RELATED: Answers on multiple packages " Darlington's throwback gallery Perhaps somewhat overshadowed by all the talk about Darlington Raceway 's "throwback" platform this weekend is the return of NASCAR's low downforce package, incorporating aerodynamic changes first unveiled at Kentucky Speedway earlier this year. Three significant changes have been incorporated into the Sprint Cup Series package for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) that differs from the package used in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky in July. The Darlington spoiler will be 3-1/2 inches (instead of 3 inches) and the splitter will feature a 1/4-inch leading edge. Also, the tires to be used at Darlington were built specifically for this particular low downforce package. The build was determined after a one-day test in July with drivers Matt Kenseth ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) and Tony Stewart ( Stewart-Haas Racing ). There is no change in the size of the splitter extension panel, which was set at 25 inches for the Kentucky event. Driver feedback, for the most part, was positive following Kentucky. But Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for Kenseth, noted that differences in the two tracks and other considerations would have an impact this weekend at Darlington. "It's going to be a lot different … because we haven't run at Darlington at this time of year in a while," he said. "… Darlington is unique anyway -- you run right around the fence, which makes it difficult to pass, but I thought the aero package was good and we were able to work on the car and find some speed and nothing negative with it." Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards said he's looking forward to putting the low downforce package back on the track. "The way we've been running lately and the way this package drove at Kentucky, I mean to me Darlington is going to be like Christmas in September. I'm pumped," he said. So About Those Tires The tire combination selected by Goodyear will feature the same left-side tire code used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year with a right-side tire code that was run at Kentucky. "We had a very minimal change in grip at Kentucky from what we raced there in 2014," Greg Stucker, Director of Race Tire Sales for Goodyear, told SiriusXM NASCAR on Wednesday. "Just a little bit more grip on the left-side tire, and the results of that particular event I think were very, very positive. "I think the low-downforce package showed a lot of potential. I think a lot of people walked out of there thinking that was a really nice package. It certainly reduced grip, put a lot of control back into the drivers' hands. Did a lot of things that I think people were looking for." Stucker said a "considerable amount of grip" has been added to the Darlington tires, with hopefully will offset some of the aerodynamic grip lost with the aero changes on the cars. "The reduction in downforce going from the standard 2015 (package) to the low-downforce package increased lap times by about three-quarters of a second, 7/10ths to 8/10ths, something like that," he said. "That much slower. When we put the grippier setup on, it gave us about that same 7/10ths to 8/10ths back." A December test at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2014 actually provided some of the initial data for the low downforce tire build. "We went back there again in March of this year to confirm that tire package for a low-downforce setup that at the time was thought to be run in the (Sprint) All-Star Race," Stucker said. "So we had a lot of work done in a similar configuration. Historically Darlington and Charlotte are similar. We run the same right-side tire there, slightly different left. But it gave us a real good starting point for where to go back to Darlington so we did that." Riding a Blue Streak The teams and track officials aren't the only ones on board with this year's "throwback" theme for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . Even Goodyear is going retro, returning to a logo design used in the 1970s. At that time, the logos and markings on each tire were hand-painted -- that won't be the case this weekend -- "but they'll definitely have the looks of what we ran back in the '70s," Stucker said. "We had not yet gone to Eagle on our race tires. They were still called Blue Streak Specials." The yellow Goodyear lettering seen on today's Goodyear Eagle tires came into use in 1992.
Terry Labonte reflects back to his final win of his career at Darlington Raceway in the 2003 Southern 500.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Roush Fenway Racing 's Greg Biffle likely needs a win in the next four races to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , but he'll have to do so while working with a new spotter. According to RFR, Jason Reiner will replace Joel Edmonds as Biffle's spotter this weekend at Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Reiner has spotted for Chase Elliott . "It is not one of the changes I was looking for, but it was time to head down a different path for the company," Biffle said. "Like I said, it was not preferable to start with a new spotter, especially with Bristol next weekend and four races before the Chase, but it is a business and we will work for it the best we can to get up to speed with listening to a new guy up top." Biffle leads active drivers with four Cup victories at Michigan, with his most recent win coming in 2013. He has 15 top-10 finishes in 25 Cup races at the track. Biffle is 80 points behind Clint Bowyer for the 16th and final Chase slot. He finished in the top five two races ago at Pocono Raceway, one of two top-five finishes this season (the other coming at Charlotte). "Greg has won two of the most significant races we've won here -- the 100th anniversary for Ford Motor Company and the 1,000th win for Ford," team owner Jack Roush said about Biffle's success at Michigan. "We are looking forward to the new setup here with the aero and we look forward to seeing what we can do."
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Hot, sticky, and slick all described Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 as the high-drag package and heat both gave drivers challenges. But this rules setup was deployed at Michigan International Speedway, a vastly different track than the where the aero package debuted at Indianapolis. After Kyle Busch wrecked in practice and David Ragan spun on the first lap, the "it will be interesting" prediction of many drivers seemed apt. And restarts caused headaches, but some of the anticipated problems did not come to fruition. Front-runners found plenty of power without pushing engines past their limits with the high RPMs created by the setup. Predictions of mass attrition failed to materialize. Still, many remained mum post-race rather than offer, at best, mixed reviews. No. 22 Team Penske driver Joey Logano , who finished seventh, simply said passing was difficult -- "really, really, really hard." But some statistics offered a counterargument, as the 3,886 green-flag passes from Sunday's race were second to 2009 event in the Irish Hills that saw a track-best 3,902 green-flag passes. The handling didn't bother race-winner Matt Kenseth at all, who joked, "I gotta be honest, I didn't see much of the race, which was totally fine with me. We were up front. "I got in a lot of different traffic situations with pit strategies and we raced around a lot of cars and we had a really strong car. You know, it's hard to say how far we could have fell back and still won. We had the fastest car by a fair margin for today's day and age, so I'm glad I didn't mess that up." "Everyone at JGR has attacked this package really hard and it shows," said Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet. "It's just execution from the time we unloaded. I would say Friday was a huge part of our weekend, getting that No. 1 pit stall. Starting on the front row and keeping that track position obviously was key." Austin Dillon , who had his second top-five finish of his career and first top-five of the season, said hot conditions didn't hinder him from staying up front to finish fourth, as teams figured out how to attack the race with this aero package. Dillon was credited with the fastest lap of the race just above race winner Kenseth, his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet propelling around the speedway at 189.549 mph at Lap 26. Starting from the back of the field after changing out an engine after losing horsepower in practice Saturday, Dillon had plenty of opportunities to see the high-drag package around other cars and in passing situations. "If I had to do it over again, I would probably start freeing it up a little earlier," Dillon said. "I seemed to be able to make passes and make moves and pass people. It wasn't that awful. I'm glad the heat was out today. I think if it was cooler, it would have been a tougher day to pass because everybody would have been a little better." As for the effects the heat had on drivers, opinions varied widely. Dillon downplayed the heat, and veteran Jeff Gordon found it to be nearly unbearable. "I need ice water, ice bags whatever you got. It's hot as (expletive) in here," Gordon radioed to his team shortly after the halfway point in the 400-mile race. The weather was 84 degrees and partly cloudy at the race's start on Sunday, with 65 percent humidity -- high enough to curl Michigan fans' hair and push cockpit temperatures up to 150 degrees. "I don't think we can blame it on the package," Dillon said of the heat concerns aired by drivers at Indianapolis, where several were treated post-race for heat-related issues. "New Hampshire, I got really hot and Kentucky was really, really bad. But the past two races my team worked really hard to insulate the car." Teams have the options of using 14 NACA ducts to improve airflow in the cars, which run hotter with the high-drag package because air is trapped under the car. But teams didn't want to give an aerodynamic advantage to competitors, so NASCAR required three NACA ducts be used after several drivers were treated for heat issues at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard was the first race run with the high-drag package and had similar weather conditions, partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90. "I was fine. The only thing that got hot on me was my heels," Dillon said. "If we just put some more insulation there I would have been fine. Body wise we've done a lot to cool my car, and what NASCAR did to put in that duct in the right side really helped. I thought a lot of air was flowing, and I wasn't too bad." The package for Michigan includes a 9-inch spoiler on the rear deck (increased from six inches) with a 1-inch wicker bill; a rear fascia extension panel similar to those used for superspeedway events, a 2-inch leading edge on the splitter and a 43-inch splitter extension panel (radiator pan).
Former crew chief Steve Letarte and Matt Kenseth's crew chief Jason Ratcliff explain a pit road mishap by the No. 20 team as the jack man makes a mistake, damaging the side skirt.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 31, 2015) – Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina going into the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on September 6 (7 p.m. ET on NBC). DARLINGTON-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Ford) · Two wins, three top fives, six top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 12.800, eighth-best · Average Running Position of 10.597, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 105.7, fifth-best · 296 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.175, fifth-fastest · 2642 Laps in the Top 15 (71.7), seventh-most · 326 Quality Passes, second-most Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota) · One win, two top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 13.600, 11th-best · Average Running Position of 8.995, third-best · Driver Rating of 106.1, fourth-best · 236 Fastest Laps Run, third-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.348, third-fastest · 3134 Laps in the Top 15 (85.1), third-most · 374 Quality Passes, series-most Dale Earnhardt Jr (No. 88 Valvoline Chevrolet) · Four top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 11.200, sixth-best · Average Running Position of 11.404, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 94.3, eighth-best · 110 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 159.954, ninth-fastest · 2650 Laps in the Top 15 (71.9), sixth-most · 312 Quality Passes, fourth-most Carl Edwards (No. 19 ARRIS Toyota) · Three top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 13.100, ninth-best · Average Running Position of 13.732, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 91.0, 12th-best · 151 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 159.807, 12th-fastest · 2262 Laps in the Top 15 (61.4), 12th-most · 287 Quality Passes, eighth-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 3M Chevrolet) · Seven wins, 19 top fives, 23 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 7.400, second-best · Average Running Position of 7.629, series-best · Driver Rating of 112.7, series-best · 262 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.593, series-fastest · 3356 Laps in the Top 15 (91.1), series-most · 314 Quality Passes, third-most Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota) · One win, four top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 6.889, series-best · Average Running Position of 8.644, second-best · Driver Rating of 107.1, second-best · 186 Fastest Laps Run, 13th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.315, fourth-fastest · 2849 Laps in the Top 15 (86.0), second-most · 303 Quality Passes, sixth-most Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/ Budweiser Chevrolet) · One win, four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 16.300, 12th-best · Average Running Position of 14.772, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 93.1, 10th-best · 167 Fastest Laps Run, second-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 159.885, 10th-fastest · 2531 Laps in the Top 15 (68.7), ninth-most · 267 Quality Passes, 10th-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Three wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s · Average finish of 8.800, third-best · Average Running Position of 9.992, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 106.8, third-best · 256 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.443, second-fastest · 2789 Laps in the Top 15 (75.7), fourth-most · 291 Quality Passes, seventh-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 HendrickRideAlong.com Chevrolet) · Three top fives, four top 10s; four poles · Average finish of 17.500, 13th-best · Average Running Position of 10.665, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.9, sixth-best · 230 Fastest Laps Run, series-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.069, seventh-fastest · 2597 Laps in the Top 15 (70.5), eighth-most · 233 Quality Passes, 13th-most Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · One win, three top fives, ten top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 10.100, fourth-best · Average Running Position of 13.487, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 93.2, ninth-best · 123 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 159.814, 11th-fastest · 2382 Laps in the Top 15 (64.7), 11th-most · 264 Quality Passes, 11th-most Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · Seven top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.300, seventh-best · Average Running Position of 11.409, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 95.8, seventh-best · 64 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 160.086, sixth-fastest · 2778 Laps in the Top 15 (75.4), fifth-most · 259 Quality Passes, 12th-most Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Four top fives, 12 top 10s · Average finish of 10.900, fifth-best · Average Running Position of 14.805, 13th-best · Driver Rating of 88.1, 13th-best · 105 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 159.791, 13th-fastest · 2153 Laps in the Top 15 (58.4), 13th-most · 311 Quality Passes, fifth-most Martin Truex Jr (No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet) · One top five, three top 10s · Average finish of 13.111, 10th-best · Average Running Position of 13.116, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 92.1, 11th-best · 127 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 159.992, eighth-fastest · 2153 Laps in the Top 15 (65.0), 10th-most · 278 Quality Passes, ninth-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2015 Top 10 at D arlington Raceway Rank Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 18 1 1 4 7 1 17 93.1 2 Joey Logano 6 0 0 0 2 1 23 77.9 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr 20 0 0 4 9 1 14.3 94.3 4 Brad Keselowski 6 0 0 1 2 0 14.3 84.7 5 Jimmie Johnson 16 0 3 9 12 1 8.4 106.8 6 Martin Truex Jr 9 0 0 1 3 0 13.1 92.1 7 Matt Kenseth 21 1 1 3 10 1 16 93.2 8 Kurt Busch 18 2 0 2 5 1 17.9 81.6 9 Denny Hamlin 9 0 1 4 7 0 6.9 107.1 10 Jamie McMurray 14 1 0 3 5 1 16.1 82.6 * – Based on last 10 races at Darlington Raceway (2005 – 2014). Darlington Three Year Average Finishes Of Drivers Currently 17th – 30th In The Standings Points Pos. Driver 3 Yr. Average Finish (2012 - 2014) 17 Aric Almirola 21.0 18 Kasey Kahne 20.7 19 Greg Biffle 10.0 20 Austin Dillon 11.0 21 Kyle Larson 8.0 22 Danica Patrick 27.0 23 Casey Mears 25.7 24 AJ Allmendinger 24.0 25 David Ragan 33.0 26 Sam Hornish Jr . * 0.0 27 Tony Stewart 9.0 28 Trevor Bayne * 0.0 29 Ricky Stenhouse Jr . 19.0 30 Justin Allgaier 23.0 * Sam Hornish Jr . and Trevor Bayne have not made starts in the last three seasons at Darlington in the NSCS. Statistical Advance At Darlington Raceway : History · Darlington Raceway was built as a 1.25-mile paved superspeedway in 1949-1950. · Darlington Raceway hosted the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history and the first on asphalt on Sept. 4, 1950 – 75 cars competed in the event - Curtis Turner won the pole at 82.034 mph, and the race was won by Johnny Mantz (Plymouth, 75.250 mph, 6:38:40) . · The track was re-measured to 1.375 miles in 1953. · The track was re-configured to 1.366 miles following the spring race in 1970. · The track was repaved in 1995. · The 2005 race was the first Saturday night race at Darlington. · The track was repaved again prior to the 2008 season. Starts · There have been 111 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington Raceway . The 1.366-mile track has hosted the fifth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races. · 709 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway ; 428 in more than one. · NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Darlington with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 34 starts; followed by Tony Stewart with 22. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Darlington with a 6.824. · Jeff Gordon (6.8), Ryan Newman (8.6) and Kasey Kahne (9.1) are the only active three drivers with an average starting position in the top 10. · 125 different drivers have made NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career debut at Darlington Raceway . Poles · Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light Pole Award at Darlington in 1950 in an Oldsmobile with a speed of 82.034 mph. · 48 drivers have Coors Light poles at Darlington, led by David Pearson with 12. Kasey Kahne leads all active drivers with four. · Nine drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Darlington. Kasey Kahne is the only active driver with consecutive Coors Light poles (2005-2006). · David Pearson holds the record for most consecutive poles at Darlington with five (1975 - 1977). · Youngest Darlington pole winner: Kurt Busch (09/02/2001 – 23 years, 0 months, 29 days). · Oldest Darlington pole winner: David Pearson (09/06/1982 – 47 years, 8 months, 15 days). · Eight drivers have posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup pole at Darlington Raceway : Cotton Owens (1957), Fred Lorenzen (1961), Bill Elliott (1981), Ken Schrader (1987), John Andretti (1995), Kurt Busch (2001), Elliott Sadler (2003) and Clint Bowyer (2007). Wins · 47 different drivers have won at Darlington Raceway , led by David Pearson with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins; followed by his HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson with three. · Six drivers have posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Darlington Raceway : Johnny Mantz (1950), Nelson Stacy (1961), Larry Frank (1962), Terry Labonte (1980), Lake Speed (1988) and Regan Smith (2011). · Youngest Darlington winner: Kyle Busch (05/10/2008 – 23 years, 0 months, 8 days). · Oldest Darlington winner: Harry Gant (09/01/1991 – 51 years, 7 months, 22 days). · Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Darlington in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 14. Manufacturer Wins Chevrolet 41 Ford 28 Mercury 10 Oldsmobile 6 Dodge 5 Pontiac 5 Buick 4 Plymouth 4 Hudson 3 Toyota 3 American Motors Company 2 · 11 different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Darlington; led by Chevrolet with 41 victories; followed by Ford with 28 and Toyota has three. · 20 of the 111 (18.02%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kevin Harvick in last season’s event. · NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson has won from the pole four times at Darlington – the series’ most. · The Coors Light pole starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Darlington. The outside front row (second-place) has produced the second-most wins (17). Wins · 37 of the 111 (33.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from the front row: 20 from first-place and 17 from second-place. · 96 of the 111 (86.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Darlington have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Six of the 111 (5.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Darlington is 43rd by Johnny Mantz in 1950 – the inaugural NSCS event. · 13 drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Darlington; Dale Earnhardt (1989-1990) and Jeff Gordon (1995-1996) are tied for the series-most in consecutive wins at Darlington with three each. · All seven active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Darlington Raceway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Among active drivers, Kyle Busch won at Darlington in the fewest previous appearances (three). · Matt Kenseth competed at Darlington Raceway 19 times before winning last season; the longest span of any the six active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners. · Tony Stewart leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington without visiting Victory Lane at 22. Additional Finishing Position Stats · Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty are tied for the series most runner-up finishes at Darlington with eight each. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in second-place finishes at Darlington with four. · Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Darlington with 25. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19; followed by Jimmie Johnson with nine. · Bill Elliott leads the series in top-10 finishes at Darlington with 35. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 23; followed by Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart with 12 each. · Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Darlington with a 6.889. · Three active NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers have an average finish in the top 10 at Darlington: Denny Hamlin (6.8), Kyle Larson (8.0) and Jimmie Johnson (8.4). Track/Event Specific Stats · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington Raceway is the (03/16/2003) race won by Ricky Craven with a MOV of 0.002 second over Kurt Busch . The MOV is tied with the 2011 Talladega race as the closest finish in the NSCS since the inception using electronic timing and scoring. · There have been four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting in a green-white-checkered finish at Darlington Raceway : 2005 (367/370), 2011 (367/370), 2012 (367/368) and 2014 (367/374). Additional Finishing Position Stats · Eight of the 111 races at Darlington Raceway have been shortened du
Take a moving look back at the NASCAR career of Jason Leffler.
RELATED: NXS results from Iowa " Truck results from Pocono Dale Earnhardt Jr . says the No. 88 team was lucky to drive away with a fourth-place finish at Pocono but had high praise for his JR Motorsports teams' performances last weekend. Saying it was a great weekend overall for the organization, Junior was excited about second places for Regan Smith in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR Camping World Truck s Series. Earnhardt said Smith "did a good job" and said Harvick "didn't have a winning truck but got a lot out of it," adding that his Sprint Cup driving peer always does a good job when he jumps in a JRM truck. Smith's XFINITY crew chief, Jason Burdett, also got kudos from the boss during the radio show. " Jason Burdett, the crew chief in that car (No. 7 Chevrolet) has been awesome this year," Junior said. "If you know that guy's story, you can appreciate how hard it's been a climb for him." Burdett has been a part of two championship Sprint Cup teams, with Jeff Gordon in 2001 and and Dale Jarrett and Robert Yates Racing in 1999. He was car chief on the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team from 2008-10 before moving to Earnhardt's No. 88 team from 2011-14. Junior saved his most effusive praise for Cole Custer 's ARCA win at Pocono and Josh Berry 's Late Model victory at Orange County. "Cole (Custer) has a bright future and I'm excited about working with that kid next year and providing an opportunity for him to showcase his talents," Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download on Dirty Mo Radio after returning from Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Pocono. "Hopefully, we can do a good job giving him that opportunity." Custer is a 17-year-old member of the NASCAR Next Class of 2015. The Ladera Ranch, California, native holds the records for youngest pole award and race winner in both the Truck Series and NASCAR's touring series. This season he has a win in the Truck Series at Gateway Motorsports Park. Custer has started five NCWTS races for JR Motorsports in the No. 00 Chevrolet this season after making nine starts in the series last year with Stewart-Haas Racing 's developmental team. RELATED: See the NASCAR Next Class of 2015 Berry is 24 and won the Summer Sizzler 75 lap Late Model race Saturday night at Orange County Speedway near Rougemont, North Carolina. "He's been winning left and right," Earnhardt said of Berry. "I've never won at Orange County before. He's sure representing us very well at all the local tracks that we love to race at." Junior added that he's very proud of the JR Motorsports late model program, and "not just for the obvious reasons" of winning and representing sponsors well. He takes pride in "racing at these local venues that have meant so much to so many people in our sport over the years. It's a good feeling. Just keeping up with the Langleys and the Orange Counties of the world."
The unmistakable roar from the crowd was loud enough to easily hear over the 700-horsepower engine as the car blasted down the front stretch and across the start/finish line. The cheers were the familiar head-turning jolt of loud adoration Dale Earnhardt Jr . is accustomed to receiving at Talladega every single time he moves to the lead in a race. But this thunderous applause was in Indianapolis. And this was Tony Stewart in the car. NASCAR's "champion of the people" had arguably just reeled off his best single lap of the 2015 season, putting his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet at the very top of Indy's famous scoring pylon for the first round of qualifying for the Brickyard 400 two weeks ago. And as Indiana's favorite native-born son climbed out of his car, he couldn't help but be touched by the overwhelming reception. A grin spread across his face and he waved to the grandstands acknowledging the love and loyalty. "That is huge,"' Stewart said of the crowd reaction. "Like I say, when you come home that is what you want. They play as big of a part in this as anything when it comes to keeping your morale up." "I have said all year that (performance on track) could change in a week and it doesn't even mean that after this weekend it's not going to go back to where it has been," Stewart, 44, added jokingly. "It could go and be a natural disaster tomorrow. It could all be for nothing." And indeed, while Stewart's final round qualifying session ultimately put him fourth on the grid -- his best start of the year -- the two-time Indy winner finished 28th at Indy. Last week at Pocono, he was better able to take advantage of a top-10 qualifying effort (sixth) and finished ninth, but it was only his second top-10 effort in 21 races this season. Stewart heads into Watkins Glen this week as the road course's all-time winningest NASCAR driver (five victories) but still needing a win in the next five races to qualify for his first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs since 2012. It's been a rough and emotional past two years for the three-time Cup champ, who has endured and persevered through serious injury, heartache and substandard results. Stewart was involved in an on-track fatality when fellow competitor Kevin Ward Jr. exited his car, approached Stewart's car during caution laps, was struck and died later from his injuries. Stewart missed three races but was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. Since then, his performance on the track has included three top-10 finishes in 33 Sprint Cup races. However, the immense and intense faith of Stewart's fans has never faltered. "It seems like more people are rallying behind him than ever before actually," said 33-year-old James Groff, who showed up at a Bass Pro Shops grand opening outside Tampa, Florida, last week in hopes of getting Stewart's autograph, shaking his hand and most importantly, to remind his racing hero that a whole lot of people support him. "He's going through some rough times, but he'll get back to being the Tony he was. A broken leg, then that other sprint car accident, I'm sure it takes a toll. But he's a great driver and that's what it comes down to." Thousands of people showed up at the Bass Pro Shops store that Stewart was set to help christen for his longtime sponsor. And there were countless dressed in Stewart's racing T-shirts and hats. Grown men acted giddy taking a photo in front of one of Stewart's show cars. Women giggled at the thought of a hug and photo from Stewart and young kids carried die-cast replica cars for him to sign. "You gotta root for him, everyone has a bad year or so, but a true fan is a true fan," said Jason Mock, 32, of Wesley Chapel, Florida, who brought his 10- and 12-year-old daughters and 6-year-old son to meet their favorite driver. Asked why she was willing to come out on a rainy weekday night and brave the crowd to meet Stewart, 13-year-old Haylee Gulino explained with a smile. "I'm a Tony fan. My dad is too so I was raised that way.'' Unfortunately, Stewart wasn't able to attend the event because he was suffering from a severe migraine. But while he was home nursing a headache, had he been in Florida, his heart would have surely been healing. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris is among Stewart's loyal legions. His company has been a longtime sponsor of Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team. Beyond that, Morris has developed a close friendship with the driver. And while things have been challenging for Stewart over the last couple years, Morris' support and confidence has never wavered. "Without any question," Morris said. "What are friends for? A friend in need is a friend indeed, as they say. I have a lot of admiration for Tony, his passion to give back to the sport he loves. Tony has been a steadfast friend of ours, too. People see part of a high-profile celebrity -- whether it be Tony racing or an entertainer -- and I feel privileged to have gotten to know Tony behind-the-scenes and seen what a compassionate, down-to-earth person he is." Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage has also witnessed first-hand the "Stewart Effect." Each December for most of the past decade, Gossage gets a telephone call "out of the blue" from the champ, not a SHR team representative or one of Stewart's assistants, but Stewart himself ready to schedule the next year's version of his "Smoke Show" fundraiser at the track. "Who does that?" said Gossage, explaining that Stewart's two-day event -- which will be held this week -- has raised more than $1 million for Speedway Children's Charities. "No other driver calls to just say, 'How can I help you? What's going on? What can I do?' " "The most precious thing any driver has to offer is time. They can give you money, memorabilia to auction off, any number of things, but the thing they have the least of is time because of their schedules, professional and personal life. "This is nine years now we've done the Smoke Show and it all came about from a casual conversation we were having and he said, 'I'll do that.' " And he has in the only way Stewart knows how. He's all in, a trait that has made him one of the most successful race car drivers of his generation and endeared him to one of the largest fan bases of any professional athlete. Gossage describes The Smoke Show as a "bucket list thing to do" for some of the super fans, willing and able to donate big bucks for a day-and-a-half to get up close and personal with Stewart. They have dinner with the champion and then the following day take a driving school type course getting tips from Stewart throughout. He gives the participants thrill rides -- at speed -- with him around the 1.5-mile speedway and celebrates with them in a mock Victory Lane complete with the cowboy hat, six-shooters and confetti used during the Texas Motor Speedway's two Sprint Cup Series race weekends. Even fan applause is piped in. "The cool thing is Tony gets to know every one of them and assigns them a nickname and he'll bust their chops all day long, and they love him,'' Gossage said. "He sits in that hot race car all day with sweat running off his nose and never unstraps from that race car until he's done. He's in it for hours and hours giving rides. He honestly is out there sweating his butt off for charity. I don't know anyone else that will do that. "What makes him different is the fire that burns inside him. That's what makes champions out of some athletes where others just have skills. He's got both. It's what's inside them. People may not fully understand he's the most sensitive tough guy I've ever met in my life. And I'm certain what's happened has had a lifelong impact on him. "What fans love about him is they think, 'He's just like me, a hard-working blue-collar regular guy except he got a break and got into one of those race cars.' "He's the 'every man' out on the race track."
NASCAR.com’s Jonathan Merryman recaps the Food City 300 as Chris Buescher runs out of fuel in the final laps, allowing Kyle Busch to grab his 8th career XFINITY Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway.