Tony Stewart's name is synonymous with winning but one trophy still eludes him.
Bruce: Can SHR star join Johnson as drivers to defend title in Chase-era? Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time since he was suddenly thrust into NASCAR's premier series back in 2001, Kevin Harvick begins the new racing season wearing the title of defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Thus far the 39-year-old seems to wear it well. Whether it will wear on him, or his Stewart-Haas Racing team, remains one of many unanswered questions before the season gets underway. Defending a title is tricky business in NASCAR, made even more so with the arrival of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the subsequent re-tooling of the original 10-race format and most recently the tweaking of the subsequent retooling of the program. Format changes have been just one issue standing between drivers, teams and the title. Jeff Gordon, a four-time champ back in the pre-Chase days, has yet to celebrate a title won under the 10-race system. Thus he's had no Chase title to defend. Likewise, Matt Kenseth won the last outright "points" title, but so far has been unable to solve the riddle of the Chase despite his many attempts. Kurt Busch won the first title back in in the days of Chase 1.0, but has rarely been heard from since. Others were more fortunate. Tony Stewart was the first to show a team that could win straight up could also win when put into a 10-race showdown, winning a pre-Chase crown , then two more during seasons after the field was reset. Jimmie Johnson has often been lauded (cursed?) for he and his team's ability to dominate in the "postseason," and while it's a fact that all six of the Hendrick Motorsports driver's titles came after the arrival of the Chase, Johnson's No. 48 was no ugly duckling before that -- as his record shows. With Johnson winning so often, few others have had the opportunity to defend a championship, and none done so successfully. Can Harvick turn the tide? Stewart, who co-owns Harvick's SHR team, says teams can do two things after winning a title, either become complacent with what's been accomplished and ease off the throttle or continue to feed off the thrill of the battle and the success. One goal has been met, Harvick said, but others remain. Situations change. Rules change. Times change. Harvick, it appears, thrives on those changes. A former team owner himself, Harvick put away his Nationwide (now XFINITY) and Camping World Truck Series teams to focus on his own quest for a championship after the 2011 season. For the first time in his Sprint Cup career, he changed teams, moving from Richard Childress Racing to SHR before the start of 2014. His personal life has had major transformations as well, with the birth of a son and most recently a re-location to the Charlotte area. "In the end, we changed our whole life to try to accomplish everything that we did last year," Harvick said. "We were able to pull that off and in three years, basically, change everything that we have done. So, that's very rewarding for all the people … everybody who has been involved in it." While 25 teams will return to the track here this weekend at Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited (8:15 p.m. ET, FOX), the official start of the season begins next week with the season-opening Daytona 500, scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 22 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). The list of NASCAR premier series champions is a short one -- Harvick is just the 30th to wear the crown . It's more important that he got here, he said, than that it took him so long to finally arrive. "I think I respect it a lot more and understand how hard it is to get to this point and really know the work and effort that and how many people it takes to be a part of it," he said. That hard work and effort paid off. Now it's time to see if success is fleeting, or if the driver and team that ended 2014 on top can continue to be the best. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Young challengers exist, but can they match veteran's consistency? Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series boasts a thriving community of talented young drivers ready for the chance to make their names known. But for the last two years, an unflappable veteran has made the next wave of talent wait its turn. Matt Crafton takes the first steps toward a championship three-peat Friday night at Daytona International Speedway, kicking off the 23-race schedule with the NextEra Energy Resources 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). The 38-year-old driver had to wait until his 13th season to wear the series crown ; now he has two in a two-year span. In 2013, Crafton virtually clinched the title with one race remaining. Last year, the points battle was a much closer contest, but the California native said his laid-back approach minimized any late-season pressure. "Two was actually a lot easier to be totally honest," Crafton said. "The points gap was closer, but for me personally and internally and in my head, definitely two was a lot easier. Three, I'm just going to go with the same mindset I did for two -- just go out here and race and have fun. I get paid to do what I love to do, so not put any pressure on yourself and just go out there and try to lead laps and win races." No surprise, ThorSport Racing left the core of his No. 88 Toyota team unchanged heading into 2015. But while the organization has stayed the course, the series' competition environment has changed. Gone from the Camping World Truck Series are 2014 runner-up Ryan Blaney, as well as third-place Darrell Wallace Jr., a four-time winner on the circuit last year. Fourth-place Johnny Sauter, his ThorSport teammate, and veteran fifth-place finisher Timothy Peters return for 2015, but several young drivers -- Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Ben Kennedy among them -- aim to assume the mantle of title contenders. It's a path that has been blazed already by reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott, who clinched his first national series title at age 18. Reddick, ready for a full season in Brad Keselowski Racing's No. 19 Ford, says the Truck Series should be no different. "I feel like a lot of young drivers feel like we can challenge the veterans in any series. … Just look at Elliott and Blaney," said Reddick, 19. "I feel like the younger guys have a lot of confidence right now." Confidence, though, hasn't necessarily translated to consistency, which has become Crafton's calling card through his championship campaigns. "Something that Crafton has really figured out with the trucks is, he may not be lightning-fast, but over the long run, he is probably the most consistent guy out there," said Kennedy, the series' Sunoco Rookie of the Year last season. "He can run the same lap time over and over and over again. Once he gets on a long run, that's where he kind of prevails. A lot of these guys will just go out there and burn their tires off, and five or 10 laps later will start falling back a little bit." Besides Crafton's performance over the long haul, the organization's chemistry has made the bright yellow No. 88 the team to beat the last two seasons. Carl "Junior" Joiner returns as the team's crew chief, continuing a combination with friendship ties that run deeper than a working relationship. Any other changes in the ThorSport camp, Crafton said, amount to mere fine-tuning for 2015. While the defending champion may have plenty of challengers lining up to stake their claim to the throne, any serious threat must pass the season-long test. "There's going to be some very fast trucks, without a doubt," Crafton said, "but it's one thing to be fast for one weekend or five weekends out of the year. Just trying to put it together throughout the whole 23 races that we run." 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
2012 Sprint Cup champion saw his day go up in a trail of smoke Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Get full race results " Series standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski's hopes for a Daytona 500 crown went south with a loud pop and a trail of smoke Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. Keselowski wheeled his steaming Team Penske No. 2 Ford into the Daytona garage to the attention of crew chief Paul Wolfe. After the white Deuce simmered for a while, Roger Penske crackled over the team's two-way radio with the grim diagnosis: "We're done, Paul." Last season's most polarizing driver ended his day on Lap 161 in the prestigious NASCAR Sprint Cup Series opener. For Keselowski, who's shown a special agility at restrictor-plate tracks with three victories at similar Talladega Superspeedway, the early exit left him 0-for-12 at Daytona. "It is what it is," Keselowski said. "We had a good car. We were in position in the top five, top 10 and was just kind of counting down some laps and getting ready for a crazy finish, and just wanted to be there for it, but, unfortunately, that's not gonna happen." Keselowski didn't lead a lap during his stint in the race, but he put himself in position for a chance at victory in the lead pack. One moment he was running competitive laps in close formation with teammate and eventual Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano; the next moment, his powerplant erupted with gusto. "It scares the crap out of you, to be honest," Keselowski said. "It's a big explosion and you're sitting right next to it, so it's not fun. Once you get recovered from that, then all you can think about is you had a shot to win the race, and that's pretty cool." 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
Meet the 2014 Crown Royal Your Hero's Name Here Winner John Wayne Walding and why the Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 race was named in his honor.
See John Wayne Walding experience his day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 was named in his honor.
Ryan Newman wins the 20th running of the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Listen to what all the top finsihers in the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard ahd to say about the 20th running of the Brickayrd 400.
Defending champ keeps cool in bid for Texas sweep, repeat title
Matt Kenseth takes the checkered flag to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 and Chase Elliott makes history by becoming the youngest driver to win the Nationwide Series title.