Thursday, Dec 02
Early in Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon, Austin Dillon put a speed up of 194.301 mph, a half-tenth of a second quicker than second place. 

Michigan is Dillon's "favorite racetrack." The last time the Cup Series sped around the 2.0-mile oval, the No. 3 car was out front for 19 laps after starting in the back and picking up a fourth-place finish. 

Brad Keselowski, hometown driver, was second on the leader board in the final  session at 194.013 mph. He has never recorded a victory at his home track. 

Jimmie Johnson was third on the board at 193.851 mph. Trevor Bayne led Roush Fenway Racing in fourth at 193.778 mph and Pocono winner, Kurt Busch completed the top five at 193.741 mph. 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Martin Truex, Jr. Kyle Larson, pole-sitter Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10. 

Ryan Blaney was the fastest rookie on Saturday, while his nemesis, Chase Elliott was 21st on speed, running 47 laps, the most of all drivers. The 20-year-old got into the wall with about 10 minutes remaining, scuffing up the right rear of the car. The No. 24 car got back out on track to complete more laps. 

After posting the fastest time in opening practice Saturday morning, Carl Edwards was mired down in 17th at 192.947 mph. 3All four of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars were outside the top 10 with Denny Hamlin leading the train of drivers in 11th. 

38 cars took time in Happy Hour. Truex led the way on best 10 lap averages at 191.991 mph. He had a pair of third-place finishes last season at Michigan.

The 400-mile race is scheduled to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. Last year, Busch was victorious in a rain-shortened event.

Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, and Kyle Larson used the Sprint Showdown to run in tonight’s Sprint All Star Race. Chase Elliott and Danica Patrick won the fan vote in order to advance. After being washed out yesterday, today’s Sprint Showdown showed intensity from the drivers to make tonight’s race.

 

In the first 20 lap segment, Trevor Bayne became the surprise winner upsetting Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney who were running one-two before the final one lap dash, after the caution waved with five laps to go.

 

In a Ford press release, Bayne stated, “We had a fast race car for no practice and no teammates in the earlier practice.  My guys did a great job guessing where we should start at.  The car was good in clean air, but in dirty air I just couldn’t go, so with one lap to go all you’ve got is the restart and I kind of treated it like it was for the win for the All-Star Race for a million bucks.  You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get in.  I thought that would be our best shot.  I got a good restart and off two there was a tiny hole and somehow our car got through it without getting beat up, so we’ll take it.”  

 

When the caution flag flew in the first segment, Kyle Larson and others went ahead and took two tires because they knew that they would have to come down within two laps to take the mandatory two tires between segments. Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott started on the front row, but Blaney was black-flagged for jumping the restart. Bayne and Elliott battled it out on the final lap, leaving Bayne with a margin of victory of .005-seconds. During the segment break, Brian Scott was found to have a loose lug nut following the mandatory lug nut check after the pit stops.

The second segment started with Chase Elliott at the front, but once the segment started, he was tight, which caused him to drop in positions. Austin Dillon took the lead from Elliott. However, a possible tire issue occurred causing him to fall back, giving Biffle the race leader. Biffle was able to set sail to win the second segment.  

Greg Biffle, being one of the few drivers to play the four tire strategy, explains the decision that ultimately led for him to win segment two. “Brian Pattie is a very, very smart veteran crew chief in this sport and it was his call.  I was skeptical of it, trust me, but I tell you what, what really made the difference was we made a chassis adjustment, two left side tires, the car was really fast the last single lap that we made under green and I was able to pass four cars in one lap.  Then we came down and the guys ripped off a great two-tire stop like a lot of other cars did and got us out third.  Really, that’s what did it.  I was being as aggressive as I could be, and I knew it was 20 laps and I knew that was my chance.  The 3 car was a little bit loose and so was I, but I made some adjustments on my driving style and was able to get by him.” 

 

The third segment saw the momentum from Chase Elliott return, a momentum that was lost during the second segment. The last half of the 10-lap third segment saw Larson and Elliott battling for the lead. Coming off of turn four in the final lap, Elliott and Larson were neck and neck heading to the line. In a 2003 Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington style, Elliott and Larson were beating and banging, using the wall as the mediator. Larson was able to hold off Elliott to win the third segment.

 

“I knew (Elliott) was going to be good on four tires and was probably going to win the fan vote, so I knew I had to win because I knew I wasn’t going to win the fan vote,” Larson said. “So, I did what I could do. Hopefully, they can repair the right side good enough or we can pull out the backup — or whatever. "I’m sure Chase is upset with me. He has all the reason in the world to be but hey, tonight we’re going for a million bucks and I’ve never had a chance to do that before. Hopefully we can get this car back in victory lane and hold a big check later.”

 

Elliott and Larson are allowed to go to a backup car for the Sprint All Star race, according to NASCAR, if they cannot fix their cars.

 

Qualifying for tonight’s Sprint All Star Race will begin at 7 pm on Fox Sports 1. 

Practice hardly matters at Talladega unless a team crashes due to the unpredictability of the event. Fortunately, there were no incidents in either of the two sessions on Friday.

In opening practice, Jamie McMurray paced the field at 199.737 mph. The No. 1 Chevrolet was on track for 16 laps, most of them coming in the draft, where he set his quick time.

Daytona 500 pole-sitter, Chase Elliott slated the No. 24 just behind McMurray at 199.729 mph. Kurt Busch, at 199.409 mph was third, with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick in fourth at 199.384 mph and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five at 199.317 mph.

30 teams posted a 10 consecutive lap run and Kyle Larson topped that list at 195.541 mph. On single lap speeds the No. 42 car was ninth overall.

Teams such as the Wood Brothers, Front Row Motorsports, Premium Motorsports and The Motorsports Group were all racing the weather with drivers Ryan Blaney, David Gilliland, Cole Whitt, Michael Waltrip and Josh Wise.

With the new charter system, none of those five drivers have a guaranteed spot in the main event on Sunday. Prior to the 2016 season, 36 teams were granted a charter giving them a position in each of the races this season and with qualifying being questionable for Saturday, each team needed to lay down a quick lap.

The slowest was Wise in 35th at 194.551 mph and if qualifying were to get cancelled he would miss the show.

The fall winner at Talladega, Joey Logano led final practice at 196.290 mph. Slated just behind him was Blaney at 196.239 mph.

Both Elliott and Patrick were in the top five in each session as the No. 24 car had a lap at 196.185 mph and the No. 10 machine was fourth at 195.094. Brian Scott completed the top five at 195.003.

Patrick also held the point on best 10 lap averages, though only a handful of drivers made a run of at least 10 laps. Three of the other four drivers were from the Hendrick Motorsports stable, with Jimmie Johnson as the odd man out.

Tony Stewart climbed into the No. 14 Chevrolet with roughly 15 minutes remaining to make his first laps of the day. The team worked on swapping Ty Dillon and he out of the car as the three-time Cup champion will only participate in the race until the first caution due to his lingering back injury.

Qualifying is set to begin on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. There will be a new pole-sitter from last year as Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday.  

On a day that Bristol was rough to most, Carl Edwards conquered the concrete en route to a dominating performance Sunday afternoon.

The No. 19 car started from pole and never looked back. Edwards was out front for a race-high 276 laps, over 130 laps more than his closest competitor. While clinching a birth in the 2016 edition of the Chase, he also posted his fourth top-five finish and seventh top 10 result. His triumph came in the defeat of his three teammates. 

“There are so many different things happening out there,” Edwards said post-race. “Different guys are fast at different times. It’s a real testament to my team. They’ve been working so hard. This team is awesome. Dave [Rogers, crew chief] doesn’t quit, he can almost read my mind and tell me things exactly when I need them.”

This is Edwards’ first short-track victory as a part of Joe Gibbs Racing, but his fourth career victory at Bristol, the last one coming in this race two years ago.

After not getting off to a good start, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished in the runner-up position on Sunday. On the initial restart of the race, the No. 88 car had no power and as a result fell two laps down before he had even completed a lap.

Just passed halfway Earnhardt made his way into the top 10, where he would remain for the majority of the second part of the event. This is his third second-place finish of 2016.

“We got a lot of luck on the last several restarts,” Earnhardt said. “We didn’t have a good enough car to run in the top five today. Greg [Ives, crew chief] and the guys did a good job at getting our laps back. We had a dead battery at the start of the race. The car was about a 10th or 15th-place car.”

Kurt Busch led 41 laps on Sunday, bringing his machine home in third. It didn’t take long for the No. 41 car to get inside the top 10 after starting in 26th. He could get good restarts, but never clear Edwards. If we were to have got ahead of the No. 19 car, there is a chance that the five-time Bristol winner would have added to that number.

Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott finished a career-high fourth in Bristol. Right around halfway, the No. 24 car had a loose tire so crew chief Alan Gustafson called the 19-year-old in to pit, where the team would lose two laps.

“The guys brought a fast car here this weekend,” Elliott said. “I hated that we had a loose wheel, but that stuff happens. The guys did a good job having a good pit stop under green and only losing two laps. It gave us a shot to get one down and then back on the lead lap. We’re chipping away, just not close enough.”

Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five, in his first top-five finish since he won the Daytona 500 back in 2011.

Matt DiBenedetto and Clint Bowyer both finished inside of the top 10, giving them their best finish of the season.

There were 15 cautions for 102 laps at Bristol, but the most notable were the four cautions thrown for Joe Gibbs Racing drivers blowing right front tires.

It started on Lap 51, when Kyle Busch blew a tire in Turn Two, while running in third. His trouble continued on Lap 259 when he blew a second tire, this one ending his day.

The bad luck for Matt Kenseth continued on Lap 186 when he blew a tire while leading. Prior to the melted bead the No. 20 Toyota was out front for 142 laps. After fighting his way back up to third, he blew a second tire on Lap 324. The team decided to go behind the wall and fix the damage, resulting in a 36th-place finish, 40 laps down.

On Lap 410, Denny Hamlin added to the trouble-filled day when a bead melted on his machine. He remained on the lead lap and finished 20th.

Loose tires and tire failures was the theme of the 500 laps at Bristol, something that teams will need to address before returning in August.   

2015 was the year that Roush Fenway Racing hit rock bottom. For the first time in team history, none of the organizations cars made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in its 13-year existence. For the first time in team history, they had no shot at the championship.

Team owner Jack Roush is an equivalent to a racing God. He has placed cars on the track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time for the last 28 years. In its tenure in the Cup Series, RFR has been with one manufacture, Ford. The two sides have stuck with each other through thick and thin, last year being the absolute thinnest.

It is possible that any other team may have folded, but Roush is a racer. It’s what he has done for the majority of his lifetime. The Concord, N.C.-based team has had to overcome tough seasons in the past, but it needs speed to be competitive in 2016.

RFR finished 2015 as a team with an average finish of 23.3, the worst in team history. The worst season for the team prior to 2015 was in 2001 when the team’s average finish was 19.2, though posting two victories. Over the span of the 36-race schedule, the organization led a team-low 43 laps, and went winless for the first time since the 1996 season.

As the team progresses into the new year, it has mixed up its interior design.

 Trevor Bayne is entering his second full season as the driver of the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford. It seems like a distant memory, but the five-year anniversary of his first career win is approaching this February when he took the Wood Brothers to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500.

The team has paired Bayne with veteran crew chief Matt Puccia. For the last four and a half seasons, Puccia worked with former XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series champion Greg Biffle. In the 162 races that the duo worked together they picked up three victories, 24 top fives and 54 top-10 finishes, including 21 in 2012.

2012 was arguably one of Biffle’s best seasons in terms of consistency as he posted a career-best 10.2 average finish. Since that season, he’s cooled down only picking up one win at Michigan in 2013.

For Bayne, he needs leadership. It seems like he’s been around longer than he really has, but 2016 will be only his second full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series. He finished 29th in the championship standings, and didn’t lead a single lap all season long, not even on the restrictor plate tracks, which he normally runs near the front.  

 “I think last season we were kind of shoved into the dark a little bit, we didn’t know what we were going into,” Bayne told Speedway Digest. “We were optimistic, but we didn’t know. This season we have a lot more notes. We’ve had people in places for longer. I know my crew chief Matt Puccia. I’ve done this for a season so I know what that grind is like. I feel like I can be more optimistic.”

Bayne has had to overcome remarkable odds to ever step foot back into a competitive car due to having Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects the central nervous system.  

After taking some time off, Bayne has trained extremely hard to make sure he can make it through a full event. He went to Victory Lane in the XFINITY Series at Iowa in 2013, the only time he has been victorious since the diagnosis in NASCAR, he does have one victory in the ARCA Racing Series at Pocono in 2015.

Since that time, the 24-year-old has grown up. Bayne got married to his longtime girlfriend, had a child and is now competing full-time in the Cup Series.

“This season versus last season, our team the way that its working together is a lot different,” Bayne said. “It’s not just saying ‘hey we’re working together’ it’s actually making physical changes in the race shop. It’s putting all of the cars together.

“It’s moving all of the crew chiefs to one office. It’s the drivers coming in and being a part of the meetings. That leads to change and that leads to forward progress in our organization.”

The organization as a whole is destined to do better this season.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is entering his fourth full-time season in the No. 17 car. The two-time XFINITY Series champion has underperformed in his first three seasons, but his relationship with Bayne could be crucial going forward.

The two younger drivers are potentially the future of RFR. Stenhouse is in a contract season and knows that he needs to up the ante in 2016 coming off a season in which he only produced three top 10s.

Biffle is entering the twilight of his career as he is the oldest full-time driver in the Cup Series. He is signed through the 2017 season, and this will more than likely that will be his last stint in the No. 16 car. With drivers such as Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Chris Buescher, who is laying in the weeds over at Front Row Motorsports, the pressure is on the younger drivers. The 45-year-old has established himself with RFR and is the leader on that team.

The key to the movement could be the Bayne, Puccia relationship. The driver is known for getting everything out of the racecar and sometimes pushing the envelope just a little too much. With a new crew chief coming in, it could be the perfect match for the kid. Cool, calm and collective will be their focus.

“I think that as I was talking about communication, he and I have that,” Bayne said. “Our personalities are a lot alike in racing. We’re racers, that’s what we are. That’s what we have in common. We talk about it and work on our cars. I’ve known him for a long time. I believe in him.”

The pressure to perform is at an all-time high for Bayne. His start in the No. 6 car is similar to David Ragan’s back in 2007. He picked up his first career top-five finish in the Daytona 500 and then fell of the face of the Earth. He picked up another top-five and tallied a total of three top 10s in his rookie campaign. At the time, Ragan posted four DNF’s compared to Bayne’s three, but finished on the lead lap more times than the 2015 season.

Those numbers are very similar to the current driver of the legendary No. 6 team.

Competing for a championship isn’t a realistic expectation this season for Bayne and the rest of Roush Fenway Racing, but making the Chase is. Once a team is in the Chase, anything can happen.

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