Keselowski to lead field to green in Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)
A stats-based look ahead to the second race of the Chase RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 15, 2014) –Below is a look at the 16 Challengers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire going into the SYLVANIA 300 on Sept. 21. ESPN’s coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET and the race is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. 2014 Chase Grid Pos. Drivers Season Wins Chase Points 1 Brad Keselowski 5 2,059 2 Jeff Gordon 3 2,052 3 Joey Logano 3 2,049 4 Kevin Harvick 2 2,047 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 2,042 6 Denny Hamlin 1 2,041 7 Kyle Busch 1 2,041 8 Jimmie Johnson 3 2,041 9 Kurt Busch 1 2,039 10 Matt Kenseth 0 2,034 11 Kasey Kahne 1 2,034 12 Carl Edwards 2 2,030 13 Ryan Newman 0 2,029 14 AJ Allmendinger 1 2,025 15 Greg Biffle 0 2,021 16 Aric Almirola 1 2,007 Green = In position to move to the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Orange = In position to possibly be eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Challenger Round Red = Eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup NEW HAMPSHIRE-SPECIFIC STATISTICS 1 - Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 103.8 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 12 top fives, 14 top 10s; four poles · Average finish of 13.0 · Led 21 races for 1,340 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, four top fives, six top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.4 in 10 races · Average Running Position of 13.6, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 93.8, ninth-best 2 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 109.9 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 10 top fives, 18 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.7 · Led 19 races for 571 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, 16 top fives, 22 top 10s; four poles · Average finish of 11.0 in 39 races · Series-best Average Running Position of 7.7 · Driver Rating of 107.7, second-best · Series-high 437 Fastest Laps Run · 944 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 125.153 mph · Series-high 4,989 Laps in the Top 15 (87.9%) · Series-high 638 Quality Passes 3 - Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 105.9 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 12.9 · Led 18 races for 721 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 19.3 in 12 races · Average Running Position of 21.1, 22nd-best · Driver Rating of 72.8, 21st-best 4 - Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Designate A Driver Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 107.5 2014 Rundown · Two wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; six poles · Average finish of 14.4 · Led 19 races for 1,265 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, five top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.3 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 12.8, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 91.0, 13th-best · 178 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 970 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.716 mph, ninth-fastest · 3,700 Laps in the Top 15 (65.2%), ninth-most 5 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 98.3 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s · Average finish of 10.9 · Led 12 races for 220 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Seven top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 15.5 in 30 races · Average Running Position of 11.6, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.3, sixth-best · 1,061 Green Flag Passes, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.987 mph, fifth-fastest · 4,255 Laps in the Top 15 (75.0%), fourth-most · 596 Quality Passes, third-most 6 - Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.2 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 14.8 · Led 11 races for 163 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Two wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 8.9 in 17 races · Average Running Position of 10.5, third-best · Driver Rating of 103.6, third-best · 302 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.973 mph, sixth-fastest · 3,843 Laps in the Top 15 (75.7%), sixth-most · 569 Quality Passes, fourth-most 7 - Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.8 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 10 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.7 · Led 13 races for 411 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, seven top fives, nine top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 14.4 in 19 races · Average Running Position of 13.5, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 94.7, eighth-best · 232 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.693 mph, 10th-fastest · 3,768 Laps in the Top 15 (66.4%), seventh-most · 504 Quality Passes, eighth-most 8 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 100.0 2014 Rundown · Three wins, eight top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.1 · Led 15 races for 1,035 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, nine top fives, 17 top 10s · Average finish of 10.5 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 11.3, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 102.1, fourth-best · 431 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 125.077 mph, second-fastest · 4,459 Laps in the Top 15 (78.6%), second-most · 602 Quality Passes, second-most 9 - Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 87.7 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 18.7 · Led 11 races for 181 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 15.4 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 13.9, 14th-best · Driver Rating of 89.5, 14th-best · 187 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 1,002 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.664 mph, 12th-fastest · 3,448 Laps in the Top 15 (60.8%), 12th-most · 531 Quality Passes, sixth-most 10 - Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.4 2014 Rundown · One win, three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 16.1 · Led 10 races for 204 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, three top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 16.7 in 21 races · Average Running Position of 13.9, 15th-best · Driver Rating of 92.6, 10th-best · 340 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · 1,000 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 124.828 mph, eighth-fastest · 3,709 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%), eighth-most · 528 Quality Passes, seventh-most 11 - Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 93.1 2014 Rundown · 10 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.9 · Led 16 races for 465 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, seven top fives, 15 top 10s · Average finish of 13.0 in 29 races · Average Running Position of 15.5, 18th-best · Driver Rating of 85.5, 18th-best · Series-high 1,140 Green Flag Passes · 471 Quality Passes, 12th-most 12 - Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 82.4 2014 Rundown · Two wins, six top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 14.9 · Led 9 races for 133 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Two top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 13.8 in 20 races · Average Running Position of 14.5, 16th-best · Driver Rating of 86.1, 17th-best · 972 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most 13 - Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 84.9 2014 Rundown · Two top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 14.1 · Led 4 races for 24 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · Three wins, seven top fives, 16 top 10s; seven poles · Average finish of 13.6 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 13.1, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 92.3, 11th-best · 4,131 Laps in the Top 15 (72.8%), fifth-most · 490 Quality Passes, ninth-most 14 - AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 70.4 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.9 · Led 5 races for 68 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One top 10 · Average finish of 24.2 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 23.6, 28th-best · Driver Rating of 63.8, 28th-best 15 - Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 80.5 2014 Rundown · Three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 15.6 · Led 6 races for 109 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One win, six top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 15.7 in 24 races · Average Running Position of 14.9, 17th-best · Driver Rating of 86.6, 16th-best · 1,109 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 480 Quality Passes, 10th-most 16 - Aric Almirola (No. 43 Smithfield Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 73.6 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 20.9 · Led 5 races for 23 laps New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook: · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 21.3 in eight races · Average Running Position of 24.3, 32nd-best · Driver Rating of 61.9, 31st-best New Hampshire Motor Speedway Data Season Race #: 28 of 36 (09-21-14) Track Size : 1.058-mile Banking/Turn 1 & 2 : 2 to 7 degrees Banking/Turn 3 & 4 : 2 to 7 degrees Banking/Frontstretch : 1 degree Banking/Backstretch : 1 degree Frontstretch Length : 1,500 feet Backstretch Length : 1,500 feet Race Length : 300 laps / 317.4 miles Top 10 Driver Rating at New Hampshire Tony Stewart............................. 110.0 Jeff Gordon.............................. 107.7 Denny Hamlin............................ 103.6 Jimmie Johnson........................ 102.1 Kyle Larson................................ 99.1 Dale Earnhardt Jr........................ 97.3 Clint Bowyer............................... 95.9 Kyle Busch................................. 94.7 Brad Keselowski......................... 93.8 Kasey Kahne.............................. 92.6 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (19 total) among active drivers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Qualifying/Race Data 2013 Coors Light Pole winner : Ryan Newman, Chevrolet 136.497 mph, 27.904 secs. 09-20-13 2013 race winner : Matt Kenseth, Toyota 107.573 mph, (02:57:02), 09-22-13 Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch, Toyota 138.130 mph, 27.574 secs. 07-13-14 Track race record: Jeff Burton, Ford 117.134 mph, (02:42:35), 07-13-97 New Hampshire Motor Speedway: History · Groundbreaking for New Hampshire International Speedway, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway was originally named, was Aug. 13, 1989. · The 1.058-mile oval is located on approximately 1,200 acres; the multi-use complex is the largest sports facility in New England. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was on July 11, 1993 – won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace . · Speedway Motorsports, Inc. agreed to purchase New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob and Gary Bahre on January 11, 2008 and then renamed the track New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Notebook · There have been 39 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; one per year from 1993 through 1996 and two per year since. · 158 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; 123 in more than one. · Two drivers have competed in all 39 races at New Hampshire: Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. · Mark Martin won the inaugural Coors Light pole at New Hampshire in 1993 with a speed of 126.871 mph. · 18 drivers have Coors Light poles at New Hampshire, led by Ryan Newman with seven. · Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at New Hampshire: Ken Schrader (1997 sweep); Jeff Gordon (1998-1999); Rusty Wallace (1999-2000); Ryan Newman (twice – 2003-2004 and 2011 sweep); Juan Pablo Montoya (2009-2010). · Youngest
Roush teammates Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse and others comment on a hot and long day in Charlotte.
Relive some of the best moments from this weekend's races at Chicagoland Speedway in this edition of Weekend Top 5.
Keselowski tops Cup practice; Crafton, Jones, Custer top Truck sessions RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Sprint Cup Series Practice 1 " RESULTS Already in the hunt for his second straight win and a sweep of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the season, Brad Keselowski topped opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday morning in Loudon, New Hampshire. The Team Penske driver ran just 12 laps, but found enough speed in his No. 2 Ford on his final run around the Magic Mile to best the field with a speed of 138.421 mph. The top 10 was chock-full of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, save for Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Jamie McMurray (137.890 mph) and Kyle Larson (137.631 mph), who both ran well at Chicagoland last week and placed second and fifth, respectively, in Friday's opening session. After McMurray, 12 of the next 14 drivers on the chart were all postseason contenders, with the top five rounded out by Dale Earnhardt Jr . (3rd, 137.825 mph) and Kasey Kahne (4th, 137.661 mph). Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson was the slowest Chase driver, pulling in 29th with a speed of 135.699 mph. Just over 50 minutes into the session, practice was halted for debris on the track. Nationwide Series final practice " RESULTS A Richard Childress Racing driver led final NASCAR Nationwide Series practice at Kentucky Speedway , just not the one most would have expected. Rookie Cale Conley , on a part-time schedule this season, circled the 1.5-mile speedway at a clip of 175.404 mph to take top honors in the final 60-minute session. He also led the field with most laps run at 53. RCR's Brian Scott (175.075 mph), who drives the No. 2 Chevrolet, finished third in the standings after coming in second in the opening session. Scott is fifth in the standings, 56 points behind leader Chase Elliott . A late push from Trevor Bayne put his No. 6 Ford into second on the speed chart (175.239 mph). Sam Hornish Jr . (174.944 mph) and Chris Buescher (174.419) rounded out the top five, with RCR's Ty Dillon (174.323 mph) coming in sixth. Elliott finished eighth (174.087 mph) with his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith in 16th. Smith trails Elliott in the standings by 18 points. Next up is Coors Light Pole Qualifying, scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET. The VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 follows at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNEWS). Nationwide Series practice 1 " RESULTS Richard Childress Racing opened up the weekend strong, placing all three of its cars in the top four placers in opening Nationwide Series practice for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS) at Kentucky Speedway in Lexington, Kentucky. Brian Scott was at the helm, leading the charge with a best speed of 173.980 mph to finish second fiddle to practice topper Chris Buescher (174.701). Brendan Gaughan (173.210) and RCR rookie Ty Dillon (173.205) were right behind Scott. Sam Hornish Jr. , filling in for Kyle Busch in the No. 54 this weekend, placed fifth on the charts at 173.082. Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott was eighth overall at 172.629, while Michael McDowell , driving the defending race-winning No. 22 Ford, was 11th overall at 172.348. Camping World Truck Series Practice 1 " RESULTS Rookie driver Erik Jones paced the first of three Camping World Truck Series practices at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday morning in Loudon, New Hampshire. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver posted a best speed of 131.925 mph on his 35th of 36 laps around the Magic Mile. Jones ousted reigning champion Matt Crafton from the top of the leaderboard in the closing seconds of practice, besting the ThorSport driver's speed of 131.035 mph. Sixteen-year-old Cole Custer , set to make just his seventh NASCAR National Series start in Saturday's UNOH 175 (1 p.m. ET, FS1), was third on the leaderboard with a speed of 131.031 mph -- 0.001 seconds off Crafton's pace. Joey Coulter (130.999 mph) and Ryan Blaney (130.864 mph) rounded out the top five. Positions six through nine were occupied by Toyota drivers in Darrell Wallace Jr . (130.846 mph), Johnny Sauter (130.260 mph) and Red Horse Racing teammates Timothy Peters (129.754 mph) and German Quiroga (129.648 mph). Camping World Truck Series practice 2 " RESULTS In the second of three scheduled Camping World Truck Series practices, reigning champion Matt Crafton topped the leaderboard on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Crafton's late-session best speed of 132.347 mph shot him past Cameron Hayley , who placed second with a best speed of 131.433. Gray Gaulding (131.180 mph), Joey Coulter (131.044 mph) and Timothy Peters (130.815 mph) rounded out the top five. First session leader Erik Jones was ninth at 130.385 mph. Camping World Truck Series final practice " RESULTS LOUDON, N.H. -- NASCAR Next driver Cole Custer cruised to the top of the speed charts in final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Custer, 16, turned a lap of 133.226 mph in the Haas Racing Development No. 00 Chevrolet in preparation for Saturday's UNOH 175 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). Custer, who is scheduled to make just the seventh Truck Series start of his career here, also won the pole position in June at Gateway Motorsports Park, a track of similar length with similar short-track characteristics. Ryan Blaney, 20 years old and third in the series standings, was second-fastest in the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Ford at 133.007 mph. Erik Jones , another NASCAR Next class member at age 18, ran the most laps (63) and was third-best at 132.924 mph, just ahead of Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Darrell Wallace Jr ., a two-time winner this season. Tyler Reddick completed the top five in another Keselowski-owned truck. Points leader Matt Crafton , the defending series champion, was ninth-fastest of the 26 drivers who participated in the 85-minute finalsession. Saturday's Keystone Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled for a 10:10 a.m. ET start, broadcast on FOX Sports 1. The race is the 17th Truck Series event hosted by New Hampshire, but the first for the 1.058-mile track since 2011. -- Zack Albert 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
Chase standings leader wins pole at New Hampshire RELATED: Qualifying results LOUDON, N.H. -- You couldn't script a better beginning to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for Brad Keselowski , who showed no sign of stopping his relentless run toward a second championship on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Fresh from a dramatic victory in last Sunday's first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway , Keselowski blew away the track record in winning the pole for Sunday's Sylvania 300 at the Magic Mile (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). The Coors Light Pole Award was Keselowski's fifth of the season, the eight of his career and his third in 11 starts at the 1.058-mile flat track. In the second and final round of knockout qualifying, Keselowski covered the distance in 27.090 seconds (140.598 mph) to edge Jamie McMurray (140.437 mph) for the top starting spot by .031 seconds. Kevin Harvick qualified third for the second Chase race at 140.065 mph. "The kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team’s wheelhouse," said Keselowski, who won the July race at New Hampshire in dominating fashion. "We had this race circled before the Chase started, and we felt decent about Chicago, but we really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket (three-race elimination round). "It's good, right? We just want to keep it going." Despite the excellent performances of the first two weeks, Keselowski isn't ready to claim ownership of the title just yet. "With the resets (after each round), the success of today really means nothing come Homestead (where the four remaining eligible drivers will race for the title, with the highest finisher among the four claiming the prize)," Keselowski said. "It's great. It's positive momentum. It's everything you want to do, and it’s everything you think you should do. "But when it resets, it resets, and nothing that you've done in the past really matters, as long as you're eligible for the bracket. I'm a long, long way from using the word favorite or feeling overly confident." McMurray, who did not make the Chase field, was pleased with his effort in qualifying. "I felt like, in my first run, I didn't get everything out of the car and maybe left a little bit on the table," McMurray said. "The first run I didn't think I got it all, but the second run out (in the final round), the second lap was really good. "Honestly, I came off Turn 4 and tried to run three laps and tried to just drive a little bit harder, but the tires just wouldn’t hold up for another quick lap." Chase drivers who will start in the top 12 on Sunday include Denny Hamlin (fourth), Kyle Busch (fifth), Jimmie Johnson (sixth), Joey Logano (seventh), Carl Edwards (eighth), Ryan Newman (ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (11th) Keselowski led the first of the two qualifying sessions with a lap at 139.614 mph (27.281 seconds), a scant .005 seconds faster than the No. 99 of fellow Ford driver Edwards. All told, 26 drivers in the 30-minute first round broke the track qualifying record of 138.130 mph (27.574 seconds) set by Kyle Busch on July 11, 2014. Earnhardt Jr. was the 12th and last driver to advance to the second session with a lap at 138.987 mph (27.404 mph). Chase drivers Jeff Gordon (13th), Kurt Busch (15th), Matt Kenseth (16th), Kasey Kahne (17th), Aric Almirola (21st), Greg Biffle (26th) and AJ Allmendinger (27th) failed to advance to the 10-minute final round. Notes: The track qualifying record was the 19th set this year in Sprint Cup Series time trials, in the first year of the knockout format. ... Keselowski has accounted for four of those records. ... The last two times Keselowski has won a pole for a Sprint Cup race (at Kentucky and Richmond), he has also won the race. 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
RPM driver shows gratitude to Ambrose for contributions to organization RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota LOUDON, N.H. -- Aric Almirola has plenty of pressure to perform the next two weekends to keep his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason hopes alive. One thing he's scratched off the list of things to worry about -- the livelihood of his Richard Petty Motorsports team. Despite his last-place position in the 16-driver playoff, Almirola was almost all smiles Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , two days after his team reaffirmed its commitment to remain a two-car operation in 2015. It's the sort of long-term vote of confidence in the wake of teammate Marcos Ambrose 's impending departure that can at least soothe some of the opening-round heartbreak that visited The King's famed No. 43 last weekend at Chicagoland. "It's really important," Almirola said. "You see most or all of the top teams in this sport are multi-car teams and that's important to have that resource of teammates and more information. I think any time you do things with just one person it becomes really easy to get stuck in your ways and not be able to see outside the box, but as soon as you get more information, more teammates, more heads thinking on the same thing, it opens your eyes to a lot of different opportunities as far as setups and people and ways to go about setting your cars up and processes in the shop. "So I think anytime something like this is going down, it's important for the guys and first and foremost for the guys at the race team to know that, 'Hey, you're OK, you're safe. We’re not shutting the car down. We're gonna have two cars and we're gonna go racing.' So that's first and foremost of the importance to let those guys know that they're OK, but on top of that for everything that we've built over the last four or five years to this point and being a winning race team and a Chase-contending race team, to let everybody know that's still our goal and we’re not backing down from that." Carrying over the status quo isn't necessarily the worst thing that could happen to a team that's seen its share of ownership changes over the years. Mergers and partnerships with principals such as Ray Evernham, Robert Yates and George Gillett made the team a cauldron of uncertainty throughout the previous decade as it shrank from a four-car conglomerate to a two-car stable, but the past three years have marked a period of relative stability in both the ownership and driver lineup. The smooth seas at RPM took on more than a ripple last weekend with Ambrose's announcement that he'd return to his native Australia, leaving Petty's No. 9 Ford with a prominent vacancy for 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. While Almirola, who signed a three-year contract extension with RPM back in January, awaits the team's next chapter, he expressed his gratitude for Ambrose's legacy and lasting contributions. "He was there a year before me, so he was there at probably its darkest hour with the Gillett split and bankruptcy and Richard putting a lot of his own money to keep the team alive, and going from four cars down to two," Almirola said. "Marcos has seen a lot of that company and helped build it to where it is today, and I'm extremely appreciative of that because I get to reap the benefits of that. I feel like I was a big part of that, but I came in a year later. He's probably been one of the best teammates that I've ever worked with. He's such a fun guy and a lot of fun to be around, and he's an extremely good race car driver." For the shorter term, Almirola and Co. need to regroup -- and fast -- to make their imprint in the Contender Round, the next three-race cut in the new-look Chase. Reaching that goal means turning it on in this Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) and following up strong the next weekend's race at Dover International Speedway. While Almirola said he didn't think he'd need a win-or-else approach over the next two races to advance, he also knows a repeat of the 41st-place finish outside the Windy City last weekend would be devastating. The Chicago setback hasn't stopped the 30-year-old from crunching the numbers to see how he'll avoid being one of the four eliminated drivers after Dover . "All the guys on my team and myself included know that we've got to go out and for our best shot -- without winning, for our best shot to transfer we have to run top -five the next two weeks," Almirola said. "There's no doubt about it and we've got to hope that the guys that are already down in points run 20th-25th. I think right now we're 23 points out of 12th, so if we run fifth and Carl (Edwards) runs 20th, that's 15 points and that puts us within seven going to Dover . That makes it a reality getting to Dover , but we've got to take a big chunk out here." While it's small consolation now, Almirola said that engine builder Doug Yates pinpointed the broken exhaust valve that caused his No. 43 car to go up in smoke just 37 laps from the finish last weekend, saying that similar trouble befell fellow Ford drivers Joey Logano at Kentucky and Ambrose at Atlanta earlier in the year. Almirola was heartened by the fact that it was just his first engine-related failure to finish in his three years with the Petty group, but that the timing of the misfortune could not have been worse. "Of all weekends for it to happen the first race of the Chase," Almirola said, "Why could it have not happened at Atlanta or Richmond or wherever else, but it is what it is. It just wasn't meant to be. The stars didn't line up right for us at Chicago, but we’ll rebound." 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
Team Penske duo and Hendrick Motorsports trip occupy five of top six spots RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize MORE: Chase hub page " #MyChaseNation Text goes here MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
No. 9 opening piques interest of veteran driver RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today SPARTA, Ky. -- After losing his full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series ride at the close of last season, Sam Hornish Jr . has gotten used to having time for a more normal family life. And now that he's spent most weekends at home with his wife, Crystal, two daughters, Addison and Eliza, and son Sam, it will take a lot for a team to convince him to get back on the road for a full season. "There's not a ton of availability to be out there to be full time, and I also have three kids, so there's a part of me that really wants to go full-time racing -- and to do it in the (Sprint) Cup Series -- and that's a big part of me," Hornish said. "But then I realize, the other thing is, as far as a family aspect of it that I'll miss, it's gotta be the right thing." The right thing, he said, is a team that will put him in a place to win and surround him with good people. Just such a ride has piqued his interest: the one Marcos Ambrose 's well-timed departure will leave open next season. Ambrose announced earlier this week that he'll leave Richard Petty Motorsports to return to the Australian V8 Supercars as a driver for Roger Penske. Team officials for RPM have said they're still evaluating options for a replacement in his No. 9 Ford. However, Ambrose's primary sponsor, DeWalt, revealed this week it will move to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015, leaving future sponsorship in question for the No. 9. With Aric Almirola , driver of the No. 43 for RPM, making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time this season, the team is certainly a strong option for a driver as selective as Hornish. His interest in the ride, he said, shouldn't be of surprise to anyone. "I feel like any driver that wants to be full time in the Cup Series or would like a good place to go work at has talked to Richard Petty Motorsports about that opportunity," he said. "When you look at it, they've still said that they're working on getting all their funding in place. I read the same things that you do. As soon as we found out there was an opportunity, that Marcos might be leaving, you know, 'Hey, what are you guys thinking about for next year?' " Almirola's performance, in particular, has given Hornish confidence the organization is on the rise and could be a good destination. With nine races remaining, the No. 43 driver has already tied his record number of top -10 finishes in a season with six. He led laps in last week's Chase opener at Chicagoland before suffering a heartbreaking engine failure that ended their day. "They've shown a lot of progress with the 43 team over the past year. With all of Richard's success, you would feel like it's very important for him to move the team forward, to get back to where he expects that it should be at," Hornish said. "I feel like there's -- on the outside looking in -- a lot of good things going on over there." As a part-time driver for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, Hornish has one win and four top -fives in seven starts. He's fattened his schedule with testing for the Sprint Cup Series, TV responsibilities, appearances and time at the Joe Gibbs Racing garage. He's also found time to simply be a dad, dropping his kids off at school and taking them on family outings. Since driving nearly a complete schedule since 2008, Hornish hadn't gotten a taste of that life. When it was announced he would no longer have a full-time Nationwide Series ride last year, he took it in stride. Should he learn he's without one again, he'll shake it off again. "A lot of people might've taken things harder or whatever," he said of getting the news last year. "I've just enjoyed the fact of getting a little bit of a new outlook on life and what's going on around me." 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
Six-time champion knows there are no guarantees in postseason RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota LOUDON, N.H. -- Jimmie Johnson knows the capabilities of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. And he knows its current status. The two are not the same. Often the yardstick by which others measure their own progress, Johnson and his team are currently showing more signs of vulnerability than dominance as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup moves into week No. 2 of 10 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . No one's writing the team off, but neither is anyone conceding wins to the six-time Sprint Cup champion. "Truthfully, we're not the dominant car right now," Johnson said Friday at NHMS. "We're a good car. We still have nine weeks to get our act together; especially the way the Chase lays out, if we continue to get the most our of our good car and have a dominant car at Homestead, if we're in that position, then we can get seven (championships). "If" isn't typical for the team, which has normally been in more of a "when" mode by now. With the opening race out of the way (Johnson finished a pedestrian, for him, 12th at Chicagoland Speedway ), he enters this weekend's race eighth in points. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus haven't lost their way, but it's clear that others have improved. "This is a tough industry," said Johnson, who turned 39 earlier this week. “And we're working as hard as we can and I'm happy to see my teammates with speed. "And then there are a couple of guys out there that aren't in our camp that we're chasing and just trying to out-race them. But they're amazing race teams and drivers as well." Among them -- 2012 champion Brad Keselowski , winner of the last two Sprint Cup races. His Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano , has been no slouch, finishing fourth and sixth. Keselowski won here in July, and Johnson expects the No. 2 team to be no less of a threat this time around. Keselowski went on to finish first in the opening practice, while Johnson finished 29th. "I would expect him to be in a similar position for two reasons," said Johnson. "One, he had so much more pace than the rest of the field here in the spring race that it's hard to believe that everybody could cover that gap and get back to him. And then when we went to Richmond, which wasn't too long ago … and they had that form there, too. So I'd definitely say those guys are tough to handle." By themselves, Johnson's 24 Chase victories alone would rank in the top 10 among active drivers' total wins. And there are tracks ahead where Johnson will be expected to excel. Next week's stop at Dover ? He's won nine times there. Martinsville? Eight victories. Charlotte ? Seven career wins, including this year's Coca-Cola 600 . But he's taking nothing for granted. "It's awesome to have tracks that you love and tracks that you've had success at in the Chase," he said. "I feel like seven or eight of them have been historically awesome tracks for us. That part is great. "Stats are nice to look at, but you've got to live in the present. So just because we've been good at those tracks before doesn't guarantee us anything going back." A winner of three races in a four-race span earlier this season, Johnson hopes the team can rediscover the magic. "We've had one hot spot in the middle of the year … and we've kind of been lukewarm on the other sides," he said. "I'm hoping we heat up. I'm hoping we get to that hot spot again." 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