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Jeff Gordon suffered a rare engine failure at the worst time.
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports engine expired with just two laps to go in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, relegating the driver to a 34th-place finish.
It was just his second engine failure since 2008, but it may have blown up his 2011 championship hopes. Thanks to the motor problem, Gordon is now 10th in the standings and 47 points behind Chase leader Carl Edwards.
"Our day was pretty much over anyway, and we were going to finish maybe 15th or something," Gordon said after climbing from his car. "Right there I started (smelling) what smelled like burning oil and I saw the oil temp start to come up. I felt like it was just a matter of time before it blew up."
Before the engine blew, Tony Stewart had put Gordon three-wide on a restart and drove him all the way down to the apron – which Gordon said "ruined our day right there."
"He did what he had to do," Gordon said. "It messed us up."
Of course, the motor problem made that a moot point.
Denny Hamlin had some eyebrow-raising comments on Sunday after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway (he finished 16th).
Here's what he said, according to a transcript distributed by Toyota:
ON HIS RACE: "We were just struggling pretty much all day. We were right around 10th place. We had a bad restart there at the end, and we finished 16th. Just frustrating because I feel like were better than what were showing. We just got to work on our stuff and get better. Everything right now needs to get better."
ON WHETHER HIS TEAM IS MOVING THE RIGHT DIRECTION: "I think we know what direction to go in; whether we can get there or not, got to have cooperation from everyone. People need to be open-minded to make changes. We'll just see where it goes from there."
ON WHERE SPECIFICALLY THE TEAM NEEDS TO IMPROVE: "It's everywhere. It really is. It's everything that goes into to putting the race together and making it fast – we have to get better at."
ON WHETHER HAMLIN IS LOOKING FORWARD TO CHARLOTTE: "Normally, I would say yes. But we aren't quite running as well as what we should be at this point."
For much of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, it looked as if Carl Edwards was going to have not only his worst performance of the 2011 Chase, but one of his worst in any Chase.
Struggling with the handling of the car, Edwards was two laps down at one point to eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson. However, after making continual adjustments and catching the right breaks, Edwards was able to recover to score a fifth-place finish and take sole possession of the Chase points lead.
Following the race, Edwards said he felt as if he had just won the race after the day's disappointing start, adding he knew they were in "deep trouble" from the drop of the green flag going into the first corner on the first lap.
Edwards indicated he and crew chief Bob Osborne "prepared the wrong setup" in practice, putting the wrong suspension in the car for Sunday's race. Using myriad adjustments throughout the event, Edwards and Osborne were able to get the car handling and had a bit of luck on their side late in the race.
"We were very, very fortunate, and I'm extremely grateful," Edwards said. "We should have finished 15th or 20th, so it all worked out in our favor."
Knowing his struggles could lead to a big drop in the Chase standings, Edwards joked he was "about to run into a fence" trying to look at the scoreboard and assess his Chase competition throughout the day. After making his way back into contention, he also knew the importance of his final pass on Kevin Harvick for fifth.
"We both knew since we were tied whoever finished (fifth) would be ahead one point," he said of the pass. "That was good that we were able to do that."
While he currently leads the standings, Edwards said there is too much racing left in the Chase to determine if Sunday's performance was a defining day.
"We've run four races, it feels like we've run 400," he said. "There's a lot that can happen in the next six races. You know, I have a feeling there will be more moments that define this championship. All the way up until the last lap at Homestead, I think you have to be on your game."
For those of us who expected Brad Keselowski to be mired in the back half of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup point standings by now, it's time to accept reality: We were wrong.
Keselowski isn't going anywhere. With yet another good finish on Sunday at Kansas Speedway – this time a third-place run – Keselowski moved up to fourth in the point standings and is just 11 points behind championship leader Carl Edwards.
The Penske Racing's summer surge was not an illusion after all. Since the Chase began, Keselowski's cars have been just as strong as when he was transforming from a 20th-place driver into a championship-caliber one.
Even last week at Dover, Keselowski had a strong car before his power steering was knocked out.
"We're executing very well as a group and as a team," he said after the race. "Just the things that we can control we're doing very well. ... We were about a third- or fifth-place car today and brought home a third, so (I'm) proud of that effort."
Once again, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe improved the No. 2 car as the day progressed. He was about a 10th-place car in the first half of the race and a top-five car by the end of it. When it was go-time at the end, Keselowski went from seventh place to third in the final 30 laps.
"Good teams have good cars; they're best at their end and fastest at their end," he said. "They use good pit strategy and stay strong through adversity, and I feel like I just have a really good team.
"You know, last year we weren't a good team. We were always our worst at the end, and that's not what it takes. ... This year, it seems like as a group, we're just clicking."
For one run in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was Superman.
His Hendrick Motorsports team had fastened on a set of tires that felt so good, it was like Earnhardt Jr. was driving a perfect setup on iRacing.
He flew from about the middle of the pack up into the top 10, and was suddenly feeling confident about his chances. But as it turned out, it was just the result of one great set of tires.
On the other sets, he struggled with a tight race car and ultimately settled for 14th after a green-white-checkered finish won by teammate Jimmie Johnson.
"We weren't making big changes on the car, and we had this one run where we went from like 15th to seventh, immediately," he said. "You know? Immediately. The car was flawless. (Then) we'd do nothing at all but change tires and it was so shitty tight that I was just holding people up and just doing the best I can to hold my position. I don't understand what that's all about."
Earnhardt Jr. said via the team radio that the various sets of Goodyear tires were inconsistent, and he couldn't figure out why.
"I think being a tire man in this business is probably the hardest job to have, 'cause the driver ain't never satisfied," he said. "I don't know how to fix that, you know? ... We've got to figure it out. If Goodyear wants to come tell us what we're doing wrong, come tell us what we're doing wrong. I'd like to know."
As Earnhardt Jr. explained it, Goodyear gives each race team a certain amount of tires for each race. By looking at the serial numbers and codes on the tires, teams can research each set to find out when they were made.
The newer tires, Earnhardt Jr. said, are faster. So teams try to save those sets for the end, if possible.
"We'll put those on and the car will come to life, drive great, run up toward the front – so we'll save all those for the last few sets, if we get that opportunity to do that," he said. "I don't know what the deal was today. We had one set, man, it was the damn greatest set ever. Everything else we put on the car was real tight, wouldn't turn. We weren't changing that much on the car."
But Earnhardt Jr. said the inconsistent sets of tires "doesn't define our day." He felt the No. 88 was actually better than in June, when Earnhardt Jr. finished second at Kansas with what he said was a worse car.
The multitude of cautions toward the end of the race allowed several drivers to get back on the lead lap (like Carl Edwards), and it ultimately cost Earnhardt Jr. some positions.
Earnhardt Jr. is now ninth in points, but 43 behind Sprint Cup Series leader Carl Edwards. With six races to go, it appears unlikely the No. 88 will challenge for the championship this season.
NASCAR's most popular driver joked he was more worried about his fantasy football team's stats than agonizing over the points situation.
"I just want to win a race," he said. "That's a goal of mine right now, is to just go out there and win. Man, if we could do that, no matter what happened in the Chase I think we'd be real happy with our season.
"We've made some gains and learned as a team that we need to be better and work hard in the offseason and try to present a better account of ourselves next season."
Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards entered Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway tied for the points lead with Kevin Harvick and expecting a solid run in front of his home town crowd.
Struggling for most of the day, Edwards was able to climb back into contention late in the race and finished the day in the fifth. Finishing one spot ahead of Harvick, Edwards was able to open up a one-point lead atop the Chase standings with four races in the books.
Much like after last weekend's race at Dover, the standings saw all but three positions change hands.
Scoring the win in dominant fashion, Jimmie Johnson moved within four points of the Chase lead after being considered out of the hunt just two weeks ago.
Tony Stewart took the biggest hit Sunday, dropping four positions in the standings back to seventh. Although he was strong for much of the afternoon, a poor pit stop prior to the Green-White-Checkered finish put him in traffic and led to a 15th-place result.
Falling one spot in the Chase to 10th, Jeff Gordon's quest for a fifth NASCAR championship took a major hit when his engine expired late in the race. Now 47 points out of the lead, Gordon is a full race behind in the championship battle with six races left in the Chase.
Here is a look at the standings after four races:
Two races into the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup and Jimmie Johnson was all but written off as a championship contender. Sitting 10th in the standings, Johnson was the lowest he had ever been in the Chase.
Two weeks later, the five-time defending champion is back in the thick of things after dominating Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.
Leading 197 of the 273 laps, Johnson proved his doubters wrong, even surviving a Green-White-Checkered restart with Kasey Kahne charging hard.
"Very, very impressive performance today," crew chief Chad Knaus said after the checkered flag.
Scoring only his second win of the season, Johnson moved to third in the Chase standings, just four points within the championship lead.
"We did our job today and hope we can do it six more times," Johnson said in Victory Lane. "We've got a very strong group of guys, and have been knocking on the door all year long. We got beat in some cases and beat ourselves in others. Today we went out there and did a great job and got this Lowes Chevrolet to Victory Lane."
Carl Edwards was able to recover from a disappointing performance throughout the day to rally to a fifth-place finish and maintain the points lead with six Chase races to go.
Jeff Gordon's title hopes took a major hit in Kansas when his engine let go in the closing laps of Sunday's race. Going behind the wall, Gordon finished the day in 34th.
Here's how they finished:
Brian France addressed the NASCAR media in a full question-and-answer session for the first time since May on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, telling reporters he was happy with how this season has unfolded so far.
France said NASCAR's decision to implement a wild card and the new, simpler points system were positives and have had "a really big impact."
Other topics the NASCAR chairman addressed included:
• There is a positive in the bad economic conditions. France noted "if a team or two doesn't elect to compete next year," it gives other teams an opportunity to move up into the Cup series. "I hope everybody comes back and everybody gets what they need to compete, but if the economy is difficult, it does allow opportunities for others," he said. "That's, I guess, the only silver lining in it."
• Despite the impending closure of several teams, the Truck Series remains "very viable." France said the Truck Series has been affected by the economy – as every motorsports series has – but NASCAR has done much to take the cost out of fielding a truck over the last three years. He mentioned the series was a "franchise" for Speed.
• NASCAR has no plans to address the abundance of fuel-mileage races this season. "That's part of the strategy, it's part of the game and it's part of the racing," he said. "We're not going to be trying to overregulate that."
• NASCAR is currently re-negotiating with Cup series sponsor Sprint. "It's a program that's worked extremely well for them," France said. "...You obviously want to extend the relationship if you can."
• NASCAR could race at the new Formula One track being built in Austin someday. France referenced the Circuit of the Americas as a possibility to host some form of NASCAR road racing – though perhaps just Grand-Am. "When you look at how these events play out at Sears Point, Watkins Glen, by all accounts there's not a better road course show in this country, for sure," France said.
• The Nationwide Series is likely to return to Montreal next season. The event had been threatened by financial concerns. "It's a very popular event, does very well," he said. "My hope is we'll continue to be there."
• The upcoming repave at Kansas will be designed to create more side-by-side racing. "They really want to improve the racing," he said. "...That will be the goal, I'm sure, when the track gets down into doing just that."
• NASCAR's TV ratings are up "20something percent" in the younger demographics. France said the increase in that particular demographic is "frankly right where we would really want it to be."
A slow-moving system across western Kansas will move easy, but will not spread rain into eastern Kansas until Sunday evening. The sky will be partly to mostly cloudy, breezy (winds 10 to 20 mph) and warm (highs in the low 80s).
There is just a very small chance that some of these showers and storms could slip into the area in the late afternoon, but there is really nothing to worry about.
12:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-Race – Partly sunny and breezy – temp: 75
2:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny and breezy – temp: 80
4:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny and breezy, slight chance of a shower or storm – temp: 80
Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN for the latest Weather updates during the race.
It's NASCAR race day at Kansas Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's Chase race for you below.
What time does the race start today? The command to start engines will be given by an official from the company that owns race sponsor Hollywood Casino at 2:09 p.m. Eastern time. The green flag will then wave at 30 seconds past 2:17 p.m. Eastern. That's an hour later than most of the Sunday races so far this season – so make sure you're not sitting there an hour early for no reason. If you want to tune in for the actual race itself and skip the pre-race show, just tune in at 2:17.
Race name/distance: The Hollywood Casino 400 is named as such because of the casino that will open soon outside the track's Turn 2. The casino, which is nearing completion, overlooks the track and could be the most visible landmark of Kansas Speedway. Today's race is a 400.5-mile event, which is 267 laps around the 1.5-mile oval.
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on ESPN. Every Cup race will be on either ESPN or ABC for the rest of the year. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen.
National anthem: Country music singer Tim Dugger has been tapped to sing the national anthem today.
Tickets: The race is not sold out, but Kansas typically draws a good crowd. It should be interesting to see how having two races this season for the first time affects the crowd.
Weather: Hold onto your hats! The unofficial NASCAR weatherman is calling for unseasonably warm but very windy weather today.
Last time: Brad Keselowski won a fuel-mileage race in June, his first victory of the season. At the time, no one could have imagined the season Keselowski would ultimately have.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Kansas (Chase drivers in bold):
Longtime NASCAR writer and Nationwide Series expert Lee Montgomery has responded to Brad Keselowski's post-race comments in an editorial over at NNSRacing.com.
We won't spoil it further except to say that if you're a Nationwide Series fan, you must read Montgomery's take on the current state of the series – and why Sprint Cup drivers shouldn't be involved in it.
NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Aric Almirola and Brian Scott exchanged angry words and had to be separated by their crews following Saturday's race at Kansas Speedway.
After Almirola finished 12th and Scott finished 17th, the drivers confronted one another on pit road and Scott could be heard vowing payback on Almirola. Their dispute dates back to an incident last month at Richmond, and it continued on Saturday with more hard racing.
Scott, still steamed after Almirola wrecked him at Richmond International Raceway, raced the JR Motorsports driver hard and (according to Almirola) tried to spin him early in Saturday's Kansas race. So when Almirola caught Scott later in the race, he returned the favor.
"He thinks I wrecked him on purpose at Richmond and he still hasn't gotten over it," Almirola said. "... That's what he's mad about – he's mad I don't give him any room on the racetrack. He races way over his head."
Almirola then took a shot at Scott's buy-a-ride background. Scott comes from a wealthy family that has been able to fund his racing efforts.
"He's very fortunate his dad has a lot of money and spends a lot of money on his racing," Almirola said. "That's a big factor in what he's got going on."
Scott fired back with a tweet referencing Almirola's roots, which came in Joe Gibbs Racing's diversity program.
@bscottracing: Hmm if I'm lucky that my family has money then he is lucky for having the Drive 4 Diversity program. Doesn't matter 2 me how u get ur break.
"Really, it's an issue that's been building all year," Scott told ESPN after the race. "He's run into the back of me on restarts, he wrecked me at Richmond, he walls me at Chicago. He races like it's the last lap every time he's around me, and I've had enough of it.
"He's cost me a car and he continues to race like that, so I went and I just told him how I felt. I told him that I owed him one and I told him if he's going to continue to race like that then I'm probably going to slip up and wreck him."
Scott also said Almirola races like a "jack-you-know-what."
"It's just an every week thing and I'm sick of it," he said. "I'm not going to put up with it anymore and that's what I told him. ... He obviously has an issue with me and now I have a pretty big issue with him."
Below: Aric Almirola and Brian Scott exchange words on pit road (Photo: Jeff Gluck / SB Nation)
Danica Patrick finished exactly where she started Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway: In 15th.
Patrick and her JR Motorsports team had an off-week, but she was heartened by the finish despite never getting the car right.
"We finished another one," said Patrick, who is joining the series full time next season. "If we salvage a 15th when I'm having a bad day and I don't really like my car, we'll be OK."
The problem for Patrick was the two ends of Kansas Speedway required drivers to try different lines. She was able to run well in Turns 1 and 2 but wasn't as comfortable taking the higher line needed in Turns 3 and 4.
This wasn't the plan.
Clint Bowyer was never supposed to leave Richard Childress Racing, his home ever since he came into NASCAR. Childress was the owner who had plucked Bowyer from obscurity and given him a shot in stock car racing's major leagues.
Nor was Bowyer ever supposed to leave Chevrolet, whose vehicles he had driven ever since building an '81 Chevy pickup truck with his father – his first car.
But on Friday, it was made official: Bowyer is leaving RCR at the end of the year to drive a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota for at least the next three seasons.
And while Bowyer is happy to be joining MWR ("I truly feel this is where I'm supposed to be," he said), he's also saddened his tenure at RCR could not continue.
"I was extremely surprised – and disappointed," Bowyer of learning RCR wouldn't be welcoming him back next season. "I thought it was a sure lock."
So what happened?
Let's recap some of what we know:
• Bowyer starts the season by telling reporters he has no plans to leave Richard Childress despite an expiring contract at the end of 2011.
• In the spring, current Rusty Wallace Racing sponsor 5-Hour Energy decides to increase its commitment to NASCAR and targets a Sprint Cup Series driver. The company and Bowyer begin talks in the early summer.
• With a commitment from 5-Hour Energy, Bowyer begins shopping himself as a package deal to potential teams. But with 5-Hour Energy only funding a partial season, any team bringing on Bowyer would have to come up with a sponsor for the remainder of the season.
• Multiple teams tell Bowyer they're interested, but can't sign the driver unless he finds full-season sponsorship.
"That's what you fought a lot," Bowyer said. "Once you see the risks they're taking, it's like, 'Man...I don't know that I blame you!' It's tough for everyone in this sport right now, and it's opened my eyes up a bunch to the importance of funding, of sponsorships, those relationships."
• Childress, who has had a close relationship with Bowyer over the years, shows the team's finances to the driver and explains exactly why he can't sign him under the current circumstances.
"I realized the toughness of the situation," Bowyer said. "Richard and I are close enough, he's going to open the books up and show you what he's up against. I was like, 'Oh, man. I'm in trouble. I don't have a home here unless I go out and find the rest of the funding.'"
• MWR agrees to take a chance on Bowyer and sign the driver to a long-term deal without full-season sponsorship – a rarity in the current economic environment. The deal is for 24 races, which means 12 races are currently unsponsored.
A fresh start
Bowyer has embraced the opportunity for a fresh start, particularly since mass layoffs are expected at the end of the season. That means his No. 15 team, which is starting from scratch, will have the chance to get some top personnel.
"We have an opportunity to build a dream team," Bowyer said. "There's going to be a lot of good people out there without jobs at the end of the year, and I think we can find them."
The driver also refuted reports he had been chasing an excessive salary and seemed to acknowledge taking a paycut, as drivers like Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton also said they did earlier this year.
"If you're taking away from the performance, it does you no good to hound after a salary," Bowyer said. "You can't go broke doing this, but you've got to be able to allow these owners to have the funding to put you on top of the board. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about."
As for Childress, it seems likely the team will cut back to three cars until Austin Dillon is ready for the Sprint Cup Series in 2013.
"There's gonna be an odd man out (at RCR) one of these days," Bowyer said. "Everybody knows what's coming. It was unfortunate it was me."
The United States will be divided by a large area of high pressure to the east and an approaching trough to the west. These features will do battle over the western and central part of Kansas over the weekend, leaving the eastern counties, including Kansas Speedway, mostly dry but very windy.
I am going to leave showers out of the forecast for Sunday, but showers through western and eastern Kansas will still need to be watched as we go through the weekend. Temperatures will be warm, in the low- to mid-80s and it will be very windy. South winds 10 to 20 mph with gusts of 30 mph.
10:00 a.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny and windy – temp: 71
12:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Partly sunny and windy – temp: 77
1:50 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny and windy – temp: 83
3:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Partly sunny and windy – temp: 85
2:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny and breezy – temp: 80
Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN for the latest Weather updates during the race.
The Roush Fenway Racing cars appear to be strong this weekend at Kansas Speedway – at least when it comes to qualifying.
Greg Biffle (174.887 mph) led a contingent of three Roush Fenway Fords in the top four cars, with teammates Carl Edwards (second, 174.571 mph) and Matt Kenseth (fourth) also up front in the Kansas starting lineup.
"We were 37th when we unloaded off the truck today, and I think that says something about the team – how we started there and ended up where we are now," Biffle said. "We didn't lose our patience, focus or confidence on getting the car to go."
Kyle Busch was third and Kasey Kahne completed the top five for the Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 10.
Austin Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress, qualified 26th and will make his Sprint Cup Series debut on Sunday.
Here's the complete starting lineup for Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400:
Reed Sorenson used words like "bad, "not fun" and "frustrating" to describe this week, in which he suddenly became unemployed following a surprising dismissal from the Turner Motorsports Nationwide Series team.
Sorenson, who is third in the Nationwide point standings, was booted from his ride on Tuesday with what he said was no explanation.
"You know, I haven't really been given an explanation yet why," he said Friday at Kansas Speedway. "We're the best out of our three cars in points. Mathematically, we still have a chance to win the championship and a pretty good chance, if we ran well, to beat the 2 car (Elliott Sadler). To say it was a surprise is the least I can say about it."
Fortunately for Sorenson, MacDonald Motorsports offered him a seat in its No. 82 car this weekend at Kansas. It's not a good car, but it's at least something.
"Some points is better than zero, right?" Sorenson said.
To get the MacDonald Motorsports ride, Sorenson first had to clear it with the team's usual driver, Scott Wimmer. Sorenson said he spoke to Wimmer and told him the situation, and Wimmer agreed to do Sorenson a "huge favor."
"I definitely owe him one, for sure," Sorenson said. "I appreciate what he did for me. He could have easily said no. I'm just glad Wimmer was nice enough to let me do it. Hopefully we get enough points on Saturday to make it all worthwhile for everybody."
Sorenson also qualified for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race in Robby Gordon's No. 7 car, but the bitter feelings from his sudden departure from Turner are still fresh. He said he had grown closer with sponsor Dollar General than any other sponsor in his career, and praised his team for working so hard this season.
"I'm not mad, I'm upset," Sorenson said, "because of where we're at in the points and how hard we've worked up to this point."
There's been plenty of speculation as to the reason Sorenson was given the boot, but team owner Steve Turner was not available to comment late Friday afternoon. Officially, the team said in a statement the move was made to "evaluate" the program.
Brian Vickers is driving the No. 32 car for the next two races.
It's unclear where Sorenson will find a ride after this weekend to continue his championship battle, because his options in the Nationwide Series are limited.
"If you look at the points and who has cars available, there's really no cars available," he said. "I'm going to be trying to get in anything I can and trying to get in the best car, for sure, but it's tough with money these days. I don't know who's going to have a ride available."
Travis Pastrana is a Red Bull athlete who drives for a team partially owned by Michael Waltrip Racing. But MWR just announced a major three-year deal with 5-Hour Energy, which is considered a competitor of Red Bull.
So what will that mean for Pastrana when he drives a Pastrana-Waltrip Racing car in the Nationwide Series next season?
"Travis is a Red Bull athlete, but Michael Waltrip Racing is not necessarily a Red Bull team," MWR exec Ty Norris said Friday. "Our intent is we'll probably end up changing the name of that (Pastrana-Waltrip) company, but Travis can still race out of that organization."
Norris said Pastrana had already planned to "take on" 50 percent of PWR, which means it could be a good time for a name change anyway. That way, there won't be an obvious conflict with the energy drinks.
"We talked to these (5-Hour Energy) guys about it," Norris said. "Travis can still race, still be (Red Bull-backed) on his personal side, but Red Bull will not be on the race car."
In related news, Norris said it's still undetermined as to whether MWR will maintain its current relationship with JTG Daugherty Racing going forward.
"No decision (yet)," he said.
After months of speculation, Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing have officially announced their partnership going forward. The three-year deal will put Bowyer behind the wheel of the No. 15 Toyota with sponsor 5-Hour Energy on board for 24 races in 2012.
Joining a new organization for the first time in Bowyer's career, the move is a win-win situation for all parties involved.
For Bowyer, the move brings about an opportunity for a fresh start. Driving for Richard Childress Racing for the entirety of his career, Bowyer said the decision to leave was the "hardest part of the decision," but that he was eager to start a "new chapter" in his career.
Bowyer credited MWR for "hiring a lot of the right people" and said he felt the team is "on the brink of breaking out."
The addition of Bowyer also brings more than just a solid sponsor to the team – it will also benefit David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr., both of whom have had limited success but have not lived up to expectations.
In talking with media at Kansas Speedway, Bowyer said he is eager to work with his new teammates and grow the organization in the future.
"You've got to be able to pull on the rope in the same direction, if not you're not going to move forward," he said.
With a number of teams interested in adding Bowyer to their organization, Michael Waltrip Racing's ability to land a proven race winner and Chase contender is a strong statement for a young organization that struggled in its early years.
Team owner Michael Waltrip called the partnership "a watershed moment" for the organization.
For Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer's decision is also a positive one. While Bowyer brought a lot to the table, his departure now allows for a potential move to the Sprint Cup Series by team owner Richard Childress' grandson Austin Dillon.
Expanding to a four-car team for the 2011 season, if RCR cuts back to three cars now that Bowyer is gone, the potential pit falls and disappointments felt this year may be eliminated. When the team cut back to three teams in 2010, the organization seemed to turn itself around and find success. The opportunity to repeat that trend is now there.
For 5-Hour Energy, the announcement is nothing but positive. Bucking the trend of sponsors in these hard economic times, 5-Hour Energy's move from the Natiowide Series to the Sprint Cup Series is one that will lead to greater exposure on a week-to-week basis with a proven race winner carrying their colors.
There are few instances in which a driver's move from one team to another creates such a win-win situation, but that seems to be the case with Bowyer's decision to join Michael Waltrip Racing.
After the first two races in the 2011 Chase, many were ready to write off five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Following his second-place run last weekend at Dover, Johnson is right back in the thick of the championship battle.
With the Chase so tight only three races in, Johnson said there is no guarantee they will continue their march to the front of the standings.
"This is racing," Johnson said. "Anything can and will happen in racing."
"Yeah, we've closed it up to 13 points and are up to fifth, but it can go the other way," he added. "There's no guarantees that we're going to keep going forward."
The plan is, however, to do all he can to get there.
Being the five-time champ, Johnson would prefer to have a target on his back and the competition chasing him for the title, saying the team that can set the pace early and distance themselves from the rest of the field has an advantage.
Yet Johnson is realistic, knowing there is still a lot of racing to go and anything can happen.
"This is racing," he said. "With 10 races, 43 guys on track, 500-mile events, there's a lot that can go right and wrong and it's not over until Homestead."
Danica Patrick smiled when a reporter began to ask about her future boss Tony Stewart's surly relationship with the media.
"I'm remembering his interview a few weeks ago just before the Chase," Patrick said Friday at Kansas Speedway. "That was awesome! I sent him a text afterward and I didn't hear back from him, but I was like, 'That was awesome!'"
Patrick was referring to the Richmond media session in which Stewart ripped reporters for not asking what he considered to be "original questions" because he didn't want to discuss the upcoming Chase.
"It's true," Patrick said of Stewart's comments. "Sorry. What he said was kind of true."
The Nationwide Series driver said she couldn't treat the media like Stewart does because she hadn't accomplished enough yet. A driver like Stewart "can kind of say what you want a little more."
"I don't think I'm in a position to do that all the time," she said. "But Tony is, and he's earned his way there. And I would imagine you all respect him."
When the media gathers around Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the weekly question-and-answer sessions behind his No. 88 team's hauler, NASCAR's most popular driver occasionally fields a question about pressure.
Typically, Earnhardt Jr. shrugs it off. For the most part, he says he's not affected by outside pressure.
But on Friday at Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. revealed what does bother him: Extra attention.
"Attention bothers me, not pressure," he said, describing the sensation as "feeling like you're in a fishtank."
At the same time, Earnhardt Jr. said out of all the years in his career, this season "has maybe been the best when it comes to that."
"My own expectations and my own ambition and what I want to achieve for myself kind of correlates to what my fans want out of me and what the media wants me to do," he said. "That gets you a lot of attention when you don't do it or get close to doing it or almost do it.
"But this year's been good. We've been productive and showing some signs of life in my career a little bit. That's been a good feeling, and everything that's gone along with it this year has been really good."
Earnhardt Jr. said the extra attention was the most difficult to handle early in his career. He entered the Sprint Cup Series with heavy expectations as the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, and was coming off two consecutive Nationwide Series championships.
"People just wondered what we were capable of doing," he said. "That was pretty hard. Not even a year later, my dad died, and we just had a lot of people watching us, seeing what we would do there, how we would react.
"Ever since then, it's kind of eased up quite a bit. Ever since I've been running with Rick (Hendrick), it's been a more comfortable thing to deal with."
Earnhardt Jr. told reporters as an avid follower of NASCAR in addition to being a participant, he reads various stories about the sport – including some about himself.
"I don't think you guys really step over any lines or anything, and I keep a good idea throughout the year of what you all are doing, what you all are writing about, what everybody's thinking," he said. "I'm interested in the sport, so I got to read about it."
Does it bother him when he reads a negative story about himself?
"I think when I see somebody say, 'Dale Jr.'s not hot right now, not doing good,' there's a point to everybody's opinion and everybody's argument," he said. "So I kind of see both sides of it. If somebody writes something you like, a lot of times I'll reach out to the guy and tell him I appreciate that or thought he was right – not just for praising me or whatever, but because he was telling the truth. I really enjoy reading stuff like that, even if it's not about me."
While Earnhardt Jr. may not openly gripe about criticism in the NASCAR media, he recalled his famous father doing so.
"I used to hear him say it all the time," Earnhardt Jr. said as reporters chuckled knowingly. "He had some interesting relationships with several (media) individuals."
Leading the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup after three races, Kevin Harvick is not concerned with the competition around him.
"We have two battles right now," Harvick said. "One is against ourselves and the other one is against the guy second in points. That's the way we look at it."
Harvick said he does not care where Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards or any one else is in the championship hunt. Instead, he and the No. 29 team are focused on their own program, improving consistency and minimizing mistakes.
"You've just got to control the things you can control and minimize the damage on the days when things aren't going well," he said.
By winning four races in the first 26 races of the season, Harvick said the team has had a bit of a buffer thanks to the added bonus points.
"We haven't done anything spectacular or anything really stupid yet, we're just kind of middle of the road," he said, adding that other teams have "shot themselves in the foot" by making mistakes in the first three races.
"You can take yourself out of this thing pretty easily by making mistakes or doing something that gets you a 30th-place finish," he said. "If you can avoid those things, you can keep yourself into it."
Harvick said he feels the team is "more comfortable" with the Chase situation this year as opposed to last year, but said it is too early in the Chase to feel the pressure that will come in the final few weeks of the season.
"Once you come out of Martinsville and Talladega, you know where you stand as far as those last few weeks," he said. "You try to keep yourself close and see how you came out of those few races and the last three (races) the pressure will ramp up pretty good."
The Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway this weekend for the Hollywood Casino 400, the fourth race of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The series is making its first repeat visit to Kansas, and Brad Keselowski is looking to back up his fuel mileage win from June.
The Nationwide Series joins the Sprint Cup Series at Kansas this weekend for the Kansas Lottery 400, while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has a weekend off.
Here is the weekend schedule (all times EASTERN):
12:30 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)
2:10 p.m. - NASCAR Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 5 minutes)
3:45 p.m. - NASCAR Nationwide Series final practice (1 hour, 15 minutes)
5:10 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying (2 laps)
10:05 a.m. - NASCAR Nationwide Series qualifying (2 laps)
12:30 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice (45 minutes)
1:50 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour)
3:30 p.m. - NASCAR Nationwide Series Race (200 laps, 300 miles)
2:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (267 laps, 400.5 miles)
Will another fuel mileage race shake up the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup?
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