Johnson on outside looking in on advancing to Eliminator Round RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is in unfamiliar territory. A favorite coming in to the new elimination format of the post-season, Johnson is in position to be dropped from the list of title contenders come Sunday evening after the GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN). Yet the Hendrick Motorsports driver is quite relaxed. After all, it's Talladega Superspeedway , and there's no use preparing for what you can't predict. "Talladega takes a lot of pressure off of a driver until race time, because there's not much you can do," Johnson said Friday before getting in his No. 48 Chevrolet for the first practice session of the weekend. "I think the majority right now of my head and the relaxed week and my calmness right now is just due to it being Talladega, and my job's really not important until Sunday." "And then, I'm sure, the pressure will kick in," he added. The No. 48 team's take-it-as-it-comes attitude isn't the only one in the garage. Jamie McMurray , driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing , was also expecting a low-key weekend until the green flag on Sunday. "Talladega is one of the more laid-back weekends for all of us. It’s typically one practice to see if the car feels good," he said. "I’m glad they base qualifying if it gets rained out on your practice speed, because it gets all the cars on the lap for at least one session. Then it is pretty laid back for the rest of the weekend until the race starts. So, it is one of the calmer weekends we get to have.” That's not to say there won't be any excitement at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track. Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr . is in a position to be eliminated after a 39th-place finish at Kansas and another disappointing finish at Charlotte. Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth , who made contact on the track at Charlotte and later ended the evening with a scuffle, are also looking to move into one of the eight positions that will continue into the eliminator round. Matt Kenseth is only one point behind eighth-place Kasey Kahne . Keselowski is 19 points out of the last transfer spot, with Johnson and Earnhardt each seven points behind Keselowski. A win is the only sure way for each of the five to advance. "We've seen races very competitive and aggressive, we've also seen races where the lead group of cars decide to ride around the top and makes it a single file race," Johnson said. "There is no rhyme or reason why that happens. So I think its hard to predict what the race will be like. I can promise you, though, with four guys needing to win to transfer that at the end of the race there will definitely be some racing. It might just be us four at the bottom trying to find our way around or in a different lane trying to get to the front, but there's at least four that have a really big reason to take chances and to be aggressive and to win." Aggression and frustration seem to be the common themes woven through this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup storylines, especially in light of the relaxed preparation for the carnage that is always expected at Talladega. Both emotions were evident on Johnson's radio last weekend, as the driver and his crew chief took part in an expletive-laden discussion about a poor-handling car. The brewing tensions that boiled over between Kenseth and Keselowski last weekend embodied that frustration, as well -- and it's clear that they haven't been forgotten this week. “I think there’s definitely an increase of intensity on the track and off the track; there’s no doubt about that," Ryan Newman , currently fourth in the Chase standings, said. "You’ve opened it up to more competitors, which makes the intensity even more. You get more attitudes and egos in there. That, I think, is kind of expected." With one last chance to advance deeper into the Chase, Kenseth, Keselowski, Junior and Johnson aren't there to make friends -- as Kenseth and Keselowski proved last weekend. That also goes for the Hendrick Motorsports duo, whose other teammates, Jeff Gordon and Kahne, are sixth and eighth in the standings, respectively. "At the end of a race, it doesn’t matter if it's Junior or my mom or anybody –- I have to win," Johnson said. "My quest to win a seventh championship is the thing I’m most concerned about. I know my teammates are going to think the same way and have the same approach. We’re out there to win for our teams and ourselves to move on and have a shot at the championship." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
The official site of NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Find NASCAR news, schedules, standings and drivers .
The official site of NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Find NASCAR news, schedules, standings and drivers .
The official site of NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Find NASCAR Nationwide Series news, schedule, standings and drivers .
Hear what the drivers had to say about the multi-car crash and the possibility of rain in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
Get caught up quickly before the GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize What: 46th annual GEICO 500 Where: Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Alabama When: Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 TV/Radio: ESPN, Motor Racing Network Time: 2:00 p.m. ET Distance: 188 laps (500.08 miles) Pit road speed: 55 mph Caution car speed: 70 mph On the front row " Starting lineup 1. Brian Vickers , Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota (196.129 mph) 2. Jimmie Johnson , Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet (195.732 mph) Failed to qualify Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ( Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford); Justin Allgaier (HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet); Joe Nemechek (RAB Racing No. 29 Toyota) To the rear Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski will drop to the rear of the field prior to the start of today's race. Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing team changed engines in the No. 20 Toyota Saturday morning while Keselowski's Team Penske group made an alternator change before qualifying. Kenseth qualified 13th while Keselowski was fifth fastest. Going out in style Two-time NASCAR premier series champion Terry Labonte will make his final Sprint Cup start today, driving the No. 32 Ford fielded by Go FAS Racing. It will be the 61st start at Talladega for Labonte, tying the mark currently held by Dave Marcis, and Labonte’s 890th career Cup start. The decklid of the car features artwork depicting his first Cup entry, as well as the two in which he won championships in '84 and '96. Fastest in practice First Practice: Clint Bowyer , Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota (200.385 mph) Final Practice: Kyle Busch , Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota (195.205 mph) Defending GEICO 500 Champion Jamie McMurray , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet Driver rating (Best driver rating average at Talladega Superspeedway based on past nine years) Kyle Larson , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (94.8*) Matt Kenseth , Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota (90.9) Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Hendrick Motorsports No 88 Chevrolet (90.3) *Based on one career start Former Talladega winners in the field Jeff Gordon (6); Dale Earnhardt Jr . (5); Clint Bowyer , Jimmie Johnson , Terry Labonte , Jamie McMurray , Brad Keselowski (2); David Ragan , Tony Stewart , Brian Vickers , Michael Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin (1). MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Team Penske driver holds off hard-charging Newman for sixth win of season MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala.-- In a must-win situation at Talladega Superspeedway , Brad Keselowski did exactly that, preserving his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hopes with a victory in Sunday’s GEICO 500 . With the right side of his car damaged in the wreck that brought out the first caution flag of the afternoon, Keselowski persevered, taking the lead during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish and winning the race in the second overtime—after a wreck that ended the title run of Keselowski's former boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr . "I can't believe it," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. "Talladega is such a wild card, and to be able to win here you have to catch breaks and make your own breaks-a little of both. "I can't believe we won at Talladega. This race is the scariest of the three in the (Contender Round) bracket. To be able to win here is really a privilege. It really is." Keselowski won his series-leading sixth race of the season, his third at Talladega and the 16th of his career. That alone propelled him into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on a day that saw three of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers —Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson —fall by the wayside. On the first lap of the first overtime, Keselowski's Team Penske teammate gave the No. 2 Ford the push that enabled him to clear Ryan Newman and take the lead. "We just persevered," Keselowski said. "We didn't give up. I got a lot of help from my teammate Joey Logano and, wow, this is just special. Everything about today is special. I want to say 'Thank you' to everyone that supports our team." A week after losing his cool on the race track and on pit road at Charlotte, Keselowski was the very model of professional poise at Talladega. Coincidentally, the driver with whom Keselowski had the most significant altercation at Charlotte— Matt Kenseth --was behind him on the final restart at Talladega, and at the finish line. And, coincidentally, both Keselowski and Kenseth, the race runner-up, started the race at the rear of the field, Keselowski after breaking an alternator and Kenseth after changing an engine. Kenseth, Newman (fifth Sunday), Denny Hamlin (18th), Jeff Gordon (26th) and Carl Edwards (21st) joined Contender Round winners Logano, Kevin Harvick and Keselowski in the Eliminator Round, which opens next Sunday at Martinsville, (Va.) Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) with points for all the Chase drivers reset to 4,000. Newman was later found to have failed post-race inspection due to his car being too low in the rear onboth sides. The No. 31 Chevrolet will be taken to NASCAR's R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina for further review. Kyle Busch , victim of an early wreck, joined Earnhardt, Johnson and Kahne as drivers knocked out of the Chase. Johnson, who led a race-high 84 laps, was shuffled back after a restart on Lap 188, the first attempt at a green-white-checkered following a debris caution on Lap 184. In the second overtime, which took the race six circuits past its scheduled 188 laps, he fell back to 24th at the finish. But Johnson's finishing position was of little consequence, once victory was out of the question. Like Keselowski and Earnhardt, Johnson came to Talladega needing a win to move forward in the Chase. After a wild shuffling of positions in the two overtimes, Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Landon Cassill (first career top five in 147 starts) and Newman. Travis Kvapil , Kurt Busch , Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10. At Talladega, there are always victims, and Kyle Busch was the first. On the backstretch on Lap 103, Aric Almirola tapped the back bumper of J.J. Yeley's Toyota and turned the car sideways into the outside wall, igniting a 10-car chain-reaction wreck. Riding 28th near the rear of the field, Busch checked up and appeared poised to avoid the melee, only to be launched into the inside wall by Austin Dillon 's Chevrolet. With the frame of the No. 18 Toyota bent like a pretzel and suspension parts askew on both ends, Busch brought the car to the garage and dropped to 43rd on the scoring monitor as his team frantically tried to restore the Camry to running condition. "We were just all starting to shuffle around there and getting ready to pit, and I think it was the 83 (Yeley) in front of me, and I think he might have been trying to check up to get to the bottom," Almirola said of the incident that started the wreck. "I just barely started to push him and it hooked his car—and we all wrecked." Earnhardt's run at a first championship came to a sudden end on the backstretch on Lap 188, when contact from Greg Biffle 's Ford spun the No. 88 Chevy, which had spent 31 laps in the lead, but restarted 16th on the first green-white-checkered attempt. With the car damaged in the wreck, Earnhardt finished 31st, a far cry from the victory he needed to advance to the next round of the Chase. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Grant Lynch: 'What they can do here is special' RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Five minutes, five laps and the fastest lap of the five determines where you stack up in the 43-car lineup. Maybe that's the next qualifying format change for restrictor-plate tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series . "If you don't make five laps, you don't count any of them," an exasperated Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway , said Sunday morning. Lynch said he thought the format used Saturday failed to achieve the desired result, which was to have multiple cars on the track for much of the opening round with speeds more closely resembling those seen in race conditions. Instead, some teams waited until the last possible moment to make a qualifying run and came up short when they were unable to get up to speed before the session ended. Tony Stewart , Denny Hamlin , Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Kyle Busch , Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon qualified for today's GEICO 500 at Talladega based on their position in owner points, not by virtue of their qualifying lap speeds. Five of the seven drivers are championship contenders. Two full-time teams, the No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr . and the No. 51 of Justin Allgaier , failed to qualify because of how the owner points fell. "It's frustrating," Lynch said. "I've said this many times -- what they can do here is special. To see them have the opportunity to go out and finally … qualify at the speeds we race at … is disappointing. "But I understand strategies; I understand there are different people in the draft that will get different benefits." Drivers were no less taken with the new format, which broke the teams into two groups for the first session. "You don't really feel like you are doing your part as a race car driver in a qualifying session like this," six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "But it is plate racing and if it's entertaining I guess I'm OK with it." AJ Allmendinger , third fastest behind pole winner Brian Vickers and Johnson, the No. 2 qualifier, called it "a weird format." "I'm not sure it's any better than single-car qualifying," he said. "It's hard to say, but it is what it is." Former series champion Brad Keselowski said the bigger question was whether the fans liked the format change "because that is who we do everything for." "If the fans like it, then I'm happy, and if not, I am not," the Team Penske driver added. Lynch said he's certain NASCAR officials will look into possible changes to the format. "They've already taken it down from 25 (minutes) in the first round to five," he said. "I'd rather die quick than from a bunch of cuts." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Multiple drivers face different obstacles at Talladega TALLADEGA, Ala. -- "Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations -- you got your money's worth," Spencer Gallagher exclaimed after the finish of an action-packed fred's 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway . The track threw its best at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title contenders, with penalties, wrecks and debris shaking up the points standings several times throughout the 95 laps. It all started with points leader Matt Crafton . The No. 88 pitted under the race's first caution and as Crafton pulled out of his pit stall, the neon yellow Menards/Fishers Nuts Toyota got into the back of the No. 99 of Bryan Silas as he turned into his own stall, doing damage to both trucks and turning around the No. 99. An additional pit stop was required to fix the damage of the No. 88, after which Crafton battled visibility issues. "We definitely had a lot to overcome," Crafton said after the race. "We got our first pit stop, got tore up on pit road. Then after that, it was downhill. I had so much chatter on the radio. 'What do I do? Do I wait back here? I'm stuck back here.' " After making his way back into the top three, Crafton got an unwelcome push draft from the No. 8 of Joe Nemechek . The result was a black flag from NASCAR, which sent both cars to pit road to serve a pass-through penalty. "They're black-flagging us, and I don't get it," the No. 88 crew chief Carl Joiner said over the radio to a furious Crafton. "Tell Joe, 'Thanks a lot, you (expletive) idiot.' " Crafton's teammate Johnny Sauter didn't have an easier time at the restrictor-plate track. He ran over debris 20 laps into the race, and a punctured radiator caused the No. 98 to fall off the pace at Lap 25 without any warning. "Another kick in the (expletive)," Sauter said as his team worked in the garage. Sauter came to Talladega in second place in the standings, 19 points behind Crafton, with an anything-goes attitude, saying, "If it works out, great, if not, oh well. That's just the attitude you have to have." That attitude changed quickly. "Championship's over, and from here on out we can just race like hell," Sauter lamented from the garage. Even Ryan Blaney , who made his way into Sauter's second-place position in the points standings, 16 points behind Crafton, had to battle his way up the points standings. En route to his 19th top-five finish of his Truck Series career, the Brad Keselowski Racing driver earned a speeding penalty during green-flag pit stops on Lap 44, sending him a lap down after running at the front for 30 of the race's first 43 laps. "We gained about 10 (points) on Matt so that was good," Blaney said. "We had a great … truck. I made a mistake early and sped on pit road and that kind of put us back a little bit. But we got right back up to the front really fast." Darrell Wallace Jr. , hoping for his first champagne celebration in Victory Lane after turning 21 earlier in the month, started the race in 27th, but teamed up with eventual race-winner Timothy Peters early on to move into the top 10 by Lap 4. Wallace ended the day in third place in the standings, 28 points behind Crafton after a ninth-place finish, while Peters earned the title of biggest mover toward the top of the points standings, moving into fifth from seventh, cutting 18 points off his deficit. "Obviously we know that the championship might be out our reach, but who knows, maybe we could pull the Hornaday and win the rest 'em and be right back in it," Peters said. After picking the wrong line on a final restart, Crafton went home with a 14th-place finish. Thorsport Racing teammate Sauter was unable to get back onto the track, finishing 71 laps down in 31st. When the dust settled at one of NASCAR's most unpredictable tracks, however, Crafton lost only three points of his buffer at the top of the leaderboard. "At least we got out of here somewhat in decent shape," Crafton said. As his teammate knows, Talladega could have done much worse. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule