In a wreck-filled Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Joey Logano was able to come out on top for the fourth time in the 2014 season for Team Penske. The Connecticut-native, who won his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Loudon, has now locked himself into the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
During the Sylvania 300, there were 15 cautions as nine of the 16 drivers in the Chase were involved in incidents. However, Logano was able to survive after taking four tires during his final pit stop as his No. 22 Ford worked through traffic as five yellow flags were thrown within the final 50 laps. The victory marks the seventh in 211 career starts for the 24-year-old. Combined with his teammate Brad Keselowski, the Team Penske organization now has eight wins on the year; the first time they have amassed that many triumphs since Ryan Newman won eight races in 2003.
"This is my home race track, the coolest place to win for me," Logano said. "I could never pick a better race track to win. I watched my first Cup race here when I was five and I won that other Cup race here, but I just felt like I had to win one the right way here, and this means so much. I’ve got to thank all the boys at Team Penske. We’re doing what we’ve got to do to win this thing right now – both teams are – and I’m proud of that. This is my home track so it means so much to me.”
Keselowski had the fastest car throughout the race, and led the first 37 laps after starting from the pole. However, during the competition caution period, crew chief Paul Wolfe and he elected to take four tires – contrary to what everyone else did inside of the top 15. Keselowski dropped to 15th on the restart, and fell as far back as 22nd. With a drop more than 100 laps remaining, Matt Kenseth and he got together. Keselowski spun, but didn’t sustain any damage to his car. On Lap 228, the No. 2 Ford was back out front until Lap 268, but wasn’t able to hold onto the lead with a hard-charging Kevin Harvick taking over for a few laps until Logano set sail as he led the final 29 laps.
Jeff Gordon, who was in position to lock himself into Round 2 of the Chase, blew a tire with nine laps remaining in the race. The orange-soaked No. 24 Chevrolet raced inside of the top five throughout the 300-lap event, but finished the day with a 26th-place result. He now sits seventh in points, but is ahead of 12th-place driver Kasey Kahne by 15 markers.
Denny Hamlin finished 37th in the No. 11 Toyota after a wild day for Joe Gibbs Racing. His car was experiencing trouble getting his fuel tank full. During the caution flag on Lap 104, he brought his car down pit road to get the issue fixed. With a lack of comprehension for what was occurring, Hamlin began to scream at his crew chief Darian Grubb. He ended up getting collected in a multi-car wreck on Lap 179, which collected Cole Whitt, Martin Truex Jr. and David Ragan.
Kyle Larson finished in the runner-up position for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. He came on strong late in the race after running outside of the top 20 during the first half of the event. Larson recorded his seventh top-five finish of 2014. His teammate Jamie McMurray had a strong showing at Loudon. The No. 1 car was inside of the top five for the duration of the Sylvania 300. Although he was not able to lead a lap, McMurray was the strongest non-Chase driver in the race. Larson currently holds a 39-point advantage over McMurray for the 17th position in the standings, which is the highest a driver can finish if they did not make the Chase.
Aric Almirola closed the gap to 12th-place in points with a sixth-place result in the No. 43 Ford. He is just 10 points behind Kahne, and is within four markers of the three drivers in front of him. Kurt Busch fell to 15th in the standings as he blew a tire on Lap 221. The finish dropped him back from ninth in points and is now behind Hamlin and Greg Biffle, who finished 16th after being multiple laps down on Sunday afternoon.
Five of the 16 drivers in the Chase finished outside of the top 20. Harvick is now locked into Round 2 of the Chase after finishing in third-place. He is 45 points ahead of Kahne, which is more than a full race advantage.
It is going to be a busy few weeks for executives at Richard Petty Motorsports.
On Saturday afternoon, the organization announced that the No. 9 Ford Fusion is vacant for the 2015 season. Driving for the team since 2011, Marcos Ambrose is opting to leave RPM to take his family back to his home in Australia. In lieu of this decision, the team now has the task of finding a new driver. But that might not be the team’s greatest challenge.
While Ambrose is departing a team that he has won a pair of races with, his sponsor is doing the same. Black and Decker is reportedly joining forces with Joe Gibbs Racing, according to Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer. Just weeks ago, JGR announced that ARRIS will be sponsoring Carl Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 17 events. It is apparent that Stanley will sponsor Edwards, but Dewalt will sponsor Matt Kenseth after they backed him from his days in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Robbie Reiser in 1999 until 2009.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the possible candidates that could be Aric Almirola’s teammate at the team that bars Richard Petty’s name on its logo.
- Sam Hornish Jr.: It appears that Hornish is the top choice for the organization. Although he is racing on a part-time basis for a Toyota team in the Nationwide Series, he had plenty of success with Team Penske and Ford in 2013. With Ford having a clear presence in this decision, they will want someone that has a good relationship with them. However, Hornish has not run a full season in the Cup Series since 2010. Now, he is clearly a better driver. It is obvious that he is going to entertain this offer – if he gets it. But he will need to find at least some sponsorship, and that has been an immense struggle for a former Indianapolis 500 winner when it truly shouldn’t be.
- David Ragan: Ragan has driven for Ford throughout his career. Besides that, he even owns a Ford dealership. He lost his ride at Roush Fenway Racing because UPS opted to sponsor Carl Edwards instead of him and he couldn’t find another company willing to back him, even after showing that he can get into Victory Lane. Since then, it has been nearly three years of immense struggles for Ragan as he is racing for Front Row Motorsports. FRM has a minor alliance with Roush, but it isn’t enough to help him contend for top 20s on a weekly basis. Moving over to RPM would give him a chance to go back to consistently racing inside of the top 15. He has been able to bring plenty of new companies into the sport with his underfunded team. The past three years have been tough, but a job with RPM could have him back in the spotlight and contending for a spot in the Chase with Almirola.
- Parker Kligerman: Kligerman was left without a ride when Swan Racing shut down a few months ago. Even though he recently tested an Indy Lights car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, he would certainly jump at what would arguably be the best opportunity of his racing career. Clearly a talented driver, RPM could help develop him like they did with Almirola. Given the opportunity, Kligerman could race inside of the top 20 in his first year with the team. Albeit he hasn’t been able to find much funding over the course of his career, he has run well when given opportunities in top equipment. If the team can’t sign Ragan or Hornish, he would certainly be a perfect fit for them.
- Elliott Sadler: It appears that Sadler won’t be staying at JGR in the Nationwide Series next year. He has said over and over again that he wants to be back in the Cup Series. Last year, he had a minor stint with Michael Waltrip Racing; improving each race he ran for them. If One Main Financial would back him, there is a possibility that he could rejoin the team he once raced for. He has had some success in the Nationwide Series with three different teams, yet the money from the sponsor could help him get back to the Cup Series.
- David Gilliland: Like Ragan, Gilliland has been racing on one-year deals for FRM. When I spoke with him at Dover at the end of May, he stated that he is working on a contract extension. However, he would also be a good fit at RPM. He has also helped bring in new sponsors into the sport, such as Love’s Travel Stops, and there is the slight chance that they would move over to RPM with him if they are willing to spend more money. He has never proven that he can win races in NASCAR’s highest division, but in a sport where money means everything – Gilliland could join this team in a highly unlikely scenario.
- Ryan Truex: RPM signed Truex to a developmental deal last year. It is clear that racing with BK Racing is not the best of situations for him. However, Petty told me that they are still working to make a package for him – at least in the Nationwide Series. Getting all of this bad luck out of the way this year might not be the worst of ideas. If he can get some sponsorship, we might see RPM put him in the No. 9 car.
- Michael McDowell: Throughout his career, McDowell never really had a great shot at being competitive. However, he continuously proves that he is capable of running well when given the equipment to do so. If K-LOVE were to make the move with him, McDowell would finally have a chance at being a top 20 driver. Like Gilliland, it all depends on whether or not the team can put a package together for the other drivers. However, with someone as genuine as McDowell, there might not be a better guy off of the track to add to a team with a genuine owner.
- Brian Scott: Scott is backed by his family’s company, Shore Lodge. He has been racing well with Richard Childress Racing, and has made a few starts in the Cup Series. If RCR can’t find room for him since Ty Dillon should be moving to the Cup Series in 2016, he might have to find another organization to call home. Switching manufacturers should not be a factor for him since he raced for Toyota for a few years before he joined RCR. Moreover, he might want to stay with the team and fight for a title. But the funding should be there if he wants to make the jump and race for 20th-25th in Cup.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Sprint Cup has finally arrived. However, things are quite different this year.
In a move to have more drama to NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, there will be four drivers eliminated after every three races. At the end of the season, four drivers will battle it out for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway for a one-of-a-kind duel.
With no way to know what to expect, the 16 drivers in the Chase will be gunning it out to make sure they don’t get eliminated. If a driver is out of contention, they can only contend for a position in points within the group they were eliminated with. But this is going to making things eccentric for the sport over the final 10 weeks of the season.
The 16 drivers in the Chase are now set. Here are my expectations for those drivers:
- Brad Keselowski: Keselowski should make it to the final round in the championship. He is on a tear as of late, especially in qualifying. Through just 26 races, he has led a career-high 1,278 laps; that’s more than 17 percent of all laps that he has completed. However, he has to make sure the team is not only contending for wins, but that they are also consistently up front in case someone else gets into trouble.
- Jeff Gordon: Gordon is having his best season in quite some time. There is something different about the driver of the No. 24 this year. He has developed an unbelievable relationship with crew chief Alan Gustafson. Throughout the year, he has been one of the five quickest cars at just about every single event. If he can take the momentum he had from pacing the Sprint Cup Series during the regular season to the Chase, he will undoubtedly become a five-time champion.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He has had a good season, but that’s to his standards – not to Hendrick Motorsports standards. There is no doubt that he is one of the most consistent drivers in the Chase as he has a 10.9 average finish. However, it seems like he races inside of the top 10 for approximately two to four races at a time, and then has something go wrong that causes a setback. Expect him to be right on the border of making it to the final round at Homestead, but he might make it as Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix are each strong tracks for him.
- Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has not been known as the clear favorite this year. It’s likely because of the annual summer drought that the No. 48 team has gone through. However, this team is going to be just as strong in the Chase. Over the past four races, he has four top-10 finishes. A key to winning the title in this format will be consistently running up front, and Johnson did just that last year with just one finish worse than ninth. But Chad Knaus and he have had some awful luck at Homestead. If he can stay out of trouble at Homestead, he will probably be crowned the champion once again.
- Joey Logano: By far, 2014 has been the best year of this young man’s career. It’s hard to believe he is just 24 with six full-time seasons in the Cup Series. However, with his first multi-win season, he has begun to learn how to be a factor for wins on a weekly basis. The intermediate tracks have been insanely strong for the No. 22 Ford. He has never been in a position to win a championship like he is this year, and that could hurt him down the road as he deals with pressure against the veterans. With Team Penske’s speed this year, there is no reason why Logano can’t battle for his first career title.
- Kevin Harvick: This week, Harvick swapped pit crews with his owner, Tony Stewart. The move will likely take away the No. 4 team’s inconsistency on pit road, which has taken away valuable track position for the team throughout the season. Even though he only has two victories this year, Harvick has been in position to win about seven races. If he can have luck on his side for once, he will be right there with Johnson, Gordon and Keselowski at Homestead.
- Carl Edwards: Even though switching teams after the season is completed is not a distraction for the No. 99 team, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization is going through some blatantly obvious struggles. However, he has been the strongest driver with the team, and with some solid results – he will be there for the Eliminator Round. After that, it’ll be tough for him to make it to the final round, especially with Martinsville and Texas; two tracks he somewhat struggled with this year.
- Kyle Busch: It has been a roller coaster year for all of Joe Gibbs Racing. Clearly, Busch can win a few races given the right circumstances. Things are cleared up with Dave Rogers and he. However, with just nine top 10s this year, he hasn’t shown this is going to be a championship caliber season. With Loudon and Dover in the Challenger Round, Busch can easily make his way into the Contender Round. It’ll be quite the challenge to get past that round, but if he can come out of Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega with a top 10 in each race, he’ll be able to advance.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been extremely inconsistent all year. However, he has been running rather well lately. If he can have some luck in the Chase, he can get rather far. He had a rough start to the season, but with 11 top 10s to this point, there is hope that Hamlin can at least get by the first round.
- Kurt Busch: Busch finally returned to Victory Lane this year and has shown speed nearly every week. In the Chase, there are a few tracks that he has struggled at. He should race his way into the second round, but beyond that is unlikely with a season full of inconsistency as he has just seven top 10s this year.
- Kasey Kahne: Besides his win at Atlanta, 2014 has been a season to forget for Kahne. With 10 top 10s this year, he hasn’t been horrific, yet there is plenty of room for improvement. The No. 5 team will make it past the first round, but since they have been so inconsistent, it’s unlikely that they’ll go past that.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola was extremely lucky with his win at Daytona. Without that, there was not a shot that he would’ve been in the Chase. Even if he does awful in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, he’ll finish 16th at the worst, which would be a career-best for the driver of the No. 43 car. Chicagoland and New Hampshire have been good tracks for him. Although he is a long shot to make it past the first round, there is a slight chance that he can do so with a little bit of luck.
- AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger’s situation is similar to that of the No. 43 team. It’s unlikely that he’ll get past the first round, but stranger things have happened. With four top 10s this season, he has the potential to do well if he can get the most out of the limited equipment that he has. Running with an alliance with Richard Childress Racing has certainly helped JTG Daugherty Racing, but it has not solved all of their on-track issues. Worst case scenario – Allmendinger will finish 16th in points instead of outside the top 20.
- Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has yet to score a win this year. He has run better than his JGR teammates all season, but just hasn’t had the luck he’s needed. With his 16 top 10s, Kenseth should make it far into the Chase. However, he won’t make it to the final round. Even if he can score a victory before the end of the season, it is going to be difficult for the No. 20 team to consistently be right there for wins as the entire crew has struggled somewhat this year.
- Greg Biffle: Biffle probably won’t make it past the first round of the Chase. He has had a brutal year. Somehow or another, the No. 16 team made the Chase based on points, albeit he has just three top fives. However, with five straight top 10 finishes prior to Richmond, he jumped six positions, which led him to 10th-place. If he can race like that, Biffle will make it past the first round. But if he struggles at the intermediate tracks like he has, then he won’t last too long in the Chase.
- Ryan Newman: This year, Newman has made a quiet, yet steady transition at RCR. He has 10 top 10 finishes, but he hasn’t really shown he is capable of winning races. Newman’s average finish is 14.1 through 26 races. Unless he earns a top five in one of the races in the first round, it’s going to be tough for him to advance. For the majority of the year, he has been a 15th-20th-place car, and he will need to improve upon that now.
The transition to Richard Childress Racing has been smooth for Ryan Newman. The latest driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet is consistently one of the best cars at any given NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this year.
However, as the Chase for the Sprint Cup is right around the corner, Newman hasn’t scored a win this year. Although he has shown he has cars capable of winning at some of the sport’s largest tracks, ‘rocket Ryan’ has been running around the top 10 on a weekly basis.
“We have been fairly consistent,” Newman said on Friday at Richmond. “Your radar or somebody else’s might be different. The guys have been doing a really good job of providing the good cars that are holding together, and that keeps us in that position. We’ve had issues like every other team, whether it’s a tire problem or a pit stop of something like that. But we’ve kept ourselves in contention to be ninth in points right now and have a shot at being in the Chase.”
Through his first 25 events with RCR, the 36-year-old has earned a pair of top fives with nine top 10s. Moreover, he sits ninth in the championship standings without a win, and has been a key leader for the organization.
With Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon looking for help at tracks he has never seen before, Newman is the veteran of the team now. He is the one that everyone is going to. Whether it is the organization’s Nationwide Series drivers, Dillon or their teammate Paul Menard – everyone has looked up to Newman as a leader. It is a role that he couldn’t have at Team Penske or at Stewart Haas Racing.
Now, thanks to an opportunity from Caterpillar and RCR, Newman might be set to win his first championship in NASCAR competition.
“After 25 races, I think you’re going to see typical Richmond racing. I don’t necessarily think that their Chase format is going to change the outcome of what happens in the last five laps or what happens in the last five minutes before the checkered flag. I think that’s typical Richmond,” he said. “It’s a little bit different situation this year because you’ve got however many guys that have won a race that are locked in and they might be experimenting or experiencing different things versus the other guys who haven’t won and have a shot at winning the race and racing their way in.”
The Chase kicks off next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, and Newman is set to do well. However, without that elusive victory, his team has shown signs of weakness. But after Kevin Harvick ended 2013 on a high note with RCR, Newman might just do the same this year.
In a wild 500-mile event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne hoisted the trophy for the first time in over a year. Holding off Matt Kenseth during a green-white-checkered restart, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet took the victory as he sliced himself between the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of the No. 20 team and Denny Hamlin.
With the victory, Kahne has locked a spot inside of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after being on the verge of earning a position in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Now, all four Hendrick Motorsports car are locked inside of the Chase. The victory marks the 17th in his career, and his fifth triumph while racing for HMS.
“We were all over the place during the race but the guys stayed with me and worked hard,” Kahne said. “On those restarts - I didn’t know what would happen because I had great restarts all night and I struggle with restarts a lot. That’s big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at and it worked really well tonight.”
“Yeah, we are locked in and I hate it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me. Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS I have been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again, thankful for that.”
Kenseth clinched a spot in the Chase based on points with a runner-up finish. Clint Bowyer is now on the outside looking in after finishing Sunday evening’s race in the 38th position due to a broken shifter. Greg Biffle currently holds the final spot in the Chase, and it would take a victory by a win-less driver inside of the top 30 to take that away from the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
Kevin Harvick was forced into the wall in front of Joey Logano after Paul Menard spun his tires on the final restart. Menard evidently took the middle lane on the outside of Danica Patrick; shoving the No. 4 car into the wall to end his evening after leading a race-high 195 laps. Harvick was the fastest car throughout the evening as his No. 4 car pulled out in front during each restart.
After Kahne led 23 laps while holding off Harvick, the caution came out with just two laps to go. Everyone on the lead lap came onto pit road, with Kenseth and Menard taking two tires. Kahne slipped to the fifth position, but was able to work his way back up after Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch tangled with a pair of laps left in the race.
While leading early in the race, Harvick nearly hit a squirrel – as he was entering Turn 3. He radioed in on the radio to tell his crew what happened as he was in disbelief; thinking a cat ran from the fence down to the apron while Harvick’s car was approaching. Prior to the first caution, just 23 cars were on the lead lap as the No. 4 car was setting a blistering pace – over seven seconds ahead of Jeff Gordon, who was in second.
On Lap 78, while running in the runner-up position, Gordon blew a left-front tire while entering Turn 3. The No. 24 car pancaked the wall, but he was able to come back and finish 17th after being stuck two laps down and having untimely cautions – preventing him from taking the wave around until the two green-white-checkered runs.
Danica Patrick earned a career-best finish as she ended the evening in the sixth position. Patrick received two free passes on Sunday evening after getting lapped. However, she consistently worked on her No. 10 car and earned a spot inside of the top 10. Ty Dillon finished 25th at Atlanta in his Sprint Cup Series debut for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 33 Chevrolet. Although he finished three laps behind the leader, Dillon gained valuable experience and finished one position behind his brother, Austin Dillon.
In the midst of the final green-flag pit cycle, Keselowski was attempting to go around Hamlin, but he missed pit road after Cole Whitt blocked him; leading the No. 2 car to slam into the back of Josh Wise’s No. 98 car.
Tony Stewart received a warm welcome by race fans during driver introductions on Sunday evening. Stewart rapidly worked his way to the sixth position within two laps of the green flag waving after starting 12th. He ran inside of the top 10 for the majority of the race until Kyle Busch and he collided on a restart. Stewart later blew a tire – ending his night in the No. 14 car as he made a return to NASCAR competition due to missing the past three events after the tragedy that occurred on the weekend of the Watkins Glen race. After the incident, he was not available for comment, but his crew chief did.
“The car has had speed all weekend long and we qualified well,” Chad Johnston said. “I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win but it just didn’t work out in our favor. We got into a little trouble with the 18 and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage. We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out.”