Kyle Busch

NASCAR: Optimism in high gear at Daytona for NASCAR’s top teams

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Optimism abounds after the opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway, especially for NASCAR’s top teams.

Teamwork at Joe Gibbs Racing appears as solid as ever despite adding rookie Daniel Suarez to the mix, evidenced by Denny Hamlin, Suarez, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch running 1-2-3-4 for much of the Clash at Daytona.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski look as if they could continue their recent dominance at restrictor-plate races, and with Stewart-Haas Racing switching from Chevrolet to Ford in the offseason, they now have a few extra friends — Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer — to help around NASCAR’s most famous track.

Hendrick Motorsports has the Daytona 500 pole again as well as another front-row sweep.

And the usual suspects — Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski — seem to be up front at every turn.

Combine all those notable nuggets, and the 59th running of “The Great American Race” on Sunday is setting up to be another unpredictable showcase event.

Some other things we learned from the opening of Speedweeks:


HENDRICK HORSEPOWER: Hendrick Motorsports has the Daytona 500 pole-sitter for the third consecutive season and swept the front row for the fourth time in the last eight years. It’s a clear indication Hendrick has the horsepower — as usual — to be a factor in NASCAR’s opener.

Chase Elliott landed the pole for the second time in as many years, and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his triumphant return to racing by securing the No. 2 starting spot. Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of 2016 because of nausea and vision and balance issues after at least the fifth concussion of his career.


TROUBLING TURN: Although much went right for Hendrick, the four-car team found cause for concern.

Seven-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson spun twice in Turn 4 during the Clash at Daytona on Sunday, adding to the team’s recent woes in the high-banked corner. Teammates Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had similar issues in the 2016 Daytona 500, both crashing in the final turn.

So what may have seemed like a one-year fluke is now a full-fledged trend for Hendrick.

“It’s a concern,” said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott. “We have things in place to try to improve that, and we’re very aware of it.”

Earnhardt sounded like getting the turn straight would be a priority during the week.

“We’re looking at our notes from over the years,” Earnhardt said, pointing specifically to 2015. “We’ll look at what we did then and what we’re doing now and sort of go through the process of elimination, and that’s kind of what we’ve been doing until we fix it.”


NEW RULES: NASCAR’s new rules received mixed results in the opening weekend.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson was parked with 14 laps remaining in the Clash for violating NASCAR’s new damaged-vehicle policy. Officials said Larson’s team had more than six crew members over the wall to work on his damaged No. 42 Chevrolet. NASCAR policy states that teams can’t continue in the race if they’re caught with too many men over the wall.

“I didn’t even know that was a rule,” Larson said. “It’s just confusing. We know now.”

NASCAR also got its first look at its new concussion assessment testing.

Drivers involved in a wreck that sends their car to the garage must report to the infield care center for an evaluation. Concussion assessment tests are administered if care center doctors believe there is a concern of head injury.

Former series champion Kurt Busch was the first to wreck under the new rule and praised the extra evaluation.

“There was an individual that met me out by the car, rode with me in the ambulance and again met with the doctors and just went through different sequences to check all of the different vitals and we were released,” Busch said. “It’s just a little bit of an upgrade. You can tell that they’ve made an effort and it’s nice to have that security.”


PATRICK’S RUN: Danica Patrick did it again at Daytona.

Patrick has been solid at times at Daytona since her rookie season when she won the Daytona 500 pole and led five laps. She finished fourth at the Clash, a needed confidence boost following a dismal 2016. She finished 24th in the standings and failed to post a top-10 finish.

Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin crashed on the last lap, allowing Patrick to sneak through for the best finish of her NASCAR career.

“I will say that I got a little lucky, but there’s a lot of that in speedway racing,” she said.


BOWMAN’S LAND: Alex Bowman’s final scheduled race for Hendrick Motorsports was a doozy.

He finished third in the No. 88 Chevrolet, his last time subbing for Earnhardt. Earnhardt was cleared to race in the 88 but let Bowman take a deserved turn for his sturdy job in part-time duty last season.

Bowman chatted with Kyle Busch on pit road after the race. Bowman worked hard to pass Busch over the final laps instead of teaming with him to chase the leaders.

Bowman said it was an honor to drive for Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick. His NASCAR future is unknown.

“It’s definitely kind of like a bittersweet feeling,” he said. “I don’t really know what I have going forward, and I only know of one race for sure that I’m going to run, and it’s not a Cup race this year.”


MONSTER DEBUT: Kurt Busch’s car was the center of attention of before the Clash. His car’s make? A Ford. The model? Try models, the bevy of Monster Energy girls who posed for pictures with bystanders.

Busch is sponsored by Monster Energy — but the energy drink company also took over this season as title sponsor for the Cup series.

Its debut was a monster dud.

Busch hit the wall a few laps into the race, the green squiggly M logo on the hood crushed as the car was towed to the garage.

Other than the Monster girls, there has been little promotion by the company. Monster isn’t selling drinks at concession stands, and there are no ads spread around the track.

There was a billboard in the fan zone promoting NBC’s television coverage that still had the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series logo plastered in the middle.


MEDICAL IMPROVEMENTS: (USA Today)   —   The two white trucks perched alongside the track as Daytona Speedweeks kicked off this weekend marked one of the most visible changes to NASCAR’s safety protocol since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death on the same track 16 years ago.

The trucks — each outfitted with a doctor and paramedic — will be at each NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series weekend this season as part of a partnership with American Medical Response (AMR), announced earlier this month. The move brings NASCAR more in line with what the Verizon IndyCar Series and other major racing organizations have had for decades: dedicated traveling safety teams.

“You ask why now?” Jim Cassidy, vice president of NASCAR racing operations, told USA TODAY Sports. “We are always looking for improvements in the area of safety and this has been on our radar for a couple years. The drivers council meetings tend to focus a large amount on safety and competition. Through those conversations, we came up with a path that makes sense.”

This is the second full season for the 10-member NASCAR drivers council and founding member Denny Hamlin told reporters the addition of the safety team is a sign that series officials are “listening and they’re making changes on our behalf.”

“We’ve always advocated you have to be a little more consistent with doctors because you just never know,” Hamlin said. “Each race track has its own set of doctors, all well qualified, but maybe they don’t know our personalities as much as the traveling doctors do that go every week. I think it’s important that we have that steady staff that understands the patients and has a good relationship with them.”

The roots of modern U.S. traveling safety teams trace to the early days of CART, the open-wheel racing series that morphed into Champ Car before it merged with IndyCar in 2008.

Terry Trammell, who has been a trackside physician for more than 30 years, was one of the CART safety members credited with saving the life of Alex Zanardi after a gruesome 2001 crash that resulted in amputation of both his legs.

“I think the immediacy of care and the knowledge provided makes a difference,” Trammell told USA TODAY Sports.

AMR will staff the safety team with a small pool of about six physicians along with an unspecified number of paramedics that will rotate throughout the season. Larger tracks, like Daytona International Speedway, and road courses will have two AMR-staffed trucks, while intermediate and short tracks will have one.

NASCAR responded to the death of Earnhardt in 2001 by mandating head and neck restraints (HANS) , pushing out a stock car with safety improvements and working with tracks to add Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers that cushion wall impacts.

A member of last year’s drivers council, Earnhardt’s son lauded NASCAR for another move announced Friday. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed the second half of the 2016 Cup season as he recovered from another concussion, called the additional concussion screening that infield care center doctors now have access to a “positive step toward protecting our drivers” on Twitter.

Physicians in the infield care center, which will continue to be staffed by local medical professionals, can use the latest version of Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT-3) that measures memory and agility along with physical symptoms that could signal a person has been concussed.

While NASCAR would not comment on what might prompt a SCAT-3 test, it said its use would still be a judgment call by the infield care doctor.

“It’s just another diagnostic tool for the infield care center,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said NASCAR will continue to rely on the ImPACT test, which is similar to SCAT, for baseline testing of each driver before every season.

A traveling team also has one major edge vs. local medical professionals when it comes to concussion diagnosis: familiarity.

“The advantage of having a traveling crew is that they know what’s normal and not (normal) behavior,” Trammell said. “They can tell if something is way off and if a driver is acting erratically.”

While the AMR doctor will be sharing information from the crash site and ambulance ride, that physician likely will return trackside if the race is not complete. There are contingency plans in case of a catastrophic accident when a member of the AMR safety team would need to stay at the infield care center or even an area hospital to tend to an injured driver, NASCAR spokesperson Tom Bryant told USA TODAY Sports.

In another change, every driver whose car goes behind the wall – regardless of the severity of damage – must go to the infield care center to be checked by a doctor.

It’s unclear whether the SCAT-3 test was used on any of the drivers who visited the infield care center at Daytona after wrecks during the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday, NASCAR’s season opening race. Bryant said federal health privacy laws preclude the series from detailing the tests conducted and can only state whether a “driver has been evaluated and released, treated and released, or transported to a local medical facility for further evaluation.”

All the drivers involved in wrecks so far were treated and released, including Kurt Busch.

“There was an individual that met me out by the car, rode with me in the ambulance and again met with the doctors and just went through different sequences to check all of the different vitals and we were released,” Busch said. “It’s just a little bit of an upgrade. You can tell that they’ve made an effort and it’s nice to have that security.”

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson, greatest of all? He is in the mix

This gallery contains 1 photo.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The congratulatory messages started rolling in long before Jimmie Johnson had finished his obligatory championship photos. Larry Bird. Mia Hamm. Michael Phelps. Mario Andretti. Drew Brees. The Chicago Cubs.

The list of dignitaries — and the friends and neighbors who toilet-papered his North Carolina home overnight — shows just how significant this latest milestone is for Johnson.

Greatest of all time? Maybe. He certainly deserves to be in the conversation.

Johnson joined Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers in NASCAR to win seven titles with a race-winning run Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His record-tying championship came in a bizarre year for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team, and on a day that did not belong to the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet until the final lap of the race.

Hendrick Motorsports was not good this year, and never found the speed to match Joe Gibbs Racing and its fleet of Toyotas. Johnson, for most of the season, was never even mentioned as a title contender.

The organization buckled down, improved its cars and got Johnson in position to race for his seventh title.

Then he did the rest.

When Carl Edwards wrecked Sunday night to essentially lose the championship, Johnson charged through the melee and found himself suddenly leading the two remaining title contenders. On a night when he’d started last — his team was found to have manipulated the body of his car after it had passed inspection — and clearly wasn’t as good as the other three contenders, he had somehow lucked into the lead.

He still had to earn the win, though, and did it with the restart of his life to hold off Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. He led one lap and it was the one that mattered.

“He is probably the most underrated champion in this sport,” said his crew chief, Chad Knaus. “He is a fantastic, fantastic individual, an amazing race car driver. Most people in the situation we were in just in would crumble. He didn’t even waver. He knew what he needed to do. He knew what the demands were on him at that point in time, and he made it happen.

“We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a great owner. We’ve got a great everything at Hendrick Motorsports. But the fact of the matter is the real spark in this whole thing is Jimmie.”

A fatigue perhaps set in when Johnson reeled off five consecutive titles. Fans didn’t seem to appreciate his dominance, certainly not the way they revered Petty or Earnhardt.

Almost each Johnson championship was met with a collective yawn, when they should have been celebrated for their unique achievement.

Johnson, at 41, is the youngest driver to win seven. Petty was 42 when he did it in 1979, while Earnhardt was 43 in 1994. He also collected his seven titles in a 10-year span. Earnhardt needed 14 years to do it, while Petty did it in 15 seasons.

Johnson’s 80 career victories rank seventh all time, one spot ahead of Earnhardt.

“I think the five in a row was pretty phenomenal, and I think winning seven and tying seven is pretty special,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “It’s special to see him tie those guys. I think it’s good for the sport, and I think it draws a lot of attention to our sport. We had Gatorade, had a lot of guys like Peyton Manning telling him how neat it was, and Serena Williams. I think it’s going to be a big shot in the arm for not only Jimmie but our sport.”

Johnson will likely add to his totals. With retirement still a ways off, he has a chance to win eight titles, and as he drank a beer and ate a slice of cold pizza in a champagne-soaked firesuit, he was already being asked about the possibility of eight.

“I don’t know what the chances are, but let’s go,” he said. “I’m so excited to put that in front of myself and the team has a hurdle to get over and an accomplishment to achieve. I had a lot of fun racing for the sixth. This one and the calm nature and the way we went about business and got it done only gives me more confidence for the future.

“I honestly feel like I’m playing with house money. I never aspired to be famous. I never aspired to be a champion. I just wanted to race. I think it makes us really dangerous, and I look forward to the challenge of trying to get number eight.”

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson seizes record-tying 7th NASCAR championship

This gallery contains 1 photo.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson had the commemorative helmet and a photographer chronicling his every move. He had even planned to run a symbolic seven miles the night before his shot at a seventh championship.

He’s adamant he didn’t know something special was coming.

Johnson was the worst of the championship contenders in a winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He needed only to beat three other drivers to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as drivers with seven titles, but he was clearly not in the same league as the other finalists Sunday night.

Johnson didn’t panic, keeping the same calmness he’s had for 10 weeks of this historic march. So relaxed before this event, he canceled his “short run” and instead spent the night eating pasta.

And as he chased Carl Edwards, reigning champion Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, it sure seemed like there was not shot at No. 7.

“I’m sure the world felt like anybody but Jimmie Johnson was going to win the championship with 20 to go, and then it changed so quick,” Johnson said.

Johnson was practically gifted his seventh title when Edwards’ aggressive attempt to win the championship ended in a wreck. Johnson got the restart of his life in overtime, took the lead on the very last lap of the race, won for the first time in his career at Homestead and grabbed the final Sprint Cup trophy.

Most of the race was spent talking about backflips, repeats or a Penske sweep because Johnson just wasn’t as good as Edwards, Busch or Logano.

Then all that conversation took a back seat to a record-setting — albeit improbable — championship run. The win was the 15th for Hendrick Motorsports and seventh for crew chief Chad Knaus, who now only trails Dale Inman’s record eight.

“When I was coming to the checkered flag, I had to really look closely at it going by to make sure it was, ‘Like is this really happening?'” Johnson said.

Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was pulled off pit road by NASCAR shortly before the race and forced to make a last-minute pass through inspection, setting Johnson up for a mind-boggling race in which he never seemed to be a legitimate contender. He had to start last because of the inspection issue and seemingly had no shot until Edwards coughed up the title.

Petty welcomed Johnson to the VIP section of NASCAR’s most exclusive club.

“They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality,” Petty said. “Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport.”

He also was feted by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who represented his late father in victory lane.

“I told Jimmie I wish Dad was here to shake his hand,” Earnhardt said. “Dad would think he’s such a bad-ass. He’s such a great race car driver. How he won this thing tonight, I don’t think a lot of people know, he can will himself to get (his all) out of a car when it matters. There’s a lot of circumstance that played into it, but he put himself in that position.”

Edwards was in position to win until a caution with 10 laps remaining set up a wild sequence that ruined his title hopes. Edwards tried to block Logano on the restart, wound up wrecked, and it was Johnson who drove through the carnage to take the championship lead.

Johnson withstood two more restarts and dedicated the final two attempts at the win to the late Ricky Hendrick, who was one of 10 friends and family members killed in a 2004 plane crash.

“My heart was full because I was thinking of some loved ones like Ricky Hendrick and his influence,” he said. “Something happened from above.”

Johnson drove the entire 10-race Chase with a tribute helmet to Earnhardt and Petty, the Hall of Fame drivers he’s been chasing since he won his sixth title in 2013. Immediately after the race, he gifted the helmet to three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired at the end of the race.

Drivers have been giving Stewart special helmets the last month, but Johnson had earmarked this one for the driver forever known as “Smoke.”

“I promised him I’d give him a helmet, I wanted to wait and see if I could give him this one,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t really want it. He said if I want it back, I can have it back, but I promised I’d give him a helmet.”

The title was there for the taking for Edwards until the fateful sequence that changed history.

“I was racing for my life up to that point,” Edwards said. “I just pushed the issue as hard as I could because I figured that was the race there. I had to push it, I couldn’t go to bed tonight and think that I gave him that lane.”

The benefactor of Edwards’ error was Johnson, who darted through the wreck ahead of Busch and Logano. Knaus pumped his fists in joy, all too aware that they were suddenly in the game.

“That’s what makes a seven-time champion — someone that fights and battles and digs and never gives up,” said four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the teammate who discovered Johnson for Hendrick Motorsports. “They keep themselves in position and allowed some of those unfortunate instances to work in their favor. You can say luck, whatever you want to say, but those guys battled. They battled hard.”

Logano wasn’t giving up his effort, though, and headed to pit road to take on new tires for a final restart.

“This guy on a restart with five laps to go, I’ll take him every day of the week,” crew chief Todd Gordon said.

Logano restarted eighth but was a bull as he pushed his way through traffic and into third place, behind Johnson, after a caution forced another restart.

This time, Johnson got the start of his life and jumped into the lead. He didn’t look back, only forward at his slice of NASCAR history.

“They were nowhere all day, and just kind of ran around, I don’t know, probably, I’d guess sixth,” Busch said. “Never really showed their hand at all and didn’t really show any speed, never really led in the laps until the last one, and that’s the only one that really matters.”


NASCAR: Daniel Suarez captures Xfinity Series championship

This gallery contains 1 photo.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — El campeon!

Daniel Suarez won the Xfinity Series season finale and title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, becoming the first foreign champion in a NASCAR national series.

The 24-year-old Mexican bested fellow championship contenders Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones on a botched restart with three laps to go.

“It’s very hard to put into words,” Suarez said. “I’m speechless right now. I’m just very proud of everyone and thankful to have the family that I have, my mom, my dad. They gave me all the tools to be here right now. They put me in a car even when we didn’t have the support or the racing background. They supported me, and right now we are just living a dream.”

Suarez thanked fans and his native country in Spanish in victory lane. His win was the first of the weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing, which has two drivers — Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards — vying for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday.

“For us, after two years, to be where we are tonight is amazing,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “This is going to be a big deal for our sport. It’s huge.”

It was just Suarez’s third career victory, but the most important for obvious reasons.

Sadler, who gambled by taking two tires on the final pit stop, finished third in the race and second in the standings. The former Cup driver and sentimental favorite remained without a championship at any national level in a career spanning more than two decades.

“This is by far the hardest because I feel like this is the best team I’ve probably ever worked with,” said Sadler, who drove with an interim crew chief because his usual one was suspended. “We felt like we could come in here and compete, and we made a great pit call there at the end to get some clean air.”

Sadler asked Whitt to give him the top lane on the restart, but Whitt declined.

Allgaier finished sixth, and Jones ninth. Both got stuck behind leader Cole Whitt on the final restart, and when Whitt spun his worn-out tires, Allgaier and Jones fell way behind Suarez.

“It’s really frustrating,” Jones said. “I don’t mean to bag on the guy so much, but it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re up here racing for the championship.’ And maybe we don’t even win it if he pits and lets us move up, but at least we would have had a fair shot at it. I feel like we kind of got robbed of at least our chance to race for it. Yeah, it’s just unfortunate. It just wasn’t a great situation altogether.”

The chaos definitely benefited Suarez, who passed Sadler low and pulled away from the field. He led 133 of the 200 laps in the race.

Last year’s top rookie in the second-tier series, Suarez began racing karts in Mexico and moved to North Carolina as a teenager to pursue a career at NASCAR’s national level. He had to teach himself English by watching cartoons on American television and moved through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to land a job with JGR.

Suarez is the first D4D driver to win a championship.

Suarez has soared in his second season with Gibbs and benefited when teammate Jones, the pre-Chase favorite to win the title. As Jones struggled down the stretch, Suarez upped his performance. He won at Dover to move through the Round of 12 and was runner-up at Kentucky and third at Charlotte. Then, Suarez registered finishes of third (Kansas), fifth (Texas) and fifth (Phoenix) to set up his championship-clinching victory at Homestead.

This will surely make him an even bigger star back home. On a return trip to Mexico with NASCAR officials last month, he was celebrated like he was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For Gibbs, it is his second driver championship in the Xfinity Series but first since Kyle Busch won in 2009.

The Gibbs organization also celebrated its fifth owner’s championship in the Xfinity Series.


Saturday At Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla. Lap length: 1.5 miles Starting position in parentheses

1. (1) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 200.

2. (11) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

3. (2) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 200.

4. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.

5. (5) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

6. (6) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 200.

7. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

8. (14) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200.

9. (3) Erik Jones Toyota, 200.

10. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.

11. (9) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 200.

12. (23) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (19) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 200.

14. (8) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 200.

15. (10) Brandon Jones Chevrolet, 200.

16. (13) Ryan Reed, Ford, 200.

17. (18) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 200.

18. (16) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 200.

19. (25) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 199.

20. (12) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 199.

21. (26) Ryan Preece Chevrolet, 199.

22. (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 199.

23. (31) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 198.

24. (27) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 198.

25. (39) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 197.

26. (35) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 196.

27. (17) Brennan Poole Chevrolet, 196.

28. (30) Ray Black Jr Chevrolet, 195.

29. (28) Garrett Smithley Chevrolet, 195.

30. (34) Brandon Hightower, Dodge, 195.

31. (29) BJ McLeod Ford, 195.

32. (40) Jeff Green, Ford, 194.

33. (38) Josh Reaume, Chevrolet, 193.

34. (37) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 189.

35. (21) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, Oil Leak, 167.

36. (22) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, Accident, 134.

37. (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Ignition, 87.

38. (36) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, Overheating, 49.

39. (32) Timmy Hill, Toyota, Brakes, 43.

40. (24) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Vibration, 2.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 116.455 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 34 Mins, 34 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.968 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 39 laps.

Lead Changes: 21 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D. Suarez 1-22; K. Larson 23-26; T. Kvapil 27; T. Hill 28-30; K. Larson 31-35; D. Suarez 36-79; J. Allgaier 80; R. Sieg 81; K. Larson 82-95; T. Dillon 96-99; D. Suarez 100-113; T. Dillon 114-126; D. Suarez 127-137; A. Almirola 138-142; D. Suarez 143-151; J. Allgaier 152-156; E. Jones 157-159; A. Almirola 160-163; D. Suarez 164-193; C. Whitt 194-196; E. Sadler 197; D. Suarez 198-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Suarez 7 times for 133 laps; K. Larson 3 times for 23 laps; T. Dillon 2 times for 17 laps; A. Almirola 2 times for 9 laps; J. Allgaier 2 times for 6 laps; T. Hill 1 time for 3 laps; E. Jones 1 time for 3 laps; C. Whitt 1 time for 3 laps; T. Kvapil 1 time for 1 lap; E. Sadler 1 time for 1 lap; R. Sieg 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez – 4,040; E. Sadler – 4,038; J. Allgaier – 4,035; E. Jones – 4,032; T. Dillon – 2,214; R. Reed – 2,205; B. Koch – 2,200; B. Poole – 2,192; R. Sieg – 2,171; B. Jones – 2,168.

NASCAR championship drivers stumble in qualifying

This gallery contains 1 photo.


HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Joey Logano leaned in toward Jimmie Johnson and offered a few words of comfort.

“At least we all sucked,” Logano said.

The four NASCAR Sprint Cup championship drivers all failed to get that one final boost they needed to better position themselves to win it all Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano, Carl Edwards, 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch and Johnson all will start outside the top five. Busch will start ninth, Edwards 10th, Logano 13th and Johnson 14th. Johnson would match Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty for the NASCAR record with his seventh career Cup championship.

“I don’t think any of us want to start that far back,” Edwards said.

But they are bunched close enough that one TV camera can probably catch them all as they head into the first turn on the 1.5-mile track. Busch started third in the finale last season, won the race and his first career Cup title.

The foursome likely won’t lag behind the front of the field for long.

“This is a place you can pass,” Logano said.

The highest-finishing driver among the four is the 2016 champion. Under the revamped Chase format, the Homestead winner the last two years won the championship.

Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, eliminated from title contention in earlier rounds of NASCAR’s playoffs, played spoiler and swept the front row.

“I think we’ve been the two best cars all year,” Keselowski said.

Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney all will start ahead of the championship drivers.

The drivers out of the championship picture traditionally part to let the contenders race each other hard in the meat of the race.

“You get a little more respect from those guys,” Busch said.

Amid a heap of tributes, Tony Stewart starts 11th in the final race of his NASCAR career. Stewart is trying to race to his 50th career Cup victory and end a triumphant career in victory lane.

“There hasn’t been any part of my career that I didn’t enjoy,” Stewart said. “There are things about everything that I’ve done that I’ve liked more than others and disliked more than others. But as a whole, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done and the road that I’ve taken to get here.”

Edwards and Busch are each vying to win a second straight championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. Johnson could bring a 12th title to Hendrick Motorsports. Logano wants to reward Roger Penske’s 50th season in racing with another championship.

Asked what keeps him going after all these years, Penske quipped, “Trying to beat these guys.”

Harvick, the 2014 Homestead winner and Cup champion, won his second pole of the season. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver could also deliver a victory celebration for Stewart.

Johnson was antsy to chase history.

“Qualifying isn’t my strong suit, I’m much better at racing,” he said. “So let’s line them up and go racing.”


Johnny Sauter wins 1st Truck Series championship

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The fourth time, in a field of four, was the charm for Johnny Sauter.

Sauter won the inaugural Chase in the Camping World Truck Series with a strong third-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He beat Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters in a race in which the highest-finisher among the four drivers would win the championship.

For Sauter, who finished fourth in the standings the last three years, the format produced his first career NASCAR championship. He did it in his first year with GMS Racing after leaving Thorsport Racing.

“I think a lot of people questioned that move,” Sauter said of his move to the young race team.

He wasn’t sure he had a strong enough truck to get to the front until the last segment of the race.

“With 50, 60 (laps) to go, I was like ‘We really got something here’ and I started picking people off,” he said. “I’m just a small part of this deal. The whole team executed flawlessly tonight.”

The 38-year-old has had a career year driving the No. 21 Chevrolet for GMS Racing. He won three races, had 12 top-five finishes and a dominant run in the Chase. Sauter won back-to-back races at Martinsville and Texas, and was runner-up at Phoenix last week. Sauter’s 13 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories tie him for 11th most all-time in series history.

Crew chief Joe Shear Jr. moved to GMS Racing to work with Sauter and the pairing delivered a title.

“I knew they had all the pieces in the puzzle, I knew it was a great fit or I wouldn’t have done it,” Shear said. “It’s just unbelievable. This is the greatest thing in the world.”

William Byron won the race — his seventh victory of the season — to wrap up the owner championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was bittersweet because it likely should have been Byron celebrating the driver title.

Byron was headed toward the win last weekend at Phoenix that would have put him in the final four, but his engine blew in the closing laps. He was eliminated from title contention after the failure.

“It feels awesome. It’s incredible,” Byron said of the win. “This team has worked hard all year. Just had an unfortunate situation last week that we couldn’t control.”

Busch collected the championship trophy for the second consecutive year and fifth overall.

“Such a spectacular season by William Bryon, they were flawless, all the way up until Phoenix,” Busch said.

Tyler Reddick, driving his final race for Brad Keselowski, finished second. He’s moving to an Xfinity Series ride next year for Chip Ganassi.

Kyle Larson finished fourth, but led a race-high 76 laps.

Crafton, a two-time Truck Series champion, was denied a third title after finishing seventh. He and Sauter waged a decent battle for position during the race, but a poor final run cost Crafton.

“I kind of figured it was a matter of time. We were just really bad on that last run for whatever reason,” he said.

Bell finished eighth in trying to win the driver title for Busch.

“Overall, it wasn’t really our year,” he said. “Just wasn’t quite good enough all year long.”

Timothy Peters was ninth and the lowest-finishing driver of the title contenders.

“Hey, all in all, we said in the beginning of Daytona that we wanted a shot,” Peters said. “We had that down here, and we came up just a little bit short. We know what we need to do over the off season, and can’t wait for Daytona.”

NASCAR: Cool keys to the title for all four Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers

This gallery contains 2 photos.

We all know the four drivers remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup who will duke it out at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Here’s a look at some details you may not know about each driver, listed in seeded order for the finale:

Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske

Logano, at 26 the youngest among the title hopefuls, can win his first championship at NASCAR’s highest level. While doing so, he also could help team owner Roger Penske complete a rare feat – winning the title in the top series in NASCAR and IndyCar in the same year. Simon Pagenaud brought home the open-wheel trophy in September, also in car No. 22. And the champagne corks certainly would be flying from Miami all the way to Detroit, as Penske also is celebrating his 50th year in motor sports. How might the team enjoy its victory spoils? A trip to Steak ‘n Shake can’t be far behind the checkered flag.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

By now, everyone is keenly aware of the number seven and what it means to Johnson, the No. 48 team and the history books. But did you know if Johnson wins Sunday, he will reach seven championships faster than Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.? Petty’s titles span 16 seasons and Earnhardt’s 15. Johnson would accomplish the feat in just 11.

A look at their winning years:

Petty – 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979

Earnhardt – 1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994

Johnson – 2006-10, 2013


Carl Edwards, No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

Edwards has been here before. He was runner-up for the title in 2008 and again in 2011. The title race five years ago was epic. Edwards entered Homestead with a three-point lead on Tony Stewart. But Stewart had reeled off all four of his wins that season in the Chase, cutting into Edwards’ lead. The finale boasted some of the best pure racing seen during the Chase, a rain delay and a key piece of debris – which punched a hole in Stewart’s radiator, usually enough to park a car. But Stewart raced on and passed Edwards to win the race and his third title, on a tie-breaker (he had five wins to Edwards’ one). Now, Edwards has another chance to hoist his first Cup in Stewart’s final race at NASCAR’s highest level.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing 

It would be difficult for Busch to top his stunning comeback from serious injuries suffered in a crash in the season opening Xfinity Series race last year to win his first championship. But he could become the first driver to repeat in this new, elimination-style format. He also would be the first to repeat since that guy named Johnson – in 2009-10. As an added bonus, he would give team owner Joe Gibbs his fifth Cup championship. That’s two more than his three Super Bowl titles.

NASCAR: 7th title would give Chad Knaus his own spot in history

This gallery contains 1 photo.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chad Knaus will act as if this shot at a record-tying seventh championship is just another race, and that he has barely thought of what it means for his place in the record books with Jimmie Johnson.

Knaus has already led Johnson to a record five straight titles, six overall, and is now aiming to be the first crew chief in history to win seven NASCAR titles with the same driver. Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won eight, but not with one driver.

Knaus will downplay this until the bitter end — even if he hoists the championship trophy with Johnson on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I guess I really don’t know what I want my legacy to be,” Knaus said Wednesday. “I guess just to be remembered as a real racer, I guess, more than anything. I was a grass-roots racer from the Midwest who got an opportunity … (and) was able to work my way up methodically. For people just to remember that I started out as a racer and ended as a racer is probably my biggest goal.”

Johnson will face defending series champion Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards on Sunday, with the highest-finishing driver winning the championship.

If it’s Johnson, he will tie Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers with seven titles. But he’ll have it done it with a team that Knaus built from the bottom, and the No. 48 team would be the first to win seven titles with the same driver, crew chief and sponsor.

Knaus admits that distinction would make it “even more phenomenal.”

“It’s been an honor to be able to work with Jimmie, Lowe’s and Hendrick Motorsports throughout this portion of my career,” he said. “Being able to represent this company and our associates the way that we have has been a lot of fun. To Jimmie personally, obviously he is by far one of my best friends, and to be able to have seen him grow and mature into the driver and the family man that he is has been awesome. It’s been a great ride.”


Kyle Busch hand-picked Adam Stevens to be his crew chief when Joe Gibbs Racing made personnel changes after the 2014 season.

The two had clicked working together in the Xfinity Series, and Busch felt Stevens could be the one to lead him to a championship. They succeeded last year, rallying from a deep hole after Busch missed a third of the season with injuries suffered at Daytona. Now they are back in the finale trying to become the first repeat winners since Johnson reeled off five consecutive titles.

Stevens said he and Busch have not focused on the back-to-back opportunity.

“We haven’t talked about that specifically, but the chances to win a championship in this sport aren’t going to come every year,” he said. “When you get that chance, you want to make sure that you’ve turned over every stone and taken every turn that you can to try to make it happen.

“You know, back-to-back, or once every 10 years, or however often you can find yourself in this opportunity with a shot to win is colossal.”


Dave Rogers has worked for Joe Gibbs Racing for 18 years. During that time, he watched Bobby Labonte win a championship, and was a team member on Tony Stewart’s crew when Stewart won two titles. A crew chief change at JGR moved him off of Kyle Busch’s team last year and Busch went on to win the title.

Now Rogers is finally in the championship hunt on his own, with Carl Edwards, and he’s ready to lead a team to a title he can call his own.

“There’s lots of experiences, successes and failures that prepare you for this,” Rogers said. “There’s a handful of championships that I’ve witnessed. This is obviously the first time that I’ve gone to Homestead personally as a crew chief prepared to race for the championship, but there’s a winning pedigree here at JGR and everyone’s open notebook policy has prepared me well for this weekend.”

Rogers didn’t make it to the finale as crew chief for Busch or Denny Hamlin. Edwards lost the 2011 championship to Stewart on a tie-breaker. They both feel like past experience has them prepared for Sunday.

“We’ve both been in situations where we’ve come up short, and we know what it’s like to lose,” Rogers said. “Now we want to go down there and try to figure out how to win it. I know Carl was disappointed last year that he fell short. The 11 (Hamlin team) was disappointed last year that we fell short, but now we’re teamed up together, our first year together, we’re going down there with the option to win it, and we’re just excited about it.”


Joey Logano and Todd Gordon thought they were ready to win a championship when they raced for a title in 2014.

Then one bad pit stop ended their chances. With that experience behind them, Gordon believes they have the mental toughness to win the title.

“I think in 2014, that was when we went through this the first time. Not knowing what to do or what to expect or how it was going to flow out, the championship race, race weekend,” he said. “This time around … I think it’s matters as usual.

“I feel a lot of calm from his feedback and what he’s saying and what he’s doing and the mannerisms. He’s all (about) just making this another race, and I think in a great position.”

NASCAR: Logano wins Phoenix as he and Kyle Busch complete final 4

This gallery contains 2 photos.

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Matt Kenseth’s misfortune gave Joey Logano a chance to race for the championship.

In an improbable turn of events, Kenseth came within two laps of a spot in next week in the title-deciding finale to eliminated from NASCAR’s playoffs. Logano was gifted a victory Sunday that put him in the final four after a tense double-overtime event at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kenseth had the win in hand until a late caution sent the race to extra laps. Although he cleared traffic on the restart, his teammate Kyle Busch had contact with Alex Bowman that altered Bowman’s racing line.

Kenseth’s spotter told the driver he was clear, but he actually cut down on Bowman and the contact caused him to crash.

Logano saw the sequence unfolding, let off his gas early, and slid into the lead after the accident. He then held off Busch in the second overtime for the win that qualified him for the championship next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Prior to Kenseth’s accident, Logano was in danger of elimination.

“I’m like ‘Oh, shoot, we’re out,’ and it was going to be so close there at the end to try to get ourselves through, and next thing you know the caution comes out and the whole game changes,” Logano said. “We find ourselves as the leader and we win the race. That’s NASCAR racing at its finest.”

Logano won the race — the second time in this Chase he used a victory in an elimination race to advance — and will race for his first Sprint Cup title next Sunday. He’ll be trying to give Roger Penske a season sweep during its 50th anniversary season. Simon Pagenaud won the IndyCar title in September.

“I’ve never felt this good about a win before,” Logano said. “There was so much on the line and everyone brings their A-game when it comes to winning championships and this team did it.

“I feel like I just won the Daytona 500 again.”

Busch finished second and earned a chance to defend last year’s title. He’ll meet Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, who is seeking a record-tying seventh championship, in Homestead.

JGR, which was trying to get all four of its Toyotas into the final , wound up with only two and Busch wasn’t feeling celebratory. He believed his contact with Bowman triggered the accident that wrecked Kenseth’s season.

“It’s really unfortunate and devastating to have the race come down like that,” Busch said. “That’s so frustrating and aggravating, and I feel horrible.”

Eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday were Kevin Harvick, an eight-time winner at Phoenix who had raced in the last two finales, as well as his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch. Gibbs drivers Kenseth and Denny Hamlin were also knocked out of the field.

“Disappointing would be the way to put it lightly,” Kenseth said. “Finish that race five minutes before that, looked like we had a chance to go race for a championship. It was a big swing in 10 or 15 minutes.”

Hamlin finished seventh after a bizarre decision not to pit with the rest of the field for track position. Although it gave him a brief lead, he was no match for drivers with fresh tires.

“I knew it was going to be an uphill climb,” Hamlin said.

PIT ROAD PENALTIES: NASCAR picked Sunday to enforce a rule against passing the pace car when a driver dips onto pit road for a stop. Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were both penalized for the infraction, and the punishment was holding the car for a lap on pit road.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were incredulous.

“I don’t understand that in the least little bit,” Johnson said on his radio. “This is absolutely ridiculous, NASCAR. I have no clue what I did wrong.”

Johnson said he’ll ask for clarification this week.

“In 15 years, that has never been a concern, and I was always told that the last thing NASCAR wanted to do would be to penalize the leader,” Johnson said. “I am still baffled, and I don’t know if I will stop being baffled.”

BOWMAN OUT FRONT: Alex Bowman badly wants a job for next year, and his continued strong pace as the replacement driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. is giving him a solid case to present to prospective employers.

Bowman had led just nine laps in his first 79 career Sprint Cup races. Six of those laps were earlier this year driving Earnhardt’s Chevrolet. A pole-winning run for Sunday’s race helped Bowman lead a race-high 194 laps and was attempting to win the race before the late accident. He faded to sixth, and felt bad about his incident with Kenseth.

“I hate it for Matt. I would have raced the hell out of him for the win, but definitely don’t want to do that,” Bowman said. “Hate that, and it ruined our day, too. So it’s unfortunate.”

UP NEXT: The season finale at Homestead, where the championship will be decided. Harvick won the race in 2014 to win his championship, and Kyle Busch won last year to claim the title.



Can-Am 500

Sunday’s results from the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (4) Joey Logano, Ford, 324 laps, 44 points.

2. (19) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 324, 39.

3. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 324, 38.

4. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 324, 37.

5. (12) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 324, 36.

6. (1) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 324, 0.

7. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 324, 35.

8. (8) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 324, 33.

9. (3) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 324, 32.

10. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 324, 31.

11. (9) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 324, 30.

12. (15) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 324, 29.

13. (13) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 324, 28.

14. (14) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 324, 27.

15. (25) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 324, 26.

16. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, 324, 25.

17. (18) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 324, 24.

18. (22) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 324, 23.

19. (11) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 324, 22.

20. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 324, 21.

21. (10) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 324, 21.

22. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, 322, 19.

23. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 322, 18.

24. (34) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 322, 17.

25. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 322, 16.

26. (36) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 321, 15.

27. (29) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 321, 14.

28. (23) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 321, 13.

29. (16) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 3212.

30. (33) Brian Scott, Ford, 319, 11.

31. (31) David Ragan, Toyota, 319, 10.

32. (30) Chris Buescher, Ford, 318, 9.

33. (35) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 318, 8.

34. (26) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 318, 7.

35. (39) D.J. Kennington, Chevrolet, 316, 0.

36. (38) Reed Sorenson, Ford, 315, 5.

37. (37) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, fuelpump, 296, 4.

38. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 296, 4.

39. (7) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 289, 2.

40. (40) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, accident, 258, 1.


Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 102.865 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 22 minutes, 25 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.500 seconds.

Caution Flags: 9 for 53 laps.

Lead Changes: 8 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: A.Bowman 1-92; J.Logano 93-119; J.Johnson 120-132; A.Bowman 133; J.Logano 134-156; A.Bowman 157-257; D.Hamlin 258-261; M.Kenseth 262-316; J.Logano 317-324

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): A.Bowman, 3 times for 191 laps; J.Logano, 3 times for 55 laps; M.Kenseth, 1 time for 54 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 12 laps; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 3 laps.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 4; K.Harvick, 4; J.Johnson, 4; B.Keselowski, 4; M.Truex, 4; C.Edwards, 3; D.Hamlin, 3; M.Kenseth, 2; J.Logano, 2; C.Buescher, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; T.Stewart, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. J.Logano, 5000; 2. J.Johnson, 5000; 3. C.Edwards, 5000; 4. Ky.Busch, 5000; 5. M.Kenseth, 2296; 6. D.Hamlin, 2288; 7. Ku.Busch, 2268; 8. M.Truex, 2266; 9. B.Keselowski, 2261; 10. C.Elliott, 2255; 11. K.Harvick, 2250; 12. K.Larson, 2247; 13. J.McMurray, 2195; 14. A.Dillon, 2194; 15. T.Stewart, 2192; 16. C.Buescher, 2152.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch wins Xfinity race as inaugural Chase field is set

This gallery contains 1 photo.

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kyle Busch won for the 10th time in the Xfinity Series this season with a victory at Phoenix International Raceway on the night NASCAR’s second-tier series’ set its inaugural championship field.

The final four for next weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be a battle between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joe Gibbs.

Both car owners got two drivers each into the championship field the first year NASCAR rolled out the Chase for its lower two national series. The Chase uses the same elimination format as the Sprint Cup Series, and eight drivers were competing for the final four slots on Saturday night.

Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, both driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, got in. JR Motorsports qualified Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler.

But, after the race, Sadler’s car was being inspected by NASCAR for an apparent loose lug nut on his car. It’s unclear if Sadler could face a points penalty that would knock him out of the championship field.

“I think we might have a loose lug. They’ll look at it. But, hey, we did what we had to do,” Sadler said.

Sadler, a longtime NASCAR veteran, is seeking his first title at the national level and has his best chance this year in this winner-take-all format.

“We’re pumped about it, we really put all our eggs in one basket, and that’s that Homestead car,” he said.

Allgaier had to stretch a drying gas tank over the closing laps to claim his spot and keep Blake Koch out of the field. Koch was keeping an eye post-race on Sadler’s situation, but immediately apologized for an earlier incident with Darrell Wallace Jr. that knocked Wallace out of title contention.

Busch, meanwhile, is racing Sunday for a spot in Cup’s final four. New rules will make him ineligible to race in any Chase races in a lower series next year, so this was his last victory in the fall race at Phoenix.

Busch noted he’d learned something about the tires by running the Xfinity race, and he planned to confer with his Cup team to get better prepared for Sunday’s main event. The reigning Sprint Cup champion had the fastest car in Saturday’s final practice.

“We got a lot better, I feel like we’re at least in the ballpark,” Busch said of Sunday. “We’ve got a top-five race car and we’ll go from there.”

Brendan Gaughan’s championship chances ended when he wrecked with 63 laps remaining. He was in a must-win situation and came to Phoenix last in the eight-driver standings.

Wallace, who was seventh in the standings, was wrecked when Koch ran into Wallace’s lane to cause the accident. Wallace was mourning his grandmother, who died earlier this week, and had trouble controlling his emotions after.

“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life,” said Wallace, nearly sobbing. “That was the most fun I have had all year. Just circumstances took us out.”


AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kevin Harvick has been backed into a corner before in NASCAR’s elimination-style playoffs. Put Harvick in a must-win situation, and he’s proven repeatedly he can deliver.

So here he is, again, at Phoenix International Raceway in need of a victory to continue his bid for a second Sprint Cup championship. If he is stressed, you can’t tell. Harvick sat relaxed on the wall along pit road with the cavalier attitude of a driver who isn’t at all worried about winning Sunday. He’ll start sixth in the field.

“We just have to control the things that we can control, try and put ourselves in position to where we usually do and see where it all falls,” Harvick said. “What I like about it is the sense of the unknown, the competition, the effort, the thought and everything that goes into that is intriguing for me.

“From a team standpoint, to see where everybody is at and how they approach it, is fun to me and I like to see people performing and working at that level.”

Harvick has been in this position before at Phoenix, in 2014 when the elimination format debuted. He deserved to be in the championship race but had to win at Phoenix to qualify.

He did win — he routed the field, actually — then won again the next week to claim his first career Cup title. He’s also been in must-win situations in earlier rounds of the Chase.

Harvick has a stellar record at Phoenix, where he’s an eight-time Cup winner. He’s won five of his last six visits to this desert race track — four since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 — and his only defeat was last November, when he led 143 laps but wound up second in a rain-shortened race.

That defeat, by Mother Nature, has Harvick confident the odds of winning over and over again won’t turn against him Sunday.

“You know, we dominated the end of that race and wound up losing it to rain,” he said. “They are a lot easier to lose than they are to win.”

Although he joked that his success at Phoenix was born after a trip to Disney World: “I have magic … I found this magic wand, and I wave it here,” he finds it “silly” that so many people assume he’s an automatic winner Sunday.

Only the statistics back up the predictions of a Harvick win at Phoenix. He’s won six of the last eight races and has barely been contested. Harvick has led an astounding 1,016 laps in that span and has generally forced drivers to believe they are racing for second before they even arrive at the track.

The only driver Harvick believes is in the same league as he is at Phoenix is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is sidelined with a concussion and hasn’t raced since July.

That’s not a slight on his competition, and he knows he’s racing five other drivers Sunday for one of two slots in next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of the five Chase contenders in this third round of the playoffs, only Joey Logano has never won at Phoenix.

But only Kurt Busch, Harvick’s teammate at Stewart-Haas, is in the same precarious position. Both of them need to win on Sunday to advance, and if neither gets to victory lane, SHR will not have a car in the finale. And, because of the current points situation, it’s virtually impossible for both SHR drivers to advance.

The rest of the field — Logano, and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin — are separated by just two points in the standings. As far as Harvick is concerned, the entire Chase field is racing with the same goal on Sunday.

“Everybody is in the same position that we are,” Harvick said. “If somebody (in the Chase) wins, there is only going to be one points guy that goes through, so you need to pretend like you’re in a must-win situation.”

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick locked in for another Phoenix win

This gallery contains 2 photos.

It’s almost always a sucker bet to pick one driver against the field in NASCAR. No matter how good a driver is, no matter his track record or his team’s history, NASCAR is so unpredictable that it’s often a losing proposition to choose one over 39.

But Kevin Harvick at Phoenix International Raceway? That’s as close to a lock as it gets. Add in the element of Harvick being in a must-win position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a situation in which he’s undefeated, and it seems outright foolish to bet against him.

If only it were that easy, though. Even Harvick — the winner of six of the last eight Phoenix races and eight overall — knows anything can happen.

In an interview with USA TODAY Sports, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver pointed to last year’s Phoenix Chase race as evidence. Harvick was dominating the race but lost when a caution in the middle of pit stops saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. get out front, then hang on when a rare rainstorm shortened the race.

“It doesn’t take any more than that,” Harvick said. “Your race can go south with rain in the desert, it can go south on a restart, you can have a problem of any kind. I wish it was that easy to win.”

The thing is, that sort of fluke scenario might be the only way to stop him. A California native, Harvick has been racing in various events at Phoenix since 1995. He was successful through the years, and when the track was reconfigured in 2011, it seemed to only heighten his talent there.

Yes, the track is different than when he was coming up through the ranks. But the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion said many of the same elements still apply to making a successful lap, and he closes his eyes at different points in the year to visualize Phoenix — when to brake entering the corner, when to turn in, when to get back on the gas.

He loves it, he gets pumped for it and his team provides him with the equipment that matches his capability.


“It’s in a fortunate spot for us on the schedule,” he said. “This (third) round is really funny for us. I’ve never won at Texas. Martinsville hasn’t been my best track. Then we go to Phoenix, and two of the last three years we’ve been in this (must-win) situation. I wouldn’t want to pick anywhere else to put ourselves in that position.”

It’s not just this round where Harvick has been in a must-win situation (Harvick is 18 points behind the four-driver cutoff entering Sunday’s race). He doesn’t know why it keeps happening this way and acknowledges it would be easier if he didn’t have to win each round, but it’s clear he thrives off the pressure.

He’s come through in situations where he needed to win at Phoenix (2014), Homestead-Miami Speedway (2014) and Dover International Speedway (2015), then won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this year after a bad finish at the Chicagoland Speedway Chase opener and won at Kansas Speedway to erase an engine failure the previous week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which opened the second round.

Harvick is doing it the hard way, but he’s still doing it. He’s never been eliminated from this version of the Chase.

“You could say, ‘Oh, it always happens to them and they always come out on the other side,’” he said. “But I think we’re fortunate we have a good race team and fast cars to put ourselves in position to overcome those things. I think that’s where other people have fallen short.

“It also wouldn’t be as rewarding if it was that easy. Anything you’re going to achieve that has a huge prize at the end of it is going to be hard to get to.”

So now here comes Harvick again, heading to his best track in a must-win situation and openly embracing the pressure. He called it “fun” that everyone is talking about him and everyone is “stirred up.”

The more that happens, the more his team tightens its ranks and focuses on pulling off improbable feats.

“It really is you against the world,” Harvick said. “It’s either survive for yourself, or somebody else is going to take what you want.”


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR driver Brian Scott plans to retire after next week’s season finale to spend more time with his family.

Scott is 28 and has been racing at NASCAR’s national level since 2007. He has two young children.

Albertsons Companies, Scott’s longtime sponsor, said it would terminate its NASCAR program after the season. However, Richard Petty Motorsports plans to field the No. 44 that Scott drove with a new sponsor and another driver.

Scott posted a statement about his decision on several social media platforms and explained the Sprint Cup schedule “has taken its toll” and caused him “to re-evaluate what I want in life for myself and for my family.”

Scott raced in the Truck Series through 2009, the Xfinity Series from 2010 until 2015 and joined RPM in the Cup Series this season.

NASCAR: Denny Hamlin ready for the playoff pressure at Phoenix

This gallery contains 1 photo.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It has not been an easy march through NASCAR’s playoffs for Denny Hamlin, who once again must race his way into the next round.

Hamlin was on his own at Talladega Superspeedway, a track that requires help from other drivers to be successful. Hamlin’s teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing had too much to lose that day and rode around in the back of the pack. He needed a strong finish, and had to figure it out alone.

Now he again goes into an elimination race with the pressure on to pull off a big finish. Carl Edwards is the only JGR driver who already has earned a berth in the championship race, and Hamlin is competing with teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch for a spot in the final four.

All three of the JGR drivers are within two points of each other in Chase standings. Busch is tied with Team Penske’s Joey Logano for the lead, with Kenseth one point behind them and Hamlin two behind. Hamlin finished third at Phoenix earlier this year.

“Phoenix was a good track for us in the spring,” Hamlin said. “I look to go back there and have another great run and go out there and try to win. That’s what we’re going to do. Any time I’ve been below (the cut line) in an elimination race, I’ve found a way to get in (to the next round).

“I like our chances. It’s a pressure race and I like pressure.”


Team Penske crew chief Todd Gordon has been fined $10,000 because a lug nut was not properly installed on Joey Logano’s car at Texas.

The penalty was the only monetary fine issued by NASCAR on Wednesday. But, five drivers were docked 15 minutes of practice time for inspection issues at Texas.

Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. all failed the pre-qualifying template inspection three times. AJ Allmendinger failed the laser inspection three times before qualifying. All will miss practice time Friday at Phoenix.


Matt DiBenedetto was cleared to race at Phoenix International Raceway after NASCAR held him out of one event because of a possible concussion.

DiBenedetto missed last Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, where he was involved in a crash during the Xfinity Series race one day earlier. Jeffrey Earnhardt replaced DiBenedetto for BK Racing and finished 34th.

It was the first Cup race DiBenedetto had not started since early in the 2015 season.

DiBenedetto had said Sunday morning at Texas he felt fine and able to race, but said he had to respect the decision by NASCAR’s doctors.

“They decided they wanted to err on the side of caution, which I understand,” he said. “They’re doing their job.”


Alexis DeJoria has a concussion that will sideline the Funny Car driver from this weekend’s NHRA Finals in Pomona, California.

DeJoria suffered the concussion in a crash during qualifying at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, where her head hit the roll cage after the impact. She’ll be replaced this weekend by Jeff Arend. DeJoria is not cleared to race, or even fly in a plane.

“I underwent a series of cognitive tests and the doctors diagnosed me with a full-blown concussion that required me to step away from the seat for the time being,” she said. “It takes two weeks for these symptoms to subside and even then, because of the trauma from the concussion, it would be unsafe for me to race this weekend.”

DeJoria missed two races earlier this season with a fractured pelvis.


Mercedes-Benz USA will race next season in IMSA’s SportsCar Championship as Riley Motorsports will race two Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars in the GT Daytona class. One of the team’s cars will run as AMG-Team Riley Motorsports, and the other as WeatherTech Racing.

The No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports entry will be co-driven by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, and the No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 will be shared by co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette. MacNeil and Jeannette got their first seat time in the car in a late September test at Germany’s Hockenheim circuit.

Other cars announced for the new-look IMSA GT Daytona class next year include the Acura NSX GT3 and the Lexus RC F GT3.

NASCAR: If Harvick wins Phoenix, there’s only 1 spot left in Chase

This gallery contains 1 photo.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Only an amateur would fill out a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship bracket and not mark Kevin Harvick down for a win at Phoenix.

Harvick has proven he’s just about unbeatable in the desert, and when his playoff chances are on the line, he’s delivered time and again. Harvick has won six of the last nine races at Phoenix, finished second in two of his losses and is guaranteed to show up this weekend with a car capable of demoralizing the field.

Assuming it will take nothing short of a freak incident to keep Harvick out of victory lane, there’s essentially only one spot in the finale up for grabs Sunday.

Problem is, there are five drivers jockeying for that last spot.

And only two points separate three of those drivers in the standings.

To say there will be some brokenhearted teams on Sunday is an understatement. This year’s version of the Chase has been anticlimactic, sometimes even boring, but this bottleneck in the standings is something to behold.

Reigning series champion Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are tied in the standings. Busch teammate Matt Kenseth is just one point back, and Denny Hamlin sits two points out.

Only one of them is making it to the final four Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway if Harvick wins, and the chances of Joe Gibbs Racing getting multiple cars into the championship took a hit on Sunday. The team dominated the regular season and had 50 percent of the drivers in this round of eight.

Once a threat to get all four cars into the finale, JGR is only guaranteed to be represented by Carl Edwards, who used a fast pit stop to win a rain-shortened race Sunday night at Texas. It was the least optimal outcome for JGR in terms of getting multiple cars into the finale.

Edwards, you see, was last in the playoff standings and that miracle win gave him an automatic berth. Although the rules show two spots still remaining and three JGR drivers hovering at the top of the standings, the threat of a Harvick win at Phoenix has burst JGR’s hopes.

So here’s the situation:

HARVICK FOR THE WIN: He’s an eight-time winner at Phoenix and has absolutely owned the place since the track was reconfigured in 2011. He’s also in a situation that Harvick handles quite well — he pretty much has to win or won’t make it to the finale for a third straight year.

Harvick is known as a macho driver brimming with confidence, and he didn’t seem concerned about his positioning headed into Phoenix. His warning? He’ll just go to Phoenix and do what he always does there.

JGR: The team had hoped to sweep the finale but can’t because Jimmie Johnson earned one of the spots with a win at Martinsville. Best case scenario is that the team gets two more cars into the final, but that will certainly come with hard internal feelings.

Busch, Kenseth and Hamlin will likely all be racing for themselves on Sunday and teamwork will be an afterthought.

It wouldn’t be a shock if JGR doesn’t get even one more car into the finale because anything can happen on Sunday.

LOGANO: He won at Talladega in the last round to stave off elimination, and he doesn’t need to win at Phoenix to make it to Homestead. He’s essentially racing the Gibbs cars and trying to finish higher than the three Toyotas so he can snatch a spot on points.

It’ll be a tough battle, but Logano likes sticking it to the team that let him go three years ago.

KURT BUSCH: He’s an afterthought right now after iffy performances in the last two races have him ranked last in the standings. He most certainly has to win at Phoenix to advance, and it’s a good track for Busch. He has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix and could pull off a miracle.

Should he get the win, it will come at the expense of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Harvick. Based on the standings, they both can’t make the final four.

NASCAR: Edwards wins rain-shortened Texas race for Chase finale spot

This gallery contains 2 photos.

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Carl Edwards got some vindication with a rain-shortened victory to earn a championship-contending spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup finale.

A year after his shot at the title came up five points short because of a rain-shortened race, Edwards got the victory he desperately needed this season by winning at Texas in a race cut by 41 laps because of rain after the start was delayed nearly six hours Sunday.

“This is huge. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. That’s all we said was needed, just a shot,” Edwards said. “Now we’re going to go to Homestead, we’re going to do what we need to do. This was a great test. We came here and did what we needed to do, we performed, and I really believe we can do that at Homestead.”

Edwards entered the second-to-last race before the Nov. 20 season finale eighth in points among the drivers still eligible for the championship.

With his fourth career win at Texas, Edwards joined points leader Jimmie Johnson as drivers locked into the championship-contending spots in Homestead. Edwards is seventh in points, but like Johnson advanced by winning.

Joey Logano finished second at Texas and is second in season points, with Kyle Busch third. Matt Kenseth is fourth, ahead of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, with Kurt Busch eighth. If one of those six drivers doesn’t win at Phoenix, the final two championship spots would be determined by points.

Last year’s race at Phoenix was delayed nearly seven hours as a series of storms passed through the area, and then once it started under the lights was called after 218 laps. Edwards finished fifth, leaving him five points out of the final spot for the Chase finale.

“This rain was a lot more welcome than that rain,” Edwards said. “That was frustrating.”

Edwards’ three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Kenseth — are among the six other drivers still in contention this season, and clearly not all of them can advance.

Light rain had already been falling at Texas, and plenty more was on the radar around the track, when the caution came out with 45 laps remaining of the originally scheduled 334-lap race.

All the cars were brought to pit road four laps later, and it was only a few more minutes before NASCAR declared the race over and official after 293 laps. It could have taken two hours or more to dry to track.

Edwards had taken the lead on lap 258 after beating Martin Truex Jr. off pit road, and led the rest of the way.

“The last pit stop, we had a little bit of an issue,” Truex said, without elaborating. “I guess all in all, happy with third.”

It was Edwards’ first win at Texas in eight years. He swept the two Cup races at the track in 2008, the season he had nine wins overall and finished second in season points. Three years later, Edwards was the season runner-up again even though he matched Tony Stewart for the most points. Stewart won the championship on a tiebreaker (his five wins to Edwards’ one).

Logano led a race-high 178 laps. Truex finished third and Chase Elliott fourth.

“When you’re that close to winning and you lead the most laps, second stings,” Logano said. “But ultimately we did gain some points. We’re in right now. We were out going into this race.”

Harvick got his track-record eighth win at Phoenix in March, and has won six of the last eight races there.

“We’ve done it I don’t know how many times,” Harvick said. “We’ll just go there and do what we always do and race as hard as we can.”

Some other things from Texas:

DRIVE FOR FIVE SHORT: Johnson had won the previous four fall races at Texas, but finished 11th after starting 19th.

TRAILING AFTER GREEN: Polesitter Austin Dillon led only the race’s first six laps, but didn’t lead a green-flag lap. He was passed by Logano for the lead on lap 7, the first lap after the green flag.

BIG BOBBLEHEAD: The first 30,000 fans were given Tony Stewart bobbleheads commemorating the retiring Sprint Cup driver’s final race at Texas. During driver introductions, track president Eddie Gossage presented Stewart with his own bobblehead — a life-sized replica with an oversized head.

HELD OUT: Matt DiBenedetto wasn’t allowed to drive because of NASCAR’s concussion protocol. He was involved in a hard crash in the Xfinity Series race Saturday, and wasn’t cleared by doctors to drive in the Cup race even though he said he felt “perfect” on Sunday.

LOUD POP: A tire specialist for Richard Childress Racing was treated and released from the infield care center after a tire just taken off Paul Menard’s car popped while being checked behind the wall.

UP NEXT: An elimination race Sunday at Phoenix. Assuming Harvick wins again, the playoff picture is realistically five drivers racing for the final slot in the finale.


AAA Texas 500

Sunday’s results at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (9) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 293 laps, 0 rating, 44 points.

2. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 293, 0, 41.

3. (12) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 293, 0, 39.

4. (11) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 38.

5. (24) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 293, 0, 37.

6. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 35.

7. (7) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 293, 0, 34.

8. (31) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 33.

9. (17) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 293, 0, 33.

10. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 31.

11. (19) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 30.

12. (8) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 293, 0, 29.

13. (16) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 0.

14. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 293, 0, 27.

15. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 26.

16. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 293, 0, 25.

17. (14) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 293, 0, 24.

18. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 292, 0, 23.

19. (15) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 292, 0, 22.

20. (10) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 292, 0, 21.

21. (30) Chris Buescher, Ford, 292, 0, 20.

22. (21) Aric Almirola, Ford, 292, 0, 19.

23. (28) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 291, 0, 18.

24. (22) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 291, 0, 17.

25. (27) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 291, 0, 16.

26. (32) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 291, 0, 15.

27. (29) Brian Scott, Ford, 291, 0, 14.

28. (6) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 290, 0, 13.

29. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 290, 0, 12.

30. (26) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 289, 0, 11.

31. (23) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 288, 0, 10.

32. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 287, 0, 9.

33. (36) David Ragan, Toyota, 287, 0, 9.

34. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 285, 0, 7.

35. (38) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 285, 0, 6.

36. (39) Joey Gase, Ford, 280, 0, 0.

37. (1) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 262, 0, 5.

38. (35) Ryan Ellis, Toyota, 261, 0, 0.

39. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, accident, 260, 0, 2.

40. (40) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, electrical, 257, 0, 1.


Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 137.274 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 16 minutes.

Margin of Victory: seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 37 laps.

Lead Changes: 12 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: A.Dillon 1-5; J.Logano 6-30; D.Ragan 31; J.Logano 32-74; A.Dillon 75; D.Hamlin 76; Ky.Busch 77-78; J.Logano 79-188; M.Truex 189-222; C.Elliott 223-224; M.Truex 225-256; C.Elliott 257; C.Edwards 258-293

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Logano, 3 times for 175 laps; M.Truex, 2 times for 64 laps; C.Edwards, 1 time for 35 laps; A.Dillon, 2 times for 4 laps; C.Elliott, 2 times for 1 lap; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 1 lap; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 0 laps; D.Ragan, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 4; K.Harvick, 4; J.Johnson, 4; B.Keselowski, 4; M.Truex, 4; C.Edwards, 3; D.Hamlin, 3; M.Kenseth, 2; J.Logano, 2; C.Buescher, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; T.Stewart, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. J.Johnson, 4074; 2. J.Logano, 4074; 3. Ky.Busch, 4074; 4. M.Kenseth, 4073; 5. D.Hamlin, 4072; 6. K.Harvick, 4056; 7. C.Edwards, 4049; 8. Ku.Busch, 4040; 9. M.Truex, 2265; 10. B.Keselowski, 2234; 11. C.Elliott, 2223; 12. K.Larson, 2209; 13. A.Dillon, 2192; 14. T.Stewart, 2166; 15. J.McMurray, 2165; 16. C.Buescher, 866.

NASCAR: Out of Chase, Dillon on pole for Sprint Cup race in Texas

This gallery contains 1 photo.

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Austin Dillon is on the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas two weeks after a heartbreaking finish knocked him out of the championship chase.

“We missed the Chase by just 2 feet. We want to prove that we can win a race by the end of this year,” Dillon said.

Dillon had a fast lap of 192.301 mph in the final round of qualifying Friday to earn his third career pole.

Joey Logano qualified second, and will be the highest starter Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 of the eight drivers still eligible for the season championship. His best lap in the final session was 192.269 mph.

The other Chase contenders to qualify in the top 10 were Kevin Harvick (third), Matt Kenseth (seventh), Carl Edwards (ninth) and Kurt Busch (10th). Denny Hamlin starts 17th.

Jimmie Johnson is the only driver locked into one of the four spots for title-deciding race at Homestead in two weeks. He has also won the last four fall races at 1 1/2-mile, high-banked Texas track, but qualified 19th on Friday.

Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch had the second-fastest time in the first round of qualifying while in a backup car after wrecking on the first lap of practice earlier in the day. But he will start 24th, the lowest of the Chase contenders, after never taking the lap for the second round of qualifying because of a water leak on pit road.

Adam Stevens, crew chief for the No. 18, said the issue was an aftereffect of the earlier wreck with a radiator hose not getting properly clamped down after an engine switch.

When Hamlin had a frantic ending to finish third at Talladega to end the second round of the playoffs, he tied Dillon for the eighth in season points. Hamlin had the tiebreaker to get the final spot in the round of eight.

Dillon said just being in the Chase this season helped the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team.

“I felt like together as a team, our team is very strong. We’ve just been missing here and there,” he said. “It is going to be good to have another year with this group of guys to see what we can do next year.”

Logano, who is currently fifth in points, qualified on the front row for the second consecutive weekend. It is also the second race in a row at Texas he will start second — he finished third in the April race.

“We are mad about second and that is when you know your team is in a good spot,” Logano said. “We are starting close to the front. That is just too many seconds. Second always stings and we were second here in the spring and here we are again and last week as well.”


FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Johnny Sauter is still alone in qualifying for the title-deciding race in the first Chase in the NASCAR Truck Series.

Sauter won his second consecutive playoff race Friday night with a late pass of Chase contender Matt Crafton, getting a victory at Texas that prevented anyone else from clinching a spot to contend for the championship in the finale at Homestead in two weeks.

“This is amazing,” Sauter said after climbing out of the No. 21 Chevrolet in Victory Lane. “I feel very lucky to be here. … Matt was content to keep running the bottom, so I’m going to the top.”

Just before reaching the line with two laps remaining, Sauter went high and passed Crafton for the lead.

There were only three yellow flags in the 147-lap race, each after the caution clock had expired. Crafton took the lead after the final restart.

But just like at Texas in June, Crafton got passed on the high side late and finished second. Rookie driver William Byron, another Chase contender, beat him five months ago after his winning pass with five laps remaining.

“It is what it is,” Crafton said. “I’m not worried about the Chase. I’m worried about winning races. The Chase will take care of itself.”

It was Sauter’s third win this season. He won the opener at Daytona and last week at Martinsville to earn the first of four spots available for a chance to win the inaugural Chase championship for trucks.

With only next week’s race at Phoenix before the finale at Homestead, there are still three spots up for grab.

The next four drivers after Sauter in the points — Bryon, Christopher Bell, Crafton and Timothy Peters — are separated by only five points. Ben Kennedy is the sixth driver still in Chase contention.

If Sauter or a non-Chase contender win at Phoenix, the final three spots would be determined by points.

Polesitter Spencer Gallagher, who led three times for 88 laps, was in front with the final caution came out. But he dropped six spots on pit race and restarted seventh on the restart with 18 laps to go, when Sauter and Crafton got out front.

The only 15 laps Sauter led were those right after the final caution. Sauter led twice for only six laps.

“I was able to throw caution to the wind,” Sauter said.

Sauter did offer one apology after the race. That was to the fans for not doing a customary extended burnout on the frontstretch of the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track.

“I know that was lame,” he said. “I’ve got to have this truck for Homestead.”

NASCAR: Johnson wins Martinsville to gain spot in NASCAR’s finale

This gallery contains 2 photos.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — There was a time this summer when a seventh championship seemed out of reach for Jimmie Johnson.

Hendrick Motorsports was struggling and Johnson wasn’t at the top of many lists to contend for the title.

Then the Hendrick organization flipped a switch, built better, faster cars, and Johnson turned it up a notch. Now, that slot in NASCAR’s record books is absolutely within reach.

Johnson earned one of four spots in next month’s title-deciding season finale Sunday with his ninth career victory at Martinsville Speedway . The six-time NASCAR champion will race for his seventh championship, which would tie him for the record with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

“I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven, and now I can’t,” said Johnson, who doesn’t particularly want to start thinking about the stakes just yet.

“I’ll probably lie to all of you guys and say I’m not going to think about it at all. But it’s inevitable. Fortunately, I don’t have to think about it for three weeks. But we’re going to enjoy this and savor it. We’re going to get our ducks in a row for Homestead.”

The victory blocked Joe Gibbs Racing from placing all four of Toyota drivers in the final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup title . There are only three spots still open in the Nov. 20 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and JGR’s hope of sweeping the final four ended Sunday.

Most likely to miss the final? Carl Edwards, who had a tire problem and finished 36th at Martinsville — lowest of the eight Chase drivers. Also in trouble: Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who finished 20th and 22nd.

Brad Keselowski, eliminated from the Chase last week , finished second and was irritated by a lengthy caution earlier in the race when NASCAR struggled to figure out the running order. Had those laps not been wasted under yellow, Keselowski absolutely believed he could have beat Johnson.

“We don’t need to run 100 laps under yellow with the field, not trying to figure out where they’re at, and it probably cost us the race,” Keselowski said.

The caution took 29 laps, and left some grumbling the order still wasn’t correct when the race restarted.

“I think the stakes are so high, I really wish we would have red flagged the race, gone, reviewed it and gotten it right,” said third-place finisher Denny Hamlin. “There’s a 100 percent chance it was not right at the end. It changed the running order.

“Hopefully, that doesn’t change what happens going into Homestead. I know that NASCAR is doing everything they can with the scoring they have and things like that. But you have to get it right. It definitely was not right.”

JGR finished third, fourth and fifth as Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are inside the top-four as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway. But all was not well in the Gibbs camp after the race.

Busch felt Hamlin — finished the highest by holding up Kenseth and Busch in the waning laps. Although the teammates worked well together on restarts, Busch felt that Hamlin not getting out of the way allowed Johnson to win and Keselowski to finish second.

“We work so good together that we just gave the win to (Johnson). So, JGR all the way,” Busch said. “At the end, you had the slowest Gibbs car holding up the rest of the line, and all we did was let somebody else from another organization pass us and go up there and chase down (Johnson).”

Hamlin disputed Busch’s view.

“I may have held those guys up for a little bit of that final run, but definitely don’t think I was holding anyone up at the end, for sure,” Hamlin said.

Jeff Gordon finished sixth in his final scheduled race as the replacement driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. It is presumably the final race of Gordon’s career. He retired last season, but was pressed into eight races when Earnhardt suffered a concussion.

Martin Truex Jr. finished seventh and was followed by Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano, winner last week at Talladega but now the first driver below the cutline in the Chase.

It was an unusually fast race for Martinsville standards, and the five cautions were the fewest since April of 1989.

SCARY SCENE: Track officials said 22 pedestrians were struck by a motorist in a parking lot outside the speedway after the race.

A track official said there were no life-threatening injuries, although seven were transported to Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, Virginia, and two more were transported to Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden.

One person was taken into custody after the incident for questioning.

JOHNSON VS. HAMLIN: There was mid-race aggression between Johnson and Hamlin , as Hamlin moved Johnson out of his way for a pass for position.

“He thinks he’s a (expletive) king, doesn’t do anything wrong,” Hamlin radioed.

Johnson didn’t understand Hamlin’s lack of patience, and Hamlin said it stems from incidents in the first two rounds of the Chase.

DEHYDRATED DRIVERS: It was the warmest fall race at Martinsville since 1999 and temperatures in the mid-80s caused overheating for at least two drivers.

AJ Allmendinger and Michael McDowell had to be treated for dehydration after the race, and both were released from the care center.

Michael Annett also was treated after the race, but NASCAR did not disclose his symptoms.

UP NEXT: A Sunday stop at Texas Motor Speedway, where Johnson has won the last four November races.

Goody’s Fast Relief 500

Sunday’s results from the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (3) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500 laps, 115.7 rating, 44 points.

2. (19) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500, 105.3, 39.

3. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500, 111.6, 39.

4. (17) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 500, 129.7, 39.

5. (9) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500, 122.1, 37.

6. (10) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 500, 100.7, 35.

7. (1) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 500, 119.1, 35.

8. (14) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500, 92.9, 33.

9. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 500, 104.2, 33.

10. (4) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500, 102.7, 32.

11. (22) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 499, 79.3, 30.

12. (5) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 499, 82.1, 29.

13. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 499, 68.6, 28.

14. (11) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 499, 89.4, 28.

15. (16) Aric Almirola, Ford, 499, 71.7, 26.

16. (13) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 499, 81.7, 25.

17. (32) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 499, 78.8, 24.

18. (30) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 498, 58.0, 23.

19. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 498, 64.8, 22.

20. (20) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 498, 76.0, 21.

21. (26) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 497, 69.7, 20.

22. (23) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 497, 65.7, 19.

23. (31) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 497, 52.5, 18.

24. (24) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 497, 53.2, 17.

25. (18) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 496, 55.5, 16.

26. (6) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 496, 55.7, 15.

27. (29) Chris Buescher, Ford, 495, 46.2, 14.

28. (28) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 495, 57.8, 13.

29. (33) Landon Cassill, Ford, 494, 46.4, 12.

30. (21) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 494, 45.4, 12.

31. (37) Dylan Lupton, Toyota, 490, 32.0, 0.

32. (27) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 489, 41.2, 9.

33. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 486, 28.5, 8.

34. (35) Brian Scott, Ford, 484, 35.8, 7.

35. (40) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 479, 32.5, 6.

36. (7) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 477, 64.0, 5.

37. (12) David Ragan, Toyota, 424, 43.1, 4.

38. (34) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 407, 31.5, 3.

39. (36) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, reargear, 360, 27.8, 2.

40. (39) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, accident, 21, 24.0, 1.


Race Statstics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 78.537 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 20 minutes, 55 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.291 seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 54 laps.

Lead Changes: 15 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M.Truex 1-24; J.Logano 25-45; M.Truex 46-62; R.Smith 63-64; M.Truex 65-73; K.Larson 74-79; M.Truex 80-110; Ky.Busch 111-113; M.Truex 114-150; M.Kenseth 151; M.Truex 152-180; M.Kenseth 181-355; D.Hamlin 356; A.Allmendinger 357-361; D.Hamlin 362-408; J.Johnson 409-500

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): M.Kenseth, 2 times for 174 laps; M.Truex, 6 times for 141 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 91 laps; D.Hamlin, 2 times for 46 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 20 laps; K.Larson, 1 time for 5 laps; A.Allmendinger, 1 time for 4 laps; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 2 laps; R.Smith, 1 time for 1 lap.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 4; K.Harvick, 4; J.Johnson, 4; B.Keselowski, 4; M.Truex, 4; D.Hamlin, 3; C.Edwards, 2; M.Kenseth, 2; J.Logano, 2; C.Buescher, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; T.Stewart, 1.

Top 16 in Points: J. Johnson, 4,044; D. Hamlin, 4,039; M. Kenseth, 4,039; Kyle Busch, 4,037; J. Logano, 4,033; K. Harvick, 4,021; Kurt Busch, 4,019; C. Edwards, 4,005; M. Truex Jr, 2,226; B. Keselowski, 2,207; A. Dillon, 2,187; C. Elliott, 2,185; K. Larson, 2,183; T. Stewart, 2,156; J. McMurray, 2,143; C. Buescher, 2,123.


Half of NASCAR’s Chase final four decided

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —-   Welcome to NASCAR’s round of the foregone conclusion. Or maybe this time, specious speculation. The statistics are convincing.

Among the supposed certainties in this final three-race segment of the Chase for the Sprint Cup is that on Nov. 6, six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will win at Texas Motor Speedway to automatically advance to the Homestead-Miami Speedway final for the first time since this version of the playoffs debuted in 2014. And one week later, on cue, 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick should claim victory at Phoenix International Raceway to secure a spot in the four-driver championship for the third consecutive year.

Johnson has won six times (including five of the last eight) at the 1.5-mile Texas oval. He is a statistical probability to do so again. And Harvick has been even more imperious at the 1-mile Phoenix oval with eight wins, including six in eight races.

If Johnson and Harvick are predictable, then the opener of the round Sunday at half-mile Martinsville Speedway becomes incredibly important. In a playoff format that emphasizes meddlesome variables – track oddities (Talladega Superspeedway), season-ending parts failures (Martin Truex Jr.), ridiculousness (hot dog wrappers on Brad Keselowski’s grille) — and acrimony (Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano last season at Martinsville), then the old track in the Virginia hills would seemingly present the only result etched in pencil this round.

Certainly, there are likely candidates to win the coveted grandfather clock. Johnson is the active leader with eight wins at the .526-mile paper-clip-shaped track, but has been kept out of victory lane since 2013. There’s Virginian Denny Hamlin, who was bolstered emotionally after earning the final third-round advancement spot on a tie-breaker after finishing third at Talladega last week. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won at Martinsville five times, most recently in the spring of 2015. Five drivers still title-eligible have won at Martinsville since 2011.

And then there’s Jeff Gordon, substituting for the last time this season for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet. He has won there nine times, including last season when he assumed the lead after Logano was shunted off by the vengeful, lapped Kenseth. The four-time series champion would make everyone forget about the championship for a while Sunday if he were to win there again.

The 45-year-old leads all active drivers in wins, top fives (29), top 10s (37) and average finish (6.8) in 46 starts.

It would not be surprising if Sunday was about Gordon – who officially retired last season and now is probably making his final start – but the rest of this round will be about Johnson and Harvick, no matter what they do at Texas and Phoenix, respectively. That’s because this round represents the first time that two forces of performance and reputation tussle for the same space in this modern Chase.

Johnson was the irresistible force of the previous iterations, pre-eliminations, winning five consecutive titles beginning in 2006 and another in 2013 with devastating drives through the late autumn. He has 18 wins and an average finish of 7.9 combined at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.

Harvick has been the survivalist of the elimination format, summoning imperative victories at dramatic moments to capture his first crown and finish second last season. He has nine wins and an average finish of 12.8 combined at the tracks in this round.

Next best? Hamlin, at eight and 10.9.

Maybe this round is almost figured out already. But we’re too skeptical for that, right?

NASCAR limits number of lower tier races for veterans

This gallery contains 1 photo.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch has been to victory lane 15 times this season. Only four of the trips were in his Sprint Cup car.

Those other 11 wins came in NASCAR’s two lower-tier national series, much to the chagrin of die-hard race fans who believe the Xfinity and Truck Series should be for newcomers and development drivers.

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced a limit beginning next season for how many times veteran Cup drivers can moonlight at the lower level. A Cup driver with more than five years full-time experience will be restricted to 10 races in the Xfinity Series and seven races in the Truck Series.

Veterans will also be prohibited from competing in the regular-season finale and all Chase races. And in the Xfinity Series, veterans will not be allowed to race in the four Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus events.

“The updated guidelines will elevate the stature of our future stars, while also providing them the opportunity to compete against the best in professional motorsports,” NASCAR senior vice president Jim Cassidy said. “These updated guidelines are the result of a collaborative effort involving the entire industry, and will ultimately better showcase the emerging stars of NASCAR.”

Busch for years has dominated the Xfinity and Truck Series via participation either with Joe Gibbs Racing or his own Kyle Busch Motorsports. Most owners use Cup stars in some capacity to sell sponsorships that help support their teams. Team Penske often uses Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano in Xfinity races to help develop personnel. JR Motorsports has fielded a star car as a way to bring in enough revenue to complement its full-time Xfinity team.

But fans have grown weary of Cup drivers dominating. Cup drivers have won 18 of 30 Xfinity Series races this year, and three of 19 Truck races.

Many younger drivers took to Twitter to comment on the new rule, including Chase Elliott, a rookie in the Cup Series and former Xfinity Series champion.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to race those guys as often as I could,” he wrote . “You’d race ’em anyway at some point if you move on. Makes you better.”


The first task for Joe Gibbs Racing was to get all four of its cars into the third round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

Now the real job becomes a balance on maintaining harmony in the Toyota camp as all four drivers compete for a slot in NASCAR’s championship-deciding race. Four drivers will race for the title next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and odds are highly against JGR getting all four slots.

Reigning NASCAR champion Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth claimed four of the eight spots in the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

The final four will be decided at the next three races, at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. Gibbs believes this round is more about winning and less dependent on strategy and teamwork.

“Everybody’s geared up. You’re going to have to try and win a race,” the team owner said. “Everybody is going to be going for a win and that’s what you’re going to see from here on out.”

Three of the Gibbs drivers laid back last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway and simply turned laps in a successful effort to coast into the next round. Only Hamlin had to actually race, and he squeezed through on a tiebreaker.

Hamlin preferred racing with everything on the line, and Gibbs believes his drivers would prefer to go for broke rather than race for points.

“I think really guys would rather be in the situation where they feel like they’ve got to go win,” Gibbs said. “I think the drivers kind of all feel that way.”


It’s been yearlong celebration at Team Penske of Roger Penske’s 50th season in auto racing. This banner year has already been highlighted by an IndyCar Series title, and the organization has a chance to make it a clean sweep.

Joey Logano won at Talladega Superspeedway to advance into the third round of NASCAR’s playoffs, giving Penske a shot at a second Cup title.

A blown engine for Brad Keselowski at Talladega left Penske with only Logano still in the hunt.

“The good news is you don’t have four people that you’re trying to work with going into the Chase,” Penske said. “We can put all our efforts on one car, Joey. Of course, Brad is one of the biggest supporters on the team for Joey. I think that will pay dividends for us.”


As of: Oct. 27
Rank Driver

Wins: 4
Top 5: 15
Top 10: 24
PV Rank





Wins: 4
Top 5: 14
Top 10: 21

Wins: 3
Top 5: 11
Top 10: 18

Wins: 3
Top 5: 9
Top 10: 14

Wins: 2
Top 5: 7
Top 10: 16

Wins: 2
Top 5: 13
Top 10: 22

Wins: 2
Top 5: 8
Top 10: 17

Wins: 1
Top 5: 8
Top 10: 20

Wins: 4
Top 5: 7
Top 10: 15

Wins: 4
Top 5: 15
Top 10: 21

Wins: 0
Top 5: 4
Top 10: 13

Wins: 0
Top 5: 9
Top 10: 15

Wins: 1
Top 5: 8
Top 10: 13

Wins: 1
Top 5: 5
Top 10: 8

Wins: 0
Top 5: 1
Top 10: 10

Wins: 1
Top 5: 2
Top 10: 2

Wins: 0
Top 5: 3
Top 10: 12

Wins: 0
Top 5: 2
Top 10: 9

Wins: 0
Top 5: 4
Top 10: 6

Wins: 0
Top 5: 3
Top 10: 8

Wins: 0
Top 5: 2
Top 10: 5

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 2

Wins: 0
Top 5: 1
Top 10: 3

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 1

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 3

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 5
Top 10: 6

Wins: 0
Top 5: 1
Top 10: 1

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 1

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 1
Top 10: 2

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 1

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 1

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 1

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

Wins: 0
Top 5: 0
Top 10: 0

NASCAR Chase rankings: Who will make the championship race at Homestead

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)     —-     As NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup shifts to Round 3, USA TODAY Sports’ ranks the remaining eight drivers and their chances of making it to the four-driver final at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

1. Jimmie Johnson: The six-time series champion has won eight times at Martinsville Speedway (most recently in 2013), six times at Texas Motor Speedway (including four in a row in the fall race) and four times at Phoenix International Raceway (last in 2009), but this Jimmie-proofed Chase cannot contain the Hendrick Motorsports driver now that he’s finally made the third round. He’s simply too solid on the impending raft of tracks not to earn a win or enough points to slot himself into the championship race.

2. Kevin Harvick: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the 2014 champion has never failed to reach the final in this version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With Phoenix as a fire wall (six wins in his last eight at the one-mile oval) he doesn’t figure to miss out this time, either.

story from Nest

Step inside a burning building in virtual reality.

3. Denny Hamlin: The top-rated Joe Gibbs Racing driver with a pulsating asterisk. If the Virginia native can win for the sixth time at Martinsville, Va., this week, his heart will swell and he will power into Homestead. If not, the light goes out.

4. Kyle Busch: It’s been a relatively sedate title defense for Busch, even with a co-series-leading four wins. And that makes the JGR driver a sneaky pick to meander through the round for a chance to become the first to repeat in this unforgiving tournament where the larger body of work is meaningless.

5. Joey Logano: He was going to win at Martinsville last year but then Matt Kenseth happened — slamming into Logano in retaliation for an incident at Kansas Speedway. Apparently nemesis-less entering the final elimination round, the winner at Talladega is perhaps positioned better than when he swept the middle round last season but dragged baggage full of acrimony with him. The Team Penske driver is ready to pounce if Hamlin falters.

6. Matt Kenseth: Reeling off good finishes — the JGR Talladega draft-to-safety plan notwithstanding — but not indicating he’s ready to produce the win or big finish needed to squeeze into the final four. Little ‘f’, little ‘f’.

7. Carl Edwards: He was within .010 of beating Harvick at Phoenix this spring. So there’s a chance for Gibbs fourth hopeful.

8. Kurt Busch: Advanced to the third round with another resilient segment. Unless the speed to threaten for a win appears, though, the end is nigh.


NASCAR: JGR’s Talladega strategy was perfect for playoffs

This gallery contains 1 photo.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — When Sweden beat the U.S. women’s soccer team during the Olympics by using a conservative strategy, goalie Hope Solo was lambasted for calling the winners “a bunch of cowards.”

NASCAR fans seemed to have adopted Solo’s attitude in response to Joe Gibbs Racing’s strategy Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. The team has four drivers and three were guaranteed a spot in the third round of the playoffs if they simply stayed out of trouble at Talladega.

So they lollygagged at the back of the pack.

All day.

Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth raced with a purpose, but it wasn’t to win the race. Their goal was to finish the race and move on to see another day in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

A vocal faction of fans seems outraged at the JGR strategy, even though it worked to perfection. Not only did Busch, Edwards and Kenseth advance in the Chase, but so did Denny Hamlin, who was forced to race as a one-man team because of the organizational plan.

Hamlin just about needed a miracle to avoid elimination, and with his teammates offering no assistance in his bid to win the race, he had to find rival drivers to work with on Sunday. Hamlin wound up third, beating Kurt Busch for the position and the one point it was worth, by 0.006 seconds. That result tied him in the standings with Austin Dillon, and Hamlin got the last berth in the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

There are eight cars left in the Chase field. Four of them come from JGR . For that, the team should be commended.

Instead, fans are griping that they prefer to see drivers race and not ride around the back of the pack.

To that, Kyle Busch had a simple answer on Monday.

“Don’t hate the player… Hate the game,” Busch posted on Twitter.

Kenseth finished 28th on Sunday, Edwards 29th and Busch was 30th. All were satisfied with the result, although they didn’t really love executing the plan. Busch found the strategy to be dull and not very motivating, but it accomplished what he needed.

Two years ago, Busch went to Talladega in decent shape to advance in the Chase. He was involved in a wreck and eliminated from the playoffs.

“There’s no reward to go race and get wrecked,” Busch said. “You’ve got to try to survive and do what you can.”

Kenseth seemed to acknowledge the potential for disappointed fans, but rationalized it by pointing out what was at stake. Kenseth was eliminated from the Chase at Talladega last year.

“It goes against everything you ever want to do as a race car driver,” Kenseth said. “You can’t afford to go up there and get wrecked and not have a chance to race for a championship. I don’t think any of us had any fun and none of us enjoyed it, but it was just what we had to do.”

Those upset with the way JGR raced likely fall into two camps. There are the people who just don’t like the team, whether it’s because Gibbs uses Toyotas or because the organization has 11 wins this year. And there are the fans of the individual drivers who dawdled at the back of the pack at Talladega, and they wanted to see their favorites compete for the win.

The first group is common in sports. People don’t like the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or the Patriots, or the Cowboys. They’ll find fault in anything those teams do. In the case of Gibbs, the domination over the last two years has rubbed people wrong, and there are some who just don’t like that they drive for a Japanese automaker.

But you can’t fault the team for figuring out how to work as, ahem, a team, and accomplish big-picture tasks. Remember, JGR worked flawlessly together along with Martin Truex Jr. at the Daytona 500, where Hamlin won and Toyota drivers took four of the top five spots.

Some have argued that JGR at Talladega violated the NASCAR rule that all drivers give 100 percent during a race. False. JGR gave 100 percent in determination, patience and strategy in racing for the bigger picture.

That’s why fans of the individual drivers should also take a step back and appreciate what the organization accomplished. Sure, they wanted to see their drivers mixing it up at the front and trying to win the race. But with that came a risk of accident, or overheated engine (see: Truex or Brad Keselowski ), and that would have ruined the rest of the season.

JGR was brilliant at Talladega, where they took the system at its face, worked within the rules and claimed 50 percent of the playoff positions. That’s a good day.

NASCAR: Logano wins Talladega to advance in NASCAR’s playoffs

This gallery contains 2 photos.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — When an engine failure knocked title favorite Martin Truex Jr. from NASCAR’s playoffs, the rest of the top contenders got a little bit of breathing room.

Then Brad Keselowski suffered the same cruel elimination when his engine failed Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

There was suddenly a wide-open competition to earn the final transfer spots into the third round of the Chase, and Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon raced a tense final two laps in overtime to fill the bracket. With each pushing for every last point, it was Hamlin who advanced into the round of eight on a tiebreaker over Dillon.

Joey Logano won at Talladega Superspeedway, and Hamlin edged Kurt Busch by .006 seconds for third place and the one point he needed to tie Dillon in the standings.

Dillon was ninth, but lost the right to move into the next round based on average finish over the last three races.

Hamlin had told his Joe Gibbs Racing team not to give him points updates, and that lack of knowledge forced him to scramble through the final turn as he was undecided on how aggressive he needed to be.

“I wasn’t sure whether I needed to finish third,” he said. “I told them I didn’t want points updates. But that’s almost when I probably should have got one to figure out what I was going to do. (Dillon) is in the middle of the pack. He’s fighting and getting positions. He could change two positions in the last hundred yards.

“So you can’t really predict it. I knew I just had to try to finish as good as I could.”

With Truex and Keselowski out of the playoffs before the checkered flag, the suspense came down to final finishing order. Logano was not in a must-win situation, but the victory sure didn’t hurt.

Dillon, on a frantic dash over two overtime laps to gain as many spots as possible, called the outcome “heartbreaking.”

“It sure stinks to lose it on a tiebreaker,” Dillon said.

Also eliminated Sunday was Chase Elliott. Advancing are: Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Logano and Hamlin. There are four Toyotas remaining in the field, all from Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart-Haas Racing has Kurt Busch and Harvick — but the two had a heated exchange after the race over alleged contact on the last lap — while Hendrick Motorsports has Johnson for three Chevrolets in the field. Logano is the only Ford driver.

“Feels good to win on a clutch moment like that with the pressure on,” Logano said. “I think we ran like a champ.”

The race was stark difference from the spring stop in Alabama, when 35 cars were involved in at least one accident and two cars went airborne . And last year, it appeared that Kevin Harvick intentionally caused an accident on an overtime restart to help his championship chances.

But for mile after mile Sunday, the drivers behaved.

The only glitches came in a harried sequence early in the race in which three championship contenders had uncharacteristic gaffes within minutes of each other. First Logano left pit road with a jack wedged under his Ford, and he had to return to pit road to have it removed. Then Hamlin was flagged for speeding, then Truex lost an engine .

Keselowski’s engine went with 43 laps remaining after he’d battled climbing temperatures on his car because of debris on his front grille.

“It is unfortunate for Brad,” Logano said. “It happens as a leader picking some (debris up). We picked it up just not as much.”

Keselowski was dominant for a huge chunk of the race, even as he battled climbing temperatures on his Ford. Then, with 43 laps remaining, his engine blew and Keselowski was sent to the garage.

Kasey Kahne spun with six laps remaining to bring out the caution for a heart-pounding final restart.

The caution had terrible timing for Hamlin, and was a gift for Dillon. Hamlin was trying to hold off Dillon for the last transfer position and the Kahne spin gave Dillon another chance to gain points that would keep him in contention and bump Hamlin from the playoffs.

The restart was with three laps remaining.

The push was intense for a lap, then a spin by Alex Bowman brought out the caution for an overtime finish.

Over the team radio, Dillon was told to concentrate.

“Focus forward, man. Focus forward on what we’ve gotta do. That’s what matters, OK?” Dillon was told by a team member.

Dillon gained two spots in overtime, but it wasn’t enough to pass Hamlin in the standings.

TREUX MAKES EARLY EXIT: His engine failure ended his title chances — one round after he’d moved to the top of the list of favorites.

Truex won a pair of races in the opening round of the Chase, and was above the elimination line Sunday and only needed a decent day to advance into the third round. He appeared to be in good shape after winning the pole — overcoming a qualifying day distraction when his team had trouble in inspection — but the engine blowing on his Toyota sent him to a last-place finish.

“We had a team capable of competing for the championship, and unfortunately we’re not going to be able to show that,” he said.

KESELOWSKI ELIMINATED: Faced with a must-win situation at Talladega two years ago, Keselowski stepped up and grabbed a monumental victory.

He was certain he could do the same on Sunday and after leading 90 laps, Keselowski was definitely in play for the win.

When his engine failed, his championship chances were done .

“A lot of fun to be leading at Talladega,” he said. “We were doing the best we could to have some fun and lead some laps.”

OH WHAT A FEELING: Toyota celebrated its 1,000th race at the Cup level by advancing a manufacturer-high four cars into the round of eight.

All four Joe Gibbs Racing entries moved into the third round, with Truex’s blown engine the only hiccup on the day.

Having four drivers, from the same team, still in the playoffs led winning car owner Roger Penske to poke the Toyota camp on the stakes.

“They’ve got more to lose than I do, I guess,” Penske said. “They’ve got four.”

UP NEXT: The opening race of the third round of the Chase on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Logano swept the second round last year and seemed headed to the win at Martinsville until he was intentionally wrecked as payback by Matt Kenseth. The feud between the two ultimately cost Logano a spot in the championship round.




Sunday’s results from the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (16) Joey Logano, Ford, 192 laps, 0 rating, 44 points.

2. (25) Brian Scott, Ford, 192, 0, 39.

3. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 192, 0, 39.

4. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 37.

5. (6) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 192, 0, 37.

6. (24) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 35.

7. (22) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 34.

8. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 192, 0, 33.

9. (9) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 33.

10. (32) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 31.

11. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 192, 0, 31.

12. (4) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 30.

13. (10) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 28.

14. (20) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 27.

15. (5) Greg Biffle, Ford, 192, 0, 27.

16. (34) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 25.

17. (11) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 192, 0, 24.

18. (36) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 23.

19. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 22.

20. (30) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 21.

21. (31) Landon Cassill, Ford, 192, 0, 20.

22. (33) Chris Buescher, Ford, 192, 0, 19.

23. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 18.

24. (40) David Ragan, Toyota, 192, 0, 17.

25. (29) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 16.

26. (18) Ryan Reed, Ford, 192, 0, 0.

27. (35) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 192, 0, 14.

28. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 192, 0, 14.

29. (13) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 192, 0, 13.

30. (14) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 192, 0, 12.

31. (38) Bobby Labonte, Ford, 192, 0, 10.

32. (21) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 10.

33. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 192, 0, 9.

34. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 192, 0, 7.

35. (27) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 6.

36. (19) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 0.

37. (12) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 179, 0, 4.

38. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, engine, 144, 0, 5.

39. (28) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, accident, 113, 0, 2.

40. (1) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, engine, 41, 0, 2.


Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 159.907 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 11 minutes, 38 seconds.

Margin of Victory: seconds.

Caution Flags: 6 for 25 laps.

Lead Changes: 31 among 14 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M.Truex 0; B.Keselowski 1-11; M.Truex 12-13; B.Keselowski 14-25; C.Elliott 26-27; B.Keselowski 28; C.Elliott 29-31; B.Keselowski 32-37; D.Hamlin 38; M.Kenseth 39; Ky.Busch 40; B.Keselowski 41; R.Stenhouse 42-47; B.Keselowski 48-62; C.Elliott 63; G.Biffle 64-76; C.Elliott 77-78; B.Keselowski 79; C.Elliott 80; D.Hamlin 81; C.Edwards 82; M.Annett 83-88; B.Keselowski 89-110; R.Blaney 111; D.Hamlin 112-116; A.Dillon 117; D.Hamlin 118-122; B.Keselowski 123-143; R.Blaney 144-145; T.Stewart 146; Ky.Busch 147; J.Logano 148-192

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): B.Keselowski, 9 times for 81 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 44 laps; G.Biffle, 1 time for 12 laps; D.Hamlin, 4 times for 8 laps; M.Annett, 1 time for 5 laps; R.Stenhouse, 1 time for 5 laps; C.Elliott, 5 times for 4 laps; R.Blaney, 2 times for 1 lap; M.Truex, 2 times for 1 lap; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 0 laps; A.Dillon, 1 time for 0 laps; C.Edwards, 1 time for 0 laps; M.Kenseth, 1 time for 0 laps; T.Stewart, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 4; K.Harvick, 4; B.Keselowski, 4; M.Truex, 4; D.Hamlin, 3; J.Johnson, 3; C.Edwards, 2; M.Kenseth, 2; C.Buescher, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; T.Stewart, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. J.Logano, 4000; 2. J.Johnson, 4000; 3. K.Harvick, 4000; 4. M.Kenseth, 4000; 5. C.Edwards, 4000; 6. D.Hamlin, 4000; 7. Ku.Busch, 4000; 8. Ky.Busch, 4000; 4. 9. M.Truex, 2191; 10. B.Keselowski, 2168; 11. A.Dillon, 2163; 12. C.Elliott, 2156; 13. K.Larson, 2155; 14. T.Stewart, 2141; 15. J.McMurray, 2110; 16. C.Buescher, 2190.

NASCAR: Truex wins pole after bolt from confiscated at Talladega

This gallery contains 1 photo.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. showed up at Talladega Superspeedway determined to be at the front of the field and in control of his chances in NASCAR’s playoffs.

A pole-winning run Saturday put him at the top of the field for the critical elimination race.

Truex turned a lap of 193.423 mph to earn the top starting spot Sunday. The run came after NASCAR confiscated a bolt from his Toyota, but Truex said he was not worried about ramifications to his Furniture Row Racing team.

“The jack bolt issue is really not a big issue,” Truex said. “They just took the left front, so it’s not a big issue. It was a parts manufacturing issue, no big deal at all.”

Winner of two races in the first round of the Chase, Truex is winless in round two but above the cutoff point. Four drivers will be cut from the field on Sunday.

“All we have to do is make it through to the next one,” he said. “We’ve got some good tracks coming up for us and (Sunday) is going to be a tough race. A lot is going to happen, but we just have to hope for the best and do the best job we can do.

“I feel good about my car and it’s got a lot of speed in it, obviously.”

The inspection issue with Truex provided a little early drama on qualifying day, as there was some speculation the team could face a penalty. NASCAR typically issues penalties in the middle of the week, and a point deduction could in theory knock Truex out of the Chase.

However, NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller said a points penalty is unlikely, and that Truex had no competitive advantage. The bolt taken could have been considered a safety issue, though.

“I would say it would be unlikely but it has to go through our process,” he said. “We don’t typically do that on a weekend. Because it is the playoffs, everyone has a heightened sense of everything. This is no different than things we have done all year, and we will treat this one like we do all year long.”

Miller was unsure if NASCAR would accelerate its review process to determine if a penalty will be issued before the race.

“We don’t have any precedent for doing that,” Miller said. “We will be circling up and trying to figure out the best way to proceed from this moment forward until (Sunday’s) race.”

Brad Keselowski, in nearly a must-win situation on Sunday, qualified second. He won the knockout race in 2014 to stave off elimination, and said his best starting position at Talladega bodes well for him.

“I feel like qualifying well is certainly a very strong omen for Talladega and Daytona,” he said. “I think all of the races I’ve won here, we’ve had good starts and the races that we haven’t won or been super-competitive we usually don’t have any speed in qualifying, so it’s certainly a confidence-builder.

“It’s not a guarantee by any means, but a confidence-builder that you carry into this weekend and carry into (the) race.”

Keselowski won at Talladega in May and at Daytona in July.

Matt Kenseth qualified third and was followed by Chase Elliott, who is also in a must-win situation on Sunday.

Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were fifth and sixth and Roush-Fenway Racing put three of its cars into the final round of qualifying as Trevor Bayne was 11th.

Rounding out the top 12 were Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Reed Sorenson was 12th. It was a huge drop-off for Sorenson, who was the fastest car in the first round of qualifying.

Hamlin is also facing a must-win situation, and said he prefers that to points racing all day at Talladega.

“I’m actually trying to lead every lap,” he said. “That’s all I can do is try to go out there and lead every single lap possible and put ourselves in position at the end. Definitely want to be in the lead if we get down to a shootout and try to defend from there, so we’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before.”

Before the first round runs, NASCAR made the Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Hamlin, Kenseth and Kyle Busch adjust the top of their left-rear quarter panels. The teams were required to go back through inspection and Miller said the body of the cars had been manipulated.

“It doesn’t have to be big to be an infraction,” he said. “It just has to be fair for everybody and that’s what we strive to do.”

Truex, runner-up to Hamlin in the Daytona 500, is one of the many drivers who doesn’t plan to fade to the back of the field on Sunday in an effort to avoid potential accidents. He’s said all weekend he feels more in control of his race if he’s near the front, and the pole position puts him right where he wants to be.

“The strategy is to stay there, but the problem is that it’s pretty hard to do,” he said. “It’s definitely the place to be to start the race. This is obviously a big race with a lot on the line.”

NASCAR: Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch have advantage at Talladega

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —   TALLADEGA, Ala. – Chase Elliott is in a horrible predicament. Kurt Busch is in a better situation, but hardly secure heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup second-round elimination race Sunday. Because it’s at Talladega Superspeedway.

But oddly, they also might be the most advantaged of the 10 drivers still groping for six available transfer spots into the penultimate round.

In a sport and a playoff system where creative selfishness is a job necessity for the individual and a benefit to their teams, both Elliott and Busch are uniquely situated in having a teammate already through to the next round. That’s not to suggest that Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate (Charlotte winner Jimmie Johnson) or Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing comrade (Kansas victor Kevin Harvick) won’t absolutely seize upon a chance to win again Sunday. But with the four Toyota drivers of Joe Gibbs Racing plus one from affiliate Furniture Row Racing attempting to wedge themselves in a half-dozen slots, and two Ford drivers of Team Penske doing the same, it won’t hurt to have a draft buddy with a punched pass to the next round and a common boss to please.

Although it’s unlikely that Johnson will be the Bandit to rookie Elliott’s Snowman all afternoon, or Harvick the Goose to Busch’s Maverick, it stands to reason they would be less inclined to forsake them in the fickle and cunning diplomacy of restrictor-plate racing. And that can’t hurt, when, in Elliott’s case, you’re attempting to come from last of 12 eligibles on the Chase grid, 25 points from eighth place, which is currently shared by Joey Logano and Austin Dillon. Busch enters sixth, 17 points ahead of the cut.

Brad Keselowski managed his must-win for advancement at Talladega in 2014 with help from Team Penske’s Logano, who nudged him to the front on a first green/white/checker attempt and allowed him to control his situation as much as possible on a decisive second.

Another seeming advantage for Elliott and Busch would be racing for four-car teams where their title-contending teammate already is secure. While the Toyota drivers joust with each other, Elliott has Johnson, Alex Bowman and Kasey Kahne in league. Busch has Harvick, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, who already has demonstrated a knack for the concept. Harvick lauded Patrick for her esprit de corps last fall at Talladega, helping him maintain his position near the front with drafting help as his engine spasmed in the waning laps. Harvick went on to veer into Trevor Bayne to prompt a wreck that ended the race under caution and helped him nab a 15th-place finish that advanced him to Round 3.

Still, restrictor-plate racing has a way of jumbling team dynamics, whether by design or unfortunate by-product. In trying to help or not. Brian Vickers’ attempt to push Johnson by leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap of the 2006 Talladega fall race hooked his then-Hendrick teammate into a collision and off the track with Earnhardt. Vickers was credited for his first Cup win in his final season before changing teams. Johnson was displeased.

Johnson claimed he was attempting to link up for a draft when he sliced in front of the No. 24 Chevrolet as it charged forward in the 2010 spring race. Instead, he muted teammate Jeff Gordon’s momentum, sending him back into the mass and in position to be swallowed by a multi-car incident.

With five races left in the season, driver agendas are about to focus and intentions become self-serving. Talladega will be the dry run for the rest of the season. And this Sunday, it won’t hurt to have a wingman.

NASCAR: Forget about points, Logano racing to win at Talladega

This gallery contains 1 photo.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Joey Logano knows he is in the most precarious of positions heading to the Chase elimination race at Talladega, tied for the eighth and final spot for advancing to the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

There are two clear strategies his Penske Racing team could employ.

The first is the relatively low-risk option: They could spend the entire race at the unpredictable superspeedway spying on Austin Dillon, who is even with him in points, and Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, who are also within striking distance, and ensure they get through on points.

The riskier option? Race to win, points be damned.

“That’s the way I race. I don’t know a different way,” said Logano, whose third-place finish behind Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards on Sunday at Kansas at least made the points route possible.

“I’m sure we’ll talk about it this week,” Logano added, “but I’m a racer.”

At least three Chase contenders don’t have the same dilemma. Harvick and Jimmie Johnson are already locked into the next round by virtue of their wins in the first two stops of the round, and Chase Elliott’s trouble for the second straight week left him in a must-win situation.

The other nine drivers are much like Logano, racing to win but keeping a wary eye on points.

“The big thing that swung everything around was Kevin winning. We would have been in pretty good shape if he had finished second,” Logano said. “It isn’t disappointing because we still should be proud of the effort we had, but it would have meant a lot if he finished second.”

That’s because Harvick had problems of his own in the round at Charlotte, which means even second place at Kansas would have put him squarely on the bubble heading to Talladega.

Logano should at least have some confidence heading to the volatile restrictor-plate track. After years of mostly terrible results, he won there to complete a sweep of the entire round last fall.

Meanwhile, Dillon was third there earlier this year, Hamlin won there a couple of years ago and Keselowski won for the fourth time there earlier this year.

“I don’t think it’s a must-win situation,” said Keselowski, who spun into the grass and tore up his car before finishing 38th at Kansas. “I’m not worried about it. I’m going to go there and bust my butt to try to win, but I don’t think it’s a must-win yet.”

Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Edwards and Kurt Busch are relatively safe after steering clear of major trouble the last two rounds, and Martin Truex Jr. has a 13-point cushion over eighth place.

For each of them, winning at Talladega would be great. But they also know that simply by staying out of trouble, their spot in the next round is virtually assured.

“It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport and to a huge extreme with the Chase now with this format,” Truex said. “You’ve got to perform every single week. You’ve got a bad week, it could ruin your whole season. … We’ve just got to go to Talladega and hope that nothing crazy happens.”


NASCAR could take steps soon to limit Sprint Cup driver participation in lower series, a point driven home after Kyle Busch won his ninth Xfinity Series race of the year at Kansas. NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell was asked about the dominance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week and said something could change in the rules by next year.

“We’ve heard the fans. It’s interesting, it’s been a balance throughout the years,” he said. “We have always had Sprint Cup drivers come into the Xfinity Series and sometimes dominate.

“As the sport has evolved, one of the great things is we’ve got more of a fan following in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. They like seeing those drivers come up through the ranks and it’s our job to make sure that Xfinity is where names are made.”

NASCAR is already prohibiting any Sprint Cup driver who was in last year’s Chase from competing in this year’s season finale for the Xfinity and Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Of the 30 Xfinity races this season, 19 have been won by Sprint Cup regulars.


The Xfinity Series is on a two-week break after Kyle Busch trumped the eight Chase contenders at Kansas on Saturday. Justin Allgaier plans to do some endurance racing in Brazil, and Daniel Suarez will squeeze in a trip to Mexico before racing trucks at Martinsville.

“It’s been a while since the last time I went to Mexico to visit my family, my mom, my sisters and my dad,” he said. “We’re going to do something fun with the people from NASCAR.”


Truex’s team decided not to take part in this week’s testing at Homestead, even though it’s the site of the season-ending race next month. One reason is that it’s far from Denver, where his Furniture Row Racing team is based, and another is that he isn’t convinced it does any good.

“Every time we’ve tested this year, we’ve gone to the race track and spent the first day-and-a-half trying to regroup,” he said. “It seems like it’s probably hurt us more than helped us.”


Formula 1 team owner Gene Haas said Sunday that he wants to see how Esteban Gutierrez fares the rest of the season before deciding on a second driver for his team. Romain Grosjean has been solid in the team’s debut, and his spot for next year is secure. But while Gutierrez has been improving in recent races, he still has not earned a championship point.

“We haven’t definitively said whether Esteban is the driver for next year or not,” said Haas, whose Sprint Cup team won at Kansas. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be, either.”

NASCAR: Harvick advances in Chase as others struggle at Kansas

This gallery contains 1 photo.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — After departing the celebration in victory lane at Kansas on Sunday, Kevin Harvick reflected on how his Stewart-Haas Racing team always seems to rally when its back is against the wall.

Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski just may need to follow suit.

Harvick dealt with a mechanical issue a week ago at Charlotte that put him in a big hole heading to the second stop in the Chase’s round of 12. But he rebounded by winning the Sprint Cup race at Kansas, not only locking up his spot in the next round but taking the pressure out of Talladega.

“Things are going to happen,” said Harvick, who also rebounded from a poor Chase opener to win at New Hampshire. “Things can break and you just have to be able to rebound from them.”

Elliott and Keselowski are in precisely that situation.

While several contenders were busy wrapping up top-10 finishes — Carl Edwards was second, followed by Joey Logano, Charlotte winner Jimmie Johnson , Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon — Elliott and Keselowski had been snared by late-race trouble that leaves them in desperation mode.

Elliott was running near the front when his left rear tire began rubbing on his fender, forcing a stop that left him a lap down. He managed to get back on the lead lap, only to have the same issue with another set of tires that forced him into another unscheduled stop.

“I don’t know if we got the left rear getting up on the track or something, and it got into the fender and it cut it down. I don’t know,” Elliott said. “We had such a good car today.”

He wound up finishing 31st and is now 25 points out of the eighth and final spot in the next round, which basically turns the unpredictable race at Talladega into a must-win scenario.

“Race our hearts out and try to win, I guess,” he said. “That’s about all we can do.”

Keselowski had a similarly dreadful day. He began wiggling with 78 laps left and Denny Hamlin was unable to check up in time, the gentle tap sending the No. 2 car shooting down the track. He slammed into the grassy turf and tore up the front of his car.

Keselowski wound up 38th, putting him seven points out of the final Chase spot.

“I like Talladega. Talladega has been good to me,” said Keselowski, who has won four times there, including earlier this year. “I’m going to drive my butt off and at the end of the day I have faith that if it is meant to be, it is meant to be. We can’t get down. There is a long way to go still.”

Things are more comfortable for other Chase contenders.

Edwards ran up front all day and thought he had the car to beat at Kansas before Harvick pulled away from him on a late restart. He still finished second to move up two spots in the points race and now has a 24-point buffer between himself Logano in eighth place.

Of course, that was of little solace to the Missouri native. He considers the speedway just across the Kansas border his home track and always has thousands of fans in the stands. He’s wanted to win at Kansas more than anywhere else on the circuit but has yet to reach victory lane.

“There’s so many people that come to this track that support me,” he said. “Maybe a day or two will pass and I’ll be more excited about the points situation going to Talladega.”

Martin Truex Jr. had issues with the refueling mechanism that forced him to pit out of sequence and wound up 11th. Kurt Busch finished two spots back in 13th after having to go to his backup car following a spin in practice. Hamlin dealt with an issue with the front splitter and was 15th.

As a result, Logano sits in the tenuous eighth spot in points — tied with Dillon and six ahead of Hamlin — as the Chase heads to the elimination race at Talladega.

“We came out swinging. That’s what we had to do. We did everything we were supposed to do,” Logano said. “It’s not comfortable being tied with Austin going into next week but that’ll be fun.”

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick wins at Kansas to reach next round of Chase

This gallery contains 2 photos.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — No matter what kind of misfortune befalls Kevin Harvick in the early rounds of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, his team always seems to get things together when it matters.

The No. 4 crew did it again Sunday.

One week after a mechanical issue doomed him to a lousy finish at Charlotte, and put his hopes of advancing to the round of eight in jeopardy, Harvick roared to the front on the final restart to win at Kansas Speedway and take all of the pressure off next week’s elimination race at Talladega.

“These races are hard to win and these guys are so good at the details,” said Harvick, the 2014 champion, “and when you put their backs against the wall they’re even better. I’m so proud of them.”

Harvick was among the fastest in the final qualifying session, and hung around the front all day while other Chase contenders faltered. He was still at the front when Regan Smith brought out the final caution, and was able to keep Carl Edwards at bay over the final 30 laps.

“I was pretty sure we were in control of the race,” said Edwards, a Missouri native who has yet to win at what he considers his home track. “As much fun as I had running up front, it stings. There’s negative emotions tied up with not winning here with that fast of a car.”

It was the fourth win of the season for Harvick, and his second of the Chase — he rebounded from a poor performance at Chicago to win at New Hampshire and advance from the round of 16.

He joined Jimmie Johnson, the winner at Charlotte , in securing a spot in the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs, while also ramping up the pressure on the other 10 contenders fighting for points.

“They usually when it comes to this situation find a little more speed in their cars,” said Joey Logano, who finished third and now sits in the precarious eighth spot in points. “I don’t know how, but it seems like in must-win situations they always find a little more speed.”

Johnson was fourth, followed by fellow Chase drivers Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. Matt Kenseth was ninth after dominating the first half of the race from the pole, giving him a nice points cushion as the series heads to the unpredictable pressure-cooker at Talladega.

Other drivers competing for the championship dealt with trouble all afternoon.

Martin Truex Jr. again found himself at the front at Kansas, only to have issues with the refueling mechanism that forced him to pit out of sequence. He wound up 11th and now sits seventh in points.

Kurt Busch finished two spots back in 13th after having to go to his backup car. He spun into the grass on the front stretch with seconds to go in the final practice session Saturday, tearing up the front of his car and forcing him to start from the back of the field.

Denny Hamlin had an issue with the front splitter that creates downforce on his car, sending him to the pits for repairs. He was also penalized for a loose tire but rallied to finish 15th.

The biggest losers on the day were Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.

Keselowski began wiggling with 78 laps remaining, and Hamlin came up behind him and a tap sent the No. 2 car shooting down the track. He slammed into the grassy turf, tore up the front of his car and wound up 38th, putting him seven points out of the eighth and final spot in the Chase.

“It’s an automotive war zone here. There’s parts, there’s pieces, they were working under it, there was oil, there was fire at one point,” said Keselowski, who briefly got back on the track before retiring for the day. “If my guys keep putting in this effort, I’m not worried about.”

Elliott was near the front when his left rear tire began rubbing on his fender, forcing a stop that left him a lap down. He managed to get back on the lead lap, only to have the same issue with another set of tires that forced him into another unscheduled stop.

He wound up finishing 31st and is now 25 points out of the final spot in the round of eight, which essentially makes Talladega a must-win situation for the Hendrick Motorsports rookie.

In other words, all the pressure that Harvick avoided with his win.




Lap length: 1.5 miles

(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (11) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267.

2. (3) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 267.

3. (6) Joey Logano, Ford, 267.

4. (21) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267.

5. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267.

6. (12) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

7. (5) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 267.

8. (10) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 267.

9. (1) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267.

10. (20) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267.

11. (4) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267.

12. (9) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267.

13. (15) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267.

14. (17) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267.

15. (7) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.

16. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 267.

17. (25) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 267.

18. (19) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 267.

19. (18) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 267.

20. (16) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 267.

21. (30) Chris Buescher, Ford, 267.

22. (33) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 267.

23. (29) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 267.

24. (27) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 267.

25. (22) Greg Biffle, Ford, 266.

26. (31) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 266.

27. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 266.

28. (32) Brian Scott, Ford, 265.

29. (26) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 265.

30. (24) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 265.

31. (13) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 264.

32. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 264.

33. (36) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 262.

34. (39) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 261.

35. (38) Joey Gase, Ford, 260.

36. (28) David Ragan, Toyota, 258.

37. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 233.

38. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 190.

39. (40) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Accident, 108.

40. (35) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 36.

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 133.155 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 00 Mins, 28 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.183 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 38 laps.

Lead Changes: 16 among 10 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M. Kenseth 1-27; Kurt Busch 28; M. Kenseth 29-86; J. Logano 87; B. Keselowski 88; D. Hamlin 89; C. Mears 90-94; M. Kenseth 95-125; K. Harvick 126-168; C. Elliott 169-172; C. Edwards 173; J. Logano 174; C. Edwards 175-221; K. Harvick 222; A. Dillon 223-224; C. Edwards 225-237; K. Harvick 238-267.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Kenseth 3 times for 116 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 74 laps; C. Edwards 3 times for 61 laps; C. Mears 1 time for 5 laps; C. Elliott 1 time for 4 laps; A. Dillon 1 time for 2 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 2 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 1 lap; B. Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: J. Johnson – 3,082; M. Kenseth – 3,074; Kyle Busch – 3,072; C. Edwards – 3,069; Kurt Busch – 3,062; M. Truex Jr. – 3,058; K. Harvick – 3,048; J. Logano – 3,045; A. Dillon – 3,045; D. Hamlin – 3,039; B. Keselowski – 3,038; C. Elliott – 3,020; T. Stewart – 2,131; K. Larson – 2,120; C. Buescher – 2,090; J. Mcmurray – 2,088.

"PhatzRadio - A New view from the News Room"



Weekly Music / Sports Talk Schedule
NBA Unplugged 1:00PM
Audibly Offensive 2:02PM
The War Room 3:01PM
Smooth Jazz 5:11PM
PopSports Sports Radio Tues.AM
The Broad Street Line Wed.AM
After Further Review Wed.AM
HoopGirlz Radio Thur.AM
Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Fri.AM

Horse Racing

Tue, Feb 21, 2017
Source Horse Racing
Tue, Feb 21, 2017
Source Horse Racing