NASCAR Driver Capsules, Sept. 3
Updated On: Sep 03 2014 04:09:43 PM CDT
Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained atop the Sprint Cup standings for the third straight week, 11 of the last 12 weeks and 17 of the last 18 weeks. He leads Hendrick Motorsports teammate and second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 21 points and holds a 78-point edge over third-ranked Matt Kenseth.
RICHMOND RECORD: 43 career starts, 2 wins, 17 top-5s, 27 top-10s, 6 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 1996 and late summer 2000. Finished eighth in this race last year and was second in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Status quo. That's what Gordon must maintain Saturday at Richmond. If none of the five drivers currently tied with three wins each fails to win at Richmond, Gordon would likely start the Chase reseeded in the No. 1 spot.
"You always look forward to visiting a track when you ran well there the previous race," Gordon said. "We had a great car there in April and led a lot of laps, but Richmond has always been hit or miss for us. I'm just glad this weekend isn't going to be as stressful as years past when we had to race our way into the Chase at Richmond."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon started strong until he blew a tire and was involved in a wreck early at Atlanta. He managed to come back from two laps down to finish 17th and also on the lead lap.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 93.3 percent (16,062) of the 17,209 total laps contested in 43 career starts at Richmond. His average start is an outstanding 8.0 (due primarily to six poles) and his average finish is 13.9. He has seven DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in second place for the third straight week after Sunday's race at Atlanta. He's now been ranked second for seven of the past eight weeks. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 21 points and is 57 points ahead of third-ranked Matt Kenseth.
RICHMOND RECORD: 30 career starts, 3 win, 9 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 2000, spring 2004 and spring 2006. Finished 13th in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: It's been a long time since Earnhardt has won at Richmond, spring 2006 to be exact. He'd love to win his fourth race of the season there Saturday night. Doing so would potentially put Earnhardt at the top of the Chase standings once the points and places are reseeded after Richmond.
"I enjoy racing at Richmond," Earnhardt said. "You can be aggressive and the racing is fun. We run at night and get a great crowd for the event. Richmond has put on a good show for years."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had a decent night at Atlanta, winding up with an 11th-place finish.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed an outstanding 99.2 percent (11,913) of the 12,009 total laps contested in 30 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 15.8, and average finish is 13.5. He has one DNF there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After spending the previous two weeks in fifth place, Matt Kenseth regained the two spots in the standings he lost at Michigan and climbed back into third place following Atlanta. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 78 points, is 57 points behind second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads fourth-ranked Joey Logano by three points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 29 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in late summer 2002. Finished sixth in this race last year and was fifth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth became the third and final Joe Gibbs Racing driver to clinch his berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, although he's the first driver to do so by points and not wins.
"That was the goal, to have all three JGR cars in the Chase and we were able to accomplish that," Kenseth said. "The ultimate goal is for one of us to be able to win the championship. I feel like we're gaining on it. I'm not a huge believer in momentum, but yet I feel like everyone is really clicking together and working well together and the stops are good. I feel like we're doing everything right now, we just need a little more speed to be able to start getting those wins."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth continued on a strong roll at Atlanta, finishing second to winner Kasey Kahne. A wiggle by Kenseth on the last lap allowed Kahne to get past for the victory. This is Kenseth's second strong run, having finished third the week before at Bristol.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.9 percent (11,364) of the 11,609 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 20.0 and average finish is 15.4. He has one DNF there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano remained in fourth place in the Sprint Cup standings for the third straight week after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 81 points, is three points behind third-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fifth-ranked and Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski by nine points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 11 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2014. Finished 22nd in this race last year and earned a career-best win in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano returns to Richmond, where he won earlier this year, with confidence and momentum.
"I still can't believe that I won at Richmond," Logano said. "That was one of those tracks that I've just struggled at most of the time during my career. I was able to run well at the first race last year, but in the fall race we just missed it. So to go out there and run as fast as we did that day and then run away with it at the end was fun. That was probably one of the best battles I've ever had for the lead of a race as well. It was just a great race and a great weekend. Now I know what I want and what I need at Richmond. That's a pretty cool feeling to have and something to look forward to going into the weekend."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the week before at Bristol, Logano appeared like he had a chance for a second straight win - until he was collected in a wreck late at Atlanta with Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick. Logano ultimately finished 14th.
ETC.: Logano has completed 97.5 percent (4,295) of the 4,406 laps contested in 11 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 13.8 and average finish is 16.3. He has one DNF there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After two weeks in third place, Brad Keselowski dropped two spots to fifth place after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 90 points (was 69 points back before Atlanta), is nine points behind fourth-ranked and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano and leads sixth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 16 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in spring 2014. Finished 17th in this race last year and was a career-best fourth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Like teammate Joey Logano, Keselowski is looking for another strong run at Richmond like his fourth-place showing there in this year's spring race.
"We led quite a few laps and we had a Ford Fusion that was capable of winning," Keselowski said. "This is another one of the tracks where our results are not indicative of our performance. We need to fix that this weekend. I enjoy racing at Richmond as it has great short-track racing. This is one of those places that the driver has to be up on the wheel and also take care of the car. It is also a place where pit-lane performance is crucial since the laps are so fast. This Miller Lite team is capable of winning and that is what we intend to do this Saturday night."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski had a rough night at Atlanta, a track that has given him significant trouble in his career. His high hopes coming into the race were dashed after contact with the wall caused heavy damage and forced him to retire with an eventual 39th-place finish.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed 98.9 percent (3,961) of the 4,006 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Richmond. His average start is 10.3 and average finish is 18.5. He has one DNF there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in sixth place in the standings for the second straight week after Atlanta. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 106 points, is 16 points behind fifth-ranked Brad Keselowski and is 11 points ahead of seventh-ranked Carl Edwards.
RICHMOND RECORD: 25 career starts, 3 wins, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2007, late summer 2007 and late summer 2008. Finished 40th in this race last year and was 32nd in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson hopes to turn around his last two performances at Richmond, where he's finished 40th (in this race last year) and 32nd in this year's spring race.
"This will be an interesting race for sure," Johnson said. "There are a few guys trying to get in the Chase and a few guys trying to stay in it. It's been a great regular season so far - exciting for the fans and everyone involved. I'm so happy for Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 team with their win in Atlanta - so proud Hendrick Motorsports will have all four drivers represented in the Chase for this year's cup."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson finished fourth at Bristol and repeated that same finish at Atlanta. It definitely appears Johnson is warming up for another strong run during the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 94.6 percent (9,471) of 10,009 total laps in 25 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.4, while his average finish is 17.9. He has one DNF there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards moved up one position in the standings, from eighth to seventh, after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 117 points, is 11 points behind sixth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads eighth-ranked Kevin Harvick by seven points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 20 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in fall 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was ninth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards would love to successfully defend last year's win at Richmond and enter the Chase with the best momentum of all 16 playoff entrants.
"Richmond's been a lot of fun lately," Edwards said. "We've been fast there. Our short track program has been great. It's the last race before the Chase so it'll be an opportunity for us to go out and have some fun and work on fine tuning our team for the final ten races. A year ago we had a great race and a win there. Hopefully, we can get another win and have a good time."
LOOKING BACK: Just like Bristol the week before (finished seventh in that race), Edwards had another good run this past Sunday at Atlanta, ultimately finishing fifth.
ETC.: Edwards has completed 97.2 percent (7,793) of 8,016 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 13.4, while his average finish is 13.5. He has one DNF there.
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick has lost one position in the standings after each of the last two races. He dropped to seventh after Bristol and is now eighth after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 124 points, is seven points behind seventh-ranked Carl Edwards and leads ninth-ranked Ryan Newman by one point.
RICHMOND RECORD: 27 career starts, 3 wins, 7 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in late summer 2006 and late summer 2011. Finished 11th in this race last year and was also 11th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick is having a career season, but he's also just getting warmed up for the Chase. He very easily could earn another win Saturday on a track he's had excellent success at in the past.
"I've been fortunate over my career to have had a lot of success at Richmond in the Nationwide and the Cup series and look forward to running another race there," Harvick said. "We didn't feel like we ran as well as we should have in the first race there this year and we're looking forward to going back and hopefully having a good weekend and doing what we need to do on Saturday night."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick dominated Sunday's race at Atlanta, leading 195 of the 335 laps. However, he was involved in a late wreck with Paul Menard and Joey Logano, and was forced to settle for a 19th-place finish.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 98.9 percent (10,692 laps) of the 10,809 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 16.1 and his average finish is 11.3. He has zero DNFs there.
31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman remained in ninth place for the second straight week after Atlanta. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 125 points, is one point behind eighth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by 19 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in late summer 2003. Finished third in this race last year and was eighth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman still recalls last year's race at Richmond very vividly, particularly the controversy that emerged afterward following the attempt by Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate the field to get its drivers into the Chase.
"When you look at the racing last year, there is no doubt that people contending for a Chase spot were racing in a way to help their cause," Newman said. "I think everyone has learned a lot from what happened and the consequences of it all. I think you may see a very different Richmond this time around."
LOOKING BACK: Newman had a strong run at Atlanta, completing all 335 laps and winding up with a respectable seventh-place finish, right behind former Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick.
ETC.: Newman has completed 98.8 percent (9,888) of the 10,009 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 12.2 and his average finish is 11.3. He has zero DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle climbed one spot in the standings and back into the top-10 after Atlanta. Now in 10th place, he trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 144 points, is 19 points behind ninth-ranked Ryan Newman and leads 11th-ranked Kasey Kahne by 20 points.
RICHMOND RECORD: 24 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Third in late summer 2005. Finished 12th in this race last year and was 16th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle is the man on the Chase bubble heading into Richmond. He knows he needs a strong finish to assure he makes the playoffs. Anything less, and he will be very disappointed.
"Hopefully we can get a good run this Saturday night and secure our position in the Chase," Biffle said. Added crew chief Matt Puccia, "Richmond is usually an exciting race being a night race and the last race of the regular season. We've had some success over the past few races there. We are looking to get a solid run and solidify a spot in the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing 17th at Bristol the week before, Biffle rebounded somewhat for a 10th-place finish at Atlanta.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 97.6 percent (9,379) of the 9,609 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Richmond. His average start there is 18.6 and average finish is 16.9. He has one DNF there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 20 points out of the top 10. Secured a spot in the Chase with his Atlanta win. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: One win and seven top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne hopes he can "build off" his Atlanta win as he heads to Richmond. "Hopefully, we can build some confidence, some momentum, and go into Richmond and even get better. We actually ran pretty well at Richmond earlier in the year, so that could be a good track for us this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: It was an emotional roller-coaster for Kahne Sunday night at Atlanta. After rallying late to take the lead, Kahne was within two laps of the win when a caution flag was waved for a collision between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. With two drivers taking only two tires and two others beating him off pit road, Kahne was fifth on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. A multi-car accident on the restart resulted in a second attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. Kahne was third on this restart and quickly moved by Denny Hamlin and pulled alongside Matt Kenseth. The two dueled for almost a lap before Kahne grabbed the lead and the win that earned him a spot in the Chase.
"Man, it took a lot (to get to victory lane)," said Kahne. "We were all over the place during the race but the guys stayed with me and worked hard. On those restarts, I didn't know what would happen because I had great restarts all night and I (normally) 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. It's been kind of one thing after the other but we are in the Chase with my teammates. Glad we are in the Chase and we can race them now. I am really pumped to be here."
ETC.: Crew chief Kenny Francis didn't hide the fact "it's been a rough year for us. We have had a lot of good cars and just seems like nothing goes our way. We haven't got many breaks. You feel like you're got good equipment and you feel like you've been running good, just when things don't go your way, you lose some confidence and you get a little dejected. So, winning this race is such a dramatic fashion and getting in the Chase and all that, that is just a huge relief. And I think it's going to be a huge up lift for the whole team and for our whole shop."
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 23 points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost two spots last week to fall out of the top 10.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer knows "We are going to have to have a really good finish (at Richmond), if not a win, to make it into the Chase. We've been good at Richmond, and we've got to be really good this time around. Last week really hurt, but we have to put it behind us and concentrate on rebounding at Richmond. It has been a good track for us in the past so we have high hopes for the weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer's hopes of making the Chase took a real beating Sunday night in Atlanta when his shifter broke early in the race. By the time the team replaced the transmission, Bowyer was 22 laps down and in 42nd place. He ended the night in 38th place. "It seems like if it weren't for bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck," said a dejected Bowyer, who began the night with a spot in the Chase. But as he heads to Richmond, Bowyer is now 23 points behind Greg Biffle in the race for the last spot in the Chase.
ETC.: A year ago Bowyer was involved in one of the biggest controversies in NASCAR history when he spun late in the race with Ryan Newman closing in on a win and a spot in the Chase, knocking out then teammate Martin Truex, Jr., out of the Chase. The caution completely changed the complexion of the race with Carl Edwards racing to the win. NASCAR later ruled that Michael Waltrip Racing had tried to change the outcome of the race by having Bowyer spin on purpose. This year Bowyer hopes to be the one driving into the winner's circle and earning a spot in the Chase.
42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 24 points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost one spot last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Won the pole for the spring race and finished 16th in his first Sprint Cup start.
LOOKING AHEAD: Larson said, "For this weekend, it's pretty simple for us, we need to win. Our Target Chevy has continued to be fast, and I know we have the ability to win the race. We've had a pretty good season, and getting into the Chase would be an awesome accomplishment for this team and me in our first year together. Richmond can be a tough track, but we'll use what we learned from the race there in the spring and our test to go and fight for a victory and a spot in the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: It was an up-and-down night for Larson. He started third, but ran into early handling problems as he dropped out of the top 15. But the rookie driver rallied in the second half of the race to finish eighth at Atlanta for his 11th top-10 finish of the season.
"It was a tough race tonight," said Larson. "For whatever reason, we got pretty tight in the center of the corners and I couldn't roll the bottom like I wanted to. I lost a ton of track position, but we got the Target Chevy better as the race went on. We got caught on pit road a couple of times when the caution fell, so we had to do the wave-around and restart behind all the lap down cars. Fortunately, it kind of worked out at the end with two green-white-checkered attempts. I had to start pretty far back on the restarts, so a top-10 is not too bad."
ETC.: Larson understands that he has an outside shot at making the Chase on points. But he also realizes that the odds of gaining 25 points and passing both Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are not very good. "So happy for Kasey (Kahne, who won the Atlanta race), but that (Kahne's win) pretty much ends our Chase hopes, unless we win (at Richmond)," said Larson.
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th. Must win the Richmond race to secure a spot in the Chase.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished fifth in the fall race a year ago for his first top-10 finish in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard knows the Richmond race is "going to be crazy like it always is with short-track racing under the lights with a lot at stake. It's going to be exciting. For a lot of us, it's the last opportunity to make it into the Chase. You have to get the front end working, but it seems more and more lately with the way the cars are it's 'drive off' you need. The trick is you have to get your car to turn also."
LOOKING BACK: Crew chief Slugger Labbe gambled on a two-tire pit stop during the next-to-last caution flag of the night in an attempt to give Menard a shot at the win. The decision vaulted Menard to second. But he struggled on the restart and got tangled up with Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano to trigger another yellow flag. Menard ended the night in 18th place. "That was definitely not the finish we were hoping for," said Menard. "Just so hard to get a good restart up top."
ETC.: Because the practice sessions this weekend are during the day, Menard feels the teams need to do a "lot of predicting on what your car is going to do" when it comes to racing at night. "It (going from day to night) changes a little bit; it generally gains more grip but doesn't really get tighter or looser," adds Menard. "You gain some grip which then goes away because you're doing longer runs."
3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th. Must win the Richmond race to qualify for the Chase.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished 27th in his Sprint Cup debut in April.
LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon calls Richmond "one of the biggest short tracks we go to because the restarts are so intense and you can really screw a guy getting into the corner there if you duck under him and put him in a bad spot. It's a place where you have to be aggressive and then have a car that holds on late because that guy that you were aggressive to at the beginning, will come back and get you later in the run. A fast car makes everything easier for sure."
LOOKING BACK: Dillon battled major handling problems all night as he finished 24th at Atlanta. "It's been rough the last few weeks," said Dillon. "We lacked forward bite from the beginning, and despite numerous changes we never did get the problem corrected. I want to thank (crew chief) Gil Martin and everyone on this 3 team for working so hard. We've got a lot of racing to go (this season)."
ETC.: Dillon recently played a major role in a music video with Ali Dee. "We met at Charlie I Horse, the company that gives me my cowboy hats," said Dillon. "We hung out together at a Dallas Mavericks game, where she was a TV host. Then one day she texted, asking if I wanted to be in the video for her single, 'Just a Broken Heart.' I said, 'yeah, sure.' We used my barn at the house and the race shop. We really had a good time doing it."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th. Must win the Richmond race to qualify for the Chase.
RICHMOND RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 23 starts including a fourth in the fall race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray feels "the biggest challenge at Richmond is tire management. Richmond is a lot of fun when your car is good, because there is a lot of fall-off with the tires during the course of a long green-flag run. It is completely different from any of the other short tracks that we run at."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 12th at Atlanta. "We started out pretty good tonight (as he raced his way into the top 10), but after our first pit stop the track seemed to change a ton," said McMurray. "I struggled to get the Cessna Chevy to turn through the center (of the corners) all night. We got caught on pit road twice when the cautions came out so we had to make up a lot of ground from the tail-end of the field. Our guys never gave up and kept adjusting on the car. We were able to take new tires before the first green-white-checkered attempt and that helped us gain a few positions to come up with a 12th-place finish."
ETC.: McMurray said a "lot of people ask me about added pressure of winning leading into this last race before the cut-off to make the Chase to the NASCAR Sprint Cup. I don't feel any added pressure for our team. The goal is to win every week, so this will be just like the first race of the season. We have tried to win at each race since the Daytona 500."
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th. Has secured a spot in the Chase as a result of his win at California.
RICHMOND RECORD: Four wins and 14 top-10 finishes including 13 top-five's in 19 starts. Finished third in the spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: It has been a rough five weeks for Busch as he has dropped from sixth to 17th in the standings. He hopes a return to one of his favorite tracks means an end to his recent run of bad luck. "We always look forward to Richmond," said Busch. "It has been a good track for me and everyone at JGR. We ran well in the spring, and we feel we will run well this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Despite being involved in a late-race accident, Busch finished 16th at Atlanta. After the race, Martin Truex, Jr., who was part of the late-race disagreement on the track, parked his car near Busch's and stuck his head in the driver's window to express his displeasure with Busch. After getting little or no feedback from Busch, Truex turned and vented his frustration with Busch's crew chief Dave Rogers. "Kyle, for whatever reason, just ran into the back of me," said Truex. "It was totally uncalled for and hard to figure out why he did what he did." Busch declined to comment.
ETC.: When asked about the post-race disagreement between his driver and Truex that was caught on TV, Rogers said, "They're hard-nosed competitors, and they didn't cut each other much slack. I talked to Kyle about what happened. He said he was expecting Martin to go in on the bottom and Kyle was banzaing on the top and trying to make the pass. Martin surprised him by going up top, and Kyle said he got to the brakes but too late. Martin didn't say or do anything wrong there. He kept it peaceful. He said what was on his mind, and I think that is accepted. It didn't get out of control. Kyle tried to explain what happened and I think they agreed to disagree tonight, but they'll probably talk later this week and figure it out."
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th. Must win the Richmond race to qualify for the Chase. Gained one spot last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers has high hopes for this weekend after how well he ran at the end of the April race at Richmond. "We had a really, really good long run car there once we got it right," said Vickers. "We were just on the splitter way too hard at the beginning of the race. Once we got that up and got the car freed up we were really, really good and maybe the best car late in the race."
LOOKING BACK: A brush with the wall and a late-race, pit-road speeding penalty eliminated any chance Vickers had of finishing in the top 10 as he ended the night in 15th place. "That wasn't the finish we deserved tonight," said Vickers. "The Aaron's Dream Machine was really good and my pit crew turned in awesome stops. We were a little tight in the center, but I thought we had something for them. We're just going to have to go win Richmond now. If my car is as good as it was tonight we'll be good."
ETC.: According to the New York Daily News, car owner Michael Waltrip will take part in the next "Dancing with the Stars" on ABC-TV. The official announcement is set for Thursday. Waltrip, who still competes part-time on the Sprint Cup Series, would be the first NASCAR driver to be part of the show. IndyCar star Helio Castroneves won the fifth season of the reality show in 2007.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th. Has secured a spot in the Chase as a result of his win at Talladega.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two wins and nine top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 16 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin would love to go into the Chase on a winning note. "Richmond has been a good track for us," said Hamlin. "We always expect to run well there. We know the racing is going to be really intense with so many people needing a win to make the Chase. But we feel good about our chances (of winning the race). It would be a great way to enter the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin started second on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish, but he couldn't keep Kasey Kahne behind him on the restart as Hamlin finished third at Atlanta. "If it wasn't for our pit crew, it was a tough night for us, but they did a good job," said Hamlin. "Those guys just kept me in it all day long and it's a great feeling when you come to pit road and you know you're going to come out first pretty much every time. They put us in position to win. That top line, you just can't accelerate up there for whatever reason. It's no different banking than the bottom, but for whatever reason, you just can't get going. It's disappointing." Hamlin led six times for 37 laps as his pit crew won the race off pit road all night long.
ETC.: Hamlin is a "big fan" of Taylor Swift, and he showed in a recent YouTube video that shows him lip-synching Swift's new single "Shake It Off." Hamlin said the "song stuck in my head" and "then it came on the radio. When it comes to remembering words to movies and songs, I can't remember the question you asked a couple of questions ago, but I hear a song a couple of times, I typically can nail it."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th. Must win the Richmond race to qualify for the Chase. Lost two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "We hoped we weren't in this position and not have all this pressure, but we're in it to win it. That's what it's going to take for us (to make the Chase), and that's what we're going to go and try and do. We are in that group of cars that have nothing left but to just go for it."
LOOKING BACK: It was a short night for Ambrose as he suffered engine failure on lap 122 of the scheduled 325-lap race. As a result, he finished 42nd at Atlanta. "Just a bad night," said Ambrose. "We were trying to get our lap back and was working hard at it, but it just wasn't meant to be. Something happened going into turn two with the engine. It didn't give any warning, and there was nothing I could do."
ETC.: Ambrose hopes his recent run of bad luck is behind him. "The last two weekend haven't been good for us, so hopefully we're due for some good luck (this weekend at Richmond)," said Ambrose. "It's going to be a fast race, an aggressive race, and we're going to need everything to go our way this weekend. We want to be in position at the end, and that starts with good practice sessions, good qualifying and a good strategy during the race."
41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st. Has secured a spot in the Chase as a result of his Martinsville win.
RICHMOND RECORD: One win and nine top-10 finishes in 27 starts. Finished second in the September race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch calls Richmond "a tough place for me. Even with the win there, I still just find it to be one of the most difficult tracks to get a handle on. It's a short track, but it's pretty unique because, other than the fact that it's under a mile in length, it really doesn't compare to a Martinsville or Phoenix. It's pretty wide whereas at some of our other short tracks, you are dealing with one-lane racing grooves. It's almost like a 1.5-mile track that has been packaged into a three-quarter-mile track."
LOOKING BACK: Busch led once for 22 laps and for most of the first half of the race looked as if he was going to be a strong contender for the win. But disaster struck on lap 170 when a right-rear tire went down and shot Busch hard into the wall. Despite suffering major damage to the right rear corner of the car, Busch rallied and was running seventh when he was involved in a crash on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. As a result, Busch had to be content with a 13th-place finish.
ETC.: Busch admits "the last few times we've been there (Richmond), the bottom is the place to be. Aside from it being the shortest way around the track, you can get more aggressive on the bottom lane and, if you have to, you can move people to advance your position."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd. Has secured a spot in the Chase as a result of his win at Daytona in July.
RICHMOND RECORD: One top-10 finish in five starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola believes "if you have a guy running third or fourth near the end that is anywhere even close to the leader and hasn't won a race I'm pretty sure he is going to wreck the three guys ahead of him to win the race and make the Chase. It's just such a big deal to teams and their sponsors to make the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final 50 laps to finish ninth at Atlanta. "We had a solid night," said Almirola. "It was good at times, it was bad at times, it was just average at times. It was a good comeback and anytime you can walk away from Atlanta with a top-10 after the last six weeks that we've had, we've got to be really happy. On that last restart, I just went through (turns) one and two and ran wide open. It was like the seas parted (as he jumped from 14th to ninth) and I drove right through there. That was nice."
ETC.: Almirola feels "it should be a really fun night for us (at Richmond) because we don't have any pressure being locked into the Chase already. Richmond is another race track where tires fall off and you can move around there even though it's a short track. You can really make passes. It is a fun race track and I've always enjoyed racing there."
47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd. Has secured a spot in the Chase as a result of his win at Watkins Glen.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished sixth in the spring race for his third top-10 finish in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger said, "The first Richmond race this season, we were pretty good and ended up with a sixth-place finish. I feel like our short track program is the best we have besides our road course program. Hopefully we can go there and have a good run. It's all about focusing on going into the Chase on a good note. In a way, we are focused on Richmond, but at the same time looking ahead. We need a solid run. I'm just going to enjoy it because fortunately we don't have to worry about it since we are locked in the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long night for Allmendinger as he had major tire problems throughout the evening as he finished 40th at Atlanta. "We thought we were going to be okay in the beginning because I was able to start making some moves and the car felt pretty good," said Allmendinger. "Then the (right-rear) tire went. After that, it kept doing it. I don't know what the cause was, but part of it was the actual tire. People were struggling with it for sure. Just a long night."
ETC.: When asked to talk about his suspension for drugs and the long road back to a regular ride on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Allmendinger admits "there were times I didn't know what was going to happen. I've learned in life you just take every day as it comes. I've always been a guy that has tried to plan ahead and look forward, what is happening next instead of what it is in the moment. To me that is what it's about - just enjoying the ride now and having fun. I love this race team. Tad and Jodi (Geschickter), they have made me feel so much like family, like one of their own. Brad Daugherty to have him on my side to where he is a former athlete so the times of questioning whether it's my ability or just the things that go around. I just really enjoy the team and enjoy the surroundings that I have right now. As I said a million times I'm way better for it."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th. Must win the Richmond race to qualify for the Chase.
RICHMOND RECORD: Three wins and 19 top-10 finishes including 11 top-five's in 30 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Richmond has always been one of Stewart's favorite tracks and one where he has had a lot of success. For those reasons, crew chief Chad Johnson feels "we have a good chance this weekend. We want to run well and have a shot at it (the win). We feel we can do that."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart returned to the driver's seat for the first time since the tragic accident on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (NY) Motorsports Park in which Stewart's sprint car hit and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. Stewart qualified 12th at Atlanta and quickly moved up to fourth. But on the restart following the third caution flag, Stewart was pushed into the wall after being clipped by Kyle Busch. Stewart's car suffered major damage to the right front. He was able to continue but on lap 172 a right-front tire blew out sending Stewart into the wall to end his day in 41st place. Stewart declined all interview requests. Crew chief Chad Johnson said, "The car had speed all weekend long. 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 ad we were just trying to salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front. "
ETC.: Before a packed media center on Friday at Atlanta, Stewart addressed the media for the first time since the tragic death of Ward. A visibly emotional Stewart read a statement he had personally prepared. "This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally, and this is something that will definitely affect my life forever," said Stewart. "This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever had to experience in their life. That being said, I know that the pain that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine. I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them. I've taken the last couple of weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family, and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It's given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss being back in the race car. I think being back this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time. I also understand that all of you have many questions and want a lot of answers; however I need to respect the ongoing investigation process and cannot answer and address the questions at this time. Emotionally I'm not sure if I could answer them anyway."
10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE SHE STANDS: 28th. Must win the Richmond race to make the Chase.
RICHMOND RECORD: Best finish in three starts is 29th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick laughingly said, "the first thing I think of when going to Richmond is we have sucked there each and every time. So we are going there with a different approach, a different approach from what we will need out of the car to be good on Saturday night, and let's hope it will work."
LOOKING BACK: Patrick was all smiles after finishing a career-best sixth at Atlanta. "I was hoping for a top-five, but sixth place is definitely something to be happy about," said Patrick, who started fourth on the final restart. The finish was the second best ever for a woman driver in a NASCAR Cup race. Sara Christian holds the record with a fifth-place finish on Oct. 2, 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway. "I had one run where I felt like I was playing a video game out there," said Patrick. "I was just driving around the top side of everybody. It was a little more human-like after that. The guys had a really awesome stop that last time so I could restart seventh (on the first of the two green-white-checkered attempts) and get out of that mess on the front straight."
ETC.: Patrick feels the team has performed a lot better than her finishes in the last couple of months. "Since that solid run at Kansas (where she finished seventh), honestly we've been so much faster and qualified so much better, it's just where something fails or I make a mistake or there's an accident," said Patrick. "There were so many things that kept putting us out of contention and wrecking our weekend. This weekend (at Atlanta), we didn't have that. I am just so happy for the team. We have had pretty fast cars for a while now and not really great finishes for it. So this is for everybody and GoDaddy."
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