NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Cup Series News Wire
  • Season finale lived up to billing
    By Field Level Media / Monday, November 26, 2018

    DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As NASCAR prepares to honor its newly crowned 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano in Las Vegas on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), it also will recognize the fantastic seasons of its two eight-race winners, Kevin Harvick and regular-season champion Kyle Busch, as well as the fourth member of the Championship 4, Martin Truex Jr., who finished runner-up to Logano in the season's championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway two weeks ago.

    • As has developed into tradition, those four drivers settled the title among themselves -- with the champion winning the season-finale race. But for the first time ever, the four championship-eligible drivers finished 1-2-3-4 in the Homestead-Miami finale.

      Logano beat Truex by 1.75-seconds for the win -- the largest margin of victory since Denny Hamlin's 2.632-second win over Jeff Burton in 2009. Harvick and Busch finished third and fourth, respectively, behind Truex.

      This marks the fifth consecutive time that the champion won the Homestead-Miami season-finale race. In all five instances, however, there was plenty of late-race drama.

      Logano passed Truex with 12 laps to go for this year's season trophy. In 2017, Truex took the lead from Busch with 51 laps remaining and had to hold Busch off in the waning laps for the win.

      In 2016, Johnson took the race lead from Kyle Larson -- who was not championship-eligible -- with only three laps remaining and motored on to his record-tying seventh Cup title.

      Kyle Busch took the lead from Brad Keselowski with only seven laps remaining and held on to take the checkered and his first championship in 2015. A year earlier, Harvick took the lead with only eight laps remaining and managed to hold off the field for his first title.

      Four of the five drivers in the playoff format earned their first Cup trophies. Johnson is the only repeat winner in that time.

      BEST OF THE REST

      As the newcomer and fourth driver at Stewart-Haas Racing this year, Aric Almirola was the subject of conservative expectations -- expectations the 34-year old Florida native blew out of the water.

      After earning only his second ever bid into the playoffs, Almirola advanced all the way to the next to last round -- and then claimed fifth place overall in the championship standings -- besting Chase Elliott, Keselowski and Clint Bowyer.

      Almirola averaged an 8.6 finish in the 10-race playoffs, picking up his first victory since 2014 and first with SHR in the Talladega playoff race. He had seven top-10 finishes and three top-five finishes. His four top-fives and 17 top-10s on the season are career highs. The top-10 mark more than doubled his previous best effort in six earlier full-time Cup seasons.

      MONSTER ENERGY SERIES STATISTICAL LEADERS

      Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford led the most laps on the season -- 1,990 laps, equal to 19.6 percent of all laps run this season. Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch was next with 1,469 laps out front, equal to 14.5 percent of laps run. The only other driver in quadruple digits for time out front was Truex, who led 1,011 laps -- equivalent to 10 percent of all competitive laps this season. This is the seventh consecutive season the series has had three or more drivers with more than 1,000 laps led.

      When it comes to Driver Ratings, Harvick was again best of the best. In fact, his driver rating of 115.9 was substantially tops in class. Busch was second at 109.3, followed by Truex at 101.8 and Kurt Busch at 98.4. The season champion Logano was sixth overall at 97.3, just behind his Team Penske teammate Keselowski at 97.7.

      GENERATION NOW

      So much has been made of NASCAR's new generation of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. This was a breakout season for 22-year old Elliott, who won at the Cup level for the first time then answered with two more victories and a strong run in the playoffs. The Hendrick Motorsports driver tied last season's career high 21 top-10s and scored a sixth-place finish in the final Cup points standings. He has ranked in the top 10 in all three of his Cup seasons.

      Erik Jones, 22, also hoisted his first Monster Energy Series trophy at Daytona in July and qualified for his first playoff venture. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver's top-fives (nine) and top-10s (18) were career highs. He finished 15th in the points standings.

      Ryan Blaney, 24, followed up his first career win last year at Pocono Raceway with a victory on the new Charlotte Road Course to punctuate his 2018 playoff run. The Team Penske driver also had career-best showings in top-five (eight) and top-10 (16) finishes and finished 10th in the final championship standings.

      Larson, 26, didn't win this season, but 12 top-fives and 19 top-10s helped the Chip Ganassi Racing driver to another top-10 finish in the standings (ninth place).

      Alex Bowman, 25, more than tripled his career top-10 production (11) taking over the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 for the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. He qualified for the playoffs for the first time and finished 16th.

      NO QUIT IN THESE DRIVERS

      Veteran Ryan Newman -- the 2008 Daytona 500 winner and 2014 championship runner-up -- kept the non-playoff drivers honest in closing out the season. The Richard Childress Racing driver finished 17th in the standings -- tops among those who did not advance to the playoffs.

      Newman's nine top-10 finishes tied him with Daniel Suarez for most top-10s among non-playoff drivers. This year marked the first time in his 17-year Cup career that he did not score a top-five. Newman moves from RCR to Roush-Fenway Racing in 2019.

      ROOKIE RUNS

      There was a relatively similar learning curve for the Cup Series' two rookies this season -- Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, 20, and Richard Petty Motorsports' Bubba Wallace, 25.

      Byron won the Rookie of the Year honors for his work in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished 23rd in the points standings and scored four top-10 finishes. Wallace kept Byron honest the whole season, starting off the year with a dramatic runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 and adding three more top-10 showings. He finished 28th in points.

      --By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Championship 4 prove why they were the best
    By Field Level Media / Sunday, November 18, 2018

    HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Leading into Sunday night's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, much was made about the season's "Big 3" deciding the championship -- all former champs, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. And yet, as it turned out the "fourth" -- Joey Logano -- was "big" enough when he needed to be, too.

    • Joey Logano out-ran the threesome to earn his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, beating in order Truex, Harvick and Busch to the checkered flag. It was as true a playoff royale as you could imagine -- the four championship-eligible drivers dominated the day.

      They combined to lead 179 of the race's 267 laps. Each led at least 20 laps and Logano fittingly bested the entire race field, leading 80 laps in all. He passed 2017 champion Truex with 12 laps remaining and held the lead to the championship checkered flag, winning by a smooth 1.7-seconds.

      "You are the champion, you are the champion," his crew radioed as Logano drove around the track from the checkered flag.

      And he earned it by beating the season's absolute best. For the first time since NASCAR implemented the playoffs, the four championship finalists finished first, second, third and fourth.

      "It was a hell of a battle, I can tell you that," Truex said on pit road after the race. "Everybody had good cars. Everybody fought hard and I guess we finished 1-2-3-4 [glances at scoreboard]. Yeah, I thought that was the case, so I mean that just shows the quality of the teams that were in it, and any one of us could've hit it right tonight and won it.

      "Three other amazing teams are lucky to be part of that four."

      Logano's win Sunday night was his third on the year -- rounding out a trifecta of superspeedway (Talladega, Ala.), short track (Martinsville, Va.) and mile-and-a-half (Homestead) victory venues. All combined, the four championship eligible drivers won an impressive 23 of the season's 36 races -- the most ever by a championship foursome. Harvick and Busch led the way with eight victories each. Truex had four wins.

      And they showed that domination again Sunday to settle the title.

      "I would say, this was the best championship four ever put together," Logano's crew chief Todd Gordon said. "It's just surreal to think you raced Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr for the championship. And again we proved you have to win [the race] and Joey elevated himself to do it."

      Indeed. Logano turned in the best Playoff run of the foursome. He scored the most points and averaged a 8.6 place finish in the 10 playoff races compared to Truex (9.1), Busch (10.2) and Harvick (11.5).

      "We went up against the best of the best," Logano said. "No one was up there by accident. To beat the best is what makes this championship feel so good."

      Before he climbed in the car, he told one of his crewmen, "I'm climbing in as a driver but I'm climbing out as the champion.

      "And that's exactly what we did."

      --By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • NASCAR notebook: Truex falls just short in title defense
    By Field Level Media / Sunday, November 18, 2018

    HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- On an emotional night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. fell one place short in his bid for a second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and his attempt to deliver a sterling going-away present to Furniture Row Racing.

    • Truex had the lead with 12 laps left Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at the 1.5-mile track, but his No. 78 Toyota was no match for Logano's No. 22 Team Penske Ford over the short run. Logano blew past Truex through Turn 1 on Lap 256 of 267 and beat the defending champ to the finish line by 1.725 seconds.

      "It just didn't play out the way we needed it to," said Truex, who was in excellent position to track down Kevin Harvick for a possible victory when contact between the cars of Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez caused the fifth caution of the race and set up a short run that played into Logano's hands.

      "We were terrible for 10, 15 laps on new tires, and I was able to get a good restart at the end, luckily, and get out front -- just I had nothing for him at the end. I needed 15, 20 more laps, and that's just the way it goes. I'm not sure what else to say."

      Now that the season is over, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn will move to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. Furniture Row Racing will close its doors, with no primary sponsor to replace 5-hour Energy, which announced in June its departure at season's end.

      "Really proud of everybody on our team for fighting hard this year to get where we were," Truex said. "Without that last caution, it was in the bag, maybe, I think. We'll see. But it hurts a little, and I'm going to miss all the guys and had a hell of a five years with this team.

      "So just proud of them, and we're going to celebrate no matter what tonight."

      SUNSET TURNS OUT LIGHTS ON HARVICK'S CHAMPIONSHIP RUN

      Kevin Harvick, an eight-time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season, had the dominant car in the daylight hours of Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      Only one problem: The sun went down.

      Harvick charged from a 12th-place starting spot to win the race's first stage. He finished second to Kyle Larson in the second stage and led 58 of the 267 laps, all told.

      However, when darkness fell, the handling of Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford fell off, and after a late caution and trip to pit road left him fourth for a restart with 15 laps, Harvick had to settle for a third-place finish in lieu of a second series championship.

      "Yeah, we had a daytime race car," Harvick said. "As soon as it got dark, we never could get our car tightened up there at the end. And then they made a great call to put us in position to win the race, and then the caution came out when the 2 car (Brad Keselowski) spun the 19 (Daniel Suarez), and we came off pit road fourth.

      "Our strong point was not the restarts tonight, and (we) wound up on the wrong side of it."

      Despite the loose handling condition, Harvick was in position to challenge for the win in the late going. He was running second behind Kyle Busch, who needed to pit for fuel and would have had to surrender the lead, setting up a battle for the win between Harvick and fast-charging Martin Truex Jr.

      But with the caution on Lap 247, that matchup never materialized.

      "They put us in a position to win if the caution didn't come out, and we had a shot there," Harvick said. "It's just the way it all shook out. The 22 (Logano) could take off really good."

      KYLE BUSCH FIGHTS ILL-HANDLING CAR TO FOURTH-PLACE FINISH

      Late-race strategy played out just the way Kyle Busch hoped it would. He just didn't have the car to take advantage of it.

      After fellow Championship 4 contenders Logano, Truex and Harvick came to pit road for fuel and tires on Lap 231 of 267, crew chief Adam Stevens kept Busch's No. 18 Toyota on the track, hoping for a timely caution as a way to finagle track position.

      With Busch in the lead, the serendipitous yellow flag flew on Lap 247 when Suarez's Toyota went for a spin off the bumper of Keselowski's Ford. Busch led the field on and off pit road for the final time, but Truex quickly dispatched him on the subsequent restart, and Logano made the winning pass of Truex three laps later.

      The winner of eight races this season, Busch had to settle for fourth at the finish.

      "Today we weren't even close," said Busch, who started second and had seen encouraging signs in the practices leading up to Sunday's race. "On the long runs, just couldn't enter the corner, and we were getting smoked entering the corners and not being able to turn the steering wheel.

      "Overall, just a frustrating night. Adam called a great race, got us in position there when we ran long and caught that caution, luckily, and everything came to fruition. Just when you're half a second off, you're not going to hold anybody back."

      Nevertheless, when Busch led the field to the final restart with 15 laps left, there was a glimmer of hope.

      "Yeah, I was optimistic about it, but I didn't think it would be that short-lived," Busch said. "I figured I could at least maybe lead three or four laps, but Martin got a good restart. Every time I went to the gas, it just spun the tires, so I had to keep coming back out of it, and he's going forward on me.

      "Just didn't have the best of restarts, for one, but then, for two, once it got down there to the corner, it just didn't turn anyways, and the 22 (Logano) went by, the 4 (Harvick) went by, everybody went by. Y'all saw that -- just slow."

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Ford EcoBoost 400 results
    By Field Level Media / Sunday, November 18, 2018

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race -- Ford EcoBoost 400

    • Homestead-Miami Speedway

      Homestead, Florida

      Sunday, November 18, 2018

      1. (5) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 267.

      2. (3) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 267.

      3. (12) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 267.

      4. (2) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 267.

      5. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267.

      6. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 267.

      7. (14) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267.

      8. (26) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267.

      9. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 267.

      10. (6) Kurt Busch, Ford, 267.

      11. (16) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

      12. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.

      13. (11) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267.

      14. (19) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267.

      15. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267.

      16. (9) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 267.

      17. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267.

      18. (21) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267.

      19. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 266.

      20. (25) David Ragan, Ford, 266.

      21. (23) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 266.

      22. (31) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 266.

      23. (27) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 266.

      24. (28) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 266.

      25. (22) Paul Menard, Ford, 265.

      26. (29) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 264.

      27. (7) Erik Jones, Toyota, 264.

      28. (24) Michael McDowell, Ford, 263.

      29. (13) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 263.

      30. (18) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 262.

      31. (32) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 262.

      32. (33) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 261.

      33. (39) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 259.

      34. (34) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 259.

      35. (36) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 256.

      36. (35) * Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 256.

      37. (38) * Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 254.

      38. (37) * Tanner Berryhill, Toyota, 254.

      39. (30) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 240.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 133.056 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 00 Mins, 36 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.725 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 5 for 26 laps.

      Lead Changes: 22 among 7 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin 1-36; M. Truex Jr. (P) 37-39; M. McDowell 40-41; D. Hamlin 42; K. Harvick (P) 43-82; K. Larson 83; K. Harvick (P) 84-86; K. Larson 87-90; J. Logano (P) 91-104; K. Larson 105-117; K. Harvick (P) 118-119; M. Truex Jr. (P) 120; D. Hamlin 121-124; K. Larson 125-147; K. Harvick (P) 148-159; K. Larson 160-163; J. Logano (P) 164-166; K. Harvick (P) 167; J. Logano (P) 168-218; M. Truex Jr. (P) 219-230; K. Busch (P) 231-251; M. Truex Jr. (P) 252-255; J. Logano (P) 256-267.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano (P) 4 times for 80 laps; K. Harvick (P) 5 times for 58 laps; K. Larson 5 times for 45 laps; D. Hamlin 3 times for 41 laps; K. Busch (P) 1 time for 21 laps; M. Truex Jr. (P) 4 times for 20 laps; M. McDowell 1 time for 2 laps.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 4,42,18,22,78,11,10,20,2,41

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 42,4,22,78,10,18,41,11,48,14

      --By NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Hamlin steals Homestead pole from Championship 4 drivers
    By Field Level Media / Friday, November 16, 2018

    HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Three of the four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 drivers qualified near the top of the board in Friday's knockout time trials at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But Denny Hamlin, who has his own agenda, stole the pole for Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 (at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

    • Trying to extend his streak of winning at least one race per season to 13 consecutive years, Hamlin streaked around the 1.5-mile track in 31.059 seconds (173.863 mph) to secure the top starting spot in the race that will determine the series champion.

      Hamlin edged Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Championship 4 competitor Kyle Busch (173.622 mph) by .043 seconds in the money round. Future JGR teammate and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. qualified third at 173.539 mph.

      Playoff driver Joey Logano was fifth fastest in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford at 173.366 mph. Fellow title contender Kevin Harvick fought a tight-handling No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to a 12th-place run in the final round of qualifying.

      Hamlin has more than his streak of winning seasons on the line. He revealed via Twitter on Friday that Mike "Wheels" will no longer be his crew chief after Sunday's race. No replacement has been named. Hamlin hopes to duplicate his performance from five years ago when he won at Homestead for his only victory of the season.

      "It's big for us to get this race team up front here," said Hamlin, who won his fourth pole of the season, his third at Homestead (and second in a row). "We definitely want to end on a high note and try to win. In 2013 we were in the same predicament where we hadn't won a race until the final race and we got it done, so hopefully it's our time to do it.

      "We're going to keep digging. Hats off to this team. We were hanging around that seventh to 10th the first couple of rounds and they just ... "Wheels" made the right adjustments."

      Busch was pleased with his qualifying effort, even though it fell just short.

      "Not too bad, wish we had a little bit more there obviously to get the No. 1 pit box," Busch said. "Two years in a row, Denny has been able to figure that last run out. Just see what happens tomorrow."

      Where Harvick's car was too tight in the final round, Truex's was too loose.

      "We were a little too free on that final run," Truex said. "I tried to gain a little bit more but I just couldn't quite finish getting the throttle down and I think I lost a little bit there. It was a good day. Great effort by the guys. Nice, smooth solid day, which is what we needed. We go win this thing from there and we'll get to work tomorrow."

      There was speculation after qualifying that Hamlin might cede the coveted No. 1 pit stall to Busch, but Hamlin didn't seem enthused about the prospect. He was more concerned with keeping every advantage that might help him preserve his streak.

      "I sure don't want to break that streak," Hamlin said. "I hope Kyle finishes second."

      NOTES: Jimmie Johnson qualified 19th for what will be his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus after 17 seasons together ... Jamie McMurray will start 21st for his final event in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, a race that may be his last in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ... Matt Kenseth earned the 17th starting position for his final race in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

      MONSTER ENERGY MASCAR CUP SERIES QUALIFYING -- Ford EcoBoost 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla.

      1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 173.863 mph.

      2. (18) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 173.622 mph.

      3. (78) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 173.539 mph.

      4. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 173.433 mph.

      5. (22) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 173.366 mph.

      6. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 172.535 mph.

      7. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 172.507 mph.

      8. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 172.430 mph.

      9. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 172.403 mph.

      10. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 172.353 mph.

      11. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 172.029 mph.

      12. (4) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 171.942 mph.

      13. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 172.529 mph.

      14. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 172.518 mph.

      15. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 172.276 mph.

      16. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 172.243 mph.

      17. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 172.199 mph.

      18. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 172.002 mph.

      19. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 171.953 mph.

      20. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 171.559 mph.

      21. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 171.527 mph.

      22. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 171.369 mph.

      23. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 171.027 mph.

      24. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 170.708 mph.

      25. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 172.013 mph.

      26. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 171.827 mph.

      27. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 171.233 mph.

      28. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 170.800 mph.

      29. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 170.498 mph.

      30. (95) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 169.715 mph.

      31. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 169.651 mph.

      32. (00) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 168.951 mph.

      33. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 167.198 mph.

      34. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 167.002 mph.

      35. (99) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 166.898 mph.

      36. (51) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 164.424 mph.

      37. (97) Tanner Berryhill, Toyota, 162.955 mph.

      38. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 161.609 mph.

      39. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Bell brings different approach to Xfinity title race
    By Field Level Media / Thursday, November 15, 2018

    MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The Christopher Bell who showed up for Championship 4 Media Day at The Edition on Thursday bore little resemblance to the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender who has dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series with seven victories this season.

    • From outward appearances, it was the same driver who rallied from adversity to win last Saturday's event at ISM Raceway -- where victory was the only avenue to the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

      What was markedly different was his approach to the season finale.

      Throughout the season -- indeed, throughout a career that started on the dirt tracks of his native Oklahoma -- Bell has proudly declared his win-or-crash mentality. But that won't be his mind-set on Saturday, as he races Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Hemric for the Xfinity championship.

      "The only thing different is we're only racing three cars," Bell said. "Instead of going out there and trying to win the race, all I have to do is beat three competitors. So whether that means running 20th or winning the race, that's going to be our goal, just to beat three guys."

      But isn't that a radical departure for a driver committed to winning, whether it's an Xfinity race or the Chili Bowl, the marquee event for open-wheeled Midget race cars?

      "Yeah, it's definitely a change of pace," Bell said. "And it's a lot more relaxing to look at it that way. Unfortunately, those three cars are more than likely going to be racing for the win, so we understand that we might be in a must-win situation.

      "But that's great, because I was last week, too. ... Last week I had to beat 39 competitors if I wanted to advance."

      In last year's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finale, Bell won the title by finishing second to Chase Briscoe, who wasn't eligible for the championship. Bell would be equally delighted to secure the Xfinity title in the same manner.

      "This week I could care less about winning the race," said Bell, who plans to stay in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing next year. "I just want to win the championship."

      Bell and Reddick also are currently in a dead heat for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. As Championship 4 qualifiers, they enter the season finale tied with 4,000 points. The higher finisher of the two will claim the honor.

      Neither the race for the championship nor the race for rookie honors will be easy for Bell, despite the smaller number of adversaries. In his only start in the Xfinity Series, Bell finished 36th last year when his engine expired after 78 laps.

      But Kyle Busch, who fielded the trucks Bell ran in his championship season, has confidence in his protege.

      "I think Bell has a lot of potential," Busch said. "I think he's also worked with a lot of really good people, too. Being with KBM, being with (crew chief Jerry) Baxter, and being with Rudy (Fugle) and being with Joe Gibbs Racing with Jason Ratcliff ... Jason, we're lucky to have kept Jason. He's a Cup-level guy, no question about that.

      "For him to stick it out with Joe Gibbs Racing to go back to the Xfinity racing and work with Christopher Bell, I hope that reaps the benefits it should, that he gets to move back up to Cup with Christopher.

      "He has the whole situation, and he's obviously done a great job with it. There's no question about that. He's definitely talented. I've seen him race late models and have gone to those when I was hurt in 2015. He's a lot of fun to watch behind the wheel as well, too. He's getting it right now, and I wish him the best this weekend. I hope he brings it home."

      As Bell would add, even if it means bringing home a championship without a first-place finish.

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By Field Level Media / Wednesday, November 14, 2018

    MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: FORD ECOBOOST 400 (267 laps, 400 miles around a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, Fla.

    • TV: Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 2:46 p.m. ET) - NBC (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: The Championship four is set, and the drivers competing for the title at Homestead have been the four most consistent all season. Former champions Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are tied for the series lead with eight wins apiece. Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. has won four times for a lame-duck team shutting down after the race, and Joey Logano - still seeking his first title - has won twice. ... None of that matters now as each has 5,000 points heading into Sunday. No carryovers, no bonuses. Whoever finishes ahead of the other three will be the 2018 champion. ... Busch won last week at Phoenix, but he was likely getting to the finale on points anyway. ... This is the 36th and final race of the season, and will be the 20th at Homestead-Miami. ... In a statistical oddity, since the championship has been decided by the Homestead finish, the season champion has also won the race. That won't last forever as eight other drivers have won races this year. ... Homestead is not a difficult track, but like most 1.5-mile D-shaped ovals, it rewards patience and consistency. ... Harvick, Truex and Busch have all won races here. Logano has finished fourth twice, in 2015 and 2016. ... Harvick will carry the banner for Stewart-Haas Racing while Logano runs for Team Penske, both driving Ford Fusions. Toyota Camry driver Truex runs for Furniture Row Racing while his Toyota stablemate Busch represents Joe Gibbs Racing.

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: FORD ECOBOOST 300 (200 laps, 300 miles around a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, Fla.

      TV: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 3:16 p.m. ET) - NBCSN (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: Just as in the Cup series, the driver who finishes ahead of the other three takes home the crown. ... This is the 33rd and final race of the season and the 24th at the track for the series. ... Cole Custer won this race last season, and if he can do that again he will be the champion. He was not in the final four last year as now full-time Cup driver William Byron won the crown. ... Christopher Bell won last week at Phoenix to get into the final four when it looked like the driver with the most wins this season (now seven) was going to be on the outside looking in after starting the race from the back. ... Bell (Toyota Camry), Custer (Ford Mustang), Tyler Reddick (Chevrolet Camaro) and Daniel Hemric (Chevrolet Camaro) will start the race with 4,000 points.

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: FORD ECOBOOST 200 (134 laps, 201 miles around a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, Fla.

      TV: Friday, 8 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 8:15 p.m. ET) - FS1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: It's a Chevrolet Silverado vs. Toyota Tundra affair for the crown after Brett Moffitt secured his way into the finale with the win at Phoenix in his Tundra. The final four went chalk with the drivers holding on to those spots heading into Phoenix keeping them heading out. ... Moffitt is joined by stablemate Noah Gragson, while Johnny Sauter and Justin Haley make up the Chevy contingent. ... This is the 23rd and final race of the season and the 23rd series race at the track. ... Sauter won the race here in 2011. ... The drivers start the race with 4,000 points in the front-runner takes all event.

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      *Denotes race win and berth in the championship race.

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES

      THIS WEEK: The 2019 season starts March 10 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

      FORMULA ONE

      THIS WEEK: Lewis Hamilton put an exclamation point on his world championship earned in Mexico with a tight win in Brazil over Max Verstappen. ... The series takes a week off before wrapping up the season in Abu Dhabi, but the only positions among the top five still to be contested are spots 3-5. It is very likely Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen maintain their spots, respectively, in the finale. ... Great Britain's Hamilton leads the standings and is the champion in his Mercedes (383 points), followed by Germany's Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari (302), Finland's Raikkonen, Ferrari (251), Finland's Bottas, Mercedes (237) and Belgium's Verstappen, Red Bull (234).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION

      THIS WEEK: For the first time in NHRA history, the drivers that won Sunday at Pomona, Calif., were the drivers who were crowned champions. ... The NHRA season is over after 24 events, wrapping up with the Auto Club NHRA Finals. ... Steve Torrence was perfect in the Countdown playoffs in Top Fuel, winning six of six events. J.R. Todd won in Funny Car, Tanner Gray in Pro Stock, and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle. ... The series kicks off its 2019 season back at Pomona's Auto Club Raceway with the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals from Feb. 7-10.

      --K. Lee Davis, Field Level Media

  • NASCAR legend Pearson dies at 83
    By Field Level Media / Monday, November 12, 2018

    NASCAR Hall of Fame driver David Pearson died on Monday. He was 83.

    • Pearson's death was initially released by The Wood Brothers racing team. No other details were immediately revealed.

      Pearson recorded 105 career victories, second all-time behind Richard Petty. Pearson was a three-time Cup champion, winning in 1966, 1968 and 1969.

      Known as the "The Silver Fox," Pearson earned 113 poles during his 27-season career from 1960-86.

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among the former or current drivers who expressed their condolences through Twitter.

      "David Pearson was one of the all time greats. Anyone who raced him will tell you he was the best. The Silver Fox lived up to his persona on and off the track. What a badass. RIP," Earnhardt tweeted.

      Brad Keselowski tweeted the following: "RIP David Pearson. I'd have to say if their [sic] was one driver who inspired me the most on the race track it was you. Always gritty, witty and in position at the end when it counted."

      --Field Level Media

  • Harvick rebounds with pole-winning run at Phoenix
    By Field Level Media / Friday, November 9, 2018

    AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Resilient Kevin Harvick bounced back at his best track, winning the pole position for Sunday's Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway and putting behind him a penalty that threatened his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship chances.

    • Harvick, a nine-time Phoenix winner, toured the newly configured one-mile track in 25.386 seconds to run the fastest lap in the three-round knockout qualifying session at 139.340 mph to edge fellow Playoff driver Chase Elliott (139.152 mph) for the top starting spot in Round of 8 elimination race.

      Harvick lost 40 points and the services of crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Bob "Cheddar" Smith for the final two races of the season for an infraction involving the placement of the rear spoiler on last Sunday's race-winning car at Texas Motor Speedway.

      The penalty also wiped out Harvick's automatic qualification for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      Nevertheless, Harvick enters Sunday's race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with a three-point edge over Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch, with three of four berths in the Championship race still on the line.

      "I just deal with the facts," Harvick said. "I know where we are, I know what our plan is, and we don't look back."

      Harvick had veteran Tony Gibson on his pit box in lieu of Childers.

      "Everyone went smooth," said Harvick, who won his second Busch Pole Award at Phoenix, his fourth of the season and the 25th of his career. "I think, as you guys are quickly figuring out, it's more about people than it is about cars.

      "We've got a lot of good people and, obviously, a lot of experience with Tony, and those guys did a great job filling roles. You can't drive a slow car fast, and you can't beat good people."

      Though Elliott posted his best qualifying effort of the Playoffs so far, he seemed disappointed with his second-place starting position.

      "Yeah, unfortunately not good enough," Elliott said. "The guys brought me a great NAPA Chevy this week and one of these days I'll figure out how to qualify on a non-plate track, maybe. I had a car to do it today, and I didn't get it done. So, we'll go to work on Sunday."

      Elliott starts Sunday's race 17 points behind Harvick for the final spot in the Championship 4.

      Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Joey Logano earned the sixth and ninth spots on the grid, respectively, but four Playoff drivers failed to advance to the final round. Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, both in must-win situations, will start from the 16th and 18th positions.

      Kurt Busch qualified 14th, one spot behind Martin Truex Jr., who needs to score 34 points to clinch a spot in the Championship 4. Truex failed to advance to the final round by .003 seconds.

      "This seems to be kind of par for the course for us lately," Truex said. "I'd say 13th is a pretty good starting spot for the day we've had. We really didn't get a crack at anything in practice and we didn't have much time to get ready for qualifying and we were pretty far off.

      "Made some good gains for sure. I wish we could have ran again. I definitely feel like I could pick up some more, we were pretty tight. We'll start 13th and get to work tomorrow."

      Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start third on Sunday, followed by Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman.

      MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP QUALIFYING -- 31st Annual Can-Am 500, ISM Raceway, Avondale, Ariz.

      1. (4) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 139.340 mph.

      2. (9) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 139.152 mph.

      3. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 139.007 mph.

      4. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 138.867 mph.

      5. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 138.739 mph.

      6. (18) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 138.707 mph.

      7. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 138.344 mph.

      8. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 138.259 mph.

      9. (22) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 138.254 mph.

      10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 138.249 mph.

      11. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 137.889 mph.

      12. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 137.667 mph.

      13. (78) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 138.339 mph.

      14. (41) Kurt Busch (P), Ford, 138.180 mph.

      15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 138.069 mph.

      16. (14) Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 137.878 mph.

      17. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 137.767 mph.

      18. (10) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 137.720 mph.

      19. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 137.604 mph.

      20. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 137.541 mph.

      21. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 137.531 mph.

      22. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 137.342 mph.

      23. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 136.815 mph.

      24. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 136.529 mph.

      25. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 136.664 mph.

      26. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 136.529 mph.

      27. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 135.916 mph.

      28. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 135.767 mph.

      29. (95) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 135.649 mph.

      30. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 135.542 mph.

      31. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 135.267 mph.

      32. (00) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 134.158 mph.

      33. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 133.482 mph.

      34. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 133.328 mph.

      35. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 133.284 mph.

      36. (97) Tanner Berryhill, Toyota, 132.202 mph.

      37. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 131.114 mph.

      38. (7) DJ Kennington(i), Chevrolet, 130.124 mph.

      39. (51) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By Field Level Media / Wednesday, November 7, 2018

    MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: CAN-AM 500(K) (312 laps, 312 miles (500 kilometers) around a 1-mile tri-oval), ISM Raceway; Avondale, Arizona.

    • TV: Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 2:45 p.m. ET) - NBC (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: Kevin Harvick won the race at Texas and the guaranteed spot in the Championship Round next weekend at Homestead-Miami, until he got penalized for an illegal spoiler Wednesday morning, wiping out his win for the purposes of advancing and docking him 40 points. That puts Harvick just above the cutoff for the four-driver finale. ... Joey Logano punched his ticket to the championship race with a victory at Martinsville, so he's the only driver safely through as the series heads to Phoenix. ... Harvick has to feel confident, though, as he has won an astonishing nine times at Phoenix, including the race there this spring. ... The track layout remains the same, but a complete rebuild of the Phoenix facility has moved the start/finish line to the dogleg portion of what used to be Turn 2, an area that sees plenty of action and will hopefully set up a last-lap pass for the win. ... This is the 35th of 36 races on the season, and is the 45th series race at ISM Raceway. ... Matt Kenseth, no longer a full-time driver, won this race last fall. ... None of the drivers in the bottom four have won at Phoenix. ... Kyle Busch leads the points in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (4,128 points, second in the standings), followed by JGR's Martin Truex Jr. (4,125, third), Team Penske Ford driver *Logano (4,119, first) and Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Harvick (4,103, fourth), SHR's Kurt Busch (4,100, fifth), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver Chase Elliott (4,086, sixth), SHR's Aric Almirola (4,068, seventh) and SHR's Clint Bowyer (4,052, eighth).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      *Denotes race win and berth in the championship race.

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: WHELEN TRUSTED TO PERFORM 200 (200 laps, 200 miles around a 1-mile tri-oval), ISM Raceway; Avondale, Arizona.

      TV: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 3:45 p.m. ET) - NBC (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: The series gears up for the final race in its Round of 8 at Phoenix after a big win from Cole Custer at Texas. Custer likely needed a win to advance and now he puts the other seven drivers in a nervous position to make the Homestead final four on Nov. 17. ... Phoenix is a challenge any time and the Xfinity cars usually put on a good show here. ... This is the 32nd of 33 races on the season and the 34th series race at ISM Raceway. ... Full-time Cup driver Brad Keselowski won here in the spring and fellow Cup driver William Byron won the fall race last year. ... Tyler Reddick leads the points (3,105, second in the standings), followed by Elliott Sadler (3,098, third), Daniel Hemric (3,097, fourth), Justin Allgaier (3,085, fifth), Matt Tifft (3,083, sixth), *Custer (3,081, first), Christopher Bell (3,063) and Austin Cindric (3,036).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      *Denotes race win and berth in the championship race.

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: LUCAS OIL 150 (150 laps, 150 miles around a 1-mile tri-oval), ISM Raceway; Avondale, Arizona.

      TV: Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 8:45 p.m. ET) - FS1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: Justin Haley won at Texas after Johnny Sauter won at Martinsville, so two of the final four spots at Homestead are locked up in the series. That leaves four drivers vying for two remaining spots. ... Sauter won this race last season as the Trucks visit ISM Raceway just once a year. ... This is the 22nd of 23 races on the season and will be the 28th the series has run at Phoenix. ... *Sauter leads the Truck points and standings (3,128, first) followed by Brett Moffitt (3,109, third), Haley (3,107, second), Noah Gragson (3,105, fourth), Grant Enfinger (3,087, fifth) and Matt Crafton (3,082).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      *Denotes race win and berth in the championship race.

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES

      THIS WEEK: The 2019 season starts March 10 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

      FORMULA ONE: BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX (71 laps, 190.083 miles around a 2.677-mile 15-turn permanent road course), Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace; Interlagos, Brazil.

      TV: Sunday, 12 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 12:10 p.m. ET) - ESPN2 (Radio: SiriusXM Radio Channel 132).

      THIS WEEK: With the drama taken out of the title race, world champion Lewis Hamilton leads the series into one of its most popular events in Brazil. ... This will be the 36th series race held at the track and the 47th Brazilian Grand Prix held overall. ... Sebastian Vettel, second in the championship, won this race last year, with Hamilton taking the honors in 2016. ... This is one of the few circuits that run counter-clockwise and offers two high-speed sections as well as challenging - and undulating -- turns through the infield section from Turn 6 to 11. ... His fifth title ties Hamilton with Juan Manuel Fangio, with Germany's Michael Schumacher ahead of them with seven. ... Great Britain's Hamilton leads the standings and is the champion in his Mercedes (358 points), followed by Germany's Vettel, Ferrari (294), Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari (236), Finland's Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes (227) and Belgium's Max Verstappen, Red Bull (216).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION: AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS, Friday-Sunday, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona; Pomona, Calif.

      TV: Eliminations, Sunday, 4-7 p.m. ET FS1 (live)

      THIS WEEK: The 24th and final event of the season will see champions crowned in three pro classes, with Steve Torrence having locked up the Top Fuel dragster title at Las Vegas two weeks ago. ... The season always starts and ends at Pomona, so winners from the winter event will be looking to repeat on Sunday. Winter winners were Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, Bo Butner in Pro Stock while the motorcycles did not compete. ... Winners at Vegas were Torrence, J.R Todd in Funny Car, Butner in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle. ... Torrence leads the Top Fuel standings and is the champion (2,718 points), with Clay Millican (2,487), Tony Schumacher (2,454), Leah Pritchett (2,394) and Brittany Force (2,302) rounding out the top five. ... Todd (2,553) leads Funny Car, with Robert Hight (2,479), Ron Capps (2,388), Tim Wilkerson (2,367) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (2,362) pursuing. ... Tanner Gray leads Pro Stock (2,583) followed by Jeg Coughlin Jr. (2,443), Erica Enders (2,434), Drew Skillman (2,413) and Vincent Nobile (2,404). ... In the tightest remaining championship battle, Matt Smith leads Pro Stock Motorcycle (2,479), followed by Eddie Krawiec (2,475), LE Tonglet (2,418), Arana (2,415) and Jerry Savoie (2,378).

      --K. Lee Davis, Field Level Media

  • Harvick penalized, loses guaranteed playoff spot
    By Field Level Media / Wednesday, November 7, 2018

    Kevin Harvick's celebration in Texas has been spoiled.

    • A victory in Sunday's 500-mile Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway had locked Harvick in as the second driver to earn a berth in the four-car Championship Round of the playoffs. But the sanctioning body docked him 40 points after finding illegal alterations to his rear spoiler.

      Harvick was also barred from using the win as an automatic entry into the final four for the Nov. 18 championship race at Homestead.

      In addition, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford will be without crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith after both were suspended for the final two races.

      Joey Logano of Team Penske -- who won the previous weekend's Round of 8 race at Martinsville Speedway -- is the only driver locked in to Championship Round.

      Harvick, despite earning his eighth win of the season, sits in fourth place -- three points ahead of Kurt Busch and 17 points ahead of Chase Elliott. He trails Martin Truex Jr. by 25 points and Kyle Busch by 28.

      The series heads to ISM Raceway in Phoenix this weekend for the final elimination race before the championship.

      --Field Level Media

  • NASCAR notebook: Elliott looks to end recent slump
    By Field Level Media / Saturday, November 3, 2018

    FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Just when he needs it most, the newfound speed that has carried Chase Elliott to a pair of victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs seems to have deserted the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

    • On Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, Elliott qualified 16th for the second race in the Round of 8 -- and a hard-fought 16th at that. In Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), he'll have another fight on his hands as he tries to crack the top 10 and accumulate badly needed stage points.

      After finishing seventh last Sunday at Martinsville, Elliott enters Sunday's race 31 points below the current cut line for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A last-ditch run in qualifying got him up to the 16th spot, but that's the deepest starting spot for any of the championship contenders.

      "Yeah, just couldn't drive into (Turn) 1 like I wanted to or didn't do it or whatever," Elliott said of his qualifying effort. "But, yeah, we have kind of fought some of the similar things throughout practice and didn't go real fast. Just unfortunate.

      "I had a terrible qualifying effort in Martinsville, too, and with the way these stage points are, that was a really strong suit of ours last fall. We qualified really good in these last 10 and that was what kind of kept us going through the rounds.

      "So, yeah, you've got to qualify good to get those stage points. That last lap helped some, so we will try to move forward on Sunday."

      Unfortunately, Elliott found little solace in Saturday's two practice sessions. He was 19th fastest in the morning session and 17th at 190.402 mph in Happy Hour. Kurt Busch, who topped the speed chart in final practice, was considerably faster at 192.075 mph.

      CARL EDWARDS INDUCTED INTO TEXAS MOTORSPORTS HALL OF FAME

      When former NASCAR star Carl Edwards strode into the ballroom of the TMS Speedway Club on Saturday, his face registered surprise at the rousing ovation he received from the assembled stakeholders and fans who attended the event.

      Then the familiar ear-to-ear grin spread across his face. The occasion was Edwards' induction, along with IndyCar legend Helio Castroneves, into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame.

      For a variety of personal reasons, Edwards left NASCAR abruptly after the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, but not before he had accumulated 28 Cup victories -- four of them at Texas -- and a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

      Since his departure from racing, Edwards has traveled extensively, twice sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Though he misses the challenges of the competition, he has no plans to return to racing full time, if at all.

      "The more I'm away from the sport, two things are clear that I miss," Edwards told reporters after the event. "I definitely miss driving the car. Sliding it around sideways was definitely a blast.

      "And I miss the people. This is definitely cool. It means a lot for (TMS president) Eddie (Gossage) to have me back here. I never thought I'd be glad to see (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, but this is cool."

      AFTER TOUGH RUN AT TEXAS, GRANT ENFINGER PINS HOPES ON PHOENIX

      Just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title contender Grant Enfinger in Friday night's JAG Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway.

      Early on, Enfinger's No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford fell back in race traffic. He was seventh in the first stage and fourth in the second, but as he was primed for a podium finish, his truck ran out of fuel on the final lap, dropping Enfinger to 12th at the checkered flag.

      Eighteen points below the cut line for the no. 16 Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Enfinger likely will need a victory to advance to the title race.

      "We just got held up by a lot of slow trucks at the beginning of the start, and that's on me," Enfinger said. "We spotted everybody a straightaway or so and just played catch-up after that. I feel like we might've had one of the best trucks here, and we just didn't take advantage of it.

      "We were in position to run second or third there at the end, and we just ran out of gas. It's not really a testament to our entire year. We'll have to go to Phoenix (next Friday) and win the race."

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Kyle Busch enjoying drama-free ride to Homestead
    By Field Level Media / Saturday, November 3, 2018

    Not involved in any high conflict during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs so far, veteran Kyle Busch seemed comfortable and at ease heading into Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

    • The regular season champion and current championship leader -- who holds a 21-point lead on the field -- was willing to offer his take on last week's victory battle at Martinsville Speedway between Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. But he was more eager to talk about his own game plan for a second Cup championship.

      The "bump-and-run" used by Logano to get around Truex for the victory last weekend -- and a berth in the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- has dominated NASCAR social media channels, radio talk shows and television commentary. As for Busch, the 33-year-old maintains he would prefer not to be so aggressive, but acknowledged it is on a case-by-case basis and largely depends on whom the other driver is.

      "Overall, it's just there's certain guys and individuals that you can race that wouldn't do those sorts of things," Busch said of the bump-and-run-to-win technique.

      "Names that come to mind would be Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., that you can race with and battle with and do it cleanly -- and there's guys that you have names that you know are going to just flat-out run into you on lap 128 when they get to your rear bumper and move you out of the way in a 500-lap race. 'Okay, whatever dude.'

      "It's all about who it is. It's their norm and if it's their norm then you have to treat them back because it's their norm. But when you do it back because you're doing it to somebody that you know will do it, then you're now associated as being that kind of guy. How do you balance that? I don't know.

      'For instance, if it was me and Joey (Logano) and Joey flat-out ran over me when he got to me at Martinsville, then when I go back on him the next time, am I just doing it because it's Joey or am I doing it because it's me? I would say I'm doing it because of who it is, not that's the way I want to do it."

      Busch has been known to go door-to-door throughout his 50-win Cup career. But the father of three-year-old Brexton, who spent Halloween handing out sponsor M&Ms candy to trick-or-treaters, concedes he may have mellowed. His path to the 2018 championship has not included any major detours into full-on aggressive driving. Yet.

      And the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota does not necessarily consider the 1.5-mile Texas high banks a prime backdrop for that style of racing either.

      "I think there's opportunity to be aggressive here if you want to be aggressive, but there's a lot of risk for reward at this place, especially on restarts with as slick as we've seen it be, as narrow as we've seen it be the last few years since the repave,'" Busch explained.

      "Depending on how the rubber application gets going here this weekend and how wide of a groove you kind of see between the Truck race and the Xfinity race leading into the Cup race, that kind of determines what all you should expect or how hard you feel like you can go on restarts."

      As for last week's situation with Logano and Truex, specifically?

      "Obviously I didn't go back and rewatch it, but just remembering what I remember about it, the 78 (Truex) worked hard for quite a few laps to make a move at Martinsville and at a short track as clean as he possibly could and just cleared a guy too soon and got run over through three and four,'" Busch said.

      "With sometimes who you're racing around, I guess you have to know what's going to happen and expect that, and try to plan for it, I guess. When you try to do too much planning, last time I checked, that's not racing."

      More pressing for Busch, is another playoff win so he does not have to points-race his way into the four-driver shot at a title. Texas has certainly proven to be a positive venue for him. Of the drivers competing this weekend, only Johnson (seven) has more wins than Busch's three. He has had seven top-five finishes in the last 10 races on the Fort Worth high banks and won here just this April.

      "I'd like to think our odds are pretty good," Busch said. "Obviously anything can happen. We won Martinsville last year and came here and had two flat tires in the race and we didn't fair very well. You still have to have some luck on your side and have everything kind of go your way. It's tough to rebound sometimes after a difficult start to a day or even if you have trouble later in the day, it's really difficult to rebound and get a good finish like you need.

      "We'd love to be able to win and automatically lock ourselves through, but if that's not the case then you just have to be smart and mindful of a good points day and try not to hurt yourself and minimize mistakes if some are made."

      --Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Blaney wins pole as Fords dominate Texas qualifying
    By Field Level Media / Friday, November 2, 2018

    FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Ryan Blaney may have exited the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, but that doesn't mean the desire to win has left the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.

    • Running the fastest lap of the day in the final round of Friday's knockout qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway, Blaney sped around the 1.5-mile track in 26.932 seconds (200.505 mph) to earn the top starting spot for Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

      In winning his first Busch Pole Award at Texas, his third of the season and fifth of his career, Blaney fell just short of the track record (26.877 seconds at 200.915 mph) set by Kurt Busch in November of last year. Nevertheless, Blaney's lap in the money round was the second fastest ever run on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.

      Blaney, who paced the first round but fell to eighth in the second, beat playoff driver Clint Bowyer (200.230 mph) by .037 seconds when it counted. Kevin Harvick (199.941 mph) qualified third, as Ford drivers swept the top five spots on the grid and seven of the top eight.

      "We just seemed to get tighter round to round," Blaney said. "We just kept freeing it up, and I messed up Round 2 pretty bad. I got really greedy in (Turn) 1 and drove in there too deep. So we freed it up even more, and I backed my entry up, and that helped it out ...

      "It felt really fast. That's what you get with this nighttime qualifying. High speeds. Speeds pick up, and it has been cool here today. We've had a really good Ford all day, and it is nice to back it up in qualifying. It doesn't mean a lot if you are fastest in practice and blow it in qualifying ... I'm excited to see how it is in race trim in Saturday's practice."

      With Aric Almirola qualifying fourth and Kurt Busch seventh, Stewart-Haas Racing placed all four of its drivers in the top seven, and all four are still in contention for the series championship. Brad Keselowski was fifth fastest, giving Team Penske two drivers in the top five.

      Toyota driver Denny Hamlin was sixth with the only non-Ford in the top eight. Team Penske driver Joey Logano -- already qualified for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 race at Homestead by virtue of last Sunday's victory at Martinsville, was eighth quickest after topping the second round at 200.267 mph.

      Playoff driver Martin Truex Jr. will start 13th on Sunday after Almirola bumped him out of the final round by .001 seconds.

      "I got a little loose on Turn 3 in my last lap there," Truex said. "If I didn't mess that up, I probably would have been in. It's a sensitive track, really fast. For whatever reason, we've been off qualifying since they redid this place.

      "I haven't quite figured out what I need for qualifying. In our race trim, we've been really good here. We'll see. We'll work harder on it (Saturday in practice) and see on Sunday."

      Chase Elliott, winner of two Playoff races, will start 16th. Ninth-place qualifier William Byron, Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was the only Chevrolet driver to crack the top 12.

      MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP QUALIFYING -- 14th Annual AAA Texas 500

      Texas Motor Speedway -- Fort Worth, Texas

      1. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.505 mph.

      2. (14) Clint Bowyer (P) @, Ford, 200.230 mph.

      3. (4) Kevin Harvick (P) @, Ford, 199.941 mph.

      4. (10) Aric Almirola (P) @, Ford, 199.778 mph.

      5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 199.527 mph.

      6. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 199.255 mph.

      7. (41) Kurt Busch (P) @, Ford, 199.225 mph.

      8. (22) Joey Logano (P) @, Ford, 199.086 mph.

      9. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 199.071 mph.

      10. (18) Kyle Busch (P) @, Toyota, 198.705 mph.

      11. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 197.954 mph.

      12. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 197.853 mph.

      13. (78) Martin Truex Jr. (P) @, Toyota, 197.962 mph.

      14. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 197.925 mph.

      15. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 197.715 mph.

      16. (9) Chase Elliott (P) @, Chevrolet, 197.686 mph.

      17. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 197.592 mph.

      18. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 197.542 mph.

      19. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 197.397 mph.

      20. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 197.383 mph.

      21. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 197.087 mph.

      22. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 196.815 mph.

      23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 196.728 mph.

      24. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 196.514 mph.

      25. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 196.007 mph.

      26. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 195.327 mph.

      27. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 195.221 mph.

      28. (95) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 194.749 mph.

      29. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 194.475 mph.

      30. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 194.398 mph.

      31. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 192.404 mph.

      32. (00) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 191.843 mph.

      33. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 191.299 mph.

      34. (96) Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 191.110 mph.

      35. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 190.268 mph.

      36. (99) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 189.221 mph.

      37. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 188.824 mph.

      38. (7) Reed Sorenson(i), Chevrolet, 187.598 mph.

      39. (51) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 183.076 mph.

      40. (97) David Starr(i), Toyota, 181.305 mph.

      1 driver: failed to qualify:

      41. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 0.000 mph.

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • NASCAR notebook: Truex still trying to get past Logano bump
    By Field Level Media / Friday, November 2, 2018

    FORT WORTH, Texas -- Still smarting from the last-lap bump-and-run at Martinsville that cost him a win, Martin Truex Jr. is trying to keep his focus elsewhere as he approaches the second race in the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

    • After clearing Joey Logano off Turn 2 on the final circuit last Sunday, Truex fell victim to the bumper of the No. 22 Ford in the final turn. Logano took the checkered flag and the automatic berth in the Nov. 18 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      Clearly, the contact rubbed Truex the wrong way. The reigning series champion vowed after the race that Logano would not win the title this year.

      After cooling down for a while, Truex sent Logano a text to let him know what he thought of Logano's move. Logano responded, but from the sound of it, the animosity wasn't completely defused.

      "When things calm down, you think about it a little bit," Truex said. "I didn't expect to hear from him, so I wanted to tell him how I felt...

      "I wanted to get his point of view and what he was thinking. What he thought about it. Now I know."

      But Truex doesn't want to think about the incident as he prepares to race in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

      "We've got three races to go," Truex said after opening practice on Friday. "We have two important races here where I'm in a position to run for a championship. I'm not going to let what happened last week take my focus off of that.

      "I think it's something that stays on the top of your mind. If you get in a certain situation where it would be wise to remember what happened, that's there. I really haven't thought past that. I know what's on the line this weekend.

      "It takes a lot of focus and mental strength to do this job. And to do it at a high level. I'm going to approach this weekend like I do any other."

      ARIC ALMIROLA BACK IN MUST-WIN MODE

      Aric Almirola is a poster child for the value of winning stages and races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series -- every time points are reset in the playoffs, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is back in a hole.

      After advancing through the Round of 16, Almirola won at Talladega to secure a spot in the Round of 8. Having accumulated only six playoff points over the first 32 races, however, he started the Round of 8 in the cellar.

      Last Sunday at Martinsville, Almirola finished a respectable 11th, but he accumulated only one stage point. With Joey Logano winning the race and advancing to the Championship 4, Almirola enters Sunday 50 points below the current cut line.

      "I feel like the situation we were in going into the playoffs that the only round where we could make it through on points was the first round," Almirola said before Friday's opening practice. "Once we got through the first round, at that point, we were far enough behind on bonus points that we were going to need to win.

      "You can't count on that many people in front of you on points having worse weekends than you. There's a reason that the guys are who they are. The top eight or top 12 -- it's because they always run in the top 10. They are the same people challenging to win races. You can't bank on just out-pointing them. We're in a similar situation where we're showing up here and we are like 50 points out. You aren't going to make that up in two weeks. It is pretty plain and simple for us. We have to go win."

      CHRISTOPHER BELL TRYING TO LOOK AHEAD AFTER KANSAS FIASCO

      Christopher Bell got a jarring wake-up call two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway.

      On the first lap of the opening race in the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs, a slip in Turn 2 by fellow playoff driver Justin Allgaier knocked Bell out of the race. Gone in an instant was the security blanket Bell accumulated with six wins in the series this season.

      Instead of leading the standings, Bell fell to fourth with his 37th-place finish. Facing a cutoff race Nov. 10 at Phoenix, Bell has a razor-thin one-point margin over fifth-place Matt Tifft entering Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NSCAR Radio).

      "I'll be honest, the days after Kansas I started to get pretty apprehensive just because nobody expected that, and it's just kind of a wakeup call, right?" Bell said of the Kansas wreck. "That could have happened on a green-white-checkered restart and the outcome, hopefully I would have gained stage points, but the outcome would have been really similar.

      "It can happen at any time and it's very easy to do. I started getting apprehensive thinking about that and just talked to some of my mentors, and they gave me really good advice. They just said, 'You can't worry about that; the only thing you can do is control what you can control.' If we can go out here and perform like we know we're capable of and like we should, then we'll be in really good shape, but if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be.

      "I'm just going to go out here and enjoy driving race cars. We have three really fun races left, so I'm excited about that."

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By Field Level Media / Wednesday, October 31, 2018

    MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: AAA TEXAS 500 (334 laps, 501 miles around a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Texas Motor Speedway; Fort Worth, Texas

    • TV: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 3:16 p.m. ET) - NBCSN (Radio: Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: Joey Logano punched the first ticket to championship race at Homestead with a thrilling - and controversial - victory at Martinsville on Sunday, bumping Martin Truex Jr. on the final turn and skating by him. Playoff intensity is evident. ... The top four among the Round of 8 drivers looks fairly secure, with Truex and Kevin Harvick holding a 25-point lead over fifth-place Kurt Busch. A win by any of the bottom four at Texas or Phoenix would shake things up. ... Up this Sunday is Texas, a fast 1.5-mile track where passing is at a premium at the front. ... This is the 34th of 36 races on the season, and is the 36th series race at Texas. ... Harvick won this race last fall, with Kyle Busch winning here in the spring. ... Kurt Busch is the only driver in the bottom four to have won at Texas, winning the fall race in 2009. ... Kyle Busch leads the points in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (4,104 points, second in the standings), followed by JGR's Martin Truex Jr. (4,083, third), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Harvick (4,083, fourth), Team Penske Ford driver *Logano (4,074, first), SHR's Kurt Busch (4,058, fifth), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver Chase Elliott (4,052, sixth), SHR's Clint Bowyer (4,041, seventh), and SHR's Aric Almirola (4,033, eighth).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      *Denotes race win and berth in the championship race.

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: O'REILLY AUTO PARTS CHALLENGE (200 laps, 300 miles around a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Texas Motor Speedway; Fort Worth, Texas

      TV: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 4:46 p.m. ET) - NBC (Radio: Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: The series opened its Round of 8 at Kansas and no playoff driver won, then took a week off. So it's on to Texas with each of those eight drivers looking for a win and guaranteed spot in the championship race at Homestead on Nov. 17. ... Texas Motor Speedway is a track similar to Kansas, both 1.5 mile D-shaped ovals, but don't expect Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Cole Custer to get caught up in a first-lap wreck like they did two weeks ago. ... This is the 31st of 33 races on the season and the 36th series race at Texas. ... Full-time Cup driver Ryan Blaney won here in the spring and fellow Cup driver Erik Jones won the fall race last year. ... Daniel Hemric leads the points (3,067), followed by Elliott Sadler (3,058), Tyler Reddick (3,055), Bell (3,045), Matt Tifft (3,044), Allgaier (3,040), Custer (3,022) and Cindric (3,002).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: JAG METALS 350 (147 laps, 220.5 miles [354.86 kilometers] around a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Texas Motor Speedway; Fort Worth, Texas

      TV: Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 8:46 p.m. ET) - FS1 (Radio: Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: Johnny Sauter won at Martinsville last week, ensuring himself a spot in the Homestead finale on Nov. 16 as the Round of 6 continues this week at Texas before heading to Phoenix for the final race in the round. ... This will be the 42nd series race at Texas, with Sauter winning the races here last fall and this spring. ... No one needs to panic yet, as only 10 points separate last place and a finals berth. ... *Sauter leads the Truck points and standings (3,102), followed by Noah Gragson (3,073), Brett Moffitt (3,064), Grant Enfinger (3,051), Justin Haley (3,049) and Matt Crafton (3,041).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      *Denotes race win and berth in the championship race.

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES

      THIS WEEK: The 2019 season starts March 10 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

      FORMULA ONE

      THIS WEEK: Three men have won five or more F1 world championships, and Lewis Hamilton is the newest member of that exclusive club after his fourth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday. ... His fifth title ties Hamilton with the legendary Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio, with only Germany's Michael Schumacher ahead of them with seven, a mark that seems within reach for a 33-year-old driver in his prime and with four championships in five seasons. ... Hamilton is the only driver among the three to not win a title driving for Ferrari. Fangio won for four different manufacturers (Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati) from 1951-57, a record. ... Max Verstappen won at Mexico. ... The series takes a week off before heading to Brazil for the penultimate race of the season. ... Great Britain's Hamilton leads the standings and is the champion in his Mercedes (358 points), followed by Germany's Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari (294), Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari (236), Finland's Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes (227) and Belgium's Verstappen, Red Bull (216).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION

      THIS WEEK: Las Vegas, the penultimate and 23rd event of the season crowned one champion and saw two of the other three pro classes gain clear favorites to win the title in two weeks at Pomona, Calif. ... Steve Torrence won at Vegas, his fifth victory in a row, and cruised to the championship in Top Fuel. ... Other winners at Vegas were J.R Todd in Funny Car, Bo Butner in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle. ... Torrence leads the Top Fuel standings and is the champion (2,718 points), with Clay Millican (2,487), Tony Schumacher (2,454), Leah Pritchett (2,394) and Brittany Force (2,302) rounding out the top five. ... Todd (2,553) leads Funny Car, with Robert Hight (2,479), Ron Capps (2,388), Tim Wilkerson (2,367) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (2,362) pursuing. ... Tanner Gray leads Pro Stock (2,583) followed by Jeg Coughlin Jr. (2,443), Erica Enders (2,434), Drew Skillman (2,413) and Vincent Nobile (2,404). ... In the tightest remaining championship battle, Matt Smith leads Pro Stock Motorcycle (2,479), followed by Eddie Krawiec (2,475), LE Tonglet (2,418), Arana (2,415) and Jerry Savoie (2,378).

      --K. Lee Davis, Field Level Media

  • Swedish driver Ericsson moving to IndyCar
    By Field Level Media / Tuesday, October 30, 2018

    Marcus Ericsson and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have finalized a deal that will put the driver on the IndyCar circuit in 2019.

    • SPM announced Tuesday that Ericsson, from Sweden, will drive the No. 7 car for the team, joining teammate James Hinchcliffe.

      Ericcson, 28, currently is a Formula One racer for Sauber, which is dropping him in favor of Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the year. That will end, for now, his five-year Formula One career.

      "It's a great honor to be picked as one of the drivers at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and IndyCar for the 2019 season," Ericsson said in a statement. "It feels like a perfect step for me and my career after five years in F1."

      He added: "The racing in IndyCar looks great and I feel really excited to be part of it in the future. It will be a lot to learn including new tracks, oval racing, etc. I know it won't be easy, but it's a challenge I'm very much looking forward to and I can't wait to get started."

      SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt said: "While the circuits on the IndyCar schedule will be brand new to him, particularly the ovals, we have a lot of confidence and trust in his eagerness to learn along with his work ethic. We think he and James will be a good fit to push one another and fight for those wins."

      The team said Ericsson is not replacing Robert Wickens, who announced last week that he was paralyzed as a result of a crash this summer in Pennsylvania.

      "The number six Honda remains open for 2018 IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Robert Wickens when he wants to and is able to return," the team confirmed in a statement.

      --Field Level Media

  • Kyle Busch avoids drama, keeps series lead
    By Field Level Media / Sunday, October 28, 2018

    MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Kyle Busch had a strong enough car to lead 100 laps Sunday in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but not enough to race for the victory in the closing laps of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race.

    • Ultimately, Busch ran fourth in the opening event in the Round of 8, but he retained a comfortable series lead. The 2015 champion has a 21-point advantage over Martin Truex Jr., Sunday's runner-up, and Kevin Harvick, who finished 10th.

      What's more, Busch is 46 points ahead of his brother Kurt, who ran sixth on Sunday and is the first driver below the current cut line for the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That's a comfortable margin -- unless drivers in the bottom four continue to win races, as Joey Logano did on Sunday at the .526-mile short track.

      "We just weren't turning the center (of the corner)," said Busch, who started from the pole. "We tried to do everything we could to get it to rotate to the center of the corner and get the drive off, and every time we tried to help the drive off, we just made it tighter. And then we tried to come back on that adjustment, and then we just made it looser on exit.

      "It's like nothing we did was helping us. We went one way on our adjustments, which took us backwards. We went another backwards on adjustments which took us backwards, so it was just a matter of we had what we had.

      "I thought the M&M's Camry was faster than that, better than that yesterday in practice and stuff. We made improvements to it for qualifying, but it just didn't hold serve when the rubber was going down, and so that's kind of where we just missed it today."

      ELLIOTT ALREADY IN MUST-WIN MODE

      Chase Elliott made the most of a 19th-place starting position and a balky No. 9 Chevrolet on Sunday, but he left the First Data 500 under water in the Cup Series standings.

      Thanks to excellent pit-work adjustments that improved the car's performance during the race, Elliott managed a seventh-place result, but he is 31 points below the current cut line for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      "It was just really bad, really poor execution on our qualifying effort and better in the race, but not near where we needed to be," Elliott lamented after the race. "So, I'm sure we're in a hole and probably going to have to win one of these next two races.

      "We needed some pace. The guys did a great job on pit road and things to get us kind of back in the ballgame, but definitely not what we want."

      Elliott doesn't expect to be able to claw his way into the top four on points.

      "No, I need to win," he said. "I mean, playing the points game is nice, but I need another sticker."

      The good news is that Elliott has picked up win stickers in two of the past four races, and he's the only driver who has won two events in the playoffs.

      HENDRICK UNVEILS ALLY AS NEW SPONSOR FOR JOHNSON

      Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has a new full-season primary sponsor.

      Roughly an hour before the command to fire engines at Martinsville Speedway, team owner Rick Hendrick announced that Ally Financial has agreed to sponsor Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

      "We are beyond thrilled to be in the fast lane with Jimmie Johnson, one of the most successful drivers in the history of NASCAR, and with Hendrick Motorsports, a premier organization in professional sports," said Jeffrey Brown, Ally's CEO.

      The association with Ally marks a new chapter in Johnson's career as he tries to win a record-breaking eighth championship. Johnson's 17-year association with sponsor Lowe's will end this year, as will the driver's partnership with crew chief Chad Knaus, who will move to the No. 24 Chevrolet of William Byron next season.

      Kevin Meendering, Elliott Sadler's NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief at JR Motorsports, will move up to the Cup level with Johnson next year.

      Johnson underscored the value of a single primary sponsor for the entire season.

      "To have one sponsor for all 38 races for two years ... clearly, I've had just one sponsor, and to enter this new chapter in my racing career and have one sponsor once again, I think says a lot about Hendrick Motorsports and the value of this No. 48 car and also in our sport," Johnson said.

      "As today unfolds, with the media buys they've done and the way they're going to advertise in our sport, and as you see them engage next year, they're really using NASCAR as a marketing tool for their company. You will all be very impressed with their vision and the importance they see in NASCAR racing. (That's) the main reason why they are here and involved."

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • First Data 500 results
    By Field Level Media / Sunday, October 28, 2018

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race -- 70th Annual First Data 500

    • Martinsville Speedway

      Martinsville, Virginia

      Sunday, October 28, 2018

      1. (10) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 500.

      2. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500.

      3. (33) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 500.

      4. (1) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 500.

      5. (7) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500.

      6. (6) Kurt Busch (P), Ford, 500.

      7. (19) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 500.

      8. (16) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 500.

      9. (8) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 500.

      10. (12) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 500.

      11. (5) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 500.

      12. (34) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500.

      13. (13) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 500.

      14. (15) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500.

      15. (23) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.

      16. (17) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500.

      17. (14) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 500.

      18. (36) David Ragan, Ford, 500.

      19. (18) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 500.

      20. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 500.

      21. (2) Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 499.

      22. (35) Paul Menard, Ford, 499.

      23. (24) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 499.

      24. (28) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 498.

      25. (20) Michael McDowell, Ford, 497.

      26. (21) Erik Jones, Toyota, 494.

      27. (29) DJ Kennington(i), Toyota, 493.

      28. (27) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 492.

      29. (22) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 492.

      30. (25) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 491.

      31. (38) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 491.

      32. (32) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 490.

      33. (39) Jeb Burton(i), Chevrolet, 489.

      34. (37) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 488.

      35. (30) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 467.

      36. (26) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 451.

      37. (9) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Engine, 393.

      38. (40) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Engine, 368.

      39. (11) William Byron #, Chevrolet, Accident, 364.

      40. (31) Hermie Sadler III, Chevrolet, Brakes, 230.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 75.31 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 29 Mins, 32 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.107 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 8 for 68 laps.

      Lead Changes: 11 among 6 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Busch (P) 1-30;D. Hamlin 31-44;C. Bowyer (P) 45;K. Busch (P) 46-115;D. Hamlin 116-132;J. Logano (P) 133-359;M. Truex Jr. (P) 360-376;J. Logano (P) 377-418;B. Keselowski 419-459;J. Logano (P) 460-498;M. Truex Jr. (P) 499;J. Logano (P) 500.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Joey Logano (P) 4 times for 309 laps; Kyle Busch (P) 2 times for 100 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 41 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 31 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 2 times for 18 laps; Clint Bowyer (P) 1 time for 1 lap.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,22,18,14,41,31,78,12,4,10

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 22,11,18,78,41,31,9,14,47,2

      --By NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • NASCAR notebook: Bowyer eyeing strong performance at Martinsville
    By Field Level Media / Saturday, October 27, 2018

    MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- With Kyle Busch sitting in the front row, waiting for his turn at the dais in the Martinsville Speedway media center, Clint Bowyer seized on an opening to take a good-natured shot at his fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contender before the drivers hit the track for final practice.

    • Asked to name his favorite Halloween costume as a child, Bowyer didn't miss a beat in responding, "Kyle Busch. It was pretty damn scary."

      "Ha! It was too easy, man," Bowyer added. "No, my favorite? I don't know. It's all about having fun with your kids and trying to get more candy than the next guy. It's about the competition. Leave it to a racer to make Halloween a competition, too."

      In Sunday's First Data 500 at the .526-mile short track (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the competition will turn serious. Bowyer enters the first race in the Playoffs' Round of 8 three points below the cut line for the Championship 4 and 40 points behind Busch, the series leader.

      Of the three tracks in the Round of 8 -- Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix -- Martinsville is arguably Bowyer's best, but the driver of the No. 14 Ford, one of four Stewart-Haas Racing entries still alive in the Playoffs, doesn't think a victory at NASCAR's shortest Cup track is his only path to the Championship 4.

      "I don't think it is necessarily an absolute must-win," Bowyer said. "You can't put that pressure on yourself the first of three races. If you do, you'll probably go out there desperate and make a mistake. We are not in that situation. We need to take care of business on a track that is typically good for me. That doesn't mean you'll go out there and dominate stages or get a race win, but you have to go out there and take care of business on a track that has been good to you over the years and take advantage.

      "Yes, a win would be huge. You allow yourself to think that, 'If I win this thing this weekend, I'm in the dance.' That's a cool thought and something to think about and extra incentive. ... You can't beat yourself. We have put ourselves in a hole before, and I don't think we can do it again."

      BEING THE ONLY GIBBS DRIVER LEFT MAY BE AN ADVANTAGE FOR KYLE BUSCH

      Where Clint Bowyer is one of four teammates still competing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, Kyle Busch is a lone wolf at Joe Gibbs Racing.

      Daniel Suarez didn't make the Playoffs in his final season, and both Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones fell by the wayside in the first round, leaving Busch as the only driver left to carry the JGR banner. That's a far cry from 2016, when JGR placed all four of its drivers in the Round of 8.

      In terms of allocation of resources and help from teammates, the solo status could be a blessing for Busch.

      "I think (having four cars in the Playoffs) puts more strain on the shop, obviously, to have to produce more cars -- more caliber cars to go to the race track each and every week," Busch said. "Everybody puts everything into all their stuff all the time, but there's that added motivation when you're in the Round of 8, so I just think that compounds itself when you have to go with four versus just one.

      "I think, also, when you have four guys in there, you have four that are striving to have really, really good, solid days and the teammate game isn't necessarily teammates. It's all about yourself all the time when you have all four in versus when you have just myself being eligible now.

      "Yeah, there's opportunity for me to get some slack cut my way by my teammates that I wouldn't necessarily ask them to or expect them to. They obviously have to race for what they feel is right as well."

      CHASE ELLIOTT HOPES TO ERASE PAINFUL MARTINSVILLE MEMORIES WITH WIN

      When he entered five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races as a preview to his rookie season, then-19-year-old Chase Elliott got a baptism by fire.

      His debut came at Martinsville, one of the toughest tracks on the circuit to master. Other trips included Richmond, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Martinsville -- not exactly a gentle collection of speedways.

      Elliott would just as soon erase the maiden run at Martinsville from his memory. He qualified 27th and went downhill from there.

      When he took the checkered flag in 2015, he was 38th in a 43-car field, 73 laps down.

      "I've been trying to forget about that day," Elliott said Saturday at Martinsville. "Actually, (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) had a lot to do with choosing those races. I think he tried to pick really tough races, races that I was going to struggle at, and they were terrible, to be completely honest.

      "I'm glad we did it when we did it. I didn't have a whole lot of fun at the time, but I'm glad he chose the races that he did. Alan had a big hand in it, and I was told the races they were thinking about. I'm not going to say no -- I said it sounded good, and off they went."

      Since his debut, Martinsville has been kinder to Elliott. He finished third in the spring race in 2017 and ninth this past March. He was contending for the win in last year's Playoff race until Denny Hamlin knocked him into the Turn 3 wall in the late going.

      But if Elliott is to achieve a personal best at the paper-clip-shaped track and enhance his prospects for a Championship 4 berth at Homestead, he'll have to do so from the 21st starting position he earned in Saturday afternoon's qualifying session for the First Data 500.

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Kyle Busch unofficially scores pole at Martinsville
    By Field Level Media / Saturday, October 27, 2018

    MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Hoping to reverse the outcome of this year's spring race at Martinsville Speedway, Kyle Busch took the first step on Saturday afternoon, winning the pole position for Sunday's First Data 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the first race in the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

    • Driving the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Busch navigated the .526-mile short track in 19.673 seconds (96.254 mph) in the final round of knockout qualifying to edge fellow title contender Clint Bowyer (96.122 mph) for the top starting position by .027 seconds.

      The series leader entering the penultimate round of the Playoffs, Busch earned his fourth Busch Pole Award of the season, his third at Martinsville and the 31st of his career. But it was only a first step.

      Now comes the business of trying to beat Bowyer, who nipped Busch by 1.146 seconds in the sixth race of the regular season. After taking the top spot from Busch on Lap 387, Bowyer led the final 114 laps to seal the victory.

      To start the process of swapping finishing positions with Bowyer, Busch claimed the No. 1 pit stall, the closest to the exit from pit road.

      "Obviously, track position is important, but what's more important is the opportunity to have that pit box," Busch said. "That No. 1 pit box will hopefully do us good, we can have a great day, run up front much of the day and finish there, more importantly.

      "Earlier this year, with Clint here, we were role-reversed, and hopefully we can keep it the way it is right now, this time 24 hours from now."

      With an average starting position of 14.0 this season, Bowyer was elated to put forth a strong effort in time trials.

      "Good God, after the way I have been qualifying lately, it feels like I'm sitting on four poles," said Bowyer, who enters the race tied for fifth in the series standings, facing a cut to the top four drivers two weeks hence at Phoenix. "We're on the front row, man.

      "When you won here in the spring, you know you have a shot. It is cool weather, kind of the same conditions. Obviously, it wasn't the pole and Kyle was faster. Kyle is really good at laying laps down. I like the Sunday afternoon drives."

      Bowyer barely made it to the front row, edging Denny Hamlin (96.112 mph) for the second spot on the grid by .002 seconds. Ryan Blaney, who ran the fastest lap of time trials in the first round, qualified fourth, followed by playoff drivers Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch.

      Joey Logano was 11th fastest in the final round. Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron secured the 12th starting spot after bumping playoff driver Kevin Harvick to 13th with 23 seconds left in the second round.

      Chase Elliott, a two-time winner in this year's Playoffs, qualified 21st in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

      With just under nine minutes left in the opening round, Bubba Wallace wheel-hopped the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into Turn 3, spun into the outside wall and damaged the car beyond repair. Wallace will start from the rear of the field in a backup car.

      MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES QUALIFYING -- 70th Annual First Data 500, Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Va.

      (unofficial results)

      1. (18) Kyle Busch (P) @, Toyota, 96.254 mph.

      2. (14) Clint Bowyer (P) @, Ford, 96.122 mph.

      3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 96.112 mph.

      4. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 96.093 mph.

      5. (10) Aric Almirola (P) @, Ford, 96.058 mph.

      6. (78) Martin Truex Jr. (P) @, Toyota, 95.932 mph.

      7. (41) Kurt Busch (P) @, Ford, 95.883 mph.

      8. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 95.781 mph.

      9. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 95.704 mph.

      10. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 95.607 mph.

      11. (22) Joey Logano (P) @, Ford, 95.516 mph.

      12. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 95.266 mph.

      13. (4) Kevin Harvick (P) @, Ford, 95.530 mph.

      14. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 95.472 mph.

      15. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 95.444 mph.

      16. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 95.434 mph.

      17. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 95.352 mph.

      18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 95.323 mph.

      19. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 95.208 mph.

      20. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 95.184 mph.

      21. (9) Chase Elliott (P) @, Chevrolet, 95.146 mph.

      22. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 95.084 mph.

      23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 95.079 mph.

      24. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 95.027 mph.

      25. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 95.165 mph.

      26. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 95.132 mph.

      27. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 95.094 mph.

      28. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 95.079 mph.

      29. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 95.070 mph.

      30. (95) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 94.960 mph.

      31. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 94.411 mph.

      32. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 94.387 mph.

      33. (96) DJ Kennington(i), Toyota, 93.919 mph.

      34. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 93.719 mph.

      35. (00) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 93.088 mph.

      36. (51) Jeb Burton(i), Chevrolet, 92.878 mph.

      37. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 92.678 mph.

      38. (7) Hermie Sadler III, Chevrolet, 92.497 mph.

      39. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 90.000 mph.

      40. (99) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • NASCAR notebook: Gragson enters Round of 6 with no practice
    By Field Level Media / Friday, October 26, 2018

    MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- It was 11:15 on a rainy Friday morning, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff driver Noah Gragson was already on his second hot dog when he took questions from reporters at Martinsville Speedway.

    • "The first one was mustard and slaw," Gragson said of the Martinsville dog. "I don't like chili, but I got chili on the second one, and it's not bad. It's got a little beef jerky taste to it, so it's not bad."

      The hotdogs may be a consistent amenity at the .526-mile short track, but the racing surface at the oldest Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series facility is variable and fickle.

      "I feel like this race track itself is different every time you come here," said Gragson, who is third in the playoff standings, 11 points ahead of fifth place, with the field set to be narrowed to the top four in three races hence at Phoenix. "You can come with the same setup for 10 years and you're going to run differently every single time. It's just the way the track takes rubber.

      "I feel like the weather and the temperature outside plays a big part in that."

      With persistent rain forcing cancellation of all track activity on Friday, Gragson was resigned to qualifying on Saturday morning with no practice.

      "I'm coming back with a different setup than what we had in the springtime here, so not getting any practice, you can't really lean on past success here," said Gragson, who picked up his first victory in the series at last year's playoff race at Martinsville. "Just been trying to work hard with my crew chief, Rudy Fugle.

      "He and I sat down. We had ice cream a couple days ago for about an hour and just talked about this weekend and what we needed to do about this round in the playoffs and then Martinsville and just coming here with a different setup. It's going to be challenging."

      IT'S BACK TO PLAYOFF BEAST MODE FOR GRANT ENFINGER

      After a welcome breather at his home track, Talladega Superspeedway, the intensity of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs returns for Grant Enfinger in Saturday's Texas Road House 200 at Martinsville (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

      Enfinger earned a relatively stress-free trip to Talladega with an impressive victory at Las Vegas in the second race of the Round of 8. That win guaranteed him a spot in the Round of 6, but entering Saturday's race at NASCAR's shortest track, Enfinger is four points ahead of Justin Haley in fourth, with the Playoff set to be cut to four drivers two weeks later at Phoenix.

      "Talladega was kind of an anomaly for us," Enfinger told the NASCAR Wire Service at Martinsville. "We've kind of had the same mind-set all year long, to be aggressive but also be smart. We still need stage points, everything we can get. Every position matters. That's the mind-set this weekend.

      "Obviously, it was a huge load off to get that win and to automatically advance through the last round, but now everything's the same (after the points reset). It would be really nice to do that again this weekend, and I feel like we've got a truck that can do it. We've had really good Ford Performance F-150s the last couple months here. It seems like we've really elevated."

      AFTER TALLADEGA NAIL-BITER, BRETT MOFFITT IS UPBEAT ABOUT TITLE CHANCES

      Despite being a four-time winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, Brett Moffitt had a close call in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Round of 8 elimination race at Talladega.

      After sustaining early damage, he finished 17th and advanced to the Round of 6 by eight points. But after the points reset, Moffitt enters Saturday's race at Martinsville back in second place in the standings with a 13-point cushion over fifth place -- not to mention considerable optimism about his prospects of advancing to the Championship 4 race at Homestead.

      "Yeah, for sure," Moffitt said. "We ran decent here in the spring. This round in general is just three better race tracks for us. I think for most of the field, you know the road course and Talladega all in one round had everyone nervous and everyone aggressive at Vegas.

      "I think everyone's going to be a little bit smarter here, and we can go back to our past success this season and try to rely on that to get through to Homestead and hopefully fight for a championship."

      --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • Almirola has 'nothing to lose' entering NASCAR's Round of 8
    By Field Level Media / Friday, October 26, 2018

    In a certain sense, Aric Almirola is "playing with house money" as he makes a run at his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship. Although he has long been considered a talent, the 34-year-old Tampa native is surpassing even high expectations during these playoffs in his first season with the Stewart-Haas Racing team.

    • The four-car championship organization is a perennial favorite in the Cup Series and this year makes up half the remaining Round of 8 championship field. And the "new guy" in the SHR group, Almirola, has absolutely seized opportunity and exceeded first-year potential by most accounts. He is not only keeping up with his SHR teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch, he's the only member of the team to win in the playoffs to date (at Talladega).

      Almirola sits in eighth place -- only 12 points behind the leading four drivers in the standings -- as the last championship round begins Sunday with the First Data 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

      Forget any championship pressure for Almirola. Many already consider him an "overachiever" in a career-best season. His shot at his first title in his first year with the team has been extremely satisfying. He has never advanced this far in the playoffs.

      "I do think I am capable of handling the pressure of the championship because I don't feel like there is a lot of pressure," Almirola said. "I feel like we've exceeded our expectations for this year. I don't think many people expected us to make it as far as we have.

      "At this point we have nothing to lose. Going for a championship at Homestead would just be icing on the cake this year."

      As for the expression that has seemed to follow him this season, "overachiever," Almirola would agree to a certain extent.

      "I feel like our season has been tattooed with adversity," he said. "We've been close so many times to winning races but we've had a lot of stuff happen to us. What doesn't kill you will make you stronger. For our team, we've had a lot of character-building races and I feel like we're stronger because of it."

      Even prior to winning at Talladega two weeks ago -- his second career victory and first since a win at Daytona in the summer of 2014 -- Almirola was making good on this new opportunity driving the No. 10 Ford with SHR.

      His three top-five finishes to date equals a career-high mark and his 14 top-10 finishes is double his best previous-best career effort in six seasons. He's led a career-high 181 laps in 2018 -- easily surpassing his previous career-best mark of 78 laps led back in his 2012 rookie season.

      And there's still four races remaining in the season to add to those numbers.

      While Almirola had obviously hoped to make the playoffs after joining the successful SHR team, he concedes he's been pleasantly surprised how his team has mastered the learning curve so quickly -- new driver and new team led by first-year crew chief Johnny Klausmeier.

      "Obviously, we wanted to win, but our goal going into the season was to be consistent and run top-15 and don't put too much pressure on ourselves, don't bite off more than we can chew because usually you choke when that happens," Almirola said, "that was kind of our motto, our mentality.

      "We did pretty that pretty well."

      No denying that. And yet for all the personal bests he's already recorded this year, Almirola sincerely insists the best part is being a part of the success of the whole SHR operation. And he is proud to be a viable contributor to it all.

      "To have 400 employees at SHR and to have all of them pulling their weight and pulling the rope in the same direction, it's hard to get two people on the same page," Almirola explained. "But to have 400 employees helping each other out and doing whatever it takes for the team, it has been incredible for me to witness that and to be part of that."

      Earning a position in the Cup Series' Final Four for the Nov. 18 Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale will be challenging, Almirola concedes. He has never won at any of the upcoming three tracks -- Martinsville, Texas Motor Speedway or Phoenix's new-look ISM Raceway -- that set the championship-eligible field.

      Almirola has three top-10 finishes at this week's Martinsville half-miler and it's the only venue he has led laps among the three upcoming tracks. His last top-10 was eighth in 2014 and he was 14th this spring.

      Statistically, anyway, the Texas Motor Speedway 1.5-miler has historically posed the biggest challenge of the trio of tracks. He has only one top 10 there -- a seventh-place showing in 2013. He was 32nd this spring after being involved in a crash.

      The ISM Raceway will debut a completely new look next month so past performance isn't necessarily indicative of future expectations. However, Almirola has finished top 10 in his last two races there -- ninth last November and seventh this March.

      "It would be incredible to make the Round of 4," Almirola said. "I think for us, and for me personally, that's not something I am used to. I know some of the other drivers that I'm racing against expect to be in the Round of 4 and that's pretty common for them. But for me, that's unchartered territory, and that's an opportunity for me and my career that I've never had before.

      "So if we're at Homestead with a shot to go for the championship that would certainly be the pinnacle of my career and then to top it off with that trophy would be awesome."

      --Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

  • IndyCar's Wickens reveals his legs are paralyzed
    By Field Level Media / Friday, October 26, 2018

    Canadian IndyCar Series driver Robert Wickens, who was involved in a horrific crash on Aug. 19, announced Thursday that his legs are paralyzed.

    • Wickens, 29, sustained a thoracic spinal fracture, a spinal cord injury and other serious injuries during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

      On Thursday, he posted a video on his Instagram account, showing him picking up his legs and moving them as he slid himself off a table into a wheelchair.

      Accompanying the video, he wrote, "Did my first slide transfer as a paraplegic today. My upper body is getting stronger and stronger and hopefully I'll be able to do it unassisted soon. I've only been posting videos of the small movement in my legs, but the reality is I am far away from walking on my own. Some people are a bit confused with the severity of my injury, so I wanted let you know the reality of it. I've never worked harder for anything in my life, and I am giving it all I've got to spark those nerves in my legs."

      Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Pietro Fittipaldi and Takuma Sato were the drivers involved in the Aug. 19 crash. Hunter-Reay and Wickens made the initial contact, and Wickens' car became airborne. The nose of the car hit the outside wall as the car traveled at full speed. Debris flew across the track, and Wickens' car damaged the fence.

      Last month, Wickens' IndyCar team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, confirmed the full extent of the driver's injuries. In addition to the spinal injuries, he sustained a neck fracture, tibial and fibular fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, a fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion.

      Wickens competed in 14 IndyCar races this season and won the circuit's Rookie of the Year award. He earned the pole for the race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and he finished second in two races. Wickens placed in the top five in seven races.

      --Field Level Media

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By Field Level Media / Wednesday, October 24, 2018

    MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: FIRST DATA 500 (500 laps, 263 miles around a .526-mile paperclip oval), Martinsville Speedway; Martinsville, Va.

    • TV: Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 2:43 p.m. ET) -- NBCSN (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: Chase Elliott was already in the Round of 8 in the playoffs, but he won for the second time in three weeks Sunday to emphatically state his case as the series' hottest driver. ... The Round of 8 starts Sunday at Martinsville as the eight drivers still in playoff contention look to make the final four for the season finale at Homestead over the next three races. ... The four drivers eliminated after Elliott's win at Kansas were Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. ... This will be the 140th Cup race at Martinsville, which hosted its first race in 1949. ... Playoff contender Clint Bowyer won at the track in March, with Kyle Busch winning this race last year. ... There are five Ford Fusions, two Toyota Camry's and one Chevrolet Camaro in the final eight. ... This is the 33rd of 36 races on the season. ... A win in any of the next three races by a playoff driver automatically puts them in the final four. All four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers are still alive. ... Kyle Busch leads the standings after the points reset in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (4,055 points), followed by SHR Ford driver Kevin Harvick (4,054), JGR's Martin Truex Jr. (4,038), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver Elliott (4,018), SHR's Bowyer (4,015), Team Penske Ford driver Joey Logano (4,015), SHR's Kurt Busch (4,015) and Aric Almirola (4,006).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES

      THIS WEEK: The series opened its Round of 8 at Kansas and no playoff driver won, as the trophy went to first-time series winner John Hunter Nemechek. Contenders Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Cole Custer all had disastrous days by getting involved in a first-lap wreck that eventually left Bell, Allgaier and Cindric 37th-39th respectively with each earning one point, while Custer limped home 26th for an 11-point day. ... Now the series takes a week off before resuming Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway, a track similar to Kansas. ... Elliott Sadler leads the points (3,058), followed by Daniel Hemric (3,057), Tyler Reddick (3,055), Bell (3,045), Matt Tifft (3,044), Allgaier (3,040), Custer (3,022) and Cindric (3,002).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: ALPHA ENERGY SOLUTIONS 200 (200 laps, 105.2 miles around a .526-mile paperclip oval), Martinsville Speedway; Martinsville, Va.

      TV: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 1:13 p.m. ET) -- FS1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: The Trucks are back at Martinsville, where there's always a good show for race cars with tailgates. ... This race starts the Round of 6, where the drivers have two races to make the final four at Homestead. ... This will be the 40th series race at the track, with Noah Gragson winning this race last year. Nemechek won here in March. ... After a week off next week, they head to Phoenix for the final race in the round. ... Johnny Sauter leads the Truck points (3,042), followed by Brett Moffitt (3,027), Gragson (3,025), Grant Enfinger (3,018), Justin Haley (3,014) and Matt Crafton (3,003).

      (All stats and standings per NASCAR.com)

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES

      THIS WEEK: The 2019 season starts March 10 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

      FORMULA ONE: MEXICAN GRAND PRIX (71 laps, 195.037 miles around a 2.747-mile 17-turn permanent road course), Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez; Mexico City.

      TV: Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET (Green flag approx. 2:40 p.m. ET) -- ABC (Radio: SiriusXM Radio Channel 132).

      THIS WEEK: The title didn't get settled at Circuit of the Americas last week, but Lewis Hamilton is a virtual lock with three races to go. He needs to finish seventh or better in Mexico City to earn his fifth championship. ... Kimi Raikkonen won in Austin with a one-stop strategy that worked to perfection. ... This will be the 19th of 21 races on the season and the 19th Mexican Grand Prix overall. ... The 17th and final turn on the track, the "Peraltada" is one of the fastest in F1 and sets up cars for a slingshot dynamic to the start/finish line, though it is not as fast as it once was after Hermann Tilke's redesign in 2015. ... Great Britain's Hamilton leads the standings in his Mercedes (346 points), followed by Germany's Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari (276), Finland's Raikkonen, Ferrari (221), Finland's Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes (217) and Belgium's Max Verstappen, Red Bull (191).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION: NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS, Friday-Sunday, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Las Vegas, Nev.

      TV: Eliminations, Sunday, 7-10 p.m. ET -- FS1 (tape delayed)

      THIS WEEK: It's off to Las Vegas for the penultimate and 23rd event of the season. ... The field narrowed greatly two weeks ago at Charlotte and put the title races in sharper focus, as any driver more than 150 points out of the lead has to be considered a long shot. ... Winners at Charlotte were Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Ron Capps in Funny Car, Jason Line in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle. ... Torrence leads the Top Fuel standings (2,592 points), followed by Clay Millican (2,423), Tony Schumacher (2,382), Leah Pritchett (2,297), Antron Brown (2,253), Brittany Force (2,243), Mike Salinas (2,228), Doug Kalitta (2,225), Terry McMillen (2,221) and Scott Palmer (2,149). ... Robert Hight leads Funny Car (2,445), followed by J.R. Todd (2,434), Capps (2,336), Tim Wilkerson (2,334), Tommy Johnson Jr. (2,296), Courtney Force (2,264), John Force (2,241), Matt Hagan (2,229), Jack Beckman (2,204) and Shawn Langdon (2,152). ... Tanner Gray leads Pro Stock (2,509) followed by Jeg Coughlin Jr. (2,379), Vincent Nobile (2,373), Drew Skillman (2,356), Erica Enders (2,338), Greg Anderson (2,299), Line (2,291), Bo Butner (2,186), Deric Kramer (2,168) and Chris McGaha (2,096). ... Smith leads Pro Stock Motorcycle (2,426), followed by LE Tonglet (2,385), Eddie Krawiec (2,370), Jerry Savoie (2,326), Andrew Hines (2,291), Hector Arana Jr. (2,288), Angie Smith (2,221), Angelle Sampey (2,216), Steve Johnson (2,209) and Scotty Pollacheck (2,177).

      --Field Level Media