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NASCAR Cup Series

Edwards Wins as Chase Field is Set

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) RICHMOND, Va.– It was Clint Bowyer who spun with seven laps left in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, but the fortunes of four other drivers turned on a dime with that turn of events.

Yes, Carl Edwards won the race, streaking away after a restart with three laps left and beating Kurt Busch to the finish line by .668 seconds. But Edwards’s second victory of the season, his first at Richmond and the 21st of his career played second fiddle to the radical change of fortune that irrevocably altered the seasons of four of his competitors.

After Bowyer caused the fifth caution with his spin–a conspiracy theorist’s delight–Joey Logano had knocked four-time champion Jeff Gordon out of the top 10 in the standings and out of a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by one point.

The caution also played into the hands of Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer’s teammate, who claimed the second of two wild-card positions in the Chase in a tiebreaker over Ryan Newman.

Before the caution, third-place finisher Newman had grabbed the race lead from Edwards on Lap 391 and was cruising to a win that would have kept him in the Chase and knocked Truex out. At the same time, Gordon was running seventh and Logano 25th, with Gordon provisionally in the top 10 and Logano out.

A victory for Newman, which would have been his second of the year, would have knocked one-time winner Logano out of the Chase completely, but that all changed with Bowyer’s spin. Newman stopped for four tires and came off pit road in fifth place and could only gain two positions in the final three-lap dash.

Under the caution, Logano took a wave-around that left him one lap down, and the three positions he gained on the subsequent restart were enough to keep Gordon out of the Chase for only the second time since NASCAR’s 10-race playoff debuted in 2004.

After the race, Bowyer scoffed at the idea he helped propel Truex into the Chase by spinning on purpose.

“I think we had something going wrong,” said Bowyer, who led 72 circuits but lost a lap when Jimmie Johnson’s blown tire caused the fourth caution on Lap 343 of 400. “The 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got up underneath me. I had so much wheel, by the time I got to the gas, he was underneath me. I spun out…

“It’s unfortunate. I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of wacky things. Go ahead, if you want to. Get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”

Comparatively speaking, Earnhardt (13th Saturday), Busch and Greg Biffle (12th) had little trouble clinching three of the five remaining spots in the Chase. But there was other drama that didn’t involve the Chase at all.

Edwards took four new tires to Paul Menard’s two on the final pit stop on Lap 394. Menard came off pit road as the race leader with Edwards second, but Edwards clearly beat Menard to the stripe for the final decisive restart. Edwards lauded NASCAR for making what he considered the correct judgment call.

“What happened on that last restart is Paul had two tires,” Edwards said. “I knew he was going to be at a big disadvantage with grip. He took off. I waited until he went to go. As we were going, his car actually touched my door. I think it surprised him a little bit or something. He turned a little bit. I heard his engine speed up. He spun the tires.

“At that point, I really have a choice to either lift off the throttle and wait for him to try to gather it up–I’ve never seen a guy able to gather it up that quickly when they spin that bad–or go and hope NASCAR understands that he spun his tires. In this case, they did.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Federated Auto Parts 400

Richmond International Raceway

Richmond, Virginia

Saturday, September 07, 2013

 

1. (26) Carl Edwards, Ford, 400, $281275.

2. (2) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 400, $185355.

3. (24) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 400, $181443.

4. (7) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, $151805.

5. (22) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400, $140701.

6. (5) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, $136676.

7. (11) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 400, $125310.

8. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 400, $138696.

9. (16) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 400, $131360.

10. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #, Ford, 400, $134971.

11. (17) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, $129996.

12. (9) Greg Biffle, Ford, 400, $99360.

13. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 400, $98285.

14. (18) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 400, $97160.

15. (34) AJ Allmendinger, Toyota, 400, $109593.

16. (12) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 400, $108799.

17. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, $136876.

18. (19) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 400, $89135.

19. (13) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, $122718.

20. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, $118921.

21. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 399, $96835.

22. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 399, $108243.

23. (37) David Gilliland, Ford, 399, $96218.

24. (20) Brian Vickers(i), Toyota, 399, $87810.

25. (4) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 398, $124543.

26. (25) Casey Mears, Ford, 397, $101568.

27. (32) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 397, $106399.

28. (33) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 397, $98618.

29. (23) David Ragan, Ford, 397, $96382.

30. (36) Danica Patrick #, Chevrolet, 396, $79710.

31. (40) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 396, $75585.

32. (35) David Reutimann, Toyota, 395, $75435.

33. (41) Tony Raines(i), Chevrolet, 395, $75310.

34. (28) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 395, $75185.

35. (38) Ryan Truex(i), Chevrolet, 395, $83035.

36. (43) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 393, $74880.

37. (42) Ken Schrader, Ford, 393, $74737.

38. (29) David Stremme, Toyota, 391, $69725.

39. (31) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 388, $65725.

40. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 372, $110661.

41. (27) Josh Wise(i), Ford, Vibration, 142, $57725.

42. (39) Reed Sorenson(i), Ford, Brakes, 126, $53725.

43. (30) Michael McDowell, Ford, Brakes, 76, $50225.

 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  105.028 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 51 Mins, 23 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.668 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  5 for 29 laps.

Lead Changes:  17 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Gordon 1-49; B. Keselowski 50-65; Kurt Busch 66-94; J. McMurray 95-96; B. Keselowski 97-104; M. Kenseth 105-109; Kurt Busch 110-137; J. McMurray 138-141; B. Keselowski 142-208; Kurt Busch 209-217; B. Keselowski 218-268; Kurt Busch 269; C. Bowyer 270-341; Kurt Busch 342-347; C. Edwards 348-390; R. Newman 391-394; P. Menard 395-397; C. Edwards 398-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  B. Keselowski 4 times for 142 laps; Kurt Busch 5 times for 73 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 72 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 49 laps; C. Edwards 2 times for 46 laps; J. McMurray 2 times for 6 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 5 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 4 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 3 laps.

Top 12 in Points: C. Edwards – 842; J. Johnson – 841; C. Bowyer – 829; K. Harvick – 828; Kyle Busch – 811; M. Kenseth – 807; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 781; Kurt Busch – 762; G. Biffle – 759; J. Logano – 751; J. Gordon – 750; M. Truex Jr. – 741.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Why Saturday’s Richmond Race is a Can’t Miss

By Jerry Bonkowski – In the previous nine editions of the Chase for the Sprint Cup (nee Nextel Cup), there have some good races in the final qualifying event at Richmond.

Then again, there have been some not-so-good races, as well.

But I don’t think there’s ever been as great a lineup or as many different storylines with so many drivers on the bubble as we have for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

Think of it: from Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh, 31 points ahead of 10th place) to defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski (15th, 28 points behind 10th), there are nine drivers that will play a four-wheeled game of musical chairs on Saturday.

And of those nine, six will make the Chase and three others won’t.

It doesn’t get much better than this, for sure!

Without question, the guys with the most to lose – and, conversely, practically must have the race of their lives to qualify for the Chase – include Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Keselowski.

It’s no coincidence that none of those four have won a race yet in 2013. And that’s why they’re all in the mess they’re in right now, worrying and fretting and nibbling their nails in angst that they’re going to fall short.

And even though Earnhardt is still 31 points to the good coming into Richmond, one need only look at what’s happened to teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson in the last few races to see that Earnhardt’s Chase bid is far from secure. Johnson lost 35 points after finishing 40th at Michigan and lost another 25 points after finishing 36th at Bristol.

So if Junior fans think their driver is secure to make the Chase, they may want to reconsider.

In fact, it could be one of the greatest ironies of Chase lore if either of Earnhardt’s other teammates also trying to make the playoffs, Gordon (six points out of 10th) or Kasey Kahne (10 points out of 10th), rally to make the Chase and knock him out in the process.

Gordon took a huge step towards that end by winning the pole Friday.

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the nine drivers vying for those six locked in or wild-card spots are going to be driving like men possessed in Saturday’s race.

In fact, I’m going to go on record and predict that we’re going to see a Talladega-style race Saturday more so than the typical Richmond affair.

In other words, lots of drivers taking crazy chances – much crazier than they’d normally take – to make the playoffs. Ergo, more craziness will likely equal a lot more wrecks than usual, given the significance of this race.

And we know what happens when there lots of wrecks: innocent drivers get caught up in someone else’s mess. All it will take for guys like Earnhardt, Busch, Gordon or Keselowski to wreck – or more importantly, BE WRECKED – early in Saturday’s race and their Chase hopes will quickly be over.

For some reason, I draw a similarity between what may take place Saturday to what happened to Jimmie Johnson in the final two races of last season.

Think about it: Johnson fell too far behind Keselowski and the rest of the field too early at Phoenix, uncharacteristically got flustered, tried to gain back big chunks of ground too quickly – and ultimately wrecked.

Johnson was so far behind the eight ball to begin with going into Phoenix that after pushing too hard, he wound up being behind the nine ball, too.

And then going into the season finale at Homestead, Johnson knew what he had to do and began doing it – only to fall victim to an unexpected and rare mechanical failure that came at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ergo, Keselowski went on to win the championship and Johnson’s day and season ended early.

Saturday’s race at Richmond will be like a microcosm of how those last two races in last year’s Chase played out for Johnson. And therein lies the rub for the nine guys still hoping to have a chance to make this year’s playoffs.

Gordon and Kurt Busch are in the driver’s seats, at least for the first few laps, by virtue of sitting on the front row Saturday. Unless something unexpectedly goes south in a hurry immediately after the race-starting green flag is thrown, it’s a safe bet that they have the best chance on paper to make the Chase going in.

I’m also not totally convinced Earnhardt is going to make it, and likewise for Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

In fact, when all is said and done, those three drivers could be the three that don’t make it.

If you can’t tell, I’m excited, pumped – use whatever verb or adjective you want – about Saturday’s race. But no matter who makes it, they’ll have fought just a little harder and dug just a little deeper than the three guys that ultimately don’t make it.

For the record, here’s the 12 drivers I see making this year’s Chase:

Given: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.

Will earn their way in Saturday: Gordon, Kahne, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman.

Won’t make it: Earnhardt, Keselowski and Truex.

Who do you think will or won’t make it?

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NASCAR Cup Series

Stremme out at Swan Racing following Richmond

By Kelly Crandall – BREAKING NEWS: Sources in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage have confirmed that Saturday’s NSCS  Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond international Raceway will be the final race for driver David Stremme at Swan Racing. Stremme is also a minority owner in the team and has driven in every race except the season opening Daytona 500.

Nationwide Series driver Cole Whitt will drive the car beginning next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Whitt will also drive at Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega and Phoenix but the team said they may finish the season with at least two other drivers. That will be announced at a later time.

“We welcome Cole Whitt to Swan Racing as the team builds for the future,” team owner Brandon Davis said a release. “Cole is a very talented driver with a bright future and we are eager to see him compete for Swan Racing. I also want to thank David Stremme for his commitment to the team and for helping me learn so much about the sport in my first full season in NASCAR.

“We are going to take a look at a number of young drivers this year as we begin to prepare for 2014. It is important that this team take continued steps forward in every aspect.”

Whitt has competed in 11 NNS races for TriStar Motorsports and has a past with JR Motorsports, where he finished seventh in the championship standings. Over his career Whitt has competed in 47 NNS races and has made seven NSCS starts over the last two seasons.

“I am thrilled to get back to racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Swan Racing. I told Mr. Davis that I will give him all I have to make this team successful,” said Whitt.

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NASCAR Cup Series

POWER RANKINGS: The Fast Fifteen

By Matt Weaver – The latest Fast Fifteen Power Rankings are out as Kyle Busch inherited the top spot after winning on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

1. Kyle Busch (LW: 8)

With his fourth win of the season, Busch established his intent and ability to chase the championship this season. Busch has earned a reputation for struggling in the late summer months and that hasn’t been the case this season as the younger Busch is surging.

2. Joey Logano (LW: 6)

Not only is Logano in a good position to make the Chase on Saturday (it would be his first) but the past month has also made him look like one of the favorites. He may need to win a few more races to have a shot at the championship but Logano appears to have the speed to answer those questions as early as Saturday.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 5)

For better or worse, Sunday was a perfect analogy for Earnhardt’s entire season. He’s a 5th-to-10th place driver with pinpoint consistency but a seeming inability to reach Victory Lane. The lack of a win means he’s still not a lock for the Chase but will get in with at least a 32nd place finish at Richmond.

4. Clint Bowyer (LW: 3)

The status quo must be getting frustrating for Clint Bowyer because he needs a win and keeps experiencing problems while leading in recent weeks. He was leading again in Atlanta before suffering a mechanical failure, which is especially frustrating given that he was set to take over the points lead before his problems.

5. Kasey Kahne (LW: 1)

With a playoff system where every point matters, the accident that punctured Kahne’s radiator and sent him spiraling out of the top-10 of the standings might loom large once the Chase Begins. It also affects the wild card battle as his two wins takes up one of the spots that had been occupied by Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman.

6. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2)

Five-time is trending the wrong direction with just one race remaining before the chase. Sure it won’t mean anything once the playoff system begins but we’re sure he would like to begin the Chase on a better note.

7. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4)

It’s a continuing case of feast or “meh” from Matt Kenseth as he approaches the Chase. The No. 20 team followed up their Bristol victory with a 12th on Sunday, something we’ll disregard since they’ve already locked into the lottery.

8. Kurt Busch (LW: 11)

A season rarely comes down to one moment but that may have been the case on Sunday night for Kurt Busch who jumped from 11th to 2nd on one restart, ultimately finishing fourth and moving back into the top-10 with just one race remaining until the chase.

9. Kevin Harvick (LW: 13)

The biggest challenge for Kevin Harvick entering this season was shredding the “lame-duck” moniker and his team has successfully done that. Adding a Nationwide Series win to his two Cup wins is a sign that Harvick is mentally poised to Chase his first Cup in his final season at Richard Childress Racing.

10. Greg Biffle (LW: 7)

The Biff is continually a 10th-to-15th place driver who rarely finishes off the lead lap. It works but leaves you wondering when he’s going to break out this season.

11. Jeff Gordon (LW: 10)

There’s no margin for error right now for the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion. Gordon led laps at Atlanta, finished sixth and now sixth is just six points behind Kurt Busch for 10th in the standings. He also gets credit for the defusing a potential feud with Carl Edwards after the race.

12. Carl Edwards (LW: 9)

An 18th place finish on Sunday wasn’t an indicative finish for a team who led for much of the night. The strategy call to stay out at the midpoint of the race backfired and his car was never the same all night.

13. Juan Pablo Montoya (LW: 14)

If Juan Montoya is truly destined to leave NASCAR at the end of the season, he’s not doing it on a passive note. Despite not winning, this season has seen some of his better overall races of his stock car career, a message that has no doubt been delivered to prospective team owners.

14. Martin Truex Jr./ Ryan Newman

The two of them are included together because they are doing battle for the final wild card spot and pretty much matching each other while doing it. Truex finished third on Sunday while Newman finished fifth. Tit-for-tat and it comes down to Richmond.

15. Brad Keselowski (LW: 12)

The mechanical failure that knocked @keselowski from the lead at Atlanta and forced him to finish 35th may have been the final nail in his Chase coffin as he appears set to become the first defending champion to miss the Chase since Tony Stewart in 2005.

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR’s Changing of the Guard

By Matt Weaver – With the announcement made on Wednesday that Jeff Burton will not be back at Richard Childress Racing next season, the NASCAR community faces the very real possibility that three of its elder statesmen may be competing in their final season at the Sprint Cup level.

Burton joins Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte as NASCAR mainstays looking for jobs next season, which is somewhat disheartening when one considers just how much they have meant to the sport over the past two decades.

But it’s a metaphorical circle of life with every athlete at some point reaching the stage of their careers where, due to circumstance or performance, that they have to step back — and these three may have reached that point.

Martin was the last of the trio to win, having visited victory lane five times in 2009 for Hendrick Motorsports. Burton won twice in 2008, while Labonte — the 2000 Sprint Cup champion — hasn’t won since 2003.

It’s been a frustrating past few seasons for the veterans as younger drivers like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne have arrived on the scene and taken some of the elite rides and victories away from some of the more established names in the sport.

But they surely understand the role as they were once the hungry young guns looking to establish the same mark that their predecessors did too. And what a career these three have had, no matter when the ride ends for them.

Burton will go down as one of the biggest stars of NASCAR’s boom period of the late 90s and early 2000s — as well one of the top threats to the Jeff Gordon/Hendrick Motorsports dynasty of that era. You can’t help but wonder how many more wins or championships he would have amassed if not for the dynamic Gordon buzz saw that was so dominant then.

Affectionately called “The Mayor,” Burton’s opinion still carries a lot of weight in the garage area too and that sort of perspective may be what is missed the most.

Mark Martin is timeless, still having what it takes to compete with NASCAR’s elite as he’s shown in recent seasons with Hendrick and Michael Waltrip Racing. Despite the partial schedule he has run in recent seasons, Martin has still been competitive and shown a sense of continuity with the No. 55 team.

Despite his and Rodney Childers recent departure, they will be remembered as the architects for a lot of the success the No. 55 team will experience moving forward.

Meanwhile, Labonte was able to do what the other two weren’t able to accomplish during their careers — win the championship, having done it in 2000 with Joe Gibbs Racing and crew chief Jimmy Makar. Beyond that, Labonte is the owner of 21 Cup victories and still remains one of the most popular drivers in the sport.

But Speedweeks very well could open next season without all three, making room for the next generation of stars, which include Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon.

That’s just a way of life in the high-speed world of NASCAR racing but will 11 races remaining on the season, it would be a fantastic story if one or all of these three could build some momentum and perhaps even score a victory as a dramatic sendoff.

Martin is driving the championship-caliber No. 14 car for the injured Tony Stewart while Burton is still capable of scoring victories at places like Richmond, New Hampshire and Texas in coming weeks. Meanwhile Labonte is still a more than capable restrictor plate racing and could pull the upset, a la David Ragan at Talladega.

But no matter what happens, NASCAR has been blessed to witness the talents of Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte over the past 20 years.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Burton Out at RCR

By Summer Bedgood – Jeff Burton will not return to Richard Childress Racing in 2014. The 46-year-old driver announced on Wednesday that his tenure at RCR, which has lasted since 2005, will come to an end at the conclusion of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

“I strongly believe in the No. 31 team as to what we can achieve this year, and for the team in seasons to follow,” Burton said. “However, the financial realities for next year were obvious to both Richard (Childress) and me. So, we talked about it and both made the decision to make this move for the team’s future.”

Burton did not announce where he would be racing next season, nor was it announced who would be in Burton’s seat come 2014. Speculation puts Ryan Newman in the car next year, though no official announcement has been made.

Burton’s sponsor, Caterpillar, is expected to remain as the sponsor of the No. 31 car next year.

Four of Burton’s 21 career Sprint Cup Series victories have been at RCR. His last win came in the 2008 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Burton is currently 22nd in points and will not be a part of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has a total of two top fives, five top 10s, and an average finish of 20th.

Childress was complimentary of Burton’s time with the team, saying, “We have been working hard to try and get all the funding in place to have four Sprint Cup teams in 2014. With the date on the calendar getting closer to 2014, we just couldn’t run partially funded teams next year. Knowing what Jeff’s plans were in 2015, he and I worked out an agreement for him to step out of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet after this season. Jeff has been nothing but a professional driver, an asset to RCR and a great person for our organization since coming on board in 2005.”

Burton is expected to finish out the year with his team.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Stewart Says Recovery Going as Scheduled, Won’t Change Racing Plans

By Kelly Crandall – Tony Stewart spoke to the media for the first time since breaking his tibia and fibula in a sprint car accident last month at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop on Tuesday.

Stewart was in a good spirits as he rolled his wheelchair around the floor before being assisted onto the stage where he took a chair and updated the racing community firsthand on his condition. He vividly remembered the accident that ended his Sprint Cup Series season and chance at making the Chase, but never showed any regret at the incident occurring or participating in that race.

“I am feeling a lot better. We’ve made huge gains in the last four weeks,” Stewart said on his condition. “This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. This is definitely the worst injury I’ve ever had in my life and racing career. It’s definitely been a big change from being probably one of the busiest drivers on the schedule to being in bed seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

The three-time NSCS champion will return to action in February, when doctors say Stewart will have a full recovery with a leg that heals stronger than it had been before it was broken. He’s unsure however, if he’ll compete in the Nationwide Series season opener, as he’s traditionally done the last few years. But Stewart acknowledged that he’s anxious to get back into a race car and right now focuses on not having setbacks.

“Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule, if we get done early, we don’t have anything to gain by it,” Stewart revealed. “If we have a setback we have a lot to lose by it. I’ve been pretty disciplined – every time the doctor says I’m going to see you in so many days, I ask what do you want me to do through that period and what’s my goal.”

As expected, Stewart said he is going to continue racing sprint cars in the future even after this occurrence. His schedule will be cut down in the future because it’s what he wants, noting the fatigue he started to feel around the time of the Brickyard race, not because it’s what sponsors or any other individuals might want.

Stewart spoke for more than an hour, answering questions about his injury, the announcement of SHR going to four cars next season, and how he plans to be at Richmond this weekend. Even joking everyone will get to see just how much time he’s had to sit around and think when he reveals what his mode of transportation is.

As for the rest of the season, the co-owner/driver is not out of the woods in terms of getting an infection, however no further surgeries are needed. He does have plenty of doctor visits and eventual therapy ahead. Which will most likely include a lot of crying as he works towards regaining his strength and be able to walk around.

Other than that, Stewart doesn’t plan on doing anything different with his life.

“You never want something like this to happen, but a perfect example this week is Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and broke three ribs and missed a race. It’s just life, guys,” said Stewart. “The thing is you’ve got to live life. You can’t spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion you’ve wasted your time.

“We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture, and I’m somebody that wants to live life … I’m going to live my life. I’m going to take full advantage of whatever time I’ve got on this earth. I’m going to ride it out to the fullest and I’m going to get my money’s worth; you can bet your butt on that.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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NASCAR Cup Series

Wild Card Battles Heats Up

By Matt Weaver – Kurt Busch used an uncanny restart on lap 293 during the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta to rocket from 11th to second in just one lap.

It may be the move that ultimately earns Busch a spot in the Chase for the Championship as his fourth-place finish moved him back into the top-10 of the standings with just one race remaining in NASCAR’s regular season.

The 2004 champion rallied from a 32nd place starting spot and credits the top-5 on the strength of his restarts.

“The seas just parted for me and we went from 11th to second and we were able to hold on to fourth,” Busch said. “We weren’t a top-5 car tonight, but our restarts — that one was great and the other ones were subpar.

“So it was just a battle, just a battle all night. The car was not a great car. We missed it, but we’ll take it.”

He’ll take it because he leaves the penultimate race of the season with a six point championship advantage over 11th place Jeff Gordon, which is important because both drivers are currently winless and will likely need to get inside the top-10 in order to make the 10-race playoff.

Gordon led much of the early quarter of the race but could only manage a sixth-place finish after pitting with 21 laps to go. He restarted 16th and gained 10 spots over the final 20 circuits but thought he and his team were capable of contending for the win.

“The track changed quite a bit and we just couldn’t battle up front there for the lead and for the win like I thought we could have,” Gordon said. “I’m a little disappointed in that, but a great effort by the team all weekend long and we will take the momentum of these last two decent finishes, solid runs, and fast race cars and take it to Richmond and see what we can do.”

Gordon now finds himself in the same position that he was in last year where he entered the final race of the regular season 15 points behind Kyle Busch for the final wild card spot.

Gordon rallied from a lap down early in that race to finish second and ultimately raced his way into the Chase for the Championship. This year, he’s only six points out of the key spot, but that’s not the deciding factor according to Gordon.

“We are just going to have to just perform at a high level,” Gordon said. “Our position doesn’t mean anything to me — it’s who we are racing and who we are going to have to battle. And most of it is doing what we have to do, just like we have done the last two weeks.

“We have done a good job, but we can do better. We’re going to have to do better at Richmond but we do have a shot. ”

Brad Keselowski may have seen his Chase chances literally go up in smoke on Sunday night. The defending Sprint Cup champion’s engine began to sour late in the race while he was leading and completely exhausted it with 18 laps to go.

The ordeal forced him to finish 35th and has him 28 points out of 10th. Keselowski now finds himself in the position to win now, which may be too much to ask considering that he has yet to win this season. And even if he does win, he still has to be in a wild card positon, something that just became more difficult with two-win Kasey Kahne falling out of the top-10 at Atlanta.

“We don’t dictate our own fate, which is never good,” Keselowski said. “Obviously, we have the speed and performance to get there, but we haven’t put together the execution or the luck.

“There’s only so much you can control. Maybe this was control and maybe it wasn’t, I don’t know until the guys take (the engine) apart and look at it, but we ran up front and we continue to show that we at least have the pieces of what it takes every week to be a title threat and to be in the Chase.”

With Kahne dropping out of the top-10, he holds the first wild card spot with one-win Martin Truex Jr. occupying the other. One-win Ryan Newman is just five points behind Truex for that last spot, meaning that several spots, for several drivers are still up for grabs at Richmond.

The wild card standings have been provided below

10. Kurt Busch +6 (0 wins)

11. Jeff Gordon -6 (0 wins)

12. Kasey Kahne -10 (2 wins, first wild card)

13. Martin Truex Jr. -15 (1 win, second wild card)

14. Ryan Newman -20 (1 win)

15. Brad Keselowski -28 (0 wins)

16. Jamie McMurray -39 (0 wins)

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Gordon and Edwards Disagree Following Atlanta Race

By Matt Weaver (HAMPTON, Ga.) — Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards don’t agree on what caused the contact between each other at several points during the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and had several conversations about it after the event had concluded.

The first incident happened on lap 20 when Gordon slid in front of Edwards for second place, forcing the latter to lift off the throttle to avoid making contact.

The second occurred on lap 201, when Gordon went to pass Edwards for the lead and the Roush driver drifted up to pinch Gordon, cutting off his momentum and leaving the four-time champion fuming over his radio.

Gordon said he had never seen Edwards race him like he did on Sunday night at Atlanta.

Gordon went on to finish the race in sixth while Edwards struggled for the rest of the evening and ended the night 18th and one lap down.

“I think he didn’t like that I slid in front of him earlier in the race,” Gordon said. “We went into one and he took my line away to keep me behind him when I was better than him. And then I came up a little too short and that was my fault.

“But I think he decided that he was going to get me back every other time I was around him all night.”

It was after that interview that Gordon waved Edwards into the garage to talk about it. The conversation appeared civil but Edwards explained that they both felt the other was the aggressor.

“We don’t agree on what happened and he eventually got frustrated enough where he just walked away from the conversation — which might be smart,” Edwards said. “We were racing earlier and he slide-jobbed me, which I thought was out of character.

“But I did everything in my power to not wreck both of us. And naturally, the next time we were around each other, I raced him as hard as I could and I thought he drove into my door and he thought I ran into him — so I think both of us were mad at each other.

Edwards finished by saying that he “truly believes” Gordon didn’t want to run into him and that he didn’t want to run into Gordon and that they’ll both be laughing about the incident in Chicago when they’re both in the Chase for the Championship.

In a follow-up interview with Gordon, he said his problem stemmed from the fact that Edwards didn’t accept part of the blame.

“I have a problem with a guy when I apologize for sliding in front of him and then he proceeds to tell me all the things I did wrong,” Gordon said. “So I didn’t hear him apologize for any of the things he did. I just tried to have a regular conversation and that didn’t seem to be possible with him. ”

Edwards followed Gordon into the drivers’ motor home lot and the two shook hands before exchanged a few brief exchanges. They shook hands once more before going their separate ways. So for the time being, the issue seems resolved.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Busch Holds Off Logano for the Win at Atlanta

By Reid Spencer (HAMPTON, Ga.) –Kyle Busch proved emphatically Sunday night that he knows what to do with a lead when he gets it.

Never mind that Busch didn’t grab the top spot until Lap 288 of 325 in the AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, when he beat Ryan Newman and Joey Logano off pit road.

After two more quick cautions, Busch held off the fast-closing Logano during a 21-lap green-flag run to the finish, beating Logano’s No. 22 Penske Racing Ford to the stripe by .740 seconds. Driving with a broken wrist, Martin Truex Jr. ran third, followed by Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman.

The victory was the fourth of the season for Busch, who won for the second time at Atlanta and the 28th time in his career.

The race also proved a serious blow to the Chase hopes of reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who finished 35th after his engine expired and dropped to 15th in the series standings, 28 points behind Kurt Busch in 10th.

Logano, off sequence on pit stops, swapped the lead with Clint Bowyer during a 112-lap green-flag run that encompassed two full pit cycles. By lap 190, Bowyer had opened a 7.093-second lead over the Logano’s No. 22 Ford, but Bowyer’s experimental Toyota Racing Development engine erupted two laps later, wiping out the advantage and knocking the No. 15 Camry out of the race.

Six laps after the ensuing restart on lap 199, Denny Hamlin spun in Turn 4, thanks to a bump from Paul Menard. All lead-lap drivers came to pit road for tires and fuel except for Edwards and Logano. After a restart on Lap 213, Keselowski grabbed the lead.

Edwards dropped back precipitously, but Logano held his own in second place until Keselowski’s engine began to lose power on Lap 243, handing the top spot back to Logano, who held a five-second lead over Newman after a round of green-flag pit stops that ended on Lap 254.

Newman cut the margin to 2.3 seconds before Jimmie Johnson spun off Turn 4 trying to avoid Jeff Burton’s Chevrolet, which had slowed to enter pit road, to cause the seventh caution and bunch the field for a restart on Lap 293.

First off pit road, Kyle Busch led the field to green, and on the restart lap, brother Kurt Busch streaked around the outside to move from 11th to second by the time the cars hit the middle of the backstretch. Before the leader could get to the start/finish line, however, Brian Vickers’ spin in Turn 4 slowed the field for the eighth time, setting up a restart on Lap 298. After one more caution, for a wreck involving Burton and Austin Dillon in Turn 4, Busch maintained control of the race to the finish.