See who our staff members pick to take the checkered flag Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their picks for the Great American Race below. Who do you have? Let us know in the comments section. Zack Albert Denny Hamlin . Joe Gibbs Racing cars have shown plenty of oomph so far in Speedweeks, making Matt Kenseth another Daytona favorite. Sunday, it should be Hamlin's turn in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr. Strong all week, and probably as pumped as he's ever been about his team and his car. Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been unstoppable thus far at Speedweeks, but he's coming off one of his worst seasons to date -- making Johnson the rare "dark horse favorite." The No. 48 Chevrolet swept both Daytona races in his 2013 championship season but hadn't finished higher than 20th in the six Daytona races prior to that. Still, I've got a feeling. Stu Hothem Dale Earnhardt Jr. After last Saturday's first practice, the defending Daytona 500 champion said he had the fastest car in the field. On the 20th anniversary of the last back-to-back winner (Sterling Marlin) going to Victory Lane, Earnhardt will join Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough with three or more wins in the Great American Race. RJ Kraft Carl Edwards. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable has been as strong as the Hendrick Motorsports fleet during Speedweeks, with the veteran showing plenty of speed. It will be the organization's newest driver that brings Joe Gibbs his first trip to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 since 1993. Brad Norman Tony Stewart. His car is fast, and Stewart seems more like the 'Smoke' of old than at any other point over the past two years. Plus, he's just due for a good break at Daytona. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon. The three-time Daytona 500 champion is starting from the pole position, has a dynamic duo of Hendrick Motorsports teammates helping him in the front and his No. 24 Chevrolet SS has showcased its speed the entire week. But above all, with this event marking his final Daytona 500, Gordon has plenty of motivation to take the checkered one last time in the Great American Race. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon. The four-time Cup champion is starting his final Great American Race as a full-time driver from the pole — what more motivation does he need to do well? Three previous Daytona 500 wins under his belt doesn't hurt, either. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr. He becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin in 1995. Junior's car has looked fast all week -- he won in the Daytona Duels -- and he has a strong history in this race (series-best 99.6 driver rating, two previous Daytona 500 wins). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Get a breakdown of how the full 43-car field fared in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live 1. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Finding his way to clear air on the race's final restart, Johnson got all the encouragement he needed over the team's in-car radio: "Leg it, baby. Leg it." The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion did, pulling away to his fourth victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the 71st of his career in NASCAR's top series. Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio. " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 2. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The defending Sprint Cup champion had to carve his way from the back of the field after suffering engine failure during Saturday practice, but was perched atop the leaderboard by the 87th lap in the 325-lap distance. Harvick wound up leading a race-high 116 laps in recording his second runner-up finish in two races thus far in 2015. " WATCH: Johnson holds off Harvick for the win 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Junior has opened the season by going 2-for-2 in posting third-place finishes despite sustaining front-end damage Sunday when he ran into a piece of debris in the late going. Though he consistently was near the front of the pack, Earnhardt led just one lap all afternoon. " WATCH: Dale Jr.: Crew chief Ives is 'a pretty good cheerleader' 4. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. The Daytona 500 champ continued his hot streak by winning the Coors Light Pole Award on Friday. Though he lacked the power to mount a challenge over the final green-flag run, Logano will enter next Sunday's Kobalt 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the Sprint Cup points leader. " WATCH: Out Front with Miss Coors Light 5. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. The JGR driver -- who led 10 laps Sunday and lined up second for the final restart -- watched his losing skid stretch to 46 races (dating back to 2013) after a slight fade just before the checkered flag. 6. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. The modest rejuvenation continues for Truex and the Colorado-based team owned by Barney Visser. The Furniture Row bunch registered just five top-10 finishes in all 36 races last year; two races into 2015, Truex and Co. already have a pair of single-digit results. " MORE: Truex looks to put 2014 woes behind him 7. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG-Daugherty Racing. A strong finish on an intermediate track helped lift the spirits of the single-car organization, which qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs for the first time last year. After just two races, Allmendinger is slotted in a tie for eighth in the series standings. " MORE: Chase Grid after two races 8. Brett Moffitt, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. The former NASCAR Next driver needed to receive the free pass two times to do it, but Moffitt closed the deal on the lead lap on a day of firsts for his career-best finish in just his eighth Sprint Cup start. Brian Vickers is scheduled to return to MWR's No. 55 ride next weekend at Las Vegas. 9. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. The 2012 champion had hopes for a top-five finish, but his aspirations were also tempered with temporary resignation over what he thought could have been a subpar 15th-place result. "We were just kind of up and down and floating all day long," Keselowski said after settling for somewhere in the middle of his expectations in ninth place. 10. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman appeared sunk after absorbing significant damage in a four-car crash on Lap 257, but hard work from his RCR crew in making repairs buoyed Newman to a surprising top-10. 11. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. After opening up 2014 with patchwork finishes of 39th, 15th, 25th, third and 43rd, Almirola has some consistency to crow about this season. "That's a big head start from last year!" Almirola tweeted after his second straight top-15 finish pushed him into a tie for eighth in Sprint Cup points. " MORE: Follow drivers on Social Drive 12. Carl Edwards, No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards was the beneficiary of the race's next-to-last yellow flag, helping him recover from a seemingly disastrous flat tire in the 274th lap for a lead-lap finish. 13. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. The Wisconsin native couldn't shake the unluckiest of numbers, starting and finishing 13th as the final driver on the lead lap. 14. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The track that produced Kahne's last-ditch clincher into the Chase field last September wasn't so kind this time around. A pit-road penalty for a rolling-tire infraction in the 293rd lap forced the Hendrick Motorsports driver to make a pass-through on pit lane during green-flag conditions. 15. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Sunday's top-15 finish wasn't quite the windfall the Germain team received from Mears' sixth-place run in the Daytona 500, but the solid day kept its driver in the same position in Sprint Cup points -- sixth. 16. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Atlanta provided the backdrop for Patrick's career-best Sprint Cup finish of sixth place last season. While 16th place marked a slip in performance, the effort -- coupled with 21st place the previous week at Daytona -- launched Patrick into the final spot on the provisional Chase grid. 17. Regan Smith, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Smith's second start as a substitute for suspended Kurt Busch had nearly the same result as the first, just one spot lower than his 16th place in the Daytona 500. The degree of difficulty may have been greater at Atlanta, though, after Smith's No. 41 was crumpled in a multicar fracas 20 laps from the end. " WATCH: Big wreck brings out the red flag 18. David Ragan, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Ragan pushed the No. 18 car up into the top five in the early stages of his first start as a fill-in for injured Kyle Busch, but said he was "a little timid" in making needed adjustments as the 500-miler went on. "I felt like we had a good, solid top-10 car and things just didn't shake out," Ragan said. 19. Trevor Bayne, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Bayne was at the head of the Roush Fenway class at Atlanta, but frustrated in finishing two laps down. The midpack result left him hoping to see the team's determination rewarded soon. "I see a lot of people trying to work together and that's where it starts," Bayne said. "We obviously haven't seen any results as far as speed is concerned." 20. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Allgaier made the most of his survival instinct after two instances of evasive action in the race's late stages. The second-year driver brushed the wall avoiding the Lap 257 pile-up that snared four cars, then dipped to the apron to dodge the Lap 305 snarl that grabbed seven more competitors. 21. Sam Hornish Jr., No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Inopportune timing put Hornish in the path of debris from Austin Dillon's blown tire in the 60th lap. Damage to the front end jolted the grille and left the RPM No. 9 crew fighting an uphill battle for most of the race; his own flat tire and a later brush with the wall only compounded the trouble. 22. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland pressed on after a bump from behind in the four-car crash on the 257th lap. He also stayed on the track during the race's fourth yellow flag to lead a lap for the first time at Atlanta since March 2010. 23. Alex Bowman, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. After failing to qualify for the season-opening Daytona 500, Bowman opened his season at Atlanta as one of the biggest movers in a race filled with them. The second-year Sprint Cup driver gained 19 spots from his starting position. 24. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer gained track position by staying on the track late in the race, but his day went from sour to downright acidic in a hurry. An engine issue developed with around 35 laps left, just before the race's final crash engulfed him with 20 to go. 25. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. The Biff fought an ill-handling car most of the day, but lost the most ground when he overcooked his entry into Turn 3 on the race's next-to-last restart, igniting the race's biggest crash. 26. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. The site of an eighth-place finish last season held much higher promise for 2014's Sunoco Rookie of the Year, but sustaining plenty of contact in the race's biggest crash near the finish prompted Larson to tweet afterward: "Such a frustrating race. Top 5 car but had no luck." " MORE: Follow drivers on Social Drive 27. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing. The small, family-owned team found some solace in McDowell's best result in five career starts at Atlanta, marking the first time he was running at the finish at the 1.54-mile venue. 28. Brendan Gaughan, No. 62 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. The Jay Robinson-owned start-up team recovered after failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Brian Scott. It marked the occasion of Gaughan's first Sprint Cup start since August 2013. 29. Michael Annett, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. Annett and Co. struck an 11th-hour deal to jump in the Joe Falk-owned ride after his regular HScott Motorsports No. 46 ride missed out on Coors Light Pole Qualifying. The last-minute move kept his goal of a complete Sprint Cup season alive. 30. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart was one of several drivers who started near the back of the pack after issues clearing Friday's pre-qualifying inspection. Smoke grappled with handling woes for much of the race, but matters got worse with involvement in the event's final multicar crash. 31. Mike Bliss, No. 32 Ford, GoFAS Racing. The 49-year-old veteran stayed on the track during a pair of early caution periods to pace two laps, marking his first lap led in the Sprint Cup Series since March 4, 2012 (Phoenix). It also was the first time since August 27, 2005 (Bristol) that Bliss has led multiple laps in a Sprint Cup race. 32. Josh Wise, No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing. Wise was among the first bitten by the new pit road officiating system, incurring a Lap 28 penalty for crew members coming over the wall too soon. Though seven laps down, Wise managed his best finish in three career starts at Atlanta. 33. Joe Nemechek, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. The man with the Front Row nickname made his first appearance in Front Row Motorsports equipment, but contact from Greg Biffle's spin left his car and hopes dented for his first Sprint Cup event of the year. 34. JJ Yeley, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Slight damage from debris early in the race slowed Yeley, who managed to improve upon the 40th-place result from the season-opening Daytona 500. 35. Jeb Burton, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. As the only rookie in the 43-car field, Burton made his Sprint Cup debut, forging on after a mid-race scrape with the wall. 36. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse played the role of pinball in the race's biggest crash; though several cars were involved, the No. 17 was the only one unable to continue. 37. Cole Whitt, No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. An engine that would've made a 400-mile distance couldn't quite withstand the full 500, first dropping a cylinder before expiring altogether, dumping fluid on the track and causing the race's next-to-last caution period. 38. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin led twice for 14 laps, but found himself sideways in the middle of the track when he lost control on a late-race restart. Three more cars piled in, prompting Hamlin to offer sympathies: "I apologize to all those cars involved, but it's tough." " WATCH: Hamlin spins and collects several drivers 39. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. A pair of rear tire troubles in rapid succession, both of which sprayed debris on the 1.54-mile track, derailed Dillon's day. The second instance, with the car already laboring from earlier damage, sent the RCR No. 3 off into the muddy infield and later behind the wall for extensive repairs. " WATCH: Dillon spins after cutting a tire 40. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. After starting third, Jamie Mac didn't have visions of finishing in the bottom five Sunday at Atlanta. The tangle that also thwarted three others when Denny Hamlin lost control took him by surprise: "I didn't see any of that coming," McMurray said. "That was kind of out of the blue." 41. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The four-time champion drew a Lap 24 tribute from the track with his car number blanketing the main scoring pylon early on, but enduring a crash for the second straight week has his final full Sprint Cup season off to a ragged start. Finishes of 33rd at Daytona and 41st at Atlanta have relegated Gordon to a tie for 35th place in the points standings. " WATCH: Big wreck brings out red flag 42. Ron Hornaday Jr., No. 30 Chevrolet, The Motorsports Group. After failing to qualify for the Daytona 500, the four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion made his first Sprint Cup start since 2003 on Sunday. The Curtis Key-owned start-up team parked just past the halfway point at Atlanta with a rear gearing malfunction. 43. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Smith Motorsports. Starting last, Cassill seemingly had nowhere to go but up at Atlanta. Instead, the 25-year-old driver stayed level as the race's first retiree for the second straight week, posting consecutive 43rd-place finishes after two engine failures to start the season. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kennedy was the only driver to log lap in final round RELATED: Full race lineup Ben Kennedy won the Keystone Light Pole Award on Saturday for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). This is the Red Horse Racing driver's first pole award at Atlanta and the first of his Camping World Truck Series career. Kennedy was the only driver who made it to the start/finish line in time to log a lap in the third round of qualifying. Initially, Brad Keselowski was ruled to have started his lap -- which was quicker than Kennedy's -- and was announced as the pole winner before the reversal came later in the afternoon. Lining up next to Kennedy on the front row is Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Erik Jones Cameron Hayley, Daniel Suarez and John Wes Townley round out the top-five starters. Last week's winner at Daytona, Tyler Reddick, qualified 11th. Matt Crafton, the defending Camping World Truck Series champion, will line up 15th. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Brad Keselowski falls two laps down to the leaders after getting a pit-road penalty for driving through too many boxes on exit.
2012 Sprint Cup champion optimistic about remaining Speedweeks slate Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge MORE: Full Sprint Unlimited results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski didn't get much chance to test out his Team Penske No. 2 Ford in race trim in Saturday night's season-opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition. After just 23 laps, Keselowski's car skidded to a halt in a mangled heap, leaving him with a last-place finish in the invitational 25-car field at Daytona International Speedway. RELATED: See the best photos from Saturday's race According to the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ, there wasn't much to see. "The wall," Keselowski said, regarding his line of sight. "I don't know. I really need to see a replay to give an honest answer. The car is tore up so we are out but it was fast, so that was good." The first melee of the 75-lapper was sparked by a collision between Kyle Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet and Keselowski's No. 2 in the short chute before the start-finish line. Though Larson, last year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year, was able to continue, Keselowski's car shuffled down into the trioval grass before making hard contact with the outside wall. "Sorry, man. Larson came up on me," Keselowski radioed to his crew, before making the mandatory trip to the infield care center. Keselowski was uninjured, evaluated and released. Though his stint in the race was a short one, Keselowski gave a thumbs-up to how his car felt in race conditions. "Well, there wasn't much different about this package," he said. "It is more the intermediate and short track stuff but I thought it was good. It was pretty racey out there." Lead some laps and then wrecked; that's how plate racin goes... Happy and proud of my guys for the fast car. Time to focus on #DAYTONA500 — Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) February 15, 2015 Keselowski hit the showers early for a 25th-place finish, well before the non-points race drew to a close. But though he was resigned to his Saturday night fate, he said he's optimistic for the balance of the schedule, which culminates in the Feb. 22 Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). "It's part of racing at Daytona," said Keselowski, who led two laps after starting fourth. "Really happy with the speed of the Miller Lite Ford. We've got a lot of racing left in Speedweeks, this is just a preliminary and we'll be ready to go when it counts in the 500." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
A behind-the-scenes look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s media tour Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in New York City last week for a Road to Daytona 500 media tour and let NASCAR.com tag along. NEW YORK -- It's cold at 9:30 a.m. in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Thirty degrees won't come for four more hours, and the wind whips and swirls between the skyscrapers and billows down the sidewalk at the intersection of 67th and Columbus, where a line of people snakes down the sidewalk. These huddled masses are lined up around the block outside 7 Lincoln Square, awaiting the opening of the doors that will bring both warmth and a seat inside the "LIVE with Kelly and Michael" studio. NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already called in to "The Dan Patrick Show" as his first media obligation on Feb. 11, and he has four more stops on the docket as part of the Road to Daytona 500 Media Tour. He's in a black Chevrolet SUV fighting morning traffic, but steadily making progress toward this tiny pocket of the largest city in the United States. And he's running late. Congested morning streets make it hardly Junior's fault, but he bustles into the dressing room at the "LIVE" studio a bit behind schedule, and there's a pair of show producers eager to get him prepped for his spot. Part of their job is to make Earnhardt feel both welcome and comfortable. With Valentine's Day three days away, it's an easy talking point -- and one Junior will hear relentlessly throughout both this trip, and at Media Day in Daytona Beach, Florida, the following day. "Got any big plans for Valentine's Day?" an assistant asks Dale Jr. after a few quick brushes in the makeup room. "We've got a race," Junior says. "Oh, how romantic!" • • • It's a commercial break, and host Michael Strahan signs an old New York Giants jersey that was tossed down from the balcony. He banters playfully with the audience, including one member who makes fun of his arm strength. "Hey, I wasn't a quarterback," he says. "I hit quarterbacks." An image of Earnhardt Jr. suddenly blares on the television screens behind the hosts, and Strahan teases, "You don't know who our next guest is, do you?" "Dale Jr.!" screams the audience, and there's a few shrieks thrown in there as well. The man himself strides on stage, and that's where one first sees the transformation. Quiet and reserved by nature, he is a media chameleon of sorts -- his personality adapts to its surroundings . When the camera comes on, there's Junior smiling, there's Junior giving these well thought-out answers to questions he's answered literally hundreds of times before. He's stopped just once in this building, by a pair of veterans who ask for a quick picture with NASCAR's 12-time Most Popular Driver as he walks to his waiting ride in the building's parking garage after the filming is completed. "Thank you for your service," he says before climbing into the back seat and being whisked away. • • • At the "Rachael Ray Show," an employee named Vida creates a pet name for Earnhardt as she describes how the taping will go. "Hey, pumpkin!" she says when he walks in. "OK, pumpkin?" after her final bit of instruction. "Yes ma'am," he replies. It's how he always replies. Vida appears flustered when Earnhardt is pulled away to do the stage. "I have to get a picture with him," she says on the way out. Vida's not the only one at this stop to feel the Junior Effect. Chad Carter, a producer on the show, is from Concord, North Carolina. It's a town just north of Charlotte (Charlotte Motor Speedway is actually in Concord), and about 20 miles southeast of Mooresville, where Junior grew up. He's talked Earnhardt up all week, so the staff is eager to meet the man. "In my area of North Carolina, it's Jesus, Elvis and Dale Earnhardt Jr.," Carter told the show's associates, and even Ray herself, leading up to this day. Carter left a note for Junior, along with a gift bag full of local beer, gin and bourbon. The wooden table has a stack of North Carolina-specific books, an attempt to make the glamorous green room feel more like Mooresville than Manhattan. A succinctly titled "Duke Sucks" sits on top. Earnhardt thumbs through Carter's 1994 Concord High School yearbook, and a book of photography by Hugh Morton, one of North Carolina's most well-known native sons, while waiting to be called to the stage. The TV blares behind him. Someone brings food -- flank steak and popovers. Junior has already changed clothes so he doesn't appear on different talk shows wearing the same outfit, and he reacts to a new piece of clothing like most everyone. He puts on his new striped suit jacket, fixes it, pulls on it, then checks it out in the mirror before finally asking, "Does this look OK?" Vida will soon get her picture, and Carter is waiting for Earnhardt when he gets back to the green room after his interview with Ray and special guest host Regis Philbin. There isn't much time for pleasantries, but Earnhardt greets Carter as he does everyone else he encounters on this trip -- a look in the eye, a firm handshake and a one-word introduction: "Dale." "Thank you for the gift bag," Earnhardt says. "That was very generous of you." • • • At lunch, Earnhardt perks up at the prospect of food. It's been a busy morning. He offers suggestions to the sushi novice (black dynamite, on account of the tempura shrimp -- the crunchiness hides the fact that there's actual raw fish jammed in there), then expertly wields his chopsticks with his left hand while polishing off a salad, miso soup and two lines of brightly colored sushi. Whether it's eating or walking or making a decision, Earnhardt Jr. is always moving fast, as if his personality mirrors how he hopes to perform on the track. Maybe it does. But there is no wasted movement with this man in the city, no dallying. When lunch is finished, he rises, puts on his jacket and is 25 feet away before anyone else has pushed a chair back from the table. He power-walks on the city sidewalks, reaching his vehicle before anyone else in his group and not waiting for the driver to emerge and open the door for him. Now, at 1 p.m., is the only break Earnhardt has in the day, a 45-minute stretch in which he doesn't have a commitment, and doesn't need to be chugging along in his rented ride to get to his next commitment. He can do anything he wants. And he wants to go to Bleecker Street. Nestled near New York University, Bleecker Street is a trendy nightclub district in Greenwich Village. It also has a Burberry store. That is the purpose of this detour. Junior looks like any man shopping for his significant other when he walks through the doors and is confronted with a dizzying array of pink purses, accessories and clothes. He selects two scarves for his girlfriend Amy Reimann, but the merchandise continually catches his eye as the employees ring him up. He inspects a wallet, whose well-designed interior is stunning when he pops it open. "That's cool as hell," he murmurs. Two scarves quickly becomes two scarves plus a wallet … plus a shawl … plus a new purse to replace the one stolen from Amy on vacation. Not even the loud buzz as he walks out the door -- two of the security devices hadn't been removed -- harshens his mood. • • • That famous selfie in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway last year is the first image of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that people on Twitter glimpsed. It was the first tweet from @DaleJr, and it kicked off a year in which Junior delighted his fans and followers with Throwback Thursday photos, race predictions and late-night Q&A sessions. It directly led to this penultimate media tour stop at one of the Twitter offices, where a bunch of hip 20-somethings sequester Junior into a conference room and film his reasoning -- and reaction -- to joining the platform. "It's hard to do," Earnhardt says. "You can't try it for a week and go 'It's not for me.' I needed a moment. … "But it also gives us a way to say we're confident, and fans want to hear that confidence. And when we win, we get to celebrate with all our fans." The Twitter folks exude New York. They are trendy, they wear jeans to work and they are young. Yet the 40-year-old Earnhardt does not look like an outsider. He looks like he could be either Twitter's guest for the day, or one of its executives. That's something else we learn from this trip. Earnhardt somehow is both the laid-back guy from rural North Carolina and a media mogul that can blend into the biggest city in the United States, looking like he belongs on Wall Street. It's a dichotomy that shows up everywhere, from the people he meets to his Southern politeness, even to the way he dresses. Sure, he's wearing blue jeans (Wrangler, no doubt) but his black dress shoes are gleaming as if they've been freshly polished, and he bought a new striped sports coat for this occasion. He gives thoughtful, professional answers on questions that need them. But when he's off camera, and sees a beautiful three-layer cake the Twitter folks surprised him with, he grins. "Hell yeah!" he says. • • • He arrives at the day's last stop at 3:32 p.m. It's the fifth hit of his day, a day that began in North Carolina before the sun came up, has spanned states and necessitates that a somewhat introverted man talk almost nonstop. Junior has not yawned once. In fact, this day of racing talk has him amped for the start of the season. An offseason with virtually no testing had the driver itching to get back in the car alongside his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, one of whom is Jeff Gordon. This is Gordon's last full-time season, and it has Earnhardt thinking about his own future. Junior tackled the topic of retirement multiple times last year, and admits it's almost an obsessive thing to mull when one of the greats hangs it up. "I often think about retirement, and what it is that makes people retire," Earnhardt Jr. says. "I wonder about myself. 'What is going to take me out of the car? Is it gonna be family? Is it gonna be health?' "I can tell you I wouldn't step out for the car right now for anything." Minutes later, his "Pardon the Interruption" taping is finished. And one final time, we see the two sides of Dale. He's leaving a beautiful midtown studio, the type of place so very few people have access to, walking away from the marble flooring and fancy recording equipment. It's a building that so few people -- really, so few professional athletes -- will ever be qualified to enter. His day is done, but there's still one final piece of business as the elevator takes him down and spits him back toward the crowded streets. Before he leaves, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to a small nook of a convenience store and buys a Powerball ticket. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Panel of experts debates the hot topics in NASCAR MORE: NASCAR issues penalties for post-Texas tangle " Chase bubble " Clinching scenarios RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota 1. In doling out punishment for last Sunday night's post-race fight on pit road, was NASCAR too harsh, not harsh enough or did the punishment fit the crimes? Alan Cavanna: I think the right message was sent to the crew guys about getting involved and crossing some major lines. I was right there watching some of those guys throw wild haymakers. Some were just simple cheap shots. It was awful. Kenny, you were even closer! I can't imagine what you saw. Brad Norman : It was stout, but delivered a clear message -- you can't throw punches. Crew members are not like the goons in hockey. You don't bring them there to fight. And you don't use someone else's melee to settle an old score with a cheap shot. Kenny Bruce: My initial takeaway was "Huh. No penalties for anyone on the No. 2 team; no penalty for Mr. Harvick." Understandable that the drivers involved (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski ) weren't penalized for what amounted to some pushing, shoving, grabbing. But when folks start throwing punches? Yeah, NASCAR should step in and dole out some punishment. I think they got it right. Norman : The fine of $25,000 is a lot to a crewmember -- to anyone, really, even Hendrick Motorsports (which will pay the fines). But I'd be willing to bet the crew guys were more upset with their respective suspensions. Can you imagine working literally years toward this moment, and not being able to see it through? Bruce: As for what I saw, Alan ... a big pile of folks jammed into a tiny space. It's not something I'd recommend. You pretty much go whichever way the pile decides. Cavanna: I learned not to mess with Kenny Bruce! Norman : We saw some dialogue on Twitter about this, Alan. If you're suspended for six races, someone else does your job for you. You're allowing someone to come in and do your own job. What if they do it better? Cavanna: Along with "don't throw punches," I hope it also sent the message to let the drivers hash it out between themselves. The drivers get themselves into these situations; they should be allowed to settle. Let the crew guys break it up if need be, but it shouldn't be a brawl. Bruce: I think you hit on a big difference there, Brad . Missing out on an opportunity to possibly celebrate a title? Yeah, that's large. Norman : I'm still not certain Brad Keselowski did anything wrong, either. Cavanna: Certainly not in the pits, Mr. Norman . As for what Brad did on the track ... it'll remain in the eye of the beholder. Bruce: As a former "driver," Alan, I'm sure you can understand Gordon's displeasure at the contact. But it seems a lot of folks believe Keselowski did nothing wrong. The guy was trying to win a race, and possibly a championship. No different from any of the others still in the Chase. Cavanna: I agree fully, Kenny. I liked Brad going for the win with everything on the line. But there are some online and in the garage who disagree. Bruce: And they were all crowded around the No. 2 car after the race, right? 2. With only 18 points separating the eight drivers in the Eliminator Round, who is the most likely and who is the least likely to advance into the Championship Round? Cavanna: Most likely, for me, are Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano . I picked Gordon to win on the FedEx Preview Show , and Logano just needs a top-10. I think he gets it. Norman : At this point, you're almost making a bold prediction by picking the four drivers who have been the best (and most consistent) all year -- the 2, 4, 22 and 24. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick , in particular, face an uphill slog to advance. It's hard to imagine Harvick not being in contention for the win given his Phoenix dominance, and the same with Keselowski, really. That Talladega must-win situation in which the No. 2 team came through is still top of mind. Bruce: I don't think any one of the eight can go into Phoenix thinking "let's just get out of here with a decent finish." The points are just too close. Playing it safe, as Denny Hamlin noted Tuesday, means something like a 17th-place finish. And that's probably not going to put you in the final four. Cavanna: I think you're spot-on, Kenny. It's possible Harvick could have a top-five run and miss out if he doesn't win. Keselowski too. Harvick's six-point deficit doesn't sounds huge, but with the way everyone is running, it's nearly must-win. Norman : The guy most in trouble to me is Matt Kenseth , which may seem kind of strange. He's one point back of fourth-place Jeff Gordon , but Matt is just not very good at Phoenix. And there are a lot of guys in the Chase who are really good here. It's sort of the same situation with Ryan Newman , but Newman has a points cushion to fall back on where Kenseth has none. I really think either Harvick or Keselowski wins and shakes this thing up a little bit. I also expect Gordon to run well. Bruce: So I guess it's wide open. But I think Logano is the safest bet to advance, based on his current position and his team's consistency. The least likely would seem to be Carl Edwards, who isn't in the top four at the moment and hasn't had much of a Chase. Which of course means he'll probably win Phoenix. Norman : That Edwards still has a real shot is fascinating. He was so bad at Texas, yet logged a top-10 after all those cautions. And he's the only guy to have won at Phoenix other than Harvick in the past four races there. Cavanna: He came within a half-gallon of gas of sweeping last year, Kenny. Edwards to Homestead!!! Bruce: Good points, guys. And based on what we've seen so far in this year's Chase, I wouldn't feel comfortable locking anyone in, or out, going into this weekend's race. 3. Chase Elliott can wrap up the NNS championship this weekend. Is the 18-year-old ready to move up to the Sprint Cup Series in 2015? Cavanna: He's absolutely ready, but that doesn't mean he'll suffer from another year of Nationwide , I mean XFINITY Series, action. Norman : Not quite. He's obviously tremendously talented, and he's going to get great equipment when he makes the move, but I think one more full-time year in the XFINITY Series is the right move. Chase will win the title this year, and will be in a great spot to win it next year. That's Ricky Stenhouse-esque. When he moves up, though, I think he'll be like Kyle Larson right away -- competing for wins. Bruce: I think he's ready -- three wins and perhaps a championship look pretty good -- but that doesn't mean I think he'd step up and run as well. The competition gets a lot tougher at the top. Cavanna: His best wins have come against some of the best in Cup. And given the changes to the 2015 Cup cars, he may be more qualified than any Nationwide driver in recent years. Norman : It's really a pretty ridiculous story when you consider Chase didn't have a ride, in any series, at this point last year. Something came together with NAPA late, and here we are. I'm eager to see how Mr. Elliott does with a new crew chief in 2015 as well. Cavanna: If he didn't have a quality ride waiting for him in the future, I could see him easily moving up in 2015. But really, no need to rush if you don't have to. Bruce: Makes me think of Logano and getting tossed in the No. 20 car after Tony Stewart 's departure. Talented kid, but ... Norman : He's like that incredible pitching prospect in the farm system, Alan. Cavanna: I'll give you that, Brad . At Chase's young age, it can't hurt to learn about transition and working with different people. Going through that change, and succeeding, will make him better in the long run. Bruce: Mentioning Stenhouse, Larson, then there's Austin Dillon as well. Great NNS efforts. But even as well as Larson has run, he's not winning at Cup. Getting close, no doubt. I don't know how another year in the series would benefit Elliott. Would it hurt? No. He's still got a lot of years ahead of him. I think a lot of it just depends on what's available, team-wise and sponsor-wise. Norman : I think the most intriguing question is ... which ride does Chase get? Does Jeff Gordon retire? Does Kasey Kahne move on? Hendrick's stable is outstanding, but they have three guys 39 and older. Cavanna: If Hendrick could have five cars, I think Chase moves up immediately. Bruce: Seems pretty obvious he's destined for a Hendrick ride. A lot of talk about Gordon sticking around (sponsor signings) and a lot about Kahne being the odd-man out. Norman : Just think of the headline possibilities when a guy named Chase wins the Chase. I meant to say "if," and it came out "when." Maybe that's a sign. Bruce: They'll have to re-name it, or him. Anyone know his middle name? It isn't Sprint, is it? Cavanna: Chase Winston Grand Nationals Elliott Bruce: Wiki says William Clyde Elliott II Norman : First name William, but he goes by something else. I can respect that. Bruce: Not Billy Clyde? Cavanna: Wow. I learned something today. I think he should stick with Chase. Norman : That's the name they'll put on that championship trophy, at least. Bruce: Some great names out there ... but that's a discussion for another day. (Right William?) For now, it's on to Phoenix and another stop in the Chase. Not that Chase. Hold your punches, gentlemen. Cavanna: From someone who knows. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Panel of experts debate that and more as the roundtable returns RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota 1. OK folks, the field of 16 for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has been determined. Looking at this year's roster, is there a favorite in the field? Alan Cavanna: I filled out my Chase Grid (like I hope you have, print a blank one out here) -- and started with my champion, Jeff Gordon . Huge year, fast speed, and the sense that the driver from the late '90s is back. Brad Norman : I'm not so sure there is a "favorite," but there's definitely a group of "favorites." That would be the Team Penske duo and the three heavyweights at Hendrick Motorsports – sorry, Kasey Kahne . Throw in Kevin Harvick , if he gets the pit-road problems cleaned up with a new over-the-wall crew. I can't imagine a scenario in which the final four drivers at Homestead don't come from that group. Kenny Bruce: For the first time in, well, a long time, I don't think you can assume that Jimmie Johnson is a clear-cut favorite. The No. 48 team started the season slower than many expected, caught fire at mid-season but has been "average" (for them) recently. Cavanna: OK fellas, I'm the only one going out on a limb with a solid pick. C'mon now. Norman : True, Alan. If forced to pick one, I'd go with top-seeded Brad Keselowski . He's back to form, he's got a great strategist in Paul Wolfe calling the shots and the Team Penske cars have been phenomenal on those intermediate-type ovals. Of which there are five in the postseason. Bruce: I'll lean toward Alan on the Gordon pick, but I've got to give props to 2012 champ Keselowski as well. The No. 2 team has been pretty stout of late, and that momentum's got to be worth something. Cavanna: I understand though. The four drivers in the Championship Round aren't necessarily the four "best." They're the three winners, and the most consistent. A great driver will be left out of the championship race at Homestead. Norman : One thing that's most interesting about Keselowski is that Joey Logano is one of his biggest challengers. They share a garage, share info. After Logano won at Bristol and Keselowski finished second, Bad Brad was asked about how those two will continue to share info during the Chase -- and it was a topic the 2012 champion was reluctant to discuss. Bruce: I think it's interesting that Gordon and Keselowski probably feel as if they have something to prove. Keselowski for not making the Chase last year and Gordon for not winning a title in the Chase-era. And I'm not sure how much you can compare 2013 to this season, but Mr. Kenseth reeled off back-to-back wins to open the Chase a year ago, I believe. Cavanna: You beat me to it, Kenny. Ten weeks from now we'll all look like fools when Matt Kenseth is hoisting the Sprint Cup trophy. Bruce: My biggest concern with the entire JGR group is their win total this year. Three teams, two combined wins. That probably won't cut it in the Chase. Norman : For Gordon, I imagine what he's feeling is just like what a veteran may feel at any job. You see these upstarts come in and win races, you don't perform as well and perhaps you wonder if you can still hang. That's a wonderful motivator. Mr. Gordon (hey, respect your elders) can most certainly still hang. 2. Speaking of JGR, Kenseth is one of three drivers in the Chase without a win this year and two drivers, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger , are making their first appearance in the "playoff." How do we expect these guys on the bottom half of the board to fare? Norman : Certainly, you expect more from Kenseth than you do Almirola or Allmendinger because of his pedigree, his team, his equipment ... all that stuff. I'm not sure Kenseth can get to Homestead still in contention for the championship, but there's no reason he shouldn't be in the Eliminator Round. Of all the guys on the bottom of the board, I think he's clearly got the best chance. Cavanna: I'm not totally worried about the winless drivers just yet. The consistency we've seen from drivers like Kenseth and Ryan Newman should carry them forward for a round or two, even without wins. Bruce: You're spot on Brad . Given Kenseth's consistency, I expect him to advance beyond the first round, probably the second. Gets tougher after that, though. Newman has been consistent all year, Greg Biffle more so of late. I think Aric and AJ test the waters and see what it's like. But advancing would be a surprise. A nice one, but a surprise just the same. Cavanna: I hate to say I have little faith in the 47 team (Allmendinger) moving on. But, Aric Almirola is riding into the Chase with two straight top-10 finishes. If he gets three more, that will put him in the next round. Norman : I do think we're going to see a "surprise" driver advance, though. I'd pick Allmendinger, if forced to give a name. He's gotten better at intermediates. More than that, though, I can foresee a scenario in which a guy more favored to advance wrecks at Chicago, and then has a couple of gambles fail as he tries to get back in it over the next two weeks. Cavanna: Brad , I like your thinking for a roundtable rookie. I think the sport and fans are in for a big surprise. It's easy to think of the better drivers and assume they all advance. But one glance at any NCAA Tournament tells you that never happens. There's always an upset or three. Bruce: The thing about it is if a driver advances beyond the first round (Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover), Talladega looms as the cutoff race for the Contender Round and as we know, anything can happen there. How cool would it be, Alan, to see the 43 battling for a title? OK, battling for a spot in the next round? A lot of history there. Cavanna: It's a long shot, but the 43 will certainly be a chic pick for advancing to the top-12. Norman : I am the Kyle Larson of the roundtable, Alan. Cavanna: You're a dry wiper? 3. Now that we've determined who will win, who will advance and who can go ahead and start taking the yellow ID markings off their cars ... which teams on the outside are most likely to pick up a win during the final 10 races? Norman : It was rare to see that happen with frequency when there were 12 (or 13) drivers in the postseason. Now with 16? I think it'll be even more rare. The biggest contender to me, the roundtable rookie, is ... Kyle Larson. Maybe at Charlotte. Heck, he could win any of them. Bruce: I don't think it was that rare ... but the folks that won were often guys you thought would have been in the Chase to begin with most of the time. Tony Stewart , Jamie McMurray , Biffle, Denny Hamlin , Gordon. But you make a good point about the numbers decreasing the likelihood. Cavanna: Prior to the start of the season I picked Austin Dillon to win a race, with Talladega in mind. I'll stick with that. Clint Bowyer showed some promise at Richmond Saturday night, but I worry that may be the team's best performance of the season. Norman : To be fair, it happened three times last year. And if you look at who won those races, two of those guys are in the Chase field this year – Keselowski and Hamlin. And McMurray was the other, winning at Talladega which is a wild card. So if anyone outside the Chase field wins, I think it could portend a big 2015 season. Larson, Bowyer, Dillon ... what about Stewart? Cavanna: I think a lot of people are overlooking what a win by a non-Chaser does to the championship run. Every time that bell rings, it's one less automatic spot for a guy going after a championship. Bruce: Bowyer is tough at New Hampshire, so maybe it's better late than never for him and the MWR team, Alan. But I wouldn't be surprised if one of the rookies, Dillon or Larson, gets a win now that there's no Chase pressure. Norman : Alan, you make a good point about the championship run. Can you imagine in any round, if somehow a non-Chaser wins two in a row? Bruce: Your comments reminded me of something, guys. If a non-Chase driver wins a race in the Chase, does he get one of those yellow "winner" stickers to go above his window? For that matter, does anyone? Cavanna: Everyone likes rewards, Kenny. I hope the stickers remain. Norman : Everyone's a winner here, Kenny. Cavanna: Even Brad Norman's Chase beard. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
From his first national series start to becoming the youngest national series champion Nov. 8: Elliott youngest to win national series title After three wins and numerous top-five and top-10 finishes in his rookie season, Chase Elliott earned the distinction of being the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion by clinching the title at Phoenix International Raceway . " Read more Nov. 1: Championship gets closer to Elliott's grasp Just one race before clinching the NASCAR Nationwide Series title at Phoenix, Elliott increased his points lead over Regan Smith to 48. Although it wasn't a win, it put the opportunity of earning a championship within reach. " Read more Sept. 27: Elliott keeps cool, overcomes Dover adversity Despite struggling at Dover after making contact with the wall and running into the back of another driver, Elliott rallied and emerged from the race with an expanded lead in the standings. " Read more Sept. 4: Breakout was rooted in Richmond Without NAPA pulling sponsorship from Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013, Elliott might not have raced in 2014. NASCAR.com's Brad Norman tells the story of how Elliott landed a spot in the No. 9. " Read more Aug. 18: Ernie Cope to be Elliott's crew chief in 2015 With Elliott's current crew chief Greg Ives moving to Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s pit box in 2015, JR Motorsports announced who will take over the championship team. " Read more July 31: Earnhardt: Hendrick has 'great plan' for Elliott JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr . discussed long-term goals for Chase Elliott and his NASCAR career. " Read more July 30: Greg Ives named Junior's 2015 crew chief Hendrick Motorsports announced that Elliott's crew chief will take over Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s pit box in 2015 -- leaving many to wonder who would fill the shoes of the No. 9 team's pit boss. " Read more July 19: Elliott wins at Chicagoland, moves in points lead Elliott's third win of 2014 vaulted him from third to the top of the Nationwide Series points standings, holding just a seven-point lead over teammate Regan Smith . " Read more May 17: Elliott: From graduation to his full-time job Graduation cap and gown by day, NAPA fire suit by night. Elliott graduated high school and made it to the track just in time for qualifying at Iowa Speedway . " Read more April 11: Elliott wins Nationwide Series race at Darlington Elliott spent his prom night just like he always imagined -- in Victory Lane at Darlington. Recap the rookie's memorable second win of 2014. " Read more April 4: First Nationwide win a coming-of-age moment With Elliott's first win of his Nationwide Series career, he claimed the points lead. Read what JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr . said about his rookie's first victory. " Read more Jan. 6: Dale Jr. tabs Elliott for No. 9 JRM ride With just one victory in the Truck Series, Elliott caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt Jr . like he had with Rick Hendrick, and his full-time deal with JR Motorsports and NAPA was announced. " Read more Sept. 1, 2013: Elliott spins Ty Dillon , gets first Truck win It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done. Elliott's first and only Truck Series victory came at the cost of Ty Dillon 's run. Recap how the now Nationwide Series champ dared to get to Victory Lane. " Read more March 11, 2013: Sun rising over bright future The son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott was determined to make a name for himself in NASCAR -- and he started that journey when he made his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Martinsville in 2013 " Read more MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Matthew Strickert takes you through the garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway for NCWTS GarageCam and pays tribute to an iconic television character.