The Rundown: Talladega driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway : 1. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Not even dragging his jack around for one lap could keep Logano out of Victory Lane. Logano grabbed the lead five laps after the engine of teammate Brad Keselowski 's dominant No. 2 car expired and he didn't let it go, leading the final 45 laps. Grade: A 2. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . In his 49th start, Scott snagged the best finish of his career -- and first top 10 -- with a brilliant run. It also was the best finish for RPM since Marcos Ambrose placed second at Watkins Glen more than two years ago . Grade: A+ 3. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road (again) and advanced to the next round of the Chase by the slimmest of margins (about two feet). Hamlin didn't make it easy on himself, but he's moving on -- and his No. 1 track, Martinsville, is up next. Grade: A 4. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Steady Busch flew under the radar into the Round of 8. Well, until his postrace dust-up with teammate Kevin Harvick . Grade: A 5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse's fourth top 10 in seven starts at Talladega is also his sixth this season, a personal best. In addition, it was his fourth top five this season, one more than in his previous three full-time seasons combined. Grade: A 6. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing ninth in his first race there in May 2014. Grade: A 7. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running behind Joey Logano on Logano's "jack lap" and caught a huge break when the jack remained attached to Logano's car and didn't fly into him. Grade: A 8. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Finally! Almirola's streak of starts without a top-10 finish ends at a career-high 32. Grade: A 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . How close was Dillon to advancing in the Chase? The difference was the one point Denny Hamlin earned by finishing .006 seconds ahead of Kurt Busch . Grade: A 10. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger posts back-to-back top-10 finishes for the third time this season despite having an average running position Sunday of 25.8. Grade: A- 11. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney ran with the leaders all afternoon, and his 7.6 average running position was third best. He also led laps for the second time this season. Grade: A 12. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott needed a win to advance in the Chase and did everything he could -- his average running position of 7.3 was second to Kurt Busch 's 6.9 -- but he was hemmed in at the end and couldn't challenge the front-runners. Grade: A 13. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard posted his best finish since his last top 10, in July at Indianapolis. Grade: B 14. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman, whose average running position of 27.3 was highest among drivers finishing in the top 20, ran one lap in the top 15 -- his last. Grade: B- 15. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle was strong early and led 13 laps, but his day took a negative turn when he brought out the second caution on Lap 114. A coming-together with Jeffrey Earnhardt and Casey Mears sent all three cars into the inside wall. Grade: C 16. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Three of McDowell's five best finishes this season have been on restrictor-plate tracks (10th and 15th at Daytona). Grade: A 17. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne was two cars behind Kasey Kahne when Kahne spun on Lap 182. Bayne was able to check up and avoid running into the back of Jamie McMurray . Grade: B- 18. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . In a season of small victories, Bowyer posted his 10th top-20 finish of the season. Grade: B- 19. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray's day was saved when he didn't plow into Kasey Kahne 's spinning car immediately in front of him on Lap 182. Grade: B- 20. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick now has finished 20th to 24th in half of this year's races (16 of 32). Grade: C 21. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Cassill made a great save with 20 laps to go when his car went veering down the track after he tried to fill a gap in front of David Ragan and received a nudge from behind. Grade: B 22. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . That Buescher finished the race is the story here. He had DNFs for crashes in the season's first three restrictor-plate races. Grade: B 23. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson did his best to help teammate Chase Elliott , but in the end, wherever the No. 48 finished was never an issue. Johnson's ticket into the next round of the Chase was punched two weeks ago. Grade: S (for Smart, Safe and Satisfactory) 24. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing sixth in the fall race three years ago. Grade: C 25. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Smith posted his second-best finish in restrictor-plate races this season. He finished eighth in the Daytona 500 . Grade: C 26. Ryan Reed , No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Nice Sprint Cup debut for the 23-year-old. Grade: B- 27. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing . Great effort by DiBenedetto, who raced even though he was in the throes of food poisoning. Grade: C+ 28. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . If you are going to be critical of what Gibbs drivers Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch did Sunday -- playing it safe by driving together in the back of the field -- would you have been critical of any of the three if they had mixed it up in the peloton, crashed and failed to advance in the Chase? You can't have it both ways. Grade: S (as in See Jimmie Johnson ) 29. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Ibid. Grade: S 30. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Op cit. Grade: S 31. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing . Our TBJT (Throw Back to Junior Theme) Latin bibliography references end with Labonte, who completed his four-race, restrictor-plate run for the second consecutive year the same way he began the season – with a 31st-place finish. Grade: C- 32. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Driver Tony's 70th superspeedway restrictor-plate race finished quietly. Can't say the same for Owner Tony. Grade: D 33. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett stayed out during green-flag pit stops and led six laps, one fewer than he led in his first 101 Sprint Cup starts. Grade: C+ 34. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . Earnhardt's Lap 114 tangle with Greg Biffle also collected Casey Mears . Despite significant damage, Earnhardt posted the first lead-lap finish of his career (20 starts). Grade: C 35. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne went for a spin on Lap 182, and his run of good finishes -- six top 10s in his previous seven races -- spun out, too. Grade: D 36. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman's tweet said it all: "3rd with 5 to go and we finish 36th ... damn speedway racing ." Grade: D 37. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson finished 13 laps off the pace in his first start at Talladega in two years. Grade: F 38. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski had the dominant car and led a race-high 90 laps, but he held the point for too long after debris blocked part of his grill. A slick, orchestrated move with Ryan Blaney removed the debris, but it was too late. Moments later, his engine started smoking and his day, and championship hopes, came to an end on Lap 145. Grade: F 39. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Racing can be so cruel. For the second time in three weeks, something bad happened to Mears for no other reason than he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he was two lanes below Greg Biffle and having a beautiful day when Biffle turned into Jeffrey Earnhardt and also collected Mears. The three slammed into the inside wall, but only Mears could not continue and was gone after 113 laps. Two weeks ago, Mears received a "U" grade for Unfortunate. This week? Based on his grade at Charlotte -- and if you caught all four clues -- you know the answer. Grade: U2 40. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . When Truex's engine blew on Lap 42, his championship hopes ended as well. It's a shame Truex won't be able to contend for the championship, but we haven't heard the last of Truex this season. Finishing with the most victories would be huge. Grade: F
Germain Racing extends deals with Mears, GEICO
Casey Mears and Germain Racing have agreed to a three-year contract extension that will keep Mears in the No. 13 Chevrolet through 2018, the team announced Thursday. GEICO also extended its relationship with Germain Racing to be the vehicle's primary sponsor through 2018. GEICO has been a primary sponsor with the team since its inception in 2009. "This is great news for our Germain Racing team because everyone has worked so hard to build this GEICO program and people in the garage are taking notice of what we're accomplishing," Mears said in a team release. "GEICO is such a great partner and they not only support our team, but the sport in general, which makes me even prouder to have the opportunity to drive the GEICO Chevy. We appreciate their belief in us and have enjoyed our relationship with everyone at the corporate office, as well as the GEICO associates that we get to interface with each week at the race track." Mears has piloted the car full time since the 2011 season, notching one top five and five top 10s during that span. He currently sits 22nd in the points standings with two races remaining in the 2015 season. If it holds, it would be his best finish with Germain Racing .
With uncertain future, Mears focused on '16 season
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Casey Mears says he and the Germain Racing No. 13 team are concentrating their efforts only on the remaining five races of 2016 and can't speak about next year. "Not at the moment," Mears said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway . "Right now we're just focused on what we talked about at the beginning of the season. Focus on the remainder of this year first and foremost." Mears, 38, has one victory in 483 career starts at NASCAR's top level, capturing the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . He has a best points finish of 14th in 2006. Rumors have Germain opting to replace Mears next season, possibly with NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Ty Dillon . Dillon's Richard Childress Racing organization has a technical alliance with Germain . Geico, the No. 13 team's primary sponsor, is signed through 2018. In many cases, sponsor and driver contracts run concurrently. "As I know more, we can talk about it," Mears said. "But right now we're just focused on getting through this weekend." Mears enters Sunday's Hellmann’s 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) 28th in points. He has five top-10 finishes in 26 careers starts at the 2.66-mile track.
Casey Mears inks extension with Germain Racing
Driver will return to the No. 13 Chevrolet in 2016 Casey Mears has signed a contract extension to keep him with Germain Racing for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Mears, 37, has been with Germain Racing since late in the 2010 season. During that time, he has one top-five finish and five top-10 finishes, all of which have come at restrictor-plate tracks. "I'm really happy to announce that Casey Mears is back in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS next year," team owner Bob Germain Jr. said in a release provided by the team. "He's been an integral part of the team's growth and success over the past 5 years and I am confident he can continue to help us move forward and reach our goals. We've come a long way as a team, and assembled a group of extremely talented people who enjoy working together. As the team owner, that's really the thing I'm most proud of. And, of course, the long term support of GEICO has given us the stability we needed to make it all happen." In his fifth full-time season with Germain , Mears is currently 20th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings. "It's really exciting to drive the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS again in 2016," Mears said in a team release. "I think that it's been a long time in the making here at Germain Racing , being competitive at the Cup level. It's been a long process to get the GEICO program to where we are now. We are finally starting to see some of the benefits from all the hard work from the last four or five years. I'm very excited to carry on the GEICO relationship and to be a part of Germain Racing 's continued growth." In his 13 seasons in the sport's top series, Mears has one win, which came in 2007 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 with Hendrick Motorsports . FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Get the history of Germain Racing and full crew of Casey Mears
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Owner Standings
After Race 32 of the 2016 season at Talladega Superspeedway Pos Owner Car # Points Ldr Nxt PPos G/L Wins Attempts 1 Hendrick Motorsports 48 3,100 0 0 1 0 3 32 2 Stewart-Haas Racing 41 3,099 -1 -1 5 3 1 32 3 Team Penske 22 3,089 -11 -10 8 5 2 32 4 Joe Gibbs Racing 20 3,088 -12 -1 2 -2 2 32 5 Joe Gibbs Racing 18 3,084 -16 -4 3 -2 4 32 6 Stewart-Haas Racing 4 3,082 -18 -2 7 1 4 32 7 Joe Gibbs Racing 19 3,082 -18 0 4 -3 2 32 8 Joe Gibbs Racing 11 3,078 -22 -4 10 2 3 32 9 Richard Childress Racing 3 3,078 -22 0 9 0 0 32 10 Furniture Row Racing 78 3,060 -40 -18 6 -4 4 32 11 Hendrick Motorsports 24 3,050 -50 -10 12 1 0 32 12 Team Penske 2 3,043 -57 -7 11 -1 4 32 13 Chip Ganassi Racing 42 2,155 -945 -888 14 1 1 32 14 Stewart-Haas Racing 14 2,141 -959 -14 13 -1 1 32 15 Chip Ganassi Racing 1 2,110 -990 -31 16 1 0 32 16 Front Row Motorsports 34 2,109 -991 -1 15 -1 1 32 17 Hendrick Motorsports 5 803 -2,297 -1,306 17 0 0 32 18 Richard Childress Racing 31 794 -2,306 -9 18 0 0 32 19 Hendrick Motorsports 88 770 -2,330 -24 19 0 0 32 20 JTG Daugherty Racing 47 717 -2,383 -53 20 0 0 32 21 Roush Fenway Racing 17 717 -2,383 0 22 1 0 32 22 Wood Brothers Racing 21 713 -2,387 -4 21 -1 0 32 23 Roush Fenway Racing 6 699 -2,401 -14 23 0 0 32 24 Stewart-Haas Racing 10 621 -2,479 -78 24 0 0 32 25 Roush Fenway Racing 16 591 -2,509 -30 25 0 0 32 26 Richard Childress Racing 27 591 -2,509 0 26 0 0 32 27 Richard Petty Motorsports 43 573 -2,527 -18 28 1 0 32 28 HScott Motorsports 15 564 -2,536 -9 27 -1 0 32 29 Circle Sport-Leavine Family 95 496 -2,604 -68 30 1 0 32 30 Germain Racing 13 488 -2,612 -8 29 -1 0 32 31 Front Row Motorsports 38 465 -2,635 -23 31 0 0 32 32 Richard Petty Motorsports 44 423 -2,677 -42 34 2 0 32 33 Tommy Baldwin Racing 7 422 -2,678 -1 32 -1 0 32 34 BK Racing 23 420 -2,680 -2 33 -1 0 32 35 BK Racing 83 363 -2,737 -57 35 0 0 32 36 HScott Motorsports 46 286 -2,814 -77 37 1 0 32 37 Premium Motorsports 98 284 -2,816 -2 36 -1 0 31 38 GO FAS Racing 32 258 -2,842 -26 38 0 0 32 39 Premium Motorsports 55 213 -2,887 -45 39 0 0 27 40 The Motorsports Group 30 167 -2,933 -46 40 0 0 31 41 Front Row Motorsports 35 46 -3,054 -121 41 0 0 4 42 BK Racing 93 29 -3,071 -17 43 1 0 6 43 Circle Sport - Leavine Family 59 26 -3,074 -3 42 -1 0 1 44 Roush Fenway Racing 99 15 -3,085 -11 46 2 0 1 45 BK Racing 26 3 -3,097 -12 44 -1 0 1 46 Hillman Racing 40 0 -3,100 -3 45 -1 0 1
Childress forms alliance with Germain Racing
Richard Childress Racing will offer technical insight as Germain shifts to Chevrolet in 2014
The Rundown: Charlotte driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway : 1. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Huge win for Johnson ... even when it's the 78th of your Sprint Cup career and you have six championships. Johnson led a race-high 155 laps and moved into the Round of 8 of the Chase for the first time under the current format. Grade: A+ 2. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Kenseth started in the rear of the field because of prerace adjustments to his car ... was penalized for too many men over the wall ... and still finished in the top five. On a day when five Chasers were body slammed by big issues, Kenseth's second place was almost as big as Johnson's win. Grade: A 3. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne posted his best finish since his last win -- in August 2014 at Atlanta. Grade: A 4. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Great run for Newman, who snagged his second top-five finish of the season. Grade: A 5. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson's eighth top-five finish ties his career best, set in his rookie season two years ago. Grade: A 6. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Despite an early tire issue that put him a lap down and damage sustained in the big wreck on Lap 259, Busch came away with a big top 10. Grade: A 7. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . The No. 2 was one of many teams penalized for having its crew over the wall too soon, but Keselowski prevailed in the end, grabbing his 105th top 10 since the start of the 2012 season, tying Kevin Harvick for the most top 10s over the past five years. Grade: A 8. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . When Busch was told which Chase cars were caught up in the big wreck on Lap 259, he said, "Charlotte has turned into Talladega." Nice line. Even better was his finish on a day he didn't have one of his stronger cars. Grade: A 9. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . As you'll see, attrition was the friend to many drivers Sunday, including Stewart, who was tagged for speeding during a green-flag pit stop on Lap 114. His 17.6 averaging running position was easily the highest among the top-10 finishers. Grade: A 10. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Solid day for McMurray, who sustained left front damage in the big wreck on Lap 259. His 325 laps in the top 15 were behind only Jimmie Johnson (332) and Carl Edwards (327). Grade: A 11. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick's finish is her best since her last top 10, a ninth-place finish at Bristol in April 2015. Grade: B+ 12. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Although Edwards never challenged for the lead, his 8.4 average running position was third-best, trailing only Jimmie Johnson (3.4) and JGR teammate Denny Hamlin (6.4). Grade: B+ 13. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Truex touched off the big wreck on the restart on Lap 259 when he got into the back of Austin Dillon -- who restarted second -- and sent him spinning and crashing hard into the inside wall. Truex said he was "trying to give him a shove and I just turned him completely around like a damn idiot." Truex was contrite after the race, as well, but the damage was done. On the flip side ... during a yellow-flag pit stop on Lap 311, karma made an appearance in the No. 78 pits when Truex's clutch failed and he had trouble leaving his stall. He had been running third; he restarted 16th. Grade: D 14. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Hats off to McDowell, who posted the fifth-best finish of his Sprint Cup career (207 starts). Grade: A 15. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Almirola just missed getting tagged by Austin Dillon as Dillon's car spun back onto the track after smashing nose-first into the inside wall on Lap 259. Almirola, who is still looking for his first top 10 of the season, posted his sixth top-15 finish of 2016. Grade: B 16. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . In his 36th career start, Buescher registered his fourth-best finish. Grade: B+ 17. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Bowyer took home his best finish since his most-recent top 10, three months ago at Daytona. Grade: B 18. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Despite his top-20 finish, Bayne wasn’t exactly competitive Sunday: Of the drivers who finished in the top 20, he ran the fewest laps in the top 15 -- one. Grade B- 19. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Six of Cassill's 24 career top-20 finishes have come this season, one fewer than his career-best seven in 2012. Grade: A 20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse has made more starts at Charlotte, 10, than at any other Sprint Cup track but is still looking for his first top-10 finish. He about nailed his average finish of 20.8, though. Grade: C 21. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Speaking of average finishes at Charlotte, Smith ran to form, as 20.7 is Smith’s number. Grade: B 22. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Scott posted his best finish at Charlotte in four starts. Grade: B 23. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan registered his best finish at Charlotte since he finished 11th five years ago in his final Charlotte start for Jack Roush. Grade: B 24. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Making his 100th career Sprint Cup start, Annett posted his second-best finish of the season. Grade: B 25. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . DiBenedetto's finish was his fourth best of the season. Grade: B 26. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing . Earnhardt posted the best finish of his career (19 starts). Grade: A- 27. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Whitt posted one of his best finishes of the season to help Premium Motorsports put both of its cars in the top 30 for the first time since Kentucky in July. Grade: B- 28. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Ditto. See Whitt. Grade: B- 29. Josh Wise , No. 30 Chevrolet, The Motorsports Group. Our attrition theme that began with Tony Stewart ends here with Wise, who has posted only three better finishes all season. Grade: C 30. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was running second with fewer than 30 laps to go when his engine blew up with "no warning" (Hamlin's words). It also was a massive break for the four Chase drivers -- Austin Dillon , Chase Elliott , Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick -- who finished below Hamlin. If Hamlin had finished in the top five -- or simply ahead of Martin Truex Jr . -- the four would have been 19 to 24 points behind Truex (assuming Truex still finished 13th) for the final spot to advance to the next round. Instead, the four range from three to eight points behind Hamlin for the eighth spot. That's a huge difference. Grade: D 31. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney had been competitive most of the afternoon before he was collected in the Lap 259 mess when he ran into Chase Elliott who had spun and was facing the wrong direction against the outside wall. Grade: C 32. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . The No. 3 team's decision to take two tires – when the rest of the top cars took four -- might have factored into the multi-car wreck that ensued after Dillon picked up nine spots to restart second on Lap 259. But it's not as if he spun his tires, had a poor restart and stacked up the field. This mess belonged to Martin Truex Jr . The team's troubles on his first two pit stops that played into his inferior track position, however, did not. Grade: C- 33. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Say all you want about Elliott's decision to slow as he reached the end of pit road, which ultimately lined him up on the inside of the third row behind Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr . and resulted in him being collected in the ensuing Lap 259 melee. But it doesn't change two facts: Elliott had led a race-high 103 laps to that point, and Truex, not Elliott, ignited the wreck. Elliott was among the drivers who deserved better. Grade: B 34. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard was one of two drivers who ran into Chase Elliott 's turned-around car in the Lap 259 carnage. Unfortunately for Menard, his car didn't survive the impact. Grade: C- 35. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Tire issues, a pit-road speeding penalty and contact with the wall all preceded the No. 16's demise in the big wreck. Grade: F 36. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Tire troubles sent the No. 22 into the wall on two separate occasions (bringing out the third and fourth cautions). He was running 16th when it happened the second time, and the damage forced a trip to the garage. Logano was 78 laps back when he returned to the track, and he was able to improve his finish by one spot. We'll know if that one point is a difference-maker after Talladega. Grade: F 37. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . The No. 47 was racy with the new Richard Childress Racing chassis, but he hit the wall hard on Lap 254, and that ended his day. Grade: D 38. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running fourth on Lap 154 when the No. 4 abruptly lost power. An oil pump bearing was the culprit. Harvick never returned. He has finished 37th and 38th the past two races, the first time he has posted back-to-back finishes in the 30s in more than two years. Grade: F 39. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman was running third on Lap 62 when the No. 88 cut a tire, ran up the race track, hit the wall and collected Casey Mears . The DNF marked Bowman's worst finish in his fifth race in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr . Grade: F 40. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when Alex Bowman ran up the track after cutting a tire. Grade: U (for Unfortunate)
Leavine Family Racing , Circle Sport merge for full slate
RELATED: See the changes for the 2016 CONCORD, N.C. (January 21, 2016) -- Leavine Family Racing (LFR) will join forces with Circle Sport Racing to run the full 36-race schedule in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS). In addition, the race team will enter into an alliance with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and will make the switch to run Chevrolet SS race cars powered by ECR Engines this race season. Veteran driver Michael McDowell , who is entering his third season driving for Leavine Family Racing , will be the primary driver and compete in at least 26 NSCS races in 2016. RCR driver Ty Dillon , who finished third in the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship, will pilot the team's entry for the remaining NSCS races. Specific races for each driver are being determined but both drivers will enter the Daytona 500 . Leavine Family Racing team owner Bob Leavine has been preparing to take the team from a partial schedule to the full series schedule since the team’s inception. The 2016 season proved to be the perfect time to make the leap, thanks in part to the new alliance with Joe Falk's Circle Sport Racing team and technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing . "The manufacturer and alliance switch provides our team with the best opportunity to improve on-track performance and to create long-term sustainability," said Leavine. "This was the right time for us to make this change. We have been turning over every stone looking for the right plan for our team and our people in 2016, and we've finally found a great fit that's going to help us continue to grow both on the track and as an organization." Joe Falk, owner of Circle Sport Racing , had been an owner in NASCAR starting in the late 1990's. Circle Sport competed in its first race in 2012 and has been associated with Richard Childress Racing during that time. "I'm happy to be working with Bob (Leavine) and the team to combine our efforts for a successful 2016 and beyond," said Falk. "We've put together a top notch program obtaining all cars and engines from RCR." McDowell is entering his ninth season as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and is scheduled to make his 200th start in 2016. “This is a big step for our competition program,” said McDowell. “The technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing is a huge asset to our growing team and we’ll have access to some of the top equipment in the Cup Series. This type of alliance has worked really well for single-car teams such as JTG Racing and Germain Racing in the past and I’m excited about what we’re going to be able to do in 2016.” Primary sponsorship of the No. 95 Chevrolet SS will include Thrivent Financial, K-LOVE Radio and Cheerios Brand. Circle Sport - Leavine Family Racing is seeking additional sponsorship to fill out the season. Circle Sport - Leavine Family Racing will kick off their first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Daytona Speedweeks in February 2016.
RCR forms technical alliance with Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing
RELATED: See the changes for the 2016 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ty Dillon is set to expand his Sprint Cup Series horizons, signing on to the newly-merged Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing team in 2016 for an undetermined number of races. Richard Childress Racing , owned by Dillon's grandfather and organizational namesake, and Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing have agreed to form a technical alliance in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, beginning with the 2016 season with drivers Dillon and Michael McDowell . The partnership includes technology sharing, engineering, research and development provided to Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing as they switch its No. 95 Sprint Cup Series cars to Chevrolet beginning with the 2016 season. Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing will also benefit from utilizing ECR Engines. Dillon will run select races, including the Daytona 500 , for Circle Sport - Leavine Family Racing in 2016, while McDowell will be the primary driver for the team. "This is a big step for our competition program," said McDowell in a team release. "The technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing is a huge asset to our growing team and we'll have access to some of the top equipment in the Cup Series. This type of alliance has worked really well for single-car teams such as JTG-Daugherty Racing and Germain Racing in the past and I'm excited about what we're going to be able to do in 2016." For Dillon, a favorite to win his first XFINITY Series championship behind the wheel of RCR's No. 3 entry, it's a chance to expand on a brief Cup slate in 2015 in which he picked up a better finish than his starting position in each of his five appearances. At the very least, it's a chance to expand his overall racing knowledge as he looks to lock up a title he nearly had last year with an eye on a full-time Cup ride in 2017. "Every time I get an opportunity to run the Cup Series, I use it to add notes to my notebook for hopefully a full season to come," Dillon said Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "I can't thank the Leavine family and Joe Falk and Circle Sport enough for giving me the opportunity to run some races in the Cup Series this year. I want to do the best I can with them. I want to go out there and take this team and show people what we're made of ... run with it and get some really good finishes. I know I can do it at this level and I'm ready to show people." All of Dillon's seven Cup starts (he made two in 2014) have come with Circle Sport, behind the wheel of the No. 33, so familiarity certainly won't be an issue. Sharing a ride with a fellow driver, however, may be a different story. Luckily the 23-year-old knows the value in the extra feedback that McDowell can give and thinks it can be beneficial to his overall driving ability. "Michael is a great, accomplished racer and he's been running in the Cup Series for a while now," Dillon said. "He's a really, extremely good road racer so hopefully I can lean on him for that a little bit and just grow a relationship that I have with him." According to the team, McDowell is expected to run at least 26 of the season's 36 races, with Dillon's slate expected to be anywhere from six to 16. Both drivers will be in certain races, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 21, 1 p.m. ET, FOX).