NASCAR

Local motorsports fans anticipate the return of NASCAR action to the Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Next Race: IRWIN Tools Night Race

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, August 23

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps)

 

NASCAR Nationwide Series

Next Race: Food City 300

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway

The Date: Friday, August 22

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN, 7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 159.9 miles (300 laps)

 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Next Race: UNOH 200 Presented By ZLOOP

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway

The Date: Wednesday, August 20

The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 106.6 miles (200 laps)

 

Night Riders: Kenseth, Kahne Looking To End 0-fer

Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne waged one of the memorable battles from the 2013 season.

For nearly 20 laps, two of NASCAR’s marquee talents ran side-by-side, inches apart, navigating Bristol’s high banks in a thrilling show of expertise and competitive desire.

Kenseth won that race, like so many others during the 2013 season. In all he won seven, more than any other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

Kahne finished second, just short of a Bristol sweep. He won the spring race in convincing fashion, leading 109 laps.

Considering the state both are in this season, that seems way longer than 12 months ago. Both drivers are winless, neither have clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and time is running out.

Heading into the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC), let’s take a deeper dive into both drivers’ predicaments.

Matt Kenseth: All things considered, it’s good to be Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon’s win at Michigan – his third of the season – guaranteed that there will be at least one winless driver in this year’s Chase. That spot belongs to the winless driver highest in points – which, currently, is Kenseth. Fifth in points, Kenseth holds a 30-point lead over Ryan Newman, the next highest ranked winless driver.

In other words, he’s pretty safe.

Still, momentum would be nice. Kenseth has finished 38th in two of the last three races, but heads to Bristol, one of his best race tracks. He has three wins at Bristol, which ties Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway as his most prolific tracks. He has a Bristol driver rating of 102.7, one of nine tracks where he eclipses the 100 driver rating mark.

Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s seat is not nearly as comfortable as Kenseth’s. But it could be worse.

Kahne currently sits outside the Chase Grid in 17th – but only nine points behind 16th-place Greg Biffle. A win would immediately lock Kahne into the Chase. And it’s a scenario that entirely possible.

He has finished in the top 10 in each of the last four Bristol races and has led laps in three of the last four. Kahne has scored more points at Bristol in the last four races than any other driver.

Chase Clinch Update: All 12 drivers with wins have now clinched a spot in the Chase, assuming they at least attempt to qualify for the remaining three races in the regular season. If a winless driver wins this weekend, and is 97 or more points ahead of 31st place, he or she will also clinch a spot.

 

Larson Eyes Chase Spot At Bristol

Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet smacked the wall in Michigan, ending his day early with a last-place finish – the repercussions of which were huge.

Going into the race, he sat at 15th on the Chase Grid, on the fringe, but still above the qualifying line. Now, the 22-year-old mans the 19th position, trailing Greg Biffle by 24 points for the 16th and final spot on the Chase Grid with just three races to go before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“We had a really good Target Chevy this weekend, so that’s why what happened in the race was so disappointing,” Larson said. “It’s just a shame because we were up there in the points’ battle for the Chase, so now we have to work even harder to try and get in.”

Fortunately for the rookie, his first full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series marks the new win-and-you’re-in Chase format. If Larson can come up victorious in any of the final three showdowns, he will join Denny Hamlin (2006) as the second rookie driver to ever qualify for the Chase.

Larson’s best chance comes at Bristol in the IRWIN Tools Night Race on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). The Ganassi driver has experienced success at Bristol with two runner-ups and one fifth-place finish in three NASCAR Nationwide Series starts and a 10th-place performance in his first Sprint Cup appearance at the track in March.

“I think we have a great car every time we get on the track and Bristol is one of my favorite tracks,” Larson said. “So we will try to go there and get a win and not worry about points anymore.” 

 

Gordon In Driver’s Seat With Chase Looming

Jeff Gordon has not won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 13 years. That’s after winning four titles in nine years.

Gordon’s performance this season answers the above statements with one of his own: “Yeah. So what?”

With just three races until the Chase begins, Gordon has turned back the clock. By blowing by Joey Logano on a late restart to win at Michigan, the 43-year-old tacked on an exclamation point to a dominant month, marked by a victory at the Brickyard, a sixth-place finish at Pocono and two Coors Light poles. He now leads the series points standings and his three wins rank tied for the most in the series.

“This is exciting,” said Gordon of his stretch – even before winning at Michigan. “To be running this good and have cars that are this great; back-to-back poles from Watkins Glen to Michigan, we’re having a lot of fun right now.”

At the moment, Gordon has the fastest car on the series. Combined with his pure talent and guile developed through 23 years on the circuit, he has seized back his greatness. No driver is as formidable right now.

“I think what I see now with Jeff today is how smart he is,” said Rick Hendrick following Gordon’s victory at Michigan, the 91st of his career (third all-time). “If someone gets in front of him or is trying to block him like they did today, instead of pushing the envelope like maybe he did in the early years, he'll just back off and let them use their stuff up, then he'll pass them.”

Hendrick continued to praise Gordon’s technical ability on the track.

“You just don’t see him make mistakes,” Hendrick said. “I think all of his years of experience are paying off for him right now.”

Gordon and his race team are confident, but have been keeping perspective as the Chase looms.

“When things go well and you get better, then you keep going down that path,” Gordon said. “I feel like we started on a good path at the start of the season and we've continued to do that up to this point.  I think it will even continue through the next 12 or 13 weeks.”

This season, Gordon is tied for the series lead in top 10s (16), and he’s well on his way to surpassing last year’s figures. This year: three wins, eight top fives and 16 top 10s in only 23 races. Last year: one win, eight top fives and 17 top 10s in 36 races.

 

For Johnson, It’s All Or Nothing At Bristol

Jimmie Johnson put his Lowe’s sponsorship to good use on Sunday at Michigan.

After the handle to his shifter broke, he attempted to change gears with a pair of pliers and a vice grip, a tough task while in park, never mind close to 200 mph. Largely due to the difficulty of the process, it didn’t work and Johnson had to pit again to get the issue fixed, losing a lap in the process.

Somehow, Johnson regained the lap and raced his way to a ninth-place finish, his best since his seventh-place performance at Sonoma in June.

“We put ourselves in a bad position with a shift lever falling off, breaking off I should say, but I was able to rally back and get ourselves a good finish,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get any further up in the field, but still salvaged a lot today.”

Going into Michigan, Johnson was mired in a rough stretch lowlighted by finishes of 37th or worse in four of his last six races.

Unconcerned with his span of poor performances, Johnson cited he overcame similar circumstances in past years. 

“It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase, but if it doesn’t happen we’ve won championships that way, too,” Johnson said.

The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion continues his quest for number seven at Bristol on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC) – a place known for heated exchanges, of which Johnson had with Ryan Newman post-race at Michigan.

Johnson has had uncharacteristic stumbles at Bristol of late, finishing 19th or worse in each of the last three races there – including a 36th in last year’s night race that matched his worst career finish at BMS.

Still, that means little. Already locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it’s an all-or-nothing mentality for Johnson. A win would mean another three bonus points to start the Chase. Currently, Johnson would start the Chase with 2,009 points.

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.

Jeff Gordon led his 1,058th lap at Michigan on Sunday, two weeks after surpassing the 1,000 lap led mark at Pocono Raceway. Now, Gordon has led more than 1,000 laps at nine different tracks. His most prolific track is Martinsville (3,593), followed by this weekend’s venue, Bristol (2,713). … Milestones: If Kevin Harvick leads 101 more laps this season, he’ll reach 1,000 laps led for the first time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. He’s led more than 100 laps at Bristol twice in his career, most recently in April of 2005. … Team Testing: On Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 25-26, five teams will test at Chicagoland Speedway, site of the first race in the Chase. Those testing: Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 26-27, Hendrick Motorsports will test at Martinsville Speedway, which hosts the seventh race in the Chase – and first in the third round.

 

Youthful Success Keeps Flowing In The NASCAR Nationwide Series                                    

Look no further than the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the next wave of young talent. At Mid-Ohio on Saturday, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chris Buescher became the third rookie this season to win, joining Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon. This is the first time since 2005 that there have been multiple rookie winners.

The average age of the three winning NNS Sunoco Rookies this season is 20.3.

Following this weekend at Mid-Ohio, the bright lights turn to 21-year old Chris Buescher who hails from Prosper, Texas. The cousin of 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher, Chris became the 14th different winner in 22 series races this season. Though his Sunoco Rookie competitor Chase Elliott has set the bar high by leading the points and posting three wins, Buescher has certainly found his stride late in the season. He is currently ninth in the standings, 144 points out of the lead. He has posted one win, three top fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 13.4 this season.

Buescher’s last weekend win also padded the stats for the most successful team in series history, giving Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 team its 91st victory. Buescher is the fourth driver to win in the No. 60 Ford; joining Mark Martin (39), Carl Edwards (38) and Greg Biffle (14).  

Heading to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the Food City 300 (7 p.m. ET on ESPN), Buescher is looking to better his finish of 16th from earlier season. Of its series leading 91 wins, the No. 60 team has only been to Victory Lane twice at Bristol with drivers Mark Martin (1996) and Carl Edwards (2007).  

Dillon and Elliott both finished in the top 10 at Bristol earlier this season.  

 

Four-Of-A-Kind: Can Anyone Stop Busch From Four Straight?

Following the past three races at Bristol, the only sound fans have heard was Kyle Busch’s No. 54 Toyota engine screaming during his celebratory burnouts.

Busch is ‘King’ when it comes to winning (a record 66 series wins) in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and Bristol is one of his most successful tracks.  In 20 starts at the 0.533-mile speedway, he has posted a series-leading seven wins, including two sets of three consecutive wins (fall 2010-2011 sweep and 2013 sweep-spring 2014). He has posted 13 top fives and 16 top 10s with an average finish of 8.6.

But can anyone stop him? Yes, but it won’t be easy.

Toyota has won seven of the last eight races at Bristol Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Busch is responsible for six of those trophies.

Turner Scott Motorsports driver Kyle Larson has come quite close to besting Busch at Bristol. He finished runner-up to Busch two out of the last three races and in doing so put on a brilliant display of driving in close quarters. Though Larson’s full-time stint in the series was short-lived, his success was apparent; of the tracks at which he made multiple starts, Bristol was his best. In three starts he has posted three top fives and an average finish of 3.0.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Toyota team could use some of Busch’s winning magic to get them back in the title hunt of the owner championship standings following an engine failure last weekend at Mid-Ohio. The DNF dropped the 54 Toyota team from the lead to second, 21 points back from Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford team. Ryan Blaney will be handling the duties in the No. 22 Ford this weekend. Blaney has made two starts at Bristol posting one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 5.5 (series career second-best).

 

Elliott Versatile In His Championship Pursuit

While many others have struggled to balance the challenges the varying tracks pose on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, series point standings leader Chase Elliott seems almost unfazed by any of them. 

Elliott sustained a cushion of 10 points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, in second place, following Elliot’s ninth-place finish at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Elliott has amassed three wins (Texas, Darlington and Chicago – tied for series most), nine top fives and 16 top 10s. His average finish for the season is 8.8 and his season-to-date driver rating is 107.9 (second only to Kyle Busch).

Elliott has reached a part of the season where he will start returning to several of the tracks he visited earlier in the year, Bristol being one of them. He started 15th and raced his way up to ninth at Bristol in the spring. Still, maintaining the points lead will prove difficult.

Coming off a series career-best road course finish of second-place last weekend at Mid-Ohio, Regan Smith is hoping to carry his momentum to Bristol and close the 10-point gap that separates him from his teammate. Smith has made nine starts at the 0.533-mile track, but only his last three events have been with JR Motorsports. In those last three starts he has finished in the top-10 twice with an average finish of 12.3.

Just six points behind Smith and 16 back from the standings lead sits Elliott Sadler third in points. Sadler has been chasing a championship in the series full-time for the past four consecutive seasons, only to finish runner-up twice. This season Sadler is positioning himself to make a run at the championship and in doing so has posted one win (Talladega), five top fives and 16 top 10s. He finished 17th at Bristol earlier this season but finished 10th in this event last season. Sadler has made a total of 15 starts at Bristol posting two wins (’98 and ‘12) five top fives and seven top 10s.

 

NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.

JR Motorsports announced this week that veteran crew chief Ernie Cope will replace Greg Ives as the leader of the No. 9 Chevrolet team next season. Ives is scheduled to be working with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NSCS next season. Cope began his crew chief career in the NCWTS in 1997; he has worked with many drivers in all three NASCAR national series. Cope currently leads the No. 5 Chevrolet team at JR Motorsports. … Milka Duno looks to become the 18th different female driver to compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the seventh in series history at Bristol Motor Speedway. Duno is a former IndyCar, ARCA Racing Series and Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car driver who hails from Caracas, Venezuela. She will be driving the No. 29 RAB Racing Toyota for car owner Robby Benton. … Speedway Children's Charities offers a wide array of events during the August Races at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Since its inception in 1996, the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities (SCC) has raised more than $7.5 million in support of children's agencies in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. For information on participating in the August race week events or to learn more about Speedway Children's Charities, visit www.Bristol.SpeedwayCharities.org .

   

Thorsport Packs 1-2 Punch

ThorSport has not one, but two drivers at the top of NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series standings following a record-setting performance at Michigan this weekend.

Team drivers Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton finished 1-2 in Saturday’s Careers For Veterans 200, blazing away from the field in the fastest race in series history with an average speed of 161.110 mph. The new mark demolished the previous record of 154.737 mph set at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012.

On top of their display of speed, Sauter and Crafton ousted Ryan Blaney as the standings leader, taking the top two spots, respectively.  Going into Wednesday’s UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1), Sauter leads Crafton in the standings by nine points.

The Sandusky, Ohio-based outfit owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson and partnered with Mike Curb now has trucks ranked first and third in the owner standings: Sauter’s No. 98 and Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota Tundras. ThorSport also owns the 14th-ranked truck in the series, the No. 13 Toyota Tundra driven by Jeb Burton.

“(I’m) just proud of this effort from everybody at ThorSport,” said Sauter following the race. “This is a great day for us. This puts us in the points lead, just halfway through the season — with some really good races coming up for us.”

His first of the season, Sauter’s victory also marks his lone checkered flag at Michigan. He has now won at least one series race in six consecutive seasons, trailing Dennis Setzer’s all-time record of eight. Sauter boasts 10 top-10 finishes and the highest average finish on the season (7.2).

ThorSport will attempt to keep its momentum heading into Bristol. Sauter has two top-five finishes in six starts there, while Crafton owns six top-10 finishes in 11 starts. Burton took 12th last season in his first-career start at Bristol.

 

The Last Coliseum Host Next Generation

Bristol brings a young flavor to this week’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Eight combined current and former NASCAR Next members will attempt to tackle the .533-mile course.  Present NASCAR Next members Cole Custer, 16, Gray Gaulding, 16, and Ben Rhodes, 17, make their first truck starts at the track while alumni Ryan Blaney, 20, Darrell Wallace Jr., 20, Jeb Burton, 22, Corey LaJoie, 22, and Ben Kennedy, 22, are all also entered.

This season, the program has produced three victories claimed by Wallace (two) and current member Erik Jones (one). Kyle Busch will be racing in place of Jones, 18, who became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR national series event last year at Phoenix (17 years, five months, nine days), in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra for the second consecutive race. In fact, Busch hopes to keep his record as the youngest NCWTS Bristol winner (21 years, 10 months, 23 days) by fending off his junior peers.

Contributing to the youth in the field is NASCAR’s rule that drivers between 16-18-years-old can compete on tracks 1.1 miles or less.

This week’s 2014-15 NASCAR Next entries have a combined 10 races of Truck Series experience - all this year. Custer has two top-10 finishes in four starts and won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Gateway, making him the youngest winner of a NASCAR national series pole (16 years, four months and 22 days). Rhodes has posted one top 10 in his two starts, while Gaulding is searching for his first top-10 finish after coming up short in four starts this season.

 


Blaney Is Focused

At the ripe age of 20, Ryan Blaney took his latest leap in his quest to NASCAR stardom when Wood Brothers Racing announced last Thursday that he will drive the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Although excited about his jump to NASCAR’s premier series, he still has unfinished business.

“Most of my focus is on that truck and trying to win a championship,” declared Blaney at Michigan.

Blaney lost his points lead at Michigan, where he finished 21st after winning the pole. He now sits at third in the standings, trailing Johnny Sauter by 16 points and Matt Crafton by nine. The performance also snapped his seven-race top-10 finish streak, the longest one on the series this season.

The No. 29 Ford F-150 driver will attempt to get back on track on Wednesday at Bristol, where he boasts two top-10 finishes in as many starts, including a third-place result last year.

Bristol should be welcoming to Blaney, who excels on short tracks, claiming nine top-10 finishes in 12 starts (75%).

 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Etc.

Bristol Bits: Former motocross competitor Justin Boston will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with Venturini Motorsports at Bristol Motor Speedway driving the No. 25 Toyota. Boston was motivated to switch from motorcycles to stock cars after attending a NCWTS race with his family at Dover, which, like Bristol, is a concrete, high-banked track. … Corey LaJoie, son of two-time Nationwide Series

champion Randy LaJoie, will compete in his second NCWTS race of the season, driving the No. 92 truck owned by Ricky Benton. … Country music artist Dierks Bentley will close out Wednesday night at Bristol, headlining a concert immediately following the UNOH 200. CMT will record a portion of the concert and feature one of Bentley's top hits during a “Hot 20 Countdown” episode next month.

 

Suarez Set For Nationwide Series in 2015

Joe Gibbs Racing announced Tuesday that NASCAR Next and NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum Daniel Suarez will compete in the No. 18 Arris Toyota full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2015. Suarez, from Monterrey, Mexico, is a four-year veteran of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, including the last two seasons with Rev Racing and Drive for Diversity, where he has captured three wins. Suarez is also a nine-time winner in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, where he’s the current championship leader. 

South Carolina’s Anthony Anders has had a stranglehold on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I standings since the beginning of the season, but two-time defending national champion Lee Pulliam from North Carolina is closing in. Thanks to four wins last week, Pulliam is now just six points behind Anders, 714-708, with Keith Rocco holding steady in third at 682 points.

Bristol Motor Speedway race week will begin with the Bush’s Beans 150, the sixth annual combination race between the NASCAR Whelen Modified and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tours. NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Mike Stefanik won this event last year, but will not return in defense, leaving a trip to Victory Lane open to this year’s 39-car field. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman is the only two-time winner of the midsummer modified showcase.

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