Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Friday, October 31, 2014
    Kenseth wins pole at Texas; Stewart tops 200 mph in second round
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- With three races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Matt Kenseth made a statement during Friday's time trials at Texas Motor Speedway.

      After Tony Stewart set the fastest lap ever run on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway at 200.111 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying, Kenseth covered the distance in 27.095 seconds (199.299 mph) in the money round to win the pole for Sunday's AAA Texas 500.

      In winning his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Texas and the 13th of his career, Kenseth edged Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jeff Gordon (199.291 mph) by .001 seconds, after Gordon ran what he described as an overly conservative lap.

      Jimmie Johnson (198.983 mph) will start third in the second race of the Chase's Eliminator Round, followed by Kurt Busch (198.910 mph in his first qualifying session with new crew chief Tony Gibson) and Kevin Harvick (198.836 mph).

      Stewart was sixth fastest in the final round after leading a parade of drivers who bettered the previous track record of 198.282 mph Harvick had set in April.

      Having advanced to the Eliminator Round without winning a race this season, Kenseth tested during the week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where his team found some additional speed that translated to Texas.

      "We've got to get in practice (Saturday) and hopefully get it driving as good as it drove tonight for the race," Kenseth said of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, "because 500 miles is way different than qualifying.

      "But I thought we had a pretty good test at Homestead, and we stumbled on some things late that seemed to bring us up a step and bring us closer to the best guys. You never really know until you get through practice and get the race rolling and see what you've got."

      Stewart said his record lap, which took 26.985 seconds to complete, could have been even better.

      "We were going to be probably down to a 26.75 or 26.80 if I would have finished getting through (Turn) 4," Stewart said. "I got real tight and had to lift all the way out of the gas in the first round and still ran a 27.10, so it was going to be a big monster lap in the first round, but that's not the one that pays.

      "We hit it the second round, and I missed it in the third round--my fault."

      Likely needing a victory to advance to the season finale at Homestead, Brad Keselowski failed to advance to the second round and will start 26th on Sunday. Nevertheless, Keselowski was confident in the quality of his car in race trim.

      "I'm optimistic we can (win) in this round, and the reality is it will probably take that," said Keselowski, who is seventh in the Chase standings, 31 points behind Gordon. "I completely understand that and am ready for that challenge and hope we have the speed to make it happen.

      "The speed and execution... and I hope I don't screw it up if we do. When it comes down to moments like this, great teams have to step it up. I believe we are a great team, and I'm ready for the challenge."

      Other Chase drivers will start as follows: Ryan Newman, seventh; Joey Logano, 10th; Carl Edwards, 11th; and Denny Hamlin 20th.

  • Friday, October 31, 2014
    Notebook: Logano says best way to deal with pressure is ignore it
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- For Joey Logano, the best way to deal with the pressure of a championship run is simply to tune it out.

      After a fifth-place finish last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway in the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round, Logano is third in the standings, just four points behind Chase leader Jeff Gordon.

      That's not much comfort, though, for the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. Five drivers are within seven points of the lead, and only four can advance to the Nov. 16 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with championship eligibility intact.

      Logano says the best way to combat the stress is to keep doing what his team has been doing successfully all year long.

      "You feel the pressure," Logano admitted. "It's there, and it's there for everyone and probably equal for everyone. Maybe everyone has a different game plan. Some guys have to win, and some need a consistent finish. Either way, there is pressure to (do) that. It's there. I feel like I'm doing a good job handling it, and I think my whole team is.

      "When that pressure is on, not only for the driver but the pit crew and the guys working on your car day to day, they are thinking about how one mistake can keep you from winning this championship and that is pressure for sure...

      "I feel the 22 team has handled that great so far. I'm not nervous about it at all. Thinking about it just makes you more nervous, so that isn't the right way to go. You focus on your race car and the job at hand."

      KENSETH TO HARVICK: WE NEED TO TALK

      After taking Kevin Harvick out of last week's Martinsville race and relegating the No. 4 car to a 33rd-place finish, Matt Kenseth said Friday morning he wanted to have a face-to-face meeting with Harvick to discuss the accident.

      On Lap 228 of 500, Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota wheel-hopped into Turn 1, spun and collected Harvick's Chevrolet, which crashed hard into the outside wall at the apex of Turns 1 and 2. Harvick lost 40 laps as his crew repaired the car.

      After the race, Harvick made a promise.

      "He won't win this championship," Harvick said. "If we don't, he won't."

      In the week since, Kenseth has been trying to connect with Harvick to mend fences.

      "We have tried to connect several times,'" Kenseth said. "It hasn't happened yet, face-to-face, but we've been trying. I will talk to him at some point, (but) I can't fix the situation.

      "It's kind of like the guy who causes the wreck at Talladega. He feels terrible about it and ruined a lot of people's days from a mistake he made. Last week, it was the same way. It just unfortunately wrecked Kevin, who was probably the favorite going into the Chase.

      "It was terrible timing. It was the wrong place at the wrong time -- and I understand his frustration."

      SADLER ANNOUNCES MOVE TO ROUSH FENWAY RACING

      Elliott Sadler and Roush Fenway Racing announced on Friday a partnership that will bring Sadler and sponsor OneMain Financial to RFR next year. Sadler will drive the No. 1 Ford Mustang in the Nationwide Series, which will be rebranded the XFINITY Series after the change in entitlement sponsors.

      "It's kind of like a homecoming for me, to be reunited with Ford and Ford Racing, to be reunited with (engine builder) Doug Yates," Sadler said. "Ford really gave me my first big opportunity in the Cup series back in 1999 with the Wood Brothers, and my contract was actually through Roush, because they handled all the stuff for the Wood Brothers back then.

      "So it's kind of like I'm coming back home."

      RAIKKONEN STILL HAS NASCAR DREAMS

      Kimi Raikkonen liked the appetizer, but he's still waiting for the full-course meal in NASCAR racing.

      No, Raikkonen isn't about to leave his highly prized seat with Ferrari in Formula One, but once his career in the elite open-wheel series winds down, he'd like to try his hand in the stock car ranks again.

      Back in 2011, during a two-year break from F1 competition, Raikkonen raced twice during speedweeks at Charlotte in May, finishing 15th in a Camping World Truck fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports and 27th in a Nationwide Series car .

      "I was very pleasantly surprised with how nice and how fun it was," Raikkonen said. "It's not easy -- like any competitive motorsport. I really enjoyed the time. Hopefully, I can do more of those and hopefully, in the future, some Sprint Cup.

      "We'll see."

      The 2007 F1 champion, who also has raced in the World Rally Championship, was impressed with the challenge NASCAR presented.

      "I would like to learn it more," Raikkonen said. "Like I said, it looks very easy, but it's not easy. When you look at each circuit, it just looks like an oval, but every corner is different. When you have knowledge of the sport, you can run much stronger.

      "I would like to have a good, proper run at it and try to learn and make good results out of it. It's a different atmosphere, a different way of doing things than F1 or in the Rally, but I really enjoyed it."

  • Thursday, October 30, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, Oct. 30
    By The Sports Xchange

    Capsules for the eight drivers remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon climbed to the top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings after the first race of the Eliminator Round. Gordon, the lone representative remaining in the Chase from Hendrick Motorsports, leads Ryan Newman by three points and Joey Logano by four points.

      TEXAS RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 win, 9 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009. Finished 38th in this race last year and was second in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon was just one spot short at Martinsville of winning there and getting an automatic berth that would have advanced him to the final round in the season finale at Homestead. Still, Gordon right now is in the driver's seat with two races remaining in the Eliminator Round. The key is to remain consistent and try to stay out of trouble on a track that can produce trouble rather quickly. Said Gordon, "(Texas Motor Speedway) has a lot of speed and you can be aggressive. But what I like about the track - and why it seems to be a good one for this Drive to End Hunger team - are the multiple grooves. The tires give up and the track 'widens' out, and you can start searching the track for a line that might work better for your car."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon came oh, so close to winning at Martinsville. Unfortunately, he couldn't catch teammate and eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final two laps and was forced to settle for a runner-up finish.

      ETC.: Given his dismal overall performance and struggles throughout his career at Texas, Gordon has completed a mediocre 88.4 percent (7,990) of the 9,035 total laps contested in 27 career starts there. His average start there is 12.2 and his average finish is 17.2. He has six DNFs there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Currently in second place, three points behind series leader Jeff Gordon and one point ahead of third-ranked Joey Logano, Ryan Newman is the lone representative of Richard Childress Racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Newman is also one of two drivers who has advanced to the Eliminator Round without earning a win thus far in 2014. The other driver is Matt Kenseth.

      TEXAS RECORD: 22 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2003. Finished ninth in this race last year and was 16th in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman may not be winning races, but he's continuing to show outstanding consistency. In fact, he's finished twice in the top-five and five other times in the top-10 in the last nine races, including all seven of the Chase races to date this season. While he's in second place, Texas is one of his worst-performing tracks. He needs to find a way to come out of Sunday's race with a decent showing to maintain his hopes of advancing to the final round at Homestead. Said Newman, "There is no defining goal on consistency. Our job is to go out there and do the best job we possibly can based on how we work together as a team. We have to outperform all those guys and, so far, it has provided us with consistency. We have been one of the most consistent teams out there when it comes to the Chase. For the longest time we were a seventh to 11th-place car. Over the second half of the season, we have made improvements that have allowed us to be championship contenders. With that said, we definitely need to win as a team. That's what we need to do to improve. That's our goal. We just have to keep our nose to the grind stone and keep digging and digging. We need a win."

      LOOKING BACK: Newman earned his second top-five finish in a row, finishing third at Martinsville after ending up fifth at Talladega the week before. He's definitely making a late-Chase charge.

      ETC.: Newman has completed 94.9 percent (6,987) of 7,365 total laps in 22 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 16.6 and average finish is 19.1. He has three DNFs there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano remains in the thick of things after the first race of the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Logano finds himself in a very strong position, scored third in the points, four points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, is one point behind second-ranked Ryan Newman and leads fourth-ranked Matt Kenseth by one point.

      TEXAS RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2014. Finished third in this race last year and won this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Logano finally broke through with a win this past spring at Texas. Can he repeat or have nearly as strong a finish on the high-speed, 1.5-mile speedway? Logano will likely be looking to win again, but at the same time, look to help out Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, who has gotten off to a poor start in the Eliminator Round, ranked seventh of the eight drivers still in contention for the championship. Logano also knows that now that the Chase is in the third round, everything ratchets up and the best drivers will be on top of their game. "You don't get this far in the Chase by just sneaking by - you have to be a good team and have good racecars," Logano said. "Obviously, the 4 (Kevin Harvick), the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 2 (Keselowski) have been really fast with us all year long. But that doesn't mean you can look past Matt (Kenseth), Denny (Hamlin) or the rest of the guys either. It's going to be a tough road over the next (two) weeks, but I feel like this Shell-Pennzoil team is up for the challenge."

      LOOKING BACK: For a while this past Sunday, Logano looked like he may have the car to win at Martinsville, leading 60 of the 500 laps. Unfortunately, he tailed off near the end, but still finished a respectable fifth place.

      ETC.: Logano has completed 97.6 percent (3,917) of the 4,015 laps contested in 12 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 16.5, and even with his win there in the spring, his average finish is still a mediocre 18.4. He has one DNF there.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth is one of two drivers in the top-four of the Sprint Cup standings who still does not have a win this season (the other winless driver is Ryan Newman). But just like he did when he won the 2003 Winston Cup championship, Kenseth continues to remain high in the standings - and definitely in contention for the title - with uncanny consistency, including 20 top-10 finishes. That's third among all drivers in Sprint Cup, just one behind the tied pair of Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano, each with 21 top-10s. Kenseth is five points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, one point behind third-ranked Joey Logano and is two points ahead of fifth-ranked Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.

      TEXAS RECORD: 24 career starts, 2 wins, 13 top-5s, 17 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2002 and spring 2011. Finished fourth in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth (along with Newman) is doing exactly what the newly reformatted Chase was not designed for: to reward consistency before wins. But that's what Kenseth is excelling at, and both he and Newman have a very realistic chance of making the final round of four for the season finale at Homestead, if not potentially win the championship, still without even one win in the 2014 season. And Kenseth has a strong chance to get even closer to Homestead and the title this weekend because Texas is one of his favorite and most successful racetracks.

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led two laps at Martinsville and spent most of the day in the top-10, ultimately finishing with a decent sixth-place finish in the first race of the Eliminator Round. He was involved in a wreck with Kevin Harvick, who after promised if he (Harvick) can't win the championship, he'd make sure Kenseth wouldn't either. "I don't blame him (Kevin Harvick) for feeling that way, honestly. It was a mistake -- he was an innocent bystander and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I totally understand how he feels and I totally understand why he would say that. I totally get it. He knows it was a mistake too, but that doesn't really help him. He got taken out of the race for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

      ETC.: Kenseth has completed a near-perfect 99.4 percent (7,981) of the 8,033 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 16.0 and his average finish is an excellent 8.28.8. He has one DNF there.

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 5th, seven points out of first place; two points out of the top four spots which will advance to the Championship Round of the Chase for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

      TEXAS RECORD: Two wins and nine top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 17 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin said, "Obviously, it would be great to get another win at Texas this weekend. Although it's a fast, intermediate track that has been a weakness of our team this year, Texas has good tire fall off and really plays into the hands of drivers that have a good handling car over the course of long runs. Earlier this year, when I felt like we didn't have the speed to compete with some of the top cars, we drove up and led laps at Texas, but didn't get the finish to show for it. We need another solid day with no mistakes to put ourselves in position to advance to the final four."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin was very frustrated after finishing eighth at Martinsville. "It's hard because you've got guys that go laps down in the course of the race and get enough lucky dogs (to get back on the lead lap) and then (have) 50 laps on their tires and they want to stay out (for the final restart with five laps to go)," said Hamlin. "Just bottle necks the field up and we all got the short end of the last restart stick again. We're running better than what we've finishing. Other guys like (Ryan) Newman are finishing better than where they're running. Tough day and I thought we had a race-winning car there in the middle part of the race, but as soon as the track got shaded we lost the handle a little bit. Eighth place just isn't going to cut it. I hate to be down on it because we did have a good solid day going, but it's frustrating when you don't get that good finish on that last restart."

      ETC.: Since no Chase driver won at Martinsville, Hamlin is quick to point out "we now know at least two guys are going to make it on points. It opens up the door now for the points side of things," adds Hamlin. "Certainly, our hope was to get a better result at Martinsville last Sunday, but we're still in the thick of things. This segment of the Chase will require top-five finishes and hopefully we can achieve that this weekend."

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 6th, 20 points out of first place; 15 points out of the top four spots which will advance to the Championship Round of the Chase for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

      TEXAS RECORD: Three wins (tied for the most in track history) and eight top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 19 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is optimistic as he heads to Texas. "We ran fifth at Kansas and eighth at Charlotte (the last two other mile-and-a-half tracks)," said Edwards. "We've got a bunch of wins at Texas, so there's nothing saying we can't go there and do it (win another race). We'll go to Texas and go for the win. That's all we can do. These guys (on his team) don't quit."

      LOOKING BACK: Edwards was another frustrated driver after his 20th-place finish at Martinsville, the first race in the Eliminator Round. "Pretty frustrating," said Edwards. "We planned on running a lot better than that, but at the end of the day we still came home 20th and we could have lost our minds there. It's not what we wanted. We tore up the car a little bit in those accidents. I ran into a lot of stuff today and the car held up pretty well. Our Ford EcoBoost Fusion performed pretty well considering all the damage."

      ETC.: Car owner Jack Roush, who was born in Covington, Ky., was one of 13 new members inducted last Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. In 2006, Roush was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and in 2010 he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. "It is an honor every time something like this happens," said Roush.

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Team Penske

      WHERE HE STANDS: 7th, 31 points out of first place; 26 points out of the top four spots which will advance to the Championship Round in the Chase for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

      TEXAS RECORD: Three top-nine finishes in the last four races including a career-best second-place finish in the fall race of 2012.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski knows he is the same position he was in the last round of the Chase where he needed to win Talladega to advance and he did it. Now he needs a victory this weekend at Texas or next week at Phoenix if he wants to advance to the Championship Round. "This Chase lends itself to those moments and we're a team that capable of them, so we'll try to be as positive as we can and move forward with two more opportunities to do just that."

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski was running sixth when he ran into mechanical problems on lap 221 of the 500-lap event at Martinsville. "The guys did a great job," said Keselowski. "They put a (rear) gear in this car in 28 laps, that pretty phenomenal but it was just unfortunate the way the day played out. We were doing the things we needed to do. We were gonna probably have ourselves a fifth or sixth-place day, which is certainly something we could be proud of and move forward with, but this (the mechanical problem) kind of put us in a position now where we need to win." Keselowski ended the day in 31st place.

      ETC.: Keselowski understands "why everyone wants to compare someone who is successful to Dale Earnhardt (Sr.) because of what he meant to this sport and because of his drive, intensity, large fan base." But he doesn't feel comfortable when he is the one being compared to Earnhardt. "I'm OK with accepting the fact that there was only one and there won't be another one," said Keselowski. "It's a lot like music in that you can be influenced by another band, but we're still a different band and we still have our own codes."

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 33 points out of first place; 28 points out of top four spots which will advance to the Championship Round of the Chase for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

      TEXAS RECORD: 11 top-10 finishes in 23 starts including a career-best third in the fall of 2006.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick, who will be making the 500th start of his Cup career at Texas, has high hopes for this weekend. "Our mile-and-a-half stuff has really been our bread and butter this year, so I'm looking forward to getting back there and trying to get to victory lane," said Harvick, who will driving the same car he drove to victory at Charlotte earlier this month. "That would really be the best spot to end up. I've won a ton of races there in the Nationwide and truck series as a driver and an owner. But I've never been to victory lane on the Cup side. This would be a great weekend to get that first Cup win (and advance to the Championship Round of the Chase)."

      LOOKING BACK: Despite starting 33rd, Harvick had methodically raced his way to sixth place as the race neared its halfway point. However, disaster struck on a restart on lap 228 when Matt Kenseth wheel-hopped going into turn one and clipped the left rear fender of Harvick sending Harvick hard into the wall. Harvick was forced to go to the garage area to have his badly-damaged Chevy repaired. He returned to the race 41 laps later in 40th position. Harvick displayed his displeasure with Kenseth by brake-checking him several times later in the race. After ending the day 33rd-place, Harvick said, "The good thing about this format is you have two more weeks and two race tracks that we can win on. Everybody was so worried about us starting in the back and we wrecked at the front. We had worked our way into where we needed to be. In a good position and wound (up) backwards in the fence."

      ETC.: Harvick left no doubt that if he doesn't make it to the Championship Round, Kenseth won't either. "He will not win the championship," said Harvick. "I can promise you that. If we don't (advance), he won't." Kenseth said he "totally understands how he (Harvick) feels and I totally understand why he would say that. He knows it was a mistake too, but that doesn't really help him. I don't really blame him. He got taken out of the race for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was one of the low lights of my career honestly. It was a mistake - he was an innocent bystander and was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

  • Thursday, October 30, 2014
    For Keselowski, must-win again
    By The Sports Xchange

    Less than two weeks ago, Brad Keselowski was the talk of NASCAR.

    • The energetic driver pulled out an improbable victory in a "win or go home" situation at Talladega that propelled him into the eliminator round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      Here we go again.

      Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), offers a strikingly similar predicament for Keselowski.

      After finishing 31st in the opening eliminator round race at Martinsville, the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driver is 26 points behind the Chase cutoff line and likely needs to win one of the next two races at Texas or Phoenix to be one of the four drivers moving on to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

      "We were doing the things we needed to do, we were surviving," said Keselowski about his performance at Martinsville. "We were going to probably have ourselves a fifth- or sixth-place day, which is certainly something we could be proud of and move forward with, but this kind of puts us in a position now where we need to win."

      Keselowski hasn't had a problem winning this season.

      The 30-year-old Michigan native leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories and took the checkered flag in each of the first two rounds of the pressure-packed Chase.

      However, winning at Texas and Phoenix has been a problem for Keselowski throughout his career. In a combined 22 starts at the two tracks, Keselowski has yet to collect a victory.

      Recent relative success on the two courses suggests Keselowski is on the verge of breaking through for his first win at either of them. In his last four starts at Texas, Keselowski claims three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up showing in the fall of his 2012 championship season.

      Keselowski struggled in his first five career starts at Phoenix with no showing better than 15th, but placed sixth or better in his last five races at the Arizona track, including a third-place result this spring.

      Keselowski feels confident in his ability to pull off a victory, especially after coming through in the clutch at Talladega.

      "Yeah, it's still tough to do," Keselowski said. "It's not like we're just gonna go and guarantee a win at Texas and Phoenix, but it's also not impossible, and we've got the team, if there is one, to pull it off."

      Elliott eyes sweep on road to championship

      With only three races left on the NASCAR Nationwide Series slate, Chase Elliott is in prime position to capture its championship.

      The No. 9 Napa Auto Parts driver currently sits atop the Nationwide Series standings, 42 points ahead of his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. He will attempt to further his advantage in Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN 2) -- the same place at which he earned his first victory in April.

      "It's been awhile since we last visited Texas Motor Speedway, but the last time was a special moment for the Napa Auto Parts team," Elliott said. "Winning for the first time together is a moment I'll never forget -- it was awesome."

      Elliott dominated the April event, leading a race-high 47 laps on his way to the checkered flag. At 18 years, four months and seven days, he became the second-youngest driver to ever win a Nationwide race.

      With a victory this weekend, Elliott would become the first Sunoco Rookie to ever sweep Texas Motor Speedway. He has fared well at similar tracks this season, posting two wins, five top fives, and eight top 10s in 10 starts at 1.5-mile courses.

      Though mathematically impossible to occur this weekend at Texas, if Elliott can clinch the series title at Phoenix or Homestead, he would become the youngest driver and first Sunoco Rookie to ever win a NASCAR national series championship.

      "We have three races left in what's been an exciting year, but we have to stay focused and continue to work together as a team," Elliott said. "We look to put together a better run than we did in the spring, bringing us one step closer to our goal."

      Crafton attempts to make Lone Star statement

      Matt Crafton is a mere three races from becoming the first repeat champion in the 20-year history of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

      Leading second-place Ryan Blaney in the standings by a cushy 18 points, Crafton will attempt to continue his march to the title by sweeping Texas Motor Speedway, the site of Friday’s Winstar World Casino and Resort 350 (8:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1).

      Crafton stretched his fuel on the way to Victory Lane in the June Ft. Worth race, running the final 61 laps on one tank of gas for his second – and latest - win of the season.

      "Finally getting a win at Texas was really cool -- everyone wants to win at Texas -- you want to be able to shoot the guns in victory lane and get that infamous cowboy hat," Crafton said.

      Despite Texas success in previous years, the win was the first of Crafton's career at the 1.5-mile high-banked oval. In 27 NCWTS starts at the Ft. Worth track, the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driver boasts eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes, as well as two poles.

      Crafton believes he can make a "Lone Star Statement" Friday night even though the race will be shorter and affected by cooler temperatures than the one in June.

      "Without a doubt, we had the fastest Menards Toyota Tundra in June and I can't wait to get back this weekend and do it all over again," Crafton said. "In June, the track is hot and slippery but this weekend, there will be cooler temps and a lot of grip so it'll be faster. This race is 20 laps shorter so we'll have to see how the race plays out, but I feel confident we can pull off a sweep."

  • Monday, October 27, 2014
    Tensions high in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by the Sports Xchange

      Which two Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers better be watching their backs over the next few weeks?

      Here's a hint: The drivers of the two yellow cars in the Chase have a number of their fellow competitors seeing red.

      Matt Kenseth is the obvious first choice. Admitting later he made a mistake in the yellow No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth spun on Lap 228 at Martinsville, knocking Kevin Harvick into the wall and into the cellar of the Chase standings.

      "He won't win this championship," Harvick asserted after the race. "If we don't, he won't."

      Harvick has an excellent memory, and he's just as good at keeping promises as he is at leading laps.

      The driver of the other yellow car, Joey Logano, may have concerns on more than one front. Though Logano says he and Danica Patrick have settled their differences after a run-in at Charlotte, there are those in Patrick's camp who aren't so sure that's the

      case.

      Patrick and Logano were never close together on the track at Martinsville, but there are three races left.

      Denny Hamlin, on the other hand, was close enough to give Logano a few strategic bumps at Martinsville, but Logano repeatedly frustrated Hamlin's efforts to pass.

      No doubt Hamlin remembers the hard ride he took into the concrete at Fontana after contact from Logano. That accident sidelined Hamlin for four races.

      So don't be shocked if Hamlin tries to sideline Logano's title chances. Maybe as soon as this Sunday at Texas (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

      @nascarcasm

      -- Jeff Gordon isn't upset at Dale Earnhardt Jr. for winning that race. In fact, Jeff came by victory lane and kindly offered to clean his clock for him.

      --The leaves and Stewart-Hass Racing pit crews -- two things that always change during the Fall.

      --You'll hear TV announcers say "(Driver name) isn't making any friends out on track today." Because so often drivers leave Martinsville exchanging phone numbers and making plans to hang out more.

      --Kasey Kahne clearly still mad he didn't make the Eliminator Round - probably because the Eliminator Round has a "MUST BE 21 OR OLDER TO ENTER" sign hanging on it.

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

      NASCAR NUMBERS

      33: Kevin Harvick's point deficit to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jeff Gordon after contact from Matt Kenseth rocketed Harvick into the outside wall on Lap 228 at Martinsville. Last in the Chase standings, Harvick likely faces a must-win scenario at Texas or Phoenix to keep his title hopes alive.

      10: The number of top-five finishes recorded by Chase driver Joey Logano in the last 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. During that stretch, Logano has won twice in the Chase and earned four other top fives in seven Chase races. His worst finish in the last 14 races was 14th at Atlanta.

      4: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories recorded this season by Dale Earnhardt Jr., the first time Earnhardt has won more than one race in a year since collecting a career-best six victories in 2004. Earnhardt added to his stellar year on Sunday with his first career win at Martinsville.

      4: The finishing position of Tony Stewart in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 on Sunday at Martinsville. Staying out on old tires for a restart with five laps left, Stewart surrendered the lead on Lap 497 of 500 but held fourth at the finish for his best result since March at Bristol.

      5: The current number of consecutive top-10 finishes posted by Chase driver Ryan Newman, who has remained in contention for the championship with solid, consistent performances. Newman has run eighth, sixth, seventh, fifth and third in the last five Chase races.

      NASCAR NOTES

      Jeff Gordon (+7 points ahead of the cutoff) placed second at Martinsville to lead all eight championship-qualifying drivers in the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round. Chase contenders Ryan Newman (+4, third), Joey Logano (+3, fifth), Matt Kenseth (+2, sixth) and Denny Hamlin (-2, eighth) each posted top-10 finishes to begin the final stretch towards Homestead. Carl Edwards (-15, 20th), Brad Keselowski (-26, 31st) and Kevin Harvick (-28, 33rd) had tough-luck showings and essentially must win one of the next two races to advance to the Championship Round. ... Barring epic collapses from the drivers ahead of them, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards need to win at either Texas or Phoenix to keep their championship hopes alive. Edwards boasts three victories at Texas and two at Phoenix, while Harvick has never won at Texas, but has taken the checkered flag in three of the last four Phoenix races. Keselowski claims no wins at either track, but leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories this season. ... A week after being eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at Martinsville to became the first non-championship-qualifying driver to win a race in NASCAR's playoffs this season. The victory marked his first Martinsville triumph in 30 starts, and his first win during the Chase since November of 2004 at Phoenix. Earnhardt's four wins this season are his most since 2004.

      NASCAR On Television, Oct. 27 - Nov. 2

      Monday, October 27

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

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

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

      7:30 p.m., The 10: NASCAR's Most Bizarre Moments (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      Tuesday, October 28

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

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

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

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

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

      7:30 p.m., The 10: Greatest Comebacks in NASCAR History (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      9 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Martinsville (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      3 a.m. (Wed.), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Martinsville (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      Wednesday, October 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Thursday, October 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      7:30 p.m., The 10: NASCAR's Wildest Throw-Downs (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      Friday, October 31

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

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

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

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

      10:30 a.m., The 10: Greatest Soundbites in NASCAR History (re-air), FOX Sports 1

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

      Noon, NASCAR Nationwide Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

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

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

      3 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1

      4:30 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Practice, ESPN2

      6:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, ESPN2

      8 p.m., NCWTS SetUp, FOX Sports 1

      8:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Texas, FOX Sports 1

      4 a.m. (Sat.), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Texas (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      Saturday, November 1

      6 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      7:30 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Texas (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      10 a.m., NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Race at Thompson, FOX Sports 1

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

      Noon, NASCAR Nationwide Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 2

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

      2 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice,FOX Sports 2

      3:30 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Race at Texas, ESPN2

      10:30 p.m., The 10: NASCAR's Wildest Throw-Downs (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      11 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice (re-air),FOX Sports 2

      Midnight (Sun.), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      1 a.m. (Sun.), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Race at Thompson, FOX Sports 2

      Sunday, November 2

      10 a.m., NSCS Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      11 a.m., NSCS Final Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      1 p.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1

      2 p.m., NSCS Countdown, ESPN

      3 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Texas, ESPN

      8:30 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

      1:30 a.m. (Mon.), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Texas (re-air), ESPN2

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race: AAA Texas 500

      The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

      The Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 2, 3 p.m. (ET)

      TV: ESPN

      Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race: O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge

      The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

      The Date/Time: Saturday, Nov. 1, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

      TV: ESPN2

      Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

      The Next Race: Winstar World Casino and Resort 350

      The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

      Date/Time: Friday, Oct. 31, 8:30 p.m. (ET)

      TV: FOX Sports 1

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR National Series Standings

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

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

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

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

      Chase Standings (points)

      1. Jeff Gordon (4,044)

      2. Ryan Newman (4,041)

      3. Joey Logano (4,040)

      4. Matt Kenseth (4,039)

      5. Denny Hamlin (4,037)

      6. Carl Edwards (4,024)

      7. Brad Keselowski (4,013)

      8. Kevin Harvick (4,011)

      NASCAR Nationwide Series (Points)

      1. Chase Elliott # (1,106)

      2. Regan Smith (1,064)

      3. Brian Scott (1,045)

      4. Elliott Sadler (1,043)

      5. Ty Dillon # (1,042)

      6. Trevor Bayne (1,008)

      7. Chris Buescher # (912)

      8. Brendan Gaughan (875)

      9. Ryan Reed # (820)

      10. James Buescher (792)

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (Points)

      1. Matt Crafton (716)

      2. Ryan Blaney (698)

      3. Darrell Wallace Jr. (694)

      4. Johnny Sauter (676)

      5. Timothy Peters (639)

      6. German Quiroga Jr. (608)

      7. Joey Coulter (607)

      8. Ben Kennedy # (590)

      9. Jeb Burton (587)

      10. Ron Hornaday Jr. (494)

  • Monday, October 27, 2014
    Keselowski back in the same hole he just escaped
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Apparently, Brad Keselowski can't stand prosperity.

      Or perhaps he's just trying to extract every ounce of drama possible from the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format.

      A week after keeping his championship hopes alive with a storybook victory at Talladega Superspeedway, in a race he had to win to advance to the Chase's Eliminator Round, Keselowski and his No. 2 Ford team are back on skid row.

      And, once again, he has company on his quick trip from the penthouse to the outhouse heading into Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

      At Talladega, Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered the GEICO 500 facing win-or-bust scenarios. Obviously, the trophy went to the Keselowski and No. 2 Team Penske squad, and the pink slips went to Johnson and Earnhardt.

      After Martinsville, Keselowski can commiserate with fellow championship favorite Kevin Harvick, who met his own Waterloo on Sunday at Martinsville in the form of fellow Chase driver Matt Kenseth.

      Keselowski and Harvick fell to the bottom of the Chase grid in very different, but equally precipitous ways.

      Harvick was first to go. After starting 33rd thanks to an overly loose setup in his car for Friday's qualifying session, Harvick had worked his way methodically into the top 10 before the halfway point of the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500.

      But on Lap 228, the race went awry for the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Kenseth drove hard into Turn 1 in the bottom lane, ran up on teammate and fellow Chase driver Denny Hamlin, wheel-hopped in the corner and spun, knocking Harvick into the outside wall.

      Harvick drove his smoking car to the garage, where his team performed masterful surgery over the course of 40 laps and sent Harvick back to the track to complete the race in a Chevy carcass that looked more like a modified than a Cup car.

      Harvick finished 33rd, dropped 33 points behind race runner-up and Chase leader Jeff Gordon and left Martinsville with a chip on his shoulder and a promise to make sure Kenseth wouldn't win the championship.

      For most of the race, Harvick seemed likely to finish alone near the bottom of the running order, but Keselowski proved once again that misery loves company.

      In a freakish failure after a restart on Lap 434 of 500, Keselowski broke a rear gear. Like Harvick, he took his car to the garage, where his crew replaced the gear within 28 laps and sent the No. 2 Ford back on track to complete the race.

      Keselowski finished 31st, dropped 31 points behind Gordon and left Martinsville facing the same sort of challenge that confronted him at Talladega.

      With the top five drivers bunched within a seven-point range, and with a cut from eight to four Chase drivers looming two weeks hence at Phoenix, both Keselowski and Harvick know the certain path to avoid elimination from the championship -- and in all probability the only path -- is to win one of the next two races.

      That, of course, leaves us with a litany of intriguing unanswered questions as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads for Texas and then Phoenix.

      Can lightning strike twice for Keselowski?

      Should Kenseth start looking over his shoulder now, or will Harvick wait to exact payback only if Kenseth makes the final four at Homestead, where the four remaining Chase drivers will battle for a title that goes to the highest finisher among the four?

      Can Harvick live up to his nickname "The Closer" by winning one of the next two races in a car that has been the class of the field for most of the season? Harvick will be a heavy favorite at Phoenix, where he led 224 of 312 laps in a dominating win on March 2.

      Or, conversely, will two of the year's best-performing cars, drivers and teams suffer elimination under a new Chase format that has no memory?

      By the time we exit Phoenix, all those questions will be answered.

      Except, perhaps, for the one about Kenseth. Harvick may save that surprise for the season finale.

  • Sunday, October 26, 2014
    Runner-up finish a mixed blessing for Gordon
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Finishing second to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't without substantial benefits to Jeff Gordon.

      When Gordon crossed the finish line .344 seconds behind Earnhardt in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, he did so as the new leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      With Earnhardt, a non-Chase driver, winning the first race of the Chase's Eliminator Round, Gordon goes to Texas and Phoenix two solid finishes away from advancing to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      But Gordon narrowly missed the major prize, a victory that would have locked him into the season finale ahead of a test session at Homestead.

      In one respect, Gordon can blame himself for the second-place finish. He had to fight back from a pit road speeding penalty that dropped him to the rear of the field for a restart on Lap 206 of 500.

      "Yeah, unfortunately I lost this race today because of my mistake on pit road," Gordon said. "That was on me. We played catch-up for the rest of the day."

      Gordon was shuffled back on the next-to-last restart with 64 laps left. He came to the flag in second position, to the outside of race leader Clint Bowyer, with Earnhardt in third. Stuck in the outside lane after Earnhardt filled the hole beneath him, Gordon slipped to fifth before he could get back in line on the bottom.

      Did Gordon expect Earnhardt to leave him room to get into line at that point?

      "I was hoping," Gordon said. "I mean, he let me in on one other one (an earlier restart). I think the next time I was third, and he never even tried to move down, so I filled the gap. It's something we're going to talk about a little bit, because I have a feeling that what happened was, when I didn't let him in, he felt like, 'I'm not going to let him in again.'

      "I don't really know. But I'm not upset about it. You don't expect anybody to do anything. You hope--yeah, sure, you hope. I mean, I hoped Tony Stewart was going to let me in, too, one time. We about crashed going down into Turn 3. That's racing. That's just part of it."

      HAMLIN DISAPPOINTED WITH EIGHTH-PLACE RUN

      Throughout Sunday's race at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin ran consistently in the top five, led 68 laps and had a car capable of contending for the win.

      But Hamlin's day soured initially with a slow pit stop on Lap 420, when he entered pit road from the lead and came out fourth. When three cars stayed out on old tires and took the green flag with five laps left, Hamlin lost more positions and eventually came home eighth.

      That left the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fifth in the standings, seven points behind leader Jeff Gordon. But fifth won't be good enough when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is cut from eight drivers to four two weeks hence at Phoenix.

      "It's hard, because you've got guys that go laps down in the course of the race and get enough lucky dogs and then 50 laps on their tires, and they want to stay out," Hamlin fumed. "Just bottlenecks the field up and we all got the short end of last restart stick again. Just sucked at the end, and we can't finish where we're running.

      "We're running better than what we're finishing. Other guys, like (Ryan) Newman (third Sunday) are finishing better than they're running. That's part of the deal. You've got to do it for all 500 laps, and we just didn't have a very good car once the track went shaded there, and we came in first and came out fourth on a slow stop. I couldn't recover from that."

      FRUSTRATING NIGHT FOR EDWARDS

      Carl Edwards started 11th in the Goody's 500. Only one problem--that was the highlight of his day at Martinsville.

      Edwards' No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford lost ground throughout the race, fell a lap down at one point but, with a free pass as the highest-scored lapped car, eventually finished 20th.

      Now sixth in the standings, 20 points behind leader Jeff Gordon, Edwards has but one objective in the last two races of the Chase's Eliminator Round.

      "We'll go to Texas and go for the win," Edwards said. "We'll go to Phoenix and go for the win there, and that's all we can do."

      Edwards, however, has been strong in recent races at intermediate speedways, and he has three victories at Texas Motor Speedway, the next venue on the schedule.

      "We ran fifth at Kansas and eighth at Charlotte," he said. "We've got a bunch of wins at Texas (three), so there's nothing saying we can't go there and do it.

      "We've got a test coming up this week, and we'll keep digging. These guys don't quit."

  • Sunday, October 26, 2014
    Earnhardt wins at Martinsville as calamity strikes Chase favorites
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- On a day that saw two of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup favorites suffer potentially catastrophic problems, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole a victory from the title contenders on Sunday, passing Tony Stewart for the lead with less than four laps left in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway and pulling away for his fourth victory of the season.

      Ten years and one day removed from the tragic Hendrick Motorsports plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 people, including owner Rick Hendrick's son Ricky, Earnhardt took the checkered flag for the first time at the .526-mile short track, earning for the first time the grandfather clock trophy he has coveted throughout his career.

      In fifth position for a restart on Lap 495, Earnhardt made short work of Clint Bowyer (restarting fourth on the outside) and three drivers who had stayed out on old tires, including Stewart, and arrived at the finish line .344 seconds ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon, who took second place and the lead in the Eliminator Round of the Chase.

      "Oh, man, we've been trying to win here for so many years," said Earnhardt, who collected his 23rd victory in his 538th start. "And this place is so special to me. I've wanted to win here so bad. We brought the good cars. I'm out of breath from celebrating more than driving. It's a real emotional win.

      "This team on pit road was great, and (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and the guys did a real good job all day. They gave me a great shot at it there with the call at the end to take tires (under the 15th caution on Lap 492 of 500). I can't believe we won here. This means so much to all of us."

      Adding to the intense emotion of the moment were thoughts of the tragedy of a decade earlier.

      "I lost my daddy (seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.) a long time ago, and I know how hard that is," said Earnhardt, who was eliminated from the Chase a week earlier at Talladega. "I can't imagine losing the magnitude of people that Rick lost. My heart goes out to him during this weekend.

      "I love that his cars are good (enough) here to get the victory. So this honors them. I'm just real proud to be able to win at Martinsville in a Hendrick car. They always win here."

      Behind Hendrick teammates Earnhardt and Gordon, Chase driver Ryan Newman came home third, posting his fifth straight top 10 in the Chase and climbing to second in the standings, three points behind Gordon.

      Stewart held fourth place, and Joey Logano ran fifth, his sixth top-five result in seven Chase races this year.

      Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski weren't as fortunate. On Lap 228, Matt Kenseth wheel-hopped into Turn 1, spun and knocked Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet hard into the outside wall near the apex of Turns 1 and 2.

      After extensive time in the garage for repairs, Harvick finished 33rd, 43 laps off the pace, and fell to eighth in the Chase standings, 33 points behind Gordon, who led the most laps on Sunday (130). After the next two races, at Texas and Phoenix, the Chase field will be cut from eight drivers to four.

      A week after preserving his place in the Chase with a victory at Talladega, Keselowski suffered a mechanical issue that put him right back into a deep hole. Moments after a restart on Lap 434, the rear differential in Keselowski's No. 2 Team Penske Ford failed.

      Ultimately, Keselowski finished 31st after repairs and trails Gordon by 31 points. With five Chase drivers within seven points of the lead after Martinsville, Keselowski and Harvick likely will have to win one of the next two races to advance to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      Harvick, for one, wasn't about to take his misfortune lightly.

      "Yeah, he (Kenseth) won't win this championship," Harvick promised. "If we don't, he won't."

      Kenseth, who finished sixth despite all the extracurricular activity, took full responsibility for the wreck.

      "I don't blame him for feeling that way, honestly," said Kenseth, who trails Gordon by five points. "It was a mistake -- he was an innocent bystander and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I totally understand how he feels and I totally understand why he would say that.

      "I totally get it. He knows it was a mistake, too, but that doesn't really help him. I don't really blame him. He got taken out of the race for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500

      Martinsville Speedway

      Martinsville, Virginia

      Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014

      1. (23) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 500, $155125.

      2. (13) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 500, $169671.

      3. (9) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 500, $113785.

      4. (4) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 500, $143418.

      5. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 500, $137491.

      6. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 500, $138326.

      7. (12) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 500, $123881.

      8. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500, $97140.

      9. (15) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500, $111298.

      10. (29) David Ragan, Ford, 500, $112898.

      11. (8) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500, $129931.

      12. (19) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 500, $131801.

      13. (21) Greg Biffle, Ford, 500, $125940.

      14. (14) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 500, $112329.

      15. (18) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 500, $122340.

      16. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500, $135029.

      17. (22) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 500, $106373.

      18. (36) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 500, $83590.

      19. (28) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 500, $82865.

      20. (11) Carl Edwards, Ford, 500, $99315.

      21. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500, $119201.

      22. (34) David Gilliland, Ford, 500, $101648.

      23. (25) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 499, $108060.

      24. (37) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 499, $91012.

      25. (35) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 499, $81790.

      26. (43) Mike Wallace(i), Toyota, 499, $89015.

      27. (17) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 496, $112415.

      28. (42) Kyle Fowler(i), Ford, 491, $77690.

      29. (32) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 490, $77565.

      30. (16) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, Accident, 487, $105335.

      31. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 472, $122773.

      32. (7) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 459, $131201.

      33. (33) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 457, $118173.

      34. (30) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Accident, 451, $85090.

      35. (31) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 442, $77040.

      36. (10) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 438, $76990.

      37. (20) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Accident, 436, $84923.

      38. (26) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 436, $100138.

      39. (40) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 436, $68230.

      40. (24) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 403, $83630.

      41. (39) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, Engine, 280, $60230.

      42. (41) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, Brakes, 30, $56230.

      43. (38) Clay Rogers, Toyota, Overheating, 25, $52730.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 70.725 mph.

      Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 43 Mins, 07 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.344 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 15 for 105 laps.

      Lead Changes: 24 among 11 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: J. McMurray 1-8; M. Kenseth 9; J. McMurray 10-77; D. Gilliland 78; J. McMurray 79-84; J. Gordon 85-167; J. McMurray 168-169; J. Gordon 170-191; D. Earnhardt Jr. 192-204; M. Kenseth 205; D. Earnhardt Jr. 206-212; J. Logano 213-256; J. Allgaier # 257-260; T. Stewart 261-274; J. Logano 275-290; D. Hamlin 291-296; D. Earnhardt Jr. 297-313; Kurt Busch 314-334; J. Gordon 335-358; D. Hamlin 359-420; C. Bowyer 421-453; D. Earnhardt Jr. 454-491; J. Gordon 492; T. Stewart 493-496; D. Earnhardt Jr. 497-500.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Gordon 4 times for 130 laps; J. McMurray 4 times for 84 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 5 times for 79 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 68 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 60 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 33 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 21 laps; T. Stewart 2 times for 18 laps; J. Allgaier # 1 time for 4 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 2 laps; D. Gilliland 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon - 4,044; R. Newman - 4,041; J. Logano - 4,040; M. Kenseth - 4,039; D. Hamlin - 4,037; C. Edwards - 4,024; B. Keselowski - 4,013; K. Harvick - 4,011; Kyle Busch - 2,230; A. Allmendinger - 2,198; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 2,196; J. Johnson - 2,186; G. Biffle - 2,178; K. Kahne - 2,173; Kurt Busch - 2,155; A. Almirola - 2,124.

  • Sunday, October 26, 2014
    Earnhardt wins at Martinsville
    By The Sports Xchange

    MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his fourth win of the season and claimed his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, taking the checkered flag in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500.

    • "Oh, man, we've been trying to win here for so many years," Earnhardt said. "And this place is so special to me. I've wanted to win here so bad. We brought good cars. I'm out of breath from celebrating more than driving. It's a real emotional win."

      Jeff Gordon finished second to be the highest finisher among the eight remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors and give Hendrick Motorsports a 1-2 finish.

      Because none of the Chase drivers won the race, no driver clinched an automatic berth in the championship finale at Homestead.

      After a red flag with about 10 laps remaining, Earnhardt and Gordon led most of the field down pit road under yellow, while Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan stayed out to restart in the top three positions.

      Earnhardt got up to second as soon as the race returned to green and then got by Stewart for the lead after the two banged for the top spot for a time.

      "I just really had to get aggressive under Tony, and I think he would have done the same thing," Earnhardt said. "I had to go because I had the 24 (Gordon) behind me and coming hard and I couldn't give up anything. So we had to go real hard right there."

      Gordon and Ryan Newman also passed Stewart in the final laps to finish second and third. Stewart held on to finish fourth, his best finish since returning to the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend. Joey Logano finished fifth.

      "It was a solid points day. It's a good thing the 88 (Earnhardt) won and not the 24. That's a good thing," Logano said. "Overall, it was a top-five, which is great. We've been top-fiving the heck out of this Chase, which is what we need to do."

      After Jamie McMurray dominated the opening stages of the race, Gordon took the lead on lap 85. Gordon showed the way until he was caught speeding on pit road during a caution on lap 189. Newman was also nabbed for speeding in the pits during the same caution. As a result of the penalties, Gordon and Newman restarted 30th and 31st and just missed a spinning Ragan on lap 208.

      "We got behind," Gordon said. "I made a big mistake on pit road and was speeding. I knew it. We had to go back and claw our way back up in there, so that was a great comeback and a total team effort by everybody."

      Gordon raced his way back toward the front and was back up to 10th by the time the yellow flag waved on lap 228. As he was racing his way back up through the field, Earnhardt was a consistent front-runner. After a caution on lap 294, the Hendrick Motorsports teammates battled for the lead.

      Earnhardt got that lead, but it was taken by Kurt Busch a few laps later. Both Gordon and Earnhardt were at or near the front the rest of the way.

      The yellow flag waved 15 times throughout the 500-lap race, and the red flag was displayed twice -- once for cleanup after a multi-car crash involving Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex with just under 65 laps to go, and then again with about 10 laps to go to clean up fluid from Kyle Larson's wrecked car.

      Kahne and Brian Vickers were involved in multiple cautions throughout the race. Vickers spun after contact from Kahne around lap 160. On lap 221, Vickers retaliated, hitting Kahne. Keselowski received damage from the lap 221 run-in between Kahne and Vickers. Kahne and Vickers had one final run-un on lap 277.

      After winning at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway a week ago, Keselowski's day at Martinsville was a long one. He fell back early because of an overheating issue, and then was caught speeding on pit road during the lap 160 caution. He later fell off the pace because of a mechanical issue and then suffered damage from two on-track incidents.

      Other Chase drivers also had trouble at Martinsville. Kevin Harvick spent a significant amount of time in the garage when his car sustained significant damage in a wreck that also involved Matt Kenseth and Stewart on lap 228.

      "It was a long day; it was one of the low lights of my career, honestly," Kenseth said. "I'm glad we got that finish even though we've got the car all banged up and all the extra stuff going on. At the end of the day, I'm glad we got the finish, but it was a rough day."

      Kenseth continued and finished sixth, Clint Bowyer was seventh, Denny Hamlin eighth, A.J. Allmendinger ninth, and Ragan rounded out the top-10.

      NOTES: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are the winningest active drivers at Martinsville Speedway with eight wins apiece. ... Brad Keselowski is the only remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup driver with no career wins at Martinsville or any of the three remaining tracks on the 2014 schedule. ... Kurt Busch won at Martinsville the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited the track in March, while Gordon won a year ago. ... David Ragan ran with a special paint scheme on his No. 34 car, commemorating the upcoming 2015 induction of Wendell Scott into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Darrell Wallace Jr. drove a Scott tribute paint scheme to victory lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville on Saturday. ... Hendrick Motorsports recognized the 10th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 Hendrick family members, friends and employees on their way to Martinsville in 2004 with a special paint scheme on Johnson's No. 48 car. ... Martinsville Speedway is the only track remaining on the Sprint Cup Series schedule that has been around since the first Cup level NASCAR season in 1949.

  • Saturday, October 25, 2014
    Wallace wins Kroger 200 in tribute to Scott
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Driving a No. 34 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota painted and numbered as a tribute to NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Wendell Scott -- with Scott’s family in attendance at Martinsville Speedway -- pole-sitter Darrell Wallace Jr. held off Timothy Peters to win the Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Saturday.

      Last year at Martinsville, driving the No. 54 KBM Tundra, Wallace became the first African-American driver to win a race in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series since Scott accomplished the feat in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Dec. 1, 1963, at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla.

      Though his number was changed to 34 on Saturday, in honor of Scott’s traditional car number, the result was the same for Wallace, who grabbed the lead from Johnny Sauter in heavy traffic on Lap 188 of 200, moments before the record 11th caution slowed the race.

      Wallace pulled away after a restart with six laps left and beat Peters to the finish line by .495 second. Peters bumped Sauter out of the way in the closing laps, also opening the door for reigning series champion Matt Crafton, who came home third and extended his series lead to 18 points over fifth-place finisher Ryan Blaney.

      “I wasn't worried about anybody, honestly,” Wallace said. “They kept telling me where everybody was, and I said I didn't care. It's our weekend and we're going to come out and take this (grandfather) clock (trophy) home with us. And we just did that.

      "That was so fun. Martinsville is my favorite place to come to. Without the support of NASCAR and Toyota ... the whole Wendell Scott family is here and this is a special moment, just a perfect weekend for us. It's a true honor to have Wendell Scott on our Toyota Tundra and to be able to put it in Victory Lane. I know he (Scott) just said up there, 'Hell yeah.' This is cool.”

      Wallace said he appreciated the win even more than his first victory in the series, at Martinsville a year ago.

      "It means a lot. I know I had a guardian angel looking over me this weekend,” said Wallace, who took over third place in the series standings, 22 points behind Crafton. “To be able to put it in Victory Lane, you couldn't ask for a better weekend. You thought last year was special, but this definitely beats it.”

      Upset with what he deemed roughhouse tactics from Peters, Sauter attempted to confront the runner-up on pit road after the race, but NASCAR officials and crew members kept the drivers apart.

      "It’s Martinsville,” Peters said. “If you’re going to dish it out, you’re going to need to be able to take it. Did I mean to run into him? Yeah. I’m not going to deny that -- maybe not as hard.

      "But it is what it is. I don’t want to waste too much of my breath on that. We’ll just focus on how well we ran today."

      Wallace led 97 of the 200 laps. Second was the pace car, which was out front for a record 71 laps during a race that featured more rookies than veterans and six drivers competing in the series for the first time.

      Erik Jones ran fourth, followed by Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Sauter, Matt Tifft (a UNC-Charlotte freshman making his first start), Alex Guenette and German Quiroga, whose ill-fated attempt to take the lead in heavy traffic on Lap 188 caused his No. 77 Toyota to spin and brought out the 11th caution, solidifying Wallace in the lead.

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race -- Kroger 200

      Martinsville Speedway

      Martinsville, Va.

      1. (1) Darrell Wallace Jr., Toyota, 200, $38195.

      2. (2) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 200, $23860.

      3. (3) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 200, $18376.

      4. (15) Erik Jones, Toyota, 200, $14400.

      5. (5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200, $12050.

      6. (10) Tyler Reddick #, Ford, 200, $11575.

      7. (7) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 200, $10425.

      8. (20) Matt Tifft, Chevrolet, 200, $10375.

      9. (12) Alex Guenette, Chevrolet, 200, $10325.

      10. (8) German Quiroga, Toyota, 200, $11550.

      11. (22) Caleb Holman, Chevrolet, 200, $7975.

      12. (9) Jeb Burton, Toyota, 200, $10100.

      13. (14) John H. Nemechek, Toyota, 200, $10050.

      14. (6) Gray Gaulding #, Chevrolet, 200, $10000.

      15. (23) Mason Mingus #, Chevrolet, 200, $8475.

      16. (13) Ben Kennedy #, Chevrolet, 200, $9825.

      17. (26) Peyton Sellers, Toyota, 200, $9775.

      18. (21) Brennan Newberry, Chevrolet, 200, $9725.

      19. (24) Tyler Young #, Chevrolet, 200, $9675.

      20. (32) Enrique Contreras III, Chevrolet, 200, $10250.

      21. (29) Camden Murphy, Chevrolet, 200, $8350.

      22. (17) Max Gresham, Chevrolet, 200, $8325.

      23. (33) Cody Erickson, Ford, 199, $7300.

      24. (27) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 198, $7275.

      25. (34) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, 196, $7375.

      26. (19) Austin Hill, Ford, 195, $7200.

      27. (36) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, 193, $7125.

      28. (35) Jennifer Jo Cobb, RAM, 192, $7100.

      29. (4) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, Accident, 184, $7050.

      30. (11) Joey Coulter, Chevrolet, 184, $7525.

      31. (25) Bryan Silas, Chevrolet, 170, $6575.

      32. (16) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, Accident, 150, $6550.

      33. (18) John Wes Townley, Toyota, Accident, 150, $6525.

      34. (31) Jody Knowles, Ford, Transmission, 124, $6475.

      35. (30) Justin Jennings, Chevrolet, Brakes, 100, $6445.

      36. (28) TJ Bell, Chevrolet, Radiator, 44, $6405.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 60.498 mph.

      Time of Race: 1 hour, 44 minutes, 20 seconds. Margin of Victory: 0.495 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 11 for 71 laps.

      Lead Changes: Nine among five drivers.

      Lap Leaders: D. Wallace Jr. 1-17; R. Blaney 18-34; D. Wallace Jr. 35-41; M. Crafton 42-64; J. Sauter 65-102; M. Crafton 103; A. Hill 104-124; D. Wallace Jr. 125-184; J. Sauter 185-187; D. Wallace Jr. 188-200.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Wallace Jr. 4 times for 97 laps; J. Sauter 2 times for 41 laps; M. Crafton 2 times for 24 laps; A. Hill 1 time for 21 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 17 laps.

      Top 10 in points: M. Crafton 716, R. Blaney 698, D. Wallace Jr. 694, J. Sauter 676, T. Peters 639, G. Quiroga 608, J. Coulter 607, B. Kennedy 590, J. Burton 587, R. Hornaday Jr. 494.

  • Saturday, October 25, 2014
    Notebook: Harvick has tough road to hoe
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- If Kevin Harvick truly is one of the heavy favorites to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, he's going to have to prove it on Sunday.

      Fighting a loose handling car during Friday's time trials, Harvick brushed the wall at Martinsville Speedway and qualified 33rd.

      Starting that deep in the field for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 on Sunday presents a litany of complications for the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

      With the 33rd pick of a pit box, Harvick won't have a stall that will lend itself to making up ground under yellow.

      Starting that close to the rear of the field in the first event of the Chase's Eliminator Round, Harvick will have to tax his equipment to keep from getting lapped.

      "You start back there, and it's tough for a lot of reasons," said second-place starter Joey Logano, when asked to describe the problems Harvick will face. "Obviously, the leaders are going to be there in a second, so you've got to go pretty hard. But, really, when you're that far back, the line checks up so much ... the inside lane just keeps checking up a lot into the corners and you can shove the nose in pretty quick there and really be trying to take care of yourself, and the next thing you know, you're in the back of a car.

      "So I think that will probably be something you've got to be aware, and obviously guys fighting to the bottom and the sense of urgency back there is very high, so you're not really saving any tires because you've got to go. If it's a long run, that's where you can get in trouble pretty quick -- if it's a long green flag run on the first run. I've been there before. That's how I know.”

      All that said, the main things mitigating against Harvick are history and statistics.

      Only once in the annals of the legendary .526-mile track, over the course of 131 races, has a driver won a Cup race from a starting position outside the top 24.

      That was in 2002, when Kurt Busch collected the first of his two Martinsville wins from 36th on the grid.

      The good news is that Harvick was fifth fastest in race trim during Saturday morning's Sprint Cup practice session and fastest during Happy Hour.

      The bad news is that he has a lot of cars to pass on Sunday.

      HAMLIN: NO HOLDING BACK IN ELIMINATOR

      Now that the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has entered the Eliminator Round, with the number of drivers eligible for the championship to be cut from eight to four after the Nov. 9 race at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin's attitude has shifted to all-out aggressive.

      "You have to have all the pieces together, now that you're part of the final eight, because the four that move on will be the four that stand out, I think, in this round," Hamlin said.

      "It's not going to be about surviving or backing your way (in). I don't think anybody other than the race winners (at Martinsville and Texas) will be going into Phoenix thinking, 'OK, let's just have a solid week here and move on to Homestead.' There's no more hanging back and trying to be conservative from here on out. You've got to be fast."

      A four-time winner at Martinsville in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Hamlin is the only non-Chevrolet driver to take a checkered flag at NASCAR's shortest Cup venue since the spring race of 2004.

      And Hamlin showed excellent speed in Friday's qualifying session. He’ll start fifth in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 on Sunday.

      SHORT STROKES

      Chase drivers occupied four of the top 10 spots in Saturday's final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session at Martinsville, with Kevin Harvick topping the speed chart at 97.322.

      Brad Keselowski was third fastest, with Jeff Gordon fifth and Joey Logano ninth.

      Gordon paced the field in average speed over 10 consecutive laps, running 96.550 mph to edge Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

      After Happy Hour, championship contender Carl Edwards has cause for concern. Edwards' No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was 33rd fastest in single-lap speed and 32nd quickest in 10-lap average, neither a good omen for the first race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase on Sunday.

      Edwards will start 11th in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500, but he will need to find more speed to hold that position at a track that hasn't been particularly kind to him in the past.

  • Friday, October 24, 2014
    McMurray upstages Chase drivers with Martinsville pole
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- When the green flag waves to start the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN), it won't be a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver who leads the field to the start/finish line.

      Touring the .526-mile short track in 99.905 mph in his No. 1 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Jamie McMurray upstaged the championship contenders on Friday in winning the pole for the first race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase.

      In claiming his second Coors Light pole award of the season, his second at Martinsville and the 11th of his career, McMurray beat title contenders Joey Logano (99.605 mph) and Matt Kenseth (99.318 mph) for the top spot.

      Tony Stewart (99.297 mph) qualified fourth, followed by Chase driver Denny Hamlin (99.266 mph). Six of the eight eligible remaining Chase drivers qualified in the top 12. Brad Keselowski will start sixth, Ryan Newman ninth and Carl Edwards 11th.

      In McMurray's case, practice made perfect. His pole followed a productive recent test session at the historic short track.

      "We tested here a couple of weeks ago, and I thought we had one of the best tests that I've been a part of, really since I started racing," McMurray said. "Really well organized ... We made the car better throughout the test and hit on a couple things that really had a lot of speed in it.

      "So I was pretty excited about getting here this weekend. Our cars have been so quick the past two or three months -- really all year, but more so in the past few months. This is a great track for me, and we had a really good test.

      "When things are going well, you get excited to come back to the track. It was really great that we were able to take that test and use that toward earning the pole today."

      Jeff Gordon, one of the pre-race favorites, narrowly missed advancing to the second round of knockout qualifying and will start 13th. The real casualty of Friday's time trials, however, was Kevin Harvick, who scraped the wall in the 30-minute first round and will start 33rd.

      "We just missed it today," said Harvick, whose career-average finish of 15.8 at Martinsville is worst among the eight remaining Chase drivers. "We were way too loose. We struggled in practice and just missed it in qualifying.

      "We'll just have to get it better (in Saturday's practice) and be ready to go on Sunday."

      Gordon, who missed advancing to the second round by .003 of a second, shrugged off his position on the grid.

      "I don't mind starting 13th," he said. "It's not a bad place to start. You just want that really good pit stall, and so we'll definitely suffer with a pit stall a little bit.

      "But we can definitely still win it from there. Our car is really good."

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Confident Gordon marches on to Martinsville
    By The Sports Xchange

    Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Claiming his last couple laps at Talladega were the most nerve-racking of his life, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon survived the unpredictable Alabama track to move on to the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and continue his drive for a fifth title.

      "It goes to show just how intense this is and how much this format has changed your mindset," said Gordon, a 23-year NSCS veteran with 757 starts to his credit. "I don't think I've ever been more nervous through a race weekend than this past weekend. I'm kind of glad we experienced that. I'm glad we survived it."

      This weekend, the 43-year-old driver travels to a more welcoming site -- Martinsville Speedway. Gordon, along with the other seven remaining Chase contenders -- Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin -- will be on equal ground as their points were reset to 4,000 following Talladega. A first-place finish in any of the next three races would automatically advance a member of the Eliminator 8 to the Championship Round race at Homestead.

      Piloting the No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Gordon will go for his ninth victory at the .526-mile oval in Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). He currently ranks tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for its wins lead among active drivers.

      "My goal this whole year when I knew we had fast race cars and a shot at the championship was to get through this last (Contender) Round and to make it through to this (Eliminator) Round," Gordon said. "This to me is where we're going to shine. There's such a very realistic chance for us to not only win a couple of these races coming up, but seriously get ourselves to Homestead with a real shot at winning this thing."

      At Martinsville, Gordon will have to contend with fellow championship-qualifying driver and track ace Hamlin. The No. 11 FedEx Toyota pilot boasts four wins at the Virginia track and claims the third-best average running position (9.0) and driver rating (109.6) there. He stated during Eliminator Media Day he would pick either Martinsville or Homestead to run "one race, heads-up for the championship."

      "It's a huge opportunity for us," Hamlin said. "As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn't matter, aero doesn't matter - and it's about the driver and mechanical setups - I feel like those are our strong suits."

      WALLACE GOES FOR FALL REPEAT AT MARTINSVILLE

      Driver Darrell Wallace Jr. of Kyle Busch Motorsports led the final 50 laps of the Kroger 200 all the way to the finish at the .526-mile oval to become the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race. His triumph occurred nearly 50 years after Wendell Scott became the first African-American victor of a NASCAR national series race at Jacksonville Speedway on Dec. 1, 1963.

      Martinsville is located about 30 miles east of Danville, Virginia -- the late Scott's hometown.

      "This (win) means everything," a teary-eyed Wallace said after the race. "This is an emotional win for me, especially to do it in Wendell Scott's backyard. I love coming here to Martinsville. It's always good to me. It finally paid off."

      Wallace will attempt to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' fall race at Martinsville again on Saturday in the Kroger 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). He finished second in the March event at "The Paperclip" after winning the pole.

      For the race weekend, Wallace has decided to honor Scott and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Wallace will pay tribute to Scott at Martinsville by temporarily changing his red, white and black No. 54 Toyota Tundra to the No. 34 Toyota Tundra with a throwback blue and white paint scheme, reminiscent of the No. 34 car Scott drove. He will also sport a retro fire suit.

      "I'm really excited to run the No. 34 Toyota Tundra this weekend at Martinsville to honor Wendell Scott's Hall of Fame induction, as well as honor the entire Scott family," Wallace said. "Martinsville is a track I have run well on and will always be special to me since I got my first win there last year."

      Championship implications are on the line for Wallace, who moved up to third in the standings after a ninth-place showing at Talladega. He trails series leader Matt Crafton by 28 points with four races left in the season.

      The 21-year-old feels ready to further reduce his standings deficit on Saturday.

      "Anytime you mention Martinsville, I get excited," Wallace said. "Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and the guys have worked really hard to give me the best Toyota Tundra, and I know if we unload with the same speed we have the last few races, we will be just fine. It's time to get us another win and another Grandfather clock."

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Road Map to Glory: Martinsville, Homestead in Hamlin's wheelhouse
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Joe Menzer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      It may seem strong talk from a driver who has only one win this season -- but now that he has advanced to the Eliminator 8 Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Denny Hamlin said he figures his chances of winning it all are as good as anyone's.

      "I believe we have all the tools necessary," Hamlin said of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota team Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where the eight drivers remaining in the hunt for the 2014 championship gathered to speak with the media.

      Not only that, but Hamlin likes where the Sprint Cup Series is headed for the three races of the Eliminator Round. He owns a total of seven career wins at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, and would need to add only one more to secure advancement into the final winner-take-all championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he has won twice. That includes his win there in last year's final race.

      Of the seven career victories he owns at the next three venues, five have come at the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway. Hamlin's average finish in 17 career starts at the track is 8.8 -- second only to Jeff Gordon's career average finish of 7.0 among the drivers left in this Chase.

      "There is no reason we can't be as competitive as these seven guys we're racing against over these last four races," said Hamlin, whose lone victory so far this season came at Talladega in the spring. "And truth be told, if you asked me where I would like to run one race, heads-up for the championship, I would pick either Martinsville or Homestead.

      "I almost would pick Homestead, because we've had a lot of success there over the last few years. No one saw us coming there last year. We had been running 15th every week, and then we went out and won Homestead. It's hard to pinpoint favorites and underdogs at this point, because there are so many variables. Plus we go to two of these short tracks (including the one-mile venue at Phoenix), where speed is not that big of a factor."

      Matching the speed of the Team Penske Fords and the Chevrolets fielded by Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing at the bigger tracks has been a problem for Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates much of this season. Hamlin said he realizes that may come into play at 1.5-mile Homestead -- but again, that's a track he likes and has performed well on in the past, and he just wants to make it there still alive in the Chase.

      Earning a sixth career win at Martinsville this Sunday would do the trick. Despite finishing a disappointing -- and uncharacteristic -- 19th there in the spring race after he qualified second, Hamlin said he is very confident.

      "It's a huge opportunity for us," Hamlin said. "As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn't matter, aero doesn't matter -- and it's about the driver and mechanical setups -- I feel like those are our strong suits.

      "As bad as we ran there in the spring, you can't compare it to the fall. There was no practice in the spring. We went to a race track and tested for Martinsville a week after the spring race -- for this race right here. I think I've got three or four true days testing on a race track just for this Martinsville and trying to perform well in this particular race, knowing this is a great shot for us. If we can win here, we'll get that shot at Homestead that I feel ultra-confident in."

      Hamlin said JGR found a track in Sandusky, Ohio, that resembles Martinsville -- and since it's a non-NASCAR-sanctioned track, they could test there as much as they wanted this season. Next season, NASCAR is doing away with testing at all tracks for individual teams.

      "Normally I wouldn't give that information away, but there's no more testing now," Hamlin said.

      He knows he almost didn't make it this far in the Chase. He spent most of last Sunday's Talladega race riding around toward the back, trying to avoid trouble. He narrowly did so and then still found himself in jeopardy of being one of the four drivers eliminated when Brad Keselowski, who needed to win to advance, did just that.

      In the end, Hamlin's 18th-place finish was good enough to put him in the next round with seven points to spare.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, Oct. 22
    By The Sports Xchange

    Capsules for the eight drivers remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: With six races over and four more to go in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway is the start of the Eliminator Round. Joey Logano is tied with seven other drivers for the standings lead after the points were reset following Talladega.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 win, 2 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2010. Finished 14th in this race last year and was fourth in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Martinsville has not always been kind to Logano, but his fourth-place finish in the spring gives him reason for optimism , as it was his best showing there since finishing sixth in fall 2010. Logano is approaching Sunday's race at the half-mile bullring in much the same fashion as he approached (and won) the start of the Contender Round, when he won at Kansas to assure advancement to the next round. If Logano wins at Martinsville, he'll be one of the final four drivers to vie for the championship in the season finale at Homestead. "That is very important," Logano said. "But it would also be pretty cool to win one of those grandfather clocks. It has to be one of the coolest trophies in all of motorsports. It's unique. But it's not an easy race to win. There is a lot of beating and banging that goes on there and you can even get caught up in someone else's mess. That's a big part of short track racing. But we had a good test there and I feel like we have the ability to go there and win, especially with what we learned in the spring and how strong we were then."

      LOOKING BACK: Logano's formula for the Chase continues to work. If he can't win, he strives for a consistent finish, and did that again at Talladega, ending up a respectable 11th.

      ETC.: Logano has completed a near-perfect 99.8 percent (5,514) of the 5,524 laps contested in 11 career starts at Martinsville. His average start there is 13.0 and his average finish is 14.8. He has zero DNFs there.

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick is exactly where he wants to be, tied with the other seven drivers heading into the penultimate round of the Chase, known as the Eliminator Round. If Harvick wins any of the next three races D Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix D he'll advance to the final four drivers that battle for the championship in the season finale at Homestead.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 26 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 2011. Finished sixth in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick continues to have arguably the best season of his Sprint Cup career. Now that he's reached the Eliminator Round, he's just one win away from reaching the championship race at Homestead. Everything seems to be coming together at the right time for him. "These next three races line up really well for us," Harvick said. "We've been fortunate to have won at Martinsville before and we ran really well there the first race (this spring). First, it was just trying to get to Martinsville and we've accomplished that. Now we have to focus on getting the best finish that we can out of each racetrack."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick led two laps and stayed out of trouble at the always unpredictable Talladega, ultimately finishing with a strong ninth-place showing.

      ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.7 percent (12,736 laps) of the 13,034 total laps contested in 26 career starts at Martinsville. His average start there is 13.7 and his average finish is 15.8. He has one DNF there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: The lone representative of Richard Childress Racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Ryan Newman is one of two drivers who has advanced to the Eliminator Round without earning a win thus far in 2014. The other driver is Matt Kenseth.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 win, 7 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2012. Finished 38th in this race last year and was 20th in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman may not be winning races, but he's doing pretty much everything else right when it comes to advancing in the Chase. The key for him has been uncanny consistency in the Chase. However, he faces a big obstacle at Martinsville this Sunday. He's finished 20th, 38th and 31st in the last three races there. He needs a big turnaround there Sunday. "Martinsville is a fun track to drive when you have a car that allows you to look out the front window," Newman said. "If you are spending too much time looking in the mirror and can't get in the corner, you are going to have a nightmare of a day. Looking at where this race lands in the Chase, all of the races are equally important when you do the math. There are outside, situational circumstances like a wreck that you can be involved in. That applies to any track but I think Martinsville has a higher potential for a wreck to happen in comparison to some of the 1.5-mile tracks we go to, for example. Obviously, you never know what's going to happen, so we'll just have to wait and see and hope for the best."

      LOOKING BACK: Newman had a very strong car at Talladega. He led 10 laps and finished in the top-five with a fifth-place finish.

      ETC.: Newman has completed 96.5 percent (12,097) of 12,534 total laps in 25 career starts at Martinsville. His average start there is an excellent 9.7 and his average finish is 15.5. He has two DNFs there.

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin is now one of only two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers remaining in the Chase after teammate Kyle Busch was eliminated from advancement at Talladega. Still, with the points reset, Hamlin finds himself in an eight-way tie for the lead heading into Sunday's race at Martinsville.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 17 career starts, 4 win, 9 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008, fall 2009, spring and fall 2010. Finished seventh in this race last year and was 19th in this year's spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin has to be licking his chops heading to Martinsville, arguably one of his best and definitely one of his most successful tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. He hasn't won in his last six starts there, but feels it's time to win yet another there this Sunday. "I have said all year that if we made it to the final eight, to this Eliminator Round, that we suddenly had a good shot at this championship. This round has three tracks that our FedEx team has had a lot of success at over the years, obviously starting with Martinsville. We didn't have a great race there in the spring, but we have made some gains on our short track program, and I'm confident we can go there and compete for the win this weekend. Winningon Sundayis our ultimate goal and would be great to put ourselves in position to battle for the championship at Homestead."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin didn't have that great of a race at Talladega, finishing 18th. But at the same time, he finished high enough and stayed out of trouble to advance to the Eliminator Round.

      ETC.: Hamlin has completed 97.3 percent (8,307) of the 8,534 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Martinsville. His average start there is 9.8 and his average finish is 8.8. He has one DNF there.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 5th, tied for first place. The points for the eight drivers that advanced to the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Championship were reset with each one starting this round with 4,000 points.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Will be seeking his third straight top-six finish. Finished second in the fall race a year ago after leading 202 laps.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth said, "We really need to go to Martinsville this weekend and have a good run while also doing the things that I know we're capable of doing these final four weeks of the season. I really am looking forward to going to Martinsville because looking at the next three races; I really feel the most confident heading into this weekend. It is a track however that you can have a lot of trouble at and where things can go wrong, so hopefully we can get a solid run in on Sunday. We actually were leading the race last year towards the end, but then Jeff (Gordon) ended up beating me. It was really fun to battle with him up front, and I was just happy to be challenging for the lead at a track that has always been a challenge for me."

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth admits he hates "the strategy of riding in the back" at Talladega. "But the one time we went to the front I just didn't feel like we had the speed in our Home Depot Toyota to go up there and lead laps and be in real safe spot so we just kept getting shuffled back," added Kenseth, who waited to the end to make his move to the front. "We got a pretty good restart there (at the end) and had a bunch of guys up there that are really good at this stuff so I got with Kevin (Harvick) and got going with him the best I could. Then he made a move on Brad (Keselowski) and Brad went to block so it kind of opened the door. I was almost under Brad off of (turn) two, but I just didn't have the speed to get in there and challenge them down to the flag. We did what we needed to do. It's nice to get a good finish (second) and move on to Martinsville."

      ETC.: Kenseth is still looking for his first win of the season after a series-high seven victories last year. "The season we had last year, I never dreamed we would go 12 months without winning a race even though I realize how hard it is and you never really - I never really lose sight of that because I've been around for a while so you have to enjoy it when it's going good and you realize it's really had to win races. Still the way we ran last year I didn't think we'd be sitting here right now without a win. I still think we can win some races before the year is over."

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 6th, tied for first place. The points for the eight drivers that advanced to the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship were reset with each one starting this round with 4,000 points.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 20 starts. In the last five races his best finish is 11th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards said he is "excited to go to Martinsville. We feel like that's a track that we can run well at. Jimmy Fennig (crew chief) is very good there setting up cars and he's really good with strategy. We feel like our short track program has been our strong point recently, so both Martinsville and Phoenix are races we are looking forward to in this Chase."

      LOOKING BACK: Edwards spent most of the Talladega race "hanging out" at the rear of the pack in hopes of avoiding "The Big One," the infamous multi-car accident that seems to occur on a regular basis at Talladega. He was able to do just that as he finished 21st to advance to the next round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. "We knew we couldn't wreck and it ended up playing out exactly like we planned," said Edwards. "We stayed out of the wrecks and made it in, but that was nerve-racking." When asked how he missed the five-car accident that occurred during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish, Edwards smiled as he replied, "I don't think I could have been any closer (to the spinning cars). That was crazy. I'm just glad it worked out for us. We're back tied for the points lead."

      ETC.: Edwards is "really proud of our whole team for the way we have performed so far in the Chase. I think Martinsville is going to be a really tough race. I think there are a lot of guys with nothing to lose and I think we just have to go there and do what we've been doing and that's give our best performance, not make any mistakes and just keep this going. We're having fun. I'm glad to be part of this."

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 7th, tied for first place. The points for the eight drivers that advanced to the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship were reset with each one starting this round with 4,000 points.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Won the fall race last year for his eighth win at the short track. In the last 23 races has finished outside the top nine only three times including 17 top-five finishes.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is "excited about our chances to get to Homestead (the race that will determine the champion). Those chances come in these next few races - Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. Those are great tracks for us. Martinsville is a strong track for this Drive to End Hunger team, and it's a track where we've had great success over the years. We also tested there recently, so I hope we have a strong start to this Eliminator Round."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon was another driver that decided to "lay back" and wait for the end to go racing. But this strategy almost backfired on the final restart as he ended the day in 26th place to beat out teammate Kasey Kahne by only three points for the final transfer spot. "We had a great strategy," said Gordon. "Unfortunately the caution hit us at the absolute worst time and put us behind." He was 23rd on the final restart. "Those last couple of laps were some of the most nerve-racking laps of my life, so I'm glad they're over," added Gordon. "The inside lane just didn't go anywhere (on the final restart). I was just sitting there going backwards and couldn't do a thing. I'm just mentally drained right now. When you have that much on the line and you know that your championship hopes are right there in that final moment, it's nerve racking."

      ETC.: Gordon, who is seeking his fifth Cup championship, said one of the coolest things about being a champion stock car driver is "some of the post-Oscar parties Ingrid (his wife) and I got to go to. It's just a lot of really cool people in a relaxed environment and everyone is just hanging out and being themselves. And you realize while they are celebrities and famous people, they're also just real people who like to be part of something no different than the rest of us do. To be able to see them in that environment is something I'll never forget."

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Team Penske

      WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, tied for first place. The points for the eight drivers that advanced to the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship were reset with each one starting with 4,000 points.

      MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished in the top nine in four of the last five races. Finished a career-best fourth in the fall race a year ago.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is quick to point out "We tested at Martinsville about a week ago - it went pretty well too. We've run well at Martinsville in the past - much better than our results show. Right now, I am feeling about this weekend much like I did about last weekend at Talladega. I feel like we're to the point where the law of averages is on our side. That and the team - our confidence is our ability to work hard, to execute, to count on each other - we're in a special place. This number 2 Alliance Truck Parts team is doing what we have to do accomplish our mission, and we've having fun doing it."

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski came to Talladega needing to win the race to advance to the next round of the Chase for the Championship and that is exactly what he did. "I can't believe it," said Keselowski. "Talladega is such a wild card and to be able to win here you have to catch breaks and make your own breaks, a little of both. The right way (to advance) wasn't last week, so that makes today more special. I'm not real proud of last week, I'm proud of today." Keselowski was fined $50,000 by NASCAR for his post-race antics last week at Charlotte that included running into Denny Hamlin on the race track and then hitting Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart on pit road. Keselowski then drove his car through a crowded garage area. He was later attached from behind by Kenseth, who had to be pulled off his Ford rival. "We knew we had to win obviously coming into this day," added Keselowski. "I worked really well with my teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney (at the end of the race). We made kind of the perfect moves together to go from 16th to second in three or four laps. That put us in position to really capitalize on the last two yellows. From there it was all about that last lap and choosing the lanes wide to be able to block the cars that had runs and all that came together perfectly. I kind of feel like Hannibal here, I love when a plan comes together. Everything just felt right today and we're here as winners because of that."

      ETC.: Crew chief Paul Wolfe feels "this team is in a pretty good place right now. We've been strong all season long (with a series-high six wins). The core group of this team has been together for a while now, and we are hitting that place that time together gets you. That race last weekend really galvanized us - there is an extra little bit of confidence and belief in what we are capable of as a team. It's hard to describe, but you can see it and feel it when you are there. So with that and the data we took away from our recent test, we should be alright this weekend."

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014
    Keselowski will take wins over popularity
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If his racing career boiled down to a choice between success and popularity, Brad Keselowski would choose success every time.

      But that doesn't mean the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion doesn't want fans and fellow drivers to like him.

      "I want to be able to win races and win championships, and that's the priority in my life and my number one goal," Keselowski said Tuesday afternoon during a media day gathering at the NASCAR Hall of Fame featuring the eight drivers who advanced to the Chase's Eliminator Round on Sunday at Talladega.

      "To do that, sometimes with this current setting, you're going to have to ruffle some feathers, and not everybody's going to like you, whether that's teams, drivers or fans. I'm comfortable with that, or as comfortable as you can be."

      That doesn't mean that Keselowski is oblivious to boos and catcalls at driver introductions. At Talladega, a week after run-ins on the track and in the garage with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin at Charlotte, Keselowski heard more than his share.

      "They don't feel good, but over time, I've grown OK with it, so it just becomes part of it," Keselowski said. "I'm happy that they're making noise. What hurts most is when I went out there, and nobody made noise.

      "That's when you don't even feel relevant. In some ways, it's fuel for the fire to race even harder and continue the path that I'm on, because I know that will turn over time."

      Perhaps no driver in the history of the sport inspired such strong emotions on both sides of the equation as did the late Dale Earnhardt. On the strength of his season-saving victory at Talladega on Sunday, Keselowski has evoked comparisons in a number of quarters to the seven-time series champion.

      "There's only one of those," Keselowski demurred when asked about similarities to Earnhardt. "I would say that racing in some ways is like music, that you can be influenced as a band by another band, and certainly there are some influences there -- but I'm not that band.

      "It's flattering, with all the success that he had, but I'm not that band. I'm just trying to do things my own way, the best way I know how."

      SIGH OF RELIEF FOR NEWMAN

      Ryan Newman said he didn't lose sleep over the possibility of being penalized for a ride-height violation at Talladega on Sunday, but that doesn't mean the driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet wasn't worried.

      In post-race inspection, NASCAR deemed Newman's fifth-place car was roughly an eighth of an inch too low in the rear on both sides. NASCAR took the No. 31 Chevrolet to its Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., where officials determined the infraction had resulted from race damage and therefore would incur no penalty.

      Newman believes the damage occurred with two laps left in the race.

      "I think it was getting slammed from behind on the last restart," he said. "I'm getting going, and I can't remember ... I spent as much time looking in the mirror as I did out the windshield the last couple of laps, but I think it was the 20 (Matt Kenseth) that drove me really hard.

      "It actually wrinkled the rear quarter panels, which shows that the body's moved and the rear bumper was knocked in. I never looked at the car after the race. I didn't expect there to be any issues, so I didn't analyze exactly what happened."

      When Newman learned his car was too low, however, he was understandably concerned.

      "I didn't lose any sleep over it -- don't get me wrong," Newman said. "But I was concerned about it, mostly from the fact of, if for instance we don't make it to the next championship round, I want those points.

      "I want to be the guy that can say he finished fifth because of our average, not because of our penalty."

      ARE ISSUES BETWEEN LOGANO AND PATRICK RESOLVED?

      On Oct. 11 at Charlotte, contact from Joey Logano's Ford turned the No. 10 Chevrolet of Danica Patrick and ruined her night.

      Patrick's immediate instinct was to get revenge, but she realized that wrecking Logano at Charlotte would have no impact on his run for the championship because Logano had won on the previous weekend at Kansas and was guaranteed a spot in the Chase's Eliminator Round.

      Martinsville, site of Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500, is another matter. With points reset, and with the remaining eight Chase drivers entering the race on equal footing, revenge could be devastating.

      That's why Logano has taken measures to ensure Martinsville won't become a payback track.

      "We've actually talked about it since then, and I feel like we've come to a good conclusion of what happened there," Logano said. "That's in the past. That's in the mirror, and we'll move forward."

      From Logano's point of view, the hatchet is buried, but the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford still has to hope that Patrick doesn't decide to bury it in his back.

  • Monday, October 20, 2014
    Despite strong run, Johnson's Chase hopes end
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      @nascarcasm

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

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

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

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

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

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

      NASCAR NUMBERS

      By Reid Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

      NASCAR NOTES

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

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

      Monday, October 20

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

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

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

      Tuesday, October 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Wednesday, October 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Thursday, October 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Friday, October 24

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

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

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

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

      Noon, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

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

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

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

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

      Saturday, October 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Sunday, October 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      National Series Schedule

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race:

      Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500

      The Place:

      Martinsville Speedway

      The Date/Time:

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

      TV: ESPN

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race:

      O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge

      The Place:

      Texas Motor Speedway

      The Date/Time:

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

      TV: ESPN2

      Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

      The Next Race:

      Kroger 200

      The Place:

      Martinsville Speedway

      Date/Time:

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

      TV: FOX Sports 1

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR National Series Standings

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

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

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

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

      *Advanced to Eliminator Round with a win

      Chase Standings

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Joey Logano* 4,000

      2 Kevin Harvick* 4,000

      3 Ryan Newman 4,000

      4 Denny Hamlin 4,000

      5 Matt Kenseth 4,000

      6 Carl Edwards 4,000

      7 Jeff Gordon 4,000

      8 Brad Keselowski* 4,000

      NASCAR Nationwide Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Chase Elliott # 1,106

      2 Regan Smith 1,064

      3 Brian Scott 1,045

      4 Elliott Sadler 1,043

      5 Ty Dillon # 1,042

      6 Trevor Bayne 1,008

      7 Chris Buescher # 912

      8 Brendan Gaughan 875

      9 Ryan Reed # 820

      10 James Buescher 792

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Matt Crafton 674

      2 Ryan Blaney 658

      3 Darrell Wallace Jr. 646

      4 Johnny Sauter 638

      5 Timothy Peters 597

      6 Joey Coulter 593

      7 German Quiroga Jr. 574

      8 Ben Kennedy # 562

      9 Jeb Burton 555

      10 Ron Hornaday Jr. 494

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

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      It also underscored for Keselowski something he already knows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      PROMISING CHASE TURNS SOUR FOR KYLE BUSCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

      GORDON SLIPS INTO ELIMINATOR ROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Mark McCarter, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

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

      his in-car camera:

      "This is Talladega."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - GEICO 500

      Talladega Superspeedway

      Talladega, Alabama

      Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 160.302 mph.

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

      Caution Flags: 6 for 25 laps.

      Lead Changes: 38 among 19 drivers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Kyle Busch was also eliminated from the Chase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Earnhardt is fully aware of his mission at Talladega.

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

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

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

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

      Crafton won't talk championship

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

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

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

      Crafton has struggled at Talladega throughout his career.

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

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

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

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      THIS TIME LABONTE MEANS IT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      KENSETH TO THE BACK

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

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

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