Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Friday, September 19, 2014
    Keselowski still in high gear with New Hampshire pole
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      LOUDON, N.H. -- You couldn't script a better beginning to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for Brad Keselowski, who showed no sign of stopping his relentless run toward a second championship on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

      Fresh from a dramatic victory in last Sunday's first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway, Keselowski blew away the track record in winning the pole for Sunday's Sylvania 300 at the Magic Mile (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).

      The pole was Keselowski's fifth of the season, the eighth of his career and his third in 11 starts at the 1.058-mile flat track.

      In the second and final round of knockout qualifying, Keselowski covered the distance at 140.598 mph to edge Jamie McMurray (140.437 mph) for the top starting spot by .031 of a second. Kevin Harvick qualified third for the second Chase race at 140.065 mph.

      "The kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team's wheelhouse," said Keselowski, who won the July race at New Hampshire in dominating fashion. "We had this race circled before the Chase started, and we felt decent about Chicago, but we really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket (three-race elimination round).

      "It's good, right? We just want to keep it going."

      Despite the excellent performances of the first two weeks, Keselowski isn't ready to claim ownership of the title just yet.

      "With the resets (after each round), the success of today really means nothing come Homestead (where the four remaining eligible drivers will race for the title, with the highest finisher among the four claiming the prize)," Keselowski said. "It's great. It's positive momentum. It's everything you want to do, and it's everything you think you should do.

      "But when it resets, it resets, and nothing that you've done in the past really matters, as long as you're eligible for the bracket. I'm a long, long way from using the word favorite or feeling overly confident."

      McMurray, who did not make the Chase field, was pleased with his effort in qualifying.

      "I felt like, in my first run, I didn't get everything out of the car and maybe left a little bit on the table," McMurray said. "The first run I didn't think I got it all, but the second run out (in the final round), the second lap was really good.

      "Honestly, I came off Turn 4 and tried to run three laps and tried to just drive a little bit harder, but the tires just wouldn't hold up for another quick lap."

      Chase drivers who will start in the top 12 on Sunday include Denny Hamlin (fourth), Kyle Busch (fifth), Jimmie Johnson (sixth), Joey Logano (seventh), Carl Edwards (eighth), Ryan Newman (ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th)

      Keselowski led the first of the two qualifying sessions with a lap at 139.614 mph, a scant .005 of a second faster than Edwards.

      All told, 26 drivers in the 30-minute first round broke the track qualifying record of 138.130 mph set by Kyle Busch on July 11, 2014. Earnhardt Jr. was the 12th and last driver to advance to the second session with a lap at 138.987 mph.

      Chase drivers Jeff Gordon (13th), Kurt Busch (15th), Matt Kenseth (16th), Kasey Kahne (17th), Aric Almirola (21st), Greg Biffle (26th) and AJ Allmendinger (27th) failed to advance to the 10-minute final round.

      NOTES: The track qualifying record was the 19th set this year in Sprint Cup Series time trials, in the first year of the knockout format. ... Keselowski has accounted for four of the records. ... The last two times Keselowski has won a pole for a Sprint Cup race (at Kentucky and Richmond), he also has won the race.

  • Friday, September 19, 2014
    Larson says he's close to grabbing first Sprint Cup win
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      LOUDON, N.H. -- It may not be the expression of gratitude Jeff Gordon had in mind, but Kyle Larson knows one way he can pay Gordon back for all the kind words he has said about the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie.

      Larson would like nothing more than to whip Gordon on the race track.

      "Before I even raced the K&N Series, Jeff Gordon had a lot of respect for me and talked very highly of me," Larson said Friday before opening Sprint Cup practice in preparation for Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). "It seems like Jeff's my biggest fan over the last couple of years.

      "It's awesome to see a guy who has been racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as long as I've been alive to talk so highly of me. I don't even know if he's really ever even talked about another driver like he has with me. That makes it feel really special for me."

      And the way to live up to Gordon's high praise?

      "Now I just want to go out there and beat him more often," Larson said.

      In last week's opening Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway, Larson finished third behind race winner Brad Keselowski and Gordon after leading 20 laps. Almost everyone in the garage expects Larson to achieve a breakthrough win sooner rather than later, and Larson seems ready to fulfill that expectation.

      "Every race I will sit in the motorhome and watch TV and flip to Twitter," Larson said. "Everybody always says 'This is your weekend.' I believe them, but it kind of sucks when you don't win. But I definitely feel like we're really close. We've been close a couple of times this year. Heck, we were just a little bit off of winning at Fontana. Then I thought we had the first or second best car last week.

      "If I could have done things right we could have two wins this season. I think it's coming. I hope it's before the end of this year. But, if not, we won't be too disappointed, because we've been running well all season long. I didn't win any Nationwide races last year, and then I feel like I've been really competitive this year in Nationwide. I'm sure, starting next year, we will be really good in the Cup series."

      NO PRESSURE

      If winning early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was a long-term liberating experience for Brad Keselowski, winning last week's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway is more like a hall pass -- good for two races until the start of the next elimination round.

      After winning the third race of the season, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Keselowski expressed sentiments similar to those voiced by the year's first two winners, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick -- namely that winning, and thereby all but assuring a Chase berth, gave them the freedom to race without fear of trying out-of-the-box strategies.

      That was the mind-set Keselowski brought to Richmond in the final regular-season race, and he won in dominating fashion. By then, of course, he had been every bit as dominant in winning at Kentucky and at New Hampshire in July.

      "I kind of feel exactly like we did at Richmond," Keselowski said Friday, after an announcement that his primary sponsor, Miller Lite, also had extended its partnership agreement with New Hampshire Motor Speedway for three years. "We've got two races to -- I don't want to say goof off -- but with no consequences, and that's enjoyable.

      "Everybody loves it when all you can do it win. It's like getting a free lottery ticket. If you lose, it doesn't matter, and you have the potential to win something big. We're going to have fun with it, and I think we have the ability to capitalize with it with strong cars and a great team, and hopefully we can pull off a sweep here."

      UP IN SMOKE

      In three seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola had never exited a race because of an engine failure -- until last week at Chicagoland.

      The blown engine couldn't have come at a worse time. Almirola was running sixth, 30 laps away from making a statement in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Instead, he finished 41st and plummeted from potential Chase surprise to the longest of long shots to survive to first elimination round.

      The culprit? A broken exhaust valve.

      "It was the same thing that happened to the 22 (Joey Logano) at Kentucky and the same thing that happened to the 9 car (Marcos Ambrose) at Atlanta," Almirola told the NASCAR Wire Service. "They've had a couple issues already this year, and they thought they had it fixed. They changed the way the valves were designed and thought that it wasn't going be an issue any more, and I guess it was again.

      "I talked to Doug Yates (president and CEO of Roush Yates Racing Engines), and he was heartbroken for us. He was extremely apologetic."

      Almirola said the team didn't employ a more aggressive engine package for the Chicago race and that the failure was mere happenstance.

      "It was nothing different than what we've been running the past couple months," he explained. "My hat goes off to Doug Yates. He builds awesome horsepower for us. We went back and looked, and it's the first time we have not finished a race because of an engine failure in the three years I've been at Richard Petty Motorsports.

      "Of all weekends for it to happen, the first race of the Chase -- why could it have not happened at Atlanta or Richmond or wherever else, but it is what it is. It just wasn't meant to be. The stars didn't line up right for us at Chicago, but we'll rebound."

  • Thursday, September 18, 2014
    Parity record ready to fall in New Hampshire
    By The Sports Xchange

    Staff Report

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race results at New Hampshire Motor Speedway can be summed up with one word.

      Unpredictable.

      Thirteen different drivers have taken the checkered flag in the last 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the Magic Mile -- tied with Texas Motor Speedway for the all-time streak without a repeat winner.

      And there's a better than average chance the Magic Mile takes sole possession of the record after this Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. on ESPN) as Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all missing from the 13-in-13 stretch.

      "The streak is a testimony to the competitive challenge our track presents to drivers. In addition to new winners, we're seeing record lead changes, more drivers than ever on the lead lap, and some great finishes," said Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the track. "We've had part-time drivers, former champions, and first-time winners end up in Sunoco Victory Lane. We take a lot of pride in the fact that anyone can win and anything can happen here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway."

      Gordon owns three victories at New Hampshire, but has not won there since 1998. He's on the cusp of his fourth win this season after posting runner-up finishes the last two races.

      Despite his Granite State drought, Gordon boasts the highest average running position in the series at the 1.058-mile oval (7.7) where he has competed in all 39 of its NASCAR Sprint Cup series events -- tied with Jeff Burton for its all-time starts record.

      "Loudon always seems to be a good track for us, although it didn't appear to be the case when the green (flag) waved the last time we were there," said Gordon of his 26th-place July New Hampshire finish. "The car was 'undriveable' at the start and we lost a lap early, but it was because one of the tires was slowly losing air. Once we got the (chassis) adjustments back in it, the car was really fast -- so that gives us some confidence as we head into this weekend."

      It's been a while since Harvick has won at New Hampshire, too, the last time was Sept. 17, 2006. In his last two races at the track, he has finished 30th and 20th, respectively. Harvick can likely count on a solid starting position, at least. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver boasts a series-best six Coors Light Pole Awards this season and has started lower than sixth once in his last eight races, coincidentally at the Magic Mile.

      "(New Hampshire is) a track where you have to have a good-handling car, you have to have track position and you have to have everything going right," Harvick said. "If you get yourself stuck in the middle of the pack you're not going to have a very good day unless you have a really good car."

      After posting three wins, his highest total since he racked up six in 2004, Earnhardt will try to automatically advance to the Chase's Contender Round with a New Hampshire checkered flag. He has the most starts without a win at Loudon, but has seven top fives to his credit there. Since Earnhardt's emphatic win at Pocono, he has posted one top-10 finish in the last six races, a fifth-place showing at Michigan.

      "I love New Hampshire because it's short, and you blink an eye, 300 laps is gone," said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt's crew chief. "You have to have your pit strategy right. You have to be aggressive. That's kind of Dale's and my signature, being aggressive with the pit strategy. He's committed to driving those unique pit strategies and I think that's what allows us to consistently finish well at New Hampshire."

      Familiar faces Hornish and McDowell return to action with owner points title implications

      Seven races remain on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule and the owner points championship looks to be a two-horse race as the season unwinds.

      Currently, the No. 22 Team Penske Ford occupies the top of the standings with a 15-point lead over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. With their typical drivers focused on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in New Hampshire or points titles in other NASCAR series, each car has an open seat for Saturday's VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m.).

      Sam Hornish Jr. will take the reins of the No. 54 JGR car, primarily driven by Kyle Busch, while NNS veteran Michael McDowell will make his Team Penske season debut in the No. 22.

      Back in action for his first race since Mid-Ohio on Aug. 16, Hornish claims one win (Iowa Speedway), four top fives and two poles in seven starts this season. He has never won in his four starts at Kentucky, but has experienced success there with one Coors Light Pole Award, two top fives (including a runner-up showing) and an average finish of 5.2.

      McDowell, often the driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has made two Nationwide appearances this season, both in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. Both races were at Iowa, and in another twist, he tied his career-best with a runner-up finish behind No. 22 Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski in last month's U.S. Cellular 250 presented by New Holland.

      Playing to McDowell's favor, the No. 22 swept Kentucky last year and finished second in the series' first visit to the 1.5-mile tri-oval this season.

      "Driving for Roger Penske is something I have dreamed about since I was a kid racing Go-Karts," McDowell said. "I have lived in Charlotte for 10 years and I haven't changed my phone number during that time. When people ask why, my joke is; when Roger Penske dials my number, I want to make sure he has the same number I gave Walter Czarnecki 14 years ago.

      "I told him I wanted to drive for Team Penske someday and I stayed in contact with him as I climbed up the open wheel ladder. It turned out to be a good thing I never changed my number."

      Crafton cruising toward championship repeat

      Matt Crafton found himself back in familiar territory following his second-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday night. The 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion reclaimed the top spot in the standings where he holds a five-point lead over ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter.

      He can further distance himself from the field with a strong showing in Saturday's UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1 p.m.) where the NCWTS returns after a two-year hiatus. With so many young drivers on the circuit, the 38 year old has the advantage of having 11 previous starts on the 1.058-mile oval and boasts two top-five and six top-10 finishes there.

      "The [shorter] tracks are what I grew up on so I'm looking forward to the Truck Series getting back to Loudon," Crafton said. "It's been [three] years since the trucks have raced there, but I've had some good runs there in the past; we even got our first pole there in 2005."

      If he can stay out front, Crafton will become the first back-to-back champion and the fourth multititle winner since the series began in 1995. At the moment, Crafton doesn't even have the points race on his mind, claiming he is only focused on winning events until the final race at Homestead.

      "Homestead is going to be when we are going to worry about (the points race)," Crafton said. "We are going to go to each and every race trying to win, each and every darn race."

  • Wednesday, September 17, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, Sept. 17
    By The Sports Xchange

    Capsules for the drivers remaining in The Chase.

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski got the biggest jump of all by winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup opening race this past Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, marking the first time he's won two races in a row in his Cup career (also won the week before in the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond). Keselowski leads second-ranked Jeff Gordon by seven points and Penske Racing teammate and third-ranked Joey Logano by 10 points.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 10 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in 2012. Finished 1st in this season's early summer race and was 11th in this race last fall.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski entered the Chase No. 1 and remained that way after winning at Chicagoland. He won at New Hampshire three months ago and has a strong record there of late: In his last six starts on the flat one-mile track, Keselowski has a win, three top-fives, one top-10 and an 11th-place finish. "It felt good coming into the Chase as the top-seed and it feels very good to know that we've advanced to the next round with two races to go," Keselowski said. "Looking ahead to this weekend, (our car) was strong here earlier this year so we will do our best to keep that going. We have good momentum right now, and we know that we have to keep developing the car and pushing as a team, whether it's on pit road, handling, spec or driver tactics. We're just going to stay focused, keep working and see what happens."

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski bided his time perfectly, managed to get through and past Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson late in the race and went on to earn his second Chase win at Chicagoland in three years.

      ETC.: Keselowski has completed 98.5 percent (2,937) of the 2,983 total laps contested in 10 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 13.7 and average finish is 11.4. He has zero DNFs there.

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon started the Chase in a four-way tie for second place, but after the playoff opener at Chicagoland, he now holds second place all to himself. Gordon is seven points behind series leader Brad Keselowski and leads third-ranked Joey Logano by three points.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 39 career starts, 3 wins, 16 top-5s, 22 top-10s, 4 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 1995, summer 1997 and summer 1998. Finished 15th in this race last year and was a disappointing 26th in this year's early summer race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon will make his 40th career start at New Hampshire this Sunday. And while it's one of his more successful tracks, Gordon hasn't won there in 16 seasons. This could be his best shot in the three tracks of the first round of the Chase to earn a win, which would be his fourth of the season if that happens. "We had a good, solid start to the Chase last weekend at Chicago, and we hope to continue that this weekend," Gordon said. "In these early rounds, wins are nice - but solid races and solid finishes like we had at Chicago can get you through to the next round. Loudon always seems to be a good track for us, although it didn't appear to be the case when the green (flag) waved the last time we were there. The car was undriveable at the start and we lost a lap early, but it was because one of the tires was slowly losing air. Once we got the (chassis) adjustments back in it, the car was really fast - so that gives us some confidence as we head into this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon gave Chicago race winner Brad Keselowski all he could handle, but just didn't have quite enough horsepower at the end to take the checkered flag, settling for a runner-up finish. Gordon led 26 laps in that race.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 98.3 percent (11,363) of the 11,555 total laps contested in 39 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 9.6 and his average finish is 11.0. He has two DNFs there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano started the Chase for the Sprint Cup in a four-way tie for second. After the Chase opener at Chicagoland, Logano slipped slightly, to third-place in the standings. He trails Penske Racing teammate and points leader Brad Keselowski by 10 points, is three points behind second-ranked Jeff Gordon and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by two points.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009. 14th in this race last year and 40th in this year's early summer race there due to a crash he was involved in. Logano has finished a career-worst 40th in two of his last three starts there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Logano looks to bounce back from poor performances in two of his last three starts at his "home" track in Loudon, N.H. He's off to a good start in the Chase, but a win Sunday would assure him advancement to the playoffs' second round. "I'm pretty excited about the way Chicago went," Logano said. "I'm not excited about the fact that we struggled quite a bit all weekend long, but I'm really happy the way this team pulled together and showed that they can take even a bad car and turn what could be a bad weekend into a good one. Everyone really rallied together and that is what this team has done all year long. Even when things aren't going our way, we don't let it bother us and we get right down to business and we make it better. We took a car that should have hardly finished inside the top-10 and finished fourth with it. That's a huge accomplishment and I don't think many other teams out there could do what we did last weekend. That pumps me up."

      LOOKING BACK: Logano struggled in practice all weekend at Chicago, ultimately qualifying and starting 28th. But he quickly worked his way up the field and came home with a strong fourth-place showing.

      ETC.: Logano has completed just 93.5 percent (3,351) of the 3,583 laps contested in 12 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is a mediocre 20.8 and his average finish isn't much better at 19.3. He has two DNFs there.

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick is off to a strong start in this year's Chase. He moved from a tie for sixth place entering the Chase opener at Chicagoland and emerged with sole possession of fourth place after the first race of the playoffs. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by just 12 points, is two points behind third-ranked Joey Logano and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by five points.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in late summer 2006. Finished 20th in this race last year and was 30th in this year's early summer race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick has struggled in his last two starts at New Hampshire, which is typically a good track for him. He needs to dig deep into his bag of tricks to get things back on the right road. "New Hampshire is a track that I enjoy going to," Harvick said. "It's a track where you have to have a good handling car, you have to have track position and you have to have everything going right. If you get yourself stuck in the middle of the pack you're not going to have a very good day unless you have a really good car."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick had such a strong run at Chicagoland, leading a race-high 79 laps and appeared as if he might steal the win. But Brad Keselowski had other ideas and Harvick fell back to an eventual but still strong fifth place finish.

      ETC.: Harvick has completed a near-perfect 99.3 percent (7,927 laps) of the 7,982 total laps contested in 27 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 13.9 and his average finish is 14.3. He has zero DNFs there.

      88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped from a four-way tie for second place heading into the Chase opener at Chicagoland to fifth place after the first race of the playoffs. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 17 points, is five points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads a three-way tie for sixth (Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin) by one point.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 30 career starts, 0 wins, 7 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in late summer 2004. Finished sixth in this race last year and was 10th in this year's early spring race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has been hit-or-miss at New Hampshire during his career. He's still seeking his first win there and typically does well on similar flat tracks such as Phoenix. If he is to assure his transfer into the second round of the Chase following Dover, Earnhardt needs a strong run at New Hampshire, for sure.

      LOOKING BACK: For the second straight race, Earnhardt was never able to challenge for the lead at Chicagoland, but still managed to finish 11th (just like he finished 12th the week before at Richmond). "It (was) a tough weekend," Earnhardt said. "We weren't very good in practice. I was really, really concerned. ... If you would have told me that we could have finished 11th, I would have happily taken it. ... I feel like this team can run for 11th on its worst day. That will do it. That will get us through the next round until we get to some tracks that maybe we run a little bit better at, or tracks that suit us a little bit better."

      ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 94.7 percent (8,390) of the 8,855 total laps contested in 30 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 16.4 and average finish is 15.5. He has four DNFs there.

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin had one of the best improvements in the Chase rankings after Chicagoland, moving up three spots and into a tie for sixth-place with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. The trio is 18 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski, is one point behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads ninth-ranked Kurt Busch by two points.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 17 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in early summer 2007 and late summer 2012. Finished 12th in this race last year and was eighth in this year's early summer race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: After a mediocre regular season, Denny Hamlin has gotten off to a good start in this year's Chase. The question is whether he can continue moving forward. He has a strong record at New Hampshire and could assure himself a berth in the second round of the Chase with a win this Sunday. "This is what you need to do early on," Hamlin said. "You're going to have to run top-five pretty consistently towards the end of the Chase, but right now we're doing what we need to do. This is a good momentum-builder. ... We've got to just keep working and get a little bit better yet. ... We'll move on and go to Loudon, where we know we've got a chance to win."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had a strong but fairly non-descript run at Chicagoland to start the Chase. He seemed to struggle for power at times, but still managed to end up with a good sixth-place finish.

      ETC.: Hamlin has completed a near-perfect 99.9 percent (5,073) of 5,075 total laps contested in 17 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 12.6, while his average finish is an excellent 8.9. He has zero DNFs there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch went from a six-way tie for ninth place heading into the Chase opener at Chicagoland to a three-way tie for sixth (with teammate Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson) afterward. The trio is 18 points behind points leader Brad Keselowski, one point behind fifth-ranked Kevin Harvick and two points ahead of ninth-ranked Kurt Busch.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 19 career starts, 1 win, 7 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in early summer 2006. Finished second in this race last year and was second in this year's early summer race there. In fact, Busch has finished runner-up the last three Sprint Cup races at Loudon.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Busch comes into New Hampshire looking to earn his first win there (and second overall) since 2006. He's come so close the last three races, finishing runner-up each time. "I think it's just optimism that we can run well (at New Hampshire)," Busch said. "It's a tough place to pass and can be really aggravating at times. ... There's no doubt, certainly you'd rather win one. There are still nine more weeks - nine long weeks - to go, but I know this team is focused and we'll try to have another good race at New Hampshire and keep up some positive momentum from (Chicagoland)."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch led the third-highest number of laps at Chicagoland (46), but could not hold on for the win, ultimately settling for seventh place, one spot behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.

      ETC.: Busch has completed 98.0 percent (5,559) of the 5,675 total laps contested in 19 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 11.1 and his average finish is 14.4. He has zero DNFs there.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson plummeted four positions in the Chase following the playoff opener at Chicagoland this past Sunday. Johnson went from being in a four-way tie for second place to now a three-way tie for sixth place with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. The trio trail series leader Brad Keselowski by 18 points, are one point behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and lead ninth-ranked Kurt Busch by two points.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 25 career starts, 3 wins, 9 top-5s, 17 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in early summer and late summer 2003 and spring 2010. Finished fourth in this race last year but was a terrible 42nd after crashing on just the 11th lap of this year's early summer race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson, who turned 39 on Sept. 17, may not exactly have gotten off to the start he hoped for as he kicked off his bid for a record-tying seventh championship at Chicagoland. "Last week wasn't a good start for us at Chicago," Johnson said. "But I have a great feeling about the tracks we have coming up - we usually are strong closers so every week counts from here on out."

      LOOKING BACK: Chicagoland continues to vex Johnson, remaining one of four tracks that he has yet to win a Sprint Cup race at. Johnson had nothing more than an average run at Chicagoland, finishing 12th, sandwiched between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th) and Kasey Kahne (13th).

      ETC.: Johnson has completed 95.1 percent (7,020) of 7,382 total laps in 25 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 12.0, with an average finish of 10.5. He has one DNF there.

      41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 20 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: Three wins and 11 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 27 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "The track (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) has corners that are very long and your car really needs to handle in the corner. Then, the straightaways are pretty long, especially when you consider the fact it's only a one-mile track, so that means you need to have good drive coming off the turns so you can take advantage of the engine getting down the front and back stretches of the track. If you're able to get good speed on those straightaways, then the next thing you need to be able to take advantage of is your brakes and for them to last to the end of the race."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch spun out as he tried to get on pit road on his first pit stop of the day. During the spin, his car hit the commitment cone which resulted in a pass-thru penalty. As a result, Busch fell a lap down to the leader. He spent the rest of the race trying to overcome the pit-road miscue. "I made a mistake early on trying to get on pit road - trying to get all I could," said Busch. "It was as if I was going to pass 15 cars and go to the lead all at once. It was a bad mistake on my part. We spent two-thirds of the race digging out of that hole. We spent the last one-third racing hard (as he finished eighth)."

      ETC.: Busch knows his edge is a small one in his bid to be one of the 12 drivers to qualify for the second round of this year's Chase for the Championship. For that reason, he knows he needs another top-10 run this weekend. "We aren't that far ahead of the guys in 13th and 14th place, so we can't afford to relax," said Busch, who is 10 points in front of 13th-place Ryan Newman and 14 points ahead of 14th-place A J Allmendinger.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 25 points out of first place. Gained three spots last week.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: Won the fall race of 2013 and finished fourth in the July race. Will be seeking his fourth straight top-nine finish. Overall has 15 top-10 finishes in 29 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth points out "until I got to JGR, New Hampshire was a really challenging track for me because it just seemed to be one where I struggled a lot. Thankfully, I've had really great cars the past two years for New Hampshire and the fact that we won this race last year is a testament to how strong our organization is there. It's one of those tracks where you need to turn well in the corner but still be able to exit the corner well and keep up the momentum. It's a challenging flat and short track, and I'm hoping that we can get another solid run in on Sunday for our Dollar General team."

      LOOKING BACK: The day certainly didn't go as smoothly as Kenseth would have liked. He spun once as he tried to get on pit road, and the car didn't perform as well as he thought it would. But a late-race decision by crew chief Jason Ratcliff to change four tires during the last caution flag of the day enabled Kenseth to rally and finish tenth at Chicagoland Speedway. "We just weren't very good today," said Kenseth. "Just a struggle, we showed a lot of speed most of the weekend but just could never get it today where I wanted it to be. The adjustments and the call were good (at the end of the race) and we were able to get a few spots back."

      ETC.: Kenseth feels all the talk about what is the best strategy to take to make sure you get to Homestead with a chance to win the championship is a waste of time. "I am a one week at a time guy," said Kenseth. "I feel like all the talk and all the different strategies and how everything is laid out and everything like that, the strategy is really simple to try to get to the championship - you go out (each week) with the idea of trying to win. If you can't win on a given day then you want to finish as high as you can no matter what happens. Hope the results are good enough."

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 25 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: One win and eight top-10 finishes in 21 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne is not surprised that very few people expect him to advance to the championship round. "I wouldn't expect anyone to pick us," said Kahne. "If they did, it would mean something's wrong with them. There's other teams and drivers that have just been way more consistent and had way more speed, their teams put together races week in and week out. I just know personally that I want to go further than what people think we can, and I know we can if we just show up each week and do what we're paid to do, do what we want to do and do the things that we have a passion for. If we do that, we're going to go a long ways."

      LOOKING BACK: Despite two pit-road speeding penalties and a crash on pit road, Kahne was able to rally in the final 50 laps to finish 13th at Chicagoland Speedway. "It wasn't the day we were hoping for, but it was a day where we got the most out of it," said Kahne. "I got us behind with the two speeding penalties and then we got together with the 18 (Kyle Busch) on pit road which damaged the right front fender. But the guys kept giving me good pit stops and kept making adjustments to where we got the car pretty good at the end."

      ETC.: Kahne tested at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in June, and he believes that test session will help him this weekend in his bid to move closer to securing a spot in the next round. "We learned a lot, and we feel good about how we'll run up there," said Kahne. "We are also bringing a new car, and we feel good about that. So we have high hopes for this weekend."

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 29 points out of first place. Lost five spots last week.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: Has two top-nine finishes in the last three races.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is looking at each of the first three rounds of the Chase as separate "three-race seasons. You could have a guy that barely makes it through the first round that ends up as your champion. This thing is literally going to be like finish one season and now we are in the midst of a three-race season, then another three-race season and then another three-race season. Anything can happen. There could be guys that have a bad race at Chicago or New Hampshire or Dover go on to win four or five of the final races but aren't in the hunt (at Homestead). It could do a number of ways."

      LOOKING BACK: As Edwards admitted, he got real lucky when he suffered a flat left-rear tire as he was coming to pit road late in the race. "We got fortunate that didn't hurt us - what a battle all day," said Edwards after his 20th-place finish. "Our day was not good. We've got to be a little faster and we have to continue to have good luck. I think we will be alright but we have to stay afloat (make the second round of the new Chase for the Championship format)."

      ETC.: Edwards feels "there are three reasons our team can do well (in the Chase). The first one is our pit crew. We are very good there and we won't make mistakes there. I think we can beat people there. Jimmy Fennig (crew chief) is as good or better than any crew chief that has ever been on top of the box calling a race. I believe my experience in the Chase and things I have gone through I think I will be able to do a really good job of not making mistakes on the race track."

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 30 points out of first place; only one point out of the top 12 which advance to the next round after the third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Gained three spots last week.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: Finished fifth in the July race. Overall has three wins and 16 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "New Hampshire is one of our two top-five finishes this year at RCR. We need more of them if we want to have a shot at being in contention at Homestead (the last race of the season). Loudon is one of my best race tracks. It's a track where I have my most wins and led a lot of laps. I've won a bunch of poles there (seven to rank first in this department). I think it's a good track for us, especially leading into Dover, the final race of the Challenger Round."

      LOOKING BACK: After running in the top 10 for most of the first 90 laps, Newman suffered a cut tire resulting in the second caution flag of the day. Another tire problem - a flat left-rear - resulted in an unscheduled pit stop which put Newman two laps down just past the midway point of the race. As a result of some timely caution flags, Newman got both of his laps back as he rallied to finish 15th in the first race of the Chase for the Championship. "The Cat crew gave me a very fast car today," said Newman. "It was capable of contending and I honestly believe it was at least a top-five car had we not had those tire issues. We had some luck on our side with cautions and it gave us a chance to gain some of the track position we lost. It was a heck of a recovery for us. We'll take a top-15."

      ETC.: Newman calls New Hampshire "a short race and I think that is probably the biggest thing (in determining how a team does) because you have maybe three opportunities on pit road to either gain some spots, or lose some spots, and you need to make the best of that. It's a different kind of race because the shortness of the race (300 laps) and the number of laps you put on a set of tires."

      47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

      Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 34 points out of first place; only five points out of the top 12 which advance to the next round after the third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship

      NEW HAMSPHIRE RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 11 starts.

      LOOING AHEAD: Allmendinger said, "Loudon is a track that has changed over the years. At first I didn't like it and then I liked it and now I'm hoping to be a fan of it again after the race on Sunday. It is a fun track for a driver because it is flat and it makes you have to really work on just getting the setup right. You can move around and drive the car a little more to figure out how to manipulate it. Another thing that is crucial there is track position. It is just a big factor and if you get stuck in the middle of the pack, there's not a whole lot you can do."

      LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger struggled with an ill-handling race car for most of the day as well as a broken gear shifter as he finished 22nd at Chicagoland Speedway. "It was not a good weekend, but we still have a shot at making it to the next round if the next two weeks go well," said Allmendinger. "We were off and just missed it all around. I thought we made the Kingsford Chevrolet better towards the end of the race, but by that point it was too late. I'm just frustrated. I got everything I could out of the day. We finished as high as we should have right there at the end."

      ETC.: Crew chief Brian Burns is a big fan of the new Chase format. "It's good for teams like ours," said Burns. "Three races at a time and anything can happen. Maybe some of the favorites had a bad day, you never know. If we are consistent and get the best out of the first three races, we should be able to make it to the next round. We didn't have a real good day last week, but when you look at the big picture, we are only five points out (of the top 12)." The top 12 drivers in the standings after the third race of the Chase advance to the next round with drivers 13th through 16th being eliminated.

      16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 38 points out of first place; only nine points out of top 12 which advance to the next round after the third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: One win and nine top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 24 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle knows he must have a good weekend at New Hampshire to keep alive his hopes of making onto the next round in this year's Chase for the Championship. "We had five great races, our five best races of the season before Richmond to put us in position of making it (the Chase)," said Biffle. "We need to get back to running like we did in those five races if we want to continue. We have to put Richmond and Chicago behind us. We are bringing some different stuff to the race track these next two weeks. We have nothing to lose."

      LOOKING BACK: It was another long, long day for Biffle as he battled a number of handling problems en route to a 23rd-place finish in the opening round of the Chase for the Championship. "We tried a lot of different things today," said crew chief Matt Puccia, "but nothing seem to work. We just never got the car to where we needed it to be. We'll just have to go on to Loudon and hope we run a lot better than we did today."

      ETC.: Biffle is "excited about the different suspension we will try at Loudon and Dover. We have a huge meeting before the Chase and talked about what our game plan was and how we were going to change things up. We've got some great, aggressive plans."

      43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 52 points out of first place; 23 points out of the top 12 which advance to the next round after the third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Lost four spots last week.

      NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: One top-five finish in eight starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "Last weekend was so heartbreaking, but it confirmed what we already know in that we belong in this Chase. Now, we have to regroup and change our goal to winning. There is a possibility of getting in on points, but it is slim, so we need to focus on winning. New Hampshire isn't our best track in the Chase. I don't think we learned much in the July race that we can transfer to this weekend. We really need to start fresh. It is the one track I have been nervous about in the Chase."

      LOOKING BACK: A caution flag on lap 68 of the 267-lap event kept a struggling Almirola from going a lap down. Crew chief Trent Owens then made several major adjustments on the ensuing pit stop that turned Almirola into one of the fastest cars in the field as he raced his way into the top 10. He was running sixth when disaster struck on lap 230 as he suffered engine failure to end his day in 41st place. "Heartbroken - I think is the easiest way to describe how I feel," said Almirola. "We have nothing to hang our heads about. We drove from 23rd up to the top-10, running sixth with just over 30 (laps) to go and it just wasn't meant to be. The motor just let go."

      ETC.: Almirola hopes Owens can "come up with something that will (allow me to) turn in the middle (of the corner) like we need to and drive off the corners (at New Hampshire). If that happens, we'll have a good day. At this point, we need to do whatever we can to win the race."

  • Tuesday, September 16, 2014
    Auto racing roundup: Stewart case goes to grand jury
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Ontario County District Attorney's office completed its investigation of the fatal accident at a New York state sprint car track involving NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart and will take the case to a grand jury.

    • District Attorney Michael Tantillo made the announcement Tuesday afternoon in a statement.

      Kevin Ward Jr., 20, was struck by Stewart's car and killed on Aug. 9 during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

      "Upon my review of all of the information contained in the entire investigation, I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to a grand jury, for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter," Tantillo said. "Accordingly, the evidence developed in the investigation will be presented to an Ontario County grand jury in the near future."

      ---IndyCar Series driver Mikhail Aleshin was released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on Tuesday less than a month after he sustained multiple injuries during a violent practice crash in California.

      Aleshin suffered a concussion, chest injuries, broken ribs and a fractured clavicle on Aug. 29 when his car flew into a catch fence at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., before the IndyCar Series' final race of the season.

      The driver was transferred from Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., to Methodist Hospital last week and underwent a minor shoulder procedure under the supervision of IndyCar medical consultants Dr. Terry Trammell and Dr. Kevin Scheid. Aleshin also had surgery on his chest at Loma Linda, but the extent of that procedure was unknown.

      ---Two racing machines with tinges of light blue -- one car and one truck -- will carry the familiar red-outlined No. 34 at the end of October at NASCAR's oldest track, Martinsville Speedway.

      It's all part of a three-day celebration honoring NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 Inductee Wendell Scott at his home track of Martinsville on Oct. 24-26.

      Scott, the trailblazing winner of more than 100 races throughout NASCAR's ranks, will be officially enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 30, 2015.

      The car driven by David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the truck driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will each sport special "throw back" paint schemes to honor Scott, the first African-American to win a race in NASCAR's premier series.

  • Tuesday, September 16, 2014
    Injured IndyCar driver Aleshin leaves hospital
    By The Sports Xchange

    IndyCar Series driver Mikhail Aleshin was released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on Tuesday less than a month after he sustained multiple injuries during a violent practice crash in California.

    • Aleshin suffered a concussion, chest injuries, broken ribs and a fractured clavicle on Aug. 29 when his car flew into a catch fence at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., before the IndyCar Series' final race of the season.

      The driver was transferred from Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., to Methodist Hospital last week and underwent a minor shoulder procedure under the supervision of IndyCar medical consultants Dr. Terry Trammell and Dr. Kevin Scheid. Aleshin also had surgery on his chest at Loma Linda, but the extent of that procedure was unknown.

      "I'm feeling better each day," Aleshin said. "I'm very happy to be back in Indianapolis with my friends and the team. The doctors are taking very good care of me. Everything is going as planned with my recovery, and before you know it I'll be back behind the steering wheel."

      Aleshin will continue rehabilitation and evaluation under the supervision of the doctors at Methodist Hospital.

  • Tuesday, September 16, 2014
    Stewart case goes to grand jury
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Ontario County District Attorney's office completed its investigation of the fatal accident at a New York state sprint car track involving NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart and will take the case to a grand jury to decide whether he will face charges.

    • District Attorney Michael Tantillo made the announcement Tuesday afternoon in a statement. Tantillo could have determined there was not evidence to pursue the case but chose to proceed.

      Kevin Ward Jr., 20, was struck by Stewart and killed on Aug. 9 during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

      "Over the past several weeks I have reviewed with members of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department their investigation, as it progressed, in the Tony Stewart matter," Tantillo said. "Recently that office concluded its work and forwarded the complete case file to me.

      "Upon my review of all of the information contained in the entire investigation, I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to a grand jury, for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter. Accordingly, the evidence developed in the investigation will be presented to an Ontario County grand jury in the near future.

      "As grand jury proceedings in New York State are strictly confidential by law, I am unable to state when the matter will be scheduled, other than to state that I intend to present the matter in the near future. Similarly, because of the confidential nature of these proceedings, I cannot state who will be called as witnesses, or what any witness’s expected testimony will be.

      "When the presentation has been completed and a determination has been made, I will advise the public and the media at that time of the results."

      Ward died when he exited his car after a crash and walked toward Stewart's moving car on the track.

      Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races before returning to the series at Atlanta on Aug. 31.

      In a statement, Stewart said he hoped for a resolution in the case and pledged to continue to work with authorities. He plans to race in this weekend's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

      "I respect the time and effort spent by both the Ontario County District Attorney and the Sheriff's Office in investigating this tragic accident," Stewart said. "I look forward to this process being completed, and I will continue to provide my full cooperation." ?

      NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said, "We are aware of the completed investigation and the announced next steps. First, our thoughts continue to be with all who have been impacted by this tragedy. We will monitor this process and stay in close contact with Stewart-Haas Racing.

      "It would be inappropriate for NASCAR to comment on this case so we will continue to respect the process and authorities involved."

  • Tuesday, September 16, 2014
    Hall inductee to receive tribute at Martinsville
    By The Sports Xchange

    NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Two racing machines with tinges of light blue -- one car and one truck -- will carry the familiar red-outlined No. 34 at the end of October at NASCAR's oldest track, Martinsville Speedway.

      It's all part of a three-day celebration honoring NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 Inductee Wendell Scott at his home track of Martinsville on Oct. 24-26.

      Scott, the trailblazing winner of more than 100 races throughout NASCAR's ranks, will be officially enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 30, 2015.

      The car driven by David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the truck driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will each sport special "throw back" paint schemes to honor Scott, the first African-American to win a race in NASCAR's premier series.

      Ragan's No. 34 will be wrapped in a scheme reminiscent of the one Scott drove to victory at Jacksonville Speedway on Dec. 1, 1963, in what is today known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

      "It's going to be cool to honor Wendell Scott at his home track with his family," Ragan said. "I got to drive a tribute scheme for Ned Jarrett a while back, and it's a tribute to the history of our sport that I get to honor Mr. Scott as an inductee, the last driver to win in the No. 34 before I did.

      "I'm a fan of our sport's history and have a real appreciation for it, so it's special to be able to bring that paint scheme back for a weekend."

      Driving the No. 54 last October at Martinsville, Wallace became the first African-American driver since Scott to win in one of NASCAR's three national series. This time around, Wallace's truck will be affixed with the No. 34, a nod to Scott's legacy.

      "It's an honor to run the No. 34 Toyota Tundra at Martinsville," said Wallace, who has added wins this season at Eldora Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park to his victory total. "I got my first win at Martinsville and the historical significance of that win and to be so close to Wendell Scott's hometown was a really cool bonus to getting my first win.

      "The Scott family has followed my career since I ran the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program for Rev Racing and I've kept a relationship with the family over the years. Thanks to Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Toyota and NASCAR for allowing me to run the No. 34 at Martinsville. I'm pumped to get back there and hope to get another victory."

      Adding to the celebration, Martinsville Speedway and the NHOF will host members of the Scott family during the race weekend and offer special Q&A opportunities for fans on-site.

      "Wendell Scott faced numerous adversities throughout his racing career. At the end of the day though, he persevered and overcame all odds," said Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway. "That perseverance serves as an inspiration today and as a testament to that, he was inducted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame."

      Scott was the 1959 NASCAR Virginia Sportsman champion and won more than 100 races at local tracks before starting his NASCAR premier series career.

      The Danville, Va., native served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he honed his skills in the motor pool.

      In 13 years of NASCAR premier series competition, Scott made 495 starts (35th on the all-time list), accumulating 20 top-five and 147 top-10 finishes.

      Scott died in 1990 at age 69.

  • Monday, September 15, 2014
    The First Reid: If only I could have a spotter
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      After Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, I have come to one inescapable conclusion: I need to hire a spotter.

      My wife, Lee Spencer, and I work at close quarters. I write for the NASCAR Wire Service. She writes for Motorsport.com. We live together, travel together, and work together. On rare occasions, we have differences of opinion, as all couples do.

      Similarly, Sprint Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick live together, travel together and work together -- on the race track. And on rare occasions, they have differences of opinion on the asphalt. In fact, they had one such "spat" on Sunday, when their cars collided and hit the wall. The difference? Both Patrick and Stenhouse have spotters who can shoulder the blame. On Sunday, Patrick's spotter, Brandon Benesch, took the fall.

      "I heard my spotter say that the 14 (Tony Stewart) was below me on track and I didn't know the 17 (Stenhouse) was there on the high side of the track," Patrick said after the race. "My spotter took the blame on that one."

      How nice. And convenient. Having a spotter willing to fall on his sword certainly takes the stress and tension out of the motor coach. And it melts the icy stares that otherwise could make for an uncomfortable ride home.

      I wonder if Brandon Benesch would consider moonlighting...

      @nascarcasm

      In a touching post-race ceremony, Jimmie Johnson graciously passed the "SO SICK OF THAT GUY WINNING ALL THE TIME" torch to Brad Keselowski. Nine races remain. Pretty good chance it gets passed right the hell back.

      The other story? An incredible performance by Young Kyle Larson AKA "Young Money" AKA "The 'Kyle' We Can All Agree On."

      What do Kyle Larson and his pregnant girlfriend have in common? Both are hauling the mail.

      The 4/14 pit-crew swap seemed to pay off. This despite an early-race miscue when Kevin Harvick had to pit twice to take care of a loose wheel, and the #41 pit crew started walking to the #4 pit before they were called off.

      (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

      109: The number of green-flag passes made by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin in Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, tied for most in the first Chase race. Busch rallied from a lap down to finish eighth after a pit road spin and commitment violation. Hamlin started 24th and finished sixth after a late-race charge.

      5: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories recorded this season by Brad Keselowski, the top seed in the Chase. Keselowski won the final regular-season race at Richmond and doubled up on Sunday at Chicagoland. No other driver in the series has more than three victories thus far.

      138: The number of laps led by Brad Keselowski in a dominating NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July. The Magic Mile is host to next Sunday's second race in the Chase, and Keselowski goes there as a favorite to extend his current winning streak to three races.

      17: The finishing position of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. Even though Stenhouse and girlfriend Danica Patrick collided with 10 laps left, Stenhouse finished ahead of Roush Fenway Racing's Chase drivers, Carl Edwards (20th) and Greg Biffle (23rd).

      3: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories at New Hampshire Motor Speedway recorded by Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, tied for most among full-time active drivers. Jeff Burton has a track-record four wins at the Magic Mile.

      NASCAR NOTES

      Brad Keselowski lived up to his No. 1 seed by registering a win in the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, automatically advancing to the Contender Round. The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion driver hopes the win is a good omen. He last won at Chicagoland in the 2012 Chase-opener, the same year he clinched the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Keselowski, who also won at Richmond, won consecutive races for the first time in his career. ... Thirteen different drivers have taken the checkered flag in the last 13 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and no one has swept the track since Kurt Busch in 2004 - the same year he won the championship in inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Brad Keselowski won at the Loudon track in July and will attempt to break out the brooms in Sunday's Sylvania 300. But some major names are missing from the 13-in-13 streak, notably Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... After narrowly missing out on a spot in the Chase, Kyle Larson almost played the role of spoiler in the opening race of NASCAR's postseason at Chicagoland Speedway, finishing third after battling for the lead as late as Lap 252. The 22-year-old Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner will attempt to notch the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of his career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this Sunday where he finished third back in July.

      NASCAR On Television, September 15-21

      Monday, September 15

      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

      Tuesday, September 16

      10:00 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Chicagoland (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      12:30 p.m, The 10 Greatest Truck Series Moments (re-air), FOX Sports 1

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

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

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

      Wednesday, September 17

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

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

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

      Thursday, September 18

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

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

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

      Friday, September 19

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

      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

      6 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

      6:30 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Final Practice, FOX Sports 1

      7:30 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

      4 a.m. (Sat.), The 10 NASCAR;s Millennium Moments (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      4:30 a.m. (Sat.), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      Saturday, September 20

      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 Sprint Cup Series Final Practice, FOX Sports 1

      12:30 p.m., NCWTS SetUp, FOX Sports 1

      12:30 p.m., TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Race at Austin, FOX Sports 2

      1 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at New Hampshire, FOX Sports 1

      7:30 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Race at Kentucky, ESPNEWS

      12:30 a.m. (Sun.), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at New Hampshire (re-air), FOX Sports 2

      Sunday, September 21

      Noon, NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1

      1 p.m., NSCS Countdown, ESPN

      2 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at New Hampshire, ESPN

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

      12:30 a.m. (Mon.), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at New Hampshire (re-air), ESPN 2

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

      5:30 a.m. (Mon.), NASCAR Victory Lane (re-air), FOX Sports 1

      (The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Race at Austin will re-air on Sunday on FOX. Check your local listings for the time in your area.)

      National Series Schedule

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race: Sylvania 300

      The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

      The Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 21, 2 p.m. (ET)

      TV: ESPN

      Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race: VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300

      The Place: Kentucky Speedway

      The Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

      TV: ESPN News

      Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

      The Next Race: UNOH 175

      The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

      Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 20, 1 p.m. (ET)

      TV: FOX Sports 1

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR National Series Standings

      This year, wins matter more than in any season in the 65-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

      In the regular season, a win essentially locked a driver into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and gave him three bonus points to start the first round. During the Chase, a driver can automatically advance to the subsequent round with a victory.

      At the start of the Challenger Round, driver points were reset to 2,000 with their bonus points added. The four winless drivers with the least points following the third Chase race at Dover will be eliminated from championship contention.

      *Advanced to Challenger Round with win

      1. Brad Keselowski* -- 2,059 points

      2. Jeff Gordon -- 2,052

      3. Joey Logano -- 2,049

      4. Kevin Harvick -- 2,047

      5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 2,042

      6. Denny Hamlin -- 2,041

      7. Kyle Busch -- 2,041

      8. Jimmie Johnson -- 2,041

      9. Kurt Busch -- 2,039

      10. Matt Kenseth -- 2,034

      11. Kasey Kahne -- 2,034

      12. Carl Edwards -- 2,030

      13. Ryan Newman -- 2,029

      14. AJ Allmendinger -- 2,025

      15. Greg Biffle -- 2,021

      16. Aric Almirola -- 2,007

      NASCAR Nationwide Series

      1. Chase Elliott # -- 951

      2. Regan Smith -- 933

      3. Ty Dillon # -- 911

      4. Elliott Sadler -- 900

      5. Brian Scott -- 895

      6. Trevor Bayne -- 871

      7. Chris Buescher # -- 780

      8. Brendan Gaughan -- 751

      9. Ryan Reed # -- 706

      10. James Buescher -- 697

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      1. Matt Crafton -- 560

      2. Johnny Sauter -- 555

      3. Ryan Blaney -- 544

      4. Darrell Wallace Jr. -- 525

      5. German Quiroga -- 501

      6. Joey Coulter -- 492

      7. Ben Kennedy # -- 478

      8. Timothy Peters -- 475

      9. Ron Hornaday Jr. -- 460

      10. Jeb Burton -- 459

  • Monday, September 15, 2014
    Sunday's race was a microcosm of the Chase
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      It was a case of mistaken identity.

      If you thought the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup preview took place on Thursday at The Murphy in downtown Chicago, you're not alone.

      After all, there were banners on the walls, TV and radio crews, national, regional and local reporters -- and, of course, the 16 Chase drivers clad in their colorful fire suits.

      As they always do on such occasions, drivers answered questions optimistically. Those entering the Chase with obvious strength explained why their excellent performances would continue.

      Those who qualified for the Chase by the thinnest of margins explained why their fortunes were about to improve.

      But make no mistake. That annual ritual wasn't the real Chase preview.

      The real Chase preview took place on Sunday, in the first race of NASCAR's playoff.

      The MyAFibStory.com 400 was a crystal ball that provided a clear vision of Nov. 16, 2014, the date of the final Chase race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The drivers likely to be competing for the title under NASCAR's new Chase format were the same drivers running up front and leading laps on Sunday.

      Admittedly, on Thursday afternoon, Kyle Busch singled out the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski, the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick and the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon as the strongest cars entering the Chase. But it wasn't until Sunday that the reality hit home with the force of a wrecking ball.

      It wasn't until Sunday that what happened at Chicagoland Speedway either affirmed or silenced Thursday's happy talk.

      What Sunday's race told us was that, barring calamity, Keselowski, Harvick and Gordon (the first, second and fifth-place finishers at Chicagoland) will be three of the four drivers who survive elimination and qualify for the final race.

      What Sunday's race told us was that six-time champion Jimmie Johnson is likely to be in a dogfight for the final spot at Homestead with the likes of Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.

      At Chicagoland, Johnson continued to run where he has been running -- in the top 10 for most of the race, but without the speed to challenge the frontrunners for the victory. Johnson finished 12th and didn't lead a lap.

      The performance of the No. 48 team two weeks from now at Dover, Johnson's personal playground, will be telling.

      What Sunday's race told us was that the Joe Gibbs Racing cars are on the upswing, but they still can't answer "Yes" to the question "Are we there yet?"

      Hamlin ran sixth. Kyle Busch started on the pole (based on practice speed because of a rainout of time trials), led 46 laps and finished seventh. Kenseth survived a spin on pit road to run 10th.

      That's the third time this season all three JGR drivers have finished in the top 10 in the same race. The first time didn't come until the 19th race of the year, at New Hampshire, which hosts the second event of the Chase next Sunday.

      What Sunday's race told us is that the handling issues of the Roush Fenway Racing cars have not abated and that Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle may be hard-pressed to advance beyond the first elimination round.

      Biffle narrowly made the Chase at Richmond with an ill-handling car. If possible, the No. 16 Ford he drove at Chicagoland was worse, as his 23rd-place finish attests. Edwards started third but soon drifted back through the field, finishing 20th.

      If the RFR teams hope to be players in the Chase, they have much work to do and very little time to do it.

      What Sunday's race told us is that, after a mid-season lull, non-Chase driver Kyle Larson is ready to win a Sprint Cup race, and his breakthrough victory will probably come at one of the intermediate tracks in the Chase. That has the potential to complicate the equation for Chase drivers trying to advance to the next round by winning.

      What Sunday's race told us was that, if you have to pick a favorite to win it all this year, his name is Keselowski. His race-winning move, splitting the cars of Harvick and Larson off Turn 2, was vintage Kyle Busch.

      The resilience of Keselowski and his entire No. 2 Team Penske outfit was vintage Jimmie Johnson. Twice Keselowski drove from the back to the front, the second time after front tire changer Hunter Masling had the maturity and courage to admit he hadn't gotten his lug nuts tight.

      Keselowski returned to pit road on Lap 183 of 267 to correct the problem, restarted behind a blockade of lapped cars and still found the right balance between patience and aggression that enabled him to drive back to the lead in time to win the race.

      If Keselowski's victory at Richmond a week earlier made a statement, Sunday's win at Chicagoland provided the exclamation point.

      And it told us that, after the reality check of missing the Chase last year, Keselowski is ready to win another title -- and has the hunger to match.

  • Sunday, September 14, 2014
    Roller coaster race for Buschs, Kenseth
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Tina Akouris, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- A couple of near spin-outs on pit road, getting a free pass and a near crash between two brothers sums up Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway for three drivers.

      Kurt Busch started his day with a commitment line violation on lap 46 and had to serve a pass-through penalty that ended up putting him a lap down.

      "I made a mistake early on trying to get on pit road, trying to get all I could," Busch said. "It was as if I was going to pass 15 cars and go to the lead all at once. I spun her around and it was a bad mistake on my part."

      Busch stayed a lap down but moved through the field and was 14th at lap 135. He got up to the 11th position with about 57 laps to go.

      But on a restart with 30 laps to go, Busch made contact with his brother, Kyle, and dropped back to 17th.

      "I got in the corner in bad air and finally it bit and went down and Kurt was on my inside," Kyle Busch said. "I didn't even know there was room for a car down there. We just got together and luckily we all saved it and salvaged on."

      Kurt Busch managed to rebound and ended up finishing 8th.

      "I spent two-thirds of that race digging out of that hole and the last one-third racing hard," Kurt Busch said. "I got up as high as fifth or sixth, and on the final restart I fell back to eighth. Every spot is so crucial and you can see how everybody is racing."

      Ryan Newman had bad luck during the Chase opener until the last few laps. Newman had tire issues and then was assessed two pit road penalties on lap 99: pitting before pit road was open and speeding.

      With Newman's No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet forced to the back of the field, the South Bend, Indiana native ended up going two laps down -- where he stayed for most of the race.

      But Newman caught a break with about 12 laps to go when he was awarded a free pass, bringing him up to 19th. Newman ended up 15th.

      Matt Kenseth earned a top-10 finish after a rough start, where he also had pit road issues at the start of the race.

      Kenseth managed to turn a spin entering pit road early in the race into a respectable 10th-place finish. But the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion isn't satisfied heading into Loudon, New Hampshire next weekend.

      "I was really disappointed in the way we ran today," Kenseth said. "We were okay in the middle of the race, early middle. We were just fighting being loose and could make some progress in the long runs. We just got too tight and were slow on short runs and long runs. It was just a struggle. We showed a lot of speed most of the weekend, but just could never get it today where I wanted it to be."

  • Sunday, September 14, 2014
    Notebook: Gordon-Larson have mutual admiration
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spence, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- As hard as they raced each other in the closing laps of Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson might as well have been at a tea social when they sat side-by-side at the dais in the track's media center.

      Gordon and Larson raced ferociously over the last six laps and finished second and third, respectively, behind race-winner Brad Keselowski. Afterwards, Gordon spoke to Larson in close quarters on pit road, telling the talented rookie driver what he might have done differently on a critical restart on lap 262 of 267.

      "I'm never out front, really," Larson said. "I'm never on the front row, so I don't know what to do. You look at my Nationwide races, and I'm maybe on the front row a handful of times. Then the Cup Series, another handful. I'm still learning that part of it.

      "He came down to give me some advice, which was nice. I know Jeff thinks a lot about me, and I think a lot about him, too. It was fun racing him. I definitely wanted to beat him. I was trying all I could. Just tried a little bit too hard. Was running probably an inch or two off the wall all day and finally got into it.

      "But, yeah, it's nice whenever Jeff comes around or I read all the stuff he says about me. It's cool."

      From Gordon's standpoint, Larson's performance was clearly praiseworthy.

      "I think this kid is the real deal," Gordon said. "He's going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win, because I like him, and I know he's going to win a lot of races, but I also didn't want to see those other guys (fellow Chase drivers) win.

      "I'm a big fan. I like seeing young guys out there driving like that. That's so much fun. That's what this sport is all about. I just want to let him know what a great job I thought he did."

      And with Gordon's advice, perhaps Larson will do a little better on a restart from the front row next time around.

      KABOOM AT THE RIGHT TIME

      The freak occurrence that made Joey Logano's No. 22 Team Penske Ford lightning fast at the end of Sunday's race was the same thing that made his engine explode.

      Fortunately for Logano, the engine waited to detonate until after he had crossed the finish line in fourth place.

      A windshield tear-off adhered to the grille of Logano's car after a restart with six laps left and stayed there. With the airflow to the radiator completely cut off, Logano ran what were essentially qualifying laps through the finish.

      The downside was that he pushed all the water out of the cooling system and sent the temperatures skyrocketing. But Logano still had enough speed at the end to pass Kevin Harvick for fourth on the final lap. As he approached the finish line, white smoke began to billow from the engine.

      "We hit a piece of debris with about five to go," Logano said. "I say 'piece,' but it was huge. I think it was a tear-off, and we got really hot, but the car started handling really good when it was on there, and we got another spot because of it.

      "We blew up going into Turn 3 and just had a big smoke screen behind me, but I was able to get it across."

      The top-five finish left Logano third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 10 points behind teammate and race-winner Brad Keselowski. After the third race of the Chase, at Dover, at least nine drivers will advance to the next elimination round by virtue of their respective positions in the standings.

      MIXED FEELINGS FOR EARNHARDT

      Based on the way he practiced on Friday and Saturday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have been happy to escape Sunday's race with the 11th-place finish he recorded.

      But in the first Chase event, Earnhardt's car was the strongest it had been all weekend, and the 11th-place result left him wanting more.

      "We weren't very good in practice," Earnhardt said after the race. "I was really, really concerned. We had a real bad P3 (third practice). (Crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and those guys, man, they just worked real hard all night long and stayed up on the computer and looked over the notes, and we had a real good car today. It was a top-five car.

      Restarting on the inside there in fifth or seventh (late in the race), a little bit tough. Outside was where I kind of wanted to be on restarts. The guys behind us got tires, and we got beat by tires on a couple of cars there. If you would have told me that we could have finished 11th this morning, I would have happily taken it.

      "But there in the middle of the race, kind of started getting greedy about positions because the car was better than that... I feel like this team can run for 11th on its worst day. That will do it. That will get us through the next round, until we get to some tracks that maybe we run a little bit better at, or tracks that suit us a little bit better."

      Earnhardt leaves Chicago fifth in the standings, 17 points behind leader Brad Keselowski and 13 points ahead of 13th-place Ryan Newman. After the Sept. 28 race at Dover, four of 16 drivers will be eliminated from the Chase.

  • Sunday, September 14, 2014
    Keselowski wins Chase opener at Chicagoland
    By The Sports Xchange

    JOLIET, Ill. -- Brad Keselowski began the playoff portion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series the same way he ended the regular season: with a win.

    • Keselowski claimed his fifth victory of the year Sunday in the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the first event in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

      Keselowski battled Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson three wide with 16 laps to go to take the late-race lead.

      "I'm not really sure what to say," Keselowski said. "I don't really know what happened. I just know we got to the lead. There was traffic, and I was just digging and in the zone. The recorder was turned off, so I don't remember what happened. I had my head down doing all I could do.

      "We had a great Miller Lite Ford Fusion that I knew from the start would be good, but, man, it was really awesome the last few runs. We really dialed it in, and the No. 2 crew did an excellent job. What a day. Man, I am still pumped."

      Jeff Gordon finished second, and Larson, Joey Logano and Harvick rounded out the top five. Larson ran second with about two laps to go before bouncing off the wall while trying to hold off Gordon.

      "I'm really proud of Kyle Larson. Man, what a great effort, such a young talent," said Gordon, one of the Chase competitors. "I really wanted to see him win that race because I like him, but I didn't what to see those other guys (Chase drivers Keselowski and Harvick) win it, either."

      Keselowski was pulling away when the yellow flag came out for the sixth and final time when Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got tangled up.

      Keselowski was able to hold his lead on the restart that followed, and with about 10 laps, he pulled away.

      Harvick cycled to the lead after a round of green-flag pit stops that got under way around lap 146 of the 267-lap race. He ran in first until Larson got up front after another cycle of green-flag stops just before the fourth caution of the race with less than 50 laps remaining.

      "It was a fun day," Harvick said. "I'm proud of all my guys on my Jimmy John's Chevrolet for the job they did, and it's a solid start to the Chase."

      Kyle Busch led the opening laps of the race, but Gordon got by Busch to take the lead on lap 29. Jamie McMurray also led several laps before Busch retook the lead when he got off pit road first by taking only two tires during a caution that came out on lap 67.

      Gordon moved back to the front, though, after restarting outside the top five, retaking the top spot on lap 88.

      McMurray, despite taking only two tires during the first caution, took only two again when the yellow flag waved for the second time on lap 99. That enabled him to get off pit road first to retake the lead.

      He lost the advantage to Keselowski on lap 107.

      Keselowski remained up front until the round of green stops that saw Harvick cycle to the lead.

      Keselowski continued to run near the front until he had to make two pit stops during the third caution of the race on lap 181. He took four tires on his first stop, but a loose wheel required a return trip to pit road.

      "You have to be patient," Keselowski said when asked the key to getting back to the front. "The cars in traffic are all over the track, and it is very easy to spin out on your own, and you have to pace yourself. I don't know what to say. I am so thankful to be here. I want to say thanks, because I know the fans can hear me. I saw all of them standing on their feet when we made the pass for the lead, and that was awesome."

      Keselowski's return to pit road moved Gordon up to second to restart next to Harvick on the front row. Gordon ran second for a while before eventually losing the position to Larson.

      "Man, I was so close (to a first win)," Larson said. "I didn't need that caution, there. I was just cruising out front, and then we got that yellow and I had to battle Harvick really hard then. That allowed Brad to get by both of us. It really ended our shot at a win there."

      NOTES: Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman started on the front row by having the two fastest practice speeds Friday. Rain washed away qualifying Friday evening. ... Kyle Busch dominated Saturday afternoon's Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland but finished third. Kevin Harvick was the winner. ... Kyle Busch also competed in the Camping World Truck Series, winning that race Saturday night. ... Kevin Harvick was the only Chase for the Sprint Cup driver with multiple Chicagoland wins heading into Sunday's race with two. ... Keselowski earned his second Chicagoland victory. He won in 2012, his championship year. ... After issues on pit road in recent weeks, Harvick headed to Chicagoland with key members of Tony Stewart's pit crew. ... Matt Kenseth came into the race as the defending winner, leading 89 laps on his way to the win last year. He came in 10th Sunday. ... Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske combined to win all races on mile-and-a-half tracks in the 26-race regular season.

  • Saturday, September 13, 2014
    Busch overcomes adversity to win Chicagoland truck race
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- Kyle Busch overcame more than his share of adversity Saturday night in winning the rain-postponed Lucas Oil 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

      Busch came from the rear of the field twice and overcame a caution that put him on the wrong end of a cycle of pit stops to win in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota for the sixth time this year and the 41st time in his career.

      In a race rescheduled because of a Friday rainout, Busch finished 1.130 seconds ahead of Matt Crafton, who snatched the series lead from ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter. Crafton leads Sauter by five points and third-place Ryan Blaney by 16.

      Austin Dillon surrendered second place to Crafton in the closing laps and came home third, followed by rookie Tyler Reddick and Jeb Burton.

      Busch led 66 of the 150 laps at the 1.5-mile track and made what turned out to be the winning pass with 16 laps left, ducking to the inside of Dillon and squeezing him behind the lapped truck of Michael Affarano.

      "When I was chasing the 20 truck (Dillon) there for the lead, I was just getting really tight behind him," Busch said. "The aero on these things is hurting, and I hate that, but fortunately I got through on a lapped truck, and we were able to win this thing."

      Busch started from the rear, in 32nd place, because Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup media activities kept him away from NCWTS practice on Thursday, and qualifying was rained out on Friday. Before NASCAR called a scheduled competition caution on Lap 31, Busch had climbed to fourth, passing Matt Crafton for that position on Lap 29.

      But a pit road speeding penalty under the caution sent Busch to the back again. He restarted 27th on Lap 36 (with attrition having reduced the field by five trucks) and began another relentless march through the field.

      On Lap 52 he took the lead for the first time, passing Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. for the top spot. A small piece of tape, however, adhered to the grille of Busch's No. 51 Tundra and raised his water temperature to a dangerously high level.

      Busch surrendered the lead to Wallace, shortly before Norm Benning's impact with the Turn 4 wall caused the second caution of the evening and gave Busch a chance to come to pit road, where his crew removed the tape.

      "Early on I was being patient, trying to get everybody acclimated to not being on the track at all (Friday)," Busch said. "I was getting acclimated, too. I knew we had a good truck. I was just trying to pace myself early.

      "But I knew what I had, and when I had that pit road penalty and got stuck back behind, I tried to charge back through a little harder."

      After a restart on Lap 67, Busch pulled away to a lead of more than four seconds, but his travails were far from over. Busch had come to the pits under green on Lap 110 when Todd Shaffer missed the entrance to pit road and plowed through the infield grass on Lap 112 to cause the third caution.

      Busch had to take a wave-around for a restart on Lap 119 and was eighth for the restart behind leader Austin Dillon. Though Dillon adroitly blocked Busch for 15 laps, the driver of the No. 51 finally got past Dillon near the entrance to the tri-oval on Lap 134, using the truck on Michael Affarano as a pick.

      "We were just too tight," Dillon said. "I was doing everything I could. Man, Kyle's truck was so fast -- it was unbelievable."

      From that point -- finally -- it was smooth sailing for the race winner.

  • Saturday, September 13, 2014
    Harvick makes right call in Nationwide win at Chicagoland
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- Kevin Harvick got the track position he needed with a two-tire call under caution late in Saturday's Jimmy John's Freaky Fast 300.

      Then he and crew chief Ernie Cope got the victory they deserved for choosing the right strategy at the right time.

      Harvick beat Kyle Larson to the finish line by 2.108 seconds to win for the fourth time this season and the 44th time in his career -- a numerologist's delight for those who favor Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet in Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400, the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      Larson held off third-place finisher Kyle Busch in the closing laps. Ryan Blaney ran fourth, followed by Trevor Bayne.

      Series leader Chase Elliott came home 10th and maintained an 18-point lead in the standings over second-place Regan Smith, his JR Motorsports teammate.

      For Harvick, the tipping point came on Lap 154 when Cope called for the two-tire stop while race leader Busch took four fresh tires and got mired in traffic.

      "Well, we didn't have many laps on the tires, but that's the call that won us the race," Harvick said. "Ernie won the race for us, and the car was fast, but when we got out front and the tires not having many laps, and the 54 (Busch) being buried in the field -- that's what won us this race today."

      Busch, who led every lap in a dominating win last week at Richmond, looked to make Saturday's race a runaway, too, but caution for Jeremy Clements' blown engine on Lap 151 created an opportunity for divergent strategies and scrambled the field.

      By the time the field restarted on Lap 160, Busch had led 141 laps, but after a four-tire stop under the yellow, he restarted 16th in the No. 54 Toyota and made up eight positions before the engine in teammate Denny Hamlin's No. 20 Camry erupted on Lap 165.

      Harvick, who had changed right-side tires only under the caution on Lap 154, made short work of four cars that stayed out under the yellow and surged into the lead past Aric Almirola and pole-sitter Brian Scott on Lap 161. But the caution for Hamlin's engine failure bunched the field for a restart on Lap 174, with Busch taking the green flag from the eighth spot.

      Harvick drove away after the restart and Busch advanced quickly to third in the running order. But the No. 54 Toyota stalled behind Larson's No. 42 Chevy as Harvick cruised to the comfortable win.

      "I fought my butt off the last run of the race," Busch said. "It sucks not being in Victory Lane where we should be. This car was fast -- but can't get through traffic."

  • Saturday, September 13, 2014
    Ambrose leaving RPM, returning to Australia
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- Marcos Ambrose will leave Richard Petty Motorsports and return home to his native Australia at the end of the 2014 season, in what the Tasmanian driver termed Saturday as a personal decision.

      "I feel like the timing's great for myself and my family to just return to Australia, and that's what we're going to do," Ambrose told reporters Saturday morning at Chicagoland Speedway.

      In confirming Ambrose's impending departure in a Saturday morning release, RPM said the organization already is exploring "several driver opportunities to help drive the No. 9 team forward," and will announce Ambrose's replacement at the appropriate time.

      "Marcos will always be part of our extended racing family," team co-owner Richard Petty said. "He came over to the United States with his family and dedicated his time here giving the best he had each week.

      "I couldn't ask anything more from Marcos and his commitment on and off of the track to our race team and our partners. Away from the track, he's a family person first. That's something I respect, and we'll miss Marcos, (wife) Sonja and their children."

      Ambrose's tenure at RPM included a transition of ownership from George Gillet, under who the team struggled to make ends meet, to a more stable group headed by Richard Petty and investors Andy Murstein and Doug Bergeron.

      "I feel like I've left them better than when I entered with them," Ambrose said. "I feel like I've contributed to their turnaround. They're a great team. They're moving forward. They've got a car in the Chase this year (the No. 43 of Aric Almirola). They've won races.

      "When I first joined them in the turmoil of the Gillett changeover, there were a lot of gray clouds circling around them. They're on a great path. I wish them the best. I value Richard's friendship greatly, and the family and everybody here at RPM. They're a great company, and I wish them the most success."

      Though Ambrose's decision was personal -- and was made earlier this year -- his frustration with a lack of progress on the competitive side was a factor, too. One of the most talented road course drivers ever to compete in NASCAR racing, Ambrose notched his only two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories at Watkins Glen, but he never scored a breakthrough victory on an oval track.

      "I feel like my level has plateaued at the Sprint Cup level," Ambrose said. "I haven't kicked off the next level. I've always said that, if I felt like I had flattened off my learning curve or my success -- that I was only in the U.S. to win, and if I wasn't able to contend like I want to -- then I need to look at my situation, and that has been the case.

      "It has been a tough couple years on the race track for me, and the personal situation is clear, and I just think the timing is right to go home."

      A two-time champion in the V8 Supercar Series, Ambrose has been rumored as a candidate to return to that series in a car fielded by Roger Penske.

      "Today's not the day to talk about my racing future," Ambrose said on Saturday. "I felt like, personally, it's the right choice for myself and my family to call it a day here in the U.S. and move on to our next chapter."

      The discussion of Ambrose's racing future may come sooner rather than later. Team Penske president Tim Cindric announced on his Twitter account Saturday that the organization plans "to have a teleconference on Monday at 9 p.m. ET to give a @v8supercars update for the media. No further comments. Focused on the Chase now."

      For those who question the starting time for the teleconference, remember that 9 p.m. ET Monday is 10 a.m. on Tuesday in Sydney, Australia.

      SHORT STROKES

      Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers dominated Saturday morning's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session, filling eight of the top 10 spots. Non-Chaser Paul Menard, however, paced the session with a fast lap at 188.772 mph, nearly one mile-an-hour faster than second-place Kasey Kahne's 187.780 mph. Kevin Harvick was third quickest, followed by Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. Vickers was the other non-Chase driver in the top 10. ... Leading Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Larson slammed into the outside wall during the first Saturday practice and will start Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 -- the first race in the Chase -- from the rear of the field in a backup car. After shaking down the backup later in the session, Larson got the car up to speed in Saturday's second practice, running third behind Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Edwards' top speed of 186.413 mph was a reflection of warmer track conditions.

  • Saturday, September 13, 2014
    Ambrose leaving RPM for Australia
    By The Sports Xchange

    Marcos Ambrose informed Richard Petty Motorsports that he is leaving NASCAR at the end of the season and will return to his native Australia, it was announced Saturday.

    • It has been speculated that Ambrose will join Roger Penske in entering Australia's V8 Supercar Series. Penske said in July that he is "looking at the opportunity" to work with Ambrose in Supercars.

      The team hoped Ambrose would return in the No. 9 Ford.

      Ambrose has been with RPM since 2011. He has two wins and 44 top-10 finishes.

      Ambrose had a chance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field at Watkins Glen, but placed second.

  • Friday, September 12, 2014
    Rain forces rescheduling of truck race
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- With rain wiping out all track activity at Chicagoland Speedway after opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, the last casualty was the Lucas Oil 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race scheduled for Friday night.

      Based on top speeds in Thursday NCWTS practice sessions at the 1.5-mile track, series leader Johnny Sauter will start on the pole for the postponed race, which will be run after Saturday's Nationwide Series race, which begins at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN 2.

      The estimated starting time of the Truck Series race is 7 p.m.

      Sauter holds a seven-point lead in the driver standings over ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton, who will start ninth. Ryan Blaney, third in the standings and 13 points behind Sauter, will take the green flag from the fifth position on the grid.

  • Friday, September 12, 2014
    Qualifying washout puts Kyle Busch on pole
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- Persistent rain and cold weather that inhibited track drying at Chicagoland Speedway forced cancellation of Friday's scheduled time trials for Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400, the first race in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      With the field ordered according to top speeds in Friday's opening Sprint Cup practice session, Chase drivers Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards will start from the top three positions, respectively.

      Busch posted a top average speed of 191.442 mph on his 21st and final practice lap in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, more than 2 mph faster than Joey Logano's 2013 track qualifying record of 189.414 mph.

      Being the top car in practice also provided a boost of confidence to Busch, who has struggled in his last six races, finishing outside the top 35 four times. Matt Kenseth, Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, will start fifth on Sunday, adding to the critical mass of the JGR organization.

      "I think today was a little bit better practice session for myself and the 20 (Kenseth)," Busch said. "I talked to Matt, and he felt a little more positive about things. Matt jumped up there to the top of the board early, and we were able to do so late. ...

      "It's a good representation of where we feel like we want to be and where we should be, but, again, it's early -- first practice, and not everybody at the end of that practice was in qualifying trim, making qualifying runs. ... There, later in practice, speeds certainly got quicker."

      The qualifying rainout was bad news for the Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, two of the favorites in the Chase. Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, and Logano will start 25th and 28th, respectively, after posting lackluster practice speeds in the opening 90-minute session.

      Other Chase drivers will start as follows: Jimmie Johnson, seventh; Jeff Gordon, eighth; Kevin Harvick, 12th; Dale Earnhardt Jr., 13th; Kurt Busch, 14th; AJ Allmendinger, 17th; Kasey Kahne, 19th; Greg Biffle, 20th; Aric Almirola, 23rd; and Denny Hamlin, 24th.

  • Friday, September 12, 2014
    Allmendinger likes Chase underdog role
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      JOLIET, Ill. -- From a handicapping standpoint, AJ Allmendinger is realistic enough to know he won't have the same odds of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title as six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, but he took lighthearted umbrage at being considered an afterthought for the Chase.

      "We're contenders 'cause we're here, and we've got a shot at it, but I'm also not blind to the fact that, if you set myself against Jimmie, he's more favored," Allmendinger said. "I understand that.

      "Vegas -- I was laughing at it -- they made odds for 14 drivers, and me and (Aric) Almirola were just 'The Field' for the championship. There were 14 names with odds and then 'The Field' at 500 to 1."

      According to VegasInsider.com, the odds for the Allmendinger/Almirola combination are now 250 to 1 as a field bet.

      "I understand it," Allmendinger said. "It's a part of it. I relish it, honestly. I like being the underdog team. (Team owners) Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) started this (JTG/Daugherty Racing) team in a barn in '94, so they've always been an underdog.

      "I don't take offense to it. I just kind of smile and say, 'I like being under the radar.' Hopefully, we can go make some noise and make some guys mad by knocking them out of the Chase."

      In order to escape the first elimination round of the Chase, however, Allmendinger knows what his team has to do at the tracks involved -- Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover.

      "We've just got to be perfect," he said. "We've just got to be at our best. I look at a race like Dover, depending on how the first two have run ... if we have to win it to stay in it, then you start taking some chances.

      "But we've just got to be as close to perfect as possible."

      SAVING IT FOR THE PLAYOFFS

      You can't blame Chase teams for putting some of their best equipment to the side during the regular season and bringing it out for the Chase.

      Aric Almirola's No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports outfit is a case in point. At Chicagoland this weekend, Almirola is driving a car that was racy at both Kansas and Kentucky.

      "We feel like some of our best cars we ran at Kansas and Kentucky earlier this year and were both top 10's there -- Kansas for sure, and Kentucky we were running sixth and got in a wreck late in the race," Almirola said. "Nonetheless, that car has performed really well. We pushed that one aside after we won Daytona and have been prepping it and getting it ready for Chicago.

      "Our Loudon car is a brand new car, just to try something. Every time we build a new car, it's usually a little lighter, and hopefully that will make a difference. I think we're taking our primary car from Bristol (to Dover). That was the fastest car I've ever had there until I crashed it in qualifying. It didn't do any frame damage, so they put a new body on it, and that is the car we're taking to Dover."

      NEW CARS FOR KYLE BUSCH, TOO

      Almirola isn't the only driver with secret weapons for the Chase. Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also will have some new pieces for the playoffs.

      "Our car for Chicago is brand new -- it has not seen the racetrack yet," Busch said Thursday. "Fortunately, we were able to do that because we built it, tunneled it (tested in the wind tunnel) and everything, then put it on jack stands to wait for the Chase, because we didn't need to use it to get in.

      "We had that luxury. Now that we have a couple sitting there on jack stands ready to go, we just take the covers off and put engines in them and get ready to go and see how they run. This will be our first test here this weekend."

      Busch earned his Chase spot with a victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in late March, but in the last six events, he has finished outside the top 35 four times.

      Busch hopes his new equipment will help level the playing field between the JGR teams and the favorites for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

      "We know our level isn't high enough, and we know there's room to grow because of what we're getting beat by each and every single week," Busch said. "The 2 (Brad Keselowski), the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) -- they are your favorites, so how much more can they pick up?

      "I don’t know. They might have been running at 100 percent already, and if we can just get to their level and compete with them, then a driver may prevail a little more, and you can see some guys doing some good things behind the steering wheel and getting the job done there."

      Busch was true to his word on Friday afternoon. He led opening Sprint Cup practice with a lap at 191.442 mph, more than two mph faster than Joey Logano's 2013 track qualifying record of 189.414 mph.

  • Thursday, September 11, 2014
    Chase race begins with Keselowski as top seed
    By The Sports Xchange

    CHICAGO -- Brad Keselowski heads into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship as the top seed after a series-leading four wins in 26 races that resulted in 2,012 points.

    • Keselowski claimed the top seed in the 11th hour with a dominating performance and a win in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway last Saturday in the final race of the regular season.

      "I have another two years of, hopefully, wisdom (since winning the Sprint Cup in 2012), and we have had dominant performances to win three of our four races," Keselowski said. "I think those are some great reasons to be more confident."

      Keselowski acknowledged that there could be multiple strategies in play among his fellow Chase qualifiers vying for the championship.

      "We could run through all the hypotheticals, but there are so many different scenarios, it is really a waste of time, in my mind," Keselowski said. "The reality is, you can just go out and perform and let it take care of itself."

      When the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid is broken down, though, Keselowski is worried more about one round than the others -- the contender round, or second round of 12. His concern is with two of the three tracks that make up round two.

      "The contender bracket -- that one scares the crap out of me," Keselowski said. "Kansas and Talladega are just two tracks where, like I said, they have been wreck-fests the last few years and the only way you can really feel comfortable with that bracket is if you go to Charlotte and win the race. I think that bracket will break some hearts, and that is the most concerning thing to us."

      Before Keselowski's most recent race win, Jeff Gordon was poised to head into the Chase as the top seed.

      During the course of the last few seasons, The Chase for the championship has been feast or famine for Keselowski. He made the Chase for the first time in his young Sprint Cup career in 2011 and then re-entered the Chase the following year to win it all in 2012.

      The famine came a year ago as the defending series champion when Keselowski failed to qualify, instead watching teammate Joey Logano represent Penske in the Chase. It was Logano's first Chase, as well as his first year with Team Penske.

      On the outside looking in, Keselowski became the second driver in the Chase era to fail to qualify for the Sprint Cup playoffs as the reigning champion. Tony Stewart was Cup champion in 2005 but failed to make the 2006 Chase.

      For the first time, both Keselowski and Logano are in the Chase, and that's something that also boosts his championship hopes.

      "I definitely feel more confident this year than in 2012," Keselowski said. "We have a strong teammate to lean on and a manufacturer base with Ford that is underneath us for years to come."

      Three other Ford drivers join Keselowski and Logano in the Chase, including Carl Edwards (two race victories this year) and first-time winner Aric Almirola.

      In 2014, Keselowski made sure he was going to be in the Chase early in the season, claiming the first of his four wins in the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

      He was then stuck at one win, but certainly in the Chase, for a while before catching a wave of momentum in the final 10 races of the regular season that carried him to wins at Kentucky Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and his most recent win at Richmond.

      Among the four wins, going back to the first of the season at Las Vegas, two came on mile-and-a-half tracks, showing that Keselowski has performed well this year on the track type that dominates the schedule.

      Five of the 10 Chase races are hosted by 1 1/2-mile tracks, including the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland. Then there's New Hampshire, where Keselowski is the track's most recent winner.

      There's a log jam between second and fifth in the Chase standings. Fuor drivers head into the Chase with three wins apiece. Throw in Keselowski at the top and the top-five drivers represent only two organizations -- Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske.

      2) Jeff Gordon not only came close to entering the Chase with the top seed but also with another three bonus points after he finished second to Keselowski at Richmond. Gordon got into the Chase by NASCAR decree a year ago after Michael Waltrip Racing was deemed to have attempted to manipulate the Chase field at Richmond. But this time around, Gordon got into the Chase by his own right after a consistent season that saw him win three races and remain atop the points standings for much of the year. It's that combination of winning and consistency that puts Gordon among the favorites for what would be his fifth championship and his first since 2001.

      3) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having one of the best seasons of his career, at least the best season he has had in the last several years. He became the first driver to stake his claim on a Chase spot this season by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 in February and then swept Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., in the second half of the regular season. He has had slight hiccups lately, though, with two finishes just outside the top 10 in the last two races -- 12th at Richmond and 11th at Atlanta Motor Speedway the week before. Those results came on the heels of a 39th-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway after getting caught up in a wreck that wasn't his doing. His last top five was also his most recent top 10, a fifth-place showing at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn in August.

      4) Jimmie Johnson is among the three-time winners heading into the Chase, but none of the wins were recent. After a slow start, Johnson won at Charlotte Motor Speedway and followed with his second straight win a week later at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Two weeks after the Dover win, he visited victory lane at Michigan in the 15th race of the season. Then, the trips to victory lane dried up. Johnson fell into a significant slump with two straight 42nd-place finishes at Daytona and New Hampshire, followed by consecutive finishes of 39th and 28th a few weeks later. He seems to be out of that slump and going in the right direction, though, entering the Chase. Johnson has four top-10 finishes in the four most recent races, and two of those being top fives.

      5) Joey Logano is having far and away his best season in Sprint Cup. Logano has three wins in 2014 for his first multi-win season, which boosted his career wins total to six. He claimed his first victory of the year at Texas Motor Speedway, the seventh race of the season, and followed with his second win a couple of races later in the first Richmond race of the year. His third and most recent win came three races ago at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Logano wasn't considered a serious championship threat in the Chase a year ago, but that's not the case anymore. He heads into the Chase among the drivers tied for second, and he's the most recent race winner at Texas Motor Speedway, which happens to be one of the Chase's 10 host tracks. "I am more prepared," Logano said, comparing this season to last. "A lot more prepared knowing kind of where we are. I feel like thse last 15 weeks or so we were doing our thing and won the race in Texas, and now we were just going for wins and to gain momentum and get our team prepared for the Chase. That is really what the last few weeks were all about. We have been able to do that. We have consistently been top-five and got a couple wins since Texas and have been able to build our team stronger and stronger for Chicago, the biggest race we have had so far since we've gotten into the Chase. We need to hit these next 10 races hard."

      6) Kevin Harvick's debut season with Stewart-Haas Racing started on a high note. He was victorious in the second race of the season, winning at Phoenix International Raceway. Things then got rocky, though, with four finishes outside the top 35 in the next five races, three of those coming consecutively, before he made his way back to victory lane at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Throughout the remainder of the regular season, Harvick ran well enough to win a few more races, leading the most laps at times, only to fall short of a third trip to victory lane. Formerly known as "The Closer," results flip-flopped. Instead of coming from behind to win races, Harvick became the driver who was in contention throughout much of the race, only to fall behind late. The fall-behind seem to come, primarily, on pit road, so earlier this week, Harvick swapped key pit crew members with SHR co-owner and teammate Tony Stewart, who isn't in the Chase this year. With a somewhat new pit crew, 2014 may prove to be Harvick's best shot to date at his first Sprint Cup after finishing third in the standings three times in the last five years.

      7) Carl Edwards has been the one bright spot for Roush Fenway Racing this year. He's joined in the Chase by RFR teammate Greg Biffle, but Biffle just barely squeaked in by taking the last spot available on points. Edwards claimed his Chase-clinching win at Bristol in March and then won a second race for bonus points on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., in June. Edwards' performance throughout the season has been up and down, and he ended the regular season with an unimpressive 22nd-place finish at Richmond. He did post two top-10s at Atlanta and Bristol that were sandwiched between the 22nd at Richmond and an equally unimpressive finish outside the top 20 at Michigan. "I think there are three reasons our team could do well," Edwards said. "The first one is our pit crew. We are very good there and we won't make mistakes there. I think we can beat people there. Jimmy Fennig (crew chief) is as good or better than any crew chief that has ever been on top of the box with calling a race. I believe my experience in the Chase and things I have gone through, I think I will be able to do a really good job of not making mistakes on the racetrack." Edwards' Chase experience includes finishing the 2011 season in a tie with eventual champion Tony Stewart, the first season-ending points tie in NASCAR history. Stewart was crowned champion by virtue of more wins.

      8) Kyle Busch leads the way for the three-driver Joe Gibbs Racing team, with all three in the Chase. After Matt Kenseth won a series-high seven races in his first season with the Gibbs organization in 2013, the entire JGR roster posted a combined two wins during the 2014 regular season. Busch had one of those wins early in the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the fifth of the 26 races run thus far. Busch tends to struggle late in the season, and if recent statistics are any indication, he's in for more of the same in 2014. It has been awhile since Busch finished a race inside the top 10. He was second in consecutive races at New Hampshire and Indianapolis Motor Speedway just before Memorial Day, but hasn't had a top 10 since then and only two of six races since then have resulted in finishes inside the top-35.

      9) Denny Hamlin is the other 2014 race winner from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. Hamlin missed an early season race at Auto Club Speedway in March because of an eye infection, but since he qualified his car earlier in the weekend, he retained Chase eligibility without needing a special circumstance waiver from NASCAR. He claimed his one win at Talladega Superspeedway in May. Otherwise, though, his season has been much like that of teammate Busch's -- a few bright spots here and there but rather inconsistent. So, like Busch, if the Chase matches the rest of the 2014 season for Hamlin, the consistency isn't there to get him through round after round, and neither are the wins to guarantee advancement.

      10) Kurt Busch, like Kevin Harvick, is in the Chase in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing. But unlike Harvick, Busch is with a new team within the organization -- an expansion team of sorts. Busch's lone win came at Martinsville, which just happens to be a stop on the Chase tour. But the Chase race at Martinsville is part of the Eliminator round of eight, so Busch will have to get through two rounds of eliminations to still be Chase eligible at Martinsville. Busch's season with his new team has been an inconsistent one -- a top 10 here and there, with some finishes outside the top 20 thrown in. When it comes to the Chase, most of the focus at SHR seems to be on Harvick. Even though Busch is a past champion, Harvick looks to be the team's best chance at a title in 2014.

      With 13 different drivers visiting victory lane in the 26-race regular season, the entire top 10 heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup are 2014 race winners. Harvick and Edwards are two-time winners, and spots eighth through 10 are occupied by single-race winners.

  • Thursday, September 11, 2014
    Johnson feels good about Chase chances
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      CHICAGO -- For those who question the strength of the No. 48 team, driver Jimmie Johnson says he's more confident entering the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year than he was last year when he won his sixth championship.

      For those who say the No. 48 Chevy lacks speed, Johnson says he has plenty.

      In fact, Johnson expects to be one of four drivers racing for the championship under NASCAR's new playoff format, which will see four drivers eliminated at the end of each three-race round. The four remaining drivers then race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the highest finisher winning the championship.

      Never mind that Johnson hasn’t won a race since mid-June at Michigan, which was his third victory in a stretch of four events.

      "We've come through some tracks that historically aren't very good for us with top-10, top-five runs," Johnson said Thursday during Chase Media Day at The Murphy. "I feel like we've gotten rid of the bad luck, we're running where we should, we're getting to the finish line.

      "Now we're coming into probably seven or eight of my best tracks. I feel like we're definitely going in the right direction."

      And does he think the No. 48 Chevrolets have enough speed to keep up with Chase favorites Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick?

      "I do," Johnson said emphatically. "Honestly, I feel better about our chances this year, today than I did last year on this same day. We came off of an embarrassing run at Richmond, we crashed out at Atlanta. We had a lot of things going in the other direction for us last year.

      "We're sitting here with three or four top 10s starting into the Chase, and that's much better than where we were last year."

      Johnson says his team doesn't consciously change its approach when the Chase arrives, but he understands why it seems that way.

      "It's not something conscious that we do, but, truthfully, I think we respond well to pressure," he explained. "And we make good decisions when pressure is put on us. ... I understand where the question comes from. I see it. I get it. I can look at the stats and completely understand.

      "I just feel like the only logical way to look at it is, when pressure is on us, historically we make good decisions."

      YOU GOTTA BELIEVE

      At the end of the 2012 season, Joey Logano was 17th in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and out of a full-time job he had held since 2009, when he was 19.

      Logano lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to Matt Kenseth, a veteran with a championship on his resume. But Logano found a comfortable home at Team Penske, where, two years after his ouster at JGR, he is considered one of a handful of favorites to win the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which starts Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

      "(It's) pretty sweet," Logano said of the rapid resurrection of his career. "I tell you, my career has been a roller coaster for sure, but I've loved every second of it. I've been through some harder times and trying to figure out where I was going to race, if I was going to race. ... Now to be in a position to feel like I have a legit shot at winning a championship, that is cool.

      "That's awesome for me. I'm excited about that, and my whole team is very excited about that, and we want to do that. Man, it has been fun. I'm glad I went through all that because I wouldn't be who I am today without it."

      Whether he wins the title or not, Logano thinks that being included in the same conversation with former champions Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski (his Penske teammate) is a source of pride.

      "It's definitely a little sense of accomplishment already, feeling that I have a shot at this," Logano said. "People were talking (that) we're one of the top contenders at this thing -- and I believe that. My whole team believes that. We are going to fight to the end here to make this a dream season the best we can."

      PRACTICE? WHO NEEDS PRACTICE?

      Kevin Harvick will start the Chase with five new members on his over-the-wall gang, inherited in a pit crew swap between his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet with the No. 14 of owner/driver Tony Stewart.

      Though Harvick will have two new tire changers (Ira Jo Hussey and Daniel Smith), two new tire carriers (Todd Drakulich and Mike Morneau) and a new jack man (Mike Casto) -- all of whom worked with Stewart during his 2011 championship season -- Harvick didn't feel the need to practice with the new crew.

      "I don't really believe that's really necessary," Harvick said. "I never practiced with the current one. ... I think none of that really changes.

      "You get in the pit box as hard as you can, you stop on the sign and pop the thing into neutral on the way in, pop it into gear when you let it down and hit the gas when it drops on the left. It doesn't change anything that I do."

      Harvick believes, though, that the change improves his chances to win his first championship.

      "When you're racing for a championship, you want to, as an organization, put your best foot forward," Harvick said. "Obviously, there are some tough decisions that have to be made, and you obviously hope that you don't have to make those decisions, but this is a business, and you do have to make some hard decisions sometimes.

      "But that's a good group of pit crew guys (the old crew) that just needs time to mature together and get that consistency as they move forward as a group."

      Harvick isn't the only driver who will work with new crewmen when the Chase starts this weekend. The teams of Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola have both have made changes, though not of the magnitude of the swap between the crews of Harvick and Stewart.

  • Thursday, September 11, 2014
    Investigation into Kevin Ward's death complete
    By The Sports Xchange

    It has taken a little more than one month, but the Ontario (N.Y.) County Sheriff's Department has completed its investigation into the death of Kevin Ward, Jr., the racecar driver killed Aug. 9 when he was struck by a car driven by Tony Stewart.

    • The sheriff released a statement Thursday saying his department has submitted its findings to the District Attorney's office, which is expected to review the findings and make a statement next week.

      The sheriff's department said its probe included forensic video enhancement of the incident when Stewart's car struck the 20-year-old Ward.

      Ward was killed at the Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park after getting out of his winged vehicle during a dirt car race following a crash. Ward appeared to point at Stewart as the NASCAR star attempted to pass him. Stewart's car clipped Ward, who taken to a hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

      The sheriff's department has been investigating whether Stewart committed any criminal intent during the crash.

      At the time of the incident, the sheriff said Stewart was "fully cooperative" and that there was no evidence of criminal intent.

  • Wednesday, September 10, 2014
    Drivers fan out across North American to promote Chas
    By The Sports Xchange

    Staff Report

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      In four days, NASCAR's playoffs -- the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- will begin. To help launch the Chase, NASCAR sent all 16 drivers who will vie for the championship on a 16-market, three-country media blitz known as Chase Across North America on Wednesday.

      The tour, the largest of its kind, expanded in 2014 with the announcement of the likewise expanded playoff field. This year, 16 drivers will compete in the Chase. In previous years, only 12 drivers had a shot at the title.

      As has been the case in previous editions of the pre-Chase media tour, drivers visited all 10 markets that host a Chase race, as well as New York City and ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Added to this year's tour: Los Angeles, Mexico City, Toronto and San Antonio, Texas.

      Carl Edwards, who speaks some Spanish, flew to Mexico's capital for an array of media hits at iconic Mexico City locations such as the Angel of Independence monument.

      "I really like Mexico," Edwards said. "When I heard what NASCAR was doing with the Chase Across North America, I chose to come here because I love it."

      Brad Keselowski, who triumphed at Richmond last Saturday night to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Chase, visited North Carolina's capital city of Raleigh to help promote Charlotte Motor Speedway's Oct. 11 Chase date.

      "I feel very privileged to be here in (Raleigh) as the first seed in the (Chase)," Keselowski said. "Someone did write me on Twitter, you know there are 16 drivers going across the nation and I got Charlotte, and they said I had home field advantage. ... Charlotte is a huge race for us."

      NASCAR has grown in popularity in Canada during the past decade, with national series races hosted there since 2007 -- the same season NASCAR started sanctioning its Canadian Tire Series. This is the first time, however, that a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver kicked off the Chase north of the border.

      Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon flew to Toronto for a day of media and photo opportunities at the CN Tower, Dundas Square and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

      Of course, no matter the location, the topic du jour was the revamped Chase, which kicks off Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN) There will be four rounds during the Chase, with four drivers being eliminated after the third race of each round.

      The field of 16 will be whittled to 12, then eight, then four. The four -- known as the Championship 4 -- will compete in the single-race final round at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16 The first to the finish line among those four eligible drivers will win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

      "In this format, you won't know who the final four will be until the last lap at Phoenix (the second-to-last race in the Chase)," said Denny Hamlin, who visited Phoenix for his Chase Across North America event. "You live in the here and now in racing. I really think this will be the most exciting format. As far as the Chase is concerned, NASCAR nailed the system and I think it will stay for a long time."

      The other driver-market pairings included: Jimmie Johnson (New York City); Kevin Harvick (Bristol, Conn.); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Los Angeles); Kurt Busch (San Antonio); Matt Kenseth (Ft. Worth, Texas); Kyle Busch (Chicago); Kasey Kahne (Boston); Greg Biffle (Wilmington, Del.); AJ Allmendinger (Kansas City, Mo.); Joey Logano (Birmingham, Ala.); Ryan Newman (Martinsville, Va.) and Aric Almirola (Homestead, Fla.).

  • Wednesday, September 10, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, Sept. 10
    By The Sports Xchange

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

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski entered Richmond this past Saturday in fifth place. But after winning that race, he vaulted to the top of the reseeded Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. Keselowski leads a four-way tie for second place between former points leader Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano, all by three points.

      CHICAGO RECORD: 5 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2012. Finished 7th in this race last year and was a career-best first in the 2012 Chase kickoff race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is the man with the early target on his back, starting the 11th edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup atop the reseeded standings. Keselowski is looking to start the Chase in much the same way he did in 2012, when he won at Chicagoland and went on to win the Sprint Cup championship. "We won the Chicago race in 2012, and I'd like to do that again," Keselowski said. "We are riding some good momentum coming out of Richmond, so we look to carry that forward into the first race of the Chase this weekend. Chicagoland is somewhat similar to Kentucky, which was a great race for us earlier this year, and I think that bodes well for our chances this weekend. This team is fired up, and we look to continue building on what we've done to get to this point of the season."

      LOOKING BACK: After a rough race at Atlanta (finished 39th), Keselowski rebounded in huge fashion, dominating (leading 383 of 400 laps) and winning the last Chase qualifying race at Richmond this past Saturday.

      ETC.: Keselowski has completed a near-perfect 99.8 percent (1,332) of the 1,335 total laps contested in five career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is 16.0 and average finish is 12.6. He has zero DNFs there.

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: After leading the standings for 12 of the last 13 weeks and 18 of the last 19 weeks, Jeff Gordon fell into a four-way tie for second place when the points were reseeded for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Gordon is tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, as well as Joey Logano. All four drivers are three points behind new points leader Brad Keselowski.

      CHICAGO RECORD: 13 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in 2006. Finished sixth in this race last year and was a career-worst 35th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he's no longer in the points lead, Gordon is still well within striking distance of regaining the lead if he has a strong run Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. "The 24 team is communicating and running well right now, so we're really looking forward to the Chase starting this weekend in Chicago. The Chase is going to be intense. There is a perception that you have to win in the first two rounds, but I don't think that is necessarily true. It'd be nice to win, but you really need to be solid. If you put solid races together in the first two rounds, you're moving on. But you're going to need to step it up for the [Eliminator] round. The competition is that much tougher when it's eight drivers battling to be the four that will compete for the championship at Homestead."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon just barely missed being the No. 1 seed in the Chase following Richmond, finishing second to race winner and top-ranked Brad Keselowski, who assumed the top spot in the standings after they were reseeded for the Chase.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 97.2 percent (3,377) of the 3,474 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 11.6 and his average finish is also 11.6. He has two DNFs there.

      88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Even with the standings reseeded after Richmond, Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in second place - although he's now tied with three other drivers (Joey Logano and teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson) for the No. 2 position. The quartet trails points leader Brad Keselowski by three points each.

      CHICAGO RECORD: 13 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2005. Finished 35th in this race last year (engine failure) and was eighth in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt is looking to have a much better start to this year's Chase than he did in last year's first race, which he retired from early due to engine failure. Earnhardt would like nothing more than to win his fourth race of the season and second of his career at Chicagoland this Sunday. "It's time to get to it," Earnhardt said. "I'm looking forward to sitting down with (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and our engineers to prepare, set our goals for each individual race. Steve has some great ideas and I really believe in his direction. We've got a great team around us. We want to put our best foot forward in the Chase and be one of those teams in the battle going into Homestead. But as a company, I don't think we could be any more prepared than we are."

      LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was never able to challenge for the lead, but still had a decent night at Richmond, finishing 12th.

      ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.0 percent (3,369) of the 3,474 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is 17.1 and average finish is 15.8. He has two DNFs there.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson jumped from sixth place in the regular season standings and into a four-way tie for second place in the reseeded Chase standings with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano. All four drivers trail new points leader Brad Keselowski by three points each.

      CHICAGO RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 7 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Finished fifth in this race last year and was second in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is looking to kick off his bid for a record-tying seventh championship this weekend. If he wins his seventh crown in the last nine seasons, Johnson would tie NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most Cup championships won by a driver. Johnson has added incentive this weekend: Chicagoland is one of only four tracks that he has never won at. "I'm excited to get started with the Chase," Johnson said. "It's an exciting time for our sport and an exciting time for the Lowe's team. I'm hoping to get started this weekend in Chicago with a win."

      LOOKING BACK: After a pair of fourth-place finishes at Bristol and Atlanta, Johnson finished eighth at Richmond. But he suffered severe dehydration in the race and was transported to the infield medical center, where he received five liters of fluid. The cause was traced to a defective cooling system in his helmet. "I felt a lot better Saturday evening after the infield care center. I attended the triathlon that my foundation (the Jimmie Johnson Foundation) put on Sunday morning (in Davidson, N.C.) and then headed down to Charleston (S.C.) for a buddy's wedding. But I'm doing much better and feeling good."

      ETC.: Johnson has completed 98.6 percent (3,161) of 3,207 total laps in 12 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is an outstanding 7.7, with an equally outstanding 8.9 average finish. He has one DNF there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After coming into Richmond in fourth place, Joey Logano left there after Saturday's race tied for second in the reseeded Chase standings. He's tied with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. The quartet is three points ahead of two drivers tied for sixth-place, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.

      CHICAGO RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 1 top-10, 1 pole. Best career finish: Seventh in 2012. Finished 37th in this race last year and was a career-best 7th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Chicagoland Speedway has not been a good venue for Logano to date, with just one top-10 finish in five career starts. He's looking to improve significantly from a career-worst finish of 37th in this race last year. "You have to go into these next 10 races and bring you're A game the entire time," Logano said. "You can't have a letdown. This is a different Chase this year, but our Chicago race last year proved that you can't afford to have a bad race. We won the pole and were running third last year in the first race of the Chase and blew an engine and that put us behind for the next nine races. You can't afford to dig yourself out of a hole. Ten races sounds like a lot of time and a lot of chances, but it's not. These next 10 weeks will go really fast."

      LOOKING BACK: Logano tried to keep pace with Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who was the class of the field in dominating the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond. But when it was over, Keselowski won and Logano finished a still-respectable sixth.

      ETC.: Logano has completed just 93.0 percent (1,242) of the 1,335 laps contested in five career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is 12.6 and average finish is a mediocre 19.4. He has one DNF there.

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick went from seventh heading into Richmond this past Saturday and into a tie with Carl Edwards for sixth place after the standings were reseeded for the Chase. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by six points, is three points behind four drivers tied for second (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano), and is three points ahead of a six-way tie for ninth-place (Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger and Denny Hamlin).

      CHICAGO RECORD: 13 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2001 and 2002. Finished third in this race last year and was 12th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick has finished second and third in two of the last three races at Chicagoland Speedway. He's hoping to finally earn his third career win there this Sunday. Also, in an unusual move, Harvick has exchanged pit crews with teammate Tony Stewart, who did not make the Chase, for the entire 10-race playoff. Harvick has been beset by numerous mistakes on pit road this season, and it's hoped that the trade of pit crews will help Harvick's championship bid. "You just have to survive," Harvick said about having success in the Chase. "You need to be consistent, but you need to capitalize on winning races because that guarantees you a trip to the next round. You can't force it, you just have to go out and do the things that you have to do to race every week and try to qualify well, lead laps, run up front. And when you have a chance to win you need to capitalize on it and try to figure it out."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick was the only driver other than race winner Brad Keselowski to lead laps at Richmond. Harvick led 17, Keselowski 383. Harvick fell back near the end of the race, but still finished a respectable fifth.

      ETC.: Harvick has completed a near-perfect 99.5 percent (3,457 laps) of the 3,474 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is 18.7 and his average finish is 9.9. He has zero DNFs there.

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards went from seventh in the regular season standings prior to Richmond to tie with Kevin Harvick for sixth in the reseeded Chase grid. The pair is six points behind new points leader Brad Keselowski, three points behind the four drivers (Logano, Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.) tied for second and leads the six drivers (Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kahne, Almirola, Hamlin and Allmendinger) tied for ninth by three points.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Nine career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in 2010. Finished 11th in this race last year and was 19th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: As he begins his last Chase for Roush Fenway Racing (he moves to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015), Edwards knows what's at stake at Chicagoland. He needs a good finish to get a good jump on the rest of the field in the Chase, especially with the first cutoff round coming up after Dover. Edwards likes his chances at Chicago: "We had a good test there," he said. "We ran fifth in Atlanta (a 1.5-mile track like Chicagoland) a couple weeks ago, so hopefully it's a good race. It's going to be crazy. We've got three races to seal our chances to win the Chase. Hopefully, we'll have a good run. It would be nice to get a win right off the bat so we don't have to worry about making it to the next round."

      LOOKING BACK: Edwards had a rough night at Richmond, eventually falling four laps off the pace to finish a disappointing 22nd. It was not the kind of finish he hoped he would have heading into the Chase. Now it's just another obstacle he'll have to overcome.

      ETC.: Edwards has completed 95.9 percent (2,307) of 2,406 total laps contested in nine career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is 13.9, while his average finish is 16.0. He has zero DNFs there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch went from ninth place in the standings heading into Richmond to being part of a six-way tie for ninth once the points were reseeded for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Busch is tied with older brother Kurt, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, and Denny Hamlin.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Nine career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished second in this race last year and was fourth in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Busch comes into this year's Chase having enjoyed his best career finish (fourth) in the 2013 Chase. But in most of the other times he's been in the Chase, Busch has struggled to disappointing finishes. Will he be able to pick up where he left off in last year's Chase, or is he due for another disappointment in this year's playoff edition? "It's important to win (races in the Chase), but I don't think you need to be ultra-aggressive to get those wins," Busch said. "If you finish second every week, it's going to get you to Homestead, but you have to win Homestead. Last year, we started out with a second and a second - those would be two great finishes to have again this year if we could have them and try to move on and get into the second round."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch had a decent run at Richmond but was unable to get back to victory lane there. He ultimately finished 14th.

      ETC.: Busch has completed a near-perfect 99.5 percent (2,395) of the 2,406 total laps contested in nine career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is 15.0 and his average finish is 12.1. He has one DNF there.

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, nine points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in eight starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin said, "Obviously, our performance lately (six top-10 finishes in the last nine races) has been pretty consistent, but I believe that we still need a little bit more speed to really contend for the title. The new format, I think, sets up pretty well for the FedEx team. We have proven over the years that we can win at most of the Chase tracks, and with the points resetting after each segment, we just need to survive and advance."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin finished 21st at his home track. "Very disappointing in tonight," said Hamlin. "It's hard to put tonight behind us because I live in the moment and I wear my performance on my sleeve. Our short track package is off quite a bit obviously. Just disappointed with our overall effort. Not effort, but just what we were able to put out on the race track tonight."

      ETC.: Crew chief Darian Grubb will be back atop the pit box this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway after his six-race suspension for a rules violation. Grubb has spent the time getting new cars built for the Chase. "I am confident we will have some cars prepared that can go out and run up front to challenge for wins," said Hamlin. "If we can stay consistent and take care of business in the first two segments, I think we have a pretty good shot. The last four races are at really good tracks for us. I'm excited to be back in the Chase (after missing last year's Chase for the Championship)."

      41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, nine points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Finished fourth a year ago for his seventh top-10 finish in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: The team tested at Chicagoland Speedway earlier this summer. "I hope we are able to take advantage of the test and not fall behind on that first practice session (Friday)," said Busch. "That has been some of the trouble this year and we have played a little bit of catch-up after the first Friday practice. Now, with a test session used at Chicago, a test session used at Loudon, we have to apply that knowledge the right way and make those finishes (in the first two Chase races) count because that is what the Chase is all about."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch finished seventh at Richmond. "It's great to finish in the top-10 tonight and give ourselves a chance to pretend it was a Chase race, and race for points tonight amongst all the chaos," said Busch. "If you can finish seventh in the each of the first three races in the Chase, you will advance. So tonight was a nice feel for us to run our own race. Our team has really developed over the year."

      ETC.: Busch is a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and loves going to Wrigley Field. He got another chance on Monday when he put on a photographer's vest and joined the "regular" photographers who cover his favorite team at each and every home game. "I'm a diehard Chicago sports fan - I've always loved the Cubs and the Bears in both good and bad times," said Busch. "I'm hoping my fondness for Chicago will rub off at Chicagoland Speedway and I have a breakthrough race there on Sunday afternoon. I finally got my first top-five there last year. For us to do well in the Chase, we'll have to master the 1.5-mile tracks like Chicagoland since there are five of them in the Chase."

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, nine points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Three top-six finishes in the last five races including two third-place finishes.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne is "glad I spent our last off-weekend and ran for JR Motorsports at Chicagoland (in the Nationwide Series race). We ran fourth, and I felt like we had a really good time and learned a lot about the track and the tire. Hopefully, we can use some that to help us when get there this weekend. Chicago is a cool track, and I like it a lot. You can move around a lot. It's all about momentum and where you're at. Right now I feel like we have momentum as a team, and hopefully we can carry it with us to Chicago."

      LOOKING BACK: Kahne finished 17th at Richmond. "I'm terrible here so the racing is not what I enjoy because I can't figure it out. It's just not ideal. I'm just happy this track isn't in the final 10 for the rest of this year. I'm really happy we won last week because we wouldn't have raced our way in this week. There were a lot of long runs (tonight) and I was slow so I wasn't really enjoying it that much. I'm glad we don't come here anymore this year."

      ETC.: Kahne has high hopes for this weekend after his winning performance at Atlanta two weeks ago. "I felt really good about how we ran at Atlanta (another 1.5-mile track), especially at the end of that race, and look forward to Chicago," said Kahne. "It'll be a great track for us to get started (in the Chase)."

      43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, nine points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Finished 13th a year ago for his best finish in two starts. Has led in both races.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "I really enjoy racing at Chicago. The track is kind of worn out and slick, and any time we go to race tracks like that, I really enjoy it. I'm looking forward to going to Chicago and kicking off the Chase with a good run. We tested there, and I felt like we have a pretty good test. But we don't want to be just happy to be in the Chase. We want to go out and execute for the next 10 weeks and we're gonna have to be flawless, we know that, but we're up to the challenge."

      LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final 150 laps to finish 10th at Richmond for his second straight top-10 finish. "This is what we need to do for the next 10 weeks," said Almirola. "For the second week in a row, we struggled a bit to get the car handling how we needed to, but Trent (Owens, crew chief) and the guys made the right adjustments to get us a top-10 finish. I am really excited and proud of Trent Owens and all my guys on this Smithfield team."

      ETC.: Almirola doesn't normally compete in the Nationwide Series races, but he will this weekend and again at Dover in two weeks. "I'm excited to return to the Nationwide Series at Chicago and Dover," said Almirola. "Our team is really focused on getting to the contender round in the Chase, and I think running the Nationwide races for two of the three races in the first round will really help us. We'll be there to learn as much as we can for the Cup races, but I also want to win."

      47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

      Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, nine points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Best finish in five starts is 13th (twice).

      LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger said, "We're in the Chase and that's pretty cool. I feel like if we are at our best, we have a shot to get through the first three races and have a shot to move on to the Contender Round. We did a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway and RCR (Richard Childress Racing) has given us a new car for Chicago. We're in it so we have a shot at it."

      LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 23rd at Richmond. "It was a tough race," said Allmendinger. "The last couple of weeks have been tough on us. I was hoping to get some momentum going into the Chase with a strong finish at Richmond. At the same point, we knew we might have to sacrifice the last couple of races because we don't have that many race cars in the shop and we had to get our three best cars ready for the first three Chase races. The race (tonight) for me was no fun. We'll forget about this effort tonight, and we'll be ready for Chicago."

      ETC.: Allmendinger and the team know that very few people expect them to survive the first round of eliminations of the new Chase format which take place after the third race. Four drivers will be eliminated at that time. But as Allmendinger is quick to point out, "when it comes down to the new format, you don't have to be great for 10 races. You just have to be good enough in each segment. For our race team, it's all about Chicago. If we can go there and run well that would be huge for us because we have struggled at the mile-and-a-halfs a little bit."

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 12 points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Won the opening race of the Chase a year ago. Has two runner-up finishes and five top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth knows the importance of getting the Chase off to a good start as he did in 2013 when he won the first two races. "You do want to go to Chicago and get a good start to the Chase," said Kenseth. "You want to go get a good finish, or even better, a win to get the thing started off on the right foot for sure, so we're going to try and do that this weekend at Chicago. I feel like we've been gaining on it in performance. We've been able to run in the top five with pretty good runs lately, and if you can run up in the top-five and keep putting yourself in position enough times; hopefully you eventually will get those wins."

      LOOKING BACK: After bouncing hard off the wall early in the race, Kenseth was forced to spend considerable time in the garage area as his team made repairs to his badly-damaged car. Kenseth finished 41st at Richmond. "I drove it in the fence about lap 100 and then we had to go to the garage and fix it," said Kenseth. "It was a really bad night."

      ETC.: Crew chief Jason Ratcliff knows he won't be able to use the same chassis setup as he did a year ago when Kenseth won at Chicagoland Speedway. "With the ride height rule and the tire change, this weekend's race will be a lot different than what we raced at Chicago last year," said Ratcliff. And that is why the team tested at Chicago earlier this summer. "I thought it was a good test," added Ratcliff. "Overall, I thought our test went really well."

      16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 12 points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 11 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle is another driver who tested at Chicagoland Speedway earlier in the summer. "We tested at Chicago a few weeks ago, so I feel good about our chances this weekend with Chicago being the first race of the Chase," said Biffle. "Chicago is a really bumpy race track and it's hard to get a handle on to balance the effects of getting through the bumps, but I think we learned some things that will pay off this weekend. Hopefully we can get a good run to start off the Chase."

      LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long night for Biffle as he struggled with an ill-handling race car in his bid to make the Chase. He ended the night in 19th place which allowed him to hold off Clint Bowyer by only seven points in the race for the last spot in the Chase. "I drove as hard as I could and it was enough to get us in," said a relieved Biffle. "I know I needed to be in the top 20 and like I said, it was all I could do. We just missed the setup. It was clear that our whole company did - Carl (Edwards), Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) and myself were way off tonight, which is frustrating because five top-10s in a row put us in this position, but tonight was not pretty."

      ETC.: Biffle believes that there needs to be a "benefits package or a fund or something to that affect" to help race car drivers "on the less fortunate side of things. We see a lot of players in all sports that end up on hard times at some point," adds Biffle. "I would be in favor of something (to help them out)."

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 12 points out of first place.

      CHICAGO RECORD: Will be shooting for his fourth straight top-10 finish. Has one win and eight top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman has high hopes for the Chase. "We were up to fifth in points before the Watkins Glen crash," said Newman. "I think we can certainly contend. We just need to step up our game because everyone else will, too. We've shown a lot of consistency and I think that can pay off at times with the exception of Homestead (the last race of the year). If we make it that far, we'll hopefully have made some improvements. The guys are doing a good job of having better stops. ECR is doing a much better job on the engine side. Everybody has stepped up, and now it's time to step up even more."

      LOOKING BACK: Newman finished ninth at Richmond. "We did tonight what we had to do and a little bit more," said Newman. "We didn't win the race, we were here to do that, but it got to a point there near the end where there were so many cars on the lead lap that if we could just maintain, we were in a good spot. It has been a lot of fun this year, but the fun has got the potential to just begin with."

      ETC.: Newman believes his team has come a long way in 2014. "RCR has dug in as an entire organization to work on improving our aero program," said Newman. "The guys at ECR have done a good job in making a better engine package for us. We definitely needed that when looking back at where we were at the start of the season. We have had much better pit stops over the last few weeks than we did at the start of the season. All of these things add up."