RELATED: Darlington throwback paint schemes Darlington's throwback theme for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 already is a hit with racers and fans alike, bringing out the creativity in the industry with special paint schemes and providing opportunities to honor great racers who have gone before. But what if along with those throwback paint schemes, like Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s Valvoline No. 88 nod to Cale Yarborough and Clint Bowyer 's No. 15 salute to recently passed Buddy Baker, we could actually bring back the NASCAR legends themselves for this one race. Who would you pick? Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman could fill the whole 43-car field with legendary race car drivers. He won seven premier series championships with Richard Petty and an eighth with Terry Labonte , competing against some of the most storied personalities in the sport. "Damn, I've seen 'em all. I don't know …" Inman said of trying to choose just one driver to place in a throwback ride. "Earnhardt Sr. was good there you know." Bowyer, too, wished Earnhardt Sr. could join the field at the 2015 Southern 500. "Obviously for me it would be Earnhardt for me because we lost him, you know. That's first and foremost. Anyone you ever lost is who you'd want to bring back." But Bowyer said bringing back the man with the most wins (47) and most poles (47) at Darlington, David Pearson, would be the ultimate measuring stick for today's Sprint Cup drivers. "Pearson … man, what a character and just a genuine badass and an aggressive and successful racer. Anytime you have someone who's successful in the sport you make a living in, you want to be able to see what he had, what he's made of and see how you stack up." Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing , fondly remembers those days with Pearson driving the No. 21 Purolator Mercury. Pearson drove for the Woods Brothers from 1972-79 and won seven times at "The Lady in Black" during that span with two runner-up finishes. "That was his place," Wood said of Pearson's dominance at the South Carolina track. "The hotter the better for David. He liked it HOT, so we'd have to run in the daytime for him." RELATED: Drivers, officials, fans pumped for throwback weekend Inman attributed some of Pearson's success at the track also called "Too Tough To Tame" to his ability to take care of his equipment. This was extra difficult, as Inman recalled, because the track promoter sometimes would put bear's grease on the track between Saturday's practice and Monday's race. Blue laws prevented NASCAR from running on Sundays in South Carolina then. "Pearson just had a knack for taking care of the car. He always had a good car too," Inman said. "At least most of the time. For Darlington we put bars under the fenders. You knew you were gonna hit the wall, so we just put bars in and just bolted them to the right side. But the guard rail wasn't smooth like it is now. And they'll wear the sides out this time with the low downforce package." Aside from the drivers who racked up at the track, including Richard Petty and Buck Baker, Inman said Parnelli Jones' performance at Darlington had lasting impact on the racing there. "Parnelli Jones came out here in maybe 1956 or 57 was the first one to really use the high bank to what it is now. I remember him just sliding up to the fence. He didn't finish, of course." Jones crashed at Darlington in both 1956 and 1957. He finished 50th in a field of 70 cars in 1956 in the No. 1 Torrance Motors Ford and 34th in the No. 11 Ford owned by Oscar Maples in 1957. In 1958, Jones did finish the Southern 500 running, coming in 18th in a field of 48 cars during his last race there. The list of great performances at Darlington is nothing short of epic. Just the list of winners sends any racing fan on a long ride down memory lane: Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen, Bobby Allison, Fonty Flock, Neil Bonnett , Benny Parsons, Harry Gant. How would they stack up against Jeff Gordon , the active driver with the most wins at Darlington (seven)? "Herb Thomas and Buck Baker were both really good," Inman added to the list. "But Herb had it as good as anyone in those old Hudson Hornets that Marshall Teague built, and I think he won in a Chevrolet, too." Now that would be an entirely different kind of throwback idea. Run at Darlington again in restored Chevrolets, Fords, Hornets, Plymouths, Pontiacs and Dodges.
McReynolds remembers driver on anniversary of his passing RELATED: High 5: Remembering Davey Allison As New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th anniversary, FOX NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds, a guest on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, remembered another Magic Mile milestone: the first premier series race at the track, which was the last event for Davey Allison before a helicopter accident claimed his life. After falling 63 points shy of the 1992 NASCAR championship, Allison's No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford got off to a slow start, according to McReynolds, who served as its crew chief. "I think we kind of got lazy between the '92 and the '93 season because we ran so well in 1992," McReynolds said. "We didn't work to make ourselves better, and we were struggling when '93 started." The Slick 50 300 at a new New England venue offered an opportunity for the team to turn the corner, and it gave the team reason to be optimistic for the inaugural premier series race. "We finally built a brand new car and went to Loudon, and we were leading that race with 30 laps to go and we had a car that was good on the long run," McReynolds said. "A caution comes out for debris with 30 laps to go. We were in a bit of a box. We had to pit so we pitted, and we ended up finishing third to Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin ." It was the team's first top-five finish in a month and sixth in the first 16 races of the season. An upbeat Allison did something on the way home that surprised his crew chief and fellow Alabama native as the No. 28 team headed to Charlotte and then on to Allison's home in Hueytown, Alabama. "Davey did something that night that I had never seen him do," McReynolds said. "He always flew his own plane. I think it's how he kind of took out his anxiety of the day, but he told his pilot and his dad, Bobby, 'You guys fly the airplane. I'm going to sit in the back with the guys.' "…we sat back there and he was so excited and happy because I think like he felt like we finally had hit on something that we had been missing most of 1993. He told me when we landed in Charlotte, 'You won't be able to get in touch with me tomorrow. I think I'm going to fly up to Talladega to watch David Bonnett , Neil Bonnett's son, test a car.' "I said, 'No problem. I'll call you on Tuesday.' "Well, unfortunately, I never got to make that call because the next day was when he was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega." Later that season, Ernie Irvan took over the No. 28 ride, driving the car through the first 20 races of the 1994 season before a crash at Michigan International Speedway sidelined him for for more than a year. When Irvan returned to the No. 28 car in 1996, McReynolds was his crew chief, and that July, Irvan and McReynolds went to Victory Lane at Loudon, New Hampshire, for an emotional celebration in honor of the driver's comeback and to commemorate the three-year anniversary of Allison's passing. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
MORE: Buy tickets for Darlington SHOP: Darlington gear " Dale Jr. Valvoline gear DARLINGTON, S.C. -- One of the former drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr . has said he respected as a youngster was NASCAR Hall of Fame member and three-time premier series champion Cale Yarborough. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington for this year’s Bojangles' Southern 500 , scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 6 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Earnhardt and his Hendrick Motorsports team will pay homage to the five-time winner of the series’ oldest superspeedway event. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet will feature a paint scheme reminiscent of the Valvoline look run by Yarborough in 1981-82 while competing for car owner M.C. Anderson. It will also honor others who ran the familiar red, blue and white colors such as Buddy Baker and Neil Bonnett . The endeavor is part of Darlington Raceway's throwback celebration surrounding the return of the Bojangles' Southern 500 to the Labor Day weekend race date, as well as a kick-off for Valvoline's upcoming Legacy celebration of the brand's 150th anniversary next season. RELATED: See more throwback paint schemes for Darlington "I've always been a fan of Cale's and the car that we run on the Sprint Cup side right now with the Nationwide colors is sort of inspired by his 1977 paint scheme," Earnhardt Jr. said during a recent video shoot at the legendary facility. "I admired his style and how he approached driving, definitely admired the accomplishments he had in the sport." Earnhardt, Yarborough and former championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham took part in the day-long process at the 1.366-mile track. Yarborough, inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, was the first driver to win three consecutive premier series titles. He is sixth on the all-time win list with 83 career victories. Earnhardt was involved in the development of the car's paint scheme as well as his fire suit, which also pays tribute to the former drivers that sported Valvoline colors. Even the shoes to be worn by Earnhardt have a throwback tie-in, specifically to those used by Yarborough. "The suit is just like his," said Earnhardt. "And he had this (blue) color shoes. There's a picture of him with his car at Daytona in the grass before the 500 and he's wearing Carolina blue (shoes) -- he doesn't call 'em Carolina blue, being from Timmonsville -- but they sort of match this part of the V (in the Valvoline logo); I think that's what they were going for." RELATED: Junior shares influence on Michigan look Valvoline has been a major associate sponsor of Hendrick Motorsports , which fields four full-time entries in the Sprint Cup Series, since 2014. Next month's race will be its first as a primary sponsor since aligning with Hendrick, but it has a deep history in auto racing. "A lot of it came together, actually, at the urging of Dale," Jamal Muashsher, Director Brand Marketing for Valvoline, said of the program. "He obviously knows the history of the brand and the legacy that Valvoline has had in the sport. He approached us about trying to come back with a paint scheme, especially with this special race that Darlington has coming up next month. "Obviously we were very interested. It was a great opportunity … as we get ready for our 150th anniversary. It's a great way to celebrate our history as well as pay homage to the legacy of the brand over that time." According to Muashsher, the special paint scheme will be just one part of the program celebrating the company’s rich auto racing history. A series of videos featuring Earnhardt, Yarborough and three-time championship winning crew chief Ray Evernham will be located on the Valvoline YouTube channel. Limited-edition die-casts of the No. 88 Chevrolet entry featuring the paint scheme will be available in participating Walmart stores beginning Aug. 31. "There is a lot of great history there," Muashsher said, "and a lot of great imagery from an amazing group of drivers that Valvoline has had the opportunity to work with." Yarborough said his association with Valvoline actually began in 1966, when he competed in the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. RELATED: Learn more about Cale Yarborough "When I came back to NASCAR, I brought them with me," he said. "They were a part of my career for almost the entire time. They were a good company to work with, good people and a good product and I just enjoyed my association with them. "It's an honor to have Dale Jr. driving the Valvoline car." Earnhardt said initial talks about Valvoline coming on board as a primary sponsor began late last season. The announcement of the Darlington throwback program was a bonus that helped put the idea on the fast track. "The car looks great and it's awesome to be able to include Cale," Earnhardt said. "I hope that he is enjoying being a part of it. "It's good to have Ray here. He's sort of the glue that holds it all together. … It's been fun. I've been really surprised that this came together so well." Photo credit: Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s Twitter account, @DaleJr
NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce compares Jimmie Johnson to the 'Intimidator' RELATED: Johnson wins at Dover for 10th time The greatest NASCAR driver of all time is … Jimmie Johnson ? That's the word on the street, or in this case the voice on the radio, and since the bluegrass channel was on a commercial break I decided to stick around long enough to hear how that particular conclusion was reached. Such comparisons are inevitable – it's the sort of thing that arises when one is chasing legends. No different than when Jeff Gordon was piling up victories and championships in pursuit of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. No different than when Earnhardt was piling up victories and championships in pursuit of Petty. And no different than when Petty began piling up wins and titles on his way to overtaking a host of former champions, including his father, Lee, the first to win three NASCAR premier series championships. What the 39-year-old Johnson has managed to accomplish in little more than 13 full seasons in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series certainly puts him in the same league with Petty and Earnhardt, NASCAR's only seven-time champions. There's no doubt that Johnson, fit and trim and now only two wins away from matching Earnhardt's career win total of 76 victories, is one of the sport's greatest drivers. But is he No. 1? From a numbers standpoint, the Hendrick Motorsports driver will undoubtedly surpass Earnhardt's win total, and it's likely he'll eventually capture a seventh championship. He could, in fact, become the first driver to win more than seven titles. That would make him the most successful driver from a championship standpoint (neither he nor anyone else will come close to Petty's mark of 200 career wins), but will that make him NASCAR's greatest driver? No. That designation, without question, belongs to Earnhardt. Statistics are a great way to gauge success. But it takes more than numbers to measure greatness. Johnson has managed to excel during what some claim is the most competitive era in the history of NASCAR. Yes, there are more winners, on average, today. But there are also more races on the schedule, thus also more opportunities. A larger number of teams run the full schedule today, although that doesn't necessarily mean there are more "better" teams competing. Earnhardt never ran a season consisting of 36 points races; Johnson's never run in fewer than 36. Earnhardt never had the opportunity to compete at Kansas, Chicago or Kentucky; but by the same token, Johnson never raced at North Wilkesboro or Riverside. I have a strong feeling both could have won at those tracks given the chance. I'll argue that the talent pool Earnhardt often faced was just as deep – with lineups including drivers such as Petty and Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett , Geoff Bodine and Harry Gant. Eventually Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Tim Richmond and others took their place. Most were champions; many are already members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Johnson is one of the greatest drivers that today's fans will ever see. What he has done has been nothing short of amazing. If one wants to argue that he would not have won 74 races and six championships had it not been for Hendrick Motorsports and Chad Knaus, the same could be said of Earnhardt, who owed much of his success to Richard Childress Racing and the talented group he worked with there. But what elevates Earnhardt above the rest is more than the fact that he was so successful. He provided fans with some of the sport's most memorable moments during his two-plus decades. Among them: winning the pole at Watkins Glen in '96 (and setting the track qualifying record, to boot) just two weeks after suffering a broken collarbone and sternum in a vicious crash at Talladega; climbing from his damaged car and into the ambulance, only to quickly exit and return to his car once he realized it would still run, at Daytona in '97; his first and only Daytona 500 victory the following season, a win that erased 19 years of heartbreak. There was the "rattle his cage" incident with Terry Labonte en route to victory in the night race at Bristol in '99; the wrongly-termed but aptly promoted "pass in the grass" on his way to winning the 1997 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway ; and the charge from 18th to first in the final five laps of the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . For two decades, greatness drove a Chevrolet and it carried the number 3. They were memorable moments that elevated the sport and defined the man. Johnson can win more races and win more championships, but he can't match that. He needn't worry – no one else can, either. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
A stats-based look ahead to the second race of the Sprint Cup season Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Chase Grid standings after Daytona 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia going into the Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 on March ATLANTA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Ford) · Three top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.7 · Average Running Position of 13.9, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 90.8, 11th-best · 237 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,031 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · 3,466 Laps in the Top 15 (66.2%), sixth-most · 539 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), seventh-most Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Kelly Blue Book Chevrolet) · One win, eight top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 12.3 · Average Running Position of 13.0, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 92.7, ninth-best · 227 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 1,119 Green Flag Passes, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.203 mph, eighth-fastest · 3,382 Laps in the Top 15 (64.6%), seventh-most · 535 Quality Passes, eighth-most Carl Edwards (No. 19 ARRIS Toyota) · Three wins, nine top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 14.6 · Average Running Position of 12.4, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 100.1, third-best · Series-high 371 Fastest Laps Run · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.499 mph, second-fastest · 4,038 Laps in the Top 15 (77.1%), third-most · 552 Quality Passes, fifth-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 3M Chevrolet) · Five wins, 16 top fives, 26 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.9 · Average Running Position of 10.2, second-best · Series-best Driver Rating of 106.0 · 296 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.453 mph, fourth-fastest · 4,161 Laps in the Top 15 (79.5%), second-most · Series-high 612 Quality Passes Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · One win, three top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 16.8 · Average Running Position of 12.1, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 97.4, sixth-best · 263 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.463 mph, third-fastest · 3,312 Laps in the Top 15 (67.4%), ninth-most Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/ Budweiser Chevrolet) · One win, five top fives, nine top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.8 · Driver Rating of 90.4, 12th-best · 280 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 949 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.232 mph, seventh-fastest · 3,045 Laps in the Top 15 (58.1%), 12th-most · 470 Quality Passes, 11th-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Three wins, 12 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 11.5 · Series-best Average Running Position of 9.1 · Driver Rating of 104.9, second-best · 280 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 171.523 mph · Series-high 4,381 Laps in the Top 15 (83.7%) · 582 Quality Passes, third-most Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Nine top fives, 15 top 10s · Average finish of 12.3 · Average Running Position of 12.2, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.9, fifth-best · 201 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most · 1,034 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.339 mph, fifth-fastest · 3,749 Laps in the Top 15 (71.6%), fourth-most · 544 Quality Passes, sixth-most Kyle Larson (No. 42 ENERGIZER Chevrolet) · One top 10 · Average finish of 8.0 · Average Running Position of 11.3, third-best · Driver Rating of 91.1, 10th-best Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Three wins, 10 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 12.7 · Average Running Position of 12.3, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 98.1, fourth-best · 233 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.191 mph, ninth-fastest · 3,353 Laps in the Top 15 (68.3%), eighth-most · 509 Quality Passes, 10th-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2015 Top 16 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Rank Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Joey Logano 8 0 0 1 1 0 21.5 71.9 2 Kevin Harvick 24 1 1 5 9 4 18.8 90.4 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 27 2 1 8 12 2 12.3 92.7 4 Denny Hamlin 15 1 1 3 6 2 16.8 97.4 5 Jimmie Johnson 23 0 3 12 14 2 11.5 104.9 6 Casey Mears 19 0 0 0 0 2 22.5 59.1 7 Clint Bowyer 14 0 0 0 5 2 21.1 83 8 Martin Truex Jr. 16 1 0 2 4 4 20.4 90.1 9 Kasey Kahne 18 2 3 7 9 3 18.6 87.2 10 Greg Biffle 20 1 0 3 10 2 15.7 90.8 11 David Gilliland 13 0 0 0 0 2 26.8 56.6 12 Sam Hornish Jr. 7 0 0 0 0 1 27.1 57.9 13 Michael Annett 1 0 0 0 0 0 21 59.2 14 Austin Dillon 2 0 0 0 0 0 21.5 65.1 15 Aric Almirola 4 0 0 0 1 0 20.5 65.8 16 David Ragan 12 0 0 0 1 1 26.5 57.3 * – Based on last 16 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2005 – 2014). Atlanta Motor Speedway Data Season Race #: 2 of 36 (03-01-14) Track Size : 1.54-miles Banking/Turn 1 & 2 : 24 degrees Banking/Turn 3 & 4 : 24 degrees Banking/Frontstretch : 5 degrees Banking/Backstretch : 5 degrees Frontstretch Length : 2,332 feet Backstretch Length : 1,800 feet Race Length : 325 laps / 500.5 miles Top Driver Ratings at Atlanta Jeff Gordon .............................. 106.0 Jimmie Johnson ........................ 104.9 Carl Edwards ............................ 100.1 Tony Stewart ............................... 98.1 Matt Kenseth .............................. 97.9 Denny Hamlin ............................. 97.4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. ....................... 92.7 Kyle Larson. ............................... 91.1 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (16 total) among active drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet 190.398 mph, 29.118 secs. 08-29-14 2014 race winner : Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet 131.514 mph, (03:55:22), 08-31-14 Track qualifying record: Geoffrey Bodine, Ford 197.478 mph, 28.074 secs. 11-15-97 Track race record: Bobby Labonte, Pontiac 159.904 mph, (03:07:48), 11-16-97 Statistical Advance Atlanta Motor Speedway: History · Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by Fireball Roberts from the pole. · The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970. · It was renamed Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990. · The track layout was reversed and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997. Notebook · There have been 107 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960. Until 2010 there have been two races per year except 1961, which had three. This year marks the fourth season with only one event. · 552 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway; 367 in more than one. · Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Atlanta with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 41 starts, followed by Joe Nemechek with 38. · Fireball Roberts won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Atlanta in 1960 with a speed of 133.870 mph. · 48 drivers have Coors Light poles at Atlanta, led by Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman with seven each. · Winning consecutive Coors Light poles has happened eight times at Atlanta, among six drivers. · Ryan Newman holds the record for most consecutive poles at Atlanta with six; spring of 2003 through 2005. · Youngest Atlanta pole winner: Terry Labonte (03/15/1981 – 24 years, 3 months, 27 days). · Oldest Atlanta pole winner: Harry Gant (11/14/1993 – 53 years, 10 months, 4 days). · 43 different NSCS drivers have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt with nine wins. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five. · 11 drivers have posted consecutive wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Marvin Panch (1965 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), David Pearson (1973 sweep), Richard Petty (1974 fall, 1975 spring), Cale Yarborough (1980 fall, 1981 spring), Bill Elliott (1985 sweep; 1992 sweep), Dale Earnhardt (1989 fall, 1990 spring; 1995 fall, 1996 spring), Bobby Labonte (1997 fall, 1998 spring), Jeff Gordon (1998 fall, 1999 spring), Carl Edwards (2005 sweep), Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep) · Youngest Atlanta winner: Kyle Busch (03/09/2008 – 22 years, 10 months, 7 days). · Oldest Atlanta winner: Morgan Shepherd (03/20/1993 – 51 years, 5 months, 8 days). · The Wood Brothers and Hendrick Motorsports have the most wins at Atlanta in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12 each: o Wood Brothers: Cale Yarborough (three), David Pearson (three), Marvin Panch (two), Neil Bonnett (two) A.J. Foyt (one) and Morgan Shepherd (one). o Hendrick Motorsports: Jeff Gordon (five), Jimmie Johnson (three), Darrell Waltrip (one), Jerry Nadeau (one), Kasey Kahne (one) and Ken Schrader (one). o Joe Gibbs Racing has the third most wins at Atlanta with 11. · Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Atlanta; led by Chevrolet with 38 victories; followed by Ford (29), Pontiac (11), Dodge (nine), Mercury (eight), Buick (four), Plymouth (four), Toyota (three) and Oldsmobile (one). · 14 of the 107 (13.1%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kasey Kahne in 2006. · The fifth starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Atlanta Motor Speedway; the most recent was Jeff Gordon in 2011. · 26 of the 107 (24.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the front row: 14 from the pole and 12 from second-place. · 60 of the 107 (56.1%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-five starting position. · 85 of the 107 (79.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Seven of the 107 (6.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Atlanta is 39th, by Bobby Labonte in the fall of 2001. · No driver has swept the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway across all three NASCAR national series. Two drivers have won in multiple NASCAR national series in the same weekend at Atlanta: Carl Edwards (2005, NSCS/NNS); (fall 2008, NSCS/NNS) and Kyle Busch (spring 2008, NSCS/NCWTS) · Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson lead the series in runner-up finishes at Atlanta with seven each; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five. · Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Atlanta with 26; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 16. · Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Atlanta with 33; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 26. · Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Atlanta with a 7.409. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at 11.522. · Nine of the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in his first appearance (2001). Carl Edwards won in his second appearance (2005). · Denny Hamlin competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway 12 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners. · Among the 10 active NSCS Atlanta winners Denny Hamlin (12) is the only driver to have made 10 or more attempts before his first win. · Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Atlanta without visiting Victory Lane at 38; followed by Matt Kenseth with 26. · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the March 11, 2001 race won by Kevin Harvick over Jeff Gordon with a MOV of 0.006 second. · There have been four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): fall of 2007 (325/329); spring of 2010 (325/341), fall of 2012 (325/327) and 2014 (325/335). · Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway five times; most recently the fall of 2010. · One active driver has posted his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (9/01/2013). · Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Jeff Gordon (11/15/1992) and Martin Truex Jr. (10/31/2004). · Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Kevin Harvick (3/11/2001) and Carl Edwards (3/20/2005). · Cale Yarborough leads all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Atlanta with 3,283 laps led in 47 starts. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in laps led at Atlanta with 1,297. · Three female drivers have competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson and Danica Patrick. Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Janet Guthrie 34 30 3/20/1977 Janet Guthrie 19 16 11/6/1977 Janet Guthrie 23 10 3/19/1978 Shawna Robinson 31 34 3/10/2002 Danica Patrick 23 29 9/2/2012 Danica Patrick 21 21 9/1/2013 Danica Patrick 27 6 8/31/2014 NASCAR in Georgia · There have been 166 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among 12 different tracks in Georgia. Track Name City NSCS Atlanta Motor Speedway Hampton 107 Augusta International Speedway Augusta 12 Lakewood Speedway Atlanta 11 Savannah Speedway Savannah 10 Middle Georgia Raceway Macon 9 Central City Speedway Macon 7 Valdosta 75 Speedway Valdosta 3 Jeffco Speedway Jefferson 2 Oglethorpe Speedway Savannah 2 Augusta International Raceway Augusta 1 Columbus Speedway Columbus 1 Hayloft Speedway Augusta 1 · 180 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Georgia; 15 have won at least once in one of NASCAR’s national series. · 11 of the 178 have posted at least one victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. · Bill Elliott (five wins) is the only Georgia native to have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. MORE: Driver NSCS NXS NCWTS Bill Elliott 44 1 0 Tim Flock 39 0 0 Jack Smith 21 0 0 Fonty Flock 19 0 0 Bob Flock 4 0 0 Frank Mundy 3 0 0 David Ragan 2 2 0 Gober Sosebee 2 0 0 Harold Kite 1
A statistical look ahead to the final race of the Contender Round RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Below is a look at the 12 Chase Contenders – and beyond – at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama going into the GEICO 500 on October 19 (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). TALLADEGA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS 1 - Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 107.2 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 15 top fives, 20 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.5 · Led 20 races for 916 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.7 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 16.5, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 81.7, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 193.205 mph, 10th-fastest 2 - Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 91.9 2014 Rundown · One win, eight top fives, 14 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.3 · Led 15 races for 453 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, four top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 21.4 in 19 races · Average Running Position of 18.8, 19th-best · Driver Rating of 81.1, 13th-best · 88 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 6,094 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · 1,782 Laps in the Top 15 (49.3%), sixth-most · 3,705 Quality Passes, sixth-most 3 - Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 110.2 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s; eight poles · Average finish of 13.5 · Led 23 races for 1,815 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, six top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.9 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 18.9, 21st-best · Driver Rating of 78.0, 21st-best · 80 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · 6,423 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · 1,594 Laps in the Top 15 (44.1%), 10th-most · 3,382 Quality Passes, ninth-most 4 - Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 85.9 2014 Rundown · Two top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 13.5 · Led 6 races for 31 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Four top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 21.5 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 22.2, 34th-best · Driver Rating of 69.1, 30th-best 5 - Carl Edwards (No. 99 Subway Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 82.8 2014 Rundown · Two wins, seven top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 14.3 · Led 11 races for 135 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 21.1 in 20 races · Average Running Position of 23.7, 40th-best · Driver Rating of 67.3, 32nd-best · 77 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most 6 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 110.3 2014 Rundown · Four wins, 12 top fives, 20 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.8 · Led 22 races for 740 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Six wins, 15 top fives, 19 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.7 in 43 races · Average Running Position of 18.9, 20th-best · Driver Rating of 80.6, 15th-best · 1,644 Laps in the Top 15 (45.5%), ninth-most 7 - Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx One Rate/Deliverminator Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.9 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 15.0 · Led 13 races for 217 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, four top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 19.1 in 17 races · Average Running Position of 17.7, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 83.1, ninth-best · 70 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 5,604 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · 1,543 Laps in the Top 15 (47.8%), 11th-most · 3,443 Quality Passes, eighth-most 8 - Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 88.6 2014 Rundown · One win, three top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 16.5 · Led 11 races for 206 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Three top fives, five top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 21.5 in 21 races · Average Running Position of 21.7, 32nd-best · Driver Rating of 70.0, 29th-best · 5,877 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · 3,170 Quality Passes, 12th-most 9 - Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 92.2 2014 Rundown · 11 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.9 · Led 17 races for 467 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, five top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 18.3 in 29 races · Series-best Average Running Position of 14.0 · Driver Rating of 90.9, second-best · 6,129 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · Series-high 2,361 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%) · 4,531 Quality Passes, third-most 10 - Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Wicked Apple Ale Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 103.9 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 13 top fives, 16 top 10s; five poles · Average finish of 13.3 · Led 25 races for 1,506 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two wins, three top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 16.4 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 20.1, 24th-best · Driver Rating of 79.7, 17th-best 11 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 98.6 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 10 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.4 · Led 15 races for 1,035 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.2 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 16.6, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 85.9, seventh-best · 1,881 Laps in the Top 15 (52.1%), fifth-most · 3,768 Quality Passes, fifth-most 12 - Dale Earnhardt Jr . (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 96.6 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s · Average finish of 12.2 · Led 14 races for 269 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Five wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 15.0 in 29 races · Average Running Position of 14.8, third-best · Driver Rating of 90.3, third-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 6,487 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 193.225 mph, ninth-fastest · 2,155 Laps in the Top 15 (59.7%), third-most · 4,160 Quality Passes, fourth-most 13 - AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 70.8 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.1 · Led 5 races for 68 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 23.4 in nine races · Average Running Position of 24.1, 44th-best · Driver Rating of 61.5, 42nd-best 14 - Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 79.0 2014 Rundown · Three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 15.8 · Led 6 races for 109 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Three top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 18.7 in 23 races · Average Running Position of 20.3, 25th-best · Driver Rating of 76.8, 22nd-best · 74 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most 15 - Kurt Busch (No. 41 HAAS Automation Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 85.7 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 19.8 · Led 12 races for 183 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Six top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 17.3 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 14.9, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 87.1, fifth-best · 7,181 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 2,262 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), second-most · Series-high 4,905 Quality Passes 16 - Aric Almirola (No. 43 Smithfield Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 72.9 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 21.0 · Led 5 races for 23 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One top 10 · Average finish of 19.1 in nine races · Average Running Position of 18.6, 17th-best · Driver Rating of 81.7, 12th-best The 12 Contenders at Talladega Superspeedway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Joey Logano 11 0 0 2 4 4 20.7 81.7 2 Kyle Busch 19 0 1 4 5 5 21.4 81.1 3 Kevin Harvick 27 1 1 6 11 2 15.9 78.0 4 Ryan Newman 25 0 0 4 9 8 21.5 69.1 5 Carl Edwards 20 0 0 2 5 6 21.1 67.3 6 Jeff Gordon 43 3 6 15 19 9 16.7 80.6 7 Denny Hamlin 17 0 1 4 6 3 19.1 83.1 8 Kasey Kahne 21 1 0 3 5 3 21.5 70.0 9 Matt Kenseth 29 0 1 5 9 4 18.3 90.9 10 Brad Keselowski 11 0 2 3 6 1 16.4 79.7 11 Jimmie Johnson 25 1 2 6 10 8 17.2 85.9 12 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 29 0 5 10 14 5 15.0 90.3 * – Based on last 19 races at Talladega Superspeedway (2005 – 2014). Talladega Superspeedway: History · Construction began on what was then known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway on May 23, 1968. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on Sept. 14, 1969 – won by Richard Brickhouse . · The name changed to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989. · Fourth repaving completed on Sept. 19, 2006. Notebook · There have been 90 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway , one NSCS event in 1969 and two races per year since 1970. · Talladega Superspeedway is tied with Michigan International Speedway for holding the ninth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races (90). · 438 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega; 299 in more than one. · Dave Marcis leads the series in starts at Talladega with 61. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 43 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 38. · Bobby Isaac won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Talladega in 1969 with a speed of 199.466 mph. Isaac won the first three poles at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. · 37 drivers have Coors Light poles at Talladega, led by Bill Elliott with eight. Joe Nemechek leads all active drivers with four; followed by Jeff Gordon with three. · 10 drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Talladega. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Talladega with six (1985 - 1987). · Youngest Talladega pole winner: Brian Scott (05/04/2014 – 26 years, 3 months, 22 days). · Oldest Talladega pole winner: Mark Martin (10/23/2011 – 52 years, 9 months, 14 days). · 44 different drivers have won at Talladega Superspeedway , led by Dale Earnhardt with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six. · Richard Childress Racing has the most wins at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12; followed by Hendrick Motorsports with 11. · Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Talladega; led by Chevrolet with 39 victories; followed by Ford with 20 and Toyota with three. · 13 of the 90 (14.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the Coors Light pole. Jeff Gordon (2007) is the only active driver to be able to accomplish the feat. · The outside front row (second-place) starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Talladega. · 33 of the 90 (36.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the front row: 13 from the pole and 20 from second-place. · 62 of the 90 (68.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega have been won from a top-10 starting position. · 8 of the 90 (8.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Talladega was 36th, by Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2000. · Youngest Talladega winner: Bobby Hillin Jr. (07/27/1986 – 22 years, 1 month, 22 days). · Oldest Talladega winner: Harry Gant (05/06/1991 – 51 years, 3 months, 26 days). · Buddy Baker and Tony Stewart are tied for the series’ most runner-up finishes at Talladega with six each. · NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Talladega with 23. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 15. · Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-10 finishes at Talladega with 27. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Talladega with a 10.520. · Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Talladega with a 15.000. · There have been seven NSCS races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway : spring of 2005 (188/194), fall of 2005 (188/190), spring of 2007 (188/192), fall of 2008 (188/190) spring of 2010 (188/200), fall of 2012 (188/189) and spring of 2013 (188/192). · Only two of the 90 races at Talladega Superspeedway have been shortened due to weather conditions: spring of 1987 and fall of 1996. · Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway five times; most recently fall of 2013. · Jamie McMurray (10/06/2002) made his series debut at Talladega Superspeedway . · Brian Scott (05/04/2014), David Gilliland (10/08/2006) and Travis Kvapil (10/05/2008) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Talladega. · 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski (04/26/2009) and Brian Vickers (10/08/2006) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Talladega. · Nine drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Talladega; Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the series in consecutive wins at Talladega after posting four straight from the fall of 2001 – 2003. · Brad Keselowski is the only active series driver to win at Talladega in his first appearance. · Matt Kenseth competed at Talladega Superspeedway 25 times before winning the fall of 2012; the longest span of any the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners. · Matt Kenseth (25), Tony Stewart (19), Kevin Harvick (18), and David Ragan (12) all made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Talladega. · Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega without visiting Victory Lane at 38; followed by Kurt Busch with 27. · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway was the (04/17/2011) race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2003 Darlington race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Talladega with 844 laps led in 43 starts. · Three female drivers have competed at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Patty Moise and Danica Patrick. Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Danica Patrick 7 22 5/4/2014 Danica Patrick 23 33 10/20/2013 Danica Patrick 23 33 5/5/2013 Patty Moise 36 33 7/30/1989 Janet Guthrie 12 29 8/6/1978 Janet Guthrie 9 34 8/7/1977 Janet Guthrie 13 32 5/1/1977 NASCAR in Alabama · There have been 109 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among seven different tracks in Alabama. Track Name City NSCS Talladega Superspeedway Talladega 90 Birmingham International Raceway Birmingham 8 Montgomery Motor Speedway Montgomery 6 Lakeview Speedway Mobile 2 Chisholm Speedway Montgomery 1 Dixie Speedway Birmingham 1 Huntsville Speedway Huntsville 1 · 70 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Alabama. · Nine drivers from Alabama have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; five have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Driver NSCS NNS NCWTS Bobby Allison 84 2 0 Davey Allison 19 0 0 Neil Bonnett 18 1 0 Donnie Allison 10 0 0 Red Byron 2 0 0 Steve Grissom 0 11 0 Rick Crawford 0 0 5 Darrell Wallace Jr 0 0 3 Cale Gale 0 0 1 MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceVie FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class
NASCAR's longest race has had plenty of great action over the years
Looking back at the top moments from the exhibition race that kicks off the season
RELATED: NASCAR mourns passing of Elijah Aschbrenner Even at just 10 years old, Elijah Aschbrenner knew how to command a room. The cancer patient knew how to create smiles, win hearts, and most importantly of all, out-live and out-best the finest doctor estimates. Too fittingly it feels, I found out he passed away late Tuesday night while I was looking at my texts Wednesday morning as I walked out of my own oncologist's office. Elijah is the son of one of the most wonderful women I know, Becky Hughes, whom I first met nearly 20 years ago while she was handling Kasey Kahne 's NASCAR XFINITY Series public relations. Becky always has a smile and a kind word, is always so optimistic. So was Elijah throughout his often brutal battle. So was his little brother Sam, who has been a fantastic source of strength for them all. They exuded all the love and optimism you could possibly will upon a group given the toughest existence imaginable. Very unfortunately, we knew this outcome for Elijah. Yet Becky and her large and loyal crew outside Charlotte, North Carolina, continued to pray for a miracle while simultaneously wishing for peace and comfort for her sweet son -- an exemplary example of living in the moment. WWE wrestling superstar Titus O'Neil changed an airline flight to visit Elijah this summer, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surprised him at a very early block party to celebrate the 10-year-old's favorite holiday, Halloween. He was feted at the October NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend at Charlotte and counts drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kasey Kahne , Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon as his friends. Martin Truex Jr . and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex -- who is undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer -- have lent Elijah and his family planes for doctor appointments and shoulders to lean on in between. He joked back in October that all the good will from so many made selecting a favorite driver "a minor problem because they are all so good to me." On Wednesday, Pollex tweeted "Go outside today and bask in the sunlight w/a loved one, help others by doing a kind deed, tell someone you love them. ... do it for Elijah." I spoke with Elijah a month ago for a column I wrote about him for NASCAR.com. I knew his story would inspire and encourage. I also wanted him to have a chance to read it, knowing what an inspiration he had become to so many. To me. But you don't have to have cancer to appreciate Elijah's large attitude and bigger spirit. I even received notes from others who had interaction with the same rare and fatal version of childhood cancer, Epithelioid Sarcoma that Elijah so bravely battled. Just having the name printed apparently helps that cause, and I know Elijah would want that at the very least. When I spoke with Elijah a little over a month ago, his voice was much softer than I remembered from our first meeting in May at the Martin Truex Jr . Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cause" pediatric cancer fundraiser in Mooresville, North Carolina. At that event Elijah was the rock star and everyone else merely his very-willing cheerleaders. He carried that unmistakable vibe -- and brightly dyed hair -- throughout his cancer battle and even into the deep, dark days of recent weeks when his mom was buoyed because he was still reactive to his favorite show, "Wheel of Fortune." Despite all Elijah was going through he made it hard for you to be sad because he was so joyful despite all the pain and fear of the unknown. When I interviewed him for that October story, I made a point of not crying while speaking with him -- even though as a mom and cancer patient myself it often proved difficult. When we last spoke weeks ago, he was still upbeat and still inspiring. He offered all sorts of wisdom, sounding much older than his 10 years. I asked him what advice he had for me and others: "Keep fighting and ... breathe.'' His mom shared that Elijah also had advice for her -- in addition to allowing a maximum of only three minutes of crying. "There have been many days when my faith is down and I'm scared and worried and he'll look at me and say, 'Mama, we're going to get through this,' " Hughes recalled. "Never once has his faith been in question. A few months ago, he coined the phrase, 'Faith and believing are your cure.' "And he really means it." We all owe Elijah gratitude for his inspiration, his strength, his grace and a smile and happiness that should be remembered and cherished. We will keep fighting for you, Elijah.