Tag:Tony Stewart
Posted on: September 25, 2011 6:52 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 8:40 am

Speed Read: New Hampshire

By Pete Pistone


Sylvania 300 Recap

Call it irony, poetic justice or just plain old racing luck. 

Anyway you look at it, it’s a win for Tony Stewart.

A year after having victory snatched away on the closing lap of the Sylvania 300 when he ran out of fuel, Stewart returned the favor to Clint Bowyer on Sunday and in the process leaped to the top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. 

“That is not the way you want to win it for sure,” who became the first driver since Greg Biffle in 2008 to open the Chase with two straight wins. “We’re in the Chase now and we have to get everything we can get. I feel bad for him. It is fun racing him. I mean, he had the better car there at then. Our only chance was to catch him in lapped traffic. Head-to-head, he was a little better than we were. It is hard to lose them that way…” 

Stewart has lost race the same way so there won’t be much time spent on feeling sorry for Bowyer.

But Stewart also won’t focus too much time on his lot in the championship race or his quest for a third Sprint Cup title. Although he’s off to the best possible start, Stewart knows all too well how long the road is to winning a crown.

“One day at a time like we’ve done for 31 years of our racing career,” Stewart said. “The philosophy of how to win races and championships doesn’t change from week to week, you do the same thing. It starts on Friday and you take it one day at a time.”

That approach has worked well for Stewart over the last month, as he’s put together a solid streak that first carried him into the playoffs and now has shot him to the top of the standings. 

“The last four weeks have been awesome,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a tough hurdle ahead of us next week at Dover. We really struggled there and that’s the one race in the Chase that I’m worried about most. So this is the best scenario we can have going into it. Our guys are pumped up and I am proud of Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and these guys. They never give up. So we are going to keep digging for these next eight weeks.” 

Even with a perfect Chase going, Stewart isn’t taking anything for granted. 

“We have eight long weeks still, man,” he said. “It’s way too early to being counting chickens right now.” 

He may very well be right. But at the very least Stewart has all his eggs in the right basket right now.



Brad Keselowski  

Refuses to fade out of championship picture and for the second straight week played the fuel game well to finish second behind Stewart. While strategy has helped Keselowski get the Chase off to a good start with two straight solid finishes, he’s also had fast racecars and the chemistry with crew chief Paul Wolfe is really starting to become one of the best in the series. 

Jeff Gordon 

One of those drivers that needed a bounce back from Monday’s fuel hiccups in Chicago and was able to rebound from a 24th to open the Chase with a fourth on Sunday. Gordon might have had an even higher finish but had to throttle back to save fuel in the closing laps. Speed not an issue with the No. 24 team but fuel calculations need to be sharpened up in the coming weeks. 

Matt Kenseth 

Like Gordon Kenseth had to have a turnaround from the Chicago frustration in New Hampshire. However it almost turned out to be a disastrous day for Kenseth when he was punted by Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards and spun around just past the halfway mark. An impressive charge back to the front of the field resulted in a sixth place finish and a return to the title picture. 



Denny Hamlin

Came about two laps shy of redeeming himself after Monday’s 31st place finish in Chicago. Hamlin appeared headed to potentially a Top 5 finish until he came up short on fuel and coasted home 29th. His championship hopes were on life support coming into Loudon and the plug was pulled on Sunday. The No. 11 team will use the last eight races of the season to tune up for 2012.

Clint Bowyer  

Appeared on his way to a second straight Sylvania 300 win until the winds of fate intervened. After inheriting the lead from Stewart running out of fuel on the final lap last year to go to victory lane, Bowyer had the roles reversed in 2011 and a potential first win of a long season was snatched away by the fuel game on Sunday. 

Ryan Newman  

The July New Hampshire winner started the weekend with a pole-winning performance and had his sights set on at least a Top 10 finish on Sunday. But a tire went down in the closing laps sending Newman to pit road and out of contention. He wound up 29th in the final rundown and plummeted to 11th in the Chase standings in the aftermath.



(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs) 

"If that's not a flip-flop from last year, I don't know what is.” – Tony Stewart  

“This is a joke. This is a joke. Again, this is a joke.'' – Kyle Busch 

"We're going to be a #&%^*& half a track behind when they pit." – Kevin Harvick

"I truly was doing everything I could to stop." – Carl Edwards after making contact with teammate Matt Kenseth

"We need to get ready to not be on stage in Vegas again." – Kurt Busch

“Just let me do my *##*(@ thing.'' – Jimmie Johnson to Chad Knaus about his “annoying” cheerleading



On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s Sylvania 300 a three. After a pretty sedate opening third business picked up with some hard driving and frayed emotions around the midway point. Then as has been the case all season no matter where the series races, fuel mileage and pit strategy kicked in and the intrigue began. Story lines were all over the place in the final twenty laps before the ironic ending of Bowyer running out of fuel to give the win to Stewart – a complete reversal of last year’s race – played itself out. Smoke has started the Chase in the best possible way and the championship picture is off to an interesting beginning 


“The Monster Mile” is next for the Sprint Cup Series as the Chase heads to Dover International Speedway for round three of the championship season. Jimmie Johnson flexed his muscles there in last season’s Chase stop as Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin waged war on one another. No reason to believe fuel mileage and pit strategy won’t again be part of the equation next Sunday and in fact I’d plan on that pretty much every week for the rest of the season.


For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @ppistone on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

More NASCAR coverage

Posted on: September 19, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 6:47 pm

Tony Stewart, Darian Grubb post Chicago comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

It was really good day all around for us.  We started out 26th.  We knew we were going to be struggling for track position all day.        

Tony was still able to make up a few positions those first few runs, even though the car wasn't perfect.  The picker did an awesome job getting him in and out of the pits and doing adjustments and got the car a lot better those first two runs.           

I think we gained five positions the first run, ten positions the second run.  After that it was steadily marching forward from there.           

And the very end, the fuel mileage we knew was going to be an issue.  But Tony is one of the best at saving fuel.  We tried to keep him updated on who we were racing and how far we were ahead and making sure we had enough to make it to the end.           

Q.  How concern were you after the practices?  Looked like maybe it didn't go the way you wanted?  Did you feel like you had something you weren't showing?           

DARIAN GRUBB:  Felt like we had a top 10 car at the end of practice.  We definitely didn't have the fastest speed out there.  We knew we were going to have to have a little bit to figure it out.  But the guys did a good job in engineering.  The SIM group came up with a few changes we needed and started out pretty close, especially regarding track conditions.  It was really close to what we had the first two practices today with it being cloudy and a little cooler.           

So we were actually pretty impressed with how close it was and just a couple of adjustments.  We went a little bit too far with the first adjustment on the first stop.  Then we backed half of that back out and pretty much stayed around that area for the rest of the race.            

Q.  It was after Michigan that Tony said you guys shouldn't be in The Chase.  You had three really strong weeks in a row.  So what has changed and what has pushed you guys on that upward spiral?  And Tony said on Thursday I guess it was he didn't think he was a championship contender.  He said seven guys were and that he said that the 14th wasn't.  Did you agree with that?  Does that change this?           

DARIAN GRUBB:  That's Tony's mindset.  We all work too hard to even come to feeling that way.  They were definitely heat in the battle comments he made.  We had a bad run from what we expected to have at Michigan.  We didn't feel at that point we were contenders.           

You leave there, then you go in the shop the next morning and you put your game face back on and you say we're contenders, we'll be Chase contenders.  That's the way we treat it.  We don't work any differently.  We work really hard.  The 11 guys we're racing against are going to be the toughest every week.  We know that.  We gotta come out on top when we can.  We'll have a off week here and there.  But the hardest we can work is the best we can work.           

Just keep doing that.  And everybody at Stewart Haas Racing did a great job keeping their head up.  Even after those comments, took a little bit to rally the troops and keep the morale up.  That was the feeling after the first two weeks.  Then we had these two solid runs leading into this week and this win, should keep everybody pumped up.  Strong race this week for both Stewart Haas Racing.            

Q.  Do you have to say anything to him like, hey, dude, we are a championship contending team, or just let him be his crazy self and you worry about your guys?           

DARIAN GRUBB:  We do a little bit of both.  We've had conversations to where I have to do things to keep him pumped up let him know what we're doing to get better.  That's the biggest thing is making sure he knows what we're working on to try to get better.  Because where we are is not the best.  We know we have some areas to improve on.           

If I give him feedback of what we're working on in the engineering group and things to get better, it makes him a little more confident that I'm not just blowing smoke.  I'm really telling him what we're doing to get better, and we go to the racetrack and we prove it to him.  Once we do that we get better.            

Q.  Chase opener last year, you guys did run out of gas.  Were you thinking about that at the end?           

DARIAN GRUBB:  I honestly did not think about it during the run until after the race when somebody else brought it up.  You deal with every week on its own and we had a fast race car both times and this time luckily it worked out in our favor.  We tell him that every once in a while ourselves.           

THE MODERATOR:  Let's hear from Tony Stewart.  Champion race today.  Won the Geico 400.  No. 14 Office Depot Mobil 1 Chevrolet.  Fortieth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.  Ties him with Mark Martin.  16th all time.  Also gives him a win in 13 straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  So congratulations on that.  And talk about getting off to a great start in The Chase.          

TONY STEWART:  You couldn't pick a better weekend to get that first win of the year than here at Chicago, obviously.  We felt like there were three or four opportunities earlier in the year that we let some get away from us.  But we have struggled.           

We've had a miserable year.  But the last three weeks have really started coming into it.  We had a really good run in Atlanta.  Good solid run last week at Richmond and then to come out this weekend, I didn't honestly know going into the race, I don't think Darian either one of us thought that we had as good a car as we thought we needed to win today.  But it didn't take long in the race to figure out that we were pretty solid.           

It was just getting the track position.  I mean, it was really hard at the beginning of the race to make up any ground.           

And then we had one restart there where we just, we caught a bunch of guys messing around with each other and we were able to just pick them off two at a time.           

Couple times we were three wide and through the middle and in positions that we didn't want to be in and that we typically wouldn't put ourselves in.  But the way guys were racing today, you had to take chances.  You had to put yourself in bad spots.           

Everybody was putting each other in bad spots during the day.  And you just had to    some guys in particular you just had to get through and get away from them.           

And it seemed like once we got through that batch of cars, we were able to keep going forward.  And I think we went from 18th to 7th or 6th or something in two stints there.           

So once we got up toward the front we had a car that was good enough at that point to pick off a couple more cars on the restarts and once we got in the top four there, I think it was, once we got to that point it was    as long as we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot, we were in position to at least have a nice, solid top 5 finish.  We knew we had speed.           

Just depended on what line you ended up restarting on, whether it was inside or outside.  Seemed like we were better on the outside row.           

But at the end you hate to have to play the fuel mileage game.  But that's just the way the caution came out.  And we came in and got fuel and Darian told me we had to save a lap's worth of fuel.           

So we had a whole run to do it.  But we kept a lot of pressure on Matt and finally got by him and once we got out to a second half, two second lead we could start backing off to their pace and start saving fuel.           

And I felt like I'd saved enough to get us to the end.  But we came off of turn 2 after we got the checkered and the fuel pressure was down to two pounds, and it stayed there until just shortly after we picked up the checkered flag at the flag stand and we didn't do any wild burnout or anything like that and ran out before we ever got on pit road.           

So we were closer than I wanted to be.  But we didn't have anything to lose.  Where we're at in The Chase right now, we had to press.  And I was glad I saved as much as I did.  But I had a good enough car to get us there and Darian and his calls and the car that they gave us the opportunity to get to the lead to where we were able to do that.            

Q.  Tony, do you recall about how many laps were left when you started saving fuel and then was there a point with three, four, five to go when you knew you could just go flat out from there?           

TONY STEWART:  I don't know what lap we took the lead.  But it was probably roughly four or five laps after we got the lead.  And it took to build that two second lead.  Once we got out there that's when we started really conserving and trying to take care of it to the end.           

And all we were doing was just trying to match their pace.  Darian was giving me intervals every lap, and I didn't care what my lap time was.  I was just more worried about what the interval was.           

Because we knew they had to kind of sell me that Truex was going to have to pit.  And once they got me sold on that we just kept worrying about our pace with Jimmie and Matt at that point.            

Q.  Tony, even on the Thursday you said you thought you guys were really the underdogs and kind of named a bunch of other people.  How do you feel now?  Does this put you squarely does that change your mindset on that?           

TONY STEWART:  I'm not sure one weekend can do that.  But I feel better about it, obviously.  We've had three good weekends in a row.  Today doesn't change my mind.  But the last three weeks definitely make me feel better about it.          

We've still got nine hard weeks to go.  And we have some tracks that have been a struggle this year.  So we've got a long way to go but this gets us off to the right start.            

Q.  At any time did you have flashbacks to last year, New Hampshire, when you were trying to stretch the fuel there and worry that it could all blow up the wrong way?           

TONY STEWART:  No, I didn't.  I was just worried about our interval, honestly.  We've lost a lot more fuel mileage deals than we've ever won.           

So you really don't have time to think about what happened a year ago.  I mean, I'm listening to him and worrying more about the intervals.            

Q.  Tony, third one at Chicagoland, 40 years, fortieth win, looks like you're going to have a good year the rest of the year.  Do the numbers mean anything to you?  Do you play the numbers game at all?           

TONY STEWART:  I hope it doesn't mean that I have to wait until I'm 41 to get another win.  Because that's going to suck, having to wait and get one a year.  But I'm proud of that after hearing what he said, to be tied with Mark Martin, that's a huge honor in this sport.           

Mark's been one of the guys that's been one of my mentors and somebody that's on my top five on my hero list, and I'm probably the most proud of that fact after winning today than anything.           

He's somebody I've got a lot of respect for and a lot of admiration for.  And I wish I could be more like him.  But that's pretty cool to be sitting here and be tied with him it's pretty neat.            

Q.  Tony, you said where we're at in The Chase right now we had to press.  12 points, it doesn't seem first race doesn't really seem from this perspective that you're in a press situation at that point.  Can you kind of explain that a little bit more?           

TONY STEWART:  Tied for ninth in the points somewhere.  We had nowhere to go but up.  But what are we going to lose if we take a gamble and it doesn't work?  We really weren't taking a gamble, but I was more worried about getting the win than I was worrying about what was going to happen if we didn't win the race.           

So we had nowhere to go but up.  So we could put that pressure on those guys.  It's still ten weeks, but we had    we needed every point we could get today because we may not    we may have an off week in the next nine weeks.  So we're going to need everything we can get right now.            

Q.  Is it a situation where you're just happy about the win, win or nothing at that point?           

TONY STEWART:  It wasn't win or nothing.  We ran hard enough to get to the lead.  If we ran too hard getting to the lead and ran out, there was a chance they were going to run out, too.           

But we weren't going to be any more conservative than those guys were.  I mean, we were going to push them to make the decision to have to save fuel.           

Q.  I guess for both Tony and Darian.  Tony, you said Thursday it was going to take a revelation to kind of get through these last ten weeks and become a title contender.  Does that happen this weekend or it happened today because having despite having won seems like you're pretty subdued about the impact of the victory?           

TONY STEWART:  One day doesn't change the whole season.  Like I said, we've still got, the same thing I said a minute ago, we've got nine races we've got to go through still and today's an awesome day.  I'm proud of what Darian did, I'm proud of our guys.  But we've got nine more hard weeks.           

So this is one of ten.  So there's a lot that can happen and a lot that has to happen.  So unless you guys know what the future is, I can't really answer that accurately.           

DARIAN GRUBB:  You say we're subdued.  But if you hadn't realized, that's kind of the way we are every week.  We come in every week trying to be the fastest race car and doing everything we can to get the best finish we can get.           

And obviously today it all worked out in our favor.  And we're going to try to do the same thing next week.  We don't get a chance to celebrate too much.  We have to be in the shop getting ready for New Hampshire.  We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, nine more weeks to keep doing what we're doing.  Don't want to have too big a high or too big a low.            

Q.  Either one of you, I know Tony said you had to press today.  Now second in points, seven points behind, obviously still a long way to go.  But how do you maintain that or does that change or how do you convince yourself to continue to press based on how well it worked today?           

DARIAN GRUBB:  If you look at it, just the competitors we're racing against, those other 11 guys, you have to press every week.  If you're not, you're not going to compete with those guys, because one of those 11 is going to be pressing a little harder than you are.           

You hope they press their luck a little too much, but you've got to be on top of your game and get every position you can get and every point you can get because it's going to matter when it's all over.            

Q.  At the end of the day, you didn't do anything different?          

DARIAN GRUBB:  No, not at all.            

Q.  This was kind of a surprise last year in The Chase opener that so many people took chances, were you surprised Tony that so many of your fellow Chase contenders gambled on the gas deal and several of them came up short and Darian were you surprised that several of the other teams did the same thing?           

DARIAN GRUBB:  It wasn't a gamble.  It's the way the race laid out and the cautions fell.  That was the lap we had to pit on.  The only thing you could do is be the conservative guy and come in and pit, because you don't want to try to save fuel, but you knew you're a lap down then.  It's not a gamble; it's a call that had to be made considering the laps that were run.           

TONY STEWART:  It's hard for me on my side because knowing    I saw more what Matt and Jimmie were doing.  I didn't know what the scenario was with everybody else as far as whether they could make it or not.           

All I could analyze were the guys we were around at the time.            

Q.  Seems like this team took off after the announcement you were going to add a third team.  Was that a little bit of a hampering until that announcement was made and then after that a little weight off your shoulder let you focus a little more on driving the car less of the owner aspect?           

TONY STEWART:  No, definitely not.  It doesn't affect the decisions that are made day in and day out to make the 14 car and the 39 car competitive.       

So it's ironic that it happened there, I guess, but it didn't have any bearing on how we ran the race team.            

Q.  Tony, when you got kind of ticked off there and said they're a bunch of idiots driving around you, what specifically was making you angry there?  And is that sort of a byproduct of the chase that everybody was kind of scrambling a little earlier than they would normally?           

TONY STEWART:  No, because it wasn't even Chase guys.  It's guys that didn't make The Chase.  But it wasn't a lot of give and take there.  There was a lot of times that it was obvious that guys were quicker than others earlier in the race, and instead of using the etiquette we've had forever    I don't think you're going to see that etiquette anymore.  I think it's just dying off.           

I think guys don't care whether they make anybody mad on the racetrack or not.  They're just going to do what they want to do and they're only solely worried about themselves.           

So we're going to start adopting that attitude.  I mean, I'm tired of being a guy that gives a guy a break and then a guy doesn't do it in return or the guy puts you in a bad situation.  And we were put in multiple bad situations by guys that I got a lot of respect for and that are friends of mine.           

So I'm just going to adapt to their style.  I mean, I'm not going to fight 42 guys to try to convince them to do the right thing.  They don't want to do the right thing, so we're just going to do it their way.  It's a lot easier to not care about anybody but ourselves.  That's what we'll do.            

Q.  Do you feel these younger guys are fearless, they're not earning the veteran drivers' respect, they're coming out here thinking it's all for them, some of these young guys?           

TONY STEWART:  I think in their minds they respect them, but I don't know that    when you had Dale Earnhardt around you learned if you weren't doing the right thing and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace, they would teach you if you were doing something wrong at the wrong time and you see what happens now.  Take somebody out, they get their car fixed, they come out and their sole goal is not to finish it out and get the points they can get.  Their sole purpose on coming back to the racetrack is to return your day.           

So it's just the attitude of everybody on the racetrack is changed.  The ante has I guess gone up.  So there's a part of the sport that I liked because I like the respect that guys gave each other.  There's still guys that do.  You've got guys like Matt Kenseth and Jeff and Jimmie and Harvick.  There's still guys that do.  But the funny thing is that guys that don't do it are the guys that don't have good days all the time.  And they haven't figured out if you work with everybody that everybody else will work with you but you gotta do what everybody else is doing.  And there's a handful of guys that we still know will race us with respect and that's why those guys end up up front every week.  It's our advantage that those guys are the only few guys that know how to do it.            

Q.  I saw you said in your interview you weren't feeling well the other day.  I guess the rain bought you another day.  Would the outcome have been different if you had to race yesterday?           

TONY STEWART:  I've been battling a migraine for a day and a half.  It started about an hour before we qualified Saturday.  We battle it a lot.  There's a lot of weekends we have it.  We've raced with them before.  It's not fun.  I can't say that I remember it's actually affected us in the car.  You get out of the car afterwards and you feel like you want to get hit by a train; it would make you feel better.           

But it definitely seemed like once the weather came through last night about 11:00, it finally broke a little bit.  And finally got a good night's rest.  So it definitely didn't hurt us having that extra day for sure.  But I don't know that it would have mattered yesterday if we were in.            

Q.  I know ultimately it's more about the car than about the history.  But 13 straight seasons now you've never had a season in Sprint Cup with going winless.  What does that mean to you the extent of that today?      

TONY STEWART:  Yeah, it's cool.  It would have been hard to take at the end of the year to break that string.  I mean, I had a long string in USAC of winning a race every year for 15 or 16 years there.  So I don't know how many guys can say that they've won in every year that they've competed in the series.  So that's something I'm really proud of and I've had two great teams that have helped me do that.

More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: September 19, 2011 5:46 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 6:55 pm

Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. post Chicago

Posted by Pete Pistone

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Obviously we gained a lot of spots there at the end with guys that were short of fuel.  But we were running really well at the end.  The car struggled off and on throughout the day.  And we didn't have great track position either.  But at the end the car was really good.  And I think we were up in the top ten there.            

So real happy with being able to adjust the car, improve it.  That's all you can ask for as a driver, that the car gets better all day long.           

We also had been struggling on pit road all year.  And we worked really hard.  The guys worked really hard to improve and they had an excellent day on pit road.            

The car drove ‑‑ like I said, off and on it was pretty decent all weekend.  We tried to be really smart and utilize every minute in practice and try to really focus in practice and get everything we could out of it.  And tried to just be really smart about our adjustments and what we were trying to learn from the car throughout the weekend so we could put a good car out on the starting grid today, and I think we did a good job of that.  I hated how we struggled in the middle part of the race but it was a really competitive field.          

And it was important to try to restart on the inside at least for most guys.  Couple times we had to start on the outside and we'd lose a few spots there and they're so hard to get back.  But real happy how it turned out.           

We were never worried about our fuel mileage.  Steve said we're about three tenths of a lap short before we ever took the green flag for that last run.  We were going a little faster.  We were worrying maybe this was probably the worst fuel mileage we was going to have all day long.  So we started backing off and saving gas with about 20 to go.  And so it's just enough.  It started running out at four but ran to the finish line but it wouldn't have made it another lap.     

Q. Dale, it's your best finish in 14 races.  Is this the shot in the arm that you need?  And I don't know it seems that you flipped a switch all of a sudden.  Not you were able to but you made the end of race adjustments you needed to.  Have you kicked it into another gear?           

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  You know what, I felt like we would do well in The Chase.  These are good tracks for me.  And the tracks where I ran poorly just aren't ‑‑ if you look at my track record I don't run good at those tracks.  And I was hoping Steve would give me a little magic to fix that but we'll have to wait until next year to see.           

I felt we would rebound and kind of return to the form we started at the beginning of the year.  Again a lot of guys ran out of gas.  But we did adjust and improve the car and got faster at the end and drove by a bunch of guys that really weren't saving.            

So that felt pretty good how the car was running at the end.      

Q. Dale, does this feel a little bit like the beginning of the season where you were turning 11th and 12th in the 6th and 7th that maybe you've stolen a little bit and got the early season strategy back and what was it like the closing laps where you're just whizzing by guys as they're running out of fuel?           

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Basically everybody ran out.  The last lap I was counting them when I went by.  I don't know what place I was in to be honest with you so I didn't know where I would finish until after Steve told me.            

But I just knew we were going to get a good finish if we didn't run out of fuel.  I was happy where we were.  I thought we had really improved throughout the day.  And, yeah, it felt a lot similar to how we ran earlier in the year where we would ‑‑ we would use strategy to improve our finishing position.            

THE MODERATOR:  We'll hear now from Kevin Harvick, our race runner up.  And he's also our points leader.  He's got a seven‑point lead now over Tony Stewart.  Lot of excitement towards the end.  Talk about your run.           

KEVIN HARVICK:  It was a solid day for us.  Obviously the last three weeks have been really good for our Budweiser team.  We've just got to keep going.            

I felt like we had saved a fair amount of gas under caution in the first 15, 18 laps, and never really had to push my car very hard and just kind of maintained the pace that I was running.  And as we got a couple of gaps we were able to shut it off five or six times.  And when Gil said go, I guessed it about right, came out off pit road there after we took a checker flagged.  Good calculation by the guys and good solid day.      

Q. Kevin, how nerve‑racking was that over those final 15 or so laps?  It seemed like Ken said I've got to save gas but you never seemed to let up?           

KEVIN HARVICK: We just went about it different.  We tried to do it a different way in the run, and when he turned me loose, I was still a little bit gun shy.  I should have just listened to him.  Because I was probably that one lap that I shut the engine off twice was probably the lap that I needed to catch the 14.            

But either way, I mean, it was still a good day and there was no way we needed to run out of gas.  So that's the ‑‑ you can put yourself in such a big hole right off the bat if you're not careful here.     

Q. Chase drivers were eight of the top ten finishers today.  It seemed like you guys set the tone all day long.  This track has a history of being flukey with a Reutiman win last year.  You guys know what I mean.  Did it feel like today was the championship contenders came out and made a statement, maybe this is what you guys were expecting the rest of the way like you guys said it's going to take top 5s top 10s to win this thing?           

KEVIN HARVICK: I looked up.  I said we've done pretty good, we're seventh.  And I was running behind six guys running in The Chase.  There's a reason that those 12 guys are running where they had all year and are in The Chase and it always seems like everybody steps up this time of year, and those guys just have a little more to go after.            

So, yeah, I don't think that's going to be abnormal.      

Q. 17 was running well, 18 was running well, 48 was in the top 5.  They run out of gas, how big of a hole are they in now?            

KEVIN HARVICK:  Last year we lost the championship by 41 points.  And we missed second by two points and we came behind into The Chase last year, so every point matters at this point because somebody's going to put ten weeks together and make it happen.  And if they don't then I'll be surprised.  But every point matters right now.  You can lose by one point and give up right off the bat you put yourself into a hole.  I don't know about the 48.  He's put himself in a hole a number of times and figured out how to win it.  So who knows about those guys.     

Q. Were you surprised that 18 wasn't as much as a factor as people maybe would have expected here today?           

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  I really thought he ran pretty well.  The one guy I thought was a surprise was 00.  He was good in practice and ran well here last year.  You never know who is going to show up each week, and this was a unique deal with the rain delay and everything else.  And kind of maybe threw a few teams the curveball they didn't expect.           

Like Kevin said, everybody in the top 12, man it was so hard to pass.  Everybody was so competitive and really similar.  So you know if you wanted to hold a guy up you could just real easily take his line away and make it hell for him to get by you.  And that's what a lot of guys do.  So he just ‑‑ I thought the 18 ran pretty well.  He might have had some struggles on pit road or something, lost some spots.  Once you lose a few, it's tough.           

KEVIN HARVICK: I was running six or seven and he was right in there.  I don't know what happened on the pit stop but he just disappeared.  They must have had a bad stop on pit road or something.     

Q. Tony said on Thursday when we got together with you guys that five drivers didn't have a chance to win this thing and he was one of them.  Do you think he was just sandbagging a little bit?           

KEVIN HARVICK: Counting Tony Stewart out, that's pretty funny that he counts himself out.  He's won a ton of races to start off The Chase like they did today, have the notes and teammates and things to lean on at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan and all the stuff they have to lean on, there's no way they're going to be totally out to lunch.  So I think that's yet to be seen.  So he ran strong all day and drove from the back to the front and led the race and won the race.            

So he shouldn't count himself out.  That's pretty funny.     

Q. What was going on pit road, looked like they picked up horsepower.  Can you talk about those engines in general, please, thank you?           

KEVIN HARVICK:  I didn't see any added strength on engines but pit road was it was just a bad scenario.  22 was running up front most of the day and the 9 was running behind me, and I was pitted in between them.  And it was bad for all three of us.            

So there's really no way to get around it other than to try to do the best you can.  And nobody ran into anybody or anybody's guys or anything like that.            

So you just ‑‑ I'm sure the other two guys were as frustrated as I was.  But just a bad qualifying result in a bad pit selection there. 

Q. At the end of the day, what do you take away from this?  I think this is now, I think, four of the last five years, a driver who hadn't won during the regular season wins the opening race in The Chase, a couple guys able to finish third, but the champion hasn't won the first race.  What do you take out of it?           

KEVIN HARVICK:  For me, I'm just happy that we finished second, to be honest with you.  There's still a lot of question marks for us coming into The Chase on the mile‑and‑a‑half stuff.  But the call was solid all weekend.  Stats are stats.  And for us it's one week at a time, one lap, one practice.     

It's just one minute at a time literally going through the motions.  So you just ‑‑ if you can come out of here with a second, during the year it was all about trying to win races.  Now it's about accumulating points.           

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Happy to run third, happy to maximize our potential today, start thinking and working on the next one.     

Q. Kevin, you and the 31 and the 33 have some personnel changes on pit crews this weekend?           

KEVIN HARVICK:  I think there were changes, pit crews changes to make teams better.  I don't know exactly how it shook out.      

Q. Did it feel okay to you?            

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, the last pit spot gained three spots, so it went pretty good.     

Q. What did the rainout do?  Did it take any rubber off the track, or did you see the track staying pretty tight?  We saw the color didn't really change that much.  How did it affect your driving?           

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Made my back hurt from laying on the couch too much.  I know that for sure.  But really I was surprised when the race started as black as the groove was and my car didn't really change much .      

Q. Dale, any comment on the track change from yesterday, the other day?    

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  I didn't really notice much, I thought the track was in good shape when this race started and all day long it was good.  

More NASCAR coverage

Posted on: September 19, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 6:50 pm

Speed Read: Chicagoland

By Pete Pistone


GEICO 400 Race Recap

JOLIET, Ill. – A few weeks ago Tony Stewart told the world he was all but done as a championship contender. 

Then along came Monday’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. 

Stewart’s first win of the season vaulted him to second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings and kicked off his quest for a third series championship in grand fashion. 

But Stewart isn’t making room on his mantle for another Sprint Cup trophy just yet. 

“I'm not sure one weekend can do that,” Stewart said of suddenly thrusting himself into a championship contender.  “But I feel better about it, obviously.  We've had three good weekends in a row.  Today doesn't change my mind.  But the last three weeks definitely make me feel better about it. 

“We've still got nine hard weeks to go.  And we have some tracks that have been a struggle this year.  So we've got a long way to go but this gets us off to the right start.” 

Stewart’s win in the Chase opener was a bit ironic in that it came on fuel mileage. It was the same strategy that wound up biting him in last year’s playoff opening race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when he ran out of gas on the final lap when seemingly ready to cruise to victory lane. 

But Stewart said he didn’t flashback to last year’s New England misery while chasing Monday’s first victory of the season. 

“No, I didn't.  I was just worried about our interval, honestly,” Stewart said turning to crew chief Darian Grubb.  “We've lost a lot more fuel mileage deals than we've ever won.       

“So you really don't have time to think about what happened a year ago.  I mean, I'm listening to him and worrying more about the intervals.” 

Stewart came into the weekend with an attitude that he didn’t have much to lose after getting the ninth seed in the Chase through his regular season performance. But his recent upswing has given the entire Stewart-Haas Racing team confidence, including teammate Ryan Newman who turned in a Top 10 effort Monday, that it can make some noise in this championship season. 

And if it some of it comes via fuel strategy, so be it. 

“We had nowhere to go but up,” Stewart said of his approach to Chicagoland.  “But what are we going to lose if we take a gamble and it doesn't work?  We really weren't taking a gamble, but I was more worried about getting the win than I was worrying about what was going to happen if we didn't win the race.           

“So we had nowhere to go but up.  So we could put that pressure on those guys.  It's still ten weeks, but we had we needed every point we could get today because we may not    we may have an off week in the next nine weeks.  So we're going to need everything we can get right now.”

Stewart got the thing he needed most on Sunday and that’s a trip to victory lane.



Dale Earnhardt Jr.  

There’s no other way to say it but Earnhardt Jr. made the Chase by the skin of his teeth. But throughout the tail end of the regular season when mediocre finishes were disappointing to his many fans but still getting the job done to stay in the playoff hunt, crew chief Steve Letarte promised things would change once the championship run began. He delivered on Monday with a nicely played fuel strategy, adjustments to make Junior’s car better throughout the day and a solid third place finish. 

Brad Keselowski  

Those who thought the storybook run would end when the Chase started were disappointing Monday after Keselowski kicked off the playoffs with a fifth place finish. Crew chief Paul Wolfe did his job on the strategy side of things and Keselowski did his behind the wheel to drive the Miller Lite Dodge right up the standings with his Windy City performance.

Mark Martin  

A season of frustration has punctuated Martin’s final year with Hendrick Motorsports but the veteran driver erased that on Monday with an impressive performance. After starting 25th, Martin dodge a possible damaged front spoiler issue to drive his Chevrolet to the front of the field and at one time turning laps as fast as the race leaders. At the end of the day Martin came home with a ninth place finish.



Denny Hamlin  

Pretty much a microcosm of Hamlin’s season was on display Monday at Chicagoland with a myriad of issues thrown at the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 driver and team. Wound up as the worst finishing Chaser with a 31st place finish and dug himself a giant hole in the championship battle with only one Chase race in the books. 

Greg Biffle   

Was hoping to be one of the non-Chase drivers to make some noise and seemed poised to have a good afternoon at Chicagoland after qualifying seventh. But Biffle’s season-long problems continued Monday with a 26th place finish for the effort. 

Jimmie Johnson  

When is the last time you can remember Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus miscalculating a fuel mileage race? Me either. It happens but it’s rare especially when the stakes are at their highest during the Chase. Johnson’s car coughed across the finish line and after leading earlier and staying in the Top 5 most of the day a disappointing tenth place finish went in the book.



(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs) 

"I just know we can be better than this. I believe it." – Brad Keselowski to crew chief Paul Wolfe

"It's Monday. We're racing. We probably didn't think we'd have that for a job, so that's cool." – Carl Edwards to his team before Monday’s race

"This thing's a (blank) handful now. I don't know what's going on with it." – Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

"We were about 5 second from banging our head against the wall." – Denny Hamlin after his 31st place finish.



On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s Geico 400 a three. Was it worth the wait as much as the Atlanta rained out wait a couple of weeks ago? Probably not. But Monday’s rain-delayed race at Chicagoland Speedway still had its moments. Now with eleven years in existence, the Joliet track is nice and worn out and does make for some good racing – at times. Other times the field gets strung out, as is the case with most intermediate-sized tracks. Fuel mileage has been one of the overriding themes of the season so there’s no reason to believe more like Monday’s race will permeate the Chase. Like it or not the finish was exciting and standings jumbled up when some fuel strategies backfired. And after only one week of the playoffs, we’ve got an interesting race on our hands.



The Chase moves to round two and next weekend’s trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the former site of the playoff opener for a number of years. It will be a completely different animal from this weekend’s intermediate track competition as the series tackles the one-mile “Magic Mile,” which has basically turned into a short track style of racing in recent years. The tight Loudon oval will provide the first opportunity to see if “Boys Have at It” and paybacks will indeed impact the Chase outcome as many predict. After the last few weeks let’s also hope Mother Nature becomes a better race fan and provides NASCAR fans with an improved weather forecast. 

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @ppistone on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: September 14, 2011 3:41 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 5:39 pm

Chase for the Cup predictions

Should Jimmie Johnson start making room for a sixth championship trophy? (US Presswire)

CBSSports.com NASCAR reporter Pete Pistone and NASCAR producer Brian De Los Santos take their best guess as to how the final Chase standings will shake out.

Pete Pistone
After a regular season that produced 15 different winners including five drivers taking their first-career Sprint Cup Series checkered flags, NASCAR is ready for the 2011 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

This year's 12-driver field accounted for 21 wins in the season's first 26 races and includes five former series champions.

Jimmie Johnson is set to take aim at an unprecedented sixth straight championship, but in a season that has produced as much unpredictability as this one has, the Hendrick Motorsports driver could be ripe for finally being unseated. Johnson only has one win to his credit entering the playoff run, the fewest of any of his previous seven Chase appearances, providing some of his competitors with a glimmer of hope the dominance may be fading.

It starts at Chicagoland Speedway and wraps up with Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, so let the Chase begin:

1. Jimmie Johnson: It's good to be the king, and for anyone else to ascend to the throne they have to rise up and take the crown. There hasn't been a driver able to do that in the last five seasons and it won't happen this year either. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus know how to play the Chase game better than anyone. They put together a solid if not dominating regular season that may have been down on victories from previous years, but was not short on the key factor in winning NASCAR titles -- consistency. His feud with Kurt Busch may make this one a little more interesting, but at the end of the 10-week Chase, the story will be a six-pack for Johnson.

2. Jeff Gordon: The resurgence of Gordon this season has been one of the year's pleasant surprises. While great attention was given to team owner Rick Hendrick's decision to pair Steve Letarte with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the organization's massive realignment at the end of last season, Gordon and new head wrench Alan Gustafson have been remarkable. After winning the second race of the year at Phoenix, Gordon did cool off during the middle stretch of the schedule. After dropping as far back as 17th in the standings, he roared back and may have the most momentum of any driver heading into the Chase.

3. Kevin Harvick: He came down to the wire last season and just short of ending Johnson's title run. So Harvick feels there's some unfinished business to take care of in 2011. He was very strong in the opening segment of the season, rattling off three wins in short order by pouncing on late opportunities. But there were some stumbles in the regular season and Harvick endured a summer of some discontent especially with his pit crew's performance. Things seem to have been righted and the No. 29 team is a cohesive bunch once again. RCR having only one car in the Chase may also prove to be beneficial to Harvick's effort with the organizations complete resources at his disposal.

4. Kyle Busch: The No. 1 seed in the Chase by virtue of his four wins and place in the point standings, Busch has his best shot ever to win a Sprint Cup championship. His biggest hurdle will again be himself and overcoming the emotion that still gets the best of him at times. However, while there have been outbursts in his Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series efforts, Busch has been relatively quiet in that department on the Cup side. The nagging issues of Joe Gibbs Racing's engine department are another challenge Busch will need to conquer, but there's no reason to believe he won't be right in the thick of the championship hunt.

5. Carl Edwards: The preseason pick by many (including me) to win the title, Edwards has had a strange year that was overshadowed by his contract situation with Roush Fenway Racing and his future career plans. Now that he has settled into a long-term deal at RFR, Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne have no outside distractions and obstacles to get in the way of a full assault on the crown. Edwards has been very good in the weeks leading up to the Chase including a solid second-place outing at the regular-season finale in Richmond and will look to ride that momentum to a hot start in the playoffs.

6. Matt Kenseth: The quintessential sleeper is back in the Chase and has put together a typically consistent year to punch his ticket to the playoffs. Kenseth's 14 top-10 finishes, seven top 5's and two victories were one of his strongest regular-season performances in recent years. He'll have to get past a few tracks inside the Chase -- such as Martinsville -- that have been challenges during his Cup career to make a serious charge for a second title.

7. Kurt Busch: Busch was the only driver to stay inside the top 10 of the point standings all through the regular season. But the bad news is he fell from the lead to eighth place after enduring a summer stretch filled with struggles, bad luck and high emotion that helped rekindle a feud with Jimmie Johnson. Busch ended the regular campaign with a pair of good runs in Atlanta and Richmond but the question of his ability to keep emotions in check while also dealing with the Johnson rivalry put the Penske Racing driver's championship hopes seriously in doubt.

8. Brad Keselowski: The other Penske driver comes into his first Chase as a bona fide underdog but one many feel can pull off the impossible and make a serious challenge for the title. Keselowski's performance since early June has been nothing short of spectacular and there may not be another team in the garage area that has as much confidence or believes in its driver more than the Blue Deuce bunch. Keselowski won over a lot of fans in the last three months and is looking to prove a lot of his previous detractors wrong.

9. Tony Stewart: Not the season Stewart had hoped for by any means, but the two-time champion was still good enough when it counted to make it back to the Chase. Things appeared to be headed back in the right direction as the regular season came to a close, but Stewart's team doesn't have the look of a championship contender and won't be a serious challenger unless it can eliminate the roller coaster ride results that have dominated the 2011 season.

10. Denny Hamlin: He pushed Johnson to the brink of the championship last season but has suffered through a disappointing follow-up season punctuated by engine problems and other issues that forced Hamlin to use a wild card spot to make it back to the Chase. The switch to TRD engines should be a plus for Hamlin, but a return to the form he displayed last year-- a combo platter of consistency and winning -- in short order is imperative for the JGR No. 11 team to have any shot at somehow challenging for the title.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt's somewhat surprising start to the year began to fade away as the season wore on and by the end of the regular campaign he was barely hanging on to a spot in the Chase. He made it after a very nervous night in Richmond and perhaps the fresh start will be what the Hendrick Motorsports driver needs. Crew chief Steve Letarte promised to change his conservative approach of just trying to make the Chase to a winning formula once the playoffs began so it will be interesting to see if there is any difference in the team's strategy over the next 10 races. Of any one of the dozen Chasers, Earnhardt needs to get off to a good start and not dig himself into a hole.

12. Ryan Newman: The other half of the Stewart-Haas Racing duo made the Chase for the fourth time in his career and put together a nice and consistent regular season. However despite his one win and 13 top 10 finishes, Newman had only a pair of consecutive top fives in the season's first 26 races. He's not particularly strong on 1.5-mile tracks, and with the likes of Chicagoland, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead on the Chase schedule, it doesn't bode well for the driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet.

Brian De Los Santos
Ho hum, I'm picking Jimmie Johnson to win it all. I gave up picking against Johnson a couple of years ago. It's a lesson in futility.

What GOOD reason is there to pick against him? If you're counting on the law of averages, that law clearly doesn't apply to the 48 team.

Except for Chicagoland, the Chase tracks are the same as they ever were. The same tracks he has shown time and time again the ability to dominate. And, quite frankly, he's not too shabby at Chicagoland, with seven top 10s in nine visits.

It's inevitable that he's going to fall short one of these years (isn't it?). He's not going to win titles until the day he retires (will he?). It's just not possible (is it?). But with five straight titles and another strong regular season in the books, I don't see how I can predict that Johnson's rein is over.

1. Jimmie Johnson: What indication has the 48 team given that they won't be competitive during the Chase? Sure he has just one win, but he did finish second in the final regular-season points. As we've learned over the past five years, Johnson and the 48 team are built for the Chase. The only thing I could see spoiling the party is if Kurt Busch makes it his purpose to keep Johnson from capturing a sixth straight title by any means necessary. However, Busch did say they've worked it out and will cool the antics during the Chase. I'm not quite buying it.

2. Jeff Gordon: In terms of wins, he's already having his best season since winning six times in 2007. The 24 team appears to be on top of their game heading into the Chase, with three consecutive top fives and six finishes of sixth or better in the past seven races.

3. Carl Edwards: He looks primed for a run at the title. With 10 races to go, he already has third most top fives (12) for a season in his career. He takes three straight top 10s and two consecutive top fives into the Chase.

4. Matt Kenseth: It's so easy to undervalue Kenseth. You'd hardly know that he won twice and finished sixth in the final regular-season standings. He's not flashy. He doesn't have a personality that screams for attention. His strength is consistency. The two tracks he won at were Dover and Texas, both of which will be revisited down the stretch.

5. Brad Keselowski: He has come a long way. He was 25th in the standings at the end of May, and over the course of the second half of the season he staged a furious rally, just missing out on finishing the regular season in the top 10. He was especially hot over the past two months, pulling out two wins, four top fives and six top 10s the past seven races. I don't think it was a fluke and expect him to remain competitive throughout the final 10 races.

6. Kyle Busch: This isn't the first time Busch has been a regular-season wonder boy, but for all his talent, he's never been able to carry it out through the Chase, with his best points finish (5th) coming in 2007. This very well could be the year he puts it together, but I just have this feeling that at the first sign of trouble the downward spiral will begin.

7. Kevin Harvick: I don't know what to make of Harvick. He's tied for the season lead with four wins, including a dominant effort in the regular-season finale at Richmond, but his 13 top 10s ranks seventh. For much of the summer the 29 car was a non-factor. In fact, Richmond was the first race he had even led a lap in since Daytona at the beginning of July, a span of nine races. The win was one of only two top five finishes Harvick had in the last 13 races.

8. Kurt Busch: It has been a wildly inconsistent season for the No. 2 team and Busch has flown off the handle a number of times. Like his brother Kyle, the question is whether he can keep his cool in times of distress. He has run well the past couple of weeks with back-to-back top fives, but that comes off the heels of three straight finish of 17th or worse.

9. Ryan Newman: Did you know Newman has the fifth-most top fives (8) this season? That's more than Harvick, Kenseth or Kurt Busch. He's also one of only two Chase drivers -- Edwards is the other -- without a DNF. Still, his avg. finish of 13.1 is just eighth best.

10. Tony Stewart: I thought this season might be somewhat of a struggle for the 14 team, and despite the Chase berth, it has been. He's without a win and has just three top fives (his career low is nine) and 11 top 10s (his career low is 16). If there's any good news, it's that he does have three top 10s in the past four races. Maybe the team is putting things together at the right time.

11. Denny Hamlin: Prior to the season, if there was one driver people thought might unseat Johnson as champion this season, it was Hamlin. But he hasn't come close to living up to expectations, needing a wild-card to make the Chase. There's been signs of life in recent weeks with three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He hung on to a Chase berth by the skin of his teeth. The first half of the season saw Earnhardt in position to challenge for the points lead with seven top 10 finishes. But over the past 13 races he has managed just two top 10s. Maybe the team was just trying to play it safe to ensure a Chase berth, but even if they were holding back a bit, I don't see him as a championship contender.

More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: September 11, 2011 1:15 am
Edited on: September 11, 2011 9:39 am

Speed Read: Richmond

By Pete Pistone


Wonderful Pistachios 400 Recap 

For the fourth time in the last five years the final Sprint Cup Series race of the regular season failed to change the lineup for the Chase. 

But after watching Saturday night’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway, so what? 

Even though there was no underdog story of a driver overcoming a deficit to race his way into this year’s NASCAR playoff season, Saturday night’s race was one of the best of 2011. 

It was full of hard racing, high emotion, hard feelings, wrecked racecars and playoff drama. In short it was exactly what NASCAR had hoped for to set the stage for the ten race championship season.

Nine drivers had already punched their Chase tickets coming into the race leaving three positions up for grabs. The three who eventually survived the night’s craziness – Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin – didn’t have an easy time of it by any means.

Stewart, who entered the weekend in the tenth and final transfer spot in the point standings, actually had the easiest time of it with a relatively calm night and the Top 10 finish he was after, turning around his recent Richmond doldrums.

“We still weren’t as good as we wanted to be, but, we definitely made gains on it from the last three races that we’ve been here,” said Stewart.

Things were a bit more complicated for Earnhardt and Hamlin, who were both involved in a lap eight accident that swept up thirteen cars before it was over. 

Hamlin’s car suffered damage that hurt his handling but a gallant effort by crew chief Mike Ford and the Fed Ex Toyota team kept the No. 11 car in the hunt and eventually led to a ninth place finish. 

“That was not what I planned on happening,” Hamlin said. “My car is just in shambles. It is in bad, bad shape.” 

Earnhardt’s car was also in a shambles as was probably the case with crew chief Steve Letarte’s nerves. The sport’s most popular driver appeared in serious danger of falling out of Chase contention after the accident and a variety of other maladies struck the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

But after a multitude of pit stops and adjustments, Earnhardt limped home 16th, good enough to earn his way into the playoffs. 

“We just kept working and trying to fix the car. It was tore up pretty bad in the front,” Earnhardt said. “We just worked hard the rest of the night.” 

NASCAR will have to work hard for the ten races of the championship season to match what took place Saturday night in Richmond. 



Dale Earnhardt Jr.  

Somehow survived 16 trips to pit road, an early race accident and about three Lucky Dogs to find his way into the Chase. Earnhardt was swept up in the multi-car accident that broke out on lap eight and suffered pretty severe front end damage on his Chevrolet. But with cheerleader crew chief Steve Letarte rooting him on, Earnhardt and company made it to the finish to hang on to the tenth and final transfer spot in the standings. 

Tony Stewart   

The driver that came into the night in that precarious tenth transfer position had a relatively quiet night and a seventh place finish was more than enough to punch his ticket to the Chase. Stewart insisted he didn’t feel any pressure coming into the Richmond weekend and turned in the cool, calm and collected performance he desperately needed. 

Denny Hamlin   

Didn’t write the storybook regular season ending of winning the regular season finale on his home track, but Hamlin got the Top 10 finish he needed and made the Chase as the second wild card. Like Earnhardt he was involved in the early lap melee but he and crew chief Mike Ford persevered to earn another shot at running for the championship.



Paul Menard  

Was on a “Win and In” plan with a trip to victory lane locking down the second wild card spot. But Menard was not competitive at all Saturday night and was involved in a pair of accidents that doomed him to a 34th place finish. 

Joey Logano  

Had no chance at making the Chase but was trying to keep his solid second half in gear with a good night. Those went up in smoke with yet another Joe Gibbs Racing engine failure, which had to send shivers up the spines of teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin as they prepare for a title assault. 

Jimmie Johnson  

His feud with Kurt Busch reached a boiling point with the duo involved in a pair of incidents, the last one sending Johnson to a 31st place finish. While Johnson had nothing on the line Saturday night, his rivalry with Busch now looms large in his quest for a sixth straight championship. Paybacks hurt much more when they’re delivered during the Chase.



(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)

"I am sure I'll go find him and talk to him and he'll run his mouth." – Jimmie Johnson after his altercations with Kurt Busch 

"Jimmie is too smart to mess with him during the Chase. Now is Kurt smart enough? I don't know." – Rick Hendrick 

"I can't think of the big picture because I really can't see it." – Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he fell out of the Top 20 

"I thought it was interesting when I saw a Childress car sitting in the grass.'' – Jeff Gordon on Paul Menard’s late spin with teammate Kevin Harvick needing to pit



On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Saturday night’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 a five. Not sure how much better a NASCAR race can get than what we saw Saturday night in Richmond. There was drama, high emotion, close racing, paybacks, retribution and championship ramifications all rolled into 400-laps on what might be the best track on the circuit. Richmond has solidified itself as the perfect place to wind up the regular season and cement the Chase field. Even though the twelve that came into Saturday night are the same dozen that will battle for the title, it was sure entertaining to watch their fates unfold.



For the first time in history the Chase kicks off in the Windy City with next Sunday afternoon’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. In recent years the 1.5-mile oval outside of downtown Chicago has provided better racing as the track surface has weathered and a second groove came into play. But what will it be like now under a September afternoon sky rather than the mid-July night racing the track has hosted in recent years? And there will be as much attention paid to the grandstands as well as on the race track as the Joliet facility tries to draw a sizeable crowd smack dab in the middle of the NFL season and with a PGA Tour national event being held just down the road at Cog Hill Country Club. The opening weekend of NASCAR Playoffs 2011 is going to be very interesting indeed.

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @ppistone on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

More NASCAR coverage

Posted on: September 11, 2011 1:07 am
This entry has been removed by the administrator.

Post Deleted by Administrator

This message has been removed by the administrator.

Posted on: September 9, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: September 9, 2011 4:00 pm

Tony Stewart tired of media's 'same questions'

Posted by Pete Pistone

Tony Stewart said before he got to Richmond International Raceway he wasn't concerned with the pressure of being in the tenth and final transfer spot of the point standings and trying to make the Chase.

However Stewart looked like someone who actually is under pressure during Friday's media availability when after ending up the day's first practice session 30th overall he took exception to being asked about his thoughts on trying to maintain the tenth position and move into this year's Chase lineup.

The pressure is all of the media standing here," Stewart snapped while facing a group of reporters at RIR. "We’re doing the same thing we always do every week. It’s you guys asking us the same questions for eight straight weeks in a row is annoying. That’s where the pressure is coming in because we’re answering the same thing that we answered for the last seven straight weeks. That is where it gets annoying after awhile and gets to be very monotonous.”

The exchange went on a bit longer:  

I don’t know. I don’t do your job. Come up with something original.”

All right, here’s the thing. All I care about is what I am doing this week. I’m not worried about what’s going to make your article this week. If it doesn’t make my race car go fast, I really don’t care about it right now. Got a lot of things going on.”

So ask me a question that’s original this week.”

Ok, then go back the last seven weeks and get the same answer I used the last seven weeks. I’m doing exactly the same thing I’ve been doing.”  

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @ppistone on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. 


More NASCAR coverage
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com