RELATED: Homestead-Miami hosting Goodyear tire test HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Waiting out a morning shower in the Homestead-Miami Speedway garage on Wednesday, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was dressed casually but clearly at work, talking with his Stewart-Haas Racing crew as they hovered over laptop computers and gestured toward his plain gray No. 4 Chevrolet SS. The last time this group was at this track, they were getting showered in champagne, not rain, celebrating Harvick's 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship title, thanks to a victory in the season finale here. But it was all business for Harvick Wednesday as he and nine other drivers came to the 1.5-mile track for a one-day open test for Sprint Cup teams, attended by three of last year's four championship contenders, also including last week's winner Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) and Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ). RELATED: Anheuser-Busch to change look of SHR's No. 4 car in 2016 "You know, I actually hadn't even thought about it to tell you the truth," a smiling Harvick said of his first time back at Homestead since his title-winning performance last November. "I know that doesn't make for a great story, but no one [on the team] has even mentioned it. Everything happens so fast in this sport from a week-to-week basis and you get so caught up in what you need to do the next week. "We're always trying to look forward so I really hadn't thought about everything that happened last year. We're so focused on being in position, to hopefully have a chance to do that again and get back here." Harvick's primary championship challengers were of similar mindset. And like all of the 10 drivers here -- also including Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Larson , Martin Truex Jr ., Ty Dillon , Ryan Blaney , Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne -- the lone opportunity to turn some extra test laps at Homestead is something not to be missed, even if track time boiled down to a couple late morning hours before heavier rains interrupted the schedule. With the elimination-style format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs heading into its second year, the importance of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway has increased exponentially. When the Sprint Cup Series arrives in South Florida in three months, four drivers will be eligible for the title – the highest finisher in this race will be crowned champion. Last year, Harvick won the race and therefore, the season trophy. Logano, who collected his third win in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford last weekend at Bristol, also spoke about the emphasis teams now place specifically on being prepared for Homestead. MORE: Logano victorious in Bristol night race "Hopefully this test is very important for us," Logano said with a slight laugh. "You hope it is [because that means you're in the championship hunt.] Just getting to here (season finale) is a challenge. "If we do, then this test today will be the most important test of the year. So we definitely want to put a lot into it and make sure we get a lot out of it and really understand what we learned out of it." Logano's three wins would rank him right behind the season's four-time winners Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch for the start of the Chase on Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway and like Harvick, Logano believes his team is right where it needs to be at this point in the season. "Right now, we're peaking at the right spot, and getting a couple wins in the last three weeks is what we need to do heading into the Chase," said Logano, who finished 16th in the 2014 Homestead race. "Winning the Bristol night race last year kind of propelled us into the Chase, I thought, and gave us good momentum into the Chase. Getting all the way to here [Homestead] was a heck of an accomplishment. And we just need to focus on what we need to do. I feel like as a team we learned a lot in terms of how to execute a championship weekend." RELATED: Harvick scores another runner-up finish It looks like everyone will have to raise their game to dethrone Harvick, however, who has a pair of wins and a series-best 17 top-five finishes highlighted by 10 runner-up showings already this season. "We've struck a pretty good course in terms of being able to have a plan in place for the Chase, and everyone has done a good job in terms of being prepared when it comes time for Chicago," Harvick said. "We've been ready every week. We've just got to keep doing those things. ... No different than last year when we made it happen when it counted." WATCH: Harvick chases Logano in the closing laps at Bristol
RELATED: Updated standings Chris Buescher gambled at Bristol and almost came up big. The key word in the previous sentence: 'Almost.' The 22-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver took the lead at the .533-mile track after electing not to pit on Lap 192 of 300. Buescher paced the field for the next 106 laps, but a fuel pick-up issue on the penultimate go-around of the race ended any hopes of triumph. Buescher was relegated to 11th, while Ty Dillon finished third, cutting Buescher's NASCAR XFINITY Series points lead to 19. If Buescher didn't go for the win, he wouldn't have lost as many points to Dillon. "We had the speed, but it wasn't meant to be," Buescher said. "I'm glad we took the chance. I wouldn't change it if we could do it over again, but unfortunately it knocked us right out of a top-10 and out of a win." RELATED: Buescher: 'I'm glad we took the chance' Buescher and Dillon will continue to battle for the points lead in Saturday's Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (3 p.m. on NBCSN) -- the third and final XFINITY Series road course race of the season. The two drivers are the only competitors who finished in the top five of the previous two road course races. A natural on road courses, Buescher won at Mid-Ohio last year in addition to his two top fives while turning left and right this year. He placed 18th in his lone start at Road America last season. " Road America is a very difficult and unique road course," Buescher said. "I love road racing and look forward to the challenge." Dillon finished 19th in his first-ever series start at Road America last year. He enters Saturday's race riding a streak of four top-five finishes. "Our team is looking at the big picture and sometimes we have to take a step back and realize that this is a long season; to take it little by little," Dillon said. "This past weekend in Bristol was a perfect example -- we struggled the first part of practice but (Crew Chief) Nick (Harrison), (Race Engineer) Danny (Efland) and the team just took a step back and reevaluated. We have a championship to win here and it won't be easy. "We have 11 races to go and we're not going to let up."
Anheuser-Busch confirmed Tuesday that it will be shifting its brand on reigning Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick 's No. 4 Chevy from Budweiser to Busch for the 2016 season. "NASCAR continues to be a priority platform for our beer portfolio," said Lucas Herscovici, vice president of consumer connections at Anheuser-Busch. "We are committed to the sport of racing, the fans and the Stewart-Haas Racing team we support -- specifically the No. 4 car of Kevin Harvick . "To that point, and given we evaluate all of our sports properties on an annual basis, we will be shifting our brand equity in Harvick's car and team from Budweiser to our Busch beer portfolio for the 2016 NASCAR season. "The Busch brand is well positioned for this partnership given the brand's storied history with the sport. We have a lot of exciting plans in development with SHR for 2016 and will share those details once finalized." Harvick's Stewart-Haas Racing team similarly celebrated the decision to bring one of the sport's iconic brands back to the spotlight. "Anheuser-Busch and specifically the Budweiser team has been a valuable team partner for the No. 4 car driven by Kevin Harvick ," SHR Executive Vice President Brett Frood said. "We've had tremendous successes with their logo donning our car and look for that to continue as we close out the 2015 racing season. With that said, we are excited to celebrate the Busch brand not only returning to NASCAR, but returning to the sport on our team." Busch beer was the longtime sponsor (1984-2007) of what is now called the XFINITY Series.
RELATED: Darlington's throwback paint schemes Some people might call it sky blue or even Carolina blue, but in racing it's Petty Blue, and with Day-Glo Red and white it creates the iconic No. 43 paint scheme that will dress up Aric Almirola 's No. 43 STP Ford for the Sept. 6 Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Almirola's throwback paint scheme honors Richard Petty's 1972 Plymouth Roadrunner, the first time The King's car featured sponsor STP with the Petty Blue and Day-Glo Red on the quarter panels. "STP has been a proud partner of Richard Petty for nearly 44 years now, and all of that started with this 1972 paint scheme," said Jamie Kistner, vice president of marketing for STP. "To be able to bring that first year back to the track through this paint scheme and with Aric Almirola has been a lot of fun and has brought back some great memories of STP's storied history in NASCAR for our fans. Darlington Raceway is hosting a great throwback event that's produced a lot of excitement and we're honored to be a part of it." STP Racing announced the throwback paint scheme on Twitter with a video honoring the No. 43's history and showing the painting of the Darlington car. Petty, a seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, raced with the STP logo on the hood of his No. 43 car for 21 years. The King has 200 career wins, and 60 of them came with STP aboard. "It will be neat to see the car that started our partnership with STP 43 years ago back on track at Darlington," said Petty. "It will be fun to see all the throwback schemes racing at Darlington and on Labor Day Weekend. It just feels right to have the Southern 500 back to Labor Day Weekend and is fitting that we celebrate tradition there with throwback paint schemes." Several members of the 1972 championship-winning team will be with Richard Petty Motorsports at Darlington: crew chief Dale Inman, as well as crew members Richie Barsz, fabricator; Tex Powell, mechanic and jackman; Les Barsz, mechanic and transporter driver; Billy Biscoe, mechanic and gas man; Jimmy "Zoomer" Kovalchik, fabricator and tire carrier; and Barry Dodson, painter. MORE: Hall of Fame driver Labonte to be grand marshal for race
No one would blame Cameron Hayley for getting homesick. The 19-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver resides in Sandusky, Ohio where his ThorSport Racing team is based -- 1,891.3 miles away from his hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Most of the tracks he races at are even farther away. Distance has not stopped Hayley from chasing his NASCAR dream. Although it's located on the opposite side of Canada, Hayley will have a homecoming of sorts when he performs in front of his fellow countrymen in Sunday's Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1) -- the NCWTS' only road course race of the season. "Not only is this a track I've been to before, it's also in my home country," said Hayley, who ranks sixth in the NCWTS standings on the strength of three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 14 starts this season. "I just hope that I will have a good run for all of my Canadian fans." An alumnus of the NASCAR Next initiative highlighting the sport's top up-and-coming drivers, Hayley is still searching for his first NASCAR national series win. If he takes the checkered flag on Sunday, he would be the first Canadian to win a NASCAR national series race since Ron Fellows visited Victory Lane in Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2008. Racing in his first full-time NCWTS season, Hayley has gained momentum lately, logging six top-10 finishes in his last eight starts, including a career-best fourth-place showing at Pocono. He made his series debut at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last season, finishing 11th and believes his prior experience there will help him on Sunday. "We've done really well at tracks that I've been to in the past this year, already," Hayley said. "I've been to Sonoma a couple times and that place was really difficult. You look at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and think, 'it can’t be as difficult as Sonoma ,' but it's a very fast race track, and fast race tracks are not forgiving. It takes a lot of finesse and a lot of guts to go out there and get it done. We are bringing a really good truck, so I think this will be another good race for us to go out and get a solid top five, if not a win."
In this episode of The Dirty Air Podcast, the guys are joined by Jeb Burton to discuss his Darlington paint scheme, the racing at Bristol and the finer points of the Virginia accent.
RELATED: Smith seals the deal at Mid-Ohio Regan Smith defined what it meant to pull a 180 at Mid-Ohio last Saturday. One week after nearly coming to blows with Ty Dillon on pit road at Watkins Glen, Smith found himself smiling and pumping his fist triumphantly in Victory Lane. "This is an incredible feeling, just an awesome feeling," Smith exclaimed after winning for the first time in 52 starts. On Friday, Smith will try to celebrate for the second consecutive week by winning the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). "Once you do it (win a race) once, you want to do that every week," Smith said. "That moment when you pull up to the pit wall and do a burnout with your guys standing there, who put so much time and effort into everything that you get to go out there and showcase, there's no moment like that, nothing that compares to that, no feeling or sensation." Currently fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Smith trails his JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott (+26 points), Ty Dillon (+27) and Chris Buescher (+51) for the lead. Bristol is a prime place for Smith to gain ground on his young adversaries. He has made as many starts (11) at the .533-mile track as Elliott, Dillon and Buescher have combined. RELATED: Series standings Also on the line for Smith is the $100,000 NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash bonus. To earn the extra money Smith must finish ahead of Daniel Suárez, Ryan Blaney and Elliott Sadler . He grabbed the first two Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonuses at Dover and Indianapolis, so if Smith earns the bonus this weekend, he can win $1 million through the Dash 4 Cash program by winning the XFINITY race at Darlington on Labor Day weekend. RELATED: Smith wins second round of Dash 4 Cash, $100,000 "We want to win this weekend, for sure, with the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash on the line, and there’s no better place for it than Bristol," Smith said. "We're looking forward to it."
RELATED: Full results from Bristol " Updated standings BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kevin Harvick became the first driver since 1972 to post double-digit runner-up finishes during the course of a season Saturday night, trailing race winner Joey Logano across the finish line in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion had to overcome two pit road penalties to put himself in contention for the win, but was unable to reel in the Team Penske driver in the closing laps of the 500-lap event. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver took the disappointment of another near-win in stride. He's had worse finishes that weren't "near as cool as finishing second," he said. "I'm not frustrated at all because I've been on the other side of this fence, and you'd give everything in the world to finish second every week because it's not easy. This is a hard sport, and to go to all these different types of race tracks and see the success that the team has, I couldn't be prouder … because I know that at any moment you can rattle off two or three wins in a row at any type of race track, so it's fun." No driver had posted 10 or more runner-up finishes in a single season since Bobby Allison managed the feat in '72. Harvick became just the eighth driver to do so, joining Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Dick Rathmann, Joe Weatherly and Buck Baker. Pearson holds the overall mark, registering 18 second-place results in 1969. Harvick failed to lead a lap at BMS, but not for lack of trying. Starting seventh, the Sprint Cup Series champion had driven up to fourth by Lap 126 when Kyle Larson brought out the second caution of the night. But a violation for crewmen coming over the wall too soon dropped the No. 4 Chevrolet back to 22nd on the ensuing restart. He had raced his way back inside the top 10 by the halfway point of the race, and was in the top five at Lap 350. But another penalty, this one for speeding on pit road, dropped him back outside the top 10. With less than 70 laps remaining, Harvick was third on a final restart, taking second from Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski , when the race resumed. "He (Logano) was just one step ahead of me in traffic," Harvick said of his attempts to track down Logano. "I couldn't get my car to rotate across the center like I needed it to, and every time I tried to force it, it would snap the back out." Logano called it "a very exciting last 20, 30 laps for sure." "I really thought we were going to be able to pull away because I thought we were really good in the long run, and then we didn't pull away," Logano said. "And I was like, ‘uh-oh.'" After the race, Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick, said he still didn't understand how his driver could get hit with a speeding penalty when driver Denny Hamlin wasn't cited for excessive speed. "He (Hamlin) was pushing us around the corner," Childers said. "(Kevin) said his speed went up like 300 RPM when he was pushing him. He was like, ‘Oh God, this is going to be close.' And we were speeding." Otherwise, Childers said, it was another good night for the defending champions. "The team overcame a lot of adversity this weekend, which is a plus getting ready for the Chase," he said. "We had a clutch problem this morning and had to change the master cylinder, the clutch … all kinds of stuff. Then to go through what we went through in the race and fight back. "The biggest thing is just Kevin drove his butt off to get back up there and everybody did a good job overcoming it." Runner-up finishes in a season Number Driver Year 18 David Pearson 1969 15 Bobby Allison 1970 14 Richard Petty 1964 13 Ned Jarrett 1965 12 Bobby Allison 1972 12 David Pearson 1968 12 Joe Weatherly 1962 12 Dick Rathmann 1953 10 Kevin Harvick 2015 10 Buck Baker 1958
Jonathan Merryman talks with Joey Logano in Victory Lane about the thrilling battle with Kevin Harvick in the closing laps and shows off his new trophies for winning at Bristol Motor Speedway.