Distributed by The Sports Xchange
In what has become an annual tradition of recognizing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, President Barack Obama honored 2014 title-winner Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team at the White House Tuesday afternoon.
Accompanied at the podium in front of the White House by Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and SHR owner Tony Stewart, Obama began his speech by congratulating Harvick and offering his condolences to the NASCAR community on the passing of FOX Sports broadcaster Steve Byrnes.
Obama discussed Harvick progressing to championship form while getting used to his new team and crew chief last season.
"It usually takes a little bit of time for a crew chief and driver to find their groove, but Kevin and Rodney seemed to figure out each other in a hurry," Obama said. "Sort of like when Joe Biden joined my team.
"So they had instant chemistry. And as Kevin can tell you, when you have a trusted partner shouting world-class advice into your ear at every turn, you can't lose."
Harvick had previously attended the White House in 2012 as a member of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but this was his first visit as the guest of honor - and NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
"To come up and be honored as the championship team was really special," Harvick said. "I've been fortunate enough to be at the White House before. I think the best part for me was to see the team guys come up and be at the White House and tour the Capitol and do all the things that we got to do.
"It's strange to be able to walk through those doors with the President of the United States as he's about to walk out and give a speech on you. ... Walking out with him is something that I'll never forget."
Per custom when a NASCAR champion visits the capitol, Obama praised Harvick's efforts with his Kevin Harvick Foundation, which aims to motivate underprivileged youth to excel as students and as athletes.
At the end of the celebration, the president told Harvick to tell his 2-year-old son Keelan he said hi, and invited the Harvicks to his annual Easter Egg Roll next year.
No White House championship ceremony ends without the President offering some humor. He followed up his "A certain team up north" joke referring to Michigan when honoring Ohio State Football Monday with this quip during Harvick's visit:
"I know at one point DeLana (Harvick's wife) even had her own firesuit. I'm sure it looked better than it did on Kevin," Obama said. "And I'm sure if Michelle and I ever decided to wear matching outfits, it would be me who adapted to her style."
TV: Sunday, April 25, 7:30 pm ET on FOX.
THEN AND NOW: Penske Racing teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski split trips to Victory Lane last season at Richmond. Logano is the defending winner of the spring race, while Keselowski won last summer's final race before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Interestingly, Jeff Gordon was runner-up in both races. … Speaking of Gordon, he's still looking for his first win of 2015. Richmond provides him a great venue to earn that first victory, but surprisingly, he has only two career Cup wins at RIR, the last time being summer 2000. … Matt Kenseth comes into Richmond after winning the rain-delayed race at Bristol on Sunday, breaking a 51-race winless streak for the Wisconsin native. Kenseth has won just once in his Cup career at Richmond. … Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr., all suffered poor outings this past Sunday at Bristol, ending their respective streaks of being the only drivers to have top-10 finishes in each of the first seven races. … Harvick remains atop the Sprint Cup standings, with a 30-point lead over second-ranked Logano, and a 33-point spread over third-ranked Truex Jr. Jimmie Johnson, who roared to a runner-up finish at Bristol, moved into fourth-place in the standings and is 56 points behind Harvick.
XFINITY SERIES: Toyota Care 250, Richmond International Raceway; Richmond, Va.
TV: Friday, April 24, 7:30 pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
THEN AND NOW: Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of this race. Harvick has been one of the most dominant drivers in Xfinity races at RIR. In 26 career starts there, he's earned 7 wins, 18 top-5 and 21 top-10 finishes. Those 7 wins are the most Xfinity wins Harvick has claimed at any track. … Kyle Busch won last September's Xfinity race, but remains sidelined due to being injured in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona on Feb. 21. … Joey Logano is coming off an outstanding performance in the last Xfinity Series race, last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he dominated by leading all 300 laps en route to victory. … Defending Xfinity series champ Chase Elliott still has yet to win a race after the first six events of 2015. … Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher come into Friday's race tied for the lead in the driver standings. Elliott is third, 12 points back, while Darrell Wallace Jr., is fourth, 22 points out of first place.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, Barber Motorsports Park; Birmingham, Ala.
TV: Sunday, April 26, 3 pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
Then and Now: Since its first race in 2010 (won by Helio Castroneves), Barber Motorsports Park has quickly become a popular track on the IndyCar circuit for both drivers and fans alike. It's been especially welcoming to drivers Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Power won there in 2011 and 2012, while Hunter-Reay won the last two races there in 2013 and 2014. Hunter-Reay got a huge break in last year's race, as due to time limits, the race was shortened by 69 laps. Translated, instead of a scheduled 214 miles, only 164 miles were completed when Hunter-Reay took the checkered flag. … As for coming into Sunday's race, Scott Dixon won the Long Beach Grand Prix this past Sunday for the first time in his career. Dixon led a race-high 44 laps and held off a strong late challenge by Team Penske drivers Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud to take the checkered flag. … Montoya remains atop the IndyCar driver standings, but saw his prior 10-point edge over Castroneves cut to just three points. Tony Kanaan is third (26 points back), while Dixon is fourth (32 points back).
Matt Kenseth ended a 51-race winless streak Sunday outlasting a wreck-fest and the rain at Bristol Motor Speedway, taking the checkered flag nine hours after the start on a green-white-checkered finish.
Carl Edwards came close to getting his first victory for JGR before becoming one of a multitude of drivers to find the wall and get collected by high-speed traffic jams.
Erik Jones, considered one of the JGR's future stars, got his first seat time in a Sprint Cup car and fared OK under tough circumstances. Due to Denny Hamlin's neck spasms, Jones was called up – literally. After getting off his couch in North Carolina and arriving on a helicopter during the long rain delay, Jones kept a Toyota with a cockpit designed for Hamlin out of harm's way – no small task on this day and night multiple-hitter.
It's too bad that due to rain so few ticket buyers got to see this Bristol revival – one where the possibility of rain, different pit strategies and fuel mileage sustained the suspense. Who's going to crash and/or get collected before rain ends it all?
Ninth-placed Danica Patrick's Chevy got spun twice in the second half of the race, for one example, but she still managed another Top 10 finish.
It looked as if Kyle Larson might collect his first victory instead of Kenseth getting his 32nd. The 2014 Rookie of the Year gave the Chip Ganassi Chevy team one of its best runs of the season, driving a unique high-low line while keeping Kenseth at bay, dashing through traffic like an artful dodger and watching for rain. When the rain didn't materialize, Larson was forced to give up the lead and pit under green, which took him out of contention.
On a day when Penske Racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya retained his lead in the IndyCar points at Long Beach, the "trade" by Ganassi to Larson in place of the Colombian continues to look good – for both sides.
For once, the steadiest and swiftest got picked off. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. all got swept up in crashes, ending their run of Top 10 finishes. It was Bristol at its most unpredictable, fastest and finest. Or it was a high-speed lottery, depending on your point of view.
It was a shame only a smattering of fans remained when the rain fell one last time prior to the last two laps of green. Bristol has suffered the whims of change in a sometimes fickle NASCAR fan base after it was re-paved with progressive banking in 2007. That took away the single low groove that led to more fender-banking than a demolition derby. Fans hated the multiple grooves and the absence of contact and crashing. They dumped season tickets once harder to get than a Master's badge.
During the gladiator days, the big draw was the Saturday night race in August. Fans bought the spring race tickets as part of a season's package. Once the summer race lost favor, the spring race got collected. Tickets went unwanted. The grandstands reaching to the sky turned into echo chambers.
After a modification in 2012, it's polite to say Bristol is a one-groove track – a fop to fans who prefer it that way. Though the high groove is fastest, the lower groove is a passing lane. New arrival Larson proved in his duel with Kenseth that a driver can use both on the same lap to retain the lead in traffic. In any event, this one had enough accidents to please any crash junkie.
Possibly the most forlorn of the victims was Kurt Busch, a regular winner at Bristol who needs a victory to get into the post-season after missing the first three races of the season on a dubious charge of domestic abuse. He ended up ramming Edwards' spinning car on the penultimate restart after the Missouri driver lost the handle in a battle with Jeff Gordon.
On an adventurous night, Busch had a pit road penalty for an errant tire and also had a solo spin – if dodging a field of cars while sliding sideways can be considered that. Yet, Busch drove back through the pack and into the lead. A decision to take four fresh tires on the penultimate yellow flag, which gave the lead to Kenseth, took Busch out of contention. (His team was worried about long green flag runs and deteriorating handling might have opened the door for Kenseth anyway; alas, no other lead lap cars followed Busch's Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy down the pit road.)
The sumo wrestling between Gordon's Chevy and Edwards' Toyota at the finish was indicative that a high groove and a low groove that can each accommodate overtaking creates excitement and puts a lot of pressure on drivers to keep pace. There's no single groove for road hogs – which brought out the chrome horn in years past. Instead, drivers have a chance to maneuver around one another – or not.
The speed equation is such that drivers lose control on their own in anticipation of getting outmaneuvered. After getting wobbly, Keselowski did just that and collected Logano in the opening laps. Jimmie Johnson got himself turned sideways and went spinning into lap down status before a miraculous recovery to second place.
Perhaps that was the only downside to Kenseth's night and banner weekend. Shortly after it was announced his son Ross had become a development driver for the Gibbs team, Kenseth won the 19th pole of his career. He then outlasted all the wrecks – but still had Jimmie Johnson in his mirror at the finish.
Despite Kenseth's seven victories in his first season with Gibbs in 2013, it was Johnson who beat him to the championship. And Johnson already has two victories this year.
Now an old man according to the Jeff Gordon standard of early retirement, 43-year-old Kenseth said before the race he feels just as good as he did 10 years ago. Part of that is a more conservative approach to driving and the avoidance of big hits such as those sustained by Gordon over his career.
Kenseth's victory, his fourth on the high-banked bowl, was yet another testament to careful driving while watching all around him succumb to Bristol's charms. They ran 511 laps by time the last rain delay ended and pole starter Kenseth led a mere 47 of them.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Before the start of Sunday's IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach, team owner Roger Penske warned his drivers, front-row starters Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, to avoid contact on the first lap.
Perhaps Penske should have been at Bristol instead, to have the same conversation with his two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars.
Eighteen laps into Sunday's rain-delayed Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes, in a light, misting rain was Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Team Penske Ford slid sideways in Turn 4, as Keselowski moved to the outside of the lapped car of Alex Kennedy.
Keselowski tried to save the car but turned broadside into the path of teammate Joey Logano, who could do nothing to avoid ramming his teammate.
The accident damaged both cars severely. Logano took his No. 22 Ford to the garage, while Keselowski's No. 2 entry sat covered on pit road through a lengthy stoppage for heavier rain that began falling moments after the wreck.
"The rain was coming in and out, and the car just took off on me," Keselowski said. "I would like to blame the rain, but I honestly don't know. Usually, when a car gets that far sideways and it's kind of out of nowhere, there's a reason behind it. I just really hate that I tore up my teammate in the process. That's really a bummer. I felt like I had a pretty normal line, and it just flew crazy sideways on me.
"It's a bummer for everybody at Team Penske to tear up both cars that way. I hate racing in the rain, but I understand the position that NASCAR is in. They want to get the race going, and this is one of those days where it's going to just keep raining off and on, and we're trying to get as many laps in at a time as we can to give the fans the best race possible. But we're racing in the rain to do it, and that's what happens."
When Keselowski turned sideways, Logano had no time to react.
"Brad just got loose underneath that lapped car," Logano said. "You start checking up, and it looked like he was going to have it saved, and he checked up more than I expected, and the next thing you know I'm in the back of him and we're both headed towards the fence."
Keselowski and Logano both returned to the track after a rain delay of nearly four hours. Keselowski finished 35th and Logano 40th.
Erik Jones gets early debut in relief of Hamlin
When drivers were ordered to their cars after a rain delay of near four hours, Denny Hamlin wasn't among them. Instead, Erik Jones was a surprise relief driver in Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota.
Having suffered neck spasms roughly 12 laps into Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes, Hamlin received treatment during the rain delay, but he opted to remove himself from the car because he didn't feel capable of winning.
Jones, who won last week's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas and finished fourth on Saturday at Bristol, was a likely candidate for his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in relief of Kyle Busch later this season, but Hamlin's exit pressed him into service earlier than expected.
"I pulled something in my neck to upper back," Hamlin said in an interview with Fox Sports 1. "I started going backward because the pain was bothering me quite a bit. I stretched it out, and we'd been working it the last few hours.
"I'm not 100 percent. With this (Chase) format, it's all about winning, and there's no way I'd be able to compete for a win. It's just doing my team a complete injustice to run a bunch of laps."
Consequently, it made sense to get some seat time for Jones, who had to start from the rear of the field after the stoppage because of the driver change.
Jones flew to Bristol during the hiatus and arrived five minutes before the drivers were recalled to the cars. Ultimately, he finished 26th, six laps down, though Hamlin gets credit for the result because he started the race.
Season-best for Stenhouse
Even though Bristol doesn't have characteristics common to any other race track, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s fourth-place finish--the first top five for Roush Fenway Racing this season--has to be an encouraging sign for an organization that has been floundering this year.
Stenhouse drove from sixth to fourth during the final two-lap overtime shootout in Sunday's race.
"It's good," Stenhouse said of his top-five run. "It's tough because we always feel like we can run well here. It's not 100 percent what every track is like, and that's the problem.
"We go to Richmond next week, and the track is old and it gets slick and wears out, and we need the car to turn a little bit better. We use the banking here to get the car to turn, so hopefully we can keep maintaining and getting our cars a little bit better each week."
Dixon won Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach by 2.2 seconds over Helio Castroneves. Dixon had finished in the top 10 only once here in eight starts, with an average finish of 15.0. He had led only 25 laps in all those races.
The victory allowed Dixon to break a tie with Bobby Unser for fifth place on the all-time list. Dixon has 36 wins, only three now behind Al Unser.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third with Simon Pagenaud fourth and Tony Kanaan fifth.
Reigning series champion Will Power was the race's biggest loser. Already starting toward the back after a mistake in qualifying, he stalled his car when about half the field pitted under caution on Lap 7.
Luca Filippi led the group to pit road, apparently without power. Unfortunately in the wrong lane, Power had to stop quickly to avoid contact, and his engine stalled. Power lost a lap in the time it took help to arrive; Filippi lost two laps.
Power never regained the lap, finishing 20th.
Jimmie Johnson finished second, and Jeff Gordon was third.
Kenseth last took the checkered flag in September 2013 in New Hampshire, when he earned his second consecutive victory and third in five races.
Kenseth inherited the lead when previous leader Kurt Busch headed down pit road during a caution with 28 laps remaining in the 500-lap scheduled distance. He then battled his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, up front until Edwards hit the wall with six laps to go.
Kenseth and Edwards were mainstays up front throughout the second half of the race after Edwards took the lead from Kevin Harvick on lap 256.
The race was extended by the late-race incident involving Edwards. Also caught up in the wreck were Busch, Paul Menard and Justin Allgaier.
Prior to the JGR duo of Edwards and Kenseth running up front, Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Busch dominated the front of the running order. Harvick led a race-high 184 laps, while Busch led 98.
Busch was involved on an incident on lap 279 but recovered to get back into the top five before his wreck in the final 10 laps of regulation. Harvick was caught up in a wreck on lap 309 and took his car to the garage.
Kyle Larson also led significant laps in the second half of the race after staying out during a debris caution on lap 343. He continued on up front until giving up the top spot to pit on lap 436.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth, Ryan Newman fifth, Tony Stewart sixth, Larson seventh, Allgaier eighth, Danica Patrick ninth, and Austin Dillon 10th.
The Food City 500 was red-flagged for a second time due to rain on lap 273.
Edwards was the race leader, with Harvick and Kurt Busch in second and third. Engines, though, were refired a few minutes later at approximately 8:20 p.m. EDT.
The yellow flag was displayed for rain nine laps earlier, and cars headed down pit road for pit stops just a few laps before the red flag was displayed.
After the start of the race was delayed an hour and 18 minutes because of rain, Harvick took the lead from pole sitter Matt Kenseth on lap six. He was still up front when rain returned and interrupted the race after 22 completed laps.
During the first red-flag rain delay, Denny Hamlin relinquished his seat to Erik Jones because of back and neck spasms.
"I pulled something on lap 12. I don't know what it is," Hamlin said. "It would be doing my team a complete injustice (to continue in the car)."
Busch's crew chief, Tony Gibson, also pulled out of competition before the race restarted after the 22nd lap. Gibson stepped away from the pit box and reported to the track infield care center. He was diagnosed with kidney stones.
The Team Penske cars of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were in the track's garage area when the race resumed on lap 23 after they wrecked on lap 19.
"It's been raining since we started the race," Keselowski said. "It was just a really light sprinkle, and the track was just barely dry. I don't know. The rain was coming in and out, and the car just took off on me. I would like to blame the rain, but I honestly don't know."
Both drivers eventually returned to the race.
NOTES: Luke Lambert remains atop the No. 31 pit box of Ryan Newman despite a six-race suspension because Richard Childress plans a second and final appeal of the penalty. ... Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon are each five-time winners at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch also has five Bristol wins but remains sidelined by injury. ... Carl Edwards won the 2014 Food City 500, but Joey Logano won the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Bristol last August. ... Logano won the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race after leading all 300 laps at Bristol on Saturday. ... Kevin Harvick, Logano and Martin Truex Jr. each entered Bristol with seven consecutive top-10 finishes to start the season.
Castroneves posted a time of 1 minute, 6.7442 seconds on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course for his 42nd career IndyCar pole. The previous record at Long Beach was 1:06.886 by Sebastien Bourdais.
Starting alongside Castroneves on the front row for Sunday's race (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) will be fellow Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya, whose 1:06.6587 lap also bettered the previous record. Montoya won the IndyCar Series' season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"The team worked really hard because we changed everything in the car last night, so congratulations to them," Castroneves said. "It was not pretty last night, but it proved that we were able to keep pushing. When you get the pole position with the teammates I have, it's actually pretty cool. The car is awesome, so we have to keep pushing."
Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing qualified third at 1:06.7870 and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport was next at 1:07.0473.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Joey Logano was enjoying such a perfect day at Bristol Motor Speedway that the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford kept expecting something to go wrong.
It never did.
Logano led all 300 laps of Saturday's Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 at the .533-mile short track, a record for laps led in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race. It was the first time a driver led every lap in a single race since Kyle Busch accomplished the feat in winning the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond on Sept. 5, 2014.
The victory was Logano's second of the season, his second at Bristol (and his second straight dating back to his last start at Thunder Valley in 2012) and the 23rd of his career.
"I've never led every single lap in a race before -- what a fast Discount Tire Ford!" Logano said in Victory Lane. "Gosh, that's amazing. You're waiting for something to go wrong. It's such a fast car, and with late cautions and all that stuff, you're like 'All right, where am I going to blow this thing?'
"Those are the ones you're just nervous throughout the whole race -- but what a fast car. (Crew chief) Greg Erwin and all this team here ... it was a perfect day. I can't ask for any more out of them."
A caution for Jeremy Clements' contact with the Turn 2 wall brought out the eighth and final caution of the race on Lap 280, but after a restart on Lap 288, Logano pulled away to beat rookie Daniel Suarez to the finish line by 1.172 seconds.
Suarez notched the best finish of his XFINITY Series career. Chris Buescher ran third, followed by polesitter Erik Jones and Ty Dillon. Buescher and Dillon are tied for the series lead, 12 points ahead of reigning series champion and sixth-place finisher Chase Elliott in third.
Early in the race, Kevin Harvick posed the only realistic threat to Logano's supremacy, but a pit road speeding penalty under caution on Lap 175 sent Harvick to the rear of the field, and the driver of the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet never recovered.
Even after stopping for fresh tires under the final caution, Harvick was unable to make up ground. He restarted seventh with 13 laps left and finished seventh, providing plenty of food for thought for NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chiefs who will have to make tire calls in Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
During the 66-lap green-flag run that preceded the final caution, Suarez took over second place from Jones and began to gain on Logano. But Logano's car had a maneuverability edge in traffic and was able to keep Suarez comfortably behind him.
"At one point in that run I was thinking, 'Man, maybe I can take it,'" said Suarez, whose finish was the highest ever by a Mexican-born driver in the XFINITY Series. "I just started thinking about the big picture, and it looked like at one point of that run that maybe for 20 laps or after 10 laps, we were a little bit faster than him (Joey Logano).
"Later in the run we started getting a little too tight in the center, so we killed a little of the momentum off the corner, and it looked like he kept the same speed. Maybe he wasn't super faster than us, but he was a little bit faster. Really, he had a lot of experience and he was able to pass traffic a little faster and with more confidence than me, and at that point he made a good gap between us."
NASCAR XFINITY Series Race - Drive to Stop Diabetes 300
Bristol Motor Speedway
Saturday, April 18, 2015
1. (2) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 300, $61795.
2. (9) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 300, $50774.
3. (14) Chris Buescher, Ford, 300, $43677.
4. (1) Erik Jones(i), Toyota, 300, $44885.
5. (16) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 300, $34701.
6. (13) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 300, $33566.
7. (6) Kevin Harvick(i), Chevrolet, 300, $25998.
8. (4) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 300, $31857.
9. (8) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 300, $31635.
10. (12) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 300, $34382.
11. (17) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 300, $31080.
12. (7) Darrell Wallace Jr. #, Ford, 300, $30979.
13. (21) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 299, $30878.
14. (11) John Wes Townley(i), Chevrolet, 297, $30828.
15. (20) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 297, $31152.
16. (3) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 297, $24702.
17. (23) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 296, $30652.
18. (29) David Starr, Toyota, 296, $30601.
19. (33) Cale Conley #, Toyota, 296, $30500.
20. (25) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 295, $30950.
21. (24) Ryan Reed, Ford, 294, $30574.
22. (32) Blake Koch, Toyota, 294, $30319.
23. (22) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 294, $30268.
24. (28) Todd Bodine, Chevrolet, 293, $30192.
25. (27) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 293, $30291.
26. (26) Eric McClure, Toyota, 291, $30066.
27. (18) Ross Chastain #, Chevrolet, Engine, 273, $30016.
28. (19) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Brakes, 268, $29940.
29. (31) Harrison Rhodes #, Chevrolet, 260, $29889.
30. (10) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 252, $29634.
31. (5) Denny Hamlin(i), Toyota, 229, $23128.
32. (35) Peyton Sellers #, Chevrolet, Electrical, 227, $28992.
33. (15) JJ Yeley, Toyota, Accident, 206, $28876.
34. (37) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Engine, 198, $28841.
35. (39) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Suspension, 106, $22800.
36. (38) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, Brakes, 60, $20646.
37. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 55, $19646.
38. (30) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 41, $18646.
39. (34) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 28, $17646.
40. (40) Derek White, Dodge, Electrical, 11, $16646.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 87.218 mph.
Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 50 Mins, 00 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.172 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 48 laps.
Lead Changes: 1 among 1 drivers.
Lap Leaders: 0; J. Logano(i) 1-300.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano(i) 1 time for 300 laps.
Top 10 in Points: C. Buescher - 258; T. Dillon - 258; C. Elliott - 246; D. Wallace Jr. # - 236; R. Reed - 220; E. Sadler - 215; B. Gaughan - 211; R. Smith - 211; B. Scott - 205; D. Suarez # - 202.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway are starting to like it on the bottom.
Ever since the grinding of the concrete racing surface in 2012, the top lane has been the fastest way around the .533-mile short track, but that may be changing.
During qualifying runs for Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes on Friday afternoon, Kasey Kahne moved to the bottom of the track and found speed there.
"My first qualifying attempt was through the middle, and I just didn't have quite the speed that I wanted, so I ran the next two around the bottom, and I felt like I picked-up when I was down there," said Kahne, who qualified eighth for Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes (1 p.m. ET on FOX), the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to crack the top 12. "The track has been interesting today. To me, there's been a little less grip up high, compared to what it's been for a while here.
"Usually in practice and qualifying you're a bit higher than what we were today. So, I was a little surprised by that. But it's still a long ways away from how it's going to be for race day, and during the race, it will change as well. I think maybe it's a good thing. Maybe we'll be able to race all over the track on Sunday rather than just as much on the top. That would be good."
The question remains whether the short way around the bottom of the track will continue to provide speed once the racing surface gets rubbered in during Sunday's race.
ACTION-FILLED PRACTICE HAS TEAMS SCRAMBLING
Roughly eight minutes into Saturday morning's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, Tony Stewart smacked the outside wall exiting Bristol Motor Speedway's fourth turn.
That was just the opening act in a series of mishaps that punctuated the opening session at Thunder Valley.
Seven minutes after Stewart hit the wall, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun, damaging his own No. 17 Ford and nicking the No. 19 Toyota of former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards in the process.
Fighting a loose handling condition in his No. 48 Chevrolet, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson scraped the wall later in the session.
The good news for all four drivers was that none had to roll out a backup car. Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet sustained the heaviest damage, but his crew worked diligently to repair the rear deck of the car, and Stewart was back on track with enough time to complete 56 laps in the session -- 24 before the wreck and 32 after.
Of the four drivers, Edwards was fastest in Saturday's first session, running 125.889 mph on his fourth lap (before the incident with Stenhouse). Johnson was 10th fastest, with Stewart 24th and Stenhouse 31st.
Kasey Kahne paced the early morning practice with a fast lap at 126.829 mph. Kurt Busch (127.554 mph) topped the speed chart in final practice, which was incident-free.
TODD PARROTT IS A SHORT-TIMER
When the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR's six-race suspensions to Richard Childress Racing crew chief Luke Lambert, race engineer Philip Surgen and tire specialist James Bender on Thursday, those team members began serving their enforced exiles.
In the wake of the penalties imposed for altering tires in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and the loss of the appeal, RCR installed its XFINITY Series competition director, Todd Parrott, as interim crew chief for Ryan Newman's No. 31 Chevrolet.
But when team owner Richard Childress opted to take his case to National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss and paid the $500 fee late Friday afternoon, he also chose to let the suspended team members return to the track.
So, on Friday, Lambert was back on the pit box and Parrott returned to his day job -- after one day at the track with Newman.
The final appeal hasn't been scheduled yet, but if Moss rules against Childress, Parrott likely will fill the interim crew chief's role once again.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- If history repeats itself on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth won't have a problem with it.
The last time Kenseth won a pole at the high-banked .533-mile short track in 2005 he followed with a victory in the race.
In Friday's time trials at Thunder Valley, with a lap at 128.632 mph, Kenseth claimed the 14th pole of his career, his second at Bristol and his first of the season.
And that's a good omen for a driver who hasn't won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race since his seven-victory debut season with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.
Kenseth edged two-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski (128.442 mph) for the top starting spot by .022 of a second. Carl Edwards (128.322 mph) qualified third, his best effort of the season so far, and reigning series champion Kevin Harvick (128.211 mph) will start fourth in Sunday's Food City 500 to Support Steve Byrnes (1 p.m. on FOX).
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano (who was fastest in each of the first two rounds of knockout qualifying), Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne took the fifth through eighth spots on the grid. All of the top eight qualifiers are former Bristol winners.
"We need to be able to go out and win races," Kenseth said. "Last year and so far this year haven't been particularly great for JGR. I think we've had two wins that weren't plate races in the last year and a half as a company.
"So, obviously, as a company, we've got to get running better. ... We've just got to keep working on it, and I've certainly got to be better. I need to do a better job, and I know that. I work at getting better every week, and I have, I think, since the first day I came into this sport."
If Kenseth is to capitalize on his pole position, his team will have to improve the handling of the No. 20 Toyota in race trim.
"You have to be able to stay on your tires for a long time," the 2003 series champion said. "You have to have good balance at the end of the run. You have to be pretty fast at the beginning of the run so you don't give up spots on restarts -- it is hard to pass later the run.
"I wasn't really thrilled with the way my car drove in race trim (in practice) today, but in qualifying trim it would run a fast lap. So I certainly think we've got some work to do (in Saturday's practice)."
So does Jimmie Johnson. Last week's Texas winner didn't survive the first elimination in qualifying and will start 28th in Sunday's race. In fact, Kahne was the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to advance to the final round in Friday's time trials.
David Ragan continued his solid effort in relief of injured Kyle Busch, qualifying 11th in the No. 18 JGR Camry.
Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr. failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer
Bristol Motor Speedway
Friday, April 17, 2015
1. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 128.632 mph.
2. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 128.442 mph.
3. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 128.322 mph.
4. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 128.211 mph.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 127.419 mph.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 127.317 mph.
7. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 126.871 mph.
8. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 126.829 mph.
9. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 126.829 mph.
10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 126.612 mph.
11. (18) David Ragan, Toyota, 126.436 mph.
12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 126.262 mph.
13. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 127.081 mph.
14. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 127.073 mph.
15. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 126.562 mph.
16. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 126.503 mph.
17. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 126.428 mph.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 126.088 mph.
19. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 125.947 mph.
20. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 125.939 mph.
21. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 125.831 mph.
22. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 125.798 mph.
23. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 125.609 mph.
24. (55) Brett Moffitt #, Toyota, 125.199 mph.
25. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 126.378 mph.
26. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 126.328 mph.
27. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 126.303 mph.
28. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 126.146 mph.
29. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 126.046 mph.
30. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 125.823 mph.
31. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 125.798 mph.
32. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 125.625 mph.
33. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 125.551 mph.
34. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 125.510 mph.
35. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, 125.453 mph.
36. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 125.158 mph.
37. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Owner Points
38. (34) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, Owner Points
39. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, Owner Points
40. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (32) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, Owner Points
42. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
43. (33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, Owner Points
2 drivers failed to qualify.
44. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 124.034 mph.
45. (30) Ron Hornaday Jr., Chevrolet, 123.682 mph.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- If you're Richard Childress and you're looking for an interim crew chief, you'd be hard pressed to find a more experienced candidate than Todd Parrott.
Fortunately for Childress, Parrott already is part of the RCR organization, as competition director for the NASCAR Xfinity Series effort, but he'll make a quick transition to crew chief for Ryan Newman this weekend at Bristol while Newman's regular pit boss, Luke Lambert, serves a six-race suspension.
Lambert's mandated exile was held in abeyance while RCR appealed NASCAR penalties for altering tires during the March 22 Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
When the National Stock Car Appeals panel ruled Thursday -- reducing the fines and points penalties but leaving the suspensions in place -- Lambert began serving his suspension, along with race engineer Philip Surgen and tire specialist James Bender.
But Newman will be in good hands with Parrott, whose resume includes 609 races as a crew chief, 31 victories (second to Chad Knaus' 70 among active crew chiefs) and a championship with driver Dale Jarrett in 1999.
"I'm very familiar with what is going on here," Parrott said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway before Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes (1 p.m. ET on FOX). "I have stayed over for some Sunday (Sprint Cup) races. Obviously, bouncing back and forth ... you guys know my history. I have a lot of years in the Cup garage.
"Hopefully, it shows the depth of RCR while Luke is going through his deal here with the suspension and stuff. We have a great bunch of guys -- the engineer, tire guy and everybody that is filling in for the guys back at home. So we just go out and do our job and make the best of it."
Parrott has competed against Newman on numerous occasions. Now he is enjoying the opportunity to work with the runner-up in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
"I have always admired Ryan Newman," said Parrott, who accompanied Newman to a Goodyear tire test in Kentucky earlier this week. "There have been several times when I have been on the other side. He's a very aggressive race car driver, and I'm excited to get the chance to work with him."
ROSS KENSETH TO MAKE XFINITY DEBUT AT CHICAGOLAND
Second-generation driver Ross Kenseth, 21, will make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in the stand-alone on June 20 race at Chicagoland Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Friday.
And the son of 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth will be able to showcase his talent in excellent equipment. He'll be piloting the No. 20 JGR Toyota for his maiden voyage in one of NASCAR's top touring series.
The car will sport the livery of Dollar General, one of Matt Kenseth's sponsors on the Cup side.
"It's pretty surreal -- it still is," Ross Kenseth said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "It probably won't set in until you're in the car for the first time. But to be able to put a deal together with Coach Gibbs and JGR and Dollar General, it's been a dream come true to be able get that first start.
"To be able to do it in top-notch equipment and have a really competitive car like that is really exciting."
The Chicagoland race takes place during an off week for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, giving Matt Kenseth the chance to attend his son's debut.
"Certainly, I don't think the opportunity could be any better than this," Matt Kenseth said. "I feel like the 20 is one of the best (Xfinity) cars out there this year with Wheels (crew chief Mike Wheeler) running that thing. ...
"It's exciting for me, and it's an off weekend, so I'll be able to be there and be part of that. Looking forward to see how he does. It's a great shot, and he's worked really hard for it."
NO THOUGHTS OF A SEVENTH TITLE FOR JOHNSON—YET
Through the first seven races of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Jimmie Johnson has two victories. By definition, he's locked into the Chase as long as he finishes in the top 30 in points after race No. 26.
Furthermore, Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet has shown enough speed in the first seven races -- particularly on the intermediate speedways -- to convince anyone who's paying attention that he's a likely contender for what would be his record-tying seventh championship.
But Johnson isn't thinking about joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt on the top line of the NASCAR record book. In his view, the elimination format of the Chase precludes it.
"I don't think, with this format, that you can (think about the title) until five to go or two to go at Homestead," Johnson said. "It's just a different feeling these days. I feel like we're one step closer to that opportunity, but once we get in the Chase, there's just so many things that can go on."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
While upholding a P-5 level penalty to one of the top teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel opted to amend portions of the punishment levied against the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team.
Originally docked 75 points each on March 31 for rules violations after a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, driver Ryan Newman and Childress had their points penalties decreased to 50 each. In addition, a fine levied to crew chief Luke Lambert was decreased from $125,000 to $75,000.
Lambert, along with team tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen, were originally suspended for six races. Those suspensions all remain.
The No. 31 team was penalized after NASCAR found that it had violated a number of rules following a tire audit after the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The key violation in question was regarding tires. NASCAR officials found that the team had modified its tires, a penalty that warrants among the harshest penalties allowed under the sanctioning body's deterrence system.
The Appeals Panel agreed that the violations were P-5 in nature, which has increased penalties attached to it if discovered during post-race inspection. But the three-member panel chose to amend the original penalty because "there is no written explanation of what constitutes a post-race inspection." The tires in question were taken during the race.
The panel, consisting of former USAC president and chairman John Capels, former president of Speed Channel Hunter Nickell and Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis, heard from members of both NASCAR and RCR beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday morning at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C.
The decision was announced at 4:20 p.m. ET, less than 24 hours before on-track activity begins in preparation for Sunday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
Before the appeal, Richard Childress Racing requested -- and was granted -- a deferment of the suspension and fine, which allowed Lambert to call last Saturday night's race at Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR does not allow deferment of points penalties.
RCR now has the option to appeal the decision to final appeals officer Bryan Moss.
With his points total increased to 162, Newman moved from 24th to 20th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings.
Recently, RFR has hit some rough roads. The Concord, North Carolina-based team has failed to win a race in nearly 10 months -- not since Carl Edwards conquered Sonoma last June. Edwards won twice last year as RFR's ace driver, but moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015. No member of RFR's current stable of drivers – Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne - has visited Victory Lane since 2013 when Biffle won at Michigan (June 16). This season, only Biffle has a top-10 finish in the first seven races, a 10th-place showing at Daytona.
But, the perfect track may have popped up on the schedule for RFR to turn its performance around – Bristol Motor Speedway.
Biffle, Bayne and Stenhouse will attempt to tame "The World's Fastest Half-Mile" in Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes (1 p.m. ET on FOX), a track where RFR ranks tied for second in the record books with 11 wins.
Stenhouse has been particularly strong at Bristol. He finished a career-best second to Edwards in last year's spring race to cap off a RFR sweep of the top-two positions and returned in August to post a sixth-place showing.
"We are looking forward to Bristol this weekend," said Nick Sandler, Stenhouse's crew chief. "It is one of Ricky's favorite tracks and he had his career best Sprint Cup finish there last year so I think the entire No. 17 (team) is looking forward to the race this weekend. The key is to have a car that can run the top and bottom. Our short track program has been strong."
Despite still searching for his first Bristol win, 14-year NSCS veteran Biffle has been strong at the Tennessee track, claiming the series' fifth-best driver rating (93.5) and sixth-best average running position (13.0) among active drivers there. Bayne will be making his second NSCS start at Bristol, but the Knoxville, Tennessee native is familiar with his "home track" through XFINITY and developmental series experience.
"We run hard at Bristol, which is always fun and exciting," Biffle said. "You race right up against the fence, as fast as you can go. Track position is key – you've got to be up front and stay out front."
RFR picked up some momentum last week at Texas Motor Speedway where it unveiled the latest version of its Gen-6 Ford. All three of RFR's drivers finished in the top 20 for the first time this season, but the results still do not match up to the organization's standards.
"You have to get that little momentum every now and then," said Bayne after tying his season-best finish of 18th at Texas. "Momentum isn't gonna make faster race cars, but it just gives the guys that have been working their butts off for the last two years a little bit of hope.
"We need that, so it's really good for us... Obviously, 18th isn't where we want to be at this point in the season, but for where we've been it's an improvement and we'll keep getting better."
Finish them ... again: Jones goes for second straight XFINITY Series victory at Bristol
With 26 laps to go in Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, 18-year-old Erik Jones, competing in just his ninth NASCAR XFINITY Series race, had Sprint Cup Series stars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. bearing down on him from the high side on the final restart.
He never panicked.
Instead he stayed true to the moniker used by one of his No. 20 Toyota's sponsors – Mortal Kombat X.
Jones "finished them."
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver cleared Keselowski and Earnhardt on Turn 2 with 25 laps to go and held them off the rest of the way for his first XFINITY Series victory.
"This is just amazing," Jones said after the race. "We beat Cup guys tonight! Just a really cool day and something I'm really proud of not only for myself but everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. It's a great feeling knowing you had to work for it, that it was not just handed to you."
Jones, who also has four victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, broke Chase Elliott's record for most national series wins before the age of 19. He will compete for his second XFINITY Series victory in a field that includes defending series champion Elliott, as well as Sprint Cup Series regulars Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano in Saturday's Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Jones started sixth and finished eighth in his lone start at Bristol last fall.
"Bristol is a track that I definitely consider more in my forte of tracks I grew up running," he said. "It's always exciting to get back there and it's kind of our first short-track race of the year too. It's going to be interesting to see where our program stands on that side of things, which is always nice to check out. I'm looking forward to it."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
A split second before his No. 54 Toyota slammed nose-first into a concrete wall inside Turn 1 at Daytona International Speedway, Kyle Busch recalls saying to himself, "Oh, no, it's not slowing down, it's not slowing down -- this is going to hurt, this is going to hurt."
That was an understatement.
Busch has been sidelined with a broken right leg and broken left foot since his crash Feb. 21 in the Alert Today Florida 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona.
On Wednesday at Joe Gibbs Racing's headquarters in Huntersville, N.C., Busch met with reporters for the first time since the accident and gave a fascinating, detailed account of the wreck and his thought processes during the seconds before he hit the wall.
"I left the racing surface at 176 miles an hour, and I hit the wall at 90," Busch said. "So the impact was 90 miles an hour, and it was 90 Gs. Obviously, that was a huge hit."
The impact knocked the air out of Busch's body in a sudden rush. The sharp pain in his right leg told him immediately it was broken. His left foot, which had remained on the brake pedal, was fractured in the center.
His helmet hit the steering wheel, leaving a mark. His body strained against the harness holding him in place, and as the impact knocked the engine and front suspension back into the driver's compartment, his chest also collided with the wheel.
Nevertheless, by pushing off his left heel, Busch was able to get to the door of the mangled car and slide his torso out, in a position where safety workers could help him to the ground.
Busch recently visited the NASCAR research-and-development center in Concord, N.C., to look over the wrecked car, and the experience gave him a deeper appreciation of the strides NASCAR has made in the realm of safety.
"That was when I got a good chance to see what it looked like and to see how much safety innovations NASCAR has come up with over the years to keep me here today," Busch said.
"I'm alive today just because of the fact, I think, that the restraints worked, the seats worked, the HANS device worked -- everything worked ... I can't say enough about NASCAR's innovations. From the knees up -- nothing. Not a mark on me. Not a bruise, not a headache, not a neck ache, nothing. It was all great."
Busch took responsibility for starting the wreck, saying he was trying to push teammate Erik Jones. When Jones moved up toward the center of the track, contact from Busch's car turned his Camry.
"I got greedy, trying to win the race," Busch explained.
But Busch had no answer for one important question. He simply doesn't know yet when he will get clearance from his doctors to return to the track.
"They say my recovery is going faster than they expected," Busch said. But yet -- I've even asked -- they won't release me a timetable. I'm not lying to you. They're like, 'OK, now you're released to stand up in both boots. Now you're released to walk. Now you're released to walk without a boot on your right (foot).
"It's week to week, and it's what I can show them and what I can do and what my physical therapist says that I'm capable of. As far as a timetable, it's still not set yet for me to get back, but as long as my strength continues to improve, and I can continue to show the doctors and the NASCAR folks that I'm able to do the things necessary to get back in the race car, that time will be determined as I get better."
Struggles abound so far. There was the cancellation of the March 8 race in Brasilia, Brazil, the littering of debris in the opening race March 29 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the sloppy race last weekend outside of New Orleans.
IndyCar can use a little sunshine that this Southern California seaport often provides.
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, a street circuit held downtown, might actually be the stability open-wheel racing needs right now. This event has been held annually since 1984, and the locals hosted Formula 1 races prior to that. Like nowhere this side of Indianapolis, this city understands IndyCar.
IndyCar looks forward to Long Beach like few other events on its schedule. Todd Phillips is the crew member who got flipped upside down by the car he was servicing last weekend at NOLA Motorsports Park. His right leg remains swollen and still holds six stitches, but the real pain, he said, is not getting to fully participate in this race.
"We all consider this one of our favorite events," he said.
The sight of Phillips literally going head over heels in that horrific-looking pit stop was the visual reminder of the New Orleans race, but there were other challenges. The race only went two-thirds of its scheduled distance due to the carnage that accompanied a wet track.
The first 15 laps were clean, but after that there were six cautions over the final 32 laps. Only six of those laps were green as drivers slid off course and often into each other. The final stoppage came as a result of veterans Simon Pagenaud, reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais winding up in a three-car mess. Wednesday, IndyCar ruled that Hunter-Reay should be penalized for avoidable contact. He was docked three points (he had earned 11) and placed on probation for the next three races. James Hinchcliffe won the race under caution.
The result of the weekend was that Honda scored its first victory of the season, and it wasn't a fluke. Honda drivers also finished third and fourth, a considerably better showing than happened in St. Petersburg when Chevrolet took the top six positions.
The New Orleans race also seemed to verify that Chevrolet and Honda are on the right track with their new bodywork kits. Frequent contact in St. Petersburg sent debris scattered over the street circuit, delaying the event. Worse, a woman six months pregnant was struck and knocked to the ground -- her husband told the Tampa Bay Times that she suffered a depressed skull fracture. The kit manufacturers made modifications, and there were significantly fewer pieces sprayed around the course at NOLA.
Drivers and their machines will be tested at Long Beach, a 11-turn, 1.98-mile street circuit. The track narrows to as little as 35 feet in places, which makes contact all the more likely. How the competitors handle the congestion will go a long way toward determining if it's a successful weekend.
Twenty-three car-and-driver combinations are entered, and it's anyone's race. Mike Conway, who has won two of the past four races at this venue, is not in the series this season. Bourdais has won three times at Long Beach (2005-07) while Will Power is a two-time champion.
TV: Sunday, April 19, 12:30 pm ET on FOX.
THEN AND NOW: Carl Edwards won last year’s race under caution, followed closely by now-former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola as Ford swept the top three spots. … Edwards led the last 78 laps to earn his third career Sprint Cup win at Bristol, but Matt Kenseth led the most (165), ultimately finishing 13th. … Due to weather issues that almost always seemed to come into play at Bristol in mid-March, NASCAR moved this race from its usual fourth spot of the season to the eighth of 2015. … Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr., are the only drivers to have top-10 finishes in each of the first seven races. … Thirteen active drivers have won at Bristol: Kurt and Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon (all with five wins each), Edwards and Kenseth (three each), Brad Keselowski (two) and one win apiece by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Texas winner Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart. … Harvick remains atop the Sprint Cup standings, with a 26-point lead over second-ranked Logano, and a 40-point spread over third-ranked Truex Jr.
XFINITY SERIES: Drive to Stop Diabetes 300, Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tenn.
TV: Saturday, April 18, 1 pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
THEN AND NOW: Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race, but remains sidelined due to injuries suffered in the season-opening race at Daytona. Busch has won six of the last nine Xfinity races at Bristol. … Ryan Blaney won last summer’s race at Bristol. … Erik Jones won last Friday night’s race at Texas. … Defending Xfinity series champ Chase Elliott still has yet to win a race after the first six events of 2015. … Ty Dillon remains atop the standings, but his lead is razor thin, a two-point margin over Chris Buescher and 11 points ahead of Elliott. Darrell Wallace Jr., is a surprising fourth, just 15 points out of first place. … Youth movement: the average age of the top-5 full-time Xfinity drivers is just 21.2 years old. … Saturday’s race has just four prior Bristol Xfinity winners entered: Kevin Harvick (five Xfinity wins), Elliott Sadler (two wins), Joey Logano and Jeff Green (one win each).
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Calif.)
TV: Sunday, April 19, 4 pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
Then and Now: Always one of the most popular races on the circuit – some say it’s the second-best after the Indianapolis 500 – the Long Beach Grand Prix is a fan and driver favorite. … Mike Conway led just three laps in last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix, but they were the final three laps as he took the first of what would be two victories in the 2014 season. … Sir Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek and X-Men fame) will serve as Grand Marshal. … James Hinchcliffe won this past Sunday at New Orleans. Juan Pablo Montoya won the season-opening race at St. Petersburg on March 29. … Montoya continues to lead the series standings after two races, with a 10-point edge over Helio Castroneves, a 14-point advantage over defending series champ Will Power and 19 points ahead of Hinchcliffe.
Hunter-Reay was cited Wednesday for violating Rule 9.3.3 and was penalized three points in the drivers point standings and placed on probation for three races.
The Verizon IndyCar Series race Sunday at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La., ended under caution after a big crash involving Simon Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais. They went three-wide through a corner, and that forced Pagenaud into the grass. Coming back to the track, the front of Pagenaud's car speared Hunter-Reay's, and the force of that knocked Bourdais' car sideways. Bourdais' car slid through the grass and slammed a tire barrier. It hit so hard the chassis broke at about where the driver's shoulder rests.
"Ryan pushed Simon into the grass, he then came back on track with no control and could not avoid collecting me, ending our race," Bourdais said after the race. "It was never going to be a good day, but now with the damage to the car, it is a shame because this was going to be my Indy 500 car."
"That was really dangerous," Pagenaud said of Hunter-Reay's path through the corner. "To me, that's not a professional move."
Hunter-Reay disagreed with Pagenaud, although a camera shot taken from a trailing car seemed to show a large gap between Bourdais and Hunter-Reay.
"I don't know where I was supposed to go," Hunter-Reay said in defense. "What am I going to do? (Pagenaud) stuck his nose in there; there's no more room."
Indy Car officials also penalized driver Francesco Dracone of Dale Coyne Racing for violating Rule 22.214.171.124 (contact with personnel). Dracone was fined $10,000 and placed on probation for six races.
In addition, driver Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport was fined $500 for violating Rule 126.96.36.199.1 (competition meeting: drivers told they would be fined for not keeping helmet visor down during pit stop).
The crew member of Dale Coyne Racing was fined $500 for violating Rule 188.8.131.52(f) (fueling without visor down) and the crew member of Andretti Autosport was fined $500 for violating Rule 7.9.6 (failure to attend tire during pit stop) and Rule 7.9.11 (equipment must remain in assigned pit).
IndyCar officials fined the crew member of KVSH Racing $500 for violating Rule 184.108.40.206(g) (over the wall without a helmet).
Meanwhile, IndyCar announced that Pro Mazda Championship driver Michael Johnson of JDC Motorsports was released from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday.
Johnson made contact with the Turn 3 wall in the opening practice session of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27. He suffered fractures to the hip and pelvis. Johnson is paralyzed from the waist down from a 2005 motorcycle accident
"It's great to finally be up and moving around and I'm looking forward to getting back home," Johnson said in a statement. "I'm not in any real pain and I was beyond ready to be released. I can't thank all of the fans, fellow drivers, teams, my sponsors and especially my family enough for the outpouring of support over the past few weeks. And to everyone at Bayfront Medical Center for the tremendous care they have given me, thank you. I'm on the road to recovery."
Under intense championship pressure, the final scheduled stop with 17 laps to go by the Osterlund Racing team under 20-year-old crew chief Doug Richert was a woozy one. Earnhardt Sr. ended up running over his jack exciting his pit box after only two lug nuts had been secured on the right rear wheel. NASCAR officials called him back into the pits the standard penalty for dragging the jack out of the pit box.
The subsequent penalty stop enabled his crew to add the three missing lug nuts and Earnhardt Sr. went on to finish fifth and gain enough points to beat Yarborough by 19 for the title. But here's the question -- absent the penalty call by NASCAR for the errant jack, would Earnhardt Sr. have tried to drive the final 17 laps with just two lug nuts on the right rear wheel on a 2.5-mile superspeedway?
As it was, he drove three laps before being called back into the pits.
At the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have lost a chance to gain entry into this year's championship Chase with a victory -- because of loose lug nuts. The larger individual story line here is, of course, Earnhardt Jr.'s ongoing pursuit of his first title after seven by his father.
But what about lug nuts and the new lug nut rule -- or lack of one?
Under new NASCAR rules enforcement using video cameras for each driver's pit stops instead of an official standing on the pit road, five lug nuts are no longer mandated on each wheel. Instead, teams are responsible for making sure the wheels are secure -- and can choose the number of lug nuts used.
Overall, the video cameras have made the pit road safer, protecting crew members in three ways: by enforcing when they leave the pit wall; by enforcing rules on errant tires during exchanges; and by making sure drivers do not take their cars through too many neighboring pit stalls entering or exiting their own box.
Also, by taking the officials off the pit road, it reduces the chances of injury to those individuals.
But is the lug nut rule -- or lack of one -- an acceptable trade off? Without officials standing on the pit road, it's not feasible to enforce the number of lug nuts on each wheel. So teams inevitably are experimenting with four instead of five, which generally means only three are tight because of the "wobbly" effect of the first one to be put on.
It is up to the drivers and teams to decide how to handle either not enough lug nuts or one that is loose enough to cause a vibration. In Earnhardt Jr.'s case, one of his Hendrick Motorsports crewmen recognized he had left two of four lug nuts loose on the left rear wheel and the driver was called back to the pit road by his team to tighten them during the same caution period. That sent Earnhardt Jr. to the back of the field after the first round of pit stops. He made it back up to second place by race's end, but getting there, he said afterwards, wore him out.
"It just seemed like everything was going against us," said Earnhardt Jr. "We were having trouble sort of beginning our race and getting into a rhythm, and we had to pass a lot of cars tonight."
It came down to a lone shot at victory in the closing laps. Earnhardt Jr. admittedly made a mistake by not moving up in front of Kevin Harvick in the high groove while trying to chase down eventual winner Jimmie Johnson. That mistake might have resulted from fatigue and the effort to drive back through the field. But Earnhardt Jr. said his team made the right call to bring him back in to tighten lug nuts.
"You've got understand how serious a situation it is," he said. "You get out there on the race track and we've got corner speeds are 18 miles an hour faster at Vegas, 18 miles an hour faster in the middle of the corner, and if you lose a wheel going that fast, it's not going to be very good. So you have to have (crew) guys that are up front and honest that you trust."
The consequences of not fixing a loose lug nut are worse, said Earnhardt Jr., because if the driver feels a vibration at high speed, he'll come back to the pits anyway.
"You get a bad vibration, the driver is going to come in, and he ain't going to knock his head against the fence out there when you think the tire is coming off, and you lose a lap (by returning to the pits under green). Then you're in big trouble," he said.
It remains to be seen what happens at the end of races when a driver pits under green, gets a vibration after returning to the track with a chance at victory in sight. If it's not too serious, will he stay out to win a race to gain a spot in the Chase? Or advance during the Chase? Would he stay out to win a championship with just two lug nuts like Earnhardt Sr. might well have done had NASCAR not forced him back into the pits?
We've already heard radio transmissions where crew chiefs coach drivers on the amount of vibration they are experiencing. If it's not severe, the choice has been made to wait until the next round of pit stops.
In addition to drivers and teams looking after their own safety and results, there are penalties established by NASCAR if a wheel disengages. The crew chief is subject to suspension, the team can be fined up to $50,000 and the team owner and driver can lose up to 15 points.
Those are relatively severe penalties. But an errant wheel and tire on the track can bring far worse consequences. That's why the lug nut rule was put in place and rigorously enforced once NASCAR had an official in each pit box. A loose wheel inadvertently knocked into the grandstands is the ultimate disaster.
So far, the new video rule enforcement method is bringing praise because it's taken the guesswork out of penalties and made the pit road a safer working environment for crews and officials, now posted behind the wall. The video cameras have brought NASCAR into alignment with other major sports leagues. But it will take an entire season of the usual pressure-packed pursuit of victory to get a better handle on how well the absence of a lug nut rule is working.
As the Chase pressure increases later in the season, the temptation to ignore a vibration is likely to rise as the laps wind down in the championship.
"We just kept plugging at it and I think the off-week was good for us to sit down and relax, reboot and come back to the track and they brought me a fast race car that was good all weekend," Johnson said.
It was Johnson's second win of the season and the fifth of his career at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick, who finished second to Johnson earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway and second to Johnson in the fall 2014 race at Texas, repeated those performances with another runner-up showing Saturday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third.
"We weren't as good as the 48 (Johnson) or the 4 (Harvick) early in the race, but we definitely improved it and Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the Nationwide team did a great job in getting it better," Earnhardt said. "We have had that speed all year and it's good to get a good finish in the bank because these last few weeks have been pretty rough, but we know what we are capable of."
During the eighth and final caution of the race -- with 25 laps to go -- Harvick, Johnson and Earnhardt were among the drivers who took four tires. Meanwhile, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. took two apiece and restarted the race in the top three spots. Harvick was the first driver to get off pit road with four and restarted fourth. Johnson restarted seventh.
"I thought we were in big trouble once we restarted," Johnson said. "The No. 4 (Harvick) went up through there and got to the lead. I just couldn't go anywhere. I got so tight. We weren't sure if it was a bad set of tires. We felt like we had a set that didn't match up with us earlier in the race. So we made no adjustments.
"We went out the next restart and the car was a little better, but made an adjustment. Then that last pit stop we made the right adjustment. I caught the No. 4 racing with the No. 1 (McMurray). I was able to get by both of those guys and check out. It was an exciting race. I hope the fans really enjoyed that one."
Harvick got up to second position with 18 laps remaining, and Johnson followed him through traffic to take third. Johnson then got by both Harvick and McMurray to take the lead and drive away to the win. Harvick and Earnhardt swapped the second and third positions several times in the closing laps.
"I just got behind there and Jimmie was fast for those last couple laps and got around us," Harvick said. "I got loose coming off four and I got in the wall and just was trying to hang on to where I needed to be. I just have to thank everybody on my Budweiser/Jimmy John's team for all that they have done and we just raced as hard as we could and it was a lot of fun."
Joey Logano finished fourth and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five. McMurray and Gordon dropped back to sixth and seventh by the finish. Kasey Kahne, Truex and Carl Edwards finished eighth through 10th.
"We did two (tires) two other times in the race and it worked out really well for us," McMurray said. "When I cleared the No. 24 (Gordon), I thought we had a legitimate shot at winning. I got checked out it seemed like a straightaway. But once the guys with four tires got clear their cars were a little better than ours and they had better tires. You just can’t hold them up here. The track is wide enough and they were enough faster than me that I really couldn’t even hold them up."
Johnson, the leader at the halfway point of the race, lost the top spot when Kahne stayed out during a green-flag cycle of pit stops around Lap 219 after getting off sequence when he made an unscheduled stop for a vibration on Lap 199.
"We the Great Clips Chevrolet was pretty close," Kahne said. "There were times when I felt really competitive with the leaders and other times more like a fifth-place car. Keith (Rodden, crew chief) did a great job we prepared a nice car. We just left too many wheels loose throughout the race. I think three; you can’t run well when you do that.”
Johnson returned to the lead when he got off pit road first during a Lap 228 caution. Harvick restarted fourth after that caution but got up to second on Lap 247. Both Johnson and Harvick were among drivers mired just outside the top 10 when the yellow flag waved again on Lap 260 and they headed for pit road while several other drivers stayed out.
Harvick was back up front by a restart after a Lap 295 caution and Johnson worked his way back up to third.
Johnson was the leader at the halfway point and Harvick was second after the race field cycled through green-flag stops around Lap 156.
Harvick had lost the lead to Johnson just before the pit stops.
Johnson took the lead for the first time when he passed Brad Keselowski on Lap 109, just before the yellow flag waved for the second time in the race. Johnson maintained his lead on pit road and on the restart before getting passed by Harvick on Lap 125.
Kurt Busch and Harvick started on the front row and combined to lead until a cycle of green flag pit stops on Laps 80 and 81. Keselowski had pitted for a vibration on Lap 67 and stayed out as the other drivers came in.
During the first caution on Lap 32, Earnhardt and Bowyer also were forced down pit road an extra time. Bowyer later had a second vibration issue.
Busch started on the pole but lost the lead to Harvick on Lap 1. Harvick led the first 34 laps before Busch beat him off pit road during the first caution.
NOTES: Joey Logano won the 2014 Duck Commander 500. ... Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second and third behind winner Erik Jones in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. ... Kurt Busch's pole for the Duck Commander 500 was his second in four races. Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick started next to him on the front row both times. ... The Texas race marked Kyle Larson's return after being sidelined for the race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway because of a fainting spell the day before. ... The Texas race was the first after NASCAR severely penalized the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team and driver Ryan Newman for modifying tires two races ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
The possibility of more rain also threatens to affect Sunday's race (2:30 p.m ET on NBCSN).
The pole was set by entry points after the rains came, giving Montoya the top spot. He won the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Next to him on the starting grid will be Team Penske teammate Will Power, the 2014 series champion. Tony Kanaan will start in the third position.
The washout actually saved Montoya because his car had slid off the 2.74-mile, 13-turn course in qualifying.
"It kind of gave me a little smile," Montoya said of the rainout, "but it is what it is. ... We were lucky, but at the same time, that's why you lead the points. When you have days like this, it will pay off."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Kyle Larson's recent sheet time at hospitals in Martinsville, Va., and Charlotte drove home a fact of life most 22-year-olds are not ready to accept.
The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Larson fainted during an autograph session at Martinsville Speedway on March 28.
"Yeah, definitely when you are young you think you are bulletproof, and that's just one little instance that shows you that you aren't," Larson said Friday upon resuming his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career at Texas Motor Speedway.
"You've got to take care of yourself as you get older; (I'm) definitely going to try to do a better job of that."
Medically cleared to resume driving last week during the Easter break, Larson qualified his No. 42 AXE Chevrolet SS fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates ninth on Friday for Saturday night's Duck Commander 500.
Larson has been advised to change his diet…specifically to start his day with breakfast and avoid junk food.
"Yeah, it stinks when you come here to Texas and they have the Fuzzy's Tacos that are really good and you can't go over there and eat them probably," Larson said.
"I hate breakfast, so I've got to find some things that I like to eat in the morning and just make sure I drink enough fluids. I feel like I take decent care of myself. That morning was a little bit different because I overslept and had to rush out to the car, but we should be good."
Larson was replaced on the half-mile Martinsville Speedway by Regan Smith. In addition to tracking "his" car, Larson also went to school on the series’ short-track specialists.
"Yeah, it's never good when you have to miss a race," Larson said. "Actually, I felt like I was still able to learn some things by sitting in the hospital bed watching the race.
"Martinsville is where I struggle the most on our tour. I was able to watch the good guys really, because I'm never around the good guys during the race at Martinsville.
"The cameras are on them a lot so I can see what they are doing and listen to radio communications and things like that. Definitely learned a little bit."
Larson will be making his fourth start on TMS' high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval in search of his first laps led. He has two top-10 finishes and a best finish of fifth in the events scheduled for 334 laps/501 miles.
"I like Texas because it's pretty bumpy and the surface is worn-out," Larson said. "You can move around on the racetrack, you can run the bottom all the way to the top. (Turns) 1 and 2 are really tricky to run the top because there are so many bumps.
"So it's just a technical racetrack that I seem to do well at, I guess. I hope we can go out there and improve on those top 10s and turn them into two top-five finishes this year. Two wins would be good."
Tracks continue safety enhancements
The management of the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway–another track in O. Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire–also has updated its SAFER system.
Jerry Caldwell, BMS' executive vice president and general manager, announced in early April that SMI engineers recently secured an additional 600 feet of SAFER Barriers.
Caldwell said workers will complete the build-out of the front and backstretch outside walls before the Food City 500 on April 19 (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Carl Edwards said he wasn't sure how the additional walls would affect the racing line on NASCAR's most aggressive bullring.
"When they first did the SAFER Barrier, that affected things quite a bit or at least we thought it would," said Edwards, driver of the No. 19 Stanley Racing For a Miracle Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.
"Really, the race gets going and everybody finds the line and it wasn't that big of a factor. I'm not even sure where they added them. So now they just go down the straightaways on the bottom and top? That's great, so now it will just be narrower.
"That place is so fast and so narrow already. I don't think it will make much of a difference. I do applaud them, all the track owners in NASCAR for doing that. Really there should be no place that there isn't a SAFER Barrier if they can afford it and it sounds like that's what we're moving to."
Reigning NSCS champion Kevin Harvick agreed that what comprises the straights at BMS will be narrower and tighter.
"You already have to kind of come back off the corners when you're running the top," said Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John's Chevrolet SS fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing.
"If you're running the bottom, it's just going to give you less space to let the car have its head up off the corner. So, it's probably going to make the bottom even worse than it was."
TMS is Buescher's second home
Native Texan Chris Buescher has been in the news throughout the NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Buescher drove the No. 60 Safety-Kleen Ford Mustang to a ninth-place finish in Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300, overcoming an embarrassing scrape against the Turn 2 wall on Lap 1.
With 25 laps remaining, the second-year XFINITY Series driver was running in the top five. A tight condition in the closing laps dropped him to ninth–his fourth top 10 of the season.
Buescher is second to Ty Dillon in the XFINITY Series driver standings, only two points out of the lead.
Earlier Friday, Front Row Motorsports announced that Buescher will drive the No. 34 CSX "Play It Safe" Ford Fusion in Sprint Cup races next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway on May 3.
The deal will extend Buescher's run with Front Row to five races. He has been filling the seat vacated by team regular David Ragan, who continues to sub for the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota.
A native of Prosper, Buescher qualified the No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford 40th for Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at TMS–a scenario he always had envisioned.
"I didn't really think about actually making it happen," Buescher said. "I grew up about 45 minutes east of here and made a lot of trips out here. I sat in the grandstands for the first race here in the monsoon that happened (in 1997), and have been coming back a lot since.
"I've been telling everybody that I've got hundreds if not thousands of laps on the quarter-mile on the frontstretch and the fifth-mile of the dirt track out back. We've run the road course through the infield in different cars, just not a whole lot of laps around the big track, so it's pretty awesome to be able to do it.
"I didn't really see it coming back in '97, but it's pretty neat to be out here and doing this. It's a dream come true, really, and I'm trying to take advantage of it right now. I know the Cup side is temporary, but it's still cool to say that I've made it up and ran a Cup race at my home track."
Jones celebrates with J.D. Gibbs
Joe Gibbs Racing marked Erik Jones' first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at TMS Friday night without the presence of J.D. Gibbs, team president and son of team founder Joe Gibbs.
The team announced in late March that J.D. Gibbs, 46, is undergoing treatment for symptoms impacting brain function, possibly from past head injuries.
Gibbs' symptoms include speech and processing issues. The oldest son of Joe Gibbs is continuing most of his day-to-day functions at the team's shop in Huntersville, N.C., but his presence at NASCAR tracks will be limited.
"J.D., we talked to him tonight," Joe Gibbs said during Jones' post-race news conference. "Erik talked to him and J.D…is special. I talked to him tonight and he said: 'Man, I wish I could be there.' So that's something that…gets to you. He's doing good."
Carl Edwards, who is in his first season of driving for JGR, said J.D.'s condition has inspired the entire organization.
"For me, it showed me how tough everyone at JGR is," Edwards said. "Coach Gibbs and J.D., for them to be dealing with something like this and to do it with such strength is amazing and so, yeah, I think for all of us it's a moment of perspective and something that can rally us to do the best we can to best represent our team and to give Coach something really positive."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Teenager Erik Jones turned his first NASCAR Xfinity Series pole at Texas Motor Speedway into his first series victory Friday night, schooling NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. en route to the checkered flag in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Jones, 18, held off Keselowski on a restart on Lap 175 of the scheduled 200 around the high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval for a victory margin of 1.625 seconds in the first night race of the season.
Jones became the second-youngest series winner at Texas at 18 years, 10 months, a record set last year by Chase Elliot at 18 years, 4 months when he posted his first victory.
"This is surreal. That confidence is something I never doubted in myself," Jones said. "This is just amazing. We beat Cup guys tonight. I can't wait for the rest of the year."
Jones previously competed at Texas in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He started fifth and finished 11th in last June's annual summer night race.
"Erik had a great car and did a great job," Keselowski said. "We raced side by side for two laps, but eventually he cleared me."
Keselowski overtook Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 167. Keselowski's last best shot to overtake Jones was set up after series veteran Brendan Gaughan and Cale Conley crashed exiting Turn 2 after Conley's car blew a right front tire. But Jones held his ground on the restart against Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick admittedly are pushing each other around in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a mindset that produced a 1-2 qualifying sweep Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch knocked Harvick off the top spot with under a minute remaining in round three of time trials to claim his second pole this season and first at Texas for Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
Busch toured the high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval at 193.847 mph to post his third top-10 start in four races and the 18th pole of his career. Busch also qualified on the pole at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., with Harvick alongside in Row 1.
Harvick's best lap at 193.722 mph was a miniscule 0.018 of a second behind his teammate.
"It feels good to post a lap at Texas and take home a pole award," Busch said. "Texas is fast. The way the new (knockout) qualifying format works, you have to do it three times. (Crew chief) Tony Gibson is amazing with his adjustments ... and when you have everybody adding in and not second-guessing, you can get everything out of a race car. It's a good feeling to have a fast car at Texas."
Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, settled for his career-best start at TMS.
"I feel really good about where the car is," Harvick said. "We spent all but one run in race trim (in two practices). I slipped in (Turns) 1 and 2 and got loose and got gun-shy in (Turns) 3 and 4. But I feel like we all get better every week and that's what we need to do."
Harvick, in fact, said Busch has been a major factor in the team's progress since returning from a NASCAR-mandated three-race suspension over alleged domestic abuse at the start of the season.
"It's good to have his feedback because Kurt is really good with the cars, really understands what he wants to do and what's going on," said Harvick, a two-time winner this season. "He understands the setup sheets and looks at the tires and pays attention to everything that’s going on.
"When you have that type of feedback, it just helps everybody push things along. And when you have common problems you can solve those problems ... nitpick those problems and fix those problems faster. This is my third year working with Kurt and I've enjoyed how much he is in tune with the cars. We have the same focus and goal, and that’s to try to run fast and win races."
Busch said the entire Stewart-Haas stable, including Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, is in a pushy mode.
"It's great to get a couple poles; he's (Harvick) got a couple wins," Busch said. "We've got our work cut out for us to keep up with his pace. But it's great to push each other and have the information go back and forth cleanly."
Brad Keselowski qualified third at 193.195 mph. Kasey Kahne will start fourth after a lap at 192.933 mph. Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five at 192.424 mph.
Joey Logano, the reigning Daytona 500 champion and winner of last year's rain-delayed spring race here, qualified sixth at 192.369 mph.
Harvick, meanwhile, will attempt to break an 0-for-24 record at TMS during Saturday night's 334-lap/501-miler. He's coming off a second-place finish to Johnson in the AAA Texas 500 in November with blinders on.
"This is one we've circled we want to win," Harvick said. "The biggest thing is I want to win here so Eddie Gossage (TMS president) will leave me alone. You come to a track where you haven’t won at -- and we've been fortunate to knock a lot off the list in the last year or so -- it's a race we've definitely circled to start the year."
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Duck Commander 500
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, Texas
Friday, April 10, 2015
1. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 193.847 mph.
2. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 193.722 mph.
3. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 193.195 mph.
4. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 192.933 mph.
5. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 192.424 mph.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 192.369 mph.
7. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 192.253 mph.
8. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 192.109 mph.
9. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 192.048 mph.
10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 191.721 mph.
11. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 191.489 mph.
12. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 189.547 mph.
13. (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 192.273 mph.
14. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 192.267 mph.
15. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 192.232 mph.
16. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 191.973 mph.
17. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 191.918 mph.
18. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 191.884 mph.
19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 191.768 mph.
20. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 191.421 mph.
21. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 191.096 mph.
22. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 190.880 mph.
23. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 190.523 mph.
24. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 190.483 mph.
25. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 192.068 mph.
26. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 191.966 mph.
27. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 191.639 mph.
28. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 191.530 mph.
29. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 191.483 mph.
30. (18) David Ragan, Toyota, 191.455 mph.
31. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 191.367 mph.
32. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 191.340 mph.
33. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 191.340 mph.
34. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 191.245 mph.
35. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, 190.988 mph.
36. (55) Brett Moffitt #, Toyota, 190.894 mph.
37. (32) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, Owner Points
38. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
39. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, Owner Points
40. (34) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, Owner Points
41. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
42. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Owner Points
43. (33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, Owner Points
Failed to qualify
44. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 190.027 mph.
45. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 189.507 mph.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Six Flags over Texas is located in nearby Arlington, but Jeff Gordon doesn't need to hustle over there for a roller-coaster ride. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion says he gets a thrill every time he buckles up at Texas Motor Speedway.
"I like to relate this track to a roller coaster because certainly driving it is similar to a roller coaster," Gordon said after Friday's second/final Sprint Cup practice for Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
"The transitions from the straightaway to the corners are more abrupt than any track we go to. When you look at the pace and the grip level, it goes up and down. You get new tires, you get a lot of grip and it sticks really good, then falls off a lot and you've got to move around the racetrack.
"As you're running the race, you're going to see a lot of cars going forward and going backward. It's definitely a roller-coaster ride -- a tough racetrack, a very technical racetrack."
Gordon stood 25th after the final practice with a hot lap at 187.370 mph in his No. 24 Chevrolet. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne topped the sheet at 190.975 mph in the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Gordon, who is competing in his 23rd and final full-time season for HMS, will make his 29th start on the TMS 1.5-mile quad-oval on Saturday -- five months after his now infamous post-race scuffle with 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski.
Gordon's shot at a fifth championship began to unravel during the AAA Texas 500 last Nov. 2 in the Eliminator 8 Round of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Gordon apparently was headed to victory with less than five laps to go when contact with Keselowski cut a tire on Gordon's car during a green-white-checkered flag restart. Gordon, who finished off the lead lap in 29th, angrily confronted “Bad Brad” on pit road post-race and ignited a brawl between the drivers and their teams. Both drivers emerged from the melee with bloodied faces.
Upon offseason review, Gordon said there was not much he could have done differently in a race won by Hendrick teammate/six-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson.
"A little better restart and I probably would have stayed on Jimmie's quarter panel a little bit stronger," Gordon said. "We come through the double dogleg (on the frontstretch), the second part I got close to him and then I opened up that gap to get my angle for the corner and that's when Keselowski took that middle lane. I probably would have done something to try to not give him that option. We had a pretty amazing race up until that point last year."
Gordon’s TMS resume features a victory in the 2009 spring race, three poles, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, 688 laps led ... and scuffles with Jeff Burton in November 2010 and Keselowski last year.
Ironically, Gordon received the Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award during the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala at The Speedway Club on Thursday evening. Specifically, he was cited for his support of pediatric cancer research, treatment and patient support programs through the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation. Gordon, who has been under the weather here, accepted the award via a videotaped message.
"I'm still scratching my head," Gordon said with a laugh. "Last time I was in Texas I remember there being quite a brawl on pit road. I don't know if that was the best example of sportsmanship, but for those of you that voted -- thank you!"
Michael Waltrip Racing adds Maxwell House to mix
Michael Waltrip Racing will carry primary sponsorship from Maxwell House Coffee for five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this summer and in the season-opening Daytona 500 in February 2016. The 10-month agreement is scheduled to begin with the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 2.
In addition to Pocono, Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 15 Maxwell House Toyota Camry at Watkins Glen International, Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway during the second half of the 2015 season. Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, will carry Maxwell House’s blue colors at Talladega Superspeedway in October and in the 2016 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Waltrip drove a Maxwell House-branded car in 1989.
"It's a great lineup of races for me," said Bowyer, who is entered in the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota for Saturday night's Duck Commander 500. "I'm looking forward to those races and having Maxwell House on board. It's neat. Any time you can have a sponsor and bring a sponsor back into this sport that has been a part of this sport for many years -- a staple name in this sport -- to have them back on board not only with NASCAR but on the side of my race car is huge for me and our sport. It's big any time you can bring funding to these race cars; it's a game-changer."
Additional elements of the sponsorship include special appearances by the Michael Waltrip Racing team, exclusive behind-the-scenes access for select fans, special in-season and grocery store promotions and sampling at select races. A Kraft Foods Group brand, Maxwell House also will serve as an associate sponsor for the remaining Sprint Cup races this season.
Hendrick inducted into Texas Hall of Fame
NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick became the 17th member of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame -- and its first "Southern Gentleman" -- during the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala at The Speedway Club on Thursday evening.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, a former Hendrick Motorsports driver, praised Hendrick as "my good friend, my buddy, somebody I love to death." Waltrip said Hendrick personified the qualities of a true "Southern gentleman" during his introductory remarks.
"When I think about a Southern gentleman, I think about his dad (Papa Joe Hendrick) and about Rick," said Waltrip, who posted nine of his 84 career NSCS wins for Hendrick Motorsports between 1987 and 1990. "And a Southern gentleman has a lot of characteristics that I think have gotten lost through the years, but Rick still has them -- hard work, respect for your elders, a firm handshake, your word is your bond, you make eye contact with someone when you're talking to them .. you treat other people like you want to be treated.
"He's as smooth as silk, but he's as strong as steel. Rick Hendrick, folks, in my opinion, is a true Southern gentleman and he is so worthy of any award but particularly this award tonight."
Hendrick has enjoyed a wealth of success at Texas. His team's six career Sprint Cup victories are second most by an owner, trailing only fellow Texas Motorsports Hall of Famer Jack Roush's nine.
"I've been so blessed in my life because I get to do the two things I enjoy the most --outside of my family -- and that's racing and the automobile business," said Hendrick, whose auto empire includes three dealerships in Texas. "I've met some terrific friends, like Darrell. I've seen guys like Jeff Gordon (emerge as superstars). Now he's retiring and I'm still here --I'm a fossil.
"The sport's been so good to me. In some of the darkest hours of my life, NASCAR has been there. I've been to the top of the mountain and all of my friends have been with us. But in any business you're in today, it's all about people ... and racing's that way. Thank you for this terrific honor. I'm blessed to be here; I'm honored and humbled."
The remainder of the awards amounted to a Hendrick Motorsports love fest. Waltrip received the O. Bruton Smith Legend Award after an introduction by brother Michael. A popular analyst on FOX Sports' NASCAR telecasts, "Ol' D.W." said the award was special to him because it had the blessing of longtime friend O. Bruton Smith, chairman of the board of Speedway Motorsports Inc.
"In 2000, I was honored to receive the Bill France Award of Excellence, and that meant a lot to me," said Waltrip, a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "But this award, I mean this when I say it, this means more than any award I've ever gotten from anybody."
Chase Elliott, the driver who will replace Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next year, was honored as Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year. Elliott posted his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in last April's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300. At age 18 years, 4 months, 7 days, Elliott became the second-youngest driver to win an Xfinity Series race and the first series rookie to win at TMS. The son of 1988 NSCS champion Bill Elliott, Chase went on to win the Xfinity championship.
NASCAR '15 good-to-go in May
Texas-based GameStop Corp. plans to launch its NASCAR ’15 video game on May 22, with NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones in a virtual starring role. Jones' No. 20 GameStop/Mortal Kombat X Toyota Camry, fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, is featured in the newest product at $19.99.
"For a long time, we've had NASCAR racing games, but it's never really been taken to the level I thought capable," said Jones, who made his first Xfinity Series start at Texas in Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300. "So to have you guys (GameStop of Grapevine, Texas) come in and try to make something out of it is pretty exciting. Definitely looking forward to the game that's coming out this year. It's a blast to race .. and try not to tear too much stuff up."
In Xfinity Series qualifying, Jones covered the 1.5-mile quad-oval at 185.166 mph for his second series pole.
--Can anybody slow down Kevin Harvick? From the perspective of Harvick and his Stewart Haas Racing Chevy team, another acid test in his stellar defense of last season's championship is upcoming Saturday night at the Texas Motor Speedway. Among active drivers, he has competed in the most races at Texas – 24 – without a victory. (On the other hand, his eight-race streak of finishing first or second started at Texas last fall.)
--When it comes to who's running well, Harvick, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are the only front-running drivers who have picked up where they left off last season – with the possible exception of Jimmie Johnson, who has a victory but has struggled otherwise. It may be a long season with 20 races remaining until the Chase begins, but right now I'd bet on those four making it to the final round in Homestead, Fla. (It now appears Ryan Newman, one of last year's finalists, picked up where he left off with illegally ventilated tires before officials caught on at this season's fifth race.)
--There is little doubt Danica Patrick is a highly motivated and talented race car driver, but since when is a seventh place finish – as at Martinsville – something to celebrate? (Perhaps it's an indication that people are still interested to see if Patrick can win a race. Presently, the only competition where the Stewart Haas Racing driver prevails is versus boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is mired in Roush Fenway Racing's woes. )
--Should there be a set of "modern era" records for the Sprint Cup and if so when should it begin? Most pundits consider the line of demarcation to be the reduction in the schedule from 48 races to 31 in 1972, when an emphasis was put on superspeedways instead of short tracks. I would vote for starting the modern era in 1980, because that's when the sport's financial depression occasioned by factory withdrawals in the early 1970s finally ended. In the 1980 season, 10 different drivers won races for the first time after the shortening of the schedule. (In any event, Kevin Harvick's eight straight finishes of first or second surely trumps Richard Petty's mark from the 1975 season when there were only eight different winners. There have been five different winners already in six races this season.)
--I am concerned that one day I'll go online and read that a long-since retired driver has decided to start the Sprint All-Star race in order to supplement his retirement fund. (There are always efforts to increase the field for this all-star race, which is contrary to the idea of an all-star event that highlights the players currently doing well by giving them a special showcase.)
--Will Kyle Busch get a waiver through a medical exemption if he returns to the Sprint Cup before 26 races have expired this season and be eligible for the Chase should he win an event? (After waivers for Brian Vickers and Kurt Busch already this year and for Tony Stewart last year, it's difficult to anticipate where the line is drawn on who would be a suitable champion should he or she prevail in the 10-race postseason. Should there be a minimum number of attempts to qualify regardless of exceptions, medical or otherwise?)
--The Martinsville track once was notorious as a place where drivers could get carbon monoxide poisoning during a race. The track's tight confines and location in a dell sometimes resulted in the air above it getting thick with fumes. Currently, ability to withstand such conditions is no longer a pre-requisite for drivers due to cool helmets. (But could the diminutive Kyle Larson have suffered from too much "bad air" at Martinsville prior to his fainting spell? After extensive tests, the team said doctors placed the blame on dehydration. Further along these lines, is stamina an issue for Larson and will that hamper him when it comes to finishing the job in 500 mile races? He wouldn't be the first star of 300-mile races in the understudy Xfinity Series to have that problem after moving up to the longer events. See Bobby Hamilton.)
--RCR has appealed its penalty for illegal alterations to its tires discovered by officials after the race in Fontana, Calif. (The team was caught illegally adjusting the air pressure in tires through holes in the sidewalls, which is clearly outside the rules governing air pressure adjustments. Because it postpones the penalty phase, an appeal creates the opportunity to better prepare for the six-race suspensions of the crew chief Luke Lambert, team engineer Phillip Surgen and tire specialist James Bender.)
--Why not allow teams to use bleeder valves on tires like those allowed in short track series? (The Sprint Cup is the big leagues and handling air pressure changes in tires is part of the challenge. Besides, changing tire conditions help create ebb and flow over the course of a race – one of the biggest fan appeals.)
--What a shame that Sheila and Ernie Elliott ran into legal problems as a result of an angry dispute. Their dust-up occurred at the same time nephew Chase Elliott was receiving so much attention prior to his Sprint Cup debut at Martinsville. (The grief of Sheila and Ernie for their son Casey Elliott, who died of cancer before he could make it to the Sprint Cup, surely runs deep.)
--David Gilliland, who started his 300th career race at Martinsville, has over $31 million in career winnings in the Sprint Cup and likely has been paid 40 percent of that total by team owners. Not bad for a journeyman driver whose best finishes have been second on the road course in Sonoma, Calif. and at Talladega. (His father Butch Gilliland ran 10 Sprint Cup races between 1990 and 1999, earning $129,620 in purse money. At Martinsville, David won $104,808 after starting 29th and finishing one lap down in 25th.)