Driver credits RCR alliance with early 2015 gains Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live FONTANA, Calif. -- It's not hard to get lost in the long roster of drivers when you're on a single-car team. But when a single-car team driver like AJ Allmendinger is racing up front with NASCAR champions, he's on everyone's radar. The California native comes to Auto Club Speedway for Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX) sitting in the top five in driver standings with two top-10s already under his belt and looking to score another this weekend. But the No. 47 team isn't paving the way to single-car success on its own. Martin Truex Jr . and Casey Mears join Allmendinger's company. Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, sits third in the driver standings and has started his 2015 season scoring nothing but top-10s. Mears, the driver of the No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet, is currently 12th in the standings with a top-10 finish in the Daytona 500 . All three are in a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing and from last year to now the gains the organizations have made are astounding. For Mears, the refining of the alliance has mostly come from understanding the specifics of what goes into a successful race car. "Just improving communication, it is one thing to get a sheet of paper that says, 'Hey, here is the setup,' " Mears said on Saturday. "But when you actually go up and put your arm around the guy that is actually setting that car up and looking at his procedure and understanding how he does it there are a lot nuances. The devil is in the details. I think that we have paid closer attention to a lot of those details, and it is starting to pay off." "I think we're working well together," Allmendinger said. "It's hard when you make an alliance, trying to fit in and see where you fit in and see how much data you truly get ... I think a lot last year we were just behind because we did the alliance basically right before 2014. So we were trying to catch up on cars and everything. We didn't maximize the tools we had, which RCR really allowed us to have pretty much everything we needed." After a slow churn in the alliance, Allmendinger and the No. 47 team are finally getting their footing and it shows. "Going into this year, we just looked at 'OK, how do we make ourselves better,' " Allmendinger said. "We just started a lot further ahead this year than we were last year. This weekend and last weekend we have a brand new car. It's one of the first brand new cars from top to bottom we've had since the team was with Toyota. Just being ahead has really helped us." Allmendinger might have gotten a slow start last year before making the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, but he scored his first top-10 of the season at the Fontana track. Looking ahead, Allmendinger recognizes that hard work equals success. "I'm happy with our team and where it's going," Allmendinger said. "We've got a lot of work to go to be one of those No. 48s and No. 4s and all those teams every weekend, but I can see the hard work is paying off and that's what's great from inside the race car and outside of it." 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
Stewart-Haas Racing driver still on indefinite probation NASCAR announced today that, effectively immediately, the indefinite suspension of Kurt Busch has been lifted. He is eligible to return to NASCAR racing under indefinite probation subject to additional mandatory requirements that include but are not limited to participation in a treatment program and full compliance with any judicial requirements placed upon him. On Feb. 20, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 car, was found to be in violation of: • Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing • Section 12.8: Behavioral Penalty The decision to lift the suspension was made by NASCAR after Kurt Busch: • Complied with all requirements in its reinstatement program; • Completed the mandatory behavioral assessment sessions; and • The behavioral health care expert who conducted the sessions recommended to NASCAR that Kurt Busch be allowed to return to competition. Kurt Busch now will undergo additional steps to address the behavior for which he was penalized. The requirement that a driver must compete in all Championship Events of the current season to be eligible for The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has been waived for the period of Kurt Busch's suspension. Assuming he returns to NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, Kurt Busch would have zero Championship points to date after missing the Daytona 500 and the two most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "As we stated last week, the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges removed a significant impediment to Kurt Busch's return to full status as a NASCAR member," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. "We therefore have decided to move him to indefinite probation and waive the Chase requirement. He has fully complied with our reinstatement program during his suspension and the health care expert who conducted his evaluation recommended his immediate return. "We have made it very clear to Kurt Busch our expectations for him moving forward, which includes participation in a treatment program and full compliance with all judicial requirements as a result of his off-track behavior." 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
XFINITY Series champ will start 27th on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full starting lineup MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The weather issues might have been a concern, but nothing could dampen the spirits of Chase Elliott Friday at Martinsville Speedway . The 19-year-old will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut here in Sunday's 66th annual STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), thanks to a qualifying effort that will see his Hendrick Motorsports No. 25 Chevrolet start 27th in the 43-car lineup. Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) will start on the pole. "I don't know how I feel about being excited about being 27th, but at the same time it's really exciting to making our first Cup race," Elliott said. "It's just crazy how different a world this is on this side of things, being timed so close. Just a couple of hundredths (of a second) would have had us in the top 24, and a tenth would have had you, heck, up in the teens. "I was doing my best to get in and that was our goal today. Certainly a lot of pressure off to not have to worry about that tomorrow and we can focus on our race car for Sunday afternoon." Because the No. 25 team was making its first appearance and had no owner points, Elliott needed to qualify inside the top 36, ahead of at least nine others, to guarantee himself a spot in the field. Forty-five teams made at least one qualifying attempt. Elliott will move into the Sprint Cup Series full-time next season, taking over the No. 24 ride of four-time champion Jeff Gordon . For 2015, he'll make five attempts on the Sprint Cup side, with Richmond (April 25), Charlotte (May 24), Indianapolis (July 26) and Darlington (Sept. 6) completing his schedule. The defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion and driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in that series, Elliott rolled out onto the Martinsville half-mile with a little over half the 20-minute opening session remaining. He was 22nd after the first lap and improved to 17th with a second trip around. A third lap produced the seventh fastest time at that time while a fourth lap failed to improve upon that effort. After pulling back into the garage, Elliott and his team watched as other drivers began posting faster laps. He had fallen to 27th when Ron Hornaday Jr . crashed to briefly bring the first round to a halt. Elliott went back out for a second shot at improving his position, briefly climbed back into the top 24, but then just as quickly was bumped back out. " The challenge was obviously the weather, and just the lack of laps," crew chief Kenny Francis said. "Now all that's behind us and he's got a chance to get some laps tomorrow and we can work on our car, think about it without near the stress. And we can lean on our teammates some." While the No. 25 group is part of the Hendrick organization, Friday's weather delay meant the four full-time teams of Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne were busy trying to map out their own strategies for practice and qualifying. Because of the rain, the start of Sprint Cup practice was delayed by more than two hours, and the planned session of an hour-and 25 minutes was squeezed into about 45 minutes. "That was another challenge; yeah, we're part of Hendrick but I mean we're on our own down here (on the far end of the garage)," Francis said. "With the weather and the lack of time, those guys are on their own agenda … so there's not much to collaborate on. "That was a bit challenging. It was fortunate we had a good baseline from the 24 car (of Gordon)." The STP 500 is the sixth of 36 races on this year's Sprint Cup Series schedule. 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
NASCAR .com's Chuck Bush recaps the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Highlights include Chase Elliott's Sprint Cup Series debut, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s shifter issues and Denny Hamlin taking home another Martinsville clock.
Rear-end damage makes for rough Sprint Cup debut
Round-by-Round and Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Grid explanations
See where your favorite driver will pit on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live The pit stall assignments are out for Sunday's STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) and Coors Light Pole Award winner Joey Logano will have the first pit stall. Logano, who won his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season on Friday, will have no one in front of him on pit road. Ryan Newman (starting second) and Tony Stewart (starting sixth) will also have an opening in front of them on pit road. Denny Hamlin (starting 15th) chose the pit stall closest to the pit road entrance (stall No. 43). In his first Sprint Cup Series start, Chase Elliott will be pitting from pit stall No. 5. 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
Breaking down how the full 43-car field fared at Phoenix International Raceway Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings 1. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet , Stewart-Haas Racing . The desert domination continued for Harvick and the No. 4 bunch, which led 224 of 312 laps in the team's fourth straight Phoenix victory. Harvick's second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win increased his streak of top-two finishes to seven, the first driver to accomplish it since Richard Petty in 1975. "That gives me chills," said the defending Sprint Cup champ. 2. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet , Chip Ganassi Racing . Though he voiced concerns about a tire going down to crew chief Matt McCall in the final 50 laps, McMurray persevered for his best Sprint Cup finish since winning at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2013. McCall's decision to keep the No. 1 on the track over the final fuel run gave McMurray a chance to battle hard with Harvick in the late stages. 3. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet , Richard Childress Racing . Newman went all the way into late June last year before he notched his first top-five finish of the season. Four races into the 2015 campaign, Newman already has two top-fives -- his 99th and 100th of his career -- thanks to his second straight third-place finish. 4. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet , Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne saved his best finish of the season for his 400th start in NASCAR's premier series, moving up two spots to fourth place in the Sprint Cup standings in the process. "I hope I get 400 more," said the 34-year-old driver. 5. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet , Stewart-Haas Racing . The driver formerly known as " The Outlaw" ran second to his SHR teammate Harvick for much of the waning stages, but lost ground when he pitted for fresh tires with 22 laps left. In his first race of the season since NASCAR lifted his suspension, Busch was all business, telling his crew on the radio on the cool-down lap that he thought he had "enough good will saved up, but top five is exactly where we need to be." " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 6. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford , Team Penske . The 2012 Sprint Cup champ led the second-most laps (52) and landed his best finish of the season, but remains on the hunt for his first top-five. "We just didn't quite have enough speed," said Keselowski, who drove the top-finishing Ford. "I thought we were about a third- or fourth-place car and got shuffled to finish where we did." 7. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Chevrolet , Furniture Row Racing . The scrappy Colorado-based team continued its upswing, moving to third in the early Sprint Cup standings. Truex rose to as high as second place Sunday, gaining two spots on a 126th-lap restart and leading his spotter to exclaim, "All clear, you are the man!" Truex joins points leader Kevin Harvick and Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano as the only three drivers with top-10 finishes in all four races thus far. " Sign up for RaceView to see in-car video on race days 8. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford , Team Penske . Logano led twice ( the only driver other than Harvick to lead more than once) for 35 laps, benefitting from some fleet-footed pit work from his No. 22 crew. He rallied back after a pit stop during the next-to-last caution period, saying afterward, "getting a top-10 is great but we want to win some more." 9. Jeff Gordon , No. 24 Chevrolet , Hendrick Motorsports . The first top-10 finish of Gordon's final full season in NASCAR's top division couldn't come soon enough, helping him jump five spots to 25th in the Sprint Cup standings. He gave up third place by pitting during the ninth of 10 yellow flags, but threaded his way back for his fourth top-10 in his last five Phoenix races. 10. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet , Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson survived a dicey moment shortly after a restart in the 126th lap when Kevin Harvick pushed on his back bumper, getting the No. 42 askew off Turn 4. Larson kept headed in the right direction, securing his second straight top-10 finish. 11. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet , Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson's adventures came early and late in the 312-lapper at Phoenix: He collided with Brian Vickers at the end of the first lap, leading Johnson to tell crew chief Chad Knaus on the radio, "It's so weird, he left me a lane and came over on the straight." Johnson pressed on after more contact with Carl Edwards on pit road during the race's seventh caution. 12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford , Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse was at the head of the Roush Fenway class Sunday, marking his best Sprint Cup finish since a sixth-place effort at Bristol Motor Speedway last August. The effort wasn't without some drama, an 81st-lap nudge from Tony Stewart that sent him out of the groove and cost him a handful of spots early on. 13. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota , Joe Gibbs Racing . Over his radio in the final stages, Edwards -- who withstood a collision with Jimmie Johnson 's No. 48 on pit road -- radioed his crew that the No. 19 was "shaking like hell," but he was assured that a flapping piece of sheet metal at the rear was upsetting the car's balance. His JGR entry was the highest-finishing Toyota in the 43-car field. " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 14. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet , Richard Childress Racing . Menard's third straight finish on the outskirts of the top 10 didn't come without some excitement as he just missed Tony Stewart 's spinning car in the 238th lap. "I may have just kissed it, but nothing major," he told his RCR crew. 15. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet , Richard Childress Racing . Another RCR driver having a more definitive brush with Tony Stewart was Dillon, who sustained a 143rd-lap bump off the fourth turn. Displeased team owner Richard Childress, Dillon's grandfather, gave him some stern instruction for dealing with Stewart over the team radio: "You know what to do when you get back there." 16. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota , Joe Gibbs Racing . Kenseth spent his fair share of the day mixing it up among the top 10, but an 188th-lap penalty for speeding exiting the pits cost the No. 20 group precious track position. 17. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet , JTG-Daugherty Racing. The 'Dinger overcame a pair of Phoenix setbacks -- starting at the rear of the field because of a Saturday engine change, then seeing his jack man sidelined by injury on an early pit stop. The solid finish kept Allmendinger firmly in the provisional Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff grid, fifth in the series standings. 18. Justin Allgaier , No. 51 Chevrolet , HScott Motorsports . Allgaier sewed up his best finish of the season, but also drew some initial criticism from Tony Stewart after their 238th-lap battle sent Smoke spinning. "I don't think I crowded him, but you know how it is," Allgaier told his crew, noting the difficulties in judging his line through the third and fourth turns. " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 19. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford , Richard Petty Motorsports . Almirola lamented his car's struggles with handling, especially in traffic, but was hopeful for a rebound next Sunday at Auto Club Speedway , site of the third and final leg of NASCAR's West Coast Swing. "Our intermediate program has been good this year, so we'll look to getting up front next week in California," Almirola said. 20. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet , Germain Racing . Handling woes kept the No. 13 from making progress during the 500-kilometer race, but Mears tweeted hours after the checkered flag that the team found a problem in the right-rear that was the culprit. Despite the midpack finish, he still held a tenuous grip on the 12th of 16 spots in the provisional Chase grid. 21. David Ragan , No. 18 Toyota , Joe Gibbs Racing . Ragan's stint as a substitute for the injured Kyle Busch has yet to produce a finish better than his interim car number. Sunday, it produced an irate Danica Patrick after their late-race run-in. Ragan's JGR team celebrated as last year's winner at Auto Club Speedway , where Busch scored his only Sprint Cup victory of the season. 22. Landon Cassill , No. 40 Chevrolet , Hillman Smith Motorsports. The Iowa native posted his best finish of the Sprint Cup season by a wide margin, finishing on the lead lap for the first time in 2015. He was the recipient of the free pass back onto the lead lap three times in the early going. 23. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Finishing last among the JGR contingent didn't sit well with Hamlin, who hopes to bounce back into form at Auto Club Speedway , a track that has been a house of horrors, injury-wise, for him the last two years. "We have to go to California and offset this," he told his No. 11 team on the cool-down lap. " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 24. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Toyota , Michael Waltrip Racing . An unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel in the 143rd lap left Bowyer shouting a stream of profanities over his team radio near the race's midpoint. He received the free pass back onto the lead lap during the sixth of 10 caution periods. 25. Cole Whitt , No. 35 Ford , Front Row Motorsports . Whitt matched his best performance in five career Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix International Raceway , but also held the distinction Sunday as the race's biggest gainer, finishing 14 spots up from his starting position. 26. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet , Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick found herself at the tail of the field after drawing a 201st-lap penalty for her crew's failure to control a tire on pit road, then spun through turns 3 and 4 after a significant nudge from David Ragan 's No. 18. "Nice try, Mr. Nice Guy Ragan," she told her crew under caution. " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 27. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford , Roush Fenway Racing . A loose wheel with roughly 75 laps to go cost Biffle dearly when he was forced to make an unscheduled green-flag pit stop. He was the beneficiary of the race's next caution flag, but wound up as the final driver on the lead lap in his worst finish of the season. 28. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford , Roush Fenway Racing . After going a lap down to leader Kevin Harvick in the race's first half, Bayne said, "I about flipped over trying to keep up with him. Loose in, about to wreck every lap. Just terrible." Bayne matched both his result from the previous week and the number of laps down at the finish (3). 29. David Gilliland , No. 38 Ford , Front Row Motorsports . Gilliland illustrated the tooth-and-nail nature of racing back in the pack when he traded paint with Mike Bliss down the backstretch early on, trying to avoid going a lap down. He eventually did, winding up three laps back at the checkered flag in his worst result so far in 2015. 30. Alex Bowman , No. 7 Chevrolet , Tommy Baldwin Racing . The second-year driver made the most of an ill-handling car, telling his TBR crew over the radio about feeling "brake shake" as the race entered its second half. It marked a modest improvement over Bowman's last-place finish the previous weekend in Las Vegas. 31. J.J. Yeley , No. 23 Toyota , BK Racing . High hopes for a solid day in his Arizona hometown went for naught with his worst finish at the 1-mile track since spring 2011. The performance left him 0- for -13 in the top-10 column over his Sprint Cup career at Phoenix. 32. Brett Moffitt , No. 34 Ford , Front Row Motorsports . In two starts thus far as David Ragan 's sub in the No. 34, Moffitt has been unable to replicate the magic from his eighth-place outing earlier in the season as Brian Vickers ' fill-in at MWR. He'll get another shot this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in the last of his three scheduled drives for the Front Row team. 33. Mike Bliss , No. 32 Ford , GoFAS Racing. After Bliss failed to qualify the previous weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway , the No. 32 was back on track Sunday at Phoenix. The veteran won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Phoenix in 1998, but has been no better than 20th in the desert in his Sprint Cup career. 34. Jeb Burton , No. 26 Toyota , BK Racing . The rocky start to Burton's Sprint Cup tenure continued Sunday at Phoenix, but the 22-year-old can take some solace in wrapping up a career-best finish. "We made big gains this weekend had a better car then (sic) where we finished," Burton tweeted after the race. "Proud of the effort all weekend." 35. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota , BK Racing . After failing to qualify the previous two weeks at Atlanta and Las Vegas, DiBenedetto's Sprint Cup debut finally came. He drove home in the same position that he started -- 35th. 36. Josh Wise , No. 98 Ford , Phil Parsons Racing. Wise lagged to his lowest finish of the season, continuing a trend of finishing 35th or worse in all six of his Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix International Raceway . 37. Brendan Gaughan , No. 62 Chevrolet , Premium Motorsports. Gaughan sits sixth in the standings in his regular circuit, the NASCAR XFINITY Series, but the results haven't been there on the Sprint Cup side. His third start of the season in the Jay Robinson-owned ride marked his 45th career start in NASCAR's top series. 38. Alex Kennedy , No. 33 Chevrolet , Circle Sport Racing. Kennedy started last in the Joe Falk-owned Chevy and recovered from a Turn 3 spin during the 16th lap. He wound up eight laps down in making his first Sprint Cup start of the year. 39. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet , Stewart-Haas Racing . Smoke used brute force to complete two passes earlier in the race, but found close-quarters racing with Justin Allgaier to be his undoing in the 238th lap. Stewart scraped the wall again 52 laps later, ending his day. The three-time series champ has just 32 points, lowest among drivers who have run all four Sprint Cup events this year. 40. Sam Hornish Jr ., No. 9 Ford , Richard Petty Motorsports . Involvement in the fourth yellow flag ( for a solo spin) and the ninth caution period ( for catching a piece of Tony Stewart 's second crash of the day) doomed any chances at Phoenix, the site of his first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory. The Petty No. 9 spent plenty of time behind the wall for repairs, finishing 35 laps down at the end. 41. Brian Vickers , No. 55 Toyota , Michael Waltrip Racing . Vickers' second start of the year went awry as he crossed the stripe to complete Lap 1, when he collided with Jimmie Johnson 's car on the frontstretch. "What happened to all clear?" Vickers exclaimed, raising the possibility of miscommunication with his MWR spotter. 42. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet , HScott Motorsports . Annett's car sputtered down on the apron in the 63rd lap, leading him to radio his crew: "Something rattling around in the drivetrain. … It's in gear and nothing gets power to it." Once in the garage, crew chief Jay Guy issued a warning to the No. 46 crew: " The gear is burned up. Do not expose it to air, it will catch on fire." Annett eventually returned to the track, finishing 110 laps down. " Sign up for Scanner today to hear in-car audio 43. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., No. 88 Chevrolet , Hendrick Motorsports . A blown right-rear tire sent Earnhardt's car careening into the Turn 2 wall, severely damaging the rear end and snapping his streak of three top-five finishes to start the season. Earnhardt was uninjured and was at least able to joke about the situation, which happened suddenly in the 182nd lap. "They never tell you they are going to blow out, never," he said with a laugh. "You don't ever have a warning." 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
Take a look back at how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began.
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