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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.
Cain: Three-time premier series champ battered, but not defeated Tony Stewart had just returned to his motor coach after debriefing with crew chief Chad Johnston following opening practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The upside of practice was that three of the four Stewart-Haas Racin g team cars were among the top 10 fastest on the speed chart. The downside: Stewart was not one of them. So the face of the team, a beloved three-time champion of the sport, ran his hands through his noticeably longer, noticeably grayer hair and sighed -- managing just a slight corner-of-the-mouth smile. "I didn't have this gray hair two years ago,'' he said, shaking his head and allowing just a trace of his trademark dry wit to appear. During this rare late season interview Stewart's voice was soft and subdued. His body language spoke more loudly, his emotions still tangible and heavy. Stewart has spent much of the last two seasons broken in body and in heart, his strong spirit battered. In August 2013 Stewart suffered a broken right leg in a sprint car accident, the fractures to his tibia and fibula forcing him out of his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for the remaining 15 races of NASCAR's Sprint Cup season. Still recovering from that injury and walking with a noticeable limp, Stewart started out 2014 assuring everyone that he was ready to race, insisting that his leg hurt more out of the race car than in it. The Stewart-like results weren't immediate, but he reminded people that there was a new rules package for which he had to adjust and a new crew chief with whom to get in sync. He preached patience, not panic. This summer, by the one-year anniversary of his leg injury, Stewart had already begun entering sprint car races again sporadically, in a low-key manner. It was an important personal milestone -- both physically and emotionally. Racing sprint cars is where Stewart is happiest. No pressure, just fun. It's his golf game, his family, his joy. When he shows up -- mostly unannounced -- for one of the Friday or Saturday night shows at some random, small-town dirt track, he is the first to offer financial assistance to the struggling young racer in the pits next to him. Stewart well remembers what it was like to need that one break. Just as often, it's a piece of advice or a supporting pat on the back from Stewart that will make that racer's night and provide a rocking chair moment in 50 years. That passion is what makes the Aug. 9, 2014, incident so hard to endure -- then and now. While competing on a Saturday night in upstate New York during the Sprint Cup race weekend at Watkins Glen, New York, Stewart was involved in a bizarre and tragic accident. Another driver upset after crashing out of the race, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., got out of his sprint car and walked down the track toward the racing line to confront Stewart as he drove by. Stewart's car struck Ward, who died of his injuries. Stewart took most of the next month off from NASCAR out of respect to the Ward family, and to collect himself and grieve after an unimaginable turn in life while doing the one thing that had always been his steady source of happiness. Almost immediately after the accident television pundits joined sudden racing experts -- many of whom had never covered a race before, and many more who had never even met Stewart -- to offer loud and often misinformed opinions in the aftermath. A grand jury heard all the evidence and thoroughly contemplated the hard facts (witness accounts and video footage) and decided there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and on Sept. 24 formally cleared Stewart. The experience has obviously altered Stewart's perspective and changed his life. In unanticipated ways, too. The outpouring of support he received from fans, his corporate partners and fellow drivers in all forms of motorsports was humbling and strengthening. Stewart found out that so often, it's in the darkest and harshest times that you realize true friendship and the importance of the big picture. It was evident that weekend in Homestead, where despite the difficulties and turmoil of the season, Stewart intently focused on what he had to be thankful for, even as he still grappled with the tragic circumstances of the previous months and disappointments on-track. Here was Stewart about to have his first winless Cup season in his Hall of Fame 16-year career. "If that streak doesn't continue, it's not going to make my year any worse, by any means. It might have been something to help salvage it,'' Stewart said after a long, thoughtful pause. As it turned out, there was another thing that at least made the season more bearable. And on the last NASCAR race weekend of the year -- at a track where in 2011 Stewart put double exclamation points on one of the single most impressive NASCAR championship runs in the sport's history -- his good friend and teammate Kevin Harvick was less than 48 hours away from delivering the team its second title in four years, in similar style. "I think winning this championship with Kevin, it would be more gratifying to me from the standpoint, we've won it as an owner/driver, but to win it with a guy that's a good friend of yours, to win this year with all the adversity that I went through, I think it solidifies what Stewart-Haas Racing is all about and shows the depth in our organization,'' Stewart said. "That's what it will prove if we can win this championship, how solid our program is to have done it with two different drivers and have so many people make the Chase each year. This is what will really put us on the map." In what could be a microcosm of Stewart's year, he finished 43rd at Homestead after being collected in an early-race accident -- but he was still able to enjoy watching Harvick win the race and hoist the Sprint Cup trophy. The hugs, handshakes, high-fives and pure emotions of it all during the victory celebration had to be a great release for Stewart, who considers the friendship part of the relationship equally as important as the business success. "You know, there's a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them,'' Stewart said after the race. "I'm going to enjoy this moment, and I'm going to enjoy it with this group and this young man. "We're going to go celebrate and enjoy this because this group of people here have deserved it, and this is a great family and this is a great group of people to lean on." It echoed what Stewart said two days earlier in his motor coach, the great solace friendships have given him in times of despair -- a comforting asset he takes as he tries to move forward. Stewart will spend what little downtime he has after the season with friends like SHR crew chief Tony Gibson and World of Outlaws legend Steve Kinser. He'll attend the Chili Bowl as a spectator, cheering on those he would normally compete against. Just being in that atmosphere, surrounded by friends and supporters, will have to be enough for now. "That's one thing that hasn't changed no matter what's gone on,'' Stewart said, his voice perking up to make the point. "It's the one consistency in my life. And I'm so grateful." 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
A happy-go-lucky Kyle Busch and other drivers comment on the Coke Zero 400.
Joey Logano, in particular, has feuded with fellow finalists RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota With Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano and Ryan Newman all occupying the same small space in the Phoenix International Raceway media center last weekend, the vibe was largely upbeat, and with good reason. All three had joined race winner Kevin Harvick among the final four drivers eligible for their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. But as the details came to light about Newman's forced fender on Kyle Larson to keep his postseason hopes alive in the final lap, it broached the delicate topic of retaliation ahead of the most important race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Newman claimed his memory of Larson's over-aggressive moves while racing him in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway in 2013 might not have equaled an outright payback, but that it certainly factored into his last-ditch decision to make their battle for position a full-contact contest. That's when the trio broke into an impromptu, cheery rendition of "Who wronged who?" and whether the list of past transgressions would carry over to Sunday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). That's when Logano learned that Hamlin thought he still owed him one, and that Newman hadn't let a run-in with the youngest title contender slip his mind. Logano quizzically asked Hamlin, "I thought we were even after that?" before smiling and putting his arms on the backs of both would-be rivals flanking him, saying, "my friends," in hopes that the hard feelings from those previous dust-ups had passed. Hamlin, for one, didn't think the list of demerits would carry over, especially under the spotlight of the championship race. "Yeah, I think you know who shows you respect through many races," Hamlin said. "A guy cuts you a break here and there, you keep that in your mind, and when he's behind you knocking on your back bumper, then you can let the person go. It changes. When you have conversations, though, when you have bad blood between people, when you have conversations, you hash it out, things don't linger on as much. "Next week, we're not going to be out there trying to settle scores between the four of us. It's going to be what can we do to make our car faster than the rest of these three guys, and let's do it the right way." In past seasons, Logano has run afoul of each of the three other drivers he'll be vying against for the title. In June 2010, he made an on-track incident and pit-road confrontation at Pocono with Harvick personal when he said that his wife, DeLana, "wears the fire suit in the family." Two months later, Logano and Newman had a brief war of words and needed to be separated by NASCAR officials after a crash at Michigan. Logano and Hamlin also had issues in spring 2013, colliding in consecutive weeks at Bristol and Fontana, sparking nasty Twitter exchanges and an eventual back injury for Hamlin that forced him to the sidelines for the better part of five races. With the bygones behind them last weekend, the three remained in good spirits -- even as they discussed the unwritten ledger in each driver's memory bank about how one driver races another. "There is no statute of limitations on anything. A driver never forgets," Newman said, adding that past offenses can become magnified as the intensity rises in a given race. "Jimmy Spencer coined the phrase, but really, a driver never does forget. I don't think me doing what I did, whether it was Kyle Larson or (Marcos) Ambrose or (Greg) Biffle or whoever was right there around me, I would have been the same thing. That's just my rationale to justify it in my head." 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
Final four drivers offer their Saturday plans, what they think of their cars RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The final preparations for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship race are complete with Saturday afternoon's two 50-minute practice sessions featuring a pair of near-misses but no major incident for the four title-contending drivers . The next time the quartet hits the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway , it will be for the chance to hoist the Sprint Cup trophy for the first time in their careers. Their pre-race track time complete, the only thing left for Kevin Harvick , Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano and Ryan Newman before their Sunday showdown is to relax, rest and get in the right frame of mind for the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). All four were among the top 15 in Saturday's two practice sessions, hinting that they'll settle their final championship battle near the front of the pack. A glance at how NASCAR's final four fared on the eve of the season finale, in order of Sunday's starting position: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet Starting position: 5th. Saturday's practice: 1st in second practice; 8th in final practice. Saturday recap: Harvick was consistent in the amount of laps he ran, completing 30 in Saturday's first session and running 29 in the final practice. His speed, though, dipped from a high-water mark of 175.200 mph early to 173.099 mph late. "We never got the balance right to run it really far enough into the run, to run 20 or 25 laps," Harvick said. Down time: Harvick was concise in predicting his evening activities, offering a one-word answer: "Eat!" Sunday's outlook: Harvick starts nearest to the front of any championship hopeful, but said there's still work to be done to get the handling just right on his No. 4 entry. "Yeah, we struggled getting the balance right, and I don't think we've really hit it exactly where we need it to be yet," Harvick said. "So, we'll go back through the stuff that everybody did on our cars and definitely try to improve for tomorrow." Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota Starting position: 8th. Saturday's practice: 5th in second practice; 13th in final practice. Saturday recap: Hamlin avoided trouble at the end of the final practice session when he dipped his tires onto the grass as he overshot the access road below the track apron. Though he said that the car's ensuing slide was "pretty exciting for a little while," he was pleased with the car's capabilities, especially if lengthy green-flag stretches develop Sunday. "The car was good. It's definitely gaining on some things," Hamlin said. "Feel pretty good about it. It's definitely a long run car -- feels really good on the long run." Down time: Hamlin turns 34 years old on Tuesday and there would be no better birthday present than a first championship at NASCAR's top level. Before his actual birthdate, the Virginia native planned on an early celebration before Sunday's big day. "Pretty much have birthday dinner and relax," Hamlin said. "Come in here in the morning ready to go." Sunday's outlook: Hamlin projected a care-free approach in events leading up to Sunday's finale, but it's also translated into his determination to erase the heartbreak of past defeats. "As high as it should be," Hamlin said of his confidence level. "We've got a car that we can compete with and that's the main thing. You worry when you come down here if it's going to be like it was or how it was previous years and how it was in the test, but it's pretty good." Joey Logano, Team Penske No. 22 Ford Starting position: 9th. Saturday's practice: 6th in second practice; 7th in final practice. Saturday recap: Logano was right on the edges of the top five in both 50-minute practices Saturday, with his best lap in the final session less than a tenth of a second slower than his early speed. Logano said his Team Penske crew will lean heavily on the information it gathered in a two-day test session here at the end of October, but that the team learned plenty in this weekend's practice about running different grooves on the Homestead track. "I still think the top is preferred for everybody," Logano said, "but you have to be able to move around a little bit and I feel like our car can do that." Down time: Logano offered a detailed description of what the hours ahead would hold, including the likelihood of a pineapple chicken dish prepared by his fiancé, Brittany. "I will do the same thing I do any other time except hopefully we are celebrating a (team owner) championship on the Nationwide side," Logano said. "That would be a good thing. From here I will go debrief with (crew chief) Todd (Gordon) and get a read on what our car did. We will go to our team meeting and make some good adjustments for tomorrow and then watch the Nationwide race. I suppose later I will watch some TV and then go to sleep. The Nationwide celebration should go fairly late and we will enjoy that. That is a lot of hard work so hopefully we are able to do that. Then we will go home -- I say home, but to the motor home -- and we will have some dinner. Brittany and I will talk. We have been watching 'Boy Meets World' like nobody's business so we will probably watch an episode of that and go to sleep." Sunday's outlook: Despite the pressure-packed intensity of the season finale, Logano insists his team won't deviate from the game plan that's worked for 35 races so far this season. "I think we treat it like any other Sunday. Why change what we have been doing? We will approach it the same. Obviously there will probably be a couple extra thoughts that we don't typically have, a couple of moments of reflection. We have had those moments and raced the last few weeks with those thoughts in our minds of what we need to do to get through the Chase. We will just keep it how we have been doing things." Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet Starting position: 21st. Saturday's practice: 12th in second practice; 12th in final practice. Saturday recap: Newman escaped one of the close calls from the first practice session. Shortly after Brian Scott pulled his car off the track with engine failure, Newman reported to his RCR crew that he'd run over a piece of debris. The team replaced a rattling bead blower fan and changed out the scratched-up splitter in a fairly minor repair job. Overall, though, he hoped for improvement on Sunday after posting the slowest average over the two Saturday practices of any of the Championship 4. "It could have gone better, but we got a lot of good information," Newman said. "Still just working on the balance of the race car a little bit and making it so it's fast. It seems like I can put it anywhere, just got to get a little bit more speed out of the car doing that." Down time: Newman's night before the championship doesn't look much different than a Saturday evening for many of the tailgating fans camping out on the Homestead-Miami grounds. Newman said he planned on a small cookout near his motorcoach, spending time with friends and family. "I don't ever have a high-pressure night," Newman said. "Just try to keep an even keel, I guess." Sunday's outlook: Despite starting midpack in Sunday's 400, Newman hasn't let his position on the grid pose a concern. Though he's heard the label of underdog applied to him in the days leading up to the season finale, Newman starts Sunday on even footing in terms of the points standings. "Oh, confidence isn't an issue," Newman said. "We are having fun. Our starting spot is not where we want to be, but our finishing spot hopefully is a lot better." 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