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Johnson looks to cure cold spell at the Brickyard
RELATED: Johnson through the years " See all the winners at the Brickyard SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Jimmie Johnson looked comfortable and calm taking questions from the media Friday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion's No. 48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet was fastest in the day's opening practice here and seventh quickest in final practice. The historically tough 2.5-mile track has been a positive outlet for Johnson. His success at Indianapolis – four wins – is undeniable, but it is also sporadic. And overdue. Johnson won three times at Indy in four years between 2006-2009 – a mark both unmatched and highly impressive. He added a fourth victory in 2012 and then nearly a fifth in 2013 when he finished runner-up. Only Jeff Gordon (five wins) has won more here. The flip side of the success is that three times Johnson has finished 36th or worse. He was 14th and 15th in his last two races at Indy. And his need to add another win here in Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is as much about turning his season around in pursuit of a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title as it is attaining Indianapolis-specific glory. "We love big events, that's one thing about Hendrick Motorsports,’" Johnson allowed, smiling. "We look at the 500 and the 400 and all big races as an opportunity; and are excited for it." Johnson was the first driver in 2016 to collect multiple trophies winning the second week of the season at Atlanta and then again three weeks later at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. But in the last 10 races, he's crashed out three times and had only a single top-10 finish – a third-place finish at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 . In fact, four of his finishes in this stretch have been 25th or worse. Before a 12th- place finish from the pole position at New Hampshire last week, Johnson uncharacteristically crashed out in back-to-back races with a 35th- place showing at Daytona and 32nd at Kentucky. He's currently eighth in the points standings, however, he is fourth on the Chase Grid because of his multiple wins. "I guess last week is kind of a good example of some of the difficulties we've had," Johnson said of New Hampshire. "We had competitive cars all running in the top 11 and in one corner we lose two of them. "It's been tough, but I think we have a good foundation to build from. We have respectable finishes in our cars, but nobody wants to be a decent finisher or a respectable finisher. We all want to dominate. And, we're working real hard on all fronts; from our engine shop, chassis shop, aero, teams, pit stops, and all of it." Contrary to what other teams may be experiencing, Johnson said it's not that his team isn't trying hard enough to return to form. It may be they are trying too hard. "And that's the problem," Johnson said. "I've been at 110 percent and you make too many mistakes there. And I think our team has, too. So, that's one thing we have recognized and we're going to really try to dial back and make sure that we run where we should. "If we have a fifth place car that week, let's be sure that we at least finish fifth. Maybe there's some opportunities to give us a chance to win, but stop making mistakes. And, I've got to do that, first and foremost." Johnson said he was even open to having the team’s "new driver" Jeff Gordon give feedback on the cars since Gordon – who retired last year – is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week at Indianapolis and next week at Pocono while Earnhardt continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. "We're months in, and I feel like all the drivers have expressed where we could be stronger and what we might need, but a fresh set of eyes and I guess it is kind of biased, but versus the four drivers in unbiased evaluation of the car and where we stack-up and how the engine feels compared to others," Johnson said of possibly getting Gordon's opinion. "And Jeff has had a unique opportunity to see the sport from a totally different angle; and certainly watching cars and I know he's formed some opinions watching other race cars and where the Toyotas might beat us. So, to be able to sit in the car and look for those opportunities and moments, I think will be helpful for us, for sure." The recent struggles are certainly an unfamiliar position for team owner Rick Hendrick, who was just selected for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. He's grown much more accustomed to winning championships or at the very least challenging for titles. Recently his team has been challenging simply to finish a race. But righting the course is something everyone expects. And the trick is doing it sooner than later. "It seems like when it rains, it pours," Hendrick said. "I think at Daytona we wrecked three or four cars. And then we went to Kentucky and wrecked again. We were in good shape in New Hampshire, but wrecked again. I've been doing this long enough that you can't stay on top forever. You have to work hard to get back. And I think we've made a lot of improvements. "I think we'll see some, hopefully, this weekend. But, you never like having a curveball. This is kind of one of the toughest things you have to go through as one of your star drivers can't drive. And so, the encouraging news is that everybody just stepped up and is working harder. "We're determined to work in every area from the engine to the chassis and aero and everything. And the teams are excited. It's kind of our 'refuse to lose' belief. But we didn't need this, for sure. We didn't need the wrecks we've gone through. Our place looks like a salvage yard where all of the cars have been tore up. But that just makes us dig harder." And Johnson appears ready to lead the charge. "We're all highly inspired to get back on top of the mountain, that is where we feel we should be at Hendrick Motorsports," Johnson said. "We've just got to clean it up on all fronts. Hopefully we have it all together here and can win."
Filled with Indy memories, Patrick looks to better season at the Brickyard
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Danica Patrick is always the first to remind you that her success competing in the Indianapolis 500 does not necessarily translate directly in her quest to win her first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the historic track. But she remains optimistic about the good juju the speedway tends to send. And after a frequently frustrating season in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Patrick welcomes any change in success – at Indy or otherwise. The vibe here is tangible. "I totally feel it," Patrick said. "I think that it's probably undeniable on some level; even just driving back into the track and seeing the Pagoda all lit up which is what I love seeing when I come in through the Turn 2 tunnel. Seeing that and just having spent so much time here. "I feel it. And having great memories. That always helps." Indianapolis is undoubtedly the venue that propelled Patrick into worldwide vernacular. She finished fourth as a rookie in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and backed it up with a career-best third place in 2009 -- the best-ever finish for a woman in the race. The talent, fame and promise she showed in IndyCar -- created and punctuated by her showings at the great Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- provided her opportunity to shift career paths and give stock cars a go. But her results racing at Indy in NASCAR haven't been up to Patrick par. She hasn't finished better than 27th in three Sprint Cup Series tries at the track. She scored that career-best last year after finishes of 30th and 42nd in her first two stock car starts. "I don't think they all have been really bad, but I think it's tough for me," Patrick acknowledged Friday before Coors Light Pole qualifying for Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). "Do I miss running in the top five? Of course I do. Especially for casual fans, it's very easy to understand. But a top five for me now is a top 15 right now. And it's just different. In stock car racing there's so many more cars and there's so much that goes into it and there's so many of these guys who have just been at it for so long. "Especially with my lack of stock car experience before I jumped into it, I didn't start off racing dirt. I didn't start off in Late Models and things like that and work my way up. The car itself is challenging. It's a work in progress and I think that at any point in time, when everything is right, it can be a breakthrough and a great result. By great, it's a top 10; maybe a top five." Rolling off the grid 24th in Sunday's 400 -miler, Patrick comes to Indianapolis ranked 24th in the point standings and is still looking for her first top-10 finish of the year. A 14th-place run at New Hampshire last week is her best showing since posting a season-high 13th-place finish at Dover in May. Patrick said she and new crew chief Billy Scott are still getting familiar with one another. It's her third crew chief in four seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing as the team looks for the best combination. Certainly as the schedule starts to revisit tracks for a second time, she is more hopeful -- make that expectant -- of signs of progress. Half of her six career top-10 finishes have come at tracks still to come on the schedule -- Kansas, Martinsville and Bristol. "There's constant car revisions that get done and updates to cars that get done throughout the season," Patrick said. "Every single week that work is done in the wind tunnel. So, things are very evolving from the car perspective. But, there are a lot of things that go into a race other than just the car. And so, having a set-up when you first start the weekend that's closer than when you went there the first time is a great thing. "We don't really get that many shots at making the car that much better when we get there. It's more about optimizing what you have. So, hopefully that will be a good second-half of the season for us to have that foundation established between rules, crew chief, me; and I know that none of us are happy running 20th. I'm not. It's miserable. So, we want to do better."
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : " The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard ." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard . -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard , backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : " The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard , so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Strong starting spot at Indy a 'big deal' for Stewart
RELATED: Full starting lineup " See every car in the field SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Tony Stewart wrapped up day two of his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by qualifying third-best for the 40-car field that makes up Sunday’s Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard . It will be Stewart's best starting berth at Indy since winning the pole for the annual race at the legendary 2.5-mile track in 2002. It also equaled his best qualifying effort of what’s been an abbreviated season, matching his third-place start earlier this year at Michigan International Speedway. He announced last September that the 2016 season would be his last as a competitor in the Sprint Cup Series. Stewart put up the sixth-fastest lap in Saturday's opening round, enabling him to advance to the second round where he posted the second-fastest lap overall. In the final round of 12, his 184.328 mph lap was bettered only by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch (184.634 mph) and Carl Edwards (184.547 mph). Stewart, 45, credited crew chief Mike Bugarewicz with making the appropriate changes between Friday's two practices and Saturday’s qualifying attempts. "I just wish I could do a lap … one more time and not clip the apron in (Turn) 4; I think we could have been on the pole," Stewart said after climbing from his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. "What we learned today for qualifying, we are going to have to take some of that and try to make a car a little better for tomorrow." Starting position can be crucial -- the benefits ranging from optimum track position to a clear entry into and out of one's pit stall during the race. To start third, Stewart said, "is a big deal here. It always has been." The rules package in place for this year's race is 180 degrees from the high drag package implemented at Indy a year ago. Stewart said the difference is evident and positive. "It seems like the more downforce they take off these cars, the easier it is to race around each other," he said. "That is what you need, but it always helps when you can start up front. When you can get up there and really get working on your car in cleaner air and plan for the end of the race, that is really an advantage." Stewart sat out the first eight races of the 2016 season while recovering from injuries sustained in an off-road accident on Jan. 31. A victory last month at Sonoma Raceway and his ascension into the top-30 in points have put him in line for one of the 16 positions that will make up this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. "We just have been plugging away," he said. "Everybody thinks Sonoma was the game changer and it wasn't. I mean it was Pocono, it was Michigan -- those two races leading up to Sonoma were probably as big if not bigger than what we did at Sonoma. "Sonoma just gave us the opportunity to hopefully use what we are doing to get going in the Chase now." With his final start at Indy less than 24 hours away, Stewart, who has 49 career wins in NASCAR's premier series, was ready to turn his attention elsewhere. "Tonight I'm going to go to Kokomo Speedway for our All-Stars race and go to work there," he said. "Then come here tomorrow and have fun with our friends." Sunday’s race is scheduled to get underway at 3 p.m. ET. TV and radio coverage will be provided by NBCSN, the IMS Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. </p>
Busch picks up Coors Light Pole Award in search of Brickyard defense
RELATED: Full starting lineup " See the full field SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A sweep at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing new to Kyle Busch. But this year, he started early. With a lap at 184.634 mph (48.745 seconds) in the final round of Saturday's knockout qualifying, Busch claimed the pole position for Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Earlier in the day, the driver who swept both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races at Indy last year earned the pole award ahead of the heat races prior to Saturday afternoon’s Lilly Diabetes 250 XFINITY race. But the Sprint Cup pole that completed the Saturday sweep was special, because it was the first for Busch at the vaunted Brickyard . "I haven't been great at qualifying here, but the guys gave me a great piece this time around, and I'm real pumped about that," said Busch, who claimed his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 19th of his career. "We're starting first in both of these (races), and hopefully we can end that way. "It means a lot (to win the pole). It's definitely pretty special to be running the way that we're running and to have the success that we've had here the last couple of years at Indy, and I’d love nothing more than to try to win here again." Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was .023 seconds faster than the No. 19 of teammate Carl Edwards (184.547 mph). "I was happy with my lap," Edwards said. "I was surprised Kyle got me. That was a good lap for him – I mean, that was a good lap that he ran because I felt like my lap was pretty good – but, yeah, it's frustrating right now to be second because it's so close, and the pole position is obviously huge here. "But by tomorrow, the race gets started and I think I'll be pretty happy with that starting spot, so just good job by all my guys." Making his last appearance at Indy as a Sprint Cup Series driver, Tony Stewart earned the third starting spot with a lap at 184.328 mph and knew exactly where he had lost critical speed. "I just wish I could do lap three (final round) one more time and not clip the apron in (Turn) 4," Stewart said. "I think we could have been on the pole." RELATED: Stewart discusses his qualifying effort Denny Hamlin qualified fourth, giving JGR three of the top four spots. Brad Keselowski in fifth has the top Ford. Ryan Newman , Kevin Harvick , Martin Truex Jr. , Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson will start from positions six through 10, respectively. The time trials were a disappointment for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, who failed to place a car in the top 12. Jimmie Johnson ran the fastest lap of the day in the first of three rounds, touring the 2.5-mile speedway in 48.435 seconds (185.816 mph). But the six-time series champion failed to advance beyond the second round, losing the 12th and final position to Kurt Busch by .008 seconds. Johnson will start 13th, Chase Elliott 15th and Jeff Gordon , subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who is out with concussion-like symptoms, claimed the 21st spot on the grid. "I felt really comfortable right there," said Gordon, who was 15th fastest in the first round. "I feel like today I’m much calmer than I was yesterday (in practice). Usually, my heart is beating more for qualifying than it is for practice, but that wasn't the case. "So, today I feel more relaxed and comfortable in the car. I hope to feel the same way tomorrow. Tomorrow's challenge is going to be being around traffic, and also trying to get the balance of the car right and do that when you're by yourself as well as when you're around other cars." Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field. </p>
Bank on Blaney at the Brickyard
Chris Rice and Jonathan Merryman make their NASCAR Fantasy Live picks for the Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard .
Who's in the No. 48? Flub gives 'Six-Time' extra drive
Jimmy Jimmie Johnson found some extra motivation for the Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) Sunday morning. The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion saw something amiss during a morning check of his pit stall. Morning motivation @rpatton22 pic.twitter.com/4TDoLM1bRf — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) July 24, 2016 Oops. A little credit, though. The fact that Indianapolis puts driver names on the pit road wall and above the garage stalls is immeasurably cool. And it looks like everything is fast at Indy, including the speed of folks in charge of the signage. Boo pic.twitter.com/yuOWY07Wzq — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) July 24, 2016
Race Rewind: Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard
Ryan Newman wins the 20th running of the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Rundown: Indianapolis driver grades
RELATED: Complete race results " Updated Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 At The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 1. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Total domination. Busch won Saturday's and Sunday's races from the pole and led a record 149 laps Sunday. His average running position Sunday was 1.2, and his lowest position was third. Seriously? Busch's hammerlock on the field was on par with what Martin Truex Jr. did in the Coca-Cola 600 . Thus the same mark. Grade: AAA+ 2. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth is still winless at the Brickyard but has now finished second three times. More numbers: In Kenseth's first four starts at Indianapolis for JGR, his finishes are 5th, 4th, 7th and 2nd. Grade: A 3. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson had to do a pass-through on Lap 86 for a pit-road speeding penalty, dropping him to 23rd. Attrition and persistence led to Johnson's first top 10 since he finished third at Charlotte two months ago. Nice finish, but this team still needs to clean up its mistakes. Grade: A- 4. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Ditto the No. 11 team. Hamlin was assessed his seventh pit-road speeding penalty of the season one lap after Jimmie Johnson (same round of green-flag stops). Hamlin was running third at the time and fell back to 18th. Nice recovery, but … Grade: A- 5. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson was the second-biggest winner of the afternoon, moving up four spots in the standings to 15th. Grade: A 6. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick upped his points lead to 24. Two races ago it was down to four. If you don't think that's important, remember this: If qualifying is rained out, the field is set by the standings -- as is the order of selecting a pit stall. So, yes, the standings still matter. Grade: A 7. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano restarted second on the final restart but couldn't hold the position or make a run at Kyle Busch. Logano, by the way, finished second to Busch in last year's Brickyard . Grade: A 8. Martin Truex Jr. , No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing. Truex was strong all afternoon – his 5.6 average running position was second to Kyle Busch's – but he was no match for the winner. Grade: A 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Sunday's top 10 was Dillon's ninth of the season (20 starts), equaling his total for the first 85 starts of his Sprint Cup career. Grade: A 10. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard benefited from accidents in front of him that he was able to avoid to score his second top 10 of the season. Grade: A- 11. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart started third and was running with the leaders when he was caught speeding on pit road just before the third caution and had to restart at the tail end of the field, one lap down. He was still back in the pack (20th) with 25 laps to go in regulation. But then came all the cautions. "Smoke" finally got his lap back with a free pass on the fifth caution, survived contact with Jamie McMurray on Lap 166 and salvaged a decent finish on his last go-round at Indy. Grade: B 12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse survived the big Carl Edwards - Ryan Newman wreck that brought out the red flag to get a finish that belied his day. He turned 14 laps in the top 15 and had an average running positon of 20.1. Grade: B- 13. Jeff Gordon , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Despite problems with restarts, Gordon was able to post his best finish of the season and overcome the incredible pressure of replacing Alex Bowman in the No. 88. ... Yes, I'm kidding. Except for the restarts part. Vive Monsieur Gordon! Grade: A 14. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Buescher recorded the best finish of his Sprint Cup career on a day in which he turned all of two laps in the top 15 and had a 23.7 average running position. Grade: B 15. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott registered his best finish since a second-place finish at Michigan more than a month ago. Grade: B 16. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. For only the second time this season, Busch failed to finish in the top 10 in back-to-back races. Grade: B- 17. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. Keselowski was the rage early on with his team's bold pit strategy, but the second half of the race bore zero resemblance to the first half. Getting caught up in the Carl Edwards - Ryan Newman wreck didn't help, either. Grade: B 18. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Despite a fourth-straight finish outside the top 10, Kahne moved up two spots in the standings to 16th, 10 points behind Kyle Larson . He jumped one driver who missed the race ( Dale Earnhardt Jr. ) and one who didn't use the best judgment and crashed with 10 laps to go ( Trevor Bayne ). Grade: C 19. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray's nice run came to a screeching halt on the restart on Lap 165 when he moved down in front of Tony Stewart but hadn't cleared the No. 14. Stewart wasn't about to lift, and the No. 1 went for a slide onto the access road before returning to the track and smacking Ryan Newman . Worse, the caution gave the free pass to Chase-cutoff competitor Kasey Kahne . Grade: B- 20. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Cassill avoided calamity to get his fourth-best finish of the season. Grade: B 21. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Bowyer contributed to the caution-fest at the end of the race when he got into the back of Trevor Bayne , who inexplicably went for the block with so much on the line (Chase standings) and running so far back in the field. Grade: C 22. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Wrong place, wrong time. Again. Patrick had nothing to do with the Carl Edwards - Ryan Newman wreck but still ended up a part of it. On the other hand, she finished right where she spent most of the race. Grade: C 23. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport-Leavine Family. McDowell posted his best finish at the Brickyard in seven starts. Grade: B- 24. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears finished in the top 25 for the 10th time this season. Grade: C 25. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola, who is still looking for his first top 10 of the year, is on pace to have his worst season with RPM, for which he has been driving full time since 2010. Grade: C 26. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Smith posted his best finish since a 22nd at Pocono in early June. Grade: C 27. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Despite being collected in the last wreck of the day, Scott picked up his best finish in his past eight starts. Grade: C 28. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . After posting four top-30 finishes in his first 14 starts, Annett has four in his past six. Grade: C 29. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Since a 37.3 average finish in his first three starts of the season, Whitt has an average finish of 27.5 over his next 14 races. Grade: C 30. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Bayne's move to block Clint Bowyer on the backstretch on Lap 158 was as costly as it was ill-advised. Bayne spun all the way to his worst finish of the season and to 18th in the standings, 14 points behind 15th-place Kyle Larson . Grade: D 31. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman's day began to unravel on the restart on Lap 154. He restarted sixth, outside of Carl Edwards . On the first turn, Edwards drifted up into Newman and the No. 31 suffered major damage. With Newman sitting near the Chase cut-off line, it was important for him to coax the car home. He returned to the track but couldn't make it to the finish when Jamie McMurray ran up the track into him on the Lap 165 restart after contact with Tony Stewart . Bottom line: Valiant effort but a DNF and 10-point day. Grade: C 32. Ryan Ellis , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing. Ellis picked up a career-best finish in his fourth Sprint Cup Series start. Grade: C 33. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson ran to form, and his 33.8 average finish is third-worst in the Sprint Cup Series among drivers with at least 10 starts. Grade: D 34. Patrick Carpentier, No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing . After not starting a Sprint Cup Series race since 2011, Carpentier made his second start of 2016. He finished 37th last month at Sonoma. Grade: D 35. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards was part of the strong JGR contingent all afternoon – 6.6 averaging running position – until his mishap on Lap 154. Whether it was a tight car or dirty tires, the outcome was costly as he dropped two spots in the standings. Grade: F 36. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney was collected and knocked out of the race in the Carl Edwards -initiated wreckage that resulted in a red flag. Blaney dropped two spots in the standings to 19th, and is now 22 points behind 15th-place Kyle Larson . Blaney began the day nine points ahead of Larson. Grade: C 37. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Ragan brought out the third caution on Lap 120 when his left-rear tire went down and he slammed the wall. It was his third DNF and second-worst finish of the season. Grade: F 38. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger was running 11th when his car lost water pressure. Moments later it overheated with less than 100 laps to go. It was Allmendinger's second DNF in the past three races. Grade: F 39. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle's day ended after 53 laps when his right-front tire went down and he slammed into the outside wall. His streak of top 10s – three – ended as well. Grade: F 40. Matt DiBenedetto, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. His engine didn't even make through five laps, leaving DiBenedetto with his seventh DNF of the season. "How is that even possible?" DiBenedetto tweeted. "Who has the voodoo doll of me that severely dislikes me?" Grade: F
'Smoke' called to front of line for Indy tribute
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Tony Stewart 's final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway got off to an emotional start here Sunday as NASCAR and IMS officials, along with fans of the three-time premier series champion, paid tribute to Stewart during pre-race activities. Stewart, twice a winner at the legendary 2.5-mile facility, is retiring from Sprint Cup competition at season's end. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard marked his 18th career start at the track. Stewart, 45, led the field on the opening pace lap well ahead of even the pace car prior to the start of the race before falling back in line to his official starting position of third on the 40-car grid. Earlier, additional room on the pre-race grid was provided to the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team to accommodate up to 100 guests on hand to see Stewart make his final scheduled Brickyard start. Stewart has 49 career victories, including Brickyard 400 wins in 2005 and '07. His 9.6 average finishing position at Indy is his best at any track in the series. Stewart grew up in Columbus, Indiana, located approximately 50 miles south of the speedway, and he maintains his primary residence there. He has spoken often of what the track has meant to him through the years. "You know, it means a lot," he said recently. "Some of the greatest race car drivers in the world, whether it was IndyCar, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, they've run and won at the Brickyard , so that in itself makes it special. "I grew up ... in Indiana. I didn't move to Indiana. I didn't move away from Indiana. I'm the only NASCAR driver in the (Sprint) Cup Series that's from Indiana that still lives in Indiana, and I'm proud of where I was born. I'm proud to be back. "I still live in the town I was raised in. I take a lot of pride in that. I think the state of Indiana takes a lot of pride in that, and that's what makes it a big weekend. I'm representing a lot of people around me, and I'm proud to do that." Stewart made his first start at Indy in 1996, winning the pole and finishing 24th for team owner John Menard in the Indianapolis 500. He finished fifth the following year. Stewart remains the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the Indy/Charlotte double held in May. He finished sixth in the Indy 500 in 2001, then flew to Charlotte Motor Speedway where he drove to a third-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 .