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
Sponsor extends deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing
Nikko RC/Toy State extended its partnership deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing on Tuesday for the No. 7 Chevrolet SS of Alex Bowman . The deal was for multiple seasons, and the team revealed a new paint scheme at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. Bowman is entering his third season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his second with Tommy Baldwin Racing . . @AlexBRacing 's new @ToyState paint scheme is looking good! @TBR_Racing pic.twitter.com/TSjLujWkX3 — NASCAR Hall of Fame (@NASCARHall) December 15, 2015
Regan Smith to drive No. 7 for Tommy Baldwin Racing
RELATED: 2016 Cup Driver Tracker " Which drivers are on the move in 2016? Regan Smith picked up a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride for 2016 on Thursday -- he'll drive the No. 7 Nikko Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing . "This is a really great time for us," team owner Tommy Baldwin said in a press release. "Having a driver with Regan's credentials further elevates our program. He's a seasoned driver and a proven race winner. We're really looking forward to 2016." Smith had driven the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series over the past three years, amassing five victories during that span. He finished third, second and fourth in the final standings in that time. "Seeing what they've done to take the program to the next level has been fun for me," Smith said on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. " Tommy Baldwin is a competitive racer, and so am I, so I'm excited to see what we can do together." Nikko RC and Road Rippers brands will serve as the majority sponsor for the No. 7 car. The New York native announced in October that he would not return to JRM in 2016. Smith has 176 career starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and he won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 2011. The 32-year-old drove four Sprint Cup races as a substitute driver in 2015 -- three for Kurt Busch and one for Kyle Larson . Earlier Thursday, Tommy Baldwin Racing announced that Alex Bowman would not return to the team.
Tommy Baldwin Racing , Bowman part ways
About seven months after picking up Alex Bowman 's 2016 contract option, Tommy Baldwin Racing has changed course and is parting ways with the driver of their No. 7 Chevrolet. The news was announced Thursday via a team press release "As NASCAR transitions to different business and competition models, teams have to make decisions accordingly," said team owner, Tommy Baldwin . "We appreciate what Alex contributed during 2015 and wish him the best in the future." Bowman qualified for 35 of 36 races last season and had a best finish of 16th place in the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway . In Bowman's only other Sprint Cup season he drove for BK Racing for 36 races in 2014.
Bray Pemberton joins Tommy Baldwin Racing
Son of NASCAR executive joins TBR as general manager, chief legal counsel Bray Pemberton has joined Tommy Baldwin Racing as general manager and chief legal counsel for the two-car NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization, according to the team. Pemberton is the son of Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president of competition and racing development. He previously served as general manager with the now defunct Swan Racing as well as Randy Humphrey Racing . "While I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had with race teams in NASCAR, I can honestly say I've never been so excited about the possibilities I now have working alongside Tommy Baldwin ," Pemberton said. "I have the utmost respect for what Tommy and Beth have done over the past few years in building this team, basically on their own. I see so many great opportunities to help continue to grow their dream and see TBR compete with the top teams in NASCAR." TBR, based in Mooresville, North Carolina, was formed in 2008 by the former premier series crew chief and has grown from a single-car team to a two-car organization. Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson drove for organization in 2014. "We are excited about bring Bray on board to manage the business and legal elements at Tommy Baldwin Racing ," Baldwin , president of TBR, said. "This will give me the opportunity to focus on the big picture and spend more time building TBR into a championship-caliber organization." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Alex Bowman to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing
Second-year Sprint Cup driver spent rookie year at BK Racing Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Related: Who the 'F' is Alex Bowman ? Alex Bowman 's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career will continue in 2015 with a new team in Tommy Baldwin Racing . The 21-year-old will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet this upcoming season, the team announced Friday. Bowman had a full-time ride with Swan Racing last year, the team that was eventually incorporated into BK Racing . He ended the year with a best finish of 13th at Daytona International Speedway in July. "I'm looking forward to working with TBR and the entire No. 7 team," Bowman said in a team release. "With Tommy's experience and his drive to run competitively, I feel like we can run well this year." Bowman made his NASCAR national series debut in 2012, with four starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. He drove full time for that series in 2013, netting six top-10s in 33 starts for RAB Racing . "Alex is the future of TBR, and he will be a great representative of our team," owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. said. "He is a young driver who displayed a great talent in both the XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series the past few years. We are pleased to give Alex the opportunity to further showcase his skills behind the wheel of the No. 7 Chevrolet this season." The team did not announce sponsorship or a crew chief. The team on Twitter promoted #TBR7in7, which promises seven team announcements in seven days. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Owner Standings
After Race 32 of the 2016 season at Talladega Superspeedway Pos Owner Car # Points Ldr Nxt PPos G/L Wins Attempts 1 Hendrick Motorsports 48 3,100 0 0 1 0 3 32 2 Stewart-Haas Racing 41 3,099 -1 -1 5 3 1 32 3 Team Penske 22 3,089 -11 -10 8 5 2 32 4 Joe Gibbs Racing 20 3,088 -12 -1 2 -2 2 32 5 Joe Gibbs Racing 18 3,084 -16 -4 3 -2 4 32 6 Stewart-Haas Racing 4 3,082 -18 -2 7 1 4 32 7 Joe Gibbs Racing 19 3,082 -18 0 4 -3 2 32 8 Joe Gibbs Racing 11 3,078 -22 -4 10 2 3 32 9 Richard Childress Racing 3 3,078 -22 0 9 0 0 32 10 Furniture Row Racing 78 3,060 -40 -18 6 -4 4 32 11 Hendrick Motorsports 24 3,050 -50 -10 12 1 0 32 12 Team Penske 2 3,043 -57 -7 11 -1 4 32 13 Chip Ganassi Racing 42 2,155 -945 -888 14 1 1 32 14 Stewart-Haas Racing 14 2,141 -959 -14 13 -1 1 32 15 Chip Ganassi Racing 1 2,110 -990 -31 16 1 0 32 16 Front Row Motorsports 34 2,109 -991 -1 15 -1 1 32 17 Hendrick Motorsports 5 803 -2,297 -1,306 17 0 0 32 18 Richard Childress Racing 31 794 -2,306 -9 18 0 0 32 19 Hendrick Motorsports 88 770 -2,330 -24 19 0 0 32 20 JTG Daugherty Racing 47 717 -2,383 -53 20 0 0 32 21 Roush Fenway Racing 17 717 -2,383 0 22 1 0 32 22 Wood Brothers Racing 21 713 -2,387 -4 21 -1 0 32 23 Roush Fenway Racing 6 699 -2,401 -14 23 0 0 32 24 Stewart-Haas Racing 10 621 -2,479 -78 24 0 0 32 25 Roush Fenway Racing 16 591 -2,509 -30 25 0 0 32 26 Richard Childress Racing 27 591 -2,509 0 26 0 0 32 27 Richard Petty Motorsports 43 573 -2,527 -18 28 1 0 32 28 HScott Motorsports 15 564 -2,536 -9 27 -1 0 32 29 Circle Sport-Leavine Family 95 496 -2,604 -68 30 1 0 32 30 Germain Racing 13 488 -2,612 -8 29 -1 0 32 31 Front Row Motorsports 38 465 -2,635 -23 31 0 0 32 32 Richard Petty Motorsports 44 423 -2,677 -42 34 2 0 32 33 Tommy Baldwin Racing 7 422 -2,678 -1 32 -1 0 32 34 BK Racing 23 420 -2,680 -2 33 -1 0 32 35 BK Racing 83 363 -2,737 -57 35 0 0 32 36 HScott Motorsports 46 286 -2,814 -77 37 1 0 32 37 Premium Motorsports 98 284 -2,816 -2 36 -1 0 31 38 GO FAS Racing 32 258 -2,842 -26 38 0 0 32 39 Premium Motorsports 55 213 -2,887 -45 39 0 0 27 40 The Motorsports Group 30 167 -2,933 -46 40 0 0 31 41 Front Row Motorsports 35 46 -3,054 -121 41 0 0 4 42 BK Racing 93 29 -3,071 -17 43 1 0 6 43 Circle Sport - Leavine Family 59 26 -3,074 -3 42 -1 0 1 44 Roush Fenway Racing 99 15 -3,085 -11 46 2 0 1 45 BK Racing 26 3 -3,097 -12 44 -1 0 1 46 Hillman Racing 40 0 -3,100 -3 45 -1 0 1
Backed by Junior Nation, Alex Bowman sees opportunity at Talladega
RELATED: Ailing Bowman presses on, nabs career-best finish With Dale Earnhardt Jr . slated to miss his first Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway since he broke into the big leagues full time as a rookie in 2000, many wonder which driver will replace the superspeedway ace as the one to beat in Sunday's Hellmann's 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App). How about, you know, the guy actually replacing him? Fresh off a seventh-place showing at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Alex Bowman is set to drive Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the third consecutive week and the seventh time this season as the driver recovers from concussion-related symptoms. This weekend is perhaps Bowman's most significant start of the year. Because it's at Earnhardt's own Talladega. RELATED: Earnhardt-Talladega streak to continue Sunday "He's got a couple fans out there," Bowman told NASCAR.com at Kansas. "Man, I'm excited about ( racing at Talladega). Speedway racing is always stressful, but … ( Hendrick Motorsports ) brings such fast race cars to the race track and their speedway stuff is amazing. Always fast. Especially the 88. So, just really looking forward to having a chance to win. "I'm going to sit Dale down and have a couple-hour conversation with him about speedway racing . If there's a speedway racer left in this garage, it's him, for sure." The man's got a point. From a wins standpoint, Talladega ranks as Junior's best track with six, only closely followed by four wins at Daytona, another Earnhardt cornerstone -- and another superspeedway. Bowman's 'Dega stats don't match Junior's, of course, but he did pilot the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet to a 16th-place finish just last year. And while it's almost jarring to hear a driver say that he is "excited" for Talladega, it's unsurprising coming from Bowman, who'll have the roar of the crowd on his side -- a fanbase that has named the man he's replacing NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for 13 years running. "Junior Nation has been great," said Bowman, 23. "It's been really cool; they've just been really supportive. Every now and then there's one fan that hates me, but for the most part they've been awesome. Casey Mears fans hate me after (Charlotte), because apparently it was my fault that we blew a tire and wrecked him, but Junior Nation has been awesome." RELATED: Dale Jr. to join broadcasts for Talladega, Martinsville Not only does Bowman have full access to Earnhardt's Talladega insight, a wealth of knowledge so deep it likely needs its own Dewey Decimal System, he's sharing substitute driving duties with a four-time Sprint Cup champ and six-time 'Dega winner in Jeff Gordon . "It’s been really cool (to share a ride with Gordon). Jeff was my favorite driver growing up when I was a kid," Bowman said. "It's been really good to learn from him. He's an open book. All five of my teammates are complete open books. It's great to lean on them and learn as much as I can, but Jeff just has so much experience and has a really interesting view on a lot of things. "It's been a great time just listening and observing and learning everything I can from him." The lessons taken at "Gordon Drivers Ed, Inc." appear to be working, too. While the final results might not show the whole picture, Bowman, at times, has looked like the more competitive driver behind the wheel of the No. 88, and owns the car's best finish -- seventh -- since Earnhardt placed second at Pocono way back in June. Bowman says that some people joke with him and say "Oh, I'm glad to see you've finally learned how to drive." He's always known how to drive, it's just been more about opportunities. And if luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, "Bad Luck Bowman" -- a driver that once learned he'd been fired via Twitter -- knows the magnitude of the opportunity presented to him this weekend and in his remaining races. And you can be sure he'll be prepared. "I hope (this opportunity has put my name out there)," Bowman said. "We've talked to a lot of people and it always comes back to money. It's always 'Well, do you have any sponsorship?' 'Do you have any funding?' I don't, so it's just … the sport's such a business at this point that it really kind of limits what I can and can't get into and that's what's limited what I can and can't get into for the last four years. "I don't have anything lined up (for next year yet). I think my role that I had at Hendrick Motorsports before all this happened is still going to be the same. Still being a part of the team, still doing all the simulator stuff and helping as much as I can. I don't think that will change. Obviously, when Dale comes back and all that, I don't really know what that leaves for me as far as driving anything. "I don't know what the future holds there. I don't have anything going forward, really." In the short-term, at least, he'll have the full support of Junior Nation at Talladega. </p>
The Rundown: Charlotte driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway : 1. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Huge win for Johnson ... even when it's the 78th of your Sprint Cup career and you have six championships. Johnson led a race-high 155 laps and moved into the Round of 8 of the Chase for the first time under the current format. Grade: A+ 2. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Kenseth started in the rear of the field because of prerace adjustments to his car ... was penalized for too many men over the wall ... and still finished in the top five. On a day when five Chasers were body slammed by big issues, Kenseth's second place was almost as big as Johnson's win. Grade: A 3. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne posted his best finish since his last win -- in August 2014 at Atlanta. Grade: A 4. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Great run for Newman, who snagged his second top-five finish of the season. Grade: A 5. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson's eighth top-five finish ties his career best, set in his rookie season two years ago. Grade: A 6. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Despite an early tire issue that put him a lap down and damage sustained in the big wreck on Lap 259, Busch came away with a big top 10. Grade: A 7. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . The No. 2 was one of many teams penalized for having its crew over the wall too soon, but Keselowski prevailed in the end, grabbing his 105th top 10 since the start of the 2012 season, tying Kevin Harvick for the most top 10s over the past five years. Grade: A 8. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . When Busch was told which Chase cars were caught up in the big wreck on Lap 259, he said, "Charlotte has turned into Talladega." Nice line. Even better was his finish on a day he didn't have one of his stronger cars. Grade: A 9. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . As you'll see, attrition was the friend to many drivers Sunday, including Stewart, who was tagged for speeding during a green-flag pit stop on Lap 114. His 17.6 averaging running position was easily the highest among the top-10 finishers. Grade: A 10. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Solid day for McMurray, who sustained left front damage in the big wreck on Lap 259. His 325 laps in the top 15 were behind only Jimmie Johnson (332) and Carl Edwards (327). Grade: A 11. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick's finish is her best since her last top 10, a ninth-place finish at Bristol in April 2015. Grade: B+ 12. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Although Edwards never challenged for the lead, his 8.4 average running position was third-best, trailing only Jimmie Johnson (3.4) and JGR teammate Denny Hamlin (6.4). Grade: B+ 13. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Truex touched off the big wreck on the restart on Lap 259 when he got into the back of Austin Dillon -- who restarted second -- and sent him spinning and crashing hard into the inside wall. Truex said he was "trying to give him a shove and I just turned him completely around like a damn idiot." Truex was contrite after the race, as well, but the damage was done. On the flip side ... during a yellow-flag pit stop on Lap 311, karma made an appearance in the No. 78 pits when Truex's clutch failed and he had trouble leaving his stall. He had been running third; he restarted 16th. Grade: D 14. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Hats off to McDowell, who posted the fifth-best finish of his Sprint Cup career (207 starts). Grade: A 15. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Almirola just missed getting tagged by Austin Dillon as Dillon's car spun back onto the track after smashing nose-first into the inside wall on Lap 259. Almirola, who is still looking for his first top 10 of the season, posted his sixth top-15 finish of 2016. Grade: B 16. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . In his 36th career start, Buescher registered his fourth-best finish. Grade: B+ 17. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Bowyer took home his best finish since his most-recent top 10, three months ago at Daytona. Grade: B 18. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Despite his top-20 finish, Bayne wasn’t exactly competitive Sunday: Of the drivers who finished in the top 20, he ran the fewest laps in the top 15 -- one. Grade B- 19. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Six of Cassill's 24 career top-20 finishes have come this season, one fewer than his career-best seven in 2012. Grade: A 20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse has made more starts at Charlotte, 10, than at any other Sprint Cup track but is still looking for his first top-10 finish. He about nailed his average finish of 20.8, though. Grade: C 21. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Speaking of average finishes at Charlotte, Smith ran to form, as 20.7 is Smith’s number. Grade: B 22. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Scott posted his best finish at Charlotte in four starts. Grade: B 23. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan registered his best finish at Charlotte since he finished 11th five years ago in his final Charlotte start for Jack Roush. Grade: B 24. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Making his 100th career Sprint Cup start, Annett posted his second-best finish of the season. Grade: B 25. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . DiBenedetto's finish was his fourth best of the season. Grade: B 26. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing . Earnhardt posted the best finish of his career (19 starts). Grade: A- 27. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Whitt posted one of his best finishes of the season to help Premium Motorsports put both of its cars in the top 30 for the first time since Kentucky in July. Grade: B- 28. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Ditto. See Whitt. Grade: B- 29. Josh Wise , No. 30 Chevrolet, The Motorsports Group. Our attrition theme that began with Tony Stewart ends here with Wise, who has posted only three better finishes all season. Grade: C 30. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was running second with fewer than 30 laps to go when his engine blew up with "no warning" (Hamlin's words). It also was a massive break for the four Chase drivers -- Austin Dillon , Chase Elliott , Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick -- who finished below Hamlin. If Hamlin had finished in the top five -- or simply ahead of Martin Truex Jr . -- the four would have been 19 to 24 points behind Truex (assuming Truex still finished 13th) for the final spot to advance to the next round. Instead, the four range from three to eight points behind Hamlin for the eighth spot. That's a huge difference. Grade: D 31. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney had been competitive most of the afternoon before he was collected in the Lap 259 mess when he ran into Chase Elliott who had spun and was facing the wrong direction against the outside wall. Grade: C 32. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . The No. 3 team's decision to take two tires – when the rest of the top cars took four -- might have factored into the multi-car wreck that ensued after Dillon picked up nine spots to restart second on Lap 259. But it's not as if he spun his tires, had a poor restart and stacked up the field. This mess belonged to Martin Truex Jr . The team's troubles on his first two pit stops that played into his inferior track position, however, did not. Grade: C- 33. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Say all you want about Elliott's decision to slow as he reached the end of pit road, which ultimately lined him up on the inside of the third row behind Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr . and resulted in him being collected in the ensuing Lap 259 melee. But it doesn't change two facts: Elliott had led a race-high 103 laps to that point, and Truex, not Elliott, ignited the wreck. Elliott was among the drivers who deserved better. Grade: B 34. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard was one of two drivers who ran into Chase Elliott 's turned-around car in the Lap 259 carnage. Unfortunately for Menard, his car didn't survive the impact. Grade: C- 35. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Tire issues, a pit-road speeding penalty and contact with the wall all preceded the No. 16's demise in the big wreck. Grade: F 36. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Tire troubles sent the No. 22 into the wall on two separate occasions (bringing out the third and fourth cautions). He was running 16th when it happened the second time, and the damage forced a trip to the garage. Logano was 78 laps back when he returned to the track, and he was able to improve his finish by one spot. We'll know if that one point is a difference-maker after Talladega. Grade: F 37. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . The No. 47 was racy with the new Richard Childress Racing chassis, but he hit the wall hard on Lap 254, and that ended his day. Grade: D 38. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running fourth on Lap 154 when the No. 4 abruptly lost power. An oil pump bearing was the culprit. Harvick never returned. He has finished 37th and 38th the past two races, the first time he has posted back-to-back finishes in the 30s in more than two years. Grade: F 39. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman was running third on Lap 62 when the No. 88 cut a tire, ran up the race track, hit the wall and collected Casey Mears . The DNF marked Bowman's worst finish in his fifth race in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr . Grade: F 40. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when Alex Bowman ran up the track after cutting a tire. Grade: U (for Unfortunate)
Jimmie Johnson vs. Regan Smith: A Rivalry Is Born?
While I normally try to make every effort to watch every lap of every race (I knew I should have taken Kevin Harvick’s advice from that 2003 commercial ), I seem to have missed a crucial element to one narrative -- Jimmie Johnson 's apparent rivalry with Regan Smith , driver of the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet. Despite Johnson successfully snapping a 24-race winless streak at Charlotte last week, fans of the six-time champ are calling for the 7's head on Twitter. Congrads to @JimmieJohnson Go get the #7 — Hunter Memphis (@N3GoodWrench) October 9, 2016 It's coming 7 !! @JimmieJohnson well done today boys awesome job @LowesRacing https://t.co/JMdVP703nr — david bayliss (@davidbayliss10) October 9, 2016 @JimmieJohnson @CLTMotorSpdwy congratulations Jimmie. Go get number 7 — Dennis Whitworth (@WhittyPics) October 9, 2016 So pumped for @JimmieJohnson ! You deserve this one, champ! Go get #7! — Hunter Smith (@HSR30) October 9, 2016 Go get that 7. @JimmieJohnson — Matt Inman® (@yellaboy2013) October 9, 2016 @JimmieJohnson Congratulations JJ on winning and advancing. Time to get #7 — TheVoiceOfReason (@TBLFANnFL) October 9, 2016 While Johnson hasn’t yet taken any action or retaliation toward Smith, fans seem to consider it a matter of when -- not if -- Jimmie gets No. 7. Their question is simple: What's holding him back? Is it the pit crew? A grand conspiracy? @JimmieJohnson Jimmie - you can get number 7 - there is no doubt in your talent and abilities _ your crew just needs to avoid mistakes — Frances (@Jakesmom2809) October 2, 2016 @JimmieJohnson Man they just don't want you to get 7. Smdh. Conspiracy. — Chris Day (@02Z51vette) October 2, 2016 It's unclear what sparked the rivalry with Smith, whose No. 7 Chevrolet isn't battling Johnson in this year’s Chase, but Johnson's fans make it clear that something is coming -- perhaps even this year. @LowesRacing @JimmieJohnson @NHM we hunting 7 now in 2016 — James (@James89174965) September 22, 2016