Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Wednesday, April 23, 2014
    Part-time anchorman Kenseth looks for Richmond win
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Seth Livingstone, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the time being, Matt Kenseth plans to keep his day job.

      But it's apparent that the former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is as comfortable with a microphone in his hand as a steering wheel.

      Staying classy throughout a guest appearance at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue, Kenseth did more than sign autographs and take photos with fans within eyeshot of the Capital dome. He handled a wide-ranging Q & A with aplomb, then tried his hand at news broadcasting, doing his best Ron Burgundy imitation at the media museum's Anchorman exhibit.

      "I'm a big Will Ferrell fan," said Kenseth, who also spent nearly a half hour in a talk show setting at the Newseum's Knight Theater, tackling the questions from Richmond International Raceway president Dennis Bickmeier (an Ohio University School of Journalism grad who served as program host) as well as inquisitive fans.

      "I feel like Jimmy Fallon," said Bickmeier, whose track sponsored Kenseth's appearance at the Newseum -- an interactive museum of news and journalism -- ahead of Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at RIR.

      The Newseum is full of serious stuff, from part of the Berlin Wall to a piece of radio tower from the World Trade Center -- a centerpiece of a stunning and thought-provoking 9/11 exhibit. But Kenseth kept things light during his visit, checking out the interactive exhibits designed for students and mingling with young fans.

      Kenseth knows a thing or two about museums. In fact, his name is on one -- the Matt Kenseth Racing Museum in his hometown of Cambridge, Wis.

      Managed by his sister Kelly, his museum features the requisite fire suits, trophies and cars including Kenseth's first race car, his IROC championship car and his Sprint Cup championship car from 2003.

      Kenseth says his prize possessions are his two Daytona 500 championship trophies.

      "They're hard to get," he says. "My real Winston Cup trophy is at home, but I've got a duplicate in the museum.

      "I never used to really be into history or museums at all, but I am a little more now. In our business, you're only as good as your last race. When you're in the moment it's hard to take a lot of time to enjoy it. We're programmed not to bask in (success) too long because you've got to keep moving forward."

      Not only a Toyota driver, but a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, Kenseth is on sacred ground whenever he races in the D.C./Richmond metro area where Gibbs is legendary as the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Washington Redskins.

      Even so, as a Wisconsin native, Kenseth says he felt compelled to put his team owner on notice when he accepted the chance to drive the No. 20 car prior to the 2013 season.

      "I told Joe when he hired me: 'Just so you know, I'll cheer for the 'Skins second, but it's always going to be about the (Green Bay) Packers for me,'" Kenseth said during his Q & A session.

      Kenseth also addressed the changes he has witnessed in media coverage since he began his career.

      "I've seen a lot of big changes," he said, "especially with technology -- more digital, less print (coverage). Social media has been a huge change -- I'm not so sure for the better all the time.

      "When I started there were in-car cameras, but they had to ask (for permission to) use any of your in-car audio. Then came scanners and the FanViews where (fans) could listen to every driver and watch them all, right in the stands. (Then) social media."

      Fans at the Newseum, of course, also wanted to know about racing at Richmond and Kenseth's season to date.

      Heading into Richmond, Kenseth is a single point behind Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, although neither of the series' top point producers has won a race. Kenseth, working with crew chief Jason Ratcliff, won seven races last year, ultimately finishing second to Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      This season, rule changes affecting his car, not to mention the emphasis on winning races in qualifying for the Chase, are definitely on Kenseth's mind.

      "We ran so good last year," he said. "If I would have had my way I would have said 'no rule changes.' We seemed to have a really good handle on that. This year, we haven't been running badly but we haven't been running as good as we were last year. The rule changes are throwing everybody a curveball, for sure.

      "Sheerly from a performance standpoint, we haven't been were we've wanted to be. But there have been some bright spots. We sat on the pole at California, led some laps at Bristol with a really strong car. We feel good about where we're at and feel confident we're gaining on it."

      Although he started his career on short tracks, winning at Richmond has proved a challenge for Kenseth. His lone victory in 28 starts came in September 2002 when he led 134 laps. But after a string of 11 starts with no better than a 10th, he has finished no worse than seventh in his last three Richmond races.

      At last year's spring Richmond race, Kenseth led 140 laps but got bottled up on the final restart and settled for seventh.

      "I like everything about the race track in Richmond," he said. "It's a great track from a design standpoint, from a driver's perspective and from a fan's perspective. Everybody's close to the action. It's just fast -- kind of like an intermediate track that's still a short track. Lately it's gotten really slick and tire management has been important, so you really get a little bit of everything there."

      Kenseth would like one thing: a win.

      He can take heart in knowing that Joe Gibbs Racing has taken more Sprint Cup checkered flags at Richmond (nine) than at any other track other than Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch has four wins for JGR, Tony Stewart three and Denny Hamlin two.

      Perhaps it will be Kenseth's turn. After all, he is keeping his day job.

  • Wednesday, April 23, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, April 23
    By The Sports Xchange

    Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in first place for the second consecutive week after Darlington. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by just one point and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 19 points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 42 career starts, 2 wins, 16 top-5s, 26 top-10s, 6 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 1996 and summer 2005. Finished 11th in this race last year and was eight (started from the pole) in the summer Chase-qualifying race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is still in search of his first win of 2014. But he is atop the points standings because he continues to have consistent runs. It's almost as if Gordon's philosophy this season is, "If you can't beat 'em, at least stay close to 'em." Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Richmond always presents the teams with a challenge because it's a guessing game. We do our race runs and our qualifying practice runs during the day, but qualifying is later into the afternoon on Friday and the race is at night on Saturday. You know the track will change before qualifying starts on Friday, but how much will it change? And how much will the track have changed Saturday night compared to Friday?"

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon led eight laps at Darlington, but his car got tight near the end of the grueling 500-mile race, but was able to salvage a good seventh-place finish.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 93.2 percent (15,662) of the 16,809 total laps contested in 42 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is an outstanding 7.6 and his average finish is 14.1. He has seven DNF's there.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: For the third consecutive week, Matt Kenseth remained in second place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by just one point and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by 18 points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 28 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2002. Finished seventh in this race last year and was sixth in the final Chase qualifier there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has struggled at Richmond far too often, but his last four finishes - 11th, 5th, 7th and 6th - show that he's back in sync with the tough 3/4-mile track.

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led 12 laps but couldn't catch eventual race winner Kevin Harvick in the final laps at Darlington, falling back slightly to a still strong fourth-place finish.

      ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.8 percent (10,964) of the 11,209 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 20.2 and his average finish is 15.8. He has one DNF there.

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third-place for the third consecutive week in the Sprint Cup standings after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 19 points, is 18 points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 19 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2013. Finished sixth in this race last year and was first in the final Chase qualifier last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: In his 20th career Sprint Cup start there, Edwards is looking to make it two in a row at Richmond on Saturday, having won last summer's final Chase qualifying race there.

      LOOKING BACK: Edwards continues to look for his first career win at Darlington, finishing 13th there last Saturday.

      ETC.: Edwards has completed 97.1 percent (7,393) of the 7,616 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 13.3 and his average finish is an almost identical 13.7. He has one DNF there.

      88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: After falling into a tie for sixth place after Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed two spots in the standings after Darlington, and is now fourth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 26 points, is seven points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by one point.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 29 career starts, 3 wins, 9 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2000, spring 2004 and spring 2006. Finished 10th in this race last year and was 13th in the final Chase qualifier there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Preparing to make his 30th career Sprint Cup start there, Richmond is one of Earnhardt's favorite tracks, but since his last win there in spring 2006, he has managed just two top-five and one other top-10 finish in his subsequent 15 starts there. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "We've had a good start to the season, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the car. It was nice to have a weekend off and enjoy some time with friends, but I'm excited to get to the track and in the car for practice and see where we are at. On Saturday, everybody's going to be hunting for the bottom line. The guys that get through the middle, can keep that left-front working that line, are going to have good runs. If you get off the bottom, it's just so slick, you can't really make any ground up there."

      LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was sooooo close to his second win of the season, but couldn't quite hold on to defeat Kevin Harvick at Darlington. In turn, Harvick became the first two-time winner this season. Earnhardt earned his third runner-up finish.

      ETC.: Earnhardt has completed an outstanding 99.2 percent (11,513) of the 11,609 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 15.9 and average finish is 13.8. He has one DNF there.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson climbed one spot in the standings, from a tie for sixth-place into fifth-place after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 27 points, is one point behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and is one point ahead of sixth-ranked Kyle Busch.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 24 career starts, 3 wins, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring and summer 2007 and summer 2008. Finished 12th in this race last year, but tied-his career-worst showing with a 40th-place finish in last summer's final Chase qualifier there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is still looking for his first win of the 2014 season. He has excellent chances to do so in the next four upcoming races at Richmond (which will be his 25th career start there), Talladega, Kansas and Charlotte. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "We have struggled a little at Richmond in the past so we hope this time around will be a better race as a whole for us. We've had fast race cars; our pit stops have been good, and we have been close to winning. Even though we haven't won, it's still a confidence booster that we are running well. The off-weekend was great for everyone, especially my guys, to recharge their batteries so we will be ready to roll at Richmond."

      LOOKING BACK: Johnson came oh, so close, to winning at Darlington, but just didn't have quite as strong of a car as winner Kevin Harvick or runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      ETC.: Johnson has completed 94.4 percent (9,075) of the 9,609 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.5 and his average finish is 17.3. He has one DNF there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch dropped one place in the standings after Darlington, falling to sixth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 28 points, is one point behind fifth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads seventh-ranked Brad Keselowski by 23 each.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 18 career starts, 4 win, 12 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009, spring 2010, spring 2011 and spring 2012. Finished a career-worst 24th in this race last year and 19th in the final Chase qualifier race there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Richmond is arguably Busch's favorite track. He had a great string going there, having won four spring races in a row until finishing a disappointing 24th there in last spring's race. He's looking for a big rebound there Saturday. Here's why: "I love Richmond - it's one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five last year. It's a neat racetrack and it's certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens under the lights on Saturday night there."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch failed to lead any laps at Darlington, but ran consistently in the top 10 and finished sixth at the checkered flag.

      ETC.: Busch has completed an outstanding 99.9 percent (7,215) of the 7,216 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.4 and average finish is an outstanding 7.2. He has zero DNFs there.

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After losing seven places in the standings in the previous three weeks, Brad Keselowski earned back one spot - from eighth to seventh - after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 51 points, is 23 points behind sixth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Joey Logano by one point.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Seventh in summer 2012. Finished 33rd in this race last year and was 17th in the final Chase qualifier there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski loves - and typically does very well - at short tracks. But for whatever reason, Richmond has vexed him, with just two top-10 finishes there. He's hoping to change that in his 10th career start there Saturday. Here's why: "In my mind, Richmond is real short-track racing. It's a very fast short track and things happen in a hurry. This is another one of the tracks that require a driver to manage tires. The other thing that I think of when I think of Richmond is pit stops. It's true at every track, but here with the laps being so quick a bad stop will really hurt your race. I like racing at Richmond and we are better there than our results show. This weekend is a welcome opportunity to demonstrate what we are capable of and we will do all that we can to get our Detroit Genuine Parts Ford to Victory Lane."

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led four laps at Darlington, but struggled with handling, ultimately finishing 17th.

      ETC.: Keselowski has completed 98.8 percent (3,561) of the 3,606 total laps contested in nine career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 11.2, but his average finish is a disappointing 20.1, one of his worst overall finishing marks at any track on the Cup circuit. He has one DNF there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing four places in the standings following his win at Texas, Joey Logano had the biggest drop of those drivers in the top-10, falling from fourth to eighth after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 52 points, is one point behind seventh-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads ninth-ranked Ryan Newman by nine points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2013. Finished third in this race last year and was 22nd in last summer's final Chase qualifying race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Logano has struggled in most of his 10 prior starts at Richmond. Sure, he has a third- and fourth-place finish there, but everything else has been outside the top 10. He's looking to improve upon that Saturday. Here's why: "The goal is to go out there and win more races before the Chase starts so you don't have to worry, right? But I just don't know if you will see more than 16 winners in a season. Not to say that there aren't more than 16 cars that can win a race, because if you go down through the list, I think you will find that there probably are. But you can't forget about the points either and I don't think anyone really is. If you aren't going to win the race, or you don't have a car that is capable and you don't think you can take the chance to get that win, then you are still going to try and finish fifth rather than 15th. You want to get those points and have them at the end of the year. But ultimately, you want to win enough races to not have to worry about points at all."

      LOOKING BACK: Logano started from the outside pole and led 37 laps, but the motor on his car blew up, relegating him to a disappointing 35th-place finish at Darlington.

      ETC.: Logano has completed 97.2 percent (3,895) of the 4,006 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 13.5 and average finish is 17.8. He has one DNF there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: RICHARD CHILDRESS Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman climbed back into the top 10, gaining two positions to go from a tie for 11th to ninth after Darlington. He's trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 61, is nine points behind eighth-ranked Joey Logano and leads 10th-ranked Austin Dillon by just one point.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 24 career starts, 1 wins, 6 top-5s, 14 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in summer 2003. Finished 15th in this race last season and was a strong third-place in last summer's final Chase qualifying race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman makes his 25th career Sprint Cup start at Richmond on Saturday. Now that he's back in the top 10, he's looking to stay there - and a good finish at Richmond would be just the ticket for him to do so. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "The key for us is to get forward drive coming off of Turn 4 and to get the Quicken Loans Chevrolet to turn in the center. If you get it turning in the center, it helps the forward drive. Richmond is a fun, little short track. It's got challenges, but if you get those right, you'll be in contention for the win."

      LOOKING BACK: Newman had an average car at Darlington, but through good pit stops and smart strategy, managed to come home with a decent 10th-place finish.

      ETC.: Vickers has completed 98.7 percent (9,488) of the 9,609 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.0, and average finish is 11.4. He has zero DNFs there.

      3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Austin Dillon climbed back into the top 10 after Darlington, from a tie for 11th to 10th. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 62 points, is one point behind ninth-ranked Ryan Newman and leads 11th-ranked Greg Biffle by eight points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 0 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: This will be Dillon's first career start in a Sprint Cup car at Richmond. However, in the Nationwide Series, he had two top-10 finishes in five starts there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon is undoubtedly looking forward to his first career Sprint Cup start at Richmond on Saturday. It's one of his grandfather's (Richard Childress) favorite tracks. And now that he's back in the top 10, there will likely be added incentive for Dillon to do well. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Richmond International Raceway is pretty unique. Iowa Speedway is somewhat similar. I've been very successful at Iowa. Richmond just has less grip, you have to really focus on what your car needs for the race."

      LOOKING BACK: Dillon had a decent run at Darlington, finishing 11th. Yes, he earned a couple of Darlington rookie stripes, but he was the second-highest finishing rookie behind Kyle Larson, who finished seventh.

      ETC.: Dillon has never raced in the Sprint Cup Series before at Richmond.

      16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only eight points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Six top-10 finishes in 23 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "Richmond is always a fun race track. It drives like a mile-and-a-half, like a superspeedway, but yet it's got little short corners. There's a big, long, fast straightaway and little tight corners, lot of technique to getting around Richmond. We've gotten better and better there and have some top-10's. I'm looking forward to getting my first win at Richmond this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Finished fifth at Darlington to move up five spots in the standings. It was Biffle's first top-five finish of the season.

      ETC.: Crew chief Matt Puccia believes "we've shown a lot of promise at Richmond over the last few races there. Our short track program has come along well. We had a good run at Martinsville, which is a totally different track, but there are some things that will transfer over. Track position is important, so qualifying on Friday will be pretty important. Having a car that's good for a long run will be key to having a good run there because tire fall off is pretty good."

      14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 11 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Finished in the top nine in four of the last five races. Overall has three wins and 19 top-10 finishes including 11 top-five's in 29 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said, "As much as you're racing everybody else, you have to race the race track (at Richmond). It just seems like a place where if you can get the balance right it makes it an extremely fun day. With the two ends of the track being different like they are, it seems like you're always fighting something, but that's what always makes the racing good, too. You never really get anybody who gets their car perfect. Even the guy that gets the lead still isn't happy with his car. So, it's really trying to find that balance and trying to figure out how to balance both ends of the track together."

      LOOKING BACK: After struggling big time during the first two-thirds of the race, Stewart rallied in the final 100 laps to finish ninth at Darlington as he moved up two spots in the standings.

      ETC.: Stewart is not a driver that enjoys a week off. He wants to be in a race car of some sort all the time. For that reason, he can't wait to get to Richmond this weekend. "The guys on the team needed the off weekend so for that reason, it was a good thing," said Stewart. "But for me, I much prefer being behind the wheel all the time."

      55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 11 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 16 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers feels Richmond is a "great track for racing and for the fans in general. It's kind of an in-between track. Fans get to experience the thrill of speed while also getting the feel of side-by-side racing. Unlike most short tracks you get a lot of side-by-side racing in the corners at Richmond. You also get two-three wide racing with guys trying different lines. That makes the track great and challenging."

      LOOKING BACK: After leading twice for 30 laps, Vickers ran into all kinds of problems during the final 50 laps of the race. First, a cut tire sent him spinning as he tried to enter pit road. Next, he was penalized for missing the commitment cone at the entrance to pit road. As a result, Vickers ended up 26th at Darlington.

      ETC.: Vickers believes the key to running well at Richmond is how well "you get through the center of the corner. You have to keep the car turning without getting loose in - that's difficult."

      42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 12 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Finished eighth and 14th in his two Nationwide Series starts in 2013.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Larson said, "After a long, relaxing break, I am excited to get back into the car this weekend at Richmond. Our Chevys have run really well the past several weeks, so I'm looking forward to carrying that momentum into this weekend's race and working to get another solid finish."

      LOOKING BACK: Larson finished eighth in his first Cup start at Darlington for his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races.

      ETC.: Larson admits he "had never given a ton of thought to working out or fitness as a driver" before joining Ganassi Racing. But he has "come to recognize more and more the importance of fitness in the overall success of a race driver. I have been working with Shaun (Peet, the team's pit crew and strength and conditioning coach) now from the beginning of the year and I am already seeing a difference."

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 12 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Two wins and nine top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 15 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin can't wait to get to Richmond, his home track. "We've had a lot of really good runs there," said Hamlin. "We had one stretch of six or seven races where we finished in the top 10 in almost every one of them and won a couple. So we are really looking forward to this weekend. We always feel good about our chances (of winning the race) every time we go there."

      LOOKING BACK: A pit-road speeding penalty late in the Southern 500 dropped Hamlin out of the top 10. And then as he tried to rally in the waning laps Hamlin bounced hard off the wall to end his night in 19th place.

      ETC.: Hamlin feels he learned some very valuable lessons last year. "I took it for granted - just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year," said Hamlin, who failed to make the Chase in 2013 and didn't win a race until the season finale at Homestead. "Just like it was easy. Didn't have to prepare for it. Now I know with the competition and how we ran last year, you've got to think about preparing for each and every race and preparing to be good."

      15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 16 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Three top-seven finishes in the last four races including a win and a runner-up finish. The victory was his second at the three-quarters of a mile facility.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer said, "Richmond is unique in the fact that (turns) one and two are drastically different from three and four. There's no really perfect setup. You can't just focus on that first corner or just the handling in one and two because about the time you get your car turning really good down there then it's too loose down in three and four. Forward bite is always an issue. If you never fight loose in all through practice, you know darned well from your past experience every time the race starts for whatever reason you'll fight loose in. There's a handful of tracks in the sport that are that way - and Richmond is one of them."

      LOOKING BACK: Bowyer seemed headed for a top-10 finish before getting bounced around during the second green-white-checkered-flag finish. As a result, Bowyer ended up 12th at Darlington.

      ETC.: Bowyer got married in the Bahamas during the week off. He had proposed to his longtime girlfriend Lorra in early December. At the time, Bowyer said, "I don't want to do a lot. Something quick and easy and have a reception, a party." And that is what they did.

      9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 19 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 10 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose will be making the 200th start of his Cup career at Richmond. "This is a big weekend for Stanley, Ace Hardware and the Children's Miracle Network," said Ambrose. "If we can win the race, Stanley will donate a million dollars to the Children's Miracle Network. And if we can't win the race, we want to finish second or third as the network will receive a donation of $500,000 for second or $250,000 for third. After the way we've run at the short tracks this year, I feel we can get us a top-three finish. That would be big."

      LOOKING BACK: Ambrose battled an ill-handling race car for most of the first half of the race before rallying to finish 14th at Darlington.

      ETC.: Ambrose and the team will visit the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU on Thursday. Ambrose and the team's pit crew will interact with the children through various gams and demonstrate pit stops. "We're looking to put a smile on their faces and show them something different," said Ambrose.

      27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 29 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Finished fifth in the fall race last year for his first top-10 finish at the Virginia facility.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Menard admits "we haven't had the best of luck there (Richmond) in the past, but in the last few races we've started to improve on our finishes. In the fall race last year we took home a fifth-place finish, so that's a good thing to build on for this season. The great part about racing on a Saturday night at Richmond is the sparks as our cars clip the asphalt, glowing brake rotors and the fans just seem to get into it a lot more."

      LOOKING BACK: After running in the top 10 for most of the first 200 laps, Menard suffered a cut right-front tire that sent him hard into the turn one wall. He was forced to go to the garage area to repair his badly damaged Chevrolet. Menard returned to finish 41st as he lost eight spots to fall out of the top 10.

      ETC.: Menard will be participating in a question-and-answer session with the race fans Friday from 3:45 to 4 p.m. at the Torque Club located in the Commonwealth Tower at Richmond International Raceway. "Those things are always a lot of fun as you always get some interesting questions from the fans," said Menard.

      47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

      Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 33 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger will be making his 200th start of his Cup career on Saturday night at Richmond. "I actually like racing at Richmond a couple times a year," said Allmendinger. "Although it is a tough track to prepare for during the weekend. You do not practice at all at the same time as the race. It makes going into the race difficult. You have got to be real easy on your rear tires. At the same point, you have got to get the car to turn. I always think it is fun the way the race plays out because I think the driver can make a difference by not using up the rear tires."

      LOOKING BACK: Despite battling a "very tight" race car all night, Allmendinger was able to finish 15th at Darlington for his third top-15 finish in the last four races.

      ETC.: Allmendinger said, "It was awesome to have some time off this past weekend. I didn't do a darn thing. I played golf and sat on the couch. It was nice to have a break in the Cup schedule for me and my guys. The deal for me is to less I travel, the happier I am."

      1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 40 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Finished fourth last fall for his fourth top-10 finish in 22 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "When I think about going to Richmond, it's about being good on old tires. Richmond is a really fun track when you have a good car and one of the most challenging places when your car is bad, because we always get long green-flag runs there. Richmond is by far the slickest short track that we go to. The tires fall off about a second or second-and-a-half during a full run and we don't have that at other short tracks, so it makes Richmond really challenging."

      LOOKING BACK: After being one of the fastest cars in practice, McMurray had high hopes for the Southern 500. Instead, he battled an ill-handling race car for most of the night as he finished a "very disappointing" 16th.

      ETC.: McMurray can't believe he stands 20th in the Sprint Cup standings after the first eight races of the season. "We've had really good cars almost everywhere we've been this year," said McMurray. "We should be a lot higher in the points. Our luck just hasn't been too good. We've had too many races where we had a shot at a top-10 and something bad would happen."

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 49 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Won the spring race a year ago for his second win in the last five races. Overall has three wins and 16 top-10 finishes in 26 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick said, "I always feel, going back to Richmond, that we should run well all night and have a chance to win the race. My expectations aren't anything less than that. I grew up racing on a lot of really flat race tracks and Richmond is one of those tracks where the tires wear out a lot and it's very line sensitive. You've got to work on running well against the bottom of the race track, and trying to find the grip for the front tires to turn and find grip on the exit of the corner, as well. It's just a track that really fits my driving style."

      LOOKING BACK: After leading six times for a whopping 236 laps, Harvick was forced to rally in the final 15 laps after a late-race caution flag completely changed the complexity of the race. Several drivers including six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. changed only two tires while Harvick decided to go for four when the yellow flag was waved on lap 359 of the scheduled 367 laps. But several more cautions including one during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish allowed Harvick to rally for his second win of the season as he passed Earnhardt for the lead on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish. Harvick is the first repeat winner this season.

      ETC.: Harvick calls his win last spring at Richmond "one of those races that we probably shouldn't have won. Tires meant everything at the end. Tires were a big advantage, especially when you're racing guys who don't have fresh tires. It looked like we were in two different ZIP codes as far as speed, just for the fact that when my four tires took off (on the final restart), they were spinning their tires and not turning. It looked like I was shot out of a cannon. The biggest thing I learned was that if it comes to that situation again, I'm coming to pit road to put four tires on it."

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 49 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: One win and seven top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 20 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Because Kahne earned his first career Cup win at Richmond in May 2005, the track holds a special place in his memory bank. "That was quite a weekend," said Kahne. "I won the pole and led a lot of the race (242 of the 400 laps). It sure would be nice to have another weekend like that one. It is about time for our luck to change this year."

      LOOKING BACK: Excellent pit strategy vaulted Kahne into the lead on two different occasions. But a late-race accident ended his night as he finished 37th at Darlington.

      ETC.: Kahne said he got his work ethic "from my dad. He taught me at a young age that you have to work hard for things, and if you want something, you have to work hard to get it and stay after it. I just kind of always had the same outlook on working and getting up in the morning and doing things like that. He was up and gone at five in the morning, every morning. So if he ever came home and I was still in bed that was bad. So I just learned from a pretty young age that you've got to get up and get things done and go for what you want."

      43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 51 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Finished eighth in the spring race last year for his lone top-10 finish in four starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "The fun thing about Richmond is that the tires fall off really bad. You get slipping and sliding around and forward drive is really important. It's the one race track we go to that you wish you didn't have 900 horsepower. Halfway through a tire run, we literally can spin the tires at the flag stand. That just becomes a huge challenge. We're really hit on our short track setups this year and shown a lot of speed. If we can keep that up this weekend, we will be able to make a run at a win."

      LOOKING BACK: After breaking the track record during the second of the three qualifying rounds, Almirola had high, high hopes for the Southern 500. Instead, he battled an ill-handling race car throughout most of the race as he finished 24th.

      ETC.: When asked about his favorite memory of Mustang, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Almirola said, "I had a friend in high school that a Cobra Mustang. I had an old ratty pickup truck and he let me drive that Mustang. I was driving a race car at the time and he said he wanted to see what his car would do with a race car driver. We put black marks around the street of our high school everywhere. I mean everywhere. That was a lot of fun. That was probably one of my fondest memories of a Mustang, him letting me tear up the streets around our high school in a Mustang."

      17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 57 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Finished 10th in the fall race last year in his second Cup start at the short track.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "Our 17 team is ready to get back to the race track after a weekend off. Richmond is typical short track racing which is always a lot of fun. It is important to have a car that turns in the corner with good drive off. We had our best finish of the year at Bristol (second), another short track, so hopefully we can get another top-five finish this weekend in our Nationwide Insurance Ford."

      LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 20th at Darlington. "We were just super tight all night long," said Stenhouse.

      ETC.: Crew chief Mike Kelley feels the team is "recharged after a weekend off. Our short track program has improved which showed with our strong run at Bristol. Track position is so crucial so we need to qualify well on Friday. We will keep making adjustments throughout the race and hopefully get us in position to go for the win."

      41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 71 points out of the top 10.

      RICHMOND RECORD: Finished second in the fall race after leading 73 laps. Will be seeking his third straight top-nine finish. Overall has one win and nine top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 26 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Crew chief Daniel Knost calls Richmond "a short track where things happen fast and it's hard to avoid them, sometimes. Plus, the last few years, the tires have fallen off a bunch throughout a run, so tire strategy becomes a big deal. It also seems like you are always balancing being tight in the center (of the corner) versus loose off at Richmond. Because the track is small (three-quarters of a mile), you are asking the car to do a lot in such a small space and it's a big challenge to get it to transition through those sections well."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch was headed for a top-10 finish when he was hit from behind by Clint Bowyer with only six laps remaining in the race. Busch, naturally, was quite upset and after climbing out of his battered auto expressed his displeasure with Bowyer by shaking his fist at him. Busch ended the night in 31st place.

      ETC.: Knost, a first-year crew chief, feels the biggest challenge he has faced in his rookie season is learning "how much goes into getting to the race track. You have a lot of people who are behind the scenes working way ahead of the schedule. There are a lot of things that need to happen. For us, we lost four cars in the span of three weeks. When you add the Martinsville winner, you start to realize how many parts and pieces are involved in putting cars together and getting them to the race track. So for me, I mean, you kind of know it's happening, but once it's on you to get the car there, you realize how much work goes into getting to the track before you ever even turn a lap."

  • Monday, April 21, 2014
    The Green Flag
    By The Sports Xchange

    Due to the open weekend in observance of the Easter holiday, Reid Spencer's "First Reid" column and the @nascarcasm section will not appear in this week's issue of The Green Flag. Both will return next week.

    • NASCAR Numbers

      1: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories posted by Stewart-Haas Racing drivers at Darlington Raceway. Kevin Harvick took the organization's first checkered flag at the Lady in Black on April 12. Team co-owner Tony Stewart has never won at the 1.366-mile speedway, and neither have teammates Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.

      2: The combined number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories recorded so far this season by Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. got Hendrick's lone win in the Daytona 500. Kyle Busch scored for JGR at Fontana, Calif. The two organizations were the series' most prolific winners in 2013, totaling 21 victories in 36 points races (12 for JGR and nine for HMS).

      3: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories recorded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond International Raceway. Measured by wins alone, RIR is Earnhardt's best non-restrictor-plate track and tied for his second best overall. Earnhardt has five victories at Talladega and three at Daytona.

      7.6: The average starting position for Jeff Gordon in 42 NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Richmond International Raceway, best among active drivers. In fact, Denny Hamlin is the only other active driver with an average starting spot better than 10.0 (9.3).

      1,390: The number of laps led by Denny Hamlin in 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond International Raceway, his home track. Among active drivers, Hamlin's total is second only to Jeff Gordon's 1,464, a number the four-time series champion has amassed in 42 career starts.

      NASCAR ETC.

      Officials for Gateway Motorsports Park and MAKE Motorsports announced Friday that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event will be known as the "Drivin' for Linemen 200." NASCAR returns to the St. Louis area on June 14, 2014 -- for the first time since 2010 -- with a race that will bring a heightened level of awareness to the Linemen of America and the electrical industry. This race will pay tribute to the past, present, future and fallen Linemen. The No. 50 MAKE Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado is the first industry-sponsored NASCAR Camping World Truck Series vehicle. ... After a prolonged wait, figure this Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway as the likely spot for Kyle Busch to reach 10,000 career laps led. He needs 30 more laps led to become the 15th driver to reach the milestone. Busch has led 30 or more laps in seven of his 18 Richmond starts. ... AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG-Daugherty Racing, will make his 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend, at Richmond. His best career finish is second, on April 1, 2012, at Martinsville Speedway -- like Richmond, a short track. ... Marcos Ambrose, who drives the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, will also make his 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on Saturday night. He has two wins in his career, both at Watkins Glen.

      Tune-In: NASCAR On Television, Week of April 21-April 27 (all times ET)

      Monday, April 21

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

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

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

      Tuesday, April 22

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      Noon, NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

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

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

      Wednesday, April 23

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      Noon, NASCAR Race Hub re-air, FOX Sports 1

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

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

      Thursday, April 24

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      Noon, NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

      6 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub re-air, FOX Sports 2

      7 p.m., How It's Made: NASCAR Engines re-air, Science Channel

      Friday, April 25

      2 a.m., How It's Made: NASCAR Engines re-air, Science Channel

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR's The List: Fights & Feuds re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

      Noon, NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

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

      2 p.m., The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, FOX Sports 1

      3 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, ESPN2

      5 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1

      6:30 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Countdown, ESPNews

      7 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Race at Richmond, ESPNews

      Saturday, April 26

      3 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice re-air, FOX Sports 1

      4 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying re-air, FOX Sports 1

      4 a.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Race at Richmond re-air, ESPN deportes

      5:30 a.m., FOX Sports 1 on 1: Jimmie Johnson re-air, FOX Sports 1

      5:30 p.m., NASCAR Race Day, FOX Sports 2

      6:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race Show, FOX

      7 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Richmond, FOX

      11:30 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

      Sunday, April 27

      2 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Richmond re-air, FOX Deportes

      THIS WEEK (all times ET)

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race: Toyota Owners 400

      The Place: Richmond International Raceway

      The Date/Time: Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m.

      TV: FOX

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR

      NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race: ToyotaCare 250

      The Place: Richmond International Raceway

      The Date/Time: Friday, April 25, 7 p.m.

      TV: ESPNews

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      National Series Standings

      This year, wins matter more than in any season in the 65-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Essentially, a win locks a driver into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      2014 Winners

      Pos Driver Wins

      1. Kevin Harvick 2

      2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1

      3. Brad Keselowski 1

      4. Carl Edwards 1

      5. Kyle Busch 1

      6. Kurt Busch 1

      7. Joey Logano 1

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Jeff Gordon 297

      2 Matt Kenseth 296

      3 Carl Edwards 278

      4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 271

      5 Jimmie Johnson 270

      6 Kyle Busch 269

      7 Brad Keselowski 246

      8 Joey Logano 245

      9 Ryan Newman 236

      10 Austin Dillon # 235

      11 Greg Biffle 227

      12 Tony Stewart 224

      13 Brian Vickers 224

      14 Kyle Larson # 223

      15 Denny Hamlin 223

      16 Clint Bowyer 219

      NASCAR Nationwide Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Chase Elliott # 271

      2 Regan Smith 258

      3 Elliott Sadler 251

      4 Ty Dillon # 248

      5 Trevor Bayne 241

      6 Brian Scott 225

      7 Brendan Gaughan 215

      8 D. Kwasniewski #200

      9 James Buescher 195

      10 Ryan Reed # 172

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Timothy Peters 82

      2 Johnny Sauter 82

      3 Matt Crafton 78

      4 Ryan Blaney 78

      5 Ron Hornaday Jr. 76

      6 Ben Kennedy # 72

      7 German Quiroga Jr.71

      8 Darrell Wallace Jr. 61

      9 Jeb Burton 60

      10 Tyler Reddick 60

  • Wednesday, April 16, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, April 16
    By The Sports Xchange

    Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in first place for the second consecutive week after Darlington. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by just one point and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 19 points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 42 career starts, 2 wins, 16 top-5s, 26 top-10s, 6 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 1996 and summer 2005. Finished 11th in this race last year and was eight (started from the pole) in the summer Chase-qualifying race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is still in search of his first win of 2014. But he is atop the points standings because he continues to have consistent runs. It's almost as if Gordon's philosophy this season is, "If you can't beat 'em, at least stay close to 'em."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon led eight laps at Darlington, but his car got tight near the end of the grueling 500-mile race, but was able to salvage a good seventh-place finish.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 93.2 percent (15,662) of the 16,809 total laps contested in 42 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is an outstanding 7.6 and his average finish is 14.1. He has seven DNF's there.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: For the third consecutive week, Matt Kenseth remained in second place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by just one point and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by 18 points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 28 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2002. Finished seventh in this race last year and was sixth in the final Chase qualifier there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has struggled at Richmond far too often, but his last four finishes - 11th, 5th, 7th and 6th - show that he's back in sync with the tough 3/4-mile track.

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led 12 laps but couldn't catch eventual race winner Kevin Harvick in the final laps at Darlington, falling back slightly to a still strong fourth-place finish.

      ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.8 percent (10,964) of the 11,209 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 20.2 and his average finish is 15.8. He has one DNF there.

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third-place for the third consecutive week in the Sprint Cup standings after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 19 points, is 18 points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 19 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2013. Finished sixth in this race last year and was first in the final Chase qualifier last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: In his 20th career Sprint Cup start there, Edwards is looking to make it two in a row at Richmond next Saturday, having won last summer's final Chase qualifying race there.

      LOOKING BACK: Edwards continues to look for his first career win at Darlington, finishing 13th there last Saturday.

      ETC.: Edwards has completed 97.1 percent (7,393) of the 7,616 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 13.3 and his average finish is an almost identical 13.7. He has one DNF there.

      88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: After falling into a tie for sixth place after Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed two spots in the standings after Darlington, and is now fourth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 26 points, is seven points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by one point.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 29 career starts, 3 wins, 9 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2000, spring 2004 and spring 2006. Finished 10th in this race last year and was 13th in the final Chase qualifier there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Preparing to make his 30th career Sprint Cup start there, Richmond is one of Earnhardt's favorite tracks, but since his last win there in spring 2006, he has managed just two top-five and one other top-10 finish in his subsequent 15 starts there.

      LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was sooooo close to his second win of the season, but couldn't quite hold on to defeat Kevin Harvick at Darlington. In turn, Harvick became the first two-time winner this season. Earnhardt earned his third runner-up finish.

      ETC.: Earnhardt has completed an outstanding 99.2 percent (11,513) of the 11,609 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 15.9 and average finish is 13.8. He has one DNF there.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson climbed one spot in the standings, from a tie for sixth-place into fifth-place after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 27 points, is one point behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and is one point ahead of sixth-ranked Kyle Busch.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 24 career starts, 3 wins, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring and summer 2007 and summer 2008. Finished 12th in this race last year, but tied-his career-worst showing with a 40th-place finish in last summer's final Chase qualifier there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is still looking for his first win of the 2014 season. He has excellent chances to do so in the next four upcoming races at Richmond (which will be his 25th career start there), Talladega, Kansas and Charlotte.

      LOOKING BACK: Johnson came oh, so close, to winning at Darlington, but just didn't have quite as strong of a car as winner Kevin Harvick or runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      ETC.: Johnson has completed 94.4 percent (9,075) of the 9,609 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.5 and his average finish is 17.3. He has one DNF there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch dropped one place in the standings after Darlington, falling to sixth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 28 points, is one point behind fifth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads seventh-ranked Brad Keselowski by 23 each.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 18 career starts, 4 win, 12 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009, spring 2010, spring 2011 and spring 2012. Finished a career-worst 24th in this race last year and 19th in the final Chase qualifier race there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Richmond is arguably Busch's favorite track. He had a great string going there, having won four spring races in a row until finishing a disappointing 24th there in last spring's race. He's looking for a big rebound next Saturday there.

      LOOKING BACK: Busch failed to lead any laps at Darlington, but ran consistently in the top 10 and finished sixth at the checkered flag.

      ETC.: Busch has completed an outstanding 99.9 percent (7,215) of the 7,216 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.4 and average finish is an outstanding 7.2. He has zero DNFs there.

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After losing seven places in the standings in the previous three weeks, Brad Keselowski earned back one spot - from eighth to seventh - after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 51 points, is 23 points behind sixth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Joey Logano by one point.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Seventh in summer 2012. Finished 33rd in this race last year and was 17th in the final Chase qualifier there last summer.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski loves - and typically does very well - at short tracks. But for whatever reason, Richmond has vexed him, with just two top-10 finishes there. He's hoping to change that in his 10th career start there next Saturday.

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led four laps at Darlington, but struggled with handling, ultimately finishing 17th.

      ETC.: Keselowski has completed 98.8 percent (3,561) of the 3,606 total laps contested in nine career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 11.2, but his average finish is a disappointing 20.1, one of his worst overall finishing marks at any track on the Cup circuit. He has one DNF there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing four places in the standings following his win at Texas, Joey Logano had the biggest drop of those drivers in the top-10, falling from fourth to eighth after Darlington. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 52 points, is one point behind seventh-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads ninth-ranked Ryan Newman by nine points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2013. Finished third in this race last year and was 22nd in last summer's final Chase qualifying race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Logano has struggled in most of his 10 prior starts at Richmond. Sure, he has a third- and fourth-place finish there, but everything else has been outside the top 10. He's looking to improve upon that next Saturday.

      LOOKING BACK: Logano started from the outside pole and led 37 laps, but the motor on his car blew up, relegating him to a disappointing 35th-place finish at Darlington.

      ETC.: Logano has completed 97.2 percent (3,895) of the 4,006 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 13.5 and average finish is 17.8. He has one DNF there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: RICHARD CHILDRESS Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman climbed back into the top 10, gaining two positions to go from a tie for 11th to ninth after Darlington. He's trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 61, is nine points behind eighth-ranked Joey Logano and leads 10th-ranked Austin Dillon by just one point.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 24 career starts, 1 wins, 6 top-5s, 14 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in summer 2003. Finished 15th in this race last season and was a strong third-place in last summer's final Chase qualifying race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman makes his 25th career Sprint Cup start at Richmond next Saturday. Now that he's back in the top 10, he's looking to stay there - and a good finish at Richmond would be just the ticket for him to do so.

      LOOKING BACK: Newman had an average car at Darlington, but through good pit stops and smart strategy, managed to come home with a decent 10th-place finish.

      ETC.: Vickers has completed 98.7 percent (9,488) of the 9,609 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.0, and average finish is 11.4. He has zero DNFs there.

      3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Austin Dillon climbed back into the top 10 after Darlington, from a tie for 11th to 10th. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 62 points, is one point behind ninth-ranked Ryan Newman and leads 11th-ranked Greg Biffle by eight points.

      RICHMOND RECORD: 0 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: This will be Dillon's first career start in a Sprint Cup car at Richmond. However, in the Nationwide Series, he had two top-10 finishes in five starts there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon is undoubtedly looking forward to his first career Sprint Cup start at Richmond next Saturday. It's one of his grandfather's (Richard Childress) favorite tracks. And now that he's back in the top 10, there will likely be added incentive for Dillon to do well.

      LOOKING BACK: Dillon had a decent run at Darlington, finishing 11th. Yes, he earned a couple of Darlington rookie stripes, but he was the second-highest finishing rookie behind Kyle Larson, who finished seventh.

      ETC.: Dillon has never raced in the Sprint Cup Series before at Richmond.

      16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only nine points out of the top 10. Gained five spots last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle is going "to the beach for a few days for a little R&R." But he also can't wait for the Richmond race on April 26. "We have been running good on short tracks so I am looking forward to Richmond," adds Biffle. "We ran really good there last year and our short track program continues to improve so I am looking forward to that track."

      LOOKING BACK: Biffle was all smiles after finishing fifth at Darlington. "We probably didn't have a fifth-place car but we worked really hard on it and we had good pit stops and track position was everything tonight," said Biffle. "Those last restarts we were on the outside, the inside and then the outside and we picked up one or two spots there at the end. We have to get better here, but we will keep working at it."

      ETC.: Mustang is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Biffle is "glad to make memories with my own Mustang. It is a 2007 Shelby GT 500 and that Mustang has been so much fun for me over the years. I built an engine for it and have done all kinds of stuff with it. That is by far my favorite car to work on and tinker with or take to ZMAX Dragway. I just love to drive on the street, to the shop and back, and it is by far my favorite car."

      14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 11 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Normally Stewart would be spending his off week racing sprint cars somewhere in the US of A. But since he is still recovering from a broken leg suffered last August in a sprint car race, he will be staying home this weekend. Stewart said he still expects to run a few sprint car races this year, but "we are not sure just when yet. I may go see my team run, but I'll just be a spectator," added Stewart.

      LOOKING BACK: Excellent pit strategy and a little luck helped Stewart rally in the final half of the race to finish ninth. At one point in the event Stewart was two laps down and running outside the top 25. "To end up ninth after where we were most of the race, we'll take it," said Stewart. "We were stuck in traffic all night, but right at the end, we were able to make some headway and get a top-10. Chad (Johnson, crew chief) did a great job with pit strategy and we caught a couple of cautions just right."

      ETC.: When asked what is the biggest asset of the team's strong driver lineup, Stewart replied, "I think each of us can go to any race track and be competitive, but I think there are race tracks that Kevin (Harvick really is that much better. There are tracks Kurt (Busch) is that way, and I think there are tracks that we're that way. Danica (Patrick) has got strengths that we can all feed off as well. I think our personalities lend to that. We all want to push to make each other better because we all understand if we make each other better, we as a group just continue to grow. I feel that's a huge asset for all of us right now."

      55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 11 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots to fall out of the top 10.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers is not one to sit at home as he likes to "try a lot of different things. I'm not sure how we will spend our off weekend, but we'll do something a little off the wall. Everybody needs some time off about this time of year so all of us on the team are looking forward to the off weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Vickers led twice for 30 laps and seemed headed for a solid top-10 finish when he ran into all kind of problems with 50 laps to go. A cut tire sent Vickers spinning as he tried to enter pit road. Vickers was able to keep his car from hitting the inside wall, but was penalized for missing the commitment cone at the entrance to pit road. Another cut tire 15 laps later forced an unscheduled pit stop as Vickers ended the night in 26th place. "I think we had at least a top-10 car, maybe a top-five and if the cards would have been played just right maybe even a win," said Vickers. "Just a very frustrating way to end the night."

      ETC.: Billy Scott, in his first year as a crew chief, feels "the crew chief stuff for the race car is what I expected. I knew what I was getting into. As crew chief you are always multitasking. The key is remaining calm. The biggest challenge so far has been qualifying. It's new to all of us this year. But we've learned a lot so it's getting a bit easier each weekend."

      42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 12 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Larson is the type of driver that wants to race "five, six nights a week" if possible. "That is just the way I was brought up, racing as many nights a week as we could," said Larson, a rookie on the Sprint Cup Series. "So it is going to be a little tough for me not to have a race to go to this week. But maybe I'll find one somewhere."

      LOOKING BACK: Larson rallied in the final 100 laps to finish eighth at Darlington in his Sprint Cup debut at the "Track Too Tough to Tame." Larson began the weekend by hitting the wall in practice and having to go to a backup car. And then in the race "we started off really tight, then car got pretty loose," said Larson. "The crew worked hard to make the right adjustments in the first half of the race, and the Target Chevy was pretty fast for the rest of the night. Everyone on this team did a great job to earn this finish."

      ETC.: Larson is quite pleased with how his rookie Cup season has gone so far. "We have been good every week," said Larson. "Every week I feel like we have had great speed. Our car has been in the top 10 I feel like most races. Martinsville was probably our worst one and a lot of it had to do with me (making his debut at the short track). I think we have been doing a great job. I feel like we should get a win here shortly."

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 12 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Because of how well he runs at Richmond, Hamlin can't wait for next week to get here. "Oh, I am going to enjoy the week off, but I can't wait to get to Richmond," said Hamlin. "That is my home town track and one where we run good at, so I am anxious to get there. I just feel good about how we are going to run there."

      LOOKING BACK: A pit-road speeding penalty late in the Southern 500 dropped Hamlin out of the top 10. And then he bounced hard off the wall trying to battle his way back to the front. As a result, he ended the night in 19th place. "Not a good ending to what could have been a good night," said Hamlin. "Things got real hectic with all those cautions at the end. That penalty really hurt us. Just not a good way to end the night."

      ETC.: Hamlin believes it is important for drivers to "prepare for the weekends as much as the teams in the sense of what they have to do. I just don't think now you can just show up, sit down in your seat, not know anything about your car and run as competitive as some of the guys that win each week. It's all about debriefing and figuring out how can you get better. Not just chalking it up, 'Oh, it's just a bad weekend. We'll rebound next week.' No, why? Why did you struggle? How can you get better?"

      15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer plans to spend much of his off week in the Bahamas "just getting away from it. All of us on the 15 team put a lot of hard work into this deal and all of us need a few days off," said Bowyer. "It is going to be nice to be able to forget all about racing for a few days. And then come next week all of us will be back at it ready to win some races."

      LOOKING BACK: Things didn't go as well as Bowyer would have liked on the green-white-checkered flag finish and as a result, Bowyer ended up 12th after running as high as seventh with 10 laps to go. "Man, that was a tough night for the 5-Hour Energy Toyota," said Bowyer. "My guys got us pretty decent at the end. I thought we were going to grab a top-10, but we just got shuffled back on the final restart (after bouncing off several cars during the hectic finish)."

      ETC.: Bowyer is in the final year of his present contract. "I'm not worried about it (the contract negotiations)," said Bowyer. "The thought isn't what you're going to do or what you're not going to do, it's maintaining. Our stock is good as far as I'm concerned. We've got a great platform; we've got great sponsors and (I) want to be right where I'm at."

      9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 19 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose is looking forward to spending some quality time with his two daughters and his wife Sonja during the off weekend. "It is always nice to be able to few days with my three girls and not worry about the racing side of things," said Ambrose. "It is nice to just be a family for a few days without worrying about the race car and the next race."

      LOOKING BACK: Ambrose had high hopes for the evening after posting the fourth fastest speed in qualifying, but instead he battled an ill-handling race car for most of the night as he finished 14th at Darlington. "A lot of guys had really loose race cars, and our DeWalt Ford drove so much different than what it did in practice," said Ambrose. "We had a 20th-place car and finished 14th with it. It is a good points night, and we will keep chipping away. We just have to work out how to make these cars run when the tape comes off the nose (after qualifying). All in all, not a bad weekend."

      ETC.: This is Ambrose's fourth season with Richard Petty Motorsports. "I joined at a fairly tumultuous time," admits Ambrose. "That was a difficult time for Richard and everybody to re-brand the company and actually re-buy the company and take it from the crumbs. So I've seen it at its darkest days and I'm looking forward to the rest of 2014 because I think it's the year Richard Petty Motorsports breaks out and shows everybody how much we've grown in these last four years."

      27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 29 points out of the top 10. Lost eight spots last week to fall out of the top 10.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Menard and the team do not plan on letting a bad night at Darlington ruin their outlook on the season. "We've had three straight weeks of solid performances, so we're not going to let what happened in Darlington get us down," said Menard. "We'll enjoy the off-weekend and get back to work at Richmond in two weeks. We've been running too good to let one bad night put us in a bad mood."

      LOOKING BACK: A cut right-front tire sent Menard hard into the turn one wall on lap 202 of the scheduled 367-lap event. The car suffered extensive damage and Menard was forced to go to the garage area for repairs. By the time he returned to the race he was more than a 100 laps down. As a result, he finished 41st. "It's a shame we had the finish we had - we were solid all weekend long, but unfortunately a flat right-front tire ruined what could have been a decent finish."

      ETC.: This is the fifth season that Menard and crew chief Slugger Labbe have worked together. "We trust each other," said Menard. "There's comfort level working with one another and we balance each other out personality wise. I think those are the main reasons we've been together as long as we have been. He and I just have that connection that is so important between a crew chief and a driver."

      47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

      Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 33 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger is both sad and glad to see a break in the Cup schedule. "Everybody on the team is looking forward to having some time off, but at the same time you don't want to put a halt to the momentum this team has been on in recent weeks," said Allmendinger. "We've run in the top 15 for three of the last four weeks. We've really come a long ways since the start of the season."

      LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 15th at Darlington. "We just missed it (the setup) today," said Allmendinger. "But to come back and finish 15th says a lot about this JTG Daugherty Racing team. We fought a tight handling car so much the last how many weeks and I don't want to be tight. I'm proud of the guys because they really fought hard to get a top-15 out of the night. That was all on them. It was not on me. I'm a little frustrated with myself because I don't feel like I'm at my best right now."

      ETC.: Allmendinger is a big fan of the new Chase format where one win almost guarantees a driver a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. "With the Chase format, you can be having a terrible year and all of sudden you win a race and the next thing you know you're in the Chase," said Allmendinger. "Now you can have 12 bad weeks in a row and be 30th in points and the next thing you know, you go and win the 13th race and you are in the Chase. That gives all of us hope."

      1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 40 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray is like any other race driver that is a father -- he plans on "really enjoying" the upcoming off weekend with his two kids. "It is going to be family time," said McMurray. "That is what Easter should be - family time."

      LOOKING BACK: It was not the night that McMurray expected after qualifying sixth and being one of the fastest cars in practice as he finished 16th at Darlington. "A tough night for our Cessna team," said McMurray. "We struggled to find the balance on our car tonight. As good we were in practice yesterday, I certainly didn't expect that tonight. Our guys worked hard on pit road and made a lot of changes to the car to battle back for a 16th-place finish."

      ETC.: McMurray is quick to point out that it is still too early in the season to get stressed out when it comes to making the Chase. But he also admits "it all depends on where you are in points. There are going to be people that make the Chase that haven't won a race. The closer we get to Richmond (the last race to qualify for a spot in this year's Chase for the Championship) that is when guys will begin to realize they have no chance of making it on points. That is when things will get fired up."

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: While Harvick is one of the few drivers who have had fast cars at every race this season, he is still ready for a break. "It will be good to just get away and spend some quality time with DeLana (his wife) and Keelan (his young son)," said Harvick. "Weeks off are pretty rare in this business. So it is always nice to get one."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick dominated the Southern 500 as he led seven times for a whopping 238 laps. But he was forced to rally in the final 15 laps after a late-race yellow flag jumbled the standings with different drivers on different tire strategy. "It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end," said Harvick, who needed the second attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish to regain the lead when he passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with just over a lap to go. "The cautions all lined out and this Budweiser Chevrolet was unbelievable all night," added Harvick. "I knew I had that high line I hadn't showed it to them all night on the restarts and I wanted to save it until the end (to make the pass on Earnhardt)." The win was Harvick's second of the season and the 25th of his career as he became the first driver with two wins in 2014.

      ETC.: Harvick joined a very select list with his Southern 500 victory at Darlington. He became only the fourth driver to win the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500. The other three are Dale Earnhardt (Sr.), Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. "This is what I used to do for a hobby," said Harvick. "We're fortunate to be able to do this for a living, but to be able to have celebrated a lot of the race wins, whether it be Indy or Daytona or Charlotte or the All-Star Race or the Southern 500 now is something that some people don't get to experience at all in their careers. To celebrate them all is something that's pretty phenomenal. This is the one race I told Rodney (Childers, crew chief) I wanted to win (when they teamed up at the beginning of the season). This is the Southern 500; this is as big as it gets in NASCAR racing."

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 49 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne expects to spend a lot of his off week with his sprint car team. "It will be a lot of fun just to hang out with them and watch them run," said Kahne. "We've had a pretty good season so far." Cody Darrah drove his Kasey Kahne Racing sprint car to its third consecutive World of Outlaws series win last Friday night, joining teammates Brad Sweet and Daryl Pittman as winners so far this season.

      LOOKING BACK: Good pit strategy vaulted Kahne into the lead on two different occasions Saturday night, but a late-race accident ended his night in 37th place. "We had a really good car midway through the race," said Kahne. "But we struggled a little with about a 100 laps to go and we were trying to get back into the top 10 when we had our problem. Just a bad way to end the night."

      ETC.: The year certainly hasn't started as well as Kahne had expected. In the first eight races, his best finish is an eighth at Las Vegas and Bristol. "We've had a lot of bad luck," said Kahne. "We can't seem to catch a break. But all we need to do is win a race and we'll all forget all the bad things that have happened to us. That is the good part about this year. One win and you're in the Chase no matter where you are in points." Actually, a driver must be in the top 30 in points to make the Chase no matter how many races he wins.

      43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 51 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola doesn't have any "great plans" for the week off. "It will be nice to have a couple of days off, but the guys that really need it are the guys at the shop and the guys that travel with us each week," said Almirola. "They are the others that need and deserve a long, long weekend. They are the ones that have been working all those long hours since the start of the year."

      LOOKING BACK: After setting a track record during the second of the three qualifying rounds, Almirola had visions of challenging for a win at the famed Darlington Raceway. But once the sun went down, Almirola battled major handling problems. And this coupled with a late-race spin and a pit-road speeding penalty resulted in a disappointing 24th-place finish. "After having such a good day on Friday, today was not what we had expected," said Almirola. "We were okay at the start, but as the sun set, our car continued to get worse. Trent (Owens, crew chief) and the guys worked hard to get the handling better, but we couldn't make the adjustments we needed to in order to get the car better."

      ETC.: Kyle Petty said his father Richard is "doing pretty good" since the death of his wife Lynda. "They were together 57 years and even though he spent 50 of those 57 years on the road, according to him, at race tracks, it's been a lot harder and a lot tougher (than he thought)," added Kyle. "He's used to going to the race track and being at the race track alone, but he's not used to being at home and being alone. So I've stayed with him some, and my sisters have stayed with him some. It's just going to take time." Richard has not been at the track since Lynda died on March 25.

      17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 57 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: After four straight finishes of 20th or worse, Stenhouse is glad to see a break in the schedule. "Everyone needs some time off," said Stenhouse. "We haven't run that well the last few weeks so hopefully the off weekend will help us get back on the right track."

      LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse got the "lucky dog" award twice in the waning laps of the race to get back on the lead lap and finish 20th at Darlington. The lucky dog award is given to the first driver a lap down when a caution flag flies. "We never gave up and ended up finishing on the lead lap," said Stenhouse. "For some reason, our Nationwide Insurance Ford was super tight for a majority of the race. After all our adversity this weekend, we'll take our 20th-place finish and regroup during the off weekend."

      ETC.: Crew chief Mike Kelley said he learned a very valuable lesson last year after Stenhouse moved up to the Sprint Cup Series and Kelley remained part of Roush Racing's Nationwide program. "I was kind of one of the guys that thought it (the importance of chemistry between the driver and crew chief) was overrated," said Kelley. "I would tell you a year later it is probably underrated. I had a great relationship with Trevor (Bayne, his Nationwide driver in 2013), but I can look people in the face today and tell them it was different (than his relationship with Stenhouse). I still communicated a lot with Ricky (last year). We talked about a lot of things, how his day went, how my day went. That is when I started realizing how important it is." Kelley and Stenhouse were reunited after the 2013 season.

      41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 71 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

      LOOKING AHEAD: After the "terrible" ending to the Darlington race, Busch is glad to "get away" for a few days. "The guys on the team have been working really hard since the start of the year, and they need some time off," said Busch. "We don't get a lot of weekends off in this business so it is always nice to have one."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch was in a foul mood after a late-race accident left him in 31st place. Busch, who had been running in the top 10 at the time of the accident, expressed his displeasure with Clint Bowyer after climbing out of his wrecked race car. "That was a terrible way to end what could have been a decent night," said Busch. "Someone moved me out of their way and it ruined our night. I hate it for the team, but we keep learning each other and we will get better."

      ETC.: Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, will be spending a lot of his time in the coming weeks working on his new Formula One team. "I think we can beat the Europeans at their own game," said Haas. "I wouldn't be doing it if I thought I was going to fail. But that's the challenge -- proving other people wrong." Haas' team would be the first American-based Formula One team since Parnelli Jones Racing in the 1970's. Mario Andretti drove for Jones from 1974 to 1976.

  • Monday, April 14, 2014
    The Green Flag: Sprint Cup gets break
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is the longest in professional sports, and breaks are few and far between.

      One of those rare breaks comes this weekend, with the Easter holiday.

      Invariably, when there's a pause in the racing season, reporters ask drivers what they plan to do with the time off, and the answers invariably range from hunting with friends, enjoying some rest and relaxation at the beach, traveling, playing golf or simply spending quality time with family.

      But we often forget that drivers are only one part of the stock car racing equation.

      The fabricators, mechanics, engine builders, engineers, body hangers and crewmen who build and set up race cars for their teams will be lucky to have two days off around Easter -- if that.

      Instead, they'll be working typical long hours repairing cars wrecked at Darlington, catching up on car builds for upcoming tracks and trying to figure out how to make their machines go faster.

      That's particularly true for organizations that have fallen behind in the development of the Gen-6 car under the new competition package NASCAR introduced this year.

      If we tend to forget what goes on behind the scenes in racing, the families of those involved certainly do not.

      Consequently, we salute the unsung heroes of NASCAR racing and wish them a happy Easter -- whatever small part they actually see of it.

      @nascarcasm

      ---"This week, Kevin Harvick made it to the checkered flag before all other drivers. This is a major step up from the previous week at Texas, when he made it back to Charlotte before all other drivers."

      ---Kevin Harvick's win at Darlington Speedway is the milestone first victory for F1 team owner Gene Haas.

      ---The setting sun caused visibility issues for drivers early in the race. And if you're keeping score, yes, the drivers managed to find a way to complain about rain AND sunshine in the span of one week.

      ---Unlike races earlier this season, the race at Darlington Raceway had a rare 0% chance of rain. Regardless, AirTitan 2.0 self-activated one hour before green flag merely out of habit.

      (Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you already knew that.)

      NASCAR Numbers

      462: The total number of laps led by Kevin Harvick in his two NASCAR Sprint Cup victories this season. Harvick led 224 laps in winning Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway to go with the 238 he led in getting his first victory of the year at Phoenix. In the six other races combined, Harvick has led 53 laps.

      41: The number of positions both Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. improved at Darlington over their finishes in the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt was first out of the Texas race (43rd) after a close encounter with the infield grass. Harvick retired in 42nd with engine issues. At Darlington, Harvick and Earnhardt ran 1-2.

      5: In eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, the number of times Dale Earnhardt Jr. has recorded a top-three finish. After winning the Daytona 500, Earnhardt has finished second three times (at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Darlington) and third once (at Martinsville).

      586: The total number of laps led by Kyle Busch in the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Richmond International Raceway held in the spring. Hence, it's likely Busch will notch the 30 laps he needs to reach a career milestone of 10,000 laps led in the series. Busch led at least 32 laps in each of the last five spring races and won four of them.

      1: The number of drivers advancing to the final round in each of the seven knockout qualifying sessions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year. Joey Logano kept his perfect record intact Friday at Darlington Raceway, then qualified on the outside of the front row in the final round.

      NASCAR ETC.

      The winningest driver in North American sports car racing history held off one of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship's youngest stars to win Saturday's Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase at the Long Beach street circuit. ... Scott Pruett extended his record to 58 career victories, driving the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley to the line 0.759 seconds ahead of 22-year-old Jordan Taylor. Corvette Racing won in GT Le Mans (GTLM) with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen leading all but two laps to give the Corvette C7.R its first win in just its third start. ... GTLM is regarded internationally for its competition, and the TUDOR Championship standings reflect that. The top eight teams are separated by only eight points with BMW's Bill Auberlen and Andy Priaulx leading Porsche's Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy by two points (90-88). ... Pruett and Rojas are now within five points (98-93) of leaders Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the Prototype class. The GT Daytona (GTD) and Prototype Challenge (PC) classes return on May 4 at historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. There will be a pair of two-hour races, one for the P and GTLM classes, the other for the PC and GTD classes. Both races will be televised live on FOX Sports 1.

      Tweets Of The Week

      Darrell Wallace Jr.

      @BubbaWallace

      Hell yeah I won the masters!!!!!!!....???? Wrong bubba peeps. Can't even break 100!

      Danica Patrick

      @DanicaPatrick

      I have my first suntan of the year. Words can't explain how happy I am! Ahhh Sundays.

      Kevin Harvick

      @KevinHarvick

      Watching the masters waiting on the little man to wake up. Still pumped about the win last night! #4thewin

      Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      @DaleJr

      @KevinHarvick congrats on a great run. You guys are gonna be tough all year.

      Kyle Larson

      @KyleLarsonRacin

      Just got asked if I was @chaseelliott. After the last couple weeks I wish I was!

      Chase Elliott

      @chaseelliott

      Wow I'm still in shock from last week! Unbelievable night! So blessed to just have this opportunity... Huge thanks to @NAPAKnowHow! #di9

      Jimmie Johnson

      @JimmieJohnson

      There is nothing like the Lady in Black.

      Darrell Waltrip

      @AllWaltrip

      Sell out crowd at #DarlingtonRaceway, big crowd at the #longbeachgrandprix and big crowd at the #Masters2014, thanks fans!

      Jan Magnussen, Corvette Racing

      @janmagnussen

      Winners are grinners! @janmagnussen, @AntonioGarcia_3 and @CorvetteRacing take their first @UnitedSportsCar win. First win for the C7.R

      Jenna Fryer, Associated Press

      @JennaFryer

      For winning the #IMSA race, @FRJamieAllison was just presented with a guitar as big as him.

      Jamie Allison, Ford

      @FRJamieAllison

      Taking Guitar lessons tomorrow!

      Tony DiZinno, MotorsportsTalk.NBCSports.com

      @tonydizinno

      Good morning from Long Beach - @UnitedSportsCar practice well underway. The pulsating sounds of HP off the buildings = awesome.

      Jordan Taylor?, Wayne Taylor Racing

      @jordan10taylor

      Nothing much cooler than sharing the podium with your brother at Long Beach!

      Continental Tire

      @continentaltire

      Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Congrats @cgrteams!! #PatronShowcase.

      Tune-In: NASCAR On Television, Week of April 14-19 (all times ET)

      Monday, April 14

      4 p.m., NASCAR's The List: Greatest Finishes re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

      4:30 p.m., NASCAR's The List: Legendary Drivers re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

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

      Tuesday, April 15

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

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

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

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

      Wednesday, April 16

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      3 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Darlington re-air, FOX Sports 1

      4:30 p.m., NASCAR's The List: Memorable Moments re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

      Thursday, April 17

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

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

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

      Friday, April 18

      2 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub Special, FOX Sports 1

      Saturday, April 19

      2 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      THIS WEEK

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race: Toyota Owners 400

      The Place: Richmond International Raceway

      The Date/Time: Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m.

      TV: FOX

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR

      NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race: ToyotaCare 250

      The Place: Richmond International Raceway

      The Date/Time: Friday, April 25, 7 p.m.

      TV: TBD

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      National Series Standings

      This year, wins matter more than in any season in the 65-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Essentially, a win locks a driver into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      2014 Winners

      Pos Driver Wins

      1. Kevin Harvick 2

      2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1

      3. Brad Keselowski 1

      4. Carl Edwards 1

      5. Kyle Busch 1

      6. Kurt Busch 1

      7. Joey Logano 1

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Jeff Gordon 297

      2 Matt Kenseth 296

      3 Carl Edwards 278

      4 Dale Earnhardt Jr.271

      5 Jimmie Johnson 270

      6 Kyle Busch 269

      7 Brad Keselowski 246

      8 Joey Logano 245

      9 Ryan Newman 236

      10 Austin Dillon # 235

      11 Greg Biffle 227

      12 Tony Stewart 224

      13 Brian Vickers 224

      14 Kyle Larson # 223

      15 Denny Hamlin 223

      16 Clint Bowyer 219

      NASCAR Nationwide Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Chase Elliott # 271

      2 Regan Smith 258

      3 Elliott Sadler 251

      4 Ty Dillon # 248

      5 Trevor Bayne 241

      6 Brian Scott 225

      7 Brendan Gaughan215

      8 D. Kwasniewski #200

      9 James Buescher 195

      10 Ryan Reed # 172

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Timothy Peters 82

      2 Johnny Sauter 82

      3 Matt Crafton 78

      4 Ryan Blaney 78

      5 Ron Hornaday Jr. 76

      6 Ben Kennedy # 72

      7 German Quiroga 71

      8 Darrell Wallace Jr. 61

      9 Jeb Burton 60

      10 Tyler Reddick 60

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach results
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Results Sunday of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile Streets of Long Beach circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

    • 1. (17) Mike Conway, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      2. (14) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      3. (11) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      4. (16) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      5. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      6. (20) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      7. (12) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      8. (8) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      9. (22) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      10. (21) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      11. (9) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      12. (7) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      13. (23) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 79, Running

      14. (3) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 77, Running

      15. (5) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 77, Running

      16. (10) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 64, Contact

      17. (18) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 60, Running

      18. (13) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 55, Contact

      19. (4) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      20. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      21. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      22. (15) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      23. (19) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 41, Off Course

      Race Statistics

      Winners average speed: 82.362

      Time of Race: 01:54:41.6418

      Margin of victory: 0.9005 of a second

      Cautions: 4 for 18 laps

      Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers

      Lap Leaders: Hunter-Reay 1-26, Dixon 27-28, Hunter-Reay 29-53, Newgarden 54, Saavedra 55-57, Dixon 58-77, Conway 78-80.

      Point Standings: Power 93, Conway 66, Pagenaud 60, Castroneves 55, Hunter-Reay 53, Dixon 51, Munoz 48, Montoya 47, Aleshin 46, Saavedra 42.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Conway wins Long Beach race
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Ed Carpenter's decision to put a road course standout in his Verizon IndyCar Series car this season paid off Sunday when Mike Conway won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

    • Carpenter, the owner-driver of Ed Carpenter Racing, is an oval-track specialist, and he stepped out of the Chevrolet-powered car in favor of Conway, who won his third career IndyCar race and his second at Long Beach.

      With a front wing broken on the first lap, Conway took the lead with two circuits left when Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon was forced to pit road for more fuel. Conway then held off Team Penske's Will Power for the win.

      Conway won this race for Andretti Autosport in 2011.

      Conway did not expect to become a two-time event winner on this weekend.

      "I wasn't sure Scott was going to pull in there," he said. "I couldn't see he was saving fuel where he should have been saving."

      Said Dixon: "We wanted to go for it, but we couldn't run the risk of running out of fuel in front of the pack and causing a big accident."

      Those two (and Power) were in a winning position because the lead pack got shuffled on Lap 55 of the 80-lap race when pole-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport banged into Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden in a battle for the lead.

      Newgarden said he did not expect Hunter-Reay to dart inside him in Turn 4, and the bump sent them sliding to the left side of the narrow track. Running fourth, Power swung to the right and motored on, but others were not so fortunate.

      James Hinchcliffe followed Hunter-Reay, his teammate, into the mess. A few cars got through safely, but Helio Castroneves could not, running into the back of Hunter-Reay, and the entanglement of Newgarden and Hinchcliffe sat in the blind path of Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and rookie Jack Hawksworth.

      Hinchcliffe took a swipe at Hunter-Reay.

      "Patience is a virtue and someone wasn't virtuitous," he said. "It was a rookie move."

      Hunter-Reay tried to explain the move, saying both he and Newgarden could have done something different.

      "Giving each other a little bit of room (in Turn 4) would have gotten us both through there," he said. "A lot of people will say that's my fault. I made the decision at that split-second, when he had wheel spin, to go for it, knowing I was on (new) tires. That's the type of driver I am; I go for it."

      Said Newgarden: "I didn't expect anyone to make a move there in Turn 4. There's so little room there."

      All escaped injury except Hinchcliffe, who suffered at least a sprained left thumb. He will need to be re-examined before the April 27 race at Barber Motorsports Park.

      The first standing start of the season did not produce much drama. Only Hinchcliffe suffered, dropping from second to fifth.

      Sebastien Bourdais jumped from third to second at the start. After getting service on Lap 25, he was trying to swipe the lead from Hunter-Reay when he drove into a tire barrier at Turn 8. Bourdais did it again later, ending his race.

      On a restart, Justin Wilson's car got turned around in the hairpin at Turn 11 by Graham Rahal. Rahal received a penalty for avoidable contact.

      Moments later, Power's bump on Simon Pagenaud in the left rear corner sent Pagenaud into the tire barrier. IndyCar's race control deemed that a racing incident and did not punish Power.

      Power tried to apologize.

      "My bad; I feel bad," he said. "I'm surprised I didn't get a penalty. He should be angry. Man, I'd be the same."

      Pagenaud didn't accept the apology, leaving open the possibility that this tension festers.

      "It's too late for (apologies)," he said.

      On the television broadcast, former driver Paul Tracy, who was known for his aggressiveness, quipped that Power's move "looks like something I would have done back in the day."

      Like Rahal, Bourdais had to drive slowly down pit road under green for his team, KV Racing Technology, repairing his car in a period of the caution when the pits were closed.

      Castroneves and rookie Carlos Huertas also were penalized for passing too early on restarts.

      Colombians Carlos Munoz, a rookie, and Juan Pablo Montoya, back in the series this season for the first time since 2000, finished third and fourth, respectively, Pagenaud rallied to finish fifth.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Conway captures Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Ed Carpenter's decision to put a road course standout in his Verizon IndyCar Series car this season paid off Sunday when Mike Conway won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

    • Carpenter, the owner-driver of Ed Carpenter Racing, is an oval-track specialist, and he stepped out of the Chevrolet-powered car in favor of Conway, who won his third career IndyCar race and his second at Long Beach.

      With a front wing broken on the first lap, Conway took the lead with two circuits left when Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon was forced to pit road for more fuel. Conway then held off Team Penske's Will Power for the win.

      Conway won this race for Andretti Autosport in 2011.

      Sunday's lead pack got shuffled on Lap 55 of 80 when pole winner Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport banged into Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden in a battle for the lead.

      Newgarden said he didn't expect Hunter-Reay to dart inside him in Turn 4, and the bump sent them sliding to the left side of the narrow track. Running fourth, Power swung to the right and motored on, but others weren't so fortunate.

      James Hinchcliffe followed Hunter-Reay, his teammate, into the mess. A couple of cars got through safely, but Helio Castroneves couldn't, running into the back of Hunter-Reay, and the entanglement of Newgarden and Hinchcliffe sat in the blind path of Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and rookie Jack Hawksworth.

      Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprain left thumb in the crash, took a swipe at Hunter-Reay.

      "Patience is a virtue and someone wasn't virtuous," he said. "It was a rookie move."

      Hunter-Reay tried to explain the move, saying both he and Newgarden could have done something different.

      IndyCar's first standing start of the season happened without much of a hitch, although Hinchcliffe's car bobbled just a bit at first, costing him four positions. Sebastien Bourdais, a three-time Long Beach winner, jumped up to the spot vacated by Hinchcliffe.

      Bourdais' spot near the front lasted only through the first pit stop. With Hunter-Reay getting service on Lap 26, Bourdais made a mistake trying to hustle the car back around the track, and he ran straight into the tires at Turn 8. That Hinchcliffe was on his tail likely contributed to carrying too much speed into the corner. Fourteen laps later he was back in a tire barrier.

      Those weren't the only contacts. On the restart that ensued, Justin Wilson was spun around in the hairpin, Turn 11, by Graham Rahal. Rahal received a penalty for avoidable contact.

      Moments later, Power's bump on Simon Pagenaud in the left rear corner sent Pagenaud into the tire barrier. IndyCar's race control deemed that a racing incident and did not punish Power.

      On the television broadcast, former driver Paul Tracy, who was known for his aggressiveness, quipped that Power's move "looks like something I would have done back in the day."

      Like Rahal, Bourdais had to drive slowly down pit road under green for his team, KV Racing Technology, repairing his car in a period of the caution when the pits were closed.

      Ganassi teammates Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball each retired from the race before the halfway point due to issues they said were related to the Chevrolet engine.

      Colombians Carlos Munoz, a rookie, and Juan Pablo Montoya, back in the series this season for the first time since 2000, finished third and fourth, respectively. Pagenaud rallied to finish fifth.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Harvick dominates Bojangles' Southern 500
    By The Sports Xchange

    DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Kevin Harvick dominated the Bojangles' Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night, leading 238 laps of a race that was extended to 511 miles by two green-white-checker attempts to claim the win.

    • While it was Harvick's first career win at Darlington, it was his second victory of the season, making him the first repeat winner after eight races.

      "It feels great," Harvick said. "It's allowed us, with the way the points system is, to go for wins and not have to worry about the bad weeks too much. Really proud for these guys and looking forward to the last 10."

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, Jimmie Johnson was third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five.

      "Just didn't have enough tires, you know," Earnhardt said. "Harvick had the best car and the best tires at the end. "It was real hard to hold him off. I should have probably ran the top there in (turns) three and four and made him go around the bottom, but I think he was going to get us anyway and we were going to try. A great run; good job by my team."

      Johnson started 26th and remained outside the top-20 through the first quarter of the race, but he was up to second after a cycle of green flag pit stops completed just past lap 320. Johnson ran second to Harvick and took only two tires to Harvick's four during a caution on lap 357 to restart with the lead. Harvick restarted fifth, the first driver with four fresh tires.

      "Things were really going our way there when we took two tires and got the restart under control and had a good lead there," Johnson said. "Then the caution came out and, at that point, I knew that us on two tires, we were probably in big trouble and the No. 4 (Harvick) had worked his way up through there and did a great job. It seemed like the fastest car all night long. We had to gamble to kind of take a shot at getting a win and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) played it right, and we were in the right position, but just got two cautions there at the end that kept us from getting to victory lane."

      On the restart, Harvick pushed Earnhardt by Johnson and moved into second. He then took the lead on the final restart of the race.

      "It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with the track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end," Harvick said. "The cautions all lined out and this Budweiser Chevrolet was unbelievable all night. We were able to hang on there at the end, and I knew I had the high line. I hadn't showed it to them all night on the restarts, and I wanted to save it until the very end. I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race. It was a good took in your tool bag to have there at the end."

      Harvick also lost the lead on pit strategy during a caution that came out just past lap 250 and again on lap 271, but each time he quickly got back to the front.

      Joey Logano took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps. Harvick took the lead for the first time on the restart that followed a lap 40 caution.

      By the time Kasey Kahne kicked off a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 175, Harvick had already led a total of 115 laps. Kahne was in the lead after the restart by virtue of having new tires for a few more laps. But Harvick retook the lead on a restart following a lap 201 caution.

      Harvick was the dominant driver in the first 250 laps of the 367-lap race. But at lap 250, Brian Vickers was the race leader, with Jeff Gordon in second.

      Despite the dominance, Harvick didn't lead early after starting the race from the pole. Instead, Joey Logano took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps.

      Gordon, who came into the race leading all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington (NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the record with 10), then raced from third to the lead in lapped traffic, just before the caution flag waved for the first time on lap 40.

      Harvick took the lead for the first time on the restart that followed. He lost the lead on pit road during the next caution just before lap 60, but was back upfront by lap 76, taking the lead from Matt Kenseth.

      Kenseth was one of four drivers who got track position during the caution by taking only two tires.

      By the time Kasey Kahne kicked off a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 175, Harvick had already led a total of 115 laps. Kahne was in the lead after the restart by virtue of having new tires for a few more laps.

      Kahne maintained his lead until the next caution flag on lap 201 and got off pit road to restart first. As soon as the race returned to green, though, Harvick reassumed his position up front. Through the remainder of the race, Harvick lost positions on pit road during cautions because of strategy, but he always got back to the front in a matter of a few laps.

      Kyle Busch finished in the sixth position, while Gordon finished seventh after running second to Harvick for much of the race. Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, taking the eighth spot. Tony Stewart was ninth and Newman rounded out the top-10.

      "There towards the end, we just kind of started fading," Gordon said. "I got into the wall a little bit and got the right side flattened up a little bit and then, from there, I just went downhill. We just made some mistakes and got behind and were the last car on two tires and then got eaten up on those restarts."

      NOTES: Prior to Saturday's race, Harvick had only led a total of 63 laps in his previous 17 starts at Darlington. ... Joey Logano has led laps in seven of the eight races thus far in 2014. ... Harvick was the race leader at mile 100, mile 200, mile 300, mile 400, but not at mile 500. ... There were 22 lead changes among 12 drivers. ... There were 11 cautions for 50 laps.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Kevin Harvick wins Sprint Cup race at Darlington in overtime
    By The Sports Xchange

    Distributed by The Sports Xchange

    • DARLINGTON, S.C.—The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been one of feast or famine for Kevin Harvick -- and on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, Harvick enjoyed the delectable taste of victory.

      Passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next-to-last lap of the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Harvick won Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and all but locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the first two-time winner in the series this year (he still needs to finish in the top 30 in points after race No. 26 and attempt to qualify for every race).

      In the second race of the season, Harvick dominated in winning at Phoenix, before a spate of mechanical issues waylaid him in four of five subsequent events.

      On Saturday at Darlington, he was the class of the field again, leading 238 of 374 laps in a race that went seven circuits past its scheduled distance. Nevertheless, it took a four-tire call in the pits and a late caution to give Harvick a final chance to beat Earnhardt, who had streaked to a 15-car-length lead on two fresh tires in the first attempt at a green-white-checker.

      But Kurt Busch’s wreck on the backstretch brought out the 11th caution on Lap 369 and snatched the victory from Earnhardt’s grasp. Restarting on the outside of the front row after powering past Jimmie Johnson on the first attempt at overtime, Harvick prevailed with a superior car on superior tires.

      The victory was Harvick’s first at Darlington and the 25th of his career. It was the series-best third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing.

      After the race, Harvick, the pole winner, revealed he had been keeping a tactic in reserve for just the sort of moment that arose Saturday night at the 1.366-mile speedway.

      “We were able to hang on there at the end, and I knew I had that high line I hadn’t showed it to them all night on the restarts, and I wanted to save it until the very end,” Harvick said. “I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race. It was a good tool in your tool bag to have there at the end.”

      In fact, Harvick passed Earnhardt to the outside through Turns 3 and 4 on the penultimate lap.

      Earnhardt finished second, .559 seconds back. Johnson ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, rookie Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman completed the top 10.

      “Everybody was telling me that I had a 15 car length lead, and I don't want to hear about that,” Earnhardt said. “I'm going to hear about it all day tomorrow; ‘Man; you almost won it.’ They said we had it won with a 15 car length lead coming into that last white flag when the caution come out on the back straightaway (for Kurt Busch’s wreck off the nose of Clint Bowyer’s Toyota).

      "But (Kevin) was pretty fast. I think he was going to run the (heck) out of it and try to get there. I was trying not to look in the mirror, just try to run as hard as I could. I didn't know how much speed the car had. We were on two tires ... But feels good to be close.”

      Nothing could thwart Harvick’s domination of the first two-thirds of the race. A dropped lug nut on a pit stop on Lap 222 relegated him to ninth for a restart on Lap 227. But by the time NASCAR threw the seventh caution on Lap 247, Harvick was running fourth.

      Four laps after a restart on Lap 252, Harvick was back in the lead, passing Brian Vickers for the top spot.

      After Paul Menard hit the outside wall for the second time on Lap 271, Harvick ran over a piece of Menard’s brake rotor—twice—but his No. 4 Chevrolet was unaffected. Biffle took the lead on pit road with a two-tire stop, but Harvick regained the point on the restart lap (279) and quickly pulled away to a two-second advantage over Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt in second and third.

      On longer runs, Gordon’s Chevy was the equal of Harvick’s, but Gordon had a miserable time on restarts and repeatedly dropped back so far on the initial green-flag laps that he couldn’t make up the ground during the course of a fuel run.

      But it was Johnson who chased Harvick lap after lap after a cycle of green-flag pit stops ended on Lap 323. Johnson got as close as .601 seconds back before Harvick began to pull away. But caution for fluid from Joey Logano’s Ford scrambled the field on divergent pit strategies and set up the wild finish.

      Harvick restarted fifth on Lap 363 as the first driver on four new tires and gained the third position before NASCAR called a debris caution on Lap 364 to necessitate the first attempt at overtime.

      NOTES: Gordon retained the series lead by one point over Kenseth, but neither has a victory this season. ... Rookie Kyle Larson scored his fourth top 10 in eight races this season. ... Harvick is the first polesitter to win at Darlington since Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat in 1997.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Bojangles' Southern 500

      Darlington Raceway

      Darlington, South Carolina

      Saturday, April 12, 2014

      1. (1) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 374, $328708.

      2. (15) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 374, $205690.

      3. (26) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 374, $215101.

      4. (25) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 374, $183401.

      5. (19) Greg Biffle, Ford, 374, $165040.

      6. (8) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 374, $157156.

      7. (9) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 374, $155576.

      8. (17) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 374, $133510.

      9. (23) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 374, $136873.

      10. (7) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 374, $109665.

      11. (20) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 374, $144441.

      12. (16) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 374, $134271.

      13. (21) Carl Edwards, Ford, 374, $113905.

      14. (4) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 374, $124125.

      15. (18) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 374, $116438.

      16. (6) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 374, $134694.

      17. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 374, $137288.

      18. (31) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 374, $118888.

      19. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 374, $101905.

      20. (28) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 374, $130280.

      21. (29) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 374, $89005.

      22. (33) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 374, $100055.

      23. (24) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 372, $113563.

      24. (3) Aric Almirola, Ford, 372, $127641.

      25. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 372, $87305.

      26. (14) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 371, $121480.

      27. (12) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 371, $116613.

      28. (27) David Gilliland, Ford, 370, $107663.

      29. (34) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 369, $97252.

      30. (38) Parker Kligerman #, Toyota, 369, $89005.

      31. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 368, $84305.

      32. (32) David Ragan, Ford, 367, $94605.

      33. (41) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 367, $83905.

      34. (43) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 366, $91705.

      35. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, Front Hub, 359, $123471.

      36. (37) David Stremme, Chevrolet, Brakes, 326, $83305.

      37. (22) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 323, $102480.

      38. (42) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 301, $78285.

      39. (40) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Overheating, 289, $74285.

      40. (39) Ryan Truex #, Toyota, 274, $70285.

      41. (11) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 270, $93499.

      42. (30) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, Accident, 101, $62285.

      43. (36) Dave Blaney, Ford, Brakes, 65, $58785.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 131.211 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 53 Mins, 37 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.558 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 11 for 50 laps.

      Lead Changes: 22 among 12 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Harvick 0; J. Logano 1-37; J. Gordon 38-42; D. Ragan 43; J. Gordon 44-45; K. Harvick 46-60; D. Hamlin 61-63; M. Kenseth 64-75; K. Harvick 76-179; B. Keselowski 180-183; K. Kahne 184-201; K. Harvick 202; K. Kahne 203-207; K. Harvick 208-223; B. Vickers 224-247; J. Gordon 248; B. Vickers 249-254; K. Harvick 255-273; G. Biffle 274-278; K. Harvick 279-359; J. Johnson 360-367; D. Earnhardt Jr. 368-372; K. Harvick 373-374.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 7 times for 238 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 37 laps; B. Vickers 2 times for 30 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 23 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 12 laps; J. Gordon 3 times for 8 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 8 laps; G. Biffle 1 time for 5 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 5 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 4 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 3 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon - 297; M. Kenseth - 296; C. Edwards - 278; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 271; J. Johnson - 270; Kyle Busch - 269; B. Keselowski - 246; J. Logano - 245; R. Newman - 236; A. Dillon # - 235; G. Biffle - 227; T. Stewart - 224; B. Vickers - 224; K. Larson # - 223; D. Hamlin - 223; C. Bowyer - 219.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Harvick takes Darlington, is first two-time winner of 2014
    By The Sports Xchange

    Distributed by The Sports Xchange

    • DARLINGTON, S.C.—The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been one of feast or famine for Kevin Harvick—and on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, Harvick enjoyed the delectable taste of victory.

      Passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next-to-last lap of the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Harvick won Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and all but locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the first two-time winner in the series this year (he still needs to finish in the top 30 and attempt to qualify for every race).

      The victory was Harvick’s first at Darlington and the 25th of his career. It was the third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing.

      Harvick led 238 of 374 laps in a race that went seven laps past its scheduled distance.

      Earnhardt finished second, .559 seconds back. Jimmie Johnson ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

      Nothing could thwart Harvick’s domination of the first two-thirds of the race. A dropped lug nut on a pit stop on Lap 222 relegated him to ninth for a restart on Lap 227. But by the time NASCAR threw the seventh caution on Lap 247, Harvick was running fourth.

      Four laps after a restart on Lap 252, Harvick was back in the lead, passing Brian Vickers for the top spot.

      After Paul Menard hit the outside wall for the second time on Lap 271, Harvick ran over a piece of Menard’s brake rotor—twice—but his No. 4 Chevrolet was unaffected. Biffle took the lead on pit road with a two-tire stop, but Harvick regained the point on the restart lap (279) and quickly pulled away to a two-second advantage over Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt in second and third.

      On longer runs, Gordon’s Chevy was the equal of Harvick’s, but Gordon had a miserable time on restarts and repeatedly dropped back so far on the initial green-flag laps that he couldn’t make up the ground during the course of a fuel run.

      But it was Johnson who chased Harvick lap after lap after a cyle of green-flag pit stops ended on Lap 323. Johnson got as close as .601 seconds back before Harvick began to pull away. But caution for fluid from Joey Logano’s Ford scrambled the field on divergent pit strategies and set up the wild finish.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Hunter-Reay races to Long Beach pole
    By The Sports Xchange

    Ryan Hunter-Reay won the pole on Saturday for the IndyCar Series' Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Calif.).

    • Hunter-Reay was timed in 1 minute, 7.8219 seconds on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course, edging Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe by .1184 of a second in the final qualifying session for Sunday's 40th running of the Long Beach race.

      The pole was the sixth of Hunter-Reay's IndyCar career.

      "It just comes down to this team giving me what I need when I need it," Hunter-Reay said. "What a qualifying session. You never knew who was going to put in the best lap; it was anybody's session.

      "It's a good start for us, but tomorrow is going to be challenging. We have the standing start and a long day on the beach. We've been on the outside pole so many times here and finally got the big one."

      Three-time Long Beach winner Sebastien Bourdais was on the provisional pole until the final minute of the session. He will start in row two with Josef Newgarden. Rookie Jack Hawksworth and Simon Pagenaud qualified in the third row.

      Will Power, who won the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is a two-time winner at Long Beach, will start 14th.

      In other news, Townsend Bell will drive in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25 for a team co-owned by Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven. Bell finished fourth at Indy in 2009.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Elliott, Larson provide electrifying look at NASCAR's future
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, S.C. -- We have seen the future, and it's painted with the numbers "9" and "42."

      Driving Chevrolets adorned with those car numbers, NASCAR neophytes Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson staged a remarkable battle in Friday night's VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway.

      Driving as hard as they could and significantly over the edge of control, Elliott, 18, and Larson, 21, waged an all-out battle for the second position after a restart on Lap 99.

      Both cars slid sideways, as the young drivers fought for control. Ultimately, Elliott won the race -- his second straight victory in the series -- and Larson, a first-time winner at Fontana, Calif., earlier this season, came home sixth.

      After the race, Elliott marveled that he was sitting at the dais in the media center, rather than watching his car hauled from the track on a wrecker.

      "There was definitely one (instance) that I can think of where I thought our night was 100 percent finished," Elliott acknowledged. "I thought both of us were getting ready to pile it up pretty big, along with probably some more cars behind us.

      "I have no idea how both of us held on to that, and he did a really good job holding on to it, and it kind of gave me something to lean up against while I was trying to save it. That was a crazy lap or so there. We raced really hard, he's fun to race with, and fortunately, we raced each other pretty clean."

      Clean, yes, but neither driver hesitated to make a move when he had a slight advantage, and both have exhibited phenomenal instincts at very early stages in their stock car careers. Elliott hopes the competition can continue for years.

      "I'd like to think so," said Elliott, who along with Larson has been a member of the sport's NASCAR Next program, designed to spotlight future stars. "Kyle's obviously a talented guy, and he's earned his place in the sport, for sure."

      EMBRACING THE PAST

      Chase Elliott's victory at Darlington couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.

      On Sunday at the 1.366-mile speedway, track president Chip Wile and NASCAR president Mike Helton unveiled the first glimpse of a campaign for the 2015 Bojangles' Southern 500 that honors the track's past.

      Elliott and father Bill Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, are the faces of a new platform for the 2015 race, which features throwback ticket designs and classic merchandise that recalls the history of the legendary track.

      "As the drivers, teams, fans and media leave here this weekend thinking about who visited Gatorade Victory Lane, focusing on the next race and looking towards the 2014 Championship, we're thinking about the future of Darlington Raceway, as we celebrate our past," Wile said.

      "Our history defines us. Without history we wouldn't know where we've come from or where we're going. NASCAR legends and loyal fans have all played a role in defining Darlington Raceway. Together, we're celebrating where we came from and where we're going."

      The dates of the 2015 Southern 500 have not been announced, but Wile said he is very satisfied with Darlington's current position on the schedule.

      SCARY FAST

      It wasn't until 1988 that qualifying speeds at Darlington topped 160 mph.

      Since then, speeds at the 1.366-mile track have advanced dramatically. Aric Almirola set a track record at 184.145 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying on Friday. Joey Logano wasn't far behind at 183.870 mph.

      "It feels freaking fast, I promise you that," Logano said after qualifying second for Sunday's Bojangles Southern 500. "I remember the first time I came here. I was shaking after qualifying. It is insane. I can't really put it in words.

      "I've never driven anything like an IndyCar or anything, but this is the place you go to with the most sensation of speed. Here and Dover you really feel like you are hauling the mail."

      The pressure of time trials at Darlington is greater, Logano said, because there's no room for even a slight mistake.

      "For one, you are going so fast into Turn 1, and you look at that corner, and you barely lift, and you just book right through it. It's just crazy. I'm having a hard time putting it into words. You go into (Turn) 3, and enter high and your car is loose, and if you go too hard, you'll chase the back end of the car into the fence.

      "Then you're right back to the gas and wide open right up against the wall. That sensation of going fast and also having no room for error out there on the race track is what makes it feel like you're just crazy out there."

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Darlington favors race veterans
    By The Sports Xchange

    DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Darlington Raceway has a lot of nicknames: "The Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame," just to name a couple.

    • Ask almost any driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit and they will say Darlington is a tough old track.

      Perhaps because of its toughness, Darlington is, typically, a track for veterans like 2003 Sprint (then-Winston) Cup champion Matt Kenseth and reigning six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth and Johnson are the two most recent winners at Darlington, with Kenseth winning last year's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington and Johnson winning in 2012.

      "It was definitely special," Kenseth said. "I think that's one of the biggest races of the year, in my opinion. It's certainly a historic race. The Southern 500 is one of the three or four races that you always hear about. It's certainly one you always want to win."

      Kenseth led the Sprint Cup Series in wins in 2013 with seven trips to victory lane before finishing second to Johnson in the season-ending championship points standings.

      Despite being the top-two drivers, overall, a year ago, neither Johnson nor Kenseth have won in 2014. Jeff Gordon is the career-wins leader at Darlington among active drivers with seven victories. Like Johnson and Kenseth, Gordon is also seeking that first win of the season.

      "I've been through various challenges in my Cup career and one marker I always look for is, clearly, fast cars and, ultimately, top-five finishes," Johnson said. "And I firmly believe that if you're running in the top five, you're going to have your shots at winning races. And even a step further, top threes. But our goal, since I've started, has been if we can run in the top five all day long, we'll have a shot to win the race. And it's led to a lot of victories for us."

      Wins impact Chase even more

      With wins the primary focus for earning a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason, NASCAR has made a big deal out of the first seven races leading up to Darlington, producing seven different winners.

      It is a record number of different winners to start a Sprint Cup season in the Chase era. With so many competitive veterans still winless heading into Darlington, there is a good chance that streak is going to expand to eight.

      Under NASCAR's new system, drivers with wins who are in the top 30 in points get first crack at Chase spots.

      Drivers winning the first few races, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, expressed relief soon after their wins, proclaiming that they are in the Chase. They probably did not count on so many different winners. There are 26 races that make up the regular season before the 16-driver Chase. At this rate, it looks like there is a chance that Chase slots may fill up before all the winners get in.

      "Right now, by definition, you have to have that second win to be definitely in the Chase," said Carl Edwards, already a winner this season. "So much can happen in this sport. I believe there will be more than 16 winners. I think we will have 18 or 19 guys win races. I say that because if you look at the list of guys that have not won yet, it is a stout list."

      Drivers may need to amend those proclamations of being in the Chase with that one win. A second win would guarantee a Chase berth, but a single win is not a given to qualify.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Chase Elliott wins Nationwide race at Darlington
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, S.C. -- There's a new sheriff in town, and he is barely legal.

      With a banzai run in a two-lap dash to the finish of Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway, 18-year-old Chase Elliott muscled his way past Elliott Sadler on the final lap to post his second straight win in his seventh start in the series.

      Elliott, who restarted sixth on Lap 146, charged to the front and claimed victory in the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 in his first event at the fabled 1.366-mile track. The victory was Elliott's second in as many weeks and the second of his fledgling career.

      Sadler, who gambled on two tires for the final restart with two laps left, held the second spot. Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by pole-sitter Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick.

      "I knew the guys on two tires (Sadler and Larson) were going to be a little slower than the guys on four," Elliott said of the final restart. "Our lane went and Elliott (Sadler) got a little loose off (Turn) 2 and let me get to the outside, and that was where I wanted to be anyway."

      Elliott won last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, but the victory at Darlington, where his father, Bill Elliott, won five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, had special significance.

      "Darlington has always been my favorite place to watch a race," said Elliott, the youngest driver ever to win at Nationwide Series race at Darlington at 18 years, four months, four days. "Just to be a part of this race is unbelievable.

      "To win this thing is a day I'll never forget."

      Elliott also is the youngest driver ever to win two NNS races, and he is the youngest driver to lead the series points standings, a feat he achieved for the first time last week at Texas.

      On Friday night, Elliott extended his points lead to 13 over Regan Smith, who recovered from a spin to finish eighth.

      Elliot asserted his superiority early in the race. After restarting fourth on Lap 24, he made short work of the cars in front on him. On Lap 27, he stormed past Harvick and Kenseth into the second spot and seven laps later sped by Busch, for the lead.

      Harvick followed into second place four laps later, and the top three -- Elliott, Harvick and Busch -- remained constant until NASCAR called a caution on Lap 59 for debris on the backstretch. During pit stops under the yellow, Harvick and Elliott swapped the top two positions, and Harvick led the field to green on Lap 65.

      By the time they got back to the stripe, Elliott had retaken the top spot, but the green-flag run did not last long. On Lap 68, a wild wreck involving the Chevrolet of Dylan Kwasniewski and the Ford of Chris Buescher slowed the field for the third time.

      Elliott controlled the action through two subsequent yellows but lost four positions during pit stops under caution on Lap 89 for Regan Smith's spin in Turn 1. Busch assumed the lead off pit road, with Kenseth, Harvick, Larson and Elliott trailing for a restart on Lap 94.

      NASCAR Nationwide Series Race

      VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200

      Darlington Raceway

      Darlington, South Carolina

      Friday, April 11, 2014

      1. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 147, $44575.

      2. (9) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 147, $33350.

      3. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 147, $19700.

      4. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 147, $25325.

      5. (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 147, $15775.

      6. (12) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 147, $17825.

      7. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 147, $13510.

      8. (8) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 147, $20370.

      9. (10) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 147, $19075.

      10. (5) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 147, $20100.

      11. (7) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 147, $18625.

      12. (16) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 147, $18550.

      13. (18) Ryan Reed, Ford, 147, $18500.

      14. (23) JJ Yeley, Dodge, 147, $18450.

      15. (19) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 147, $18800.

      16. (20) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 147, $18525.

      17. (27) Mike Wallace, Dodge, 147, $18425.

      18. (25) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 147, $18175.

      19. (31) Kevin Lepage, Chevrolet, 147, $18125.

      20. (26) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 147, $18750.

      21. (30) Eric McClure, Toyota, 147, $18000.

      22. (13) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, Accident, 146, $17945.

      23. (17) Dylan Kwasniewski, Chevrolet, 146, $17895.

      24. (36) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, 145, $17820.

      25. (22) James Buescher, Toyota, 144, $18250.

      26. (32) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 144, $17695.

      27. (28) Tanner Berryhill, Dodge, 144, $17645.

      28. (29) Todd Bodine, Chevrolet, 143, $17570.

      29. (35) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 141, $17535.

      30. (34) Tommy Joe Martins, Dodge, 141, $11795.

      31. (21) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 137, $17440.

      32. (11) Cale Conley, Chevrolet, 136, $17395.

      33. (39) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 136, $17370.

      34. (6) Chris Buescher, Ford, 119, $17350.

      35. (24) David Starr, Toyota, Accident, 67, $17299.

      36. (37) Matt Carter, Toyota, Rear Gear, 30, $10520.

      37. (14) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, Accident, 16, $16500.

      38. (33) Matt Dibenedetto, Chevrolet, Overheating, 7, $10426.

      39. (38) Jeff Green, Toyota, Brakes, 6, $10315.

      40. (40) Blake Koch, Toyota, Vibration, 2, $10290.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 113.751 mph.

      Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 45 Mins, 55 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.283 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 7 for 31 laps.

      Lead Changes: 13 among 6 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Busch 1-19; M. Wallace 20; K. Busch 21-23; K. Harvick 24; K. Busch 25-33; C. Elliott 34-60; K. Harvick 61-64; C. Elliott 65-88; K. Larson 89; K. Busch 90-142; E. Sadler 143-144; K. Larson 145; E. Sadler 146; C. Elliott 147;.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Busch 4 times for 84 laps; C. Elliott 3 times for 52 laps; K. Harvick 2 times for 5 laps; E. Sadler 2 times for 3 laps; K. Larson 2 times for 2 laps; M. Wallace 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 10 in Points: C. Elliott - 271; R. Smith - 258; E. Sadler - 251; T. Dillon - 248; T. Bayne - 241; B. Scott - 225; B. Gaughan - 215; D. Kwasniewski - 200; J. Buescher - 195; R. Reed - 172.

  • Friday, April 11, 2014
    Harvick claims Darlington pole; Almirola sets record
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, N.C. -- Aric Almirola has the record, but Kevin Harvick has the starting spot that counts most after Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying session at Darlington Raceway.

      With a lap at 183.479 mph in the five-minute third round of time trials, Harvick won the Coors Light pole for the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Saturday night at the egg-shaped 1.366-mile speedway.

      The pole was Harvick's first of the season, his first at Darlington and the seventh of his career.

      Joey Logano landed the second spot with a lap of 183.049 mph and will start from the front row for the third time in eight Sprint Cup races this season. Almirola qualified third at 182.946 mph after setting a track record in the second of the three rounds.

      Marcus Ambrose (182.485 mph) will start fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski (182.059 mph) and Jamie McMurray (182.019 mph). Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, series points leader Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr. will start from positions seven through 12 on the grid.

      Crew chief Rodney Childers, himself a former driver, advised Harvick to change his racing line after the first round of time trials.

      "I was on the bottom all day in practice and Rodney felt like that, in order to get the pole, we were going to need to run the top after we ran our first run," Harvick said. "That's the driver in him. That's why he's good to have sitting there watching, because he knows what's going on.

      "He can relay -- -and also having (spotter) Tim Fedewa up on top -- -as former drivers, knowing what's going on, they can relay what you need to do. We moved up and picked up in the second (round). I felt like I didn't roll through there fast enough. In the last one, I felt like I rolled through there pretty good."

      In the first round, which pared the number of drivers eligible for the pole from 44 to 24, Menard posted a best lap at 183.946 mph, breaking Kurt Busch's previous track record of 181.918 mph, set May 10, 2013.

      In round No. 2, Almirola one-upped Menard with a record lap at 184.145 mph on scuffed tires, despite having an electrical short in his No. 43 Ford that forced his team to push-start the car before it rolled onto the track.

      "After that first session, when I tried to fire the car up, when I would go to turn the starter on and it would try to engage with the flywheel, the electrical system in the whole car would shut itself down," Almirola said.

      "We obviously had a short in our starter or something, and every time we would flick the starter switch on, it would shut the electrical system down, so we had to push-start it the last two sessions. It made it interesting trying to blend on the racetrack."

      In the second session, though, Almirola blended well enough to set the record.

      NOTES: Logano is the only driver to make the final round of all seven knockout qualifying sessions held so far this season. ... David Reutimann failed to make the 43-car field. ... Coming off a 43rd-place finish last Sunday at Texas -- the result of an early accident -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 15th. ... Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will take the green flag in 26th place after failing to advance to the second round of knockout qualifying.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Bojangles' Southern 500

      Darlington Raceway

      Darlington, South Carolina

      Friday, April 11, 2014

      1. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 183.479 mph.

      2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 183.049 mph.

      3. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 182.946 mph.

      4. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 182.485 mph.

      5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 182.059 mph.

      6. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 182.019 mph.

      7. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 181.985 mph.

      8. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 181.763 mph.

      9. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 181.756 mph.

      10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 181.548 mph.

      11. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 181.481 mph.

      12. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 181.200 mph.

      13. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 182.181 mph.

      14. (55) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 181.985 mph.

      15. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 181.689 mph.

      16. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 181.247 mph.

      17. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 181.194 mph.

      18. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 181.127 mph.

      19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 180.947 mph.

      20. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 180.914 mph.

      21. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 180.901 mph.

      22. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 180.787 mph.

      23. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 180.185 mph.

      24. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 178.958 mph.

      25. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 182.059 mph.

      26. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 181.911 mph.

      27. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 181.548 mph.

      28. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 181.394 mph.

      29. (98) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 180.549 mph.

      30. (7) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 180.330 mph.

      31. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 180.310 mph.

      32. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 180.204 mph.

      33. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 180.158 mph.

      34. (23) Alex Bowman, Toyota, 179.993 mph.

      35. (40) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 179.717 mph.

      36. (77) Dave Blaney, Ford, 179.606 mph.

      37. (33) David Stremme, Chevrolet, Owner Points

      38. (30) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, Owner Points

      39. (83) Ryan Truex, Toyota, Owner Points

      40. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Owner Points

      41. (32) Travis Kvapil, Ford, Owner Points

      42. (26) Cole Whitt, Toyota, Owner Points

      43. (66) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Owner Points

      1 driver failed to qualify.

      44. (35) David Reutimann, Ford, 178.491 mph.

  • Friday, April 11, 2014
    Notebook: Rookies Dillon, Larson hit wall at Darlington
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Rookies and veterans alike expect to get a "Darlington stripe" whenever they compete at Darlington Raceway, but the two leading contenders for Sunoco Rookie of the Year this season got more than they bargained for during opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at the Lady in Black.

      In two very similar incidents, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon did more than just brush the wall off Turn 2 -- they clobbered it.

      There was only one significant difference between the collisions. Dillon's team was able to repair his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Larson had to go to a backup car.

      "Kyle came over and asked, 'Where did you hit?'" Dillon said. "I said 'Off Turn 2.' He said, 'Me too.' I said, 'Did you try to come off the wall and make it turn?' He said the exact same thing. So we're just learning, I guess.

      "You get really tight. I felt good into (Turn) 1, and then through the middle. ... I get tight late around the corner -- it just carries speed. Just hit the wall, but I learned a lot right there. Hopefully, it doesn't happen again."

      Larson's version of the conversation was essentially the same, as both rookies tried to learn from the experience.

      "We were talking, and it sounded like the exact same thing that we were describing," Larson said as his Ganassi Racing team readied the backup No. 42 Chevy. "Difference is I have to get a backup out. Our backup, they said, is just as good as our primary, so we had a really good run before I hit the wall.

      "Just learning, I'm mostly in the wall in (Turns) 3 and 4 and never hit off (Turn) 2. I killed the wall in (Turn) 2. We'll get back out here soon and I'm sure be fine."

      Larson was 16th fastest in the backup car in the second practice session. Dillon was even better—seventh on the speed chart. And Larson and Dillon were sixth and eighth quickest, respectively, in consecutive 10-lap average speed.

      MONSTER SPEEDS AT MICHIGAN

      During a two-day Goodyear tire test this week at Michigan International Speedway, Greg Biffle reported straightaway speeds of as much as 220 mph.

      That's about 7 mph faster than NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers ran during practice last year, but, surprisingly, Biffle said the increased pace didn't affect the way he had to run the corners.

      "It really didn't, believe it or not," Biffle told the NASCAR Wire Service before Friday's opening Sprint Cup practice at Darlington Raceway. "It makes it a little more like a qualifying lap more than anything. The corner was about the same. Let's keep in mind that it was 40-something degrees with a track temp of 66.

      "So it was cold temperatures with high grip and they were testing tires that had more grip. They put a tire on the car that we're not going to race that went that fast. So on the standard tire, I think the (speed) was down maybe three or four mph from that."

      Biffle expects Goodyear to bring more durable left-side tires to the recently repaved two-mile track.

      "I'm not so worried about those end-of-the-straightaway speeds," Biffle said. "We slow down a bit in the corners -- that's the thing. When they get sustained that high, it makes it harder to pass and harder to race. Goodyear is trying to come up with a little more reliable tire, and I think they've done that.

      "I'm thinking they are going with the dual zone tread possibly, or at least that is what they were leaning toward (for the right-side tires). We'll see what they come up with after all the data. I think that's a better tire, because it puts a little margin in the right front. They don't want to blow a right front at that track."

      HAAS EARNS FIA APPROVAL

      Now the real work begins for team owner Gene Haas, who received word he has been granted a license to race in Formula 1 by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of F1 racing.

      "Obviously, we're extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA," Haas said in a statement released Friday. "It's an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One.

      "Now, the really hard work begins. It's a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid. I want to thank the FIA for this opportunity and the diligence everyone put forth to see our license application come to fruition."

      The FIA hasn't licensed new teams for F1 competition since 2010. Haas' F1 effort is independent of Stewart-Haas Racing, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart has no involvement in the F1 project.

      GOING GREEN AT DARLINGTON

      On Friday morning at Darlington Raceway, David Ragan surprised fans in the infield while pursuing the efforts of his sponsor, CSX, to support green initiatives.

      Ragan toured the infield distributing recycle bags, chatting with fans and encouraging them to plant trees.

      "CSX already had an environmental program in place where they pledged to plant one tree for every mile of railroad track they had, and they actually surpassed their goal, which is impressive," said Ragan, who is driving the CSX "Play it Safe" Ford for Front Row Motorsports this weekend.

      "Now we're encouraging fans to follow their lead and plant some trees, too, by donating dollars to plant trees at NASCAR.com/Green.

      CSX's "Trees for Tracks" program set a goal of 21,000 trees (corresponding to the number of miles of track) and exceeded that by 2,000 by the end of 2013.

  • Thursday, April 10, 2014
    Kenseth's strong start missing the one thing he needs
    By The Sports Xchange

    NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sprots Xchange

      Darlington Raceway has never been a forgiving race track, sending drivers into walls and challenging competitors with its tight turns and narrow straightaways.

      Then why is it that several former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions are hoping a race at Darlington in Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX) will be the tonic they need?

      Answer: It's another chance for a win, and in this new era of NASCAR competition, that means everything. Under the new guidelines to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a win during the first 26 races would likely secure a driver his or her place in the postseason. Winning is everything -- or at least it's the most important thing when trying to make the Chase.

      Through the first seven races, seven different winners have celebrated in Victory Lane, however, none of them are named Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth. For comparison purposes, after the first eight races of the 2013 season, Johnson and Kenseth had each notched two victories. The two finished 1-2 in the standings last season.

      Kenseth finished the season with a season-high and career-best seven wins with Johnson collecting six.

      Although Kenseth, who wheels the No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, has yet to make a mark in the "Win" column this season, he is run well enough to rank second in points, four points behind Jeff Gordon. Coincidentally, Gordon is another former champion still hunting down that first win.

      After starting the season off with a solid sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500, Kenseth placed in the top 10 in four other races. His lowest finish is a respectable 13th-place showing in Bristol, where he led 165 of the 500 laps. Obviously, his stat line proves he has run well and is certainly deserving of his second-place ranking. However, he is still missing the one thing that counts more than anything else this year -- a win.

      Will Kenseth finally get his chance to wave a checkered flag in 2014 at Darlington?

      Possibly. He is the reigning race winner. In 2013, Kenseth passed JGR teammate Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go and cruised to victory, beating his other JGR teammate Denny Hamlin to the finish line by 3.155 seconds. Kenseth led two other times for a race total of 17 laps led. His average speed of 141.383 mph is a track race record.

      "Winning the Southern 500 last year was definitely special because that's one of the biggest races of the year in my opinion," Kenseth said. "It's such a historic and prestigious race because the Southern 500 is one of the three or four races that you always hear people talking about.

      "It's certainly one you always want to win, and to say that we were able to get to Victory Lane last year was really a highlight for me."

      Prior to last year's victory, however, the Wisconsin native had mixed results at the challenging 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. In his first 19 races there, he collected eight top-10 finishes and one pole, but he also had seven finishes lower than 20th.

      Kenseth's average finish in 20 races at Darlington is a respectable, but not stellar 16.6. His driver rating is a decent 90.9.

      In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Kenseth has three victories at the South Carolina track, winning most recently in 2009. He will be pulling double-duty this weekend, driving for JGR in both series.

      CAN SADLER DELIVER AT DARLINGTON?

      As the only full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series driver in Joe Gibbs Racing's stable, Elliott Sadler has high expectations for Friday night's VFW Sports Clips Help A Hero 200 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN2) at Darlington Raceway.

      Sadler has performed well through the first six races of 2014, compiling four top 10s and one pole. His best outings are a pair of fifth-places finishes (Daytona, Auto Club).

      Although he has never won at the 1.366-mile track, his best result came last season when he finished runner-up to JGR teammate Kyle Busch, who started on the pole. Starting position is of the utmost importance at a track like Darlington Raceway where the narrow straightaways and tight turns place a premium on passing.

      "If there's anywhere qualifying will be important it's definitely here this weekend," said Sadler, who sits fourth in the standings, 16 points behind leader Chase Elliott. "It's a short race. There's no time for mistakes."

      Thirteen Nationwide races at the track have been won from the pole, more than any other spot on the starting grid. Five of the last eight races have been won from the pole, all by Sadler's JGR teammates. In all, seven of the last eight races have been won by JGR drivers: Denny Hamlin (three), Kyle Busch (two), Tony Stewart (one) and Joey Logano (one).

      Current JGR driver Matt Kenseth won the eighth race while driving for Roush Fenway Racing. He also won the race immediately prior to the seven-of-eight stretch.

      Kenseth and Busch will join Sadler in JGR's three entries Friday night at Darlington, where Sadler hopes to continue the trend and become the next JGR driver to visit Victory Lane.

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, April 9
    By The Sports Xchange

    Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon climbed three spots, from fourth to first place after Monday's rain-delayed race at Texas. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by four points and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 12 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 33 career starts, 7 wins, 19 top-5s, 22 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1995, spring 1996, summer 1996, summer 1997, summer 1998, summer 2002, spring 2007. Finished third in this race last year and was 35th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is still in search of his first win of 2014. He came close at Texas, but even without the win, still managed to jump to the top of the Sprint Cup points standings. Here's his thoughts on Darlington, one of his best tracks: "The first time I drove there, it reminded me of a couple of sprint car tracks - tracks like Winchester (Ind.) Speedway - that are super-fast but you have to respect it or it could ruin your day. Darlington is just a cool, fast place - you get that sensation of speed there because you run right up next to the wall. And the track drives you. At other places, we are typically trying to put the car in specific spots on the track. At Darlington, the track naturally feeds you to a certain area which is right up next to the wall. Success always starts with the race team and the race car, and I've had good ones here. Another key to success at Darlington is being able to push the limits of the car and the track, and keeping it on that edge without going over. At Darlington, it's very easy to go over the edge."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon had the car to win, led 40 laps, but on the final restart lost the lead and came up just a bit short to Joey Logano this past Monday at Texas.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 93.9 percent (10,350) of the 11,023 total laps contested in 33 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is an outstanding 6.8 and his average finish is an excellent 11.5. He has six DNF's there.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: For the second consecutive week, Matt Kenseth remained in second place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by four points and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by eight points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 20 career starts, 1 wins, 2 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was sixth in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is still seeking his first win of 2014, and being defending winner at Darlington gives him a leg up for this Saturday's race there.

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth didn't lead any laps and finished seventh at Texas. "We just didn't qualify well and then we just really struggled," Kenseth said. "So, were just really far off. We were really loose. We got a little bit better, but really nothing we could compete with."

      ETC.: Kenseth has completed 96.7 percent (6,616) of the 6,841 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 20.8 and his average finish is 16.6. He has one DNF there.

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third-place in the Sprint Cup standings after Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 12 points, is eight points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Joey Logano by 12 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2008 and 2011. Finished seventh in this race last year and was seventh in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is looking for his first career win at Darlington and his second win of the season this Saturday.

      LOOKING BACK: After finishing 13th at Martinsville the week before, Edwards finished 14th at Texas.

      ETC.: Edwards has completed 96.2 percent (3,538) of the 3,677 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 15.9 and his average finish is an excellent 12.5. He has one DNF there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After winning Monday at Texas, Joey Logano climbed four places in the standings, from eighth to fourth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 24 points, is 12 points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by four points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Ninth in 2009. Finished 22nd in this race last year and was 10th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Logano became the seventh different winner in as many races with his win Monday at Texas. Here's his thoughts on Darlington: "It is definitely one of those places where you find yourself out of breath when you take the checkered flag. I remember the first time I did a qualifying lap at Darlington as a rookie and I got out of the car and was just shaking. I think my first words were 'whoa' when it was all finished. And we qualified fifth that year. You are right on the edge, trying to go as fast as possible, just inches from the wall. It makes you a little jittery. I heard it was even crazier before they repaved it as well, although since they repaved it, the speeds are up. But it feels really good when you finish and you see that you have posted a really good lap time. But it takes all of your focus for that lap that's for sure."

      LOOKING BACK: Logano led 108 of 340 laps at Texas. He had an outstanding jump on the final restart and overtook Jeff Gordon on the final lap to earn the victory.

      ETC.: Logano has completed 96.8 percent (1,781) of the 1,839 total laps contested in five career starts at Darlington. His average start is 17.2 and average finish is 20.6. He has zero DNFs there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch continued to move up in the standings, gaining one spot from sixth to fifth following Monday's race at Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 28 points, is four points behind fourth-ranked Joey Logano and leads the sixth-place tie of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. by three points each.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 9 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished sixth in this race last year and was fourth in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: As an avid student of NASCAR's past history, Kyle Busch loves returning to Darlington Raceway, the second-oldest track on the NASCAR circuit. He not only loves racing there, but has been very successful. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Going back to Darlington, it's a place that's really tough, really challenging. ... I'm looking forward to going back there and seeing what Darlington has got in store for us again. I'm hearing that the track color has changed a little bit more with another year for the surface to mature, so maybe the grip level is not going to be old Darlington, but something similar."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch led 10 laps at Texas. Had he not washed up the racetrack on the final lap, he may have had a shot at the win, but wound up with a still respectable third-place finish.

      ETC.: Busch has completed 97.2 percent (3,216) of the 3,310 total laps contested in nine career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 16.9 and average finish is 14.4. He has zero DNFs there.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson fell one spot in the Sprint Cup standings, into a tie for sixth-place with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., after his disappointing 25th-place finish at Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 31 points, is three points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and is 10 points ahead of eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 15 career starts, 3 wins, 8 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring and fall 2004 and 2012. Finished fourth in this race last year and won the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is still looking for his first win of the 2014 season. Darlington, and upcoming races at Richmond and Charlotte seem to be the best locales for Johnson to break through. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race at Darlington: "Darlington has been a great track for us over the years. The most memorable was winning the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports a few years ago. From a track standpoint, Darlington has character so track position and strategy will be pretty important. There is a ton of history and a great race for the fans to watch. It's a high speed track - it's one of my favorites. Texas was disappointing for us - we had such a fast car and had some bad luck so I'm looking forward to this weekend and getting back after it."

      LOOKING BACK: He came into Texas as one of the favorites, but being caught up in debris from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s early wreck essentially ended Johnson's day. Still, his crew worked hard to repair the damage and he finished a respectable 25th, considering all the things he went through.

      ETC.: Johnson has completed 96.4 percent (5,100) of the 5,290 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 11.8 and his average finish is an outstanding 8.8. He has one DNF there.

      88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell five spots, the biggest drop he's had this season, from first into a tie for sixth with teammate Jimmie Johnson after Texas. He trails new points leader Jeff Gordon by 31 points, is three points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 10 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 19 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in spring 2002 and 2008. Finished ninth in this race last year and was 17th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has never won at Darlington, but more importantly, he has to find a way to bounce back from the terrible last-place finish he had at Texas.

      LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt suffered a season-worst 43rd-place finish Monday at Texas. He inadvertently hit a soggy patch of grass on the infield heading into Turn 1, lost control, crashed into the outside retaining wall, his car caught on fire, and that abruptly ended his day. "Just didn't see the grass," Earnhardt said. "Didn't know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can't really see that good to that angle. I just didn't have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. You can't run through there they way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. I just didn't know I was that close to the grass, and made a mistake."

      ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.4 percent (6,467) of the 6,571 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 17.2 and average finish is 14.9. He has one DNF there.

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski's freefall down the Sprint Cup standings continued after Texas. Heading into Darlington in eighth-place, Keselowski has now lost seven places in the standings in the last three weeks. He trails new points leader Jeff Gordon by 41 points, is 10 points behind the sixth-ranked tie of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads ninth-ranked Brian Vickers by 13 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: third in 2011. Finished 32nd in this race last year and was 15th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski has to find a way to snap the freefall he's been in since winning five races ago at Las Vegas. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "The history of the place is the first thing that comes to mind. I have a lot of respect for places that have tradition and history. Tracks like Darlington are the very foundation of our sport. The next thing that I think of is the track itself. The line that we take around that place - the way we run so close to the wall is unique. The track also has a truly distinct shape that lends itself to great racing. The facility has an air of antiquity - I enjoy racing at Darlington and I certainly want to win there."

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led 85 laps, most early on, at Texas. But the handling on his car began to fad about midway through the race and he wound up with a final finish of 15th.

      ETC.: Keselowski has completed an impressive 99.5 percent (1,830) of the 1,839 total laps contested in five career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 18.2 and average finish is 13.8. He has zero DNFs there.

      55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Brian Vickers climbed three spots in the standings and into the top-10, following Texas. He's now ninth in the rankings, 54 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, 13 points behind eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski and two points ahead of 10th-ranked Paul Menard.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 10th in 2010. Has not competed in the Sprint Cup Series at Darlington since 2011, when he finished 34th. He was a career-best 10th in the 2010 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Saturday marks Vickers' first Sprint Cup start at Darlington in three seasons (although he did compete in last season's Nationwide Series race there, finishing a strong third). Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Having a win (2003, Nationwide) at Darlington is beautiful. It was an amazing win. It was one of my favorite wins. Darlington has always been a special place to me. Being close to where I grew up (Thomasville, N.C.) made it special. It's just an amazing track and it should be a great race Saturday night."

      LOOKING BACK: Vickers had his best finish of the 2014 season, rallying late to finish fourth at Texas on Monday. While he completed all 340 laps, he never had the opportunity to lead any laps in the event. Still, an overall very strong run for him.

      ETC.: Vickers has completed a terrible 80.1 percent (1,006) of the 1,256 total laps contested in nine career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 14.9, and average finish is 17.7. He has three DNFs there.

      27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Paul Menard returns to the top-10, climbing one spot from 11th to 10th after Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 56 points, is two points behind ninth-ranked Brian Vickers and leads the 11th-place tie of fellow Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon by just one point.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 13th in 2012. Finished 19th in this race last year and a career-best 13th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Darlington is one of Menard's worst tracks. He's continued to struggle in his first seven starts there. Will that be able to change in Saturday's eighth appearance for him there? Here's his thoughts: "Darlington Raceway is a very unique track with the way it's laid out. We race right up against the wall in the turns, which is even more challenging with how the cars transition out of Turn 2 for the backstretch. ... We get to race under the lights on a Saturday night and drivers and fans seem to enjoy these types of race. Being one of the original tracks on the NASCAR circuit means there is some great history to the Lady in Black. We just hope we get to add our name to the history books this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Menard had a strong top-10 run at Texas, ultimately finishing ninth, the highest finish of the three Richard Childress Racing cars there.

      ETC.: Menard has completed 98.2 percent (2,527) of the 2,573 total laps contested in seven career starts at Darlington. His average start is 24.4 and average finish is 23.7. He has zero DNFs there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only one point out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week to fall out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 10 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 15 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman calls Darlington "my favorite Sprint Cup Series track. It's so challenging. You have to race the track in order to get to the end. It's a challenge to pass there. You drive it like no other track on the circuit. I don't know what it's going to be like with the new rules package or the tire combination they've come up. Regardless, it's such a fun race track to drive because you have to hustle the car around."

      LOOKING BACK: An unscheduled pit stop when a competitor's windshield tear off stuck the splitter on the front end of Newman's Chevrolet ended any hopes Newman had of a top-10 finish. "The Caterpillar team once again gave me a fast Chevrolet to race today," said Newman. "It's a shame we lost a lap early because of an unscheduled pit stop. We were fast and that's all I can ask for. Sooner or later, our luck will turn around to show just how good this 31 Caterpillar team is."

      ETC.: Newman feels "the history of the track (Darlington) is what makes it so amazing. The race track was designed to race on the apron and not on the banking. It's amazing how much it hasn't changed, but yet, it still produces great races. It took me awhile (to get his first Darlington stripe). It actually took me a long time to get mine which was good. I was probably more paranoid than anything. I just didn't want to get one. It's not cool to get one."

      3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only one point out of the top 10. Lost three spots to fall out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon said, "I'm looking forward to competing there (Darlington) in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. I've never been there in a Cup car, so it will really be a learning experience. Bristol treated us well (as he finished 11th in his first start there) and hopefully Darlington will also."

      LOOKING BACK: Dillon finished 21st at Texas. "I just needed to be tighter to start and we could have gotten the Dow Powerhouse Chevrolet where we needed to be at the end of the race," said Dillon. "I had a blast out there, though. I really learned a lot out there today. It will be fun to come back here in the fall with Gil Martin (crew chief) and all the guys on my RCR team." Dillon is a rookie on the Sprint Cup Series.

      ETC.: Martin admits "we've run conservatively so far and I've called races conservatively because we're building this deal to gain momentum down the road. We'll gamble more when we got to summer, but we're into building a solid base."

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, only six points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Will be seeking his fifth straight top-six finish. In the last four races has finished first, sixth, second and second respectively. Has finished in the top 10 in seven of his eight starts. Worse finish is 13th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin can't wait to get to Darlington. "We have really run well there the last four times we've been there," said Hamlin. "We probably should have more than one win. We've had some really good cars there and we expect to have another one this weekend. Like everyone else without a win this year, we want that first win to get us in the Chase. And Darlington is certainly a place we can get it."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin was the leader as he pitted on lap 141. But he was caught speeding as he exited pit road to drop out of contention for the top spot. Hamlin was never able to completely recover as he ended up 13th. "Obviously, we had a great car at the beginning of the race," said Hamlin. "Once I got back in traffic, the car didn't drive as good. Couldn't make up any track position and the car took a long time to come in. Our car was way better than 13th. It (the penalty) was clearly a mistake I made." Hamlin also overshot his pits on his final stop of the race. "It's the same old story, where the driver overshoots his pit trying to get everything he can," added Hamlin.

      ETC.: Hamlin admits that being a father has changed him. "In a lot of ways," said Hamlin. "I feel like I'm a better person. I definitely enjoy the time at home a whole lot more. Every day she's smarter and half says one more word and every time she sees even a picture of me now anywhere she's saying, 'Dada.' So, that for me is fun and I just find joy now in different things other than - now it's all about her. It really is."

      14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 14 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 11 top-10 finishes in 21 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart is still looking for his first win at Darlington. "I think people underestimate how much we know about Darlington and the history of that track and how hard it is to win races there," said Stewart. "I guess that's why a Sprint Cup win at Darlington is something that's really important to me."

      LOOKING BACK: After winning the 15th pole position of his career, Stewart led 74 of the first 76 laps as he became the all-time Sprint Cup lap leader at Texas with 801 laps. But shortly afterwards, Stewart began to drop back as he became "way too tight. The track changed a lot and the setup we had didn't really change with it," said Stewart. "Chad (Johnson, crew chief) did a really good job of keeping us competitive, but it was a big swing from start of the race to the end of the race with the way the track changed." Stewart finished the day in 10th place.

      ETC.: Stewart feels the new rules package for 2014 has actually been a big benefit to his organization that features two new teams this year. "You never know who is going to hit on things first and who is going to get out of the gate strong," said Stewart when asked if he was surprised that both of his new drivers - Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch - won a race this early in the season "I guess that is one thing that is probably an equalizer more than anything is the ability to come out with a new package and have the same opportunity that everybody else, even though we have new people in place this year. If you are going to learn a new set-up package you might as well learn new people at the same time so it probably worked hand-in-hand."

      42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Larson is "looking forward to going to Darlington because the groove is right on the wall so it kind of suits my driving style. I like going to the top, and it seems like the closer you get to the wall there the faster you go. The track is also pretty rough so the times slow down a lot. After a few laps when times slow down it's a little bit easier to pass because you can move around more and it just seems like there are more lanes to these worn out tracks. I did well there last year in the Nationwide car (finished sixth), so it should be good going back to race the Target Chevy."

      LOOKING BACK: Larson was part of a four-car race for the third spot on the last lap of the race as he ended up fifth for his third top-10 finish in the last four races. "We had a really good Target Chevy today," said Larson. "We were average on short runs but I thought we were the best car on a long run. Shine (crew chief Chris Heroy) and everybody did a great job working on it after practice on Friday. We were terrible, so they worked their butts off all weekend and gave us a good finish."

      ETC.: Larson believes his first Sprint Cup victory isn't that far away. "I feel like we've been a top-10 car most races," said the rookie driver. "I think if we just keep ourselves in contention, things will work out late in the race or we might have a dominating car one day and get our first win. I feel like right now it could come at a mile-and-a-half or a little bit bigger track. They just suit my driving style better. It reminds me of dirt track racing where you can search around for different lines. I didn't see anybody else as high as I was, at least on the exit of the corners (at Texas). Just always searching for grip and it seems like it pays off."

      16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Two wins and five top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "I love the Darlington race track, it's been good to us over the years and I've got a couple of wins there. I'm proud of have American Red Cross on the car this weekend and hope to get them a good finish, hopefully even a win. I know how important donating blood is and I hope we are bringing awareness to that campaign."

      LOOKING BACK: Biffle ran up front all afternoon as he finished sixth at Texas. "We had a shot at a top five," said Biffle. "Things got a little wild on that last lap and we came up just a little short (in the race for a top-five finish). This is a step in the right direction for the 16. But we're just not where the other guys are yet, so we've just got to keep getting better. We just have to keep getting our cars better."

      ETC.: Crew chief Matt Pucci is quick to point out "Darlington has two distinct opposite different configurations of corners. It's a balancing act between each end trying to get the car to do one thing at one end and not be the total opposite at the other end. A balancing act you have to work on pretty hard. You've got to keep up with the race track all night long as the track changes over the course of the night to be there at the end."

      15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 16 points out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in nine starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he has had more finishes of 31st or worse (three) than he has had top-10s (one) at Darlington, Bowyer enjoys going to the South Carolina facility. "It has so much history, and it is such a neat place to race at," said Bowyer. "We've actually ran well there the last two times (finishing 11th both times). We just need to put a whole race together and we will get the results we deserve for the way we are running. Hopefully that will happen this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Bowyer was running fifth when he was forced to make a second pit stop during a yellow flag for a missing lug nut. The extra stop dropped him to 15th in the running order. Bowyer rallied to finish eighth, but he felt he could have challenged for the win without the problems on pit road. "We had another shot at it (the victory) today," said a frustrated Bowyer. "Our Willie's Duck Dinner Toyota was really good. We just had a problem on a stop there at the end. The car was great today. We're going to get ourselves a win here soon if we keep running like this."

      ETC.: Crew chief Brian Pattie, like Bowyer, is frustrated with the team's problems on pit road. "You can't come in first and come out tenth (like the team did at Martinsville)," said Pattie. "Our problem is lack of execution and lack of focus. If we can't fix that we won't win races and we won't make the Chase. We have to be a better team at the end of the race."

      9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 17 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: One top-10 finish in five starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose struggled big time last year at Darlington as he finished 34th. "We probably left Darlington last year as disappointed as we could be," said Ambrose. "We just didn't know what was wrong with the car and had a terrible night. When you have races like that, you just want to go back and get better. Now is our time, and our race team is better than ever. This weekend is a little about avenging last year's race."

      LOOKING BACK: Ambrose battled a loose race car all day as he finished 20th at Texas. "I thank Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and the rest of the guys who worked during the race to get the car better and put us in the best position as possible," said Ambrose. "It's difficult when the track is changing like it did today, the car wasn't reacting to the changes the way we wanted, but we got the best out of it. We'll take what we learned and continue to work hard to get better."

      ETC.: Ambrose knows all about the long history of Darlington. "The legends of NASCAR defined this track, this race and it's a 'Crown Jewel' event," said Ambrose. "Darlington is so different. It's egg-shaped and you're just working on the car the whole race. It's 500 miles and that's a long night at Darlington. With our improvement, I believe we can avenge last year and compete for a win."

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 25 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Two top-eight finishes in the last three races. Hasn't qualified worse than fourth in the last three races.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said, "We were really good in the Darlington race last year. We ran inside the top four through the majority of the night. We were by far the best car at the end of the race, but just didn't get the win because of circumstances when I was hit by another car as I was making my move for first. I'm looking forward to going back there this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: After starting 32nd, Kahne quickly raced his way into the top 10 despite repeated problems on pit road. And he stayed there for most of the race despite battling a "tight" race car. Kahne ended the day in 11th place. "We had a pretty good car all day," said Kahne. "Starting that far back hurt us and we had some problems on pit road because of our pit stall, but all in all it was a pretty good day. Things got a little wild on that green-white-checker (finish) or we would have another top 10."

      ETC.: Although the season hasn't started as well as Kahne had hoped, he believes that first win is very near because of the tracks "coming up. I'm really looking forward to going back there (Darlington) this weekend. It's a track I've always wanted to win at, and I definitely think we're capable of doing so this weekend."

      47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

      Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 30 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Best finish in six starts is 17th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger feels when you race at Darlington "you know you're going to earn your money. I feel like it is one of those places if you get around it well, you have accomplished something. At the same point if you struggle there, there is nowhere to hide. It is one of the races I actually missed last year. Even though I haven't really been that good there in the past, I really enjoy it."

      LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger suffered major damage to his car early in the Texas race. As a result, he finished 23rd. "The car was not very good, but I didn't know there was damage to the car until after the race and (crew chief Brian) Burns told me about it," said Allmendinger. "I knew I hit some stuff when the wreck happened with the 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) car. We didn't know it, but there was a hole in the nose and the crush panel was knocked out." Burns quickly added, "Without the damage, we would have had a totally different race car. Basically, the damage is like putting a parachute on the front of the car."

      ETC.: Co-owner Brad Daugherty has been "very pleased with the way we have run" this year. "We have got speed, which is something we haven't had in two or three seasons," adds Daugherty. "I am happy with the direction we are going with the cars and the team. We just have to work harder at minimizing mistakes. We have made some mistakes that have cost us five or more positions at some of these tracks. We will polish up on the areas we need to and make some noise throughout the season."

      1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 36 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray hopes his recent run of bad luck comes to a stop this weekend. "We've had really good cars everywhere we've been this year," said McMurray. "We haven't always got the results we deserve and that is why we are so far back in the points (21st). But we've run a lot better than that. We've had some really good runs at Darlington, almost winning there in 2010. So if we can run the whole race without any trouble, I feel we can have a real good night."

      LOOKING BACK: McMurray ran in the top 10 for the first 204 laps of the 334-lap event before a cut left-rear tire forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop. This dropped him a lap down and ended any hopes he had of his third top-10 finish of the season. Instead, he ended up 17th. "So frustrating," said McMurray. "We had a really good Bell Helicopter Chevrolet today and our crew was doing a good job with pit stops and keeping up with the changing track conditions. I hate that we had that cut tire, but we were able to salvage a top-20 finish."

      ETC.: McMurray admitted that last Sunday was a very frustrating day after waiting to see if the race would be run and then having it delayed a day because of rain. "It's different for everybody, but I really like the structure of waking up and knowing when your first appearance is and the driver meeting and then coming back and having lunch," said McMurray. "I like the structure and during the rain delay you don't really know. Part of the frustrating part is looking at it and knowing a week ahead of time there's 100 percent or 70 percent chance that the weather is coming. It's a long day."

      43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Best finish in two starts is 19th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola admits "Darlington is not my best track, so I'm hoping Trent (Owens, crew chief) can bring his success with him. It's his home track, so we really want to run well there. They call Darlington the track 'Too Tough to Tame' and it really lives up that name. We really need to focus on racing the race track. I say it every week, but it is especially true there. It's important to stay focused on your race and not let the cars around you change your focus or strategy."

      LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final 100 laps to finish 12th at Texas. "The car was loose all day," said Almirola. "The guys worked hard to get it better, and they did, but the weather and track conditions kept changing and we weren't there (as good as it needed to be) at the end. Our intermediate track program is still not where we want it to be, but this was a good improvement. A 12th-place finish will help us in the points."

      ETC.: Almirola surprised Army Sergeant Ralph Harroff and his family with a shopping spree at a Kroger grocery store prior to the Texas race as part of Eckrich's "Operation Inspiration" campaign which supports and honors military families. Harroff and his family were also special guests of Almirola and the race team for the entire race weekend. "I know we put a smile on their faces and hopefully we helped them out with some of their needs," said Almirola. Harroff said, "It's something I'll never forget. Operation Homefront has done so much for our family. There are so many deserving military families. I just feel lucky to be honored like this."

      17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 49 points out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Finished 18th in his Cup debut last year.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "Darlington has so much history and every driver wants to add their name to the winners of the Southern 500. Darlington is a driver's race track where you can race really hard. Racing under the lights creates more excitement. It's just a fun night, and one I hope where we really have a lot of fun."

      LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse had high hopes heading into the Texas race, but his day didn't go as he had envisioned as he finished 26th. "It was a tough day for us," said Stenhouse. "We just couldn't get our Ford to turn and fought tightness for a majority of the day. We will have to look at our teammates (Greg Biffle, who finished sixth, and Carl Edwards, who finished 14th) setup and go back to work."

      ETC.: Crew chief Mike Kelley is "looking forward to Darlington It's a tough place to run, but has a lot of history. The track really asks a lot of a driver and team. It's a long race and you will see the cars right around the top. We are taking a brand new car so we are excited to see what we can do under the lights."

      41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 52 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Won the pole last year. Has five top-10 finishes in 17 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Busch still enjoys talking about the spring Darlington race of 2003 when he and Ricky Craven were involved in one of the best races in the long history of the track. "The biggest moment at Darlington I ever had was finishing second (in a photo finish) to Ricky - everyone knows that race," said Busch. "But probably the next biggest moment would be during my championship run in 2004. I had an ill-handling car and still managed to finish sixth with it due to good pit stops. That was a perfect moment because it was our championship to lose with where we finished that day in 2004. That was back when Darlington used to be in the Chase (the next-to-last race of the year)."

      LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long weekend for Busch as he battled tire problems throughout practice and the race. On Friday, he had a left-rear tire come apart as Busch slammed hard into the wall forcing him to go to a back-up car for the race. The tire problems continued in the race as Busch suffered three flat tires resulting in three caution flags. As a result, Busch finished 39th a week after winning at Martinsville. "We took a little too aggressive setup today, and it cost us," said crew chief Daniel Knost.

      ETC.: Gene Haas, co-owner and founder of Stewart-Haas Racing, is expected to go Formula One racing in 2015. Bernie Ecclestone, chief of Formula One racing, said last week that Haas' application to join the worldwide organization "will be accepted." Haas said he is still waiting on official word. "But Bernie is kind of half Formula One, so I'm sure what he says goes," said Haas. "It (the challenge of Formula One racing) is nothing to be taken lightly. It's fitted with peril and there's a million ways to fail. For all those reasons, that's why you do it, to see if it is something you can do."

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 65 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Finished fifth last year for his sixth top-10 finish in 17 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick feels "any lap around Darlington is a lap where you have got to be paying attention to what's going on because you can get yourself in trouble at any point on the race track. You carry a lot speed into turn one and you run right up the banking right up next to the wall and you're right back into the throttle. Turns three and four are probably the hardest because you carry so much speed off of turn two into three and the line kind of moves around a bit there. It's probably the easiest place to get in the wall."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick continues to show flashes of having one of the strongest cars in the field in 2014, but his luck of bad luck also continued at Texas as he suffered engine failure early in the event after leading a lap and running second to teammate Tony Stewart. "The Jimmy John's Chevrolet was really fast - again," said Harvick. "It's frustrating. I don't know what else to say. It's a disappointing end to the day." Since winning the second race of the season, Harvick has had a strong enough car to win one or two more races but mechanical problems have resulted in four finishes of 36th or worse to leave him 26th in the points. Even with the win, Harvick has to rank in the top 30 to make the Chase. Harvick set a new track record of 198.282 miles per hour in the opening round of qualifying.

      ETC.: Even though his team has shown impressive strength early in the season, Harvick feels the best is yet to come. "Honestly, I don't even think we've scratched the surface as a team," said Harvick. "We're still trying to get all the cars built and everything organized and flowing exactly how it needs to flow in the shop and the fab shot with all the stuff that we've changed over the winter. I think we've just got a few things to clean up and things are going to be coming together even better."

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014
    Is Johnson already in the danger zone?
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sprots Xchange

      It's a foregone conclusion, isn't it?

      Jimmie Johnson will win one of the next 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races -- guaranteed. Right?

      Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was instituted in 2004, Johnson is the only driver to qualify for each of the 10 playoffs that have determined the champion of NASCAR's foremost series.

      Not once in his 12 previous full years in Sprint Cup racing has Johnson gone more than 12 races into a season without winning. If he doesn't get a victory in Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, it will be only the second time in the Chase era he has failed to win before the ninth event of a season.

      With that in mind, Johnson is right to stay the course, to approach this year with the same methodical excellence that has carried him to 66 victories and six championships -- right?

      Yes, we have a new system for qualifying for the Chase and determining a champion, but No. 48 team's old approach should still work -- shouldn't it?

      Johnson is convinced it will.

      "I haven't felt any pressure with the new format yet," Johnson said Friday, three days before the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was finally run.

      "Maybe I'm naive or stupid or something else, but the season takes on so many different changes, and I feel like we've had a few looks here recently at a victory, and I feel like it's coming and hope that it's coming soon, so that I don't have to answer the question."

      Johnson's approach this year hasn't changed with a championship format that has shifted the balance much more heavily toward winning races and less toward accumulating points.

      "Our goal has been to run in the top five," Johnson said. "And we've felt like, if you run in the top five, you'll have opportunities to win races. I've been able to win 66 races that way -- and six championships.

      "So, I don't feel like I need to change my viewpoint on winning races and trying to transfer into the Chase. If there's a race or two to go, and I don't have a victory, it's definitely going to change my opinion then. But I've built so much over the last 13 years with a certain mind-set that myself and the team, we're just not in the position to change that mind-set yet."

      Three days later came another Sprint Cup race. Three days later came another problem for Johnson and the No. 48 team.

      Johnson started 16th at Texas, in the outside lane, and after the race went green, he fell behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 19th. As he roared through the tri-oval for the first time at speed, the left tires of Earnhardt's clipped the soggy infield grass.

      What happened in the next microsecond ruined the race for Johnson.

      "When Junior went through the grass, it kicked up all this debris and mud," Johnson said. "It ripped the windshield and ripped the left front."

      Johnson came to pit road repeatedly under caution, and his crew worked feverishly to remove the debris from the grille of the No. 48 Chevrolet. The problem appeared manageable -- before Johnson cut a tire later in the race and lost three laps on pit road. He finished 25th and dropped to seventh in the series standings, 31 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

      "It was a day of bad luck," Johnson said. "We had a fast race car, so there was a little (silver) lining in it, but it was a terrible finish."

      As Johnson is learning this season, bad luck sometimes matters a lot more than fast cars. On March 23, he had a win in the bag at Fontana, Calif., until he blew a tire with seven laps left. He led 296 laps at Martinsville a week later, but Kurt Busch passed him for the victory with 10 laps to go.

      Nevertheless, Johnson is wise to be confident. It would be unreasonable to think a driver who wins races at a clip better than once in every seven starts could be shut out for the first 26 races of a season.

      But, at some point, Johnson's streak of making Chases will end. At some point, his winning percentage will decline, as it has for every other driver with significant tenure in the sport.

      But it won't be this year -- will it?

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Notebook: Earnhardt's trip through the dogleg ends his day early
    By The Sports Xchange

    By John Sturbin, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sprots Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- An oddball combination of mud and fire abruptly ended Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s reign as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Monday morning during the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

      The 2014 Daytona 500 champion and series leader after four of the season's first six races, Junior crashed and burned on Lap 13 around TMS' high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval. Junior was trailing Aric Almirola's No. 43 Eckrich Ford Fusion when he clipped the grass on the inside apron of the frontstretch. The left-front splitter of Junior's No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS dug deeply into the mud, and the resulting blown left-front tire shot the car across the track and careening into the outside wall. That right-side impact caused a flash fire as Junior scrambled to safety.

      Junior said he thought he was taking a "decent line" through the track's signature dogleg, as he and Almirola were attempting to pass Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Larson.

      "Just didn't see the grass," said Junior, who started 19th. "Didn't know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can't really see that good to that angle. I just didn't have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. You can't run through there the way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. Just misjudged it."

      The race had just gone green after the opening 10 laps were run under a competition yellow -- a bow to a damp racing surface. "It was no factor," Junior said. "I just made a mistake."

      Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, whose second-place finish to Joey Logano of Penske Racing gave him the points lead, said the opening sequence was just weird.

      "When we left pit road at the beginning of the race, we drove by the two jet dryers, casually going by it," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Axalta / Texas A&M School of Engineering Chevy. "The last one about blew all of us over. I mean, I thought it damaged my car as well. It got my attention. We all started avoiding that one."

      Junior had logged four top-three finishes during the season's first six races en route to a nine-point lead (227-218) over Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing when the day began. Junior placed 43rd on Monday and exited Texas in sixth, 31 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, who leads Kenseth by four points (259-255) heading into the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Saturdaynight.

      LOGANO TOTING HOME TEXAS SWAG

      Joey Logano's victory in Monday's Duck Commander 500 was his first since August 18 of last season at Michigan International Speedway. At 23 years, 10 months and 14 days, the Connecticut native is the youngest Sprint Cup winner in TMS history.

      "It's such a tough race track and we had plenty of time to think about this for the last couple days, so it's a really cool place to win," said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil / Hertz Ford Fusion fielded by Team Penske. "They give you a ring; I've got guns; I've got a trophy; I've got a (cowboy) hat; I've got a duck call. It's pretty cool."

      STEWART RACKS UP LAPS LED

      Pole-sitter Tony Stewart led 74 laps early, pushing his career TMS total to 801 and past Matt Kenseth (775) on the track's all-time Sprint Cup list dating to April 1997. Both drivers made their 24th career starts at the track in Monday's rain-delayed Duck Commander 500; Kenseth failed to lead a lap.

      The laps-led were the first that Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS, has paced in 2014. The three-time Sprint Cup champion said after qualifying on the pole Saturday that he is returning to form after his 2013 season was cut short due to a broken right leg suffered in a sprint car crash in August at Southern Iowa Speedway. "Smoke" finished 10th in Texas, his third top 10 in seven starts this season.

      UP NEXT: "THE LADY IN BLACK"

      Darlington Raceway will play host to its first April Sprint Cup race since 1991 Saturday evening, when the Bojangles' Southern 500 takes the green flag at 6:30 p.m. (ET). FOX's live telecast will begin at 6 p.m.

      The weekend's on-track schedule includes the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at 8 p.m. on Friday. Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing won last year's Sprint Cup race around the egg-shaped, 1.366-mile oval. The win was Kenseth's third of the season, with teammate Denny Hamlin second and Jeff Gordon third.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Logano passes Gordon on final lap for Texas win
    By The Sports Xchange

    By John Sturbin

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- Joey Logano's "Final Four" at Texas Motor Speedway had nothing to do with the NCAA men's basketball championship set for Monday night in nearby Arlington.

      Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon's decision to pit for four Goodyear Dual Zone tires during the final caution period of the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 propelled the Team Penske star to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of 2014.

      "We've been in contention every race this year to win, and I'm proud to be a part of that," said Logano, who extended a streak that has produced seven different winners in as many Sprint Cup races. "I felt very confident about this race. For some reason I told Todd, I said, 'We're going to win this week' and I was mad when we didn't get the pole. But I felt like we had a car that could win today."

      Logano, 23, scored his first career victory on TMS' 1.5-mile quad-oval and fourth in 190 career Sprint Cup starts at the expense of four-time series champion Jeff Gordon under a green-white-checkered-flag finish that extended the race to 340 laps from the originally scheduled 334.

      Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil/Hertz Ford Fusion, passed Gordon via a crossover move on the inside heading into Turn 1 on Lap 340 en route to margin of victory of 0.476 seconds. Kyle Busch finished third with Brian Vickers and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Larson rounding out a top five that was shuffled by the day's seventh and final caution on Lap 333.

      Logano was working on a 3.053-second lead over teammate Brad Keselowski when Kurt Busch, winner of last week's race at Martinsville Speedway, brushed the outside wall in Turn 2. During the ensuing pit stops, Logano and Keselowski opted for four tires and fuel. Gordon, of Hendrick Motorsports, and Vickers, of Michael Waltrip Racing, opted for right-side rubber only and exited pit road 1-2.

      "When you've got 40-something laps after the last pit stop and a pretty sizeable lead, really, all you're thinking is, 'Where's the white flag?'" Logano said. "Brad was able to catch us a little bit and then you go into Turn 1 and see the No. 41 (of Kurt Busch) up against the wall and you're like, 'Please, no caution.' And, of course -- boom -- it comes out and you're like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' So you get so mad that you can barely control yourself. Really, I was just so mad.

      "And then he (Todd Gordon) made a last-minute decision to put fuel in it, gave me better balance for what I needed and the guys made the 'money stop.' I was the first guy out with four tires on."

      Similarly, Gordon praised crew chief Alan Gustafson for a "great call" to go with two tires on the final stop given his standing when the yellow flew.

      "I mean, coming in sixth, you're in that position that you can gamble," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Axalta/Texas A&M School of Engineering Chevrolet SS. "You're not going to win it with four (tires),you're not going to win it with none. I knew it was going to be hard to hold those guys off.

      "I got a pretty good restart, so I was happy about that. Got through (Turns) 1 and 2. I was shocked I was leading off of 2, to be honest. I wish I would have run a little bit higher down (Turns) 3 and 4. I'm sure Joey was going to go wherever I didn't. Probably would have been a little bit better off on the top. He crossed over and got into the back of me pretty good. At that point I was just thinking, 'I want to finish.' Looked out my mirror, those guys were racing hard behind me. A great second-place finish for me."

      Kyle Busch, winner of this event last year, said he was looking at solid third-place results before the final sequence. "Of course, the inevitable comes out with the yellow and you have to come down and get tires -- just way too long out there on tires," said Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. "I chose four just because I absolutely killed my stuff about three laps prior to that caution coming out so I knew that was our only chance. Just drove the hell out of it there those last two laps and got all she could and come home third. Good, deserving finish for us here."

      Keselowski was poised to give team owner Roger Penske a slam-dunk 1-2 finish behind his teammate when the final caution flew. Keselowski exited the pits fourth with four tires, one spot behind Logano. But he was charged with speeding off pit road -- a miscue that dropped him to 15th.

      "That last caution was a shame," said Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. "I was just trying to get a little too much on pit road and wanted to get us out front to be able to win the race and tried a little too hard. We're in it for wins. We're not in it for finishing second."

      Gordon emerged as the new points leader after HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed out of the event on Lap 12, finished 43rd and dropped to sixth in the standings. Gordon holds a four-point (259-255) lead over Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing heading into Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Duck Commander 500

      Texas Motor Speedway

      Fort Worth, Texas

      Monday, April 07, 2014

      1. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 340, $561881.

      2. (12) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 340, $364656.

      3. (29) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 340, $289211.

      4. (23) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 340, $238370.

      5. (14) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 340, $202865.

      6. (4) Greg Biffle, Ford, 340, $196910.

      7. (26) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 340, $192046.

      8. (25) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 340, $174701.

      9. (13) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 340, $163824.

      10. (1) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 340, $190243.

      11. (32) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 340, $147500.

      12. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 340, $168306.

      13. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 340, $137770.

      14. (5) Carl Edwards, Ford, 340, $143120.

      15. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 340, $175053.

      16. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 340, $133815.

      17. (15) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 340, $156729.

      18. (18) Martin Truex Jr, Chevrolet, 340, $149723.

      19. (7) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 339, $116240.

      20. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 339, $146260.

      21. (20) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 339, $162251.

      22. (39) David Gilliland, Ford, 339, $141773.

      23. (33) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 339, $129898.

      24. (22) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 339, $134573.

      25. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 338, $162051.

      26. (31) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 338, $145140.

      27. (24) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 338, $115690.

      28. (21) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 338, $125748.

      29. (27) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 337, $114162.

      30. (28) Michael McDowell, Ford, 335, $101965.

      31. (42) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 335, $98540.

      32. (30) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 335, $100440.

      33. (38) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 334, $98840.

      34. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 334, $95240.

      35. (43) David Ragan, Ford, 334, $107790.

      36. (41) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 333, $92990.

      37. (37) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 332, $91889.

      38. (34) David Reutimann, Ford, 332, $84865.

      39. (11) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 327, $80865.

      40. (36) Parker Kligerman #, Toyota, Overheating, 313, $76865.

      41. (35) Dave Blaney, Ford, Steering, 272, $72865.

      42. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Engine, 28, $110173.

      43. (19) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 12, $73640.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 134.191 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 48 Mins, 02 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.476 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 7 for 49 laps.

      Lead Changes: 18 among 9 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: T. Stewart 1-24; K. Harvick 25; T. Stewart 26-50; R. Sorenson 51; T. Stewart 52-76; B. Keselowski 77-96; J. Gordon 97-98; B. Keselowski 99-121; D. Hamlin 122-140; J. Gordon 141-142; Kyle Busch 143-152; J. Gordon 153-183; B. Keselowski 184-225; J. Logano 226-299; D. Hamlin 300; C. Bowyer 301; J. Logano 302-334; J. Gordon 335-339; J. Logano 340;.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano 3 times for 108 laps; B. Keselowski 3 times for 85 laps; T. Stewart 3 times for 74 laps; J. Gordon 4 times for 40 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 20 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 10 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap; R. Sorenson 1 time for 1 lap; K. Harvick 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon - 259; M. Kenseth - 255; C. Edwards - 247; J. Logano - 235; Kyle Busch - 231; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 228; J. Johnson - 228; B. Keselowski - 218; B. Vickers - 205; P. Menard - 203; R. Newman - 202; A. Dillon # - 202; D. Hamlin - 197; T. Stewart - 189; K. Larson # - 187; G. Biffle - 187.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Logano becomes seventh different winner this season
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- Joey Logano's four new tires bettered the two taken by Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers in the final two laps of the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.

    • "It feels good to be back in victory lane, the Chase. I'm stoked," Logano said. "I felt very confident about this race. For some reason, I told (crew chief) Todd Gordon -- I said, 'We're gonna win this week,' and I was mad when we didn't get the pole, but I felt like we had a car that could win this thing today."

      Logano took the lead from Gordon on the final lap after a green-white-checker to claim the win in the race that was delayed a day because of rain, becoming the seventh different Sprint Cup winner this season.

      Gordon finished second, Kyle Busch was third after starting the race back in 29th, Vickers finished fourth and rookie Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five.

      Kurt Busch made contact with the wall with just over a lap remaining of the race's scheduled 334-lap distance, bringing out a caution that resulted in a green-white-checker restart. At the point of caution, Logano was the leadter, with his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in second.

      Everyone on the lead lap pitted during the caution, with Gordon and Vickers getting off pit road first and second after changing only two tires.

      "That was a great call," Gordon said. "We lost the handling a little bit when the sun came out. We were looking at about a sixth-place finish, there. We were really happy to see that caution, and I think we learned a lesson in California when we took four there that maybe we would have been better off taking two."

      Logano and Keselowski were the first two off pit road with four, but Keselowski was penalized for speeding on pit road. In the end, Keselowski wound up 15th.

      "That last caution was a shame," Keselowski said. "I was just trying to get a little too much on pit road and wanted to get us out front to be able to win the race and tried a little too hard."

      Logano got by Vickers as soon as the race restarted, and got by Gordon a little over a lap later.

      Logano was dominant in the last third of the race after taking the lead from Keselowski on a restart that followed a lap 220-caution. During long green-flag runs, Logano would pull away from the field. At the 300-lap mark, Logano had a lead of nearly five seconds over then-second place Keselowski.

      But, soon after, Keselowski pitted under green a lap before Logano, and by the time both had pitted, Logano's lead was significantly smaller. Still, Logano remained up front the rest of the way, as Keselowski and Gordon raced for second behind him.

      Logano was the lap leader, leading 108 laps. Keselowski also spent significant time up front, leading 85 laps, mostly through the middle portion of the race. Early in the race, though, Tony Stewart was a mainstay up front. Stewart started on the pole and led a total of 74 laps early before getting passed for the lead by Keselowski on lap 77.

      For many of the laps Stewart was up front, Carl Edwards ran second, but both eventually faded, with Stewart falling well outside the top-10 and Edwards falling off the lead lap. Stewart did recover, though, to finish 10th.

      The race started under yellow, as track-drying efforts were still underway. During the 10 caution laps at the start of the race, several drivers, including Keselowski, had an issue with air from the jet dryers blowing car hoods up slightly. Drivers who pitted to fix the problem were returned to their original starting spots before the race went green.

      Shortly after the field got back up to speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. accidentally got into the grass and his car shot up the track into the wall and caught fire on lap 13. Debris from the incident hit Jimmie Johnson's car, causing significant damage to the windshield. Earnhardt was retired from the race, while Johnson was able to continue after going several laps down because of time spent on pit road for repairs.

      "Just didn't see the grass," Earnhardt said. "Didn't know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars, you can't really see that good to that angle. I just didn't have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good."

      Earnhardt was one of only three drivers who didn't finish the race, the other two being Kevin Harvick and Dave Blaney. Harvick's day ended on lap 28 because of a mechanical issue.

      "Something, apparently, happened with the engine right after that restart," Harvick said. "The Jimmy John's Chevrolet SS was really fast. It's frustrating. I don't know what else I can say."

      Greg Biffle finished sixth, Matt Kenseth was seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Paul Menard ninth and Stewart 10th.

      NOTES: Joey Logano became the seventh winner in seven races, so far, in 2014. ... It was Logano's fourth-career Sprint Cup win. ... Even though Tony Stewart started on the pole, Kevin Harvick posted a record-breaking lap in qualifying. ... Team Penske has a total of 12 wins at Texas -- seven in IndyCar, two in NASCAR Nationwide and three in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. ... Logano's last lap pass for the win was the third last-lap winning pass of the season.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Logano chases down Gordon at Texas
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- Joey Logano's four new tires bettered the two taken by Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers in the final two laps of the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.

    • Logano took the lead from Gordon on the final lap after a green-white-checker to claim the win in the race that was delayed a day because of rain, becoming the seventh different Sprint Cup winner this season,

      Gordon finished second, Kyle Busch was third after starting the race back in 29th, Vickers finished fourth and rookie Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five.

      Kurt Busch made contact with the wall with just over a lap remaining of the race's scheduled 334-lap distance, bringing out a caution that resulted in a green-white-checker restart. At the point of caution, Logano was the leadter, with his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in second.

      Everyone on the lead lap pitted during the caution, with Gordon and Vickers getting off pit road first and second after changing only two tires. Logano and Keselowski were the first two off pit road with four, but Keselowski was penalized for speeding on pit road. In the end, Keselowski wound up 15th.

      Logano got by Vickers as soon as the race restarted, and got by Gordon a little over a lap later.

      Logano was dominant in the last third of the race after taking the lead from Keselowski on a restart that followed a lap 220-caution. During long green-flag runs, Logano would pull away from the field. At the 300-lap mark, Logano had a lead of nearly five second over then-second place Keselowski.

      But, soon after, Keselowski pitted under green a lap before Logano, and by the time both had pitted, Logano's lead was significantly smaller. Still, Logano remained up front the rest of the way, as Keselowski and Gordon raced for second behind him.

      Logano was the lap leader, leading 108 laps. Keselowski also spent significant time up front, leading 85 laps, mostly through the middle portion of the race. Early in the race, though, Tony Stewart was a mainstay up front. Stewart started on the pole and led a total of 74 laps early before getting passed for the lead by Keselowski on lap 77.

      For many of the laps Stewart was up front, Carl Edwards ran second, but both eventually faded, with Stewart falling well outside the top-10 and Edwards falling off the lead lap. Stewart did recover, though, to finish 10th.

      The race started under yellow, as track-drying efforts were still underway. During the 10 caution laps at the start of the race, several drivers, including Keselowski, had an issue with air from the jet dryers blowing car hoods up slightly. Drivers who pitted to fix the problem were returned to their original starting spots before the race went green.

      Shortly after the field got back up to speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. accidentally got into the grass and his car shot up the track into the wall and caught fire on lap 13. Debris from the incident hit Jimmie Johnson's car, causing significant damage to the windshield. Earnhardt was retired from the race, while Johnson was able to continue after going several laps down because of time spent on pit road for repairs.

      Earnhardt was one of only three drivers who didn't finish the race, the other two being Kevin Harvick and Dave Blaney. Harvick's day ended on lap 28 because of a mechanical issue.

      Greg Biffle finished sixth, Matt Kenseth was seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Paul Menard ninth and Stewart 10th.

      NOTES: Joey Logano became the seventh winner in seven races, so far, in 2014. ... It was Logano's fourth-career Sprint Cup win. ... Even though Tony Stewart started on the pole, Kevin Harvick posted a record-breaking lap in qualifying. ... Team Penske has a total of 12 wins at Texas -- seven in IndyCar, two in NASCAR Nationwide and three in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. ... Logano's last lap pass for the win was the third last-lap winning pass of the season.

  • Sunday, April 6, 2014
    Duck Commander 500 reset for Monday
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway that was scheduled for Sunday will be run Monday because of continued rain at the track. The start time for Monday's race is noon Eastern.

    • The green flag originally was scheduled to drop at 3 p.m. Eastern Sunday, but morning and midday rain prompted NASCAR and track officials to push back the start time. Continued rain dampened those plans.

      When the race does get underway on Monday, Tony Stewart will start from the pole for the first time in Sprint Cup competition since 2012. Stewart is a two-time winner at Texas. He'll be joined on the front row by Brad Keselowski, who has started on the front row in five of the last six races.

      "I'm not normally a qualifier, but our first round we were 16th and I didn't think I ran a very strong lap," Stewart said. "So, I felt like I could do better the second round and we were second quick after that. The third round it was just a matter of waiting until the end trying to let the tires cool off as much as we could; got out and had a really good lap."

      Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick also has a fast car. Before claiming the third starting spot, Harvick posted the fastest lap ever during a NASCAR qualifying session at a mile-and-a-half track with a speed of 198.282 mph.

      With three wins each, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards are the winningest drivers at TMS among active drivers. Edwards will start the race from the fifth spot, while Johnson starts outside the top-10 in 16th.

      "The track has been great for us and winning the pole there last year was a blast," Edwards said. "We are headed back there in our Fastenal Ford with winning as our only goal."

      This season's six races have produced six different winners and Edwards is among them. Johnson, though, still is seeking his first win of the season.

      Kyle Bush, the winner of last year's race at Texas, will start in the back half of the field in the 29th spot.

      Kurt Busch, last week's race winner at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and a teammate to Harvick and Stewart, will start just outside the top-10 in 11th.

      "The adrenaline of winning and accomplishing something special as a team carries over, but Martinsville is a half-mile track that is very different from the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway," Busch said. "The way we struggled at Las Vegas earlier this year, we know that we definitely need to rebound on the 1.5-mile tracks. We need to use this adrenaline and momentum from Martinsville last week to help us at Texas."