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Round of 6 track history proves encouraging for Kennedy
Ben Kennedy climbed out of his No. 33 Jacob Companies Chevy truck on Talladega Superspeedway 's pit road looking enthused and confident following a hard-earned fifth-place-finish in last Saturday’s Fred's 250 -- a race won by his GMS Racing teammate Grant Enfinger. The good vibe Kennedy gave out after the checkered flag, came with good reason. He led eight laps and his showing at NASCAR's biggest and most unpredictable track was his ninth top 10 and fourth top five of 2016. It also marks the first time in Kennedy's young career that he’s reeled off back-to-back top-five finishes. "Hats off to the GMS guys for giving us a great truck," Kennedy said. "It’s so good to be in contention, though, and it feels almost like a win to finish at Talladega, to be honest." The timing couldn’t be better. Kennedy , 24, heads into the final four races of the season ranked fifth in the standings -- having qualified for the Round of Six thanks to finishes of 11th, fourth and fifth place work in his last three races. The standings now show a virtual tie as the points are reset and equalized as the remaining six drivers will now have three races to determine which four of them will settle the Camping World Truck Series championship at the Homestead-Miami season finale. No matter what, this will be a career year for Kennedy whose previous best in the final standings has been ninth place -- in both 2014 and 2015. "This is huge," Kennedy allowed. "It’s one step further to Homestead. That’s our goal to make it to Homestead and run for a championship. And I really think we can do it." Kennedy has a pair of top-five finishes at this weekend's stop at Martinsville Speedway , with efforts of fourth place (2013) and third place (2014) at the half-miler. He posted an 11th-place showing there earlier this season before moving to his current GMS Racing team just prior to the fourth race of the year. He has a similarly encouraging record at Texas Motor Speedway , which hosts the second race of this elimination round. Kennedy has finished in the top-10 in his last three consecutive visits to the Fort Worth 1.5-mile speedway -- including a personal-best fourth-place showing there in April. Kennedy only has a pair of starts at Phoenix -- the final race of this elimination round -- with finishes of 11th and 24th. But should he be among the final four drivers settling the title at Homestead, Kennedy is coming off a fourth-place showing there last year.
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.
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.
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>
Gordon on Martinsville being last race: 'Never say never'
RELATED: Five insane Gordon stats " Where he keeps grandfather clocks MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Jeff Gordon told reporters Friday that "your guess is as good as mine" as to whether Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway will be his last. Gordon is set to conclude his eight-race stint as a fill-in driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has been sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, in Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). The four-time series champion has split time with Alex Bowman as a replacement for Earnhardt in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. "I can promise you I had no intentions of this happening, but here I am," Gordon said Friday afternoon after opening Sprint Cup practice. "So never say never. I don't know what to say. I really don't think that I'll be getting back in the Cup car again, but go ask Rick Hendrick. That really has more to do with him than anything else." The .526-mile track has been a crucial venue for Gordon's stellar stock-car racing career. Gordon has nine Martinsville victories, including a win here last year that propelled him into the Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his final full season. Though Gordon shied away from calling his career decision "retirement" with a capital "R," the intent was that last year's Homestead event would be his final start in NASCAR's premier series as he transitioned to the FOX Sports broadcast booth.. That changed when he was coaxed out of lower-case-R retirement this summer by team owner Rick Hendrick to help shore up the No. 88 team's driver lineup in Earnhardt's stead. "I hope in the future that the drivers don't have a situation like what we had with Junior where they need somebody to fill in for them," Gordon said, "but this little bit of experience has been good for me, good for the organization and we've had a little fun with it as well. If I had to do it, then certainly I would be, but I don't anticipate it." Jimmie Johnson , a longtime teammate with his own sizable measure of Martinsville success, talked about Gordon's impact ahead of Friday morning's opening practice. He was noncommittal about his hunches on whether Gordon would return to competition after this season. "That is so hard to say. He is one heck of a sub to have sitting on the bench when you need it," Johnson said. "We will see. I'm not sure he is ready to completely stop. I think he was ready to get off the merry-go-round of 39 races a year, but the full stop I don't think he is ready for." Regardless of what the future may hold for the 45-year-old future Hall of Famer next year and beyond, his 2016 driving duties are scheduled to end Sunday. Bowman, who also drives part-time for Earnhardt's JR Motorsports team in the XFINITY Series, is set to drive the No. 88 in the final three Sprint Cup races of the year. Gordon indicated that the eight-race interim slate was more than he'd envisioned when Hendrick Motorsports first announced a two-race replacement stretch for him -- at Indianapolis and Pocono -- in mid-July. In his seven fill-in races thus far, Gordon has a best finish of 10th place his last time out at Dover. But besides the results, he's also gained valuable information that has augmented his role as a TV analyst. "I was kind of happy to do more, sad about the situation, but if they needed me I wanted to do a little bit more to get more comfortable with the team and the cars," Gordon said. "I wanted to drive the cars with less downforce this year and see what it was like. Does me a lot of good when I get back in the FOX booth to kind of connect those dots and was a great experience. "Each time I've been in the car I feel like I've gotten better and better at giving the feedback that they need. It was nice to get that top 10 at Dover. I'm hoping we get a little bit more here." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;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
The Rundown: Martinsville
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Below is a breakdown of how the full 43-car field fared at Martinsville Speedway : 1. Jeff Gordon , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . In his final Martinsville run, Gordon kept alive his Drive for Five and earned his ninth grandfather clock. WATCH: Gordon jumps for joy 2. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray managed to avoid the late-race fracas and unsuccessfully tried different lines to catch Gordon in the closing laps. 3. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Two pit road speeding penalties and a spin on-track only momentarily stalled Hamlin, who opted not to pit with 39 laps to go and briefly moved into the lead. 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . "We might as well get an attempt at it (the final restart), but it's pretty dark," Earnhardt told his team as he lined up third for the final restart. RELATED: Hear drivers on RaceView . 5. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Kyle Busch rallied after spinning on Lap 171 when he said his left-side tires made contact with water near the curb. 6. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing . Truex kept his Chase hopes alive with his 21st top-10 of the year. 7. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . "Excuse me, coming through," Newman radioed as he nudged Kurt Busch up the track to take sixth on Lap 196. RELATED: Hear drivers on RaceView . 8. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick restarted ninth late in the race and picked up a spot en route to his 25th top-10 of the year (second to Joey Logano 's series-leading 26). 9. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne's team made adjustments throughout Sunday's race trying to find rear grip. 10. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . After starting from the rear of the field in a backup car, Stewart quietly climbed to his 300th career top-10. 11. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG-Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger skipped pit road late in the race to move into second and briefly took the lead before fading on old tires. 12. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson made a late-race pit stop and climbed through the field after restarting 18th with 31 laps left. 13. Justin Allgaier , No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Allgaier held on despite radioing on Lap 216 while running 21st that he had lost all forward drive. 14. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . The Chase contender was among the walking wounded early and fought to be the beneficiary with 65 laps to go. " WATCH: Edwards gets damage in contact with No. 18 15. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard slipped by a spinning No. 55 on Lap 466 to hold on and earn his 19th top-15 of the year. 16. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Almirola was dumped onto the apron when the field stacked up on the Lap 113 restart. 17. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears started 19th and used pit strategy to run as high as 13th on Sunday. 18. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Dillon led six laps before being involved in a spin on Lap 171. 19. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson picked up his best Martinsville finish after notching his best start (ninth) at the paperclip oval. 20. Cole Whitt , No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Whitt took advantage of many early caution periods to work on the grille opening and stay on the lead lap. 21. Landon Cassill , No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Smith Motorsports. Forward bite was an initial issue for Cassill, but appeared to improve when a long green-flag stretch followed a spate of cautions. 22. Alex Bowman , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Brake heat was a key topic on the No. 7 radio as Bowman scored his best Martinsville finish. RELATED: Hear drivers on RaceView . 23. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett worked his way back onto the lead lap after spinning early. 24. David Gilliland , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Gilliland incurred the wrath of Danica Patrick when he ran her up the track and into the wall on Lap 157. RELATED: Danica retaliates on Gilliland . 25. David Ragan , No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing . Ragan spun with 35 laps to go when he crossed Austin Dillon 's path. 26. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush-Fenway Racing. Biffle spun twice on Sunday -- bringing out the caution each time. 27. Jeb Burton , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Burton was running 32nd when he came down the track and into the path of Sam Hornish Jr . to bring out the 14th caution flag. 28. Sam Hornish Jr ., No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Hornish sustained heavy damage to the nose of his No. 9 Ford and had to pit for repairs during the sixth caution period. 29. J.J. Yeley, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing . Yeley started 39th and frequently employed the high line to avoid any issues as he picked up a few spots during Sunday's race. 30. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . In his second Martinsville outing, DiBenedetto posted his best start and his best finish at the short track . 31. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne made an unscheduled stop for right-side tires on Lap 79 for a vibration. 32. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski quickly reported to the garage for repairs after getting caught up in the carnage during the Lap 435 restart. " MORE: Keselowski's Chase hopes take a hit 33. Alex Kennedy , No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport . Survival was Kennedy ’s mindset during his second Martinsville outing, which included nine caution flags in the first 186 laps. 34. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . A steering box issue was a distant memory for Kurt Busch when he was stalled on the Lap 435 restart and then T-boned by a spinning Matt Kenseth . " MORE: Kurt on the bubble after Martinsville 35. Brett Moffitt , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Moffitt's team changed the battery and checked his alternator early in Sunday's race. 36. Timmy Hill , No. 62 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Hill made his second Martinsville appearance on Sunday. 37. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Logano enjoyed the first pit stall and appeared to be running away with the win when Kenseth got into him in Turn 1. Logano later told the media, "It's a chicken you-know-what move to take out the leader when your race is over. " " RELATED: Kenseth wrecks Logano . 38. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Martinsville thundered as Kenseth wrecked leader Joey Logano in Turn 4. NASCAR waved the red flag and then invited key personnel on the No. 20 team to a post-race chat. " POLL: Was Kenseth rigth or wrong? 39. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse slowed in Turn 3 and then reported to the garage after getting into the wall and locking up his right-front tire on Lap 127. 40. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick took her car to the garage before the ninth caution flag for repairs. She later spun to bring out the 13th yellow. " WATCH: Danica retaliates against Gilliland 41. Kyle Fowler , No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing. A best Martinsville start was stalled when Fowler hit the wall to bring out the 12th caution. 42. Ryan Preece , No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing. Brake issues impacted the Martinsville newcomer. 43. Clint Bowyer , No. 15, Michael Waltrip Racing . Bowyer was running 16th when he was tagged by two cars fighting for position beneath him. Bowyer’s spin brought out the ninth caution flag.