Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Roush to honor old friend as part of ‘600 Miles of Remembrance'
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 23, 2016

    By Don Coble

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      The black and white photograph of childhood buddies on a go-kart serves as a constant reminder of simpler times, when the bonds of friendship were tied by endless afternoons of playing baseball, fishing or building a crude street racer powered by a small lawnmower engine.

      It's a picture taken 63 years ago. For Jack Roush, it continues to keep alive the memory -- and reverence -- of his neighbor, Jimmy Woolard, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War 16 years after all four were photographed on the homemade go-kart.

      "That [picture] stopped the time for me," Roush said.

      The photo included Jimmy, Jack, Jimmy's brother Butch Woolard and Jack's brother Frank.

      That picture, and a longstanding relationship with his former neighbors, led to Roush Fenway Racing playing its role in NASCAR's "600 Miles of Remembrance" during Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX).

      Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s No. 17 Ford Fusion will proudly honor the ultimate sacrifice made by Roush's friend who lived two doors down in his hometown of Manchester, Ohio.

      Stenhouse's name will be replaced across the windshield by the name "SP4 James Woolard."

      "Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. "As the NASCAR industry reflects on Memorial Day Weekend, we're proud to honor these and all fallen service members in a way that helps ensure their stories and lives are never forgotten."

      As far as Roush is concerned, it's more than a continuation of NASCAR: An American Salute, the industry's collective expression of reverence, respect and gratitude for those who have served and continue to defend the United States today.

      To him, it's personal.

      Roush wanted to enlist in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, but classes for navigators and pilots were full. By the time the draft was implemented in 1969, Roush wasn't eligible to be drafted because he already was married with a child.

      "I felt like I didn't do my part," Roush said. "That's why I'm proud to do this, to recognize the loss the family had, the loss of a son and brother."

      The family hasn't forgotten its relationship with Roush. They've stayed in touch for the past 15 years, and Roush has offered to fly all family members from Southern Ohio to the race to join in the celebration.

      Butch Woolard now is the publisher of The Signal newspaper in Manchester, a job that's been part of the family business for the last 70 years.

      "My mom [Georgia Woolard] is 94 and she's never been to a race," Butch Woolard said. "We don't know if 600 miles is a good one to start her with. If we can't make it, you can be sure we'll be watching on television."

      Like Roush, Butch Woolard forever will be connected by a friendship that started long before four best friends were photographed on the go-kart.

      "Everyone in Manchester loved that go-kart except my father because we took the engine out of his lawnmower to build it," Woolard said. "Jim was an all-around, All-American boy who liked playing baseball and basketball, or going fishing."

      And riding the go-kart.

      Specialist Fourth Class James A. Woolard, a member of the U.S. Army's A Battery, Sixth Battalion, 29th Artillery, Fourth Infantry Division, died Nov. 3, 1969, from injuries sustained five days earlier in a mortar attack near the Cambodian border at Pleiku in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. He was 19.

      Shortly before his death, Jimmy sent a photo to Butch of a young Vietnamese child sitting on his lap clutching a candy bar.

      "He told me, 'This is what I'm doing here. I'm trying to make their lives better,'" Woolard said. "He volunteered to go there because he wanted to do something mom and dad couldn't do for him."

  • Kenseth's car losing Dollar General as primary sponsor
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 23, 2016

    Dollar General announced that it will end its primary sponsorship of Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Toyota driven by Matt Kenseth at the end of its current 30-race deal.

    • One of the largest sponsorship deals in NASCAR, Dollar General's deal is valued at more than $20 million annually, according to The Sports Business Daily. The company also has some track assets in NASCAR.

      "Our strategy to reallocate our future marketing assets into new programs is strictly a business decision to align our priorities to better serve our customers in this rapidly changing retail environment," the Tennessee-based company said in a statement.

      Dollar General first became a primary sponsor of the No. 20 in 2011, then driven by Joey Logano. It signed on initially for 12 races, then increased to 17 in 2013, 27 in '14 and 30 last year. With 30-race deals becoming increasingly rare in the sport, the JGR team is expected to fill the void with one or more deals in the near future. Stanley Black & Decker and Dewalt are other current primary sponsors of the No. 20 car.

      JGR has three other Sprint Cup cars that are either entirely or almost sold out of inventory. SBD speculated that one of the sponsors for the other cars could potentially step up as a primary sponsor for Kenseth's car.

      Dollar General's announcement is the first of several expected shakeups in sponsorships, with Mobil 1 and Bass Pro Shops for Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 14 car also up for renewal this year.

  • All-Star race format confuses drivers, fans
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 23, 2016

    Is this any way to run a major league racing series? NASCAR, which has been very successful this year with its new low downforce aerodynamics package, used a new race rules package for its Sprint All-Star Race and the results were mixed at best.

    • The good news: the Sprint All-Star Race was one of the more exciting in the long history of a variety of formats used to spice up the action in an exhibition race where no points are awarded. That was thanks to the new low downforce package, which included an experiment in this race to reduce it further.

      The other news: many drivers and fans spent much of the Sprint All-Star Race confused about how suddenly nine drivers got a lap down.

      The race was run in three segments consisting of two 50-lap sprints, each with a required pit stop, and a final 13-lap sprint. The final segment generated a battle between Joey Logano and Kyle Larson that was one of the more memorable finishes in the 25-year history of running the race under the lights at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was consistent with other races this year where overtaking was made possible by the low downforce rules.

      But afterward, NASCAR's senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, more or less apologized to members of the media and indirectly to drivers and fans for the confusion that started at the conclusion of the first 50-lap segment.

      The trouble started when Matt Kenseth's crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, left him on the track too long before taking the required pit stop in the first 50-lap segment. When a caution flag waved for Jamie McMurray's incident with three laps remaining, the pits were closed and Kenseth was the leader because he had not yet stopped and he had nine lapped cars behind him. The 50-lap segment ended before the pits were open, prohibiting Kenseth from pitting, trapping the nine drivers.

      "We had obviously a format that we've never done before," Miller told media members at the NASCAR hauler. "We worked diligently and tried to come up with every scenario and an answer for every scenario that might crop up.

      "This is not something we do every day, this type of race. We ran into a situation where our race procedures didn't give us the opportunity for a wave around. It created a lot of confusion and it's something if we continue on with this format we have to look at. You have to expect that certain circumstances are going to happen in this type of racing. We had one crop up (Saturday night) that maybe we could have been more ready for."

      Was the commotion and confusion worth it? The format generated a lot of excitement and that's a good thing. Miller hinted the format could be tweaked and it would be wise enough not to throw it out despite the troubled debut.

      Up until the Kenseth-Ratcliff affair, the opening segment saw different and interesting pit strategies. The random drawing to determine how many drivers on the lead lap had to pit before the final segment and how many had to run the last 13 laps on worn tires helped generate the compelling finish. Winner Logano chasing down and passing leader Larson made for an extraordinary result on the 1.5-mile track, where passing is usually at a premium and rarely occurs with the checkered flag in sight.

      Larson, who hit the wall due to over-exertion after Logano passed him with two laps to go, said the Penske Racing driver "raced me clean" and had no complaints.

      "He took the air off of me a couple of times, which is cool, and he did a fabulous job of side-drafting me coming down the front straight," Larson said.

      All was not lost for the driver of Chip Ganassi's Chevy, who scored his first victory in a Sprint Cup car earlier on Saturday by narrowly edging Chase Elliott in one of the preliminary qualifying races.

      There was a lot of bellyaching from drivers who were put a lap down. (The list of lapped drivers included Kenseth, who was given a one-lap penalty for not pitting in the opening segment.) The complaining drivers had good reason.

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first of the lapped cars and got the Lucky Dog award prior to the start of the second 50-lap segment and eventually finished third. So the lapped drivers were not necessarily out of contention -- except for the fact they were scored a lap down.

      "NASCAR did make sure all the lineups were correct before we went back to green," Earnhardt said. "So you can't really complain about that too much. It was just an unorthodox way of doing it. I don't know. I think they ran into some scenarios (Saturday night) that they didn't really anticipate and got caught off guard. I think (Kenseth) obviously not pitting, however that worked out, that threw them for a loop and everybody was confused from that minute on."

      Kenseth counted himself among the confused.

      Tony Stewart, one of those who were lapped, got caught in a multi-car accident at the rear of the pack one lap after the restart for the second 50-lap segment. His Chevy suffered two impacts, which apparently did not cause his still recovering back any problems. Stewart, who will retired from driving at season's end, declared the race "screwed up" and said he was "glad" it was his last All-Star race.

      There is an easy cure for the problem. In the second 50-lap segment, drivers were required to pit with no more than 15 laps remaining. A similar rule could be invoked for the opening 50 laps, preventing a late caution from coming into play.

      As it was, four drivers sought to find an advantage by pitting late in the opening segment. Winner Logano, Penske teammate and runner-up Brad Keselowski, plus Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were the four drivers whose teams tried this strategy. They all pitted with less than five laps to go in the segment, took two tires and then took two more fresh tires in between the two segments.

      Each was a contender for victory before Busch got caught speeding entering the pits and Edwards' Toyota was discovered to have a loose lug nut. That eventually left Penske Racing with a one-two finish and a handsome purse, including the $1 million to the winner. Ironically, it was Keselowski who first suggested using this type of All-Star format.

      If nothing else, it will be an All-Star race that will be remembered for years to come, although not necessarily for the right reasons. Recalling who actually won might become a good trivia question.

  • Larson gets aggressive in Sprint Showdown
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 21, 2016

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- Different week. Different circumstances. Same driver.

      Last Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Kyle Larson was chasing Matt Kenseth for the win in the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

      Larson treated Kenseth, the 2003 series champion, with the utmost respect, taking great pains to run the veteran driver as cleanly as possibly. Kenseth won, with Larson trailing him in second place by a fraction of a second.

      But that was not the case on Saturday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Larson was battling Chase Elliott for the lead in the final segment of the Sprint Showdown, with the last spot in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (9 p.m. ET on FS1) on the line.

      When Elliott tried to pass Larson to the outside through the final corner, Larson ran Elliott's car into the outside wall. And as the cars continued side by side to the finish line, Larson turned into the driver's-side door of Elliott's car to break his momentum. Larson got to the stripe first by .016 of a second.

      Different circumstances. Different result. No apologies.

      After all, Larson was confident the fans would vote Elliott into the All-Star Race if he didn't transfer, and Larson was right.

      "He had the run," Larson said. "I just had to squeeze him. So I'm sure he's upset with me. But it's a non-points race and we're going for a million bucks. I felt like I had to get it done, especially knowing that he would be in the race and I wouldn't."

      A frustrated Elliott finished second in two segments of the three segments of the Showdown by a combined .020 of a second (he was .004 of a second behind Trevor Bayne at the end of the first 20 laps).

      "Kyle did what he had to do to beat us back to the line," Elliott said. "We had a real good run. I hate to not to race your way in. That's pretty frustrating on my behalf. I just didn't do a very good job.

      "Regardless, it was great to have some great fans to get us in this race because I couldn't get it done for us."

      Fans vote Patrick into all-star race

      Danica Patrick wasn't fast enough to transfer into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, but as one of two fan vote winners, she earned a place in the 20-car field.

      And Patrick thought she picked up information from the Sprint Showdown that would help her efforts in the main event -- not to mention in the May 29 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

      "I definitely felt like there were some things we could learn from getting out there," Patrick said. "Obviously, we got put in the challenging situation of having zero practice with the new package (because of rain on Friday) and just going out and racing. So there were definitely some issues and we had to kind of Band-Aid them for the couple of segments that we had out there. But I really want to do better.

      "I feel like I was at the wrong place at the wrong time a few times out there. But on the plus side, I felt like we learned about the car. Even if we didn't make it through, we were going to be more prepared for next weekend. But it's just even that much better to know that I have incredible fans that always come through."

      Blaney done in by restart violation

      Clearly, Ryan Blaney had one of the strongest cars in Saturday's Sprint Showdown, but a restart violation with one lap left in the race's first 20-lap segment squelched his hopes of advancing to the Sprint All-Star Race.

      Blaney was in hot pursuit of leader Chase Elliott when NASCAR called a caution on Lap 15 because of Michael McDowell's spin through the infield grass. To begin Lap 20, the one that would decide the first transfer position, Blaney and Elliott entered the restart zone side by side.

      But NASCAR flagged Blaney for jumping the restart, a penalty that sent the No. 21 Ford to the rear of the field for the start of the second segment. Blaney spent the rest of the race trying to work his way to the front and fell two spots short, finishing third in the final 10-lap run.

      "First of all, we had a really, really good car," Blaney said after the race. "We had a shot at the first segment, and the 24 (Elliott) kind of took my line away there (before the caution), which is what you're supposed to do, and then we had that restart. He was spinning his tires on the bottom and the 6 (eventual segment winner Trevor Bayne) was pushing me, and I was half-throttle on the brakes and I don't know what to do.

      "I've got someone driving me forward, and the 24 is spinning his tires. I don't know what I could have done to stop. I really don't, and we maybe beat him by two feet. I don't know. It's such a weird and tricky call to make. It's a judgment call and it's unfortunate it bit us, but I think one thing we can look back and be proud of is how fast our car was. It's a shame we won't be racing tonight, but it’s definitely something to look forward to next week (in the Coca-Cola 600)."

      Yes, Blaney beat Elliott to the start/finish line, which is permissible on a restart. But Blaney was penalized for putting power down in the restart zone a split second before Elliott did, which is not permissible.

  • Bayne, Biffle, Larson on top in Showdown
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 21, 2016

    CONCORD, N.C. -- The Sprint Showdown NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday was productive for Roush Fenway Racing, as Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle won the first two segments of the three-segment, 50-lap race to advance to the Sprint All-Star Race. Kyle Larson won the final segment, a 10-lapper.

    • Meanwhile, Chase Elliott and Danica Patrick were the top-two vote-getters in the Sprint Fan Vote to also advance to the All-Star Race, scheduled for Saturday night at Charlotte.

      After winning segments, drivers dropped out of the event per a NASCAR rule, already earning spots in the All-Star Race.

      The Sprint Showdown originally was scheduled for Friday night, but rain throughout the day and into the night on Friday turned the event until a daytime Saturday affair.

      Bayne took the lead on a restart with two laps remaining in the first 20-lap segment and drove on the segment win to become the first driver from the Showdown to claim a spot in the Sprint All-Star Race. Prior to Bayne's late-segment move to the front, Elliott was the only race leader after starting on the pole, with Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon running second and third until only in-segment caution in the first segment for a Michael McDowell spin with about five laps to go.

      Biffle took a convincing win in the second segment after taking the lead about five laps in. Elliott started up front with Dillon and Biffle in second and third after between-segment, mandatory pit stops.

      After running near the front in segment one, Blaney started segment two in the back after jumping a restart in the first segment. Dillon took the lead from Elliott on the restart to start the second segment and led only a handful of laps before Biffle took command. After Biffle took the lead, Larson moved into second and ran runner-up to Biffle for the remainder of the segment.

      Larson claimed the third segment win after a last-lap physical battle with Elliott. Blaney finished third after recovering from his restart-jumping penalty. Larson got off pit road after a mandatory two-tire stop before the start before the final 10-lap sprint to the finish. A.J. Allmendinger and Landon Cassill restarted second and third for the final segment. Elliott restarted 10th after taking four tires.

      When the race restarted for the final time, Elliott, with the advantage of four new tires to others' two, quickly got up through the field. After working his way up to second, he closed on Larson in the final laps.

      NOTES: With new rules for the Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race for 2016, more drivers advanced from the Showdown to the All-Star Race than in years past. In previous years, the top-two finishers from the Showdown advanced to the All-Star Race, along with one fan vote winner. ... Rain at Charlotte Motor Speedway that canceled all on-track activity on Friday resulted in the Sprint Showdown starting grid being set by car owner points, putting Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon on the front row. ... Cars/drivers already in the Sprint All-Star Race got a very limited amount of practice time Saturday morning, but Sprint Showdown competitors ran their event with no practice. ... Drivers with points-paying race wins in 2015 or up to this point in 2016, along with previous All-Star Race winners and past Sprint Cup champions are already qualified for the Sprint All-Star, and therefore, did not compete in the Sprint Showdown. Twenty-five cars competed in the 2016 Sprint Showdown.

  • Rain backs up Charlotte schedule
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 20, 2016

    CONCORD, N.C. -- The Sprint Showdown NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition event scheduled for Friday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.

    • Rain cancelled or postponed all on-track activity scheduled for Friday.

      When the race goes green, Chase Elliott will start on the pole. Beside him the front row will be fellow Chevrolet driver Austin Dillon.

      The starting grid was set based on car owner points after rain forced the cancellation of event practice and qualifying also was scheduled for Friday.

      "We'll have a few different opportunities in each of the segments (of the Showdown) to try and race our way in (to the All-Star Race), so that's our goal and what we're going to try to do," Elliott said.

      The rescheduling puts the Sprint Showdown on the same day as the Sprint All-Star Race. Before 2015, both events were usually scheduled for the same evening.

      The Sprint All-Star Race is set for approximately 9 p.m. Saturday.

      NOTES: The Sprint Showdown is a 50-lap event divided into three segments -- two at 20 laps followed by a 10-lap segment. The leader at the end of each segment will receive a starting spot in the All-Star Race. ... Of the Sprint Showdown participants not advancing in the All-Star Race by virtue of winning a segment, the top vote-getter in an online fan vote also will advance to the Sprint All-Star Race.

  • Harvick addresses extension
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 20, 2016

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- After announcing a multiyear extension to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick used much of his media session on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to set the record straight about rumors that ran amok since the announcement earlier this season that SHR would switch from Chevrolet to Ford in 2017.

      Harvick said there wasn't a shred of truth to reports he had been contacted by Hendrick Motorsports to replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

      "It got so out of control that I actually went to Kasey Kahne and I said, 'Look, man, here's what's going on,'" Harvick said before Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (9 p.m. ET on FS1). "And I told him there's not been one person that's called me from your organization, and I want you to have the trust in your team.

      "I want you to believe in your team. I want you to keep working on the things that you're working on, but here's where it's at. Here's what I'm doing. Here's what I see. Here's how it's going to go. And here we are up until last week still running around."

      Even though Harvick has been a Chevrolet driver for the vast majority of his NASCAR career -- and for his entire 16-year stint in the Sprint Cup series -- the manufacturer change at Stewart-Haas was not the sort of move that would have caused him to leave the organization.

      In fact, though his contract is up this year, Harvick said Stewart-Haas held a two-year option on his services. But Harvick and SHR went through a complete restructuring of his contract after the implementation of the owners' charter system this year, one of the byproducts of which was to change the distribution of purse money.

      "I would tell you, yes, that's probably what originally started all the conversations, and things snowballed from there into 'well, let's just make this better since we're going to have to work on one portion, let's just get rid of the whole thing and start over and just make it all right so it's all right going forward and everybody's on the same page.'

      "But that's definitely what started the conversations."

      Though Harvick didn't specify the terms of his new contract with Stewart-Haas, he did say that, typically, his deals span "four- or five-year chunks," which would take him to his mid-40s by the end of the current term.

      "It's all been great with the management at SHR," Harvick said. "I never even worried about having to take phone calls or place phone calls or put our team in a position to go out -- my personal team -- in a position to go out and talk to other people. That was never the case.

      "It was just extending an extension that needed to be put in place because, in the end, it's like I've said several times, I feel like I've got the best crew chief in the garage (Rodney Childers).

      "Our team has been performing well and doing the things that they need to do, and I like the challenges that face us in the future. That motivates me to have those things in place. And so it's all been good. It's just been some crazy rumors that, however they got started, they got started."

      Tire wear will dictate all-star strategy

      This year's unique NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race format, which requires the first nine, 10 or 11 drivers to start the final 13-lap segment on old tires (with the specific number determined by lot) with cars on new tires behind them, already has drivers thinking about hypothetical scenarios.

      Drivers in 12th place or worse entering the final segment, where only green-flag laps count, will be guaranteed fresh rubber, and that number is crucial to a lot of calculations.

      "We have to see how the tires wear," said Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. "That's really going to be the key. And then, man, it's just I was going through it this morning ... if you're running sixth or seventh before the final stop, I don't know, then it becomes maybe a race for 12th or something.

      "I just don't know how this thing is going to play out. The advantage that I have is we have a really fast pit crew, so I feel like even if we're not leading and we feel like the tires are the deal and we're running fifth or something we could still come off of pit road first. I think for us and for my team, fortunately, because of my pit crew, I have more options I believe."

      On the other hand, the restart for the final segment will be anything but orderly.

      "Somebody brought up the fact that, (with) the complete chaos that's going to ensue when they drop the green flag, you might be better off being in the back with fresher tires, because I believe some people are going to be wrecking," Edwards said.

      "I think the factor that's going to determine what you do is how much the tires fall off, how much advantage do you have. I don't know, it's going to be -- before that caution comes out, there's going to be a lot of people trying a lot of different things."

  • 2016 All-Star race makes point with payoff
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 19, 2016

    The Sprint All-Star race, which pays no points, will actually have one key point this year. NASCAR officials have required teams to make changes to their cars' aerodynamics to test rules for 2017. Previously, the only impact the all-star race had on the rest of the schedule was starting feuds or injuring drivers due to the helter-skelter format.

    • Because the absence of points and a segment format designed to encourage more aggressive driving, NASCAR's version of the all-star game has generally been a throw away exhibition, often resulting in cars on wreckers. But the rules testing may put more emphasis on making it to the finish so that drivers and teams can evaluate under racing conditions what might become standard rules next season.

      On the other hand, the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is about bragging rights among the teams, almost all based in the Charlotte area. Also, the multi-car teams will generally have more than one car to evaluate under this one-race scheme. "Boys, have at it" may again reign, especially given the unusual twist in the final segment.

      To reduce aerodynamic side force on cars, teams will not be able to use any "skew" in the set-up of the rear tires. Teams usually have "toe out" on the outside tire and "toe in" on the inside tire at the rear. "It will take some of the skew out of the car, which will take some side force off the car," said Gene Stefanyshyn, the senior vice president of innovation and racing development for the sanctioning body. The rule adjustment is expected to slow corner speeds by about three mile per hour.

      This year's reduction in downforce has produced a positive response from most drivers all season and generated the sort of close racing evidenced at Dover International Speedway last Sunday, when Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott dueled over the final 20 laps. But to choose this year's package, NASCAR ran three of the 2015 regular season races with rules different from those used to determine who made the post-season Chase in the other 23 events. That angered even some of the larger teams that adapt well to rules changes and NASCAR evidently has listened to those complaints.

      With eligibility rules that have limited the automatic invitees – race winners from 2015 and 2016, plus past champions from this race and the Sprint Cup – the entry will reflect an all-star format. Perhaps most interesting will be the Sprint Showdown on Friday night, which will determine three additional drivers – one each from "heat" races. Among those eligible who need a victory of any kind are Austin Dillon, Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Kyle Larson. Unlike rookies or the journeyman drivers on the less well-endowed teams, these drivers, who have not seen victory lane in a long while or have never seen it in a Sprint Cup car, need to demonstrate they can win races.

      Two other drivers on the "needs to win" list are past Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who is among the 15 locked in starters on Saturday night, and Kasey Kahne, who is a past all-star race champion. It is possible to advance to Saturday night and win it all. Kahne did that in 2008 when he advanced due to the fan vote, which this year will account for two of the entrants to reach the minimum of 20 drivers.

      The unusual twist in this year's 13-lap final segment will be a lottery to determine which four cars must stay out of the pits and finish the race on used tires. The other 16 drivers will pit for either two or four tires and line up according to how they exit the pits. For the first time in the all-star race's long and varied history, the final segment might resemble actual points races, which often feature a variety of tire strategies in the closing laps.

      The last two all-star events have been yawners and the race generally has had trouble living up to its first night race. That was back in 1992, when the Charlotte track first installed the lights that would eventually revolutionize racing for NASCAR and Indy cars once other tracks more than 1.0 miles in length added lights.

      Davey Allison won the first night race in one of Robert Yates' Fords after catching and slightly edging the Pontiac of Kyle Petty owned by Felix Sabates. After contact at full throttle, Allison then crashed into the front straight wall and had to be airlifted to a hospital by helicopter due to a concussion. Before narrowly losing to the oncoming Allison, Petty survived a Turn 3 battle with Dale Earnhardt Sr.

      In the days when NASCAR's popularity was trending upward, a sellout crowd estimated by journalist in attendance at 100,000 watched the race won by daredevil Allison and several thousand more gathered outside the track to observe a limited view of the high banks in Turn 3.

      Attendance has had its ups and downs since then for the all-star race, like other NASCAR events. Given the rules test at least something more than going for bragging rights, otherwise known as crashing rights, will be accomplished.

  • Harvick signs extension with Stewart-Haas Racing
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 19, 2016

    Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion, has signed a long-term extension to remain with Stewart-Haas Racing.

    • Harvick, 40, has 32 career Sprint Cup victories. Nine of those championships have occurred since he joined SHR in 2014.

      "It was a big decision to join Stewart-Haas Racing and it has turned out to be my best decision," Harvick said in a statement. "I came to Stewart-Haas Racing to win championships. We have one, but that only made us hungry for more. I'm very happy to have my future secure with a team so dedicated to winning."

      Harvick has been consistently good during the 2016 season, finishing in the top five (including one victory) in 12 races.

      "Kevin's results speak for themselves, and in addition to those numbers, he brings a presence to our team that makes everyone want to work harder," co-founder and driver Tony Stewart said in a statement. "Kevin Harvick has made Stewart-Haas Racing a better team and he will continue to be an integral part of our future."

      Keeping Harvick in the fold was pleasing to co-founder Gene Haas.

      "When you have talented people who consistently deliver results, you hold on to them," Haas said in a statement. "Kevin Harvick is an exceptional talent and we're very proud to have him a part of Stewart-Haas Racing for years to come."

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 18, 2016

    NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: Sprint All-Star Race (113 laps over three segments of 50, 50 and 13 laps, 169.5 miles), Charlotte Motor Speedway; Concord, North Carolina.

    • TV: Saturday, May 21, 9 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: NASCAR's annual all-star event, a non-points paying exhibition race that includes a $1 million prize to the winning driver/team, returns for its yearly competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This will be the 32nd annual renewal of the All-Star race, with all but one edition having been hosted by CMS. … Denny Hamlin won last year's All-Star Race for Joe Gibbs Racing. … Jimmie Johnson is the winningest driver in All-Star history with four wins, followed by three each from the late Dale Earnhardt and recently retired Jeff Gordon, and two wins each by the late Davey Allison, Terry Labonte and Mark Martin. All other winners have won the race just once in their career. … Hendrick Motorsports leads all teams with eight All-Star wins, followed by four each from Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing, and two wins each by Junior Johnson & Associates, Robert Yates Racing and Penske Racing. … Chevrolet has won the most All-Star Races (17), followed by Ford (10), Dodge (1), Pontiac (1) and Toyota (1). … Prior to Saturday's main event, the Sprint Showdown will be held on Friday, with the top two finishers earning transfers into the All-Star Race. One other driver will also “transfer” into the All-Star event, that coming via the top vote-getter in the Sprint Fan Vote.

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: The series is off this weekend.

      THEN AND NOW: Erik Jones captured last Saturday's Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second, followed by Alex Bowman, Justin Allgaier and Ty Dillon. … Winners of the first 10 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Texas), Austin Dillon (Fontana), Erik Jones (Bristol and Dover), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond) and Elliott Sadler (Talladega). … Elliott Sadler leads the Xfinity Series point standings with 349 points. Daniel Suarez is second (346 points), followed by Ty Dillon (319), Justin Allgaier (317), Erik Jones (309), Brendan Gaughan (305), Brandon Jones (290), Brennan Poole (282), Darrell Wallace Jr. (268) and Ryan Reed (244). … The next Xfinity Series race will be the Hisense 4K TV 300 on Saturday, May 28, at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: NORTH CAROLINA EDUCATION LOTTERY 200 (134 LAPS, 201 MILES); Charlotte Motor Speedway; Concord, N.C.

      TV: Friday, May 20, 8:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: The Truck Series returns to Charlotte for just the 14th time. Kasey Kahne, in a one-off start, won last year's Truck race at CMS. Kyle Busch has won six of the first 13 Truck races there, including four of the last six starts. … Two-time series champ Matt Crafton earned his first win of the season this past weekend at Dover. … Winners thus far this season have been Johnny Sauter (Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta), Kyle Busch (Martinsville), William Byron (Kansas) and Matt Crafton (Dover). … With his win at Dover, Crafton vaulted five spots in the standings to take over the Truck Series points lead (124 points). Timothy Peters is a close second (122), followed by Daniel Hemric (119), Ryan Truex (118), Spencer Gallagher (112), William Byron (111), John Hunter Nemechek (108), Tyler Young (101), Christopher Bell (99) and Tyler Reddick (96).

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: INDIANAPOLIS 500 QUALIFYING, Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Indianapolis, Indiana.

      TV: Saturday, May 21, 4 pm to 6 pm ET -- ABC. Sunday, May 22, 4 pm to 6 pm ET (bump day) – ABC.

      THEN AND NOW: Qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes place this weekend at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Drivers will qualify Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. ET. That session will lock in the first 10 starting drivers for the 500. On Sunday, drivers will qualify – or in some cases, have to qualify again if they are bumped out of the top 33 cars for the 33-car field on race day. In addition, there will be three practice sessions on each day. … Juan Pablo Montoya is the defending winner of last year's Indianapolis 500. … Simon Pagenaud won this past Saturday's Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course race at IMS. It was Pagenaud's third consecutive win this season, following victories at Long Beach and Birmingham. … Pagenaud (242 points) has jumped out to a commanding lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings. Defending series champion Scott Dixon is second (166), followed by Montoya (160), Helio Castroneves (159), Graham Rahal (133), Tony Kanaan (111), Charlie Kimball (111), James Hinchcliffe (110), Ryan Hunter-Reay (109) and Will Power (105).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: NHRA KANSAS NATIONALS, Heartland Park Topeka; Topeka, Kansas.

      TV: Final eliminations on Sunday, May 22, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 (live).

      THEN AND NOW: Last year's winners at Topeka were Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock). … Winners of the most recent race, last weekend at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Of note in last weekend's race, Kalitta and teammate J.R. Todd raced to the closest Top Fuel finish in NHRA history, with a .0000 margin of victory for Kalitta. Also, Line continued his torrid streak in Pro Stock. He has now won four of the first six races and finished runner-up in the other two thus far. … In the NHRA point standings, Doug Kalitta leads Top Fuel (586 points), followed by defending series champ Antron Brown (522), Brittany Force (518), Steve Torrence (474) and J.R. Todd (418). … In Funny Car, Courtney Force remains No. 1 (522 points), followed by Jack Beckman (482), Tim Wilkerson (476), Ron Capps (471) and Robert Hight (458). Defending Funny Car champ Del Worsham climbed from seventh to sixth place (429 points, while John Force is seventh (416). … In Pro Stock, Jason Line continues to lead the standings (812 points), followed by teammate Greg Anderson (716), Bo Butner (553), Drew Skillman (432) and Chris McGaha (393). Defending series champ Erica Enders (289 points) dropped to ninth place and is more than 500 points behind Line. … In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec leads the standings with 353 points, followed by defending series champ Andrew Hines (233), Hector Arana (207), Jerry Savoie (204) and Chip Ellis (193).

  • Strong bloodlines highlight 2016 NASCAR Next class
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, May 17, 2016

    By Reid Spencer/NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed for The Sportzs Xchange

      For a Driver's Education dropout, Todd Gilliland has done pretty well for himself in the racing world.

      Gilliland, a member of the 11-driver 2016-17 NASCAR Next class announced on Tuesday, turned 16 two days ago, but that didn't mean a trip to the DMV for a North Carolina driver's license was in the offing.

      Even though Gilliland has achieved a spectacular start in stock car racing, he'll have to wait a while to be street-legal, thanks to a conflict during his first stint in driver's ed.

      "I had an ARCA race in Iowa that I had to go run, and I had to quit driver's ed and go to that," Gilliland said. "I actually don't get my license until January. I have to wait a little bit longer, but it's going to be fun when I get it."

      Not as much fun, however, as racing provides. The third-generation driver already has enjoyed enormous success in his young career.

      In November 2015, Gilliland won his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut at Phoenix International Raceway. Subsequently, he has posted two wins and a runner-up finish in three more starts in that series, along with one victory in two starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

      Gilliland also won his ARCA debut at Toledo in May 2015 before finishing ninth at Iowa last July in the race that delayed the acquisition of his street license.

      The son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland and the grandson of former Winston West Series champion Butch Gilliland, Todd isn't the only member of the NASCAR Next class who features strong racing bloodlines.

      Harrison Burton, 15, is the son of 21-time Sprint Cup winner Jeff Burton and the nephew of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton. To Harrison, inclusion in the NASCAR Next class is an opportunity of substantial importance.

      "It gives me a huge amount of optimism," Harrison Burton said. "With the time I've spent with the NASCAR Next people, I can already tell how helpful they're going to be, helping me build my brand and progress in my career.

      "They've done a great job communicating with all the drivers about anything, really—any questions you have about anything you can possibly think of, whether it's racing or a social issue. They're there to help."

      Burton paid particular attention to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of Next alumnus William Byron, who took his first checkered flag in the series on May 6 at Kansas Speedway. Burton and Byron soon will have more than just NASCAR Next affiliation in common.

      "Not only is he from NASCAR Next, he's in a KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) truck, which is what I'm going to have the privilege to drive at Martinsville (Oct. 29), so there are a lot of reassuring things going on right now. It's definitely the best opportunity I've had in my life, as far as racing goes. I'm so thankful for it."

      Burton draws heavily on the experience and wisdom of his father, who has moved from the seat of a NASCAR Sprint Cup car to the NBC Sports television booth.

      "He's had so much experience in the racing the world," Harrison Burton said. "He helps me on the race track at times, but I think his biggest influence has been off the race track, not only helping me with media and being under the microscope, I guess you could say.

      "He's always been just a dad to me. We'll go out and play basketball. It's always cool to have stress-relieving time with him, because racing is so full of stress."

      While Jeff Burton is in the booth at the race track during NBC's half of the schedule, David Gilliland now occupies a perch high above the asphalt for his son's races.

      "My dad just recently started spotting for me, and I think that's one of the best decisions I've made in racing, just because of all his knowledge up there," Todd Gilliland said. "He's definitely always willing to help me out, and he's definitely not afraid to share anything he can to make me better."

      Like Harrison Burton, Gilliland sees the NASCAR Next program as an important step in his career.

      "It's super special," Gilliland said. "When you hear the names like Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and all the guys who've made it to the top three series in NASCAR and been successful, I look to follow in their footsteps and learn from all the great people surrounding NASCAR Next and take every opportunity as I can and work on it."

      Gilliland and Burton, however, are part of a new Next class with impressive backgrounds and resumes. Here's a look at the entire group of drivers and their credentials:

      Harrison Burton (@HBurtonRacing) -- The 15-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, has climbed to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series after setting the record last year as the youngest Division I race winner in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history.

      Collin Cabre (@CollinCabre12) -- In his second season driving for Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, the 22-year-old from Tampa, Florida, captured his first career win last October after making the successful move from racing sprint cars.

      Spencer Davis (@SpencerDavis_29) -- The 17-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia, driver has shown a proficiency in nearly everything he's raced. After winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award last season in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Davis has transitioned to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, where he has established himself as a championship contender with top six finishes in his first seven series starts dating back to last season.

      Alon Day (@Alon_Day) -- One of two international drivers on the list, Day is the first NASCAR Whelen Euro Series driver to earn a NASCAR Next recognition. Day, 24, from Ashdod, Israel, completed his first full season in the Euro Series as championship runner up. Including the final two rounds of 2015, Day has won four of the last eight Elite 1 races and is again a threat win the title.

      Tyler Dippel (@Tyler_Dippel) -- An accomplished dirt racer, the 16-year-old from Wallkill, New York, has already scored his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory in March. Dippel previously competed in the DIRTcar Racing Series in the northeast, earning the rookie of the year title and becoming the youngest race winner in that series.

      Todd Gilliland (@ToddGilliland_) -- The 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, made NASCAR history by winning his first four career NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts. He became the youngest winner in series history with his victory last fall, and has followed it up with wins in both the K&N Pro Series East and West season openers this year.

      Noah Gragson (@NoahGragson) -- The 17-year-old from Las Vegas finished second in the championship standings last year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, collecting the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the process. Gragson followed the path set by Kyle and Kurt Busch, learning his trade in the Legends and Bandolero Divisions at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He earned a pair of K&N Pro Series West wins in 2015 and is again a championship contender.

      Gary Klutt (@Garyklutt) -- The second Canadian to be named to the program and the first full-time driver from the NASCAR Pinty's Series, Klutt represents a crop of young drivers making an impact on Canada's championship stock car series. The 23-year-old from Halton Hills, Ontario, earned his first career pole and win last year en route to being named the Jostens Rookie of the Year. He finished fifth in series points and will be among the title contenders when the series opens later this month.

      Julia Landauer (@julialandauer) -- Landauer, 24, from New York City, got her start racing a variety of cars – from Formula BMW to Ford Focus Midgets to stock cars. The versatile Landauer was a contestant on the hit reality show "Survivor" before graduating from Stanford in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Science, Technology, and Society. She became the first female to win a Limited Late Model division championship at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, last year before graduating to the K&N Pro Series West this season.

      Ty Majeski (@TyMajeski) -- The 21-year-old from Seymour, Wisconsin, showcased his ability with a dominating display at Florida's New Smyrna Speedway in February, collecting three wins and earning the 2016 Super Late Model championship in the 50th Annual World Series of Stock Car Racing. Majeski added a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model track record and victory in the FrostBuster at Wisconsin's LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in April.

      Matt Tifft (@Matt_Tifft) -- A development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, the 19-year-old from Hinckley, Ohio, is driving part-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for JGL Racing as well as JGR, and racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Red Horse Racing. He earned his first career pole in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Talladega earlier this month.

      Since the inception of the NASCAR Next program 2011, 27 of the 35 drivers who have been selected as part of the program have gone on to compete in one of NASCAR's three national series. Nearly a third of the drivers have made a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, with nine drivers winning a NASCAR national series race.

      The last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookies of the Year have been NASCAR Next alumni, as are the top two contenders for this year's award: Blaney and Elliott. The last three Sunoco Rookie of the Year winners in both the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series also were part of the NASCAR Next program.

  • Upstarts Larson, Elliott fall short of first victory
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 16, 2016

    It looked like a changing of the guard was going to take place at the Dover International Speedway on Sunday.

    • As the sun ducked in and out of clouds over Delaware, old man Matt Kenseth, 44, was trying to hold off a couple of upstarts at the end of a wreck-strewn race on the Monster Mile.

      A couple of accidents in the last 45 laps, including one involving 18 cars when leader Jimmie Johnson's Chevy blew a transmission, had wiped out many of the contenders. It appeared that either Kyle Larson or Chase Elliott -- two young twenty-somethings -- would finish off Kenseth as well. Each of the youngsters was looking for a first career victory.

      The final 20 laps had enough suspense to last a lifetime. In the end, age and experience outlasted youth and exuberance. Third-year driver Larson, 23, would get his Chevy alongside of Kenseth twice through sheer gumption. But the guile of the leader made it tough to take a winning line without contact. Rookie Elliott, 20, took second briefly from Larson, looking as if he might freight train his Chevy to the front. Then his fellow young upstart returned the favor.

      Once again, the new low downforce package for the Sprint Cup resulted in a fine finish, as Kenseth ended his hard-luck streak with a 0.187-second margin over Larson.

      Once again and for the seventh time this season, it was a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that won. One more time, the Gibbs team showed its depth of talent, notching its 135th career Sprint Cup win, which ties Roush Fenway Racing for third on the all-time list.

      With most of the laps in the rear-view mirror, one other JRG contender, Carl Edwards, lost his battle with a hustling Larson and ended up spinning into the wall. Larson was apologetic over the in-car radio but needn't have worried -- even though the impact with the inside retaining wall of Edwards' Toyota lifted it off the ground.

      It was Edwards who lost control of a sliding rear and Larson couldn't be faulted for staying in the throttle. As it was, the two cars didn't touch and Larson was guilty only of a big head of steam and a little aero bump while hunting down Kenseth with less than 40 laps to go.

      Sunday's race was the fourth runner-up finish for Larson, who decided to race one of his elders without contact. Perhaps it was for the benefit of his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team that he opined maybe a little bump-and-run would have worked better. Alas, the banks of Dover are precipitous and the narrow front straight doesn't have an outside wall protected by a SAFER barrier, which can be intimidating when it comes to close racing.

      Asked if he had any thoughts of roughing up Kenseth's Toyota to get that first Sprint Cup win, Larson said he had none.

      "I had gotten close to his bumper a couple times," said Larson, who came from a lap down to lead three times for 85 laps earlier. "I may have even got into him once. I didn't want to do anything dirty. I respect Matt Kenseth a lot. He's definitely in my eyes the cleanest racer out there. He always races me with respect. I try to do the same with him. So I was just going to try and race him as hard as I could without getting into him to beat him."

      Like most racers who are looking at Victory Lane celebrations from afar with all the team members celebrating, Larson had second thoughts about his strategy.

      "He's sitting in Victory Lane and I'm not," he said, "so maybe I need to do something a little bit different, but nothing crazy to take him out or anything. Maybe use the bumper a little bit. I don't know. "

      Unlike Martin Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch, each having a strong season without a victory to show for it, Larson may need a victory if he wants to qualify for the postseason Chase. He is 21st in the standings and 43 points behind 16th place, currently held by Kasey Kahne.

      "It would be nice to be sitting here knowing I'm in the Chase," Larson said. "But keep working hard. We got a lot of points to make up if we don't win a race before the Chase starts. Keep having runs like today and we shouldn't have a problem."

      Kenseth, who recorded his 37th career victory, finally ended a bizarre skein of garden variety bad luck to get the victory needed for this year's Chase. For those who believe in what comes around goes around, Kenseth was exhibit A at Dover. He got to the front row for a restart with 45 laps remaining by taking two tires instead of four on his pit stop under yellow. Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff were counting on the clean air at the front. But an array of drivers whose cars had four tires -- which surely is an advantage over so many laps -- was behind him.

      When leader Johnson's car stacked up half a field of cars in the outside lane leading to the massive pile-up and a red flag, Kenseth breezed into the lead before the young guns began to apply the heat. A second caution for the wreck of Edwards put another cycle on the tires of those drivers who took on four.

      "It all worked out for us, kind of the opposite as I feel like it's been going the last couple months," said Kenseth, who has struggled even to record a top-10 finish. "We've had really fast race cars. We've been in position to win a lot. This wasn't our fastest car by any means. But we were able to be there at the end of the race and pull it off."

      The older Busch, who is a remarkable third in the points standings despite no victories, might have been part of the showdown during the races' fourth and finest hour. But he tagged the wall while trying to pressure Larson from third place.

      Truex, who now has the hard-luck mantle all to himself, was right behind Johnson's Chevy on the fateful re-start and could not escape the carnage. He led twice for 47 laps and certainly had one of the cars to beat. The normally unflappable driver told his team via the in-car radio, "I want to get out and punch somebody."

      As for Elliott, rookies are not expected to win, necessarily, and he recorded the best Sprint Cup finish of his career. So it goes in the beauty of youth.

      "When you're racing around people, it just slows everybody down," Elliott said. "When the 42 (Larson) got into the 20 (Kenseth), I was able to catch them, got a run on Kyle. Looking back, wish I had done some different things to open up some clear lanes and run different lines."

      It was a reminder of the old adage that drivers first have to learn how to run at the front and then they have to learn how to win.

  • Dover notebook: Despite third-place run, Elliott wants more
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 15, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DOVER, Del. -- Chase Elliott needs to do a better job.

      Not of driving a race car, mind you. He needs to do a better job of enjoying his own accomplishments.

      When he arrived in the media center after finishing a career-best third in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Elliott seemed almost disappointed. After all, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate hadn't converted his first real opportunity to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

      Elliott was close. On Lap 381 of 400, during the final 35-lap green-flag run, he passed Kyle Larson for second and set his sights on leader and eventual race winner Matt Kenseth. Instead, Elliott lost second place to Larson three laps later and had to settle for third.

      "Well, I hope I'm close," Elliott said when asked if he felt his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team is on the verge of a victory at NASCAR's highest level. "Doesn't really matter what I say. Till you go get it done, it really is irrelevant.

      "For me, I think I have a team that's capable of doing it. The way I see today, we had our shot, we had a chance to do it today, (and) I didn't do it. It's as simple as that. Either you do or you don't, and we haven't yet.

      "Had a lot of fun racing with those guys at the end there. Like I say, hate to not get the job done and be so close, but we'll keep digging at it and try to get a little better."

      ANOTHER BIZARRE DOVER FAILURE FOR JOHNSON

      In last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover, Jimmie Johnson had his race -- and his hopes for a record-tying championship -- waylaid by the failure of a rear end seal.

      On Sunday, as Johnson led the field to green for a restart on Lap 355, an uncooperative transmission kept his car from surging forward and ultimately started a wreck that involved half the remaining field in Sunday's AAA 400.

      As Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet failed to launch, the outside lane accordioned behind him, and Johnson turned sideways after contact from Martin Truex Jr.'s Toyota. Cars behind him bounced off the walls and off each other.

      "As soon as I went from second (gear) and tried to go to third, I kind of got up into the neutral gate of the transmission and didn't even go to third," Johnson said. "It stopped before it ever went to third. And then I tried fourth and third and fourth and eventually I got hit from behind. There was a long pause there where I was trying to, I thought maybe I missed a shift; but it wouldn't go in gear.

      "Martin was good and patient with me. He gave me a couple of opportunities to try to find a gear, and it just locked out and wouldn't go into gear for some reason. It was still that way at the end, and I couldn't drive the car and I don't think I'm all that damaged, but unfortunately I lost a shot at winning, and I hate to see all those cars tore up."

      From Johnson's perspective, the malfunction was unprecedented.

      "In my career, I've never had a transmission do that to me," he said. "I've had them kind of lock out of reverse at a test session or even in the garage area or something, but to lock out and not go across the gate and then no gear available is something I've never had before."

      BAD LUCK CONTINUES TO HOUND TRUEX

      As was the case last week at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. was in position to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

      But Truex's fortunes in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway were no better than they were a week earlier at Kansas, where he led 172 laps only to be done in by a pit road gaffe.

      After pitting on Lap 349 of 400, Truex ensured he would restart fourth in the preferred outside lane by letting the Carl Edwards precede him off pit road. But the outside lane proved to be unlucky when Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet failed to launch in front of Truex.

      Sandwiched between the Chevys of Johnson and Kevin Harvick, Truex's Toyota was damaged in the melee, and though he recovered to finish ninth, his winning chances were gone.

      "Just one of those deals -- wrong place, wrong time," said Truex, who led 47 laps before the accident. "Frustrating, but we got a top 10 out of it, so not too bad. The guys on pit road did a great job fixing it. Just hate that it happened.

      "I wanted to be fourth on that restart, but I didn't want to be fourth that bad. I should have been third, so maybe I should have not let the 19 (Edwards) beat us off pit road. I don't know how you can see those things coming. All in all, good day -- just bad finish."

  • AAA 400 Drive for Autism results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 15, 2016

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race -- AAA 400 Drive for Autism

    • Dover International Speedway

      Dover, Delaware

      Sunday, May 15, 2016

      1. (10) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400.

      2. (23) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400.

      3. (13) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 400.

      4. (11) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 400.

      5. (9) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 400.

      6. (14) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400.

      7. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400.

      8. (18) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 400.

      9. (7) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 400.

      10. (25) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 400.

      11. (19) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400.

      12. (32) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 400.

      13. (31) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 400.

      14. (5) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 400.

      15. (1) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 399.

      16. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 398.

      17. (27) David Ragan, Toyota, 397.

      18. (30) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 396.

      19. (35) Landon Cassill, Ford, 396.

      20. (28) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 396.

      21. (24) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 395.

      22. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 391.

      23. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 391.

      24. (17) Brian Scott #, Ford, 390.

      25. (21) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 387.

      26. (26) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 374.

      27. (36) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Vibration, 364.

      28. (4) Carl Edwards, Toyota, Accident, 359.

      29. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, Accident, 355.

      30. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 354.

      31. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 354.

      32. (2) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, Accident, 354.

      33. (12) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 345.

      34. (34) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Suspension, 342.

      35. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 334.

      36. (40) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 331.

      37. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Accident, 223.

      38. (38) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Accident, 204.

      39. (33) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Accident, 139.

      40. (29) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Accident, 116.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 109.348 mph.

      Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 39 Mins, 29 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.187 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 12 for 65 laps.

      Lead Changes: 19 among 10 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Harvick 1-42; C. Edwards 43-46; K. Harvick 47-120; C. Edwards 121-130; M. Kenseth 131; C. Edwards 132-143; M. Truex Jr 144-173; K. Harvick 174; G. Biffle 175-180; K. Larson 181-214; J. Logano 215; D. Hamlin 216-230; B. Keselowski 231-279; K. Larson 280-289; J. Logano 290; K. Larson 291-331; M. Truex Jr 332-348; C. Edwards 349; J. Johnson 350-353; M. Kenseth 354-400.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 3 times for 117 laps; K. Larson 3 times for 85 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 49 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 48 laps; M. Truex Jr 2 times for 47 laps; C. Edwards 4 times for 27 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 15 laps; G. Biffle 1 time for 6 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 4 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 2 laps.

      Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick -- 418; Kyle Busch -- 397; Kurt Busch -- 386; C. Edwards -- 381; J. Johnson -- 370; B. Keselowski -- 368; C. Elliott # -- 341; J. Logano -- 340; M. Truex Jr -- 336; A. Dillon -- 315; D. Earnhardt Jr -- 314; M. Kenseth -- 313; D. Hamlin -- 308; J. Mcmurray -- 296; *. Blaney # -- 288; K. Kahne -- 286.

  • Truex hopes homecoming at Dover brings change of luck
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 14, 2016

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DOVER, Del. -- After last Saturday night in Kansas, Martin Truex Jr. needed a home game, and Dover International Speedway -- the site of Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism (1 p.m. ET on FS1) -- is the closest NASCAR track to his native New Jersey.

      "It's always good to come here," Truex said. "It's my home track. I love coming up to this race track for a lot of reasons. Of course, being close to home is always neat, but a lot of friends and family come to this race, so it's always neat to see them.

      "Most importantly, I love the race track. Our cars have been fast this year, and I'm looking forward to hopefully going back to Victory Lane, that's what it's all about, that's what we're here for. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

      Dover has a special place in the fabric of Truex's career. In 2007, the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota collected the first of his three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories, leading 216 of the 400 laps and winning by 7.355 seconds.

      Since then, however, Truex has led more than 100 laps in a race on seven different occasions -- and is 0-for-7 in converting those races into wins. The latest example came last Saturday at Kansas Speedway, where Truex led 172 laps in a dominant car but lost the race when a broken bolt prevented a tire from mounting properly and cost him an extra pit stop.

      The saving grace is that, this year, the Furniture Row car has been consistently fast, and Truex has rebounded from the disappointment.

      "It's a lot easier than if you weren't fast and let one slip away and felt like your chances or the opportunity would be hard to get again or it was going to take a while to get that opportunity again," said Truex, who was seventh on the speed chart in Saturday's final Sprint Cup practice.

      "It's definitely easier when you're running good, and you feel like every time you show up at the race track there's an opportunity, (and) you can get up there and lead some laps and have a shot at winning. It definitely helps."

      But there's no medicine like winning, and for Truex, no better place to do it than at Dover.

      THREE NASCAR PERSONAGES MAKE TIME MAGAZINE LIST

      It's only appropriate that Time Magazine's recent list of the "Top 10 Most Influential Car People in Sports" would include three individuals who have made their respective marks in the NASCAR ranks.

      Brian France, chairman and CEO of the sanctioning body, was No. 5 on the list because he "puts cars in front of more eyeballs than just about anyone else in sports."

      Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas followed at No. 6 for joining forces with Tony Stewart to make his organization a "top-tier Sprint Cup contender." Also worth mentioning is the over-achieving Haas F1 team, which has already scored championship points in its debut season in Formula One racing.

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. weighs in at No. 7 because "one of every five marketing dollars spent on NASCAR is spent on Dale Earnhardt Jr. One visit to the Fanatics Trackside Superstore at any NASCAR track is all you need to confirm that assertion.

      For the record, here's the full list, topped by reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton:

      1. Lewis Hamilton, 31; Formula One race car driver

      2. Ken Block, 48; Global Rallycross Driver, Hoonigan Racing Division; founder, D.C. Shoes

      3. Floyd Mayweather, 39; Retired boxing champion

      4. Alex Vega, 41; Owner of Auto Firm in Miami, Florida

      5. Brian France, 53; Chairman and CEO of NASCAR

      6. Gene Haas, 63; Owner, Stewart-Haas Racing and Haas F1

      7. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 41; Driver, #88 car, Hendrick Motorsports

      8. C.J. Wilson, 35; Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels and owner of C.J. Wilson Racing

      9. Yoenis Cespedes, 30; Outfielder, New York Mets

      10. David Beckham, 41; Retired soccer player

      SHORT STROKES

      Two different Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas led Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practices. Kyle Busch topped the speed cart in the morning session with a lap at 157.839 mph. Teammate Denny Hamlin, who was second to Busch in the first practice, was fastest in Happy Hour with a lap at 157.329 mph. ... None of the three drivers who rolled out backup cars after crashing in Friday's practice cracked the top 15 in final Sprint Cup practice. Jamie McMurray was 17th at 154.586 mph. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick were 21st and 28th, respectively.

  • Dover notebook: Logano has no issue with Hamlin's move at Kansas
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 13, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DOVER, Del. -- Denny Hamlin has gotten mixed reviews for the late-race move that triggered a four-car wreck last Saturday night at Kansas Speedway -- but not from his peers.

      Joey Logano, whose No. 22 Ford was destroyed in the accident, didn't fault Hamlin for doing everything he could to try to win the race.

      And remember, it was contact between the cars of Logano and Hamlin at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, that caused the wreck that sidelined Hamlin with a compression fracture of the spine for four races in 2013.

      Last Saturday, Hamlin had a huge run to the outside on a late restart, charged to the front of the field and tried to split the cars of Kyle Larson in the top lane and Brad Keselowski on the bottom. Keselowski spun, and Hamlin followed suit, collecting Larson and Logano in the process.

      But Logano had no hard feelings.

      "I feel like I'm one of the hardest racers out there, and I would be quite the hypocrite if I asked why he was racing so hard," Logano said on Friday at Dover in advance of Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism (1 p.m. ET on FS1). "If you ask me, that's what fans show up to the race track to see. They come to watch a race. They expect us to race. They don't expect us to just say, 'Oh, go ahead.'

      "They expect us to race, and that's what they pay money to see. I'm going to race hard. I know that. I've done that in the past and I will continue to do that. When Denny made that move, I didn't blame him. He made a run on the backstretch and had to do something with it. He got in a bad aero spot and both of them got loose. It happens. It's racing. I am not going to say, 'Hey, why did you do that?'

      "We're racing, and these things are hard to drive. We are going to make mistakes. There's a win on the line, and it's a big deal. It's hard to do at the Sprint Cup level, and anytime you have a shot it is expected out of us, not just from the fans but from the teams to go out and make the most of it and make it happen. When I look at Denny's move, I would do the same thing if I was him, so I don't really have any room to speak."

      PATRICK, STEWART, MCMURRAY CRASH IN PRACTICE

      Not quite four minutes into Friday's opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Dover International Speedway, the rear gear in Danica Patrick's No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet exploded.

      Patrick's car bounced off the outside wall, the back of the car spewed flames, and the wounded Chevy dropped oil on the frontstretch. Patrick's No. 10 wasn't the only casualty in the wreck, one that also collected the cars of teammate (and team owner) Tony Stewart and Chip Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray.

      All three drivers returned to the track in backup cars, with Stewart completing two laps at the end of the 80-minute session.

      "I got back to the throttle in (Turns) 3 and 4, and it was like something lost power to the engine, and then it just slid sideways and hit the wall," Patrick said of her part in the incident. "I'm thinking something with oil ... obviously there was a fire, and obviously the car spun basically, but was caught by the wall.

      "For sure, there is oil all over underneath the car, and I'm not sure what happened, but for sure these are not things you normally see anymore. I'm sure they will figure it out pretty quickly what it was. Hopefully, Jamie and Tony are okay. It sucks when it takes other people with you, but unfortunate for sure."

      Kurt Busch, Patrick's teammate, noticed a problem with the rear gear on his No. 41 Chevrolet during his first two practice laps and brought his car back to the garage before a catastrophic failure could occur. As it turned out, Stewart-Haas had changed to a new manufacturer for its rear gears before the Dover race.

      After the incidents involving Patrick and Busch, the organization reverted to the gears it had used previously, including a pre-emptive change on Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Chevy. After the switch, Harvick topped the speed chart for the practice session.

  • Qualifying rainout puts Harvick, Earnhardt on Dover front row
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 13, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DOVER, Del. -- With the threat of rain on Friday at Dover International Speedway, there was an urgency to opening practice and a need for speed in the session.

      Strong runs in qualifying trim paid off for Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start first and second, respectively, in Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism at the Monster Mile (1 p.m. ET on FS1), with positions on the grid set according to practice speeds.

      "I think (the weather) definitely changes the approach," said Harvick, who picked up his only Dover victory in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the one-mile concrete track. "That's what the forecast looked like all week, and we just decided to come in qualifying trim.

      "(Crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and those guys made that decision pretty early -- I'd say about midweek -- to practice that way."

      Harvick posted a lap at 165.147 mph, which would have supplanted Brad Keselowski's 2014 qualifying record of 164.444 mph, had it been set during time trials. Practice times, however, are not eligible for official track records.

      Earnhardt ran 164.707 mph despite a less than perfect effort through Turns 3 and 4.

      "It was really hooked up for that lap we had," Earnhardt said. "And I think we were ahead of Kevin on the Dartfish (a lap-tracking computer program) going into 3. I pushed up off of 4 really bad and had to lift on that exit, but the car was really, really good.

      "I just didn't drive 3 and 4 exactly right."

      With crew chief Adam Stevens serving a one-race suspension for a lug nut violation, Kyle Busch, last week's race winner at Kansas Speedway, earned the third starting position with a practice run at 164.489 mph. Carl Edwards, a two-time winner this season, will start fourth, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman.

      Jamie McMurray, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart, all of whom went to backup cars after wrecking in the fourth minute of opening practice when the rear gear of Patrick's car failed and dumped oil on the track, will start 24th, 31st and 34th, respectively.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - AAA 400 Drive for Autism

      Dover International Speedway

      Dover, Delaware

      Friday, May 13, 2016

      1. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 165.145 mph.

      2. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 164.707 mph.

      3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Charter Team - 164.489 mph.

      4. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, Charter Team - 164.144 mph.

      5. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, Charter Team - 163.815 mph.

      6. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Charter Team - 163.741 mph.

      7. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, Charter Team - 163.681 mph.

      8. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 163.666 mph.

      9. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 163.607 mph.

      10. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Charter Team - 163.451 mph.

      11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 163.406 mph.

      12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 163.021 mph.

      13. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 162.925 mph.

      14. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Charter Team - 162.881 mph.

      15. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, Charter Team - 162.462 mph.

      16. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, Charter Team - 162.316 mph.

      17. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, Charter Team - 162.286 mph.

      18. (21) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, Open Team - 162.228 mph.

      19. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 162.199 mph.

      20. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 161.645 mph.

      21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 161.609 mph.

      22. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, Charter Team - 161.478 mph.

      23. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 161.413 mph.

      24. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 161.276 mph.

      25. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Charter Team - 161.182 mph.

      26. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 161.009 mph.

      27. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, Charter Team - 160.271 mph.

      28. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 160.157 mph.

      29. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Charter Team - 159.794 mph.

      30. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, Charter Team - 159.759 mph.

      31. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 159.398 mph.

      32. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 159.341 mph.

      33. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 159.222 mph.

      34. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 158.388 mph.

      35. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, Charter Team - 157.992 mph.

      36. (98) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Open Team - 154.110 mph.

      37. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 153.767 mph.

      38. (55) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Open Team - 153.146 mph.

      39. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, Charter Team - 152.879 mph.

      40. (30) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Open Team - 151.471 mph.

  • Stewart hits wall in 3-car wreck at Dover
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 13, 2016

    Tony Stewart smacked into the wall during Friday's practice run at Dover International Speedway in an accident that also involved Danica Patrick and Jamie McMurray.

    • Stewart, who recently recovered from a broken back, gingerly climbed out his vehicle and was examined at the medical center in the infield of the track.

      Patrick and McMurray also hit the wall and were also examined at the medical center. McMurray suffered a left elbow injury.

      The wreck was apparently caused by a gear failure in Patrick's Chevrolet and it sent oil across the frontstretch of the track. The cars of Stewart and McMurray both slid in the oil and slammed into the outside wall at high speeds.

      All three cars were heavily damaged and Patrick's Chevrolet caught on fire.

      "I don't know if it was human error or bad luck," Patrick told reporters. "I hit the wall. Obviously, there was some kind of oil or something that created that. It's not something we commonly see."

      Patrick was concerned about the condition of Stewart, her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate who has announced that he is retiring after the season.

      "I think at any point you worry about Tony," Patrick said. "Hopefully, he's all right."

      Stewart -- as well as Patrick and McMurray -- were using backup cars when practiced resumed.

      Friday's practice was the first for Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism Sprint Cup race.

  • Bonus bump: Reward Sprint Cup regular-season champ
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 12, 2016

    Now that NASCAR drivers are talking to one another more regularly about their roles in the Sprint Cup series, an idea has popped up about rewarding the "regular season champion."

    • That refers to the driver who scores the most points in the first 26 races used to determine who advances to the postseason Chase.

      Currently, NASCAR refers to the driver ahead in points at the end of the 26-race season merely as the "points leader."

      The only incentive to be at the top of the points table after the fall race in Richmond, Va., is relatively meager. If the points leader does not win a race this year, for example, and 16 drivers do win a race, he will advance to the Chase as a 17th entry. That's a highly unlikely scenario in any season, much less this one. (Austin Dillon, the highest ranking driver without a victory, is 83 points behind current leader Kevin Harvick with 15 races remaining in the regular season.)

      Among drivers who have suggested the idea of a "regular season champion" is Brad Keselowski. He suggests there's a disincentive for drivers to earn points after winning a race in the regular season, which automatically advances a driver to the postseason Chase. Instead, drivers under the current system, goes this theory, are more likely to throw caution to the wind trying to win a second race, because each victory earns three bonus points that are carried into the first round of the Chase. The incentive for becoming the points leader, according to Keselowski, is a bye into the second round of the Chase.

      This proposal sounds like one of those designed to help the drivers and not necessarily the fans. So far, drivers making the Chase talk incessantly about the pressure of the opening round, which begins at the Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 18, one week after the Richmond round. They are very wary of a format that can wipe out a season's work with one mistake in the first three-race elimination resulting in a low finish. Or, one mechanical breakdown can put a driver into the weeds.

      Keselowksi suggests that NASCAR would become more like other leagues by allowing one driver to avoid a "play in" round with a bye while 15 others battle it out in the first three races, which whittles the field to 12 drivers. But are there unintended consequences?

      First, that would put even more pressure on the remaining drivers in the opening Round of 16. Only 11 would advance instead of 12 to account for the bye given the points leader. The idea of a "regular season champion" would also put drivers back into the mindset of racing for points instead of victory, which is one of the original reasons for going to a "win to get in" format followed by elimination rounds, where a winner automatically advances.

      Keselowski is one of the brightest as well as talented drivers in the NASCAR garage and is a keen student of the sport. The 2012 champion for Penske Racing doesn't make any claims for coming up with the "regular season champion" idea, rather was the first to talk about it to journalists after conversations among his fellow drivers.

      The timing of his comments was no surprise. In last Saturday's race at the Kansas Speedway, Keselowski was involved in a rather spectacular accident that began when Denny Hamlin tried to make a three-wide pass between Keselowski and Kyle Larson. Both Keselowksi and Hamlin went into a "synchronized spin" without even touching, an accident that ruined Larson's chances of winning his first race and collected other cars in the closing laps.

      If Hamlin had a reason to be more mindful of points, would he have attempted this aggressive move late in the race to try to get a second victory and three more bonus points?

      Fans never vote in a single block, but I suspect if there was a poll most fans would prefer to see a championship system that puts a premium on winning races. A system where points come back into play as an incentive with a major bonus attached defeats the idea of putting a premium on winning.

      In the first two seasons of the elimination format, the incentive to win in order to advance has created a good deal of fan excitement. There is concern in some quarters, in fact, that fans are more interested in buying tickets to the final 12 races of the season and preliminaries to the Chase in August than in buying tickets earlier in the season. In any case, the Chase format has put an emphasis on winning and gambling to get a victory that generates excitement – even when it means a big crash like in Kansas. At least Hamlin was not content to ride out the final laps.

      There is already a provision for making the Chase on points. If fewer than 16 drivers win a race, those with the most points are added until the field is complete. It provides an incentive to the underdog and also creates some interesting strategies as the regular season winds down. Go for a victory – or hope that points will be enough to get in?

      A bonus for the "regular season champion" could well add another layer of interest to who comes out on top of the points standings at the end of 26 races. Perhaps a three-point bonus given to the points leader to carry into the opening Round of 16 would be appropriate. That's equal to the bonus for each victory a driver wins in the regular season that is carried into the opening round of the Chase. And winning the "regular season championship" might well come down to winning a race to get the four-bonus points available to each race winner during the regular season – three points for winning and a fourth for leading at least one lap.

      As it is, NASCAR's championship has already been watered down a bit by allowing a driver to be eligible for the Chase without competing in every race. The rulings allowing Tony Stewart, who has missed eight races this season, and Kyle Busch, who missed 11 races last season, to be eligible for the Chase by finishing in the Top 30 in points certainly stands in sharp contrast to previous champions who drove every race.

      But those NASCAR rulings are, at least, consistent with the idea race winners should be the ones who compete for a championship. Stewart will still have to win a race to make the Chase this year and the same was true last year for eventual champion Busch, who won the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim the title in addition to four other victories earned in just 25 races. His victories during the regular season, in fact, gave him enough bonus points to advance past the first round of the Chase last year.

      Any bonus to the points leader after 26 races should continue this new tradition of an emphasis on winning races. Providing a bonus that is the same as winning a race could well accomplish that goal in addition to giving fans one more element to pay attention to as the regular season draws to a close at Richmond.

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: AAA 400 DRIVE FOR AUTISM (400 laps, 400 miles), Dover International Speedway; Dover, Delaware.

    • TV: Sunday, May 15, 1 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: NASCAR returns to the Monster Mile, a one-mile, high-banked, all concrete track that will play host Sunday to its 93rd Sprint Cup race. … Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner of this race and has won three of the last five, part of a record 10 career wins at Dover for the six-time Sprint Cup champion. Kevin Harvick won last fall's Chase for the Sprint Cup race at Dover. Johnson will potentially be looking for revenge this Sunday: Despite his success at Dover, he was eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup after last fall's race, the last of the first round of the Chase. … Dover has added nearly 500 feet of SAFER Barrier on the backstretch and the entrance to Turn 3 to further enhance safety for drivers. … Kyle Busch won last Saturday's GoBowling 400 race at Kansas Speedway and is the first driver to win three races this season. It was Busch's first career Sprint Cup win at Kansas. He has won at every current track on the Cup schedule with the exception of Charlotte and Pocono, tying him with Tony Stewart for most wins at current tracks by active drivers (21 tracks). … Winners thus far this season have been Denny Hamlin (Daytona), Jimmie Johnson (Atlanta, Fontana), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas, Talladega), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Kyle Busch (Martinsville, Texas, Kansas) and Carl Edwards (Bristol, Richmond). … Kevin Harvick holds a slim lead in the Sprint Cup point standings. He comes into Dover with 390 points, followed by Kyle Busch (386), Carl Edwards (367), Jimmie Johnson (353), Kurt Busch (350), Brad Keselowski (332), Joey Logano (320), Austin Dillon (307), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (305) and Martin Truex Jr. (303).

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: OLLIE'S BARGAIN OUTLET 200 (2 heat races of 40 laps/40 miles each, followed by a 120-lap/120-mile main event race), Dover International Speedway; Dover, Delaware.

      TV: Saturday, May 14, 2:30 pm ET – Fox Sports (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: The Xfinity Series returns to action after having last weekend off. … This will be the 65th Xfinity Series race at Dover. Chris Buescher won this race last season en route to the Xfinity championship. Regan Smith won last year's fall race at Dover. … Elliott Sadler hopes to continue the momentum he earned two weeks ago in his win at Talladega. … Winners of the first 10 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Texas), Austin Dillon (Fontana), Erik Jones (Bristol), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond) and Sadler (Talladega). … Sadler and Daniel Suarez come into Dover tied for the lead in the Xfinity points standings. Each driver has 314 points, followed by Ty Dillon (282), Justin Allgaier (280, Brendan Gaughan (279), Brandon Jones (274), Erik Jones (264), Brennan Poole (251), Darrell Wallace Jr. (229) and Ryan Reed (221).

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: MAY DOVER RACE (200 laps, 200 miles), Dover International Speedway; Dover, Delaware.

      TV: Friday, May 13, 5:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: The Truck Series returns to Dover for the 17th time. … Defending winner of this race is Tyler Reddick, who won at Dover last May 29. … William Byron won his first career Truck race last Friday at Kansas Speedway. … Winners thus far this season have been Johnny Sauter (Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta), Kyle Busch (Martinsville) and Byron (Kansas). … Timothy Peters moved into the Truck series points lead after Kansas with 103 points. Daniel Hemric is second (95), followed by Ryan Truex (93), Tyler Young (89), John Hunter Nemechek and Matt Crafton (tied with 88 points each), William Byron (87), Spencer Gallagher (85), Brandon Brown (83) and Parker Kligerman (82).

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: ANGIE'S LIST GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS (82 laps, 200 miles on a 2.439-mile road course), Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Indianapolis, Indiana.

      THEN AND NOW: This will be the third Verizon IndyCar Series road course race at IMS. Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural race in 2014, while Will Power won last year's race. … This event serves as a prelude to the biggest race in the world two weeks later, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, on May 29. … A field of 25 drivers are entered in Saturday's race. … Simon Pagenaud, who has won the last two races (Long Beach and Alabama) leads the standings with 188 points, followed by defending series champion Scott Dixon (140), Juan Pablo Montoya (136), Helio Castroneves (118), Tony Kanaan (106), Graham Rahal (100), Will Power (94), Josef Newgarden (91), Takuma Sato (90) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (87).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.

      TV: Final eliminations on Sunday, May 15, 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

      THEN AND NOW: Last year's winners at Atlanta were Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle). … Winners of the most recent race, two weeks ago in Baytown, Texas, were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock). … Points leaders are Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Courtney Force and Tim Wilkerson (tied for Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock). The two Force sisters sitting atop their respective point classes is the first time sisters have achieved that feat in NHRA history. … In the NHRA point standings, Brittany Force leads Top Fuel (464 points), followed by Doug Kalitta (463), defending series champ Antron Brown (445), Steve Torrence (417) and Clay Millican (355). … In Funny Car, Courtney Force and Tim Wilkerson are tied for first (439 points each), followed by Ron Capps (417), Robert Hight (404) and John Force (384). Defending Funny Car series champ Del Worsham is seventh (376). … In Pro Stock, Jason Line continues to lead the standings (689 points), followed by teammate Greg Anderson (610), Bo Butner (508), Drew Skillman (399 and Chris McGaha (339). Defending series champ Erica Enders (257 points) is in eighth place, more than 400 points behind Line. … In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec leads the standings with 232 points, followed by defending series champ Andrew Hines (197), Hector Arana (154), Chip Ellis (135) and Jerry Savoie (108).

  • Truex continues run as NASCAR's unluckiest driver
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 9, 2016

    With better luck Martin Truex, Jr. would have fewer opportunities to call on a winning personality in a losing situation. He led 172 laps in the Sprint Cup race at the Kansas Speedway on Saturday night and lost after a broken bolt lodged in a wheel.

    • Truex was so fast in his Toyota he was rendering the outcome of the 267-lap race an afterthought. Then on the final trip down the pit road, a head bolt broke off the brake caliper and lodged behind one of his front wheels during a four-tire stop. Kyle Busch soon took over, holding off Matt Kenseth and then Kevin Harvick to become the first driver to win three races this year.

      "I couldn't believe it," said Truex, Jr., who is still looking for his first victory of the season. "Went around (turns) one and two and I was like, 'Wheel's loose.' I kept telling myself that maybe it's just shaking because it has tape on it or something stupid. It was loose and I knew it right away. Frustrating, but that's how it goes."

      This sounds more familiar than the Star Spangled Banner. Since his first career victory at the Dover International Speedway in 2007, where he led 216 laps, Truex, Jr. has led more than 100 laps in seven races without winning a single one. Last year, he led 131 laps in two straight races aboard the Chevy entry of Furniture Row Racing and lost both. Two weeks later, he finally won at the Pocono International Raceway – after leading 97 laps.

      Maybe that's the secret.

      Truex, Jr. should try not to be quite so dominant. Before the Kansas debacle, he led 141 laps at Texas Motor Speedway before finishing sixth. On the other hand, Truex, Jr. led just two laps of this year's Daytona 500 and lost to Denny Hamlin by just 0.010 seconds.

      "We're going to win races for sure," he said after the Kansas setback. "If we keep bringing cars like that, we're going to win some. It's frustrating when you've had it happen so many times in your career. I swear, you watch guys win races that don't have the fastest car or on fuel mileage and all this stuff and it's like, 'Damn. Someday I'm going to get on one of those or on the other side of one of them.'

      As it was, Truex, Jr. resigned himself to fate once again.

      "Usually you can dominate and win, but it's tough and it happens. It's part of racing."

      Next up on the schedule is the Dover International Speedway, the home race for the Mayetta, N.J. native. The son of a NASCAR competitor who raced in NASCAR trucks, modifieds and Xfinity Series stock cars with one win to show for it, Truex, Jr. continues to be an underdog in the Sprint Cup with three career victories midway in his 12th season.

      Now driving a Toyota for Furniture Row that is developed in collaboration with Joe Gibbs Racing, he has led a total of 370 laps this year with four Top 10 finishes and one Top 5. Starting from his first pole of the season in Kansas, he ended up 14th after recovering from one lap down after pitting to fix the wheel problem.

      While Truex's ill fortune has been running for three seasons -- including a disastrous campaign in 2014 -- it's tough to decide which driver has had the toughest luck this season: Truex, Jr. or Kenseth, who was leading going into the final two corners of the Daytona 500 before falling to 14th. Perhaps Kenseth gets the nod if only because blues man Jason Vivone has written a song about the Wisconsin driver's inability to convert fast cars into victory called The Kenseth Blues.

      "His car is on track," croons Vivone, "but he's stuck in reverse."

      Kenseth has one Top 5 and three Top 10s after leading 350 laps this season. Although he was able to briefly reel in winner Busch in the closing laps in Kansas, he was unable to capitalize on a front-row start next to his JGR teammate in the final green flag stint. At least he got this season's first Top 5 finish after finishing fourth.

      On the other end of the spectrum is Busch, whose victory made him the hottest driver in the Sprint Cup on the series' hottest team. In this victory, Busch found a way to win once he inherited the lead. Harvick, who vaulted past Kenseth on the final re-start, couldn't find a way past Busch. He got to Busch's rear bumper – and then some – exiting Turn 4.

      Busch cut him off at the pass (attempt) with a slide job. "Harvick was making it tough," said Busch. "He was right on my bumper there for a few laps. I kind of pulled slide job off of turn four, cut it a little bit close."

      Referring to Busch's Toyota and the slide job, Harvick said, "Hit a big piece of debris and knocked a big hunk out of the nose and knocked the splitter down. From that point on it was tight. Otherwise I would have drove around him. All in all, it just didn't play out that way and they were able to win the race."

      Overall, the team of Joe Gibbs, which has won six of 11 rounds this year, is making it tough for those teams used to winning regularly like Harvick's Stewart-Haas Racing team, Penske Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. Stout teams like Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports continue to be entirely shut out.

      Busch is leading the charge for Gibbs. He has led in all but two races, scored a DNF only once and has spent 679 laps in the lead. For the record, he has won 16 races in his career where he has led over 100 laps. On Saturday night, Busch led twice for 69 laps.

      Former Super Bowl-winning coach and team owner Gibbs says he doesn't recall his racing team ever being as dominant as it is now and counts himself lucky to have Busch on his squad.

      "To have Kyle as hot as he is right now, it's very hard in pro sports," said Gibbs. "The hardest thing in pro sports is to stay up there every week. Right now it's been a thrill."

  • Notebook: Johnson overcomes engine issue during practice
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 6, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      KANSAS CITY, Kansas -- After opening Friday's final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Kansas Speedway with a mock qualifying run, Jimmie Johnson brought his No. 48 Chevrolet to the garage with smoke billowing from the cowling between the hood and windshield.

      Visually, Johnson's problem was reminiscent of the issue Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne experienced at Phoenix in the fourth race weekend of the season, except that Kahne's was much more severe and prolonged.

      "It appears the No. 48 got into a similar condition that the No. 5 (Kahne) got into at Phoenix; and when it did that, it pumped some oil up into the intake manifold, and that's where the smoke came from," explained Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt.

      But Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, opted not to change the engine in the No. 48 prior to Saturday night's race (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1), a decision supported by the HMS engine operations brain trust.

      "Based on the experience we had with Kasey's engine in Phoenix, we felt comfortable checking the engine over, running it, getting the oil out of the top of the engine, and sending him back out," Duchardt said.

      "Jimmie went back out during practice. We will continue to monitor, and we have no plans on changing the engine at this time."

      In fact, after Johnson ran the engine in the garage for more than two minutes, with smoke pouring out of the exhaust as the oil burned off, he returned to the track and improved from 14th to fourth in qualifying trim during one of the final runs of Happy Hour.

      With three victories, three poles and 16 top 10s in 19 starts at Kansas, Johnson is one of the pre-race favorites in Saturday's Go Bowling 400.

      KESELOWSKI PART OF "DESIGN TEAM" FOR ALL-STAR RACE FORMAT

      NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway enlisted input from several NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in devising a novel format for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, scheduled for May 21 at the 1.5-mile track in Concord, N.C. (7 p.m. ET on FS1).

      The result, announced on Friday, is a 113-lap event that features two 50-lap segments, each requiring a green-flag pit stop to change a minimum of two tires, and a closing 13-lap shootout that counts only green-flag laps.

      A drawing before the final segment will determine whether the top nine, 10 or 11 cars will be required to come to pit road and change tires for the last run. Those cars with fresh rubber will line up behind the remaining cars, which must stay on track on old tires, which must have been changed in the second segment before Lap 85.

      "Someone reached out to me and asked me ... what we could do to make the race the best possible, and I put a little bit of thought into it," Brad Keselowski said. "I know another group of drivers did as well, and we all kind of pitched in some ideas."

      Eligibility for the All-Star Race is limited to Sprint Cup race winners from 2015 and 2016 and to full-time drivers in 2016 who are previous winners of the event or former series champions.

      In addition, three drivers will be added from the May 20 Sprint Showdown, which will be run in three segments. The winner of the first 20-lap portion of the race will qualify for the All-Star Race and will cease to compete in the Showdown from that point on.

      The same goes for the winner of the second 20-lap segment. A 10-lap last-chance shootout will determine the third and final Showdown qualifier, with the winner advancing. The Sprint Fan vote will fill the field, with the top vote-getter making the All-Star Race.

      If there are fewer than 20 drivers entered after the Fan Vote, the remaining spots will be filled by the next driver or drivers in the voting. Currently, there are 16 drivers eligible for the All-Star Race, including three-time series champion Tony Stewart, whose medical waiver for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility also extends to the All-Star Race.

      Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the new format, though, is the number of laps to be run in the final segment.

      "I would like to take full credit for that, but I think probably more credit on that belongs to the speedway, of trying to come up with a number that would stand out and, for some reason, everyone keeps asking that question, 'Why that number?'" Keselowski said. "And I think that's great. That means they were right.

      "It's not like some devil-worshiping thing, I can promise you that, but when we looked at the number it would take for the driver to drive through the field in the scenarios that we played out, on average it was eight to 12 laps. If you make a mistake, it could take as much as 15 laps, so I think that's kind of where the number came from. (It) was trying to fit in between that 10-to-15-lap range, and that was a unique number that hit it and could generate some interest."

  • Time to add road race to NASCAR Chase
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 5, 2016

    The announcement of next season's schedules for NASCAR's three major traveling series in early May is a refreshing change. One thing missing is the name of the Cup series, which will have a yet-to-be-determined new title sponsor in 2017.

    • Thursday's schedule announcement reflects how the sanctioning body is now coordinating with the sport's stakeholders, including fans, to help it grow. After signing tracks to long term contracts -- a precedent -- NASCAR can now give promoters, fans and sponsors some time for advance planning.

      But what about doing something that is also missing and much needed in the sport? If NASCAR wants to portray the champion of its premier series as the best driver in America, it should include a road race in the Chase.

      In the past 30 years, there have been only five champions who have not scored a victory on a road circuit at some time in their career. So it would not necessarily penalize drivers who don't have an affinity for road racing to add one to the Chase. Even if it did favor some drivers over others, NASCAR's champion should demonstrate the ability to race on all types of tracks and a road circuit is the only type currently missing.

      It didn't use to be this way. Starting in the 1950s, NASCAR's season-long points championship went through road circuits on a regular basis. The Chase and its postseason format changed that.

      There are several options for moving a road race into the 12-race playoffs. This includes adding a 37th race to the schedule or introducing a road circuit to the schedule while dropping an oval (the Bristol Motor Speedway's spring date comes to mind). Just as the Talladega Superspeedway was switched on next year's fall schedule to avoid having a restrictor plate track as a Chase elimination race, why not switch one of the current road circuit dates to later in the season?

      Date equity is important to fans and a long-proven formula in all forms of motor racing. The Sonoma Raceway or Watkins Glen International, each with suitable seating capacities for the playoffs, will not necessarily have to move far from their current dates.

      Because of its seating capacity and invariably interesting races, the Sonoma Raceway in California is the best candidate to move into the Chase. The best case scenario would be to leave its early summer race in place and add a date during the Chase. Bruton Smith, who operates both Bristol and Sonoma, could make that happen by dropping the spring date in Bristol, which continues to be an embarrassingly poor draw, and replacing it with a second Sonoma race in the fall.

      The Watkins Glen track became world famous for hosting a round of the Formula 1 championship in the fall when the autumn colors of upstate New York were blazing. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to move the current date from August into the first round of the Chase. If the announcement of a new date came 16 months in advance, it's likely the Glen would benefit from this change.

      In either case, the Dover International Speedway could be bumped back to the pre-Chase schedule. The one-mile Dover track is currently one of many intermediate ovals in the Chase and there would still be a mile oval in the Chase in New Hampshire and at Phoenix.

      One often wonders if the two road circuits on the current schedule arrived only because NASCAR and its title sponsors wanted to get closer to major metropolitan areas that had no nearby oval available, i.e. San Francisco and New York City. Even if that was the original intent, the racing has become really good at Sonoma after it was modified to have fewer corners and on the high-speed short course of Watkins Glen.

      The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series each have road circuits on the schedule, possibly for the same reason as the Cup schedule. The Xfinity Series races at Road America and Mid-Ohio are relatively close to Chicago and Columbus, respectively, home to some of America's biggest corporations. The circuit known as Mosport on the truck series schedule is close to Toronto and currently the only race for a traveling series held in Canada.

      But as in the Cup series, the road races in the understudy venues have proven to be worthy and exciting. They also mean that any future competitors in NASCAR's Cup series have been schooled in driving a stock-based racer on a road circuit.

      NASCAR officials have said next year's title sponsorship candidates currently number 10. If one of them is headquartered close to a road circuit, that may enhance the chances of getting one into the Chase. NASCAR officials have already said the door remains open to putting in a road circuit.

      Ultimately, it should be about proving which driver is the best. The 2015 champion, Kyle Busch, won five races during his admirable comeback from injuries. If you ask fans, media and competitors which victory last year by Busch most impressed them, it would likely be his stirring drive at Sonoma.

      A competitor doesn't necessarily have to prove to be a champion by winning on a road circuit. But the road to the title should have some right turns as well as left.

  • New rules, close racing keeps drivers excited
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Who knew at the time that Denny Hamlin's razor-thin margin of victory in the Daytona 500 would be emblematic of the 2016 season?

      With a bold move off Turn 4, Hamlin got to the finish line roughly six inches ahead of Martin Truex Jr. The official margin of victory was .010 seconds, tied for seventh closest in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.

      Two weeks later, Kevin Harvick would duplicate that winning margin when he triumphed in a drag race to the stripe against Carl Edwards at Phoenix.

      NASCAR drivers and fans alike have heralded the quality of racing this season, and there are plenty of statistics to reinforce their empirical observations. Seven of the first nine featured victory margins of less than one second, the exceptions being Atlanta, which ended under caution after 28 lead changes, and Texas, where Kyle Busch pulled away to win by 3.904 seconds after 17 lead changes.

      The seven races decided by less than a second are the most through nine events since the introduction of electronic timing and scoring.

      Three races this year have set records for green-flag passes for the lead, a loop data statistic that includes intra-lap passes: Atlanta (44), Auto Club Speedway (51) and Bristol (40).

      The 10th race of the season, Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, featured 213 green-flag passes for the lead, the second most since the inception of loop data in 2005 and only the second time that number has topped 200. The record of 219 was set at Talladega in October 2013.

      The bottom line is that 2016 already has seen a ramped-up level of competition that has drivers routinely extolling the quality of the racing. On more than one occasion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has climbed from his car after a race and waxed eloquent about the fun he's having this year.

      The question is "Why?"

      By all accounts, the new lower-downforce competition package NASCAR has implemented this season has made a huge difference. For one thing, Earnhardt says, it feeds into the egos of the drivers.

      "Man, they are way harder to drive," Earnhardt told the NASCAR Wire Service. "This seems weird to me, but it's what you want. I don't know if that makes sense to someone who's not a race car driver, but you want it to be hard, because all the guys in the garage think they're the best driver in the garage. And the harder we can make it, the better shot each one of them thinks they've got at winning, right?

      "So all of us are like, 'Make it harder; make it harder, because that helps me.' That's pretty much the mentality in there. And so, I think you see in my conversations with the fans a little bit, they're seeing the cars move around. That's something they hadn't seen in a while. They're seeing the drivers wrestle with the cars a little more, which is important, to having a more exciting product.

      "And if they can figure out a way to capture more of that, particularly with the television audience, I think we will be going in the right direction. But, yeah, the cars are way slicker, they're harder to drive, they slide around on top of the track whereas in the past, they felt forced into the track and felt much more comfortable."

      Another contributing factor is the job Goodyear has done in matching tires chosen for particular tracks with the lower-downforce rules package. Drivers and crew chiefs have long advocated for greater fall-off throughout a fuel run, and the racing this year has enhanced that aspect of competition.

      The new package also has reduced the effect of "aero-push," which in the past inhibited drivers' ability to approach and pass a slightly slower car.

      "I think the biggest thing I've noticed is just the ability to race well in traffic, the ability to run fast behind a car," Truex said. "If you run a guy down, you don't hit that wall (of air) three or four cars back and just can't go as fast as you were going before. It gives you a lot more options in traffic, a lot more passing going on.

      "A few years ago, when we had a really lot of downforce, when they dropped the green flag for the race and if you were mid-pack, you were out of control and you couldn't go anywhere, and I've seen a lot less of that. Obviously, the tires are a big, big part of what we're doing with the low downforce with the tires wearing out and the car slowing down as the run goes on. It's really opened up a lot of opportunities."

      Tire management, too, has become a much more important issue, because the lower downforce has given Goodyear the latitude to bring generally softer compounds to the track.

      "We've seen some of the races where guys that maybe aren't some of the fastest cars or don't have really good speed throughout the weekend all the sudden 15, 20 laps in a run, they start coming to the front because their cars handle well," Truex said. "So it's just given guys a lot more opportunities to pass and to make the racing exciting.

      "I feel like it's been a lot more fun to drive the cars. It's been a lot more fun to race with people, moving around, finding new grooves, and I thought 'Just look at what we saw at Richmond.' That was the first time in years that we've run anywhere except for the bottom, you know?

      "We ran all over the track and that's just highly unlikely for Richmond typically, so I think it's been really good. I feel like the races have been exciting and a lot more fun than past years, and I think they will just continue to get better as we take downforce off and make the tires softer yet."

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: GOBOWLING 400 (267 laps, 400.5 miles), Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, Kansas.

    • TV: Saturday, May 7, 7:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: NASCAR returns to the Midwest with a Saturday night race under the lights at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. … This will be the 21st NASCAR Sprint Cup race held at Kansas. … Jimmie Johnson is the defending champion of this race, while Joey Logano won last fall's Chase for the Sprint Cup race. Logano has won two of the last three Cup races at Kansas. It was at Kansas last fall that Logano wrecked Matt Kenseth, who retaliated three weeks later by wrecking Logano at Martinsville, ending Logano's championship hopes while also earning a two-race suspension for Kenseth. … While Kansas Speedway is considered the "home track" for both Carl Edwards (from Columbia, Missouri) and Clint Bowyer (Emporia, Kansas), neither has yet to win a Sprint Cup race there. Edwards did win a Truck Series race there in 2004. … Brad Keselowski won this past Sunday at Talladega, his second victory of the season. … Winners thus far this season have been Denny Hamlin (Daytona), Jimmie Johnson (Atlanta, Fontana), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas, Talladega), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Kyle Busch (Martinsville, Texas) and Edwards (Bristol, Richmond). … Kevin Harvick regained the points lead after Talladega. Harvick leads all drivers with 351 points. Kyle Busch is second (342), followed by Carl Edwards (337), Jimmie Johnson (329), Joey Logano (316), Kurt Busch (316), Brad Keselowski (300), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (279), Martin Truex Jr. (274) and Austin Dillon (272).

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: The series is off this weekend. … The next Xfinity Series race is May 14 at Dover.

      THEN AND NOW: Elliott Sadler won Saturday's race at Talladega. It was a wild finish, as Sadler won under caution after a massive wreck on the fronstretch coming to the checkered flag. Brennan Poole initially thought he won the race because he crossed the start-finish line first, but Sadler was awarded the victory because he was in the lead when the yellow caution flag fell for the wreck, freezing the field with Sadler in the lead at that point. … Winners of the first 10 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Texas), Austin Dillon (Fontana), Erik Jones (Bristol), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond) and Sadler (Talladega). … With his win at Talladega, Sadler moves into a tie with Daniel Suarez for the top spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings, each driver with 314 points. Ty Dillon is third (282), followed by Justin Allgaier (280, Brendan Gaughan (279), Brandon Jones (274), Erik Jones (264), Brennan Poole (251), Darrell Wallace Jr. (229) and Ryan Reed (221).

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: TOYOTA TUNDRA 250 (167 laps, 250.5 miles), Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, Kansas.

      TV: Friday, May 6, 8:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: The Truck Series returns to action after a month-long hiatus with Friday night's Toyota Tundra 250, the first race since the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 on April 2 at Martinsville Speedway, which was won by Kyle Busch, his 45th career win in a truck. … John Hunter Nemechek leads the point standings. Nemechek (83 points) has a three-point edge over No. 2-ranked Parker Kligerman (80), followed by Timothy Peters (77), Tyler Young (67), Cameron Hayley and Ryan Truex (66 points each), Daniel Hemric (65), Brandon Brown and Spencer Gallagher (62 points each) and Ben Rhodes (61).

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: There is no race this weekend. The series resumes on May 14 with the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then on May 29, it will be the milestone 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at IMS.

      THEN AND NOW: Simon Pagenaud has won the last two races in a row, Long Beach and Alabama. The French driver has opened up a sizeable lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings. He has 188 points, while defending series champ Scott Dixon is a distant second with 140 points. Juan Pablo Montoya is third (136 points), followed by Helio Castroneves (118) and Tony Kanaan (106).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: There is no race this weekend. The next event is the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, May 13-15.

      THEN AND NOW: Winners of this past Sunday's NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock). … Points leaders are Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Courtney Force and Tim Wilkerson (tied for Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock). The two Force sisters sitting atop their respective point classes is the first time sisters have achieved that feat in NHRA history. … In the NHRA point standings, Brittany Force continues to lead Top Fuel (464 points), followed by Doug Kalitta (463), defending series champ Antron Brown (445), Steve Torrence (417) and Clay Millican (355). … In Funny Car, Courtney Force and Tim Wilkerson are tied for first (439 points each), followed by Ron Capps (417), Robert Hight (404) and John Force (384). Defending Funny Car series champ Del Worsham is seventh (376). … In Pro Stock, Jason Line continues to lead the standings (689 points), followed by teammate Greg Anderson (610), Bo Butner (508), Drew Skillman (399 and Chris McGaha (339). Defending series champ Erica Enders (257 points) is in eighth place, more than 400 points behind Line. … In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec leads the standings with 232 points, followed by defending series champ Andrew Hines (197), Hector Arana (154), Chip Ellis (135) and Jerry Savoie (108).