Alan Cavanna gets you Up To Speed on what Jimmie Johnson needs to do to advance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Get the latest Sam Hornish Jr news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
No. 9 opening piques interest of veteran driver RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today SPARTA, Ky. -- After losing his full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series ride at the close of last season, Sam Hornish Jr . has gotten used to having time for a more normal family life. And now that he's spent most weekends at home with his wife, Crystal, two daughters, Addison and Eliza, and son Sam , it will take a lot for a team to convince him to get back on the road for a full season. "There's not a ton of availability to be out there to be full time, and I also have three kids, so there's a part of me that really wants to go full-time racing -- and to do it in the (Sprint) Cup Series -- and that's a big part of me," Hornish said. "But then I realize, the other thing is, as far as a family aspect of it that I'll miss, it's gotta be the right thing." The right thing, he said, is a team that will put him in a place to win and surround him with good people. Just such a ride has piqued his interest: the one Marcos Ambrose 's well-timed departure will leave open next season. Ambrose announced earlier this week that he'll leave Richard Petty Motorsports to return to the Australian V8 Supercars as a driver for Roger Penske. Team officials for RPM have said they're still evaluating options for a replacement in his No. 9 Ford. However, Ambrose's primary sponsor, DeWalt, revealed this week it will move to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015, leaving future sponsorship in question for the No. 9. With Aric Almirola , driver of the No. 43 for RPM, making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time this season, the team is certainly a strong option for a driver as selective as Hornish. His interest in the ride, he said, shouldn't be of surprise to anyone. "I feel like any driver that wants to be full time in the Cup Series or would like a good place to go work at has talked to Richard Petty Motorsports about that opportunity," he said. "When you look at it, they've still said that they're working on getting all their funding in place. I read the same things that you do. As soon as we found out there was an opportunity, that Marcos might be leaving, you know, 'Hey, what are you guys thinking about for next year?' " Almirola's performance, in particular, has given Hornish confidence the organization is on the rise and could be a good destination. With nine races remaining, the No. 43 driver has already tied his record number of top-10 finishes in a season with six. He led laps in last week's Chase opener at Chicagoland before suffering a heartbreaking engine failure that ended their day. "They've shown a lot of progress with the 43 team over the past year. With all of Richard's success, you would feel like it's very important for him to move the team forward, to get back to where he expects that it should be at," Hornish said. "I feel like there's -- on the outside looking in -- a lot of good things going on over there." As a part-time driver for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, Hornish has one win and four top-fives in seven starts. He's fattened his schedule with testing for the Sprint Cup Series, TV responsibilities, appearances and time at the Joe Gibbs Racing garage. He's also found time to simply be a dad, dropping his kids off at school and taking them on family outings. Since driving nearly a complete schedule since 2008, Hornish hadn't gotten a taste of that life. When it was announced he would no longer have a full-time Nationwide Series ride last year, he took it in stride. Should he learn he's without one again, he'll shake it off again. "A lot of people might've taken things harder or whatever," he said of getting the news last year. "I've just enjoyed the fact of getting a little bit of a new outlook on life and what's going on around me." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Driver talks past, future in interview RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated AJ Allmendinger has seen his share of adversity during nearly a decade in NASCAR. Two years ago, he hit the lowest point in his career after a failed drug test led him out of Team Penske and into NASCAR's Road to Recovery program. Chastened, the 32-year-old driver kick-started the second chapter of his career by winning two Nationwide races last year for Roger Penske. Allmendinger is now back in the Cup Series trying to push JTG Daugherty's program and his career to the next level. We caught up with Allmendinger a day after the No. 47 was swept up in an early wreck at Daytona. Just two weeks earlier, he'd led a race-high 34 laps at Sonoma before contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr . derailed his shot at for a first Cup victory and the Chase berth that would've come with it. NI: You're known as a strong road racer but what are your thoughts on plate racing? Allmendinger: Out of all the racing we do, it's my least favorite. There's just so much that goes into it. A lot of it's luck, being in the right place at the right time and missing the "big one." The racing can be exciting at times for sure. As a driver, you definitely have to be at full concentration the whole time you're out there when you're in the pack just because one 2-inch mistake can be a big, big crash. Especially if you're the one making that mistake, you feel bad because you wrecked yourself and you've got a lot of competitors that you feel bad about because they're probably pissed off at you. NI: You had a car that could have won at Sonoma before you were taken out. Does it take long to get over that? Allmendinger: I don't know if you ever fully get over it. To a certain degree, in this sport, you gotta be ready to go the next weekend. You can't let a bad weekend carry over into the next weekend. It's tough because I thought we had a shot to win. We were up front, top two cars every practice session and qualifying, led the most laps, played the strategy to what ours was and we just got into an incident. It is what it is. You can't fix it. NI: If you can get that first win, you're all but in the Chase. No added pressure there? Allmendinger: Honestly, I look at it two different ways. The Chase would be great for the fact that our sponsors and this race team being such a small team, to be able to promote that we won a race and are in the Chase, that would be fantastic. But when it comes to, "Do we have to make the Chase for it to be a successful season?" No. We're not a championship-winning team right now. There's no doubt about it. We're a small team, we're trying to grow to that at some point and it's going to be a long process to get there and a lot of hard work. I think with the right effort we can actually get there. NI: It might sound like a strange question but are you almost glad things played out the way they did back in 2012? Allmendinger: Except for the mere fact of having to put Roger Penske through that. Other than that, I'm way happier now than I have ever been when it comes to a lot of things. I still put a lot of pressure on myself racing, so I still have those ups and downs, but it's a different kind of pressure now. The ownership just makes this team such a family. I want to take this team to a new level. That's the pressure I put on myself, to put this team on my back and take it to another level. I feel like they deserve it down from ownership and the team because they work so hard. NI: How has your perspective changed in the past couple of years? Allmendinger: It's a different perspective now. It's not the only thing in the world, you know? There are other things that are important and in the grand scheme probably a lot more important than racing. But obviously when you make your life and you put your heart and soul into it, it feels like the most important thing. I wouldn't change anything that I've had to go through for anything except for disappointing Roger Penske. Hopefully, last year, winning the Nationwide races and having a shot to win Indy made up for it. NI: It's our tailgate issue, so I have to ask about your abilities on the grill. Can we call you a grilling master? Allmendinger: No (laughs). We can lie to everybody and tell them I can grill anything up. Only problem is hopefully I won't get called out on it. I really enjoy grilling because it is so healthy to be able to do that and I'm real health conscious when it comes to what I eat. The sponsors we have on our team are great when it comes to all that. So it makes it a lot easier because we’re stocked with a lot of great things to eat. I live in an apartment right now so it's hard to grill in the corner without a balcony. My girlfriend is really good at grilling so she's shown me some stuff. Hopefully, in the near future, I can have a house and practice up but right now it'd be a stretch to say grilling master. I'd like to be. Let's put it that way. NI: It's hard to believe you've been in NASCAR for almost a decade now. What's been your personal highlight so far? Allmendinger: The Nationwide wins were something I'll never forget, especially with what led to those. I remember making my first race at Bristol -- it took me four tries to finally make a race -- back in 2007 when there were 50 or 60 cars trying to qualify each weekend. Making our first Daytona 500 in 2009 and almost winning the thing. (Allmendinger finished third in the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge.) But I think the highlight is still being here really. This sport is tough. It will bring some guys in, especially with the open-wheel side of it, and spit them back out pretty quick. So to have the commitment level and just the do-or-die work ethic trying to stay in when things were bad and things got better and things got bad again, and keep coming back, I feel very fortunate that people believe in me. Whether it's the "King" or the "Captain" or Tad (Geschickter) to give me another shot to jump in this race car and feel like I can get the job done now. More than anything, just being able to still be a part of it through thick and thin is something that's probably the most special. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Kahne earns first victory -- and Chase berth -- with thrilling finish RELATED: Complete results " Updated standings " Current Chase Grid HAMPTON, Ga. -- It was Tony Stewart's return to racing that dominated the headlines before Sunday night's Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway , but it was Kasey Kahne who stole the show -- and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . In a race that went 10 laps beyond its scheduled distance of 325 laps, Kahne surged past Matt Kenseth on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish to win for the first time this year and the third time at the 1.54-mile speedway. Kenseth finished second and clinched a Chase spot on points, leaving just two of 16 positions in NASCAR's 10-race playoff available in Saturday's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway . After streaking into the lead on a restart with 24 laps left, Kahne held the top spot until a caution for a fracas between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. slowed the field with less than two laps left. On the first attempt at overtime, a multicar wreck in Turn 1 wiped out the dominant car of polesitter Kevin Harvick, requiring a second attempt at a two-lap shootout. With four fresh tires to Kenseth's two, Kahne overtook the No. 20 Toyota after he and Kenseth battled for a lap after the restart and pulled away to win the 17th race of his career by .574 seconds. "We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard," Kahne said. "On those restarts -- I didn't know what would happen, because I had great restarts all night, and I struggle with restarts a lot. "That's big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at, and it worked really well tonight." It also took a huge weight off Kahne's shoulders, as the end of the regular season approached. "Yeah, we are locked in, and I hate that it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me," Kahne said of the pressure to make the Chase. "Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS ( Hendrick Motorsports ), I've been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again--thankful for that." Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards . Danica Patrick finished sixth, beating by four positions the best previous finish by a female driver at Atlanta (Janet Guthrie was 10th in 1978). The race that turned the season around for Kahne provided little solace for Stewart. Starting a Cup race for the first time since his involvement in the fatal sprint car accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Speedway, Stewart charged forward from his 12th-place starting position and ran as high as fourth in the early going. But Stewart's race came undone moments after a restart on Lap 123, when Kyle Busch's Toyota pinched Stewart's Chevy into the outside wall off Turn 2, significantly damaging both cars. On Lap 160 Matt Kenseth, then the leader, passed Stewart to put the No. 14 a lap down. Twelve laps later, a blown right front tire sent Stewart hard into the Turn 2 wall, forcing him to the garage and out of the race. Credited with a 41st-place finish, Stewart has one more chance—on Saturday at Richmond—to take advantage of a NASCAR dispensation that kept him eligible for the Chase. Having missed three races, Stewart must win at the .75-mile short track to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race playoff. After exiting his car, Stewart declined requests for interviews, but crew chief Chad Johnston spoke to reporters in the garage. "I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win, but it just didn't work out in our favor," Johnston said. "We got into a little trouble with the 18 (Busch) and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage. "We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out." If Stewart had issues on the track, so did one prominent driver on the Chase bubble. The shifter on Clint Bowyer' s No. 15 Toyota broke, preventing him from getting the car into high gear. Bowyer lost 22 laps in the garage as his team made repairs. He finished 38th, leaving his chances to make the Chase on points in dire jeopardy. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
This marks Dillon's second pole win of 2014 RELATED: Full race lineup Ty Dillon won his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season Saturday at Kentucky Speedway , posting a fastest final-round lap of 175.690 mph. It capped a strong couple of days from Richard Childress Racing, which consistently had its cars at the top of the leaderboard during Friday's practices. Dillon will lead the field to green in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 , which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET later tonight and will be televised on ESPNEWS. Part-timer Sam Hornish Jr . qualified second with a speed of 175.245 mph in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, with Brendan Gaughan , Cale Conley and Brian Scott rounding out the top five. Gaughan, Conley and Scott also drive RCR vehicles. Group qualifying at the 1.5-mile track consisted of a 25-minute opening round in which the 24 fastest cars advanced to the 10-minute second round. The top 12 fastest in the second round advanced to the final five-minute round. Driving the No. 20, Justin Boston earned his spot in the final round by finishing 12th in the second round. It was enough to top Dylan Kwasniewski (13th), Chase Pistone (16th) and Austin Theriault (17th). In the first round Ryan Reed finished 24th, just ahead of J.J. Yeley and Jamie Dick , to advance into the second round. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Keselowski tops Cup practice; Crafton, Jones, Custer top Truck sessions RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Sprint Cup Series Practice 1 " RESULTS Already in the hunt for his second straight win and a sweep of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the season, Brad Keselowski topped opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday morning in Loudon, New Hampshire. The Team Penske driver ran just 12 laps, but found enough speed in his No. 2 Ford on his final run around the Magic Mile to best the field with a speed of 138.421 mph. The top 10 was chock-full of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, save for Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Jamie McMurray (137.890 mph) and Kyle Larson (137.631 mph), who both ran well at Chicagoland last week and placed second and fifth, respectively, in Friday's opening session. After McMurray, 12 of the next 14 drivers on the chart were all postseason contenders, with the top five rounded out by Dale Earnhardt Jr . (3rd, 137.825 mph) and Kasey Kahne (4th, 137.661 mph). Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson was the slowest Chase driver, pulling in 29th with a speed of 135.699 mph. Just over 50 minutes into the session, practice was halted for debris on the track. Nationwide Series final practice " RESULTS A Richard Childress Racing driver led final NASCAR Nationwide Series practice at Kentucky Speedway , just not the one most would have expected. Rookie Cale Conley , on a part-time schedule this season, circled the 1.5-mile speedway at a clip of 175.404 mph to take top honors in the final 60-minute session. He also led the field with most laps run at 53. RCR's Brian Scott (175.075 mph), who drives the No. 2 Chevrolet, finished third in the standings after coming in second in the opening session. Scott is fifth in the standings, 56 points behind leader Chase Elliott . A late push from Trevor Bayne put his No. 6 Ford into second on the speed chart (175.239 mph). Sam Hornish Jr . (174.944 mph) and Chris Buescher (174.419) rounded out the top five, with RCR's Ty Dillon (174.323 mph) coming in sixth. Elliott finished eighth (174.087 mph) with his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith in 16th. Smith trails Elliott in the standings by 18 points. Next up is Coors Light Pole Qualifying, scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET. The VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 follows at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNEWS). Nationwide Series practice 1 " RESULTS Richard Childress Racing opened up the weekend strong, placing all three of its cars in the top four placers in opening Nationwide Series practice for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS) at Kentucky Speedway in Lexington, Kentucky. Brian Scott was at the helm, leading the charge with a best speed of 173.980 mph to finish second fiddle to practice topper Chris Buescher (174.701). Brendan Gaughan (173.210) and RCR rookie Ty Dillon (173.205) were right behind Scott. Sam Hornish Jr. , filling in for Kyle Busch in the No. 54 this weekend, placed fifth on the charts at 173.082. Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott was eighth overall at 172.629, while Michael McDowell , driving the defending race-winning No. 22 Ford, was 11th overall at 172.348. Camping World Truck Series Practice 1 " RESULTS Rookie driver Erik Jones paced the first of three Camping World Truck Series practices at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday morning in Loudon, New Hampshire. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver posted a best speed of 131.925 mph on his 35th of 36 laps around the Magic Mile. Jones ousted reigning champion Matt Crafton from the top of the leaderboard in the closing seconds of practice, besting the ThorSport driver's speed of 131.035 mph. Sixteen-year-old Cole Custer , set to make just his seventh NASCAR National Series start in Saturday's UNOH 175 (1 p.m. ET, FS1), was third on the leaderboard with a speed of 131.031 mph -- 0.001 seconds off Crafton's pace. Joey Coulter (130.999 mph) and Ryan Blaney (130.864 mph) rounded out the top five. Positions six through nine were occupied by Toyota drivers in Darrell Wallace Jr . (130.846 mph), Johnny Sauter (130.260 mph) and Red Horse Racing teammates Timothy Peters (129.754 mph) and German Quiroga (129.648 mph). Camping World Truck Series practice 2 " RESULTS In the second of three scheduled Camping World Truck Series practices, reigning champion Matt Crafton topped the leaderboard on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Crafton's late-session best speed of 132.347 mph shot him past Cameron Hayley , who placed second with a best speed of 131.433. Gray Gaulding (131.180 mph), Joey Coulter (131.044 mph) and Timothy Peters (130.815 mph) rounded out the top five. First session leader Erik Jones was ninth at 130.385 mph. Camping World Truck Series final practice " RESULTS LOUDON, N.H. -- NASCAR Next driver Cole Custer cruised to the top of the speed charts in final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Custer, 16, turned a lap of 133.226 mph in the Haas Racing Development No. 00 Chevrolet in preparation for Saturday's UNOH 175 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). Custer, who is scheduled to make just the seventh Truck Series start of his career here, also won the pole position in June at Gateway Motorsports Park, a track of similar length with similar short-track characteristics. Ryan Blaney, 20 years old and third in the series standings, was second-fastest in the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Ford at 133.007 mph. Erik Jones , another NASCAR Next class member at age 18, ran the most laps (63) and was third-best at 132.924 mph, just ahead of Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Darrell Wallace Jr ., a two-time winner this season. Tyler Reddick completed the top five in another Keselowski-owned truck. Points leader Matt Crafton , the defending series champion, was ninth-fastest of the 26 drivers who participated in the 85-minute finalsession. Saturday's Keystone Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled for a 10:10 a.m. ET start, broadcast on FOX Sports 1. The race is the 17th Truck Series event hosted by New Hampshire, but the first for the 1.058-mile track since 2011. -- Zack Albert 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
See the order the drivers will roll off in (Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET) RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today # Car Driver Team 1 22 Michael McDowell(i) Discount Tire Ford 2 54 Sam Hornish Jr. Monster Energy Toyota 3 40 Matt DiBenedetto Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet 4 72 * John Jackson CrashClaimsR.us Chevrolet 5 11 Elliott Sadler OneMain Financial Toyota 6 43 Dakoda Armstrong # WinField Ford 7 60 Chris Buescher # Roush Performance Parts Ford 8 28 JJ Yeley Texas 28 Spirits Stage Dodge 9 42 Dylan Kwasniewski # Up & Up Chevrolet 10 52 Joey Gase Chevrolet 11 31 Chase Pistone(i) Chevrolet 12 44 Blake Koch Centershot Toyota 13 55 Jamie Dick Viva Auto Group Chevrolet 14 33 * Cale Conley (i) IAVA Chevrolet 15 01 Landon Cassill G&K Services Chevrolet 16 46 * Ryan Ellis Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet 17 19 Mike Bliss TriStar Motorsports Toyota 18 17 * Tanner Berryhill # NationalCashLenders.com Dodge 19 4 Jeffrey Earnhardt Bandit Chevrolet 20 13 * Carl Long OCR Gaz Bar Dodge 21 80 * Ross Chastain (i) ADVICS/CMW Toyota 22 93 Kevin Swindell JGL Racing Dodge 23 62 Brendan Gaughan South Point Chevrolet 24 14 Eric McClure Hefty Ultimate/Reynolds Wrap Toyota 25 87 Josh Reaume Lilly Trucking Ford 26 51 Jeremy Clements RepairableVehicles.com/AllSouthElectric.com Chevrolet 27 20 Justin Boston(i) Zloop Toyota 28 5 * Austin Theriault Maine Open for Business Chevrolet 29 74 * Mike Harmon WCIParts.com Dodge 30 6 Trevor Bayne AdvoCare Ford 31 99 James Buescher ToyotaCare Toyota 32 7 Regan Smith TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet 33 3 Ty Dillon # Bass Pros Shops Chevrolet 34 23 Carlos Contreras 38 Special/Voli Chevrolet 35 10 * Jeff Green SupportMilitary.org Toyota 36 16 Ryan Reed # ADA Drive to Stop Diabetes presented by Lilly Ford 37 39 Ryan Sieg # RSS Racing Chevrolet 38 9 Chase Elliott # NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet 39 2 Brian Scott Shore Lodge Chevrolet 40 70 * Derrike Cope youtheory Chevrolet 41 89 * Morgan Shepherd Courtney Construction Chevrolet MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
After starting last, points leader frustrated with giving up lead late RELATED: Full race results LOUDON, N.H. -- Matt Crafton wasn't much for silver linings after a roundabout worst-to-first type of day, but a spirited rally from pre-race misfortune was the type of resilient performance that kept his bid for a repeat NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title on track. Crafton started dead last in the 30-truck field in Saturday's UNOH 175 , but turned in a stirring drive all the way to the lead before the last in a series of late-race restarts shuffled him to a third-place finish. He left with his lead in the series standings intact, adding two points for a seven-point edge over ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter , but the frustration in falling just short behind history-making 16-year-old race winner Cole Custer was evident in his succinct assessment of the race. "Started in the back, drove to the front, got beat at the end," Crafton said. It was a familiar sight to see Crafton playing with his daughter, Elladee, in the moments before the race, the 2-year-old toddler exploring the cockpit of his racer. It was quite unfamiliar to see his No. 88 Toyota so far back on the starting grid, the result of unapproved adjustments during Saturday morning's Keystone Light Pole Qualifying. Crafton's crew detected a loose battery plug and raised the hood during the opening round of knockout-style qualifying. Because of the violation, Crafton did not make a qualifying attempt. Starting at the rear of the field in such a short race loomed as a potentially devastating penalty, but instead wound up being a stroke of good fortune -- far better to catch the issue early rather than suffering mechanical gremlins during the 175-lap main event. "Actually, we were really lucky to find it in qualifying," said Carl "Junior" Joiner, Crafton's crew chief. "A little bad luck created some good luck." Said Crafton: "That definitely wasn't what we wanted, but at the same time it was very good that we found it when we did and not start the race in a dead end. We were very lucky there, but just super disappointed in the finish." Though Crafton wasn't able to show his speed in qualifying, he pounced at the drop of the green flag. By the end of the first lap, he had jumped from 30th to 19th place; just 20 laps in, he was up to the top 10. Crafton eventually found his way to the top five, then advanced over a flurry of late-race cautions to take the lead for the first time on Lap 152. He withstood the challenges for two late-race restarts, but not the final one as Custer -- in the lone front-running truck on four fresh tires -- and Darrell Wallace Jr . freight-trained past him with four laps left. "They led the most laps and sat on the pole, so he deserves a win," Joiner said of Custer's first career victory. "Hats off to those guys. I think our stuff was really good , man. I think we were probably the second-best truck if not the best, so we'll move on." While the dejection was clear in the No. 88 camp, the ability to take such a major comeback to nearly full fruition was an inspiring takeaway from a day that could've had a far worse outcome. With just 35 points spanning the top four spots in the standings, Crafton and Co. take the series lead to next weekend's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with six more races to try to close out championship No. 2. "I think if we don't get a yellow there (at the end), we're over there in Victory Lane right now, but that didn't happen and it's still a good , solid points day," Joiner said. "That's what these guys need to do. We've been strong, and I think we're about to hit stride. We've really stepped on some stuff and we're picking up our game. Just needed Lady Luck on our side, and I think maybe today, we had it." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Six-time champion knows there are no guarantees in postseason RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota LOUDON, N.H. -- Jimmie Johnson knows the capabilities of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. And he knows its current status. The two are not the same. Often the yardstick by which others measure their own progress, Johnson and his team are currently showing more signs of vulnerability than dominance as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup moves into week No. 2 of 10 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . No one's writing the team off, but neither is anyone conceding wins to the six-time Sprint Cup champion. "Truthfully, we're not the dominant car right now," Johnson said Friday at NHMS. "We're a good car. We still have nine weeks to get our act together; especially the way the Chase lays out, if we continue to get the most our of our good car and have a dominant car at Homestead, if we're in that position, then we can get seven (championships). "If" isn't typical for the team, which has normally been in more of a "when" mode by now. With the opening race out of the way (Johnson finished a pedestrian, for him, 12th at Chicagoland Speedway ), he enters this weekend's race eighth in points. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus haven't lost their way, but it's clear that others have improved. "This is a tough industry," said Johnson, who turned 39 earlier this week. “And we're working as hard as we can and I'm happy to see my teammates with speed. "And then there are a couple of guys out there that aren't in our camp that we're chasing and just trying to out-race them. But they're amazing race teams and drivers as well." Among them -- 2012 champion Brad Keselowski , winner of the last two Sprint Cup races. His Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano , has been no slouch, finishing fourth and sixth. Keselowski won here in July, and Johnson expects the No. 2 team to be no less of a threat this time around. Keselowski went on to finish first in the opening practice, while Johnson finished 29th. "I would expect him to be in a similar position for two reasons," said Johnson. "One, he had so much more pace than the rest of the field here in the spring race that it's hard to believe that everybody could cover that gap and get back to him. And then when we went to Richmond, which wasn't too long ago … and they had that form there, too. So I'd definitely say those guys are tough to handle." By themselves, Johnson's 24 Chase victories alone would rank in the top 10 among active drivers' total wins. And there are tracks ahead where Johnson will be expected to excel. Next week's stop at Dover ? He's won nine times there. Martinsville? Eight victories. Charlotte ? Seven career wins, including this year's Coca-Cola 600 . But he's taking nothing for granted. "It's awesome to have tracks that you love and tracks that you've had success at in the Chase," he said. "I feel like seven or eight of them have been historically awesome tracks for us. That part is great. "Stats are nice to look at, but you've got to live in the present. So just because we've been good at those tracks before doesn't guarantee us anything going back." A winner of three races in a four-race span earlier this season, Johnson hopes the team can rediscover the magic. "We've had one hot spot in the middle of the year … and we've kind of been lukewarm on the other sides," he said. "I'm hoping we heat up. I'm hoping we get to that hot spot again." 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