Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Is Johnson ready to make charge in Chase?
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, August 27, 2016

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jimmie Johnson was looking for a glimmer of hope, and he found it in Friday afternoon's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Michigan International Speedway.

      No, Johnson didn't win the pole for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). That distinction went to Joey Logano. But Johnson ran second in the knockout session, and what's more important, the six-time champion and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates outshined the entries from Joe Gibbs Racing, the dominant organization in the series this year.

      "I do believe we're showing signs (of improvement)," Johnson said. "And I'm living it, so I guess I'm looking for those little signs and rays of light and maybe others don't see it. And I really try hard not to BS you guys when you ask the questions.

      "But I could say in the last couple of months, we have seen some bright spots. We just need a little more consistency with it; and then most importantly, stop making mistakes. I'm part of that as well."

      Johnson won twice in the first five events of the season, at Atlanta and Fontana, but since then he has posted only four top-five finishes. Then again, racing in the summer hasn't been one of Johnson's strong suits.

      "I've been able to win championships having a slow summer, which most of my summers have been slow," Johnson said. "And then there's a few where we were quick through them.

      "When you think of the tracks that we race on during the summer months, although they are very challenging and aerodynamics do come into play, they're not your traditional 1.5-miles and they're really not a lot like the tracks we race on during the Chase. And, they're not my best tracks. My best tracks really are during those final 10 events."

      Though one qualifying session doesn't establish a trend, it was enough to give Johnson's confidence a significant boost.

      "Past history shows when you get hot, you can stay hot," he said. "We hope we're heating up and on the verge of getting hot."


      For the first time since NASCAR began testing a prospective lower-downforce competition package for 2017, the Sprint Cup Series is returning to a speedway for the second time with the new configuration.

      Predictability, crew chiefs have learned quite a bit since the package debuted at Michigan International Speedway in June.

      "I think everyone is running a little faster -- about a half a second faster than what they did with this package last time, which tells me teams are getting smarter," said Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, who qualified third for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.

      "It doesn't take long. Once you take downforce away, these teams start to adjust, get their balance better and you see faster speeds. These are pretty quick speeds for this spoiler that's on it. I think we'll see how it all pans out in the race -- I know it was tough to really pass in the race (in June). Hopefully, that's a little better this time as well."

      That Hamlin claimed the third starting spot for Sunday's race is no surprise. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has started from the top 12 for every race this season, with an average qualifying position of 6.2.

      But Hamlin had a problem during Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon. Early in the practice session, his car broke traction in Turn 4 and spun into the infield grass on the frontstretch.

      "That came out of nowhere," said Hamlin, who had posted the fastest speed in the session to that point (197.878 mph).


      On a cool track, Tony Stewart topped the speed chart in Saturday morning's first NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session at 202.122 mph -- faster than Joey Logano's pole speed of 201.698 from Friday afternoon. Rookie Ryan Blaney was second fastest on Saturday morning at 201.427 mph. ... A different rookie was second quickest behind Hamlin in final Sprint Cup practice. Chase Elliott, who leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 48 points over Blaney, ran 197.786 mph before nearby lightning brought a premature halt to the session.

  • Weekend preview: Youth movement crystal clear at Michigan
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 26, 2016

    Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      The winner, a fresh-faced kid from Connecticut who nonetheless seemingly has been in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series forever. The runner-up, a 20-year-old with a NASCAR Hall of Fame pedigree. Third place, a prodigy with the California cool persona that should one day win him titles.

      Joey Logano (26), Chase Elliott (20) and Kyle Larson (24) finished 1-2-3 in this season's first Michigan race, forming the youngest top three in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

      In Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the same aero package will be in play as the June race. That could bode well for the crop of talented youngsters, which also includes 26-year-old Austin Dillon who finished eighth in June and 22-year-old Ryan Blaney who finished 17th.

      Though there are few guarantees in NASCAR, a strong run by the driver of the No. 22 Ford feels like the closest to a sure thing at Michigan.

      Logano owns seven straight top-10 finishes at MIS, including two wins. During that streak, Logano has led the most laps in three races.

      For his career, Logano claims two wins, four top fives, 10 top 10s and an average finish of 12.8 in the Great Lakes State.

      Look for first-time winner in final road course race of XFINITY Series season

      On Monday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Brennan Poole helped unveil a new ticket program that offered free tickets for any kids under the age of 12.

      It was an exciting start to the week for Poole, who explained the new program to a throng of children who assembled for the "kids-only" press conference.

      Now, he looks for an exciting end to the week, this time in Road America's victory lane with a trophy -- and Chase berth -- in hand.

      And statistically speaking, it just might happen following Saturday's Road America 180 Fired Up By Johnsonville (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

      Poole looks to become the latest first-time winner at Road America. Over the last six and half seasons (2010-2016) the NASCAR Xfinity Series has seen 20 first-time series winners, and over that time, six (30 percent) have come from two tracks: Road America and Texas Motor Speedway.

      Road America's series first-time winners are Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012), AJ Allmendinger (2013) and Brendan Gaughan (2014). This season, the NASCAR XFINITY Series has seen two new first-time winners -- Daniel Suarez at Michigan and Justin Marks at Mid-Ohio.

      Brennan Poole joins Brandon Jones, Darrell Wallace Jr., Blake Koch and Ryan Sieg as drivers inside the top-12 in points who are still looking for their first NASCAR Xfinity Series career win.

      With Chase spots dwindling, Hemric may need a win

      Daniel Hemric has enjoyed a strong sophomore season, scoring top 10s in all but three races this season. The success has launched him to second in the points standings.

      But if he doesn't win a race -- which he has yet to do -- all that success might mean nothing.

      With three races remaining prior to the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase, chances to lock up a spot are dwindling.

      There have been six winners, who would each take one of the eight Chase spots. If there are two new winners, that would leave Hemric on the outside looking in, regardless of a potential second-place points finish.

      So, Saturday's Career for Veterans 200 (1 p.m. ET on FS1) holds even more importance to Hemric, who drives for Michigan native Brad Keselowski.

      "Michigan is a very important race for our entire company," Hemric said. "Going off of how I ran at Michigan last year and knowing how the truck needs to feel will play big into how we approach practice. The most important thing is making sure the truck is exactly where it needs to be in the race. You have to get your truck to where it's not only fast, but it also drives good; that's the key at Michigan. The guy who can stay in the gas the longest is probably going to be the best."

      Hemric will go for his first career win at Michigan where he finished seventh last year in his first-ever start there.

      Race Weekend Guide

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

      Race: Pure Michigan 400

      Place: Michigan International Speedway

      Date and Time: Sunday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 400 miles (200 laps)

      What to Watch For: Three races remain until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, leaving winless drivers just three more chances to secure an automatic berth to the playoffs with a victory. ... Michigan native Brad Keselowski looks for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at his home track. ... Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is still recovering from concussion-like symptoms.

      NASCAR Xfinity Series

      Race: Road America 180 Fired Up By Johnsonville

      Place: Road America

      Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 3 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 182.16 miles (45 laps)

      What to Watch: Only four races are left before the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase. ... Road America marks the third and final road course of the season. Joey Logano won the first at Watkins Glen; Justin Marks won the second at Mid-Ohio. ... Richard Childress Racing has won the last two races at Road America, with Brendan Gaughan and Paul Menard.

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Race: Careers for Veterans 200

      Place: Michigan International Speedway

      Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 1 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 200 miles (100 laps)

      What to Watch: Ben Kennedy is coming off his first victory, one that locked him into the Chase. ... Series wins leader William Byron looks for his sixth win, a week after announcing that he has signed with Hendrick Motorsports to run in the NASCAR Xfinity Series fulltime in 2017. ... Last year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Brett Moffitt, is coming off finishes of third (Pocono) and second (Bristol).

  • Earnhardt still in limbo due to concussion
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 25, 2016

    The Most Popular Driver in NASCAR continues to be sidelined by the symptoms of a concussion that began after a crash at the Michigan International Speedway in June. With the Sprint Cup returning to the Michigan track this weekend, questions continue to loom about his future in the sport.

    • Here are one writer's top 10 questions and answers about the current limbo of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      1. Will Earnhardt return sometime this season?

      The present timetable has Earnhardt missing the next two races, leaving 11 races in the season starting with the Richmond, Va. round. There's reason to believe, according to the head injury specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, that his therapy will resolve the gaze stabilization issue that prevents him from moving his head and maintaining focus. Currently, he becomes nauseous and has balance problems when he tries to stay focused while moving his head.

      2. Once back in the car, can Earnhardt start winning again?

      There are two recent examples of drivers sitting out for extended periods and then returning to victory lane in relatively short order. Kyle Busch missed 11 races in the 2015 season and then won in his fifth race at the Sonoma Raceway after coming back from severe leg and foot injuries. Tony Stewart, who missed eight races to start the 2016 season with a burst fracture in his back, won in his eighth race after returning -- also at Sonoma.

      3. Can Earnhardt still make the Chase?

      Technically, he can still make the Chase if he returns at Richmond and wins the race. He has enough cushion in points that he will remain in the Top 30 despite missing seven races prior to the Richmond round.

      4. Should the bi-weekly status check of Earnhardt just be dropped in favor of taking the rest of the year off?

      The prospect of getting back into his race car motivates Earnhardt, according to his comments during a media conference at Watkins Glen International earlier this month and in his Dirty Mo Radio podcasts.

      There's another factor, as well. Rick Hendrick remains in the Chase in the owner's standings, which pays much better if the team continues to advance in the Chase. The team would likely perform well with its regular driver back in the seat.

      Alex Bowman will sub in the No. 88 car at Michigan. Bowman was working on a Top 10 finish at New Hampshire in his only other appearance in the car, but contact with another car late in the race and a cut tire dropped him to 26th.

      5. Will Jeff Gordon win a race as a super substitute?

      Gordon will miss the Michigan race due to a prior commitment and return at the Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend. Gordon has said he will do everything he can to help Hendrick Motorsports, which likely means he will be available for most of the remaining schedule and until his duties resume next year as a commentator for the NBC Sports Network.

      The more seat time Gordon gets, the more likely he is to adapt to this year's low downforce cars and to adapt working with crew chief Greg Ives. One remaining restrictor plate race remains at Talladega Superspeedway, where Gordon would definitely be a factor if he drove the No. 88 Chevy.

      6. Once back in the saddle, can the 41-year-old Earnhardt contend for a championship?

      If he returns to a regular racing schedule, Earnhardt would face the same challenges he's always faced during his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports. In addition to tending to make errors toward the end of longer races, Earnhardt has yet to put together a big season when it comes to victories for the Hendrick team. Given the amount of talent at the sharp end of the Sprint Cup, Earnhardt would have to step up his game or make it to the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on points and then win the race.

      7. Is Earnhardt likely to retire if he suffers another concussion?

      The case of IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti comes to mind. Franchitti, who first suffered brain contusions (i.e. a concussion) in 2000 in a crash at the Homestead-Miami Speedway during preseason testing, sustained another bad concussion in the Houston street race in 2013. The four-time IRL champion and three-time Indy 500 winner followed doctors' advice and elected to retire.

      Earnhardt suffered a concussion at the Kansas Speedway in a testing accident in 2012 and then a second one in a race at Talladega, which forced him to sit out two races during that year's Chase. He developed concussion symptoms three weeks after his crash at Michigan in June. Going forward, any severe concussion would certainly give pause to Earnhardt and to his doctors.

      8. Is this still a big story?

      The health and availability of NASCAR's perennial Most Popular Driver continues to loom weekly over the Sprint Cup Series. But outside motor racing, Earnhardt struggles have become just a regular update.

      In some ways, that's a tribute to how the Hendrick team and the driver himself have handled the situation by regularly releasing information and Earnhardt's own public comments about his progress and outlook.

      If and when he returns to driving the Hendrick Chevy entries, Earnhardt's story will once again become a major focus for the media.

      9. Why doesn't Earnhardt, who is highly likely to continue to garner endorsement offers and offers to become a broadcaster, consider retirement?

      Like most race car drivers, Earnhardt continues to love what he's doing. Once a driver changes his roles, it's a tough adjustment even if they continue in the sport as a car owner, which will likely be the case for Earnhardt, currently the owner of JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, where Bowman is his driver. At age 41, Earnhardt can expect to have several competitive seasons remaining if and when he returns.

      10. Has Earnhardt's absence hurt NASCAR in terms of attendance or TV ratings?

      The return of four-time champion Gordon from retirement for four races has understandably piqued interest and possibly boosted attendance and ratings. Long-term, the sport would suffer with a premature retirement by its long-reigning Most Popular Driver, especially given the departure of Gordon last year and Stewart at the end of this season.

  • From battlefield to race track, Day has seen it all
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 24, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchangeut

      Ask Alon Day if he was involved in other sports besides racing as a child, and he'll give you a one-word answer: "War."

      Day, 24, grew up in Israel, where war is an everyday reality.

      "You get used to it," Day told the NASCAR Wire Service. "As a sportsman, I try not to involve political things and sports. I think sports should be completely clear of political things.

      "But I grew up in that country, so I don't know anything else. For me, that's normal. I'm here since 1991. The country exists since 1948. That's how I grew up. That's how my parents grew up. That's how everyone in Israel grew up, in that kind of situation. That's normal for us."

      Now Day is fighting a different sort of war, one without life-and-death consequences. He hopes to find sufficient sponsorship to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series full-time near year, after running a handful of races in 2016.

      The first Israeli driver to compete in a NASCAR national series race, Day distinguished himself in his XFINITY Series debut in rainy conditions on Aug. 13 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. From the 22nd starting spot, Day drove up to third before finishing 13th in a Dodge fielded by Carl Long.

      Day gets another chance on Saturday at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), where he'll drive an XFINITY car on a road course for the second time. His road-racing background should stand him in good stead there.

      But stock cars are relatively new to the Israeli driver, who was weaned on go-karts and aspired to Formula One before the realities of budgets and sponsorship sent him in a different direction. After running Indy Lights in 2012, he drove a Mercedes in the FIA GT Series before discovering the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2015.

      "After two years (in GT racing), I was at the lowest point of my career," Day said. "I really felt like I was going to stop racing. Then suddenly someone came and said, 'Hey, look at this Euro Series, the NASCAR Euro Series.'

      "I went for a test, and it was fantastic. The car was perfect. Since then, my whole world completely changed. For months, I didn't watch Formula One. My goal was to be in Formula One -- now my goal is to be in (Sprint) Cup."

      A member of the NASCAR Next program, Day hopes to compete in his first XFINITY Series oval race before the end of the season, and he hopes his appearance at Road America this weekend will lead to additional opportunities.

      Once again, he'll be driving Long's 2015 Dodge. And Day wouldn't mind a little help from the heavens.

      "I hope it also rains at Road America," he said with a laugh.

  • Hendrick Motorsports down but not out in Chase
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 22, 2016

    Rick Hendrick is one of the most impressive and accomplished team owners in all of American sports. But the 2016 season has not been his team's year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

    • Hendrick Motorsports, which has won 11 championships, hasn't won a race since the Fontana, Calif., event in March. The drivers of the Chevy entries of Hendrick have spent most of the summer looking through the windshield at other teams leading laps and winning races during an 18-race losing streak.

      Headed into the postseason Chase, it's the teams of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Stewart Haas Racing and their drivers who are the favorites. Hendrick's six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, a perennial pick to win a title by the pundits, has led all of five laps this summer and is now seen as an also-ran.

      Hendrick, who refers to himself a "servant leader," has been able to walk the fine line between being supportive and demanding performance from his employees, whether in his car dealership empire or his racing team. But it's clear where Hendrick's greatest passion lies.

      "People think I'm in racing because I'm a car dealer," he said early in his tenure as a NASCAR team owner, which began in 1984. "I'm in the car business so I can go racing."

      Hendrick has weathered much more severe storms than this one. The American Honda scandal resulted in a single conviction for Hendrick, who was later pardoned by President Clinton. During his trial, he was taking interferon to beat a battle with leukemia. But those weren't the toughest battles. In 2004 he lost his brother, son, two nieces and longtime engine builder Randy Dorton, among the 10 who died in the crash of a Hendrick-owned plane while it was en route to a race in Martinsville, Va.

      Hendrick has maintained his equilibrium due to a strong marriage, his Christian beliefs, his love of the car business and, above all, his passion for racing.

      On Saturday afternoon, the team owner met with the media at the Bristol Motor Speedway to discuss the latest development for Hendrick Motorsports -- the signing of Camping World Truck Series driver William Byron to a contract and a seat next year in the Xfinity Series at JR Motorsports. But the problems facing his team and the ongoing absence of Dale Earnhardt Jr. due to concussion-related injuries inevitably came up.

      Hendrick sees Byron as the next Chase Elliott for his organization but said he wasn't being added to the roster as a future replacement for Earnhardt.

      "William has to do with our future, down the road," said Hendrick, who was in good form while recalling that he first met a 6-year-old Byron when he was trick-or-treating at the door of his house.

      Earnhardt, said Hendrick, is "doing great, and he wants to get back in the car. Beyond that, I don't know anything I can tell you about him."

      An announcement whether Earnhardt will drive at the Michigan International Raceway on Sunday will be made in the next two days.

      As for his team, Hendrick offered no excuses in his usual low-key but confidant and direct manner.

      "We're proud of our company, we're going to be better and we like the challenge," he said.

      The temporary sidelining of Earnhardt was a major setback for the Hendrick Motorsports season. He had finished second four times and was likely to make the Chase either on points or by winning a race. But the biggest setback occurred early in the season when the Stewart Haas Racing team announced a switch to Ford in 2017.

      SHR has been affiliated with Hendrick since it was formed, which meant buying chassis and engines. In addition to catching Hendrick flatfooted, the switch meant a gradual move away from sharing chassis information as SHR began building more cars in-house to prepare for next season.

      Earnhardt's replacement, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, has been slow to adapt to the new low downforce chassis in the four races he has competed in. Elliott, who appears set to make the Chase on points, is in his first full Sprint Cup season. Kasey Kahne has not adapted well to the low downforce because he likes to be so aggressive on corner entry, which doesn't work well with the new generation of cars.

      That leaves Johnson as the key source for chassis information where a year ago the information also came from Earnhardt and the soon-to-retire Gordon, plus the four Stewart Haas Racing drivers.

      Evidently, the Hendrick team is behind on aerodynamics, an area where SHR -- which owns a moving ground plane, full-scale wind tunnel -- has always been independent. That helps explain why SHR has three drivers in the Chase on victories -- co-owner Stewart, Kurt Busch and Sunday's winner at Bristol, Kevin Harvick. Those three account for four victories this year.

      Hendrick, in his "servant leader" role, recently spent 20 hours with his team at the Aerodyn wind tunnel in Mooresville, N.C., working on the aerodynamics.

      "When you're not winning, you can walk away from it and point fingers, or you can jump in it," Hendrick said.

      The accountability runs deep in the Hendrick organization. Like everyone in the sport, the team keeps a close eye on competitors, in part to be sure all the teams are playing by the same rules. Doug Duchardt, the executive vice president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said the competing teams that are performing well have "worked on improving a lot of different things on the car over time."

      In other words, there is no silver bullet -- or a cheating scandal looming.

      Duchardt said Hendrick is best at assessing whether people are getting along and working well together or if changes need to be made. One change already made for this season was the hiring of a new computational fluid dynamics specialist to work on wind tunnel scale models, which then results in simulation programs on computers and eventually to testing at full scale in wind tunnels such as Aerodyn.

      But time is running short with the start of the Chase looming on Sept. 18 at the Chicagoland Speedway. Last year, Hendrick rallied his troops from summer doldrums with exhortations to work harder. This year, he has gotten into the action up to his elbows.

      At this point, it pays to remember that last year's champion, Kyle Busch, advanced through the Chase on points before winning the title by winning the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway, a track Johnson likes.

      So it's still too early to count out the Hendrick team and its resident genius, who also happens to be the team owner.

  • Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 21, 2016

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race -- Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race

    • Bristol Motor Speedway

      Bristol, Tennessee

      Saturday, August 20, 2016

      1. (24) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 500.

      2. (25) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 500.

      3. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500.

      4. (13) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.

      5. (12) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 500.

      6. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 500.

      7. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500.

      8. (28) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500.

      9. (8) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500.

      10. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 500.

      11. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 500.

      12. (22) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 500.

      13. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 500.

      14. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500.

      15. (6) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 500.

      16. (34) Greg Biffle, Ford, 500.

      17. (18) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 500.

      18. (30) Brian Scott #, Ford, 499.

      19. (26) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 499.

      20. (32) Landon Cassill, Ford, 497.

      21. (37) David Ragan, Toyota, 497.

      22. (29) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 496.

      23. (7) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 496.

      24. (23) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 495.

      25. (21) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 495.

      26. (33) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 491.

      27. (36) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 489.

      28. (15) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 487.

      29. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 479.

      30. (27) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 471.

      31. (31) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 470.

      32. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 458.

      33. (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 458.

      34. (35) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 442.

      35. (4) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 437.

      36. (40) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 416.

      37. (5) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Accident, 373.

      38. (14) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 372.

      39. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 357.

      40. (39) Justin Allgaier(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 354.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 77.968 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 25 Mins, 05 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.933 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 9 for 106 laps.

      Lead Changes: 20 among 8 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: C. Edwards 0; D. Hamlin 1-8; C. Elliott # 9-22; Kyle Busch 23-87; B. Scott # 88-92; R. Newman 93-101; Kyle Busch 102-160; C. Edwards 161-189; Kyle Busch 190-226; C. Edwards 227; Kyle Busch 228-250; C. Edwards 251; Kyle Busch 252-285; K. Harvick 286-309; Kyle Busch 310-347; K. Harvick 348-366; J. Logano 367-403; K. Harvick 404-417; J. Logano 418; D. Hamlin 419-429; K. Harvick 430-500.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 6 times for 256 laps; K. Harvick 4 times for 128 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 38 laps; C. Edwards 3 times for 31 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 19 laps; C. Elliott # 1 time for 14 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 9 laps; B. Scott # 1 time for 5 laps.

      Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick -- 762; B. Keselowski -- 735; Kurt Busch -- 692; C. Edwards -- 689; J. Logano -- 684; Kyle Busch -- 674; D. Hamlin -- 659; M. Truex Jr. -- 630; J. Johnson -- 612; M. Kenseth -- 604; A. Dillon -- 596; C. Elliott # -- 588; J. Mcmurray -- 583; R. Newman -- 576; T. Bayne -- 541; K. Larson -- 537.

  • Sprint Cup race experiencing more weather issues
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 21, 2016

    BRISTOL, Tenn. -- NASCAR has notified Sprint Cup drivers to report to their cars by 4:20 p.m. ET Sunday to prepare to resume the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

    • After multiple attempts to run the race on its originally scheduled Saturday night, NASCAR made a call just before midnight ET to postpone the race until 1 p.m. Sunday during the 49th lap. Rain continued Sunday morning and into the afternoon, though, further delaying the race.

      The start of the race was delayed by 50 minutes Saturday evening by rain and lightning. Thirty-one laps were completed before the yellow flag was waved for rain. After a few laps under caution, the race was red-flagged after the completion of 38 laps.

      Cars returned to the track nearly 90 minutes later, under caution, to assist with drying efforts on the nearly-drying track. But soon after taking to the track, rain returned and the red flag was displayed again after the completion of an additional 10 laps under yellow.

      "We have the best fans in all of sports, so I hate it for them," driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. "I was impressed to see how the fans came back every time after just hanging out under the grandstands during the rain."

      After an attempt to wait out another shower, NASCAR made the decision to race Sunday.

      When the race restarts, Kyle Busch will be the leader, with Sprint Cup rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney in second and third.

      "We haven't really even got going, so I think until we get some laps and get racing, it is really kind of hard to say how it's going to go," Elliott said.

      Carl Edwards started on the pole, but lost the lead to Denny Hamlin on the first lap. Elliott led briefly after getting by Hamlin on lap eight but after a few laps, lost the top spot to Busch.

      NOTES: Jeff Gordon continued as substitute driver in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... Three drivers in the race field -- Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Gordon -- each have five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway. ... Michael Annett was sidelined by flu-like symptoms. Justin Allgaier substituted behind the wheel of the No. 46 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet. ... The lower portion of the track was "polished" with a sticky substance to increase traction since the Sprint Cup Series last visited in March in an attempt to get drivers to use the lower line on the track. ... Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol on Friday night, but Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon won the race. ... Pole sitter Carl Edwards won from the pole the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Bristol in April. ... Joey Logano won last year's NRA Night Race.

  • Rain postpones Sprint Cup race until Sunday
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, August 20, 2016

    BRISTOL, Tenn. -- NASCAR and Bristol Motor Speedway officials announced the postponement of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Sprint Cup Series event on Saturday due to rain and lightning.

    • The race is slated to resume at 1 p.m. Sunday. The 500-lap race was halted in the 49th lap.

      The start of the race was delayed by 50 minutes for rain and lightning. When the race got underway, 31 laps were completed before the yellow flag was waved for rain. The red flag was displayed, stopping the race after the completion of lap 38.

      After an hour-and-24-minute red flag, cars returned to the track under caution to assist with track-drying efforts, but by lap 49, rain picked up, soaking the race track.

      Kyle Busch will restart as the race leader, with rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney in second and third. Carl Edwards started on the pole, but lost the lead to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and fellow front-row starter Denny Hamlin during the early laps. Elliott took the lead on lap eight, but a few laps later, he gave way to Busch.

      NOTES: Jeff Gordon continued as substitute driver in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... Three drivers in the race field -- Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Gordon -- each have five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway. ... Michael Annett was sidelined by flu-like symptoms. Justin Allgaier substituted behind the wheel of the No. 46 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet. ... The lower portion of the track was "polished" with a sticky substance to increase traction since the Sprint Cup Series last visited in March in an attempt to get drivers to use the lower line on the track. ... Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol on Friday night, but Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon won the race. ... Pole sitter Carl Edwards won from the pole the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Bristol in April. ... Joey Logano won last year's NRA Night Race.

  • NASCAR notebook: Hendrick pleased with Earnhardt's progress
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, August 20, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Exchange

      BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Team owner Rick Hendrick made two things abundantly clear during a press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon to discuss the signing of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series leader William Byron.

      First, Hendrick had no specific update as to the status of Dale Earnhardt Jr., other than to say that Earnhardt is progressing in his recovery from concussion-like symptoms and wants to return to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as soon as possible.

      "Dale looks great," Hendrick said. "I had lunch ... he and the road crew went to lunch on Wednesday -- and I think you've seen the (video) of him playing basketball. We are taking extra effort with the doctors, making sure he's going to be 100 percent.

      "He's got a doctor's appointment next week. He's doing great, and he wants to get back in the car. Beyond that, I don't know anything to tell you about him."

      Second, Hendrick stressed that the signing of Byron to drive for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next year was not a reaction to the uncertainty of Earnhardt's timetable for a return to racing.

      "William has nothing to do with Dale at all," Hendrick said. "William has all to do with our future, down the road. What's going to happen three to five years from now, nobody knows."

      Hendrick confirmed that, if Earnhardt is unable to compete next weekend at Michigan, Jeff Gordon will not be in the No. 88 Chevy because of a prior commitment. If Earnhardt is not cleared to drive, Alex Bowman will fill the seat for a second time, having driven in Earnhardt's stead at New Hampshire in July.


      Those who arrived on Saturday for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway were witness to a novel sight -- a rosin covering the inside of the turns at each end of the track.

      The compound used was a substance commonly used at dragstrips to increase traction in the take-off area. It is designed to enhance adhesion between tires and the concrete racing surface. A similar coating was applied before Friday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at BMS, and the quality of competition drew raves from those watching from the grandstands and on television.

      One interested home viewer was Earnhardt Jr., who seemed pleased that the top groove was not as dominant as it has been since the grinding of the high lane in June 2012.

      "Pretty good @XFINITYRacing @BMSUpdates," Earnhardt posted on Twitter during the race. "The bottom isn't useless. And drivers aren't willing to give an inch. Can't wait for (Saturday) night."

      In a subsequent tweet, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell explained the process.

      "Track re-applied rosin -- first 18 inches above the apron in turns 1-2 and turns 3-4 overnight," O'Donnell tweeted. "Identical to what we did prior to @NASCAR XFINITY."


      Carl Edwards, pole winner for Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), was enthused by the addition of grip to the lower groove.

      "I'm excited about the prospect of having not only multiple lines, but having the line be on the bottom is a lot of fun," said Edwards, who won the April race at Bristol from the pole for his first victory of the season. "The first times I drove at Bristol and for a big part of it, those first years were really fun, and it's fun because on the bottom, if a guy slips up, it gives you a little window to get under him.

      "But at the top, if everybody is following one another, they slip up and you can't really go between them and the wall and you can't make anything happen. Multiple lines and having the bottom, I think, is going to make for a much more dynamic race and a lot more fun for the drivers -- and hopefully the fans enjoy it."

  • Edwards edges JGR teammate Hamlin for Bristol pole
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 19, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BRISTOL, Tenn. - Denny Hamlin owns a new track record, but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards won the round that counted in Friday's knockout qualifying session at Bristol Motor Speedway.

      Edwards sped around the .533-mile high-banked concrete short track in 14.602 seconds (131.407 mph) to claim the top starting spot for Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA night Race (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), edging Hamlin (131.200 mph) by .023 seconds.

      Remarkably, Edwards earned his fifth Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his fourth at Bristol and the 21st of his career without making a mock qualifying run during either of Friday's two practice sessions. Instead, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota relied on setup information from his teammates - including Hamlin.

      "It's nice to have fast teammates," said Edwards, who will try to duplicate his pole-winning, race-winning performance from April. "We wouldn't have had a shot at (the pole) if it wasn't for them. We thought it was going to rain, so we didn't practice qualifying or anything. My guys made great adjustments based on that information.

      "I just hope we can finish it off the way we did in the spring."

      All four JGR drivers qualified in the top five for the 23rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. Kyle Busch (130.931 mph) will start third and Matt Kenseth (130.619 mph) fifth. The only interloper was Ford driver Ryan Blaney (130.637 mph), who grabbed the fourth spot on the grid in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Fusion.

      With a blistering run in 14.573 seconds (131.668 mph) in the first round, Hamlin broke the track record he set for this event last year, eclipsing his own mark of 14.602 seconds (131.407 mph). But Hamlin was the last of 12 drivers out for the final round and fell just short of Edwards' winning time.

      "We had really good speed, so I'm pretty optimistic about that," said Hamlin, who will start within the top six for the 15th time this season. "I can't believe we've qualified as good as we have this year and not gotten a pole.

      "It's unbelievable -- still a great effort by our whole team. I hope we can have a great race up here on (Saturday) night and get in Victory Lane."

      Chris Buescher, fighting to crack the top 30 in the standings and qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (based on his victory at Pocono), qualified 12th, one position behind Jeff Gordon, who made the final round for the first time in his fourth start in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott had the fastest Chevrolet, qualifying sixth.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race

      Bristol Motor Speedway

      Bristol, Tennessee

      Friday, August 19, 2016

      1. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 131.407 mph.

      2. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 131.200 mph.

      3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 130.931 mph.

      4. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 130.637 mph.

      5. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 130.619 mph.

      6. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 129.850 mph.

      7. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 129.544 mph.

      8. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 129.482 mph.

      9. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 129.334 mph.

      10. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 129.169 mph.

      11. (88) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 129.038 mph.

      12. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 128.296 mph.

      13. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 129.021 mph.

      14. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 128.926 mph.

      15. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 128.666 mph.

      16. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 128.623 mph.

      17. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 128.623 mph.

      18. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 128.503 mph.

      19. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 128.477 mph.

      20. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 128.477 mph.

      21. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 128.262 mph.

      22. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 128.142 mph.

      23. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 127.997 mph.

      24. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 127.436 mph.

      25. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 128.279 mph.

      26. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 128.134 mph.

      27. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 127.835 mph.

      28. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 127.809 mph.

      29. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 127.648 mph.

      30. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 127.588 mph.

      31. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 126.997 mph.

      32. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 126.989 mph.

      33. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 126.553 mph.

      34. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 126.545 mph.

      35. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 125.486 mph.

      36. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 125.363 mph.

      37. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 125.158 mph.

      38. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 124.307 mph.

      39. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 123.626 mph.

      40. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 122.263 mph.

  • NASCAR notebook: Johnson enthused at William Byron signing
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 19, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick pulled off a major coup earlier this week with the signing of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie William Byron, who is at the top of the standings on the strength of five victories in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota this season. The 18-year-old Byron used to go trick-or-treating at Hendrick's house. As it turned out, Byron did the same at the house of Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson, a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, who welcomed the news of Byron's signing.

      "I've definitely been paying attention to him," Johnson said in advance of Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). "We live in the same neighborhood. And I can recall him trick-or-treating at my house in one of the rare opportunities we were home.

      "I absolutely know who he is and have gotten to know him and have seen him around home. I think he's an amazing talent with a great head on his shoulders, and I'm very excited that he's under the Hendrick umbrella now. Hopefully, we can take advantage of his youth and great talent and give him a great run. I'm excited that he's on the team."

      Byron will race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next year in a Chevrolet fielded by JR Motorsports, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelly Earnhardt Miller and Hendrick.


      The outpouring of support for Bryan Clauson continued at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson honoring the memory of their close friend with special helmets and paint schemes.

      Clauson died at age 27 from injuries suffered during an Aug. 6 accident in the Belleville (Kansas) Midget Nationals.

      Like Stenhouse, Clauson got his start in NASCAR racing as a development driver for Roush Fenway Racing, but after 26 starts in the XFINITY series, with a best finish of fifth at Kentucky, he returned to open wheels and established himself as one of the all-time best in USAC competition.

      In Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, both Stenhouse and Larson will wear helmets sporting the initials "BC" in honor of their friend. With the blessing of sponsor Fastenal, Stenhouse's car will feature a paint scheme reminiscent of the one Clauson ran seven years ago.

      "Bryan was a great friend of Kyle's and mine," Stenhouse, 28, said on Friday at Bristol. "I moved to North Carolina, and he was already there. Even though he was younger, I kind of always looked at him as an older brother, because he kind of did everything before I did.

      "He let me move in with him, and we had a lot of fun in North Carolina. He showed me the ropes of stock car racing, and then, obviously, he was the best there was at running sprint cars, so to be able to run his paint scheme. His family is super excited, and we are, too, at our team."

      On Aug. 11 at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, Stenhouse led the field on a parade lap in the winged sprint car Clauson was to have driven in the competition.

      Larson and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Rico Abreu were on hand as competitors during the off week. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon were there to support charitable efforts, which included an auction on behalf of the Clauson family on Aug. 12.

      Gordon flew the Clausons back to Indiana on his plane that afternoon. On Saturday night, Stewart's sprint car driver, Donny Schatz, was five feet short of his 10th Knoxville Nationals title, finishing second to race-winner Jason Johnson.


      After surgery to remove a slow-growing, non-malignant tumor from his brain, NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Matt Tifft has been cleared to return to the race track, a process he will begin with a late model stock test on Sunday at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

      Tifft hasn't competed in a NASCAR race since May 21, when he drove for Red Horse Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. All told, Tifft ran three races for Red Horse and six XFINITY events for Joe Gibbs Racing before the tumor sidelined him.

      Now green-lighted to get back in a car, Tifft can hardly wait for Sunday to come.

      "I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that," Tifft said on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he appeared in the media center to update reporters on his status. "Obviously, it's been a couple months since I've been in a car."

      During his recovery from surgery, Tifft has bulked up in the gym, but that's no substitute for the rigors of driving a race car at speed. The test at Hickory will begin his re-acclimation.

      "I think first things first, just going to go do the test on Sunday and see how everything goes," he said. "The most curious thing to me is just seeing what my level of stamina is compared to the past, because it's been so long since I've been in a car.

      "I don't know what the exact steps are going to be, but I think the biggest thing is just to get back going and get back re-oriented in a race car."

  • Ganassi team on the bubble with Chase looming
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 18, 2016

    The next four Sprint Cup series races will go a long way toward determining whether Chip Ganassi's bid to conquer the world of racing is successful. The Sprint Cup is by far the most important of the six series where Ganassis is competing. But there's a chance that neither one of his drivers, Jamie McMurray nor Kyle Larson, will make the postseason Chase.

    • On the other hand, Larson could win one of the four remaining races before the postseason -- starting at the Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night -- and help Ganassi get both of his drivers into the Chase. McMurray and Larson could also both make the Chase on points if Chris Buescher, the upset winner at the Pocono Raceway earlier this year, fails to make the Top 30, which is required for a race winner to advance.

      In any event, a unique season was predetermined for the Ganassi team in a year characterized as "18 drivers, 14 cars, and six series."

      A successful season is already a lock for Ganassi in one respect. His factory Ford GT team won its class at the Le Mans 24-hour in June after a heated battle with one of the Ferrari teams. That victory came in the inaugural season for the incomparable Ford GT -- and fifty years after Ford first conquered the great French race in 1966.

      That was the year the Ford Mk. II beat a bevy of Enzo Ferrari's entries for the overall honors as Henry Ford II took revenge on the Italian, who reneged on a promise to sell his sports car company to Ford.

      The Chevy side of the equation is not doing as well this year in NASCAR or IndyCar, where a last-place finish by defending series champ Scott Dixon after ill-advised contact at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course dropped him to a distant fifth place in the standings. He is now tied with Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan.

      Making NASCAR's Chase would go a long way toward uplifting sponsors, Chevy and the Ganassi team's stock car reputation. As it is, this season remains the second straight without a victory. So a win by Larson, who has been running among the leaders this year on a variety of tracks, would be gigantic.

      The Californian would be in a much stronger position in the points, at least, if he hadn't been dumped in the final corner at Watkins Glen by A.J. Allmendinger while running fourth, which cost Larson 25 points.

      Among the four tracks remaining before the postseason, in addition to Bristol, Larson was also a contender at the Michigan International Speedway, where he finished third earlier this year.

      If Buescher, who is currently three points shy, advances into the Top 30, then McMurray is on the bubble in the current standings as the fourth driver to advance on points. The next driver is Larson, who trails his teammate by a distant 30 points.

      The most likely scenario is that one of the two Ganassi drivers make it. Even if Buescher advances, somebody will have to step up to get the final position available on points currently held by McMurray -- assuming no new winner emerges in the last four races. Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Blaney are the most likely new winners and also the three drivers who could catch McMurray and/or Larson in the points. Another potential winner is veteran Greg Biffle, teammate to Bayne at Roush Fenway Racing, still in the midst of its rebuilding effort.

      A bright spot for Ganassi in NASCAR has been the rookie season of Brennan Poole in the Xfinity Series. Although he doesn't have a victory, the rookie is currently on track to make this year's first Chase for the understudy series. The ARCA series convert is second to Erik Jones in the rookie standings, but is not likely to catch 20-year-old phenomenon Jones, who has three victories and 11 Top 5 finishes.

      Another success story for Ganassi has been the Ford GT team that runs in the WeatherTech series of IMSA. In addition to winning its one-off appearance at Le Mans, the team has won three races in the American series. Drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe are currently locked in a championship battle with the Corvette drivers.

      The sports car effort includes a two-car Ford GT squad based in England that competes in the World Endurance Championship, where Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke lead the points standings with five races remaining, including an upcoming appearance at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

      If nothing else, it will be an interesting run to the various championships for the Ganassi team. There is only one other American team owner, Roger Penske, who has as many different teams running in major series, including Sprint Cup, Xfinity, IndyCar and the Australian Supercars Championship.

      Alas, Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are leading the IndyCar championship and Penske's two Sprint Cup drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, are race winners headed for the Chase, where they are expected to be contenders.

      By that standard, Ganassi, shut out in the Indy 500, is currently hanging his hat on one race victory in France, albeit a great one.

  • Glen, Mid-Ohio events prove road races should be in Chase
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 15, 2016

    After one of the most entertaining and demanding races in this year's Xfinity Series at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the question continues to be begged. If a road circuit presents a major challenge to drivers -- especially in the rain -- why not include one in the Chase for both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series championships?

    • On an off weekend for the Sprint Cup, Justin Marks won the Mid-Ohio race in a Chip Ganassi Chevy. He faced just about every condition a driver could possibly encounter in a race. It started in the rain with cars running on grooved Goodyear rain tires. After the track gradually dried and teams switched to traditional slick tires, the rain resumed. Just before the final re-start and a two-lap sprint to the finish, the skies really opened up and the heaviest rain of the day descended on the 2.258-mile track.

      Given the challenges presented when Sprint Cup drivers raced on the road circuit at Watkins Glen, N.Y., the previous week under sunny conditions -- where Denny Hamlin was the winner driving for Joe Gibbs Racing -- it is clear that NASCAR's premier championships should include tracks with right turns as well as left turns, plus elevation changes. If a championship represents all around ability, drivers need to win one while racing on more than just ovals.

      NASCAR, which announced its 2017 Sprint Cup schedule in May, has recently concluded a five-year agreement with all its promoters. But there's scant reason why the sanctioning body cannot change the order of its existing schedule to move Watkins Glen into the Chase for 2018. The sanctioning body has previously moved a summer race into the Chase when it took the Chicagoland Speedway date out of July and placed it in September as the first round of the Chase in 2011.

      NASCAR could advance the current Watkins Glen date in August into the Chase in September by moving the race at Dover's Monster Mile, which this year falls in October, back to an earlier date. Moving a track out of the Chase is not unprecedented. Previously, tracks in Fontana, Calif., and Atlanta have been moved back to earlier dates.

      This year's current schedule sequence moves from Watkins Glen on the first weekend of August to the off weekend followed by this weekend's appearance in Bristol, Tenn., then Brooklyn, Mich., Darlington, S.C., and Richmond, Va., the final race in the regular season.

      The Chase begins this year at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 18, followed by the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and then a trip to Dover International Speedway. It would not be a major displacement for either Watkins Glen or Dover to switch the dates, or to put Dover into the schedule one race before the traditional Darlington date on Labor Day weekend. If a road race is too much of a wild card to end the first three-race segment of the Chase, then it could be scheduled the week before the New Hampshire round.

      In its earliest days, the course at Watkins Glen hosted one of the later rounds of the Formula One World Championship, which meant a major race was held when the fall colors were blazing in upstate New York. Selling tickets was hardly a problem then and an autumn race for NASCAR's championship is likely to do very well at the Schuyler County facility. As for Dover, the track has had difficulty filling its grandstands for several years and a change in date is not likely to drastically alter its fortunes. In addition, it is one of three one-mile tracks in the final 10 on the schedule. Does the Chase need that many?

      This summer's Glen race was a marvelous blend of strategy and hard driving on the track's new asphalt, which proved tricky for leaders Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, who both managed to get off course in Turn 1 in the late going. There was a three-car tango in the final corner before Hamlin won. The racing was similar to the 2015 event and once again the track officials announced all grandstand seats had been sold. The fans, apparently, dig the road racing action.

      When Hamlin won aboard his Toyota, it was the Virginia driver's first road course win at the Sprint Cup level after one in the Xfinity Series in Mexico City. He was rightfully lauded as having completed his racing resume.

      NASCAR has had rain tires standing by at Watkins Glen since last year in order to race in the rain if necessary. What if drivers are forced to race during the Chase on treaded rubber with windshield wipers clicking like at Mid-Ohio? Admittedly it might make life difficult for drivers who have not raced in wet weather conditions before, which are extremely difficult due to the cars carrying so much weight on relatively small tire contact patches.

      In the case of Mid-Ohio, drivers ran off course regularly, albeit more slowly than in dry conditions. It made for a lot of position changes, but generally not very many damaged cars. Only four of 40 cars failed to finish due to crash damage, and three of them were knocked out during one late-race restart. Sam Hornish Jr., Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Erik Jones and Andy Lally, who finished second through seventh, all spent time in the grass before recovering.

      Nearly half the race was run under caution due to rain, off course excursions and one yellow for debris. But the amount of overtaking at the front and the contesting of positions throughout the race at corners such as the Keyhole and in Thunder Valley provided some outstanding entertainment. The decisions by drivers and crew chiefs on when to switch from grooved tires to slicks -- or back -- threw in some difficult strategic challenges.

      At the finish, there was little doubt Marks, winless in 25 previous starts in the Xfinity Series, deserved the victory. He led 43 laps, including the last 10 after pressing the issue against Dillon at the Keyhole.

      "These are as tough conditions as you can put drivers in," Marks said. "It's just really hard on everybody. And you don't really know what to do, so strategy plays a key role in it."

      The Xfinity Series will run three road races this year and is in the first year of its own Chase format. There are three road races on the 2017 schedule in August and two bye weekends during the Chase. How difficult would it be to move a road race to the postseason in 2018? The understudy series should also be a place where drivers have to prove they can road race, especially if they intend to win a championship.

  • Childress Racing searches for first win of season at Mid-Ohio
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 11, 2016

    Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      It's been 59 races since a full-time Richard Childress Racing NASCAR XFINITY Series driver won a race.

      The last time a full-time RCR wheelman celebrated in Victory Lane was when Brendan Gaughan triumphed at Kentucky on Sept. 20, 2014, leading a team sweep of the top-three positions. Brian Scott took second, while Ty Dillon finished third.

      Since Gaughan's triumph, RCR full-timers have logged five runner-ups. Scott has been replaced in the stable by Sunoco Rookie Brandon Jones, while Gaughan and Dillon still remain. They will try to earn a win in Saturday's Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (3:30 p.m. ET on USA) -- the second of three road-course races this month.

      Gaughan visited Victory Lane turning left and right at Road America in 2014, while Dillon placed third at Mid-Ohio last year.

      "At Mid-Ohio you have to be very precise," said Gaughan, who finished eighth in last weekend's road course race at Watkins Glen. "You must know what you are doing to get into the corners with proper technique, or there are big penalties. You must be technical to hit the apex of turns well and get into the braking zones in order to carry speed. I love it. It is true road racing."

      Dillon placed 11th at Watkins Glen last Saturday and hopes to improve this weekend.

      "I think we had some success (at Mid-Ohio last year) because we qualified well (third) and were able to run up front for a majority of the race," Dillon said. "Track position is so important at road course races because it effects pit and race strategy. It will be important to qualify again within the top five, make no mistakes on pit road and maybe have a little luck on your side."

      The 19-year-old Jones has limited experience on road courses with only two NASCAR XFINITY Series starts on them. He produced a 29th-place finish at Mid-Ohio in the XFINITY Series last year, but looked improved with a 13th-place output at Watkins Glen last weekend."

      "There is a great environment at Mid-Ohio," Jones said. "I was pretty happy to run there last year with RCR in the XFINITY Series car. It was kind of up-and-down day. We would run inside the top 10, then fell back a little bit at the end. The biggest thing I took away from that experience was just making sure to stay on the racetrack. Every once in a while you would dip off and go off the racing surface, so it is important to limit those incidents."

      Although they haven't won yet, RCR's regulars have consistently registered strong finishes, putting them right in the middle of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase hunt. Dillon, Gaughan and Jones rank fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively, on the 12-man Chase Grid and should comfortably make it into the series playoffs when they start at Kentucky in six races. If one of the three can navigate the three-round, seven-race playoff, he would capture RCR its fifth NASCAR XFINITY Series driver championship.

      Race Weekend Preview


      Race: Mid-Ohio Challenge

      Place: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

      Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 169.35 miles (75 laps)

      What to Watch For: Erik Jones, who just announced he will run a full schedule for Furniture Row Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next year, looks to add to his series-leading three wins. ... No driver in the field has ever won at Mid-Ohio, so a new race winner is guaranteed. ... Road course aces Nelson Piquet Jr. and Kenny Habul are all scheduled to race Saturday. Twelfth-place Blake Koch tries to keep the final spot on the Chase Grid. He is trailed by Ross Chastain (-2 points) and Dakoda Armstrong (-9). ... NASCAR Next driver Alon Day will be will make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut this weekend, becoming the first driver from Israel to start a national series race.

  • Earnhardt Jr. looks for stimulation during quiet week
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 11, 2016

    In the case of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his concussion symptoms, it's a matter of waiting ... and staying tuned to Dirty Mo Radio, the driver's weekly podcast.

    • The short term fate of Earnhardt Nation and to some extent NASCAR Nation rests in the hands of time and Earnhardt, Jr.'s medical team at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UMPC). That's where Earnhardt Jr. is getting treatment for a second time after initially sustaining a concussion in 2012.

      As a case study of a famous athlete having problems with concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt, Jr. has been an exemplary role model, including his trip to Watkins Glen last week to talk to the media about his condition and prognosis. Along with his podcast, where he initially revealed his symptoms of balance problems and what is known as "gaze stabilization" resulting from a crash at the Michigan International Speedway in June, Earnhardt, Jr. has shined a light inside what could have been a dark, mysterious chapter.

      While it's not the job of journalists to become part of the healing process, Earnhardt, Jr. has basically enlisted the media to create a positive atmosphere about his return by being open and not trying to hide from the inevitable glare of interest in the career of the perennial winner of NASCAR's Most Popular Driver award.

      Oddly enough, the doctors have recommended Earnhardt, Jr. voluntarily put himself in situations of stress or anxiety that will aggravate his symptoms. That's part of the process of trying to get the brain to help heal itself. So he showed up at Watkins Glen, basically, to provide himself enough aggravation and anxiety to help the healing process. Never have the inquiring minds of journalists been so helpful.

      Now that there's an off weekend, Earnhardt, Jr. will have to find other ways to put stress on himself, such as going out to lunch or hanging out with his sister Kelley's children.

      Needless to say, the prospect of losing Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, currently coming out of retirement to substitute for him, and Tony Stewart to retirement within a year's time is not a comfortable one for NASCAR officials or fans. The New York Yankees may be losing Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in short order, but baseball has always been about lineups. Motor racing is about the guys behind the wheel, not the pit wall, and NASCAR in particular has been built on the legends and personalities of its drivers.

      At his media conference, where there were no signs of balance or eyesight problems, Earnhardt, Jr. was his usual forthcoming self. Throughout his career, he has answered questions from the perspective that the sport deserves full responses from its participants in order to keep fans informed. It's one of the most admirable things about a third generation driver who grew up in the sport and has decided it's the right way to approach his career.

      The one-day trip to Watkins Glen was cut from this same cloth. Earnhardt, Jr. emphasized his team of doctors at UPMC are optimistic that the exercises and treatment he has undertaken will eventually clear up symptoms that have been identified as "ocular imbalance." This problem is familiar to his doctors and others have responded to the same treatment with a positive outcome. But there's no putting a time line to it.

      The "R word" is not under consideration, said the driver. That's a relief, since nobody wants to see a driver who is injured try to contemplate retirement without first getting back into a race car.

      "When I first went to see my doctor in this particular instance it was 'I need to get right because I need to get back in the car as soon as I can,'" he said. "I'm surprised that I've missed this many races. I never thought this would take this long. I didn't have a massive accident and I didn't have really crazy symptoms. This thing happened so awkward where we had the accident in Michigan and then the symptoms crept in very slowly like two weeks later. I didn't think this was that serious, but it had gotten to a point to where I definitely didn't need to be in the race car. At that point you've got to go get checked out and get a hold of it and figure out how to fix it."

      The situation is a reminder of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.'s rookie season in 1979. The rookie of the year candidate suffered a concussion, broken collarbone and bruised heart in a violent crash at the Pocono Raceway. Earnhardt, Sr. and wife Teresa set up a conference call with journalists to let them know Earnhardt, Sr. would be back in the car at Osterlund Racing, where the legendary David Pearson was one of his substitutes. "Heck," said Earnhardt, Sr. during that call nearly four decades ago, "I've had a broken heart before. I'll get over it."

      When it comes to the question of whether Earnhardt, Jr. should get back into the car and risk another injury, his doctors believe his current treatment will make him less likely to have the same symptoms reappear. Still, it is a brave man who continues to race at Sprint Cup speeds after two incidents where concussion issues have presented themselves.

      On the other hand, it's not quite the same as head injuries in football attributed to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. In football, it's guaranteed the helmeted head will receive blows that can aggravate this diagnosis. It's less clear what may happen if Earnhardt, Jr. gets involved in a typical wreck such as the one at the Michigan International Speedway in June. If he returns to driving at Michigan later this month, or in the future, the question about a possible repeat occurrence will come up.

      What Earnhardt, Jr. has in common with football players is the quandary about whether to let others know that symptoms of head injury are occurring. That's the best way to get pulled from a lineup, but also the best way to be treated before symptoms become overwhelming. This, too, is a reason to admire the response of Earnhardt, Jr. Racing is a sport where it's easy to hide injuries, sometimes, for the sake of earning a living. Even Earnhardt, Jr. acknowledged that were he an up-and-coming driver it might have been more difficult to turn himself over to medical treatment.

      For now, the focus is on getting healthy and returning to his race car. Interestingly, it is the executive director of UPMC's Sports Medicine Concussion Program, Dr. Michael Collins, who devised the ImPACT test used to assess whether athletes can return to participation in their respective sport. It's a "before and after" assessment of neurological responses.

      As of yet, there is no indication of how long Earnhardt, Jr. needs to be symptom free before his doctors OK a return to the race car. An ImPACT test administered by an independent physician chosen by NASCAR will also have to be passed before his return to the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

      Short term, it's a matter of preparing for 2017, since Earnhardt, Jr. will not be a likely candidate to make the Chase after missing the round at Bristol, Tenn. on Aug. 20. If he returns at Michigan, it is probably expecting too much for him to win a race before the 26-race regular season ends at Richmond on Sept. 10. But Earnhardt, Jr. said at Watkins Glen the conversation with team owner Rick Hendrick about a contract extension will continue, despite his recent troubles.

      "I sat with Rick before this happened a couple of months ago to talk about an extension," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "That is the direction that we are going. As soon as I can get healthy and get confident in how I feel and feel like I can drive a car and be great driving it then I want to drive. I want to race. I miss the competition. I miss being here. I miss the people and as Rick likes to say 'We've got unfinished business.' I'm not ready to stop racing. I'm not ready to quit."

      That "unfinished business" is obviously a championship. It's the only element missing from an accomplished career, one that is understandably often compared to the career of his father, a seven-time champion.

      Recently, there have been two examples of drivers returning from serious injuries who have scored victories: Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. There's no reason why Earnhardt, Jr. can't have what can be considered a "post-injury bounce" in motivation once he gets back behind the wheel.

      According to him and by way of indirect reports from his doctors, it's a question of when and not if Earnhardt, Jr. returns. That's a welcome scenario.

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 10, 2016

    NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: There is no race this weekend. This is the last in-season off-weekend for the series. There will be 14 straight weeks of racing starting next week at Bristol Motor Speedway, highlighted by the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    • THEN AND NOW: Denny Hamlin won this past Sunday at Watkins Glen, his first career Sprint Cup win on a road course. He's now won on every type of racetrack in NASCAR, including superspeedways such as Daytona, 1.5-mile tracks and short tracks. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. was at Watkins Glen last Friday and said that while he feels he's making progress from concussion-like symptoms, his return to racing remains uncertain. He added that before he races in a Sprint Cup car again, he plans on competing in a Late Model race first to get re-acclimated to a race car. ... A total of 12 different drivers have won at least one race thus far in the first 22 races this season: Brad Keselowski (4 wins), Kyle Busch (4), Carl Edwards (2), Jimmie Johnson (2), Matt Kenseth (2), Denny Hamlin (2) and one win each by Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. Only four races remain for drivers to qualify for the Chase. ... Brad Keselowski (727 points) took over the Sprint Cup points lead after Watkins Glen, knocking former points leader Kevin Harvick (718 points) to second. Kurt Busch (689) followed by Kyle Busch (670), Carl Edwards (653), Joey Logano (652), Denny Hamlin (620), Martin Truex Jr. (612), Matt Kenseth (600) and Jimmie Johnson (578).

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: MID-OHIO CHALLENGE (75 laps, 169.35 miles), Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Lexington, Ohio.

      TV: Saturday, Aug. 13, 3:30 p.m. ET -- USA Network (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: Saturday will mark just the fourth time the Xfinity Series has raced at Mid-Ohio and is the second straight road course race on the schedule, following last Saturday's race at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York. ... Regan Smith is the defending winner of this race, while A.J. Allmendinger won the inaugural Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio in 2013 and Chris Buescher won in 2014. ... Joey Logano won last Saturday's Xfinity race at Watkins Glen, giving him three wins in a row in as many races at the twisting road course (Sprint Cup and Xfinity in 2015 and Xfinity in 2016). He missed a second straight sweep by finishing second in this past Sunday's Cheez-It 355 Sprint Cup race. ... Winners of the first 19 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Texas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis), Austin Dillon (Fontana), Erik Jones (Bristol, Dover and Iowa), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond), Elliott Sadler (Talladega), Denny Hamlin (Charlotte), Kyle Larson (Pocono), Daniel Suarez (Michigan), Sam Hornish Jr. (Iowa), Aric Almirola (Daytona) and Joey Logano (Watkins Glen). ... Elliott Sadler (657 points) remains No. 1 in the Xfinity Series point standings. Daniel Suarez (657) is second, followed by Ty Dillon (629), Erik Jones (613), Justin Allgaier (610), Brendan Gaughan (598), Brennan Poole (587), Brandon Jones (573), Darrell Wallace Jr. (512) and Ryan Reed (496).

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: The series is off until its next race, Aug. 17, at Bristol Motor Speedway.

      THEN AND NOW: William Byron won the most recent race, two weeks ago: the Pocono Mountains 150 in dominating fashion, leading 44 of the scheduled 60 laps. It was Byron's fifth Truck win in 2016. ... There have been seven winners thus far this season: Johnny Sauter (Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta), Kyle Busch (Martinsville), William Byron (Kansas, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky and Pocono), Matt Crafton (Dover, Charlotte), Christopher Bell (Gateway) and Kyle Larson (Eldora). ... William Byron remains in the Truck Series points lead (319 points), followed by former champion Matt Crafton (294), Daniel Hemric (282), Timothy Peters (282) and Johnny Sauter (278).

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: The series is off until its next race, Aug. 21, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

      THEN AND NOW: Points leader Simon Pagenaud won his fourth race of the season two weeks ago in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Will Power finished second, followed by Carlos Munoz with the other podium finish. ... Even though Pagenaud won at Mid-Ohio, Power remains the hottest driver in the series. Power has won three of the last five races, and finished runner-up in the other two events. ... After last week's test at Pocono Raceway, drivers will test again this Thursday at Watkins Glen in preparation for the Labor Day weekend there (Sept. 1-4). ... There are four more races remaining on the 16-race schedule (Pocono, Texas, Watkins Glen and Sonoma). ... This season's race winners thus far are: Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix), Simon Pagenaud (Long Beach, Birmingham, Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Belle Isle 1), Will Power (Belle Isle 2, Road America, Toronto) and Josef Newgarden (Iowa). ... Simon Pagenaud (484 points) continues to lead the point standings, followed by Will Power (426), Helio Castroneves (373), Josef Newgarden (364) and defending series champ Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, tied for fifth with 357 points each.

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION, MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: The series is off this weekend and resumes Aug. 19-21 at Brainerd, Minn.

      THEN AND NOW: Rain prevented the final round of eliminations to determine the race winners in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock at this past Sunday's Protect the Harvest NHRA Northwest Nationals in suburban Seattle, the final leg of the annual "Western Swing" (Denver, Sonoma and Seattle). As a result, the final round for both Top Fuel (Antron Brown vs. Steve Torrence) and Funny Car (Del Worsham vs. Ron Capps) will be contested next weekend at Brainerd. Pro Stock, meanwhile, will have its final round held to start the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend (Vincent Nobile vs. Aaron Strong, appearing in just the ninth race of his career). ... The races in Brainerd and Indianapolis are the last two before the start of the Countdown to the Championship. ... After winning the first two races of the three-race Western Swing, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force failed to win the third and final leg, losing in Sunday's first round of eliminations. His daughter, Courtney Force, was involved in a crash, also in the first round. Courtney Force was taken to a local hospital for X-rays and a CT scan, with all results coming back negative. Force said she was very sore and will be consulting with a physical therapist. She plans to return to racing at Brainerd. As for fellow Funny Car Alexis DeJoria, who crashed two weeks ago at Sonoma, Calif., and suffered a fractured left pelvis, she missed the Seattle race and her status is uncertain for Brainerd and Indianapolis. ... Although the final round has not been decided, the points were updated for all racing through the first three rounds of eliminations at Seattle. Antron Brown remains No. 1 in Top Fuel (1,301 points), followed by Doug Kalitta (1,201), Steve Torrence (1,177), Brittany Force (1,044), Tony Schumacher (1,036) and J.R Todd (960). All six drivers have clinched berths in the Countdown. ... In Funny Car, Ron Capps (1,313 points) remains No. 1, followed by Courtney Force (1,124), Jack Beckman (1,088 points), Del Worsham (1,070), Matt Hagan (1,011), Robert Hight (988) and John Force (970). All have clinched berths in the Countdown. ... In Pro Stock, Jason Line (1,659) regained the points lead, followed by teammates Greg Anderson (1,629 points) and Bo Butner (1,149) in third, then Allen Johnson (993) and Vincent Nobile (918). Anderson, Line, Butner and Johnson have all clinched berths in the Countdown. ... Defending two-time series champ Erica Enders (670 points) climbed back into 10th place, nine points ahead of 11th-ranked Alex Laughlin (661 points). ... In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec is No. 1 in the standings (824 points), followed by teammate and 2015 series champ Andrew Hines (735), Angelle Sampey (595), Jerry Savoie (556) and LE Tonglet (484). Krawiec, Hines and Sampey have clinched positions in the Countdown.

  • Despite back pain, Hamlin shines at Watkins Glen
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 8, 2016

    One way to get Denny Hamlin to victory lane is to have him play hurt. Suffering from back spasms, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver finally won his first road course victory in the Sprint Cup at Watkins Glen, succeeding where teammates Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch squandered opportunities.

    • Last year, despite suffering from a torn ligament in a knee injured in a basketball game, Hamlin won the first round of the Chase at the Chicagoland Speedway.

      Even when he broke his back in a crash at the Auto Club Speedway in 2013 and missed four races, Hamlin managed to come back and win the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway to sustain his streak of at least one win every season since joining the Sprint Cup full time in 2006.

      Another way to get Hamlin fired up is to suggest he might have to leave the Gibbs team, which continues to be the dominant force in the Sprint Cup with 10 wins this year and where Hamlin has all 28 of his career wins. Although it was subsequently extended through 2017, Hamlin entered 2016 as a contract year and won the Daytona 500 with a brilliant move on the final lap.

      In June, Hamlin lost at the Sonoma Raceway on the last lap to Tony Stewart, losing the lead in the final corner while in pursuit of that elusive road course win. This time, he made the right moves at the right time and it was Busch and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski who overcooked corners, handing the opportunity to Hamlin.

      "I felt like Sonoma was a heartbreak to go to the last corner and lose the race out there on a road course," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "Then to bounce back and come back here and race like he did today, they were big hitters up front that were great road racers. For him to come out on top here, I think that says a lot about Denny."

      Hamlin took the lead when front row starters Busch and Keselowski ran wide at Turn 1 on a restart with 10 laps to go. Initially, it appeared that Hamlin might not have been able to start the race due to the back spasms, apparently a holdover from his head-on meeting with the wall inside Turn 4 at the Auto Club in 2013, which had no SAFER barriers at the time.

      "I got the text this morning when he woke up," said crew chief Mike Wheeler. "He was in trouble. He said it. It was like, you know, not something you really want to hear (the morning of the race). You know you got good cars, good teammates, track position to start.

      "But end of the day I know (Denny) mans up when he needs to. I almost want to say if he knew he didn't have a winning car, he might do something different. But I know he definitely gets that attitude going in the car when he has a winning car, can run up front and tough it out."

      Race car drivers are always loathe to give up their cars. One of the few times anybody ever saw tears in the eyes of Dale Earnhardt Sr. was when he was forced to climb from his car for a relief driver at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1996 due to a broken collarbone and sternum. At Watkins Glen the following week, "The Intimidator" won the pole and finished sixth despite his painful injuries that were severely aggravated by the elevation changes and left and right turns on the road circuit.

      Hamlin said he would not have gotten in the car had it been a practice day.

      "No doubt if it was Friday or Saturday, no question I wouldn't have turned one lap today," he said. "It was by far the worst conditions I've ever had to drive in, over the knees, anything else. This was by far the worst pain-wise I've had to go through."

      One of the question marks hanging over this season was where Erik Jones, the 20-year-old sensation from Michigan, was going to fit into the scheme at JGR, which put Hamlin on the hot seat among the team's four veteran drivers due to his contract situation. That question was answered on the morning of the race at the Glen when it was announced Jones would drive a second Toyota for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing, which is in its first year as an affiliate with the Gibbs team.

      Due to the morning's announcement, Jones was standing by. Hamlin could have stepped aside for a relief driver, but chose to play hurt instead. That had to impress his team owner, a three-time Super Bowl winner as a head coach.

      The race at the Glen often resembled a wild, wild West shootout due to its position on the calendar and the opportunities a road course presents for advancement into the Chase either by points or a victory. There were eight cautions and two red flags to clean up the damage. Ironically, the injured Hamlin was more careful on corner entry, didn't drive as hard, because he said his normal feel for the car was absent due to his back issues.

      Hamlin concentrated on hitting his marks and took no chances. To take the lead, he just had to stay in line inside Turn 1 as Busch and Keselowski took each other off the track.

      "It just seems like really over the last five years or so, the road courses have taken a turn to be more aggressive," Hamlin said. "I think it has a lot to do with the Chase format, guys seeing this as a-win-and-you're-in type format. It's your opportunity when they really don't have cars that are competitive on the other racetracks."

      The finish was consistent with the rest of the race, run before a capacity crowd. Unlike Sonoma, where Hamlin went too deep in Turn 11 and allowed Stewart a chance to get inside for the victory, this time Hamlin tip-toed into the corners on the final laps of green. That allowed second-placed Martin Truex, Jr. and Keselowski to get close to the rear bumper of the No. 11 Toyota. But it was the latter two who had contact in the last corner, allowing Hamlin to escape with no challenge to his first road course victory after 384 starts.

      "I think being a little defensive on those final couple laps, making sure I didn't pull a Sonoma, allowed them to get a little closer than where I was comfortable with," Hamlin said.

      Hamlin was also a little slow on the pit road, which was a good thing. On a day where nine drivers were caught speeding due to the addition of extra timing lines on the pit road by NASCAR, Hamlin had no issues. This is the same guy who earlier this year scored six speeding penalties. One of those caught was pole winner Edwards, who led the first 25 laps before getting ticketed by the computers on the pit road.

      Now 35, Hamlin had predicted multiple championships that have not come to pass. Last year, after advancing to the second round with a victory at Homestead, Hamlin and his team got mired in errors and never made it to the third round, probably one reason why Gibbs made a crew chief swap to Wheeler in order to let that bitter memory pass.

      Hamlin came close in 2010 to beating Jimmie Johnson for the title, but he and his team blew it in the closing races under the original 10-race format. An errant move that damaged his car at Homestead ended Hamlin's chances that year after he was forced to start at the back and tried too hard to get through the field to catch Johnson.

      At the Glen, a steady pace won the race. It may be Hamlin's year to follow the same routine to success in the postseason. Sunday, he said, "was a good sign of things to come."

  • Denny Hamlin had to overcome major back pain to win at the Glen
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 7, 2016

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- As crew chief Mike Wheeler put it after Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, Denny Hamlin wouldn't have driven his car if the schedule simply called for a practice session.

      But since Sunday was a race day, Hamlin was in the car, overcoming persistent pain to win his first road course event at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International track.

      Hamlin, who has had disc problems exacerbated by a hard wreck at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.) in 2013, had no explanation for the onset of the back pain on Sunday morning. He woke up, and it was there.

      "I don't know what causes it," Hamlin said. "It just happens every now and then. It's never happened on a race day, for sure. Usually I'm in the car, and things get looser as the weekend goes on. ... But just today, you know, slept wrong -- something. Woke up and knew I was in pretty big trouble. We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn't make it much better.

      "No doubt, if it was Friday or Saturday, no question I wouldn't have turned one lap today. It was by far the worst conditions I've ever had to drive in, over the knees (Hamlin has had surgery on both), anything else. This was by far the worst pain wise I've had to go through."

      It didn't help that the race had two stoppages for a total of 30 minutes. As Hamlin sat in his motionless car, he suffered.

      "It didn't get any better throughout the day," Hamlin said. "Trust me, I'm sitting there, even though I'm joyed that we're leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, 'Let's get this over with so I can get out of this car.'

      "I don't know why it did it today. But I'll just continue to go to work on it and try to get in the gym and try to make things a little bit better overall. I've missed my routine because I've had to travel over the last few weeks. I kind of got off-sequence of my routine that's helped my back.

      "It will go away. By Tuesday, I'll be back fine again. It's just a pain right now."

      Taking the checkered flag, however, was enough of a tonic to get Hamlin through a lengthy burnout to celebrate the win.

      Uescher creeps toward top 30 in Sprint Cup standings

      Chris Buescher, last week's unexpected winner at Pocono Raceway, made up half of the six-point deficit that stood between him and a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      Collected in a Lap 84 wreck near the exit from the Inner Loop at Watkins Glen, Buescher finished 30th on Sunday and gained three points on David Ragan, who is 30th in the series standings. With a win in hand, Buescher must finish in the top 30 in the standings at the end of the 26-race regular season to be eligible to compete in the Chase.

      In the aftermath of the wreck, Buescher wanted to stay in his car, which had nosed into the outside barrier, but he couldn't keep it in reverse. Finally, as NASCAR red-flagged the race for nearly 17 minutes, Buescher exited the car and made a trip to the infield care center while the car was towed to the garage.

      "From where I was, we barely caught the wall on the inside," Buescher said of the wreck. "Basically, the splitter hooked up in the mud. I know when I ran off course, trying to avoid the 4 (Kevin Harvick), it swung all kinds of grass over the car. I knew what the issue was. I was just trying to get them (track workers) to push.

      "We were sitting downhill. Splitter is caked up under mud. Actually broke it loose. It was pretty packed. My hope was that we could be pushed backwards (so he wouldn't have to leave the car). They don't have any straps or anything to be able to hook to the back. Basically, they're depending on being able to push the back bumper to get you moving. We didn't have that opportunity.

      "I get it. I mean, I get why they made me get out. I was just really frustrated and tried really hard to stay in it so we could keep rolling without losing any spots."

      As it turned out, after NASCAR withdrew the red flag, Buescher's crew repaired the car to the point where he could return to the racetrack, and Buescher gained two positions -- and two points -- he otherwise would not have had.

      Allmendinger disconsolate after wreching Kyle Larson

      If it hadn't been for the final corner of the final lap on Sunday at Watkins Glen, AJ Allmendinger would have enjoyed a proud moment, battling back from an early pit road speeding penalty for a top-five finish.

      But the afternoon ended on a sour note when a tap from Allmendinger sent Kyle Larson spinning into the inside barrier as the drivers were battling in Turn 7 on the last lap. Allmendinger finished fourth, but Larson dropped to 29th, with his Chase hopes taking a serious blow.

      "I turned him -- not on purpose," a rueful Allmendinger said after the race. "The No. 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) started to spin, and Kyle and I were racing for fifth there. He defended on the inside, which he should have. And I tried to cut under him off of the last corner, and the No. 78 was coming back across the racetrack. I was under him. He turned. And I just clipped him.

      "I'm just not very happy with myself on that. I don't want to do that, especially for fourth place. And he did a great job. It's on me. I never meant to do it. It's not going to help the case.

      I know he's going to be ----ed off, and he should be ----ed off. I’d be. I definitely cost us a chance to win this race (with the speeding penalty). I tried to give everything I had to get it back. I was going to be pretty happy with the drive back -- until I did that in the last corner."

      As Allmendinger predicted, the accident didn't sit well with Larson.

      "We were about a 10th-place car, and we were going to get a top-five day out of it," Larson said. "We were running sixth coming to (Turn) 7; the No. 47 was behind me. He is always aggressive. I figured he would be smart. Obviously, the No. 78 was spinning in front of us. That is a free spot for both of us, and (he) just dumped me. He had already ran me down to the frontstretch wall once with about 15 (laps) to go or so.

      "Pretty dumb move right there, too, but I was the smarter one racing for points, lifted, could have wrecked him, but didn't. I don't know. I don't know. He wrecked me earlier in the year at Vegas. He has ran me hard, but we always race pretty well, but today was flat out stupid.

      "I love his crew chief (Randall Burnett) to death; he was our engineer last year. It just sucks they are going to have to start building some more race cars because he's got a few coming."

      Watkins Glen announces sellout

      During the driver meetings before Sunday's Cheez-It 355, Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup announced a grandstand sellout for the second consecutive season.

      "This is a great testament to the passion and dedication our fans have for Watkins Glen International," Printup said. "We're looking forward to a great race and delivering an incredible experience that keeps our fans coming back year after year."

      In addition, the track also announced plans for a new viewing deck outside the Esses (turns 2-4) in 2017.

      Joe Gibbs, owner of the winning No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, acknowledged the massive turnout during a post-race interview session with reporters.

      "First of all, it's great to be able to come to New York and Watkins Glen and race," Gibbs said. "I want to say congratulations to everybody here. What impressed me a lot was that crowd. To have a sellout crowd here is huge for our sport. It's big for all of our sponsors. We had a number of them here with us this weekend."

  • Cheez-It 355 results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 7, 2016

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race -- Cheez-It 355 at The Glen

    • Watkins Glen International

      Watkins Glen, New York

      Sunday, August 07, 2016

      1. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90.

      2. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 90.

      3. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90.

      4. (9) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 90.

      5. (3) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 90.

      6. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 90.

      7. (14) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90.

      8. (10) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 90.

      9. (32) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 90.

      10. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 90.

      11. (17) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 90.

      12. (20) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 90.

      13. (16) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 90.

      14. (21) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 90.

      15. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 90.

      16. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 90.

      17. (11) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 90.

      18. (28) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 90.

      19. (19) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 90.

      20. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 90.

      21. (31) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 90.

      22. (33) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 90.

      23. (40) Landon Cassill, Ford, 90.

      24. (37) Boris Said, Ford, 90.

      25. (27) Brian Scott #, Ford, 90.

      26. (39) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 90.

      27. (34) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90.

      28. (22) * Cole Whitt, Toyota, 90.

      29. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 89.

      30. (25) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 89.

      31. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 89.

      32. (15) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Accident, 83.

      33. (26) David Ragan, Toyota, Accident, 83.

      34. (35) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Accident, 83.

      35. (29) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 77.

      36. (36) * Alex Kennedy, Chevrolet, Engine, 76.

      37. (38) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 74.

      38. (30) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 52.

      39. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, Accident, 52.

      40. (13) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 52.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 89.513 mph.

      Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 27 Mins, 48 Secs. Margin of Victory: 2.065 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 8 for 20 laps.

      Lead Changes: 9 among 8 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: C. Edwards 1-25; M. Truex Jr. 26; J. Logano 27-33; D. Patrick 34-44; Kyle Busch 45-48; B. Keselowski 49; Kurt Busch 50-52; J. Logano 53; B. Keselowski 54-80; D. Hamlin 81-90.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski 2 times for 28 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 25 laps; D. Patrick 1 time for 11 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 10 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 8 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 4 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 3 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: B. Keselowski -- 727; K. Harvick -- 718; Kurt Busch -- 689; Kyle Busch -- 670; C. Edwards -- 653; J. Logano -- 652; D. Hamlin -- 620; M. Truex Jr. -- 612; M. Kenseth -- 600; J. Johnson -- 578; R. Newman -- 562; C. Elliott # -- 561; A. Dillon -- 559; J. Mcmurray -- 550; K. Larson -- 520; T. Bayne -- 512.

  • Erik Jones to drive new Furniture Row Sprint Cup car in '17
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 7, 2016

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service, distributed by The Sports Xchange

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Erik Jones and Furniture Row Racing made it official on Sunday morning at Watkins Glen International.

      In 2017, Furniture Row Racing will expand from one car to two, with Jones driving the No. 77 Toyota under sponsorship from 5-hour Energy.

      The addition of Jones brings to six the number of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams receiving comprehensive factory support from Toyota Racing Development (TRD). A native of Byron, Mich., Jones, 20, will team with veteran Martin Truex Jr., who qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last year and reached the Championship 4 in the No. 78 Furniture Row Camry.

      Jones' only Sprint Cup experience consists of three races last season in a fill-in role for Kyle Busch, who missed the first 11 events because of injury. Jones' best finish was a 12th at Texas Motor Speedway, and the speed he showed as a relief driver is a source of confidence as he ascends to the Sprint Cup series.

      "I don't think at any point in your career that you're totally ready to make that move," said Jones, who has a one-year deal with Furniture Row and primary sponsorship from 5-hour Energy for 22 races. "Last year, I think I learned a lot in the few starts that I made. At the end of the day, I'm as ready as I can be. At the end of the day, you've got to make that jump and you're going to sink or swim. I think I'm in the best situation to hopefully swim and be successful at it.

      "There's going to be a lot to learn for sure. There's going to be some ups and downs throughout the year but I think at the end of it all, we're going to be in a good position. We'll have speed added and hopefully, we'll be competitive throughout the year."

      Jones' rise to the highest level of stock car racing has been meteoric. In 2012, as a 16-year-old, he beat 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch in the Snowball Derby, a marquee event for Super Late Models in Pensacola, Fla. Busch subsequently hired Jones to drive a NASCAR Camping World Truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

      Last year, Jones won the Truck Series championship and moved up to a full-time ride in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season with Joe Gibbs Racing, which maintains a technical partnership with Furniture Row on the Cup level.

      With three XFINITY victories this season, Jones is the only series regular with multiple wins. Jones is a graduate of the prestigious NASCAR Next program, an initiative to spotlight the sport's future stars.

      "Three different teams in three consecutive years," said TRD USA President David Wilson. "Toyota is the fortunate and grateful common denominator in that equation. But the underlying point is we wouldn't be sitting up here today were it not for the tremendous partnership that Toyota enjoys with our partners Kyle Busch Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Furniture Row Racing.

      "I think Erik ascending to the Cup level, for Toyota, this is the first time a Toyota driver has grown from the grassroots ranks all the way through NASCAR's national series. I think it's a great story for Toyota, but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport."

      The Jones announcement was the culmination of a heavy news weekend for Furniture Row, which on Thursday announced the re-signing of Truex to a two-year deal. For his part, Truex expects the addition of his new teammate to enhance the stature of Furniture Row.

      "I know a lot of things had to come together," Truex said. "Toyota and the JGR alliance, all those things have been wonderful for us. Now I feel like those things all coming together, allowing us to do a second car, kind of helps keep those relationships strong, helps us build those for the future, and really I think bodes well for the future of Furniture Row Racing.

      "Looking forward to that. Hopefully, it's something I'll be able to be a part of for a long, long time. Excited to work with Erik. Obviously, a great talent, has all the right people behind him to be successful in this sport. Look forward to hopefully teaching him a thing or two along the way."

  • Watkins Glen notebook: Buescher confident about making Chase
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, August 6, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchnge

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Chris Buescher is still on the outside looking in, but probably not for long.

      After last Sunday's unexpected NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Pocono Raceway, Buescher is still 31st in the standings, six points behind 30th-place David Ragan. In order to qualify for the Chase, Buescher must be in the top 30 after the 26th race of the season, scheduled for Sept. 10 at Richmond.

      Buescher is confident he can meet the challenge.

      "If we look at it now, we're in good shape to be heading forward," Buescher said on Friday at Watkins Glen International, site of Sunday's Cheez-It 355 (2:30 p.m. ET on USA). "Our cars have been a lot better each and every weekend. The last six or seven or eight weeks, we've been unloading with a lot better speed and finishing better and staying running better in the race.

      "And when we look ahead, after this weekend we're going to a lot of places for the second time finally, so we have a good notebook between (crew chief) Bob (Osborne) and myself. With our first year working together, we feel like we have better chemistry now and can pick up speed in the next five races leading up to the Chase."

      For one thing, there are no more superspeedway races before the Chase starts. Buescher crashed out of all three restrictor-plate events this season, with his only other DNF coming at Kentucky.

      Henceforth, Buescher also will get better equipment on a consistent basis from Roush Fenway Racing, which farmed him out to Front Row Motorsports for his rookie year in the Sprint Cup series.

      "As we go forward, we have had pretty awesome support from Roush Fenway this year," Buescher said. "A lot of the races we have been kind of half-and-half on what we're doing, but as we look at the Chase coming up here, I think we'll be able to try to step up our program as much as possible.

      "I know when we landed from Utah (where Buescher attended a refresher course on road racing earlier this week), our 34 team was still in the shop at 10:30 at night to make sure we had the best piece possible for the Glen this weekend. I know the team is working as hard as they possibly can to make sure we're running better."

      With that in mind, Buescher is optimistic about making the Chase.

      "We'll get there," he said.


      Confident in making the final 12 during Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Watkins Glen International -- based on a strong showing in Friday's practice -- Martin Truex Jr. waited until late in the first round of knockout qualifying to make his only run.

      The plan went awry, however, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entered the track at the bottom of the esses when Truex was approaching that series of snaking turns. In avoiding Stenhouse's No. 17 Ford, Truex lost valuable time and failed to advance to the final round.

      "There is nothing wrong with trying to do it in one run if people on the race track were paying attention to what's going on," said Truex, who will start 14th in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. "You've got somebody that just pulled out of the pits and sees you coming ... literally, I don't understand what the 17 was thinking. He was just leaving pit road and he wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere.

      "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense why he would've done what he did except for the fact that he just wasn't paying attention. It's a shame. We still almost made the second round. I don't know what you can do about it. Our car is fabulous, and the guys have done a great job all weekend. Certainly hard to win from there, but it's possible, and we won't give up until the race is over."

      Truex got his revenge. As he was rolling on his cool-down lap, he blocked Stenhouse's progress, again in the esses, relegating the No. 17 to a 30th-place qualifying effort.

      "We got in the way of the 78 there on his lap, thinking that he was done, and then so he in turn returned the favor, which I expected," Stenhouse said. "It's nothing on him. We just did a bad job at qualifying there today."


      Jeff Gordon thought he had a top-five car for qualifying on Saturday, but it didn't work out that way. In his third race as a fill-in driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, Gordon had to settle for the 21st starting position.

      "I was pretty disappointed," Gordon said of his qualifying runs at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen road course. "We were fast (in Friday's practice). I felt like we were going to have no issues moving through to Round 2. I was more thinking about whether we could get in the top five. That's not the way it went for our Axalta Chevrolet.

      "The first run out I was a little conservative, just because I knew the grip level was down (thanks to overnight rain that washed rubber from the track). I just wanted to put a solid lap together and hit every corner. I got a little bit loose at the top of the esses. The second time out, I tried to attack a little bit more, and unfortunately, when I did that, I missed Turn 1 and my shift point, and that kind of just got us off the whole time."

      Nevertheless, Gordon was optimistic about his prospects for Sunday's race.

      "I like this race track," said Gordon, a four-time winner at the Glen. "I like the repave. The tire is a little tricky, but the team has done an excellent job and I'm having fun out there shifting and turning right and left.

      "We've got our work cut out for us, but we've got a race car just like we have every weekend -- so far I've been in the car -- that can work its way forward."

  • Edwards edges Larson for pole at Watkins Glen
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, August 6, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchnge

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- You can add the title "road course ringer" to Carl Edwards' racing resume.

      Touring the road course at Watkins Glen in 69.689 seconds (126.562 mph) during Saturday's time trials at Watkins Glen International, Edwards beat Kyle Larson (126.223 mph) by .182 seconds to earn the top starting spot for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (2:30 p.m. ET on USA).

      In winning his fourth Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 20th of his career, Edwards completed a sweep of road course poles in 2016, having also started first on the grid at Sonoma Raceway in June.

      Larson's second-place effort was a career-best on a road course, bettering the third starting position he earned at Sonoma in 2014. Tony Stewart (126.177 mph) qualified third, followed by Matt Kenseth (126.104 mph) and Kyle Busch (126.099 mph), both teammates to Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing.

      Edwards said starting on the pole on the newly-repaved racing surface at the Glen will be a significant advantage.

      "I think (Sunday) is going to be a little bit of an adventure," said Edwards, whose four poles this year constitute a career best for a single season. "The new pavement, nobody knows how that's going to go along deep into the runs with tire build-up. I think the braking zones are pretty tough, and it's going to be nice and warm.

      "So, just got to stay upfront, can't make any mistakes. I love road races. They're so much fun. I got to talk to Boris Said, who's basically my road racing coach to start, so that was cool today. Hopefully, tonight I'll get me some good rest and hopefully be very competitive tomorrow."

      Even though Edwards' No. 19 Camry was fastest in qualifying, he expects stiff competition on Sunday from his Toyota brethren.

      "My teammates, they're really fast," Edwards said. "Kyle (Busch) is really fast and Martin (Truex Jr. of affiliated Furniture Row Racing) is really fast.

      "We've got to work a little bit in race trim, but we're starting up front, and we've got a great pit crew, and hopefully we can put (the car) in Victory Lane."

      Truex, in fact, was one of the favorites for the pole, but his hot lap in the money round was impeded by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who entered the track at the bottom of the esses as Truex was approaching that uphill section of the 2.45-mile course.

      Truex, who qualified 14th, returned the favor on his cool-down lap, taking Stenhouse's line in the esses and relegating the Roush Fenway Racing driver to a 30th-place starting spot.

      Jeff Gordon qualified 21st in his third start for Dale Earnhardt Jr. AJ Allmendinger, the 2014 Watkins Glen winner, will start ninth.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Cheez-It 355 at The Glen

      Watkins Glen International

      Watkins Glen, New York

      Saturday, August 6, 2016

      1. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 126.562 mph.

      2. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 126.233 mph.

      3. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 126.177 mph.

      4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 126.104 mph.

      5. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 126.099 mph.

      6. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 126.002 mph.

      7. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 125.924 mph.

      8. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 125.831 mph.

      9. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 125.623 mph.

      10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 125.536 mph.

      11. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 125.370 mph.

      12. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 124.981 mph.

      13. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 124.981 mph.

      14. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 124.968 mph.

      15. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 124.837 mph.

      16. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 124.670 mph.

      17. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 124.585 mph.

      18. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 124.569 mph.

      19. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 124.559 mph.

      20. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 124.532 mph.

      21. (88) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 124.460 mph.

      22. (98) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 124.269 mph.

      23. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 124.248 mph.

      24. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 124.159 mph.

      25. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 124.120 mph.

      26. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 123.842 mph.

      27. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 123.633 mph.

      28. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 123.464 mph.

      29. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 123.455 mph.

      30. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 123.446 mph.

      31. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 123.389 mph.

      32. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 123.353 mph.

      33. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 123.157 mph.

      34. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 123.110 mph.

      35. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 122.624 mph.

      36. (55) Alex Kennedy, Chevrolet, 122.193 mph.

      37. (32) Boris Said, Ford, 122.157 mph.

      38. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 121.202 mph.

      39. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 119.246 mph.

      40. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 0.000 mph.

  • NASCAR notebook: Retirement not in Earnhardt's vocabulary
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 5, 2016

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchnge

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it clear on Friday. He doesn't want to talk about the "R" word, as in retirement.

      Earnhardt's recent struggle with concussion-like symptoms, a malady that will cause him to miss at least five NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, has fueled speculation that concern over health issues might persuade him to exit the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet permanently.

      But Earnhardt had an emphatic reply when that issue was raised in a question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday at Watkins Glen International, host venue for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 (2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network).

      I have every intention of honoring my current contract (which runs through 2017)," Earnhardt said. "I sat with (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) before this happened a couple of months ago to talk about an extension. That's the direction that we are going. As soon as I can get healthy and get confident in how I feel and feel like I can drive a car and be great driving it, then I want to drive.

      "I want to race. I miss the competition. I miss being here. I miss the people and, as Rick likes to say, 'We've got unfinished business.' I'm not ready to stop racing. I'm not ready to quit. It's a slower process, I wish it wasn't. I don't know how long it's going to take."

      Until Earnhardt receives medical clearance, he won't be allowed to race, and he's working diligently with his doctors to suppress the symptoms that forced him out of the car for the mid-July Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire and will keep him on the sidelines at least through the Aug. 20 event at Bristol Motor Speedway.

      "I'm not going to go in the car until the doctors clear me," Earnhardt said. "The doctors won't let me race. This is not my decision, but it's the right decision, and I trust what my doctors are telling me.

      "When they say I'm good to go, I believe them. If they say I'm healthy and I can race, I'm going to race."

      Doctors concluded that the onset of Earnhardt's concussion-like symptoms, which involve issues with gaze stability, dizziness and balance, began with a wreck at Michigan in mid-June, though Earnhardt said the intensification of the symptoms was gradual.

      After he raced at Kentucky Speedway on July 9, Earnhardt sought medical attention, and what he thought might be a sinus infection instead resulted in the diagnosis that forced him out of the car.

      Earnhardt receives medical evaluations every two to three weeks and will continue to do so until he is symptom-free. In the meantime, doctors are encouraging him to participate in higher-stress public situations -- such as a press conference -- to exacerbate the symptoms with an eye toward getting them under control.

      "That's just part of the process," Earnhardt said. "You don't want to go anywhere where you're going to feel worse. And this situation, my doctor tells me, is good therapy to go somewhere that makes you feel worse. Go in there and get exposure and then get out and go somewhere where you can kind of get calmed back down and then repeat the process.

      "And so, I've been going and eating and having lunch with my family. I go to (sister) Kelley's house and get in the living room with her kids; boy that drives up the symptoms pretty good. But, it's been great to spend time with them."

      But it's all with one thing in mind.

      "I just want to get better," Earnhardt said. "Our intentions are to get cleared and get back to racing. We are just taking it one evaluation at a time.

      "It's frustrating to have to do it that way, but that's the process, and we hope and expect that, when we go back for the next evaluation, we are symptom-free and can start to see a timeline develop."


      With an enhanced sponsor commitment from Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Boats, Martin Truex Jr. has agreed to a two-year contract extension with Denver, Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing.

      Truex qualified for the Chase last year and advanced to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway before finishing fourth in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. This year, he collected his fourth career victory, leading a NASCAR-record 588 of 600 miles in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May.

      "The last year-and-a-half with this team has been amazing," Truex said on Friday afternoon at Watkins Glen, where he was second fastest in final Sprint Cup practice. "Just looking forward to continuing that momentum and building upon our success. Final four last year was a big deal for us, and looking forward to hopefully getting back there this year and do it even better.

      "Just again continue to build on the success we've grown into as a group. I think we've got the best team in the garage without a doubt, in my opinion, and just looking forward to keeping that together and hopefully doing bigger and better things as we go forward."

      Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Boats has increased its primary sponsorship commitment on Truex's No. 78 Toyota from 12 to 16 races for the 2017 season.


      After his No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Racing team repaired a punctured oil line on his Chevrolet, AJ Allmendinger led NASCAR Sprint Cup final practice at Watkins Glen. Even so, the 2014 race winner at the 2.45-mile road course wasn't satisfied with the performance of his car on the repaved track. "We got it closer," Allmendinger said. "It's still not amazing, but it's got speed in it at least. There are a lot of nuances about this place now that have changed with the new pavement and a real hard tire. Strategy is going to be even more important than usual. It should be interesting on Sunday" .... In Friday time trials, Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski claimed the two front-row starting spots for Saturday's Zippo 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC). Logano claimed the Coors Light Pole Award with a track-record lap at 124.552 mph. Logano is looking to break a NASCAR XFINITY Series drought that dates to last year's race at Watkins Glen.

  • Watkins Glen poses big challenges for Chase contenders
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 4, 2016

    For Sprint Cup drivers who are contenders to make NASCAR's version of the postseason, there are many ways the race can go right or wrong on Sunday at Watkins Glen.

    • The only safe prediction -- whether by team owners, crew chiefs, drivers or journalists -- is that stuff happens at the 2.45-mile road course with a majority of right hand corners instead of left hand turns. Unusual stuff.

      When it comes to the Chase standings, there are 10 drivers in the running for the remaining five places currently available for getting into the Chase on points. Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are currently above the cut line. Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger are within shouting distance in the points standings.

      Chris Buescher, the upset winner at the Pocono Raceway on Monday, is six points out of the Top 30. If he can advance one position in the points and stay in the Top 30, his surprise victory will put him into the Chase and take away one spot for those who are vying to get in on points.

      What kind of road racer is Buescher? His first Xfinity Series victory came at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2014.

      For those who can't afford a bad day at the track when it comes to making the Chase, here are the main ways results can be juggled dramatically on the 22nd stop in the 26-race regular season:

      1. Pit strategy -- When Tony Stewart won at the Sonoma Raceway in June, an early pit stop and fortuitous caution put him into the lead. From there he held on, sometimes precariously, for a victory despite getting passed briefly due to worn tires by Denny Hamlin on the last lap. It was an upset because Stewart was out of the running until he was forced to pit early by ill handling. Teams willing to gamble on getting a victory or high finish can choose to try their luck at the Glen and come in early for tires and fuel on the last round of stops, hoping for a quick caution and an outcome similar to Stewart at Sonoma.

      2. Fuel mileage -- This is an alternate route when it comes to pit strategy. Fuel strategies can be dictated by cautions, which can present the chance for a backmarker to advance to the front. But if a fuel strategy falls short, it can lead to a plunge in the points with either a slow final lap or an incomplete last lap.

      Last year, Joey Logano led only one lap to win as he passed the slowing Chevy of Kevin Harvick, which was out of fuel, in the final corner. Kyle Busch also slipped by to take second. This may have shaken up only the top three positions, but it's an example of how risk taking on fuel strategy comes into play at Watkins Glen.

      3. New race winner -- A driver in the running for a points position such as Allmendinger can win the race and reduce the number of spots available in the 16-driver field to those trying to make the Chase on points. Allmendinger came into the Sprint Cup from the CART series, where he regularly won on road and street circuits. He took the victory at the Glen in 2014 and has been a contender on road courses ever since.

      Are there any other potential candidates to win now that Down Under road racer Marcos Ambrose has returned to his native Tasmania after winning in 2011 and 2012? Boris Said, a road racer who has regularly driven Sprint Cup events at the Glen, is entered by GO FAS Racing. Where Front Row Motorsports and Buescher are affiliated with Roush Fenway Racing, GO FAS is a long, long shot despite the prowess of Said.

      4. Mechanical failure -- Drivers shift more often at the Glen than on ovals. This can put the gearboxes themselves at risk and valve trains, which can be damaged due to missing a shift and over-revving the engine. Since the vast majority of drivers finish on the lead lap at the Glen, an early exit or lost lap due to a sour transmission or engine can really hurt in the points.

      Brad Keselowski's crash during a test at the New York track traced to an improperly installed brake line was a reminder that car prep is crucial as always. Since teams only race on road circuits twice a year, mistakes in preparation, which are increasingly rare in the Sprint Cup, can happen.

      5. Crew chief strategy -- the wrong call or calls by a crew chief on when to pit can leave a driver mired in traffic at the tail end of the field. When Tony Eury, Jr. had to step down as the crew chief for his cousin Dale Earnhardt, Jr., at Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, the writing was on the wall after he badly botched the strategy at the Glen.

      6. Driver error -- With so much shifting and turns, plus the precarious braking zone for the bus stop chicane on the back straight, it's relatively easy for drivers to get off course. On ovals, they merely get off line with slight errors. A few inches can make a world of difference at the Glen. Once in the grass, it's easy for a driver to bust his, well, damage the car enough to lose a lap. That's the kiss of points death at the Glen.

      7. The weather -- While it would be highly unlikely for two races in a row to be halted by fog, which brought Buescher his victory at Pocono, the Glen is alternately sunny, cloudy, clear, misty and rainy during the late summer. A weather interruption could once again play havoc in the final results like at Pocono.

      Throw into this mix of possible problems the fact that expert road racers Stewart and Jeff Gordon, subbing for the injured Earnhardt, Jr., are in theory running their last race at the Glen. Stewart is a lock for the Chase and Gordon as a super sub is ineligible due to his distant points position. Neither driver has anything to lose by gambling for a victory by racing aggressively. It's the same with their crew chiefs when it comes to an aggressive pit strategy.

      Whatever the weather, the forecast for Watkins Glen on Sunday is mixed conditions as teams and drivers continue to jockey for a slot in the Chase.

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 3, 2016

    NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: CHEEZ-IT 355 (90 laps, 220.5 miles), Watkins Glen International; Watkins Glen, N.Y.

    • TV: Sunday, Aug. 7, 2:30 p.m. ET -- USA Network (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: This will be the 33rd Sprint Cup race held on the permanent road course in upstate New York. The track hosted its first Cup race in 1957 and again in 1964 and 1965 before becoming a permanent part of the NASCAR schedule in 1986. It will also be the first time NASCAR has raced on WGI's completely repaved racing surface. ... Joey Logano is the defending champion of this race, having swept both the Cup and Xfinity races there last season. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. will once again sit this weekend's race (as well as Bristol in two weeks) due to a continuation of concussion-like symptoms. However, Earnhardt is expected to attend this weekend's race as a spectator and is expected to have a press conference Friday at-track. ... Chris Buescher won Monday's Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. The race, which was shortened by 22 laps due to fog and then rain, had originally been postponed from Sunday due to rain. It was Buescher's first career Sprint Cup win. But Buescher is not yet eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He is still outside the top-30 by six points. If he can crack the top-30 and remain there after the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond next month, Buescher would then become one of the 16 Chase drivers. ... A total of 12 different drivers have won at least one race thus far in the first 21 races this season: Brad Keselowski (4 wins), Kyle Busch (4), Carl Edwards (2), Jimmie Johnson (2), Matt Kenseth (2), and one win each by Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. Only five races remain for drivers to qualify for the Chase. ... Kevin Harvick (709 points) continues to lead the Sprint Cup point standings. Brad Keselowski (687) is second, followed by Kurt Busch (658), Kyle Busch (634), Carl Edwards (626), Joey Logano dropped two places to sixth (612), Jimmie Johnson (577), Martin Truex Jr. (577), Denny Hamlin (576) and Matt Kenseth (569).

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: ZIPPO 200 AT THE GLEN (82 laps, 200.9 miles), Watkins Glen International; Watkins Glen, N.Y.

      TV: Saturday, Aug. 6, 2 p.m. ET -- CNBC (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THEN AND NOW: Saturday will mark the 23rd time the Xfinity Series has raced at Watkins Glen. ... Joey Logano is the defending winner of this race, having swept last year's Cup and Xfinity races there. ... Erik Jones dominated last Saturday's U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, leading 154 of the scheduled 250 laps. Ty Dillon finished second, followed by Elliott Sadler. ... Winners of the first 18 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Texas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis), Austin Dillon (Fontana), Erik Jones (Bristol, Dover and Iowa), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond), Elliott Sadler (Talladega), Denny Hamlin (Charlotte), Kyle Larson (Pocono), Daniel Suarez (Michigan), Sam Hornish Jr. (Iowa) and Aric Almirola (Daytona). ... Elliott Sadler (633 points) took over the No. 1 spot in the Xfinity Series point standings. Daniel Suarez (619) dropped to second, followed by Ty Dillon (598), Erik Jones (584), Justin Allgaier (576), Brendan Gaughan (565), Brandon Jones (545), Darrell Wallace Jr. (500) and Ryan Reed (464).

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: The series is off until its next race, Aug. 17, at Bristol Motor Speedway.

      THEN AND NOW: William Byron won last Saturday's Pocono Mountains 150 in dominating fashion, leading 44 of the scheduled 60 laps. It was Byron's fifth Truck win in 2016. ... There have been seven winners thus far this season: Johnny Sauter (Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta), Kyle Busch (Martinsville), William Byron (Kansas, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky and Pocono), Matt Crafton (Dover, Charlotte), Christopher Bell (Gateway) and Kyle Larson (Eldora). ... William Byron remains in the Truck Series points lead (319 points), followed by former champion Matt Crafton (294), Daniel Hemric (282), Timothy Peters (282) and Johnny Sauter (278).

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: The series is off until its next race, Aug. 21, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

      THEN AND NOW: Points leader Simon Pagenaud won his fourth race of the season last Sunday in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Will Power finished second, followed by Carlos Munoz with the other podium finish. ... Even though Pagenaud won at Mid-Ohio, Power remains the hottest driver in the series. Power has won three of the last five races, and finished runner-up in the other two events. ... There are four more races remaining on the 16-race schedule (Pocono, Texas, Watkins Glen and Sonoma). ... This season's race winners thus far are: Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix), Simon Pagenaud (Long Beach, Birmingham, Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Belle Isle 1), Will Power (Belle Isle 2, Road America, Toronto) and Josef Newgarden (Iowa). ... Simon Pagenaud (484 points) continues to lead the point standings, followed by Will Power (426), Helio Castroneves (373), Josef Newgarden (364) and defending series champ Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, tied for fifth with 357 points each.


      TV: Sunday, Aug. 7, 4-7 p.m. ET, FOX TV (live).

      THEN AND NOW: The NHRA wraps up its annual "Western Swing" (Denver, Sonoma and Seattle) this weekend. Three races remain until the start of the Countdown to the Championship (the other two races are Brainerd, Minn., and the biggest race of the year, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day Weekend). ... 16-time Funny Car champion John Force won his second straight race of the season last Sunday at Sonoma. Force is seeking to repeat as the only driver to ever win all three races of the Western Swing this Sunday. He did so previously in 1994. No other driver in any major professional class has swept the Western Swing. ... Other winners this past weekend at Sonoma were J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet won his first Pro Stock Motorcycle race since 2011. ... Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria suffered a fractured left pelvis when her car hit the wall in Sunday's first-round elimination match with John Force. DeJoria's status is uncertain for this weekend's race. A spokesman for the team said DeJoria does not require immediate surgery, but is in great pain from the injury. DeJoria is on the bubble to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, currently 10th (the final spot eligible for the six-race playoff). If she misses one or more races, her chances of making the Countdown will greatly decrease. ... In the NHRA point standings, Antron Brown remains No. 1 in Top Fuel (1,204 points), followed by Doug Kalitta (1,167), Steve Torrence (1,072), Brittany Force (1,008) and Tony Schumacher (971). Brown, Kalitta, Torrence and Force have clinched berths in the Countdown. ... In Funny Car, Ron Capps (1,214 points) remains No. 1, followed by Courtney Force (1,084), Jack Beckman (1,031 points), Del Worsham (960) and John Force (937), who climbed from eighth to fifth in the standings after Sunday's win at Sonoma. Capps, Courtney Force, Beckman and Worsham have all clinched berths in the Countdown. ... In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson (1,587 points) took over the No. 1 spot from teammate Jason Line (1,583), followed by another teammate, Bo Butner (1,065) in third, then Allen Johnson (939) and Vincent Nobile (811). Anderson, Line and Butner have all clinched berths in the Countdown. ... Defending two-time series champ Erica Enders (618 points) continues to struggle, ranked in 11th place. However, Enders could make a late surge in the next three races and still qualify for the Countdown. While Enders is 969 points behind Anderson, she is only nine points out of 10th place. ... In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec remains No. 1 in the standings (824 points), followed by teammate and 2015 series champ Andrew Hines (735), Angelle Sampey (595), Jerry Savoie (556) and LE Tonglet (484). Krawiec and Hines have clinched positions in the Countdown.