Cain: Bigger and more memorable at Texas
RELATED: Gallery of memorable moments at Texas " Full weekend schedule FORT WORTH -- From track "weepers" and multicar inaugural-lap pileups to a winner's circle confrontation between two Indianapolis 500 champs, Texas Motor Speedway has been the site of some of the most remarkable, memorable and bizarre story lines of any circuit on the NASCAR circuit. The 1.5-mile oval outside Fort Worth celebrates its 20th year hosting a NASCAR race this week with Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.) And for those of us around at the very beginning, it seems a fitting time to reminisce a bit about the facility's famously storied early history. As they like to remind you in Texas, everything is "bigger" there. And it has been. The track's early trials and tribulations have only contributed to its great character and esteem. In my 25 years of sports journalism, the opening races at Texas Motor Speedway still remain among the most unforgettable times of my career. Never before and never since have I covered a specific beat that provided as much sensation, controversy and must-see-TV as TMS in the early years. Two decades later, the track located at the intersection of an interstate and two major Texas highways has evolved into one of the sport's most prestigious venues. It boasts the largest HD screen, named "Big Hoss," fantastic spectator seating and the most condominiums of any track on the circuit. Plus really great racing. Nearly 195,000 people showed up for the inaugural Texas race in 1997 and most of those who were ticket holders then still are, two decades later proving they are as faithful and optimistic as they were devoted. It turns out those have been good traits for this endeavor. MORE: Paint scheme preview for Texas I had just started work at The Dallas Morning News newspaper in the spring of 1997 a few weeks after Jeff Burton took the checkered flag for NASCAR's first Cup series race at Texas in April. The new facility was considered the "home track" to cover. After reporting on the Indianapolis 500 in May, I was immediately back home in Dallas, ready for the Indy Racing League's night-time debut at TMS the next week. There, a 26-year old future three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart put on an open-wheel show for the ages, racing wheel-to-wheel lap-after-lap with Buddy Lazier. Stewart -- who went on to win two Cup races at Texas (2006 and 2011) -- led a race-high 100 of the 208 laps only to suffer an engine failure that night. But toward the end of the race there were questions regarding the scoring shown on the monitor in the press box. And soon after making my way down to the infield to prepare for a super-tight Saturday night newspaper deadline, the real craziness began. While trying to get post-race quotes from the apparent first-time winner Billy Boat ( XFINITY Series driver Chad's dad) and Boat's team owner, Texan A.J. Foyt, I was standing a few feet away when driver Arie Luyendyk confronted Foyt in Victory Lane. After questioning the results, challenging Foyt and suggesting he was actually the legitimate race winner, Luyendyk tumbled into the victory flowers. Boat and Foyt hoisted the trophy. It was surreal. I was on a crazy tight deadline. But the next day in a hastily called press conference, Luyendyk was declared the winner after USAC conceded a scoring error. After USAC officials suggested problems with the track's scoring system, TMS President Eddie Gossage took the press conference podium and strongly reminded that the speedway wasn't responsible for the scoring. "I got home at 3 in the morning knowing we gave the trophy to the wrong winner and had a press conference for 8 in the morning," said Gossage. "I go in to the press conference with two hours of sleep and I'm sitting in the back row and the head scorer for USAC says that the speedway's timing and scoring equipment didn't work. "He says it again and then a third time so I just walked up on stage and stepped up to the podium and eased him to the side and said, " Texas Motor Speedway doesn't own a stop watch. ... People have a right to know when they leave the race track who the winner is and we all didn't get what we paid for." Then after a dramatic exit and door slam, Gossage recalls, "My dad called from Tennessee and said, 'You were raised better, acting like an idiot on television for all the world to see, embarrassing me and your mom.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'You didn't know it was live on ESPN?' "I didn't. And then I was like, 'You're right, sir. I'm sorry. I know better.' " Gossage has a good laugh recalling the whole ordeal now. Foyt, who still disputes the result, kept the trophy and Luyendyk was given another one. A year later, Boat recalled of the evening, "We went into Victory Circle knowing nothing about a scoring error, only that someone was talking derogatory about our race team. You don't do that in a big Texan's Victory Circle." Luyendyk, of Holland, said the incident -- replayed repeatedly all over the world at the time -- actually made him and the Texas Motor Speedway more famous overseas. MORE: Gossage and drivers try to draw state of Texas And then in 1998 came NASCAR's second Cup try. After two multi-car accidents in the inaugural race, conventional wisdom promised this one just had to go down more smoothly. NASCAR's biggest stars such as Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin were among those who crashed in the opening race. Darrell Waltrip finished last after being involved in a 13-car wreck on the very first turn of the very first lap of Cup competition there. And Burton ended up winning by 4 seconds. Surely, everyone figured, the second race would be smoother. It wasn't. "Weepers" became a familiar word. The water seeping through the track caused qualifying to be completed a day late. And of all things, there was a huge 10-car accident on the second lap of the race. Jeff Gordon and yes, Waltrip, were collected in that melee. Mark Martin won the race by a half-second over Chad Little and Robert Pressley. Shortly after, TMS went through a re-paving and re-fitting, track owner Bruton Smith and Gossage committed to correction. "The first year it was just terrible and everything seemed to go wrong," Gossage conceded this week. "And the second year, obviously you try to improve so all of a sudden here's these weepers that came through. "I remember driving into the infield and in the rearview mirror saw Lake Speed knock the wall down in Turn 1 in qualifying. I thought, 'Oh no.' "I'm always the worst critic," Gossage said, logging the long hours readying for the weekend's big events. "There are things other people might not have noticed but I did. For some reason things worked really well in 1999 when Terry Labonte won and it's been better since then. That's the way a race weekend was supposed to go." Not only has it been better, it's typically a discussion point in every season review. In 2005, Texas finally got the second date it had longed for since I worked at the Dallas paper nearly a decade earlier. And the facility -- big enough to fit every Texas sporting stadium in its infield -- is also a big-time player in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . It's still providing those jaw-dropping, television highlight moments seemingly born with the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr . scored his first Cup win at TMS in April 2000. And Chase Elliott got his first XFINITY Series win here in 2014 driving for Junior at JR Motorsports. Gordon, who won this race in 2009, has starred in a couple TMS highlight reels, too. He was involved in a pair of high profile skirmishes from taking on Burton on-track after a wreck in 2010 to a crazy pit road scuffle with Brad Keselowski in 2014. "You have to be honest," Gossage said. "And looking back, it's just how things occurred. I wouldn't trade any of it, if it is what got us where we are. I'll take where we stand in our success as the most successful major market speedway in the history of this sport. I'll take that. "I won't trade my job with the guy running any other race track because I'm just so proud of what's been accomplished here."
Ty Dillon ready to relieve Tony Stewart at Talladega
MORE: How qualifying works at 'Dega TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Double duty continues this weekend for Ty Dillon as the Richard Childress Racing driver competes in Saturday's XFINITY Series race and is expected to take over the No. 14 of Tony Stewart at some point in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event. There's still a bit of newness to the 2016 season but Dillon, 24, has already made 13 starts between the two series. In addition to his full-time role with RCR, he's made three starts in place of Stewart as well as two for Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . "I was hoping to maybe be full-time this year in the Sprint Cup Series about this time last year," Dillon said Friday morning at Talladega Superspeedway , site of Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "That is where I kind of had my goals set, my eyes set, but the opportunity didn't come along. "I can't thank Stewart-Haas (Racing) … enough for giving me the opportunity to fill in this year with Tony being out. Not only has it helped me with my career and getting better as a race car driver, but it's helped me show people that I can get the job done in other equipment too." Stewart, a three-time premier series champion, missed the first eight races after suffering a back injury in the offseason. He made his first start last weekend at Richmond International Raceway . RELATED: Stewart: Full coverage of injury, comeback Dillon split time with fellow driver Brian Vickers in the car during Stewart's absence. With the potential for multi-car accidents much higher at Talladega, Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing officials made the call to have Stewart start this week's race and then turn the ride over to Dillon. Dillon is also scheduled to qualify the car on Saturday. Because of his extensive time in the car, the interior will be fitted to address his needs. RELATED: Ty to qualify for Tony at Talladega "I haven’t talked to Tony yet, but I talked with Mike (Bugarewicz, crew chief) and the guys," Dillon said of the interior work. "They said it's just a quarter-inch difference and the belt set is all that we are playing with. So, we've got adjustable belts to make up for that really quickly. "We have had to make a couple of changes to kind of compensate for a little bit of both, but mostly everything in there is built for me and for my comfort, because I will be in it for the longer part of the race." By starting the race, Stewart will be awarded the points earned as a result of Dillon's finishing position. In addition, NASCAR officials said that should Dillon win Sunday's race, it would be counted as a win toward Stewart's Chase eligibility. Stewart would also have to be among the top 30 in points. He currently trails Matt DiBenedetto , in 30th, by 101 points. RELATED: How Stewart will be scored at 'Dega "First of all it would mean I won a Sprint Cup race and I would be pretty excited," Dillon said. "On top of that, to be able to get Tony a step closer to being locked into the Chase would be really cool. … "I haven't started a race without the goal of winning my entire career. That is what my focus is. As soon as I get strapped into that race car I'm planning on going to the front and hopefully winning the race. If it all comes together and we do win the race, I'm sure it will be a heck of a party and everybody is going to be happy." Stewart, who will retire from Sprint Cup competition at season's end, said he was appreciative of the opportunity to contend for a spot in the 10-race Chase, but said he "wouldn’t feel good about" earning a berth based on a win by another driver. "I think for me to make the Chase it needs to be because I ran the whole race and won the race, not started it and somebody else won it for me."
Keselowski and Hendrick: What might have been
On April 18, 2009, Mark Martin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway . It was the 36th NASCAR premier series win for the 50-year-old driver and his first with team owner Rick Hendrick. A week and a day later, Brad Keselowski won the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway . It was the first career win for the 25-year-old, and the first premier series victory for independent car owner James Finch. Two distinctly different races won by two distinctly different drivers. Martin's NASCAR career was beginning to wind down; Keselowski's, on the other hand, appeared to have only just begun. But there was one string that tied the two together -- Hendrick Motorsports . HMS was home to Martin, Jimmie Johnson , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . And it was expected by many to be the future home of the up-and-coming kid from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But a collection of factors that came together throughout the course of that season altered the racing landscape as well as the career path of Keselowski. It would be nearly three years before the next driver change at HMS. By then Keselowski had not only found a new home, but he was also on his way to winning the Sprint Cup championship. 'I WAS NOT GOING TO LOSE' The sun was out and the grandstands were packed when the 2009 Aaron's 499, the season's ninth Sprint Cup race, went green for the final time. As race leader Ryan Newman tried to keep Earnhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, in check, Keselowski darted to the inside behind Carl Edwards on the track's massive backstretch. It was a move that didn’t seem to mean much at the time. But at the start-finish line with two laps remaining, Edwards and Keselowski shot to the outside entering Turn 1. "Here they come; look at the 99 and ..." NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip began. " Brad Keselowski ," lead announcer Mike Joy and co-analyst Larry McReynolds chimed in. When the white flag appeared, Edwards and Keselowski had caught and were beginning to pull away from Newman and Earnhardt Jr. Racing back through the tri-oval, Keselowski turned his No. 09 Chevrolet to the outside, and then quickly dropped to the bottom as Edwards moved up to block. Realizing the bottom lane was now open, Edwards reacted quickly -- but not quickly enough. Contact sent the No. 99 Ford spinning. Edwards' car came off the track briefly and was beginning to settle back onto the track it was struck by Newman's Chevrolet. The impact sent Edwards roof-first into the frontstretch catch fence. Meanwhile, Keselowski kept his foot in the gas, racing across the finish line for the win just ahead of Earnhardt Jr. "I was not going to lose," Keselowski said in his post-race winner's interview. "I was not going to lift and (I was going to) hold my ground and consequences be damned." A full-time competitor at the time for JR Motorsports (which, coincidentally, counts Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick among its ownership group) in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Keselowski said he didn't know what the future held after his first premier series win. "I know I don't have anything locked in," he said. "That's really all I can say ... I don't have a job secured for next year, and everything to this point has been wait-and-see. I know this certainly can't hurt." But behind the scenes, moves were already underway. Finch's Phoenix Racing, which purchased it engines from HMS, had put Keselowski in the car at the suggestion of Hendrick. And the JRM/Hendrick pipeline, which grooms talent in the lower series to help restock the Sprint Cup program, was taking root. Keselowski had made two starts for Hendrick the previous year, and would make seven all together in '09, in addition to five races with Finch. Perhaps his future wasn't as cloudy as it appeared. "Rick had come out and told me, actually had made it a point to say to the media that he thought I was a future driver at Hendrick," Keselowski told NASCAR.com recently. There was only one problem. SWAN SONG? On July 4, 2008, HMS officials announced that Martin had signed a two-year agreement to drive the organization's No. 5 Chevrolet. According to the news release, Martin, who would run a full schedule in 2009, would "run a partial Sprint Cup schedule ... in 2010, sharing the No. 5 Chevy with a to-be-determined second driver.” By most accounts, that driver was expected to be Keselowski. But in May of '09, less than three weeks after Martin's Phoenix victory, HMS officials announced a revision to the '08 agreement. The veteran driver would return in 2010 to once again run the entire season. With Keselowski waiting in the wings and Martin winning and agreeing to return the following year, "Rick was kind of half pregnant," Keselowski said. "He (was) stuck. "My feeling was, after I had won Talladega, I'm going to get this 5 car ride partially next year, pair it with something else, let's go. I didn't know what it was going to be. We'll figure it out; let's go." A phone call and subsequent meeting with Hendrick, however, changed all that. "I was kind of expecting more of a 'Hey, we're going to expedite the process of clearing out the rest of this,' " Keselowski said of the meeting, "And instead I got a 'Hey, I don't have a ride for you. You need to figure something else out. I'll try to help.' "That was late April, early May of that year. My intent ... was to give him that time to kind of make right on it somehow, find a ride because he had made me the promise that I would have that car. It didn't sit all that well, but I understood the circumstances and so forth." Months passed and Keselowski busied himself with his full-time XFINITY Series effort at JRM while making a handful of Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick and Finch. Hendrick, in the meantime, was exploring the various avenues that might keep Keselowski in the HMS camp. Possible scenarios included Stewart-Haas Racing , at the time a two-team effort, and Red Bull Racing. Consideration was even given to fielding a Sprint Cup entry out of the JR Motorsports shop, according to the owner. But the pieces didn't fit and as the summer wore on, Keselowski's future remained uncertain. "I wanted him to wait a year," Hendrick told NASCAR.com. "... I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that Mark had done so well, and I had tried to talk (Mark) into staying. "I've told all our guys, the first time I sat down with Brad he impressed me because he was so intense about the whole car and wanted to be involved in everything. He was just so committed. I told our guys he's got the right attitude about racing and driving. I just needed him to wait." Waiting, though, wasn't part of Keselowski's plan. "My perception is a driver is a lot like a perishable fruit," Keselowski said. "You've got so much time, then he spoils and goes bad. There are a lot of variables, much like anything." PENSKE COMES CALLING The Keselowski family has always been involved in racing. Brad's father Bob was an ARCA Series standout and a former winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Ron Keselowski, an uncle, scored two top-five finishes in 68 premier series starts while older brother Brian Keselowski has one or more starts in all three of NASCAR's national series. "We knew the Keselowski name from being here in Detroit," Walt Czarnecki, an executive vice president at Penske Corp., said. "His dad, his uncle, all that. They would run out at MIS ( Michigan International Speedway ) when (Penske) owned the track." But it was a business associate, lawyer/agent John Caponigro, who brought up the young driver's name during a conversation in 2009. "We thought he was committed to Hendrick," Czarnecki said. "He'd been on loan to James Finch to run several races. But some things were changing." Conversations with Keselowski ensued, in Michigan as well as Mooresville, North Carolina, where Team Penske is headquartered. "All this time," Czarnecki said, "Still having this somewhat uncertain situation with Mr. Hendrick." Team Penske had grown from a two-team to a three-team organization in '08, fielding cars for drivers Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr . In '09 Newman departed to join owner/driver Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing and 32-year-old David Stremme was brought on board to fill the open seat. But the Keselowski opportunity was intriguing, according to Czarnecki. "We've tried to sign on what we consider to be the best available young drivers with a great deal of potential that we could mold and have them grow in our organization," he said. "And I think that Brad certainly fit that description. "But above and beyond that, he had a bigger vision as to what role he wanted to play in terms of the development of the team. ... Just how he saw different things coming together ... "Some of it may have been a little unrealistic; some of it was certainly the enthusiasm of a young man who had a goal in mind. ... But he had this great enthusiasm and he had this great desire and this great commitment. And that appealed to us." With the Hendrick effort seemingly stalled, Keselowski went back to Penske with a request -- to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series. In addition to its Sprint Cup effort, Team Penske was fielding one full-time XFINITY Series team with driver Justin Allgaier . Expanding that program to two teams running all the races was problematic, given the economy at the time. Told such a scenario was unlikely, Keselowski was left to consider his few available options. But Penske officials continued to work until enough of the appropriate pieces were in place. "Sure enough, Roger called me one night and said 'Alright, I've got it put together,' " Keselowski said. "It kind of caught me off guard. I was sold. That's it; he made it happen." "I couldn't sit around and wait. ... Roger had gone above and beyond to put something together that I felt like was the opportunity I needed. ... The economy was on its way down fast; Roger (through his various businesses) had a lot of immunities to the economy. Rick made it very clear to me that he was not going to invest himself without having a sponsor, and the economy was not in a spot where he could facilitate that." Hendrick had been aware of the Penske interest from the beginning, having had conversations with his fellow team owner about Keselowski's status. "Roger called me and asked me could he talk to him," Hendrick said. "I didn't want to stand in his way. Brad's a hell of a talent. It was a timing issue. "It's worked out for him. At his age it would have been nice if we could have kept him. ... If I got a call from Roger and I was in his spot I would have done exactly what he did." POSTSCRIPT On Sept. 1, 2009, Team Penske officials announced that the organization had signed Keselowski to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series beginning the following season. Since then, Keselowski has won 17 Sprint Cup races, 28 XFINITY Series races and championships in both series. "I don't want to sound mercenary but he brought us our first Sprint Cup championship (in 2012)," Czarnecki said. "Because that vision that he outlined, we tried to work with him and bring people along, bring people into the organization, have him work with people like (crew chief) Paul Wolfe, it was really the realization of that vision. That's what it (has) meant. "And his intensity hasn't changed." Former teammates Busch and Hornish have departed, and fellow driver AJ Allmendinger has come and gone. Keselowski, now 32, is the veteran of a Penske group that now includes 25-year-old teammate Joey Logano . "I wasn’t looking to switch," Keselowski said. "If things would have gone the way they were supposed to go before Mark won that race at Phoenix, I would still be there."
Dale Jr.: 'Awesome to see' dad appreciated on birthday
RELATED: Full schedule for Talladega TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt Sr. would have been 65 years old on Friday. Fittingly, his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr ., spoke about his father on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway , where the paternal duo has a combined 16 Sprint Cup Series victories. "It's crazy to think of what he would have been like at 65 years old," said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. "You kind of had an idea he wouldn't have changed a whole lot had he lived a little bit longer, but at 65 and what would he have been like at 80 and all those things would be hard to imagine." RELATED: Crew, competitors recall Earnhardt's final win " See all of his 76 wins So often in racing -- and in sports in general -- names and figures come and go as they pass through, their careers short or long. One has remained constant -- Earnhardt. "One of the best things about it, and I've said it before, is that it's great that people still talk about him. That the sport, his fans, the media, that everybody still acknowledges who he was and what he meant. That is all I care about … that we don't ever forget just the impact that he had because I felt like he had so much influence, definitely in the top five, top three people that influenced this sport as a whole, as much as Bill (France) Sr. and guys like that. I put him right up there with people that really changed the sport. "It's so awesome to see him get that kind of appreciation and recognition after all these years. Hopefully, that is something that never changes. I see it on his birthday and days like this is when I'm reminded of that appreciation that everybody has for him."
Hendrick gets most complete performance of 2016
FORT WORTH, Texas -- One by one as they emerged from their cars on Texas Motor Speedway 's pit lane in the early hours of Sunday morning, the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers stood on pit road, most allowed a smile and a couple shook their heads as they discussed and rewound their race night. All four finished among the top eight in the Duck Commander 500 -- a best overall showing for the team in 2016 -- and it was a workout for each; a hard-earned, well-deserved conclusion to a busy night of close-quarter racing on the 1.5-mile high banks. Dale Earnhardt Jr . led the team with a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch . Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott scored a career-best fifth-place showing, just getting beaten at the start/finish line by three-time defending Texas champ Jimmie Johnson . And Kasey Kahne rang in his 36th birthday early Sunday with a hard-fought, eighth-place rally in the race's overnight hours. It was his second top-10 finish of the season. But although each driver fared similarly well, each driver's route to a successful night was widely varied. Earnhardt ran among the top 10 most of the race, which started nearly two hours late because of rain showers. He chased down Busch in the closing laps, coming just 3.9 seconds shy of his first win of the season and that coveted automatic post-season berth for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . "We got lucky at the end to be able to restart on the inside," Earnhardt said of the race's final restart with 33 laps remaining. "The outside was kind of difficult and we restarted fifth and were able to get up to third and raced the 22 (of Joey Logano ) at the end. "It was fun. The car was very loose and very challenging but a lot of fun for me." Of the Hendrick team's night, Earnhardt said, "I think the company as a whole is pushing real hard to improve and there's an impression within the company that we need to grind a little bit and make some gains going forward into the middle of the season here. But I was real encouraged with my car tonight." Elliott echoed Earnhardt's cautious optimism. He was encouraged to score a career-best finish, but still insistent that the only true success is a trophy as he navigates an understandably large learning curve. "I definitely think it was a solid night," Elliott said. "It’s not a perfect night. "We would love to turn all four cars in the top 10 to having all four cars in the top five, and I think that's a goal we have to shoot for. We're excited to run in the top five. We're also not content and we want to be contenders and running fifth isn't a contender. You've got to be up a little higher. That's our goal and we'll keep working at it." Johnson, a heavy favorite to mark his fourth straight win, had to overcome multiple setbacks in the race from front-end damage on the first pit stop to navigating heavy traffic to bad timing during a caution period that put him at the end of the lead lap in the waning portion of the race. "We had plenty of adversity tonight," said Johnson, who now trails Busch by six points in the season standings. "What a fight this was and I'm very proud of this race team. There were four or five things that went on tonight. "I really liked (crew chief) Chad's (Knaus) strategy at the end to keep putting four tires on it and put us in an offensive situation. I feel like the 24 (Elliott) and I could have worked our way to the lead but it didn't quite work out. "Looking at the car and what I felt in the car, some other mistakes we've got to clean up to be as competitive as we were with a damaged car, I will sleep well tonight." His teammate Kahne shared the race review. He joked that he spent at least two hours just trying to race his way back onto the lead lap. The effort resulted in a season-best finish, however, after three consecutive finishes of 22nd or worse even after starting from the outside pole position last week at Martinsville. "You're fighting all night," Kahne said of getting back on the lead lap. "It's always someone different and someone fast and it was tough. "About the time you get to be first behind the lapped down cars, someone in front gets lapped. It took a long time to get back on the lead lap and a lot of battling." Kahne was also involved in a late race incident with fellow Washington state native Greg Biffle , whose No. 16 Ford hit the wall and ended up scored 39th in the 40-car field. "I feel really bad about that," Kahne said. "I just caught Greg. I shot low, he started coming down and I hit the brakes and I was coming and he was coming down and we just hit. He shot up the track and I saw his car on the big screen and it looked pretty damaged. I feel so bad because I hate having any contact with anyone." Overall, Kahne was encouraged by his team's showing in Texas. And he's glad to be going to Bristol this week, where he won in 2013 after starting on the front row. "It's Bristol, a lot can happen there," Kahne said, breaking into a slight grin. "I like it and a day race will be good there. "This weekend was the best we've worked together from start to finish on a weekend with all aspects from preparing, racing to calling the race and communicating. It's the best we've done in a long time."
Jesse Little looks ahead to Truck debut
NASCAR Next driver set to take on Monster Mile DOVER, Del. -- Sporting a grin from ear to ear, Jesse Little walked into the media center on Thursday at Dover International Speedway ready to take on the weekend. Piloting the No. 97 Carolina Nut Company Toyota for ThorSport Racing, the 18-year-old K&N Pro Series East regular and NASCAR Next driver will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at the Monster Mile on Friday. "I've been looking forward to this weekend for a long time," Little said. "I know this is a family-owned team and we've put a lot of hard work and preparation into this weekend and I think my Camping World Truck Series start at Dover is something that still hasn't hit me yet. But I'm certainly excited and I love coming to this place. I enjoy it very much and I'm looking forward to a great weekend." Sitting side-by-side to Little during the press conference were two of the Truck Series' youngest drivers, 17-year-olds Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek . With just a total of 23 starts shared between the two drivers, they offered Little any bit of advice they could give for his first Truck start. "I'd say take it easy, especially the first lap of the race," Custer advised Little . "It's amazing how much the air affects these things. I was honestly scared for my life the first time I did it." In Custer's first start at Dover last season he finished 14th. "Just finish the race," Nemechek told Little with a chuckle. "Run as many laps as you can to get the experience." In Nemechek's first start at Dover last season he finished sixth. Little , Custer and Nemechek are all on this season's NASCAR Next roster and agree that the program has brought the young drivers together. "It makes it enjoyable for us as drivers when we know we have someone we can go to and talk to and they'll understand," Little said. "It makes it easier and at the same time it makes it fun." Manning Little's pit box is another familiar face to the young driver. Harold Holly, a 19-time winning crew chief in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and former pit boss for Little's father, Chad , who is currently NASCAR's managing director, technical inspection/officiating. Holly will be calling the shots during Friday's Lucas Oil 200 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). "Harold and I go way back ... He's always been a great family friend," Little said" "Him and I have great chemistry and that goes the same for the ThorSport guys. It's been great to have their help. I have the ability to lean on (ThorSport teammates) Matt (Crafton) and Johnny (Sauter) and those guys and their knowledge is amazing and I'm definitely going to use that for my advantage and lean on those guys quite a bit this weekend." Lucky for Little , ThorSport Racing teammate Crafton just so happens to be a two-time Camping World Truck Series champion. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Patrick: 'Chad Knaus would've killed me'
Host shares story of his last NASCAR experience Chatting with Kansas winner Joey Logano on his NBCSN simulcasted talk show, "The Dan Patrick Show" on Monday morning, host Dan Patrick shared a funny little story about the last time he was at a NASCAR race -- and why he might not be welcome back. "I was in Chicago a couple of years ago and I almost leaned on Jimmie Johnson 's spoiler, pre-race," Patrick said. Uh oh. " Chad Knaus, I think, would've killed me. I was talking to Jimmie right before the race and I almost leaned on his spoiler." Logano, quick on his feet, noted that if he bent it the right way, Knaus may have even thanked him. "If you were pulling it back, or something, ( Chad ) might've been okay with it." Not that he would know anything about those sort of hijinks. RELATED: NASCAR to police flared skirts in 2015 Still, Logano wants the host to come out to a race to cheer him on – well, maybe. "I don't know if you want me out there, Joey," Patrick said. "Because then I'm going to want to get in your pits and I'm going to want to work the pits." Logano, entrenched in a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup run, can't take any risks and responded appropriately. "Then just don't come."
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Pit Road Officiating: From 'what-ifs' to Year 2
NASCAR's warm embrace of innovation was about to send out a pivotal trial balloon. The snazzy new Pit Road Officiating (PRO) system had been thoroughly tested and troubleshot, closing in on its goal of implementing technology to make officials' jobs more efficient and safer and to better enforce pit-road penalties. Still, there was a natural anxiety among the sanctioning body's competition officials ahead of its grand debut. "Just a common, normal apprehension," Chad Little explained, adding with understatement, "and just a little thing called the Daytona 500 ." Little , named to the new role of NASCAR's managing director in charge of technical inspection and officiating just 20 days ahead of last year's season-opening Great American Race, wasn't alone in sharing some mild anxiety. Media were given a tour of the then-nondescript trailer in the offseason, complete with a demonstration of the eight workstations where officials would cycle through double-time video footage to verify potential penalties against laser-mapped telemetry -- all in close to real time. There weren't vocal doubters, but uncertainty remained about how the system would work in real race conditions. RELATED: See photos from that tour Each event has its own importance, but with the maiden voyage taking place in stock-car racing's Super Bowl, the stakes were plenty high. "We're going into Daytona every year for our biggest race with not necessarily on pins and needles, but we're geared up, we know that we can do the job, but we're always thinking about the 'what-ifs,' and I'd be lying if that wasn't the case going into last year with the PRO system," said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations. "But we had redundancies, we had a plan in place … for every scenario that we can imagine, but at the same time we know there's also the unknown. "Sometimes what we're the best at is dealing with things as they come along. In that case, fortunately, we enjoyed the fruits of it and it was more fine-tuning than dealing with any major issues, which is a credit to everybody involved." The PRO technology, which returns for its second year with a much higher comfort level entering next month's Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway , was on display earlier this week at the NASCAR Summit, the industry's annual preseason convention for track services, medical, safety and security workers. The record number of almost 900 attendees for the Summit's 15th year had the opportunity to tour the PRO trailer firsthand and learn about its intricacies. It turns out that many of those worries heading into 2015 were unfounded. All of the system's fail-safes performed as expected, and fears that the Pit Road Officiating trailer would be especially nitpicky in identifying infractions never materialized: Last year's Daytona 500 tallied 29 pit-road violations, compared to 31 for the previous season and 28 in the year before that. The races that followed took a similar pattern. "We were pretty much really comfortable with everything, but going into Daytona, we were concerned that what if we have 100 penalties," Little said. "We don't want to bog down the race with a bunch of travelling calls. We were real mindful of that, but we didn't know exactly what we had because it's a brand-new system. Those things develop throughout the year, but thank gosh we didn't have any stumbling blocks at Daytona." WATCH SYSTEM IN ACTION: Footage of over-the-wall penalty for No. 88 Learning logistics Attendees at Monday's sessions at the NASCAR Summit received guidelines about how to best prepare their tracks for year two of the Pit Road Officiating structure. The seminar stressed the importance of uniformity in painting the bordering lines to pit boxes and the need to coordinate with NASCAR officials when mounting the 50 cameras that capture pit stop footage during the course of a race. Adhering to those instructions tends to make life easier for George Grippo, NASCAR's managing director of technology field and media operations. Beyond the PRO system, his responsibilities include the logistics of the trackside TV compound, timing and scoring, user support and maintenance and all the wiring, cables and power needed to make the technology go. The biggest learnings from PRO's first season, Grippo said, were that camera placement is paramount and that every track presents its own set of obstacles. Bristol Motor Speedway , for instance, had an accommodating roofline but cameras were mounted at much higher angles than a larger track such as Michigan International Speedway , where cameras were placed over the top row at the back of the grandstands at a greater distance. At Sonoma Raceway, cameras were located on a makeshift mount on heavy scissor-lift equipment aimed at pit road. In each instance, working with tracks became imperative. "Every time we went to a new place, it was a challenge," Grippo says. "I think now we've kind of gotten that stuff dialed in, but first-year growing pains were all around, trying to figure it out on the fly -- and you don't have a lot of time."
Jesse Little teams with ThorSport for Truck debut
NASCAR Next driver to make first national series start at Dover Team Little Racing announced Friday afternoon that it has reached an agreement with ThorSport Racing for a part-time schedule for NASCAR Next driver Jesse Little in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season. Little , 18, had previously announced that he would make his truck tour debut May 29 at Dover International Speedway . Friday's announcement provided extra detail on his 2015 plans, including the partnership with ThorSport -- winner of the last two Camping World Truck Series championships with veteran Matt Crafton . "To have this alliance and support from ThorSport Racing for my Truck Series Events is a huge step forward for me, Team Little Racing and our partners," Little said in a release provided by his team. "Our goals are to put together solid finishes and represent ThorSport Racing, Duke Thorson and our sponsors including NASCAR Technical Institute and Performance Friction Brakes in a first-class manner." Thorson has fielded trucks in the series since 1996. His three-truck effort this season includes rides for Crafton, Johnny Sauter and rookie Cameron Hayley . "We look forward to supporting Jesse as he makes his transition into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series," Thorson said. "We feel that this alliance with ( Little ) will assist him in reaching his ultimate goal in NASCAR." Little will have a familiar face atop the pit box in Harold Holly, a 19-time winner as a crew chief in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The veteran wrench spent two seasons as crew chief for Little's father, Chad , in both XFINITY and Sprint Cup competition. "Jesse is an impressive young man in so many aspects of life," Holly said. "He's a strong student, treats everyone with respect and is eager to learn new things. From a racing perspective Jesse has won at every level he's competed on, takes care of his equipment, provides his team with good feedback and knows how to pace himself during a race. This partnership with ThorSport Racing will give us a chance to compete at one of the sport's top levels where Jesse can show his skills. "We have solid goals, will work to be a good teammate and always be respectful on the track. As a team we're excited to get to Dover and see what our team can do in our Camping World Truck Series debut." Jesse Little is in his fourth season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he was the rookie of the year in 2013. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule