RELATED: Johnson's post-race reaction to being eliminated DOVER, Del. -- Once the crowd cleared, Jimmie Johnson walked around to each member of his crew on pit road, giving them a pat on the back and "good job," following his 41st-place finish in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway . His dreams of a seventh title in the 2015 season had been washed away, his finish eliminated the No. 48 team from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- coincidentally in what was his 500th premier series start. The result marked Johnson's worst finish in his career at Dover, a track that he's dominated in years past, reaching Victory Lane a series-best 10 times. "It just wasn't meant to be," Johnson said on pit road after the race. "It's unfortunate. I feel for my team, I feel for Hendrick Motorsports , Lowe's, Chevrolet." Trouble began stirring around Lap 104 when Johnson felt something breaking in his car while running 16th. "It was instantaneous for me," Johnson recalled. "I was coming down the frontstretch and it just started vibrating, the right rear hub I guess started seizing up because the fluid was out of it. It was just metal on metal shaking." A broken rear axle seal was revealed as the culprit of Johnson's Monster Mile misfortune -- a part that Johnson said retails for around $5. "It's really horrible, it's a simple piece," Johnson said. "We're always very cautious, these axles come in and out of the car. I think I had one go in practice earlier this year. Maybe five in my whole career have ever gone." The faulty part sent Johnson behind the wall for nearly 30 minutes, as every member of the No. 48 team -- and even a few No. 88 crew members -- feverishly worked to get the car back on track. They returned to the track in last place, 37 laps down. But as the race continued, Johnson's daunting task became an uphill battle -- a monster that even "Six-Time" couldn't tame. "I really didn't have anything to fight for ," Johnson said. "It was completely out of my control with how many laps we were down. Just a matter of what went on. "But then 20-30 minutes of being back on the track, I could see the flow of the race. Guys were minding their manners pretty well on the track, a lot of green flag runs, so I kind of felt like we were in big trouble." Mechanical issues have been few and far between for the No. 48 team in the past. Johnson's six championship titles prove that, his cars under guidance of crew chief Chad Knaus and his notoriously meticulous nature. But as Johnson showed today, even something as simple as an axle failure can happen to anyone. "As I worry about things, I worry about a flat, I worry about a pit call, I worry about hard racing, something going on -- I don't worry about an axle seal failing," Johnson said. "It's just not on your radar. "You just take things for granted. There's so many parts and pieces on these cars and you take for granted what they all do." No. 4 crew chief Rodney Childers, who won Sunday's race at Dover with driver Kevin Harvick , attested to that after the race. "Honestly, it's one of the things that is the scariest of everything that race teams deal with," Childers said in the post-race press conference. "... You think that race teams worry about engine trouble or things like that. But these axle seal problems, they happen all the time, and a lot of times you don't hear about them." With a win at Dover, Childers and Harvick will continue on to the Contender Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , vying for a second straight title for the No. 4 team. But while the hunt for a seventh championship title is over for Johnson this season, the chance remains for his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who advanced to the next round. And Johnson's own desire to win races remains furiously intact. "We had a very, very fast race car today, the past three or four weeks we've had very competitive cars," Johnson said. "We want to win races, that's what the rest of the season is for us. "Help our teammates advance, help our teammates win the championship."
RELATED: Full Dover results " Updated Chase grid " Updated standings DOVER, Del. -- Kyle Busch , still looking for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, remains in the title picture thanks to a runner-up finish in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway . The result proved to be more than enough to push the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into the top 12 in points, a necessity for those hoping to advance into the Contender Round of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Busch led five times for 19 laps in an event that was dominated by defending series champion Kevin Harvick . During a weekend that saw rain limit practice time and force the cancelation of qualifying, Busch said there was enough of an unknown going into Sunday's race to hold his attention. "I had a little bit of concern just based off the short amount of practice time that we got and the way the car was feeling in those practice sessions," Busch said. "You know, I just wasn't quite as confident in it as I wanted to be. "I never really got a good feel for what I thought I needed to race. But right then and there, for today, the way we ran, I can't say enough about my team. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys, they made some really good calls and … some smart changes overnight, and we had a really fast car today. "You know, I shouldn't have been too worried, I guess. I should have put my faith in my team, which they prevailed today for me." Busch missed the season's first 11 races after suffering a broken leg and fractured foot in an XFINITY Series crash in February at Daytona International Speedway . He returned to Victory Lane five races later, and captured four of five during a hot summer stretch that saw him begin to work his way back inside the top 30 in points. Now, he's one of 12 still contending for this year's title. He's advanced through the opening Challenger Round by rallying from a 37th-place finish a week ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Although outside the top 12 heading into Dover, Busch said he wasn't counting points as the race played out. "I think when you're in the position that we were in when we were running second there the whole race, you don't have to watch it," he said. "You just do the best you can and that was the best that we were going to do today. "Fortunately we came out with that finish and second-place was what we needed to do. ... The points reset so we're back even with those guys and hopefully we can have a good, solid next three races." Bonus points for race wins, awarded for during the first 26 races and used to help determine seeding for the opening round, are not awarded after the first round. Therefore, the 12 drivers advancing into the Contender Round each have 3,000 points heading into next weekend's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway .
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Jimmie exits Chase early The AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway represented the final race of the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , and Kevin Harvick was able to stave off elimination with a victory. See who advanced to the Contender Round and whose title dreams have come to an end. Advancing: Matt Kenseth Joey Logano Denny Hamlin Carl Edwards Martin Truex Jr . Kurt Busch Jeff Gordon Brad Keselowski Kyle Busch Ryan Newman Dale Earnhardt Jr . Kevin Harvick Eliminated: Jamie McMurray Jimmie Johnson Paul Menard Clint Bowyer Up next: Bank of America 500 , 7 p.m. ET, Oct. 10 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). This will be the opening race of the Contender Round, and the advancing drivers will see their point totals reset to 3,000. Who it favors Most wins: 5— Jeff Gordon Best driver rating: 106.6— Kyle Busch Best average finish: 10.2— Joey Logano Who it hurts Fewest top 10s: 4— Brad Keselowski (in 12 starts) Worst driver rating: 79.0— Ryan Newman Worst average finish: 19.1— Kurt Busch
RELATED: Full final practice results Kevin Harvick topped the speed chart in final practice for Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR ). He wheeled the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at a top speed of 156.033 mph in the 14 laps he ran before rain resumed, ending the session. Carl Edwards was second-fastest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota at 156.013 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.783 mph. Harvick's teammate Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Chevrolet posted the fourth-fastest speed in the final Sprint Cup practice session at 155.588 mph. Sitting on the Chase bubble going into Sunday's race, Dale Earnhardt Jr . got the fifth-quickest speed out of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.434 mph. Amid a schedule compressed by rain that wiped out all of Friday's on-track activities and cut into Saturday's first practice, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers lost the track to rain again about 15 minutes into the second session. RELATED: First practice results After more rain doused Dover International Speedway Saturday morning, canceling NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series got a 25-minute practice in and Kasey Kahne made the most of it. Kahne wheeled his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at 160.506 mph, topping the speed chart. Carl Edwards was second quickest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 160.442 mph. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was right behind Edwards at 160.285 mph. It was the first time Sprint Cup cars had been on track after rain washed out Friday's practice and qualifying. Kevin Harvick was fourth on the leaderboard at 159.964 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The No. 4 team and No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski had been docked 15 minutes of practice time for infractions at New Hampshire in the inspection process. Given the amended schedule, neither the Stewart-Haas entry nor the Team Penske entry was required to serve the time -- it will instead carry over to the next race at Charlotte. Aric Almirola rounded out the top five with a speed of 159.943 mph in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
In announcing its race dates, Chicagoland Speedway also revealed it was again the opening race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Texas officials said the Nov. 6 race again fell in the Eliminator Round of the postseason, a three-race stretch that again included Martinsville and Phoenix, according to the track. Pocono Raceway officials said upon its schedule release that the NASCAR XFINITY Series would host a race June 4 at the Tricky Triangle. It would be the first XFINITY Series race ever at the venue.
RELATED: Photos of Stewart through the years " Bowyer tabbed as replacement Three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart smiled and conceded it was a "formality at this point" in announcing Wednesday afternoon that he would step away from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition following the 2016 season. "It was a choice that is 100 percent mine, no pressure from anybody," Stewart said of his decision not to compete full-time anymore. "If anything, it's been the opposite, more people trying to talk me out of it. "Everyone in their career makes a decision when it's time for a change. I think deep down you know when it's time to do something different and make a change like this." Appearing jovial and without a hint of second-thought about his career decision, Stewart joked he was bringing Harry Gant out of retirement to drive the the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy in 2017, then confirmed that actually Clint Bowyer would be taking over his seat. The news confirmed months of speculation and rumor about Stewart's future and solidified Bowyer's career path as well with Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team closing operations at the end of 2015. "It's all about people, all about culture for me, and I don't think the fit factor could be any better," said Bowyer, acknowledging the SHR ride was "one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport" and said an announcement is coming later this week about his 2016 plans. Wednesday was clearly more about " the people's champion" as Stewart is often referred. One of the most popular and accomplished champions to ever compete in NASCAR's marquee series, Stewart, 44, has won three premier series titles as a driver (2002, 2005, 2011) and two as an owner (2011, 2014), accumulated 48 victories and won over countless hearts as a kind of extreme throw-back talent garnering comparisons to racing's all-time greats such as A.J. Foyt and Dale Earnhardt. Quite simply, Stewart won in every car he drove. And NASCAR fans always appreciated that about the driver known by his nickname, "Smoke." RELATED: Drivers react to Stewart's announcement Stewart won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 15 straight seasons from his 1999 rookie year through 2013, and he has 11 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins in 94 starts -- roughly winning once every 10 times he tried. He won twice in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and had five top-10 finishes. "When I think of Tony Stewart , unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a release. "He has won championships and millions of fans. But he has given back so much more, and that's what I admire most. Today's news was bittersweet for all, but we know Tony will continue to be a big part of our sport in his roles as a team and track owner. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Tony for his many years of excellence and competitiveness, and wish him nothing but the best in his final season as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series." The 1997 IndyCar champion -- and 1996 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race -- proved his mettle against motorsports' best drivers, winning four times in IROC competition, earning the 2006 IROC championship and finishing runner-up in 2001. In 1999 he completed racing's Memorial Day "Double," finishing ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later that same day in North Carolina. Stewart was the first driver in history to win all three major United States Auto Club national championships -- Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown -- in a single season. So after essentially four decades behind the wheel fulltime, Stewart said he contemplated this decision for a while and said this week, he is completely at peace. "I've learned a lot about myself," Stewart said. You run through the range of emotions. There's days you're like, I can't wait, and then there's days that are like, man, do I ‑‑ you battle back and forth. "I'm not leaving the sport I love. I'm not walking away from something I'm passionate about, I'm just changing roles, which it's like just moving to a different position in a company. "I'm not really retiring, I'm just changing positions." RELATED: Best quotes from Stewart's press conference It's been an admittedly uphill climb for the champ after the last three seasons of horrible injury and extreme heartbreak. He missed the last 15 races in the 2013 season after suffering a compound leg fracture while competing in a sprint car race. Then last year, while still mending from that injury, Stewart was involved in another sprint car accident. This time, another competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., was killed when, after approaching Stewart's car on track during a caution period, the car struck Ward. Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races immediately after. No criminal charges were found to be justified against Stewart; the Ward family filed a civil lawsuit against him a year later. On Wednesday Stewart stressed that his decision to stop driving in the Cup series full-time had "zero percent to with ( the Ward situation)" and that physically, "my leg feels fine, there's nothing wrong with my leg." He said he may even compete in Sprint cars again. He listed the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a possibility and mentioned racing modifieds and making sporadic starts in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series -- all things he plans to do without the stress and full schedule of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup ranks. RELATED: Tony talks toll on leg, life In the past two seasons, Stewart has struggled to post the kind of top-shelf results both he and his fans had grown accustomed to seeing. But he has consistently insisted that was more to do with the current rules package than his off-track distractions. He said earlier this year that NASCAR's new high downforce, low horsepower car does not suit his style and is actually " the opposite of everything I've ever driven. "It's like I'm in the middle of a calculus equation and I didn't take pre-calculus,'' Stewart told NASCAR .com this May. He is currently 25th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings with a sub-standard two top-10 finishes in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this year. But he was adamant that he would not be coasting in his final season and that this decision was not "performance based." Stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His resume out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. "It's just time to do what we're doing," Stewart said. "I still fully anticipate we're going to get things turned around. If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't waste my time next year for anybody. I'm not a guy that's going to get in a car and ride. We're full steam ahead. "We're going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year, and that goal is going to be ‑‑ when you guys get to February, go ahead and write this down, what our goals are for the year, we're going to try to win races, try to win the Daytona 500 , then the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, and try to win a championship." Ultimately, stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His effort out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. His namesake Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team is the reigning Sprint Cup owner champion thanks to Kevin Harvick 's 2014 championship run, and two of his team's four drivers -- Harvick and Kurt Busch -- are in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . This summer Stewart collected his 10th Knoxville Nationals trophy in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series fielding a car for driver Donny Schatz, who has also delivered five World of Outlaw championships for Stewart. He has 23 national titles as a team owner. "I've won more car championships as an owner than a driver," Stewart said "I'm definitely as competitive as an owner as I am a driver. …That fire's still there and that's what makes this transition easier." While his success driving and fielding cars is partly responsible for Stewart's incredible popularity over the years, he is also one of the sport's most robust personalities. RELATED: 'Smoke' still the people's champion He's not afraid to express his displeasure at his competitors' blunders, and the other drivers have come to expect either face time or bumper time with him after on track run-ins. And Stewart's "no-fools" tolerance policy extends to the media covering his career. There are highlight reels devoted to showcasing him sparring with reporters in press conferences and on pit road -- his wit and sarcasm legendary with the media corps. He grinned broadly and warned the room of reporters on Wednesday that he will not follow the guide of four-time champ Jeff Gordon who has met with the press nearly every week during this -- his last -- year of NASCAR competition. "Let's establish this right now: I will not be coming to the media center every week to talk about it,'" Stewart said smiling and shaking his head. "You can save your gifts. I've got enough rocking chairs at home as it is. I bought those when I wanted to go sit on my own rocking chair. You don't have to give me one. "I'm content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans," he continued. "They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that'll be sufficient for me. "I think it's been very fitting for Jeff [Gordon]. I don't think I'm worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff." One thing Stewart has across the board is respect -- from his competitors, to the fans and to the media who will be watching closely to see how this next chapter in his career and life plays out. He gave a couple hints on Wednesday afternoon. When it's time to drop the green flag for the 2017 Daytona 500 – the first one run without Tony Stewart on the grid since 1999 – the champ says he hasn't figured out quite yet where he'll be, but spoke about one possibility. "I'll probably be on some fan's motor home on the back stretch promoting our sponsors," Stewart said laughing. "I have no idea where I'm supposed to be yet. I've got a whole year to figure that out."
Got questions about the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format? This brief video will get you up to speed.
RELATED: Bowyer falls in manure, smells like roses DOVER, Del. -- Clint Bowyer , introduced as the newest driver in the Stewart-Haas Racing stable for 2017 just two days ago, ended speculation about his 2016 plans Friday, announcing he will join HScott Motorsports for the upcoming season. The single-season move will keep Bowyer, 36, in the Chevrolet family while three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart wraps up his final season as driver of the No. 14 entry. RELATED: Bowyer, SHR a perfect fit HScott Motorsports , located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, currently fields Sprint Cup Series entries for drivers Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett . The organization works closely with both SHR and Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR's premier series, purchasing its chassis from SHR and engines from Hendrick. "What a whirlwind year, to say the least," Bowyer said. "… It's kind of weird, as we've gone through this together, there's always been that door, the one that opens the easiest, and Harry Scott was definitely that. Looking forward to the marriage that he has with Hendrick, with Stewart-Haas, (those are) very strong. … "Harry is a young, very aggressive owner that we need in this sport; to have this together and tie my name to HScott Motorsports is something I'm looking forward to and get back to my winning ways." Scott said the addition of Bowyer "will help us long term because he's basically going to be able to help us reset our program and set the bar higher going forward. "With his experience, his leadership and his enthusiasm, I think it will be contagious amongst all the team members. Going forward he will help us form an even stronger relationship with Stewart-Haas and that will obviously be beneficial to us." RELATED: Bowyer to join SHR in 2017 5-Hour Energy will be the primary sponsor of Bowyer's entry for 24 of next season's 36 races. Scott started HScott Motorsports in 2013, running Allgaier, Ryan Truex , Michael McDowell and Kyle Larson in 11 of the season's 36 races. Allgaier was named the team's full-time driver in '14; Annett was brought on board prior to the start of the '15 season as the group added a second team. Allgaier is currently 30th in the points standings while Annett is 36th with eight races remaining. Scott said it was too soon to speculate on how the organization's roster would look for 2016, neither confirming nor denying speculation that Bowyer would replace one of the group's two current drivers. "We really haven't ruled out anything for 2016 or beyond," he said. "I'm not prepared to give you an answer for that because I simply don't know at this point." Friday's announcement closed the books on what has been a tumultuous season for the Emporia, Kansas, native. A little more than a year after announcing a multi-year contract extension with its driver, Michael Waltrip Racing announced in mid-August that Bowyer and the organization had "mutually agreed to separate" at the conclusion of the 2015 season as the team closes its doors. After slipping into this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field as the final driver in the 16-team field, Bowyer's No. 15 team was hit with penalties in the opening Chase race, at Chicagoland Speedway , for suspension irregularities. The P4-level infractions resulted in the loss of 25 driver points for Bowyer and owner points for co-owner Rob Kauffman. Crew chief Billy Scott was fined $75,000 and suspended for three races. RELATED: Drivers on the move for 2016 MWR appealed the penalties, but on Wednesday the National Motorsports Appeals Panel heard the appeal and upheld the sanctions against the team. Bowyer is an eight-time winner at the Sprint Cup level but enters this weekend's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR ), riding a 105-race winless streak. He is making his sixth Chase appearance and has a best points finish of second (2012). The specifics of the move, as far as car number and team personnel, have yet to be determined. "It's going to take hard work and dedication, it's going to take funding. We have to have all these and we (do) at HScott Motorsports ," Bowyer said. "I've got the best of the best; when you talk about equipment we've got Hendrick engines, we've got ties to the Stewart-Haas organization. These are the guys that are winning races and I now have that bond, that connection to this kind of equipment. For me as a race car driver, that's huge."
The restart zone for this weekend's NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway will double from 70 feet to 140 feet, according to NASCAR . The sanctioning body will also lengthen the restart zone for the 2015 season's remaining races post-Dover -- the exact increase will be determined by an at-track basis. The restart rules have not changed. Drivers will still line up double file, with the leader being the "control car," meaning the second-place car can't take off before the leader in the restart zone located before the start/finish line. NASCAR re-emphasized the restart rules during the drivers' meeting before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway . In that race, NASCAR reviewed a questionable restart by Jeff Gordon before determining there was no penalty. Last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , Brad Keselowski was penalized after NASCAR ruled he jumped the restart. Restarts were a hot topic among drivers prior to the postseason beginning. When asked at Chase Media, Denny Hamlin gave the following answer: "I think drivers want longer restart zones. Ultimately now it's so short that if you don't go right away the second-place guy does and knowing that he can beat the first-place guy to the line ... I think it would be better to open that zone up two, three times the size of it right now."
Editor's Note: Clinching scenarios courtesy of NASCAR statistical services RELATED: Updated standings " See the Chase Grid There is just one race left before the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field gets whittled down to 12 drivers. Here are the scenarios for clinching a berth in the Contender Round on Sunday at Dover International Speedway in the AAA 400 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Regardless of the finish of any other drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth have already clinched a spot in the Contender Round by virtue of their wins at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, respectively. Carl Edwards needs 12 points. (32nd and no laps led, 33rd and at least one lap led, 34th and most laps led). Joey Logano needs 13 points. (31st and no laps led, 32nd and at least one lap led, 33rd and most laps led) Jimmie Johnson needs 19 points. (25th and no laps led, 26th and at least one lap led, 27th and most laps led) Ryan Newman needs 28 points. (16th and no laps led, 17th and at least one lap led, 18th and most laps led) Kurt Busch needs 29 points. (15th and no laps led, 16th and at least one lap led, 17th and most laps led) Brad Keselowski needs 30 points. (14th and no laps led, 15th and at least one lap led, 16th and most laps led) Martin Truex Jr . needs 31 points. (13th and no laps led, 14th and at least one lap led, 15th and most laps led) Jeff Gordon needs 34 points. (10th and no laps led, 11th and at least one lap led, 12th and most laps led) Jamie McMurray , Dale Earnhardt Jr . , Kyle Busch , Paul Menard , Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer only control their own destinies with a victory.