The most recent race in October was decided by a fraction of a bumper, Joey Logano edging Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a race-ending caution fell along with a hail of beer cans on the winner's car. The most recent upset came in the spring of 2013, when David Ragan scored the one and only victory for Front Row Motorsports and team owner Bob Jenkins, an upset hailed in the usual manner.
The track's hallmark has been eight first-time winners, including two rookies. This year the chances of another rookie win -- the first since Ron Bouchard won a three-way battle at the checkered flag in 1981 -- are up for three reasons.
Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, the leading contenders for this year's rookie title, are the two most talented newcomers to come along in one year since Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. vied for the title in 2000.
There's another twist to the rookie angle. Rookie Ty Dillon will relieve Tony Stewart in the Stewart-Haas Chevy during Sunday's GEICO 500 race to help the three-time champion avoid a high-speed crash and potential problems for his recently injured back. As the starting driver Stewart will get the points he needs to be eligible for the Chase and would get credit for a victory, but a win by Dillon would certainly add to the lore at the Alabama track.
The first rookie to win was Richard Brickhouse, who like all the other drivers was competing at Talladega for the first time when it opened in 1969. Under current rules, Brickhouse, who had started seven races in 1968, would have been considered a rookie and in fact was running his first full season. Bouchard won in his second start at the Alabama track and his 11th career start in NASCAR's premier series.
Blaney was impressive a year ago in the Wood Brothers Ford. He started in third place, ran in the lead draft and finished fourth. Elliott will be starting for the first time at Talladega in a Sprint Cup car. He led laps in both of his Xfinity Series races, but finished 37th each time as a result of damage in crashes. Dillon will be making his first appearance in a Sprint Cup car, if not start, at Talladega.
"We want to win," said Dillon, who opined that it may take a while to get Stewart to pit for a relief driver if his race goes well. Stewart "will get out of the car at some point and I'll get in," continued Dillon. "You can make up a lot of ground quickly at Talladega, so I'm not worried about being behind. Of course, I want to get as much experience as I can and learn as much as I can but, at the end of the day, we'll be trying to win the race just like everyone else."
The only occasion when a relief driver won was in 1977, when Darrell Waltrip took the checkered flag in the Hoss Ellington-owned Chevy of Donnie Allison. The DiGard Chevy of Waltrip had blown an engine just past halfway and Allison became too sick to continue. Waltrip had scored his first victory at Talladega earlier that spring. Other notable substitutions came in 1980 for Richard Petty, who had suffered a broken neck at Pocono and was replaced by Joe Millikan. In 1992, Davey Allison gave way to Bobby Hillin, Jr. after suffering an arm broken in two places and a broken collarbone at Pocono.
Brad Keselowski (2009) and Brian Vickers (2006) are included among current drivers who scored their first career victory at Talladega, which involved wrecked cars on both counts. Vickers accidentally hit Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in Turn 3 to get the lead and Keselowski had the inside position at the finish line when Carl Edwards tried to block him and ended up in the catch fence above the wall.
Other first-time winners comprise an odd list of drivers who never won another Sprint Cup race, proving that Talladega is a great equalizer. That list includes Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond, Bobby Hillin, Jr. and Phil Parsons as well as Brickhouse and Bouchard.
In addition to surprise finishes, Talladega is well known for a surprise start of sorts. It was the scene of the one-and-only driver's strike in 1969, when drivers in the series then known as the Grand National protested the track's safety. Most of the regulars pulled out, except for driver Bobby Isaac and car owner Nord Krauskopf. The race was run mostly with Late Model drivers recruited at the last minute.
During the preliminary, um, discussions prior to the race, "Big Bill" France told the Grand National drivers that they were welcome to leave if they were too scared to race during a meeting in the garage. LeeRoy Yarbrough took exception and walked up and hit the NASCAR founder in the jaw, knocking him down and striking a blow in favor of the boycott.
It is indicative of how times have changed that the most recent dust-up over safety rules regarding lug nuts ended with NASCAR electing to focus on driver safety by deciding to enforce the use of five lug nuts. The dispute began with Stewart protesting the lack of enforcement on the grounds of safety and was fined by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. It more or less ended when the Drivers Council elected to donate $35,000 to an Autism charity organization instead of using the money to help pay Stewart's fine.
Given that Talladega is in fact a very dangerous race track due to high speeds and the close draft, the timing could not have been better for NASCAR to respond positively to a driver protest.
The nine-member NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Council decided to give the money to Stewart to pay his fine. The members of the 2016 council are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.
Stewart, a three-time champion who is retiring as a driver after this season, blasted NASCAR for its lack of a lug nut policy and for being lax on safety.
NASCAR stopped requiring teams to put all five lug nuts on its wheels at the start of last season. With officials no longer in every pit box, NASCAR said it was up to the teams whether they should put all five lug nuts on the wheel or not.
Five days after Stewart's comments, NASCAR sent a memo to crew chiefs Monday afternoon and changed the rule.
Teams will now be required to have all five lug nuts "installed in a safe and secure manner" or have the driver risk being called back into the pits during the race.
Stewart said Wednesday that the $35,000 from the Drivers Council will go to Autism Delaware, founded by NASCAR on Fox coordinating director Artie Kempner. Stewart's fine also will end up going to charity as fines collected by NASCAR go to its NASCAR Foundation.
"I appreciated the Drivers Council support, but I didn't want them to pay the fine. We decided as a group to donate the money to charity," Stewart said in a statement. "Artie is such a good friend to all of us and his foundation does a lot of great work."
Stewart last week said, "I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt. You will not have heard a rant that's going to be as bad as what's going to come out of my mouth if a driver gets hurt because of a loose wheel that hurts one of them. ... This is not a game you play with safety and that's exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this."
Last Sunday's race at Richmond was Stewart's first race of 2016 upon his return from offseason back injury. He started 18th and suffered a flat tire while a lap down on lap 268. He got back on the lead lap with the free pass during a caution with 75 laps to go and finished 19th.
"We just think that there should be a little bit of leniency there for someone that knows a lot about our sport and has been in our sport a long time," Hamlin said Friday of Stewart being fined. "He gave his opinion, and especially when it's something on safety, too, I think it's pretty important."
TV: Sunday, May 1, 1 pm ET – FOX (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: After three of the last four races being on short tracks, NASCAR moves to its biggest track now.
This will be the 94th NASCAR Sprint Cup race held at the largest and longest racetrack on the circuit. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the defending champion of this race, driving “Amelia,” which has been his go-to car at Talladega and Daytona for the last five years. … Earnhardt's win last spring was his first at Talladega in over a decade (last time being fall of 2004), but was also the sixth win overall of his career there. … Joey Logano won last year's fall Chase for the Sprint Cup race at Talladega. … Carl Edwards comes into Sunday's race riding a two-race winning streak, having won at Bristol and again this past Sunday at Richmond. … Earlier this week, NASCAR reinstated a controversial rule that had previously allowed teams to use as many or as few lug nuts as they wanted. Now, the old rule is back in place where all teams must have five lug nuts on each wheel, and all must be tight and secured. … Winners thus far this season have been Denny Hamlin (Daytona), Jimmie Johnson (Atlanta, Fontana), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Kyle Busch (Martinsville, Texas) and Edwards (Bristol, Richmond). … The Sprint Cup standings saw changes after Richmond. Carl Edwards took over the points lead, Kevin Harvick dropped to second place (7 points behind Edwards), Jimmie Johnson is third (-21), followed by Kyle Busch (-29) and Joey Logano (-32). Sixth through 10th are Kurt Busch (-52), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-53), Denny Hamlin (-73), Brad Keselowski (-76) and Martin Truex Jr. (-85).
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: SPARKS ENERGY 300 (113 laps, 300.58 miles), Talladega Superspeedway; Talladega, Alabama.
TV: Saturday, April 30, 3 p.m. ET – FOX (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Saturday marks a milestone of sorts for the Xfinity Series, as it races for the 25th time at Talladega. The series returns to regular racing, per se, as there will not be any heat races this weekend as there have been the last two weeks at Bristol and Richmond. … Joey Logano is the defending champion of this race, having won last spring's Xfinity race at ‘Dega. In fact, Logano has won two of the last four at the monstrous restrictor plate track. … Winners of the first nine Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Texas), Austin Dillon (Fontana), Erik Jones (Bristol) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond). Earnhardt's victory was a milestone: It's the first time he's won an Xfinity Series race in his career that was produced by JR Motorsports, which Earnhardt is a co-owner of. … Daniel Suarez remains in the lead in the Xfinity Series point standings after Richmond with 279 points. Elliott Sadler moves into second place (9 points behind Suarez), followed by Ty Dillon (-19), Brandon Jones (-30), Erik Jones (-35), Brendan Gaughan (-37), Justin Allgaier (-38), Brennan Poole (-67), Ryan Reed (-69) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (-78).
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: There is no race this week.
THEN AND NOW: The Truck Series returned to action after a three-week hiatus three weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, with Kyle Busch earning his 45th career win in a Truck in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250. … The Truck Series is once again on hiatus, with its next race May 6 at Kansas Speedway. … John Hunter Nemechek leads the point standings. Nemechek has a three-point edge over No. 2-ranked Kligerman, followed by Timothy Peters (-6), Tyler Young (-16), Cameron Hayley and Ryan Truex (each -17), Daniel Hemric (-18), Brandon Brown and Spencer Gallagher (each -21) and Ben Rhodes (-22).
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: There is no race this weekend. The series resumes on May 14 with the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then on May 29, it will be the milestone 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at IMS.
THEN AND NOW: Simon Pagenaud is really feeling his oats these days. After winning two weeks ago at Long Beach, the French driver made it two wins in a row this past Sunday at Birmingham, Alabama. Pagenaud has opened up a sizeable lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings. He has 188 points, while defending series champ Scott Dixon is a distant second with 140 points. Juan Pablo Montoya is third (136 points), followed by Helio Castroneves (118) and Tony Kanaan (106).
NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: NHRA SPRINGNATIONALS, Royal Purple Raceway; Baytown, Texas.
TV: Sunday, May 1, 5 pm – 8 pm ET – Fox Sports 1. Also, qualifying Friday, April 29, 8-9 pm ET, and April 30 12 am – 1 am ET, both on FS1.
THEN AND NOW: After the usual spectacular show it has in last weekend's 4-Wide Nationals in Concord, North Carolina, the NHRA heads west to suburban Houston this weekend for the 29th SpringNationals. … Brittany Force powered to her second win of the season (and second of her career) to win the Top Fuel class in the 4-Wide Nationals. Tim Wilkerson won his second race of the year in Funny Car, while Jason Line won his third race of 2016 in Pro Stock and defending Pro Stock Motorcycle series champ and five-time overall champ Andrew Hines won, as well. … In the NHRA point standings, Brittany Force continues to lead Top Fuel (428 points), followed by defending series champ Antron Brown (365), Doug Kalitta (344), Clay Millican (318) and Steve Torrence (310). … In Funny Car, Robert Hight continues to lead all drivers with 369 points, followed by Ron Capps (361), John Force (352), Tim Wilkerson (334) and Courtney Force (322). … In Pro Stock, Jason Line remains atop the standings (583 points), followed by Greg Anderson (481), Bo Butner (429), Drew Skillman (343) and Chris McGaha (287). … In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec leads the standings with 232 points, followed by defending series champ Andrew Hines (197), Hector Arana (154), Chip Ellis (135) and Jerry Savoie (108).
Jimmie Johnson, who is focused on winning a record-tying seventh championship, was in the hunt in third place. Kasey Kahne, missing in action lately at Hendrick Motorsports, came home fourth. He was the veteran version of last week's uplifting sixth-place finish in Bristol, Tenn., by journeyman Matt DiBenedetto.
But these days, none of the outstanding racing seems to matter as much as the politics in NASCAR.
Tony Stewart might be praised for going the distance on the lead lap in his first race of his farewell season following a back injury. Instead, he was the center of a debate that goes beyond his comments about safety, lug nuts and loose wheels.
His words apparently carried some weight, as NASCAR reacted Monday by changing the lug nut rule he decried.
The preliminary bout featured NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, who fined Stewart $35,000 for his comments that the lug nut problem was going to cause injury, implying that NASCAR was not looking out for driver safety. The most laughable version of this episode is that France could be nominated for most thin-skinned sports executive of the year and Stewart could be nominated for the same thin-skinned award in both categories of team owner and driver.
The situation brought up serious larger issues in the new Charter era. Team owners now have the Race Team Alliance through which to address issues with NASCAR and the drivers now have their own council for communicating with the sanctioning body. According to the NASCAR viewpoint, Stewart jumped the tracks when asked about the lug nut issue by reporters. The hefty fine was an attempt to redirect him into using the newly established channels.
The viewpoint here is that tempestuous Tony is back, the same driver who was once ready to physically fight NASCAR official Gary Nelson over a judgment call.
Yes, some teams, notably the Joe Gibbs Racing team that has just won four consecutive races, were more aggressive about whether they put on three, four or five lug nuts during pit stops, and some teams, like Stewart-Haas Racing, were erring on the side of safety. Stewart brought the issue into sharp focus the old-fashioned way -- by blasting NASCAR.
Thus far, it is a competition issue because no wheels have been lost -- some have been reported loose by drivers, who sometimes have to decide how much wheel wobbling and potential wheel loss hazard they are willing to take. It does seem as if the Gibbs team usually gets the lugs tight, which is the key issue, no matter how many are being put on.
Under the new rule instituted Monday, teams must have all five lug nuts "installed in a safe and secure manner," or the driver could be at risk of being sent back into the pits during the race.
The previous policy that grew out of last year's new video enforcement of rules on the pit road, which removed a NASCAR official from each team's pit box in favor of putting a smaller number behind the wall. Thus far in 45 races of self-policing lug nuts, no wheels, which have tethers designed to keep them from literally flying off, have departed.
But any time NASCAR puts a driver in the position of choosing to win a race or be safe, it is unfair given the pressure drivers are under to win. That was the bottom line on self-policing of lug nuts. Stewart finally took exception to a long-simmering issue in a big way. He got support from the other eight members of the drivers council, who volunteered to generate a pool to help pay Stewart's fine, endorsing the idea that drivers should be able to speak their minds without reprimands in the form of fines.
There is another issue besides participants speaking their minds lurking here, which is the pressure that has driven NASCAR, teams and drivers to work together like never before. Other leagues are eating away at NASCAR's popularity, judging by demographics, ticket sales and TV ratings. The fans initially lost in the Great Recession are not repopulating the grandstands and are not watching as much TV -- or at least not watching as much NASCAR.
The NBA recently announced that it will experiment with allowing teams to put sponsors on uniforms in the future like soccer leagues. This goes way beyond swooshes and shoe deals or the discreet logos on pro golfers. It's only a matter of time before this new development places real financial pressure on NASCAR's unique position of putting sponsorship on competitors and their cars.
As an observer of 40 years of NASCAR events from press boxes, this year's racing is without question the best it has ever been. Sunday's classic closing laps were a direct result of the new low downforce rules that create enough tire wear to generate "comers and goers." These rules were suggested by the competitors, and NASCAR developed a way to test and then implement a new approach.
But still the naysayers among fans take exception. Among the 4 million to 6 million tuning in on average for races, the naysayers are there to find something to carp about. It's been this way long before social media arrived, but now the complaining fans are more vituperative and seemingly more numerous than ever despite better racing.
France is apparently trying to dampen this backlash that has less to do with the racing and more to do with making anybody currently in charge a scapegoat.
It is easy to forget that there always has been this fan anger element to NASCAR. In the days of Pearson vs. Petty and Ford vs. Chrysler, for one example, there was continual carping about favoritism by NASCAR heard over the CB radios, the social media of the day.
The current social media element of NASCAR fandom finds infinite opportunity to take exception, and France apparently felt the need to reject Stewart's method if not his message. There are enough trolls out there already without wildcats in the garage throwing red meat over the garage fences to the more rabid rabble, goes this line of thinking.
Then again, France himself has once again become the focus of howls of indignant outrage. Maybe he figures he can take the hit as the man in charge, but the sanctioning body and its officials working with the teams need to be respected.
Drivers and team owners expressing an opinion have been the lifeblood of NASCAR's appeal. Fans' opinion -- "Kill the umpire!" -- is vital to any sport. If nothing else, there has been plenty of that in the last few days.
Where these larger issues end up is anybody's guess. The immediate result was the lug nut issue getting addressed before it unfairly influenced the outcome of a championship, despite Stewart paying for his "free speech."
Meanwhile, the excellent racing is expected to continue.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- To bump or not to bump? That is the question.
The person with the most eloquent answer to that existential question wasn't Carl Edwards, who bumped his way to victory in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
And it wasn't Kyle Busch, the victim of the nudge by teammate Edwards that sent his No. 18 Toyota up the track in the final corner and out of Victory Lane.
No, the person with the best perspective on the teammate-on-teammate contact was Dave Rogers, who used to be Busch's crew chief and now serves in that capacity for Edwards.
After Edwards caught Busch on the last lap and moved him for the win, Rogers talked about the relationships between the drivers and between himself and No. 18 crew chief Adam Stevens.
"Adam and I are great friends," Rogers said. "Kyle and I are great friends. So I'm not worried about any relations. If we look at the big picture, today was a great day for NASCAR. Our fans don't want to see teammate orders. They don't deserve teammates to fall in line. They deserve good, hard racing.
"So I think today was a great day for the sport. It stinks that we had to move a teammate. I'm sure Adam and I will talk about it, and Carl and Kyle will talk about it. But I think it would be very disappointing to our fans if (owner) Joe (Gibbs) imposed a team order and told us, 'Hey, have a parade instead of a race.'
"There's going to be plenty of days that the 18 is faster than us, and they'll probably get to our back bumper and move us. We'll go down to Victory Lane, shake their hands, tell them 'Good job.' That's just a testament to Joe Gibbs Racing, allowing us to put ourselves in that position."
After first race back, Stewart ready for more
What was not to like?
Tony Stewart was back in a race car for the first time this season, and he was driving at one of his favorite race tracks.
He was working in competition with new crew chief Mike Bugarewicz for the first time, and he was up on the wheel.
Though Stewart was returning from a burst fracture of his first lumbar vertebra -- an offseason injury that required surgery, rest and considerable rehabilitation, the adrenaline rush of being back in the No. 14 Chevrolet was enough to overcome any feelings of pain or fatigue.
"Line 'em up again and let's run another -- hell, make it 800 laps," said Stewart, who started 18th and finished 19th in the 400-lap Toyota Owners 400. "Line 'em up, and I'll run 800 laps right now and not have a problem.
"There will be a bunch of these guys falling out of the seat if they had to run 800 more laps, but I will not be one of them."
Sunday was the sort of day Stewart lives for.
"Racing at your favorite race track and running a day race here where it gets slippery and you have to use all of the track... that's what made it fun and that's what I miss. That's the stuff I dearly miss with this series is having days like today where you get on track and you are sliding around and the drivers get to make the difference."
Kahne gets first top five this year
For the first time this year, Kasey Kahne got a close-up view of the best cars in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race -- and not when they were passing him.
Kahne ran in the top nine throughout Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 and finished fourth, posting his first top five since the Chase race at Kansas Speedway last October. The solid run at Richmond was the best evidence of the progress his Hendrick Motorsports team is making.
"It was a strong weekend for our team," Kahne acknowledged. "Communications side with (crew chief) Keith (Rodden) and the engineers, just kind of what we worked on, the direction we went was really solid all weekend, similar to Bristol. We just finished it off today.
"We had a strong car. We had a great restart there at the end (on Lap 365) to get a couple spots and get a top five. That was good. We haven't had a lot of these in the last year, two years. So it was nice to run up front, nice to be competitive, battle with the Gibbs cars a little bit, Jimmie (Johnson) a lot, Kevin (Harvick) some.
"I could always see those guys, so it was nice to see the fastest cars in this particular race."
Force became the first female driver to win the Concord, N.C., event, holding off Antron Brown, who won this event the past two years.
Force ran 3.764 seconds at 319.98 mph as Brown ran 3.779 seconds at 316.75 mph. Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican also were in the final quad.
"People say the first one is the toughest," said Force, who reached seven final rounds over two seasons before finally winning last month in Gainesville, Fla. "The second one came easier, but I wouldn't say easy."
Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were event winners Sunday.
Wilkerson's win was his second of the season and the 20th of his career. Line won his third race of the season in his fifth consecutive final round. He has 40 career wins. Hines won his series for the third straight year here.
Pagenaud won Sunday's action-packed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, hanging a second consecutive victory on his competition. Team Penske's driver also won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend, extending his run of strong finishes to fourth. He was second in each of the season's first two races.
Pagenaud and Rahal were 1-2 with nine laps to go when Rahal dove to the right approaching a corner, and that's where Pagenaud cut across him. There was contact and Pagenaud got shoved into the sand trap as Rahal slid past.
That appeared to be how things would end -- IndyCar's officiating team decided there was no blame to issue -- but Rahal had front-wing damage and couldn't keep the pace he had earlier. Within no time, Pagenaud was side-by-side with Rahal again, and they came upon the slower car of Jack Hawksworth, who tried to get out of the way but couldn't. Rahal hit Hawksworth, causing even more damage to Rahal's front wing. From there, he was a sitting duck.
Pagenaud got back into the lead and never looked back. He finished 13.7 seconds ahead of Rahal, who had to work the damaged car to stay ahead of a charging Josef Newgarden, who finished third. Will Power was fourth with Juan Pablo Montoya storming from the last starting spot to finish fifth.
Fittingly, Pagenaud thought Rahal was in the wrong, and Rahal thought Pagenaud was. The heat of the moment situation is likely why IndyCar's officiating team opted to let the incident stand on its own, without punishment either way.
But clearly, Rahal thought he was blocked.
"A really solid block," he said. "The worst part wasn't that he didn't leave the room, it's that he dived to the apex. He just turned in way earlier than you'd turn in. You can watch the overhead camera; it's pretty easy to see. I'm glad there was a no-call because for sure it was a racing incident, but you would never turn in where he turned in, purposefully trying to cut me off there."
Said Pagenaud: "I've got to see the review. I didn't think he was alongside, but I couldn't see him next to me when I went for Turn 8. I felt like I was being pushed, but I don't know."
Scott Dixon entered the race second in points, 15 behind Pagenaud, but he was hit from behind on Lap 2 by Sebastien Bourdais, who missed the entry point in Turn 5. The spin that followed had Dixon in last place in the 21-car field and without a caution thereafter there was no chance to fully catch back up. He finished 10th and while he still stands second in the standings, he is 48 points behind Pagenaud, who has finished second, second, first and first in the season's first four races.
Two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including the 100th Indianapolis 500, are next up for the series. It should be fun.
"Kyle's an amazing teammate, and it's like he got really slow there at the end," Edwards said. "Something happened that last lap. It was like his rear tires went off or something. He went down into (turn) one, and I dove it in and I got to him and I thought, 'Man, I've got something.' And he went to get down to the bottom and park it in three and four, and I had already decided to go down there, so I thought, 'Man, I'm going to give him a little nudge,' and we both have got wins and we're racing for fun, getting these trophies, and just an awesome day."
Busch finished second to give JGR a one-two finish. It was Gibbs' fourth straight win, with Edwards' two-consecutive victories coming immediately after two straight by Busch.
Jimmie Johnson finished third, Kasey Kahne was fourth, and Kevin Harvick was fifth.
"It was fun," Johnson said. "The cars were slipping and sliding; there was a ton of fall-off. I enjoyed the long runs. I really like sizing-up guys that I'm racing with and seeing how that works out. And then, at the end, we had a bunch of short runs. Thankfully, we got our Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet tuned-up at the end. We kind of lost our way in the middle part of the race, but we had good pit stops and some great adjustements at the end got us into the top-three.
The final 120 laps of the 400-lap race was shaping up to look like a battle of brothers after Kurt Busch took the lead from Brad Keselowski on lap 278 and Kyle Busch got up to second on the next lap. Keselowski was running up front after staying out during a lap 268 caution.
But Kurt Busch had a slow pit stop during a yellow flag with 42 laps to go and restarted fifth while Kyle Busch led the way, rejoined up front by teammate Edwards. Kurt Busch lost additional spots when the race returned to green.
"Everybody came and went all day," Edwards said. "It was really hard to decide whose car was better where. Early on, I was good on the short run. That last run, Kyle took off and there was nothing I could do. I thought he had me. I didn't think I'd be able to catch him, but, man, I had to thank Dave (Rogers, crew chief). He was yelling at me on the radio to keep going, and that meant a lot."
Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the first half of the 400-lap race, mostly with Edwards running up front. After Kevin Harvick started on the pole and led the first 21 laps and Jimmie Johnson spent some time up front, Edwards took over on lap 66. He soon was joined up front by Kyle Busch when Busch moved into second on lap 79.
Not long after a cycle of green-flag pit stops just before lap 100, Denny Hamlin joined his Gibbs teammates in the top-three for a JGR 1-2-3 in the running order. Hamlin's time near the front with his teammates was short-lived, though, as he had to pay a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire after a pit stop during a lap-157 yellow flag. He recovered to finish sixth.
Busch got off pit road ahead of Edwards during the caution to take the race lead, but on lap 169, Edwards got by his teammate to reassume his position up front.
Meanwhile, the fourth Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Matt Kenseth, struggled with a battery/alternator issue. Kenseth recovered to finish seventh.
Harvick and Johnson came between the Edwards-Busch duo during the next caution just before the halfway point of the race by beating Busch off pit road.
On lap 230, Edwards lost the lead to Harvick. A few laps later, he lost second to Jimmie Johnson.
"Everybody on our Busch Light/Jimmy John's team did a good job," Harvick said. We started really loose to start the race and got intot he wall, there, and we had to make some more adjustments after I self-adjusted it. And then, we had a couple of really good runs there in the middle of the race."
Finishing eighth through 10th were Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch, respectively.
Sunday's race was Tony Stewart's first race of 2016 upon his return from offseason back injury. He started 18th and suffered a flat tire while a lap down on lap 268. He got back on the lead lap with the free pass during a caution with 75 laps to go and finished 19th.
NOTES: Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano garnered their front-row starting spots for the Toyota Owners 400 by turning in the two fastest practice laps on Friday, as rain forced the cancellation of pole qualifying. ... The 157 lap green-flag run that started the race was the longest green-flag run to start the spring Richmond race since 1979. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated and won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday. ... Sunday's race was the first scheduled day race at Richmond since 1997. Rain-delayed races have been run at Richmond during the day in the time since. ... Kurt Busch won last year's Toyota Owners 400. Matt Kenseth headed into this year's race as the most recent RIR winner, winning at the track last September. ... Kyle Busch is the winningest active driver at Richmond with four victories.
DeJoria also won the circuit's most recent event in Las Vegas. She claimed the top spot in qualifying for the fourth time in her career with a pass of 3.934 seconds at 321.04 mph.
DeJoria will face Jeff Diehl, Tim Wilkerson and Funny Car points leader Robert High in the opening-round quad.
The event features the only four-lane racing on the NHRA circuit.
Steve Torrence held onto the top qualifying position in Top Fuel. Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycles) are also No. 1 qualifiers.
Torrence has struggled in elimination rounds this season, with first-round losses in the past three races. Twice he was the No. 1 qualifier.
Torrence's opening quad includes former champions Shawn Langdon and Tony Schumacher.
Anderson's qualifying position was his second of the season and the 82nd of his career. He has now qualified in a record 304 consecutive Pro Stock races.
Krawiec is the No. 1 qualifier in his category for the 29th time overall and the second time this season.
Richmond International Raceway
Saturday, April 23, 2016
1. (3) Dale Earnhardt Jr.(i), Chevrolet, 149.
2. (2) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 149.
3. (9) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 149.
4. (6) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 149.
5. (10) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 149.
6. (17) Cole Custer(i), Chevrolet, 149.
7. (15) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 149.
8. (16) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 149.
9. (8) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 149.
10. (7) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 149.
11. (18) Ryan Reed, Ford, 149.
12. (19) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 149.
13. (12) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 149.
14. (25) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 149.
15. (13) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 148.
16. (11) Darrell Wallace Jr., Ford, 148.
17. (22) Spencer Gallagher(i), Chevrolet, 148.
18. (14) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 148.
19. (21) Jeb Burton, Ford, 148.
20. (26) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 147.
21. (20) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 147.
22. (23) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 147.
23. (24) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 146.
24. (29) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, 146.
25. (30) Travis Kvapil(i), Ford, 146.
26. (32) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 146.
27. (31) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 146.
28. (28) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 146.
29. (33) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 145.
30. (37) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 144.
31. (38) Timmy Hill(i), Dodge, 143.
32. (36) Todd Peck, Ford, 143.
33. (5) Matt Tifft(i), Toyota, Accident, 135.
34. (1) Erik Jones #, Toyota, Accident, 134.
35. (4) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, Accident, 134.
36. (34) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Accident, 123.
37. (27) Jeff Green, Toyota, Brakes, 104.
38. (35) Carl Long, Dodge, Brakes, 17.
39. (39) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Suspension, 12.
40. (40) Josh Wise(i), Chevrolet, Transmission, 7.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 93.623 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hr, 11 Mins, 37 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.266 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 2 for 20 laps.
Lead Changes: 4 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: E. Jones # 1-17; D. Earnhardt Jr.(i) 18-129; B. Poole # 130-132; J. Allgaier 133; D. Earnhardt Jr.(i) 134-149.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Earnhardt Jr.(i) 2 times for 128 laps; E. Jones # 1 time for 17 laps; B. Poole # 1 time for 3 laps; J. Allgaier 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez -- 279; E. Sadler -- 270; T. Dillon -- 260; B. Jones # -- 249; E. Jones # -- 244; B. Gaughan -- 242; J. Allgaier -- 241; B. Poole # -- 212; R. Reed -- 210; D. Wallace Jr. -- 201.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- After a massive late-race wreck scrambled the running order in Saturday's ToyotaCare 250, Dale Earnhardt Jr. survived a two-lap dash in overtime to win his first NASCAR XFINITY Series race since 2010 and the first in his JR Motorsports equipment.
Earnhardt held off Ty Dillon by .266 seconds in a main event that ran nine laps past its scheduled distance of 140 laps, but Dillon collected the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus available to the two highest finishes among XFINITY Series regulars from each of the two heats that preceded the main event.
The victory was Earnhardt's fourth at Richmond, his first at the .75-mile short track since 2002 and the 24th of his career. Earnhardt's last win in the series came in the July 2010 race at Daytona in a No. 3 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress.
Earnhardt has not driven the No. 3, the number closely associated with his father, since that victory. On Saturday, he drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in his last scheduled start of the season for JR Motorsports.
Though Earnhardt led 128 of the 149 laps after passing Erik Jones for the top spot on Lap 18, the final two were a challenge, with Dillon restarting beside him for the two-lap overtime.
"Those last couple of laps, we were real loose in the corner," Earnhardt said. "I thought Ty was going to get to me. He tried to get to me. When we got to (Turn 3), we drove into the corner wide-open."
But Dillon couldn't pull even with Earnhardt, who cleared Dillon's No. 3 Chevy off Turn 4 on the first overtime lap.
"We came up a little short, but we're going to get one soon,” Dillon said.
Dillon wouldn't have had a shot at the win at all, had a nine-car pileup on Lap 134 not bunched the field and necessitated the overtime.
The wreck came moments after a restart, with Brennan Poole leading the field to the green.
Poole had stayed out on old tires when Earnhardt and the rest of the lead-lap drivers came to pit road for fresh rubber under caution on Lap 127.
Earnhardt restarted third behind Poole and JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier, but when Poole spun his tires, Earnhardt dived to the inside approaching Turn 1, creating a three-wide lead group.
After side-by-side contact with Earnhardt's No. 88, Poole's No. 48 Chevy washed up the track, clipped and turned Allgaier's No. 7 and ignited a chain-reaction wreck that damaged three of the four cars eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus -- those of Poole, Allgaier and Jones.
"When he spun the tires, I had to go to the inside," Earnhardt said. "I tried not to drive up into him. I don't think I got into him. They just kind of came together up there (in the outside lane) and had a heck of a wreck.
"I hate that it happened, but, man, I had to do what I had to do to try to get the win. We ran so well and led all those laps."
Elliott Sadler came home third, followed by series leader Daniel Suárez, who leaves Richmond nine points ahead of Sadler in second. Austin Dillon ran fifth and Cole Custer sixth in Custer’s XFINITY Series debut.
Poole brought his damaged car home in 10th.
After all, he won the IndyCar Series race here last year, and the venue is only a three-hour drive from his native Nashville, Tenn.
But one year to the next equates to changes for every competitor in the series, including him. In other words, last year doesn't mean a lot now.
"I think the biggest thing is people expect you to be really good when you come back (the next year)," Newgarden said after Friday practice. "If you won somewhere (previously), they're like, 'Wow, you're going to go back and have a really easy time, right, because you guys were good last year.
"That's not always the case."
Last year, Newgarden scored his first IndyCar Series victory following a terrific duel with Graham Rahal. Newgarden's margin of victory was 2.2 seconds.
Newgarden doesn't expect the same circumstances to play out in Sunday's race (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN), although obviously he would take that in an IndyCar minute.
"Things change year to year," he said. "We've got differences on the Chevy side with the (bodywork) kit that we've got to figure out. (We're) confident in that, but that's one of the changes, and then the tires can slightly change year to year.
"The track can change slightly. Other teams can improve or drop depending (on effort). I don't think it's a guarantee that you come back and just have a smoking-fast race car again, and you go out and win. You could be 12th the next year."
Both Newgarden and Rahal used this event last year as a springboard to additional success. Newgarden later won the street race in Toronto; Rahal won the oval race at Auto Club Speedway and the road course race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Like Newgarden here at Barber, Rahal also won on his home circuit (Mid-Ohio).
Rahal is optimistic he can get the strong results this weekend he's been searching for this season. His best finish was the fifth at Phoenix International Raceway, but he didn't have that strong of a car. However, this track was good to Honda-powered teams last year, and they had four of the fastest six in Friday's practice.
Honda remains winless in three races this season, and the struggle remains deeper than that. Eight of the nine top-three finishing positions have gone to Chevrolet drivers, with Juan Pablo Montoya winning in St. Petersburg, Fla., Scott Dixon winning at Phoenix and Simon Pagenaud winning last week's race in Long Beach, Calif.
Pagenaud carries a 14-point series lead over Dixon heading into Saturday's qualifying session, where the pole winner earns a point.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- For the first time this season, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was the driver who was supposed to be behind the wheel.
Returning sooner than expected from a burst fracture to his L1 vertebra suffered during an offseason all-terrain vehicle accident, Tony Stewart took to the track during opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday at Richmond International Raceway, preparing for his first competition of the season in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was 18th quickest in the session with a lap at 124.700 mph, and his presence had an energizing effect on those readying to race against him in Stewart's final season in the series.
"Well, it's great to have our team owner and our lead driver back in the car," said SHR teammate Kurt Busch. "To have an injury outside of racing, it's always tough to go through, especially with Stewart in a retirement type of mentality the way that his emotions were going into this season. It's great to see him recover as quickly as he did, to push through the rehab side of it to get back to the car.
"This is his retirement year. He's supposed to enjoy it. He wants to go out there and do well. I think Richmond is a perfect track for the body to come back to a race, because of the lower demands physically on the body, because there's not a lot of banking here. There's not a lot of G-Force, and you have to get up on the wheel and turn the wheel, but he will be able to settle in."
Denny Hamlin also wished his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate well.
"I know it's all special memories for us to be able to go out there and compete with him," Hamlin said. "I know me coming into the Cup Series and being a teammate of his in my rookie season was awesome, but our relationship has grown so much further now that we're not teammates.
"It's a great season -- would love to see him make a Chase push, if he can, and end on a good note."
As was the case with Kyle Busch last year, Stewart can make the Chase if he wins a race and finishes in the top 30 in the standings after the 26-race regular season.
A SIGNIFICANT STEP FOR DIBENEDETTO AND BK RACING
Five days after the fact, Matt DiBenedetto was still basking in the afterglow of last Sunday's sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway.
For the record, DiBenedetto scored the best result in the five-year history of BK Racing. After the race, he celebrated with tears in his eyes. More important, however, was the effect the strong run could have on the long-term NASCAR Sprint Cup Series effort of the growing organization.
"Obviously, that was special for the whole team," DiBenedetto said on Friday before opening Cup practice at Richmond. "I think that's what I was most excited about - not for myself, but for my team, because we're like a family and (team owner) Ron (Devine) and I are like family. We have a really close group here at BK Racing and our whole team works together so well...
"I was excited for those guys, and then when I go into the race shop this week and see them telling stories about the weekend, and they're all smiling and them coming up to me saying, 'Man, I was crying too, don't worry.' It was a really fun weekend and it meant a lot to the team and it's good momentum. If we can continue to take advantage of those good days when we have a good handling car and we hit it right, then we're going to have a good season. I'm proud of them."
MICHAEL ANNETT WRECKS IN OPENING PRACTICE
Six minutes into Friday's opening practice at Richmond, Michael Annett's No. 46 Chevrolet spun off Turn 2 and crashed into the inside wall, severely damaging the car.
With a strong chance of rain in the Friday afternoon forecast, Annett was pushing the issue, trying to post a fast lap in case qualifying was washed out and the field was ordered according to practice speeds.
"I just came off pit road trying to go out there in qualifying trim," Annett said. "Not knowing what the weather is going to do later on, we wanted to lay down a lap and get us the best starting position we could, if it (did) rain out qualifying.
"It's unfortunate. I just feel like a rookie. It's my third year in the Cup series, and to do something like that, you feel pretty stupid."
Annett had to resort to a backup car, but it wasn't ready in time to log any laps in the 85-minute practice session.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- With rain threatening to fall at Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers put extra effort into Friday morning's opening practice.
The effort paid off for 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick, who was fastest in practice at 129.089 mph and consequently will start on the pole in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 at the .75-mile short track (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
With the field ordered by practice speeds according to the Sprint Cup rule book, Joey Logano (128.694 mph) will start second, followed by Jimmie Johnson (128.187 mph), Carl Edwards (128.181 mph) and Denny Hamlin (128.156 mph).
Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger filled positions six through 10 on the grid, respectively.
Coming to Richmond with an average starting position of 11.1 through the first eight Sprint Cup races this season, and knowing rain was likely in the afternoon, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers developed a game plan based on Harvick's right to be first on track for practice as the current series leader.
"We had decided to come into the weekend and approach qualifying a little bit different, with just the way the race tracks have been and the timing of the practices," Harvick said. "We decided to go and take advantage of being the first car on the race track, which is usually a big advantage here when the track is green and doesn't have a lot of rubber on it.
"It worked out today, and Rodney and everybody had a good plan, and it's going to be interesting just for the fact that, the second and third times out, the times weren't near what the first time was because the tires fall off - which is great."
Logano's team executed its plan to near-perfection.
"I feel like my team did a great job understanding the weather today before we hit the race track," Logano said. "We went out there and made our qualifying run off the truck and then focused in on race trim, thinking that we weren't going to be qualifying anyway. The plan was executed perfectly besides (being) second instead of first...
"It is important to start up front here. A lot of times you think about how this race runs, and it's similar to Martinsville, and having track position allows you to be more conservative with your car and tires. If you're are in the back you don't have the opportunity to save anything. It is nice to start towards the front and get a good pit stall and hit this race hard and see what happens."
Note: Cole Whitt failed to make the 40-car field because his No. 98 Chevrolet posted the slowest practice speed among cars required to qualify on time.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Toyota Owners 400
Richmond International Raceway
Friday, April 22, 2016
1. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 129.069 mph.
2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, Charter Team - 128.694 mph.
3. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 128.187 mph.
4. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, Charter Team - 128.181 mph.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Charter Team - 128.156 mph.
6. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Charter Team - 128.011 mph.
7. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 127.799 mph.
8. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 127.334 mph.
9. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Charter Team - 127.298 mph.
10. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 127.220 mph.
11. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 127.208 mph.
12. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Charter Team - 125.517 mph.
13. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Charter Team - 125.307 mph.
14. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 124.913 mph.
15. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 124.861 mph.
16. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Charter Team - 124.775 mph.
17. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Charter Team - 124.775 mph.
18. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 124.700 mph.
19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, Charter Team - 124.527 mph.
20. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, Charter Team - 124.516 mph.
21. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 124.487 mph.
22. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Charter Team - 124.481 mph.
23. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 124.464 mph.
24. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, Charter Team - 124.064 mph.
25. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 123.734 mph.
26. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 123.598 mph.
27. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 123.553 mph.
28. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, Charter Team - 123.125 mph.
29. (21) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, Open Team - 122.566 mph.
30. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, Charter Team - 122.266 mph.
31. (30) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Open Team - 121.995 mph.
32. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 121.990 mph.
33. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, Charter Team - 121.891 mph.
34. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 121.496 mph.
35. (55) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Open Team - 121.250 mph.
36. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Charter Team - 121.131 mph.
37. (93) * Ryan Ellis(i), Toyota, Open Team - 120.182 mph.
38. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, Charter Team - 119.458 mph.
39. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 117.842 mph.
40. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Charter Team - 0.000 mph.
At the start of the season, Stewart emphasized he was the most motivated he has ever been headed into his final Sprint Cup campaign.
How did we know Tony was serious? He admitted to cutting back on pizza and beer, his two favorite food groups.
In January, when Tony Stewart met with the media during NASCAR's annual pre-season tour he proudly tugged at his driving suit to show how much weight he had lost. "I got re-measured," he said. "We're eating better, drinking better, working out. Doing stuff I swore I would never do. I'm still trying to figure out why I'm doing it in my last year when I could just go ahead and do what I've been doing all these years."
Then the cantankerous Tony suddenly arrived, as usual, and he hit full stride. "I've changed my diet. I've changed everything this year. So if anybody has any questions about how dedicated we are about having the best year I can possibly have, that's their answer."
Then comes the oddball ATV accident the first week of February while riding in western Arizona with two already retired Sprint Cup champions, Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace, among other racing friends. He suffered a burst fracture of the L1 lumbar vertebra, which meant the only thing he's been doing the last two months has been treadmill workouts and clearing trees at his home in Indiana with a skid loader.
While the exercise routine may have suffered, Stewart remains in fine form when it comes to finding fault with NASCAR officials. A few pounds heavier than January, Stewart, ahem, weighed in on the question of lug nuts on the same day his medical clearance to race was announced.
The sanctioning body is neglecting its responsibilities to maintain safety by not regulating how many lug nuts teams are required to use, said Stewart. "I guarantee that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt," he said.
This is a reminder that Stewart has been a dominant personality perhaps more than a dominating driver, constantly fighting with NASCAR officials, regularly expressing anger at other drivers, and often bickering with journalists.
On the track, can Stewart pull off a victory in his return, make the Chase and emulate Gordon's final season last year? Or better still, could he follow the same path as Kyle Busch, who returned after missing 11 races last season to win the championship?
The recent record does not look good. Including this year, Stewart has not driven a full season in three of the last four years. His last Sprint Cup victory was at the Dover International Speedway in June of 2013, nearly three years ago. He competed for a full season last year, but did not record a single Top 5 finish and had only three Top 10s. His best result was a sixth place at the Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring.
Stewart's problems on the track initially coincided with a serious sprint car accident and leg injury in 2013. In 2014, he missed three races during an investigation into the death of Kevin Ward, Jr., who was killed when Stewart's sprint car hit him in a short track race in upstate New York. Stewart, who currently faces a civil suit brought by the family of Ward Jr., was not charged in the incident. But he was clearly psychologically shaken by the strange accident that still has some believing he could have somehow avoided a driver high on marijuana who stepped in front of his car.
On the track, NASCAR has taken away downforce from the cars, which has not suited former Indy car driver Stewart well. This year, an even more radical low downforce package is in place. While Stewart can expect the same opportunity to make the Chase that Busch had last season by finishing in the Top 30 in points, he still will have to win a race to qualify.
The upside for Stewart, who will turn 45 next month, is the competitiveness of the Stewart-Haas Racing team he co-owns with Gene Haas. At Bristol last Sunday, at one point all four of the team's cars were running in the Top 10, including the Chevys of Danica Patrick and rookie Ty Dillon, who was substituting for Stewart. On the other hand, Stewart will have to beat his own drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick as well as the rest of the field.
Having watched Stewart since he started on the front row in his first Daytona 500 in 1999, I think victory is a question of skills with the current generation of cars that were launched in 2013. That was the beginning of the low downforce era, which has accelerated radically with this year's rules package.
In last year's first of two races featuring the shorter front splitter and rear spoilers along with a narrower radiator pan, Stewart finished two laps down at the Kentucky Motor Speedway. In Darlington, S.C., he led 10 laps in a race often interrupted by cautions and finished 15th.
There's not much reason to expect Stewart to do much better coming back to the low downforce package after a long layoff during which other drivers have been able to adapt to them. It's not so much Stewart's ability to drive a sliding car; he practically grew up in dirt racing. The management of tire wear is the key issue, since the low downforce cars rely on softer tires from Goodyear and Stewart has a penchant for burning up his rubber if he has to push to find speed. Brilliant at drafting since his earliest days in an Indy car, Stewart is at a disadvantage when he has to finesse the tires.
His best chance to win could come in July at Daytona Beach, where drafting is the key, and the second race in Talladega, Ala. if he can race at those two tracks. Stewart will start the race at Talladega on May 1, but will hand over his car to Dillon due to concerns about a possible high-speed crash re-injuring his back.
Stewart has won championships in the Indy Racing League and the Sprint Cup in classic style by being consistent. Always in the mix, which is good for sponsorship and championships, Stewart's high water mark for victories was six in 2000. His 48 career victories give him an average of three per year. By contrast, Jimmie Johnson has averaged almost five and Jeff Gordon averaged almost four per season.
Stewart has not raced competitively this season while recovering from a broken bone in his back. Stewart broke the news himself via Twitter on Thursday.
"Well, the long wait is over. I'll be back in my @Mobil1 Chevy this weekend at Richmond. I can't wait to race again ?????????? #SmokeWillRise," Stewart wrote.
Stewart-Haas Racing has been doing just fine without Stewart the past three months thanks to Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick. Busch has six top-10 finishes.
Stewart has a rookie crew chief for his No. 14 Chevy in Mike Bugarewicz.
"I think Kurt and Kevin are both on pace like they normally are," Stewart told Sirius/XM on Thursday. "I think the 14 car obviously is backed in a corner because we have a rookie crew chief who's doing a great job, but he definitely got dealt a bad hand when I got hurt and having to juggle around between two fill-in drivers before I get back in the car, but I think he's done a great job. I think he's exceeded my expectations from the start of the year with these guys. I think Ty and Brian have done an awesome job driving the car and Mike has done an awesome job crew chiefing, so I think they're doing well."
Stewart said before the 2016 season and prior to his injury that this would be his final lap on the Sprint Cup circuit, retiring one year after Jeff Gordon said goodbye.
"I feel great," Stewart said on the "Morning Drive" radio show. "I've done stuff that the doctors will cringe if they find out about. I've been working on my property on heavy equipment ... I've been doing a lot of stuff that I probably shouldn't be on and shouldn't be driving around and operating, but I feel great."
TV: Sunday, April 24, 1 pm ET – Fox (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: This will be the 120th NASCAR Sprint Cup race held at the renowned .750 -mile bullring. … Kurt Busch is the defending champion of this race, which was his second career triumph at Richmond. … Matt Kenseth won last year's late summer race, the final event before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. … Kyle Busch saw his hot streak come to an end last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch came into last weekend having won four consecutive races, but was unable to extend it in either the NASCAR Xfinity Series race last Saturday or the Sprint Cup event on Sunday, which was won by Carl Edwards. … Winners thus far this season have been Denny Hamlin (Daytona), Jimmie Johnson (Atlanta and Fontana), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Kyle Busch (Martinsville, Texas) and Edwards (Bristol). … The Sprint Cup standings saw significant change after Bristol. Kyle Busch dropped from first to fourth, while Kevin Harvick climbed two spots to regain the No. 1 lead in the point standings. Bristol winner Carl Edwards moved up two spots to second place, just one point behind Harvick. Jimmie Johnson is third (-16), followed by Joey Logano (-21) and Kyle Busch (-25). Sixth through 10th are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-37), Kurt Busch (-40), Brad Keselowski (-63), Denny Hamlin (-65) and Martin Truex Jr. (-73).
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: TOYOTA CARE 250 (140 laps, 105 miles), Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tenn.
TV: Saturday, April 23, 1:45 p.m. ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Saturday marks the second straight weekend that the Xfinity Series will see two qualifying heat races prior to the main event. will be a memorable day in NASCAR, as the Xfinity Series will run two heat races (each 35 laps, 26.25 miles) before the main event. … This is the 65th time the Xfinity Series has raced at Richmond. Denny Hamlin won this race last year, while Chase Elliott won the late summer race there. … Winners of the first seven Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Texas), Austin Dillon (Fontana) and Erik Jones (Bristol). … Daniel Suarez remains in the lead in the Xfinity Series point standings after Fontana, with 242 points. Bristol winner Erik Jones moved into second place, six points behind Suarez. Justin Allgaier is third (-8 points), followed by Elliott Sadler (-10), Brandon Jones (-19), Ty Dillon (-21), Brendan Gaughan (-34), Brennan Poole (-62), Ryan Reed (-66) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (-66).
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: There is no race this week.
THEN AND NOW: The Truck Series returned to action after a three-week hiatus two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, with Kyle Busch earning his 45th career win in a Truck in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250. … The Truck Series is once again on hiatus, with its next race May 6 at Kansas Speedway. … John Hunter Nemechek leads the point standings. Nemechek has a three-point edge over No. 2-ranked Kligerman, followed by Timothy Peters (-6), Tyler Young (-16), Cameron Hayley and Ryan Truex (each -17), Daniel Hemric (-18), Brandon Brown and Spencer Gallagher (each -21) and Ben Rhodes (-22).
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA (90 laps on a 2.38-mile, 17-turn permanent road course), Barber Motorsports Park; Birmingham, Alabama.
TV: Sunday, April 24, 3 pm ET – NBCSN (Radio: IndyCar Radio Network/Sirius Radio Channel 212, XM Radio Channel 209).
THEN AND NOW: This is the seventh annual race at Barber Motorsports Park. Josef Newgarden won last year's race, breaking Ryan Hunter-Reay's two-race win streak there. Hunter-Reay, in turn, broke Will Power's two-race win streak in 2011 and 2012. Helio Castroneves won the first race held there in 2010. … With a win at Long Beach this past Sunday, as well as consecutive runner-up finishes in the first two races, Simon Pagenaud opened up his lead in the IndyCar point standings. Pagenaud has 134 points, Scott Dixon is second (120), Juan Pablo Montoya is third (106), followed by Helio Castroneves (92), Tony Kanaan (82), Takuma Sato (73), Hunter-Reay (68), Power (62), Graham Rahal (59) and Charlie Kimball (58).
NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: NHRA FOUR-WIDE Nationals, zMAX Dragway; Concord, North Carolina.
TV: Sunday, April 24, 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1. Also, qualifying Saturday, April 23, 10 pm – 12 am ET (FS1).
THEN AND NOW: The NHRA returns to action April 22-24 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, for the 7th annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. … In the last race nearly three weeks ago, the Denso Spark Plus NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, defending Top Fuel champ Antron Brown won his first race of the season. Alexis DeJoria broke her slump to win in Funny Car and Jason Line continued his dominance with his second win (and fourth final round appearance) of the season in Pro Stock. … In the point standings, Brittany Force continues to lead Top Fuel (307 points), followed by Brown (269), Doug Kalitta (267), Steve Torrence (249), Clay Millican (242), JR Todd (229), Dave Connolly (217), Terry McMillen (209), Tony Schumacher (190) and Leah Pritchett (188). … In Funny Car, Robert Hight continues to lead all drivers with 341 points, followed by teammate John Force (294), Ron Capps (289 – who failed to qualify for Sunday's race at Las Vegas), Del Worsham (283), Jack Beckman (271), Courtney Force (265), Chad Head (236), DeJoria (233), Tim Wilkerson (221) and Matt Hagan (150). … In Pro Stock, two-time defending champ Erica Enders finally snapped a streak of three first-round losses by reaching the semi-finals at Las Vegas. Jason Line remains atop the Pro Stock point standings (463 points), followed closely by Greg Anderson (415), Bo Butner (331), Drew Skillman (264), Chris McGaha (214), Allen Johnson (212), Jeg Coughlin (191), Vincent Nobile (175), Enders (171) and Alex Laughlin (154). … Even though Pro Stock Motorcycle didn't run in Las Vegas, Eddie Krawiec leads the two-wheeled ranks with 129 points, followed by Hector Arana (99), defending series champ Andrew Hines (79), LE Tonglet IV (74), Chip Ellis (62), Michael Ray Jr. (52), Gerald Savoie (52), James Underdahl (52), Angelle Sampey (35) and Scott Pollacheck (33).
After overhauling his lineup since 2014, the players on the three-time winning Super Bowl coach's racing team have been the guys to beat since midway in the 2015 season. Kyle Busch's return from injuries was a major part of the revival, but the key has been moves made by Gibbs in the crew chief lineup.
"It's one of the hardest things in sports to get a great chemistry between two guys, particularly at what they do," Gibbs said. "You've got somebody that's making all those calls, and I've been there -- same thing in football. It reminds me so much of making those calls on the sideline. You're going to have some bad ones. You're going to be called some names, and you just hope it's not your quarterback and it's not the driver (doing the name calling)."
On Sunday at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Gibbs driver Carl Edwards was doing a back flip of joy after leading 276 laps to get his first win of the season and his first with his new crew chief Dave Rogers. Even the sometimes ill-tempered Busch, who like teammate Matt Kenseth had tire troubles that put him into the wall, was not casting about to place blame.
Former team president J.D. Gibbs, who now suffers from a brain disorder, was looking on as Edwards' brought the JGR its third straight victory after two by Busch. Starting with the victory by Denny Hamlin at the Daytona 500, where the Gibbs Toyotas dominated the lead draft, JGR now has three drivers in the Chase after just eight races.
Kenseth, who led 142 laps at Bristol before his tire troubles put him into the wall, continues to knock on the door to Victory Lane with his Toyota. He has led seven of the eight races thus far and has spent 306 laps at the front. Hamlin also had trouble at Bristol, starting with a collision with the Chevy of Danica Patrick in practice, and finished 20th after pit road problems.
It's all in a day's work for Gibbs.
"When you leave the racetrack, the first thing on my mind right now is Matt," Gibbs said in the post-race meeting with the media. "Every single week he's been up front, had a chance, I think, to lead laps and have a chance to win, and something happens to him. So you feel awful. You call him on the way home. And Denny, of course, and Kyle today."
Including the Xfinity Series preliminary races at the Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol, the Gibbs team has won five straight. Busch was victorious in Texas and Erik Jones got his breakthrough victory for 2016 and third career Xfinity win at Bristol on a late pass of Kyle Larson.
After Busch won the 2015 Sprint Cup championship with first-year crew chief Adam Stevens, Gibbs made two other crew chief decisions coming into the 2016 season. He moved Rogers from the Toyotas of Hamlin and paired him with Edwards. Mike Wheeler was promoted from his job as the engineer for Hamlin to crew chief. After serving briefly as an interim crew chief previously, Wheeler won in his official debut appearance atop the war wagon in Daytona.
Jason Ratcliff, the head wrench and signal-caller for Kenseth, has the longest tenure in terms of driver pairings at Gibbs, which is ironic given that Kenseth is the only driver without a victory this year. Ratcliff has worked with Kenseth since the driver joined the team in 2013.
The newest pairing of Rogers and Edwards has worked well all season. Although he didn't score a victory until Sunday, Edwards is second in the points and came within 0.01 seconds of beating Kevin Harvick in Phoenix. The real turning point was two weeks ago in Martinsville, Va., where Edwards began the race in 25th place with a box of bolts, but worked his way up to sixth at the finish by deciding on mid-race adjustments along with Rogers.
At Bristol, leader Edwards faced the concern of having the same problem with his right front tires that put Busch and then Kenseth into the wall.
"I was nervous about it," Edwards said, "but Dave did a good job of talking to me about how hard we were pushing the tires and what we had going on there, so I felt pretty comfortable after talking to Dave after a couple stops."
Apparently, the cars of Busch and Kenseth had a slightly more aggressive set-up on tire camber than the No. 19 Toyota of Edwards. That spelled the difference.
"Everybody pushes it," Edwards said of the chassis choices of his teammates. "The whole sport, everybody pushes everything to the edge, and we don't know, while we don't know what happened, could have been debris or could have been anything, we'll just go back and look at it and learn from it. Fortunately Kyle has a win, and our cars are up front every week, so hopefully it doesn't hurt us too bad."
After the team's worst year in 2014 -- in part because of Toyota fell behind in the horsepower race -- Gibbs has been aggressive with the team chemistry. Rogers, who worked with Busch in 2014 and is now with his third driver in three years, doesn't seem to mind.
"Coach taught me long ago that it's all about people," Rogers said, "and that's why I'm having so much fun. This (number) 19 team is full of good people, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. I've been there 18 years or so. There's good people everywhere.
"But this team, this 19 team, the pit crew, the road crew, everyone gets along so good and Carl treats us with a lot of respect. He keeps a level head when we have down days like Martinsville. He doesn't get too excited when we have good days like today. So that even keel just lets you perform at your best, and you're always having fun when you're performing at your best."
It's not too hard to figure out which player on this team is the most even keeled and where the team philosophy starts. In many respects, it started on the sidelines of the NFL and in the Super Bowl.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 17, 2016
1. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 500.
2. (20) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 500.
3. (26) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 500.
4. (19) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 500.
5. (10) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 500.
6. (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 500.
7. (7) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 500.
8. (36) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 500.
9. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 500.
10. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 500.
11. (18) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 500.
12. (23) Greg Biffle, Ford, 500.
13. (13) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500.
14. (8) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 500.
15. (14) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 500.
16. (32) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 500.
17. (11) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 500.
18. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500.
19. (9) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500.
20. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500.
21. (21) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 500.
22. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 500.
23. (6) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 499.
24. (16) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 499.
25. (34) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 499.
26. (15) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 498.
27. (33) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 498.
28. (39) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 496.
29. (31) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 495.
30. (27) Brian Scott #, Ford, 493.
31. (40) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 492.
32. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 488.
33. (35) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 482.
34. (22) Aric Almirola, Ford, 479.
35. (25) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 462.
36. (2) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 460.
37. (29) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Accident, 451.
38. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 258.
39. (24) David Ragan, Toyota, Engine, 211.
40. (38) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Suspension, 169.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 81.637 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 15 Mins, 52 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.766 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 15 for 102 laps.
Lead Changes: 16 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Edwards 1-36; J. Logano 37-39; C. Edwards 40-42; M. Kenseth 43-53; J. Logano 54; M. Kenseth 55-117; C. Edwards 118; M. Kenseth 119-186; C. Edwards 187-189; P. Menard 190-193; C. Edwards 194-261; L. Cassill 262-281; C. Edwards 282-318; K. Harvick 319-331; C. Edwards 332-355; Kurt Busch 356-396; C. Edwards 397-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): C. Edwards 8 times for 276 laps; M. Kenseth 3 times for 142 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 41 laps; L. Cassill 1 time for 20 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 13 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 4 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 4 laps.
Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick -- 287; C. Edwards -- 286; J. Johnson -- 271; J. Logano -- 266; Kyle Busch -- 262; D. Earnhardt Jr. -- 250; Kurt Busch -- 247; B. Keselowski -- 224; D. Hamlin -- 222; M. Truex Jr. -- 214; A. Dillon -- 213; C. Elliott # -- 205; J. Mcmurray -- 199; A. Allmendinger -- 188; K. Kahne -- 185; R. Newman -- 182.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- No one was happier to see Trevor Bayne running with the leaders than Trevor Bayne.
The driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford won the 2011 Daytona 500 in his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, but that he hadn't scored a top-five since then -- until Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bayne qualified 10th and ran near the front until a commitment-line violation on Lap 149 sent him to the rear of the field. Undeterred, Bayne drove back through the field and took advantage of late restarts to finish fifth, his first top-five result after a drought of 99 races.
"It was a lot of battling back," Bayne said after the race. "We went through a lot of adversity to get there, but we just didn't give up. We had a really good race car. That's what paid off. You can't come back if you don't have good race cars, and we've got that now.
"I need to minimize my mistakes going forward, but we were able to make mistakes and get back to a top-five finish. I kept getting on the bottom on restarts every time, but it came back to me at the end. We were able to start on the top those last three, and that's really what got us in the top five."
Having a strong run at Bristol was especially sweet for the Tennessee driver.
"Yeah, if there's somewhere I could choose to run well, it's Bristol," Bayne said. "It's a tough race track. It's my home track. I have a lot of fans here, and it just feels good to be in contention...
"It's a short track, and we know we've had our struggles with those, and we wanted to get better at them, and we've made a quick turnaround to get better here."
DiBenedetto has career-best run for BK Racing
If Matt DiBenedetto had done a burnout alongside race winner Carl Edwards, no one would have blamed him.
That's how unexpected DiBenedetto's sixth-place finish was in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol. After going a lap down, the driver of the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota got a free pass as the highest-scored lapped car for a restart on Lap 345, and subsequent cautions kept him on the lead lap.
On the final three late-race restarts, DiBenedetto lined up 14th, 10th and eighth -- all in the top lane -- and took full advantage of the fast way around the .533-mile concrete oval.
On the final restart with five laps left, the NASCAR Next alumnus passed Kevin Harvick for sixth and held the spot to the finish. That result was a career-best for both DiBenedetto and BK Racing.
"That's unbelievable for a team like to us to be growing this much and for us to get a sixth-place run," said DiBenedetto, who came to driver introductions disguised as ZZ Top lead guitarist Billy Gibbons, beard and all.
"I'm sorry I'm so emotional. It's just this is like a win for us. I'm so excited. I see my family back here -- my wife, Taylor, my brother is in town from the military and I'm so glad he got to experience this. This is just... this is incredible. I'm so blessed to be here."
Race winner Carl Edwards had made a point of congratulating DiBenedetto on his 20th-place run in Phoenix in the fourth race of the season, but Edwards wasn't aware of the driver's strong run behind him.
"They finished sixth?" Edwards asked, incredulous. "Man that's unbelievable. That's probably tougher than what we did."
Chase Elliott continues forward progress
Eight weeks into the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Chase Elliott already has two top-five finishes, and they've come in his last two races.
Last week at Texas, he ran fifth, and on Sunday at Bristol, the 20-year-old Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate improved one spot to a career-best fourth, despite losing two laps when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 178 because of a loose wheel.
Elliott ran as high as second before losing one position each on the final two restarts.
"We just had a really fast car," said Elliott, who gained two spots to 12th in the series standings. "I think that was the biggest thing. (My) guys brought a good car this weekend. We started a little slow, didn't qualify as well as we'd like to on Friday (19th), but I thought we hit on a couple things (Saturday) in final practice that fortunately carried over to today.
"And we were able to kind of work our way up through there. Hate to have a loose wheel, but guys did a good job overcoming that, having a fast pit under green only losing two laps. That was big to keep us in contention there and try to get back on the lead lap. Definitely a long afternoon, but had a fast car, and that was the biggest thing that kept us alive."
Pagenaud crossed a blend line too early exiting the pits and received only a warning despite the fact doing so helped him get ahead of Scott Dixon for what essentially was the race win on Lap 56 of 80. That was the last scheduled pit stop of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Dixon and his team were upset with race control's decision, saying IndyCar officials specifically said such an act would be penalized.
However, Dixon's strategist, Mike Hull, acknowledged that IndyCar did not say what the penalty would be. Another driver, Carlos Munoz, also was warned for crossing the yellow line near Turn 1.
Indeed, the rulebook is clear, but the penalty sheet is not. IndyCar gives its stewards -- former Ford Racing executive Dan Davis and former drivers Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis -- latitude in making a decision. A minor violation can be overlooked. The next levels are a driver going to rear of the lead lap, followed by a drive through the pits.
Pagenaud was issued neither of those.
"It shouldn't be a judgment call; it's a rule," Dixon said.
IndyCar later issued a statement that read, "Simon Pagenaud's actions during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach were deemed an infraction per Rule 22.214.171.124. 'Lane Usage' of the IndyCar Penalty Guidelines: Failing to follow designated procedures entering or exiting the pit area, including the proper use of the acceleration and deceleration lanes. The penalty for this infraction ranges from a warning (minimum), putting the driver to the back of the field (mid) and drive-through or stop and go/hold (maximum). IndyCar race stewards determined his actions were not severe enough to warrant a harsher penalty than the warning that was issued."
Dixon's car owner, Chip Ganassi, said NASCAR would have solved this problem electronically so no judgment would enter into the discussion.
"There's a camera there, and the camera makes the call electronically," Ganassi said of NASCAR. "So, we'll see. Maybe it's an opportunity (for IndyCar) to improve."
Pagenaud argued that it was a close call, even a gray area, and it didn't help him get in front of the charging Dixon.
"A yard the other way wouldn't have mattered," he said.
Pagenaud held off Dixon, last year's winner of this event, the rest of the way for a 0.3032-second victory, the fifth of his IndyCar career. He won two races in each of the 2013 and '14 seasons for what is now Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Pagenaud also is the series leader, by 14 points, in his second season with Roger Penske's team.
Helio Castroneves, the pole winner, led 47 laps and finished third. All three of the top finishers are part of the Chevrolet program.
Pagenaud's teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, also got a favorable review from race control. Late in the race, a potential block on Takuma Sato was not called as such. Montoya took fourth, Sato fifth as the top-finishing Honda.
The caution-free race was the first for this event since 1989. It also went flag to flag without incident in 1985 and '87.
The last IndyCar race to go the distance without a caution was the 2013 race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"Just awesome," Edwards said. "This is a real testament to my team. The guys have been working really hard. We've got Comcast Business folks here, and they helped put this whole thing together with ARRIS and Toyota, TRD, Stanley -- all the folks that made this 19 team happen. Just great and so awesome. Thanks to Sprint and Cessna and all the folks that make this happen. Now we're in the Chase, and we can go have some fun. Just so cool; awesome to be here."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch traded second position back and forth with a handful of laps remaining. Earnhardt won that battle, taking second after starting the race two laps down. He headed to pit road at the start of the race when he couldn't get up to speed at the green flag.
Earnhardt stayed out and took wave-arounds during two early-race cautions to get back on the lead lap.
"We had a dead battery at the start of the race -- something bad like that. Same thing, I think happened to the No. 22 (Joey Logano). That cost us two laps early in the race, and we worked real hard. Greg (Ives, crew chief) did a great job helping us get our laps back. The car was about a 15th or 10th-place car. We were just lucky on those restarts as to where we lined up. And that really helped us."
Busch wound up third, while rookie Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne finished fourth and fifth respectively. Elliott, like Earnhardt, also was two laps down at one point because of an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel.
"I just had a really good Kelley Blue Book/NAPA Chevrolet," Elliott said. "The guys brought a fast car here this weekend. Started off a little slow. I didn't qualify as well as we wanted on Friday, but we hit on a couple of things, I thought, right there towards the end of final practice yesterday that we really liked. Fortunately that carried over to today, and I was able to move forward. I hated to have a loose wheel, but stuff happens."
Edwards was joined up front by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin -- at the start of the race, but he was the only driver of the four to have a flawless day while all three of his teammates had issues, primarily with right-front tires.
"There was some concern, but for some reason, with our car, we didn't have any of those issues," Edwards said. "Just really proud of these guys and thank you to everybody that makes this happen. This team is awesome and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) doesn't quit. He can almost read my mind; he can tell me things in the race right when I needed them. It was just a good day."
Kenseth dominated early, leading 142 laps by the time he hit the wall as a result of a tire problem on lap 187. Another tore issue on lap 323 sent Kenseth into the wall a second time after he had gotten back up to third in the running order.
"We just keep blowing right-front tires," Kenseth said. "I don't know why. The first one was a little confusing. I knew I blew a right-front, but I thought they were telling me it wasn't flat, so I was a little confused. This one just blew a lot earlier and the angle was a lot worse hitting the wall. We really weren't very tight; our Dollar General Camry was pretty fast today. I was encouraged, again, today, even though we don't have the result."
Hamlin's car sustained significant damage on pit road early in then the race and then wrecked because of a flat tire on lap 410.
The other JGR driver, Busch, struggled throughout the day, being the reason for three cautions and serving two pit-road speeding penalties. His efforts were finally put out of their misery when he hit the wall on lap 260 and headed to the garage.
Edwards took over where Kenseth left off with most of his laps led coming in the second half of the race. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch did each take the lead from Edwards, with Harvick leading 13 laps and Busch 41 before Edwards retook possession of the top spot with just over 100 laps to go.
"There were so many different things happening out there," Edwards said. "Different guys were fast a t different times. I have to work on my drag racing stuff. Kurt has those restarts figured out. He was tough."
Landon Cassill also led 20 laps just past the halfway point of the race after staying out under caution.
Matt DiBenedetto claimed his first-career top-10 by finishing sixth. Harvick finished seventh, and Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano finished eighth through 10th, respectively.
NOTES: Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch are tied for most wins among active drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway with five apiece. ... Kyle Busch won the two most recent Sprint Cup Series races heading into the Food City 500. ... Matt Kenseth won the 2015 Food City 500. ... Joey Logano headed into the race weekend as the most recent Bristol weekend, winning the 2015 Irwin Tools Night race for the second-straight year.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Erik Jones' third NASCAR XFINITY Series victory was a real triple play.
In the series' new Dash 4 Cash format featuring two heat races and a main event, Jones took advantage of a restart with three laps left in Saturday's Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 and 1) won the race, 2) earned the $100,000 dash for cash bonus and 3) stopped Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and race runner-up Kyle Busch's streak of four straight NASCAR national series victories.
Jones, the pole winner, restarted fourth on the final restart and charged into second place behind leader Kyle Larson when Busch's No. 18 Toyota hesitated trying to pick up power in the bottom lane. Larson left the preferred top lane open through Turns 3 and 4 and Jones took advantage, taking the lead from Larson with two laps left.
Busch followed his teammate into second place, but couldn't keep up with Jones on the final lap, trailing the No. 20 JGR Toyota by .418 seconds at the finish line. The runner-up result ended Busch's prospects for a record third straight NASCAR weekend sweep.
"We had a really good restart, and Kyle (Larson) just left the top open," said an elated Jones, who was battling teammate and eventual sixth-place finisher Daniel Suárez for the Dash 4 Cash bonus, a prize available only to drivers competing for the XFINITY Series championship.
Suarez had the misfortune to restart third on the bottom on Lap 198 and got bottled up behind Busch as Jones charged forward in pursuit of Larson. That allowed Austin Dillon to take fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth at the finish.
It's doubtful Jones could have scripted a more satisfactory ending if he'd written it himself.
"I figured at some point in the year we could get a win when those guys weren't in the field, but it would be a tall task with them in the field," said Jones, who picked up his third victory in the series and his first this year.
"Here at Bristol, for those two guys, this is one of their best tracks. I'm just so excited and you can tell -- I'm out of breath. I wasn't working that hard. Just so excited about the win and to be here in Victory Lane and beat those guys. This is a really big day for us."
Though Jones was the winner, most of the race was a battle for the top spot between Larson, who led 94 laps, and Busch, who led 43.
"The two cars that were the class of the field today didn't win -- oh, well," Busch said. "It's a great day for Erik Jones. He certainly stole one today. He didn't out-race the two Kyles up front, but he certainly did in the final laps that counted."
Larson spent most of his time in the post-race beating himself up for leaving the top lane open for the opportunistic Jones.
"I just did a really bad job on that restart -- really bad," Larson said. "I knew I gave it away. I'm really disappointed in myself. I just ran half a groove too low through (Turns) 3 and 4."
The two 50-lap heat races produced a pair of wire-to-wire winners, Jones and Austin Dillon, and no cautions. But the heats did establish the starting order for the 200-lap main event, as well as identify the four eligible Dash 4 Cash competitors.
Jones, Allgaier (fourth in the first heat), Ty Dillon (second to his brother in the second heat) and Suárez (fourth in the second heat) took the green as the only drivers competing for the $100,000 bonus.
Any driver who wins two of the four Dash 4 Cash bonuses qualifies for the Chase, but as the first XFINITY regular to win a race this year, Jones won't need the extra help.
NASCAR XFINITY Series Race -- Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300
Bristol Motor Speedway
Saturday, April 16, 2016
1. (1) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 200.
2. (5) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 200.
3. (3) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 200.
4. (2) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 200.
5. (7) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 200.
6. (8) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 200.
7. (4) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.
8. (10) Kevin Harvick(i), Chevrolet, 200.
9. (6) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 200.
10. (12) Aric Almirola(i), Ford, 200.
11. (9) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 199.
12. (14) Jeb Burton, Ford, 199.
13. (19) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 199.
14. (20) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 199.
15. (15) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 199.
16. (11) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 198.
17. (24) David Starr, Toyota, 198.
18. (27) Brandon Gdovic, Chevrolet, 197.
19. (26) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 197.
20. (36) Ray Black Jr #, Chevrolet, 197.
21. (17) Ryan Reed, Ford, 197.
22. (21) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 197.
23. (25) Matt Tifft(i), Toyota, 197.
24. (22) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, 197.
25. (13) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 196.
26. (29) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 196.
27. (23) Jeff Green, Ford, 196.
28. (28) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 196.
29. (30) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 195.
30. (31) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 195.
31. (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 193.
32. (37) Timmy Hill(i), Dodge, 193.
33. (18) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, Ignition, 192.
34. (34) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 192.
35. (32) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 187.
36. (35) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 182.
37. (16) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 133.
38. (38) JJ Yeley, Toyota, Electrical, 74.
39. (40) Josh Wise(i), Chevrolet, Transmission, 21.
40. (39) Matt DiBenedetto(i), Toyota, Vibration, 4.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 93.829 mph.
Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 08 Mins, 10 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.418 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 3 for 23 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: E. Jones # 1-40; J. Green 41; E. Jones # 42-60; K. Larson(i) 61-62; K. Busch(i) 63-102; K. Larson(i) 103-126; K. Busch(i) 127; K. Larson(i) 128-194; K. Busch(i) 195-196; K. Larson(i) 197; E. Jones # 198-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson(i) 4 times for 94 laps; E. Jones # 3 times for 62 laps; K. Busch(i) 3 times for 43 laps; J. Green 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez - 242; E. Jones # - 236; J. Allgaier - 234; E. Sadler - 232; B. Jones # - 223; T. Dillon - 221; B. Gaughan - 208; B. Poole # - 180; R. Reed - 180; D. Wallace Jr - 176.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin had had their differences in the past, but what happened in Saturday morning's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Bristol Motor Speedway had nothing to do with old grudges.
Nevertheless, contact between their two cars bent the sheet metal on both vehicles, Hamlin's on the right front and Patrick's on the left rear.
Patrick, on new tires, was struggling with the handling of her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and had difficulty holding the bottom. She had just let Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet pass her to the inside, and as she approached Turn 1 at the .533-mile short track, Hamlin was closing fast behind her.
Patrick entered the turn low but didn't hold the bottom, and as she drifted up off the bottom lane, Hamlin opted to try an inside pass but ran out of room. The resulting collision, though not a violent impact, was enough to do cosmetic damage to both cars.
"I had just come out on tires," Patrick said. "They were cold and I wasn't very good anyway -- I was pretty loose. I came down the front straightaway and I put my finger out the window to point him by, but he hit me on entry. I don't know if he ... it looked like he came pretty close when he went to go to the inside, too.
"Man, I love Denny, but he makes a lot of mistakes behind me. I don't know if he misjudged it, or I was going slower than he thought, but I put my finger out the window and pointed him by. I had no intention to race him. I was not fast enough. I don't know, but the guys are going to try and fix it."
From his vantage point, Hamlin couldn't see Patrick's signal.
"I was on the outside of her on the straightaway, so I couldn't see the left side of her car," Hamlin said. "I went to go low, but I don't know if she had stuff on her tires. It looked like she was struggling and had stuff on her tires for a few laps there. I tried to go low and obviously we hung bumpers."
Patrick's troubles weren't over. In Saturday's final practice prior to Sunday's Food City 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX), she was still fighting a loose handling condition and brushed the wall near the apex of Turns 3 and 4 approximately five minutes into Happy Hour.
After repairs, Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota, on the other hand, was fast enough to top the speed chart during final Cup practice with a lap at 126.129 mph.
IMPROVED QUALIFYING BOOSTS ALLMENDINGER
The numbers tell the story.
AJ Allmendinger finished 22nd in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings last year. Through the first seven races this season, the driver of the No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Racing Chevrolet is 15th.
Part of the improvement can be attributed to the burgeoning simpatico between Allmendinger and new crew chief Randall Burnett. But much of the credit also goes to an improved qualifying program.
Over 36 races last year, Allmendinger posted an average starting position of 21.6. With his ninth-place qualifying effort on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, this year's average improved to 16.9.
Since Daytona, in each of the seven knockout qualifying sessions, Allmendinger has advanced at least to the second round, and on three occasions, including Friday's time trials, he has made it to the final round, ensuring a top-12 starting spot.
At Bristol, that's particularly important, given the speed of the track and how quickly back markers tend to get lapped.
"It's a real big deal around here," Allmendinger agreed. "Especially, if early in the race it can go green for a while -- If it does and the leader puts down a lot of lapped cars, it kind of just ruins the rest of your race. Starting up front is a big deal.
"We've got to get the car a little bit more comfortable in race trim to make sure we stay up there, but anytime, especially, on these short tracks you can start up front, it just makes that first half of the race a lot easier. It's like, if you get through the first three quarters on the lead lap, it just seems like, even if you're only half-decent, you can still get a really good finish out of it, especially around here."
Allmendinger was 20th fastest in Saturday's first practice session but improved to 16th during Happy Hour.
Seeking his third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Kyle Busch made a statement during Saturday's first practice at Bristol.
Not only did Busch run the fastest lap in the session (126.370 mph), covering the .533-mile distance in 15.184 seconds. He also posted the best 10-lap average speed, 125.569 mph, indicating he'll likely be a contender for the win in Sunday's Food City 500.
Pole winner Carl Edwards, Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, was second in 10-lap average at 124.762 mph. Busch was fifth on the speed chart in Happy Hour behind Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Martin Tuex Jr. and Edwards.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- When Carl Edwards wins the pole at Bristol, good things happen -- for Edwards.
So forgive the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing if he feels optimistic about Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX), the eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season.
With the only sub-15-second lap in the money round of Friday's knockout qualifying at the .533-mile short track, Edwards won his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his third at Bristol and the 18th of his career.
In Edwards' two other pole-winning efforts at Bristol, he has finished first (2008) and second (2011).
"I didn't know that," said Edwards, who practiced in both race trim and qualifying trim in Friday's opening session and was pleased with the speed in his car in both configurations.
"As I've spent more time at JGR, I've just learned that, from the top to the bottom, it's just a real team. It's fun to be a part of it. and we're having a good time. Hopefully, we can turn this into a win. We have that first pit stall, my guys will be excited about that, and we'll just go get 'em."
Edwards, nicknamed "Concrete Carl" for his success on concrete racing surfaces, rocketed around "The World's Fastest Half-Mile" in 14.991 seconds (127.997 mph) to edge teammate Matt Kenseth (127.419 mph) for the top starting spot by .068 seconds.
"That's pretty cool to run a less than 15-second lap," Edwards said. "It's a real testament to my guys and everybody on this team has been working so hard. You see it each week. The JGR Toyotas are up front, and these cars are really nice to drive. (Crew chief) Dave Rogers and everybody did a really nice job."
Ford driver Joey Logano (127.191 mph) qualified third to break up the Joe Gibbs Racing party in the top five. JGR teammates Denny Hamlin (126.804 mph) and Kyle Busch (126.553 mph) will start fourth and fifth, respectively.
Having suffered through a star-crossed early season that has produced but one top 10 in seven races, Kenseth hopes his second-place starting position will signal a change in his fortunes.
"Obviously, all of the JGR cars were fast again so thanks to everyone who's building these things and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) with the engines," Kenseth said. "In the first round we were pretty good, we thought, and then the second round we tried something and we were too tight, and then the third round we were a little too loose really.
"We were just that much off, but overall it was a great day and we'll still get a good pit stall and a good place to start, and hopefully we'll get it driving good tomorrow (in Saturday's practice) and we can race them on Sunday."
Jimmie Johnson had the fastest Chevrolet, qualifying sixth. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Trevor Bayne completed the top 10 in time trials.
Note: On his first lap in the opening round, Ty Dillon hooked the cub off Turn 2 and spun the No. 14 Chevrolet he is driving in place of injured Tony Stewart. The car slid into the back of Landon Cassill's Ford, which was rolling on the apron after completing a qualifying run.
Both cars were damaged cosmetically, but neither team had to resort to a backup car. Cassill qualified 28th, Dillon 34th.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Food City 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
Friday, April 15, 2016
1. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 127.997 mph.
2. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 127.419 mph.
3. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 127.191 mph.
4. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 126.804 mph.
5. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 126.553 mph.
6. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 126.461 mph.
7. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 126.112 mph.
8. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 126.021 mph.
9. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 125.815 mph.
10. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 125.815 mph.
11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 125.732 mph.
12. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 125.691 mph.
13. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 125.486 mph.
14. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 125.461 mph.
15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 125.436 mph.
16. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 125.420 mph.
17. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 125.354 mph.
18. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 125.330 mph.
19. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 125.134 mph.
20. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 125.052 mph.
21. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 124.995 mph.
22. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 124.979 mph.
23. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 124.597 mph.
24. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 124.460 mph.
25. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 126.021 mph.
26. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 125.831 mph.
27. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 125.773 mph.
28. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 125.675 mph.
29. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 125.642 mph.
30. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 125.592 mph.
31. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 125.281 mph.
32. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 125.207 mph.
33. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 125.003 mph.
34. (14) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 124.379 mph.
35. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 124.242 mph.
36. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 124.146 mph.
37. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 123.308 mph.
38. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 123.245 mph.
39. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 122.803 mph.
40. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 122.263 mph.