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Can the JR Motorsports driver hold off teammate Chase Elliott this season? RELATED: Complete schedule for driver previews Team: JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: Second Wins: 1 (Daytona in February) Strides: In spite of a crew chief change that saw Ryan Pemberton take over for Greg Ives (who joined JRM teammate Chase Elliott ) prior to the start of the season, Smith wasted no time in getting into Victory Lane, winning the series' first race at Daytona. Although it was his lone win for the year, Smith reeled off 13 consecutive top-10s to open the season, led the points for 11 weeks and recorded a career-best second-place points finish. "I thought that we got the speed where we needed it at the end of the year," Smith said. "We struggled a little bit with communication early on. Once we learned each other as a group and got those things figured out, the speed started coming back to us." Setbacks: Smith had only two finishes outside the top 20 and his team appeared competitive in most areas and at most venues. However he was unable to close the gap on his teammate down the stretch, finishing ahead of Elliott in just two of the final 10 races. "We had some opportunities that we missed to really make things tighter when it came down to the end and put some pressure on Chase at the end of the year," he said. "To his credit he didn't falter anywhere. There were a lot of points in the season where people said 'He's a rookie; he's going to make a mistake here or there or something's going to happen’ and he didn't. "He drove like a veteran and it was great for him and great for JR Motorsports to see that. But I think for the No. 7 car, we're going to think about the what-ifs. More importantly, what can we do going into (2015) take care of the what-ifs to make sure they don't happen again." Quoteworthy: "There were times when I was frustrated as a driver and I think it showed up on the track because of how I was driving. You've got to be careful not to let that happen." What's next: With Pemberton moving back into his role as director of competition for JRM, Smith will be working with Jason Burdett, his third crew chief in three years. Burdett previously worked at Hendrick Motorsports , and served as car chief for Jimmie Johnson ('02), Jeff Gordon ('08-10) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . ('11-14). "We can all work on a lot of areas, myself included," Smith said. "Restarts and qualifying for me have just been atrocious for the past two years. I can't really highlight why. I think this offseason is going to be really important to highlight why and figure that out. Because in order to contend and get the track position and the clean air that we really need, those two things have to improve." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
After rejecting 'easy' decision to leave, veteran embraces team's new outlook Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For all the change that Roush Fenway Racing has undergone entering the 2015 NASCAR season, Greg Biffle remains the organization's constant, a cornerstone driver who first started his career with team owner Jack Roush in the Camping World Truck Series in 1998. But with the team firmly in rebuilding mode after its recent slide toward substandard performance, Biffle shed light on just how close he came to following the path of two prominent former teammates out the door. Biffle plumbed the depths of the company's recent low points Wednesday during the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, saying that he had fielded offers from "great teams" to drive elsewhere. Ultimately, the 45-year-old driver made the choice to stay, in an effort to help lead the team out of its dark days. "You know, loyalty in this world only goes so far," Biffle said. "… I felt like I had to wrestle with the decision on whether I leave or not. It makes it easy to leave, it's easy to kick a guy when he's down, right? So we were having tremendous trouble last year, and I've been there through three of these cycles, and we're not going to sugar-coat it -- last year, we were at the bottom of the heap compared to the teams. We just were, and no light at the end of the tunnel, and so it would've been an easy way for me to leave at that point. "But knowing that the stock is at the lowest price that it's been at, sometimes that's the opportunity. It's going to go up. It doesn't have to, but logic says it's going to go up, and so I wrestled with it and sat long and hard about it and said, 'I want to be the guy that brings this organization back out of where we're at. We're in a bad place. I could jump ship right now.' And I decided I didn't want to do that. I was going to give it another opportunity." Biffle's tenure with Roush Fenway includes an enviable collection of career highlights -- 19 victories in the top-level Sprint Cup Series and championships in both the XFINITY Series (2002) and the truck circuit (2000). Even though he managed to qualify for last season's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, his losing streak stretched to 57 -- nearing the longest dry spell of his career. Only Carl Edwards won races at the Sprint Cup level for RFR last year, and he departed in the offseason to restart his career at Joe Gibbs Racing . That move followed a similar career shift by Matt Kenseth -- another longtime Roush Fenway competitor -- just two years earlier. Biffle could've been the third domino to fall, but even with all the frayed emotions, the connections he'd established over the years kept him from severing those ties. "I stayed for relationships and things that I had built for a long period of time that I really cared about, and that was one of my decisions that really weighed on me to stay," Biffle said. "After I elected to stay, other people didn't and so I was left holding the bag a little bit, but I can't say enough about the partnerships that we've created since then. "I can talk forever about what's gone on, and I hate to keep -- so to speak, the cliché -- beat the dead horse. We all recognized the position we were in last year. We were drowning and we were trying to get to the surface, and it was difficult on all of us. All the relationships were all taxed, between me and my crew chief, the other drivers, the team engineers, the simulation group, and then fabrication, the guys hanging the (car) bodies. We were all taxed because we were not performing." Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark admitted that the offseason mission of rebuilding the team's stature in the sport had come with some soul searching. The organization has made plenty of offseason strides to meet the goals -- primarily through digging to the root cause of what went wrong in 2014 and closing the gap on its rivals in the technology department. But it's also revamped its mindset in more subtle ways, freshening the look of the shop and bringing it up to more state-of-the-art standards. Even though the overhaul has been dramatic, Newmark said losing Biffle was a change the team couldn't afford to withstand. "It was critical," Newmark said. "Greg and I spent a lot of time talking. He was solicited by a lot of teams, which I would expect with a driver of that caliber. After a lot of the discussions, I think he felt like Roush was the right fit for him and the right place, and he and Jack had some unfinished business. But he brings an element that we wouldn't have had without him. We have a lot of other talented drivers, but none of them has had the history with both our organization and the championships, so he's been fantastic." Though Biffle cracked in his opening remarks that Jack Roush, 72, had been racing Ford products since 1901, it's clear the team has begun to skew younger as it enters its 28th year in NASCAR. Biffle will race alongside third-year driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., 27, and 23-year-old Trevor Bayne , promoted to his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series. Change isn't all bad, as Biffle was quick to mention the championship fruits of the first-year partnership between Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing last season. Taken a step further, Biffle said Roush Fenway's expectations equal those of the title-winning No. 4 team. "We're all that confident," Biffle said. "We all feel that good that that's the position we're in now. Everyone's so excited about the way our company looks, about how everybody's getting along and how excited everybody is to work together again, and on a common goal. We all feel really good." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Will the 2014 champ's momentum continue into 2015? RELATED: Complete schedule for driver previews Team: JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: First Wins: Three (Texas in April; Darlington in April; Chicago in July) Strides: Won a pole (or two)? Check. Won a race (or three)? Check. Sunoco Rookie of the Year? Check. Series champion? Absolutely. Elliott, 19, was the surprise story of the year for the Nationwide (now XFINITY ) Series, becoming the first driver to win the championship in his rookie season. The son of 1988 premier series champion Bill Elliott, the youngster drove more like an experienced veteran than a fresh-faced kid with no prior starts in the series. "There were a lot of points in the season when people said 'he's a rookie, he's going to make a mistake here or there' and he didn't," teammate Regan Smith said. "He drove like a veteran and it was great for him and great for JR Motorsports to see that." As surprising as his first career win was at Texas, perhaps more impressive was following up that victory just a week later at Darlington, one of the series' most difficult tracks, with a second consecutive win. In addition to his three victories, Elliott ended the season with 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes. His average finishing position of 8.0 was No. 1 among those running full-time in the series. Elliott was always quick to point to the efforts of others. "I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am," he said. "It's been an honor to work with these guys ... not just this year, but all along the way. It's been fun." Setbacks: Elliott didn't always shine -- his best finish on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega was 15th. But for the most part, he ran with and often outran Sprint Cup drivers making the occasional stop in the series. Quoteworthy: "He's so much better than I ever through about being." -- Bill Elliott What's next: With JRM's ties to Hendrick Motorsports , the road to a ride at the Sprint Cup level seemed to clear a bit with the recent announcement of Jeff Gordon 's pending retirement. Before that either does or doesn't take place however, Elliott will spend another year in the XFINITY Series. Greg Ives, who served as crew chief, has moved up to Sprint Cup to be paired with Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a co-owner of JRM. Veteran crew chief Ernie Cope will now be paired with Elliott. "Winning more races and not letting the same people beat you every week ... is the biggest thing," Elliott said of the '15 season. "Keeping it about as simple as possible. ... I see things I can improve on personally and stepping up and not letting people out‑drive you every week because I feel like that's happened a lot this year. "I'd like to minimize those weekends, and I feel like we have the cars, the teams, the motors, the group of people to go and contend with the best. We've just got to put it all together ... not talk about it anymore and go do it." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NASCAR, Martinsville Speedway officials recognized by press organization
Driver nabs award for 12th straight year DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr ., winner of four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2014 and eighth overall in the final points standings, has been named the 2014 recipient of the Sprint NMPA Most Popular Driver award for the series. It is the 12th consecutive year that Earnhardt Jr., 40, has won the award. In addition to the trophy he received during Friday evening's season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas, Earnhardt will collect a check for $10,000 earmarked for the charity of his choice. "Even after all these years, I never have an assumption that I have won it," Earnhardt Jr. said after receiving the award. "You just never know. I never anticipated having the support that we have. When I began racing, I knew of my father's support, he had a ton of fans. … I didn't assume or anticipate the following that we have, even today it really is just overwhelming. It really is hard to believe and hard to fathom that we continue to win this award; this was a good year because of the victories we were able to deliver on the race track but all those years when we weren't … it was very difficult to accept the award because I felt we hadn't performed. But our fans stood behind us. It just says a lot about their loyalty." In his speech, accepting the award, Earnhardt Jr. thanked the fans numerous times. And Junior shared an interesting fact about the speech, he didn't use the teleprompter. "It was the first time I gave my speech without reading it from the teleprompter or a piece of paper so I hope my remarks came across well because I genuinely do appreciate all the efforts the fans put in. "I was able to literally witness it in the palm of my hand all year long. The fans were up all day every day voting … that was the most impressive thing." Earnhardt Jr. joined Twitter after his Daytona 500 win this year and he got to converse with his fans in a whole new way this season. "People ask me all the time about what the most positive thing about being on Twitter this year was and I never could give them my honest opinion because I hadn't won the award, but having won it tonight, seeing those votes every day, seeing that commitment and determination was really inspiring knowing that we had that kind of support. They were up before I was every day, going to town on that … computer. It really meant a lot to me." And that fan support was there for Junior on social media, in good times and bad. "I got to know my fans really in a whole new way this year. We got to talk a lot on social media. When we lost we talked, when we won we talked and that was a great experience for me as well, and all-around an eye-opener to make that connection that wasn't there before." Completing the top 10 in total votes for this year's award were (listed alphabetically): Carl Edwards , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Matt Kenseth , Brad Keselowski , Danica Patrick , Tony Stewart and Josh Wise . The MPD award, sponsored by Sprint and overseen by the National Motorsports Press Association, is the only NASCAR award determined solely by fan vote. It has been awarded annually since 1953. Beginning in July, fans were able to vote once daily by visiting www.sprint.com/speed. Those who chose to share their votes via social media (Facebook, Twitter) were allowed one additional vote during each 24-hour window. Additionally, fans were able to cast votes for their favorite driver by visiting the Sprint Experience at the track during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends throughout the year. Bill Elliott holds the record for most MPD awards, winning the fan vote 16 times during a career that spanned 37 years. Previous MPD Winners Year, recipient 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2013, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2012, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2011, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2010, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2009, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2006, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2005, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2003, Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2002, Bill Elliott 2001, Dale Earnhardt 2000, Bill Elliott 1999, Bill Elliott 1998, Bill Elliott 1997, Bill Elliott 1996, Bill Elliott 1995, Bill Elliott 1994, Bill Elliott 1993, Bill Elliott 1992, Bill Elliott 1991, Bill Elliott 1990, Darrell Waltrip 1989, Darrell Waltrip 1988, Bill Elliott 1987, Bill Elliott 1986, Bill Elliott 1985, Bill Elliott 1984, Bill Elliott 1983, Bobby Allison 1982, Bobby Allison 1981, Bobby Allison 1980, David Pearson 1979, David Pearson 1978, Richard Petty 1977, Richard Petty 1976, Richard Petty 1975, Richard Petty 1974, Richard Petty 1973, Bobby Allison 1972, Bobby Allison 1971, Bobby Allison 1970, Richard Petty 1969, Bobby Isaac 1968, Richard Petty 1967, Cale Yarborough 1966, Darel Dieringer 1965, Fred Lorenzen 1964, Richard Petty 1963, Fred Lorenzen 1962, Richard Petty 1961, Joe Weatherly 1960, Rex White 1959, Jack Smith 1958, Glen Wood 1957, Fireball Roberts 1956, Curtis Turner 1955, Tim Flock 1954, Lee Petty 1953, Lee Petty 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
Smith will act as Jeff Gordon's fill-in in the Coca-Cola 600 if need be
Six drivers will compete in diverse driver development program DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR Drive for Diversity (D4D), the leading developmental platform for female and multicultural drivers and pit crew members, announced its 2015 class today. The program welcomes four talented program newcomers to the roster of six drivers striving to transition into the sport’s national series spotlight. Rev Racing, the program’s competition arm, has played a key role in the development of 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson and NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers Darrell Wallace Jr . and Daniel Suarez. "Taking steps to find and develop young female and multicultural athletes who could represent the future of NASCAR is at the core of our organization’s mission," said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. "We were impressed by the talent displayed at the Combine [in October of 2014], and are eager to help this group develop their strengths on and off the track." Rev Racing will field four teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and two in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. The 2015 class is led by returning K&N Pro Series East driver Jay Beasley and Devon Amos, who after an impressive 2014 performance in the Whelen All-American Series earned a spot in the K&N Pro Series East. The 2015 NASCAR D4D roster includes: Devon Amos : Returning to the team, the 23-year-old Rio Rancho, New Mexico, native will make the jump to the K&N Pro Series East after two full seasons in the Whelen All-American Series. Jay Beasley: Finishing 13th overall and sixth in a loaded Sunoco Rookie of the Year field in the K&N Pro Series East last season, the 23-year-old from Las Vegas, Nevada will return for a second season, aiming to best his rookie campaign. Collin Cabre: After an impressive NASCAR D4D Combine performance, the 21-year-old Thonotosassa, Florida, native will compete in the K&N Pro Series East in his first year with Rev Racing. Cabre has spent the past five years racing asphalt and dirt sprint cars. Natalie Decker: A 17-year-old newcomer to the Rev Racing roster from Eagle River, Wisconsin, Decker collected feature wins in a limited late model and super late model, as well as earning Rookie and Sportsman of the Year honors in ARCA SCAG Midwest Truck Tour. She will compete in the Whelen All-American Series in 2015. Kenzie Ruston: Entering her third season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and first with Rev Racing, the 22-year-old El Reno, Oklahoma, native is also a member of NASCAR Next, an industry initiative to identify tomorrow’s stars. Ruston broke her own record in 2014 as the highest finishing female driver in the K&N Pro Series East with a runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway on her way to finishing ninth in points. Dylan Smith : The 22-year-old from Randolph, Vermont earned a spot with Rev Racing in the Whelen All-American Series after competing in his own Late Model last year. The Stewart-Haas Racing employee ran 15 races and finished 38th in the Whelen All-American Series Division I national standings. Under Rev Racing owner and CEO Max Siegel’s leadership, the development program aligns drivers with a team of executives, athletic directors, crew chiefs and mentors tasked with helping NASCAR D4D drivers achieve career successes; thus, improving their goal of reaching one of NASCAR's three national series. "NASCAR Drive for Diversity goes much deeper than putting drivers behind the wheel of race cars," said Siegel. "The program is all encompassing, providing competition, athletic training and professional development opportunities for drivers who have the determination and talent to reach NASCAR's top levels. We've seen this with Larson, Suarez and Wallace Jr. and are excited about the potential of this talented group of drivers." Growth of the program extends to pit crew members under the NASCAR D4D Crew Member Development Program, also managed by Siegel. In 2014, over 30 multicultural athletes pitted fulltime for teams across all three national series.