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Here are some selected quotes from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers following Sunday's Chase race at Texas Motor Speedway, which was won by Tony Stewart. Click here for the complete NASCAR Texas race results.
Tony Stewart (finished first): "I mean, we did what we said we were going to do. We're going to take it if we want it. Today is a perfect example. We took five points off that deficit today. We have that ability to do that the next two weeks."
Carl Edwards (finished second, leads Stewart by three points): "I feel more comfortable right now in this points battle than in any other points battle I can remember. I feel like we really only have to worry about one other guy. We still have the advantage in the points. I've raced Tony long enough. I feel comfortable with him. He's not gonna surprise me with anything, and I'm grateful for all that experience. I hope I can turn that into a championship."
Kasey Kahne (finished third): "I watched Tony and Carl. They're going for it. Tony raced me as hard as he ever raced me. I had to race as hard as I could. They're trying to get as many points as they can. It's intense trying to win these races right now. It's super close."
Matt Kenseth (finished fourth): "It's hard to be disappointed when you run in the top five. I was a little disappointed in our performance. We just dropped the green and we weren't really that great."
Jeff Gordon (finished sixth): "It is kind of fun to watch those two (Edwards and Stewart) battling. What these next two weeks are going to be like is going to be incredible. I don't think anybody expected Tony to have a Chase like this, but, you know what, he's a champion. He's a great driver and when they get their setups in the cars to where they are right now, watch out for those cars. Carl's not done yet. Those guys are solid and really strong."
Jimmie Johnson (finished 14th): "I fought a loose race car all night long and I lost it off of (Turn) 4. And I think sliding through the grass did some damage underneath the car. It may have been the rear end or something, because it didn't really drive really good after that."
And then there were two.
It certainly looked like Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart were going to battle it out for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship after Martinsville, but Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were still hanging around at the time.
Now, as you can see below, Harvick and Keselowski are all but eliminated with two races to go. Unless Edwards and Stewart somehow take each other out at Phoenix, it's going to be a two-man battle for the title at Homestead.
Kyle Busch's absence in Sunday's race dropped him to 11th place (that's down four spots), though he's only one point out of the top 10.
Here's a look at the updated Chase point standings after eight of 10 playoff races (click here if you're looking for the NASCAR Texas race results instead):
Michael McDowell had a tremendous opportunity on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway: Driving Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 car while the suspended Kyle Busch sat atop the team's pit box and watched.
Unfortunately for McDowell, the driver change meant the No. 18 would have to start at the rear of the field. And with a long, green-flag run to open the race, McDowell and his temporary team never got much of a chance to work on the car.
"It's a great opportunity to be in great equipment and (I) had some fun today," McDowell said. "Obviously, not at all the result we were looking for. Just long green-flag runs. Didn't get a long time to work on it.
"Just none of it really played out all that well for us today, but still thankful for the opportunity. It's great to be in great equipment and hopefully we get an opportunity to do it again."
McDowell said he knew he had big shoes to fill ("There's not a lot of people in our sport that have won 100 races," he said) and thus fell short of the team's expectations.
But overall, he enjoyed the experience and said he "gave it all I had."
"We were hoping for more, but for me, it was just great," he said. "I was planning on doing 20 laps this weekend, so I think I did 310 more than I was planning on and (it was a) great opportunity to work with a great team and just see how they do things a little bit different."
Busch, the No. 18 car's regular driver, watched from atop the pit box after apologizing to his team in a Sunday morning meeting.
"He looked them in the eye, straight-up, man to man, (and said), 'This is where I stand, this is what I did, this is how I feel,'" crew chief Dave Rogers said of the meeting. "He didn't sugarcoat anything, didn't make excuses for anything, but he leveled with the team.
"That honesty is a strength of this race team. We are honest with each other whether things are going good or bad. He did that today and that made the guys feel good because it's like, 'OK, that's our teammate; he's not sugarcoating things."
Busch remains under fire due to his actions in Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race, in which he blatantly wrecked title contender Ron Hornaday.
Sponsor M&M's released a statement on its Facebook page Sunday morning that read:
"The recent actions by Kyle Busch are not consistent with the values of M&M's and we're very disappointed. Like you, we hold those who represent our brand to a higher standard and we have expressed our concerns directly to Joe Gibbs Racing."
It's unclear whether Busch will be back in the No. 18 car next week, though NASCAR did not give indication he was parked for any races beyond Texas.
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are the top two championship contenders, and they proved that by battling for the win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Stewart, though, came out on top.
While Edwards had the points advantage coming into the afternoon, Stewart had momentum on his side – and showed it by driving to a statement win in Texas.
Stewart dominated Sunday's event, the eighth race of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, leading a race-high 173 of the 334 laps. Edwards put up a tough fight to finish in the second position, but was not able to top Stewart's strong showing.
Here is how they finished:
It's NASCAR race day at Texas Motor Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the AAA Texas 500 for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by a representative from AAA Texas at 3:09 p.m. Eastern time. After a few pace laps, the green flag will wave at 3:18 p.m. Eastern. That's an hour later than most of the Chase races so far. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, flip on your TV set at 3:18.
Race name/distance: The AAA Texas 500 is a 334 laps around the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway for a total of 501 miles.
TV and radio: Today's race will be televised on ESPN, as will the remaining Chase races. If you aren't near a TV or can't watch, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Performance Racing Network (PRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of PRN stations where you can listen.
National anthem: Country music star Trace Adkins, who is doing a pre-race concert, will sing the national anthem. We have a feeling Adkins' version will go over very well in Texas.
Tickets: There are still tickets available for today's race if you want to make a last-minute trip.
Weather: According to our unofficial NASCAR weatherman, fans at Texas should expect cool temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s and very windy conditions during the 500-mile event today.
Last time: Matt Kenseth dominated the spring race at Texas Motor Speedway and figures to be strong again today. One year ago, Denny Hamlin won the race and crew chief Mike Ford infamously smack-talked Jimmie Johnson's team after the Hendrick group swapped pit crews. It didn't work out so well for Hamlin or Ford.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway (Chase drivers in bold):
The following is a letter written by Kyle Busch to his fans, sponsors, teammates, competitors and fellow members of the racing community.
Busch was suspended from NASCAR competition on Saturday morning for his actions in Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
I've had a lot of time today to sit and reflect, and try to put my thoughts into words as best I can.
I want to sincerely apologize for my actions during Friday night's Truck Series race at Texas.
I apologize to my fans, all my sponsors, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports.
After talking with my team, it's great to have their support and encouragement to assure me that there are better days ahead. Even though this took place while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, I am sorry for how difficult this has been for everyone associated with Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series teams.
I'd also like to apologize to Ron Hornaday Jr., and everyone associated with the No. 33 team in the Truck Series.
I understand why I was taken out of the car for the rest of the weekend. NASCAR officials had to act, and I accept their punishment and take full responsibility for my actions.
As a racecar driver, the hardest thing to do is to sit on the sidelines listening to cars on the track when you know you should be out there competing. For this, I have no one to blame but myself.
Through a lot of support from the people around me, I feel like I've made a lot of strides this year, but this was certainly a step backward. Moving forward, I will do everything I possibly can to represent everyone involved in a positive manner. However, I know my long-term actions will have more of a bearing than anything I say right now.
Very little has changed to my NASCAR weather forecast for Texas Motor Speedway. The rest of the day Saturday will be mostly sunny and fair. It will be cool with temperatures only reaching the low-to-mid 60s, and it will also be very windy with sustained winds out of the south-southeast at 15-to-20 mph and gusts up to 27 or 30 mph.
Sunday's weather forecast for the Sprint Cup race has also not changed, there is still a small threat of scattered showers or isolated thunderstorms.
Starting Sunday morning, instability in the atmosphere will begin increase. It's possible that there could be a few isolated showers or sprinkles during the morning, but I expect it to be mostly dry.
As we move into Sunday afternoon, more moisture will be in place and as a disturbance continues to move toward and through north Texas; scattered showers and possible isolated thunderstorms are possible during the Sprint Cup race.
The threat and likelihood is low – that is the good news – but it just takes one storm or shower to cause a delay.
Professionally speaking, I don't see a situation where we have a washout Sunday. It should be mostly dry with the low threat of rain, but there is enough evidence and instability on Sunday that a shower or storm during the afternoon needs to be mentioned.
1 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race –Mostly Sunny, Windy gusts near 25 mph – temp: 63
3 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly cloudy, chance of a scattered shower or t'storm – temp: 71
Becomes first driver to be suspended for on-track incident toward another competitor since 2002.
Conventional wisdom had the Roush Fenway Racing cars coming to Texas Motor Speedway with plenty of speed – as the team often has at 1.5-mile tracks this season.
It appears the conventional wisdom was correct.
Roush cars took the top three spots for Sunday's AAA Texas 500, with Greg Biffle winning the pole ahead of David Ragan and Matt Kenseth.
Paul Menard was fourth and Tony Stewart will start fifth – ahead of his championship rival Carl Edwards, a Roush car who will start seventh.
Sandwiched in between Stewart and Edwards was David Reutimann, who just learned this week that he will not be welcomed back at Michael Waltrip Racing next season.
Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith rounded out the top 10.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway:
David Reutimann, unceremoniously dumped from his Michael Waltrip Racing ride this week in favor of Mark Martin, told reporters Friday at Texas Motor Speedway that he's struggling with his firing.
"It's hard for me not to take it personal," Reutimann told several media members, including Landmark Newspapers' Dustin Long. "I'm an emotional guy anyway, so it's hard for me not to take everything personal. People telling me it's just business, really doesn't make it any better. It's still a disappointment."
Reutimann said he has no job prospects for next season at this point, partially because he was fired so late in the year. He said it was an option to try and take someone else's ride – as he inferred Martin did to him – but he wasn't sure if he wanted to do that.
"If there were to be something out there, it's going to involve you doing the same thing that got done to me," he told reporters. "I'm not exactly up for that, either. I don't know what will happen. It may come down to something like that. When one person's gain is another person's big loss, you've got to weight the pluses and I'm not sure there is a lot.''
Reutimann added: "People looking out for No. 1 is what got me in this situation to begin with. That's the mentality. I'm no angel, but I'm just struggling a little bit with it."
For Reutimann's complete comments (and there were many more), check out Long's blog over at the Landmark Newspapers site.
Until Friday, all we knew about Danica Patrick's 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with Stewart-Haas Racing was the GoDaddy girl would start her Cup career with the Daytona 500.
Now we know the rest of it. Almost.
In addition to her full-time Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports, Patrick will run Cup races at Daytona, Darlington, Bristol (the night race), Atlanta, Chicagoland, Dover (fall race), Texas (fall race) and Phoenix (fall race).
That's eight races, but Patrick is contracted to run 10 next season. Stewart said the team was leaving two races open to give them flexibility as the year unfolded.
Patrick also revealed she'll drive the No. 10 car, which was her number as a kid.
Stewart called it "an aggressive and ambitious schedule" for a NASCAR newcomer, but said he wanted to find races that were challenging for her.
"I'm just worried about how far it's going to be into this 10-race deal before she hates me for where I'm sending her," Stewart said. "... It's part of the learning curve."
Patrick said she's well aware of how difficult her challenge will be.
"Oh boy," she said. "Darlington will be a handful. I actually enjoyed Bristol, but I'm betting once I get out there with you guys, it'll be a whole 'nother level."
"Thanks a lot, Tony," she said.
Clearly, she'll be making the track presidents at those venues very happy. The selected tracks can now use Patrick in advertisements and on billboards in attempt to drum up interest in their Sprint Cup races.
Stewart has said all along he would look for difficult tracks on which Patrick should compete, all in an effort to prepare for a full-time Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2013.
"There's going to be mistakes and there's going to be learning curves," she acknowledged. "To get that out of the way before we try to do this full-time."
Danica Patrick is paying tribute to the late Dan Wheldon at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, running a paint scheme and helmet honoring her former IndyCar Series colleague.
Wheldon, who was killed in the IndyCar season finale last month at Las Vegas, will have his trademark "Lionheart" logo on the black hood of Patrick's Nationwide Series car.
In addition, Patrick's helmet is adorned with Wheldon tributes and lettering. She will auction the helmet after the race and give the proceeds to Wheldon's family, and will also donate her race winnings from Saturday's event.
"I'm honored," she said of being able to run the Wheldon tribute on her car. "It's a privilege."
Patrick said she was thankful to have a couple weeks without racing to create some emotional space between the IndyCar finale and her new beginning in NASCAR. She's already announced plans to drive a full-time Nationwide Series schedule next season and will announce her Sprint Cup plans with Stewart-Haas Racing later today.
The GoDaddy girl said it wasn't difficult of painful for her to look at the paint scheme – even when the crew would lift up the hood and all she would see is "LIONHEART" in the windshield.
"It feels comforting in a way, to be honest," she said. "I feel like I have a little angel, in a way."
Patrick said Wheldon's death was "a tragedy and it's terrible," but hoped IndyCar could learn something about safety from the loss.
That said, she added, she's not thinking about IndyCar's problems much anymore.
"I've been describing (today) as the first day of the rest of my life," she said. "I'm all in here, and these are my thoughts and my focus."
However, Patrick also said she's not willing to shut the door on running the Indianapolis 500 next year or in the future.
"I'd love to do Indy – it's the greatest race in the world, in my opinion," she said. "I still feel like I have memories to create. No, (Wheldon's death) won't affect my decision."
Austin Dillon will drive a Nationwide Series car in 2012 with the stylized '3' made famous by Dale Earnhardt, but team owner Richard Childress said Friday he has "no intentions" of ever bringing the stylized 3 to the Sprint Cup Series.
Childress' comments came during a news conference at Texas Motor Speedway announcing Advocare as a 20-race sponsor for Dillon, his grandson, when the young driver moves up to the Nationwide Series next season.
Dillon is currently leading the Camping World Truck Series point standings with two races remaining.
Childress said he spoke with both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt prior to making the decision on whether to bring the No. 3 to the Nationwide Series, and gained the endorsement of both.
"They were really excited," Childress said. "Dale Jr. is absolutely excited to see Austin take the next step and is really proud of what he accomplished."
Richard Childress Racing released a statement from Earnhardt Jr., which said in part: "Austin is taking the next step in his career by moving to the Nationwide Series. He has used the 3 predominantly throughout his career, and I for one am excited to know he'll be running it at the next level."
The 3 car is a sensitive topic for some NASCAR fans because it was Earnhardt Sr.'s number for most of his seven Cup championships. A No. 3 car has not appeared in a race since "The Intimidator" was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 (Kevin Harvick now drives what was the No. 3 car).
Childress said his family's history has always been behind the decision to let Dillon run a No. 3.
"Austin said, 'Pop-Pop, I want to use your number,'" Childress recalled. "I said, 'Austin, that was my number, but Dale made the number famous.' He said, 'Well, it's still your number. I want to run your number.'"
"How you going to tell your grandkid no on something?" Childress added.
Childress said he puts "a lot of stock" in a car number and said he gave it a lot of "serious thought."
"The 3 has so much winning tradition, and Dale made that number famous," Childress said. "...I know he'd be proud to see (Dillon) run it."
Regardless of the number, RCR feels now is the time to move Dillon up a level.
"What we've done in the Truck Series the last few years is really going to prepare us going forward," Dillon said.
Calling it a "big day for Michael Waltrip Racing," team owner Michael Waltrip announced Friday his Toyota-backed organization has signed Mark Martin to drive a partial schedule for at least the next two seasons.
Martin will drive the No. 00 car – the so-called "Aaron's Dream Machine" – for 25 Sprint Cup Series races in 2012 and 2013. He replaces David Reutimann, who had been with the team since it began.
"The performance level is not where they'd it like to be right now, but they're making a serious move toward stepping that up," Martin said during a news conference at Texas Motor Speedway. "I'm really excited to have a chance to be a part of that. Everybody knows I like to help people. Getting a chance to work with some of the young drivers that come along and come through the program is something that really means a lot to me."
Martin joins a roster that also includes Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who is leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season.
While Martin will drive the Daytona 500, Waltrip will drive the other restrictor-plate races (including the Budweiser Shootout) and the race in his home state of Kentucky.
With Aaron's sponsoring 30 races, Waltrip said six races will be filled by a yet-to-be-determined driver who brings sponsorship (Aaron's also holds an option with MWR for 2014).
"We're open to suggestions," Waltrip said.
Martin's schedule is the same one he drove while racing part time for Ginn Racing and then Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007 and 2008.
"It is the perfect schedule for me, and it gives me an opportunity to catch my breath," he said.
Waltrip thanked Reutimann for his contributions to MWR, but indicated Aaron's owner Ken Butler was anxious to see a new direction for the 00 car.
"We (decided) it was not going the way we hoped it was," Waltrip said. "He wanted to know what we were going to do."
Said Butler: "We're very apprecitave with what David has done. But our contract up was up next year. Our thinking is, 'What's next?' I went to Michael and said, 'What can we do next? What's the next big deal?'"
"He picked a future Hall of Famer here to drive the Aaron's Dream Machine," Waltrip said.
After racing a Ford for the majority of his career, Martin switched to a Chevrolet when he left Roush Racing for his partial retirement. He later regretted giving the impression he was quitting, because the time off left him rejuvenated and ready to rejoin the Cup Series with a full schedule – which he did by signing with Hendrick Motorsports.
Though Martin is stepping out of the No. 5 car for Kasey Kahne, he was unsure until recently what 2012 would bring.
There were several options floating around, Martin said, but most were of the "wait and see if it materializes" variety. MWR first approached Martin three weeks ago to begin talks, and the contract was signed Wednesday.
"This was the best option on the table at the present time," Martin said. "They presently have a very good program, and they have fast race cars. Their average finish probably doesn't equal the speed of their race cars. But they are making serious moves."
My focus on the weather forecast this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway is for Sunday. A storm system will develop in the plains and move north and this will allow for moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to flow into North Texas.
Moisture alone doesn't cause rain – you need something to cause "lift" in the atmosphere. Although there will be moisture in the air for rain showers to form, there isn't that trigger to cause lift and develop showers.
I am not ruling rain out completely, but the likelihood that rain will form is very low for Sunday's Sprint Cup race. A lone shower could form and cause delays, but I am not confident that will happen. I am just mentioning it cause it is a possibility.
Other than that, the forecast for Nationwide and Trucks looks very good, sunny and dry.
10:00 a.m EDT
Nationwide Practice – Sunny skies – temp: 37
11:30 a.m EDT
Nationwide Final Practice– Sunny skies – temp: 45
1 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Sunny skies – temp: 55
4:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 63
6:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Clear skies – temp: 61
8 p.m EDT
Truck Race – Clear skies – temp: 58
9:30 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Mostly Sunny – temp: 45
11 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Mostly Sunny – temp: 53
1 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race –Mostly Sunny – temp: 65
3 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly cloudy, some sun, slight chance of a shower or storm – temp: 71
The one-time enemies have put the past behind them as the 2011 Chase morphs into a two-man race.
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