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Driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet on second season: 'We need to be in the Chase' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Around this time last year, Austin Dillon 's blood pressure was rising. The then-defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion was a few short weeks away from beginning his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series -- the big leagues -- but even more cold -sweat-inducing was the car number that would be adorned on the side of his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt's legendary No. 3. With his second season upon him and his rookie stripe removed, Dillon exuded an aura of confidence, put-togetherness and relaxation on Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom -- at least for now. "There's a lot of pressure any time you move to a new series," said Dillon, who immediately backed off the naysayers by winning the Coors Light Pole Award ahead of the 2014 Daytona 500 . "Having the 3, there's so many fans behind it and it was a great year to go through. Nothing crazy happened. This year, I think we've got to start getting crazy. We've got to start making things happen. "When I say that, we need to be in the Chase; we need to be part of the chaos at the end of the year. I want to put more pressure on (myself) and you can more focus on the competition side of things. … People know how we approached that first year; I think we did it right. Now it's time to make fire and go fast." A big part of how Dillon and returning crew chief Gil Martin are trying to improve is in preparation, not only physically -- which he's determined to stay on top of -- but also mentally. "Mentally, it's having more days at the shop. … Knowing what we're going to do when we go through practices so we can be more organized with practices," Dillon said. "We were able to really scramble at certain points through the year and make our cars good when we struggled in practice. I think preparation this year, we want to be ready for those changes. We don't want to be behind where we have to make a long shot or a Hail Mary at something. ... I think that's one thing that I've really told Gil and my guys. I want them to stay on me to stay focused and push me." Dillon mentioned that a number of sponsorship appearances and NASCAR events having to do with the famous car number pulled him away from the health-conscious steps he took last offseason to get ready for his rookie year. He and his team have taken this into consideration, working diligently to keep Dillon and the No. 3 team on a more even-keeled schedule throughout November. It should allow Dillon to maintain his consistency -- his average finish of 17.5 ranked 15th in the series among full-time drivers, ahead of Chase drivers Kyle Busch , Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch , AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola -- the same consistency that projected Ryan Newman to the Championship 4, 50 yards shy of a title. That consistency also came in the form of completing 10,488 of 10,541 laps (99.5 percent), the second-most in the series. The 24-year-old is also scheduled to run 20 XFINITY Series races in 2015, which he believes will help him figure out the ins-and-outs of his Cup ride. The new technical packages for Sprint Cup cars in 2015 is much more closely aligned with NASCAR's second series than in years past. There's a lot for Dillon to build on for 2015 and a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth is not out of the question. With the initial attention around the No. 3 car's return now mostly a thing of the past, it should allow the RCR driver to stay steady throughout the year and keep his head down. "The good thing is, we had a decent year last year, but when you can find places to improve, and you know where those are, you should be able to take those and make them better," Dillon said. "I think that's what I've been able to do the last couple of years when we go from say, rookie year in Trucks or ( XFINITY ), then second year and you win a championship." "I'm not saying we're going to go out there and win a championship, but that's our goal. I think we can, and what Ryan and Luke (Lambert, No. 31 crew chief) were able to do, I think me and Gil want to accomplish that -- have a shot at the end of the year." MORE: Newman eager to build on last season's gains FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Coors Light produces annual TV spots that highlight the rocky mountain ice- cold refreshment and innovation of their brand. Each year Coors Light will tag a national spot with "The Official Beer of NASCAR" to highlight our partnership. - Dayna Caine, Account Manager
JGR driver will lead field to green in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) MORE: Full race lineup AVONDALE, Ariz.— Needing an 11th-place finish or better in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 to secure one of four positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' title race, Denny Hamlin took a giant step toward that goal with a pole-winning effort on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway . Hamlin covered the one-mile distance in 25.332 seconds (142.113 mph) to win his third Coors Light pole award of the season, his second at Phoenix and the 20th of his career. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota edged fellow Chase driver Brad Keselowski (142.079 mph) by .006 seconds for the top starting spot in the final race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round (on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET). With Kevin Harvick third at 141.995 mph, Joey Logano fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth (both at 141.794 mph) and Jeff Gordon sixth at 141.665 mph, Chase drivers claimed six of the top seven spots on the grid. The only interloper was Kyle Busch , who will start sixth after posting a lap at 141.771 mph. With one of the best pit crews in the Sprint Cup garage, Hamlin will choose pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road and a considerable advantage at Phoenix. But even with the top starting spot and the best pit box, Hamlin doesn't think he'll be able to coast to the final race. "I think the competition is just too close and tight to think that you're just going to coast to an 11th-place finish," Hamlin said. "Nowadays, the difference between 11th and third and 20th is not that much, so you've got to go all-out on every single lap and fight for every position on restarts. "So, really, from my standpoint, there is no backing into this thing and coasting our way to Homestead. We have to go out there and perform at a high level, or else we're not going to make it. There are too many cars that are too good for us to think that we're just going to ride around and take our spot." Harvick, who was fastest in Friday's opening practice, said he didn't "connect the dots" in either round of knockout qualifying. Nevertheless, the consensus in the garage is that Harvick, who has won three of the last four Phoenix races, has the fastest car in race trim. "I just didn't hit everything on both laps," Harvick said. "I got up the race track a little bit the first lap in Turn 1, and on the second lap, I got up the track at Turns 3 and 4. So I just missed it by a little bit, but our Budweiser Chevrolet is really good in race trim and (I'm) really looking forward to the race. "We have to keep tweaking on it tomorrow and know we qualified 13th here the first time and drove to the lead. We have to keep doing what we're doing, and we'll be fine." Keselowski and Harvick, who are seventh and eighth in the Chase standings know that a victory at Phoenix is their surest path to the season finale. Keselowski, who had to win at Talladega to advance to the Eliminator Round, spelled it out. "Technically, I don't have to win this race, but the probabilities are that I do," he explained. "I think it will be very hard to pass three cars in points. I think I'm within five on all three, but that means if you didn't win, you'd have to beat at least three cars by five spots on the track—and these are good guys. These are good drivers and good teams. "There's a reason why they're this far in the Chase, and to beat all three of those by five spots, that's a tough task for anyone to really feel good about. But you know if you win, you're in, and that's the great thing about this system and we have a great shot at it, for sure." Chase driver Carl Edwards was 25th fastest in opening practice but improved to 13th in time trials. "I hate to admit it, but I'm very happy with 13th," Edwards said. "We were about a 25th-place car in practice, and I was nervous about this and it went well, so that's good. I'm telling you, we're within striking distance. "We're better than we qualified in the spring, and now we work on race trim. We're always better in the race here than we are in qualifying, so we'll just go focus on it and keep digging." Ryan Newman, who needs a ninth-place finish to advance to Homestead with title eligibility, qualified 20th, deepest in the field of the Chase drivers. Clay Rogers failed to make the 43-car field. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Harvick qualifies the best of the Championship 4 drivers MORE: Full EcoBoost 400 lineup " Hendrick Motorsports 200 poles by driver, track HOMESTEAD, Fla.— Jeff Gordon edged Kurt Busch for the top starting spot in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), as three of the four contenders in the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualified in the top nine during Friday's time trials. In the third and final round of the knockout qualifying session, Gordon covered the 1.5-mile distance in 29.876 seconds (180.747 mph), narrowly beating Busch (29.895 seconds/180.632 mph) for the top spot on the grid. Championship favorite Kevin Harvick (179.946 mph) will start fifth, with fellow contenders Denny Hamlin (179.348 mph) and Joey Logano (179.259 mph) eighth and ninth, respectively. Ryan Newman (178.241 mph), the fourth driver eligible for the championship, failed to advance to the final round and will start 21st. Matt Kenseth (180.294 mph) and Brad Keselowski (179.994 mph), both eliminated from the Chase last Sunday at Phoenix, qualified third and fourth, respectively, for the race. In the 25-minute first qualifying round, Keselowski set a track record at 181.238 mph (29.795 mph), breaking the mark of 181.111 mph established by Jamie McMurray in 2003. No driver has won a Sprint Cup race at Homestead from the pole since Busch accomplished the feat in 2002. Gordon, eliminated from the Chase by one point last Sunday, moved toward the top of the track for his Coors Light Pole Award-winning run. "The bottom just wasn't the perfect place for us to run," Gordon explained. "I could feel the tires going away, and then we needed to move up. So when we saw some of those guys running fast laps a little bit higher up, I was looking forward to making that last lap. "The guys made some great adjustments. We unfortunately had a tire going down on the left front, so I don't know if that helped us or hurt us, but it was pretty nice to get that pole. That's awesome." Gordon's Coors Light Pole Award—his first at Homestead, his third of the season and the 77th of his career—also was the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports . "To be the 200th pole for Hendrick Motorsports is really cool," Gordon said. "I think the way we're looking at this weekend is we want to close out the season the absolute best we can. It's been a tremendous season. The No. 24 team has been incredible this year. "We're disappointed that we aren't in this thing for the championship, but that's not going to stop us from trying to go out to win the pole and win the race." For Harvick, the most gratifying thing about Friday's qualifying session was beating the three other championship contenders—not to mention earning a top-five starting position. "This is going to be a race that you are going to go through some changing conditions," Harvick said. "Today was really about trying to get a solid starting spot. And we were able to do that. "Just really proud of my guys. We had a really good day today. Just got to keep doing what we have to do and see where it all falls on Sunday." 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
Stewart tops 200-mph in second round, sets records RELATED: Starting Lineup " Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota FORT WORTH, Tex.—With three races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Matt Kenseth made a statement during Friday’s time trials at Texas Motor Speedway . After Tony Stewart set the fastest lap ever run on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway at 200.111 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying, Kenseth covered the distance in 27.095 seconds (199.299 mph) in the money round to win the pole for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 . In winning his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Texas and the 13th of his career, Kenseth edged Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jeff Gordon (199.291 mph) after Gordon ran what he described as an overly conservative lap. Jimmie Johnson (198.983 mph) will start third in the second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round, followed by Kurt Busch (198.910 mph in his first qualifying session with new crew chief Tony Gibson) and Kevin Harvick (198.836 mph). Stewart was sixth fastest in the final round after leading a parade of drivers who bettered the previous track record of 198.282 mph Harvick had set in April. Having advanced to the Eliminator Round without winning a race this season, Kenseth tested during the week at Homestead-Miami Speedway , where his team found some additional speed that translated to Texas. "We've got to get in practice (Saturday) and hopefully get it driving as good as it drove tonight for the race," Kenseth said of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, "because 500 miles is way different than qualifying. "But I thought we had a pretty good test at Homestead, and we stumbled on some things late that seemed to bring us up a step and bring us closer to the best guys. You never really know until you get through practice and get the race rolling and see what you've got." Stewart said his record lap, which took 26.985 seconds to complete, could have been even better. "We were going to be probably down to a 26.75 or 26.80 if I would have finished getting through (Turn) 4," Stewart said. "I got real tight and had to lift all the way out of the gas in the first round and still ran a 27.10, so it was going to be a big monster lap in the first round, but that's not the one that pays. "We hit it the second round, and I missed it in the third round--my fault." Likely needing a victory to advance to the season finale at Homestead, Brad Keselowski failed to advance to the second round and will start 26th on Sunday. Nevertheless, Keselowski was confident in the quality of his car in race trim. "I'm optimistic we can (win) in this round, and the reality is it will probably take that, said Keselowski, who is seventh in the Chase standings, 31 points behind Gordon. "I completely understand that and am ready for that challenge and hope we have the speed to make it happen. "The speed and execution… and I hope I don't screw it up if we do. When it comes down to moments like this, great teams have to step it up. I believe we are a great team, and I'm ready for the challenge." Other Chase drivers will start as follows: Ryan Newman , seventh; Joey Logano , 10th; Carl Edwards , 11th; and Denny Hamlin 20th. 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
Watch the season finale: 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) RELATED: Full lineup His Team Penske teammate had been faster Friday, but Brad Keselowski sped to the Coors Light Pole Award during group qualifying Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Keselowski's speed of 166.384 mph puts him on the pole for the Ford EcoBoost 300 . It's Keselowski's fifth series pole of the season and 19th of his career. Ryan Blaney, in the No. 12 Ford, had previously paced both Friday practice sessions and was fastest in the second round of group qualifying. He will line up fifth. Kyle Larson qualified second at 166.353 mph, with Matt Kenseth (166.006 mph) third and Elliott Sadler (165.827 mph) fourth. Chase Elliott, who locked up the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last week, will start 14th. He finished 24th in the opening round and was the last car to advance in group qualifying. Elliott's JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith , who is second in the standings, will start 15th. Smith has a 13-point lead over Brian Scott in the battle to finish second in the final standings. Derrike Cope, Ryan Ellis , Johnny Jackson, Kevin Lepage and Martin Roy did not qualify. The Ford EcoBoost 300 is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday and will be televised on ESPN2.
Miss Coors Light chats with Denny Hamlin after he qualifies on the pole for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.