Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Monday, October 20, 2014
    Despite strong run, Johnson's Chase hopes end
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      This year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is now, officially, a novel experience.

      With four races left to determine the series champion, Jimmie Johnson is no longer a factor, and that's a "first" in the Chase era.

      Johnson remains the only driver to have qualified for every Chase since the inception of the 10-race playoff in 2004, but under a new format that eliminates four drivers every three races, he's no longer eligible for the 2014 title.

      Despite leading a race-high 84 laps on Sunday at Talladega, controlling the pace and darting between lanes to block the progress of those trying to pass him, Johnson fell short in a race he had to win.

      When he steered his No. 48 Chevrolet to the outside on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, no one went with him, and that in itself was a measure of the enormous respect Johnson's fellow competitors have for the 48 team.

      If Johnson had kept his title hopes alive by winning Talladega, chances are he would have advanced to the season finale at Homestead, given the array of tracks in the Chase's Eliminator Round.

      At Homestead, with the championship on the line, only a fool would bet against the 48 in a head-to-head matchup against three other cars.

      So why help a guy who is likely to beat you? On Sunday, no one did.

      And, for better or worse, the Chase now has a decidedly different flavor.

      @nascarcasm

      We'd have made our NASCAR.com headline "KESELOWSKI WINS TALLADEGA THANKS TO PUSH FROM KENSETH" if the comment section below wouldn't fill up with "Is this The Onion?"

      We apologize for the tension-filled race Sunday, and sincerely hope that your stomach didn't reach the "eliminator round," so to speak.

      So remember the finale of "Star Wars" when the final Rebel fighter is knocked out and Luke Skywalker realizes he's all alone? That's Jeff Gordon.

      Jamie McMurray really oughta hang out with Edward Snowden, so they can just sit around and leak things together.

      So Milka Duno ran the truck race. It was made out to be this giant, harrowing, catastrophic event. Turns out it wasn't at all. If only there was anything else currently in the news similar to that.

      (Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you have probably figured that out by now.)

      NASCAR NUMBERS

      By Reid Spencer

      12: The number of laps led by Brad Keselowski in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, a race he had to win to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Keselowski led laps 187 through 192, and after surrendering the top spot to Ryan Newman on the white-flag lap (193) retook the lead from Newman on the one that counted.

      31: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races run this year by Denny Hamlin, who missed the event at Fontana, Calif., in March because of an eye injury. Should Hamlin win the championship this year, he would be the first series champion since Richard Petty in 1971 to win the series title without competing in a full schedule of races.

      1: The number of top-five finishes for driver Landon Cassill in 147 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts. Cassill ran a superb race in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega, avoided the pitfalls that beset other drivers and sped across the finish line in fourth place for a career-best result.

      7.0: Jeff Gordon's average finish in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, best among the eight drivers still eligible for the series championship. Denny Hamlin is second at 8.8. Surprisingly, the driver among the eight with the worst average finish at Martinsville is Kevin Harvick at 15.8.

      5.2: The average finish at Martinsville for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has won eight times at the historic .526-mile short track. Johnson may have been eliminated from the Chase on Sunday, but it's a virtual certainty he'll be a contender for the victory this weekend at Martinsville--Chase or no Chase.

      NASCAR NOTES

      The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. The points for the eight remaining championship-qualifying drivers -- Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin -- have been reset to 4,000. ... Jeff Gordon enters Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) in hunt of his ninth win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The 43-year-old ranks tied with Jimmie Johnson for the lead among active drivers with eight wins at Martinsville and a trip to Victory Lane this weekend would advance him to the championship race at Homestead. Other than Gordon, Chase-contending drivers who own checkered flags at the .526-mile oval include: Denny Hamlin (four), Ryan Newman (one) and Kevin Harvick (one). ... Needing a victory to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Brad Keselowski came up clutch at Talladega, taking the checkered flag. The triumph set a Team Penske record for wins in a season by its drivers with 11. Keselowski's six victories are the most in the NSCS, while teammate Joey Logano's five wins rank second.

      Tune-In: NASCAR On Television, October 20-26

      Monday, October 20

      5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

      7 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      7 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network

      Tuesday, October 21

      7 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      9 a.m., The 10 Talladega Moments (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      9:30 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Talladega (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      5 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network

      5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

      7 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub (re-air) FOX Sports 2

      Wednesday, October 22

      7 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      7:30 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8:30 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      5 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network

      5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

      Thursday, October 23

      7 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      7:30 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8:30 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      5 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network

      5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

      6:30 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      7 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      7:30 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8:00 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8:30 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      9 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      9:30 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special, NBC Sports Network

      10 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special, NBC Sports Network

      10:30 p.m., NASCAR America: Scan All 43 Special, NBC Sports Network

      12 a.m. (Fri.), NASCAR America: Celebrate the States (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      12:30 a.m. (Fri.), NASCAR America: Celebrate the States (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      1 a.m. (Fri.), NASCAR America: Celebrate the States (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      1:30 a.m. (Fri.), NASCAR America: Celebrate the States (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      2 a.m. (Fri.), NASCAR America: Future Stars (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      Friday, October 24

      7 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      7:30 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      8:30 a.m., NASCAR America (re-air), NBC Sports Network

      Noon, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

      1:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

      2:30 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

      3 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Final Practice, FOX Sports 1

      4:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1

      Saturday, October 25

      9 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

      10 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1

      11:30 a.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

      12 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice, FOX Sports 1

      1 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series SetUp, FOX Sports 1

      1:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Martinsville, FOX Sports 1

      Sunday, October 26

      9 a.m., The 10 NASCAR's Most Outrageous Moments, FOX Sports 1

      9:30 a.m., NASCAR Race Hub Special (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      10:30 a.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1

      1 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Countdown, ESPN

      1:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Martinsville, ESPN

      1:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Martinsville (simulcast), ESPN Deportes

      8 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

      12:30 a.m. (Mon.), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Martinsville (re-air), ESPN2

      National Series Schedule

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race:

      Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500

      The Place:

      Martinsville Speedway

      The Date/Time:

      Sunday, Oct. 26, 1:30 p.m. (ET)

      TV: ESPN

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race:

      O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge

      The Place:

      Texas Motor Speedway

      The Date/Time:

      Saturday, Nov. 1, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

      TV: ESPN2

      Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

      The Next Race:

      Kroger 200

      The Place:

      Martinsville Speedway

      Date/Time:

      Saturday, Oct. 25, 1:30 p.m. (ET)

      TV: FOX Sports 1

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR National Series Standings

      The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field was trimmed down to eight for the Contender Round, after the four winless drivers with the lowest points totals following Talladega were eliminated.

      Points for all championship-qualifying drivers, regardless of Contender Round victories, were reset to 4,000.

      This year, wins matter more than in any season in the 65-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Just like the previous Chase segments, a victory in the three-race Eliminator Round automatically advances a championship-qualifying driver into the Championship Round event at Homestead.

      At the conclusion of the Eliminator Round's third race (Phoenix), the four winless drivers with the lowest points totals will again be dropped from the Chase.

      *Advanced to Eliminator Round with a win

      Chase Standings

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Joey Logano* 4,000

      2 Kevin Harvick* 4,000

      3 Ryan Newman 4,000

      4 Denny Hamlin 4,000

      5 Matt Kenseth 4,000

      6 Carl Edwards 4,000

      7 Jeff Gordon 4,000

      8 Brad Keselowski* 4,000

      NASCAR Nationwide Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Chase Elliott # 1,106

      2 Regan Smith 1,064

      3 Brian Scott 1,045

      4 Elliott Sadler 1,043

      5 Ty Dillon # 1,042

      6 Trevor Bayne 1,008

      7 Chris Buescher # 912

      8 Brendan Gaughan 875

      9 Ryan Reed # 820

      10 James Buescher 792

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Matt Crafton 674

      2 Ryan Blaney 658

      3 Darrell Wallace Jr. 646

      4 Johnny Sauter 638

      5 Timothy Peters 597

      6 Joey Coulter 593

      7 German Quiroga Jr. 574

      8 Ben Kennedy # 562

      9 Jeb Burton 555

      10 Ron Hornaday Jr. 494

  • Monday, October 20, 2014
    Did Keselowski and crew really win the Talladega race at Charlotte?
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Against all odds, Brad Keselowski advanced to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, capturing victory in a race he had to win on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

      To be sure, talent played a role, and talent is something Keselowski has in ample supply.

      Focus was a major factor, too. Throughout the week preceding the Talladega race, during a test session at Martinsville Speedway and on Friday and Saturday at Talladega, Keselowski answered questions from reporters in terse, clipped sentences, preferring not to fuel the fire that came to a blaze on the track and in the garage at Charlotte on the previous Saturday night.

      Keselowski had his blinders on, and the only point of interest was the finish line at NASCAR's biggest oval track.

      After playing bumper cars with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin at Charlotte, and after getting jumped by Kenseth between transporters after the race, Keselowski was coming to Talladega without a friend in the world.

      That, at least, was the conventional wisdom. But it wasn't the truth.

      In fact, Keselowski had plenty of friends, and a few of them were on the race track. Team Penske teammate Joey Logano gave him a critical push on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, allowing Keselowski to take the lead and control the race on the second and final green-white-checkered.

      Kenseth, of all people, stayed with Keselowski on the final two-lap run, proving once again that self-interest and expediency will trump rivalry at a restrictor-plate track every time.

      The friends Keselowski really needed, however, weren't driving race cars on Sunday, and it wasn't the race at Talladega that brought their importance into crystal-clear focus.

      That had happened a week earlier at Charlotte, when the No. 2 crew came to the Keseslowski's defense during the fracas with Kenseth. Crew chief Paul Wolfe, a man of small stature and huge heart, waded into the melee, determined to reach his driver and break up the fight.

      "I guess maybe I showed a little side of me that I surprised some people last week," Wolfe said after Sunday's race. "But I've told others this week that, at the end of the day, I'd stand up for anyone on this team, including the driver. I believe in every one of them.

      "I guess maybe looking at it from that standpoint, yeah, definitely it didn't hurt, and showed that we're going to stick together as a team no matter what happens."

      Team owner Roger Penske likewise demonstrated his unconditional support of Keselowski, even though the driver's "behavior penalty" for his actions at Charlotte cost Penske $50,000.

      "Number one, these guys (other competitors) are jealous of the job he's done this year," Penske said. "He's won six races. He's (won) poles. He's been up front. Nobody likes to see a guy win like that. The fact that he has a little edge on him, he's continually delivering, obviously I think makes a difference.

      "If everybody understood what happened on the racetrack last week, when you get your rear fender knocked off on a restart, you get your front fender knocked off on a pass by, I want him to get mad. I don't want him to take it. ... If he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that's okay with me. We'll let NASCAR figure out if he's over the line or not.

      "I guess it cost us 50 grand. I'll take 50 grand and the win this week, wouldn't you?"

      In fact, Charlotte was the blast furnace that has hardened the resolve of the No. 2 team and directed the them-against-us, backs-against-the-wall mentality toward a higher purpose -- the second Sprint Cup title Keselowski covets so ardently.

      It also underscored for Keselowski something he already knows.

      "I hate comparing myself to other sports, but if you took a football team and said Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl, he would probably think that wasn't right, because everybody had a role in it," Keselowski said after the race. "Everybody had a role in today. Maybe I have more of a role when it goes bad, but maybe the other guys don't get enough credit when things go good. But everybody plays a part in our success.

      "I'm very hesitant to sit before you and say I did this one thing and that's why we're in Victory Lane today because of this, this and that, pat myself on the back. It's not really about that. It's really about us working as a collective group to persevere over countless obstacles and adversity that this sport puts up every week.

      "For whatever reason, I seem to need to climb over bigger ones than other people. That's certainly something I don't want to have to do. Like I said before, it makes winning that much sweeter."

      In a very real sense, the crucial victory at Talladega was forged in the fires of Charlotte.

      Four races from now, we may well be able to say the same thing about the Sprint Cup championship.

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014
    Notebook: Keselowski and Kenseth -- What a difference a week makes
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- As luck would have it, the driver who had Brad Keselowski in a headlock on Oct. 11 helped push Keselowski's No. 2 Team Penske Ford to victory in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

      With drafting help on the final restart from Matt Kenseth, with whom Keselowski had tangled on and off the track at Charlotte a week earlier, Keselowski got the win he desperately needed to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      "If he (Kenseth) could have flipped him to win the race, he probably would have," quipped third-place finisher Clint Bowyer. "That's just competition. Matt needed to push the 2 to get his best position and get himself in an overall shot to win the race.

      "It doesn't matter if it's your worst enemy out there or your best friend, your closest friend, as far as racers go, you've got to use 'em. He was using the 2 car as much as the 2 car was using him at that point."

      Kenseth saw the final laps essentially the same way. He had planned to go with Kevin Harvick but circumstances dictated another course of action as Kenseth tried to finish as high as he could to earn a spot in the Eliminator Round of the Chase.

      "You have to do what's best for your best finish," Kenseth explained. "Kevin had a really good run. I pushed Kevin really hard. I didn't feel I had a ton of speed. When Kevin went up to go three wide, and Brad went to chase him, I couldn't really follow Kevin, get stuck out three wide. I figured three or four guys would get by me. Not knowing the exact points, knowing we had to finish in front of the 5 (Kasey Kahne), especially if the 2 won, I knew my path to the best finish was going to be at the bottom there.

      "Got a good push off of Turn 2. If it would have been a little farther down the straightaway, I think I would have had enough speed to get under Brad and might have had a shot for the win. But he went all the way across the track and just had enough room to get down in front of me.

      "Like I said, that's where I felt I had to put my car for my best chance at the best finish. All those guys were pretty quick up there. Got a good restart, got a good run. It's just how it turned out."

      PROMISING CHASE TURNS SOUR FOR KYLE BUSCH

      If Talladega had an innocent victim, it was Kyle Busch. Caught up in a wreck not of his making on Lap 103, Busch finished 40th and failed to advance to the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by seven points -- after entering Sunday's race at Talladega second in the standings.

      Busch's race took a harsh turn for the worse after Aric Almirola tapped the rear bumper of JJ Yeley's Toyota and started a chain-reaction crash on the backstretch. Busch slowed his Toyota behind the wreck, but Austin Dillon's Chevrolet knocked Busch's car into the inside wall, severely damaging the Camry.

      Busch drove the crippled car to the garage, where his crew did yeoman work to get it back on the track. But by then, Busch was too far down the running order to recover.

      Crew chief Dave Rogers was philosophical about the disappointing result, which thwarted the team's strategy of running in the back, supposedly out of harm's way (Busch was 28th when the accident occurred).

      "It's a shame -- everyone has been working really hard," Rogers said. "I felt like we got off to a slow start early in the season, and we were advancing through the playoffs pretty well with hard work and good decisions and good teamwork. The team was performing really well and working extremely hard. I thought we were in a decent spot coming into the race and rode around in the back.

      "Kyle got checked up for the wreck and had everything saved up, but he got run over from behind. There is no safe place in here. Everyone, every time we come to a speedway everyone will strategize -- we're going to ride in the back, we're going to ride in the front, we're going to do this. The truth is that, if you're out there on the race track at Talladega or Daytona, you have a pretty good chance that you're going to get in a wreck and today was our day."

      GORDON SLIPS INTO ELIMINATOR ROUND

      Over the last few laps of the GEICO 500, Jeff Gordon's campaign for a possible fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hung by a thread as drivers at Talladega swapped positions.

      Ultimately, Gordon finished 26th, good enough to keep him in the Chase by three points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, who finished 12th.

      "We were in, we were out," Gordon said. "We were in good position and bad position. Those last couple of laps were the most nerve-wracking laps of my life, so I'm glad they're over...

      "If I never have to come back to Talladega, I'll be fine with that. I'm just excited about our chances to get to Homestead, and those chances come in these next few races -- Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix. Those are great tracks for us."

      Gordon was the only one of four Hendrick drivers to advance to the Eliminator Round. Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kahne were eliminated after the Talladega cutoff race.

      "We knew that Jimmie and Junior were in tough positions, but if anybody could win this race, either one of those guys could," Gordon said. "I knew Kasey was going to race hard all day and he was in and out, in and out. I really thought he was going to make it, but I guess (race runner-up Matt) Kenseth getting that late charge may have been the game changer there.

      "It's very difficult. These are three guys that could be major factors in this championship. They are great teams, great drivers and friends of mine. I hate to see them not in there. But we're going to try to make Hendrick proud and go out there and get ourselves to Homestead."

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014
    Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Cup title aspirations end at Talladega
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Mark McCarter, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- As Dale Earnhardt Jr. went spinning madly on the backstretch, careening from the wall to the infield grass, these words painted on the wall appeared clearly on television via

      his in-car camera:

      "This is Talladega."

      As if Earnhardt and the rest of the field of Sunday afternoon's frenetic NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 needed a reminder where they were.

      NASCAR's most precarious, unpredictable track -- Talladega Superspeedway -- was the setting for the most pivotal race of the season for Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, the six-time premier series champion. They needed a victory to advance into the eight-driver "Eliminator" Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      When Earnhardt was caught up in his wreck halfway through the first lap of a green-white-checkered finish, he was toast. When Brad Keselowski -- also needing a win to advance -- bulled his way to the front on the restart, Johnson was toast. Keselowski had labeled this three-race stretch of the Chase -- Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega -- the "death bracket" and it extinguished the hopes of three of four Hendrick cars, with Kasey Kahne also being knocked out. Only teammate Jeff Gordon advanced among the eight survivors.

      As if the order of finish really mattered, Johnson ended the day in 24th, Earnhardt 31st, though Johnson led the most laps (84) and Earnhardt second-most (31).

      Earnhardt leaned on his No. 88 Chevrolet on pit road, his hat turned backwards, a downcast look on his face.

      "The race is over," Earnhardt said. "It's time to go home."

      Continued Earnhardt, "There have probably been worse things (than this finish). I'm not retiring or anything, so we'll try next year. We've had a good season (with three wins) and have a lot to be looking forward to. We're definitely not going to get too tore up about; we didn't run well."

      Earnhardt is the Talladega fan favorite, a reminder of which was provided when he took the lead on lap 75, darting inside Johnson and sending the crowd into a thunderous roar. He is a five-time winner

      here, where his late father is the all-time winner, but his last visit to Talladega's victory lane was in October 2004.

      Junior held the lead for 29 consecutive laps, led two more later but soon found himself dropping deeper into the field.

      "We had a real good car today and we got shuffled out," Earnhardt said.

      It was a far cry from Earnhardt's strategy here last spring that mystified many observers and prompted more than a few second-guessers when he chose to lag deep into the field, waited too late to make any substantial move, got caught out of sequence on pit stops and chugged home 26th.

      "We worked real hard all day long trying to run up front," he said. "I knew we needed to be up front all day long. We got shuffled to the back. I made a move trying to get up front and it didn't work out. So, we lost a lot of track position and never got it back."

      He was essentially out of contention when the wreck happened. David Gilliland tapped Greg Biffle's rear bumper after exiting turn 2, sending Biffle slightly akimbo. He hooked Earnhardt's quarterpanel and the carnage was on.

      "We were just sitting there running straight there, and it's just hard racing," Earnhardt said. "That is the way it goes at the end of these races. We weren't in a good position there in the back."

      Earnhardt hustled back around to the pits for quick repairs, only to be penalized for speeding on pit road, something akin to being flagged 15 yards for a late hit right after having a game-winning field goal blocked.

      Sighed team owner Rick Hendrick, "It's just Talladega."

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014
    Eliminator round field set with big names absent
    By The Sports Xchange

    TALLADEGA, Ala. -- With a win in Sunday's Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski joined Team Penske teammate Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick as drivers who advance to the third round, or Eliminator round, of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    • Other drivers advancing to round three include Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards. All eight remaining drivers will have their points adjusted to start the next round on even ground.

      Newman's car failed post-race inspection, as NASCAR officials discovered that the rear end of his car was too low. NASCAR traditionally makes penalty announcements on Tuesdays, and a points deduction is possible. As he stands, Newman is third in points, four points behind leader Logano and 27 points ahead of Kasey Kahne, the first driver out.

      The four drivers eliminated after Talladega include Hendrick Motorsports trio Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Also eliminated was Kyle Busch.

      "The race is over; it's time to go home," Earnhardt said. "There have probably been worse things. I'm not retiring or anything, so we'll try next year. We've had a good season and have a lot to be looking forward to. We're definitely not going to get too tore up about it; we didn't run well."

      Kahne finished the race in 12th position and wound up high enough in points to advance had Keselowski not won. Without a Keselowski win, Kahne, not Keselowski would have advanced.

      Heading into the Chase, Earnhardt and Johnson were among the favorites as three-time winners in the 26-race regular season. Busch was second in points heading into Talladega, so he was considered to be fairly safe, but his Chase hopes blew out the window when he was caught up in a wreck on lap 102.

      "It feels relieving to go down swinging," Johnson said. "The last two weeks were really poor. At least we went down swinging. I'll take some pride in that."

      With the elimination of Johnson and Earnhardt, NASCAR now has a postseason that is now void of its most recent champion and a driver who has been the most popular in the sport for more than a decade. The elimination did, however, prevent the possibility of one team, Hendrick Motorsports, from claiming all of the final four spots that will be remaining for the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the elimination of Earnhardt, Johnson and Kahne, Gordon remains as Hendrick Motorsports' sole representative in the Chase.

      "We knew that Jimmie and Junior were in tough positions," Gordon said. "But if anybody could win this race, either one of those guys could. I knew Kasey was going to race hard all day, and he was in and out, in and out. I really thought he was going to make it, but I guess Kenseth getting that late charge may have been the game changer there. It is very difficult. These are three guys that could be major factors in this championship. They are great teams, great drivers and friends of mine. I hate to see them not in there. But we are going to try to make Hendrick proud and go out there and get ourselves to Homestead."

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014
    Keselowski keeps title hopes alive with dramatic win at Talladega
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In a must-win situation at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski did exactly that, preserving his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hopes with a victory in Sunday's GEICO 500.

      With the right side of his car damaged in the wreck that brought out the first caution flag of the afternoon, Keselowski persevered, taking the lead during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish and winning the race in the second overtime -- after a wreck that ended the title run of Keselowski's former boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      "I can't believe it," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. "Talladega is such a wild card, and to be able to win here you have to catch breaks and make your own breaks-a little of both.

      "I can't believe we won at Talladega. This race is the scariest of the three in the (Contender Round) bracket. To be able to win here is really a privilege. It really is."

      Keselowski won his series-leading sixth race of the season, his third at Talladega and the 16th of his career. That alone propelled him into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on a day that saw three of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers -- Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson -- fall by the wayside.

      On the first lap of the first overtime, Keselowski's Team Penske teammate gave the No. 2 Ford the push that enabled him to clear Ryan Newman and take the lead.

      "We just persevered," Keselowski said. "We didn't give up. I got a lot of help from my teammate Joey Logano and, wow, this is just special. Everything about today is special. I want to say 'Thank you' to everyone that supports our team."

      A week after losing his cool on the race track and on pit road at Charlotte, Keselowski was the very model of professional poise at Talladega. Coincidentally, the driver with whom Keselowski had the most significant altercation at Charlotte -- Matt Kenseth -- was behind him on the final restart at Talladega, and at the finish line.

      And, coincidentally, both Keselowski and Kenseth, the race runner-up, started the race at the rear of the field, Keselowski after breaking an alternator and Kenseth after changing an engine.

      Kenseth, Newman (fifth Sunday), Denny Hamlin (18th), Jeff Gordon (26th) and Carl Edwards (21st) joined Contender Round winners Logano, Kevin Harvick and Keselowski in the Eliminator Round, which opens next Sunday at Martinsville, (Va.) Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) with points for all the Chase drivers reset to 4,000.

      Kyle Busch, victim of an early wreck, joined Earnhardt, Johnson and Kahne as drivers knocked out of the Chase.

      Johnson, who led a race-high 84 laps, was shuffled back after a restart on Lap 188, the first attempt at a green-white-checkered following a debris caution on Lap 184. In the second overtime, which took the race six circuits past its scheduled 188 laps, he fell back to 24th at the finish.

      But Johnson's finishing position was of little consequence, once victory was out of the question. Like Keselowski and Earnhardt, Johnson came to Talladega needing a win to move forward in the Chase.

      After a wild shuffling of positions in the two overtimes, Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Landon Cassill (first career top five in 147 starts) and Newman. Travis Kvapil, Kurt Busch, Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.

      At Talladega, there are always victims, and Kyle Busch was the first. On the backstretch on Lap 103, Aric Almirola tapped the back bumper of J.J. Yeley's Toyota and turned the car sideways into the outside wall, igniting a 10-car chain-reaction wreck.

      Riding 28th near the rear of the field, Busch checked up and appeared poised to avoid the melee, only to be launched into the inside wall by Austin Dillon's Chevrolet.

      With the frame of the No. 18 Toyota bent like a pretzel and suspension parts askew on both ends, Busch brought the car to the garage and dropped to 43rd on the scoring monitor as his team frantically tried to restore the Camry to running condition.

      "We were just all starting to shuffle around there and getting ready to pit, and I think it was the 83 (Yeley) in front of me, and I think he might have been trying to check up to get to the bottom," Almirola said of the incident that started the wreck.

      "I just barely started to push him and it hooked his car -- and we all wrecked."

      Earnhardt's run at a first championship came to a sudden end on the backstretch on Lap 188, when contact from Greg Biffle's Ford spun the No. 88 Chevy, which had spent 31 laps in the lead, but restarted 16th on the first green-white-checkered attempt.

      With the car damaged in the wreck, Earnhardt finished 31st, a far cry from the victory he needed to advance to the next round of the Chase.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - GEICO 500

      Talladega Superspeedway

      Talladega, Alabama

      Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014

      1. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 194, $288361.

      2. (13) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 194, $228207.

      3. (33) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 194, $180329.

      4. (29) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 194, $129475.

      5. (11) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 194, $134521.

      6. (7) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 194, $122860.

      7. (18) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 194, $102115.

      8. (26) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 194, $130125.

      9. (39) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 194, $134261.

      10. (19) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 194, $121919.

      11. (40) Joey Logano, Ford, 194, $131544.

      12. (8) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 194, $108086.

      13. (30) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 194, $142697.

      14. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 194, $105973.

      15. (22) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 194, $89940.

      16. (34) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 194, $96686.

      17. (42) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 194, $114681.

      18. (38) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 194, $96536.

      19. (27) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 194, $95661.

      20. (1) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 194, $129594.

      21. (15) Carl Edwards, Ford, 194, $102511.

      22. (4) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 194, $82940.

      23. (3) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 194, $100273.

      24. (2) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 194, $142859.

      25. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, 194, $128002.

      26. (43) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 194, $129197.

      27. (12) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 194, $115252.

      28. (35) Josh Wise, Ford, 194, $84440.

      29. (21) David Gilliland, Ford, 194, $104419.

      30. (25) David Ragan, Ford, 194, $103633.

      31. (28) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 194, $91931.

      32. (16) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 194, $80640.

      33. (9) Terry Labonte, Ford, 193, $80490.

      34. (37) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 190, $115436.

      35. (31) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 189, $117900.

      36. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Accident, 188, $108439.

      37. (10) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, Accident, 187, $79821.

      38. (23) Mike Wallace(i), Toyota, 186, $74805.

      39. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 166, $108312.

      40. (41) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 145, $115217.

      41. (6) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 127, $62805.

      42. (32) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Accident, 102, $58805.

      43. (14) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, Accident, 102, $55305.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 160.302 mph.

      Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 13 Mins, 09 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.141 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 6 for 25 laps.

      Lead Changes: 38 among 19 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: 0; J. Johnson 1; R. Blaney(i) 2-14; J. Johnson 15-25; B. Keselowski 26-28; J. Johnson 29-38; D. Hamlin 39; T. Stewart 40-44; K. Kahne 45; G. Biffle 46; J. McMurray 47-49; B. Keselowski 50; K. Kahne 51-61; D. Ragan 62; M. Kenseth 63; J. Johnson 64-74; D. Earnhardt Jr. 75-103; D. Gilliland 104-105; J. Gordon 106; R. Blaney(i) 107-108; L. Cassill(i) 109; D. Earnhardt Jr. 110-111; K. Harvick 112-113; J. Johnson 114-132; C. Whitt # 133; J. Johnson 134-137; B. Keselowski 138; J. Johnson 139-162; M. Truex Jr. 163; J. Johnson 164-166; D. Patrick 167-173; D. Ragan 174; J. Gordon 175-176; R. Newman 177-181; J. Johnson 182; R. Newman 183-186; B. Keselowski 187-192; R. Newman 193; B. Keselowski 194;.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Johnson 9 times for 84 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 31 laps; R. Blaney(i) 2 times for 15 laps; B. Keselowski 5 times for 12 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 12 laps; R. Newman 3 times for 10 laps; D. Patrick 1 time for 7 laps; T. Stewart 1 time for 5 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 3 laps; J. McMurray 1 time for 3 laps; D. Ragan 2 times for 2 laps; D. Gilliland 1 time for 2 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 2 laps; L. Cassill(i) 1 time for 1 lap; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap; C. Whitt # 1 time for 1 lap; M. Kenseth 1 time for 1 lap; G. Biffle 1 time for 1 lap; D. Hamlin 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: J. Logano - 3,121; K. Harvick - 3,117; R. Newman - 3,117; D. Hamlin - 3,100; M. Kenseth - 3,099; C. Edwards - 3,099; J. Gordon - 3,093; K. Kahne - 3,090; Kyle Busch - 3,086; B. Keselowski - 3,085; J. Johnson - 3,053; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 3,045; A. Allmendinger - 2,163; G. Biffle - 2,147; Kurt Busch - 2,146; A. Almirola - 2,101.

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014
    Keselowski advances to Eliminator round with Talladega win
    By The Sports Xchange

    TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Brad Keselowski battled Ryan Newman in the closing laps of the Geico 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, getting out front with drafting and blocking help from Team Penske teammate Joey Logano. After two green-white-checker attempts, Keselowski claimed the win, his sixth of the season. With the victory came a berth in the Eliminator round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    • "I can't believe it," Keselowski said. "Talladega is such a wild card and to be able to win here you have to catch breaks and make your own breaks, a little of both. I can't believe we won at Talladega. This race is the scariest of the three in the bracket. To be able to win here is really a privilege it really is."

      Matt Kenseth finished second, Clint Bowyer third, Landon Cassill fourth and Newman rounded out the top-five.

      After assisting his teammate, Logano wound up 11th after losing Keselowski just before the end of the race.

      "He (Keselowski) was in good shape, but I was in bad shape where I was and that's why we lost a bunch of spots there at the end," Logano said. "I thought we did a great job (in the Contender round of the Chase) -- a win, a fourth and an 11th, unfortunately, here at Talladega, but we're doing what we have to do to win this championship."

      While Keselowski raced his way into the third round of the Chase, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne saw their championship hopes come to an end.

      Kyle Busch was also eliminated from the Chase.

      Earnhardt ran near the front through much of the race but was involved in the final caution of the race that came at the end of the race's scheduled distance on lap 188. Other drivers involved included Paul Menard, Greg Biffle and Michael Annett. In the end, Earnhardt wound up 31st after leading 31 laps.

      "Got with the 16 (Biffle) there a little bit," Earnhardt said. "Don't know if I came down on him. I thought I held my line."

      Busch, who headed into Talladega in seemingly a much safer position championship-wise, saw his shot at Chase survival fall into jeopardy earlier. Busch spent a significant portion of the second half of the race in the garage after his car sustained substantial damage during a multi-car crash on lap 102.

      Jimmie Johnson, meanwhile, dominated throughout the race, leading a race high 84 laps. The bonus points for leading weren't enough to move him into championship safety, though. Needing to win to stay alive, Johnson raced Newman for the lead after the fourth caution of the race that came out on lap 175. But he got out of line and was shuffled back just before the next yellow flag on lap 184.

      Johnson pulled out of line again on the following restart in an attempt to get back to the front. He didn't receive any drafting help and fell further back. He wound up finishing 24th.

      "It looked like he (Johnson) tried to make it three wide and ended up going way back," Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe said. "It is about being smart and he understands this type of racing and Brad does a great job of that."

      Kahne finished 12th and Busch was credited with 40th.

      Travis Kvapil finished sixth, Kurt Busch seventh, Marcos Ambrose eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth and Casey Mears 10th.

      The other drivers advancing to the Eliminator round with Keselowski are Logano, Harvick, Kenseth, Newman, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.

      NOTES: Sunday's race was the 890th and final Sprint Cup Series race for Terry Labonte. ... A modified qualifying format saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier, who had made every race of the year, fail to make the Geico 500, and Tony Stewart fall back on the past champion's provision to get a starting spot. ... Heading into Talladega, reigning and six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. were tied for 11th and 12th in the standings among the 12 Chase drivers. ... Brad Keselowski, the 2012 champion, was just ahead of Johnson and Earnhardt in 10th, putting winners of seven of the eight most recent championships at or near the Chase standings basement (Tony Stewart, not in the Chase, won the other championship of the last eight). ... Keselowski headed to Talladega tied with Team Penske teammate Joey Logano for most wins, so far, this season with five. ... Earnhardt had five previous wins at Talladega prior to Sunday's race, but the most recent came in 2001.

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014
    Earnhardt out to end decade-long 'Dega drougt
    By The Sports Xchange

    There was a time Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated Talladega Superspeedway in such a way that only one word could describe him: Untouchable.

    • From 2001-04, Earnhardt rattled off a track-record four consecutive victories, followed by two straight runner-up finishes and a fifth checkered flag. But that run 10-plus years ago seems like decades to No. 88.

      A decade has passed since Earnhardt's last win at 'Dega (Oct. 3, 2004). Still, his five visits to Victory Lane rank third on the track's all-time list.

      Currently sitting at 12th in the standings -- 26 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne for the final Eliminator Round spot -- Earnhardt will need to rekindle some of his old Talladega magic in Sunday’'s GEICO 500 cutoff race (2 p.m. ET, ESPN).

      Barring epic collapses from at least four drivers in front of him -- a distinct possibility at the 2.66-mile restrictor plate track known for its treachery -- he must win Sunday to move onward in the Chase.

      Earnhardt is fully aware of his mission at Talladega.

      "Go out there and win it," he said. "We can do it; we have won there a lot of times. I know what we need to do. We will just have to build a fast car and hope that we don't have any gremlins and try to go out there and win it."

      NASCAR's 11-time most popular driver has still performed well throughout his 19-race 'Dega drought. He has recorded a respectable six top-10 finishes, including two runner-ups, the most recent in last fall's Talladega tussle. Earnhardt also boasts the third-highest driver rating (90.3) at the Alabama track over that stretch.

      A rejuvenated Junior has proven anything can happen this year. His three victories so far in the 2014 campaign outnumber his win total from the last seven seasons combined.

      "The season isn't over," Earnhardt posted on Twitter after Charlotte. "We will take a rocket to Dega and fight till the end. 110% till the checkered at Homestead."

      Crafton won't talk championship

      Equipped with a commanding 19-point lead over his ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter with five races left in the season, Matt Crafton seems well on his way to becoming the first repeat champion in the 20-year history of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

      Despite his lead and momentum from a trio of consecutive top-three finishes, the 38-year-old does not want to set his sights on his second driver points championship just yet.

      "I'm looking forward to the next thing we're going to do at Talladega. We get through that and then I’ll start looking (towards Homestead)," Crafton said. "I'm not even going to worry about it to be honest. I'm going to go into each and every race to just go to win. If we get through Talladega, I'll feel a lot better at that point."

      Crafton has struggled at Talladega throughout his career.

      In eight starts at the 2.66-mile track, he claims an average finish of 15.5, almost four places lower than his career mark of 11.8. The driver most likely to catch him, Sauter, boasts a 7.0 average finish at Talladega and took the checkered flag in last year's race there.

      "I'm not even a little bit worried about 19 points," Crafton said. "It could be one point. I could be 19 points back. I'm not even worried about that to be totally honest. I'm worried about just going each and every week, do what we keep doing, do what we started doing at the beginning of the year, go there to win races and the points will come."

  • Saturday, October 18, 2014
    Earnhardt's a team player, but winning comes first
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the only realistic way to keep the championship hopes of the No. 88 team alive is to win Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).

      If Earnhardt wins, however, there's a good chance he'll knock teammate Jimmie Johnson out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      But Earnhardt isn't about to let that thought affect his approach.

      "We all sort of just race our own races and run our own seasons," Earnhardt said Saturday morning at Talladega. "I would never expect any of my teammates to do anything differently. They're supposed to go out there and run as good as they possibly can run and finish as well as they possibly can finish every week.

      "I've been in situations in years past, with Michael (Waltrip) in particular, at racetracks where we're working together, and it's five laps to go and I'm driving the Bud car and the Miller car (with Rusty Wallace) is behind me. If I pull out, he's not going to go with me. Do I help my teammate?"

      Through the years, Earnhardt has found a clear-cut answer to that question.

      "I've been in those situations before, and there's really no other (solution) than all you have to do in that situation is to think about the team on pit road, and all the guys that are working in that shop and the fabricators that work on your car, individually, that are at home watching. And they want you to win," he said.

      "And those are the people that matter. So you've got to go and try to do whatever you need to do. That particular night, I pulled out and Rusty (Wallace) didn't go and we went to sixth. And I think Michael won. But we tried. I felt so much better having tried than to sit there and run right behind my teammate and not have tried."

      Even though Hendrick Motorsports prides itself on a spirit of cooperation between its teams, when it comes down to the final laps, it's every man for himself, particularly when the championship is on the line.

      "I think that's the mentality that you have to have, and we are one great company that we all try to work for and try to improve and help," Earnhardt said. "But when it comes down to individual races, you've got to do everything you can for the guys that are putting your car together.

      "And you want it, too. I definitely need to move forward. I need to get into the next round. We want to get into the next round, and we can't worry about anybody else to make that happen."

      THIS TIME LABONTE MEANS IT

      Terry Labonte sounded serious and sincere on Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway when he said Sunday's GEICO 500 would be his last race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

      Labonte had contracted to run the four 2014 superspeedway races in Frank Stoddard's No. 32 Ford and Sunday's event is the last on his schedule.

      "Of course, you know it's only about the third time I've said this is going to be my last race, but this is really going to be the last one," Labonte said. "It's been fun. I've enjoyed running a few races on and off here the past few years with Frank and his team and C&J Energy as a sponsor.

      "Those guys, C&J, are originally from Corpus Christi and headquartered in Houston now, so they're guys I've known for a long time and it's been fun to run a few races with them. I've always looked forward to coming to Talladega. We have a couple of wins down here and it's a track, as everybody knows, if you stay out of trouble and stay on the lead lap you've got an opportunity for a decent finish."

      Labonte made his Cup debut at Darlington in 1978, and he waxed nostalgic when he recalled his first ride in Billy Hagan's No. 92 Chevrolet.

      "They had a rookie meeting and they showed a video that they played of all the things not to do," Labonte recalled. "I was sitting there watching that thing, and the guy that starred in that video was the guy that drove the car I was driving, the year before.

      "So everything he did wrong they pointed out in that video. So I sat there and I thought to myself, 'Oh, my gosh, the car is identical. It's the same paint scheme, same number, everything.' So I sat right there and thought, 'The thing to do is not make next year's video. Don't make all the highlights of the things not to do.'"

      That wasn't the end of it. Labonte also had to prove himself on the racetrack before he could compete in the Southern 500.

      "So they had a rookie test and we had to go run around the track, and you missed qualifying the first day. You had to qualify the second day, so I qualified, and the longest race I think I'd ever run was a 200-lapper around a half-mile track, so I started that race and I just ran and ran and thought, 'My gosh, these guys could wreck down here. Holy smoke.' They tore up a bunch of cars, and it was typical Darlington. It was wild.

      "So I ran and the race lasted forever. That was the longest race I ever ran in my life, so we ran the race and I finally looked up to see how many laps were left. I was trying to figure out how many laps were left and finally the thing ended and I never thought to look at the scoreboard and I finished fourth."

      KENSETH TO THE BACK

      After a precautionary engine change on Saturday, Matt Kenseth will start from the rear of the field in Sunday's GEICO 500.

      Kenseth's crew found issues in the bottom of the engine and made the change, rather than risk a failure during the race. Kenseth currently is ninth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, one point behind Kasey Kahne and one position away from transferring to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.

      In Saturday afternoon's knockout qualifying session, Kenseth was 13th, but his result in time trials affects only his choice of pit stalls, because the engine change requires that he drop to the rear for the start of the race.

  • Saturday, October 18, 2014
    Vickers grabs Talladega pole, Johnson second
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A wild, crazy and often confusing session of knockout qualifying, the first under a new short-session format designed specifically for superspeedways, put Brian Vickers on the pole for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

      Jimmie Johnson, who probably needs a victory to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, qualified on the outside of the front row with a lap at 195.732 mph, second only to Vickers' 196.129 mph.

      The Coors Light Pole Award was Vickers' first of the season, his first in 16 attempts at Talladega and the 12th of his career.

      AJ Allmendinger (195.496 mph) qualified third, followed by Ryan Blaney (195.015 mph) and Brad Keselowski (194.007 mph), who like Johnson is in a must-win scenario for Sunday.

      Keselowski, however, will drop to the rear for the start of the race because an alternator change outside of impound.

      Vickers, on the other hand, will lead the field to the green flag and was delighted with the circumstances that put him at the front of the pack.

      "It's crazy," Vickers said. "I thought that coming to three (laps) to go that we had literally no shot. We were way back, like a half a straightaway behind the whole field, and they all checked up and gave me a chance and gave me a run. I really get no credit for it. I just tried not to wreck.

      "(Crew chief) Billy (Scott) and all the guys did a great job with the car and Billy had a strategy and a plan. We stuck to it even when I thought we were crazy and we were going to be in trouble. We stuck to his plan. My spotter did a great job on top of the tower and we found some speed."

      For Johnson, the best thing about the front-row starting spot may be the second pick of prime pit stalls.

      "It gives us a great pit stall pick, which will help," Johnson said. "It seems like there will be a lot of fuel-only or two-tire stops, so that will give us a nice pit lane pick. Maintaining track position is hard to do here, there are comers and goers all day long, but what a weird qualifying session. There is no way around it.

      "Confusion on multiple levels, and I thought we were completely out of the running and was able to suck back around on the guys and catch back up and get second, which I thought we were going to be 12th the way it all worked out. I don't know what happened exactly, but it worked out and we got ourselves and second-place starting spot."

      Blaney will start his second Sprint Cup race in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford as he prepares for his first season at NASCAR's highest level with the Wood Brothers next year.

      The new format, featuring four five-minute sessions, with the field narrowed to 24 and then 12 drivers, was not without its complications and not without its casualties.

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. who believes he needs a win at Talladega to make the next round of the Chase, failed to advance from the first round of qualifying and will start 29th.

      Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon failed to arrive at the start/finish line before the five-minute clock expired in their first session and didn't record a fast timed lap.

      They will start 39th, 40th, 41st and 42nd, respectively, in Sunday's race, all on owner points provisionals.

      "I think everyone is confused," said Logano, who was drafting to the flag with Kyle Busch but got there approximately a half-second late. "We worked with Kyle and got a good run and drafted off the right guys and were fast enough to make it, but we just didn't get across the line in time."

      Tony Stewart needed a past champions provisional to bump Reed Sorenson out of the race, but only temporarily. When Joe Nemechek's No. 29 Toyota had its time disallowed because an area of the oil tank encasement was improperly sealed, Nemechek was out and Sorenson was in.

      And with Sorenson in, Stewart made the show with an owner points provisional, not a past champion's.

      Series regulars Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier weren't as fortunate. Unable to make the race on speed, and with no more provisionals available, they will watch the race from the sidelines along with Nemechek.

  • Saturday, October 18, 2014
    Peters holds on for Truck Series win in wild race at Talladega
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Holding off all challengers in a race that went four-wide on the final two laps, Timothy Peters won the Fred's 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

      Peters arrived at the finish line .143 seconds ahead of second-place starter and finisher Tayler Malsam. Spencer Gallagher ran third, followed by Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney, who trimmed 13th-place finisher Matt Crafton's lead in the series standings to 17 points with four races left in the season.

      The victory was Peters' first of the season, his first at Talladega and the eighth of his career.

      After ducking onto the apron to ensure a strong flow to the fuel pickup in his No. 17 Toyota, Peters, who had charged forward from the 26th starting position, led the field to a green-white-checkered-flag finish on Lap 94 of 95, after Norm Benning's spin in Turn 2 slowed the field for the sixth time.

      With a strong push from Malsam, Peters hugged the inside line into Turn 1 with Ryan Blaney to his outside. As the field spread out over the final two laps to three-wide and even four-wide, Peters doggedly held the lead and took the checkered flag with Malsam in his tow.

      "Chris Lambert, who spots for me, did a great job from the time the green flag fell till the checkered flag waved," Peters said. "It was system overload, telling me everything, how far apart they were in front of me, how close the guy behind me was, what run was coming on the outside coming to the checkered flag.

      "We were making our Toyota Tundra as wide as we could (on the final two laps), and so it feels really good to come across the start/finish line and kind of wipe missing the Daytona/Talladega sweep by (16) hundredths of a second (Peters finished second at Daytona by that margin earlier this year).

      "It just felt really good to go to Victory Lane."

      On the final restart, Blaney got a push from sixth-place finisher Erik Jones and thought he was in position for the win but acknowledged he didn't expect a third line to develop to his outside as quickly as it did.

      "I thought we were in the perfect spot, leading the outside line into Turn 2," Blaney said.

      But the side draft from the outside line separated Jones from Blaney and broke their momentum, dropping them out of contention for the win.

      A rare engine failure torpedoed Johnny Sauter's championship hopes. Sauter's Toyota slowed on Lap 24 and coasted onto pit road. His resulting 31st-place finish left him fourth in the standings, 36 points behind Crafton, his ThorSport Racing teammate.

      "Whatever ... the championship's over," a disconsolate Sauter said in the garage as his team worked on his Tundra. "From here on out, we can just race like hell."

      At a track legendary for wild action, Ben Kennedy sustained the hardest hit on Lap 65, when Joe Nemechek lost control of his truck and knocked Kennedy's Chevrolet into the outside wall.

      Nemechek's first concern was for Kennedy's safety. After learning he had walked away from the wreck, Nemechek radioed, "Put all of the blame for that one right square on my shoulders," indicating his Toyota had been sucked around in turbulent air.

      NOTE: Daniel Suarez finished 15th in his NCWTS debut. On Sunday, he races in his native Mexico in the NASCAR Toyota Mexico Series.

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race - Fred's 250 Powered By Coca-Cola

      Talladega Superspeedway

      Talladega, Alabama

      Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014

      1. (26) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 95, $58220.

      2. (2) Tayler Malsam, Chevrolet, 95, $41210.

      3. (21) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 95, $28976.

      4. (1) Tyler Reddick #, Ford, 95, $25680.

      5. (5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 95, $16835.

      6. (6) Erik Jones, Toyota, 95, $15065.

      7. (11) Chris Fontaine, Toyota, 95, $12280.

      8. (9) John Wes Townley, Toyota, 95, $14045.

      9. (27) Darrell Wallace Jr., Toyota, 95, $13945.

      10. (8) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, 95, $15125.

      11. (15) Brennan Newberry, Chevrolet, 95, $13750.

      12. (19) Bryan Silas, Chevrolet, 95, $13580.

      13. (16) Joey Coulter, Chevrolet, 95, $13480.

      14. (3) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 95, $14385.

      15. (17) Daniel Suarez(i), Toyota, 95, $14110.

      16. (7) Jeb Burton, Toyota, 95, $13190.

      17. (25) Tyler Young #, Chevrolet, 95, $13090.

      18. (24) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 95, $12995.

      19. (29) Korbin Forrister, Chevrolet, 95, $12875.

      20. (23) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, 94, $12150.

      21. (20) Clay Greenfield, Chevrolet, 94, $10430.

      22. (30) Scott Stenzel, Chevrolet, 93, $11330.

      23. (28) Ryan Ellis(i), Chevrolet, 92, $10235.

      24. (33) Michael Affarano, Chevrolet, 91, $10135.

      25. (36) Milka Duno(i), Chevrolet, 90, $10185.

      26. (32) Derek White, Chevrolet, 82, $9940.

      27. (31) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Overheating, 70, $9845.

      28. (13) Ben Kennedy #, Chevrolet, Accident, 65, $9745.

      29. (12) German Quiroga, Toyota, Accident, 30, $9645.

      30. (18) Jimmy Weller #, Chevrolet, Engine, 26, $10050.

      31. (4) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, Engine, 24, $9430.

      32. (10) Mason Mingus #, Chevrolet, Accident, 11, $9335.

      33. (22) Ryan Sieg(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 11, $9235.

      34. (14) Ron Hornaday Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 11, $9185.

      35. (34) Justin Jennings, Chevrolet, Vibration, 2, $9140.

      36. (35) Mike Harmon(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 0, $9083.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 132.632 mph.

      Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 54 Mins, 19 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.143 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 6 for 22 laps.

      Lead Changes: 18 among 9 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: 0; T. Malsam 1-5; R. Blaney 6; T. Malsam 7-10; R. Blaney 11-12; J. Cobb 13; M. Duno(i) 14-15; M. Affarano 16; R. Blaney 17-43; J. Nemechek 44-48; E. Jones 49; T. Malsam 50-58; T. Peters 59-76; J. Townley 77; T. Peters 78-79; J. Townley 80-83; T. Peters 84-93; R. Blaney 94; T. Peters 95;.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): T. Peters 4 times for 31 laps; R. Blaney 4 times for 31 laps; T. Malsam 3 times for 18 laps; J. Townley 2 times for 5 laps; J. Nemechek 1 time for 5 laps; M. Duno(i) 1 time for 2 laps; J. Cobb 1 time for 1 lap; M. Affarano 1 time for 1 lap; E. Jones 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 10 in Points: M. Crafton - 674; R. Blaney - 658; D. Wallace Jr. - 646; J. Sauter - 638; T. Peters - 597; J. Coulter - 593; G. Quiroga - 574; B. Kennedy # - 562; J. Burton - 555; R. Hornaday Jr. - 494.

  • Saturday, October 18, 2014
    Labonte retiring after Talladega race
    By The Sports Xchange

    Terry Labonte is retiring from NASCAR competition after Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway.

    • Labonte, 58, is a two-time Cup champion. He raced in NASCAR's top level fully for 26 seasons and on a partial schedule for the past decade.

      Labonte competed in four scheduled races this season as part of Go FAS Racing. His best finish this season was 11th at Daytona in July.

      Sunday's final start is the 890th of his career, tied for third in NASCAR. His 61st start at Talladega is tied for most all-time.

      Labonte won circuit championships in 1984 and 1996. He has won 22 races in his career.

      He first announced his retirement in 2006 and has competed in 41 races since then.

  • Friday, October 17, 2014
    Kenseth, Keselowski still at odds
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The Battle of Pit Road may have ended Saturday night, but the war of words is far from over.

      Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski traded paint on the racetrack during Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- and that was just the beginning.

      On pit road after the race, Keselowski drove his No. 2 Team Penske Ford into Kenseth's No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after Kenseth had unbuckled his belts and lowered his window net.

      Tony Stewart's Chevrolet was inadvertently damaged during the exchange between Keselowski and Kenseth. Stewart backed into Keselowski's car in retaliation, crunching the nose of the Ford.

      After Keselowski exited his car and was walking between haulers in the garage, Kenseth jumped him, and the drivers wrestled until crew members and officials intervened.

      Noting that he and Keselowski had a similar issue at Richmond in April, Kenseth said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway that he doesn’t regret his post-race actions at Charlotte.

      "I'm definitely not built for fighting, and it's not really in my genes -- not something I ever really want to do -- but I guess everybody has their breaking point," Kenseth said.

      Kenseth thought Keselowski had run him into the wall on a restart with 63 laps left. Keselowski said Kenseth had swerved into him and damaged his car under caution when Kenseth took a wave-around to return to the lead lap.

      "Last week was bad enough, to run bad all night and to be frustrated and then get two tires and get towards the front, and Brad clearly saw me roll outside of him and he hung a right on purpose and ran me right into the wall and ruined my night and possibly took us out of Chase contention," Kenseth said.

      "So I was mad enough about that, and then to come down afterwards and have your stuff off and your net down and come and pull those high school stunts playing car wars after the race was just absolutely unacceptable. That definitely put me over the edge.

      "I don't regret my actions. I'm not proud of them or happy about them or any of that, but I don't regret them. I don't know that I would do anything different if the same thing went down again."

      And what of the earlier incident under caution. Kenseth says Keselowski's account of damage is overblown.

      "Well, Brad is greatly exaggerating that point," Kenseth said. "If you watch video, you can see he had no marks on his right front of his car after that. He said it tore his whole right front off.

      "I did indeed swerve at him when I took the wave-around, because I was mad he put me in the wall and totally ruined my day, but if you look at his car there is absolutely no damage on it. That was just him greatly exaggerating the story."

      Understandably, Keselowski had a different take on the situation.

      "He is always entitled to his opinion, as I am to mine," Keselowski said. "We are both entitled to our opinions. Obviously, we have a difference of them, or what happened Saturday wouldn't have happened."

      On Tuesday, NASCAR fined Keselowski $50,000 and Stewart $25,000 for the actions with their cars on pit road. Kenseth wasn’t penalized for the physical confrontation with Keselowski.

      "“First of all, it was not a planned action, and I didn't go in there with fists flying or anything else like that," Kenseth said.

      Keselowski said of his own fine, "It isn't something that I didn't understand."

      And about whether it bothered him that he was fined and Kenseth wasn't, Keselowski added cryptically, "I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. I guess in some ways you could, and some ways you couldn't.

      "It is what it is. I haven't put that much thought into it."

      Kenseth's teammate, Denny Hamlin, wasn't surprised NASCAR chose not to fine Kenseth for the impromptu wrestling match.

      "You really can't see any punches or anything (on video of the incident), so, yeah, as far as I'm concerned, they were holding hands," Hamlin quipped.

      "We saw from Saturday night, those two aren't fighters."

      JOHNSON'S DAUNTING TASK

      For practical purposes, if Jimmie Johnson hopes to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he has to win Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega, the cutoff race for the Contender Round.

      Despite pondering possible strategies for the race, Johnson says he hasn't come up with a definitive way to approach the make-or-break event.

      "I've put a lot of time and thought into my approach for this weekend," Johnson said. "There really isn't a clear vision for how to make it work. Racing for it can get you in trouble. Riding can get you in trouble. If you ride at some point, you have to go to the front. With this rules package, it's much more difficult to get track position.

      "It seems like, with maybe three pit stops to go, you need to have control of the race and maintain it -- or at least be in first or second to be at the head of the line and give yourself a chance to win. So I don't know... I really don't. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. From the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win."

      Another complication is that at least two other drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski -- are in the same leaky boat. Either they win or they start working on their 2015 programs.

      "There are many other guys out there with the same goal, not only from a Chase situation, but also trying to win a race this year," Johnson said.

      "We'll get out there to work and see what happens."

      SHORT STROKES

      Clint Bowyer was fastest in opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Talladega, posting a lap at 200.385 mph in the draft, as drivers prepare for the new split-field, short-session qualifying format that will debut at the 2.66-mile speedway on Saturday afternoon.

      Two other drivers -- Aric Almirola and Jamie McMurray -- topped 200 mph.

      In a second practice session that featured a lower number of drivers choosing to participate (21 versus 46 in the opening session), Kyle Busch was quickest at 195.205 mph, followed by Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne.

      In eighth place, with a one-point edge over Matt Kenseth for the final transfer position into the Chase's Eliminator Round, Kahne likely needs a strong finish on Sunday to keep his championship hopes alive.

  • Wednesday, October 15, 2014
    NASCAR continues its Drive For Diversity
    By The Sports Xchange

    Special from NASCARHomeTracks.com

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      It wasn't long ago that Darrell Wallace Jr. was in this place, a teenager with late model experience looking to make a positive impression that would help him stand out in a crowded field of young, talented drivers.

      Now 21 and a three-time race winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Wallace knows what the 20 drivers at Langley Speedway are going through as they competed in the 2014 NASCAR Drive For Diversity Combine on Tuesday.

      On the line was a spot driving for Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. And an opportunity to follow in the tracks of Wallace, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie standout Kyle Larson and rising star Daniel Suarez.

      "I can sense the butterflies from some of the drivers and I was the same way," said Wallace, who landed his spot on Rev Racing in the fall of 2009 with his performance at Virginia's Motor Mile Speedway. "You want to go out there and prove yourself. At the same time, you just have to treat it as another day in the office. And that's tough. It's a lot of pressure on them."

      After spending Monday in media sessions and fitness evaluations, they climbed into late model stock cars and turned laps around the .4-mile asphalt oval. Wallace, who will drive this weekend in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, spent time Tuesday at Langley speaking with the drivers and sharing his knowledge of the process.

      "It seems like a great group of drivers. I'm glad I'm not part of the selection process," said Wallace, who added that his biggest advice was to try to stay relaxed. "You get tense and things happen. You get sidetracked and not focused.

      “You just have to go out and act like nobody's out there. It’s just like another day testing with the family or with the team. Out here trying to learn stuff and make a name for yourself. And just have fun."

      This is the 11th year of the NASCAR Drive For Diversity Combine, and the sixth year with Rev Racing, which executes the academy-style, year-round racing program out of Concord, N.C.

      The program is designed to identify and train young female and diverse drivers at the grass-roots level who demonstrate necessary talent to climb the ranks within the racing industry.

      With three graduates slated to drive in one of NASCAR's three national series next year, the program has made big strides in recent years.

      "What the program has done is continued to improve the caliber of candidates for our class," Rev Racing CEO Max Siegel said of the attention garnered by its alumni. "It's getting harder to pick the class every year because we're seeing more and more consistent, high-level performances, and not a lot of separation at this point in the evaluation."

      The 20 drivers on hand are a mix of candidates with prior experience at previous NASCAR Drive For Diversity Combines and drivers making their first trip. For Siegel, it's extremely positive to see the improvement of those who are returning.

      "The program is designed to encourage driver development and I can't say enough about the drivers who've come to the combine, who didn't make the class, got the feedback, went back and got experience," Siegel said. "It's showing in their performance. It's something if you're passionate about and committed to, it's a process. And the results are what we're seeing on the track today."

      In addition, the drivers come from a variety of racing backgrounds. For example, Collin Cabre has experience primarily in sprint cars on dirt in the southeast. Emily Packard runs a regional late model touring series in New England. Ruben Garcia Jr. and Abraham Calderon compete in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, and Amber Balcaen runs sprints and kart in Canada.

      "What I've seen today is a natural progression of what I've seen over the last 11 years -- a level of talent that continues to get better and better, year after year," said Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of NASCAR racing operations. "It's incredible to see the drivers that are for the first time driving on asphalt and gauging them against others.

      "We're happy with the results we're seeing. We also understand there are a lot of good years ahead as we continue to grow the program."

  • Wednesday, October 15, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, Oct. 15
    By The Sports Xchange

    Eight drivers will advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup following Sunday's Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, with Dale Earnhardt, Jimmy Johnson and Brad Keselowski each needing a victory to move on.

    • Capsules for the 12 drivers remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

      By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: With five races down and five more to go in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, Joey Logano remains atop the standings heading into this Sunday's race at the always unpredictable Talladega. Logano leads second-ranked Kyle Busch by six points and third-ranked Kevin Harvick by seven points.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 win, 2 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2009. Finished 16th in this race last year and was 32nd (crash) in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Don't look for Logano to go too crazy at the always wild Talladega. He's already locked into the Eliminator Round, which follows Talladega, by virtue of his win at Kansas. All Logano needs to do is drive smart and stay out of tight packs - which oftentimes lead to the proverbial "big one" at 'Dega, and he'll be in good shape. Remember: the points reset again after Talladega, so Logano has nothing really to gain Sunday. All he needs to do is maintain and he'll enter Martinsville for the start of the Eliminator Round in an eight-way tie for first place.

      "I think everyone would like to be in the position that we are in and that Kevin (Harvick) is in and know that you don't really have anything to worry about here other than going for the win. That was one of the first things that went through my mind and my crew's mind when we crossed the line at Kansas was how it made (Talladega) easier and less pressure packed. We know now that all we need to do is to go out there and win. We don't have to worry about riding around and staying out of the wreck. We can get up there and go for the win. But we also want to get a good finish out of it. We have five straight top-five finishes to start the Chase, and we'd love to keep that streak going and make it six in a row at Talladega."

      LOOKING BACK: After wins in two of the previous three races, Logano did not lead any laps but still came out of Charlotte with a very strong fourth-place finish.

      ETC.: Logano has completed 95.8 percent (2,007) of the 2,094 laps contested in 11 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 21.1, and his average finish is 20.7. He has four DNFs there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch didn't gain any ground, nor did he lose any ground on points leader Joey Logano after Charlotte. Busch went into last week's race six points behind Logano, and that's exactly where he sits heading into Sunday's race at Talladega. Busch leads third-ranked Kevin Harvick, who won at Charlotte, by one point.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: 19 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008. Finished fifth in this race last year and was 12th in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Busch comes into this weekend's race in a conundrum. While he already has one career Sprint Cup win at Talladega, the 2.66-mile superspeedway is one of Busch's worst-performing tracks. He can't be overly-aggressive, lest he may get into a wreck. Honestly, Busch doesn't have much to gain at 'Dega because the points will be reset again heading into the Eliminator Round, which will then begin with an eight-way tie for first place heading into Martinsville the following week.

      "It certainly feels good that we're heading in the right direction at the right time of the year," Busch said.

      "It's all about peaking at the right time and hopefully we haven't peaked, yet, and we still have a way to climb. I feel like we do anyways. We haven't won (thus far in the Chase); there's opportunity there. ... All the pieces are coming together at the right time and you can do great things. Hopefully, there's still a continuation of that here in the next five weeks."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch led 41 laps at Charlotte, but didn't have a strong enough car to get the checkered flag, settling for a still strong fifth-place finish.

      ETC.: Busch has completed just 90.0 percent (3,250) of the 3,612 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 20.7 and his average finish is 21.4. He has five DNFs there.

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick was the biggest gainer in the standings following his win this past Saturday at Charlotte. By taking the checkered flag, Harvick moved from sixth to third place in the Chase standings. He trails points leader Joey Logano by seven points, is one point behind second-ranked Kyle Busch and leads fourth-ranked Ryan Newman by four points.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 2010. Finished 12th in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick could be the biggest wildcard of the Chase. Now that he has one win under his belt, and given how fast his cars have been virtually every week, who's to say he can't win another one or two more races in the remaining five in the Chase?

      "It's going to be an absolutely phenomenal race," Harvick said of Talladega. "It's going to be fun to watch. It's going to be crazy, offensive racing. Talladega is always crazy, but I mean, it's going to be so crazy with everybody in the offensive frame of mind (to try and advance to the Eliminator Round)."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick has been beset by so many problems and mistakes this season, including during several of the first Chase races. That's why it might have seemed liked a surprise that he actually made it all the way through and took the checkered flag, but he did. By virtue of the win at Charlotte, Harvick has now punched his ticket to advance to the Eliminator Round after this weekend's race at Talladega.

      ETC.: Harvick has completed 95.2 percent (4,869 laps) of the 5,116 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 21.9 and his average finish is 15.9. He has two DNFs there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: The lone representative of Richard Childress Racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Ryan Newman slipped ever so slightly in the standings after Charlotte, dropping from a tie for third into sole possession of fourth. He trails points leader Joey Logano by 11 points, is four points behind third-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads fifth-ranked Carl Edwards by one point.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: 25 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2009. Finished ninth in this race last year and was 18th in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman continues his Cinderella-like march through the Chase. Even though he has yet to win a race in the Chase, let alone the entire season to date, Newman is in fourth place heading to Talladega due to consistency at the right time in the playoffs. Newman is confident about his chances to advance to the next round after 'Dega, but isn't as confident about other drivers on the bubble:

      "I don't think there is more pressure, I think there are more questions. We saw some guys at Kansas and Charlotte who had some misfortune that are guys who don't usually have issues like the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson). Those guys have their work cut out for them. Talladega is left and you have three guys in trouble. There is going to be some different approaches no doubt at Talladega, but I don't see it as added pressure. I still take the same approach to the first Talladega as I do the second Talladega. You're still racing for points and positions, and obviously a win to keep yourself in the Chase and on to the next bracket."

      LOOKING BACK: Newman led one lap en route to a seventh-place finish this past Saturday night at Charlotte.

      ETC.: Newman has completed a mediocre 85.0 percent (4,027) of 4,740 total laps in 25 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 13.2 and his average finish is 21.5. He has eight DNFs there.

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush-Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards dropped from a tie for third to fifth after Saturday's race at Charlotte. He trails points leader Joey Logano by 12 points, is one point behind fourth-ranked Ryan Newman and leads sixth-ranked Jeff Gordon by two points.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: 20 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2010. Finished 17th in this race last season and was 30th (crash) in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he dropped from a tie for third to fifth after Charlotte, Edwards remains a strong contender to not only advance to the Eliminator Round, but could be a potential dark horse to go all the way to the final round of four drivers entering the season finale at Homestead. However, Talladega is one of Edwards' worst-performing tracks.

      Here's his thoughts on this weekend's race: "Our team has done a great job of good finishes the first two races of this round. We've got to finish 19th or better to advance to the next round. We've had some great superspeedway cars. ... As far as the race goes, who knows what's going to happen. I mean, I don't know that it can get any crazier than Charlotte, but it probably will. Talladega, on its own, without all the points implications and the tempers that are bound to be there based on everything that happened at Charlotte, is crazy. Without those things, Talladega is wild. So once you add all of the pressure of people needing to win, grudges, unfinished business from last week, I think it sells itself."

      LOOKING BACK: Edwards had another strong and consistent Chase run at Charlotte, leading one lap and finishing eighth.

      ETC.: Edwards has completed 90.0 percent (3,420) of the 3,800 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 13.4 and average finish is 21.0. He has six DNFs there.

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon climbed one spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, going from a tie for seventh to sixth following Saturday's race at Charlotte. Gordon is 14 points behind points leader Joey Logano, is two points behind fifth-ranked Carl Edwards and leads seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: 43 career starts, 6 wins, 15 top-5s, 19 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1996, spring 2000, spring 2004, spring 2005, spring and fall 2007. Finished 14th in this race last year and was 39th in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Where he is in the standings, Gordon is far from being guaranteed to advance to the Eliminator Round after Talladega. At the same time, he has to run a conservative race Sunday and can't take too many risks, knowing he could be collected in a big wreck that could take him out of the Chase.

      "Staying out of the 'big one, the crash that takes out so many cars, is crucial to having success at Talladega," Gordon said. "So many strategies - like staying in front or staying in the back - can be used during the race, however, there's no perfect strategy to run this race. You just have to hope your car is in one piece at the end of the race. The big one could lead to a big swing in the points."

      And yes, Jeff, potentially to elimination, as well.

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon gave Kevin Harvick everything he could handle, but was unable to get past, ultimately settling for second place at Charlotte.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 91.6 percent (7,385) of the 8,065 total laps contested in 43 career starts at Talladega, the most of any active driver in the race. His average start is 11.6 and his average finish is 16. 7. He has nine DNFs there.

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 7th, 15 points out of first place and 17 points to the good in his bid to be one of the eight drivers that advance of the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Lost two spots last week.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: Won the May race.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin knows he needs to finish 15th or better to clinch a spot in the next round of the Chase or 16th if he leads at least one lap. For that reason, he plans to run at the back of the pack "waiting on the wreck to happen, clear it, know that we can get in based on the cars that are out of the race and then try to get a win. It's going to be a different race for everyone. It's just going to be about circumstances and drivers putting themselves in the right spot not to get wrecked and then after that, you have to find your way to victory lane. You (the news media) thought it was going to be wild, but now with the way it's playing out, it's shaping up to be a very epic. Until the last lap, you will not know who is going to be in or out."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin started third on the final restart, but had to win a three-wide battle with Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch at the finish line to end up ninth at Charlotte. "We were sitting in a decent spot, but we lost six spots when he (Brad Keselowski) ran into us and knocked us up the track. He's out of control. He's desperate, obviously, and it's either four or five of us are wrong or he's wrong because he pissed off everyone. Luckily, it didn't cause us to wreck. If it would have caused us to wreck, I'd be waiting for him right now."

      ETC.: Hamlin admitted he brake-checked Keselowski on the so-called cool down lap after the race. Keselowski then ran into Hamlin and the two bounced off each other as they headed for pit road. After Keselowski ran into the side of Matt Kenseth and shoved Kenseth into Tony Stewart, Stewart retailed by backing hard into Keselowski's car. Keselowski then drove his badly-damaged Ford into the crowded garage area with Hamlin in hot pursuit. "He cleared out transmissions and did burnouts in the garage," Hamlin said of Keselowski. "Just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion." After climbing out of his car, Hamlin had to be restrained by his crew to keep from going after Keselowski. Hamlin did throw a towel at his rival as he was pushed past the 2 car by his crew. Hamlin was not fined for his post-race antics at Charlotte.

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 31 points out of first place, but only one point to the good in his bid to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Gained one spot last week.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished eighth in the spring race for fifth top-10 finish including two runner-up finishes in 21 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne feels "we are in a spot where we can definitely make it, advance to the next round if we don't wreck (at Talladega), same as a lot of guys. Talladega will be interesting. I think there will probably be a lot of strategies that go on throughout the first three quarters of the race and then there are going to be a lot of guys who just have to race hard at the end. If you wreck you won't make the next round, if you don't wreck, you will advance."

      LOOKING BACK: Kahne finished 10th at Charlotte. "It was better than we ran most of the night," said Kahne. "We just struggled. The only way I could get it to turn in the center (of the corner) was to be so loose. Then it would still get tight after 15 laps so we would go slower at that point. So we just tried a lot of things and never really got it going. Tried to stay out there at the end - we were seventh and ended up 10th. We kind of finished where we were running the last 60 laps, but it wasn't a great night for us at all."

      ETC.: Kahne said "Talladega is a track I have always liked and look forward to. We have good, fast cars for those types of tracks. Results are kind of all over the board, but I would say that for a lot of people. Sometimes you are in other people's wrecks there and things like that. Sometimes you can't control everything and that is something that will be the same for all of us at Talladega. It will be interesting how it all works out. It will be a lot of pressure on everyone. It will change throughout the entire race -- all the way to the checkers."

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 32 points out of first place; only one point out of the top eight that will advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Lost two spots last week.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: One win and nine top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 29 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth said, "I think Talladega is going to be a moving target since it really depends on what everyone else has for a game plan this weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if the two guys already locked in to advance (Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick) are up there racing hard at the front of the pack while the other ten (in the Chase) are hanging our near the back for the majority of the race. I don't know that I have that in me though because I can't stand not going as hard as I can all the time. There's so much that is unpredictable and out of our control at Talladega that we'll see what happens."

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth was running fourth on a restart with 64 laps to go. He got a real good jump and went to the outside of leader Brad Keselowski. The two touched with Kenseth bouncing hard off the wall. Kenseth quickly dropped to 19th and that is where he ended the night as he fell out of the top eight in the standings.

      "On the restart I just rolled to the outside of him (Keselowski) in the dog leg and he knew I was there and just ran me out of room and ran into the wall because he didn't want to get passed," said Kenseth. "There are a lot of guys that you can race like that and they know you're there and they will give you the room and he's usually one of them. He did it on purpose and just ran me into the wall because he didn't want to be passed."

      ETC.: Kenseth is known for his lay-back attitude so everyone was shocked when he went around Keselowski after the race. "When you see Matt Kenseth mad enough to fight, you know that this (the new Chase format) is intense because that's way out of character for him," said Kevin Harvick, who avoided all the post-race antics by winning the Charlotte race. Kenseth went running after Keselowski after Keselowski ran into him on pit road after the race. Kenseth jumped on top of Keselowski and knocked him into the side of a hauler before being pulled off Keselowski by Paul Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief. "I had my HANS (neck device) off and my seat belts off and everything," said a still livid Kenseth. "He clobbered me at 50 (miles per hour). If you want to talk about it as a man, try to do that, but to try and wreck someone on the race track, come down pit road with other cars and people standing around with seat belts off and drive in the side of me...it's excusable. There is no excuse for that." Kenseth was not fined for his actions Saturday night.

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Team Penske

      WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 50 points out of first place; 19 points out of the top eight that will advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: Two wins and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski said, "This weekend is going to be interesting for sure. Talladega is a big place, and we need to have a big weekend. We have our work cut out for us. I know this team is going to give it their all as well, and that's all we can do. I've had some big moments at Talladega. My first Cup Series victory definitely stands out in my mind, and then winning there again in 2012 was a significant part of the 2 team earning the championship that year." Adds crew chief Paul

      Wolfe, "We are more than capable of winning and we'll do our utmost to make that happen." A win would automatically move Keselowski into the next round.

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski, who led three times for eight laps, was running fifth when the green flag came out of the final time with only two laps to go following the eighth caution flag of the night. Keselowski got into the back of Denny Hamlin on the restart and the two bounced off each other several times with Keselowski dropping back to 16th to put his chances of advancing to the next round of the Chase in real trouble. "I thought we were gonna have a fourth or fifth-place run and just didn't catch a break in so many different ways," said Keselowski after being involved in several post-race incidents that caused NASCAR to invite him to the NASCAR hauler to discuss his actions.

      ETC.: On the so-called cool down lap after the race, Keselowski and Hamlin ran into each other after Hamlin admitted he brake-checked Keselowski. After hitting Hamlin, Keselowski then ran into Matt Kenseth on pit road, shoving Kenseth into Tony Stewart. Stewart was so upset with what happened that he backed his car hard into the front of Keselowski's Ford. Keselowski then drove his battered car into the crowded garage area with Hamlin in hot pursuit. To get away from Hamlin, Keselowski peeled rubber. Hamlin had to be restrained by his own crew to keep from going after Keselowski. After Keselowski climbed out of his car and was walking back to his hauler, he was jumped from behind by Kenseth, who was pulled off Keselowski by Paul Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief. When asked to explain what caused all of the post-race incidents, Keselowski said, "I think the 20 got into the back of me on one of the restarts (with 64 laps to go), it was just a racing deal and I wasn't mad at him. But when the last yellow came out he got the wave around and when he came by he swung at my car and tore the whole right-front off of it. It ruined our day - that gave us a big Chase hurt. For some reason after the race, the 11 (Hamlin) stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don't know what that was about. He swung and hit my car. I figure if we're going to play car wars under the yellow and after the race, I'm going to play, too. Those guys can dish it out, but they can't take it. I gave it back to them and they want to fight." Keselowski was fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the next four Sprint Cup races. "These penalties (Tony Stewart was fined $25,000 and also put on probation for the next four races) are about maintaining a safe environment following the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president, competition and racing development.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 57 points out of first place; 26 points out of the top eight that will advance to the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Gained one spot last week.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: Two wins and 10 top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 25 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson said, "We definitely didn't get the finish we needed in Charlotte and it's forced us into the position of having to win this weekend in Talladega. Our speedway program at Hendrick Motorsports is top-notch and I'll have the equipment I need to make a run at it. But you can't control the rest of the field, and we are just going to need some luck heading into this weekend. If anyone can pull it off, this 48 Lowe's team can."

      LOOKING BACK: Johnson is the all-time race winner at Charlotte with seven wins, and he expected to contend for an eighth victory on Saturday night. But it never happened as Johnson spent a very frustrating evening as he battled a car that was not to his liking for most of the night. He and crew chief Chad Knaus even got into several testy conversations as Johnson complained about how poorly his car was handling. But Knaus was finally able to find the right balance as Johnson raced his way into fourth place late in the race. Johnson was running fourth when a yellow flag was waved with five laps to go. He and Knaus debated on whether or not to pit with Knaus saying, "If we don't pit, I think we will get run over on the restart." So Johnson pitted for two right-side tires and started 10th on the final restart with two laps to go. The move backfired when several cars in front of him started bouncing off each other. Johnson ended the night in 17th place to put his hopes of advancing to the next round of the Chase for the Championship in serious jeopardy.

      ETC.: Johnson is quick to point out "You just can't predict what's going to happen (at Talladega). That's the wild thing about Talladega. You don't mind crashing if there's five to go; you do if you're trying to get into the championship, but it's just such a risk versus reward management exercise because if you don't have much to lose, you can try to race all day long and try to stay at the head of the pack and out of trouble. But if you cycle to the middle of the field at some point; that's inevitable. And if you cycle into the middle of the field at the wrong time and you're in the big one, then you're kicking yourself for racing. So, it's a tough race to figure out what to do."

      88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 57 points out of first place; 26 points out of the top eight that will advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Lost one spot last week.

      TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished second in the October race a year ago. Has five wins and 14 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 29 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt knows his mission this weekend at Talladega is pretty basic - "go there and win it. We can do it; we have won there a lot of time. I know what we need to do. We will just have to build a fast car and hope that we don't have any gremlins and try to go out there and win it. I just have to go and try to win the race. We are in a situation where we have our backs against the wall. But we are in a situation where we can be aggressive again, like we were when we won the Daytona 500. We can be as crazy as we want to be on pit calls and fuel mileage and all those things. We just have to find a way to get it done."

      LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt felt so good about his prospects for the weekend that on Friday he predicted he would win the Bank of America 500. And he ran as high as second in the first 100 laps before disaster struck just before the third caution flag of the night on lap 136 of the 334-lap event. "We had a real bad vibration and broke a transmission shifter off," said Earnhardt. "We only had third and fourth gear and lost a lap trying to get off pit road on a green-flag stop. The vibration issue was causing a lot of balance issues and grip issues. But, we had a good enough car to run in the top 10." But because he was never able to get his lap back, Earnhardt ended the night in 20th place to severely damage his hopes of winning his first Cup championship this year.

      ETC.: Earnhardt received a lot of nice gifts last week during his week-long birthday celebration - he turned 40 on Friday. One of the most unique was a replica of a dirt car driven by his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, one of the top dirt track racers in NASCAR history. Marcus Smith, Charlotte Motor Speedway President, presented Earnhardt with the car last Thursday. Dale also drove a U.S. Legends car with the same design for his first victory at Charlotte at the beginning of his driving career. "This is exactly the way the car looked," said Earnhardt. "Wow! I am very appreciative of this. It's a nice-looing little piece."

  • Tuesday, October 14, 2014
    NASCAR fines Keselowski, Stewart
    By The Sports Xchange

    In the wake of post-race actions in Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR announced sanctions for drivers Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart on Tuesday.

    • Keselowski, who is competing for the season-long title in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, received a $50,000 fine. He will be on probation through the next four races. The probation ends just before the season-ending race in South Florida.

      Stewart, who is not in the Chase, was fined $25,000 and handed a four-race probation.

      "These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment following the race," NASCAR senior vice president of competition and racing development Robin Pemberton said in a statement. "We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves. However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials, and workers is paramount and we will react when that safety could be compromised."

      Keselowski attempted to spin Denny Hamlin's car after the checkered flag, then rammed Matt Kenseth's car. Stewart, caught in the action between the other drivers, backed into Keselowski's car, wrecking the front end.

      Hamlin and Kenseth were not penalized.

      In the current standings, Hamlin is seventh, Kenseth is ninth and Keselowski is 10th. Only the top eight will remain in the Chase after Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway.

  • Sunday, October 12, 2014
    Talladega a must-win scenario for three notable drivers
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- When the smoke cleared, the dust settled, and the fists stopped flying on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, three of the most high-profile drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series were back where they started.

      Six days earlier, in a race at Kansas Speedway fraught with peril for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, brash 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and perennial most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered the most severe of consequences.

      All three wrecked in the Hollywood Casino 400. Leaving Kansas, Keselowski was 10th in the Chase standings, Earnhardt 11th and Johnson 12th, with a cut to the top eight Chase drivers coming Oct. 19 at Talladega.

      In a Saturday-night race at Charlotte that could have provided redemption for the three drivers, none found it.

      Early in the race, the shifter in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet broke off in the driver's hand. Requiring a push off pit road after his crew attempted repairs, Earnhardt lost a lap on the track and never regained it. He finished 20th.

      When caution slowed the race on Lap 327 of 334, crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson to bring the No. 48 Chevy to pit road for fresh tires, a strategic error as it turned out. Johnson had been running fourth, but with two laps left, he restarted 10th behind nine cars that had stayed on track under the yellow.

      In the mad dash that followed, Johnson was shuffled back to 17th and finished there.

      Keselowski was fifth for that same restart on Lap 333, but contact in the first corner with Denny Hamlin's No.11 Toyota sent the Blue Deuce dropping through the field like a stone. Keselowski finished 16th but his night was far from over.

      On the cool-down lap, Keselowski deliberately clipped Hamlin's Camry. Near the entrance to pit road, he slammed into Kenseth's Toyota. Once out of their cars, Keselowski and Hamlin screamed at each other over intervening crewmen and NASCAR officials.

      As Keselowski was walking between haulers, Kenseth jumped him, angry that Keselowski had hit his car after Kenseth had removed his head-and-neck restraint and unbuckled his harness. It was Keselowski, however, who received an invitation to the NASCAR transporter, where he was asked to explain his actions.

      The bottom line? Johnson and Earnhardt ended the night tied for last among Chase drivers, 26 points behind Kasey Kahne in eighth place. Keselowski is 10th in the standings, 19 points behind Kahne, and may face sanctions that would drop him even farther back.

      Realistically, though, the task at hand is clear-cut for Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt: either win at Talladega or face the harsh reality that the Chase will continue without them.

      You have three drivers with the same objective, but there's one major problem. There's only one trophy and only one golden ticket to the Eliminator round of the Chase.

      And it's not as if Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt will be the only three drivers going all-out for the victory at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Kahne has a one-point lead over Kenseth for the final transfer spot to the next round of the Chase, and the best course of action for both drivers is to race hard and stay as close to the front as possible.

      There are 31 other non-Chase drivers for whom Talladega is an expanded window of opportunity. As history has shown us on numerous occasions, the restrictor plate is a great equalizer, and drivers who might need divine intervention to win at an open-motor track can take a checkered flag in the draft at NASCAR's longest closed course.

      Earnhardt has five wins at Talladega, but none since 2004. Johnson and Keselowski have won there twice each, most recently in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

      But if their path to the next round of the Chase is clearly defined, it is also more complicated that it would be at an open-motor track.

      Perhaps that's why emotions reached the boiling point at Charlotte, as the stark prospect of having to win at Talladega to keep championship hopes alive came sharply into focus for three of the sport's biggest stars.

  • Sunday, October 12, 2014
    Harvick wins, advances in Spring Cup Chase
    By The Sports Xchange

    CONCORD, N.C. -- Kevin Harvick held off Jeff Gordon to win the Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night and join Joey Logano in the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    • Gordon finished second, .572 second behind Harvick. Jamie McMurray was third, Logano fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.

      Logano won last week at Kansas Speedway, securing his spot in the next Chase round.

      Logano, Busch and Harvick are the top three in the standings, followed by Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards.

      "We wanted to try to control the things that we could control," Harvick said. "We felt like Kansas and here were playing to our strengths and just see where we fell after that, once we get to the next round."

      Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are in the elimination spots heading into next weekend's elimination race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Kenseth is one point behind Kasey Kahne in the bubble spot of eighth, while Keselowski is 19 points back. Johnson and Earnhardt are tied in the Chase basement, 26 points out of eighth.

      Frustration seems to be showing. Keselowski's car bumped the cars of Denny Hamlin and Kenseth in separate incidents after the race. Hamlin exchanged words with Keselowski, and Kenseth engaged him in a physical altercation.

      "He just plowed into us," Kenseth said. "He's just out of control. He's desperate, obviously, and it's either four or five of us are wrong or he's wrong."

      Harvick led a race-high 162 of the 334 laps.

      "Everybody on our team has just continued to build better race cars, and we know that we've had the cars to run up front and lead laps and do the things that we need to do," Harvick said.

      He took the lead from Hamlin with 41 laps to go. A few laps later, Gordon also got by Hamlin to take second. They then cycled back up to first and second after a green flag cycle of pit stops in the final 30 laps.

      "Kevin got out there on us after that green flag stop," Gordon said. "I didn't want to see another restart, because every time we start on the inside, we seem to lose positions -- there at the end and the whole race."

      Brian Vickers' blown engine brought out an eighth and final caution with seven laps to go, putting Harvick and Gordon side-by-side on the front row for a restart with three laps remaining.

      "Kevin was tough," Gordon said. "I knew when he got out in front, it was going to be hard to beat him."

      Busch and Kyle Larson each led before Hamlin got off pit road first by taking only two tires during a caution with 68 laps to go.

      Brad Keselowski stayed out during the yellow flag to restart with the lead, but he lost that lead to Hamlin on the restart.

      Larson and Harvick also got by Keselowski and battled each other for second before Harvick took control of the position.

      On a restart at Lap 144, Gordon lost spots to Kurt Busch and McMurray.

      Prior to Harvick taking the lead, Gordon was the primary race leader. Gordon took the lead from pole-sitter Kyle Busch on Lap 14 and led 70 of the first 100 laps.

      Gordon dropped to fourth on pit road during a competition caution on Lap 25 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick took only two tires and Busch's team pulled off a faster stop.

      After Busch took the lead on the restart, Gordon got by him to take the top spot on Lap 38. Soon after, Harvick also got by Busch for second.

      Gordon and Harvick cycled back up to the top two spots after green flag stops around Lap 75, but Gordon's lead over Harvick was significantly larger than his cushion before the stops.

      The yellow flag waved for a second time for Clint Bowyer's blown engine, and again Gordon and Harvick lost spots to drivers taking two tires, including Earnhardt. Instead of Gordon getting through to the front, though, Harvick made his way to the lead.

      Earnhardt lost spots on each restart after taking two tires but remained in the top 10 until his shifter broke just before the caution around Lap 135.

      "The vibration broke the shifter in half, and it just wasn't a good night," Earnhardt said. "The car just wasn't handling well and the vibration was really giving us a lot of problems. We had it in practice, but we still couldn't fix it."

      NOTES: Kyle Busch won the pole, but Kurt Busch set a new track record in qualifying on Thursday, with a 198.771 mph lap in Round 2. ... The race started on a "green" track, as rain fell earlier in the day, washing all rubber off the track. The green flag was delayed slightly as pit road was dried. ... Jimmie Johnson is the all-time wins leader at Charlotte, counting the most recent race in May. ... Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth finished first through third in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte on Friday night. ... Charlotte is the fifth race of the 10-race Chase and the second of three races that make up the second, or Contender, round.

  • Saturday, October 11, 2014
    Toyota introduces new 2015 Camry race car
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- No longer just the so-called "sure bet," it was a sleeker, slicker, more aggressive-looking 2015 Toyota Camry NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car unveiled by Toyota Motor Sales and Toyota Racing Development on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

      The new Camry is the product of a redesign project with two primary goals: to provide the vehicle with a more distinctive identity and to correlate the appearance of the car to the 2015 street version that was introduced early this year.

      "A lot of hard work has gone into redesigning the 2015 Camry race car for NASCAR competition," said TRD president and general manager Dave Wilson.

      "It was a challenging process balancing performance and design, but working closely with Calty Design (part of Toyota's global network design team), NASCAR and our race team partners, we were able to develop a race car that looks similar to its production counterpart -- and provide a performance upgrade on the race track."

      The front fascia and grille opening of the new Camry mirror the aggressive design of the production car, and that's perhaps the most obvious aspect of the new design.

      Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, was pleased with what he saw at the unveiling in the Charlotte media center.

      "There's a reason the Camry's always been the No.1-selling car," Bowyer said. "It is the sure bet, and it's neat to see some styling enhancements make it a little more aggressive, just a little bit more sexy car than the that sure bet.

      "Everybody wants a sure bet, but every now and then you'd like a good-looking date, too. Certainly, we've accomplished that with the Camry, and I'm pretty excited about it."

      Bowyer and other Toyota drivers will have a chance to get some track time in the new race car this year before NASCAR's testing ban goes into effect Jan. 1. And with NASCAR's new lower-downforce, lower horsepower competition package set to debut in 2015, Bowyer feels the timing of the new Camry couldn't be better.

      "I think it's a perfect time to have a new car, to be honest with you," Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service. "It's a whole new rules package with a lot of unknowns anyway. So what you had last year per se isn't going to be the same recipe for success next year with all the different rules.

      "You're pretty much starting from scratch anyway. So it's a perfect time to start from scratch with even yet another car all linked together."

      THE KEY RACE

      Denny Hamlin would love to kick a man when he's down -- three men to be exact.

      With Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all having serious issues last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin sees and opportunity to keep them out of the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      And he thinks Charlotte will be the key race in that scenario, given the often-random nature of Talladega, the final venue in the Contender Round. The way Hamlin sees, Charlotte presents the best chance for the three drivers in question to make up ground, or to guarantee advancing to the Eliminator Round by winning the race.

      "I think this is the key weekend for that," Hamlin said. "All the speed in the world that all those teams have had this year means nothing when we go to Talladega. In my opinion, this is their shot to make up those points. Next week, you can't count on the speed of the car. It's just going to be about circumstances and drivers putting themselves in the right spot not to get wrecked and then after that, you have to find your way to victory lane."

      "I think this is the week that's going to really set the tone for next week and obviously Talladega is the final cutoff race. You thought it was going to be wild, but now with the way it's playing out, and especially those cars that have had bad races last week, it's shaping up to be very epic. Until the last lap, you will not know who is going to be in or out."

      BONUS DRIVERS

      Race fans attending NASCAR After the Lap during Champion's Week in Las Vegas will get 33 percent more for the cost of admission this year.

      Instead of 12 drivers, all 16 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will appear with emcee Marty Smith at the Pearl Palms Concert Theater at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 4. Previous editions of NASCAR After the Lap have proven to be both spirited and unpredictable, to put it mildly.

      Fans can purchase tickets at www.NASCARafterthelap.com. At the same site they can also enter the NASCAR After the Lap sweepstakes through Nov. 16.

      In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the iconic Ford Mustang, fans entering the NASCAR After The Lap sweepstakes will have the opportunity to win a 2015 Ford Mustang GT. Additionally, two winners will receive an all-inclusive VIP trip for two to NASCAR After The Lap, including round-trip airfare, hotel, ground transportation and VIP event access.

  • Saturday, October 11, 2014
    Johnson tries to escape cellar, stay in Chase
    By The Sports Xchange

    CONCORD, N.C. -- The 2014 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup hits its midway points at NASCAR's home track, Charlotte Motor Speedway, on Saturday night with the running of the Bank of America 500.

    • It's the fifth race of 10 that make up the Chase and the second of three races in the second round, the Contender round.

      Among the drivers in the danger zone of being eliminated at the conclusion of the second round that will end with the checkered flag Oct. 19 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, are three drivers considered favorites when the Chase kicked off last month at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. -- reigning and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

      While there is surprise that Keselowski, who is one of the season's leaders with five wins, and Earnhardt find themselves in the Chase basement and practically in need of a win either at Charlotte or next week at Talladega for Chase advancement, the biggest shocker is the performance, of late, of Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.

      "We still have a shot," Johnson said. "The situation has changed some, and we've got to win. But this team loves adversity. This team thrives on it. And there is not quit in us, so we'll keep digging."

      Johnson is in the absolute basement heading into the Charlotte race, 12th in the standings among the 12 drivers remaining in the Chase, 27 points behind Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, the two drivers tied at seventh and eighth in the standings, the last two advancing positions.

      Johnson finds himself in the position he's in after a tire issue and a wreck last weekend at Kansas Speedway resulted in a 40th-place finish.

      "I definitely wasn't happy to be sitting there (in the garage) tore up, especially something that wasn't of our own doing, to be clipped off of turn two and taken out of the race in the position of racing for a championship," Johnson said.

      Johnson and company took longer to capture their first win of 2014 when they didn't manage to get to victory lane until the May race at Charlotte, the 12th race of the season, but Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus never seemed to be missing a beat then.

      They then turned in a couple more wins in close succession, winning at Dover (Del.) International Speedway the following weekend and again at Michigan International Speedway a couple weeks later.

      Johnson, however, is in another 2014 win drought, and this time it's different.

      Anything and everything that could possible go wrong seems to be going wrong for the driver of the No. 48.

      Johnson was leading laps early in the season, just not winning races. This time around, Johnson's not leading laps. He's led only 28 laps in the 15 most recent races, and those laps led came before the Chase.

      "We're just not where we want to be, bottom line," Johnson said. "We're working very hard to get there. This sport is not forgiving."

      Johnson's troubles have also started cropping up before the green flag. Last weekend at Kansas Speedway, he spun all by himself in the first round of qualifying. Friday at Charlotte, he wrecked in practice.

      Johnson has been the dominant driver for a while, winning championships in six of the eight most recent seasons. The champions those other two seasons were Tony Stewart and Keselowski.

      Stewart's not in the Chase this year, and Keselowski also finds himself in the danger zone of maybe not advancing. Go back a ninth season and Stewart was also hoisting the trophy then.

      Most of the current roster of drivers weren't even around if you go back much further than that.

      "What you have accomplished in the past doesn't buy you a damn thing for the present," Johnson said. "You have to go out there and earn it and make the most of it."

      Aside from Jeff Gordon's chance at a fifth championship trophy, 2014 is shaping up to be the perfect opportunity for a first-time champion.

  • Saturday, October 11, 2014
    Keselowski charges to Nationwide win at Charlotte
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- In the closing moments of Friday night's Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with an air of inevitability, Brad Keselowski tracked down teammate Ryan Blaney and made the pass for the win on Lap 187 of 200.

      With frequent cautions giving crew chiefs multiple options and scrambling tire strategies, Keselowski had four fresh tires for the restart on Lap 182. It was simply a matter of time before he passed Blaney, who had gained seven positions with a two-tire stop under caution on Lap 169.

      Keselowski finished .377 of a second ahead of runner-up Kyle Busch, who got past Blaney for the second spot on Lap 189. Matt Kenseth ran third and Blaney held off Kyle Larson for the fourth position.

      The NASCAR Nationwide Series victory was Keselowski's fourth in nine starts this year, his third at Charlotte and the 31st of his career. But before he made the winning pass, Keselowski had a moment of doubt.

      "Under the yellow (that preceded the final restart), I was confident," Keselowski said. "Then (Blaney) took off in those first five laps and I went, 'Uh, oh.' I wasn't holding back, and he was driving away, and then the pendulum swung.

      "His car seemed to fall off -- whether it was the two tires or just the nature of his car, I don’t know -- but it came back to us. Yeah, when the yellow was out, I would have definitely said I was very confident, but after those first five laps, it swung back to us."

      Busch had a one-second lead over Keselowski with 40 laps left, but his winning chances suffered when NASCAR called a caution on Lap 167 after a suspension part came to rest on the backstretch apron.

      "They were faster than us tonight," Busch said of Keselowski's No. 22 Team Penske Ford. "Just knew that with about 60 (laps) to go that we had a tire advantage over them, and that was going to be the way for us to win the race.

      "But bizarre debris cautions always ruin those things for you. It's a shame."

      For the first two-thirds of the race, pole-sitter Chase Elliott looked to be the driver to beat.

      Elliott pitted off-sequence on Lap 18, restarted 19th on Lap 22 and worked his way up to fifth before a cycle of green-flag pit stops put him in the lead on Lap 61.

      When NASCAR called a debris caution on Lap 68, only four drivers remained on the lead lap -- Elliott, Regan Smith, Brendan Gaughan and Dylan Kwasniewski. That yellow was a godsend for Elliott, who could pit on Lap 70 without losing the top spot.

      Though Smith took the lead briefly after a restart on Lap 74, and held it through a caution for a multicar wreck near the start/finish line on Lap 74, Elliott regained the point on Lap 83 and pulled away to a lead of 2.5 seconds over Smith as the race reached its halfway point.

      But varying tire strategies shuffled Elliott backward after Busch passed him for the lead on Lap 146. And after the final restart on Lap 182, Keselowski asserted his superiority and successfully held off the fast-closing No. 54 Toyota of Busch.

      Elliott came home eighth but extended his series lead to 42 points over Smith, his JR Motorsports teammate who finished 11th Saturday.

      The Lap 74 accident proved the undoing of Ty Dillon, whose No. 3 Chevrolet suffered enough damage in the crash to force its retirement from the race. Dillon entered the race third in the series standings, but the wreck effectively ended his championship hopes.

      Dillon finished 30th and dropped to fifth in the standings, 64 points behind Elliott with three races left in the season.

      NASCAR Nationwide Series Race

      300 Miles Of Courage

      Charlotte Motor Speedway

      Concord, North Carolina

      Friday, October 10, 2014

      1. (10) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 200, $65375.

      2. (5) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 200, $52075.

      3. (2) Matt Kenseth(i), Toyota, 200, $37500.

      4. (19) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 200, $26475.

      5. (6) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 200, $26450.

      6. (13) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 200, $27075.

      7. (8) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 200, $24360.

      8. (1) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 200, $36120.

      9. (4) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 200, $22000.

      10. (3) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 200, $24525.

      11. (22) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 200, $21150.

      12. (7) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, 200, $13600.

      13. (16) Ryan Sieg #, Chevrolet, 200, $19000.

      14. (21) Dylan Kwasniewski #, Chevrolet, 200, $18625.

      15. (9) Ryan Reed #, Ford, 200, $19250.

      16. (14) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200, $18175.

      17. (20) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 200, $17975.

      18. (15) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 200, $17775.

      19. (24) Dakoda Armstrong #, Ford, 200, $17600.

      20. (33) David Starr, Toyota, 200, $18150.

      21. (23) Ross Chastain(i), Toyota, 200, $11300.

      22. (25) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 198, $17195.

      23. (37) Kevin Swindell, Dodge, 197, $17095.

      24. (17) Corey LaJoie(i), Ford, Accident, 175, $16970.

      25. (40) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 166, $17370.

      26. (38) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 165, $16795.

      27. (31) Jamie Dick, Chevrolet, 161, $16670.

      28. (26) Chad Boat #, Chevrolet, Accident, 138, $10570.

      29. (35) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, Accident, 75, $16495.

      30. (11) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, Accident, 74, $16745.

      31. (18) James Buescher, Toyota, Accident, 74, $16390.

      32. (32) Eric McClure, Toyota, Accident, 73, $16305.

      33. (12) Cale Conley(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 73, $10240.

      34. (39) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, Vibration, 9, $16205.

      35. (36) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 8, $10158.

      36. (34) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, Accident, 1, $15450.

      37. (30) Tanner Berryhill #, Toyota, Accident, 1, $15415.

      38. (28) Will Kimmel III, Toyota, Accident, 1, $15336.

      39. (27) JJ Yeley, Dodge, Accident, 0, $15220.

      40. (29) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Accident, 0, $15190.

      Averrage Speed of Race Winner: 122.172 mph.

      Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 27 Mins, 20 Sec.

      Margin of Victory: 0.377 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 8 for 42 laps.

      Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: C. Elliott 1-8; M. Kenseth 9-60; C. Elliott 61-73; R. Smith 74-82; C. Elliott 83-120; K. Busch 121-131; B. Keselowski 132-139; C. Elliott 140-146; K. Busch 147-169; B. Gaughan 170-171; R. Blaney 172; B. Gaughan 173; R. Blaney 174-186; B. Keselowski 187-200.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): C. Elliott 4 times for 66 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 52 laps; K. Busch 2 times for 34 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 22 laps; R. Blaney 2 times for 14 laps; R. Smith 1 time for 9 laps; B. Gaughan 2 times for 3 laps.

      Top 10 in Points: C. Elliott - 1,106; R. Smith - 1,064; B. Scott - 1,045; E. Sadler - 1,043; T. Dillon - 1,042; T. Bayne - 1,008; C. Buescher - 912; B. Gaughan - 875; R. Reed - 820; J. Buescher - 792.

  • Friday, October 10, 2014
    Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing push forward
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- Step by step, Kyle Busch says, Joe Gibbs Racing is making progress.

      He just hopes the organization -- and his No. 18 Toyota team specifically -- has come far enough to go the distance when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup arrives at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      With a third-place finish in the first race in the Chase's Contender Round last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Busch took over second place in the Sprint Cup standings and enters Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with some breathing room.

      Busch took full advantage in Thursday night's qualifying session, winning the pole for the fifth Chase race.

      The effort in qualifying was another indication of the progress JGR is making as a team as the Chase unfolds.

      "With the way the eliminations are, yes, I would believe we're edging our way towards the top," Busch said of the organization's prospects for a championship. "Anything can happen in this game. I believe it's a fickle business, so you just have to pick through it all. And 500 miles here at Charlotte -- we hope to have a good race here.

      "We have had good races here in the past and, first things first, you shoot for top 10 and then you shoot for top five, and if you're in position you try to go after that victory and punch your ticket right on through and get yourself automatically into the Eliminator Round. ... You have to take things one step at a time."

      With the Chase approaching its midpoint, Busch seems more confident than ever in his footing, though he had difficulty dialing in the No. 18 Camry in Friday's final practice, posting the 15th-fastest speed in the session.

      21 YEARS AND 21 MPH

      When Jeff Gordon was a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie in 1993, he won the pole for the fall Charlotte race with a top speed of 177.684 mph.

      Twenty-one years later, in Thursday night's time trials, Kurt Busch set a track record at 198.771 mph, more than 21 mph faster than Gordon's 1993 pole speed.

      Though the speeds today are dramatically faster, Gordon said he was pushing just as hard to run 177 mph as a rookie as he was to run 197 mph on Thursday.

      "Back in 1994 and 1993, that was just unimaginable to be able to go through there so fast," Gordon said after a lap at 197.217 mph put his No. 24 Chevrolet on the outside of the front row for Saturday night's Bank of America 500. "I remember always coming to Charlotte, and when the sun goes down and you go to qualify and they tape up the grille, how you just had to hold your breath and really push the limits and go for it."

      "It seemed like back then I was pushing just as hard, but we weren't going as fast. Now the cars don't go faster because they are on the edge and wrecking. They go faster because they are stuck really well. You still have to push the limits of the car. To do that, there is a lot of throttle and very little brake and carrying a lot of speed."

      Indeed, in race trim on Friday, Gordon carried speed in the final Sprint Cup practice, running fourth behind Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in Happy Hour.

      CALLING HIS SHOT

      Ot worked for Denny Hamlin in the 2012 Chase race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Hamlin predicted victory for his No. 11 Toyota team -- and delivered.

      It was the NASCAR equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to center-field fence in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series and smacking a home run to that exact spot on the next pitch, if you believe the baseball lore.

      And if Hamlin's bravado produced results, why can't it work for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said Friday that he expects to win Saturday night's race at Charlotte and restore his team to the Chase conversation after a disastrous 39th-place finish last Sunday at Kansas.

      "We're going to win this race," Earnhardt said between practices on his 40th birthday. "I really got a good feeling about it. This is what we've got to do anyway to try to get further points and try to win the championship. I just got a good feeling.

      "The car's been great all weekend. Attitude's good. Everybody's excited. The team's working well together. The car's responding well. The car ran some good laps in practice and felt real good."

      It might be premature, however, to hand Earnhardt the trophy before Saturday night. He was 11th fastest in both practice sessions, though his No. 88 Chevy was second only to Austin Dillon's No. 3 in best average speed for 10 consecutive laps.

      MORE TROUBLE FOR SIX-TIME CHAMP

      On his 63rd lap in final Sprint Cup practice, Jimmie Johnson scraped the wall near the apex of Turns 3 and 4.

      "It's just a scratch," Johnson radioed to crew chief Chad Knaus before bringing his car to the No. 48 Chevy's garage bay.

      But it was yet another snafu for a driver who finished 40th last Sunday at Kansas and needs a strong rebound in the next two races to avoid elimination from the Chase.

      "Just ran out of racetrack," Johnson said after exiting the car. "I was trying to get comfortable at the wall and get my car balance set up so I could run up there. The car is really fast, especially the run prior to our last outing. We feel really good about things.

      "The good news is it's just a big scratch on the side of the car. The guys are going to take it down to tech and make sure that everything checks out for the second time. We set it up on the scales, and nothing looks bent, so just a little drama and a new paint job on the right side before the start of the race, and we'll have this Lowe's Chevrolet ready to go."

      Johnson, who qualified 22nd on Thursday night, was eighth fastest in race trim during Happy Hour and fifth fastest in 10-lap average. That's an encouraging sign for the six-time champion -- if he can just avoid the wall.

  • Thursday, October 9, 2014
    Kyle Busch wins pole at Charlotte
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- The fastest car in the first round of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying, Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet, will start 19th in Saturday night's Bank of America 500, the fifth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      Kurt Busch, the new track record holder at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- and the new record holder for top speed at a 1.5-mile speedway -- will start 11th in the second race of the Chase's Contender Round.

      It was Kyle Busch, however, who ran the fastest lap when it counted most in Friday night's time trials. Busch won the pole or Saturday night's race with a lap at 197.300 mph (27.357 seconds) in the final round, edging Jeff Gordon (197.217 mph) for the top starting spot by .024 seconds.

      The Coors Light pole award was Busch's third of the year, matching the single-season high-water mark he achieved in 2013. It was his second pole at Charlotte and the 16th of his career.

      Denny Hamlin, Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate qualified third at 197.087 mph in a session that saw 21 drivers in the first round break Hamlin's previous track record of 195.624 mph, set in May of 2013.

      Tony Stewart (196.542 mph), the only non-Chase driver in the top five, will start fourth, followed by Ryan Newman (196.442 mph).

      But it was Kurt Busch, Kyle's brother, who posted the fastest lap ever run on a 1.5-mile speedway in the second round of time trials. Kurt toured Charlotte in a mind-boggling 27.167 seconds in posting an average speed of 198.771 mph, eclipsing the 198.282 mph run by Kevin Harvick at Texas in April.

      Kurt Busch said his car was at optimum strength in the second round--hence, the record lap. But he'll start 11th after his car tightened up in the final session.

      "Car was loose the first lap (in Round One), perfect the second lap, tight the third lap (in the final round)," he said. "Yes, I was off-throttle some, but never out of it all the way."

      Kyle Busch was fifth fastest in the first round, fourth in the second and the pole winner in the third, though his lap times in each session were remarkably consistent. The difference was that other drivers ran slower as the night progressed, a phenomenon Busch attributed as much to setup as to tire wear.

      "It seemed like the guy that was the most consistent was able to win the pole tonight," said Busch, who is second in the Chase standings. "I think we had a .38 (27.38 seconds), then a .33 and then a .36--so pretty good laps there...

      "We tested here a few weeks ago, and I was really happy with the test. We unloaded today and not so happy about it--just Charlotte. It will be different again tomorrow. You can certainly chalk that up for sure. We'll see how this weekend goes, and hopefully we can come out of here with a solid weekend and put ourselves in the right spot for continuing on in our Chase here."

      It was anything but an easy night for two drivers who desperately need a stellar performance, if not a victory, in Saturday night's race.

      Jimmie Johnson aborted his first qualifying attempt because his car was too loose to drive, but he came back to run 10th as time wound down on Round One and advanced to the second session.

      But Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet tightened up on his money lap in the second round, and the six-time series champion will start 21st on Saturday night.

      "Just didn't have the speed there on that final run," said Johnson, who is 11th in the Chase standings with a cut to the top eight looming after the Oct. 19 race at Talladega Superspeedway. "I got pretty tight off of (Turn) 4."

      "I thought we had some hope after the first round, and our second outing we ran a very good lap. But just didn't have any more there on that lap through Turns 3 and 4; we got wide and I had to let off a little bit so I didn't get into the outside wall. It's disappointing. There's no way around it."

      Similarly, Brad Keselowski needed a second attempt in the first round to advance, but a disappointing effort in the 10-minute second round left him 17th on the grid for the only night race in the Chase.

      But Keselowski, 10th in the Chase standings, sounded optimistic despite failing to advance to the final round of qualifying.

      "We've been off a little bit in qualifying trim since we've been here, but I thought our race trim was really good in practice and that's the most important thing so we'll keep working."

      Kasey Kahne, ninth in Chase points, was fastest in the first round of qualifying but could do no better than 19th in the second round and will start from that position on Saturday. Dale Earnhardt Jr., currently 11th in the Chase standings, advanced to the final round and will start ninth.

      Trevor Bayne failed to make the 43-car field in his first outing in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

  • Thursday, October 9, 2014
    Earnhardt Jr. feels less pressure after Kansas
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CONCORD, N.C. -- When is a 39th-place finish at Kansas Speedway like a victory in the Daytona 500?

      Answer: When it takes the pressure off Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      No, that’s not a joke. Though a blown tire and a hard shot into the Turn 4 wall at Kansas made staying in the Chase an uphill battle for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, Earnhardt comes to Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a clearly defined set of circumstances and, consequently, a lower degree of stress.

      At this point, the surest way for Earnhardt to survive elimination from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is to win one of the next two races.

      "I feel less pressure now, I think, than I did before the race at Kansas," Earnhardt said Thursday before opening practice at Charlotte. "Even, I think, if we had run in the top five last week ... I think today still, under the circumstances now, I still feel less pressure for some reason.

      "It's weird. I just think that we have a shot, and I feel good about it. I think our team is good. I think we're good enough. I think we should go out there and win. I believe we will."

      After winning the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte operated with an unprecedented sense of freedom, knowing they were all but assured of a place in the Chase.

      But when the Chase started, the pressure returned.

      "When we're in this situation where nothing matters is when we're doing that (getting out front) the best," Earnhardt said. "When we won the Daytona 500, we could be so risky and aggressive on our calls, and it paid off all year long to do that. When this Chase started, we reverted back toward being reserved and calculative on our choices and it netted us average results.

      "We're back in a situation (where) we have our backs against the wall, but we're in a situation where we can be aggressive again, as hard and crazy as we want to be on pit calls and fuel mileage and all those things. That's where Steve is at his best. I've got a lot of confidence that, if the car is competitive and we do the right thing as far as getting the setup in there, we can be around at the end of this thing with a shot."

      LOGANO LIKES LEADER'S ROLE

      Joey Logano won his fifth race of the season last week at Kansas, but from his perspective he also accomplished an important "first" that went beyond earning a guaranteed spot in the eliminator round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      With points reset after the first round of the Chase, Logano's win last week put the 24-year-old Team Penske driver on top of the standings of NASCAR's premier division for the first time in his career.

      Not that he wouldn't have been there anyway. With two victories and two fourth-place finishes in the first four Chase races, Logano boasts an average finish of 2.5, best in the series.

      "I'm enjoying the fact of being in the point lead for the first time and seeing some of the results of the hard work that you've put in over the last few years -- to see that," Logano said. "That part is really nice, but I guess I'm never where I want to be."

      Despite his youth, Logano already has learned that resting on success is the quickest way to lose ground.

      "If you ever feel like you're there, it's only going to be a couple weeks until somebody passes you, so you've always got to be looking ahead, and I think that's the attitude that I've had my whole life," Logano said.

      JOHNSON STILL SEARCHING FOR SPEED

      Jeff Gordon has been fast all season long. Dale Earnhardt Jr. picked up his pace last week at Kansas and was the fastest car on the track before he hit the Turn 4 wall.

      But Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson still hasn't found the extra edge that could propel his No. 48 Chevrolet to the front of the field. Uncharacteristically, seven races have passed since Johnson last led a lap.

      "We're just not where we want to be," Johnson said Friday at Charlotte. "We're working very hard to get there. This sport is not forgiving. What you've accomplished in the past doesn't buy you a damn thing for the present. You have to go out there and earn it and make the most of it.

      "We've been a third- to fifth-place car, and we can finish there and run there, but we haven't been a dominant car. We're certainly hoping that, when we come to tracks that have been very good for the No. 48, that we're able to find that little bit -- find that extra 10th (of a second) that (can) put us in that position and get our mojo going the right way."

      Even though Johnson dominated the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May, he thinks the technology of the Gen-6 cars has advanced significantly since the spring.

      "We feel like, if we came back with the May setup in the car, we'd probably be two or three more tenths off," Johnson said. "It seems that we're taking track records down by a couple of 10ths, even from a spring race to a fall race.

      "You don't have a chance to sit still in this sport. You have to keep moving and progressing your race cars."

  • Thursday, October 9, 2014
    It's go time for trio of pre-Chase favorites at Charlotte
    By The Sports Xchange

    NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Mayhem unfolded at Kansas on Sunday as three of the four top-seeded drivers entering the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup hit the wall on separate occasions, ruining their afternoons and damaging their championship hopes.

      The victims, and a bunch of key numbers:

      Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who finished 36th, 39th and 40th, respectively.

      In the same order, they sit 10th, 11th and 12th on the Chase Grid -- 22, 25 and 27 points behind eighth-place Jeff Gordon for the final spot in the Eliminator Round.

      With a mere two races remaining in the Contender Round, they find themselves in grave danger of being eliminated from the Chase entirely.

      Fortunately for the popular trio, a win in any Chase round automatically advances a championship-qualifying driver into the next segment -- in this case, the eight-man Eliminator Round.

      The three drivers enter Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC) desperately needing to rebound to keep their championship dreams alive. With Talladega, a track notorious for its randomness and treachery, a strong Charlotte finish is essential.

      Keselowski has to like his chances of winning at "The Beast of the Southeast." He captured the checkered flag in last October's Bank of America 500 and ranks tied for first in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with five victories. At Kansas, he was running in the top five when he wrecked, so speed is not an issue for the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driver.

      "It does feel as though Homestead came early this year -- subsequently we need a big weekend in order to keep our season alive," Keselowski said. "This team thrives with adversity, and I am not one to back down when challenged, so I feel as though we are ready for this one."

      Off to an even better start then Keselowski, Earnhardt was in first and led for 45 laps when he hit the wall on the 122nd go-around. He showed a powerful car for the first time since his fifth-place finish at Michigan in August. NASCAR's 11-time most popular driver has not won at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway since his 2005 victory at Chicagoland, but the rejuvenated Earnhardt has won more races this year than in his last seven seasons combined.

      The No. 88 Chevrolet driver seemed undeterred following his tough-luck Kansas performance.

      "That's the speed we need to give ourselves a chance to make the next round in the Chase," Earnhardt tweeted after the race. "Charlotte Motor Speedway is next. Let's go get it."

      Johnson didn't display nearly the amount of speed Keselowski and Earnhardt showed at Kansas, starting 32nd and trying to navigate through the middle of the field before his accident on Lap 84.

      He can never be counted out in the Queen City though. The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion owns Charlotte Motor Speedway's all-time record with seven wins and found Victory Lane in the Coca-Cola 600 at the 1.5-mile quad oval in May.

      "Well, it just means we've got to be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega," said Johnson when asked how his Kansas performance affects him going forward. "There is still a lot of racing left. Stuff can happen. We'll see how the other Chasers fare. If I can get taken out today, somebody else can later in this event or at Charlotte. We'll do our best to get on track and then certainly need W's, I would assume, going forward."

      Team Penske in the hunt for three titles

      Team Penske owner Roger Penske can achieve a feat across motorsports that no owner has accomplished -- win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crown, NASCAR Nationwide Series owner title and IndyCar Series championship all in the same season.

      Penske captured the IndyCar Series championship behind the driving of Will Power and now he only has two more to go. On the Sprint Cup side, Joey Logano has already advanced to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by winning at Kansas and five-race winner Brad Keselowski looks formidable.

      In the Nationwide Series, Penske's No. 22 Ford leads the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the owner points standings by 27 with just four races left.

      "We just want to win," said Logano, co-driver of the NNS No. 22 Ford team. "Yeah, obviously the IndyCar side, they did their job already, and they're done. They've done a great job. Now it's our job. We have two more championships to win. Not just the Sprint Cup championship but we want to win that Nationwide owner's championship too. We've got to keep plugging away."

      Keselowski, the 2010 NNS champion will take the wheel of the No. 22 Ford in Friday's Drive for the Cure 300 Presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).

      He has been dominant in his eight NNS starts this season. The 30-year-old owns three victories, three runner-up finishes, a third-place showing and a fourth-place output.

      "I've only run eight races this year and this team is leading the owners' points -- that is a testament to the quality of this team and my teammates, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney," Keselowski said.

      Keselowski and the No. 22 likely will face its stiffest competition from Kyle Busch and the No. 54. Busch, the all-time winningest driver in NNS history, won at Kansas last week and will attempt to defend his Charlotte victory from last October.

      Penske spoke publicly about his chances at a "three-feat" following Logano's NSCS win at Kansas.

      "Look, from an overall standpoint, I'm focusing race to race, and we've got some things, we've got the owner's championship in Nationwide, we have got this (the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) obviously, but they're ours to lose," he said.