JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 19: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 19, 2011 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR At Chicagoland: Tony Stewart Wins Chase Opener On Fuel Mileage

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NASCAR At Chicagoland: Chase Drivers React To Opening Playoff Race

The first of 10 NASCAR Chase races are in the books. Here's what some of the top 12 drivers had to say after Monday's Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland:

TONY STEWART (finished 1st): "We've had a miserable year. But the last three weeks have really started coming into it. ... I don't think either one of us (crew chief Darian Grubb and Stewart) thought we had as good a car as we thought we needed to win today. But it didn't take long in the race to figure out we were pretty solid."

KEVIN HARVICK (finished 2nd): "I'm just happy that we finished second, to be honest with you. There's still a lot of question marks for us coming into the Chase on the mile‑and‑a‑half stuff. But the call was solid all weekend. ... During the year it was all about trying to win races. Now it's about accumulating points."

DALE EARNHARDT JR. (finished 3rd): "I just knew we were going to get a good finish if we didn't run out of fuel. I was happy where we were. I thought we had really improved throughout the day. And, yeah, it felt a lot similar to how we ran earlier in the year where we would use strategy to improve our finishing position."

CARL EDWARDS (finished 4th): "It was a really good day at the beginning and we showed a lot of speed and then we struggled a little bit, but came back with great fuel mileage at the end and that was huge for us. It allowed us to jump up to fourth and really get good position. That was a nice finish for us in this first race and something we can definitely build on as we head to Loudon."

BRAD KESELOWSKI (finished 5th): "We hung in there and battled and battled all day. We tried some different strategy, got moved to the back, but kept plugging away and got fifth out of it. Our fuel mileage was awesome. It was a good first step for us in the Chase."

KURT BUSCH (finished 6th): "It was a good points day for our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge. We had speed in the car early, but just didn't keep up with the track. We were a top-10 car all day. We led a bunch of laps early. We just struggled with making adjustments as the race went on."

RYAN NEWMAN (finished 8th): "Our fuel mileage wasn't what it needed to be, but in the end, we got a top-10 out of it. Ran out (of fuel) coming off of Turn 2. It was kind of a crazy deal, but we were still able to capitalize."

JIMMIE JOHNSON (finished 10th): "From my driving style, I've never been all that good with fuel mileage. You've certainly seen me run out at other times. Not what we wanted. We certainly had a great race car and it's just too bad. We ran out coming to the white flag."

MATT KENSETH (finished 21st): "It is really frustrating to be a race car driver and they drop the green on the last run of the day when you are supposed to put on a show for the fans and you have to run half-throttle and can't floor it or you will run out of gas."

KYLE BUSCH (finished 22nd): "We had a good car today and kept fighting back all day long. But once we hit that debris, it made the car really loose and I was doing the best I can. I still hoped we could finish in the top 10. I saved as much fuel as I could, but I guess it just wasn'’t enough and we ran out with two to go. Just a really disappointing day."

JEFF GORDON (finished 24th): "It was just one of those days. You know, we had a right-front (tire) tear apart. We actually got the car halfway decent there at the end. Then it came down to saving fuel and we obviously didn't save enough fuel."

DENNY HAMLIN (finished 31st): Hamlin did not speak with reporters after the race.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Has Barely Enough Fuel To Finish Chicago NASCAR Race

Dale Earnhardt Jr. picked up his best finish since early June at the most opportune of times: The 2011 NASCAR Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Earnhardt Jr. ended up in third place at Monday's Geico 400 after he made his fuel last until the very end of the 400-mile event. The Hendrick Motorsports driver said his gas tank ran dry at the finish line.

"It's just enough," Earnhardt Jr. said afterward. "It wouldn't have made it another lap."

Certainly, Junior Nation can breathe a sigh of relief with that news – especially since an empty tank a half-lap earlier could have meant a major disappointment and brought back bad memories of the Coca-Cola 600.

But the third-place finish will instead be a boost for Earnhardt Jr.'s Chase hopes. He moved up five spots to fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and is now in his highest position since mid-June (Michigan).

Earnhardt Jr. is 13 points out of the Chase lead (Check the complete standings here).

"You know what? I felt like we would do well in the Chase," Earnhardt Jr. said. "These are good tracks for me. ... I felt we would rebound and kind of return to the form we started at the beginning of the year."

The finish was certainly aided by fuel mileage – multiple drivers ran out of fuel ahead of Earnhardt Jr., and he counted them as he blew by – but he still would have had a decent result even without the help.

He was up to sixth place with 10 laps to go, and crew chief Steve Letarte said the team had a "top-six or top-seven car there at the end."

"We passed a lot of cars, even before people started saving (fuel)," Letarte said. "Couldn't ask for a better start, I guess."

As the No. 88 team did early in the season, Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. were able to work together to make good adjustments and get the car to be more competitive throughout the day.

"That's all you can ask for as a driver, that the car gets better all day long," Earnhardt Jr. said.

Indeed, the team's recent handling problems seemed to have gotten better – at least for the day.

"We maybe uncovered one gremlin," Letarte said. "We'll see if we can find the rest of 'em."

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Chicago NASCAR Race Results In Disappointment For Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 car silently and slowly crept toward his team's hauler in the Chicagoland Speedway garage.

A couple crew members arrived to give it a final push, and the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion made the turn and came to a stop.

Johnson climbed from the car and puffed his cheeks in exasperation, then shook his head and quietly mouthed, "Damn."

It was that kind of result for Johnson at the Chicagoland NASCAR race on Monday, a disappointing 10th-place finish after he led 39 of the 267 laps.

What happened? Simple: He ran out of fuel, unable to stretch his gas mileage as race winner Tony Stewart – with the same opportunity – made it to Victory Lane.

"I can't complain too much," a subdued Johnson said. "The car in Victory Lane has the same power, same everything. From my driving style, I've never been all that good with fuel mileage. ... Not what we wanted."

Johnson said he ran out of fuel coming to the white flag, so he was an entire lap short. Crew chief Chad Knaus had told him to start saving at the beginning of the final run – and Johnson tried his best – but he wasn't close.

"I really felt like I had done enough," he said. "They told me I needed a lap before the run started, and I gave up racing (Stewart and Matt Kenseth) quite a few laps earlier than they started trying to conserve fuel – and I still ran out coming to the white. So I don't know what I did wrong. I've just got to get better at saving fuel."

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said he was somewhat encouraged – "within reason" – by how his team performed at Chicagoland. It certainly seems like Johnson will still be a threat to win his sixth straight title in the final nine races.

"It was fun today, running up front and leading some laps," he said. "We had great speed. Just one lap short on fuel."

Related:

• NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chicagoland race results

• Updated NASCAR Chase standings after Chicago

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NASCAR: Matt Kenseth Penalized At Chicagoland After JJ Yeley Pushes Him On Last Lap

Matt Kenseth was assessed a penalty at the conclusion of Monday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway after JJ Yeley pushed him on the final lap of the race. Kenseth was dropped to 21st after the penalty.

NASCAR rules state a car cannot be pushed by another car on the final lap of an event. Kenseth was running second in the closing laps but ran out of fuel after the white flag waved.

"On the final lap of the race, the 17 car was clearly pushed by the 38 car (Yeley) in Turns 3 and 4 heading to the finish," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "He was therefore penalized and put in 21st position – the first car one lap down."

Kenseth didn't address the penalty after the race, but did express some frustration about fuel-mileage racing in general.

"It is really frustrating to be a race car driver and they drop the green on the last run of the day when you are supposed to put on a show for the fans, and you have to run half-throttle and can't floor it or you will run out of gas," Kenseth said. "It is pretty aggravating to do all the work and qualifying and pit stops and adjustments – but none of it makes a difference."

Kenseth said he saved fuel but "we still ran out with a half a lap to go."

"There were so many races this year that have been like that already where the guy running half-throttle or pitted off-sequence or whatever has won," he said. "I wish they could figure out how to fix it, because it is not a lot of fun."

Kenseth is 10th in the standings – 24 points behind leader Kevin Harvick – despite leading the second-most laps.

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2011 NASCAR Point Standings: Kevin Harvick Has Sprint Cup Series Lead After Chicagoland Chase Opener

Monday's fuel-mileage race at Chicagoland Speedway dramatically shook up the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup point standings after just one race.

Race runner-up Kevin Harvick is the new Chase points leader after former No. 1 seed Kyle Busch ran out of fuel on the last lap and fell all the way to ninth in the standings.

Tony Stewart is second – seven points behind Harvick – and Carl Edwards is third.

Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson's 11th-place finish puts him eighth in the standings. Johnson is 16 points behind Harvick.

Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit of the day. His 31st-place finish left him in last place – 41 points behind the leaders, which is basically a full race.

Here is the current top 12 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase standings:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Tony Stewart -7
  3. Carl Edwards -10
  4. Kurt Busch -11
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -13
  6. Brad Keselowski -14
  7. Ryan Newman -14
  8. Jimmie Johnson -16
  9. Kyle Busch -19
  10. Matt Kenseth -24
  11. Jeff Gordon -25
  12. Denny Hamlin -41
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NASCAR Chicagoland Results: Tony Stewart Wins 2011 Chase Opener

The 2011 NASCAR Chase opener resulted in a fuel-mileage race. Go figure.

In a season full of strategy races, Monday's delayed Chicagoland Speedway race was another in a series of events in which drivers needed to stretch their gas as long as possible – and, as usual, some failed.

Tony Stewart didn't, though. Stewart made his fuel last to the finish and won his first race in nearly a year.

Not bad for a guy who had counted himself out of the Chase as recently as Thursday.

Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had enough gas to make it to the finish – and finished second and third as a result – but five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson didn't.

Johnson finished 11th and was among the drivers who were bitten by fuel strategy. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon also ran out of gas before the finish.

Check out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings here.

Here are the NASCAR Chicagoland Speedway race results for Monday (Chase driver names in bold):

 

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  4. Carl Edwards
  5. Brad Keselowski
  6. Kurt Busch
  7. Clint Bowyer
  8. Ryan Newman
  9. Mark Martin
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. David Ragan
  12. Kasey Kahne
  13. Brian Vickers
  14. Juan Pablo Montoya
  15. Jeff Burton
  16. Joey Logano
  17. Regan Smith
  18. Martin Truex Jr.
  19. Marcos Ambrose
  20. Paul Menard
  21. Matt Kenseth
  22. Kyle Busch
  23. Trevor Bayne
  24. Jeff Gordon
  25. Mike Bliss
  26. Greg Biffle
  27. AJ Allmendinger
  28. Andy Lally
  29. Casey Mears
  30. Landon Cassill
  31. Denny Hamlin
  32. David Reutimann
  33. Dave Blaney
  34. JJ Yeley
  35. Scott Speed
  36. David Gilliland
  37. Bobby Labonte
  38. Jamie McMurray
  39. Robby Gordon
  40. Joe Nemechek
  41. David Stremme
  42. Josh Wise
  43. Michael McDowell
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NASCAR Chicagoland Update: Laps Winding Down In 2011 Chase Opener

There are 40 laps to go at Chicagoland, and the NASCAR Chase drivers are jockeying for position as the opening playoff race winds down.

All of the Chase drivers are currently in the top 15 – including Jeff Gordon, who was lapped earlier in the race – with the exception of Brad Keselowski (17th) and Denny Hamlin, just had a flat tire under green and is now multiple laps down.

Martin Truex Jr. stayed out on the last pit stop and currently leads, ahead of Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.

Most of the drivers are two or three laps short on fuel, so they'll either have to conserve and gamble to the end of the race or make another pit stop.

Carl Edwards had been strong earlier, but is now in 11th place. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on track for an average day, currently running in the 12th position.

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NASCAR Chicagoland Update: Ryan Newman Takes Lead After Two-Tire Pit Stop

After the longest green-flag run of the Chicagoland race thus far – a stretch that moved NASCAR past the halfway point of the Geico 400 – Carl Edwards was the leader over Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.

But following pit stops during a debris caution at lap 146, Ryan Newman emerged with the lead after taking just two tires.

Edwards came off pit road second and Johnson was third.

Chase drivers have held the top eight spots for most of the middle portion of the race, but the story so far is those drivers who haven't been doing well.

Denny Hamlin had struggled all day and had to pit for a loose wheel at one point, which has put him two laps down and in 32nd place.

It's been a similar story for Jeff Gordon, who was already having a hard time before he had to pit for a flat tire. Gordon was also lapped and is now in 23rd place.

Currently, there are 147 laps complete and 120 laps to go.

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NASCAR Chicagoland Update: Kurt Busch Leads At Lap 75

Debris has caused the second caution of Monday's NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway, slowing down the Chase opener at lap 70.

Kurt Busch took the race lead from younger brother Kyle (who had used a two-tire strategy on the last pit stop) at lap 41 and retained his advantage on the latest pit stop due to the caution.

There wasn't much to report since our last update aside from the lead change. Kyle Busch's two-tire strategy kept him in the top five, but it wasn't enough to keep him in the lead.

Greg Biffle has also looked strong (he's currently second), as has former leader Matt Kenseth (third) and Paul Menard (fourth).

Chase driver Jeff Gordon has surprisingly struggled so far today. He's been running from 25th-28th most of the race, but is now up to 23rd after the lastest pit stop. Denny Hamlin (21st) hasn't looked especially strong, either – but there's still plenty of time left.

There are 75 laps down, 192 to go.

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NASCAR Chicagoland Update: Kyle Busch Takes Lead On Pit Road

Kyle Busch has taken the lead at Chicagoland Speedway.

After Matt Kenseth led the first 30 laps until a competition caution, Busch took two tires on pit road and was able to get out ahead of Kenseth.

Kurt Busch came off third, followed by Greg Biffle and Paul Menard.

The first 30 laps were uneventful. Kenseth led the whole way, with Kurt Busch running second most of the time as drivers experimented with various grooves and mostly held position knowing a caution was upcoming.

Four Chase drivers are outside the top 25 as of now: Denny Hamlin is 26th, Tony Stewart is 27th, Kevin Harvick is 28th and Jeff Gordon is 29th. None of them ever cracked the top 20 on the first run.

Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR's five-time champ, ran around 15th place for most of the first run. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 19th and was 20th or 21st for the entire first 30 laps.

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NASCAR Chicagoland Update: Race Finally Underway After Delay

Roughly 22 hours after the originally scheduled start time for NASCAR's Chicagoland Speedway race, the 2011 Chase is finally – finally! – underway.

Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth took the green flag at approximately 11:15 a.m. Central time this morning and was able to pull out to an early lead over No. 2 starter Paul Menard.

Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards were the other drivers to run in the top five.

The Chicagoland race is the first Chase race ever postponed from the original date (the Chase has been around since 2004). Despite the rain, it appears 30,000 or so people were able to return for today's event.

Robby Gordon and David Stremme had to drop to the back of the field prior to the start of the race.

Due to the rain, NASCAR has scheduled a competition caution for lap 30. However, drivers were heard marveling at the amount of rubber still on the track prior to starting the race.

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NASCAR Postpones Chicagoland Speedway Race Until Monday

NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup opener will have to wait a day.

Persistent rain resulted in a postponement of Sunday's scheduled Geico 400 race at Chicagoland Speedway, and NASCAR moved the race to noon Eastern time (11 a.m. local) on Monday.

The race will still be televised on ESPN.

Meteorologists had originally called for a clear, pleasant morning and afternoon without any rain, but those predictions were proven to be incorrect as soon as fans and drivers woke up on Sunday.

Heavy drizzle and occasional downpours alternated throughout the day, and though NASCAR nearly had the track completely dry shortly after 6 p.m. local time, another band of rain swept through.

NASCAR has had a terrible streak of weather delays in the last month or so. The Watkins Glen race was pushed to Monday and the Atlanta race had to be run on a Tuesday.

Fortunately, Monday is expected to look dry in the afternoon.

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NASCAR Chicagoland Race Delayed By Rain; Postponement On Tap?

It's been a bad couple months for NASCAR in the weather department.

After the Watkins Glen and Atlanta races were postponed for a combined three days, the Sprint Cup Series headed to Chicagoland Speedway to start the Chase with a mostly dry forecast.

As late as Saturday night, meteorologists were calling for a pleasant Sunday with showers arriving in the Chicago area only after 5 p.m.

They screwed up.

It's been raining all morning in Illinois, and persistent drizzle has resulted in a delayed start time for the Geico 400 as of 2 p.m. Eastern time.

Unfortunately, more rain is on the way and NASCAR may not be able to get the race started on Sunday – despite the presence of lights at Chicagoland.

We'll keep you posted here, but if you want our honest take, it's this: The race probably isn't going to get in today, so don't spend your day stuck in front of the TV (unless you're watching football, of course).

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NASCAR At Chicagoland Speedway: 2011 Start Time, Starting Lineup, TV/Radio Listings And More

 

It's NASCAR race day at Chicagoland Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's Chase opener for you below.

What time does the race start today? The command to start engines will be given by the Geico caveman – yes, that guy – at 2:09 p.m. Eastern time. Chicago Blackhawks defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith will then wave the green flag at 2:18 p.m. Eastern. Folks, 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 2:18. ***UPDATE*** The race start time has been moved up 15 minutes due to possible rain. The green flag will now be at 2:03.

Race name/distance: The Geico 400 is 267 laps around the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway for a total distance of 400.5 miles. Geico is heavily promoting this race, so expect to see lots of caveman, gecko and even Casey Mears commercials.

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: Hootie! Rocker-turned-country-star Darius Rucker will be singing the national anthem today (he's also performing a pre-race concert in the fan zone).

Tickets: There are still some tickets remaining for Chicagoland, though some published reports indicated the track believes there's a chance of a sellout.

Weather: Cool and iffy. According to the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, fans in Joliet should expect a temperature around 70 degrees at the green flag time, but there's also a chance of rain later in the afternoon.

Last time: This is the first time the Chicagoland race has been in September. Last year, it was a night race in July and David Reutimann cruised to an easy victory.

Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Chicagoland (Chase drivers in bold):

 

  1. Matt Kenseth
  2. Paul Menard
  3. Kurt Busch
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Brian Vickers
  9. Kyle Busch
  10. Joey Logano
  11. Bobby Labonte
  12. Jimmie Johnson
  13. Regan Smith
  14. Jamie McMurray
  15. David Ragan
  16. Juan Pablo Montoya
  17. Marcos Ambrose
  18. AJ Allmendinger
  19. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  20. Martin Truex Jr.
  21. Clint Bowyer
  22. Jeff Burton
  23. Jeff Gordon
  24. Kasey Kahne
  25. Mark Martin
  26. Tony Stewart
  27. Denny Hamlin
  28. Trevor Bayne
  29. David Reutimann
  30. Kevin Harvick
  31. Landon Cassill
  32. JJ Yeley
  33. Michael McDowell
  34. David Stremme
  35. Scott Speed
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. Robby Gordon
  38. Josh Wise
  39. David Gilliland
  40. Dave Blaney
  41. Andy Lally
  42. Casey Mears
  43. Mike Bliss
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NASCAR Chicagoland 2011 Starting Lineup: Matt Kenseth Leads Qualifying For Chase Opener

Matt Kenseth isn't known for his qualifying efforts – which might tell you something about just how fast the Roush Fenway Racing driver is this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kenseth took the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Chase opener – his second No. 1 starting spot of the season, but just the sixth of his 12-year career.

"We had a pretty good lap there," Kenseth said. "For me to qualify this good, you know my car is fast."

The Wisconsin native said his team's qualifying setup allowed him to get through Chicagoland's bumps on the entry into Turn 3, but his race setup isn't quite as good and still needs work.

Kenseth's lap of 183.243 mph was ahead of Paul Menard (183.125 mph) and Chase drivers Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards.

"This is one checkmark out of 30," Busch said. "We have 10 practice sessions, 10 qualifying sessions and 10 race sessions. But that's not anywhere near as important as what we get done tomorrow. That's just one big checkmark."

Other Chase drivers: Kyle Busch will start ninth, Jimmie Johnson 12th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19th, Jeff Gordon 23rd, Tony Stewart 26th, Denny Hamlin 27th and Kevin Harvick 30th.

Here's the NASCAR starting lineup for Sunday's Chicagoland race (Chase drivers in bold):

  1. Matt Kenseth
  2. Paul Menard
  3. Kurt Busch
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Brian Vickers
  9. Kyle Busch
  10. Joey Logano
  11. Bobby Labonte
  12. Jimmie Johnson
  13. Regan Smith
  14. Jamie McMurray
  15. David Ragan
  16. Juan Pablo Montoya
  17. Marcos Ambrose
  18. AJ Allmendinger
  19. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  20. Martin Truex Jr.
  21. Clint Bowyer
  22. Jeff Burton
  23. Jeff Gordon
  24. Kasey Kahne
  25. Mark Martin
  26. Tony Stewart
  27. Denny Hamlin
  28. Trevor Bayne
  29. David Reutimann
  30. Kevin Harvick
  31. Landon Cassill
  32. JJ Yeley
  33. Michael McDowell
  34. David Stremme
  35. Scott Speed
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. Robby Gordon
  38. Josh Wise
  39. David Gilliland
  40. Dave Blaney
  41. Andy Lally
  42. Casey Mears
  43. Mike Bliss
DNQ: Travis Kvapil, David Starr, Stephen Leicht, Mike Skinner.
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Kyle Busch Ready To Battle Himself, Past History In NASCAR Chase

Kyle Busch may have figured out a sure-fire way to finally end Jimmie Johnson's five-year reign atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

"I mean, nobody's tried locking the dumbass in a Port-O-John yet," Busch said with a wide grin. "I say that in the kindest way possible."

In reality, Busch said over the last five seasons he and other drivers "just haven't been good enough to beat him."

"He's been the best in the sport, and he shows it repeatedly when it comes down to the Chase," Busch said. "We've heard the same story about, 'Oh, Jimmie is struggling and he's not where he's supposed to be right now. It's not his year.' And then he proves us wrong."

Busch, the No. 1 seed for the Chase, is anticipating Johnson will be some of his strongest competition over the next 10 weeks.

But Busch also knows he'll be competing against himself – and his own history.

Despite all his success, Busch hasn't finished better than eighth in the point standings since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008. He's made the Chase on four previous occasions but has only finished in the top five once (fifth in 2007).

"It'd be nice to cut that out and have a good clean slate, but certainly there's still some memories there that have bitten us," he said. "We want to make sure we remember those and fix those problems.

"This year, it's about trying to make sure to not pressure the team much and get those guys overly excited about missing something on the car. I think we've done that in the past."

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Landon Cassill: I Love Dale Jr., But Richmond Spin Was Not Intentional

Lost in all the talk about Paul Menard's questionable spin is another spin Saturday night at Richmond that had some people talking.

Phoenix Racing's Landon Cassill spun out on lap 163 of the Richmond race, and the ensuing caution allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who drives for the Hendrick Motorsports team that supplies Phoenix Racing with engines – to get back on the lead lap.

Later, Cassill raced hard with eventual winner Kevin Harvick – which Harvick inferred was due to Phoenix Racing's affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports.

"Does Jeff Gordon ever catch me if the 51 car (Cassill) – which is a Hendrick car and has a lot of Hendrick support – doesn't sit there and block and ride and spin out twice during the race?" Harvick said Friday.

Cassill, told of Harvick's comments, looked incredulous and laughed.

"First of all, the answer is, 'No,'" Cassill said. "No, I did not spin out to get Dale Jr. back on the lead lap. I spun out because my car was loose and I was driving as hard as I could.

"I love Dale Jr., but I did not spin out to help him."

Harvick wasn't the only person in the Richard Childress Racing organization to raise suspicions about Cassill.

RCR's vice president of competition, Mike Dillon, told Landmark Newspapers' Dustin Long: "How about the 51 spinning out for the 88?"

"I don't know what these guys are trying to accomplish, with Harvick dragging me into this," Cassill said, shaking his head. "I drive for James Finch, not Hendrick Motorsports. We've got 15 guys in our shop in Spartanburg. Hendrick supplies us engines and we buy a lot of stuff from them, but I think it's just funny. There's no conspiracy."

Cassill said he's focused on the last 10 races of the season with his team and wondered why so many Chase drivers can't seem to do the same.

"I think the person that's going to win this Chase is going to be the person who can focus on their own deal," he said. "I don't know if it's the pressure that gets to them or what, but at this time of year they all start pointing fingers at everything but themselves. It really derails their Chase efforts.

"I'm excited to see how the Chase goes – because I'm as big a race fan as anybody – as far as who is a contender and who stays focused on their own race team."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. On The Difference Between Watching And Living The Playoffs

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a huge sports fan, and gets as passionate about his favorite teams as many Junior Nation fans get about him.

So perhaps Earnhardt Jr. can relate a bit more to the level of emotion involved in watching a team participate in the playoffs from the fan perspective.

"I don't know if you enjoy one over the other," said Earnhardt Jr., a diehard Washington Redskins fan. "For example, if I watched the Redskins lose a playoff game, it would probably be as upsetting and disappointing as seeing my opportunities slip away throughout the Chase, should that happen."

But being in the playoffs as an athlete and watching them as a fan with no control over what happens feels "completely different," he said.

"There's a certain level of pressure you put on yourself being involved in it," he said. The biggest difference, he added, is that as a participant, "You're doing the work."

"You and your team are putting in the grind and going over the notes," he said. "From the moment you wake up in the morning until the time you go to bed, you're thinking of how you can be better all the time."

To put it another way, being an actual participant in the playoffs is like, "Beating your head against the wall for every second you're awake until it's over," he said.

Sounds fun.

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Kevin Harvick: Jeff Gordon Trying To Stir Up Controversy In Chase

With Jeff Gordon questioning Paul Menard's spin last weekend at Richmond, and NASCAR confirming they are still looking into the incident, Kevin Harvick is ready to move on and not get caught up in the head games. 

Heading into the 10-race championship battle, Harvick said each Chase contender "thinks everybody is out to get them," but says his team cannot lose its focus on the ultimate goal. 

"I know Jeff is very good, he's been here before racing for championships, he wants to stir as much stuff up as he can," Harvick said. "We're going to focus on our job and race as hard as we can and do what we can. We'll take it one week at a time and one situation at a time and have fun with it."

While the majority of the conversation has focused on Menard's late-race spin, Harvick said the case could be made against the Hendrick affiliated cars as well. 

"Does Jeff Gordon ever catch me if the 51 car (Landon Cassill) -- which is a Hendrick car, has a lot of Hendrick support -- does he ever catch me if he doesn't sit there and block and ride and spin out twice during the race?" he asked Friday in Chicagoland. "There's a lot of things we can debate, and Jeff's just debating the things he's been told."

Harvick said this is the time of year in which teammates and friends on the race track cause suspicions in the garage. He believes Gordon is just "voicing his opinion" and there is "nothing that needs to be riled up" or any controversy to be created.

"There's a lot of smart people you're racing against that have done this for a while," he said. "You got to know how to navigate your way through the game.

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NASCAR: We're Still Investigating Paul Menard's Richmond Spin

NASCAR isn't ready to shut the door on Paul Menard's suspicious spin at Richmond International Raceway just yet.

Despite denials by Menard and team owner Richard Childress, NASCAR president Mike Helton told reporters Friday morning at Chicagoland Speedway that officials are still investigating the incident.

"In light of the suspicions, we're going to look into it and see if there is anything," Helton said. "A lot of it is going to be interpretation, but certainly it's important to understand what all we can find as far as facts are concerned."

Menard spun out late in Saturday's Richmond race, which allowed RCR teammate Kevin Harvick to catch up to race leader Jeff Gordon. Harvick beat Gordon off pit road and then won the race, which made for a crucial swing in Chase bonus points.

Based on radio chatter in which Menard and his team discussed whether a caution was "needed," Gordon told reporters Thursday he considered the timing of the spin "a little fishy."

Menard told SB Nation on Thursday night that his spin was not intentional, and the talk about cautions stemmed from his desire for payback on Matt Kenseth, who had wrecked him earlier in the race. Kenseth acknowledged his role in the incident on Friday morning.

"We've seen in the past accusations, suspicions, things that spool up – it's on all of our shoulders to get the facts right," Helton said. "If there's something out there, we should find out about it and be sure that we've got it right."

Helton said NASCAR would use both video and the audio from Menard's radio channel to help in its investigation.

But Helton added even if officials were able to conclude it was an intentional spin, a penalty was unlikely due to the classification of the potential offense. An intentional spin would be considered a "race procedure" call, Helton said, which would be similar to a decision over whether a baseball was fair or foul.

"You can't go back on Monday and change" the call, Helton said.

However, he said if the spin was found to be intentional and planned, it could fall under the broader "actions detrimental to stock car racing" clause in the NASCAR rulebook.

So far, though, Helton said there wasn't enough evidence to make him think Menard's actions were purposeful.

"I'm not necessarily overwhelmed by the chatter so far," Helton said. "Certainly, we need to get our facts right and find out what, if anything, went on – and be prepared to officiate it."

Childress released a statement earlier on Friday denying any foul play.

"There were no team orders despite all the speculation in the media," Childress said. "I know Paul Menard well enough that he wouldn't have spun out on purpose even if he had been asked."

Helton was careful to label the issue as "allegations" – not evidence – and added: "We still at this point want to wait and get access to all the facts."

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NASCAR At Chicagoland: Brad Keselowski Not Worried About Being A Chase Favorite

Brad Keselowski ended the regular season on a wave of momentum with two wins, four top-fives and six top-10s in the seven races leading up to the Chase.

Grabbing one of the wild card spots in the Chase, Keselowski enters the final 10-race stretch both listed as one of the favorites for the title and as an underdog contender. While many left the No. 2 Penske Racing team off their preseason list, the 27 year-old-driver said he felt all along his team would make the Chase. 

"We don't feel like we're flukes," Keselowski said.

Despite his strong performance leading up to the Chase cut-off race in Richmond, Keselowski feels his team is entering the championship run with a "very low-key" and "low pressure" feeling. 

"I don't see why we can't (win the Chase)," he said. 

Contrasting his string of impressive runs to the Chase to that of basketball teams in the NCAA tournament, Keselowski pointed out the biggest difference is his team has been racing against – and in some cases beating – the same competition week-in and week-out. 

"I feel like we can just continue that," he said. "I don't see where anything has changed. I feel like, if anything, as a team we're getting stronger."

With a plethora of media predictions and discussions taking place to determine a favorite for the Chase, Keselowski said he cannot pay attention to the talk going on. Instead, he is committed to remaining focused on contending for the title. 

"I feel like every second you sit and worry about how many points I have to score, or what average finish I have to have, who is the guy I've got to beat, that's another second you don't use to focus on what really matters – and that's how can I go faster and make better moves on the race track," he said. "That's what I spend my time focusing on."

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Paul Menard: Richmond Spin And Caution Were Not Intentional

Paul Menard's spin toward the end of last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway was not intentional, the driver told SB Nation on Thursday night.

Menard, speaking after an autograph signing at a Menards store near Chicagoland Speedway, said the radio communication with his team about cautions was misconstrued.

When Menard's team told him, "We don't need a caution right now," the driver said it was in response to a planned retaliation attempt on Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth had wrecked Menard earlier in the race, the driver said.

"We got wrecked early, and I was going to pay back the guy, but they said we didn't need a caution," Menard said. "(Kevin) Harvick was running pretty good at the time. That's where the whole caution thing came in."

The Richard Childress Racing driver's spin had come into question when Richmond runner-up Jeff Gordon wondered aloud about the timing of the caution, which allowed Harvick (Menard's teammate) to catch Gordon and eventually win the race.

Gordon called the caution "a little fishy" when speaking with reporters earlier Thursday, citing the radio chatter. But Menard said the communications were about his plans for Kenseth.

"I was going to retaliate and then they said, 'We don't need a caution,'" Menard said. "So (that meant), 'Do not retaliate and cause a caution.'"

But Menard eventually spun out when Gordon was leading – not Harvick. Did Menard spin intentionally to help his teammate catch up?

"No," he said. "The car was wrecked and tore to pieces. It's behind the fab shop now, a pile of junk. You'd put new tires on and it would feel pretty good. After 10 laps, it was total shit."

Menard said he hasn't heard or read anything about the controversy this week – nor has he heard a replay of his radio chatter – but learned of the uproar through his public relations representatives.

Was he surprised the spin had become an issue?

"No," he said. "People need something to talk about, I guess."

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Conspiracy Theory: Did Paul Menard Intentionally Spin Out At Richmond?

The dominant story of Thursday's Chase Media Day in downtown Chicago was not the Chase itself, but an event that occurred late in last weekend's NASCAR race at Richmond.

With Jeff Gordon leading and Kevin Harvick running second, Harvick's Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard spun out with 17 laps to go, causing a caution. Harvick got the lead on a late pit stop and won the race.

Gordon said after the race that the timing of Menard's spin seemed a bit suspicious and called it "a little fishy" again on Thursday.

"Whatever happened – whether it was intentional, unintentional – that's on them," Gordon said. "We can't control that. It's something maybe NASCAR needs to address so it doesn't affect how the championship is decided.

"I certainly frown upon it if that is true. If it is true – and I say 'if' – then I've lost a lot of respect for Paul Menard."

Menard's radio chatter was highlighted by Jimmy Spencer this week on Speed's Race Hub, and Gordon said people have told him it was questionable.

"What I heard was something about some communication about needing a caution, not needing a caution, and then they were giving the gaps between me and the 29 car, the distance as I closed in," he said. "I think after I passed them and they said something, and Paul asked, 'Do you need the caution? Don't need the caution?' Then they said 'Go to Channel 2' and then they spun out."

Menard hasn't commented on the issue yet, but Harvick said Thursday his teammate had a tire issue that caused the spin.

"All I can tell you is I wish I could have brought the right-rear tire with me – it was basically down to the cords," Harvick said. "You know when you see something like that happen what everybody is going to think."

Harvick added that from his view, "it looked like everybody was spinning everybody out so Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. could stay on the lead lap" and make the Chase.

"We could go on and on with this battle all day long," he said, adding the Hendrick-powered Phoenix Racing car of Landon Cassill raced him extra hard to let Gordon catch up. "...We could argue this point for many moons."

Did the accusations upset Harvick?

"Not really," he said. "They can come over and look at the trophy if they want."

The issue is important in part because the caution resulted in Gordon starting the Chase with three less bonus points than he would have had he won the race – and Harvick starting with three more.

NASCAR released a statement Thursday evening saying officials weren't aware of any impropriety last weekend.

"We haven't seen or heard anything that would indicate (Menard) did anything inappropriate in Richmond," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We watch closely the activity in each event all season long to maintain a fair and even event for all competitors. We naturally will do the same for the balance of the season."

Tony Stewart said the concept of a teammate spinning out to help another driver bothered him so much, he preferred not to even let the possibility enter his mind.

"I don't even want to think about it happening because I pride myself on racing the guys and everybody racing everybody fair," he said. "I hope we never have to worry about that."

Check out the transcript of Menard's radio chatter over at Yahoo.com.

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At NASCAR Chase Media Day, Drivers Claim To Feel No Pressure

On the eve of NASCAR's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, you'd figure each of the 12 drivers in the Sprint Cup Series' playoff would be feeling immense pressure to win a championship.

Not so – at least if you ask them.

In fact, it was hard to get any of the drivers to fess up about feeling outside pressure during Chase Media Day on Thursday in downtown Chicago.

Aside from the pressure each one places on himself, the drivers would have us believe their individual Chase campaigns will be carefree walks in the park compared to their rivals.

Let's start with Jimmie Johnson, who has won the last five championships in a row. Is he under the most pressure of anyone?

"I don't think I am," Johnson said casually. "I have a streak to try to keep alive, but I thought there was a lot more pressure on me to win my first than there was the second, third, fourth, fifth. So I don't think it's me."

So if it's not Johnson, who is it?

"I would say Jimmie has the most pressure of anyone out there," Brad Keselowski said.

Wait a second. Johnson just said he doesn't have much pressure.

"I would say that, too, if I was him," Keselowski said.

Hmm. Can someone clear this up?

"I guess maybe Jimmie can be more relaxed than everybody else, because he's won the last five straight," Matt Kenseth said.

"I don't see how there can be any pressure (on Johnson)," Denny Hamlin said. "I think any championship from here on out is just a bonus for him."

There we go. It's conclusive: Johnson does not have the most pressure on him.

"If you had to say (the pressure is on) any one guy, you'd have to say Jimmie to repeat," Tony Stewart said.

Wait, say what?

"I think in a way, maybe Jimmie has the most pressure," Carl Edwards said. "Jimmie's known nothing but success for the last five years."

C'mon, guys! Johnson said he's not feeling the pressure, remember?

"Well, of course," Edwards said with a smile. "Everybody says we don't have pressure."

So who has the most pressure on them? Let's ask Johnson.

"I would think Carl, Kyle (Busch), Denny," Johnson said.

Is that true, Carl?

"Well, yeah," Edwards said. "That's what's gotten me where I am. I've always put a ton of pressure on myself."

Ah ha! Some progress. Do you agree, Kyle?

"He's naming the guys that he's expecting to knock him off and he's trying to put it on us," Busch said, shaking his head. "I don't have pressure."

You don't?

"If the points fall your way, they fall your way," Busch said calmly. "If you put too much pressure on yourself to think, 'OK, I have to win this week,' what good does that do you?"

Maybe Denny should weigh in on this.

"I'd say probably the favorites – probably Kyle and Jeff (Gordon) – go in with the most expectations," Hamlin said.

But what about you, Denny?

"We've got nothing to lose but go forward," he said.

These dudes aren't helping us get to the bottom of this mystery. Let's ask someone else.

"I don't know about pressure," Ryan Newman said. "I don't even think about pressure. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. is probably under the most pressure because of the critiquing of his fans and everybody else."

Your response, Dale?

"Well, I put pressure on myself," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But otherwise, I don't feel any pressure from the outside. I feel like a bit of an underdog."

Perhaps Kurt Busch can help us out. Are you feeling the most pressure, Kurt?

"I would say Kyle has the big target on him, with the laps he's led and just his sheer strength," the elder Busch said of his brother. "Everybody is expecting this could be his year."

No, sorry. Kyle already said it's not him. Let's ask Kevin Harvick.

"I think it's everybody," Harvick said with a sly grin. "Because there are just so many reasons somebody might be under pressure."

So if everybody is under pressure like Harvick claimed, are all these drivers lying about having "no pressure?"

"Yeah, absolutely," Harvick said, his smile getting even bigger.

At this point, Chase Media Day began to wind down and only one driver remained.

In walked Jeff Gordon, who took a seat at the table and was asked the question: "Which driver has the most pressure on him?"

"Uh, all 12?" he replied. "Everybody's got a tremendous amount of pressure."

But no one has been admitting it all day! Keselowski said "I don't feel any." Stewart said "We're the underdog."

Will you admit to feeling pressure, Jeff?

"I'm under pressure!" he said. "Hell yeah, I'm under pressure! Because we plan on stepping it up and getting it, going after it. And if you don't feel pressure in these next 10 weeks, then you're not going to be a threat for the championship."

I don't know about you, but my head hurts. Let's just race.

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