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H2H: Tackling three key questions on Gordon, Junior
PHOTOS: Big-name drivers in No. 88 " Junior through the years For at least the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, starting this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon will be behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. The high-profile changing of seats prompts several questions -- for the recovering Earnhardt Jr., the returning Jeff Gordon and the No. 88 team itself. NASCAR.com reporters Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle a handful of these questions in a quick reporter roundtable. 1. Will Dale Jr. still make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs? HC: Of course, this depends on the length of time doctors would like Earnhardt to heal. But should he return in two weeks' time, I still think it's absolutely a good bet he makes the Chase, perhaps even wins a race. He's won seven races in the last two seasons. And he has five wins at tracks that would still be on the schedule to set the Chase field -- a pair at Michigan and three victories at the regular-season finale venue, Richmond. ZA: Getting healthy -- not even necessarily for a return to NASCAR, but in general -- remains the overall priority for Earnhardt Jr., but the team must press on regardless of who is in the driver's seat. A two-week absence will drop Earnhardt from the 16-driver provisional Chase grid, placing urgency on winning when he potentially returns. The almost certain granting of a Chase eligibility waiver from NASCAR competition officials should guarantee that the opportunity exists. But should his absence last longer, the thought of shelving this season in favor of a full-fledged 2017 return may make the most sense. 2. What do we expect from Jeff Gordon ? HC: Frankly, how could our expectations be too high here? Especially at Indy, where Gordon is the all-time winningest driver with five trophies. He is the dream substitute -- a pillar of the Hendrick Motorsports organization, fresh off a Chase final-four season and trackside all year in his role as a FOX Sports race analyst. Earnhardt's Chevrolet will be in good hands. The biggest issue may only be making sure Gordon doesn't pull into Chase Elliott 's No. 24 pit stall. ZA: This isn't exactly Michael Jordan puttering around in a Washington Wizards jersey. Half a season off doesn't exactly allow for the accumulation of rust, especially when considering that Gordon, one of the sport's all-time greats, retired from full-time competition at the height of his game. The expectation is for Gordon to be sharp as ever. The results are anyone's guess. 3. What does this do for both drivers' legacies? HC: Even should Gordon pull off an amazing victory in Earnhardt's car this week at Indy or next at Pocono, the four-time Cup champ's legacy is already NASCAR Hall of Fame bound. For Earnhardt, getting out of the car and setting a standard in the sport's concussion treatment will be as important a legacy as his two Daytona 500 victories and 24 other Cup wins. He is the sport's reigning superstar and his responsible and inspiring actions only increase his stature. And that's saying something! ZA: Jeff Gordon 's legacy in the sport is already secure in quick-drying cement. His comeback's only possible augmentations (and they'd be nominal boosts to his already transcendent portfolio) would be another victory or reaching the 800-starts plateau, a mere three appearances away. Earnhardt Jr.'s legacy -- and popularity -- may only grow as he continues to lead the charge in the research of sport-related brain trauma. That contribution to stock-car racing is far greater than any possible unchecked boxes on his career list of on-track accomplishments. </p>
Stewart makes 600th Sprint Cup start count
PHOTOS: Stewart through the years " All of 'Smoke's' wins Three-time champion Tony Stewart made his 600th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start Saturday night, taking the green flag for the final time at Kentucky Speedway -- and he had a memorable showing in the Bluegrass State, notching a fifth-place finish to bolster his position in the Chase Grid. Stewart, 45, started his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet 22nd in the 40-car field for the Quaker State 400. He ranks 24th on NASCAR's all-time starts list, two behind James Hylton and just ahead of active drivers Matt Kenseth (596 starts) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (595). Among active drivers, only part-time veterans Michael Waltrip (10th place at 783 starts) and Bobby Labonte (13th at 728) outrank Stewart. "Smoke" ran in the middle of the pack for most of the evening, but excelled at the end during a late-race strategy call. As drivers pitted late during the final fuel run, crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called for Stewart to save fuel aggressively. His driver complied, as Stewart climbed from just outside the top 15 to a fifth-place finish, behind teammate Kurt Busch. It was reminiscent of Stewart's win at Sonoma Raceway in June, when a late-race decision to pit also paid off beautifully. "With the way the first half of this race went, we got in survival mode there and still wanted to race hard, but you didn't want to do anything that was going to jeopardize finishing the race and capitalizing on the misfortune of the guys that are around us in points had," Stewart said. "You are not really going to race anywhere else the rest of the year like this, so I don't think it's an indication of what our season is going to be like, but we ran anywhere from 11th to 22nd, pretty much just stayed in that range all day (until the end)." Stewart's previous best finish on the 1.5-mile track was 11th, achieved in 2014. Zack Albert contributed to this report &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Drivers held up in pre-qualifying inspection
RELATED: Logano lands pole at Michigan " Starting lineup BROOKLYN, Mich. – The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing crew members were in a bit of a frenzy during Friday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying at Michigan International Speedway : Crew chief Cole Pearn sprinted through the garage, as other crew members worked quickly on the No. 78 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr ., trying to get it on track in time for qualifying's opening round. The No. 78 wasn't alone -- Multiple trips through inspection for several Sprint Cup teams caused a backup in the queue that caused NASCAR to push knockout qualifying from 4:15 to 4:30 p.m. ET. According to FS1, 12 cars had yet to clear inspection by the original start time. Scott Miller, NASCAR's Senior Vice President of Competition, told FS1 that he believed teams were having trouble with new aerodynamic rules that eliminate rear-axle offset or "skew." That tweak (along with other aero changes) were used in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race; they will also be in effect for this weekend's race and next month's 400-miler at Kentucky Speedway . RELATED: See cars going through inspection at Michigan "With the new skew rules, some of the teams have struggled a little bit to pass those numbers," Miller said from outside the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hauler. "Fortunately, we're able to -- because of (FOX TV's) help -- delay qualifying just a little bit, and we've got five or six more cars left to get through here. I believe we're going to be fine. It's going to be a short delay and that's what's going on here." Brad Keselowski , whose car was one of the 12 held up in the line, said "no one (could) pass laser" inspection, which caused the blockage. The No. 2 Ford cleared inspection just before 4:30 p.m. ET and was one of the final cars to hit the track in the opening round, along with Truex, Michael Annett and Greg Biffle . The No. 78 rolled onto the grid last of the quartet, about seven minutes after qualifying had begun. Despite the close call, Truex ultimately qualified second and will start alongside pole-sitter Joey Logano in Sunday's Firekeepers Casino 400 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, Sirius XM). That front-row spot didn't come without hustle from Pearn & Co. "So many cars failed, you might be able to be OK on a normal week, but with so many cars failing we just had it backed up," Pearn said after qualifying. "We just had to get through the nose grid and pass LIS (Laser Inspection Station). But we got it – barely – but we got it." Pearn echoed Keselowski's assessment of teams having issues with the LIS portion of inspection. "It's just honestly kind of a screw-up on our end as far as the nose grid goes, but the LIS was reading a little funky, so I think that's why you saw so many cars fail," Pearn said. "It's almost like it got recalibrated or something, I'm not sure." Truex remained calm throughout the brief period of chaos. "I was fine," he said after qualifying. "I figured I knew we would get through eventually and we would get a lap in when it was ready. Just calm, cool, collected and wait my turn." Zack Albert contributed to this report.
Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
RCR reveals Darlington throwback schemes
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes WELCOME, N.C. -- It seemed almost appropriate that on the day that Richard Childress Racing unveiled its retro paint schemes for this year's throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway , one of the team's drivers would arrive in a "Dukes of Hazzard" Dodge Charger. Ryan Newman said his vehicle choice wasn't an intentional nod to the historic track's nostalgia movement. "My truck is hauling hay right now," Newman said. "It was basically the only thing I had that I could take my kid to school with that had a car seat in it and then drive here and get here pretty quick." Sure enough, the bright orange No. 01 General Lee was equipped with a child seat, something that Bo and Luke Duke never really had during the television show's seven-season run. Newman's version, however, made for a popular addition to the carpool lane. "There's quite a few pictures that get taken at that school," Newman said. "You'd be surprised." Cameras were front and center Wednesday morning at Childress' shop, capturing images of Newman and teammate Austin Dillon driving up in eye-catching cars with overtures to the organization's rich NASCAR pedigree. Newman's No. 31 Chevrolet will carry period-style Caterpillar logos for the Bojangles' Southern 500 at the historic South Carolina track, and Dillon's No. 3 Chevy will be trimmed out in American Ethanol livery evocative of the Piedmont Airlines scheme that adorned RCR's flagship car for its first victory back in 1983. Ricky Rudd, RCR's driver at the time, was in attendance Wednesday at the organization's sprawling campus, helping Childress spin tales of when the operation had just four full-time employees and cashed checks for as little as $200 in contingency prize money. Today, the payroll number tops 500 and the winner's purse has more zeros on the checks. . @RCRracing paint schemes for @TooToughToTame revealed. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/uGuJBOjW3j — Zack Albert (@zack_albert) May 11, 2016 . @austindillon3 & @RyanJNewman with their @RCRracing rides for @TooToughToTame . #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/T3tsZ6dK94 — Zack Albert (@zack_albert) May 11, 2016 Besides the heritage colors and logos, Childress' design team also captured the spirit of the team's early 1980s growth through typefaces. Both cars unveiled Wednesday will feature numerals from the time period before Dale Earnhardt made RCR's stylized No. 3 famous. "I think we just tried to play within the years that Darlington gave us," Dillon said, referring to the track's focus on the 1975-84 era for its Labor Day classic, "and I think there's no better way than to celebrate RCR's first win with this scheme. American Ethanol allowing us to do it, Ricky Rudd coming today -- that was really cool and special just talking to him and hearing a little bit of what was going on back in the day and how RCR's grown." Few teams invested more into the NASCAR throwback initiative's debut last year that Richard Childress Racing . All three of its teams turned back the clock not only with paint schemes, but also with their garage attire, which featured ringer T-shirts, white work pants and red Converse Chuck Taylors to round out the look of the No. 3 crew. Wednesday's program re-positioned RCR as an active participant for Darlington's retro encore, with the No. 27 Chevrolet's look for driver Paul Menard to be revealed at a later date. "It's a lot of different connections that tie in together into one weekend," Newman said. "I'm a big, as I think you guys know, fan of the history of our sport and it's pretty cool to see the way it all came together last year. I'm even more excited to see what's going to pop up this year." So is Chip Wile, who has left a compelling legacy of embracing stock-car racing tradition during his nearly three-year run as Darlington Raceway track president. Wile, in his second week as the newly tapped president of Daytona International Speedway , took in Wednesday's unveiling with a contingent from NASCAR's first superspeedway. Wile said Darlington's communications team had continual contact with its stakeholders before last year's first throwback weekend, almost needing to sell the concept to teams and sponsors alike. "Now that we've had a year under our belts and people have actually seen it, it's a heck of a lot easier to have these conversations," Wile said. " Richard Childress Racing , since Day 1 since we came to visit them at the end of 2014, they said, 'We're in.' They along with Stewart-Haas and a number of others have really helped champion this program for us." MORE: See the 2015 Darlington throwback schemes
NASCAR.com's writers predict the 2016 season
NASCAR.com's Zack Albert , Kenny Bruce and Holly Cain make their predictions for the 2016 NASCAR season: Zack Albert Camping World Truck Series champion: Cole Custer . With bounds of talent, expect the 18-year-old with the flat-brimmed cap to emerge from a four-way scrap with Matt Crafton , John Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick . XFINITY Series champion: Erik Jones . Changing series, but same result. The prodigy collects another big trophy as Toyota grooms him for a Sprint Cup seat. Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year: Ryan Blaney . Expect the Wood Brothers' young star in the making to edge Chase Elliott in the series' most compelling rookie crop in recent memory. Surprise Chase qualifier: Clint Bowyer . Seeing Bowyer's name among the postseason field is no surprise, but pushing the underdog HScott Motorsports team to its first Chase berth would be. Surprise Chase miss: Kasey Kahne . The No. 5 team needs to shake a severe case of the doldrums that handcuffed Kahne's 2015 season. Daytona 500 pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr . Championship 4: Denny Hamlin , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Joey Logano . As in the previous two years of the new-look Chase, don't count on one organization having multiple cars vying for the title in Homestead. 2016 Sprint Cup champion: Kevin Harvick . The only two-time Championship 4 driver gets there again. This time, he cashes in for championship No. 2. Kenny Bruce Camping World Truck Series champion: Cole Custer . Talented kid in solid equipment; lack of experience the only concern. XFINITY Series champion: Erik Jones . Last year's Truck Series champion already has two career XFINTY Series wins. Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year: Ryan Blaney . That he and the Wood Brothers team made 16 starts together should give them a bit of an advantage in the early going. Surprise Chase qualifier: Kyle Larson . Much has been expected of the youngster; this year he delivers. Surprise Chase miss: Jamie McMurray . While his teammate makes his first Chase appearance, McMurray fails to repeat his effort of 2015. Daytona 500 pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr . Championship 4: Kyle Busch , Joey Logano , Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick . They had the speed and the wins last year. Nothing has changed. 2016 Sprint Cup champion: Joey Logano . Willing to take chances, and has the talent and equipment to back it up. Holly Cain Camping World Truck Series champion: John Hunter Nemechek . This would be a big step for the 18-year-old, but he has the talent and the drive. XFINITY Series champion: Erik Jones . He has both the natural talent and the equipment to be another rookie champion in the series. Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year: Chase Elliott won the award as an XFINITY driver and with his talent plus the Hendrick Motorsports backing, he should fare best among the first-year drivers. Surprise Chase Qualifier: Greg Biffle , Normally "The Biff" wouldn't be considered a surprise, but it's been a rough winless two seasons for him. He seems in good competitive form with a new look -- and a highly motivated team. Surprise Chase Miss: Paul Menard . That he qualified last year marked a career-best achievement, but too many other high-achievers will be back in the mix in 2016. Daytona 500 pick: Denny Hamlin . Championship 4: Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin . After two early Chase exits, Johnson is poised to make his first Championship 4 appearance -- perhaps the hardest to predict of all the categories. 2016 Sprint Cup Champion: Jimmie Johnson earns his record-tying seventh title in a timely reminder of what makes him among the greatest champions of the sport.
NASCAR.com's 2016 Daytona 500 predictions
Going into 2016's season opener, members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will head to Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Restrictor-plate racing is often finicky, but it's hard to go against a proven Daytona-winning driver with a stout car that goes where he points it. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr .: As much as I'd like to see a surprise winner, inside information tells me it's Dale Jr.'s to lose. Holly Cain Denny Hamlin : He is overdue in this race, at a place he races so expertly. Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : 'Rowdy' will start 2016 the way he closed out 2015 -- on top. His dominant showing in the second Can-Am Duel was no fluke, and he'll pick up his second win of Speedweeks on Sunday. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Hard to pick against Dale Jr., but I will. Hamlin has had the speed during Speedweeks, won the Sprint Unlimited and has four straight top-six finishes at Daytona. Hamlin will snap JGR's 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 and give Toyota its first win in the "Great American Race." Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The talk at the track has Dale Jr. and his "Amelia" car winning, but the 2015 Daytona 500 champ shouldn't be forgotten. Logano's been posting top speeds all week as he continues the strong momentum from his dominant '15 season. Brad Norman Joey Logano : "Sliced Bread" becomes the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin (1994-95), overpowering those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and, yes, even race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr . Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having won half of the speedway races last season, Junior's always a top pick heading into a plate event. Tack on his Duel win Thursday and his love for his car, and you've got a recipe for Victory Lane. Taylor Starer Kyle Busch : Coming off the high of being the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch is ready to add another accomplishment to his resume: a Daytona 500 win. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have all looked strong during Speedweeks, but Busch will be the one who brings Toyota its first "Great American Race" victory. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : Amelia's a great car, but the No. 22 almost had something for Dale Jr.'s speedy ride in the Can-Am Duels. Something crazy always happens at Daytona, and the defending winner looks like he can sneak through the trouble spots again. George Winkler Ryan Blaney : Let's pick the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to pull off the upset for the Wood Brothers. Fellow Fords in the Team Penske camp can give him the push he needs to make like Trevor Bayne and shock the world.
Who will take home a new clock at Martinsville?
NASCAR.com's Zack Albert and Chuck Bush get you set for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
The Climb: Who will be best at the paperclip
NASCAR.com's Zack Albert and Chuck Bush get you set for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway and take a look at who will climb through the field
'Dirty Air' crew talks 'The Intimidator'
Podcast includes NASCAR.com's Zack Albert discussing his Earnhardt project Take a few moments out of your day to listen to Richard Sturtz describe what it was like to stand in Victory Lane at Talladega with his hero, Dale Earnhardt. Zack Albert joined us on the Dirty Air Podcast this week to talk about his oral history project that takes an in-depth look at the people and moments surrounding Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s last win in the Winston 500 on October 15, 2000. One of the more memorable characters from the project was Richard Sturtz, the fan selected to be paired up with Dale as part of the Winston No Bull 5 campaign. • Log on to the iTunes Store and subscribe • Or watch the full replay on YouTube Sturtz got to join in on the Victory Lane celebrations, and to be honest one of the coolest parts about working on this project was hearing him tell his side of the story. History is one of those subjects that is best heard from the source, because once they are gone some of the greatest moments are lost for ever. That’s what makes this oral history project so unique and so special … it is all material from the source, from the people that were there; the people that lived it, breathed it, and carry the memories with them. If you haven't already read Zack's article, drop what you are doing, click here and do it now … you can thank him in the comments section later. Make sure you listen to the whole podcast to get Zack's full take on what it was like to undertake a project of this magnitude so check out the full-length show that is available on YouTube and iTunes -- or just listen to it below.