The No. 31 car's team received a severe penalty from the sport's governing body that included a $125,000 fine for crew chief Luke Lambert, a 75-point Sprint Cup Series deduction and six-race suspensions for Lambert, tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen.
The points penalty dropped Newman from sixth to 26th in the Sprint Cup standings, hurting his chances to make the Chase for the Sprint later in the season.
"NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said. "We've been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated."
Richard Childress Racing plans to weigh his options to appeal.
"We understand the seriousness of the penalty," team president Torrey Galida said. "In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against tire bleeding since the rumors began to surface last season."
NASCAR confiscated the tires from Newman's car and several other drivers after a March 22 race when it suspected that there was alteration of the tires to release air pressure.
Medical tests were completed Tuesday and Larson's Chip Ganassi Racing team said he "is currently waiting for final doctor recommendations in order to clear him to return to all NASCAR-related activities."
After Larson fainted during an autograph session at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, he was taken to a local hospital for tests and then transferred to a medical center in Charlotte, N.C., for further evaluation. The 22-year-old missed Sunday's Sprint Cup STP 500 race at Martinsville and was replaced by Regan Smith, who finished 16th.
Larson's team is hoping the series' top rookie last year will be cleared to resume driving this week for the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Finishing seventh behind winner Denny Hamlin at the Martinsville Speedway on Sunday mostly meant Patrick is getting closer to the front at the finish - her previous best at the Virginia track being 12th. (Her career best overall in 88 starts was a sixth in Atlanta last year.) Will she ever get to the top of the heap in a Sprint Cup race when the checkered flag falls?
Racing is an odd business when it comes to predictions. So far in her career Patrick has been consistent, gradually pulling up her average starting position and her average finishing position. Her career numbers for those two categories are relatively similar to those of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne and Austin Dillon, all of whom have a similar number of starts. When compared to fellow Indy car refugees A.J. Allmendinger and Sam Hornish, Jr., Patrick's average start and finish numbers are also comparable.
But, not one of these drivers is considered a threat to win when the command to start engines is given - unless it's on a road course, where Allmendinger has scored one victory. Instead, the expectation is these drivers may turn in an outstanding finish on any given day.
It should be pointed out that Bayne has also won a race - the Daytona 500 during the one-off tandem draft era - and that Stenhouse's best finish was a third at Talladega. Dillon has finished fourth at Daytona. But Patrick has yet to threaten to take home the checkers as the closing laps wind down.
No matter what the era, winning drivers in NASCAR's top series consistently finish in the Top 5 before making a breakthrough. The talent and aggression shows early, particularly among drivers who are championship material. For Patrick, who clearly has the talent to race in the Sprint Cup, what has been missing is the aggression. She has spent a career in IndyCar and in NASCAR sustaining major sponsorship in part by avoiding getting tagged as The Female Driver Who Crashes.
Patrick's approach has been to index up to competitiveness by gradually improving. Her focus has been on getting the car right and if it's not right, then making changes during the course of a race. When it comes to the big picture, Patrick said she spent her first year at Stewart Haas trying to get the personnel and equipment she needed to be competitive.
"A couple of years ago, if you had asked about how we all felt about how it was going, there wouldn't have been a lot of positive things to say," said Patrick in the post-race media conference at Martinsville. "That's an example of an organization digging deep and finding ways. By all means the last couple of years we've been a lot stronger and we've been a much better team and we're having a lot more fun out there."
Patrick praised her new crew chief, Daniel Knost, who took over this year from Tony Gibson, and the team's three engineers. She said the car arrives at the track with better preparation on chassis set-up and that communication with Knost about mid-race adjustments during pit stops has been improving.
"I can't do well if the team doesn't provide the people and the equipment that I need to perform," she said.
Patrick's approach while driving for the teams of Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti in IndyCar was similar in terms of demanding internally what she needed to be competitive. How much that process included making sure team members believed in the ability of a woman to win races is an open question. But Patrick was never shy about leveraging the fact she brought budget through sponsorship to a team and that everyone would benefit if she was given the technical support she wanted.
She believes she has that support in the Sprint Cup for a second straight season. "Daniel and I have a very good working relationship," said Patrick. "Don't get me wrong. We get along great and have a lot of fun."
Still, there's the nagging question about whether Patrick pushes hard enough behind the wheel. True to form, Patrick did not charge her way to the front at Martinsville, where the usual front runners from Stewart Haas and Hendrick all had issues or chose poor pit strategy. Instead, after a slow start when the car wasn't working well, Patrick advanced by hitting her marks on the track, proper adjustments on pit stops and good pit strategy.
The strategy did not start out well. Knost gambled early by electing to skip a pit stop for fresh tires during an early caution in order to re-start at the front.
"We weren't very good at the start," said Patrick. "We took a chance and stayed out and we ended up going backward in a hurry," said Patrick. "I was not happy on the radio."
Once the handling of the chassis improved, despite some difficulty turning in the corners Patrick motored to seventh while others guessed wrong on a late caution coming out, including her team co-owner Tony Stewart. She declared the results a good "ego boost" for herself and the team. Indeed, racing 500 laps at Martinsville and bringing a complete car back to the garage in the Top 10 is a major accomplishment. Alas, what about the prospects for a victory?
Unlike IndyCar, where Patrick's lone victory came on the daunting Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan, the Sprint Cup competition is deep. A driver generally has to learn how to lose a race or two after getting close at the finish before he or she can win versus a plethora of veterans who have been to victory lane before.
So far, Patrick has yet to demonstrate the needed aggressiveness behind the wheel to put herself in position for a win.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Exiting pit road after his final stop on Lap 462 of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon got the bad news.
Gordon had entered the pits as the leader under the 16th and final caution of the race and was fourth off pit road, but the news was much worse than that.
NASCAR had flagged Gordon for speeding in Sector 5, the stretch of pit road immediately before his stall. With his chances for a victory dashed, Gordon restarted from the rear of the field on Lap 467 of 500.
"Oh, my gosh, I'm so disappointed in myself," Gordon said after the race. "I know I was pushing the limit. I didn't think I had done anything different than I had all day long when I was behind other guys, so we've got to look at that. I'm very, very disappointed. I felt like we finally got the car, got ourselves in a position to win that race.
"It was a struggle. We were really battling with tire wear and the car getting really loose. I thought Denny (Hamlin) had the best car, but I thought with our track position there at the end, we had a shot at it. Oh, my gosh, I'm so disappointed. I don't even know what to say right now. Of course, then the car is the absolute best it had been all day when I drove up from the back."
Indeed, Gordon put forth a yeoman effort in the closing laps, driving from the rear to a ninth-place finish before Hamlin took the checkered flag.
Never give up
Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth in Sunday's race, posting his sixth straight top 10 to start the season, but the performance of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team was anything but routine.
In the first tire run of the afternoon, Truex lost the power steering in his Chevrolet because of a fluid leak and plummeted through the field. But the crew fixed the problem with multiple pit stops, and Truex regained his track position by staying out on old tires for a restart on Lap 101.
From there, it was a matter of staying in touch with the lead cars and avoiding a myriad of incidents that produced 16 cautions.
"I can't believe after losing the power steering the first run we finished sixth," Truex said. "It was not fun to drive for a little while there, but they did a great job getting fluid back in it and fixing the leak and everything. Just fought all day, just like we always do--fought, fought, fought."
Of all his finishes this year, the run at Martinsville was perhaps most gratifying.
"It's awesome," Truex said. "I can't say enough about the team. Again, to battle like we did today... We showed we never give up. We haven't all year long. We haven't given up on each other since I started here. It feels good to have another good run at one of my worst race tracks. Just can't believe we were able to stay on the lead lap, fix the power steering and all that and drive back through there. It was a hell of an effort."
Mixed feelings for Kenseth
With 30 laps left in Sunday's STP 500, Matt Kenseth surged into the lead past Tony Stewart, who was driving on old tires.
But Kenseth couldn't hold the position. He lost the top spot to race winner and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin on Lap 473 and later gave way to the Team Penske Fords of runner-up Brad Keselowski and third-place Joey Logano.
Nevertheless, a fourth-place run at a track that had given him fits until he joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 and leaned heavily on Hamlin's expertise provided some consolation for the 2003 premier series champion.
"In the long run, and at the end of the race, I thought we had the best car--me and Denny," Kenseth said. "Then, on that last restart (Lap 467), the recent set of tires just didn't agree with it. We didn't have any grip and couldn't go anywhere. Just kind of hanging on, which is unfortunate.
"It's hard to be disappointed with a fourth at Martinsville. Really happy that Denny is in Victory Lane. He's one of the biggest reasons I can actually run in the top 10. Good for him, and a great teammate--glad for him."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- With Brad Keselowski beating a tattoo into his rear bumper, and with his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota sliding sideways as it approached the checkered flag, Denny Hamlin held on to his car and held off Keselowski to win Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
In winning his first race of the season, his fifth at the .526-mile short track and the 25th of his career, Hamlin took the lead for good on Lap 473 of 500, passing teammate Matt Kenseth for the top spot. Two laps later, Keselowski surged past Kenseth and tracked down Hamlin, setting up a breathtaking battle in the closing laps.
Keselowski could have won his second straight Sprint Cup race by wrecking Hamlin, but the 2012 premier series champion opted not to win the race with his bumper.
"Hats off to Brad -- he had an option, and he took the latter (not to wreck the No. 11)," said Hamlin, who broke a 31-race Toyota winless streak dating back to his victory at Talladega last May. "So thank him for that...
"We had some good short-track racing those last few laps."
Keselowski tried everything in the closing laps short of knocking Hamlin's car into the fence.
"I did everything I could, other than wreck him," said Keselowski, last week's winner at Auto Club Speedway in California. "I hit him pretty good a couple of times. I don't know what else I could have done other than drive through him."
Keselowski took his last shot off the final corner, bumping Hamlin's car and turning it sideways. But Hamlin righted the car and drove to the finish line .186 seconds ahead of the race runner-up.
Hamlin, who recovered from a penalty for a runaway tire on Lap 166 and a resulting trip to the rear of the field, said the victory followed the longest competition meeting he's experienced at Joe Gibbs Racing, one in which team owner Joe Gibbs pointedly addressed his teams.
"Joe doesn't raise his voice very often, but he did this time," Hamlin said. "He told us to get off our tails and get to work."
Obviously, the effort paid off on Sunday.
Coors Light Polesitter Joey Logano ran third, overcoming a Lap 219 spin in Turn 2 that started when Michael Annett's Chevrolet got loose underneath Logano's Ford and knocked the No. 22 out of the racing groove.
Kenseth came home fourth and David Ragan fifth in his continuing substitute role for Kyle Busch, as Joe Gibbs Racing put three cars in the top five. Martin Truex Jr. was sixth, posting his sixth straight top 10 to start the season, and Danica Patrick finished seventh, one position shy of her best result in the Sprint Cup series.
The top-10 finish was Patrick's fifth in NASCAR's premier division, tying her with Janet Guthrie for most in the series by a female driver. The driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet gained seven positions in the standings to 16th.
"I'm proud of everyone for not giving up and for keeping their head in the game, and the pit crew did a good job," said Patrick, who was a lap down after 200 circuits but benefited from a free pass as the highest-scored lapped car under a Lap 206 caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s brush with the Turn 3 wall.
"They were frustrated last weekend after making a mistake on the last stop (at Fontana), and it's a team effort, you know. I'm going to make mistakes at the very end, too. I'm not going to lie, I was glad there was not a yellow at the very end coming to the white. I was glad for that."
The late-lap war between Hamlin and Keselowski was simply the finale to an action-filled afternoon that produced 16 cautions for a total of 112 laps.
It was the 16th caution that proved the undoing of eight-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon, who grabbed the lead from Kenseth on Lap 442 and appeared headed for victory in his final full-time season before NASCAR threw the yellow flag for debris on the frontstretch on Lap 460.
Trying to maintain his position at the front of the field, Gordon was flagged for speeding on pit road as he approached his stall and restarted at the rear of the field on Lap 467. To his credit, Gordon drove to a ninth place before he ran out of laps.
NOTES: In his series debut, Chase Elliott was a victim of early contact, went to the garage for repairs and completed 427 laps, finishing 38th...Kevin Harvick ran eighth and saw his streak of consecutive top-two finishes end at eight. Harvick retained the series lead by 24 points over Logano, with Truex holding third, 32 points back...Hamlin's 25th victory ties him with the late Joe Weatherly for most by a Virginia native. Hamlin has accounted for all five of Toyota's victories at Martinsville.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - STP 500
Sunday, March 29, 2015
1. (15) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500, $166760.
2. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500, $157401.
3. (1) Joey Logano, Ford, 500, $162418.
4. (8) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 500, $142121.
5. (20) David Ragan, Toyota, 500, $144061.
6. (3) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 500, $118665.
7. (16) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 500, $99570.
8. (17) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 500, $144495.
9. (4) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 500, $133206.
10. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500, $118461.
11. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 500, $101200.
12. (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500, $123811.
13. (30) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 500, $120733.
14. (26) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 500, $105750.
15. (24) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 500, $112683.
16. (7) Regan Smith(i), Chevrolet, 500, $113633.
17. (11) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 500, $82000.
18. (36) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 500, $125450.
19. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 500, $115508.
20. (6) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 500, $111839.
21. (34) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 500, $83800.
22. (37) Cole Whitt, Ford, 499, $99633.
23. (13) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 499, $91175.
24. (35) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, 499, $85075.
25. (29) David Gilliland, Ford, 499, $104808.
26. (42) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 497, $93933.
27. (2) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 496, $116000.
28. (33) Brett Moffitt #, Toyota, 496, $110339.
29. (32) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 495, $81450.
30. (31) Josh Wise, Ford, 495, $82325.
31. (43) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 494, $87722.
32. (38) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 493, $104370.
33. (41) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, 492, $77800.
34. (40) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, 491, $77675.
35. (5) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 468, $125856.
36. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 453, $96970.
37. (39) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 444, $77472.
38. (27) Chase Elliott(i), Chevrolet, 427, $73047.
39. (28) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 389, $68975.
40. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 364, $72975.
41. (22) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Electrical, 330, $97911.
42. (21) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 328, $64975.
43. (10) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Oil Leak, 177, $71475.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 68.843 mph.
Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 49 Mins, 13 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.186 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 16 for 112 laps.
Lead Changes: 31 among 13 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Logano 1-16; R. Newman 17-18; J. Logano 19-56; M. Bliss(i) 57; J. Logano 58-96; M. Truex Jr. 97-119; J. Logano 120-133; K. Harvick 134-147; D. Hamlin 148-164; B. Keselowski 165; K. Harvick 166-170; B. Keselowski 171-172; K. Harvick 173; K. Busch 174-194; K. Harvick 195-207; J. Logano 208; K. Kahne 209-237; K. Harvick 238-270; B. Keselowski 271; C. Edwards 272-284; K. Harvick 285-301; B. Keselowski 302-315; D. Hamlin 316-326; K. Harvick 327-357; M. Kenseth 358; K. Harvick 359-398; D. Hamlin 399-433; M. Kenseth 434-441; J. Gordon 442-462; T. Stewart 463-470; M. Kenseth 471-472; D. Hamlin 473-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 8 times for 154 laps; J. Logano 5 times for 108 laps; D. Hamlin 4 times for 91 laps; K. Kahne 1 time for 29 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 23 laps; K. Busch 1 time for 21 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 21 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 18 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 13 laps; M. Kenseth 3 times for 11 laps; T. Stewart 1 time for 8 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 2 laps; M. Bliss(i) 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick - 263; J. Logano - 239; M. Truex Jr. - 231; B. Keselowski - 206; K. Kahne - 193; R. Newman - 180; P. Menard - 173; D. Hamlin - 172; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 172; A. Almirola - 170; J. Johnson - 168; M. Kenseth - 168; D. Ragan - 163; C. Mears - 161; J. Mcmurray - 154; D. Patrick - 148.
Hamlin recorded his fifth career Cup win at Martinsville, but not before holding off last week's winner, Brad Keselowski, on the final lap.
"It was a good run," Keselowski said. "Up and down day for us, and we finished on a strong note, just not quite as strong as we wanted to. Man, it was a fun race. That's the best we've ever been here at Martinsville, so I'm pumped about that, but a little disappointed I'm not taking home a clock (trophy awarded at Martinsville)."
Hamlin ran near the front throughout the race but routinely lost positions while on pit road. His team had a tire issue during a lap 95 caution and then was assessed a tire penalty during a caution on lap 165. Hamlin also purposely gave up positions on pit road on several occasions, attempting to ensure odd restart positions in the inside line.
"We had a very fast car but, obviously, some pit road issues but we overcame it," Hamlin said. "I tried (to ensure getting off pit road in an odd position), but sometimes it messes you up with penalties. It worked out for us the last time, though."
Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Joey Logano finished second and third, respectively. Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan, rounded out the top five.
Hamlin took the lead for the final time by passing Kenseth with just under 30 laps to go. Tony Stewart restarted with the lead after staying out during a caution with about 40 laps remaining in the 500-lap race but lost that lead to Kenseth with about 30 to go.
Hamlin followed Kenseth in passing Stewart, then took the lead shortly thereafter.
Keselowski and Logano also got by Kenseth to occupy second and third with just over 20 laps remaining.
"We just couldn't go on that short run and kept falling back," Kenseth said.
Missing from the top-two of the finishing order was Kevin Harvick. After leading 153 laps, Harvick wound up eighth, ending his streak of consecutive top-two finishes at eight. Harvick lost the lead for the final time when he was overtaken by Hamlin on lap 398. He remained in the top five for a while but fell back in the final 60 laps.
Logano also led for much of the first half of the race, leading 108 laps before spinning after an incident with Michael Annett on lap 220. He was running fifth before the incident, but fell to the back of the lead lap after the spin. He gradually worked his way back toward the front and was within the top five by a restart with 61 laps to go.
"We had a decent race car, and we recovered from the spin halfway through the race and we worked our way back and, slowly but surely, got ourselves back in the top-three," Logano said. "We didn't have enough long-run speed. I could hang with him a little bit, but it takes everything I've got to go their speed and then my stuff just wears out on that last run. I gave it all I had from lap one until the end of it and just burned it up and lost too much steam."
Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth, maintaining his season-long string of consecutive top-10 finishes. Danica Patrick posted her second-best career Sprint Cup finish by placing seventh. Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray finished eighth through 10th.
NOTES: Kyle Larson was sidelined for the Martinsville Speedway race after fainting during an autograph session on Saturday afternoon. NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Regan Smith substituted as driver of Larson's No. 42. ... Chase Elliott, future replacement for the retiring Jeff Gordon, made his Sprint Cup Series debut at Martinsville on Sunday. He went to the garage early after his car sustained significant damage early in the race. ... Joey Logano led the most laps and won the Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville on Saturday. He also won the pole for both the truck and Sprint Cup races. ... Kevin Harvick's last finish outside the top two came at Martinsville in October 2014 when he finished outside the top 30. ... Kurt Busch won last year's STP 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the most recent Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville in October 2014.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- On doctors' advice, Kyle Larson will not race in Sunday's STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway after fainting during an autograph session on Saturday afternoon.
Regan Smith will take Larson's place in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
"After fainting yesterday at an autograph session in Martinsville, Virginia, Kyle Larson was first evaluated at a local hospital in Martinsville and ultimately evaluated at a Charlotte hospital," Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates said in a statement released Sunday morning.
"Although all tests came back negative and Larson feels completely fine, the doctors felt he should be held for more testing today. Subsequently, Larson will be unable to race today in the STP 500 in Martinsville."
Smith hasn't had a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride since 2012, but he has raced in a substitute role for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and most recently for Kurt Busch.
Will Power claimed the pole -- the 37th of his career -- for Sunday's race (3 p.m. ET on ABC) with a lap of 1 minute, 0.6931 of a second (106.767 mph) on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course.
In an earlier qualifying round, the 2014 St. Petersburg race winner set the track record with a 1:00.6509 lap, breaking the previous best run of 1:00.928 by Sebastien Bourdais in 2003.
Following Power in qualifying were teammates Simon Pagenaud (1:00.7252, 106.710 mph), Helio Castroneves (1:00.8356, 106.517 mph) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1:00.8532, 106.486 mph).
"I'm stoked to get pole," Power said. "It just shows the work we've done over the winter. It's four good drivers that will battle it out."
Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing was fifth in 1:01.1496 (105.970 mph) and Bourdais qualified sixth in 1:01.1545 (105.961).
Larson was at his merchandise hauler signing for fans after two Sprint Cup Series practices when he passed out, said Larson's representative, Davis Schaefer.
Larson's Chip Ganassi Racing team reported that the driver was awake and alert on the way to the hospital.
The 22-year-old's status for Sunday's STP 500 was not immediately known. He would need medical clearance to drive, but the Ganassi team expected Larson to be in the No. 42 Chevrolet for the race.
In five Sprint Cup starts this year, Larson has finished in the top 10 twice. He was named the series rookie of the year in 2014.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILE, Va. -- Race runner-up Matt Crafton said Joey Logano barreled into Turn 1 on the final restart "like he was shot out of a cannon."
Ducking to the inside with the accelerator mashed was the move Logano, the pole winner, had to make to vault from third to first and win Saturday's Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in an event that went eight circuits past its posted distance of 250 laps.
Logano led 150 laps in winning the first Trucks race of his career and becoming the 26th driver to take a checkered flag in each of NASCAR's top three national touring series.
After Crafton led the field to green on Lap 257, Logano and third-place finisher Erik Jones made a sandwich of Crafton's No. 88 Toyota. Logano squeezed his No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford through the first two corners into the lead.
With a car that was set up for short runs, Logano was untouchable the rest of the way and arrived at the finish line with a .431-second advantage over the two-time defending series champion.
"I just had a great restart," Logano said of the winning move. "The tires worked out well. I prepped them good down the back straightaway and made sure I had them clean enough. I got a good jump, a fourth-gear grab there, drove it in there and hope I got past him -- and it was able to stick down there. .. It's cool to say I've won in all three series now. It's kind of special."
Logano is the first driver to put a Ford truck in Victory Lane since Ricky Craven in 2005.
Crafton caused the caution that sent the race to overtime when he bumped Cole Custer's No. 00 Chevrolet off Turn 4 and sent him spinning on Lap 248. Crafton's tap was retaliation for an aggressive move on Custer's part on lap 246, where Custer drove hard into Turn 1, knocked both Crafton and Logano out of the way and took a short-lived lead.
But Crafton soon caught Custer and moved him out of the way. With Custer's Chevrolet sitting in the middle of the frontstretch, NASCAR was forced to call the ninth caution of the race, setting up the green-white-checkered-flag finish.
"I drove in too hard and couldn't stop, and I hit 'em a little too hard," Custer said of the move that gave him the lead for two laps. "It worked, so I knew he (Crafton) was going to come back and nudge me a little bit. I was giving it everything I had to try and stay up there."
In vain, as it turned out. Driving a truck fielded by JR Motorsports, Custer finished 16th after overcoming two pit road speeding penalties.
Crafton led 100 laps in his second-place effort and took the series lead from Tyler Reddick, who ran fifth. Reddick trails Crafton by two points through three events this season.
Johnny Sauter came home fourth, followed by Reddick, Daniel Suarez, James Buescher, John Wes Townley, Matt Tifft and Justin Boston.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race - Kroger 250
Saturday, March 28, 2015
1. (1) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 258, $51,336.
2. (13) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 258, $31,542.
3. (4) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 258, $25,488.
4. (9) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 258, $19,518.
5. (7) Tyler Reddick, Ford, 258, $18,458.
6. (11) Daniel Suarez(i), Toyota, 258, $16,574.
7. (15) James Buescher, Chevrolet, 258, $14,158.
8. (5) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, 258, $16,352.
9. (19) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 258, $16,297.
10. (21) Justin Boston #, Toyota, 258, $17,191.
11. (3) Cameron Hayley #, Toyota, 258, $16,186.
12. (14) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 258, $16,046.
13. (26) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, 258, $15,990.
14. (18) Spencer Gallagher #, Chevrolet, 258, $15,935.
15. (6) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 258, $16,252.
16. (2) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 258, $15,769.
17. (12) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 257, $13,663.
18. (17) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 257, $15,658.
19. (22) Ben Kennedy, Toyota, 257, $15,602.
20. (10) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 257, $16,019.
21. (23) Caleb Holman, Chevrolet, 257, $13,241.
22. (20) Mason Mingus, Chevrolet, 256, $13,213.
23. (27) Korbin Forrister #, Chevrolet, 255, $15,436.
24. (31) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 250, $14,130.
25. (30) Tommy Regan, Chevrolet, 248, $14,197.
26. (24) Jake Griffin, Chevrolet, Handling, 218, $12,992.
27. (28) Cody Ware #, Chevrolet, Vibration, 216, $12,964.
28. (29) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 174, $12,716.
29. (16) John H. Nemechek #, Chevrolet, Transmission, 173, $12,660.
30. (8) David Gilliland(i), Ford, Brakes, 132, $12,160.
31. (25) Bryan Silas, Chevrolet, Overheating, 120, $10,660.
32. (32) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 83, $9,660.
Average speed of race winner: 68.214 mph.
Time of race: 1 hour, 59 minutes, 22 seconds. Margin of victory: 0.431 seconds.
Caution flags: 9 for 61 laps.
Lead changes: 14 among 5 drivers.
Lap leaders: J. Logano(i) 1-36; M. Mingus 37-40; J. Logano(i) 41-110; M. Crafton 111-161; J. Logano(i) 162; M. Crafton 163-178; J. Logano(i) 179-180; M. Crafton 181-193; E. Jones # 194-195; M. Crafton 196-205; J. Logano(i) 206-244; M. Crafton 245; C. Custer 246-247; M. Crafton 248-256; J. Logano(i) 257-258.
Leaders summary (Driver, times lead, laps led): J. Logano(i) 6 times for 150 laps; M. Crafton 6 times for 100 laps; M. Mingus 1 time for 4 laps; C. Custer 1 time for 2 laps; E. Jones # 1 time for 2 laps.
Top 10 in points: M. Crafton - 128; T. Reddick - 126; E. Jones # - 122; J. Sauter - 112; J. Buescher - 100; J. Townley - 90; R. Black Jr. # - 89; C. Hayley # - 84; S. Gallagher # - 84; B. Kennedy - 83.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- There's nothing unusual about Chase Elliott being at a race track.
The reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion is a full-time racer at age 19.
But coming to the track to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, now that's another matter.
For Elliott, Sundays at the track have always meant watching his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, but that will change this Sunday when Chase Elliott makes his first start in NASCAR's top division in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
"This is definitely special," Elliott said Friday night after qualifying 27th for his first Cup start. "For me, this is something I've wanted to do for a long time. Going to the race track and watching my dad running these races for a number of years, it's very odd to be showing up here and not be coming to watch him. So, this is definitely a weird-feeling weekend, more than anything else right now.
"It's definitely exciting. But at the same time, you don't want to forget you're still racing. You're still in a seat and you're still trying to achieve the same thing. So, you don't want to lose sight of what your goals are, no matter what you're driving. I think you're going to fight some of the same things you fight in these cars and anything else you drive on asphalt. Hopefully we can try to manage it and have a solid day."
With five Sprint Cup races on his agenda in 2015, as he prepares to succeed four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year, Elliott hopes to learn as much as he can from his limited Cup schedule this season.
"Obviously, we want to go as fast as we can for as long as possible," Elliott said. "We want to do the best we can and make the most of these races and try to just gain as much knowledge as possible.
"To have an opportunity to go run five races doesn't seem like a lot, but at the end of the day it really is, if you can get in all five, and make those laps. You've got to take it one at a time, first off. You just want to put together 500 solid laps on Sunday and try to run all the laps and hope we can have a good day."
A CASE OF DEJA BLUE
When Aric Almirola's No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford pulled out of the garage for Saturday's Sprint Cup Series practice at Martinsville, it recalled the halcyon days of Petty Enterprises when team owner Richard Petty won 15 Cup races at the .526-mile short track.
Now, Aric Almirola is carrying the striking Petty blue and red color of the STP-sponsored car, and he's fully aware of the history that accompanies him.
"They've had a lot of success here, and any time you come here with the 43 car is special, but to come here with the STP colors on the car is that much more special with that iconic paint scheme," Almirola said Saturday morning before practice for Sunday’s STP 500. "It's such a neat weekend for us to have STP sponsoring the race and seeing how involved they are and how they're activating at the race track and all they're doing.
"It's just a lot of fun to be a part of it. Any time you get to drive that STP 43 car it's cool to see the reaction of all the fans and all the crew members, because you've got to think that most of the crew members and guys working in the garage, they're all guys that grew up watching the sport, too. So they'll walk up and are like: 'Man, that's awesome. That car looks so cool,' and everybody loves it when that car shows up."
Martinsville ace Denny Hamlin paced Saturday's first practice session with a lap at 97.113 mph, and defending STP 500 winner Kurt Busch topped Happy Hour at 97.098 mph…
Eight-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson slowed during the first practice, thinking he might have lost a cylinder. But his crew diagnosed and fixed an electrical issue, and Johnson was soon back up to speed, posting the second fastest time in the session at 96.988 mph…
A day before the race, drivers already were showing their short-track tempers.
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick gave Jamie McMurray's Chevrolet a tap during Happy Hour, upset with what he considered continued blocking.
Austin Dillon and Danica Patrick battled for five straight laps, trading some paint in the process.
If Saturday's practices are any indication, Sunday's race could have some spectacular fireworks.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- For last year's spring race at Martinsville Speedway, Joey Logano set a track record during qualifying but didn't win the pole.
On Friday at the paper-clip-shaped track, Logano reversed the outcome. Though he failed to match his record of 100.201 mph, he saved his best lap for the final round of knockout qualifying in claiming the top starting spot for Sunday's STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Trailing Logano in the 27th starting position will be Chase Elliott, the heir apparent to Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, who qualified for his first Cup race, one of five starts he plans to make this year.
Logano covered the .526-mile distance at 98.461 mph to win the pole of his career, his second of the season and his first at Martinsville. Logano's Team Penske Ford edged the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman (98.258 mph).
Martin Truex Jr., who has a string of five straight top 10s to start the season, qualified third at 98.048 mph, followed by Gordon (97.613 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (97.583 mph).
Logano went out late in the second round and put just two laps on his tires in posting the eighth fastest time and advancing to the final round. Keeping laps off his tires was the factor Logano thought was decisive in winning the pole.
"I'm pretty sure we ran less laps than anybody going into the third round," said Logano, who ran five laps combined in the first two rounds, a number matched by Gordon. "That was the advantage that we had going for us, that we were able to see how many cars had run and know what we had to run to get into the next round.
"So in the second round, all we had to make was two laps, and we felt pretty confident about where we were. Keeping those laps off the tires was good."
As well as Logano has run in Martinsville time trials in the past, he was elated to add a pole to his list of accomplishments.
"It feels great to finally get the pole here. We've been close so many times," he said. "Throughout my career, I feel like we've always qualified well here, but I've never been able to get a pole. I caught pretty much of a hard time about getting the track record here but not getting the pole here, so to have a pole to back it up feels great."
If Logano was delighted, Elliott was relieved that he had made the field -- and that rain expected in the area failed to materialize in the afternoon.
"That was goal number one, to get in," Elliott said. "So it's definitely a big relief for us. We're excited. It's weird being excited about qualifying, wherever we qualified, 27th, but we're in the show, our first Sprint Cup Series race with (sponsor) NAPA on board. We're excited for Sunday."
Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr. failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Alan Gustafson, Jeff Gordon's crew chief, termed it a "reminder."
But those who might have engaged in alleged unapproved "bleeding" of air pressure from their racing tires -- the source of prevalent rumors in the garage -- would be well-advised to interpret it as a stern warning.
When NASCAR assembled Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs for a Friday morning meeting at Martinsville Speedway, site of Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1), one of the topics covered was to "remind" teams of the three primary taboos of NASCAR racing:
-- Don't alter the engines in a manner outside the rule book.
-- Don't do anything to alter the fuel provided by Sunoco.
-- Don't make any unapproved alterations or treatments to the tires provided by Goodyear.
Tires, in particular, have been the center of attention since NASCAR made what it termed a routine "audit" of tires two weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway. There, the audit included the tires of race winner Kevin Harvick and Team Penske driver Joey Logano.
NASCAR found nothing amiss after inspecting tires from both cars.
Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., NASCAR took tires from the cars of Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch, the second- and third-place finishers, and from the cars of Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, who ran fourth and fifth, respectively.
NASCAR also had the tires from the race-winning car of Brad Keselowski, Logano's running mate at Team Penske.
NASCAR confirmed earlier this week that it had sent some of the tires from ACS to an independent laboratory for additional inspection and evaluation and is still waiting for those results.
If irregularities are found, teams could still be penalized for infractions at Fontana, with violations warranting as much as a P5 penalty, meaning hefty fines and suspensions.
The consensus in the garage is that certain teams have been drilling minute holes in the tires to bleed off air pressure as it builds throughout a tire run. By maintaining consistent air pressure, it's easier to maintain the balance of the car.
"When it gets to this level and when you're hearing about it and I'm hearing about it and they are talking about things in meetings with crew chiefs, that tells me that it's being done," Jeff Gordon told reporters on Friday at Martinsville. "It's just not clear on how it's being done."
Gustafson acknowledged that tires have become the hot-button topic in the garage.
"In my experience, there is a lot of smoke around that," Gustafson said. "There is a lot of talk, there is a lot of dialogue and there are a lot of rumors in the garage. Yeah, I think it is obvious that some people think something is going on, and is NASCAR reacting to that?"
Or do they feel uncomfortable with what is going on?
"I don't know that answer, Gustafson said. "But I do think that it's something that is on the forefront of a lot of people's minds. Obviously, NASCAR is trying to make sure that we are all on level playing field and if anybody is violating that they will pay the price, which they reminded us this morning is very stiff. That's all I know. Anything beyond that is speculation, besides the fact it's a hot topic."
Gordon is an advocate of incorporating bleeders into the Sprint Cup racing tires, similar to the practice routinely seen at short tracks.
"I've been saying for years that we need bleeder valves," Gordon said. "We just do. I came from sprint cars where they're built into the wheel. You set them. They may not be advanced enough for what we need in a Cup car and Cup tire, but it just makes sense."
With respect to bleeding tires outside the rule book, Gordon was adamant that his Hendrick Motorsports team did not engage in the practice.
"I've heard a lot of things with valve caps and poking holes in tires for years," Gordon said. "But I've never seen it done. I've never had proof that it was done. So it's very interesting to me that NASCAR is investigating this further.
"I look forward to seeing what comes out of it. To me, if they find a way to stop that -- if it's really going on -- I get excited about our chances because I know we're not doing it, so it will close the gap for us to whoever may be doing it."
HISTORIC WIN FOR EARNHARDT
No one could fail to notice the depth of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s elation after he took the checkered flag in last fall's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville.
Earnhardt told reporters on Friday at the legendary short track why the victory meant so much to him.
"It's a real historic racetrack," Earnhardt explained. "It was one of the racetracks that I always could come to even when we were in school, it being such a short trip from home. We always did get to go to this race.
"So it is one of the few tracks that I always got to go to even as a young kid. You could get right up on the action, man, right against the fence down there in the corner and see the guys coming through there in practice. And you could see the balance of the cars and what they were dealing with.
"It's just a fun place to be at even as a kid. I don't know, man, just been coming here a long time and I always wanted to win. That (grandfather) clock makes it even more special and more desirable, I guess, because of the uniqueness of that trophy."
TOO EARLY TO COUNT POINTS
Two races into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Tyler Reddick sits atop the standings, but the 19-year-old California driver isn't paying attention to points -- unless someone else happens to mention it.
"I know just by hearing it here and there when I'm on the radio or getting interviewed, but otherwise I haven't even glanced at it," said Reddick, who won the season opener at Daytona and followed with a fifth-place run at Atlanta in the No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford. "It's not really in our minds at all. We just want to look ahead at the next race, which is Martinsville, and trying to get the best run possible we can there.
"Again, we just want to get the best finishes we can. We would love to run in the top five and we're shooting for the win, but that's not even a concern right now. We're two races in."
After a three-week hiatus, the Truck Series resumes Saturday with the Kroger 250 at Martinsville (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
At the age of 19, Chase Elliott has covered all the hurdles, most recently winning the Xfinity Series championship. His talent has been evident since first cocking the wheel on the red clay tracks of Georgia. After a relatively quick trip through the minor leagues, Elliott's poise and lineage now make him a perfectly logical successor to Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolets of Rick Hendrick.
If it doesn't rain, the creeks don't rise or a locomotive doesn't jump the tracks behind Martinsville's back straight, Elliott will take up the family business where his father Bill left off not all that long ago. In the celebrity sports industrial complex so much is often made of so little. But this one is the real deal.
In some respects, Chase Elliott's debut has been a long time coming.
His cousin Casey, the son of engine builder Ernie Elliott, was also a sure-shot prospect on short tracks. Tall and lanky, Casey had the aggressiveness of Dale Earnhardt and the smoothness of his Uncle Bill. He drove cars built and powered by father Ernie with sometimes incredible skill, then climbed out and turned into a polite and shy teenager. But after only two Xfinity Series starts, Casey first lost a leg to cancer and then lost the overall battle at the age of 21 in 1996 – just a few months after Chase Elliott was born.
Having grown up in Dawson County like his cousin, father and uncles, including Dan Elliott, the third member of the famed family racing team, Chase has more than family lineage. He is part of the "state of Dawson" as the residents like to refer to the jagged hills and forests in the foothills of the Appalachians. It's about an attitude and self-assuredness that goes beyond anything a young man can say.
The Elliotts were not the first phenomenal talents to roar out of Dawsonville. In the days when moonshine and bootleggers were the stuff of legend, Lloyd Seay was known for his occasional two-wheeled cornering technique used on the packed sands of the original Beach and Road Course in Daytona. Seay (pronounced "see") didn't live long enough to run a NASCAR-sanctioned event. His grains of time ran out only hours after he won the Labor Day event on Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway in 1941, driving his car number 13 to his sixth major stock car victory of the year.
Seay was shot through the heart at age 21 that same night in a fight with a cousin over who would pay for a load of sugar, a key ingredient in moonshine.
I first heard this story from George Elliott, who founded the team that would eventually carry his youngest son to the status of "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville." Once I looked up rare photographs of Seay in the collection of longtime Atlanta bootlegger and racing team owner Raymond Parks, it was eerie just how much he resembled the lanky, sandy-haired Bill Elliott in appearance as well as cocksure attitude.
So now William Clyde "Chase" Elliott is up, earning his chance in the Sprint Cup after scoring three victories and the championship while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year in his first Xfinity Series season.
Of course, when it comes to appearance Chase takes after his dark-haired, not-so-tall, mother Cindy more so than his famous father or his red-haired uncles.
Although more articulate than his father, the gravelly-voiced younger Elliott maintains a polite and well mannered script in most of his comments, letting his driving do the talking.
"I never expected things would work out like this," Elliott said shortly after he was announced as Gordon's replacement. "Outside of the Hendrick Motorsports family you heard rumors a couple years back that Jeff would be retiring (but) I never really accepted that in my mind. I didn't want that to be something I got excited for and thought that would be an opportunity for me. I never wanted that to be the case. I just wanted to make the most of each race, each week and never get my hopes up for something that might not happen."
Team owner Hendrick says Elliott has "the intangibles." Earnhardt Jr. says Elliott has the "it factor." His high school classmates, meanwhile, call him "Chase From The Exact Same Place."
There's not much Elliott the younger hasn't accomplished given his age. He became the youngest ARCA superspeedway winner at the daunting 2.5-mile Ponoco International Raceway in 2013. He's won four of the biggest short track events in the U.S. on all manner of tracks – the All American 400, the Snowball Derby, the Winchester 400 and the World Crown 300. Before moving to the Xfinity Series, he won the Camping World Truck Series race on the road course at Mosport Park in a high-speed duel with Austin Dillon. His Xfinity championship made him the youngest ever title winner in a major NASCAR touring series.
And now Hendrick has exercised his driver development contract by naming Elliott the successor to one of NASCAR's all-time greats. Entering the first of five Sprint Cup races this season while defending his Xfinity title, the young Elliott will not find the going easy. He's only raced twice at Martinsville in one of NASCAR's major traveling series with a best finish of sixth in a Truck Series race. He'll be up against an aggressive field of drivers in no mood to mollycoddle a rookie during all the fender-banging typical of the narrow half mile.
That's if Elliott makes the field.
He'll be qualifying with no safety net without team owner points for his No. 25 entry and has to get in on speed. If it rains, he will not make the field. According to NASCAR statistics, once the green flag falls Elliott will attempt to become only the fourth driver to finish in the top 10 in his Sprint Cup debut since 1990.
The outcome matters less than the process of preparing for the 2016 season, when Elliott will join Dillon in the regeneration of NASCAR's southern accent. Beyond that, he'll take up the cudgel of the state of Dawson, where stock car racing has long since been in the blood.
Winning changed everything.
Geoffrey Bodine piloted Hendrick's No. 5 Chevrolet to Victory Lane, earning the organization sponsorship from Levi Garrett. The NASCAR juggernaut now known as Hendrick Motorsports was officially born.
Eleven premier series championships, 232 wins and 202 poles later, Hendrick Motorsports returns to Martinsville for Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). In the near 31 years since its first victory, HMS has amassed 22 wins at Martinsville – the most by any team at a single track in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.
Hendrick Motorsports will go for its 23rd victory at the .526-mile track, which might as well be called "Hendrickville," with drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and teenage wunderkind Chase Elliott, who will be making his Sprint Cup debut.
Martinsville mavens Gordon and Johnson lead all active drivers with eight victories at "The Paperclip," while Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the track's defending fall race winner. Kahne's top finish was a second-place showing in 2005.
Gordon got off to a slow start at the beginning of his final full-time season, but quietly logged top-10 finishes in the last two races and is poised to ascend from his 22nd position in the point standings. In addition to his eight wins, Gordon paces active drivers with five runner-ups and seven poles at Martinsville. He also boasts the second-best driver rating (119.8) and average finish there (6.8).
"I love the challenge of Martinsville. There's one line there, and everybody is in it. You have to attack the corners at Martinsville, but you have to do it in a very smooth way – in a very patient way," Gordon said.
Johnson probably disagrees Martinsville is a challenge. He supplements his eight wins with 18 top fives and 22 top 10s at the classic short track. The six-time NSCS champion lays claim to series bests in driver rating (122.5), average finish (6.2) and average green flag speed (91.700 mph) at Martinsville.
"I joke about NASCAR needing to adjust the schedule and have at least six stops to Martinsville and six stops to Dover to make up the calendar year," Johnson said. "I love that track. I think it's so entertaining -- the history there is amazing. The feel that you have when you come Martinsville, it's unlike any other racetrack that we go to."
The NSCS debut of 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Elliott has been much ballyhooed by fans since it was announced in January he would not just run at Martinsville, Richmond, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Darlington this season, but also take over the reins for Gordon in the fabled No. 24 Chevrolet next year. History indicates he might have a tough time piloting his No. 25 car this weekend. Only three drivers have scored a top 10 in their debut since 1990: Carl Edwards (10th at Michigan in 2004), Matt Kenseth (6th at Dover in 1998) and Kenny Irwin Jr. (8th at Richmond in 1997).
"As far as expectations go, I don't really know what to expect," Elliott said. "I just want to go out and give it all I've got.
"If we could go run all the laps, stay on the lead lap and be inside the top 15 at the end of Sunday's race, I'd say that would be a day well done, across the board. This is something I've wanted to do ever since I can remember - it has been a dream of mine."
--Kyle Busch Motorsports turns to new drivers to continue Martinsville success
In its first five seasons of existence, Kyle Busch Motorsports wasted no time climbing to the top of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The organization collected three owner's championships, 39 wins and 18 poles.
One particular track where KBM has dominated is Martinsville Speedway, the home of Saturday's Kroger 250 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). The Mooresville, North Carolina-based team has won one race each season at "The Paperclip" from 2011-14 through the prowess of Denny Hamlin (2011-12) and Darrell Wallace Jr (2013-14).
Each of those races was in the fall though; none were won in the spring. KBM rival ThorSport has taken the last two checkered flags in the spring Martinsville showdowns (Johnny Sauter, 2013; Matt Crafton, 2014). Furthermore, Hamlin is not entered in Saturday's Kroger 250 and Darrell Wallace Jr. has moved on to the XFINITY Series with Roush Fenway Racing – a fresh face will have to continue KBM's streak.
Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Justin Boston all hope they will be the new smiling face in Martinsville Victory Lane.
Of the three, Jones has the only NCWTS experience at Martinsville. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner claims finishes of ninth, 18th and fourth at the .526-mile track. He is also the only member of the group with a Truck Series victory. The 18 year old boasts four wins in only 19 starts.
"It's hard to believe that Martinsville is the place where I have the most experience, because it's probably the track that I struggle at the most as a driver," Jones said. "I feel like I'm still trying to figure it all out on my end, but each time out our Tundra has been faster and I'm getting better as well."
Suarez and Boston both tested at Martinsville last week, gaining valuable seat time via the NCWTS rookie testing rule that allows first-year drivers to test on tracks they have yet to race on. Suarez claims finishes of ninth and fourth in the first two races this season, while Boston is still searching for his first top 10.
"Even though we've started off the season with a top five and two top-10 finishes, nothing from those two tracks will really transfer over to how we run at Martinsville," said Jerry Baxter, Suarez's crew chief. "What will transfer is that we have now worked together twice and continue to strengthen our relationship."
Although he has no NASCAR appearances at Martinsville, Boston is hoping his Late Model experience at the track will help him.
"I've been to Martinsville before in a Late Model race in 2012, so I think that experience will definitely help," Boston said. "It's a tough place, and it's definitely not easy on rookies. It takes a lot of discipline and it's not easy. You have to race the track as much as you have to race your competitors."
Gibbs, 46, has experienced problems with "speech and processing" and has undergone tests, the team said.
Doctors believe the complications were triggered by head injuries suffered earlier in life. Gibbs played football at William & Mary in the 1980s and has long been an extreme-sports enthusiast.
As he undergoes more testing and treatment, "his presence at the race track will be limited," JGR said. He will continue to work at JGR's headquarters in Huntersville, N.C., though.
"All members of the NASCAR and France family extend our thoughts and prayers to J.D. Gibbs and his loved ones," NASCAR CEO Brian France said in a statement. "We've all watched J.D. grow up within our community, and he always has represented himself, his family, the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization and NASCAR with the utmost professionalism, enthusiasm and energy. We wish him the best during this time and eagerly anticipate his recovery."
Gibbs has been president of his father's racing team since 1997, and the team has won three Sprint Cup titles.
Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Fame coach in the NFL, started the team in 1992.
TV: Sunday, March 29, 1 pm ET on FOX Sports 1.
THEN AND NOW: Kurt Busch won this race last year, taking the lead with 11 laps to go and held off Jimmie Johnson to earn the victory. Johnson dominated the race, leading 296 of the 500 laps, but came up short in the end. It was Busch's second career win at Martinsville, his first coming in the 2002 fall race. … Heading into this weekend, Kevin Harvick remains the hottest driver on the circuit, having eight consecutive top-2 finishes (dating back to the last three races of the 2014 season), with four wins and four runner-up finishes, the most top-2 finishes since Richard Petty had 11 in 1975. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. won last year's fall Chase race at Martinsville. … In the 24 races at Martinsville since Kurt Busch won in fall 2002, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have won a combined 13 times. In their overall careers, Gordon and Johnson have won eight races each at Martinsville, tops among active drivers. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty holds the record with 15 career triumphs around the .526-mile short track. Also, the Xfinity Series is off until April 10 at Texas.
CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Va.
TV: Saturday, March 28, 2:30 pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
THEN AND NOW: Matt Crafton is the defending race winner, having won last year's event, his first career win at Martinsville. Crafton took the lead from Timothy Peters on Lap 250 and led the remaining six laps to earn the victory under caution. … Heading into this weekend, Darrell Wallace Jr. has been the most successful driver of late at Martinsville. He won the fall 2013 and fall 2014 races, as well as finished second to Crafton in the spring 2014 event. … This is the first Truck race in a month and only the third of the season. … Crafton, who is seeking his third consecutive Truck championship in 2015, comes into Saturday's race second in the points standings, two points behind surprising early season points leader Tyler Reddick. Crafton will extend his record as all-time starts leader at Martinsville in the Truck Series Saturday when he takes his 27th career green flag.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
TV: Sunday, March 29, 3 pm ET on ABC.
Then and Now: Will Power kicked off his drive for his first career IndyCar championship with his win in last year's season-opening Firestone Grand Prix on March 30, 2014. Power was by far the class of the field, leading 74 of the event's 110 laps, defeating runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay by nearly two full seconds to take the checkered flag. Takumoa Sato, who finished seventh, surprised by leading the second-most number of laps (33) before fading late. … Heading into this weekend, Power will be seeking to regain his pole supremacy at St. Petersburg. He won the pole for four straight years (2010-2013) before starting fourth in last year's race. … Will last season's parity continue in 2015? There were 11 different winners in 2014's 18 races, tying a series mark set in both 2000 and 2001. … A total of 24 drivers are entered in this race, including four past St. Pete winners: Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and last year's winner, Will Power. … Tony Kanaan will make his 233rd consecutive career start Sunday, while Helio Castroneves will make his 295th career start. Both marks are tops among active drivers. … It's hard to believe the event pole record hasn't been broken yet: Sebastien Bourdais still holds the mark of 1:00.928, set on Feb. 22, 2003.
One week before Penske driver Will Power begins the defense of his IndyCar championship in St. Petersburg, Penske's NASCAR team already has both of its drivers eligible for the championship Chase.
After Brad Keselowski's stunning come-from-behind victory at the Auto Club Speedway, Penske Racing appears to be the only team capable of beating Kevin Harvick regularly. Harvick finished behind Keselowski in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday and was the runner-up to Penske driver Joey Logano in the Daytona 500. In terms of teams, Penske has everybody covered when it comes to getting his drivers qualified for the Chase.
Penske's success – which includes 15 Indy 500 victories – continues to be the ultimate success story in American racing now that he's gotten the NASCAR title and Daytona 500 monkeys off his back. For most of his more than 1,700 NASCAR starts, those two missing items seemed to haunt an otherwise admirable record in stock car racing.
Is there anything Penske now hasn't done in American racing?
The Auto Club Speedway where Keselowski came from 14th place to victory over the course of two green-white-checkereds, for example, was built by Penske. He rescued it from a former Kaiser Steel mill best known for its scenes in Terminator movies before selling it to the International Speedway Corporation.
There is a connection between the success Penske is currently enjoying in IndyCar and NASCAR – where last year Keselowski and Logano combined for a team record of 11 victories. All of the Penske entries are run out of the same 425,000 square-foot building in Mooresville, N.C., where a $7 million conversion of a former electronics manufacturing facility resulted in a plant that now manufacturers major race victories and championships.
By moving all his teams to "Race City USA," Penske expanded his role in NASCAR while losing none of the successful touch with Indy cars the team enjoyed while housed in its longtime shops in Reading, Penn. But for the first time since combining Penske Racing "North" and Penske Racing "South" in 2006, Penske now has two major star talents behind the wheel of his NASCAR entries who work well together.
"We went through a choppy period there," said Penske of his driver line-ups after the opening of the new headquarters. Penske initially tried to hire Matt Kenseth away from Jack Roush's team. When the Wisconsinite balked, sponsor Miller Brewing Company insisted on a former champion to replace Rusty Wallace in the team's Miller Lite-sponsored cars. That meant hiring Kurt Busch from Roush instead of Kenseth.
Busch and teammate Ryan Newman won races, but neither scored more than two victories in a given season. Keselowksi was hired in 2009 to replace Newman and though he failed to win in the Sprint Cup in his first full season of 2010, Keselowksi brought Penske its first NASCAR championship in the Xfinity Series. He scored three Sprint Cup victories in 2011 – the most since Newman's eight-win season in 2003 before winning the Sprint Cup title in 2012.
"Brad came to the shop and said he could help us build a world-class team," said Penske of the driver who had one career victory at Talladega when he was hired. "He's not only done that personally with the way he drives, but also the way his intensity is at the shop."
As importantly, Keselowski has helped mentor Logano, who had a reputation for driving over his head without much in the way of results for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Keselowksi has demonstrated to his younger teammate how not to be intimidated by the "Jeff Gordon generation" by banging fenders one week and winning races the next. The way Keselowski has "put his arm around Joey," said Penske, makes him an even more valuable asset beyond his own driving. "He's a good team player with Joey."
Both drivers "feed off each other," said Paul Wolfe, Keselowski' crew chief since they were paired in the Xfinity Series. The synergies have always been there for Penske on the IndyCar side between drivers Helio Castronevers and Will Power. Of course, all the Penske drivers enjoy the engineering and technical prowess at the headquarters in Mooresville.
The idea to combine the teams under one roof originated with Tim Cendric, who came up through the IndyCar ranks to become the team president.
"We thought the combination of everybody together and moving people from different programs would help and the cross pollination has really paid off," said Penske. "The engineering department from IndyCar and NASCAR are learning from each and I'd say it's been a home run. The facility is just outstanding and I think that's played a big role in our success."
Even in its down years, including a miserable spell in Indy cars when Penske remained loyal to fading driver Al Unser Jr. and Goodyear's less-than-stellar tire program, the Penske program has always maintained its incredible work ethic and relentless pursuit of speed much like its leader. The never-say-die attitude was present in Fontana on Sunday, where Keselowksi was more of a pawn in the strategic gambling of crew chief Paul Wolfe.
The crew chief elected to give Keselowski's Ford four fresh tires on the final pit stop just before the finish, which dropped him to 17th position. A second green-white-checkered enabled him to charge from sixth to first, diving underneath hard luck Busch, who had only two fresh tires.
"I still don't remember the end of the race and I won't really jog my mind until I watch it on replay," said Keselowski. "I was focused on the task at hand and trying to win the race and knowing the car and the opportunity that I had in front of me, and wanting to make the most of it."
For Penske, the stunning turnaround was another day at the races. He was asked if this year was the best start ever for his team and as usual found a way to carefully tread on such questions. He's far more interested in the process than predicting results, the future rather than the past. Mark Donohue, who won the first of Penske's 15 Indy 500 trophies, always said the needle goes back to zero as soon as the checkered flag falls. That remains Penske's attitude.
"Brad's delivered for us before and we know the competition is tough and to know we have this kind of a kickoff for the team is a tremendous opportunity," said Penske. "I don't know how many more races I've got to go to – probably 40 – and then we'll find out what the answer is."
The prospect of winning the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 in one season awaits – as well as championship chases in both NASCAR and IndyCar.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FONTANA, Calif. -- At the track closest to Toyota Racing Development's headquarters in Costa Mesa, Toyota drivers Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin had their most promising runs of the season -- until the promises were broken, that is.
In Kenseth's case, it was a broken axle. After NASCAR called a caution Sunday on Lap 185 of a scheduled 200 in the Auto Club 400, Kenseth pitted from the lead for fuel and tires. But the rear axle broke as he was leaving his pit, dropping Kenseth to a 31st-place finish that belied the strength of his car.
"I let the clutch out to go and the axle broke," Kenseth said. "I don't know why. I didn't do anything different than we ever do, so it just broke. No, I don't think that's luck. An axle breaking is either a faulty part or not the right part or not the gear ratio or ... there's usually a reason.
"We busted one last year -- somebody did, one of our cars -- and I don't know that we ever figured out why, and then we just broke another one, so it's certainly something you've got to get a handle on. You can't break parts. Nobody breaks parts anymore, so you can't afford to do it, obviously."
For Hamlin, Kenseth's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, it was a broken rule and then a broken engine.
Hamlin crew was flagged for a runaway tire--a call crew chief Dave Rogers argued vociferously -- on the same pit stop that proved Kenseth's undoing.
Hamlin, who had led 56 laps before the race's halfway point, was sent to the rear of the field for a Lap 190 restart and never recovered.
"We were good at the beginning and got off a little bit, but we had a bad restart (on Lap 105)," Hamlin said. "I got shuffled back beyond the top 10 and worked our way back to the top five and then the top-three and then had a penalty.
"You just can't come back from that. There ain't nobody in the field with a fast enough car to come back from any penalties. We had one at the inopportune time and it just led to a bad finish, and we blew up at the end. That topped everything off."
Auspicious debut for Buescher
It wasn't until Friday that Chris Buescher knew he was going to be making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Auto Club Speedway.
But with Brian Vickers' sudden withdrawal from competition because of a recurrence of blood clots, Brett Moffitt vacated the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car to sub for Vickers, and Buescher was pressed into service as a last-minute replacement in the 34.
On an up-and-down day that saw him make good use of NASCAR's wave-around rule (staying out under caution to regain a lost lap), the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR XFINITY Series regular finished 20th in his first Cup start.
"It was a lot of fun," Buescher said. "I can't thank Front Row Motorsports enough to give me this opportunity and for Roush Fenway Racing to allow me to go do it. To be able to help another Ford Performance team out, this was a blast. It's the kind of race track I wanted to make my Cup debut at -- some place that the pace falls off, the tires wear down and you're able to really hustle it and race late into a run, and this was just that.
"We went through a lot of changes today, a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of confusion, too, on my side just trying to keep up with where we were at with the lucky dog and with wave-arounds. Green flag stops, everything moved so fast and I really had no clue where we were going to finish coming to the checkered.
"I didn't know where we were at. I just knew I had to beat a couple guys around us and tried everything we could. It was a lot of fun. Thanks to everybody with Ford that allowed me to do it."
Vickers out at least three months
The reappearance of blood clots has sidelined Vickers from the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota for the third time, dating to May 2010. In addition, Vickers missed the first two races of the 2015 season while recovering from offseason heart surgery.
To combat the medical issue, Vickers must resume the use of blood thinners, which in turn will keep him out of a race car for at least three months. NASCAR will not approve a driver to race while using blood thinners because of the obvious risk.
Whether the latest recurrence of blood clots will jeopardize Vickers' career remains a germane question.
"Am I worried?" Vickers asked. "Of course. Have I given up hope? No. What I know right now is that I unfortunately had to go back on blood thinners. To be clear -- I have not been on blood thinners. If I were, I probably wouldn't have blood clots and wouldn't be able to race. Being off of blood thinners, working with my doctors closely to figure out how to solve the problems of the past and get off blood thinners is what has allowed me to get back in the race car.
"Unfortunately, now I am back on blood thinners for at least three months and through those three months I'll try to figure out what makes sense with my doctors if I can come back off of them to go racing, if there's some kind of plan that works--and if not, then that's that. We're so far away from crossing that bridge at this point, I can't really say. ...
"There's more to life than just this. I think keeping that perspective is important, but it's also my favorite thing to do in the world. I want to try to come back."
Distributed by The Sport Xchange
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Auto Club 400
Auto Club Speedway
Sunday, March 22, 2015
1. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 209, $357781.
2. (2) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 209, $260130.
3. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 209, $205055.
4. (11) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 209, $158505.
5. (9) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 209, $156305.
6. (17) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 209, $132045.
7. (13) Joey Logano, Ford, 209, $155803.
8. (12) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 209, $136240.
9. (14) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 209, $150831.
10. (7) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 209, $149406.
11. (23) Aric Almirola, Ford, 209, $141546.
12. (31) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 209, $135168.
13. (15) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 209, $98110.
14. (20) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 209, $128474.
15. (27) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 209, $109560.
16. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 209, $136696.
17. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 209, $113160.
18. (4) David Ragan, Toyota, 209, $145051.
19. (22) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 209, $105760.
20. (33) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, 209, $93860.
21. (26) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 209, $126451.
22. (30) Brett Moffitt #, Toyota, 209, $122974.
23. (37) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 209, $119218.
24. (32) Cole Whitt, Ford, 209, $108493.
25. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 209, $93610.
26. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 209, $120793.
27. (25) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 209, $103843.
28. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 209, $106485.
29. (36) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 209, $132835.
30. (10) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 209, $125668.
31. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 209, $128746.
32. (29) Greg Biffle, Ford, 209, $121143.
33. (28) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 208, $96932.
34. (18) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 208, $105185.
35. (43) David Gilliland, Ford, 208, $94960.
36. (35) Josh Wise, Ford, 207, $86820.
37. (41) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 206, $86549.
38. (24) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 206, $80803.
39. (34) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 205, $78240.
40. (39) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, 205, $72740.
41. (38) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 205, $68740.
42. (42) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 203, $64740.
43. (16) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 155, $87585.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 140.662 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 58 Mins, 18 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.710 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 31 laps.
Lead Changes: 19 among 9 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Busch 1-5; K. Harvick 6-24; A. Bowman 25; M. Kenseth 26-31; D. Hamlin 32-61; J. Gordon 62; D. Hamlin 63-88; M. Kenseth 89-94; K. Busch 95-99; M. Truex Jr. 100-104; K. Busch 105-137; C. Edwards 138; K. Busch 139-143; K. Harvick 144-154; M. Kenseth 155-185; K. Harvick 186-189; K. Busch 190-200; J. Gordon 201-202; K. Busch 203-208; B. Keselowski 209;.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Busch 6 times for 65 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 56 laps; M. Kenseth 3 times for 43 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 34 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 5 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 3 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 1 lap; B. Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap; A. Bowman 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick - 225; J. Logano - 197; M. Truex Jr. - 192; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 164; B. Keselowski - 163; R. Newman - 162; J. Johnson - 159; K. Kahne - 159; P. Menard - 152; A. Almirola - 138; A. Allmendinger - 137; C. Mears - 132; M. Kenseth - 127; D. Hamlin - 125; D. Ragan - 124; J. McMurray - 120.
"My crew chief, Paul Wolfe, made a gutsy call to take four tires. Half the field took two," Keselowski said.
Kevin Harvick finished second to Keselowski, extending his top-two streak to eight races, dating back to the final three races of the 2014 season.
"I'm not disappointed at all," Harvick said of seeing his streak of consecutive wins end at two races. "I'm just glad to be a part of such a good race there. I'm really happy that all the fans got to come out and see a great finish to a great day. I'm just really proud of everybody on our Jimmy John's/Budweiser team."
Busch finished third after leading a race-high 65 laps.
"I don't know what we could have done different," Busch said. "We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left. We had two tires; (Brad) Keselowski had four. We didn't need that extra yellow at the end and I just got out-muscled by Keselowski."
Busch and Harvick ran first and second when the yellow flag waved on lap 198, resulting in the first of two green-white-checker attempts. They, along with the other front runners, pitted during the caution, while Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle stayed out for track position. Busch, Harvick and many others took two tires, while Keselowski was among those who took four.
"You could have flipped a coin as to what the right strategy there was at the end with tires," Harvick said. "Just proud of Rodney Childers (crew chief) and the pit crew and everybody for just having a solid day."
As soon as the race restarted, Busch drove to the middle between Gordon and Stewart to take the lead, and Harvick followed him through to second just before another caution. Busch was able to maintain his lead on the final restart, but Keselowski quickly got by Harvick for second and then took the lead from Busch on the final lap. Just before crossing the start/finish line for the final time, Harvick took second from Busch.
Most of the race was dominated by a combination of Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. The JGR duo of Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin combined to lead 99 laps, with Hamlin leading 56 laps and Kenseth 43. Busch's Stewart-Haas teammate, Harvick, led 34 laps. The only other driver to lead significant laps was Martin Truex Jr., the front-runner for five laps.
Hamlin fell out of contention after a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire on a pit stop during a lap 185 caution. He wound up finishing 28th. Kenseth was the race leader when the lap 185 caution came out, but a broken axle on pit road dropped him off the lead lap.
Paul Menard finished fourth and Ryan Newman was fifth.
NOTES: Brad Keselowski's previous average finish at Auto Club Speedway was 23rd. ... Kevin Harvick dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at ACS on Saturday, leading 100 lap of the 150-lap race before winning. ... Kurt Busch had the fastest car throughout the race weekend, turning in the fastest laps throughout each practice session and winning the pole Friday. ... All 43 cars were on the track at the finish. It was the first time all 43 cars finished a race since the 2013 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ... Kyle Busch won the two most recent Sprint Cup races at ACS, but he is still sidelined by injury. David Ragan drove Busch's No. 18 car but spun after contact with Jeff Gordon racing for seventh position on lap 23.
Vickers, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing, said Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., that he can't race because of the danger of bleeding out if he is involved in an accident.
"Am I worried? Of course," Vickers said. "Have I given up hope? No."
Brett Moffitt had already replaced Vickers in the No. 55 MWR Toyota for Sunday's Auto Club 400, as he did three weeks ago in Atlanta when Vickers missed the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season while recovering from offseason heart surgery.
Vickers was first diagnosed with blood clots in his legs and lungs in May 2010 and missed the final 25 races of the season. In 2013, a recurrence of the issue caused him to miss the last five races of the year.
After the 2014 season, Vickers underwent surgery to seal a hole between the two upper chambers of his heart and was cleared to race for the first time at Las Vegas this year. He finished 15th there and 41st last week at Phoenix.
"Through those three months (I'll be out), I'll just try to figure out what makes sense with my doctors to if I can come back off of them and go racing, if there is some kind of plan that works," Vickers said Sunday. "If not, then that's that.
"But we're so far away from crossing that bridge at this point, I can't really say. That (retirement) question has crossed my mind about a thousand times in the last 24 to 48 hours but the funny thing is I've been told now three times I would never race again and I've raced the last two weeks. I'll never give up. Listen, if it comes to that, then I'll move on to the next thing in life."
Vickers said he began experiencing pain in his chest Thursday.
"I went to the hotel to check in because I was still trying to convince myself it was something else," Vickers said. "I sit there for a few minutes and kind of paced the room with (wife) Sarah and was trying to figure out if I could turn my chest pain into something that it wasn't. ... I told her that if I go to the hospital, I'm not racing this weekend.
"She was very sweet and encouraging. She was like, 'You don't know that yet. Let's just go get it checked out.' I was like, 'Yeah. I know.'"
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FONTANA, Calif. -- Over the course of Jeff Gordon's 23-year career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the composition of the driver pool has changed markedly.
When Gordon debuted in the final race of 1992, NASCAR racing was predominantly a regional sport in the Southeast, and a driver from California was a novelty. Now, drivers from the Golden State are the rule, rather than the exception.
In Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX), for example, California natives will outnumber drivers from North Carolina 10-2. And Gordon, born in Vallejo, will be foremost in the thoughts of Golden State fans at sold-out Auto Club Speedway, as he makes his final full-time start 18 years after winning the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the two-mile track.
"I always love coming here," Gordon said. "Being in California, even though I feel like we are a long way away from Vallejo, but just the state of California has been amazing for me. This racetrack has been amazing. We've had great success here over the years. We have tremendous fan support out here.
"How things have changed over the years. ... We were on a pretty good streak there for a while where we were getting wins at inaugural events. This was one that we added to the list that was really cool to be a part of, just to see the race happen here, let alone be the ones to win it."
For the record, the 10 California drivers who will start Sunday's race are Gordon, reigning series champion Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Cole Whitt, David Gilliland, Kyle Larson, AJ Allmendinger, six-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto and Josh Wise.
THREE STEWART-HAAS SWEEPS ON THE LINE AT FONTANA
Stewart-Haas Racing has the opportunity to record three sweeps on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. The rub is that SHR teammates can prevent each other from achieving them.
After winning the Drive4Clots.com 300 XFINITY Series race at the two-mile track Saturday, Harvick can sweep the NASCAR weekend with a victory in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race. A win also would give Harvick a sweep of the three races on this season's West Coast swing: Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana.
Teammate Kurt Busch, however, can stop Harvick's juggernaut with a sweep of his own. Busch won the Coors Light Pole Award for Sunday's race and has topped the speed chart in all three Sprint Cup practice sessions. A win on Sunday would give him a rare sweep of all track activities during a Sprint Cup weekend.
To make the prospect even more tantalizing, the two Stewart-Haas drivers will start the race side-by-side on the front row.
FULL DAY OF RACING
Fans of motorsports can enjoy a full day of racing Sunday on FOX and FOX Sports 1.
Before FOX Sports coverage from Auto Club Speedway begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, FOX Sports 1 will broadcast a two-hour highlight show of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship at Sebring International Raceway, beginning at 8 a.m. ET.
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which concludes Saturday night, is the second race on the TUDOR Championship schedule. Following the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Sebring event includes four classes of Prototype and GT class racing.
The TUDOR Championship features some of the foremost drivers from international sports car competition, as well as drivers with previous history in NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One competition.
Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson teamed up with IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan to win the Rolex 24 in January.
Chip Ganassi Racing teammates McMurray and Larson are racing Sunday in the Auto Club 400.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FONTANA, Calif. -- It's about time to start reserving a spot on the NASCAR podium for Kevin Harvick.
With a dominating victory Saturday in the Drive4Clots.com 300, Harvick won his second race of the season. It was his first win at Auto Club Speedway and the 46th win of his career, third-most all-time.
Harvick scored his 28th consecutive top-10 finish in the XFINITY Series, dating to 2013. With two victories and two seconds in the Sprint Cup Series this year to go with two wins and a third in the XFINITY Series, Harvick has recorded seven podium finishes in seven starts in both series.
"I'm just a lucky guy to be piloting really fast cars," Harvick said. "We've just got to keep riding the wave."
It doesn't seem to matter whether Harvick is driving his No. 4 Sprint Cup car for Stewart-Haas Racing or the No. 88 Chevrolet he drove to victory for JR Motorsports on Saturday. Once he got to the front from his sixth-place starting position (taking the lead for the first time after a restart on Lap 38), he stayed there, leading 100 of the 150 laps and giving up the top spot only during cycles of green-flag pit stops.
JR Motorsports car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who competes against Harvick at NASCAR's highest level, hasn't been surprised by Harvick's dominance in both series this year.
"They've got something figured out," Earnhardt said. "Kevin's an amazing driver. He's really focused, and his work outside the car helps him inside the car and helps his team. It don't last forever, so you've got to enjoy it while it's happening.
"Sooner or later, what they know will be common knowledge, and somebody will be in search of the next advantage -- and find it. But they've got it right now."
Harvick finished 3.317 seconds ahead of runner-up Brendan Gaughan, who moved from eighth to second after the final restart on Lap 122.
There were three cautions in the race. Trailing Harvick by more than three seconds in the closing laps, Gaughan was praying for a fourth.
"I love the fact that I'm (mad) at being second," Gaughan said. "I love my restarts. My restart got us there. ... Any time you finish second to Kevin Harvick, come on. ... I don't care if we would have finished fifth -- I would have loved a shot at it. I know we're pretty good on restarts.
"I would have loved one shot at a restart, just to see if I still had something for him."
But the caution never came, and Gaughan had to settle for second. Pole-sitter Erik Jones ran third, followed by defending series champion Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher.
Ty Dillon finished 14th and retained the series lead by five points over Buescher, with Elliott 15 points back in third.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FONTANA, Calif. -- One week removed from his return from a three-race suspension, Kurt Busch rewarded the unwavering support from Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner Gene Haas by putting his No. 41 Chevrolet on the pole for Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
"It's amazing to do this in Gene Haas' back yard," said Busch, who streaked around two-mile Auto Club Speedway in 38.889 seconds (185.142 mph) during the third and final round of Friday's knockout qualifying for the fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season.
A day after making an appearance at the Haas Automation headquarters in nearby Oxnard, Busch won his record fourth Coors Light Pole Award at Auto Club Speedway and the 17th of his career. In winning his first pole since May 2013 at Darlington, Busch edged Stewart-Haas teammate and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick (185.047 mph) by .020 seconds.
Behind the Stewart-Haas sweep of the front row, Matt Kenseth qualified third at 184.966 mph, followed by David Ragan (184.886 mph) and Kyle Larson (184.337 mph). At the track closest to Toyota Racing Development's home in Costa Mesa, four Toyota drivers made the top 12 on the grid -- Kenseth, Ragan, Denny Hamlin (sixth) and Clint Bowyer (10th).
"This is huge for Gene Haas," said Busch, who was suspended by NASCAR in the wake of allegations of domestic violence against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and the finding of a State of Delaware Family Court commissioner that, more likely than not, Busch had committed an act of domestic abuse. "Thank you, Gene, for believing in me. This is my job. Come to the track, drive the car and put it up on the pole and go for wins.
"That is what Gene has told me to do from the get-go, and I'm glad I have this chance to go back out there and live up to why he hired me. It feels good. The guys were just spot-on all day with all the adjustments. The car started off so fast and it is all due to the work back at the shop. Thank you Stewart-Haas Racing. Appreciate it. No. 41 car up front feels good."
NASCAR lifted Busch's suspension after he completed a reinstatement program and after the Delaware Department of Justice declined to file charges in the case, citing insufficient evidence.
Since his return, Busch has been fast on the race track, qualifying eighth and finishing fifth last week at Phoenix and winning the pole at Fontana on Friday.
Harvick, who is trying for a sweep of the three races on NASCAR's West Coast swing - Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana - had a good lap going before abandoning his intended line because of cars rolling slowly on the apron.
"I got down into Turn 3, and I was committed to the bottom, and there were three cars on the apron that were cooling off," Harvick explained. "I wanted to run the apron because I ran it in the second round and thought that I knew what I needed to do in the third round.
"I got through (Turns) 1 and 2 fairly good, got to the green really good and then I had to abort down here. All-in-all, still a good effort."
Notes: Jeff Gordon will start seventh in his final run at Fontana. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick both made the top 24 in the first round of knockout qualifying but failed to advance to the final round. They will start 17th and 22nd, respectively. ... Travis Kvapil and Reed Sorenson failed to make the 43-car field.