Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We wanted to take some time and go through things that we were thankful for in 2014 when it came to racing. Think we're missing something? Add it in the comments below.

• Madison Rising's incredlbly horrible national anthem at Daytona before the first Nationwide race of the season.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s immediate Twitter excellence. The man tweets like a thoughtful human being, and that's a monstrous compliment for someone of his status.

• The overreactions to the new-format implications of Junior's fuel gamble at Las Vegas. We can all go back and shake our heads at all of it, right?

• The rain that saved a potential green-white-checker restart at Bristol as a result of the accidental caution lights.

• The feud between Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski at Martinsville. It was a moment of good old-fashioned hate, and it didn't end in fisticuffs or continuous wrecking of racecars as Busch won the race and made the Chase.

• The turnaround that Auto Club Speedway has made from a track that lost a Chase race to one that's revered by many for its multiple grooves and tire wear.

• Keselowski's idea to overhaul the Sprint Cup schedule. While we know the schedule won't suddenly look different, big ideas may be necessary for small changes.

• Formula 1's act of sympathy towards NASCAR for the Bristol malfunction.

• While we don't condone punching in the slightest, we appreciate that Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears gave us an appetizer of the ridiculousness that was to come in the Chase.

• Kurt Busch's preparation and effort in his Memorial Day double attempt.

• The craziness of this crash at Bowman-Gray Stadium and that there were no injuries from it.

• That Cup drivers aren't fans of the numerous commercial breaks during NASCAR races either.

• The fantastic racing between AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose for the win at Watkins Glen. Finishes at the Glen won't be the same without Ambrose in NASCAR any longer.

• The fighting spirit Sherry Pollex, the girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr., has shown as she's battled ovarian cancer. The same goes for Fox's Steve Byrnes and NASCAR.com's Holly Cain. We're rooting for you all.

• Jimmie Johnson's MacGyver skills.

• That the crazy Richmond fence-climbing fan didn't fall.

• Keselowski's pass for the win at Chicago.

• Clint Bowyer's exuberance about becoming a father. Oh, and the fact that he got a flamethrower as a baby gift.

• Milka Duno's presence in NASCAR, which gives us hope that we too can become NASCAR drivers with the right financial backer.

• Brett Favre's odd birthday poem to Earnhardt Jr.

• Keselowski's move against Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for the win at Texas. We're omitting what happened on pit road, but no matter your reaction to it, that move was why we all love and watch NASCAR, right?

• The brilliance each of the four championship drivers showed at Homestead. What happened that Sunday when all were in the top five at one point is something that may never happen again. Appreciate it and cherish it.

• And speaking of appreciating and cherishing, that goes for you. Thanks to you. It's been a wild ride this year and thanks for joining us. We're looking forward to enjoying the offseason and whatever 2015 brings.

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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: November 26, 2014, 2:51 pm

Lewis Hamilton got his 11th win of the season Sunday at Abu Dhabi and clinched the 2014 Formula 1 championship.

The points leader entering the race, Hamilton needed to finish second if teammate Nico Rosberg won the race to clinch the title. But as the race unfolded, Rosberg faded from the front and Hamilton would have been the champion had he cruised home in fifth or pushed for the win.

He pushed for the win.

Rosberg, who started on the pole, had a terrible start and it allowed Hamilton, who started second, to sprint away into the first corner with the lead. Rosberg never got close again, and a brake issue derailed any chances he had of finishing the race in the points. As Rosberg's car slowed over the last half of the race, he ended up 14th and a lap behind Hamilton.

After Rosberg's issues, Hamilton was told to conserve the car as he could coast to the finish ahead of Rosberg to guarantee the title. He did so for a bit, briefly giving up the lead to Felipe Massa after a pit stop. But before Massa pitted for the final time, Hamilton ran his fastest laps of the race. The cushion he built with the fast laps and the time Massa lost on the stop was enough to hold off the Williams driver for the win.

The title is Hamilton's second of his career. He won his first in 2008 in a driving rainstorm at Brazil, snatching positions at the end to finish fifth and a point ahead of Massa, the race winner, in the season standings.

Mercedes won 16 of the season's 19 races as Rosberg had five victories. Daniel Ricciardo, in his first season at Red Bull Renault, won the other three. Mercedes also won 18 of the season's 19 poles. The only one team Mercedes didn't win was at Austria, where Massa, in a Mercedes-powered car, got the top starting spot.

Sunday's race was also the last for some stars of Formula 1 at their current teams. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is moving from Red Bull Renault to Ferrari for 2015 to be teammates with Kimi Raikkonen. Two-time champion Fernando Alonso is leaving Ferrari and likely headed to McLaren, where he'll drive for the team as it switches to Honda from Mercedes power. It's currently unknown whether his teammate will be Kevin Magnusson or 2009 champion Jenson Button, who both drove for McLaren this season.

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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: November 23, 2014, 3:04 pm

Kasey Kahne is staying at Hendrick Motorsports through 2018.

The team announced Thursday that Kahne signed a three-year contract extension. His contract was set to expire at the end of the 2015 season.

“I’ve found a home at Hendrick Motorsports,” Kahne said in a team statement. “We have incredible people and partners supporting us, and I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed as a team and a company. It’s the right place for me, and I’m looking forward to being here for a long time.”

The announcement comes a day after Hendrick announced that Keith Rodden, a former engineer for Kahne and Jamie McMurray's crew chief in 2014, would be Kahne's crew chief in 2015. He replaces long-time Kahne crew chief Kenny Francis who moved to a newly-created technical director position at Hendrick.

While the contract looks to secure Kahne's future, it undoubtedly will raise questions about another Hendrick driver's future prospects in Chase Elliott, the 2014 Nationwide Series champion. With Kahne's contract expiring at the end of next season, there was wonder if Elliott would move to the No. 5 in 2016 after spending another season in the soon-to-be Xfinity Series.

Since it's at the four-car cap, Hendrick cannot expand to add a fifth car for Elliott. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports, the team Elliott drives for in NASCAR's No. 2 series, can't move to Cup as long as Earnhardt Jr. is driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

Kahne joined Hendrick in 2012 after the team announced it had signed him in 2010 and he spent a transitional year at Red Bull Racing. In three years at Hendrick Motorsports he has five wins and 26 top 10s.

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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: November 20, 2014, 2:46 pm

Kenny Francis will be moving to a different role at Hendrick Motorsports, paving the way for Keith Rodden to become Kasey Kahne's crew chief in 2015.

The team announced that Francis would become its technical director, a new position within the organization. Rodden, a former engineer on the No. 5 team, served as Jamie McMurray's crew chief in 2014.

“This is a great opportunity for both guys, and it will strengthen our overall organization,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “With the new rules for next year, it’s more important than ever to have a strong vehicle development program. Unifying those efforts for the first time under Kenny’s guidance will be critical to our success. It plays to his experience as a leader, innovative engineer and race-winning crew chief. He’s just tailor-made for it."

Francis was Kahne's crew chief in 2014 and has been his crew chief since the final race of the 2005 season. 16 of Kahne's 17 career wins have come with Francis atop the pit box, and the two have been together as Kahne's driven the No. 9, No. 4 and No. 5 cars for Evernham/Richard Petty Motorsports, Red Bull Racing and Hendrick.

However, Kahne was the slowest and most inconsistent member of Hendrick Motorsports in 2014. While he won at Atlanta to make the Chase, he had just three top fives and 11 top 10s. He was eliminated from the Chase in the second round.

Rodden left the team to crew chief McMurray in 2014 after serving as Kahne's lead engineer for two seasons. Together, the two won the Sprint All-Star Race in May, though since it's not a points race, the win didn't get McMurray into the Chase. And while Kahne made the Chase, McMurray had more top fives (seven), top 10s (13) and laps led (368 to 218).

McMurray's new crew chief will be Matt McCall, another former team engineer. McCall spent 2014 as the lead engineer on Ryan Newman's team. Newman finished second to Kevin Harvick at Homestead and second in the Chase.

“We are very pleased to add a crew chief like Matt to what we feel is a team and program that is certainly on the rise and feel that he can take it to the next level," Chip Ganassi said in a statement. "Matt brings a lot to the table that we are thrilled to have. He has been a successful race engineer for the No. 31 team and has the added experience of being a driver, which we feel will add to his success in leading the No. 1 team. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that will mesh very well with Jamie and the whole team."

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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: November 19, 2014, 2:12 pm

Kyle Busch would like to see the cars of Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing work together in a similar fashion to the cars from Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing.

SHR gets its chassis and engines from Hendrick and while JGR and MWR use the same Toyota engines, they don't work toegether closely on chassis and engineering.

From MRN:

“We need to have an affiliation,’’ Busch said during a luncheon before Monday night’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck banquet. “It would be nice if MWR ... made us all eight. It would be better for all of us. There’s a couple of reasons that we’re fighting internally why we’re not mingling with those guys quite yet, but hopefully that gets resolved here soon.’’

Busch described the information shared between Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing as “informal. It’s like ... “Hey we’re running these four springs and bars and shocks,’ but in reality what’s your pivots, what’s this, what’s that, what’s everything else?’’

After winning the Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday night Kevin Harvick talked not only of the advice he got from co-owner Tony Stewart and Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, but the way the two teams worked together sharing data.

This season, Busch and Denny Hamlin were the only Toyota drivers to win a race. And they each won one. Matt Kenseth went winless, and so did the MWR drivers of Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer.

Toyota redesigned the 2015 Camry street car, and those visual changes will be reflected in the 2015 Cup cars. Toyota tested the new car at Auto Club Speedway. The two main Toyota teams working closer together could help get the new car up to speed (or build an advantage) quicker than both working somewhat independently of each other.

Plus, Joe Gibbs Racing is adding a fourth car next season for Carl Edwards. The team has been at three full-time cars since 2005.

"It was a good test," Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said Saturday. "Certainly it's just one datapoint.  There were only four cars on the racetrack.  I think we're all anxiously anticipating how the new car with the different downforce and certainly a little bit less under the hood is going to react.  I think we need a few more cars out on the racetrack to really figure that out, so we're going to‑‑ we've got another test coming up after the banquet week, and then we'll put the cars on the racetrack in Daytona next year"

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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: November 18, 2014, 8:53 pm

MIAMI, Fla. – As Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag for his first Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday night, Stewart-Haas Racing became the only team in the Sprint Cup Series to field three Cup champions.

With the addition of Harvick and Kurt Busch, the 2004 champion, to the SHR lineup in 2014, there were numerous questions about how the newly-expanded four-car team would be compatible with each other. If outright dysfunction and struggles for all four drivers seemed like the worst-case scenario, a Cup title was the best case.

"Do you think we're crazy now?" SHR co-owner Tony Stewart rhetorically asked when the myriad of preseason possibilities was brought up Sunday night.

"Don't underestimate why we think the way we think is the moral to the story," Stewart said. "You guys are pretty smart, but we're smarter."

And even now, it's possible to underestimate Stewart-Haas. While the team was celebrating its second title, this was far from an A+ season for SHR and its teams. Improvement is a scary thought for the rest of the field.

While Harvick won five races and might have been the fastest car throughout the entire season, outside of what happened in August at a sprint car track in upstate New York, Stewart, a three-time champion, flat struggled this season. Not only did he break a streak of 15 straight seasons with a win in 2014, he had just three top-fives and seven top-10s, by far the lowest total of his career.

Busch won at Martinsville and showed flashes of the speed that Harvick did. However, he had 10 finishes of 30th or worse. The inconsistency necessitated a crew swap at the end of the year. Tony Gibson, Danica Patrick's crew chief at the start of 2014, moved over with the rest of the No. 10 team to crew for Busch. Daniel Knost, who started the season with Busch, took the No. 41 team over to Patrick.

In the final three races of the year, Busch qualified for each race in the top 10 and finished no lower than 11th. He started Sunday's season finale in second.

"I felt like we put down a really great lap and to do it with Tony Gibson and this new group of guys in our third race together is great," Busch said after qualifying Friday. "It shows all the signs are pointed in the right direction for next season.”

Stewart told the Associated Press that he's not done winning championships. With the new rules package taking away downforce from the cars and his continued recovery from the broken leg he suffered in August 2013, it's reasonable to expect he'll win a race and make the Chase. The same goes for Busch if he and Gibson can keep the speed they found at the beginning of the season and turn it into consistency.

The expected bouncebacks beg the question; is Stewart-Haas the best-positioned four-car team in the Sprint Cup Series over the next few seasons?

While Hendrick Motorsports may boast more championships (10) than SHR thanks to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, two different SHR teams have won titles over the last five seasons. Joe Gibbs Racing has just one title-winning driver on its roster in Matt Kenseth, but it has the deepest roster of drivers in the series with the addition of Carl Edwards in 2015.

But, as we've seen with Stewart-Haas, teams can experience growing pains when expanding an operation. JGR is moving from three cars to four next season and doesn't have the access to the amount of data the Hendrick and Stewart-Haas cars do.

In his post-race press conference, Harvick talked glowingly of the way Hendrick and SHR (which gets its chassis and engines from HMS) worked together, saying he's never seen anything like it.

"It's like nobody questions anything about, we're sharing this or we're talking about that, so that part has been pretty awesome," Harvick said.

If you're ranking the three teams, you can make a compelling case for any of the six possible orders. Yeah, SHR may ultimately be an extension of an eight-car Hendrick operation, but don't be surprised if it gets another championship or two before HMS does.

"I think [competition director] Greg Zipadelli does a great job of managing people, and I think‑‑ racing is kind of a creative sport," SHR co-owner Gene Haas said. "If you clamp down on people, you don't get what you want.  We kind of let people go in their own direction.  I'm really amazed at how well Kevin and Rodney have done, and we will keep tweaking things until we get other teams to do better.  But it's more of kind of a recipe of the way we do things that's different than every other race team.

"You win a championship once, maybe you call it a fluke, but if you do it the second time, I think we've got something.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but there's something there that works.  And whatever it is, I think Rodney and Kevin have alluded to it, just being brand‑new guys here that it's an easy place to work.  Things get done, people like working with each other, and for the most part, I think we're a very productive group at Stewart‑Haas Racing."

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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: November 17, 2014, 10:00 pm

 Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.HOMESTEAD, Fla. – When you're in the championship hunt, it's a good idea to surround yourself with those who've been there before.  So when Michael Jordan wanted to come to Homestead-Miami Speedway to support Denny Hamlin, well, it was an easy answer

"He asked for tickets," Hamlin said after the race. "I told him we could handle that."

Hamlin is part of Jordan's "Jordan Brand" stable, wearing the "Jumpman" logo on his firesuit. Jordan decided to check up on his investment by visiting Homestead with an entourage of friends. "He's a race fan.  He is a huge race fan," Hamlin said. "He brought a big group with him, and he's talking about how he's converted all these people into being race fans."

Jordan was present throughout the race, visible in Hamlin's pit box in the minutes before the green flag. Unfortunately, Jordan wasn't able to bring enough of the championship mojo to the FedEx 11 team. Hamlin ran strong but faded late, not unlike the 1998 Utah Jazz, and so Jordan was left consoling Hamlin afterward:

 

"Wish we could have been celebrating with him," Hamlin said. "I wish I could have had one ring to his six or so, but we'll have to wait another year for that."

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: November 17, 2014, 5:19 am

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (right) talks with Jimmie Johnson during practice for the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (USA TODAY Sports)HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson once shared a couple of couches in a game room, too poor to afford places of their own. This week, they shared the secrets that made them both champions.

Harvick won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship on Sunday night, and one of his closest advisers in the hunt for the title was Johnson, winner of six Cups. The two have deep roots together, going back to California by way of fellow driver Ron Hornaday's game room in Charlotte.

Harvick grew up in Bakersfield and Johnson in El Cajon, a couple of California kids in a sport whose center was three time zones east. In the late 1990s, both moved to North Carolina and hooked up with Ron Hornaday, Johnson trying to drive American Speed Association cars, Harvick trying to catch on in NASCAR's truck series.

Hornaday regularly offered drivers a free-rent, free-groceries couch while they tried to figure out exactly how badly they wanted to be drivers. "Camp Hornaday," Johnson called it, and both he and Harvick spent several months there.

"There are a lot of stories Jimmie and I could share," Harvick said of Camp Hornaday back in 2002, "but none that would probably make it in the newspaper." (You can tell it was 2002 by the use of the term "newspaper.")

Within a few years, both would find themselves at NASCAR's epicenter, Harvick as the driver to take over at Richard Childress Racing after Dale Earnhardt died, Johnson as the soon-to-be-six-time champion. Harvick came close to a championship, most notably in 2010 when he had an outside chance to beat Johnson, but until this year, potential never translated to performance.

This year, however, the roles reversed; Harvick was strong the entire year, while Johnson enjoyed only fits and starts of success with long dry spells between. After the season's penultimate race at Phoenix, Johnson turned his attention to Harvick, working to get his old couchmate the championship.

"Jimmie Johnson was a huge help," Harvick said on Sunday night, his firesuit still soaked with Budweiser. "He'd show up in the trailer after every practice and called and texted to Rodney (Childers, Harvick's crew chief) and myself. You pull the data up, and I was making some pretty huge mistakes. So that eased my mind going into the day."

Harvick also had the luxury of relying on another champion: Tony Stewart, his team owner. "Between these two," Harvick said, "between [Johnson] and Tony, it's a lot to lean on, and I'm pretty fortunate."

"When you get down to these (championship) scenarios, you're happy for the guys that are in this position, and you're going to give those guys advice," Stewart said. "They may not be a part of your program, and if you don't have a dog in the fight, you're still going to help somebody out and you're still going to offer your advice and your experience to them."

The results were clear, as was the lineage. Harvick combined the losing-doesn't-happen attitude of Stewart with the precision of Johnson to develop a race team that was the clear favorite heading into Homestead. Everything worked exactly as it was supposed to,

"You get to these seven days," Stewart said, "and having your friends and having that advice and people that you know, your equals, having that advice from them, sometimes that's just the calm voice or word that you need to get through the day."

Hornaday may or may not still have those old couches. If he does, he might even get some calls from some established drivers. Whatever works, right?

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: November 17, 2014, 2:50 am

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – As Tony Stewart celebrated his second Sprint Cup Series championship as an owner, a streak of his as a driver had just ended.

Stewart, who entered the Sprint Cup Series in 1999, had won a race in every season in his Cup career. He needed a win in Sunday's race at Homestead to extend the streak to 16 years with a win.

He got the opposite of a win. He finished last, and the streak ended at 15 years, while Kevin Harvick, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing won the race and the 2014 Sprint Cup.

"This is great, especially with a great friend of mine like Kevin Harvick, to come together and in our first year accomplish a championship together," Stewart said. "It doesn't make up for a bad year. I mean, I've had a terrible year but this makes the end of November great."

On Sunday, Stewart qualified poorly and wasn't competitive all day. He broke into the top 10 after the first caution flag with a two-tire pit stop. But not long after restarting eighth, he was in 29th spot. Soon he went a lap down.

Then he was in the garage. Something had punctured a hole in the front of his car and raised the engine temperatures to unsustainable levels. Stewart parked the car.

Stewart's first win was on September 11 of his rookie season at Richmond and he led 333 of the race's 400 laps. Since then, he's won three championships and had 47 more wins, the last of which came at Dover in June of 2013.

Since the Dover win, Stewart's life has been tumultuous. He broke his leg in a sprint car accident in August 2013 and missed the rest of the season. He returned in 2014 but struggled, posting six top 10s in the first 21 races of the season.

Then, on August 9, Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward while racing in a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park the night before the Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen. As law enforcement investigated the incident – Stewart was ultimately not charged with a crime – and Stewart grieved, he sat out three races.

When he returned to the Cup Series, he got a waiver from NASCAR that would have put him in the Chase if he won one of the remaining two races before the Chase. He didn't, and didn't get another top 10 until Martinsville, where he finished fourth.

In an interview with the Associated Press before the race, Stewart said he was sad that the streak could end but he wasn't done winning championships. On Sunday, he said the evening wasn't about him.

"It's not about me right now," Stewart said. "It's about us as a group. It's about everybody at Stewart-haas Racing. You know, you learn when you're in these situations that it's about a larger group of people and a bigger picture that's in play. I'm grateful that I ahve a co-owner and co-workers and teammates that are such great people that no matter what's been thrown at us the last year and a half that this organization was able to thrive and continue to prosper and be successful through this."

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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: November 17, 2014, 2:31 am

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – As soon as Joey Logano's car fell off the jack during a pit stop with less than 20 laps to go in Sunday's Ford 400, his chances of winning the Sprint Cup title disappeared.

Logano was already running fourth out of the four drivers racing for the championship, but was in the top 10 when he came to pit road for four tires. But as his crew swung to change the tires on the left side of his car, the car dropped to the ground and the crew struggled to get it lifted back up to put the new tires on.

Logano fell to 21st. It was simply too many spots to make up in too few laps.

"I did not have good emotions in the car. I was pretty pissed off if that is an emotion," Logano said. You knew your chances went down a lot. I didn't say it was over. We didn't give up. At that point I was trying to pass as many cars as we could and really hoped those guys wrecked each other. That is all I had going for me at that point. When you are that far back, 24th or 25th, you can't make that up with 12 to go or whatever it was."

Logano ended up 16th.

If the old Chase was in effect -- with points tallied over 10 races and the driver with the most points after Homestead is the winner -- Logano would have won the championship by seven points over race and title-winner Kevin Harvick.

Throughout 2014. Logano was one of the series' most consistent drivers. He had the second-best average finish and won five races, one more than Jeff Gordon, the only driver with a better average finish, and second-most in the series to teammate Brad Keselowski. Not only did he win races, but he avoided bad finishes in the second half of the season.

"Yeah, I am proud of (his team) but it hard to be proud right now after coming home wherever we finished in this race..." Logano said soon after exiting his car. "You don't get shots at championships very often. Hopefully we get another next year. This car had a lot of wins and a lot of top fives and it doesn't mean a thing."

His Homestead finish of 16th was the worst of his Chase. Only Jimmie Johnson (three times) and Brad Keselowski have won Chase championships without having a lower finish than Logano's worst in 2014.

But the format's different. His worst finish of the Chase came at the absolute worst time.

"It has been a spectacular year," Logano said. I have a biased opinion right now and I am probably too close to the fire to comment much on how it went. As the car that scored more points than anyone in the Chase it is hard to say you are in love with (the new format) but I think it was a good thing for the sport and the race was exciting today."

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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: November 17, 2014, 1:00 am

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Ryan Newman's best finish of the season was ultimately one spot short of a championship.

Newman restarted Sunday's race at Homestead in second and that's where he finished as he was unable to chase down Kevin Harvick, who won the race and the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship.

Newman made it to second place after a two-tire pit stop during a caution before the race restarted with 15 laps to go. The move for track position worked, as Newman was the second car off pit road and restarted fourth.

A move by Jeff Gordon to pit during the race's penultimate caution put Newman in second for the final two restarts, but he wasn't able to get the lead.

Newman admitted thinking about attempting a move on Harvick similar to the one he made on Kyle Larson at Phoenix. Last week, Newman flat-footed his car into the final two turns and drove it as low as he could. He drove up into Larson, moving the rookie out of the way and into the wall. The pass gave Newman 11th place and made him eligible at Homestead for the title.

But on Sunday night, he simply wasn't close enough to Harvick on the last lap. When Newman had taken two tires, Harvick took four. The fresher tires helped Harvick get the lead before the final restart and rocket away over the final three laps.

"But in the end, I just got down underneath [Harvick] and he was close enough to me, took some of the air away from me," Newman said about the final restart. "I could have kept it wide open and washed up into him and it wasn't the right move. It wasn't what I would have wanted him to do to me."

"If we were close enough on the last lap, it might have been a different game, but it wasn't. I slipped off of turn four coming to the white and at that point it was pretty much over."

Coming into Homestead, Newman's best finish of the year was third, where he finished at Kentucky and Martinsville. He was basically a walking contradiction to how NASCAR's new format was marketed. While winning was supposedly emphasized more than ever, Newman was the tortoise to the multiple race-winning hares.

While he didn't have the outright speed that other drivers had at times this season, he was able to avoid devastating finishes and the recipe got him to the final race.

However, as the race played out in the late laps, it was evident Newman would have had to win the race to win the championship. Without the last two cautions, he was in a great position to do so. But as the field kept getting bunched up, Harvick's fresher tires were a too big of an advantage.

"But the game-changer for us, I think, really was the one caution that was before Gordon pitted that I think Denny was leading, and we were in a better situation than they were on tires," Newman said. "We had rights and they had stayed out, which I think was the right call for them at the time had the race gone green. But it had a couple late race cautions ..."

"We came back for the entire season to make our best finish our last finish. It is disappointing, don't get me wrong, but there's no point in being a sore loser. It's some motiviation, some momentum for the offseason to get started for Daytona and just look forward to the opportunity for next year.

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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: November 17, 2014, 12:37 am

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - NASCAR promised drama in its newest incarnation of the Chase, and Sunday's season-ending EcoBoost 400 delivered exactly that, beyond any of the sport's wildest dreams.

Kevin Harvick held off a powerful charge from his three challengers, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, winning the season finale to claim the 2014 Sprint Cup championship in definitive fashion.

"I really don't know what to say," Harvick said after getting out of his car, celebrating with his team. "It's really special for everybody."

NASCAR created the new Chase in advance of the 2014 season with the express intent of creating a so-called “Game 7 moment” – everything on the line, win-or-go-home, Hail Mary, you get the idea. The new Chase is thus a Frankenstein’s monster built from the parts of other championships: the NCAA’s college hoops bracket, the World Series’ Game 7 dramatics, the Super Bowl’s grand pomposity.

The new Chase would feature 16 drivers. The field would winnow down over the course of 10 races, with four drivers being eliminated every three races. The season would conclude with a four-driver winner-take-all race in Homestead.

Kevin Harvick raises his trophy as he celebrates after winning the 2014 Sprint Cup championship. (AP)Fans complained of gimmickry and confusion, saying that the new Chase cheapened a championship, complaints that – since we’re fundamentally talking about a game here – smacked of Batman fans complaining about the latest movie version.

Here’s the thing, though: it worked to perfection. NASCAR created a route to a championship that was like a rickety bridge over a chasm: faster, more direct, but far riskier. And people fought like hell to get across that bridge before it snapped.

[Related: Final 2014 Sprint Cup standings]

In the end, it will crown a champion who deserved to win. Harvick led more laps than anyone this season – by a long shot – and won five races, second only to Brad Keselowski's six.

The Chase began with 16 drivers, 13 of whom had won a race. The final three -- Newman, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle – got in because they had totaled the highest points through the season without winning a race. The first three races of the Chase ran as expected, with Biffle, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger getting the axe.

It was in the second elimination that the story ratcheted up another level.

A three-race advance-or-fall segment isn’t enough time to allow for any poor finishes, and that led to tempers exploding. In Charlotte, Keselowski felt Kenseth had wronged him late in the race. Keselowski drove his car into Kenseth’s just after the race; Hamlin and non-Chaser Tony Stewart responded by thumping Keselowski’s No. 2 with their own cars; and Kenseth finished the deal with a dive-off-the-top-rope headlock of Keselowski between haulers. The crews fought, NASCAR made national morning-show headlines, and everyone except Keselowski proclaimed their satisfaction with how the Chase was proceeding.

Keselowski came into Talladega, the final race of the second round, needing a victory to advance. Amazingly, he got it. However, this was where the curtain fell for several of NASCAR’s biggest names: Jimmie Johnson; Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Kasey Kahne; and Kyle Busch, the victim of the Chase’s worst luck when a wreck between non-Chasers knocked him out.

And then there were eight, and NASCAR’s Chase achieved full liftoff. At Texas, Keselowski went for a late-race pass on Gordon, who bumped Keselowski's No. 2 and slid into the wall, finishing in what would turn out to be a Chase-killing 29th place. Gordon and Keselowski jawed a bit after the race, their crews amped, and then Harvick threw a Molotov cocktail on the pool of gasoline, shoving Keselowski and setting off a 50-person fight in the pits.

Once again, NASCAR made national headlines, though the question of whether these were the kinds of headlines NASCAR needed grew louder.

In the final race of the third round, Harvick needed a victory and got it, crowding out Keselowski, Kenseth, and Carl Edwards. Hamlin and Logano advanced on points. That left Jeff Gordon racing Newman for the final spot, and here’s how close it was: Gordon crossed the finish line eligible for the championship, but well behind him, in the final turn of the final lap, Newman bumped Kyle Larson aside to gain one spot – just enough to bump Gordon out.

Dramatic? Hell yes. Legitimate? Well … there’s the rub.

Your championship four thus consisted of Harvick and Logano, two of the most dominant drivers of the entire season; Hamlin, who had won one race back in May; and Newman, who had zero wins and only four top-five finishes.

The conventional wisdom held, then, that this was a match between Harvick and Logano, with Hamlin and Newman being lucky to get invites to the party. Harvick held the edge in both momentum and attitude, although Logano had boasted the stronger overall year.

For much of the race, conventional wisdom indeed held true. Harvick led the majority of the laps measured against his three championship rivals, followed by Logano and Hamlin. Newman, as expected, trailed the three, though not by nearly as much as expected. Indeed, Gordon seemed to be the only driver who could regularly run with the Chasers, who front-loaded the very top of the field. 

More than 10 cautions packed and re-packed the field, but it was a crucial caution with less than 20 laps remaining that changed the entire complexion of the race. In for tires, Logano's car fell off the jack, sending him from the top 5 all the way back to 29th and effectively ending his championship hopes. Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb made a gutsy call to stay out on old tires.

Another caution led to a restart with nine laps remaining, and that restart saw Hamlin and Newman starting side by side on the front row, with Harvick right behind. Hamlin got the stronger start, and Harvick worked his way up to second place behind Hamlin. Harvick worked his way around Hamlin when yet another caution hit, leaving the championship cars to restart 1-2-3, Harvick-Newman-Hamlin, with just four laps remaining.

On the final restart, Hamlin had trouble, dropping off the championship pace. And on the final lap, Newman couldn't quite catch Harvick, who won his first Sprint Cup championship. 

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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: November 16, 2014, 11:47 pm
Nov 16, 2014; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin during the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - When the sun went down at Homestead Miami Speedway, Denny Hamlin found another level of speed. But then, just as quickly, it was gone, and with it Hamlin's best chance at a championship.

Hamlin enters every season as a decent dark-horse bet to win a championship, but it's been four years since he was a serious threat. Four years ago in advance of the Homestead season finale, Hamlin saw his best chance to win a championship evaporate beneath the wheels of Jimmie Johnson's relentless 48.

It's taken four years, a bit of luck, and a lot of consistency, but Hamlin once again returned to the ranks of legit championship competitors this year by making the field of the championship finale. He'd begun the year strong, winning all the preliminary Speedweeks events and finishing second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500.

Hamlin missed one race when an eye infection, later revealed to be a piece of metal, then won his lone race of the year at Talladega. That put him in position to make the Chase, nine consistent but largely below-the-radar Chase races put him in position to challenge for the championship, and sunset at Homestead put him in position to win it.

As the day grew darker and the track grew cooler, Hamlin found a decided advantage over Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman, his rivals for the Cup. Inside 20 laps remaining, however, darkness fell faster than Hamlin could drive.

"I thought our car really came into its own as soon as it went dark, and I thought we had the best car, and we just struggled with restart speed," Hamlin said after the race. "Kind of the theme of the year ... we don't have the all-out speed that those guys have, and with that, it put me in some tough spots on restarts."

In the end, Hamlin simply couldn't keep up with Harvick, or Newman for that matter, and slid all the way to seventh.

"There's not one thing I would have done different," Hamlin said afterward. "We brought a car that was capable of winning. I just don't know how to express it enough. Sometimes breaks go your way, sometimes they don't."

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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: November 16, 2014, 11:27 pm

Matt Crafton took his second-straight Camping World Truck Series championship Friday with a 9th-place finish in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Crafton entered the race needing to finish 21st or better to win the title as he had a 25-point lead over second-place Ryan Blaney. Blaney finished fifth.

Last year, en route to his first title, Crafton had one win and 19 top-10 finishes. This year, Crafton won two races – Martinsville and Texas – and had 17 top 10s. Crafton is also the first driver to win consecutive Truck Series titles and the fourth driver to have multiple truck titles.

Bubba Wallace won the race, his fourth race win of the season. Kyle Busch finished fourth in the No. 51 truck and won the owner's title for his team, Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Crafton, who drives for ThorSport Racing, drives a Toyota. KBM fields Toyotas. Combined, Toyotas won 18 of 22 Truck Series races this season.

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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: November 15, 2014, 1:07 am

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday's final race of the Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead and Kevin Harvick was the fastest qualifier of the four drivers racing for the Cup title.

Harvick qualified fifth, ahead of Denny Hamlin, who was eighth and Joey Logano, who qualified ninth. All three drivers made the third and final round of qualifying. The fourth driver, Ryan Newman, didn't make it out of the second round and will start 21st.

Harvick may be the favorite for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series title because of his success at Homestead and his speed at 1.5-mile tracks this season. Harvick has made 13 starts at Homestead and has finished outside the top 10 just twice and never outside the top 20. In 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, Harvick has led laps in nine of them.

He also provided the most entertainment of the post-qualifying news conference. Harvick was the final driver into the media center and instead of waiting to take the podium with Newman, Harvick strode up to the stage and sat next to his "buddy" Logano, who responded with a "What's up, friend?"

Harvick and Logano had fun little back-and-forth Wednesday night at the Chase media day.

Hamlin won last year's race at Homestead when he wasn't a member of the Chase after missing time because of a back injury. Hamlin also won in 2009 at Homestead and has five top 10s in nine starts.

If Harvick isn't the favorite, Logano is. Logano has an average finish of 6.5 at 1.5-mile tracks this season and two wins, though his Homestead stats aren't the best. Last year, in his first year at Team Penske, he finished eighth, his best Homestead finish.

Newman has made 12 starts at Homestead. His average finish is 17th, which is where he finished last year in his final race for Stewart-Haas Racing before moving over to Richard Childress Racing in 2014. His best Homestead finish is third, which came in 2012.

Kurt Busch will start alongside Gordon on the front row. Matt Kenseth starts third while Brad Keselowski starts fourth.

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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: November 15, 2014, 12:47 am

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Unsurprisingly, NASCAR chairman Brian France said Friday that he's happy with the new Chase format in the Sprint Cup Series and that if any changes are going to be made to the Chase for 2015, they will be modest.

"I would say very modest, modest to zero," France said. "We reserve the right if there's a modest thing that we might make an adjustment on, but like I said, it's exceeded what I had hoped for, and it's done precisely what we thought we wanted to do, which was recalibrate competition, or winning rather, and still have a strong place for consistency and all the rest, but recalibrate that balance. It's only year one, but clearly we're on our way."

NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup was instituted in 2004. Since its inception, it's undergone multiple changes including the size of the Chase field and the criteria for qualification. The format has been changed every 2.75 years. If NASCAR wanted to make a change, while it'd look a sudden one, it wouldn't be entirely out of the norm.

If you've been following the Chase closely, you'd likely think any possible changes would involve winning given the extreme marketing push surrounding the importance of winning this season and winless Ryan Newman's presence among the four drivers eligible to win the title at Homestead on Sunday.

However, don't look for winning to become mandatory for a driver to be a champion.

"What I mean, though, is any format that we've ever had always has the possibility that somebody might win the championship without winning an event," France said. "Short of us, which we're not going to do, making it a hard prerequisite that you have to win a race to qualify. We don't think that takes it out of balance frankly.  And so I think it's great.  We have three drivers who competed and won; you've got one that didn't.  I do think whoever comes out as champion on Sunday probably needs to think about winning the race. I'd be surprised if one of those four drivers can get out of here with a championship, and what we've seen, if you go through past years, of how those teams will be elevating their game against everybody else no matter what people say ‑‑ you go back to Tony Stewart a few years ago, you go back to Jimmie Johnson when he needed to do what he needed to do or anybody else, those will be the teams, and they were last weekend in Phoenix, too, by the way, those will be the teams that will be running up front most of the day."

France is entirely correct; winless champions have always been an unlikely possibility in all of NASCAR's formats given the way that the points system is structured, especially after it was redone in 2011. But the disconnect comes because of the winning push.

It's why, if NASCAR wants to make "modest" changes to the Chase, we'd suggest letting drivers carry the bonus points from wins in a round of the Chase to the next. While drivers get three extra points for every win in the first 26 races to start the Chase, the points are reset at the beginning of rounds two, three and four. In addition to guaranteeing advancement, three extra points could help a driver advance to the next round.

And no, we're not suggesting this change because it would have affected the 2014 Chase. Jeff Gordon didn't win in the second round and would still have been eliminated by Newman at Phoenix.

Or, if immodest changes would be possible, making the points system more top-heavy would reward drivers who finish at or near the front all season. In the current structure, a driver receives an extra point for each position higher he or she finishes. In the top 10, the gap could be two or three points a position, with five or 10 bonus points given to a race winner instead of the three given at the end of the race now that bumps the winner's total from a minimum of 44 to 47.

That way, drivers could still be rewarded for consistent finishes and every position on the track would still matter in terms of points, but the impact of excellence would be heightened, making the push of winning more like truthtelling and less like carnival barking.

Will those somewhat-striking changes happen? Probably not. But given that the Chase has changed so frequently in its brief tenure already, modifications of some sort are likely coming sooner rather than later.

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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: November 14, 2014, 9:13 pm

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) sent NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing a letter calling for Kurt Busch's suspension in the wake of a domestic violence allegation against him.

Last week, the Dover (Del.) Police Department said it was investigating Busch after Patricia Driscoll, Busch's ex-girlfriend, claimed he had assaulted her. In Driscoll's claim, she said Busch smashed her head against the wall of his motorhome three times on September 26 after a poor qualifying effort at Bristol. The two had broken up the week before.

Busch's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has called the accusations a fabrication. Busch has not been charged in relation to the incident and has not been interviewed yet as police continue the investigation.

SI.com first wrote about the letter. From SI:

“But despite the severity of the criminal allegations against Mr. Busch,” Speier writes, “I am disappointed to see that NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing have not taken any action. Your response to these serious allegations has been totally inadequate.”

The adequate response, according to Speier, would be a suspension and a new NASCAR policy about domestic violence. Travis Kvapil was not disciplined by NASCAR after he was accused of domestic violence and placed on probation.

Speier takes issue with the fact that NASCAR neither suspended Busch nor parked driver Travis Kvapil in October of 2013 after Kvapil was accused of pulling his wife by the hair into a bedroom at their Mooresville, N.C., home and hitting her in the head when she resisted. (Kvapil was placed on two years probation and compelled to perform community service in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement.) “It calls into question the enforcement policies exercised by NASCAR,” Speier writes. Rather than wait for Dover police to complete its investigation, she urges NASCAR and SHR to “suspend Mr. Busch from his weekend’s Championship and adopt a policy going forward in all domestic violence cases to suspend drivers until criminal proceedings end or there is a clear lack of evidence.”

Speier has also asked to be looped into the internal investigations of NASCAR and SHR, and for “a history of sanctions levied by NASCAR and racing teams for domestic violence incidents brought to your attention over the last five years.”

On Friday, NASCAR CEO Brian France was asked about Speier's letter. In the wake of the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice situation, Speier asked for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to resign.

"What's not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awarenes on domestic abuse and violence and so you can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that's not going to be tolerated," France said.

"The past of how any league might have handled some of this is one thing. It's pretty clear when you see what's happening around the country and in some of the other leagues that our policy will reflect the significance and importance that it should."

France also said that NASCAR wouldn't step in and punish Busch, if necessary, until the investigation was complete. Last weekend at Phoenix, Stewart-Haas co-owner Gene Haas said he wasn't going to pull Busch from the car. Stewart-Haas Racing issued a statement Friday that it's watching the situation and Busch has "vehemently denied" the accusations.

"Well, two things," France said. "One is there are charges that are levied against, in this case, a driver, and then there is a judicial hearing of some sort that would come after that. We're not even at the first stop yet.  That's going to happen when and if charges are filed, and if charges are filed, that will change our equation, and we will look at that. As I said earlier on, we realize the heightened awareness of this important topic, and our policies will reflect that as we go down – they'll reflect how serious it is.  You know us well enough to know when we say that, we mean it, and we'll figure it out. But we ought to have a process that gets to the bottom of the facts before anybody does anything."

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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: November 14, 2014, 5:34 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.

Welcome to the final race of the year. Does it feel at all that the year has flown by? If it does, don't worry, we'll be in Daytona soon enough and wondering where the heck the offseason went.

Here's what the points standings would look like entering the race with the old Chase. It'd be Joey Logano's title to lose, which possibly explains why Kevin Harvick was antagonizing him last night. Logano took it about the best way he could, and judging by his reactions, it's doubtful Harvick's comments affected him at all.

1. Joey Logano, 2,368
2. Kevin Harvick, 2,342
3. Brad Keselowski, 2,320
4. Jeff Gordon, 2,312
5. Ryan Newman, 2,311
6. Matt Kenseth, 2,296
7. Denny Hamlin, 2,293
8. Kyle Busch, 2,280
9. Carl Edwards, 2,278
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,271
11. AJ Allmendinger, 2,256
12. Jimmie Johnson, 2,239
13. Greg Biffle, 2,245
14. Kurt Busch, 2,229
15. Kasey Kahne, 2,202
16. Aric Almirola, 2,170

The stone-facedness of the drivers during the press conference Wednesday night was a little odd. It almost felt at times like it was an interrogation. Sure, Harvick was having some fun, but he had his best poker face on. When the drivers were paraded out on stage in front of the assembled media and cameras before they sat down at the podium, if you would have photoshopped in a jail booking room background they would not have looked out of place in the slightest.

Things lightened up when each driver had his one-on-one sessions, but the stares, especially at the beginning, were impossible to ignore.

Ryan Newman was one of the four at Wednesday's gathering and we all know how he got there by now, right? Let's start off with some Newman reaction.

What Ryan did in Phoenix was completely different than what Brad did at Texas: Brad took out a chase contender and out of contention before the eliminator round. Gordon lost a minimum of 26 spots. Brad was the cause of the 24 not advancing. Ryan bumped a fellow racer into the wall in the last corner of the eliminator round to advance to the final 4. His fellow racer lost 2 spots. Ryan was sorry and would explain to Larson and Larson understood the position he was in and understood. Brad didn’t want to talk or explain his action and basically blew his competitor off. After all was said and done Brad wouldn’t have advanced unless he won Phoenix.

Bottom line is Newman is respected and explained his actions to his fellow driver and the media. Brad basically told his fellow driver to pound sand and he is who he is and won’t change his driving habits or his attitude ... YOU GET RESPECT WHEN YOU EARN AND GIVE RESPECT. If every driver drove like Brad did in Texas we would have 30 or 40 cautions a race and a lot of banged up race cars. If you want demolition derby go to your local track!! - Steve

Steve, you're right, what Newman did was totally different than Keselowski did. Nor am I sure how it can be any better.

What Keselowski did at Texas was make an aggressive move for the win, and a move that was necessary under the circumstances. Was there a chance of contact? Yes. Was there the intention of Gordon having a cut tire or going into the wall? Not sure.

Newman flat made a video game move. And, yes, it too was necessary under the circumstances. But with Newman, the way he drove into Larson ensured Larson would slide out of the groove and into the wall, giving Newman the spot.

That's where I draw the line. I don't fault Newman for making the move at all. But the environment of NASCAR and the new Chase allowed it. In the ever-ambiguous "Boys have at it" era, there was little to no chance of Newman getting a penalty, especially since the move created the drama at Phoenix that NASCAR's system was designed to do.

And, simply put, the video game move is more of a demolition derby move that Keselowski's. If every driver drove like Newman did in Phoenix we would have 30 or 40 cautions a race and a lot of banged up race cars. See what I did there?

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I can’t believe that there are people who actually like this year’s chase format. Having a driver like Jeff Gordon not being able to drive for a championship is unbelievable! NASCAR is not football, basketball, or hockey. If Nascar wants to follow their playoff system then follow it completely. All contenders that are not in the “playoffs” go home for the season. I’m sure that would sell a lot of tickets. Who cares about consistency throughout the season, just win one race and you know you’re in. Once the “playoffs” start just ride around like Newman did, never competing for a win. It will really be hilarious if Gordon win and Newman finish second next week. The driver who never won a race being crowned champion while the driver who had the most total points for the season won’t even be acknowledged. What a joke! - William

Nascar has made Sprint Cup a crapshoot. Gordon, Brad, Johnson and Little E have 17 wins combined. Newman has none & Hamlin didn't even race a full schedule. How is Nascar going to hold fans when one race decides progressing & 3 of 4 drivers are in must win position. 3 doesnt go into one. Suspense wins. - Timothy.

I do agree about the point of suspense winning. Anyone lauding the format for the drama it's creating needs to realize that the lauding isn't necessarily a compliment but rather a statement of fact. The Chase system is producing what it is designed to do. The upside is the goal.

The best teams in other sports are eliminated early all the time. I'm not sure that's the best argument, especially because it was applicable under the old Chase too. But I totally understand the frustration of a one-win and no-win driver in the final round of the Chase given the incredible and overbearing emphasis on winning by NASCAR and partners this season.

While a Newman title would be perfectly logical when you dive down into the points system, it's a walking marketing contradiction.

@NickBromberg Can we please stop the winning is the most important thing? Or award a higher points bonus to winner?

— Nathan Caldwell (@nathanc82) November 13, 2014

I'm all for giving the winners of races more points, as I've said before in this space. But, again, should NASCAR really be changing this format just one year into what everyone associated with the sport claims is a fantastic system? The Chase already changes every 2.75 years, should the average go down even further, even if it's a necessary move to marry reality with the ideal public relations perception? It may be a necessary move, but it could come at a significant credibility cost.

Also, on the points format note, look for a modest proposal on Friday. I've got ideas, and that's dangerous.

@NickBromberg Controversy, tempers, cliffhangers, your take on first 9 races. Will title be won by racing on track, or on pit strategy?

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) November 13, 2014

The word "execution" was heavily emphasized on Wednesday night, and it included having a fast car, good restarts and no mistakes on pit road. I think the latter two are more important than the first one.

While long green flag run speed will be important, we know that in the current Cup Series, the cost of a pit road mistake can be astronomical. So can the cost of a poor restart. While you can make up spots on restarts and spots on pit road, you can lose them a lot faster with dropped lugnuts, unsecure tires, penalties, or any number of different mistakes. Especially as we get late in the race as we've seen the propensity for late-race cautions increase this season.

Sunday's Cup champion may not have had a flawless race, but it'll be a race that had the smallest mistake. We saw how tough it was for Logano and Hamlin to fight through traffic at Phoenix last week after a penalty (Logano) and a flat tire (Hamlin). Having the fastest car on track is only good for so much if there's a big mistake.

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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: November 13, 2014, 8:20 pm

MIAMI, Fla., – While each of the four drivers competing for NASCAR's Sprint Cup on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be a first-time champion if he wins the title, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are no strangers to the media festivities that precede the final race of the season.

In 2010, Harvick and Hamlin were present with Jimmie Johnson. Then, Hamlin was clinging to a 15-point lead (old format) over Johnson and Harvick was 46 points back. Both Harvick and Johnson spent the session putting the pressure on Hamlin, who had just squandered at least 18 points to Johnson the previous race at Phoenix.

Wednesday, Harvick was having some stone-faced fun again. But while Hamlin was stationed to Harvick's right, it was the driver on his left, Joey Logano, whom Harvick directed his comments toward.

As Logano was addressing how the four drivers plan to race each other for the title (there were no promises of fender-banging from any of the drivers), Harvick brought up Logano's performance at Talladega.

Logano threw a key block on the last lap at Talladega to help keep Harvick away from the lead and teammate Brad Keselowski in it. Keselowski won the race and advanced to the third round of the Chase. Had Harvick won, Keselowski would have been eliminated.

"I thought you were going to say you were going to send Brad out there to be a moving chicane like you were at Talladega," Harvick said.

Logano, perhaps expecting Harvick's antagonization, laughed it off and answered promptly.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Kevin," Logano responded.

"Maybe you should ask Roger," Harvick said, referring to Team Penske owner Roger Penske.

"He's not here right now," Logano answered.

After the exchange, Ryan Newman, the other title contender, (semi?) jokingly asked if he could answer the question.

Because the four drivers are battling heads-up for the championship and the highest-finishing driver wins the title, there is a chance that teammates of the drivers in contention could play a role with strategy, or make it harder for a title-eligible driver to complete a pass.

When asked if he was joking with Logano about Talladega, Harvick said he wasn't and then expounded when asked about the teammate variable. Harvick will have teammates, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and team co-owner Stewart in the race. Logano has Keselowski, Hamlin has Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth and Newman has Austin Dillon and Paul Menard.

"You know, we've had this conversation in our shop, and it's just a race, because I believe – and I think Tony Stewart believes and all the management believes that in the end, trying to do those things like at Talladega, karma catches up with you," Harvick said. "I'm a firm believer in karma. At some point it comes full circle."

In 2010, the talk about Hamlin might have gotten to him, though he said Wednesday it didn't. At one point four years ago, he even made a comment about how awkward it was.

Logano wasn't fazed, laughing about it again after the news conference while in his breakout session.

"I actually kind of think it's a compliment," Logano said. "Because if you think about it, I'm up here with three of the best drivers here and teams. And that's really cool. It's a privilege to be here. And then to have one of them nervous about you means even more. I'm not here to play head games, I'm here to win a race, and he can play around as much as he wants. I'm having fun with this."

Hamlin was happy to stay away from the fray.

"I think everyone knew that was coming, probably," Hamlin said. "Joey's the new guy, he's the young guy, and obviously he's got a great shot at a championship. And everyone's going to look for every advantage that they can get, whether it be coincidence or not that the person kind of poking fun is the person that gets under the other person's skin.

"You know, Kevin didn't beat me in 2010. I finished second to Jimmie. Jimmie wasn't necessarily the one prodding. I think it's more coincidence than anything, but you knew that Kevin was going to have a little fun out there, and obviously he's got some bad blood it looks like with some of the Penske guys anyway, so I'll just let all that play out and we'll just go out there and have fun and see what happens."

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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: November 13, 2014, 1:37 am

ESPN's NASCAR team.On Sunday, ESPN will broadcast the last race of the 2014 season, which will also be the last race of ESPN's contract. Next year, Fox and NBC will handle all NASCAR duties, and ESPN will move on to hardwood and grass rather than concrete and asphalt.

ESPN is the 800-pound gorilla in the broadcast sports space, and the fact that it will no longer telecast NASCAR will have a significant impact on the sport's coverage. Rich Feinberg, ESPN vice president of production addressed fans' initial concerns that the sport would be pushed to the sidelines since ESPN no longer has a financial stake in its promotion: "I don't think you'll see much of a change," he said. "We obviously won't be doing the races, but in terms of serving the interests of fans with our news and information coverage, we're full steam ahead." He noted that ESPN has signed several of its NASCAR regulars to new deals.

Earlier this week, ESPN regulars took a moment to discuss their favorite memories of broadcasting NASCAR and took a little pride in their work.

"I have to say, Alan Kulwicki's championship win in that final race when he pulled into victory lane in 1992 in Atlanta, pulled there into the start‑finish line to be interviewed, and Richard Petty's last race, that's one of those moments I'll never forget," Dr. Jerry Punch said. "Alan driving the 'Underbird,' the young man who came from Wisconsin with, as we said back in those days, a pickup truck and a pocketful of dreams and chased his dream and became a NASCAR champion with very few resources. It was a day in which Davey Allison could have won it, Bill Elliott could have won it, and either one of those would have been great stories, but Kulwicki wins it and then we do the interview, and I turn and my producer in my earpiece says, 'Now turn and say something, because we're going to introduce Richard Petty.'  So I turned and introduced Richard Petty, and his rebuilt damaged race car comes out of the garage in Atlanta and makes one final lap and then comes down pit road ... and I interview Richard, and I caught myself because he gets out of the car, and for the first time I saw tears in his eyes and going down his cheek, and they were on my cheeks because I realized how special that moment was.  It just doesn't get much better than that."

Feinberg pointed out that ESPN offered both technical and conceptual innovations that have since become standard. "For us to be able to, throughout the Chase, show the second half of all Chase races, essentially the playoffs and the championship, without ever going to a full‑screen commercial week in and week out I think is an excellent example of how ESPN has tried to maintain its commitment, not only to NASCAR but to our fans in general," he said. 

"Taking the on board cameras high def, taking the cameras where you can see two different views coming out of a car at the same time instead of just one," Allen Bestwick said. "That was not a cheap undertaking and it was not an easy one, but it was something that our company undertook and made successful."

Leave it to Rusty Wallace, though, to put a bow on it all. "We're all a close family," he said of the ESPN crew. "We all get along good.  We've all had our bumps in the road.  We've all learned, and I wish we were continuing on, but we're not."

ESPN signs off after Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400.

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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: November 12, 2014, 3:23 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. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5): Is it us, or is Harvick's performance at Phoenix not getting enough clutchiness run as Brad Keselowski's win at Talladega? Our theory is because Talladega can be such a crapshoot while Harvick was expected to run well at Phoenix given the way he's dominatd the track recently. And boy, was his run on Sunday a piece of domination. Harvick will likely have one of the two fastest cars among the four title contenders on Sunday, it's now a matter of if something will go wrong given the craziness that's happened to Harvick this year. And if Harvick is fast and does have an issue, Homestead will incredibly overshadow the awesomeness of Phoenix.

2. Joey Logano (LW: 1): Logano, much like Denny Hamlin, had a pit road issue that knocked him back in the pack. And they both were incredibly fluky. In Logano's case, he left his pit stall while the gas can was still engaged and it skidded across the line of his pit stall and into another one. Logano was penalized for equipment leaving his pit stall. He eventually went a lap down but got it back and fought back to finish sixth. No worse than second-favorite at Homestead, right?

3. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Hamlin's issue was even higher up the fluky scale from Logano's. After a pit stop early in the race, Hamlin had to come back in after a rear tire was completely falt. He restarted at the end of the field and was stuck in traffic, falling a lap down as well. He spent more time than Logano a lap down, but he ended up finishing a place better on the track in fifth. If you're a Hamlin fan, we don't blame you for having dejá vu thoughts about Phoenix 2010 before Hamlin made his way back to the lead lap.

4. Ryan Newman (LW: 4): A pass for 11th place has gotten Newman to this point, and it's going to be looked at as a pass that possibly sets the standard for a title. Will one of the four drivers be willing to do that to each other to get the title in the late laps on Sunday? And before you think what Newman did was similar to Carl Edwards on Jimmie Johnson in 2008 at Kansas, remember that Edwards was the one bouncing off the wall. Bouncing yourself off the wall going for a win is different than bouncing another driver off the wall.

But bottom line, and something we'll probably extrapolate on later in the week: If you're going to blame something for what Newman did Sunday in passing Kyle Larson, blame the environment. Don't blame Newman.

5. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4): Had Jeff Gordon led a lap on Sunday he would have avoided his fate. Well, it's not that simple. There's a chance that Newman plays defense a lot more against Marcos Ambrose and Larson knowing he needs to finish 10th. And while it may seem hard to fathom that Gordon finished second twice in three races and missed the final cut, remember, it's simply how the points system is structured.

6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 6): Keselowski finished third and fourth in the third round and suffered the same fate as Gordon. And as Keselowski sits on six wins, the only chance of the winningest driver winning the title is if Logano wins the race on Sunday. It's common knowledge that there have been numerous NASCAR champions who didn't win the most races in a season. It just seems incredibly incongruous that a driver with fewer top fives than Keselowski has wins is racing for the title in a season in which winning was supposed to take on such great importance.

7. Matt Kenseth (LW: 7): Kenseth and Gordon can commiserate about how bad Texas was to their Chase chances. And while Kenseth would have made the final four without a win (unless he won Phoenix), it's our guess he wouldn't be viewed the way Newman's candidacy for the title is being viewed. Kenseth is fourth in the series in top fives and third in top 10s. Newman is tied for 15th and tied for 11th.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 8): Our eighth-place driver stays in eighth after finishing eighth. In the No. 88 car. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THAT HAPPENING? (They aren't calculable because these rankings are incredibly arbitrary) If we were going to bet on two non-Chase teams going for the strategy play late in the race to grab a win, we'd choose Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte and the No. 14 team and Tony Stewart. If Stewart doesn't win at Homestead, it'll be the first Cup season of his career that he hasn't won in.

9. Carl Edwards (LW: 9): You quickly become an afterthought if you struggle. Edwards was just not fast through the three races of the third round. This comment by Edwards summed up Phoenix nicely:

"Yeah, we tried every trick that we could," Edwards said. "We just didn’t have a lot of speed all weekend. The car actually drove pretty decently at the end, so I thought Jimmy did a great job with it. We just didn’t have enough speed, so that’s how it goes.”

10. Kyle Larson (LW: 12): Want to know what Larson thought about Newman's move? Here's what he said in a statement to MRN:

"Coming to the finish, there were a lot of cars racing really hard. I knew (Newman) was right around me and knew he needed to gain some spots to keep from getting eliminated from the Chase.  

“It's a little upsetting he pushed me up to the wall, but I completely understand the situation he was in and can't fault him for being aggressive there. I think a lot of drivers out here would have done something similar if they were in that position."

11. Kyle Busch (LW: 10): We're dropping Busch a spot after his spin and then shearing by Clint Bowyer's car. Bowyer simply hit him at a perfect angle to rip the front end off Busch's car. Busch finished 34th. And thanks to NASCAR resetting all Chase-eliminated drivers back to the same points system, Busch is ahead of Edwards even despite the bad Phoenix finish.

12. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 9): Phoenix is a yo-yo for Jimmie Johnson. In 2010, he took advantage of Denny Hamlin's fuel strategy, stretched his fuel and won. In 2012, he lost a tire and hit the wall, paving the way for Brad Keselowski to win the title. In 2013, Matt Kenseth struggled, which made Johnson's Homestead race a coronation. In 2014? Well, Johnson was in the wall again, a week after winning at Texas.

Lucky Dog: Was Sunday the final time Marcos Ambrose finishes in the top 10 in the Cup Series?

The DNF: Austin Dillon completed 283 of 312 laps. It's the smallest percentage of laps Dillon has completed in a race all season.

Dropped out: None

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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: November 11, 2014, 6:08 pm

Through the first nine races of NASCAR's new elimination Chase format, we've learned that if you can't win, you need to avoid bad finishes.

On Sunday at Phoenix, Jeff Gordon finished second. Brad Keselowski finished third. Matt Kenseth finished fourth. Yet they all missed out on the cut-off for the Sprint Cup Series title that will be decided next week at Homestead as race-winner Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman will be racing for the championship.

The best finisher of the four on Nov. 16 will win the title.

But best finishes weren't a good barometer of success in the third round of the Chase. Here are the top finishes of the eight drivers alive for the championship entering Phoenix:

Harvick: 1st (Phoenix)
Newman: 3rd (Martinsville)
Logano: 5th (Martinsville)
Hamlin: 5th (Phoenix)
Gordon: 2nd (Martinsville, Phoenix)
Keselowski: 3rd (Texas)
Kenseth: 3rd (Phoenix)
Carl Edwards: 9th (Texas)

Yes, three of the drivers who missed the cut had finishes in the three-race round as good or better than three of the drivers who made the cut. Winning hasn't been everything through the first three rounds of the Chase. Avoiding bad finishes was, though it did help if you won.

And the standings above aren't a typo either. Gordon had two second-place finishes in the three races. It's just that the replayed-at-every-opportunity incident with Keselowski at Texas dropped him to 29th place that race and created a deficit that ended up being insurmountable. With the way that the other seven Chase drivers finished at Phoenix, Gordon had to win the race to advance.

Keselowski's punishment came at Martinsville, when he had a rear-gear issue and finished 31st. Like Harvick, he was essentially in a win-and-in scenario at Phoenix. Fourth place did him no good.

For Kenseth, Texas was the tipping point. A poor pit stop relegated him to the back of the pack and created a track position deficit that was impossible to make up. Despite finishing sixth at Martinsville and third on Sunday, the 25th-place run was too tall to overcome.

And we'll go ahead and mention Edwards in this column, though he didn't show the speed that his three peers who missed the final cut did. Even at Texas, where he recorded his best finish, he went a lap down twice.

Logano won races in the first two rounds and had the same speed throughout the third round but didn't have a win to show for it. His worst finish of the third round was 12th at Texas, which came after a pit stop gone bad with faulty lugnut glue and a spin for a flat tire.

Harvick was the epitome of a win helping erase a bad finish in a round. He finished 33rd at Martinsville and would not have made the final four on points given how the race played out. However, since winners in a round advance to the next round, Harvick's win moved him on.

Hamlin and Newman, well, they made it on the avoidance of bad finishes. Neither driver had the speed that Logano or Harvick did through the last three races, but Hamlin complemented the fifth place on Sunday with eighth and 10th-place finishes.

In addition to his third at Martinsville, Newman finished 15th at Texas and 11th at Phoenix. And if Harvick is the epitome of a win erasing a bad finish to guarantee a title berth, Newman's entire season has been a beautiful example of racing consistency to counter a lack of outright speed.

Newman has just four top-five finishes through the season's 35 races and third is his highest finish. He's led 41 laps all season; the most he's led in a single race is 10. That was at Talladega three weeks ago. His top-10 statistics aren't staggering either. Newman has 15 top 10s, good for 11th in the series. But he has just two finishes lower than 24th throughout the entire season.

How has that paid off? In NASCAR's new points format, which has been in effect since 2011, last place pays a single point, or 1/47th the points that winning a race (and leading a lap) does. Under the old system, last was worth 34 points, or roughly 1/6th of the 190 or 195 points a winner received for winning a race.

In NASCAR's current format, the points ratios in the top 20 are roughly the same. Tenth-place finishers receive roughly 72 percent of the points that winners do. In the old system, it was 70 percent. But you see where the ratios start to change as you go down the standings. A driver finishing 20th today receives approximately 51 percent of the points (24) a winner does. In the old system, it was about 54 percent (103).

The ratios only get worse from there.

In the old 10-race, straight-up Chase, drivers had a greater opportunity to bounce back or build a cushion. In a three-race sample, there simply isn't much time to do that. Just ask Gordon, Kenseth and Keselowski.

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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: November 10, 2014, 1:24 am

Kevin Harvick got his third-straight win at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, and it's a win that gives him a chance to run for the Sprint Cup Series title.

Harvick's win guaranteed him a spot in NASCAR's final four to race for the championship on Sunday, Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The three other drivers joining Harvick are Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman, who made a banzai last lap pass to sneak in ahead of Jeff Gordon.

Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were eliminated from the Chase.

While Harvick sprinted away with the lead of the race from Gordon with 12 laps to go after the race's final restart, Newman lost two spots. It put him in a tie with Gordon for the final spot to advance to Homestead, assuming Harvick would win the race and Logano and Hamlin would maintain their positions.

Because of Gordon's second-place finish in the first race of the third round at Martinsville two weeks ago, he had the tiebreaker. Newman had to finish a point ahead of Gordon, and to do it, he needed to pass Kyle Larson for 11th on the final lap.

Newman drove his car into turn three and four onto the apron as far as he could and his car slid up into Larson's. Larson's car slid up out of the groove and into the wall. Newman had the spot on the track and a chance to race for the championship.

"I just gave it my all and they paved (the apron) I guess for a reason," Newman said. "And they didn't make any rules that said we couldn't use it. A great team effort today. We did not have the race car, we had horrible restarts, I did not have track position with this Cat Mining Chevrolet when we needed to but in the end we fought back hard."

"Did what we had to. As clean as I possibly could. I wasn't proud of it, but I'll do what I got to to make it to this next round. That little boy has got a lot of things coming in this sport and he used me up at Eldora in a truck race a couple years ago, so from my standpoint I call it even. I think if he was in my position, he would have done the same thing."

After climbing from his car, Gordon expounded on the merits of clean racing. Last week, Gordon went from second to 29th at Texas after contact with Brad Keselowski while racing for the lead late in the race. Sunday, he was eliminated when Newman used Larson as a buffer.

"That's disappointing. We've got a lot to hold our heads up high about, the way that we raced this race, the whole Chase and the season. We raced hard, we raced together as a team, but I hope we taught somebody that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best. That you don't have to go out there and wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship."

"I'm afraid if it was that ugly these last couple weeks it's going to get really ugly next week."

Gordon simply didn't have a chance to make a move on Harvick for the win. The gap Harvick had on Gordon in the final laps never closed, and it was fitting. Harvick was by far the day's most dominant driver. He led the most laps and was nearly untouchable.

"I guess that's what it feels like to hit a walk-off in the extra innings there," Harvick said.

The dominance was an incredibly good thing, too. Harvick entered the day eighth among the eight drivers vying for the final four spots and because none of the eight had porous finishes, had Harvick finished second, he wouldn't have made it to Homestead eligible for the title.

"I could tell that we were probably going to have to win because everyone was running up in the front of the pack that we were racing against," Harvick said. "So that was our goal coming in here and that's really the goal every time you come to Phoenix."

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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: November 9, 2014, 11:58 pm

Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, said Sunday that he won't remove Kurt Busch from his No. 41 car.

Busch's ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, has accused Busch of domestic assault at a race weekend in Dover, Del., at the end of September. Driscoll filed a claim with the Dover Police Department earlier in the week. In the claim, she says Busch slammed her head into the wall of his motorhome. According to the AP, the couple had broken up a week before.

Busch's lawyer has called Driscoll's claims a fabrication.

From USA Today:

"He'll be in the car until someone else pulls him out," Haas told a small group of reporters before the Phoenix race. "I'm not pulling him out."

Haas' company, Haas Automation, is the sponsor of Busch's car and will continue to be on the hood during the investigation, he said.

"I think we're just going to let the police department do their job and try not to say anything that would compromise that," he said. "We want an unbiased investigation and we'll see how it all plays out."

Is Haas worried about what the investigation might find?

"The facts I know, I'm not concerned about it," he said.

The self-sponsorship angle of Busch's car is important. With Haas providing not only the team but the financial backing, there is limited outside influence to remove Busch from the car. He was also the impetus for bringing Busch to SHR and expanding the team to four cars.

Haas is familiar with the legal system himself. He was arrested for tax evasion in 2006 and as part of a plea deal, pled guilty to a felony charge of tax evasion. He was sentenced to two years in prison and served 16 months before being released on probation.

Busch is currently 14th in the Sprint Cup Series points standings entering Sunday's race at Phoenix. He qualified for the Chase thanks to a spring win at Martinsville but was eliminated at Dover.

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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: November 9, 2014, 8:17 pm

Chase Elliott is a NASCAR champion.

The 18-year-old son of fomer NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott clinched the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series title at Phoenix on Saturday. He heads into the final race on November 15 at Homestead with a margin of more than a race (52 points) on second place Regan Smith.

Driving for JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team, Elliott finished fifth on Saturday. In 2014, his first full year in the Nationwide Series, Elliott has won three races and has 26 top 10s in 32 races. He's the youngest champion in NASCAR national series history.

His first win came at Texas in the spring and he won the next race at Darlington. His third win came at Chicago in the summer. Chase and Bill are the fifth father-son combination to each win NASCAR titles.

@chaseelliott and @BillElliott9 are fifth father son to win @NASCAR touring series championship with Pettys Pearsons Earnhardts & Jarretts

— Winston Kelley (@WinstonKelley) November 8, 2014

Elliott, who is signed as a developmental driver for Hendrick Motorsports, will stay in what will be the Xfinity Series in 2015. Hendrick has all four cars filled in the Sprint Cup Series for 2015 in Junior, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.

However, Elliott will have a new crew chief next year. His crew chief Greg Ives is moving to atop Junior's pit box for the 2015 season. Junior's current crew chief, Steve Letarte, is moving to the broadcast booth for NBC Sports next year.

The race at Phoenix was won by Brad Keselowski on a last-lap pass of Kyle Busch. The pass was set up by a green-white-checker restart due to a questionable caution for Alex Bowman's car being out of fuel.

Bowman's car slowed on the penultimate lap and he had plenty of momentum to make it to pit road safely, but NASCAR threw the caution flag as Busch, who had a very comfortable lead, was not far from the white flag. Had the caution come out after Busch had started his final lap, the race would have been over.

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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: November 8, 2014, 11:41 pm

NASCAR was forced to end Friday's Camping World Truck Series race early after the lights went out at Phoenix International Raceway.

A massive power failure hit the region and delayed the race for over an hour because the track was on backup power and the entire track wasn't lit properly. Power was restored for the 150-lap race to start, but it went out again with 24 laps to go and NASCAR and the the track decided to end the race in case another failure happened again.

"We are extremely disappointed that tonight's race was delayed and ultimately shortened by failures in the local power grid," a track statement said. "We want to thank the devoted race fans who stayed throughout the race, however PIR and NASCAR both agreed that it was in the best interest of the drivers to call an end to the race after the second power outage, as safety of the competitors is paramount. While we appreciate the efforts of APS and its repair crews to restore service as quickly as possible, having to end the race prematurely is not the experience that our fans expect and deserve."

Erik Jones, the leader at the time of the failure with 24 laps to go, won the race. It's his third win in 12 starts this season and earlier Friday, Kyle Busch Motorsports announced that Jones, 18, would run full-time in the series in 2015.

Matt Crafton has a 25-point lead over Ryan Blaney as the series heads to Homestead for the final race of the season on November 14.

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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: November 8, 2014, 7:35 pm

Kevin Harvick said Friday that he didn't realize his shove of Brad Keselowski was going to start a fracas.

Jeff Gordon confronted Keselowski after the race following a three-wide move that Keselowski made. The move, which was for the lead late in the race, cut Gordon's left-rear tire down after he and Keselowski made contact.

Gordon was trying to get to Keselowski, but was blocked by members of Keselowski's team as he attempted to talk with him. As Keselowski was on the outside of the group of people, Harvick pushed him towards Gordon, who reached for Keselowski's collar. A melee ensued.

"I have been in that situation with [Keselowski] before," Harvick said. "For me it is like the week of two totally opposite situations. I have no problem with the way Brad races. I think he races hard. I think that is what we are all supposed to do and in those positions you would probably do the same thing yourself."

"But, I think that the problem that I have with it I have been in that situation with him before and have him turn his back on me and just walk off. I don’t think that is the appropriate way to handle those types of situations. It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I reacted and obviously didn’t really realize that it was going to ignite that."

While Harvick said Friday he had no problem with the way Brad races, he had the following response when asked Sunday if he would make the same attempt for the lead that Keselowski did:

"Yeah, I couldn't run over [Gordon] or [Jimmie Johnson] like that," Harvick said.

Harvick's shove started a viral meme (though, doesn't everything start a meme these days?) called #Harvicking. He's not necessarily proud of the way the shove took off online and referenced the contact he and Matt Kenseth had at Martinsville the week before Texas.

“I think in the end, you guys know, I love the controversy," Harvick said. "But I think in the end the difficult part for me is to go home and realize that one day you are going to have to answer those questions to your son. It’s definitely two different sides and how you have to look at it and how you have to approach it. 

"I think you look at Martinsville and how that situation was handled,  I have a lot of respect for Matt (Kenseth) and what he does on the race track. You leave the track and you talk about things and you figure out what went wrong and how to handle things moving forward.  There is just never that opportunity really presented with Brad and I think that is what frustrates me. I’m not going to speak for everybody else.”

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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: November 7, 2014, 10:01 pm

Kurt Busch is being investigated by the Dover, (Del.) Police Department for allegations of domestic assault.

Busch's ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, filed the claims Nov. 5, according to the police department. Per court documents obtained by the AP, Driscoll said the alleged assault happened on Friday, Sept. 26. The Sprint Cup Series was in Dover that weekend and Busch was eliminated from the Chase after the race on Sunday, Sept. 28.

The Dover PD issued a statement confirming the investigation Friday.

From the AP:

The documents, filed Wednesday, say Busch was despondent the night of Sept. 26 after his poor performance at the qualifying race.

"He was verbally abusive to her and said he wished he had a gun so that he could kill himself," the documents say.

Driscoll said Busch, 36, called her names and accused her of "having spies everywhere and having a camera on the bus to watch him." He then jumped up, grabbed her face and smashed her head three times against the wall next to the bed, the documents say.

The AP story says that Busch and Driscoll had ended their relationship, which began in 2011, approximately a week earlier. Driscoll also says in her claim that she ran from Busch's motorhome, where the alleged incident occurred, and went to a nearby bus.

She is also seeking a protection order against Busch and requesting that he receive a psychiatric evaluation. A hearing is set for Dec. 2.

Through a statement from attorney Rusty Hardin, Busch denies the allegations and said they were a complete fabrication. Hardin has represented Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and former MLB pitcher Roger Clemens.

"The Dover Police Department has been informed that Mr. Busch will fully cooperate with their investigation and he expects to be vindicated when the entire truth of the situation comes to light," Hardin's statement said. "This allegation is a complete fabrication by a woman who has refused to accept the end of a relationship and Mr. Busch vehemently denies her allegations in every respect. At this time we intend to have no further comment in the media out of respect for the Dover Police Department's desire to conduct a thorough investigation without a media circus."

Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch's team, said it was gathering facts Friday afternoon before Hardin's statement was issued after the first practice session of the day.

“This is an allegation Stewart-Haas Racing takes very seriously, but we’re still gathering all of the facts," Not in position to comment.

— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) November 7, 2014

NASCAR also issued a statement.

NASCAR issued the following statement from Brett Jewkes, NASCAR Senior VP and Chief Communications Officer. pic.twitter.com/PvYmkXhRi4

— #MyChaseNation (@NASCAR) November 7, 2014

After finishing eighth at Texas last week, Busch is 14th in the Sprint Cup Series standings. Before the race at Texas, Stewart-Haas Racing switched the teams of he and teammate Danica Patrick in an effort to prepare for 2015.

The Cup Series races at Phoenix on Sunday. In 2005, Busch was suspended for the final two races of the year while at Roush Racing following a driving incident while leaving the track. Busch was ultimately cited for reckless driving. Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, was set to leave Roush at the end of the season and join Team Penske for 2006.

In 2011, after an outburst towards an ESPN reporter at the final race of the season, Busch said he began working with a sports psychologist.

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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: November 7, 2014, 7:04 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.

Welcome to the second of our two Happy Hours this week. Had we combined your non-fight questions and our normal standings feature into one mailbag, it would have been brutally long. So we broke it up into two.

Here are this week's old Chase standings. Because of his issues late in the race, Joey Logano's lead is not a full race heading into Phoenix, but he could still clinch before Homestead.

1. Joey Logano, 2,329
2. Kevin Harvick, 2,294
3. Brad Keselowski, 2,280
4. Ryan Newman, 2,278
5. Jeff Gordon, 2,270
5. Kyle Busch, 2,270
7. Matt Kenseth, 2,255
8. Denny Hamlin, 2,253
9. Carl Edwards, 2,249
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,234
10. Jimmie Johnson, 2,234
12. AJ Allmendinger, 2,228
13. Greg Biffle, 2,209
14. Kurt Busch, 2,192
15. Kasey Kahne, 2,179
16. Aric Almirola, 2,144

Now, let's start this version with some Chase tweaks, shall we?

Here is a suggestion to improve the playoff format. It may have been suggested before but maybe not. The regular season is 32 races. The playoff is four races. To qualify for the playoffs a driver needs to win three or more races during the regular season. Three bonus points per win are carried into the playoffs. Highest point total in the four playoff races among qualified drivers wins the championship. Do you think this is a good idea? - Noon

I've expressed my dislike of short sample sizes before, so I'm not sure I'd be a fan of a four-race Chase, unless it was diverse and included a short track, intermediate track and superspeedway. I do like the bonus point idea, and, like I've said before, wish the wins in each round carried over. (Though if they did, the points race for Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski isn't much different. They'd still trail at their current deficits because Joey Logano also had a win in the second round.)

@NickBromberg Would NASCAR tweek the points system in the off season if we end up having a winless champion this year? #WinningIsEverything

— Chris Nulty (@RealChrisNulty) November 6, 2014

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry for the screaming. But... oh man, can you imagine tweaks to the Chase after a year? While I could want them in a perfect world, when you've already changed the playoff format every 2.75 years, you have to get close to the average, even if the champion is not the desired result.

If you like marketing pretzels, you're rooting for neither Matt Kenseth or Ryan Newman to win at Phoenix on Sunday, but for both to advance. Newman is the craziest. Kenseth has 12 top fives. Newman has four. He's tied for 15th in the Cup Series in top fives with Paul Menard. 15th! And he's one race away from racing for the championship.

In any potential pushes for Ryan Newman before Homestead, expect to see the word "consistency" a lot, but the absence of "points racing" will be conspicuous. Remember y'all, points racing is dead and with the new championship format, it's pointless. (Yes, we can argue about what the concept of what "points racing" actually is, but you get the point.)

@NickBromberg Been to any interesting sports events lately? Will non chaser "teammates" be rolling roadblocks to support their guys Sunday?

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) November 6, 2014

I've been spoiled in October and November. I'll fully admit it. It's my favorite sports time of the year usually, but it's been wild this year and I can't cherish it enough.

Going to Circuit of the Americas and seeing Formula 1 cars up close and in person for the first time was awesome. While the series doesn't have the history for me of IndyCar racing and NASCAR (I can remember the first Indianapolis 500 I watched in full and the first Daytona 500 I watched in full with ease), I've been more and more fascinated with it every year.

I think the teammate angle is what we have to look out for on Sunday if we're looking for any revenge or similar storylines. I don't think drivers in contention for a title are going to go do something supid to settle a grudge and risk their championship hopes. Will they have someone else? Probably not, but if you're going to do something at Phoenix, you're going to have someone not in title contention do 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: November 6, 2014, 9:03 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.

And welcome to this week's Happy Hour. It's a special edition of Happy Hour this week as we'll have two versions. In this one, it's the cleanest and (sometimes) most sensical emails we received amidst the substantial feedback we got from Sunday to Tuesday about the Texas pit road melee.

In our other version we'll talk about anything and everything that isn't associated with the fracas. That way you can read both if you like or if you're sick of the fighting, you can skip to the other stuff or vice versa. Seems logical, right?

If you've been living under a rock, four crew members were suspended for their roles in the incident. Three are on Jeff Gordon's team. One is on Kasey Kahne's. Drivers were not penalized.

We'll start this Happy Hour with people who were furious about the incident.

Other than Joey he has no respect in the garage.  Nobody will disagree he is not a good driver, that’s a given.  When you take somebody out by SLAMMING into them and if you actually take time to watch the video of that and not the video of the fight he SLAMMED into him where it would take out the valve stem and you can bet he knew it.  Sorry I love Nascar but Nascar had a talk with Earnhardt and Darryl Waltrip about the sport being able to carry on without either of them perhaps it is time for that chat with Brad.  You can write what you want Nick but the other drivers will not put up with it. I will wager that Brad will not win the championship even if somebody has to take a suspension over it.  He is despised, not disliked. - Jim

Once again Brad shows his willingness to wreck anyone at any time.  He is a dirty driver and the media keeps taking his side and saying “just racing”. In all my years watching NASCAR I don’t recall a driver employing such tactics, even Sr. wasn’t as obviously trying to wreck his competitors to secure his victory, he had some class at least. This has been going on since his first victory at Dega when he wrecked Edwards rather than take the second place finish he had earned. - Ron

And here are the emails where people weren't so mad.

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I'm not sure what everyone else saw, but I saw Keslowski doing the exact same thing Gordon would have done when that gap appeared, he went to pass same as Gordon would have. So why'd Gordon and his crew go all crazy? Because it was Keslowski that snuck through that gap or because he just got bettered and knew it? - David

I watched the G-W-C three or four times, and Gordon came down on BK.  Gordon defended but he pulled down and BK is not going to stop trying to win.  This is competition, this is for all the marbles.  This is a driver who is paid to win.  He holds no prisoners, he goes to win.  People don't like BK.  Did people like the Intimidator?  It's to early to compare BK to Dale, but I love watching BK do everything he can to win.
I will support BK until he does a bone-head, then will ask.  Right now, he is paid to win.  There are many of my contacts who agree;  only a few disagree.  It's called winning, not dancing. - Jim

Nick, great article.  I thought the move on the track by the 2 was a great move, you could see him sitting on the 48's corner anticipating the 24 to move up the hill to get a run. Like him or not BK drives with heart and passion and I want that in my driver and my race team. Everyone seems to forget  he won his chmpionship with a broken leg. Did I mention I'm a Jeff Gordon fan?

Jeff No. 5 is not going to be gifted to you bud, it will be need to best racing of your life. Watch the tape you left the door wide open and chose the wrong lane if it wasn't the 2 hitting the gap it would have been the 4. - Damian

It's not a spoiler if you read what I wrote on Sunday evening, but the latter three emails are the ones I agree with in the tale of two extremes. Keselowski was going for the win and I feel this is an instance where his reputation precedes him.

After the race, Kevin Harvick said he wouldn't have made the move Keselowski did, so you can't say every other driver in the garage would have gone for it. But I think we can safely say that Keselowski wouldn't be the only driver to make that move in that position. And if another driver had done it, would Gordon be so angry?

Mind you, Gordon had every right to be furious about what happened. His race and possibly the Chase was tossed aside with that cut tire. But, again, given Keselowski's reputation and the fact that he was in a kerfuffle with Matt Kenseth just a few weeks prior, you know the recent history was weighing in Gordon's mind. Hell, earlier in the race when Keselowski had not pitted and gotten the lead, Gordon talked on his radio about Keselowski mirror-driving to keep Gordon in second.

Ultimately, if every driver raced the same way, NASCAR would be bland, don't you think? The pit road stuff aside, it's fun to debate the merits of a freaking three-wide move for the lead with less than 10 laps to go. It's just unfortunate that you can't think about the move and the what-ifs without immediately thinking about the skirmish.

And speaking of the skirmish itself, let's talk about that now.

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Why are they guys not put in jail for fighting.  This is classified as an assault, I think the law needs to get involved and arrest all involved.  Don’t mess with Texas…don’t mean (crap) when the fight at NASCAR….If I was fighting with another individual, would I get arrested or get a pat on the back.- Vernon

What's with the jail stuff? Don't we already realize the precedent that has been set when it comes to sports fights? No one involved in the fray was going to press charges and no authority figures were going to step in without that impetus to press charges themselves.

Do I feel that fighting is stupid? Yeah, I do. NASCAR teams acting like toddlers is briefly entertaining but ultimately fruitless. Except for the NASCAR Foundation. It's now $185,000 richer.

I'll continue my thoughts below after this wonderful email.

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Wish you would have been in the middle of the fight and taken a beat down to rattle your brain into reality. Fighting after a race is great for the sport and always has been, especially with the boredom suffered through the last few years. It's the same at our local tracks and sells tickets in case you've been under a rock. If you don't know anything about racing, stick to writing in your ladies home journal with your dress on. - Neil

Ignoring the blatant sexism in this email, how can anyone be so certain that fighting is good for NASCAR? Yes, the sport started its popularity boom in 1979 because of a fight at Daytona, but the fight at Daytona was also driver-on-driver. It was distinctly different than the ridiculousness we saw on Sunday.

But types of fights aside, NASCAR is also a totally different sport than it was in 1979. And you will find people that say it's for the better and others that say its for the worse. But a fight bringing your very niche sport national attention and placing it on the sports landscape is different than a fight making your national but-not-always mainstream sport fodder for outlets that don't normally cover you to dissect.

Oh, and if we could be so quick to say that fighting was good for NASCAR, wouldn't the television ratings for Talladega have been up and not down 600,000 viewers than the year before? It was the race after Charlotte. And if people tuned in because of the fight, well, it was at the expense of other viewers.

I also don't want to dwell heavily on this, but I feel that my tweet from earlier in the week also has bearing to this discussion.

The idea that Keselowski had to "man up" by being in an altercation really bothers me. Not wanting to fight doesn't make you less of a man.

— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) November 3, 2014

Again, Gordon had every right to be mad. But because of the presence of Keselowski's crew members (which Gordon knew would be there) there were very good chances it wasn't going to be a fight until Kevin Harvick shoved Keselowski. And, after the skirmish, Harvick said: "If you're going to race like that, you're going to have to man up at some point. I mean, he's done it several times.  Can't just turn around and let everybody fight all the time without you in there. Have to stand up for your actions at some point yourself."

But what is standing up for your actions? Gordon talked to Keselowski, and as Gordon kept trying to get closer and closer, Keselowski moved back. He didn't walk or run away, he simply didn't want any part of a fight. What's wrong with that, especially when considering the events that led to the anger?

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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: November 6, 2014, 8:41 pm

Four crew members, including three from Jeff Gordon's team, were suspended and fined for their actions during the fracas following the Texas race on Sunday stemming from contact between Brad Keselowski and Gordon.

Neither Gordon or Keselowski, nor Kevin Harvick, the driver who pushed Keselowski to incite the melee, were penalized.

After Keselowski and Gordon made contact that gave Gordon a flat tire, Gordon confronted Keselowski on pit road after the race in the midst of many crew members. Once Harvick pushed Keselowski, Gordon reached for the 2012 champion and a fight ensued, with crew members jumping in and throwing punches.

Jeremy Fuller, the rear-tire changer for Kahne's car, Jason Ingle, the engine tuner for Gordon's car and Dwayne Doucette, a mechanic for Gordon's car, were suspended for six points races and each fined $25,000 for their role in the brawl. According to a NASCAR release, the three violated rule 12-1, Actions detrimental to stock car racing and 12-4.9, Behavioral penalty -- involved in a post-race physical altercation with a driver on pit road.

You can see Fuller (in the Great Clips uniform) in the video above reaching to punch Keselowski over other people with approximately 48 second remaining.

Dean Mozingo, the hauler driver for Gordon, was found in violation of the two rules as well and suspended three races and fined $10,000.

In addition to the crew suspensions, Kenny Francis, the crew chief for Kahne, and Alan Gustafson, the crew chief for Gordon, were each fined $50,000 and placed on probation for six races because according to 9-4A, the crew chief assumes responsibility for the actions of his team members.

“While the intensity and emotions are high as we continue through the final rounds of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the actions that we saw from several crew members Sunday following the race at Texas are unacceptable,” NASCAR senior vice president of competition and racing development Robin Pemberton said in a statement. “We reviewed the content that was available to us of the post-race incident along pit road, and identified several crew members who crossed the line with their actions, specifically punching others.”

“We therefore have penalized four crew members as well as their crew chiefs, as they ultimately are responsible for members of their team per the NASCAR rule book. A NASCAR championship is at stake, but we can’t allow behavior that crosses the line to go unchecked, particularly when it puts others in harm’s way.”

It's not surprising that Gordon and Keselowski were not punished. Based off of the footage, they look like they were swallowed up in the mess of people more than anything. Of the three, Harvick was the most likely to be suspended because of the shove. But as this Washington Post piece published Tuesday notes, with NASCAR's promotion of Harvick's shove, the competition side of the sanctioning body was in a tough spot if there was a penalty.

The incident was the second altercation in four weeks after Keselowski was grabbed from behind by Matt Kenseth at Charlotte. After that incident, which ended with a mess of crew members in a pack between two haulers, the only penalties given out were to Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for their actions with their cars after the 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: November 4, 2014, 10:58 pm

Denny Hamlin said he's thought if he would have made the move Brad Keselowski did for the race lead at Texas on Sunday.

Keselowski tried to go between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for the race lead into turn one off a late restart and Keselowski and Gordon made contact. The contact cut Gordon's tire and while Keselowski finished third, Gordon was 29th. After Gordon confronted Keselowski after the race, a fracas happened.

"I don't know. I think about that a lot and whether I would or would not," Hamlin said on a conference call Tuesday. "[Keselowski] was on fresher tires. So saying that that was his only opportunity to get the win may not necessarily be a true statement. He still had two laps to get around.And if you push [Johnson] there past [Gordon], it was a battle between him and the [Johnson]. I don't know. You know, it's tough for me to say. And his points position, his actual position, I didn't have the tires he had. So everyone has a different way of doing things"

"But I think a common feel amongst drivers is that what they call that, people are calling that a hole that that was a very small hole. And the car is call it six and a half, seven foot wide, that hole was six foot. It was not enough that a car was going to fit without being in contact. Somebody was going to have to pay the price. It was Jeff Gordon. And it made him have a bad day."

Though, given that Hamlin and Keselowski had a run-in at Charlotte four weeks ago, perhaps it's not too surprising Hamlin isn't supporting the 2012 champion.

Here's both an aerial view of the restart and from Kevin Harvick's car. As you can see, there looks to be more than a car-width gap between Johnson and Gordon before Gordon moves back down. And Keselowski is committed to making the move before Gordon moves down. If he backs out of the gas, he loses a ton of spots.

 

Rusty Wallace, an ESPN analyst and former Sprint Cup Series champion who used to drive the same No. 2 car Keselowski drives currently, said he would have made the move.

"Jeff Gordon got the raw end because his left rear got bumped and he got a flat tire," Wallace said. "But I don't think there's a driver in the world that would not have tried to put their car in that hole and go for it.  He's been aggressive.  He's ruffled some feathers, but I've seen a lot of other drivers do it, and I'd rather have a driver driving for me that's aggressive instead of the other way around"

"You know, we're going to work hard in our NASCAR show this coming weekend at Phoenix to kind of illustrate what happened and break it down, but I'm not saying this, I obviously feel like I'm giving a disclaimer here, I'm not saying this because I drove the 2 car, but I am kind of on Brad's side on this one.  I think I would have done the same thing.  If I saw the hole I would have went for it, and obviously Jeff was the one that got his feathers ruffled on it.  I have no idea how Kevin Harvick got involved in it or why he was involved in it, but that's my take on it"

Harvick pushed Keselowski into the scrum after Gordon was talking to Keselowski. Once the push happened, the fracas broke out. Hamlin said that Keselowski's lack of remorse hurts him in the garage.

"I think that the challenge a lot of drivers probably have right now with Brad is there's no remorse," Hamlin said. "He has the right to feel the way that he feels. But when there's no accountability and you don't ... they're going to be upset with you.

"So you just have to expect it. It's tough to win a championship if nobody likes you. That is going to be a very, very tough task. So I mean I think that you're just going to have to -- you always have to just watch your mirror. And that's a tough way to race. It really is a tough way to race."

Hamlin also said Gordon's reaction intensified when Keselowski wouldn't engage with him, though he also said later Keselowski doesn't have to apologize.

That the times that I've had tussles with Brad and other drivers, it's just oh, well, that's how a race is, just deal with it," Hamlin said. "As drivers, you're just looking at someone to say 'I'm sorry I ruined your day, I screwed up, oh, well, I apologize.' When that doesn't get said, then immediately it just lights a fire in your stomach that all he cares -- he doesn't have any remorse. It's just like oh, well, it's your problem. And I think that just lights a fire in your insides, especially when you just had a bad day and your season could have just rested on that one mistake or whatever you want to call it. I think that that really set things off."

"I think if Brad would have talked to Jeff and said, man, I was going for a hole. It was my only chance, you know, I'm really sorry it cut your tire, I think it goes totally different. Instead, it was oh, well, sorry, bud, you left a hole. If he did it to me I would have had the same reaction as Jeff. No question. I think that's what escalated it the most"

Earlier Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR radio, NASCAR CEO Brian France said NASCAR would "step in" because of the intensity of the situation after the race. Any penalties are expected Tuesday afternoon.

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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: November 4, 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. Joey Logano (LW: 1): Logano had the Chase flash before his eyes at Texas. Hell, with 40 laps to go, he was the biggest Chase story of the race. Instead, he was an afterthought. But don't let the fight cloud the recovery he made. Logano first fell back because of a slow pit stop caused by an extra set of tires. How? NASCAR gave all teams an extra set of tires, and since the No. 22 team had been pitting a lot, it used the tires on lap 295. However, the glue didn't have time to set and the lugnuts fell off the wheel. Then Logano cut a tire and spun, causing a caution. His team put scuffs on the car and thanks to the stop-and-start nature of the last 30 laps, fought back to finish 12th and end up tied for the points lead.

2. Ryan Newman (LW: 3): Speaking of comebacks, Newman had one too. He had to pit late because of contact with Matt Kenseth that caused a tire rub and he went from being one of the last cars on the lead lap to finishing 15th. It's an unfair finish for Newman, who had a top-10 car for most of the day and could unsurprisingly be the points leader if it wasn't for the run-in with Kenseth. With the exception of a crash in February 2013, Newman has finished 21st or better at Phoenix since the repave and was seventh earlier this season. Oh, we'd also be remiss to not mention Newman's quote about the debris cautions at Texas too. The first seven yellow flags were for debris.

"It’s kind of a sad situation when you run out of tires like that," Newman said. "I wish NASCAR had given us more tires. They gave us one set, but when they keep throwing cautions like that that were totally unnecessary, and there’s not debris on the race track and no reason to throw it. We need to keep racing. And it’s sad to see but that’s the way they’ve been playing it.”

3. Denny Hamlin (LW: 5): Denny Downer was straight and to the point after the race. "We had a bad car," Hamlin said. "We made the best of it. Other guys made mistakes. We weren’t really that good.  Luckily other guys had problems. That’s what happened.”

Lighten up, dude. you've got the freaking points lead! Sure, it could be more, but you've got the freaking points lead. You control your own destiny at Phoenix and as long as you finish 11th (with no laps led), you're moving on to Homestead with a shot at the title.

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 2): As you know by now, Gordon's result was not reflective of the performance he put in on Sunday. The restart he had on lap 325 was incredible, pinching Jimmie Johnson down to the white line and powering ahead down the backstretch. The race was his if it wasn't for the crash of Clint Bowyer, which given the history between the two, may cause you to chuckle. It's also worth wondering if the flared sideskirts on the Cup cars had anything to do with Gordon's cut tire after bumping Keselowski. (Meaning that the sideskirt of Keselowski's car acted like a dagger into Gordon's tire) The contact looked innocuous, and in a perfect world, should be something that enhances competition instead of ruins it.

5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 6): Should we dock Harvick for inciting the fracas? If you thought that the kerfuffle between Kenseth and Keselowski at Charlotte was like professional wrestling, goodness, it was like a pay-per-view at Texas. Harvick serves as the guy to distract Keselowski and push him, giving Gordon the impetus to use his pent-up aggression and make a move because the first move had already been made. As far as the actual race goes, Harvick finished second, but he's still eighth in the points standings, 18 points back of first.

6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7): We've said it before and we'll say it again. Keselowski did nothing wrong in going for the win like he did, even if Harvick claimed he couldn't race Gordon and Johnson like Keselowski did. Roger Penske's statement of support of Keselowski on Monday wasn't surprising in the slightest, and let's be honest, don't you want all NASCAR drivers to go for the win when the opportunity arises? It's also worth noting that the chances of any "payback" against Keselowski for events that have happened in the Chase seem slim until a driver is out of the Chase. There's little point risking your Chase chances to fulfill a vendetta.

7. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4): Kenseth had a fast car in clean air, but when he got back in traffic, all was lost. He had a hangup on a pit stop that dropped him back in traffic and he never really made it back up. He then had another setback with the contact with Newman and finished 25th after a late pit stop. Crazily, Kenseth is tied for fifth in the points standings, a point out of fourth.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 8): After finishing sixth, there's no way Junior could have dropped in the rankings. So here he is. He was a top-15 car for most of the race but his car got faster at the end and he made his way towards the top five. If Junior wins at Homestead, where Hendrick tested recently, he'll be the first driver to win the Daytona 500 to start the year and at Homestead to end it.

9. Carl Edwards (LW: 9): The man Kenseth is tied with? This guy. Edwards was stinking slow all day long at Texas, but got his lap back on a lap 297 caution. From then, he moved his way in the general direction of the front as calamity kept ensuing and finished ninth. It's an incredibly surprising top 10, and while it's not romantic or movie-worthy, it's a comeback that will be a focus at Homestead media day if Edwards is in contention for the title.

10. Jimmie Johnson (LW: NR): From out of Power Rankings to back in the top 10 in a week. Chad Knaus said after the race that he and Johnson were set for 2015 together. Yes, there have been some rumors that the two could be parting ways, but we don't have to worry about what would happen to NASCAR's version of Captain and Tennille. And no, I don't know who is Captain and who is Tennille in this situation. That's for you to figure out.

11. Kyle Busch (LW: 10): Yes, we said that we couldn't drop Junior after finishing sixth, so we realize that it's patently unfair to drop Busch a spot after finishing fourth. But Johnson won the race, so we had to move him down. Should we just call it a tie for 10th? After losing a right-rear tire early in the race, Busch and team fought back incredibly well and he ended up in the top five. Not a bad closing effort for a car that Busch said was "a bag of everything" throughout the day.

12. Kyle Larson (LW: NR): Larson gets the final spot over Tony Stewart because he finished in the top 10. Stewart fell back to 11th on the final restart after fighting his car all day. So did Larson, but he ended up moving forward at the end. Larson's amusement during his post-race press conference was priceless. As the highest-finishing rookie, he was obligated to go to the media center, but he was mesmerized by the scenes unfolding on pit road on the media center TVs.

Lucky Dog: Jamie McMurray used the high line throughout the race and closed like a maniac to finish fifth.

The DNF: Man, the end of the race for Kasey Kahne was just brutal.

Dropped Out: Allmendinger, Stewart

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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: November 4, 2014, 4:13 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – When was the last time a win by Jimmie Johnson in the Chase was an afterthought?

Johnson held off Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick on a second green-white-checker finish at Texas on Sunday night to win his third-straight fall Chase race at the track.

The No. 48 was the dominant car of the day, but Johnson and crew needed two late restarts to take the lead and the win. On the third-to-last restart, Jeff Gordon passed Johnson and set sail away from the field. However, the caution that set up the restart causing the kerfuffle between Gordon and Keselowski gave Johnson another shot at the lead.

"Quite honestly, if the next caution hadn't have come out, [Gordon] definitely would have won the race," Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus said. "Jimmie got a really good restart on the last restart.  I don't know exactly what happened between Brad and Jeff.  Obviously those guys got tangled up and there was some chaos there.  But we were able to scoot away, get going."

"Then on the next one, Jimmie did a great job on that restart.  Got out there, was able to check out a little bit.  I think there was more beating and banging behind us.  We were kind of ahead of that, thank goodness."

The caution that ended Gordon's night was caused by Clint Bowyer's crash. Gordon chose the outside line on the fateful restart and ensuing dominant story of the night, which surprised Johnson.

"The inside lane had been the successful lane," Johnson said. "Jeff just got a really good start the restart before and got control of the race.  He chose the outside lane again, which was shocking to me, because all night he'd taken the bottom."

"As I was trying to piece things together, I was trying to make sure that [Kyle Busch] behind me got a good start. I was trying to communicate to him out the side of the car to let him know when I was going so he could get a run.  I guess it was [Keselowski], not [Busch]. And get a run and try to clear the 24 into turn one.

"With him on my outside going through the corner, my car was pretty uncomfortable. Frankly, I just let off some, surrendered the position. I wasn't going to take him out in the process. That's how he got me the one where he checked out. Then [on the last restart] I was just trying to hold off [Keselowski] the best that I could. When things changed and the 24 wasn't on my outside, there was no need to lift. I left it flat on the floor all the way through four and just cleared him off of turn four and came to the white at that point."

Johnson, who was eliminated from the Chase two weeks ago at Talladega led 191 of the race's 341 laps, the second time in three races he's led the most laps. It was his 70th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series.

"We wanted to close out the year by having fun, and winning races helps you do that," Johnson said. "But I have to give a lot of credit to our test session in Homestead earlier this week. We went down there and Chad and the guys started making me happy. I guess I've been unhappy for a while. These guys put some great speed in the racecar, got me really comfortable with the car. We were able to bring a lot of that here and get the car off the truck right away, it was quick, qualified third, and then dominated tonight and won the 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: November 3, 2014, 4:53 am

FORT WORTH, Texas – If one of the four drivers in contention for the Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead in two weeks feels he's wronged during the race, what's going to happen afterwards? After two altercations in the last four weeks, there now seems a decent chance there will be fireworks at Homestead.

And it's stupid.

After Brad Keselowski was tackled by Matt Kenseth at Charlotte and both drivers' teams ended up in a scrum between two haulers, Keselowski was the target of Jeff Gordon's ire on pit road Sunday at Texas.

But what was simply a spark without anything to ignite got gasoline in the way of a push from Kevin Harvick to the back of Keselowski and a full-on fracas ensued, leaving both Gordon and Keselowski with visible reminders of a completely avoidable melee on their faces.

There's a clear line between aggressive and dirty racing. What Keselowski did to Kenseth on pit road in ramming his car (and what he said Kenseth did to him during a caution flag earlier in the race) certainly can't be classified as aggressive. What happened Sunday can't be classified as dirty.

Gordon's frustration was understandable, but his reaction might have been influenced by Keselowski's reputation, which was recently excoriated by Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

The contact between Gordon and Keselowski came on a late race restart. As Keselowski went to move between Gordon, who was on the outside of the front row, and Johnson, who was the race leader on the inside, as the field accelerated into turn one on lap 336, there was clearly an opening for his car. But as Keselowski moved into the opening, Gordon came down towards Johnson's car what looked like an attempt to side draft through the corners.

If the term "rubbin' is racin'" is true, Keselowski's move was a perfect example of it. Because of NASCAR new points format instituted in January, Chase drivers move on automatically to the next round with a win. So if Keselowski or Gordon won the race, he would be guaranteed a shot to race for the title in two weeks. It's why both drivers had to be aggressive … on the track. Keselowski finished 31st last week at Martinsville, and entered Texas thinking his best shot to move on in the Chase was not via points, but by winning a race.

"There was a gap. It closed up. By the time it closed up, I was committed and I stayed in it," Keselowski said. "That almost won me the race. It hurt somebody else's day. That's a shame. But the reality is there was a gap."

"You know, I'm not Dale Earnhardt or Senna. I read how they raced, how great they were for this sport. They would sit here and tell you they would go for that same gap. I'm not them, but I'm inspired by that, and I'm going to race that way."

Gordon's frustration with the move was understandable. His chances for advancing to Homestead were dimmed severely. But his reaction might have been influenced not only by the Chase format that resets points four times and eliminates 12 drivers en route to the championship, but by the recent excoriations of Keselowski's reputation.

"It's emotion that is a part of this Chase and this format as well as towards people that make dumb decisions," Gordon said. "He has been making a lot of them lately. That is why people have been running after him and chasing him down. It's why his team has got to defend him over there because of what he does on the race track."

The dumbest decision was made by Harvick, however. He clearly wanted something to happen and pushed Keselowski, inciting the melee.

"I didn't get in the middle of anything," Harvick said. "I just turned him around and told him to go fight his own fight."

But it wasn't a fight. Given the number of crew members surrounding Gordon and Keselowski, Gordon was unable to get to Keselowski, and Keselowski clearly wasn't going to get involved in an altercation. Once Harvick pushed him, he was enveloped and inexplicably punched by a member of Kasey Kahne's team as crew members from multiple teams converged on the scene.

"I came here to race, not fight. If I wanted to be a fighter, I would have joined the UFC or have a management team like he does," Keselowski said. (Harvick's company manages multiple UFC fighters) "I came here to race, 100 percent. That's what I did today."

"The only thing I wouldn't be proud of is if I went and started fights or jumped in fights. I wouldn't be proud of that. I came here to race 100 percent. The people that want to see fights are not true race fans. They need to watch UFC … because that's not true racing. I know in my heart that I raced 100 percent and did what should be done to be a professional race car driver."

NASCAR shouldn't be proud of the incident either. However, it was likely reveling in spikes in the graph below.

Bit of a spike in the social conversation after the race tonight. [Via the #NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center] pic.twitter.com/2ls4WXCHjZ

— Kyle Sheldon (@kylesheldon) November 3, 2014

Whether you like him or not, Keselowski's point about race fans and fighting has some truth to it. As the post-race incident from Charlotte made morning news shows on Monday, viewership for the next race, an elimination race at Talladega, the most entertaining track in the sport, was down 600,000 viewers from the year prior.

Instead of the storyline being a dramatic points race manufactured by its new points format or Jimmie Johnson's win, the dominant discussion of the week will be what happened on pit road, and why drivers and crews feel the need to settle things with grabbing and shoving and wailing.

And that's unfair to the racing. While the first 85 percent of the race was forgettable, the final laps at Texas were thrilling and unpredictable – two of the things we want when we watch sports. Instead, those moments are lost in something that was predictable and incredibly avoidable.

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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: November 3, 2014, 3:02 am

FORT WORTH, Texas – Jeff Gordon went after Brad Keselowski following Sunday's AAA Texas 500 following contact between the two drivers on a late-race restart that left Gordon with a flat tire and damaged his Chase hopes.

Gordon approached Keselowski on pit road amidst team members for both teams and expressed his displeasure. The situation was tense, but hadn't become physical until Kevin Harvick, who finished second, walked towards the mass of people and moved Keselowski from the periphery to the middle of it.

From then, a scrum enveloped between multiple teams that left Keselowski with blood on his lip and gave Gordon a swollen lip. It's the second fracas that Keselowski has been in over the past four weeks. He was tackled from behind by Matt Kenseth after the race in Charlotte because of contact the two had both on the track and on pit road.

The impetus was Keselowski's move to pass Gordon entering turn one on lap 336 of the 341 lap race. Keselowski, who restarted third behind race leader Jimmie Johnson, moved to the middle of the track to go inside Gordon, who restarted on the outside line in second, and the outside of Johnson. As Keselowski moved to the open space, Gordon came down, and the two drivers slammed into each other.

"We went down into one and I just wanted to get on the outside of [Johnson] and out of nowhere I just got slammed by [Keselowski] and it cut my left rear tire. He's just a dips---, you know? I don't know how he's ever won a championship. And I'm just sick and tired of him. That's why everybody's fighting him and running him down. And your emotions are high – that was a huge, huge race for us. We had the car, we had the position. So proud of my team and I'm proud of Jimmie Johnson for winning that race and not letting up and letting that you-know-what win the race."

Keselowski obviously saw it differently.

"We were just racing for the win," Keselowski said. "I didn't wreck him. We were just racing hard. He left a hole and you know, everything you watch in racing, you leave a hole you're supposed to go for it. He closed the hole back up, we made contact. I don't want to ruin anyone's day. I wanted to win the race and that was our opportunity. It just didn't come together."

Keselowski carried on side-by-side with Johnson, the eventual race winner, for the lead while Gordon started losing positions and spun in turn three, bringing out a second attempt at a green-white-checker finish.

Gordon finished 29th while Keselowski was third. Gordon is now in fourth in the points standings, 12 points out of first and one point ahead of fifth. Keselowski is seventh, 17 points out of the lead and a point ahead of Harvick, who is in eighth.

"To [NASCAR], I'm sure it's just a racing incident," Gordon said. "But to me it's just a bunch of crap. The kid is just doing stuff way over his head and I mean, that's uncalled for. You're racing for a win and a championship, you don't go slap someone and cut their left rear tire. And if that's what it takes, then no problem I can do the same thing back to him."

Why did Harvick, who was running up front and had a good view of what happened but have absolutely nothing to do with it, push Keselowski into the fray?

"If you're going to race like that, you're going to have to man up at some point," Harvick said. "I mean, he's done it several times. Can't just turn around and let everybody fight all the time without you in there. Have to stand up for your actions at some point yourself."

Harvick added: "I didn't get in the middle of anything. I just turned him around and told him to go fight his own fight."

Remember, a win at Texas guaranteed a Chase driver a place in the final four at Homestead to race for the title. After a porous week at Martinsville, Keselowski was going for the win and the automatic berth because his points position was so perilous. While Gordon was in a good spot before the crash, his Phoenix would have been stress-free with a win.

Keselowski referenced being less aggressive than he has in the past in 2013 after he won the title in 2012. In 2013, he won a single race and missed the Chase. This year, he's won six races.

"I'm here to win races for Roger Penske and my team, and that means if there's a gap, I have to take it. If it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that's OK. And it's not anything I don't expect on the other side. Plenty of times where I've got rubbed and it'll go both ways and that's OK by me. I'm not asking someone to take something -- I'm not trying to dish out something I couldn't take myself. But these guys have their own code and they race differently than that and that's their right. And we'll go through these battles, I've gone through them before, and I'll come out stronger. And I'll go through them again and come out stronger and a better race car driver."

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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: November 3, 2014, 1:17 am

Jeff Gordon, normally one of the most restrained and thoughtful drivers in NASCAR, let his emotions get the better of him on Sunday night in Texas, ripping Brad Keselowski after an on-track incident that left Gordon deep in the pack and in danger of losing a championship.

After a brawl that included both teams, Gordon spoke to ESPN and offered this blunt assessment of Keselowski (language warning):

For a sport that involves drivers hurling themselves around the track at 200 miles per hour, NASCAR has long had a curiously Puritanical streak about naughty language. Drivers who can't seem to string together three words without a curse manage to spool out eloquent, G-rated speeches on-camera thanking their sponsors and their team. And when they can't, there are often consequences.

Longtime NASCAR viewers will recall that Dale Earnhardt Jr. got docked 25 points and fined $10,000 for his vocabulary misstep. Here's Junior from back in 2004 after winning at Talladega and taking over (briefly) the points lead:

(Aside: boy, Junior has sanded the edges off his accent in the last decade, hasn't he?)

It's highly unlikely NASCAR will give Gordon any meaningful penalty, as times have changed significantly since the Junior violation. First, NASCAR received heavy criticism for taking points off the board of a driver in competition for a championship. Second, that was the same year of the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl. Third, this race was on cable, not broadcast TV, and if viewers can't handle a curse word on a TV that routinely broadcasts disembowelings, cannibalism, and the like, well ... some priorities may need to be realigned.

Most importantly, Gordon is about to head into one of the most critical races of his career. If NASCAR were to deduct points from a driver in the midst of a championship hunt for a minor, inconsequential violation, hurled just after a fight, well ... the criticism would be unrelenting. NASCAR is loving the extra press now, but a hammer on Gordon for language would turn every bit of that attention to the negative.

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

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And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: November 3, 2014, 1:10 am

Tony Stewart recorded a record lap at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, but Matt Kenseth is on the pole.

Kenseth was the fastest driver in the third round of qualifying and will start first for Sunday's race. Behind him, it's a parade of Hendrick-powered Chevrolets. Jeff Gordon will start second, Jimmie Johnson third, Kurt Busch fourth, Kevin Harvick fifth and Stewart sixth.

Stewart's record came in the second round of qualifying. His lap of 200.111 MPH was the first time a driver has ever recorded a lap over 200 MPH at a 1.5-mile track in the Sprint Cup Series. And it's a record that will stand for some time, and won't become relevant for future events at intermediate tracks after this season. With horsepower and downforce reductions set for 2015, cars will be slower.

Here's how the entire eight-driver Chase field qualified for the second race of the third round of the Chase.

1. Matt Kenseth
2. Jeff Gordon
5. Kevin Harvick7. Ryan Newman
10. Joey Logano
11. Carl Edwards
20. Denny Hamlin
26. Brad Keselowski

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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: November 1, 2014, 12:08 am

AUSTIN, Texas – When you're in the NASCAR garage, you don't normally hear others being greeted with "bonjour."

At a Formula 1 race, that's commonplace, along with "hello" in a myriad of different languages. Even if you didn't recognize any of the companies with advertisments plastered all over the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, you'd know Formula 1 was a world sport just with your ears.

COTA, as it's known for short, is a winding 20-turn circuit just southeast of Austin's Bergstrom Airport. On a day like Friday, a picture-perfect fall day, you could see the jets landing at the airport fly just to the west of the track.

Since the United States Grand Prix is held on Sunday, the same day as the eighth race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Texas Motor Speedway, we decided to venture on down to COTA before the Cup race to get a glimpse of a Formula 1 race weekend for the first time.

As soon as we arrived at COTA, there was one thing to do – find a way to get into the tower on the outside of the track.

We dropped our stuff off at the media center and jumped in a shuttle to get over to it. After climbing the supposed 491 steps (We didn't stop to count on the way up) because the elevator was broken, we made it. And damn, what a view of the track. It makes up for the whole fear of heights thing.

One of the first things you notice about the track is how steep the climb is into turn one. Not long after driver cross the start/finish line on the frontstretch, they climb the hill and brake for an incredibly tight corner.

The garage area – err, paddock – is nothing like a garage in NASCAR. The cars are parked in stalls along pit road and during practice, simply pull immediately out on pit road to go to the track.

Behind the garage stalls is a walkway and each team's hospitality tents are also right there. And instead of flashing your credentials to a security worker to get from place to place within the race track, you must scan your credentials at a machine to get in and out of the paddock and other areas. Yes, that's Daniel Ricciardo.

On the other side of pit road from the garage stalls are the monitor bays you see team management stationed at during races. They're wiped down before each session, too. When was the last time you cleaned your computer monitor screen?

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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 31, 2014, 8:03 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.

A little late on this week's Happy Hour, but it's been a wild one, and a wild month overall. And it has nothing to do with Halloween. Happy Halloween to everyone, and please celebrate safely. And enjoy the last two days of Daylight Saving Time until darkness falls until March.

Here's what the old Chase standings would look like after Martinsville. Yup, it's a big, big advantage from first to second and then a cluster away from there. But you know what, sometimes blowouts happen. We'lll see if this turns into a close one as the season closes.

1. Joey Logano, 2,297
2. Jeff Gordon, 2,254
3. Kevin Harvick, 2,251
4. Ryan Newman, 2,249
5. Brad Keselowski, 2,238
6. Matt Kenseth, 2,235
7. Kyle Busch, 2,230
8. Denny Hamlin, 2,218
9. Carl Edwards, 2,214
10. AJ Allmendinger, 2,198
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,196
12. Jimmie Johnson, 2, 186
13. Greg Biffle, 2,178
14. Kasey Kahne, 2,173
15. Kurt Busch, 2,155
16. Aric Almirola, 2,124

@NickBromberg yea but JG would have raced harder @ Dega

— J Nash Jr (@Kyle18isdaman) October 30, 2014

Are we so sure about that? I don't think Gordon sandbagged at all at Talladega. In fact, he barely made the next round of the Chase after he finished 26th. He said the following things after the race.

“We were in, we were out. We were in good position and bad position. Those last couple of laps were the most nerve-wracking laps of my life, so I’m glad they’re over.”

And then there was this:

“I’m just mentally drained right now.," Gordon said. "It’s always tough racing here at Talladega trying to put yourself in position to win. But when you have that much on the line and you know that your championship hopes are right there in that final moment, it’s nerve racking. I’m proud of this team for the job they did. We had a great strategy. Unfortunately the caution hit us at the absolute worst time and put us behind there. We fought hard that last restart. The inside lane just didn’t go anywhere. I was just sitting there going backward and couldn’t do a thing. I’m just glad we made it."

That doesn't sound like the comments of someone who was simply trying to make the next round of the Chase by the skin of his teeth. He was simply a victim of circumstance at Talladega and was fortunate enough to survive in the current format.

----

Nick, seriously. What does Ryan have to do to be interviewed? He came in third and is second in the points. Did anyone notice?  Really? - Tony

Newman is being noticed right now. If you don't think he is, I'm not sure what you're paying attention to. In fact, with the way that Newman's season is going, a title by the No. 31 team or by Matt Kenseth is the most intriguing storyline of the season. After all, what's crazier in "winning is everything" season than a winless champion?

I think Texas is the litmus test for Newman and his team. If they're competitive and run in the top 10 at Texas, they're probably going to do it at Homestead too. And while there's a lot of people who think a driver has to win at Homestead to win the title (a legitimate line of thought), we also can't rule out a Kansas-type scenario where tires or failures happen left and right.

@NickBromberg CC: @YahooDrSaturday Easier final 4 to pick, CFB final 4 or NASCAR final 4? Do you think 4 team overreacted about Kenseth?

— Brian Cullather (@Briancullather) October 30, 2014

Oh, after Martinsville, this is a brainteaser. Before last week, if you read Happy Hour, you'd see that I would have gone with the four best drivers of the year in Logano, Gordon, Harvick and Keselowski. However, now that Keselowski and Harvick have had issues, should I stick with them? It seems a bit risky, but at the same time, if you had to take any two drivers to win a race this season, you're picking one of them, right?

I'll stick with the four. Because right now, NASCAR is a bit like the SEC West. Trying to figure out who's getting out of there at the moment is tough. It'll be easier after Ole Miss hosts Auburn this week, but so will picking the Chase after Texas.

Regarding Harvick and Kenseth, I completely think they did. But at the same time, I understand why they did. The No. 4 team saw the Chase flash before their eyes and it didn't help that Kenseth's car didn't suffer much damage and he came back to get a good finish.

There shouldn't be any payback here, but I understand not forgetting about the mistake.

Also, pay attention on Twitter and here over the weekend as we'll be at both Circuit of the Americas and Texas Motor Speedway. It's From the Marbles' first time at a Formula 1 race and it should be a fanastic time to look at the differences between F1 and NASCAR races. Expect lots of pictures.

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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 30, 2014, 6:54 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): 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

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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