NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In contemplating his future at Joe Gibbs Racing, driver Carl Edwards draws inspiration from an unlikely source: Kevin Harvick.
With a new team, a new crew chief and a new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format in 2014, Kevin Harvick drove his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to the series championship.
With a new team (Joe Gibbs Racing), a new crew chief (Darian Grubb), a new manufacturer (Toyota) and a new sponsor (Arris), Edwards is hopeful he can follow the same blueprint.
"I believe the Chase format favors guys that have made changes," Edwards said Monday, the first day of the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR Media Tour presented by Technocom. "If you look across the board, people are probably more likely to make crew driver/chief changes, team changes, all that stuff with this format because, really, you can go 15 races or 20 races and figure things out and then still be in the Chase and win the championship.
"(Harvick's) team proved it last year. Brand-new team, and they worked out all the bugs all year, and they went and did it. The championship really doesn't happen 'til a long time from now, with this format."
Edwards craves a championship in NASCAR's foremost series. In 2011 he came close, losing the title to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker. But Edwards wants to be a contender every season, something he wasn't able to achieve during his 11-year tenure with Roush Fenway Racing.
"The happiest I've ever been and the most excited about racing I've ever been was in 2011, the last three or four weeks," Edwards said. "It was so exciting. It just felt like I was in the middle of exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I want that every year. I want to go to Homestead with all that pressure and win."
If Edwards' arrival is the most obvious change at Joe Gibbs Racing, it certainly isn't the only one. For the first time since its inception in 1992, JGR will field four full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. And the season will begin with old faces in new places.
Crew chief Darian Grubb will move from Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota to Edwards' No. 19. Dave Rogers will move from Kyle Busch's No. 18 to Hamlin's car. Busch's new crew chief is Adam Stevens, who is making the jump to the Cup series after a highly successful pairing with Busch in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
The only driver/crew chief pairing unaffected is the Matt Kenseth/Jason Ratcliff combination in the No. 20 Camry.
Team owner Joe Gibbs said the addition of Edwards and a fourth car allowed the organization to weigh a number of personnel options.
"When Carl came on board, it meant that we were going to take a look at our crew chiefs and what are we going to do," Gibbs told the NASCAR Wire Service. "We loved Adam, so we felt like he and Kyle had worked together a bunch. We let them talk it over, and they decided, 'Let's do this.'
"And that meant that Dave could go to Denny and Darian could go to Carl. We all talked about it. It was not just us making a decision, me and (team president) J.D. (Gibbs). It was all of us talking over every single part of it. And everybody seemed to agree in the end that this is where we should wind up."
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The way NASCAR CEO Brian France sees it, no news is good news, as far as potential changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format are concerned.
In confirming that the sanctioning body will stand pat with its 10-race playoff format this year, France indicated that one of the primary factors in the decision to keep the Chase status quo was the overwhelming response from fans.
"They like the fact that it tightened up competition," France said. "They liked the drama down the stretch. They liked the emphasis on winning. And one of the things they told us that they really liked is the idea that we weren't going to change anything. They strongly suggested that we didn't, and we're not going to."
Accordingly, the 16-driver Chase will use the same criteria for determining driver eligibility and the same elimination format for determining the champion.
"It's not because there aren't a tweak or two here that we didn't get good suggestions on," France said. "but one of the magical parts of this Chase, and we want to make sure we keep it this way, is the simplicity of it: Win and you get in; be in the top eight, top four, whatever it may be, and move on; coming down the stretch, beat the other three drivers and you win the championship.
"So whatever we would do into the future, we want to make sure that simplicity is right there."
The Chase aside, it's not as if there won't be plenty of changes for fans to embrace this year. Perhaps most visible is the new pit road officiating system that combines video and computer technology with a smaller number of officials.
A sophisticated computer system will make cut-and-dried calls and will flag possible violations (such as pit crew members over the wall too soon) for review and verification by a team of eight officials at computer terminals in a trailer.
The input for the system consists of approximately 46 high-definition cameras mounted above the grandstands. Overall, the new officiating system promises to provide more relevant data to television partners, media and fans.
"We already know that 2015 and the edition of the Great American Race (Daytona 500) will forever have a chapter in the sport's history," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. "It will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event to utilize our new pit road technology, and if you haven't heard of the innovation, you soon will.
"At the heart of this, its purpose is the ability to provide an extraordinary experience to our broadcast partners, the race teams and, ultimately, our fans. We're going to do this by way of statistics, video and data during a NASCAR event. And with this technology, we know that we're going to be safer, we'll be more exact, and we'll realize a fairer and more balanced playing field."
O'Donnell also addressed the issue of side skirts on the cars, which teams have used to improve the aerodynamic performance of their cars. In 2015, manipulation of the fenders and flares no longer will be permitted, and teams will be required to return to pit road when a violation is detected.
NASCAR teams will have to adapt to a new rules package on open-motor tracks this season, one that features lower downforce numbers (via a smaller spoiler) and reduced horsepower, factors NASCAR hopes will make the racing even more competitive than it was during last year's first Chase.
France stressed that the new rules package is a work in progress, as NASCAR continually strives to improve the quality of its on-track product.
"It'll always evolve, and the reason for that is the teams are always trying to gain an advantage," France said. "They go out, whatever package we present, and they try to lead every lap and they try to have an advantage. So our job is to make sure that the playing field is level and that more teams have a good shot at competing at a high level.
"And given that it always changes, we have to change, too, and circumstances change. Tires change, tracks wear down differently. We change tracks from time to time. So there are other variables outside of what even the teams do that will always keep us looking ahead."
NASCAR also unveiled its new Drive for Diversity class for the 2015 season. Competing under the auspices of Rev Racing will be returnees Devon Amos, 23, of Rio Rancho, N.M.; Jay Beasley, 23, of Las Vegas; and newcomers Collin Cabre, 21, of Thonotosassa, Fla.; Dylan Smith, 22, of Randolph, Vt.; Natalie Decker, 17, of Eagle River, Wis., and Kenzie Ruston, 22, of El Reno, Okla.
Ruston already has two years of competition in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where she finished ninth in the final standings last year.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
When it comes down to it, Jeff Gordon's hope for how he is remembered in NASCAR is quite modest.
"I definitely am proud of everything I've done on and off the track," Gordon said. "But I guess I like to keep it simple when I think of things like this. I think of my heroes on the track when I was growing up -- A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser.
"I loved the fact that those guys won Indianapolis 500s and championships. They were great race car drivers. And quite simply, I will be happy if people recognize me as a great race car driver, because that's all I ever wanted to be."
Yet he is so much more.
Gordon announced Thursday that the upcoming 2015 season will be his last as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The four-time Cup champion first revealed his decision to Hendrick Motorsports employees in the morning and later held a 33-minute teleconference call along with Rick Hendrick to answer questions from the media.
Hendrick left no doubt that Gordon's wish will be granted as far as being remembered as a great driver. But he was quick to add that Gordon has been much more during a Sprint Cup career that has spanned more than two decades.
"I think the fans will remember Jeff as a young guy who came into the sport and changed the sport," Hendrick said.
Hendrick cited many of Gordon’s on-track accomplishments, which include 92 career victories and 77 poles, both of which rank third all time; the first of four championships at age 24 in only his third full season in 1995; and the fact that last year Gordon challenged for a fifth title nearly all the way to the end of the season at age 42.
But then Hendrick added, "I think more than all of that they will remember how Jeff has given back through his foundation for kids, or (the) Make-A-Wish (foundation), or the professionalism he's shown whether it's been (as a guest host) on Regis and Kelly or Saturday Night Live or any of the other things he did to help bring NASCAR to the forefront. I think all of those things are going to go along with the fact that he was one of the greatest drivers ever in the sport.
"I mean, how many young drivers would not be here today if Jeff Gordon, at a young age, had not blazed the trail from an entirely different kind of series? The wins, the championships, the philanthropy, the role model, the spokesman for the sport ... all of it adds up to him being the whole package. And I bet he will continue to leave his mark beyond his driving years. The fans are going to appreciate everything he's done on and off the track."
Brian France, chairman and chief executive officer of NASCAR, could not agree more with Hendrick about Gordon's wide-ranging impact on the sport.
"Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race," France said in a statement. "We have all enjoyed watching his legend grow for more than two decades, and will continue to do so during his final full-time season.
"His prolonged excellence and unmatched class continue to earn him the admiration of fans across the globe. (Thursday's) announcement is a bittersweet one. I’ll miss his competitive fire on a weekly basis, but I am also happy for Jeff and his family as they start a new chapter. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Jeff for his years of dedication and genuine love for this sport, and wish him the very best in his final season."
Gordon grew up in California, began racing at age five and moved to Indiana when he was 14 to further a career that he thought would take place in open-wheel racing. It wasn't until later that he even noticed NASCAR -- but once he turned to it, it was full speed ahead.
Gordon, now 43, ranks third in all-time Cup victories with 92, trailing only NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). He also is third in poles won with 77, and only Petty, the late Dale Earnhardt (with seven each) and Jimmie Johnson (with six) have won more championships.
One of the most versatile drivers in the history of NASCAR, Gordon owns three Daytona 500 victories, a record five Brickyard 400 wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a record nine road-course victories. He has won on every current Sprint Cup track except Kentucky Speedway.
Gordon said he will continue to remain involved in the sport as the official car owner of the No. 48 Chevrolet that Johnson drives for Hendrick Motorsports and continue the charity work he does with the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, which primarily deals with pediatric cancer research.
Hendrick said Gordon will be greatly missed and that the company will address the subject of Gordon's replacement at a later date -- although it appears that defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott is in line for the ride beginning in 2016.
"There's simply no way to quantify Jeff's impact," Hendrick said. "He's one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed.
"There's been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be. ... I look forward to many more years together as friends and business partners."
Gordon said he will remain focused on trying to win a fifth championship in 2015 for Hendrick Motorsports in his No. 24 Chevrolet. But he also said he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, and their two young children, daughter Ella and son Leo.
"I'll explore opportunities for the next phase of my career, but my primary focus now and throughout 2015 will be my performance in the No. 24 Chevrolet," he said. "I'm going to pour everything I have into this season and look forward to the challenge of competing for one last championship."
Gordon said he had discussed retirement with Hendrick before the past few seasons but determined that "now is the right time" about halfway through last season -- after he had encountered some issues with a chronic back injury.
"I wanted to do it on my own terms and I wanted to do it while I was still competitive," Gordon said.
Hendrick said, "It's going to be truly awkward and strange when I walk into the garage area and I don't see Jeff sitting in the No. 24 car. At the same time, I'm looking at it like that's a year away. I want to win the championship with him this year. ... He's an icon in our sport. I'm anxious to see the next chapter -- after we win the championship this year. I'm going to put a little pressure on him."
Gordon did not miss the not-so-subtle challenge from his boss and business partner.
"I like it," Gordon said.
"I won't use the 'R-word' because I plan to stay extremely busy in the years ahead, and there's always the possibility I'll compete in selected events, although I currently have no plans to do that," Gordon said. "I don't foresee a day when I'll ever step away from racing."
Gordon informed his Hendrick Motorsports team Thursday morning at around 9 a.m. before making the public announcement. The Hendrick Motorsports stable includes popular drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who offered their congratulations via Twitter.
"Hard to imagine this is @JeffGordonWeb last full season. Tons of respect for him and what he's accomplished thus far. A total professional," Earnhardt Jr. wrote.
Gordon is a four-time series champion. At 43, he is entering his 23rd season on the circuit and ranks behind only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) in career wins with 92.
He won four races last season and finished sixth in the final points standings. Gordon has no major health issues but has been bothered by back soreness in recent years.
Hendrick Motorsports will not immediately name a replacement for Gordon's No. 24 car. Several drivers will get consideration, including developmental Hendrick driver Chase Elliott.
Gordon is likely to be heavily involved with Hendrick Motorsports well beyond this season. He is a part owner of Johnson's No. 48 car and has been with the company since 1992. He signed a lifetime contract in 1999.
"He's one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed," owner Rick Hendrick said. "There's been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be."
Gordon's season begins at Daytona next month. He's a three-time Daytona 500 winner and five-time Brickyard 500 champion.
"I thought long and hard about my future this past year and during the offseason, and I've decided 2015 will be the last time I compete for a championship," he said.
Driscoll accused Busch of slamming her head three times against the bedroom wall of his motor home on Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway.
Busch and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, denied the accusations and cast Driscoll, who runs the Armed Forces Foundation and her own defense company, as a jilted lover who wants to destroy Busch's reputation. In a strange twist in the case, Busch claimed Driscoll is a trained assassin deployed on many missions, was never physically abused.
According to a report in the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal, Busch offered up specific examples of her returning from missions, sometimes with bruises. Once, he said, they were in El Paso, Texas, where Driscoll left that night in camouflage and boots. She returned later to the hotel at which he was staying wearing a trench coat. Under it she was wearing an evening gown splattered with blood and other matter.
"Everyone on the outside can tell me I'm crazy, but I lived it on the inside ...," Busch testified. "Sorry I'm the last one to the party."
Neither Driscoll nor her attorney refuted the claims during the hearing.
Richard Sniffen, a music minister who did work with NASCAR and was close to the relationship, testified Tuesday that Driscoll called him the night of the alleged incident and said Busch pushed her and she hit her head.
Busch and his legal team countered that Driscoll and her 9-year-old son showed up uninvited and unannounced. Busch said he cupped her face in his hands as if he were going to kiss her while telling her to leave, and her head bumped the wall.
In November, Driscoll reported the incident to police. She filed the protective order around the same time, saying that she feared for her safety.
The police investigation concluded in December, and the Delaware Attorney General's office is currently reviewing the findings.
Busch claimed he merely cupped his hands around his ex-girlfriend's face and told her to leave.
Busch's ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, alleged that Busch slammed her head against a bedroom wall three times on Sept. 26 at Busch's motor home parked at Dover Downs International Speedway.
The hearing at the Kent County Family Court is related to a protection order filed by Driscoll last year.
Asked by his attorney, Rusty Hardin whether he pushed her head against the wall that night, Busch responded, "No, I did not."
Then asked whether he slammed her head against the wall, Busch responded, No sir."
Asked by Hardin whether he slammed Driscoll's head against the wall three times, Busch said, "No, I did not."
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion, said he asked Driscoll, who brought her 9-year-old son with her that night, to leave several times. Driscoll said she came to see Busch because of an argument two weeks earlier and because of an alarming text message from him.
Hardin disputed Driscoll's allegations and questioned her credibility during Monday's proceedings.
He painted Driscoll as a jilted ex-lover who was trying to destroy Busch's reputation and showed up that night uninvited and refused to leave.
Several people, including Busch, testified that Driscoll claimed she was a trained assassin who had killed people, including drug lords.
When Hardin asked Busch how he would fare in a physical confrontation with Driscoll, Busch said he felt certain she could overpower him.
Earlier on Monday, NASCAR chaplains Nick Terry testified that Driscoll told him Busch had grabbed her by the neck and pushed her up against the wall, but nothing more.
He said that Driscoll asked him and his wife to look for marks on her neck, but found none.
Driscoll filed the protection order last year, claiming she feared for her safety. She is also asking for Busch to have a psychiatric evaluation and be evaluated by a certified domestic violence treatment agency, according to the court filings.
Patricia Driscoll is pursuing a court order to keep Busch away from her, saying she fears for her safety. She testified a day earlier that Busch choked her and smashed her head into a bedroom wall three times.
Busch, 36, said Driscoll, 37, came to the motorhome uninvited at Dover International Speedway in September and demanded that he let her son know that their relationship had ended. He contended that he asked her five times to leave.
"I took my hands and cupped her cheeks and I looked at her eye to eye and I said, 'You need to leave.' I was defusing the situation," Busch testified.
Busch's attorneys argue that a court order to protect Driscoll is unnecessary. They say Driscoll refused to accept that the relationship was over. Busch said Driscoll fabricated her story.
Driscoll testified Tuesday that the two argued after a race in New Hampshire before the Dover incident and contended that Busch had an alcohol problem and was struggling with depression.
The assault allegations are being investigated separately by Dover police.
Busch's attorneys described Driscoll as a scorned girlfriend trying to destroy his career.
Driscoll operates a Washington, D.C.-based defense consulting firm and serves as president of the Armed Forces Foundation, a nonprofit for veterans.
Harvick owns a series-best five wins at the one-mile tri-oval and has taken the checkered flag in three of the last four races there, including the past two.
Currently eighth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, Sunday's Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 cutoff race at Phoenix (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) could not have come at a better time for the No. 4 Chevrolet. Harvick trails Jeff Gordon by just six points for the coveted fourth -- and final -- spot needed for advancement to the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick can punch his ticket to Miami without having to rely on the misfortune of others by winning for a third consecutive time at the one-mile track.
"As (the season) gets closer to the end, the intensity ratchets up," Harvick said. "At this point of the year, everybody's just going for broke trying to win a race, get the best finish they can to end the season on a good note. It's hard racing. It's fun."
In 2011, PIR was repaved and remodeled for the fall race with changes that included concrete pit stalls, progressive banking, and degree alterations to the dogleg and turns. Since then, Harvick has won three of the six events there and also posted a runner-up finish. In his 18 Phoenix races prior to the repave, Harvick averaged a finish of 13.8. In the six races since, he has an average of just 6.2. With a victory on Sunday, he can sweep the track for the second time in his career (2006).
"The track is still racy enough where you can make up time if your car is good, but you need to stay focused on strategy," Harvick said. "The track has definitely changed since the repave a couple of years ago. The weather really helps wear the track. It's incredibly hot in the summer and can get really cold in the winter, so there are some pretty extreme temperatures that have helped to age the asphalt."
Coming off a runner-up finish at Texas, Harvick travels to the Sonoran Desert with some needed momentum after opening the Eliminator Round with a 33rd-place finish at Martinsville. Equipped with a fast Stewart-Haas racing Chevrolet, the 38-year-old has led the most laps in the series this season (1,819) and has captured the most Coors Light Pole Awards (8). Harvick boasts three wins this year, the most recent coming at Charlotte on Oct. 11.
"Everything is just so intense right now," Harvick said. "Everybody is just kind of throwing caution to the wind to do all they can for their team. Everybody is racing as hard as they can. Just glad to be in the mix."
Elliott "chasing" NASCAR history
Chase Elliott has the chance to cement his name into NASCAR's record books this weekend.
At the conclusion of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series DAV 200 at Phoenix International Raceway (4 p.m. ET, ESPN), Elliott can become the first rookie and youngest driver -- 18 years, 11 months and 18 days -- to win a NASCAR national series championship.
All he has to do is maintain his 48-point lead atop the NNS standings over his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. If Elliott leaves Phoenix with a 48-point advantage over second, he'll clinch the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
"It would be phenomenal," Elliott said when asked about potentially winning the championship at Phoenix. "It would mean the world to me, and not just me, but our team, our sponsors, NAPA and everybody that makes it happen. We're going to give it our best shot to do so and we'd still like to have another win or two before the year is out."
The 18-year-old rides a streak of 12 top-10 finishes, including seven top fives to the Avondale, Arizona track. He finished ninth in his second career start at the rain-shortened March Phoenix race and is fresh off a fourth-place showing at Texas.
"This is the type of performance and momentum you want late in any season," Elliott said. "I am very excited about getting back out to Phoenix. In the spring we had a decent run, but due to the rain-out we never were able to get a full analysis of the weekend. I love short-track racing, which is what Phoenix is all about, but I certainly have a lot to learn about Phoenix and how to get around there."
Two-man tussle for Trucks championship
It's down to the seasoned veteran versus the rising star in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship battle.
With just two races left, defending champion Matt Crafton leads Ryan Blaney by 23 points heading into Friday's Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway (8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
No matter the outcome at Homestead, at least one championship record will be set. Crafton would be the first back-to-back champion in the 20-year history of the NCWTS, while Blaney would be the series’ youngest title-winner at 20 years, 10 months and 14 days.
Before heading to Miami, the two drivers will have to tackle Phoenix. Both have performed well at the one-mile tri-oval located in the Sonoran Desert. Blaney boasts two top-10 finishes in as many starts, while Crafton claims four top-five and nine top-10 showings in 13 races at Phoenix. Neither has won there.
Blaney is confident he can catch Crafton even after losing ground on him at Texas.
"We made a stop toward the end of the race under caution and I was able to get back up to ninth which was good but we lost points," Blaney said. "Now we need to win at Phoenix and Homestead to have a chance at the title and I think we can do that."
Though unlikely, there is a mathematical possibility that Crafton clinches the championship at Phoenix. If he leaves there with a 48-point lead over Blaney, Crafton will lock up the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
"I'm not worried about points," said Crafton after his fifth-place finish at Texas. "We're going for a win at Phoenix, it's kind of a home track for me. We've been there a ton, and have a new truck so we're really looking forward to it."
Patricia Driscoll is seeking a protection order.
Busch's attorney, Rusty Hardin, said the events of Sept. 26, when Busch allegedly hurt Driscoll, were partly her fault because she did not leave a Dover International Speedway motorhome as he asked her to do.
"I am not to blame for him putting his hands on me," Driscoll said in court, according to the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal.
Busch's representatives painted Driscoll as a gold digger and an unreliable source.
In Tuesday's six-hour hearing, Driscoll was the only witness to testify. The hearing is due to resume Wednesday.
The company, which has gone through a sale in the past year, made the announcement on Tuesday.
Nextel and Sprint, which merged with Nextel, have held the rights since 2004 after replacing longtime sponsor Winston.
"We are proud of our association with NASCAR's top series but have made the decision not to extend our sponsorship beyond the next two years," Sprint vice president of marketing Steve Gaffney said. "As we look to the future, Sprint is focused on investing in maintaining a competitive edge and providing consumers with the best value in wireless.
"Sprint has long benefited from the unprecedented level of brand integration available in NASCAR, and the passionate fan base that is the most loyal in sports. Without question, the NASCAR sponsorship property has been a valuable investment for us and will be for our successor."
There was no word from NASCAR on a replacement for Sprint.
"NASCAR and Sprint have enjoyed a long and productive partnership that has returned significant value to both parties," NASCAR senior vice president and chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said. "We understand significant changes within Sprint and the highly competitive business environment it is in has led to a decision not to extend its Cup Series entitlement position following the 2016 season.
"The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a very unique, premium sports marketing platform with strong momentum, so we are very confident of moving forward in 2017 with an outstanding new partner. In the meantime, we look forward to Sprint's partnership on the best racing series in the world for the next two seasons."
Vickers said Monday he checked himself into the hospital when he didn't feel right and learned his body was rejecting an artificial patch inserted to repair a hole in his heart five years ago.
"My previous experiences have given me a very keen understanding of my body," Vickers said in a statement. "Late last week I knew something wasn't right, so I went to the hospital to be checked out. Following several tests, it was discovered that my body was rejecting an artificial patch that was inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in my heart. Saturday, I had to have corrective surgery to repair the hole and now I am beginning the recovery process."
Vickers has 316 career starts and would require a special waiver from NASCAR to miss multiple races but still be in consideration for the Chase playoffs. He finished 22nd in the standings in 2014, his first with Michael Waltrip Racing.
"Brian has been a part of the MWR family since 2012 and our thoughts today are with Brian, his wife Sarah and the Vickers family," MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman said in a statement. "As a race team, MWR has plenty to consider and we will confer with our partners, including Aaron's and Toyota. As this is fresh news, we will adjust our future plans as more information becomes available."
This is the third instance of Vickers, 31, missing time because of health issues. He was also out for stretches during 2010 and 2013 to be treated for blood clots.
Vickers has not been agreeable to taking blood thinners regularly because it would prohibit him from driving.
Kanaan reached the podium in five of the final seven races in 2014 and won the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Aug. 30. He will be sponsored by NTT DATA.
"I can't wait to begin working with everyone at NTT DATA," Kanaan said. "I know and have worked with them before so this will be great. As for the team, we really started to come together at the end of last season and, although we ended on a high note with the win in Fontana, I think we had a legitimate chance to win a few more times. We have a year under our belt working together now, and I expect to be contending more consistently in 2015."
Ganassi said, "I think TK had a far better year than the numbers would indicate and his win in Fontana gives him and the team great momentum as we head into 2015."
Kanaan joins Scott Dixon, a three-time IndyCar Series champion who earlier this week announced he would return for his 14th season with the team. Dixon finished third in the 2014 championship standings.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS -- As the culmination of a calculated risk that led to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, the NASCAR industry joined together Friday night at the Wynn to honor 2014 titleholder Kevin Harvick, who claimed stock car racing's most coveted prize in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing.
In his speech at the Sprint Cup Awards Banquet, Harvick revealed just how much of a risk he took in changing teams after the 2013 season.
"After 13 seasons at Richard Childress Racing, I made the move to Stewart-Haas Racing," said Harvick, who joined forces with long-time friend and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart this year. "And I have to admit, I was scared to death. I tried to play it cool, but it was a pivotal moment in my career.
"I was venturing outside my comfort zone, and I had to make it work. Tony, I consider you to be one of my best friends. You promised me if I came to Stewart-Haas Racing, we would win a championship, and we did just that. You are a man of your word."
In the first year of a new elimination format for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Harvick claimed the title with victories in the final two races. His win at Phoenix International Raceway propelled him into the Championship Round of the Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he secured the title by triumphing in the season finale.
All told, Harvick won five races, three in the Chase, won a career-best eight poles and led a series-best 2,137 laps. From day one at SHR, he showed tremendous speed.
"The first time I was able to get in my No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John's Chevrolet, we were fast," Harvick said. "It didn't matter if it was an open test at Charlotte last December. A practice, a qualifying session or a race—we wanted to be at the top of the board."
Nor was Harvick hesitant in offering praise to the architect of his race team, crew chief Rodney Childers.
"He built new race cars and assembled a whole new group of guys between the end of the 2013 season right until we loaded up for the Daytona 500," Harvick said. "Under his direction, we accomplished a lot and became great friends in the process.
"From the lead-up to the Daytona 500 until the checkered flag dropped at Homestead, Rodney asked for a lot from our people on this race team. Rodney, I can't say thank you enough for all that you've done."
In accepting the championship owner's award, SHR co-owner Gene Haas pointed out that both titles won by the organization since he partnered with Stewart in 2009 required drivers Stewart (2011) and Harvick to win the final race of the season at Homestead.
And in fact, Harvick finished one position and a mere half-second ahead of series runner-up Ryan Newman in the season finale.
"We were one point away from our best finish of the season at Homestead," Newman said after leaving the stage.
The overwhelming consensus among the 16 drivers who appeared during the ceremony was that the new Chase format had transformed the sport.
"Even though we didn't make it to Homestead to battle for the championship, I truly believe NASCAR got it right this year with the new knockout format for the Sprint Cup," said Jeff Gordon, who won four times in 2014 but was eliminated from the Chase at Phoenix by a single point.
"I cannot begin to describe the pressure and the intensity we faced week after week, race after race—and this year crowned a deserving champion."
For the 12th straight year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver. Earnhardt, who finished eighth in the final standings, began posting on Twitter this year after his victory in the 2014 Daytona 500 and talked about how gratifying it was to see his timeline explode with tweets from fans who said they had voted for him as Most Popular Driver.
One of the most touching moments of the evening was the awarding of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award to Daniel Noltemeyer, a founder of the Best Buddies of Kentucky, an organization dedicated to facilitating the social inclusion of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Noltemeyer, who has Down syndrome, has become an enthusiastic ambassador for Best Buddies International. One of four national finalists, Noltemeyer received a $100,000 grant for his charity as the winner of the award, which was conferred for the fourth year.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he almost broke down on the stage in the Encore Ballroom after receiving the prestigious Myers Brothers Award, an honor his father, seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., received posthumously in 2001.
"I felt like I was going to fall apart up there, talking about it," Earnhardt said after Thursday's Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon. "I couldn't figure out if I was nervous or excited. Once I got up there, I was running a hundred miles an hour -- I was so excited and happy.
"I had as much fun delivering and giving that speech as I've had with any other speech. I really enjoyed conveying my appreciation, because it's so genuine."
At the suggestion that his father would have been proud to see Earnhardt Jr. recognized for his work in developing young drivers through JR Motorsports and for the contributions of his Dale Jr. Foundation, Earnhardt quipped: "He probably would have derailed the whole thing. 'He don't deserve that. Don't give that to him -- not yet. He's only 40.'"
Yet few owners have done more than Earnhardt Jr. in recent years to recognize and develop new talent. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, and Chase Elliott, the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, both are JR Motorsports products. So is Greg Ives, who succeeds NBC-bound Steve Letarte as Earnhardt's crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports in 2015.
"It's a different award, unlike anything else, really, in the sport," Earnhardt said. "It's a feeling of being an asset to something and being important, feeling like someone values what you are and who you are.
"It's a great honor, and just looking back at all the people that have won it, it's a long, long list of who's who and people that built this sport one brick at a time. ... It's really emotional."
GORDON EXPLAINS PIT STRATEGY
Jeff Gordon appeared to have a race-winning car in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but a decision to pit for four tires late in the race dropped him far back in the running order and relegated the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to a 10th-place finish.
In tying up that loose end from Homestead, Gordon explained that his decision was dictated by a choice made earlier in the race.
"I think the question really needs to be about, before that, why we didn't pit," Gordon said. "You take all the information you have from past history of long green-flag runs to the end of the race, track position, who's coming, who's not. ...
"We dominated that race, had a car that I think could have and should have won that race. But we all came in and got four tires. They throw the green, and caution comes out in three or four laps. We stay out, and I think we went one more round of green-flag run, four or five laps, and caution comes out again.
"At that point, that's where the race changed for us and really took us out of contention, because we decided to stay out, and all those other guys decided to come in, and there were just too many cautions at the end."
Gordon scoffed at the suggestion that he might not have wanted to restart up front on old tires at the end of the race, with the potential to affect the outcome of the championship battle.
"Heck, no, that had nothing to do with it," Gordon said. "It was all about winning the race, and knowing that those guys behind us had fresh tires, because they elected to pit, and that place eats tires up. ...
"What's really interesting is, when you look at (Sprint Cup champion) Kevin Harvick's position, he came down pit road and took four (tires) where some other guys took two, and he saw his championship chances completely go out the window. If you listened to his radio communication, it was, 'We're done, we're done.'
"But enough cautions fell after that to bring them back into it, and he did a great job, obviously, moving up through there. And that exact same thing that helped win him the championship is what cost us the win for that race."
LOGANO PUTS DISAPPOINTMENT BEHIND HIM
Joey Logano came to Homestead as one of four drivers eligible for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
He also came to the season finale with the best average finish through the first nine races of the Chase.
But a mistake on pit road, when his No. 22 Ford fell off the jack as his crew was changing left-side tires, relegated Logano to fourth in the final standings.
Logano has little patience with the maxim that you have to lose a championship before you can win one.
"Who said that the first time?" Logano asked. "That's the worst quote ever. It is a heartbreak not to win it, but I'm a silver-linings person. I look at the positives. We won five races. We scored a ton of points throughout the Chase.
"We had a lot of top-fives. The teams worked well together. We kept growing throughout the whole season, and it makes me excited for next year. Yeah, we didn't accomplish our ultimate goal this year, but we came really, really close, and for that reason, I like our shot for next year."
TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILS
Harvick's domination of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was never more evident than at the Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon, where the reigning champion was recognized with seven awards.
Harvick took home the American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award, the 3M Lap Leader Award, the Duralast Brakes Brake in the Race Award, the Mobil 1 Driver of the Year Award, the Freescale Wide Open Award and the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award.
In addition, Harvick claimed the Goodyear Gold Car, a spectacular 1:12 scale model of his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet, a trophy that goes to the series champion each year.
Billy Davis of Hendrick Engines was recognized as the Mahle Engine Builder of the Year for his work with Harvick's team. The Sprint Champion Crew Chief Award went to Rodney Childers, Harvick's pit boss, and the Sprint Cup Champion Sponsor Award went to Budweiser, Harvick's sponsor.
THEY SAID IT
"It don't even seem real." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., in accepting the Myers Brothers Award.
"It's hard to believe they've been together three years longer than I've been alive." -- Sunoco Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson on Chip Ganassi Racing's 25-year relationship with sponsor Target.
"I want to thank everybody at Sherwin Williams for this award -- and for making me feel a little bit less like a loser today." -- Matt Kenseth, winless in 2014 after seven victories a year earlier, in accepting the Sherwin Williams Fastest Lap Award.
"This format and this style is really something I've taken a liking to." -- Brad Keselowski on the knockout qualifying system, after winning the Coors Light Pole Award.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS -- In a massive hangar that houses the fighter jets flown by the Thunderbirds, against the backdrop of a gigantic American flag reminiscent of George C. Scott's monologue in the movie "Patton," Kevin Harvick fielded questions from a group of enthusiastic NASCAR fans.
But this was no ordinary fan engagement. Those asking Harvick about everything from the final laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway to the now-notorious shove of Brad Keselowski at Texas Motor Speedway were clad not in the livery of their favorite drivers, but in camouflage.
The recently crowned NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion came to Nellis Air Force Base to express his appreciation for those who serve, with his words often interrupted by the near-deafening roar of jets taking off from a nearby runway.
"It's really hard to be able to show the appreciation that you have for it as much as you need to, because you really can't ever get to the point of appreciating it enough," Harvick said after he and crew chief Rodney Childers interacted with the crowd. "As you go to different places and you've seen other countries and how things operate, you really appreciate being from the United States and living the life that we live.
"We're very fortunate, but it takes a lot of sacrifice from a lot of individuals to make that happen. So any time you can do an event like this and say thanks and just be part of the activities, it's definitely worth the time to do that."
Ever since he won the championship by a half-second over Ryan Newman in the season finale at Homestead, Harvick has been the focus of a whirlwind media blitz that has included appearances on such TV staples as "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
What resonated most, however, was an appearance at his hometown high school in Bakersfield, California, on Monday, where Harvick addressed an appreciative crowd of 960 students.
"That's still by far the coolest thing I've gotten to do so far," Harvick said. "All the TV shows and all that stuff is just -- I shouldn't say part of the job, because that's really neat, too, to be a part of that -- but to go back and go to your hometown and go to your high school and be able to speak to the kids and hopefully be an influence to them in their life.
"We've done a lot of work at the high school over the past several years, really trying to have a positive impact on the kids and their situations, whether it be with the sports teams or just talking to them in general.
"We've put a lot of effort into the school. So to be able to take that trophy back and show them, 'You can be rich, you can be poor, but if you put your mind to what you're doing and have a goal and follow your dream, you can accomplish it, because I have proof of it.'
"I grew up right where they all grew up and accomplished what we've accomplished. It's good to be able to have the ability to have an influence on people's lives."
For Harvick, the most difficult thing about the nonstop schedule and constant attention is that he hasn't been able to share the experience with his team members, whom he hasn't seen since Nov. 16 at Homestead.
"I got out of the car and did an interview and went up on stage and took all the pictures, and that's the only time I've seen my whole team," Harvick said. "The rest of it has just been part of the process of getting to championship week and the banquet and everything.
"But I'm most excited about seeing my guys and talking to 'em and having dinner with 'em and being able to really start to take it all in and just talk about everything that was done."
IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker acknowledged Tuesday that fans liked the standing starts, but there were too many issues that led to inconsistencies.
Walker also said none of the four venues to stage races with standing starts last season had the space required to safety to make it work.
"There is some development needed with the launch," Walker said. "We know the fans enjoy it, and we love it, too."
Walker did not rule out standing starts in the future. They were first used at Toronto in 2013.
In other rule changes for 2015, IndyCar will double points awarded for the Indianapolis 500 and the season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway in an attempt to set up a dramatic finish.
"The best trend with multiple cars racing for the championship was weighting it for the final race and the Indy 500, which is a special race deserving of double points," Walker said.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick walked into his post-race press conference munching a slice of pepperoni pizza. He ended it with 2-year-old son Keelan on his lap and walked out of the room with a bottle of his sponsor's beer in his hand.
All pretty normal stuff.
But the 2014 season, to which Harvick applied his exclamation mark Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was anything but. It was special and quite remarkable for the team, its owners and its driver.
Moreover it was about the combined family that Stewart-Haas Racing had become in the last year, bringing in new faces like Harvick and Kurt Busch and talented behind-the-scenes people like eager-to-achieve crew chief Rodney Childers.
It's a family that has experienced rough times. Co-owner Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, had personally weathered the darkest season of his career, sitting out three races after his sprint car struck and killed a fellow driver in Upstate New York and failing to win a race for the first time in his career. This week, the spector of domestic abuse allegations hovered around Kurt Busch.
None of that could, however, deter or diminish the accomplishment of the Stewart-Haas family as it related to Harvick's phenomenal season or virtually flawless performance to hold off Ryan Newman for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400.
"I'm just glad tonight turned out," Stewart said. "You know, the rest of it's history. We've talked about it over and over. I'm more excited about what this organization and what this group of people has done together. You know, there are a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them."
Harvick agreed on every count.
"For me, personally, there's nothing better than to see your friends smile," he said. "I know (Tony's) been through a lot this year but very rarely have we talked about those situations. He's my friend and I want to see him happy. "
Stewart noted that sometimes change can be a good thing and change is what put Harvick in the No. 4 Chevrolet.
Although finishing third in points three out of the last four previous seasons, Harvick had become stale after 13 years at Richard Childress Racing where he won 23 Sprint Cup races and six poles. This year alone he won five Cup races -- including the final two -- and eight poles.
"I just wasn't excited about going to work," Harvick said, reflecting on his move. "I'd known Kurt and Danica and to be part of building something--it really changed my life. Really, (having) my son started that. In evaluation it was (wife) Delana and I looking at things and saying, 'What's going to make us happy?' Because, in the end, if you're not happy, nothing is going to work like it should.
"I don't think I've ever been happier in my whole life than I have been this year--from a personal and professional standpoint. You see all the things that you have around you and you're lucky. Honestly, I have no idea how much money I make. I love showing up to work. I love coming to the race track and I love what I do."
Harvick was convinced that Stewart and co-owner Gene Haas were serious about building a winner from the ground up--which the Harvick team literally did, with new equipment, cars and personnel.
"As I look at the decision to come here, I keep coming back to the people and the resources that you have available to you," Harvick said. "Tony was pretty adamant that we could race for wins and championships. I think, for me, that was really what it was all about."
Harvick said it wasn't just his Stewart-Haas family, but the extended family that helped him settle in during championship week at Homestead. More than once he mentioned the support he received from Jimmie Johnson. The six-time premier champion drives for Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies engines and chassis to Stewart-Haas.
When it came to actually winning the race, everything just sort of fell into place for Harvick, who led 54 laps including the final eight once he utilized fresh tires to get by Denny Hamlin.
"I have no idea how I got the lead--no clue," said Harvick of the closing laps, after Childers' decision to take four tires left the No. 4 Chevrolet sitting 12th on a restart with less than 10 laps to race. It was as deep in the field as Harvick had been all race."
It came as little surprise to Harvick that Childers had made the call for fresh rubber, even as Hamlin stayed on the track and Ryan Newman--a close friend and driver he replaced at SHS--gained an on-track advantage by taking right sides only.
"I can drive the car, but these guys have made some bold decisions, whether it be on the pit box tonight, changing the pit crew (prior to the Chase) or whatever it might be," Harvick said. "I believe in life that sometimes you have to make bold decisions. Sometimes they work out."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Joey Logano sat on pit road in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford for what seemed an eternity, as his crewman tried in vain to get a jack under the left side of the car.
After a superb run in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a performance in which he had two victories and accumulated more points than any other title competitor through nine Chase races, Logano's hopes for a title disappeared with the catastrophic mistake on pit road.
On Lap 249 of 267 in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 Championship 4 Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Logano brought his car to pit road for the money stop. After routine work on the right side of the No. 22 Ford, the car slipped off the jack as the team prepared to change tires on the left side.
Logano's crew frantically tried to lift the car high enough to slide the jack under the left side but lost precious seconds in the process. When the stop was finally completed, Logano was 29th in the running order, with his hope of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship all but gone.
Logano described his emotions as he sat in the car--and waited.
"I was pretty pissed off, if that is an emotion," Logano said.
Logano advanced to 16th place by the end of the race, but with Kevin Harvick winning the race and the series title, and with Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin finishing second and seventh, respectively, Logano was credited with fourth in the final Sprint Cup standings.
"I didn't say it was over," Logano said of his attitude after the disastrous pit stop. "We didn't give up. At that point, I was trying to pass as many cars as we could and really hoped those guys (the other three championship contenders) wrecked each other. That's all I had going for me at that point.
"When you're that far back, 24th or 25th, you can't make that up with 12 (laps) to go, or whatever it was. It's just too hard to make that up. All you can do is try. It was an amazing opportunity to be here, and it would be dumb to give up. You keep trying, and hopefully something happens. We put ourselves in that boat to have to be able to pull that out. It was too hard."
MUCH ADO ABOUT A WHEEL SPACER
NASCAR summoned Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, to the sanctioning body's transporter after the race to discuss what NASCAR termed a "failure to obey a NASCAR directive" during Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But after the race, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton said the issue was a small matter and had been put to rest.
With Johnson having driven a stint with a loose wheel, Knaus told his crew to put a spacer on the wheel in question, without first asking a NASCAR official for permission. Over the official's objections, the No. 48 crew put the spacer on the wheel, earning the summons to the hauler.
"We just had a discussion on pit road between our official and Chad, and really it was just to discuss it, what they tried to do, and that's it, really," Pemberton said. "It was really not a big deal. We were just trying to clarify what went on, that's all."
Pemberton said no penalties would be forthcoming.
"No, it's so far under that it's ridiculous," Pemberton said. "We're good."
News that Knaus had been called to the hauler spread quickly on social media, but Johnson had a brisk reply for those questioning Knaus' motives.
"FYI: CK put a wheel spacer on because of a loose wheel," Johnson posted on his Twitter account. "That destroys the threads on the studs & won't let the wheel tighten up #ChillHaters"
MAN AT WORK
Marcos Ambrose raced his last race as a full-time NASCAR driver on Sunday at Homestead, and his night went the way most of the rest of his 2014 season had--with difficulty.
One of the top road course racers ever to drive a stock car, Ambrose fought an ill-handling No. 9 Ford and overcame contact with the wall to finish 27th, on the lead lap.
Ambrose will return to his native Australia, where he'll drive a V8 Supercar for a team fielded by Roger Penkse.
"It's been the story of our year, just fighting and gouging and trying all the way to the very end," Ambrose said after the race. "I finished all the laps here tonight and finished 23rd in points, so we'll take it. It wore me out.
"I'm just tired, to be honest with you. I'm feeling the effects of a hot night here in Miami. The car was handling rough and I was fighting it, but that's what makes NASCAR so great. I'm going to miss it, no doubt about it. It's bittersweet for me, but I've got a lot to look forward to and a lot to be thankful for."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Without a victory this season, Ryan Newman couldn't really point fingers at anyone when his heroic quest for a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship came up one position short Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But, in a tongue-in-cheek way, he did manage to point the fickle finger of blame at--of all people--Jeff Gordon.
"I was thinking, when I got out of the car, that our tables really turned when Gordon didn't win Phoenix (last week)," Newman said. "If Gordon had won, then (Kevin) Harvick would have been out (of the final four). So, I blame all this on Jeff Gordon."
Newman was, of course, kidding, understanding the irony that Gordon was the odd man out after finishing second to Harvick at Phoenix--and only after Newman used an aggressive last-lap strategy to move up one position.
Furthermore, at Homestead, it was Gordon who elected to pit from the lead in the final 10 laps, giving the 36-year-old Richard Childress Racing driver his best shot at the title.
Not only that--his best shot at a victory this season for the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.
"They say you've got to lose one before you win one. I'm ready to win one now," said Newman, whose team produced arguably its best effort of the 2014 season in Sunday's finale.
"We weren't victorious, so we didn't win many battles, but we sure came close to winning the war. ... I drove my heart out, no doubt about that."
If not for Harvick's flawless effort, Newman would have had the racing world buzzing with the question: How just is it to crown a champion who did not win a race all season?
It's still a question to ponder, but not one that Newman needed to dwell upon Sunday night as he lauded his team's efforts.
"To come from where we came this year was amazing," said Newman, in his first season with RCR. "We started the season at Daytona getting spun out in the last five laps and ended up running for a championship. For me, this is the first real championship I've been in position to lose -- the first time I've really had a shot at anything.
"It says a lot about the organization. It says a lot about how quick we grew. (Crew chief) Luke Lambert and all the guys did an awesome job -- the whole RCR/ECR group. It's been a whole lot of fun."
Qualifying 21st, Newman fought an uphill fight throughout the race but clawed his way to fifth in the running order by Lap 72. Newman's car proved to be excellent on fresh tires but drifted back to the pack late in long runs.
"We fought back hard," Newman said. "We were one spot short and probably (had) one caution too many for us. But that's the way it happens. That's part of racing. Kevin and those guys did a good job of putting themselves in position and had the better tires in the end. It paid off for them."
Lambert made a potentially decisive move when a crash involving Blake Koch and J.J. Yeley brought out a caution with 11 laps to go. Lambert took right side tires only, sending Newman out alongside title contender Denny Hamlin, now on the front row but on older tires.
Newman, however, didn't get the restart he had hoped and Harvick, restarting sixth on fresh tires, capitalized by sweeping to the lead within a lap. Harvick then managed to hold off Newman on one final restart with three laps to go.
"Luke made a great call on that two-tire stop," Newman said. "When Jeff pitted and gave us the front row, that caught me by surprise.
"We were in a good spot. Restarts haven't been our strong suit with the package we run, but I was happy with the situation I was in. In the end, I was the one guy with a shot at (catching Harvick). You live for that moment and drive hard and we just didn't have quite enough."
Newman, who raced his way into the Championship Round with a last-lap nudge of Kyle Larson at Phoenix a week ago, contemplated a similar scenario as he raced alongside Harvick late in the race. He resisted the urge.
"I thought about hauling it in there, wide open under Kevin, but that wasn't the right thing to do," Newman said. "I wouldn't have wanted him to do that to me. ... If we were close enough on the last lap it might have been a different game. But I wasn't. I slipped off of Turn 4 coming to the white (flag) and it was pretty much over."
Newman, who has accumulated 17 victories and 51 Coors Light Poles during his Sprint Cup career, said that his Championship 4 Round experience will prepare him and his team at RCR for next season.
"We made a lot of adjustments on the race car today," he said. "There's a lot to be said about that. The guys did an awesome job. I'm proud of everyone. Hopefully we can have more fun and be one spot better next year."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The fastest driver doesn't always win a race -- or a championship -- but on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kevin Harvick did both.
Driving a No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that has been the class of the field for most of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Harvick won Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at the 1.5-mile intermediate track and claimed his first premier series championship after a three-lap drag race against underdog title contender Ryan Newman.
Harvick was so wrapped up in the championship battle that the victory in the race didn't register right away.
"I forgot we won the race -- how about that?" Harvick chuckled. "I think this Chase is about the best thing that has happened to this sport over the last decade. This is probably going to shorten the drivers' careers, because it's been so stressful, but I want to thank every single fan for sticking with this sport, and to the industry for working to get it right."
After the 13th caution slowed the field on Lap 32, the result of debris dripping from the No. 32 Ford of Blake Koch, Harvick led the field to green on Lap 265 of 267 with Newman beside him.
Newman stayed to the inside of Harvick's car through the first corner, but Harvick, on four fresh tires to Newman's two, cleared the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and pulled away to a half-second victory.
Under NASCAR's new elimination format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the driver who won five times, including Sunday, and led 2,137 laps throughout the season beat the driver who was winless with 41 laps led by a single point.
In his first season with SHR, Harvick won for the first time at Homestead and for the 28th time in his career. With the highest finisher among the Championship 4 contenders assured of the title, Denny Hamlin came home seventh, and Joey Logano ran 16th after a disastrous late-race pit stop.
Harvick's crew chief, Rodney Childers, made a critical call to bring Harvick to pit road for four tires under caution on Lap 249. With three cars staying on the track and eight others taking right-side tires only, Harvick restarted 12th, but two quick cautions fell his way.
Harvick made up six positions almost immediately and restarted sixth after the 12th caution for an accident involving Koch and J.J. Yeley on Lap 254.
"I knew I needed to get a bunch of (positions)," Harvick said. "I was fortunate to start on the outside. The seas kind of parted there as I came off of Turn 2 and was about to get four or five of them; I don't really know, but it was time to go for broke at that particular point.
"When the next caution came out, we were fortunate enough again to line up on the outside (for the restart on Lap 259). That was pretty much what we needed-to get the run on the outside down the backstretch."
On the final restart against Harvick, Newman said he contemplated the sort of all-or-nothing move he had used a week earlier against Kyle Larson to edge Jeff Gordon by one point for the final position in the Championship 4 Round.
But Newman quickly thought better of the idea.
"In the end, I just got down underneath him and he was close enough to me, took some of the air away from me," Newman said. "I could have kept it wide open and washed up into him, and it wasn't the right move. It wasn't what I would have wanted him to do to me.
"If we were close enough on the last lap, it might have been a different game, but I wasn't. I slipped off of Turn 4 coming to the white, and at that point it was pretty much over. I really was hoping he would slip a tire, blow a motor, something like that. That was our only hope. All those things go through your mind, but I had a pretty good run and cut down to the bottom and just ran out of racetrack, ran out of room, and he had the air-he had the line."
Hamlin, who forewent a pit stop on Lap 249 when most of the other lead-lap cars came to pit road, restarted in the lead on Lap 259, with Newman second and Harvick sixth, but Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota quickly fell victim to cars on superior tires.
By the time NASCAR called the 13th caution on Lap 262, Hamlin had dropped to third behind Harvick and Newman, and he fell back to seventh in the final three-lap run.
"For me, there's not one thing I would have done different," Hamlin said. "I mean, we brought a car that was capable of winning. I just don't know how to express it enough. Sometimes breaks go your way; sometimes they don't. They just didn't go our way.
"There's not much else we could have done with the strategy that we played with the cautions that came out. I wouldn't do a thing different. I think we overachieved greatly by being here, and we haven't had the speed to compete for race wins all year, and we did today, on the race that really mattered. Just came up short."
Logano's first flirtation with a title came to an inglorious end when the No. 22 Team Penske Ford fell off the jack as the crew was changing left-side tires under caution on Lap 249. Last out of the pits, Logano restarted 29th on Lap 253 and could recover only to 16th by the checkered flag.
"It's hard to be proud right now after coming home wherever we finished in this race," said Logano, who gets credit for fourth in the championship standings despite winning five races. "I don't even know what that is. I don't even care.
"You don't get shots at championships often. Hopefully we get another next year. This car had a lot of wins and a lot of top fives, and it doesn't mean a thing."
Gordon, the Coors Light Polesitter, led 161 laps, but came to pit road for tires on Lap 256 and wasn't a factor the rest of the way, finishing 10th.
Notes: Kyle Larson finished 13th and was the runaway winner of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award after an outstanding freshman season... Marcos Ambrose finished 27th in his final race for Richard Petty Motorsports before returning to his native Australia to race V8 Supercars for owner Roger Penske... The victim of an early accident, Carl Edwards ran 34th in his final trip in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford before moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. It was also the last race as a crew chief for Edwards' veteran pit boss, Jimmy Fennig... Chevrolet won its 12th straight manufacturers' championship and 38th overall.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Ford EcoBoost 400
Sunday, November 16, 2014
1. (5) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267, $346498.
2. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, $244450.
3. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, $231758.
4. (16) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 267, $172664.
5. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, $165239.
6. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, $160151.
7. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, $108315.
8. (6) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 267, $127481.
9. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, $135001.
10. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 267, $143626.
11. (2) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267, $82340.
12. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, $96640.
13. (27) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 267, $109085.
14. (11) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $88890.
15. (14) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 267, $108523.
16. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, $116356.
17. (10) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $107873.
18. (32) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 267, $87665.
19. (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 267, $116276.
20. (29) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 267, $104373.
21. (38) Michael McDowell, Ford, 267, $75290.
22. (22) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 267, $114265.
23. (13) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 267, $110215.
24. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 267, $91998.
25. (24) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 267, $123751.
26. (42) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 267, $77290.
27. (17) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 267, $103335.
28. (30) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 267, $85448.
29. (33) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 267, $76590.
30. (31) David Ragan, Ford, 267, $94912.
31. (35) David Gilliland, Ford, 267, $81165.
32. (37) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 267, $72940.
33. (41) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 264, $72740.
34. (15) Carl Edwards, Ford, 263, $91540.
35. (39) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 263, $72340.
36. (43) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 262, $80115.
37. (34) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Accident, 254, $71888.
38. (40) Blake Koch(i), Ford, Accident, 254, $66730.
39. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 246, $110571.
40. (25) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 235, $58730.
41. (20) Greg Biffle, Ford, 220, $99305.
42. (26) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, Accident, 204, $50730.
43. (28) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 182, $81388.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 122.28 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 16 Mins, 31 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.500 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 13 for 52 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Gordon 1-12; B. Koch(i) 13; Kurt Busch 14; K. Harvick 15-25; J. Gordon 26-63; D. Hamlin 64-65; J. Gordon 66-120; K. Harvick 121; J. Gordon 122-123; K. Harvick 124-157; J. Gordon 158-159; D. Hamlin 160; J. Gordon 161-165; D. Hamlin 166-195; J. Gordon 196-212; D. Hamlin 213-222; J. Gordon 223-252; D. Hamlin 253-259; K. Harvick 260-267.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Gordon 8 times for 161 laps; K. Harvick 4 times for 54 laps; D. Hamlin 5 times for 50 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap; B. Koch(i) 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick - 5,043; R. Newman - 5,042; D. Hamlin - 5,037; J. Logano - 5,028; B. Keselowski - 2,361; J. Gordon - 2,348; M. Kenseth - 2,334; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 2,301; C. Edwards - 2,288; Kyle Busch - 2,285; J. Johnson - 2,274; Kurt Busch - 2,263; A. Allmendinger - 2,260; G. Biffle - 2,247; K. Kahne - 2,234; A. Almirola - 2,195.
Under a formula that was touted to put more emphasis on winning, Kevin Harvick claimed his first series championship by winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
"I don't think there's any doubt about the level of competition that is up, which has our fans excited, and it has the interest level of the sport as a result of that higher, and that's precisely what we want to achieve," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said.
The championship came down Harvick and Ryan Newman in the closing laps of the Homestead race. That pair finished first and second, respectively, in the race and the season-ending standings.
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano were the other two championship contenders remaining in the Chase that began with 16 drivers 10 races ago. All but Newman started the Homestead race in the top 10, and for much of the day, all four ran in or just outside the top five.
As the Chase progressed from round to round, with four drivers eliminated every three races, winless driver Newman kept his championship hopes alive by squeaking through on points. With Newman's continuing run, critics of the Chase pointed at the possibility of a winless driver claiming the Sprint Cup, something that has never happened in NASCAR Cup level history.
France emphasized that while wins are important, consistency also needs to count for something in the championship system.
"Well, I think it's accomplished -- naturally you would expect me to think that it accomplished all of our goals, probably exceeded them, in the balance between winning and consistency," France said. "We always know in auto racing there needs to be both, but we felt strongly that by emphasizing winning on the track, we might not have had that balanced correctly. We do now. We think that that's in a really good place."
Harvick's win of the race and, as a result, the championship silenced those critics, at least for the time being. Harvick won a total of five races on the season, winning twice during the 26-race regular season and three times in the 10-race Chase. His final three victories came in the final six races of the season.
Throughout the Homestead-Miami Speedway race weekend, ideas for Chase tweaks were tossed around. Those with new concepts included NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
"I proposed something to NASCAR and maybe I've said this to a number of y'all before," Jarrett said. "My solution to the situation, and we'll use this year. Ryan Newman's here, but (under my proposal), the only way he could become the champion is if he wins this race. Otherwise, the other three are the ones racing for the championship, to finish ahead of each other."
Gordon's idea didn't remedy the possibility of a winless champion. Instead, Gordon wished for a distinct points system for the Chasers, separate from other drivers in the postseason.
"I would say that the one thing that I thought about -- and this would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it's the right thing to do -- and that's you have a separate points system just for the 16 and then for the eight, or the 12 and then the eight," Gordon said. "I just think there's so many factors with all the other competitors out there that you should be racing those guys. You should be racing them in points, not necessarily racing them and all the other competitors out there. I think you've earned that right."
"Well, I just really don't know what to even say about how much I appreciate this," Harvick said. "Everybody on this Budweiser, Jimmy Johns, Outback team, Stewart-Haas Racing, Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, for everything that they put into this team."
Fellow Chase for the Sprint Cup competitor Ryan Newman finished second, while Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray finished third through fifth.
The other two title contenders, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, finished seventh and 16th, respectively.
"Execution was our strong point all year, and we just didn't do it tonight," Logano said. "For that reason, we finished fourth (in the Chase) after, I think, we scored the most points this whole Chase."
Harvick became the 30th driver to win a NASCAR series championship and the first under the new format.
"It's been an amazing year," Newman said moments after the race ended. "They say you've got to lose one before you win one. I'm ready to win one now."
Harvick restarted in 12th with just under 20 laps to go after taking four tires. Jeff Gordon and Hamlin stayed out to restart on the front row, and Hamlin took the lead on the restart.
"Championship effort," Hamlin said. "It wasn't for a lack of trying. I thought we had a better car than those guys, just I had a bad restart and lost position to the 4 (Harvick) and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) made the decision to leave us out there on tires, trying to do something to get that track position back that I lost on the restart and it just didn't work out for us."
Newman was also in the top five after taking only two tires, while Logano was mired outside the top 20 after his car fell off its jack on pit road.
"It came down to a pit call and I thought, 'Man, we are in big trouble here,'" Harvick said. "Rodney Childers (crew chief) and all these guys that have put together these teams have just done and amazing job."
The yellow flag waved two additional times. On a restart with nine laps to go, Harvick lined up seventh and then quickly moved up to second when the race returned to green. After a final caution with six laps to go, Harvick, Newman and Hamlin restarted first through third with Logano still outside the top 20.
"I was just going to hold the pedal down and hope for the best," Harvick said of his strategy on the final restart. "I knew our car was fast."
Gordon dominated the early part of the race after starting on the pole, only temporarily giving up leads to Harvick and Hamlin.
Harvick, Hamlin, and Logano all started the race inside the top 10, while Newman started midpack in 21st. Harvick, Hamlin and Logano ran inside or just outside the top five most of the race. Newman worked his way into the top 10 by lap 60 and then into the top five by lap 77. Like his championship rivals, Newman ran in or near the top five for most of the remainder of the race.
Harvick took the lead from Gordon soon after a restart on lap 127. However, when the yellow flag waved about 30 laps later, Gordon got off pit road first to restart with the lead.
When the yellow flag waved again a few laps later, for the sixth time in the race, Gordon restarted with the lead again but lost the top spot to Hamlin. Other title contenders also got by Gordon, as Logano moved into second and Harvick third, but after a few laps of green-flag racing, Gordon got back up to second.
Gordon retook the lead by getting off pit road first during the seventh caution of the race to restart up front with 69 laps to go. During the yellow flag, Logano endured a slow stop to restart in the back of the top 10. Newman restarted eighth. Hamlin and Harvick, meanwhile, restarted second and third, respectively, behind Gordon.
Hamlin gained the lead again on a restart just inside 60 laps to go, but Gordon got off pit road first to move back in front during a yellow flag on lap 220. During the same caution, Newman got back into the top five. For the first time in the race, Logano fell outside the top 10, restarting 11th after his team dropped a lugnut during his pit stop.
NOTES: Roger Penske, owner of Joey Logano's No. 22 car, entered Homestead-Miami with a chance to become the first motorsport team owner to win a Verizon IndyCar championship and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same year, with Will Power claiming the IndyCar title. He came close to the feat in 2012 with a Sprint Cup championship with driver Brad Keselowski but fell short with Power in the IndyCar season finale. ... The Ford EcoBoost 400 was the final NASCAR race for Marcos Ambrose, who is returning to his native Australia to race V8 Supercars for Penske. The race is also expected to be the last for crew chiefs Jimmy Fennig (Carl Edwards) and Steve Letarte (Dale Earnhardt Jr.). Fennig is expected to retire, and Letarte is moving to the NBC Sports broadcast booth. ... Denny Hamlin won the 2013 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his second victory at the track. He was the only previous winner at Homestead among the four championship contenders. ... Joey Logano headed into Homestead with the highest average Chase race finish at 5.3. ... Ryan Newman was the only winless driver among the four Chasers. No driver has won a NASCAR Cup championship without at least one race win. ... Tony Stewart's steak of 15 consecutive seasons with at least one win ended when he took his car to the garage because of an overheating issue in the final third of the race.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed for The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Charging away from a pack of pursuers on the final restart, Matt Kenseth scored his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win since October of last year in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Chase Elliott, who had clinched the driver's championship last Saturday in Phoenix, finished 17th after scraping the outside wall late in the race. Brad Keselowski delivered the Nationwide Series owner's championship to Roger Penske with an eighth-place result in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
In a mere formality, Elliott also received Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, making the him the first driver to win both a rookie title and a series championship in the same year in any of NASCAR's top three national series.
At age 18, Elliott also is the youngest national touring series champion in NASCAR history.
After losing the lead to Kyle Larson after a restart on Lap 199 of a scheduled 200, Kenseth got a second chance when NASCAR threw the 11th caution of the race for a multicar wreck behind the leader moments before Larson was to take the white flag signaling the final lap, which would have made him a winner under the caution.
Instead, Kenseth pulled ahead from the outside lane after a restart on Lap 205 and took the checkered flag on the sixth lap of overtime. Kyle Busch won a drag race to the finish line to take the runner-up spot from Larson, who held third.
Ryan Blaney and rookie Chris Buescher completed the top five.
Kenseth won for Joe Gibbs Racing in the final outing with the company for crew chief Kevin Kidd, who moves to Roush Fenway Racing next year as director of competition in the Sprint Cup Series.
"It's been a long time since I won a race in anything, so just happy for Kevin," Kenseth said. "Happy to send him off with a win here. That was pretty cool. Kyle got around me on that second-to-last restart, but when he chose the bottom there, and I had Kyle (Busch) behind me, I knew we had a shot.
"I just had to do a better job than I did the time before, so luckily, we got that one last chance to redeem ourselves."
Larson, who led 111 laps, spun his tires slightly on the final restart, allowing Kenseth to take the advantage.
"I had good restarts up there until the last 50 laps or so," Larson said. "Then I finally got a good one underneath Matt (on Lap 199) and was able to get to the lead… I was about 15 feet short of the win. Then we got the yellow, and I thought the 12 (Blaney) had been getting really good restarts, so I wanted to start in front of him (in the bottom lane).
"Spun my tires a little bit, and the 20 (Kenseth) was hanging there. I was side-drafting down the frontstretch, and he was able to swerve at me and get me shaken off him. That spun my tires into (Turn) 1, and got me sideways. I was three-wide there, and that was all the 20 needed to win."
Penske won the owner's championship with five different drivers taking turns in the No. 22 Ford: Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell and Alex Tagliani. The championship was the fourth for Penske in the last five years (2010 Nationwide driver's title with Keselowski, 2012 Sprint Cup title with Keselowski and back-to-back NNS owner's championships).
"Everyone did so much to make this happen, and obviously it didn't come down until the last lap there until we knew we had it," Penske said. "Two years in a row, I think we had four championships here over the last few years, and that's really important to us as we go forward."
NASCAR Nationwide Series Race -- Ford EcoBoost 300
Saturday, November 15, 2014
1. (3) Matt Kenseth(i), Toyota, 206, $77375.
2. (6) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 206, $58825.
3. (2) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 206, $53725.
4. (5) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 206, $37700.
5. (10) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 206, $39025.
6. (15) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 206, $31475.
7. (21) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 206, $27725.
8. (1) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 206, $25750.
9. (4) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 206, $27160.
10. (7) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 206, $27550.
11. (13) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 206, $25425.
12. (31) Paul Menard(i), Chevrolet, 206, $18825.
13. (20) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 206, $24675.
14. (25) Ross Chastain(i), Toyota, 206, $24565.
15. (30) TJ Bell(i), Dodge, 206, $25055.
16. (17) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 206, $24295.
17. (14) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 206, $24110.
18. (24) James Buescher, Toyota, 206, $24175.
19. (9) Dylan Kwasniewski #, Chevrolet, 206, $23965.
20. (19) Dakoda Armstrong #, Ford, 206, $24405.
21. (28) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 206, $23595.
22. (22) Blake Koch, Toyota, 206, $23481.
23. (18) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 206, $23345.
24. (35) Jake Crum(i), Chevrolet, 206, $17235.
25. (12) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 206, $23575.
26. (27) Eric McClure, Toyota, 206, $22965.
27. (11) Ryan Reed #, Ford, 206, $22855.
28. (33) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 206, $16735.
29. (8) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 205, $22785.
30. (29) David Starr, Chevrolet, 205, $22775.
31. (40) Tanner Berryhill #, Toyota, 204, $22345.
32. (37) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, 203, $22235.
33. (26) John Wes Townley(i), Toyota, 201, $16195.
34. (39) Milka Duno, Toyota, 201, $22134.
35. (23) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Engine, 190, $22084.
36. (32) Ryan Sieg #, Chevrolet, Suspension, 179, $20645.
37. (16) Corey LaJoie(i), Ford, Accident, 116, $20575.
38. (36) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, Transmission, 57, $20540.
39. (38) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Engine, 54, $20250.
40. (34) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 3, $14215.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 115.442 mph.
Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 40 Mins, 36 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.713 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 11 for 48 laps.
Lead Changes: 16 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: B. Keselowski(i) 1-5; K. Larson(i) 6-36; J. Clements 37; K. Busch(i) 38-39; K. Larson(i) 40-75; K. Busch(i) 76-78; K. Larson(i) 79-95; R. Blaney(i) 96-119; T. Bayne 120-122; K. Larson(i) 123-144; B. Koch 145; C. Elliott # 146; M. Kenseth(i) 147-172; P. Menard(i) 173-175; M. Kenseth(i) 176-198; K. Larson(i) 199-203; M. Kenseth(i) 204-206.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson(i) 5 times for 111 laps; M. Kenseth(i) 3 times for 52 laps; R. Blaney(i) 1 time for 24 laps; K. Busch(i) 2 times for 5 laps; B. Keselowski(i) 1 time for 5 laps; P. Menard(i) 1 time for 3 laps; T. Bayne 1 time for 3 laps; C. Elliott # 1 time for 1 lap; B. Koch 1 time for 1 lap; J. Clements 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: C. Elliott # - 1,213; R. Smith - 1,171; E. Sadler - 1,154; B. Scott - 1,154; T. Dillon # - 1,148; T. Bayne - 1,086; C. Buescher # - 1,014; B. Gaughan - 954; R. Reed # - 889; J. Buescher - 868.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The fastest car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season asserted its superiority immediately in Saturday's first practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Driving the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that has carried him to four victories and 2,083 laps led this year, Kevin Harvick jumped to the top of the speed chart as soon as the noon practice began—and stayed there.
Running 175.069 mph in race trim, Harvick was .007 seconds faster than Jeff Gordon (175.029 mph).
No one else posted a lap within a 10th of a second of Harvick in preparation for Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), the race that will decide the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship among four drivers -- Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.
In final practice, Harvick was eighth fastest in his first run but cut it short because of issues with the handling of his car. An adjustment didn't help.
"We've got to do something different," Harvick radioed to crew chief Rodney Childers with roughly 28 minutes left in the 50-minute session. "Bringing it to you."
Harvick returned to the garage, climbed out of his car and studied the data on a computer perched above the team's tool box.
Childers made additional adjustments and put new tires on Harvick's car for the final practice run. Afterwards, Harvick gave his verdict.
"Too loose on exit," Harvick said. "I got my rhythm down in (Turns) 3 and 4 pretty good. Good on entry and in the center (of the corners). Loose late center and exit on both ends."
Harvick ended the session where he began, in eighth, with a top speed of 173.099 mph. Of the Championship 4, Logano was quickest, seventh on the speed chart at 173.127 mph but significantly off leader Jimmie Johnson's 175.200.
"Yeah, we struggled getting the balance right," Harvick said after the session. "And I don't think we've really hit it exactly where we need it to be yet.
"So, we'll go back through the stuff that everybody did on our cars and definitely try to improve for tomorrow."
THE VALUE OF WINNING
In NASCAR's Championship 4, the four drivers competing for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, all three manufacturers are represented -- Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota -- as well as four different engine builders: Hendrick Motorsports (Kevin Harvick), Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines (Ryan Newman), Roush-Yates Engines (Joey Logano) and Toyota Racing Development (Denny Hamlin).
In the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center on Saturday, executives representing each of the car makers shared their perspectives on the value of one of their drivers winning the title on Sunday.
Ford's success this season, with 14 victories in 35 Cup races, already has spurred interest in the brand, according to Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing.
"We have generated 570,000 leads yet this year, up 60 percent from a year ago," Allison said. "We track sales, match to leads generated from on track activation, and our sales are up 90 percent versus a year ago. These are gigantic swings in engagement, gigantic swings in fan affinity, and it translates all the way down from awareness down to conservation to shopping to intention to buy. So success on the track translates into fan consideration and purchase intention.
"At the end of the day, we are here because of our fans, our fans of Ford, and what we race on the track increasing with relevance to what's being shown in the showroom as well as what's in people’s driveway --there's that direct correlation. Whoever said: 'Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,' it's absolutely true, because we're seeing it in the evidence of the data that we have."
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, says the manufacturer starts each season with the same objectives.
"For Chevrolet, that's one of our goals every year is to help our teams win a driver's championship and collectively giving our teams the best opportunity to win enough races for us to win the manufacturer's championship," Campbell said.
"We have two opportunities out of the four (on Sunday), and if you look over the past number of years, eight of the last nine driver's champions have been Chevrolet drivers. We do see a lift in opinion, and when you get a lift of opinion on a brand, great things happen. Customers put you on their shopping list more quickly. It's a fact. So that's big."
On Sunday, Hamlin could become the first driver to deliver a championship to Toyota in NASCAR's premier series.
"For Toyota, it would simply be historic and unprecedented," said David Wilson, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development USA. "We're still the new guys, so to speak, in the series. This is our ... celebrating our 10th anniversary in NASCAR in their national series. We've won championships, multiple championships in the Camping World Truck Series, in the Nationwide Series.
"Cup, the Sprint Cup Series, that box hasn't been checked yet, so for Toyota it would be huge. It would be significant, I think, for the sport. It would be huge for TRD. Certainly Toyota, our engagement model is a little bit different than my colleagues' and I have 250 people that work their butts off, and they have for years and years, so it would be very emotional."
In Saturday's first practice session, Ryan Newman's No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ran over debris on the track and dislodged the bead blower (the fan that cools the edge of the tire that sits on the wheel).
Repairing the problem and changing the splitter, which had sustained slight damage, cost Newman approximately 10 minutes of practice time.
"We caught something on the splitter and it came underneath the car and took out one of the fans which made a pretty good racket," Newman said. “That's why I slowed down and came in. I didn't know what it was.
"If it were the race, I would have kept going, but it never popped the tire or anything, it just made a racket. I could hear something metal bouncing off of the frame rails and the bars and the chassis so I knew that we hit something or something happened. Brought it in and the guys assessed it and figured out what it was."
Newman nevertheless was 12th fastest in Saturday's first session, an improvement in race trim over his 21st-place starting position. Newman also was 12th fastest in final practice…
Championship 4 driver Joey Logano was rim-riding throughout Happy Hour and brushed the wall with the right rear corner of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. The damage was cosmetic, and Logano soon returned to the track…
NASCAR isn't likely to make a penalty determination about the rear suspension parts confiscated from the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. until Tuesday at the earliest.
The car failed Sprint Cup pre-qualifying inspection on Friday…
QUOTES OF THE DAY
"Mind games don't make that car go any faster." -- Denny Hamlin, when asked whether Kevin Harvick was trying to get into the heads of Championship 4 competitors Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.
Asked what he would do to prepare for Sunday's championship race, Kevin Harvick said: "Eat!"
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- By far the oldest of the three manufacturers competing for NASCAR's biggest prize, the 111-year-old Ford Motor Company is banking on one of the sport's youngest stars, not just this weekend, but going forward.
Joey Logano, a 24-year-old from Middletown, Conn., carries Ford's hopes for its first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship since Kurt Busch took home the trophy in 2004 into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
"That would be an exclamation point for us to celebrate a Ford champion," said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, which goes through great effort and expense to maintain the naming rights to Ford Championship Weekend and the title-determining events at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "We're capping off a phenomenal season with 14 wins, our most since 2005."
Even so, Allison knows that to a certain extent, Championship Weekend is likely to be bittersweet for Ford which bids adieu to two of its biggest stars this weekend.
Carl Edwards, who'll drive a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, will be in his final race for Roush Fenway Racing. Marcos Ambrose, returning to his native Australia after nine years in the U.S., is driving his final event for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Logano came through Saturday's practice sessions unscathed. Posting the fastest lap among the four title contenders during Happy Hour, the Team Penske hopeful appeared confident in his No. 22 Ford Fusion machine.
"I feel we are in pretty good shape," Logano said. "We were still seventh on the board, but we didn't quite have the takeoff speed we need, so we'll try to find a little bit there. I feel like the long runs are where our Shell Pennzoil Ford is really fast. Maybe we are a few little adjustments away from being the fastest car, but I already feel like we are a top-three car right now."
Logano believes that whoever prevails on in Sunday's race will need to be able to run at the top and the bottom of the mile-and-a-half oval.
"The top is still the preferred (line) but you've got to be able to move around a little bit and I feel like our car can do that," Logano said. "Toward the end of the practice we were able to make (the bottom groove) work a little better."
No matter what happens on Sunday, it appears that Logano and his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who have combined for 11 Sprint Cup wins this season, will be Ford's standard bearers for the foreseeable future.
"At Ford we're a family company and that permeates everything we do," Allison said. "Whenever you have a member of the family pursuing other options, it leaves a void, personally with team members as well as professionally in terms of fan outreach. It's personalities that people want to follow.
"Obviously, with Marcos, he's stepping out of one Ford to another Ford (racing for Roger Penske and Dick Johnson) in another part of the world and we wish him the best. Carl Edwards is someone we hold in the highest regard. He's the winningest (current) Ford driver. He's been part of many of our outreach (efforts) to our fans and nothing will ever take that away."
Edwards, a winner in both 2008 and 2010 at Homestead-Miami Speedway would like nothing more than to reprise those winning efforts in his Ford finale.
"It's Ford Championship Week and I want to get a win for Jack Roush, (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig and all my guys," said Edwards, eliminated from Chase title contention after finishing 15th at Phoenix. "I want to give the performance to finish the season the way that everyone deserves."
Fennig, retiring from his crew chief responsibilities, was the last Ford crew chief to win a Sprint Cup title when he was with Busch in 2004.
"One thing Jimmy Fennig and I agreed on," said Edwards late in Friday's practice, "we're not going to leave anything on the table. If we go down and fail, it's only because we're trying everything."
Twice a runner-up for the Sprint Cup championship (2008, 2011), Edwards has spent his entire Cup career at Roush Fenway, racking up 23 victories, including nine in 2008. He also collected 38 Nationwide and six Camping World Truck Series victories and brought Jack Roush a then-Busch Series title in 2007.
Ambrose, 29, was a V8 Supercars champion in Australia (2003-04) before coming to the U.S. He raced Sprint Cup cars for Wood Brothers, Tad Geschickter, Michael Waltrip and JTG Daugherty before joining forces with Richard Petty Motorsports, for whom he won twice at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
"RPM has been so gracious with my departure," said Ambrose, who expects his family to be permanently resettled in Australia by mid-December. "Sometimes when you end a chapter like this it can get a bit sticky at the end, but RPM has been fantastic. Everyone is really pleased for me and thrilled for what I've been able to contribute. It's just great to be held in that regard."
Ambrose also won five road course events on the Nationwide circuit. But if he heads home with any regret, it's that he did not win on a NASCAR oval.
"I've got some unfinished business in NASCAR, which I wish I could have ticked the box on," he said. "Obviously, winning a race on the ovals is tough. I wanted to make the Chase -- and we came close -- but couldn't quite make it. So, there are some pieces to the puzzle that I'm missing. But, in general, I'm just thrilled to have experienced it and (for) my family to enjoy what America is."
Ambrose, who has 18 top-five finishes in Sprint Cup, said his most memorable moment was sharing a Victory Lane celebration with Richard Petty. "Winning a race is great," he said, "but sharing it with The King was pretty special -- just an amazing thing."
Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, will also be driving his final Sprint Cup race for Wood Brothers on Sunday. But he's not leaving Ford -- simply shifting over to Roush Fenway, where he will be behind the wheel of the No. 6 Fusion on a full-time assignment next season.