Johnson's passion for fitness inspires Hendrick teammates
BUY TICKETS: See the races in Las Vegas LAS VEGAS – If you were to break out the bicycle in the infield of any given race track on a Saturday morning or afternoon, you'd likely have some elite company. Matt Kenseth has embarked on both long and short cycling excursions. Kasey Kahne could show up, or Trevor Bayne. But perhaps one of the most familiar faces and leaders among the cycling groups at the track is reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. A seasoned athlete in a variety of athletic pursuits from cycling to running to snowboarding in his new home of Aspen, Colorado, Johnson has accomplished some feats that only experienced athletes could achieve: He and Kenseth completed a 130-mile ride for charity in March 2016 from Asheville, North Carolina, to Charlotte, North Carolina. He celebrated his 40th birthday in 2015 with a 101.2-mile bike ride, and joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kahne for Johnson's first of many triathlons. That first one was in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2012, just one day after competing in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Chevrolet supplements his regular weekday training with these group cycling or individual running sessions during downtime at the track. "It's easy to sleep in in the motor home or sit on the couch between qualifying and practice and eat," Johnson told NASCAR.com on Friday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday's Kobalt 400. "There's a four-hour window there; you could be out on the bike, go for a run, burn some calories instead of ingesting them." But the group rides at the track accomplish more than just an elevated heart rate -- even with a group of competitive NASCAR drivers riding. "It seems that during the week we're serious about those disciplines, kind of putting in your gym time, your speed work -- the weekend rides are much more (easygoing)," Johnson said. "So, we'll sit side-by-side, chat, talk, talk about life. It's much more of a social thing than really a hardcore ride. "Granted, we do race in Pocono, we do race in upstate New York. There are some areas, what I'm getting at, where there's some serious climbing. And the competitive spirit kind of kicks in and guys kind of try to bury each other and race up mountains." It was the social aspect of physical fitness that became Johnson's main case for his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to commit to a company-mandated workout on a regular basis. "For me, the social component is what has made this last so long for me," Johnson said. "I think we all start a crash diet, we all say we're going to the gym and you're lucky to make three or four months because it's kind of monotonous and not a lot of fun. There's not a social element to it. "So, I pushed hard to set some minimum requirements for our Hendrick drivers and then trying to get us together. Weekend rides, there are some great social media apps that keep you connected with what your friends are doing. You can follow them, they can follow you. The one we like to use is Strava and it's amazing if you can just have a little spin on it and make it a social thing, your interest goes up tremendously. You have accountability and before you know it, you're putting in quite a few hours a week and you're pretty fit." Johnson's teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. discussed the new workout plan at length on his Dirty Mo Radio podcast Monday. The drivers have set hours for cardio and strength exercises each week that they must complete and log into the Strava app. The drivers also have access to Hendrick Motorsports' top-notch facilities, trainers and nutritionists used by the pit crews, as well as Johnson's own personal triathlon trainer Jamey Yon, to help aid their health journeys. RELATED: Junior talks about his first cycling trip Earnhardt took his first cycling trip with Johnson last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, pulling out the bike that "Seven-Time" gifted him about a year ago. The trip began with the humorous struggle of getting Earnhardt comfortable with the spandex cycling attire. "I told Jimmie, I said, 'Look, I'm going to meet you outside the track,' " Earnhardt said on the podcast. "Ain't no way in hell I'm going to let anybody see me ride through the infield wearing this bike gear, spandex stuff." Johnson smiled at the experience. "I couldn't believe my eyes, to be honest," Johnson said of his reaction to Junior agreeing to a cycling trip. "He was a little worried about the attire, but I promised him you really feel weird standing around other people in street clothes when you're in the attire. When you're in a group of guys, proper attire really makes a big difference. "So, he cleared that hurdle, which I wasn't sure we could get on Ride 1, and through the course of the ride, his comfort grew tremendously. The speed came up and his bike handling skills and stuff came right around. So, he's excited to ride this weekend and looking forward to getting him on a bike again." Hardest part of cycling? Being brave/crazy/stupid enough 2 wear spandex The hills R the 2nd hardest part. Me & our awesome pilot Jeff. pic.twitter.com/qzemyzgKlr — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 11, 2017 Johnson's passion for physical fitness is evident, his love for outdoor activities strong. He uses activities as a way to socialize, train and escape from the stresses of his high-speed career. "It's been really good for me physically, but more mentally on a lot of levels," Johnson said. "I can have an afternoon to clear my mind, I find that all I think about is the race car and I get my thoughts in order and really handle the race car situation to the best of my ability." But as Johnson's interests in the field vary and grow, his passion also has transcended as a way to help others: In 2016, Johnson lent his personal trainer Yon to No. 41 crew chief and longtime friend Tony Gibson and offered to help him get on track physically. RELATED: Crew chief's health boost from Johnson "He's like, 'Look, I've been thinking about you for the last three weeks,' and he said I want to get you healthy," Gibson said prior to the start of the 2016 season. "He said, 'We've known each other since I got into this and you've been a great friend to me.' He said, 'I'm worried about you. I'm worried about your health and I want to see you get healthy.' So I'm like, 'OK.' The next step was we got together and he's like, 'I'll take care of everything, I'll handle everything. We'll use my trainer. You just have to do it.' "So I said, 'You know, if he's willing to go to the length of that and put that much effort into it, then I'm a fool if I don't.' So I took him up on it and I've been losing weight ever since." But while Johnson enjoys helping others achieve their physical goals and has many fitness goals after he's done driving ("there's quite a few endurance races that I want to do from triathlons to mountain bike races," he says), he doesn't necessarily envision a career in personal training after he's hung up his fire suit. "I love helping people -- that's in my DNA," Johnson said. "Fitness has been a hobby of mine, a passion of mine for a while now and I've been able to influence many. But I just enjoy being there for others and tell my story -- maybe I can be there for them." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Owner Standings
MORE: XFINITY owner standings " Camping World owner standings Owner Car # Points Ldr Behind leader Nxt Race Wins Stage Wins Playoff points Attempts 1 Chip Ganassi Racing 42 184 0 0 0 0 0 4 2 Hendrick Motorsports 24 171 -13 -13 0 1 1 4 3 Furniture Row Racing 78 153 -31 -18 1 2 7 4 4 Team Penske 2 143 -41 -10 1 0 5 4 5 Team Penske 22 135 -49 -8 0 1 1 4 6 Wood Brothers Racing 21 127 -57 -8 0 0 0 4 7 Chip Ganassi Racing 1 119 -65 -4 0 0 0 4 8 Stewart-Haas Racing 4 113 -71 -6 0 3 3 4 9 Stewart-Haas Racing 41 105 -79 -8 1 0 5 4 10 Hendrick Motorsports 5 105 -79 0 0 0 0 4 11 Richard Childress Racing 31 101 -83 -4 1 0 5 4 12 Roush Fenway Racing 6 100 -84 -1 0 0 0 4 13 Joe Gibbs Racing 18 97 -87 -3 0 1 1 4 14 Joe Gibbs Racing 11 97 -87 0 0 0 0 4 15 Stewart-Haas Racing 14 97 -87 0 0 0 0 4 16 Hendrick Motorsports 48 93 -91 -4 0 0 0 4 17 Richard Petty Motorsports 43 90 -94 -3 0 0 0 4 18 Furniture Row Racing 77 82 -102 -8 0 0 0 4 19 Richard Childress Racing 27 78 -106 -4 0 0 0 4 20 Joe Gibbs Racing 20 72 -112 -6 0 0 0 4 21 Joe Gibbs Racing 19 72 -112 0 0 0 0 4 22 Roush Fenway Racing 17 71 -113 -1 0 0 0 4 23 Hendrick Motorsports 88 70 -114 -1 0 0 0 4 24 Germain Racing 13 68 -116 -2 0 0 0 4 25 Richard Childress Racing 3 66 -118 -2 0 0 0 4 26 Leavine Family Racing 95 62 -122 -4 0 0 0 4 27 GO FAS Racing 32 56 -128 -6 0 0 0 4 28 Front Row Motorsports 34 55 -129 -1 0 0 0 4 29 Stewart-Haas Racing 10 52 -132 -3 0 0 0 4 30 TriStar Motorsports 72 50 -134 -2 0 0 0 4 31 Premium Motorsports 15 48 -136 -2 0 0 0 4 32 JTG Daugherty Racing 47 39 -145 -9 0 0 0 4 33 JTG Daugherty Racing 37 39 -145 0 0 0 0 4 34 Front Row Motorsports 38 37 -147 -2 0 0 0 4 35 Beard Motorsports 175 26 -158 -11 0 0 0 1 36 Circle Sport / TMG 33 21 -163 -5 0 0 0 4 37 BK Racing 23 19 -165 -2 0 0 0 4 38 BK Racing 83 18 -166 -1 0 0 0 4 39 Tommy Baldwin Racing 7 17 -167 -1 0 0 0 1 40 Rick Ware Racing 51 7 -177 -10 0 0 0 4 41 Premium Motorsports 55 7 -177 0 0 0 0 4 42 Gaunt Brothers Racing 96 1 -183 -6 0 0 0 1
Unifirst, Hendrick Motorsports strike 8-year sponsorship agreement
CONCORD, N.C. -- UniFirst and 11-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Hendrick Motorsports have reached an eight-year agreement that will make the workwear and textile service company a primary sponsor of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS driven by Kasey Kahne . The contract runs through the year 2023. As the new Official Workwear Provider of Hendrick Motorsports , UniFirst will be a two-race primary sponsor in both 2016 and 2017, with the relationship increasing to three primary races annually from 2018-2023. In addition, UniFirst will be a full-season associate sponsor of the No. 5 team. UniFirst will make its Sprint Cup Series primary sponsorship debut later this season with back-to-back races Oct. 23 at Talladega Superspeedway and Oct. 30 at Martinsville Speedway . "UniFirst is excited to be a primary sponsor of Kasey and Hendrick Motorsports ," said Adam Soreff, director of marketing and communications for UniFirst. "This partnership is a great opportunity for our company because Hendrick Motorsports is one of the premier -- and most highly respected -- teams in professional auto racing. UniFirst's broad customer base, which includes 300,000 business locations across North America, employs thousands of enthusiastic NASCAR fans, so this relationship is a natural fit. We're extremely proud to have the UniFirst brand represented in such a dynamic atmosphere." UniFirst is one of North America's largest workwear and textile service companies, providing managed uniform, protective clothing, custom corporate image apparel, and ancillary facility services programs to businesses in virtually all industries. As part of the new relationship, UniFirst will supply work clothing and uniforms to Hendrick Motorsports and sister company Hendrick Automotive Group, which is the largest privately held retail automotive organization in the United States. "When a sponsor feels strongly enough to commit for eight years, it sends a clear message," said Rick Hendrick , owner of Hendrick Motorsports . "There's tremendous excitement about the opportunities our team and our sport present for UniFirst. They have a reputation for world-class service, the highest quality products and services, and having incredible people. We share a similar mindset and culture, and we're looking forward to working together across our entire organization." Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kahne, 36, has earned three Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths and five race wins with the No. 5 team. The Enumclaw, Washington, native has 17 career victories, 27 pole positions and 166 top-10 finishes in NASCAR’s top division. "UniFirst will be a great addition to our partners at Hendrick Motorsports ," Kahne said. "They're a reliable company that we've worked with at Kasey Kahne Racing for a long time, so I was happy to hear they are coming on board. I'm looking forward to having them as part of the No. 5 team and working with them in the years to come."
Hendrick Motorsports welcomes 2017 pit crew class
MORE: No. 48 pit crew coach discusses recent pit road mishaps In a building filled with banners, trophies and famed race cars, five newcomers entered Hendrick Motorsports ' Nos. 48 and 88 shop as part of their induction to the decorated four-car organization, carving out their own slice of history. These five young men, coming from various backgrounds, stood together -- a united group -- as part of the Hendrick's 2017 pit crew class for its second annual signing day. Completing the class are: TJ Semke, Mason Harris, Austin Holland, Timmy Hall and Dylan Intemann. The quintet were joined by Andy Papathanassiou, Director of Human Performance, and Keith Flynn, Developmental Pit Crew Director. "To me the reason why we decided on a formal presentation of our pit crew recruits is because this really is, in my explanation, the completion of a dream, Papathanassiou said Thursday, looking at the 2017 class. "And to have something like NASCAR come in … and say, 'Hey, you can fufill your dream of being a professional athlete.' " The goal of this program is to have the recruits work their way up to eventually lining up behind the wall for one of Hendrick's Sprint Cup teams. "Over 100 guys came through and (only) five guys made it," Flynn revealed, highlighting the difficulties of the rigorous program that he manages. One of the inductees, Hall, says his four-year professional hockey career -- Hendrick's first hockey player recruit -- helped him prepare for not only the program, but also the NASCAR industry as a whole. "I think a ton of stuff translated over," the tire carrier hopeful revealed. "Obviously, just the practice and preparation that you are used to with hockey ... there's a lot of hand-eye coordination and hand skills involved. I think that really translates with tire changing, especially." All five Hendrick Motorsports recruits have extensive athletic backgrounds: Semke played football for three years at the University of Kansas; Harris was a four-year football player for the University of South Carolina; Holland briefly provided behind-the-wall support at Roush Fenway Racing ; and Intemann was an offensive lineman at Wake Forest University. Papathanassiou -- and the entire HMS organization -- are confident in this group, envisioning a promising future for the five in their motorsports careers. "They found us as much as we found them. And you're seeing the fruits of the labor of our constant year-after-year recruiting process."
Auto Club Speedway by the numbers
BUY TICKETS: Celebrate Auto Club's 20th anniversary RELATED: Full weekend schedule Jimmie Johnson was driving a Superman car and wearing a cape the last time he saw Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' stop there in 2016. It's appropriate since he almost owns the place. Johnson has six wins at Auto Club, spanning a decade and a half. He also has five runner-up finishes, an impressive average finishing place of 6.5 and has led 980 laps around the 2-mile circuit in Fontana, California. Roger Penske has a stake in the place as well, having been one of the architects, alongside Les "Coach" Richter. The track officially opened June 22, 1997, and it's celebrating its 20th anniversary as NASCAR returns to Fontana this weekend for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and XFINITY Series racing. Penske got his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the track on April 29, 2001 with Rusty Wallace piloting the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. Brad Keselowski put Team Penske back in Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in 2015. Penske's open wheel drivers also have had success at the track. Penske built a fast race track, leading to some stout stats in the speedway's lore: -- A 188.511 mph qualifying speed record set by Denny Hamlin in 2016 -- A 155.012 mph race speed record set by Jeff Gordon in 1997 Digging into the numbers a bit more: -- Hendrick Motorsports has 10 wins, the most of any team -- Ford has 11 wins at the track, and Chevrolet has 13. Kyle Busch has taken home two Auto Club 400 trophies for Toyota in back-to-back races in 2013-14. -- Farthest back in the field a winning driver started: 31st, Matt Kenseth, spring of 2006 -- Pole-sitting winners: Only one, Johnson in 2008 -- The closest margin of victory was 0.144 seconds, as Kevin Harvick edged Johnson in 2011
Hendrick Motorsports ’ Martinsville story, a tale of two tracks
There is a team and a track sharing an emotional bond in southern Virginia. Go inside the story of triumph and tragedy that surrounds Hendrick Motorsports and Martinsville Speedway.
NASCAR announces race package for XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Indianapolis Teams competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway later this year will do so with a race package that incorporates three major modifications aimed at one goal -- improved competition at the legendary 2.5-mile speedway. Designed specifically for the 100-lap race scheduled for July 22, the modifications consist of a taller rear spoiler and splitter package; aero ducts on the lower front bumper area; and a 7/8th-inch restrictor plate currently used for superspeedway events at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The static ride height of the cars will remain at 4 inches, which is unchanged from the current 2017 rules package. The Indy package was crafted after much in-house simulation and development and then field-tested on Oct. 12 at IMS for verification. XFINITY Series teams from Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Kaulig Racing participated in the test. "We (develop) the analytical package and come to some conclusions," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Senior Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development, told NASCAR.com. "But then we also need to go on the track and verify this. So this approach has been a two-step approach, analytical creation of the package and then on-track verification. "We race at 29 tracks (across all three national series) and they're all very special," Stefanyshyn added. "Indianapolis has a long history; it's a wonderful track. Our objective is to give our fans the best possible show we can. We are very proud of being able to participate at Indy; we want to put our best foot forward. We believe we have come up with a package that gives us the best opportunity to do that." MORE: IMS announces updated race weekend schedule Stefanyshyn said officials had teams run various packages during the test. While the use of the restrictor plates enabled the cars to run closer together, the ability to pull out and pass remained difficult. "We saw the cars were closer together, but we weren't able to create some passing until we introduced the aero ducts," he said. "That's the main purpose of the ducts, to give the trailing car more of an advantage … we always hear about clean air and how the leader has clean air. Our objective here is to try to give the trail car more benefit." Without the aero ducts, cars running down long straightaways such as those at IMS hit a wall of air, which creates "a significant horsepower deficit" when they get within approximately one car-length of the lead car, Stefanyshyn said. The aero ducts direct air in through the existing brake ducts and out through the wheelhouse on each side. The high speed air flowing out creates a larger hole or "envelope" for the trailing car. Use of the aero ducts should increase the amount of horsepower differential for the trailing car by approximately 25 percent. "We're giving the driver more momentum from four-five car lengths back, gaining coming into within half a car length; when he gets right into that bubble, he's still got to cross through it, but he's carrying momentum and he can break through it," Stefanyshyn said. Stefanyshyn said incorporation of the package isn't "a slam dunk," but studies and testing have thus far validated the changes. "Our belief is that we will create a situation where they can pass on the straightaways," he said. "That's been done analytically, it's been done with three cars. The question is when we turn 40 cars loose on the track can that still manifest itself and that's still what we’re hoping will happen." Speeds likely won't vary greatly with the new package, and the use of restrictor plates isn't expected to generate the big packs of traffic on the track similar to what typically is seen at Daytona and Talladega. Stefanyshyn said it's more likely that there will be several groups of five or six cars each, "and in each of those groupings we're hoping to see passing on the straightaways." The XFINITY Series has competed at IMS since 2012, and the lack of passing on the big, flat track has been a concern for NASCAR and speedway officials. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) led more than half the laps in winning the last two XFINITY Series races at Indy and he led 92 of 100 when he won the race in 2013. Dale Earnhardt Jr. addressed the racing package this week during his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast. Earnhardt Jr. competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports . He is also co-owner of JR Motorsports , which fields four full-time teams in the XFINITY Series. "I'm curious to see (the changes)," he said. "I think NASCAR sees this as an idea on how fix racing in general at Indianapolis." According to NASCAR officials, there currently are no plans in place to utilize the package at any other venue or in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Hendrick Motorsports welcomes new class of pit crew members
CONCORD, N.C. -- Hendrick Motorsports is in the midst of playoff season and enjoying the success of three of its drivers who are competing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . And although one of NASCAR's most successful racing teams is focused on finishing off the 2015 season with another championship, they are also working on building a brighter future for years to come. The Hendrick organization hosted its first Signing Day for its developmental pit crew program Wednesday at its lavish No. 48 and 88 shop. Their introduction came against the backdrop of the shop's banners and trophies, honoring achievements set by the teams of Terry Labonte , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson and more. The seven men who participated in Signing Day are all former collegiate athletes and were chosen out of over 150 candidates for the annual recruitment process. The newcomers hope to pursue awards of their own, similar to the ones they are constantly surrounded by and to become a part of the company's lucrative 31-year history. Andy Papathanassiou, Director of Human Performance at Hendrick , opened the ceremony saying, "It's the people (here) that make the difference. And if you treat your people well they're going to want to perform not only for themselves but for you and for the company and for the team, and not only is that the best solution, it's the only solution to truly become a champion and to keep that championship mentality going." Another thing Papathanassiou highlighted was that the seven chosen are "not just here because they are big, strong guys … they're here for the way they think." And they all come from diverse backgrounds, most of which have little to do with NASCAR. Mike McClure, a former WWE prospect, was an All-American wrestler at Michigan State University and, too, an All-American in academics. McClure was at Michigan International Speedway for a race where he was recruited for the program. After receiving debilitating injuries in his journey to become a professional wrestler, McClure pursued the opportunity with Hendrick and is now working on honing his craft as a fueler and jackman. "Even on day one, I could tell they were genuine and they cared about the people here," explained McClure. Another recruit, Rod Cox, too, had "briefly seen NASCAR on TV," but knew he found his passion during his training at Hendrick . Cox, who played football at North Carolina State University and earned a degree in civil engineering, was convinced to join the organization after Coach Keith Flynn, Developmental Pit Crew Director, spoke to his football coach. "I met Coach Flynn and he was the greatest guy I had ever met," said Cox, an aspiring tire changer. "Everyone around here loves their job. I wake up in the morning like 'Man, I can’t wait to go practice and do my drills and lift weights and just enjoy everyone here.' " At the end of the event, Papathanassiou told NASCAR.com about how he is excited about the future and looking forward to the next chapter at Hendrick , with a new driver joining its Sprint Cup roster in Chase Elliott . "I think what's next for us is … we will have to redefine ourselves as a company. It's very exciting, especially with a guy like Chase Elliott . We could be on another 20-year run … another 20-year dominance."
Albert: Hendrick , JGR, Penske should be prime players Sunday
RELATED: Daytona schedule " Starting lineup DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There's no such thing as a clear-cut favorite for Sunday's Daytona 500. After six days of on-track activity for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , several camps can lay claim to having an edge, but singling out one driver is akin to a roulette wheel's spin. "We come down here a lot of years. You kind of pick a guy," said Jamie McMurray , the 2010 champion of the 500 who will start third in this year's running. "If he finishes, he's going to be there in the end. I think there's 10 guys that have a legitimate shot to win this year." What is clear is that Sunday's winner of the Great American Race (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will have the benefit of a fast horse, potential assistance from teammates and the combination of an adept spotter and a frequently-used mirror. And if conventional wisdom holds serve, Team Penske , Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports should be the prime players in that game. Preliminary races -- Thursday's Duel qualifiers and last weekend's "The Clash" exhibition from a busy Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway -- have shown that a strong leading car has the ability to change lanes and stem the aerodynamic momentum from an onrushing line of cars. The Duels showed the powerful but precarious nature of leading: In the first 150-miler, polesitter Chase Elliott staved off the pack with a series of blocks to lead the final 24 laps. In the nightcap, Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- who led for 53 circuits -- zigged too late when Denny Hamlin zagged with two laps left, and Hamlin led an organized aero charge to the checkers. MORE: Logano wins 'The Clash' " Duel 1 results " Duel 2 results "Because the way the lanes form, it's just power in numbers," said Elliott, the 500's Coors Light Pole Award winner for the second straight year. "It's a power in what cars are lined up in what row, how they're stacked against you, whether they're two-wide or three-wide behind you. There certainly are guys that do a good job. Once they get out front they're tough to get by. We see that all the time at these places." RELATED: Elliott joins elite in back-to-back 'Great American Race' pole wins Momentum can be an intangible in other sports, the vibe of a winning streak or the underlying oomph of the tide turning in a certain game. In NASCAR -- and especially in the restrictor-plate genre of stock-car racing -- it's a palpable phenomenon. While aerodynamics can be a great equalizer for underdogs, the power of Penske's pair of Fords driven by Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski stands out. But so does the muscle flexed by defending 500 champion Hamlin and his flotilla of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. And it's unwise to count out Hendrick & Co.; which monopolized the front row in qualifying with Elliott and Earnhardt. MORE: Penske proves plate tracks take more than just luck One thing is all but certain, especially when it gets to crunch time with the Harley J. Earl Trophy on the line: The cat-and-mouse between the race leader and the pack will be more exacting, with far more take than give. "I'm sure that will be amped up Sunday," Elliott said after his Duel win. "I think it was similar to what you'll see."
Hendrick Motorsports sweeps Saturday Martinsville practices
RELATED: Logano leads opening practice at Martinsville Practice 3 recap " Practice 3 results Jimmie Johnson led the final Sprint Cup Series practice at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, topping the leaderboard with a speed of 97.108 mph. The Hendrick Motorsports driver completed his fastest lap on his fourth go-around of "The Paperclip" track out of 67 laps. Johnson has eight wins at Martinsville, tying with Jeff Gordon for the most victories among active Cup drivers at the Virginia short track. Kevin Harvick was second to "Six-Time" with a high speed of 96.721 mph in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Brad Keselowski (96.721 mph), Paul Menard (96.711 mph) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (96.538 mph) rounded out the top-five fastest. Defending race winner Earnhardt Jr. was fastest in Saturday's opening session. Polesitter Joey Logano was seventh-fastest in the closing session at 96.504 mph. Logano was the fastest in Friday's opening practice. The Team Penske driver is going for his fourth consecutive win, along with a ticket to the Championship 4 Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Kyle Busch was the slowest of the eight-driver Chase field, ranking 26th-fastest (95.854 mph). Denny Hamlin , Martinsville spring race winner, was ninth-fastest (96.386 mph). The Sprint Cup Series returns to the track on Sunday for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at 1:15 p.m. ET (NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM). Practice 2 recap " Practice 2 results After qualifying 22nd on Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 picked up some speed for Saturday's first practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The Hendrick Motorsports driver topped the leaderboard in his Chevrolet SS with a fast lap of 96.998 mph. Next was the No. 78 Chevrolet of Martin Truex Jr ., the fastest during this session among the remaining eight Chase contenders (96.879 mph). Rounding out the top three was Ryan Newman , who circled the .526-mile track at 96.874 mph in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Polesitter Joey Logano showed speed again today, snagging the fourth spot with a high speed of 96.755 mph in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin landed in the fifth position after posting a quick speed of 96.731 mph. Tony Stewart , who finished eighth, left the session with significant damage to his No. 14 after making contact with the wall. Stewart will start the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 in a backup car. Kasey Kahne , who wrecked in qualifying on Friday, will also start in a backup.
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