RELATED: See how Blaney won at Kentucky On the surface, it's a bit of an unorthodox NASCAR schedule for Ryan Blaney . The 21-year-old is running part-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Wood Brothers Racing in the No. 21 Ford and the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Team Penske in the No. 22 Ford, all while making a handful of starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing in the No. 29 Ford. "By the time all the races are added up, it's almost a full schedule," Blaney told NASCAR.com last weekend at Kentucky Speedway . "It has its positives and negatives to be running part-time in everything. The great thing is I get to run three great series with amazing race teams that I know will go out and have a fast car or truck every weekend or every time I get in them. Those are big positives that I can drive different things every single week." And the negatives? "It's hard to get in a rhythm of running the same car, so that's kind of tough," Blaney said. "That takes myself and the team time to get back acclimated to the driver and me to the race car. It has its ups and downs, but I'm fortunate to be with three great race teams and be able to do what we love and be competitive." Blaney did not have trouble finding a rhythm as he wheeled the No. 22 Ford to Victory Lane in the XFINITY Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway . He led a race-high 81 laps and used a strong restart on a green-white-checkered finish to take home the win. The victory was the second time in three years that Team Penske has swept the season's two Kentucky XFINITY races. "Honestly, I've never seen a team be so dominant at a race track," Blaney said after the win. "It feels like every time we come here, the 22 car is one of the favorites to win and usually does it." Greg Erwin, the No. 22 team's crew chief, has noticed Blaney's growth firsthand since seeing him in 2013. In addition to the Kentucky win, Erwin and Blaney teamed up for a win in August at Iowa Speedway . "He's certainly a little more polished," Erwin noted of Blaney's development as a driver. "I think his communication is a little more precise. I think his confidence is certainly high and I think he's got the talent, certainly that it takes, and the rest of that will come with time behind a steering wheel. That's the hardest thing right now I think, is jumping in, running in all three series and getting as much time on the race track as he can." In his young career, Blaney has four wins each in the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series. And in his first part-time Sprint Cup Series season, he scored his best Sprint Cup finish in May at Talladega with a fourth-place result. His Wood Brothers No. 21 team has had speed, but qualifying rainouts have been the bugaboo. RELATED: Blaney discusses 'very frustrating' Cup qualifying rainouts Along the way to becoming a rising young talent in the sport, Blaney has had some guidance, namely from his dad, Dave, as well as 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski . "Brad's been one of the biggest mentors for me right after my dad," Blaney said of Keselowski's impact on his career. "He gave me an opportunity in 2012 to drive his trucks for him and I did that for a couple years, which opened the doors at Penske and it opened the doors at the Wood Brothers. He's kind of been the main guy that’s started me off in my career getting racing in the top three series and I can't thank him enough for that. He's taught me so much on the race track, off the race track. He's been really helpful to me. "Brad's a unique teacher. To be able to drive for him has been really cool too, because you can kind of see the owner in him. And then when he would drive the other truck sometimes and I could race against him that was really, really neat. ... You'd ask him a question and he'd give you part of an answer and then you would kind of have to figure the rest of it out, and I really liked that. It's kind of the way my dad did it. "He's obviously one of the smartest racers out there, I feel like, when it comes to strategy and always thinking inside the car. That's something I've tried to take from him. ... Not only on the racing side, just thinking of other things too, whether it's underneath the car to try to make it faster, things like that." Dave Blaney , a veteran of 473 Sprint Cup Series starts and the 1995 World of Outlaws Champion, has impacted his son's career as well. Ryan credits his dad with teaching him a lesson that has become invaluable to him with extended seat time and longer races in the Sprint Cup Series. "Patience is one of the biggest things in racing, especially now that I've gotten started doing some Cup stuff," Ryan Blaney said. "Five-hundred-mile races, one 600-miler that we do ... those are long races. A lot longer than Truck and XFINITY races and that's really been a big learning curve for me of how you have so many opportunities to work on your race car and you have to be really precise with how you change things. "That was the biggest change to me. Running Trucks for a couple of years, the races are so short. You only have a couple of chances to work on your truck, so you take huge swings. In the Cup car, you can't really do that, you have to take littler steps and kind of fine-tune things. That was one of the biggest things he taught me early and now I'm kind of figuring it out for myself." And with silly season talk running rampant throughout the garage and in the media, Blaney remains focused on finishing out 2015 strong. With a Kentucky win in his pocket, Blaney is on the entry list for Saturday's XFINITY Series Hisense 200 at Dover International Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "Honestly, we'd like to do more races but that's a lot easier said than done," he said. "I think the best thing we can do is try to focus on winning races in this 22 car, try to bring home a (owner's) championship (in XFINITY ) and finishing out the season strong with the Wood Brothers is going to be really big for our cause. We're working on it. Hopefully, we will know something soon."
John Wes Townley talks in Victory Lane about winning his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on fuel mileage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Even before the Joe Gibbs Racing team offered up its Richmond International Raceway speed clinic last Saturday -- all four cars were running first-second-third and fourth midway through the night's regular season finale -- many NASCAR pundits had made up their mind. With JGR driver Matt Kenseth leading a dominant 352 of 400 laps at Richmond en route to his fourth win of the season and the team's eighth in the past 10 races, who would argue that JGR is the team to beat heading into Sunday's playoff opener of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup ? The team has led more than 2,000 miles and collected 11 of the season's first 26 race trophies. Kenseth and teammate Kyle Busch have each won four races tying Jimmie Johnson 's season high mark. RELATED: Kenseth gets fourth win " By the numbers: Kyle's dominance And all four Gibbs Toyotas appear to be hitting on all cylinders at a time when winning matters most. Most troubling to the competition is that it's not just one driver leading the charge, nor one style of venue where their cars are fast. Busch, for example, won four times in a five-race stretch this summer on a road course, big speedway, short track, and a 1.5-miler that will comprise most of the Chase dates. "I feel like as a company right now, all four cars are really strong,'' Kenseth said. "I felt like we were really strong in the Chase in 2013, but ended up getting beat. "I feel like as a company right now, we're stronger than we were in '13. We had a lot of different things happen where all four of us now have been able to win races and we're all in the Chase. I feel like as a company we're stronger this year.'' His boss, former Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, was all smiles when he met the press following Kenseth's victory. "Obviously we're thrilled,'' he said of the Chase outlook. "Now the problem is, I think for the next three weeks I'll be ready to throw up at any minute. That's the bottom line (smiling).'' For Gibbs and the team, much of the satisfaction in earning four Chase bids is the difficult path to success -- a lot to overcome with both man and machine. It's easy to forget that the first two months of the season, Toyota and JGR were struggling and the questions were about if the team would be represented in the Chase at all. Busch missed the first 11 races of the season and yet -- with one of the most impressive efforts in Cup history -- he still managed to win four races and earn enough points to be Chase eligible. Kenseth's victory in Bristol, Tenn. this March was his first since September of 2013 (New Hampshire) and his four wins is only the second time in the last nine years he's taken home that much hardware. RELATED: Kenseth dominates his way to Richmond win Carl Edwards ' two wins are his first after moving to the Gibbs organization this year from his longtime Cup home, Roush Fenway Racing . And Denny Hamlin , who led the JGR charge in 2014 and advanced all the way to the Chase Final Four, is now playing hurt after tearing his ACL during a pick-up basketball game. He'll have surgery after the season. There's a title to win now. RELATED: Hamlin tears ACL " Hamlin pushes past pain with Chase approachi ng The key is being confident, not comfortable. "I'm sure Joe is very confident that he has a great shot,'' Hamlin said smiling. "He's got a 25 percent chance with four cars out of the 16 so realistically, the Vegas odds are probably even a little better than that, that it will be a Gibbs car (winning the championship). "But we've been in the sport long enough to know Homestead is still two and a half months away and a lot changes in our sport in two and a half months. Seems like two months ago we really hit our stride so we've got to keep our head down and continue to improve every race because as fast as our cars are now, the competition will pass us if we sit still. "We were on other side for so long, really two years. I feel like our set- ups have gotten better, a lot of little things have gotten better. I feel like we're all pushing each other to be better. I think TRD (Toyota Racing Development) really stepped up the program. "All in all, you just have to hope to keep improving. That's what you really worry about that you are running so well, you don't change, but we have to keep changing to stay on top." Busch even wondered aloud Saturday night if the team might pull off the ultimate championship storyline. "It might be a race between all four Gibbs cars come Homestead, but I'm sure Joe [Gibbs] would love that,'' Busch said smiling. "It's a good time to be driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs.''
RELATED: Brett Eldredge to perform at Chicagoland Speedway pre-race concert Country music star Brett Eldredge will kick off the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday at Chicagoland with a pre-race concert. Eldredge sat down for a conversation with NASCAR.com's Pat DeCola earlier this season at Kansas Speedway . True story: he stopped midway through the interview to take a selfie with the Spongebob Squarepants 400 trophy before continuing on. PD: Have you been to Chicagoland before? Brett Eldredge: Yes, I went to school in the suburbs of Chicago. I’m very familiar with Chicago, it's my favorite city in the world. To be going and kicking off the Chase there and getting to play the show that kicks it off, that's going to be kind of a dream come true as a kid growing up in Illinois and watching racing. It's going to be quite the night; I'm fired up. PD: So you grew up watching racing. BE: Yup. I grew up next to Indianapolis, next to the Indiana border, which is an hour-and-a-half, two hours to the Brickyard. So I'd go there and see the Indy 500 and stuff growing up. Living there, you kind of at least somewhat have to be a fan. PD: So then ... Indy 500 or Brickyard 400? BE: I would really have to say NASCAR, just because of the rub of the paint and it’s just a more gritty kind of a race to me. It's more personal, I guess you could say. I love watching the Indycars and everything, but there's just something about watching NASCAR and about that Brickyard race that I just ... that was the first time that I got a feeling from going to a race that I thought to myself, "This is a unique experience; this is an adrenaline rush just from being a fan." With playing music, people get a rush by watching you up there on stage. I get a rush being up there on stage. But I also get a rush as a fan of NASCAR because I get to feel what it's like just by watching and seeing people bumping into each other at 200 miles an hour going around a turn and I can't even imagine being those drivers. I just got to ride in a pace car with Michael Waltrip out there right now and we're going like 120, 130 and it felt intense at that speed. So I've got a lot of respect for the guys driving at 200. PD: Was that your first pace car ride? BE: That was my second pace car ride, but it was my first one with somebody like Michael Waltrip . He's an awesome guy and obviously his track record shows. He’s a great person, too. He was singing my songs as he was driving and he was like, "Let's see what this baby can do," and I was like "All right, you're the pro so I'll just sit back," ... it was great. PD: Did you see him on "Dancing with the Stars" at all? BE: No! That's awesome. I've got to talk to him about that now. I'm always on the tour bus so I don’t watch much TV, but now I've got to ask him to show some of these dance moves off. Now we're going to be buddies. PD: He's a tall, lanky guy, so the dancing was ... interesting. BE: That's the wild thing. I'm a really tall guy, too, and I don't really like small spaces. I can't imagine as drivers, getting into those little cars and driving around, let alone somebody as tall as Michael Waltrip (6-foot-5) getting in that car. That's impressive. Big ups to him. PD: So, safe to say you wouldn't get behind the wheel of a stock car, then? BE: I like spectating. I love sitting on pit road and watching the cars come in. I did that last year in Kansas and it was like ... that was intense. All these guys hopping over that wall and they get really mad if they miss one second and it's a cool thing. It's a sport. It's really a sport. PD: Which of your country music friends is the biggest NASCAR fanatic? BE: Oh, Blake Shelton's a huge fan. And Clint Bowyer , I think, is a good buddy of his. And his tour manager, Kevin, is a huge NASCAR fan. It's cool to see, because they helped introduce me to some of these folks sometimes if I don't know anybody, and they know everybody in NASCAR. It's cool that they're fans of something other than music. They're fans of something else, as well.
RELATED: Meet the 16 Chase crew chiefs This is the first in a series of four pit crew analysis pieces NASCAR.com will roll out this week as we preview the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . For more pit crew news provided by PitTalks.com come back throughout the Chase. Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet SS for Jimmie Johnson Pit Coach: Chris Krieg Front Changer: Cam Waugh Front Carrier: R.J. Barnette Jackman: Andrew Childers Rear Changer: Calvin Teague Rear Carrier: Ryan Patton Gas Man: Brandon Harder Strength: This crew has already been a part of four wins this season. Pressure should not be a problem because it has been pitting up front all year. Chemistry is also a major plus. A change at the jack position was made midseason last year, and since then the team has stayed the same. Weakness: The only weakness we could find with this group could be that it is young. According to our numbers, this is one of the youngest pit crews in NASCAR. That could be a plus or minus, depending on how one looks at it. Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota for Kyle Busch Pit Coach: Mike Lepp Front Changer: Nick Odell Front Carrier: Brad Donaghy Jackman: Jeff Fender Rear Changer: Jake Seminara Rear Carrier: Kenny Barber Gas Man: Tom Lampe Strength: The group has been together with the same driver since 2008. Chemistry is great and they understand each other extremely well. Plus, they always seem to step up when the pressure is on. Weakness: They haven't been as consistent this year as years past. Not saying they have had a bad year, but this year has had more ups and downs than years past. Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota for Matt Kenseth Pit Coach: Mike Lepp Front Changer: John Royer Front Carrier: Joe Crossen Jackman: Bailey Walker Rear Changer: Chris Taylor Rear Carrier: Richard Coleman Gas Man: John Eicher Strength: This is a very good pit crew with changers who have been together for a few years. They are used to winning races and understand what it takes to compete at the highest level and gain spots during races. Weakness: Changes were made in the offseason and even more recently a few weeks back. New to the team are rear carrier Richard Coleman and jackman Bailey Walker. Seeing how this team's chemistry plays out will be a big part of its success or failure. Team Penske No. 22 Ford for Joey Logano Pit Coach: Trent Cherry Front Changer: Thomas Hatcher Front Carrier: Dylan Dowell Jackman: Ray Gallahan Rear Changer: Zach Price Rear Carrier: Eric Groen Gas Man: Kellen Mills Strength: Each team member believes in the people around them. This group was totally rebuilt a year ago and has been on fire since then. It works well with the driver, crew chief, and organization, and it is no stranger to pitting in big-time situations. Weakness: Staying focused the entire Chase. There are a lot of young crewmen on this team and it can't afford any mistakes due to inexperience. For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
RELATED: Chase Grid " Chase Bubble Watch Kyle Larson spent three intense days at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week logging laps, studying data and working on what could potentially be the most important homework assignment of his career. So far. Knowing that the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will be crowned at the Nov. 22 season-finale at the 1.5-mile speedway, the test session -- a two-day Goodyear tire test followed by a one-day open test -- was an essential learning tool. Thing is, Larson, last year's Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, still has to earn a spot in the 16-driver Chase field to even be among the title discussion by the time the series heads back to the South Florida track to race. And time's running out. Only two chances remain to grab one of the playoff spots -- this week at Darlingon and next week at Richmond. Because Larson is not currently ranked among the top-16 in the points standings, his only chance of earning a Chase berth is winning a race and making his first career trip to a Sprint Cup Victory Lane. It's crunch time, and Larson knows it. "We know we have to win," Larson said. "And still right now, we have to find some more speed to compete for a win. We've been close a couple times this year just based on strategies. "It could happen even with just two races left. We tested at Richmond earlier in the year and it went well. I always run just outside top-10 at Richmond and I thought I learned a lot (at the test). So we've got good stuff for Richmond, and Darlington is a track I like a lot." Having his season's fate decided in such dramatic fashion wasn't exactly what Larson or others predicted. Larson was widely considered a shoe-in for a title run -- at least a playoff berth -- after an impressive rookie season. A natural talent from the same kind of open-wheel background as three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart and four-time champ Jeff Gordon , Larson has emerged as one of the sport's new young headliners and is widely regarded as future championship material. Now the 23-year-old must seal the deal. "I'm definitely surprised it's come down to this," Larson said while waiting out a rain delay last week at Homestead. "The way both Jamie (McMurray, CGR teammate) and I ended last year, we thought we'd be a contender this year. "We've been fast but just haven't had any luck at all this year and that's been really frustrating. When we have speed in the cars we run in top-10. At Bristol, for example, we blew two front tires. Last year we'd run way worse but have better finishes." WATCH: Rough night for Larson at Bristol There's no denying it's been a no-luck, hard-knock kind of season despite the team's best efforts. While Chip Ganassi Racing 's other Chevrolet driven by McMurray is in promising position to earn a Chase position based on points, it's been a tough road for the team's second-year driver. Larson's third place at Dover in May is his best finish of the season and only top-five showing after a rookie year when he was regularly mixing it up at the front of the field, posting five top-three finishes, including three runner- ups . He's had only two top-10s in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet since Dover this spring, and his four DNFs equal the number he had all of last year. But there is encouraging news to consider, and Larson has not conceded a thing. His No. 42 Chevrolet was easily one of the best cars in the Chase last year with six top-10 finishes in the final 10 races, including a streak of five consecutive as the postseason kicked in. MORE: Larson's Darlington 'Days of Thunder' throwback scheme Should Larson earn a playoff chance, he feels the team should be strong down the stretch. "Last year I thought we were running better at this point in the season than we are now," Larson said. "But a lot of the tracks in the Chase I really enjoy running at and I think that's part of why we had success in the Chase. "I think we'll be good again this year in the Chase. It's just right now, we're not in it." He added quickly: "That could change." MORE: Who's most likely to win way into Chase?
Paul Menard struggled at Richmond, but manages to make it into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time, while Clint Bowyer bring Michael Waltrip Racing back into the Chase Grid.
Moments that changed the course of the 36th race of the 2014 season
Moments that changed the course of the 31st race of the 2014 season
NASCAR's founding couple's legacy lives on with its family, in sport they created Eighty years ago this month, Bill France Sr. and Anne Bledsoe France drove from Washington, D.C. to Daytona Beach, Florida, and over the ensuing decades, the couple built Daytona International Speedway -- the "World Center of Racing" -- and the foundation for NASCAR. France, a member of the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, will be joined in the shrine in January 2015 by his wife, the inaugural winner of the Landmark Award. A month later, as NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway for the 57th Daytona 500 , the first authorized biography of the founder of NASCAR, "Big Bill: The Life and Times of NASCAR Founder Bill France Sr.," will be released by Random House. "Bill France Sr. ... not only changed the game," H.A. Branham, author of "Big Bill" said. "He kind of made the game to begin with. And then kept changing and changing throughout the time he was at the controls of NASCAR." Two years after arriving in Daytona Beach, France helped lay out the first beach/road course. A racer himself, he finished fifth in that first race and then began promoting the event in 1938. "Bill Sr. had firsthand experience of being a competitor and knowing how they sometimes didn't always collect the money they were due from promoters after small-time stock car races," Branham said. "As a promoter, he committed himself to trying to make sure that wouldn't be the case so he could create some loyalties." After World War II, France brought together disparate forces in the world of stock car racing, and on December 14, 1947, these founding fathers of NASCAR met at the Streamline Hotel on A1A in Daytona Beach to discuss the future of the sport. "The Streamline meeting is sometimes miscast as just a grab for power," Branham said. "Granted, there was some of that going on but a better overall description is that it was a move to organize things by someone who really understood all facets of what competitors and promoters had gone through. Bill Sr. had plenty of support at that meeting. If he hadn't had the support, he wouldn't have been able to get everybody there to begin with." As more hotels like the Streamline moved further south and development encroached on the beach-road course, France began the process of building the Daytona International Speedway . "...the most amazing thing about the speedway is it was really built in about 15 months," Branham said. "It was an incredibly quick project. "It was basically just swamp land, a muck pond, that type of thing. Just really undesirable land, and they turned it into what it is today." As International Speedway Corporation, which France also founded, proceeds with the reimagining of an American icon with the $400 million DAYTONA Rising project, it reaffirms the France family's commitment to Daytona Beach and NASCAR. A commitment that Betty Jane France, wife of Bill France Jr., learned about on a lap around the speedway as it was under construction. "They were building the track, and they hadn't paved it yet so it was just the shale, dusty," Branham said. "She said that Bill Sr. took her around the track pretty fast. Dust is flying everywhere. "Bill Sr., about mid-lap, told Betty Jane, 'This place right here is your future.' "Betty Jane likes to tell people that she looked over and she wanted to say, 'Yeah, right.' "She thought he was crazy, and then she'll tell you, 'But I guess he wasn't crazy, was he?' "You're talking 1958 or '59. They don't even have the asphalt down yet, and he's talking about it in terms of long term, of changing the course of all kinds of things. Not only as a family, but obviously a sport." Alongside Bill Sr. was Annie B., his wife, and Monday, Oct. 27 marks the 110th birthday of the secretary and treasurer of NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation who also managed the speedway's ticket office. "She's legendary in her own right," Branham said. "There are stories that apparently she used to make her husband, the founder and president of NASCAR, turn in expense reports from his trips." Lesa France Kennedy, the CEO and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Directors for International Speedway Corporation, "really learned a lot about the speedway business, how the business ran, from her grandmother," Branham said. "Betty Jane tells a wonderful story about how she used to work in the ticket office and help out," Branham said. "At the end of the day, she was less than a dollar off on her books, and she told Annie B. 'I'll get right on this tomorrow.' "Annie B. said, 'No, you're going to get on this today ...' and made her stay and figure it out and she did and rectified that very small amount that she was off. "Betty Jane says she was so mad ... but she did it and that because of things like that, to this day, she balances her own checkbook down to the penny. Every time she balances her checkbook, she thinks of Annie B." In addition to writing "Big Bill," Branham also serves as senior manager of the ISC Archives and Research Center in Daytona Beach. As part of Daytona International Speedway 's "VIP Tour," fans can visit the center, which includes a tribute to Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. Designed like a mini-boardroom, the section includes photos and authentic artifacts, like "From the desk of Bill France Sr." notepads. For those who can't make it to the "World Center of Racing," the book, scheduled for release in February 2015, will tell the story of the patriarch of the France family and the sport he created. "It really is an in-depth look at his life," Branham said. "I've gotten so much help from so many people throughout the industry such as NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and Richard Petty, who did the foreword. Bobby Allison was awesome, as was A.J. Foyt and Jeff Gordon . "Jeff Gordon, one of the newer guys, even though he didn't know Bill Sr., he was involved in the legendary Atlanta race which ended the '92 season just several months after Bill Sr. had passed. Gordon made his Sprint Cup debut in that race. He had some great perspective on that most significant period of NASCAR history." France Sr.'s legacy lives on in his great-grandson, Ben Kennedy , who is the son of Lesa France Kennedy and became the first France family member to run a NASCAR national series race in August 2013 at Bristol Motor Speedway . Kennedy paid tribute to his great-grandfather at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this month when he reenacted a famous photograph of Bill Sr. selling a ticket to a patron for the first NASCAR race at the facility in 1969. "My great-grandfather had a vision to create a palace of speed, and he certainly accomplished that," Kennedy said on the 45th anniversary of that first NASCAR weekend at the track. "I remember coming here as a kid and seeing how incredibly huge this place was. I can’t believe I am actually about to compete against some of the greatest drivers in the world on it Saturday. "It's heart-warming to know this place came to fruition and that my great-grandfather was able to build something that so many drivers and fans have enjoyed over the years."