The GarageCam gang tries to tackle a place that has been called 'The Track Too Tough to Tame .'
Hornaday, Bodine, Crafton and Buescher comment on their top-five finishes at Darlington.
Four-time champion just 13 wins away from second on all-time list RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize DOVER, Del. -- With all the jockeying for Chase positions in the middle of the field, it was difficult at times to focus on what was happening at the front of the field in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. At the end of the day, Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag for the 92nd time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career and took another stride toward a milestone everyone -- including Gordon -- once thought was untouchable. Make no mistake. Gordon already is in rarified air when it comes to his accomplishments in stock car racing. With 92 victories, he's third on the all-time list. He's a four-time series champion with an abiding hunger for a fifth title. He's a shoo-in for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And he's now within sight, at least, of David Pearson's 105 career Cup wins, second all-time. A few scant years ago, catching Pearson was the furthest thing from Gordon's mind. He was having some serious issues with his back. Gordon and wife Ingrid added to their family with the births of daughter Ella and son Leo. Gordon wasn't particularly fond of NASCAR's Gen-5 platform, introduced into the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 as the Car of Tomorrow. And, when asked, he would dismiss Pearson's milestone as an impossibility. Now, it seems that only Richard Petty's unassailable series-record 200 victories is out of reach. Through treatment and exercise, Gordon's back is better. NASCAR's new Gen-6 race car better suits his driving style, especially since the implementation of the no-ride-height rules this year. Gordon has bonded with crew chief Alan Gustafson, and together they have found top-of-the-line speed in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Despite his superstar status within NASCAR racing and the crossover appeal that makes him a comfortable fill-in co-host with Kelly Ripa, for example, Gordon isn't above team-building within his organization. Two days before the AAA 400 , after a hair-raising qualifying lap at the Monster Mile, Gordon spent the evening at a local Dover fish house with Gustafson and his crew. Wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap and sitting inconspicuously at a family-style table, Gordon was just one of the guys. On the track on Sunday, he was an opportunist. Kevin Harvick was the class of the field, but mechanical issues bit Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet as they often have since his last victory at Darlington in April. Gordon seized the moment, passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on Lap 305 of 400 and controlled the balance of the race. As he invariably does, Gordon deflected talk of reaching the century mark in victories. "I'm going to tell you the same thing I say every time I'm sitting here after a win: It's awesome to have 92, and I look forward to challenging for 93," Gordon said in the Dover media center. "I can't even think about 100 until we get to 99. "I mean, I never dreamed in a million years that I would be here talking to you after 92 wins, and especially at this point in my career, this many years in the sport, to be having the year that we're having, it's just something I never thought could happen. It feels amazing, and right now if I felt like we could stay this competitive for the next several years, I would say, yeah, we could get there." But Gordon, of course, has a more immediate goal. "We're just laser-focused on this championship and going to the next race," he said. "I don't think we're going to get to 100 this year, but I hope we get past 93. That would be pretty awesome to get a couple more, and it almost takes a win to get to Homestead. That's our goal, getting to Homestead, whatever it takes." 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
Using average-finish stats, here are your Contender Round favorites MORE: 12 drivers advance to Contender Round " Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota When handicapping the 12 drivers in the Contender Round of the Chase Grid, it helps to put one foot in the past and one foot in the present to hopefully make a confident step toward the future. So what we've done is capture the past and present in the form of average-finish stats in order to predict the eight drivers who will advance to the Eliminator Round in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The three statistical categories we examined are: average finish for the 2014 season, average finish in the past five races and average finish at the Contender Round tracks. These categories were chosen because they will help tell us who has been the most consistent driver this season, as well as who's hot right now and who has the best chance to perform well in the next three races. By assigning a point value to how each driver ranked in each category (example: Jeff Gordon got 12 points for being the best driver in average finish for this season, while Kyle Busch got one point for being the worst), there is a total at the end and four drivers will be eliminated. Sounds fun, right? Let's get to it: Average finish this season Rank Driver Avg. Finish Points 1 Jeff Gordon 10.0 12 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 11.0 11 3 Joey Logano 12.2 10 4 Brad Keselowski 12.4 9 5 Jimmie Johnson 13.4 8 6 Matt Kenseth 13.8 7 7 Kevin Harvick 14.0 5.5 8 Ryan Newman 14.0 5.5 9 Carl Edwards 14.8 4 10 Denny Hamlin 15.5 3 11 Kasey Kahne 16.5 2 12 Kyle Busch 17.1 1 Inside the Numbers: It shouldn't surprise any NASCAR fans to see the names at the top of this list. Gordon, Earnhardt Jr., Logano, Keselowski and Johnson have all had great seasons, combining for 19 victories with each driver getting at least three wins. Keselowski leads with five wins, including at Richmond and in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. Logano and Gordon followed Keselowski by winning the Chase races at New Hampshire and Dover , respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started the season strong with a victory in the Daytona 500 and followed that up by sweeping the races at Pocono, but as we'll see in the next statistical category (last five races), he hasn't been the hottest driver among the Chase participants entering the Contender Round. Average finish last five races Rank Driver Avg. Finish Points 1 Joey Logano 5.8 12 2 Jimmie Johnson 6.4 11 3 Kevin Harvick 9.0 10 4 Jeff Gordon 9.6 9 5 Brad Keselowski 10.0 8 6 Kyle Busch 11.0 7 7 Ryan Newman 11.4 6 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12.0 5 9 Kasey Kahne 14.8 4 10 Carl Edwards 15.0 3 11 Matt Kenseth 15.8 1.5 12 Denny Hamlin 15.8 1.5 Inside the Numbers: Junior lands in the middle of the pack with an average finish of 12th in the last five races. That gives him five points in our formula, because he was better than only Denny Hamlin , Matt Kenseth , Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne . Dale Jr.'s 17th-place finish at Dover followed an 11th at Atlanta, a 12th at Richmond , an 11th at Chicago and a ninth at New Hampshire. Not exactly bad by any means, but he isn't tearing it up, either. Keselowski took home eight points in this category, which might be difficult to believe considering he won two races in this span. But a 39th-place finish at Atlanta to begin the five-race stretch skewed his numbers. If you discount that race, Keselowski's average finish over the past four races is an incredible 2.75 -- so he might be a little hotter than these numbers suggest. Average finish at Contender Round tracks Rank Driver Avg. Finish Points 1 Jimmie Johnson 12.00 12 2 Jeff Gordon 14.20 11 3 Brad Keselowski 14.23 10 4 Carl Edwards 14.33 9 5 Kevin Harvick 14.57 8 6 Matt Kenseth 15.37 7 7 Kasey Kahne 15.40 6 8 Denny Hamlin 15.97 5 9 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 16.53 4 10 Joey Logano 17.63 3 11 Ryan Newman 19.73 2 12 Kyle Busch 19.90 1 Inside the Numbers: Johnson has by far the best average finish at the Contender Round tracks, more than two positions better than his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon. So for those who don't want to see "Six-Time" become "Seven-Time," avert your eyes from this chart -- it's a sign that the No. 48 team could get stronger as the Chase moves on. Kyle Busch has a history of volatility at these tracks, so you might want to choose someone else in the Chase Grid Battle Game presented by Toyota. Fans might be familiar with Busch's struggles at Kansas (average finish of 22.7), which is where his Chase imploded last season, but he's almost equally as bad at Talladega (21.4). Busch said he and crew chief Dave Rogers tried a different car in the spring race at Kansas , leading to a top-15. The Final Outcome Rank Driver Points 1 Jeff Gordon 32 2 Jimmie Johnson 31 3 Brad Keselowski 27 4 Joey Logano 25 5 Kevin Harvick 23.5 6 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 20 7 Carl Edwards 16 8 Matt Kenseth 15.5 9 Ryan Newman 13.5 10 Kasey Kahne 12 11 Denny Hamlin 9.5 12 Kyle Busch 9 There you have it, the eight drivers highlighted in the chart above are the ones with the best chance to move on to the Eliminator Round. Of course, we'll have to see how it actually plays out, but since this was fun, let's try it again when we get to the final eight to see who has the best shot of making the Championship Four. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Corey LaJoie, 23, to pick up four more races this season
AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch talk about not making it to the Contender round of the Chase while Kasey Kahne and others talk about advancing.
See what tough drivers make the list and what they did to get them there
Nine-time Dover winner: 'Too many variables' to predict 2014 title race RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize DOVER, Del. -- Jimmie Johnson opened the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs with a solid 12th and even-better fifth in search of a record-tying seventh crown in NASCAR's premier series. All the while, the Team Penske stable of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano romped, splitting power-packed victories. The preceding two races, combined with Keselowski's thrashing of the field in the regular-season finale a week before, could have set the tone for a Penske coronation march to the championship round at Homestead. But titles aren't handed out in September, and Johnson has several of his best tracks coming up -- starting with Dover International Speedway this weekend -- with plenty of racing left before the Nov. 16 finale. "There's just so much to be gained by dominating, by winning, by sending a message through your performance on track. Those things are vital," Johnson said Friday morning before opening practice at the Monster Mile. "But the thing I keep looking at is, I think a lot of us are still wired and programmed to think (it's) a 10-race stretch. But it really is transfer, transfer, transfer, best race of your season is what you need." The opening 1-2 punch of largely error-free finishes ranks Johnson fourth in the Chase standings ahead of Sunday's AAA 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), the last race before the postseason field is whittled from 16 drivers to 12 for the Contender Round, the next three-race elimination phase in the debut season for the new playoff format. While Johnson said Friday that he feels relatively safe from an early-round upset, he said that " too many variables" make it too difficult to predict a champion or forecast the effect of early momentum. "I'm not overly stressing about anything, sitting where we are in points right now," Johnson said. "I know the Penske guys are going to be tough , but if they win the first nine races, it doesn't mean that they're going to win at Homestead. It's just a totally different thing now." Far easier to predict has been Johnson's tendency for domination at Dover, where his history of strong showings has resulted in nine victories -- making it his most prolific track of his Sprint Cup career. He's shooting for his third straight win at the Monster Mile, on the heels of leading 243 of 400 laps in last year's race and coming back to lead 272 of 400 here in June. Winning three in a row at Dover would put Johnson in the company of NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson, Rusty Wallace and first-ballot cinch Jeff Gordon , but would also automatically punch his ticket to the next round without busying number-crunchers to figure the points. While Johnson doesn't have to win to stay alive in the Chase, he's easily among the favorites. "Jimmie's been the guy that's pretty much had a lock on this place the last several years for as long as I can remember," said Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who ran second to Johnson in this race last year. "I think this was one of the first race tracks where I noticed in his rookie season how good he could be. He's really the guy to beat every time you come here, and he might not really show that throughout the practices -- there'll be some other guys with good speed -- but when the race starts, he separates himself from the field." While Johnson is enjoying some separation in the standings after the first two races, he sympathizes with the bottom half of the title-eligible field that sits squarely on the Chase bubble. The frantic nature of last weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway jumbled the pecking order and shed new light on how the new format ratchets up the premium on mistake-free racing across the board. "Yeah, we're going to learn a lot this weekend on how that pressure is taken," Johnson said. "In the past, we've had the Richmond pressure, which we've all seen and experienced; and then maybe the last three races of the Chase, you can feel that pressure building up. But with all these elimination rounds, there's an opportunity for that pressure to build for four drivers each and every week -- and maybe up to six guys -- above that four in the bump-out zone that are kind of close to being knocked out. So, I think it lets a few people off the hook and you can kind of relax. "Like right now, I'm sure that Joey and Brad are sleeping just fine. But the guys down in 12th to 16th, they're stressing. They've got to show up here and get it done. In some ways I guess to generalize, it just spreads the championship pressure out amongst everybody. Whereas, in the past, it started off with however many dealing with it, and then it just emerged with one or two at the end kind of feeling all the weight of the world. Now, everybody equally gets to share in the pain." 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
Earnhardt Jr., Johnson and Harvick share thoughts on grand jury decision RELATED: Full timeline of Stewart coverage " Stewart on accident " Future in sprint cars DOVER, Del. -- Two days after grand jury proceedings came to a close in Ontario County, New York, Tony Stewart was back at work Friday, strapped into his No. 14 Chevrolet and making preliminary laps at Dover International Speedway . His return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition came four weeks ago at Atlanta, but Friday marked his first day at the track without the potential for criminal charges in the accident that killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9. While that part of the matter is resolved, Stewart made clear in an interview with The Associated Press that he remains haunted by the events of that dark Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. As Stewart tries to find a new, but forever altered sense of normalcy at the track, the NASCAR community -- which counts the three-time champion known as "Smoke" among its most popular members -- has reached out with thoughts for both Stewart and the Ward family, both before and after Wednesday's announcement of the grand jury's decision. "I don't know if relief is what I had," said Dale Earnhardt Jr ., NASCAR's reigning most popular driver. "I didn't really pay super close attention to what was going on. More or less just letting the process play out, and I feel sadness in my heart for the Ward family. But at the same time you get something in the pit of your stomach that is sort of this frightfulness or this fear for Tony and what he is having to deal with. Just having known him for all these years you can imagine that he is going through something super emotional and overwhelming by a huge measure. "There is sort of a sickness or something in the pit of your stomach for what Tony is going through, but at the same time you never really forget that somebody was killed. There is a family with a hole in their heart and they have got to figure out a way to live out the rest of their lives with this always on their mind. It will have a huge effect on both sides for so many years. It's just super-duper unfortunate." The revelation that Ward -- a 20-year-old driver who won four races on the regional Empire Super Sprints circuit -- was under the influence of marijuana to a degree that would impair judgment, according to authorities, was termed "shocking" by six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson . The report also raised the question about restrictions and policing illegal substances at the nation's short tracks, many of which operate without the benefit of a regional or national sanctioning body to oversee such a process. "I guess I don't understand enough about it all and what the repercussions for short tracks would be. Still, first and foremost, I just don't want to ignore the fact that it was a massive tragedy that took place," Johnson said. "The toxicology report is shocking to see. From a friend perspective and worrying about Tony and understanding what he's gone through and how tough this has been on him, I'm sure there is some type of relief that it's kind of done, in that respect. But at the same time, coming back to the Ward family, even in the remarks I read from Tony, I'm sure he feels OK about not having this go any further and there being legal actions. A civil suit is still out there and that can happen for any reason, to anybody in this room. But, the other side of it, still first and foremost on Tony's mind is that it was an accident and his heart is still out for the Ward family. "And I just echo those same things. It's such a tragedy to have these details come out and people potentially forming sides, there's just no good in that. It's just been a terrible accident and we need to pay respect to Kevin Ward Jr., and I don't know how you go on, but just move forward." While Stewart qualified 15th for Sunday's AAA 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), teammate Kevin Harvick carried the torch for the Stewart-Haas Racing team Friday with his seventh Coors Light Pole Award of the year. Harvick said that he couldn't speak for the entire organization's state of mind, but said that he was personally relieved after Wednesday's announcement. "You worry about your friend and the circumstances that are surrounding him and how things could be dictated for the rest of his life," Harvick said. "Just being around and knowing how much it's weighed on him and all the things that he has going on, for me personally, I'm happy for my friend. As far as the team, we've all got jobs to do and have had to press through them, but I'm overjoyed in obviously a devastating situation, but I'm just happy that it's to a point where everybody knows what's happening in the future and start the process of trying to deal with it and move on into some sort of normalcy." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Keep tabs on all the action this weekend at Dover and Las Vegas This weekend brings the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series to Dover International Speedway . While the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway . The Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 is on Sunday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. ET with coverage on ESPN. The Nationwide Series Dover 200 is on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 3:30 p.m. ET with coverage on ESPN. The Camping World Truck Series Rhino Linings 350 is Saturday, Sept. 27, at 10 p.m. ET with coverage on FOX Sports 1. For more information on track times, press conferences and GarageCam, you can check out this weekend's schedule . For TV times, see this week's TV schedule . We know you may not have the time to watch the race action without any interruptions, so if you're on the go, here's how to keep up at Dover and Las Vegas. NASCAR.com's live Sprint Cup Series leaderboard , Nationwide Series leaderboard and Camping World Truck Series leaderboard update in real-time and offer constant text updates of lead changes, cautions, strategies, strong runs and everything in between. From the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaderboard fans can also access live standings . On the go? Download the NASCAR Mobile app to follow the leaderboards live from your device. Lap-by-Lap will keep you caught up even if you can take a peek here and there. Check in now and then to read back through all the laps you've missed, or keep an eye on the feed for real-time race updates. Want to see enhanced coverage? RaceBuddy has you covered with 10 live high definition feeds for this week's Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series action. For the Sprint Cup Series race, the drivers featured for RaceBuddy will be Brad Keselowski , Matt Kenseth , Jeff Gordon , Ryan Newman , AJ Allmendinger and Jimmie Johnson . For the Nationwide Series race, the drivers featured for RaceBuddy will be Regan Smith , Chase Elliott , Joey Logano , Kyle Larson , Kyle Busch and Brendan Gaughan . For all the information you need on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format check out Chase 101 for an easy- to -follow guide as Dover is the first elimination race in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Fans can also keep up with how their fantasy Chase Grid is doing here . We'll also send race updates via Twitter through the official @NASCAR and @NASCARStats handles. Haven't tried RaceView yet? If you sign up, you'll get virtual video of cars on the track from various angles and hear what your favorite team is saying over the radio. Use it as a second screen or as your only screen. Just want to scan the radios? You can have that too with RaceView Audio . On a mobile device? Get RaceView Mobile here . If you want to be more involved in the on-track action, you can manage your fantasy team on NASCAR.com and follow your team's performance in NASCAR Fantasy Live . Mobile users can also download NASCAR Connect , a game from OneUp Sports that allows users to play other fans with race predictions, for some off-track competition while drivers battle it out on the track. Live Press Pass video streams will keep the NASCAR action rolling even after the winner goes in and out of Victory Lane. Catch interviews with the top finishers immediately following the checkered flag for the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series, and stay tuned to NASCAR.com throughout the week for the latest news. 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