Dixon literally came from behind to beat Juan Pablo Montoya in an 85-lap season finale at Sonoma Raceway that went down to the wire.
Montoya needed to pass Ryan Briscoe on the 2.3-mile road course to get his second title, but he fell 1.17 seconds short. Montoya had led the series point standings since capturing the first race of the season.
Montoya only had himself to blame. Not only could he not catch Briscoe in the waning laps, he had put himself deep in the pack by running into Team Penske teammate Will Power on Lap 39.
Most of the championship contenders were buried in the pack due to a caution for Luca Filippi's slow car. In the busy restart, Power seemed to turn down on Montoya as they approached Turn 5, and Montoya broke his left front wing with the contact on Power's right rear wing assembly.
Power spun and Montoya was forced to come to pit road for replacement equipment.
"Will overshot (the corner), and I was fighting with (Josef) Newgarden," Montoya said. "We shot the corner, got inside (Power), cut across and I was there. We touched and that was it."
The contact and ensuing pit stops dropped Power and Montoya to 23rd and 24th, respectively, in a 25-car field. They both battled back, but they couldn't delivered what Roger Penske's organization needed to repeat as champions.
Dixon did everything he needed to do. He not only won the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, he led the most laps for the two bonus points that allowed him to match Montoya's 556 points. Dixon owned the tiebreaker: Three race wins to Montoya's two.
Ironically, Montoya won his 1999 CART championship by tying Dario Franchitti in points and having the tiebreaker.
"We just threw this one away," Montoya said.
This championship was Dixon's fourth, tying him with Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Franchitti. Dixon also now has 38 career wins, one short of Al Unser for fourth place on the sport's all-time list.
Dixon's surprising standing stemmed from being 47 laps out of the lead entering Sunday's race. He had to leapfrog not only Montoya but Graham Rahal, too.
"It was a day we needed a lot of things to go our way," Dixon said. "(Winning) is what we had to do, and a lot of things had to happen for us. It was still a longshot."
Two fast pit stops got Dixon in front of other contenders, and he then cycled to the front when others pitted. Dixon also benefitted from Charlie Kimball (third place) and Tony Kanaan (fourth) finishing ahead of Montoya.
It just so happens that Briscoe is one of Dixon's close friends and a former teammate.
"It's the sweetest championship we've had," Dixon said.
Montoya got a chance to catch Briscoe because Bourdais drew a penalty for bumping Rahal out of the way. Rahal was furious, partly because he also got punted in the penultimate race Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway by Tristan Vautier.
Finishing 18th dropped Rahal to fourth in the standings behind Power, who came home seventh.
Power also gave Chip Ganassi's organization its 100th IndyCar victory.
Justin Wilson, who died of head injuries suffered in the Pocono race, was honored before the race. Crew members up and down pit road along with fans bought and wore T-shirts honoring the fallen IndyCar veteran, and there was a video tribute, a moment of silence and the playing of "God Save the Queen."
Wilson's younger brother, Stefan, attended the race and said he harbors no anger for the freak accident when debris from a crashed car landed on Wilson's helmet from above.
"I looked at it, and it's so freak there's no one to be angry with," Stefan Wilson said. "It wasn't like we missed something was preventable. You think about all the things that equaled that and you change a parameter by the smallest amount we're not having this conversation.
"It's not easier to accept, not harder to accept. There's just been no anger."
NOTES: Josef Newgarden entered the race as a championship contender, but he stalled the car on the final pit stop, and the car caught fire. The CFH Racing crew extinguished it and got him back into the race, but he finished 21st. ... Jack Hawksworth was penalized for avoidable contact with Carlos Munoz in Turn 7 on Lap 71. He finished 19th. ...Sonoma Raceway is expected to remain IndyCar's season finale in 2016. Details are being worked out to push the event to September so the schedule can be extended.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- The decision to compete in Saturday afternoon's NASCAR XFINITY Series sixth annual Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America (Wis.) paid off in a huge way for Paul Menard who scored his third career XFINITY victory at his hometown track.
Menard, a native of Eau Claire, Wis., started eighth and saw a decision to stay out after pitting on Lap 24 work to his advantage as he edged out a relentless Ryan Blaney by 0.573 seconds at the 14-turn road course. After the contest, Menard said had the race extended a lap further, he would not have collected his first XFINITY win since Michigan International Speedway last June.
"I've been really fortunate to win at some of the coolest tracks -- Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Road America is right there," Menard said. "These guys called a great race. We didn't have the fastest car. We had a really good short run car. We really burned off the rear tires as we ran, but the Richmond Water Heaters/Menards Chevrolet was fast and (crew chief Danny) Stockman made a hell of a call at the end."
If wondering about running out of fuel wasn't enough, Menard also had to fend off a hard-charging Blaney.
"I was definitely concerned," added Menard on both circumstances. "I was saving as much as I could under caution, but then when we fired off I was just chattering the left rear tire really bad. It took a couple of laps for it to come in, then the (No.) 22 started burning his stuff up, but it just didn't fire off very good in the end, but it came to us."
After inclement weather forced the cancelation of Coors Light Pole qualifying, Ben Rhodes earned the top starting spot based upon turning the fastest lap at the 4.05-mile road course in the first XFINITY Series practice session Friday afternoon.
Rhodes, a NASCAR Next alum, would find himself under pressure from the drop of the green flag when JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott made the move for the lead in Turn 1.
Quickly, though, the field would be under the first full-course caution of the day when Tomy Drissi found himself stuck in the gravel trap in Turn 5.
Racing resumed on Lap 4 with Elliott checking out from the field and before the first round of green-flag pit stops. The reigning champion stretched his lead to over 10 seconds, when he relinquished the top spot on Lap 11 for a routine pit stop.
Championship contender Ty Dillon inherited the lead when Elliott pitted. Dillon, who finished 10th, stretched his fuel run an extra lap to earn a crucial bonus point toward the championship picture.
When pit stops cycled through, Elliott reclaimed the point on Lap 16 and built a 13.7-second lead over second-place Brian Scott at the halfway mark. On Lap 22, the second caution waved for fluid on the track, erasing Elliott's substantial advantage.
Despite half of the field electing to come to pit road for service behind them, Elliott and his JRM team stood firm on their plan and stayed out. On the restart, Elliott withstood a challenge from Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney, but in Turn 14 and through the front stretch, Scott mounted the pressure and made the move on Elliott to take the lead on Lap 27.
Unable to make it to the end on fuel, Scott pitted under green on Lap 29 handing the lead to defending race winner Brendan Gaughan. Three laps later, though, Gaughan pitted, handing the lead to hometown hero Menard, who pitted during the second caution with 13 laps remaining.
Planning to stay out till the end, Menard in saving mode purposely gave up the lead to Blake Koch who led with 10 laps remaining when pole-sitter Rhodes found himself stuck in the gravel trap in Turn 7 issuing the third full course caution. During the extended caution, Koch lost power putting Menard back at the point.
On the Lap 41 restart, Menard withstood challenges from Darrell Wallace Jr. and Blaney to seal the win in his 197th career start.
Next up for the NASCAR XFINITY Series is a trip to the track dubbed "Too Tough To Tame" at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 on Sept. 5.
NASCAR XFINITY Series Race -- Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Saturday, Aug. 29
1. (8) Paul Menard(i), Chevrolet, 45, $44401.
2. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 45, $44938.
3. (5) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 45, $35687.
4. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 45, $38976.
5. (17) Darrell Wallace Jr. #, Ford, 45, $32908.
6. (7) Boris Said, Toyota, 45, $26329.
7. (4) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 45, $26863.
8. (12) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 45, $23729.
9. (6) Chris Buescher, Ford, 45, $23450.
10. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 45, $24122.
11. (26) Michael Self, Chevrolet, 45, $23096.
12. (9) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 45, $23019.
13. (25) Dylan Lupton, Chevrolet, 45, $22919.
14. (14) Kenny Habul, Toyota, 45, $22792.
15. (15) Andy Lally, Chevrolet, 45, $23116.
16. (16) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 45, $22640.
17. (33) Kevin O'Connell, Chevrolet, 45, $16738.
18. (23) Lawson Aschenbach, Chevrolet, 45, $22437.
19. (24) Ryan Reed, Ford, 45, $22361.
20. (27) David Starr, Toyota, 45, $22811.
21. (22) Blake Koch, Toyota, 45, $22235.
22. (20) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 45, $22189.
23. (28) Eric McClure, Toyota, 45, $22154.
24. (10) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 45, $22093.
25. (34) Tim Cowen, Ford, 45, $16172.
26. (40) Stanton Barrett, Ford, 45, $15986.
27. (32) Ross Chastain #, Chevrolet, 44, $21951.
28. (11) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 44, $21921.
29. (35) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 44, $21885.
30. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 43, $16140.
31. (37) Roger Reuse, Chevrolet, 43, $15794.
32. (1) Ben Rhodes, Chevrolet, 41, $21749.
33. (18) Dylan Kwasniewski, Chevrolet, 41, $15718.
34. (19) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 41, $21698.
35. (21) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 35, $21661.
36. (29) Tomy Drissi, Toyota, 35, $20158.
37. (31) Cale Conley #, Toyota, Rear Gear, 22, $19158.
38. (38) Derek White, Dodge, Transmission, 22, $12158.
39. (39) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 7, $11158.
40. (30) Jeff Green, Toyota, Transmission, 2, $10158.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 77.874 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 20 Mins, 21 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.572 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 3 for 11 laps.
Lead Changes: 9 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: 0; C. Elliott 1-12; T. Dillon 13; B. Gaughan 14-15; C. Elliott 16-26; B. Scott 27-29; B. Gaughan 30-31; P. Menard(i) 32-34; B. Koch 35-39; P. Menard(i) 40-45.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): C. Elliott 2 times for 23 laps; P. Menard(i) 2 times for 9 laps; B. Koch 1 time for 5 laps; B. Gaughan 2 times for 4 laps; B. Scott 1 time for 3 laps; T. Dillon 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: C. Buescher - 835; C. Elliott - 819; T. Dillon - 816; R. Smith - 785; E. Sadler - 750; D. Wallace Jr. # - 736; B. Scott - 723; D. Suarez # - 717; B. Gaughan - 705; R. Reed - 631.
Stewart's local attorney, Brian Gwitt, filed the driver's response Friday in U.S. District Court in Utica, N.Y., according to ESPN.com. No trial date has been set and a scheduling conference is set for Oct. 8.
Ward was killed Aug. 9, 2014, in an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park when, after crashing, he approached the other cars on foot as they were riding around under caution. Stewart's car struck Ward, who was pronounced dead at a hospital 45 minutes later.
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, claims in the response that Ward actually tried to make contact with Stewart's car in the accident that resulted in Ward's death. Stewart states that Ward was responsible for his own death because he not only walked out onto an active race track but also because he was under the influence of marijuana at the time.
The lawyer for Ward's parents commented on the filing to ESPN on Saturday, stating: "If Stewart didn't see Ward until just prior to impact, Stewart doesn't look where he's driving. Five other drivers easily avoided Ward, and Stewart revved his engine and hit him. As for whether Ward had smoked marijuana a few days before the race, that doesn't give Stewart the right to run Kevin over."
Ward's parents, Kevin and Pamela, seek unspecified damages for their son's pain and suffering as well as economic benefits and support he could have provided them.
Stewart was not indicted by a grand jury, and Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night of the accident "enough to impair judgment."
According to Stewart's response, Ward's toxicology report indicates that Ward used marijuana within five hours of the event.
"Stewart did not see Ward, Jr. or anyone else walking on foot on the track until just prior to contact, and did not know the identity of the person walking on the track until afterwards," the Stewart response stated. "Stewart was not aware that Ward, Jr. had crashed because the crash was behind him, and was not aware that anyone was walking on the track. Stewart did not know Ward, Jr., and had never had a previous track incident with him. Ward, Jr. approached Stewart's car and attempted to make contact with it. As a result of Ward. Jr.'s actions, Ward, Jr. was killed."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Chris Buescher gambled at Bristol and almost came up big. Almost.
The 22-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver took the lead at the .533-mile track Friday after electing not to pit on Lap 192 of 300. Buescher paced the field for the next 106 laps, but a fuel pickup issue on the penultimate go-round of the race ended any hopes of triumph. Buescher was relegated to 11th, while Ty Dillon finished third, cutting Buescher's NASCAR XFINITY Series points lead to 19.
If Buescher hadn't gone for the win, he wouldn't have lost as many points to Dillon.
"We had the speed, but it wasn't meant to be," Buescher said. "I'm glad we took the chance. I wouldn't change it if we could do it over again, but unfortunately it knocked us right out of a top-10 (finish) and out of a win."
Buescher and Dillon will continue to battle for the points lead Saturday in the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (3 p.m. on NBCSN). It's the third and final XFINITY Series road course race of the season. The two drivers are the only competitors who finished in the top five of the previous two road course races.
A natural on road courses, Buescher won at Mid-Ohio last year and also has been in the top five in both road races this year. He placed 18th in his lone start at Road America last season.
"Road America is a very difficult and unique road course," Buescher said. "I love road racing and look forward to the challenge."
Dillon finished 19th in his first series start at Road America last year. He enters Saturday riding a streak of four top-five finishes.
"Our team is looking at the big picture and sometimes we have to take a step back and realize that this is a long season, to take it little by little," Dillon said. "This past weekend in Bristol was a perfect example. We struggled the first part of practice, but (crew chief) Nick (Harrison), (race engineer) Danny (Efland) and the team just took a step back and reevaluated. We have a championship to win here and it won't be easy.
"We have 11 races to go and we're not going to let up."
'HOMECOMING' FOR HAYLEY
No one would blame Cameron Hayley for getting homesick.
The 19-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver resides in Sandusky, Ohio, where his ThorSport Racing team is based -- 1,891 miles away from his hometown of Calgary, Alberta. Most of the tracks he races at are even farther away.
Distance has not stopped Hayley from chasing his NASCAR dream. Hayley will have a homecoming of sorts when he performs in front of his fellow countrymen Sunday in the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). It's the NCWTS's only road course race of the season.
"Not only is this a track I've been to before; it's also in my home country," said Hayley, who ranks sixth in the NCWTS standings on the strength of three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 14 starts this season. "I just hope that I will have a good run for all of my Canadian fans."
An alumnus of the NASCAR Next initiative highlighting the sport's top up-and-coming drivers, Hayley is still searching for his first NASCAR national series win. If he takes the checkered flag Sunday, he would be the first Canadian to win a NASCAR national series race since Ron Fellows visited Victory Lane in Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2008.
Racing in his first full-time NCWTS season, Hayley has gained momentum lately, logging six top-10 finishes in his last eight starts, including a career-best fourth-place showing at Pocono. He made his series debut at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last season, finishing 11th, and believes his experience there will help him Sunday.
"We've done really well at tracks that I've been to in the past this year, already," Hayley said. "I've been to Sonoma a couple times and that place was really difficult. You look at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and think it can't be as difficult as Sonoma, but it's a very fast race track, and fast race tracks are not forgiving. It takes a lot of finesse and a lot of guts to go out there and get it done. We are bringing a really good truck, so I think this will be another good race for us to go out and get a solid top-five, if not a win."
NASCAR RACE WEEKEND GUIDE
NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: Road America 180
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday at 3 p.m. ET
On the Air: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 182.16 miles (45 laps)
What to Watch For: Comcast announced the creation of the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, honoring NASCAR team members for their outstanding charitable endeavors. Comcast's XFINITY brand is the title sponsor of the NASCAR XFINITY Series. ... NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard, from Eau Claire, Wis., will pilot the Richard Childress Racing No. 33 Chevrolet. ... Defending Road America race winner Brendan Gaughan is the only former victor in the field who has taken the checkered flag at the Wisconsin road course. ... Daniel Suarez attempts to increase his 27-point lead over Darrell Wallace Jr. in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. ... NASCAR Next alum Dylan Kwasniewski will make his third start for Obaika Racing this season. ... Boris Said and Kenny Habul will compete for Joe Gibbs Racing for the third time this season (all at road courses). ... Chase Elliott will attempt to post his 25th career top-five finish. He ranks third in the series standings, 23 points behind Chris Buescher.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Chevrolet Silverado 250
Track: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
Date and Time: Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (ET)
On the Air: FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 157.37 miles (64 laps)
What to Watch For: Canadian Alex Tagliani will take the wheel of the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Ford F-150 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where he is the defending Coors Light Pole Award winner. ... The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship points race is packed, with Tyler Reddick leading Matt Crafton (seven points behind) and Erik Jones (eight). ... NASCAR Next alum Gray Gaulding will take the wheel of a Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra for the first time. He logged a career-best fourth-place finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last season. ... Daniel Hemric is going for his fifth consecutive top-five finish. ... Chinese-American Brian Wong will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut.
That is the question currently facing Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Co., which owns and operates the Indy Racing League in addition to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In 2001, a similar question was put to the France family, owners of NASCAR and the Daytona International Speedway, after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the last lap of the Daytona 500. The late Bill France Jr. responded with a comprehensive effort to reduce the threat of driver fatalities in NASCAR's major traveling series. That included breaking ground on a multi-million dollar research center dedicated to safety as well as rules development and enforcement.
Within eight months of Earnhardt's crash, NASCAR required head and neck restraints to be worn by all Sprint Cup drivers after concluding the devices were the missing link in its safety net following the deaths of four NASCAR drivers from skull fractures or neck injuries within a nine-month span. Since the introduction of mandatory use of head and neck restraints, no drivers in the major traveling series have suffered a critical head or neck injury – much less fatal – despite many incidents with high g impacts. Overall, there have been no fatalities in NASCAR's major traveling series since Earnhardt's crash in Daytona.
For IndyCar, the missing link continues to be canopies over the traditional open cockpit. Given that the Top Fuel class in the NHRA – where speeds exceed 300 mph – has been using canopies successfully since 2012, it's less a question of technology or implementation and more a question of changing tradition.
Enclose cockpits to protect drivers and you will kill the sport. That's the point of view of traditionalists when it comes to a form of racing that goes back farther than the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
But racing tradition sometimes suffers when it meets live television, which is the main driver of sponsorships. That has been the experience of not only NASCAR but also Formula 1.
Formula 1, which lost three-time champion Ayrton Senna due to a crash in 1994, and NASCAR were each popular enough to generate a major groundswell of antagonism from the mainstream media following deaths to its major stars. Each series launched major safety initiatives as a result. Until Julian Bianchi died this summer from injuries sustained in Japan last fall, F1 had gone 21 years without a fatal race injury. NASCAR has gone nearly 14 seasons without a death in the Sprint Cup, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series.
Those who have voiced opinions against the use of canopies for IndyCars, which includes tweets from Indy 500 winners, are old school racers. They believe that an individual choosing to put his or her life at risk in a racing machine is a fundamentally sound moral choice. In this view, not only would canopies change the tradition of being able to easily see the driver in the cockpit, it would alter the nature of the game.
But the question remains – would an enclosed cockpit have helped prevent the death of Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon in 2011 when his car landed upside down on a wall in at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as well as Wilson? More important, can it be expected that other drivers may suffer fatal consequences in the future absent a canopy?
Experience confirms that drivers in open cockpits are more likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries. The great Senna was killed by a suspension piece that flew into his cockpit. Maria de Villota, who died in 2013 from injuries in a F1 testing crash, and Bianchi likely would have been helped by better cockpit protection. Felipe Massa suffered a life-threatening head injury in his Formula 1 Ferrari in 2009 when an errant suspension spring hit him in the head. In IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion when hit by debris in 2014 and in the same race, debris narrowly missed Takuma Sato's helmet and then pierced his cockpit head surround.
Changing the traditional appearance of race cars has always been a touchy issue with fans. One of the prominent elements in the decline of NASCAR's ticket sales and ratings was the Car of Tomorrow. Introduced in 2007, it incorporated changes designed to reduce driver injuries, particularly when it came to high-speed wall impacts and car-to-car contact. But fans despised the car's appearance, including a rear wing that replaced traditional spoilers. Above all, it symbolized the new era of safety. After focus groups identified the COT has a problem, the concept of cars that better resemble street cars and traditional NASCAR racers was re-introduced with Gen 6 in 2013.
So there is the economic threat of losing fans by changing the traditional appearance of cars in the name of safety. At present, IndyCar has decent TV packages, but struggles to bring in sufficient sponsorship to keep fields full and the schedule constantly migrates to different tracks in search of better ticket sales. Unlike F1 and NASCAR, where the outcry against fatalities was overwhelming after the death of a major star, the political pressure to improve driver safety in IndyCar has also been more reflective of its lower public profile.
Ultimately, NASCAR and F1, which greatly reduced fans' ability to see drivers in the cockpit after Senna's death with new safety rules, have proven that they can prosper while pursuing better safety for its drivers. It's reasonable to believe IndyCar can follow the same path.
Driver Tristan Vautier (Dale Coyne Racing) was penalized for violating Rule 9.3.3 (avoidable contact) of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook. Vautier, who was placed on probation for the remainder of the season following the race at Auto Club Speedway on June 27, was penalized three points in the point standings, fined $10,000 and will not be able to practice for the first two hours of promoter test at Sonoma Raceway on Friday.
The No. 2 Team Penske entry was fined $3,000 for violating Rule 18.104.22.168 (pit safety violation: contact with equipment - air hose, third offense).
The No. 41 AJ Foyt Racing entry was fined $2,500 for violating Rule 22.214.171.124 (hazardous condition: tire coming loose and causing a yellow flag).
The No. 26 Andretti Autosport entry was fined $500 for violating Rule 126.96.36.199 (pit safety violation: contact with equipment - air hose).
Honda received a deduction of 20 manufacturer championship points for an engine that did not attain its life cycle during the race weekend at Long Pond, Pa. According to Rule 10.6.4.3, 20 manufacturer points are deducted for an engine that fails to reach its 2,500-mile life cycle. The Honda engine on the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport entry did not reach its life cycle minimum before being changed out.
Following the deduction, Chevrolet leads the manufacturer championship with 1,429 points. Honda has 1,083 points.
THEN AND NOW: The Sprint Cup Series enjoys its final weekend off of the season before resuming on Sept. 6 for the final 12 races of the season, including the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. … The Southern 500 returns to its traditional Labor Day weekend date after more than a decade on other dates during the season. … Kevin Harvick won the last Sprint Cup race at Darlington, held April 12, 2014. … There have been 111 Sprint Cup races to date at Darlington, which has two unique nicknames: The Lady In Black and the Track Too Tough To Tame. … Joey Logano won this past Saturday night's race at Bristol, his third win of the season (Daytona, Watkins Glen were the others). … Kevin Harvick remains atop the point standings, holding a 43-point lead over No. 2-ranked Joey Logano. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is third, 89 points behind, followed by Brad Keselowski (115 points back) and Jimmie Johnson (116 points back).
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: ROAD AMERICA 180 FIRED UP BY JOHNSONVILLE; Road America; Elkhart Lake, Wisc.
TV: Saturday, Aug. 29, 3 pm ET – NBCSN (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Saturday marks the sixth consecutive year that the Xfinity Series has raced on the 4-plus mile road course in central Wisconsin. Brendan Gaughan won last year's race, while A.J. Allmendinger won the 2013 race, which included drivers competing on rain tires during intermittent rain showers throughout the race. … Kyle Busch won the most recent Xfinity Series race, held last Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. … Chris Buescher remains atop the Xfinity points standings, holding a 19-point edge over Ty Dillon. Chase Elliott ranks third (23 points back), followed by Regan Smith (-51) and Elliott Sadler (-82).
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: CHEVROLET SILVERADO 250; Canadian Tire Motorsport Park; Bowmanville, Ontario.
TV: Sunday, Aug. 30, 1:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: The Camping World Truck Series returns for a third consecutive year to the twisting Canadian Tire Motorsport Park road course. … Ryan Blaney won this race last year, while Chase Elliott won the inaugural event there in 2013. … Blaney also won the most recent CWTS race, Weds., Aug. 19, at Bristol Motor Speedway. … Tyler Reddick continues to hold the points lead in the Truck series, but his margin is a razor-thin six points over second-ranked and two-time defending Truck champion Matt Crafton, and a seven-point lead over third-ranked Erik Jones. Johnny Sauter is ranked fourth (53 points back) and Daniel Hemric has climbed into fifth place, 90 points back.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: GO-PRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA; Sonoma Raceway; Sonoma, Calif.
TV: Sunday, Aug. 30, 4 pm ET – NBCSN.
THEN AND NOW: Auto Club Speedway hosted the season-ending race for the last three seasons, but Sonoma Raceway becomes the new venue for IndyCar's season finale for at least 2015. … The IndyCar Series has raced 10 previous times at Sonoma. Scott Dixon won the most recent race there in August 2014 (Dixon's second career win there), but defending IndyCar champ Will Power has the most victories at Sonoma (three). … The mood will likely be somber at Sonoma this weekend following the tragic death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson this past Sunday at Pocono Raceway. Wilson was struck in the head by a piece of the front cowling of Sage Karam's car that flew into the air and struck Wilson in the head after Karam's car wrecked. … Ryan Hunter-Reay won Sunday's race at Pocono, just the third time the series has raced at the 2.5-mile tri-oval since its debut in 2013. According to various reports, Sunday's race may also be the last IndyCar race at Pocono, as it's expected the series will not return to the track in 2016. … As he has since the first race of the season (which he won in St. Petersburg, Fla.), Juan Pablo Montoya remains No. 1 in the point standings. Graham Rahal is 34 points behind Montoya coming into Sunday's season finale, while Scott Dixon is third (47 points back), followed by Will Power (61 points back and Helio Castroneves is fifth (77 points back).
NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: The NHRA is off this weekend before the biggest race of the season, the 61st annual U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Sept. 2-7 in suburban Indianapolis. … Winners of Sunday's race at Brainerd, Minn., were Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiece (Pro Stock Motorcycle). … Heading into next weekend's U.S. Nationals, Tony Schumacher leads in Top Fuel with a 53 point edge over teammate Antron Brown. Richie Crampton has jumped up to third, 255 points back. … In Funny Car, Jack Beckman took over the top spot at Brainerd. He leads defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan by 50 points and Tommy Johnson Jr. by 121 points. … In Pro Stock, defending champ Erica Edwards is back on top of the standings with a 16-point edge over former world champ Greg Anderson. Chris McGaha is third, 137 points back. … Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec holds a 166 point lead over Hector Arana Jr., and a 177 point margin over defending PSM champ Andrew Hines.
Bowyer's team, Michael Waltrip Racing, cannot be resurrected. But perhaps Bowyer can re-build his career starting with the strong showing at Bristol.
The week before the race, MWR confirmed it will shut down at the end of the season after losing chief investor Rob Kauffman and without future sponsorship for the Toyota entries of David Ragan. Bowyer is expected to retain 5-Hour Energy sponsorship, but that single-car deal alone was not enough to save the MWR team. With the team's demise, Bowyer's been given his release for 2016, the final year of his contract.
Bowyer has been in the eye of the original storm that put MWR in jeopardy. That heavy weather began with "Chase-gate" at Richmond International Raceway in 2013. The MWR team was found to have manipulated the outcome of the race, a situation that began with intentionally creating a caution.
The origin of a questionable caution was a spin by Bowyer – already qualified in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – that was considered to be undertaken by the driver upon a radio signal from his team. The team also brought driver Brian Vickers into the pits for an unscheduled stop in the closing laps that was judged to be unnecessary in order to give up a position and give MWR's Martin Truex Jr. a better chance to make the Chase.
NASCAR changed its procedures and added an additional driver to the Chase (Jeff Gordon) who had been gerrymandered out by what was considered an unnecessary caution. MWR lost sponsor NAPA Automotive as a result of the scandal and the driver it sponsored, Truex Jr., who was excluded from the Chase by NASCAR due to penalties.
For 2014, the team became two cars in place of three. Dwindling revenue, an exodus of team personnel – Kevin Harvick's championship-winning crew chief Rodney Childers was among those leaving -- and poor results for the past two years have led to the closing of the doors. It was a development tacitly endorsed by manufacturer Toyota.
Bowyer entered Bristol – so often a high-speed crap shoot – with two major goals. First, he needed to sustain the chances of MWR and his team to make this year's Chase on points.
"You don't want to just go into that Chase and be a part of it and be the first guy out, you want to go into that Chase with some confidence and momentum and some good runs where you can maybe go a few rounds in there," said Bowyer after his finish at Bristol. "Great night for us given everything that's happened this week this was certainly what we needed as a group, as an organization to have two cars run in the Top 5."
Bowyer needed to promote himself as a potential driver for other teams in 2016. A subplot includes helping to prove the crew and team members at MWR are also worthy of employment elsewhere next year.
There were two flaws in Bowyer's Bristol journey to fifth. First, he inadvertently took out Ragan, a teammate who also had a shot at a Top 5 finish. While Ragan was racing Jimmie Johnson, Bowyer caught up with the duo and bumped Ragan.
"Sick with what happened with the 55 (Ragan)," said Bowyer. "David has done such a good job of stepping in and filling in that seat and being a good teammate. We certainly didn't want to see that."
Ragan, also with an eye on the future, was composed but unhappy with Bowyer's driving. "We had a chance to win. It's uncalled for to get wrecked and to be involved in a wreck like that. But all in all, just one of those racing things."
The other flaw in Bowyer's efforts continues to be his vulnerability as the last man qualified to make the 16 available positions in the Chase. He's still on the bubble.
With two races remaining at the Darlington International Raceway and at Richmond, Aric Almirola is 35 points behind Bowyer and Kasey Kahne is 37 back. Under any kind of bad luck for Bowyer, one of those two could pass him and get the final position on the basis of points.
Bowyer would also be the first driver pushed out of the Top 16 if a driver not yet qualified scores a victory and gains access to the Chase. Beyond Kahne, Almirola and teammate Ragan, all of whom have scored at least one career Sprint Cup victory, the list also includes Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon, two sophomore drivers who have been knocking on the gate of victory lane.
Luck could be a factor in Bowyer's favor. If four-time winner Kyle Busch fails to finish in the Top 30 in points, then he would sacrifice his position in the Chase, opening the door for an additional slot for a driver to get in on points.
Bowyer himself hasn't registered a victory since his breakout three-win first season with MWR in 2012. Following the scandal season, Bowyer led 109 laps in 2014 and had five Top 5 finishes, but missed the Chase. This year, he has led only eight laps and his average finish is almost the same as his 15th-place points position – 16.9.
The over-all impression is that the MWR team never faced up to its colossal misjudgment at Richmond in 2013, which brought NASCAR into disrepute in a manner that still may be influencing sponsor decisions. Internally, the team acknowledged Bowyer's spin was obvious, but argued it broke no specific rules and that other teams were also using radio signals to help their drivers' chances of qualifying in the Chase. Insiders at the team further argued that the punishment by NASCAR was over-the-top, implying that NAPA and its multi-million dollar budget might not have been lost absent that punishment.
In retrospect, NASCAR's swift "clean the wound" response helped move the sport past a very dark chapter. The tightening of rules on radio use along with certain punishment for those who would manipulate the system has also made possible the current format for the Chase – which has added three more elimination races in addition to the 26-race cutoff at Richmond.
Whether the sanctioning body should have anticipated the gerrymandering of the points system earlier is an open question. And there's little doubt at least one other team was using radio signals to influence the points at Richmond in 2013. But it was MWR which brought the damning response for a highly suspicious spin and unnecessary pit stop by its third car. Under the leadership of owners Michael Waltrip and Kauffman, the team apparently has never quite owned up to its actions.
Bowyer has been caught in the middle ever since, it would seem. Returning to the Chase would no doubt help him get to a different kind of "break out" season.
He was 37.
IndyCar made the announcement Monday night at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wilson was competing in his sixth race this year for Andretti Autosport when it appeared he was struck on the helmet by debris from Sage Karam's one-car crash that occurred in front of Wilson's car.
Wilson's car was then knocked into an angled wall that was protected by a barrier on the inside part of Turn 1.
Airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa., on Sunday evening, Wilson remained in a coma in critical condition Monday until his death.
Karam tweeted Monday night, "I can't find the proper words to describe the pain and sympathy I feel for Justin and his family. #RIPJustin"
Wilson's family issued a statement that read in part: "Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers.
"The family would like to thank the staff at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital, Pocono Raceway, Andretti Autosport, and the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the entire racing community for the amazing outpouring of support from fans around the world.
"The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Wilson Children’s Fund care of IndyCar.”
Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement, "This is a monumentally sad day for IndyCar and the motorsports community as a whole. Justin's elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility -- which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock. As we know, the racing industry is one big family, and our efforts moving forward will be focused on rallying around Justin's family to ensure they get the support they need during this unbelievably difficult time."
Wilson finished second in the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 2 in his last event before Pocono.
The soft-spoken, 6-foot-4 Wilson was one of the most popular drivers among other drivers.
Wilson started his racing career in go-karts at age 9. He raced Formula 1 for Minardi and Jaguar in 2003, then moved to the United States the next year to begin driving in the Champ Car-sanctioned IndyCar series for Conquest Racing.
He finished second to Sebastien Bourdais in the 2006 and 2007 Champ Car points standings.
Wilson had four victories in Champ Car racing, then won three more races after joining the IZOD IndyCar series in 2008. He recorded his first IndyCar series victory at the 2008 Detroit Grand Prix. He also won at Watkins Glen in 2009 and at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012.
In 2011, Wilson broke his back in a crash at Mid-Ohio and suffered a bruised lung and a broken pelvis at Fontana, Calif., in 2013.
Wilson made 174 career starts in IndyCar and Champ Car. He earned eight career poles, 47 top-five finishes and 94 top-10 finishes.
Wilson is survived by his wife, Julia, and children Jane and Jessica.
Several NASCAR drivers tweeted responses to the news of Wilson's death.
Joey Logano: Terrible and tragic news. Prayers to his family and friends. We are all family. #RIPJustin
Danica Patrick: Wow, what a sad day. @justin_wilson was a good man. A great man. I had the pleasure of knowing him and pray for his family.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and to the @IndyCar family. #RIPJustinWilson
Jeff Gordon: So sad to hear that we lost Justin Wilson today. Thoughts & prayers to his family and friends.
Meanwhile, Karam was released from Lehigh Valley Hospital on Monday after his right heel and left wrist were evaluated, IndyCar officials announced.
According to Dr. Terry Trammell, IndyCar medical consultant, CT scans revealed no broken bones for Karam, 20, who will be re-evaluated before being cleared to drive.
Wilson was "unconscious and not responding" following a blow to the helmet during the race at Pocono Raceway, his race-winning teammate said.
"That's obviously very bad details," Andretti Autosport driver Hunter-Reay said.
IndyCar officials confirmed Wilson was struck in the head late in the race. He was trailing a pack of cars coming upon a debris field created by the crash of race leader Sage Karam.
Photographs seemed to confirm Wilson was struck by the nose cone off Karam's car. That's a large piece of debris, and it seemed to make it impossible for him to avoid hitting the track's inside wall, which bore an energy-absorbing barrier.
Karam was examined for a foot injury.
IndyCar officials late Sunday confirmed that Wilson was in a coma and in critical condition.
Wilson, a 37-year-old veteran from Sheffield, England, was making his 174th IndyCar race. He has won seven races and eight poles since moving to the series from Formula One. Wilson, a married father of two young girls, is considered one of the nicest men in the sport.
The incident occurred with 21 laps remaining in the 200-lap race in the season's final oval-track competition. The cars circled around the track for 14 laps before a final sprint.
Hunter-Reay grabbed the lead with five laps to go, passing series rookie Gabby Chaves. The race ended under caution after Chaves' engine expired with three laps left.
Hunter-Reay finished the race believing Wilson had been put in the ambulance with Karam. He said he didn't know it was a serious situation until after he took the checkered flag.
"Come to find out it wasn't that straightforward," Hunter-Reay said.
Josef Newgarden finished second with series points leader Juan Pablo Montoya third. Montoya will take a 34-point lead over Graham Rahal to the season-ending race next weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
Scott Dixon, who finished ninth, trails Montoya by 47 points. Will Power, who finished fourth, is 62 points in arrears, with fifth-place Helio Castroneves down 78 after finishing 16th.
Montoya entered the race with a nine-point advantage over Rahal, but Rahal was involved in a crash. Castroneves entered the weekend in fourth place, starting the race 57 points behind Montoya after winning the pole.
Rahal's problems started on lap 66 when his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew suffered its second fueling trouble of the season. The first occurred in the Auto Club Speedway race that Rahal went on to win. This one led to Rahal dropping to 20th place.
Rahal was on his way back toward the front when he came upon Wilson in a battle for 15th place. Traffic slowed in front of them, and as Wilson lost momentum Rahal went to the inside for the pass. That's how the cars were aligned as Turn 3 approached.
"We just ran from (Turn) 2 down to 3 together and then (Tristan) Vautier just decided he wanted to join the party there at the last minute," Rahal said. "Unfortunately, he just punted us."
The tire contact sent them both to the outside wall, with Rahal's car turning around. Both cars were lifted off the ground but didn't flip over.
"(Vautier) said I turned into him; there's not any space," Rahal said. "We're already two-wide and he knows that, he sees that. But, you know, he's not known as the sharpest tool around here. That's fine.
"As I said to him, he's a part-timer; you know I'm in the championship hunt for Honda and in particular driving a Honda, why would you do something like that? He has no answer."
Vautier argued that blame should go to Wilson, who didn't give Rahal room, although it can be argued that neither Wilson or Rahal knew Vautier was inside them.
"I tried to go to the apron and brake, but it was too late," he said.
Rahal finished 20th.
"We're down, we're not out," Rahal said. "We've had a good year and there's nothing to be ashamed of. We're going to go to Sonoma in attack mode."
Another third-generation driver had trouble, too, although Marco Andretti wasn't in the championship fight.
On the restart lap No. 139, Andretti's Honda mysteriously spun around in Turn 2, walloping the outside wall. He was slow to get out and then limped to the safety truck with a sore right knee.
They weren't the only ones to crash; far from it.
Jack Hawksworth, who had a big crash here last year and lost a left rear tire early in this race, was inside of Charlie Kimball when Kimball's car bobbled, lost traction and swerved into Hawksworth's. It wasn't a big impact, and Kimball continued on. But it was Kimball's second crash in as many days. Saturday's impact in qualifying was ferocious and dramatic, riding the Turn 3 wall before slapping the fence. He escaped with only a scratch on his chin.
Tony Kanaan dropped left-side wheels under the low line, causing his car to spin. The Ganassi machine went fully around twice before slapping the inside wall.
Castroneves and Sebastien Bourdais crashed in similar fashion. Their cars drifted too far into the high line, lost grip and lost control. Castroneves' crash came on a restart when as many as eight cars got side-by-side toward the end of the front straightaway.
Montoya couldn't explain the madness.
"Four wide, five wide, then Takuma (Sato) got inside of me," he said. "My spotter didn't even know what to say."
Castroneves was on the outside of Dixon and Simon Pagenaud when he crashed.
There even was a caution for a fox crossing the track at the end of the front straightaway. He (or she) jumped over the wall gracefully and escaped
NOTES: Sebastien Bourdais entered the race mathematically alive for the series championship, although not realistically. But he's out of it now in the wake of a lap 37 crash in Turn 1. Teammate Stefano Coletti retired at about the same time of the race. ...Pippa Mann, IndyCar's only woman driver, saw her career-best start go for naught when the car stuck in second gear on lap 8. She started 17th, her best in 13 series events. ...Track officials will spend the next couple of weeks mulling an option to bring IndyCar back under a new contract. Track president Brandon Igdalsky said it's "50-50" due to the cost involved with hosting the series. This was the last in a three-year contract.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- With Kevin Harvick hounding him mercilessly for 63 laps, Joey Logano kept his No. 22 Team Penske Ford out front after taking the lead on a Lap 438 restart and held on to win Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Successfully defending last year's victory at Thunder Valley, Logano won his third race of the season, his second at the .533-mile short track and the 11th of his career.
Harvick recovered from two pit road speeding penalties to finish second, a mere .220 seconds behind Logano. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin ran third, and Clint Bowyer got a much-needed fourth place result in his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
Brad Keselowski came home fifth, followed by Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 192 laps but was hit with a pit road speeding penalty on his last stop under yellow on Lap 432.
Logano took over from there and racked up 176 laps out front in a race that saw 14 lead changes among five drivers. The runner-up finish was Harvick's 10th of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth, followed by Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, who solidified their positions in the fight for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths on points. McMurray and Newman are 10th and 11th in the standings, respectively, the highest-scored drivers without a victory this season.
Given that there have been only 11 winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year, at least three drivers are certain to qualify for the Chase on points.
Kyle Busch, a four-time winner and 29th in the standings, also moved closer to locking up a Chase berth, padding his advantage 46 points over 31st-place Cole Whitt. Busch, who missed the first 11 events of the season because of injury, must remain in the top 30 for the next two races to qualify for the Chase.
"We're hitting it at the right time, that's for sure," Logano said. "There was a point in the season that we were racing top-10 a lot, but not necessarily for the win. I feel like we're right where we need to be, just like we were last year at this point. I can't wait for the Chase to start."
It was Logano's second straight win in the Bristol night race.
Kevin Harvick overcame two pit-road penalties, one for his crew going over the wall too soon and a second for speeding, to battle Logano during the final green-flag stretch of the 500-lap race after an eighth yellow flag with 70 laps to go. It was a futile battle, with Logano maintaining the lead and Harvick finishing second.
"I've just got to thank everybody on the Jimmy John's/Budweiser team for just doing what they had to do to stick this out," Harvick said. "I made a mistake there on pit road and got us behind and just didn't get our Budweiser Chevy through traffic like Joey did. There were a couple of times when it was pretty close, but I wasn't letting off the gas. I just needed to be a little bit closer to him to make something happen."
Logano lost the lead on pit road when a crewman dropped a right-rear lug nut on a pit stop during a yellow flag on Lap 251. Carl Edwards restarted with the lead.
Kyle Busch, Edwards' Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, took the lead on Lap 281. He battled back and forth with Edwards for the top spot before Busch was forced to make a green-flag pit stop because of a loose wheel just before Lap 350.
Edwards had to pit under green a few laps later for a cut right-front tire, handing the lead back to Logano.
Logano ran up front from that point on except when Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski stayed out during the final caution.
"Kyle was good at times; the 2 (Keselowski) was good at times; the 19 (Edwards) was really good at times," Logano said. "It was interesting how many cars were up front, but the Shell/Pennzoil Ford stayed up there consistently the whole day, and our team just executed. That's what we did, and that's what we do every week. We just try to keep our heads calm and cool and just run our race."
Logano retook the top spot when the race returned to green, and Harvick soon joined him up front by passing Keselowski.
"It was kind of interesting to watch it in the mirror," Logano said. "I was watching him drive in, and I was like, 'He's going to get me eventually,' so I just wanted to make sure I stayed at least three or four car lengths up on him so he didn't get to me."
Denny Hamlin finished third, Jimmie Johnson took fourth for his first top five since the race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July, and Clint Bowyer finished fifth.
Logano was the leader at the halfway point on Lap 250. He took the lead from Busch on Lap 225, becoming the first non-Joe Gibbs Racing driver to lead the race. Up to that point, Busch and Hamlin had combined to lead all laps.
"Pretty good run for us, but we just didn't have the speed those guys had there those last couple runs and just fought the balance of the car, really all day," Hamlin said. "Either way, a decent day, but we expect a little bit more out of our FedEx Ground Toyota, but still a third-place ain't too bad."
NOTES: Sprint Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin finished first, second and third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night. Busch led 89 laps and Hamlin 106 in the Xfinity race, scheduled for 300 laps but extended to 302. ... Joe Gibbs Racing swept the top three in qualifying for the second consecutive weekend. At Bristol, Hamlin started on the pole, Busch was second and Carl Edwards was third. Hamlin's 131.407 mph pole-winning lap was a track qualifying record. ... Another Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Matt Kenseth, won the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Bristol, in April. Joey Logano won the 2014 Irwin Tools Night race. ... Kenseth also headed into Saturday as the series' most recent winner, Aug. 16 at Michigan International Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing had won six of the last eight races leading up to Bristol.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- From high in the grandstands at Bristol Motor Speedway, you can see a message in bold letters on top of one of the tents that covers the NASCAR inspection line.
The message reads: "Bruton Smith, Class of 2016, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Congratulations Mr. Chairman."
But more than congratulations were in order for the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the corporate entity that owns a portfolio of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race tracks, including Bristol Motor Speedway, site of Saturday night's IRWIN Tools Night Race (NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).
Smith, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in January, returned to the track this weekend for the first time since undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
According to Smith and his son, SMI CEO and President Marcus Smith, the prognosis is excellent.
"The doctors said I probably needed a bit of a rest and I got that," Bruton Smith told reporters on Friday at Bristol. "And I probably needed it. You see, I could depend on Marcus. SMI, they can easily do with my absence. He knows what he's doing. He's doing a great job and I'm proud of him.
"I hate to miss any of our races. I really do. It's kind of heartbreaking, really. I like to be there to see what's going on."
Marcus Smith said the family opted to go public with his father's condition to head off speculation.
"We talked about this for the last few days actually, about having a conversation, because health and personal matters are personal," Marcus Smith said. "The family, we're private about personal matters. A lot of people have asked me about, 'Where’s Bruton? How's he feeling?'
"I'm really excited about this weekend, because Bristol was a goal. For us. For my dad. The time was such that it was a good goal to try to hit to be healthy and strong. Back around the All-Star Race in May, my dad had not been feeling 100 percent and a little bit prior.
"Coming back, people might think that because he lost weight that something was wrong. I thought it was better to tell the good part of the story."
The good part is the current diagnosis.
"The really good news is, through the process, treatment and ups and downs, and having Bristol as a goal to be healthy by. We're back here, and the last word from the doctor was things have been really good," Marcus Smith said.
"He's progressed beyond expectations they all had, and we're very thankful about that, of course, and they have given a really good prognosis on his health. In short, he's responded really well to treatment and even beyond the expectations from the doctors."
GORDON GRATEFUL FOR COMMEMORATIVE HONOR
Throughout Jeff Gordon's final season as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, race tracks have been trying to outdo each other in recognition of Gordon's last visits as a competitor.
The honor bestowed by Bristol Motor Speedway -- a grandstand terrace named after the four-time champion. The gift made a visible impression on Gordon when the signage was unveiled in the BMS media center on Friday.
"That means the world to me," Gordon said. "This place is awesome. I love coming here. I've enjoyed competing here, but this is one of those tracks that it brings the fan out in all of us.
"For you to honor me this way means so much to me. I get to enjoy this honor for years to come. I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of what I've accomplished here and can’t thank you enough."
Gordon entered Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race as a five-time winner at the .533-mile short track, hoping for a sixth victory, which would lock him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But Gordon made one important distinction.
"We're doing everything that we possibly can to be the best we can be, to communicate and work together and come out of this thing knowing that we gave it everything that we've got. And so, we don't need a win.
"A win would be nice. And a win would certainly make things a little easier over these next couple of weeks, but when you say 'need' a win, I've won 92 times. I don't need a win. I want to win. That's all."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- When Chris Buescher's Ford faltered on a green-white-checkered restart on Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch took full advantage, as is his custom.
In a Food City 300 that went to two laps of overtime at the .533-mile short track, Busch finished .427 of a second ahead of Kyle Larson, as Buescher faded to 11th after his car failed to pick up fuel off Turn 2 of the next-to-last lap.
The victory was Busch's third of the season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, his eighth at Bristol and the 73rd of his career, extending his own series record.
"This is home -- this is where I'm supposed to be," Busch said, standing outside the car in Victory Lane. "I wish I was here Wednesday night (after the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race), so we could continue the sweep lookout for (Saturday), but that was a second place. Oh, well."
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez, who got a bonus for his top-five run. As the highest finishing eligible driver in the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program, Suarez picked up an extra $100,000.
Pit strategy put Buescher at the front of the field under the fourth caution of the race, caused by Cale Conley's spin in Turn 4. On older tires, Buescher nevertheless pulled away from Busch during a succession of restarts, as Busch saved his equipment for what he thought would be the inevitable late-race caution.
"I let the 60 (Buescher) go," Busch said. "He ran out there to about a straightaway on us, and I was just trying to save and do what I could to keep my tires underneath me. I knew we were going to get some cautions at the end to bunch us back up, and fortunately we did.
"I wasn't sure they were going to make it on fuel (having pitted on lap 131 of 302), and obviously they cut it close -- a little too close."
Busch got the yellow he needed just in time. Brad Teague's wreck on the frontstretch with five laps left set up the green-white-checkered and gave Busch the chance he needed.
Buescher, who saw his series lead shrink to 19 points over Ty Dillon, knew he could have made it to the end on fuel had the race not gone to overtime.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race - Food City 300
Bristol Motor Speedway
Friday, August 21, 2015
1. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 302, $53821.
2. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 302, $39921.
3. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 302, $40792.
4. (11) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 302, $34852.
5. (9) Daniel Suarez Toyota, 302, $34467.
6. (4) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 302, $30854.
7. (10) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 302, $31485.
8. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 302, $24344.
9. (12) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 302, $30097.
10. (15) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 302, $30769.
11. (5) Chris Buescher, Ford, 302, $31717.
12. (14) Darrell Wallace Jr., Ford, 302, $29516.
13. (13) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 302, $29416.
14. (27) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 302, $29350.
15. (16) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 302, $29904.
16. (19) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 302, $29269.
17. (21) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 302, $29224.
18. (20) Cale Conley, Toyota, 301, $29178.
19. (18) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 299, $29143.
20. (32) David Starr, Toyota, 298, $29603.
21. (29) Blake Koch, Toyota, 298, $29037.
22. (6) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 297, $28987.
23. (24) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, 297, $28926.
24. (22) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 297, $28865.
25. (17) Ryan Reed, Ford, 295, $28955.
26. (40) Brad Teague, Toyota, 291, $28739.
27. (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 289, $28678.
28. (37) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 288, $28588.
29. (25) Hermie Sadler III, Toyota, 287, $28547.
30. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 275, $22802.
31. (8) Elliott Sadler, Ford, Accident, 254, $28461.
32. (28) Dylan Kwasniewski, Chevrolet, Accident, 253, $28391.
33. (34) Eric McClure, Toyota, 252, $28366.
34. (23) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, Accident, 247, $28345.
35. (30) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, Handling, 180, $28318.
36. (38) Jordan Anderson, Dodge, 170, $20227.
37. (26) Benny Gordon, Toyota, Electrical, 65, $19227.
38. (39) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 28, $18227.
39. (35) Carl Long, Dodge, Handling, 22, $17227.
40. (31) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 3, $16227.
Average speed of race winner: 86.27 mph.
Time of race: 1 hour, 51 minutes, 57 seconds.
Margin of victory: 0.426 seconds.
Caution flags: 8 for 52 laps.
Lead changes: 10 among 4 drivers.
Lap leaders: D. Hamlin 1-2; K. Busch 3-12; D. Hamlin 13-26; K. Busch 27-54; D. Hamlin 55; K. Busch 56-104; D. Hamlin 105-124; K. Harvick 125; D. Hamlin 126-194; C. Buescher 195-300; K. Busch 301-302.
Leaders summary (Driver, times lead, laps led): D. Hamlin 5 times for 106 laps; C. Buescher 1 time for 106 laps; K. Busch 4 times for 89 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: C. Buescher - 800; T. Dillon - 781; C. Elliott - 777; R. Smith - 749; E. Sadler - 718; D. Suarez - 697; D. Wallace Jr. - 697; B. Scott - 681; B. Gaughan - 676; R. Reed - 606.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- If it's pole day in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Joe Gibbs Racing must be celebrating.
Denny Hamlin powered his No. 11 Toyota around .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in 14.602 seconds (131.407 mph) on Friday to win the pole for Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race (on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).
In breaking Kevin Harvick's August 2014 track qualifying record by .005 seconds, Hamlin won his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his third at Bristol and the 22nd of his career.
JGR swept the top three spots in qualifying for the second straight week, having accomplished the feat last Saturday on the two-mile track at Michigan International Speedway. The pole was JGR's fifth straight on an oval track (AJ Allmendinger, in a JTG Daugherty Chevrolet, claimed the top starting spot for the Aug. 9 race on the road course at Watkins Glen).
Hamlin edged teammate Kyle Busch (131.263 mph) by .016 seconds. Carl Edwards (130.655 mph) took the third starting spot, followed by David Ragan in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (130.460 mph) and Joey Logano in a Team Penske Ford (130.344 mph).
Hamlin also won the pole for Friday night's NASCAR XFINITY Series race.
"To have that two nights in a row here is hopefully going to pay dividends," Hamlin said. "We're excited. Bristol's been a great track for me in the past, and we've got nothing to lose this weekend, just gearing up for the Chase, so I think our FedEx team's ready."
Hamlin has a victory at Bristol in addition to his two poles, and with a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup position guaranteed by virtue of his victory at Martinsville in April, he can go all-out for a win on Saturday night without fear of consequences.
Busch fought handling issues in the final two rounds of knockout qualifying and went for broke on his final attempt in the last round.
"We were just a little too free there the second segment and the first run of the third segment," Busch said. "It's a little edgy up there, so you try not to push too hard, but still make a good lap and come back safely.
"Then there at the end we tried a 'Hail Mary' and it worked. It picked us up speed, but it didn't pick us up that spot."
Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson grabbed the sixth through 10th spots on the grid, respectively. The qualifying effort was Stenhouse's best of the year.
Jeff Gordon will start 24th in his last race at Bristol as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. Travis Kvapil, Jeb Burton and Reed Sorenson failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying -- IRWIN Tools Night Race
Bristol Motor Speedway
Friday, August 21, 2015
1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 131.407 mph.
2. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 131.263 mph.
3. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 130.655 mph.
4. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 130.460 mph.
5. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 130.344 mph.
6. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 130.327 mph.
7. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 130.300 mph.
8. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 130.123 mph.
9. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 130.053 mph.
10. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 129.947 mph.
11. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 129.447 mph.
12. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 128.848 mph.
13. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 129.675 mph.
14. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 129.351 mph.
15. (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 129.212 mph.
16. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 129.151 mph.
17. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 128.822 mph.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 128.701 mph.
19. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 128.606 mph.
20. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 128.537 mph.
21. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 128.262 mph.
22. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 128.193 mph.
23. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Chevrolet, 128.159 mph.
24. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 127.988 mph.
25. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 128.563 mph.
26. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 128.253 mph.
27. (34) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 128.176 mph.
28. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 127.920 mph.
29. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 127.801 mph.
30. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 127.605 mph.
31. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 127.563 mph.
32. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 127.537 mph.
33. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 127.461 mph.
34. (32) Josh Wise, Ford, 127.368 mph.
35. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 127.241 mph.
36. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 127.208 mph.
37. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
38. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
39. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (98) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, Owner Points
42. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
43. (33) Mike Bliss(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
3 drivers failed to qualify.
44. (30) Travis Kvapil(i), Chevrolet, 126.545 mph.
45. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 125.906 mph.
46. (62) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 125.150 mph.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Clint Bowyer described his future as "uncertain right now," but there's one sure bet you can make about Bowyer's long-term plans.
He won't be driving for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and new partner Rob Kauffman.
Earlier in the week, Bowyer and Kauffman, co-owner at Michael Waltrip Racing, agreed to go separate ways at the end of the season. Bowyer is in the eighth month of a three-year deal with MWR, but the organization is allowing Bowyer to pursue other options for 2016 and beyond.
Kauffman announced he is purchasing an ownership interest in Chip Ganassi Racing. Though rumored to be joining Kauffman at Ganassi, Bowyer indicated his future plans and those of his owner have diverged.
"He (Kauffman) made a business decision to move forward, and that direction, as we all know from his previous statements, is the Ganassi organization," Bowyer told reporters on Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, site of Saturday night's IRWIN Tools Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). "For my career and me and my future, it's just unfortunate that Rob and I -- our futures didn't align anymore.
"It's as simple as that. It was a mutually agreed upon thing, and it was something that was not ugly, and it was something that we did professionally, and we made our decisions, and that's why we're where we're at."
Though reports have mentioned Bowyer as a potential heir apparent to three-time champion Tony Stewart, Bowyer was noncommittal about his plans.
"The future for me is uncertain right now," Bowyer said. "What I'm going to have in the future and what that future holds for me will be another announcement, and I'll tell you as soon as possible. It's as simple as that.
"I'm confident in the sport, I love this sport, and the sport has been good to me and my family -- had a lot of great partners and a lot of great organizations that I've worked for. And I see no reason why somebody that works hard and wants it like I do in this sport can't have a job for as long as they want."
A business decison for Kauffman, too
For the first time since announcing he would buy an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing, Rob Kauffman laid out his reasons for making the move, one that has the unfortunate consequence of idling the Michael Waltrip Racing organization.
"It wasn't personal. It was business," Kauffman said he and co-owner Michael Waltrip remain close, despite the impending split.
"Mike and I are business partners and good personal friends. I think what's probably missing there is the financial side of the picture. Michael Waltrip Racing really wouldn't have existed through till today without substantial and continued financial support from me.
"I think that, just from a business standpoint, that didn't make sense any longer. You can't have a top-10 budget and top-10 resources and not be in the top 10 for a sustained period of time. It's a performance-related business. It's all about performance.
"I'm voting with my wallet as well as heart and continuing to invest in the sport via Chip Ganassi Racing."
Xfinity series exhibits increasing depth.
To assess the depth of talent among NASCAR Xfinity Series regulars, look no further than the Dash 4 Cash program that awards $100,000 to the top finisher among four qualified drivers in four designated races, including Friday night's Food City 300 at Bristol.
All told, nine different drivers have claimed the 12 Dash 4 Cash positions for the three races so far. Regan Smith has won the first two installments (at Dover and Indianapolis).
"We hear it all the time, wanting to know how healthy our sport is moving forward -- drivers, young drives coming in, talented drivers coming in," said Elliott Sadler, one of the four eligible Dash 4 Cash drivers at Bristol. "I think it shows that a lot of the (Sprint) Cup-affiliated teams across the board have got some good shoes in their cars, and I think that's why so many different guys have qualified for the Dash 4 Cash.
"We're lucky enough to be a part of it. A couple of years ago, it was the same three or four drivers in each Dash 4 Cash. This year, it seems like it's a little bit more of a widespread group, so that means everybody is more on an equal playing field than what they were four or five years ago. That's what it shows to me, that there's a little more depth in this series than what it was, which is good for the sport."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
NASCAR fans will witness a blast from the past this weekend as Jeff Gordon brings back his classic rainbow paint scheme for one last race.
The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion racing in his final full-time campaign will attempt to drive his colorful car to Victory Lane for the first time this season in the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
"I have a lot of great memories with this rainbow paint scheme," Gordon said. "What I love is this paint scheme is for the fans. The fans wanted us to run this scheme again during my final season, and this Axalta Chevy SS definitely stands out. You're not going to miss it."
Gordon would qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs if the season ended today, holding the second-to-last points spot in the standings. He is a comfortable 55 points in front of the cutoff line, but a win would clinch him an automatic berth so he wouldn't have to sweat out the points in the final two races before the Chase.
Bristol has hosted Gordon in Victory Lane five times, tying the 44-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver with Kyle and Kurt Busch for the most wins among active drivers at Bristol. He is also the active leader in top-five finishes (17), top-10s (25), laps led (2,730) and average starting position (7.7) at the track dubbed "The World's Fastest Half-Mile."
When his No. 24 Chevrolet sported the rainbow look from 1992 to 2000, Gordon captured three NSCS championships, won 52 races and took the checkered flag at 17 tracks.
Win or lose, Gordon is prepared to put on one final show for the Bristol fans.
"When you have high-banked, very fast short track in this stadium -- in this 'colosseum' -- surrounded by the most avid NASCAR fans, the energy in the stands and on the track is electrifying," he said. "It just makes for a great event."
REGAN SMITH GOES FOR SECOND STRAIGHT WIN
Regan Smith defined what it meant to pull a 180 at Mid-Ohio last Saturday.
One week after nearly coming to blows with Ty Dillon on pit road at Watkins Glen, Smith found himself smiling and pumping his fist triumphantly in Victory Lane.
"This is an incredible feeling, just an awesome feeling!" Smith exclaimed after winning for the first time in 52 starts.
On Friday, Smith will try to celebrate for the second consecutive week by winning the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
"Once you do it (win a race) once, you want to do that every week," Smith said. "That moment when you pull up to the pit wall and do a burnout with your guys standing there -- (guys) who put so much time and effort into everything that you get to go out there and showcase -- there's no moment like that, nothing that compares to that, no feeling or sensation."
Fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Smith trails JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher for the lead. Bristol is a prime place for Smith to gain ground on his young adversaries. He has made as many starts (11) at the .533-mile track as Elliott, Dillon and Buescher combined.
Also on the line for Smith is the $100,000 NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash bonus. To earn the extra money, Smith must finish ahead of Daniel Suárez, Ryan Blaney and Elliott Sadler. He grabbed the first two Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonuses at Dover and Indianapolis, so if Smith earns the bonus this weekend, he can win $1 million through the Dash 4 Cash program by winning the XFINITY race at Darlington on Labor Day weekend.
"We want to win this weekend, for sure, with the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash on the line, and there's no better place for it than Bristol," Smith said. "We're looking forward to it."
NASCAR RACE WEEKEND GUIDE
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: IRWIN Tools Night Race
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
On Air: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps)
What to Watch For: Matt Kenseth is going for his third victory in four races. ... Ryan Newman is making his 500th start, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is making his 100th. ... Joey Logano is trying to win at Bristol in August for the second straight season. ... Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, along with Jeff Gordon, lead active drivers with five wins each at Bristol. ... Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who have previously won at Bristol, need to win to one of the last three races of the season to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: Food City 300
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Friday, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (ET)
On Air: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 159.9 miles (300 laps)
What to Watch For: Ryan Blaney will attempt to defend his 2014 August Bristol XFINITY Series victory. He can earn Team Penske its third straight win at "The Last Great Colosseum." ... Six of the last eight Bristol winners have started from the top two positions. ... Standings leader Chris Buescher will attempt to extend his lead over Ty Dillon (24 points behind) and Chase Elliott (25). ... The highest finisher among Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suárez will win a $100,000 bonus as part of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash Program. ... Longtime veteran Hermie Sadler III will attempt to qualify for the Food City 300 this weekend, his first race since last season at Richmond.
Before Nature's Bakery was announced Wednesday as Patrick's major sponsor for 28 races next year, it was not a well recognized food brand. One surmises the lack of recognition has a lot to do with a lack of TV advertising. With annual revenues estimated at $100 million – well below the range of most Sprint Cup sponsors -- Nature's Bakery apparently has opted to do a lot of TV advertising in the coming season on the side of Patrick's car.
Does this kind of deal mean Patrick, who is completing her third full season in the Sprint Cup, has lost a bit of an edge when it comes to her sponsor appeal? She didn't make this year's Super Bowl – although that was because of protests from animal rights activists. But then longtime sponsor GoDaddy decided not to sign for another multi-year deal with Patrick, which eventually led to the announcement by Nature's Bakery -- whose hottest selling item is a fig bar.
There might be another angle to Patrick's latest deal, which would be declining TV ratings for NASCAR. With Fox Sports and NBC Sports committed to airing the Sprint Cup on their new cable channels in hopes of eventually building better household reach, it has to be more difficult to land Fortune 500 companies. But it might make a perfect match-up for a five-year-old start-up like Nature's Bakery willing to gamble its promotional budget on a female race car driver known to be health conscious.
There's probably another angle as well. The major payoff for a NASCAR sponsorship – a large dollop of ice cream and icing on the cake – is victory lane. A championship represents a bona fide bonanza. Few expect Patrick to win a race in the near future judging from nary a Top Five finish and six Top 10 finishes in 105 starts or to win a championship. Her Stewart Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch run at the front of the field regularly and have four victories between them this year. Each is a legitimate threat to win a Sprint Cup title in their respective Chevy entries. So it's unlikely the cars or the team are barriers to Patrick's success.
That's not to say Patrick doesn't belong in NASCAR or doesn't add value and interest to races. Fans pull for her and fans pull against her, which is more than can be said for the mid-pack drivers Kyle Busch is competing against to make sure he finishes in the Top 30 in points to be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Those who pull against Patrick think she's only in the field because she's an attractive female. Those who pull for her would like to see her do well – because she's a feminine woman competing in a man's world.
The one privilege Patrick enjoys not available to most drivers is the ability to insist on getting the handling on her car to her liking. She doesn't necessarily pout or dog it if the car is not working well, which even some star drivers have been known to do. She does complain loudly like many drivers when her car is a handful. But she is unlikely to push the envelope or take risks with an ill-handling machine. This usually wears on a team's attitude, especially with a driver who doesn't run at the front. But because she enjoys solid sponsorship, Patrick has been able to achieve a level of privilege within the Stewart Haas team. If the car isn't working, she'll just hang on until the next pit stop even if she loses positions along the way.
In general, Patrick drives in a manner designed to gain the respect of her peers and not be the girl who either crashes a lot or gets crashed. That's one reason why she gets angry when drivers like Denny Hamlin or Dale Earnhardt Jr. show a lack of respect on the track. And it's one reason why she's always been a top sponsorship prospect. But this approach also explains relatively lackluster results due to a lack of aggressiveness.
With three races remaining until the Chase, Patrick is in 21st place in the points, 108 behind 16th place Clint Bowyer, the driver on the bubble. In 23 races, she has finished on the lead lap 12 times. Her best finishes this year are seventh at the Martinsville Speedway and ninth at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
But it's not much of a gamble that Nature's Bakery, which uses the Haas Automation equipment manufactured by team owner Gene Haas, will get a lot of recognition through its association with Patrick, who remains one of the most unique female athletes in the world. Father-and-son company owners Dave and Sam Marson have said they expect to increase their annual revenue five-fold to $500 million per year in part due to the sponsorship deal with Patrick, which has been described as a multi-year agreement.
Imagine how much the sponsorship would be worth if Patrick ever closes the gap in the points and becomes consistent enough to flirt with making the Chase? Absent three new winners in the next three races, there are several name drivers who likely will get into this year's Chase strictly on points and consistency. Nobody's saying drivers like Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, or Bowyer are not accomplished.
Patrick in contention for the Chase would certainly sell some TV time, tickets and some fig bars. But will it happen? Oh well, wait until next year.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- A spin with four laps to go in Wednesday night's UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway proved to be the saving grace for Brad Keselowski Racing's Ryan Blaney, who grabbed the lead on a green-white-checkered restart to win his first race of the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season.
Blaney recovered from an early race penalty for jumping a restart to find himself closing on leader Matt Crafton with five laps remaining. When Ty Dillon spun on Lap 196, it triggered the final caution of the night and the opportunity for Blaney to steal Crafton's thunder. On the final restart, Crafton's truck sputtered, failing to come up to speed, allowing Blaney to take off and seal his fourth career NCWTS victory.
"It feels really good," Blaney said. "I'm proud of everyone on this No. 29 team. I've had a chance to drive this truck four times this year and we've come really, really close every single time and to finally get it to Victory Lane, my last start of the year for this truck, it really means a lot to get Chad (Kendrick, crew chief) and Brad (Keselowski, team owner) back to Victory Lane.
"To do that in that fashion coming from a lap down and being able to drive through the field like that says a lot about our race team and a lot about what as an organization we can do."
Keystone Light Pole Award winner Kyle Busch's slow start allowed outside pole-sitter Blaney to steal the lead early by the exit of Turn 1, controlling the field through the first caution on Lap 31 for a spin in Turn 2.
On the restart, Blaney roared away from the field, but a few laps later, NASCAR black-flagged him on Lap 37 for jumping the restart, forcing a pass-through penalty, giving the lead to Cole Custer.
Busch, who restarted fifth, methodically worked his way forward and attempted to take the lead away from the young NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner, but Custer kept Busch at bay through the race's second caution on Lap 79 for debris in Turn 1.
Busch and Johnny Sauter would trade the lead following the caution, before Custer returned to the top spot on lap 90.
A more than 1.5-second lead for Custer would be erased when Ray Black Jr. and Caleb Holman crashed in Turn 4 on lap 112.
With darkening skies overhead and the threat of rain approaching the World's Fastest Half-Mile, a majority of the teams elected to stay out. Despite his best efforts, Crafton tried to snatch the lead away from the JR Motorsports driver, but to no avail.
Custer slowly saw Crafton become a diminishing factor in his rear-view mirror until he hit heavy lap traffic with 50 laps remaining. That's when Spencer Gallagher spun in Turns 3 and 4, and Custer found himself trapped in the high-line and collided with Gallagher.
Heavy front-end damage sent the No. 00 Chevrolet to pit road for repairs, eliminating the NASCAR Next driver from competition. As the accident happened, Crafton slipped by on the inside and took the lead -- which he held until the green-white-checkered restart that lost him the race.
While under yellow for the fourth time of the night, heavy rain began to fall, causing a red flag for 45 minutes, 50 seconds while the track was dried.
Next up for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is the Aug. 30 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the third-annual Chevrolet Silverado 250. Blaney is the defending champion.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race -- UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP
Bristol Motor Speedway
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
1. (2) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 202, $46349.
2. (1) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 202, $31811.
3. (7) John H. Nemechek #, Chevrolet, 202, $25409.
4. (17) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 202, $19358.
5. (3) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 202, $17800.
6. (4) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 202, $16114.
7. (6) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 202, $16948.
8. (19) Tyler Reddick, Ford, 202, $15892.
9. (12) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 202, $15837.
10. (18) Dalton Sargeant, Toyota, 202, $14482.
11. (14) John Wes Townley, Chevrolet, 202, $15726.
12. (15) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 202, $15560.
13. (10) David Gilliland(i), Ford, 202, $13253.
14. (21) JJ Haley, Chevrolet, 202, $13198.
15. (11) Ben Kennedy, Toyota, 202, $15965.
16. (5) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 202, $15282.
17. (24) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 201, $15221.
18. (9) Cameron Hayley #, Toyota, 201, $15143.
19. (26) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 199, $15088.
20. (22) Justin Jennings, Chevrolet, 199, $15532.
21. (20) Ray Black Jr. #, Chevrolet, 198, $14977.
22. (13) Spencer Gallagher #, Chevrolet, 195, $14949.
23. (23) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 194, $12672.
24. (31) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, 190, $14894.
25. (29) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 189, $13739.
26. (32) Wendell Chavous #, Chevrolet, 188, $13533.
27. (30) Korbin Forrister #, Chevrolet, 176, $12505.
28. (28) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 176, $12258.
29. (25) Mason Mingus, Chevrolet, Brakes, 158, $12202.
30. (16) Daniel Suarez(i), Toyota, Overheating, 154, $11202.
31. (8) Caleb Holman, Chevrolet, Accident, 112, $10702.
32. (27) Tyler Tanner, Chevrolet, Brakes, 12, $9202.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 80.481 mph.
Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 20 Mins, 16 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.512 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 41 laps.
Lead Changes: 9 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Busch(i) 0; R. Blaney(i) 1-37; C. Custer 38-78; K. Busch(i) 79-82; J. Sauter 83-89; C. Custer 90-159; M. Crafton 160-174; B. Jones # 175; M. Crafton 176-199; R. Blaney(i) 200-202.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): C. Custer 2 times for 111 laps; R. Blaney(i) 2 times for 40 laps; M. Crafton 2 times for 39 laps; J. Sauter 1 time for 7 laps; K. Busch(i) 1 time for 4 laps; B. Jones # 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: T. Reddick -- 550; M. Crafton -- 544; E. Jones # -- 543; J. Sauter -- 497; D. Hemric # -- 460; C. Hayley # -- 451; T. Peters -- 448; J. Townley -- 447; S. Gallagher # -- 416; B. Kennedy -- 410.
MWR will not field a full-time entry in 2016. The team, which has fielded full-time cars at NASCAR's premier level since 2007, currently owns cars driven by Bowyer (No. 15) and David Ragan (No. 55). Both will continue to run fulltime for the remainder of this season.
"This decision was made after weighing several different options and scenarios," said Rob Kauffman, co-owner of MWR, in a team release. "I felt it was important to make an announcement as soon as we had clarity, so that is what we are doing today. … Clint Bowyer has done a lot for MWR since joining us in 2012 and we appreciate the energy and effort he has given the organization. After many discussions, Clint and I agreed we would go our separate ways at the end of the season and I wish him well in whatever direction he pursues."
Wednesday's announcement did not signal the end of Kauffman's involvement in NASCAR, however. On July 30, MWR released a statement announcing that Kauffman had agreed to buy an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, saying the group was "currently evaluating ways to field the most competitive race teams possible to provide an excellent platform for their partners and employees for the 2016 season and beyond." Ganassi currently fields the No. 1 and No. 42 cars driven by Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, respectively.
After six seasons with Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer enjoyed a career rebirth after joining Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012, winning three races and finishing second in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings in his first season with the team.
Bowyer, an eight-time premier series winner, has earned berths in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in two of the last three seasons. Currently 16th on the Chase Grid, he is on pace to earn another playoff spot this season.
"I want to thank Michael, Rob and everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing that made these past four years special," Bowyer, 36, said. "After extensive discussions with Rob and MWR, we came to the point that we mutually agreed our paths in the future just didn't align but I think we all agreed on the next steps in a very professional manner. I am looking forward to what future opportunities may come but for now we have a championship to pursue in 2015 and we owe it to every one of our sponsors, partners, employees and fans to deliver on and off the track."
MWR's foray into fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup racing began in 2007 with cars driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann. Reutimann landed the team its first of seven Sprint Cup victories in the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 in 2009. Throughout its eight-plus fulltime seasons, MWR won races with Bowyer (three), Reutimann (two), Martin Truex Jr. (one) and Brian Vickers (one).
"Rob joined MWR in 2007 and has helped give us the resources to build a competitive race team, and in 2012, Clint Bowyer took us to the doorstep of a championship," said Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner. "From where MWR started behind my house in Sherrill's Ford to winning Sprint Cup races, poles and earning Chase berths, I am proud of what we accomplished. My family has been a part of NASCAR for almost five decades and I plan on being a part of it for years to come. I would not have had the opportunity to start this journey without so many great partners, sponsors and employees and I want to thank each of them for making Michael Waltrip Racing a reality."
TV: Saturday, Aug. 22, 7:30 pm ET – NBCSN (Radio: Performance Racing Network /SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Joey Logano is the defending winner of this race, having triumphed last August at Bristol. Earlier this year, Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag and hopes to earn a season sweep Saturday night. … This will be the 110th Sprint Cup race ever held at Bristol. … This past Sunday at Michigan, Kenseth dominated en route to his second Sprint Cup win in the last three races. Ironically, Kenseth has not moved from seventh place in the standings in the last five races. … There are only three races remaining for drivers who have yet to win a race in 2015 to do so and qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. … Kevin Harvick continues to lead the point standings, holding a 48-point edge over Joey Logano, an 82-point edge over third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 111-point margin over fourth-ranked Martin Truex Jr., and a 112-point spread over fifth-ranked Brad Keselowski.
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway (300 laps, 159.9 miles); Bristol, Tenn.
TV: Friday, Aug. 21, 7:30 pm ET – NBCSN (Radio: Performance Racing Network /SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Ryan Blaney won this race last year at Bristol, while Joey Logano won this year's spring race there. This will be the 67th Xfinity race held at the half-mile bullring. … Regan Smith engaged in a great race this past weekend with road course specialist Alex Tagliani at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Although Tagliani led the most laps (38), it was Smith who took the late lead and held on for the win. … Chris Buescher remains atop the Xfinity points standings and maintains a 24-point edge over second-ranked Ty Dillon. Defending Xfinity champion Chase Elliott fell to third place, 25 points behind Buescher. Regan Smith is ranked fourth in the standings (-51), while Elliott Sadler is in fifth (-60). … Friday's race is the eighth of a stretch of 16 consecutive weeks of racing for Xfinity Series drivers before the final off-weekend of the season in October.
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway (200 laps, 106.6 miles); Bristol, Tenn.
TV: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 8:30 pm ET – Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Performance Racing Network /SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Former Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski won this race a year ago. … Kyle Busch has won four of the last seven Truck races at Bristol. … It was a short turnaround for the Truck Series, which raced last Saturday at Michigan and was back at it four days later at Bristol. Kyle Busch won the Truck race last Saturday, his first career Truck win at Michigan. … This is the 18th time the Trucks have raced on Bristol's high banks. … Tyler Reddick retained his lead in the standings after Michigan, holding an eight-point advantage over two-time defending champ Matt Crafton – who is seeking a record third-consecutive Truck championship. Erik Jones is third (-9), while Johnny Sauter is fourth (-53) and Cameron Hayley is fifth (-89).
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (200 laps, 500 miles); Long Pond, Pa.
TV: Sunday, Aug. 23, 2 pm ET – NBCSN.
THEN AND NOW: After a two-week layoff, the IndyCar Series resumes Sunday at Pocono, the second-to-last race of the season. The season-ending GoPro Grand Prix will be next Sunday, Aug. 30, at Sonoma Raceway. … This is the third Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono. Juan Pablo Montoya won last year's race, while Scott Dixon won in 2013. … Graham Rahal won the most recent IndyCar race nearly three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio race course in Lexington, Ohio. Rahal grew up in nearby New Albany, Ohio, so this was definitely a win on his “home” track, one he also calls his favorite track, not surprisingly. The younger Rahal followed in the footsteps of his father, team co-owner Bobby Rahal, who was a two-time winner at Mid-Ohio during his own racing days. … Rahal's win considerably tightened the IndyCar point standings. Juan Pablo Montoya, who has led the series since winning the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Fla., now leads Rahal by a mere nine points with two races remaining. Rahal has never won the IndyCar championship, while Montoya won the CART championship back in 1999. Scott Dixon remains in third place in the standings (-34), followed by Helio Castroneves (-58) and Will Power (-59).
NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway; Brainerd, Minn.
TV: Final round of qualifying, Saturday, Aug. 22, 11 pm to 1 am ET – ESPN2. Final eliminations, Sunday, Aug. 23, 9 pm to 12 am ET – ESPN2.
THEN AND NOW: After enjoying last week off, the NHRA national event tour resumes this weekend at Brainerd. Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were winners of this event in last year's race there. … J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were the winners in the most recent race of this season, nearly two weeks ago in the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash. (near Seattle). … This weekend begins the final third of the 24-race NHRA national event tour. … Tony Schumacher maintains his lead in the Top Fuel standings, with an 87-point edge over teammate Antron Brown and a 255-point margin over Larry Dixon. In addition, Schumacher and Brown are the only two drivers in Top Fuel thus far qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff. … In Funny Car, Jack Beckman continues to close in on points leader Matt Hagan. Beckman cut Hagan's lead from 57 to just 5 points after Seattle. Tommy Johnson Jr. is third (-114), followed by John Force (-152) and Del Worsham (-173). Hagan and Beckman are also the first two Funny Car drivers that have qualified for the playoffs. … In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson holds a 51-point lead over No. 2-ranked Erica Enders. Chris McGaha moved into third place (-147), Jason Line dropped to fourth (-220) and Allen Johnson is fifth (-371). Anderson, Enders, McGaha and Line are all qualified for the playoffs. … In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec leads Hector Arana Jr. by 106 points. Defending series champ Andrew Hines is third (-156), while Karen Stoffer is fourth (-234) and James Underdahl is fifth (-243). No PSM riders have qualified for the playoffs thus far.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Fireball Roberts are just a sampling of the NASCAR Hall of Famers who have won at historic Bristol Motor Speedway -- known as "The Last Great Coliseum."
Three members of the NASCAR Next initiative with ambitions of racing stardom will attempt to add their names to the list of Bristol winners in Wednesday's UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the half-mile track (8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1) - Dalton Sargeant, Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek.
Sargeant, a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East full-time standout, makes his NCWTS debut competing for Wauters Motorsports. In 11 NKNPSE starts this season, the 17-year-old Boca Rotan, Florida native has five top-five and seven top-10 finishes.
"To say I'm excited to make the next step in my racing career is a big understatement," Sargeant said. "My primary goal is to gain experience, run as many laps as possible, get comfortable and try to compete with some of the best up and coming and veteran talent in NASCAR."
Custer, the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history, makes his first start since two races ago at Eldora. The 17-year-old JR Motorsports driver won at Gateway in June and is making his sixth start of the season on Wednesday. He placed eighth at Bristol last year.
"Bristol is a place where we qualified second last year and were fast all race long," Custer said. "If we can maintain speed throughout our race runs, I think we'll be very good this time around."
On the cusp of his first career NCWTS win, Nemechek claims one top five and two top 10s in eight starts this season. He finished sixth at Bristol in 2014.
"Coming here (to Bristol) it suits my driving style," Nemechek said. "It's fast, it's fun, it's a driver's track. You have to get your truck to handle. If you're a little bit afraid to get your foot down on the pedal to the metal, then you aren't going to be very fast."
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race Guide
Race: UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 106.6 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: NASCAR Next member Dalton Sargeant and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Standout J.J. Haley will make their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debuts. ... Ryan Blaney competes for Brad Keselowski Racing as he competes in his first of all three NASCAR national series races this weekend. ... The points lead can change at any moment as Matt Crafton (-8) and Erik Jones (-9) have closed in on first-place Tyler Reddick. ... Daniel Suarez returns to the NCWTS for the first time since July 9 at Kentucky Speedway. Suarez has yet to finish outside the top 10 in the series for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Patrick, who was sponsored this season by GoDaddy.com, will remain with the Stewart-Haas Racing team.
"Our brands align so perfectly, it's kind of amazing," Patrick said during the press conference unveiling her new sponsor at the team's North Carolina headquarters on Tuesday.
Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet will be sponsored by the Nevada-based food brand for 28 of 38 Sprint Cup events on the 2016 schedule.
"Danica Patrick is one of the most fit and health-conscious drivers in all of racing and she embodies the Nature's Bakery customer," said Dave Marson, founder of Nature's Bakery said in a release. "We make great products that complement Danica's lifestyle and the always on-the-go environment in which she competes. Nature’s Bakery provides 'Energy for Life’s Great Journeys' and we’re very proud to embark upon this NASCAR journey with Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing."
The idea behind taller spoilers and extended front splitters was to generate more passing at the front of the field. Instead, drivers couldn't catch the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kenseth even after the restarts. And those with fast cars fighting traffic such as Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who finished second and third, found the going extremely tough.
After the race, drivers did their best to avoid the question about the high downforce package, saying little that was positive. "I've got to be honest," said Kenseth, in full avoidance mode. "I didn't see much of the race, which was totally fine with me. We were up front the whole time, and that's what you want, right?"
It wasn't exactly what NASCAR had in mind. Harvick, who ran out of fuel while trying to stretch his mileage and was in 12th place with 80 laps to go, proved that it was possible to advance through the pack and make some passes with the high downforce package. But evidently he wasn't thrilled with the effort it took. Asked to compare the June race at Michigan with Sunday's event when it came to the aero rules, Harvick declined to comment directly, saying only, "I'm really proud of my team and the things that they did to prepare for the race, and we had a good strong day."
Mercifully, perhaps, NASCAR announced two days before the race that its summertime experiment with low and high downforce packages will end at the Darlington Raceway in September – two races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. Steve O'Donnell, the executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, confirmed in a media briefing on Friday at the Michigan track that the 10 Chase races would be conducted under the original 2015 rules. "The tracks, the race teams, the (manufacturers), all believe that that was in the best interest of the sport," said O'Donnell of the sanctioning body's decision.
The lone exception will be the Talladega Superspeedway, where the sanctioning body plans to have adjustments in place to try to avoid the sort of crash that sent Austin Dillon's Chevy into the catch fence at the Daytona International Speedway in July.
Meanwhile, Kenseth's dominance at Michigan seemed a fitting tribute to Buddy Baker, one of NASCAR's original heroes of the superspeedways who will be laid to rest on Tuesday in Charlotte after his death last week from cancer. Other than his height of 6-foot-4 and broad shoulders, Baker is best remembered for a dominating performance in the 1980 Daytona 500 when he led 143 laps in Harry Ranier's Oldsmobile.
The first driver to record a lap over 200 mph in a stock car, it was go or blow for big Buddy. He led 121 laps while driving to victory for Ranier at Michigan in 1979. And, oh yes, Buddy is also known for having hit the pace car and crashing while leading a race at the Texas World Speedway.
Has NASCAR's summertime foray into changing aero rules for different track configurations been a blunder? Evidently, NASCAR officials don't think so.
The original plan was to make changes at Kentucky Speedway in July, then Michigan and Darlington. The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was added to the list due to similar speeds as Michigan. O'Donnell said the information learned from the different tracks – including the results from Darlington -- will be digested and evaluated with further computer simulation testing.
O'Donnell indicated after meeting with tire supplier Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., it's likely that next season will see different sets of aero rules at different track configurations. "I think we'll have enough data directionally to show us which way we'll want to go and really go to work with Goodyear and all of our partners on sim work to dial that in and make a call quickly for '16 so everybody can go to work on it," said O'Donnell.
The key question: after using "low low downforce" at Kentucky compared to the original 2015 rules, and then using the ultra-high downforce package at Indy and Michigan, will NASCAR continue on that same path? Will the intermediate speedways run lower downforce and will the faster non-restrictor plate tracks such as the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Indy and Michigan still run a high downforce package?
Time will tell. If the goal is more overtaking and drivers controlling their own destiny, it's possible some sort of different low downforce packages will be used according to track configuration and the high downforce experiment could end.
It was clear that the drivers other than Kenseth didn't like the current high downforce package at Michigan and that it neither generated more passing at the front of the field nor enough elsewhere to justify the additional heat in the cockpits and the drive trains, plus the extraordinary effort required to pass. The thinking had been that a larger whole punched into the air by a leading car would make it easier for a following car to overtake. Instead, drivers made the usual complaints about getting to a car's rear bumper before aerodynamics made it laborious to get past.
"It wasn't fun," said Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski. "It wasn't the worst I have ever seen, but this package increasingly rewards the car over the driver and I am not a fan of that."
The high downforce rewarded the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas once again. Kyle Busch won without challenge in the closing laps at Indy, part of the team's streak of five victories in the last six races. The only challenge to Kenseth at Michigan came from Chevy driver Austin Dillon on a midrace restart. "He was really aggressive," said Kenseth, who has three victories this season and 34 in his career. "We touched a little bit even off of (Turn 4) and I was a little frustrated."
Dillon didn't do anything wrong, said Kenseth, " I was like, 'Man, I've got to get away.' We've got such a good car."
No matter who might have challenged him, once Kenseth got in a couple of laps on restarts, he was gone.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The driver who used to be disgusted with a second-place finish was reasonably happy with his 11th-place run on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
Needing to tighten his hold on a position in the top 30 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Kyle Busch did exactly that in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at the two-mile track in the Irish Hills—and he accomplished the feat after starting from the rear of the field in a backup car.
Busch moved up one position to 29th in points, but he bought himself some breathing room -- 18 points over 30th-place Justin Allgaier and 23 over 31st-place Cole Whitt.
If Busch can maintain a top-30 position after the next three races, he'll be in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, despite missing the first 11 events of the season because of injuries sustained in a Feb. 21 wreck at Daytona.
Team Matt Kenseth won Sunday's race from the pole, but given Busch's previous four finishes at MIS (31st, 41st, 39th and 43rd), Sunday's 11th-place run was the next best thing to a victory.
"It was a success," Busch acknowledged after the race, but he still had mixed feelings. "(But) it wasn't what we wanted. We had a really, really fast car (on Saturday), but I screwed up and wrecked that car (in practice). It was a winning car, maybe not the winning car, but congratulations to our teammate Matt Kenseth and the 20 bunch.
"Our Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry was good today, a lot better car than I expected to have. Real proud of all my guys and can't thank them enough for all the long hours they put in last night and this morning to get me prepared and ready with a good piece to go out there and do our best.
"If all things would have worked out a little better we might have finished fourth or fifth, but where we ended up there just outside the top 10 doesn't matter. We just have to continue on with our points gathering and go on to next week."
CAREER-BEST RUN FOR AUSTIN DILLON
With the help of astute pit strategy that got him to the front of the field, Austin Dillon got a taste of what it's like to be a frontrunner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet enjoyed the experience -- and he learned from it.
Dillon started from the rear of the field after a broken valve spring in practice forced an engine change. But crew chief Slugger Labbe kept Dillon on the track during a competition caution called on Lap 21, and Dillon proceeded to lead Laps 23-40.
All told, he led 19 laps, six more than he had led in 22 previous races this year, and finished a career-best fourth.
"I had fun racing Matt up front," Dillon said. "I just couldn't lead very well when we got out front. It was a little bit of a learning experience, I think, for me. You know Matt's been up there a lot in his career.
"For me, it was my first time. So, I will learn from it and get better next time."
NASCAR TAKES SPLITTERS FROM TEAM PENSKE CARS
Before Sunday's race, NASCAR required the Team Penske teams of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski to change the front splitters on their two Fords, because those parts were dangerously close to the tolerances allowed in prerace inspection.
With the thickness of the splitters at issue, NASCAR asked the teams to err on the side of caution and replace them. NASCAR took the splitters removed from the No. 2 (Keselowski) and No. 22 (Logano) cars to its research-and-development center in Concord, N.C., for further evaluation.
NASCAR will determine at its competition meeting early in the week whether further action is warranted.