NASCAR.com’s Jonathan Merryman gets you Up to Speed with Danica Patrick as she announces Nature's Bakery as her primary sponsor for 28 races in 2016.
MWR co-owner not leaving team, 'taking anything' to CGR LONG POND, Pa. -- Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman said on Saturday at Pocono Raceway that he plans to integrate MWR and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, in which he has purchased an interest. Meeting with media for the first time since MWR issued a statement two days ago that the team and CGR would "operate separately and compete agains each other for the remainder of the 2015 season" while "evaluating ways to field the most competitive race teams possible" for 2016 and beyond, Kauffman emphasized that he continued to work with Waltrip. "First and foremost, I think it's important to realize that Michael and I own Michael Waltrip Racing ," Kauffman said. "We control Michael Waltrip Racing together. We're business partners. We're great personal friends. So any idea that like I'm leaving or taking anything is actually misplaced. "What we're really doing is integrating the businesses, trying to get the most competitive product on track, do the best for all of our partners and that's really our focus. It's a competitive business as everybody knows. It's competitive on track as well as off track." The timing of the statement was an attempt to keep both organizations focused on 2015, "getting hopefully one to two cars in the Chase and doing a great job for our partners," Kauffman said. "We've been very excited about the developments over the summer we've had with the teams," Kauffman continued. "They're running well. And there's hundreds of people working back in Charlotte. We want to keep them focused on what they need to do." Through the first 20 races, CGR's Jamie McMurray sits 11th in the provisional Chase Grid, the top winless driver in the points standings. MWR's Clint Bowyer holds the final spot in the Chase in 16th place. McMurray's teammate, Kyle Larson , is 20th, and MWR's David Ragan is 24th in points. With all four teams in the top 30 in the standings, each one is a victory away from making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Looking to the future of the two race teams, Kauffman said those plans are still under consideration with their performance helping determine 2016 plans. "In terms of our plans, whether we have three cars, four cars; two roofs, one roof, that's all yet to be determined," Kauffman said. "And how we do in the 2015 season will help determine whether that happens. If we do a great job, that will be one outcome. If we do a less great job, probably another. I think it will be pretty obvious to people." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Alan Cavanna keeps you Up to Speed from Martinsville, where Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were near each other everywhere from the media center, to the garage and even on the scoring pylon Friday.
Second-year driver will start sixth in Sunday's Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 LONG POND, Pa. -- Halfway through the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, Austin Dillon admits the results aren't where the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team wants them in his second season in the sport's top series. "It'd be like a C-minus on our finishes," Dillon told NASCAR.com at Pocono Raceway , site of Sunday's Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). "As far as on speed compared to last year, we're better. We haven't had the finishes that we want. I think my driving style is fine. We just could be better on the last couple restarts. Our points aren't there because of motor issues and failures. Hopefully, we can get rid of some of those failures." Those issues Dillon speaks of are an electrical problem in March at Martinsville that led to a 41st-place finish and an engine failure in May at Talladega that resulted in a 35th-place finish. "I think we'd be in the top 14, 13 in points if you take away two engine failures, a blown tire in Atlanta. A couple of different things that didn't go our way that we could have back would really benefit where we should be." One of the hallmarks of his rookie campaign was Dillon's ability to log laps and stay on track. In 2014, he missed logging only 53 laps of the 10,541 circuits. Keeping his car clean and out of trouble had him 15th in points this time last year. This season, he has already been off track for 259 laps of the 4,321 laps run in large part due to engine woes he simply didn't have last year. Dillon comes into Sunday's race at Pocono 24th in the points standings with one top-10 finish (a 10th-place result at Bristol). With the exception of a 16th-place showing last month at Charlotte, Dillon has finished outside the top 20 in four of the past five races. On the plus side, Dillon's average starting spot is 17.2 (counting Pocono), an improvement from the 19.9 mark he averaged last season. That mark was further improved as Dillon backed up his fifth-fastest time in Friday's opening practice (176.561 mph), with a fast lap of 176.526 mph in the final round of qualifying. He will start Sunday's race sixth. This is his third straight start in the top 12 and his best starting spot in 2015. The two-time national series champion (2011 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and 2013 in the NASCAR XFINITY Series) has been spending some time in the XFINITY ranks, running the No. 33 Chevrolet for RCR. Dillon has scored two wins (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March and Charlotte Motor Speedway in May) and seven top fives in 10 starts in that series. The 25-year-old sees great value in the prepaation the extra seat time allows him. "It's definitely been more beneficial having the laps (in XFINITY ) on Saturdays to be prepared for Sundays, the start of the race especially," Dillon said. "We take off a lot better knowing what the track is going to do. We have two wins in the XFINITY cars, so the confidence has been really high. It's been great to have the XFINITY car." Dillon's two Sprint Cup starts at Pocono produced an average finish of 16.0 and starting positions of 11th in both races. But the driver is ready for what the Tricky Triangle has to offer and has a Camping World Truck Series win (in 2014) at the 2.5-mile track to boot. "Last year, both (Cup) races were pretty solid for us. We had one stint where we were really fast in the race last year and we took a similar package here. "Track position's always big. And if we can keep that, that would be beneficial." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Sport to honor fallen service members with windshield tribute at Coca-Cola 600 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 18, 2015) — When NASCAR® drivers start their engines for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , fans will see familiar names like "Harvick," "Kenseth" and "Almirola" replaced on car windshields with "SGT Mracek," "HM3 Layton" and "CPT Argel" -- United States Armed Forces members who have fallen in service to their country. All 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will participate in "600 Miles of Remembrance" on Memorial Day Weekend to honor military service members and their families, and commemorate the launch of NASCAR: An American Salute ™, the industry's collective expression of reverence, respect and gratitude for those who have served and continue to defend our nation today. Fans can follow stories around the seven-week platform and share their personal expressions of thanks to the military using #NASCARSalutes on social media. "The NASCAR community rallying to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, past and present, has long been part of our sport's heritage," said Brent Dewar, Chief Operating Officer, NASCAR. "As part of NASCAR: An American Salute , 600 Miles of Remembrance represents a special moment in time as we pay tribute to service members who have sacrificed dearly for our freedom." Many of the service members whose names will be displayed on the race cars were chosen by the teams, and some have unique connections to the fallen. Private Dean Van Dyke, who was killed in the Vietnam War, was a relative of No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle . Army First Lieutenant Daniel Hyde, killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, served alongside Chris Clayton, tire changer on the No. 83 BK Racing team. Many of the families of the service members being recognized will be in attendance on Sunday, and will be introduced alongside the drivers during driver introductions. In addition, Charlotte Motor Speedway will host more than 6,000 active military members at the Coca-Cola 600 in honor of Memorial Day. NASCAR: An American Salute will feature various on- and off-track activities from tracks, teams and partners that show appreciation and support for the troops, and will culminate Independence Day Weekend with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway . This weekend, NASCAR together with Honor and Remember, Inc., will display specially prepared Honor and Remember flags representing those who have died in service to our country from each of the 50 United States throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Throughout the campaign, NASCAR will host military families at each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race as part of NASCAR Troops to the Track™ Presented by Bank of America. Toyota will also honor the names of fallen service members on its pace cars for the Coca-Cola 600 as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance. Later in the program, both Chevrolet and Ford will feature patriotic branding on the pace cars for races at Pocono and Michigan, respectively. Many NASCAR Official Partners have mobilized to support NASCAR: An American Salute with military-themed activations, including: • For the sixth straight year, Goodyear is rallying NASCAR fans to support members of the U.S. Armed Forces through its "Goodyear Gives Back" charitable program benefiting the Support Our Troops® organization. To kick off the program, Goodyear will once again transform its NASCAR race tires by replacing the "Eagle" sidewall design with "Support Our Troops" messaging on all tires used during Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway . This effort coincides with the May 21 launch of Goodyear's charity auction at www.Goodyear.com/GivesBack , which features autographed NASCAR memorabilia, VIP race experiences and rides on the Goodyear Blimp. • Bank of America is the presenting partner of NASCAR Troops to the Track -- a season-long program that honors members of the military and their families for their services, and treats them to a NASCAR race experience. This program is an extension of Bank of America's long-standing commitment to the military, focused on helping veterans and service members’ transition to civilian life. • NASCAR, Coca-Cola, Mars Chocolate North America, and 3M have collaborated to engage shoppers in over 180 military commissaries. On Tuesday, May 19, there will be all-day activation at Fort Bragg Commissary South featuring an appearance by Coca-Cola Racing Family Member Joey Logano , who will be giving away tickets to the Coca-Cola 600 . From May 18 to July 8, commissary shoppers can enter the 2015 Champion's Week Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week by texting "NASCARSALUTE" to 313131 or by visiting www.championsweek2015.com . • M&M's will introduce a national letter-writing campaign, in partnership with Operation Gratitude, encouraging fans to send messages of thanks and appreciation to military members. The notes will be included in more than 100,000 Operation Gratitude Care Packages which will be assembled and shipped to Troops deployed in harm’s way and to New Recruits upon their graduation from Boot Camp. • During Daytona International Speedway ’s Coke Zero 400 , all active duty military, veterans and their families can enjoy the Troops Welcome Center Presented by M&M’s. The center, which will be located in the midway, will be fully equipped with food and beverages, allowing service members to take a break and meet NASCAR drivers throughout the weekend. • In honor of the military, Miss Sprint Cup will wear NASCAR: An American Salute fire suits at the Coca-Cola 600 and Coke Zero 400 . This Sunday, NASCAR drivers will discuss 600 Miles of Remembrance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90) during a special military tribute show airing at 1 p.m. ET. The Dialed In Salute to the Troops special, hosted by Claire B. Lang, will feature interviews with several drivers as well as service men and service women from different branches of the military. During the Coca Cola 600 pre-race broadcast (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX), FOX Sports will recognize all service members who have lost their lives in the past year by displaying their names and branch of service on a graphic scroll. This will be FOX’s fifth year in a row dedicating the pre-race show to service members that have fallen in the line of duty. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 will be broadcast live from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM Radio. Additional live coverage can be found on NASCAR.com. To learn more about NASCAR: An American Salute , visit www.NASCAR.com/Salute .
Dale Jr. was more concerned about Dillon than celebrating his win RELATED: Dale Jr.: 'That was terrifying to watch' Dale Earnhardt Jr . is NASCAR's perennial Most Popular Driver for many reasons. He's a winner on track, he's hip and engaging, he appeals to old-school and new generation fans and he's got one of the most beloved pedigrees in the sport. Here's another reason, Earnhardt's actions after winning the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway speak to the kind of compassion and perspective fans want their cherished heroes to have. Dale does. Even as Earnhardt claimed the checkered flag for his milestone 25th Sprint Cup Series victory in the early hours of Monday morning, there was no celebratory cheering on his radio -- only raw fear and genuine concern as he watched a frightening wreck transpire in his rearview mirror. "Oh my God. ... that looked awful,'' Earnhardt screamed into his team radio, his voice shaking. "Oh no. Oh no. Did you see that?'' He asked in disbelief watching Austin Dillon 's car launch into the front-stretch catch fence, land back on track upside down and take another hard hit from Brad Keselowski 's spinning car. The impact was so severe Dillon's engine separated from the car and was still smoking yards away. Earnhardt's team assured him that help was on the way for Dillon and that included some of Earnhardt's pit crew since they were close to the scene. "Is everybody all right? Is everybody in the grandstands OK?'' Earnhardt continued to press. Told that Dillon was out of the car and gave a thumbs-up, Earnhardt was still concerned. "So all the drivers are good and everybody's good in the grandstands?" he asked, still shaken. "Man, that looked scary." Reassured again, that it looked like everyone was OK, Earnhardt finally praised his team for the win, but insisted, "I'm going to wait (on any victory celebration). I want to make sure everyone is good.'' It's hard to listen to Earnhardt's emotional radio transmission at the time of the accident. It's moments like this when you find out the true character of someone. And for Earnhardt there was an immediate, instinctual priority shift. The trophy could wait. Nearly an hour after the race had finished -- long after Dillon and the other drivers had been checked and released from the infield car center -- Earnhardt came into the Daytona media center still looking preoccupied and subdued, not like someone that had just earned a major victory. "You're just on the verge of tears, to be honest with you, because I think that the first thing that goes through your mind is -- and I saw everything in the mirror pretty clearly -- that car really went up in the air pretty high and I could just see that it was a black object that hit the fence and I'm assuming I'm looking at the undercarriage of the car,'' Earnhardt said. "I've never really seen a roll cage handle those catch fences very well and I just was very scared for whoever that was. I didn't even know what car it was, so I was just very scared for that person. "I didn't care about anything except for just figuring out who was OK. We pulled down to pit road there and (teammate) Jimmie (Johnson) got out of his car, come around that's the first thing we talked about. He was frightened as well and ... we just really wanted some information about everybody. "You imagine the news from the grandstands is going to come in a little slower, so you start thinking about that, waiting on that, seeing if everybody is OK there. "I mean the racing doesn't matter anymore.'' Although he didn't specifically say as much, you have to imagine this kind of incident at Daytona is especially hard for Earnhardt. He lost his father and namesake, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, in a fatal crash here on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 . Earnhardt Senior drove a black No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing , as Dillon does now. Although, in situations like this, it doesn't matter if you have a special connection to the driver. Earnhardt explained how times are different now. As the sport has evolved and modernized, drivers actually spend more off-track time together now whether it's promoting sponsors or sharing a barbeque in the motor coach lot. "It's an awful feeling,'' Earnhardt said of watching a competitor be involved in such a serious crash. "We sit in those bus lots together, we all have become closer friends, I think, because of the environment. "It aint' like the old days where everybody is at different hotels and you never saw each other and you come to the track and run over each other and fight each other and not like each other. "We all sort of live in this community and you may not like everybody, but you damn sure grow to respect them and don't want to see anybody get hurt.'' And yes, Earnhardt conceded, this is the kind of thing that does cause you to question your mortality. This sport is like no other. "I questioned it when I got my concussions and I'm sure I went through something when Daddy died,'' Earnhardt reflected. "I think when I got injured a couple years ago I realized how close I came to not racing anymore and how quickly this can be taken away from you. "I think turning 40 also helped me learn to appreciate this a lot more and try to really enjoy the opportunity I have because I've got such an amazing opportunity. I hate to go on about it but to be in these cars that I've got, to be with the team I've got, I feel so lucky and so blessed. When you get older, you definitely start to realize how fragile things are and how lucky you are to be able to be a part of it.'' Dillon's crash and Earnhardt's reaction to it is a not-so-gentle reminder that this sport is really much more about the people than it is the racing or the cars. MORE: The reason behind Dillon's wave FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing driver talks team chemistry post-Sonoma RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings SONOMA, Calif. -- Kurt Busch finished second to younger brother Kyle for the first time in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Both have been competing in the series full-time since 2005. Both have won plenty of races. Never had they finished 1-2, until now. The elder Busch (Kurt will be seven years older upon his birthday in August) wasn't complaining following the Toyota/SaveMart 350, but if he'd had his druthers … "Now I wish I could have gotten up there and moved him," Kurt said, grinning. "I was trying to think if we've ever finished 1-2, and we did it today. That's a pretty special moment. I've got over 500 starts. I know he's over 300. Can you imagine, 800 starts between the two of us, we almost have 30 wins each, and that's the first time we've ever finished 1-2." Kurt nearly led the most laps in the 110-lap race, the 16th of 36 points races this season, sitting out front for 43 circuits. Only Jimmie Johnson led more, pacing the field for 45. Kurt led under green for the final time from laps 67 through 74; he was 15th on a restart with 32 laps remaining after pitting when many others stayed out. One by one, he picked his way through the field, the run briefly delayed by an off-track excursion moments after he passed Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) for fourth with 15 laps remaining. "I've lost all rear grip," Busch told his crew. He'd also picked up a noticeable amount of debris on the front of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet as well. When the caution flew moments later, coming to pit road was a no-brainer, said crew chief Tony Gibson. "We had a tire going down, a left rear tire that was going flat so it actually turned out good," Gibson said. "If we hadn’t pitted that last time there, I feel like we would have been in bad shape. So it actually worked out to our benefit to pit. "We just needed to be about two cars up further on that restart." The final caution saw several drivers hit pit road; Johnson chose to stay out, as did a few others. Busch was ninth on the restart. He passed Clint Bowyer for second with one lap remaining. His brother wasn’t long gone, but gone just the same. "We had a fast car; I think we had the car to win for sure," Gibson said. "There at the end I knew those guys would get swallowed up on old tires. You saw that last year here with 10 to go when (Dale Earnhardt) Junior and those guys pitted and drove right back up through there. "We lost a couple of spots getting on pit road … which probably made the difference and the 15 (Bowyer) held us up a little bit there. But at the end of the day we led a lot of laps, it was an awesome race car and the guys did a great job." Busch was suspended for the season’s first three races, but has won twice (at Richmond and Michigan) since returning. He’s 10th in points and assured of being on of this year’s 16 drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . "We almost could have had as many race wins as we had races we were under suspension, so there's so many things that have gone into place for us to be successful," Busch said. "And the number one thing is Tony Gibson. He builds great race cars, and it's a pleasure to drive for him, and I love the team camaraderie. "I haven't had this type of team chemistry since my championship year (2004). It feels good to have that." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Furniture Row Racing driver led 28 laps on Saturday in runner-up finish Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For a driver that was out front for one lap all of last season, leading a race-high 28 laps in the span of one night marked a refreshing change for Martin Truex Jr. Though the strong performance came in the non-points Sprint Unlimited, Truex was able to take some encouraging vibes from Saturday night's second-place finish at Daytona International Speedway. At the same time, the heartening result carried a bittersweet feel, coming home just car-lengths behind race winner Matt Kenseth at the checkered flag. "Well, it feels good and bad," Truex said. "To lead all those laps and come home second, it stings a little bit, but honestly after the year and a half I've had -- on and off the race track -- that was a lot of fun. This team really needed that; I really needed that. This is the most fun I've had in a race car in a long, long time." Truex kicked off his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with Furniture Row Racing on an up note, bearing a sharp contrast to the No. 78 Chevrolet team's mighty struggles in 2014. In addition to his laps led tally being singular -- Truex led Lap 163 at Talladega Superspeedway last October -- instead of plural, he also netted just one top-five finish, a fourth place at Kansas Speedway in the fall. The off-track hardships Truex referenced were shouldered by his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last August. Pollex was in Daytona for Saturday night's exhibition, and Truex gave her and the fans braving the chilly temperatures a show. Truex lined up 10th after a random draw for starting position, but took the point for the first time by Lap 11. His car was one of the few in the 25-car field able to carve through traffic and change lanes with relative aplomb -- experience, he said, that should carry over as the rest of Speedweeks head toward its pinnacle, the Feb. 22 Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). Truex's primary Daytona 500 car encountered a small setback during Saturday's early practices when the No. 78 crew discovered a crack in the oil pan. The team did not have to change engines, keeping the driver's confidence up. "I learned a lot tonight that's going to help us throughout the week, mostly next Sunday for the race," said Truex, who started second in the 500 last season. "Obviously we learned a lot about our race car. We learned that it is fast. It's got speed. But honestly it's been a long time really, a couple years, since I had a car that I could make moves like that with, you know, make moves to take the lead, hold guys off for the lead, be able to run at the front all night long. So I learned a lot." But the learning experience wasn't limited to Truex's feel behind the wheel. The exhibition also gave the driver a test run in communicating with new crew chief Cole Pearn, making his debut atop the pit box. "That's kind of what we wanted to do," Pearn said, "going back to being able to run this race, is just trying to figure out what you have to do as far as what position you need to be in to get a good result and how the car's going to handle. … I think from that, it was a good test and honestly, pretty pleased with the results, so I think we can use this information to roll forward the rest of the week." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Can SHR driver build off late-season momentum following crew chief change? MORE: Full schedule of season previews Team: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet Rank in final standings: 12th Wins: 1 ( Martinsville Speedway in March) Year in photos: Kurt Busch 2014 highlights Strides: Busch's first season with Stewart-Haas produced quick results with a stirring drive to victory at Martinsville, where he fended off track master Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps. The triumph, which snapped a career-worst 83-race dry spell, secured an early reservation for Busch in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Busch also showed his versatility by becoming just the fourth driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. He wowed the IndyCar crowd with a competitive sixth-place finish as a rookie at the Brickyard, but wound up 40th at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the stock-car nightcap after engine failure. "It seemed as if it took us a little bit to get the newness settled in and once we got rolling, we surprised ourselves with a win early on," Busch said. "But the summer months is when it seemed to just start to click. It felt like home. We found some strengths, found some weaknesses and I think we've made our 2014 the best that it could be and that 2015 will be even better." Setbacks: While summer marked an uptick in Busch's results, the springtime doldrums after his Martinsville victory took its toll on his stature in the Sprint Cup standings. The former series champion failed to finish four of the next six races, triggering an eight-position drop in the points. Though the regular-season deficit was sizable, Busch started on virtually equal footing after the points reset before the Chase's Challenger Round. Though he started with a solid eighth-place run in the Chicagoland Speedway opener, finishes of 36th and 18th in the races that followed eliminated him from title contention. Quoteworthy: "I thought it was great season, to have a win and to run consistently through the summer months and to be in position in the Chase, there's a lot of football teams that make the playoffs and they get eliminated first round even after a great season. You have to be hot when it counts, and that's in the Chase, and we didn't get the job done during the Chase to advance through the rounds. We posted some good top-10 finishes; those aren't enough in the Chase. You've got to go after those top-fives and those wins, and that's what we've got to do next year with the Haas Automation Chevrolet." What's next: Busch played a prominent role in Stewart-Haas' expansion to a four-car operation in 2014 as the team added two new faces -- his and eventual Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick 's -- to the driver lineup. Heading into this season, the driver roster remains intact, but a crew chief shake-up has Busch's hopes up for 2015. For the final three races last year, SHR shifted Daniel Knost over to the No. 10 team with Danica Patrick , moving veteran Tony Gibson over to Busch's No. 41 Chevy. The brief audition for next year offered glimpses of promise with finishes of eighth, seventh and 11th to close out the season. "It's hard not to be too excited," Busch said. "It was a great three-race stretch of an average finish of 8.7 -- that's the average finish that it takes to be competitive week in and week out on the NASCAR circuit. Could we have made the change sooner? I would've loved to have, to try to capitalize on 2014, but it just gives us so much motivation and inspiration for what next year can bring us." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Cain: Don't expect these guys to lay off in the postseason RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota As Kyle Larson juked and jived his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to a near victory at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday afternoon, his ultra-determined effort served as NASCAR's ultimate spoiler alert. Even in a season featuring 16 title contenders -- the largest Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship field ever -- it should surprise no one if one of the super talented, highly motivated non-Chase drivers hoists a trophy in the remaining nine races, stealing a Chaser's fast pass to the title round. After all, non-Chase drivers have won races in four of the last five postseasons. And not only is the rookie Larson a leading candidate to win before the season winds down, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray has earned his late season television time, too. His No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet has led 180 total laps in the last four races and is keeping the Chasers honest. A couple other veterans, Clint Bowyer and three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart , boast resumes that absolutely make them favorites in the season's final races as well. For the 22-year-old Larson, it's been simply about "when" he'll score his maiden Sprint Cup victory. His third-place effort in a back-up car that started last in the Chicago field is proof of how driven he and that team are to win. Far from backing off and letting the Chase drivers settle the checkered flag in Chicago, Larson demonstrated exactly the kind of grit and gumption that makes this Chase portion of the season so exciting and potentially the most competitive in history. Nearly half the field has something to prove, whether it be a championship run or scoring a season- or career-first victory. There are sponsors to attract and scores to settle. No one is backing off or playing it safe. It's go time from the front to back of the grid. "(People might think) those guys might be a little bit more cautious, won't race you as hard,'' Larson said. "I didn't feel that way at all. I felt everybody was racing as hard as they do all season long. "We definitely have to be a little bit more careful around those guys, too, because we don't want to hurt their chances of advancing. "(But) like I said, I had a lot of fun racing Kev (Harvick), Jeff (Gordon), Brad (Keselowski) and Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) at some points in the race. I didn't feel like anybody was holding back at all." As good as Larson was Sunday, his teammate McMurray also furthered his case as someone who will have to be dealt with each week. In fact, McMurray is definitively the champion Chase spoiler of the last five years -- winning more Chase races (three) than any non-Chase eligible driver during that time. Four of McMurray's seven career Cup wins have come at Chase tracks. He's won twice at Charlotte and twice at Talladega, where he is the defending winner of the upcoming Oct. 19 race at NASCAR's biggest track. Bowyer, a preseason Chase favorite who like Larson just missed making the field, is another driver who has proven himself a contender at the 10 Chase tracks, venues where he has recorded five of his eight career Cup victories. He has a pair of wins at this week's stop, New Hampshire Motor Speedway , a pair of wins at Talladega and also a victory at Charlotte . Perhaps the biggest unknown in all this is the most accomplished racer not to earn a Chase berth -- three-time champ Stewart, who may view the race track as a focus for his off-track distractions and heavy heart. He has won in all 15 previous seasons competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but is still looking for his first in 2014. He has victories at all nine of the remaining Chase venues and 19 of his 48 career wins have come at these venues. He has three victories apiece at New Hampshire, Dover , Martinsville, and Homestead. Certainly this week's venue -- the notoriously tight and tough 1.058-mile Loudon oval -- is a prime opportunity to shake up the Chase order. But it's not just the championship contenders that see the opportunity, which makes the 2014 version of the Chase that much more compelling in ways that weren't even anticipated. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation