In this week's Race Center, NASCAR.com's Chris Rice gets you caught up on all the action for the Pure Michigan 400 which has three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers starting in the top three.
Presenting NASCAR content from around the web Editor's note: On Wednesday at noon ET, "High 5" will present some of the best NASCAR-related content from around the web. 1. Exceeding expectations The NASCAR world was shocked when Kyle Busch returned to racing after only an 11-race hiatus following his injuries at Daytona. But no one would have dreamed Busch would come back with this big a fire in his belly, winning four out of five races from Sonoma to Indianapolis. According to NBC Sports' Joe Posnanski, his success is evidence of Busch's potential as a race car driver -- which had been clear since his earliest days behind the wheel -- becoming reality following his injury and new fatherhood to son Brexton. "Kyle had so much raw talent in a race car – his ability to control any kind of car, to see openings, to take it to the edge and keep it there – that his future seemed limitless," Posnanski writes. One career-altering possiblity looms on the horizon for Busch, who will be able to contend for a championhip if he remains in the top 30 in the point standings. It's something in his decorated career that he's yet to achieve in the Sprint Cup Series -- and wants badly. Click here to read the entire piece from NBC SportsWorld . 2. Girl power Jessica Mendoza made history on Tuesday during the MLB game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks. Jessica Mendoza becomes the first woman to call an ESPN MLB game as an in-booth analyst. (via @jessmendoza ) pic.twitter.com/3R0vjUictZ — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 25, 2015 Mendoza, who has won two Olympic medals for the United States softball team, was also the first woman to call a College World Series game, serving as a part of the crew last season in Omaha. She joins the likes of NASCAR's Danica Patrick , who traded her firesuit for a broadcasting microphone last season at Michigan, becoming the first woman to call a race in NASCAR. Hat tips and a "You go, girl" to both of these awesome women. 3. Denny's dream "Mr. Gibbs , I hope to drive for you some day." That's what an 11-year-old Denny Hamlin said to Coach Joe Gibbs , owner of Joe Gibbs Racing , back in 1992 at an autograph session. Little did Gibbs know, not only would this young Washington Redskins fan wheel a JGR car one day, but he would also contend for a championship, racing for the title in 2014 as part of the Championship 4. In a recent interview with 120 Sports , Hamlin discusses his relationship with Joe Gibbs , the jack rabbit incident at Michigan and his friendship with Michael Jordan. According to the No. 11 driver, the basketball legend is a huge NASCAR fan and was at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season from morning until late night, supporting Hamlin's run for the title. RELATED: Truck practice red-flagged for rabbit on track 4. Early bird doesn't get the worm -- or bronze medal Celebrating after a hard-fought victory is great -- but just make sure you actually win before you fist-pump. Runner Molly Huddle learned that lesson the hard way in Monday's IAAF 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China. Just before crossing the finish line, Huddle threw her arms in the air to celebrate her bronze medal -- only to be passed by fellow American Emily Infeld at the line. Read the entire story from Mashable here . Can you imagine if NASCAR drivers started doing burnouts before they actually took the checkered? It may look a little something like this. Plenty of smoke and spinning, but alas, no checkered flag. 5. Business in the front, party in the back Marriage is all about compromise, right? A couple from the United Kingdom found that out early when it came time to choosing a wedding cake. He was all about superheroes, she not so much. This disguised (Marvel-appropriate, right?) cake was the result. This superhero wedding cake is all business in the front, party in the back http://t.co/cZGprnNBGx pic.twitter.com/zx34k0Ph0Y — People magazine (@people) August 25, 2015 "Business in the front, party in the back." Kind of reminds us of something else we know and loved. RIP Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s mullet. RELATED: Stenhouse Jr. rids self of mullet
The Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth , which combined to win six of the last nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, will each lose 15 minutes of practice time next weekend when the series heads to Darlington Raceway . The two were among 11 teams issued warnings arising from pre-qualifying and pre-race inspection issues at Bristol Motor Speedway , site of the Aug. 22 Irwin Tools Night Race . Busch's No. 18 team failed pre-race inspection four times on Saturday. Busch finished eighth in the race. Kenseth's No. 20 team was penalized for failing pre-race inspection on its first two attempts, as well as failing to get to inspection at the allotted time. Kenseth finished 42nd after when an engine issue sidelined the 2003 Sprint Cup champion after 110 laps of the 500-lap race. NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series is not competing this weekend. The Bojangles' Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 at Darlington (7 p.m., NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 15-minute penalties will be enforced when opening practice gets underway on Friday, Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. Kenseth is currently fourth in the Chase Grid and has a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff locked up. Busch, who missed the first 11 races of the season due to injuries sustained in a crash at Daytona International Speedway in February, is currently second in the Chase Grid, but needs to clinch a top 30 position in the point standings over the final two regular-season races before he officially locks his spot in the Chase up. Warnings may be issued to teams for a variety of minor infractions. For every fourth warning issued to a team, whether during a championship (points) or non-championship (non-points) event, the loss of pit stall selection will be enforced. Others teams receiving warnings at Bristol for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice were: No. 22 ( Joey Logano / Team Penske ), No. 24 ( Jeff Gordon / Hendrick Motorsports ), No. 7 ( Alex Bowman / Tommy Baldwin Racing ), No. 30 ( Travis Kvapil /TMG) and the No. 98 ( Timmy Hill /Premium Motorsports) Also penalized for being late to inspection were the following teams: No. 40 ( Landon Cassill /Hillman Racing), No. 83 ( Matt DiBenedetto / BK Racing , No. 15 ( Clint Bowyer / Michael Waltrip Racing ) and the No. 11 ( Denny Hamlin / Joe Gibbs Racing ).
Kenny Wallace on driver accountability, plans for Bowyer's 2016 season RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Kenny Wallace is decidedly old school. When it comes to the debate about NASCAR being tougher in policing restarts, Wallace insists that it's the drivers who need to serve as judge and jury for those guilty of too much gamesmanship. That hot-button issue kicks off this week's installment of Herman Unplugged: NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: Drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr . have been vocal about NASCAR too loosely policing restarts. Is there room for improvement there? HERMAN: "No, I disagree with all that. Ten to 15 years ago we had something called gentlemen's agreements. We have these restarts between two red lines and it's gamesmanship to where you’re gonna start. I tell you how you fix that: If the driver in front brake checks you, you beat his ass in between the haulers. In my day, Terry Labonte and Kyle Petty chewed my ass out when I did something wrong. I feel that the drivers need to do what we did, which is go between the trailers and say, 'If you brake check me on a restart again, I'll whip your ass.' These guys just need to go, that's all there is to it. If they start playing these games, you just fix it with a fistfight and that will stop it right there." NI: Tragic situation with IndyCar driver Justin Wilson losing his life at Pocono. Tony Stewart loaned his plane to Wilson's brother Stefan so he could be with him at hospital Sunday night. It was another example of the motorsports community rallying to help in a time of need. Do you have a personal story on that front to share? HERMAN: "We get so wrapped up in competition and when it comes down to the end and we have perspective, you realize competition for what it is and then we have life over here. When my father passed away October 30, 2011, Rick Hendrick gave us one of his big team planes that seats some 30-50 people and we flew my dad's casket in the belly of that airplane all the way back to St. Louis. We went to write a check to Rick and he would not take it. We tried hard to pay him and he would not take anything." NI: The last on-track fatality in NASCAR came on that dark day at Daytona in 2001. Not to compare the two series, but what do you think it says about NASCAR that there hasn't been a death in that long? HERMAN: "I feel that NASCAR has reacted much stronger than any other sanctioning body in the world. NASCAR reacts quickly now whenever something happens from a safety perspective. If a driver finds a concrete wall they thought they would never hit, by the very next race there's something done about it. Within a year, IndyCar had a driver get hit by a spring in the head and then a driver get hit by a wheel, and it amazes me that with technology and the new world we live in that they haven't reacted faster. To their credit, after Dan Wheldon's passing, they redesigned the whole car. But they have to do something with those cockpits. It's a must." NI: What's your best guess on where Clint Bowyer lands in 2016? HERMAN: "The reason this is the best kept secret is I truly believe Clint Bowyer doesn't know where he's going. I don't think there's any story here; all we know is Clint Bowyer will go somewhere because he's got some money from 5-hour Energy. He's a good driver and he has money. That's a recipe for a bidding war. Although we know that 5-hour is only enough money to get you halfway, so whoever wins the bidding war for Clint has to know he's only gonna have enough money to get you to the 50-yard line. So you'll have to have more money to fund the rest of the season. 5-hour is a great sponsor but not one for the whole year." NI: Notwithstanding all the wins by Joe Gibbs Racing and Joey Logano lately, it's hard not to like Kevin Harvick to repeat as Sprint Cup champion. Is that how you see it too? HERMAN: "I see that he's a favorite and I'll tell you why. He hasn't started his mind games yet. He's been real mellow. Once he starts being a hard ass, he'll get into people's heads. He hasn't even used his bumper yet. Once he starts that and using that cage fighting mentality, it's gonna be a different game. He hasn't used his psychology and his mouth yet and once he does it'll be pretty fun to watch." SUBSCRIBE NOW!
RELATED: Homestead tire test " Updated Chase Grid As Dale Earnhardt Jr . enters the final idle weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, he acknowledges that his Hendrick Motorsports team needs to do some homework to improve their chances in the postseason Chase. But on a personal level, he's also going to take time to do his own homework, gathering ideas for how his upcoming wedding might unfold. Earnhardt recounted an eventful night at Bristol Motor Speedway , assessed his team's playoff hopes and talked nuptials during this Tuesday's edition of the "Dale Jr. Download" podcast on Dirty Mo Radio. Earnhardt Jr.'s playoff eligibility is safe, thanks to two regular-season victories that have sealed his spot on the 16-driver Chase Grid. But the 40-year-old driver said his No. 88 team needs to make headway against its rivals in the performance department. Joe Gibbs Racing has won six of the last nine Sprint Cup events, and Team Penske 's Joey Logano has captured two of the last three checkered flags. "We've got to work on this Chase. We've got to get ready for that," Earnhardt said. "We've got a couple of races left before that happens, so we'll try to learn as much as we can. I think that it's been commented on in the media, and Jeff (Gordon) and myself and ( Hendrick Motorsports GM Doug) Duchardt and all the people at Hendrick are certainly aware that we need to make some gains and work real hard to try to improve to put ourselves in a more comfortable position going into the Chase so we're more confident about our opportunity to win a championship because we're definitely seeing some teams perform really well right now and just trying to figure out where we need to improve to give them a hell of a run for it. "Not too concerned. You know the sport can cycle pretty quickly, and hopefully we'll peak at the right time." Before joining the Sprint Cup circuit in taking a rare weekend off, Earnhardt said he would participate in an open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway , site of the championship finale race Nov. 22. Then it's off to be a part of a friend's wedding, which he said could prepare him for the planning stages with fiancée Amy Reimann. "Looking forward to that. Maybe I'll take some notes and try to recharge our batteries this last off weekend for the rest of the season. This season went by pretty fast and I think the end of it's going to go by just as quick."
RELATED: Homestead-Miami hosting Goodyear tire test HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Waiting out a morning shower in the Homestead-Miami Speedway garage on Wednesday, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was dressed casually but clearly at work, talking with his Stewart-Haas Racing crew as they hovered over laptop computers and gestured toward his plain gray No. 4 Chevrolet SS. The last time this group was at this track, they were getting showered in champagne, not rain, celebrating Harvick's 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship title, thanks to a victory in the season finale here. But it was all business for Harvick Wednesday as he and nine other drivers came to the 1.5-mile track for a one-day open test for Sprint Cup teams, attended by three of last year's four championship contenders, also including last week's winner Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) and Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ). RELATED: Anheuser-Busch to change look of SHR's No. 4 car in 2016 "You know, I actually hadn't even thought about it to tell you the truth," a smiling Harvick said of his first time back at Homestead since his title-winning performance last November. "I know that doesn't make for a great story, but no one [on the team] has even mentioned it. Everything happens so fast in this sport from a week-to-week basis and you get so caught up in what you need to do the next week. "We're always trying to look forward so I really hadn't thought about everything that happened last year. We're so focused on being in position, to hopefully have a chance to do that again and get back here." Harvick's primary championship challengers were of similar mindset. And like all of the 10 drivers here -- also including Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Larson , Martin Truex Jr ., Ty Dillon , Ryan Blaney , Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne -- the lone opportunity to turn some extra test laps at Homestead is something not to be missed, even if track time boiled down to a couple late morning hours before heavier rains interrupted the schedule. With the elimination-style format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs heading into its second year, the importance of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway has increased exponentially. When the Sprint Cup Series arrives in South Florida in three months, four drivers will be eligible for the title – the highest finisher in this race will be crowned champion. Last year, Harvick won the race and therefore, the season trophy. Logano, who collected his third win in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford last weekend at Bristol, also spoke about the emphasis teams now place specifically on being prepared for Homestead. MORE: Logano victorious in Bristol night race "Hopefully this test is very important for us," Logano said with a slight laugh. "You hope it is [because that means you're in the championship hunt.] Just getting to here (season finale) is a challenge. "If we do, then this test today will be the most important test of the year. So we definitely want to put a lot into it and make sure we get a lot out of it and really understand what we learned out of it." Logano's three wins would rank him right behind the season's four-time winners Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch for the start of the Chase on Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway and like Harvick, Logano believes his team is right where it needs to be at this point in the season. "Right now, we're peaking at the right spot, and getting a couple wins in the last three weeks is what we need to do heading into the Chase," said Logano, who finished 16th in the 2014 Homestead race. "Winning the Bristol night race last year kind of propelled us into the Chase, I thought, and gave us good momentum into the Chase. Getting all the way to here [Homestead] was a heck of an accomplishment. And we just need to focus on what we need to do. I feel like as a team we learned a lot in terms of how to execute a championship weekend." RELATED: Harvick scores another runner-up finish It looks like everyone will have to raise their game to dethrone Harvick, however, who has a pair of wins and a series-best 17 top-five finishes highlighted by 10 runner-up showings already this season. "We've struck a pretty good course in terms of being able to have a plan in place for the Chase, and everyone has done a good job in terms of being prepared when it comes time for Chicago," Harvick said. "We've been ready every week. We've just got to keep doing those things. ... No different than last year when we made it happen when it counted." WATCH: Harvick chases Logano in the closing laps at Bristol
Almost two full years after the rule was amended, NASCAR drivers are still voicing concerns about the policing of restarts during races. The subject came up during the Sprint Cup Series' pre-race drivers' meeting Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway , three days after Ryan Blaney was penalized for jumping the restart during the Aug. 19 Camping World Truck Series race at BMS. Prior to the beginning of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2013, NASCAR eliminated the rule that stated the second-place car could not cross the start/finish line before the race leader on a restart. However, the race leader is still the "control car," meaning the second-place car can't take off before the leader in the restart zone located before the start/finish line. "We wanted to really put it in the driver's hands where the leader starts the race," Steve O'Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, told NASCAR.com Monday. "The second-place car in this case, if we don't believe they've jumped the restart, can beat the leader to the start/finish line. "Obviously, some questions have come up. We've reviewed each of the calls we've made and feel confident based on the technology we've used to make those calls that they were the right calls. But anytime there's dialogue with the industry, we'll continue to monitor that. If we don't have to change it, we'd like to keep it consistent throughout the year, but we always review each and every call for each race." RELATED: Restarts a hot topic at Bristol drivers' meeting In the NCWTS event, Blaney was penalized for jumping the start on Lap 38. Although he was the race leader, officials ruled Blaney re-started before he was in the restart zone. The subsequent pass-through penalty put the Brad Keselowski Racing driver one lap down. Blaney managed to bounce back from the penalty, however, and won the race. "I had to kind of compose myself there," crew chief Chad Kendrick admitted afterward. "I was trying to tell (Ryan) on the radio, 'Don't worry about it, alright, it's done, over.' I was pretty upset about the call." Blaney said Cole Custer , running second and lined up to his inside on the restart, "didn't maintain caution car speed at all. "As soon as the caution car pulled off, he stopped pretty much," said Blaney. "And I maintained (my) speed. He was going to try to get a run, just like everyone tries to do, which is what you have to do on the bottom if you want to have a shot at it. And I wasn't going to give him that run; I wasn't going to let him start creeping forward. So I went as soon as I got to the mark, maybe a half a car length early. It made it look worse than it was with him being so slow for sure. "But I'm pretty sure you have to have a warning. From every restart I've seen with people maybe going a little bit early I've seen 'em get a warning. That honestly shocked me when they black-flagged us with no warning. When it wasn't five car lengths before the line or anything, when it was something really small like that, it kind of surprised me. Luckily it worked out for us." Two Sprint Cup teams have been penalized this season for either jumping the start or passing before crossing the start/finish line on a restart. Two penalties have also been handed down in the XFINITY Series for similar infractions while the penalty has been called seven times in the NCWTS. MORE: Herman Unplugged: Talking restarts, quiet Harvick Joey Logano , winner of Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race at BMS, said he had spent "a lot of time" with officials recently, "trying to understand what I can and can't do ... understand where their head is at and what they're thinking when you look at a restart." "You've got to understand the rules," the Team Penske driver said. If it Ain't Broke ... NASCAR XFINITY Series teams competing this weekend at Road America will run the same tire code used at the road course since 2013. The tire was previously used this season at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. Wet weather tires will also be available should conditions require their use, which was the case during last year's event. Likewise, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams will run the same tire code used since '13 for the series' stop at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park . The tire has previously been run on the right side at Martinsville in '13 and '14. MORE: Complete schedule for Road America and Canada Testing, 1-2-3 NASCAR Sprint Cup teams wrap up their 12th open test of the season Wednesday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . According to HMS officials, 10 teams are set to take part in the test -- Joey Logano ( Team Penske ), Dale Earnhardt Jr . ( Hendrick Motorsports ), Kyle Larson ( Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates), Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Clint Bowyer ( Michael Waltrip Racing ), Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ), Trevor Bayne ( Roush Fenway Racing ), Ty Dillon ( Richard Childress Racing ), Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) and Ryan Blaney ( Wood Brothers Racing ). Dillon, Larson, Bayne and Bowyer were slated to take part in a two-day Goodyear tire test at the 1.5-mile track, site of the season-ending race, on Monday and Tuesday. Three tests are scheduled for remainder of year, at Kansas (Sept. 14-16), Phoenix (Oct. 12-14) and Auto Club Speedway (Oct. 27-29).
Owner, NFL head coach: 'You're never quite sure' how an athlete will respond RELATED: Timeline of Busch's wreck and recovery Following Kyle Busch 's second win in three races since returning from a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a left mid-foot fracture, the No. 18 team owner said the comeback was "a great sports story." The three-time Super Bowl winner as head coach of the Washington Redskins elaborated Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and recalled another leg injury -- one sustained by Joe Theismann, who led Gibbs to his first Lombardi Trophy. A three-time winner of the Sprint Cup Series championship, Gibbs compared his NASCAR and NFL experiences with injury, noting he's a fan who likes a great comeback story. But a return to competition isn't always in the cards. Thirty years ago, Theismann suffered an open fracture of the tibia, or shinbone, while the fibula broke through the skin when New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Gary Reasons connected with the quarterback and snapped his right leg. When Busch had a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a left mid-foot fracture during February's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway, the coach turned owner wasn't certain what the prognosis would be for his driver. "I knew that the surgery on the bigger bone in his right leg, we probably would be OK with that," Gibbs said. "What you worry about is a foot like that, which had the broken bones in his foot ... because we know how much pressure and everything (that takes) … We all felt from the very beginning that was going to be the injury that was going to be the hardest to come back from. "So anyway, you see that in sports. I've had Joe Theismann's injury in the NFL that ended his career. You're never quite sure. Is there an injury that would take somebody years to come back from or maybe end their career? "So all those things are kind of going through your mind. Then the second thing is how does an athlete deal with a severe injury like that?Does it make him become more cautious? Is he apprehensive about getting back in the car?" Gibbs said any fears he had were eased quickly when Busch was off of pain medications and trying to exercise in bed after surgery on his foot. But the team was still concerned about the road course at Sonoma Raceway being Busch's biggest challenge once he got back behind the wheel. "It's rare that you see somebody with a severe injury, like Kyle had, that we all witnessed and we all saw, and then to have him, four months later, come back in the race where we were the most concerned about him, being a road race, and to have him win the road race," Gibbs said. "And then to come back two weeks later and win the race (at Kentucky), it's a great comeback story. It's got all the things we love about sports in that you get to see somebody's life, how they deal with real adversity." As a team owner, Gibbs witnessed how his team dealt with the uncertainty of racing without its quarterback for the first 11 races of the season. "Our race team dealt with the adversity of having Kyle out for 11 weeks," Gibbs said. "Think about the guys going to the race track. They're going over the wall. They're doing all these things. The crew chief is working on things knowing that we're in a big hole, and we don't even have our driver so for 11 weeks they went through all that and then for us to be able to bounce back and get a couple wins. I just think it's a neat story, and I think it's one that kind of captures people." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Coach Joe Gibbs shed light on Erik Jones ' NASCAR career arc Tuesday morning, saying that a full XFINITY Series schedule and some Sprint Cup events were planned for 2016. Gibbs , appearing on "The Morning Drive on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said that advancing the 19-year-old driver through the NASCAR development ladder was a top priority at Joe Gibbs Racing . "We look at Erik as a big part of our future," Gibbs told SiriusXM, "and we've got a plan laid out and it's not something we've talked about in public, but we all kind of know inside of our racing organization, and with his parents and his agent ... is just great. So we've talked over a plan, and basically the plan next year would be a full XFINITY season and try and run for a championship there and also to, in all likelihood, have him in some Cup races so that would be the goal for next year." Jones already has one Sprint Cup start to his credit, making an impressive drive at Kansas Speedway in May in place of the injured Kyle Busch . He also logged a hefty relief stint the month before, substituting for an ailing Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway. Gibbs , 74, said plans to get Jones into a full-time ride are taking shape, though his organization currently stands at the NASCAR-mandated maximum of four teams, with Busch, Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth on the JGR driver roster. "We've got a plan laid out in the future, and it's something we can't, you know, we don't want to talk about now, but there is no question -- this guy, Erik's headed for Cup," Gibbs said with a laugh. "He's headed for Cup and we've got a path charted that we think is the best to get him ready and to fulfill his goal of being in a Cup car as quick as we can get him there." Jones is in his first full season driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The Michigan native ranks third in the series standings, with four pole positions and one victory in 12 races thus far. Jones has also competed in 17 of 19 XFINITY Series events this season, with four poles and two wins splitting time between JGR's Nos. 20 and 54 Toyotas.
Joe Gibbs talked with Sirius XM about his plan for Erik Jones to run for the NASCAR XFINITY Series title next year and his goal to get the young driver in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car in 2016.