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NASCAR Cup Series

‘That’s Life’ Vickers Laments About Blood Clot

By Kelly Crandall (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – Brian Vickers could be bitter that for the second time in his NASCAR career blood clots have taken him out of his racecar.

Instead, the 30-year-old North Carolina native is staying positive and looking ahead to the future. Vickers addressed the media for the first time Sunday at Martinsville since learning he had a blood clot in the calf region of his right leg earlier this month. It takes him out of both his Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series rides for the remainder of the season.

“I feel like I could drive a race car, I just can’t,” Vickers said about his health. “Still training, still exercising – I miss being here, I wish I was here today. All in all, I feel good. I’ve told many people this since everything happened. I can’t complain. I’ve got a great life and family and friends.

“I’m frustrated and I’ve been bummed since obviously all this happened again. I’m just kind of looking forward. Things happen in life – that’s part of it. You just keep fighting and have faith. That’s all you can really do. I’m going to be out for three months and back in time for Daytona to race for a championship.”

Looking at the good news in the situation, the clot was caught early enough that Vickers could sit out the remainder of the year but still be able to race when the 2014 season starts. And it wasn’t something that randomly popped up either, Vickers noting that an outside factor caused it and he isn’t in danger of developing clots spontaneously in the future.

After crashing at Bristol in which he sprained his foot, Vickers wore a walking boot. In stabilizing his ankle the clot developed. Noticing swelling and soreness after the boot had come off Vickers went to the doctors ahead of Texas testing, believing he’d go for a checkup and then head to the test. Instead he received the news that he again had to go on blood thinners.

“I think I look at it more like, that’s life. That’s just part of life,” Vickers said when asked how he felt about this happening to him again. “Everyone in this room probably has some type of setbacks at some point in their life. I’ve had a lot of them, but I’ve also had a lot of good things happen. I try to really focus on those and I’m very thankful to have the family and friends that I have – I have an amazing wife and I just couldn’t be happier.”

What takes Vickers out of the car isn’t that he has a clot or that he’s on blood thinners. He can still race in spite of those things, the big but though, is that he can’t crash while racing on blood thinners. And there’s no way to insure that he won’t.

Before the clot developed he had been competing full-time in the NNS with Joe Gibbs Racing for the championship while preparing to return to the NSCS full-time in 2014 with Michael Waltrip Racing and Aaron’s. He won a race earlier this year with the group in New Hampshire and has had the full support of his team and sponsors since being taken out of the car.

“I still want to win a championship. That’s kind of the reason I came back. I look at this incident and I think to myself, this kind of sucks, but if it would have happened a little sooner than we may not have got the deal to race for a championship next year,” Vickers said.

“If it happened a little bit later, I would not have been able to race for a championship later. I guess that’s maybe just me trying to spin it to make the most of it, but that’s all you can really do in life. You just make the most of the cards you’re dealt. Unfortunately, I’ve been dealt some bad cars at times, but no one should feel sorry for me.”

“I’ve been dealt some great cards too. I think in most of the areas of life that matter most I’m very thankful. I’m surrounded by great family and friends. I am healthy. Obviously I have a health issue right now, but it’s been managed, it’s been taken care of, it’s not life threatening at the moment. It is what it is, you just have to keep going.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

Numbers Don’t Lie: Earnahrdt is a Favorite at Martinsville

By Matt Weaver (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – While a short list of predicted winners at Martinsville Speedway may not include Dale Earnhardt Jr., perhaps it should.

NASCAR’s most popular driver has never won a race at the Virginia half-mile but he’s been close on several occasions and the lack of a grandfather clock on the resume is the only thing keeping him off the Las Vegas best bets board.

But it wasn’t always a personal favorite for Earnhardt.

He finished no better than 11th in his first four races at the Speedway including three finishes outside of the top-20. He hit everything there was to hit, including an ambulance in that first year, he explained in a teleconference earlier in the season.

“It was real frustrating because I had thought of myself as a short track driver,” Earnhardt said. “I thought that I had honed these skills on these short tracks in the Southeast and this should be where I excelled the most…

“It took me a few trips to really learn to be more patient and to let the race sort of come to me — that the track is going to come and go, the balance of the car is going to change, that you don’t do all your work in the first 100 laps, and you’ve sort of got to wait out the competition and let your crew make good choices and good strategy that keeps you in the thick of things and then have an opportunity at the end.”

But he’s figured it out in the second half of his career and has been a contender in every stop. He’s led more laps (868) at Martinsville than any other track and his driver rating at the track (99.8) is the fourth-highest in the Sprint Cup Series.

Consider that in 27 total starts, Earnhardt has nine top-5s on the paperclip with an average finish of 13.8. It’s undeniably one of his best shots at returning to victory lane this season.

And while he’s always had speed at Martinsville, Earnhardt has been even better since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. In his 11 starts with the mega power, he has seven starts and one has to think that much of that can be attributed to his teammates, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who have combined for 15 wins.

So while most of the racing world will be focused on Johnson and Gordon — or Kenseth and Harvick — Earnhardt will be the dark horse. But given his success at Martinsville, he’s hardly an underdog and should be viewed amongst the favorites.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Denny Hamlin Smashes Track Record, Scores Sprint Cup Pole

By Reid Spencer (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – It was an afternoon of few surprises.

Martinsville Speedway’s two most prolific NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners in the past seven years will start 1-2 in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at the .526-mile short track.

Denny Hamlin won the Coors Light pole for the seventh race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, turning a track-record lap in 19.013 seconds (99.595 mph). Hamlin, who has four Martinsville victories, will start beside second-place qualifier Jimmie Johnson (99.344 mph), who has eight Martinsville wins to his credit, most among active drivers.

Johnson, the series leader, will start in close proximity to all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, including his closest pursuer for the Cup title, Matt Kenseth (four points back), who qualified fourth at 99.183 mph. Kyle Busch will start third, having matched Johnson’s speed to the thousandth of a second and losing a tiebreaker based on owner points.

The Coors Light pole award was Hamlin’s fifth of the 2013, a personal best for a single season, the 17th of his career and his third at Martinsville.

Having missed four races because of a fractured vertebra, Hamlin isn’t part of the Chase, but he said Friday that he might be able to goad Johnson into overtaxing his equipment by setting a torrid pace from the outset.

“I could make his life tougher in the sense of setting a pace that he has to chase or something like that,” Hamlin said. “If we can get our car pretty good in race trim, I think that you could force someone to push the envelope.

“Obviously, he’s won many championships—he knows how to win ‘em. He’s finished second to me here before, but yet won the championship, so he knows what he’s doing. I think he probably won’t let me goad him into doing something that he wouldn’t normally do—he’s too good for that—but, obviously, with my teammates right there on him, they’ll probably be putting a lot of pressure on him to set a fast pace.”

For his part, Johnson says he’s not nervous with the three Gibbs car surrounding him, even though Busch suggested he should be.

“I wasn’t until Kyle got so excited,” Johnson quipped.

Kevin Harvick, who is tied with Busch for third in the Chase standings, 26 points behind Johnson, earned the 10th starting spot. Jeff Gordon, fifth in points, was one spot better, as all five of the top championship contenders qualified in the top 10.

Danica Patrick qualified 41st in a backup car after wrecking in Turns 1 and 2 early in Friday’s opening practice. Twenty minutes after Patrick hit the wall, boyfriend and fellow rookie-of-the-year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed at nearly the same spot.

After the accident, which one writer called a “sympathy wreck,” Stenhouse’s crew repaired the damage to the No. 17 Ford, which qualified 20th.

The track qualifying record was the 18th set this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. All told, 18 drivers bettered the previous mark of 99.244 mph set by Johnson on April 5.

The starting lineup for Sunday’s Chase race can be found below.

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Matt Kenseth
  5. Clint Bowyer
  6. Joey Logano
  7. Jamie McMurray
  8. David Ragan
  9. Jeff Gordon
  10. Kevin Harvick
  11. Brad Keselowski
  12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  13. Juan Pablo Montoya
  14. Carl Edwards
  15. Martin Truex Jr.
  16. Marcos Ambrose
  17. Ryan Newman
  18. Aric Almirola
  19. Kurt Busch
  20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  21. Mark Martin
  22. Jeff Burton
  23. Paul Menard
  24. Landon Cassill
  25. Kasey Kahne
  26. Kyle Larson
  27. David Gilliland
  28. Casey Mears
  29. Dave Blaney
  30. Cole Whitt
  31. Josh Wise
  32. Travis Kvapil
  33. Greg Biffle
  34. Bobby Labonte
  35. Elliott Sadler
  36. Michael McDowell
  37. JJ Yeley
  38. Ken Schrader
  39. Tony Raines
  40. Joe Nemechek
  41. Danica Patrick
  42. Reed Sorenson
  43. David Reuitimann
Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski: ‘I Don’t Like Doctors in Our Sport’

By Kelly Crandall (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski has never been afraid to break away from the norm.

Friday at the Martinsville Speedway he did so again, this time when it came to concussion testing. After many of his competitors praised NASCAR this week for the implementation of mandatory baseline testing beginning next year, Keselowski wasn’t one who saw the bright side of it.

“I think it’s one of those things where we’ll have to see. I don’t want to call it a negative, but at this point I haven’t seen where that’s gonna be a positive for this sport,” he began. “We’re gonna learn together, I guess.”

Keselowski had nothing against NASCAR; his problem is with the doctors. According to the driver, they have no place in the sport because they don’t understand it. They aren’t like drivers, they aren’t risk takers and by involving them it waters down the sport.

“I’m trying to be open-minded to the possibility that they can help us, but past experience says no,” Keselowski said before outwardly stating, “I don’t like doctors in our sport.”

Last season Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to sit out two races because he suffered two concussions in six weeks. Earnhardt Jr. was only diagnosed when he personally went to see a doctor when realizing he still wasn’t feeling well after several days.

The new testing will gather a baseline for a driver which will then be compared to a test a driver would take after being involved in a crash. NASCAR stated they made the decision because it was important for driver’s health.

And it’ll make it harder for driver’s to race while they’re hurt, which many said they’d do if they were in a position like Earnhardt Jr.’s last year while racing for a championship.

For Keselowski, the testing opens up many questions going forward.

“I have about 100 of them, which is why I’m kind of going to wait and see because my understanding is that NASCAR is still under a wait and see and that they’ll play it out,” he said. “But at the end of the day my biggest question, not that there’s only one, ‘What’s the number?’ It’s no different than the racecars. If you have a test and come back later and you score five percent worse is that OK? Is it 10? Is it 11? Is it one?”

It’s about tolerance and what’s good versus what’s bad. And that is where Keselowski feels the doctors will mess it up.

“What’s the number? That’s really what’s relevant to the conversation, but if there isn’t a number that’s good or bad with this style of testing, then it’s a waste of time,” Keselowski stated. “It’s just another subjective field for doctors that don’t understand our sport.”

In 2010 Keselowski almost didn’t get to race in the Nationwide Series event at Talladega after he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from the Cup race which had been run earlier the same day. But at the last minute he was allowed to get in the car and not only did he race, he won.

“I did get in the car at the last minute, but it’s subjective at best. I had a carbon monoxide rating of five parts per whatever – I don’t know the exact numbers – and I was allowed to get back in the car at the very last minute,” he recalled.

But subjective and doctors, isn’t the road that Keselowski wants NASCAR to go down.

“The interesting thing was we tested some of our crew guys throughout the remainder of that season in 2010 and we saw eights and 10s with guys that just walked through the garage, so where does it stop?” he asked. “Does that mean we have to test all the crew guys? This is not the field for doctors. Let them play in their arena and I’ll play in mine.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series Trucks

Opportunity Knocks for Hamlin at Martinsville

By Matt Weaver (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – Denny Hamlin is in need of good vibrations and felt them when qualifying on the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

The Virginia half-mile could provide a double-dose of opportunity for Denny Hamlin to erase some of the frustrations that have surrounded him for much of the season. His struggles have been well-documented, from the fractured back that sidelined him for four races this spring to the competition woes that have followed him ever since.

It’s been especially frustrating because the No. 11 team never seemed to find the rhythm that their teammates secured — and the injury to Hamlin didn’t help. And since his return, the numbers haven’t improved either as Hamlin has scored only four top-10s while dodging questions over his health and medical decisions.

A return to Martinsville seems to be exactly what the Virginia-native needed to right the ship and make the best of what has been a difficult summer.

And with him scoring the pole for Sunday’s Cup race, Hamlin now has two plausible shots to earn his first NASCAR victory of the season as he is also competing in the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday afternoon.

He’s also coming off several strong races that has his confidence soaring.

“We ran top-10 the previous two or three races before that before blown engines or what have you — running out of gas and some other challenges that we’ve had,” Hamlin said. “It’s been super tough on us and it will make you stronger in the end and obviously, if we could get a win this weekend by no means will it fix or make us feel good about our year, but it will definitely give us something to smile about in the off-season.”

Hamlin’s first shot at Victory Lane will come on Saturday as he will drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series — where he has won the previous two fall races at Martinsville. And in the Cup Series, Hamlin has become one of the top-five statistical certainties at the paperclip-shaped track.

In 15 Cup starts, Hamlin has amassed four victories and an average finish of 8.20. A fifth Cup Grandfather Clock trophy just may remove some of the lingering ghouls from his tumultuous season.

“It’s been a very trying year,” Hamlin said. “I guess that would probably be the key word to our year, but you’ve just got to suck it up and realize that we had seven great years and there’s a lot of great drivers that have missed the Chase once or twice or have gone winless throughout a season.”

So Hamlin isn’t looking to fix all the wrongs from this season but this weekend could go a long way in terms of seeing him regain the edge that will be needed for him to contend with next season looming over the horizon.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Mutual Respect Drives Johnson, Kenseth Title Fight

By Kelly Crandall (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are not only engaged in a battle for the Sprint Cup championship but a friendly banter as well.

The two have gone back and forth all week leading up to Martinsville, site of the sixth race in the Chase. Kenseth joked Johnson shouldn’t ask him for advice about how to run at the paperclip with Johnson sharing their text message exchange.

Friday it continued during media availability, first with Kenseth then followed by Johnson five minutes later.

But jokes aside, the two recognized the importance of Martinsville weekend. Johnson enters with the point lead for the first time since the regular season, holding a four-point advantage. Arguably Martinsville is (one) of Johnson’s best tracks, he has eight victories, including the spring race and this event a year ago.

Kenseth has been on the opposite side of the spectrum, but has teammates who are equally as good as Johnson here. Sunday, the man who’s won seven races this year won’t be worried about the where his competition is, which for Kenseth, can often be penciled in.

“The field is so competitive that I think you approach every week trying to win and if you win then you know everybody is behind you so I think you go out and try to qualify the best you can,” Kenseth said about the weekend’s outlook.

“I think you go out and race as hard as you can, finish as high as you can and after it’s all over I guess you look at it (points) and see where you are. You can’t control what anybody else does or how anybody else runs or how anybody else finishes. All you can do is control your own car and team and I think you just try to focus on that.”

What makes the battle of Johnson versus Kenseth all the more intriguing is that the two aren’t strangers. They’ve battled for one in the past (2006) and put on a great show in Texas – where the NSCS heads next week – in November 2007. All the way down to the wire they went at it, Johnson pulling out the win.

Second would have been fine but it wasn’t in his DNA. It’s the same attitude both have this year. Not wanting to let the other get any advantage.

“I’m not going to put my guard down here even though it is one of our better tracks. I look forward to a battle all the way to the last lap at Homestead with him,” Johnson said, while noting that if they slip Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are close enough to pounce.

But in terms of 2013, it’s a story of Kenseth and Johnson, even before the Chase set up that way. The two won the most races during the regular season and seemingly couldn’t get away from each other.

Each tried to up the other with a win as they were tied for most of the season. Then came Kentucky when Johnson had the race won before Kenseth appeared late and snookered him on a restart. It’s just one thing Johnson keeps in mind, reminding himself that it’s never over because Kenseth has a habit of appearing late.

“I don’t know how I can defend against it, but it is on my mind. Charlotte was another good example of it. I think he ran around the top five, fifth, sixth, seventh somewhere throughout the night in that position,” Johnson said of a race that he dominated.

“Then when the checkered fell he was one spot ahead of me. He is a great driver, great team, and there is no quit in those guys. It just means we need to be buttoned up until the end. It’s not secret that we have missed opportunities throughout the year. The final laps of a race, restart situations, there have been a handful that have gotten away. At this point I can’t let that happen anymore.”

Now, as the two go at it again it’s with a newfound respect for each other, their teams and how they race. Keeping the five-time champion on his toes while giving Kenseth the confidence in his team to go against a group many once found to be invincible.

“I feel that confident about my team and my equipment. Hopefully we can have a good day today and still be in it when we leave here and hopefully within single digits or hopefully be ahead,” Kenseth said.

“I really feel like the next three weeks if we do everything right and just everything goes even then I feel like we can race with anybody. We can race anybody head-to-head for it. I feel good about that. You never know what’s going to happen, but I feel like we’re certainly capable.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Power Rankings: The Fast Fifteen

By Matt Weaver (RIDGEWAY, Vir.) – The Chase race at Talladega Superspeedway was expected to alter the standings but after a single-file run to the finish ended under caution, not a lot changed the grand scheme of things. A change did occur at the top of the Fast 15 Power Rankings list as Jimmie Johnson both captured the championship lead and top spot in our weekly rankings list.

1. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2)

Finally on top of the standings in the Chase this season, the NASCAR world appears to have righted itself to its typical course and order whether anyone likes it or not.

2. Matt Kenseth (LW: 1)

It could be argued that the 2003 Sprint Cup Series Champion used his one and only Chase mulligan on Sunday with a 20th-place finish at Talladega — and it cost him the championship lead. The No. 20 team will have to be precise and perfect going up against the No. 48 buzzsaw for the final four races of the season.

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 4)

The big winner on Sunday (aside from BIG winner Jamie McMurray) was Kyle Busch, who gained 11 points in the championship and partially negated his Kansas struggles. Busch is now 26 points back – in third place — and finds himself in a must-win position to remain in contention.

4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3)

The No. 29 team just never seemed to pick the right line on Sunday. Chalk it up to standard Talladega coin-flip bad luck. With a 12th-place finish, he still gained on both leaders.

5. Jeff Gordon (LW: 5)

Missed opportunities have been the theme thus far of Gordon’s latest Drive for Five efforts. A 14th-place finish at Talladega while the leaders struggled almost feels like his proverbial nail in the coffin.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 9)

There’s nothing Earnhardt Jr. can really do about it but it has to be frustrating that Driver 88 continues to finish second in all of these restrictor plate races. It’s very likely that Earnhardt Jr. had the winning hand if the race on Sunday had stayed green.

7. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7)

A top-10 finish on Sunday at Talladega was a solid result. There was nothing flashy about it, nor anything to suggest that it was a bad day. And that’s exactly what Michael Waltrip Racing needs for the remainder of the season.

8. Austin Dillon (LW: 12)

It was an admirable run for the current Nationwide Series championship leader on Sunday in the Sprint Cup Series race for Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s disappointing that the finish went single-file because Dillon could have been a factor before the circumstance that saw him crash out hard on the final lap.

9. Jamie McMurray (LW: NR)

The No. 1 team’s victory at Talladega was by no means a fluke. Since the Chase started, he’s scored four finishes inside the top-16.

10. David Ragan (LW: NR)

The Georgia-native proved that his April Talladega victory wasn’t the result of a fluke with a sixth-place finish on Sunday afternoon. He’s very good at Martinsville too, having scored a 16th-place finish in that race a year ago for Front Row Motorsports.

11. David Gilliland LW: NR)

See above. Gilliland backed up his second-place in the Sprint Cup race with a seventh-place on Sunday.

12. Kurt Busch (LW: 8)

Talladega was a disappointing race for Kurt Busch on a variety of different levels. Busch was largely an afterthought and finished in P18 while not provide much in terms of Talladega Nights movie quotes either.

13. Greg Biffle (LW: 13)

It’s fascinating that even in a restrictor plate race that Greg Biffle continues to hit his weekly average finish of 10th-15th with a P11 result on Sunday.

14. Paul Menard (LW: NR)

The playoff beard is clearly working and Menard is not even in the Chase.

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: NR)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is starting to hit his stride in his rookie season. After going the first 25 races of the season without a top-10, the Roush-Fenway driver has scored three in his last seven races, including a third-place at Talladega.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Victory Lane Sweeter This Time Around for McMurray

By Kelly Crandall – It all started with a picture.

Jamie McMurray has taken many over the years as a NASCAR driver. Those with fans, plenty for sponsors, thousands for appearances and advertisements. But it wasn’t until he saw the pictures of someone else that McMurray realized he had yet to take the most important one of all.

When McMurray won at Talladega on Sunday afternoon it wasn’t just that he was going back to Victory Lane for the first time since 2010. It was his first win as a father and luckily his family was there to celebrate with him.

Wife Christy and their two children, three-year-old son Carter and baby girl Hazel, who was born earlier this year, were waiting for the victorious driver when he pulled his Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet into Victory Lane for the second time at Talladega. And finally, McMurray had a picture he once never realized he’d always wanted.

“That’s top two or three moments in my life, to get to experience that with them. I rent a space from Matt Kenseth to keep my go-karts and stuff in at his shop,” McMurray explained, “so I was out in the front where they have some office space, and he’s got pictures hanging inside, some trophies, and there was a picture of Matt and (wife) Katie and Grace and Kaylin (his children), and I think it was Dover Victory Lane.

“I remember seeing how excited (Kaylin) was and seeing that picture, I’m like, gosh. I went home and told Christy, I hope that we get to have that moment. That’s a really special – especially have a little boy who is into Lightning McQueen and racing in general. That would just be the coolest thing ever. To get to have that with my family is really cool.”

Surviving a final frantic 15 laps after storming to the lead, McMurray never had to fend off a challenge. Surprising even him, the field lined up single file and a caution on the final lap took away any chance that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Austin Dillon, second and third respectively, could execute a winning plan.

Little did McMurray know, it wasn’t just Sunday in Victory Lane that had been about family. All weekend had been setting up to that perfect moment.

The hood of McMurray’s No. 1 was carrying the large logo of Auburn University, instead of sponsor Cessna or McDonald’s. Auburn won a big game on Saturday night against Texas A&M, which many in the NASCAR community watched. Except McMurray, who was on dad duty.

Talladega annually hosts a Halloween night in the motorhome lot families. McMurray took Carter out trick-or-treating and didn’t see the game. Although he admitted even if he isn’t much of a college football fan, he did want to see that game.

“I had a three-year-old to dress up as a dinosaur and take trick-or-treating, and that took priority over watching the football game. I did Google it as soon as I could to see who won because I knew I was going to do a meet-and-greet with some of those guys, and I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight,” McMurray revealed.

So once he won and climbed out, first at the start-finish line and pumped his fist as if he was hitting away a three-year weight, then again in Victory Lane, one of the most emotional drivers in the series again couldn’t hold back. He might have been joking when saying others are sick of seeing him cry, but the fact that McMurray has always worn his heart on his sleeve is a welcome sight.

And just as he told Christy before the 2010 Daytona 500 how great it’d be to win that race, he again delivered on something he told her would be memory worthy.

There was just one problem when it came to capturing that moment, Carter found himself camera shy. Good thing dads always know what to say.

“I informed him he could have all the M&M’s he wanted if he would just do one picture, and he turned right around, smiled and held his No. 1 up,” McMurray said about his long awaited family moment. “It was a good compromise.”

Now he can head to Martinsville, another one of his favorite tracks, to try to begin to add to his family photo album.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Gordon Holds Serve in Alabama

By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, AL) – Jeff Gordon missed out on an opportunity to gain ground on the championship leaders but it was not for the lack of effort.

Gordon finished 14th by the end of Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway but had put himself in position to win the race in the closing laps. After an afternoon spent riding around in the back of the pack in the hopes of avoiding the big crash that never came, Gordon had worked his way into the lead pack by lap 160.

But he was shuffled out of that pack with 10 laps to go and was unable to recover the lost ground. He finished ahead of championship leader Matt Kenseth but one spot behind Jimmie Johnson who assumes the championship lead with four races remaining on the schedule.

The results cancel each other out and Gordon remains at 36 points behind the leader, which is pretty much where he started the afternoon. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion said he was just happy to leave Talladega with a clean race car and the chance to fight again another day.

“We were in perfect position but it just didn’t work out,” Gordon said after the race. “We got shuffled out on the backstretch and I was trying not to wreck. That kind of got me out of a good position. And we were kind of a sitting duck at that point.”

Gordon said it was “shocking” that the race stayed single-file at the end and that he had anticipated being able to work his way to the front even with 10 and less laps to go.

“You just never know — it’s smart for those guys up front to do that because it eliminates a lot of cars from the win but I’ve never seen guys have that much patience here (at Talladega) in my life.”

As it stands, Gordon still has an outside shot at the championship.

Next week’s race takes place at Martinsville Speedway, a place where he has seven victories and an average finish of 6.98. But he’s also in the position of needing some bad luck to befall Johnson, Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

“We didn’t gain anything but we didn’t lose anything either so I guess it’s a wash,” Gordon said. “We didn’t trash a racecar. I’m standing here and we’ll move on to the next four (races).”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Talladega Confirms Two-Team Chase

By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, AL) – The so-called wild card race at Talladega Superspeedway began with two drivers in realistic contention for the championship and ended with the same two in a similar predicament.

While Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth swapped positions — Johnson now leads by four points — the duo maintained their lead over the rest of the field following the Camping World RV Sales 500. Even more remarkable is that they did it with finishes of 13th and 20th respectively.

But when both Kevin Harvick (12th) and Jeff Gordon (14th) finished outside of the top-10, it allowed the Chase for the Championship to remain a two-team race. Only Kyle Busch — who finished fifth on Sunday — made up considerable ground and is still 25 points behind the leader and in third place.

It was a total wash of an afternoon for the title favorites, leaving both Johnson and Kenseth feeling satisfied with the overall big picture with only four races remaining.

“I feel like the races moving forward are where the competitors go earn it,” Johnson said. “You have this luck issue that can take place at plate tracks so I’m happy to have the points lead.

“We went through a lot of work to get there. We were just getting one point at a time and we got a few more than normal today and were able to get the lead.  We just go racing from here and that is the thing I am most excited for. Great race tracks, great race cars and it’s just going to be a dogfight to the end.”

For the second race at Talladega in a row, Kenseth arguably had one of the fastest cars on the track. But unlike the spring race, Kenseth battled handling issues that dropped him from the lead pack on several occasions and once the roulette stopped, Kenseth found himself all the way back in the 20th position.

“The car drove fine that last time,” Kenseth said. “I just kind of got stuck three-wide on the bottom and then we actually hung in by the lead for a long time. And then they just shuffled me back to the very bottom…so I fell back, got back to 10th or 12th on the outside and then I thought everybody would mix it up and try to make a race of it but they stayed up top and pedaled it.”

Between the two championship contenders, a strong case could be made that Johnson has more momentum than Kenseth. Johnson has eight wins at Martinsville Speedway, site of next weekend’s Chase race and an average finish of 5.35. He will be looking for his third consecutive win at the track.

And if he does, the Chase could go from a two-man race to a single-car breakaway.