Roush teammates Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse and others comment on a hot and long day in Charlotte.
Hamlin, Keselowski round out top three on Auto Club leaderboard in first session
17-year-old held lead late, but spin-out took him out of contention PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full race results " See the dramatic closing laps MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- NASCAR's oldest national-series track often shines its light on veterans, sometimes chewing up newbies like so many hot dogs coming from the infield concession stand. Cole Custer , though, nearly turned conventional wisdom on its head, almost converting an amazing comeback at the tender age of 17. Custer, making just his first start of the season and his 10th NASCAR Camping World Truck Series appearance overall, nearly sewed up some Martinsville magic in Saturday afternoon's Kroger 250 , rallying twice from pit-road penalties to become a contender for the victory in the final laps. Custer actually sprang to the top of the scoring pylon with four laps left in regulation with a bold, full-contact move to get past veterans Matt Crafton and Joey Logano . But the teenager was far from home free, anticipating payback from one of the two. Crafton delivered with a series of bumps, sending the youngster spinning to bring out one final caution flag and send the race to overtime. From there, Custer limped home with what he figured was a damaged rear gear to finish 16th as the final truck on the lead lap. "I knew he was going to come back for me, though," Custer said after emerging from his battered No. 00 Chevrolet, the first truck series effort for JR Motorsports. "You know, he did it respectfully and I just gave him all I had to stay up there. … It's Martinsville. You're going to beat and bang for the win. It's what it is." Custer started second alongside eventual race winner Logano but faced an unexpected deficit early on because of pit-road penalties. Custer's No. 00 was flagged for speeding in a 36th-lap exchange of pit stops, then was tagged again on Lap 143 of a scheduled 250 for exceeding the limit again. The repeat offense had both Custer and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. scratching their heads, especially since Custer said he was never over their target RPMs on the tachometer. Either way, Custer methodically marched from the tail end of the field, helped by the second set of eyes and advice provided by spotter Eddie D'Hondt -- Jeff Gordon 's spotter in the Sprint Cup Series. Custer was characteristically stoic on the team communications Saturday, but the encouragement from Shear and D'Hondt made all the difference. "Eddie's helped me a lot this weekend," Custer said. "That's a big reason why we were fast. Joe brought a great truck to the race track, and I was happy with the day. Didn't get the finish, but at least we were fast. It was a big step up from last year for me, so we'll come back here in the fall, and I think we'll have something, too." He almost had something Saturday, gaining on front-runners Crafton and Logano as their battle for the lead became more heated as the laps wound down. By the time 10 laps remained, it was a free-for-all that went from a two-horse race to three. While the two veterans ahead of him scrapped and scraped, Custer saw opportunity, driving hard into the corner entry to push both trucks up the race track. Custer dove low beneath both Crafton and Logano to squirt out in front, and D'Hondt keyed his mic: "Don't you look in that mirror! I got it." Had he looked, he would have seen that Crafton's bright No. 88 Toyota was coming full-bore and that Logano's No. 29 Ford had recovered nicely, too. Crafton, the two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champ, laid the bumper to the youngster multiple times in the 248th lap, forcing Custer to lose control, spin and stall as he brushed into the lead. "I was kind of nervous," Custer said after suddenly rising to the top spot. "I didn't know there were so many laps left. I thought there were only a couple laps left, so I thought if I could get in front, I could've stayed there. Matt was just a little bit better than us and could catch us, and I deserved to get punted back." Crafton described Custer's pass for the lead with the words "pounded" and "pile-drove" but chalked up the contact to the nature of short-track racing. Logano wasn't displeased with how their run-in eventually unfolded. "With inside 10 (laps) to go, I heard that he was coming, but I heard that he was about 3 or 4 (truck-lengths) back," Logano said of Custer's late charge. "The next thing you know, here he comes banzai-ing in there and takes both of us up the race track. I haven't seen a replay yet or not, but my initial reaction I was really mad, and I guess I wasn't disappointed to see what I saw." Though Custer was powerless to mount an improbable third comeback to the front, Shear commended his young driver on the cool-down lap: "They knew that we were here." Martinsville remains the only track where Custer has multiple truck series starts, and Shear said he noticed the difference from his earlier efforts. He also noticed how Custer kept his composure at a track that usually riles up even the most patient drivers. "He's young still. He'll learn how to flip out like the rest of these Cup drivers someday," Shear said with a laugh. "But no, he did a good job with that. He could've easily gotten rattled and torn up even worse than he did, so he did a fantastic job. He's definitely a really mature kid for his age, and I'm proud to work with him." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Look back at the top five moments from the race weekend at Auto Club Speedway as Kevin Harvick wins his second XFINITY Series race and Brad Keselowski grabs his first NSCS checkered flag of the season.
JGR driver has been splitting time in Nos. 20 and 54 cars Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Erik Jones sure knows how to make an entrance. Five races into his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in 2013, he scored his first national series win. Seven races into his NASCAR XFINITY Series career, he earned his first top -five. Both came at Phoenix International Raceway with the latter coming in last Saturday's Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 . Jones earned a top -five finish at the 1-mile oval, filling in for the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota. The result was even more welcome as it came a week after late contact from Ryan Blaney derailed his chances for a win and a top -five at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . "It's nice to finally get the finishes I thought we deserved," Jones said. "We struggled with getting caught up in people's messes early on." Jones qualified third for the race and spent much of the opening half of the race in the top five. Other teams' strategy plays saw Jones cycle back to ninth on Lap 120 before he made a charge of his own to get back into the top five by Lap 150. From there, he had to hold off points leader Ty Dillon for the final spot in the top five. "The Monster Energy Camry was fast -- just got behind on adjustments all day. We were tight early and freed it up and just got too free. On the last stop, we wanted to go back and make sure it was going to be snug enough because on those restarts you have to try to get so much and when you're free you just can't make anything happen." Fast pit road times did benefit Jones. He spent the second-lowest amount of time on pit road (2:00:001 for an average of 40.000 seconds during his three stops). The young driver is no stranger to success at Phoenix. He now has two finishes of fifth and sixth in the XFINITY Series as well as two wins in the Camping World Truck Series at the track. "It always helps when you have experience at a place, especially confidence with a race win. I definitely think it helped me out a little bit." The 18-year-old is running full-time in the Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, while running a part-time slate in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing . In the XFINITY Series, Jones is bouncing between the Nos. 20 and 54 Toyota, due to Busch's recovery from a compound fracture to his right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot suffered in a late-race accident in the XFINITY opener at Daytona. Busch's injury led to Jones picking up a few more XFINITY starts until his mentor returns. "We've been fortunate enough to run every race. So far, it's been fairly easy. The only roadblock, I guess you'd say, would be switching between the 54 and the 20, which really hasn't been too big of a deal. Two great race teams. When you go back and forth, it definitely makes it easier when your cars are fast." Jones will be back behind the wheel of the No. 20 XFINITY Series Toyota on March 21 at Auto Club Speedway for the Drive4Clots.com 300 (4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). His next turn in the No. 54 will come at Richmond International Raceway in April. "It's nice to finally get a finish after having a couple rough weeks and then come back and hopefully gives us some momentum going into Fontana next weekend." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Drivers give their takes on California dustup Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jeff Gordon said he felt he had run out of options. David Ragan said he thought he could hold Gordon off. The result was a spin by Ragan during last weekend's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway that brought out the day's first caution less than 25 laps into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. Ragan, filling in for the fourth consecutive week for the injured Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota, said Friday at Martinsville Speedway that "at the end of the day, I certainly got the bad end of the deal." "I was in the preferred line but Jeff was a little faster than me at the time," Ragan said before heading out to take part in the day’s lone practice at the 0.526-mile track. "Looking back at it, I probably would have just let him by knowing that I was going to be the one that was coming off Turn 4 backwards." The two were battling for seventh place when Gordon's Chevrolet drew close enough to the left-rear of Ragan's car to send it into a spin. The move came after Gordon had shot underneath, only to see the JGR driver flash back by on the high side of the 2-mile track. "We were moving forward at that time – both me and (teammate) Jimmie (Johnson)," the four-time Sprint Cup champion said. "We caught David. He was definitely struggling and trying to hang on until the pit stop where they could make some adjustments. He was letting off real early in the corner." Johnson cleared Ragan and had driven away when Gordon made his initial move to the inside. While he could have moved up the track and in front of Ragan, Gordon said he thought "I'm not going to do a slide job on the guy this early in the race. We'll see if he wants to race me hard or not.” And that, Gordon said, is what transpired. "He raced me hard on the outside," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. "A couple laps later I got inside him again, and this time I crowded him a little bit more. He got all over my door; got me loose and so I basically said at that point that I was going to have to do it the hard way. "I know on the radio I said I may have to use the bumper, and I would have if I could have gotten to him and tapped him a little. But I didn't have to. I just got up to him and he was already pretty loose. I just took the air off of him to just get him to lift, but he didn't lift. He stayed in the gas and spun out." Ragan said he didn't give Gordon the spot because he felt "maybe once I got my track bar adjusted a little bit and kind of got my rhythm I felt like I might could pull away from him. "I did feel like once I could get my car going in the top lane that I could be a little better. Jeff was a little impatient. He didn't do anything wrong, he just didn't give me a break. And I didn't give him a break either. "What I can learn from that is it was early in the race, that one spot didn't matter. I could have had a little bit of give and take and the 24 could have had a little bit of give and take. It's one of those things that at the end of the day I got the bad end of the deal and that's sucked. I learned from it and moved on." The two spoke briefly after the race, the fifth of 36 that make up the 2015 Sprint Cup Series schedule and the final stop of a three-race West Coast swing that began in Las Vegas and moved to Phoenix before wrapping up at Auto Club "I don't expect somebody to just let me go by them, but when you're that much faster than somebody else, you have to make a choice: 'How do I want to race at this point and this stage in the race? Is it worth it to me?'" Gordon said Friday. "In my opinion and on a track that was that difficult to pass on, I was going to get up behind him. I never touched him, but I definitely took the air off of him." "Jeff's obviously a champion and a smart racer and you've got to give him some respect," Ragan said. "I raced him like I would anybody else. But at the beginning of a race we both have to have some give and take; he's lucky that he didn't get collected somehow. If I would have spun a little earlier in the corner and he couldn't turn down, he very well could have been collected too and it would have been a bad deal for both of us." Gordon eventually finished 10th while Ragan was 18th. He finished 17th in the season-opening Daytona 500 while driving for Front Row Motorsports , and has finished 18th, 22nd, 21st and 18th since taking over for Busch. "I feel like the last couple of weeks have been good," Ragan said. "I'm disappointed that we haven't gotten a good finish to show for (it), I think we've had some pretty good cars. "I think we've had a top -10 car every week besides Phoenix, and that's disappointing when you don't finish where you think you should – for several reasons, from mistakes on my behalf to just poor racing luck to situations like we had last week. "We could win one of these things, break off with two or three top -fives in a row and it wouldn't surprise me. But we've just got to put a whole weekend together." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
JR Motorsports makes its Truck Series debut this weekend with Custer Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Practice results Powering his No. 00 Chevrolet at 96.068 mph, Cole Custer soared to the top of the leaderboard during Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice at Martinsville Speedway . This weekend marks the 17-year-old's first start with Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s JR Motorsports, the team making its initial foray into the Truck Series this season. ThorSport Racing 's Cameron Hayley made a late run for the runner-up spot, claiming the second position on the leaderboard with a high speed of 95.622 mph. His teammate Johnny Sauter also made a late run at the Virgina track and posted the third-fastest speed (95.530 mph). Joey Logano , who is stepping into the No. 29 driver's seat for Brad Keselowski Racing this weekend, wheeled around the paperclip oval fourth-fastest at 95.415 mph. Logano's teammate for the weekend, Tyler Reddick, rounded out the top five with a high speed of 95.410 mph. Just shy of a top -five speed was Erik Jones , who is back in his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports ride. Two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton showed initial speed in his No. 88 ThorSport Racing ride, but came up short, posting the 15th-fastest speed in the field. The first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice was canceled due to inclement weather, so this session will serve as the series' only practice this weekend. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is back on the track on Saturday at 11:15 a.m. for Keystone Light Pole Qualifying with coverage on FOX Sports 1. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Denny Hamlin paced the field in Saturday's opening practice Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Practice results After qualifying 15th on Friday, Denny Hamlin powered his No. 11 Toyota to the top of the leaderboard during Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup practice for Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at Martinsville Speedway . The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted a speed of 97.113 mph and has won four times at the paperclip oval, ranking third among active drivers in NASCAR's premier series. Just behind Hamlin was Jimmie Johnson , who wheeled his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 96.988 mph around the short track after overcoming an electrical issue midway through practice. Rounding out the top five were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne , followed by Joe Gibbs Racing 's Carl Edwards . Coors Light Pole Award winner Joey Logano didn't show quite as much speed in today's practice session, ranking 15th on the leaderboard. Since qualifying 17th yesterday, reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick seemed to have found his groove around the short track today, posting the 10th-fastest speed in the field. A little further back was Chase Elliott , who is making his Sprint Cup debut with Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday's STP 500 . The 19-year-old posted the 20th-fastest speed. Final Practice " Results Defending STP 500 winner Kurt Busch finally showed his speed during the final practice at Martinsville Speedway , powering his No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet at 97.098 mph around the 0.526-mile track. Jimmie Johnson 's momentum from the earlier practice continued, as the No. 48 driver once again posted the runner-up speed on the leaderboard of 96.810 mph. Following Johnson was Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon , along with Joe Gibbs Racing 's Denny Hamlin , who topped the leaderboard in practice earlier in the day. Richard Childress Racing 's Ryan Newman , who posted the fastest speed during Friday's Sprint Cup practice session, rounded out the top five. Coors Light Pole Award winner Joey Logano seemed to find his power again in this practice, putting up the seventh-fastest speed on the leaderboard. Right behind Logano was 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick , who posted the eighth-fastest speed in his No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the last driver to celebrate a Sprint Cup win at Martinsville, continued to run in the middle of the pack, putting up the 18th-fastest speed. Chase Elliott , who will be making his first start in a Sprint Cup car with Hendrick Motorsports , slowed a bit in the final practice, ranking 27th on the leaderboard. The 19-year-old will make his Sprint Cup debut from the 27th position in Sunday's STP 500 . MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
XFINITY Series champ will start 27th on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full starting lineup MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The weather issues might have been a concern, but nothing could dampen the spirits of Chase Elliott Friday at Martinsville Speedway . The 19-year-old will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut here in Sunday's 66th annual STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), thanks to a qualifying effort that will see his Hendrick Motorsports No. 25 Chevrolet start 27th in the 43-car lineup. Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) will start on the pole. "I don't know how I feel about being excited about being 27th, but at the same time it's really exciting to making our first Cup race," Elliott said. "It's just crazy how different a world this is on this side of things, being timed so close. Just a couple of hundredths (of a second) would have had us in the top 24, and a tenth would have had you, heck, up in the teens. "I was doing my best to get in and that was our goal today. Certainly a lot of pressure off to not have to worry about that tomorrow and we can focus on our race car for Sunday afternoon." Because the No. 25 team was making its first appearance and had no owner points, Elliott needed to qualify inside the top 36, ahead of at least nine others, to guarantee himself a spot in the field. Forty-five teams made at least one qualifying attempt. Elliott will move into the Sprint Cup Series full-time next season, taking over the No. 24 ride of four-time champion Jeff Gordon . For 2015, he'll make five attempts on the Sprint Cup side, with Richmond (April 25), Charlotte (May 24), Indianapolis (July 26) and Darlington (Sept. 6) completing his schedule. The defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion and driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in that series, Elliott rolled out onto the Martinsville half-mile with a little over half the 20-minute opening session remaining. He was 22nd after the first lap and improved to 17th with a second trip around. A third lap produced the seventh fastest time at that time while a fourth lap failed to improve upon that effort. After pulling back into the garage, Elliott and his team watched as other drivers began posting faster laps. He had fallen to 27th when Ron Hornaday Jr . crashed to briefly bring the first round to a halt. Elliott went back out for a second shot at improving his position, briefly climbed back into the top 24, but then just as quickly was bumped back out. "The challenge was obviously the weather, and just the lack of laps," crew chief Kenny Francis said. "Now all that's behind us and he's got a chance to get some laps tomorrow and we can work on our car, think about it without near the stress. And we can lean on our teammates some." While the No. 25 group is part of the Hendrick organization, Friday's weather delay meant the four full-time teams of Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne were busy trying to map out their own strategies for practice and qualifying. Because of the rain, the start of Sprint Cup practice was delayed by more than two hours, and the planned session of an hour-and 25 minutes was squeezed into about 45 minutes. "That was another challenge; yeah, we're part of Hendrick but I mean we're on our own down here (on the far end of the garage)," Francis said. "With the weather and the lack of time, those guys are on their own agenda … so there's not much to collaborate on. "That was a bit challenging. It was fortunate we had a good baseline from the 24 car (of Gordon)." The STP 500 is the sixth of 36 races on this year's Sprint Cup Series schedule. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Comparing two of NASCAR's greatest streaks Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: Kevin Harvick has eight consecutive top -two finishes. The all-time best top -two streak is 11, by Richard Petty. Here's a look at how they compare.