Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks with Alan Cavanna after his JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott clinched the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship at Phoenix International Raceway.
Junior: 'We're gonna win this race' RELATED: 40 pictures of Dale Jr. on his 40th birthday CONCORD, N.C. -- Feeling good on his 40th birthday, Dale Earnhardt Jr . called his shot in a televised interview after Friday's first practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We're gonna win this race. I've got a really good feeling about it," Earnhardt Jr. said. Earnhardt Jr. was 11th in the practice session at 188.633 mph and will line up ninth in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Despite being winless at Charlotte in 29 points starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr. has been optimistic about his chances to win the race throughout the week. "I'm really excited, actually," Earnhardt Jr. told the media on Thursday. "I was thrilled with how we ran last weekend. Super-fast car, this place is a bit similar. "We obviously know what the situation is with the points and how important it is for us to come in here and win the race. I have been winless at Charlotte in a points-paying race since I started my career, so it's bound to happen sooner or later. I always win at the weirdest times, in the oddest circumstances. So I feel like everything is lining up and feel real good about this weekend." On the season, Earnhardt Jr. has three wins, 11 top-fives and 17 top-10s. He finished 19th here in the spring in the Coca-Cola 600 and has not recorded a top-five finish at the track since 2008. Earnhardt Jr. led 45 laps at Kansas and was running the best he had in the Chase before a cut tire derailed his day and led to a 39th-place finish. With two races remaining in the Contender Round, Earnhardt Jr. is 11th in the standings and 25 points back of the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. A Chase driver must be in the top eight in points or have a win to advance to that round. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Panel of experts debates the hot topics in NASCAR 1. Now that the season has been completed, what do you think? What stands out about 2014? Alan Cavanna: The Chase and everything surrounding the Chase. It worked out better than expected and I think it's sent the sport in a good direction. Kenny Bruce: It's definitely a long list, some good and some not-so-good. Dale Earnhardt Jr . winning the Daytona 500 , Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger winning for the first time and making the Chase, the excitement of the new format and the intensity that it generated. You had must-win situations for Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick , and they came through. The whole situation surrounding Tony Stewart late in the season will be memorable for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. But it's become a part of what the '14 season was all about. Zack Albert: So many storylines to choose from and not just with the new-look Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Five guys -- and there for a while, a sixth -- rose to fantastic heights: Kevin Harvick , Brad Keselowski , Joey Logano , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . all either enjoyed resurgences or breakout years. The sixth slight nod goes to Jimmie Johnson , who was hot as a firecracker heading into the summer, but wasn't quite up to his usual Chase standards. Cavanna: As a storyteller, I loved the emergence of Brad K. as the "black hat" to some. The only way to really earn that is through great performances. Fans love having someone to hate, and Brad gave them plenty of wins to hate on. Bruce: The more you think about it, the more things slide back into focus, Zack. The Johnson hot streak you mentioned, the post-race altercations at Charlotte and Texas that Alan alluded to. And we haven't even touched Nationwide or Trucks, which had incredible moments as well. A rookie wins the NNS title? The first back-to-back champ in the Truck Series? Albert: I distinctly remember sitting in the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center watching Ryan Blaney and German Quiroga duke it out on the final lap of the trucks' visit to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park . The whole room stopped what they were doing to watch. Between that and the whole aura of Eldora for the second straight year, many great Truck Series memories. Cavanna: I really believe people will be talking about this first Chase, and first championship race, for a long, long time. To have three contenders with three laps to go still racing for a title was unreal. Bruce: Safe to say the season gave us plenty to talk about. But you're probably correct Alan. When it was all over, the new format and the final race seemed to stand above the rest. Albert: Very true. It all played out with a great finish and all four drivers putting in a championship-worthy performance. And whether you love the new Chase or are one of its critics, the bottom line is: Was the racing good? At Homestead and many other tracks week-in and week-out, the answer was yes. Bruce: Now the question is how do they top that, Zack? Albert: Always room for an encore, methinks. 2. Kevin Harvick semi-joked that the Chase format could shorten his career because of the intensity it generated. OK, maybe or maybe not. But will the format adversely impact opportunities for a team to win multiple titles? Will we see more guys in the hunt or domination by those who figure out the best approach? Expect Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus to be better in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup next year, now that they have one year of experience under the format. Cavanna: It's so hard to say because we're dealing with such a small sample size. We all made predictions before knowing how this Chase would work, and we were generally all wrong. Bruce: Generally? How about specifically, Alan? I think I had four different winners in four different Chase brackets and "might" have picked Harvick in one of them. Cavanna: In the end, the most dominant car won. But we also saw how it all came down to one race, and really the final pit stop. That could easily swing a championship, and prevent repeat titles. Albert: The degree of difficulty certainly went up in 2014. But you also have to have the common denominator of performance, year over year, to form a dynasty. Does Harvick have a repeat in him? Absolutely, but some of the new format's nuances can make it tough sledding. It will be interesting to see how teams learn from this first go-round and what the strategies will be for the next Chase episode. Bruce: Listening to post-race comments, Zack, I think you're right. We didn't know what to expect and neither did the teams. I imagine they're already determining what they could have or should have done differently for next year. Albert: Let's hope they can enjoy a little bit of offseason down time before they start number crunching on Chase scenarios. Cavanna: With one Chase to study, I can easily see the No. 48 team planning its strategy for next year. I think teams will take a different approach to ensuring their spot in the final four. Bruce: As far as whether the format favors someone dominating in terms of winning titles, I doubt it. With the elimination races in place, we saw what can happen to even those that were perceived to be the "best" teams. Still, anyone not figuring on Harvick being an early-season favorite should turn in his or her hard card. Cavanna: Once teams "figure it out," I think we could see some teams get good at it. Bruce: Given the format, do we see more "Mark Martin" scenarios? Great drivers who never win a title? Cavanna: That's very possible, Kenny. I feel like every year we'll have a driver who has a Logano-like year, but then just miss it in Homestead. Albert: Not to mention making room for an underdog, a la Newman, in the Championship 4. Bruce: I guess it's a glass half-full or half-empty scenario. Maybe more guys having great seasons that don't win a title, or perhaps the opportunity for more drivers to win it. Albert: Alan's still waiting on his opportunity in a third Penske car. Talk about your Chase bracket buster … Cavanna: My pit crew is stellar! Put me in the race, Captain! 3. OK, we know how 2014 shook out. What’s the outlook for 2015? And by the way, the Daytona 500 is less than 100 days away. Our experts think Kyle Larson makes the postseason next year -- and he may even be a title contender. Albert: Wow. Let me dust off my dart set and start throwing. Bruce: Daytona's rising. That much we know. As for anything else? Lawn Darts, Zack. Go big or go home. Cavanna: The emergence of Kyle Larson will be fun to watch. As long as his team continues to improve, I think he's a lock for the Chase, and a deep run. Albert: A very safe bet that he'll visit Victory Lane on the Sprint Cup side in 2015, probably more than once. Bruce: At least he still has his crew chief, which is more than his teammate can say. Cavanna: I also think some drivers will look at Larson's 2014 season and be even more motivated to get that win. Remember, if Larson had just one regular-season win, it could've been him taking a title in Homestead. No driver will want to be saying "what if" after having a great Chase but not being in it. Bruce: Actually, I think the crew chief movement will play a bigger role in '15. A lot of guys on the box seem to be on the move -- McMurray and Earnhardt Jr. will have new guys in place, we're still waiting to see what unfolds over at Joe Gibbs Racing. Kahne and Kenny Francis are no longer together. Maybe the season-opening question should be, can change top the tried-and-true? Cavanna: Kenseth switched teams and won seven races (in '13); Harvick switched and won a championship. What's next for Carl Edwards ? Albert: Plenty of movement, even though this silly season seems to be sprinkled with less hilarity. I'll be very interested to see if Team Penske can keep it up after a banner season, and how Hendrick Motorsports regroups after going 0-for-4 on title-eligible drivers at Homestead last weekend. Will also be watching to see if Chase Elliott takes those first steps into Sprint Cup, as hinted. Cavanna: We haven't even mentioned the 2015 rules package. The no-ride height made for a big change this season. Next year will be another adjustment, hopefully for the better. Bruce: If that's the case, Alan, then we should probably play close attention to next month's anticipated test at Charlotte. I seem to recall one team being ahead of everyone at that point a year ago ... and look where they ended up. Albert: Who knew that simulated races in December would mean so much? Cavanna: I'm filling out my Chase bracket based on next month's test. 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Kenny Francis expected to crew chief Nationwide champ's Cup starts in '15 RELATED: Elliott's path to a championship MORE: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today While the date of Chase Elliott 's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut has not yet been set, Hendrick Motorsports revealed his expected crew chief Thursday. Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt said Kenny Francis is expected to be atop the pit box for those efforts. Francis was previously Kasey Kahne 's crew chief at Hendrick and is now in the newly created position of vehicle technical director. "I went to the NASCAR Nationwide banquet and was reminded that Chase is 18 years old," Duchardt said. "He's going to run Nationwide again next year and we've announced that we're going to run some Cup races with him in 2015. I would expect that Kenny (Francis) is going to crew chief those races for him. I think that's going to be a fun aspect of next year to see how Chase does in that. We'll see how things are going in '15 and see what the right steps are in the future. Right now, we're just going to take 2015 and take a look at how things are progressing. " ... It's like having this prospect in Triple-A that's batting .380 and when is he coming up to big club and run? We'll work on that, we'll see where that all heads." As far back as August, team owner Rick Hendrick was open about trying to get Elliott into a Cup car for a handful of races in 2015. "I think you'll probably see him run a few races next year," Hendrick told the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in August. "Before he ever won a Nationwide race, I watched him test Jimmie's car and Jeff's car at Nashville, and Jimmie and Jeff both commented to me, 'This kid is super smooth and super fast. He takes care of his equipment, and he doesn't get in a jam.' "I said before he ever ran a race, I would put him in a 600-mile race at Charlotte and think he'd finish in the top 15, top 10, because he's so smart," Hendrick added. "He just understands the car and takes care of it. I think he's going to do a super job whenever the time comes. I think we'll surely, probably the second half of next year, we'll probably see him in some races." Dale Earnhardt Jr. , the co-owner of JR Motorsports and owner of the No. 9 car, has repeatedly said that Hendrick has "a great plan" for Elliott. Elliott broke out in 2014, winning three races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series en route to becoming the youngest NASCAR national series champion. He is set to drive the No. 9 car for a second straight season with JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Elliott will have a new crew chief in Ernie Cope, with Greg Ives joining Earnhardt Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series ranks. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
From moving to SHR to hoisting the 2014 Sprint Cup trophy above his head Nov. 16: Harvick wins Sprint Cup championship In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick delivered a title and he did it in the fashion that became expected of the No. 4 team: smart pit decisions, pure speed and a whole lot of talent behind the wheel. " Read more Nov. 9: Harvick wins at Phoenix, clinches spot in championship race In what was possibly one the most crucial races of the 2014 season, Harvick proved that he knew how to dominate the desert track and wrote his ticket to the final four round of the Chase. " Read more Nov. 2: Post-race brawl between Keselowski, Gordon and Harvick Although Harvick wasn't the one throwing punches in the massive brawl at Texas Motor Speedway , he did spark it with a slight shove to Keselowski. Relive the dramatic ending to the Eliminator Round of the Chase as emotions get the most of drivers. " Read more Oct. 26: Harvick: Kenseth 'won't win this championship' Either Harvick can see the future or he was just that confident in his driving. After contact with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville sent the No. 4 to the garage and in a must-win situation at Phoenix two weeks later, Harvick spoke up about his feelings for the No. 20 JGR driver. " Read more Oct. 11: Harvick wins Charlotte night race with restart After six winless months, Harvick's Charlotte win secured him a spot in the Eliminator Round of the Chase and proved to the rest of the field that he's a force to be reckoned with. " Read more Sept. 9: Harvick, Stewart swap pit crews Although Harvick had speed on the track, it was his pit crew that needed some work. Just before the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, SHR announced that the No. 4 and No. 14 crews were going to switch. " Read more April 12: Harvick wins thrilling Southern 500 at Darlington Harvick passed Dale Earnhardt Jr . on the next-to-last lap of the second attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish of the Southern 500 to become the first two-time winner of the season. " Read more March 2: Kevin Harvick dominates in Phoenix win Harvick has a positive track record at Phoenix International Raceway , but this win was extra special to the No. 4 SHR driver, as it was his first with his new race team. " Read more Feb. 3: Championship the lone goal for Kevin Harvick at SHR Harvick makes it clear that the reason he left RCR for SHR was to win a championship -- the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion goes into detail how his transition from team-to-team confirmed his decision to move. " Read more Dec. 11, 2013: Harvick, Newman pace configuration 1 test Fresh into the offseason, Harvick shows what kind of power the No. 4 has at a configuration test at Charlotte Motor Speedway and gives other drivers a hint at what's to come in 2014. " Read more July 12, 2013: Harvick to run SHR No. 4; no ride for Newman After 13 years with Richard Childress Racing, it was announced that Kevin Harvick would join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and his sponsor, Budweiser, would make the move with him. " Read more MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Dale Jr. led 31 laps, but ultimately came up short at Talladega RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s title hopes came to a disappointing end Sunday on the backstretch of Talladega Superspeedway . Caught up in a multi-car accident during the first of two green-white-checkered attempts, the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up 31st in the GEICO 500 . A long shot became no shot. The opportunity to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup went out the window when contact from Greg Biffle sent Earnhardt's car spinning into the wall. Earnhardt joined teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne , along with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , as those eliminated from Chase title contention. "I don't know if I came down on him or what," Earnhardt said of the contact with the Roush Fenway Racing driver. "I thought I was holding my line, but we were all kind of tight back there.” Earnhardt , Johnson and Brad Keselowski , bringing up the rear of the Chase points heading into the race, needed a win to advance to the next round. Keselowski accomplished the feat, on one of the most treacherous tracks on the schedule. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was out front twice for 31 laps, and when he wasn't leading he was often dicing up front among those who were. But getting shuffled back in the field during the final stage of the race left him in a precarious position. "We worked real hard all day long trying to run up front," Earnhardt said. "I knew we needed to be up front all day long. We got shuffled to the back. I made a move trying to get up front and it didn't work out. So, we lost a lot of track position and never got it back. "You need to be up front. You need to be in the top four the last few restarts. Those are the guys that have a shot at it. You know you're not going to pass 10 or 12 cars there in six or seven laps. We tried. It just didn't work out." In a race that saw 38 lead changes among 19 drivers, Earnhardt broke out on top on Lap 75 and stayed on the point for 29 laps. He lost the lead during a round of pit stops, then led briefly for two more laps shortly afterward. He was able to stay around the top 10 for much of the second half of the race, until only some 30 or so laps remained. Even then, given the unpredictable nature of racing on the 2.66-mile track, hope remained. "We worked hard to try to get back into the top five or so, and it just didn't work out," he said. "The car did get loose on one run. We made a good adjustment and it was driving good at the end." Crew chief Steve Letarte said it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "We just never could get a foothold; never could mount a charge back to the front," he said. "That's just how it is. Sometimes you get cycled out at the wrong time and that was definitely not the right time to get cycled out." While the car certainly seemed capable of winning, Letarte said the nature of racing here tempers expectations. "I'm not going to say it doesn't matter," he said. "I don't want to discount the hard work our company puts in the engines and these (crew) guys put into the car, but … a great car gives you very little guarantee." A winner of three races prior to the start of the Chase, Earnhardt came to Talladega on the heels of disappointing finishes at Kansas and Charlotte that put his team in a must-win scenario. That he was unable to advance was disappointing, but not crushing. "There have probably been worse things," he said. "I'm not retiring or anything, so we'll try next year. "We've had a good season and have a lot to be looking forward to. We're definitely not going to get too torn up about (it); we didn't run well." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
No. 88 team's win comes 10 years after fatal plane crash RELATED: Full race results " Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota MORE: Junior meets with another Junior MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- History exists in every turn, in every crevice of Martinsville Speedway . From the elegant grandfather clocks given as race trophies and the antiquated look and feel of the 0.526-mile track, the oldest on the circuit, to the historic black-and-white photos that populate the media center, there is always a constant reminder of the past here in the southern Virginia foothills. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a lover of NASCAR history, made some of his own with Sunday's victory. The man who attended his first race at the track in the 1980s, who grew up playing with toy Matchbox race cars in the front hall of his childhood home, listening to a race on the radio as one of the clocks his father won chimed every hour, now has a timepiece of his own after Sunday's thrilling victory. "You know, I love the history of the sport and just can't get enough of it," said Earnhardt Jr., whose mood vacillated from euphoric to contemplative throughout a 30-minute press conference after Sunday's win. "I just know this place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport. Dad won several races here, brought home several clocks. I always wanted one." "This is so special. I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it's a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here." He did so by charging through the field after starting 23rd, leading 79 laps and holding off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon over the frenetic final four laps in a race that had big wrecks and bigger swings. That it was Junior and Gordon finishing 1-2 made the day more fitting for Hendrick Motorsports. Yes, Martinsville is steeped in history. Not all of it is worth celebrating. It was 10 years ago when a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into the side of Bull Mountain en route to Martinsville, killing all 10 people aboard. Jimmie Johnson didn't go to Victory Lane that day after his win, and team owner Rick Hendrick's presence at this track is no longer guaranteed. Sometimes attending is too painful for Hendrick, who lost his son, brother and two nieces in the tragedy. The team owner was at this one, though, his mere presence a symbol of the same strength he showed in the days and years following that incident. Like so many in the stands, he nervously watched the dramatic final stages unfold as he wondered if either of his two drivers would win -- or if they'd wreck each other trying. "We miss those folks, family and friends, and they meant so much to the organization," he said as the race wound down. "Every year we think about it, but this year's (different) … 10 years." Then he was there in Victory Lane, the man who has built a four-car operation that is the envy of many, wrapping up the 11-time Most Popular Driver Award winner in a massive embrace. There they stood as confetti poured down around them, two men who have both endured unfathomable tragedy yet manage to still exude genuine gracefulness all these years later. "I could feel how important it was to (Hendrick) and his embrace, when he would hug me," Earnhardt said. "You just know, there's a hug and then there's a genuine hug. His was the real deal. "This is the 10th anniversary. It's more difficult. The 10th anniversary sort of has you reflecting and remembering. … Losing my dad was difficult. I can't imagine that loss that he went through, his family went through, the whole organization. I think I've paralleled my loss and his loss until I started working with him, then I started understanding it's quite a bit larger void that it created." Sunday's unforgettable victory was Earnhardt's fourth of 2014, his highest total in a decade. He's won at Daytona and Martinsville in the same year, and swept the Pocono races. His No. 88 Chevrolet constantly runs toward the front more than it ever has in his career. In his final year with crew chief Steve Letarte, the National Guard team has reached that rare stage where it is fast at every track on the schedule. Opening the season with a Daytona 500 win set a standard the group has consistently matched, and for a while it looked like this team was destined to win the 2014 title until a rough three-race stretch ousted them from the postseason. "I don't believe in fairytales," Earnhardt Jr. said of no longer being in control of his title aspirations. "It's only destiny in hindsight, you know? This wasn't our year. It's only magical after the fact, when you see it happen." Letarte agreed, saying the team had "no excuses" for why it's out of the championship running. That reality didn't keep smiles off either of their faces, though. Letarte may have been as excited as Earnhardt , simply because of how frequently he's heard the clock talk over years -- and how winning at Martinsville was something that Earnhardt needed to check off his career resume. Sure, it didn't come in a championship season, but Earnhardt will never again have a "0" next to the win column at this venue. His place in the Martinsville history book is secured, the man who loves NASCAR history helping to ensure his name will be etched among other legends 50 years from now. There's a different kind of history that comes with this win, too. Personal history. "Hopefully when I'm at his house having a cold one, we'll listen to the thing chime 10 years from now and smile," Letarte said. Now that sounds like a fairytale ending. 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No. 88 team struggles after leading laps early RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . didn't win Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , thus guaranteeing himself a spot in the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . He didn't finish well enough to climb out of a hole he landed in after finishing 39th at Kansas Speedway a week earlier. Instead, the Hendrick Motorsports driver found himself trying to battle back from a lost lap caused by a broken shifter, the result of a vibration, barely 140 laps into the 334-lap race. In the end, it was a lost cause. The shifter was eventually repaired but the window of opportunity the 40-year-old needed had already closed. Although he made it back onto the lead lap briefly near the end, a final necessary pit stop dropped him one back. He finished 20th in a race won by fellow Chase driver Kevin Harvick . Earnhardt Jr. will head to Talladega next weekend needing a win or a miracle to remain alive in this year’s title hunt, 26 points behind teammate Kasey Kahne who resides in the eighth, and final, transfer spot. "The vibration broke the shifter in half and it just wasn’t a good night," Earnhardt Jr. said afterward. "The car just wasn’t handling well and the vibration was really giving us a lot of problems." Running ninth at Lap 120, Earnhardt Jr. informed his team of the shifter problem less than 20 laps later, just about the time the field was coming to pit road following the third caution of the race. After multiple pit stops, Earnhardt eventually returned to the lineup 23rd but quickly told crew chief Steve Letarte that the quick fix "didn't work." A cycle of green flag stops cost him a lap to the leader just shy of the 200-lap mark -- because he had only third and fourth gear, his crew had to push his car out of its pit stall to get him back under way. "This isn't what we need to do," he admitted after failing to end in Victory Lane in his 30th opportunity on the 1.5-mile track. Now, it's win Talladega or lose a shot at the championship. "Go out there and win it," he said of next weekend’s Geico 500 at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. "We can do it; we have on there a lot of times. "I know what we need to do. We will just have to build a fast car and hope that we don’t have any gremlins and try to go out there and win it." Letarte, who will depart at season’s end to move into the broadcast booth with NBC Sports, said the team's situation was simple. "Listen, you can’t break parts if you want to win races," he said. "We've just got to figure out why the part broke." The issue was similar to one suffered by teammate Jimmie Johnson earlier this season. "And we made changes to the parts so we wouldn’t have it happen again," said Letarte. But the shifter wasn't the cause of the team's trouble, he said. It was simply fallout from the "phantom" vibration that the team was unable to correct. "We didn't really have it bad in practice but we picked it up today," he said. "Vibrations hurt horsepower, hurt handling, hurt parts. That's probably the root cause and the shifter's probably just the result." While they were able to eventually repair the shifter, the lost lap proved more difficult to overcome. "He started shotgun on the field and drove back to the 31 (Ryan Newman) who I think was running like 11th," Letarte said. "I think you have a nice smooth race and you keep your track position, give yourself an opportunity and we could probably run in the top five with no problem. But you've got to give yourself an opportunity; you've got to stay up there. You can't give up laps." Letarte said nothing has changed in spite of his driver's finishing position at Charlotte. The team will start all over again next week with the same goal in mind. "I don't think a good run here was going to make a difference. You had to win. We had to win here and we didn’t; we have to win at Talladega," he said. "Everybody sounds disappointed that the points system creates that but I would argue that it gives you the opportunity to move forward with a win. Last year, our blown tire at Kansas would have eliminated us (from title contention) as well. "At least we have the chance. You go to Talladega and win and you'll be tied for the points lead leaving Talladega." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Kahne also picks up new primary sponsor for three races in 2015 RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today MORE: Rodden to step in as No. 5 crew chief Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morning that it has signed driver Kasey Kahne to a three-year contract extension, keeping him in the fold through 2018 . "I've found a home at Hendrick Motorsports," said Kahne in a team release. "We have incredible people and partners supporting us, and I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we're headed as a team and a company. It's the right place for me, and I'm looking forward to being here for a long time." The news comes one day after a major shakeup with Hendrick's No. 5 Chevrolet team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with Keith Rodden accepting a crew chief role and Kenny Francis, atop Kahne's pit box since the 2005 season finale, shifting to the position of vehicle technical director. Kahne, an 11-year veteran and 17-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, and Francis joined the Hendrick organization in 2012. "It's extremely gratifying to work with a driver like Kasey," said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports said in a team release. "I think the world of him both as a driver with championship-level talent and an overall terrific young man. Our whole organization has a great deal of respect for how hard he works, the professionalism he displays with our partners and the way he carries himself every day. We're committed to winning races and competing for titles with him for many years to come." In addition, Kahne will have LiftMaster on board as a primary sponsor for three races in the 2015 Sprint Cup season as well as an associate sponsor for the rest of the races. The agreement will be for the next three seasons (2015 to 2017). LiftMaster will be the primary sponsor for Kahne on May 24 (Charlotte), July 11 (Kentucky) and October 18 (Kansas). "It means a lot to have support from a great company like LiftMaster," Kahne said in a release. "The No. 5 team has high expectations for 2015, and they'll be with us as the primary sponsor at three tracks where we're traditionally very fast. All of us are looking forward to representing them throughout the season and developing a successful long-term relationship." We’re excited to join @KaseyKahne & @TeamHendrick starting in 2015! http://t.co/kZJdDPiroS pic.twitter.com/2aP8Oy7CJr — LiftMaster (@LiftMaster) November 20, 2014 The 34-year-old driver has won five times in Hendrick equipment and notched his best-ever finish in the season standings -- fourth -- in his first year with the team. Last season was a struggle, however, with Kahne posting just three top-five finishes and winding up 15th in the final standings. Kahne qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs with a Labor Day weekend victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the next-to-last race of the regular season. Kahne survived the first round of eliminations in the new-look Chase, but was ousted in the Contender Round, the second three-race leg of the postseason. Kahne agreed to join Hendrick in April 2010, replacing veteran driver Mark Martin . After signing the multiyear agreement, Kahne finished out most of the season in Richard Petty Motorsports' Fords, then spent the last five races of 2010 and all of 2011 driving Red Bull Racing's Toyotas before finally landing in the No. 5 Chevy. Re-signing Kahne, whose contract was set to expire after the 2015 season, helps solidify the Hendrick driver lineup. Team cornerstone Jeff Gordon , a four-time series champion, signed a lifetime contract with Hendrick in 1999. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson is also under contract through 2015, and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the sport's most popular driver, is signed through 2017. With Hendrick at the NASCAR-mandated maximum of four teams and the unlikelihood of Johnson departing after 2015, speculation will likely rise about the future of 18-year-old prodigy Chase Elliott , the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion who is under contract to Hendrick and drives for the affiliated JR Motorsports team with co-owner Earnhardt . Team owner Rick Hendrick said Nov. 8 after Elliott became the series' youngest champion that the young driver's career arc will likely include a handful of Sprint Cup races next season, but that there is no accelerated timetable to place him in NASCAR's premier series on a full-time basis. Elliott will return next year to defend his title in what will be known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series, driving JRM equipment. "Another year of seasoning here will be good for him, and we're not in any hurry," Hendrick said. "He's 18 years old." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
In the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase Jimmie Johnson won his 3rd consecutive Texas Chase race and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first grandfather clock at Martinsville Speedway, both victories earned a spot in the Top 10 Chase moments.