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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Charlotte Weekend Preview

Charlotte Weekend Preview

Oct. 8, 2015

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

Harvick starts next leg of title defense

Kevin Harvick claims he feels pressure.

But it doesn’t seem like it.

In a must-win situation on Sunday at Dover, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion led 355-of-400 laps on his way to Victory Lane, punching his ticket to the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“We're still in the battle and still looking forward to the challenge of just trying to make it to the next round,” said Harvick after the race. “We lived to fight another day.”

Now, Harvick has the same amount of points as the 11 other drivers remaining in NASCAR’s playoffs (3,000), heading into the first race of the Contender Round – Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. on NBC), an event he won last season on the road to his first title.

In 29 career starts at CMS, Harvick owns three wins, five top fives and 12 top 10s. It took Harvick 10 years to get his first win at Charlotte (May 2011), but he has placed in the top 10 in nine of his last 10 races there.

“I'm 100 percent good with (my history at Charlotte), especially the last three or four years at Richard Childress Racing we were able to perform there and win a couple races,” Harvick said.  “It's been very good to us since I've been at Stewart-Haas Racing.  It just took a long time to figure out.”

Harvick’s win at Dover was his third consecutive victory in a Chase cutoff race. He has shown a penchant for excelling under pressure and in the limelight. The Bank of America 500 is the only night race in the Chase and Harvick’s four wins in “prime time” since 2013 are the most in NASCAR.

“I would never say that I don’t feel pressure,” Harvick said. “I think how you act in those pressure types of situations can be altered in those situations.  I think as you look at the pressure it can be motivating or devastating. Fortunately, at this particular point, the pressure has been motivating.”

JRM’s Elliott and Smith making last-ditch efforts at XFINITY Series championship

JR Motorsports has kicked its performance up a notch lately.

Since the July 4 race at Daytona, JRM drivers Chase Elliott and Regan Smith lead the NASCAR XFINITY Series in points earned. Smith ranks first with 516 points, followed by Elliott with 509. In third is current series leader Chris Buescher with 490 points earned.

With five races left in the season, Elliott (-24 points, second in the series standings) and Smith (-36, third) are within striking distance of Buescher. They get their next chance at decreasing Buescher’s lead in Friday’s Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8 p.m. on NBCSN).

Elliott, the defending series champion, leads all drivers with 22 top-10 finishes and is tied with Buescher for the most top-five showings (11). He has been crippled by three finishes of 24th or worse.  The 19-year-old Chevrolet driver placed eighth at Charlotte in May.

“With five races remaining we need to come out prepared, just like we did last week at Dover – even though we didn’t qualify or practice due to weather,” Elliott said. “The car we rolled off the truck was solid and that’s what it will take this week at Charlotte to stay ahead in the game.”

Smith, fresh of his second win of the season at Dover, rides to Charlotte with an eight-race top 10 streak. He posted a career-best fourth-place finish at the 1.5-mile track in May.

“I can say this with certainty: this has been my best year at JR Motorsports as a driver and speed-wise,” Smith said. “I feel like we’ve had the most speed in the races of all the years I’ve been here. We keep winning races, and we’ll be right back in the title hunt.”

“That’s kind of our motto right now, to just keep winning races and good things happen. We’re going to some tracks that we’re excited about, and we’re going to work hard and see how it all shakes out.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Bank of America 500
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)
What to Watch For: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off its Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. ... Carl Edwards tries to sweep Charlotte after winning the Coca-Cola 600 in May. ... The Team Penske duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski is in the Contender Round together for the second straight season. ... Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne are the most likely non-Chase drivers to win at Charlotte with seven and four wins, respectively, at the 1.5-mile track.

Race: Drive for the Cure 300 presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Friday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: Chris Buescher has led the championship points standings for the last nine races and looks to close the door with five races left. ... Daniel Suarez leads Darrell Wallace Jr. by 25 points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award standings and will try to continue to pull away. ... Austin Dillon attempts to complete the series season sweep of Charlotte on Friday. ... Last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner John Wes Townley and NCWTS standings leader Erik Jones are scheduled to compete in Friday’s XFINITY Series race.



JR Motorsports On the Move: Team Scores Most Points Over Last Half
JR Motorsports drivers Regan Smith and Chase Elliott have been quite impressive over the last 14 races, posting more points than any other drivers (Top Three: Regan Smith 516; Chase Elliott 509; Chris Buescher 490).

Smith and Elliott have combined to win three of the last eight races and now both are within striking distance of standings leader Chris Buescher in the points. Chase Elliott is currently second in the standings, 24 points behind Buescher, and Regan Smith is third, 36 points back. 

Just five races remain left on the schedule for the JRM duo to catch Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher. On the same five tracks last season to close out the season, both Elliott (8.8) and Smith (12.0) had better average finishes than current points leader Chris Buescher (12.8).

This weekend at Charlotte, expect Smith and Elliott to contend. Smith has made 10 series starts at CMS, posting an average finish of 16.2. He finished fourth at the 1.5-mile track earlier this season. Elliott has made three series starts at Charlotte, posting an average finish of 17.7, with an eighth-place finish at CMS in each of his last two starts.

Also, if momentum is any indication, expect Regan Smith to keep the heat on Chris Buescher in the last five races of the season. Smith has the best average finish (Smith 5.6; Buescher 7.4 and Elliott 10.0) among the top three contenders.

Buescher In Command For 19 Straight Races
Chris Buscher has led the points for 19 consecutive races - and needs to do it for just five more to bring home the title.

Buescher is currently 24 points ahead of second-place Chase Elliott in the series standings. In 28 starts this season he has two wins (tied with Regan Smith for most among championship contenders), and 11 top fives (tied with Chase Elliott for the most among championship contenders). 

Buescher has made four starts at Charlotte posting an average finish of 16.0. He finished 11th in the NXS race at Charlotte earlier this season.

This season Roush Fenway Racing is competing for their fifth NASCAR XFINITY Series driver championship. The previous four champions were Greg Biffle (2002), Carl Edwards (2007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011 and 2012).

RFR Teammates Sadler And Wallace Jr. Battle For Fifth In Points
Just one point separates Roush Fenway Racing teammates Elliott Sadler (fifth in points) and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate and Driver for Diversity graduate Darrell Wallace Jr. (sixth in points) with just five races left in 2015.

Time is of the essence for veteran Sadler to hold off the young up-and-coming Wallace from the coveted top five points position, a spot that gets honored during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Awards at season’s end.

The first of the five remaining tracks on the schedule is Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sadler has made 17 series starts at CMS posting four top fives, seven top 10s and an average finish of 16.8. He finished ninth at Charlotte earlier this season.

Wallace made his series debut at Charlotte back in May and put on an exceptional performance; starting second and finishing fifth (his second best-finish of the season). Keep an eye for more from Wallace at CMS; he also has the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ second best pre-race Driver Rating (119.9) at the 1.5-mile track.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Suarez Close To Capturing ROY Honors
Drive for Diversity alum, Daniel Suarez can see his next biggest accomplishment in his racing career just ahead. With five races left on the schedule Suarez has the opportunity to hold off second-place Darrell Wallace Jr. (-25 points) and take home the NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for 2015.

If Suarez can maintain his points lead and win the rookie title it would be well deserved. In 28 starts this season, the 23 year-old Suarez has posted three Coors Light poles, six top fives and 13 top 10s. His average finish in 2015 is 12.7.

Suarez returns to Charlotte this weekend after making his series debut at the track, starting 19th and powering his way to a sixth-place finish at the 1.5-mile facility, earlier this season.

Joe Gibbs Racing Running Out Of Time To Catch Team Penske
With five races remaining in the 2015 season, overcoming a 61-point NASCAR XFINITY Series car owner points lead might seeme farfetched but if any team can do it, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Toyota team might be the one. In the last three races, the No. 54 Toyota team for Joe Gibbs has sliced 21 points off of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford's lead.

In the last 10 races, the JGR No. 54 Toyota team has posted a series best average finish of 4.4 and in the last five races they have finished even better than that with an average finish of 3.7.

If Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford team can hold on to their points, it would give Roger Penske his third NASCAR XFINITY Series car owner title in as many years. But if Gibbs were to surpass Penske in the closing five races it would give Gibbs his fourth title and he would then hold the record for all-time series owner championships.

Kyle Busch Foundation Hosting ‘Champions’ at CMS: As part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Kyle Busch Foundation (KBF) will host active North Carolina breast cancer patients from the Pretty In Pink Foundation during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 10. Additionally, the Kyle Busch Foundation is donating $57,000 to cover the medical expenses of the 22 "Champions" who are currently going through treatments for breast cancer. ...

Big Name Sprint Cup Drivers Entered In The NXS Race: This weekend, four drivers will be pulling double duty, racing both Friday and Saturday night: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski. Dillon won the NXS race at Charlotte earlier this season. ...

Off Week? What Off Week?: Not surprisingly, a couple of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver will use the open weekend to race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Charlotte. Expect to see last weekend’s NCWTS winner John Wes Townley behind the wheel of the No. 25 Chevrolet. Also Joe Gibbs Racing’s rising star Erik Jones will be in the No. 20 Toyota this weekend. ...

NXS In North Carolina: The NASCAR XFINITY Series has hosted 186 races among seven tracks in the state of North Carolina (Charlotte Motor Speedway 67, Rockingham Speedway 42, Hickory Speedway 42, Orange County Speedway 27, North Wilkesboro Speedway 4, Caraway Speedway 3, and Asheville Speedway 1). The first NXS race held in North Carolina was in 1982 at Hickory Speedway and the event was won by Jack Ingram (Pontiac, 04/10/1982). The first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was in 1982 and was won by Harry Gant (Pontiac, 05/29/1982). ...

North Carolina Drivers In The NXS: 436 drivers that have competed in at least one NASCAR national series race have their home state recorded as North Carolina. Of the 436 North Carolina native drivers only 109 (25%) have competed in at least one race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Of the 109 that have competed in the NXS, 21 have won, led by Jack Ingram with 31 series victories. This weekend five active North Carolina drivers will attempt to compete at Charlotte: Harrison Rhodes (High Point), Ty Dillon (Welcome), Austin Dillon (Welcome), Morgan Shepherd (Ferguson) and Carl Long (Roxboro).


Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner! Townley Captures First Victory
Zatta’ boy.

John Wes Townley, driver of the No. 05 Zaxby’s Chevrolet, conserved his fuel on the final laps to pass leader Matt Crafton and capture his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in Saturday’s Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Prior to the race, the Georgia native had made 86 career NCWTS starts. With five races left in the season, Townley has already tied his career highs with two top-five and seven top-10 finishes. He currently ranks eighth in the NCWTS standings.

Townley’s win spurred many congratulations from drivers around the NASCAR world, including former teammate Ben Kennedy.

“It’s really cool for those guys,” Kennedy said. “J-Wes, he’s upped it a notch this year. I’ve been really impressed with what he’s done. Those guys over there, it’s pretty much my old truck team. So cool seeing him in Victory Lane. Full of emotion and everything I’m sure. Really special for those guys. They’ve worked really hard and I’m proud of them.”

Standings Snapshot: Crafton Gains on Jones, While Reddick Remains in the Hunt
No one has been able to pull away in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points standings this season.

Erik Jones had the opportunity to put some distance between himself and second-place Matt Crafton as the defending Las Vegas race winner, but failed to do so. Crafton finished eighth at Las Vegas to cut Jones’ lead to four points after Jones placed ninth.

Don’t count out Tyler Reddick. He overcame an early-race accident to finish seventh at Las Vegas and trails Jones by 16 points.

The three drivers continue their championship battle in the Fred’s 250 presented by Coca-Cola (Saturday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX).

Jones placed sixth in his lone start at Talladega, last season. In nine starts at the 2.66-mile behemoth, Crafton’s best finish was fourth in 2010. Reddick won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award in his first start at Talladega in 2014 and finished fourth.

Hemric’s Consistency Puts Him In Standings Top 5
Daniel Hemric is making a case for the title of “Mr. Consistency” in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The NTS Motorsports driver finished sixth for the second straight week at Las Vegas, notching his 11th top 10 in his last 13 starts. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year Contender currently ranks fifth in the NCWTS standings.

Coming At You Like A Red Horse: Peters and Kennedy Roll High Finishes In Vegas
They didn’t play with magic at Las Vegas, but Timothy Peters and Ben Kennedy came at the field like a “Red Horse.” Peters and Kennedy nearly mustered up the perfect storm to clinch Red Horse Racing’s first win of the season, finishing second and third respectively. Peters’ finish was a season best. Kennedy notched his career-best fourth third-place finish, three which have come this season (Atlanta, CTMP, Las Vegas). Peters ranks sixth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, while Kennedy is ninth.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Ben Kennedy and NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Brian Scott conducted a NASCAR 101 driver question-and-answer session at the University of Arizona on Tuesday. … Timothy Peters and Daniel Hemric competed against media in go-kart races at Authobahn Indoor Speedway in Bessemer, Alabama on Wednesday in Advance of the Fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Contender Media Day Notebook

Contender Media Day Notebook

Notebook Items:
- Chase or no Chase, Earnhardt wants to keep his pit crew intact
- Truex wasn't stressed by last-minute penalty at Dover
- Harvick has clear-cut approach to Talladega Chase race

Oct. 6, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

Chase or no Chase, Earnhardt wants to keep his pit crew intact

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When it comes to keeping his pit crew intact throughout the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a strong proponent of the status quo.

Never mind that Earnhardt’s No. 88 team picked up front tire changer Scott Brzozowski from Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 squad after the 24 hired free agent Nick O’Dell, late of Joe Gibbs Racing.

That change aside, Earnhardt wants to keep his over-the-wall gang as is—for strong reasons—even though some have suggested Earnhardt might benefit from the temporary reassignment of some of Jimmie Johnson’s crew, with Johnson eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in last Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

“I really would like to keep my guys—I’ll be honest with you,” Earnhardt said on Tuesday during a Chase Contender Round question-and-answer session with reporters at the NASCAR Hall of Fame heading into the round's opener Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC). "I don’t think you build a guy’s trust ... he needs to know you believe in him. The same way for the driver.

“The driver needs to know the team believes he can do it. I think the carrier, the changer, all those guys want to know that the driver and everybody involved believe in them when they go over the wall. If I take the 48 guys because I think they’re better, then what am I going to do next year?

“I’ll have to start from scratch again. All those guys that are on my car now are going to be (ticked) off because I didn’t believe in them, because I took the 48 guys when the going got tough. So I don’t believe in doing that. I believe that my guys can do it. I think that we’ll find a combination that works for the rest of the year and beyond.”

Now that Brzozowski is on his team, Earnhardt would prefer to keep him, too. The front tire changer has been a mainstay on Gordon’s team since 2013.

“I hope that Scott wants to stick around beyond this season,” Earnhardt said. “I actually talked to him a bit today. It’s not like we need too many changes. We just need one key guy that can come in and elevate the standard and push everyone. Over the past couple years, when we’ve had great crews, a lot of the guys that we’ve been working with this year have been on those teams.

“But if you get one guy in there who’s kind of a key player, or a bit of a superstar, like a wide receiver or a quarterback is to a football team, he can really elevate the play of everybody around him and boost the entire crew—just the confidence those guys having going over the wall when he’s a part of it changes the whole consistency of the team.

“We really want Scott to wrap his brain around staying with us.”

Maybe it’s a good thing Martin Truex Jr. didn’t see his car removed from the grid minutes before the start of Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover.

NASCAR inspectors had noticed a problem with the right rear wheel well of Truex’s No. 78 Chevrolet, ushered the car back through the inspection line and made the team fix the issue so that the car conformed to the templates.

“I didn’t even see it, actually,” Truex told the NASCAR Wire Service. “I was at driver intros, and Marty Snider from NBC was like, ‘Hey, your car’s not out here.’ I looked at (Ryan) Newman, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I just walked by it on the way out here.

“But then I saw on TV that it was back in the garage, and I was like, ‘That’s not good.’

But Truex didn’t let the distraction upset him.

“It actually wasn’t as bad as you think,” Truex said. “I felt really good about the race car going into the race. I obviously felt really good about Dover—I always do—something about that track just gives me a lot of confidence.

“They were like, ‘You’ve got to go to the rear.’ I said, ‘No worries. We’ll be fine.’ If anything, it made me more focused. I was kind of mad about it for a minute, but it was just, ‘You know what you’ve got to do. Just go do it.’ And we did it.”

Truex rallied for an 11th-place finish to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase.

The Chase race most drivers dread most—especially if they haven’t won at Charlotte or Kansas—is the Oct. 25 event at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Contender Round’s elimination race is the most unpredictable in the 10-event playoff, but reigning series champion Kevin Harvick has developed a plan he thinks works best at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate superspeedway, NASCAR racing’s largest oval track.

“There’s just a lot out of your control,” Harvick said. “For me, I’ve just made the decision over the last several years that you go there and try to position yourself at the front of the pack and just let it happen. Otherwise, it’s just a complete mental drain on yourself and the team.

“That’s the strategy. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to play the odds. ... If you’re at the front of the pack, are you going to have less chance of wrecking? I don’t know. Somebody who's way smarter than me is going to have to go back and look at all those races and decide where the crashes happened.

“But I think, for us, it’s just picking a mind-set, just pushing forward with it—and that’s it.”