Jamie Dick and Kevin Lepage wreck early at Richmond International Raceway causing serious damage to their cars.
Kevin Lepage takes a hard hit early in ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway.
Debating the Johnson-Harvick incident, who will win the Chase RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated " Harvick shoves Johnson post-race After a rollicking start to the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway , we move on to the tighter confines of New Hampshire with the possibility of more confrontation. With visions of Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip coming to mind -- helmet toss, anyone? -- intensity always seems to amp up when the races left start to dwindle. Was Kevin Harvick right, was Jimmie Johnson wrong? Can’t we all just get along? We roll along now into this week’s installment of Herman Unplugged: NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: You were dead-on a few weeks back here in predicting Kevin Harvick 's mental and physical tactics coming into play once the Chase started. Was his punch warranted after the incident with Jimmie Johnson though? HERMAN: "No, and it made me sick to my stomach. I know that these two are somewhat friends, they both have children and both are champions. I know for a fact and in my heart that Jimmie didn't say, 'Hey, I’m gonna flatten your tire.' I thought Jimmie was trying to make it right. He felt his relationship with Kevin was strong enough and he was going to address the issue. Props to the NBC camera people because we wouldn't have seen all this otherwise. What made me sick was you could tell how shocked Jimmie Johnson was and the way that Kevin reacted. I hated it for both of them." NI: Do you think it was done for the purpose of intimidation or gamesmanship? HERMAN: "No, because everybody in the garage area knows that Jimmie is involved in sports therapy and he's got a Green Beret type mentality. You're never gonna get Jimmie; that's why you just can’t get to him. I guarantee you that Jimmie has already psychologically figured out how to get over it, whether from the sports therapist or in some of the lessons that he learned. I think that was a natural reaction from Kevin Harvick . It could be a meeting of the psychological minds because Kevin's into therapy, too. In professional modern day sports, it’s in your best interest to pay a handful of thousands of dollars a year to talk to a sports therapist. They teach you how to focus, be positive and ignore social networking. All of us are a little fragile or we're a little too strong." NI: The after effect of these incidents especially in the Chase is this provides a wonderful promotional tool and NASCAR will want to make the most of it. It's like wrecks, too. Are you OK with that promotional aspect of things? HERMAN: "Yes I am and let me tell you why. We are in a new era in life. You cannot believe the ratings for this UFC fighting. People love cage fighting. It's a little crazy to think but people like death and destruction whether they admit it or not. I was just at Berlin Raceway in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the promoter Don DeWitt told me that one of his biggest moneymakers was cage fighting on the front straightaway. We have to do something to reinvent ourselves. The foundation of NASCAR is something of an old template. A car going around in circles is very boring for the human right now. So they're going to tune in to see a fight or a wreck. They are not gonna tune in, and it's sad to say, people don't tune in anymore to watch cars go in circles. They tune in to watch cars battle, bump, fight and wreck." NI: One race into the Chase and you can have Joe Gibbs Racing or the field as this year's champion. Who are you going with and why? HERMAN: "I'm gonna go with Joe Gibbs Racing because it seems to me that whatever they have it's not shaken, it's not going away. If I'm in a fight and I have a gun, I want as many bullets as I can get. And they got four -- and all four of them are capable. Some people are taking all four Gibbs cars -- Johnny Roberts, my comrade at FOX Sports, he's not an idiot, he took all four to be in the final round at Homestead." SUBSCRIBE NOW!
RELATED: See the full lineup for Sunday's race MORE: Driver standings " Chase Grid DOVER, Del. -- The second-guessing began after Chicago and escalated a week later following New Hampshire. Back-to-back finishes outside the top 20 have put defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick in a must-win situation heading into Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "Everybody's an armchair quarterback on Monday morning," Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team, said Saturday prior to the start of practice at Dover. "I think you're always going to have that." Contact with fellow driver Jimmie Johnson led to the blown tire at Chicagoland in the opening race of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup ; last weekend at Dover, Harvick had a dominant car and led for a total of 216 laps, but ran out of fuel while leading just three laps from the finish. As a result, Harvick finds himself 15th among the 16 Chase drivers; only the top 12 remain in title contention following this weekend's Challenger Round cutoff race. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth took the first two Chase races to guarantee they will be around for the Contender Round, which begins next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "The deal at Chicago, it smoked that first corner and the next lap it didn't smoke at all," Childers said. "We had the rear bumper camera on our pit box; if there is anything coming out of the back of the car you can see it on that rear bumper camera. The second lap it didn't smoke at all. Timmy (Fedewa) on the spotters' stand said it didn't smoke. I think really ... ( Kevin ) ran the car easier that lap and we didn't really know that. The next lap, when we told him it wasn't smoking anymore, he ran it hard through (Turns) 1 and 2 and it smoked again and then blew the tire out." Running out of fuel at Loudon, he said, was tougher to swallow. "There shouldn't have been any issues," he said. "But there were a few things during the pit stop that looked like the pit crew could have done differently to try and do more to get it full and it wasn't. "Most of the time you know. But to be honest, he never really ran hard all day so we didn't have good readings on what it should be. Even that last run, our mileage was the best it had been all day. Everybody thought Matt (Kenseth) was pushing us but he really wasn't, we were never really running hard the whole time he was behind us. It's not too often you have a car like that. It was just so fast that he could do whatever he wanted." Harvick was fourth fastest in the opening, abbreviated practice Saturday at Dover. Rain had canceled all on-track activity on Friday. Technically, Harvick can advance based on points, but the scenarios that would allow that to occur are a mathematician's nightmare. "Really, those guys (ahead of us) would have to crash out early in the race," Childers said. Win the race and the rest will take care of itself. Harvick has two wins, at Las Vegas and Phoenix earlier in the year, and 10 runner-up finishes. He's never won at Dover, a high-banked 1-mile track. "We try every week to win; if you don't, that's pretty much it," Childers said. "You just hate that it comes down to that, to lead the points all year, have the consistency that we've had, just hate to see that it's come down to this. "But on the other hand I feel like we've got the team to do it and the driver to do it. "I think if you're going to back any team against the wall, this is the one to do it."
RELATED: Full final practice results Kevin Harvick topped the speed chart in final practice for Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). He wheeled the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at a top speed of 156.033 mph in the 14 laps he ran before rain resumed, ending the session. Carl Edwards was second-fastest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota at 156.013 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.783 mph. Harvick's teammate Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Chevrolet posted the fourth-fastest speed in the final Sprint Cup practice session at 155.588 mph. Sitting on the Chase bubble going into Sunday's race, Dale Earnhardt Jr . got the fifth-quickest speed out of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.434 mph. Amid a schedule compressed by rain that wiped out all of Friday's on-track activities and cut into Saturday's first practice, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers lost the track to rain again about 15 minutes into the second session. RELATED: First practice results After more rain doused Dover International Speedway Saturday morning, canceling NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series got a 25-minute practice in and Kasey Kahne made the most of it. Kahne wheeled his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at 160.506 mph, topping the speed chart. Carl Edwards was second quickest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 160.442 mph. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was right behind Edwards at 160.285 mph. It was the first time Sprint Cup cars had been on track after rain washed out Friday's practice and qualifying. Kevin Harvick was fourth on the leaderboard at 159.964 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The No. 4 team and No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski had been docked 15 minutes of practice time for infractions at New Hampshire in the inspection process. Given the amended schedule, neither the Stewart-Haas entry nor the Team Penske entry was required to serve the time -- it will instead carry over to the next race at Charlotte. Aric Almirola rounded out the top five with a speed of 159.943 mph in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
DOVER, Del. -- Greg Biffle has a new face atop his pit box this weekend as Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team manager Kevin Kidd is temporaily serving as crew chief the No. 16 team at Dover International Speedway . Biffle's standard crew chief Matt Puccia and his wife Alyssa welcomed baby girl Kennedy Harper Puccia on Friday. @AlyssaPuccia14 and I want to welcome Kennedy Harper Puccia to the world! Thanks everybody for all the kind words! pic.twitter.com/tIHBSEWAg1 — Matt Puccia (@mpuccia16) October 3, 2015 Upon hearing the news that his wife was in labor on Thursday evening, Puccia drove from Dover, Delaware -- where he was staying ahead of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) -- to Mooresville, North Carolina for the delivery. Kidd will call the race for Biffle, although it was initially uncertain if Puccia would make the trip back to Dover. "It will probably be a Sunday morning game-time decision and I'm leaving it completely in Matt's hands," Kidd said on Saturday at the track. "If he wants to come up and do the race tomorrow, then we'll certainly welcome him. As a company, we'd love to have him back, but we also want to be respectful and do the right thing as an employer and give him some time to be with his family right now." Puccia has served as crew chief for Greg Biffle since 2011, and has been a part of three wins for the No. 16 team. Biffle is 20th in the point standings and is coming off his third top-five finish of the season, a fourth-place result at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend. Biffle was 17th in opening practice on Saturday at Dover. Kidd came to Roush Fenway from Joe Gibbs Racing after last season. In his role as team manager, Kidd supervises at-track operations for the team. Prior to joining Roush, Kidd was a crew chief in the XFINITY Series for JGR since 2010 with four wins atop the pit box. He filled in as a crew chief for one Sprint Cup Series race with Elliott Sadler and Gillett Evernham Motorsports in 2008.
RELATED: Complete Dover schedule " Live weather updates Quick race facts What: AAA 400 Where: Dover International Speedway , 1-mile oval in Dover, Delaware. Green flag time: 2:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Forecast: Breezy and cloudy with a slight chance of rain after noon; High of 66 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. National anthem: Sam Harris, X Ambassadors. Grand marshal: Rosie Perez, Academy Award-nominated actress, choreographer. Distance: 400 laps, 400 miles. Pit road speed: 35 mph Caution car speed: 45 mph On the front row 1. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (No time trials). 2. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (No time trials). Fastest in practice First practice: Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet., 160.506 mph. ( Results ) Final practice: Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, 156.033 mph. ( Results ) Key story lines 1. Many scenarios for Chase elimination race 2. Drivers applaud newly expanded restart zone 3. Harvick says he 'likes these situations' 4. Bowyer to drive for HScott in 2016 Former winners in the field Jimmie Johnson (10); Jeff Gordon (5); Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman (3); Greg Biffle , Kyle Busch , Matt Kenseth (2); Brad Keselowski , Carl Edwards , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kurt Busch , Martin Truex Jr . (1) They said it "There's been no give-up in this 18 all year long and there's none right now. We're just going to power on through and do what we need to do to get to the next round." Kyle Busch , on facing adversity to make it past the Challenger Round.
DOVER, Del. -- The relationship between veteran drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Elliott Sadler isn't new. Before JR Motorsports was even a thought in Junior's mind, the duo raced against one another in late models years ago and formed a kinship off the track. The pair's relationship added a new facet on Friday, when officials announced at Dover International Speedway that Elliott would drive for Earnhardt-owned JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2016. Earnhardt Jr. broke the news earlier in the day via Periscope. "I'm excited to work with Elliott full-time and give him the best opportunity we can, to put him in the best car we can and to get to work with all our guys," Earnhardt said during the press conference at Dover on Friday. "... It's going to be a lot of fun. Winning races is great, but when you do it with your friends, it's even better." "We've been friends a long time and I feel like we've had each others' backs on and off the track a long time." Elliott added. "I think when you're vested personally like we are, I think to put this group together is going to be very, very exciting. "It makes you want to -- on so many different levels -- to do a good job and perform like you're supposed to. Not only on the race track, but off the race track." Elliott's number and crew chief are yet to be determined, but he will bring long-time sponsor OneMain Financial from his current Roush Fenway Racing ride. In a sport that thrives on sponsorship, a long-term supporter like OneMain Financial gives team owner Earnhardt a sense of steadiness. "Elliott has worked with One Main for a very long time so that's an easy relationship to trust and get behind and be a part of," Earnhardt said. " … I will say when we told our employees on the shop floor, they were ecstatic. It brings stability and those people really depend on that. When they see those cars go out of the shop without a sponsor on them, that makes everybody nervous." JR Motorsports currently fields three cars in the XFINITY Series with reigning series champion Chase Elliott and Regan Smith behind the wheel full-time, and a group of drivers, including Ben Rhodes as well as Sprint Cup stars Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne piloting the third car. For Sadler, who has won 10 races in the XFINTY Series and three times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the chance to drive for an established team like JRM is a prime opportunity – one that supersedes getting back into a Sprint Cup car for now. "I want to be competitive in the XFINITY Series. I want to win races," Elliott said. "... There's nothing like leaving your house on a weekend going to the race track, knowing you have the opportunity to lead laps, sit on poles, run up front. "... My goal right now, and my heart and soul, and my passion is still very great when I come to the track. But it's more what I can do on Saturdays and what I can do in the XFINITY Series. If I go out and do a great job and win every race and those ( Sprint Cup ) opportunities come, we'll look at that at that time. "But right now, man, we've got to jump on this -- this is great."
RELATED: Complete lineup for Sunday's race DOVER, Del. – A hard, steady rain at Dover International Speedway made Matt Kenseth 's life easier—and Kevin Harvick 's challenge even more difficult than it otherwise might have been. With a massive East Coast storm forcing cancellation of all of Friday’s track activity at the Monster Mile, including NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying, Kenseth will start on the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 , the elimination race for the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The series leader, Kenseth already has earned a spot in the Chase's Contender Round by virtue of last Sunday's victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . On the other hand, with the field ordered by owner points according to rainout rules, Harvick will start 15th in a race he almost certainly must win to keep his hopes of winning back-to-back series championships alive. After an early wreck and a 42nd-place finish in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway , Harvick ran out of fuel while leading with three laps left at New Hampshire and finished 21st, leaving him 23 points out of 12th place in the standings, the last transfer position for the next round. Even though the rain put him on the pole, Kenseth would have preferred to have practiced on Friday, especially in light of the suspension issues that relegated him to a 39th-place finish in the May 31 event at Dover. "I think we all would have liked to get on the track today and get some practice," Kenseth said on Friday at Dover. "I know there are some things we wanted to work on and try to improve from the spring for this race. "I think everybody wanted to get on the track. I think it's one of the advantages of leading the points – obviously, if it rains, you get a good starting spot and pit stall. Glad we're starting in the front, but still would have liked the track time." The qualifying cancellation means the 16 Chase drivers will start from the top 16 positions on the grid. Denny Hamlin , who punched his ticket to the Contender Round with a win at Chicagoland, will start on the front row beside his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Carl Edwards , Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson are third through fifth on the grid, respectively, for Sunday’s race. "Bubble" drivers Jamie McMurray , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Busch and Paul Menard , all of whom are within a two-point range in the standings, will start 11th through 14th, respectively. "We'll be ready; we'll be prepared and we won't start as far forward as we have here in years past," said Busch, who blew a right front tire at New Hampshire, crashed and finished 37th. "Typically we're a top-five qualifier. ... We'll make do." Busch feels his team's level of readiness coming to the track this season will stand him in good stead. "I think, for my guys, we've been really, really good this year of unloading and having some strong cars and some good speed right off the truck," Busch said. "I'd actually look forward to no practice time here. I think that would be really good for the 18 team."
Watch the season finale: 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) RELATED: Full lineup His Team Penske teammate had been faster Friday, but Brad Keselowski sped to the Coors Light Pole Award during group qualifying Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Keselowski's speed of 166.384 mph puts him on the pole for the Ford EcoBoost 300 . It's Keselowski's fifth series pole of the season and 19th of his career. Ryan Blaney, in the No. 12 Ford, had previously paced both Friday practice sessions and was fastest in the second round of group qualifying. He will line up fifth. Kyle Larson qualified second at 166.353 mph, with Matt Kenseth (166.006 mph) third and Elliott Sadler (165.827 mph) fourth. Chase Elliott, who locked up the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last week, will start 14th. He finished 24th in the opening round and was the last car to advance in group qualifying. Elliott's JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith , who is second in the standings, will start 15th. Smith has a 13-point lead over Brian Scott in the battle to finish second in the final standings. Derrike Cope, Ryan Ellis , Johnny Jackson, Kevin Lepage and Martin Roy did not qualify. The Ford EcoBoost 300 is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday and will be televised on ESPN2.