Kevin Harvick, Nelson Piquet Jr., Parker Kligerman and James Buescher comment on their solid runs at Chicagoland Speedway.
RELATED: Full practice results Piloting his No. 2 Team Penske Ford at 175.880 mph, Brad Keselowski slid into the top position on the leaderboard with less than 10 minutes remaining Friday's final practice session at Darlington Raceway . Opening practice leader Greg Biffle found speed in the final minutes of Friday's final practice, propelling his No. 16 Ford around the South Carolina speedway at 175.729 mph for the second position. Like many of the other drivers in the field, third-fastest Kurt Busch -- who was second on the leaderboard in the opening session -- used the final minutes of the 115-minute practice to make a mock qualifying run in his No. 41 Chevrolet (175.723 mph). A late run also benefited Paul Menard , who inherited the fourth position on the leaderboard with the help of a fast lap of 175.484 mph from his No. 27 Richard Childress Racing car. His teammate Austin Dillon rounded out the top five , getting a top speed of 175.453 mph out of his No. 3 ride. Denny Hamlin remained atop the leaderboard for the majority of the final session. However, when drivers switched to qualifying trim in the final laps, he ended up 14th by the time the red flag waved to the signal the end of practice. "The Track Too Tough to Tame" lived up to its name in the final minutes for reigning race winner Kevin Harvick , who smacked the wall off Turn 2 late in the session in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Harvick ranked 21st on the leaderboard. After making contact with the wall midway through the second practice session, Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team deferred to a back-up car. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota came up 35th on the leaderboard after the 115-minute session. Coors Light Pole Qualifying is set for Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN. RELATED: Full practice results Greg Biffle topped the opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Darlington Raceway for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Biffle paced the 115-minute practice with a fast lap of 176.201 mph at the 1.366-mile track in South Carolina. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has two wins in 14 starts at the "Lady in Black" and is currently on the outside of the Chase Grid with two races left in the regular season. Stewart-Haas Racing dominated the leaderboard behind Biffle with Kurt Busch (175.842 mph), Tony Stewart (175.710 mph) and Kevin Harvick (175.654 mph) coming in second through fourth in the session. Harvick is the defending race winner at Darlington. Joe Gibbs Racing 's Carl Edwards (175.647 mph) rounded out the top five . Friday's practice sessions provided the drivers with significant time with the low downforce package. This is the second race of the season to use that particular rules package as it was also used at Kentucky in July. Austin Dillon "earned" a Darlington stripe early in opening practice when he hit the wall off of Turn 2 and had significant damage to the right side of his No. 3 Chevrolet. The team worked to fix the damage on his car instead of bringing out the backup and got him back out on track toward the end of the session. Brett Moffitt also got a Darlington stripe early in the practice session. Chase Elliott , who will be attempting to make his fifth Sprint Cup start of the season, brushed the wall about a half hour into practice. Trevor Bayne also got into the wall during the practice session. RELATED: See Darlington's greatest hits
Jimmie Johnson is the face of fitness in NASCAR. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion recently let Gatorade and its 'Beat the Heat' program tag along with him for the race weekend at Watkins Glen International -- a race weekend in which Johnson is known for taking a mammoth bike ride of 65 miles the Saturday before the race under the hot August sun. "As I've kind of evolved in the sport and grew in the sport, I can see how I can do a better job as an individual to be as sharp in the car physically, mentally," Johnson said. "I've been through a few different variations of the type of training that I've done … if you want to be fast , you've got to suffer." NASCAR has evolved over the years; now, drivers and the crew members make fitness, nutrition and hydration a big part of their preparation and routine to gain an edge on their competition. Johnson specifically has started doing triathlons to help refine his car driving skills; endurance training both physically and mentally prepares him for the intensity of a race. Each race weekend, Johnson bikes and runs several miles between practice, qualifying and the race to keep in top shape for driving his car. The NASCAR community has developed a group of crew members and drivers who gather each race weekend for a long cycling ride, around 60 miles, to take in the surrounding area. RELATED : Junior breaks one of Jimmie's bikes
Biagi-DenBeste Racing announced Wednesday that Ryan Truex will drive the team's No. 98 Ford in three NASCAR XFINITY Series races this season. Truex, 23, will compete in the No. 98 starting Sept. 11 at Richmond International Raceway . He is also scheduled to drive at 1.5-mile tracks, Kentucky Speedway (Sept. 26) and Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 9). The three-race deal was facilitated through Biagi-DenBeste's partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports . Truex last competed in the XFINITY Series in 2012, driving for three different car owners. His most recent NASCAR national series action was last season, participating in 23 races for BK Racing . "I've had some time away from racing, and it's given me a chance to refocus on my career," Truex said in a release provided by Richard Petty Motorsports . "I feel more driven than ever to perform well and prove that I can race with the best in the sport. I'd like to thank the fans as well. They've been really supportive of me on social media, asking when I'll be back racing again. I'm looking forward to putting on a great show for them." Biagi-DenBeste has competed in 11 XFINITY races this season, with RPM teammates Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr . -- both Sprint Cup regulars -- splitting driving duties. The team's best finish in 2015 was Almirola's seventh-place effort in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway . "We're excited to join RPM in giving Ryan (Truex) this opportunity to get back to racing in the XFINITY Series," said Fred Biagi, team co-owner. "We've had fast cars this season and good results with both Aric and Sam; so hopefully, we can do the same with Ryan behind the wheel at Richmond."
RELATED: Gordon on lack of throwback scheme DARLINGTON, S.C. -- The level of concern has increased, Jeff Gordon admits, as the cutoff for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup nears. With only two races remaining to secure one of the 16 bids in this year's field, Gordon and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team find themselves 15th in the Chase standings. A victory in Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, Sirius XM) here at Darlington Raceway would all-but guarantee the 44-year-old Gordon an 11th appearance in the 10-race, championship-determining playoff. Gordon can qualify mathematically as well, depending on where other non-winners on the Chase bubble finish Sunday night. Putting the question of 'are we in or aren't we?' to rest before the series travels to Richmond for next weekend's event "would be huge," Gordon said Friday at Darlington. "We definitely feel pressure and it's a little bit stressful right now being on the bubble. I felt like we were in a pretty comfortable position about a month ago, we just had some misfortunes." A year after he scored a pair of regular-season wins and entered the Chase as the No. 2 seed, Gordon finds himself winless in his last 31 starts with just one top-10 finish in his last five outings. He was 42nd at Indianapolis, 41st at Watkins Glen, 17th at Michigan and 20th two weeks ago in Bristol, Tenn. The lone highlight in the midst of the free fall -- a third-place run at Pocono. He had finished no worse than ninth in the three outings previous to the Indy setback. "I feel like we have performed well enough to securely be in by points," Gordon, a seven-time winner at Darlington said. " I can't say we have performed well enough to be real confident coming in here, that we are going to be one of the cars to beat. "But ... the amount of hard work that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the team, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports has been putting in the effort for this weekend especially. ... I'm pretty happy with the car. I think we've got a shot at doing that. "No matter what we realize it's really important for us to execute really well this weekend ... to get those points we need to go to Richmond and be a little more comfortable anyway. "Other than a win this weekend, Richmond is going to be stressful but the good news is we've dealt with it before." As for Darlington, Gordon's enjoyed more success than most on the rugged, old, oddly-shaped 1.366-mile track. During a stretch between September of 1995 and '98, Gordon won three consecutive races here (two of which were Southern 500 victories) and five out of seven overall. Outside of Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where he has eight career wins, Darlington has been most kind to the four-time series champion. He closed the books on the former Winston Million bonus program in 1997 with a victory as well. RELATED: Watch Gordon win $1 million at Darlington With only two races remaining, Gordon is taking nothing for granted. He knows what his team has accomplished before, and what it is capable of today. The stress is there. But so is the confidence. "It certainly helps when you've been through it a number of times," he said. "But it doesn't mean that it goes away. "You know what's on the line. You know what you have to do."
Practice 2 recap " Results Joey Logano led the final XFINITY Series practice at Darlington Raceway on Friday, posting a top speed of 166.676 mph on Lap 2 of 28. The Team Penske driver was fourth-fastest in the series' opening practice earlier in the day. Kyle Busch , who was fastest in the first XFINITY Series practice at Darlington, came in second-fastest behind Logano (166.642 mph). Ty Dillon (165.643 mph), Kyle Larson (164.556 mph) and Daniel Suarez (164.457 mph) rounded out the top- five fastest on the practice leaderboard. Saturday's VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the final race in the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash program and Suarez, Dillon, Brian Scott and Chase Elliott will compete for the final $100,000 cash prize. Elliott was ninth-fastest while Scott was 11th-fastest in Friday's final practice. Practice 1 recap " Results Kyle Busch led opening practice for Saturday's XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway . The Joe Gibbs Racing driver completed his fastest time on Lap 2 of 19 at a speed of 167.379 mph. Closing in on Busch was JGR teammate Denny Hamlin who came in as second-fastest (167.015 mph). Paul Menard (166.304 mph), Joey Logano (166.034 mph) and Ty Dillon (165.788 mph) round out the top- five fastest drivers at the "Too Tough to Tame" track. Piloting the No. 9 Chevrolet, defending race winner and XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott was 11th-fastest in the first session (165.009 mph). The XFINITY Series returns to the track at 3 p.m. ET for the final practice before Saturday's race at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
RELATED: More of what you don't know about Darlington The unique, oblong layout of Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was made by design in 1949, a year before it welcomed NASCAR's big leagues for its first 500-mile race. How it happened is no small fish tale, in a manner of speaking. When Harold Brasington purchased 70 acres of land from farm owner Sherman Ramsey for the site of NASCAR's first superspeedway, there was one condition -- Ramsey requested that the minnow pond on his property not be disturbed. The result was a set of turns on one end of the track that was tighter than the opposite end, which gives the track its distinctive egg shape. The abstract layout continues to challenge NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs alike, some 60-plus years after its debut. Among the track’s many traditions is the "Darlington Stripe," a black tire mark created from cars’ frequent brushes along the outside retaining wall. Kyle Petty -- who had a history of futility on the 1.366-mile track, with zero top- five finishes in 51 Cup starts at Darlington -- famously quipped in an ESPN interview after a crash that the track would be better served to be filled with water for bass fishing. Had that unlikely conversion ever happened, Petty would have had a ready source for bait in Ramsey's pond. MORE: Which Kyle is driving the No. 42 -- Petty or Larson?
RELATED: MWR won't run full-time Cup team Officials with Michael Waltrip Racing have begun the process of shutting down the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization, filing the required Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice (WARN) with the North Carolina Commerce Department detailing the anticipated layoff of its employees. Any employer planning the closure of a company or large layoffs is required to file a WARN notice with the state. Notices must also be filed with those workers affected, or their representatives, the N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions and the chief elected government official where the site/company is located. According to the document, the company will lay off a total of 217 employees during a five -and-a-half month period, from Nov. 1 through April 15 of next year. MWR, which began competing full-time in 2007, currently fields two full-time teams, the No. 15 Toyota for driver Clint Bowyer and the No. 55 Toyota for driver David Ragan . The racing facility is located in Cornelius, North Carolina. At its height, MWR fielded three full-time teams, and its drivers have won seven Sprint Cup events. Its last victory came during the 2013 season and Bowyer has the team's highest points finish, placing second in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Bowyer enters this weekend's race, the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway , looking to earn one of the remaining positions in this year's 16-team Chase field. Ragan, who joined the team after 11 races, is 24th in points. On Aug. 19, MWR officials announced that the organization and Bowyer had mutually agreed to sever their relationship following the completion of the 2015 racing season, which concludes in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway . RELATED: MWR, Bowyer to go separate ways It was also stated at that time that MWR would not field a full-time entry beyond this season. Co-owner Rob Kauffman, whose financial resources helped keep the team afloat shortly after its debut, announced in late July that he was in the process of purchasing an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. RELATED: Kauffman buys interest in CGR In August, he said that MWR "really wouldn't have existed through to today without substantial and continued financial support from me. "I think that from a business standpoint it didn't make sense any longer. You can't have a top-10 budget and top-10 resources and not be in the top 10 for a sustained period of time," he said. "It's a performance related business, it's all about performance. It's a great sport but a very difficult business model. From a business decision it just made sense to not go forward with that organization, which isn't really commercially viable." Neither Bowyer nor Ragan has announced plans for 2016. Their current sponsors, 5-hour ENERGY (Bowyer) and Aaron's (Ragan) also have not announced sponsorship plans beyond this season.
RELATED: Complete Darlington schedule " Darlington's throwback schemes Officials with Darlington Raceway and International Speedway Corp., which owns the South Carolina facility, should be congratulated for their efforts leading into this weekend's Bojangles' Southern 500 .The retro-themed weekend has been the talk of NASCAR in recent months, garnering more attention than any event outside of the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February. Copious amounts of content -- print, Internet and broadcast -- have been devoted to this weekend's race. And rightfully so. The fact that the program coincides with the return of the historic event to the Labor Day weekend is icing on the cake. When the seed for the throwback plan was planted, there was no indication that this year's race would be return to its long-held September date -- the 2015 schedule wasn't officially announced until August of '14, and track officials weren't privy to potential changes much earlier than that. After a one-year dalliance with a November stop in 2004, the 500 had a nine-year run on Mother's Day weekend in May where it did well. Last year's race was held in April in yet another schedule shuffle. But the Southern 500 in April or May is not the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. "Having the extra time from last April until Labor Day this year has been really helpful because truly it's just a small group of people that have put this together," Chip Wile, President of Darlington Raceway , said recently. "And it's been a learning process but it's been really fun." The platform is the kickoff of what Wile describes as a five -year plan to revitalize the track’s lone NASCAR race weekend, which includes Saturday's XFINITY Series race as well as Sunday's Sprint Cup event. For decades, the Southern 500 was considered one of the most difficult races on the series' circuit. The track's unusual shape -- a 1.336-mile layout with distinct differences between Turns 1-2 and 3-4 -- favors no particular driving style. Winners are often determined by a combination of skill and good fortune. The oppressive heat and humidity that hung over the track nearly every September race weekend took its toll as well -- the list of drivers that required relief at some point is a lengthy one. That difficulty, combined with the fact that the track is the oldest paved speedway to host NASCAR events (it opened in 1950), earned Darlington a lofty position in NASCAR's early years. The race is still considered one of NASCAR's crown jewel events -- along with the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 . But the praise for this weekend's program shouldn't stop with track officials. Teams have bought into the idea wholeheartedly, developing amazing throwback paint schemes, many of which honor some of the sport's legendary drivers and organizations. Sponsors and various stakeholders, such as Goodyear, have gotten on board. Broadcast teams will incorporate the throwback platform into their programming. It's been a win-win situation for everyone involved. It also couldn't have come at a better time. Wile and his group wanted to make his track's lone Sprint Cup race stand out above the crowd, and it certainly seems as if that has been accomplished. Darlington isn't the only track that's been able to develop an idea that resonates with those in the sport as well as those in the stands. Not as large in scope but certainly just as entertaining, the annual night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in August generates interest not only for the competition on the track, but its pre-race show is perhaps the most popular on the schedule. Anchoring the program are drivers entering the track to music they have chosen and the Motor Racing Outreach effort that has children of drivers and other personnel singing the National Anthem (an idea generated by former track president Jeff Byrd). The product on the track remains of primary importance, and fortunately that's been a constant at Darlington -- the racing there rarely fails to excite and entertain. And if there's a bit of a history lesson included, so much the better. "I really love the history and the heritage of the sport," former championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham said. "I think it's really important if we're going to bring new fans, younger fans, that demographic, they've got to understand why. When you start telling some of the history and the tradition, and showing that, I think it gets people really interested. "Now they understand why people are so passionate about it or why somebody will come sit in the same seat for 50 years or why we work so hard on these cars. I think it's really important that we go back and show the steps that it took to get here in order to engage new fans." And there's no better place or time than Darlington Raceway . On Labor Day weekend.
One DraftKings NASCAR fantasy player is still basking in the glow of his ultimate fan experience in June at Michigan International Speedway . Bruce Strang, who is signed up to play with NASCAR's official daily fantasy sports partner, earned a bevy of prizes for himself and guest Kimberly. Strang's VIP experience at Michigan included a lap around the track, access to the infield and close proximity to the drivers and crew chiefs. "It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life," Strang said. "The things we got to see and do were amazing. I have told everybody that I know and also some folks that I don't really know.” "There isn't one thing that I wish would have went differently -- well, maybe that the weekend didn't end. Even though it rained a lot, and the race on Sunday was shortened, I still have zero complaints." NASCAR and DraftKings announced their joint partnership on May 14, a three-year agreement that gives DraftKings an exclusive license to develop NASCAR-branded games across the daily fantasy sports category. Daily fantasy sports games on DraftKings give players a one-of-a-kind event experience as DraftKings has access to a direct data feed from NASCAR Digital Media that contains real-time statistics. In each game, participants are assigned a fixed salary cap they can use to draft their entire roster, comprised of five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. Scoring categories in DraftKings NASCAR daily fantasy sports games will include finishing position, fastest laps, laps led and place differential. NASCAR games on DraftKings will provide fans the opportunity to win one-of-a-kind NASCAR prizes and VIP experiences -- as Strang experienced. More information on DraftKings NASCAR daily fantasy sports games is available at www.draftkings.com .