Holly Cain rides along with Jimmie Johnson
Watch as NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain rides along with Jimmie Johnson through Las Vegas on the NASCAR Victory Lap.
H2H: Answering the Chase's biggest questions
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff field is finally complete, setting the stage for a 10-race dash to the finish and the championship glory that awaits Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Story lines abound, and our Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics before the postseason gets underway at Chicagoland. 1. Can anyone stop the Joe Gibbs Racing alliance in the Chase? Cain : There is no denying the strength of the JGR alliance from top to bottom. The question is whether it can sustain this level of performance over the next 10 weeks with a larger bull's-eye on its defending champion back. At this point JGR is favorite. But that's the crazy thing about letting these championships play out. Heart and motivation count, too. Albert: The quintet of JGR-affiliated drivers may look nearly invincible now, but the two-year sample size of the current Chase format has proven to be a petri dish of unpredictability. Team Penske has two drivers -- Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski -- in position to drive a wedge into the Gibbs dominance, but Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet -- already champions in the new playoff system -- have a substantial shot at fending off a Toyota triumph. 2. With a handful of new, young faces making their Chase debuts this season, are we witnessing a changing of the guard? Cain : With such a talented group of young drivers in the series, their participating in the Chase was inevitable. It was simply a matter of "when." Best of all for them -- and the sport -- Kyle Larson , Chase Elliott , Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher have not only earned their way into the Chase mix, they look to be legitimate players. The old guard has a big wake-up call and there are other young talents who may well join this mix next year. All good signs for the sport and the fans. Albert: The influx of Chase newbies this year would suggest the opening stages of an overhaul to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster. It's refreshing, a dash of blossoming names alongside the familiar faces in the playoff brackets. Now the challenge is for the youth movement to make deep dives into the postseason, rather than go quietly in the Chase's early rounds. 3. Who's your best bet for a Chase surprise? Cain : I don't know that Kyle Larson and his talent is a surprise to anyone. But, he is peaking at the right time of the season and has an envious track record at the upcoming Chase venues. And just for good measure, his Chip Ganassi Racing team knows a little about winning racing championships, too. Albert: This is going to sound odd to talk about a driver with six championships to his credit and multiple wins this season as a surprise candidate, but Jimmie Johnson 's current 21-race dry spell equals the longest of his Sprint Cup career. Is there a charge left in the No. 48 camp? Time will tell, but it's still difficult to discount a group that has turned up the boost again and again come playoff time. A record-tying seventh title for Johnson remains a real possibility.
Monday on NASCAR.com: Denver's race team
NASCAR senior writer Holly Cain and NASCAR Productions traveled to Denver, Colorado, and spoke with the community that has embraced Furniture Row Racing. Stay tuned to NASCAR.com for the in-depth article and video on Monday, September 12th.
Furniture Row Racing: The story behind Denver's team
NASCAR senior writer Holly Cain , and NASCAR Productions, traveled to Denver, Colorado to present an in depth look at NASCAR's only team west of the Mississippi River, Furniture Row Racing, and their rise to racing success.
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard. -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard, backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard, so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Holly Cain rides shotgun for Johnson's burnout
Six-time champ says it never gets old during "Victory Lap" burnout
H2H: Tackling three key questions on Gordon, Junior
PHOTOS: Big-name drivers in No. 88 " Junior through the years For at least the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, starting this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon will be behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. The high-profile changing of seats prompts several questions -- for the recovering Earnhardt Jr., the returning Jeff Gordon and the No. 88 team itself. NASCAR.com reporters Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle a handful of these questions in a quick reporter roundtable. 1. Will Dale Jr. still make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs? HC: Of course, this depends on the length of time doctors would like Earnhardt to heal. But should he return in two weeks' time, I still think it's absolutely a good bet he makes the Chase, perhaps even wins a race. He's won seven races in the last two seasons. And he has five wins at tracks that would still be on the schedule to set the Chase field -- a pair at Michigan and three victories at the regular-season finale venue, Richmond. ZA: Getting healthy -- not even necessarily for a return to NASCAR, but in general -- remains the overall priority for Earnhardt Jr., but the team must press on regardless of who is in the driver's seat. A two-week absence will drop Earnhardt from the 16-driver provisional Chase grid, placing urgency on winning when he potentially returns. The almost certain granting of a Chase eligibility waiver from NASCAR competition officials should guarantee that the opportunity exists. But should his absence last longer, the thought of shelving this season in favor of a full-fledged 2017 return may make the most sense. 2. What do we expect from Jeff Gordon ? HC: Frankly, how could our expectations be too high here? Especially at Indy, where Gordon is the all-time winningest driver with five trophies. He is the dream substitute -- a pillar of the Hendrick Motorsports organization, fresh off a Chase final-four season and trackside all year in his role as a FOX Sports race analyst. Earnhardt's Chevrolet will be in good hands. The biggest issue may only be making sure Gordon doesn't pull into Chase Elliott 's No. 24 pit stall. ZA: This isn't exactly Michael Jordan puttering around in a Washington Wizards jersey. Half a season off doesn't exactly allow for the accumulation of rust, especially when considering that Gordon, one of the sport's all-time greats, retired from full-time competition at the height of his game. The expectation is for Gordon to be sharp as ever. The results are anyone's guess. 3. What does this do for both drivers' legacies? HC: Even should Gordon pull off an amazing victory in Earnhardt's car this week at Indy or next at Pocono, the four-time Cup champ's legacy is already NASCAR Hall of Fame bound. For Earnhardt, getting out of the car and setting a standard in the sport's concussion treatment will be as important a legacy as his two Daytona 500 victories and 24 other Cup wins. He is the sport's reigning superstar and his responsible and inspiring actions only increase his stature. And that's saying something! ZA: Jeff Gordon 's legacy in the sport is already secure in quick-drying cement. His comeback's only possible augmentations (and they'd be nominal boosts to his already transcendent portfolio) would be another victory or reaching the 800-starts plateau, a mere three appearances away. Earnhardt Jr.'s legacy -- and popularity -- may only grow as he continues to lead the charge in the research of sport-related brain trauma. That contribution to stock-car racing is far greater than any possible unchecked boxes on his career list of on-track accomplishments. </p>
Cain : Don't forget Larson in most wide-open Chase in history
RELATED: Meet the 16-driver Chase field Kyle Larson was all wide smiles and high hopes late Saturday night leaning against his Chevrolet on pit road after a runner-up finish in the regular-season finale at Richmond, Virginia -- his third consecutive top-three showing. The 24-year-old is (almost) three weeks removed from his maiden Sprint Cup Series victory at Michigan, and five days into his first championship run that starts Sunday in Chicago. "Our team has some momentum at the right time and that's nice," said Larson's team owner, Chip Ganassi, who boasts two Chase-qualified drivers (also Jamie McMurray , in the No. 1 Chevy) for the first time. As NASCAR's championship cranks up this week for the first round of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , everyone has a well-contemplated opinion on who will be the 2016 champ. It's absolutely one of the most interesting -- and wide-open -- Chase fields ever from top to bottom. Toyotas have been strong and boast an impressive lineup from Martin Truex Jr . to defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch . It's also hard to argue against the Ford camp led by Team Penske drivers, four-time winner Brad Keselowski i and Joey Logano , victor at the season's first Michigan event. And Chevrolet, of course, boasts three former champions in Jimmie Johnson , Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick along with several promising newcomers, including Larson. During the preseason, I picked Johnson to win his record-tying seventh Sprint Cup title and have made that pick consistently every year, figuring it will surely come for the modern era's most impressive, don't-count-him-out champion. But his Hendrick team needs to turn it on now. Perhaps most interesting is the "batch" of Chase first-timers such as Larson, Austin Dillon , Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher -- all young drivers who will be recurring themes in the title scenario for the next decade. But Larson is there above others in this unprecedented roster of young, talented championship contenders. He has finishes of first (Michigan), third (Darlington) and second (at Richmond) in his last three races and four top-six finishes in the last six races. His six top-three finishes on the season in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet equal the work of Kevin Harvick , while Busch has nine and Keselowski has eight. "We have a ton of momentum rolling here," a smiling Larson said Saturday night. "Three top-threes in a row, that's great for our team going into the Chase. Hopefully we can keep it going. "We've got good speed in the cars. And especially at the mile and a half tracks is where Chip Ganassi Racing excels right now, and those are my favorite tracks as well. There's a lot of those in the Chase, which is good." Larson's rookie showing at Chase tracks -- but not as a Chase-eligible competitor -- was big news in 2014. He had six top-10 finishes in the 10 races, including five straight beginning at Chicago. Twice he finished runner-up (at New Hampshire and Kansas). So not only has Larson proven himself capable of success at these venues in the past, but he is also peaking at the right time. And, the Ganassi Racing team has won season titles in every other form of racing it has competed in -- from IndyCar to IMSA. Focus and drive are not issues here. It's just a matter of getting it done in the stock car ranks like the team has in every other form of motorsport. Larson is ready. His team is ready. It's time to buckle up. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt
Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Timeline of Kyle Busch injury, recovery
Crash that broke his leg and foot, journey back to racing SHOP: Busch gear Nov. 22: Busch wins first Sprint Cup Series championship In a season fit for the silver screen, Kyle Busch completes his emotional comeback from a devastating season-opening injury to capture his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. " Read the full story " Final 2015 standings Nov. 22: Busch wins title with victory at Homestead-Miami Driver Kyle Busch caps an amazing comeback, winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 to hold off fellow Championship 4 contenders Kevin Harvick , Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr . " Read the full story " Complete race results Aug. 9: Busch breaks into top 30 in drivers points standings A runner-up finish at Watkins Glen pushed Kyle Busch into 30th place in the Sprint Cup points standings, a requirement of eligibility for him for the Chase. With four race wins under his belt, he must remain in the top 30 to make the Chase. " Read the full story " Full race results July 11: Kyle Busch wins Sprint Cup race at Kentucky A second win helps Kyle Busch 's chances of cracking the top 30 in points, the second condition he must meet to make the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup . " Read the full story " Full race results June 28: Kyle Busch wins Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Needing victory to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup , Kyle Busch got the victory at Sonoma , a track that had been a concern as he continues to recover because the road course is so physically demanding. " Read the full story " Full race results June 13: Kyle Busch wins XFINITY race at Michigan Kyle Busch goes to Victory Lane in his first race back in the XFINITY Series after breaking his leg and left foot at Daytona. " Read the full story " Full race results May 24: Kyle Busch completes Coca-Cola 600 , finishes 11th Kyle Busch makes his Sprint Cup points race debut for the season in the Coca-Cola 600 , climbing to second place before fuel strategy led to an 11th-place finish. " Read the full story May 18: Kyle, Samantha Busch welcome first baby Driver Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, had their first child, a boy, at 9:45 p.m. May 18. Brexton Locke Busch is his name. " Read the full story May 16: Busch finishes sixth in All-Star race After a pleasing top-10 run in his first race back from leg and foot injuries, Kyle Busch looks forward to running in the Coca-Cola 600 " Read the full story May 13: Kyle Busch granted Chase waiver NASCAR has granted Kyle Busch a waiver for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Find out what he has to do to make the Chase. " Read the full story " Official NASCAR release " Cain : Making Chase will cap comeback May 12: Kyle Busch announces return After missing 11 events to open the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season following his injury at Daytona, Kyle Busch has set his return for the Sprint All-Star Race on May 16. " Read the full story " Drivers react to news of Busch's return " Herman Unplugged: Reaction to Busch's return " Busch's return a hot topic at Dover test May 9: Jones' promising run crashes at Kansas Making his first Sprint Cup start filling in for the injured Kyle Busch , Erik Jones was working on a great run at Kansas until he found the wall late in the race. " Read the full story April 16: Accident leads Busch to become unexpected safety advocate NASCAR.com's Holly Cain tells the story of how Kyle Busch 's wreck at Daytona has changed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into a saftey advocate for the sport. Busch talks about how impressed he was of the breadth and depth of detailed information that has been gathered from his accident. " Read the full story April 16: Busch family bonds, finds strength in recovery With a baby on the way, the Busch family discuss how they've worked as a team to recover from Kyle's injury while prepping to expand their family. The parents-to-be explain that it hasn't been easy, but they're counting their blessings. " Read the full story April 15: Kyle Busch analyzes tape of his wreck Kyle Busch holds his first press conference after his crash at Daytona and uses video to break down his thought process as the wreck unfolded. His doctors are pleased with his progress, but he has no timeline for returning to driving. " Read the full story " Herman Unplugged: Busch should sit out 2015 April 15: Kyle Busch responds to Keselowski blog During his first press conference after his Daytona crash, Kyle Busch also addressed his long-running feud with fellow Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski . " Watch the video " More on Keselowski's blog April 15: Kyle Busch , wife discuss crash, impending parenthood In an interview with Charlotte NBC affiliate WCNC, Kyle Busch and his wife Samantha discussed the driver's accident at Daytona in February " Read the full story March 20: Kyle Busch takes next step in recovery Kyle Busch posts a video on Facebook of himself moving around a bit with the aid of a walker, along with encouragement from his wife, Samantha, and their dog. " Read the full story March 17: KBM drivers keep in touch Daniel Suarez says his team owner's advice is invaluable. And Justin Boston reports Busch is 'recovering quickly.' " Read the full story March 14: Kurt Busch hopes brother doesn't rush return Kurt Busch says, 'You can't rush the healing of bones and surgeries.' And teammate Denny Hamlin says Kyle Busch is staying engaged with the No. 18 team despite being sidelined. " Read the full story March 11: Kyle Busch , Samantha, visit KBM Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, take a field trip to Kyle Busch Motorsports and tell the team, 'Progress is going well.' " Read the full story March 10: Busch gets walking boots Kyle Busch gets soft casts removed from both legs and moves up to walking boots, which Samantha Busch dubs 'Terminator boots' in a Twitter photo. " Read the full story March 2: Subs announced for No. 54 XFINITY Toyota Denny Hamlin , Erik Jones and Boris Said are tapped as substitute drivers for Kyle Busch in the No. 54 NASCAR XFINITY Series Toyota. "Get Well Kyle" stickers adorn the No. 54. " Read the full story Feb. 27: Kyle Busch heads home after second surgery After a second surgery to treat his injuries, Kyle Busch was in a Charlotte hospital for observation for two days before being cleared to go home. The No. 18 racing team put a "Get well Kyle" on the rear bumper of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for the Atlanta race. " Read the full story Feb. 25: Kyle Busch has successful surgery on left foot Joe Gibbs Racing announces that Kyle Busch underwent a successful surgery on his left foot at a Charlotte hospital. " Read the full story Feb. 24: Kyle Busch leaves Florida hospital Kyle Busch was released from Halifax Health Medical Center. He boarded a plane on a stretcher and was transferred to a North Carolina hospital for further treatment of multiple leg injuries. " Read the full story Feb. 24: David Ragan to sub for Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing announces that David Ragan will sub for the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota for several weeks, starting at Atlanta Motor Speedway . " Read the full story Feb. 24: ISC working on 'significant plan' for safer barriers In the wake of Kyle Busch 's severe crash and resulting injuries during the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway , International Speedway Corporation announces a plan to expand its use of impact-diffusing barriers at its 12 tracks. " Read the full story Feb. 22: Joe Gibbs says Busch's surgery went well Team owner Joe Gibbs gives an update on Kyle Busch 's status after surgery and says he is 'resting comfortably.' Doctors reported that things went well with surgery on Busch's lower right leg. " Read the full story Feb. 22: Samantha Busch gives update from hospital Samantha Busch posts a selfie with Kyle Busch from his hospital bed on Twitter with a tweet saying, "Getting ready to watch the Daytona 500 ! Cheering on our 18 boys!" " Read the full story Feb. 21: Drivers wish Kyle Busch well after hard hit Kyle Busch is taken to the hospital by ambulance after a big wreck during the XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway . Fellow drivers sent well-wishes via Twitter. " Read the full story Feb. 21: Hard hit sidelines Kyle Busch for Daytona 500 A crash in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race caused NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch to miss the Daytona 500 after suffering injuries to his right leg and left foot a day before the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway . " Read the full story