RELATED: Full race results from Phoenix AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A serendipitous sequence of pit stops and a drizzle that turned into a downpour made a winner of Dale Earnhardt Jr . in Sunday night’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway , the start of which was delayed from day to night by rain in the afternoon. But the race that was halted by the rain 93 laps short of its scheduled distance of 312 laps was hardly the satisfying conclusion for which Carl Edwards , Brad Keselowski , Kurt Busch or Joey Logano had hoped. Those four drivers were eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , as defending champion Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr . joined Jeff Gordon in next Sunday’s Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Earnhardt came to pit road for fuel and tires one lap before Joey Gase and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . crashed in Turn 3 to bring out the second caution of the race on Lap 196. While on pit road, Earnhardt crossed the scoring line at the flag stand before Harvick, who had dominated with 143 laps led. And when other lead-lap cars came to pit road under the yellow, Earnhardt inherited the top spot, with Harvick second and Logano third. Before track workers could complete clean-up from the accident, rain began to fall, and NASCAR called the race after the light precipitation became a deluge. “We had an idea that the rain was in the area, but all the circumstances that played out at the end of the race are just kind of luck, I think,” said Earnhardt , who won for the third time at Phoenix, the third time this season and the 26th time in his career. “I want to give (crew chief) Greg (Ives) a lot of credit, and the guys. “They gave us a good enough car to come here and qualify well (third). I think the reason why we won this race is because of the way we qualified to give ourselves a position to be up front all night. When something like this quirky happens we were able to capitalize. It’s a rain-shortened win, but my guys are very proud of it because of how the car ran all weekend and we put ourselves in this position.” The third-place qualifying effort also gave the No. 88 team third pick of pit stalls, and that choice also proved crucial because it put Earnhardt in position to take the lead when NASCAR called the caution. Harvick had mixed feelings about his second-place result. The caution likely cost him a victory, but it also assured his eligibility to defend his title at Homestead. “Yeah, it's kind of bittersweet,” Harvick acknowledged. “The car just really performed well today, and we were able to lead a lot of laps, and just really proud of the guys for the decisions that they made overnight to get that last little bit out of the car today, and how it performed was really good. “Just caution came out at the wrong time, and we didn't get to make up the ground on the race track under green, where Dale was pitted, and the way that they came out of the pits just didn't time out well. But still proud of our group, and sometimes you win some of those things, sometimes you don't, but in the end, the big picture is what it's all about.” Kyle Busch finished fourth to advance to the season finale. Gordon ran sixth, followed by Kurt Busch , Denny Hamlin and Keselowski. Truex came home 14th but edged 12th-place finisher Edwards for the final spot in the Championship Round by five points. Kyle Busch continued his improbable run toward a first series title. Having suffered a broken right leg and left foot in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona, Busch missed the first 11 Sprint Cup events of the year but came back to win four times shortly after his return. With the wins and a top-30 points finish, Busch qualified for the Chase. “When I returned, we did a good job and we won four out of five and put ourselves in a position to make the Chase, and the rules are the way the rules are, and we’re going to make the most of it,” Busch said. “We’re playing with house money, and we’re rolling to Homestead.” Truex, who entered Sunday’s race with a seven-point lead over Edwards, lost a lap during the same sequence of pit stops that put Earnhardt in the lead, but he regained it under the caution on a wave-around and finished two spots behind Edwards to clinch his place in the finals. Driving for single-car Furniture Row Racing , Truex goes to Homestead with confidence. “With the way our stuff has been running here lately, it's been really good, and we were really strong at Texas (last week),” he said. “I feel like what we're taking there (to Homestead) might be a little bit better. “Excited to get to Homestead, which has been a really good track for me over the years, and get a chance to pull off our first win there.” The highest finisher among the four eligible drivers wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. Logano, Keselowski and Kurt Busch (who was hit with a pass-through penalty for jumping the start of the race) needed to win on Sunday to make the finals. But the rain made sure they never got a chance at another restart. Logano took the disappointment with grace. “It’s hard to play the race with rain in the area,” Logano said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you just hope there’s another shot. You hope that there’s a restart and if two of them slip up and you’re able to put it three-wide on the bottom, or do something like that -- but just didn’t ever have the opportunity there at the end. “We had plenty of opportunities to try to get ourselves to the front, we just weren’t as fast as the 4 (Harvick). We were a solid second-place car, but Junior timed it out really well when they pitted to that caution, and it worked out really well for them.” Note: Chevrolet clinched its 13th straight manufacturer’s championship in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 39th overall ... Hendrick Motorsports swept the Eliminator Round of the Chase with Gordon winning at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson at Texas and Earnhardt at Phoenix.
RELATED: Junior wins rain-shortened race Dale Earnhardt Jr . did something for the first time in his 16-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career on Sunday by virtue of his win at Phoenix International Raceway . The Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 win gave Earnhardt Jr . three victories this season. Coming off a four-win year in 2014, it's the first time Junior has ever won three or more races in consecutive seasons. His three wins in 2015 also ties his mark from the 2001 season. Earnhardt's six-win 2004 remains his personal standard when it comes to victories in a season. For his career, Junior has 26 premier series victories -- which ranks him tied for 27th in NASCAR history with Denny Hamlin and NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen.
Clint Bowyer 's loose No. 15 Toyota started a multi-car wreck during the season finale on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway shortly after a restart on Lap 45, forcing the fourth caution of the day. The other cars invovled were the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the No. 33 of Ty Dillon , the No. 55 of David Ragan and the No. 43 of Aric Almirola , who took his Ford to the garage. (Almirola returned to the race 55 laps down.) "We wrecked pretty good," Dale Jr . told his crew after getting clipped by Ragan's Toyota. Before the race's start, the Hendrick Motorsports wheelman was upfront saying he would assist in any way with helping Jeff Gordon attain his fifth title. After a trip down pit road, Earnhardt returned to the race several laps down. The Ford EcoBoost 400 is the final race for Michael Waltrip Racing which fields teams for both Bowyer and Ragan. Bowyer's day ended early and he told NBC from the garage, "I don't know what the hell happened. I was kind of optimistic about the race. We made a pit stop there and the car was just a way big handful there. I don't know, I was coming off of (Turn) 2 there and Ty (Dillon) kind of got squirrely and I tried to stay off of him and my car got loose and I just couldn't catch it. "I don't know, we just lost the handling on our car big-time there. Unfortunately ended -- you hate to end this way. I wanted to end on a strong note for everybody at MWR. Appreciate all of their hard work and efforts all these years but unfortunately it's over.” Here's how those involved ranked on the leaderboard at the race's end: Dillon (23rd), Ragan (27th), Earnhardt Jr . (40th), Almirola (41st) and Bowyer (43rd).
Despite giving a bit of an indecisive answer earlier in the week about who he would root for to win Sunday's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Dale Earnhardt Jr . was clear on the "Dan Patrick Show" on Thursday -- Jeff Gordon 's his guy. "I'm going to obviously pull for my teammate, Jeff Gordon , because I want the boss man (Rick Hendrick) to be happy with Jeff winning the championship, and that's a hell of a way to go out," Earnhardt said on his morning appearance on the NBCSN program. "He's been racing for, what, 20-something years now and still has the ability to go out and win races and battle for championships all the way to the very end. What a storybook ending that would be." Junior had previously said in a Twitter Q&A after his win at Phoenix that he's "a company man, but I'm also pulling for (friend, Martin Truex Jr .)." RELATED: So, Junior, who are you rooting for? But if it came down to it, Junior implied he'd block Truex's No. 78 Chevrolet -- or anyone else -- on the final lap if it helped Gordon win his fifth and final premier series title. "I would block. … I can't pull over to give (Gordon) a spot, I can't let him have a position to give him a point, but yeah, I would block," said Earnhardt . "And I'll race those other guys (Truex Jr ., Kyle Busch , Kevin Harvick ) very, very hard when I'm around them. Those other three competitors are going to get some hard competition from me and any of the other teammates that are out there."
Clint Bowyer makes contact with Ty Dillon, sending him around collecting Dale Earnhardt Jr ., causing major damage to the No. 15 and No. 88 cars in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
RELATED: Kenseth wrecks Logano Matt Kenseth 's apparent payback of Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday is dominating the talk around the NASCAR world and on the latest installment of "The Dale Jr . Download" on Dirty Mo Radio, Dale Earnhardt Jr . weighed in with his take. "There's a lot of things going on there and man, them guys hit that wall hard," Earnhardt Jr . said. "They all went in there hard. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I mean I've seen guys get wrecked but damn, he put that (expletive) in the fence. Anyhow, don't wreck Matt. Don’t piss Matt off because that's what you get." The genesis of the friction between Kenseth and Logano goes back to what happened in the closing laps at Kansas, where Logano turned a race-leading Kenseth to take the lead on Lap 263 (of a scheduled 267, although the race did end in a green-white-checkered finish, with Logano winning). This time, Kenseth, who was multiple laps down at Martinsville after an incident with Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch on Lap 435, appeared to intentionally send race-leader Logano into the wall on Lap 454. RELATED: Evolution of the Kenseth-Logano feud "Everybody's going to be talking about that mess with the 22 ( Joey Logano ) and the 20 ( Matt Kenseth ), so here's my opinion on it," Earnhardt Jr . said. "I thought the 22 was pretty aggressive at Kansas but what did him in, was kind of how he handled it afterwards. He said things that would piss off anyone that just got wrecked by him. I think what he said after the fact is what bothered Matt the most. "It's a difficult situation to handle if you're Joey. After you punt somebody, it's a fine line to walk and I guess he didn't walk that the way Matt thought he should. So that really frustrated Matt." Those comments from Dale Jr . about how Logano handled his Kansas move post-race echoed what Martinsville race winner Jeff Gordon told "The Dan Patrick Show" on Monday. RELATED: Gordon says he 'can relate' to Kenseth Dale Jr . also thought the earlier incident with Keselowski, a driver that Kenseth has had some past run-ins with may have contributed to his frustration. "I think Matt also thought that maybe the 2 had something with him wrecking at Martinsville. So maybe that fueled the fire a little bit. I'm just guessing on that one. Saw some scanner interaction about Matt wondering if the 2 took him out. Actually, the 2 broke a tire rod in, that's why they all wrecked. I think Matt at the moment thought the 2 had just ran over him or clipped him somehow." For his race, Dale Jr . finished fourth but some mid-race contact with Gordon, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate left him a little miffed. "We played bumper tag with Jeff (Gordon) for a little bit. As soon as he caught me, he ran into the back of me. I let him know I didn't like that too much. I waited for him to run into the next car he caught but he didn't. I was kind of offended a little bit. "Anyhow, I was happy he won the race. I respect him, but you got to race people the way you want to be raced and vice versa. They need to race you that way. I didn't think he did there for a second." RELATED: In-car audio of Dale Jr . and Gordon contact Dale Jr . also had some hard racing with spring Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin in a battle for third place and the two-time winner in 2015 used that to explain his thoughts on moving drivers around. "He gave me a little bit of the bumper, pushed me up off of 2. (He) Got the spot, but it was cool. Good racing. I don't mind getting moved around a little bit as long as you don't wreck me and as long as you don't mind me moving you around. It was all good. We had a fun day." And if you are wondering who Dale Jr .'s championship allegiance is to, you don't have to. "I'm happy they won. I'm glad for Alan (Gustafson, Gordon's crew chief). He's an awesome guy. I got a lot of respect for him, too. Hope he wins this championship because he deserves it. They've been working real hard there. Been able to see that effort up close so I've got a lot of respect for him and his team. Obviously, Rick (Hendrick, team owner), you want Rick to win another championship. That would definitely make the boss man happy."
NASCAR fan pops the question at the feet of 12-time Most Popular Driver The green flag for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway hadn't even dropped on Saturday night before a wild act ensued on pit road ... and we're not talking about the typical post-race-drivers-yanking-fire-suit-collars fight. We're talking about love, y'all. RELATED: Dale Jr . proposes to Amy Reimann in Germany This pre-race proposal gets @DaleJr 's approval! #AskMRN pic.twitter.com/3ShQJsesgo — Motor Racing Network (@MRNRadio) September 12, 2015 She said yes!! #NW88JR pic.twitter.com/yFAX6r99BG — Nationwide 88 (@nationwide88) September 12, 2015 The man, who has now been identified as Bryan Letchworth, got down on one knee in front of the No. 88 Chevrolet and Mr. Dale Earnhardt Jr . himself and asked his now-fianceé to marry him. RELATED: Chad Knaus marries former Miss Sprint Cup Most people who are about to propose get blessings from their significant other's father, mother, brother, etc., but maybe the Junior stamp of approval is all you really need. We can only hope she said, " Dale , yeah!"
The classic NASCAR film "Days of Thunder" was loosely based on the career of 13-time premier series victor Tim Richmond, who had earned the nickname "Hollywood." Given his comfort in the spotlight over the course of the past two decades, perhaps the nickname would also suit Jeff Gordon , who retired from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition after falling just short in his bid for a historic fifth title on Sunday. Born a California boy, it was clear from the start of his career that Gordon was cut from a different cloth than the good ol' boys who had ruled NASCAR throughout its storied history. He was polished. He was refined. He was -- eventually, once mustache met razor -- well-groomed. And people took notice. Before long there were endorsements, seemingly more Gordon memorabilia lining the shelves than shelves themselves and, oh yeah, four titles in his first nine seasons, solidifying a Hall of Fame resume before he even hit age 30. And Gordon's influence on the actual racing part of the sport will be everlasting. Take a look at the final Sprint Cup standings . There are only two drivers in the top 25 who originally hail from North Carolina ( Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Austin Dillon ), NASCAR's original talent pool hot bed. Many factors led to this, but Gordon's All-American appeal, charm and charisma helped pave the way -- even while playing the foil to Dale Earnhardt -- opening up NASCAR to a mainstream audience, flooding stands and couches in front of non-flat-screened TV sets with an audience that stretched from coast to coast, border to border. An audience that tuned in to see Gordon become the first -- and to date, only -- race car driver host one of America's most notable television programs, NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Jeff Gordon 's monologue from a 2003 episode of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." "I asked (Gordon) recently, a while back, about what made you go on 'Saturday Night Live,' what made you want to do that," NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "Number 1, he said, 'Well, they asked me.' And I said, 'Well, OK.' But he said, 'Look, I felt comfortable doing a lot of things that were not mainstream for a NASCAR driver.' "And he was smart about it. He knew that that could separate him from other drivers and he was good at it." Gordon's SNL appearance on Jan. 11, 2003, was a tipping point of bringing NASCAR to the masses, an unquestionable testament to the Hendrick Motorsports driver's popularity and wide-ranging allure. Gordon got to "beat up" a fake Gary Busey while hosting "SNL." It's the crowning achievement in Gordon's on-screen roles, a list that includes 27 appearances on "Live!" (with Regis/Kathie Lee/Kelly/Michael), including 11 guest hosting gigs. He's also appeared in "Spin City", "Arli$$", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", "The Drew Carey Show", "Looney Tunes: Back in Action", "Taxi", "Herbie Fully Loaded", "Sesame Street", "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", "Top Gear", "The Simpsons", "Jeopardy" and even "Cars 2" -- as the appropriately named character "Jeff Gorvette." That curriculum vitae alone -- which is pared down; check out his entire IMDb page -- shows Gordon's star power across generations of fans and television watchers. Gordon also got to play a fighter pilot. Ultimately, with Gordon walking away on such a high note from the sport he's gotten so much out of, NASCAR has reaped the benefits of his contributions. Millions of NASCAR fans can thank Jeff Gordon for opening their eyes to the sport. "He's one of those guys, I always look back at drivers that take out a lot less than they put in," France said. "He's one of those guys that has put in a lot to grow the sport. And other drivers should think about that a little bit. Because he's really a model in that respect. "I have a lot of respect for Jeff Gordon ."
RELATED: Junior's title hopes up in smoke Dale Earnhardt Jr . said he is proud of his team's second-place performance on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway , even more so than any of the No. 88's victories this season, but he said he's never going to watch a replay of the race, look at pictures of it or seek out others' opinions about it. Appearing Tuesday on the Dale Jr . Download on Dirty Mo Radio, Earnhardt Jr . spoke openly, and at times emotionally, about the outcome of a race that ended under caution and denied him the chance to advance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Last week, NASCAR changed the rules at Talladega in order to limit a green-white-checkered finish to one attempt, and when a wreck happened shortly after Sunday's final restart, the race ended under caution with Earnhardt Jr . on the verge of passing eventual race winner Joey Logano for the lead. "A lot was going on at the end of the race," Earnhardt Jr . said. "... From inside the car, I felt like I got a pretty good restart on Joey before they called that restart off, the one we didn't make it to the (start-finish) line on. "The next time, Joey got me a little bit better, I mean we were still kind of side-by-side, but I wasn't quite as far up on him. And by the time we got to where they called the next yellow, I was just passing him." But even if the race were allowed to continue for another 100 feet and Junior passed Logano, the Hendrick Motorsports driver wasn't sure he would have felt much differently. "I got a little knot in my stomach, little sick about how it ended," Earnhardt Jr . said. "... I don't know if we could have celebrated that kind of victory as hard as a well-earned victory. "It sucks. Sucks for NASCAR. Sucks for us. Sucks for everybody. I don't want NASCAR to get a black eye over this deal, because I really love the sport. I think they did the best they could under the circumstances. We got a rulebook and we went by it, and that's the results. I like that."
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- The two Most Popular Drivers were absolutely suited for NASCAR's big awards. Second-generation NASCAR mega-talents, both Chase Elliott ( XFINITY Series) and John Hunter Nemechek ( Camping World Truck Series) absolutely earned the distinction and the nod in Monday awards presentation. Elliott, who will drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevy next year in the Sprint Cup Series -- replacing the retiring Jeff Gordon -- was typically low-key and humble about the whole NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series awards evening. But he was eager to get going in his Cup career after a championship and second place finish (2015) in the XFINITY Series. Earning the Most Popular Driver Award for the recent season must have felt very appropriate for the son of Bill Elliott , who took the Cup Series vote a record 16 times. Dale Earnhardt Jr . has won it the past 12 years. "I think we have definitely a lot of work to do to catch Dale in that sense," a smiling Elliott said. "But I'm very appreciative of the support I've had, especially the past two years and I've noticed it. I don't think people realize how much that means to a driver when they see you wearing their T-shirt. It goes a long way for me. Seeing them do that means a lot." Elliott conceded he and his father, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, haven't discussed this honor's impact even though he is touched to receive it. "We really haven't talked about that," Elliott said. "Fortunately he (his dad) had a big following and some of those people are following me. Can't look past that. Dale has an obviously great following and I'm a Dale fan too." Nemechek, 18, was equally as excited to be recognized on the Camping World Truck Series side. A second-generation racer who won his first major race this season, Nemechek was obviously moved by the honor. "It definitely can't hurt to win the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, " Nemechek said. "It's definitely an honor for me and my family, but more importantly, hopefully it'll help us gain some reputation on selling some sponsorship for the seasons tocome. Can't thank all of the supporters enough that voted, and all the friends and family as well." Nemechek is the second family member to be honored with the award. His father, Joe Nemecheck -- a former XFINITY Series champion and four-time Cup winner. "Yeah, he won I think in 1992 and '93, so it's awesome to be able to win an award that he's won," Nemechek said. "I beat him to something. "I wish he wouldn't have won most popular so I could've beat him to that. We're very competitive, but to get my first truck win when he didn't was very special as well. He wants one bad." With Elliott moving into the Cup series and Nemechek hoping to continue his rise in the NASCAR ranks in 2016. "It definitely is special to hear how good you're doing with the equipment that you have," Nemechek said. "We utilize our resources to the absolute max that we possibly can. We try and get our trucks as good as we can. There's a lot of late nights and hard work put in with just a few people. Finding the funding to get a few more people and not have to work as late and getting some free time to work on some other projects could even make us better, but it was definitely a good year. Getting our first win and finishing in the top five so many times, all the hard work did pay off. "We're still working on trying to find funding. Nothing is set in stone yet. It's all kind of up in the air right now, so still trying to find those possible partners to sit down, sign a deal with, hopefully for years to come."