Organization owns 12 tracks in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Officials at International Speedway Corporation, which owns 12 tracks where NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series races, said Tuesday that the company has a "significant plan" in development to expand its use of impact-diffusing barriers in the interest of safety. John Saunders, ISC president, said in a statement that the project will focus first on its two largest tracks -- 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway and 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, where Kyle Busch's severe crash and resulting injuries during last Saturday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race renewed the focus on safety measures. In a statement provided by ISC, Saunders said the plan would emphasize "the installation of additional impact-absorbing technologies including but not limited to SAFER barriers (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction). We will utilize all available tools to ensure the safety of the drivers and our fans. It will remain our top priority." Saunders also indicated that a "thorough review of our other ISC facilities will continue with the focus to prioritize each track's most critical areas first." That focus will become sharper at the next ISC tracks hosting Sprint Cup and other NASCAR national series events -- one-mile Phoenix International Raceway , March 13-15; and two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, March 20-22. "ISC is working very closely with NASCAR and industry experts to identify areas for additional safety protections," Saunders said. "As we finalize our plans, we will communicate them to the drivers and necessary stakeholders ahead of our races at each ISC facility." Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III emphatically said Saturday, hours after Busch's crash, that his track would expand its use of impact-absorbing protective barriers. On Monday, Talladega and Kentucky Speedway followed suit with their plans, followed a day later by Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of this weekend's tripleheader for all three NASCAR national series. The Auto Club track expanded its use of energy-absorbing walls ahead of its 2014 race, after Denny Hamlin suffered a broken back when his car hit an unprotected concrete retaining wall the year before. The inside-wall area of Turn 4, just ahead of the pit road entrance, is now covered with SAFER barriers. 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
Track president: 'We've got history and experience doing March races' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live For the first time since 2004, NASCAR teams won't load up and head west for the season's second stop following the Daytona 500. Instead, Week No. 2 will find teams from all three national series -- Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck -- headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Coming on the heels of the season’s premier race has its challenges, AMS president Ed Clark told NASCAR.com, and weather is always a concern with an early March date in the area. RELATED: Atlanta plans SAFER barrier additions But, Clark said, "We've got history and experience doing March races. "The thing that's different about this one is that in the past, the Daytona 500 kicked the season off, we came home and had two to three weeks of outstanding interest in the sport. The day after the 500 was always your biggest ticket sales day of the year. "In this case, the Daytona 500 is over Sunday afternoon and we’re into Atlanta's race week right then." AMS hosted a Labor Day weekend race from 2010 through this past season. Up until 2010, it hosted two annual Sprint Cup weekends, the first typically falling in early to mid-March. From '82 through 2004, the second Sprint Cup race of the season was held at either Richmond International Raceway or North Carolina Motor Speedway (Rockingham). California's Auto Club Speedway hosted the second stop from '05 through '10 and Phoenix International Raceway had been the host since '11. "It's a plus and a minus," Clark said of being No. 2 on the schedule. "We all remember the year that Cale (Yarborough) and Bobby and Donnie (Allison) got in a fight (at Daytona in '79). The printing press couldn't have printed enough tickets for the next race. … That's a bonus when it happens. The world is watching what goes on at Daytona, there's a lot of focus on the sport. Everything is new. So it's a plus from that standpoint." Weather issues early in the year aren't uncommon for the Atlanta region, however. And the long-range forecast for this year's race weekend didn't look promising. But it has since changed (and will likely again), going from a chance of snow to a 40 percent chance of rain to a 20 percent chance of rain in the span of a week, according to www.NOAA.gov. Clark is more concerned about those things his group can control instead of those it can't. "I haven't even looked at (the weather forecast) in about a day and a half," he said. "No need to. It changes. "That's the approach we've taken all along. We know how to promote races; we've done it for years. Have your plan; work your plan. When you get to race time, you don't want to look back and say there was something you could have done that you didn't do." Part of that plan included an appearance by reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick on Monday. Prior to Thursday's scheduled test session, Atlanta Motor Speedway Day will be celebrated at the state capitol. Three-time premier series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip is expected to join active native Georgia drivers from all three series for a visit with the governor as well as stops as the Senate and House chambers. "The long and short of it," Clark said, "is we've done things we typically do, no matter when the race is." In addition to normal race-weekend preparations, AMS announced Tuesday upgrades to its current SAFER barrier system will be put in place in time for this weekend's events. Camping World Truck Series teams, which haven't competed at AMS since 2012, will share top billing on Saturday with the XFINITY Series in a double-header race day that features the Hisense 250 XFINITY Series race (2 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) and the Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 Truck Series event (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Sprint Cup Series event is scheduled for Sunday, March 1 with TV coverage on FOX. "We know we'll have a good race; we always have a good race at Atlanta," Clark said. "If we can get that first one done and all be positive, we have a whole year to work on ('16). I think that's when we will find out what the potential is for the future." 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
Take a virtual lap around the Phoenix International Raceway with Jimmie Johnson.
Former Sprint Cup Series champion's appeal set for Saturday at noon ET RELATED: NASCAR's Official Release " SHR introduces replacement for 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch indefinitely Friday in the wake of a Delaware family court's findings that "by a preponderance of the evidence" the 36-year-old driver "committed an act of domestic violence" against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll on Sept. 24, 2014. NASCAR announced that Busch's punishment was for a behavioral penalty and "actions detrimental to stock car racing following the release today of a supplemental disposition setting forth the findings and conclusions that formed the basis for the Family Court of the State of Delaware's decision on Monday to issue an Order of Protection from Abuse against him." The decision leaves the former Sprint Cup Series champion on the sidelines for stock-car racing's most prestigious race, Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Regan Smith was named as Busch's replacement for the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet, which was scheduled to start 24th in Sunday's Great American Race but will drop to the rear of the field because of the driver change. Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, made a statement 40 minutes after the decision was announced, taking no questions from the media. He said that Busch has the right to appeal and that the process would be expedited. Late Friday evening, a NASCAR spokesperson confirmed that Busch would contest the ruling. The appeal hearing is set for Saturday at noon ET. "NASCAR has made it very clear to our entire membership and the broader industry that any actions of abuse will not be tolerated in the industry," O'Donnell said. "I want to make it clear that any inference that there is a culture or tolerance for this type of behavior is patently false." Rusty Hardin, Busch's lead attorney, said that the driver's legal team plans to make an "immediate appeal" of NASCAR's decision. According to a NASCAR spokesperson, the appeal will take place on Saturday; a three-person panel would hear the appeal from Busch, who cannot have legal representation at such a hearing. "We assure everyone, including NASCAR, that this action against Mr. Busch will turn out to be a travesty of justice, apparent to all, as this story continues to unfold," Hardin said in a statement, adding, "We ask everyone's patience as this case continues in the court of law and are confident that when the truth is known Mr. Busch will be fully vindicated and back in the driver's seat." Stewart-Haas said in a release that Smith, who will have a Saturday news conference at 9:45 a.m. ET ( Watch live on NASCAR.com ), will remain in the No. 41 Chevy regardless of the outcome of any appeal. Smith, last year's runner-up in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, was also a Stewart-Haas sub last season for team co-owner Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International after Stewart was involved in a fatal sprint car incident at a nearby dirt track the night before the Sprint Cup event. Chevrolet also announced Friday evening that the automaker has cut its ties to Busch. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of Motorsports and Performance Vehicles, said that the manufacturer "has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely. We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary." NASCAR added in its penalty release that Busch "will not be allowed to race or participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice. "Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are fully aware of our position and why this decision was made. We will continue to respect the process and the timetable of the authorities involved." NASCAR's ruling comes on the heels of conclusions, released Friday, from Kent County (Delaware) Commissioner David Jones that found Driscoll's version of what happened inside Busch's motorcoach that evening at Dover International Speedway was more believable than Busch's, saying that his "version of the events is implausible, does not make sense and is unlikely to be true given the totality of the other evidence admitted at trial." According to the civil disposition report, Jones said he believed Busch committed an act of abuse against Driscoll "by manually strangling her by placing his left hand on her throat, while placing his right hand on her chin and face and smashing her head into the wall of his motor home, thereby recklessly placing (Driscoll) in reasonable fear of physical injury." Jones granted Driscoll a protective order Monday. Busch requested that the case be re-opened, but no ruling has been made. The terms of Jones' conclusion also require Busch "to be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional" and to complete any prescribed plan of treatment. The Dover (Delaware) Police Department completed its investigation of the alleged assault on Jan. 6, putting the case in the hands of the county's attorney general's office, which has not decided whether or not Busch will face criminal charges. Driscoll lauded NASCAR's decision to take action. "For victims of domestic violence there are no victories,' " Driscoll said in a statement. "My only hope is that the pain and trauma I suffered through this process will help other victims find their voice. … Today NASCAR took an important step and deserves to be commended. The next steps are to develop a thorough process and policies that reinforce the organization’s position it took today: Domestic violence will not be tolerated in NASCAR." Friday's announcement marked the third time that Busch -- a 25-time winner and the 2004 champion in NASCAR's top division -- has been forced to miss races in the Sprint Cup Series for disciplinary reasons. In 2005, Roush Fenway Racing severed ties to Busch with two races left in the season after he was cited for reckless driving and became belligerent with Maricopa County (Arizona) sheriff's deputies during a traffic stop near Phoenix International Raceway , according to police reports. In 2012, NASCAR suspended Busch for one race for "verbal abuse of a media member" during a post-race interview at Dover. Before Friday's decision, both Stewart-Haas Racing and NASCAR had declined to discipline Busch, with each opting to let the legal process play out. When news of the investigation broke last November while the series was racing at Phoenix , Busch declined comment and SHR spokespersons referred reporters to Busch's attorney, Rusty Hardin. Team co-owner Gene Haas said in the Phoenix garage that he would not remove Busch as driver of the No. 41 Chevy "until someone else pulls him out." Last Thursday during NASCAR Media Day, Stewart -- a three-time champion and the team's other co-owner -- said the organization had a contingency plan in place should the legal process have an unfavorable outcome. Friday evening, Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer said in a statement provided by the team that "we understand NASCAR's position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision. We are in the midst of finalizing our plans for the Daytona 500 and we will announce those details as soon as we're ready." In offseason interviews, Busch said he had no timetable for how long the legal process would take. Last January at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour, Busch maintained that his testimony was accurate. "It's a matter of knowing that the truth has been told and we'll see how things unfold," Busch said Jan. 27. "The process, we have to wait on what their decision's going to be." NASCAR chairman Brian France said during his season-ending "State of the Sport" address last November that the sanctioning body would react once concrete details in the legal process were complete. "What's not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awareness on domestic abuse and violence, and so you can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that's not going to be tolerated," France said before the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "The past of how any league might have handled some of this is one thing. It's pretty clear when you see what's happening around the country and in some of the other leagues that our policy will reflect the significance and importance that it should." 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
Hamlin's advice: 'Take performance at Daytona with a grain of salt' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Shortly after his Joe Gibbs Racing hauler touched down near the sunny shores of Daytona Beach last year, Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota took on a bulletproof aura. Victories came with convincing style in the season's first two preliminary events, and Hamlin came just one spot short of unseating race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500. But the air of invincibility left Hamlin with only vestiges and remembrances of his top-shelf performance the following week in Race No. 2, at Phoenix International Raceway . Suddenly, the Daytona front-runner was playing catch-up, a theme that recurred more than he would've liked. "We hadn't really talked about where our program was, and if you watched just those two races, you would've thought we were going to win every race in the entire season," Hamlin said of his wins in the 2014 Sprint Unlimited and his end of the Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races. "We got to (the second race), what's going to be Atlanta this year, and next thing you know, reality sets in and we're like, 'Uh oh, we're behind.' "You've got to take performance at Daytona with a grain of salt and know that last year's success doesn't equal success this year, nor does it mean it's going to be success for the remaining race tracks. I can just take it year by year, and I'm thankful for the results I do get when they're good." Though it's season-long accomplishments he's after, Hamlin wouldn't mind adding Daytona 500 laurels to his trophy case to get 2015 off a fast start. He avoided a major setback in Wednesday practice after contact with Danica Patrick caused little more than cosmetic damage to his primary car. Hamlin's run through Speedweeks last year established his team as one of the pre-race favorites. Though the idea of NASCAR parity reaches its highest point at restrictor-plate tracks Daytona and Talladega, Hamlin insists the playing field can never quite be 100 percent level. "It's more the chess game if you're going to have it all work for winning these races than it is the equipment," Hamlin said. "I think it's a cliché when everyone says, 'Anyone can win here,' and anyone can if it's just handed to you in your lap and everyone else crashes. If they don't, you've got to figure out -- you've got to be smarter than the rest of the guys." Hamlin's plate-track savvy was on display last May with a regular-season victory at Talladega Superspeedway, a triumph that launched him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, where he kept his championship hopes intact all the way to the final round. But on the other tracks that make up the meat of the Sprint Cup schedule, Hamlin's performance last year lacked his hoped-for consistency. The downturn prompted what Hamlin called JGR's "first total revamp" in his 11-year career, with a shuffling of crew chiefs that paired him with Dave Rogers -- formerly atop Kyle Busch's pit box -- for 2015. Hamlin said the Gibbs team essentially just changed the decals from Busch's No. 18 to his No. 11 in making the swap, though Hamlin will keep his lickety-split pit crew going forward. Rogers, who has worked with Hamlin before in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series, becomes just the third crew chief -- following Mike Ford and Darian Grubb -- to oversee the No. 11 since Hamlin joined the team in 2005. Though each crew chief during his tenure has brought their own approach, Hamlin said he's eager to open the next chapter with Rogers on an up note -- in Daytona and beyond. "They all have very different styles and they all work hard and they just do it a different way," Hamlin said. "I can't really explain what way that is, but they get there in a different way, and I know I will have success with Dave (Rogers, crew chief) because I've driven for him before. We've had success before and our communication has been great ever since we worked together eight years ago. I'm confident that the changes that were made are all changes for the better." 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
JGR driver will lead field to green in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) MORE: Full race lineup AVONDALE, Ariz.— Needing an 11th-place finish or better in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 to secure one of four positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' title race, Denny Hamlin took a giant step toward that goal with a pole-winning effort on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway . Hamlin covered the one-mile distance in 25.332 seconds (142.113 mph) to win his third Coors Light pole award of the season, his second at Phoenix and the 20th of his career. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota edged fellow Chase driver Brad Keselowski (142.079 mph) by .006 seconds for the top starting spot in the final race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Eliminator Round (on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET). With Kevin Harvick third at 141.995 mph, Joey Logano fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth (both at 141.794 mph) and Jeff Gordon sixth at 141.665 mph, Chase drivers claimed six of the top seven spots on the grid. The only interloper was Kyle Busch , who will start sixth after posting a lap at 141.771 mph. With one of the best pit crews in the Sprint Cup garage, Hamlin will choose pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road and a considerable advantage at Phoenix . But even with the top starting spot and the best pit box, Hamlin doesn't think he'll be able to coast to the final race. "I think the competition is just too close and tight to think that you're just going to coast to an 11th-place finish," Hamlin said. "Nowadays, the difference between 11th and third and 20th is not that much, so you've got to go all-out on every single lap and fight for every position on restarts. "So, really, from my standpoint, there is no backing into this thing and coasting our way to Homestead. We have to go out there and perform at a high level, or else we're not going to make it. There are too many cars that are too good for us to think that we're just going to ride around and take our spot." Harvick, who was fastest in Friday's opening practice, said he didn't "connect the dots" in either round of knockout qualifying. Nevertheless, the consensus in the garage is that Harvick, who has won three of the last four Phoenix races, has the fastest car in race trim. "I just didn't hit everything on both laps," Harvick said. "I got up the race track a little bit the first lap in Turn 1, and on the second lap, I got up the track at Turns 3 and 4. So I just missed it by a little bit, but our Budweiser Chevrolet is really good in race trim and (I'm) really looking forward to the race. "We have to keep tweaking on it tomorrow and know we qualified 13th here the first time and drove to the lead. We have to keep doing what we're doing, and we'll be fine." Keselowski and Harvick, who are seventh and eighth in the Chase standings know that a victory at Phoenix is their surest path to the season finale. Keselowski, who had to win at Talladega to advance to the Eliminator Round, spelled it out. "Technically, I don't have to win this race, but the probabilities are that I do," he explained. "I think it will be very hard to pass three cars in points. I think I'm within five on all three, but that means if you didn't win, you'd have to beat at least three cars by five spots on the track—and these are good guys. These are good drivers and good teams. "There's a reason why they're this far in the Chase, and to beat all three of those by five spots, that's a tough task for anyone to really feel good about. But you know if you win, you're in, and that's the great thing about this system and we have a great shot at it, for sure." Chase driver Carl Edwards was 25th fastest in opening practice but improved to 13th in time trials. "I hate to admit it, but I'm very happy with 13th," Edwards said. "We were about a 25th-place car in practice, and I was nervous about this and it went well, so that's good. I'm telling you, we're within striking distance. "We're better than we qualified in the spring, and now we work on race trim. We're always better in the race here than we are in qualifying, so we'll just go focus on it and keep digging." Ryan Newman, who needs a ninth-place finish to advance to Homestead with title eligibility, qualified 20th, deepest in the field of the Chase drivers. Clay Rogers failed to make the 43-car field. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
No. 11 and No. 16 team crew chiefs discuss their testing plans RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Phoenix International Raceway will b e a busy place over the next month and a half. In addition to hosting the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (Nov. 9, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN), the final race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup where four drivers will be eliminated before the season wraps up in Homestead, the track will also host a Goodyear tire test. Speaking to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive," Darian Grubb, crew chief for Denny Hamlin 's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team, disclosed that there will be a test and discussed the positives and negatives of testing during the season. "We found out yesterday that we're actually going to have an extra day at Phoenix turned into a 2015 tire test after we do our team test out there. So that's going to be interesting right before we go to Talladega and the stressful week, a lot of our guys are going to have to stay out there and do a third day of testing just for Goodyear and NASCAR. So it's exciting because it gives you a chance to get ahead on next year's stuff, but it's also tough to be able to concentrate on this year and start working on next year as well." Hamlin's team is planning on testing at Phoenix "the week after next" and will also be testing at Homestead "two weeks after that," Grubb said. Hamlin is still in the championship hunt as the Chase heads into the Contender Round at Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN) Grubb was also asked about the 2015 rules package that was announced last week. Among the changes announced are a reduction in horsepower and a ban of team-facilitated testing for next season. "I really think it's a good direction. I wish we had gone a little farther with the downforce reduction, but it is what it is and we're going to go out there and we're going to race hard. From what we saw at Michigan and how racy the cars were and how the drivers were physically having to drive the car, I think the direction is for sure going to be the right thing. I think racing will become a lot closer, and the driver is going to have more of a chance to mess up and jump the cars loose and guys diving inside. Hopefully they're going to have more talks in the future and go even further with the downforce reduction and give Goodyear some freedom to be able to give us more grip in the tires and more falloff and make pit strategy and things like that a lot more of a game to play. Any time you open up the rulebook for crew chiefs to have a little more chance to work and a little bit more freedom to make your car better than the other guy, we all thrive on that because we all want to find that advantage. The more that goes, the happier we're going to be and hopefully the racing gets even better because of it." For a team eliminated from the Chase, working toward 2015 is at the forefront of their mind. Matt Puccia, Greg Biffle 's crew chief, discussed with "The Morning Drive" the tests the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team has lined up. "(We've) got a lot of stuff to do for 2015 in the next month and a half, two months that really we're working hard on now," Puccia said. "We've got a Homestead team test that we're going to use this year. Maybe we'll work on some stuff there. There's a Goodyear test that we're going to go to and work on the rules package this year. I think we've got Charlotte they're talking about this year and California maybe. So really going to start strapping down here and start working on '15 here." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Rookie tries to be youngest title winner in NASCAR national series history RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Plenty of history remains up for grabs for Chase Elliott as the NASCAR Nationwide Series season winds down. That doesn't mean he's overthinking matters. The 18-year-old phenom enters the year's penultimate race with a 48-point edge over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith . If Elliott loses no ground in the standings after Saturday's DAV 200 Honoring America's Heroes (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Phoenix International Raceway , he'll be crowned champion with one race remaining. If Elliott can cash in on his commanding lead -- either in the desert or at the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale the following weekend -- he'll become the youngest title winner in any of NASCAR's three national series and the first rookie champ since the series' formative years. He'd also be the first to win the title and Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the same season. A championship would also put the Elliotts as the fourth father/son combo to win NASCAR national series championships as Bill Elliott, 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and Chase's father, won NASCAR's premier series championship in 1988. While the scenarios for clinching the crown are fairly straightforward, Elliott isn't making the task ahead more complex that it needs to be. At the same time, the teenager said he grasps the importance of the potential accomplishment. "It would be phenomenal. It would mean the world to me, and not just me, but our team and our sponsors, NAPA and everybody that makes it happen," Elliott said last weekend after adding six points to his lead at Texas Motor Speedway . "We'll give it our best shot to do so. We'd still like to have another win or two before the year is out, so that's our main goal. The biggest thing about the points, I think, is keeping it as simple as knowing you get the most points for finishing highest up at the end of the day. I think that's about as simple and as much as you need to worry about it. "So we'll give it our best shot each week and hope for the best and wherever it unfolds, it unfolds." While an Elliott championship isn't a lock, a first Nationwide title for the JRM operation virtually is. Richard Childress Racing 's Brian Scott ranks third, a distant 63 points off the top, meaning he'd need a monumental collapse from both Elliott and Smith in the next two races to overtake them for the crown. Elliott Sadler , 68 points behind in his last year with Joe Gibbs Racing , and RCR's Ty Dillon , 75 points off the lead, are the only other drivers with a mathematical chance at the championship. On the team owners' side of the Nationwide standings, the battle at the top tightened up after Kyle Busch 's victory last weekend at Texas. The triumph helped the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota team move closer to Team Penske 's No. 22 Ford, driven to a second-place finish in Fort Worth by Joey Logano . With two races left, the Penske No. 22 leads by 26 points. Busch will again be behind the wheel at Phoenix , where he's won three consecutive Nationwide races and seven times overall in the series. Brad Keselowski -- a four-time winner in Nationwide competition this year but winless at Phoenix -- will pilot the Penske No. 22 this weekend. Last season, Penske's No. 22 prevailed in the season-long team owner championship hunt by just one point over the Gibbs No. 54. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
See where your favorite driver will be pitting on Friday (FS1, 8:30 p.m. ET) RELATED: Full race lineup By winning the 21 Means 21 Pole Award for Friday night's Lucas Oil 150 (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at Phoenix International Raceway , Erik Jones got the top selection for a pit stall for the race. Jones chose the pit stall closest to the pit road exit. Jones' first career NASCAR national series win came at Phoenix in this race last year. With his pit stall, Jones will have an opening in front of him to pull out of his pit box. Matt Crafton (starting second), Ben Kennedy (starting third), Ben Rhodes (starting fourth), Joey Coulter (starting fifth), Tyler Reddick (starting seventh), John Hunter Nemechek (starting eighth), Brennan Newberry (starting 11th), Austin Dillon (starting 12th) and Johnny Sauter (starting 14th) will also have the advantage of an opening in front of them on pit road. Matt Tifft chose the pit stall closest to the pit road entrance. Entering the Lucas Oil 150 , the defending series champion Crafton holds a 23-point lead over Ryan Blaney for the championship. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Chase contender led 224 laps in win at 1-mile track in March Kevin Harvick has been remarkably strong at Phoenix International Raceway in recent races at the 1-mile track. Harvick has won three of the last four races at the desert track, including a dominating performance in just his second Sprint Cup Series points race for Stewart-Haas Racing earlier this year. Harvick led 224 of a possible 312 laps en route to his first win with SHR. For his career, Harvick has five wins -- the most of any Sprint Cup driver at the track, including a sweep of the 2006 races. In the past nine years, Harvick has the second-highest driver rating (103.9) at Phoenix .