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Ron Bouchard passes away at age 67
RELATED: Bouchard's standout Modified career Ron Bouchard, winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series' rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67. A family friend and close pal of my fathers Ron Bouchard passed away today. My thoughts and prayers go to his family. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 10, 2015 NASCAR made a statement on Thursday regarding the news, "Ron Bouchard's passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron, whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR's premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten. "NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard, a true racer." A native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR's most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start. He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant. Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track. "Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside," Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. "When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast." A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR's Grand National division. He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in '82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He won the series' rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman . Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
Hard tires, reworked curbing present challenges at repaved Watkins Glen
RELATED: Before and after: Watkins Glen repave WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams wrapped up a two-day organizational test Wednesday at newly repaved Watkins Glen International, emerging with better ideas of the challenges they'll face when the series returns for the Aug. 4-7 race weekend. Among those challenges: reworked curbing, a fast circuit and a harder-compound tire that has made grip elusive. A total of 16 Sprint Cup teams -- one permitted from each organization -- tried to unlock the novelty of the $12 million resurfacing project, using a Goodyear tire that emphasizes durability at the expense of traction and wear. The rubber compound chosen is similar to that used July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, site of the Sprint Cup Series' most recent race on a repaved track. At Kentucky, the tire selection made for treacherous conditions in certain spots and made passing a delicate process. Though road courses don't lend themselves to the multi-groove racing seen at several well-aged oval tracks, Watkins Glen might still be a tricky place to maneuver when the series reconvenes for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. "The main thing we've learned so far is how hard the tire is," said Jamie McMurray, driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet. "It just seems to be no wear at all or lap time fall-off right now. This place didn't ever wear tires like Sonoma, but it seems like the tire is pretty hard." Sonoma, the other road course where the Sprint Cup Series races, is a much more intricate circuit with qualifying speeds roughly 30 mph slower than at Watkins Glen's open, free-wheeling layout. The Goodyear tire compound designated for both the Watkins Glen test and the race weekend is the same used for right-side tires in XFINITY Series competition at Iowa Speedway. Those Iowa right-sides will be used at all four corners for the Sprint Cup event at the 2.45-mile road course. Racing with a softer tire with more adhesion would potentially introduce the threat of excessive wear or blistering. It's a trade-off that Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott says he's willing to accept. "I think a lot of it is just having a fresh surface like this, you've got to have a tire that's pretty hard," said Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports' driver representative for the two-day test. "It's fast, and to ask a tire to hold up, you've got to bring something that's durable. It puts Goodyear in a tough spot, but I think they do a good job of trying to make the most of tough situations. There's been a lot of repaves here lately and I know they're working hard." David Groseclose, NASCAR's lead tire engineer, said Wednesday that the benefits of competing with a more rigid rubber compound outweighed the potential drawbacks. "As with all repaves -- same thing as Kentucky -- if you don't have a hard tire, you're going to blister them up," Groseclose said. "The way that works is if you've got a soft compound and you use it, the soft compounds tend to retain heat. It's just the nature of a soft compound. But on a repave, it's not going to wear so that heat's not going to be dissipated out of the tire. It has nowhere to go, so it stays in the tire, so that's why it blisters up. That's what we saw at Kentucky with the XFINITY and Truck Series." In addition to the surface itself, the track features new concrete for the rumble strips that border the circuit's turns and run-off areas. Some drivers found the differences barely noticeable, but Kurt Busch discovered a distinction the hard way with an early Tuesday spin as he bounded over the apex points in the backstretch chicane on one of his initial laps. "It's a lot different," said Tony Gibson, Busch's crew chief on the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet. "Kurt's like, 'I've got to learn all the curbs again.' The curbs over in the bus stop (chicane) are probably the biggest change. They're way more aggressive, and they've tightened up, so it's a lot tighter lane through there." Said Elliott, who will race here in Sprint Cup for the first time next weekend: "Some of the curbs may be a little different here or there, some a little rougher, a little smoother just depending on how they laid the asphalt in or however it worked. It's as close as you could make a track from an old surface to a repave, for sure." Five Sprint Cup teams participated in a Goodyear tire test May 10-11, and another 16 were present for this week's organizational test. For the remaining half of the field, the work toward finding the proper handle begins with opening practice on Friday, Aug. 5. "If you get your balance right, it'll be a no-drama," Gibson said. "Man, I told Kurt earlier, 'I'd hate to know I had to come here next Friday and hit the track for the first time and try to figure out these curbs and how much the race track has changed.' It'll be a handful in the short amount of time we get to practice. "It'll be interesting to see when we come back who has issues and who doesn't. But it's definitely going to be a plus to come and learn the race track, even if your car is not right or whatever, just getting here and getting behind the wheel and getting time on the race track is going to mean more." Pit notes: -- The full roster (in alphabetical order) of drivers and teams participating in the test: AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing), Clint Bowyer (HScott Motorsports), Chris Buescher (Front Row Motorsports), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing), Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing), Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Michael McDowell (Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing), Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing), Casey Mears (Germain Racing), Brian Scott (Richard Petty Motorsports), Regan Smith (Tommy Baldwin Racing), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing). -- Casey Mears turned the fastest lap in the two-day test, which was divided into four sessions of four hours apiece. Mears pushed the Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet in the closing session to a best lap of 126.7 mph, a good bit slower than the track qualifying record of 129.491 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in August 2014. -- Brad Keselowski returned to the track Wednesday, one day after his severe, nearly head-on crash in Turn 1. He turned 74 laps over both sessions in a reserve Team Penske No. 2 Ford. -- Two teams -- Furniture Row Racing (driver Martin Truex Jr.) and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing (driver Michael McDowell) -- were absent from testing's opening day, arriving in the Watkins Glen garage Wednesday in time for the two closing sessions. -- Wednesday's final session was extended 30 minutes to a 5:30 p.m. ET close because of a nearly hour-long clean-up for fluid on the track. After Chase Elliott's No. 24 Chevrolet suffered a broken axle, Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Chevy ran over the part, damaging the car's transmission. -- NASCAR XFINITY Series teams are scheduled to turn their first laps on the new Watkins Glen surface next Thursday. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will stage a support race the following day on the 2.45-mile course.
Superspeedway cars will get safety enhancements in Sprint Cup and XFINITY series
NASCAR will implement structural enhancements to vehicles competing in the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series next season for races at its two biggest facilities, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, in an effort to provide additional protection to its competitors. A rules bulletin to teams Thursday detailed the safety measures which affect the front firewall and foot box areas, rear roll cage area behind the driver as well as along the left side door area of the driver's compartment. Referred to as anti-intrusion panels, the thickness of the pieces has been increased for additional strength and to allow each to be welded more significantly, according to officials. The structural changes, part of NASCAR's on-going comprehensive safety initiative, strengthen the interior area of the car surrounding the driver. "We've been doing a very significant body of work over the last year and a half," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, said Thursday. "… We've done quite a bit of analysis, crash testing and we've come to the point now that we believe that the package is mature and we want to introduce it. The changes impact existing pieces already in use with one minor exception -- a new piece of material has been added behind the driver that extends from the existing anti-intrusion plating on the door bars into the rear sub frame. The changes are not expected to adversely affect the weight of the vehicle or change center of gravity, impacting balance. "Basically we are making the structure that encapsulates the driver more robust and susceptible to manage energy in a better way," Stefanyshyn said. "It's been implemented … with the teams so that it can be done in the most efficient, quickest and easiest way." By making the enhancements optional for 2016, they could be implemented for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega, the only remaining event to be held on a superspeedway. The new pieces will be mandatory on superspeedways for 2017 and likely for all events in '18. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot in February of 2015 when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota struck a wall front-end first during an XFINITY Series race at Daytona. Busch missed the first 11 points races of the season due to the injuries. The area of impact in the Busch crash was not protected by SAFER barrier at the time; it has since been added. SAFER barrier is a softer, energy-dissipating material mounted on the track wall. Earlier this year, driver Danica Patrick was involved in a similar crash at Talladega, however the wall was protected by SAFER barrier. Other than bruising and some soreness, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was not injured. RELATED: Danica discusses Talladega wreck Even with the SAFER barrier, Patrick's impact bent the gas, brake and clutch pedals inside her No. 10 Chevrolet and according to Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for SHR, "the steering column was moved a ton. "But it was intact," he said a week after the incident. "They've been talking about doing some work in the foot box (area); I think this is the perfect case of what happened. Would that help? I think it probably would have. I think she's lucky she has short legs. Her feet got banged up but once she got going in that direction, she said she just kind of picked her feet up." Patrick underwent x-rays in the infield care center at Talladega and told FOX Sports 1 a week later when the series was at Kansas Speedway that she felt "totally fine." "I've got a couple of bruises; my arm came across and bent the steering wheel," she said. "My foot went past the clutch pedal and came back on (after hitting the wall) … I've got a couple of bruises but I feel really good." Zipadelli said the sport "has come a long way" in the area of safety. "You think about what happened a bunch of years ago, compare these cars," he said. "We're going faster; these guys are hauling the mail every place we go now. When they do wreck, knock on wood, there aren't many complaints. I think they've done a really good job."
Hamlin looks back at rental car craziness with Tony Stewart
Denny Hamlin remembers riding in a rental car with Tony Stewart when he first joined Joe Gibbs Racing and the crazy ride they went on.
Joe Gibbs Racing changes pit crew coach
Joe Gibbs Racing changed its pit crew coach Wednesday, transitioning longtime coach Mike Lepp to the role of senior athletic adviser and placing Matt Osborn in charge of pit crew operations. Lepp joined JGR at the beginning of 2007, and over the past few years, the JGR pit crews have been the ones to beat. Lepp has amassed more than 113 wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series, combined, as well as other awards. He was part of a Sprint Cup championship with the No. 18 team of Kyle Busch last year and was involved in winning multiple XFINITY Series titles. Lepp has played a major role in bringing the JGR teams to the forefront of the pitting world and has two pit crew championships to his credit, with back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011 with the No. 11 crew of Denny Hamlin . Over the last nine years, the Nos. 11 and 18 crews have been dominant. One of Lepp's most recent accomplishments was assembling the No. 19 crew of Carl Edwards . That pit crew has been a top-three unit since it started with JGR. With his new job, Lepp will assume an increased role in marketing and public relations duties, including public speaking events and actively searching for sponsorship opportunities. "This is the right time for me to make a change and I'm excited about my new role in the organization," Lepp said in a team release. "I'm proud of what we've accomplished on pit road and I know Matt will continue to do a great job going forward." For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
Stewart talks special moment with Gordon post-Indy
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Chase Grid " See the moment SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- With the field lined up for the first of what turned out to be two overtime restarts Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart clicked his radio and made a request. "Tell (the 88) after this is over let's go around the track one more time together," Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and driver of the organization's No. 14 Chevrolet, said. Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and twice a winner of the The Combat Wounded Coalition 400, wanted to slow down instead of go fast, and soak in the moment with a familiar foe and friend, regardless of how his final race at IMS ended. Jeff Gordon , driving the Hendrick Motorsports entry in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr. , was more than willing to oblige. Hours earlier, Gordon had paid tribute to Stewart, acknowledging him and what he has meant to NASCAR during the morning drivers' meeting. RELATED: Gordon talks return, Dale Jr. " WATCH: Gordon climbs in No. 88 So before race winner Kyle Busch made it to Victory Lane, prior to he and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates gathering to kiss the bricks on the finish line, Stewart and Gordon, two old warhorses with a combined seven championships and 142 Sprint Cup Series wins between them, slowly circled the 2.5-mile track one final time to the cheers of the fans and many of those still on pit road. MORE: Relive 'Smoke's' 49 career victories Afterward, Gordon climbed from his car and approached Stewart; the two hugged on pit road amid a throng of reporters. "I can say that just ranks in the top-three coolest moments of my 18 years in this series," said Stewart, who will retire from Sprint Cup racing at season's end. "To share that moment with Jeff here at Indianapolis, I don't know. I don't even have the words for it. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life." For the record, Stewart finished 11th in his final Sprint Cup start at the famed Brickyard. It was a hard-fought 11th with the 45-year-old rallying from a lap down after running strong in the first half of the 170-lap race. Gordon, scheduled to make at least one more start next week at Pocono's Pennsylvania 400 in relief of Earnhardt Jr., rallied, too, to finish 13th. "Tony and I have gone through a lot over the years," he said. "But he and I have become really good friends. ... I'm just so proud that I was able to be here and race with him in his final race (at Indy)." Stewart ran as high as second early, moving up from his No. 3 starting position in spite of a slow takeoff when the race went green. Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz and the pit crew continued to make adjustments throughout the first half of the race, keeping Stewart inside the top 10, but at one point admitted to his driver, "We're just barely keeping up with the track." Stewart hit pit road at Lap 119 under green, and when the caution came out for an incident involving David Ragan , it appeared the move might work in the team’s favor -- others that hadn't pitted would come to pit road, allowing Stewart to gain track position. But a speeding penalty negated any advantage, and Stewart instead found himself in 31st and one lap down. By then, it was too late to change game plans, according to Bugarewicz. "Normally you would say yes when it's early in the race," he said. "When it's late in the race like that, your fate's almost ... you just have to race for the (free pass) and hope you get it like we did. That's all you've got. "Nobody was going to pit again if it stayed green because they're already in the last fuel window so at that point it was just ... banking on getting a caution and being the best car out of the cars that were a lap down to get the lucky dog, which is what we did. "We got fortunate with a few more cautions to let us line back up at the tail of the field and start picking them off." On Lap 140, Stewart passed Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports) to be in positon for the free pass, and when the caution flag waved for debris moments later, he was back on the lead lap. Three more cautions unfolded before the finish, including one that involved Stewart, Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing), Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing) and Brian Scott (Richard Petty Motorsports). WATCH: Big wreck claims multiple cars at Indy "That last one probably hurt us in one sense -- with the nose damage we had, the car was really tight," Bugarewicz said. "But ... we're not going to complain, we're just going to take what we've got and be happy for it." The finish moved Stewart up one spot, to 27th, in points. With a win earlier at California's Sonoma Raceway, he continues to improve his chances at earning a berth in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But with Indy in his rearview, Stewart wasn't in a hurry to look too far down the road. "It was an awesome weekend," he said. "Everything went the way we wanted it to, we just came up short today. "I had fun all day and had fun all weekend. ... Everybody tried to make my weekend as easy as possible. It really gave me the opportunity to savor the moment and enjoy it." MORE: 'Smoke' receives unique gift from Indy
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 !
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Owner Standings
After Race 20 of the 2016 season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pos Owner Car # Points Ldr Nxt PPos G/L Attempts 1 Stewart-Haas Racing 4 671 0 -- 1 0 20 2 Team Penske 2 647 -24 -24 2 0 20 3 Stewart-Haas Racing 41 627 -44 -20 3 0 20 4 Team Penske 22 606 -65 -21 5 1 20 5 Joe Gibbs Racing 18 601 -70 -5 6 1 20 6 Joe Gibbs Racing 19 593 -78 -8 4 -2 20 7 Furniture Row Racing 78 573 -98 -20 7 0 20 8 Hendrick Motorsports 48 552 -119 -21 8 0 20 9 Joe Gibbs Racing 20 545 -126 -7 9 0 20 10 Joe Gibbs Racing 11 542 -129 -3 10 0 20 11 Hendrick Motorsports 24 525 -146 -17 11 0 20 12 Richard Childress Racing 3 520 -151 -5 13 1 20 13 Richard Childress Racing 31 507 -164 -13 12 -1 20 14 Hendrick Motorsports 88 504 -167 -3 14 0 20 15 Chip Ganassi Racing 1 496 -175 -8 15 0 20 16 Chip Ganassi Racing 42 472 -199 -24 20 4 20 17 Stewart-Haas Racing 14 469 -202 -3 18 1 20 18 Hendrick Motorsports 5 462 -209 -7 19 1 20 19 Roush Fenway Racing 6 458 -213 -4 16 -3 20 20 Wood Brothers Racing 21 450 -221 -8 17 -3 20 21 Roush Fenway Racing 17 449 -222 -1 21 0 20 22 JTG Daugherty Racing 47 421 -250 -28 22 0 20 23 Roush Fenway Racing 16 397 -274 -24 23 0 20 24 Richard Childress Racing 27 397 -274 0 24 0 20 25 Stewart-Haas Racing 10 373 -298 -24 25 0 20 26 Richard Petty Motorsports 43 363 -308 -10 26 0 20 27 HScott Motorsports 15 359 -312 -4 27 0 20 28 Germain Racing 13 310 -361 -49 28 0 20 29 Front Row Motorsports 38 305 -366 -5 29 0 20 30 Circle Sport-Leavine Family 95 280 -391 -25 31 1 20 31 BK Racing 23 278 -393 -2 30 -1 20 32 Front Row Motorsports 34 237 -434 -41 34 2 20 33 Tommy Baldwin Racing 7 234 -437 -3 33 0 20 34 Richard Petty Motorsports 44 234 -437 0 32 -2 20 35 Premium Motorsports 98 204 -467 -30 36 1 20 36 BK Racing 83 201 -470 -3 35 -1 20 37 HScott Motorsports 46 186 -485 -15 37 0 20 38 GO FAS Racing 32 161 -510 -25 38 0 20 39 Premium Motorsports 55 125 -546 -36 39 0 15 40 The Motorsports Group 30 93 -578 -32 40 0 20 41 Front Row Motorsports 35 46 -625 -47 41 0 3 42 Circle Sport - Leavine Family 59 26 -645 -20 42 0 1 43 BK Racing 93 11 -660 -15 43 0 4 44 BK Racing 26 3 -668 -8 44 0 1 45 Hillman Racing 40 0 -671 -3 45 0 1
The Rundown: Indianapolis driver grades
RELATED: Complete race results " Updated Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 At The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 1. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Total domination. Busch won Saturday's and Sunday's races from the pole and led a record 149 laps Sunday. His average running position Sunday was 1.2, and his lowest position was third. Seriously? Busch's hammerlock on the field was on par with what Martin Truex Jr. did in the Coca-Cola 600 . Thus the same mark. Grade: AAA+ 2. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth is still winless at the Brickyard but has now finished second three times. More numbers: In Kenseth's first four starts at Indianapolis for JGR, his finishes are 5th, 4th, 7th and 2nd. Grade: A 3. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson had to do a pass-through on Lap 86 for a pit-road speeding penalty, dropping him to 23rd. Attrition and persistence led to Johnson's first top 10 since he finished third at Charlotte two months ago. Nice finish, but this team still needs to clean up its mistakes. Grade: A- 4. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Ditto the No. 11 team. Hamlin was assessed his seventh pit-road speeding penalty of the season one lap after Jimmie Johnson (same round of green-flag stops). Hamlin was running third at the time and fell back to 18th. Nice recovery, but … Grade: A- 5. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson was the second-biggest winner of the afternoon, moving up four spots in the standings to 15th. Grade: A 6. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick upped his points lead to 24. Two races ago it was down to four. If you don't think that's important, remember this: If qualifying is rained out, the field is set by the standings -- as is the order of selecting a pit stall. So, yes, the standings still matter. Grade: A 7. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano restarted second on the final restart but couldn't hold the position or make a run at Kyle Busch. Logano, by the way, finished second to Busch in last year's Brickyard. Grade: A 8. Martin Truex Jr. , No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing. Truex was strong all afternoon – his 5.6 average running position was second to Kyle Busch's – but he was no match for the winner. Grade: A 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Sunday's top 10 was Dillon's ninth of the season (20 starts), equaling his total for the first 85 starts of his Sprint Cup career. Grade: A 10. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard benefited from accidents in front of him that he was able to avoid to score his second top 10 of the season. Grade: A- 11. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart started third and was running with the leaders when he was caught speeding on pit road just before the third caution and had to restart at the tail end of the field, one lap down. He was still back in the pack (20th) with 25 laps to go in regulation. But then came all the cautions. "Smoke" finally got his lap back with a free pass on the fifth caution, survived contact with Jamie McMurray on Lap 166 and salvaged a decent finish on his last go-round at Indy. Grade: B 12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse survived the big Carl Edwards - Ryan Newman wreck that brought out the red flag to get a finish that belied his day. He turned 14 laps in the top 15 and had an average running positon of 20.1. Grade: B- 13. Jeff Gordon , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Despite problems with restarts, Gordon was able to post his best finish of the season and overcome the incredible pressure of replacing Alex Bowman in the No. 88. ... Yes, I'm kidding. Except for the restarts part. Vive Monsieur Gordon! Grade: A 14. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Buescher recorded the best finish of his Sprint Cup career on a day in which he turned all of two laps in the top 15 and had a 23.7 average running position. Grade: B 15. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott registered his best finish since a second-place finish at Michigan more than a month ago. Grade: B 16. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. For only the second time this season, Busch failed to finish in the top 10 in back-to-back races. Grade: B- 17. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. Keselowski was the rage early on with his team's bold pit strategy, but the second half of the race bore zero resemblance to the first half. Getting caught up in the Carl Edwards - Ryan Newman wreck didn't help, either. Grade: B 18. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Despite a fourth-straight finish outside the top 10, Kahne moved up two spots in the standings to 16th, 10 points behind Kyle Larson . He jumped one driver who missed the race ( Dale Earnhardt Jr. ) and one who didn't use the best judgment and crashed with 10 laps to go ( Trevor Bayne ). Grade: C 19. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray's nice run came to a screeching halt on the restart on Lap 165 when he moved down in front of Tony Stewart but hadn't cleared the No. 14. Stewart wasn't about to lift, and the No. 1 went for a slide onto the access road before returning to the track and smacking Ryan Newman . Worse, the caution gave the free pass to Chase-cutoff competitor Kasey Kahne . Grade: B- 20. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Cassill avoided calamity to get his fourth-best finish of the season. Grade: B 21. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Bowyer contributed to the caution-fest at the end of the race when he got into the back of Trevor Bayne , who inexplicably went for the block with so much on the line (Chase standings) and running so far back in the field. Grade: C 22. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Wrong place, wrong time. Again. Patrick had nothing to do with the Carl Edwards - Ryan Newman wreck but still ended up a part of it. On the other hand, she finished right where she spent most of the race. Grade: C 23. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport-Leavine Family. McDowell posted his best finish at the Brickyard in seven starts. Grade: B- 24. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears finished in the top 25 for the 10th time this season. Grade: C 25. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola, who is still looking for his first top 10 of the year, is on pace to have his worst season with RPM, for which he has been driving full time since 2010. Grade: C 26. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Smith posted his best finish since a 22nd at Pocono in early June. Grade: C 27. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Despite being collected in the last wreck of the day, Scott picked up his best finish in his past eight starts. Grade: C 28. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . After posting four top-30 finishes in his first 14 starts, Annett has four in his past six. Grade: C 29. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Since a 37.3 average finish in his first three starts of the season, Whitt has an average finish of 27.5 over his next 14 races. Grade: C 30. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Bayne's move to block Clint Bowyer on the backstretch on Lap 158 was as costly as it was ill-advised. Bayne spun all the way to his worst finish of the season and to 18th in the standings, 14 points behind 15th-place Kyle Larson . Grade: D 31. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman's day began to unravel on the restart on Lap 154. He restarted sixth, outside of Carl Edwards . On the first turn, Edwards drifted up into Newman and the No. 31 suffered major damage. With Newman sitting near the Chase cut-off line, it was important for him to coax the car home. He returned to the track but couldn't make it to the finish when Jamie McMurray ran up the track into him on the Lap 165 restart after contact with Tony Stewart . Bottom line: Valiant effort but a DNF and 10-point day. Grade: C 32. Ryan Ellis , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing. Ellis picked up a career-best finish in his fourth Sprint Cup Series start. Grade: C 33. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson ran to form, and his 33.8 average finish is third-worst in the Sprint Cup Series among drivers with at least 10 starts. Grade: D 34. Patrick Carpentier, No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing . After not starting a Sprint Cup Series race since 2011, Carpentier made his second start of 2016. He finished 37th last month at Sonoma. Grade: D 35. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards was part of the strong JGR contingent all afternoon – 6.6 averaging running position – until his mishap on Lap 154. Whether it was a tight car or dirty tires, the outcome was costly as he dropped two spots in the standings. Grade: F 36. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney was collected and knocked out of the race in the Carl Edwards -initiated wreckage that resulted in a red flag. Blaney dropped two spots in the standings to 19th, and is now 22 points behind 15th-place Kyle Larson . Blaney began the day nine points ahead of Larson. Grade: C 37. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Ragan brought out the third caution on Lap 120 when his left-rear tire went down and he slammed the wall. It was his third DNF and second-worst finish of the season. Grade: F 38. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger was running 11th when his car lost water pressure. Moments later it overheated with less than 100 laps to go. It was Allmendinger's second DNF in the past three races. Grade: F 39. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle's day ended after 53 laps when his right-front tire went down and he slammed into the outside wall. His streak of top 10s – three – ended as well. Grade: F 40. Matt DiBenedetto, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. His engine didn't even make through five laps, leaving DiBenedetto with his seventh DNF of the season. "How is that even possible?" DiBenedetto tweeted. "Who has the voodoo doll of me that severely dislikes me?" Grade: F
Kyle Busch dominates for back-to-back Indianapolis sweep
RELATED: Results " Standings " Chase Grid SHOP: Busch gear SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Mission accomplished, a record set, and a torch passed to the next generation. Kyle Busch set a Brickyard record for laps led and became the first driver to sweep both a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series race from the pole in the same weekend, but the real symbolism of Sunday's Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn't come until the event was over. As Busch spun his No. 18 Toyota in a celebratory burnout and took his customary bows near the yard of bricks, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon slowly circled the track, driving side by side, waving to fans acknowledging their career accomplishments after what is expected to be their respective last appearances at the Brickyard. In heat that reached 130 degrees on the asphalt, Stewart recovered from a pit road speeding penalty to finish 11th in his retirement year, and Gordon ran 13th in what was an unanticipated substitute role for ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr. But Busch received his share of the applause, too, as fans have begun to acknowledge his ascent, at age 31, to the small group of elite drivers in NASCAR's history. To say he accomplished his second straight weekend sweep of the Indy races emphatically is to understate the case. In a race that went 25 miles beyond its scheduled distance, thanks to a rash of late cautions, Busch led 149 of 170 laps, a record for the event. In the two-lap overtime shootout that decided the issue, Busch crossed the finish line an astounding 2.126 seconds ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth , who ran second. "This Toyota was awesome today," said Busch, who won his second Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis, his fourth of the season and the 38th of his career. "It was just so fast and able to get out front and stay out front. Not even some of my teammates could challenge. This was hooked up and on rails. "Adam Stevens (crew chief) and these guys are a phenomenal group, and I'm proud to be with them. It's fun to come out here and have such a dominant piece at Indy. They don't come along often, so I was just hoping I didn't screw it up." Busch is acutely aware of the history of the sport, and completing a weekend sweep by winning both races from the pole was high on his bucket list. "It's so cool because it hasn't been done before," said the defending Sprint Cup champion, who is the second driver to win back-to-back races at the Brickyard -- the other being Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and 2009. "I've tried and been successful at being able to do a lot of things that others haven't been able to do before. I guess I give myself more chances than others because I run more of those (XFINITY) races. "It helps you, and when it helps you win on Sunday, that's what makes everything so worthwhile on those Saturday races. The guys on Saturday do a good job, too, helping prepare me and being able to do this stuff on Sunday." Busch was on cruise control, heading toward an easy victory, when NASCAR called a debris caution on Lap 150 to remove a piece of sheet metal near the exit from Turn 2. One of six drivers who stayed out on older tires, Busch led the field to green on Lap 154. Moments later, the No. 19 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards tightened up in the inside lane, twitched out of control and ignited a five-car wreck that necessitated a stoppage that lasted 7 minutes, 25 seconds. "It felt like I just got tight down there," Edwards said. "I had a little trouble there on the starts, and I got down there, we were fighting really hard for the bottom, and it felt like I got tight with whoever was on the outside of me. "If indeed that is what happened, I apologize. That's pretty frustrating. ... It felt like I got in there and just scrubbed that right front." The following two restarts also brought cautions, the eighth and final one coming when Jamie McMurray made an ill-advised lane change in front of Stewart near the end of pit road and spun sideways off the front bumper of Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet, also collecting Ryan Newman and Brian Scott . When the race restarted on Lap 169, Busch cleared Joey Logano and Kenseth off Turn 1 and pulled away relentlessly until the finish. Johnson overcame a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road to run third, followed by Denny Hamlin , another speeding penalty victim and the third JGR driver in the top four. Kyle Larson came home fifth, posting his fourth top five of the season. But the story of the day was the long good-bye from Stewart and Gordon, juxtaposed against the backdrop of Busch's emphatic hello to greatness at the flag stand. </p>