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Chase Pistone lands ride with NTS Motorsports
Pistone will make season debut at Martinsville
Chase Elliott earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega
RELATED: Lineup " See all 40 cars TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways. In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 . The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon , who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott. And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott , earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways. Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986. "This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts. "But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here." The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles. "There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win." Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.089 mph). The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner. Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race. Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
Lofton, Pistone top Friday's Truck practices
Lofton -- filling in for Gaulding -- scored the fastest speed in the second session
Keselowski holds off field for Talladega victory
RELATED: Race results SHOP: No. 2 gear TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Taking control in the final three laps of Sunday's wreck-filled GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway , Brad Keselowski claimed his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at the 2.66-mile race track and solidified his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Choosing the top lane for a restart on Lap 186 of 188, Keselowski powered his No. 2 Team Penske Ford past Kurt Busch with two laps left and crossed the finish line as a gaggle of cars wrecked behind him coming to the stripe. "The last three or four restarts before that, the high lane had went, and as the leader a lot of it is out of your control," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. "You need the cars behind you to push and a couple of them they did and a couple they didn't. That's just part of racing, and there was nobody at fault with that. "We actually lost the lead and got a better run. Jamie McMurray behind me gave me a great push, and then Kyle Busch gave me a push that was big to clear the 41 ( Kurt Busch ), and without those two I couldn't have made it to the front. So 'Thank you' to them. It's Talladega. This is my fourth win here. I never thought I'd win at Talladega four times, and I'm super-pumped. This is awesome." In claiming the 19th victory of his career, Keselowski became the fourth two-time winner in the Sprint Cup series this season. RELATED: Keselowski celebrates fourth 'Dega win The race ended under caution, with Kyle Busch in second place and Austin Dillon bringing his battered No. 3 Chevrolet home in third as the survivor of two early crashes. McMurray ran fourth, one spot ahead of polesitter Chase Elliott , who worked his way up from ninth to fifth after the final restart. Ty Dillon finished sixth after taking over for Tony Stewart under the first caution on Lap 51, a move that proved wise given the combination of Stewart's recent recovery from a broken back and the chaos that followed late in the race. Clint Bowyer was seventh -- his best result so far this year -- and Kurt Busch was shuffled back to eighth on the final lap. With drivers jockeying for position and making risky moves throughout the race -- with a sense of urgency exacerbated by the threat of rain that never came -- Sunday's event featured 10 cautions and more torn-up race cars than one can count on a full complement of fingers and toes. There wasn't just one "Big One." There were three massive wrecks at Talladega on Sunday, with one melee on Lap 161 involving 21 cars, more than half the field. Kurt Busch ignited that accident by tapping Jimmie Johnson 's bumper in the wrong place, turning Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet into Paul Menard 's Chevy and triggering a wreck that ended with chassis strewn across the racing surface and on the infield grass. On Lap 181, a 12-car chain-reaction incident took out hard-luck Matt Kenseth , who had led 39 laps, second only to Keselowski's 46. Earlier, on Lap 96, Chris Buescher 's No. 34 Ford took the brunt of a seven-car crash that ended with Buescher barrel-rolling three times after contact from Michael Annett 's Chevrolet. "I thought we were clear of the wreck," Buescher said after leaving the infield care center. "I saw it happening in front of us and checked up, and the next thing I knew I was upside down. "We felt we were decent this race. We were holding our own and waiting, but here we are. It's unfortunate. I really hate it for the guys." By the time Buescher flipped, Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s winning chance already had evaporated. Fighting a loose handling condition in heavy traffic, Earnhardt lost control of his No. 88 Chevrolet on Lap 50 and wiped out Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne . Earnhardt returned to the race only to be ridden into the Turn 1 wall when Carl Edwards ' damaged Toyota blew a right front tire and shot up the track into Earnhardt's path. That was a two-car incident, a small one relative to the multicar crashes that followed in the second half of the race, which, in true restrictor-plate racing fashion, produced 37 lead changes among 17 drivers. "You know, it's just Talladega,” Kyle Busch said, summing up the afternoon. "It is what it is. These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they're real easy to get out of control. "I really don't know why we're bumping and pushing and everything else, because these cars, they go slower when you push. Makes a lot of sense. That's how stupid we are." Keselowski might argue that point, because pushes from both McMurray and Busch got him to the front when it counted most.
The Rundown: Talladega driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings Breaking down the full field for the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway : 1. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. Keselowski stayed out of trouble all day, and that was the difference in picking up his second win of the year and fourth at Talladega. Big pushes from Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch helped, too. Keselowski led a race-high 46 laps, including the final 17. Grade: A+ 2. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. The No. 18 was stout all day and kept Busch ahead of the crashes, although the 18 did receive a nudge at the outset of the 21-car wreck on Lap 161. He finished second for the second consecutive week for his eighth top-five finish of the season. Grade: A+ 3. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Car chief Greg Osborne summed up Dillon's day on Twitter: "We pitted 17 times. Wrecked 4 times. Ran out of tires. We were 32nd 1 lap down. We NEVER quit." Dillon was thrilled with the finish and credited the team for not panicking: "It was wrecked, and we finished third!" Grade: A+ 4. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Despite being collected in the 21-car wreck on Lap 161, McMurray scored his first top five of the season. It was his seventh at Talladega, tying the superspeedway with Charlotte for McMurray's most top-five finishes. Grade: A 5. Chase Elliott, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott started from the pole and led the first 13 laps and 27 overall. Even though he posted his third top-five finish in the past four races, Elliott said the No. 24 team was "pretty lucky to get where we got to." He avoided trouble -- and all the wrecks -- by running near the front most of the race. Grade: A 6. Tony Stewart /Ty Dillon, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart made his second start of the season, but unlike last week at Richmond, he didn't finish the race. Stewart, who missed the first eight races of the season because of a back injury, gave way to Dillon -- as planned -- during the second caution. Dillon then navigated through two big, multicar accidents to bring home the No. 14 with its second top 10 of the season. Stewart gets the points and the top-10 finish, but it doesn't take away the spotlight from Dillon. Grade: A+ 7. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Bowyer survived involvement in the 12-car wreck on Lap 161 to post his best finish of the season and second top 10 in the past three races. Grade: A 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch was the catalyst for the 21-car wreck on Lap 161 when he got into the back of Jimmie Johnson while running in the top 10. Busch emerged unscathed to restart fourth. Later, he couldn't hold the lead after the last restart on Lap 186 and is now 0-for-61 in restrictor-plate races. Grade: C. 9. Ryan Blaney, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney survived the 21-car wreck on Lap 161, and the 12-car wreck on Lap 181 happened right behind him. His good fortune resulted in his third top 10 of the season. Grade: A 10. Trevor Bayne, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. A speeding penalty on his first pit stop was no omen. Bayne spent plenty of time in the top five on Sunday, while leading 22 laps. (He led 12 laps in the previous nine races.) His average running position was 8.6, fourth best, and that -- along with good fortune -- kept him out of every wreck Sunday. Grade: A 11. Landon Cassill, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Cassill had an eventful day to find himself just outside the top 10 with one lap to go after surviving a pit-road penalty on his first stop and eluding big trouble in the race's two biggest multicar wrecks. But his grade drops a notch because it was Cassill who started the final multicar wreck. He was running 12th when he turned Cole Whitt into Kevin Harvick , touching off a seven-car wreck and a caution just before the leaders reached the finish line. Grade: B- 12. Michael Waltrip , No. 55 Toyota, Premium Motorsports. Making his 60th start at Talladega, Waltrip posted his best finish at the superspeedway since finishing fourth three years ago. Waltrip survived an early scare on Lap 59 when Joey Logano pushed Martin Truex Jr . into the back of Waltrip, who was running fifth at the time. Waltrip went onto the apron but came back onto the track and spun, narrowly avoiding contact. Grade: B+ 13. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing. Truex was running in the top 10 immediately behind Kurt Busch when Busch made contact with Jimmie Johnson to ignite the 21-car wreck on Lap 161. Truex's Toyota returned to the track all taped up before sustaining even more damage in the seven-car wreck that happened just before Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag. Grade: B- 14. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. The multicar wreck at the finish had Allmendinger on his knees next to his battered Chevrolet, but it couldn't overshadow his fourth top-15 finish at Talladega in 13 starts and his first lap led of the season. Grade: B 15. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick raced among the leaders for most of the afternoon and led four times for nine laps before sliding across the finish line sideways in a damaged car, one of seven cars involved in a crash leading up to the checkered flag. Grade : A 16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse was able to avoid major damage in the 21-car wreck on Lap 161 but sustained heavy damage coming to the finish line when he was collected in the seven-car pileup. Grade: B 17. David Gilliland , No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland survived the late wrecks for a top-20 finish in first start of the season (he failed to qualify at Daytona). It was his best finish since an 11th in the 2015 Daytona 500 . Grade: B 18. Cole Whitt, No. 98 Toyota, Premium Motorsports. Whitt was just outside the top 10 with one lap to go but couldn't improve his position before taking a hard hit against the outside wall as he approached the finish line. It was the fifth top-20 finish of his career and first since his career-best 13th at Talladega a year ago. Grade: A 19. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing. Making his second start of the season (he finished 31st at Daytona), Labonte avoided major damage in the 12-car wreck on Lap 181 and scored his first top 20 since the 2014 Daytona 500 . Grade: A 20. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. That Biffle finished 20th should come as little surprise. His average finish at Talladega is 19.7, and he finished 20th last October at Talladega, too. Grade: C 21. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing. McDowell produced his second-best finish of the season (he finished 15th at Daytona) despite being involved in two of the day's biggest wrecks along with drawing the ire of Danica Patrick . Grade: B- 22. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The No. 48 was caught up in two wrecks, the second the 21-car monster on Lap 161, which sent the 48 to the garage for repairs. Johnson returned and finished six laps down. Grade: C 23. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hard-luck Kenseth's eventful day didn't end when his car got airborne after contact from Danica Patrick and came down on its roof on the backstretch with eight laps to go. Well after the race, he had heated words for nemesis Joey Logano , who had forced him below the yellow line with 15 laps to go. Those two events obscure the fact Kenseth led 39 laps, second only to winner Brad Keselowski 's 46. Grade: B 24. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Patrick's race ended with her hitting the inside wall violently with eight laps to go after contact from behind by Michael McDowell . "I've hit the inside wall of a superspeedway I think maybe like four times now and that was the worst," she said. "I know I got drilled from behind and turned sideways … and hello wall." Grade: C 25. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano was still sore from his wreck on the final lap of Saturday's XFINITY race, and his day ended in the 12-car wreck on Lap 181. His aggressive driving initiated the second caution, and there also was his contact with Matt Kenseth that resulted in an earful from Kenseth after the race. Logano didn't want to discuss what Kenseth said, instead saying, "Two days in a row, a couple big hits; can't wait to get out of this place." Grade: C- 26. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard was in the top 10 having a good run -- but at the wrong time. He was running beside Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson on the outside when Busch turned Johnson right into Menard's Chevrolet, setting off the 21-car wreck on Lap 161. Twenty laps later Menard's day ended in the 12-car wreck on Lap 181. Grade: C 27. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola was collected in two wrecks, with the second one, a 12-car mashup on the backstretch with eight laps to go providing the knockout blow to the No. 43. Grade: C 28. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman was running around 15th place when the 21-car wreck on Lap 161 began right in front of him. His Chevrolet sustained damage and left the scene trailing flames. He finished 10 laps back. Grade: D 29. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson led nine laps and had the lead three-quarters of the way through the race. Larson was running just outside the top 10 when Kurt Busch hit the back of Jimmie Johnson two cars in front him, touching off a 21-car accident that collected his Chevrolet. Grade: C 30. Brian Scott, No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. The rookie's promising day was derailed after the big wreck on Lap 161. He finished 16 laps back, his most off the lead this season. Grade: D 31. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin's trouble on the track extended to pit road, where he had two incidents and several penalties. He also sustained damage in the 21-car pileup on Lap 161. Grade: D- 32. Regan Smith, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Smith was running in the top 10 with 30 laps to go but was collected the Lap 161 wreck and finished 20 laps back. Grade: D 33. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears spun into Aric Almirola on Lap 59 after he was hit by Michael Waltrip , sending the No. 13 to the garage for repairs. It wasn't Mears' fault, but he still finished 22 laps back. Grade: C 34. David Ragan, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Ragan was running 24th and within a second of the lead when his engine expired on Lap 151. Grade: D 35. Carl Edwards, No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards' two-race winning streak came to an abrupt halt. On Lap 110 "something let go" and the No. 19 ran up the track and pinned Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 to the wall, ending the day for both drivers. Grade: F 36. Matt DiBenedetto, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. The No. 83 suffered damage in the first wreck of the race. Engine issues ended his day after 98 laps run. Grade: F 37. Chris Buescher, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Just past the halfway point, Buescher's car became the first of the day to go airborne and flip. Buescher called the wreck "miserable" and a "bummer." He was right. Grade: F 38. Michael Annett, No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Annett was collected in the same wreck that sent Chris Buescher flipping. Annett's Chevrolet smashed hard into the inside wall, ending his day. Grade: F 39. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne followed his best finish of the season (fourth at Richmond) with a two-crash dud, the second a single-car accident that brought out the fifth caution. Grade: F 40. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Terrible day for the 88. Earnhardt's first crash was similar to his crash in the Daytona 500 -- the back of his car came around. "We missed something this morning," he said. "It shouldn't have been on the splitter that hard." Then when he returned to the track after repairs, his steering wheel came off. On Lap 110, Earnhardt's day ended when Carl Edwards ran up the track and smashed into his Chevrolet. Grade: F.
Ty Dillon subs for Stewart, salvages sixth at Talladega
RELATED: Talladega results Ty Dillon subbed in for three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart on Sunday, taking over the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet and driving it to a sixth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway . The team made the driver switch in the 52nd of a scheduled 188 laps in Sunday's GEICO 500 . The swap went according to plan, with Dillon intending to fill in during the first caution period as Stewart eases back to full-time competition after suffering a broken back in an offseason all-terrain vehicle accident. From there, Dillon managed to avoid the four multicar crashes that followed, including one that punctuated the event at the checkered flag. The result earned Stewart 35 valuable championship points as he tries to position himself for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. "All in all I'm so glad I got a good finish for Tony," Dillon said post-race. "I know this team is so strong they're going to win a race and get in the top 30. Just glad I got to be a part of what they're going to do this year." RELATED: Ty and Tony make the switch, frame-by-frame After a pit-road speeding penalty during the first round of green-flag pit stops, Stewart was running a lap down at the time of the first caution period, triggered by a three-car crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto . Stewart was the beneficiary of the yellow flag, putting him back on the lead lap. After regaining his lost lap, Stewart pitted separately of the main pack and Dillon resumed near the tail end of the field in 33rd place. "I think it went well; it might have been a little bit slower … but we were being patient, methodical," Dillon said of the driver swap, a change-over the team rehearsed during Friday practice. "I had my belts tight and everything was really smooth. We just made sure everything was perfect. We knew we had ample amount of time and it went well." Stewart told FOX Sports' Jamie Little after exiting the car that "it sucks" to turn over the wheel, but that he understood the reasoning. He plans to return full-time next weekend at Kansas Speedway . "If I wouldn't have broken my back in the end of January, we wouldn't have been in this situation," Stewart said. "The good news is it's the last time I've got to do it and then I'm back in the next week. Really appreciate Ty. I mean, he's been a rock star through this whole thing and especially this weekend. He's done all the heavy lifting and I just go riding around for 50 laps and turn it over to him." WATCH: Stewart talks about getting out of the car Multiple chaotic wrecks ensued in the laps that followed the driver change, further justifying Stewart's decision. Dillon, a NASCAR XFINITY Series regular with 12 Sprint Cup starts, managed to keep the SHR entry free of major involvement the rest of the way. "I don't know how I missed them, really," Dillon said. "(Spotter) Bob Jeffrey on top of the roof did a great job navigating me through. Just missed them by a narrow margin but we missed them. That was all that mattered." Dillon drove the No. 14 in Saturday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying to the 14th starting spot. Stewart started Sunday's 500-miler, dropping to the rear of the 40-car field before the green flag because of the driver change. "Guys, I know this isn't the optimal situation, but we have a kid who's done a great job for us," Stewart told his team over the radio during pace laps. "He'll do another great job today." As the driver of record at the initial start, Stewart was credited with the finish and points. The two-driver effort moved Stewart up two spots to 38th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, 71 points behind 30th-place DiBenedetto. Under the terms of the medical eligibility waiver granted by NASCAR upon his return, Stewart must win a race and finish among the top 30 in driver standings to qualify for a Chase berth. Dillon made three starts for SHR this season in place of Stewart, dividing driving duties with Brian Vickers in the eight races Stewart was sidelined. Contributing: Kenny Bruce
RCR makes changes to pit crews for Nos. 3, 31
Richard Childress Racing made changes to the pit crews for the No. 3 of Austin Dillon and the No. 31 of Ryan Newman . Chase Masterson is the new front tire changer on the No. 31. RCR promoted Masterson from the No. 62 XFINITY team to replace Tim Sheets. Sheets is now changing on the fronts of the No. 13 Germain Racing team. Meanwhile, the No. 3 team of Austin Dillon also made a move, bringing rear carrier Justin Voss up from the No. 62 XFINITY team. Rear carrier Josh Shipplett moved from the rear of the No. 3 to the front. For more pit-crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
With shades of 'the Intimidator,' Dillon earns third in chaotic 'Dega race
RELATED: Results " Standings post-Talladega " Relive the day in photos TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Austin Dillon , driving a Chevrolet with NASCAR's most famous number -- 3 -- on its side panels, nearly matched one of Dale Earnhardt's most extraordinary feats at the exact location it happened, mere days after what would've been the 65th birthday of the late, great "Intimidator." Instead, he still came home with a career-best finish in what was the wildest race the Sprint Cup Series has seen in some time. "We started 17th with three laps to go and finished third," Dillon said after the GEICO 500 . "So, from 17th to third, that was pretty cool. One guy came up to me in the suite (before the race), said Dale's last win here (in 2000), he came from 15th to first. Maybe if we started 15th, we could have gotten there." Looking at Dillon's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after the race, you'd never have thought it was a third-place car. It was as banged up as any car after 500 laps at Bristol and appeared to have more tape on its front right quarter panel than 3M has in one of its warehouses. TEAMWORK. We pitted 17 times. Wrecked 4 times. Ran out of tires. We were 32nd 1 lap down. We NEVER quit. Result = P3 pic.twitter.com/PjxAxjE893 — greg osborne (@greg_ozz) May 1, 2016 But you should've seen the rest of the field. Dillon's ride was one of a handful that actually made it to the checkered flag on the lead lap, a borderline miracle given he pitted a whopping 16 times -- a race-high, with no other driver hitting pit lane more than 13, including some of those involved in some of the several "Big One(s)." RELATED: Dillon one of 21 cars involved in 'The Big One' "We pitted (16) times. That's amazing," Dillon said. "The car was killed and we came home with a third-place finish. What a good day. "It's a testament to my guys. They never panicked today. We've panicked a lot this year on certain problems and today was smooth and calm and they handled their situations that they were put through and it was a great race for us. … We've been meeting about it the last couple weeks. We can't lose our minds because sometimes it's just not your day." The finish is Dillon's third top-five of the year, eclipsing his career total (two) since he began running Cup races in 2011. The 26-year-old finds himself in unfamiliar territory 10 races into the season -- the top 10 in points standings. Immediately after the race he was able to enjoy his showing, but he may be more thankful he made it out relatively unscathed -- his car not included -- once he watches a replay of the race. "Truthfully I don't know everything that happened yet, so I am really excited about my third‑place finish because I know what our team went through today," said Dillon, currently on pace for his first career Chase for the Sprint Cup berth. "I did see a video of AJ Allmendinger getting out, and he looked pretty shook up. I hope everybody is all right from all these crashes. I haven't got a chance to look at all of them. I pray they're all all right. "For me, I'm proud of our team. If you guys can see the car, if you go look at it, you would never expect it to get to third." Dale, undoubtedly, would be proud, too.
SpongeBob, NASCAR team up for new apparel
SHOP: SpongeBob NASCAR gear Do fire suits come in size square? NASCAR and Nickelodeon launched on Monday a new line of SpongeBob SquarePants-themed fan merchandise highlighting the absorbent yellow icon and his underwater cast of characters from Bikini Bottom. The new offerings include apparel for kids of all ages (yes, adults too!) as well as lanyards, beach towels, flags, koozies and more. So whether you want to show your fandom for the Krusty Krab pit crew or fly your Bikini Bottom colors with pride, the NASCAR Superstore has got you covered. But that's not all. This summer, Nickelodeon will unveil a line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed NASCAR gear as the season heats up for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway , the kick off of the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Fans can grab the new merchandise at the Fanatics Trackside Superstore and the NASCAR.com Superstore.
NASCAR: Tony Stewart granted Chase waiver
RELATED: Full Stewart coverage Tony Stewart , who will return to the track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway after missing the first eight races of the season, has been granted a waiver making him eligible to qualify for the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , according to NASCAR. "NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell. "We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck." Because he did not attempt to qualify for every race, Stewart would not have been eligible for the 2016 postseason without the waiver. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver and co-owner is now in the same position as Kyle Busch in 2015. The clearest path to the postseason, as Busch proved last year, is for Stewart to win one race before the regular season ends at Richmond in the fall, and climb into the top 30 in the points standings. "Smoke" injured his back in an all-terrain vehicle accident in late January, and has been sidelined since. He's been prevalent at the track, though, as drivers Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers have filled his seat.