Through Operation Insipration, Richard Petty and Eckrich team up with Jewel-Osco to surprise a military family with one year's worth of free groceries and a new car.
After thought, driver concluded 'timing was right' to make move RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Marcos Ambrose readily concedes it was an offer too good to pass up: The enviable opportunity to return his young family home to Australia combined with the chance to drive for Roger Penske. Explaining that he had made the decision this summer to return home -- in large part to raise his 8- and 6-year-old children -- Ambrose, 38, acknowledged this week that the stars aligned from both a personal and professional perspective. Team Penske announced this week the former two-time Australian V8 Supercar champ Ambrose will return to the series in 2015 with a Penske-led Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske entry. After a winning nine-year NASCAR career in the states Ambrose was ready for a change in scenery. And the timing has proven impeccable. In a teleconference with the international media this week, Ambrose again stressed that his motive has primarily been family-based. He will base the family in his native Tasmania -- near immediate family close to the very neighborhoods he and his wife were raised. "I had come to that conclusion leading into the summer that the timing was right for me personally to return to Australia at the end of this season for personal reasons,'' Ambrose said. "My kids are 6 and 8. I want them to enjoy and experience Australian life as well, so when they grow up they can make their own choices in life where they want to be. "I have one American that was born here and I have an Australian, Tabitha, who's 8 who has an Australian passport. I think the timing for me personally was right." And having earned a pair of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories along with five NASCAR Nationwide Series wins, Ambrose conceded it felt like his tenure in NASCAR had reached its natural conclusion. "My career in NASCAR has flattened off, and I always said that when I felt like I wasn't going to be able to either keep progressing or wasn't going to be able to achieve what I came here to do, which was to win a championship, then I needed to look at my options, and that's exactly what I've done," Ambrose said. "I've achieved a lot in NASCAR. Getting an opportunity to drive in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty is incredible, but I felt like my opportunities were getting narrower, and certainly my results had flattened off. I mean, it's just a fact of life. "I felt like it's a good time for me to return the family to Australia. I've certainly scratched the itch of NASCAR, and I'm really proud of what I've achieved, but I'm happy to return to Australia and go to the next chapter in my racing career." Ambrose will work with at least two other team leaders with NASCAR experience. Jeff Swartwout, who worked with Penske's Nationwide Series program, will serve as team manager and Nick Hughes, who served as technical director on Michael Waltrip Racing teams, will work in the technical department. And with Penske's broad reach in motorsports , there was immediate talk about crossover between the series. Asked if one of his other drivers might do a one-off V8 Supercar race, Penske joked, "I told Marcos maybe we'd get (Juan Pablo) Montoya who said he likes to run on road courses to come down and join him, but that was only a joke. Please don't print that. That's just a joke." Penske Racing President Tim Cindric added with a laugh, "We'll have a long line out the door with Helio (Castroneves) and Will Power and the rest of them asking why they didn't get to go. There's a long list." In converse, Penske didn't close the door on whether Ambrose might make a return to NASCAR either. "I think that if there were reasons that we wanted to run Marcos, whether it's an oval or a NASCAR road race, we would have to look at the schedule and to be sure we had the proper funding to do it,'' Penske said. "I think as far as he's concerned, he's made the decision to come with us in Australia, and I think those opportunities he'd have to really look at one at a time." In the meantime, Ambrose said he is committed to seeking another title in the V8 Supercar championship. "It will be a challenge for me personally, there's no doubt about that. It's been nearly 10 years since I've driven a V8 Supercar. I don't take that challenge lightly,'' Ambrose said. "I know it's going to take some time to get integrated back into the series with the way they like to race, with the rules they have in place, and also the technical aspect of these cars, but I know what I've done in the past, and I know what I'm capable of, and it's not like I've been sitting around a beach. "I've been racing 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races every season. I've had plenty of racing miles under my belt. I'm looking forward to the change. I'm looking forward to bringing my family back to Australia, and just can't wait to get started." 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
Driver talks past, future in interview RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated AJ Allmendinger has seen his share of adversity during nearly a decade in NASCAR. Two years ago, he hit the lowest point in his career after a failed drug test led him out of Team Penske and into NASCAR's Road to Recovery program. Chastened, the 32-year-old driver kick-started the second chapter of his career by winning two Nationwide races last year for Roger Penske. Allmendinger is now back in the Cup Series trying to push JTG Daugherty's program and his career to the next level. We caught up with Allmendinger a day after the No. 47 was swept up in an early wreck at Daytona. Just two weeks earlier, he'd led a race-high 34 laps at Sonoma before contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr . derailed his shot at for a first Cup victory and the Chase berth that would've come with it. NI: You're known as a strong road racer but what are your thoughts on plate racing? Allmendinger: Out of all the racing we do, it's my least favorite. There's just so much that goes into it. A lot of it's luck, being in the right place at the right time and missing the "big one." The racing can be exciting at times for sure. As a driver, you definitely have to be at full concentration the whole time you're out there when you're in the pack just because one 2-inch mistake can be a big, big crash. Especially if you're the one making that mistake, you feel bad because you wrecked yourself and you've got a lot of competitors that you feel bad about because they're probably pissed off at you. NI: You had a car that could have won at Sonoma before you were taken out. Does it take long to get over that? Allmendinger: I don't know if you ever fully get over it. To a certain degree, in this sport, you gotta be ready to go the next weekend. You can't let a bad weekend carry over into the next weekend. It's tough because I thought we had a shot to win. We were up front, top two cars every practice session and qualifying, led the most laps, played the strategy to what ours was and we just got into an incident. It is what it is. You can't fix it. NI: If you can get that first win, you're all but in the Chase. No added pressure there? Allmendinger: Honestly, I look at it two different ways. The Chase would be great for the fact that our sponsors and this race team being such a small team, to be able to promote that we won a race and are in the Chase, that would be fantastic. But when it comes to, "Do we have to make the Chase for it to be a successful season?" No. We're not a championship-winning team right now. There's no doubt about it. We're a small team, we're trying to grow to that at some point and it's going to be a long process to get there and a lot of hard work. I think with the right effort we can actually get there. NI: It might sound like a strange question but are you almost glad things played out the way they did back in 2012? Allmendinger: Except for the mere fact of having to put Roger Penske through that. Other than that, I'm way happier now than I have ever been when it comes to a lot of things. I still put a lot of pressure on myself racing, so I still have those ups and downs, but it's a different kind of pressure now. The ownership just makes this team such a family. I want to take this team to a new level. That's the pressure I put on myself, to put this team on my back and take it to another level. I feel like they deserve it down from ownership and the team because they work so hard. NI: How has your perspective changed in the past couple of years? Allmendinger: It's a different perspective now. It's not the only thing in the world, you know? There are other things that are important and in the grand scheme probably a lot more important than racing. But obviously when you make your life and you put your heart and soul into it, it feels like the most important thing. I wouldn't change anything that I've had to go through for anything except for disappointing Roger Penske. Hopefully, last year, winning the Nationwide races and having a shot to win Indy made up for it. NI: It's our tailgate issue, so I have to ask about your abilities on the grill. Can we call you a grilling master? Allmendinger: No (laughs). We can lie to everybody and tell them I can grill anything up. Only problem is hopefully I won't get called out on it. I really enjoy grilling because it is so healthy to be able to do that and I'm real health conscious when it comes to what I eat. The sponsors we have on our team are great when it comes to all that. So it makes it a lot easier because we’re stocked with a lot of great things to eat. I live in an apartment right now so it's hard to grill in the corner without a balcony. My girlfriend is really good at grilling so she's shown me some stuff. Hopefully, in the near future, I can have a house and practice up but right now it'd be a stretch to say grilling master. I'd like to be. Let's put it that way. NI: It's hard to believe you've been in NASCAR for almost a decade now. What's been your personal highlight so far? Allmendinger: The Nationwide wins were something I'll never forget, especially with what led to those. I remember making my first race at Bristol -- it took me four tries to finally make a race -- back in 2007 when there were 50 or 60 cars trying to qualify each weekend. Making our first Daytona 500 in 2009 and almost winning the thing. (Allmendinger finished third in the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge.) But I think the highlight is still being here really. This sport is tough. It will bring some guys in, especially with the open-wheel side of it, and spit them back out pretty quick. So to have the commitment level and just the do-or-die work ethic trying to stay in when things were bad and things got better and things got bad again, and keep coming back, I feel very fortunate that people believe in me. Whether it's the "King" or the "Captain" or Tad (Geschickter) to give me another shot to jump in this race car and feel like I can get the job done now. More than anything, just being able to still be a part of it through thick and thin is something that's probably the most special. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
The history of Richard Petty Motorsports and full crews for Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose
Driver-by-driver news and notes from the opening race of the Chase MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings " Chicagoland photos " Gallery of winners RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Editor's Note: Drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will appear in italics. 1. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. The 2012 champion started 25th and had the lead by Lap 46. Keselowski had to come back to pit road for a loose wheel on Lap 186 that took him from second at the time to restarting in 16th. Crew chief Paul Wolfe told him, "I don't want to take a chance." It was a good thing they didn't. Keselowski worked his way back up through the field and went between Larson and Harvick to take the lead for good on Lap 252. The win automatically punches Keselowski's ticket into the Contender Round of 12 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Watch how Keselowski got the lead 2. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . For the second straight week, Gordon finished as the runner-up to Keselowski. He led 26 laps on the afternoon and really never left the top 10. Gordon was the fastest car during green flags (176.271 mph) and fastest on restarts (176.701 mph). The four-time champion said afterwards "the whole team was extremely solid and that's a great way to get started." See Gordon's race highlights 3. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The rookie nearly played spoiler in the opening race of the Chase. He led 20 laps, the most he has led in a race in his Sprint Cup career. He had plenty of speed, with 17.2 percent of the fastest laps run (tied for the most), the third-fastest car on restarts at 175.847 mph and he did it all in a backup car after wrecking his main car in Saturday's practice session. After the race, the rookie lamented how close his was to earning his first Sprint Cup victory, telling ESPN, "Man, I was so close." See Larson's race highlights 4. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano had his worst starting position since the July Daytona race, starting 28th, but he made up plenty of ground. He recorded 103 green flag passes (the fourth-highest total in the race) and was the best "closer" of the race. He picked up nine spots in the final 27 laps of the race for his fifth top-five finish in eight races, in which he has had an average finish of 5.3. Watch Logano's post-race interview 5. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick had to pit again after a Lap 68 stop for a wheel going down. He originally pitted in fifth and restarted in 21st. By Lap 151, he had the lead and held it for 79 laps, the most of anyone in the race. He had speed, but had a tough time holding off a hard charging Larson and then Keselowski. He had 16.7 percent of the fastest laps run in the race and earned his sixth top-10 finish in eight races. See Harvick's race highlights 6. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin expressed some early fears that he was having engine trouble, but that turned out to not be the case. In Darian Grubb's return to the pit box, Hamlin continued to carry the good mojo from his strong run with interim crew chief Michael Wheeler. Hamlin had 109 green flag passes (tied for the most in the race) and spent the third-least amount of time on pit road. For in-race pit road data, subscribe to RaceView today 7. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. "Rowdy" led 46 circuits and never left the top 15 all race long. He showed some speed, laying down the fastest lap of the race on Lap 2 at 185.096 mph. For a team that had struggled in a big way entering the Chase, this top 10 finish -- their first in seven races -- was a huge step for the No. 18 team. See Kyle Busch's race highlights 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Talk about an up-and-down day. "The Outlaw" spun entering pit road on Lap 46 and had to serve a pass-thru penalty for a commitment line violation, putting him in 30th place on Lap 60. How did he make up the ground? He tied for most green flag passes in the race with 109 and he closed strong, picking up seven spots in the final 27 laps of the race, despite some minor contact with his brother with 30 laps to go. See Kurt Busch's race highlights 9. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray continued his late season surge by leading 32 laps on the day and spending all but one lap in the top 15. He spent the least amount of time on pit road and earned his third top-10 finish in four races. For in-race pit road data, subscribe to RaceView today 10. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth recovered well after spinning out on his way onto pit road on Lap 148. Part of that recovery can be attributed to his pit crew, with Kenseth's team earning the fastest average time on pit road (from pulling in to leaving) at 35.267 seconds. 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Dale Jr. struggled in final practice but made some early gains in the race and spent significant time in the top five. Earnhardt had 50 quality passes on the afternoon, which was the fifth-most for the race. But just missing out on a top-10 finish left Junior a little disappointed, as he said over the radio, "I should have done a better job." See Dale Jr.'s race highlights 12. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . As he began his pursuit for title No. 7, Johnson spent much of the afternoon in the top 10 but dropped out late. He was the second-fastest car early in a run at 177.930 mph, according to loop data. However, he was just the 11th-fastest car late in a run. Perhaps that explains part of the dropoff. It was Johnson's first finish outside of the top 10 since Watkins Glen. 13. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Talk about being opportunistic. Kahne spent only 15.4 percent of the race running in the top 15, but those laps happened to fall in the latter part of the race. The result places him 11th in the standings. 14. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. Truex earned his best finish since Watkins Glen, a stretch of five races. He did that in part by being one of the better "closers" in the race. According to loop data, Truex moved four spots in the final 27 laps of the race. 15. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman had two separate issues with tires during the races. The second of which -- a tire rub issue on Lap 155 -- led to Newman sternly saying over the radio, "find out why that tire started rubbing and make sure it doesn't happen again, please!" He was two laps down at one point and rallied for a top-15 finish. He is just outside the transfer spot to the Contender Round but can improve over the next two races to advance. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView today 16. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. In his best result since Watkins Glen, Dillon registered the fourth-most quality passes of the afternoon with 51. He also spent 59.9 percent of the laps in the top 15 -- not bad for a rookie who looks to get better in the latter half of the season. 17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. The second-year Sprint Cup driver was credited with the most quality passes in the MyAFibStory.com 400 with 63. He had a little run-in with his girlfriend on the track, but managed to earn his sixth top-20 result in the past seven races. He had just seven top-20 finishes in the 20 races before that. 18. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. It was a quiet day for "Smoke," who has put together back-to-back top-20 finishes. He ran well at Loudon in the summer and that one-mile track could be where Stewart gets his first win of 2014. He has three victories there in his Sprint Cup career. 19. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Danica has now scored three straight top-20 finishes for the first time in her Sprint Cup Series career. However, there was a little dust up late when Stenhouse Jr., her boyfriend, made contact with her, bringing out a caution. See the contact between Danica and Ricky 20. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards showed plenty of speed in practices and looked to be one of the cars to contend with here. After starting third, he was out of the top 10 by Lap 60 and spent only 39.7 percent of the laps in the top 15. Edwards holds the final transfer spot in the standings, but his hold on that spot is anything but secure with two more races in the Challenger Round. 21. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. With his first top 10 starting spot since the August Michigan race, this was not the result Menard was hoping for. It was also the sixth straight race at Chicagoland where Menard finished in a worse position than where he started. 22. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger's first career Chase race did not go badly, but it could have gone better. The result leaves him in 14th place in the standings and in need of better results at Loudon and Dover, which are not exactly two of his strongest tracks. 23. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. It was a tough day for "The Biff," who never mounted a charge out of a mid-20s position. Over the radio, the Chase driver sounded frustrated, telling his crew on Lap 257 "that this thing goes from hauling (expletive) to junk." Biffle will need two solid finishes at Loudon and Dover to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase. For more colorful in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView 24. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers has fared well at Chicagoland in the past with three top-finishes in his first five starts at the track, but this year's race continued a trend in the opposite direction. In the past two races at the venue, he has finished 38th and 24th, well below his average finish of 14.9 at the 1.5-mile track. 25. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Ambrose is leaving NASCAR after this season, but the Tasmania native is hoping to go out strong. This was his best finish since the August race at Michigan and he completed 67 green flag passes on the day. 26. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears scored his sixth top-30 finish in seven races, while also earning his best Chicagoland finish since 2009. 27. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . After making some gains in the late summer, Allgaier has dropped off a bit of late. He has finished no better than 26th in his last three races, after finishing inside the top 20 in three of the previous four races. 28. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. This was Cassill's first top-30 finish in three races and his best finish in a Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland. 29. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. For the ninth straight week, Sorenson finished in a better spot than where he started. In the past four weeks, Sorenson has bounced between finishing 24th, then 29th, then 24th and 29th. So should we expect a 24th-place finish at Loudon? 30. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. It seemed like the rookie was heading for a really bad day with reports of engine trouble but Whitt was able to stay on the track to carry the flag for BK Racing for his fourth straight 30th-place finish. 31. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Ragan has had a knack over the past two months for finishing in a better spot than where he started. That continued this weekend as he started 39th, earning the ninth straight race of finishing in a better spot than where he started. 32. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing. The part-time driver finished exactly where he started but it was his best result in five starts at Chicagoland. 33. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. The past three races have seen Wise average a finish of 32.7. This finish at Chicagoland was the best of his career at the 1.5-mile track. 34. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . After six straight weeks of top-30 finishes, the veteran regressed with his result at Chicagoland. 35. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. For the 12th straight race, the rookie was running at the finish, although he was six laps down. He did, however, have 71 green flag passes on the afternoon. 36. Joe Nemechek, No. 66 Toyota, Jay Robinson Racing. Nemechek improved his position from start to finish for the second straight week. This result was his best since a 35th-place showing at Michigan nearly a month ago. 37. Joey Gase, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing. The Nationwide Series regular was making his Sprint Cup debut. The 37th-place showing was right around where this car has been all year. 38. Travis Kvapil, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport. Kvapil finished 11 laps down for his worst finish at Chicagoland finish since 2008. 39. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. After the disappointment of not making the Chase following a strong run at Richmond, Bowyer found the wall a few times on the way to his second finish of 38th-or-worse in the past three races. Over the radio after the second time of hitting the wall, Bowyer's frustration was evident, "damn it, hit the (expletive) wall again." Another smack of the wall led to some significant right side damage and a trip to the garage. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView 40. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. The rookie is trending the wrong way in recent weeks, as this was his fourth finish of 37th-of-worse in the past five races. 41. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . A promising run for the Chase underdog was cut short by engine woes. He spent much of the day in the top 10 and led two laps before the disappointing end on Lap 231, at which he radioed in, "we blew up guys, push it back. Wasn't a tire, push it back." He has no margin for error now in the final two Challenger Round races. See how Almirola's day ended 42. Ryan Truex, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. An oil leak and a broken wheel bearing are never a good combination and the rookie paid the price for both. Truex finished in 42nd place for the second straight week, and it was his eighth DNF of the season. 43. Mike Bliss, No. 37 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Making his fifth start of the season, Bliss finished 254 laps down due to a vibration for his third last-place finish this season. 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
Win puts 2012 champion into Contender Round MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota JOLIET, Ill. -- For Brad Keselowski , this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup started the same way it did in 2012 -- with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway . Clearly, Keselowski would love to see the Chase end the same way it did two years ago -- with a series championship. Needing an extra pit stop to tighten a loose wheel under caution on Lap 183 of 267 in Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at the 1.5-mile track, Keselowski restarted 16th on Lap 187, mired in traffic behind a gaggle of lapped cars. But with a determined charge through the field and a couple of opportune cautions in the final 35 laps, Keselowski regained lost track position and put himself in position to make a dramatic race-winning move after a restart on Lap 250. With third-place finisher Kyle Larson battling Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 252, Keselowski powered between the two cars off Turn 2 and grabbed the lead. "I just saw a hole, and I went for it," Keselowski said. He held the top spot for a restart on Lap 262, after an accident involving the cars of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , and pulled away to win his fifth race of the year and the 15th of his career by 1.759 seconds over Jeff Gordon , who passed Larson for the second spot in the closing laps. Joey Logano ran fourth and Harvick fifth, as Chase drivers took eight of the top 10 finishing positions. With his second victory at Chicagoland, Keselowski ensured he would advance to the next round of the Chase under a new format that features a trio of three-race elimination rounds and a final race at Homestead to settle the championship between the last four eligible drivers. With the starting order set according to speeds in opening Sprint Cup practice because of a qualifying rainout, Keselowski started 25th and worked his way to the front, only to fall back again when he brought the No. 2 Team Penske Ford to pit road to have the loose wheel tightened. "I'm not really sure what to say," said Keselowski, who can race for the next two weeks without fear of falling out of the Chase. "I don't really know what happened. I just know we got to the lead. There was traffic and I was just digging and in the zone. The recorder was turned off, so I don't remember what happened. "I had my head down doing all I could do. We had a great Miller Lite Ford Fusion that I knew from the start would be good, but, man, it was really awesome the last few runs. We really dialed it in and the 2 crew did an excellent job. What a day! Man, I am still pumped!" Larson, driving a backup car after a brush with the outside wall in Saturday morning practice, appeared headed for the first victory of his Cup career, before Carl Edwards ' cut tire brought out the fourth caution on Lap 231. That yellow, which interrupted a cycle of green-flag pit stops, leap-frogged Keselowski to the fourth spot for a restart on Lap 238. Seven laps later, caution for Clint Bowyer ’s contact with the Turn 1 wall set up Keselowski's opportunity to make the winning move. "Man, I was so close," a rueful Larson said of his lost opportunity. "I didn't need that caution there. I was just cruising out front, and then we got that yellow, and I had to battle Harvick really hard then. That allowed Brad to get by both of us. It really ended our shot at a win there. We had one more shot there at the last restart, but just didn't have enough for Brad. "He was really good around the bottom. He was about the only car that I thought could get around the bottom all race long. I had a lot of fun gripping the wall. I ran inches off of it the whole race and finally got into it there battling Jeff. Man, for a back-up car, that was amazing… I just hate it that we came up short." If Larson had speed, Chase drivers Edwards, AJ Allmendinger and Greg Biffle did not. None of the three drivers was quick enough to stay on the lead lap, and with respective finishes of 20th, 22nd and 23rd, all are in jeopardy of elimination after the third race of the Chase at Dover. The real casualty of Sunday’s race, however, was Aric Almirola , who was running sixth just before the engine in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford failed as he was coming to pit road for a green-flag stop on Lap 231. Almirola finished 41st and is in grave danger of missing the cut two races hence. Up next for the Sprint Cup Series is the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). It is the second of three races in the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. 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
22-year-old has made just four NASCAR national series starts MORE: Sylvania 300 entry list RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Corey LaJoie is scheduled to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . LaJoie, a 22-year-old development driver for Richard Petty Motorsports , plans to drive for Randy Humphrey Racing in Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), the second battle in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. Dave Blaney (four races), Joe Nemechek and Nelson Piquet Jr. (one race each) have taken turns driving the Humphrey No. 77 Ford this season. LaJoie has made four NASCAR national series starts -- two each in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series . The product of the NASCAR Next program was also a five-time winner and runner-up in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings in 2012. LaJoie's father, Randy, is a two-time champion of what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series. 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
Seven-time Cup champion discusses popularity, Richard Petty Motorsports
Edwards, Kenseth and more experience Chase woes RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota JOLIET, Ill. -- His broken No. 43 Ford parked in front of the team hauler, Aric Almirola climbed out of the window net with his afternoon finished 37 laps before he wanted it to. Team owner Richard Petty was there to great his driver, and 'The King' wore a smile. Almirola did not. At least not at first. After Petty put his arm around the driver's shoulders and pulled him in for a brief hug, Almirola was able to flash some whites. Meanwhile, his No. 43 team popped the hood and tried to diagnose a busted engine that had previously shown no problematic signs, and was in fact healthy enough for Almirola to be in sixth place when it suddenly let go following a pit stop. It all contributed to an aura that was equal parts desolation and optimism, with one of the biggest underdogs in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup balancing the feeling of knowing he was one of the best cars on the track with the reality that was his 41st-place finish. "Heartbroken I think is the easiest way to describe it," Almirola said, before saying in the next breath the team had "nothing to hang our heads about. We drove from 23rd up to the top 10, running sixth with just over 30 to go and it just wasn't meant to be. We will regroup and go to Loudon and Dover and try to be spectacular." The team will have to be. Following his four-point day, Almirola is last on the 16-driver Chase Grid with 2,007 points. He is 23 points behind 12th-place Carl Edwards . New Hampshire and Dover are the final two races of the Challenger Round, before the Chase field gets trimmed to 12 for the Contender Round. "We know we are capable of running in the top-10," Almirola said. "Everyone else might not think so, the rest of the world thinks we are underdogs and we will gladly accept that tag, but what we've shown today and these last two weeks is exactly what we are capable of. "We have to win. That is it. There is no other option. We have to go and figure out how we can win one of the next two races." Almirola and crew aren't the only ones looking for a win -- or the very least, to be in contention for a win -- following Sunday's postseason opener at Chicagoland Speedway . Here's who else ran into trouble, and what it meant for them: • Ryan Newman . Two laps down late in the race, Newman somehow rallied for a lead-lap finish and crossed the start/finish line in 15th place. A blown tire on Lap 99 necessitated two stops down pit road and put Newman 23rd as the final car on the lead lap. A tire rub on Lap 155 brought him down pit road again and put the No. 31 two laps down. "Find out why that tire started rubbing again and make sure it doesn't happen again, please," Newman said tersely over the radio. Three cautions in the final 35 laps were enough to get Newman back on the lead lap by virtue of being the beneficiary. He restarted 19th on Lap 259 and finished 15th. He is 13th in the standings, one point behind Edwards. • Carl Edwards. Edwards started third but finished 20th, thanks in part to a shredded tire that brought out the yellow flag on Lap 232. Even before that incident, though, Edwards simply had a slow No. 99 Ford. He consistently fell throughout the race and finished 20th, one lap down. "We had a flat tire and got fortunate that didn't hurt us," Edwards said. "Our day was not good. We've got to be a little faster and we have to continue to have good luck. For us to advance we are going to have to rely on other people making some mistakes." • Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch . Both of these drivers had the exact same error, and both recovered. On Lap 46, Busch spun entering pit road and lost lots of position. He also knocked over the commitment cone and had to serve a pass-through penalty, but later got back on the lead lap and finished eighth. Kenseth, too, took a solo spin when coming fast into pit road. His snafu was on Lap 148, but he rallied to finish 10th. "I'll never fault you for being aggressive," crew chief Jason Ratcliff said over the radio. Busch is ninth in the standings (2,039 points) and Kenseth is 10th (2,034 points). • Greg Biffle , AJ Allmendinger . Like Kenseth and Busch, these two had related issues. Unlike Kenseth and Busch, neither driver recovered. The problem? Being slow. Allmendinger continually used the word "hate" to describe his No. 47 Chevrolet over the radio, and Biffle's No. 16 Ford underscored that Roush Fenway Racing is still off on speed. Allmendinger finished 22nd and Biffle was 23rd, both two laps down. Allmendinger is 14th in the standings (2,025 points) and Biffle is 15th, four points behind him. No. Chase driver Issue 41 Kurt Busch Lap 46: Spun entering pit road 5 Kasey Kahne Two pit-road speeding penalties 4 Kevin Harvick Lap 70: Loose left rear tire 31 Ryan Newman Lap 99: Blown left rear tire 20 Matt Kenseth Lap 148: Spun entering pit road 2 Brad Keselowski Lap 183: Right front loose tire 99 Carl Edwards Lap 231: Blown left rear tire 43 Aric Almirola Lap 231: Blown engine 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
A stats-based look ahead to the second race of the Chase RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 15, 2014) –Below is a look at the 16 Challengers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire going into the SYLVANIA 300 on Sept. 21. ESPN’s coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET and the race is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. 2014 Chase Grid Pos. Drivers Season Wins Chase Points 1 Brad Keselowski 5 2,059 2 Jeff Gordon 3 2,052 3 Joey Logano 3 2,049 4 Kevin Harvick 2 2,047 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 2,042 6 Denny Hamlin 1 2,041 7 Kyle Busch 1 2,041 8 Jimmie Johnson 3 2,041 9 Kurt Busch 1 2,039 10 Matt Kenseth 0 2,034 11 Kasey Kahne 1 2,034 12 Carl Edwards 2 2,030 13 Ryan Newman 0 2,029 14 AJ Allmendinger 1 2,025 15 Greg Biffle 0 2,021 16 Aric Almirola 1 2,007 Green = In position to move to the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Orange = In position to possibly be eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Challenger Round Red = Eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup NEW HAMPSHIRE-SPECIFIC STATISTICS 1 - Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 103.8 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 12 top fives, 14 top 10s; four poles · Average finish of 13.0 · Led 21 races for 1,340 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, four top fives, six top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.4 in 10 races · Average Running Position of 13.6, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 93.8, ninth-best 2 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 109.9 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 10 top fives, 18 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.7 · Led 19 races for 571 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, 16 top fives, 22 top 10s; four poles · Average finish of 11.0 in 39 races · Series-best Average Running Position of 7.7 · Driver Rating of 107.7, second-best · Series-high 437 Fastest Laps Run · 944 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 125.153 mph · Series-high 4,989 Laps in the Top 15 (87.9%) · Series-high 638 Quality Passes 3 - Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 105.9 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 12.9 · Led 18 races for 721 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 19.3 in 12 races · Average Running Position of 21.1, 22nd-best · Driver Rating of 72.8, 21st-best 4 - Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Designate A Driver Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 107.5 2014 Rundown · Two wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; six poles · Average finish of 14.4 · Led 19 races for 1,265 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, five top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.3 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 12.8, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 91.0, 13th-best · 178 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 970 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.716 mph, ninth-fastest · 3,700 Laps in the Top 15 (65.2%), ninth-most 5 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 98.3 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s · Average finish of 10.9 · Led 12 races for 220 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Seven top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 15.5 in 30 races · Average Running Position of 11.6, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.3, sixth-best · 1,061 Green Flag Passes, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.987 mph, fifth-fastest · 4,255 Laps in the Top 15 (75.0%), fourth-most · 596 Quality Passes, third-most 6 - Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.2 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 14.8 · Led 11 races for 163 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Two wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 8.9 in 17 races · Average Running Position of 10.5, third-best · Driver Rating of 103.6, third-best · 302 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.973 mph, sixth-fastest · 3,843 Laps in the Top 15 (75.7%), sixth-most · 569 Quality Passes, fourth-most 7 - Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.8 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 10 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.7 · Led 13 races for 411 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, seven top fives, nine top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 14.4 in 19 races · Average Running Position of 13.5, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 94.7, eighth-best · 232 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.693 mph, 10th-fastest · 3,768 Laps in the Top 15 (66.4%), seventh-most · 504 Quality Passes, eighth-most 8 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 100.0 2014 Rundown · Three wins, eight top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.1 · Led 15 races for 1,035 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, nine top fives, 17 top 10s · Average finish of 10.5 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 11.3, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 102.1, fourth-best · 431 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 125.077 mph, second-fastest · 4,459 Laps in the Top 15 (78.6%), second-most · 602 Quality Passes, second-most 9 - Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 87.7 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 18.7 · Led 11 races for 181 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 15.4 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 13.9, 14th-best · Driver Rating of 89.5, 14th-best · 187 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 1,002 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.664 mph, 12th-fastest · 3,448 Laps in the Top 15 (60.8%), 12th-most · 531 Quality Passes, sixth-most 10 - Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.4 2014 Rundown · One win, three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 16.1 · Led 10 races for 204 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, three top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 16.7 in 21 races · Average Running Position of 13.9, 15th-best · Driver Rating of 92.6, 10th-best · 340 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · 1,000 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.828 mph, eighth-fastest · 3,709 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%), eighth-most · 528 Quality Passes, seventh-most 11 - Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 93.1 2014 Rundown · 10 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.9 · Led 16 races for 465 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, seven top fives, 15 top 10s · Average finish of 13.0 in 29 races · Average Running Position of 15.5, 18th-best · Driver Rating of 85.5, 18th-best · Series-high 1,140 Green Flag Passes · 471 Quality Passes, 12th-most 12 - Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 82.4 2014 Rundown · Two wins, six top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 14.9 · Led 9 races for 133 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Two top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 13.8 in 20 races · Average Running Position of 14.5, 16th-best · Driver Rating of 86.1, 17th-best · 972 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most 13 - Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 84.9 2014 Rundown · Two top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 14.1 · Led 4 races for 24 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, seven top fives, 16 top 10s; seven poles · Average finish of 13.6 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 13.1, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 92.3, 11th-best · 4,131 Laps in the Top 15 (72.8%), fifth-most · 490 Quality Passes, ninth-most 14 - AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 70.4 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.9 · Led 5 races for 68 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One top 10 · Average finish of 24.2 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 23.6, 28th-best · Driver Rating of 63.8, 28th-best 15 - Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 80.5 2014 Rundown · Three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 15.6 · Led 6 races for 109 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, six top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 15.7 in 24 races · Average Running Position of 14.9, 17th-best · Driver Rating of 86.6, 16th-best · 1,109 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 480 Quality Passes, 10th-most 16 - Aric Almirola (No. 43 Smithfield Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 73.6 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 20.9 · Led 5 races for 23 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 21.3 in eight races · Average Running Position of 24.3, 32nd-best · Driver Rating of 61.9, 31st-best New Hampshire Motor Speedway Data Season Race #: 28 of 36 (09-21-14) Track Size : 1.058-mile Banking/Turn 1 & 2 : 2 to 7 degrees Banking/Turn 3 & 4 : 2 to 7 degrees Banking/Frontstretch : 1 degree Banking/Backstretch : 1 degree Frontstretch Length : 1,500 feet Backstretch Length : 1,500 feet Race Length : 300 laps / 317.4 miles Top 10 Driver Rating at New Hampshire Tony Stewart............................. 110.0 Jeff Gordon.............................. 107.7 Denny Hamlin............................ 103.6 Jimmie Johnson........................ 102.1 Kyle Larson................................ 99.1 Dale Earnhardt Jr........................ 97.3 Clint Bowyer............................... 95.9 Kyle Busch................................. 94.7 Brad Keselowski......................... 93.8 Kasey Kahne.............................. 92.6 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (19 total) among active drivers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Qualifying/Race Data 2013 Coors Light Pole winner : Ryan Newman, Chevrolet 136.497 mph, 27.904 secs. 09-20-13 2013 race winner : Matt Kenseth, Toyota 107.573 mph, (02:57:02), 09-22-13 Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch, Toyota 138.130 mph, 27.574 secs. 07-13-14 Track race record: Jeff Burton, Ford 117.134 mph, (02:42:35), 07-13-97 New Hampshire Motor Speedway: History · Groundbreaking for New Hampshire International Speedway, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway was originally named, was Aug. 13, 1989. · The 1.058-mile oval is located on approximately 1,200 acres; the multi-use complex is the largest sports facility in New England. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was on July 11, 1993 – won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace . · Speedway Motorsports , Inc. agreed to purchase New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob and Gary Bahre on January 11, 2008 and then renamed the track New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Notebook · There have been 39 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; one per year from 1993 through 1996 and two per year since. · 158 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; 123 in more than one. · Two drivers have competed in all 39 races at New Hampshire: Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. · Mark Martin won the inaugural Coors Light pole at New Hampshire in 1993 with a speed of 126.871 mph. · 18 drivers have Coors Light poles at New Hampshire, led by Ryan Newman with seven. · Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at New Hampshire: Ken Schrader (1997 sweep); Jeff Gordon (1998-1999); Rusty Wallace (1999-2000); Ryan Newman (twice – 2003-2004 and 2011 sweep); Juan Pablo Montoya (2009-2010). · Youngest