Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the GEICO 500

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Landon Cassill and teammate Travis Kvapil got a little piece of the spotlight at Talladega, thanks to their solid runs inside the top 10. Credit: CIA Stock Photography

His run wasn’t perfect, and an ill-timed move late may have ended Jimmie Johnson’s title bid once and for all. But forgive Landon Cassill if he’s not used to running in the midst of late-race competition. For his tiny, underfunded team, a lead lap finish is a great day, and Sunday was a career day for Cassill, who scored his first Cup top 10 and his team. They got some quality TV time, and the icing on the cake was that Travis Kvapil, driving the No. 33 team car, finished sixth… a storybook ending for a team who rarely has their story told.

What… does the Chase look like after the Talladega eliminations?

Well, almost like it did before the race, except that Kyle Busch found himself fall out of title contention just as talk about his title hopes was heating up. Brad Keselowski pulled a win out of his hat to advance, knocking Busch out of the top 8 along with Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The points reset makes it an eight-way tie at the top, so anything can happen at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix.

The aftermath of the latest elimination will be worth following. With four popular drivers out of the hunt, will this Chase format generate more excitement, or will it drive fans away as their favorites are eliminated from contention and therefore from much coverage on race broadcasts? Some fans of the eliminated Chasers have said via social media that they won’t watch the rest of the season with their favorites out, so having others tune in to replace them is important for NASCAR as they begin a new television deal next year. But the bottom line is that making Talladega an elimination race late in the Chase was a terrible idea from the start.

The cut was also an unkind one to Hendrick Motorsports, which saw three of its four teams cut on Sunday, leaving just Jeff Gordon to fight for the title. HMS has been behind in recent weeks, and Kahne barely got into the Chase to start. Johnson’s elimination is probably the hardest for the organization to swallow because it came because of a questionable move by a competitor with a teammate in the Chase and nothing to lose, but whether his team could have pulled it together for back-to-back titles is doubtful as they just aren’t close to the team they were earlier this year.

Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Brian Vickers had high hopes for the weekend at the scene of his first career Cup win, but this weekend didn’t go the way he hoped. He was caught in a 10-car incident just past the 100-lap marker, and while he got back on track, he finished 20th. Vickers has struggled this year, as has his Michael Waltrip Racing team as a whole. Some off-season changes may be in order to right the ship for Vickers and teammate Clint Bowyer.

Jamie McMurray played Chase spoiler in this race a year ago and was strong early Sunday, though an oil leak from the No. 1 gave the competition fits, and NASCAR ordered his team to fix it. All seemed well after the first round of pit stops, but McMurray got loose and spun in traffic on lap 60, collecting five others. Whether it was his own oil that caused McMurray to spin or not, it left McMurray in 35th at the end of the day, and some others not so happy with him.

When… did it all go sideways?

Honestly, it could have been a lot worse. Remember the demolition derby disguised as the July race at Daytona. This edition of plate racing was much tamer, though it was not drama free.

Things went wrong for a lot of drivers; a total of 20 cars were involved in incidents to some degree, but perhaps no other driver felt the sting as much as Kyle Busch, whose title bid ended Sunday after a vicious crash just past the 100-mile mark. To his team’s credit, the No. 18 got back on track, but Busch couldn’t salvage enough points to save himself from elimination after Brad Keselowski took the checkers to rebound. That’s the problem with this race in the Chase and especially as an elimination. It didn’t improve the racing, and because the chance of a driver suffering Busch’s fate through no fault of his own is so much higher, it’s not a great assessment of whether a team is championship worthy.

Why… did Brad Keselowski win the race?

Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe needed a win to advance in the Chase, and they did just that Sunday at Talladega. Credit: CIA Stock Photography

In a race that anyone could have won, what it came down to was Keselowski wanting it more than anyone else and not being afraid to do what it took to get the win. Keselowski didn’t hesitate to make some bold moves, moving rivals out of his way (and sometimes out of line) and breaking others’ momentum with aggressive, well-timed blocking. Even after sustaining damage in an early crash, Keselowski was able to move through traffic, and his aggressive style paid huge dividends. The driver of the No. 2 would have been eliminated from title contention without the win, but his title hopes are alive and well.

How… did the little guys do?

Circle Sport; Travis Kvapil & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos & No. 40 Carsforsale.com Chevy): Cassill showed what he’s made of on Sunday, running at the front for enough of the race to get some attention from the broadcast, and while he didn’t quite have a winning car, he made the most of the day, finishing fourth. Kvapil also ran in the top 5 at one point and finished sixth. It’s revealing to see what drivers can do when everything else is closer to equal.

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears is another driver whose prowess on restrictor plate tracks can put a team in a great position. Mears ran in the top 5 after a scare when he felt a bad vibration after the first round of pit stops and looked to be in position to at least replicate his fourth-place finish from Daytona this summer. He slipped a bit on late pit stops but raced his way back to finish tenth.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No. 7 Golden Corral Chevy & No. 36 Zing Zang Chevy): Sorenson had a strong restrictor-plate race, and his 14th-place finish was his best of 2014. Annett was equally strong for much of the day, but damage from a lap 188 incident left him with little to show for it but a 37th-place result.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & JJ Yeley (No. 23 Dustless Blasting Toyota & No. 26 Bad Boy Mowers Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Whitt has been surprisingly strong for most of this season and was again his team’s best finisher in 15th. Yeley got hit from behind by Aric Almirola on lap 103, triggering a crash that involved ten cars, including Bowman’s machine. Yeley finished 42nd and Bowman 43rd.

JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevy): Allmendinger qualified third to start his weekend but received damage in the lap 103 Almirola / Yeley crash. His team was able to make repairs and get him back on track on the lead lap, but he wasn’t a contender. He finished 23rd, his worst this month.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Dogecoin / Reddit.com Ford): Wise kept his car in one piece and finished 28th, his worst result on a plate track this year.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Ragan raced his way into the top 10 on a few occasions, while Gilliland struggled a bit this time out. However, the results were much closer; Gilliland edged Ragan by one spot to finish 29th and 30th, respectively. Gilliland’s day was perhaps most notable for his involvement in a late-race crash that ended Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s title hopes.

Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): There were times that Bayne looked like he could race up front on Sunday, and he did crack the top 10 twice and the top 5 with less than ten laps remaining in the scheduled distance. He got shuffled on the late restarts, though, and wound up 32nd, last on the lead lap.

GoFAS Racing; Terry Labonte (No. 32 C&J Energy Services Ford): Labonte’s last ride began with too little fanfare from media and ended with the two-time Cup champion in 33rd place after damage from a lap 103 incident.

Jay Robinson Racing; Mike Wallace (No. 49 Royal Teak Collection Toyota): The team’s usual No. 66 ride was in use by Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend with Waltrip at the wheel, so the No. 49 took its place with veteran Mike Wallace, one of the best restrictor-plate racers this side of Dale Earnhardt, in the seat. The team battled handling issues early on and never got up to speed; Wallace finished 38th.

Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No. 95 Jordan Truck Sales Ford): McDowell has has some success on the plate tracks, and this week looked to be a chance for a great finish, with McDowell inside the top 10 and top 15 early. Unfortunately, he was involved in a lap 60 incident that left the No. 95 with significant damage and dropped out of the race after completing just 127 laps. He finished 41st.

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): After a change in qualifying procedure for restrictor plate tracks, this team found themselves left out of the show and headed home early after failing to make the cut.

Credit: Yvonne Leonard

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Bank of America 500

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Saturday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

2014 Charlotte Cup Jamie McMurray Racing Yvonne Leonard

Jamie McMurray suddenly finds himself with a little more job security thanks to his performance lately. Credit: Yvonne Leonard

With the spotlight on his rookie teammate and rumors surrounding his job security swirling, Jamie McMurray put together a run that most of the Chase contenders would have happily taken to the bank Saturday night. McMurray, who holds a  strong record at Charlotte Motor Speedway, started 18th but moved into the race lead by lap 100. From there on, he was in the conversation of potential winners. McMurray finished third, his third top-10 run in the last five races, and suddenly, his seat doesn’t look to be in immediate jeopardy. As Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole continues to gain strength, McMurray continues to show why Ganassi has hired him twice in his Cup career.

 What…does the Chase picture look like at the halfway point?

It’s likely that not a lot of people’s Chase grids will survive the culling after next week’s race at Talladega. Several early favorites took big hits at Kansas and Charlotte was not any kinder. It’s likely that the Chase will be over for Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson next week at this time unless one of them finds a miracle win at Talladega. Matt Kenseth fell into the fourth elimination spot this week, giving Kasey Kahne a possible reprieve. Beyond the eliminations, points don’t matter much, as they’ll be reset to an eight-way tie next week.

As to why the bottom four are back there, the story varied. Keselowski and Kenseth couldn’t get away from each other; Kenseth’s car suffered damage when trying to make a run on the top  and Keselowski blocked him all the way into the wall. Keselowski endured damage when Kenseth showed his displeasure under a later caution and sideswiped Keselowski while passing the field on a free pass.

As for Earnhardt and Johnson, it was problems from within that unraveled the pair. Earnhardt’s shifter lever broke early and he and his team struggled to get it fixed, losing a lap because of speeding penalties and repairs. Earnhardt had a car capable of a good finish, but a known problem that should have been corrected weeks ago undid him. Johnson was in position for a top-5 finish when the final caution of the night flew with six laps to go, but a questionable call to take on tires while the other leaders stayed out left Johnson mired in traffic. Johnson was running fourth before the caution and finished 17th. There was palpable tension during Johnson’s radio transmissions for most of the night, and the team is clearly not firing on all cylinders.

 Where…did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

 Kyle Busch started in the top spot, and while it became clear early that he didn’t have a winning car, he certainly had a good one. Busch led three times for 41 laps and finished fifth, giving him a solid cushion heading to the Talladega wild card. The Toyotas are still a step behind, but Busch is in his best position ever for a title. If he can keep it together, he could make a dark horse run.

 Brad Keselowski won this race a year ago, and looked like he could be a factor in the 2014 version, but damage to his car from a late tangle with Matt Kenseth and traffic on the final restart dropped the driver of the No. 2 Ford to 16th when the checkers came down. And that’s when the pressure got to Keselowski, a solid favorite when the Chase opened. His postrace actions put his fading title hopes even more in doubt.

 When…did it all go sideways?

 The race itself was pretty standard fare for a night race on a 1.5-mile track – lots of green flag runs, clean air giving the leader a cushion, passing at a premium. And then it ended, and all hell broke loose. It’s almost funny, and it is ridiculous. In a nutshell, Brad Keselowski threw a block at Matt Kenseth that took his line away and left both drivers with damage. Kenseth retaliated by sideswiping Keselowski as he passed the field to take the free pass under caution. Keselowski gave Kenseth a slap on pit road as the field pulled in. That got Tony Stewart involved when Keselowski tapped his car in the process of getting to Kenseth, and Stewart followed up by putting his car in reverse and slamming into the front of Keselowski’s car as hard as he could.

Keselowski then followed Denny Hamlin into the garage area, smoking his tires and scattering people in the process. That stemmed from the pair battling for position on the track and then Hamlin brake-checking Keselowski on the cool-down to show his displeasure at how Keselowski raced him. Keseloski tried unsuccessfully to turn Hamlin’s car before they came to pit road, then continued to haze Hamlin afterward. It still wasn’t done after they climbed from the cars as Hamlin was restrained from confronting Keselowski, but Matt Kenseth wasn’t. Kenseth went after Keselowski as he walked to his hauler and appeared to throw fists. Crewmen got involved as well, and it was an ugly end to the night.

The question still hanging after all of this is how NASCAR will react. In the past, they’ve handed down fairly minor penalties for tangling on pit road after the race - Kurt Busch was fined $50,000 and given probation for the remainder of the season after a pit road incident with Ryan Newman at darlington in 2012, so it’s likely that Stewart, and perhaps Hamlin for his part in the cool-down lap confrontations, will face something similar. Kenseth should be facing the same penalty that Marcos Ambrose was dealt for taking a swing at Casey Mears at Richmond earlier this year, which was a $25,000 fine and a month’s probation.

Which leaves Keselowski. Leaving aside his actions in the garage area after the race, the $50,000 fine an probation would have been enough; the real damage had been done for him anyway. But what went down in the garage raises Keselowski’s actions to a whole other level. Witnesses within the garage area said that several people had to scatter to avoid Keselowski’s racecar. Bystanders were put in serious danger by the driver’s actions, and for that, NASCAR needs to be proactive. A hefty points deduction isn’t going to do anything. Keselowski’s already likely to be eliminated if he doesn’t win at Talladega, and if he does, he’ll advance and be tied for the point lead no matter how many points NASCAR takes before the race. Really, the only acceptable solution here would be to park Keselowski next weekend, because it’s the only way to make a real impact.

 Why…did Kevin Harvick win the race?

Harvick had the dominant car, but he’s had that several times this year and not closed the deal, often because of mistakes on the part of his team or other things beyond his control. This time, the law of averages caught up with Harvick, and having the fastest car paved the way to Victory Lane without major mishap.

The win has been a long time coming for Harvick. An early title favorite, he’s had speed all year, perhaps more than any other driver. But prior to Saturday, he hadn’t won since Darlington in April. Costly mistakes on pit road and being in the wrong place at the wrong time happened enough that it seemed like Harvick’s title hopes would be derailed.

During his post race press conference, Harvick said he and the team knew the win would come if they persevered.

“There’s just no way that the bad luck could continue to haunt us like that, and I preach that to these guys and have been around this deal long enough to know that we’re very fortunate to be in the position that we’re in with fast cars and doing the things that we’re doing,” he said.  “Sure, we might have to tweak on a few things and tonight we were able to capitalize on all those things we pulled the trigger on.  But in the end if you have fast cars the results will come with it.  You just have to wait it out.”

For Harvick, the wait is over.

 How…did the little guys do?

JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevy): Allmendinger continues to outshine his peers, and his 12th-place finish in Charlotte was no exception. This team has made the most of their technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and though they’re eliminated from the Chase, they continue to exceed expectations.

Photo: Yvonne Leonard

Smokin’ Mears: A tire rub derailed the No. 13 team’s Charlotte run. Photo: Yvonne Leonard

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): Allgaier is rapidly climbing the learning curve, and he’s getting better every week. He had a solid top-15 run, beating four Chase contenders in the process. He’s not in the same level of equipment as Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon, but he’s separated himself from the other rookies driving similar stuff.

Circle Sport; Timmy Hill & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Retroinfinity.com & No. 40 Chevy): Cassill showed some muscle at Charlotte, finishing a strong 23rd - yes, he was three laps down, but he still beat a lot of cars to get there. Hill fought a car that was tight in the corners most of night. He finished 36th but brought the car home in one piece, something that is important to an organization that shares one backup car for two teams each week because they don’t have a fleet of cars.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No 7 Cypress HQ Chevy & No. 36 Zing Zang Chevy): Charlotte was a struggle for this improving young team, but they still managed to outperform many of their peers with Sorenson’s 27th-place finish. Annett had tire issues late in the race and fell to 33rd.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & JJ Yeley (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Rinnai Toyota & No. 83 Painter’s Ice Cream Toyota): The BK bunch continues to struggle for good finishes, with Whitt leading the way in 28th. Bowman also squeezed in with a top 30. Yeley finished 38th. Perhaps running three cars is spreading them too thin or maybe they need to make driver or crew changes. But whatever the reason, this team has not shown much improvement over the last three seasons.

Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No 95 Pieters Pals/KLOVE Ford): In contrast to BK Racing, this team has shown improvement, though the finishes are somewhat similar. McDowell finished 29th, a spot above his season average, but consider that that 30.6 average finish is up over five positions from the team’s 35.9 in 2013. That’s exactly the kind of improvement the small teams need to make. They’re not going to be top-15 or top-20 teams overnight, but steady improvement can make them, if not contenders for top finishes, viable teams who can race with their peers on a weekly basis.

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): The team was searching for speed after a slow start to the weekend. Mears was making progress, moving forward from his 29th-place start, and looking for a top-20 run before contact with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. left the No. 13 with a severe tire rub.  The team had to pit twice to fix the issue, and the chips never fell right to regain the laps they lost.  Mears finished a disappointing 31st.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 CSX Ford & No. 38 MDS Transport Ford): Neither Ragan nor Gilliland found magic in Charlotte, as neither driver was able to climb out of the 30′s all night long. Gilliland finished 32nd, Ragan 34th, and you can be sure they’re looking forward to Talladega, where a top finish is within reach.

Randy Humphrey Racing; Corey Lajoie (No. 77 Essex Homes Ford): Considering this team was in danger of not making the race this week, any finish was better than going home. Lajoie finished the night in 35th, but for a rookie driver in lower-tier equipment, learning the ropes was an important goal in itself.

GoFAS Racing; Blake Koch (No. 32 Leaf Filter Ford): Like the Nos. 66 and 77, this team had an inexperienced driver at the Cup level, and for Koch, the learning experience was of value, though the team as a whole has been around long enough that finishing 39th isn’t satisfying no matter who’s driving.

Jay Robinson Racing; Brett Moffitt (No. 66 Royal Teak Collection Toyota): Also with a youngster on board this week, the No. 66 team was looking for a finish, and Moffitt did make it to the end, finishing 40th. They’re running outdated equipment from Joe Nemechek’s operation, which didn’t do much better with the veteran behind the wheel.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Provident Metals Chevy): The No. 98 suffered from transmission problems early and lost more than 30 laps fixing the car, got back on track and came home 41st. That alone is a statement for a team that a year ago was a start-and-park. Now, instead of finding reasons not to finish, they’re thrashing to get it done. The good finishes aren’t happening every week, but this team has come a long, long way in 2014.

2014 Kansas II CUP Joey Logano confetti CIA

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Hollywood Casino 400

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Summer Bedgood has you covered with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H… the Big Six. 

Who … gets my shout-out of the race?

Though rookie Kyle Larson was incredibly impressive, nearly earning his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in the Hollywood Casino 400, my shout-out has to go to Martin Truex, Jr. Truex very quietly earned his first top 5 of the season, finishing fourth behind Joey Logano, Larson, and Kyle Busch.

Truex has had a rather lackluster season, with the description of “mediocre” possibly being kind. Never a real threat to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Truex had only four top-10 finishes in 29 races before Sunday’s race at Kansas and an average finish of 21st. Though Truex didn’t lead any laps in Sunday’s race, the finish still had to have felt like a victory, especially considering all the attrition many of the Chase drivers faced.

2014 Richmond II CUP Martin Truex Jr thinking vertical CIA

Martin Truex Jr. (credit: CIA stock photography)

Truex’s story over the last year or so has been a rather disappointing one. While driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in the 2013 season, Truex was involved in the middle of a controversy in which it was deemed by NASCAR that at least one of his teammates was involved in influencing the outcome of the race in order to get Truex into the Chase. The entire organization was heavily penalized, and Truex lost his sponsor in NAPA and his spot in the Chase. Truex decided to leave the organization at the end of the 2013 season and wound up at Furniture Row Racing. FRR was never a strong organization to begin with, though they had shown occasional signs of strength with Kurt Busch in 2013.

No one expected Truex to be competitive at Kansas, but a solid top-5 finish when so many others had issues is worth a nod.

What … does the championship picture look like with six races to go?

Kansas Speedway was not kind to many Chase drivers. No less than seven of the Chase contenders faced issues on Sunday, with several going to the garage area.

Though this race was only the first of the Contender Round, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson are the current bottom four of the Chase grid. The bottom four of the standings will be sliced off of the Chase grid in two weeks after Talladega, making their situations rather dire if they aren’t able to get a win in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, Logano is in a position of great strength. With two mores races left in the Contender Round, Logano need not worry about next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway or more importantly the chaotic Talladega Superspeedway the week after. He currently holds a six point lead over Kyle Busch, though the points will be reset again after Talladega.

Where … did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Kevin Harvick started from the pole position and wound up finishing 12th. Though Harvick had a very strong car – leading 61 laps before the checkered flag -he wound up having to give up track position on lap 218 because he thought he had a flat right front. It turned out he didn’t have a flat tire at all. Though he had no further issues the rest of the day, Harvick was unable to recover his track position and had to settle for a finish outside the top 10.

Harvick also happens to be the defending race winner of this race. Last year he led 138 laps en route to the victory.

When … did it all go sideways?

Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski all had issues  at Kansas Speedway. Harvick had the previously mentioned phantom vibration.

Kahne wound up getting loose running on the high side on lap 237, spun out, and would have to settle for a 22nd-place finish.

Johnson was the first Chase driver to face issues, wrecking on the backstretch after contact with Greg Biffle sent both of them spinning down the racing surface. Johnson spent a number of laps in the garage area before returning to the track. He was able to finish the race in the 40th position, 87 laps down.

Later, while leading the race, one of Earnhardt’s tires went down (likely as a result of contact from Clint Bowyer). He slid up the track in turn four, smacked the wall, and joined teammate Johnson in the garage. Earnhardt was able to return to the race, finishing in the 39th position, 63 laps off the pace.

Gordon had a strong car early on in the race, but contact with Jamie McMurray while the two were racing for position caused Gordon to hit the wall and lose some track position. Gordon wasn’t ever able to fully recover the speed he had earlier and wound up having to settle for a 14th place finish.

Kenseth pitted with a tire issue and lost valuable track position, though he wasn’t a contender during the course of the event.

Keselowski was also a victim of tire problems, smacking the turn two wall. Like Gordon and Earnhardt, Keselowski would also have to head to the garage area but would later return to the track. He finished 45 laps down, in 36th.

Why … did Joey Logano win the race?

… Process of elimination?

In all seriousness, Logano earned his victory. Though Harvick was one of the strongest cars of the day, Logano was able to swap paint with him when Harvick was still up front. Once Harvick made his unscheduled pit stop, the competition found it more and more difficult to keep up with the No. 22 car.

However, that wasn’t without its challengers. In the waning laps of the race, rookie Larson ran within a few car lengths but partially blamed lapped traffic for not being able to get around Logano. Logano obviously had more to gain than Larson – who isn’t in the Chase – but, given a few more laps, there might have been a different winner in victory lane.

How … did the little guys do?

JTG-Daugherty Racing: AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Clorox Chevrolet): Allmendinger spent the early portions of the race around the 20th position. Throughout the course of the event, he was searching for some extra grip and had difficulty choosing the right line. Around lap 126, during a pit stop, he inquired about damage on the right rear quarter panel but it turned out to be a non-issue. The No. 47 car fluctuated between 10th and 18th throughout the rest of the event before settling in the 11th position.

HScott Motorsports: Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet): Allgaier got caught up in someone else’s mess. When Biffle and Johnson made contact on lap 86, Allgaier and Josh Wise wrecked behind them and suffered heavy damage. Allgaier would retire from the race shortly after the wreck and was credited with a 41st-place finish.

Germain Racing: Casey Mears (No. 13 Geico Chevrolet) Mears fought a tight condition for much of the race, constantly radioing to crew chief Bootie Barker about the handling of the car. When Earnhardt brought out the caution on lap 123, Barker elected to stay out and take the wave-around in order to get back on the lead lap. The team was hoping for a quick caution so that they could get back on pit road for fuel, but that caution never happened, and Mears was forced to pit during the green. He was three laps down after that stop. Later on in the race, the team again decided to take the wave-around and never got a quick caution for that sequence either. Mears wound up finishing in the 28th position.

Circle Sport: Landon Cassill & Timmy Hill (No. 40 Snap Fitness Chevrolet & No. 33 retroinfinity.com Chevrolet): Cassill started in the 35th position and steadily worked his way through the field thanks in part to the decision to take some wave-arounds on a few of the many cautions. He ran as high as 18th before settling for a lead lap 21st-place finish. Meanwhile, Hill started in the 40th position but benefitted from the many drivers who wrecked and was able to finish 33rd.

Front Row Motorsports: David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 38 MDS Transport Ford): Gilliland fought a loose condition, opted to take the wave-around on several cautions, and wound up improving his starting position by one spot, finishing 30th. Meanwhile, Ragan, improved his position by 10 spots, finishing 27th.

BK Racing: Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & JJ Yeley (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Moen Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Bowman started at the rear of the field for going to a backup car after wrecking in one of the practice sessions. He never got any higher than 32nd and that’s where he finished. Meanwhile, Whitt started 39th and finished 23rd. Yeley started 38th and finished 29th on a day that was rather uneventful aside from an early brush with the wall.

Tommy Baldwin Racing: Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson & Mike Bliss (No. 7 Accell Construction Chevrolet & No. 36 Chevrolet & No. 43 Chevrolet): Annett lost a lap early after starting in the 36th position. He was able to work his way into the 20s and would eventually finish 24th, three laps down. Sorenson also lost a lap early after starting 30th and finished four laps down in the 26th position. Bliss retired from the race early with a vibration and finished 43rd.

Phil Parsons Racing: Josh Wise (No. 98 Westside Vapor/Vapor Station Chevrolet): Wise was involved in the incident with Allgaier, Biffle, and Johnson. Unlike Allgaier, he was able to return to racing, and finished 38th, 60 laps down.

Jay Robinson Racing: Mike Wallace (No. 66 435 Overland Park Place Hotel Toyota): Wallace started the race at the back of the pack and steadily increased his position as other drivers fell out. He finished 34th.

GoFAS Racing: Joey Gase (No. 32 Donate Life Ford): Gase spun on his own in turn 3 on lap 191, bringing out the caution. He made no contact with the wall or any other cars and finished 37th, 54 laps down. Gase was ineligible for driver points.

Credit: CIA Stock Photography

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the AAA 400

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Beth Lunkenheimer has you covered with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shout-out of the race?

Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Martin Truex, Jr. has reason to smile following his fourth top-10 finish of the season. Credit: CIA Stock Photography

To say the 2014 season has been a struggle for Martin Truex, Jr. is an understatement at best. Having gotten the raw end of team orders last season, Truex lost both his sponsor and his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing. Landing in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, vacated by Kurt Busch when he signed with Stewart-Haas Racing, Truex wanted nothing more than to move on to this year and forget the drama that unfolded right after Richmond in 2013.

But his year has been anything but successful. After dropping out of the Daytona 500 just 30 laps in, when his engine expired, Truex came into Dover with just three top-10 finishes. After starting 26th on Sunday afternoon, it appeared to be another ho-hum day for the driver of the No. 78. However, he managed to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble for a solid seventh-place finish. Though he’s not in the Chase, it’s a run that gives Truex momentum heading to Kansas Speedway next weekend.

What… does the championship picture look like with seven races to go?

And then there were 12. The AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway marked the third and final race in the Contender Round for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Coming into the race, Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were locked in for the Challenger Round with nothing to lose. As far as actual points go, Keselowski leads his teammate by four markers right before the reset in preparation for round two of the Chase. Meanwhile, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola missed making the cut and have been eliminated from the championship battle. When the Sprint Cup Series heads off to Kansas Speedway next weekend, the top 12 will all be tied at 3000 points to begin the next round.

Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Polesitter Kevin Harvick wasted little time rocketing his way out front and expanding his lead on Brad Keselowski in the opening laps, despite complaining he was “too tight everywhere.” He led the first 147 laps when the left front of the No. 4 Chevrolet started hitting the track. Despite the troubles, Harvick dominated, leading 223 of the first 248 laps before a flat left front tire caused by a broken inner valve stem damaged the splitter and ended his hopes of heading to Victory Lane. The No. 4 crew worked hard to keep Harvick on the lead lap while repairing the damage, but he was unable to make up a whole lot of ground and ended up finishing 13th.

Jimmie Johnson won this race last season, along with the spring race at the Monster Mile. He started eighth on Sunday afternoon and worked his way inside the top 5 during the more than 60 lap green flag run to open the race. However a slow stop cost Johnson six positions on the first stop under caution, leaving him with ground to make up. But as the No. 48 team often does, Johnson handily remained inside the top 10 all day long, eventually finishing a solid third, albeit a bit disappointing for the driver who has nine wins at Dover.

When… did it all go sideways?

Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Kevin Harvick saw another dominant race end outside the top 10 on Sunday. Credit: CIA Stock Photography

Kevin Harvick started on the pole for the seventh time this season and looked like he was well on his way to a dominant victory, but just shy of the halfway point, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet radioed to his team that something was wrong with the right front. Brad Keselowski easily took the lead from Harvick, who assumed that he lost a shock on that part of the car. But despite those struggles, his pit crew got him out in front of Brad Keselowski on the next round of pit stops, and he led the following 76 laps before giving up the top spot for a round of green-flag stops.

When the round cycled through, Harvick was about to return to the lead once again, but a flat left front tire saw the strongest car in the field slowing on the track. He managed to hang on long enough for the caution to fly before taking the No. 4 Chevrolet down pit road for service and repairs to the splitter that had dragged on the track for a couple laps. Though the announcers originally speculated the flat tire was caused by the left front problems Harvick had reported earlier, it turned out that the inner valve stem was knocked off by a stray lugnut. The polesitter managed to stay on the lead lap despite multiple stops to repaid the damage, and he was only able to move up to 13th by the time the checkered flag flew.

Why… did Jeff Gordon win the race?

Kevin Harvick clearly had the car to beat, leading a race-high 223 laps before a flat left front tire gave Brad Keselowski the lead. But it was four-time champion Jeff Gordon who ran the driver of the No. 2 Ford down, with the help of lapped traffic, before pulling away from Keselowski. Though there was another round of green-flag pit stops to cycle through, the No. 24 crew was flawless, allowing Gordon breathing room to run the final laps and head to Victory Lane for his fourth win of the year.

How… did the little guys do?

JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Hungry Jack / ACME Chevy): Allmendinger struggled early on, complaining on the radio that he was “too tight, too tight” and went a lap down to the leader. He received the free pass under the second caution but couldn’t maintain, saying his car was “the worst thing I’ve ever drove in my life” on the radio. Allmendinger finished 23rd, two laps down and was eliminated from the Chase.

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevy): Like much of the competition on Sunday, Allgaier complained of a tight truck and went a lap down early on, something that continued throughout the day. Though the team attempted to use the wave-around to get a lap back, Allgaier just couldn’t move forward; he finished 29th, five laps off the pace.

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears started 30th and made little ground through much of the race. Though he received the free pass early, he finished 27th, three laps down.

Circle Sport; David Stremme & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy & No. 40 Newtown Building Supplies Chevy): Cassill started 36th and remained in that area of the running order for much of the race before settling in for a 35th-place finish. Meanwhile, teammate Stremme started 38th and improved one position to bring home his No. 33 in 37th.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Plimpton & Hills Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Both Front Row drivers struggled with tight race cars, going a lap down early. Though the pair took the wave-around shortly after the lap 100 mark, Ragan suffered a flat and was forced to pit before the green flag flew, garnering a one-lap penalty for “disobeying a NASCAR request.” Ragan and Gilliland both finished multiple laps behind the leader in 31st and 33rd, respectively.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Travis Kvapil (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Uponor Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): All three BK Racing drivers struggled on Sunday, and once again, rookie Cole Whitt was the strongest of the bunch. He started 29th and finished 30th. Meanwhile, Alex Bowman and Travis Kvapil finished 34th and 28th, respectively.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson & Mike Bliss (No. 7 Cypress HQ Chevy & No. 36 American Muscle Driving Experience Chevy & No. 37 Accell Construction, Inc. Chevy): Sorenson was the strongest of the TBR bunch on Sunday afternoon, and that’s not saying much since he never cracked the top 30. He started 33rd and dropped back as far as 35th before moving into his finishing spot of 32nd. Meanwhile, Annett finished 41st after starting 35th, and Bliss started 40th and improved to a 36th-place finish.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Chevy): Wise dropped off the lead lap early and tried using the wave-around to gain some spots. But suspension problems plagued the No. 98 team, and the decision was made to pack it in, rather than taking the time to repair the car. Wise was credited with a 42nd-place finish after completing just 197 laps.

Jay Robinson Racing; Mike Wallace (No. 66 Toyota): Wallace qualified 41st and cracked the top 40 briefly before dropping back once again. In the end, he moved forward to a 40th-place finish, improvement over where he started, albeit not that much.

GoFAS Racing; JJ Yeley (No. 32 CorvetteParts.net Ford): Yeley started 39th and never worked his way any higher in the running order, even falling back as far as 42nd. He finished the day in the same spot he started in 39th, 13 laps off the pace.

Xxxtreme Motorsports; Timmy Hill (No. 44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevy): Hill started and ended his day in the same positions, 43rd, after completing just 11 laps before retiring with a vibration.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Sylvania 300

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Despite a seemingly endless string of problems for the Chase drivers, there were still seven of them in the top 10 at the end of the day. The Chip Ganassi Racing pair was strong again this week, but sometimes a team needs to take a gamble for a top finish, and it was Brian Vickers and his No. 55 team that did that, staying out under caution when nearly everyone else pitted. It didn’t buy Vickers a win, but it did help him wind up tenth, a strong result and a boost the Michael Waltrip Racing crowd needed. Props to the team for trying something different in an attempt to win. It’s not something we see often enough anymore.

What… does the championship picture look like with eight races to go?

It would probably be easier to list the Chase teams who didn’t have issues during Sunday’s free-for-all. Even point leader Brad Keselowski met trouble during the race, though he was able to come back for a top-10 run. That puts him and teammate Joey Logano firmly in the role of favorites after two races. Kevin Harvick showed that he will not go down quietly, though, and Jimmie Johnson salvaged a decent finish, though nothing about the way the No. 48 is running suggests they’re capable of a title run right now… except for consistently avoiding trouble. Dover next week is critical for them; if they don’t contend there, they aren’t going to contend in Homestead.

2014 Loudon II CUP Brad Keselowski CIA

Brad Keselowski has reason to smile, as even with issues, he still had a decent day at Loudon. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Jeff Gordon suffered a hit, thanks to a blown tire, but he’s looked so much like the Gordon of old that it’s still hard to count him out. Teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is not looking as strong as he did a month ago, and his hopes will fade if he doesn’t find something in reserve.

On the flip side, Kyle Busch, while fifth in points, still hasn’t been able to show championship mettle, and the same goes for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth. As for Denny Hamlin, he’s just holding on and hoping for a couple of miracles at Dover to keep him in it.

The race for the top 12 did heat up this week, with eighth through 16th separated by just 12 points. That makes Dover absolutely critical for at least a half-dozen teams, who will now need to balance risk and reward and race accordingly. They need to race harder than ever for position, but they cannot make a mistake. Even more critically and more difficult, they need to avoid everyone else’s mistakes, too.

Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Brad Keselowski looked like he might dominate the day early after working his way back from a lap 194 spin to lead for a second time. All in all, the 2012 champion led twice for 78 laps, but was unable to make a move on his teammate late in the race and had to settle for seventh. More importantly, he’s making a real case for engraving the Sprint Cup trophy with his name for a second time.

Matt Kenseth won this race last year, and he hasn’t reached Victory Lane since. This week was a tough one for Joe Gibbs Racing, and Kenseth wasn’t immune. He was involved in a trio of incidents, one of which sent teammate Kyle Busch to the garage for repairs as well. Kenseth finished a hard-fought 21st, keeping himself in decent shape to move on in the Chase.

When… did it all go sideways?

As competitive as the sport is today, even a small mistake can mean the difference between winning a race and finishing second. A big one can be a disaster. For Denny Hamlin, the mistake was big, and the hit to his title hopes was damaging. A loose fuel filler cost Hamlin four laps before the race hit the halfway mark, dropping him to the back of the running order after the No. 11 had led several laps earlier in the race. The lost laps also cost Hamlin on track, where he was involved with a chain reaction incident with Martin Truex, Jr., Justin Allgaier and David Ragan. The damage to the No. 11 sent Hamlin to the garage. Had he not had the initial issue and been running at the front, the outcome might have been much different.

However, Hamlin wasn’t the only driver to have issues, as the second half of the race looked like the demolition derby at a county fair. The race featured a season-high 15 cautions for a total of 63 laps. Was it Chase drivers desperate for position? Non-Chasers desperate for some time in the spotlight? Maybe it was a little of both, with a little short-track impatience thrown in for good measure; whatever the cause, the closing laps were wrought with carnage. It shook things up a little, but it sure wasn’t pretty.

Why… did Joey Logano win the race?

Joey Logano was able to use the final restarts to his advantage this week, but let’s face it: Penske Racing has something figured out that the other teams have not hit on yet. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon were able to run with them at times, but this one looked like a Penske-fest almost from the moment the track opened. Whatever it is they’ve got, if anyone wants a shot at this year’s title, they’d better figure it out soon, or it will be a lost cause.

How… did the little guys do?

JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Chevy): Allmendinger is doing everything he can to advance in the Chase… and it’s working. Allmendinger avoided trouble, which was key this week, and his 13th-place finish puts him tenth in the standings with one race to go before the points are reset. He’ll need to have a stellar run at Dover to move on, but if the ‘Dinger can finish in one piece, he’s got a shot.

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 PlanBSales.com Chevy): Allgaier was having a decent day until a lap 180 incident when Martin Truex, Jr. got loose while racing underneath Allgaier. Truex slid into the No. 51, causing a four-car pileup that included David Ragan, Denny Hamlin and Cole Whitt. Allgaier got the least amount of damage in the melee, and was still able to drive to a 20th-place finish, passing a few cars on the green-white-checkered.

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears should have had a top-20 run Sunday. His practice times were strong, and the team made a gamble to stay on track in the second half that should have given them a slightly better day. But he lost ground on the green-white-checkered run, finishing 22nd, a few notches below where they should have slotted this week.

Circle Sport; David Stremme & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy & No. 40 Snap Fitness Chevy): Cassill’s name hasn’t been tossed around the rumor mill for the No. 9 ride next year… but it should be. Cassill has done more with less this year than perhaps anyone, and this week, his 25th-place run was a solid one for his team, which operates with fewer than a dozen people. Stremme, meanwhile had the kind of day he’d probably just as soon forget. He was running at the end, but it wasn’t pretty; mechanical woes had him behind the wall for a time and left him 40th.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 38 Clean Harbors Ford): Gilliland didn’t have a great day, finishing 27th after a late-race tangle with Tony Stewart on lap 299. Ragan’s day was not smooth either; he got the worst of it when Martin Truex, Jr. got loose and into Justin Allgaier. The No. 34 suffered extensive damage after contact with the outside wall and finished 42nd, but Ragan was unhurt.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Travis Kvapil (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Rinnai Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Bowman topped the list for his team this week, finishing 28th, not a terrible finish for a team that has struggled mightily this season. Kvapil returned to BKR this week, replacing Ryan Truex, but if anyone was expecting an immediate improvement – and nobody should have – they were disappointed, as Kvapil finished 32nd. Rookie Whitt was tagged in a lap 180 incident that left him in 38th, still running, but not where he might have finished.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No. 7 Feed the Children/Golden Corral Chevy & No. 36 American Muscle Driving Experience Chevy): The TBR crowd had high hopes coming into the weekend after a couple of sponsor announcements, but it ended up being a tough week at team owner Baldwin’s home track. Annett and Sorenson avoided trouble, which was certainly more than a lot of teams could say, but the finishes were lackluster for an organization that has slowly improved this year. Annett finished 29th with Sorenson just behind in 31st.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise kept the car in one piece, but other than that, this week was not one to circle on the calendar for this team. Wise finished 33rd, six laps down.

Jay Robinson Racing; Mike Wallace (No. 66 Royal Teak Toyota): Wallace returned to a Cup car for the first time in six years, and while it’s hard to say he made an immediate impact, his veteran presence didn’t hurt anything for this struggling team. Wallace brought the car home 34th, about where the team has been finishing.

GoFAS Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 US Chrome Ford): Hill returned to the No. 32 this week after piloting it for much of 2013. Hill drove a clean race at his owner’s home track to finish 35th, not the result they were hoping for.

Randy Humphrey Racing; Corey Lajoie (No. 77 Fochler Veterans Law Ford): Lajoie is a talented youngster, but didn’t have much opportunity to showcase his talents this week in the underfunded No. 77. Still, he was logging laps in his debut until lap 258, where he spun around, relegating the No. 77 to 41st at the end of the day.

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What are four major storylines to take away from NASCAR’s second Chase race in Loudon? Tom Bowles goes Through the Gears and gives us his detailed analysis on where the postseason stands at this point.