Hendrick Motorsports driver won at Atlanta in '14 to lock up Chase spot Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live HAMPTON, Ga. – Last year, Kasey Kahne used a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway to secure one of the 16 available positions in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Six months later, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is hoping for similar results. A win in Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (FOX, 1 p.m. ET) brings with it no guarantees, but it certainly would put the 34-year-old in a much less stressful situation. Kahne was the final driver to secure a Chase spot by virtue of a victory here last August, however a schedule change now finds the 1.54-mile track hosting the season's second stop. A win would go a long way toward easing his team’s concerns as the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season begins to pick up steam. "It would be a lot better and a lot less stress, but it is what it is," Kahne said Friday as teams began preparations for Sunday's race. "We'll take it any way we can." There are goals this year that the '14 effort failed to accomplish, he said. Winning and running up front more often for starters. Better results in practice and better qualifying results as well. "It all starts this weekend," Kahne said. "It would be great to come off with a win right away … and then just go from there. The end of the '14 season also signaled the end of the Kahne/Kenny Francis driver/crew chief pairing. The two had worked together, with two brief exceptions in '07 (due to Francis' suspension) and '10, for a stretch of more than 300 races from the 2005 season finale at Homestead through '14. They have 17 wins in their respective positions, with 16 coming while working together. Francis earned his first win as crew chief with former driver Jeremy Mayfield; Kahne went to the winner's circle for the first time with Tommy Baldwin Jr. calling the shots. Today, Francis oversees car design and development as the vehicle technical director for Hendrick Motorsports. Keith Rodden, crew chief for Jamie McMurray last season at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, returned to the HMS fold to replace Francis on the No. 5 team. He and Kahne have a history . "I think the first time he was my engineer was 2004 in the XFINITY Series," Kahne said of Rodden, "and we have kind of been on and off together ever since. "There is a lot more to it than just the communication side. It's kind of the preparation at the shop throughout the winter, how the guys look at things and how our cars are built. He's done a really good job with all that stuff." Kahne, who agreed to a three-year contract extension last November, joined HMS in April of 2010 but didn't officially make the move until 2012. Five wins have come since the move and he is a three-time winner at Atlanta. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kyle Busch will lead off the History 300 at Charlotte
Kyle Busch dominates the day and takes the win in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Host Matt Dillner walks you through the NNS garage as drivers gear up for History 300 .
Kevin Harvick talks about his fifth place finish in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Reddick: 'I (have) more confidence in our mile-and-a-half package'
In 1958 the last race was held on the beaches of Daytona, see how that history lives on through Racing's North Turn Beach Bar and Grill in Ponce Inlet, Florida.
With new crew chief, JR Motorsports driver looks to defend 2014 Daytona win Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As last year's runner-up in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Regan Smith has only one possible spot to move up the pecking order in the season-long standings. He'll make that effort by working with new crew chief Jason Burdett, starting a communication process that is more personal than one might think. "We go to the movies, we go to dinner … no, I'm just messing with you," Smith said during a playful moment at last week's NASCAR Media Day. "We skip through the park together. In all seriousness, we've spent quite a bit of time together just at the shop." The imagery, which could've been plucked from an online dating commercial, doesn't quite capture the early semblances of team chemistry for the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet group. But at the same time, Smith said the getting-to-know-you phase has been an important step in moving forward. "I think the season holds some change," Smith said. "New crew chief, some new guys coming in. We kept most of our team intact other than the crew chief position, so that's going to be a good thing. I think it holds a strong year and a solid year that needs to be stronger than last year was. That means only one position that we can go from where we were." The 31-year-old veteran's journey begins with Saturday's season-opening Alert Today Florida 300 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at Daytona International Speedway, where Smith is the defending race winner. It marks his third year with JRM, which ran 1-2 in the final XFINITY standings last season, with rookie Chase Elliott hoisting the series title. The opening win wound up being the No. 7 team's only victory in 2014, prompting JR Motorsports to shuffle the crew chief order, replacing Ryan Pemberton with Burdett, who boasts a history of working on championship-level Sprint Cup Series teams. Though the NASCAR-mandated ban on testing has limited some of the time it takes for a team to become a more cohesive group, Smith said he has little concern about putting the pairing into action for the 33-race long haul. "Our relationship was good before he came to work there, but it's gotten better since he's come to JR Motorsports," Smith said. "The more I've been around him and seen how he acts with the guys, how he handles the guys, how the guys act with him -- it's gotten me more and more excited about getting down here and just getting everything started." Without testing, Smith has had plenty of off-track developments to keep him busy in the offseason. His wife, Megan, is expecting the couple's first child -- a boy -- any day now. For a man who finds comfort driving cars at rapid rate of speed, Smith described the couple's experience at a birthing class with one word -- "terrifying." "I walked out of there, and I'm not going to lie, I got a beer almost immediately," Smith said. "Outside of that, it was good." The other major life adventure of the offseason involved driving of a different sort, a nearly 1,600-mile road trip to Colorado for Thanksgiving with his team boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr. After forging through the night, rain and fog to help move a truck to Smith's Rocky Mountain home, it left Smith with a better appreciation for their relationship -- not to mention a better impersonation of Earnhardt's trademark North Carolina twang. "I feel like we know quite a bit about each other, just as friends," Smith said. "Yeah, he's a boss, but he's a friend, too. Fortunate to have that situation." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Reigning XFINITY champion looks to balance title run, Sprint Cup slate Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The car looks familiar, and the driver is a year older but otherwise unchanged. The team that helped carry Chase Elliott to the 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series title, however, has undergone a major overhaul. Gone is spreadsheet-wielding crew chief Greg Ives, who can now be seen heading up the efforts of JR Motorsports founder and namesake Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Likewise, car chief Travis Mack has departed, and has assumed the same duties with Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports outfit. Veteran crew chief Ernie Cope, who previously handled the organization’s third team that featured several Cup drivers (Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne), is now overseeing the No. 9 team as Elliott begins preparations to defend his series title. Christopher Allen is the team's new car chief, while Tristan Smith (lead engineer), Seth Kookier (assistant race engineer) and Rick Pennington (rear end mechanic) are also new to the team. HMS’ Brad Thompson will serve as engine tuner. "I think it's kind of like starting over a little bit, I guess, with Ernie and really a whole new group of guys," Elliott, 19, said. "I think there are only two or three of us that are back with the team from last year, and that includes me. "Last year we worked pretty closely together. We tried to stay on the same page with setup stuff; we were usually very, very similar last year to (their) car and whatever they were running. I think that relationship helped. "And we got to work with them firsthand at Road America when Greg was at home with his (new) baby. Having that race behind us will hopefully help us get going." A three-time race winner last season, Elliott is attempting to become only the seventh driver in the history of the series to capture back-to-back titles. His first opportunity to get a leg up on the competition comes here on Saturday with the running of the Alert Today Florida 300 (FOX Sports 1, 3:30 pm ET) at Daytona International Speedway. The son of NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott (himself a champion in NASCAR's premier series), the younger Elliott admits he's a long way from being an expert in the series. One season and one championship taught him plenty, but there's still much more to absorb. "It still kind of feels new to me; I definitely don't feel like a veteran, that's for sure," he said. "It's crazy to think that it's already been a year since that first (series) start and that we're back at Daytona. A year goes by fast. "I still have a lot to learn, still a lot of new things I'm experiencing, especially with the personnel changes this season." Elliott’s journey up the racing ladder has been slow and steady by design. He competed in a mixture of ARCA, NASCAR K&N Pro Series and Camping World Truck Series races – and winning on more than one occasion – while filling the racing void with a Late Model effort. That schedule, he said, helped prepare him for the rigors of last year’s 33-race XFINITY Series schedule. "I can think back to a couple of years ago when we were running Late Model stuff and we ran something in the mid-40s," he said. "The number of (XFINITY) races, that didn't feel like a ton to me; the biggest difference was just the traveling." His Late Model efforts were primarily in the Southeast. There were no West Coast trips, or stops in the Midwest. In addition to defending his series championship, Elliott is also scheduled to make his Sprint Cup Series debut this season. He will drive a fifth car for Hendrick Motorsports in five events before sliding into the group’s No. 24 car in '16, replacing four-time champion Jeff Gordon. The five Sprint Cup races are Martinsville (March 29), Richmond (April 25), Charlotte (May 24), Indianapolis (July 26) and Darlington (Sept. 6). This schedule might be a bit more hectic on those weekends, but it's something Elliott said he’s eager to attempt. "The good part about it is that the first race at Martinsville is an off-weekend for the XFINITY Series," he said. "Having that opportunity to just try to get your feet wet a little bit will be a good time to do that – not having going back and forth. "But at the same time, I've always enjoyed running two races a weekend. I can remember from the go-karting days, I used to always run a couple of races. In Late Model races, the weekend where they had their bigger shows, I used to always try to run the Super and the Pro races as well. I've always really liked that." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
The Nationwide Series will run its 11th race of the season at Charlotte