Our Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it's the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. And you think we dislike your favorite driver, so it makes sense, right? Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com.

1. Joey Logano (LW: 1): A fifth-place finish is good enough to keep the top spot in Power Rankings. Logano is doing to the Chase this year what Jimmie Johnson did to it last year. Scratch that, it's better. Logano's average finish through the first seven races is 4.29. Johnson's was 5.43 through the first seven last year. But there's a new format, so Logano's advantage is not what it could be. Heck, it's a deficit because he finished behind Jeff Gordon on Sunday. But still, we have to reward the driver who's flat out kicking everyone's butt this Chase.

2. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4): While it was more advantageous for Jeff Gordon to win Sunday at Martinsville than it was for Dale Earnhardt Jr., team orders simply weren't going to happen. You can't deny a driver something he's always wanted, even if it's for the betterment of the team. OK, yes, you can, but it doesn't make it right. And besides, no one wants to start debating the nuance of the 100 percent rule, right?

3. Ryan Newman (LW: 5): Yes, Newman is second in the points standings. There's now going to be two drivers advancing to the final round at Homestead on points because of Junior's win and it benefits Newman and Matt Kenseth the most. They've been by far the two most consistent winless drivers, both in the Chase and in the entire season. Top 10s in each of the next two races will put both drivers in a very good position to advance.

4. Matt Kenseth (LW: 6): What a rebound for Kenseth. His day could have easily been over when he wheel-hopped the car into the corner, but fortunately for him, Kevin Harvick was there to serve as a buffer. It was like a pool shot. Lots of the momentum that Kenseth had was transferred to Harvick's car and Harvick was the one that hit the wall violently. Kenseth simply had superficial damage thanks to some help from Tony Stewart and fought back to finish sixth.

5. Denny Hamlin (LW: 7): Hamlin had terrible case of circumstances on the final restart. He was the first car with four fresh tires on the outside line, which isn't the preferred groove to have at Martinsville in the first place. Then, as David Ragan, on old tires in third, got washed up to the middle as Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to pass him, it caused a backlog that jammed up Hamlin even further. He fell back to eighth, which really wasn't indicative of where he should have finished.

6. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Right place, wrong time. Harvick had one of the fastest cars throughout the early stages of the race on Sunday and (relatively) easily worked his way through the field after starting 33rd. However, once he was taken out by Matt Kenseth, he was toast. The good news for Harvick is that he's heading to two tracks where he was exceptionally fast earlier this year. The bad news is that he may need to win at either to get to Homestead in title contention.

7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 3): Keselowski didn't have an incredibly fast car on Sunday, but he was heading towards a possible top-10 finish when a driveline issue popped up and killed his chances for a win along with the hopes of five or six other cars who crashed behind him. It was a bear-wrestling kind of day for Kes even before the slowdown. He had fallen back because of a handling issue and then was caught speeding on pit road. Keselowski kept fighting, but the bear finally forced a submission.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 12): Junior gets a four-spot leap because of the win. You could tell how much it meant to him to get the Martinsville grandfather clock he always wanted and when he got passed the three cars separating himself and Tony Stewart within the first lap, the pass of Stewart for the win was inevitable. And hell, if you somehow needed more proof of how much Junior wanted the win, just look at the way he passed Stewart.

9. Carl Edwards (LW: 9): Martinsville has never been Edwards' best track, so this was simply a damage-limiting race in the third round. But the damage was pretty significant. He was never fast and lost a lap before he got it on the penultimate caution. Edwards finished 20th, which isn't terrible, but it hurts when five of the other seven Chase drivers finished in the top eight.

10. Kyle Busch (LW: 10): Much like Edwards, Busch hasn't had great success at Martinsville, so an 11th-place finish is a good way to get out of there and move on to Texas and Phoenix. But yeah, there's that whole thing about Busch no longer being in the Chase that's now an issue. If it wasn't for Talladega, this thing is playing almost perfectly for Busch.

11. AJ Allmendinger (LW: NR): Allmendinger got a top 10 and finished ninth on Sunday. It's his first top 10 of the Chase but he's avoided bad finishes throughout; his lowest finish is 23rd. He's not likely to be fast enough to be a factor in the vaunted (ignored?) battle for fifth, but unlike Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch, Allmendinger has avoided catastrophe.

12. Tony Stewart (LW: NR): Who else do you want to put here? We're not going to start exclaiming that "Smoke's back!" (whatever that means, anyway), but the fourth-place finish is a start of a return to pre-August 2013 normalcy for Stewart. Will Stewart keep his streak of years with a win intact? It seems unlikely, but like Kevin Harvick, he was really fast at Texas earlier this year.

Lucky Dog: David Ragan was one of the three of 22 cars on the lead lap to stay out during the final caution. He restarted third and fell to 10th, but it was his first top 10 of the year.

The DNF: Well, we can say for certain that new format or not, Jimmie Johnson wasn't winning the title this year.

Dropped out: Johnson, Kyle Larson

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 28, 2014, 5:10 pm

Photo courtesy TwitterHe was just starting to make a name for himself in stock car racing, but sadly the world will never know the full potential of Joey Laquerre, 17. The grandson of Vermont's storied racing champion, who shares his name, Laquerre died Saturday in an ATV accident.

"I don't think any of us doubted that Little Joey was going to be a champion in his own right. It's just, it is an unfathomable loss," Motor Racing Network announcer Dave Moody told WCAX.

Laquerre often raced at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vt., where his grandfather is the winningest racer in the track's 55-year history. At a July 7, 2013, race there, the younger Laquerre finished in second place, just ahead of his grandfather. The elder Laquerre has won a record 45 races and seven championships at Thunder Road. Joey's father and uncles are also well known in the sport.

The teen finished seventh in the Vermont State Championships rankings this year. The Burlington Free Press summarized his too-brief career:

At age 14, Joey began racing in the top-tier class and immediately rewarded his father's trust with a third-place finish in his first race at Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven. The team began racing regularly at the track and built a solid fan base in Rutland County before the youngster was permitted to compete at age 16 at Thunder Road in 2013.

His death is the family's second vehicle-related tragedy to occur off the track. In 1991, his uncle, Joey Laquerre, Jr., died in a snowmobile accident just months after winning the 1990 Thunder Road championship.

Family and friends gathered for a memorial on Sunday evening. A high school senior, Laquerre would have turned 18 next month.

Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: October 27, 2014, 2:55 pm

Is Brad Keselowski already in the same situation he faced in the second round of the Chase?

Last week at Talladega, Keselowski needed to win to advance to the third round. He did just that and may need another win in the next two races to advance to the season finale at Homestead.

Sunday at Martinsville, Keselowski was en route to a potential top ten when his car suffered a rear-gear problem. It started shaking as he was in the corner and simply slowed as he accelerated off the corner.

He ended up being a giant roadblock. As his car was not nearly going as fast as it should be, other cars started crashing behind him. Danica Patrick was involved. So were Kasey Kahne and Casey Mears. Martin Truex Jr. too.

The melee caused a red flag and Keselowski had to take his car back to the garage for repairs.

His team fixed the car and got it back out on track, but not before he was many laps down. Keselowski ended up 31st, two spots ahead of Kevin Harvick.

Earlier in the race, Harvick was spun by Matt Kenseth, whose car wheel hopped as it got into the corner. He smacked the wall hard and also had to go behind the wall to fix the damage.

Both drivers now face a serious points deficit. Four of the remaining eight drivers in the Chase advance to Homestead and Keselowski is already 26 points behind fourth place. Harvick is 28. Can the two make up what's essentially more than 25 spots on the track in the next two races? Possibly. But the better strategy is to go win at Texas, where Keselowski's teammate Joey Logano won in April, or Phoenix, where Harvick won at in February.

Here's how all eight of the Chase drivers did at Martinsville:

1. Jeff Gordon (+5 on fourth): Gordon finished second and couldn't run down Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the end. If you're a Gordon fan, you probably would have liked a Formula 1-style set of team orders on the last restart to have Junior move over for Gordon. But that wasn't going to happen. Instead of being the race winner and the points leader, Gordon is simply the points leader.

2. Ryan Newman (+2): Newman is the cross between the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare and the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going and going and going, just not at the pace of the fastest cars on a given weekend. But hey, Martinsville was Newman's fourth top-five finish of the season and his third-place finish tied for his highest finish of the year.

3. Joey Logano (+1): Logano, once again, had a fast car and led laps. He finished fifth and is in a good position heading to the place where he got his first win of the season. After winning at Richmond in the spring, he finished sixth in the fall. Another sixth or better next week should put him in a mighty fine spot for advancement at Phoenix.

4. Matt Kenseth (+28 on eighth): Kenseth now holds the final transfer spot. Harvick fans are going to be wishing for some karma to come back and get Kenseth after the wheel hopping, but it was clearly unintentional. He finished sixth.

5. Denny Hamlin (-2 to fourth): Hamlin restarted sixth on the last restart but was stuck in the outside line. That meant that he didn't have the preferred groove and he fell back to eighth at the end.

6. Carl Edwards (-20): While Keselowski and Harvick had worse finishes, Edwards had the worst overall run of the day. He simply wasn't fast from the drop of the green flag and spent much of the latter half of the race a lap down. He was 20th.

7. Keselowski (-26)

8. Harvick (-28)

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 26, 2014, 11:14 pm

Tony Stewart cracked a few smiles after Sunday's race at Martinsville.

Sure, he had been passed for the lead by eventual race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. with four laps to go, but Stewart had just climbed from his car after finishing fourth, a result that tied his highest finish in what has been nothing less than a tumultuous season.

Stewart had a good car throughout the entire race and was near the front almost the whole day. He was in fifth with the race's final caution flag flew and as the cars ahead of him took tires, Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston elected to stay out. Since the No. 14 team wasn't in the Chase, they figured it was the team's best shot at a win.

It didn't work. Junior was so much more faster than Stewart that his pass and door-slam of the three-time champion with four laps to go was more of a honk by a driver telling a slow car in the fast lane to move over rather than a gouge for track position. But Stewart had no regrets about the decision.

"If we had to do that 100 times over we'd do the same thing," Stewart said. "So we didn't have anything to lose. It was worth the gamble -- where we were at in fifth, you didn't know who was going to do two tires, you didn't know what could happen. Something could happen on the pit stop. A lot of variables that could have gone wrong there. And I'd rather have taken a chance and fight at the end like that."

"We still ended up a spot better than we were before the caution came out, so i think that's about all you can ask for on this Bass Pro/Mobil 1 Chevy."

Stewart missed three races in August after he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in a sprint car race on August 9. Stewart returned to action at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend, and in September, an Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury declined to press charges against Stewart in the matter.

The grief from the incident was visible on Stewart's face when he addressed reporters for the first time following the accident at Atlanta and when he held his first press conference after the announcement of no charges. The grin following Stewart's finish on Sunday was one of his first public displays of positive emotion since August.

On the track in the Cup Series, the year has been a struggle for Stewart. As he returned from a broken leg suffered in August of 2013 in a sprint car crash and Iowa, Stewart and team haven't been able to have consistent speed. And when they've had fast cars, they haven't stayed fast for an entire weekend or even an entire race.

Stewart was fast all weekend at Martinsville. And you could see the relief that it brought to him. He was competitive for the entire race and the chances of extending his streak of years with a victory in the Cup Series to 16 seem a little brighter than they did before Sunday.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 26, 2014, 10:40 pm

Dale Earnhardt Jr. now has something he's wanted since he was a kid. A Martinsville grandfather clock.

NASCAR's most popular driver stormed through the field on a restart with five laps to go and passed Tony Stewart for the race lead and the win on Sunday.

Junior had a healthy lead late in the race but a caution flag flew when Kyle Larson and Marcos Ambrose spun around. The caution with 12 laps to go gave crew chiefs an incredibly tough decision: stay out and keep the track position or pit for tires and hope the fresh rubber would be enough to make up the positions lost on pit road.

Junior and crew chief Steve Letarte chose the latter. The No. 88 car came for four tires and restarted fifth after Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse and David Ragan stayed out and Clint Bowyer, who was running third before the caution, took two tires.

Junior was second after the first set of corners thanks to a three-wide jam up ahead of him. When he got to Stewart's bumper, it was absolutely no contest. Junior was finally going to have the clock the speedway gives out as the winner's trophy for every race.

"We've been trying to win here so many years," Junior said. "And this place is so special to me. I've wanted to win here so bad. And we came – we brought some good cars – I'm out of breath more from celebrating than driving."

"Real emotional win. This team on pit road was great and Steve and the guys just did a great job all day. They gave me a great shot at the there with the call at the end to get tires and I can't believe we won here. This means so much to all of us."

The win also comes 10 years and two days after a plane carrying Hendrick Motorsports employees crashed en route to Martinsville. Throughout Sunday, it seemed a pretty good bet that a Hendrick car would win. Junior was good at the end of the race and Jeff Gordon, who finished second, led the most laps.

Junior was with his old team, Dale Earnhardt Inc. when the plane crashed.

"I lost my daddy a long time ago and I know how hard that is," Junior said. "I can't imagine losing the magnitude of people Rick lost. My heart goes out to him during this weekend. And I love that his cars are good here and give him a victory. And this honors them. Just real proud to be able to win at Martinsville in a Hendrick car. They always win here."

His win is Hendrick Motorsports' 22nd win at Martinsville.

It was an incredibly real celebration for Junior in victory lane. Sure, he's out of the Chase thanks to a porous three-race stint in the second round that included crashes at Kansas and Talladega. But the man was so damn happy after he got out of his car. He jumped up on the makeshift victory lane stage and hugged team members before he had to be told to do the customary post-race interview.

After all, it was his fourth win of the season. He has four wins this season, his most in any season since 2004. Heck, entering the season he had only had four wins since 2004.

Junior was jubilant – he called winning races "the best thing" – and enjoying the moment of what could be his last victory with crew chief Steve Letarte, who is leaving to be an analyst with NBC Sports in 2015. What's the celebration going to entail?

"We're going to drink a lot of beer tonight," Junior said. "That's what's going to happen."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 26, 2014, 10:17 pm

Kevin Harvick is in an early points hole in the third round of the Chase.

Before the halfway point of Sunday's race at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth's car wheel-hopped getting into turn one. (Wheel hopping is when a car's rear brakes lock up and the car slides or snaps around) Kenseth started to slide into turn one and as he spun around, he took out Harvick, the car in front of him.

While Kenseth was able to continue with minor damage, Harvick hit the wall pretty hard and had to go to the garage for significant repairs. Harvick finished 33rd while Kenseth ended up sixth.

The good news for Harvick is that he's been incredibly fast this season at the two tracks that make up the rest of the third round. He was potentially the fastest car at Texas before blowing an engine in April and dominated the race at Phoenix in February for his first win of the season.

Can he get a win? Barring something crazy happening to four other drivers in the third round, he's probably going to need it. Harvick's been the driver most capable of winning all season. He'll just have to come through once in the next two weeks.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 26, 2014, 8:05 pm

A Chase driver isn't starting first for the second straight Chase race.

A week after Brian Vickers qualified first at Talladega, Jamie McMurray qualified first at Martinsville on Friday. It's his second career pole at Martinsville. He started first in the spring race in 2011.

McMurray beat out Joey Logano, the points leader after Talladega before the final eight drivers in the Chase had their points reset to 4,000. Logano starts second.

The lowest Chase driver in qualifying was Kevin Harvick. Harvick, who has been a beast in qualifying this season, will start 33rd. If Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers don't get the No. 4 car figured out during Saturday practice, Harvick may be lapped quickly. Laps at the half-mile track take less than 20 seconds.

Here's where all eight of the remaining Chase drivers will start:

2. Joey Logano
3. Matt Kenseth
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Brad Keselowski
9. Ryan Newman
11. Carl Edwards
13. Jeff Gordon
33. Kevin Harvick

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 24, 2014, 9:46 pm

While Jimmie Johnson was officially eliminated from the 2014 Chase of the Sprint Cup after last week's race at Talladega, he said Friday at Martinsville that he came to grips with the realization he wasn't a title contender after the two races before Talladega.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, we’re busy and using the rest of 2014 to get ready for 2015," Johnson said. "I can say that leaving Kansas and Charlotte… that was when I came to grips with not being a championship contender. You get to Talladega and you’re rolling the dice there anyway with the restrictor plate racing and it’s an all-or-nothing thing, so it put me in an easy position to relax and enjoy the weekend."

"But it wasn’t fun leaving Kansas or Charlotte. It was relatively dark and not a lot of sunlight floating around. You have that. I truly believe that those moments make you stronger and make you dig deeper. It’s great medicine for the 48. I don’t want to be in this position. But it’s great medicine to sit and watch this championship unfold. It’s going to motivate me, Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and the team – all of us on the 48 team. We’ll come back next year and be ready to roll."

At Kansas, Johnson spun in qualiifying and started 32nd. Before he had a chance to move up through the field, he was caught up in a crash on lap 86. He finished 40th. A week later at Charlotte, Johnson was never a true contender for the win and finished 17th. While Kansas dug a big points hole with a shovel, Charlotte simply followed up with a heavy-duty excavator.

So Johnson played Talladega like he had nothing to lose. While he was complimented on the way he drove the race -- he led the most laps and was aggressive on the penultimate restart, though no one went with him for drafting help -- Johnson said his driving style was a product of his points position.

“I think it’s mainly on me and the risks I was willing to take – the position I was in and the situation I was in," Johnson said. "It’s so hard to look in your mirror for 95 percent of the lap and block people. It’s just not in my wiring and I don’t think it’s really in many. I was more aggressive in the car in blocking, defending and holding on to control of a lane more than I can remember. I certainly appreciate those remarks, and I saw a few myself"

Unfortunately in the end, it didn’t work out. I was in the position where Matt Kenseth ended up at the end having to push the [Brad Keselowski] and I needed to beat [Keselowski] and win. On what I thought was the last green-white-checker, I couldn’t see pushing [Keselowski] to the win and me running second. It wasn’t going to do me any good. I made my move to get to his outside and didn’t have any help. If I made a mistake, that was it. I should have pushed [Keselowski]. I didn’t know there would be another green-white-checker and that I’d have another shot at it.”

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 24, 2014, 7:53 pm

Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg.We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy.

The Chase field has officially been halved. Are any of the final eight drivers a surprise? Sure, before the Chase it would have been surprising to see both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson out of the Chase at this point before the season began, but when you compare the old Chase points format to the new elimination format, look at the standings similarities. Here's what the old points format would look like through six races.

1. Joey Logano, 2,257
2. Kevin Harvick, 2,240
3. Brad Keselowski, 2,225
4. Jeff Gordon, 2,210
5. Ryan Newman, 2,208
6. Kyle Busch, 2,197
7. Matt Kenseth, 2,196
8. Carl Edwards, 2,190
9. Denny Hamlin, 2,181
10. Jimmie Johnson, 2,174
11. Kasey Kahne, 2,169
12. AJ Allmendinger, 2,163
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,149
14. Greg Biffle, 2,147
15. Kurt Busch, 2,146
16. Aric Almirola, 2,101

Seven of the top eight drivers are still alive in the current format. The only exception is Kyle Busch, who was unceremoniously booted after crashing at Talladega. The driver outside the top eight who is in the 2014 final eight is Denny Hamlin, and as you can see, he's only nine points back of the top eight in the old format.

So no, the formality of eliminations isn't producing any upsets. That's likely because of the importance of three-race consistency within the rounds. One bad finish – considered a mulligan in the 10-race format  can ruin a round.

How much would Joey Logano be in charge under the old points format? In the previous 10 years of the Chase, the championship-winning driver has been in first with four races to go seven times. In the three years the champion wasn't in first at this point, he wasn't behind by much. In 2011, Tony Stewart was fourth and 19 points back. In 2007, Jimmie Johnson was second and 53 points back. In 2006, Johnson was third and 41 points back. When you consider that Johnson's deficits happened in the previous not-one-point-per-position format and divide his deficits by about four each, they're smaller than Stewart's.

But as we know, these are simply fun things to talk about. With the current format, the top eight drivers are all deadlocked at 4,000 points. While much has been made about the one-race title decider at Homestead, it's important to note that we're now at a point where Logano would commanding lead based on past results as a Kevin Harvick comeback would be the second-largest in Chase history.

Instead, we're still guessing at who the four Homestead finalists will be. But it's no coincidence that the four favorites to be alive at Homestead would also be 1-4 in the old format.

It's a light mailbag this week, so let's get to it.

@NickBromberg I'm so mad about Dega still that I can't even think of a question this week.

— Chris Nulty (@RealChrisNulty) October 23, 2014

Can you take solace in the fact that Junior would be out of Chase contention no matter what by looking at the standings above?

Are the eliminations are truly testing the theory of different meanings for fans to see their driver be unofficially out of a title race vs. officially out of one? If there were no eliminations, Junior would still have the yellow bumper and windshield decal, but he'd be racing for a points finish in the top 10 anyway as he's more than two full races out of contention. The same goes for Johnson too. He's not making up an 83-point deficit if he's still in the Chase.

And if you can't, I understand. The points reset can rub a lot of salt into the wound. Had either Johnson or Junior won at Talladega, he would be considered a major contender even if he'd be an outlier based off the early returns on comparing formats.

@NickBromberg Half are gone,better/worse system than original chase? Your more impressive fan look,Moose or Face? pic.twitter.com/DyKVOWU4IM

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) October 23, 2014

I'm glad that this question fits seamlessly into the theme of the week. I'm not sure we can make a judgement, though it's hard to wonder if fans are doing so when looking at the TV ratings. An elimination race at Talladega should be a draw. Instead, it was down 600,000 viewers from last year.

Currently, we know that the best drivers throughout the Chase are being rewarded appropriately. Will that continue? It would be reasonable at this point to assume that it will throughout the third round. However, the third round cuts the biggest percentage of drivers. There's less margin to weather a bad or even simply mediocre finish.

To answer the first question, it's too early to tell. And I don't say that as a cop out. For the second question, after talking to Craig, the guy with the antlers, I'm going with the jean vest. First, because it was custom. That took some forethought into the design and the sacrifice of a good, plain and usable jean vest. Second, probably because he wears that to other places besides the race track. I neglected to ask, but my guess is that there aren't any non-Royals public appearances planned for the antlers. They have a specific purpose. The jean vest can be worn to Golden Corral.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 23, 2014, 8:45 pm

Stewart-Haas Racing is making some changes before the season is over.

The team is swapping the crews of Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick after this week's race at Martinsville. With both drivers not in title contention, it's an opportunity for the teams to work with their new drivers in race conditions before 2015.

Busch's crew chief, Daniel Knost, will become Patrick's crew chief. Tony Gibson, Patrick's current crew chief and a man who just signed a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing, will move over to Busch's team. The Charlotte Observer first reported the switch Tuesday night.

"Making this change at Texas gives us three races to get ahead of the testing ban and get a headstart on the 2015 season," Busch told Motorsport.com.

Stewart-Haas vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli agreed in a statement the team sent out Wednesday afternoon announcing the switch.

“We made this change to evaluate our program and to get a head start on 2015,” Zipadelli said. “With the ban on testing next year, the last three races of this season take on even greater importance. For Tony Gibson and Kurt, they’ll get three races together that will provide direction for next year. And for Daniel Knost and Danica, this is an opportunity for them develop a rapport that could potentially continue into 2015.”

Sprint Cup Series teams are banned from testing in 2015 as part of new competition rules including less downforce and horsepower for the cars. With the focus shifted towards next season for both drivers, the teams can test and cram during the last three weeks of the season.

Before the Chase began, Stewart-Haas swapped the pit crews of Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Harvick's pit crew had been inconsistent on pit road during the regular season. Harvick is one of the eight drivers still alive for the championship.

Busch was eliminated after the first round of the Chase. He's currently 15th in the points standings. Patrick is 27th in the standings.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 22, 2014, 2:42 pm

Our Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it's the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. And you think we dislike your favorite driver, so it makes sense, right? Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com.

1. Joey Logano (LW: 1): While Logano was playing defense for the best possible outcome for his teammate and employer, was he also playing defense against himself at Talladega on Sunday? The block he threw on Kevin Harvick off turn four was incredible and helped shape the events that got Brad Keselowski the win on Sunday. But by the same token, he helped one of his two or three closest competitors for the championship get back into the title mix. We're sure Logano or Team Penske isn't regretting anything, but given how Matt Kenseth ended up pushing Keselowski to the win, it'll be fascinating to see Keselowski is the man that beats out Logano for the title.

2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick was adamant that he wasn't going to hang at the back all day because he was already in the next round of the Chase and he did just that, aggressively racing for the win in the late laps. Its a strategy that can be employed when you're driving for a team that has a ton of resources and doesn't care about losing a restrictor plate car if there's a crash. Of course, Harvick wouldn't be in a situation to race with only equipment to lose if he wasn't with a team with a ton of resources in the first place.

3. Brad Keselowski (LW: 9): Keselowski fulfilled the scenario that NASCAR executives had in mind when eliminations were installed in January. And he helped make winning semi-relevant again after the way to survive the first two rounds of the Chase had been to simply avoid bad finishes. Theoretically, winning becomes more important in the third round, as three drivers could earn a pass to Homestead with a win. But in that scenario, so does points racing, as the fourth driver would be decided by the driver who was the most consistent.

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4): It was a much closer call for Gordon than many thought it would be. Gordon finished 26th at Talladega and if teammate Kasey Kahne would have finished eighth instead of 12th, Gordon would have been bounced from the Chase. And indirectly, the caution for Kyle Larson's spin could have been responsible. Gordon hadn't pitted when Larson spun, and thus had to restart outside the top 20. He never made any headway after that.

5. Ryan Newman (LW: 6): Newman could have be facing a penalty for his car being too low after Sunday's race. But NASCAR said Tuesday that Newman's car was too low because of crash damage. Had he been penalized, it wouldn't have likely mattered anyway. Newman had a 27-point cushion on ninth place. A height penalty was likely to have been 10-15 points. Newman's prowess at avoiding bad finishes is throwing a giant wrench into this Chase. How wacky would it be to see Newman finish sixth all the way through Homestead and win the title with three top-five finishes all season?

6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 10): Kenseth had no choice but to stick to Keselowski's bumper over the last few laps, ironies be damned. If he went for the win or tried something drastic, there was way too much of a risk of lost positions and, subsequently, a lost Chase. Now, Kenseth is on to the next round where he can go win a race or deliver payback to Keselowski for Charlotte. Given that Kenseth is winless this year and hasn't shown consistent speed, the latter seems more likely.

7. Denny Hamlin (LW: 8): Hamlin really, really, really likes how the third round of the Chase sets up for him. He's one of the three best drivers in the series at Martinsville (four wins and an average finish of 8.8), has two wins at Texas and has an average finish of 11.3 at Phoenix. We won't bring up 2010 at Phoenix. Promise. Unless we have to. But we'll worry about that in a couple of weeks.

8. Kyle Larson (LW: 5): Larson finished 17th thanks to a chaotic green flag pit stop sequence. He got hit on pit road and then spun (wobbled? The only replay came from his in-car camera) off pit road to cause a caution and set up the sprint to the finish ... that turned into three mini-sprints to the finish because of a debris caution. Was that debris what ended up on Joey Logano's front bumper? If it was, it's hard not to wonder why a caution was necessary.

9. Carl Edwards (LW: 6): How did you lose sight of Newman, Carl? He just drove his way all to the front without you, meaning he gapped you in the points standings. But ah, we see how you were being wily, Edwards. You knew the points would be reset after the race and no matter where Newman finished, you two would be tied if you advanced. And that's what happened. Good thinking.

10. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): This feels like cruel and unusual punishment to drop Busch seven spots after what happened at Talladega. But damn if the Talladega crash wasn't cruel and unusual punishment itself. Busch had what seemed to be the most foolproof of Talladega strategies -- he may not have even tried to charge to the front unless it was ultimately necessary -- and he still got burned by getting caught up in a crash. For all the talk of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s best Chase chance coming in 2014, this was Busch's best one too.

11. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 11): Johnson said he was relieved to go down swinging and you can't blame him for trying what he did. On what ended up being the penultimate restart, Johnson swung to the outside in the hopes of trying to take the lead. He was in fourth, just one row back of the lead. No one went with him. Thus, he fell back like a boulder and his chances of advancing were kaput. Johnson shouldn't feel bad about being ignored, however. Danica Patrick got the cold shoulder late in the race too.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 12): There was no repeating the Talladega miracle his father pulled off in 2000. While it would have been possible for a car to gain 18 spots in five laps near the back of the pack, it wasn't going to happen at the front on Sunday. The driver at the point was able to defend with relative ease, and it was infinitely easier to slide back seven positions in the top 10 during a single lap than it would be to gain seven in seven laps.

Lucky Dog: We'll give it to Landon Cassill for finishing fourth. The runner up spot goes to Travis Kvapil for finishing sixth. If only it was possible to have underdog teams at the front in non-restrictor plate races once in a while.

The DNF: The BK Racing cars ran well in the draft all race. While Cole Whitt did finish 15th, JJ Yeley and Alex Bowman were 42nd and 43rd.

Dropped out: N/A

- - - - - - -

Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 21, 2014, 4:58 pm

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Brad Keselowski is exactly what NASCAR needs right now.

You will have a reaction to that statement. You will either nod in agreement or spit in disgust, and both reactions prove the same point. For every complaint about NASCAR — the drivers have no personality, the races are too boring, the rules are too confusing — Keselowski is your answer. You don't have to like him, but you have to respect him. You have to pay attention to him, and how many drivers can claim that?

Take, for instance, Sunday's race at Talladega. Fans love this race, but the guys who strap themselves into the cars absolutely loathe it. There's no rhyme nor reason to why things happen the way they do here, no one strategy that you can guarantee will even put you in position to win, to say nothing of taking the checkered flag.

Yet here was Keselowski, needing a victory to move on in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, a victory to keep a five-win season from being nothing but a year of failed potential. He'd won here twice before, and both times he did what was thought impossible: in 2009, he outdueled veteran Carl Edwards, leaving Edwards pinwheeling into the fence behind him, and in 2012, he beat Kyle Busch head-to-head at a time when no one thought a lone driver could outrun a pack.

On Sunday, he faced equally long odds, and yet he played the race like a chess match, working his way into position and using help from unexpected quarters to win on a day with absolutely no margin for error.

That's the thing about Keselowski. He's doing what certain other drivers — you know their names — used to do: he'll beat you, he'll piss you off, then he'll beat you again.

He's driven Matt Kenseth, the guy who makes Eeyore look twitchy, into a fighting rage. He's gotten Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, former champions all, mad enough to break out the disapproving language ... or, in Stewart's case, the disapproving rear bumper. And the story of his ongoing relationship with Denny Hamlin runs like an "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoon.

Over the last four seasons, his 14 wins are second only to Johnson's 16. But while Johnson is measured, always saying the right thing at the right time, Keselowski talks like he's pulling in hot to a greased pit stall ... he makes his point, but every once in awhile he'll slide right on past it and get himself into trouble.

Depending on your perspective, he's either aggravating or exhilarating, a savior or a sonofabitch. But no matter what, you can't ignore him. He's responsible for two of the greatest NASCAR TV moments of recent years: his exuberant Miller Lite-fueled championship interview at Homestead in 2012, and his WWE-style throwdown with Kenseth last week at Charlotte. For a sport teetering on relegation to niche status, that's the kind of publicity a hundred sponsors can't buy.

But a driver who's nothing more than a walking promo doesn't last long. Keselowski also owns six victories this year, and can lay claim to one of the finest on-track moves of this generation, if not ever: his daring pass of Kevin Harvick at Chicago this year to start the Chase. That was the kind of all-or-nothing, old-school, mash-it-and-go kind of move that Earnhardt, Petty, or Pearson would have admired had he done it to them ... and then they'd do their best to rattle his cage next time around.

Keselowski might ride the momentum of this victory straight on through to a second championship at Homestead, or he may find himself once again on the outs in just three weeks. Either way, he'll be one to watch all the way until his season's done ... and that's exactly the kind of must-see driver NASCAR needs right now.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 20, 2014, 12:14 am

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Off in the distance, Brad Keselowski was performing his victory burnout on the Talladega asphalt, American flag in hand. Drivers and teams were beginning the walk -- long for some, buoyant for others -- back toward their haulers and planes. And over in a far corner of the garage, three Hendrick teams loaded up their cars in silence, readying for a long, long drive back north.

For the first time in NASCAR history, curtains are dropping on drivers no matter their regular-season success. And in this, the second round of eliminations, three members of NASCAR's reigning-champion team, saw their championship hopes end on an early, disappointing note.

Jimmie Johnson, six-time champion: eliminated. Dale Earnhardt Jr., three-time winner, including the Daytona 500: eliminated. Kasey Kahne, one of the sport's most popular drivers: eliminated.

Johnson led the most laps on Sunday afternoon. Earnhardt spent time at the front and appeared to have a car capable of returning there before a late wreck destroyed his chances. Kahne had the most heartbreaking finish, being just inches from moving on ... though it would have been at the expense of Gordon:

The yellow line is how close Kasey Kahne came to moving on in the Chase by knocking out teammate Jeff Gordon. pic.twitter.com/Tj5JasP5DQ

— Geoffrey Miller (@GeoffreyMiller) October 19, 2014

In one afternoon, Hendrick Motorsports has gone from having every driver in the Chase to having just one, Jeff Gordon, with a shot at the 2014 championship. The grand Hendrick-vs.-Penske battle coming into this Chase now tilts decisively in favor of Penske, with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski holding the advantage in both momentum and numbers against Hendrick.

"You just can't avoid it down here when you are running that close together," Hendrick said after the race. "It's just what you have to get used to. Accept it and move on. It's not easy."

What now? Gordon will obviously get all of the attention from the Hendrick brain trust; his results are the only ones that truly matter now. And, if needed, his teammates can help him without concern for their own finishes. 

After the race, Earnhardt was surrounded by media, his back against his damaged 88. He answered question after question, but it was clear his heart wasn't anywhere near in it. After one particularly booming question about What It All Means, Junior's voice quavered a touch, like he'd finally had enough.

"There's probably been worse things," he said. "I'm not retiring or anything ... I'm not going to get too tore up about it. I'll come back next year and try again."

Gordon, naturally, was more optimistic, pointing out that he's had strong finishes at all the remaining tracks. As for this particular track? "If I never have to come back to Talladega," he said, "I'll be fine with that."

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 19, 2014, 11:12 pm

A week after he was run down from behind by Matt Kenseth in the garage at Charlotte, Brad Keselowski received a helpful push from Kenseth to win and advance to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday at Talladega.

After a blown tire at Kansas and a 16th place finish at Charlotte, Keselowski was in a win-and-in scenario in the last race of the Chase's second round. While eight of the 12 remaining drivers of the Chase advance to the third round, Keselowski was so far out of the top eight that the most realistic scenario to advance was to win.

He did just that after getting the lead before a second green-white-checker restart, which came when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was involved in a crash with others on the backstretch. As the leader, Keselowski had lane choice. He wanted the bottom line, which meant that third-place Kurt Busch would be behind him on the restart. The top side had teammate Joey Logano. Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe chose the top.

As Keselowski attempted to hold off second-place Ryan Newman, Logano threw a huge block on Kevin Harvick and the rest of the field. Keselowski was able to side draft on Newman through turns one and two on the final lap and was even with him down the backstretch. Then Kenseth closed in on Keselowski's bumper on the low line, giving him the aerodynamic boost he needed on the backstretch to fend off Newman through turns three and four and jump out to an insurmountable lead through the tri-oval.

"It was very easy to write ourselves off after the last two weeks," Keselowski said. "And we had one job to do and that was to come to Talladega and win and we did it and treated this weekend like Homestead. And if these guys can keep it up at this level, we got a shot at [the championship] and I'm really, really thankful for that."

Kenseth and Keselowski tangled in the garage after they played bumper cars on the track. Kenseth went into the wall as he tried to pass Keselowski on a restart. Keselowski said that later, Kenseth hit him while passing him on a wave-around during a caution flag. After the race, as the two were entering pit road, Keselowski slammed his car into Kenseth's. All those incidents precipitated the fracas, which saw members of both drivers' teams in a rugby-style scrum between the two haulers after Kenseth chased down Keselowski.

Of course, Kenseth's move to help Keselowski via the draft wasn't an altruistic gesture of goodwill toward him. After Charlotte, Kenseth was teetering on the precipice of elimination from the Chase. Following Keselowski was simply the best way to guarantee his best finish and advance to the third round. With the points resetting after Talladega, making a move for the win and risking a loss of points was dangerously unnecessary.

Entering Talladega, Keselowski was in the same position as Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson; all three needed a win or some significant points help to make the next round. As Keselowski got the win, the other two drivers didn't get the points help. Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson are out of the Chase.

Junior's chances went kaput during the crash to set up the final restart. He was tagged by Greg Biffle and spun into the pack, triggering a multi-car accident. On the restart before Junior's crash, Johnson moved to the outside from fourth to make a play for the lead. He simply had no one go with him for drafting help. He fell back and never got within a sniff of the lead again.

Kyle Busch, who entered the race third in points, missed out because of a multi-car crash earlier in the race. He fell to 10th in the points standings, seven below eighth place. Here's the points standings following Talladega. All eight advancing drivers will have their points reset to the same level before Martinsville.

1. Joey Logano (won at Kansas)
2. Kevin Harvick (won at Charlotte)
3. Brad Keselowski (won at Talladega)
4. Ryan Newman (+27 points ahead of ninth)
5. Denny Hamlin (+10)
6. Matt Kenseth (+9)
7. Carl Edwards (+9)
8. Jeff Gordon (+3)
9. Kasey Kahne (-3 to Gordon)
10. Kyle Busch (-7)
11. Jimmie Johnson (-40)
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-48)

- - - - - - -

Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 19, 2014, 10:09 pm

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Every Chase driver's nightmare became Kyle Busch's reality on Sunday. A wreck started by a non-Chase driver took out Busch and whacked what had been an incredibly promising Chase run for Busch.

On lap 102, Aric Almirola ran into JJ Yeley, and the ensuing wreck consumed Alex Bowman and Busch. “We were just all starting to shuffle around there and getting ready to pit, and I think it was the 83 (Yeley) in front of me, and I think he might have been trying to check up to get to the bottom." Almirola said. "I just barely started to push him and it hooked his car and we all wrecked.”

"We are destroyed," Busch screamed on the radio. "We are absolutely killed. I got wrecked from behind. We are done. It's everything."

Busch's Chase hopes were destroyed too. Despite his crew's valiant efforts, he ended up missing the Chase by seven points thanks to the crash. Busch entered the race third in points, the highest driver in the points standings who didn't win in the second round of the Chase and 26 points ahead of the eighth-place cutoff.

Following the wreck, Busch wheeled the car baclk into the garage area, but because of damage to the front end couldn't properly point the car into the pit stall. The M&M's 18 slewed around like an angry dog on a leash, and Busch finally cut the engine, climbed out of the car, and walked into his hauler without a word.

He would remain there while two dozen crew members, including members of Denny Hamlin's team, worked over the 18 with hammers, saws and more.

"it was really hurt," team owner Joe Gibbs said on the television broadcast. "We had rear-end damage and got hit from behind ... we had to replace the whole front end."

Finally the crew got the car repaired to the point that it could head back onto the track, nearly 40 laps behind the field to attempt to gain Busch points and help him sneak into the Chase. Thanks to Brad Keselowski's win and the lack of a bad finish by another driver who entered the race in the top eight, Busch didn't advance to the third round.

Just like after the crash, Busch walked away from his car silently when the race concluded.

Kyle Busch did not respond to questions. He walked straight out of garage. pic.twitter.com/KzTWybKHwO

— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 19, 2014

Busch had finished in the top 10 in each of the first five Chase races. But thanks to the crash at Talladega and the new Chase format, an untimely and unlucky crash ruined his hopes for a championship.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 19, 2014, 8:40 pm

Michael Waltrip and Emma Slater.TALLADEGA, Ala. - Michael Waltrip and Emma Slater, the unlikely combination of grease and grace on this season's installment of "Dancing With The Stars," were standing in the midst of a crowd of well-wishers just outside the grandstands of Talladega Superspeedway. They were both gracious with their time, signing everything placed in front of them and posing for selfies by the score. One man held out a little boy wearing a Danica Patrick hat, and both Waltrip and Slater cooed at the lad. They posed for a picture, and then Waltrip pointed right at the kid.

"You have a cell phone?" he asked. "No? All right, here's what you do. Take your daddy's cell phone and call in to vote ... "

That is pure, undistilled, mainlined Waltrip, NASCAR's greatest pitchman. He and Slater have been stumping this entire weekend for desperately-needed votes to advance to the show's next round, but that's only this month's cause. Whatever the sponsor, whatever the need, you can count on Waltrip to be there, bringing promotional muscle at every turn. The dude could not only sell snow to the Eskimos, he'd make sure it was specially branded snow and assure you it's even better than that stuff that just falls from the sky.

This weekend at Talladega alone, he's dragged a game Slater out to Talladega Boulevard, a mile-long wretched hive of scum, villainy, and Dale Earnhardt flags. (Just kidding, 'Dega, nothing but love for you, baby.) He and Slater passed out get-out-the-vote yard signs to be posted in front of RVs and campsites all throughout the infield. Anyone in the infield whose eyes were capable of focusing surely saw a dozen of the signs throughout the weekend.

Then on Saturday, he basically hijacked the press conference of his own driver, Brian Vickers, who'd just won the pole position for Sunday's race. Waltrip asked everyone to tag their articles with a hashtag calling for people to vote for him (no, we won't do that here) and posed for photos in the media center. It's all part of the game.

Waltrip holds the distinction of the longest winless streak in NASCAR: 463 starts from the beginning of his career to his first victory in 2001. Across a 30-year career, he's won only four races, all clustered in the 2001-2003 era. Of course, two of those victories are Daytona 500s. He remains optimistic in the face of tragedy (his first win came in the race in which Dale Earnhardt died) and corporate trauma (the race team that bears his name was severely wounded, and lost a key sponsor, by race manipulations last fall at Richmond).

These days, he only races at the two superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega, and he turns each one into a crowd-pleasing event. He's run cars at Talladega honoring the national championships of both Alabama and Auburn, which in itself should tell you he'll turn the wheel in the direction of whichever pasture is greener.

Here's the thing, though: you can bust on this kind of blatant hucksterism, but this is exactly what NASCAR was built on. Sure, there's the love of competition and all that, but if drivers and teams were only in this for the competition, they'd have been content to run at the dirt track across the street from Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday night. No, this is a business that needs money, a constant infusion of money, and nobody hustles harder to secure the dollars and please the sponsors than Waltrip.

He's racing on Sunday at Talladega, and he's got as good a chance as anyone of winning this race ... or getting caught up in a spectacular wreck. As recently as two years ago, he was in position to take the lead on the final lap when Tony Stewart cut him off, causing a gargantuan wreck.

But racing's only a part of the entire spectrum this weekend. He'll follow Sunday's race with a trip to California on Monday, where his song-and-dance routine, both metaphorical and literal, may be nearing its end on "Dancing With The Stars." According to Waltrip, one of the judges observed their most recent performance and sniffed, "It was entertaining as hell, but I'm tired of being entertained."

Nice sentiment, but asking Waltrip to calm down on the entertaining schtick is like asking the sun to reverse its course. It's not going to happen ... well, unless there's a better offer.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 19, 2014, 3:54 pm

Dale Earnhardt Jr., waits  to qualify for Sunday's  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Talladega, Ala.  (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)TALLADEGA, Ala. - There's a certain freedom that comes with having nothing left to lose, with knowing that the only way you can win is a bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam, a miracle Hail Mary heave. Half-measures are worthless, good-job-good-effort is as meaningless as finishing dead last.

For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the only way through to the next round of the Chase is a victory at Talladega on Sunday. Absent a range of mitigating circumstances, no other result will allow him to carry through on what had been, until now, a dream season. And with that comes the realization that while there's plenty he can do to control his destiny, worrying and fretting are not among them.

"After how bad we’ve run the last couple of weeks and the troubles we have, to even have an opportunity is pretty neat on one side of the coin," Earnhardt said on Saturday. "I’m looking at it in a more positive manner than ‘we’re in panic mode and we’ve got to go crazy here.’ We have a shot and we know what we need to do."

Earnhardt's last couple of years have been characterized by a newfound confidence, a faith in his abilities that had been sorely lacking for most of the time he'd been at Hendrick Motorsports. On-track success begat confidence, which in turn begat more success. All the talk deriding Junior faded in waves of victory-lane confetti. 

But in NASCAR's new Chase format, one bad week can torpedo a season's worth of hopes. Earnhardt has had two. That makes this year's Talladega race one of the most critical Earnhardt has ever faced in his career.

"Knowing that I have to win will be in the back of my mind for every lap throughout the race," he said. "It’ll be different. I don’t think I’ve been in that situation before; I don’t think any driver has where it’s win or nothing."

So what will he be doing to prepare himself for this unprecedented, all-important race?

 "Nothing," Earnhardt said on Saturday, offering a hint of a grin. "I’ve been racing here a long time. I got it. Just have to get my suit on and get in the car. There isn’t much to do it. You get in there and do it. I just don’t need to eat any bad fish or junk food. Put good stuff in your body you can burn, and drink a lot of water to hydrate. Physically, it’s very simple to race here. When you end the race, you don’t feel any physical drain or anything like that. Mentally it’s very tough. But I don’t know if we do mental exercises or anything to prepare ourselves."

It's all down to this, then, for the driver with the sport's greatest name, its largest fanbase, and its most vocal contingent. Win or it's over. Easy enough, right? There's clarity in simplicity.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 19, 2014, 12:54 am

Brian Vickers climbs out of his car after winning the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Talladega, Ala.   (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)TALLADEGA, Ala. - And here we thought a multi-car wreck was the biggest mess that could possibly happen at Talladega.

Saturday afternoon, NASCAR rolled out a modification to the standard three-round format of qualifying at Talladega in which drivers jostled, juked, jived and positioned themselves to, believe it or not, completely avoid driving. And a combination of indecision and incorrect decisions left two Sprint Cup regulars out of the race entirely.

No, it didn't make any more sense as it was unfolding, either. The problem with trying to qualify in a traditional mode at Talladega is that a solitary car has no chance of running anywhere close to the speed that cars can achieve in a pack. And NASCAR further divided the drivers into two separate segments of five-minute qualifying, giving the second group a very good look at how badly the first group messed up.

"You don't want to be the first car out there, because you're going to be the slowest car," AJ Allmendinger said afterward. "The pack's going to run you down."

"The more cars in front of you, the faster you go," Jimmie Johnson said, and the counterintuitive nature of that statement summed up the afternoon entirely.

As a result, qualifying featured the bizarre scene of cars sitting absolutely still while the minutes of qualifying ticked down. No one wanted to be the first car out; the one driver who actually screwed up the courage to get out on the track, Denny Hamlin, was bounced in the first round of cuts.

Drivers tried to time their runs so that they were in the back of their packs, which led to a balancing act: staying toward the back of the pack while still turning laps fast enough to stay ahead of the ticking clock.

Per qualifying rules, the top 36 spots are established by speed, and from that standard, Brian Vickers took first, and Jimmie Johnson took second. After that, positions 37-42 are established by car owners' points. The 43rd spot goes to a past champion.

Accordingly, Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart took the provisional spots. That left the 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the 51 of Justin Allgaier on the sideline.

"What a weird qualifying session, no way around it," Johnson said afterward. "Confusion on multiple levels."

"You guys know the rules better than me," Brad Keselowski said after the run. "I don't even know what I just did."

The initial round of cuts took out some big names, and by the time they found their smartphones, it didn't take long for them to start tweeting out frustration or relief:

Cars went home today that should never go home.

— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) October 18, 2014

The car is obviously much more competitive than where it will start. Looking forward to the race for sure.

— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) October 18, 2014

Well qualifying is over, my heart is finally back in my chest and we get to go racing tomorrow! @MQL_Racing @woodbrothers21 #insane

— Trevor Bayne (@Tbayne21) October 18, 2014

I am usually not very vocal about these things but that was pretty silly.

— Josh Wise (@Josh_Wise) October 18, 2014

New qualifying format is awesome but doesn't work on the super speedways. Race will be fun!!!

— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) October 18, 2014

Provisionals in the Cup race remind me of the way it was 15-20 years ago. Good cars would go home every week.

— Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton) October 18, 2014

Welp... Guess we'll drive to the front.

— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) October 18, 2014

Wow never been so frustrated & confused trying to qualify for a race. Not the way we intended to start the weekend.

— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) October 18, 2014

The key to Talladega qualifying isn't necessarily starting position; at Talladega, everyone has a chance at getting up to the front. But qualifying first gets you the choice of the first pit stall, and that puts Johnson in a very good position to try to close the gap on 8th place to avoid elimination.

In starting news, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski will start at the back of the pack because of an engine and alternator change, respectively. Also, Joe Nemecheck was disqualified from the race when his car failed inspection; the failure let Reed Sorenson back in the race.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 18, 2014, 9:57 pm

NASCAR driver Terry Labonte announces his retirement during a news conference at Talladega Superspeedway, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)TALLADEGA, Ala. - Terry Labonte, one of NASCAR's most celebrated and long-running drivers, will close off his Sprint Cup career on Sunday at Talladega. The two-time champion ran 889 races over 37 years, notching 22 victories. He hasn't run a full season since 2004.

Labonte isn't quite Brett Favre or The Who in terms of retiring and then un-retiring, but he admitted he'd done a couple of doublebacks in his day.

"Of course, you know it’s only about the third time I’ve said this is gonna be my last race, but this is really gonna be the last one," he laughed at a Saturday press conference.

Why Talladega? Because of the anyone-can-win potential. "I’ve always looked forward to coming to Talladega," he said. "We have a couple of wins down here and it’s a track, as everybody knows, if you stay out of trouble and stay on the lead lap you’ve got an opportunity for a decent finish.”

Labonte's team had sought to honor his career with a car decorated with two of his more notable paint schemes, different on one side than the other. You can see both sides right here:

Problem is, NASCAR doesn't permit cars to have two different paint schemes on different sides of the car because of the difficulty spotters may have in identifying the car. So NASCAR told Labonte's team to change the decal, but allowed him to run it during qualifying. He ended up qualifying ninth.

What does the future hold for Labonte? "I’ll probably come to a few races, that’s for sure," he said. "Sometimes I go to the race tracks and don’t come in the garage area ... You’ll probably see me around every now and then, but not a whole lot.”

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 18, 2014, 7:49 pm

NASCAR.com's Lesley Robins talks to Michael Waltrip about his recent performance on ABC's Dancing With The Stars and this week's upcoming race in Talladega.TALLADEGA, Ala. - It's safe to say Michael Waltrip is about to attempt something never before tried in NASCAR history.

Drivers have run two races in a day, sometimes even in different states. Drivers have raced one night and run a footrace the next morning. But no driver has ever run a race one day and gone on a national dancing show the next ... until now.

Waltrip is a surprisingly long-lived contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," the insanely popular television show which airs on Monday nights. Waltrip, now largely an owner/commentator, also still drives at NASCAR's superspeedways, and he's entered in Sunday's GEICO 500. Once he finishes that, he'll jump on a plane to California for Monday's show.

A dancing show is pretty much the last place you'd expect to find a Daytona 500 winner, and yet there's Waltrip, hanging on by his fingernails.

"It's been a wonderful experience," Waltrip said. "I had the best time last week doing my disco. And I was so proud of it until those four judges spoke. They didn't like my disco so well. One of 'em said, and I quote, 'It was entertaining as hell, but I'm tired of being entertained,' " said Waltrip. "Well, what the heck? I'm not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize or anything, I'm trying to dance, you know?"

This week, he'll be performing an Argentine Tango. "It's quite a lot different than the disco," Waltrip said. "So it's really, like, romantic and sexy."

"Romantic and sexy" are not the first, or the 50th, adjectives to come to mind when describing Talladega. So Waltrip brought along his dancing partner, Emma Slater, to keep him on point and sharp in between his racing and commentating duties. They've been practicing in a local YMCA, which is almost surely every bit as ridiculous as it sounds.

Waltrip also took Slater out to visit with the Talladega fans on Friday night, which seems a very brave thing to do:

Heading out to see the wonderful @TalladegaSuperS fans. @NASCAR @EmmaSlaterDance pic.twitter.com/aOMepDsRyA

— Michael Waltrip (@mw55) October 17, 2014

Slater apparently survived the experience, along the way meeting with drivers Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski:

Introduced @EmmaSlaterDance to some of my racing buddies @keselowski @KyleLarsonRacin at @TalladegaSuperS @DancingABC pic.twitter.com/GutqsZ6KoC

— Michael Waltrip (@mw55) October 17, 2014

Waltrip is not expected to win at either Talladega or "DWTS." But he's giving both a try, and that's certainly something. We're not sure if his old friend Dale Earnhardt would be proud, but he'd certainly be amused.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: October 18, 2014, 7:01 pm

Matt Kenseth doesn't regret chasing and grabbing Brad Keselowski after Saturday's race at Charlotte.

Kenseth was asked Friday about the incident, which happened after the two had skirmished on the track. Keselowski hit Kenseth on pit road as the two were driving back to the garage. The two had a run-in on a restart earlier in the race when Keselowski moved in front of Kenseth and Kenseth hit the wall. Then, Keselowski said, Kenseth hit him as he drove by under a later caution flag.

Kenseth said his belts and helmet were off when he was hit by Keselowski on pit road.

"None of it – you never want to get into confrontations, at least I don't," Kenseth said Friday. "I like to avoid them.  I'm definitely not built for fighting and it's not really in my genes – not something I ever really want to do, but I guess everybody has their breaking point. Last week was bad enough to run bad all night and to be frustrated and then get two tires and get towards the front and Brad (Keselowski) clearly saw me roll outside of him and he hung a right on purpose and ran me right into the wall and ruined my night and possibly took us out of Chase contention. So, I was mad enough about that and then to come down afterwards and have your stuff off and your net down and come and pull those high school stunts playing car wars after the race was just absolutely unacceptable. That definitely put me over the edge. I don't regret my actions.  I'm not proud of them or happy about them or any of that, but I don't regret them. I don't know that I would do anything different if the same thing went down again."

When Keselowski was asked if he had any regrets for his role in the incident with Kenseth and with Denny Hamlin, he said he wasn't ready to get into it.

“I’m not really ready to get into that side of it,” Keselowski said via the Sporting News. “I haven’t put a lot of thought into it to be honest. I’ve been busy testing Martinsville and getting ready for Talladega.

“This is a huge weekend for me and our team where we really have to pull out a clutch moment. I don’t want to lose sight of that by spending a whole bunch of time on all that other garbage.”

Keselowski was fined $50,000 on Tuesday. Tony Stewart, who backed into Keselowski's car on pit road after Keselowski hit Kenseth and Kenseth's car rolled into Stewart's, was fined $25,000.


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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 17, 2014, 8:08 pm

Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg.We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy.

We're going to start with the latest "old" Chase standings before we get to the ridiculousness that was the comments surrounding Saturday night at Charlotte.

1. Joey Logano, 2,224
2. Kevin Harvick, 2,204
3. Kyle Busch, 2,193
4. Jeff Gordon, 2,191
5. Brad Keselowski, 2,178
6. Ryan Newman, 2,168
7. Carl Edwards, 2,167
8. Denny Hamlin, 2,154
9. Matt Kenseth, 2,153
10. Jimmie Johnson, 2,152
11. A.J. Allmendinger, 2,142
12. Kasey Kahne, 2,136
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,135
14. Greg Biffle, 2,127
15. Kurt Busch, 2,109
16. Aric Almirola, 2,096

Alright, let's talk about what happened on Saturday night. These first two emails are from before NASCAR announced penalties on Tuesday. If you haven't seen what happened, Saturday, click here. If you want to read about the $50,000 penalty to Keselowski and the $25,000 penalty to Tony Stewart, click here.

Be warned, they're incredibly reactionary.


After the Kevin Ward incident, NASCAR needs to start to penalizing drivers and teams, for any retaliation on pit road or in the garage after the race with their car. It's only a matter of time before someone get hurts or killed. What Brad K did in the pits, he and his team should be parked for the following race. What he did in the garage after should be another race. This would be a ban from all 3 series of NASCAR competition too. On top of a 30 point penalty. And yes by this logic I know Stewart should be parked too. If you're going to settle it, settle with it your fist not the car. - H

 After what happened with Tony Stewart this year....what this IDIOT Brad did...using his car as a guided missile, hitting a parked car with a driver that had taken off his safety harness ....was nothing short of attempted battery with a deadly weapon! I mean, he could have killed someone very easily! NASCAR should be suspending if not throwing this guy out of the sport! There is NO ROOM whatsoever in our sport for that stuff! He tried to intentionally hurt another driver...by which the result could have been death! If NASCAR does not do what is right....they are as bad as he is! - Gerrit

Hyperbole much?

Let's start with what happened on pit road. I'm surprised there hasn't been a movement for a rule mandating that NASCAR drivers remove their safety equipment and helmets only when the car is stopped on pit road. I know that for the most part, the cool-down laps and entering pit road is a calm event, but cars can have things go wrong, even at low speeds and coasting. While Keselowski probably had an idea that drivers tend to take their equipment off early, I don't think he knew for sure that Kenseth would be unbuckled when he ran into him.

Now, let's go to the garage. When you watch the video of Keselowski and Hamlin in the garage, there really isn't much to it. The incident is made more severe-sounding by the loudness of the engine. If you take away the engine noise from the video, does it have the same effect? I don't think it does. Keselowski's doesn't peel out nearly as severely as you'd see a teenager in a parking lot. (Not to mention the fact that Cup cars have manual transmissions and no traction control.)

Also, he was trying to get away from Hamlin. It's obvious that Hamlin was following Keselowski, and with two cars in a confined space like that, Keselowski's options for avoiding conflict are limited. With more people and more open space in the open-air part of the garage, he had a better chance of avoiding anything even more ridiculous than what transpired after the race.

Asking for a ban or a suspension before or after the penalties were announced is overreaching at the very best. I understand attitudes because of the unfortunate events at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on August 9, but they're not the same situations. Now, here are two emails from after the penalties.


Explain to me how BK only gets a $50,000 fine and a four race probation! He ran into Matt on pit road after his helmet and belts were off. Did BK know that, probably not, but that shouldn’t make it OK. I am far from a Matt Kenseth fan, but he could have been injured. Then for BK to go racing through the garage area, supposedly hitting a transmission and tossing is across the garage area, and putting a lot of people at risk tells me his punishment should be a lot harsher. Why didn’t he get any points taken from him? Do you think he should have been sat down for Dega’? That might be a little too much, but BK needs a fine steep enough to stop him from doing that again before someone gets seriously injured. The drama is great and all, and I think it’s good for the sport to have drivers showing their emotion, but safety needs to be the top priority. - Roger

Keselowski should have at least had to sit out 2 races. They did it to Kyle Busch and he never went that far. The fairness is not there. Brad should not be able to compete after all he did....it's not worth watching for that small of a penalty. To light them up in the garage and hit a man without his safety devices deserves at LEAST one race suspension! Brad went beyond the norm and given a gift and I hope it costs NASCAR. Now there are 2 jerks! - M

Again, what's with the call to a suspension? What Keselowski and Kyle Busch did are not comparable. Busch deliberately wrecked another driver under caution and it was clear that NASCAR was at its wits' end with the penalty.

Much like Kenseth's alleged door-slam of Keselowski, we didn't see a transmission go flying on camera at any point, even though that's what Hamlin said happened. And while I'm not saying Hamlin isn't telling the truth, it's important to note that humans have a tendency to exaggerate while emotions are high.

There was no reason for Keselowski to be suspended for any races, nor was there any reason for anyone to be suspended. I understand the fines for the contact after the race, but it did look odd that Kenseth and Hamlin weren't at least given the ever-vague NASCAR probation for their actions. Hamlin could have simply not followed Keselowski out of the garage stall and de-escalated the situation, but he did.

And there's a clear line here in NASCAR now. You can shove or do what Kenseth did by going for a headlock/grab thing, but you can't punch, and you can't do anything with your car when you're not on the track itself. But if it's in between those boundaries, NASCAR wouldn't mind frustration boiling over more often.

@NickBromberg How legit are Ryan Newman's chances at winning the title and what if he does it without winning a race?

— Dave Buchanan (@WGRFastTrack) October 16, 2014

They're real.

That's not very descriptive of course, and I wouldn't call Newman a favorite at this point. Nor would I call him a favorite if he was in the final four at Homestead. But as we've seen through five races, the ability to avoid a bad finish and advance to the next round is critical. If Newman keeps scoring back-end top 10s and other drivers keep having bad luck, he's going to be in it at Homestead. And from there, who the heck knows.

@NickBromberg Final Green, 88/48 front row,24 in second row, WWJG do? How does Mr. H handle Dega? Royals Nation is like which Chase Nation?

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) October 16, 2014

Where's Kasey Kahne? He's got a chance to move on too. It's the ultimate situation of equal upside and downside with Junior and Johnson, assuming they're still both needing a win to get in, and for Gordon, it's just a matter of making it to the end, because if he does, he'll be in. If Kahne was with Gordon in the second row and this scenario transpires, wouldn't it be fascinating as hell to watch?

I don't think there's a good parallel for the Royals to a NASCAR driver, so I'm going to go with Denny Hamlin. He's had the moment of great optimism and failure with the 2010 Chase and then the trials of a torn ACL, back injury and a winless stretch. Now he's healthy, got his win in one of the most random NASCAR tracks around (Talladega) and has a shot to win. I think it works.

And the Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series. I just typed that again because this is such an unfamiliar thing that I'm not sure it exists.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 16, 2014, 9:32 pm

Earlier this week, Clint Bowyer, a man who really likes fire, showed off a baby gift he received after the birth of son Cash Bowyer on September 30.

It was a flamethrower.

Best baby gift to ever and I mean EVER!!! come through the mail from my buddy @johnnydare 🔥😳👍 pic.twitter.com/qsNrJCLwCY

— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) October 13, 2014

After staring in amazement at the photograph and snapping ourselves back to reality after fearing for everyone within a 15-mile radius of Bowyer and a flamethrower, we wanted to find out why he got the gift, so we talked to Johnny Dare, the man who gave it to Bowyer.

Dare is the long-time morning host on Kansas City's KQRC-FM and has become friends with Bowyer after selling him a 1949 Mercury. Bowyer is from Emporia, Kan., which is about 90 minutes away from Kansas City.

"We've ended up staying in touch and hanging out a little bit and the stories have always ended up around fire and explosions and there's one story that involves dynamite and a swimming pool,"* Dare said. "It was always going down that road, so this was the perfect baby gift. It's baby's first flamethrower."

(*Yes, we'll ask Bowyer about this some time)

Dare bought the flamethrower from FlamethrowerPlans.com, a website with the slogan "If you have e'er looked at something and thought… 'I really want to set that on fire but I’m much too far away to do it,” then you are in the right place." After trying to get it to Bowyer in person in Kansas City two weeks ago, Dare mailed the gift to Bowyer. Bowyer's reaction upon getting it? Well, his tweet wasn't a lie.

"[He] Absolutely loved it," Dare said. "I started getting texts and pictures of him out on his property shooting it ... like any red-blooded American would be, he was in love with it from the moment he held it. I believe he loves it 10 percent less than his son."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 16, 2014, 3:55 pm

Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart were each fined for their parts in the fracas after Saturday night's race at Charlotte.

Keselowski was fined $50,000 and placed on four weeks probation while Stewart was fined $25,000 and also placed on probation for four races. Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin were not penalized for their roles in the incidents.

“These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment following the race,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president, competition and racing development, said in a statement. “We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves. However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials, and workers is paramount and we will react when that safety could be compromised.”

Both Keselowski and Stewart  were assessed penalties under Section 12.1: actions detrimental to stock car racing and Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty -- involved in post-race incidents in the NASCAR rule book. Given the two drivers penalized and the two drivers not penalized, it's reasonable to assume the penalities are related to what drivers did with their cars, not what happened when they were outside of them.

Keselowski was followed by Hamlin into the garage after the race. When the two cars were in garage stalls and stopped, Keselowski fired his car back up and drove away from Hamlin. The two cars then parked behind the row of Sprint Cup Series haulers and Hamlin had to be restrained from going after Keselowski.

Keselowski ran into Kenseth on pit road after the race, a move he said was in retaliation for Kenseth running into him as he took the wave-around during the race. Kenseth and Keselowski first tangled with 63 laps to go when Keselowski blocked a Kenseth move to the outside following a restart and Kenseth hit the wall.

Kenseth, who said he had taken his HANS device off and unbuckled his seat belts before he was hit by Keselowski, went after Keselowski in the garage after Keselowski had exited his car. During the cool-down lap, Hamlin also brake-checked Keselowski and Keselowski attempted to spin him.

Stewart was penalized for backing into Keselowski's car on pit road. After he saw Keselowski hit Kenseth and Keselowski's car bumped into his, he threw his car into reverse and crumpled Keselowski's hood.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 14, 2014, 8:58 pm

Our Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it's the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. And you think we dislike your favorite driver, so it makes sense, right? Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com.

1. Joey Logano (LW: 1): We're not going to move the points leader from the top spot of Power Rankings after finishing fourth, even if the guy in second was the one who won the race. We're not that cruel and callous. However, we feel that we need to point out that this is the final few days of Logano's points lead until potentially after Martinsville. Enjoy it while you have it, Joey!

2. Kevin Harvick (LW; 2): While Logano can spend the entire Talladega race as Brad Keselowski's wingman if Team Penske so chooses, Harvick doesn't have a team dilemma. He's the only SHR car left in the Chase. Of the 12 Chase drivers, he's in the best spot. Want to run in the back all day and just kill time? Harvick can do it. Want to go for the win and say screw it? Harvick can do that too. The potential consequences of a crashed car exist either way.

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): The top three is unchanged and do you blame us? Busch finished fifth and is second in the standings (a point ahead of Harvick). Busch was very straightforward with his Talladega strategy after the race, saying that he simply wanted to survive and let the mayhem happen in front of him. It's not a bad idea. He's got a 26-point cushion over Matt Kenseth, which means he can finish 28th if Kenseth finishes second.

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4): OK, the top four is unchanged. This is what happens when they all finish in the top five. Gordon finished second, and while we all wondered how the race could go bad for Harvick on the green-white-checker restart, was the wondering tampered a bit with the possibility of a #GordonRestart? Plus, Harvick had the best car all day and we know that Gordon's success has come on long green flag runs.

5. Kyle Larson (LW: 6): Here's where it gets crazy. The next seven spots are going to be jumbled up and Larson moves up after finishing sixth. And he even hit the wall earlier in the race. There's no denying that Larson is running well and it's absolutely no fluke. However, one has to wonder if the good finishes are being artificially enhanced. A precocious rookie driver with a bunch of acknowledged potential being the best non-Chase driver over the final 10 races is too perfect of a storyline.

6 (TIE). Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman: We have a tie in Power Rankings because Edwards and Newman can't seem to escape each other this Chase. Saturday night, Newman was seventh while Edwards was eighth. The biggest gap between the two drivers in terms of finishes so far in the Chase has been five, when Newman finished 15th while Edwards was 20th. In the other four races, they've finished within, at most, three positions of each other and have finished in consecutive spots for the past two races.

8. Denny Hamlin (LW: 11): Here's the video of what TV cameras didn't capture during Saturday night's telecast. After Hamlin and Brad Keselowski drove into the garage, they drove through the garage stalls in the garage building. Hamlin was following Keselowski, the two cars stopped, and that's where Keselowski gave the car some gas to get away from Hamlin.

After the kerfuffle – if you want to call it that – the two continued on to where they ended up and Hamlin had to be restrained from going after Keselowski.

9. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5): If you watch the video closely, yes, Keselowski lays down rubber onto the garage stall floor with his rear tires, but his car doesn't accelerate out of the building like a rocket. And given that Hamlin was forcibly restrained from going after Keselowski when they finally got out of their cars, do you blame Keselowski for not wanting to be in a garage? Does the loud sound of the engine amidst the relative silence of cars off and coasting make the video worse than it appears? What if this same thing happened just out in front of the garage? There's a lot of interesting things to consider here if you think there should be penalties.

10. Matt Kenseth (LW: 7): If it's any consolation for missing the third round of the Chase if you don't qualify at Talladega, Matt, you gave us the GIF of the year with your ninja-like attack on Keselowski between the haulers. The most impressive thing about it may not be Kenseth's speed, but the way that he didn't touch the camera operator in the narrow walkway on the way to get Keselowski.

11. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): Johnson was the first car to pit for tires before the green-white-checker restart and restarted 10th. So he finished in the top five, right? Nope. He ended up 17th. Kind of crazy, isn't it? Even if Johnson held serve, he's still in basically the same position at Talladega. 50 points isn't much different than 57. A lot of things still have to happen for Johnson to advance if he doesn't win.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 12): Maybe Junior and Jimmie should just be an inseperable tag-team on Sunday. They're tied in the standings, so they might as well go at it together, right? Or at least until the last lap when it's every driver for himself. You can't exactly have team orders to decide who will be leading and who will be pushing in a two-car draft between the two. (A coin-flip seems unfair.) Oh, and look what actually exists and is soon available.

 Lucky Dog: Jamie McMurray. He out-pointed his young teammate on Saturday, finishing third.

The DNF: Clint Bowyer. Last. Engine failure.

Dropped out: N/A

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 14, 2014, 4:34 pm

An F1 commentator who is a family friend of Michael Schumacher's family said on a French radio station that the cause of Schumacher's head injury was a camera he had mounted on his helmet.

Schumacher suffered a severe brain injury while skiing in the Alps in December. While skiing, he tumbled and hit his head on a rock.

He is out of the hospital and recuperating at a specially-designed medical suite at his home; however according to the Daily Mail he's still immobile and unable to speak.

From the Mail:

Jean-Louis Moncet told a radio station: ‘The problem for Michael was not the hit, but the mounting of the Go-Pro camera that he had on his helmet that injured his brain.

‘I saw his son and he told me that Schumi is waking up very slowly; very slowly.

‘Although things are going at a slow pace, he has a lot of time, I would say he has his whole life in front of him to get back on track.’

In February, the Telegraph reported that there was testing being done to Schumacher's helmet. The helmet broke into two pieces while the camera wasn't damaged.

However, there has been no official explanation for how the camera could have weakened Schumacher's helmet or if the helmet would have broken apart without a camera mounted on it.

Investigators used the footage from the camera to investigate Schumacher's crash.

"The helmet completely broke. It was in at least two parts. ENSA analysed the piece of the helmet to check the material, and all was OK," said a source close to the investigation.

"But why did it explode on impact? Here the camera comes into question. The laboratory has been testing to see if the camera weakened the structure."

Perhaps not coincidentally, GoPro's shares were down approximately 10 percent on Monday, the first day of trading after word spread of Moncet's radio appearance.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 13, 2014, 7:58 pm

Kevin Harvick's map to victory lane didn't have any unexpected road blocks Saturday night.

Two weeks ago at Dover, Harvick had a flat tire and was forced to pit from the lead. Last week at Kansas, Harvick, who started on the pole, wondered if he had another flat and pre-emptively pitted to prevent a possible crash.

He finished 13th at Dover and 12th at Kansas.

Saturday, Harvick once again had one of the fastest cars in the field and led for 162 laps. And this time nothing went wrong, even though there were a couple of scares.

The first was in the middle of the race when Harvick thought he had a loose wheel. Instead of potentially pitting under green and losing a lap, a caution came out not long after Harvick reported the problem. He was able to pit under caution with the rest of the field and maintain his track position.

The second came on a green-white-checker restart. As the race was winding down, Harvick had a sizeable lead over second-place Jeff Gordon. However, Brian Vickers blew an engine with five laps to go. A caution flew, Harvick's lead over Gordon was gone and a green-white-checker finish was looming.

It didn't matter. Instead of letting the race slip away because of the late caution, Harvick got a great restart and pulled away from Gordon as the field headed into turn one. No one had a chance to make a race-winning pass.

"We know that we've had the cars to run up front and lead laps and do the things that we need to do," Harvick said. "Things just hadn't gone right. We'd made some mistakes, things hadn't gone right more than not."

"This is the night we needed to win. I didn't want to go to Talladega next week."

Talladega is the last race of the second round of the Chase. Harvick's win means he doesn't have to worry about points at Talladega; he's moving on to the third round no matter what. However, every other Chase driver except Harvick and last week's winner Joey Logano will have to worry about the specter of a big pileup at Talladega.

Some have to worry more than most, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. They're the bottom three drivers in the points standings after Charlotte. Here's how the standings look after five of 10 Chase races.

1. Joey Logano, 3,088 points: Since he's guaranteed to advance past Talladega, Logano has an interesting choice: run up front for the fun of it or stay the heck away? Or could he be teammate Keselowski's designated wingman?

2. Kyle Busch (-6 to Logano): Busch's strategy for Talladega is simple.

"Run dead last all day – survive," he said. "If there's one big wreck then it puts us in and we're good."

And that's not a bad one. He's got a 26-point cushion on ninth place, so staying way at the back and avoiding trouble should be good enough to get Busch in. And it doesn't matter where he is in the final eight, because the points will reset after Talladega. It's simply about getting in.

3. Kevin Harvick (-7): Harvick has the same dilemma as Logano, albeit without the teammate angle to it.

4. Ryan Newman (-11): Newman battled back to finish seventh after he had one hell of a save to dodge Danica Patrick's crashed car. And somehow, through that save-induced spin, Newman didn't hit anything.

5. Carl Edwards (-12): Edwards and Newman seem to be always around each other this Chase and it continued Saturday. Edwards finished eighth.

6. Jeff Gordon (-14): After finishing second, Gordon was very intrigued by the fireworks show after the race among Hamlin, Keselowski and Kenseth.

7. Denny Hamlin (-15): Hamlin finished ninth after restarting third. And yeah, there was all that stuff post-race too.

8. Kasey Kahne (-31): Mirror driving happens a lot at Talladega, but Kahne will be doing more of it than usual because of his precarious position in the points. He was 10th at Charlotte.

9. Matt Kenseth (-32): If Kenseth finished fourth (where he was when he hit the wall with 63 laps to go) instead of 19th like he actually did, he's one spot and 15 points higher in the standings.

10. Brad Keselowski (-50): Keselowski was 16th after restarting fifth. His car simply fell like an anchor over the last two laps, and he said it was because of right-front damage from Kenseth.

11. Jimmie Johnson (-57): Johnson was briefly in third place late in the race but decided to take four tires under the final caution flag. He restarted 10th, and instead of charging through the field with fresh rubber, he fell backwards to 17th. How did it happen? He was caught in the middle immediately after the restart and sunk back as cars around him had the preferred bottom and top grooves. He's going to Talladega needing a win, or a lot of cars in front of him to be in a crash.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-57): Junior's promising day turned miserable. The shifter handle broke on his car and his team was unable to fix it. He then went a lap down and never recovered, finishing 20th.

"We had a bad vibration and we ended up just breaking the – the vibration broke the shifter in half," Junior said. "It wasn't a good night. The car wasn't handling well and the vibration was really giving us a lot of problems. We had it in practice, changed some hubs and stuff and didn't fix it."

If there was ever a place for Junior to pull off a win-and-move-on-to-the-next-round-of-the-Chase scenario, it's Talladega. But with the roulette-wheel nature of restrictor plate racing, it's not something to count on. But because of his deficit in the points standings, winning may be his best hope for moving on.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 12, 2014, 5:25 am

Kevin Harvick sprinted away from Jeff Gordon on a green-white-checker restart to win at Charlotte Saturday night, but the race's drama didn't have anything to do with the lead.

On the final restart, Brad Keselowski restarted behind Denny Hamlin. He was unable to get around Hamlin as the field accelerated and he bumped Hamlin as the two went down the back straightaway. Then, after Keselowski failed to pass Hamlin again in the midst of a four-wide situation, his car started falling back. After the race was over, Hamlin was stopped in front of Keselowski in turn three and Keselowski tried to spin him out.

"We knew [Keselowski] was going to be aggressive because it's his only shot," Hamlin said. "He just ran right into us and knocked us off the racetrack and I showed him displeasure on the cool-down lap and I brake-checked him down the backstretch to give everyone the whole story and then he tried to spin us out. Then we got to pit lane and he just plowed into [Tony Stewart] and [Matt Kenseth]. [Kenseth], his belts were off and he ran into him and ran into us again coming on to pit road then he went through the garage and did burnouts and he knocked somebody's transmission clear through somebody else's pit stall so he was just out of control and we've got to think about us here going forward, that's the important thing. But NASCAR said no tolerance for stuff like that and you've got to just be a little bit more mature."

As the two got into the garage, Hamlin had to be restrained from going after Keselowski. As Keselowski got out of his car, he walked between the Team Penske haulers. Out of nowhere, Kenseth, Hamlin's teammate, rushed Keselowski from behind.

Kenseth was mad about contact that happened earlier in the race and contact that happened on pit road after the race. With 63 laps to go, Keselowski restarted on the outside of the first row. Kenseth was behind him. Kenseth went to pass Keselowski on the outside after the green flag waved and Keselowski moved to block, sending Kenseth into the wall. After the wall contact, the handling on Kenseth's car went away and his car started dropping through the field.

"On the restart I just rolled outside of him into the dogleg and he knew I was there, and just ran me out of room, ran me into the wall because he didn't want to get passed," Kenseth said. "Which I shouldn't have went there but there's a lot of guys you can race like that and they know you're there and they'll give you the room and he's usually one of them. He did it on purpose just ran me in the wall because he didn't want to get passed."

As Kenseth was approaching pit road after the cool-down lap and after Keselowski had tried to spin Denny Hamlin, Keselowski ran into the side of Kenseth's car. Then, after watching the melee from his rear-view mirror, Stewart played sheriff, threw his car into reverse and backed in to Keselowski's car.

"I think [Kenseth] got into the back of me on one of the restarts, it was just a racing deal, I wasn't mad at him, but when the last yellow came out he got the wave-around and when he came by and swung around at my car and tore the whole right front off of it," Keselowski said. "And when we were restarting fifth with no right front on it we fell all the way back to 16th and ruined our day and gave us a big Chase hurt which is unfortunate and for some reason after the race [Hamlin] stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don't know what that was all about and he swung and hit at my car and I figured if we're going to play car wars under yellow and after the race, I'll join too."

"Those guys can dish it out but they can't take it and I gave it back to them and now they want to fight so I don't know what's up with that."

Kenseth said he was in the process of getting unbuckled from his car when Keselowski hit him.

"But really the safety, he was doing something with Denny," Kenseth said. "I don't know if he was mad at him and I had my HANS off, my seatbelt off and everything and he clobbers me at like 50 [MPH], so the accidents and stuff we had around here … the race is over, come back to pit road. If he wants to come and talk about it like a man go do that but to try to wreck somebody on the race track and come down pit road with other cars and people standing around and my seatbelt's off, driving into the side of me is inexcusable. There's just no excuse for that. He's a champion, he's supposed to know better than that."

The only shot Hamlin referenced above is towards Keselowski's standing in the points. After a blown tire at Kansas, the 2012 champion needed to make up significant ground or win at Charlotte or Talladega to avoid elimination. A top five would have accomplished the former. Instead, Keselowski is 10th in the standings, 19 points away from eighth. The top eight in the standings transfer after Talladega. (Click here for a complete rundown of the Chase standings)

A driver who doesn't have to worry about transferring after Talladega? Harvick. Because of the win, he's now guaranteed advancement into the third round of the Chase along with last week's winner, Joey Logano.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 12, 2014, 4:30 am

Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned 40 years old on Friday and he got a poem from one of his fellow Wrangler jeans pitchmen.

Brett Favre, the retired NFL QB and he of the MicroTouch grooming commercials, read Junior a poem and put 40 candles on a birthday cake for him. It's quite the original poem, too.

Junior also got some intriguing-looking cupcakes for his birthday. Would you eat those?

Thanks @Hellmanns. Interesting recipe. I'm curious. pic.twitter.com/GWkb6lbMRe

— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) October 10, 2014

He qualified ninth on his birthday for Saturday's race.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 11, 2014, 5:17 pm

Kyle Busch will start first for the fifth race of the Chase.

Busch got the pole with a lap of 197.390 MPH in the final round, edging out Jeff Gordon, teammate Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart for the top spot.

Kevin Harvick, last week's pole winner, was seventh.

The surprise of Thursday's qualifying session? Neither Team Penske car made the final round of qualifying. It's just the second time at a non-restrictor plate track all season that Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano haven't been in the final round of qualifying. The first was Chicago, the first race of the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson didn't advance to the final round either. He starts 21st. Here's where the Chasers will line up on Saturday.

1. Kyle Busch
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Denny Hamlin
5. Ryan Newman
7. Kevin Harvick
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Carl Edwards
13. Joey Logano
17. Brad Keselowski
19. Kasey Kahne
21. Jimmie Johnson
22. Matt Kenseth

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 10, 2014, 12:26 am

Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg.We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy.

How about that Chase jumble, eh? Kansas messed up the points standings not only in their current form but in their old form. Joey Logano, Sunday's race winner, is the points leader under the current format and would be the points leader by 28 in the old format. Here's how it would look through four races.

1. Logano, 2,184
2. Harvick, 2,156
3. Kyle Busch 2,153
4. Keselowski, 2,149
5. Gordon, 2,148
6. Edwards, 2,130
7. Newman, 2,130
8. Kenseth, 2,128
9. Johnson, 2,125
10. Hamlin, 2,118
11. Earnhardt Jr. 2,110
12. Allmendinger, 2,110
13. Kahne, 2,102
14. Biffle, 2,101
15. Kurt Busch, 2,075
16. Almirola, 2,074

In reality, Logano has a six point lead over Kyle Busch. Let's talk about this Chase now.

From my point of view this new Chase system is terribly flawed. First major flaw I see is the focus is being taken off the top of the standings and concentrated at the bottom. In previous years after the Kansas race the contenders were defined and generally went at it toe to toe. Last year (Johnson) and Kenseth put on a hell of a show for nine races and I was on the edge of my seat. The champion the last number of years has had a avg. finish in the 3.0-5.0 range. This year Logano has a avg of 2.5 and no one is talking about him and a flat tire at Texas may eliminate him from contention. This year we are focused on the bottom of the pack, it doesn't make sense to me.
The second problem I see is we are facing the possible elimination of Johnson, Keselowski and Jr the sports biggest stars because two tires ran out of air and Greg Biffle ran out of talent.
I watch enough sports to know you want your big markets and big stars in the playoffs as long as possible. The NHL was giddy last year with the LA/New York Stanley Cup Final because it was exposed to the biggest markets. Do you think MLB is going to be happy to see Kansas City and Washington in the World Series? I don't think so.
NASCAR can have its final four in Homestead but I don't think I'm going to be watching or get too excited to see Ryan Newman, Edwards, Kenseth and Kyle Busch avg out a 8 place finish to become a champion. - Tony

Tony raises a good point. This year, at least through the first six races, it's going to be about who misses out and who moves on. We're not talking about how awesome Logano is first and foremost, it's about the elimination.

Granted, that talk is magnified because of the drivers who are now suddenly on the bubble of disqualification, but even as we get into the third round of the Chase, I still think who will not advance will be more of a story than who will advance. It's the biggest round in terms of percentage of drivers eliminated (50 percent) and even if there are three different winners in the round, one driver will be advancing via points.

It's again another fascinating twist to the "winning is everything" angle that was well-worn throughout the regular season.

We'll talk about the second part of the question after this tweet.

@NickBromberg Was the chase format designed to keep viewership up towards the end of the season originally? If so, has it done that?

— Josh Anderson (@JoshAnderson09) October 9, 2014

It was clearly deisgned to not have any modicum of an idea who the champion will be, but as we've said, the three-race-per-round nature leads to randomness and this is the perfect storm of it with Junior, Johnson and Keselowski all suffering issues in the same race.

And from a viewership and interest standpoint, potentially losing those three isn't a great idea at all, even if the market size angle is pretty incongruous. New York and Los Angeles teams don't play in every other major league game. NASCAR drivers, with rare exceptions, are in every race. But being in contention for the title matters.

If you look at the standings above, Junior is probably out of it being 11th and 74 points behind in the old format. But there's a small chance he could have a comeback over six races. If he's eliminated in two races, there's no chance whatsoever of a comeback. After being primed for a title run all season, are Junior fans going to be amped about the final four races without him in the Chase? A tiny chance is better than no chance at all.

@NickBromberg Will Goodyear ever take ANY responsibility for tire probs in NASCAR? Jenna Fryer had a great article calling them out.

— Chris Nulty (@RealChrisNulty) October 9, 2014

If you're unaware of the article, you can read it here. And I agree with the sentiment, even if we're unsure of what the real reason for the Kansas tire failures is. The onus always seems to be put back on the teams for problems and that isn't fair. This isn't a foolproof system. Goodyear isn't an infallible being. Do we really think they've gotten everything right since the tire debacle at Indianapolis?

And were the tires a big reason that NASCAR didn't go with a high horsepower and low downforce package for the 2015 rules? That seemed to be what the drivers loved at the Michigan test, but there were questions if tires could be durable enough and wear properly to make it possible. Not going with what got glowing reviews seems to sublty answer that question.

The point about this happening at Homestead is a valid one too. What if what we saw at Kansas was a problem with the tires and had nothing to do with the teams. What if it happens at Homestead? We're seeing how volatile tire issues can make a three-race round. It's not an onion you want to open with one race deciding the title.

@NickBromberg Of all the 1.5m look a like, why does Kansas seem to be the wildest? Bottom 4 driver in most trouble? O's/K.C. pick.

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) October 9, 2014

It's a combination of speed, new pavement and tires. Plus, conditions at Kansas haven't been the most consistent. The fall can produce big temperature swings from practices to races. As the track starts to age and the new package of reduced horsepower and downforce is used, I'm interested to see if the perception of Kansas changes. The track will slow down and the grooves are tending to open up. While the races have been unpredictable, the high speeds and high downforce haven't made for incredibly entertaining racing after restarts.

The bottom four driver in most trouble is Kasey Kahne. While he could go win, he's not been good enough to points his way back into the hunt if he doesn't get a win.

And I'll take the Royals in six. Going to be a great series and one that I didn't think would be happening sitting in Kauffman during the eighth inning of the wild card game with the Royals trailing 7-3.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 9, 2014, 8:25 pm

Richard Petty Motorsports has found Marcos Ambrose's replacement.

The team announced Wednesday that Sam Hornish Jr. would drive for the team in 2015. He'll be in the No. 9 car and be teammates with Aric Almirola, who made the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup after winning at Daytona in July.

It's Hornish's second full-time stint in the Sprint Cup Series. He drove full-time for Team Penske from 2008-2010 until his No. 77 team was disbanded. Since then, he's driven part-time in the series and drove 20 races in 2012 for Penske after A.J. Allmendinger was suspended for a positive drug test.

"I've worked four years to get back to this point and I feel like I've come a long way," Hornish said. "I've found my voice, really, as far as what you need to have as far as a Cup driver is concerned ... trying to help steer organizations and I feel like when I look at it, the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports, it's kind of like a small ship. It's easier to turn. They've got a lot of things heading in a really good direction. Their assocation with Roush-Yates, as far as horsepower and Ford Racing and Roush with the chassis."

He drove full-time in the Nationwide Series in 2012 and 2013 for Penske but the team didn't have a spot for him in 2014, so Hornish moved on to a part-time gig at Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series. He said he's more prepared for full-time ride at this point in his career than he was when he first came to Team Penske's Sprint Cup Series operation from running in the IndyCar Series or even when he lost his ride at the end of 2010.

"At the end of 2010, I don't know that if it would have been beneficial for me to have a full-time Cup ride in 2011," Hornish said. "Because I had worked so hard to try to keep my head above water and I really wasn't in a good spot as far as confidence goes. I had taken quite a few lumps and had always tryied to work on the things. And I always thought there was light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes you don't know if that's a train or not."

"And I feel like having 2011, while it was a big hit and only did a few races here and there, it really gave me an opportunity to do a lot of testing which I had never gotten that opportunity up until that point, and also to run some Nationwide races and to have a good competitive team and crew chief to get myself an opportunity to win races and it just was a huge confidence builder."

Hornish won his first NASCAR race in 2011 at Phoenix in the Nationwide Series and finished second in the points standings in 2013. He has three career Nationwide Series wins, including one this season at Iowa Speedway.

He filled in for Denny Hamlin at California in the Sprint Cup Series this spring and finished 17th. RPM said it was a multi-year deal for Hornish, though the team is still looking for sponsorship. It has partial sponsorship from Twisted Tea for 2015 currently lined up. 2014 sponsors Stanley and DeWalt are moving to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.

Regarding Sponsorship on The Number 9: We continue to work with various partners and are always in the marketplace talking to new partners

— RPMotorsports (@RPMotorsports) October 8, 2014

Ambrose is leaving the team at the end of the season to return to his native Australia and race V8 Supercars, the series he excelled in before coming to NASCAR. (Coincidentally, he'll be driving for a team that Penske is a partner in.) Ambrose is currently 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 8, 2014, 3:25 pm

Our Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it's the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. And you think we dislike your favorite driver, so it makes sense, right? Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com.

1. Joey Logano (LW: 2): Logano would be leading the standings no matter the Chase format, he's the most recent winner and he's the only driver with multiple wins in the Chase. Pretty simple, don't you think? Logano is going to be a factor at Charlotte, though he wasn't exceptionally good there in the 600. When his car was back in traffic, he just didn't have the handling to get near the front. Though you can say that about almost anyone and everyone at intermediate tracks.

2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5): Do you blame Kevin Harvick for coming to pit road thinking he had a flat tire? While you can make the argument that Kansas was another self-inflicted wound for Harvick, playing it conservative with any possible tire issues was the way to go. Harvick ultimately didn't have a flat, but if he did and didn't come to pit road, he would have finished a whole lot lower than 12th.

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 6): You could have gotten really, really good odds on Busch being in second place in the points standings after Kansas. And his happiness with breaking the hex the place has held on him was evident when he said he had won after the race. Oh, and we have to ask a question. What was more surprising on Saturday. This?

Or this?

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 3): Gordon got tagged by Jamie McMurray and had a heck of a save to prevent his car from doing more than brushing the wall. However, he lost a ton of track position because of the incident and didn't get it back. Congratulations, Jeff, you were the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports car! We just won't go around telling people that you were 14th.

5. Brad Keselowski (LW; 2): Keselowski referred to the tire issue he had as "Russian Roulette" and it was simply his turn. If there was an underlying cause unrelated to the setups that Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. were running (and both drivers reported no issues before the sudden meetings with the wall), the new Chase format highlights just how ridiculously significant an issue like that can be. While both Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski would be in a deep points hole under the old format, they'd have six races to make it up. Now they have two races to win and advance. We'll continue this thought with Junior's paragraph.

6. Kyle Larson (LW: 7): Dude just keeps on cranking out good finishes, doesn't he? Given how he's performed at Chicago and Kansas, he's going to be the trendy pick to win at Charlotte. And remember, last year's fall race at Charlotte saw Keselowski, a non-Chaser, win the race. It'd certainly be an interesting scenario; Larson gets his first win while Keselowski, Johnson and Junior are all potentially in a scenario to have to win at Talladega to advance.

7. Matt Kenseth (LW: 8): Kenseth had a cracked nose on his car and then an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel and finished 13th. Departing from Kenseth, television ratings for the race were down from last year, the second straight race with declining ratings from 2013. We're not going to go as far as to say it's time to be alarmed (talking about television ratings seems futile at times), though you certainly can't say that the new Chase format is drawing additional viewers. Or if it is, it's certainly at the expense of others.

8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 4): It's a four spot drop for Johnson after he qualified and crashed. Had he simply crashed after qualifying and running in the top 15, this is harsh, but Johnson spun in qualifying and started at the back. It was just a bad weekend for the No. 48 team. All hope isn't lost by any means, but yes, Johnson not advancing past this round is a real possibility.

9. Carl Edwards (LW: 11): Edwards finished fifth on Sunday and looks like a great shot to get to the final eight. And based off his finishes from earlier in the year, don't be surprised if he gets to the final four as well. He finished 8th at Phoenix, 13th at Martinsville and 14th at Texas. Those aren't great runs, but consistent enough to keep Edwards hanging around.

10. Ryan Newman (LW: 10): Newman finished a spot behind Edwards and he's following the same trendline. The ability to avoid bad finishes may be more imperative than being excellent, and Newman has shown a strong ability to succeed at the former. If he can sneak in another top five or two the rest of the way...

11. Denny Hamlin (LW: 12): We're going fifth, sixth and seventh for these three spots. Hamlin won at Talladega in the spring, so that has to be a boost of confidence heading into what's probably the most random race of the Chase. If he can survive Charlotte with a good finish, there's a good shot that JGR will have all three cars in the final eight.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 9): How would interest decline in a Chase without Keselowski, Johnson and Junior? Obviously Junior is the biggest fan draw of the three, but the other two aren't slouches. While the new Chase system isn't designed to be fair and create drama and surprise, when it comes to attention being paid to it, three of the sport's biggest stars missing the final eight isn't good.

Lucky Dog: Two straight top-10 finishes from Martin Truex Jr. He did this once earlier in the year and his next finish was 37th. Let's see if Truex makes it three in a row.

The DNF: Well, at least Kurt Busch knows that if he would have advanced to the next round of the Chase he wouldn't be in a position of possible success.

Dropped out: No one.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 7, 2014, 7:03 pm

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The family of Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi said in a statement Tuesday that Bianchi suffered a diffuse axonal injury in his crash Sunday at Suzuka.

After the crash, F1 said Bianchi had suffered a severe head injury. A diffuse axonal injury occurs in half of all severe brain traumas according to brainandspinalcord.org.

When someone has a diffuse axonal injury, to say it's not good is a severe understatement. The site says that 90 percent of people with one will never regain consciousness and those that do regain consciousness are "often significantly impaired."

“This is a very difficult time for our family, but the messages of support and affection for Jules from all over the world have been a source of great comfort to us," the family's statement through Bianchi's Marussia F1 team said. "We would like to express our sincere appreciation."

"Jules remains in the Intensive Care Unit of the Mie General Medical Center in Yokkaichi. He has suffered a diffuse axonal injury and is in a critical but stable condition. The medical professionals at the hospital are providing the very best treatment and care and we are grateful for everything they have done for Jules since his accident."

Bianchi's car slid into a tractor that was picking up the crashed car of Adrian Sutil. The track was under a local yellow and before Bianchi had gotten to the accident site drivers were given the sign to accelerate past thre crash zone. The race was run in rain as Typhoon Phanfone approached the Japanese coast.

Instead, it results from the brain moving back and forth in the skull as a result of acceleration or deceleration. Automobile accidents, sports-related accidents, violence, falls, and child abuse such as Shaken Baby Syndrome are common causes of diffuse axonal injury. When acceleration or deceleration causes the brain to move within the skull, axons, the parts of the nerve cells that allow neurons to send messages between them, are disrupted. As tissue slides over tissue, a shearing injury occurs. This causes the lesions that are responsible for unconsciousness, as well as the vegetative state that occurs after a severe head injury.

A diffuse axonal injury also causes brain cells to die, which cause swelling in the brain. This increased pressure in the brain can cause decreased blood flow to the brain, as well as additional injury. The shearing can also release chemicals which can contribute to additional brain injury.

The family's statement also said that further updates will be provided when appropriate.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 7, 2014, 4:32 pm

Jules Bianchi is "critical but stable" after undergoing surgery following a vicious crash at the Formula 1 race in Suzuka, Japan on Sunday.

The crash was not shown on the television broadcast of the race. Here's a video of crash that was posted to YouTube on Monday. The tractor is lifting Adrian Sutil's crashed car when Bianchi slides into it. The impact is incredible.

The incidents happened in turn seven. Sutil said his car hydroplaned and, as custom in road course races, the track was under a local yellow. The race was being run in rain as Typhoon Phanfone approached the Japanese coast.

You'll notice in the video that the flag man is waving a green flag. It's to signify the track is clear. And while the track was clear, the tractor is clearly still in front of the wall. The flag was waved after the flag man waved double yellow flags as Sutil's car was being attached to the crane.

You can expect this incident to start a push for Formula 1 to revise its rules regarding yellow flags, specifically local yellows. During local yellows, drivers are prevented from overtaking.

The track is divided into multiple sectors, and according to this March report by Autosport, a single yellow flag by a flag man means a driver should slow his sector time by 0.2 seconds. A double yellow requires a 0.5 second slowdown. However, those requirements mean drivers are still going fast. Bianchi's telemetry reportedly showed him going approximately 130 MPH just before the crash.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 6, 2014, 9:22 pm

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kansas Speedway has become a torture chamber for Kyle Busch. He escaped it on Sunday. And apparently shoved all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in it in his place.

Entering the race, Busch's average finish at Kansas was 21.4, tied for his worst at any track. And it was the only track he hadn't finished in the top-five at. That statistic changed Sunday as Busch finished third.

"I won today," Busch said. "I just didn't get champagne and a trophy. To get through Kansas feels nice."

Thanks to the points reset after Dover and the conclusion of the first round of the Chase, Busch is now second in the points standings to Joey Logano, who won the race.

As Busch bucked his trend, Hendrick Motorsports' cars had a tough day, to put it mildly. We detailed the situations of Jimmie Johnson here and Dale Earnhardt Jr. here, but Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne didn't escape Kansas unharmed either.

Gordon got into the wall early in the race off the bumper of Jamie McMurray. The two were racing together after a restart and McMurray's car slid up into the left rear of Gordon's car off turn four and forced him up the track. Gordon ended up brushing the wall, but was able to keep going despite losing several spots.

He fought back but had a poor restart at the end of the race. Gordon finished 14th.

"We were having a pretty solid day with the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet until the No. 1 car got loose and got into our left rear; was just way over his head," Gordon said. "I knew he had a good car. He’s been running good, but he just got loose and got into me and got me in the wall. We had a little damage but we just lost all that track position. It is so hard to get it back at this place. We somewhat got it back; and on that last restart, I was just real loose."

He was the highest finishing Chaser after Kahne's strong run was derailed by a late green flag pit stop and then a bout with the wall after the next-to-last restart.

“We had a great car," Kahne said. "Ever since the Chase started, minus Chicago, we’ve had a top 5 car. And now again I thought we had a top 3 car. So, I feel good about all that. We have to finish. We were there. We had a tire issue and got behind and just tried passing too many cars at once and got loose and hit the wall"

Kahne finished 22nd.

Here's how the points standings look through the first of three races in the second round. The top eight drivers will advance to the third round.

1. Joey Logano, 3,048 points: 1st at Kansas
2. Kyle Busch, -6 points: 3rd
3. Carl Edwards, -9 points: 5th
4. Ryan Newman, -9 points: 6th
5. Denny Hamlin, -11 points: 7th
6. Kevin Harvick, -15 points: 12th
7. Matt Kenseth, -17 points: 13th
8. Jeff Gordon, -17 points: 14th
9. Kasey Kahne, -25 points: 22nd
10. Brad Keselowski, -39 points: 36th
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr., -42 points: 39th
12. Jimmie Johnson, -44 points: 40th

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 5, 2014, 10:23 pm

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – On a day when many of the drivers considered to be his main rivals for the championship faltered, Joey Logano can now be almost carefree throughout the next two races of the Chase.

Logano took the lead on the final restart of Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway over Ryan Newman and held off Kyle Larson over the final 15 laps to win and ensure his advancement into the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

On the next-to-last restart, Logano took four tires and was sixth as cars ahead of him took two tires. While taking two or no tires would have been tempting; the team chose to stick with the four-tire plan it was utilizing throughout the race. It paid off.

He was second after the first green flag lap and when the caution came out for Kasey Kahne, it meant Logano would restart on the front row with Ryan Newman, the race leader. The last restart was no contest. Logano had the lead into turn one.

"The two of us were up in the top and we were able to make our cars pretty equal," Logano said. "And whoever was up front was going to win that race there, so having a good start, get the lead and take his air away."

Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski, the Chase points leader before the points reset after last week's race at Dover, suffered a tire failure and hit the wall. So did Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson got crashed on lap 85. All three drivers had at least three wins before the Chase began.

Earnhardt Jr. said the tread came off the tire that failed. Keselowski had no explanation. He was running in the top five when he hit the wall.

"We blew a tire, not really sure why," Keselowski said. "Just really didn't have an aggressive set up in the car. Just blew a tire."

"Just Russian Roulette and it was our turn."

A Goodyear official interviewed by ESPN during the race couldn't pinpoint a common cause for the tire issues in the race. Kevin Harvick, the driver who has arguably had the fastest car all season, came to pit road under green because he thought he had a flat tire. He didn't. But he was only able to work his way back to 12th after the pit stop.

Since Logano is advancing to the next round of the Chase, he doesn't have to worry about his finishing position at Charlotte next week or Talladega in two weeks. It's anyone's guess as to what will happen at the restrictor plate track and now Logano can run the race the way he wants with no points repercussions.

"[The win] means a lot. Team Penske is where we need to be. Unfortunately Brad didn't have the best day but we had a couple of fast Fords coming in here."

And now that Logano has wins in the first two rounds of the Chase, a repeat performance in the third guarantees he'll be competing for the title at Homestead.

"We got a real shot at winning the championship and I think we're one of the teams to beat."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 5, 2014, 9:50 pm

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was cruising along in the lead at Kansas Speedway until his right front tire didn't cooperate.

Junior was in first at lap 122 when he hit the wall in turns three and four.

"We hadn't had any tire wear," Junior said. "We didn't wear the inside edge out down to the cords and pop a tire, the tread just came off"

Junior hit the wall so hard that the right side of his car was pancaked. He was forced to come to the garage where the team spent many laps making repairs. His tire incident was less than 40 laps after teammate Jimmie Johnson was hit and slid down the backstretch. He said he had no warning of any impending tire issues at all.

"My car was good, it was turning," Junior said. "Really wasn't running that hard, the tire just went flat."

Like Johnson, Junior's crew fixed his car and got him back on the track. But by the time he rejoined the race he was well out of contention. Both Hendrick drivers are now going to be at the bottom of the Chase standings after Junior was 39th and Johnson finished 40th.

"Points, they hurt," Junior said. "It is what it is. We'll just have to go to the next race and try to win."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 5, 2014, 8:48 pm

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmie Johnson's poor qualifying session on Friday put him in a treacherous spot on Sunday.

Johnson spun during qualifying on Friday and ended up 32nd. The spot back in the pack meant that Johnson was in the wrong spot on lap 85 when he got clipped and slid across the backstretch and into the inside wall.

"I just got tagged in the left rear," Johnson said after exiting the infield care center. "I heard on the radio that it was [Greg Biffle], haven't seen the video or anything yet. Cruising along on top and everything was fine and found myself sideways down the back straightaway."

Johnson said he had a top 10 or top five car, but the problem with his day was track position. Teams not near the front of the field were simply stalled out.

"Top 10 was definitely within reach, I think a top five would have been," Johnson said. "Our car, just listening to lap times and watching myself catch the big group of cars in front of me I felt we would have been top 10 top five"

It goes without saying, but in the three-race round format of the Chase, Johnson is now in a big points hole because of the first race of the second round. While a win at Charlotte or Talladega would automatically advance him to the next round, Johnson hasn't won since at Michigan in June. You never count the No. 48 team out, but counting on a win in the next two races is iffy.

However, Johnson said that if a crash could happen to him at Kansas, it could happen to someone else. And not long after Johnson's car was in the garage, the car of his Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s was as well after Junior hit the wall because of a tire issue. Junior finished 39th while Johnson was 40th. Brad Keselowski also had a tire problem and was 36th.

"It just means we've got be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega," Johnson said. "And there's still a lot of racing left, other stuff can happen, so we'll kind of see how the other Chasers fare. If I can get taken out today someone else can later on in this event or at Charlotte. We'll do our best to get on track and certainly need Ws I would assume, moving forward"

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 5, 2014, 7:58 pm

Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi underwent surgery for what the FIA termed a "severe head injury" after crashing in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Bianchi crashed under yellow in the same spot where Adrian Sutil had spun off just minutes prior. With safety personnel and equipment on the scene to retreive Sutil's car, Bianchi crashed into the tractor that was set to remove Sutil's car. The race was under a local yellow for Sutil's accident.

The black tires with the green markings are the intermediate tires that F1 cars were using on the wet track at Suzuka.

The race was being run while Typhoon Phanfone was hitting the Japanese coast. Shortly after Bianchi's accident on lap 43, the race was called nine laps before the scheduled finish. It also began under the safety car because of the torrential rains. Race organizers had the option of starting the race earlier to attempt to avoid the rain but didn't choose to do so.

Lewis Hamilton won while teammate Nico Rosberg was second.

Here's the complete statement from the FIA:

On lap 42, Adrian Sutil lost control of his car, spun and hit the tyre barrier on the outside of Turn 7. The marshals displayed double waved yellow flags before the corner to warn drivers of the incident. A recovery vehicle was despatched in order to lift the car and take it to a place of safety behind the guardrail. While this was being done the driver of car 17, Jules Bianchi, lost control of his car, travelled across the run-off area and hit the back of the tractor.

Once the marshals reported that the driver was injured, medical teams were despatched and the Safety Car was deployed. These were followed by an extrication team and an ambulance.

The driver was removed from the car, taken to the circuit medical centre and then by ambulance to Mie General Hospital.

The CT scan shows that he has suffered a severe head injury and he is currently undergoing surgery. Following this he will be moved to intensive care where he will be monitored.

Mie General Hospital will issue an update as soon as further information becomes available.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 5, 2014, 2:09 pm

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – In a development that stuns no NASCAR fan, Kevin Harvick will start first for Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway.

Harvick was the fastest car through all three qualifying rounds and it really wasn't close. His speed of 197.621 MPH was over a MPH faster than second-place Brian Vickers.

It's Harvick's eighth pole of the season. One of the previous seven came in May at Kansas, where Harvick led 119 laps. However a slow green flag pit stop on the final round of stops handed Jeff Gordon the lead and eventual win.

It's also his third pole in a row at Kansas. He started first and finished first in last year's Chase race with Richard Childress Racing.

The next-highest Chase driver after Harvick was Joey Logano. He was fourth. Aric Almirola, eliminated in last week's first Chase eliminations, was third.

Ryan Newman needed the help of a tiebreaker to advance to the second round of qualifying. The round was delayed as NASCAR officials determined what the tiebreaker was between Newman and Denny Hamlin, who had the exact same qualifying times down to the thousandth of a second. Since Newman was higher in points after Dover (before the points were reset for this round of the Chase), he got the 24th spot and Hamlin was 25th.

Newman ultimately qualified 13th.

Here's how the 12 remaining Chase drivers qualified. Look where Jimmie Johnson is.

1. Kevin Harvick
4. Joey Logano
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Brad Keselowski
7. Kyle Busch
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Kasey Kahne
12. Carl Edwards
17. Ryan Newman
25. Denny Hamlin
27. Matt Kenseth
32. Jimmie Johnson

It's Johnson's lowest qualification in a Chase race since 2005.

This will mark Jimmie Johnson's lowest starting position in a Chase race since qualifying 32nd at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2005. #nascar

— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) October 3, 2014

Johnson isn't a stranger to starting deep in the field at Kansas, however. Since winning the pole in the 2008 fall race he has qualified in the top 10 twice. In that span, however, he hasn't finished outside the top 10.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 3, 2014, 11:00 pm

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sometimes you never know what Clint Bowyer is going to say. Earlier this week, Bowyer's wife gave birth to Cash, the couple's first child.

Bowyer was incredibly excited to talk about Cash's arrival and described the birth of a child as no other driver in the Sprint Cup Series genuinely could.

"What a wild experience – all your friends and family, peers and everybody is trying to warn you and tell you that it's going to change your life. You're like, 'There's no way.' Then all of the sudden that little gremlin comes out of there and you're like, 'Oh my God, this is real.'"

"I was probably not the norm as far as spectator in an event like that.  In the room there I was high-fiving people and I was kind of pushing the doctor out of the way at one point because I was trying to get a better view of him coming into the world. Of course the nurses are trying to hold me back and they're like, 'You can't get that close.' I'm like, 'Get the hell out of my way, here he comes.' It was a lot of fun. We were all laughing. An amazing experience." 

You can totally see Bowyer acting that way in the delivery room, can't you? And yes, there's more and it includes an auto racing reference.

"He's running really good during the day – you think this is way too easy, this is no problem at all. Then his engine drastically takes a turn for the worst about the time you're trying to go to sleep (in the hospital)on that really comfortable couch over in the corner that's about this wide and basically like sleeping right here on this tabletop, he starts really screaming very loud. The nurses tend to come in to do paperwork at 3:00 AM, which is really handy.  They want to ask you about your education and things like that and you're like, 'Lady, can we wait until daylight maybe – that would be a good goal,' – 3:00 a.m. is not a good time in the morning to be talking to me with him screaming, her pissed and now I am. It's been a wild deal and Cash is awesome."

Bowyer hasn't won a race in almost two years. Kansas Speedway would be a nice place to get a win; it's about 90 minutes northeast of Bowyer's hometown of Emporia, Kan. Carl Edwards grew up two hours east of Kansas City in Columbia, Mo., and Jamie McMurray is from Joplin, Mo.

Bowyer referenced the great sports week Kansas City is having after Missouri beat South Carolina, the Kansas City Chiefs demolished the New England Patriots and the Royals won two playoff games. Bowyer was watching the wild card game between the Royals and Oakland A's waiting for Cash's arrival.

"The Royals – I was so pissed because I was watching the Royals and I was bummed out, I've got this kid coming and she's (Lorra Bowyer, wife) getting tired and I'm tired he's being a little grouchy and isn't ready to come out yet so I'm like, 'Well damn, I think the Royals are done.' I shut the TV off and we get up at like 4:00 a.m. and everything is going crazy and I don't even know why, but I glance up at the TV and the news is going on and the Royals won. I'm like, 'Honey, you ain't going to believe this, but the Royals won.' Now we're arguing about the Royals winning and they're carting her out the door and I'm like, this is crazy."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 3, 2014, 8:31 pm

Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg.We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy.

Who's excited for the second round of the Chase? Are you awake from Dover? Nothing against long green flag runs, but man, that race was a snoozer. And that's become pretty typical of Dover, recently. Outside of Jimmie Johnson jumping the restart, when was the last real signature Dover moment in the Cup Series? Is it Joey Logano flipping down the banking in the COT? (The concrete coming up on the track and blasting into Jamie McMurray's car and being fixed by a man in an Earl Weaver shirt does not count.)

Before we get into questions, we're going to introduce something we'll have in Happy Hour every week: pre-2014 Chase standings. Given how good some of the drivers at the top of the standings have been throughout the season, it'll be fun to track how the 16 Chasers would do throughout the 10 races if there were no eliminations and points resets. Would the champion change? How close would the title race be at Homestead?

Here are the standings through the first three races.

1. Brad Keselowski, 2,140
2. Joey Logano 2,136
3. Kevin Harvick, 2,23
4. Jimmie Johnson, 2,121
5. Jeff Gordon 2,117
6. Kyle Busch, 2,111
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,104
8. Matt Kenseth, 2,097
9. Carl Edwards 2,091
10. Ryan Newman 2,091
11. Denny Hamlin 2,081
12. Kasey Kahne, 2.079
13. AJ Allmendinger, 2,077
14. Kurt Busch, 2,073
15. Greg Biffle, 2,072
16. Aric Almirola 2,061

While the third round of three races cuts the most drivers in terms of percentage of the field, this second round of Kansas/Charlotte/Talladega has the potential to be the most bizarre. Kansas has been interesting since the track was repaved, though the spring race played out pretty much to a 2014 intermediate-track script. The big question going in is if Kyle Busch can break the hex that's on him there.

This leads us nicely into the first question.

@NickBromberg What's the likelihood of seeing the winners at Kansas and Charlotte sandbag Talladega? I mean, who wants to deal with THAT?

— Zack (@monon43) October 2, 2014

I think you can work this one both ways. One extreme says that the winners of the first two races (or winner, if someone wins both) will play it safe, ride around and just make sure nothing crazy happens at Talladega. It's a plausible scenario, especially since we've seen Talladega be a bit more conservative than in the spring in the Chase. The prospect of elimination may see drivers willing to hold on to their positions rather than risk a crash. This points format penalizes DNFs more than the old one did.

The other extreme is that the drivers with wins can simply go for the win and not care. These restrictor plate cars won't be used again this season, so it's not like the car will need to be saved for another race unless it's for next year. We saw how Brad Keselowski's strategy didn't change at all after the first race.

The conservatism is another reason why I like carrying over bonus points for wins from round to round. It'd be an opportunity for a driver who may be solidly in the next round of the Chase to go for a last lap pass. Now, if you're in second place in the race and 10th in the points and know you'll advance by simply holding your position, there's not much championship incentive to make a move.


I have an idea on how to make the new playoff system a bit more interesting and maybe more fair. Crown the Champion at Daytona. Run the first nine as they are, but only eliminate two leaving ten for Homestead. At Homestead chase drivers shift to chaser only points 10 to 1. Maybe a point or two bonus for winning. Maybe run it as a separate race on Saturday, or not. Here's the change. Scrap the Shootout, it lost meaning when they changed the criteria. Replace it with a two race battle for the crown. The first race a sprint on the road course. The second on the speedway. Each one the distance of a thankful. It would be even better if they could throw in 50 lapper on the Daytona short track, or New Smyrna which would be perfect and maybe there is a way. As far as the banquet, hold a couple weeks later at Las Vegas. - Bill

I've softened on the idea that a restrictor plate race can't be the last one in the Chase. Each of the 10 races in the Chase count for the same number of points, so it's going to be the same factor no matter what. However, with the one race, winner-take-all format, no way. Restrictor plate racing is not the place for that. (Given the breakdown of the NASCAR schedule, Homestead is the perfect place to end the season for the format.)

If eliminations are still part of the game, only eliminating two through 90 percent of the Chase leaves the field too open. Without eliminations, there wouldn't be 10 drivers mathematically alive for the title.


I'm a Brad Keselowski fan and I'm thrilled he is still #1 in this weeks power rankings. I'm also very happy he is finally getting the recognition he deserves for the driver he is, both on and off the track.- Kathy

Is Keselowski finally getting the recognition that he deserves? He's been one of the biggest names and most go-to drivers for opinions and comments since he won the 2012 championship.

However, I totally understand why Keselowski is using the line of thinking he is by saying the second title is a validation that the first title was a fluke. it's a great motivational tactic and with the Chase format, he can say he got it done more than once.

If Keselowski wins the title this year, I think you could make the argument that 2014 would have been a bigger accomplishment than 2012. While that has something to do with the format, there are a bunch of drivers who are formidable opponents.

@NickBromberg If "The Chase" comes to KC during the MLB playoffs, does it make a sound? Are you doing the double Sunday?

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) October 2, 2014

This is one of the biggest stretches for Kansas City-area sports in a long, long time.

The Kansas City Chiefs are at San Francisco this weekend, so with the Royals not in the playoffs the race would set up to be the biggest event in the city. It's definitely not now. The Royals, especially with the way they came from behind to beat the A's on Tuesday, have captivated the city and tickets are selling for three and four times face value for the game on Sunday night, which is the first true playoff game in Kansas City since 1985 if you don't want to count Tuesday night's Wild Card play-in game. (And there's a slight chance the Royals could take both games in Anaheim on Thursday and Friday and be in a position to clinch Sunday night.)

But the key thing is that the Royals are at night, so the game will not overlap with the race. The race will start at about 1:15 p.m. CT while the Royals game starts at 6:30 p.m. The race will be over by about 4:30 p.m. or so, giving people plenty of time to trek across town for both games. Will I be doing it? Well, I'm going to try my damndest. If you're going to do the double too, tweet me or shoot me an email. I'd love to chat with you at the Speedway on Friday or Sunday.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 2, 2014, 6:28 pm

Slugger Labbe won't be atop Paul Menard's pit box after the October 11 race at Charlotte.

Richard Childress Racing announced Wednesday that Labbe was taking a leadership role with the team's research and development efforts and would be moving away from his role as Menard's crew chief.

Justin Alexander will take over as Menard's crew chief.

“I’m looking forward to slowing down in my NASCAR career a little bit and spending more time with my family,” Labbe said in a statement. “This is a good move for RCR, Paul and the No. 27 team, and I’m going to be there to help Justin with the upcoming transition.

Alexander came to RCR in January from Hendrick Motorsports. He was the lead engineer for Jimmie Johnson in 2005, became an R&D engineer in 2006 and the lead engineer for Jeff Gordon in 2009.

Menard and Labbe won the 2011 Brickyard 400 together. This season, Menard is 21st in the points standings and has four top fives and 11 top 10 finishes. Labbe has five career wins as a crew chief including the 2003 Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip. He's been with Menard since the beginning of the 2010 season.

Hopefully the team doesn't leave any notes on Menard's car during the transition.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: October 1, 2014, 9:51 pm

Our Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it's the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. And you think we dislike your favorite driver, so it makes sense, right? Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com.

1. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1): We're not going to dump Keselowski from the top spot for finishing second. That's cruel and unusual punishment. While we realize we're suggesting tweaks to a Chase system that seems like it's constantly tweaked, but what if drivers got three bonus points for the next round of the Chase for winning a race in the previous round? It'd give Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon something to show for the their wins, even if it was a net of three positions in a single race.

2. Joey Logano (LW: 2): We mentioned this in Happy Hour on Thursday, but Logano has quietly become one of the best in the Cup Series. That was evident again on Sunday where he finished fourth. Sure, he didn't have the best car or even led a lap, but if Logano keeps this up, don't act surprised when he's going for the title at Homestead.

3. Jeff Gordon (LW: 6): This isn't a slight to Gordon putting him here. Would you really put him above Logano or Keselowski at this point? And if so, why? It's close, but the flat tire at New Hampshire puts Gordon at the third of three. He's the defending champion at Kansas and Charlotte is up after that. Gordon could tie Keselowski's win total soon, assuming Keselowski doesn't win a race.

4. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 5): Six-time's finishes in the first three races went 12th, fifth and third. Only in his world can that be considered a disappointment. I Johnson keeps that up, it should be good enough to get in the last race. An average finish of between sixth and seventh is going to be incredibly tough to beat. But we're going to go out on a limb and say Johnson wins a race in the next round.

5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3): Harvick's season is a broken record. We all know why he's a championship contender. It's the speed he showed at Dover in utterly dominating the race when he was up front. But we all know why there's a big asterisk as well, and it's because of the flat tire. Kansas was a place where Harvick had a mistake to help give Gordon the win in May. He'll have one of the best cars again on Sunday.

6. Kyle Busch (LW: 4): Busch is another example of the lack of separation at the front of the field. He finished in the top 10 in all three races of the first round of the Chase and would be sixth in points if the ponts system didn't reset. But hey, it does, and that's good news for Busch and everyone below him. Now, if Busch could just get a top 10 on Sunday, he'd be all set.

7. Kyle Larson (LW: 7): Another week where Larson was the highest finishing non-Chase driver. If he can keep that up it'll be one hell of a streak and force us to research how proficient Larson is being among non-qualifying drivers. Given how well Larson performed at Chicago, we're preparing to dive deep into the archives.

8. Matt Kenseth (LW: 9): A top-five is good enough for Kenseth to swap spots with Junior. It didn't feel like Kenseth was in danger of being eliminated from the Chase, but he was only eight points ahead of Denny Hamlin, who was in 13th before the race. Finishing fifth meant a drama-free day for Kenseth.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 8): Junior was not happy after finishing 17th, saying his team never was competitive for a moment throughout Sunday's race. Plus, he said it's not good enough to win a championship. He's right, the lack of top speed the No. 88 team has shown so far in the Chase won't win them a title, but it'll probably be good enough to advance to the final eight.

10. Ryan Newman (LW: NR): Newman's eighth place finish was his 11th top 10 all year. Not a good omen for his title hopes. But if you're looking for one, here it is. The drivers eliminated on Sunday were the top four drivers in a ranking of A-Z of the last names of Chase drivers. If the eliminaton by alphabet thing becomes a trend, congratulations, Newman. He'll be the last driver standing.

11. Carl Edwards (LW: NR): Edwards finished 11th, so we'll put him 11th. And 11th s pretty close to where Edwards would be over the course of the season. (He'd be ninth.) It's not going to be a surprise if Edwards makes the final eight and it won't be a surprise if he misses it. Making the final four is a different story.

12. Denny Hamlin (LW: NR): Hamlin was 12th and advanced to the Chase because everyone else around him had days that were considerably worse than his. Given that Hamlin had a bad day the week before to put him in that position, you can't say that he feels too lucky to benefit from others' misfortune.

Lucky Dog: Martin Truex Jr. finished seventh. It's just his fourth top-10 of the season.

The DNF: Aric Almirola needed a good run and was instead 28th.

Dropped out: Almirola, Allmendinger, McMurray

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 30, 2014, 8:35 pm

Tony Stewart reiterated the impact that the Aug. 9 incident with Kevin Ward Jr. has had on him and said Monday that he never considered retiring from driving after he struck and killed the 20-year-old.

Stewart had his first press conference since the accident on Monday. Outside of an interview with the AP last week, it was Stewart's first public question and answer session since he struck and killed Ward in a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

While Stewart didn't consider giving up driving altogether, he said he's not sure if or when he'll ever drive a sprint car again.

"I've had drivers that I race with every week and drivers that I haven't raced with for months that have said 'Don't let this keep you from doing what you love,' and this is what I've done all my life," Stewart said. "This is what I've done for 36 years. I wouldn't change anything about it. I love what I do. I love driving race cars.

"But I think it might change right now as far as how much of it and what I do, but there was never a thought in my head about stopping. That would take the life out of me."

An Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury didn't charge Stewart for his role in the incident. After Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo released the findings of the investigation into the incident, Stewart said that he knew it was "100 percent an accident" and that the night would stick with him the rest of his life.

Stewart and Ward were racing together when Ward hit the wall. He exited his vehicle and ran down the track to confront Stewart. He was hit by the right rear tire of Stewart's car and killed.

Tantillo said toxicology reports showed Ward was under the influence of marijuana and the amount was substantial enough to impair judgment. Stewart said the knowledge of those toxicology reports changed nothing about how the incident impacted him.

"Honestly, for me it didn't change anything," Stewart said. "To me, a young driver lost his life and it didn't matter why or what was going on. The end result was the same. And no matter what was said it was still a tragic accident. I know in my heart it was 100 percent an accident and that detail didn't mean anything to me personally."

Stewart also said that he had seen video from the crash. Two videos were used as evidence in the investigation. He also said that he'd be available to talk to the Ward family about the incident if they so chose, but that he doesn't need to speak with them for closure.

Ward's aunt issued an open letter Sunday that asked many questions about the incident. While the open letter or the possibility of civil action from the Ward family didn't come up at all during Stewart's 36-minute press conference, he said he'd read reaction from others about the crash and called the tendency of people to pick sides supporting a driver in the matter was "worthless."

"I tried to do my best to insulate myself from that but I finally started reading what was out there and what people were saying and you can't control that," Stewart said. "Last Wednesday the facts came out and through the weekend, the same people that had the same opinion before the facts came out still have the same opinion and no matter what side they think about, but to me it's worthless to pick sides. It's not about picking sides."

"A young man lost his life and I don't care what side you're on, it doesn't change that. His family's in mourning, I'm in mourning, my family's in mourning. Picking sides isn't solving or fixing anything. It's a waste of time to pick sides. Instead of honoring a young man who had a promising racing career, people are picking sides and it's like watching people throw darts at each other."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 29, 2014, 4:07 pm

Kasey Kahne is moving on to the next round of the Chase despite an unscheduled pit stop under green Sunday at Dover.

Kahne was forced to pit on lap 163 because of an ill-handling race car. It was an unfortunately timed pit stop as the caution flag flew within 10 laps of his pit stop because of J.J. Yeley getting into the wall.

He was trapped off the lead lap.

"I felt like we went four (laps) down at one point when we pitted," Kahne said. "We had to pit because we had done the wavearound. We had a good Farmer's Insurance Chevy. I had a fast car. Luckily Kenny made great calls, the team prepared a great car. So I was fortunate to have that and drive our way barely back to advance."

"But I had to push hard. I'm glad NASCAR let it go and let us race for it."

Kahne went two laps down just past the halfway point of the race on lap 214. At that point his chances of advancing to the next round of the Chase as one of the top 12 drivers in the points standings looked slim. But thanks to the wavearound on lap 264, Kahne got one lap back and stayed there as the race went green for the last 140 laps.

Kahne finished 20th but it was enough to advance because Kurt Busch slid back over the last portion of the race. With 30 laps to go, Busch's Stewart-Haas teammate Kevin Harvick passed him for 13th position. That pass, plus a few others put Kahne into the Chase. Busch ended up 18th. He didn't advance to the next Chase round along with AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffe and Aric Almirola.

The 12 drivers that are still in championship contention at Kansas will have their points reset to 3,000.

"It just was tight the last 100 miles," Busch said. "I felt like we were in good position to advance but you just can't expect to advance by running 15th. You have to be more competitive. We gave it a good run. We put this team together pretty late, Gene Haas believed in me to come do this."

Allmendinger (13th, 2 points behind Kahne): Allmedinger simply didn't have the speed he needed to be competitive. He entered Dover 10th in the standings and controlled his own fate. He wasn't fast enough to do that. He finished 23rd.

While 21st at Dover would have put him in a tie for 12th in the standings, it simply wasn't possible as the laps ticked down. Allmendinger was the second car two laps down. He would have had to gain another lap to get a shot at another position.

"We sucked overall, all day," Allmendinger said. "Just weren't good enough. We didn't deserve to make it -- I'm not disappointed about not making it, I'm just disappointed in running like this. It's all I had. I'm worn out. I was trying to get every spot possible."

Biffle (15th, 7 points behind Kahne): Biffle was in that 21st spot, but much like Allmendinger, he didn't have any speed to make a serious run at a top 10 or advancing to the next round. Much like the other three drivers who didn't advance, it's not a huge injustice that Biffle didn't advance. None of the four eliminated after the first three races had much of a title shot because of a lack of consistency and speed.

Almirola (16th, 18 points behind Kahne): Because of his blown engine at Chicago, Almirola simply didn't have a points cushion to absorb the impact of a 28th place finish on Sunday. On a day where he would have needed a top 10 to advance, Almirola was off the pace.

"We picked a really bad day to run like that," Almirola said. "That's kind of what we fought this year, just really inconsistent. We have really good weeks and really bad weeks, we don't just ever run consistently and this week was proof of that. We've run really good the last five weeks and then this weekend we just missed it."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 28, 2014, 10:32 pm

Three of the best and most consistent drivers throughout the first 26 races won the first three races of the Chase

After Kevin Harvick, the day's dominant driver, had a left-front tire problem at Dover, Jeff Gordon took advantage for his fifth Dover win and his first since 2001 at the concrete oval.

Gordon is the third driver to win in the first three Chase races. The first was won by Brad Keselowski, who finished second to Gordon. The second, last week at New Hampshire, was won by Joey Logano. Keselowski has five wins this season. Gordon and Logano now have four each. They're the three winningest drivers in the Cup Series this season and, had the Chase not been in effect, all would be in the top four in the points.

The race at Dover was the final race in the first round of the Chase. After the third race, the field was set to be whittled from 16 drivers to 12. The four drivers missing the next round of the Chase after Dover are AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch.

At Kansas, the 12 remaining drivers all will have their points total reset to 3,000 and after the next three races the field will be whittled to eight title contenders.

The win officially advanced Gordon to the next round of the Chase, but it's a moot point. Barring disaster, Gordon was a lock to advance among the 12 drivers moving on in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and he would have been alive for the title at Kansas whether he was second, fifth, or tenth.

"I don't know what happened to Kevin Harvick, that was unfortunate for him," Gordon said. "He was the class of the field. We tuned it to try to compete with him. When I saw him go out I knew we could compete with [Keselowski]. [Keselowski] was really good on short runs but we could run him down. Of course he made us work for it there at the end because he was so good on the short runs."

The run to the finish wasn't a short one, however. The last pit stops came under green with approximately 70 laps to go and when they were done, Gordon had a 2+ second lead over Keselowski and maintained position the rest of the way.

Outside of the drama surrounding the final Chase spots for drivers near the 12th position in points and in the middle of the pack, the only real drama was for Harvick's flat tire. The problem, which happened right after a set of green flag pit stops, was the last caution flag of the day. And it was yet another crazy issue for Harvick, who has had great runs derailed in seemingly innumberable ways in 2014.

"It knocked the inner valve stem off the left front," Harvick said. "A lugnut got in-between the wheel and the brake rotor and knocked the valve stem out. Crazy. Handing out early Christmas presents for people; winning races that we should be winning."

The flat tire didn't completely ruin his day though. Harvick stayed on the lead lap through the caution flag and ended up 13th.

Jimmie Johnson, the dominant driver at Dover in recent history, finished third. Logano was fourth while Matt Kenseth was fifth.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 28, 2014, 9:52 pm

Wendi Ward, the aunt of Kevin Ward Jr. and the sister of his father, issued an open letter Sunday morning on behalf of the family.

The letter was read over the phone to USA Today. You can view the full letter here and below are some excerpts.

Why was the toxicology report even an issue? Seems to me the wrong man was on trial. Tell me why Tony Stewart was not taken in for testing, why his car wasn't impounded. Tell me how a man the size of Kevin can make a sprint car turn to the right on impact. Tell me how a lap before (the incident) everything was fine, but the following lap was poor lighting. Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means.

Maybe he should get a different headset so he is able to hear on the radio that the car in caution is up high, so go low. Or was he low until he rounded the corner and saw Kevin Jr. standing up for himself?

An Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury did not charge NASCAR driver Tony Stewart in Ward's death on August 9. Ward was struck and killed by Stewart after he ran onto the track after exiting his vehicle to confront Stewart after a crash.

When announcing the findings of the investigation into the case, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said toxicology reports determined Ward was under the influence of marijuana and the amount was enough to impair his judgment. Tantillo said Stewart met with a drug recognition expert. Stewart was never arrested and according to New York law, a person cannot be forced to give a sample for a drug test if he or she is not under arrest.

This means nothing to me, but I want to say it is my understanding that pot stays in a person's system days, weeks, possibly months. Rumor has it that it may be legalized and prescribed for some patients, so then will these people have their drivers' licenses taken away because it makes you react – supposedly -- in a certain way?

To me, that's not the case. It's known to mellow a person. We understand that the report showed marijuana, but we as a family don't believe he was under the influence or impaired at the time due to the 10 hours prior to the race that he spent with the family.

What we do believe is that maybe people react to certain situations because of anger. I've seen it in NASCAR, sports functions and even on our own roads. And yes, these people have to pay for their actions. Well, I guess it depends on who you are.

Stewart said in an interview Thursday that the incident was "100 percent an accident."

The Ward family has strongly hinted at civil action. This letter does not contradict that.

And to end this, I've heard time and time again, "We just want Kevin's story out there." Here you go. Kevin Ward Jr. was an amazing person. His life was wrapped around family, friends and racing, which he started at age 4. Just a small-town boy having fun until the days turned into years, and it then became his passion and life. The trophies, plaques and pictures that fill his home, garage and workshop show his hard work and dedication to racing – his love for the sport.

Through it all, he had the support of his family and friends behind him. He opened his life to our community. As you would go by the shop where he and his dad worked on the car for the upcoming race or after a race, the doors would be wide open and there would always be people in and out wishing him luck, sharing a story, offering a hand or simply just standing there in their own way saying, "We're here for you, bud."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 28, 2014, 4:48 pm

Tony Stewart publicly spoke directly about the events of August 9 for the first time on Thursday and said he knew the incident that left Kevin Ward Jr. dead was "100 percent an accident."

Stewart talked to the Associated Press on Thursday. While he couldn't describe what he remembered about the night on the advice of his lawyers – remember, the Ward family has strongly hinted at a civil lawsuit – he said the incident took its toll on him.

"I know 100 percent in my heart and in my mind that I did not do anything wrong. This was 100 percent an accident," Stewart told the Associated Press.

He told the AP that not being able to talk about the incident has prevented himself from moving forward and he's replayed the incident in his head over and over again.

"You sit there and you wrack your brain, you try to analyze 'Why did this happen?'" he said. "I made myself miserable just trying to make sense of it ... I just couldn't function. I've never been in a position where I just couldn't function."

An Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury announced Wednesday that Stewart would not be charged in Ward's death. Stewart and Ward were racing together in August at Canandaigua Motorsports Park when Ward hit the wall. He climbed from his car to angrily confront Stewart and was struck by the right-rear tire on Stewart's car.

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Wednesday that toxicology reports showed Ward was under the influence of a large enough amount of marijuana to impair his judgment.

Stewart also hasn't left the house much. Racing in the Cup Series wasn't much of an interest to him from the time he made the decision to not drive at Watkins Glen to the Cup Series race at Bristol, the last race he missed. He returned to the track the next week at Atlanta where he made an emotional three-minute statement.

"You are part of something so tragic and so unthinkable, it's hard to face anybody," he said. "It was hard to wrap my arms around this, and it still is. I haven't been a part of society for more than six weeks. You are scared to be around anybody, you are embarrassed to be around anybody because of what happened."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 26, 2014, 10:02 am

Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg.We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy.

With the decision by an Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury to not indict Tony Stewart in Kevin Ward's death on Wednesday, things are much steadier than they could have been at Stewart-Haas Racing. Had there been a criminal trial, no matter the verdict, uncertainty would have reigned for weeks and likely months.

The uncertainty isn't gone, mind you. There will still likely be sponsor meetings, especially now that the Ward family has strongly hinted at a civil lawsuit. But the uncertainty of the possibility of a civil trial is much less than in a possible criminal one.

Based off the emails I've received over the past seven weeks, there will always be a segment of the fanbase that is convinced that Stewart was in the wrong on August 9, no matter what the investigators found and what the grand jury decided. But that's an unfortunate part of life. For a minority, common sense and reason aren't what they seem to many of us and a world with innumerable shades of gray is either black or white. It must be one and not the other. I think this post from August is still relevant.

@NickBromberg Can we officially call Joey Logano "Sliced Bread" now? Dude is a legitimate championship contender.

— Chris Nulty (@RealChrisNulty) September 25, 2014

This is on the heels of the news that Logano signed a contract extension to remain with Team Penske. And yes, this contract extension comes not even two years into a three-year deal. Think Roger Penske sees something in Logano?

And if you look at Logano's race data from his time at Penske, you'll see it too. He's been one of the best drivers in the Sprint Cup Series and is now the driver that mean people thought he would be when he won as an 18-year-old at Kentucky Speedway in the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Not only does Logano have future stability, but so does Penske Racing. The team is set up better for the long-term than any other team in the Cup Series. With two drivers 30 or younger and two solid sponsors, there isn't going to be much overhaul at Penske unless something significantly changes. Plus, you can make the argument that a two-car setup is more stable than four cars at the moment. Penske can have alliances with the Wood Brothers for additional data, but having a streamlined operation in an era of rising costs and yet more technical changes may not be a bad thing.

Here's a question for you. Who wins a Sprint Cup Series title first: Kyle Busch or Joey Logano? I'll take Logano, and it's not a slight to Busch. Why? Because I think Logano could do it as early as this season.

@NickBromberg How harmful to the new chase would it be if, unlikely as it may be, Gordon or Jr get eliminated this weekend?

— Justin LeBlanc (@07vanquish) September 25, 2014

Simply based off the popularity of Dale Earnhardt Jr., his early exit would hurt more than Gordon's would. However, I think it's pretty close given the goodwill that Jeff Gordon has built up.

But here's the thing with this year's format. A great 2014 driver or two is going to be left out at Homestead. Not all of Logano, Junior, Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick can be alive for for the final race. And I'd bet heavily that the final four will come from that six.

The Chase will still have starpower if just one or two of those drivers misses the third round. But if more than that do, it'll feel like a bit of a small sample-size fluke.

Let's transition into the next question to finish a thought from this one.

@NickBromberg Saw a lot of snoozers over the years in Dover, will this be one as teams play D to survive and advance? And Thx Mizzou - B1G

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) September 25, 2014

If I'm looking for a crazy elimination race in terms of strategy, I'm taking Phoenix over Talladega and Dover.

Yes, Talladega has the big crash factor, but, as Brian says, Dover has been a snoozer recently unless Jimmie Johnson has been jumping a restart. (I'm also banking on a very conservative Talladega race, especially given the context of points racing. I could be wrong.)

Phoenix has a new asphalt and tire wear variable that the other two tracks don't have. Strategy is going to be an incredibly large factor there, and that's where a team can take a chance or two. Plus, with the cut going from eight drivers to four, there's the chance that at least six or maybe seven drivers will be winless in that segment for the final race. And four of those drivers will be on the outside looking in because of the points standings.

A majority of the field makes it through to the next round in the first two eliminations. The third, when only half of the field makes it, is when it could be wild.

(And I will ignore the Missouri question. We'll see what happens in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday night.)

@NickBromberg How impressed are you of the smaller teams in the chase (Almirola & Allmendinger)so far & what are their chances this weekend?

— James Little (@jflittle) September 25, 2014

Both Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger won early enough before the Chase to give their respective teams enough time to get their best stuff ready for the first three Chase races. And if Almirola doesn't blow an engine at Chicago, he's likely breathing relatively easy at Dover.

Allmendinger is in a good spot too. Simply avoiding mistakes is proving to be a foolproof (but easier said than done) strategy through this first round and while the No. 47 team hasn't been fast, there hasn't been a huge mistake.

It's not a recipe for a championship, but it could work to get into the next round. And for Allmendinger, it's what he said before the Chase his team was shooting for.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 25, 2014, 8:08 pm

Kevin Ward Jr. (AP)The family of Kevin Ward Jr. issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that strongly hinted at a civil lawsuit after an Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury said that it would not indict Tony Stewart in Ward's death on Aug. 9.

Ward, 20, was struck and killed by Stewart after the two were racing together in a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. After Ward's car hit the wall, he exited the car and came down the track to confront Stewart, where he was hit by the right-rear tire of Stewart's car.

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo announced the grand jury's decision and said video evidence showed Stewart drove in a straight line, that toxicology reports determined that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time and it was an amount enough to "impair his judgment."

The marijuana revelation, previously unreported, provided new evidence that transferred the focus of responsibility from Stewart back to Ward, something his family took issue with.

Here's the family's statement.

"Our son got out of his car during caution when the race was suspended. All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car toward him, causing the tragedy. The focus should be on the actions of Mr. Stewart. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin.”

Stewart was not subject to toxicology reports but Tantillo said the NASCAR star met with a drug recognition expert after the incident and there was no basis to believe that Stewart was under the influence of anything. According to New York law, a person who isn't arrested cannot be compelled to submit a toxicology sample.

Tantillo said that two videos were used as evidence in the case. While there are no criminal charges in the matter, the Ward family could file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.

"Those videos were examined in detail. They were enhanced. They were run through programs that allow the frames to be isolated," Tantillo said. "They were run at 75, 50 and 25 percent speed. They were overlaid with grids and data and they were pretty important piece of the evidence here.

"The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which his vehicle veered to the right, up the track as a result of the collision. Prior to that his course was pretty straight."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 24, 2014, 9:59 pm

Tony Stewart will not be charged by an Ontario County (N.Y.) Grand Jury in the death of Kevin Ward Jr.

The grand jury determined Wednesday that there was no evidence of a criminal act. The case was passed on to the grand jury by Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo last week.

Tantillo said "two dozen" people were interviewed in the case and revealed that toxicology reports determined that Ward had marijuana in his system.

"There is toxicology evidence in the case related to Kevin Ward, that actually indicated at the time of operation that he was under the influence of marijuana," Tantillo said. "There was no toxicology work performed on Tony Stewart, however a certified drug recognition expert had interviewed him on the night of the collision and determined that he found no basis to observe any alcohol consumption or impairment by drugs."

[Related: Kevin Ward's family says 'the matter is not at rest']

When asked about Ward's toxicology reports, Tantillo said that the amount in his system was "enough to impair judgment."

Tantillo also said that there was no evidence of "aberrational" driving from Stewart before he hit Ward and that it appeared Stewart was driving in a straight line until he hit Ward. Two videos of the accident were used as evidence in the investigation.

"Those videos were examined in detail. They were enhanced. They were run through programs that allow the frames to be isolated," Tantillo said. "They were run at 75, 50 and 25 percent speed. They were overlaid with grids and data and they were pretty important piece of the evidence here.

"The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which his vehicle veered to the right, up the track as a result of the collision. Prior to that his course was pretty straight."

Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup Series champion and Ward, 20, were racing together at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in a sprint car race when Ward hit the wall. After his car came to a stop, Ward got out and walked down the track to confront Stewart. The right-rear tire of Stewart's car hit Ward, propelling him down the track. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. Ward was ruled to have died due to blunt force trauma.

His family said "the matter is not at rest" in a statement Wednesday afternoon that hinted at civil legal action.

The Ontario County Sheriff's Department investigated the August 9 incident for approximately a month before the evidence had been presented to Tantillo.

By New York state law, any case that possibly involves felony charges must go to a grand jury for a possible indictment. Tuesday, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the grand jury was hearing testimony in the case. 

According to Tantillo, the grand jury was considering two charges: second degree murder and criminally negligent homicide.

The lack of criminal charges in the case does not rule out the possibility of a civil suit, such as a wrongful death lawsuit against Stewart.

Shortly after Tantillo spoke, Stewart issued a statement.

“This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever. I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve received and continue to receive.

“I respect everything the District Attorney and Sheriff’s Office did to thoroughly investigate this tragic accident. While the process was long and emotionally difficult, it allowed for all the facts of the accident to be identified and known.
“While much of the attention has been on me, it’s important to remember a young man lost his life. Kevin Ward Jr.’s family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers.”

NASCAR also issued a statement.

“There are no winners in tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Kevin Ward Jr. family and Tony Stewart as they all cope with this tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. This has been a difficult time for everyone involved and we have respected the local authorities responsible for reviewing this case.”

A week after the incident, NASCAR said that drivers would be banned from exiting their cars following an accident barring dangerous circumstances (like a fire) until safety personnel arrive.

Stewart missed three races after the incident and returned to the Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend. There, he offered a brief and emotional statement but said he couldn't take questions about the incident because of the investigation.

The same weekend, NASCAR announced that it would give Stewart a waiver to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup despite his three-race absence. To use the waiver, however, Stewart would have had to win at Atlanta or Richmond. He did neither and missed the Chase. With eight races left in the Sprint Cup Series season, Stewart has not won a race. If he finishes the season without a win, it'd be the first winless season of his career.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 24, 2014, 7:00 pm

A grand jury began hearing testimony on Tuesday in the case involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr.

Stewart struck and killed Ward on August 9 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a dirt track in upstate New York. Stewart and Ward were racing together when Ward hit the wall. Ward exited his vehicle to confront Stewart's car and was struck by the right rear tire.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the testimony began and Chuck Hebing, who was in the race with Stewart and Ward, confirmed he was called to testify. However, Hebing declined to discuss the matter further.

Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo sent the case to a grand jury last week. As part of New York state law with all cases that could possibly result in felony charges, the motion to go to a grand jury is simply due process.

After the grand jury hears all testimony and reviews all evidence, it will have three options. It can go forth with felony or misdemeanor charges against Stewart or it could say that no charges are ncessary. There is no timetable for the grand jury's decision.

The Ontario County Sheriff's Department announced it sent the case to the district attorney's office on September 11 after investigating the incident for approximately a month.

Stewart returned to the Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta on August 31 after missing three races following the incident. In the wake of the incident between Stewart and Ward, NASCAR banned all drivers from getting out of their vehicles following a crash until safety personnel arrive.

Stewart raced at New Hampshire on Sunday after Tantillo's announcement that the case had been sent to a grand jury.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 23, 2014, 10:41 pm

Sprint Cup Series cars are going to be a little slower next season.

Mind you, you won't be able to tell with the naked eye. You'll only know through scoring monitors and posted speeds, but the spate of track records that have been set throughout 2014's qualifying sessions are going to be unattainable.

In an effort to make better racing, NASCAR announced that Cup cars will have less horsepower and downforce in 2015.

The engines in Cup cars now turn out an estimated (but not regulated) 900 HP. Next season, through the use of a tapered spacer, horsepower will be down to 725. A tapered spacer, which is used in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series engines, helps choke off the flow of air to the engine, throttling power.

Spoilers on the cars will be reduced from the current eight inches to six and radiator pans will be five inches smaller (to 38 inches). Combine that with a 50 pound decrease in minimum weight, and the cars will produce less downforce.

NASCAR vice president of innovation and racing development Gene Stefanyshyn told NASCAR.com that speeds would be reduced 3-4 MPH.

"You take the power out, but we're also taking drag off (by trimming the spoiler) to re-balance this whole thing," Stefanysyn said. "It's not going to be as dramatic as most people think. We're hoping … it will make the racing better, closer. Our goals are always that, right? To provide better entertainment for our fans."

NASCAR held a test at Michigan to try combinations of possible 2015 rules packages. Matt Kenseth said after the test that the most popular package was one where the cars had limited downforce and a lot of power.

"It was like going back 15 years in time or something like that and know you could actually pass in the corners instead of worrying about drafting in the straightaway," Kenseth said at Bristol after the test. You could get one guy on the bottom and one guy on the top, the air wasn't so turbulent that you couldn't get outside of people so the track got really wide.  It was like the track aged 10 years and it was awesome. Everybody got out with a smile on their face."

NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell told USA Today that the sanctioning body wanted to open up better racing in the corners of tracks.

"We believe what will contribute to better racing is the ability to get off the gas in the corners," O'Donnell said. "If you're able to slow down the straightaway speeds a bit, but really affect the speeds in the corners, where drivers have to make decisions on how much they want to get off the throttle, it allows for more passing in the turns, and it allows for tire manufacturer to really march toward a grippier tire. That will contribute to even better racing.

"Drivers said as the racing exists today, when they go in the corners, it's very rare to make a mistake. The car handles almost too well. This gives us an opportunity to force some mistakes and to pick different lanes. We think it'll add more dynamics in each corner, particularly on intermediate tracks."

The success of the package Kenseth could have been dependent on a softer tire. And as Goodyear has adapted to the extreme downforce that Cup cars now produce, it's been a balance between finding a tire that has grip, wear and durability, especially at newly paved tracks. Less downforce could give Goodyear some more flexibility with tire combinations.

In a release, Stefanyshyn said that tweaks to the rules packages wouldn't stop with the 2015 makeover.

“We remain committed to constantly looking to improve (the racing). Our fans deserve it and our industry is pushing for it. That will not stop with the 2015 package; the development will continue over many years to come.”

Drivers will also have the option of being able to adjust the track bar themselves. Currently, only pit crew members can adjust the track bar while the car is being pitted. There will be a lower rear gear differential as well for Cup cars in 2015.

Testing is also been banned for teams in 2015, with the exception of NASCAR sanctioned open test days and Goodyear tire tests. With the current testing rules, teams are allowed to test four times at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks and as many times as they'd like on non NASCAR tracks.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 23, 2014, 8:22 pm

1. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1): Kes gets to keep the top spot because of his bounceback after hitting the wall on lap 195. Thanks to a fuel-only pit stop on the next caution, Keselowski was in position to take the lead for 41 more laps before ultimately falling back and finishing seventh after a couple other perilous moments on the inside of other cars. If, for some crazy reason, you had reservations about the No. 2 team's effort in Chase races two and three with advancement guaranteed, those reservations are gone.

2. Joey Logano (LW: 4): Logano now has the second-most wins in the Cup Series behind the man (and teammate) in front of him. You could tell how serious Logano was about wanting to win a race at New Hampshire the way he did on Sunday. While his first career race win isn't illegitimate, the fact that he immediately referenced winning Sunday straight up versus what happened in 2009 was telling. You can't call Sunday, or Logano's title chances, fluky.

3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): After qualifying on Friday, Harvick said some words that were certainly not appreciated by the NASCAR trumpets that can only play a sound that champions winning. "I think the whole winning thing is really overrated," Harvick said. "Obviously you want to win.  You want to win every week and you show up to try to win, but you can’t take any unnecessary chances and that is kind of the box that the point system puts you in." Amen to that, Kevin. And with finishes of fifth and third in two Chase races, Harvick is going to advance with no problem.

4. Kyle Busch (LW: 5): Is Sunday's race a sign of good things to come for Busch this Chase? Yes, he went spinning off the bumpers of Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne and ended up in the grass with a beat up car but thanks to a bunch of perserverance, hard work by his crew and good driving, Busch finished 8th. It doesn't take much of an imagination to envision how that race could have seen bad things mushroom after the spin. Instead, it was a top 10 and Busch will likely advance.

5. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 10): Oh hi, I'm Jimmie Johnson, six-time champion. Don't mind me, I'm just getting a top-five after narrowly missing a crash that could have ruined my day. And I'm now heading to a track where I have nine wins and 18 top 10s in 25 starts. Am I already thinking towards the next round? No, because my crew chief Chad would like us to win this race first. But I'll see you there with a yellow bumper.

6. Jeff Gordon (LW: 3): Gordon is far from the danger zone at this point. With a 21-point cushion and a bunch of drivers between himself and 12th, something is going to have to go wrong with a bunch of things going right for other people at Dover. But still, going from a guaranteed top-10 to a 26th place finish with less than 10 laps to go is a punch to the gut.

7. Kyle Larson (LW: 11): Imagine what it would be like if Larson had snuck into the Chase at Richmond? He'd be near the top of the points standings and a virtual lock to advance to the next round. Instead, he and Jamie McMurray are looking like the most formidable Chase spoilers since Tony Stewart went wild in 2006 and won three races during the Chase.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 9): It feels a little bit like 2012 and 2013 Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the last two weeks. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, as Junior was consistent those two seasons and was consistently near the top 10. He just didn't have the outright speed he's shown at times this season. That speed needs to be there in the latter half of the Chase. But for this round and the next three races after that, an average finish of 10th should be plenty good enough.

9. Matt Kenseth (LW: 8): Given that Kenseth was taken out by Paul Menard with less than 30 laps to go and still finished 21st isn't horrible. Granted, the day could have been a lot better, but the misfortune of others means Kenseth is eight points and four spots ahead of not advancing. After spinning on pit road at Chicago last week, survive and advance is an apt description for Kenseth's Chase efforts.

10. A.J. Allmendinger (LW: NR): Could this be the chance for the Dinger to advance? He finished 13th at New Hampshire and is 10th in the points standings. He also has three top 10 finishes at Dover. However, all three of them came with Richard Petty Motorsports. In his time at JTG-Daugherty, he's finished 26th and 21st. 21st may not be enough to hold on.

11. Jamie McMurray (LW: NR): Is McMurray or Larson going to win a Chase race first this season? McMurray looks like he could repeat what he pulled off at Talladega last year, and why not at Talladega again? He'll likely have a good car there again. Or it could happen at Charlotte, site of his All-Star Race win. We'll take McMurray.

12. Aric Almirola (LW: NR): A poor run at New Hampshire could have guaranteed Almirola's elimination. Instead he went out and got his second-best New Hampshire finish by finishing sixth. His best Dover finish is sixth. 12th is his second best. He'll likely need a new second-best to advance, but considering the alternatives, it's a challenge Almirola is glad to undertake.

Lucky Dog: We're going to go with Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin who, thanks to the misfortune of others, are in a better spot in the standings than they could be in.

The DNF: It's not a DNF, but Tony Stewart finished two laps down and was 30th.

Dropped Out: Busch, Hamlin, Newman.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 23, 2014, 5:09 pm

Apparently eliminations are needed when a bunch of Chase drivers attempt to eliminate themselves in a single race.

Issues struck a bunch of Chase drivers including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers and Kurt Busch during Sunday's race at New Hampshire. Couple that with a mediocre performance from Carl Edwards and a strong run from Aric Almirola and the battle for 12th in the points standings at Dover is suddenly a close one.

After Dover, the third race of the Chase, the 16-driver Chase field will be whittled down to 12. Thanks to the New England craziness, nine drivers are within 10 points of 12th place either way.

Let's start with Gordon, who isn't among that group. The four-time champion, perhaps the most consistent driver in 2014, was having another solid day Sunday planted in the top 10. All hope of a top-10 finish went away with eight laps to go when Gordon had a flat right-front tire heading into turn one and slammed the wall.

He ended up 26th and is now seventh in the points standings, 21 points ahead of 12th spot. It's enough of a margin that Gordon shouldn't be in danger of missing the next round barring an absolute disaster at Dover. However, given that Gordon could have been up 40 or more points, he can't breathe easy either.

Here's what it looks like below Gordon.

8. Carl Edwards (+8 points over 13th): After a flat tire and trouble at Chicago, Edwards needed a strong run at New Hampshire. He didn't get it. Edwards lost positions in the closing laps on Sunday and ended up 17th. His average finish at Dover is 10.2, so if history holds, he should be fine.

9. Matt Kenseth (+8 points): Kenseth is tied mathematically with Edwards but loses the tiebreaker because he doesn't have any wins this year while Edwards has two. Early in the race Kenseth had to check up off turn two and was run into by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Busch suffered heavy damage to his fender and spun into the grass. Later, Kenseth was taken out by a sliding Paul Menard and smashed into the wall. He finished 21st. Busch, because of his good finish at Chicago and a great fight back to eighth Sunday, isn't in nearly as much danger. He's fifth in the points standings, 28 points ahead of 12th.

10. A.J. Allmendinger (+7 points): When everyone else around you is having trouble, keep the nose pointed in the right direction and good things will happen. After finishing the first race five points out of the top 12, Allmendinger is now seven points to the good because he finished 13th. He's still a relative long shot to advance, but Allmendinger controls his own destiny.

11. Kasey Kahne (+6 points): Kahne is tied with the driver below him for this spot, but like Edwards and Kenseth, he has the advantage because of his win at Atlanta. Kahne was caught in the chain-reaction crash with Busch and Kenseth and suffered some serious front-end damage. He finished 23rd.

12. Ryan Newman (+6 points): We expected more from Newman, a three-time New Hampshire winner. He finished 18th in an absolutely nondescript day considering the wackiness around him. As we said last week, the fight back from three laps down at Chicago could be huge for Newman's advancement chances.

13. Denny Hamlin (-6 points to 12th): Hamlin had a good car in the early stages of the race but it all went for naught because the fuel can would not engage properly with the intake on his car. The ill-fit meant that Hamlin's car wasn't getting full of fuel. His team tried to fix it on pit road and lost multiple laps. Then all the hard work disappeared when Hamlin went sliding into David Ragan after he and Truex had crashed ahead of him. Hamlin finished 37th.

14. Greg Biffle (-6 points): A late charge made things a lot better than they could have been for Biffle. He finished 16th after running around 20th for most of the day and getting his lap back twice after fortunately-timed caution flags. However, Biffle's down here without having any misfortune through two races. Not a good sign.

15. Kurt Busch (-8 points): Contact led to a tire rub for Busch and a few laps later he hit the wall thanks to a flat right-front tire. The bright side for Busch is that this could be a hell of a lot worse. A spin entering pit road under green in one race and a flat tire and a wall smash in another would usually spell guaranteed elimination. Instead, Busch has got more than a fighting chance of advancing.

16. Aric Almirola (-10 points): New Hampshire is not one of Almirola's best tracks, but Sunday wasn't a bad time at all to have his second top-10 there. After being buried in a huge hole with a blown engine at Chicago, Almirola climbed up the ladder a few rungs with a sixth place finish. 10 points and four drivers is a lot to make up in a race, but who knows?

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 21, 2014, 10:48 pm

New Hampshire has been very kind to Joey Logano.

Statistically, Logano hasn't been great at the one-mile track (his average finish entering the race was 19.3), but it's the site of Logano's first Sprint Cup Series win and now his latest one as he pulled away from Kevin Harvick on multiple late race restarts to win on Sunday.

He's now guaranteed to advance to the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup along with last week's winner and Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski after next week's race at Dover.

The race featured 15 cautions, the second-most in New Hampshire history, and after Logano took the lead from Harvick under green with more than 20 laps to go, he held on to it over the course of three restarts.

Logano got to the front with a strategy call that looked iffy at the time. Track position is always a dominant theme at New Hampshire and the first half of the race had largely been a green-flag affair. On lap 247, some 30 laps after the leaders last pitted, Logano's crew chief Todd Gordon called him down to pit road for four tires.

The call put Logano back in the pack, but it didn't matter. With fresher tires than the cars ahead of him, he sliced through the field.

"I thought we gave it away at that point," Logano said of pitting. "Man, four tires were good and we had some good restarts and were able to get ourselves back up there and had to work hard. This is my home race track. This is the coolest place to win for me. I could never pick a better place to win. I watched my first Cup race here when I was five and I won that other Cup race here and I just felt that I had to win one here the right way."

The "other" Cup race Logano refers to was on June 28, 2009. Logano, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in his first full season in the Cup Series replacing Tony Stewart, played the fuel strategy game with then-crew chief Greg Zipadelli. It was his only choice after a cut tire and a car that was nowhere near the fastest on track. But it worked. When rain arrived to call the race early with 27 laps remaining, Logano was the leader.

There was no such trickeration on Sunday. He had one of the fastest cars throughout the course of the race and while Harvick, who ultimately finished third, felt Logano might have been accelerating too quickly on those restarts, he didn't have a car quick enough to chase Logano down once the lead had been established.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 21, 2014, 9:49 pm

16-year-old Cole Custer is now the youngest NASCAR winner.

Custer won Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race at New Hampshire, beating Bubba Wallace by 1.14 seconds. Custer dominated the race; he led 148 of the race's 175 laps. But he needed to pass Matt Crafton with four laps to go to take the victory.

Just to reinforce how young Custer is and perhaps make you feel old, he was born January 23, 1998.

Because of NASCAR's age limits in the Truck Series, Custer has been running a part-time schedule and Saturday's race was his seventh start. Drivers must be 16 to participate in trucks at tracks under 1.25 miles in length. Drivers can compete in a full season schedule at 18.

Erik Jones, who was competing in Saturday's race, was previously the youngest winner. He was 17 when he won at Phoenix last year.

Custer is the son of Joe Custer, an EVP at Stewart-Haas Racing. He was the youngest winner in the K&N Series, a NASCAR feeder series, last year when he won 15-years-old at Iowa and New Hampshire. He first drove a quarter-midget car at 4 and started driving late models at 14. He won 10 races as a 14-year-old, including in his first start at I-10 Speedway.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 20, 2014, 9:13 pm

Is Brad Keselowski setting up to go two-for-two at New Hampshire in 2014?

The 2012 Sprint Cup champion and winner of the first race of the 2014 Chase at Chicago on Sunday won the pole Friday at New Hampshire, site of the second race of the Chase.

In July, Keselowski led 138 laps and won at New Hampshire. Because of that win earlier in the year, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson called Keselowski's team the team to beat before Friday's qualifying session.

“Yeah, I would expect him to be in a similar position for two reasons," Johnson said. "One, he had so much more pace than the rest of the field here in the spring race that it’s hard to believe that everybody could cover that gap and get back to him. And then when we went to Richmond, which wasn’t too long ago as a short track and they had that form there, too. So, I’d definitely say those guys are tough to handle.”

Keselowski won at Richmond, the last race before the Chase. Johnson turned out to be prophetic for Friday. Will be prophetic for Sunday?

Jamie McMurray qualified second, three-hundredths of a second behind Keselowski. Kevin Harvick qualified third, while Denny Hamlin was fourth and Kyle Busch was fifth.

Here's how all 16 of the Chasers stack up for New Hampshire

1. Brad Keselowski
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kyle Busch
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Joey Logano
8. Carl Edwards
9. Ryan Newman
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
13. Jeff Gordon
15. Kurt Busch
16. Matt Kenseth
17. Kasey Kahne
21. Aric Almirola
26. Greg Biffle
27. A.J. Allmendinger

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: September 19, 2014, 9:59 pm

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