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In her first effort working with new crew chief Tony Gibson, Danica Patrick finished a career-best 24th in Sunday's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"It was really steady from the beginning," Patrick said. "The car unloaded and it had speed right off the get-go. We just kept on improving with it. I felt like it was a nice progression of the weekend where I actually felt like I knew I why I went faster and I knew why I went slower.
"In the race we were creeping along. We spent most of the race tight, but there late in the race we finally got it freed up enough to start really running some good speed. It was a really nice first weekend with the new Go Daddy crew."
Sunday also marked the first time in nine starts that Patrick has finished on the lead lap in a Sprint Cup Series race, and that left her new crew chief impressed with what he saw.
"It was a great day and a great weekend for the first weekend working together," Gibson said. "Qualifying went really well and practice went really well. She had an awesome race and she did a great job.
"She ran with guys that she's never run with before, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. To come here and run on the lead lap and a shot at a top-20 was pretty impressive."
That optimism was shared by Patrick, who is excited about what the future holds.
"Tony Gibson did such a good job," she said. "I'm really looking forward to next year."
Everything about this Chase seems more and more familiar as Jimmie Johnson continues to lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings with two races to go.
NASCAR fans have seen this all before – five times before, to be exact. Johnson is so lethal in the Chase, it starts to seem nearly inevitable he'll win again.
This time, Johnson's lead is seven points over Brad Keselowski after winning Sunday's Texas race – his second win in a row.
But Johnson isn't ready to proclaim victory yet, of course.
"It's a small amount of control, but we're definitely in control," Johnson said. "We don't have to catch up or make up any points. (But) seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about and relax on.
"We're still going to go to Phoenix and act as if we're behind and go in there and try to sit on the pole and win the race again."
Here are the NASCAR Chase standings after Texas:
After a late spin cost him a good result at Martinsville Speedway last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came to Texas saying he still needed "closure" on his recovery from multiple concussions.
Without a solid top-10 to show for his efforts, Earnhardt Jr. still had some lingering doubts and questions in the back of his mind.
In that sense, Sunday's seventh-place finish at Texas meant more to him than just the points gained and purse money earned. Earnhardt Jr. said he felt "real good physically" and was mentally "real sharp" in the car for all 500-plus miles.
"I want to run real hard and win a couple races if we can at the end of this deal, but I also want to finish well for myself and not have any doubts or question marks in the offseason," he said. "I feel like this was a great step in that direction."
The night could have been even better, but Earnhardt Jr. lost ground on the final restart because he was positioned on the outside where it was slicker and harder to pass. That was likely the difference between a top-10 finish and a top-five, but he was still pleased.
At one point, the No. 88 team looked like it could have contended for the win. Other drivers were having to save fuel, but Earnhardt Jr. was told by crew chief Steve Letarte he was good to go and could race hard.
Ultimately, though, the race didn't stay green – so fuel mileage was out of the picture.
"We were in a great position to really have a great finish...and it was nice to be able to make it on fuel mileage and have a bunch of guys going to be short," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But the races aren't going to play out that way – we're going to have some cautions in the end. We did tonight."
There was a flip side to the good gas mileage, though. Earnhardt Jr. noted when an engine isn't guzzling fuel, "you're usually not getting all the power in it, either." That could be a concern, but he said the Hendrick Motorsports engine department was studying the problem and trying to provide as much power as possible without using too much fuel.
Earnhardt Jr. owed his finish in part thanks to an outstanding performance by his pit crew. He picked up an estimated eight spots on the final two pit stops, he said, and called the pit crew "phenomenal."
As he has throughout the Chase, Clint Bowyer had a solid result in Sunday's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway, finishing sixth.
However, despite finishing in the top 10 for the seventh time in eight Chase races, it still wasn't enough to keep Bowyer in the championship picture. The two drivers ahead of him in the standings – Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski – finished first and second, respectively.
"It's just unbelievable," Bowyer said. "You keep having these top-10 runs and flirting with the top five, week-in and week-out, and unless you're winning these races every week, you just can't gain points."
Bowyer's frustration stems from the fact that he is now all but eliminated from the title fight, even as he has been running up front on a weekly basis. With two weeks left in the season, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver is 36 points out of first.
To climb back into contention, he would need both Johnson and Keselowski to stumble dramatically – a long shot at best.
"Even if we were winning right now, it isn't enough to run them down for the championship," he said.
It did appear at one point, though, that fortune would smile on Bowyer.
With just a few laps left in the race, Johnson and Keselowski made contact with one another as the pair dueled for the lead. And if there had been an accident between the two, it would have resulted in an upheaval in the championship order.
Alas, it didn't occur and all Bowyer could do afterward was shake his head in disbelief and wonder, "What if?"
"I thought they were going to wreck each other, but they didn't," Bowyer said. "It would have been awesome. I really did think they were going to wreck each other."
Despite racing his guts out and giving maximum effort, Brad Keselowski still ended up losing Sunday's NASCAR Texas race to Jimmie Johnson.
That sort of thing always seems to happen to Johnson's opponents in the Chase. Carl Edwards has been there. So has Denny Hamlin. So have Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.
And now, with a seven-point deficit and two races to go, Keselowski could be the latest driver to leave it all on the track but still come up short.
"It don't feel good, but there is a part of you that just feels like you're first in class," Keselowski said, meaning Johnson is in a league of his own.
Can you blame him? Keselowski is performing better than anyone ever imagined, stringing together inspiring runs week after week. His Chase has been one of the best in history so far and would have given him a huge lead in some other seasons.
But not this year, and not when facing Johnson.
Part of the reason, Keselowski said, is Johnson seems to be getting everything to go his way – just like the caution flags in Sunday's race. The sequence of events helped Johnson win while Keselowski finished second.
"When you catch the breaks that he caught today with the yellows and then you execute like they can, you're unbeatable," Keselowski said. "I'm confident that we can execute at a high level. I'm confident that the way it's worked over the last three weeks – we haven't caught good breaks or bad breaks, and he's caught several really good ones –that will come back around.
"And when it does, we'll change these seconds and fifths or whatever they are over the last few weeks into wins. I feel like that's bound to happen over the next two weeks, and we have the team to pull it off."
The No. 2 team can still beat Johnson straight up if it wins at Phoenix and Homestead – no matter what else Johnson does. So in that sense, Keselowski said, "we still control our own destiny."
"That's about all you can ask for," he added.
But while it's possible, can Keselowski really out-run Johnson by seven positions in the next two races? Though Homestead might be a similar race to Sunday's Texas showdown, Johnson has a significant advantage at Phoenix (at least on paper). After all, the No. 48 team has won there four times.
Keselowski, though, said the repaved and redesigned Phoenix track means it's a "whole different animal," and the history there is "not that significant."
"Looking at it that way, I'd say it's probably a heads-up match going into Phoenix and probably the same going into Homestead," he said. "We just need to win the heads-up matches.
"We didn't today. That's not good, but it's not bad either. I think there is still plenty of potential to do that."
Sitting in the media center, Keselowski looked far from defeated. He maintained his typically calm and reasonable persona, but acknowledged a championship this season "is not going to come easy."
"But anything worth doing in life shouldn't come easy, and I appreciate the efforts of the people that I'm around to make it happen, " he added. "I appreciate the fact that it's difficult, because it brings out the best in everybody. As a group, I feel like we've brought our best, and I'm really proud of everybody for that."
Other tidbits from Keselowski:
• The Penske Racing driver didn't think he raced Johnson too hard or dirty late in the race, when the two bumped and nearly wrecked while battling for the lead.
"Hell, anytime you run close to certain guys, you're racing them dirty according to some people," he said. "But I raced hard, and we both came back around, so there's something to be said for that."
Still, Keselowski knew they were close to wrecking, and he didn't want a repeat of what happened with Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen.
"That's just not the way you want to run a race, and not the way I want to win a championship," he said. "That was pretty much the only choice I had was to put ourselves in a bad position like I did before. I felt lucky to survive that one."
• Keselowski didn't want to make a big deal out of NASCAR's non-call on Johnson for beating him to the start/finish line on the final restart. After all, other drivers said he jumped a restart earlier in the race.
"I think NASCAR said before they're not going to get out a micrometer and measure that kind of stuff," he said. "That's kind of the interpretation of the rules right now. Via that interpretation, I think it was probably fair play on both sides."
• Though he accepted responsibility for sliding too far into his pit box on a late-race stop, he also said Danica Patrick could have given him more room. Keselowski lost eight spots and had to drive his way back up through the field.
"I've got to take the blame where blame is deserved, and I felt we could have gotten a little more help from the car that we were around," he said. "In that particular case, it probably wouldn't have made a significant difference, but it would have made a difference."
Pulling away from Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkered-flag finish at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson won Sunday night's AAA Texas 500 and tightened his grip on a possible sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Johnson finished .808 seconds ahead of Keselowski and increased his lead in the standings to from two points to seven. The victory was Johnson's fifth of the season, his second at Texas and the 60th of his career. For the second straight week, Johnson won a Chase race from the pole.
Kyle Busch ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer.
After NASCAR called the sixth caution of the race on lap 274, for debris on the backstretch, Keselowski entered the pits as the leader but dropped eight spots on the exchange of stops.
First, Keselowski slid to the front of his pit stall on the stop. Compounding the problem, the No. 10 Chevrolet of Danica Patrick, whose pit stall was immediately in front of Keselowski's, stopped at the top of her box, blocking Keselowski's exit.
By the time the No. 2 crew pushed the Blue Deuce back to give Keselowski clearance, he had lost the eight spots, as other lead-lap cars rolled past.
Keselowski spent the subsequent 30-lap green-flag run making up ground. On Lap 307, he passed Matt Kenseth for the fourth position, with Johnson running second behind Kyle Busch.
Three laps later, Marcos Ambrose's accident in Turn 2 brought out caution No. 7, and Keselowski regained the lead with a two-tire stop. Busch was second off pit road, ahead of Johnson, who restarted third on Lap 316.
Keselowski surged to the lead, clearing Busch on the backstretch, and held the top spot until the caution on Lap 321 for an incident involving Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle in Turn 2 slowed the field. Kahne got the worst of the contact, lost a lap and saw his title hopes all but evaporate.
Keselowski and Johnson raced side-by-side and a hairbreadth from losing control after the restart on lap 327, with Keselowski pulling out to an eight-car-length lead, but a wreck on the frontstretch two laps later set up the two-lap dash to the finish.
Here are the results from Sunday's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway:
Texas Motor Speedway has been billing itself as a "Wild Asphalt Circus" for months, and NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick found that out the hard way on Sunday afternoon.
Just two hours before the green flag of the AAA Texas 500, a skydiver damaged Harvick's No. 29 car as it sat on pit road. The parachutist, carrying a Texas flag with a weighted sandbag, flew dangerously close to the car and landed safely – but the weight holding the flag down slammed into the side of Harvick's car.
Witnesses on pit road said they heard a big "WHAP!" sound, and the skydiver then posed for pictures next to the car after he landed. Those who saw the incident also said the weight easily could have struck several fans.
NASCAR officials quickly gathered around the car to get a closer look, and team owner Richard Childress was told the team could repair the damage. The car was pushed back to the garage and fixed in less than 30 minutes.
"Fortunately (the skydiver) didn't get hurt," crew chief Gil Martin said. "It's a little bit of cosmetic damage we had to repair, but it'll be alright. It's not going to hurt how it'll drive."
Martin said repairs were necessary because the damage was significant enough to affect the aerodynamic handling. Seams had opened up in the door area, and the car "would have had air leaks right there," Martin said.
The crew chief said the whole incident was "handled as well as it could have been handled." NASCAR will allow Harvick to keep his 23rd-place starting spot, and the team will not have to go through inspection again.
It's been an unusually disappointing year for Harvick and his team, as the driver is three races away from his first winless season since 2009. He made the Chase again after finishing third the last two years but sits 11th in points.
"This just caps it off right here," Martin said. "Maybe something good will come out of this."
Looking over the dented car, Martin managed a smile.
"We got a lot of good publicity right here, so the sponsors all like it," he said.
Weight from a skydiver damaged Harvick's car. Look at this dent. twitter.com/jeff_gluck/sta…— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) November 4, 2012
As you watch today's NASCAR race from Texas Motor Speedway, here are some storylines, notes and drivers to keep an eye on:
Johnson and Keselowski going toe-to-toe
Jimmie Johnson says he doesn't like to talk smack and would much rather let his performance on the track speak for itself. In that case, Johnson has sent plenty of loud and reverberating messages in the last two weeks. And it all started with a pole-winning run at Martinsville, followed by him leading the most laps, winning his second Chase race and grabbing the points lead from Brad Keselowski.
But whatever statement Johnson has been trying to send, it hasn't necessarily been received by the man chasing him. At Martinsville - a track where everyone expected him to crumble - Keselowski overcame the odds and left with a sixth-place finish, which put him just two points out of first. And this week, despite Johnson's setting quick time in qualifying, Keselowski responded by topping Johnson in Saturday's second practice session.
With Johnson and Keselowski seemingly entwined in a game of "Can you top this?", it has all the makings of an exciting afternoon.
A Texas-sized challenge
When the NASCAR circuit traveled to Texas in April, the race was anything but eventful. There was limited passing, long stretches of green-flag racing thanks to only two cautions and in the end, Greg Biffle cruised to his first win of the year.
Was that spring race an aberration due to the usually high winds that swept across the track that night? Or will we see more of what we saw at Kansas - the last time the Cup Series took to a 1.5-mile track and where there was a rash of blown right-front tires and crumpled fenders?
Jimmie Johnson is one such driver that thinks today's race will play out more closely to what we saw in April. If his prognostication proves correct, that means today's race will likely be decided on pit road where crews will have an increased burden to be mistake-free due to the frequency of green-flag pit stops. Also, with this race starting in the daylight and ending under the lights, teams will be tasked with trying to keep up with track conditions which will change drastically from start to finish.
Don't overlook Clint Bowyer
As Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski take center stage, don't lose sight that there is a third contender lurking just behind the championship contenders, 29 points in arrears.
That driver is Clint Bowyer, and in a race where speed and fuel-mileage are paramount to success, his team excels in both areas. Case in point: The No. 15 Toyota was quick throughout practice, and in all three wins Bowyer has scored this year, he has done so by playing the fuel-mileage perfectly - so much so he ran out of gas each time doing a burnout.
Unfortunately, Bowyer doesn't control his championship destiny and is going to need some help if he is to catch and pass the two drivers in front of him. However, a strong finish today - accompanied with some misfortune for Johnson and Keselowski - makes Bowyer an even bigger factor the next two weeks.
1. Jimmie Johnson
One of the few things Jimmie Johnson has yet to do in his career is win from the pole in consecutive weeks. But with a consistently fast Chevrolet underneath him, and having led the most laps here in the spring, today seems like a perfect opportunity to cross another thing off of his bucket list.
2. Greg Biffle
While Johnson may have led the most laps in the spring race, it was Greg Biffle who ended the night in Victory Lane. And starting second today and driving the same car he won with here in April, completing the Texas sweep is a very real possibility for Biffle.
3. Brad Keselowski
In the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks, Brad Keselowski has two wins, a third and an 11th-place finish. And with the No. 2 Dodge no worse than third in all three rounds of practice, the Penske Racing driver appears in line for his sixth victory of 2012.
A cold front moved through Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday and in its wake temperatures will be cooler, with little-to-no threat of rain. The forecast for today will start off with some clouds but as the day wears on we will see more sunshine. Temperatures will also be cooler than the previous days with highs in the lower 70s.
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race – Partly sunny – temp: 68
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Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race – Partly sunny – temp: 71
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Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 72
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Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 72
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Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 71
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Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 71
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 today's race for you below.
What time does the race start today? The cast of the remade Dallas TV show – Josh Henderson, Jordana Brewster, Jesse Metcalfe and Julie Gonzalo – will give the command to fire engines at 3:08 p.m. Eastern time (2:08 local). Following a few pace laps, the drivers will take the green flag at 3:16 p.m EST (and remember, today marks the end of Daylight Savings Time). So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual race itself, turn on your TV at 3:16 p.m. EST.
Race name/distance: The AAA Texas 500 is a 501-mile race around the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, which consists of 334 laps. The Cup cars will run 201 miles longer than the Nationwide cars did on Saturday night.
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on ESPN, as is the case for every other Sprint Cup Series race for the rest of the season. There IS live streaming of the race today – on the WatchESPN app as well as NASCAR.com's RaceBuddy. Also, you can listen on the Performance Racing Network's Web site (just click the link). You can also check PRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.
Twitter: If you're planning to be away from your TV or radio and want updates today, you can follow me on Twitter @jeff_gluck. I'll be tweeting live race updates from the track.
National anthem: The Texas Christian University marching band will perform the national anthem prior to today's race.
Tickets: Texas is not a sellout and there are plenty of tickets available for today's race if you're thinking of making a last-minute trip.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, predicts pleasant fall weather and sunny skies with race temperatures in the low 70s for most of the event.
Last time: Greg Biffle passed Jimmie Johnson with 31 laps to go and cruised to an easy win in April's Texas night race. One year ago, Tony Stewart won a showdown with Carl Edwards to move closer to what was ultimately his third Sprint Cup Series championship.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway:
Elliott Sadler parked his car on pit road at Texas Motor Speedway and climbed out, no longer the NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader. He removed the heat shields from his shoes and quickly hopped over the pit road wall, walking briskly into the night.
A disappointing 11th-place finish had just cost him all of the six-point lead he held over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entering Saturday night's race, and Sadler was clearly discouraged.
"We just missed it," he said. "I don't know what the adjustments were, but it made the car a lot worse there at the end and we gave up a lot of positions."
Thanks to Stenhouse's fourth-place finish, the two drivers are now tied atop the Nationwide standings with two races to go. But Stenhouse has the tiebreaker based on having more wins this season.
"We got to run better if we want to win the championship," Sadler said. "We got to make better adjustments. Maybe I've got to do a better job communicating. We've got some stuff to work on moving forward."
Stenhouse, meanwhile, said he would liked to have finished better – his night started terribly by his standards, and he was down by 15 points in the "as they run" standings about halfway through the race. But the defending series champion couldn't hide a slight smile when asked if his team had more momentum than Sadler's heading into Phoenix and Homestead.
"It felt like we have had it the last few races, especially after Kansas," he said. "I know it can be deflating when they're outrunning us all race and we come back and finish in front of them and tie them in points. That's what we need going into Phoenix."
Naturally, Stenhouse wasn't ready to celebrate too much just yet. Being tied for the lead with two races to go doesn't mean much in the long run.
"We have to be leading after Homestead," he said. "That is still our goal and still what we have our eye on."
Denny Hamlin was upset with Austin Dillon after the drivers (who finished fifth and sixth, respectively) made contact following Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Here is Hamlin's side of the incident, courtesy of Toyota public relations:
"First of all, he got his ride because of his name (Dillon is Richard Childress' grandson). Second of all, you've got to take advantage of the opportunity. If he's points racing, you can't crowd a guy that's running (for wins). I'm on the bottom; I'm all the way to the apron. I'm doing everything I can, and after the checkered flag, he wants to run into me – so I ran him into the fence.
"Danny (Stockman, Dillon's crew chief) says, 'Look, he ain't got to fix it.' Maybe he needs to take his little ass over there and fix the race car if he wants to keep wrecking. He needs to learn a lesson.
"I believe he got wrecked at Bristol a couple times because he crowds really, really bad. That's part of it. If you're going to pinch, you're going to pay.
"I don't know why he was upset. After the checkered flag he runs into me. I don't know if he feels entitled by the number on his door to think he's tough. If he's going to start it, I'm going to finish it."
Note: I didn't get Dillon's side of the story because I didn't know about Hamlin's comments until the interview time on pit road had already ended.
Bruton Smith, the eccentric billionaire whose Speedway Motorsports Inc. owns eight NASCAR tracks, held court in the Texas Motor Speedway media center on Saturday and addressed a wide range of subjects.
Among his comments were thoughts on the lack of drama in NASCAR, fuel-mileage races and the state of the Truck Series.
Here are some selected notes from his lengthy media session:
• Smith said NASCAR needs to work at "making the racing more exciting." He said NASCAR has made some good moves in recent years – notably double-file restarts – but needs to implement additional improvements.
"I think we can do better and we need to work at it diligently and make what we bring to the public better," he said.
Smith's primary suggestion to improve the racing is to slow the cars down and thus make it easier for drivers to make bold moves.
"It'd be more competitive if they were running about 10-15 mph slower," he said. "There'd be more action, more rubbing. And rubbing is racing, as someone said."
• Races with too many long green-flag runs are not exciting, Smith said, and he suggested a smaller fuel tank would force drivers to make more pit stops.
Fuel-mileage races, he said, are "boring, boring, boring." One solution could be a minimum number of cautions per race to serve as TV timeouts.
"This is what I have suggested – and you all can agree, disagree, throw things, whatever you want to do – I think in our sanction agreement, we ought to have a mandatory six caution flags during a race," he said. "Think about it."
• Drivers are "maybe not as eager" right now and NASCAR needs more racers who have a "mean streak."
"It would add a great deal to what we do, and we would have more drama if maybe some driver got out at the end of the race and hit somebody," he said. "I think that's what's missing. We used to have a lot of that."
Smith praised Kurt Busch as a talented driver who could provide some more action, but disagreed with the idea of Busch being an "outlaw." He said reporters shouldn't interview Busch and his peers right after the race when drivers might be angry.
Busch sometimes does things he shouldn't, Smith said, but "we used to do all those things and nobody said anything."
"I think we need to do more of that, a little more free-handed stuff," he said. "That creates a lot of drama. We need more helmet-throwing."
• Despite a decline in TV ratings and attendance, Smith is still supportive of the Chase. He sounded concerned, though, that the playoff drivers get treated with kid gloves.
"I think the Chase has been pretty good for the sport, I really do," he said. "I'm just wondering in the drivers' meeting Sunday what kind of instructions they're going to get: 'Don't touch these cars?' I don't know what they're going to say. ... If you're out there competing and you're not in the Chase and you want to win bad enough, you might bump somebody."
• There are no plans to make further adjustments to Bristol's racing surface after a drama-filled night race in August.
"Our ticket sales are awesome, so that tells me they like what they saw," he said. "Bristol is leading everybody (in SMI) on ticket sales. Our advance sales just keep going up, up, up. Maybe that's indicative what we did is right."
• Smith said it was "very favorable" that Pocono cut the length of its races to 400 miles this season. But he also pretended to forget the track's name and, when asked how much Pocono would be worth, joked, "Well, what's scrap value?"
• Though IndyCar's leadership is in flux, Smith said he's not interested in buying the series. However, he would have been interested about eight or 10 years ago, he said.
Smith criticized the look of the current IndyCars and said they need to be more of a "billboard" so viewers can see which car is which.
"You ever pay attention to when they announce those races? The announcer doesn't know who it is," he said. "He'll say, 'The red car is coming out of the fourth turn.' I'd like to know who's in it: Tom, Dick or Harry? But they don't know, they can't read the number. The numbers are much, much too small."
• Smith is unconcerned the new Formula One track in nearby Austin would hurt attendance at Texas because there is little crossover among the fan bases.
"Ten people we know are going to it, so we're not really concerned," he said. "... Go back and check it as far as you want to, but Formula One has never been anything in this country."
• No consideration has been given to moving an SMI race to give Las Vegas a second date, Smith said. He remains hopeful NASCAR will someday see the value in rewarding Vegas with another race.
"Maybe eventually the sport will demand it enough," he said. "I don't know. NASCAR controls that. We'll just kind of take it as it comes."
• NASCAR's current TV deal allots too much money to Daytona International Speedway due to the Daytona 500, Smith said, and he's pushing for a more even distribution. He's been told FOX's new TV deal with NASCAR will give his tracks more money, but he hasn't been told how much yet.
• Smith detailed his numerous attempts to get a track built in the New York City area. He first went to Long Island, where he said officials wanted to give him the land to build a track. But the drive from the city to the track was so long, he realized a potential track wouldn't draw a big crowd.
After that, he planned to buy land in Atlantic City and met with then-New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman five times. But SMI would have had to tear down an old horse track and pay $5 million for asbestos removal before building a track, so Smith backed out.
Then he was approached to buy the Meadowlands from New Jersey, which owns the complex. But when he looked at the New York Giants' stadium contract, it was too controlling because the Giants had say over what was built on the site.
Finally, he looked at Staten Island – as did ISC, infamously – but found the rules too restrictive. He could have bought the land for $55 million, he said, and was surprised ISC bought it for $110 million (and never got approval to build a track). There would have been a Kentucky-like problem with traffic there, he said.
• The Truck Series needs "a lot of help," Smith said. Sanctioning fees are too high and some tracks lose money by even hosting a Truck race.
Smith's wild (and apparently not serious) suggestion? Trucks should haul something, so NASCAR could put a 200-pound pig in the back.
"We could build a nice big harness for him, strap him down and then we have halftime," Smith said. "At halftime, if you're leading and I'm second, we switch hogs. That will be very exciting for the fans and also the crew members. ... I'm calling on all of you to help me sell that to NASCAR and put a hog in the truck."
Clearly, Smith was joking. Unless he wasn't?
"Let's imagine for a moment that we did it," he said. "I would buy a damn ticket to see that, wouldn't you?"
A cold front will work across Texas during the afternoon, and this could spark a few scattered storms near Texas Motor Speedway later today.
We will have to watch the radar later this afternoon and evening for the development of scattered showers and thunderstorms. It will also be warm this afternoon with temperatures reaching the low 80s. By Sunday, the front will have moved through and any threat of storms will decrease during the morning. It will be cooler Sunday afternoon with highs in the low 70s and mostly dry.
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Sprint Cup Series Practice – Partly sunny, chance of scattered storm – temp: 81
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Nationwide Series Qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of scattered storm – temp: 82
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Sprint Cup Series Final Practice – Partly sunny, chance of scattered storm – temp: 82
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Nationwide Series Race – Patchy clouds, chance of scattered storm – temp: 78
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race – Partly sunny – temp: 67
2:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race – Partly sunny – temp: 70
3:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 72
4:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 72
5:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 73
6:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny – temp: 71
Despite being a serious championship contender, Brad Keselowski's qualifying efforts throughout the Chase have stunk like skunky beer.
Heading into this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway, Keselowski was 20th in Charlotte qualifying, 25th at Kansas and 32nd at Martinsville. His 10th-place start at Dover was his only top-10 start of the Chase.
Keselowski and his No. 2 team haven't made it easy on themselves with poor qualifying positions and have relied on strategy and patience to overcome the deficits. In that sense, an eighth-place qualifying effort for Sunday's Texas race was a welcome turn of events for a driver just two points out of the lead.
But Chase rival Jimmie Johnson's pole-winning performance made Friday somewhat of a mixed bag for Keselowski. Still, the Penske Racing driver said he was "feeling pretty good about everything."
"I feel like we're in a strong position to control our own destiny as far as the Chase is concerned and have a shot at winning it, and that's really all you can ask," he said.
Keselowski said he was proud of his team's improvement in qualifying and added he was "extremely confident in our pace" during practice race runs.
"We know if we do all our things and do them right, we'll be tough to beat – not just for the race, but for the championship," he said.
At Texas, track president Eddie Gossage has put signs all over the property promoting Keselowski's battle with Johnson. There are banners hyping the "campaign" and even voting booths where fans can decide which driver will lead "NASCAR's oval office."
Keselowski said he's "become immune" to such attention at the track, because it's inside "our own walls, our own hangout."
"You just kind of glaze over it, you don't really see it," he said. "When you get recognition outside of the sport, that's when it really starts to sink in."
On the other hand, Keselowski said his team won't be distracted by any hype.
"Our ultimate goal is not necessarily to be the most recognized racers, but to be the best we can be and to live up to our potential," he said.
Though Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne are still somewhat in contention, they would only be able to get back toward the top of the standings if something happened to Johnson and Keselowski. As such, Keselowski acknowledged he and Johnson are "probably the only two that control our own destiny."
"Experience tells us it's probably going to come down to the 2 and the 48," he said, "but history has a way of not showing us all its cards, and it could be a little bit different."
Though some might perceive Keselowski as an underdog who is making a darkhorse run at this year's Chase, the driver said he's determined not to let any chances slip away now that he's so close with only three races left.
He's hungry for the championship, he said, and he has a great deal of motivation to win it.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about what it's going to take and how big it would be to my life to do it," he said.
Jimmie Johnson has done it again.
NASCAR's five-time champion and current points leader drove a courageous lap – one he called "the most exciting lap I've had in a long, long time" and was the only driver to top 191 mph during Friday afternoon's Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway.
In doing so, Johnson won the pole for the second straight week and for the fourth time this season after not winning any last year – a season in which he snapped his championship streak.
Clearly, Johnson is back and better than ever.
"We didn't unload like we wanted to," he said. "... It surprised us all a little bit to lay one down like that."
In a bit of superstition, Johnson sat in his car and refused to get out until qualifying was over. That entailed remaining in the driver's seat for 26 more qualifying attempts on a hot day in Texas.
When asked why, Johnson – who did the same thing last week at Martinsville – said he was determined not to jinx his lap by doing an interview on TV as another driver qualified faster.
"I don't know if it really works, but it kinda works," he said. "I don't believe it's sitting in the race car, although it's something to laugh at."
Brad Keselowski, who enters Texas two points behind Johnson, qualified eighth.
Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five, while the top 10 was completed by Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
Stephen Leicht, Kelly Bires and David Stremme failed to qualify for Sunday's race.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway:
Following last week's win at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson is in an oh-so-familiar position: Atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with three races left in the season.
However, despite now being the hunted instead of the hunter, Johnson has no plans to change his approach.
"Honestly, it's really been the same thing throughout the Chase, and that's to go out and get as many points as possible," Johnson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. "I'm in the mindset of sitting on the pole and winning the race. I think that's what you have to do with as tight as the points have been and with how strong the competitors have been on the race track."
"I'm still very focused on getting as many points as possible and trying to win the races."
One thing Johnson won't be doing is getting caught up into a war of words with any challengers.
When it comes down to it, the five-time champ would much rather let his performance on the track do his talking for him. That's the very thing he did last week when he won the pole on Friday and then came back on Sunday to lead the most laps and win the race.
"There are different aspects to it, I think," Johnson said. "Some (drivers) are eager for those opportunities and like to play it out in the media and stir the pot. It's really not been my outlet.
"... So I look over the last couple of weeks and what our team was able to accomplish at Kansas with a damaged race car and then what we did last week, it's quite a statement in that we're serious about this championship and we're doing the right things to go out there and try to win this thing."
The nice thing for Johnson, though, is that racing with the points lead is something he's quite comfortable with. Yet, even despite that level of comfort, there is still pressure that comes with having a target on your back.
Not that Johnson would want it any other way.
"There is some pressure taken off you when you are (behind)," he said. "I think there is more pressure on the points leader, but there is more control as the points leader. Just a week ago, I was sitting there seven (points) back thinking, 'OK, if I got two a weekend or if I got three a weekend...
"Right now I don't have to think about that. There is the pressure to maintain, but I would much rather be leading the points than be anywhere else."
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage has proclaimed Sunday's race as a campaign between points leader Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski to decide who will rule NASCAR's "oval office."
But third-place Clint Bowyer, who sits just 26 points behind Johnson and still considers himself very much alive in the championship, joked he has a plan to close the gap on the drivers he's chasing..
"Well, Jimmie wasn't in New York when (Hurricane) Sandy hit – he was in North Carolina it looks like, so he made it," Bowyer said Friday. "So scratch that from the list of ideas possibly that I could win this championship. I think a hit man is probably out. He rides his bicycle a lot – I was hoping maybe he would blow his knee out or something. Nothing career-ending or anything. Maybe painful; something painful to keep him out of the car."
All joking aside, Bowyer understands beating Johnson requires an extraordinary effort by everyone involved. That's why it would mean so much to him to beat Johnson and win his first Cup title.
"It's incredible the job they do each and every year and it's a challenge for everybody to try and outrun him," Bowyer said. "They are so solid. We saw it in Kansas: About the time you think, ‘Oh boy, they've done stubbed their toe now,' they had a hell of a Band-Aid and got it fixed right back up. I think he finished right behind me, and it's like, ‘How did they possibly do that?'"
As for the talk about it being a two-man race for the title, Bowyer could really care less.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but it really doesn't matter if the focus is on me or not," he said. "We have fun and go about our business the way we're going to go about our business and enjoy ourselves. It doesn't matter."
In Bowyer's mind, a lot can happen in three races. One slip-up by Johnson or a bobble by Keselowski and it quickly opens the door for either Bowyer or fourth-place Kasey Kahne to drive through and pounce. And in all likelihood, the championship will be decided in the final laps at Homestead.
"You can go into Homestead 20 points out and win this thing," Bowyer said. "You never know what's going to happen. Anything can happen. It could come down to the last lap, Jimmie runs out of gas and you win the championship. We've seen that before. There's just so many crazy things that could still happen."
What Bowyer is focusing in on is his No. 15 running well enough to capitalize on any potential mistakes the two championship leaders may make.
"You just have to play your cards right, you have to put yourself in position and we've done that each and every week," Bowyer said. "We've done a great job."
Those words come from a driver who has been in this position before, as Bowyer twice previously he has finished fifth or better in the year-end standings. And in his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer is just happy with the success he and his team have had together.
"It's amazing to see the smiles on everybody's faces," Bowyer said. "This time of year, it's winding down and everybody is starting to get over it usually about 15 races ago. This group just keeps digging and pushing harder and having more fun. That's what's cool about being with my guys."
After two miserable weeks away from the track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he hoped to use Martinsville as "a little closure" on his process of recovering from multiple concussions.
He didn't get it.
Though he stayed out and restarted second in the final laps last weekend, Earnhardt Jr. dropped through the field as cars with fresher tires swallowed him up. To make matters worse, he then got punted by Carl Edwards in a chain-reaction collision and had to settle for a 21st-place finish.
Afterward, he was angry and frustrated – emotions he expressed to both crew chief Steve Letarte and the media. But he later regretted doing so.
"When we made the decision to stay out, I was positive coming to that restart about what we were doing," he said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. "When (Letarte) made the decision for us to not pit, I didn't immediately throw my hands up in the air at that moment. I was like, 'Alright, I'm going to go as hard as I can go here.'"
But Earnhardt Jr. was in for an unpleasant surprise: His car was too tight and too slow on the restart, and other drivers "were all over me trying to get by me."
"I know I was a pain in the ass (for the other drivers), and I was just getting more and more frustrated," he said. "I lost control of my emotions a little bit and how I expressed my opinion after the race to him, to (the media), to everybody.
"Looking back now, I wasn't that mad about it – I didn't even think it was a bad call when we made it. I was being a bit of an armchair quarterback after the fact."
Earnhardt Jr. was remorseful in part because the crew chief has been unrelentingly supportive of him since the two were paired together in November 2010.
"I need to realize he's trying to help me – he's not trying to throw me to the wolves," Earnhardt Jr. said.
As for his concussions, the driver said his spin had no negative effect on his head and he continues to feel better (he's been in contact with doctors daily). But Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged he was "anxious and real nervous" about returning to Martinsville on Friday of race weekend and facing the media.
It took Saturday and Sunday for him to have "a breakthrough."
"Just to get to the track and see things working how I wanted them to work (and) really kind of connect to the race car like I wanted to felt really good," he said.
At Texas, where he finished 10th in the spring, Earnhardt Jr. said he's been eager to get back in the car again after the disappointing result at Martinsville.
"Anytime you don't finish things like you want, you want to get another shot or start over," he said. "You hate to have to sit around for a couple days waiting on the next opportunity to do it the right way."
The "Earnhardt" in Earnhardt-Childress Racing won't use the company's engines beginning in 2013.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will use motors leased from Hendrick Motorsports starting next season, a team representative told reporters at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday. The move is surprising considering ECR was formed as a joint engine-building effort between Earnhardt Ganassi and Richard Childress Racing.
EGR has struggled over the last two seasons with drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray, and team owner Chip Ganassi apparently felt a change was necessary in the engine program.
Hendrick engines have a reputation for being the best in the sport, and five Hendrick-powered drivers made the Chase this season.
RCR team owner Richard Childress said he wasn't surprised by Ganassi's decision to pull out of ECR and said he's been aware of the possibility for quite some time.
"It won't affect us in any way," Childress said.
Childress said his team will have "a couple" new customers next season – though he wouldn't say who – and also has an existing sponsor in Furniture Row Racing. ECR will retain its name because the teams "have a different relationship with the engines," Childress said.
"It's as good as it ever was," Childress said of the program, which is based at his shop. "We just hired two new EFI people and we're still growing it. ... We're going to have a strong engine shop. We'll be fine."
ECR also does engines for sports car racing and dirt car racing.
CLARIFICATION: ECR engines was a deal between Dale Earnhardt Inc. and RCR – it had nothing to do with Ganassi. DEI still exists and still has its own business entities just as Ganassi does in other series (IndyCar and Grand-Am). Ganassi partnered with DEI only on the No. 1 car in the Sprint Cup Series.
Here's a look at the race weekend schedule for NASCAR's tripleheader at Texas Motor Speedway (all times listed are EASTERN, not local time):
Note: Camping World Truck Series already held both of its practices on Thursday night.
12:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (One hour, 30 minutes) ... TV: Speed
2 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (One hour)
3:10 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series qualifying ... TV: Speed
4:40 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying ... TV: Speed
6 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (One hour, 30 minutes)
8 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series race (147 laps, 220.5 miles) ... TV: Speed
3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (50 minutes) ... TV: Speed
4:05 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying
5:45 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour) ... TV: Speed
7:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (200 laps, 300 miles) ... TV: ESPN2
3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (334 laps, 501 miles) ... TV: ESPN
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