Thursday, October 31, 2013

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Texas Motor Speedway "Chasin'" Racing

Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Chicagoland Speedway Darlington Raceway • Homestead-Miami Speedway • Kansas Speedway • Kentucky Speedway
Las Vegas Motor Speedway • New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.5 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 5 - Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle
Kevin Harvick - 4 
Tony Stewart - 3

By Track 
Greg Biffle - 9
Both with 7 - Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson
All with 5 - Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch

Recent Pole Winners: 
2012 Jimmie Johnson
2011 Greg Biffle

The Likely Suspects: With three races left in the NASCAR season the championship is in a dead heat. Interestingly enough, Texas is an excellent track for Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson is no slouch here either. I don't foresee any major points upsets after this race, but we may see just how inspired Jeff Gordon is after last week's win. Look for these drivers to be running up front at the close of Sunday's race: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer this week is a tie between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. If you got 'em, pick 'em. I am out of Jimmie Johnson starts, so I'll go with Clint Bowyer. My next picks are Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman. I will round out my team with David Ragan and Trevor Bayne. Enjoy the race!

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Checkered Past: Texas Motor Speedway - Controversy and Cowboy Hats

Texas Motor Speedway opened in 1997, hosting one race each year from 1997 to 2004 and two races every year since for the Sprint Cup Series, as well as numerous races for the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and the IRL/CART/IndyCar Series. Controversy was commonplace at the track from the beginning, when two of the beloved short tracks on the Cup Series schedule, North Wilkesboro Speedway and North Carolina Speedway (better known as Rockingham), were sold to TMS owner Bruton Smith and closed to make room for TMS on the schedule.

Controversy followed over the years, through the many NASCAR and IndyCar Series race at the track. One of the first skirmishes at the track happened in June 1997 and involved auto racing legend A.J. Foyt, then a team owner for Billy Boat, and driver Arie Luyendyk. Boat was celebrating in victory lane following the True Value 500K IRL race – the first nighttime IndyCar race in the series’ history – when Luyendyk came to victory lane to protest the results, claiming he was the winner. The protest was investigated, with USAC officials awarding the win to Luyendyk the next day due to malfunctioning timing and scoring equipment.

More controversy came in April 2001. One day after Kenny Brack won the pole for the Firestone Firehawk 600 CART event at a speed of 233.447 mph – the fastest qualifying lap ever recorded at TMS – CART postponed the event just two hours before the green flag was scheduled to fly, citing excessive g-forces on the drivers. The cancellation led to a lawsuit against CART and several CART officials by TMS.

Kyle Busch, winner of the April 2013 Sprint Cup race
Credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
Brack was later involved in a horrific accident in the Oct. 13, 2003 IRL race at the track, where his car locked wheels with Tomas Scheckter’s car and flew into the catchfence. According to crash violence recording systems, the g-forces from the accident peaked at 214 g’s – the highest ever recorded. Brack spent 18 months recovering from the accident after breaking his sternum and femur, shattering a vertebra and crushing both ankles.

The controversy doesn’t come only from open-wheel racing, however. Fans won’t soon forget the Kyle Busch/Ron Hornaday Jr. incident in November 2011, which left Hornaday Jr. behind the wall instead of fighting for the Camping World Truck Series championship and put Busch in the penalty box, sitting out the weekend’s other two races.

Elliott Sadler, winner of the 2004 Sprint Cup race
Credit: NASCAR Media
For all the controversy, there is still a race to be run and won, and to the victor goes…a cowboy hat. Elliott Sadler took home a cowboy hat in 2004 with the closest margin of victory record in the Cup Series at the track – 0.028-seconds over Kasey Kahne. Kyle Busch has taken home nine cowboy hats in total: one in the Cup Series, six in the Nationwide Series and two in the Truck Series. Tony Stewart brought home one of his two cowboy hats on his way to the championship during the Chase in 2011.

Will this weekend’s races end in controversy or just cowboy hats? No one will know until the checkered flags fall, but one thing is for certain – it will be one of the Chase’s most entertaining races.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fast Facts: Michael McDowell

credit: Getty Images/Tyler Barrick
Michael McDowell kicked off his racing career on two wheels at age 3 before moving into karting, open-wheel cars, sports cars and eventually NASCAR. Learn about the driver of the No. 98 Ford Fusion for Phil Parsons Racing in the Cup Series in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Michael Christopher McDowell was born Dec. 21, 1984 in Glendale, Arizona. McDowell first raced BMX bikes at age 3, moving on to karting at age 8. He spent 10 years in karts, winning the World Karting Association championship and two International Kart Federation championships.
  • In 2002, McDowell made the move to Formula Renault, winning three races in his rookie season, then continued up the ladder to the Star Mazda Series in 2003, earning two wins and a runner-up points finish. He backed that season up with seven wins and a championship in 2004.
  • In 2005, McDowell switched it up again, moving to the Rolex Sports Car Series and racing in the Champ Car World Series twice. He finally made his way into stock cars for the first time in the ARCA Racing Series in 2006. After running five races that season, he competed for the Rookie of the Year title in 2007; he won the award, finishing second in points with nine poles and four checkered flags.
  • McDowell made the big jump to NASCAR in 2007, racing in the Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series for Darrell Waltrip Motorsports and the Busch (now Nationwide) Series for Michael Waltrip Racing. He made his Cup Series debut the following season for MWR.
  • McDowell has driven for a number of teams in the NASCAR ranks, including JTG Daugherty Racing, Prism Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2014, McDowell will race the Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Ford in the Sprint Cup Series.
  • McDowell and his wife Jami have two children, Trace Christopher and Emma James.
  • Learn more about Michael McDowell at his website,

Caption this: Cole Whitt's crew member


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Monday, October 28, 2013

Chasing the Championship: Recapping the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville

Jeff Gordon captures victory in 21 consecutive seasons
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images  
After seven races, the Championship picture is becoming clear. Five-time Champion, Jimmie Johnson and the last Winston Cup Champion, Matt Kenseth are tied at the top of the leaderboard with their nearest pursuer 27 points behind.

Texas, Phoenix and Homestead stand between one driver and his chance to make history, but before we move on, let’s look back at how the Chase contenders weathered the oldest track in the series, Martinsville Speedway.

1. Matt Kenseth - leader - wins tiebreaker
by: Lacy Keyser

Coming to Martinsville some said this was one of Matt Kenseth’s worst tracks. But Kenseth proved them wrong by finishing second and leading 202 laps.

Throughout most of the day Kesnseth was either in the lead or battling for the top spot. He first secured the lead on Lap 37. On about Lap 235, Kenseth stayed out on old tires while the rest of the field pitted. With everyone else on fresh rubber the No. 20 slipped back through the field.

After dropping back to 19th, Kenseth was on a different pit schedule than the leaders so he stayed out and captured the lead while Johnson hit pit road. Kenseth looked to win this race, but the No.24 of Jeff Gordon was strong. A clean hard battle between the two resulted in Gordon stealing the lead and securing the win, with Kenseth settling for second.

“Well, when we got in the back, we were leading or running second or something and had three- or four-cycle tires,” Kenseth said. "And I felt I slipped the tires real bad a couple times on the previous restart, and that was when the 48 and that whole group pitted and we stayed out and we went all the way back to half a straightaway ahead of the leader, we backed up so bad.”

2. Jimmie Johnson (tied with Kenseth)
by: Carol D’Agostino

As a master of Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson had a strong performance in the Goody’s Headache Relief 500, but it wasn’t as easy as 1-2-3, though Johnson did lead 123 laps of the race. Unfortunately for Johnson , Matt Kenseth led the most laps with 202. In other words, Johnson and Knaus got “out Johnsoned” by the No. 20 team.

When Johnson wasn’t racing up front he was battling from the back. He finished the race in fifth place but wasn’t expecting the championship to be handed to him.

“It’s been a great battle with the No. 20 car," Johnson said. "It’s going to be a dog fight to the end.”

As we go into Texas Motor Speedway the Chase will definitely heat up as Johnson only has a 15.2 average finish at this race in comparison with Kenseth’s 4.4. In the past five years, Johnson has one pole, one win, one top five and two top 10s at Texas.

3. Jeff Gordon (-27)
by: Beth Reinke

The grandfather clock struck eight in a fairy tale finish for Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team at Martinsville. Notching his eighth victory at the Virginia venue, Gordon tied teammate Jimmie Johnson for most wins at the track among active drivers.

The Drive to End Hunger Chevy ran in the top 10 for most of the event, dropping to mid-pack for only a short stretch after a green flag pit stop. Despite a tight racecar and a few restart struggles early on, crew chief Alan Gustafson said his crew pulled off two “really clutch” pit stops at the end of the race.

Gordon ticked off the final circumstances that facilitated the win: “... there at the end, great pit stop, tires at the right time, good adjustments, and then we were in the inside lane the final two restarts, and to me that made all the difference."

After Gordon took the lead from Matt Kenseth with 21 to go, the caution-filled race ended in an unexpected long green run, allowing Gordon to weave through lapped traffic and stay ahead of Kenseth and Clint Bowyer.

Overall, Gordon said he was disappointed in his qualifying run and ninth starting spot, but felt the team’s pit stall position, fast car and confidence were advantages. He shared thoughts on the win in his post-race press conference.

“This meant so much. I feel like we've worked so hard, and many weekends we've left the racetrack looking at one another going, what do we have to do? We've had race cars, we've had pit stops, we've had strategy. I feel like I've had days where I've done my part but just couldn't get it all lined up. Today -- I mean, we come into this race with a lot of confidence. This is a great track for us, the 24 team, for me personally, and these guys, Alan especially, they gave me a great race car all weekend long.”

With this 88th career win, Gordon gained two spots in the standings and sits just 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson, who are tied for the lead.

4. Kevin Harvick (-28)
by: Katy Lindamood

Kevin Harvick’s temper went full-throttle Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. Following an incident with Ty Dillon during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Harvick stopped on pit road blocking Dillon’s stall. Emotions followed “Happy” to the garage where his thoughts regarding the young Dillon were recorded for all to hear.

Sunday morning Harvick apologized for his remarks towards his Sprint Cup owner and his grandson. With four races left until the curtain closed on the 2013 season, and his tenure with RCR, Harvick needed to focus on his title run.

The Rheem Chevrolet rolled off the grid 10th and would finish in the sixth position, leaving Harvick fourth in the points, 28 out of the lead. Although he never made it to the lead, Harvick spent the day consistently within the top 15.

Pit strategy put the No. 29 outside the top 20 late in the race but they were able to recover and gain valuable positions on the track until a water pressure issue forced the team to pit road. During the stop the team made repairs to a hole in the grill. Harvick once again fought his way toward the front and into his sixth place finish.

5. Kyle Busch (-36)
by: Stacey Owens

From his third place starting position, Kyle Busch was poised to make a run at his first Martinsville win, but victory at the 0.526-mile track would escape him again. Running a Halloween paint scheme on his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota wasn’t enough to scare other Chase contenders away. Busch led 12 laps but settled for a 15th place finish after a race riddled with 17 cautions and near misses that flared tempers from the front to the back of the pack.

Busch lost the handling on his car during the extended long run of the final 70 laps and wasn’t able to maintain his top-10 position.

“We had a pretty good car on a short run but nothing for the long runs. The race ended on a long run, and our car just wouldn’t turn the center. It’s a pretty disappointing end to the weekend.”

His finish dropped him two positions in the championship points standings, where he now sits 36 points back of Kenseth and Johnson who remain in a dead heat for the title.

6. Clint Bowyer (-55)
by: Katy Lindamood

“Well, I mean, it was certainly a good run for us, a good shot in the arm, something our team needed. I was certainly a little bit -- not a little bit -- I was disappointed,” said Clint Bowyer on Monday about his third-place finish at Martinsville. “I've been looking forward to Martinsville for a long time, and just come up a little short and flat-out got beaten. But, nonetheless, it was a good run for us, a good momentum builder for our race team going into the last three races.”

Clint Bowyer’s day started from the fifth position. Considered one of the favorites for the win, Bowyer showed strength throughout and spent the majority of the race inside the top five, leading 60 of the 500 circuits. Bowyer’s efforts allowed him to move up two positions in the standings to sixth.

With three races remaining in the 2013 season, Bowyer is 55 markers behind leaders Kenseth and Johnson.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-56)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Despite a hard-fought eighth-place finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Martinsville dejected. The Hendrick Motorsports driver battled a tight racecar, a damaged front fender and a flapping hood to spend most of the day in the top 10, surviving the caution-marred race but never contending for the race win.

Earnhardt Jr. rolled off the grid 12th in Sunday’s 2013 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger and entered the top 10 by Lap 85. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet reported a tight racecar. During the multiple cautions, the crew made numerous adjustments to the car. The handling of the No. 88 improved and Earnhardt Jr. broke into the top five on Lap 152.

During the beating and banging that characterizes the Virginia short track, Earnhardt Jr. ran as high as third, but his right front fender was damaged and his hood was flapping around. What also hurt Earnhardt Jr. was restarting on the outside line on several late-race restarts, where he would lose position. Despite his struggles, he ran solidly in the top 10 with 40 laps to go and crossed the finish line eighth.

Earnhardt Jr. fell one spot in the championship standings to seventh. Though he attained a strong finish to a tough day, Earnhardt Jr. was left thinking of what could have been. He was worried for his team’s chances at the title with three races left in the Chase.

“I would rather win the race, and I have missed a lot of opportunities to win here,” Earnhardt Jr. said at Martinsville. “We finish alright, we run alright. … Right now we are just worried about ourselves. We have two or three races to go and we want to get as close as we can.”

8. Greg Biffle (-58)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Greg Biffle came into Martinsville knowing that he needed a strong run if he was going to gain ground on the championship. After starting 33rd, he was able to bring the No. 16 home in ninth place, but it wasn't good enough to top points co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, who both finished ahead of Biffle. He now sits eighth in the standings, 58 points behind the leaders.

Starting deep in the field, Biffle had a lot of moving up to do if he was going to challenge for the win. He battled a tight racecar for most of the afternoon. Biffle's crew had to work fast to remove the bumper cover on the car in order to keep him on the lead lap after sustaining damage on the track. When it was all said and done, Biffle managed to bring the car home on the lead lap in ninth place, which is better than his average finish of 20.2 at the paper clip-shaped track.

With the Chase tied for the lead, and Biffle 50+ points back, he is a long shot to contend for the title come Homestead. Luckily, the Chase travels to Texas this weekend, where the Roush Fenway cars have had a lot of success over the years. Look for Biffle to try to finish the season out strong. 

9. Kurt Busch (-75)
by: Rebecca Kivak

After sustaining damage in a pair of wrecks, Kurt Busch finished 18th after struggling through Sunday’s caution-filled Martinsville race. Though he recovered and ran in the top 10 after the incidents, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion couldn’t make headway in traffic and finished one lap down.

The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet started 19th in the 2013 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger. Busch hung around the top 20, unable to make up much ground in the first third of the race. He was running 15th on Lap 182 when the field stacked up in Turns 1 and 2, causing a multi-car wreck and the race’s fifth caution. Busch’s racecar incurred damage on the grille and left rear side.

Busch ended up bringing out the next caution on Lap 204 when he got on the inside of Jamie McMurray in Turn 4. Forcing the issue, Busch made contact with McMurray and spun out, slamming into Mark Martin. The No. 78 picked up damage on both sides.

The wreck forced Busch to restart 24th, but he recovered and ran as high as seventh. Taking four tires on his last few pit stops cost Busch track position and put him outside the top 10, where he battled traffic and finished off the lead lap in 18th.

Though Busch remains ninth in the championship standings, he lost 14 points to leader Matt Kenseth after Martinsville. With three races to go in the Chase, Busch is unlikely to capture his second Sprint Cup title.

“We didn't qualify well (19th), didn't practice well and obviously didn't race well," Busch said at Martinsville. “… It was a very disappointing performance today.

“For a Chase team we should have been much better.”

10. Carl Edwards (-76)
by: Katy Lindamood

Despite a 14th-place qualifying effort, Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Geek Squad Ford had a tough day at Martinsville. Handling issues in the opening segment of the 500-lap race sent Edwards toward the rear of the field where he spent most of the day.

Contact between Edwards and the No. 31 of Jeff Burton brought out the first caution of the race as the No. 99 clipped Burton’s Chevy. Burton spun out while Edwards continued forward, though he sustained damage to the front right fender.

Edwards made progress toward the front of the pack after the halfway mark and was able to secure a 12th place finish.

The Roush-Fenway racing driver sits 10th in the standings.

11. Joey Logano (-85)
by: Stacey Owens

Though Joey Logano and the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil team gained a position in the championship points standings following a respectable 14th place finish in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, Logano’s championship hopes are virtually over this year.

Logano was the fastest Ford with a 19.111 second qualifying effort as the weekend started. With his sixth-place starting position, Logano ran with the leaders early on but was never closer to the front than fourth position.

At Lap 290, Logano fell to the 22nd position during a long green flag run on older tires.

Logano tweeted after the race: “Not what we wanted today. Lost track position and couldn't get it back. Bumper cars out there. Three more chances and we can win them all.”

He may not have the speed that other Chase contenders have, but this young driver isn’t lacking any confidence. That may be the formula that keeps Logano near the front of the field for years to come.

12. Ryan Newman (-106)
by: Stephanie Stuart

The Chase hasn't really gone Ryan Newman's way. A string of tough luck and sub-par finishes tell the story of Newman's 12th place spot in the standings. A 38th-place finish today at Martinsville wasn't what he needed to get himself headed in the right direction.

Newman started the day off well, running as high as sixth position, but a pit road miscue that resulted in a loose lugnut, a tight handling racecar, and an eventual spin would dampen the day for the No. 39 team. The spin came on lap 318, after contact with the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick. Heavy damage to the rear of the car sent Newman to the garage for repairs. He would return to the track 68 laps down, where he would end the event.

Newman's bad day topped off with a move down to 12th in the standings. He now sits 106 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, and would ultimately need a mathematical miracle to win the title. His spirits aren't dampened though, and Newman will continue to drive hard as he heads towards the end of his tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing.

13. Kasey Kahne (-124)

Kahne’s bad luck continued as he was involved in the fifth caution of the day. His 27th-place finish leaves him 13th in the points, 124 behind the leader.

Travel Tips: Texas Motor Speedway – Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2013

Seven races down, three to go – the Chase for the Sprint Cup is coming down to the wire, and race No. 8 on the schedule is the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. There’s on-track activity from Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 31-Nov. 3, as the weekend features the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series in addition to the Sprint Cup Series.

Key on-track times:

Thursday, Oct. 31
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 5 and 6:30 p.m. CT

Friday, Nov. 1
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m. CT
  • Nationwide Series practice – 1:05 p.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 2:10 p.m. CT
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 3:40 p.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 350K – 7:30 p.m. CT

Saturday, Nov. 2
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. CT
  • Nationwide Series qualifying – 11:05 a.m. CT
  • Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge – 2:30 p.m. CT

Sunday, Nov. 3
  • Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 – 2 p.m. CT

As usual, the No Limits Garage Party presented by WinStar World Casino turns the Nationwide Garage into a carnival sideshow on Sunday. The event is open to all 2013 Season Ticket Holders and 2013 November Weekend 4-pack purchasers and includes such inimitable attractions as Extreme Midget Wrestling, the Animal Freak Show and the Hellzapoppin Sideshow.

The Garage Party also will feature an exclusive Q and A session with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Show car and driver appearances scheduled for the race weekend are listed here

Check out the 2013 Fan Guide here and find answers to frequently asked questions about your track experience here.

Find out more about the weekend and purchase tickets at

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Arch Madness: Gateway Returns To Truck Schedule in 2014

1995 Truck Series Champion Mike Skinner's last Truck win came at Gateway Motorsports Park in 2009. The NCWTS returns to the St. Louis-area track in 2014
9/12/2009 | Getty Images for NASCAR
St. Louis-area Track, Eldora, Canada Road Course Highlight Next Season’s Slate

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 25, 2013) – NASCAR today announced the 2014 schedule for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, a slate that includes the return to racing at Gateway Motorsports Park for the first time since 2010.

Gateway, a 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Ill., just outside of St. Louis, hosted truck series races from 1998-2010 with only one repeat winner in its 13-race history – Ted Musgrave, who won in 2001 and 2005. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kevin Harvick won the most recent Gateway race, in July of 2010.

Now independently owned by St. Louis-native Curtis Francois, a former racer with significant ties to the local community, Gateway will hold its 2014 race on June 14.

“We’re excited to have the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series return to Gateway and to the St. Louis area, which is such a racing hotbed,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “Curtis Francois and his staff have worked diligently to bring NASCAR national series racing back to those great fans.”

After a two-year hiatus, New Hampshire Motor Speedway likewise returns to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule (Sept. 20). New Hampshire held truck racing from 1996-2011, and will return in 2014 as part of a companion weekend with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. “With their return to New Hampshire, it will be great for fans to see more of what the trucks are known for – close racing at shorter, tighter venues,” O’Donnell said.

Next season’s 22-race schedule also includes two tracks which made wildly successful debuts in 2013 – Eldora Speedway (July 23) in Rossburg, Ohio and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Aug. 31) in Bowmanville, Ontario. The entire 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season can be seen on FOX Sports 1 and heard on SiriusXM Satellite Radio and Motor Racing Network Radio.

In 2013 Eldora, the 0.5-mile dirt track owned by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, held the first NASCAR national series dirt race since 1970. A standing room only crowd of 20,000 fans watched history, as 2011 series champion Austin Dillon captured the victory. This event will be the first of two Wednesday night races for the series, joining Bristol Motor Speedway’s popular mid-week race on Aug. 20.

This summer, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park became the first road course to host a truck series race in more than a decade. Culminating with end-of-race fireworks that have become a trademark of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing, Chase Elliott – son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott – won the inaugural international event.

Next season’s schedule features one date shift, with the series racing at Kansas Speedway on May 9, the first night race for the series at the 1.5-mile venue. The balance of the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck schedule, the series’ 20th season, maintains a familiar feel, opening with Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 21 and culminating on Nov. 14 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


Date              Site

Feb. 21        Daytona International Speedway

March 29    Martinsville Speedway

May 9         Kansas Speedway

May 16       Charlotte Motor Speedway

May 30       Dover International Speedway

June 6        Texas Motor Speedway

June 14      Gateway Motorsports Park

June 26      Kentucky Speedway

July 12       Iowa Speedway

July 23       Eldora Speedway

Aug. 2       Pocono Raceway

Aug.16      Michigan International Speedway

Aug. 20     Bristol Motor Speedway

Aug. 31     Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Sept. 12    Chicagoland Speedway

Sept. 20    New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sept. 27    Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Oct. 18      Talladega Superspeedway

Oct. 25     Martinsville Speedway

Oct. 31    Texas Motor Speedway

Nov. 7     Phoenix International Raceway

Nov. 14    Homestead-Miami Speedway

"Caption This" winner: Jason Shamroski

"I hear Verizon has great service at this track."

Congratulations to Jason Shamroski who contributed the winning caption for this photo of Jamie McMurray & Kim Coon.

Please send your full name and mailing address to to receive your prize, a copy of the devotional book Race Fans' Devotions to Go.

Thanks to everyone who played "Caption this!" Check back next Tuesday for a new photo and your next chance to submit a caption.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Chasing the Championship: Previewing the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway

GHRS 500_checker rec_SM 500_4-3-13Hot engines, hot brakes and hot tempers. You can expect all of these to make an appearance this weekend as NASCAR moves from the longest track on the schedule to the shortest. You thought Talladega was a wildcard? Martinsville is just as crazy.

Superman is back at the top of the charts but Matt Kenseth isn't far behind. Hold on tight because this week could shake things up more than last.

Here's how the Chasers stack up at the "paper clip."

1. Jimmie Johnson
by: Carol D’Agostino

The No. 48 team comes into this week’s race in an enviable and familiar position – one that is more than a bit intimidating for the No. 20 team, who lost the top spot after Talladega. Now with only four races left in the Chase Jimmie Johnson has a chance to pull away from Matt Kenseth, who has four victories at the four remaining tracks, none of them at Martinsville. Johnson has a remarkable 14 career victories at the four remaining tracks.

The five-time champion has a remarkable average finish of 5.3 in 23 starts at Martinsville. When Chad Knaus and the team have the No. 48 car hooked up it literally appears to glide at the storied Martinsville Speedway. Their results have been nearly perfect, at least for the last three starts there – both races in 2013 and this spring when Jimmie Johnson took the white flag as the winner.

Last spring Jimmie Johnson thought his eight wins at Martinsville was great, but can he make it nine?

Johnson's Martinsville statistics from the last five years include one pole, two wins, five top fives and five top 10s.

2. Matt Kenseth (-4)
by: Lacy Keyser

Matt Kenseth had been the driver on top since the start of the Chase. But finishing 20th in Talladega dropped him to second in the standings. Now Kenseth is hungrier than ever to claim that top spot back from Jimmie Johnson.

This weekend we're short track racing at Martinsville. Back in the spring Kenseth led 96 laps, but finished 14th. He has three top fives, as well as eight top 10s at Martinsville. Kenneth’s stats and finishes aren't the best, but that doesn't mean you count him out. Kenseth has been on fire since he started racing for Joe Gibbs, and we should see that fire this weekend as he tries to take the top spot back from Johnson.

3. Kyle Busch (-26)
by: Stacey Owens

In this final weekend before Halloween, Kyle Busch and the No. 18 M&Ms Halloween team are looking for treats, not tricks. In 17 starts, Busch has failed to win. He carries eight top fives and nine top 10s into Martinsville, including a second place finish last fall. He ran up front before placing fifth at the 0.526-mile oval earlier this spring but heads to the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 this weekend still looking to improve his 16.1 average finish at the "paper clip.”

Busch likes his chances in Martinsville where he’s continued to improve since being paired with crew chief, Dave Rogers. When asked whether he thought he might finally visit Victory Lane this weekend, Busch responded, “I certainly hope so. We were so close last fall and right on Jimmie’s bumper for the win… I’ve led a bunch of laps there, but we just haven’t been able to hold it for the end of the 500 laps. It’s certainly a race track where you can be leading the race and think you’ve got a shot to win the thing in the last 30 laps, and then get beat on from behind and moved out of the way. For us, it’s been a challenge, but we’re getting better at it and learning some more as we go along.”

If his Martinsville education has paid off, Busch will be looking to close the gap between himself and current points leader, Jimmie Johnson, who knows a thing or two about winning at the short track. Busch thinks his team is close to a win at Martinsville.

“I’d like to think we’re really close. We’ve been good there — especially the last couple of races there we’ve been really good. It’s a tough race track, and anytime you come in the pits and make an adjustment on your car, you certainly hope it goes the right way, or you make enough of it, or you don’t make too much of an adjustment.”

4. Kevin Harvick (-26)
by: Katy Lindamood

Kevin Harvick’s tenure at Richard Childress Racing will be over in four weeks. With that in mind, it’s time for the man nicknamed “The Closer” to make his final push toward the title. Time to give those who have followed for the No. 29 for over a decade something to cheer about. It is Harvick’s time to shine.

Martinsville has the tendency to create drama, and in April she took Harvick’s chances for a win away when his engine blew up with just 27 laps left. His day can’t end the same if he wants a chance to battle Kenseth and Johnson in the final three weeks.

Harvick’s record on the “paper clip” is average at best. In 24 starts he has one win, three top fives, and 10 top 10s. His average finish of 16.6 is fourth worst of the Chase drivers

"They are completely different styles of racing, but you can still get caught up in someone else's mess really quick. No matter where you're running,” said Harvick about going from the longest track on the schedule to the shortest. “If you're the leader and you come up on lap traffic, they want to stay on the lead lap and they will usually become more aggressive as they start pushing their way through the cars ahead of them. Martinsville (Speedway) is much like Talladega (Superspeedway) in the sense that you can get caught up in someone's mess, and it's just part of the game that you have to deal with."

5. Jeff Gordon (-34)
by: Beth Reinke

Jeff Gordon may drive the No. 24, but when it comes to Martinsville, it’s all about the number seven. In 41 career Sprint Cup starts at the track, Gordon has seven wins, seven poles and an average finish of – you guessed it – seventh. Even his average starting position is seven-ish at 7.195.

On the down side, of his seven trips to Victory Lane to pick up a grandfather clock, only one occurred during the Chase. That Chase win came in 2005 when he swept both races. Gordon is fond of the short track and feels comfortable behind the wheel there, but it wasn’t always that way.

"It took me a while to figure out how to get around here,” Gordon said. “During a test early in my career we were just doing lap after lap after lap and finally it just clicked for me. We started having success after that. With all the experience and success that we've had here, that can carry over from race to race and even season to season. Because of that, we always seem to enter a Martinsville race weekend with confidence."

Gordon has been amazingly fortunate at the 0.526-mile track in yet another way: he has zero DNFs. Remarkably, he has finished in the top five at Martinsville in 63 percent of his starts and in the top 10 in 80 percent of his races – that’s 26 top fives and 33 top 10s.

His last two finishes at Martinsville were seventh last fall and third this spring. Will Gordon rack up another “lucky seven” statistic by winning Chase race #7 this season? With his confidence, comfort level and stacked stats, the chances are pretty good.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-52)
by: Rebecca Kivak

If there’s one track that’s considered “the one that got away” for Dale Earnhardt Jr., it’s Martinsville Speedway. He’s come oh-so-close to winning at the 0.526-mile speedway numerous times, but the coveted win has eluded him. This weekend gives Earnhardt Jr. another chance to conquer the short track and continue his rise in the championship standings.

In 27 starts, the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet has amassed 10 top fives, including a pair of runner-up finishes, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 13.8 at Martinsville. It may surprise you to learn that Earnhardt Jr. has led 868 laps here - the most he’s led at any track, including Talladega. His 10 top-five finishes at Martinsville match his personal best at a track (10 top fives at Daytona and Talladega).

Earnhardt Jr. finished 24th at Martinsville in the spring and 21st a year ago. He’ll need to improve on that to continue his march in the point standings. After his second-place finish last weekend at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. jumped an impressive three spots to sixth place, 52 points behind points leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt Jr. has past success at Martinsville and momentum from Talladega on his side. He’s hoping it will be enough to finally add the Virginia short track to his win column.

7. Greg Biffle (-53)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Greg Biffle knows it's going to take a lot to win the Sprint Cup title this year. A 16th place at Talladega last weekend was not what he was looking for. As the Chase heads to Martinsville this weekend, Biffle hopes to rebound at a track known to make or break many.

Currently, Biffle sits in seventh place in the standings, 53 points out of the lead. He has a lot of ground to make up and limited time to do it. This week's race at paper clip-shaped Martinsville marks the seventh race in the hunt for the title, meaning after this, there are only three races left to catch current points leader Jimmie Johnson.  Unfortunately, Martinsville has not been kind to Biffle. In 21 starts at the half-mile track, he has just four top-10 finishes, and has only led 21 laps. His average finish is 20.8.

Don't tell Biffle he is out of it yet though.

"Martinsville hasn't been my strongest track, but we have definitely gotten much stronger there," said Biffle earlier this week. "We've finished in the top-10 in our last two starts, and learned some interesting stuff testing there a few weeks ago. I'm looking for a strong run to head into the final few races."

While many may have already counted the No. 16 out of the title hunt, Biffle is not ready to call it quits just yet. He knows it's going to take a big shift in momentum to get him to the top, but he's willing to do the work to get him there.

8. Clint Bowyer (-57)
by: Katy Lindamood

The 2013 Chase has been the Matt and Jimmie show. Aside from the controversy that started in Richmond, few other drivers have had time in the spotlight over the course of the last seven weeks. This weekend might be Clint Bowyer’s best shot to overcome the negative publicity he’s been encapsulated by. Maybe this is the weekend we see the return of happy-go-lucky Bowyer.

In April, Bowyer earned his career best finish at Martinsville, coming home with a second-place finish behind Jimmie Johnson.

In 15 races Bowyer has three top fives and nine top 10s along with an average finish of 13.2, which is third highest among Chase drivers.

In regards to his eighth place standing in the points Bowyer said, “It’s not over til it’s over, but from where we are sitting in points it would take a lot of unbelievably good luck for us and unbelievably bad luck for a lot of real good drivers that don’t often have bad luck. We still have our goals to accomplish.”

9. Kurt Busch (-61)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Though Kurt Busch has one win at Martinsville Speedway, it’s been a tough track for the 2004 Sprint Cup champion.

The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet has two top fives, four top 10s and an average finish of 21.7 in 26 starts at the 0.526-mile short track. His last top-10 finish came in fall 2005 - meaning Busch has gone eight years without a top 10 here.

Busch’s last stop at Martinsville ended in a fiery wreck when his brake rotor malfunctioned, relegating him to a 37th-place finish in the spring. He finished 15th here a year ago.

Busch sits 61 markers behind points leader Jimmie Johnson in the championship standings. With four races to go in the Chase, Busch’s chances at winning a second title look bleak. But Busch is hoping his team’s recent test session at the short track will translate into a good finish, which would help him make up ground in the standings.

"The good news heading into this weekend's race is that our Furniture Row Racing team tested at Martinsville and we came away feeling pretty good about what we learned," Busch said. "Now it's a matter of compressing that data and applying it to our race setup in our Furniture Row Chevrolet."

10. Carl Edwards (-68)
by:  Katy Lindamood

Carl Edwards’ win at Richmond in September was overshadowed by controversy and excitement over the Chase field. This weekend at Martinsville, the chassis that visited victory lane at RIR will return to the track sporting the colors of the Geek Squad.

Edwards is most likely out of contention for the title, barring some amazingly horrendous luck for the points leaders, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like to add a grandfather clock to his collection of trophies.

In 18 starts at Martinsville, Edwards has no wins and an average finish of 16.1. He’s also earned one top five and five top 10s.

11. Ryan Newman (-72)
by: Stephanie Stuart

A ninth-place finish at the Chase's wildcard track got lots of fans a free Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse on Monday evening, but it didn't hoist Ryan Newman into the top 10 in the points standings. As the Chase marks four races to go this weekend in Martinsville, Newman sits 11th in the standings, 72 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

At this point, many have said the title will rest with either Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch. Don't tell that to Newman. He is ready to go racing at Martinsville, and make up as many points on the leader as he can. With one win and seven top fives in 23 starts, this just may be the place for him to begin his comeback.

"Martinsville is very much a finesse racetrack, from a banking standpoint, but also the acceleration part of it too," said Newman when asked about the half-mile track. "You can really chew your tires up on the concrete before you get to the asphalt getting back to the gas, and you have to get back to the gas, but how you do it can make a really big difference in how good your car is for a whole fuel run."

After winning at Martinsville in 2012, Newman knows his way around the tiny track. He's going to need that experience this weekend if he is going to make a gain on the Chase leaders.

12. Joey Logano (-75)
by: Stacey Owens

With no wins at Martinsville, Joey Logano and the No. 22 Penske Racing team will seek to capitalize on the single top five and two top-10 finishes at the southern Virginia short track. In nine starts at “The Paper Clip,” Logano averages a 16.1 finish and average running position of 17.8, which is 18th best among all drivers.

To date this season, Logano boasts a win, 10 top fives, 16 top 10s and two poles. As a result, he and the team have high expectations of themselves every time they hit the track.

“We do expect top-five finishes every race, but we haven’t been as consistent as we need to be, and that’s why we’re not contending to where we want to be right now. We’ve had runs that we’ve had that consistency where we can go six or seven races with straight top-10 finishes or top-five finishes, but then we have the next race is a total blow-up. We either crash or blow up or do something like that. We’ve just got to try to find a way to eliminate all the mistakes we can, and that feels like what the next step is for this 22 team right now.”

Is a grandfather clock in Logano’s immediate future? That would certainly be a treat for the young driver on this Halloween weekend.

13. Kasey Kahne (-101)

Martinsville stats for Kahne: 19 starts, zero wins, three top fives, four top 10s, average finish 19.8, four DNFs, 31 laps led.

TV Schedule: Oct. 25-27

Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images
NASCAR goes short track racing. The Sprint Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series converge on Martinsville Speedway, the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit. With four races to go in the Chase, close quarters are bound to breed short tempers.

The Nationwide Series will return next weekend at Texas.

The following is a handy guide to this weekend's track activities and television coverage at Martinsville. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Oct. 25:
9 a.m. NCWTS Practice, FS1
10 a.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
10:30 a.m. NCWTS Final Practice, FS1
12 noon NSCS Practice, FS1
3 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
3:30 p.m. NSCS Qualifying, FS1
5 p.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FS2

Saturday, Oct. 26:
12 a.m. NASCAR Live, FS2
12:30 a.m. NSCS Qualifying, FS2
2 a.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FS2
10:30 a.m. NSCS Practice, FS2
11:30 a.m. NASCAR Live, FS2
12 noon NSCS Final Practice, FS1
1 p.m. NCWTS SetUp, FS1
1:30 p.m. NCWTS: Kroger 200, FS1. Green flag: 1:46 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 27:
10 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
11 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS2
1 p.m. NSCS Countdown, ESPN
1:30 p.m. NSCS: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger, ESPN. Green flag: 1:43 p.m. Reruns at 1:30 a.m. Monday on ESPN2.
7 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
11 p.m. NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Thursday, October 24, 2013

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Chase Race #7 at Martinsville

Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway • Dover International Speedway
Phoenix International Raceway • Richmond International Raceway
Distance: .526 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Jimmie Johnson - 5
All with 4 - Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick
All with 3 - Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

By Track
Both with 7 - Jimmie Johnson and and Jeff Gordon
Both with 6 - Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer  
All with 5 -  Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Kyle Buscch

Recent Pole Winners:  
2012 Jimmie Johnson
2011 Qualifying not held

The Likely Suspects: Hendrick Motorsports rules at Martinsville and so does the pole winner. In fact, the pole is the most proficient starting spot at Martinsville producing more wins (21) than any other starting position in the field. Pick well this week and you can not only score some bonus points in qualifying, but also possibly pick the race winner. Look for these Martinsville elites drivers to do well: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch.

My 2 Cents: The major no-brainer pick this week is Jimmie Johnson. No big surprise there. Since I am out of Jimmie Johnson starts my pick is Jeff Gordon, followed closely by Denny Hamlin. My next picks are Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards. If you have any Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts left pick him instead of Jamie McMurray. I will complete my team with David Ragan and Casey Mears. Enjoy the race!

Post your comments here or email me at 

Checkered Past: Oct. 24, 1985 – The Day the Racing World Lost a Champ, Richie Evans

In the song “American Pie,” Don McLean sang about “the day the music died.” In the sport of auto racing, that day has been happening all too often in recent years, with sport-impacting deaths of drivers like Jason Leffler, Dan Wheldon and Dale Earnhardt among the most recent fans have suffered through.
Richie Evans and the famous No. 61
credit: Howie Hodge/NASCAR Media

Some of the sprint car wrecks which have been publicized in the 2013 season, headlined by the season-ending injury to three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart and the passing of Leffler, bring to mind a similar time in NASCAR’s oldest series, the Modifieds, now racing as the Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tours. The spotlight on the series and its dangers began on this day, Oct. 24, in 1985 – the day NASCAR lost one of its greatest champs, Richie Evans.

Evans had just wrapped up his ninth NASCAR Modified title – his eighth straight – a week earlier at the track in Thompson, Connecticut.  During practice for the Modified race portion of the Winn-Dixie 500 – 200 laps for the Mods, 200 laps for the Grand National (now Nationwide) Series and a 100-lap Late Model race – at Martinsville Speedway, Evans hit the Turn 3 wall…and he was gone. A driver with 400-plus wins, numerous local, regional and national championships, and legions of adoring fans – gone in an instant.

Richie Evans
credit: Howie Hodge/NASCAR Media
Sadly, Evans’ death was just the first of many to occur in the Modified ranks over the next five years. Less than 18 months later, Charlie Jarzombek was killed while racing at Martinsville, and a few months after that Corky Cookman perished in a race at Thompson International Speedway. The toll hit home for me when two drivers – brothers-in-law – from my local track, Lancaster Speedway, were killed racing Modifieds: Tommy Druar at Lancaster in June 1989 and, less than a year later, Tony Jankowiak at Stafford Speedway in April 1990; in between, Don Pratt was killed in an accident during the Race of Champions at Pocono Raceway in September 1989.

Changes have been made to the cars and the tracks (Lancaster put up one of the first versions of what has now become the SAFER Barrier), and unfortunately the world of Modified racing lost two more drivers (Tom Baldwin Sr. – father of owner/crew chief Tommy Baldwin – in August 2004 and John Blewett III in August 2007, both at Thompson) since – but, as with the Cup Series, sprint car racing, IndyCar racing and many other motorsports, any change that makes the sport safer is a welcome change. It’s always sad, however, that a sport has to lose one of its champions to make such changes occur in the first place.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fast Facts: Johnny Sauter

Johnny Sauter in victory lane at Talladega - Oct. 19, 2013
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
When the smoke finally cleared, Camping World Truck Series driver Johnny Sauter was the first driver to cross the finish line at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, Oct. 19. Learn more about the Truck Series’ most recent winner in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Jonathan Joseph Sauter was born May 1, 1978 in Necedah, Wisconsin. He is the son of former NASCAR driver Jim Sauter, and his brothers Tim and Jay also competed in all three top NASCAR Series. 
  • Sauter began racing in numerous series in Wisconsin and the Midwest following his graduation from high school in 1996, eventually joining the American Speed Association (ASA) in 1998; in 2001, Sauter was crowned ASA champ.
  • Sauter’s ASA title earned him a five-race Busch (now Nationwide) Series deal with Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2001; he earned three top 15 finishes in those five starts and a full-time ride with RCR in the series for 2002, when he won his first race at Chicagoland Speedway. In 2003 he split seat time with RCR and the Curb-Agajanian Performance Group; Sauter combined with Kevin Harvick in the RCR No. 21 to win the Busch Series’ owners’ championship. He also made his Cup Series and his Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series debuts in 2003.
  • Through the three series, Sauter has driven for numerous teams, including Morgan-McClure Motorsports, Phoenix Racing, Brewco Motorsports, Haas CNC Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Prism Motorsports. 
  • He currently races in No. 98 Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, where he has been racing full-time since 2009. He took his first career Truck Series win that year, taking the checkered flag at Las Vegas, and took home  the series’ Rookie of the Year Award.
  • Sauter and his wife Cortney have two children, son Penn and daughter Paige.
  • Find out more about Sauter at his website,

Caption this: Jamie McMurray & Kim Coon


Leave your caption in the comment section below. One entry per person and please leave your name or twitter handle. Anonymous posts and those with crass or vulgar content will not be eligible to win. Remember, this is all in good fun, so show us your creative, witty side.

We'll take captions until Thursday evening, then the Skirts and Scuffs staff will vote to choose a winner. Check back this Saturday to read the winning caption.

And yes, there is a PRIZE! The "Caption this" winner will receive a copy of the book, Race Fans' Devotions to Go. The winner must follow instructions for sending us his or her contact info, as specified in the winning caption post.

Bring on your funnies. We look forward to reading them! :o)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chasing the Championship: Recapping the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

McMurray wins at Dega: Photo by NASCAR via Getty Images
For the second week in a row, a non-Chase driver celebrated in victory lane. Ending a three-year drought, Jamie McMurray took the checkers when a last lap crash involving Austin Dillon brought out the caution on the final lap. McMurray’s emotions flowed in victory lane as son Carter joined him for the celebration.

It was a good weekend for Chip Ganassi, Owner of the No. 1. In addition to McMurray’s victory, Ganassi driver Scott Dixon became the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Champion.

The Chase points standings saw a shake up at the top as Johnson took the lead from Matt Kenseth.

How did your Chase driver fare? Here’s the rundown.

1. Jimmie Johnson
by: Lisa Janine Cloud

New leader: 48.

New points leader, that is.

Jimmie Johnson rolled off in 11th position since qualifying rained out and the field lined up in order of speeds from second practice. By lap 50 he was leading for the first of 10 times, 47 laps total. Despite earning the bonus point for leading the most laps, his performance was not as dominant as that statistic might imply. Still, it was enough to move Johnson past Matt Kenseth and into the points lead by four points.

Though Johnson ran up front most of the race, he faced stiff competition from his Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second.

"The outside lane got going and everybody jumped up in it," Johnson said. "You just don’t know if people are going to chase the bottom or the top and when I saw the 1 car had the lead, I figured the 1 and the 88 would take the top. As that developed I was on the bottom lane and I worked my way to the middle lane and was able to maintain it for a little while and then everybody went single file and I dropped like a rock."

Johnson passed up several opportunities to team up with Earnhardt Jr., and though that's not unusual, the choice seemed to make even less sense than usual, given the speed of the No. 88. and the Hendrick-powered No. 1 of Jamie McMurray, who went on to win the race under caution when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon tangled on the backstretch.

"Thirteenth isn't the best finish, but with what we are trying to do and win a championship, we beat the competition today and that is good," said Johnson. "I am happy to have the points lead and we went through a lot of work to get there. We were just getting one point at a time and we got a few more than normal today and were able to get the lead."

"We just go racing from here and that is the thing I am most excited for. Great race tracks, great race cars and it’s just going to be a dogfight to the end."

Next up: Martinsville, where Johnson has eight wins in 23 starts and an average finish of 5.3.

"It’s been good to us in the past," he said. "We've got to go there and race. There is going to be a lot of strong competition. We will make sure we get buttoned up and ready to go for this weekend’s race and go up there to that paperclip and see what we can do."

2. Matt Kenseth (-4)
by: Jessica Tow

With the Chase more than halfway completed, it looks like the tables have turned. Matt Kenseth now sits four markers behind new points leader Jimmie Johnson. We knew this was bound to happen at some point, right? After all this is Talladega we are talking about here.

In a race with an atypically calm nature, Kenseth had a solid run. He started 12th and stayed near the front most of the day. No matter how hard he tried, he could not shake off the No. 48; the two cars ran close together throughout most of the afternoon. In the last few laps, Kenseth jumped to the bottom of the track to try to salvage a finish ahead of Johnson. With no help from anyone, Kenseth was left by himself.

With the checkered flag in the air, Kenseth finished 20th and Johnson finished 13th.

When asked about the switch in the standings, Kenseth said, “I don’t think it will affect my team. I think I have one of the greatest teams out here obviously and I feel like we can go everywhere else, and honestly we can race with anybody when we’re at our best. Hopefully, we’ll be at our best the next four weeks and we’ll give them a run for their money. It was just an incredibly disappointing day. The end there, I just still for the life of me figure out — I need to watch it. From third on back to 14th, I think everybody was running half – throttle and me, Joey (Logano) and Carl (Edwards) and I thought Greg (Biffle) was going to go with us too and he must have decided not to.  A couple of other guys tried to make it happen and I figured two or three more would bail on the bottom and we’d mix it up and somebody would go up and try to be the leader, but nobody wanted to go. Everybody wanted to stay in their spots. I should have been smarter there and I guess paid attention to points, but I’m not really wired like that. I want to go up and mix it up and try to win the thing.”

Next weekend the drivers will be "Chasing the Championship" in Martinsville. While this track is one of Johnson's strong suits, don't count Kenseth out just yet.

NASCAR via Getty Images
3. Kyle Busch (-26)
by: Lacy Keyser

Coming off a nasty wreck in the Camping World Truck Series race Saturday Kyle Busch hoped to avoid the big one in Talladega. His hard hit from Saturday’s race had everyone worried. But Busch was ready for racing, even though his wife Samantha was worried.

The race started off nice and easy. When the first caution came out on Lap 5, Busch headed to pit road for gas and some adjustments. He ran in the back after that pit stop, taking it easy, being careful. During green flag stops on Lap 44, Busch had an issue and couldn’t get over in time on pit road and missed his pit stall. He had to return to pit road, forcing him to drop to the back of the field.

On Lap 79, a wreck between Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya brought out the caution. Busch was the Lucky Dog and got back on the lead lap, and battled his way back to the front. He even took the lead, and stayed with the leaders for the reminder of the day.

Despite going a lap down and a mishap on pit road, Busch rallied back and finished fifth. He now sits third in the standings

4. Kevin Harvick (-26)
by: Beth Reinke

Kevin Harvick hoped to qualify up front at Talladega, but after rain led to setting the field based on practice times, he ended up starting 33rd, the farthest back of all the Chasers. Being at the rear wasn’t all bad though, since crew chief Gil Martin's plan was for his driver to run at the back for much of the event.

As the race wound down though, Harvick began his forward trek. With 63 to go, the No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevy was 24th, but travelled into the top 10 by 32 to go. As green flag pit stops cycled through, Harvick pitted for right-side tires and gas, but came off pit road mired back in traffic. Struggling in 25th spot, he had trouble finding any drafting help until the final ten laps, when he worked his way forward for a 12th-place finish.

"We got ourselves in position to be where we needed to be at the end of the race coming to the last pit stop and then lost everything that we gained when we couldn't find a drafting partner when we came off of pit road. I just hate it for all our Jimmy John's guys. We had a strategy that we stuck to and then we were just last off of pit road."

Even though he gained three points in the standings and is tied in points with Kyle Busch, Harvick is listed in fourth spot, 26 marks behind the new leader, Jimmie Johnson.

5. Jeff Gordon (-34)
by: Stacey Owens

With more wins at Talladega Superspeedway than the rest of the Chase field, Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team were looking to make significant gains at the 2.66-mile track during the Camping World RV Sales 500 on Sunday. And for a few laps, it looked like he was going to make those gains.

"It was a good day," Gordon confirmed following the race. "I thought that the car was fantastic. I thought the team did an awesome job of executing our plan, and we were in perfect position. And it just didn't work out."

Gordon started the race from the 20th position, and joined several other Chasers in slipping to the back early on. In the first three laps, Gordon eased his way to 33rd and then to 40th, a strategy that other drivers including the 18, 15, 5 and 29 also employed in an attempt to avoid the inevitable "Big One" at the storied Alabama track.

As green flag pit stops began at Lap 44, Gordon stayed out to lead a lap and pick up an important bonus point before returning to mid-pack racing. Just before the caution came out for a wreck on Lap 70 involving Montoya and Ambrose, Gordon radioed to his team, "When they're three wide, we've got to move further back."

It wasn't until much later in the race that Gordon decided to soldier toward the front, but he was admittedly surprised by the single-file racing at the front of the pack.

"Shocking. You never know," he said. "I mean it's smart for those guys up front to do that because it eliminates a lot of cars out of the running for the win. But I've never seen guys have that much patience here in my life. So I was pretty shocked to see them just holding that line like they did … But we just hung in there and made a couple of moves there at the end."

Those moves allowed Gordon to run with his Hendrick teammates for a few laps before finishing 14th.

Gordon is now fifth in the championship points standings, 34 points back from points leader Jimmie Johnson heading to Martinsville Speedway next weekend. When asked his thoughts on the Chase and getting through this wild card race at Talladega, Gordon said, "We didn't really gain anything, but we didn't really lose anything." For a lot of drivers, that alone is success at 'Dega.
John Harrelson: Getty Images

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-52)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Talladega Superspeedway is undoubtedly famous for pack racing, wild finishes and big wrecks. It's also a track that's near and dear to Dale Earnhardt Jr.. He has won there five times over the course of his Sprint Cup career, and loves racing in the draft, a trait he picked up from his late father Dale Earnhardt Sr. It was no surprise that Earnhardt Jr. was a favorite coming into the sixth race of the Chase.

A caution in the early goings of the last lap left him with a second place finish, and the rest of the world wondering what might have been.

Earnhardt Jr.'s second place finish catapulted him up three spots to sixth place in the race for the Sprint Cup title. He led 38 laps before coming to the white flag. As the field raced single file with 20 laps to go, Earnhardt Jr., running in second place, calculated his final move, telling his team that he had a plan for the finish. As the field took the white flag, he seemed to be getting ready to make the move, as Austin Dillon stepped out of line, heading towards the bottom of the track. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went to go with him, but the move took the air off of Dillon's car, sending him hurtling towards the wall. That move ended the race, as NASCAR threw the yellow and the checkered flags at the same time, sending Jamie McMurray to Victory Lane. Earnhardt Jr. never saw his last lap plan play out.

It wasn't a bad day for the No. 88 team. They had a car that ran up front and was able to make moves freely on the track. The car handled well most of the day, and the pit crew made sure they kept Earnhardt Jr. in the running, giving him good pit stops. He told the team after the race that his car was a rocket.

As the 2013 season winds down, Earnhardt Jr. sits 52 points out of first place. He's run well all year. If he is going to make a run at the title, he's going to have to make a big impact starting now. Today's race proved that Earnhardt Jr. is still one of the kings of superspeedways, and the good run he had today may just provide the momentum he needs to march his way to the top.

7. Greg Biffle (-53)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Greg Biffle stayed out of trouble at Talladega, steering around Austin Dillon’s last-lap crash to finish 11th in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500. Despite his good finish, Biffle dropped one spot in the championship standings to seventh, but gained five points in the process, sitting 53 markers behind new points leader Jimmie Johnson.

After starting sixth, the driver of the No. 16 3M Scotch Blue Ford Fusion stayed near Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards for much of the unusually tame restrictor-plate race. Biffle ran in and around the top 10 for the first half of the event, leading twice for five laps. After the caution on Lap 79, Biffle restarted seventh but got shuffled back in the pack. He decided to play it safe and run in the back until it was time to make his move toward the front.

After final green-flag pit stops cycled through with 23 laps to go, Biffle was running second behind leader Kyle Busch. Biffle fell as far back as 17th before progressing to outside the top 10 in the final laps. He avoided a spinning Dillon to cross the finish line in 11th.

“We made it through, that is half the battle at this place,” Biffle said after the race. “It was typical Talladega, we were up and then in the back and up and then in the back. At the end of the day, we missed the wreck and that is all I really care about.”

In Sunday’s pre-race show, many of the ESPN commentators stuck a fork in Biffle’s chances for the championship. With only four races left in the Chase, Biffle’s title hopes are falling further out of reach as he sits more than a race behind points leader Johnson. However, he is standing within 19 points of fifth-place Jeff Gordon, which means there’s still time for Biffle to breach the top five.

8. Clint Bowyer (-57)
by: Carol D’Agostino

Most of the time merely ending a Talladega Superspeedway race with a fully operational car is a good thing, but during the Sprint Cup Chase? Not so much. The good news for Clint Bowyer is that he didn’t lose any spots in the driver championship standings on Sunday with his eighth place finish, which brought him six points closer to the new points leader Jimmie Johnson. Bowyer started the race in 20th place, and led twice for a total of two laps.

Bowyer was cautious, but hopeful that he could gain some points in the standings at Talladega, a track where he traditionally runs well.

“Talladega is the race that can win or lose you the Chase in a fraction of a second. It’s a traffic jam at 200 mph. You have to survive until the end, which is easier said then done, all while putting yourself in the right position to win and get as many points as you can. You have to drive aggressive and be defensive all at the same time. You worry about what you are doing and keep track of who is around you. If you make a mistake chances are you’ll end up with a wrecked race car. On the other hand if you are as far back in points as we are right now - if something happens early in the race it can put you right back in this thing. You just have to race and hope it all works out in the end.”

The No.15 team now shifts its focus from the biggest track on the circuit to the smallest – Martinsville Speedway, where Bowyer’s performance has been less than stellar.

Bowyer's Martinsville statistics over last 10 years: average finish 17.4; 1 top 5; 3 top 10s

NASCAR via Getty Images
9. Kurt Busch (-61)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Kurt Busch brought "Ricky Bobby" back to life this weekend in Talladega, but couldn't duplicate the character's famous win. Busch finished 18th, and now sits ninth in the standings for the Sprint Cup title.

Racing the Wonder Bread car, Busch hovered in the top 20 most of the day. He battled an ill-handling racecar early, telling the team that he was loose off. In a race that is known for "the big one," today's race only had a handful of cautions, and the incidents involved just two or three cars. Busch managed to avoid the trouble, but the long green flag runs were not kind to the No. 78 team.

Busch lost two valuable spots in the title standings with his finish at Talladega, and he immediately acknowledged the finish on Twitter, saying, "Not at all the finish we wanted. Choosing the middle with seven to go was a bad strategy... never would have guessed it. No one wanted to race."

Now 61 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, Busch has some work to do if he is going to be a contender for the title when the Chase reaches Homestead. It's been a great year for the one car team out of Denver, Colo., and I wouldn't expect anything but a charge from Busch as the season enters its homestretch. As he prepares to vacate the driver's seat of the No. 78 at the end of the season, nothing would be sweeter than leaving with a title.

10. Carl Edwards (-68)
by: Rebecca Kivak

After victory slipped through his fingers in the spring at Talladega, Carl Edwards looked like he had something for the field with 18 laps to go in his return visit to the superspeedway Sunday. But in the last 10 laps, Edwards was shuffled back. As the field reacted to Austin Dillon’s last-lap wreck, the driver of the No. 99 Subway Ford Fusion missed out on his chance to contend for the win in the Camping World RV Sales 500.

Edwards rolled off the grid fifth Sunday and stayed close to his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle for the majority of the 188-lap restrictor-plate race. After running in the top 10 for most of the event’s first half, Edwards joined Biffle in the back of the pack to wait out any trouble.

Following the final green-lap pit stops with 23 laps to go, Edwards was running fourth. On Lap 170, he passed Kyle Busch to lead one lap and continued to battle Busch for the lead over the next few laps. But with just 10 laps left, Edwards drifted back to 11th and fell as far back as 22nd with two laps to go. After steering around Dillon’s airborne car, Edwards was unable to make a move for the front and was credited with a 17th-place finish.

“I think that wreck at the end, there was a lot of stuff that was going to happen in the last half a lap but we didn’t see it because of that wreck,” Edwards said. “We should have been a little better. We were leading with 10 or 15 to go and I thought we were in a really good spot and it just did not work out. I tried my hardest and that is what we got.”

Edwards maintains his 10th position in the championship standings, sitting 68 markers behind new points leader Jimmie Johnson. With just four races left, Edwards is a long shot for the 2013 Sprint Cup title.

11. Ryan Newman (-72)
by: Lisa Janine Cloud

Ryan Newman finished ninth in the Camping World RV Sales 500, so you know what that means - Bloomin' Onions for all! And 10 lucky sweepstakes winners get their mortgages paid for a month by Quicken Loans.

Unfortunately, that's about all it means.

Newman started 17th, ran 23 to 30th for most of the race, and only had his name mentioned during driver introductions. It was a decent finish that moved him up one spot in the standings but since that spot is 11th, 72 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, Sunday's run isn't going to change the complexion of the championship run.

As hard as the No. 39 Wix Filters Chevy team worked, Newman's hopes of taking a Sprint Cup championship with him to Richard Childress Racing grow dimmer each week.

12 Joey Logano (-74)
by: Katy Lindamood

Joey Logano’s 16th-place finish in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 wasn’t indicative of how the No. 22 ran during the first 400 miles. After starting the event from 18th position when rain cancelled qualifying, Logano showed strength in the opening laps. Teaming up with Austin Dillon on the high side, Logano was able to make a run toward the front and to the lead.

As the race progressed and the leaders shuffled, Logano held tight in the top ten and had made his way back to second when the caution came out for an incident involving the No. 9 and No. 42. Taking four tires and fuel on the pit stop, Logano fell back to fifth for the restart and was able to stay within striking distance until the field went single file in preparation for the final round of green-flag stops.

In the closing laps, the Shell Pennzoil Ford tried to make a move on the inside line, but stalled out. Logano finished 16th and lost one position in the standings.

13. Kasey Kahne (-101)
by: Katy Lindamood

There’s little doubt that Kasey Kahne will be happy to see the Chase come to a close in four weeks. A series of disappointing finishes has put Kahne at the back of the pack now 101 points behind his teammate Jimmie Johnson. It’s a safe bet that the No. 5 won’t be celebrating a title this season.

The Farmers Insurance Chevrolet started Sunday’s race in the 28th position and fell to the back in the opening laps. It didn’t take long for that strategy to backfire and for Kahne to lose the draft. They were never able to recover and spent the day one lap down.

Kahne finished 36th, the lowest of the Chase competitors.