Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Monday, April 14, 2014
    The Green Flag: Sprint Cup gets break
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is the longest in professional sports, and breaks are few and far between.

      One of those rare breaks comes this weekend, with the Easter holiday.

      Invariably, when there's a pause in the racing season, reporters ask drivers what they plan to do with the time off, and the answers invariably range from hunting with friends, enjoying some rest and relaxation at the beach, traveling, playing golf or simply spending quality time with family.

      But we often forget that drivers are only one part of the stock car racing equation.

      The fabricators, mechanics, engine builders, engineers, body hangers and crewmen who build and set up race cars for their teams will be lucky to have two days off around Easter -- if that.

      Instead, they'll be working typical long hours repairing cars wrecked at Darlington, catching up on car builds for upcoming tracks and trying to figure out how to make their machines go faster.

      That's particularly true for organizations that have fallen behind in the development of the Gen-6 car under the new competition package NASCAR introduced this year.

      If we tend to forget what goes on behind the scenes in racing, the families of those involved certainly do not.

      Consequently, we salute the unsung heroes of NASCAR racing and wish them a happy Easter -- whatever small part they actually see of it.

      @nascarcasm

      ---"This week, Kevin Harvick made it to the checkered flag before all other drivers. This is a major step up from the previous week at Texas, when he made it back to Charlotte before all other drivers."

      ---Kevin Harvick's win at Darlington Speedway is the milestone first victory for F1 team owner Gene Haas.

      ---The setting sun caused visibility issues for drivers early in the race. And if you're keeping score, yes, the drivers managed to find a way to complain about rain AND sunshine in the span of one week.

      ---Unlike races earlier this season, the race at Darlington Raceway had a rare 0% chance of rain. Regardless, AirTitan 2.0 self-activated one hour before green flag merely out of habit.

      (Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you already knew that.)

      NASCAR Numbers

      462: The total number of laps led by Kevin Harvick in his two NASCAR Sprint Cup victories this season. Harvick led 224 laps in winning Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway to go with the 238 he led in getting his first victory of the year at Phoenix. In the six other races combined, Harvick has led 53 laps.

      41: The number of positions both Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. improved at Darlington over their finishes in the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt was first out of the Texas race (43rd) after a close encounter with the infield grass. Harvick retired in 42nd with engine issues. At Darlington, Harvick and Earnhardt ran 1-2.

      5: In eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, the number of times Dale Earnhardt Jr. has recorded a top-three finish. After winning the Daytona 500, Earnhardt has finished second three times (at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Darlington) and third once (at Martinsville).

      586: The total number of laps led by Kyle Busch in the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Richmond International Raceway held in the spring. Hence, it's likely Busch will notch the 30 laps he needs to reach a career milestone of 10,000 laps led in the series. Busch led at least 32 laps in each of the last five spring races and won four of them.

      1: The number of drivers advancing to the final round in each of the seven knockout qualifying sessions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year. Joey Logano kept his perfect record intact Friday at Darlington Raceway, then qualified on the outside of the front row in the final round.

      NASCAR ETC.

      The winningest driver in North American sports car racing history held off one of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship's youngest stars to win Saturday's Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase at the Long Beach street circuit. ... Scott Pruett extended his record to 58 career victories, driving the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley to the line 0.759 seconds ahead of 22-year-old Jordan Taylor. Corvette Racing won in GT Le Mans (GTLM) with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen leading all but two laps to give the Corvette C7.R its first win in just its third start. ... GTLM is regarded internationally for its competition, and the TUDOR Championship standings reflect that. The top eight teams are separated by only eight points with BMW's Bill Auberlen and Andy Priaulx leading Porsche's Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy by two points (90-88). ... Pruett and Rojas are now within five points (98-93) of leaders Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the Prototype class. The GT Daytona (GTD) and Prototype Challenge (PC) classes return on May 4 at historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. There will be a pair of two-hour races, one for the P and GTLM classes, the other for the PC and GTD classes. Both races will be televised live on FOX Sports 1.

      Tweets Of The Week

      Darrell Wallace Jr.

      @BubbaWallace

      Hell yeah I won the masters!!!!!!!....???? Wrong bubba peeps. Can't even break 100!

      Danica Patrick

      @DanicaPatrick

      I have my first suntan of the year. Words can't explain how happy I am! Ahhh Sundays.

      Kevin Harvick

      @KevinHarvick

      Watching the masters waiting on the little man to wake up. Still pumped about the win last night! #4thewin

      Dale Earnhardt Jr.

      @DaleJr

      @KevinHarvick congrats on a great run. You guys are gonna be tough all year.

      Kyle Larson

      @KyleLarsonRacin

      Just got asked if I was @chaseelliott. After the last couple weeks I wish I was!

      Chase Elliott

      @chaseelliott

      Wow I'm still in shock from last week! Unbelievable night! So blessed to just have this opportunity... Huge thanks to @NAPAKnowHow! #di9

      Jimmie Johnson

      @JimmieJohnson

      There is nothing like the Lady in Black.

      Darrell Waltrip

      @AllWaltrip

      Sell out crowd at #DarlingtonRaceway, big crowd at the #longbeachgrandprix and big crowd at the #Masters2014, thanks fans!

      Jan Magnussen, Corvette Racing

      @janmagnussen

      Winners are grinners! @janmagnussen, @AntonioGarcia_3 and @CorvetteRacing take their first @UnitedSportsCar win. First win for the C7.R

      Jenna Fryer, Associated Press

      @JennaFryer

      For winning the #IMSA race, @FRJamieAllison was just presented with a guitar as big as him.

      Jamie Allison, Ford

      @FRJamieAllison

      Taking Guitar lessons tomorrow!

      Tony DiZinno, MotorsportsTalk.NBCSports.com

      @tonydizinno

      Good morning from Long Beach - @UnitedSportsCar practice well underway. The pulsating sounds of HP off the buildings = awesome.

      Jordan Taylor?, Wayne Taylor Racing

      @jordan10taylor

      Nothing much cooler than sharing the podium with your brother at Long Beach!

      Continental Tire

      @continentaltire

      Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Congrats @cgrteams!! #PatronShowcase.

      Tune-In: NASCAR On Television, Week of April 14-19 (all times ET)

      Monday, April 14

      4 p.m., NASCAR's The List: Greatest Finishes re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

      4:30 p.m., NASCAR's The List: Legendary Drivers re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

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

      Tuesday, April 15

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

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

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

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

      Wednesday, April 16

      2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      3 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Darlington re-air, FOX Sports 1

      4:30 p.m., NASCAR's The List: Memorable Moments re-air, NBC Sports Network

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

      Thursday, April 17

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

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

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

      Friday, April 18

      2 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub Special, FOX Sports 1

      Saturday, April 19

      2 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

      THIS WEEK

      NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

      The Next Race: Toyota Owners 400

      The Place: Richmond International Raceway

      The Date/Time: Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m.

      TV: FOX

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      NASCAR

      NATIONWIDE SERIES

      The Next Race: ToyotaCare 250

      The Place: Richmond International Raceway

      The Date/Time: Friday, April 25, 7 p.m.

      TV: TBD

      Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Channel 90

      National Series Standings

      This year, wins matter more than in any season in the 65-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Essentially, a win locks a driver into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

      2014 Winners

      Pos Driver Wins

      1. Kevin Harvick 2

      2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1

      3. Brad Keselowski 1

      4. Carl Edwards 1

      5. Kyle Busch 1

      6. Kurt Busch 1

      7. Joey Logano 1

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Jeff Gordon 297

      2 Matt Kenseth 296

      3 Carl Edwards 278

      4 Dale Earnhardt Jr.271

      5 Jimmie Johnson 270

      6 Kyle Busch 269

      7 Brad Keselowski 246

      8 Joey Logano 245

      9 Ryan Newman 236

      10 Austin Dillon # 235

      11 Greg Biffle 227

      12 Tony Stewart 224

      13 Brian Vickers 224

      14 Kyle Larson # 223

      15 Denny Hamlin 223

      16 Clint Bowyer 219

      NASCAR Nationwide Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Chase Elliott # 271

      2 Regan Smith 258

      3 Elliott Sadler 251

      4 Ty Dillon # 248

      5 Trevor Bayne 241

      6 Brian Scott 225

      7 Brendan Gaughan215

      8 D. Kwasniewski #200

      9 James Buescher 195

      10 Ryan Reed # 172

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Pos Driver Points

      1 Timothy Peters 82

      2 Johnny Sauter 82

      3 Matt Crafton 78

      4 Ryan Blaney 78

      5 Ron Hornaday Jr. 76

      6 Ben Kennedy # 72

      7 German Quiroga 71

      8 Darrell Wallace Jr. 61

      9 Jeb Burton 60

      10 Tyler Reddick 60

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach results
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Results Sunday of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile Streets of Long Beach circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

    • 1. (17) Mike Conway, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      2. (14) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      3. (11) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      4. (16) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      5. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      6. (20) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      7. (12) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      8. (8) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      9. (22) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      10. (21) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

      11. (9) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      12. (7) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

      13. (23) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 79, Running

      14. (3) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 77, Running

      15. (5) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 77, Running

      16. (10) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 64, Contact

      17. (18) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 60, Running

      18. (13) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 55, Contact

      19. (4) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      20. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      21. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      22. (15) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 55, Contact

      23. (19) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 41, Off Course

      Race Statistics

      Winners average speed: 82.362

      Time of Race: 01:54:41.6418

      Margin of victory: 0.9005 of a second

      Cautions: 4 for 18 laps

      Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers

      Lap Leaders: Hunter-Reay 1-26, Dixon 27-28, Hunter-Reay 29-53, Newgarden 54, Saavedra 55-57, Dixon 58-77, Conway 78-80.

      Point Standings: Power 93, Conway 66, Pagenaud 60, Castroneves 55, Hunter-Reay 53, Dixon 51, Munoz 48, Montoya 47, Aleshin 46, Saavedra 42.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Conway wins Long Beach race
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Ed Carpenter's decision to put a road course standout in his Verizon IndyCar Series car this season paid off Sunday when Mike Conway won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

    • Carpenter, the owner-driver of Ed Carpenter Racing, is an oval-track specialist, and he stepped out of the Chevrolet-powered car in favor of Conway, who won his third career IndyCar race and his second at Long Beach.

      With a front wing broken on the first lap, Conway took the lead with two circuits left when Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon was forced to pit road for more fuel. Conway then held off Team Penske's Will Power for the win.

      Conway won this race for Andretti Autosport in 2011.

      Conway did not expect to become a two-time event winner on this weekend.

      "I wasn't sure Scott was going to pull in there," he said. "I couldn't see he was saving fuel where he should have been saving."

      Said Dixon: "We wanted to go for it, but we couldn't run the risk of running out of fuel in front of the pack and causing a big accident."

      Those two (and Power) were in a winning position because the lead pack got shuffled on Lap 55 of the 80-lap race when pole-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport banged into Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden in a battle for the lead.

      Newgarden said he did not expect Hunter-Reay to dart inside him in Turn 4, and the bump sent them sliding to the left side of the narrow track. Running fourth, Power swung to the right and motored on, but others were not so fortunate.

      James Hinchcliffe followed Hunter-Reay, his teammate, into the mess. A few cars got through safely, but Helio Castroneves could not, running into the back of Hunter-Reay, and the entanglement of Newgarden and Hinchcliffe sat in the blind path of Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and rookie Jack Hawksworth.

      Hinchcliffe took a swipe at Hunter-Reay.

      "Patience is a virtue and someone wasn't virtuitous," he said. "It was a rookie move."

      Hunter-Reay tried to explain the move, saying both he and Newgarden could have done something different.

      "Giving each other a little bit of room (in Turn 4) would have gotten us both through there," he said. "A lot of people will say that's my fault. I made the decision at that split-second, when he had wheel spin, to go for it, knowing I was on (new) tires. That's the type of driver I am; I go for it."

      Said Newgarden: "I didn't expect anyone to make a move there in Turn 4. There's so little room there."

      All escaped injury except Hinchcliffe, who suffered at least a sprained left thumb. He will need to be re-examined before the April 27 race at Barber Motorsports Park.

      The first standing start of the season did not produce much drama. Only Hinchcliffe suffered, dropping from second to fifth.

      Sebastien Bourdais jumped from third to second at the start. After getting service on Lap 25, he was trying to swipe the lead from Hunter-Reay when he drove into a tire barrier at Turn 8. Bourdais did it again later, ending his race.

      On a restart, Justin Wilson's car got turned around in the hairpin at Turn 11 by Graham Rahal. Rahal received a penalty for avoidable contact.

      Moments later, Power's bump on Simon Pagenaud in the left rear corner sent Pagenaud into the tire barrier. IndyCar's race control deemed that a racing incident and did not punish Power.

      Power tried to apologize.

      "My bad; I feel bad," he said. "I'm surprised I didn't get a penalty. He should be angry. Man, I'd be the same."

      Pagenaud didn't accept the apology, leaving open the possibility that this tension festers.

      "It's too late for (apologies)," he said.

      On the television broadcast, former driver Paul Tracy, who was known for his aggressiveness, quipped that Power's move "looks like something I would have done back in the day."

      Like Rahal, Bourdais had to drive slowly down pit road under green for his team, KV Racing Technology, repairing his car in a period of the caution when the pits were closed.

      Castroneves and rookie Carlos Huertas also were penalized for passing too early on restarts.

      Colombians Carlos Munoz, a rookie, and Juan Pablo Montoya, back in the series this season for the first time since 2000, finished third and fourth, respectively, Pagenaud rallied to finish fifth.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Conway captures Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Ed Carpenter's decision to put a road course standout in his Verizon IndyCar Series car this season paid off Sunday when Mike Conway won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

    • Carpenter, the owner-driver of Ed Carpenter Racing, is an oval-track specialist, and he stepped out of the Chevrolet-powered car in favor of Conway, who won his third career IndyCar race and his second at Long Beach.

      With a front wing broken on the first lap, Conway took the lead with two circuits left when Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon was forced to pit road for more fuel. Conway then held off Team Penske's Will Power for the win.

      Conway won this race for Andretti Autosport in 2011.

      Sunday's lead pack got shuffled on Lap 55 of 80 when pole winner Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport banged into Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden in a battle for the lead.

      Newgarden said he didn't expect Hunter-Reay to dart inside him in Turn 4, and the bump sent them sliding to the left side of the narrow track. Running fourth, Power swung to the right and motored on, but others weren't so fortunate.

      James Hinchcliffe followed Hunter-Reay, his teammate, into the mess. A couple of cars got through safely, but Helio Castroneves couldn't, running into the back of Hunter-Reay, and the entanglement of Newgarden and Hinchcliffe sat in the blind path of Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and rookie Jack Hawksworth.

      Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprain left thumb in the crash, took a swipe at Hunter-Reay.

      "Patience is a virtue and someone wasn't virtuous," he said. "It was a rookie move."

      Hunter-Reay tried to explain the move, saying both he and Newgarden could have done something different.

      IndyCar's first standing start of the season happened without much of a hitch, although Hinchcliffe's car bobbled just a bit at first, costing him four positions. Sebastien Bourdais, a three-time Long Beach winner, jumped up to the spot vacated by Hinchcliffe.

      Bourdais' spot near the front lasted only through the first pit stop. With Hunter-Reay getting service on Lap 26, Bourdais made a mistake trying to hustle the car back around the track, and he ran straight into the tires at Turn 8. That Hinchcliffe was on his tail likely contributed to carrying too much speed into the corner. Fourteen laps later he was back in a tire barrier.

      Those weren't the only contacts. On the restart that ensued, Justin Wilson was spun around in the hairpin, Turn 11, by Graham Rahal. Rahal received a penalty for avoidable contact.

      Moments later, Power's bump on Simon Pagenaud in the left rear corner sent Pagenaud into the tire barrier. IndyCar's race control deemed that a racing incident and did not punish Power.

      On the television broadcast, former driver Paul Tracy, who was known for his aggressiveness, quipped that Power's move "looks like something I would have done back in the day."

      Like Rahal, Bourdais had to drive slowly down pit road under green for his team, KV Racing Technology, repairing his car in a period of the caution when the pits were closed.

      Ganassi teammates Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball each retired from the race before the halfway point due to issues they said were related to the Chevrolet engine.

      Colombians Carlos Munoz, a rookie, and Juan Pablo Montoya, back in the series this season for the first time since 2000, finished third and fourth, respectively. Pagenaud rallied to finish fifth.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Harvick dominates Bojangles' Southern 500
    By The Sports Xchange

    DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Kevin Harvick dominated the Bojangles' Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night, leading 238 laps of a race that was extended to 511 miles by two green-white-checker attempts to claim the win.

    • While it was Harvick's first career win at Darlington, it was his second victory of the season, making him the first repeat winner after eight races.

      "It feels great," Harvick said. "It's allowed us, with the way the points system is, to go for wins and not have to worry about the bad weeks too much. Really proud for these guys and looking forward to the last 10."

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, Jimmie Johnson was third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five.

      "Just didn't have enough tires, you know," Earnhardt said. "Harvick had the best car and the best tires at the end. "It was real hard to hold him off. I should have probably ran the top there in (turns) three and four and made him go around the bottom, but I think he was going to get us anyway and we were going to try. A great run; good job by my team."

      Johnson started 26th and remained outside the top-20 through the first quarter of the race, but he was up to second after a cycle of green flag pit stops completed just past lap 320. Johnson ran second to Harvick and took only two tires to Harvick's four during a caution on lap 357 to restart with the lead. Harvick restarted fifth, the first driver with four fresh tires.

      "Things were really going our way there when we took two tires and got the restart under control and had a good lead there," Johnson said. "Then the caution came out and, at that point, I knew that us on two tires, we were probably in big trouble and the No. 4 (Harvick) had worked his way up through there and did a great job. It seemed like the fastest car all night long. We had to gamble to kind of take a shot at getting a win and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) played it right, and we were in the right position, but just got two cautions there at the end that kept us from getting to victory lane."

      On the restart, Harvick pushed Earnhardt by Johnson and moved into second. He then took the lead on the final restart of the race.

      "It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with the track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end," Harvick said. "The cautions all lined out and this Budweiser Chevrolet was unbelievable all night. We were able to hang on there at the end, and I knew I had the high line. I hadn't showed it to them all night on the restarts, and I wanted to save it until the very end. I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race. It was a good took in your tool bag to have there at the end."

      Harvick also lost the lead on pit strategy during a caution that came out just past lap 250 and again on lap 271, but each time he quickly got back to the front.

      Joey Logano took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps. Harvick took the lead for the first time on the restart that followed a lap 40 caution.

      By the time Kasey Kahne kicked off a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 175, Harvick had already led a total of 115 laps. Kahne was in the lead after the restart by virtue of having new tires for a few more laps. But Harvick retook the lead on a restart following a lap 201 caution.

      Harvick was the dominant driver in the first 250 laps of the 367-lap race. But at lap 250, Brian Vickers was the race leader, with Jeff Gordon in second.

      Despite the dominance, Harvick didn't lead early after starting the race from the pole. Instead, Joey Logano took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps.

      Gordon, who came into the race leading all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington (NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the record with 10), then raced from third to the lead in lapped traffic, just before the caution flag waved for the first time on lap 40.

      Harvick took the lead for the first time on the restart that followed. He lost the lead on pit road during the next caution just before lap 60, but was back upfront by lap 76, taking the lead from Matt Kenseth.

      Kenseth was one of four drivers who got track position during the caution by taking only two tires.

      By the time Kasey Kahne kicked off a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 175, Harvick had already led a total of 115 laps. Kahne was in the lead after the restart by virtue of having new tires for a few more laps.

      Kahne maintained his lead until the next caution flag on lap 201 and got off pit road to restart first. As soon as the race returned to green, though, Harvick reassumed his position up front. Through the remainder of the race, Harvick lost positions on pit road during cautions because of strategy, but he always got back to the front in a matter of a few laps.

      Kyle Busch finished in the sixth position, while Gordon finished seventh after running second to Harvick for much of the race. Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, taking the eighth spot. Tony Stewart was ninth and Newman rounded out the top-10.

      "There towards the end, we just kind of started fading," Gordon said. "I got into the wall a little bit and got the right side flattened up a little bit and then, from there, I just went downhill. We just made some mistakes and got behind and were the last car on two tires and then got eaten up on those restarts."

      NOTES: Prior to Saturday's race, Harvick had only led a total of 63 laps in his previous 17 starts at Darlington. ... Joey Logano has led laps in seven of the eight races thus far in 2014. ... Harvick was the race leader at mile 100, mile 200, mile 300, mile 400, but not at mile 500. ... There were 22 lead changes among 12 drivers. ... There were 11 cautions for 50 laps.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Kevin Harvick wins Sprint Cup race at Darlington in overtime
    By The Sports Xchange

    Distributed by The Sports Xchange

    • DARLINGTON, S.C.—The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been one of feast or famine for Kevin Harvick -- and on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, Harvick enjoyed the delectable taste of victory.

      Passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next-to-last lap of the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Harvick won Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and all but locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the first two-time winner in the series this year (he still needs to finish in the top 30 in points after race No. 26 and attempt to qualify for every race).

      In the second race of the season, Harvick dominated in winning at Phoenix, before a spate of mechanical issues waylaid him in four of five subsequent events.

      On Saturday at Darlington, he was the class of the field again, leading 238 of 374 laps in a race that went seven circuits past its scheduled distance. Nevertheless, it took a four-tire call in the pits and a late caution to give Harvick a final chance to beat Earnhardt, who had streaked to a 15-car-length lead on two fresh tires in the first attempt at a green-white-checker.

      But Kurt Busch’s wreck on the backstretch brought out the 11th caution on Lap 369 and snatched the victory from Earnhardt’s grasp. Restarting on the outside of the front row after powering past Jimmie Johnson on the first attempt at overtime, Harvick prevailed with a superior car on superior tires.

      The victory was Harvick’s first at Darlington and the 25th of his career. It was the series-best third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing.

      After the race, Harvick, the pole winner, revealed he had been keeping a tactic in reserve for just the sort of moment that arose Saturday night at the 1.366-mile speedway.

      “We were able to hang on there at the end, and I knew I had that high line I hadn’t showed it to them all night on the restarts, and I wanted to save it until the very end,” Harvick said. “I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race. It was a good tool in your tool bag to have there at the end.”

      In fact, Harvick passed Earnhardt to the outside through Turns 3 and 4 on the penultimate lap.

      Earnhardt finished second, .559 seconds back. Johnson ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, rookie Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman completed the top 10.

      “Everybody was telling me that I had a 15 car length lead, and I don't want to hear about that,” Earnhardt said. “I'm going to hear about it all day tomorrow; ‘Man; you almost won it.’ They said we had it won with a 15 car length lead coming into that last white flag when the caution come out on the back straightaway (for Kurt Busch’s wreck off the nose of Clint Bowyer’s Toyota).

      "But (Kevin) was pretty fast. I think he was going to run the (heck) out of it and try to get there. I was trying not to look in the mirror, just try to run as hard as I could. I didn't know how much speed the car had. We were on two tires ... But feels good to be close.”

      Nothing could thwart Harvick’s domination of the first two-thirds of the race. A dropped lug nut on a pit stop on Lap 222 relegated him to ninth for a restart on Lap 227. But by the time NASCAR threw the seventh caution on Lap 247, Harvick was running fourth.

      Four laps after a restart on Lap 252, Harvick was back in the lead, passing Brian Vickers for the top spot.

      After Paul Menard hit the outside wall for the second time on Lap 271, Harvick ran over a piece of Menard’s brake rotor—twice—but his No. 4 Chevrolet was unaffected. Biffle took the lead on pit road with a two-tire stop, but Harvick regained the point on the restart lap (279) and quickly pulled away to a two-second advantage over Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt in second and third.

      On longer runs, Gordon’s Chevy was the equal of Harvick’s, but Gordon had a miserable time on restarts and repeatedly dropped back so far on the initial green-flag laps that he couldn’t make up the ground during the course of a fuel run.

      But it was Johnson who chased Harvick lap after lap after a cycle of green-flag pit stops ended on Lap 323. Johnson got as close as .601 seconds back before Harvick began to pull away. But caution for fluid from Joey Logano’s Ford scrambled the field on divergent pit strategies and set up the wild finish.

      Harvick restarted fifth on Lap 363 as the first driver on four new tires and gained the third position before NASCAR called a debris caution on Lap 364 to necessitate the first attempt at overtime.

      NOTES: Gordon retained the series lead by one point over Kenseth, but neither has a victory this season. ... Rookie Kyle Larson scored his fourth top 10 in eight races this season. ... Harvick is the first polesitter to win at Darlington since Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat in 1997.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Bojangles' Southern 500

      Darlington Raceway

      Darlington, South Carolina

      Saturday, April 12, 2014

      1. (1) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 374, $328708.

      2. (15) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 374, $205690.

      3. (26) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 374, $215101.

      4. (25) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 374, $183401.

      5. (19) Greg Biffle, Ford, 374, $165040.

      6. (8) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 374, $157156.

      7. (9) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 374, $155576.

      8. (17) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 374, $133510.

      9. (23) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 374, $136873.

      10. (7) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 374, $109665.

      11. (20) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 374, $144441.

      12. (16) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 374, $134271.

      13. (21) Carl Edwards, Ford, 374, $113905.

      14. (4) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 374, $124125.

      15. (18) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 374, $116438.

      16. (6) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 374, $134694.

      17. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 374, $137288.

      18. (31) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 374, $118888.

      19. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 374, $101905.

      20. (28) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 374, $130280.

      21. (29) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 374, $89005.

      22. (33) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 374, $100055.

      23. (24) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 372, $113563.

      24. (3) Aric Almirola, Ford, 372, $127641.

      25. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 372, $87305.

      26. (14) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 371, $121480.

      27. (12) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 371, $116613.

      28. (27) David Gilliland, Ford, 370, $107663.

      29. (34) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 369, $97252.

      30. (38) Parker Kligerman #, Toyota, 369, $89005.

      31. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 368, $84305.

      32. (32) David Ragan, Ford, 367, $94605.

      33. (41) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 367, $83905.

      34. (43) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 366, $91705.

      35. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, Front Hub, 359, $123471.

      36. (37) David Stremme, Chevrolet, Brakes, 326, $83305.

      37. (22) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 323, $102480.

      38. (42) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 301, $78285.

      39. (40) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Overheating, 289, $74285.

      40. (39) Ryan Truex #, Toyota, 274, $70285.

      41. (11) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 270, $93499.

      42. (30) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, Accident, 101, $62285.

      43. (36) Dave Blaney, Ford, Brakes, 65, $58785.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 131.211 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 53 Mins, 37 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.558 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 11 for 50 laps.

      Lead Changes: 22 among 12 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Harvick 0; J. Logano 1-37; J. Gordon 38-42; D. Ragan 43; J. Gordon 44-45; K. Harvick 46-60; D. Hamlin 61-63; M. Kenseth 64-75; K. Harvick 76-179; B. Keselowski 180-183; K. Kahne 184-201; K. Harvick 202; K. Kahne 203-207; K. Harvick 208-223; B. Vickers 224-247; J. Gordon 248; B. Vickers 249-254; K. Harvick 255-273; G. Biffle 274-278; K. Harvick 279-359; J. Johnson 360-367; D. Earnhardt Jr. 368-372; K. Harvick 373-374.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 7 times for 238 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 37 laps; B. Vickers 2 times for 30 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 23 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 12 laps; J. Gordon 3 times for 8 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 8 laps; G. Biffle 1 time for 5 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 5 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 4 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 3 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon - 297; M. Kenseth - 296; C. Edwards - 278; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 271; J. Johnson - 270; Kyle Busch - 269; B. Keselowski - 246; J. Logano - 245; R. Newman - 236; A. Dillon # - 235; G. Biffle - 227; T. Stewart - 224; B. Vickers - 224; K. Larson # - 223; D. Hamlin - 223; C. Bowyer - 219.

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014
    Harvick takes Darlington, is first two-time winner of 2014
    By The Sports Xchange

    Distributed by The Sports Xchange

    • DARLINGTON, S.C.—The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been one of feast or famine for Kevin Harvick—and on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, Harvick enjoyed the delectable taste of victory.

      Passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next-to-last lap of the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Harvick won Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and all but locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the first two-time winner in the series this year (he still needs to finish in the top 30 and attempt to qualify for every race).

      The victory was Harvick’s first at Darlington and the 25th of his career. It was the third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing.

      Harvick led 238 of 374 laps in a race that went seven laps past its scheduled distance.

      Earnhardt finished second, .559 seconds back. Jimmie Johnson ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

      Nothing could thwart Harvick’s domination of the first two-thirds of the race. A dropped lug nut on a pit stop on Lap 222 relegated him to ninth for a restart on Lap 227. But by the time NASCAR threw the seventh caution on Lap 247, Harvick was running fourth.

      Four laps after a restart on Lap 252, Harvick was back in the lead, passing Brian Vickers for the top spot.

      After Paul Menard hit the outside wall for the second time on Lap 271, Harvick ran over a piece of Menard’s brake rotor—twice—but his No. 4 Chevrolet was unaffected. Biffle took the lead on pit road with a two-tire stop, but Harvick regained the point on the restart lap (279) and quickly pulled away to a two-second advantage over Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt in second and third.

      On longer runs, Gordon’s Chevy was the equal of Harvick’s, but Gordon had a miserable time on restarts and repeatedly dropped back so far on the initial green-flag laps that he couldn’t make up the ground during the course of a fuel run.

      But it was Johnson who chased Harvick lap after lap after a cyle of green-flag pit stops ended on Lap 323. Johnson got as close as .601 seconds back before Harvick began to pull away. But caution for fluid from Joey Logano’s Ford scrambled the field on divergent pit strategies and set up the wild finish.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Hunter-Reay races to Long Beach pole
    By The Sports Xchange

    Ryan Hunter-Reay won the pole on Saturday for the IndyCar Series' Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Calif.).

    • Hunter-Reay was timed in 1 minute, 7.8219 seconds on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course, edging Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe by .1184 of a second in the final qualifying session for Sunday's 40th running of the Long Beach race.

      The pole was the sixth of Hunter-Reay's IndyCar career.

      "It just comes down to this team giving me what I need when I need it," Hunter-Reay said. "What a qualifying session. You never knew who was going to put in the best lap; it was anybody's session.

      "It's a good start for us, but tomorrow is going to be challenging. We have the standing start and a long day on the beach. We've been on the outside pole so many times here and finally got the big one."

      Three-time Long Beach winner Sebastien Bourdais was on the provisional pole until the final minute of the session. He will start in row two with Josef Newgarden. Rookie Jack Hawksworth and Simon Pagenaud qualified in the third row.

      Will Power, who won the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is a two-time winner at Long Beach, will start 14th.

      In other news, Townsend Bell will drive in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25 for a team co-owned by Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven. Bell finished fourth at Indy in 2009.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Elliott, Larson provide electrifying look at NASCAR's future
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, S.C. -- We have seen the future, and it's painted with the numbers "9" and "42."

      Driving Chevrolets adorned with those car numbers, NASCAR neophytes Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson staged a remarkable battle in Friday night's VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway.

      Driving as hard as they could and significantly over the edge of control, Elliott, 18, and Larson, 21, waged an all-out battle for the second position after a restart on Lap 99.

      Both cars slid sideways, as the young drivers fought for control. Ultimately, Elliott won the race -- his second straight victory in the series -- and Larson, a first-time winner at Fontana, Calif., earlier this season, came home sixth.

      After the race, Elliott marveled that he was sitting at the dais in the media center, rather than watching his car hauled from the track on a wrecker.

      "There was definitely one (instance) that I can think of where I thought our night was 100 percent finished," Elliott acknowledged. "I thought both of us were getting ready to pile it up pretty big, along with probably some more cars behind us.

      "I have no idea how both of us held on to that, and he did a really good job holding on to it, and it kind of gave me something to lean up against while I was trying to save it. That was a crazy lap or so there. We raced really hard, he's fun to race with, and fortunately, we raced each other pretty clean."

      Clean, yes, but neither driver hesitated to make a move when he had a slight advantage, and both have exhibited phenomenal instincts at very early stages in their stock car careers. Elliott hopes the competition can continue for years.

      "I'd like to think so," said Elliott, who along with Larson has been a member of the sport's NASCAR Next program, designed to spotlight future stars. "Kyle's obviously a talented guy, and he's earned his place in the sport, for sure."

      EMBRACING THE PAST

      Chase Elliott's victory at Darlington couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.

      On Sunday at the 1.366-mile speedway, track president Chip Wile and NASCAR president Mike Helton unveiled the first glimpse of a campaign for the 2015 Bojangles' Southern 500 that honors the track's past.

      Elliott and father Bill Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, are the faces of a new platform for the 2015 race, which features throwback ticket designs and classic merchandise that recalls the history of the legendary track.

      "As the drivers, teams, fans and media leave here this weekend thinking about who visited Gatorade Victory Lane, focusing on the next race and looking towards the 2014 Championship, we're thinking about the future of Darlington Raceway, as we celebrate our past," Wile said.

      "Our history defines us. Without history we wouldn't know where we've come from or where we're going. NASCAR legends and loyal fans have all played a role in defining Darlington Raceway. Together, we're celebrating where we came from and where we're going."

      The dates of the 2015 Southern 500 have not been announced, but Wile said he is very satisfied with Darlington's current position on the schedule.

      SCARY FAST

      It wasn't until 1988 that qualifying speeds at Darlington topped 160 mph.

      Since then, speeds at the 1.366-mile track have advanced dramatically. Aric Almirola set a track record at 184.145 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying on Friday. Joey Logano wasn't far behind at 183.870 mph.

      "It feels freaking fast, I promise you that," Logano said after qualifying second for Sunday's Bojangles Southern 500. "I remember the first time I came here. I was shaking after qualifying. It is insane. I can't really put it in words.

      "I've never driven anything like an IndyCar or anything, but this is the place you go to with the most sensation of speed. Here and Dover you really feel like you are hauling the mail."

      The pressure of time trials at Darlington is greater, Logano said, because there's no room for even a slight mistake.

      "For one, you are going so fast into Turn 1, and you look at that corner, and you barely lift, and you just book right through it. It's just crazy. I'm having a hard time putting it into words. You go into (Turn) 3, and enter high and your car is loose, and if you go too hard, you'll chase the back end of the car into the fence.

      "Then you're right back to the gas and wide open right up against the wall. That sensation of going fast and also having no room for error out there on the race track is what makes it feel like you're just crazy out there."

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Darlington favors race veterans
    By The Sports Xchange

    DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Darlington Raceway has a lot of nicknames: "The Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame," just to name a couple.

    • Ask almost any driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit and they will say Darlington is a tough old track.

      Perhaps because of its toughness, Darlington is, typically, a track for veterans like 2003 Sprint (then-Winston) Cup champion Matt Kenseth and reigning six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth and Johnson are the two most recent winners at Darlington, with Kenseth winning last year's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington and Johnson winning in 2012.

      "It was definitely special," Kenseth said. "I think that's one of the biggest races of the year, in my opinion. It's certainly a historic race. The Southern 500 is one of the three or four races that you always hear about. It's certainly one you always want to win."

      Kenseth led the Sprint Cup Series in wins in 2013 with seven trips to victory lane before finishing second to Johnson in the season-ending championship points standings.

      Despite being the top-two drivers, overall, a year ago, neither Johnson nor Kenseth have won in 2014. Jeff Gordon is the career-wins leader at Darlington among active drivers with seven victories. Like Johnson and Kenseth, Gordon is also seeking that first win of the season.

      "I've been through various challenges in my Cup career and one marker I always look for is, clearly, fast cars and, ultimately, top-five finishes," Johnson said. "And I firmly believe that if you're running in the top five, you're going to have your shots at winning races. And even a step further, top threes. But our goal, since I've started, has been if we can run in the top five all day long, we'll have a shot to win the race. And it's led to a lot of victories for us."

      Wins impact Chase even more

      With wins the primary focus for earning a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason, NASCAR has made a big deal out of the first seven races leading up to Darlington, producing seven different winners.

      It is a record number of different winners to start a Sprint Cup season in the Chase era. With so many competitive veterans still winless heading into Darlington, there is a good chance that streak is going to expand to eight.

      Under NASCAR's new system, drivers with wins who are in the top 30 in points get first crack at Chase spots.

      Drivers winning the first few races, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, expressed relief soon after their wins, proclaiming that they are in the Chase. They probably did not count on so many different winners. There are 26 races that make up the regular season before the 16-driver Chase. At this rate, it looks like there is a chance that Chase slots may fill up before all the winners get in.

      "Right now, by definition, you have to have that second win to be definitely in the Chase," said Carl Edwards, already a winner this season. "So much can happen in this sport. I believe there will be more than 16 winners. I think we will have 18 or 19 guys win races. I say that because if you look at the list of guys that have not won yet, it is a stout list."

      Drivers may need to amend those proclamations of being in the Chase with that one win. A second win would guarantee a Chase berth, but a single win is not a given to qualify.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2014
    Chase Elliott wins Nationwide race at Darlington
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, S.C. -- There's a new sheriff in town, and he is barely legal.

      With a banzai run in a two-lap dash to the finish of Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway, 18-year-old Chase Elliott muscled his way past Elliott Sadler on the final lap to post his second straight win in his seventh start in the series.

      Elliott, who restarted sixth on Lap 146, charged to the front and claimed victory in the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 in his first event at the fabled 1.366-mile track. The victory was Elliott's second in as many weeks and the second of his fledgling career.

      Sadler, who gambled on two tires for the final restart with two laps left, held the second spot. Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by pole-sitter Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick.

      "I knew the guys on two tires (Sadler and Larson) were going to be a little slower than the guys on four," Elliott said of the final restart. "Our lane went and Elliott (Sadler) got a little loose off (Turn) 2 and let me get to the outside, and that was where I wanted to be anyway."

      Elliott won last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, but the victory at Darlington, where his father, Bill Elliott, won five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, had special significance.

      "Darlington has always been my favorite place to watch a race," said Elliott, the youngest driver ever to win at Nationwide Series race at Darlington at 18 years, four months, four days. "Just to be a part of this race is unbelievable.

      "To win this thing is a day I'll never forget."

      Elliott also is the youngest driver ever to win two NNS races, and he is the youngest driver to lead the series points standings, a feat he achieved for the first time last week at Texas.

      On Friday night, Elliott extended his points lead to 13 over Regan Smith, who recovered from a spin to finish eighth.

      Elliot asserted his superiority early in the race. After restarting fourth on Lap 24, he made short work of the cars in front on him. On Lap 27, he stormed past Harvick and Kenseth into the second spot and seven laps later sped by Busch, for the lead.

      Harvick followed into second place four laps later, and the top three -- Elliott, Harvick and Busch -- remained constant until NASCAR called a caution on Lap 59 for debris on the backstretch. During pit stops under the yellow, Harvick and Elliott swapped the top two positions, and Harvick led the field to green on Lap 65.

      By the time they got back to the stripe, Elliott had retaken the top spot, but the green-flag run did not last long. On Lap 68, a wild wreck involving the Chevrolet of Dylan Kwasniewski and the Ford of Chris Buescher slowed the field for the third time.

      Elliott controlled the action through two subsequent yellows but lost four positions during pit stops under caution on Lap 89 for Regan Smith's spin in Turn 1. Busch assumed the lead off pit road, with Kenseth, Harvick, Larson and Elliott trailing for a restart on Lap 94.

      NASCAR Nationwide Series Race

      VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200

      Darlington Raceway

      Darlington, South Carolina

      Friday, April 11, 2014

      1. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 147, $44575.

      2. (9) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 147, $33350.

      3. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 147, $19700.

      4. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 147, $25325.

      5. (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 147, $15775.

      6. (12) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 147, $17825.

      7. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 147, $13510.

      8. (8) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 147, $20370.

      9. (10) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 147, $19075.

      10. (5) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 147, $20100.

      11. (7) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 147, $18625.

      12. (16) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 147, $18550.

      13. (18) Ryan Reed, Ford, 147, $18500.

      14. (23) JJ Yeley, Dodge, 147, $18450.

      15. (19) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 147, $18800.

      16. (20) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 147, $18525.

      17. (27) Mike Wallace, Dodge, 147, $18425.

      18. (25) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 147, $18175.

      19. (31) Kevin Lepage, Chevrolet, 147, $18125.

      20. (26) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 147, $18750.

      21. (30) Eric McClure, Toyota, 147, $18000.

      22. (13) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, Accident, 146, $17945.

      23. (17) Dylan Kwasniewski, Chevrolet, 146, $17895.

      24. (36) Carlos Contreras, Chevrolet, 145, $17820.

      25. (22) James Buescher, Toyota, 144, $18250.

      26. (32) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 144, $17695.

      27. (28) Tanner Berryhill, Dodge, 144, $17645.

      28. (29) Todd Bodine, Chevrolet, 143, $17570.

      29. (35) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 141, $17535.

      30. (34) Tommy Joe Martins, Dodge, 141, $11795.

      31. (21) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 137, $17440.

      32. (11) Cale Conley, Chevrolet, 136, $17395.

      33. (39) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 136, $17370.

      34. (6) Chris Buescher, Ford, 119, $17350.

      35. (24) David Starr, Toyota, Accident, 67, $17299.

      36. (37) Matt Carter, Toyota, Rear Gear, 30, $10520.

      37. (14) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, Accident, 16, $16500.

      38. (33) Matt Dibenedetto, Chevrolet, Overheating, 7, $10426.

      39. (38) Jeff Green, Toyota, Brakes, 6, $10315.

      40. (40) Blake Koch, Toyota, Vibration, 2, $10290.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 113.751 mph.

      Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 45 Mins, 55 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.283 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 7 for 31 laps.

      Lead Changes: 13 among 6 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Busch 1-19; M. Wallace 20; K. Busch 21-23; K. Harvick 24; K. Busch 25-33; C. Elliott 34-60; K. Harvick 61-64; C. Elliott 65-88; K. Larson 89; K. Busch 90-142; E. Sadler 143-144; K. Larson 145; E. Sadler 146; C. Elliott 147;.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Busch 4 times for 84 laps; C. Elliott 3 times for 52 laps; K. Harvick 2 times for 5 laps; E. Sadler 2 times for 3 laps; K. Larson 2 times for 2 laps; M. Wallace 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 10 in Points: C. Elliott - 271; R. Smith - 258; E. Sadler - 251; T. Dillon - 248; T. Bayne - 241; B. Scott - 225; B. Gaughan - 215; D. Kwasniewski - 200; J. Buescher - 195; R. Reed - 172.

  • Friday, April 11, 2014
    Harvick claims Darlington pole; Almirola sets record
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, N.C. -- Aric Almirola has the record, but Kevin Harvick has the starting spot that counts most after Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying session at Darlington Raceway.

      With a lap at 183.479 mph in the five-minute third round of time trials, Harvick won the Coors Light pole for the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Saturday night at the egg-shaped 1.366-mile speedway.

      The pole was Harvick's first of the season, his first at Darlington and the seventh of his career.

      Joey Logano landed the second spot with a lap of 183.049 mph and will start from the front row for the third time in eight Sprint Cup races this season. Almirola qualified third at 182.946 mph after setting a track record in the second of the three rounds.

      Marcus Ambrose (182.485 mph) will start fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski (182.059 mph) and Jamie McMurray (182.019 mph). Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, series points leader Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr. will start from positions seven through 12 on the grid.

      Crew chief Rodney Childers, himself a former driver, advised Harvick to change his racing line after the first round of time trials.

      "I was on the bottom all day in practice and Rodney felt like that, in order to get the pole, we were going to need to run the top after we ran our first run," Harvick said. "That's the driver in him. That's why he's good to have sitting there watching, because he knows what's going on.

      "He can relay -- -and also having (spotter) Tim Fedewa up on top -- -as former drivers, knowing what's going on, they can relay what you need to do. We moved up and picked up in the second (round). I felt like I didn't roll through there fast enough. In the last one, I felt like I rolled through there pretty good."

      In the first round, which pared the number of drivers eligible for the pole from 44 to 24, Menard posted a best lap at 183.946 mph, breaking Kurt Busch's previous track record of 181.918 mph, set May 10, 2013.

      In round No. 2, Almirola one-upped Menard with a record lap at 184.145 mph on scuffed tires, despite having an electrical short in his No. 43 Ford that forced his team to push-start the car before it rolled onto the track.

      "After that first session, when I tried to fire the car up, when I would go to turn the starter on and it would try to engage with the flywheel, the electrical system in the whole car would shut itself down," Almirola said.

      "We obviously had a short in our starter or something, and every time we would flick the starter switch on, it would shut the electrical system down, so we had to push-start it the last two sessions. It made it interesting trying to blend on the racetrack."

      In the second session, though, Almirola blended well enough to set the record.

      NOTES: Logano is the only driver to make the final round of all seven knockout qualifying sessions held so far this season. ... David Reutimann failed to make the 43-car field. ... Coming off a 43rd-place finish last Sunday at Texas -- the result of an early accident -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 15th. ... Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will take the green flag in 26th place after failing to advance to the second round of knockout qualifying.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Bojangles' Southern 500

      Darlington Raceway

      Darlington, South Carolina

      Friday, April 11, 2014

      1. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 183.479 mph.

      2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 183.049 mph.

      3. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 182.946 mph.

      4. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 182.485 mph.

      5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 182.059 mph.

      6. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 182.019 mph.

      7. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 181.985 mph.

      8. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 181.763 mph.

      9. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 181.756 mph.

      10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 181.548 mph.

      11. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 181.481 mph.

      12. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 181.200 mph.

      13. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 182.181 mph.

      14. (55) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 181.985 mph.

      15. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 181.689 mph.

      16. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 181.247 mph.

      17. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 181.194 mph.

      18. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 181.127 mph.

      19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 180.947 mph.

      20. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 180.914 mph.

      21. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 180.901 mph.

      22. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 180.787 mph.

      23. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 180.185 mph.

      24. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 178.958 mph.

      25. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 182.059 mph.

      26. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 181.911 mph.

      27. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 181.548 mph.

      28. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 181.394 mph.

      29. (98) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 180.549 mph.

      30. (7) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 180.330 mph.

      31. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 180.310 mph.

      32. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 180.204 mph.

      33. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 180.158 mph.

      34. (23) Alex Bowman, Toyota, 179.993 mph.

      35. (40) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 179.717 mph.

      36. (77) Dave Blaney, Ford, 179.606 mph.

      37. (33) David Stremme, Chevrolet, Owner Points

      38. (30) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, Owner Points

      39. (83) Ryan Truex, Toyota, Owner Points

      40. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Owner Points

      41. (32) Travis Kvapil, Ford, Owner Points

      42. (26) Cole Whitt, Toyota, Owner Points

      43. (66) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Owner Points

      1 driver failed to qualify.

      44. (35) David Reutimann, Ford, 178.491 mph.

  • Friday, April 11, 2014
    Notebook: Rookies Dillon, Larson hit wall at Darlington
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Rookies and veterans alike expect to get a "Darlington stripe" whenever they compete at Darlington Raceway, but the two leading contenders for Sunoco Rookie of the Year this season got more than they bargained for during opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at the Lady in Black.

      In two very similar incidents, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon did more than just brush the wall off Turn 2 -- they clobbered it.

      There was only one significant difference between the collisions. Dillon's team was able to repair his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Larson had to go to a backup car.

      "Kyle came over and asked, 'Where did you hit?'" Dillon said. "I said 'Off Turn 2.' He said, 'Me too.' I said, 'Did you try to come off the wall and make it turn?' He said the exact same thing. So we're just learning, I guess.

      "You get really tight. I felt good into (Turn) 1, and then through the middle. ... I get tight late around the corner -- it just carries speed. Just hit the wall, but I learned a lot right there. Hopefully, it doesn't happen again."

      Larson's version of the conversation was essentially the same, as both rookies tried to learn from the experience.

      "We were talking, and it sounded like the exact same thing that we were describing," Larson said as his Ganassi Racing team readied the backup No. 42 Chevy. "Difference is I have to get a backup out. Our backup, they said, is just as good as our primary, so we had a really good run before I hit the wall.

      "Just learning, I'm mostly in the wall in (Turns) 3 and 4 and never hit off (Turn) 2. I killed the wall in (Turn) 2. We'll get back out here soon and I'm sure be fine."

      Larson was 16th fastest in the backup car in the second practice session. Dillon was even better—seventh on the speed chart. And Larson and Dillon were sixth and eighth quickest, respectively, in consecutive 10-lap average speed.

      MONSTER SPEEDS AT MICHIGAN

      During a two-day Goodyear tire test this week at Michigan International Speedway, Greg Biffle reported straightaway speeds of as much as 220 mph.

      That's about 7 mph faster than NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers ran during practice last year, but, surprisingly, Biffle said the increased pace didn't affect the way he had to run the corners.

      "It really didn't, believe it or not," Biffle told the NASCAR Wire Service before Friday's opening Sprint Cup practice at Darlington Raceway. "It makes it a little more like a qualifying lap more than anything. The corner was about the same. Let's keep in mind that it was 40-something degrees with a track temp of 66.

      "So it was cold temperatures with high grip and they were testing tires that had more grip. They put a tire on the car that we're not going to race that went that fast. So on the standard tire, I think the (speed) was down maybe three or four mph from that."

      Biffle expects Goodyear to bring more durable left-side tires to the recently repaved two-mile track.

      "I'm not so worried about those end-of-the-straightaway speeds," Biffle said. "We slow down a bit in the corners -- that's the thing. When they get sustained that high, it makes it harder to pass and harder to race. Goodyear is trying to come up with a little more reliable tire, and I think they've done that.

      "I'm thinking they are going with the dual zone tread possibly, or at least that is what they were leaning toward (for the right-side tires). We'll see what they come up with after all the data. I think that's a better tire, because it puts a little margin in the right front. They don't want to blow a right front at that track."

      HAAS EARNS FIA APPROVAL

      Now the real work begins for team owner Gene Haas, who received word he has been granted a license to race in Formula 1 by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of F1 racing.

      "Obviously, we're extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA," Haas said in a statement released Friday. "It's an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One.

      "Now, the really hard work begins. It's a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid. I want to thank the FIA for this opportunity and the diligence everyone put forth to see our license application come to fruition."

      The FIA hasn't licensed new teams for F1 competition since 2010. Haas' F1 effort is independent of Stewart-Haas Racing, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart has no involvement in the F1 project.

      GOING GREEN AT DARLINGTON

      On Friday morning at Darlington Raceway, David Ragan surprised fans in the infield while pursuing the efforts of his sponsor, CSX, to support green initiatives.

      Ragan toured the infield distributing recycle bags, chatting with fans and encouraging them to plant trees.

      "CSX already had an environmental program in place where they pledged to plant one tree for every mile of railroad track they had, and they actually surpassed their goal, which is impressive," said Ragan, who is driving the CSX "Play it Safe" Ford for Front Row Motorsports this weekend.

      "Now we're encouraging fans to follow their lead and plant some trees, too, by donating dollars to plant trees at NASCAR.com/Green.

      CSX's "Trees for Tracks" program set a goal of 21,000 trees (corresponding to the number of miles of track) and exceeded that by 2,000 by the end of 2013.

  • Thursday, April 10, 2014
    Kenseth's strong start missing the one thing he needs
    By The Sports Xchange

    NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sprots Xchange

      Darlington Raceway has never been a forgiving race track, sending drivers into walls and challenging competitors with its tight turns and narrow straightaways.

      Then why is it that several former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions are hoping a race at Darlington in Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX) will be the tonic they need?

      Answer: It's another chance for a win, and in this new era of NASCAR competition, that means everything. Under the new guidelines to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a win during the first 26 races would likely secure a driver his or her place in the postseason. Winning is everything -- or at least it's the most important thing when trying to make the Chase.

      Through the first seven races, seven different winners have celebrated in Victory Lane, however, none of them are named Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth. For comparison purposes, after the first eight races of the 2013 season, Johnson and Kenseth had each notched two victories. The two finished 1-2 in the standings last season.

      Kenseth finished the season with a season-high and career-best seven wins with Johnson collecting six.

      Although Kenseth, who wheels the No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, has yet to make a mark in the "Win" column this season, he is run well enough to rank second in points, four points behind Jeff Gordon. Coincidentally, Gordon is another former champion still hunting down that first win.

      After starting the season off with a solid sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500, Kenseth placed in the top 10 in four other races. His lowest finish is a respectable 13th-place showing in Bristol, where he led 165 of the 500 laps. Obviously, his stat line proves he has run well and is certainly deserving of his second-place ranking. However, he is still missing the one thing that counts more than anything else this year -- a win.

      Will Kenseth finally get his chance to wave a checkered flag in 2014 at Darlington?

      Possibly. He is the reigning race winner. In 2013, Kenseth passed JGR teammate Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go and cruised to victory, beating his other JGR teammate Denny Hamlin to the finish line by 3.155 seconds. Kenseth led two other times for a race total of 17 laps led. His average speed of 141.383 mph is a track race record.

      "Winning the Southern 500 last year was definitely special because that's one of the biggest races of the year in my opinion," Kenseth said. "It's such a historic and prestigious race because the Southern 500 is one of the three or four races that you always hear people talking about.

      "It's certainly one you always want to win, and to say that we were able to get to Victory Lane last year was really a highlight for me."

      Prior to last year's victory, however, the Wisconsin native had mixed results at the challenging 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. In his first 19 races there, he collected eight top-10 finishes and one pole, but he also had seven finishes lower than 20th.

      Kenseth's average finish in 20 races at Darlington is a respectable, but not stellar 16.6. His driver rating is a decent 90.9.

      In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Kenseth has three victories at the South Carolina track, winning most recently in 2009. He will be pulling double-duty this weekend, driving for JGR in both series.

      CAN SADLER DELIVER AT DARLINGTON?

      As the only full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series driver in Joe Gibbs Racing's stable, Elliott Sadler has high expectations for Friday night's VFW Sports Clips Help A Hero 200 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN2) at Darlington Raceway.

      Sadler has performed well through the first six races of 2014, compiling four top 10s and one pole. His best outings are a pair of fifth-places finishes (Daytona, Auto Club).

      Although he has never won at the 1.366-mile track, his best result came last season when he finished runner-up to JGR teammate Kyle Busch, who started on the pole. Starting position is of the utmost importance at a track like Darlington Raceway where the narrow straightaways and tight turns place a premium on passing.

      "If there's anywhere qualifying will be important it's definitely here this weekend," said Sadler, who sits fourth in the standings, 16 points behind leader Chase Elliott. "It's a short race. There's no time for mistakes."

      Thirteen Nationwide races at the track have been won from the pole, more than any other spot on the starting grid. Five of the last eight races have been won from the pole, all by Sadler's JGR teammates. In all, seven of the last eight races have been won by JGR drivers: Denny Hamlin (three), Kyle Busch (two), Tony Stewart (one) and Joey Logano (one).

      Current JGR driver Matt Kenseth won the eighth race while driving for Roush Fenway Racing. He also won the race immediately prior to the seven-of-eight stretch.

      Kenseth and Busch will join Sadler in JGR's three entries Friday night at Darlington, where Sadler hopes to continue the trend and become the next JGR driver to visit Victory Lane.

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014
    NASCAR Driver Capsules, April 9
    By The Sports Xchange

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

    • By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

      24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon climbed three spots, from fourth to first place after Monday's rain-delayed race at Texas. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by four points and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 12 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 33 career starts, 7 wins, 19 top-5s, 22 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1995, spring 1996, summer 1996, summer 1997, summer 1998, summer 2002, spring 2007. Finished third in this race last year and was 35th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is still in search of his first win of 2014. He came close at Texas, but even without the win, still managed to jump to the top of the Sprint Cup points standings. Here's his thoughts on Darlington, one of his best tracks: "The first time I drove there, it reminded me of a couple of sprint car tracks - tracks like Winchester (Ind.) Speedway - that are super-fast but you have to respect it or it could ruin your day. Darlington is just a cool, fast place - you get that sensation of speed there because you run right up next to the wall. And the track drives you. At other places, we are typically trying to put the car in specific spots on the track. At Darlington, the track naturally feeds you to a certain area which is right up next to the wall. Success always starts with the race team and the race car, and I've had good ones here. Another key to success at Darlington is being able to push the limits of the car and the track, and keeping it on that edge without going over. At Darlington, it's very easy to go over the edge."

      LOOKING BACK: Gordon had the car to win, led 40 laps, but on the final restart lost the lead and came up just a bit short to Joey Logano this past Monday at Texas.

      ETC.: Gordon has completed 93.9 percent (10,350) of the 11,023 total laps contested in 33 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is an outstanding 6.8 and his average finish is an excellent 11.5. He has six DNF's there.

      20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: For the second consecutive week, Matt Kenseth remained in second place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by four points and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by eight points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 20 career starts, 1 wins, 2 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was sixth in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is still seeking his first win of 2014, and being defending winner at Darlington gives him a leg up for this Saturday's race there.

      LOOKING BACK: Kenseth didn't lead any laps and finished seventh at Texas. "We just didn't qualify well and then we just really struggled," Kenseth said. "So, were just really far off. We were really loose. We got a little bit better, but really nothing we could compete with."

      ETC.: Kenseth has completed 96.7 percent (6,616) of the 6,841 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 20.8 and his average finish is 16.6. He has one DNF there.

      99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third-place in the Sprint Cup standings after Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 12 points, is eight points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Joey Logano by 12 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2008 and 2011. Finished seventh in this race last year and was seventh in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is looking for his first career win at Darlington and his second win of the season this Saturday.

      LOOKING BACK: After finishing 13th at Martinsville the week before, Edwards finished 14th at Texas.

      ETC.: Edwards has completed 96.2 percent (3,538) of the 3,677 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 15.9 and his average finish is an excellent 12.5. He has one DNF there.

      22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: After winning Monday at Texas, Joey Logano climbed four places in the standings, from eighth to fourth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 24 points, is 12 points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by four points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Ninth in 2009. Finished 22nd in this race last year and was 10th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Logano became the seventh different winner in as many races with his win Monday at Texas. Here's his thoughts on Darlington: "It is definitely one of those places where you find yourself out of breath when you take the checkered flag. I remember the first time I did a qualifying lap at Darlington as a rookie and I got out of the car and was just shaking. I think my first words were 'whoa' when it was all finished. And we qualified fifth that year. You are right on the edge, trying to go as fast as possible, just inches from the wall. It makes you a little jittery. I heard it was even crazier before they repaved it as well, although since they repaved it, the speeds are up. But it feels really good when you finish and you see that you have posted a really good lap time. But it takes all of your focus for that lap that's for sure."

      LOOKING BACK: Logano led 108 of 340 laps at Texas. He had an outstanding jump on the final restart and overtook Jeff Gordon on the final lap to earn the victory.

      ETC.: Logano has completed 96.8 percent (1,781) of the 1,839 total laps contested in five career starts at Darlington. His average start is 17.2 and average finish is 20.6. He has zero DNFs there.

      18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch continued to move up in the standings, gaining one spot from sixth to fifth following Monday's race at Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 28 points, is four points behind fourth-ranked Joey Logano and leads the sixth-place tie of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. by three points each.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 9 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished sixth in this race last year and was fourth in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: As an avid student of NASCAR's past history, Kyle Busch loves returning to Darlington Raceway, the second-oldest track on the NASCAR circuit. He not only loves racing there, but has been very successful. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Going back to Darlington, it's a place that's really tough, really challenging. ... I'm looking forward to going back there and seeing what Darlington has got in store for us again. I'm hearing that the track color has changed a little bit more with another year for the surface to mature, so maybe the grip level is not going to be old Darlington, but something similar."

      LOOKING BACK: Busch led 10 laps at Texas. Had he not washed up the racetrack on the final lap, he may have had a shot at the win, but wound up with a still respectable third-place finish.

      ETC.: Busch has completed 97.2 percent (3,216) of the 3,310 total laps contested in nine career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 16.9 and average finish is 14.4. He has zero DNFs there.

      48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson fell one spot in the Sprint Cup standings, into a tie for sixth-place with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., after his disappointing 25th-place finish at Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 31 points, is three points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and is 10 points ahead of eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 15 career starts, 3 wins, 8 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring and fall 2004 and 2012. Finished fourth in this race last year and won the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is still looking for his first win of the 2014 season. Darlington, and upcoming races at Richmond and Charlotte seem to be the best locales for Johnson to break through. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race at Darlington: "Darlington has been a great track for us over the years. The most memorable was winning the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports a few years ago. From a track standpoint, Darlington has character so track position and strategy will be pretty important. There is a ton of history and a great race for the fans to watch. It's a high speed track - it's one of my favorites. Texas was disappointing for us - we had such a fast car and had some bad luck so I'm looking forward to this weekend and getting back after it."

      LOOKING BACK: He came into Texas as one of the favorites, but being caught up in debris from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s early wreck essentially ended Johnson's day. Still, his crew worked hard to repair the damage and he finished a respectable 25th, considering all the things he went through.

      ETC.: Johnson has completed 96.4 percent (5,100) of the 5,290 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 11.8 and his average finish is an outstanding 8.8. He has one DNF there.

      88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell five spots, the biggest drop he's had this season, from first into a tie for sixth with teammate Jimmie Johnson after Texas. He trails new points leader Jeff Gordon by 31 points, is three points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 10 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 19 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in spring 2002 and 2008. Finished ninth in this race last year and was 17th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has never won at Darlington, but more importantly, he has to find a way to bounce back from the terrible last-place finish he had at Texas.

      LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt suffered a season-worst 43rd-place finish Monday at Texas. He inadvertently hit a soggy patch of grass on the infield heading into Turn 1, lost control, crashed into the outside retaining wall, his car caught on fire, and that abruptly ended his day. "Just didn't see the grass," Earnhardt said. "Didn't know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can't really see that good to that angle. I just didn't have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. You can't run through there they way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. I just didn't know I was that close to the grass, and made a mistake."

      ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.4 percent (6,467) of the 6,571 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 17.2 and average finish is 14.9. He has one DNF there.

      2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

      Team: Penske Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski's freefall down the Sprint Cup standings continued after Texas. Heading into Darlington in eighth-place, Keselowski has now lost seven places in the standings in the last three weeks. He trails new points leader Jeff Gordon by 41 points, is 10 points behind the sixth-ranked tie of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads ninth-ranked Brian Vickers by 13 points.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: third in 2011. Finished 32nd in this race last year and was 15th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski has to find a way to snap the freefall he's been in since winning five races ago at Las Vegas. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "The history of the place is the first thing that comes to mind. I have a lot of respect for places that have tradition and history. Tracks like Darlington are the very foundation of our sport. The next thing that I think of is the track itself. The line that we take around that place - the way we run so close to the wall is unique. The track also has a truly distinct shape that lends itself to great racing. The facility has an air of antiquity - I enjoy racing at Darlington and I certainly want to win there."

      LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led 85 laps, most early on, at Texas. But the handling on his car began to fad about midway through the race and he wound up with a final finish of 15th.

      ETC.: Keselowski has completed an impressive 99.5 percent (1,830) of the 1,839 total laps contested in five career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 18.2 and average finish is 13.8. He has zero DNFs there.

      55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Brian Vickers climbed three spots in the standings and into the top-10, following Texas. He's now ninth in the rankings, 54 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, 13 points behind eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski and two points ahead of 10th-ranked Paul Menard.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 10th in 2010. Has not competed in the Sprint Cup Series at Darlington since 2011, when he finished 34th. He was a career-best 10th in the 2010 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Saturday marks Vickers' first Sprint Cup start at Darlington in three seasons (although he did compete in last season's Nationwide Series race there, finishing a strong third). Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Having a win (2003, Nationwide) at Darlington is beautiful. It was an amazing win. It was one of my favorite wins. Darlington has always been a special place to me. Being close to where I grew up (Thomasville, N.C.) made it special. It's just an amazing track and it should be a great race Saturday night."

      LOOKING BACK: Vickers had his best finish of the 2014 season, rallying late to finish fourth at Texas on Monday. While he completed all 340 laps, he never had the opportunity to lead any laps in the event. Still, an overall very strong run for him.

      ETC.: Vickers has completed a terrible 80.1 percent (1,006) of the 1,256 total laps contested in nine career starts at Darlington. His average start there is 14.9, and average finish is 17.7. He has three DNFs there.

      27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: Paul Menard returns to the top-10, climbing one spot from 11th to 10th after Texas. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 56 points, is two points behind ninth-ranked Brian Vickers and leads the 11th-place tie of fellow Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon by just one point.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 13th in 2012. Finished 19th in this race last year and a career-best 13th in the 2012 race there.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Darlington is one of Menard's worst tracks. He's continued to struggle in his first seven starts there. Will that be able to change in Saturday's eighth appearance for him there? Here's his thoughts: "Darlington Raceway is a very unique track with the way it's laid out. We race right up against the wall in the turns, which is even more challenging with how the cars transition out of Turn 2 for the backstretch. ... We get to race under the lights on a Saturday night and drivers and fans seem to enjoy these types of race. Being one of the original tracks on the NASCAR circuit means there is some great history to the Lady in Black. We just hope we get to add our name to the history books this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Menard had a strong top-10 run at Texas, ultimately finishing ninth, the highest finish of the three Richard Childress Racing cars there.

      ETC.: Menard has completed 98.2 percent (2,527) of the 2,573 total laps contested in seven career starts at Darlington. His average start is 24.4 and average finish is 23.7. He has zero DNFs there.

      31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only one point out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week to fall out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 10 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 15 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Newman calls Darlington "my favorite Sprint Cup Series track. It's so challenging. You have to race the track in order to get to the end. It's a challenge to pass there. You drive it like no other track on the circuit. I don't know what it's going to be like with the new rules package or the tire combination they've come up. Regardless, it's such a fun race track to drive because you have to hustle the car around."

      LOOKING BACK: An unscheduled pit stop when a competitor's windshield tear off stuck the splitter on the front end of Newman's Chevrolet ended any hopes Newman had of a top-10 finish. "The Caterpillar team once again gave me a fast Chevrolet to race today," said Newman. "It's a shame we lost a lap early because of an unscheduled pit stop. We were fast and that's all I can ask for. Sooner or later, our luck will turn around to show just how good this 31 Caterpillar team is."

      ETC.: Newman feels "the history of the track (Darlington) is what makes it so amazing. The race track was designed to race on the apron and not on the banking. It's amazing how much it hasn't changed, but yet, it still produces great races. It took me awhile (to get his first Darlington stripe). It actually took me a long time to get mine which was good. I was probably more paranoid than anything. I just didn't want to get one. It's not cool to get one."

      3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet

      Team: Richard Childress Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only one point out of the top 10. Lost three spots to fall out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon said, "I'm looking forward to competing there (Darlington) in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. I've never been there in a Cup car, so it will really be a learning experience. Bristol treated us well (as he finished 11th in his first start there) and hopefully Darlington will also."

      LOOKING BACK: Dillon finished 21st at Texas. "I just needed to be tighter to start and we could have gotten the Dow Powerhouse Chevrolet where we needed to be at the end of the race," said Dillon. "I had a blast out there, though. I really learned a lot out there today. It will be fun to come back here in the fall with Gil Martin (crew chief) and all the guys on my RCR team." Dillon is a rookie on the Sprint Cup Series.

      ETC.: Martin admits "we've run conservatively so far and I've called races conservatively because we're building this deal to gain momentum down the road. We'll gamble more when we got to summer, but we're into building a solid base."

      11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

      Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, only six points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Will be seeking his fifth straight top-six finish. In the last four races has finished first, sixth, second and second respectively. Has finished in the top 10 in seven of his eight starts. Worse finish is 13th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin can't wait to get to Darlington. "We have really run well there the last four times we've been there," said Hamlin. "We probably should have more than one win. We've had some really good cars there and we expect to have another one this weekend. Like everyone else without a win this year, we want that first win to get us in the Chase. And Darlington is certainly a place we can get it."

      LOOKING BACK: Hamlin was the leader as he pitted on lap 141. But he was caught speeding as he exited pit road to drop out of contention for the top spot. Hamlin was never able to completely recover as he ended up 13th. "Obviously, we had a great car at the beginning of the race," said Hamlin. "Once I got back in traffic, the car didn't drive as good. Couldn't make up any track position and the car took a long time to come in. Our car was way better than 13th. It (the penalty) was clearly a mistake I made." Hamlin also overshot his pits on his final stop of the race. "It's the same old story, where the driver overshoots his pit trying to get everything he can," added Hamlin.

      ETC.: Hamlin admits that being a father has changed him. "In a lot of ways," said Hamlin. "I feel like I'm a better person. I definitely enjoy the time at home a whole lot more. Every day she's smarter and half says one more word and every time she sees even a picture of me now anywhere she's saying, 'Dada.' So, that for me is fun and I just find joy now in different things other than - now it's all about her. It really is."

      14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 14 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: 11 top-10 finishes in 21 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart is still looking for his first win at Darlington. "I think people underestimate how much we know about Darlington and the history of that track and how hard it is to win races there," said Stewart. "I guess that's why a Sprint Cup win at Darlington is something that's really important to me."

      LOOKING BACK: After winning the 15th pole position of his career, Stewart led 74 of the first 76 laps as he became the all-time Sprint Cup lap leader at Texas with 801 laps. But shortly afterwards, Stewart began to drop back as he became "way too tight. The track changed a lot and the setup we had didn't really change with it," said Stewart. "Chad (Johnson, crew chief) did a really good job of keeping us competitive, but it was a big swing from start of the race to the end of the race with the way the track changed." Stewart finished the day in 10th place.

      ETC.: Stewart feels the new rules package for 2014 has actually been a big benefit to his organization that features two new teams this year. "You never know who is going to hit on things first and who is going to get out of the gate strong," said Stewart when asked if he was surprised that both of his new drivers - Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch - won a race this early in the season "I guess that is one thing that is probably an equalizer more than anything is the ability to come out with a new package and have the same opportunity that everybody else, even though we have new people in place this year. If you are going to learn a new set-up package you might as well learn new people at the same time so it probably worked hand-in-hand."

      42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Larson is "looking forward to going to Darlington because the groove is right on the wall so it kind of suits my driving style. I like going to the top, and it seems like the closer you get to the wall there the faster you go. The track is also pretty rough so the times slow down a lot. After a few laps when times slow down it's a little bit easier to pass because you can move around more and it just seems like there are more lanes to these worn out tracks. I did well there last year in the Nationwide car (finished sixth), so it should be good going back to race the Target Chevy."

      LOOKING BACK: Larson was part of a four-car race for the third spot on the last lap of the race as he ended up fifth for his third top-10 finish in the last four races. "We had a really good Target Chevy today," said Larson. "We were average on short runs but I thought we were the best car on a long run. Shine (crew chief Chris Heroy) and everybody did a great job working on it after practice on Friday. We were terrible, so they worked their butts off all weekend and gave us a good finish."

      ETC.: Larson believes his first Sprint Cup victory isn't that far away. "I feel like we've been a top-10 car most races," said the rookie driver. "I think if we just keep ourselves in contention, things will work out late in the race or we might have a dominating car one day and get our first win. I feel like right now it could come at a mile-and-a-half or a little bit bigger track. They just suit my driving style better. It reminds me of dirt track racing where you can search around for different lines. I didn't see anybody else as high as I was, at least on the exit of the corners (at Texas). Just always searching for grip and it seems like it pays off."

      16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Two wins and five top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "I love the Darlington race track, it's been good to us over the years and I've got a couple of wins there. I'm proud of have American Red Cross on the car this weekend and hope to get them a good finish, hopefully even a win. I know how important donating blood is and I hope we are bringing awareness to that campaign."

      LOOKING BACK: Biffle ran up front all afternoon as he finished sixth at Texas. "We had a shot at a top five," said Biffle. "Things got a little wild on that last lap and we came up just a little short (in the race for a top-five finish). This is a step in the right direction for the 16. But we're just not where the other guys are yet, so we've just got to keep getting better. We just have to keep getting our cars better."

      ETC.: Crew chief Matt Pucci is quick to point out "Darlington has two distinct opposite different configurations of corners. It's a balancing act between each end trying to get the car to do one thing at one end and not be the total opposite at the other end. A balancing act you have to work on pretty hard. You've got to keep up with the race track all night long as the track changes over the course of the night to be there at the end."

      15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

      Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 16 points out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in nine starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he has had more finishes of 31st or worse (three) than he has had top-10s (one) at Darlington, Bowyer enjoys going to the South Carolina facility. "It has so much history, and it is such a neat place to race at," said Bowyer. "We've actually ran well there the last two times (finishing 11th both times). We just need to put a whole race together and we will get the results we deserve for the way we are running. Hopefully that will happen this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: Bowyer was running fifth when he was forced to make a second pit stop during a yellow flag for a missing lug nut. The extra stop dropped him to 15th in the running order. Bowyer rallied to finish eighth, but he felt he could have challenged for the win without the problems on pit road. "We had another shot at it (the victory) today," said a frustrated Bowyer. "Our Willie's Duck Dinner Toyota was really good. We just had a problem on a stop there at the end. The car was great today. We're going to get ourselves a win here soon if we keep running like this."

      ETC.: Crew chief Brian Pattie, like Bowyer, is frustrated with the team's problems on pit road. "You can't come in first and come out tenth (like the team did at Martinsville)," said Pattie. "Our problem is lack of execution and lack of focus. If we can't fix that we won't win races and we won't make the Chase. We have to be a better team at the end of the race."

      9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 17 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: One top-10 finish in five starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose struggled big time last year at Darlington as he finished 34th. "We probably left Darlington last year as disappointed as we could be," said Ambrose. "We just didn't know what was wrong with the car and had a terrible night. When you have races like that, you just want to go back and get better. Now is our time, and our race team is better than ever. This weekend is a little about avenging last year's race."

      LOOKING BACK: Ambrose battled a loose race car all day as he finished 20th at Texas. "I thank Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and the rest of the guys who worked during the race to get the car better and put us in the best position as possible," said Ambrose. "It's difficult when the track is changing like it did today, the car wasn't reacting to the changes the way we wanted, but we got the best out of it. We'll take what we learned and continue to work hard to get better."

      ETC.: Ambrose knows all about the long history of Darlington. "The legends of NASCAR defined this track, this race and it's a 'Crown Jewel' event," said Ambrose. "Darlington is so different. It's egg-shaped and you're just working on the car the whole race. It's 500 miles and that's a long night at Darlington. With our improvement, I believe we can avenge last year and compete for a win."

      5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

      Team: Hendrick Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 25 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Two top-eight finishes in the last three races. Hasn't qualified worse than fourth in the last three races.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said, "We were really good in the Darlington race last year. We ran inside the top four through the majority of the night. We were by far the best car at the end of the race, but just didn't get the win because of circumstances when I was hit by another car as I was making my move for first. I'm looking forward to going back there this weekend."

      LOOKING BACK: After starting 32nd, Kahne quickly raced his way into the top 10 despite repeated problems on pit road. And he stayed there for most of the race despite battling a "tight" race car. Kahne ended the day in 11th place. "We had a pretty good car all day," said Kahne. "Starting that far back hurt us and we had some problems on pit road because of our pit stall, but all in all it was a pretty good day. Things got a little wild on that green-white-checker (finish) or we would have another top 10."

      ETC.: Although the season hasn't started as well as Kahne had hoped, he believes that first win is very near because of the tracks "coming up. I'm really looking forward to going back there (Darlington) this weekend. It's a track I've always wanted to win at, and I definitely think we're capable of doing so this weekend."

      47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

      Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 30 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Best finish in six starts is 17th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger feels when you race at Darlington "you know you're going to earn your money. I feel like it is one of those places if you get around it well, you have accomplished something. At the same point if you struggle there, there is nowhere to hide. It is one of the races I actually missed last year. Even though I haven't really been that good there in the past, I really enjoy it."

      LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger suffered major damage to his car early in the Texas race. As a result, he finished 23rd. "The car was not very good, but I didn't know there was damage to the car until after the race and (crew chief Brian) Burns told me about it," said Allmendinger. "I knew I hit some stuff when the wreck happened with the 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) car. We didn't know it, but there was a hole in the nose and the crush panel was knocked out." Burns quickly added, "Without the damage, we would have had a totally different race car. Basically, the damage is like putting a parachute on the front of the car."

      ETC.: Co-owner Brad Daugherty has been "very pleased with the way we have run" this year. "We have got speed, which is something we haven't had in two or three seasons," adds Daugherty. "I am happy with the direction we are going with the cars and the team. We just have to work harder at minimizing mistakes. We have made some mistakes that have cost us five or more positions at some of these tracks. We will polish up on the areas we need to and make some noise throughout the season."

      1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

      Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

      WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 36 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray hopes his recent run of bad luck comes to a stop this weekend. "We've had really good cars everywhere we've been this year," said McMurray. "We haven't always got the results we deserve and that is why we are so far back in the points (21st). But we've run a lot better than that. We've had some really good runs at Darlington, almost winning there in 2010. So if we can run the whole race without any trouble, I feel we can have a real good night."

      LOOKING BACK: McMurray ran in the top 10 for the first 204 laps of the 334-lap event before a cut left-rear tire forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop. This dropped him a lap down and ended any hopes he had of his third top-10 finish of the season. Instead, he ended up 17th. "So frustrating," said McMurray. "We had a really good Bell Helicopter Chevrolet today and our crew was doing a good job with pit stops and keeping up with the changing track conditions. I hate that we had that cut tire, but we were able to salvage a top-20 finish."

      ETC.: McMurray admitted that last Sunday was a very frustrating day after waiting to see if the race would be run and then having it delayed a day because of rain. "It's different for everybody, but I really like the structure of waking up and knowing when your first appearance is and the driver meeting and then coming back and having lunch," said McMurray. "I like the structure and during the rain delay you don't really know. Part of the frustrating part is looking at it and knowing a week ahead of time there's 100 percent or 70 percent chance that the weather is coming. It's a long day."

      43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

      Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

      WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Best finish in two starts is 19th.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola admits "Darlington is not my best track, so I'm hoping Trent (Owens, crew chief) can bring his success with him. It's his home track, so we really want to run well there. They call Darlington the track 'Too Tough to Tame' and it really lives up that name. We really need to focus on racing the race track. I say it every week, but it is especially true there. It's important to stay focused on your race and not let the cars around you change your focus or strategy."

      LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final 100 laps to finish 12th at Texas. "The car was loose all day," said Almirola. "The guys worked hard to get it better, and they did, but the weather and track conditions kept changing and we weren't there (as good as it needed to be) at the end. Our intermediate track program is still not where we want it to be, but this was a good improvement. A 12th-place finish will help us in the points."

      ETC.: Almirola surprised Army Sergeant Ralph Harroff and his family with a shopping spree at a Kroger grocery store prior to the Texas race as part of Eckrich's "Operation Inspiration" campaign which supports and honors military families. Harroff and his family were also special guests of Almirola and the race team for the entire race weekend. "I know we put a smile on their faces and hopefully we helped them out with some of their needs," said Almirola. Harroff said, "It's something I'll never forget. Operation Homefront has done so much for our family. There are so many deserving military families. I just feel lucky to be honored like this."

      17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford

      Team: Roush Fenway Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 49 points out of the top 10.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Finished 18th in his Cup debut last year.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "Darlington has so much history and every driver wants to add their name to the winners of the Southern 500. Darlington is a driver's race track where you can race really hard. Racing under the lights creates more excitement. It's just a fun night, and one I hope where we really have a lot of fun."

      LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse had high hopes heading into the Texas race, but his day didn't go as he had envisioned as he finished 26th. "It was a tough day for us," said Stenhouse. "We just couldn't get our Ford to turn and fought tightness for a majority of the day. We will have to look at our teammates (Greg Biffle, who finished sixth, and Carl Edwards, who finished 14th) setup and go back to work."

      ETC.: Crew chief Mike Kelley is "looking forward to Darlington It's a tough place to run, but has a lot of history. The track really asks a lot of a driver and team. It's a long race and you will see the cars right around the top. We are taking a brand new car so we are excited to see what we can do under the lights."

      41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 52 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Won the pole last year. Has five top-10 finishes in 17 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Busch still enjoys talking about the spring Darlington race of 2003 when he and Ricky Craven were involved in one of the best races in the long history of the track. "The biggest moment at Darlington I ever had was finishing second (in a photo finish) to Ricky - everyone knows that race," said Busch. "But probably the next biggest moment would be during my championship run in 2004. I had an ill-handling car and still managed to finish sixth with it due to good pit stops. That was a perfect moment because it was our championship to lose with where we finished that day in 2004. That was back when Darlington used to be in the Chase (the next-to-last race of the year)."

      LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long weekend for Busch as he battled tire problems throughout practice and the race. On Friday, he had a left-rear tire come apart as Busch slammed hard into the wall forcing him to go to a back-up car for the race. The tire problems continued in the race as Busch suffered three flat tires resulting in three caution flags. As a result, Busch finished 39th a week after winning at Martinsville. "We took a little too aggressive setup today, and it cost us," said crew chief Daniel Knost.

      ETC.: Gene Haas, co-owner and founder of Stewart-Haas Racing, is expected to go Formula One racing in 2015. Bernie Ecclestone, chief of Formula One racing, said last week that Haas' application to join the worldwide organization "will be accepted." Haas said he is still waiting on official word. "But Bernie is kind of half Formula One, so I'm sure what he says goes," said Haas. "It (the challenge of Formula One racing) is nothing to be taken lightly. It's fitted with peril and there's a million ways to fail. For all those reasons, that's why you do it, to see if it is something you can do."

      4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

      Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

      WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 65 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

      DARLINGTON RECORD: Finished fifth last year for his sixth top-10 finish in 17 starts.

      LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick feels "any lap around Darlington is a lap where you have got to be paying attention to what's going on because you can get yourself in trouble at any point on the race track. You carry a lot speed into turn one and you run right up the banking right up next to the wall and you're right back into the throttle. Turns three and four are probably the hardest because you carry so much speed off of turn two into three and the line kind of moves around a bit there. It's probably the easiest place to get in the wall."

      LOOKING BACK: Harvick continues to show flashes of having one of the strongest cars in the field in 2014, but his luck of bad luck also continued at Texas as he suffered engine failure early in the event after leading a lap and running second to teammate Tony Stewart. "The Jimmy John's Chevrolet was really fast - again," said Harvick. "It's frustrating. I don't know what else to say. It's a disappointing end to the day." Since winning the second race of the season, Harvick has had a strong enough car to win one or two more races but mechanical problems have resulted in four finishes of 36th or worse to leave him 26th in the points. Even with the win, Harvick has to rank in the top 30 to make the Chase. Harvick set a new track record of 198.282 miles per hour in the opening round of qualifying.

      ETC.: Even though his team has shown impressive strength early in the season, Harvick feels the best is yet to come. "Honestly, I don't even think we've scratched the surface as a team," said Harvick. "We're still trying to get all the cars built and everything organized and flowing exactly how it needs to flow in the shop and the fab shot with all the stuff that we've changed over the winter. I think we've just got a few things to clean up and things are going to be coming together even better."

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014
    Is Johnson already in the danger zone?
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sprots Xchange

      It's a foregone conclusion, isn't it?

      Jimmie Johnson will win one of the next 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races -- guaranteed. Right?

      Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was instituted in 2004, Johnson is the only driver to qualify for each of the 10 playoffs that have determined the champion of NASCAR's foremost series.

      Not once in his 12 previous full years in Sprint Cup racing has Johnson gone more than 12 races into a season without winning. If he doesn't get a victory in Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, it will be only the second time in the Chase era he has failed to win before the ninth event of a season.

      With that in mind, Johnson is right to stay the course, to approach this year with the same methodical excellence that has carried him to 66 victories and six championships -- right?

      Yes, we have a new system for qualifying for the Chase and determining a champion, but No. 48 team's old approach should still work -- shouldn't it?

      Johnson is convinced it will.

      "I haven't felt any pressure with the new format yet," Johnson said Friday, three days before the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was finally run.

      "Maybe I'm naive or stupid or something else, but the season takes on so many different changes, and I feel like we've had a few looks here recently at a victory, and I feel like it's coming and hope that it's coming soon, so that I don't have to answer the question."

      Johnson's approach this year hasn't changed with a championship format that has shifted the balance much more heavily toward winning races and less toward accumulating points.

      "Our goal has been to run in the top five," Johnson said. "And we've felt like, if you run in the top five, you'll have opportunities to win races. I've been able to win 66 races that way -- and six championships.

      "So, I don't feel like I need to change my viewpoint on winning races and trying to transfer into the Chase. If there's a race or two to go, and I don't have a victory, it's definitely going to change my opinion then. But I've built so much over the last 13 years with a certain mind-set that myself and the team, we're just not in the position to change that mind-set yet."

      Three days later came another Sprint Cup race. Three days later came another problem for Johnson and the No. 48 team.

      Johnson started 16th at Texas, in the outside lane, and after the race went green, he fell behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 19th. As he roared through the tri-oval for the first time at speed, the left tires of Earnhardt's clipped the soggy infield grass.

      What happened in the next microsecond ruined the race for Johnson.

      "When Junior went through the grass, it kicked up all this debris and mud," Johnson said. "It ripped the windshield and ripped the left front."

      Johnson came to pit road repeatedly under caution, and his crew worked feverishly to remove the debris from the grille of the No. 48 Chevrolet. The problem appeared manageable -- before Johnson cut a tire later in the race and lost three laps on pit road. He finished 25th and dropped to seventh in the series standings, 31 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

      "It was a day of bad luck," Johnson said. "We had a fast race car, so there was a little (silver) lining in it, but it was a terrible finish."

      As Johnson is learning this season, bad luck sometimes matters a lot more than fast cars. On March 23, he had a win in the bag at Fontana, Calif., until he blew a tire with seven laps left. He led 296 laps at Martinsville a week later, but Kurt Busch passed him for the victory with 10 laps to go.

      Nevertheless, Johnson is wise to be confident. It would be unreasonable to think a driver who wins races at a clip better than once in every seven starts could be shut out for the first 26 races of a season.

      But, at some point, Johnson's streak of making Chases will end. At some point, his winning percentage will decline, as it has for every other driver with significant tenure in the sport.

      But it won't be this year -- will it?

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Notebook: Earnhardt's trip through the dogleg ends his day early
    By The Sports Xchange

    By John Sturbin, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sprots Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- An oddball combination of mud and fire abruptly ended Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s reign as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Monday morning during the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

      The 2014 Daytona 500 champion and series leader after four of the season's first six races, Junior crashed and burned on Lap 13 around TMS' high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval. Junior was trailing Aric Almirola's No. 43 Eckrich Ford Fusion when he clipped the grass on the inside apron of the frontstretch. The left-front splitter of Junior's No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS dug deeply into the mud, and the resulting blown left-front tire shot the car across the track and careening into the outside wall. That right-side impact caused a flash fire as Junior scrambled to safety.

      Junior said he thought he was taking a "decent line" through the track's signature dogleg, as he and Almirola were attempting to pass Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Larson.

      "Just didn't see the grass," said Junior, who started 19th. "Didn't know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can't really see that good to that angle. I just didn't have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. You can't run through there the way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. Just misjudged it."

      The race had just gone green after the opening 10 laps were run under a competition yellow -- a bow to a damp racing surface. "It was no factor," Junior said. "I just made a mistake."

      Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, whose second-place finish to Joey Logano of Penske Racing gave him the points lead, said the opening sequence was just weird.

      "When we left pit road at the beginning of the race, we drove by the two jet dryers, casually going by it," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Axalta / Texas A&M School of Engineering Chevy. "The last one about blew all of us over. I mean, I thought it damaged my car as well. It got my attention. We all started avoiding that one."

      Junior had logged four top-three finishes during the season's first six races en route to a nine-point lead (227-218) over Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing when the day began. Junior placed 43rd on Monday and exited Texas in sixth, 31 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, who leads Kenseth by four points (259-255) heading into the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Saturdaynight.

      LOGANO TOTING HOME TEXAS SWAG

      Joey Logano's victory in Monday's Duck Commander 500 was his first since August 18 of last season at Michigan International Speedway. At 23 years, 10 months and 14 days, the Connecticut native is the youngest Sprint Cup winner in TMS history.

      "It's such a tough race track and we had plenty of time to think about this for the last couple days, so it's a really cool place to win," said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil / Hertz Ford Fusion fielded by Team Penske. "They give you a ring; I've got guns; I've got a trophy; I've got a (cowboy) hat; I've got a duck call. It's pretty cool."

      STEWART RACKS UP LAPS LED

      Pole-sitter Tony Stewart led 74 laps early, pushing his career TMS total to 801 and past Matt Kenseth (775) on the track's all-time Sprint Cup list dating to April 1997. Both drivers made their 24th career starts at the track in Monday's rain-delayed Duck Commander 500; Kenseth failed to lead a lap.

      The laps-led were the first that Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS, has paced in 2014. The three-time Sprint Cup champion said after qualifying on the pole Saturday that he is returning to form after his 2013 season was cut short due to a broken right leg suffered in a sprint car crash in August at Southern Iowa Speedway. "Smoke" finished 10th in Texas, his third top 10 in seven starts this season.

      UP NEXT: "THE LADY IN BLACK"

      Darlington Raceway will play host to its first April Sprint Cup race since 1991 Saturday evening, when the Bojangles' Southern 500 takes the green flag at 6:30 p.m. (ET). FOX's live telecast will begin at 6 p.m.

      The weekend's on-track schedule includes the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at 8 p.m. on Friday. Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing won last year's Sprint Cup race around the egg-shaped, 1.366-mile oval. The win was Kenseth's third of the season, with teammate Denny Hamlin second and Jeff Gordon third.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Logano passes Gordon on final lap for Texas win
    By The Sports Xchange

    By John Sturbin

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- Joey Logano's "Final Four" at Texas Motor Speedway had nothing to do with the NCAA men's basketball championship set for Monday night in nearby Arlington.

      Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon's decision to pit for four Goodyear Dual Zone tires during the final caution period of the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 propelled the Team Penske star to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of 2014.

      "We've been in contention every race this year to win, and I'm proud to be a part of that," said Logano, who extended a streak that has produced seven different winners in as many Sprint Cup races. "I felt very confident about this race. For some reason I told Todd, I said, 'We're going to win this week' and I was mad when we didn't get the pole. But I felt like we had a car that could win today."

      Logano, 23, scored his first career victory on TMS' 1.5-mile quad-oval and fourth in 190 career Sprint Cup starts at the expense of four-time series champion Jeff Gordon under a green-white-checkered-flag finish that extended the race to 340 laps from the originally scheduled 334.

      Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil/Hertz Ford Fusion, passed Gordon via a crossover move on the inside heading into Turn 1 on Lap 340 en route to margin of victory of 0.476 seconds. Kyle Busch finished third with Brian Vickers and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Larson rounding out a top five that was shuffled by the day's seventh and final caution on Lap 333.

      Logano was working on a 3.053-second lead over teammate Brad Keselowski when Kurt Busch, winner of last week's race at Martinsville Speedway, brushed the outside wall in Turn 2. During the ensuing pit stops, Logano and Keselowski opted for four tires and fuel. Gordon, of Hendrick Motorsports, and Vickers, of Michael Waltrip Racing, opted for right-side rubber only and exited pit road 1-2.

      "When you've got 40-something laps after the last pit stop and a pretty sizeable lead, really, all you're thinking is, 'Where's the white flag?'" Logano said. "Brad was able to catch us a little bit and then you go into Turn 1 and see the No. 41 (of Kurt Busch) up against the wall and you're like, 'Please, no caution.' And, of course -- boom -- it comes out and you're like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' So you get so mad that you can barely control yourself. Really, I was just so mad.

      "And then he (Todd Gordon) made a last-minute decision to put fuel in it, gave me better balance for what I needed and the guys made the 'money stop.' I was the first guy out with four tires on."

      Similarly, Gordon praised crew chief Alan Gustafson for a "great call" to go with two tires on the final stop given his standing when the yellow flew.

      "I mean, coming in sixth, you're in that position that you can gamble," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Axalta/Texas A&M School of Engineering Chevrolet SS. "You're not going to win it with four (tires),you're not going to win it with none. I knew it was going to be hard to hold those guys off.

      "I got a pretty good restart, so I was happy about that. Got through (Turns) 1 and 2. I was shocked I was leading off of 2, to be honest. I wish I would have run a little bit higher down (Turns) 3 and 4. I'm sure Joey was going to go wherever I didn't. Probably would have been a little bit better off on the top. He crossed over and got into the back of me pretty good. At that point I was just thinking, 'I want to finish.' Looked out my mirror, those guys were racing hard behind me. A great second-place finish for me."

      Kyle Busch, winner of this event last year, said he was looking at solid third-place results before the final sequence. "Of course, the inevitable comes out with the yellow and you have to come down and get tires -- just way too long out there on tires," said Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. "I chose four just because I absolutely killed my stuff about three laps prior to that caution coming out so I knew that was our only chance. Just drove the hell out of it there those last two laps and got all she could and come home third. Good, deserving finish for us here."

      Keselowski was poised to give team owner Roger Penske a slam-dunk 1-2 finish behind his teammate when the final caution flew. Keselowski exited the pits fourth with four tires, one spot behind Logano. But he was charged with speeding off pit road -- a miscue that dropped him to 15th.

      "That last caution was a shame," said Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. "I was just trying to get a little too much on pit road and wanted to get us out front to be able to win the race and tried a little too hard. We're in it for wins. We're not in it for finishing second."

      Gordon emerged as the new points leader after HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed out of the event on Lap 12, finished 43rd and dropped to sixth in the standings. Gordon holds a four-point (259-255) lead over Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing heading into Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

      NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Duck Commander 500

      Texas Motor Speedway

      Fort Worth, Texas

      Monday, April 07, 2014

      1. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 340, $561881.

      2. (12) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 340, $364656.

      3. (29) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 340, $289211.

      4. (23) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 340, $238370.

      5. (14) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 340, $202865.

      6. (4) Greg Biffle, Ford, 340, $196910.

      7. (26) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 340, $192046.

      8. (25) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 340, $174701.

      9. (13) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 340, $163824.

      10. (1) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 340, $190243.

      11. (32) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 340, $147500.

      12. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 340, $168306.

      13. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 340, $137770.

      14. (5) Carl Edwards, Ford, 340, $143120.

      15. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 340, $175053.

      16. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 340, $133815.

      17. (15) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 340, $156729.

      18. (18) Martin Truex Jr, Chevrolet, 340, $149723.

      19. (7) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 339, $116240.

      20. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 339, $146260.

      21. (20) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 339, $162251.

      22. (39) David Gilliland, Ford, 339, $141773.

      23. (33) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 339, $129898.

      24. (22) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 339, $134573.

      25. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 338, $162051.

      26. (31) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 338, $145140.

      27. (24) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 338, $115690.

      28. (21) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 338, $125748.

      29. (27) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 337, $114162.

      30. (28) Michael McDowell, Ford, 335, $101965.

      31. (42) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 335, $98540.

      32. (30) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 335, $100440.

      33. (38) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 334, $98840.

      34. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 334, $95240.

      35. (43) David Ragan, Ford, 334, $107790.

      36. (41) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 333, $92990.

      37. (37) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 332, $91889.

      38. (34) David Reutimann, Ford, 332, $84865.

      39. (11) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 327, $80865.

      40. (36) Parker Kligerman #, Toyota, Overheating, 313, $76865.

      41. (35) Dave Blaney, Ford, Steering, 272, $72865.

      42. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Engine, 28, $110173.

      43. (19) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 12, $73640.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 134.191 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 48 Mins, 02 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.476 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 7 for 49 laps.

      Lead Changes: 18 among 9 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: T. Stewart 1-24; K. Harvick 25; T. Stewart 26-50; R. Sorenson 51; T. Stewart 52-76; B. Keselowski 77-96; J. Gordon 97-98; B. Keselowski 99-121; D. Hamlin 122-140; J. Gordon 141-142; Kyle Busch 143-152; J. Gordon 153-183; B. Keselowski 184-225; J. Logano 226-299; D. Hamlin 300; C. Bowyer 301; J. Logano 302-334; J. Gordon 335-339; J. Logano 340;.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano 3 times for 108 laps; B. Keselowski 3 times for 85 laps; T. Stewart 3 times for 74 laps; J. Gordon 4 times for 40 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 20 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 10 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap; R. Sorenson 1 time for 1 lap; K. Harvick 1 time for 1 lap.

      Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon - 259; M. Kenseth - 255; C. Edwards - 247; J. Logano - 235; Kyle Busch - 231; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 228; J. Johnson - 228; B. Keselowski - 218; B. Vickers - 205; P. Menard - 203; R. Newman - 202; A. Dillon # - 202; D. Hamlin - 197; T. Stewart - 189; K. Larson # - 187; G. Biffle - 187.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Logano becomes seventh different winner this season
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- Joey Logano's four new tires bettered the two taken by Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers in the final two laps of the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.

    • "It feels good to be back in victory lane, the Chase. I'm stoked," Logano said. "I felt very confident about this race. For some reason, I told (crew chief) Todd Gordon -- I said, 'We're gonna win this week,' and I was mad when we didn't get the pole, but I felt like we had a car that could win this thing today."

      Logano took the lead from Gordon on the final lap after a green-white-checker to claim the win in the race that was delayed a day because of rain, becoming the seventh different Sprint Cup winner this season.

      Gordon finished second, Kyle Busch was third after starting the race back in 29th, Vickers finished fourth and rookie Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five.

      Kurt Busch made contact with the wall with just over a lap remaining of the race's scheduled 334-lap distance, bringing out a caution that resulted in a green-white-checker restart. At the point of caution, Logano was the leadter, with his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in second.

      Everyone on the lead lap pitted during the caution, with Gordon and Vickers getting off pit road first and second after changing only two tires.

      "That was a great call," Gordon said. "We lost the handling a little bit when the sun came out. We were looking at about a sixth-place finish, there. We were really happy to see that caution, and I think we learned a lesson in California when we took four there that maybe we would have been better off taking two."

      Logano and Keselowski were the first two off pit road with four, but Keselowski was penalized for speeding on pit road. In the end, Keselowski wound up 15th.

      "That last caution was a shame," Keselowski said. "I was just trying to get a little too much on pit road and wanted to get us out front to be able to win the race and tried a little too hard."

      Logano got by Vickers as soon as the race restarted, and got by Gordon a little over a lap later.

      Logano was dominant in the last third of the race after taking the lead from Keselowski on a restart that followed a lap 220-caution. During long green-flag runs, Logano would pull away from the field. At the 300-lap mark, Logano had a lead of nearly five seconds over then-second place Keselowski.

      But, soon after, Keselowski pitted under green a lap before Logano, and by the time both had pitted, Logano's lead was significantly smaller. Still, Logano remained up front the rest of the way, as Keselowski and Gordon raced for second behind him.

      Logano was the lap leader, leading 108 laps. Keselowski also spent significant time up front, leading 85 laps, mostly through the middle portion of the race. Early in the race, though, Tony Stewart was a mainstay up front. Stewart started on the pole and led a total of 74 laps early before getting passed for the lead by Keselowski on lap 77.

      For many of the laps Stewart was up front, Carl Edwards ran second, but both eventually faded, with Stewart falling well outside the top-10 and Edwards falling off the lead lap. Stewart did recover, though, to finish 10th.

      The race started under yellow, as track-drying efforts were still underway. During the 10 caution laps at the start of the race, several drivers, including Keselowski, had an issue with air from the jet dryers blowing car hoods up slightly. Drivers who pitted to fix the problem were returned to their original starting spots before the race went green.

      Shortly after the field got back up to speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. accidentally got into the grass and his car shot up the track into the wall and caught fire on lap 13. Debris from the incident hit Jimmie Johnson's car, causing significant damage to the windshield. Earnhardt was retired from the race, while Johnson was able to continue after going several laps down because of time spent on pit road for repairs.

      "Just didn't see the grass," Earnhardt said. "Didn't know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars, you can't really see that good to that angle. I just didn't have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good."

      Earnhardt was one of only three drivers who didn't finish the race, the other two being Kevin Harvick and Dave Blaney. Harvick's day ended on lap 28 because of a mechanical issue.

      "Something, apparently, happened with the engine right after that restart," Harvick said. "The Jimmy John's Chevrolet SS was really fast. It's frustrating. I don't know what else I can say."

      Greg Biffle finished sixth, Matt Kenseth was seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Paul Menard ninth and Stewart 10th.

      NOTES: Joey Logano became the seventh winner in seven races, so far, in 2014. ... It was Logano's fourth-career Sprint Cup win. ... Even though Tony Stewart started on the pole, Kevin Harvick posted a record-breaking lap in qualifying. ... Team Penske has a total of 12 wins at Texas -- seven in IndyCar, two in NASCAR Nationwide and three in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. ... Logano's last lap pass for the win was the third last-lap winning pass of the season.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
    Logano chases down Gordon at Texas
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- Joey Logano's four new tires bettered the two taken by Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers in the final two laps of the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.

    • Logano took the lead from Gordon on the final lap after a green-white-checker to claim the win in the race that was delayed a day because of rain, becoming the seventh different Sprint Cup winner this season,

      Gordon finished second, Kyle Busch was third after starting the race back in 29th, Vickers finished fourth and rookie Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five.

      Kurt Busch made contact with the wall with just over a lap remaining of the race's scheduled 334-lap distance, bringing out a caution that resulted in a green-white-checker restart. At the point of caution, Logano was the leadter, with his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in second.

      Everyone on the lead lap pitted during the caution, with Gordon and Vickers getting off pit road first and second after changing only two tires. Logano and Keselowski were the first two off pit road with four, but Keselowski was penalized for speeding on pit road. In the end, Keselowski wound up 15th.

      Logano got by Vickers as soon as the race restarted, and got by Gordon a little over a lap later.

      Logano was dominant in the last third of the race after taking the lead from Keselowski on a restart that followed a lap 220-caution. During long green-flag runs, Logano would pull away from the field. At the 300-lap mark, Logano had a lead of nearly five second over then-second place Keselowski.

      But, soon after, Keselowski pitted under green a lap before Logano, and by the time both had pitted, Logano's lead was significantly smaller. Still, Logano remained up front the rest of the way, as Keselowski and Gordon raced for second behind him.

      Logano was the lap leader, leading 108 laps. Keselowski also spent significant time up front, leading 85 laps, mostly through the middle portion of the race. Early in the race, though, Tony Stewart was a mainstay up front. Stewart started on the pole and led a total of 74 laps early before getting passed for the lead by Keselowski on lap 77.

      For many of the laps Stewart was up front, Carl Edwards ran second, but both eventually faded, with Stewart falling well outside the top-10 and Edwards falling off the lead lap. Stewart did recover, though, to finish 10th.

      The race started under yellow, as track-drying efforts were still underway. During the 10 caution laps at the start of the race, several drivers, including Keselowski, had an issue with air from the jet dryers blowing car hoods up slightly. Drivers who pitted to fix the problem were returned to their original starting spots before the race went green.

      Shortly after the field got back up to speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. accidentally got into the grass and his car shot up the track into the wall and caught fire on lap 13. Debris from the incident hit Jimmie Johnson's car, causing significant damage to the windshield. Earnhardt was retired from the race, while Johnson was able to continue after going several laps down because of time spent on pit road for repairs.

      Earnhardt was one of only three drivers who didn't finish the race, the other two being Kevin Harvick and Dave Blaney. Harvick's day ended on lap 28 because of a mechanical issue.

      Greg Biffle finished sixth, Matt Kenseth was seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Paul Menard ninth and Stewart 10th.

      NOTES: Joey Logano became the seventh winner in seven races, so far, in 2014. ... It was Logano's fourth-career Sprint Cup win. ... Even though Tony Stewart started on the pole, Kevin Harvick posted a record-breaking lap in qualifying. ... Team Penske has a total of 12 wins at Texas -- seven in IndyCar, two in NASCAR Nationwide and three in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. ... Logano's last lap pass for the win was the third last-lap winning pass of the season.

  • Sunday, April 6, 2014
    Duck Commander 500 reset for Monday
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway that was scheduled for Sunday will be run Monday because of continued rain at the track. The start time for Monday's race is noon Eastern.

    • The green flag originally was scheduled to drop at 3 p.m. Eastern Sunday, but morning and midday rain prompted NASCAR and track officials to push back the start time. Continued rain dampened those plans.

      When the race does get underway on Monday, Tony Stewart will start from the pole for the first time in Sprint Cup competition since 2012. Stewart is a two-time winner at Texas. He'll be joined on the front row by Brad Keselowski, who has started on the front row in five of the last six races.

      "I'm not normally a qualifier, but our first round we were 16th and I didn't think I ran a very strong lap," Stewart said. "So, I felt like I could do better the second round and we were second quick after that. The third round it was just a matter of waiting until the end trying to let the tires cool off as much as we could; got out and had a really good lap."

      Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick also has a fast car. Before claiming the third starting spot, Harvick posted the fastest lap ever during a NASCAR qualifying session at a mile-and-a-half track with a speed of 198.282 mph.

      With three wins each, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards are the winningest drivers at TMS among active drivers. Edwards will start the race from the fifth spot, while Johnson starts outside the top-10 in 16th.

      "The track has been great for us and winning the pole there last year was a blast," Edwards said. "We are headed back there in our Fastenal Ford with winning as our only goal."

      This season's six races have produced six different winners and Edwards is among them. Johnson, though, still is seeking his first win of the season.

      Kyle Bush, the winner of last year's race at Texas, will start in the back half of the field in the 29th spot.

      Kurt Busch, last week's race winner at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and a teammate to Harvick and Stewart, will start just outside the top-10 in 11th.

      "The adrenaline of winning and accomplishing something special as a team carries over, but Martinsville is a half-mile track that is very different from the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway," Busch said. "The way we struggled at Las Vegas earlier this year, we know that we definitely need to rebound on the 1.5-mile tracks. We need to use this adrenaline and momentum from Martinsville last week to help us at Texas."

  • Sunday, April 6, 2014
    Duck Commander 500 delayed by rain
    By The Sports Xchange

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway was delayed by rain.

    • Officials hope to start the race at 3:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET).

      The race was scheduled to take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET).

      Track drying efforts took place throughout the day, as NASCAR and track officials are hoping to get the race in on Sunday. Texas Motor Speedway is equipped with track lighting, so racing into the night is an option, weather permitting.

      Rain is in the forecast throughout the day but there is an expected window of opportunity to race in the late afternoon or early evening.

      Among track drying efforts is the use of three original Air Titan vehicles, as well as five newer Air Titans that cut drying time by 80 percent.

      When the race does get underway, Tony Stewart will start from the pole for the first time in Sprint Cup competition since 2012. Stewart is a two-time winner at Texas. He will be joined on the front row by Brad Keselowski, who has started on the front row five of the last six races.

      "I'm not normally a qualifier, but our first round we were 16th and I didn't think I ran a very strong lap," Stewart said. "So, I felt like I could do better the second round and we were second quick after that. The third round it was just a matter of waiting until the end trying to let the tires cool off as much as we could. Got out and had a really good lap."

      Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick also has a fast car. Before claiming the third starting spot, Harvick posted the fastest lap ever during a NASCAR qualifying session at a 1 1/2-mile track with a speed of 198.282 mph.

      Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards are the winningest drivers at TMS among active drivers, each with three wins. Edwards will start the race from the fifth spot, while Johnson starts outside the top 10 in 16th.

      "The track has been great for us and winning the pole there last year was a blast," Edwards said. "We are headed back there in our Fastenal Ford with winning as our only goal."

      The six races, so far in 2014, leading up to the Texas race have produced six different winners. Edwards is among them. Johnson, though, is still seeking his first win of the season.

      Kyle Busch, the winner of last year's race at Texas, will start in the back half of the field, starting 29th when the race does get underway.

      Kurt Busch, last week's race winner at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, brother of Kyle Busch and teammate to Harvick and Stewart, will start just outside the top 10 in 11th.

      "The adrenaline of winning and accomplishing something special as a team carries over, but Martinsville is a half-mile track that is very different from the (1 1/2) mile Texas Motor Speedway," Busch said. "The way we struggled at Las Vegas earlier this year, we know that we definitely need to rebound on the (1 1/2) mile tracks. We need to use this adrenaline and momentum from Martinsville last week to help us at Texas."

  • Saturday, April 5, 2014
    Tony Stewart knocks Brad Keselowski off Texas pole
    By The Sports Xchange

    Distributed by The Sports Xchange

    • FORT WORTH, Texas -- Saving his best effort for the last possible second, Tony Stewart won the pole for Sunday's Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

      During the third round of knockout qualifying Saturday afternoon at the 1.5-mile track, Stewart began his money lap in the final half-minute of the session and completed it after the five-minute clock ticked down to zero, ending the session.

      Stewart (195.454 mph) edged Brad Keselowski, who has made a habit of front-row starts under the qualifying format NASCAR introduced this year. Keselowski posted a lap at 195.419 mph, and the speed held up until Stewart's last-ditch run.

      The Coors Light pole award was Stewart's first since 2012 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his second at Texas and the 15th of his career.

      "It felt really fast right to the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4, and then it got really loose the last half of the corner,” Stewart said of his pole-winning lap. "We didn't know what we could run this third time, but I knew what (Greg) Biffle had run.

      "The good thing is (crew chief) Chad Johnston made a really big change there to try and make it better. Like he said, 'I was either going to make you quick, or I was going to make you 12th.' I'm glad he made the change. He's got a lot of confidence, and I really like that."

      Kevin Harvick made a NASCAR-record run in the first round, which narrowed the field eligible for the pole from 47 drivers to 24. In the final session, Harvick was third at 195.298 mph, ahead of Greg Biffle (194.700 mph) and Carl Edwards (194.637 mph).

      The only Toyota driver to make the top 12, Denny Hamlin was sixth, followed by Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.

      Keselowski earned a front-row starting spot for the fifth time in six knockout qualifying sessions this season, but four of those landed him on the outside of the front row, not the pole.

      "I thought we had it,” Keselowski said, "but that's why they do it this way. It's really exciting, and, I think, a lot of fun to watch. … We came up short, but we still have a lot to be proud of. We're starting on the front row, and (on Sunday we need) to make that count. Hopefully, we can pull that off.

      "We did a lot of practice in race trim and not a lot in qualifying trim, so I guess that's a good omen.”

      Stewart's pole makes it seven races with a different top qualifier in the Sprint Cup ranks, the first time that has happened to start a season since 1998.

      The first two rounds, which narrowed the field to the top 12 drivers, also produced notable statistics. On his only run in the first round, Harvick posted the fastest lap ever run on an intermediate speedway -- 198.282 mph (27.234 seconds).

      The second round was noteworthy for one driver who didn't make the final 12 -- six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who posted the 16th fastest time in the 10-minute second session.

      It marked the first time in knockout qualifying this year that Johnson failed to make the top 12, leaving Logano as the only driver to have advanced to the final round in each of the six knockout time trials this far.

      "We're really surprised not to have pace here in qualifying,” Johnson said. "We have a very fast race car, in race trim especially. Our car is blazing fast. Qualifying hasn't always been my strong suit, and today it showed up here for whatever reason. We'll get her cleaned up and get her ready for the race on Sunday.

      "We felt like we had a very good understanding of things, and we spent a lot of time this afternoon working on old tire runs because we were so good in race trim and we just missed it (for qualifying). Everybody else picked up a lot more speed than we did, so we will have to dig in deep and try and understand why.”

      Like Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. failed to advance to the second round and will start 19th Sunday. Danica Patrick was 11th fastest on fresh tires in the first session but was 24th in the second and will start from that spot on the grid.

      David Stremme, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek and J.J. Yeley failed to make the 43-car field for the seventh race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.

  • Saturday, April 5, 2014
    Earnhardt Jr.: JR Motorsports poised for championship run
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Tex. -- For Dale Earnhardt Jr. the driver, the number one item on his bucket list is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

      For Dale Earnhardt Jr. the car owner, a NASCAR Nationwide Series title would be a perfect cap to the 2014 season -- and Earnhardt's JR Motorsports is making a concerted run at that goal.

      With talented drivers Chase Elliott and Regan Smith in the fold, with the experience of Smith losing a large points lead in a midsummer swoon last year, and with strong support from Sprint Cup juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt thinks JRM may have achieved the critical mass necessary to win a championship.

      "We want to win a championship so bad this year," Earnhardt said Friday night, after Elliott picked up his inaugural NNS win in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. "We feel like we learned a lot last year going through that process with Regan, and now we have two teams that are really capable of getting the job done.

      "If everybody keeps their head on straight, let's everybody else -- all the (other) drivers in the series -- make all their mistakes, we should be in a good situation when we get to Homestead."

      Earnhardt has a history of offering quality opportunities to as-yet-undiscovered drivers such as 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. Now JR Motorsports is on the verge of realizing the dream Earnhardt envisioned when he, sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and co-owner Rick Hendrick founded the company.

      "I couldn't be prouder, really, of how we've come along in the last two or three years, the people that we have been able to acquire to help and improve our company, the bridge that we built with HMS to flow information on the engineering side, motors, and how they've improved," Earnhardt said.

      "Everything is clicking along right now so we got a great opportunity this year to seize the moment."

      WHAT FINAL FOUR?

      While other members of the NASCAR community planned to attend Saturday night's NCAA basketball semifinals at nearby AT&T Stadium in North Texas, Joey Logano wasn't one of them.

      "I just know racing," Logano said. "I don't really care about any other sport too much. I'm here to race and win a race. Whatever they want to do shooting hoops, they can keep on going with that. They don't need me there.

      "I'm focused in on trying to win a race. I feel like, if I leave the race track, I get distracted and if I don't run well, that's going to be the reason why so I'm not going to give myself an opportunity to have an excuse."

      Logano has adopted that attitude to the fullest extent since joining Team Penske before the 2013 season.

      "I've probably taken that to the extreme over the last two years," Logano said. "If you're looking to be the best, you've got to work harder than everybody. You've got to figure out how to be better. I'm in the garage until it closes all the time, just to be with the guys. If something comes up, I can help them with some answers or help them with some setup stuff.

      "The more I can learn about the race car and what direction they're going with changes and why they're doing it, the better information I can feed back to them and whether it's the right or wrong answer for our car. The more involved I am, the better I feel about it -- and it limits that opportunity to have an excuse at the end of the race for me."

      SHORT STROKES

      Suffering from what he thought was a 24-hour bug, Austin Dillon had brother Ty Dillon take some laps in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet during Saturday morning's practice, just in case he might need a relief driver. ... Kurt Busch paced Saturday's practice with a lap at 194.630 mph -- in a backup car. Last Sunday's winner at Martinsville Speedway blew a left rear tire and smacked the wall without about 10 minutes left in Friday's opening practice, forcing the team to roll out the backup.

  • Saturday, April 5, 2014
    Young Elliott motors to first Nationwide win
    By The Sports Xchange

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      FORT WORTH, Texas -- When Chase Elliott took the checkered flag in Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, cementing his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory, spotter Earl Barban had a message for him.

      "I want to see the best burnout ever," Barban told the 18-year-old son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott.

      Chase Elliott obliged, laying a thick could of smoke from the exit of the tri-oval back to the flag stand.

      Elliott had reason to celebrate. He had just beaten the top talents in the stock car racing universe, whipping around Kevin Harvick to the outside in Turn 4 to take the lead on Lap 185 of 200.

      Ultimately, Elliott would pull away for the victory, finishing 2.666 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, who ran second. Kyle Larson came home third, followed by Harvick, who lost ground after the last restart on Lap 178 of 200.

      Elliott's team owner at JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished fifth. Both Busch and Larson started from the rear of the field after failing to clear inspection before the first round of Friday afternoon knockout qualifying concluded.

      Elliott took the series lead by two points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who ran seventh.

      Harvick won the pole in the qualifying session. He also gave Elliott some advice that may have come back to haunt him.

      "I can't it believe it, man," Elliott said after climbing from his car in Victory Lane. "It's crazy. I went to him (Harvick) for a lot of advice this week, and helped me out, gave me some tips. ... To pass him for the lead is really crazy. I can't believe it. It's awesome, and I can't thank everybody enough."

      The win also vindicated Bill Elliott's assessment of his son's talent.

      "I'm about speechless," Elliott said. "I can't thank Rick Hendrick, all the guys at HMS (Hendrick Motorsports), JR Motorsports for pulling this deal together, and (sponsor) NAPA for putting together at the last minute. Everything was on the fence all the way till January.

      "I keep saying it. Never to have been at some of these places like Vegas, California and now here at Texas, and to come out and beat the kind of guys he beat -- I'll tell you what, you've done a heck of a job."

      Harvick led the first 86 laps but lost the top spot to Busch in an excellent three-way battle that featured the same three drivers -- Harvick, Busch and Larson -- who fought for the win in Fontana, Calif., two weeks earlier, with Larson getting his first NNS victory.

      Busch remained out front before and after the first cycle of green-flag pit stops around the midpoint of the race, but after a caution on Lap 121 for Chad Boat's wreck on the frontstretch, the entire complexion of the race changed.

      Busch restarted with the lead after a round of pit stops under the yellow but lost the lead to Elliott on Lap 135. Complaining of a tight handling condition, Harvick dropped from second to seventh before his car started to cooperate.

      On Lap 155, Earnhardt passed Elliott for the lead and quickly extended his advantage to more than two seconds before Jamie Dick's wreck on the backstretch caused the fifth caution on Lap 169.

      Harvick, who had regained the fourth position during the 43-lap run after the restart, took advantage of a 12.4-second pit stop to retake the lead on pit road under the yellow. Coming to the green flag for a restart on Lap 178, Harvick led Elliott, Earnhardt, Larson and Busch, in that order, but that changed in a flash, as Busch dived to the inside in Turn 1, outdueled Larson for third and charged after Harvick for the second spot.