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Ryan Newman's misfortune was Kyle Busch's gain, as the second NASCAR wild card spot changed hands once again after Saturday night's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kasey Kahne has held the No. 1 wild card spot by virtue of his two wins ever since he picked up the second victory; but the other wild card spot has changed hands multiple times.
Ryan Newman wrecked with Juan Pablo Montoya during Saturday night's race and finished 36th, which dropped him below Busch and Jeff Gordon among the one-win drivers who could grab the playoff spot based on points.
Busch finished sixth and wasn't thrilled with his run, but was lukewarm about his Chase chances.
"You'd rather have wins so you're more stable," he said. "I think you have to get that second win if there's a Chase guy that falls out – like I think (Brad) Keselowski had a bad night tonight and (Tony) Stewart had a bad night tonight, so if those guys fall out, they will likely have to rely on a wild card spot – and then we're not looking too good."
Here are the updated wild card standings after Bristol:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. clinched a berth in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, marking the first time in his career he's qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
Earnhardt Jr. finished 12th, a decent result considering he had a speeding penalty and another penalty for pitting when the pits were closed.
"I feel good about it," he said. "We worked real hard all season and I want to thank my guys. They do a good job every week and give me good strategy."
Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson all clinched a spot in the Chase top 10, and Matt Kenseth clinched at least a wild card berth (he can only drop out of the top 10 if he finishes last in the next two races while Kasey Kahne wins both).
"I'm really proud of this whole race team and am so very proud that we clinched today and am glad that we locked down the Chase," Johnson said. "That's something I'm very proud of. We've made it each year, and now it's time to get to work."
Biffle, the Sprint Cup Series points leader, said it felt good to already be locked into the playoffs with two races still remaining – even if it "wasn't the run we were looking for."
Kenseth, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, took a more practical approach to clinching a Chase spot.
"You can't win the championship without being in the Chase, so I'm happy to be there," he said.
Here's a look at how the top 10 in points looks with two races to go:
With his Chase hopes fading with each passing race, it was a gamble Carl Edwards felt he had to make: Overruling his crew chief to try and stretch his fuel to the end during Saturday night's Bristol race.
It was the NASCAR equivalent of a Hail Mary.
"Right or wrong – right now it's wrong – I said ‘Heck with it, I'm staying out and hoping for cautions,'" Edwards said. "I'm not looking at points, I feel like our best chance is to get that win."
When the caution waved for Casey Mears' stalled car with 85 laps to go, Edwards' crew chief Chad Norris called his driver to pit road to top off the fuel tank. This would have ensured that the No. 99 Ford would have been able to make it to the finish without concern.
But Edwards, sensing an opportunity to roll the dice and jump into the lead, overruled Norris. If the gamble worked out, Edwards would have had a chance to win his first race of the year – a victory which would allow him to move into position to claim the second wild card spot.
"...We stopped with about 180 laps to go and our mission was to stop with about 160," Edwards said. "So, when we stopped at 180, we were in a box. We didn't plan on coming back in, but we needed a lot of caution laps (to make it to the end). And I knew when Chad said, ‘Hey, come in and we're going to put fuel in it only' that he realized that we were short.
"I just said ‘F-it, I'm staying out, we're in the lead.'"
But it wasn't to be for Edwards. Instead, he was a sitting duck as Denny Hamlin on fresh tires worked him over and eventually took the lead. From there, it only got worse for Edwards; with older tires, he was no match for those who had stopped for fresh rubber.
Then, with just a few laps remaining, Edwards' failure to heed his crew chief's advice blew up in his face as his fuel tank ran dry.
Gone was a potential victory and a finish in the top 15. In its place, Edwards limped to pit road and finished the night in 22nd place.
"If we get caution after caution – short runs – I think we could have held those guys off at the end," Edwards said. "There are no tires on the car and we ran out of fuel. We needed the stars to align a lot better than it did. We had a shot at it and if things would have fallen a little differently, I think we could have held some of those guys off on short runs."
The problem is, Edwards may have been within range of making the top 10 on points if he had pitted for fuel. With Tony Stewart's struggles, Edwards is now 34 points behind 10th – but he could have been perhaps 20 points out if things had gone differently.
Still, Edwards was resolute afterward that he and his team are good enough to get into the Chase. And last year's championship runner-up was unwavering that if the 99 team is to qualify; they will do so on merit and nothing else.
"... If we make it, I want it to be because we deserve it because we're fast out there and we're winning races," Edwards said. "And if we don't make it, I want to be able to say we gave it everything we got. I do not want to look back at these races and say, ‘Man, you didn't try very hard and you gave up the potential to win Bristol.'
"We're going to lay it on the line and go for it."
And Edwards was very clear how he plans to approach the next two races which will make or break his season.
"We'll go to Atlanta, we'll go to Richmond, those are two good racetracks," Edwards said. "I'm going to drive like an animal and do all I can and hopefully I can get a win."
– Motorsports Editor Jeff Gluck contributed to this story
Regan Smith apologized for wrecking Danica Patrick during Saturday night's NASCAR Bristol race, but he insisted it was not intentional.
"I just pushed up into her," Smith told SB Nation by phone after the race. "Trust me when I say this: No one wants to be the guy who wrecked Danica."
But that apology might not do much to soothe the anger from Patrick and her team, since the No. 10 car had a surprising top-20 run going until the wreck.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli told SB Nation that Bristol was "by far her best effort" and said Patrick was improving as the night continued. Then came the incident with Smith, which happened with 65 laps to go when the No. 78 car slid up the track and spun Patrick into the inside wall.
"Obviously, it's just unfortunate," Zipadelli said. "There's absolutely no reason in the world to do that running 40th. If you're a nitwit, you're a nitwit. He's got to prove something, I guess."
On the team radio after the wreck, someone on Patrick's team vowed to "choke that prick later."
"It's been that way all night with him," Patrick reportedly said on the radio. "He's a dick."
Smith was surprised to hear Patrick's team say that, because he said they didn't spent much time racing one another on Saturday night. Patrick wagged her finger at Smith as he drove by after the crash.
"I was only around her one other time the whole night, and she let me go," Smith said. "Everybody was racing hard all night long. You had to, because you couldn't pass. It certainly wasn't intentional. I know that's not going to make her feel any better. I got wrecked last week (at Michigan) and I still don't feel any better about it.
"If she's got to wreck me to get me back, then I'll be ready for it. That's how it is sometimes, unfortunately."
Patrick was expected by most observers to finish somewhere in the 30s and get lapped several times. But at the time of the wreck, she was 19th and on the lead lap.
"Everything was running really smoothly," she said. "So it's a shame that we lost that. But you know, Bristol is a place where you find out who's playing fair and who's not."
Said Zipadelli: "The people she raced all night, some of them raced her good, some of them are just jackasses. I don't think they accept or want to accept that she's here. But if she keeps doing what she's doing, she'll do good and she won't have to race them guys for long."
As it turns out, some previous history between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth may have led to Saturday night's crash between the two drivers while racing for the lead at Bristol.
Kenseth said Stewart was upset with him at Indianapolis because he felt Kenseth was blocking. Later, Kenseth asked for "five minutes of his time to clear the air," but Stewart apparently refused.
"He wouldn't give it to me," Kenseth said. "I just got cussed out."
At the time, Kenseth told Stewart if the drivers couldn't resolve their problems, he'd just race Stewart exactly how Stewart raced him. So at Bristol, when Kenseth said Stewart put him in a bad position, he returned the favor.
"I was running the top lane and he got a run and he went into Turn 1 like I wasn't there and went straight to the fence," Kenseth said. "If I wouldn't have lifted, then we would have wrecked. So I let him have (the spot).
"Then I got a run back, drove all the way alongside him and kept going...and he chose not to lift. So I don't know. ... I did the exact same thing down there, except he didn't give it to me. I guess he wanted to do all the taking."
Naturally, Stewart disagreed.
"We were definitely faster than that after that restart," he said. "I checked up twice to not run over him."
Kenseth said Stewart was the best driver in the garage and the two had respectfully raced together for years without many problems. But at Sonoma, Stewart ran Kenseth off the track and cost him seven spots – Kenseth said Stewart apologized – and then there was the incident at Indy.
"If you look at it, we did the exact same thing – he just didn't lift," Kenseth said. "So I don't see how that's 100 percent my fault or my problem."
As for Stewart's helmet throw, Kenseth was non-plussed.
"I was expecting it," he said.
Stewart told the Performance Racing Network he would make sure Kenseth didn't get another chance to race him that way.
And as he told ABC: "I learned my lesson there; I'm going to run over him every him every chance I've got from now ‘til the end of the year. Every chance I've got."
Denny Hamlin saved his best for the last stretch of Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and his persistence paid off with the No. 11 team's third win of the season in 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
"It's Bristol -- I don't know what to say, man," Hamlin said as he crossed the finish line. "I'm so damn happy."
After a heated battle, Hamlin passed Carl Edwards for the lead on Lap 462 but didn't clear the No. 99 Ford until both drivers traded shots. As Edwards faded, Hamlin pulled away to beat Jimmie Johnson to the checkered flag by 1.103 seconds.
Jeff Gordon ran third, followed by Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose.
Greg Biffle (19th Saturday), Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th) clinched berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
On the newly ground surface at the .533-mile short track, the race featured 13 cautions and plenty of emotion.
No wreck was more significant to the outcome of the race -- or to the Cup standings, for that matter -- than Tony Stewart's dustup with Matt Kenseth on Lap 332. Stewart had the faster car, but Kenseth had the race lead, and their cars collided as they powered through Turn 4, with Stewart to the outside.
Repeated contact between the cars turned both sideways as they crossed the start/finish line. Kenseth's Ford careened into the inside wall at the end of the frontstretch, with Stewart's Chevrolet slamming into Kenseth's car.
Kenseth's car was wounded, but he drove away from the wreck. Stewart climbed from his car and slung his helmet squarely into the nose of Kenseth's car.
"We weren't that great of a race car, but we were definitely faster than that (Kenseth's car) after that restart (on Lap 329)," Stewart said while his car spent 25 laps in the garage for repairs. "I checked up twice to not run over him, and I learned my lesson there.
"I'm going to run over him every chance I've got from now till the end of the year -- every chance I've got."
Stewart finished 27th and Kenseth 25th.
A late wreck relegated Danica Patrick to 29th in her fourth Cup start.
Here are the results from Saturday night's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway:
As per tradition, each NASCAR driver chose his own song to play during pre-race introductions prior to today's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (via @dustinlong's Twitter account)
Here were their selections:
• Aric Almirola – "All of the Lights" / Kanye West
• Bobby Labonte – "Southern State of Mind" / Darius Rucker
• Brad Keselowski – "I Just Want You" / Ozzy Osborne
• Brian Vickers – "Livin' On A Prayer" / Bon Jovi
• Carl Edwards – "Backwoods" / Justin Moore
• Casey Mears – "This Town" / OAR
• Clint Bowyer – "Promised Land" / Elvis Presley
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. – "Momma Said Knock You Out" / LL Cool J
• Danica Patrick – "Fastest Girl in Town" / Miranda Lambert
• Dave Blaney – "Come As You Are" / Nirvana
• David Gilliland – "Life in the Pits" / Kenyatta Houston aka Yatta Da Kaptain
• David Ragan – Theme from the Andy Griffith Show
• David Stremme – "My Kind of Party" / Jason Aldean
• Denny Hamlin – "Wobble" / VIC (did a full dance to go along with it)
• Greg Biffle – "Adrenaline" / Shinedown
• Jamie McMurray – "Redneck Yacht Club" / Craig Morgan
• Jason Leffler – "Show Me What You Got" / Powerman 5000
• Jeff Burton – "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair" / George Jones
• Jeff Gordon – "International Harvester" / Craig Morgan
• Jimmie Johnson – "Howlin'" / The Black Keys
• Joe Nemechek – "Hard Working Man" / Brooks and Dunn
• Joey Logano – "Can't Touch This" / MC Hammer
• Josh Wise – "Cling to You" / Tripp Lee
• Juan Pablo Montoya – "Great Balls of Fire" / Jerry Lee Lewis
• Kasey Kahne – "Some Nights" / fun.
• Ken Schrader – "Pretty Good at Drinking Beer" / Billy Currington
• Kevin Harvick – "5-1-5-0" / Dierks Bentley
• Kurt Busch – "Red Solo Cup" / Toby Keith
• Kyle Busch – "Rowdy Busch" / Raytona 500
• Landon Cassill – "Get To It" / Bird Peterson
• Marcos Ambrose – "Thunderstruck" / AC/DC
• Martin Truex Jr. – "Dixieland Delight" / Alabama
• Matt Kenseth – "Let the Sparks Fly" / Thousand Foot Krutch
• Michael McDowell – "Let It Start With Me" / No Other Name
• Mike Bliss – "Blow Me Away" / Breaking Bad
• Paul Menard – "Nothing to Lose" / Rebel Meets Rebel
• Regan Smith – "Rocky Mountain Way" / Godsmack
• Ryan Newman – "Pontoon" / Little Big Town
• Sam Hornish Jr. – "Jump Around" / House of Pain
• Scott Riggs – "Back in Black" / AC/DC
• Stephen Leicht – "Face to the Floor" / Chevelle
• Tony Stewart – "How You Like Me Now" / The Heavy
• Travis Kvapil – "A Warrior's Call" / Volbeat
How can you find tonight's NASCAR Bristol race on TV? For most of the country, it's on ABC – but due to preseason football and hurricane coverage, it won't be that way for everyone.
Check and see if you're in one of these affected markets:
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The race will air on ESPN instead of ABC.
DETROIT – The race will air on WXYZ-TV's digital tier 2 channel (the "Live Well Detroit" channel), and WXYZ will join the race in progress once the Detroit Lions game ends.
MIAMI – The race will air on ESPN instead of ABC due to hurricane coverage.
QUINCY, ILL. – The race will air on ESPN instead of ABC.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The race will air on WHAM-TV's digital tier 2 channel.
TULSA, OKLA. – The race will air on ESPN instead of ABC.
WESLACO, TEXAS – The race will air on ESPN instead of ABC.
OTHER: If you're in Little Rock, Ark., Corpus Christi, Texas or Omaha, Neb., your local ABC affiliate will pre-empt the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show at 7 p.m. for local news – but it will join the ABC race telecast at 7:30 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 7:48 p.m.
Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for in tonight's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Is The New Bristol A Return To The Old Bristol?
In the spring there was plenty of racing but little of the wrecking which had become synonymous with Bristol. The outcry was enough that track owner Bruton Smith decided to call in the bulldozers and narrow the upper groove. This was done in an effort to restore the high-banked oval to the days when drivers often had to resort to using their bumpers to complete a pass. And based off yesterday's Nationwide race fans may have gotten what they asked for, as there was plenty of beating and banging, bent sheet-metal and angry drivers post race.
We'll see if the above carries over from last night to tonight, but what we do know is that a giant curveball has been thrown at the garage in the form of rain. With qualifying having been wiped-out, the starting lineup for tonight has been set by practice speeds. That means the unlikely pole-sitter is Casey Mears with some faster drivers - including Jimmie Johnson - rolling off the grid towards the rear.
Danica Is Back (And Starting In The Back)
For the fourth time this season Danica Patrick will run a Sprint Cup Series race. Her goal, like it was each time before, is to avoid trouble and log as many laps as possible. That however, is much easier said than done at Bristol. This is going to be especially though considering how off the pace Patrick was in practice, as she was the slowest car in both rounds of practice - over 5 mph behind the leaders. Also not helping matters is that as a result of her slowness in practice, Patrick will be starting shotgun on the field.
Kyle/Jeff/Carl All Need A Win ... Badly
Between the three of them, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have combined won 12 races at Bristol. But with each of them on the wrong side of the Chase cutoff, the trio enters tonight's event in desperate need of a win. And with all three having said they're driving each lap as hard as possible along with being willing to take whatever chances needed, this has all the elements for some entertaining moments tonight. However, this strategy could easily backfire, as being too aggressive on a bullring like Bristol can have severe consequences.
1. Brad Keselowski
With Brad Keselowski having won the last two Bristol races along with being fast in practice, this is a fairly easy pick for the top spot.
2. Kyle Busch
If Brad Keselowski is 1A, then Kyle Busch should be 1B, as he is the winner of four of the last seven races on the half-mile oval. Although he wasn't particularly pleased with his Toyota in practice, the No. 18 car was still plenty fast - which could be bad news for the competition.
3. Greg Biffle
No, Greg Biffle has never won on a short track, but don't think he isn't formidable at Bristol, as it often goes unnoticed that he has 11 top 10s in 16 starts. And he did show some speed in both practices having the posted the third-fastest time in Friday's first session.
When teammates are in the Chase and competing for the championship, the expectation is that everything within the organization will be on the up-and-up. This means all information is shared between all parties and no driver is given preferential treatment over the other.
But what happens when one of those two teammates is leaving at the end of the year for a different team? And not just any team, but the team who your owner considers a bitter rival and will do anything to beat?
Do you continue to be the good teammate and share any and all secrets, even if those secrets will likely end up in the hands of the enemy?
The above is the very situation facing everyone at Roush Fenway Racing, where Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are all but locked into the Chase. Yet, at the season's end, Kenseth is leaving and likely headed to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.
If anyone would be reluctant to be the ideal teammate, it would understandably be Biffle. After all, it is he who is going against Kenseth for the title, and any aid he potentially gives could easily lead to his own championship demise.
But Biffle, to his credit, also believes in being the best teammate he can be. And when everything is said and done, what he wants is to be able to adhere to the principle which he says Roush is built upon.
"I think you have to be a person of integrity for Roush Fenway," Biffle said Friday Bristol Motor Speedway. "And how much we hate that Matt's leaving and we hate to share all the information we share with him every week, the right thing to do and the contractual thing to do is share the information with him and help him the best we can, although both of us probably are gonna be racing him for that championship as well.
"At the same time, we're gonna do all we can to win it ourselves. I think that's how you have to handle it."
However, would Edwards - the face of Ford - really go out of his way to help Kenseth win the championship trophy just so he can carry it over with him to JGR? Edwards firmly stated that he would do just that very thing.
"I think all of us are committed to get a championship for Ford and Roush Fenway," Edwards said. "Even if we're all three in the , if one of us has a better shot at the end, we will all share as much as we can with that person - whether it's Matt or not - I think we're all a team."
Edwards' rationale in part can be explained by the fact he has yet to come to terms with Kenseth's impending departure.
"I personally don't think of Matt leaving yet," Edwards said. "It doesn't seem real. I know he is, but I still think of him as a teammate and I've talked to him about it one-on-one about how he feels and he said that he's not paying attention to that new team he's going to. He's really focused here and when the season is over then he'll go and work on that, and I believe him."
With qualifying rained out, Biffle will start from the third position, while Kenseth will roll off 17th and Edwards 27th. Here is the rest of the starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Bristol:
It’s NASCAR race night at Bristol Motor Speedway, and we’ve got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about Saturday’s race for you below.
What time does the race start? Track official Scott Hatcher will give the command to fire engines at 7:40 p.m. ET. After a few pace laps, the green flag will wave at 7:45 p.m. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual race, flip on your TV sets at 7:45 p.m. ET.
Race name/distance: The Irwin Tools Night Race is one of the most famous events on NASCAR’s schedule. Bristol holds two Sprint Cup Series races per year, but only one is at night – and it used to be one of the hottest tickets in all of sports. The event is 500 laps around the 0.533-mile track for a total of 266.5 miles.
TV, radio and live streaming: The race can be seen on ABC, but it is not available in all areas due to preseason football. To find out if your area is affected and to see alternate viewing plans, click here. There IS NO live streaming of the race today on Race Buddy or the Watch ESPN app because the race is on ABC. If you’ll be away from your computer and TV, check the Performance Racing Network’s web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.
* NOTE: If you’re out and about and can’t watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting updates about the event. *
National anthem: Children of drivers and crew members will join together to sing the national anthem tonight. That takes place after Bristol’s famed driver introductions, which unfortunately won’t be seen on TV. But we’ll have a full list of the drivers’ songs back here during the race.
Tickets: Bristol is still a popular race, but it’s not the hot ticket it once was. The race is not expected to sell out tonight, so there WILL be tickets available at the door if you’re thinking of making a last-minute trip.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says the weather should be mostly dry and pleasant, though he notes there’s a chance of an isolated storm again. A few storms popped up on Friday unexpectedly and washed out qualifying, which remains a possibility for tonight’s race as well.
Last time: One year ago, Brad Keselowski won at Bristol despite a broken ankle. Then, in March, Keselowski made it two in a row with another Bristol victory. In tonight’s race, he’ll continue the “Blue Deuce” tradition by driving a Rusty Wallace throwback paint scheme.
Starting lineup for tonight’s NASCAR race at Bristol:
Weather played more of a factor this weekend than I expected as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying was washed out and the Nationwide Series had a delay in getting started. Although I was quite surprised to see my Twitter stream blow up about a storm over Bristol Motor Speedway, my forecast called for isolated showers and storms. They were isolated, isolated right over the track for about an hour or two.
There is a chance to see a similar scenario again Saturday, so I decided to keep the threat of an isolated storm or shower in the forecast. I expect most of the area around and including Bristol Motor Speedway to remain dry, but as we saw Friday, if that "isolated" storm moves or forms over the track there can be delays.
5:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Mostly sunny, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 87
6:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Mostly Clear, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 84
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly Clear – temp: 78
8:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly Clear – temp: 74
9:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly Clear – temp: 71
10:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly Clear – temp: 69
Passing Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 216 of 250, Joey Logano held on to win Friday night's Food City 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, winning his series-best sixth victory of the season.
Logano, who posted his 15th career win and his first at the .533-mile short track, outran runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and crossed the finish line .503 seconds ahead of the defending series champion. Kyle Busch ran third, followed by Austin Dillon and Nationwide points leader Elliott Sadler, who was pushed aside by Stenhouse after a restart on Lap 249 and lost three positions over the final two laps.
Harvick took the lead for the first time on Lap 118 with a two-tire stop under the sixth caution, for Fain Skinner's spin off Turn 2. On left-side tires that were mounted on his Chevrolet on Lap 47, Harvick kept Logano in his mirror until Benny Gordon's spin in Turn 4 on Lap 171 caused the seventh yellow.
Logano, on fresher rubber, harried Harvick after the ensuing restart on Lap 181, but it took Logano 35 more laps to make the winning pass. Ultimately, Logano used the lapped car of Jeremy Clements as a pick, trapped Harvick to the outside and sailed past in the low groove.
When John Wes Townley's Toyota slammed into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 225, Harvick had to give up the second position and pit for fuel, dropping the No. 33 from contention.
With eight laps left, Dillon's Chevrolet collided with the Ford of pole-sitter Trevor Bayne, causing the ninth and final caution of the race. That set up the two-lap dash to the finish, with Logano clearing Sadler through the first two corners.
Despite a penalty for speeding while exiting pit road under caution on Lap 175, Danica Patrick worked her way up to a ninth-place from the 34th starting position.
Here are the results from Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway:
When NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series qualifying session was rained out on Friday, Scott Speed's No. 95 team was forced to pack up and go home. And that meant Bristol fans – and race fans around the country – were deprived of what would have been one of the funniest driver introductions ever.
At Bristol, each driver picks a song and then makes a comment to the crowd. This year, Bristol is holding a fan vote after the driver intros to see who had the best entrance; the winner gets $10,000 for a charity.
In order to try and take down likely winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Scott Speed hatched a plan: He would walk out to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," but with a twist.
"No big deal there, right? Whoopty doo," he said. "But I was actually going to have my phone number on the car, and they were going to 'Call Me, Probably!'"
Yep, you read that right: Speed was going to publish his actual phone number to the whole country, and also read everyone at Bristol his digits over the public address system.
"I was going to get on the microphone and say, 'Get a pen and paper, you're gonna want to write this down!'" he said with a laugh.
His spotter, Josh Williams, published Speed's phone number on Twitter a few months ago as a prank – and Speed got a kick out of it. His phone rang non-stop for three days, he said, and he mostly answered it when it could.
"It honestly produced some really interesting conversations," he said. "It was enjoyable, actually. After a few days, I turned it off for a week, and I think most people figured I changed my number. After that, I never got anything."
Unfortunately, he won't get the opportunity to have more conversations anytime soon – and neither will Speed's chosen charity, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (Speed has ulcerated colitis). Speed's phone number was already on his No. 95 car, but it was covered up with red tape the team was going to peel off on Saturday.
"I think the drive back home from Bristol would have been really entertaining," he said.
MORE INFO: Check out the CCFA's web site
Your pole-sitter for Saturday night's Bristol night race? None other than Casey Mears.
Mears was fastest in Friday's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session, which meant he earned the No. 1 starting spot when a series of strong storms swept through the Bristol Motor Speedway area and washed out qualifying.
"It's exciting for our team to be able to have this opportunity," Mears said. "Having the first pit selection and starting up front, it gives us a big head start from where we've been in the past."
Brad Keselowski, who has won two straight Bristol races, will start second. Points leader Greg Biffle will start third, with Joey Logano and Aric Almirola rounding out the top five.
Scott Speed, Kelly Bires, Reed Sorenson and JJ Yeley missed the race because they never got a chance to qualify and did not have enough owner points/attempts to make it.
Danica Patrick, making her Bristol debut, will start 43rd.
Here's the starting lineup for Saturday night's NASCAR Bristol race:
Kyle Busch had his first at-track media session since before his last-lap incident with Brad Keselowski at Watkins Glen, and it was a mix of surly and funny responses.
Here are some of Busch's most memorable quips from Friday's group interview at Bristol Motor Speedway:
On the newly reconfigured Bristol surface:
I think it's terrible. That's about it.
On why he believes his past success at Bristol and Richmond give them his best chance for a win:
I would say that's the leading cause of why you'd feel that way.
On whether he was more upset at Watkins Glen because of contact with Brad Keselowski or NASCAR's no-call with an oiled track:
All of the above.
On whether he'll take more risks in the next three weeks to get a win:
It's not necessarily like I haven't been driving hard or I've been asleep at the wheel. Factors haven't all led together in giving us the opportunity to win one.
On whether he's spoken to Keselowski since Watkins Glen:
On whether he'll experiment with the high line at Bristol:
I don't have to. I watched the Truck race.
On what he learned from watching the Truck race:
Nobody passed anybody.
On whether this weekend is a must-win for him:
We got three weeks, man. Chill out.
On whether running more races would help:
The only thing I can do is run some more Nationwide and Truck races to get my bad luck out of the way there instead of moving over to Sunday. Aside from that, how much better do you want me to run before a fucking engine blows up or a brake rotor falls off or before you blow a right-front tire? You name it, we've had it.
On whether he's asked team owner Joe Gibbs for advice:
I've asked him what I've got to do to get better luck, how much more I've got to pray or whatever else, you know? Doesn't seem to work, no matter what we've done.
On what he meant by saying the team needed to 'have tricks up our sleeve' on the radio:
I didn't mean like the 48 car and Keselowski. I just meant thinking of some other things we can try.
Oh, that hilariously sarcastic Smoke.
Tony Stewart was wrapping up a brief media session on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway when a reporter asked the driver if there was a specific point in Saturday's race when everyone would know whether or not Bristol's track changes worked.
Stewart, without missing a beat, immediately turned into Sarcastic Man, the superhero who fights reporters instead of crime.
"Oh, I have no doubt," he said. "It's going to be exactly on lap 236, is the lap where you're going to notice it. Not a lap before, not a lap after. It's exactly going to be on lap 236, I promise that."
No one else jumped in to ask a question after that, and Stewart shook his head.
"Rocket scientist here," he nodded toward the reporter.
Then he turned to walk into his hauler.
"Alright, I gotta go," he said. "I gotta do something productive now."
In addition to the unusual rash of Hendrick Motorsports engine failures at Michigan, there was another rarity last weekend as well: The frustration of losing a race he had seemingly in the bag caused Jimmie Johnson to make a hasty exit out of the track and skip speaking with the media afterward.
For Johnson, that was very unusual. No matter if there's a good or bad result, he generally takes a few minutes to address reporters following the race. Instead, though, he bolted out of the track without saying a word.
"Last week with the emotion, there were so many levels of frustration that came through," Johnson said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "From gifting a fellow Chaser bonus points – a win – to losing two engines that weekend and losing the championship points lead, which is really important to me. All that just came to a head and there wasn't much else to say.
"Everyone watching clearly knew I had an engine failure and that I was disappointed. Just didn't make any sense to me to talk with everyone and draw further attention to the engine shop, which works so hard to put me on the racetrack week in and week out."
In total, four engines bearing the Hendrick name suffered failures at Michigan. One of those victims was Johnson himself, who suffered a blown engine at the worst possible time – leading the race with just a few laps to go.
He admitted Friday that Hendrick was "caught off guard" by the reliability issues, though he did reiterate he was confident the issues had been addressed by the engine department using technology Johnson referred to as "C.S.I. stuff."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski are good friends. Earnhardt Jr. was the one who gave Keselowski his big break in NASCAR, and Keselowski lived on Earnhardt Jr.'s property for some time (he now lives adjacent to it).
But Earnhardt Jr. isn't too thrilled with Keselowski's post-race comments at Michigan about some teams (which everyone understood to include Hendrick Motorsports) getting a performance advantage by working in the gray area of NASCAR's rules.
"He's a really great race car driver, and I wish he'd concentrate on that," Earnhardt Jr. told reporters Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "He likes to talk a lot. His true skills shine on the racetrack, not really behind a microphone."
Earnhardt Jr. emphasized Keselowski is a good guy with a good heart and said he didn't want to start any drama with his friend. But he couldn't help but feel defensive on behalf of his team.
"I don't particularly like the things he says lately about the company I drive for, so I take offense to the claims and the accusations," he said. "It's just natural for me to do that."
From the sounds of it, Earnhardt Jr. isn't the only one at Hendrick who didn't like what Keselowski had to say.
Jimmie Johnson told reporters Friday that Keselowski "likes to talk a lot" and "says a lot of different things."
"I don't know what his strategy is," Johnson said when asked if Keselowski was playing mind games. "I'm not all that concerned. He's one of 12 that will be in the Chase that we need to worry about.
"Everybody's entitled to an opinion, but I think you need to have your facts straight and understand what's going on. Our car has been through inspection multiple times, and there's nothing out of line taking place."
After finishing second at Michigan last week, Keselowski said he noticed a handful of cars had some "tricks" that affected the handling.
"There's parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive," he said then. "Some guys have it, some don't. There's a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty."
On Thursday night, Keselowski insisted he never accused Hendrick of cheating and said he was disappointed his words were being twisted.
"I respect them and their ability to do those things, and to be innovators," he said Thursday. "It's our challenge to find that little bit of speed and have a true understanding of all the rules it entails. It's something we're watching."
Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne, who finished third at Michigan and was sitting next to Keselowski during his post-race comments, brushed off a photo some fans said showed Kahne displaying his middle finger in displeasure.
From Kahne's Twitter account:
Kahne said of the photo on Twitter:
@kaseykahne: To those who saw this pic my eye itched. Guess I chose the wrong finger to itch with but I don't flick people off.
@kaseykahne: I didn't know anything about it until today. It is pretty funny looking though. Sorry @keselowski
@keselowski: @kaseykahne haha All good
Trevor Bayne will return to a full-time NASCAR ride for the first time since 2010 – before he became a Daytona 500 winner – if all goes as planned with Roush Fenway Racing next season.
Bayne reiterated Friday that team owner Jack Roush intends to run him full-time in the Nationwide Series next season – with the team Ricky Stenhouse Jr. uses now – and said "it sounds like (the plan) is in concrete."
If it happens, it would be Bayne's first-ever full-season ride with a single team. Even in 2010, his Michael Waltrip-backed ride ran out of sponsorship and he was forced to switch to Roush before the year was over.
"I never ran that one full season all the way through with one team and one group of guys, and that's what I'm looking forward to next year," he said.
Bayne said he was "a little bit bummed" at first because he wanted Roush to put him in a Cup car (the team isn't currently running four cars due to a lack of sponsorship). But he eventually realized the experience of running a full Nationwide season would "be good to get under our belt."
As of now, Bayne said he will also continue to run a partial Cup schedule for Wood Brothers Racing next season.
Tonight's Nationwide race at Bristol will be the 21-year-old's first event in the series since March, and he said it could be his last one of the year unless he can convince Roush to let him run a few races toward the end of the season.
Nearly a week after running over a shoe while leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Montreal, Danica Patrick could do little but quote Austin Powers.
"Who throws a shoe?" she said in a faux English accent on Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I mean, really?"
Patrick initially joked about the shoe incident ("It was dark, with a light-colored sole. It looked really funny on the video."), but then she suddenly sighed.
"Ugh, that sucked," she said.
Though crew chief Tony Eury Jr. told espn.com this week the shoe had nothing to do with Patrick's parts failure, the driver herself wasn't so sure. Either way, she said, running over the shoe marked the start of her problems.
"(I was) looking forward to having a shot to win, and that happened in the lead," she said. "Whether it was what caused the problem or not, I don't know. But it definitely was what ended up leading toward the end of our day."
While leading the Montreal race, an unknown spectator suddenly chucked a sneaker over the fence, and it landed on the track. Patrick promptly ran over it, and her car developed handling issues almost immediately afterward.
Patrick said the shoe was a continuation of a bad-luck streak, the likes of which she's never experienced. She couldn't remember a time when she felt "like I can't seem to catch a break for so long and in such big ways sometimes."
"I can't tell you how many people said after Watkins Glen what bad luck I had – and then I hit a shoe," she said. "So I don't feel like it can get a lot worse. I don't know if anybody has ever hit a shoe before. It's just a weird situation. I'm ready for some good luck and some good results."
NASCAR returns to Bristol this weekend, and it appears Mother Nature will be playing nice for a change. The weather looks nice and mostly dry for tonight's Nationwide Series race and Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race.
There is just a small chance of an isolated storm later this afternoon and Saturday afternoon, but I don't see this as a concern. Overall, the forecast is mostly dry, mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s.
9:00 a.m EDT
Nationwide Series Final Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 65
12:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 78
2:45 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Final Practice – Mostly sunny, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 85
3:40 p.m EDT
Nationwide Series Qualifying – Mostly sunny, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 87
5:10 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Mostly sunny, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 88
7:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Mostly clear – temp: 78
5:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Mostly sunny, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 87
6:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Mostly Clear, chc. of isolated storm – temp: 84
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly Clear – temp: 78
8:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly Clear – temp: 74
9:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly Clear – temp: 71
10:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly Clear – temp: 69
Brad Keselowski said last week's comments about his rivals' competitive advantage were misconstrued into an accusation of cheating – which is not what he meant, he said Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Keselowski, speaking at a media dinner after unveiling a Rusty Wallace tribute paint scheme for his car this weekend, insisted he never said competitors like Hendrick Motorsports were breaking the rules when he touched on the subject after Sunday's race at Michigan.
"There's a misconception in the stock car community that because we drive stock cars, they're all the same," he said, "and that anyone who is driving a car that is not the same is cheating – which is a bit baffling to me."
Keselowski said he was trying to describe the difference in what his Penske Racing car has and what rivals like Hendrick Motorsports have in their cars – and said he'd like to have more speed to make a legitimate run in the Chase.
"My comments were, in general, an observation to what was being seen. I think those were turned around into an accusation of cheating," he said. "... I didn't appreciate how those words were twisted into calling out some specific teams."
After finishing second at Michigan, Keselowski repeated what other drivers have said about the Hendrick cars since June: The team is using a gray area of the rules to gain an advantage in speed.
"There's parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive," he said at Michigan. "Some guys have it, some don't. There's a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty."
On Thursday, Keselowski said he made it a point not to name specific teams, even though most people knew that included Hendrick. But he noted there were more cars than just Hendrick doing it.
"I respect them and their ability to do those things, and to be innovators," he said. "It's our challenge to find that little bit of speed and have a true understanding of all the rules it entails. It's something we're watching."
When asked if his comments had spurred Penske Racing to start working harder in those areas – which focus on the rear end of the car – Keselowski chose his words carefully as to not reveal his team's strategy.
"It's certainly an area every team in the garage is evaluating," he said. "... It's certainly something we're watching."
Due to preseason football, not all of the ABC affiliates will air the Bristol Motor Speedway race on Saturday night. Here's how to watch if it's not on in your area.
Several NASCAR drivers got their first look at the reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test, and what they discovered is exactly what track owner Bruton Smith hoped would happen.
Smith ordered his engineers to grind down the top lane of the track, and the drivers found it to be so slippery that Bristol has essentially been reduced from a three-groove track to two.
"Well, you've definitely lost the top groove," said Tony Stewart, who was the only driver to try and run the high line at the test. "Guys who run up there aren't going to be able to do that because it's pretty slick up there. There's going to be less room to race, that's for sure."
And less room to race means increased likelihood for the beating and banging that Bristol was known for. Many fans were upset after the March Bristol race produced lots of passing but few cautions.
Taking away one-third of the racing room should make for "a lot closer racing than we've had here in the past," Clint Bowyer said.
"The closer we have to race just means something's going to happen," Bowyer said. "Is it going to make fans happy? Well, narrowing up the track means less room to get around, so there's no question there's going to be closer action."
Bristol left the bottom two-thirds of the track untouched, but had grinders take off several inches of the banking up near the wall. Now it's useless for drivers to run that high, because they'd only lose time and possibly lose control of their cars as well.
"Tony experimented and tried out that top groove, and I know he won't be trying that again," Jeff Burton said.
So will fans be happier now that there's the potential for more action at a track once known for tempers and wrecks? It depends what they want, Burton said.
"If people liked the older track more than the new, they are going to like this," he said. "This takes the top groove out and brings it back toward the old track. Taking the groove out moves the track closer to what it used to be.
"... This track always has been different. Fans always want to see action here. That is why pressure is always put on this track."
Said Bowyer: "This place has always been – and will always be – far and away the best race we have. You wanna see a great race in the best atmosphere we have? Just be here in August."
There was never a thought in Bruton Smith's mind to leave Bristol Motor Speedway untouched.
After last month's Food City 500, in which the stands were half-full at best, the Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman had no choice. He had to do something, even if not everyone agreed.
And though many fans, drivers and observers won't like Smith's ultimate decision, Bristol announced Wednesday it will grind down the top lane of the track and therefore take away the advantage of progressive banking.
Where there were three racing lanes before, drivers will only have two viable options come the night race in August. The idea, said track general manager Jerry Caldwell, is to "tighten these guys up, bring 'em back together (so they're) not going to get away from each other very quickly."
If it works, it will restore some of the racing Bristol became famous for while also still allowing for multiple racing grooves; the best of both worlds, Caldwell said.
Will it please everyone? Absolutely not.
Smith said none of the drivers he spoke to were in favor of him changing the track. And after an initial onslaught of fans who demanded something be done, the final numbers were only 40 percent in favor of making the change.
But here's the thing: What's good for the drivers isn't always good for the fans. A wide track with multiple racing grooves might sound like an attractive proposition at a 1.5-mile track, but not at Bristol.
Why? Because the short track at Bristol was famous for fender-rubbing and tempers – not side-by-side racing. People filled the 158,000-seat track year after year because there was a high probability of seeing some drama.
When that disappeared after the track's reconfiguration, attendance began to dwindle. Along with the economy, Bristol was no longer a must-see race, so people saved their money for something else.
Smith is a businessman, and he plans to change that. He studied several options with SMI's engineers, and ultimately he decided reducing the degree of banking in the upper groove was his best choice.
Smith didn't do anything crazy like move the walls in six feet, re-pave the track with asphalt or completely start over. But what he did do is a modification that has a chance to tighten up the racing for a relatively small cost – at least compared to a complete redesign.
Ultimately, Smith needs to fill his Colosseum of Speed. To do so, he had to appease those who felt the track was too racy – as bizarre as that sounds – and who craved the sight of twisted sheet metal and sparks flying under the lights.
Honestly, it has a chance to work. Even if the race has the same number of cautions as the March event did – the fewest since 1996 – so much about racing is perception.
If fans get the idea that attending Bristol is a can't-miss, must-see race, they'll show up. Maybe taking away one racing lane won't be a dramatic change, but it still could produce more drama.
And like it or not, that's the reality of what many fans want to watch.
By listening to the wishes of 40 percent of the fans and zero percent of the drivers, Smith's Bristol move is a decision which probably satisfies no one.
But if he can get half of the unhappy 40 percent to show up at the track while retaining the 60 percent who didn't think there was anything wrong with Bristol in the first place, the attendance numbers should go up enough to satisfy everyone.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith is set to reveal planned changes to Bristol Motor Speedway today in an 11 a.m. ET news conference at the track.
Smith vowed to alter the track surface following a dud of a race last month in which the once-packed grandstands were only half full. After gathering fan input, the head of SMI – which owns tracks such as Texas, Atlanta and Sonoma in addition to Bristol – decided changes were necessary.
Just what those changes will be is anyone's guess. Reports Smith was planning to spend $1 million on the project means the entire track surface won't be reconfigured prior to August's Bristol night race – that would cost more than $1 million – but there are other options Smith may have up his sleeve.
We'll be live at the news conference later this morning, so make sure to check back here for updates.
Bruton Smith, the Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman who isn't afraid to spend money to make improvements to his track facilities, is changing the surface at Bristol Motor Speedway, he announced Wednesday.
Smith had requested fan input after the 160,000-seat grandstands were only half full at the Food City 500 two weeks ago, a dark moment for a track which once had 55 consecutive sellouts.
After collecting what he called "a wide range of opinions," Smith concluded a majority of fans wanted to see the Bristol surface altered to resemble something similar to the track's former layout, which encouraged beating and banging among cars.
"The race fans have spoken," Smith said. "... As a result, I have ordered the equipment and work will begin within the next two weeks to allow time to have everything ready for August."
Just what will those changes be, exactly? Smith either doesn't know or isn't saying yet. He said the details as to what will be done to track surface will be announced in two weeks.
"Bristol Motor Speedway has been voted the most popular race track in the country more than a half-dozen times, even one of the 10 things you need to see before you die," he said. "We aim to keep the status as the fans' favorite."
– COLUMN: What's behind Bristol's attendance woes?
– GUEST BLOGGER: A NASCAR driver posts his opinion on the Bristol debate
Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith is weighing whether to change the track configuration at Bristol Motor Speedway following Sunday's poorly attended Food City 500.
The stands were half-full in the 160,000-seat stadium, giving Bristol its smallest crowd since NASCAR began estimating attendance in 2003. Some fans have been upset since Bristol reconfigured its surface in 2007 to allow more side-by-side racing – and thus tamed the once-wild action.
Smith told "Fast Talk" on the SMI-owned Performance Racing Network that he and his engineers began discussing changes at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, just hours after the race ended.
"We're getting a lot of feedback from fans, and we're going to listen to them, too," Smith told PRN. "A lot of them say, ‘Well, we like the old track the way it was.' We're going to concentrate on that, and whatever the fans want, we're going to do it."
Smith said he expected to make an announcement about SMI's decision as soon as Friday.
"We are indebted to the fans; the fans make it possible," he said. "And I'm not going to forget about that. If the fans want us to do things, when I hear from enough of them, we're going to respond and go that route because they're the ones that pay the bills."
The builder of tracks such as Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway said his team has the old configuration on its computers and is looking hard at potential alterations.
"These engineers I have are very competent," he said. "We're going to study this thing until we make this decision. "(The fans) have been responding all day, and I'll tell you, they're moving the needle."
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