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Kenseth to continue Tide car's legacy at Darlington
RELATED: See all the schemes from 2016 " VOTE: Favorite Darlington scheme BUY TICKETS: Darlington When five drivers and an owner of the caliber of Ricky Craven , Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs get in one room, race fans can't help just hoping they won't stop telling stories. Thank Tide and Darlington Raceway 's throwback weekend for bringing together this entertaining and endearing group of racing royalty. Kenseth's throwback scheme for Labor Day Weekend's Bojangles' Southern 500 (Sept. 4, 6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) allows the orange, yellow and white Tide car to ride -- and contend for a win -- again. The Joe Gibbs Racing quartet, consisting of Kenseth, Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards , has racked up 10 wins in the 2016 season's first 22 races -- the most successful organization, thus far, in 2016. The iconic scheme brings back memories of victories for Craven , Rudd and Waltrip. "Matt's the only one who hasn't won in the Tide car," Craven pointed out. "No pressure, Matt," the other racers chimed in. Kenseth, however, isn't feeling too much pressure on the track yet with two wins in 2016 -- at Dover and Loudon -- and his Chase berth secured. But the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion did feel the gravitas of the racing greats gathered Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the unveiling of the No. 20 Tide Pods Toyota. "On a serious note, I really want to thank the three guys behind me, all legends in the sport," Kenseth said. "I've gotten to race with all three of them. "I'm a little concerned about Darlington, though. Not because of the track, but because of these guys. Ricky Rudd doesn't look like he's aged a day since he got out of the car. I know he can fit right in my seat and go drive the thing. So I'm a little worried about him at Darlington. Might have to bring security with me." "Does that mean we're just old?" Ricky Craven asked, referring to himself and Waltrip after Kenseth eliminated them as threats to steal his ride for the Southern 500. "I know Waltrip can't fit," Kenseth joked. Waltrip joined in the jostling but also got very sentimental. He recalled his victory in the Tide ride at Martinsville Speedway on Sept. 27, 1987, the day his daughter, Jessica, was born -- and the rose in a vase someone left in his car seat with a note that said, "Win for me, daddy." Gibbs joked that he's the perfect person to represent the sponsor because, "When I was 5 years old, Tide became a reality. You do the math." Tide is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The three retired racers worked the Tide brand representatives on hand, too, pushing hard to see the Tide car back on track full-time as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sponsor. Gibbs said for now it's a one-race deal, but JGR is honored to work with the brand that has been a part of racing for decades -- including being the detergent that goes in the Air Titans when they wash the tracks. Bringing back memories is the key to fans and race teams alike embracing the Darlington throwback weekends. The JGR and Tide team hopes the No. 20 will lead the pack in nostalgia as well as horsepower. "That orange car is going to make a splash at Darlington," Waltrip said. MORE: Reaction to paint scheme from the legends
Kenseth scheme paints picture of historic Darlington moment
VOTE: Favorite Darlington scheme " MORE: Relive the 'Tide Ride' making history BUY TICKETS: Darlington The final piece of the Joe Gibbs Racing Darlington throwback paint schemes puzzle fell into place Tuesday afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The #TideRide Returns for @TooToughToTame ! @JoeGibbsRacing @mattkenseth @AllWaltrip @RickyCravenESPN pic.twitter.com/UxBhCAzcFn — NASCAR Hall of Fame (@NASCARHall) August 16, 2016 Matt Kenseth pulled back the cover of his No. 20 Toyota Camry to reveal a Tide-influenced scheme that he'll run on Sept. 4 in the Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Tide has a rich history in NASCAR, including being on Darrell Waltrip's car for his 1989 Daytona 500 win, as well as a famous moment at Darlington -- in 2003, Ricky Craven , in his orange Tide car, beat Kurt Busch to the stripe by .002 seconds in a classic slam-bang finish. Ricky Rudd also ran the paint scheme for several seasons. In doing so, Kenseth will join Kyle Busch (No. 18, honoring Dale Jarrett), Denny Hamlin (No. 11, honoring Darrell Waltrip) and Carl Edwards (No. 19, honoring Tony Stewart ) in the JGR fleet of drivers. More than two dozen throwback paint schemes for this year's race have been announced. The throwback program launched last year and is expected to continue for the next several seasons. This year's theme honors the era of 1975-84. MORE: Legends banter about the scheme &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Bruce: Throwbacks or not, Darlington chock full of lasting memories
RELATED: Paint schemes, then and now DARLINGTON, S.C. -- What year was it, 1985? The season Bill Elliott captured the Winston Million bonus the very first season it was put up for grabs by then-series sponsor RJ Reynolds? Ol' Bill, who would finish the season with an amazing 11 victories but lose the championship battle to Darrell Waltrip. Recollections of Elliott smiling broadly as "Million Dollar Bills" floated through the air in Victory Lane. That was probably it, the first time I covered a NASCAR premier series race at Darlington Raceway . The backstretch today was the frontstretch then, the big red press box and suites sitting there just outside Turn 1. It provided a grand view, possibly one of the best of any stops on the circuit. Watching the field roar out of the fourth turn, so incredibly close to the wall. Then flying down the frontstretch, hammer down and into Turn 1 to start the process all over again. Just sitting there. Soaking it all in. Overlooking history in the making. More than three decades. Time does fly, I suppose. The track's hugely popular throwback program, now in its second season, rekindles a lot of racing memories. Paint schemes that we haven't seen in years suddenly re-appear, roll out of the garage and in a sense, roll back the calendar. But then again the memories always stir a bit when it comes to Darlington. No throwback program is necessary. Maybe it's because the track is an honest-to-goodness landmark, cut out of the sandy soil by Harold Brasington and opened for business in 1950. It was NASCAR's first paved oval of more than 1 mile in length. Brasington had a vision and wasn't shy about pursuing it. But more than that he was also a kind and caring soul to all of us and I never make the trek down here for a race without thinking about him. The action on the track? Yeah, that stands out, too. But it wasn't always the kind of things you hoped to be writing about -- hard crashes and injuries could, and did, happen other places as well but a couple that occurred here haven't been forgotten. Neil Bonnett's crash in the spring race of 1990 is one of them. The extremely personable Bonnett was one of 10 drivers collected in the Turn 4 incident during that year's spring race. Briefly knocked unconscious, Bonnett was eventually transferred to the local hospital and hours later it was reported that he was suffering from amnesia. More than a decade later, it was Steve Park. The Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver was competing in a Busch (now XFINITY ) Series event when, under caution, his Chevrolet suddenly veered left and into the path of Larry Foyt. The impact was tremendous to have happened under caution. But the sadness of such instances doesn't completely overshadow the good times. Jeff Gordon 's Winston Million victory in 1997, the final year of that format, was the perfect bookend to that program's 13-year run. His battle with Jeff Burton in the closing laps of that race was as memorable as any that have unfolded on the 1.366-mile track. Speaking of Burton, there are recollections of his 1999 Darlington sweep in a pair of rain-shortened races here; toss in Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch bringing the fans to their feet with an absolutely amazing finish in 2003; and Regan Smith rising up with the then-small Furniture Row Racing operation to slay the field, and Carl Edwards in 2011. This year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , scheduled to get underway Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the 67th running of the legendary classic. I've seen some of the cars and heard many of the stories from several of the men who were there when the legend of Darlington began. For a lot of others, I've been there to witness it firsthand. It's been worth every minute of it.
Relive the 'Tide Ride' making history
Relive the drama as Ricky Craven drives the 'Tide Ride' and battles Kurt Busch to the checkered flag at Darlington Raceway in 2003 to create the closest finish in NASCAR history.
The Rundown: Talladega driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway : 1. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Not even dragging his jack around for one lap could keep Logano out of Victory Lane. Logano grabbed the lead five laps after the engine of teammate Brad Keselowski 's dominant No. 2 car expired and he didn't let it go, leading the final 45 laps. Grade: A 2. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . In his 49th start, Scott snagged the best finish of his career -- and first top 10 -- with a brilliant run. It also was the best finish for RPM since Marcos Ambrose placed second at Watkins Glen more than two years ago . Grade: A+ 3. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road (again) and advanced to the next round of the Chase by the slimmest of margins (about two feet). Hamlin didn't make it easy on himself, but he's moving on -- and his No. 1 track, Martinsville, is up next. Grade: A 4. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Steady Busch flew under the radar into the Round of 8. Well, until his postrace dust-up with teammate Kevin Harvick . Grade: A 5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse's fourth top 10 in seven starts at Talladega is also his sixth this season, a personal best. In addition, it was his fourth top five this season, one more than in his previous three full-time seasons combined. Grade: A 6. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing ninth in his first race there in May 2014. Grade: A 7. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running behind Joey Logano on Logano's "jack lap" and caught a huge break when the jack remained attached to Logano's car and didn't fly into him. Grade: A 8. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Finally! Almirola's streak of starts without a top-10 finish ends at a career-high 32. Grade: A 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . How close was Dillon to advancing in the Chase? The difference was the one point Denny Hamlin earned by finishing .006 seconds ahead of Kurt Busch . Grade: A 10. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger posts back-to-back top-10 finishes for the third time this season despite having an average running position Sunday of 25.8. Grade: A- 11. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney ran with the leaders all afternoon, and his 7.6 average running position was third best. He also led laps for the second time this season. Grade: A 12. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott needed a win to advance in the Chase and did everything he could -- his average running position of 7.3 was second to Kurt Busch 's 6.9 -- but he was hemmed in at the end and couldn't challenge the front-runners. Grade: A 13. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard posted his best finish since his last top 10, in July at Indianapolis. Grade: B 14. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman, whose average running position of 27.3 was highest among drivers finishing in the top 20, ran one lap in the top 15 -- his last. Grade: B- 15. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle was strong early and led 13 laps, but his day took a negative turn when he brought out the second caution on Lap 114. A coming-together with Jeffrey Earnhardt and Casey Mears sent all three cars into the inside wall. Grade: C 16. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Three of McDowell's five best finishes this season have been on restrictor-plate tracks (10th and 15th at Daytona). Grade: A 17. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne was two cars behind Kasey Kahne when Kahne spun on Lap 182. Bayne was able to check up and avoid running into the back of Jamie McMurray . Grade: B- 18. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . In a season of small victories, Bowyer posted his 10th top-20 finish of the season. Grade: B- 19. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray's day was saved when he didn't plow into Kasey Kahne 's spinning car immediately in front of him on Lap 182. Grade: B- 20. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick now has finished 20th to 24th in half of this year's races (16 of 32). Grade: C 21. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Cassill made a great save with 20 laps to go when his car went veering down the track after he tried to fill a gap in front of David Ragan and received a nudge from behind. Grade: B 22. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . That Buescher finished the race is the story here. He had DNFs for crashes in the season's first three restrictor-plate races. Grade: B 23. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson did his best to help teammate Chase Elliott , but in the end, wherever the No. 48 finished was never an issue. Johnson's ticket into the next round of the Chase was punched two weeks ago. Grade: S (for Smart, Safe and Satisfactory) 24. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing sixth in the fall race three years ago. Grade: C 25. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Smith posted his second-best finish in restrictor-plate races this season. He finished eighth in the Daytona 500 . Grade: C 26. Ryan Reed , No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Nice Sprint Cup debut for the 23-year-old. Grade: B- 27. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing . Great effort by DiBenedetto, who raced even though he was in the throes of food poisoning. Grade: C+ 28. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . If you are going to be critical of what Gibbs drivers Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch did Sunday -- playing it safe by driving together in the back of the field -- would you have been critical of any of the three if they had mixed it up in the peloton, crashed and failed to advance in the Chase? You can't have it both ways. Grade: S (as in See Jimmie Johnson ) 29. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Ibid. Grade: S 30. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Op cit. Grade: S 31. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing. Our TBJT (Throw Back to Junior Theme) Latin bibliography references end with Labonte, who completed his four-race, restrictor-plate run for the second consecutive year the same way he began the season – with a 31st-place finish. Grade: C- 32. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Driver Tony's 70th superspeedway restrictor-plate race finished quietly. Can't say the same for Owner Tony. Grade: D 33. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett stayed out during green-flag pit stops and led six laps, one fewer than he led in his first 101 Sprint Cup starts. Grade: C+ 34. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . Earnhardt's Lap 114 tangle with Greg Biffle also collected Casey Mears . Despite significant damage, Earnhardt posted the first lead-lap finish of his career (20 starts). Grade: C 35. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne went for a spin on Lap 182, and his run of good finishes -- six top 10s in his previous seven races -- spun out, too. Grade: D 36. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman's tweet said it all: "3rd with 5 to go and we finish 36th ... damn speedway racing." Grade: D 37. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson finished 13 laps off the pace in his first start at Talladega in two years. Grade: F 38. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski had the dominant car and led a race-high 90 laps, but he held the point for too long after debris blocked part of his grill. A slick, orchestrated move with Ryan Blaney removed the debris, but it was too late. Moments later, his engine started smoking and his day, and championship hopes, came to an end on Lap 145. Grade: F 39. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Racing can be so cruel. For the second time in three weeks, something bad happened to Mears for no other reason than he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he was two lanes below Greg Biffle and having a beautiful day when Biffle turned into Jeffrey Earnhardt and also collected Mears. The three slammed into the inside wall, but only Mears could not continue and was gone after 113 laps. Two weeks ago, Mears received a "U" grade for Unfortunate. This week? Based on his grade at Charlotte -- and if you caught all four clues -- you know the answer. Grade: U2 40. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . When Truex's engine blew on Lap 42, his championship hopes ended as well. It's a shame Truex won't be able to contend for the championship, but we haven't heard the last of Truex this season. Finishing with the most victories would be huge. Grade: F
Kenseth unveils throwback 'Tide Ride' for Darlington
Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Ricky Craven and Darrell Waltrip unveil the No. 20 Tide Ride throwback paint scheme for Darlington. Catch Kenseth on track at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 4th.
Mixed reviews for Keselowski's restart
RELATED: NASCAR official: We believe we did our job today LOUDON, N.H. -- Race restarts have been a hot-button issue in NASCAR this season and ironically, one of the teams most vocal about restart officiating was penalized for an illegal start Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Team Penske driver -- and Chase contender -- Brad Keselowski was ruled to have jumped the restart on Lap 242 and penalized with a pass-through penalty that dropped him from second place at the time to 25th. NASCAR officials say that video shows Keselowski's Ford accelerating through the marked restart area ahead of then race leader Greg Biffle 's Ford and called the decision to penalize Keselowski "very clear cut in our mind.'' "We did get 100 percent confirmation from our official that was on the ground as well as by all the data that was available to us,'' said Richard Buck, NASCAR's managing director of the Sprint Cup Series. The 2012 Cup champ Keselowski said he felt like NASCAR was making an example of him saying he was "the first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I don't pass anyone, so that's a new one." "But we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover (race) a little bit easier, so that was good," said Keselowski, who rallied to a 12th place finish. Biffle, for his part after the race, seemed a little puzzled by the call as well. "To be perfectly honest with you, I didn't notice," Biffle said. "I saw Brad kind of going a little bit and I waited until about the middle of the zone maybe. I didn't go right at the two marker, but I maintained my speed and I didn't speed up or slow down and I took off when I felt like it was time for me to go. "I wasn't really paying that close attention to the 2 (Keselowski) or what he was doing. We were pretty even getting down into (Turn) 1. I don't knew what they called him for, but I'll have to take a look back I guess. "I feel bad for Brad. I wasn't playing any games. I wasn't doing anything. I just went in between those two marks like we're supposed to.'' Keselowski recovered well from the penalty and is ranked eighth of the 16 Chase drivers with next week's elimination round after Dover cutting the field to 12. Still his team owner Roger Penske wondered what might have been on Sunday as Keselowski ran up front most of the afternoon. "I didn't see it, but his car was ahead of the 16 (Biffle) at the second line and I guess that's how they called it,'' Penske said. "He (Keselowski) didn't pass him, so I thought he was all right. I've got to go back and look at it. The race is over; there's nothing we can do about it. "I don't think he tried to jump it all. The way it looked in the box and they're going to call it when the first car doesn't cross the second line ahead. We'll just have to deal with it. Brad did a great job. The car ran well. We were running second at the time, with the 4 ( Kevin Harvick ) running out of fuel it would have been interesting. We're still in decent shape going into the next phase.'' WATCH: Keselowski black-flagged after restart Buck spoke with reporters after the race to further explain NASCAR's position on the restarts. He said there has been a lot of communication about the standard and the punishment. He said officials even warned teams on the radio during the race when it looked like the start was in position to be compromised. "We have made the rules very clear to everybody in the last couple drivers meetings and made sure everyone was informed,'' Buck said. "In fact today during the race, we reminded them before the race and during each restart of the rules. "If we saw something creeping toward the end we informed the spotter and crew chief so they knew what we were seeing and that's what brought us to the decision. "We're very clear and the drivers agree. The language is: there is a double red mark on the wall and a single red mark on the wall. The leader is the control car and has the right to restart the race and he must restart the race in that zone. The 16 was the leader at that point. The 2 car restarted before the 16 did." While NASCAR felt confident in its decision, it took some criticism from others on social media during the race. Ricky Craven , a NASCAR analyst for ESPN and a former Cup driver called the ruling "a horrible decision" because Keselowski did not ultimately pass Biffle on the start. A precedent was set today black flagging the highest running Chase driver @keselowski For gaining nothing ? 6:15p @SportsCenter — Ricky Craven (@RickyCravenESPN) September 27, 2015 Keselowski actually brought up the subject of restarts two weeks ago in the pre-Chase media availability. "I have said it before but I still view restarts as rock-paper-scissors and you have to counter the moves of the person next to you,'' Keselowski said prior to the Chicagoland Chase opener last week. "As has happened it starts with the leader and the zone not being allowed to dictate it. If the guy in second place is lagging back then the only defense to that is to go early, both of which are illegal by the definition. Neither of which have been consistently called as an infraction. If one guy lags back and beats you when you do everything legal, then you have to defend it. That is your job. "I felt like as the leader at Darlington, I probably had half a dozen or more attempts at controlling the restart and I kept the lead the majority but not 100 percent of the time. The few times where I lost the lead it was very obvious that the car next to me had lagged back significantly and there was no call made. That forces your hand the next time you have the lead to do something to react to it. In a sense it is kind of vigilante justice. That is just how you have to play it." This time, however, Keselowski overcame the penalty and is still in good shape for the postseason. "I'm really proud of my guys to come back and get a top-12 out of that without getting another yellow or catching any other breaks after the black flag,'' Keselowski said. "I'm really proud of my guys.''
Cain: Martinsville holds promise for Danica Patrick
RELATED: Women racers pave new roads to success in NASCAR There is a bit of irony in Danica Patrick 's Martinsville Speedway resume. A racer who made international headlines and officially became a first-name only reference for nearly winning her Indianapolis 500 debut at one of the world's most famous and grand-sized tracks, Danica bolstered her track record in many eyes by scoring one of her best NASCAR finishes (seventh) on one of stock car racing's smallest (.526-mile), most challenging and endearingly iconic facilities: Martinsville Speedway . Patrick, who celebrated her 34th birthday during the off-week, returns to "The Paperclip" for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series' STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FS1) -- site of a historic seventh-place finish for her only a year ago. The result tied her with the great Janet Guthrie for most NASCAR top-10 finishes (five) by a woman, and two weeks later Patrick made the mark her own, scoring her sixth top 10 -- a ninth-place showing at the sport's second smallest track (.53-mile) in Bristol, Tennessee. RELATED: Janet Guthrie's groundbreaking racing career In fact, Patrick's record at Martinsville makes this challenging shortest of tracks one of her best. She recorded a 12th-place debut in 2012 -- a better first try than some of the sport's greatest champions such as Hall of Famers Rusty Wallace (who finished 15th) and Dale Jarrett (14th) and even Patrick's team owner, three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart , who finished 20th in his first start there. "I came from a road-course racing background and at Martinsville, I feel like you have to set passes up a little bit like that," Patrick said. "I think it's also a track where you have to exercise a lot of discipline. It's easy to make mistakes. It's easy to overdrive and try to get a little bit more when you're passing somebody and make mistakes. Those are the two things I keep in mind when I'm there. I also think you really need a good car there, too, and Stewart-Haas Racing has always had good cars there." This time around Patrick's No. 10 TaxAct Chevy will have a new crew chief, Billy Scott. It's her third crew chief in four seasons as the team searches for the kind of good chemistry and juju to elevate Patrick into the post-season and give her a legitimate shot to score her first Sprint Cup victory. MORE: SHR names new crew chiefs for Danica, Stewart It's already been a challenging start to 2016 with Patrick crashing in two of the opening five races. She was handed a $20,000 fine from NASCAR last week for violating safety rules because she angrily approached and gestured toward Kasey Kahne 's car after they wrecked at California's Auto Club Speedway . Kahne's car hit hers while the two were racing close together. For Patrick, this week is a real opportunity to restore her preferred path to the postseason. By the fifth race in each of her full-time Cup seasons, she has been ranked 29th, 27th and 23rd in the standings and is now 29th again despite two top-20 finishes. The challenge in having another new crew chief is the early season get-to-know-you time. But the other tasks that have dominated Patrick's transition from Indycars to stock cars have become more manageable, giving her and the team great reason to be optimistic. MORE: Danica reacts to SHR move to Ford Especially here. Especially now. "I'm far more confident and comfortable," Patrick said coming into the season. "I'm understanding the car properly and able to help in making it better quickly on the race weekend. "Also the comfort of getting up to speed fast helps that learning curve, too. I remember there were lots of times in the very beginning when I wasn't able to drive the car to the very limit. We'd come in and make changes based on the way that I was driving it. Once I was driving it the way it needed to be, all of a sudden we ended up back where we started. We wasted all practice for me to learn how to do it. "I'm much better at getting up to speed. But always room to improve. I'm still working on doing a better job at that. I think as a driver, we all tend to have our general weak areas and general strong areas. I know mine." That this track has provided some of the most interesting story lines in NASCAR history is only another reason to expect better days. Morgan Shepherd won a pole position here at 45 years old in 1987 and Harry Gant famously won the race in 1991 at the age of 51 and a half. Eleven drivers scored their very first Cup wins at Martinsville -- the last being Ricky Craven in 2001. Notably, the majority of Patrick's top-10 finishes have come after sub-top-20 starts. Her very best Cup showing, for example, a seventh-place finish at Atlanta in 2014, came after starting 27th. "It's twice as hard as it used to be to get to Victory Lane," Patrick said. "It was hard to do it back when I was in IndyCar. I did it once in seven years. It's very challenging. There's lots of great drivers. Experience definitely helps. I'm working on getting that. "I mean, everybody wants to win. ... It's very hard to win in Cup, it just is. Everything's got to go your way and be right and be clicking. That's what also makes it so great when it happens. The blood, sweat and tears to get there. "It's always frustrating, but it's frustrating to just keep wanting to do better. But that's what drives you."
NASCAR.com's Holly Cain wins NMPA Spirit Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Veteran motorsports writer Holly Cain has been chosen as the recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s annual Spirit Award for 2015. A resident of Lakeland, Fla., Cain has covered motorsports for more than 25 years during which time she has worked for numerous publications, including the Tampa Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well as AOL.com and FOXSports.com. Currently a senior writer for NASCAR.com, she has been recognized for her reporting on multiple occasions, earning awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) as well as the NMPA. Diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2014, Cain has shown tremendous courage and an incredibly positive attitude while engaged in her difficult battle. She has been a long-time supporter of the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and continues to participate in fundraising and other efforts to bring awareness to the fight against breast cancer. The NMPA Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports. Each year, the NMPA membership selects four quarterly winners, with an overall winner chosen from the four candidates. Cain was the second quarter recipient of the award. Others recognized with quarterly awards this past year were NASCAR television broadcaster Steve Byrnes (first quarter), IndyCar driver Justin Wilson (third quarter) and four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon . Cain was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA’s annual convention and awards dinner in Concord, N.C. Overall winners of the NMPA Spirit Award: Year – Recipient 2015 – Holly Cain 2014 – Lynda Petty 2013 – Marcy Scott 2012 – Andy Hillenburg 2011 – Jeff Gordon 2010 – Jim Hunter 2009 – David Poole 2008 – T. Taylor Warren 2007 – Bill France Jr. 2006 – Benny Parsons 2005 – Morgan Shepherd 2004 – Kyle and Pattie Petty 2003 – Bob Latford 2002 – Larry Hicks 2001 – Ricky Craven 2000 – Kyle Petty 1999 – Clay Earles 1998 – Mark Martin 1997 – Dave Marcis 1996 – Dale Earnhardt 1995 – Ernie Irvan 1994 – Ernie Irvan 1993 – Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki 1992 – Davey Allison Family
Kurt Busch: 'I never wavered'
Stewart-Haas Racing driver ready to return to car after 'humbling experience' RELATED: Chase requirement waived " Official NASCAR release Sounding every bit resolved and resolute, Kurt Busch addressed the media on Wednesday for the first time since serving what ended up being a three-race suspension from NASCAR for off-track legal issues. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver told the national media he remains focused on his job as driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for the team and has been "humbled" from the whole experience. "I understand why NASCAR needed to take the action that it did. This is a very serious issue,'' Busch said. "The important factor is that what I was accused of was a complete fabrication, and I never wavered through this whole process because of the confidence in the truth, and I had the support from Gene Haas and everybody at SHR, and that's where my focus has been. It's been on the racing side of it, and I never lost that confidence and that drive, and so it's a humbling experience, but it's made me more focused and determined." NASCAR suspended the 2004 Cup champion indefinitely on Feb. 20 after a Delaware judge issued a no-contact order for Busch, writing that Busch "likely" committed an act of domestic abuse against his former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll stemming from an incident Sept. 26, 2014 at Dover International Speedway . The Delaware Attorney General's office announced March 5 it would not pursue criminal charges against Busch. And on Wednesday, NASCAR reinstated Busch with the caveat that he is under indefinite probation and must adhere to any judicial requirements asked of him and remain in a treatment program as part of NASCAR's Road to Recovery. "I'm appreciative of the process, of the road to recovery,'' Busch said. "To me it's a roadmap that they laid out that I am respecting. It's created such a good foundation to utilize moving forward that I wish I would have done it sooner." The hardest part of the last two months? "Sitting out watching the 41 car go around the race track, especially at the Daytona 500 ,'' Busch said. "Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks, and Las Vegas is my hometown track. It's been torture sitting out of the car. "Being in that race car is a privilege, and it's a feeling that you can't describe when you go out there for practice each and every weekend. You drive down into the corner, the car sticks, you stand on the gas, and you drive out of the corner, it's an experience that not a lot of people get to do, and I get a chance to race against the best in the world in NASCAR." Busch also disclosed a recent insightful conversation he had with NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Talking with Brian France and going through this road, he told me, 'Don't change,' '' Busch said. "(He told me) 'Don't be the person that's different in the car, but be a different person outside of the car,' and so Brian said, 'Go be yourself in that car. That's what we really love. We love Kurt Busch behind the wheel. Go out there, use that passion, go for those wins.' "And that's my focus is to be humble through this whole process, but let actions speak louder than words." Busch would not specify if he would pursue further legal action to clear his name or have the no-contact order rescinded, instead deferring that course of action to his attorneys. He did say, however, that his trademark "Outlaw" moniker that has ridden above the driver's side window of his race cars in competition would likely be replaced with his signature. "My reputation has always been what I've done behind the wheel, and it's moments that I hope to battle and put out on the track like I did with Ricky Craven in the closest finish in the history of NASCAR," Busch said. "It's to focus on the wins at the tracks that I haven't won on or to deliver for Gene Haas on the trophies that he signed me on for that he wants in his trophy room. "My reputation will iron itself out in whichever way that it is, but my focus is the race car, and as I move forward, I'm putting my signature above the door of the car, and I'm proud to have my signature on the side of a car that Gene Haas has and to carry his name into Victory Lane." 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