Host Matthew Dillner and the GarageCam crew takes you around the XFINITY Series garage at Auto Club Speedway but not before coming across three huge beehives.
Ballast violation found in Iowa Speedway inspection
Is veteran next driver to change teams, thrive? RELATED: 2015 Charlotte Media Tour schedule, live video CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- By the time late January rolls around, most people have long since abandoned their New Year's resolutions, an apathetic tone clear as they think to themselves, "I guess there's always next year." Carl Edwards is not like most people. In addition to a new sense of rejuvenation so apparent it was practically dripping from the sleeves of his crisp, navy blue suit, the freshly minted driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is taking the popular New Year's resolution phrase "New Year, New You" to a new level, tossing new team, new teammates, new manufacturer and new crew chief into the mix -- and he couldn't be more thrilled. RELATED: Monday's best quotes from the Charlotte Media Tour "This year's a little bit different," Edwards said Monday during the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR Media Tour presented by Technocom. "It reminds me of my first year full time in the Cup Series. I feel like I've really got to prove myself. I feel a little anxious; a little nervous about it. It's nice. I haven't had that feeling for a long time and it's a motivator. I'm as focused as I've ever been and I'm excited as I've ever been. This is a neat opportunity for me. "I'm just excited to get to learn from these guys and get to race under the JGR banner for Toyota. We had a great test at Charlotte and I'm really ready to go. I've been wearing my driver's suit a lot." RELATED: Brian France gives State of the Sport address The veteran sounds like a kid itching for the first day of school, right down to wearing his new clothes before he even has to. Edwards has every right to be excited for the 2015 season. After spending his entire premier series career with Roush Fenway Racing , his racing tenure seemed to hit a high mark in 2011 when he finished runner-up to Tony Stewart , stalling somewhat in the years since. The 35-year-old was ready for a change of scenery, but needed some assurance that making such a landmark move would be the right choice. Seeing the success of the sport's newest champion, Kevin Harvick , switch organizations to helm a newly formed team and create a four-car organization -- sound familiar? -- certainly didn't hurt. "To make this decision, it's obviously the toughest decision I've had to make in my life, period," Edwards said. "But I looked around and all these guys were making changes and doing very well. … Kevin and Ryan (Newman) this year basically switched teams and (finished) one-two. … Even if you take Tony Stewart 's change, when he left Joe Gibbs Racing , I thought that was crazy. That didn't even seem like it made any sense, but it spurred great performance. Joey Logano , he made a change; huge performance. At the same time, (former Roush teammate and current JGR teammate) Matt Kenseth came over and filled Joey's seat and his performance went through the roof. "I didn't understand that until we first made the announcement. I got that feeling … of 'Man, I've got to go prove myself.' That little bit of insecurity that every driver walks around with for a long time. I hadn't had that feeling for a while and I'm curious to see if that's it. But either way I hope I can do the same thing that those guys have done and have a great year." With Harvick being the ultimate example of what a change of scenery can do, Edwards perhaps will identify a little closer with Kenseth's situation of two seasons ago. After Kenseth made the jump to from Roush to JGR following the 2012 season, the he came out and won a career-high seven races in 2013 to lead the series and finish runner-up to Jimmie Johnson . That said, Kenseth doesn't know if the transition will come as easily to Edwards. "It's probably a little bit different of a situation because it's starting a whole new team for Carl , but he's a guy who's been in one place for a while and is making a jump," Kenseth said. "That's never easy to do, to leave some place where you're comfortable and you understand how it works and you've won some races. I know what it feels like." Even if the No. 19 team stumbles out of the gate, it's something for which Edwards is prepared. He also feels that the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format plays to the benefit of newly formed teams, much like his own. With a ban on private testing and limited seat time thus far (just a short tire test at Charlotte in December), Edwards is almost expecting to have some bugs to work out in the early going. "It was possible that we were going to go to Daytona and not have any practice in the car. That was a little scary," he said. "But if you look at the Chase format, it allows for some growing pains. You can go 20 races and then hit your stride and still be a championship team. We feel like with this new format, there's not a lot of pressure to start. We can go out and find our way. "I believe the Chase format favors guys that have made changes. If you look across the board, people are probably more likely to make driver and crew chief changes, team changes really all that stuff with this format because really you can go 15 races or 20 races and figure things out and still be in the Chase and win the championship. That 4 team (of Harvick) proved it last year. Brand new team. They worked out all the bugs all year and they went and (won the championship)." So, given that Edwards appears to be in the prime of his career, with a crew chief in Darian Grubb that he touts as a "genius" and the stars aligning the way they did for Kenseth two years ago and Harvick last season, does this mean that Edwards will finally break through for his first title? Is he the driver to beat? "I hope so," he said. "If I take a look as objectively as I can, Darian Grubb is an amazing crew chief. He's just amazing. … I feel like I have experience and I've learned a lot and I feel like I'm in the best form I've ever been as a driver. "We should have opportunities to go and perform at a high level. I'm excited to be a part of a four-car team that is this stout. These guys are amazing." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Host Matthew Dillner takes you through the Xfinity Series garage at Phoenix International Raceway and talks with several drivers along the way.
At age 19, Chase will attempt to qualify for first Sprint Cup race Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Think about this for a moment: Chase Elliott , son of the ever-popular Bill Elliott , will attempt to make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Martinsville Speedway , a track steeped in history and tradition, for Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). Not only does he need to qualify for the race, but Elliott also will need to do it without having the benefit of much time spent in a Sprint Cup Series seat. And if that's not enough, if he qualifies for the race -- which is expected to be attended by none other than Richard Petty -- Elliott will do so at a younger age than Jeff Gordon did in 1992. Throughout his short history as a national series driver, Elliott has shown an unflappable, even-keel approach en route to such heights as last season's XFINITY Series title. But if any weekend were to test his Zen-like calm, who could blame him if this were the one? "If I wasn't nervous come this weekend, then I'd think something was wrong with me," Elliott said. "I think that should be the case. With as much excitement as this weekend brings I think you're going to have some nerves to go along with it. I'm looking forward to experiencing both of those sensations." If his nerves indeed need some calming, then Elliott can go to bat knowing he will have Gordon on his side. Jeff just happens to be tied with HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson for the most Cup wins at the track with eight, so it's not like he's coming at Chase with a blank slate. "I think for me, Jeff will probably be the guy I lean on most this weekend," Elliott said. "One, our car is being prepared out of the 24 and 5 shop. Just to be familiar with that group of guys and how they do things, I think that only makes sense to kind of lean on those guys more than anybody else with the plans for next year. Last time I checked, Jeff had run a handful of races at Martinsville; I feel like he'll have some good information and a lot to be learned talking to him." Elliott said he hasn't driven a Cup car since January of 2014, and most of that experience was at Nashville Superspeedway, a 1.33-mile concrete track that was used for testing. Plus, in the time since Elliott drove a Cup car, a lot has changed thanks to the 2015 rules package. Add in the fact that Elliott will be working with crew chief Kenny Francis for the first time, and there are a lot of challenges he'll be facing beyond just the normal task of driving on a tough, tight 0.526-mile track. But besides having Gordon and the entire HMS team on his side, Elliott also has the benefit of it being a break in the XFINITY Series schedule. Therefore, he can concentrate on the very tall task at hand. But as one might expect, his own expectations for his first Cup race sound pretty reasonable. "Hopefully, for me, I just want to execute all weekend and put together a solid week," Elliott said. "I think for us, if we can run all the laps and stay on the lead lap and battle to run in the top 15, I feel like that's a great day to shoot for. I feel like that's possible and that would be a really good day." Of course, if he does something more than that, then it could add to the track's already thick history. It's a history that will be on the young driver's mind. "I think back of all the times I've gone to Martinsville to watch my dad race," Elliott said. "Even not that long ago. Weird to think I'm going to go run a Cup race and not be watching. ... Such a great opportunity and I want to make the most of it." Senior writer Holly Cain contributed to this report. 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
Storied paperclip oval was one of original tracks on NASCAR circuit Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway this weekend, one of two annual treks to the legendary half-mile that have taken place for more than 65 years. Before Charlotte, Bristol, Texas or Talladega. Before Daytona or Darlington even, there was Martinsville. They were racing at Martinsville before NASCAR grew from an idea into reality. “Stock car racing makes its debut at the new Martinsville Speedway next Sunday afternoon when more than 35 of the nation’s leading drivers risk their necks and cars for over $2,000 in prize money. … The new track boasts the largest grandstand of any speedway in the South, a huge affair which will seat 10,000 spectators. The total capacity of the speedway is 20,000 people. Built at a cost of $85,000, the Martinsville Speedway is regarded as one of the finest half-mile dirt tracks in the United States.” The item appeared in one of the region’s daily newspapers. The date was Monday, Sept. 1, 1947. NASCAR was officially incorporated in February 1948. Built by local businessman H. Clay Earles, Martinsville hosted one of the eight original stops on the NASCAR Strictly Stock schedule in 1949. Before that, drivers who would become some of stock car racing’s earliest stars could be found hustling their way around the paperclip-shaped track. Red Byron, winner of the inaugural ’49 race, won the track’s first official event two years earlier, a 50-lap affair for Modified stock cars. Fonty Flock won there in ’48 just as NASCAR was getting started. One by one, the other tracks on the schedule that first season eventually fell by the wayside – Charlotte Speedway, Daytona’s beach and road course, Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsboro, North Carolina, Langhorne and Heidelberg (Pennsylvania), Hamburg (N.Y.) Speedway. Even North Wilkesboro, a staple from the start, eventually faded into the background when NASCAR departed after the ‘96 season. Martinsville, however, remains. “It means we, and by that I mean going back to when the place was built by my grandfather all the way through until now, are doing something right,” said Clay Campbell, grandson of the track’s founder and president of the facility since 1988. “A lot of guys that started close to the same time, obviously they aren’t around now. I think my grandfather had the vision to keep investing in the facility and doing things that were necessary not only from a fan standpoint but from a competitor’s standpoint and everything that he did, I think we’re pretty much following the same philosophy.” • • • “It was dirt to begin with,” Richard Petty said, easing back in the recliner inside his motorhome. “I never ran on it when it was dirt. My daddy did and he won some races.” Outside, cars are circling Phoenix International Raceway , site of the recently completed CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. PIR is roughly 2,000 miles from Martinsville, and Petty, now 77, is nearly as removed from his days as a championship driver. One of the five inaugural members of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, Petty is the sport’s all-time leader in premier series wins with 200 and is one of only two drivers to win seven championships. He’s also a valuable link to NASCAR’s past. And Martinsville, much like the Petty family, is an unbroken piece of ribbon that has run through the sport from its earliest days. Petty’s father, Lee, was NASCAR’s first three-time champion. A Hall of Fame member as well, Lee Petty won 54 times. Three of those victories came at Martinsville – two when it was dirt and a third after the track was paved. “When they asphalted it (in ’55), it was completely different,” Richard Petty said. “When they re-did the track, they cleaned up the infield. When (NASCAR) ran there and it was dirt, there were bushes in the infield, a little creek running down through there. All that was there was the track. “Once they asphalted it, they didn’t just do the track, they cleaned up everything else. It was like a brand new track. It was shaped the same, but everything else was different.” The creek is still there today, running underneath the track and working its way from one end of the speedway to the other. Petty won 15 times at Martinsville, a record matched only by his success at North Wilkesboro. It’s no surprise that Martinsville remains a staple on the schedule after all these years. “Not really,” he said. “It’s just so different from any other track we run.” At 0.526 mile, it’s the shortest of the short tracks and unlike other venues, there’s only the slightest banking in the turns. Turn 43 cars loose all at one and it isn’t just close-quarters racing -- it’s the closest-quarters racing fans are likely to see all season long . “Back when we had drum brakes, the deal was being able to run 500 laps and have brakes when the race was over,” Petty said. “Probably wasn’t but two or three cars that had brakes that could stop the thing when it was over with. “It was just a good track for the way I drove and the way (crew chief) Dale Inman set up cars; we just had a good combination for that race track. We understood the track.” From 1967-73, Petty won 10 times at Martinsville, including five straight starts between ’68-71. “We spent more time working on the brakes that week than we did on getting (the car) to handle or run fast,” Petty said. “From our strategy standpoint … a lot of times we didn’t race that hard. We saved our brakes, stayed in the race. But as far as going out and trying to lead all the laps and everything, that wasn’t our deal. It was more of a survival track. Over a period of time they got the brakes better and it got to where you had to race all the time.” • • • The lone block concession stand in the infield is one of the few reminders of Martinsville’s past. “The last piece of history,” Campbell said. “It goes back as far as the ‘60s, probably longer than that.” Other structures have been upgraded or replaced through the years. The sport has changed, and those that follow it have as well. Keeping up with the fast-paced sport, and everything it entails “is difficult,” Campbell said, “but therein lies the fun part of the business and the challenge of it. “It’s no different than the competitors – they have to keep changing to newer things and keep up with the pace; and the same thing for the facilities. Fortunately now with us being a part of ISC and a bigger global picture we’re more in touch with things that we need from a social media standpoint, Wi-Fi and on and on and on. Things we now have and things we’re exploring for the future.” International Speedway Corp. owns 12 of the 23 tracks hosting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events in 2015. The company purchased the speedway in 2004. Nearly 170 tracks have hosted one or more NASCAR premier series races since that inaugural 1949 season, from Airborne to Wine Creek, Auto Club to Watkins Glen. Most are now gone. Martinsville, one of the very first, is still there. “We’re very fortunate that we had the things we needed and on are par with most of the others so we can keep on moving right along,” Campbell said. “Things like the garage, access roads coming in, the (Turn 4) tunnel, the suites, and things of that nature. “Luckily, as time went on with my grandfather, he didn’t sit still and that was a good thing. Because had he done that we’d be playing catch-up, and now’s not the time to be playing catch-up.” 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
Analysis of all 43 cars in Sunday's Kobalt 400 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings 1. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . An 18th-place start was only a temporary stall for the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, who surged to take the lead on Lap 91. He paced the field for a race-high 142 laps and persevered through "an uncomfortable last run" to earn his first Cup win at the 1.5-mile desert oval and his third straight top-two result of the 2015 season. Harvick, now the points leader, has won his past three contests at Phoenix International Raceway , the next stop on the Cup circuit. " WATCH: Harvick discusses the win in Victory Lane 2. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing . Truex overcame a loose-handling condition midway through the race to record his best LVMS result and earn his third straight top-10 of the year. " READ: Truex's inspirational drive 3. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . As the temperatures increased on the 1.5-mile desert track, the handling of Newman's Chevrolet initially disappeared. He rallied to finish third and capture his best career LVMS result. " WATCH: Newman discusses Vegas finish 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Junior showed strength driving the high line, but his late-race lead was cut short by a hard-charging Harvick. "Second, fifth, fourth -- it don't matter (where you finish) if you don't win," said Earnhardt, who now ranks second in the points standings. " WATCH: Junior weighs in on late-race gamble 5. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . The left-front of Hamlin's Toyota sustained damage early while he tried to navigate a congested pit road. The impact was enough to affect his initial speed but not his overall performance. He is the biggest mover from the race weekend, improving 11 spots to eighth in the standings. 6. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG-Daugherty Racing. The single-car outfit continues its ascent after Allmendinger wheeled his way to his second straight top-10 result. Allmendinger picked up three spots and now ranks fifth in the standings. 7. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . A tire vibration and subsequent pit road violation could have spelled doom for Keselowski, but he caught a break in both cases. First, the competition caution gave his team a chance to address the vibration. Much later, Jimmie Johnson blew a tire, which prompted the caution and enabled then-beneficiary of the free pass Keselowski to return to the lead lap. The 2012 Champion picks up six spots in the standings, improving to 16th. 8. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson's pit crew performed well, helping the Cup sophomore nab his first top 10 of the season. 9. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Kenseth scored his second top-10 of the year after working with his team to solve a loose-handling condition. Another big mover, Kenseth improves eight spots to now rank 10th in the points standings. " See the full Sprint Cup Series standings 10. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Two pit road speeding penalties couldn't keep Logano down, as the driver led the opening 27 laps prior through the competition caution. The Daytona 500 champion rallied to post his third straight top-10 of the year and ranks third in the points standings. 11. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray just missed recording his first top-10 of the season and improves seven positions to 25th in the driver standings. 12. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard, who narrowly avoided being collected by Carl Edwards ’ incident on Lap 195, improves four spots in the points standings to 13th. 13. Brian Scott , No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. Scott benefited from the beneficiary of the free pass after a caution on Lap 187 and went on to claim his best career Cup finish. 14. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush-Fenway Racing. Biffle started strong, but encountered a loose-handing condition that hindered his forward progress. Still, he improved two spots in the points standings to 11th. 15. Brian Vickers , No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing . Vickers, in his first race back since open heart surgery, began Sunday's race by thanking his team for not giving up on him. He surged quickly through the field after starting 28th. 16. Regan Smith , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Smith weathered an early pit road penalty and returned to the lead lap as the beneficiary of the free pass after Carl Edwards ’ accident on Lap 195. Smith was running fourth with 17 laps to go and was among the leaders trying to hold out for a late-race caution during the long green-flag stretch. 17. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne could seemingly run any line he wanted at Vegas on Sunday and spent the first half of the event racing inside the top five. His luck faded, though, on Lap 195 when he was traveling the high line and Carl Edwards forced him into the wall. " MORE: Kahne, Edwards clash in Kobalt 400 18. Jeff Gordon , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Gordon, the Coors Light Pole Award winner, had to start from the rear of the field after being involved in an accident with Danica Patrick during final practice. The highs and lows continued for the veteran in his final Vegas race. He improved to crack the top 10 by Lap 143, but sustained critical damage to the nose of his car after bumping Jeb Burton 29 laps later. Burton was trying to avoid being collected when Jimmie Johnson blew a tire. " MORE: Tough day for Gordon in Las Vegas 19. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney recovered from early issues to find speed late in the race and post his best result so far of the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season. 20. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Dillon improved 15 spots to crack the top 10 on Lap 75, but later was dealt a pit road penalty that impacted his team's forward march. 21. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing . Rear grip was a problem for Bowyer in practice and on Sunday, he constantly reported a tight-handling race car. His team gambled on pit strategy by staying out during late-race, green-flag stops, but Bowyer ultimately had to stop to make it to the end. 22. David Ragan , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Despite qualifying 13th, Ragan started from the rear of the field after slapping the wall during final practice. The team made consistent gains and ran steadily inside the top 25. 23. David Gilliland , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Crew chief Donnie Wingo reminded Gilliland that Las Vegas had a history of getting looser as the race continued and encouraged Gilliland to use the driver-adjustable track bar feature. 24. Sam Hornish Jr ., No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Late-race gains improved the handling of the No. 9 Ford, and he held on to score his best result at LVMS since 2009. 25. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Although handling was an ongoing issue, Mears' top-25 result keeps him inside the top 10 of the points standings. He is ranked ninth going into next week at Phoenix International Raceway . 26. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Almirola ran as high as ninth on Sunday and raced inside the top 20 until he was clocked going too fast entering pit road at Lap 197. 27. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick's team salvaged her starting spot after she was involved in a last-minute accident in final practice. She reported aero issues on Sunday, which she said made her car easy to turn sideways in traffic. 28. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne struggled to find balance all race long in his Ford, which shifted from a tight- to loose-handling condition as the race unfolded. 29. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse's Vegas run was complicated after he made contact with the wall and then hit a loose tire on pit road. He worked with his team to persevere through the damage. 30. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing . McDowell narrowly avoided colliding with Michael Annett , when Annett lost the handle on his car around Lap 150. Still, McDowell held on to earn his best LVMS finish. 31. Justin Allgaier , No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Allgaier struggled to make forward progress after being penalized three times throughout the race by the new pit road scoring system. " MORE: Allgaier's car too light in post-race inspection 32. Cole Whitt , No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Although Whitt's team struggled to find the right combination, he held on to achieve his best Las Vegas result. 33. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . A steering box issue compounded initial handling woes for Stewart, who also was dealt an uncontrolled tire violation during a Lap 84 pit stop. 34. Josh Wise , No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing. Wise kept his nose clean during Sunday's race and quietly steered the No. 98 machine to his best result at the 1.5-mile desert track. 35. Landon Cassill , No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Smith Motorsports. An early pit road violation wasn't insurmountable for Cassill, who went on to post his best Vegas finish. 36. J.J. Yeley, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Yeley finished 16th in Saturday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race, but struggled to carry that momentum over into the Cup scene. 37. Brett Moffitt , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Moffitt opened the race with promise after posting an eighth-place finish last weekend at the intermediate track of Atlanta Motor Speedway . He qualified 36th and struggled to make up much ground, ultimately brushing the wall as he concluded his first outing at Las Vegas. 38. Brendan Gaughan , No. 62 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. The only Las Vegas native in the race -- given the absence of the Busch brothers -- was clocked too fast entering pit road on Lap 76 during green flag stops. 39. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Early in Sunday's contest, Annett wiggled exiting Turn 4 and made hard contact with the wall. Tire smoke prompted him to make an unscheduled pit stop. 40. Jeb Burton , No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing . The lone Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate in the field, Burton slowed to avoid Jimmie Johnson 's first incident when he received an inadvertent nudge from behind by veteran Jeff Gordon . 41. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson led 45 laps during the first half of Sunday's race and appeared poised to contend for his fifth Las Vegas victory when tire issues arose. Two blown tires within 14 laps of one another sent Johnson to the garage at Lap 186. " MORE: Tire trouble ruins Johnson's day at Vegas 42. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Edwards' promising run was cut short Sunday when his car slid up the track and made contact with Kahne. Edwards almost saved his car from a subsequent spin, but ultimately retreated to the garage with a busted oil cooler. " MORE: Edwards, Kahne clash at Las Vegas 43. Alex Bowman , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . An engine issue on Lap 28 dashed Bowman's hopes of continuing the momentum he started last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway . 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
Veteran looks to lead the way for revamped Roush Fenway organization MORE: Full schedule of season previews Team: Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 Ford Rank in final 2014 standings: 14th Wins: 0 Year in photos: Greg Biffle 2014 highlights Strides: In a year of struggles, The Biff showed some of his brightest glimmers in some fairly unlikely places. Most known for its performance on intermediate-sized tracks, the No. 16 team led at least a lap at all four restrictor-plate races last season and posted a sweep of top-10 finishes at both road courses, cementing Biffle's status as an underrated road racer. But the 45-year-old veteran's most clutch moment came in a must-have late-summer surge to clinch a berth in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Biffle rose from 19th place on the outside of the provisional postseason grid after Indianapolis by patching together five straight top-10 finishes and a hard-fought 19th in the pressure-packed regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway . "Those last three were like the last three of the championship (hunt) in '05 for me, just to get in the Chase," said Biffle, who qualified for NASCAR's playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years. "Because I've said forever if you're not in the Chase, you're a nobody. I don't mean that in a negative way, but the media focus and attention in this sport is about the Chase, it's about the playoffs, and if you're one of the 16 that make the Chase, you're one of the top brands in this sport, in my opinion." Setbacks: Last season's results on 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks -- venues formerly in Biffle's bailiwick -- illustrated the full breadth of the performance deficit for one of Roush Fenway's most venerable teams. Biffle's best efforts came in April with a sixth place at Texas and a fifth at Darlington, but at Michigan -- arguably his best track -- he managed just a 20th and a 10th. The winless season was only the third of Biffle's 12-year career with team owner Jack Roush, and his tally of three top-five finishes in 2014 matched a career low. But the downturn in speed, Biffle indicated, hasn't been a sudden development for the Concord, North Carolina-based organization. "We'd have to start years back and look at the way we've gotten to this position," Biffle said. "We've probably missed opportunities to change our simulation program and … it kind of turned technical faster than we did as a company. So the amount of engineers, how organized that process has to be, and how seamless you have to get that data, formulate that and get it to the race track, that's where we had some holes in our program as well. It's going to take a bit to fix that, too. You're not going to fix that overnight, so we're working hard at shoring that up." Quoteworthy: "There wasn't anywhere we were good at last year, really. All across the board, our performance was down. Pit stops were good, but you gain two or three spots on a pit stop and you lose them when they throw the green flag, it doesn't really help you. Or if you don't qualify good, and then in 20 laps you're 20th, that doesn't help you either. We've just got to find speed in our cars." What's next: The No. 16 Ford's primary colors will be in flux for 2015, with Ortho Insect Control and the Kellogg Company's Cheez-It brand helping fill the void of departing sponsor 3M. But the driver-crew chief combination will remain intact as Biffle will continue to work with Matt Puccia, who's called the shots for the team since the middle of the 2011 season. Recent changes to the Roush Fenway driver lineup may have more of an impact. Carl Edwards completed his long -running tenure at Roush last season, not far behind Matt Kenseth 's exit from two years before; both now wheel Toyotas for Joe Gibbs Racing . In their place are twenty-somethings Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., back in Roush's No. 17 for a third year, and Trevor Bayne , moving up from the XFINITY ranks for his first full season at the Sprint Cup level. The new teammate dynamic leaves Biffle firmly in a position of senior leadership as the team tries to build momentum. "When you lose Matt and then lose Carl , they were a wealth of information when it comes to setting up the cars and we could look at their data and things like that," Biffle said. "So it's going to be a little bit of a learning curve for us, but we're up for the challenge." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Bruce: From starting spot to pit selection, qualifying run sets up race day Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Never underestimate the importance of qualifying. While it carries with it no guarantee of a solid finish on race day, the position earned in qualifying impacts a great deal more than where a driver will start the race. This comes to mind in light of qualifying for the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season. At Daytona, teams were irate after a crash collected several cars during the first of three rounds of group qualifying on the 2.5-mile track. Last week, problems off the track created a furor -- delays in the inspection line resulted in 13 cars failing to make it to the grid in time to post an official qualifying lap. No big deal, right? Jimmie Johnson , one of the 13, wound up winning the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in spite of his 37th-place starting position. Matt Kenseth , positioned 36th in the lineup, also failed to make it to pit road before the first round of qualifying ended. He finished fifth. It was a big deal to those who did manage to make it through the inspection process in time, and it was likely a bigger deal to those who didn't. Why not do away with it? Why not determine the lineup based on a blind draw or some other means that favors no one? Because qualifying still matters. Regardless of issues that surfaced at Daytona and Atlanta, qualifying continues to play an important role in what takes place on race day. The advantages of winning a pole or qualifying well don't end when qualifying has been completed. Actually, they've just begun. For starters, the order for pit selection is determined based on qualifying results, with the fastest teams getting first choice of available pit stalls. That's why the pole-winning team usually claims the No. 1 stall, located closest to the exit off pit road. With no cars pitting in front, it's a quick easy drive out of the box and onto the track. Others near the front of the lineup quickly fill in those stalls located closest to openings in the pit wall (and provide access to and from the garage). Those stalls provide a clear entry or exit, depending on location, and are also highly sought after. The positioning of timing lines on pit road, used to determine speed, are also a factor when it comes to picking a pit stall. Pit road speeds are based on the amount of time that elapses as a car travels past two timing lines, or segments. A driver with a pit stall located just before one of the lines will typically speed up after passing the first line in the segment in which the team's pit stall is located. Because he or she is pitting before crossing the next line, the overall time is not in excess of that which is allowed. How, then, was Johnson and the team able to overcome his poor pit stall location in Atlanta? Early in the race, Johnson often lost positions on pit road even though his No. 48 team had no problems when servicing the car. It wasn't until the second half of the race that where the team was pitted became less of an issue. Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, said the early problems were "a direct result of us not being able to qualify." "Believe it or not, there are only a handful of pit boxes (available) ... we had to shoehorn in where we could," he said. Johnson was pitted near the center of pit road; Carl Edwards had the spot behind him while Joe Nemechek was pitted in the box directly in front. With 43 cars in the field, Johnson wasn't the only one hemmed in, but it was one more thing the team had to deal with as its driver sought to make up ground throughout the course of the race. "The 19 (of Edwards) ... qualified well, ran well; we always had to come in behind them," Knaus said. "The 34 (of Nemechek) ... for the first half of the race was doing a good job of maintaining on the lead lap. We were shoehorned in the middle (during our stops)." That slowed Johnson's entry into his pit box as well as his exit once the stop had been completed. Knaus said his driver often lost "six to eight spots" when on pit road in the first half of the race. It wasn't until Johnson was running ahead of Edwards on the track that he was assured of a clean entry into his pit stall. At about the same time Nemechek went a lap down, meaning he was no longer allowed to pit with lead-lap cars. "Once that all happened," Knaus said, "the guys were able to knock out some super pit stops." While issues such as an engine change or a missed drivers' meeting will result in a driver having to drop to the rear of the field before the race starts, pit selection has already occurred and isn't affected. Drivers starting inside the top five won 15 of last year's 36 points races, and 26 were won from a top-10 starting spot. Fast in qualifying doesn't always mean fast over the long run, but combined with other factors, it certainly doesn't hurt. A better pit stall is a plus. It's not a guarantee. And it all starts with qualifying. "It's a direct result of what happens on Friday," Knaus said. "That's why I've said time and time again, your race starts on Friday. "How you qualify sets you up for the event, for your pit selection, (and) sets you up mentally. It does the whole thing." 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
Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne make contact sending Edwards spinning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.