early in the year. And I think if they do that next week, they're going to be really tough to beat like they were today."
In winning for the fourth time this season and the 27th time in his career, Harvick led 264 of 312 laps, 40 more circuits than he led in a dominating win at the one-mile track on March 2.
In addition to Gordon, third-place finisher Matt Kenseth, fourth-place Brad Keselowski and 15th-place Carl Edwards failed to advance to the final race with their title eligibility intact. Kenseth fell three points short of Newman in the final tally.
Conversely, Hamlin and Logano overcame potential Chase-ending mistakes to claim their positions in the final race.
On Hamlin's first pit stop, under caution on Lap 30, the rear tire changer's air gun inadvertently knocked the valve stem off and flattened the tire. Hamlin returned to the pits and restarted 36th. Twice during the race, he fell a lap down to Harvick but took advantage of two free passes as the highest-scored lapped car and ultimately finished fifth.
The crew gained three positions for Hamlin on his final stop, from 11th to eighth, even though five drivers stayed out on older tires. Hamlin parlayed his improved track position into a top five.
Logano was penalized when he dragged a fuel can that had not disengaged from the coupler out of his pit stall under caution on Lap 123. Like Hamlin, Logano lost a lap to Harvick but took advantage of a "lucky dog" before a restart on Lap 206 and rallied to finish sixth.
Those comebacks gave Logano and Hamlin more than enough margin to qualify for the championship race.
"I think Denny and I had the exact same day out there," Logano observed. "Both of us had a little issue on pit road and got stuck back there, went down a lap, (and) we recovered and we finished fifth and sixth. We really kept our cool throughout the day. I think that was important. We were able to get the lucky dog, then had some damage avoiding the 18's (Kyle Busch's) crash, was able to fix that and recover again to get ourselves back in.
"Definitely a drama filled day for sure, not what we wanted. We were hoping for just a normal, uneventful day to just get a nice top 10 is all we needed-which we ended up doing, but it was definitely eventful along the way. Proud of my team, proud of everyone to get us to this point, and we'll have some fun next week, go for a championship."
Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is guaranteed at Homestead: with Harvick, Hamlin, Logano and Newman competing for the title, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have a first-time champion.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500
Phoenix International Raceway
Sunday, November 9, 2014
1. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 312, $253498.
2. (7) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 312, $209141.
3. (5) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 312, $187016.
4. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 312, $159433.
5. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 312, $129750.
6. (4) Joey Logano, Ford, 312, $141381.
7. (10) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 312, $96265.
8. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 312, $98890.
9. (28) Greg Biffle, Ford, 312, $129465.
10. (21) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 312, $115585.
11. (20) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 312, $95465.
12. (14) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 312, $113823.
13. (8) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 312, $112335.
14. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 312, $116379.
15. (13) Carl Edwards, Ford, 312, $98640.
16. (24) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 312, $99448.
17. (18) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 312, $117215.
18. (23) Aric Almirola, Ford, 312, $117476.
19. (9) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 312, $112315.
20. (29) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 312, $115373.
21. (22) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 312, $95765.
22. (32) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 312, $87590.
23. (11) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 312, $106579.
24. (34) David Gilliland, Ford, 312, $103273.
25. (35) David Ragan, Ford, 312, $101648.
26. (30) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 311, $90323.
27. (26) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 310, $85087.
28. (33) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 310, $78390.
29. (38) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 310, $77765.
30. (41) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 309, $76640.
31. (31) Michael McDowell, Ford, 309, $75015.
32. (37) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 308, $74840.
33. (42) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 308, $74715.
34. (6) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 308, $122431.
35. (12) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 305, $82465.
36. (43) Mike Wallace(i), Toyota, 303, $82310.
37. (27) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 302, $82175.
38. (25) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 283, $117866.
39. (15) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 235, $119066.
40. (17) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Accident, 211, $96121.
41. (36) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Accident, 204, $57130.
42. (40) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, Accident, 147, $53130.
43. (39) Mike Bliss(i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 16, $49630.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 99.991 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 07 Mins, 13 Secs.
Margin of Victory: 1.636 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 12 for 58 laps.
Lead Changes: 8 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin 1-24; J. Logano 25-32; D. Ragan 33-34; J. Logano 35-43; K. Harvick 44-83; D. Earnhardt Jr. 84-87; K. Harvick 88-124; M. Annett # 125; K. Harvick 126-312.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 3 times for 264 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 24 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 17 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 4 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 2 laps; M. Annett # 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: D. Hamlin - 4,112; J. Logano - 4,111; R. Newman - 4,103; K. Harvick - 4,102; J. Gordon - 4,102; M. Kenseth - 4,100; B. Keselowski - 4,095; C. Edwards - 4,088; Kyle Busch - 2,280; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 2,271; A. Allmendinger - 2,256; G. Biffle - 2,244; J. Johnson - 2,239; Kurt Busch - 2,229; K. Kahne - 2,202; A. Almirola - 2,170.