Ben Kennedy leads both XFINITY Series practices in Iowa
Practice 1 results " Practice 2 results Ben Kennedy topped the leaderboard in Friday’s final XFINITY Series practice at Iowa Speedway at 133.809 mph in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Kennedy , who is making his XFINITY Series debut in Sunday’s American Ethanol E15 250 (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), also led Friday’s first practice, for a practice-session sweep. RELATED: Decker sisters attempting NXS debut In the final practice, Brendan Gaughan was second-fastest in the No. 62 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at 132.542 mph. Rounding out the top five were Sam Hornish Jr . in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Erik Jones in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and Alex Bowman in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Teammates Suarez and Jones made contact about midway through the second practice, causing some damage to both the front bumper of Suarez’s No. 19 Toyota and to the rear bumper of Jones’s No. 20 Toyota. Both were able to continue. Just a couple hours earlier, Kennedy led the first practice at 132.448 mph, followed by Hornish Jr. at 131.772 mph. Rounding out the top five in that session were Jones , Elliott Sadler in the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, and XFINITY Series points leader and recent race winner Daniel Suarez in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Ready for the long haul, Kennedy set for championship run
Ben Kennedy's fifth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway advances him into the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase, leaving him optimistic about his chances to be a part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Backed by Junior Nation, Alex Bowman sees opportunity at Talladega
RELATED: Ailing Bowman presses on, nabs career-best finish With Dale Earnhardt Jr . slated to miss his first Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway since he broke into the big leagues full time as a rookie in 2000, many wonder which driver will replace the superspeedway ace as the one to beat in Sunday's Hellmann's 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App). How about, you know, the guy actually replacing him? Fresh off a seventh-place showing at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Alex Bowman is set to drive Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the third consecutive week and the seventh time this season as the driver recovers from concussion-related symptoms. This weekend is perhaps Bowman's most significant start of the year. Because it's at Earnhardt's own Talladega. RELATED: Earnhardt-Talladega streak to continue Sunday "He's got a couple fans out there," Bowman told NASCAR.com at Kansas. "Man, I'm excited about (racing at Talladega). Speedway racing is always stressful, but … ( Hendrick Motorsports ) brings such fast race cars to the race track and their speedway stuff is amazing. Always fast. Especially the 88. So, just really looking forward to having a chance to win. "I'm going to sit Dale down and have a couple-hour conversation with him about speedway racing. If there's a speedway racer left in this garage, it's him, for sure." The man's got a point. From a wins standpoint, Talladega ranks as Junior's best track with six, only closely followed by four wins at Daytona, another Earnhardt cornerstone -- and another superspeedway. Bowman's 'Dega stats don't match Junior's, of course, but he did pilot the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet to a 16th-place finish just last year. And while it's almost jarring to hear a driver say that he is "excited" for Talladega, it's unsurprising coming from Bowman, who'll have the roar of the crowd on his side -- a fanbase that has named the man he's replacing NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for 13 years running. "Junior Nation has been great," said Bowman, 23. "It's been really cool; they've just been really supportive. Every now and then there's one fan that hates me, but for the most part they've been awesome. Casey Mears fans hate me after (Charlotte), because apparently it was my fault that we blew a tire and wrecked him, but Junior Nation has been awesome." RELATED: Dale Jr. to join broadcasts for Talladega, Martinsville Not only does Bowman have full access to Earnhardt's Talladega insight, a wealth of knowledge so deep it likely needs its own Dewey Decimal System, he's sharing substitute driving duties with a four-time Sprint Cup champ and six-time 'Dega winner in Jeff Gordon . "It’s been really cool (to share a ride with Gordon). Jeff was my favorite driver growing up when I was a kid," Bowman said. "It's been really good to learn from him. He's an open book. All five of my teammates are complete open books. It's great to lean on them and learn as much as I can, but Jeff just has so much experience and has a really interesting view on a lot of things. "It's been a great time just listening and observing and learning everything I can from him." The lessons taken at "Gordon Drivers Ed, Inc." appear to be working, too. While the final results might not show the whole picture, Bowman, at times, has looked like the more competitive driver behind the wheel of the No. 88, and owns the car's best finish -- seventh -- since Earnhardt placed second at Pocono way back in June. Bowman says that some people joke with him and say "Oh, I'm glad to see you've finally learned how to drive." He's always known how to drive, it's just been more about opportunities. And if luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, "Bad Luck Bowman" -- a driver that once learned he'd been fired via Twitter -- knows the magnitude of the opportunity presented to him this weekend and in his remaining races. And you can be sure he'll be prepared. "I hope (this opportunity has put my name out there)," Bowman said. "We've talked to a lot of people and it always comes back to money. It's always 'Well, do you have any sponsorship?' 'Do you have any funding?' I don't, so it's just … the sport's such a business at this point that it really kind of limits what I can and can't get into and that's what's limited what I can and can't get into for the last four years. "I don't have anything lined up (for next year yet). I think my role that I had at Hendrick Motorsports before all this happened is still going to be the same. Still being a part of the team, still doing all the simulator stuff and helping as much as I can. I don't think that will change. Obviously, when Dale comes back and all that, I don't really know what that leaves for me as far as driving anything. "I don't know what the future holds there. I don't have anything going forward, really." In the short-term, at least, he'll have the full support of Junior Nation at Talladega. </p>
Harraka and Kennedy rough first start
Paulie Harraka and Alex Kennedy get together before rolling off for the warm up laps in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
The Rundown: Talladega driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway : 1. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Not even dragging his jack around for one lap could keep Logano out of Victory Lane. Logano grabbed the lead five laps after the engine of teammate Brad Keselowski 's dominant No. 2 car expired and he didn't let it go, leading the final 45 laps. Grade: A 2. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . In his 49th start, Scott snagged the best finish of his career -- and first top 10 -- with a brilliant run. It also was the best finish for RPM since Marcos Ambrose placed second at Watkins Glen more than two years ago . Grade: A+ 3. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road (again) and advanced to the next round of the Chase by the slimmest of margins (about two feet). Hamlin didn't make it easy on himself, but he's moving on -- and his No. 1 track, Martinsville, is up next. Grade: A 4. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Steady Busch flew under the radar into the Round of 8. Well, until his postrace dust-up with teammate Kevin Harvick . Grade: A 5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse's fourth top 10 in seven starts at Talladega is also his sixth this season, a personal best. In addition, it was his fourth top five this season, one more than in his previous three full-time seasons combined. Grade: A 6. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing ninth in his first race there in May 2014. Grade: A 7. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running behind Joey Logano on Logano's "jack lap" and caught a huge break when the jack remained attached to Logano's car and didn't fly into him. Grade: A 8. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Finally! Almirola's streak of starts without a top-10 finish ends at a career-high 32. Grade: A 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . How close was Dillon to advancing in the Chase? The difference was the one point Denny Hamlin earned by finishing .006 seconds ahead of Kurt Busch . Grade: A 10. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger posts back-to-back top-10 finishes for the third time this season despite having an average running position Sunday of 25.8. Grade: A- 11. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney ran with the leaders all afternoon, and his 7.6 average running position was third best. He also led laps for the second time this season. Grade: A 12. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott needed a win to advance in the Chase and did everything he could -- his average running position of 7.3 was second to Kurt Busch 's 6.9 -- but he was hemmed in at the end and couldn't challenge the front-runners. Grade: A 13. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard posted his best finish since his last top 10, in July at Indianapolis. Grade: B 14. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman, whose average running position of 27.3 was highest among drivers finishing in the top 20, ran one lap in the top 15 -- his last. Grade: B- 15. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle was strong early and led 13 laps, but his day took a negative turn when he brought out the second caution on Lap 114. A coming-together with Jeffrey Earnhardt and Casey Mears sent all three cars into the inside wall. Grade: C 16. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Three of McDowell's five best finishes this season have been on restrictor-plate tracks (10th and 15th at Daytona). Grade: A 17. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne was two cars behind Kasey Kahne when Kahne spun on Lap 182. Bayne was able to check up and avoid running into the back of Jamie McMurray . Grade: B- 18. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . In a season of small victories, Bowyer posted his 10th top-20 finish of the season. Grade: B- 19. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray's day was saved when he didn't plow into Kasey Kahne 's spinning car immediately in front of him on Lap 182. Grade: B- 20. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick now has finished 20th to 24th in half of this year's races (16 of 32). Grade: C 21. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Cassill made a great save with 20 laps to go when his car went veering down the track after he tried to fill a gap in front of David Ragan and received a nudge from behind. Grade: B 22. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . That Buescher finished the race is the story here. He had DNFs for crashes in the season's first three restrictor-plate races. Grade: B 23. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson did his best to help teammate Chase Elliott , but in the end, wherever the No. 48 finished was never an issue. Johnson's ticket into the next round of the Chase was punched two weeks ago. Grade: S (for Smart, Safe and Satisfactory) 24. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing sixth in the fall race three years ago. Grade: C 25. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Smith posted his second-best finish in restrictor-plate races this season. He finished eighth in the Daytona 500 . Grade: C 26. Ryan Reed , No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Nice Sprint Cup debut for the 23-year-old. Grade: B- 27. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing . Great effort by DiBenedetto, who raced even though he was in the throes of food poisoning. Grade: C+ 28. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . If you are going to be critical of what Gibbs drivers Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch did Sunday -- playing it safe by driving together in the back of the field -- would you have been critical of any of the three if they had mixed it up in the peloton, crashed and failed to advance in the Chase? You can't have it both ways. Grade: S (as in See Jimmie Johnson ) 29. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Ibid. Grade: S 30. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Op cit. Grade: S 31. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing. Our TBJT (Throw Back to Junior Theme) Latin bibliography references end with Labonte, who completed his four-race, restrictor-plate run for the second consecutive year the same way he began the season – with a 31st-place finish. Grade: C- 32. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Driver Tony's 70th superspeedway restrictor-plate race finished quietly. Can't say the same for Owner Tony. Grade: D 33. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett stayed out during green-flag pit stops and led six laps, one fewer than he led in his first 101 Sprint Cup starts. Grade: C+ 34. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . Earnhardt's Lap 114 tangle with Greg Biffle also collected Casey Mears . Despite significant damage, Earnhardt posted the first lead-lap finish of his career (20 starts). Grade: C 35. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne went for a spin on Lap 182, and his run of good finishes -- six top 10s in his previous seven races -- spun out, too. Grade: D 36. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman's tweet said it all: "3rd with 5 to go and we finish 36th ... damn speedway racing." Grade: D 37. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson finished 13 laps off the pace in his first start at Talladega in two years. Grade: F 38. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski had the dominant car and led a race-high 90 laps, but he held the point for too long after debris blocked part of his grill. A slick, orchestrated move with Ryan Blaney removed the debris, but it was too late. Moments later, his engine started smoking and his day, and championship hopes, came to an end on Lap 145. Grade: F 39. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Racing can be so cruel. For the second time in three weeks, something bad happened to Mears for no other reason than he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he was two lanes below Greg Biffle and having a beautiful day when Biffle turned into Jeffrey Earnhardt and also collected Mears. The three slammed into the inside wall, but only Mears could not continue and was gone after 113 laps. Two weeks ago, Mears received a "U" grade for Unfortunate. This week? Based on his grade at Charlotte -- and if you caught all four clues -- you know the answer. Grade: U2 40. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . When Truex's engine blew on Lap 42, his championship hopes ended as well. It's a shame Truex won't be able to contend for the championship, but we haven't heard the last of Truex this season. Finishing with the most victories would be huge. Grade: F
Behind the scenes in TV booth with Dale Jr.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- An NBC assistant in the broadcast booth had an urgent message to deliver, one of huge importance. As 40 drivers barreled around Talladega Superspeedway at 200 mph a few hundred feet below him, he grabbed a marker and started writing on a dry erase board. "17-13," he wrote. "Final 5th straight win." He showed this to Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a guest analyst for NBC's coverage of the race. Upon reading it, Earnhardt Jr. turned around, away from the track, and smiled broadly at Tyler Overstreet, his road manager, and pumped his fist. The handwritten note purported to report the score of the Washington Redskins, of whom Earnhardt Jr. is a big fan. Alas, that news was premature. A few minutes later, the same assistant showed him another dry erase board, this one apologizing for the first and reporting that the Lions had come back to win the game. Junior half smiled, half grimaced and turned his attention back to the race track, where he wished he could be on this sun-kissed fall day. Earnhardt Jr. has missed the last 14 races, and he will miss the rest of the season, with concussion-related symptoms. But talking about the race was the next best thing, and the hour-plus he spent in the booth was vintage Earnhardt -- funny, insightful and candid. Wearing dark-framed glasses, sneakers, jeans and a blue and gray plaid shirt, he sat atop a stool between NBC analysts Steve Letarte, his former crew chief, and Jeff Burton , against whom he raced hundreds of times. They lapsed into a conversation like old friends. His eyes darted from the track to the TV screen in front of him to Letarte to Burton. His body language was almost exuberant. He smiled often and at one point raised his hand excitedly when he wanted to interject a point. He seemed relaxed and at ease with Letarte, Burton, play-by-play announcer Rick Allen and the race's producers. "Has he got in the top 10 yet?" Earnhardt Jr. joked off camera about his replacement, Alex Bowman . "Damn, I told him everything I know." As his appearance wound down, NBC announced Junior would return to the booth at next week's race at Martinsville Speedway . Producer Matt Marvin, who was just outside the track in the production truck, keyed the microphone that allows him to talk with the broadcasters off air and told Junior what a great job he had done. He paused for just a second and said, "Next time, if you're not as good, we'll kick you out early." Junior laughed at that. This was the Earnhardt Jr. that fans have loved for more than a decade -- living and dying with the Redskins, offering transparent insight into his life and breaking down racing like few others. Consider this exchange with Burton at Lap 68, when Earnhardt Jr. discussed his drafting philosophy: "I look at the air coming off of the front of the car as a boat wake. And it's very dense coming off of around the headlights of that car that you're trying to side draft. So you don't want to continue to be beside that guy as you get toward the front, or pretty much dead even, because you run into that dense air coming off of the lead car. So you have to 'jump' that wake, much like if you were water skiing. You also have to get away from him so that he cannot side-draft you, because then you're both sort of bouncing back and forth. That's why it's so much easier to side-draft on the outside, because you can pin the guy on the bottom, side-draft him, drive up the race track and take the lead." Burton: "Now, you know all the drivers are going to play this race back and listen to all of this, right?" Earnhardt Jr.: "From what I've seen, these guys have got it all figured out." After months of his public appearances being focused almost exclusively on his health, it was refreshing to see him confident and comfortable. At least for this hour, the pensiveness that saturated so much of what he has said lately was gone. And on the topic of his health, he sounded upbeat. The simple fact he was able to make the appearance was a sign of improvement. In previous comments he has said large crowds sometimes trigger his symptoms, and it's hard to imagine a larger crowd than Talladega. His doctors have encouraged him to challenge himself, and certainly being on live TV would accomplish that. "I'm feeling great and all of the progress that we've made over the last several months has been really good," he said. "Obviously, I'm able to get out and do things. I'm having so much fun at the race track, and to be able to come up to the booth has been a lot of fun for me." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Alex Bowman racing for relevancy, full-time status
RELATED: Full starting lineup CONCORD, N.C. -- The guy starting second in this weekend's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway isn't racing to remain relevant in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . He's racing to remain relevant. Period. Alex Bowman , the former Sprint Cup driver, is now doing spot duty for Dale Earnhardt Jr . in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. A nice gig if you can get it. But Bowman doesn't want to become known as Mr. Fill-In. "I don't want to sit here and say that I want to take advantage of that, but it doesn't hurt my feelings if that does come up, if I'm the guy that gets called," Bowman, 23, said Thursday evening, shortly after wheeling his way to the No. 2 spot on Sunday's starting grid. RELATED: McMurray understands fill-in challenges for Bowman "In a perfect world I would love to run a fourth XFINITY (Series) car for JR Motorsports." Perfect hasn't been the case thus far, however. JRM is expected to field four full-time teams in the lower-tier series again next season. Bowman has been a part of that plan this year, sharing time in one of the organization's entries. But next year's lineup will include current Camping World Truck Series driver William Byron and any plans for Bowman, at this point, don't come with full-time status. If he continues to deliver performances akin to Thursday night's qualifying effort, maybe that won't be a problem. For now, though, that seems to be the case. RELATED: Fan mistakes crew chief Ives for his driver Bowman Bowman and Jeff Gordon have been sharing seat time in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet while Earnhardt Jr. continues his recovery from a concussion. Gordon won four championships at NASCAR's top level. He won 93 races. He made it all the way to the Championship 4 last season, his final push before hanging up his helmet (temporarily) and heading off to the television booth. Bowman? He was a virtual unknown until a qualifying effort at Richmond two years ago drew the attention of Earnhardt, "and he gave me a shot in his XFINITY car," Bowman said. The opportunity to compete in a Hendrick Motorsports car has elevated not only his performance, it has elevated his status somewhat as well. "You are definitely viewed differently depending on what you drive and what you do with it," he said. "It's very interesting how the garage works. I feel like if you are in one of the back 10 cars, you are not really almost even looked at as a race car driver sometimes until you do something that you are not supposed to do. "If you run better than you are supposed to, you pass somebody you are not supposed to or you out qualify somebody you are not supposed to. Once you do that I feel like that kind of changes, but showing up to the race track in a Hendrick Motorsports car ... I feel like I walk in and I'm viewed differently." Nearly qualifying on the pole, he missed the top spot by just .004 second, hasn't hurt. Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) will start on the pole. RELATED: See all the cars as they will line up this week Earnhardt "saved my career," Bowman said of the XFINITY opportunity. "He has been a big part of my life and I will definitely cherish that friendship forever." If there's a debt owed, he knows the best way to repay it would be to compete at the level his friend expects. "Obviously I hate the circumstances," Bowman said, "but without him saying 'Hey, put Alex in it,' I don't think that Hendrick Motorsports really would have thought of me. "Maybe they would have, but who knows? I'm definitely thankful for all his support."
Alex Bowman's Charlotte run ends early after wreck
Alex Bowman 's promising start from the front row Sunday ended early with a crumpled No. 88 Chevrolet at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Bowman's Hendrick Motorsports entry suffered an apparent tire issue heading into Turn 3 on the 1.5-mile track, skidding into the outside retaining wall and collecting Casey Mears ' No. 13 Chevy in its wake. The incident brought out the race's second yellow flag on Lap 62 of a scheduled 334 in the Bank of America 500 and ended the 23-year-old's day quite early. Both cars were officially out of the race. Bowman was evaluated and released unhurt from the infield care center. "They knew we were here, that is all that matters," said Bowman, who was in third place at the time of the incident. "There is nothing more I can do, nothing more anybody on the race team can do. They all do a great job and did everything right, just bad luck." Bowman, who started second in the 40-car field, was making his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start of the season as a substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who is out for the remainder of the 2016 season due to a concussion. Earnhardt was at the track atop the pit box of the No. 88 and looked on as the race car got pulled to the garage area. Cut a tire running 3rd. Damn car was amazing. They knew we were here. — Alex Bowman (@AlexBRacing) October 9, 2016 Mears started 29th and failed to make major gains with an ill-handling car in the early going. "It's too bad he didn't put us out of our misery there," Mears said of his contact with Bowman. "We were having a rough start of it. We were just kind of hanging on and actually those guys were going by us."
The Rundown: Watkins Glen driver grades
RELATED: Complete race results " Updated Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen at Watkins Glen International : 1. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Six weeks after making a mistake on the final turn at Sonoma that cost him his first road-course victory, Hamlin triumphs at Watkins Glen. This time, he capitalized on the mistakes of others and led the final 10 laps for his second victory of the season. Grade: A+ 2. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Despite a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 34 and right-front damage, Logano worked his way back through the field for his fourth consecutive top 10 at Watkins Glen. Grade: A 3. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski and Kyle Busch restarted in the front row with 10 laps to go, but both overshot Turn 1 opening the door for Denny Hamlin . That wasn't Keselowski's final mistake. Running third entering the final turn, he turned second-place Martin Truex Jr . when a crossover move went awry. Grade: B 4. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Sunday was a day of extreme highs and lows for Allmendinger. A pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 26 cost him terrific track position. Then he just missed getting collected in the big wreck on Lap 54. But instead of being elated for tying a personal best with his second top five of the season, he was disconsolate after punting Kyle Larson just before the finish line. "I turned him," said Allmendinger, searching for words. "Not on purpose. ... I'm not very happy with myself on that. I don't want to do that, especially for fourth place at the end. … I just cost Kyle a good finish. I'm just pissed off at myself." More on Larson's 29th-place finish later. Grade: B 5. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Stewart posted his eighth top-five finish in his 16th and final start at Watkins Glen. It also was his fifth top five in his past seven starts. Stewart is smokin'. Grade: A 6. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Busch was in prime position to vie for his third victory at Watkins Glen when he restarted from the front row with 10 laps to go. Instead, he overshot the first turn along with race leader Brad Keselowski , handing an opportunity to Hamlin. Grade: A- 7. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Truex was running second coming to the final turn when he was turned by Brad Keselowski . The two talked after the race. "He said it was his fault," Truex said. "I said, 'I knew that.' Simple as that." Pretty much sums up Truex's sixth top 10 in 11 starts at Watkins Glen. Grade: A 8. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Big, big day for McMurray, whose finish -- his first top 10 at the Glen since 2010 -- was ahead of all his competition on the Chase bubble. Grade: A 9. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne was another bubble winner. He climbed a spot in the Chase standings to 17th, but more important, he picked up 20 points on 16th-place Kyle Larson and now trails Larson by eight points with four races to go before the Chase field is set. Grade: A 10. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . How's this for tidy? Making his 600th start, Kenseth posted his 300th top 10. Grade: A 11. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Busch had a solid finish, but it was no match for his Olympic Team USA-inspired shoes. Grade: US-B 12. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears weaved his way through the carnage of the big wreck on Lap 54 to tie his best finish of the season (12th last month at Daytona). Grade: A 13. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott stemmed his recent string of bad finishes with his best finish since coming in second at Michigan two months ago. Grade: B 14. Jeff Gordon , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Gordon overcame heavy damage to the nose of the No. 88 on Lap 4 and later just missed getting collected by Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s spinning car in the big wreck on Lap 54 to post his second top 15 in three starts since coming out of retirement to sub for Dale Earnhardt Jr . Grade: B 15. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Edwards started from the pole and led the first 25 laps but was hit with a penalty on his first pit stop for a wayward tire. Being deep in the field with a fast car is not where you want to be on a road course, and Edwards paid for it when he was collected in a wreck with 34 laps to go. Grade: B- 16. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman was running 20th on the restart after the sixth caution when the No. 31 got loose and spun out. Attrition helped Newman record his sixth top-16 finish in his past seven starts at Watkins Glen. Grade: B- 17. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . McDowell recorded his best finish in eight starts at Watkins Glen and his third-best finish this season. Grade: A 18. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Bowyer suffered front-end damage in a wreck with 34 laps to go but still posted one of his better finishes of the season. Grade: B 19. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney remained in the thick of the Chase race despite a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 22 and running off the track into the grass 20 laps later. Grade: C 20. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne simply was not competitive, and a penalty because the No. 5 crew was over the wall too soon on the first caution didn't help. But the numbers don't lie: Kahne spent a grand total of three laps in the top 15. Still, Kahne is only 10 points behind Kyle Larson for 16th in the Chase standings. Grade: C- 21. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick led a career-high 11 laps (previous best was seven at Talladega in October 2014), but she was running in her normal midpack position when she was caught up in Paul Menard 's dirt storm on Lap 84 and sustained heavy damage. Grade: B- 22. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Speaking of Menard ... the No. 27 team was penalized for throwing its fuel can on Lap 49, but the team's biggest faux pas came when its driver ran off the course on Lap 84 and spewed dirt onto the track, forcing enough cars behind him to drive blindly and lose grip to cause a seven-car wreck, bringing out the eighth caution and second red flag of the day. Grade: D 23. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Despite spinning out in the grass in the bus stop and bringing out the fifth caution for the debris he left on the track, Cassill tied his best finish at Watkins Glen. Grade: C 24. Boris Said , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing . It wouldn't be Watkins Glen without Boris Said in the field. Making his 16th start at The Glen, Said posted his 10th top-25 finish. Grade: C 25. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Scott's first Sprint Cup start at Watkins Glen produced a better finish than the first Glen starts of Kyle Busch (33rd), Jeff Gordon (31st), Kurt Busch (29th) and Martin Truex Jr . (28th). That's something to hang your helmet on. Grade: B 26. Josh Wise , No. 30 Chevrolet, The Motorsports Group. Wise got his best finish in three starts at Watkins Glen. He finished 38th in the previous two (2012, 2014). Grade: B 27. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . A pit-road penalty on the No. 43 team for being over the wall too soon on the first pit stop and the wreck on Paul Menard 's dirt spray contributed to Almirola's worst finish at Watkins Glen since 2013. Grade: C- 28. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Witt could not improve on his 21st-place finish last year at Watkins Glen despite starting 22nd. Grade: C 29. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson was easily the biggest loser Sunday. He had a fourth-place finish in the bag until he was punted by AJ Allmendinger short of the finish line. Instead his car hit the wall and was destroyed. The 24-point difference between fifth and 29th has huge Chase implications. As it stands, Larson is 16th in the Chase standings but by a mere eight points over Trevor Bayne . And as far as moving up, Larson is 30 points behind Jamie McMurray instead of five. (Larson would have finished ahead of McMurray, dropping him to ninth Sunday.) As for the apologetic Allmendinger, he "has got a few coming," Larson said. Grade: A 30. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . A big mistake (pit-road penalty for tossing a fuel can) and bad luck (getting caught up in Paul Menard 's dirt storm) were tempered because the driver he's competing with for 30th in the points standings, David Ragan , also was collected in the Lap 84 wreck. At one point Sunday, Buescher was 13 points behind Ragan. Because of the wreck, he finished the day three back with four races remaining to get into the top 30 and qualify for the Chase. Grade: C 31. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Dillon was involved in two wrecks (Lap 4 and Lap 54), with the latter bringing out the first red flag and being a difference maker for the No. 3 team. When Dillon returned to the track, all the sheet metal from the front of the car was gone, but with a spot in the Chase on the line, every point matters. He dropped two spots to 14th in the Chase standings but caught a big break when Kyle Larson was wrecked. Dillon leads 16th-place Larson by 39 points. Grade: C- 32. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running third with 30 laps to go when he went to pit road because of a flat-spotted tire. He came out 33rd, the last car on the lead lap. The extra pit stop made him vulnerable to midpack mishaps, and that's exactly what happened when his car was destroyed in the wake of the Paul Menard dirt storm. Grade: C 33. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan was collected in two wrecks, with the final melee delivering a knockout blow. Ragan's welfare is of great importance to drivers on the Chase bubble. If Chris Buescher , with one win, replaces Ragan in 30th in the standings, the winless driver 16th in the Chase standings will need a win to qualify for the postseason. Grade: C 34. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . Sunday wasn't one of DiBenedetto's better days. He sustained a pit-road penalty, went for a spin on the Lap 81 restart and then absorbed his sixth DNF of the season because of a crash when he was caught up in the Lap 84 mess. On the other hand, he spent the fourth-most laps running in the top 15 of the drivers who finished 21st through 40th. Grade: D 35. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Car woes limited Smith to 77 laps. Grade: D 36. Alex Kennedy , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Kennedy was caught up in the wreck that caused the fourth caution, and he brought out the sixth caution when his engine blew 20 laps later. Grade: F 37. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett was running at the finish, but brake issues limited him to 77 laps. Grade: F 38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse was driving aggressively after the restart following the second caution and touched off the big crash on Lap 53 when he lost control of his car coming out of the carrousel heading into Turn 6. The No. 17 hit the inside wall straight on and then took another big hit when Jimmie Johnson T-boned the car when it ricocheted back onto the track. Grade: F 39. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle's day ended in the big crash on Lap 53. He said he thought he had cleared Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s car but was hit from behind by Austin Dillon . Wrong place, wrong time. Grade: D 40. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson paid dearly for an early pit-road speeding penalty that put him in the back of the field when he was collected in the big wreck on Lap 53. It was Johnson's fourth DNF for a crash in the past nine races. Grade: F
NCWTS GarageCam has a 'sweet home' welcome in Talladega
GarageCam host Matthew Dillner takes you through the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage as teams prepare for the Fred's 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.